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Volume 742: debated on Thursday 14 December 2023

[Relevant documents: e-petition 597143, Fund free drink spiking test kits for all bars; e-petition 598986, Make it a legal requirement for nightclubs to thoroughly search guests on entry; Ninth Report of the Home Affairs Committee of Session 2021-22, Spiking, HC 967, and the Government response, Session 2022-23, HC 508.]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of spiking.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I wish to extend my gratitude to the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate. It is a timely debate, given that we are in the season of Christmas when, sadly, we would expect to see an increase in spiking incidents and the subsequent sexual violence primarily against women and girls. I thank my co-sponsor and Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), who is so ably chairing here today. I know she shares my passions and concerns about the subject and it has been a pleasure to work with her on the issue. I also thank hon. Members across the House who have given their support for today’s debate. I particularly want to thank the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who has worked relentlessly on the issue.

I want to highlight my support for the e-petition on making it a legal requirement for nightclubs to thoroughly search guests on entry, with a particular view to preventing date-rape drugs from entering nightclubs, and also the e-petition on funding free drink-spiking tests for all bars. Over 190,000 signed those two petitions, including many in my constituency of Bradford South. That reflects how strongly people feel about the subject across this country.

I will begin by briefly speaking to the enormity of the issue. Spiking is not new or rare in this country. In a YouGov poll of 2,000 people commissioned by The Independent, 11% of women and 6% of men said that they had been spiked. The National Police Chiefs’ Council told the Home Affairs Committee that

“the true figure of spiking occurrences are likely to be much higher”,

with estimates showing that 97% of spiking victims will never report the incident to the police. To protect innocent people across this country, the Government need to act urgently and Parliament must afford the victims of spiking the attention that they deserve.

A year has passed since the last time the issue received a full debate in this place—I see some familiar faces here today—but there has been little progress. We might have even gone backwards. At that time I stood in this very room and called for immediate action and I spoke of the need for a specific criminal offence for spiking. Last week the Prime Minister responded to a question that I posed in the Chamber about a specific offence on spiking by saying he remains satisfied that

“existing laws…cover the offence of spiking”.—[Official Report, 6 December 2023; Vol. 742, c. 335.]

The National Police Chiefs’ Council told the Home Affairs Committee that the absence of a clear criminal offence presented a challenge in policing spiking. It also said that a stand-alone offence would help police to

“understand the scale of the problem…enable a far more accurate picture to be realised”

and allow

“enhanced support for victims”.

I am sure that hon. Members across this place will agree that there can be no more dither and delay. A new stand-alone criminal offence of spiking is needed now. The absence of a specific offence for spiking is causing untold damage to innocent people across this country, particularly women and girls.

Freedom of information requests submitted by Channel 4 recently revealed that drug-spiking incidents reported to police have increased fivefold in five years, but the proportion of investigations leading to a criminal charge has fallen. The number of reports that were investigated by police and resulted in a criminal charge have dropped from an appalling 4% in 2018 to a shocking 0.23% last year. That is just one in every 400 spiking crimes reported to police resulting in a criminal charge.

The Home Affairs Committee report concluded that the absence of a specific offence for spiking, along with

“limited reporting, investigation and prosecution, means there are few deterrents for offenders.”

Indeed, with a charging rate that rounds down to 0% it is no surprise that victims do not have confidence in our current laws when it comes to spiking. There are currently seven separate criminal offences under which the crime of spiking can be prosecuted and, importantly, recorded. Five of those date back to the 1800s. It is time that Parliament took a stand against this injustice and created a stand-alone law on spiking that is fit for the 21st century. Throughout my time in Parliament, I have been active in highlighting the dangers of spiking at music festivals, and I have given evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on this issue.

Festivals are a big business, with some directly marketing towards 16 to 17-year-olds—so much so that they are now seen as a rite of passage on completion of GCSEs. Those who attend events can camp overnight, with festivals attracting populations equivalent to a small town; for reference, Leeds festival is attended by around 100,000 people. The police presence is minimal, and the lack of safeguarding training for members of staff can subsequently lead to severe issues with the non-reporting of spiking, sexual assault and rape. Indeed, a female survey respondent was quoted in the Home Affairs Committee report as saying:

“I got the impression that event staff…thought that I had taken drugs willingly as opposed to being spiked”.

That is a clear example of a victim not being believed or understood due to a combination of ignorance and a lack of safeguarding training.

It seemed an obvious and positive step forward when the Home Affairs Committee report recommended that all staff working at music festivals, including vendors, be given compulsory safeguarding training, and it was disheartening to hear that the Government do not intend to mandate training for all staff at events such as festivals. I urge the Government to reconsider that position, because this terrifying lack of safeguarding at music festivals is a clear blind spot and it cannot continue. Many hon. Members will share my view, and my experience, that what should happen to tackle violence against women and girls does not happen unless specific legislation is put in place to make it happen.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council told the Home Affairs Committee of its difficulties in getting a true picture of how widespread spiking is. To highlight the dangers at music festivals, I made a freedom of information request to nine different police forces regarding 11 of the most popular music festivals over the past 10 years. The findings were shocking. They included nearly 200 cases of reported rapes and sexual offences against children as young as 12, and 32% of the cases reported were against children under the age of 18. However, in the 10-year period to 2019, the data that I received recorded just 10 instances of spiking. Devon and Cornwall police gave examples of two spiking offences at Boardmasters festival recorded under the offence of administering a poison or noxious substance. At Reading festival, Thames Valley police noted a case of spiking, but it was recorded as sexual assault.

With cases of spiking reported under different offences in that manner, it makes understanding the scale and nature of this issue difficult. The opportunity to identify patterns in the crime is being missed, and the ability of our legal system and laws to detect, prosecute and prevent this crime—to seek justice for the victims—is undermined as trust is eroded, therefore feeding the cycle of under-reporting.

I therefore welcomed the news that, under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, the Government were legally required to publish a report outlining the nature and prevalence of spiking in this country by April 2023. We are nearly eight months past that deadline and the report is still not forthcoming. The Government have failed in their legal duty to publish that report. In giving reasons for their delay, the Government argued that they had cause to consider with colleagues across Government whether their rationale for not introducing a specific offence for spiking was sound.

I suspect that, in being forced to gather data on spiking, the Government have now become aware of the difficulties in collecting and understanding that data, which is a direct result of the absence of a specific law on spiking. By failing to create a stand-alone law, the Government have been left blind in the face of even an issue so prevalent and widespread as spiking. The Government must publish their report on spiking, and I call on them here today to clarify if and when they will now publish that report.

In 2022 the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), rightly stated that the Government were looking into

“a specific criminal offence to target spiking directly”.

However, in January 2023, a Home Office Minister carried out a policy U-turn by saying that a new law on spiking was unnecessary. Then, in a letter in July 2023, the Home Office said that it was reconsidering whether a specific offence was required. Last week, in response to my question, the Prime Minister suggested that he did not believe that a specific offence of spiking was necessary. On an issue that demands certainty and clarity, we have a Government who are uncertain and unclear on their position. In April 2023, in relation to spiking, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the leader of the Opposition, clarified that

“an incoming Labour Government would make it a specific offence.”

There were 34 signatories to this debate across five political parties, so I know that there is broad support across the House to create a stand-alone law. This situation demands determined action. Will the Government stay true to their legal obligations and publish their report on spiking? And please, Minister, do not give me the kicking-it-into-the-long-grass response of, “Yes, but shortly”—just tell me when. Will the Government finally do the right thing and recognise spiking as a criminal offence in its own right? There can be no ambiguity here. Now is the time to act to defend the innocent victims of spiking and ensure that these vile perpetrators face the consequences of their serious crimes and feel the full force of the law.

Thank you, Ms Nokes; it is an honour to serve under your chairmanship. I thank the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) for giving us the opportunity to discuss spiking again. My constituency of Chelmsford is home to a vibrant and much-enjoyed night-time economy. We have many bars, clubs and restaurants. People come up to Chelmsford to enjoy a night out, not only from Essex, but even from London. We are very proud of our safety record. Chelmsford holds a Purple Flag for safety in the night-time economy, and we did not just get that Purple Flag this year or last year; we have had it every year for the past 10 years. We have a wonderful reputation for keeping people safe, and we want to keep it that way.

From time to time, however, some dreadful stories come to light even in Chelmsford. In February, a very brave woman shared the story of what happened to her when she was out in Chelmsford with a group of girlfriends. She had only had one cocktail when she started to feel dizzy and sick, and then she suddenly started to have spasms. Fortunately, her friends acted quickly. He mum came and collected her and brought her straight to A&E at the local hospital. A video was then shared of her when she was at A&E. Her body was contorting and she was groaning, “I want to die.” She had a complete lack of control of her own body. That went on for six hours. When she came round, she noticed a small mark on her arm and that her arm was painful. She believes that she was stabbed and spiked. Goodness knows what would have happened to her if she had left the bar, left her friends and been all alone in the dark when that occurred. How vulnerable would that young woman have been?

I would like to thank my local police, who treat this problem very seriously. They have been working very actively on hotspot policing in Chelmsford city centre for the last few weekends, including last Saturday and Sunday night, when they were doing spiking awareness campaigns in the bars, clubs and restaurants. I would also like to thank the owners of the many bars, clubs and restaurants, who I know also treat women’s safety seriously. I have been in with many of them to discuss the CCTV arrangements that they have in place to monitor safety, and the fact that many of them make available stoppers or covers for your drinks bottle or glass. But why should a woman have to put a stopper in her drink? Why should she have to put a cover on her glass? Why should she not feel safe just to lift up her own drink that she has bought to enjoy with her friends, and take a little sip from it? Spiking is abhorrent, it is intolerable, and it is unlawful. It must not be allowed to continue. Perpetrators must not get away with this.

Spiking is illegal, but the law against it is incredibly outdated. It goes back to the Offences against the Person Act 1861. I happen to be one of the small number of Members of this House who is currently serving on the Public Bill Committee for the Criminal Justice Bill that is going through Parliament right now. On Tuesday this week, we took evidence from real experts. I asked some of them whether they felt there was a need to modernise this legislation and make the language absolutely crystal clear—in terms that people will understand today—and they agreed. They agreed that spiking is unlawful, but that the language needs updating.

I know I am joined by colleagues in this place today who also agree that updating the language of the law will help to lead to more prosecutions and make it absolutely clear to those who want to commit this type of offence that it will not be tolerated, and therefore it will act as a deterrent.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the private Member’s Bill that I introduced faced an analogous problem: there was no specific criminal offence against the public harassment of women. For a long time that was considered unnecessary, so these crimes—as they were—were under-reported. Now there is a specific criminal offence; it is clearly illegal to abuse someone on the grounds of their sex in public. I am pleased to say that was backed by the Government and the Home Office. Is that not a precedent that the Minister may wish to draw on to make progress in this very important area that the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) are highlighting?

I absolutely agree, and I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) for the work he has done on women’s safety. We must make it crystal clear that this offence, which can affect men but most usually affects women—often young women —is unacceptable. We must have that law in language that people today understand with great clarity.

I thank my great and hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, who has campaigned on this issue so relentlessly and so effectively. Two weeks ago, it was an honour to join him in a meeting with the new Home Secretary. The new Home Secretary is one of my Essex constituency neighbours; I know that constituents of his come to my constituency for their nights out, and I also know that he cares deeply about the safety of women. Together, we pressed the case that there needed to be a specific criminal offence for spiking. The Home Secretary listened intently to the case that we made, and I ask him, through my right hon. Friend the Minister here today, to please act now. Table an amendment to the Bill that is going through Parliament now. I know I speak for all members of the Public Bill Committee when I say if that amendment is tabled, we will pass it and have it on the face of the Bill by the time it comes back to the whole House.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Nokes. I am quite sure that if you were not chairing this debate, you would be right over there on the Government Benches participating in it. You have shown leadership and clarity in this matter, and we all appreciate that. I wanted to say that, because I know you cannot speak in this debate while you are in the Chair.

It is also a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), a fellow Omagharian. We were born in Omagh at different times, but none the less we both come from the same town. We have an interest in many things relating to Northern Ireland, but today we have an interest in the issue of spiking.

The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) is here. I have supported his campaign the whole way through, because I believe it is right. It is as simple as that. I believe we all think so, and I hope he can push this legislation through. He will find us all standing behind him.

The hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) is a good friend. I was a co-signatory to her application for this debate; she nabbed me in the Backbench Business Committee, if I recall rightly. I was applying for another debate, but I was very happy to support hers once she informed me what it was about.

Spiking was not much on my radar when I was younger. I am older than probably anybody else here, so I go back just that wee bit further than most. I do not remember ever having the issue of your drink being spiked and someone then taking advantage of you, but I well remember as a father, along with my wife Sandra, urging my three boys to be careful when they were out. Our real worry now, as I am in the grandparent stage, is for the grandchildren. I have six grandchildren: they are not at an age to be going out yet, because they are all very young, but the 14-year-old is going on 18 or 19, and she will quickly come to that age.

The fear is one that is replicated in universities throughout Northern Ireland. I read an interesting article—this probably goes along with what the right hon. Member for Chelmsford referred to. Queen’s Radio, a radio station for students, has spent time going through the issue to raise awareness. I welcome what has been done at Queen’s University Belfast, because it is important that the matter is highlighted and awareness is raised in Northern Ireland. Students need to be aware of these matters. The Queen’s Radio website states:

“In November 2021 alarming statistics on drink spiking in Belfast were released by the PSNI.”

The stats refer back a few years, but none the less they are still salient. I will give hon. Members some idea of what that meant:

“Throughout that month alone, 120 incidents of drink spiking had been reported”

in one month in the city of Belfast. That is horrendous. The question we all ask ourselves is: are we scraping the scab? Is that just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak? The article continues:

“Amongst these cases, one of Northern Ireland’s main universities (Ulster University) had reported three incidents whilst chief constable at the time Simon Byrne was speaking of the issue as a ‘priority’ for his team.”

The Police Service of Northern Ireland made it a priority to raise awareness, make their constables on the beat aware and visit pubs to highlight the issue.

The article states:

“However, there exists a plethora of young people out there who continue to experience the issue at close range within Belfast. Upon speaking to a first-year student who was spiked whilst celebrating her friend’s 21st birthday several months ago, she spoke of how she does not normally drink a lot and was only planning on having one drink that night.”

The right hon. Member for Chelmsford gave an example of a lady; I will give a similar example, but it is the same issue wherever it may be.

“After ordering a vodka blackcurrant at a bar in the city centre, she left it sitting at her table for less than a minute”—

that was all it took—

“and continued to drink it upon arrival back at the table”,

not realising that anything was wrong.

“It was just after consuming around half of the drink that she recalls everything going ‘fuzzy’ in the room and beginning to feel drunk ‘which was almost impossible since I had only had less than one drink.’”

She could not quite understand what was happening.

“After experiencing this, she left the bar with some friends”.

That is one thing we need to emphasise to young people: it is always good to have a pal. It is always good to have someone, and to keep an eye out for each other. In this case, that is what saved her:

“she left the bar with some friends as she didn’t feel well. Whilst she is thankful that she got home safely and the incident ‘didn’t end too badly’ she spoke of her continuing shock that she experienced side effects symptomatic of excessive drinking”,

which quite clearly was not the case.

[Clive Efford in the Chair]

Unfortunately, the story is replicated throughout the UK. I believe it needs to be a priority not simply for police forces, but for universities. There is a role for us all to play: parents, elected representatives and the police, as well as pubs and hostelries. I know of some community groups that provide so-called spikey stoppers free over holiday periods. Those are very important as we approach Christmas and the new year. As much as I hate it, it is necessary; unfortunately, such things have to be part of the life that our young people and others lead. I believe that universities must give them to students free of charge, and that bars around campus should be urged to ensure that students are using them.

As we come to the festive season, I think of one my very wise 92-year-old mum’s sayings, which I believe is always relevant. She is still compos mentis; she might not be as physically active as she was, but she is still there to tell her big boy what to do and the right way of it. One of the wee sayings she has given us over the years is “James, when the drink is in, the wit is out.” Unfortunately for some people, they are left witless not through choice but either because someone thinks it is funny or for a more nefarious reason: because someone removes the choice of being in control.

I know of one household that will not allow their young adult to go out with their friends without knowing who is the designated sober sidekick, the one person in the group who is not drinking and is watching out for others. In the society we live in, it is right to have that designated person.

Will the Minister consider a cross-departmental approach to provide protection and advice, along with police forces targeted at student areas? Whether such roles are for universities, higher education, local councils and their officers or the police, there is a strong need for things to change.

I commend the hon. Member for Bradford South for setting the scene and giving us a chance to participate. I always like to give a Northern Ireland perspective, but what I am talking about is no different anywhere else; it is happening all over the United Kingdom. I am, as always, pleased to see the Minister in his place. I know he grasps the importance of the issue and will respond in a positive fashion. I look forward to hearing from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), who has also been active on this matter. I am also pleased that the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North is back among us. I said that I would miss her contribution, but now I will not have to. I look forward to it.

I will finish with this point: our young people have the right to go socialising. They deserve that right. It is their life. It is the life they lead and the life they have chosen. That should not come at the expense of taking their lives in their own hands because of somebody’s nefarious and criminal activities. I believe that through debates like this one, we can do more to help. I hope that today will be the first stage. If the hon. Member for Gloucester intends to press this matter in the Chamber, I am confident that we will all be there to go through the Division Lobby in support. To be fair, I think the Minister grasps the issue, so there may be no bother in getting the Government to come along with us.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) on securing this debate, with the wholesome support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes). It is worth noting—particularly for those who are watching the discussions from afar, or for those, including Dawn Dines of Stamp Out Spiking, who have come a long way to join us today—that although the room is not crowded, we have many supporters from all parties in Parliament. The fact that others have different things to do on a one-line Whip day is irrelevant to the importance of the subject we are debating.

It is now two years since my first ten-minute rule Bill on spiking; it is 20 months since the Home Affairs Committee report; it is one year since a debate in this Chamber in my name; it is six months since my second ten-minute rule Bill on spiking; and it is only a month since a new Home Secretary took up his position. Patience is a virtue, we are told, and so I believe. Today, with the Minister for Security in his place for a second time to hear a debate on spiking—the second time that spiking has momentarily taken over from his normal national security responsibilities—we may have a chance to take things forward.

Why do I say that? Why do I have more optimism than the hon. Member for Bradford South? Because the scale of the problem, which we have identified in several earlier debates of this kind, is even greater than we had imagined. We know that 5,000 cases of spiking were reported last year, we know that spiking is not an offence in its own right and therefore the police do not collect formal data on it, and we have already described that figure of 5,000 as being the tip of the iceberg, but that iceberg is even bigger than any of us imagined.

Last night, I was stopped by two researchers in Portcullis House, who thanked me for the work that I and others—some of them are here today and some are not—have been doing on spiking. I asked one of them what her experience had been. She described vividly the occasion when she had been spiked in London. She felt extremely ill, went to the loo and locked the door. She then passed out and lay on the floor of the loo for about four hours. She only knows that it was about four hours because later she looked at her watch. She never spoke about this incident to anyone in her family, or even to the man who is now her husband, and least of all to the owner of the establishment where she had been having a quiet drink with a friend. Of course, she has not mentioned it at all to the police.

That experience is absolutely not unusual; it is what has happened to so many people around the country. I came down to this debate in the lift with two other young researchers, both of them unknown to me; no doubt I was also unknown to them. I asked them if they had had any experience of spiking. One said, “No, but I’ve got several friends who have been spiked.” The other one said, “My sister was spiked and one of my best male friends was.” This is a very common thing, and it is not unique to females, although the vast majority of cases are against females. As one of them described it to me, the overriding feeling she has about spiking is that the aim, above all, is to humiliate.

That is where the element of violence against women and girls comes in, and—in answer to something the hon. Member for Bradford South said earlier—that is why the Prime Minister gets it. As the father of two young girls, he sees this absolutely as something that should worry every parent in the land. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), who is currently a Minister in His Majesty’s Government, has gone public with her experience of being spiked, and there are others here who have family members who have been spiked, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North.

This is not unique to us in Parliament. That iceberg that I described a year ago is just massive. The emphasis therefore has to be on how we can find a way through some lawyers’ belief that this crime is already defined in different ways in law. We have been through this two or three times, and the Minister has been very sympathetic to the case that has been made.

Because we have a bit of time in this debate, it is worth highlighting those who are not here today but who have been so supportive. I have mentioned some Members who are in the room, but I also want to highlight my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), whose description of her own constituency’s nightlife stands alongside the description of the Leeds festival by the hon. Member for Bradford South. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who has stood up for this cause all along the journey, described the experiences of his constituents in Northern Ireland, and my right hon. Friend the Minister has done work on an analogous incident. All that work is important.

We have heard examples in previous debates from my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory); from my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), a former Home Secretary who has been very supportive of the cause; the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans) for the SNP; the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) for His Majesty’s loyal Opposition; and my hon. Friends the Members for Loughborough (Jane Hunt), for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart), for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards), and for Hertford and Stortford (Julie Marson).

My right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), who was due to be here in a different capacity, highlighted on Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill the experience of his constituents Mandy and Colin Mackie, who created Spike Aware UK after their son, Greg, tragically died from spiking. There is an assumption that spiking is something that happens, and that the person feels very ill for perhaps 24 hours and then recovers. Mentally, I am not sure that they recover completely for a very long time. I am a strong believer, from what I and other colleagues have heard, that these things linger as a mental health and confidence-destroying issue for a long time to come. Certainly, physically, the assumption is that everybody recovers, but Greg Mackie did not; he died. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend is not here, but I wanted to mention that.

We also heard from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie). The hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), who has experience of being in the police force, has been very supportive, and we heard from the hon. Members for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) and my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore). The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) brought her experience of what has happened in Wales, alongside the Opposition spokesman, and we heard from the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) and the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry).

It is worth mentioning my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) because I was led to take up the challenge of spiking two years ago by my constituent Maisy Farmer, who was spiked while at university in my hon. Friend’s constituency. All those Members have made a huge difference. I ought to also highlight a former Safeguarding Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), whose support for this cause as a Minister and a Back Bencher has been equally resolute.

My point is that this is not a journey that involves only the half-dozen of us here today; it has very wide support across the House. If a researcher had the time and energy to talk to every Member in this House, we would have thick volumes of anecdotal evidence of cases of spiking affecting those individuals’ families, staff, friends and, above all, constituents. This is a major issue.

The reason I see more cause for optimism is that the Government have the opportunity to use the Criminal Justice Bill, which is in the Bill, to create a new offence of spiking that would define it for the first time, bring together elements of the 1861 Act and the Sexual Offences Act 2003, modernise the language, enable data to be collected, knowledge to be increased and best practice to be shared between police forces, and raise greater awareness in all levels of society and age groups. On Second Reading of the Bill, I raised the story of a colleague’s constituent, a 60-year-old male who was spiked, was raped and had his wallet stolen on a rare visit to London. This issue cuts across age groups, gender, ethnic heritage—everything. All our constituents will be better supported, and the humiliation of spiking will be gradually reduced, if the Government focus on putting this offence into the Bill.

It is fantastic that the hon. Member for Bradford South has gathered us together in this Chamber to discuss spiking again. I really do believe that this time the opportunity is with us. I have been accused of being a perpetual optimist since starting on this trail two years ago, but I believe it can happen. I believe that, after today, and perhaps after we see what is in the Criminal Justice Bill, Stamp out Spiking may have the opportunity to believe not that spiking will end, but that the country will see that we in this place are united in making sure that the offence of spiking is created, defined, recognised and dealt with in the best way possible. Thereafter, we can focus on the implementation and how police forces, universities, those in the nightlife economy and others make sure that the message is clear.

It is almost Christmas. Let us believe that Father Christmas, in the shape of my right hon. Friend the Minister, may have some good news to share.

Thank you, Mr Efford, not just for calling me to speak but for stepping in after I stepped in earlier. This debate is an object lesson in multitasking.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate and, of course, my co-sponsor, the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins). It is always a privilege, particularly on this issue, to follow the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who has campaigned tirelessly for two long years, as he so ably highlighted. It does not seem nearly a year since we were last in this place discussing this issue, but I like to think that we are on the edge of a breakthrough. I look to my right hon. Friend the Minister for support, encouragement and enthusiasm on the issue.

The last debate was well attended. I think it is fair to say that this debate has fewer contributions, but obviously of an exceptionally high quality. It shows that we still care and are still concerned about the numerous stories that our constituents bring to us. I am still shocked by the incidents that are highlighted to me in my role as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee.

Just over 11 months ago, we were calling for specific legislation to address this issue. My right hon. Friend the Minister will know that the Home Affairs Committee has done a great deal of excellent work on spiking. Its report of April 2022 is tagged to this debate, and the hon. Member for Bradford South gave evidence to that Committee on the very specific issue of spiking at festivals.

I wish to touch on that issue briefly, because I went to Glastonbury—I think it was 18 months ago. This was a departure from normal behaviour for me, but I spent an entire day with the Avon and Somerset Police and with some of the stewards at that festival. What I saw was really heartening and encouraging. I saw stewards going out of their way to ask festival-goers whether they were okay. I vividly remember seeing a young girl huddled almost in a foetal position on the floor—it was bitterly cold—and a steward stopping, checking that she was okay and putting his hi-viz jacket around her. It was really encouraging to hear at first hand from the police about the efforts that they were making.

However, moving on from the 2022 report, the assurances given to the Home Affairs Select Committee and the welcoming of its recommendations by Government, we still do not have specific legislation on spiking. I want to highlight why that is important, and why it is a great pity that the Home Affairs Committee is still waiting and police forces, police and crime commissioners and, indeed, victims and potential victims, are still waiting. It is because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) highlighted, the legislation to which we tend to revert when talking about spiking is from 1861. That is not even the last century: it is the one before that. It is really remiss of the Government. In many instances, we can rely on very old legislation for good purpose, but the offence of spiking had not been dreamt up in 1861. I did a bit of research on how one might spend one’s leisure time in 1861. We had not heard of nightclubs at that point; the steam-powered carousel had just been invented; young people were certainly not going anywhere near bars and nightclubs, and they were not being forced to put plastic stoppers in the top of their bottles or covers on their glasses.

My right hon. Friend is making an excellent point about the 1861 Act. The Minister will know that section 22 of that Act refers to the use of chloroform and laudanum. Those were popular instruments at the time that Act was created, and they also feature in Sherlock Holmes’s exploits quite a lot, but does my right hon. Friend agree that that sort of language needs to be modernised?

That is exactly the point. The Act talks about chloroform and laudanum, not Rohypnol, GHB or the various other date-rape drugs that are either dropped into glasses or injected into people’s arms or legs—other body parts are available. That is the stark reality and why the legislation has to be modernised. We have a 21st century problem and we need a 21st century solution to it. We know that the Government are committed to producing and publishing a report on this issue. I believe it was the hon. Member for Bradford South who highlighted how long we have been waiting for that.

I spoke earlier this week to the safeguarding Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris), and asked her to continue to think positively, but speedily. What matters is that we need a solution. The only reason she is not here today is because she is doing great work in the Criminal Justice Bill Committee. I gently point out to my good friend the Minister—I believe he is a good Minister—that he is the Security Minister and we are talking about the security and safety of our young people. I promise him that I am not going to get shouty with him, but I gently ask: the Home Office’s Sir Matthew Rycroft said in his response only two days ago to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee that news would be forthcoming “shortly, so how short is “shortly”? I ask because the epidemic of spiking does not abate.

Last time we were here, we all raised the horrendous case of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), who has experienced spiking. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester also alluded to an experience. I do not think I have ever mentioned this explicitly in this Chamber, but I asked my daughter whether she had ever been spiked. She highlighted two occasions, one when she was collapsed in a toilet of a nightclub and was picked up by the security staff from the floor, carted through the entire nightclub and dumped on the pavement. That is what happens to teenage girls: they get ejected from nightclubs because the assumption is that they are drunk—she was not drunk. She may well have been drinking, but she assured her mother that she had had only one drink. It was only because her friends saw her being carted out through the nightclub and went to the rescue that she was safe. She told me of another occasion when she had had only one drink and firmly believed that she had been spiked. She and her friends regard this as commonplace—that is the horror here. They do not report spiking to the police or to any authorities; they just accept that this is a risk they will run in order to go out and have a good time. That is absolutely horrific. I always point out that my daughter is a lot smaller than me, and I questioned whether this was something that happened only to petite people. A constituent of mine told me about the case of his wife who had been spiked in a nightclub, and she is tiny. I thought, “Is this happening only to small people? Am I therefore safe?”. No, apparently, I am not.

I wish to mention, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester did, the work done by Spike Aware UK, because we regard spiking very much as a gendered crime, but Greg Mackie died because he was spiked. His parents Colin and Mandy—Colin has been in touch me with ahead of this debate—have done great work since 2017, highlighting the scale of the problem, the importance of educating young people, and the importance of educating venues and making sure that they are putting protections in place. But we do need to better understand the scale of the problem; we need better data. With spiking crimes being recorded more often alongside rapes, sexual assaults and robberies, we need to have data that shows us exactly how many people are being spiked. We also need better reactions to this; we need blood tests and tests in hospitals quickly to identify the victims, because the challenge is that many of these substances are processed in the body very quickly. We need evidence to drive good law, and I have no doubt that the Home Office is going to drive good law.

I have mentioned Spike Aware UK, but I also wish to pay tribute to Dawn Dines, of Stamp Out Spiking, whom I have spoken to as part of the work that my Select Committee has done. I want to touch briefly on why people might seek to spike other individuals, which others have referenced. I believe that it is by and large a gendered crime, but it can happen to men; it can happen to boys. We think of it as being driven by sexual gratification, but it can be driven merely by wanting to be entertained by watching someone’s reaction. More and more cases are now being driven by a desire to perpetrate robberies. We are hearing of cases of people being frogmarched to cashpoints and forced to withdraw cash while they are incapable of making rational, sensible decisions about what they are doing because of the substances they have been given. However, as Spike Aware UK would point out, it is not good enough for us to have legislation in this place and it is not good enough for us to be aware: we all have to be actively anti-spiking. The Home Office has done some work in recent years on being an active bystander—the British Transport Police also does that brilliantly. It is about looking out for other people’s drinks and observing the behaviours of others in nightclubs and bars.

I absolutely endorse the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford however: why should we have to do that? I have never forgotten the experience of Emily, a young girl from Southampton who was a student at the University of Southampton when she was spiked. As a result of that, she came to my office, and her father told me her story very eloquently. She came and did a period of work experience in my office. While she was there, there were two other teenage girls doing work experience, and we had someone from a company come to us with female protection kits, as I will call them loosely. He had a range of kits. There was a kit for dogwalkers, to protect them from being attacked while out walking the dog. There was a kit for students specifically, which contained plastic stoppers for bottles, lids for glasses, their own straw, and so on. It had some of the tests for testing drinks. I let Emily loose on him, because her instant response was, “Why should I have to? Why should I have to have a 20-point checklist to keep myself safe when I go out at night?” Emily is right: we should not have to. But in the current climate, tragically, we do.

My right hon. Friend is making such a good point about the experiences of Emily and others. Does she agree with me that the evidence collected by the Home Affairs Committee was very powerful and very helpful? I want to pay tribute to the Chair, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), who cannot be here today, but who led on that and helped to provide evidence that I hope the Home Office will consider carefully. As my right hon. Friend has mentioned, the work of Stamp Out Spiking is also crucial in collecting this anecdotal evidence from so many people. Without that base of research and knowledge, it would be much harder to make the case, which I hope Ministers are finding more compelling.

Of course I agree with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right. That brings me to the Home Office’s own campaign, Enough, which, people will be relieved to hear, is my closing point. A message I would like to give the Minister very clearly, which is driven by the comments I have gleaned from Spike Aware UK, is that it is not enough for the Enough campaign to focus its activities around universities. By the time a young person has reached the grand old age of 18, that horse may already have bolted. We know from the excellent work of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and her Select Committee, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester rightly paid tribute, that many spiking incidents happen at house parties. We like to think that when we are surrounded by our friends, we will be okay. Sadly, the truth is that young people under the age of 18 will attend house parties and young people under the age of 18 will be spiked at house parties. They are vulnerable when they are at school and college.

My right hon. Friend is making an excellent point. I recently met a group of sixth-formers from one of my Chelmsford schools. The point they made to me was that, while it is all very well to give awareness to young women when they start university about how to stay safe, they turn 18 before they leave school and would quite like to go and celebrate their 18th birthday parties together. Does she agree with me that more could be done through the school curriculum and at school age to prepare people for turning 18?

My right hon. Friend anticipates where my speech was going. On the Enough campaign, I think it is right to focus on freshers’ week, which is a particular area of vulnerability, but by the time young people are 18 it is too late in some instances. Many will turn 18 while they are still at school and college. The Government’s statutory requirement for relationships, sex and health education finishes at 16, so when someone becomes a practitioner between the ages of 16 and 18, they are not supported.

I gently say to the Security Minister—in the same way that I would have said and, indeed, have said to the current safeguarding Minister, the previous safeguarding Minister and the one before—that RSHE needs to be inclusive up to the age of 18. My Select Committee has called for that in one of our reports, and it is crucial. The RSHE review needs to focus not on gender issues, but on the everyday problems that our young people face on their journey to adulthood, which include drugs, spiking, normal adult sexual relationships and trying not to learn about them from pornography. We have to be bolder when we are talking about what is and is not age appropriate. We have to equip young people to be cognisant of the risks, challenges and difficulties they will face, whether financial or anything else, through a programme of RSHE that is effective and preferably taught by experts, rather than the maths teacher on a Friday afternoon.

I commend the Enough programme. I celebrate it: I have a sticker on my office door—what a shame that I feel the need to say “Enough” here. The stark reality is that we have to ensure that we are taking the lead of brilliant organisations such as Stamp Out Spiking and Spike Aware UK, so that young people have all the tools in their armoury to be protected as they move into adulthood.

I have a final message for the Minister. I have absolutely no doubt that he will be encouraging and positive about this issue, because he is a good Minister and understands how important it is. He will have heard the strength of feeling across the Chamber on the need for specific legislation. I look forward, with my fingers crossed and my hopes high, to exactly that. My final plea, which I have made to a number of Home Office Ministers over many years, is that we must look at RSHE as an opportunity to equip young people with better skills to lead their adult lives. I know that the Minister will pass on this message to the safeguarding Minister: please play an active role, by working with the Department for Education and the myriad other Departments that touch the lives of young people, in ensuring that the RSHE review is fit for the 21st century, in the same way that we should have a piece of legislation on spiking that is fit for the 21st century.

It is a privilege to serve under your chairship this afternoon, Mr Efford, and to follow that barnstormer of a speech from my friend, the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes). It is also a privilege to respond to this debate, which is on a pressing issue. As we have heard, it mostly impacts women, but it can happen to anyone up and down our country. I am grateful to my good friends—my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North—for bringing this important debate forward. It is the second debate on the issue this year—just over 11 months since we were last talking about it. Sadly, the same issues persist, and it is a sad indictment that we need to have this debate yet again.

As we have heard, spiking refers to the practice of administering a substance to a person without their knowledge or consent, and it can be perpetrated in a variety of ways. Drink spiking involves adding alcohol or drugs to a person’s drink with the intention of intoxicating them, and needle spiking involves injecting a person with drugs or other substances. Frustratingly, the official statistics on spiking are not routinely published. Can the Minister elaborate on the Home Office’s plans to rectify that alarming gap? The current estimates, from a YouGov poll in December 2022, tell a stark story: 10% of women say they have had their drink spiked; and 35% of women say they have either had a drink spiked, know someone who has or both. Worryingly, four in 10 Britons say they do not think the police would believe them if they reported a drink spiking. There is no doubt that this is an epidemic.

As colleagues will also be aware, the true number of spiking incidents is almost certainly far higher than the number of incidents reported. The under-reporting of incidents may occur for several reasons, but it seems clear that the perception the police are unable to do anything about it prevents victims from coming forward. When spiking is currently not even a specific offence, is it any wonder that victims feel there is no point in getting the police involved?

Behind every spiking incident is a traumatised victim, very often a young woman, and we all deserve better. Part of the problem we are seeing relates to the crisis our criminal justice system is in thanks to this Government’s complete ineptitude. An investigation by The Guardian and Channel 4 recently found that drug spiking incidents reported to the police have increased fivefold in five years, yet the proportion leading to a criminal charge is falling. Almost 20,000 reports of spiking were received in the past five years by 39 police forces that responded to freedom of information requests submitted by Channel 4. The proportion of those reports that were investigated and resulted in a criminal charge dropped from one in 25 in 2018, to one in 400 in 2022. These are shocking statistics.

The prevalence of spiking is sickening, but worse still, I feel we are living in a country that has normalised the fact that women and girls must themselves take preventive action to prevent being spiked on a night out or in a friend’s home. Every woman deserves to enjoy their night without living in fear that a predatory man with a drug to slip into their drink, or just as shockingly, with a needle, could be lurking nearby.

Colleagues will recall that Labour has long called for the Government to introduce a specific offence for spiking and intent to spike. Indeed, we even tabled amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill calling for urgent action, and a review of the prevalence of spiking and the criminal justice system’s response to it. Sadly, the Government did not agree, so the amendment fell. The Government could easily commit today to referring spiking sentencing to the Sentencing Council, so I must press the Minister: why exactly is the Government not doing the right thing here?

While a new, separate offence would be welcome, we all know that new criminal offences alone are not enough to eradicate spiking. I strongly believe we also need to go further to end the culture of victim blaming that can often lead venue security staff to dismiss victims’ concerns, or refuse to take allegations seriously. We urgently need the Government to develop an anti-spiking strategy with every local authority and every Department that can use their licensing powers to regulate the night-time economy to change the way that victims are treated.

In the absence of a joined-up strategy from the UK Government, some local authorities and community groups are leading the way in their own communities. I am very pleased that my own business improvement district in Pontypridd has participated in International Stamp Out Spiking Day, and have also committed to delivering spiking-awareness training to the Pontypridd Pubwatch group.

I am also very pleased that my constituency’s local authority, Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, has used its statutory duty under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to create a community safety partnership that puts tacking violence against women and girls at the centre of its work. Through that, South Wales police has been able to deliver night-time community safety patrols, and I commend it for providing this reassuring police presence. Let us be clear: spiking is an issue that largely affects women and girls, and it is about time that we use the correct language here.

More broadly, local authorities like mine must be commended for their efforts, and these steps are all very welcome. But as I touched on earlier, in the absence of a joined-up strategy from the UK Government involving the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Education, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Home Office, these efforts are not enough.

As I have already mentioned and heard today, there is good work going on around the country, and the Minister should carefully look at that work. I am not just talking about my own area; as we have heard, there are examples of good work happening in Chelmsford, in Bradford, and across the country. In Birmingham, for example, if someone leaves a nightclub there are lots of phone numbers that bouncers and others can use to get a trained professional from St John’s Ambulance to come and make sure that person gets home safe. That is really simple stuff, but the Government have failed to lead from the top.

From cultural change, to showing some simple humility to women who have been impacted, there is clearly lots for us to do to protect women and girls from this vile practice. As we know, spiking is often associated with a whole host of misogynistic behaviours that fundamentally seek to undermine women and our independence.

The Labour party has repeatedly pushed the Government to go further and prioritise measures that will protect women and girls on our streets and in their homes. We have made a strong commitment that will see a perpetrator programme specifically designed to tackle the 1,000 most dangerous abusers on our streets. We have consistently called for violence against women and girls to be part of the strategic policing requirement that has been promised by the Government, but sadly not delivered.

Police forces are not yet required to tackle crimes against women as a priority. That is unforgivable, and yet another example of a Tory Government failing a generation. As I have already said, this is the second debate on this issue this year, and sadly the Government have failed to make any progress. I hope the Minister will accept once and for all that the Government must step up and take urgent action—urgent action, because we are all waiting—before more lives are impacted and more confidence is lost.

It is very nice to be here with you chairing this debate, Mr Efford, particularly after my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) was able to start off the process—at least she has also had time to give us her thoughts. It is also a huge pleasure to be here because, as some have noted, this is my second outing speaking about spiking, so it is extremely important to me that the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North brought in this debate again.

I read up on this matter quite carefully last time, which led to me giving my own opinion, and not just that of the Department—I hope that was useful. This time, I am pleased to say I am able to give the Department’s opinion more clearly, which is certainly helpful to me, anyway. It was also great to hear from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) that his mother is as vocal as he is—though I am confident she is not in the Adjournment debate of her time and has many more opinions to give, as does he.

First, I must say that my thoughts here are with the victims of spiking. As has been noted already, in many different ways, the number of people who are affected by spiking is sadly much greater than is commonly recognised. Indeed, there is no typical victim; there is far too much variability in those who are affected and pained by this. Of course, it is not only the immediate victim, but very often their families, partners and friends who—even if they were not victims of the actual spiked drink—will feel more vulnerable, less safe and more frightened to go out in their community. Clearly, all that has an effect on every one of us and on all our communities as well.

Supporting victims of spiking and ensuring that they get every possible support is a priority for this Government. I urge anyone who suspects they have been spiked to contact the police as soon as possible. I have to say, the statistics quoted by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) on reporting to the police are extremely concerning. For the avoidance of doubt, spiking is now illegal, and police will take action against it.

Equally, we must send a strong and unequivocal message to the perpetrators of these despicable acts that they will be caught and brought to justice, because these are vile and dangerous crimes. As well as the immediate risk to the victim’s wellbeing, the shock and distress suffered can, as has been mentioned, result in psychological turmoil and an ongoing and very unnerving ordeal. It is no exaggeration to say that the impact of being spiked could last for years, or even a lifetime—for some, it sadly does. No one should ever be made to feel vulnerable in their social setting, or in their home or someone else’s home. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North asked so powerfully, why should they? Enough.

That is why this Government have been working closely with the police and other partners to tackle spiking. I will set out some specific elements of our approach as I respond to the points that have been raised. I will start by addressing the publication of the statutory report on spiking, which the hon. Member for Bradford South quite rightly raised. I understand the frustration at the delay—my understanding is that the report will be published very soon indeed. Though my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) tried to undermine my children’s belief in Father Christmas by naming me as Santa, I hope very much that I will indeed be bringing good news in the days before the close of the year. However, it will be up to the Minister responsible—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris)—to decide when and how she addresses the matter.

As the Minister points out, the last time he spoke in this Chamber on this issue, he was able to anticipate a future Home Office position on spiking. It is very rewarding to hear that the new Home Secretary and the new Safeguarding Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris), who has a strong track record on issues relating not only to violence against women and girls, but social justice in general, are thinking apace as to how we could move things forward in a way that all Members present would like. I am grateful to this Minister for highlighting that, and I hope he will pass on our thanks to the other Ministers, but we do look forward to the detail and the substance.

My hon. Friend knows that I cannot make any announcement at all. I am merely positive as to the direction; it really is for the Minister for Safeguarding, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury to announce the Home Office position. I am sure she will do so as soon as she is able. She has arrived in the Department with a determination and with inspiring energy. She is not only an excellent colleague in her role as a Member of Parliament, but a fantastic ministerial colleague, and she will add hugely to the job of safeguarding the people of the United Kingdom, particularly those who are vulnerable in the evening. I do not want to say any more for fear of jumping ahead of myself. She has already done a huge amount of work, and I am sure that, if she is able, she will make further announcements

On the legislation, I want to make it clear that spiking is already illegal because various pieces of legislation set out prohibitions that incorporate the offence of spiking and they can be used to prosecute offenders. We have worked closely with the police to establish the range of powers that are currently available to them and the best methods of enforcement.

However, we are mindful that the modern offence has particularly insidious features, and we are carefully considering the range of views that have been expressed on this, especially from Conservative colleagues who have made compelling arguments on this matter. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) who has spoken very powerfully about this not only during this debate, but on many other occasions. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester likewise has in many ways not only led this debate today, but over many years. My right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North has led many of these arguments for many years.

We may be able to make more progress on awareness. My right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) made a point about the importance of giving evidence and how quickly evidence can disappear in the body. I have been told by local police that they often need a urine sample, which is not as complicated as a blood sample. In trying to secure more prosecutions, it is important to try to make people aware that that is the sample that they would need to give. I want the crime to stop, but I also want to make sure that, if it happens, we can hold the perpetrators to account. In the package of things that we might do in the future, there is space for more awareness of the methods of evidence giving and what evidence is needed to get the tracing of drugs in the system and ensure we can get the prosecutions.

I will ensure that my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury hears those points specifically and takes them up with the relevant authorities. I am sure she will be interested to hear them, because police clearly have a vital role in tackling this issue. I pay tribute to them for helping to shed light on these awful crimes. In many ways, they respond extremely effectively. I can speak for Kent police; others will have to determine the efficacy of the actions of their own forces.

Kent police does take spiking extremely seriously, but it can be a complex and challenging crime to investigate. I will pass on the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford. Drugs can pass through the system quickly, leaving often limited evidence for others to identify and to point to offenders. These crimes can happen in the highly dense environment of the night-time economy and in places where it is difficult to identify the perpetrator.

Since autumn 2021, police forces across England and Wales have been stepping up action on spiking. That includes developing and rolling out an online spiking reporting and guidance tool, which should greatly simplify the reporting of spiking. The police approach to tackling spiking is being co-ordinated by Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth, the national policing lead for violence against women and girls. The police continue to submit samples using rapid testing capability developed with forensic provider Eurofins Scientific. That has been invaluable in broadening our understanding of which drugs are being used and how frequently.

It is crucial that we have in place a consistent and effective national approach. Equally, the work taking place on the ground in communities is essential. In a number of towns and cities across England and Wales, uniformed police officers are visiting venues and working closely with licensed premises and staff. Plainclothes officers are trained to look out for concerning behaviour, while control rooms monitor CCTV so that officers can be sent directly to any suspicious or dangerous locations.

I am grateful to the Minister for what he says about the efforts of the police so far, but he will probably agree that many police chiefs, including my own in Gloucestershire, the excellent Rod Hansen, and the police and crime commissioners around the country—all of them collectively, including Chris Nelson in Gloucestershire—are clear that being able to collect data on a specific named spiking offence would help enormously. For local communities the work done by people such as Councillor Justin Hudson, who leads on communities in Gloucester City Council, working with the night-time economy, that combination can be very powerful in raising awareness and reducing the likelihood of these things happening.

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, which I know will have been heard by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury. As he knows, she will be looking at the many comments made this afternoon and indeed over recent months before publication of the report, which is due out very soon.

Officers can also carry out licensed checks on taxis, bars and clubs and can work closely with welfare organisations and help venues to step up their own security efforts, such as increasing searches. The story that my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North told us about her daughter, who would have been left on the street had her friends not intervened, demonstrates that extra training is necessary, because the idea of dealing with a situation like that by abandoning a young woman outside strikes me as extremely unwise, to put it politely, positively dangerous and—I should be cautious of my words.

Many venues have given extra training to staff to ensure that all reports of spiking are logged and reported immediately. This is not an exhaustive list of the activity that is being mounted to tackle the threat, but as the examples I have mentioned demonstrate, there is a real focus across the system on gathering intelligence, identifying perpetrators and protecting people around our communities. The Home Office continues to manage cross-Government work on spiking with an emphasis on practical action that can deliver real and lasting improvements. Some of the interventions targeted at tackling spiking include bystander training programmes, taxi monitors, CCTV, street lighting, drink protectors and educational training for the night-time economy staff.

In April 2022, following expert advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the Government reclassified the so-called date-rape drug GHB and two related substances from class C to class B under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Through “Enough”, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North has mentioned, the Government’s national behaviour change campaign for tackling violence against women and girls, we have rolled out spiking-specific communications and campaign activity at summer music festivals and universities across the United Kingdom. I am very glad to hear that it is being picked up and used appropriately.

I thank the Minister for giving way on that specific point. Music festivals—great. University freshers week—great. Will he work with his wonderful colleague at the Home Office to see whether we can have a roll-out to younger age groups, too?

My right hon. Friend pre-empts me. I was just about to say that this is not a crime that begins at the age of 18, a point that she made so powerfully. I am sure that our hon. Friend the Member for Newbury will be extremely interested in hearing about this and will no doubt take it up with the Department for Education to make sure that we co-ordinate action in the best possible way and get the right response in order to protect young people.

Just to add to that, our right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North is right to highlight the value of raising awareness in schools. Indeed, every time I go and talk to sixth forms I ask them about spiking and a lot of hands go up. It is also true that for families—parents and grandparents —awareness is useful. Is the Minister aware, for example, that the character Amy Barlow in “Coronation Street”, played by Elle Mulvaney, has recently been going through a lot of spiking issues after seeing somebody put GHB in the drink of a friend of hers? The storyline continues on spiking. In fact, if he and his colleagues are able to make significant changes, they might find themselves playing a part in “Coronation Street” as well.

Though I bow to no one in my admiration of the great city of Manchester, I cannot honestly confess to being a “Coronation Street” aficionado. “The Archers” has had episodes about this issue at various points, and, if the hon. Gentleman chooses, we can discuss those, but I am afraid that is as far as I go with that storyline.

The Minister is giving a very comprehensive and helpful response, which we all appreciate. I always ask, and it is only right that we do ask, that whatever recommendations and thoughts come out of this debate, and whatever the Minister takes forward with the other responsible Ministers, he gives an undertaking to share that information, any suggestions and any legal intentions with the Northern Ireland Assembly—just so that we can be on par with where the Government here hope to be.

The hon. Member for Strangford makes a very good point, which is that this is an issue not just for GB issue but for the whole United Kingdom. Where appropriate, engagement with the Northern Ireland Assembly is absolutely right, and I know that many friends of the hon. Member in Northern Ireland will be very concerned about the matter, as is His Majesty’s Government, who are concerned about the whole United Kingdom; he makes an extremely valid and powerful point.

The Home Office has supported Universities UK and the Department for Education working group on spiking, which is chaired by the vice-chancellor of Exeter University, Professor Lisa Roberts, to provide guidance to universities on spiking. We have provided communications on spiking to local authorities’ bulletins and supported the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s bespoke communications targeted at the freshers period, but none of that undermines the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North made about earlier education. That is a snapshot of the work that we are doing, and we look forward to setting out further details very soon.

In closing, I thank the hon. Member for Bradford South and my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North for securing this debate, and to all who have contributed. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury was extremely keen to be here, but sadly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North correctly said, she is doing important work in supporting a Public Bill Committee to make sure that important legislation gets through. It is a pleasure to be here in her stead, for the second time in that post, as it were, speaking about a matter that affects us all.

I will take this opportunity to once again urge the public to remain vigilant, particularly as we come up to Christmas and the new year. We all know that this is the time when people quite rightly want to celebrate—or commiserate—the end of the year, and to be together with friends and enjoy some time off. Sadly, it is a time when some people will be left more vulnerable, and it is important that we look out for each other. It should not be so—that should not be necessary, and we are looking very carefully at how legislation may need to change to ensure that it is not—but, as it is, the point has to be made that this is, sadly, a dangerous time of the year, and that it is worth being cautious.

There should be no doubt about how seriously my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, the Home Secretary and the whole of the Home Office take this issue. We will continue to work closely with the police and other partners to crack down on spiking through the various measures that I have outlined and, no doubt, through various measures that have been outlined by others here today. We will do everything we can do bring measures in as soon as possible and to keep people safe.

Belatedly, I will say that it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford.

I thank Members for their contributions and interventions; I am very grateful to them. I reiterate my thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating the time for this debate today and to my co-sponsor, the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), for all her work in helping to secure this debate.

I also thank, once again, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) for all his hard work on spiking and I commend the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), for her outstanding work on spiking.

I thank the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) for speaking so movingly about the experience of her constituent, about the right of women to enjoy a night out without having to worry about spiking, and about the need to update the law.

I thank the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who is no longer in his place, for his intervention, in which he spoke about the need to legislate for the protection and safety of women in public spaces.

I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who spoke about his long-standing support for a stronger law on spiking, his constituent’s awful experience of spiking, his worries on behalf of young people everywhere, and—importantly—the need for a cross-departmental approach to student safety.

I thank the hon. Member for Gloucester again for speaking about the widespread prevalence of spiking and the sheer volume of victims, including those he had personally spoken to, and the drive of the perpetrators of spiking to “humiliate” their victims. But he also spoke about his optimism that change could be achieved, including the creation of a specific offence of spiking.

The right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North has so ably multitasked today, demonstrating both her chairing and speaking abilities. She spoke about the need to update the outdated laws and about the gold standard of safeguarding at Glastonbury, which is very important. It is unfortunate that other festivals do not emulate that gold standard and will not do so without legislation. She also spoke about the need for data to drive good law, which is another very important point.

I reiterate that this Government must abide by their statutory duty to publish their response to the report on spiking immediately. The Minister saying “shortly” again is not good enough, because it has been “shortly” for quite a long time now. It is clear from this debate that there is cross-party support to engage in legislative reform to make spiking a criminal offence. We must work to ensure that the trend of rising reports of spiking and lower charge and conviction rates is reversed, and that spiking is ultimately halted.

Now is the time for legislative action, now is the time to eliminate any ambiguity in our legal system that prevents understanding of the scale of this issue, and now is the time to create a specific offence of spiking, so that victims can have the confidence that they are protected by the law.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of spiking.

Sitting suspended.