Consideration of Lords amendments
[Relevant documents: Second Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, Part 3 (Public Order), HC 331/HL 23; Fifth Special Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, Part 3 (Public Order): Government Response to the Committee’s Second Report, HC 724; Fourth Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Part 4): The criminalisation of unauthorised encampments, HC 478/HL 37; Sixth Special Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, Part 4 (Unauthorised Encampments): Government Response to the Committee’s Fourth Report, HC 765; Sixth Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Parts 7 and 8): Sentencing and Remand of Children and Young People, HC 451/HL 73; Eighth Special Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Parts 7 and 8): Sentencing and Remand of Children and Young People: Government Response to the Committee’s Sixth Report, HC 983; Letter to Baroness Williams of Trafford regarding the Draft Statutory Guidance for Police on Unauthorised Encampments and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, 17 November 2021; Letter from Baroness Williams of Trafford relating to Part 4 (Unauthorised Encampments) of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, 13 January 2022.]
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged in Lords amendments 59 and 60. If Lords amendments 59 and 60 are agreed to, I will cause the customary entry waiving Commons financial privilege to be entered in the Journal.
Duties to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 2.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 70, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.
Lords amendment 72, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 114 to 116, Government motions to disagree, and Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.
Lords amendment 141, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 142, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 3 to 57, 59, 60, 108 to 113, 117, 147, 153 and 154.
I propose first to talk about some of the key changes made to the Bill in the other place as a result of amendments brought forward by the Government, then to turn to the Lords amendments with which, sadly, the Government disagree for various reasons.
The Bill as passed by this House already included a number of significant measures to tackle violence against women and girls, and we have added to them during the Bill’s passage in the Lords. Lords amendments 13 to 15 make it clear in the Bill that domestic abuse and sexual violence are included within the meaning of the term “violence” for the purposes of the serious violence duty. It was always our wish that the serious violence duty should be all-encompassing, but following representations by Baroness Burton and others who were concerned to emphasise its importance, we are happy to agree to this being included in the Bill. The accompanying statutory guidance, which will be subject to public consultation, will make it clear that local areas, in drawing up their strategies to prevent and reduce serious violence, can and should include measures to tackle domestic abuse and sexual violence based on their local assessments.
With regard to Lords amendments 34 to 55, on Report in this House the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), reiterated the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the provisions of the Bill relating to the extraction of information from electronic devices are accompanied by strong privacy safeguards. These Lords amendments deliver on that commitment. Among other things, they add a new clause setting out the conditions that must be met in order for a device user to be treated as giving agreement to the extraction of information. These changes will increase victim confidence and ensure that the individual’s right to privacy is respected and placed at the centre of all investigations.
Lords amendment 56 will create new offences to criminalise recording images of, or operating equipment to observe, a person at a time when they are breastfeeding, without the person’s consent or reasonable belief that they consent. On Report, the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) made a powerful case for introducing such offences. Although at that time we made it clear that the Law Commission is currently reviewing the law in this area, we do believe that this amendment will ensure that parents are protected from non-consensual photography and can feel safe to breastfeed in public, ahead of the publication of the Law Commission report later this year.
Another compelling argument was made on Report last July by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who is sadly not in his place, to address concerns that the time limit for bringing prosecutions for common assault or battery involving domestic abuse is unfairly short. Currently a prosecution for common assault or battery must be brought within six months of an offence occurring. However, victims of domestic abuse may often, understandably, take some time to report an offence, leaving the police and the Crown Prosecution Service with little time to conduct an investigation and prosecute the offender. In some instances, the time limit has expired before the victim even approaches the police. To address this issue, Lords amendment 57 will extend the time limit for commencing a prosecution for common assault or battery involving domestic abuse so that the six months runs not from the date when the offence occurred but from when it is formally reported to the police through either a witness statement or a video recording made with a view to use as evidence. A prosecution must be commenced within an overall limit of two years of the offence. This amendment will make a real difference to victims of domestic abuse and stop perpetrators hiding behind an unfair limitation on victims’ ability to seek justice.
Lords amendments 59 and 60 will ensure that the police’s processing of personal data in non-crime hate incident records is made subject to a code of practice issued by the Home Secretary. The amendments will address concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), also sadly not in his place, in this House and by Lord Moylan and others in the other place by bringing parliamentary oversight to this process. The College of Policing is currently responsible for producing non-statutory hate crime operational guidance. The Government’s statutory code of practice, once in effect, will replace the relevant section of this guidance on non-crime hate incidents. The college’s guidance will remain in place until the new code enters into effect. When drafting the code, the Government will work closely with policing partners, including the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, to make sure that it will respect the operational importance of recording non-crime hate incidents to help to keep vulnerable people and communities safe while balancing the need to protect freedom of expression.
Let me turn to the Lords amendments that the Government cannot support—at least, not in their current form. Lords amendment 70 would require the Secretary of State to establish a review of the prevalence of, and the response of the criminal justice system to, the offence of administering a substance with intent under section 61 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003—commonly known as spiking. The Government share widespread concern about the offence that has prompted this amendment, whether spiking of drinks or spiking by needles, and we are taking the issue extremely seriously. I particularly commend my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) for bringing forward his recent ten-minute rule Bill on this issue. Everyone should be able to enjoy a night out without fearing that they will be a victim of this dreadful crime.
In September 2021, the Home Secretary asked the National Police Chiefs Council to review urgently the extent and scale of needle spiking. It is clear from what the police have told us that this behaviour is not exclusively linked to sexual activity and that it demands a response that goes beyond the criminal justice system. We have therefore tabled our amendment in lieu of Lords amendment 70, which is drafted more broadly than the Lords amendment and is not linked to any specific offence. It will require the Home Secretary to prepare a report on the nature and prevalence of spiking and to set out the steps that the Government have taken or intend to take to address it. In this context we are also exploring the need for a specific criminal offence to target spiking directly, as my hon. Friend recommended in his ten-minute rule Bill. The Home Secretary will be required to publish this report and lay it before Parliament within 12 months of Royal Assent. In preparing the report we will want to take into account the findings of the current inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee. This approach addresses the concerns that prompted the Lords amendment but in a way that enables the Government to consider the issue in the round.
Lords amendment 72 seeks, in common parlance, to make misogyny a hate crime. Hon. Members may be aware that in December last year, at the Government’s request, the Law Commission provided recommendations on the reform of hate crime laws. Looking very carefully at this issue, it found that adding sex or gender to hate crime laws may prove “more harmful than helpful”, as well as “counterproductive”. The principal reason is that it could make it more difficult to prosecute the most serious crimes that harm women and girls, including rape and domestic abuse. Obviously such an awful unintended consequence is not the intention of those who tabled the amendment in the other place. As such, the amendment seeks to exclude certain offences where the risks to their prosecution are acute.
The Law Commission looked at every possible model and unfortunately also found the one proposed in the amendment unsatisfactory. Time is short and I do not want to dwell on all its problems, but the review identified that to reflect sex and gender in some offences but not others would make the law very complex and imply that very harmful excluded offences such as rape are less serious, would result in tokenistic coverage of many misogynistic crimes, and would create new inequalities in how different groups are protected by hate crime laws.
The inner house of the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest court, has recently clarified that in the Equality Act 2010 “sex” does indeed have the meaning set out in section 11 —that is, that it refers to one or other sex, male or female. Does the Minister share my concern that this amendment has that definition of “sex” but the word “gender” is undefined? Is he aware that many feminists feel that gender is not the same as sex and that in fact gender is a tool of sex-based oppression?
I acknowledge some of the problems with the amendment that the hon. and learned Lady sets out. I think it is Women’s Aid that rejected the amendment and said that it would do more harm than good on the basis that she outlined: it is not specific about targeting crimes against women in particular.
I would like to correct the record, because that is not what Women’s Aid has said.
The Minister highlighted the issue of a carve-out as being the reason why the Government do not believe in adding sex or gender to ensure that any perpetrator who attacks a woman or someone they believe to be a woman can be captured by the offences in question. I think we would all agree that is important, but he argues that the carve-out is not the right thing to do. Does he also make the same argument then that it is tokenistic to carve out offences based on racial or religious hatred, which we already do in our legislation? We have carve-outs. Stephen Lawrence’s killers were not prosecuted for a hate crime, but we recognise the hate behind it. Why does he think that women do not deserve the same protection?
I had hoped to avoid the approach that the hon. Lady takes. Of course we believe that women deserve strong protection—we absolutely do—but all I can say to the hon. Lady is that the Law Commission, in looking at the evidence over a three-year period and consulting widely across the sector and society more generally, found that the additional complexity was likely to make it harder to prosecute these crimes. I ask her to reflect on the fact that in proceedings in this House, she put her name to an amendment compelling the Government to adopt the Law Commission’s proposals in full. I am not sure why she has now reversed that position, but I hope she appreciates that we are as dedicated to and interested in the safety of women as she is.
My right hon. Friend and I worked hard on the issues underpinning the Bill and on the Bill itself. May I press him on Lords amendment 72? I accept that the amendment is defective. It does not create a new offence, however, but is about aggravating factors in sentencing. I commend to him the positive findings of the Law Commission, namely its proposal to develop an offence of street harassment, albeit with a sexual motive. I take issue with that—I think it needs to be a wider offence of street harassment, because we need to deal with wider issues than sexual motive—but I press the Minister to commit the Government to getting on with work on the Law Commission’s important recommendation to create a new offence based not just on racial hatred, but on hatred motivated against gender or sex.
My right hon. and learned Friend is right that we need to have a serious look at the suite of offences used in this area. He will know that many street harassment offences are classified as some kind of public order offence. That causes a number of problems, not least the lack of transparency with the police’s analysis of what is going on out there in our streets.
There are three further areas of work that we want to turn to, as we sadly reject this amendment, well motivated though it absolutely is, on the basis of the Law Commission’s evidence. Those three areas are first, as my right hon. and learned Friend says, to adopt the Law Commission’s other proposal of looking at a specific offence of public sexual harassment, as my neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), asked for today. Personally speaking, I think it could be a new offence, but it could be some amendment to public order offences to allow us to deal with this particular issue.
The second area is police recording. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon has raised the issue a number of times with me outside the Chamber, and he is right that we need to look carefully at the forces recording data at the moment, what they are learning from it and what impact it has, because the Law Commission was equivocal about the value of that recording. I am not convinced personally, and I would like to understand what impact it is having from a policing point of view.
The third area of work I would like to see is encouragement of reporting. One of the key things, whatever the offence type, is that we know a lot of women, particularly in the public realm, who are harassed do not have the confidence to come forward or do not think anything will happen if they do. I am pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), is today launching an extensive communications campaign called “Enough”, encouraging bystanders and peers to report this kind of behaviour to the police.
I have listened with care to my right hon. Friend, and I accept what he says. I am encouraged by what he says about development of the law. May I press him on reporting and recording? As part of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 process, we undertook to ensure that recording was rolled out nationally. That was more than a year ago. For that to happen, there must be proper expedition on this. It is no good saying that there is not a particular offence on which the police can hang this recording. We need to get on with it, because the time is coming, sooner or later, when there will be a relevant offence, and I would rather that the Government were ahead of the pack rather than behind.
I completely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend, and I am as impatient as he is, not least because I am keen to kick off some analysis programmes looking at particular patterns of behaviour in particular postcodes. We men all know women who have been subject to this kind of abuse out in the public realm. My personal theory is that this sort of behaviour is not something a man does once. Much of this offending is repeated, and there are prolific offenders in particular neighbourhoods who could and should be identified, and they would be if we were better able to record it and had more transparency from a public order offence point of view. That is what we will be committing to do.
I am grateful for what the Minister has said, particularly about the early amendment on spiking. On this particular offence of misogyny, can we have it on the record in this House that no one in this House has any time for misogyny? The issue is purely one of law and what will be most effective. Everything that my right hon. Friend the Minister has said in answer to my neighbour, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland), is extremely relevant. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that some police forces, such as my own—Gloucestershire constabulary—are recording data on this and believe it to be useful? I hope he agrees that that could be an encouraging form of evidence towards the aggravating factor he referred to earlier.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and he is absolutely right that we need to look carefully at the recording patterns and what they are telling forces such as Gloucestershire about how they can and should intervene in particular neighbourhoods. We then need to look to other forces exhibiting the same patterns of offending, but not necessarily recording it, so that we can act to spread this kind of practice more widely.
I am encouraged by my hon. Friend’s sense of cross-party enthusiasm for this issue. I know that some in the House—I am not sure necessarily anybody present here—would seek to make it a political issue, but as the person who devised and published the first ever violence against women and girls strategy in the entire country when I was deputy Mayor for policing at City Hall, I am proud of the work I have been able to do in this particular area over the past decade or so, and I hope I will do it for many years to come. This issue breaches all divides, because we are all sons, brothers, sisters, fathers—whatever it might be—and we all know people who have been subjected to this crime.
The amendment to the hate legislation does not create a new offence, and the Minister will be aware of that. I had a long discussion with the Law Commission last week, and it admits that not all women’s rights organisations agree with its view. Many organisations, such as the Fawcett Society and the Young Women’s Trust, support this amendment.
All I can do for the hon. Lady is quote from the Law Commission’s report, which I assume she has read, extensive though it is. It specifically states:
“We recognise that many people may disagree with our conclusion and find it difficult to understand given the prevalence of sex and gender-based violence and abuse…our recommendations have been decided…on the strength of the evidence and policy considerations before us.”
I hope she will understand that notwithstanding the division of opinion there may be, the fact that the Law Commission—after three years, and with weighty legal minds—disagrees with this move, along with large women’s organisations, such as Rape Crisis, means that in all conscience we cannot support an amendment that they say will make things worse. We have to commit ourselves to making things better and by other means, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) has pointed out. That is exactly what I am doing today.
I thank the Minister for all his work. I am concerned about how ladies and girls will have confidence in the processes coming forward. He has clearly said that the amendment is not acceptable because he feels that, legislatively, the Government are addressing those issues, but the people who speak to me—the ladies and gentlemen, and the young girls in particular—need to have confidence in the processes. I do not see that, so how will he legislatively ensure that that is there for ladies and girls?
I completely sympathise with the hon. Gentleman’s sentiment. Having been in this House for nearly seven years, I have often realised that we mistake the introduction of legislation for actually doing something out there on the street. Although we can and should legislate to make things crimes and to better dispose of them, we actually need somebody to take off their bicycle clips, walk out of the office or station and do something different out there on the street to make those of us in society who feel unsafe—particularly, sadly, women and girls—feel safer.
We are trying to give concrete life to that through schemes such as the safer streets fund, where we are specifically spending money on public realm improvements, whether that is CCTV or better street lighting, in areas where women and girls feel unsafe. I hope that the huge increase in police numbers that we are seeing at the moment will see more uniforms out there on the street in those areas where women and girls feel unsafe. There are wider cultural issues that we also need to address. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out, however, that legislation will only take us so far and that what is required is action out there on the streets.
It sounds a bit like the Minister is saying that the words we say in here do not really matter, but the legislation that we pass here, including making misogyny an aggravating factor, sends messages to people out there. When I sat on the Committee of the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019, the Government were clear that although other laws could be used to stop the awful practice of upskirting, it needed to be in a clear law against it. During the passage of that Act, they promised that they would look at and bring forward a measure to make misogyny an aggravating factor in hate crime. Why are they delaying on the promises that they have made?
The Law Commission report is unequivocal about the dangers that it may present. The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) is shaking her head, but the report’s conclusion says:
“We recommend that sex or gender should not be added as a protected characteristic for the purposes of aggravated offences and enhanced sentencing.”
That is the specific recommendation in the report. The Law Commission has much greater and more skilled legal minds than mine, and other groups do not support the amendment.
I realise that the issue is of great importance to hon. Members, and we must all reflect on the feelings of insecurity that women and girls feel in the public realm, but we are being told by the experts—by the Law Commission—that the measure is likely to do more damage than good. That is not necessarily a substitute for us not doing anything and I have outlined what more we may do, but the point is that we have to listen to the experts. To be honest, I am quite surprised that a party led by a former Director of Public Prosecutions would seek to ignore the Law Commission.
I would like to correct the record, because the Minister seemed to suggest that I was against what the Law Commission has said. He is asking all hon. Members whether they have read it so it is worth checking whether he has, because it says that there is a case for there being offences motivated by misogyny—for example, stirring up incitement or public sexual harassment. Those of us who have constituents such as Muslim women who get attacked in the street for being both Muslim and a woman recognise that misogyny is about not just sex but power, so we need offences to tackle that.
Does the Minister recognise that if the Law Commission is saying that there are offences motivated by misogyny, the risk of not including it as an aggravating factor is that we could end up in a whack-a-mole situation? For example, we could end up saying, “In these cases of incitement, what is incitement? In these cases, what might be sexual harassment?” It would be simpler to include it and it would recognise what the police are telling us. I stress that the police are telling us that they want this data and they want the courts to back them. They want misogyny to be treated in the same way as racial or religious hatred, because they see it driving crimes on our streets. I am pleased to hear that he is concerned for women, but women have had concern for donkey’s years. What we now want is action.
I can appreciate the hon. Lady’s requirement for action. As I say, action is what we are trying to put in place. To be clear, again, we are not saying that the fact that we are declining to make this Lords amendment means that we should not do anything. As I said to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon, there are further offences that we need to consider.
In fact, the Law Commission’s report went further and said that if we were to introduce that offence, it would complement other work on offences that may be coming forward, such as cyber-flashing, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) has raised several times in the House; rape threats; and intimate image abuse. There are several areas where we need to consider interlocking offences, and that work will take time beyond this Bill to get right. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North urged us, we are committed to adopting both recommendations of the Law Commission, and that is exactly the work that we intend to do in the months to come.
Does the Minister agree that it is important for Opposition Members to understand what Rape Crisis England & Wales has said, which is that:
“Rape prosecutions are already at an all-time low, and we believe adding sex/gender as a protected characteristic would further complicate the judicial process and make it even harder to secure convictions.”?
My hon. Friend has put her finger on the button of the problem. It is not that we are unsympathetic to the issue—of course we are not. I just do not see how, given the views of large organisations and of the Law Commission, somebody could, with any conscience, vote for something that they are being told might be damaging. I understand that the hon. Member for Walthamstow is exercised by the issue—as are all hon. Members present—but we hope to address it in other ways and to look seriously at the further offence that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon has urged us to look at and bring it forward in future.
In support of the English Law Commission—hon. Members should be aware that the legislation applies only in England and Wales—in Scotland, when the Scottish Government were looking at introducing hate crime legislation, they rejected misogyny as an aggravating factor after submissions from Rape Crisis, Women’s Aid and Engender in Scotland. Baroness Helena Kennedy is now chairing a panel to look at that with a view to reporting. There are arguments on either side.
I am most concerned that if we are to have an aggravation based on sex or gender, gender must be defined. We already have a protected characteristic of transgender identity, which is very important, but in this Lords amendment, sex is defined but not gender. Does the Minister agree that, in future, we should define what we mean by gender so that people know what it means?
There are a number of definitional issues within the Lords amendment that produce fatal flaws, but I absolutely commend the spirit behind it. It comes from a good place and from a concern that we share. Given that legal expertise advises us against it and advises us to pursue another course, that is our intention and that is what we will do.
I turn now to Lords amendments 114 to 116, which relate to the piloting and national roll-out of serious violence reduction orders. I assure the House that we want to pilot them robustly, which is why the assessment of the pilot will be conducted by an independent evaluator and the Government will thoroughly consider the report’s findings before any decision is made to roll them out across the whole of England and Wales.
The report of the pilot will be laid before Parliament, but commencement regulations are not generally subject to any parliamentary procedure and the Government do not agree that that approach should be changed for SVROs. To assuage the concerns that have been raised in relation to the pilot, amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendments 114 to 116 will set out in the Bill a non-exhaustive list of matters that must be addressed in the report of the pilot.
Lords amendments 141 and 142 seek to create two new offences to tackle so-called sex for rent. We are clear that exploitation through sex for rent has no place in our society and is a revolting phenomenon. We therefore fully understand the motivation behind these amendments. There are existing offences in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 that can and have been used to prosecute this practice successfully, but we do recognise the need to do more to stamp out this abhorrent practice and to support those at risk of exploitation.
As we announced earlier this month, the online safety Bill will include relevant offences relating to the incitement and control of prostitution for gain in the list of priority offences that internet companies will need to take proactive steps to tackle. The Bill will capture user-to-user sites where the majority of sex for rent advertising takes place. Notwithstanding the existing offences in the Sexual Offences Act, we recognise the arguments for a more targeted offence to help stamp out this practice. Accordingly, I am pleased to announce that, ahead of the summer recess, the Home Office will launch a public consultation on this issue, which will enable us to engage further with victims groups, the police, the CPS and others on how the current legislation works in practice and to consider the evidence for a new bespoke offence.
On the consultation that the Minister will undertake, is it a very targeted consultation on the specific offence of sex for rent, or does it recognise the sexual exploitation of women in other areas and broaden it out to prostitution more generally?
I am grateful to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. I cannot give her a definition as it stands, but I am happy to write to her about the scope of the consultation. If she wishes to make representations about the scope, I am sure we will take them into account. However, we are very focused on the notion of a specific offence, so my assumption is that the consultation will be relatively specific.
It does sound, from what the Minister has shared, that this is seen solely through the prism of advertisements online—where there is a suggestion of sex for rent, but through an online medium—but is that right? Will any suggested proposal brought forward in this consultation cover media outside the online sphere?
We do believe that the online harms Bill will cover the vast majority of the offending where this is advertised, and I have to say that the vast majority of that these days does seem to be online. However, the hon. Member raises a very good point, and I will make sure that the team putting the consultation together consider whether we should include that in the scope of the consultation and if a further offence is needed.
I thank the Minister for giving way on that point. Shelter states that over 30,000 women since the beginning of the pandemic have been pestered by landlords to exchange sex for a roof over their heads. Does the Minister not think that there is more the Government should be doing to move this forward? How long is the consultation period, and what will happen in the meantime?
As I say, there are already offences being committed in those circumstances, and we have had successful prosecutions in exactly the circumstances the hon. Member outlines. Anybody who has been subjected to that kind of criminality should, I hope, feel in a position to report it. However, we need to look at whether there is scope for a more specific offence in this area, because at the moment some of the offending is dealt with through the prostitution legislation, which may not be entirely appropriate. The consultation that we will undertake before the summer recess will run for the normal period, and I hope we will then bring forward expedited legislation, possibly in the same vehicle in which we bring forward the further offences on street harassment. Let us see how we get on.
The other place has proposed some welcome improvements to the Bill, but it has also put forward some amendments that, while often well meaning and extremely well motivated, I am afraid we cannot commend to the House for the various reasons I have set out. I hope that the House will join me, as we support these various amendments, in sorting out what works and what does not, so that we can all move forward in this important area of policy.
Order. As everybody can see, the Lords amendments are in three groups. Please speak only to the Lords amendments in group 1 and do not stray into groups 2 and 3, as there will be opportunities to speak about those Lords amendments later.
I thank the Minister for his speech. He comes late to this party—he was not part of the Committee stage—and he has done well to catch up at this point.
We believe parts 3 and 4 of the Bill represent a power grab that bans peaceful protests and compounds inequalities, which is why we voted against the Bill in its entirety on Third Reading, but we also think that this Bill is a huge wasted opportunity. With crime up, prosecutions down, victims losing faith and criminals getting away with their crimes, there has never been a more crucial time to get to grips with law and order. Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have urged the Government to use this opportunity to move further and faster to tackle the epidemic of violence against women and girls.
Time and again, however, this Government have failed to act with the urgency that this epidemic requires. During the passage of the Bill, the Government have already rejected minimum sentences for rape and stalking, our plan to make street harassment a crime and our plans to protect victims with proper legal advice, but we still have time tonight, thanks to our friends in the other place, to make some changes. I urge the House to consider two Lords amendments in this group that the Government are rejecting that would make a real different to women’s lives.
I will start with sex for rent. Lords amendment 141 introduces a new offence of requiring or accepting sexual relations as a condition of accommodation. There are few things more horrific than someone using their power as a landlord or an agent to get sex. Predators advertise sex for rent blatantly. We can see in internet searches hundreds of adverts offering rooms or beds for free to young people, usually women, in return for sex. I understand the Government saying that they are going to look at this and potentially act at some point in the future, but women are being exploited all over the UK now and they cannot wait for another long Government consultation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) has pointed out—the Minister needs to talk to Shelter to understand this better—the impact of the pandemic means that more people, especially women, are facing financial hardship, which is making them vulnerable to this vile exploitation.
I absolutely do agree with my hon. Friend, and that is what we are trying to achieve tonight. This is not overly complicated, and I think it is staggering, when the Government are introducing legislation far faster in other cases, that they will not support the Lords amendment—and women—in this way.
The second opportunity we have, thanks to the Lords, is Lords amendment 72, which would add prejudice based on sex and gender to hate crime legislation. This would make misogyny a hate crime, which we have talked about so much already tonight. I know that the Law Commission has some concerns, but this is a simple and straightforward step that will increase public awareness, improve victims’ confidence—crucially—in reporting, and enhance the way the police respond to violence against women and misogyny. The symbolism of this is so important. We were all so shocked by the Independent Office for Police Conduct report into Charing Cross station and the misogyny in those messages that we never thought we would see in the police.
I understand what the hon. Member is saying, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) said, there is a carve-out clause particularly designed to satisfy that concern. I believe that distinguishing between serious sexual violence crimes and other forms of crime that may be enacted with a misogynistic intent would solve that problem.
These kinds of misogynistic attitudes and this kind of behaviour are more widespread in society than we care to think. We must be absolutely intolerant of it, and the hate law speaks to that. Such attitudes erode the very fabric of society and we should collectively reject them.
I understand the point that the hon. and learned Lady is making. The offences are motivated by hostility towards the sex or gender of the victim, and the amendment is designed to be as inclusive as possible, but I hear what she says. Refuge and some other women’s organisations have published a good briefing that tackles some of these issues, and perhaps we could have a conversation about it afterwards. I think her concerns are unfounded, but I understand the point she makes. These issues are complex and difficult, and we must make sure we get them right.
But surely as legislators, if we use a word we have to define it. We all know that there have been problems with conflating sex and gender. The amendment clearly states “sex or gender” and since “sex” is defined, as one would expect, by reference to section 11 of the Equality Act 2010, surely we can define what we mean by “gender”. If we cannot define what we mean by “gender”, why are we including it as an aggravation?
Does my hon. Friend agree that given that “gender” is defined in legislation—indeed, the Government rather helpfully defined it in their consultation document, so we have a definition of “gender”—it is therefore important that we focus on perpetrators? The point behind hate crime is that I could be a victim of antisemitic abuse whether I am Jewish or not. It is about the motivation of the perpetrator. By recognising that sex or gender can motivate hostility based on misogyny, we are ensuring that no perpetrator could have a defence where they demean a victim, and no perpetrator can avoid that hostility being reported because somebody wants to put them in the trans box rather than in the misogyny box. The amendment is inclusive, but it ensures that it protects women, whether they were born or become one, using definitions that already exist in law.
I feel as if there should be a three-way conversation in another place to tackle some of these questions. But they are real questions, and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow has campaigned on this issue for a very long time, and it is important that we listen to what she says.
Perhaps I can help out and say that, although no legislation is a silver bullet, this measure would make powerful progress and take a powerful stance against certain attitudes that are so prevalent and stare us in the face. We should send a signal that such attitudes are unacceptable, in the same way that we have done with other hate crime legislation.
The hon. Lady talks about the importance of symbolism, and I agree with her. Is she concerned that if we were to accept an amendment that exempts domestic abuse and sexual offences from the aggravating element of misogyny, that would be a terrible message to send? They are some of the most serious crimes against women, yet they would be exempt from that aggravating factor in sentencing.
By the time that prosecution happened such legislation was in place, and there is precedent for that. I could point the hon. Lady in the direction of a very good briefing that explains all that in much greater detail, and I would be happy to send that to her.
Tonight we have two opportunities—I mean to touch on them briefly, Mr Speaker—for the House to tackle pernicious practices that have no place in society, and we would support the Government if they chose to back the Lords amendments. I should acknowledge properly the work of the other place on this Bill. Members of the Lords did some terrific work voting late into the night, and we are grateful to them. Hard work and strong arguments by many of my Labour colleagues in the Commons and the Lords have already forced the Government into several defeats and U-turns. Indeed there have been more successful Labour amendments to this Bill than to any other Bill this Parliament.
On data extraction, the Government have conceded Labour’s calls to protect victims, particularly victims of rape and sexual abuse, from painful and often unnecessary intrusion into their lives by the mining of their phone data. We welcome that shift. On the serious violence duty, after continued pressure from Members across the House, the Government agreed to make clear in the Bill that the definition of “serious violence” for the purpose of the serious violence prevention duty includes domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual offences. We welcome that shift.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) has campaigned on time limits for prosecutions, and the Government have accepted our proposal to stop victims of domestic abuse being timed out of justice. The campaign by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow on voyeurism means that there will be a new offence of breastfeeding voyeurism. Under pressure from Labour, the Government have agreed to a review into “spiking” to find out how widespread it is and who is being targeted. We welcome that.
However, tackling the horrific prosecution rates, repeat offenders, and making women feel safer on the streets and in their homes will take so much more. We have a list of 50 proposals that we wanted to be included in the Bill to tackle violence against women and girls, and by my count the Government have agreed to two of them. I am happy to give the Minister a copy of the list, and perhaps we could see some more action.
Serious violence is a significant problem, and offences involving knives or sharp instruments increased by 84% between 2014 and 2020. Of course serious violence went down during lockdown, as we would expect, because people were indoors and shops and places of work were closed. The police were able to be proactive in tackling crime—indeed, a senior officer said to me that it was almost like policing used to be when they had proper resources. We are now out of lockdown, and the reports we are getting suggest that serious violence is back on the rise.
Labour will support any measures that tackle violence. That is why we carefully considered the serious violence reduction orders in part 10 of the Bill. We have concerns, which the Government have acknowledged, about the powers that officers would have to stop and search people with an SVRO without reasonable grounds, and whether that would significantly increase disproportionality. Stop and search is a crucial tool for the police, which we all agree with when used alongside good local police intelligence. Badly targeted stop and search is a waste of police resources, and it reinforces lack of trust in local communities. SVROs are to be piloted in four places, and Lords amendment 116 would require the Secretary of State to
“obtain, record and publish all reasonably available data,”
on the effect of SVROs over a period of no less than 12 months before the report of the pilot.
The Government have tabled their own amendments in lieu. We welcome that U-turn up to a point, but we do not believe it goes far enough to address our concerns. We fear that SVROs might be similar to knife crime prevention orders, which were hailed several years ago as the answer to violence, but have not yet been introduced, probably because it is hard to make them work. Good policing and prevention is key, and the Government should focus their attention on that.
In conclusion, we urge the Government to back Labour’s sensible amendments through the Lords to tackle violence against women and girls, and to have a relentless focus, not on stopping singing in the street—we will come to that later—but on tackling serious crime. The Government have created this Bill with the objective of being divisive, but Members across the House, and in the other place, have come together and voted to improve this flawed piece of legislation. We are proud of the changes we have delivered, but Labour Members will not stop pushing the Government to get a grip on the issues that matter: reducing crime, improving prosecution rates, supporting victims, and giving people the security they deserve.
Order. Members should stand only if they want to take part in debate on the first group of amendments, not the second or third groups. We are time-limited, so perhaps Members could focus on the duration of their speeches as well as on the content, to give an opportunity for other Members to take part.
As a woman who is perennially in a hurry and terribly impatient, I will ensure that my contribution is blissfully short. There is much in the Bill that I feel encouraged about. As hon. Members might expect, as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, I will focus specifically on those areas that affect women.
Inevitably, I will always say to the Government that they have missed opportunities, that they have not gone far enough and that more could have been done. I very much feel that the Bill could have done more, but I very much welcome the amendment on voyeurism and breastfeeding, which was put forward by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and has been accepted by the Government. That is a step in the right direction for women. I also welcome Government amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 70 on spiking. I am the first to acknowledge that spiking is not necessarily a gendered crime, but in many instances it is, and we know that young women in particular fall victim to it. Although there are concerns around spiking for robbery, for other forms of violence and abuse and, indeed, in some cases, just for entertainment, a massive proportion of it is about taking sexual advantage—usually of women.
As hon. Members might expect—it was inevitable—I turn to amendment 72 on misogyny. Consistency is important, so I have always said that I would accept and welcome what the Law Commission recommended in its review. However, if we are to go to its recommendations on misogyny and the complications that it rightly highlighted—this is an incredibly difficult area—we should also look at public sexual harassment, which it has also said should be a specific crime.
I started by saying that I am a woman in a hurry, and I am. I welcome my right hon. Friend the Minister’s comments on what the Government are planning to do on public sexual harassment, but this feels like a missed opportunity. I look for confirmation on whether the specific legislative vehicle—this looks very much like one—will be the victims Bill or something tailored to PSH, because this absolutely matters. If we are to start tackling the cultures that underpin violence against women, we must look at the cultures that mean that some men think it is okay to harass women on the street and on public transport.
Girls from Stroud High School got me into their school to talk about the public sexual harassment that they receive—often daily and often in their school uniforms—which is outrageous. Under the “Everyone’s Invited” campaign, many schoolgirls—and schoolboys as well—have reported exactly what they experience. Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the comments that we have heard from the Minister are incredibly positive, we must recognise that the calls for such changes come not just from this place or from adults but from young girls everywhere who are experiencing really tough times?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is in our schools that those calls are strongest, which means that young women in their school uniforms are being significantly impacted. They feel scared to walk home alone. They are given advice to stay to well-lit areas, to ensure that they walk in areas with CCTV and to be careful on public transport. Yet again, we are saying, “Girls, be careful,” and not, “Men, don’t do it.” That is why I feel so strongly about specific legislation on public sexual harassment that empowers women to point at behaviours and say, “That is a crime.”
I completely agree with everything that the right hon. Member said. It is frustrating as always that, yet again, we are asking women to think about how they keep themselves safe rather than thinking how we stop the perpetrators, let alone the focus being somehow on street lighting, as if these incidents happen only in certain places and spaces. She talks about public sexual harassment. One of the challenges, as the Law Commission admits—I have met and talked to the Law Commission about this—is that not all harassment motivated by misogyny is sexual. I go back to the Muslim women targeted to have their hijabs torn off and disabled women, who are targeted in particular. How can we expand our understanding of how misogyny is driving crimes if we think it is only about sex? Does she agree that we need to find a way to recognise that broader concept of harassment, abuse and incitement, as the Law Commission said should happen but did not come up with legislation?
The hon. Lady makes an important and powerful point. It is imperative that we look at this issue not just in terms of sexual harassment. I apologise for detaining hon. Members a moment longer than I intended, but I want to highlight the case of a constituent who came to see me. She was 23-years-old and had a job in Waitrose pushing trolleys around the car park. She said, “I hate lunch time.” That seemed an odd comment to make, so I asked, “Is it particularly busy at lunch time?” She said, “No. It’s when the white van men turn up.” She told a tale of how, in the depths of winter, when wearing a beanie hat, a puffer coat and a mask—it was at the height of covid—a man walked up to her, put his hands either side of her face and said, “You’re too beautiful to be doing this job.” I have spoken to colleagues in this place who are eminent lawyers— they know much better than me what is criminal and what is not—and asked them, “Where’s the crime?” Not one of them could come up with an actual crime for that. The hon. Lady is therefore right: that was not sex-based; it was just harassment in the same way as we see people stood outside abortion clinics hurling abuse at people going to access those services. We must ensure that abuse directed at women on the grounds of their gender or sex is tackled, and tackled effectively.
The Women and Equalities Committee is about to do an enormous piece of work about the cultures that underpin this problem and hopes to come up with recommendations that the Government will listen to and act on. We want to see legislation that makes women feel safer because they can point at behaviours and say, “That is a specific crime,” that allows perpetrators to look at behaviours and think, “Actually, I shouldn’t do that—I might get in trouble,” and that allows the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to look at behaviours and think, “There’s the crime.”
On a small point of clarification, my right hon. Friend quite rightly referred to how the vast majority of spiking cases are about men spiking women’s drinks, and there is no question about that, but I am sure she recognises that some cases—I think in particular of the heinous case of Reynhard Sinaga, who was found guilty in Manchester of spiking and raping at least 48 victims man on man—are the other way.
I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. I hope that I did not in any way give the impression that men are not victims, because, yes, they are. When we talk about violence perpetrated against others, sometimes we do not adequately identify the many instances in which young men, and young gay men in particular, can fall victim to such horrific behaviours.
I want to see something on the statute book, and I will press my right hon. Friend the Minister for something quickly. It is not good enough to kick this issue into the long grass and say that we need another review or more consultation. We see that too often. Young women, the girls of the Girl Guides, those from Plan International UK, older women—the Soroptimists have summoned me to tell me that this must be done urgently—and the Women’s Institute all want action. Later this evening, I will attend the event downstairs—it is on now—looking at the Government’s strategy. If we are serious, we must send a clear and powerful message to both victims and perpetrators about what is and is not criminal. Everyone in this House knows a victim; we also all know a perpetrator.
I will keep my comments to Lords amendments concerning the extraction of information from electronic devices. To be clear, it is not that the Scottish National party does not have views about everything else, and it is certainly not that we do not care; it is because provisions on those other matters are applicable to England and Wales only.
The Scottish Government have been working with the UK Government to refine the draft code of practice for the data extraction provisions to account for Scotland's interests. The UK Government have confirmed that the draft code of practice would not be finalised until after the Bill attains Royal Assent to ensure that it is fit for purpose. They have also confirmed that the data extraction provisions will not be commenced in Scotland until the code of practice has been finalised. The Scottish Government are therefore content that the arrangements for the code provide sufficient scope for Scottish input.
We are generally content with the Government amendments, which improve the powers by, for example, starting to define an “agreement” to a digital search, but some are concerned that they do not go far enough to protect privacy rights and access to justice. Digital strip searches are now a common tool for the police and, as Big Brother Watch has said, experience tells us that policy changes and guidance are not enough.What is required is clear statutory change and retraining. I urge the Government to ensure that that is in place before they consider the widespread use of digital strip searches.
In Scotland, we have concerns about amendments 39, 40 and 44. That needs some further discussion with the Scottish Government. In English law, all children are children until the age of 18, but that is not the legal position in Scotland. The age of legal capacity in Scotland is 16. It certainly does not feel right to us for a nearly-18-year-old to have no say in whether their phone is taken from them and its data extracted.
I am conscious of time, you will be glad to hear, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I have kept my points very brief and I will save my main points for group 3, but I will briefly voice my disappointment and dismay at the undemocratic way in which the Government have amended this mammoth piece of legislation. Eleventh-hour amendments introduced in the House of Lords were thankfully defeated in a very public and, I am sure, embarrassing way for the Government. That should never have happened, and I pay tribute to those in the Lords who opposed them. This place is here for a reason. We are here for a reason. It is not for the Government to bypass the scrutiny that this place provides. I have received hundreds of emails from concerned constituents that their rights are being steamrollered by behaviour like that.
I think, listening objectively to today’s debate, there is an enormous level of agreement on both sides of the House that there is a job of work to be done to protect women against abuse, and that there are different options for how we might achieve that. That is the point at debate: what we do, not whether we need to do something. That is really important to acknowledge. I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for his opening explanation of the resistance particularly to amendment 72, and I commend my near neighbour in Hampshire, my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, for her excellent and impassioned speech on why we need to do more.
The Lords amendments show that more can be done. Lords amendments 13 and 57 show that the Government can continue to be pressed to do more on these important issues. I am glad to see that they are doing more to extend serious violence duties to include domestic abuse and sex offenders. Lords amendment 57 extending the time limit in the way that it does will significantly help. The real issue is, if we want to tackle the issue of sexual harassment and the abuse of women, how do we do that most effectively? I think Amendment 72 has been looked at in detail by the Law Commission, which has been looking at the issues since 2018. There is, I am afraid to say, widespread support for the Government’s thesis that this is not the right way to tackle the problem.
The Law Commission is very clear that there is demonstrable need for additional law when it comes to supporting and protecting women and girls, and that there is more than ample evidence of the harm that is done. Its real concern is how we tackle this in practice. We have to listen very carefully; otherwise, we risk undoing the good work that has been done. The need for additional law is not under debate; it is the form that that law takes. Sometimes we just have to take a moment, and I think that this is a case in point. We cannot just say, “Something must be done.” We have to ensure that we are doing the right thing. We have to accept the role of the Law Commission in helping us to make law that works in practice. It does not see misogyny being a hate crime as the way to solve the problem that has been so eloquently outlined by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Its concern is not because of a lack of understanding of the problem; it is whether the change that is being proposed will work in practice.
Although I listened very carefully to the interventions of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), it concerns me that the solution that is being put forward involves carve-outs for domestic violence and sexual offences, which could in a way suggest, or give people ammunition to say, that those issues are not as connected with misogyny as I am frankly sure that most Members of this House would agree that they are. The concern is not about being able to prove that a crime was motivated by hostility to gender—a point made by the CPS and Rape Crisis. In particular, Rape Crisis said that such an approach would make trials even more complex—an issue brought out by an hon. Member earlier. I also fear trial juries being asked to navigate questions around gender-based hate crime, which frankly we in this House find very difficult to navigate our minds around—all of this leaving people very confused.
I really hope that the Minister, although he may not be able to go much further today, can very shortly tell us much more about what he will be doing on issues that the Women and Equalities Committee has been looking at for more than five years. We did Select Committee reports on sexual harassment in schools back in 2015, in universities, in public spaces, online and in the workplace. This is not a new issue; this has been an issue looked at not only by the Law Commission but by the Select Committee for well over six or seven years. It would be disappointing if the Government were coming back now to say that they will be taking further the idea of public sexual harassment, as if it were a new notion that had just emerged from the ether. It is something that many of us have been looking at, and calling for it to be tackled more effectively, for a number of years.
Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister can, when he sums up, indicate in a little more detail how he intends to take forward what I think will be a sensible way of trying to tackle the issue that has been so eloquently talked about in today’s debate. Adding sex or gender into hate crime law may not be the way to tackle things, but there is extensive evidence of how the harm disproportionately impacts women, especially online. The Government have a VAWG strategy, and today they are launching a communications strategy, but too many of us still see deficits in the law when it comes to sexual harassment. There needs to be more focus on prevention by demonstrating across the board that sexual harassment towards women, in the same way that my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North talked about, is a crime that is utterly unacceptable whenever it occurs, at any stage of our lives. Until we get to that stage, all of us will be calling on the Government to take more action.
I will start, because I have had an unintended hiatus from being in the Chamber as a result of having to breastfeed a child, by welcoming the Government’s commitment to amendment 56. It is a cross-party amendment, and I pay tribute to Lord Pannick and Baroness Hayman for the work that they did in the House of Lords on it, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), who also led on it, and above all to Julia Cooper, who was a much braver woman than me. I experienced someone taking a photograph of me breastfeeding my child without my permission. She did too, but she challenged the person and went to the police. The police said that there was no protection for her. She started a petition. She took that voice and has turned it into this legislation. We should all be grateful for a woman like that, who stood up.
What Julia faced is what we are also here tonight to talk about on amendment 72. I certainly hope that the Minister, who has come to the debate rather late but I appreciate has come with a deep concern for women’s rights, has been talking to his colleague Lord Wolfson, whose argument against making it illegal to photograph without her consent a woman who was breastfeeding was that a man might be taking pornographic photographs of his wife on a beach and accidentally catch a woman breastfeeding in his camera lens, and that would be terrible. Of course, many of us think for some time about that husband’s discussions with his wife before we think that that is a realistic example.
Time and again on the Bill, we are told that, when it comes to women’s safety, matters are complex. It is put in the “too difficult” box. The trouble for Ministers tonight is that next week will be the anniversary of the murder of Sarah Everard. Since Sarah was murdered, we have had more deaths: the murders of Bibaa and Nicole, and of Sabina. In my constituency, I hear countless stories of violence against women. It is the fierce urgency of now that drives this piece of work. I am sure that the Minister is aware, because he has been asking us repeatedly whether we have read the report of the Law Commission, of its provenance. I was on the upskirting Bill, and the Government agreed to commit to the recommendation of the Law Commission as a result of an amendment that we tabled then, recognising that there were crimes driven by misogyny, and that that was putting women at risk.
It was time to turn the debate around—to stop telling women to keep themselves safe and providing money for lighting, because somehow it is about where they go running, and to start saying that this is about the perpetrators, and holding them to account for what they do. The challenge before the Minister is Lords amendment 72, which, again, is another cross-party effort. I pay tribute to Baroness Newlove, who is a goddess in my mind for her determination to speak up for victims, and Lord Russell, as well as my colleagues on the Government Benches who have been working to look at these issues. We are listening to the police. We are listening to the quarter of police forces that already record sex or gender when it motivates crimes, to help them catch the perpetrators. They recognise that it helps. It helps them to develop the patterns of behaviour.
I gently say to the Minister that when he says the problem is that women do not report, he needs to ask himself, as the policing Minister, not why women are not reporting, but why they do not feel they can come forward to report. It is not about the women; it is about the reporting. It is about the response they get. My colleague, the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), is absolutely right when she says that everybody knows a victim and everybody probably knows a perpetrator. Many women will have experienced sexual harassment. They will have experienced abuse online, offline and in our daily lives to such an extent that it infuses what we do: the flinch when we come out of a tube station to make sure there is nobody behind us; carrying our keys in our hands; worrying about what our daughter is wearing; and hoping that our son is not one of those people who does it.
The truth for the Minister is that the police are telling us, “Actually, we have a clear policy that helps us to identify people early on.” He is right when he talks about patterns of escalation. Many perpetrators start with what people might think of as lower-level offences. I have to tell the Minister that I have always said I will stop campaigning on this issue when I go to the wedding where the bride gets up and says, “Well, he followed me down the street demanding I get in the back of the van because he wanted to grope me and I thought it was the most romantic thing ever.” It does not happen. What does happen is that that is the daily experience for women across the country and the truth is that the Bill does not offer anything to resolve that. It does not offer anything to back the police, when they say to us that they want to capture that data.
I understand the concern raised about the carve-out and I will come on to that specifically, but we should be very clear that the first thing the amendment would do is record all that data, including domestic abuse and rape, as misogynistic, because it would help to form a pattern. When we talk to the police in the areas where they are recording it, it is not, frankly, the catcalling that people are reporting. It is serious sexual assault, violence against women, rape and abuse, because they have the confidence that the police are going to recognise it for what it is, which is serious violence.
I also say to the Minister gently that he might want to correct the record, because the Law Commission did not look at this very proposal. This proposal is based on the Bertin amendment. The Bertin amendment carves out a definition of serious sexual violence which we did not have, so by its very definition the Law Commission could not have looked at it to consider whether or not it addresses that concern. It is not that we should not record data where crimes are misogynistically motivated, but how we deal with them in sentencing. Carving these offences out does not mean that they are not misogynistic; it means we ensure that the already pitiful sentencing regime does not go any lower.
There is something crucial in the amendment about how it works with the police and the courts, and what the police are telling us in the areas where they are doing this. I see Government Members who have police who are doing it. The police want the courts to back them. They are gathering the data and using it to track perpetrators, finding them early on in their offending careers before we get to the points that people are talking about in the press. They want the courts to back them, just as they back them when it comes to hatred of someone’s skin colour or their religion.
Twenty or 30 years ago, when I was a young woman—a long time ago—there was a culture where things were said on TV and things that people said that we would now rightly recognise as racist or as religious hatred. Hate crime legislation does not just target perpetrators, but cultures. Most of all it changes the culture within the police, because the police forces that are doing this are talking about the mindset change among their members. As a Member for a local community where women have been ignored by the Met police for years, I have to say that that mindset change is something we should all desperately want, so we can recognise the danger when somebody starts following women and how that might escalate. We have all seen it in those reporting histories.
The Minister wants to hide behind the Law Commission. I understand that. I have said to him that I will uphold—[Interruption.] Well, the Minister said I signed an amendment asking him to back the Law Commission. I want him to look closely at what the Law Commission is saying, which is that there are crimes motivated by misogyny, so then it becomes about where the offence is. He said he was not convinced about the reporting. I urge him to speak to North Yorkshire hate crime co-ordinators, and to those in Avon and Somerset, Gloucestershire, West Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, where they have been doing this for years and getting real results. He should speak to the chief constables who have gone on the record saying that they want him to make this change—after all, he is the Policing Minister.
I also ask the Minister to talk to those people about crimes against women from minority communities. There is something so important about their voices being heard in this process. Muslim women who are targeted not just for being Muslim but for being women have to pick a side of their identity under our current hate crime legislation. They have to be seen for 50% of who they are. That means that the police do not recognise what is going on. Disabled women are not heard by our policing structures, because they do not quite fit the right tick-box. They can be a victim of more than one form of hate, but right now if you are a disabled woman, a lesbian or a black woman being targeted for being both those things, you are not seen by our legislation. The amendment would correct that.
The carve-out ensures that sentences are not lesser. As we have said, Stephen Lawrence’s killers were not tried for a hate crime, but we all recognise the hatred that drove the crime. Carve-outs are not an unusual precedent. They exist within legislation. What the Law Commission was concerned about was how to do the carve-out. The Bertin amendment, which Lords amendment 72 is based on, answers that point.
I am listening very closely to what the hon. Lady is saying, but the Law Commission was very clear in saying that this would make matters so much more complex, and it worries about how that would affect securing the sort of convictions that I know the hon. Lady and I want to see.
I hope the right hon. Member will understand what I am saying. The Law Commission did not look at this amendment, which has learned from the Bertin amendment. [Interruption.] She shakes her head, but the Bertin amendment, which sets out explicitly the offences we would carve out, did not exist during the time of its work. One argument the Law Commission made was with regard to the difficulty of carving those offences out. The amendment builds on where a carve-out can be made.
This is an important issue and I am grateful to the hon. Lady, but I just wanted to point out to her that the Law Commission said in its consultation paper that it thought it might be possible to overcome the challenges involved in excluding certain violence against women and girls contexts and there would still be value in including sex or gender within hate crime laws for the remaining criminal contexts. It specifically considered the notion of carve-outs. However, following further reflection and analysis, and with the benefit of detailed and thoughtful consultation responses, it now believes that all the possible models to do so create more problems than they solve. So the Law Commission did look specifically at this model of carve-outs, and indeed it specifically considered the option of the full recognition of sex or gender in aggravated offences, with enhanced sentences on the same basis as for other recognised characteristics.
I am sorry, but the Minister is conflating two different things here. The Law Commission did not look at the Bertin amendment. What it looked at was whether one might inadvertently downgrade sentencing for rape or domestic abuse by including it within this hierarchy. That is why, for example, Rape Crisis was concerned about a generalist clause. I am sure the Minister has spoken to Rape Crisis since the Law Commission’s report was made. I certainly have. I talked to it about this amendment, and it has been much more positive about it. I hope, if the Minister is quoting Rape Crisis, that he will listen to it when it says that it recognises what is being tried here.
I am not here to say that the Lords amendment is perfect, but I am here to say the because there are other crimes that could be motivated by misogyny, which it is right to recognise within sentencing and to treat as serious—for example, exposure, cyber-flashing, assault or blackmail targeted at disabled women; we see a lot of that in the evidence base—that means that we should dismiss this entirely and say, “Well, we won’t do this at all,” is yet again to ask women to wait for something that will never come. That is the challenge we have here.
The Minister wants to say, “Let’s not politicise it.” I agree. I extend my hand to him to say let us work together to get this right, but let us recognise that misogyny is driving crimes and that the Law Commission has said that. Its arguments were technical ones about how to do the drafting, not about the principle. I hope that the Minister would acknowledge that, because he cannot both argue—
That is not what the Minister has said, but I am pleased to hear him say that—[Interruption.] Great. Wonderful—consensus is breaking out, but consensus will not deal with the fact that women right now are at risk and are being harmed. This proposal is helping to improve conviction rates and to track perpetrators in the areas where it is operating.
The Minister will be aware that an amendment to the Bill that became the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 was withdrawn in the other place because Ministers committed to making sure that all police forces would do the reporting, but they have not. We can agree that the reporting is necessary, but it is not sufficient to give the police the backing that they need or to say, “This is about street lighting”. We have to look at how we tackle violence against women and at why and how we could have a carve-out to make this work. That is essentially what an incitement offence would do—
I am sorry, but the hon. Lady seems determined to have a fight about this and I really do not want one. She keeps referring to street lighting, but that is one of a suite of things that we need to do generally in the public realm regarding safety. For clarity, I of course acknowledge that there are offences that are motivated by misogyny—I say that clearly, as I did in my opening speech—but this requires a number of approaches and solutions. We are merely saying that the evidence that the Law Commission and other groups put before us is that this particular approach is likely to cause more harm than good. We have committed to look at the other areas that it has highlighted, particularly the crimes that are motivated by misogyny, which I read out from its report. I reassure hon. Members that we are duty-bound to respond to the Law Commission’s report in six months, and we will do so.
I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I mention that there are, I think, more than 17 Law Commission reports that have been published since 2010 that the Government have not responded to and acted on—and that is just to look at the Law Commission. He also keeps saying that the Law Commission has looked at this proposal. No—the Law Commission looked at including sex or gender in all instances. It then looked at whether it was possible to have a carve-out, but we did not have the Bertin amendment, which specifically identified the offences in question and helped to shape this Lords amendment.
The Minister has said that he does not want to have a fight about this. Well, he is going to have one, because he is opposing the proposal and not coming up with any alternatives. He is not saying, for example, “We will introduce a proposal in the other place that addresses these issues” or that he will listen not just to all the chief constables across the country who have said that they want to see this happen, but to the organisations that have. Seeing as he is obsessed with major organisations, let us run through them: the Fawcett Society; Citizens UK; Refuge; Stonewall; HOPE not hate; Dimensions; Tell MAMA; the Jo Cox Foundation; and Safe & the City. Many of us have been talking to people who have expressed concerns to identify what those are and learn from them; that is where this amendment has come from.
The Minister will use the Government majority to vote this Lords amendment down, to say that violence against women is a complicated issue and that there are other approaches, and he will wait patiently and in fear that, yet again, there will be another moment as there was a year ago. The trouble is that, for us as women, waiting in fear is our daily experience, because we do not see things changing any time soon. We see the evidence base from Nottinghamshire and from the Met police. We want to know why there is a postcode lottery when it comes to the police taking violence against women seriously. We want to know why our courts want to exclude sex or gender from the protected characteristics that we rightly recognise when crimes are motivated by a hatred of somebody just for who they are, and we will tackle that.
People made many of these arguments 20 years ago on recognising racially and religiously motivated abuse. We now, rightly, all benefit from the protection and the freedom that has been given to people, so that they do not have to live in fear that they will be attacked just because of the colour of their skin or their religious identity. The Minister’s problem is that he says that he listens to and knows women and that he understands this area, but if he understands it at all, he should listen to the suffragettes, who told us that it was “deeds not words” that matter. All we have heard tonight is words.
This proposal is backed by the police. Opposition Members and many Government Members want to back the police and want to see the courts back up the police. If he does not accept this amendment, the Minister has the time and the opportunity in the Lords to come up with an alternative. He will have my support and that of the Cross Benchers to make that happen. However, if he continues to ignore women, to say that he understands the challenge and to blame them for not coming forward and reporting things—[Interruption.] He is right to shake his head, but he can probably go home without looking over his shoulder. Many of us cannot.
I would like to speak in support of the Government and against making misogyny a hate crime, as suggested in Lords amendment 72. It is safe to say that everybody understands the strength of feeling about adding sex and gender to hate crime laws—as I do, not least, from my mailbox—and this debate has shown that. However, I feel unable to support the amendment in the light of the Law Commission’s conclusion in its independent review of hate crime laws in December last year. It said that such a step would potentially
“prove more harmful than helpful, both to victims of violence against women and girls, and also to efforts to tackle hate crime more broadly”—
the Law Commission’s words, not mine. It specifically noted that adding those characteristics may make the prosecution of crimes disproportionately affecting women and girls, such as sexual offences and domestic abuse, much more difficult.
That issue arises because establishing whether a hate crime has occurred would require additional proof to be demonstrated in court. The Law Commission notes, by contrast:
“It might be practically difficult to prove a sex or gender-based aggravation in the context of VAWG crimes that usually take place in private”.
As a result, the Law Commission notes:
“We are particularly concerned about the potential for this to make some sexual offence prosecutions more difficult”.
We should not put this in the “too difficult” box; it will just work against women and girls who are the victims.
The Law Commission subsequently recommended against adding these characteristics to the law. Given those and other potential unintended consequences, as we have heard, organisations responding to the consultation support the Law Commission’s review in opposing these characteristics being added to the law.
It is also worth Members noting, when they come to their decision today, that the Lords amendment seeks to mitigate the most serious risks identified in what I have spoken about by excluding certain offences from any hate crime designation, including sexual offences and domestic abuse. However, the Law Commission similarly identified that such models would not be helpful, noting that this would then make the addition of the characteristics largely “tokenistic”—the Law Commission’s words, not the Minister’s—by excluding the most serious offences that frequently harm women and girls. It also noted that the exclusion of these offences risks suggesting that they are, by default, less serious or not rooted in misogynistic hostility, and would treat sex and gender unequally to other characteristics in the scope of hate crime laws.
I therefore share the Law Commission’s concern that adding sex and gender to hate crime laws in any form could prove unacceptably counterproductive and work against women and girls.
I rise to speak in support of Lords amendment 72. Existing hate crime legislation must be extended to include misogyny, and the police must be required to record hate crimes as misogynistic. The amendment has the backing of such powerful organisations as the Fawcett Society, Refuge, the Young Women’s Trust and many more, as well as the police.
Last year was a terrible year for women and girls, with two high-profile cases of young women murdered on our streets by vile sexual predators, peaceful women’s protesters pinned to the ground by serving police officers, thousands of women being subjected to spiking, including in my Bath constituency, and countless other horrific crimes against women and girls.
There is growing and very obvious evidence that misogyny is at the centre of violence against women and girls. Nottinghamshire police have led the way to enabling cases of abuse and harassment to be recorded as misogyny; Avon and Somerset police are following suit. I commend all police forces that are doing so, but it should not be a postcode lottery.
Making misogyny a hate crime would send a powerful signal. We need a culture change, and we in this House have a duty to lead it. I have listened carefully to this evening’s debate, in which the Government have said that making misogyny a hate crime could lead to unintended consequences, possibly making it harder to prosecute the most serious cases of sexual violence. Of course we need to protect those women who are exposed to the most serious cases of sexual violence, but Lords amendment 72 especially sets out to avoid any such consequences.
I spoke to the Law Commission a few days ago. Its argument is that if we excluded the most serious offences from our legislation, it would be tokenistic. I disagree, and I think it is okay to disagree, because what we are saying is that making misogyny a hate crime is not a silver bullet, but it is progress. Let us stop making excuses. Women’s safety matters every day.
I will not, because of time.
We should start sending a very strong signal today. Hate crime legislation has made a difference to religious and racial hate crime, so why should women not have the same right? Let us listen carefully to what is being said and make sure that we make progress. It would not be an entire answer, but making misogyny a hate crime would send such a powerful signal that certain attitudes that lead to harassment and later to more serious crimes are not okay, and they are not lawful.
I spent last Friday evening in St Peter’s Rooms in Ruddington with a nurse, councillors, shop owners, a reiki practitioner, childcare professionals and many more members of the community. We were taking part in a training programme to help people to identify signs of domestic abuse, talk to survivors they might come across in their place of work and put them in touch with local professional services. The programme is called J9, after Janine Mundy, who was brutally murdered by her ex-husband. I think I must have taken part about 15 times now in the course, which I am delivering across the constituency with my constituent Nicola Brindley, but it never gets any easier to hear the stories of abuse suffered.
I therefore strongly welcome Lords amendment 57, which extends the time limit for prosecution for common assault or battery in domestic abuse cases. There are so many reasons why it takes time for victims to come forward. We must do everything we can to stand with them and support them when they do.
I also welcome Lords amendment 13, which clarifies the inclusion of domestic abuse and sexual offences in the serious violence duty, and Lords amendment 56, which protects women doing the most natural thing in the world: breastfeeding their child. I commend the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) for all her work in the area.
Also before the House is the issue of making misogyny a hate crime, as set out in Lords amendment 72. I fully support the intention behind the amendment, as I think every Member does, but having read the Law Commission’s report, I share some of the concerns voiced. I take very seriously the concerns raised by organisations such as Rape Crisis, which believes that adding sex or gender as a protected characteristic would further complicate the judicial process and make it harder to secure convictions.
Lords amendment 72 also carves out sexual offences and offences related to domestic abuse from the scope of prosecution as a hate crime motivated by sex or gender, because there are considerable difficulties with keeping them in. As the Law Commission’s report shows, research has shown that sex or gender-based hostility is much more likely to be identified or proven in the context of sexual violence perpetrated by strangers in public settings, particularly where it is accompanied by physical violence. Using misogyny as an aggravating factor in such cases would risk perpetuating the highly damaging myth that there is a hierarchy of sexual violence, which already does so much damage to victims whose experience is different, but whose suffering is no less.
In many crimes of violence against women and girls, such as those in cases of domestic abuse where the victim is known to the perpetrator or is in an intimate relationship with them, it may be more difficult to evidence hostility to gender, so I understand why those offences have been left outside the amendment’s scope. I understand the very strong views of Opposition Members that the amendment should be made without including them, but I worry what sort of message we would send as a Parliament if we made crimes such as domestic abuse and sexual violence—some of the most serious crimes against women and girls—exempt from an aggravating sentencing factor of misogyny. Those concerns, which have been set out by the Law Council, Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid, are the reason I cannot support the amendment.
The findings of the Law Commission, which I believe began its consultation with the expectation of supporting such a change, show why it is so important that changes to law are based on evidence so that we can focus on the most effective measures, which is why I welcome the Home Office’s public consultation on the issue of sex for rent—
The Bill is dangerous and undemocratic and has united a broad church of organisations in opposition. Even if all the Lords amendments that I rise to support today are agreed to, there would still be a huge amount in it that causes me concern. Our task today, though, is to try to improve what is before us.
Lords amendment 72 would play a key role in updating our existing hate crime laws to give our police forces and courts the vital tools that they need to tackle violence motivated by misogyny. By including sex or gender in hate crime reporting and sentencing, with exceptions for more serious sexual violence offences to ensure that sentences for them remain higher, it would give our police and courts the ability to track and hold to account those who target people for crimes purely because of who they are. As we have heard, selected police forces have already identified when crimes are motivated by hatred of someone’s sex or gender. They have already seen an increase in victims’ confidence to come forward and report those crimes.
The Government’s position is that making misogyny a hate crime goes against the Law Commission’s advice, but as the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) set out extremely eloquently, that is not entirely correct; the Law Commission was not commenting on the Bertin amendment. In line with concerns raised by the Law Commission about changing the burden of proof in relation to sexual or domestic offences, the amendment creates a carve-out whereby it would not apply to such offences. It uses the wording “sex or gender”, which is in line with the approach proposed in the Law Commission’s report on hate crime, and which would ensure that all crimes motivated by misogyny, or indeed misandry, are captured by the new law rather than leaving loopholes that could undermine the system.
This simple but powerful change would send an incredibly important signal. It would be part of the cultural change that we have been talking about. It would give women and girls the same protections that we give to others who are targeted solely because of who they are. It would show how seriously we take crimes motivated by misogyny. Frankly, the Government have been kicking the issue into the long grass for too long. It is time to step up and do the right thing by women and girls.
I will speak briefly to Lords amendments 114 to 116. As numerous organisations from Liberty to the End Violence Against Women Coalition and the Runnymede Trust attest, serious violence is a human rights issue. It devastates communities across the country and demands an evidence-based approach that works with, rather than against, those communities that bear its brunt. There is simply no evidence that serious violence reduction orders will protect communities from harm, however, and there is a wealth of evidence that they will sanction injustice and discrimination and risk fracturing public trust in public services and in the authorities. There is a risk that they will entrench the harms of ineffective, suspicion-less stop and search and that they will expand the injustice of the doctrine of joint enterprise, with a disproportionate effect on over-policed and marginalised groups, including young women experiencing domestic abuse and criminal exploitation.
It therefore seems entirely right and sensible that a robust pilot be carried out and that decisions to roll out SVROs nationally be informed by its findings and come before Parliament, as Lords amendments 114 to 116 propose. The amendments, which I support, reinstate democratic oversight of laws engaging rights and equalities issues and affirm the importance of an evidence-based approach to tackling serious violence.
I turn to Lords amendments 141 and 142. I have received emails from a number of constituents about how tens of thousands of women are being propositioned by predators offering free or discounted accommodation in exchange for sexual favours. Only one person has ever been charged for that kind of crime, because the law is woefully inadequate, leaving men to get away with sexually exploiting renters in need of a home. The Lords amendments specifically criminalise such landlords; they also implement financial penalties on websites and platforms. That is why they have my support.
I will confine my remarks to Lords amendment 72. Let me to say at the outset that I understand the laudable intention behind it, but I want to explain why, with the greatest of respect, I believe it to be misconceived.
It was the murder of Stephen Lawrence that set the origins of hate crime in train. He was killed in 1993, and hate crime became a criminal offence in 1998 under the Crime and Disorder Act. There was some confusion about the chronology earlier, but it is set out in paragraph 1.3 of the final report of the Law Commission. A hate crime is not a stand-alone offence, but it elevates another crime, most commonly assault, to an aggravated offence under section 28 of the 1998 Act if the prosecution can show that the offence was motivated wholly or partly by hostility towards another group. In the following year, the Court of Appeal finessed the test that applied, saying, in The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) v. Pal, that the prosecution must prove some demonstration of that hostility, most often a form of language that was used at the time when the crime was committed.
There are two reasons why I do not think that the amendment works in the context of violence against women. First, it sets the jury off down the wrong line of inquiry. Do we really want to legislate for a system that invites juries to judge the seriousness of an offence such as stalking, rape or domestic abuse through the prism of whether the perpetrator demonstrated hostility towards women? Even leading juries down that line of inquiry risks making acquittal more likely if they conclude that the defendant harboured no particular ill will towards women. When would we find examples of that kind of language? It would be much more likely in “stranger” contexts, and less likely when the victim had been on Tinder that night, had been out at a club or had been drinking, and this took place were behind closed doors—we know that that accounts for about 90% of serious sexual assaults—and we already have the greatest difficulties in securing convictions in such cases. Rape Crisis has said that
“the motivation of hostility is much more likely to apply to stranger perpetrators, and here we see the hate crime framework as propping up harmful myths about violence against women.”
My second reason concerns causation. Many offences against women are not motivated by hatred. Subtle, insidious factors are often at play—power, control, obsession, revenge, jealousy—none of which would meet the threshold for hate crime, but which are no less toxic or deserving of criminal punishment. In fact, we as a Parliament have worked collectively in the last decade to see the treatment of women through a more expansive lens. We recognised these complex causes when we passed the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, with its provisions on revenge porn and coercive control, and when we criminalised stalking in 2012. It is with that in mind that I am regretfully of the view that making misogyny a hate crime would be regressive rather than progressive, and would deliver less, not more, justice for female victims.
I recently had a conversation with a constituent who has introduced reporting of misogyny as a crime in Nottinghamshire, where she is a senior police officer. She says that it has progressively changed the culture. Does my hon. Friend agree that the culture may change in police forces when acts of misogyny are recorded at an earlier stage?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and it is the point that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) was making about policing. It is true that the police have responded positively in reporting such incidents, but it is also true that the pilot has shown no increase in the number of prosecutions or successful convictions, with which we are primarily concerned. It is an enduring concern that we do not do enough to record violence against women and girls in general, and I think we ought to do more in that regard.
Let me address my final comments to the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), who said in her opening remarks that this was a simple and straightforward step. The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) said that the evidence was “obvious”. Let me gently point out that prominent feminists in the House, including the Mother of the House, do not support this proposal for exactly the same as reasons as me. I hope that the closing remarks from the Opposition will reflect the fact that there is a respected strain of feminist opinion that does not take the same view as the hon. Member for Croydon Central.
The Bill contains many good provisions, but I will confine myself to the subject of the serious violence reduction orders. Let me start by thanking the House of Commons Library for its report of September 2021, “Knife Crime in England and Wales”, which has been very helpful.
In 2010, stop and search was widely used in the fight against knife crime. It succeeded not only in catching people carrying knives and offensive weapons, but in deterring people from carrying them. However, its success was limited, as it was scaled down because many felt that its implementation was disproportionate and reduced community trust. If it did indeed reduce community trust, especially in the police, it was counterproductive. As a result, by 2020 there were fewer than half as many stop and searches as in 2010: in fact, the reduction was some 56%.
Did this lead to a reduction in the number of fatal stabbings in London? I am all too aware that we know the answer to that question. No, it did not; it had the opposite effect. The number of fatal stabbings increased by 81% in London. Ten teenagers were fatally stabbed in 2010, and a decade later that grim statistic was 27. Twenty-seven teenagers with their lives before them had those lives snuffed out, and for what? If stop and search had not been scaled down, how many of those young men would be alive today? How many lives have been lost because of the reduction in stop and search? I ask again, how many? Who here wants to see a life taken away? Nobody does, but I believe that opposing stop and search has led to that.
Increasing stop and search with serious violence reduction orders would be likely to reduce knife crime, but it must be done along with changes in police practice to avoid the mistakes of the past. The Government’s amendment to Lords amendment 116 will play an important role in that. By collecting statistics on who is affected by SVROs and what their impact on reoffending is, we can ensure that police officers are using this tool in a specific and targeted way. What of outside London? It will help there too. Sadly, what we have seen in London seems to be spreading to cities and communities beyond our capital. In the past year in South Yorkshire, we have seen an epidemic of shootings and stabbings.
What has happened to bring this about? What can be done to stem this tide and bring lawfulness back to our communities? The answer is “many things”, and we all have a part to play. We in this House must vote for the Bill. It needs to become law so that the police have the tools that they need to combat crime and disorder. Outside the House, each of us can play an important part as well. We can work with the police. If they want to stop and search us, we should let them do so. It will save lives. Stop and search might have saved the lives of two young men who were stabbed to death last month locally.
I say this to every parent in the country, and to every person who is lucky enough to have the responsibility of bringing up children. We are role models to our children, so we should all act like role models. We should all set a good example for them to follow. We should live our lives responsibly, and we should be the good role models in their lives—not some local thug, and definitely not a glamorised thug on television. The best way to teach a child how to behave is to live our lives in the right way. We all have a part to play in making our communities better week by week, year by year. Let us work together, and let us work with the police. I commend this Bill.
I find this fascinating. So often in these debates, it is entirely understandable for the Opposition to say that the Government have not been in listening mode, and therefore amendments from the Lords have been turned down. Today, however, the evidence is striking. The Government are accepting, I believe, 22 Lords amendments on a wide range of matters, including emergency workers, domestic abuse, breastfeeding, common assault, data, hare coursing and child cruelty. I think that that is a good indication of both Houses working together.
I want to say a few words on Lords amendment 70 on spiking, and the Government amendments in lieu of it, and then on Lords amendment 72 on misogyny. On spiking, I am grateful to the Minister for his kind words about my 10-minute rule Bill, which is supported by Members from five different parties in this House, and which I think has helped to ensure that spiking is covered in this Bill. Certainly, when I originally proposed it, the thinking was that that would not be possible, so I recognise the movement that the Government have made.
The specific reason that I do not think the Lords amendment does the job that it could do is that it specifically calls for an amendment to the offence under section 61 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The truth, as we covered in the 10-minute rule Bill, is that there is more to spiking than sexual offences, although they are a big part of the problem. I am therefore satisfied that the amendments in lieu tabled by the Government will make a significant difference to the issue of spiking. As the Minister has said, it is clear that this behaviour is not exclusively linked to sexual activity, and the requirement on the Home Secretary to provide a report on the wider issues is therefore important. I believe that the Minister’s commitment—he might want to nod to repeat it—that the Home Secretary will be required to publish and lay the report before Parliament within 12 months of the Royal Assent of this Bill, is significant.
I note that the Minister has also asked officials to explore the need for a specific criminal offence to target spiking directly. I believe that this would change patterns of behaviour. It would have a preventive effect, and it would give young people—particularly young women—more confidence, especially at university. I would be delighted if he was able to commit to come back to this within six months of Royal Assent with a decision on whether to proceed with this further specific criminal offence, and I hope that he will say something on that in his winding-up speech. I have decided to pull my 10-minute rule Bill from its Second Reading, which had been proposed for 18 March, on the basis that the Minister has given that commitment, and I hope he will give a further one in his winding-up.
On Lords amendment 72, we have heard from distinguished colleagues including my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris), the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) and the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy)—four powerful advocates balancing strength of feeling with legal expertise on this issue. My own feeling is that, since I have just explained why I believe that a spiking Bill will help in terms of having a preventive effect and giving young people more confidence, there is something to this and I am glad that the Minister will come back and report to the House—
With the leave of the House, I shall respond to the debate. I am grateful to all the Members who have spoken, and I hope that what has been exhibited is our shared concern for many of the issues we have talked about today, not least the safety of women and girls, which has naturally and rightly dominated the debate. A number of undertakings were sought from me, latterly by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who has done so much work on the offence of spiking. I am happy to give him a commitment that we will come back within a six-month period, as he requested. Obviously we will be producing a wider report within 12 months, but we should be able to give him an indication at the time.
My right hon. Friend and neighbour, the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), asked for a specific legislative vehicle, but I am afraid that I cannot preview the Queen’s Speech, much as I would love to. I cannot give her a specific vehicle, but I can tell her that we will be responding to the Law Commission’s report within six months. We are giving serious consideration to the work streams that I have talked about. As I have said to her, it is my personal view that we have an issue that needs to be addressed, either through public order offending, through recording or through a specific offence. I hope that on that basis she will feel able to support us this evening.
The work that we will be doing in this area sits alongside an awful lot of other work looking at the issue of street harassment, including our safety of women at night fund and the safer streets fund. In September we launched the new StreetSafe tool, allowing the police to access greater information and data about where people feel, or indeed are, unsafe. I am told that more than 12,000 reports have already been submitted through that line. In December, the College of Policing published new guidance showing what the police can and should do when they receive a report of public sexual harassment. The criminal offence is already available and other protective tools can be used. As I hope my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North has just been to see, we have also launched a new communications campaign this evening. There is an awful lot to cover in this first group of amendments, but I hope that we have looked at a wide range of offences and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester for pointing out that we have been listening. The number of amendments we have accepted weigh in the balance of support for the votes that we are about to undertake.
On the misogyny issue, I commend the motivation behind the set of amendments that we are sadly declining. We understand people’s genuine concern about the safety of women and girls in the public sector, and indeed we share it. We are determined to make significant inroads in this area. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) and my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Newbury have pointed out so effectively, we cannot in all conscience support an amendment that the Law Commission and other large groups interested in this area believe runs the risk of damaging the cause of women’s safety. That puts an obligation on us to bring forward alternatives that will do something positive for women’s safety. That battle is under way, and we commit to doing exactly that.
Lords amendment 2 agreed to.
Lords amendment 70 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) and (b) made in lieu of Lords amendment 70.
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 72.—(Kit Malthouse.)
Lords amendment 72 disagreed to.
More than two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).
Lords amendment 114 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 115 disagreed to.
Serious violence reduction orders: piloting
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 116.—(Kit Malthouse.)
Lords amendment 116 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) and (b) made in lieu of Lords amendments 114 to 116.
After Clause 170
Offence of Requiring or Accepting Sexual Relations as a Condition of Accommodation
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 141.—(Kit Malthouse.)
Lords amendment 141 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 142 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 3 to 57, 59, 60, 108 to 113, 117, 147, 153 and 154 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 59 and 60.
After Clause 2
Required life sentence for manslaughter of emergency worker
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 58, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 107, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 61 to 69, 94 to 106, 121 to 140, 144, 145, 149 to 152 and 155 to 161.
There are no less than 161 Lords amendments for the House to consider this evening. To ensure that as many hon. and right hon. Members as possible who wish to speak can do so, I do not propose to detail all the amendments in this group, as many were uncontentious and will have the support of the whole House. I will, however, outline the key Lords amendments in this group brought forward by the Government, before commenting on the two amendments in this group that were agreed by their lordships contrary to the Government’s sound advice.
I know that MPs from across the House will want to share our support for the family and friends of PC Andrew Harper and their campaign to strengthen the law so that no other families go through the same heartbreak they have suffered. We were therefore pleased to announce our amendment in the other place, following our commitment to look at what action may be possible in this area. Lords amendment 1, known as Harper’s law, will impose mandatory life sentences on those convicted of unlawful act manslaughter where the victim is an emergency worker acting in the exercise of their functions as such a worker. The amendment will apply to adult offenders and 16 and 17-year-olds. The amendment will also contain judicial discretion for the court to impose an alternative sentence in exceptional circumstances.
In the case of Andrew Harper, the court did not impose life sentences on any of the defendants. Each received sentences of between 13 and 19 years for manslaughter—sentences that were subsequently upheld by the Court of Appeal. They will all be incarcerated for a significant period, but the Government believe that where a person is convicted of unlawful act manslaughter and the person who has been killed is an emergency worker, that should be punished with life imprisonment, except where there are exceptional circumstances relating to the offender or the offence.
The successful campaign of Lissie Harper, PC Harper’s widow, and the Police Federation drew this issue to the Government’s attention, and we are grateful for that. Lissie has shown incredible bravery, fortitude and courage in campaigning for this change, and I know that it has had a profound impact on Members from all parts of the House and on our constituents in communities across the country, who have come together to support this change.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question. If the scope of this measure was restricted to mandatory life sentences in situations where the emergency worker was directly responding to the unlawful act at the heart of the offence, it would not capture all the cases in which this Government believe the mandatory life sentence should apply. For example, offender A injures a defendant during a fight and, in their attempts to escape the scene, they run over the responding paramedic, who is on their way to save the life of the person injured by person A. In another scenario, offender B commits exactly the same actions, but in fleeing the scene, they run over and kill a police officer responding to a separate incident a mile down the road.
Both defendants have committed the same unlawful act, and in the same dangerous circumstances, and both have caused the death of an emergency worker as a result, but the grounds for implementing the mandatory life sentence would be based on the pure happenstance that one emergency worker was responding to that specific unlawful act, and the other was not. That disparity in sentencing would not accurately reflect the Government’s aim to ensure that those who commit the unlawful act manslaughter of emergency workers who are exercising their functions face a life sentence.
It is also worth setting out for the House’s benefit who counts as an emergency worker. We will define emergency workers in the same way as the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 and section 68 of the Sentencing Act 2020. This definition includes police officers, prison officers, National Crime Agency officers and those employed in fire services, search and rescue services and frontline NHS health services, among others.
If I may, in the wind-up, I will happily clarify for the House’s benefit the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. The points that I have put on the record are relevant, but I want to ensure that the House has complete clarity around those matters as we move forward.
Again, I emphasise my appreciation for the work that Lissie Harper has done, along with the Police Federation, which has undoubtedly captured the imagination of the entire country in pressing for the change, which we all welcome. It was not an isolated incident, which is obviously agonising in itself. Although, thankfully, emergency workers are not often killed on duty, they are required to put themselves at particular risk when carrying out their duties and protecting the public. I think I speak for the whole House in expressing enormous thanks and appreciation to them for everything that they do on the frontline day in, day out to keep each and every one of us safe.
The Minister is absolutely right to pay tribute to Lissie Harper and to our emergency services. He also makes the point that these are not isolated incidents. Will he take on board the broader point that, although there is obviously great support for this piece of legislation, the area that has not been addressed is the difficulty that juries face in deciding whether the offence—the facts made out—is murder or manslaughter?
I hope that the Minister will revisit a missed opportunity, which is the definitions of homicide under our current law. The Law Commission and others have suggested that they ought to be revisited because they create some difficulty and uncertainty, particularly in the difficult area between the intention to kill or to commit grievous bodily harm and gross negligence at the top end. I hope that the Government will consider revisiting the Law Commission’s work on that, because other jurisdictions have different categories of homicide, rather than the perhaps now old-fashioned categories of murder and manslaughter. We might then find it easier for juries to more accurately reflect the culpability by their verdicts, which is what we want to achieve.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s observations. We touched on those matters when we spoke last week when we engaged in advance of these proceedings. I said to him that that was something that I would certainly be willing to take away and consider, and I am willing to do that. He advocates that the Law Commission looks at the issue of homicide in the round and, as I say, I am happy to reflect on and consider that matter in the fullness of time.
To return to the question of the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), I am keen to provide the House with as much information as possible and to further clarify the position around it. If I understand his question correctly, it does apply to emergency workers who are off duty, but they must be acting as an emergency worker—off duty but still responding to an incident. I hope that that provides the House, in the correct terms, with the clarity that it is seeking on that point.
Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the question. If I may, I will touch on those matters in the wind-up, because I am conscious that hon. Members have quite a lot of questions and that there are quite a few hon. Members who are keen to speak. I will gladly pick up those points in the wind-up later when we have concluded.
Lords amendment 104 places on statute an aggravating factor for assault committed against anyone providing a service to the public. It will send a strong message that assaults against public-facing workers are totally unacceptable and will reinforce the seriousness with which the courts treat such offences. It has been welcomed by those in the retail sector who have campaigned on this important issue. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers), who has assiduously argued the case in this House for a change in the law in this area. In earlier proceedings, the House expressed a strong desire for such a change and I am proud that the Government are helping to deliver that.
In earlier stages of the Bill in this House, there were also calls for the Government to raise the maximum penalties for child cruelty offences. For years, my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) has campaigned tirelessly for Tony’s law, which is named after Tony Hudgell. As a baby, Tony was abused to such an extent by his birth parents that he is severely disabled. No child should suffer such appalling abuse, especially from those who should love and care for them the most. It is right to ensure that, in such cases, the punishment can fit the crime. Such criminality is truly shocking and heinous.
May I just place on record the extreme gratitude of Tony’s real parents—the parents who actually love him—who have cared for him since a few days after he was born and have restored him to an extraordinary and loving child? May I also place on record my enormous gratitude to the Lord Chancellor for his work on the matter, and to the Minister and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), who are both on the Front Bench, for showing the courage and determination to make sure the measure passes? This changes not, sadly, Tony’s life—thank God, he has been cared for well—but, with any luck, the lives of many in deterring such awful crimes from ever happening again.
My hon. Friend puts the case very eloquently, and it is a privilege to be able to stand at this Dispatch Box and announce these changes in the House. He has been a tireless campaigner on this issue, and this change is a great credit to him, to Tony and to his adopted family, with their incredible care and their advocacy on these issues. I think all of them can be hugely proud of the work they have done to bring about this change. I am sure the House will agree, especially in the light of more recent appalling cases, that the courts should, where necessary, have the fullest range of sentencing powers available to deal appropriately with those who abuse children.
Lords amendments 121 and 122 extend the disregards and pardons scheme relating to historical convictions for same-sex sexual activity. The disregards scheme, introduced by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, enables men with historical cautions and convictions for certain gay sex offences to apply to the Secretary of State to have their cautions and convictions disregarded. If successful, the applicant is treated in all circumstances as if the offence had never occurred, and also receives an automatic pardon. The Government accept that the scope of the current scheme is too narrow, as it is largely confined to the now repealed offences of buggery and gross indecency between men, and excludes other repealed offences that may also have been used to criminalise same-sex sexual activity. Lords amendment 121 will therefore extend the scheme to enable individuals convicted of same-sex sexual activity under any repealed or abolished offence to apply to have that caution or conviction disregarded. Lords amendment 122 ensures that pardons provisions will reflect the extension. Taken together, these amendments will help put right the wrongs of the past when people were unjustly criminalised simply on the basis of their sexuality.
In their lordships’ House, there was significant debate on the issue of imprisonment for public protection. Lords amendment 101 will put the Secretary of State’s policy of automatic referral of applications to terminate the IPP licence on to a statutory footing. This would enable all eligible IPP offenders to be referred to the parole board for consideration of a licence termination at the appropriate time.
Lords amendments 61 to 69 deliver the Government’s commitment, made in our action plan for animal welfare, to crack down further on illegal hare coursing. They do this by broadening the circumstances in which the police can investigate and bring charges for hare coursing-related activity, and by increasing the powers of the courts for dealing with this activity on conviction. In bringing forward these amendments, the Government have acted swiftly and decisively in response to the widespread concern about the impact of hare coursing expressed by hon. Members. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill), who raised this issue eloquently in Committee, and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) for his private Member’s Bill on this subject. They have both been assiduous champions of this issue on behalf of their rural communities.
Let me turn to the two amendments in this group on which we have tabled motions to disagree. Lords amendment 58 seeks to confer certain police powers on the national food crime unit of the Food Standards Agency. We agree that food crime is a serious issue, costing billions of pounds each year, and it is right that the FSA should be empowered to respond accordingly, improve resilience and reduce the burden on police forces, but this is not the way to legislate on this issue. We are dealing here with the intrusive powers of the state. As such, we need to ensure that any exercise of PACE powers—powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—by the FSA would be necessary, proportionate and legitimate, with suitable governance and accountability arrangements in place. Amendment 58 puts the cart before the horse. That said, we are committed to working with the FSA, its sponsor the Department for Health and Social Care, and other partners to frame legislation that is fit for purpose.
Finally, Lords amendment 107 would allow local authorities to establish and maintain secure academies, either alone or in consortia. The parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, made it clear in the other place that it would be legally possible for a local authority to set up an entity capable of entering into academy arrangements directly with the Secretary of State, and that is not prevented by the Academies Act 2010—so there is no legal bar, rendering the amendment unnecessary. Government policy is that academy trusts are not local authority influenced companies, and our position on secure schools is to mirror the procedures of academies. However, to repeat the commitment that Lord Wolfson made in the other place, my Department will assess in detail the potential role of local authorities in running this new form of provision, before we invite applications to run any future secure schools.
I am always grateful to the hon. Lady for her interventions, and I repeat my point: we do not believe there is a barrier, but as I say, we will review the matter in the way I have set out to the House. We of course recognise that local authorities have a long established role in children’s social care and the provision of secure accommodation for children and young people. In particular, the secure children’s home legal framework may present a more straightforward route to the expansion of local authority involvement in the provision of secure accommodation than does the 16-to-19 academies framework. I reiterate: there is no legal bar, and as such the amendment must be unnecessary. Fortunately, there is much agreement on this group of amendments in the House, and I will pick up on points raised during the debate when I wind it up.
It is a pleasure to follow the Minister. I will not speak to all 58 amendments under debate, as some are straightforward and many in this group at least—I am sure the Minister will be pleased to hear—have full support from the Labour Benches. We particularly welcome Lords amendments 1 and 150, which introduce Harper’s law. That has the Opposition’s full and strong support, and I join the Minister in paying tribute to Lissie Harper’s extraordinary and powerful work. When facing pain and grief unimaginable to most of us, she has campaigned for reform to protect our protectors. My right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) met Lissie Harper during her campaign, and I know they are particularly glad to see these amendments introduced by the Government. It is right that emergency service workers who put themselves at risk to keep the rest of us safe are protected by the strongest shield that the criminal justice system can provide.
We are also extremely pleased to see Lords amendments 27, 28 and 151, which will introduce Tony’s law, increasing penalties for those who commit child abuse. Again, I share the Minister’s admiration for the inspiring work of young Tony Hudgell and his loving parents, Paula and Mark. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), and my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) who have both done fantastic work throughout the passage of the Bill to increase protections for children, and supported Tony’s law in Committee. Cases as atrocious and horrifying as Tony’s are thankfully extremely rare, but it is right that when they do come before the courts, the judiciary can impose the full range of penalties that reflect the gravity of such horrific offending.
The Opposition welcome Lords amendment 104 which states that if someone who is carrying out a public service, such as a retail worker, is assaulted, the fact that they were carrying out a public service at the time of the offence will be an aggravating factor in sentencing. I am glad the Government have finally listened to the Opposition, trade unions and trade bodies who have been calling for greater protection, particularly for our shopworkers who have been unsung heroes and kept our country running throughout the pandemic. We pay particular thanks to the efforts of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, the Co-operative party, The British Retail Consortium, the Association of Convenience Stores, and Tesco, for their fantastic campaigning. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) for his tireless work on this issue in recent years. I also pay tribute to the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central and my noble Friend Lord Coaker, who throughout the Bill’s passage pushed for tougher penalties for those who assault shop workers.
The Opposition also support Lords amendments 121 and 122, which will extend the scheme for disregarding convictions and cautions for historical offences relating to certain same-sex sexual activity. Such reform is long overdue, and I am glad that the Government have taken the opportunity of the Bill to introduce it. We are grateful to colleagues in the other place who worked hard to implement the reform. I pay tribute in particular to my noble Friend Lord Cashman for his tireless work in championing LGBTQ rights.
The Opposition also welcome the Government’s proposals on hare coursing. That leaves us in agreement with the Government on the majority of proposals in the group, which is perhaps an unusual position for us to find ourselves in on the Bill. However, that underlines the unfortunate approach that the Government have taken with the Bill, which has grown significantly from the already extensive length at which it began. By shoehorning in divisive and draconian measures that impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest as well as measures criminalising Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, the Government have undermined the positive reforms contained in other parts of the Bill with which the Opposition agree.
The Bill should have also been an opportunity finally to take action on the epidemic of violence against women and girls, but the Government have absolutely failed to do so. For example, there are no measures to increase the pitiful rape prosecution rate, which is now just 1.3%. Shamefully, the Government opposed our amendments to ensure a rape and serious sexual offences unit in every police force area despite evidence clearly showing the importance of specialist support to successful prosecutions.
While we are in agreement with the majority of amendments in the group, there are still some areas where we would like to see the Government go further. On imprisonment for public protection reform contained in Lords amendments 101 to 103, while we of course welcome the Government’s intention in the area and are glad to see movement in the right direction, we remain of the opinion that reform could have gone further. I note that in the other place Lord Wolfson of Tredegar said:
“This may be a modest start, but it is a start”
and he added that he was
“sure that the conversation would continue”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 January 2022; Vol. 818, c. 158.]
I certainly hope that will be the case, and I hope that the Minister will commit to looking seriously at the forthcoming Justice Committee report on IPP sentences with a view to moving IPP reform further along.
The Opposition also support amendment 58 tabled in the other place by my noble Friend Lord Rooker, who has considerable knowledge in this area. While I recognise that the Government have committed to food crime reform, as confirmed by the Minister in the Lords debate, they are not implementing it swiftly enough. Serious and complex cases of food crime need to be taken seriously, and, as Lord Rooker noted in his speech, we are due another big scandal any time now. Extending further powers to the National Food Crime Unit cannot be kicked into the long grass. While I would prefer the Minister to support the amendment and signal the Government’s commitment to tackling serious food crime, I hope that at a minimum he will commit to a timetable for reform in the area.
Finally, I turn to Lords amendments 105 to 107, which relate to the running of secure academies and would provide in legislation that a secure academy could be run by a local authority. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham, who raised the issue in Committee, and Lord German, who tabled the amendments in the other place. The Government have so far resisted amendments that would clarify the position of local authorities on running secure academies, but I hope that the Minister will shift his position today.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Local authorities have a tremendous amount of experience in caring for vulnerable children with a high level of need in a secure environment. As she said in Committee:
“It makes no sense to exclude this knowledge and learning from the provisions in the Bill.”––[Official Report, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Public Bill Committee, 15 June 2021; c. 567.]
Indeed, the failures of secure training centres that we have seen should encourage the Government to widen the pool of expertise as much as possible when moving to this new model of child detention. Charlie Taylor stated in his 2016 report:
“Children who are incarcerated must receive the highest quality education from outstanding professionals to repair the damage caused by a lack of engagement and patchy attendance.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that children who commit crime are vulnerable, and in need of positive attention and support to learn what is wrong and what is right, and what is acceptable in society, so that they may learn to become good citizens and contribute positively to society?
I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend speaks so passionately about this issue. It is absolutely right that those in secure academies are given the support that they need, and that they receive not just a good education but the very best that is available to them. To that end, we believe that local authorities must explicitly be brought into the fold when considering who will run these academies. Although we can argue about whether there is a legal bar, the fact is that having it explicitly in the Bill would put it beyond all doubt that local authorities could run these secure academies, and that education policy would not be a barrier to their doing so.
That is a small clarification, which the Government do not appear to oppose in practical terms, but it would send a signal to potential providers not only that local authorities are technically allowed to bid but that, given their wealth of experience in this area, their bids would be positively welcomed. The failures across the youth estate have been shocking, and the Government need to bring in providers with the necessary expertise and ethos to support children in secure settings, to help to address those failings. I hope that, for that reason, the Minister can today commit to their explicit inclusion as possible providers.
Although we are in agreement with the Government on the majority of the proposals in this group and welcome them, further clarification and action on some aspects are needed. Our support here does not detract from the very serious failings in other parts of the Bill, and the failure to make its focus the very real epidemic of violence against women. If the Government were fully serious about the issues facing our society, they would make that one of the main focuses of the Bill and drop the poorly thought-out draconian measures on protests and further police powers.
I am grateful for the chance to speak in the debate. This area of the Bill raises a number of important criminal justice matters, and I am grateful to the Minister for his very open approach to engaging with me and others around it. I have much sympathy with both him and the shadow Minister, in observing that there are sensible things that I hope we will broadly agree upon on most of this. I hope that I can make one or two observations on how we might take things forward once we have passed the legislation.
I have made my point in relation to the manslaughter of emergency workers, and I do not seek to repeat it, save to say that the Justice Committee has looked at the law of homicide and I think that we are in danger of missing an opportunity there. That does not mean that what is proposed is wrong, but we should be more ambitious than that, because many other common-law jurisdictions have reformed their law of manslaughter in a way that makes it more comprehensible to a jury. I looked with particular care at, for example, the judge’s directions in the PC Harper case and others. Even with the most impeccable directions it is not easy to follow now, against the factual background that we often have. We ought to be prepared to look at evidence from other common-law jurisdictions going forward.
There was an argument, of course, that the victim being an emergency worker is always an aggravating factor, but I understand the point about putting it on the statute book, given the particular value and weight that we place upon the service that these emergency workers have done. Similarly, I welcome the provision for aggravation in relation to assaults upon public service workers. I visited one of the local Co-op stores in my constituency and met some of my constituents who have been assaulted and threatened pretty appallingly by people. They do a great job for the public, and I think that we are right to give them a measure of protection too. I welcome the Government moving on that.
I will just turn to two other matters, one of which concerns IPP—imprisonment for public protection—sentences. The Minister knows that the Justice Committee is currently drawing up a report on this issue. We heard most compelling evidence on this situation, which Lord Brown, a former senior law Lord, described as an enduring blot on the British justice system. I paraphrase his words—that may not be exact—but that was the essence of it. I welcome what the Government are doing. It is a step in the right direction, but we need to ensure that those who are capable of being released safely are processed through the system much more quickly. That has been a blot on our system for too long. Resources have not been made available and all too often the provision to do the courses that were necessary for them to meet the trigger levels for release were not available. The danger was—we heard very powerful evidence on this from clinical psychologists and others—that sometimes the failure of the system to deal with the underlying issues which caused them to be subject to a IPP in the first place had now made them more dangerous to release, because they got to a degree of institutionalisation which makes it harder for them to be reformed. We need to be very alert to that.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for starting the inquiry. One piece of written evidence received is from one of my constituents, who is suffering under an IPP with no hope of getting out and no understanding of why he is stuck there. I fully accept and agree with what he is saying. The impact that this is having on people’s mental health, the lifelong torture that these people are being put under, is just totally unacceptable. Of course one should serve one’s time, but I cannot even imagine what having an indefinite time ahead must do to someone’s psyche.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady. We heard very compelling testimony on precisely those points. That is not to say that some people who are serving IPP sentences have not committed very serious offences and that some of them, because of their background, do not present a very real threat to the public. It may well be that in certain cases it will be a very long time before they are capable of being released, if ever, but there are many others who fall below that threshold who are trapped unfairly in the system, and who ought to be capable of being looked at afresh, processed and released safely into the community, but we have not yet managed to do that. The Government’s amendment holds the feet of the Parole Board to the fire on that, which is good so far as it goes.
The other point I want to make is that we heard compelling evidence from Lord Blunkett, the originator of the IPP sentences, who accepted that it had not worked out as he had intended. That was powerful and very humbling testimony. There was also very powerful testimony from Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the former Lord Chief Justice, who has taken up this cause. He made the point that what we are doing so far is helpful. Improving the ability of people to access courses and gain the threshold for release is helpful and that is what the Government are, through their amendment, seeking to do. The need to review every case, rather than leaving them in limbo, is really important so we do not get drift.
However, there are two things we are not yet doing. We are not tackling the issue of needless recall. Recall is an important tool to have while we have a licence, but there is a real concern that in many cases the trigger for the recall bears no proportion to either the index offence which had caused the original sentence or the amount of time that might then be spent inside thereafter. In some cases, there was a real concern that recall was triggered for comparatively administrative breaches of the licence, rather than substantive ones linked to reoffending or increasing risk. I urge Ministers, when the Parole Board looks at each case as it will now be obliged to do under the legislation, to ensure that we do not have, frankly, risk-averse recalls. It is always a terrible balance to strike and I am very conscious of the burden on the Parole Board and probation officers in doing that, but we ought to ensure it is not done on a tick-box basis just to make sure we have protected ourselves against criticism—almost a back-covering exercise, I hate to say. There is a temptation for that in the current arrangements, but we can do better than that and I hope we will. We ought to be assessing whether the breach suggests there is an ongoing risk of reoffending or a danger to the public. That ought to be the test.
All this is fine, but I submit to the Minister that, ultimately, we will not, as Lord Thomas suggested to us, deal with the issue and put this regrettable, misguided and unjust episode to bed until we have grasped the nettle and made provision to resentence all our PPS offenders under the current arrangements for a proper determinate sentence. That may mean that some end up with very long determinate sentences and some may never be released. We have to be honest about that, but honesty is better than the uncertainty to which the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) referred. We should not be afraid to grasp that, because if we want credible sentencing, we have to be honest and transparent about the hard side of that, which may be bad news for some and for some families, but it may equally give an opportunity and some hope to those who can turn their lives around and be released safely. We should not rule that out as the next step, following on from what is being done.
Finally, on secure training centres, I understand what the Minister said about not seeking to single out one type of provision. Equally, however, I hope that he will know—the evidence to the Justice Committee has been clear—that we have a successful mixed economy, in effect, in the provision of custody, and I support that. We have privately and publicly run prisons in the adult establishment and privately and publicly run provision in the youth estate. There is no reason why we cannot have the same thing in relation to these provisions. I do not think anyone is asking for special highlighting of this, but local authorities have expertise—I speak as a former councillor—and I hope that the Minister will just say, “We don’t rule anything out. All those with expertise are welcome to bid and to apply.”
I want to start with a positive and then I will move on. I begin by welcoming Lords amendment 98, Tony’s law, which increases the maximum sentences for causing or allowing a child or vulnerable adult to suffer serious injury or death. That change to the law follows the tireless campaigning by the parents of Tony Hudgell. As a baby, Tony suffered such serious physical abuse by his birth parents that both of his legs had to be amputated and he nearly lost his life. The sentences for cases such as Tony’s must reflect the lifelong trauma and harm that was inflicted on him.
I campaigned for that change last year, following in the wake of Tony’s parents’ MP, the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), and I thank the Minister for listening to me, the hon. Member and to Tony’s family and others who have campaigned for the change in the law. It is so necessary and I am so grateful that that has now been adopted.
And now for the less positive part. I have to speak to Lords amendment 107, which is designed to ensure that local authorities can run secure 16 to 19 academies, either alone or in consortiums. I worked with Article 39 and the National Association for Youth Justice to table an amendment on this in the Bill Committee. I was delighted when peers voted in favour of this vital amendment in the other place, as tabled by Lord German and Lord Marks, and I ask the Minister to please keep it in place. As he knows, I have a huge amount of respect for him because he is very fair and because he listens, but as I said, local authorities are also clear that they need a very strong signal from him that they are eligible. This is not me, but the local authorities asking for that clarity. As I said, I find it illogical that he will not accept this amendment.
In December 2016, the Government committed to phasing out child prisons, young offender institutions and secure training centres and replacing them with a network of secure children’s homes and secure schools—now renamed secure 16 to 19 academies. I welcome that progress, because it is very clear that secure training centres were not fit for purpose, as the Youth Justice Board has conceded. However, when the Government looked for an organisation to run the first secure school, they barred local authorities from the tendering process. That decision was heavily criticised by many organisations that specialise on these issues. I find it illogical.
Excluding local authorities risks repeating the serious mistakes of the past, when private providers were contracted to operate secure training centres despite having no prior experience of looking after vulnerable children. There is clear, tragic evidence of what that can lead to. Two children, Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood, tragically died following restraint in secure training centres run by the private firms G4S and Serco, respectively, in 2004; the High Court later found that an unlawful restraint regime had persisted in the centres for at least a decade. In a 2016 BBC “Panorama” documentary, staff were filmed verbally and physically assaulting children at the Medway secure training centre, managed by G4S. One manager boasted of stabbing a child’s leg and arm with a fork; another recounted deliberately winding up a child so that he could physically assault him. No child deserves to suffer such abuse, no matter their past or present behaviour.
Local authorities are best placed to run secure 16-to-19 academies because they have experience of education, secure schools and, of course, the local social services that manage and support vulnerable young people. As I keep saying, it is entirely illogical to prevent local authorities from carrying out this work: it makes it harder to integrate services for children while they are in custody and when they return to the community.
The Minister has already argued, as Ministers in previous debates have, that nothing in the law prevents local authorities from running secure 16-to-19 academies. However, as Lord German said in the other place:
“At present, local authorities are excluded simply because there is a view that anything called an ‘academy’ in England cannot be run by a local authority, which seems to create an absolute block to the opportunity for everyone in these institutions to have the best opportunities for life and education.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 November 2021; Vol. 816, c. 271.]
It must be clearly stated in the law that local authorities can establish and maintain 16-to-19 academies. I believe—I look to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) on the Front Bench—that the Opposition will divide the House on the amendment; that is how strongly we feel about it. If Government Members vote against it, what will the chilling effect on local authorities be?
The Minister could accept the amendment this evening without pressing it to a vote. It would then be very clear to local authorities that they are eligible to apply to run 16-to-19 academies. I plead with the Minister to do so, because his actions tonight will make the difference for local authorities thinking that they can apply to run such schemes. It must be really clearly stated in the law and in this debate that local authorities can establish and maintain such academies. I urge the Minister and his MPs to support the amendment to avoid another generation of children not getting the best wraparound services they all deserve.
May I say how pleased I am to see the Government bringing forward proposals to stamp out illegal hare coursing? It is an issue that I and many other rural MPs have campaigned on for the best part of a decade, not least as a result of the extreme violence shown by coursers in Cambridgeshire and many other rural parts of the country to those who try to stop them—farmers, local people and even police. The coursers show disregard for property rights and cause huge amounts of damage to crops and hedges.
As a Cambridgeshire neighbour, I am well aware of the difficulties that the Bill seeks to put right. When the matter has been raised with the police, one of the main points that they make is that until now the legislation has had no teeth. When the Bill becomes law, hopefully they will have what they have always wanted. Does my hon. Friend agree that what we really need, once the Bill is on the statute book, is for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that the maximum penalties are inflicted on those who are found guilty, not only as punishment for them but to act as a powerful deterrent to others?
I agree with my hon. Friend in every regard. He has made the important point that when legislation is on the statute book, it must be enforced. I think he will agree with me, given the experiences we have both had in talking to local police, that they seek this legislation, they are waiting for it and they will act on it, and no doubt we are both keen to see that happen.
Farmers have been complaining bitterly to me, with good cause. They have a tough enough job as it is without the worry of these coursing criminals. The basic problem is that the provisions of the Hunting Act 2004 often failed to work owing to their complexity, so prosecutors started to use the old 19th-century anti-poaching laws. While those worked evidentially, they failed to have the penalty clout that was required. Fines of tens or hundreds of pounds were pretty meaningless when there were dogs worth tens of thousands and gambling opportunities worth hundreds of thousands. I even heard that the coursing was being streamed into city pubs for gambling purposes. The problem then became worse, because the threat of intimidation was so high for farmers, versus a low penalty risk for the perpetrators, that many farmers did not want to become involved in prosecutions at all.
Now, with this legislation leading to higher levels of fines and confiscation orders, and the ability to charge for the detained dogs and their living costs, I think that we have a much better chance of significantly reducing coursing. Now, armed with these powers, rural police forces will be able to get to work against the perpetrators. I know that in Cambridgeshire they will have the support of all the county MPs, one of whom we have heard from this evening. All of them have been actively involved in this campaign. These anti-coursing measures represent a great example of the Government’s acting in the best interests of the countryside and the farming community to counter rural crime, and they have my full support.
I rise to support Lords amendment 1, commonly known as Harper’s Law, and to take this opportunity to welcome a number of key reforms introduced by the Bill while also highlighting areas in which I think we should go further.
Let me begin by commenting on what I consider to be the all too frequent yawning gap between what the public, on whose behalf justice is delivered, see as justice, and what the judicial system delivers. I do so conscious that the debate on sentencing has been polarised and distorted by a sort of intellectual snobbery towards anyone who makes the case for longer sentencing. Anyone who mentions this in polite circles, or to any number of think-tanks or charities involved in justice reform, will be met with variations of what is essentially the same disparaging attitude: “Oh, you must be part of the hang ’em and flog ’em brigade”—as if it were not valid or legitimate to say that justice is a social good, that it is served by punishment as well as rehabilitation, and that in some cases serving the social good is better achieved by an emphasis on punishment.
I noted with interest the comment from the family of Sarah Everard that the fact that the perpetrator was given a whole life term, rather than just a life sentence with a minimum period, was the only thing that gave them comfort. We do not often see that narrative in a documentary or a policy paper about justice. Do we really think that that was because the perpetrator was a policeman, although that was the reason in law that he was given a whole-life order—that if he had not been a policeman and had killed Sarah, her family would have been satisfied with a life sentence without a whole-life order? Of course it was not, I believe that their feelings would reflect those of most people who saw their loved one brutally murdered, whatever the circumstances, although very few of them would see a whole-life order as the outcome.
The term “life sentence” is misleading and is often misreported, and in my view it should be reformed. We must remember that the origins of our justice system were a result of our society saying, “You, as the individual and the family, cannot deliver your own justice. The courts will do it on your behalf.” The courts are therefore a servant of the public, and have a responsibility to ensure, at the very least, a broad alignment with what they would want. At present, when it comes to serious offences and hardened criminals, I do not think that they do. That is not to disparage judges; they operate largely within a framework of precedent which they cannot change, so we must recognise that it will take more intervention from us to break some of those precedents.
I would like to highlight child sex offences as another area where there is a yawning gap between what offenders are likely to receive and what the public would consider to be justice. This is not to say that rehabilitation and diversion are not important, and I welcome the measures in this Bill that will help to achieve that. Ultimately, in the longer term, that will lead to fewer victims of crime, but it will not happen overnight and we must ensure that justice is delivered to families and victims in the meantime. This Bill makes huge gains in that regard.
Amendment 1 comes as a result of the relentless campaigning by the widow of Andrew Harper, Lissie Harper, who took a terrible experience and tried to turn it into something positive in memory of Andrew. I pay tribute to her today. Our emergency service workers deserve the greatest possible protection and their families deserve to see justice done.
Tony’s law is another example of where we are tipping the scales more firmly towards justice, and I pay tribute to Tony and his parents. Our changes to early release from halfway to two thirds, and to sentencing for causing death by dangerous driving are other examples of where the Government are making progress, but we must go further.
I want to draw particular attention to where we can go further in relation to the measures to introduce a new whole-life tariff for child murder. Most of our constituents would ask why that tariff is not applied in the first place, so I welcome the change, but I am concerned that the requirement for the offence to be one of significant premeditation is an unnecessarily high hurdle that will leave our constituents wondering what we have really achieved the next time we see a tragic case like that of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and find that the new law does not apply. I ask the Government to look closely at addressing this gap at the next opportunity, and I would be grateful if the Minister could respond to that point tonight.
I also welcome the changes around protests and illegal encampments. There has been a totally unjustified and hysterical campaign about these measures, but the overwhelming majority of my constituents will see them as what they are: necessary and proportionate updates to our laws. I lose a little bit of respect for Opposition Members with legal training every time they make arguments that fly in the face of well-understood legal concepts, pretending that the ordinary meaning of words is the same as their use in the law and ignoring the well-established approach of our common-law system and its ability to refine and further define concepts such as significant damage, disruption, or distress that were introduced in encampment laws. I note that some of the Opposition Members making those arguments also seem to be the ones most concerned with accusations of undermining the judiciary. To have so little faith in the courts’ ability to define the law is pretty undermining in itself.
Through this Bill, the Government, the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary are delivering long overdue changes to our justice system—changes that I welcome and I know my constituents welcome—but we are still a long way off where we need to be, and I hope to keep pushing the Government to go further.
It is once again a great pleasure to be able to speak in favour of this Bill. As we know, the first duty of any Government is to keep their citizens and communities safe, and a huge part of that is guaranteeing that the punishments for those who commit the worst crimes ensure that society receives the justice it deserves and is protected from criminals. On that point, I would like to focus on the amendments that relate to Tony’s law. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) and the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), who have campaigned tirelessly to ensure that Tony’s law is enshrined in statute.
Child cruelty is abhorrent, and it is simply unthinkable that someone could commit such crimes, yet they do sadly happen. That includes the crimes that caused the tragic death of Star Hobson in Keighley back in 2020, which shook my entire constituency and indeed the whole country. Star suffered sickening abuse and brutality at the hands of her mother, Frankie Smith, and her mother’s partner, Savannah Brockhill. Star was punched, kicked and stamped on multiple times by Brockhill, with her mother doing nothing to stop the brutality. It is hard to believe that a human, not least a mother and her partner, could be so cruel. During their trials, the court heard that this physical abuse caused Star unsurvivable injuries, including a skull fracture. Following the trial, many of my constituents and I expressed our real concerns about the sentences given to Brockhill and Smith, particularly as Smith initially received only eight years in prison. That was in spite of the fact that she had facilitated the horrible abuse that killed her daughter. It is right that the sentence was referred to the Court of Appeal following a letter that I and many others sent to the Attorney General, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman).
We need to ensure that sentencing for child cruelty is fit for purpose. Unfortunately, the tragic death of Star Hobson is not an isolated incident. Child cruelty happens across the country, which is why the Lords amendments to enact Tony’s law are so important. These amendments will ensure that anyone who causes or allows the death of a child in their care will face up to life imprisonment, instead of the current 14-year maximum. Likewise, the punishment for those who cause or allow serious physical harm to a child will toughen from 10 to 14 years.
The crimes I have spoken of are some of the worst imaginable. It is simply incomprehensible that someone could treat a child so cruelly. This abuse must not be allowed to stand, which is why I am so delighted that the Government are encompassing Tony’s law in the Bill.
I finish by putting on record my thanks to my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) and for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan), who have campaigned tirelessly in this place to make sure that Harper’s law is included in this legislation. It is commendable that the Government have made these amendments to the Bill.
I am delighted to see a Bill that will do so much to deliver justice and make our communities safer. There is so much to be said, but I will speak briefly on two changes to our law that are very much overdue.
First, we are making it a statutory aggravating offence to assault someone who is providing a public service. When the pandemic struck, many fled to the safety of their home, but our army of key workers bravely rolled up their sleeves and got on with their job to keep this country going. Health and social care workers, transport workers and retail workers are owed a huge debt of gratitude, but not everyone in our society has shown them that gratitude.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the future of retail, I hear the horrific and increasing abuse suffered by retail workers in town centres and shopping parades across the country. Last year there were 455 assaults on retail workers—not every month, not every week, but every single day. The youngster with their first job stacking shelves and the semi-retired person with an extra part-time job on the tills to top up their income to buy their grandkids something nice for Christmas: these are normal people just doing their job. They are often not well paid, they do not have stab-proof vests or body-worn cameras, and every day they have to return to the scene of the crime.
These people are not assaulted because they wear shirts with Tesco or Co-op written on them; they are assaulted because they are upholding the rules that are in place to protect us. They verify people’s age when buying knives or alcohol, and during the pandemic they checked people’s masks and social distancing, undertaking statutory duties and responsibilities that we in Parliament have placed on them. It is right that they will now have statutory protections.
Lords amendment 1 enacts Harper’s law, and I cannot imagine that anyone has not been touched by the horrific and devastating circumstances of PC Harper’s death. I cannot imagine anyone was not moved by the unbelievable heroism, bravery and determination of his family and his wife, Lissie, in campaigning for this change to ensure that no one else will have to go through such terrible misjustice. When our amazing emergency service workers run towards danger to protect others, it is right that our legal system will now have their back by delivering justice for them and their families.
Pointy black-tipped ears, furry and brown, and the ability to make a getaway at 45 mph. This is the description of the suspect I found digging in our veg patch the other week. I am, of course, talking about the brown hare. The occasional episode of vegetable vandalism aside, we feel privileged to share our home with these fascinating creatures that we often see streaking over the fields around our house or lolloping through our garden.
I strongly welcome Lords amendments 61 to 69, which create tougher penalties for hare coursing by increasing the maximum penalty for trespassing in pursuit of game to up to six months’ imprisonment. New offences have also been created: trespass with the intention of using a dog to search for or pursue a hare; and, secondly, being equipped to do so.
Hare coursing is a huge problem in rural parts of Rushcliffe and throughout the Vale of Belvoir. Last night, I spoke to a local farmer, who told me that hare coursers had been trespassing on his land for as long as he could remember; several times a month they vandalise his property, destroying locks and pulling gates off their posts to gain access. They destroy his crop by driving all over it and, obviously, they destroy the local hare population. He told me there were now hardly any left. Worst of all, he told me, “We know who is doing a lot of it. It’s a couple of local families but they seem to be above the law.” Farmers who had challenged them had their workshops broken into and vandalised, which is why I am not sharing his name today.
I hope these new offences will give the police better powers to target such criminals. I welcome the new powers for courts to order the reimbursement of the police for kennelling dogs seized in relation to hare coursing, because taxpayers certainly should not be paying for it. I also welcome new powers for courts to disqualify offenders from owning a dog—no one engaged in this sort of cruelty to animals should be owning one.
I thank Members from across the House for their many and varied contributions to the various amendments we are considering this evening. I wish to respond to a number of the points made.
First, let me respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) on IPPs. I have heard his view that the amendment does not go far enough and does not take action to help IPP offenders who are still in prison. The number of IPP offenders in prison, having never been released, stood at 1,661 on 30 September 2021, which represents enormous progress when we compare it with the peak of 6,000 in 2012. The IPP action plan, produced and regularly refreshed by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, remains the best means of providing all those continuing to serve the IPP sentence with every opportunity to show they can be safely released by the Parole Board. The action plan sets out a series of measures designed to rehabilitate IPP prisoners, including through psychology-led reviews, and improved central and regional strategic oversight of IPP progression. There is clear evidence that these measures are working, and the number of IPP prisoners has decreased. IPP prisoners continue to be released in significant numbers and have a high chance of a positive outcome from Parole Board hearings. In 2020-21, more than two thirds of IPP Parole Board oral hearings resulted in a positive outcome, either a release or a progressive move to open prison.
Despite all that, I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend by saying that, as Ministers have said during the passage of this Bill, in this House and in the other place, we are mindful that the Justice Committee in this House is currently conducting an inquiry into IPP sentences, and we look forward to hearing the recommendations of his Committee and we will certainly consider them closely. I, along with my fellow Ministers, will continue to engage with IPP stakeholders in this House and elsewhere, and we will continue to give full consideration to any options recommended. I hope that that gives him the reassurance that he is looking for as to our intentions.
Yes, I am always keen that the Department is as timely as possible in engaging with my hon. Friend’s excellent Committee. We are always grateful for the tireless, thorough and considered work that he and colleagues do.
Let me turn to the issue of Harper’s law. Again, I was very grateful to Members from across the House, including the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards), for their clear, full-throated support for these changes. I was able to address one of the technical issues to provide clarity for the House earlier, and I just wish to provide further clarity, as I promised I would, on whether volunteers can be emergency workers under Harper’s law. The answer is yes, it applies to emergency workers who are engaged to supply emergency services in a voluntary capacity as well as to paid employees. It uses exactly the same definition as in the 2018 Act, and I hope that that helps to put the technical aspects of this provision on the record for the House’s benefit.
Lords amendment 107 covers the issue of secure schools. I am always conscious that I do not want to disappoint the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). We have always had a very constructive working relationship on a whole host of issues, including on the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill, which I know she will be delighted completed its Commons consideration on Friday. None the less, on this occasion, I am afraid that I cannot deliver precisely on what she wishes to see. However, I reiterate the point that, before we invite applications for any future secure schools, the Ministry of Justice will assess in detail the potential role of local authorities in running this new form of provision. The Department for Education remains committed to moving towards a school system where every school has the benefits of being part of a family of schools in a strong multi-academy trust. The DFE will set out its plans in a schools White Paper to be published in the coming months.
Round 5, Minister.
Will the Minister please clarify what the objection is to making it very clear that local authorities can apply to run and maintain 16 to 19 academies? Moreover, is he able to explain why they were prevented from doing so in the first round of tendering?
The hon. Lady is persistent in these matters. All I can do, I am afraid, is simply refer her back to the comments that I have already made during the course of this debate. I will happily take away—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady is chuntering from a sedentary position. I am not sure whether she was here for the duration of this debate. We have covered this matter in some detail. I will gladly take away a copy of Hansard and study the points that she has raised in the course of this debate. If there is any further detail that I am able to provide, I will happily do so.
I refer to the point that I made earlier, which is that we believe there is no barrier.
Lords amendment 58 covers food standards. I hope that I can offer some comfort to the House. We are broadly supportive of the intention to confer such powers, which would be consistent with powers available to other bodies, but reject the amendment on the basis that there is further work to do before any legislative amendments are made. The current chairman of the Food Standards Agency, Susan Jebb, wrote to the Minister for Crime and Policing on 11 August 2021 expressing concern that the existing powers of the National Food Crime Unit were insufficient for their purposes. The Minister responded in October, expressing support for the request and indicated the Home Office’s intent to work with the NFCU to find a suitable legislative vehicle. In order to fully support any extension of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 powers to the NFCU, we would need reassurance that this is necessary, proportionate and legitimate and that suitable governance, accountability and oversight of investigations and complaints arrangements will be in place. There is also a lack of clarity over the necessary protocols when PACE powers would be exercised, which will need consideration with the NFCU before legislative amendments are made, but we will of course legislate at the next available opportunity.
I am also grateful to Members for their strong support for the hare coursing changes that the Government are introducing, particularly the observations made by my hon. Friends the Members for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) and for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards), and by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Shailesh Vara), who is my neighbour, from just over the border. This issue matters a great deal. We have listened carefully to a wide range of voices, telling us just that. Hare coursing is not a quaint country tradition. It involves horrible cruelty to a much loved wild animal. It is associated with illegal gambling and other criminality. It brings serious harm to the rural areas where it takes place. Subject to parliamentary approval, we intend to get the tougher sentences in place before the start of the next hare coursing season.
I conclude by again thanking Members from across the House for their thoughtful contributions to this debate and also Members in the other place for their thorough consideration of these matters and for the engagement that colleagues have provided throughout the Bill. As a Minister coming to this rather late in the day, may I also place on record my sincere appreciation to my hon. Friends the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) and for Croydon South (Chris Philp) as well as to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) for all their work in getting us to this stage.
Lords amendment 1 agreed to.
Lords amendment 58 disagreed to.
Secure 16 to 19 Academies
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 107.—(Tom Pursglove.)
Lords amendment 107 disagreed to.
More than four hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).
Lords amendments 61 to 69, 94 to 106, 121 to 140, 144, 145, 149 to 152 and 155 to 161 agreed to.
We now move to the third set of amendments. When I call the Minister to move the motion, it would be useful if those who are trying to catch my eye indicate they wish to speak.
After Clause 54
Accountability of public authorities: duties on police workforce
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 74, and Government amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendment 88, and Government amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendment 73, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 80, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) to (f) to the words so restored to the Bill.
Lords amendment 81, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 82, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 87, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) to (f) to the words so restored to the Bill.
Lords amendments 89 and 146, Government motions to disagree, and Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.
Lords amendment 143, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) to (c) in lieu.
Lords amendments 75 to 79, 83 to 86, 90 to 93, 118 to 120 and 148.
Lords amendment 71 would introduce a duty of candour for the police workforce. I am sure that hon. Members know that the Government take police integrity and accountability extremely seriously. So much so that, in February 2020, we introduced a statutory duty of co-operation for serving police officers as part of wider integrity reforms.
A failure to co-operate in that way constitutes a breach of the statutory standards of professional behaviour by which all officers must abide and could therefore result in a formal disciplinary sanction. It is our view that the duty to co-operate puts a greater onus on officers than the duty of candour provided for in the Lords amendment, as they could ultimately be dismissed for a breach. In essence, the Lords is proposing a dilution.
Hon. Members will also be aware of the Government’s forthcoming response to the Daniel Morgan independent panel and to Bishop James Jones’ report concerning the bereaved Hillsborough families’ experiences, and we will set out our view on a wider duty of candour for all public authorities. Before the Government respond to those reports, however, it is clearly imperative that the Hillsborough families are given the opportunity to share their views.
None the less, we are closely monitoring the impact of the new legislation on police co-operation with inquiries and investigations. As we consider the case for a wider duty of candour for other public servants and bodies, we will determine whether there are gaps in the existing framework that need to be filled to ensure public confidence. I assure the House that we will set out our conclusions later this year.
Before I turn to the Lords amendments to part 3 of the Bill, I point out to hon. Members that over the last couple of years, with regard to public order, we have all seen that the police have struggled with some of the demonstrations that we have seen on our streets. Last autumn, Insulate Britain’s new tactics put a lot of police officers in danger, caused a significant amount of misery to many thousands of people who simply wanted to get to work or to otherwise go about their daily lives, and were difficult to address. Since, we have seen further examples of wholly unacceptable forms of protest. I am afraid that their lordships may regret the day that they voted down the significant number of measures that we had inserted in the Bill.
The House of Lords did, however, recognise that freedom of speech and assembly are qualified rights under the European convention on human rights, and there are times when it is appropriate to restrict those rights to protect the rights of non-protesters. For that reason, we are sympathetic to Lords amendment 143, which would introduce fast-track public space protection orders. The Government have listened to the concerns raised in the other place about the harm caused by disruptive protests outside schools and vaccination centres. We agree in principle with the amendment, and our amendments (a) to (c) in lieu of Lords amendment 143 will have a similar effect but will ensure that provision for expedited PSPOs works with the grain of the existing legislative framework.
I very much look forward to the tightening of the laws, but I am also conscious that I look for balance. As one who has protested on the streets of Northern Ireland on many occasions—legally—with an important desire to do so, I ask whether the Minister feels that the balance is right in this legislation. In our words, the right to protest should be done in a peaceful manner, not to obstruct anybody.
I do indeed believe that the balance is right, but the hon. Gentleman does not have to take my word for it. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire & rescue services was specifically tasked with looking at the balance of legislation and protest. After some examination, it decided that the balance had swung too far in favour of protest and too much away from the rights of others to go about their daily lives.
My right hon. Friend knows that I have real concerns about the noisy protest legislation. How often does he expect it to be applied and how many past protests have been subject to something like that kind of police discretion?
Obviously, it is hard for me to predict how often these things will be used. I will come on to talk about the noise provision more specifically, but it is worth pointing out that it is not common for conditions to be placed on protest generally. The National Police Chiefs’ Council tells us that in the three months to April ’21, there were 2,500 protests, and conditions were put on them no more than a dozen times. The Metropolitan police has confirmed that in 2019—hon. Members have to remember that in London, a protest takes place pretty much every day, and sometimes several in one day—it put conditions on only 15 times and, in 2020, only six times. Admittedly, 2020 saw a suppressed number of protests because of the pandemic, but this is nevertheless rare, and the police take care in placing such conditions.
I will make a little bit of progress.
On my previous point about the Lords accepting the need for protection outside schools and vaccination centres, we believe it should not just be people working in those two types of facility who are protected from highly disruptive protests. The Government continue to believe it is essential that the police are able in some circumstances to place conditions on protests to prevent noise causing serious harm or impinging on the rights of others. The vast majority of protests in England and Wales will be unaffected by this legislation. The power may be used only in the most exceptional circumstances where police assess the noise from protests to be unjustifiable and damaging to others. I can assure the House that conditions will, by law, be imposed only where necessary and proportionate, with due consideration to all our freedoms of expression and assembly. The police are already legally bound to assess this balance with the powers they currently have.
I will come to the hon. Members in a moment.
I am sure that all hon. Members will recall vividly how proceedings in St Margaret’s church were intruded on by protesters’ noise when we were paying our respects to our colleague Sir David Amess. I am not sure we could call that intrusion damaging; if anything, it made us sing all the loudly and filled the church with an air of defiance as we mourned. However, we have to reflect on the fact that developments in amplification mean that noise can be used as a weapon and can cause significant psychological damage. This is why most local authorities have a noise enforcement team with powers to act. We need to recognise that, in a protest situation, noise could be used to make worship, business or residence impossible in particular premises, and our fellow citizens would expect protection from the police in those circumstances.
To assure the House that there will be an objective standard rather than a subjective one, can the Minister explain either what decibel level there would have to be or for how long such a noise nuisance would have to continue for enforcing the powers to be reasonable and objective?
As the House would expect, we are not prescribing limits in the way the hon. Gentleman is asking for, not least because the varying circumstances with which the police are presented mean that hard and fast rules do not necessary obtain. For example, it could be that one person with an amplifier attempting to drown out—I do not know—pursuit of worship in a particular church, temple or synagogue could be deemed over time to be a nuisance, and therefore be damaging and impinging on the rights of worship of others, whereas a crowd of individuals outside making a similar noise for a shorter time may not. As I have just laid out, I did not regard the noise that intruded on our grief in St Margaret’s as damaging—I would not have thought that that hit the bar—but if someone was outside the hon. Gentleman’s constituency office protesting day in, day out with a large and powerful amplifier, he might quite rightly in those circumstances seek protection from the police or indeed from the local authority. There is a series of these situations that the police are now presented with because of developments in amplification.
Would the Minister acknowledge that our public order laws already make it harder to protest than in practically any other democracy, and that the kind of legislation he is bringing in now, as we have just seen, is completely subjective and puts the police in an impossible position? Laws already exist to deal with the so-called problems that he is raising. This is about throwing red meat to his Back Benchers so that he can try to get a bit more popularity, and it stinks.
I do not know who is throwing the red meat here, but it is certainly not me. Obviously the hon. Lady has a constituency that will lap up her remarks, no doubt released on social media. In truth, the police have been asking for some time for improvements to the elderly public order legislation. We put the measures through consideration by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, which felt they were proportionate and sensible for us to pursue.
The Minister is implying that the police and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services in some way wanted this new noise trigger. Will he accept that I am correct when I say that neither the police, nor Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, requested the noise trigger at all?
The inspectorate obviously would not request that because that is not its job, but we certainly asked it to look at the balance that we are trying to present with what I think are relatively modest improvements to public order legislation. Indeed, from memory of the report, it felt we should go further, which we are unable to do because of the structure of the Bill. That means that on the rare occasion where noise is causing other people’s rights to be impinged on, and where worship or business or residence is impossible, we would seek protection.
I understand that hon. Members are concerned about this issue. There have been all sorts of wild claims about the Government stopping singing in the street and that sort of rubbish, but I ask hon. Members to think of situations where they might seek protection of their own rights from the police, in circumstances where noise is being used as a weapon. Because of developments in amplification over the past 10 or 15 years, amplifiers are smaller, easier to move around, and much louder than they were, and we have seen occasions where they have been used offensively to stop other people going about their business.
I am happy to commit to reviewing the offence. I would love to put a time limit on it but, as I said when I outlined the number of times conditions would be met, this measure may be used on only a very small number of occasions. We will have to consider the range of situations in which it is used, and obviously review it as we do with all public order legislation. We take very seriously the fact that protest is a fundamental building block of any liberal democracy, and now more than ever that is writ large. This is an important freedom for us in this country, and I am sure that lots of Members from all side of the House have been on protests of all kinds over the years. We must ensure that legislation moves with the times and reflects changes in technology, and that we give the police the powers they need, albeit in rare and often exceptional circumstances.
The Minister is being generous in accepting interventions. Does he think that, while well intended, the Bill may have the unintended consequence that individuals who think they are within the law in the way they demonstrate, because of the Bill’s subjectivity find themselves unexpectedly criminalised? That for them would be devastating.
No, not necessarily—[Laughter.] No, no. As a former Westminster councillor and London Assembly member for central London, who was subjected to dozens of protests of all sizes, shapes and forms, I would encourage all people who are protesting, wherever they are, to engage with the police first and discuss their own safety and the safety of others. In any democracy it is responsible to ensure that people give forewarning of what they are about to do.
Does the Minister appreciate that many people listening to this debate will be very suspicious of his words? They will see in the proposed regulations and discussions with the police a fundamental desire by him and his Government to shut down, control, and eliminate protest within our society. People have a right to protest, a right to make their voices heard, and a right to dissent. Surely that is fundamental to a democratic society. It is no good praising people in Russia if we close down protest here.
Of course we are not closing down protest. The right hon. Gentleman is right that people have a fundamental right to dissent, to protest and to make their views known in the public sphere as they do in the private sphere, but, as the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights have said, the right to protest is not unqualified, and I am afraid that, in the last couple of years, we have seen protestors using tactics that are massively disruptive to other people’s lives. People just wanting to go about their business have been so frustrated that they have been leaping out of their cars and taking things into their own hands. We have seen protestors running on to the fast lane of motorways, causing danger to themselves and motorists, and distracting police officers from stopping people from being stabbed or burgled in all our neighbourhoods. We have a duty to address that, and the role of the House and that of the police is to strike a balance between competing rights. That is what we do, and that is what we are trying to do with these modest measures.
No. I have given way lots of times. There will be many speakers, and I do not want to use up all the time. We have only got until midnight to get through all of this stuff. I will move on from the noise powers, which, as I say, we think will be used only in exceptional circumstances but must be available given changes in amplification.
Lords amendment 80 would prevent the alignment of the police’s ability to place conditions on public assembly with their existing powers to place conditions on public processions. HMICFRS found that a distinction between processions and assemblies was no longer appropriate. In the light of the practical challenges of safely policing protests, there is an unjustifiable inconsistency in the current law. When does a procession become an assembly and vice versa?
Lords amendments 74 to 79 implement a recommendation to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee to the effect that the term “serious disruption” should be defined in the Bill rather than in regulations. I trust that the amendments have allayed the concerns raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who is not in her place, in our previous debates on the matter.
I am afraid that Lords amendments 81 and 82 arise from a misunderstanding of the effect of the provisions in clause 58, which are designed, in the words of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, to protect the rights of access to the parliamentary estate for those with business there. The changes to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, which governs prohibited activities in the vicinity of Parliament, will not prevent protests outside Parliament, nor will they prevent the Greater London Authority from authorising assemblies outside Parliament. Clause 58 will simply enable a police officer to direct an individual to cease or not to begin obstructing the passage of a vehicle into or out of the parliamentary estate. That is extremely important for those who are disabled or otherwise need a vehicle to access the estate, either to work here or to exercise their democratic rights. We expect police officers to use their sound judgements to determine when it is appropriate to make use of the power, and I do not see how it can lead to a prohibition of any kind on protests outside Parliament. Lords amendments 81 and 82 are therefore unnecessary.
Lords amendment 88 is a stripped-out version of the Government’s proposal to increase the maximum penalty for those who obstruct the highway. It would limit the increase in the maximum penalties to the obstruction of the strategic road network. Many major roads lie outside the SRN; indeed, some 98% of all roads in England do not form part of it. Were we to limit the increase in the maximum penalty in that way, protestors could continue to cause extensive and wholly disproportionate disruption to commuters and parents dropping their children off at school without facing sentences proportionate to the harm they have caused. Amendment (a) to Lords amendment 88 will ensure that the full extent of our road network is protected with the increase in maximum penalties.
The Minister talks about the cost of demonstrations—those on the road networks in particular—to people’s lives, and he has made statements about the costs of those protests. I tabled a written question asking him what assessment has been made of the cost to the public purse of the prison sentences being given out to Insulate Britain activists. That is a problem, because those sentences are not proportionate to what is happening. Surely there are better ways that are more cost-effective.
At the moment, those incarcerations are at the behest of a judge in a civil matter relating to the injunctions, and there is nothing that the Government can necessarily do about that. However, I point out that deterring people from such action may result in cost savings further down the line for the wider population. I urge Opposition Members, and anybody looking at this issue, to ask themselves whether they believe that protests should not be restrained in any way, shape or form, or that there is a balance to be struck. If they believe, as the ECHR does, and as the House of Lords has accepted in some of its amendments to the Bill, that a balance should be struck, the only question is where.
Our view, which is backed up by evidence from HMI and elsewhere, is that the balance has swung too far away from the general public, who want to go about their lives, recognising the very many important issues that are raised by protest. While they acknowledge those problems, they want to get on with their lives, and they want protection from the state of their right to get to school, to hospital and to work. That is not a right to be taken lightly. One of the most frustrating things about some of these protests has been their self-defeating result. Notwithstanding the cause, important or otherwise, the protestors have turned off millions of their fellow citizens and caused a level of intolerance towards issues such as climate change, which is regrettable. We have a job to balance those rights, and that is what we are attempting to do.
The Minister seeks to take public opinion as a whole, but people have had to take these matters into their own hands because air quality is killing their children, and because of the Government’s inaction on the very simple act of insulating housing. The proportionality is in the wrong place, and he is seeking to take on public opinion where it does not exist. If the Government took the right actions, surely there would be no need for the protests in the first place. People should be allowed to protest proportionately.
We cannot operate a democracy on the basis that, unless the Government agree with everything that someone wants, they will protest. It is a crazy thing to say, I am afraid. Much progress in this country has been brought about by protest, but much more has been brought about by political campaigning and winning elections. Frankly, if someone wants to make a change in the country, as all Opposition Members are proving, that is the way to go about it. I hope that the House will appreciate that we are trying hard to strike a balance between competing rights.
No, I have given away enough; I have to move on. We acknowledge the fundamental importance of the right to protest in this country. We live in a liberal democracy. The right of someone to dissent and to go out on the street and make their views known is critical, but so is my right to get to hospital, to work or to church, and to do so without somebody blasting me out with noise. We have been balancing competing rights for decades, if not centuries, in this country. We are a mature democracy that can cope with that kind of responsibility—have no fear. We are ringed around by independent courts, a bicameral Parliament, all sorts of checks and balances on the power of Government to strike this balance, legislation, and our participation in supranational treaties. There are lots of ways that we protect ourselves and our human rights, but in the end, fundamentally, all democratic Governments have to strike that balance, and that is what we are attempting to do.
Lords amendments 118 to 120 give effect to a commitment made by the Prime Minister following the final of Euro 2020, in response to disgraceful online racist abuse directed at certain England players. The amendments would enable a court to impose a football banning order against persons convicted of online hate offences connected to football. That will prevent such offenders from spreading their criminal, hateful views at football matches, and I very much hope that the measure will also deter others from engaging in similar behaviours that are so harmful to victims and to our national game.
Lords amendments 89 and 146 would repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824. The Government are committed to ending rough sleeping, and as a result of our actions we have seen an historic reduction in rough sleeping in recent years. We agree that no one should be criminalised simply for sleeping rough, and that the time has indeed come to repeal the antiquated Vagrancy Act 1824. I know that that sentiment is keenly shared by a number of hon. Members. I pay tribute to the campaign that has been run by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and my predecessor in my constituency of North West Hampshire, Lord Young, in the other place.
However, we must balance our role in providing essential support for the vulnerable with ensuring that we do not weaken the ability of the police to intervene where needed. Therefore, while our amendments in lieu will provide for the Vagrancy Act to be repealed in full in England and Wales, we intend to enact replacement legislation in the coming Session before bringing the repeal of the 1824 Act into force. To allow for that, and ultimately to ensure that the police have the tools they need, we will delay commencement of the repeal for up to 18 months. In the meantime, we will publish a bold new strategy to end rough sleeping. The strategy will set up how we will ensure that rough sleeping is prevented in the first instance and is effectively responded to in the rare cases where it does occur, and that our police have the ability to intervene where needed and keep everybody safe, including the person at issue.
As with the previous group of amendments, it is again the case that the House of Lords has made some helpful improvements to the Bill, but we reject their watering down of the public order provisions in part 3 and their dilution of the existing duty on police officers to co-operate with public inquiries and other investigations.
Order. We have very limited time, so after the next speaker from the Opposition Front Bench there will be a time limit of five minutes. I suspect that that may have to come down during the course of the debate. Priority will be given to people who have not spoken previously.