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Tackling Spiking

Volume 742: debated on Monday 18 December 2023

With permission, I will make a statement about the Government’s action to tackle spiking. Spiking is an insidious act with potentially life-threatening consequences. We know it constitutes a danger to people, particularly women, in nightclubs, bars, on student campuses, at festivals or in any social setting. No one should have to worry that a substance has been put into their drink or that they could be targeted with a needle. More than 5,000 cases were reported last year, and that is perhaps only the tip of the iceberg.

These offences have potentially devastating effects. First, there are the immediate physical effects, which can include struggling to speak or to stand up, loss of consciousness and hospitalisation, to name just a few. Secondly, there is the psychological trauma, which can manifest itself in a number of ways, including anxiety or, most acutely, shame about what happened and what may have ensued. The impact can last for months, years or a lifetime. Some will be victims of secondary offending, which they may struggle to recall, that may well be of a sexual nature. Thames Valley police told the Home Secretary and me just last Friday that spiking is the hallmark of the sexual predator. Anyone who has read the harrowing accounts of victims will understand why it is vital that we crack down on these crimes. We owe it to all of them to redouble our efforts, and that is precisely what this Government are doing.

As Members will be aware, the Government were required, under section 71 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, to produce a report on the nature and prevalence of spiking and the action we intend to take. Publication has been delayed, and I understand why the hold-up has been a source of frustration, but that delay has enabled the Home Secretary and I—both new in post—to take a step back and consider how best we can focus our efforts to address this crime.

We want the law to be crystal clear and for individuals to have no doubt as to their rights and remedies. We have concluded that there is a case for a legislative change to capture the modern and insidious nature of this crime. I can therefore confirm to the House that the Government intend to bring forward amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill that modernise the language of the Offences against the Person Act 1861. This will remove any ambiguity and make it clear that the offence covers spiking in every form, be that via food or drink, vape or by needle. We hope that this step will improve public awareness but, most importantly, encourage victims to come forward.

I will add two points. It has been said, and we of course accept, that the existing laws already cover the range of behaviours that incorporate spiking. While it is not in dispute that that is the case, we recognise that some of the existing offences on which we rely are not readily seen to cover spiking. We give the illustration of sections 22 to 24 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, which use the language of poisoning for nefarious purposes, which we believe we can clarify through this change.

By their very nature, spiking cases are complex. The work we have done tells us that there are particular challenges in identifying perpetrators and gathering evidence. To bolster our legislative plans, we have developed a package of practical measures to improve public safety. The police have already developed a rapid, lab-based urine testing capability, but we want to go further. First, the Home Office will be funding efforts to research the capability and reliability of existing rapid drink testing kits. There are never any guarantees with this sort of work, and we are only at the beginning, but to understand what is possible, we have to gather evidence on testing efficacy, and that is what we will be doing in the months ahead.

Secondly, additional funding will be provided to the police to run several spiking “intensification weeks”, which we have seen successfully deployed for other types of criminality, including county lines and knife crime. Thirdly, the Security Industry Authority, the regulator of the UK’s private security industry, has committed to introduce spiking training for door supervisors as part of its existing licence-linked qualifications. This will enable them to better and more quickly identify victims onsite.

Fourthly, we will support the police to roll out their spiking reporting and advice tool, to improve the quality of data. This enables the public to report cases of spiking quickly and simply, including anonymously if they so wish. It has been successfully rolled out across 20 forces as part of a pilot programme in England and Wales, and will be expanded to the remaining 23 forces shortly. Several other measures are detailed in the statutory report, but I am conscious of the time, so I will simply add that the report is available on the website and emphasise that we are strengthening our response across the board.

Before I conclude, I take this opportunity to urge the public to remain vigilant, particularly over Christmas. If anybody believes that they or someone around them has been spiked, they should report the incident to the venue and the police. I also want to offer my thanks to the campaign group Stamp Out Spiking and Members on both sides of the House. I will not mention them all, but I particularly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), my right hon. Friends the Members for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and for Witham (Priti Patel), my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies) and the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), who have campaigned so assiduously on this issue. Their insight and commitment have been instrumental, and they will no doubt continue to provide support and scrutiny as our work progresses.

Spiking is an appalling, predatory crime that ruins lives. As we have shown time and again, this Government will do everything in their power to protect the public and reduce violence against women. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of her statement. Once again, I welcome her to her role. She has been a long-standing advocate for action on tackling violence against women and girls, and I am confident that there will be opportunities to work together to make progress on these incredibly important issues.

Let us be clear: Labour completely welcomes today’s announcement on spiking, although action to crack down on this dangerous and devastating crime is long overdue. The scale of the problem, as the Minister well knows, is vast. As the Government’s own report makes clear, between May 2022 and April 2023 the police received 6,732 reports of spiking. Of those, just four—0.05%—resulted in a charge. On average, we had 561 reports a month, with the majority coming from females who believe their drink was spiked, although spiking can affect anyone. Some 957 of the more than 6,000 reports included needle spiking.

Spiking is a dangerous and invasive crime that creates both immediate physical danger for victims and long-term psychological impacts. The words in the statement are all well and good, and the Minister knows she has my full support, but we must also recognise that this Government’s record on issues relating to violence against women and girls has been one of dither and delay. Stronger action is always welcome, but why has it taken the Government so long to act? The Home Affairs Committee published its report on spiking in April 2022, which is more than a year and a half ago.

Labour has repeatedly called for action on spiking, including the creation of a stand-alone criminal offence that would make it easier to prosecute, easier to raise awareness, and easier for people to come forward to report what has happened and point to crystal-clear breaches of the law. There has been years of campaigning and advocacy about the epidemic of spiking here in the UK but, once again, the Government have sadly dragged their feet. Since the Select Committee published its report, there have been two freshers weeks, two years of festive parties and two years of music festivals. During that period, more victims have been left vulnerable to this awful crime.

Where is the urgency when it comes to tackling violence against women and girls? The Government’s response has been pitifully slow. The report published by the Government today on the nature and prevalence of spiking, which is required as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, was originally due to be published on 28 April—nine months ago—but has been delayed time and again. That simply is not good enough. In the months of delay, dangerous criminals will have been let off, and victims have been consistently let down.

While it is positive that the Government are now bringing forward legislative changes to create more clarity about the criminality of spiking, it has taken too long for them to accept the significance of the problem. Last year, the National Police Chiefs’ Council told the Home Affairs Committee that poor data quality and the absence of a clear criminal offence presented a challenge in policing spiking. It said:

“A more defined standalone offence of spiking would help understand the scale of the problem”


“enable a far more accurate picture to be realised”

than through the current approach. Chief constables told the Committee that a defined offence for spiking would also allow enhanced support for victims, but last December, in response to the Committee’s report, the then safeguarding Minister, the hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines), said

“we have concluded that there is no gap in the existing law which a new offence would fill”

and that introducing a new specific spiking offence

“would not increase the likelihood of charging or prosecuting an offender for spiking offences.”

Yet we now understand that there will be legislative amendments to update and modernise existing offences to make the offence explicit and capture the modern-day nature of the threat. The Minister has acknowledged:

“Whilst the offence is nominally covered by existing laws, this comprises a patchwork of different laws—some now well over a hundred years old—which were drafted to cover other kinds of offending.”

That is a clear admission that the current legal framework is not fit for purpose, but it has taken the Government more than 18 months to accept and put forward changes to rectify that.

The Minister has made a personal commitment in her new role to go further than her predecessors, and I commend her for that, but Labour remains concerned that these tweaks to existing laws will fall short of doing the right thing of creating a stand-alone spiking offence. We fear that the Government’s approach simply will not go far enough and will not provide the clarity and focus required for all involved. That being said, we will eagerly await the detail of any amendments and will scrutinise the proposed legislative changes in Committee.

The Government are right to say in their report that night-time economy venues are areas of opportunity for safeguarding and prosecutorial support, and that the early collection of evidence, identification of perpetrators and the ability to support customers are key. There is no doubt that as well as getting the criminal justice system to take spiking more seriously, we need much more prevention work in clubs, bars and pubs and joint working between premises and the police to catch perpetrators. The Government’s new training plan sounds like a step in the right direction, but we are concerned about the small scale of the new programme. The announcement talks about training hundreds more door staff, but we know that there are tens of thousands of venues up and down the UK where these crimes are being committed regularly. How on earth does the Minister expect even to scratch the surface of the issue with those numbers?

We urgently need to see more detail to understand how impactful the changes will be. For example, can the Minister set out exactly how the new training will work, including how many venues will receive training, whether it will be voluntary or mandatory, and what happens if venues fail to engage or repeatedly ignore spiking incidents at their premises? We need a robust and comprehensive approach across the country; this should not be opt-in. We also need a proper national strategy for dealing with this abhorrent crime, which would include looking at the licensing arrangements for late-night venues where these crimes take place.

Tackling spiking at its root is a huge challenge. The Government have had 13 years to get it right, but the simple truth is that the Tories have been too focused on their own in-fighting rather than tackling issues such as spiking, which pose a genuine risk to women up and down the country. I urge the Minister to be bold in her commitments—I know that she will be—and I sincerely hope that she will work hard to rebuild the trust that women and girls have lost over the last decade when it comes to feeling safe in our communities.

I will come back on two or three of the hon. Lady’s points.

First, on the hon. Lady’s observation that few such cases result in a charge, if I may correctly her gently, the principal reasons the police have given for that are: too few people coming forward in the first place, which we hope this legislative change will address; the narrow window of time in which a urine sample can be accurately tested, which is one reason why we are funding further research into rapid, on-site testing; and the difficulty in establishing who is doing the spiking. Simply, the difficulties that we have identified and spoken to the police about come at every level in the process. We are changing the law to make spiking crystal clear so that public confidence is improved and victims feel encouraged to come forward, because that is the first bit of the jigsaw.

Secondly, on the scale of our response, from the bouncer on the door of the club in the small town to the statute book, we want to change the response to spiking at every level. Whether it is a question of a friend reporting an incident, a victim coming forward, a test being done more rapidly, or the police having any doubt about which of the provisions under statute apply, it will be crystal clear.

Thirdly, the hon. Lady talked about developing an accurate picture of where spiking takes place and how we develop the response accordingly. That is the focus of the reporting tool, which a member of the public can use to report an incident of spiking even if they are not affected and it appears to have happened to someone at a table on the other side of the room. The tool will enable the police to develop an accurate picture—some of which we already know, some we are less clear about—to see the extent of it, where it happens and how we can focus resources.

My hon. Friend will know that last week there was a debate in Westminster Hall on this subject. Afterwards, I spoke to Dawn Dines at Stamp Out Spiking and had an email from Colin Mackie of Spike Aware, who made the point that none of us had mentioned vape spiking. That was our omission, and I am pleased that this afternoon it has not been the Minister’s, as she included it. We need a 21st century solution to 21st century crime.

Could the Minister expand a little about perpetrators? We know that spiking is done for a variety of reasons: perhaps to effect a sexual assault, physical assault or robbery; or just for entertainment, particularly to humiliate individuals. What other steps are the Government taking alongside this legislative clarity—which I welcome—to ensure that those people who still think it is okay to humiliate, embarrass and assault women get a clear message that it is culturally unacceptable?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her typically wise question. She is right to mention the vape issue, which I was not previously aware of. That proves the point that whatever legislative changes we make will have to be fit for the future and envisage how the crime might evolve and develop over time. She makes a good point about perpetrators. That was exactly what Thames Valley police told the Home Secretary and me on Friday: a critical part of the VAWG strategy that it and the police nationally focus on is perpetrator behaviour. As part of licensing conditions, the police increasingly work with bar staff, who make a note to establish who is behaving in a certain way in the bar, and who is often on their own or looking to isolate people. Using CCTV can be a critical first step in the police identifying the perpetrators, where they are working, which locations they frequent and who poses the greatest risk to women in a local community.

I welcome today’s statement and pay tribute to all those who have campaigned for changes in spiking law. But it is almost 20 months since the Home Affairs Committee produced our report, and more than seven months since the statutory deadline for the Government to publish their own report on the issue was missed. The report tells us that the Government are still considering many of the Committee’s recommendations, including the gathering of vital data on crime recording and perpetrators, options for the delivery of a training programme for the night-time economy and options for joint communications on spiking, including working with festivals ahead of summer events and engaging with universities over freshers week. As the report is late, can the Minister explain why it has not accepted the clear, full recommendations on all these points, and why there is still consideration going on in the Home Office?

I pay tribute to all the right hon. Lady’s work individually and as part of the Home Affairs Committee. I do not want her to be left with the impression that there is a lack of complete commitment on this issue. As I hinted at in the statement, and for the purpose of brevity, some training happens already for bar staff. There is probably a gap with how much those working on the doors know, and they are critical first responders to these cases, which is why I mentioned them. She should not interpret anything in this report as evidence of a lack of ambition by the Government. My statement today is to assure her that we have given this issue our full commitment.

Chelmsford is home to a vibrant night-time economy, with lots of very popular bars, clubs and restaurants. We also have a really strong reputation for being a safe place to enjoy a night out, but from time to time even in Chelmsford stories of spiking come to light. I therefore warmly welcome this package of initiatives, in particular the promise to modernise the law to make it crystal clear that spiking, whether in a drink, through a needle or via a vape, is illegal. It is very timely, as the Criminal Justice Bill is going through Parliament right now and we can put it into law quickly. Does the Minister agree with me and very many campaigners that clarifying the law will act as a strong deterrent to perpetrators and thus help keep women safe?

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend and thank her for her question. First, as I said, the purpose of clarifying the law is to empower more people to be clear on their rights and to come forward. But it is also the case that by having a clear offence in which spiking is defined, the police will be able to use the data of people who come forward and report a spiking incident. That will allow us to build a much more accurate picture, through the criminal justice system, of the extent to which this offence occurs.

I thank the Minister for the statement. I welcome any measures to tackle this awful crime of spiking, so I look forward to the Government’s amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill. The National Police Chiefs’ Council has stated that a stand-alone offence would help it to understand the scale of the problem, enable a more accurate picture to be realised and allow enhanced support for victims. Will she outline her reasons for ignoring the NPCC’s concerns and missing a clear opportunity to create a stand-alone offence of spiking? It is welcome news that, as she has just stated, hundreds of door staff will be trained to change the response to spiking at every single level, but I am at a loss as to the logic for why the Government have not included training for staff at outdoor music festivals, where tens of thousands of under 18-year-olds attend, often camping out, and where private security firms are tasked with their safety. Will the Minister extend the training to outdoor music festival staff in order to protect our young people?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and for all her work on this issue. I think we are arguing on two sides of the same coin. We agree, without reservation, that there is a need to define spiking in law and that is what we are committing to do. Effectively, it could be viewed as an offence, which will enable people to report clearly and the police to record data in the way that I have suggested. Essentially, there is no particular difference between where the NPCC is and where we are on this issue. I hope that will satisfy her. I encourage her to have a look at the report itself. The ambition is very much to work with staff at every level. We are in no doubt about who the frontline responders are. Yes, festivals are a primary location, as are student campuses. Of course bar staff come into this. The direction of travel is absolutely to further their work in recognising and—ultimately, if our research goes further—perhaps playing a role in testing and supporting the police effort on this particular crime.

This is the best early Christmas present for thousands of our constituents who have been spiked and the many tens of thousands who worry that they may be spiked. It is testimony to the new safeguarding Minister that in my hon. Friend’s first statement to the House she has announced the updating and modernising of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which so many of us who have been campaigning on this issue believe is overdue. She has done this in the presence of both the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor, both of whose unwavering support on this matter I much appreciate. Will my hon. Friend tell the House when she believes it might be possible to start the process of training, when we might be able to expand the roll-out of the police reporting pilot project, and when we might expect to get an early report back on the results of the drink testing kit, which is so important to a successful implementation?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the exceptional work that he has done in driving this forward, working with Ministers and explaining to us issues that we may not have considered previously. I think that was one of the best examples of MPs and, I hope, Government working together—along with other MPs, of course.

My hon. Friend asked, very properly, questions about the reporting and the timeframe. I do not have an answer for him, but I will take his questions back to my officials and see whether we can set a sensible timetable for when he and others can expect some report from the Home Office on what is being done, how effective it is, and what difference it will make. On the question of updating legislation, everyone who has read the published report will be aware that there was a difference of opinion, with some police officers expressing the belief that existing law covered this offence. However, in the life of the current Parliament there have been other important ways in which we have changed the law when some would have said that an offence was already covered. One example is non-fatal strangulation. I have spoken to criminal barristers who say they are securing convictions for that offence in circumstances in which they would not have necessarily done so in the past, and I hope that we will see the same difference in this instance.

I welcome some of what the Minister has announced. When the National Police Chiefs’ Council ran a data collection for spiking incidents at festivals and other events last year, they found that the average age of a spiking victim was just 21, with some victims, shockingly, as young as 14. We know that spiking victims are disproportionately young women, and it is therefore vital that we tackle sexist attitudes early. I am proud that some of the schools in my constituency are taking innovative approaches, but may I ask the Minister to commit to working with her colleagues in the Department for Education to improve and strengthen the sex and relationships education curriculum? In particular, will they look at the recommendations from Women’s Aid for reform of the curriculum so that it directly addresses misogyny and violence against women?

I am glad that the hon. Lady has asked me that question, because I have had discussions with Women’s Aid and Ministers in the Department for Education very recently to discuss exactly that. I have formed the view that there is a strong imperative for us to look carefully at how we teach children about relationships and about attitudes on these subjects at the start of secondary school, and even, I think, at the end of primary school. Once these issues develop, they are much more difficult to shift, and the key is to prevent them from developing in the first place. There are some good precedents for that being highly effective in other areas, which is what I am exploring at the moment.

I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box for what I believe is her first statement—the first of many, I am certain. I was alarmed to hear in the statement that the 5,000 cases reported last year were

“perhaps only the tip of the iceberg”.

Will the reporting tool enable anonymised cases to be reported, so that we can have a better sense of the scale of this crime?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind words. Yes, absolutely; that is a key feature of the reporting tool. The purpose is partly to address some of the issues that prevent people coming forward: they do not think they will be believed, or they think that they made a fool of themselves, or they cannot really remember what happened on the night. The ability to report the incident using an anonymous tool without having to go through the entire criminal justice process—if that is not what the victim wishes to do—is an important element. It has been piloted very successfully in 20 forces so far. We hope that it will encourage people to come forward, and will also help us to develop an accurate picture of what is happening across the country.

I have to say that I was surprised by the rapid onslaught of both the spiking of drinks and the use of needles. I do not know many young women who do not put their the hand over their glass when they are out. I hope that I am not being pedantic, but I want to press the Minister: will spiking be a stand-alone offence? She has talked about its being effectively seen as an offence, and about modernising the language, but it is extremely important for it to be a stand-alone offence. Can she please commit herself to that?

Let me be completely clear about this. We will be amending the Offences against the Person Act 1861 so that the language of an existing statutory provision will capture the modern offence of spiking in all its forms, because we recognise that the language in that Act, although it nominally covers the offence of spiking, will not be clear to a member of the public.

I thank the Minister for her statement. Very serious and worrying cases have been raised with me locally, but I know that this is a widespread, national problem, so I strongly welcome these measures, and I pay tribute to the Minister and all who have campaigned on the issue. May I return to the answer she gave on the ability to report anonymously? Does she agree that that is critical both to gaining a better understanding of what is going on and the scale of the problem, and to making it easier for people to come forward and report?

I do indeed think that the ability to report anonymously is a critical part of this. I hope the use of that tool on a national basis will mean that people become accustomed to being able to report these incidents, and that as a result they are reported more widely. I hope that today’s statement will generate publicity, and that we will collectively make this an offence that people will feel much more ready to come forward and report.

I welcome the Minister’s statement. Brighton has a thriving night-time and entertainment economy—that is what we are based on—but far too many people I know personally have been spiked, predominantly women. When they try to get a test via the health services, very often the pathways are closed to them. Will the Minister ensure that pathways to testing are available not just through the criminal justice system but through the health system, and that it will be a licensing requirement for venues to direct people to the right place—to safety, and then the criminal justice system? Will she also ensure that licensing rules are focused on people’s safety? I hear many reports that licensing rules prevent people from taking a glass out of a venue to get some air, so they leave the glass inside and leave themselves open to danger. Some of this needs to be changed, but outdated licensing rules prevent that from happening and end up putting people at risk.

The hon. Gentleman has made three excellent suggestions. I will take them all back and write to him.

These measures will be welcomed by the police, who have been calling for them for many years. When I was Policing Minister, they were starting to inquire about this. Most important, however, is the fact that we worry about our loved ones when they go out. My daughter lives in Sydney, Australia, and spiking is rife there too. I heard an alarm bell ring when the Minister spoke about testing. I am a former Roads Minister as well as a former Policing Minister. When I first introduced the concept of drug-driving, the response was, “Oh, this is very difficult and technical, because there are so many different drugs.” There was discussion of urine testing and how that could be done. The saliva test leads to the prosecution of most drink-drivers and drug-drivers who are stopped. The type approval that the Home Office is looking for needs to be very open-minded. The industries will come forward with the technology. The Minister will be told that it is very expensive—tough; the more we use it, the more the price will come down.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his wise observations. I hope that he was able to infer from my statement that what currently exists is a urine test that the police can roll out. On more than one occasion, the police have told me that they are sometimes inhibited by the fact that even if they do the test, it is not within the window when the drug is still in the bloodstream, so they do not obtain an accurate reading. The reason the Home Office is funding research on rapid drink testing tests—it is still at an early stage—is that, hopefully, it will be possible to test the drink on site. If someone reports symptoms, the venue will be able to work out very quickly what might have happened, using a kit, and the path to redress for the victim can begin on the night itself.

I thank the Minister for her statement but urge her to go much further in tackling this terrible crime. In particular, I ask her to look again at further work at music festivals. Thousands of vulnerable young people attend the Reading festival in my constituency, many of them teenagers. It would be good to hear that work is under way to protect them and other young people at such festivals.

I would like to write to the hon. Gentleman —I have said the same to others—about what we are doing in relation to festivals, but the Reading festival resonates, and not just because my constituency is nearby. When I spoke to Thames Valley police about this issue recently, they said that the Reading festival was not just a festival where they saw spiking, but the festival where they saw the highest correlation with a secondary offence—namely, a sexual offence that was perpetrated afterwards. The hon. Gentleman does not need to impress on me the urgent need for us to look specifically at festivals as a particular danger zone for this type of crime.

I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s statement and her clear determination to stamp down on this evil crime. She mentioned the police intensification weeks, which I suspect will be very successful, largely down to the use of police power to stop and search in venues in order to find spiking paraphernalia on the perpetrators. However, in the long term there will be a need for training of door staff and bar staff, as she mentioned. Can she give a commitment that if further powers need to be handed down in a very limited scope to door staff—be it at a music festival, a nightclub or a late-night venue—she will not rule that out, to ensure that these crimes can be prevented in the first place?

My hon. Friend is quite right. Spiking intensification is a form of training that develops how the police think about this issue, but it is likely that it will have to be complemented by what happens among door staff and bar staff, as I mentioned in my statement. We have had feedback from the police that additional powers in both regards would be helpful to them, and we are giving serious consideration to that.

Spiking is such a degrading crime. I remember the sense of shame felt by the victims I dealt with when I was taking down the reports of the offences as a sexual offences operational police officer. We need to change the culture in the longer term so that perpetrators do not even think about committing such offences, and I commend the University of St Andrews in my constituency for its consent module in that vein. We need to look at how we can actively prevent these offences, and I welcome the proposals for door staff training. Will the Minister give consideration to the amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) on mandatory training for certain police officers and the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to violence against women and girls?

The hon. Lady is right to say that spiking is a form of violence against women. The data is irrefutable: the principal victims are young and predominantly women. It is a classic gateway offence by somebody who is at risk of going on to commit a much more serious form of offending, so this is not just about stamping out the crime; it is about making it impossible for perpetrators to behave in this way in the first place. The hon. Lady talked about the police training, and I want to provide her with some reassurance. I hope I am answering her question when I say that we now have 2,000 police officers in England and Wales who are undergoing specific rape and serious sexual offence—RASO—training. I met some of them on a visit to Bristol recently and I am due to see more in the new year. I would be happy to update her on how that is going and how effectively I think it is being rolled out across forces in this country.

I want to put on record my thanks to the new Minister for her rapid work in this area and to colleagues who have worked so hard to secure these changes to our spiking laws. Will she join me in thanking Braunton Councillor Pru Maskell and Barnstaple’s Soroptimists for their campaigning to tackle spiking and their promoting the use of Spikey bottle tops and stop-tops for glasses in North Devon?

What a brilliant idea! Of course I thank the local organisations that my hon. Friend mentions. This has been a collective effort. Perhaps representing Parliament is at its best when so many MPs have worked with their local authorities or local charities, or have heard the voices of victims who have come to see them in their surgeries, and relayed all that into Government. We have drawn all that information together and got to where we are today but, honestly, without the testimony and hard work of so many local groups such as the ones she mentions, we probably would not be here now.

I thank the Minister very much for the second good news story that we have heard today in this Chamber. We are very pleased to have that. Can I also thank the hon. Members for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and others in this House who have contributed to this potential legislation? It is great to hear these announcements on tackling spiking, especially as we approach the Christmas period when so many young people—and elderly people as well—are attending Christmas parties and events across the whole of the United Kingdom. As I understand it, the changes to the legislation will apply to the 43 police forces in England and Wales. The Minister referred to 5,000 cases on the UK mainland. Just to give her an idea of the impact in Northern Ireland, we had 120 cases there in one month. Will she ensure that discussions take place with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the relevant Government Departments to ensure that we in Northern Ireland can adopt this same legislation and keep our people safe as well?

I am rapidly doing the maths, and it looks as though the scale of the problem in Northern Ireland is at the same level as it is everywhere else in the country. I will make a note that we undertake to work carefully with that force and ensure that there is standardisation across the United Kingdom.

I congratulate the Minister on tackling this issue and my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on his persistence in bringing it to her attention. Sussex police actively helps to prevent spiking by providing anti-spiking drinks covers and stop-tops and by using a drone in Brighton, where there are four universities, to act as a mobile form of CCTV. Can the Minister provide further details on how the Home Office will work with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to target key weeks when spiking tends to be more prevalent, in order to crack down on the number of incidents and to ensure that police forces share best practice to avoid a postcode lottery?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has been really vocal on this issue and deserves credit for everything she has done on it. She made two excellent points. The first was about whether the Home Office would respond to flashpoint time periods such as freshers’ week. I think that that is absolutely within our purview and it is set out in the spiking report, which I hope she has had an opportunity to read. The second was about best practice, and that is an excellent point on which I hope to update the House over the course of next year. We can create as many new offences or practices as possible in this House, but unless they are being applied evenly across every force, we cannot be sure that they are working as well as they should be. I hope my hon. Friend will continue to scrutinise the Government on that issue in the months ahead.

I hugely welcome this statement from the Minister and thank the Government for taking strong, positive action on tackling the horrific crime of spiking, which affects young and older people, including students and non-students, and hugely negatively impacts public safety. Can my hon. Friend reassure the House and the public at large that the police and hospitality businesses will be supported to better detect this crime and so ultimately bring these perpetrators to justice?

I can provide my hon. Friend with that reassurance. The critical part of our response today is that we are working at every single level from the barman to the bouncer to the statute book. We recognise it as critical that people are protected when they are out at night and if they have cause to go to the police the following day. Our objective is to stamp out spiking.

I would like to thank the Minister for her statement and for responding to questions for over 40 minutes. I am now going to seamlessly hand over to Sir Roger Gale.

Bill Presented

General Medical Council (Fitness to Practise) Rules (Amendment) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Daisy Cooper presented a Bill to provide that an allegation concerning a medical practitioner’s fitness to practise may be considered by the General Medical Council irrespective of when the most recent events giving rise to the allegation occurred; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the first time; to be read a second time on Friday 26 April 2024, and to be printed (Bill 142).