House of Lords
Tuesday, 28 October 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.
Introduction: Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
Natalie Jessica Evans, having been created Baroness Evans of Bowes Park, of Bowes Park in the London Borough of Haringey, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Cavendish of Furness and Baroness Neville-Rolfe, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Lord Cashman
Michael Maurice Cashman, Esquire, CBE, having been created Baron Cashman, of Limehouse in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Baroness Turner of Camden and Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Railways: East Coast Rail Franchise
My Lords, levels of engagement with the rail unions have increased since the launch of the rail franchising programme in March 2013. On the intercity east coast franchise competition, this engagement has included a number of face-to-face meetings at official and ministerial level and correspondence covering most aspects of the competition.
My Lords, while I am glad that such meetings have taken place, does the Minister appreciate that many of us who use the east coast rail service regularly are dismayed that the Government have refused to allow the current publicly owned operator—which has greatly improved the service, to the benefit of both passengers and UK taxpayers alike—even to bid for the franchise and to be able to continue to run a good service? Does it not seem odd that the Government allow foreign state-owned enterprises to run our rail services in part, yet refuse to allow a successful home-grown public enterprise to do so?
My Lords, noble Lords will be aware that Directly Operated Railways that took over the running of the east coast service after the failure of the previous franchise was always anticipated to be temporary; I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, will confirm that. It has done an excellent job; I would not wish to understate that. It is important that the Government have the capacity to step in when something happens within a franchise that makes that necessary. Now, however, we need very significant new investment; there needs to be a long-term partner taking this franchise forward, so it is right to go into the franchising process. I would be glad to address questions on whether we should have our own franchising entity, but I do not want to take too long on a single answer.
My Lords, will the Minister think about the fact that this franchise has failed twice and that the present competition is very uncertain because of the threat of open access operation to whomever the franchise is let? If any of the franchise bidders bid less than what the taxpayer gets from Directly Operated Railways, will the Government allow the latter organisation to continue to run the railway?
My Lords, the franchise process is in train. The award will come in February, so I obviously cannot comment on the competitors’ offers at this time. That would be entirely improper. It is certainly true that DOR returned profits to the Government—not to the department. It is also important to understand that it has not had the demands that are placed on many franchises in the level of investment required. We will have new equipment coming on to the line and new rolling stock, too. That will mean significant new burdens and we have many greater requirements now in terms of customer service so there is a need for significant investment. That is why a new player needs to come in at this time. It is obviously open to any Government to own companies and use them in various ways. This country used to have an airports industry and ran steel mills and car companies. However, we have found that the franchising system has offered us excellence. Train-operating companies have delivered very good service at very good prices. We have seen the response to that from passengers who have doubled in number in the past 20 years.
As I said, the company currently operating this is a government entity. It was designed as a company that could step in when something went wrong. That remains important within the arsenal of our tools. There is a very different set of skills when one is looking at significant new investment and growth. This is the point that we have reached with this franchise, so it is very important that the opportunity is, as I say, open for the train operating companies to bid on this and offer a high-quality service. We will be looking for a very effective winning bidder.
Does my noble friend acknowledge that there are deficiencies in the present service? Does she know, for instance, that while it is possible to have a day in London from Lincoln using direct trains, one cannot do the reverse? As we have one of the most important years in Lincoln’s history coming up next year—2015, the anniversary of Magna Carta—can she will follow up on the conversations I have had with the Secretary of State and try to ensure that next year we have a direct service between London and Lincoln?
My Lords, the Minister may have sought to reassure the House that she had some form of consultation with the trade unions but did she have any consultation with the half a million additional passengers that are being carried on the line under the successful operation of DOR? Surely she will accept that only a Government who are addicted to dogma would dispense with a company—an organisation that has run the line so successfully—and put it out to bidders, of which the successful one may well be the state-owned company of another country’s railway.
My Lords, it is certainly true that other countries have chosen to invest and own companies across a wide range of industries. This is a particularly difficult industry in which to do that. Its fixed costs are extremely high. It costs something like £7 million to £10 million to put in a bid, with no assurance of winning. It is certainly a high-risk industry and the margins, as the noble Lord will know, even for an effective and profitable company, are quite fine. It is an entirely valid decision not to enter into actually running companies when there are private options that have delivered very successfully up and down the country.
Surely my noble friend would recognise that the whole point of competitive tendering is to get the best value and the best deal for the taxpayer. If she is right that the state-owned company would not be able to compete, why is that a reason to exclude it from the process?
Again we can see the complexities of a state-owned company being involved in this. Would we give it preferential financing or would it go out on the market? Let me make this point: do we want to set up a company and pay its senior management very high fees for the possibility that, with bids ranging from £7 million to £10 million apiece, it might eventually achieve a franchise? We have a long history and I have to suggest that the history of companies run over the long term by the UK Government has not been one of outstanding success. We know that we have very successful franchises across the country, so let us take advantage of them to make sure that we get the best opportunities for the many passengers using these services.
Health: Mental Health
Access and waiting times for people with mental health problems are a priority for this Government. We are committed to ensuring that access to services and waiting times are on a par with physical health. That is why we have put in place the first national waiting times standards in mental health.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that according to the widely respected Health Service Journal in April this year there were some 3,640 fewer nurses and some 213 fewer doctors working in mental health than two years ago? Surely it is unrealistic—not to say verging on the dishonest—to talk about the Government putting in place controls on access and waiting times when there is no prospect of achieving them.
If the noble Lord looks across the piece at the workforce statistics he will perhaps be more reassured than he is at the moment. The £400 million that we are putting into talking therapies, for example, will result in a workforce of 6,000 practitioners trained to deliver IAPT. Health Education England has increased the number of mental health nursing training places by 1.5%. In delivering a multidisciplinary workforce, the aim is to have skills that are transferable between different care settings. NICE will be publishing its authoritative guideline on safe staffing. We have already mandated NHS organisations to publish ward-level nursing with midwifery care staffing levels so that there is an incentive for them to make sure that they have their staffing levels right.
The Government’s five-year plan to improve access to mental health services makes no mention of people with intellectual disabilities who have mental health problems. What steps will the Government take to improve access for this group of patients who have a higher prevalence of mental illness and treatable mental disorders?
I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that the five-year plan is truly ground-breaking in many respects. We have identified £40 million to spend this year to support people in mental health crisis and end the practice of young people being admitted to mental health wards. Another £80 million has been freed up for next year to ensure that waiting time standards become a reality, not just for those with mild mental health conditions but across the piece. I will write to the noble Baroness if I can glean any further information about those with a specific disability.
My Lords, one of the worrying consequences of the shortage of mental health beds is the number of patients who leave mental health wards and subsequently commit suicide within a short space of time. If a patient commits suicide within a short period of leaving in-patient care, it should be regarded as a never event. That would provide real parity of esteem alongside parity of funding and ensure that patient safety is at the heart of every patient’s release.
My noble friend makes an extremely important point. NHS England is currently reviewing the never events framework. My honourable friend the Minister of State for Care and Support will shortly be meeting NHS England officials to discuss the possibility of including suicide following in-patient care as a never event and how the new never events framework will support parity of esteem.
My Lords, NHS England made it clear last week that mental illness costs the economy an estimated £100 billion annually, which is roughly the cost of the entire NHS budget. How do the Government justify only 5.5% of the UK’s health research budget being allocated to mental health and, according to MIND today, a paltry 1.4% of Public Health England’s budget being spent on mental health? Is this what the Government mean by parity of esteem?
My Lords, investment in mental health research by the National Institute for Health Research has nearly doubled over the past four years from £40 million in 2009-10 to £72 million in 2013-14. I hope that the noble Lord will take from that that we put a priority on this. Of course, it is very important that local authorities do not downplay the significance of mental health. We have made it very clear that disinvestment is not an option for them. We are discussing with local authorities this very issue.
My Lords, will the Minister seek to encourage the very good practice of a few areas in providing a seamless service for young people leaving public care from the age of 16 to 25 or 14 to 25 so they get the mental health support to allow them to be successful in adulthood? Does he recognise that effective mental health services for children will much diminish the demand in adulthood?
I agree with the noble Earl. On 20 August the Minister of State for Care and Support announced a new children’s task force to look at all aspects of child and adolescent mental health services and how best to improve outcomes for children with mental health problems. Its remit includes an investigation of how access across the whole of children and young people’s mental health services could be improved. The task force will report in the spring of next year.
My Lords, following on from the noble Earl’s question, does the Minister agree that in the context of child mental health—and many of us are increasingly concerned about the younger and younger age at which people are being diagnosed with mental illness—prevention is as important as treatment, particularly in view of today’s news that less is being spent on prevention?
I agree with the noble Baroness. This is a crucially important area. She may like to note that in the current year we are investing an additional £7 million to end the practice of young people being admitted to mental health beds far away from where they live, or being inappropriately admitted to adult wards.
Unemployment: Young People
My Lords, youth unemployment has fallen by a record-breaking 253,000 in the last year. This brings total youth unemployment down to 733,000, one-third of whom are full-time students looking for work. Excluding these students, 6.4% of all young people are unemployed —this is a lower figure than that immediately before the recession.
My Lords, these figures are indeed good news. However, as we all appreciate, any case of youth unemployment is a tragic waste of talent, both for the individual and for society. Will my noble friend consider working with ministerial colleagues to insert a condition into all public procurement requiring bidding businesses to offer high-quality apprenticeships? That is a small step but could be significant.
I accept my noble friend’s point that every case of a youngster being out of work is a tragedy, and that is why we have put so much energy into getting youngsters back into work. We support the appropriate use of apprenticeships in procurement and that can be important for local skills and growth, but we do not support the blanket inclusion of apprenticeships in all contracts. It is up to individual departments. For instance, for longer-term contracts, my department the DWP requires suppliers to take reasonable steps to ensure that 5% of their workforce are on apprenticeships, but there are other contracts where that is not appropriate—for instance, contracts with healthcare professionals.
My Lords, youth unemployment is still extremely high, as mentioned by the noble Lord who put the Question. Can the Minister say what further things the Government are going to do to reduce youth unemployment? Will the Government, for instance, commit themselves to matching Labour’s commitment to guarantee a paid job for every young person who has been claiming jobseeker’s allowance for a year or more—a job they will have to take?
My Lords, when the noble Lord says that youth unemployment is very high, it may be higher than we would like, but if you look at the record, it is now at very low levels. If you look at the real figures, which I have used in this House for the last four years, for all workless youngsters who are not in full-time education—that captures the unemployed and the inactive—that figure is now at 14.9%, or just over 1 million. That figure has only been lower in one year since records began—in 2001. You can see that all the measures we have been taking to get youngsters into the workforce are really beginning to achieve results.
My Lords, I congratulate Her Majesty’s Government on these figures, which are very encouraging, not least in London where the number of unemployed young people has declined by 57,000, which is significant. However, the figures also reveal that in the north-east of the country, the figures have declined by only 8,000. There, the levels of unemployment among young people remain stubbornly high. Can the Minister tell us what Her Majesty’s Government are doing to help in these areas, where the problem is much worse?
My Lords, we have a number of programmes aimed at getting youngsters into the workforce all around the country. There is a mixture of the Work Programme, the flexible support scheme, the sector-based work academies and work experience. We are using a whole range of programmes to help youngsters into the workforce. They are working not just in London but right around the country. Clearly, we just have to stay on the issue and make sure that we get everyone in every part of the country into the workforce.
My Lords, do these new figures, which have a bit of sunlight about them, depend upon our continued membership of the European Union? Is there not something we could do to encourage young people to cross borders to other countries so that they get work experience in different places and build bridges of understanding for the future?
The fundamental driver of these much sunnier figures is clearly our economy, which is now the fastest growing of the major economies. It is vital that we keep that process going. It is also vital that we have a benefits system that encourages and enables people to go into the workforce rather than being blocked from going into it.
My Lords, any reduction in unemployment is to be welcomed, particularly youth unemployment. Can the noble Lord tell the House how many of those new jobs are part of the 5.2 million people on low pay in this country? Low pay is now a huge problem for us to deal with.
The Governor of the Bank of England has said that the only way that we are going to get growth in real wages is by recovering productivity in the economy. One way is clearly to reduce dependency and to get 1.7 million extra people into work. The second way is to get the skills base up, and there are now some really good signs that we are moving that up by serious percentage points. The third way is progression in work, so that people earn more. That is what universal credit is all about.
Parliament Square: Occupy Protests
My Lords, London’s police forces receive specific funding in recognition of the additional responsibilities that policing the nation’s capital represents. This includes protests directed at the seat of government, such as the recent Occupy protest.
I am grateful to the Minister. I am sorry that he cannot count the number of policemen guarding a fence, but perhaps I can help him. Last week, on several occasions, I counted at least 25 police officers standing around the fence which, on a 24/7 basis, would be 100 officers taken off other jobs. Is this really a good use of police manpower, protecting a nice piece of grass in central London?
My Lords, the police are doing this not of their own volition but because we asked them to do so. We passed the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, which said that that space should be available for peaceful protest and not for Occupy movements. That was something that we asked the police to do, and they did an excellent job in dealing with a very difficult situation.
Does the Minister agree that this is a terrible waste of time, energy and resources for the police force? Part of the problem is that you are asking them to police and enforce laws that are extremely repressive. It was a Labour Government who introduced the police reform Act, and you are now enforcing it. Is it time to ask your ministerial colleagues, perhaps, if they would repeal the worst aspects of that Act?
The noble Baroness is a Member of your Lordships’ House; she is free as a parliamentarian to propose any laws that she wishes; but the reality is that in 2011 your Lordships decided by an overwhelming majority that they wanted this law and they wanted this space for public peaceful protest.
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will tell us that the number of police is an operational matter for the police, but I am also sure that Home Office Ministers are not entirely uninvolved in the policy. Does he agree that the lightest practicable touch is as much as we would want to see applied?
I understand the point my noble friend is making, but what is a light touch when you are faced with a protest that begins at 50, grows to 100, and then grows overnight to 150? The potential for that to get out of hand, and the risk to the public, is something which the police clearly take seriously, and they are right to do so.
The noble Lord will be aware that as a result of passing the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, which this House did, the Home Office published specific guidance, which I have here and which I will place a copy of in the Library, stipulating exactly what was permitted, what was not permitted, what approval needed to be sought and even stating on page nine the enforcement actions which we would ask the police to do. Having done that, and having published it in this place, the police deserve our support.
Will my noble friend take to the police my feelings, at least, of congratulation to them on doing a difficult job rather well? The easiest way to reduce the manpower required would be for these objectionable people to cease their objectionable claim to occupy part of what is public land.
I am very happy to convey the sentiments of my noble friend to the police on the role that they do, which is incredibly difficult. The point has to be reiterated that one of the reasons that the police are taking the actions that they are, and why we passed the legislation that we did, was to ensure that Parliament Square is available for those who want to come to make a peaceful protest as part of a democratic society in which we want to live.
That is absolutely right. In fact, the guidance actually states that the first responsibility is with the Greater London Authority in conjunction with Westminster City Council, and it is the local authority representatives who made the first contact in the first instance; and the police are there only in support of the local authority.
The decision to erect the fence and the decision to heighten it were gradual decisions taken, in view of assessing the seriousness of the protest, by the Greater London Authority. Therefore, it will judge the situation in the round to see when it is secure to take those fences down. We all hope that it is as soon as possible.
My Lords, does the Minister not think that the situation had become unbearable before this was done? For example, when I was being driven past in my car in my full uniform, they came and stood in front of the car and I managed to stop an incident because my Royal Marine driver said, “Shall I re-educate them, sir?” and I said, “Not today”.
Draft Protection of Charities Bill
Motion to Agree
That it is expedient that a joint committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider and report on the draft Protection of Charities Bill presented to both Houses on 22 October (Cm 8954) and that the committee should report on the draft Bill by 28 February 2015.
Infrastructure Bill [HL]
Order of Consideration Motion
That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:
Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clauses 2 and 3, Schedule 2, Clauses 4 to 10, Schedule 3, Clauses 11 to 23, Schedule 4, Clauses 24 to 27, Schedule 5, Clauses 28 to 31, Schedule 6, Clauses 32 to 42.
Serious Crime Bill [HL]
Report (2nd Day)
43: After Clause 65, insert the following new Clause—
“Mandatory reporting of abuse in relation to regulated activities
(1) Subject to subsection (7), providers of regulated activities involving children or vulnerable adults, and persons whose services are used by such providers being persons who stand in a position of personal trust toward such children or vulnerable adults, who while such children or vulnerable adults are in their care have reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting the commission of abuse on such children or vulnerable adults while the same are in their care whether such commission of abuse shall have taken place or be alleged to have or be suspected of having taken place in the setting of the regulated activity or elsewhere, have a duty as soon as is practicable after it shall have come to their knowledge or attention to inform the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) or children’s services or such other single point of contact with the Local Authority as such Authority may designate for the purpose of reporting to it any such matter, allegation or reasonable suspicion.
(2) Failure to fulfil the duty set out in subsection (1) before the expiry of the period of 10 days of the matter or allegation or suspicion first coming to the knowledge or attention of the provider or of any person whose services are used by the provider as defined in subsection (1) is an offence.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (1), the operators of a setting in which the regulated activity takes place, and staff employed at any such setting in a managerial or general welfare role, are deemed to stand in a position of personal trust and are deemed to have direct personal contact with such children or vulnerable adults as are in their care whether or not such children or vulnerable adults are or have been personally attended by them.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (1), all other employed or contracted staff or voluntary staff and assistants are deemed to stand in a position of personal trust only if, and only for the period of time during which, they have had direct personal contact with and have personally attended such children or vulnerable adults.
(5) For the purposes of subsection (1), children or vulnerable adults are or are deemed to be in the care of the providers of regulated activities—
(a) in the case of the operators of any setting in which the regulated activity takes place and of staff employed by the operators at any such setting in a managerial or general welfare role for the period of time during which the operators are bound contractually or otherwise to accommodate or to care for such children or vulnerable adults whether resident or in daily attendance wherever the regulated activity is provided, and(b) in the case of all other employed or contracted staff or voluntary staff and assistants for the period of time only in which they are personally attending such children or vulnerable adults in the capacity for which they were employed or their services were contracted for.(6) It shall be a defence to show that the LADO or that Children’s Services or that such other single point of contact with the Local Authority as such Authority may designate for the purpose of reporting was or were duly informed by any other party during the 10 days referred to at subsection (2) or had been so informed prior thereto.
(7) A Secretary of State having responsibility for the welfare safety and protection of children and of vulnerable adults may in exceptional cases by a letter or other instrument under his hand (hereinafter referred to as a “Suspension Document”) rescind or temporarily suspend the duty referred to at subsection (1) in the case of any specified child or children or of any specified vulnerable adult or adults concerning whom it appears to him that the welfare safety or the protection of such child or children or of such vulnerable adult or adults would be prejudiced or compromised by the fulfilment of the duty referred to at subsection (1) and may where it appears to him that the welfare safety and protection of children is furthered thereby exempt any specified entity or organisation and the members thereof that works with children generally in furtherance of their welfare and safety and protection or any specified medical officer from compliance with the duty referred to at subsection (1) provided always that no allegation is made against such entity or organisation or member thereof or against such medical officer.
(8) It shall be a defence for any person to show that a Secretary of State acting pursuant to subsection (7) has issued a Suspension Document and it shall be a defence for any person employed by or operating as an entity or organisation that works with children or for any medical officer to show that a Secretary of State has by such Suspension Document whether temporarily or permanently exempted it and its members or any medical officer from compliance with the duty referred to at subsection (1).
(9) Subject to sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii) below, a person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—
(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to a fine, or to both;(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to a fine, or both;but so that—(10) In this section—
“regulated activity” relating to children and relating to vulnerable adults has the same meaning as in Schedule 4 to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006;
“providers of regulated activities” has the same meaning as in section 6 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006;
“vulnerable adults” has the same meaning as in section 59 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006; and
“children” means persons who have not attained the age of 18 years.
My Lords, we discussed this matter in Committee in July. Amendment 43 provides for a legal duty on those with a duty of care for children or vulnerable adults who are working in a regulated activity to report to the local authority known or suspected abuse of those in their care. The answer that I received from the Minister was that we should wait for the inquiry panel on historical child abuse to consider the matter. Three months has passed since then and the inquiry has still not got under way. As long grass goes, this is a veritable prairie.
At first, we lost the chair—the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would believe that a judge of her standing and reputation would ever be biased in favour of anyone, however well known to her. However, it is important that there is confidence in this inquiry, so I understand her decision to step down. Further time passed before we were given the name of another person to take the chair. There is currently controversy about that appointment, too. Even further time passed before we had the names of the rest of the panel—a very good bunch of people, by the way—and the terms of reference were published. I looked carefully at them and was dismayed to find that there is no reference in it for the panel to consider whether a legal duty to report would help to protect children in the UK. Sadly, it seems that the Home Secretary is against specifying that the panel must look at this, one of many tools that could help to protect children, despite the Home Secretary’s reply to a Question in another place that the panel can indeed consider this matter. I hope that it does. But what if the panel feels that it has quite enough to consider and decides not to do so?
I also have concerns about the powers of the so-called Woolf panel, and I have questions for my noble friend the Minister about this. There have been concerns that the inquiry is not a statutory public inquiry under the public inquiries Act, and would therefore not be able to subpoena witnesses or evidence. The Home Secretary has confirmed that, should the chairman of the inquiry feel that it needs statutory powers, these would be granted by the Government. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that that is still the case? Can he also say whether it would entail the appointment of a different chair, one who is a judge, or could the person currently appointed to chair it operate those statutory powers?
All that aside, it has become obvious to me that, whatever the Woolf inquiry does, it does not have the confidence of survivors of abuse. Many have said that they will not engage with it. I therefore concluded that we need another way in which to give victims a voice and a transparent way in which to hear arguments in favour and those against the introduction of mandatory duties on those with care for children and vulnerable adults.
I do not believe that such a duty should be introduced without very careful thought, or without provision to ensure that the unintended consequences that some groups fear would not materialise. My colleagues and I have therefore had extensive discussions with the Government, and I believe that the Minister will confirm today our agreement that there will be an open and transparent public consultation on whether such a duty should be implemented in the UK, to protect children.
I thank my noble friend the Minister and his officials for these discussions, and I especially thank my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and Norman Baker, the Home Office Minister for Crime Prevention, for their good offices in ensuring that we will now have open public consideration of the benefits of this measure. Nobody, whether establishment or not, will be able to get in the way of people saying their piece. It is important for the questions to be open ones, and the process to be accessible and transparent. I would be very keen to be involved in that. I am also keen to ensure that, alongside the opportunity to contribute in writing, survivors can take part in seminars, since many would not feel able to write or send an e-mail. All that is still to be decided.
This process is to be welcomed. Nobody can have any excuse for not engaging with it. It is not led by any member of the establishment, and the responses will be published, with appropriate redactions if any sensitive information, or information that might prejudice the bringing to justice of a perpetrator, is revealed. Then we will be able to hold to account whichever Government are in place next May as to how they respond to the evidence.
My intention in pressing this matter for so long has always been prevention, not criminalisation. I remain convinced that a legal duty would prevent perpetrators taking the risk of acting, if they knew that their colleagues were trained to identify abuse and would act if they became aware of it. Of course, professionals need training to recognise the early signs of abuse. This would protect children. The legal duty would also protect whistleblowers, who have been reluctant to speak out until now because they feared for their jobs. It would also bring more perpetrators to justice.
I accept that resources would be needed to deal with all the hidden child abuse that would come to light. But you cannot fail to turn over a stone because you are afraid of the slime that you might find underneath—and of course, the long-term benefits of a step change in the protection of children are obvious. Despite the Government’s extra £400 million, announced by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, at Question Time today, only this morning the mental health organisation Mind has published figures showing the lamentable state of mental health services for children in this country, and the small amount of money spent by local authorities on prevention and treatment, while at the same time millions are spent on programmes to prevent loneliness, obesity and so on.
Money spent on training for a legal duty to report, and on dealing properly with the cases that would be revealed by it, would save money in the long run and prevent a great deal of human misery. I heard recently that a majority of people accessing talking therapies were abused in some way as children. So it is clear that prevention must be our first objective, followed by early detection.
My aim in introducing the amendment has always been to give victims a voice, and to ensure that specific attention is drawn to, and evidence heard about, the potential benefits of a legal duty to report. We must ensure that all those well-meaning people out there who work with children turn what they see and hear into action, and feel comfortable to do so. I hope that when the Minister responds he will confirm that I have succeeded in that aim. I beg to move.
My Lords, I once again support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. Indeed, since I last spoke in this place on this matter, the need for an obligation to be placed on certain individuals to report knowledge or reasonable suspicions of abuse involving the most vulnerable has become more pressing.
It was with increasing dismay that I read about the events in Rotherham. The independent inquiry report into child exploitation there makes sobering reading. At least 1,400 children were subject to sexual exploitation between 1997 and 2013, with collective failings from both the council and South Yorkshire Police. The report noted:
“Over the first twelve years covered by this Inquiry, the collective failures of political and officer leadership were blatant. From the beginning, there was growing evidence that child sexual exploitation was a serious problem in Rotherham ... Within social care, the scale and seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers. At an operational level, the Police gave no priority to”,
child sexual exploitation.
There has also been the recent case of Thorpe Hall School in Essex. For more than 14 years a senior teacher had secretly photographed young boys undressing in changing rooms. The child protection unit CEOP, now taken over by the NCA, had been aware, via a report from Canadian police, that this teacher was a purchaser of paedophile videos, but more than a year passed from that report before Essex police were notified. Similarly, in the case of Dr Myles Bradbury, the paediatric haematologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, who pleaded guilty on 15 September this year to numerous sexual offences against children, CEOP had, again, been aware since July 2012 that he had been buying paedophile videos online but passed this information to Suffolk police only in November 2013. The National Crime Agency stated that CEOP’s delay in disseminating the information was “unacceptable”.
Sadly, the list continues to grow. In Birmingham, on 18 October this year, the city’s safeguarding children board noted that,
“the perpetrators of these horrific crimes remain at liberty and continue to target other children”.
These numerous scandals have shocked, and continue to shock, the nation and serve to emphasise the importance of imposing an obligation that is subject to criminal sanction if there is a failure to report.
Power and secrecy, which are so often present when abuse occurs, are magnified in an institutional setting, where there is often a considerable power imbalance between the most vulnerable and the perpetrators of abuse. It should not be forgotten that the vulnerable, particularly in institutions, are at risk not only from individuals who may commit abuse but from all adults who fail to report suspicions and knowledge of abuse. Indeed, the vulnerable may be placed in institutions in order to safeguard them from abuse but, ironically, it is in these very institutions that their exposure can become more acute.
This issue will not go away. Time and time again, individuals in institutions have failed the most vulnerable in their care by failing to report. The fact remains that, although child abuse is a crime, reporting it is only discretionary, which is why I welcome this amendment, the provisions of which, as can be seen, have been strengthened and clarified since our last debate. Regulated activity providers and those who are in a “position of personal trust” must be held accountable if they fail to report.
Public opinion is in favour of such legislation, as a recent YouGov poll indicated. The former Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, has stated that the introduction of a mandatory reporting provision would close a gap in the law which has been there for a long time. The Child Protection All-Party Parliamentary Group has called on the Government to consider certain institutional duties which,
“require people in leadership positions in institutions ... to report allegations of criminal abuse committed against children by people working on behalf of the institution”.
The former Secretary of State for Education, after hearing the words of a survivor of abuse, also suggested that the Government should re-examine their position, after previously blocking such an idea.
On 22 July this year, the Government co-hosted, with UNICEF, the first Girl Summit aimed at strengthening domestic and international efforts to end female genital mutilation and forced marriage within a generation. As part of this, the Prime Minister announced that mandatory reporting would be introduced for health, educational and social work professionals in known FGM cases. If mandatory reporting is to be introduced in relation to this specific area of abuse, surely it would make sense to extend this to cover other types of abuse. Now is the time. We need to act.
As I stated previously, I agree that imposing such an obligation may increase the number of reports, and this will need to be resourced properly. However, this increase is no bad thing. Knowledge or reasonable suspicions of abuse must be reported. The omission of an obligation has allowed those such as Savile and Bradbury to continue to abuse. I do not agree that the introduction of mandatory reporting will lead to authorities being swamped by erroneous or fallacious reports. In fact, mandatory reporting can highlight cases that otherwise may never come to the attention of the relevant authorities. I hope for an announcement from the Minister that there will be a serious look at the evidence.
We need a culture in our institutions and across our society that prioritises the protection of the most vulnerable over and above all other considerations. As the Home Secretary stated in the other place:
“We know that child sexual exploitation happens in all communities. There is no excuse for it in any of them and there is never any excuse for failing to bring the perpetrators to justice”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/9/14; col. 168.]
This is why I wholly support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. A change in the law could lead to a change in culture, helping to raise awareness, where certain individuals realise that if they fail to report their knowledge or reasonable suspicions of abuse they may be subject to prosecution.
My Lords, when I was chair of education in Cambridgeshire some 20 years ago, it was brought home to me very starkly how the lack of mandatory reporting had allowed a caretaker to abuse children in a school over a 16-year period. It was not taken seriously at any point over that time when parents, or even some of the children, reported concerns. Had that system been in place—even the first report—the head would have been under a requirement to force a proper inquiry. As a result, this man’s actions would have been curtailed and a large number of children would not have been subsequently abused.
Even though that happened some time ago, the problem still continues. We have heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham about some of the larger cases at the moment. I should have declared an interest: I am a trustee of UNICEF. I echo the point of the right reverend Prelate that if we are talking about mandatory reporting for female genital mutilation, which is a form of child abuse, we should also be considering it for wider child abuse as well.
Another point that has been raised outside the Chamber refers to concerns felt mainly by professional psychotherapists about an exemption in their treatment of perpetrators of child abuse, or would-be perpetrators, under the normal terms of confidentiality if there is a requirement to report. The exemption is in proposed paragraph (8) of the amendment. It quite specifically says that it is possible for a person to have that exemption. We need to reassure professionals that important work such as that should be one of the few exemptions allowed to continue without further report to the law.
I want to raise a more topical concern. Much has been said about the Jay report and what has been happening in Rotherham and subsequently in Sheffield and other places. I am very concerned that yesterday UKIP published a photograph showing a young girl who might be deemed to be a victim of abuse while the headline said something like, “1400 reasons why you should not vote Labour in the PCC election” .
Frankly, UKIP’s hypocrisy is breathtaking. Its record on tackling serious child abuse is disgraceful. The only record of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, asking Questions about child abuse is on 13 October this year, after the by-election was called, and he has been in this House since 1990. Even that Question was focused entirely on the UKIP obsession with Muslims, ignoring the fact that child abuse happens in all areas of the country and is not exclusive to any culture, community, race or religion.
However, it is not just UKIP in the Lords. In the European Parliament, its Members abstained in a vote to strengthen legislation about sexual abuse and the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Further, UKIP’s candidate in the Croydon North election in 2012, Winston McKenzie, said that gay adoption was child abuse. Gordon Gillick, a UKIP Cambridgeshire councillor, told a meeting of some children in care that they were takers from the system and wanted to know what they would give back to society. As we have heard, many children in care are the most vulnerable to grooming and abuse.
We need to have an honest and open debate about child abuse but it is completely inappropriate for a party that has not taken it seriously, even within its own actions when it threw out a paedophile and allowed that person to come back to receptions, particularly those with young UKIP members. We need to make sure that UKIP—it offers a policy of making sure that children are safe—can deliver that by having safe policies itself. I do not believe that the evidence is there.
Finally, I am also grateful for our discussions with the Minister on this. I hope that he will be able to offer reassurance to those of us who want a public debate and public consultation about the mandatory reporting of child abuse. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I have put my name to the amendment and support it strongly. Current child protection systems, which rely upon voluntary reporting, simply are not seen to be working effectively. There is ongoing underreporting of suspicions of abuse or neglect by professionals working with children. Why might this be? It is worth looking at previous studies, which have suggested that barriers to reporting include the professionals’ own values and attitudes—for example, over the acceptability of physical punishment—and confusion over the thresholds for reporting. Professionals may be worried about issues of confidentiality and the potential impact on their relationship with the child and the family.
The current position for someone reporting is that they may, in effect, feel that they are being a whistleblower on a situation that they feel uncomfortable about. Professionals may fear the consequences and the potential impact on their reputation, leading to further hesitation. Reporting a suspicion that turns out to be unsubstantiated should not be a disciplinary matter for professionals, however distressing for those involved. There is a balance of harms here, and the need to protect vulnerable children should be paramount.
I should like noble Lords to think for a moment of the situation of a GP who is seeing people on 10-minute appointments, and who may know a family, see a child, have some concerns but be unable to put a finger on it. At the moment, the hesitation to report remains there. Other pressures of work come in. I must declare an interest here. When I was a GP, I looked after children in a children’s home and became convinced that something was not right. I went to the authority in whose area I was working but we did not get anything specific to happen. I would go out to the children’s home whenever there was a request for an appointment so that I would see the children on their own territory. I tried to see the children on their own when they were referred for a sore throat, sore ear or whatever. I had this nagging suspicion that something was wrong but I could not pin it down anywhere. All that I can say is that the Christmas after my suspicions began to become aroused the children themselves burnt the home down, which confirmed to me that my index of suspicion was right. However, I had no clear evidence on which to report that abuse was going on, although I was suspicious. I would have welcomed having to report that suspicion because it would have allowed me the freedom to state, “I have a really uncomfortable feeling here”, without feeling that I had to accrue the evidence.
That is my personal experience and where I have come from with it. That is why I stand separately from my professional body, the BMA, which has reservations about this amendment. It is concerned that a degree of professional discretion is required to ensure that doctors can take account of an individual’s circumstances and always act to ensure the protection of a patient. My experience suggests that that is incredibly difficult.
In countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia and in several European states where mandatory reporting has been introduced, it has been made clear to professionals that they must report and that reporting a concern is no longer a matter for individual discretion. The people who have to report and the timeframe for reporting are defined, and penalties for failure to report are clear. Designated professionals include social workers, teachers, healthcare professionals, law-enforcement officers, childcare workers, and in some areas members of the clergy, domestic-violence workers, animal-control officers, school bus drivers and, in certain places, photograph processors. The law provides protection for those reporting—by ensuring confidentiality, for example. There is a range of penalties for those who fail to report. It has been interesting to note that in areas where the penalties are low the amount of reporting seems to be lower than in areas where the penalty is high.
Has there been any impact as a result of reporting in such countries? In Canada, recent reports showed that suspicions reported by hospital healthcare professionals were substantiated in two-thirds of cases. So more child abuse is being detected as a result of mandatory reporting than was previously the case. The same is being borne out in Australia. When the state of Victoria was compared with the demographically similar Republic of Ireland, which does not have mandatory reporting, researchers found that almost five times as many sexually abused children were identified there than in Ireland. Associate Professor Ben Mathews at the Queensland University Faculty of Law said that introducing mandatory reporting enhanced the detection of childhood sexual abuse.
Were the investigations an economic burden? They were not. It is reported that the costs of mandatory reporting accounted for less than 10% of total child-protection system costs in the USA and Australia. This seems a small price to pay if it means that processes that are better at protecting children are in place. Furthermore, research indicates that mandatory reporting numbers did not continue to rise over time but remained stable over several years.
Childhood abuse and neglect have been hidden for far too long. It is time to act to deliver earlier detection and better protection for these vulnerable people in our society. Children who disclose abuse and neglect need to know that they will be listened to and protected from further harm. They need to know that professionals have a public duty to report their concerns and need support to be able to do so. Introducing mandatory reporting would send a clear message that you can no longer turn a blind eye to abuse and neglect. The basic human instinct is not to want to believe that it is happening, so we are more inclined to look at it with Nelson’s eye than explore it. For these reasons, I, along with my noble friend Lady Hollins, who sends her apologies to the House for being unable to be here, have put our names to this amendment.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Walmsley on highlighting and pursuing this issue. I also welcome the Government’s common-sense approach as we move forward, as my noble friend said. It will make a difference to children’s futures, and their future mental and physical well-being.
I know that it will make a difference because just last week I gave one of my many talks to more than 200 schoolchildren. I spoke to them about people who may be causing them to suffer physical, mental, emotional or sexual abuse. I told them that it was not their fault and, rather, that bad people were taking advantage of their innocence and vulnerability. They must feel worthy and should tell someone, even though they may be threatened by the abuser if they do so. Children need to hear the message and to be empowered in this way.
As so often happens, at the end of that session the organiser of the event, who was aged around 40, came and sat next to me and said that he was that little boy I had spoken about when I talked to the children. He said that he had lived in a children’s home and had been abused, and that he is still living with those experiences. That is because when he did tell someone, he was told to shut up and keep quiet, and that he was ungrateful. His abuser was considered to be a good and kind person in society. The organiser was made to feel that he was the victim on all counts.
This is how abusers operate: they put on a good face for the community, but to their victims they are monsters. Everywhere you go in society and every corner you turn, there will be an adult who is reliving the horrors of child abuse. As I have said time and again in this House, childhood lasts a lifetime, so we have to put measures in place to ensure that for abusers there will be no place to hide. Some people might be wrongly accused and costs may be incurred, but I believe that that is a small price to pay to protect our children from being damaged for life. I therefore support the amendment and I look forward to the Minister’s response, which I hope will be a good one.
My Lords, I fear that I may be a lone voice in that I take a slightly different view from that of my colleagues—all of whom I deeply respect. I understand their position. I should also say that I look forward to a full debate on this, and I hope that the Minister will meet with those of us who take a different view as well as with those who are pressing for mandatory reporting. That is because there is another argument, part of which I will cover today. However, meeting some of those in the various fields where this proposal would make their work difficult would be worthwhile.
Of course, when a professional or indeed an ordinary person hears about a child or an adult of any kind—I will not use the word “vulnerable” because it means all sorts of things—who is being abused, they have a responsibility to ensure that they go to some authority. I would say to my noble friend, with deep respect, that, as a doctor, my view is that if she had a suspicion, it should have been forcefully conveyed to the authorities. I think that the problem is that some time ago the atmosphere around child abuse, and particularly child sexual abuse, was very different from the one we know now. I shall come to Rotherham in a moment because it is a different issue. We are in a different era in relation to child abuse and people are now very highly motivated to get it right.
As I said in the last debate, it is important that systems are in place to ensure that there is a clear pathway for reporting. Most organisations are working towards that, if they have not already got it. Most local authorities and statutory authorities have it; here I declare an interest because I am working with the church at the moment to try to ensure that it has that clear pathway to take people through to the reporting place. I do not think that they would knowingly fail to carry out that duty because the consequences are huge. I do not know how many noble Lords watched the programme last night about Baby P and saw the total destruction of people’s careers and indeed lives based on extraordinarily flimsy evidence, which some of us knew about previously. We have to be absolutely sure that, when reporting takes place, it takes place in a structure that can pick things up quickly and get the information right from the beginning.
I will speak about the issue of exemptions. I do not agree that psychotherapists should be exempted. If someone knows that abuse is taking place, they have a duty to report it, whoever they are and wherever they are. The difficulty comes when we are not quite sure. This is where the psychotherapists are anxious, and this is where I am anxious about a whole range of professionals who are working in the field of perpetrators —and I declare an interest as vice-chair of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, which works directly in this field—including of course ChildLine and the NSPCC. They have children ringing up about issues that they are not quite prepared to talk about.
If there are going to be exemptions, they have to be absolutely clear. The procedure has got to be right. It is not about whether you are a particular kind of professional. It is about the situation, the circumstance and where you are in terms of the abuse. That is why I value the debate, because ChildLine, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation and all similar organisations have very clear guidelines on when confidentiality must be broken in the interests of the child.
I know things can go seriously wrong. I was as appalled, shocked and amazed at what happened in Rotherham as anyone who has been involved in safeguarding for far less time than me—and I have probably been involved in it for more years than anybody in this House. I think, though, that we have to look at the circumstances of those kinds of situations and what is happening in that particular institution and how we put it right, because what really counts are not structures and procedures but culture. It is about whether the people in the particular organisation understand the values that they must have in relation to those for whom they are responsible and whether there is a culture right through that organisation that takes them forward.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked a detailed question about the statutory inquiry into child abuse. The last issue concerns me particularly. The National Crime Agency is telling us that it cannot deal with some 50,000 referrals that it has at the moment. The Lucy Faithfull Foundation cannot take all the telephone calls, despite the government help that we are getting—and we are working on behalf of the Government to try to take more calls from people who are anxious about their thoughts and behaviour.
As soon as we open the Pandora’s box on historical abuse for the inquiry, the Government will have an avalanche of people coming forward. The example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, is one I could repeat time and time again. I have been year after year in situations where people come to me and say, “This happened to me when I was 10, when I was 11”. The historical abuse issue, because we did not have procedures in place then, is going to hit the Government and the inquiry like nothing we have seen.
The reason I am so concerned is that we have put all that into a position of trust. It is about getting people to divulge things that they may not have talked about for 40 years. Do we have the resources in place to meet their needs once they have divulged this? At the moment children’s services are totally overwhelmed, CAMHS cannot meet the mental health needs of children in the communities and victim support groups have only just enough money to last until next year. That is the environment in which we are thinking about mandatory reporting. I will be interested in the Government looking at evidence from other countries because my evidence from Australia is that the authorities were overwhelmed at the beginning. They were totally overwhelmed by mandatory reporting.
It ensures that you cannot prioritise work. You have to do something about things that as a professional you might decide are probably not the highest on the agenda. Doctors have to make those difficult decisions, social workers have to make them and the police have to make them. Sometimes they will get them wrong, even if they have mandatory reporting, but at least we should give the services a chance to be able to meet the demand that we have at the moment. If we are going to increase that demand, the Government have to think beforehand about the resources that are going to be needed to meet that promise and the trust that is placed in those resources by the victims who have suffered so much.
As a former director of ChildLine, as a director of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation and as someone who has worked in this field for a long time, I certainly value the noble Baroness bringing this debate forward. I just come to a different conclusion.
My Lords, I gather from what has already been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that an understanding has been reached with the Minister on this amendment, which I hope we will be able to welcome when we hear from the Minister exactly what it is.
We are extremely concerned about the way that children and vulnerable adults have been badly let down, not least in recent high-profile cases. Although we support mandatory reporting in principle, we have concerns about the amendment, and in particular its potential unintended consequences, which may have the opposite effect to that desired.
The amendment states that all providers of regulated activities involving children or vulnerable adults will be required to report any suspicion of abuse to the appropriate local authority. That would potentially cover millions of people being required to report. But the amendment is not specific or clear about exactly who would and would not be covered; nor does it define abuse. The signs of actual or likely abuse can be obvious but potential indicators of abuse, such as becoming more withdrawn, may not be quite so obviously a consequence of abuse; therefore, it would not be obvious that it would be an offence not to report them.
Among regulated activity providers there will be big differences in the level of pastoral support expected. For schools and hospitals, most referrals will be about abuse conducted not at the school or hospital but at home. However, it is not clear that a swimming club, for example, would have the same level of pastoral responsibility in respect of potential abuse. In some cases, conduct should be reported to the police where it is a straightforward criminality issue: for example, if a swimming club or football club suspected one of its coaches of taking inappropriate photographs. In other cases, such as a school, where it is likely to be a safeguarding issue, the reporting would be to the local authority. I do not think that the amendment addresses or reflects those kinds of realities.
There is some evidence from outside the United Kingdom that suggests that a mandatory reporting requirement as broad in scope as that provided for in the amendment can lead to the child protection system being overwhelmed. With social services budgets here facing unprecedented cuts, that must be an issue of real concern. Some evidence from outside the UK indicates that people may play safe over reporting in order to protect themselves from a criminal liability for failing to report, with the consequence that resources are redirected to the investigation and assessment of the increased numbers of reports and away from detection and protection and meeting the needs of children at risk and of vulnerable adults.
That is not to suggest that the current system works as it should: for example, through ensuring that incidents or suspicions of child abuse or abuse of vulnerable adults in institutions such as care homes and boarding schools concerned to protect their reputation are reported and properly addressed. It is also clear that, as in some recent high-profile cases of child abuse, the issue has been one not of failure to report but of failure to act on those reports.
We will await the Government’s response, but while we favour and want to see the introduction of mandatory reporting, we do not believe that the way in which the amendment proposes to do it is the right approach, for the reasons I have mentioned. These include possible unintended consequences that could have an adverse effect on the protection of children at risk and vulnerable adults. I hope that the Government will take on board the principle of mandatory reporting and work with all interested parties to bring forward a detailed proposal that will have the confidence and support of the whole House.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Walmsley for again bringing this important matter to the House and for her persistence and perseverance in working with us to find a way forward on this issue. As many of your Lordships have said, we are united in our abhorrence of these crimes. We are resolved to lift the stone—in the analogy of my noble friend—and to face and tackle what lies beneath.
This coalition Government are absolutely committed to improving the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults and to doing all they can to protect them from all forms of abuse. In recent years, we have been confronted all too frequently with the most appalling cases of organised and persistent sexual abuse of children. The public have been justifiably horrified by the historical cases of child sexual abuse that came to light in the wake of investigations into Jimmy Savile, and those raised by the more recent cases of organised child sexual exploitation in Oxford, Rochdale and Rotherham, to name but a few. Some of these cases have exposed a failure by public bodies to take their duty of care seriously and some have shown that the organisations responsible for protecting children from abuse—including the police, social services and schools—have failed to work together properly. The recent report by Professor Jay into the horrific cases of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham also highlighted the failure of many of those involved to recognise the seriousness of the problem, and—perhaps most shockingly—their failure to see the children concerned as victims, rather than the makers of their own misfortune.
Each one of these various reviews and reports makes for deeply distressing reading, and this coalition Government are determined to learn their lessons. As noble Lords will be aware, the Home Secretary announced in July the creation of a new independent inquiry which will consider whether, and the extent to which, public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse. The inquiry will consider all the information available from the various published reviews and will identify any issues or allegations requiring new or further investigation. It will advise on any further action, which could include any legislative changes, needed to address any of the gaps or failings within our current child protection systems on the basis of the findings and learning from the reviews. The inquiry will take full account of what happened in Rotherham and elsewhere, and it will make recommendations on that basis.
My noble friend asked about the status of the inquiry. As things stand, the inquiry will, like the inquiries into Hillsborough, be a non-statutory panel inquiry, which means that it will not be able to compel witnesses to give evidence. However, the Home Secretary has been very clear that, if the chair of the inquiry deems it necessary, the Government are prepared to convert this into a full public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005. This means that, if the panel is converted into a public inquiry, Fiona Woolf will have powers to compel witnesses and subpoena evidence. This power would come to her under provisions in the Inquiries Act, which means that the inquiry does not need to be chaired by a judge.
My noble friend’s amendment would place a duty on providers of regulated activity, and anyone whose services are used by providers of regulated activity, to report known or suspected abuse against children and vulnerable adults to the appropriate local authority within 10 days. Breach of this duty would be a criminal offence punishable by up to three years in prison. That would essentially mean that anyone who works or volunteers in any capacity with children or vulnerable adults would commit a criminal offence if they did not report suspected abuse of any kind.
Since the debate on this issue in Committee, we have given this matter further careful consideration. It has been discussed on several occasions by the national group, and has been raised by the Home Secretary’s ministerial task force on Rotherham. However, we have not yet come to a firm decision on the matter. This is not surprising given the complexity of the issue. Research is inconclusive in determining whether mandatory reporting regimes help, hinder or simply make no difference to child safeguarding outcomes. In the USA, Canada and Australia, mandatory reporting legislation has been accompanied by significant increases in the number of referrals of suspected child abuse and neglect made to the authorities, a large percentage of which have not been substantiated. That was the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland.
There is a real risk that, in introducing a duty, we would divert child protection services from the task of increasing the safety of our most vulnerable children to evidence gathering and investigation of cases that are eventually unsubstantiated and which often lead to significant disruption of family life. Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that existing mandatory reporting regimes can lead to unintended consequences, such as creating a culture of reporting rather than acting—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser—and dissuading children from disclosing incidents for fear of being forced into hostile legal proceedings. That point was touched upon by my noble friend Lady Benjamin, who talked about the need to give people the courage to come forward and recognise that they are the victims of this and should certainly have no shame in coming forward.
I recognise that there are contrary views on the utility of introducing a statutory duty of the kind set out in my noble friend’s amendment, and some of those views have been raised this afternoon. I firmly believe that, given the conflicting evidence of the impact of such a duty and the concerns expressed by groups such as the NSPCC in its advice on this and the General Medical Council—though taking into account the practitioner’s perspective that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, brought to this debate—it would be perhaps a leap in the dark to legislate on this issue right now in this Bill. It is right that, before coming to a final decision on this issue, we listen to the views of the many stakeholders and experts, including victims’ groups, who quite rightly hold strong opinions on this.
I can therefore advise the House that we will now hold a full public consultation on the issue of mandatory reporting. We will consult broadly on the advisability, risk, nature and scope of any reporting duty, including questions on which forms of abuse it should apply to, and to whom it should attach. I should emphasise that the Government will look at all the responses they receive with an open mind. It will be a thorough, open and transparent consultation with a rigorous evaluation of the responses. Although hitherto the Government, like the Opposition, have taken the view that we have concerns about the specific wording of this amendment, we are entering into this consultation in good faith, in our desire to evaluate the evidence that comes forward.
The views of noble Lords will of course be very welcome indeed. There is a tremendous amount of personal knowledge and expertise in this House, and I accept the comments made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham in that regard. I would further encourage other Members to make their opinions heard. We intend to launch the consultation as soon as possible. Given the significance of the issue, it will run for the full 12 weeks. We will undertake to report back to Parliament on the results. I hope that this commitment and the spirit in which is it offered to my noble friend will leave her reassured about the Government’s resolve to probe this serious issue by this commitment to consult.
The Government recognise concerns about the current safeguarding system. We are not complacent about that. We understand the public’s anxiety, which has been raised by many Members, about the potential underreporting of abuse and the scale of it. Reference was made to the 50,000 figure that was used by Keith Bristow of the National Crime Agency. We are deeply shocked by the scale of what we are uncovering, both in terms of services and in the online environment.
It is right that we should take further time to listen to the views of all those with an interest—those who will be directly affected by such a measure of mandatory reporting. I hope that my noble friend will be reassured that the Government absolutely share her objective of enhancing the protection of children and vulnerable adults, but that we have to be absolutely certain that we get it right. The consequences of not doing so are potentially very serious. On that basis, I ask my noble friend to consider withdrawing her amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for what he has just said. I know that it is the convention to thank the Minister for what he has just said, but in this case it is particularly sincere because there have been genuine discussions and I think that what he has suggested will bring the sanitising effect of fresh air to this discussion. I am most grateful to all those who have supported my amendment. It may not be perfect, but it has resulted in the statement that we have just heard from the Government, which is a major step forward.
I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate, to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, who was unable to speak today, for adding their names to the amendment. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, for their comments, although I would point out that some of the definitions that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, was looking for are right at the end of the amendment. However, the point that they made makes the case for what the Government are suggesting now. None of us wants unintended consequences. We want children to be protected.
I hope that all those who have an opinion about this matter will be able to put their views to the public consultation, and that those views will be taken into account. While still being convinced that some sort of restricted mandatory reporting for regulated activities would benefit children, I very much accept that we need to hear all opinions and it needs to be implemented in a very careful way that is appropriate to the United Kingdom, although there is good evidence from abroad.
I shall pick up one point, if I may, before I withdraw the amendment. It has often been said, and my noble friend the Minister said it again, that there are large numbers of malicious reports. It has been found by analysis that, yes, there are malicious reports, but it is not a large percentage; it is quite small—under 20%. In Australia, the percentage was exactly the same after the duty was introduced as it was before. Although the raw numbers went up, the actual proportion of those reports which were not able to be substantiated was exactly the same. So it is not correct to say that an awful lot of reports are malicious or unsubstantiated. Let us please be correct about that. That is just one small point that I felt needed correcting.
I am delighted that there will be a public consultation and I would challenge all those organisations that have said that they will not engage with the Woolf inquiry to engage with this one, because there will be no barrier to hearing their voices. I hope that they will make their voices heard. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 43 withdrawn.
Amendment 43A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
44: After Clause 65, insert the following new Clause—
“Anonymity of victims where female genital mutilation is alleged
In section 2 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 (offences to which this Act applies), after subsection (1)(da) insert—“(daa) any offences under sections 1 to 4 of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003;”.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 44, I shall also speak to Amendment 44A. I thank those who have co-sponsored the amendments: my noble friend Lord Rosser, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lords, Lord McColl of Dulwich and Lord Pannick.
There are a number of amendments in the group and I welcome that the Minister has tabled amendments that mirror ours. This is a real opportunity not only to ensure meaningful changes to the law but also to ensure that the law is enforced.
The term FGM is becoming more widely known. Many people have a vague understanding that it means that a female, usually a young girl, is cut and her genitals mutilated, but I am not convinced that the absolute horror and brutality of what is involved is as well understood as it should be. Let us be very clear about what we are talking about. The term “female genital mutilation” refers to all procedures involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The World Health Organization has classified it into three different types, including clitoridectomy—I never thought that I would have to say that in your Lordships’ House—excision or infibulation. What does that mean? Clitoridectomy is the partial or total removal of the clitoris. Excision is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the inner labia, sometimes with the excision of the outer labia as well. Infibulation, which then follows, is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and “repositioning” the inner or outer labia. There are other harmful procedures too, but this is essentially what these amendments refer to.
You do not have to be medically trained to appreciate not just the abusive brutality of what we are talking about but the serious health risks for the girls and women who are mutilated in this way, both at the time of mutilation and in later life. The risks include severe pain, injury to the surrounding organs, haemorrhage, infections that can cause death, chronic long-term pain and the obvious complications that occur during child- birth. That does not even begin to cover the psychological trauma that the girls carry for the rest of their lives. Reliable estimates are that, around the world, 130 million girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation. In Africa, 101 million girls aged 10 and over have been subject to FGM, and every year a further 3 million girls are at risk of FGM in Africa alone.
If noble Lords think that this is something that happens in other places and cannot happen here, let me share some horrifying and ugly statistics. A recent report in the UK based on 2011 census data and ONS birth statistics concluded that there are 170,000 women aged 15 and over in England and Wales who are living with the consequences of FGM. It is even more shocking that today in the UK 63,000 girls under the age of 13 are at risk of FGM. It is a serious problem here and it is a serious problem now.
In trying to tackle this we have tended to focus mainly on prosecution but we have not seen as many prosecutions as we would like given the high incidence of this crime. Our Amendment 44, on female genital mutilation orders, is aimed at trying to address the issue through prevention. This proposal is a direct result of the experience of those trying to protect young girls. It would establish female genital mutilation protection orders, which would be civil orders modelled on the forced marriage protection orders that enable a court to make an order to protect a girl or woman. This was originally a recommendation of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales. We are very grateful to the committee for its advice and for the briefings it has provided. They have been invaluable in our examination of these issues.
These orders would allow the court to intervene to prevent potential victims being subjected to FGM and would therefore act as a strong deterrent against the practice. The orders provide a range of injunctive remedies to the courts and, crucially, they focus on the victim. The powers include the ability for a number of people—including the potential victim but also a friend or a local authority—to apply to the court, where it is suspected on clear and compelling evidence that a child is at risk of mutilation, for an order prohibiting any interference with the bodily integrity of the child. It would also allow the court to intervene on its own account. The order could contain such prohibitions, restrictions or other requirements that the court considers appropriate for the purposes of protecting a girl or woman. We, like the Government, have largely mirrored the forced marriage protection orders because they have been used successfully hundreds of times now and they share common features with the FGM protection orders.
Girls and young women at risk are often reluctant to provide evidence that would criminalise their families. They are, by definition, young; they are vulnerable and effectively socially silenced. A difference between our proposals and the Government’s is that our amendment amends the Family Law Act 1996 and not the 2003 Act. There are a number of benefits to such orders being applied within family law jurisdiction. For cases involving children, civil protection would complement the existing measures for child protection and judges would be able to consider the full range of options available to the family courts provided for in the Children Act 1989. Civil protection would be more flexible but it would still be backed by criminal sanctions for breach.
All that matters is that legislation works. I appreciate that the government amendment is seeking the same aim by amending the 2003 Act, rather than the Family Law Act. There is an opportunity to better protect the child by amending the Family Law Act, both in terms of the remedies available and the enforcement of the legislation. We have seen already with the existing 2003 legislation that that is quite difficult. I appreciate that the Government have a consequential amendment, Amendment 50A, that in effect links these provisions to the family law, but I hope that the Minister can help on this. I am curious as to why the Government have chosen that route. It is not the route that was used in other cases. I am convinced that we are seeking the same outcome but we want to be convinced that the Government’s approach will still ensure that the joined-up approach to child protection, which is so vital in these cases, will be there. We do not disagree with the Government at all on the intention and the principle. We just want to ensure that we have the right route. We prefer—and our evidence backs this—the route through family law as a better approach than amending the 2003 legislation.
I turn to government Amendment 46G on female genital mutilation protection orders. We were very pleased to see that the Government also want this provision to be part of the Bill, but I ask the Minister to consider our concerns around this. Again, it is a matter of definition. The government amendment uses the definition of FGM that is in the 2003 legislation. That was ground-breaking legislation at the time, but since its introduction it has become evident that not everyone interprets the law in the way that we intended. Specifically, the issue to be addressed is whether reinfibulation is covered. Infibulation is the removal of all the external genitalia and the fusion of the wound, in effect almost sealing the vagina. At childbirth women need to be deinfibulated to have any possibility of a vaginal birth. Noble Lords who were in the Chamber when we last debated this would have heard the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who unfortunately is not here at present. Her experience of helping a woman who needed to be reinfibulated in order to give birth, and the difficulties the woman faced in being unable to have a vaginal birth, is a description that will stay with me for a long time. Reinfibulation involves restitching to reclose and reseal the FGM. That is further mutilation following childbirth. Again we have taken advice, and we are very grateful to the Bar Human Rights Committee and Doughty Street Chambers’ lawyers—who, through their experience of dealing with such cases, have drawn the conclusion that the definition of reinfibulation in the 2003 Act is inadequate and confusing.
A recent report from the Home Affairs Select Committee reinforced that conclusion. It referred to the Director of Public Prosecution’s letter to Ministers which also asked for clarification of the law in respect of reinfibulation. It said that,
“infibulation, also referred to as Type 3 FGM, involves the narrowing of the vaginal orifice, it needs to be opened up during childbirth. The Intercollegiate Group told us there have been cases where women who were de-infibulated during delivery had returned in subsequent pregnancies having undergone re-stitching, i.e. reinfibulation … The Crown Prosecution Service, the Metropolitan Police, ACPO, the Intercollegiate Group and others all told us this meant there was a lack of clarity as to whether reinfibulation was covered by legislation”.
I have raised this matter directly with the Minister and I am grateful to him for discussing it this time. I fully understand that the Government’s opinion is that this is covered by the 2003 definition. Certainly that is what was intended when it was brought in. However, what matters is what happens in practice. Legal and medical practitioners are telling us something completely different from what the Government believe and what was the intent at the time. A note from Dexter Dias QC, who has acted in FGM cases, informs us of research undertaken by Professor Lisa Avalos—I can supply the Minister and the noble Baroness with this information—and they emphasise that the law’s silence about reinfibulation is causing confusion among practitioners for a number of reasons.
Part of the problem is legal technicalities. Reinfibulation does not necessarily mean the cutting of healthy genital tissue; instead, it involves recreating that seal over the vagina. The CPS has interpreted the FGM Act as prohibiting reinfibulation, but health professionals have come to different conclusions about the position in law. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, along with the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Nursing and others, have interpreted the law’s silence to mean that the procedure is not covered by law because it does not involve cutting away additional tissue.
That confusion highlights the lack of clarity. My attention was drawn to a quote from the Royal College of Midwives’ report Tackling FGM in the UK: Intercollegiate Recommendations for Identifying, Recording and Reporting. It states:
“For the purposes of the FGM Act, re-infibulation is not covered”.
That is why our amendment uses instead the World Health Organization definition. This would ensure that the law is consistent with recognised international understanding, including the World Health Organization and UN standards, and clarify the confusion around issues such as reinfibulation.
I appreciate the Government’s view that the issue is covered, and I am sure that the noble Baroness has a note saying that it is. However, an academic political debate across the Dispatch Box will only be about what we believe the law should cover and is intended to cover. The evidence, whatever the Government believe, and whatever was intended when that law was introduced, is that the law has not been interpreted in that way by everybody. As a result women are suffering, including some of those who work most closely with women who are pregnant and giving birth. They want to protect women from FGM but believe that the law is inadequate and does not protect women. If there is any doubt at all and women are being reinfibulated in practice, surely we have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that there can be no doubt and there is absolutely clarity in the law.
I cannot press the Minister strongly enough on this. I am sure that there is a note saying, “Resist: it is covered in the law”. I ask the Minister please to take this back and reconsider. I readily concede that our definition from the World Health Organization may not be perfect, and I am content to discuss that further. I believe that the Government want to get this right, and we want to work with them to make sure that it is.
It is also important that there is statutory guidance underpinning these provisions. That is reinforced by advice which we have had from lawyers that existing multiagency guidance is inadequate. I know that the Government are consulting on making the guidance statutory, but I would like assurances from the Minister that serious consideration is given both to the content and to it being statutory.
Our Amendment 44 provides anonymity for FGM victims. We welcome that the Government have also tabled an amendment on this. I have already mentioned the difficulties in getting victims to come forward and provide evidence. This amendment and the Government’s approach will make it just a little easier for them to do so. The Director of Public Prosecutions has called for this, as has the Home Affairs Select Committee. Where an FGM case goes to court, victims should be entitled to the same support and special measures that other victims are entitled to.
Finally, it has become clear that all the legislation in the world, with all its good intentions, only matters if enforcement is effective. Noble Lords will be aware of proposals from the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales in its report to the parliamentary inquiry into FGM. One proposal was that an FGM unit, similar to the Forced Marriage Unit, should be established. The Forced Marriage Unit drew together expertise from around the Government and Civil Service into one unit and has been highly effective. This is not a legislative point; it is basically an internal structural issue about how we make legislation work in practice. I do not know what consideration the Government have given to implementation and enforcement at this stage, but if the noble Baroness could say something about how we can make these new provisions as effective as possible and give some consideration to an FGM unit, that would be welcome.
These are important amendments, and I welcome the fact that the Government have also come forward with proposals. We are all trying to sink the same issues and end up in the same place. This is a real opportunity to make significant progress. I ask the noble Baroness to take on board the points that we have made, particularly around definitions—we would be very grateful. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise only because of my experience in piloting through the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007. I just want to say how glad I am—because we are dealing with a whole group of amendments—that the Government are not only toughening criminal law, but also mimicking, or copying, that Act in relation to female genital mutilation. That is dealt with as a new schedule in government Amendment 46G. I would like briefly to explain why that is very wise.
The problem about using criminal law in this area is that it depends upon all the safeguards of a fair criminal trial. It depends upon there being a prosecution before a criminal court to a high standard of proof, the burden being on the prosecution, and all the panoply of a criminal trial, which may terrify anybody, but certainly will in this sensitive area. It is therefore extremely difficult for a prosecution to succeed in a case of this kind. It is said, and it is the position of the Government, that it is very important to send a signal. I am not, on the whole, in favour of using law simply to send signals.
Although I understand why the Government are strengthening the criminal law, if we are serious about dealing with this odious and significant social evil, the civil law is much more likely to be effective, including the use of the family courts. This is because, as with the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act, first of all you do not need the victim to apply. A third party can do so. In fact, you do not need anyone to apply; the court can do so on its own initiative. Secondly, the application will be heard in private. Thirdly, the outcome will not involve dishonouring the family. It is extremely important in an area of this kind that the victim is not put in a position where if she gives evidence she will be permanently alienated from her family.
I am delighted that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, is in her place, because she has far more experience of this than I have. Certainly experience of the 2003 Act has been very good in that forced marriage civil protection orders have been made in their hundreds and been complied with. It has worked because it uses the civil route of family law and family courts with all the expertise of those courts, in a way that will not deter victims from coming forward and which will not mean permanent divisions within the family.
As I read what the Government are proposing, that is well understood. That is why the new schedule which is to be inserted on female genital mutilation protection orders largely mimics what we were able to achieve in that Bill. I will explain who I mean by “we”. That Bill had the support of women, including Asian women, bodies such the Southall Black Sisters and the refuges. They really took ownership of it and made sure that it was something that would work. That ownership is vital. What is contemplated here should do that.
I would like to ask the noble Lord’s advice on this, because he referred, as I did, to the forced marriage protection orders. I understand that that was done by an amendment to family law. The point on which I was asking the Minister to come back on was whether, by not amending the family law in the government amendment, although we seek to do that in our amendment, we will make it more difficult to bring the law together and deal with it in a family court. Does the noble Lord have a view on that, having dealt with this previously?
That is a very good question, but I cannot really answer it. My reading of government Amendment 46G indicates that there is a copying in of what had happened with forced marriage. Furthermore, paragraph (7) of the proposed new schedule in the amendment amends the Family Law Act and gives jurisdiction to the family court. I may be talking complete rubbish and I may be corrected, either by the noble Baroness or by the Minister. I am simply trying to get across why the civil route is so important and the use of family courts is so important.
I shall pick up that point. It is perfectly obvious to me as a former president of the Family Division that it does not matter which piece of legislation it is as long as the work done in relation to female genital mutilation is allocated to the single family court and heard either by High Court judges or circuit judges who are ticketed to try family cases. This is really not for the ordinary civil judges in what was the county court.
I am interested by this talk about the High Court or the county court. We should actually be talking about—I say this respectfully to the Government—the single family court. It does not matter whether it goes into the Family Law Act as is suggested in the excellent opposition amendments, which I largely support. What matters is who actually tries it. Just as with forced marriages and every other child protection issue, we have here issues of crime, but we know perfectly well that there has not yet been a single conviction of anyone who has done this. It is a question of culture, too. One has to train people in this country that this is not an acceptable practice. The Government are to be enormously congratulated for working on that—as were the previous Government when introducing the 2003 Act—but nothing has gone far enough.
I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lester. I would like to see what is good in each set of amendments put together. Therefore, I hope that the Opposition and the Government will get together after Report and thrash out what would be the best of everything and get that into one list that could go into Third Reading. I do not think that the Government go quite far enough. A great deal of what the Opposition are saying is exactly what we need, but it all needs to be put together. Certainly, the most important thing is that it should go to the single family court and be tried by High Court or circuit judges who have specialist family experience.
My Lords, I very much agree with the noble and learned Baroness. In doing so, I ask the Minister to give thought to taking away the government amendment to come back at Third Reading with a composite amendment that deals with the two issues that my noble friend related in moving the amendment. The issue of definition is as important as the issue of where this matter is located in law. There is concern out there that the definition that we have may not comply with the World Health Organization definition; even if it does, the way in which it was formulated in the 2003 Act, because of where we were then, is not clear enough to the whole range of professionals. As my noble friend identified, a number of health bodies, even in their own guidance, are telling their practitioners that reinfibulation does not come within the definition of female genital mutilation in the current Act. That has to be dealt with. I welcome the Government’s approach to looking further at what we need to do in the Bill. We have an opportunity here to ensure that we get things right, and the definition is one important issue.
The second issue is, of course, the one that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, have just raised. As the noble and learned Baroness rightly said, this is not simply a question of which piece of law it is best to put the provision in. There is consensus that it ought to be within the range of civil law, so as to protect children better, and to give the single court the widest range of options regarding interventions for children, along with the principles of the Children Act.
I am not sure whether I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that, taken together, the two government amendments—Amendments 46G and 50A—mimic the formulation that was used to bring protection orders for forced marriages into the civil arena. I cannot judge whether the two amendments together produce the same effect. In any case, having two separate amendments that tinker around with two different Acts is a rather tortuous way of doing things, and will probably be very unclear to people who are applying the legislation. The formulation could be much simpler, and therefore much clearer, if the Government made the effect clear in a single amendment, along the lines of the opposition amendment—although perhaps that could be improved as well; I am certainly open to thinking about that. I would be grateful if the Minister would indicate whether she is prepared, even at this stage—by which I mean at Third Reading—to make further improvements in the definition, and in relation to the uncertainty about the effect of her formulation regarding the legal route.
My Lords, I hesitate slightly, as a male religious leader, to speak in your Lordships’ debate on this matter, but it may be important that I do so. I also hesitate to plunge into the legal niceties that have been raised so clearly by those with more knowledge of such matters. I added my name to Amendment 44A largely because of a phrase in subsection (5) of proposed new Section 63T of the Family Law Act. It states that,
“it is immaterial whether she”,
that is, the girl or woman concerned,
“or any other person believes that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual”.
The context for that subsection is the possibility that an operation might be justified on the grounds of the physical or mental health of the person concerned and that wording makes it clear that custom and ritual cannot be used as support for such an argument.
We are rightly proud of our national values, whereby we respect and indeed treasure the richness of many and varied cultural and religious traditions, beliefs and practices within the life of our national society. But that proper respect for a wide range of such beliefs and practices does not mean that they are all either good or commendable. It is my view that in female genital mutilation we have a practice that we simply cannot condone, even when it is done out of respect for a particular cultural or religious tradition. FGM is at heart, as has already been graphically described, an act of violence and abuse. It is one that is often associated with control—sadly, male control over women. For somebody from my tradition, it is actually an interference with our human createdness in a way that carries no benefits for health or anything else. It is, indeed, the physical removal of the potential for sensual pleasure which is part of our human and sexual createdness. The Church of England’s marriage service, or at least its current version, speaks of the “joy” of bodily union. FGM removes that possibility. For that reason and others, I support this amendment and its intent. Whatever emerges from this debate, I hope that the reference to custom or ritual will remain within whatever emerges as an Act.
My Lords, I do not need to reiterate the feelings of abhorrence at the practice of FGM and the enormous number of girls and women who are affected by it. The right reverend Prelate has a very important role in this debate. He should not have hesitated to intervene.
I wish to address a couple of points before I speak to my amendments, which are minnows and just seek clarification. I agree very much with what the noble and learned Baroness said. As one who has been in the lower orders of the legal profession, I am impressed by the way in which members of the judiciary have specialised and gained expertise in a number of areas over the years. I hesitate to make my next remark, and should tug my forelock in doing so, but it is hugely important to ensure that certain members of the judiciary have considerable knowledge and experience of the areas in which they pass judgment. Practice and practical arrangements are also enormously important.
I do not want to argue that this amendment is better than that amendment. However, if there is to be further discussion, which I would never discourage—we talked about consultation on the previous amendment—let us not forget that it need not happen by Third Reading. If there is to be further consideration, it needs to be done well and carefully. The Bill has further stages to go through in the Commons. We are all accustomed to Members of the Commons saying on the record in Hansard, “Let’s send it to the Lords and let them sort it out”. On this occasion, there is time for sorting out to be done, if that needs to happen, before the Bill completes its passage through Parliament. As I say, it need not be done by Third Reading, which is not very far away. However, it is important to have something in the Bill on which any further consideration can build. Therefore, I suggest to the House that we should support the government amendments so that we have them as a basis.
As I said, my amendments are minnows. Nevertheless, I will speak to them. The first is Amendment 46C, which seeks to amend government Amendment 46B on anonymity. I seek to understand the import of “substantially” at line 23 of government Amendment 46B. My amendment suggests replacing “substantially” with “significantly”. It is obviously for the court to decide whether a defence would be prejudiced and to what extent it would be prejudiced. Are there any comparable provisions containing this sort of balance elsewhere in the criminal justice system, given the presumption of someone’s innocence until they are proved guilty? I also ask for confirmation that the restriction here applies on an appeal to a higher court.
My second amendment, Amendment 46D, is to the same amendment, dealing with the second condition in the court’s consideration, where it is provided that the effect would be to,
“impose a substantial and unreasonable restriction on the reporting of the proceedings”.
What might a substantial restriction be that is not an unreasonable restriction and why is the extent of the restriction relevant?
My third amendment is an amendment to Amendment 46E, which is the offence of failing to protect. Again, in order to probe, I am seeking to leave out from proposed new Section 3A(1) the words “under the age of 16” as describing a girl. Indeed, should it be “a girl” or “a girl or woman”? Does girl include a woman? I have not got the words quite right, but that is the import of the provision in the 2003 Act. Why 16? It may in practice be very rarely necessary to seek an order in respect of girls aged 16 and over, but it seems it is not completely irrelevant. The 2003 Act does not have that age limit on a girl and indeed provides for women to be covered as well.
In proposed new Section 3A(4) we are told that a person is responsible in one case where that person has parental responsibility and has frequent contact with the girl. Is frequent contact necessary and, indeed, is it appropriate? How frequent is frequent? I would guess that we expect case law to grow up around this, but I would be grateful for any comments that my noble friend might have. Does parental responsibility extend to care as under Section 3(5) of the Children Act? How does that definition of parental responsibility fit with proposed new Section 3A(5) where there has to be an assumption of responsibility for caring for a girl in the manner of a parent.
I hope that none of this is thought to be too pedantic and too picky. Like others, I am very keen to see these provisions work. If I have by chance lit on anything which needs more explanation than I have been able to apply to it in my own head, then it would be useful to have it on the record.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in this debate—in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for setting out just what we mean by female genital mutilation and asking, as a supplementary, whether the current definition of FGM includes wider elements such as reinfibulation. I will deal with that point first. I confirm that the Government’s view is that reinfibulation is an offence under the 2003 Act. That is on the basis that if it is an offence to infibulate in the first place, it must equally be an offence to reinfibulate. The multiagency practice guidelines on FGM have long made clear that resuturing or reinfibulation is illegal in the UK. Current guidance issued by both the BMA and the Royal College of Nursing supports that view.
As we heard in Committee, the whole House shares an abhorrence of the practice of FGM and we can all agree that more needs to be done to stop such violence against women and girls. There are nuances on how best to tackle such abuse, but we all agree on the principle: FGM must end, and this Government are committed to ending it.
I will comment on the right reverend Prelate’s point about the cultural aspect, which adds strength to the argument. I totally share his view. At the Girl Summit in July this year, the Prime Minister and Home Secretary announced an unprecedented package of measures to tackle FGM in this country. This included a number of commitments to strengthen the law. To that end, this group of amendments includes a number of government amendments designed to ensure that our legislative response is as strong as possible. In particular, they will provide for lifelong anonymity for the victims of FGM, introduce a new civil order to help protect those at risk of mutilation, and create a new offence of failure to prevent FGM. I propose to say a little more about each of these new provisions.
On the subject of victim anonymity, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, moved an amendment in Committee to extend to victims of female genital mutilation the same anonymity that already applies to victims of many sexual offences. This followed a recommendation by the Director of Public Prosecutions, and I was then able to indicate in response to that debate that the Government were giving sympathetic consideration to the proposal. As many in this House will have seen at the Girl Summit on 22 July, the Home Secretary announced that the Government would bring forward legislation to this end. Amendments 46A and 46B deliver on that commitment. These amendments will give victims of female genital mutilation the benefit of anonymity, as already applies to the alleged victims of many sexual offences under the provisions of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. Any publication of material that could lead members of the public to identify a person as the alleged victim of an offence will be prohibited. Anonymity should not end where the online world begins; publication would include traditional print media, broadcasting and social media.
Female genital mutilation is an offence of a particularly personal and sensitive nature. Without the prospect of anonymity, victims may be discouraged from reporting such an intimate offence to the police. Granting lifelong anonymity, therefore, will reassure victims that their identity will be protected and will go far to encourage the reporting of this offence. This protection needs to be automatic rather than discretionary; it must apply from the outset, when an allegation is first made, rather than from the point of charge; and it must last for the duration of that person’s lifetime. That is exactly what these amendments will bring about.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee has a couple of amendments to government Amendment 46B. They are far from being the minnows that she described. Amendment 46C seeks to amend paragraph 1(5) of new Schedule 1, which sets out the first condition that must be met in order to lift the restriction on anonymity. This allows a court to remove the anonymity that attaches to an alleged victim of an FGM offence where the anonymity results in the defendant’s case being “substantially prejudiced”. This wording is directly comparable to the provisions in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. We do not think that making a distinction between the two provisions would be helpful when both seek to achieve the same outcome.
Amendment 46D would lower the test for disapplying the reporting restrictions. We do not believe that this change provides sufficient protection for the alleged victim’s anonymity. Again, we have applied the two-pronged test that applies under the 1992 Act. By changing the test in this instance, the courts could well be more ready to lift the reporting restrictions as they apply to an FGM victim, thereby undermining the protection we are seeking to afford such victims.
Government Amendment 46G provides for FGM protection orders. It has been tabled in response to concerns that currently there is no specific civil remedy for the purpose of protecting potential or actual victims of FGM. The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, made that point. The majority of responses to a recent consultation on a proposal to introduce a civil protection order for FGM supported the proposal for such an order, so as to protect potential victims and victims of FGM. The Government strongly believe that there should be a specific civil remedy to strengthen protection for potential victims of FGM and to help to prevent FGM from occurring in the first place. Amendment 46G aims to achieve this.
The provisions on FGM protection orders follow closely the model of forced marriage protection orders provided for in Part 4A of the Family Law Act 1996, with some modification to reflect the different nature of FGM offences. The new Schedule 2 to the 2003 Act contains a number of detailed provisions. I do not intend to go through each one but will focus on the key features.
As with forced marriage protection orders, an FGM protection order may contain such prohibitions, restrictions or other requirements as the court considers appropriate for the purposes of that order: that is, for the purposes of protecting a girl against commission of an FGM offence or a girl against whom any such offence has been committed. This could include, for example, provisions to surrender a person’s passport or any other travel document and not to enter into any arrangements, in the UK or abroad, for FGM to be performed on the person to be protected.
Application for an FGM protection order may be made by the person to be protected, the victim or a relevant third party, without leave of the court or any person with the leave of the court. This would clearly allow a wide category of persons to apply for an FGM protection order, which I believe is desirable. In particular, allowing a third party to apply for a protection order on behalf of a victim may be helpful in situations where the victim is unable to do so, for example because she is too young—it is clear that most victims of FGM are girls typically between the ages of five and eight—or because she is too scared to take such an action herself. It will also be open to a criminal court to make an FGM protection order on its own initiative, for example when sentencing a person for an offence under the 2003 Act.
Breach of an order would be a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, but with provision, as an alternative, for a breach to be dealt with in the civil court as contempt punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, questioned whether putting FGM protection order provisions in the FGM Act 2003 undermines the court’s powers, compared to putting them in the Family Law Act 1996. We do not think that that is so. The proceedings would be in the family court, with the full range of powers of the court, and expressly without prejudice to any other protective powers that the court may have. The location of the provisions does not affect this. Indeed, it would be helpful to practitioners to have all FGM-related provisions in one statute. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, made that point. She also stressed the point about the proceedings going to the family court. I point noble Lords to paragraph 17(1) of new Schedule 2, which makes it clear that the proceedings are in the family court.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, also asked whether there would be a bespoke FGM unit, akin to the Forced Marriage Unit. I can confirm that the Government will set up a specialist FGM unit to drive a step change in this very important outreach service, with partners.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester made a point about the provision in the Opposition’s proposed new Section 63T that it is immaterial whether any person believes that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual. The provision in question is already set out in Section 1(5) of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 and is applied by paragraph 17(1) of new Schedule 2 in the government amendment.
These government amendments, which provide for victim anonymity and FGM protection orders, have substantially the same effect as Amendments 44 and 44A put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. I trust, therefore, that she will be ready to support them in lieu of her own.
Amendment 46E provides for the last of the three new government measures. It will create a new offence of failing to protect a girl from the risk of genital mutilation. Again, this new offence gives effect to a recommendation by the Director of Public Prosecutions for the law to place a positive duty on parents or carers to prevent their children being mutilated. English criminal law does not generally criminalise a failure to prevent an offence. This new offence is unusual but, I think, entirely necessary.
In the context of FGM this approach is justified given the difficulties that have been experienced in bringing prosecutions under the existing law. Even if those who allow their daughters to undergo FGM believe that it is in the girl’s best interests to conform to the prevailing custom of their community, there can be no excuse for such a gross violation of their human rights. It is wholly unacceptable to allow a practice that can have such devastating consequences for the health of a young girl. The physical and psychological effects can last throughout her life.
The amendment provides that if an FGM offence—that is, one of the offences set out in Sections 1 to 3 of the 2003 Act—is committed against a girl under the age of 16, each person who is responsible for the girl at the relevant time will be guilty of an offence. My noble friend Lady Hamwee queried why this offence applies only to girls under the age of 16 whereas the existing FGM offences apply to girls and women of any age. We recognise that parental responsibility can be exercised in relation to a girl under the age of 18. However, in the context of FGM where, as I have said, victims are typically aged between five and eight, and given the diminishing control that a parent would have over a 16 or 17 year-old, let alone an older woman, we believe that the offence should apply where FGM has been committed on a girl under the age of 16.
The maximum penalty for the new offence will be seven years’ imprisonment or a fine or both. We believe that this is proportionate when it is considered against the maximum penalties for offences of violence, and bearing in mind that this is an offence of failure to protect rather than of directly perpetrating violence. My noble friend Lady Hamwee also raised a couple of points on the new offence. The offence has been carefully drawn to avoid criminalising people unnecessarily or unjustifiably, so the requirement for frequent contact is intended to ensure that a person who in law has parental responsibility for a girl but who in practice has little or no contact with her would not be caught under this provision. The courts have held that what constitutes frequent contact is a simple question of fact which does not require further elucidation or definition.
On the question of how the new offence applies to children in care, the Children Act 1989 refers to people who have care of the child. This seems to us to be too broad a category to make liable for the new offence. Instead, new Section 3A(4) makes liable, in addition to those who have parental responsibility and frequent contact, the more specific category of those “aged 18 or over”, who have current responsibility for,
“caring for the girl in the manner of a parent”.
The new offence is not a panacea for the long-standing difficulties in prosecuting FGM, but it will help to overcome some of the barriers to prosecution, in particular by reducing if not avoiding the need for a girl to give evidence or to identify who actually performed FGM on her. In so doing, it will enable the Crown Prosecution Service to bring prosecutions in cases where they could not have been brought before. At the request of the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice, David Ford, this new offence, and indeed the other two new provisions, will extend to Northern Ireland as well as to England and Wales. The other government amendments in this group are consequential on the three substantive new provisions.
Everything that the Minister has said is music to my ears, and I congratulate her and the Government. However, she has just mentioned Northern Ireland and that provokes in my mind the question about what happens beyond England, Wales and Northern Ireland. What will be the position if someone goes to Scotland or to another country? The same problem arises with forced marriage. Will the Government take steps to try to persuade other jurisdictions to collaborate, if necessary by amending their laws, so that when people move from this country to carry out this vile procedure, it can apply not only to England, Wales and Northern Ireland?
I apologise to my noble friend. I am sure that if other countries or jurisdictions want to take on our legislation, that would not be a problem. I will confirm that with the noble Lord in a letter and also put a copy of that letter in the Library, but I assume that to be the case.
I have been on my feet for some time, but I hope that I have set out in a little detail the effect of the government amendments. I am grateful to the House for bearing with me and commend the government amendments to the House.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. She need not apologise for having been on her feet for a long time, as she did as much as she could to address the many issues which were raised in the debate.
On the issue of FGM protection orders, I think there is not a cigarette paper between us on what we are trying to achieve. However, I still do not fully understand—I am not a lawyer, but even the noble Lord, Lord Lester, could not help me out on this one—why the Government have chosen this approach and not the family law approach. That is the other point. I will look again in Hansard to see what she said, but given the comments that have been made around the House, I thought there was a willingness from the noble Baroness and from others for the Government to talk to us and say, “Have we got it right? Can we look at this?”.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that, because we just want to get it right. On the basis that she is prepared to discuss it and bring something back at Third Reading, we will be happy to withdraw our amendment. I am grateful and I appreciate that.
However, I must express my disappointment with her comment around the legal definition. I was unusually —and somewhat, I would say, embarrassingly—graphic about what reinfibulation actually means. I know that the Government believe that it is covered in law, and I said that in my comments. We believed that we covered reinfibulation when we brought in the law in 2003, but the evidence is that it is not. If the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists say that it is not covered, we have to accept that there is a lack of clarity and there is some doubt. With the best will in the world, the noble Baroness saying to me that the Government believe that it is covered is not good enough. I ask her whether, on the same basis, she would be prepared to look at this and discuss this with us.
Amendment 44 withdrawn.
Amendment 44A not moved.
Amendment 45 had been retabled as Amendment 45A.
45A: After Clause 66, insert the following new Clause—
“Offence of encouraging or assisting with the promotion of the practice of female genital mutilation
(1) The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 2 (offence of assisting a girl to mutilate her own genitalia) insert—
“2A Offence of encouraging or assisting the promotion of the practice of female genital mutilation
A person is guilty of an offence of encouragement or promotion of female genital mutilation if he encouraged or assisted another or others to commit an offence knowing or believing that the other or others would commit that offence.”(3) In section 5 (penalties for offences) insert—
(a) after “under” insert “sections 2 and 3 of”,(b) at end insert—“(2) A person guilty of an offence under section 2A is liable—
(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years or a fine or both;(b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both.””
Following legal advice, I amended Amendment 45, and it has now become Amendment 45A. The aim of this amendment is to tackle FGM at its heart. I applaud Ministers, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and others for tabling amendments which seek to protect young girls from the threat of this terrible torture and to protect their identity. All these are important, although we know that to achieve a prosecution of families committing FGM is not straightforward, and even with all the improvements in the new amendments, I still believe that it will be difficult. I understand that FGM is increasingly happening to tiny children who cannot yet speak, which will make prosecution even more difficult until very much later on because of course the families are trying to avoid detection. Prevention will be very difficult to achieve through protection orders, for example, if this is happening very early on in a child’s life.
Amendment 45A creates an offence of encouragement or promotion of FGM if a person,
“encouraged or assisted another or others”—
that is very important—
“to commit an offence knowing or believing that the other or others would commit that offence”.
The amendment seeks to ensure that if a community or religious leader encourages the practice of FGM, whether to a congregation, a small group of parents or indeed an individual parent, they would be committing an offence and could be charged. We are seeking something very different from the amendments so far, which have focused very much on an individual child and their family, but that is not where the focus should be when the core of the problem is actually in the culture of certain communities. If we want to stamp out the practice, we have to change the culture and the religious preaching.
The Minister explained to me just before this debate that the Bill team believes that the amendment does not achieve what we believe that it will. However, I sought legal opinion from Keir Starmer and his colleague Catherine Meredith, and they came back to me over the weekend and assured me that the amendment is fine and will achieve what we want it to. Of course, this was very late on; although I approached them some time ago, they are busy people and did not come back to us until very late. We therefore have not had an opportunity for the Bill team and government lawyers to sort this out. Not surprisingly, we therefore have a slight disagreement, but I am satisfied on the basis of my legal advice that the amendment will achieve what we want it to achieve and I will therefore speak to it on that basis.
The amendment would make a distinction between religious leaders who preach from the Koran and are therefore authentic—and, indeed, religious leaders who preach from authentic Hadith—who would not be committing an offence and would not be prosecuted if the amendment became law, and religious leaders who preach on the basis of the inauthentic versions of the Hadith, who would be committing an offence; they would be very clearly differentiated from the others. That is very important.
My concern about the parent-focused offences in the absence of Amendment 45A is that if parents believe that their religion requires them to practise FGM, when parents are arrested for this practice and are subjected to a protection order, they will regard the arrest or the protection order as some terrible action of the infidels. They will not be convinced at all and their thinking will not change. In addition, parents who are not directly affected by an arrest will not be convinced. They will think that these are the actions of infidels and therefore they will try to find a way of carrying on with their FGM practice. That is the importance for me of Amendment 45A.
I have gone into this in great detail since 2003, when the all-party group that I chair held hearings on the subject. We learnt from various groups that gave evidence, and I have learnt since, that it is usually the grandmothers in a family who are most insistent on this practice, and that it is not confined to a particular religious group. I would hate for people to get the idea from what the noble Baroness is saying that this is a practice of the Muslim religion or any other religion. It is confined to small cultural groups. It is often opposed by the religious leaders and men in the community but the grannies insist that it is done.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her intervention. I completely agree: this is not exclusively a Muslim problem. Indeed, there are Christians, apparently, who promote FGM. However, we know that there are religious leaders who preach from the unauthentic Hadith and are certainly promoting FGM; they are rather effective at doing that. They ally, of course, with the grandmothers, and the grandmothers can look to them for support.
Another question is whether this practice is sufficiently prevalent to justify this new offence. Yes, it is. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, referred to international figures. I simply want to refer to a few from the British Arab Federation. It estimates that more than 100,000 women have undergone FGM in this country and that some 25,000 girls are at risk of having their lives destroyed in this way. The Local Government Association provides a figure of 144,000 girls born in England and Wales to mothers from FGM-practising countries between 1996 and 2010. We do not know how many of these mothers will have changed their minds about this practice, but the figures from the British Arab Federation are certainly alarming and we need to take them seriously.
We must applaud the British Arab Federation for making it its highest priority to work with all organisations to bring an end to this crime. The federation is clear that there is no evidence, as far as Islamic sources are concerned, requiring, justifying or condoning the practice of FGM. This, again, reiterates the point. This is not a problem of the whole of Islam—far from it—or, indeed, only Islam. It affects certain groups and certain leaders.
The descriptions of the way FGM is performed are utterly appalling. Just reading them was a painful experience for me. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, went into this in great detail and I certainly do not want to repeat what she said. As I have already said, there is no mention in the Koran of FGM and no mention in the authentic Hadith of FGM, so there are perfectly proper Islamic texts that do not in any way encourage this activity. Indeed, Islamic law prohibits partial or complete removal of any bodily organ without proven medical need. Thus FGM is unlawful, as I understand it, according to Islamic law. It is important that, in proposing this amendment, we make this absolutely clear. In no way is this amendment an attack on Islam: quite the opposite. It is an attempt to secure the proper practice of Islam. There is a lot of work going on in communities to encourage them to abandon FGM, but this work is being hindered by these leaders who stick to unauthentic texts.
Currently, under Sections 44 to 46 of the Serious Crime Act 2007, anyone inciting or carrying out FGM in a particular case can be prosecuted for incitement. The LGA argues, quite rightly, that it is not possible under current law to prosecute someone who in general terms says that there are religious, health or other grounds for carrying out FGM. That is the whole point of this amendment and the whole point of referring to the plural: if somebody preaches to “another or others” that FGM is important to their religion, they are committing an offence. This amendment should make it much easier to bring cases against those who promote this practice. Inhibiting the preaching or promotion of this practice is much better than action ex post. That is what we are all working for: to try to prevent this thing ever happening in the first place. A lot of the focus has been on prosecuting people after they have practised FGM and that is just not good enough.
I know that the Government have concerns about whether this amendment really would achieve what we hope it would achieve, but I hope that we can have further discussions. I take the point that there will also be debates in the other place. Therefore, we do not even have to resolve these issues, and the issues around the previous amendments, before Third Reading, although I will certainly seek to do that with my legal advisers. I beg to move.
My Lords, I intended to put my name to this amendment, which I support. It seems to me that it is more important as a deterrent than probably for prosecutions. Among the various groups that exist—one hopes that they are a really small minority—as the noble Baroness just said, it is very important that the English law is made absolutely clear, as well as the law of Islam. Of course, as the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, just said, this occurs across other religions. That deterrent has, in other areas, quite a useful effect on culture, and that seems to me the most important part of this. I suspect that there will be very few prosecutions, but what is said in English law may permeate through a number of groups where those who disapprove of this already would then be able to point to the fact that it was also contrary to English law, and those who might want to get involved in this would be deterred from actually supporting it. I, too, support this amendment.
My Lords, towards the end of her speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, referred to what was troubling me, which is whether we are talking about general encouragement—if I can put it that way—or encouragement to commit a specific offence. Like, I suspect, those in the conversations she had just before coming into the Chamber, I am puzzled by the presentation of the amendment as meaning general encouragement, because I do not read it that way either. With the wording, “to commit an offence”—a specific offence—I thought that the noble Baroness was getting to grips with what is meant by “promotion”, which was the bit that I found difficult to get my head around in terms of its application in the predecessor amendment. However, the noble Baroness told us that it is the reference to “the other or others”—in the plural—which changes that. Bluntly, I do not follow that. I hope that, when she winds up, the noble Baroness will be able to convince me. The offence of FGM might surely and not unusually be committed by more than one person in the case of a single girl. That was certainly how I read this. It is not about committing offences; I read the provision as being about a particular, specific victim.
Of course, I do not take issue with the noble Baroness about the cultural problems and so on. However, I hope that my noble friend will convince the House that this is covered by the Serious Crime Act 2007, with its Part 2 on encouraging or assisting crime. There are extensive provisions in that part. If that applies, then I would not be particularly keen on having a specific offence when it should be covered by the general provisions. It is better that the general should apply to all criminal offences and not have something separate which actually does not amount to anything different. It is the difference that I am looking for.
My Lords, I am filled with some trepidation and hope the House will indulge me. I have not involved myself in talking on this Bill before. I will do so now very briefly, with the leave of the House, because I think the issue is so important.
I congratulate the noble Baroness on the objective behind this amendment, but we already have a great deal of law in this area and we are to get a whole lot more once this legislation is passed. However, the law itself is not the answer to what I think the noble Baroness seeks to achieve, particularly with an amendment that, I fear, is all too vague. It refers to,
“encouraging or assisting with the promotion of the practice”.
Does that, for instance, include a tribal elder discussing cultural traditions or a parent discussing the family’s heritage and ethnic customs with a daughter? The noble Baroness talked about authentic and unauthentic version of religious tracts. These are very tricky, difficult areas. What precisely do those words mean? I fear that they do not precisely mean anything.
I think the original wording is still there and therefore has some relevance.
On the previous group of amendments, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, called very sensibly for clarity. The challenge in this matter is not just the law but the practice itself. The figures that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, quoted are appalling: 100,000 victims in the UK; and 25,000 under the age of 15 at risk every year, perhaps even more. These figures are horrendous, but they are meaningless without prosecutions —that is, police and prosecuting authorities taking action. That is what is lacking. We have listened to them and they hope for prosecutions, but there has not been a single prosecution for female genital mutilation.
I looked at the figures for West Midlands Police. This is one of the areas where you would expect them to take a great deal of interest, but in 2011 they investigated eight cases. In 2012, that went up to 25, and in 2013 it was 41. They are getting better but very slowly. That speaks to the fact that this is a very difficult area for prosecution authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, spoke to that.
Given the current law and without a single perpetrator having been brought to justice, my fear is that this amendment with its vagueness would be counterproductive and make life more difficult for the prosecution authorities. My fear is that more law, no matter how well intentioned, that is too loose to be effective in practice—the practice is important—will create only more problems in enforcement rather than bring justice to those many innocent children. I applaud the intention of this amendment, but I caution about its outcome.
My Lords, the NSPCC asked me to speak to this amendment because it believes that it will be beneficial to many young girls. I am pleased that this is being discussed. As this House recognises continually, FGM is child abuse and we should do all we can to tackle this cruel and painful practice. It is important that legislation is clear on this, but we have to be realistic on FGM that the law can only do so much, as has been said time and time again today. Until the social norms in which FGM operates are challenged, it will be difficult for members of communities to come forward to share their concerns about children who are vulnerable to FGM.
The NSPCC has stated that the amendment proposed is to be welcomed, given that it would create a specific offence and make it easier to bring cases against those who support FGM, even indirectly, whether they reside in or are just visiting the UK. This would help to support the excellent work being done to tackle the practice in communities—work that can be hampered when community leaders, family members and others continue to promote and encourage the practice of FGM.
I am aware that, as we heard on the previous amendment, there are existing FGM laws in place, but I believe that this amendment is probing what further can be done to stop this barbaric practice. We must always have children’s well-being at the top of our priorities. Young girls suffering the horrors of FGM need to know that not just laws but members of society will protect them from the suffering that many young girls are going through today.
My Lords, first I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on bringing this forward. We debated this in Committee and have looked at it before. I have had discussions with the noble Baroness, and indeed with the same lawyers to whom she has been speaking. We have to try to find a way forward on this issue.
I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, on the issue of clarity and on the need for prosecutions. In the previous debate on FGM protection orders, we heard that the right for victims to be anonymous will help to bring some of those cases forward. However, a telling point was made by both the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, when they said that the purpose of the amendment is as a deterrent. It seems to me that in some of the laws we bring forward we fail when we have to prosecute. The very purpose of the law is that we should not have to prosecute because the law is what stops an offence taking place.
This is a difficult area. We had these discussions in Committee, but I can see exactly what the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is trying to do in protecting girls and women from female genital mutilation. It is about those who would persuade, not just by suggesting that it is a good idea but by encouragement and advocacy, while knowing that they have to avoid a charge of incitement. They would not instruct someone to commit an offence but encourage and lead them to believe that it is the right thing to do. I am sympathetic to and supportive of the need to address the problem. The NSPCC has made the point and the Local Government Association has brought forward its concerns as well.
It strikes me—indeed, I am convinced—that, if we are to wipe out FGM within the UK, we have to address the specific issue of encouragement, promotion and advocacy. We know that some of the best persuasion is subtle. There are those families who believe in the practice not through somebody within that family or the community saying, “You must have your daughter cut”, or have FGM, but through comments, persuasion, advocacy and encouragement that can lead families to be fearful if they do not proceed with the process.
Obviously, we do not want to go down the road of criminalising people for the comments they make. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, has read the clause in its entirety. He talked about tribal customs or something, but the proposed clause refers specifically to female genital mutilation and that is the only offence in this context.
I acknowledge that this amendment has been tabled only recently and we have not had a full opportunity to distil the detail, and I understand that the Minister will say that the Bill team does not believe that this will address the problem. However, I hope that that is because the noble Baroness realises that there is a serious problem. Young girls in this country are undergoing this barbaric process and procedure because somebody in their community thinks it is the right thing to do. It is shocking that mothers and grandmothers, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, having gone through the process themselves, inflict it on their children and grandchildren. Unless we break that cycle and persuade mothers and grandmothers that it is wrong, we will not be able to stop children in this country going through it. That is the point the amendment is trying to make.
We need to break that link—that cycle—of people saying, “This is the right thing to do. You must do this. Your child must be clean”. We have to break the cycle so that we do not have the encouragement, advocacy and pressure that children should undergo FGM. That is the only way we can wipe it out in this country.
I thank the noble Baroness so much for making that point. The encouragement frequently comes from within the family, as it does for male circumcision. It becomes the law of the family; that is what has to be done. It is not just the grandmothers who perpetrate it. The children themselves are led to believe that it is being done for their good, just as male circumcision is sold to older boys. Therefore, they somehow comply and they certainly do not want to take action against their own parents because it is happening within an otherwise loving family. It is a very difficult and delicate process. The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, is so right to say that what we need is not more legislation—although I welcome it tremendously and thank the Government for it—but some prosecutions.
It could be argued that that was a considerable clarification. I am grateful to the noble Baroness.
If the Minister’s Bill team does not believe that this addresses the problem, and we in your Lordships’ House all understand what the problem is, can we look at it again? The Minister has been very good and I greatly appreciate her co-operation. We can have discussions before Third Reading and full debates in the other place as well. This is the only opportunity, as we will not have another Bill on this in the short term. We have an opportunity here to get it right. We would welcome discussions with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, as well as the lawyers who have tried to find a way through on this without encroaching on the kinds of issues that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, rightly addressed, or on issues of free speech. We can find a way through and this is the only chance we have. If we are to wipe this out in the UK, we have to address it.
Again, this has been a further excellent debate on the role of the criminal law in helping to put a stop to the practice of FGM in this country. I am grateful for the constructive approach that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and others have adopted in both debates and in the discussions we have had outside and inside the Chamber.
As many noble Lords have said, we are aiming to get to the same end. It is slightly unfortunate that the amendment was tabled quite late and that there is a difference of opinion in terms of what the amendment seeks to achieve. My noble friend Lady Hamwee rightly pointed out, on the point about “other or others”, that the amendment does not seek to achieve what was sought in the original amendment, if that makes sense.
I also thank my noble friend Lady Tonge and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for pointing out quite strongly that this is not a religious matter. There is nothing in any religious text that points to FGM being something that should be carried out on young girls. It is a specific cultural practice that exists in certain communities in the world and has found its way to this country. Legislation alone cannot eradicate a practice that is so deeply ingrained in the culture and traditions of those who practise it and have been doing so for centuries, but I agree that the law is a very important part of our response to the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation, and it is right that we should change it where necessary.
We believe that the new offence that we have just debated of failing to protect a girl from risk of genital mutilation gets to the heart of the issue. The Government’s new offence focuses on those who allow this dreadful abuse to be perpetrated on their daughters rather than on those who may only encourage them to do so. That is not to suggest that encouraging female genital mutilation, or indeed any crime, is in any way acceptable.
I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that such behaviour also constitutes an offence under the provisions of Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007, which contains inchoate offences of: intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence; encouraging or assisting an offence believing it will be committed; and encouraging or assisting offences believing one or more will be committed. As the noble Baroness observed, the revised wording of the proposed new offence follows closely the wording of the existing inchoate offences. That is both its strength and, dare I say, its weakness. As a result, it would not cover behaviour that is not already covered by the existing 2007 Act offences.
We are not persuaded that creating a specific offence of encouraging FGM is necessary or appropriate. The provisions in Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 apply to all criminal offences precisely so that it is not necessary to create specific encouraging or assisting offences for every crime. We agree that the behaviours now referred to in the noble Baroness’s revised amendment should be criminalised, but that is already the case. This amendment would not advance the criminal law in this area—I suspect this is where we are going to have a further conversation.
We believe that changing the culture and attitudes that allow female genital mutilation to persist will be better achieved through the awareness raising and community engagement that the Government have already embarked upon, rather than through the creation of another, arguably unnecessary, inchoate offence.
I wholeheartedly commend the aims of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and others in tabling her amendment. As I have said, this House is united in its desire to eradicate FGM, even though we may differ on how best to achieve that end. I hope the noble Baroness will agree that the government amendments that we have just debated represent a substantial package of measures to strengthen the civil and criminal law to tackle FGM. I firmly believe that they offer a better way forward, and on that basis I ask the noble Baroness not to press her amendment.
I thank the Minister for her constructive response and all noble Lords who have spoken very constructively in this debate. I particularly thank my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss for her very important point that this amendment, unlike any other, would achieve deterrence, and that is what we want to do. We want to deter this dreadful act. We do not want just to prosecute after the event, although it is difficult ever to achieve a prosecution. If we can deter, we have really got to the goal that is now clearly shared across all sides of the House, which is to change the culture on FGM. We therefore need to change the way the leaders operate and the way they encourage people to indulge in this terrible act.
I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for her very helpful support. We must try to find a form of words that the government lawyers, our lawyers and all other lawyers agree will achieve this incredibly important objective. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 45A withdrawn.
46: After Clause 66, insert the following new Clause—
“Protection of children from sexual communications
(1) A person (“A”) commits an offence where A intentionally communicates with another person (“B”) in the following circumstances—
(a) A is aged 18 or over,(b) either—(i) B is under 16 and A does not reasonably believe that B is 16 or over, or(ii) B is under 13,(c) the content of the communication is sexual or intended to elicit a response that is sexual, and(d) subject to subsection (3) below, A’s purpose in sending the communication or seeking a response is sexual.(2) The communication may be in any form including verbal, written or pictorial (which may include still or moving images) and may be conveyed by any means whatever.
(3) A does not commit the offence in subsection (1) above where the purpose of the communication is for the protection of the child to which the communication is sent.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (3), a person acts for the protection of a child if he acts for the purpose of—
(a) protecting the child from sexually transmitted infection,(b) protecting the physical safety of the child,(c) preventing the child from becoming pregnant, or(d) promoting the child’s emotional well-being by the giving of advice, and not for a sexual purpose.”
My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to create an offence where an adult engages in a sexual communication with a child or—this is very important—seeks to elicit from that child a sexual communication in response.
The amendment covers verbal, written or pictorial communication. It includes video communication and it covers all forms of communication whether by telephone, the internet, instant messaging and even gaming systems, such as the Xbox. This brings the law in this part of the United Kingdom into line with the law in Scotland, so this is not new territory. I am grateful to the NSPCC for the discussions and briefings I have had, and I know it has had discussions with a number of other noble Lords on this matter. I note that on Friday it launched an online petition on precisely this issue and that by last night it had already achieved 20,000 signatures, so there is a degree of interest and of belief that this is necessary. Indeed, if you speak to many parents, you come across the argument time and time again about why this is important and their concerns for their teenage and younger children.
The reality is that the current law that purports to cover these issues is fragmented and confused. It makes it hard for the police to bring suitable cases against perpetrators and what legislation there is by and large pre-dates the widespread use of the internet and social networking sites. In practice, the current law fails to recognise the nature of grooming. In grooming the perpetrator is not trying to be offensive to the child, to frighten the child or to intimidate the child. The abuser is trying to flatter the child and to persuade the child that they are the person who matters and the only person who cares for them and, as part of that, to persuade the child to respond to them sexually and send them sexual or indecent communications.
This is a widespread problem. Last year, ChildLine reported an increase of 168% in contacts of this nature. ChildLine is receiving reports daily of large numbers of these cases. For example, a 15 year-old girl was groomed by someone who she thought was 17. In fact, he was 44. She met him through a social networking site, and they chatted online most nights. In his guise as a 17 year-old boy, he said that he was in love with her. He started talking about more sexual things. At first she was not too worried as her friends told her that this was just what boys did. She then sent him a picture of herself naked. He had elicited that picture. At this point, he admitted that in fact he was 44 but said that age did not matter and that he really loved her. When the girl said that she was going to stop the contact, he threatened to share her images on the internet and tell all her friends what she had done. That is a real case from ChildLine of the sort of thing that happens. It would have been quite difficult to take the man concerned to court, as I understand it, on the existing basis.
By contrast, there is a case study from Scotland. It concerns a Mr James Sinclair who was 25. He gave a 14 year-old girl a mobile phone and sent her a series of sexual text messages. The girl’s family found the messages and contacted the police to report the matter. The family had reportedly tried for some time to stop the victim having any contact with the accused, but those efforts proved unsuccessful. Police officers examined her mobile phone and traced and detained the offender. Sinclair was put on the sexual offenders register. Under the current law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, he could not have been prosecuted because he could have mounted a defence that he did not intend to cause distress or anxiety as the child seemed willingly to engage in the sexualised conversation. That is the context in which we are talking here. The current law is inadequate.
I do not know what is in the Minister’s brief but my experience of Home Office briefings on these matters is that they almost always say, “Ah no, there is an existing offence that covers that”. I am not sure I agree. Existing legislation simply is not clear enough and in many cases the defence could argue that the threshold required for the communication to be covered by the offence had not been met. For example, the Sexual Offences Act 2003 covers only situations where it can be proved that the adult intends to meet the child. Increasingly, abusers online have no intention of meeting the child and abusing them physically. This is all about online grooming. They want to extract the sexualised pictures or whatever else it might be. The Sexual Offences Act does not cover that. Perhaps the Minister is going to talk about the Malicious Communications Act 1988. Under that legislation there must be an,
“intent to cause distress or anxiety”.
However, as I have already said, abusers operate in the exact opposite way. They flatter the child. They make the child feel special in order to build up the child’s trust. Importantly, anyone, even if convicted of this offence, would not be subject to sexual offender registration and notification requirements.
It may also be that the Minister will be relying on the Communications Act 2003. The defence there could argue that the threshold of,
“a message … that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”
has not been met. Again, importantly, anyone so convicted would not be subject to sex offender registration and notification requirements but there the focus is on the message sent by the perpetrator to the child and it needing to be grossly offensive or indecent, obscene or menacing. In most of these instances the message sent to the child is flattering; it is persuasive. It is encouraging the child. It is not grossly offensive; it does not need to be as it is trying to persuade the child to send an image of themselves. It does not have to be obscene or menacing because this is about flattery and persuasion.
I believe that the current law is inadequate in protecting children from online abuse and that the standalone offence in this amendment is needed to ensure that the law is clear. It makes it clear that intentionally sending a sexual communication to a child is illegal and there are definitions in the amendment as to what constitutes an adult and what constitutes a child. Moreover, it would make it illegal to seek to elicit a sexual response from a child by means of a communication. I believe that this will help prevent abuse from escalating and protect children from sexual material in this way. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendment 46, which relates to the protection of children from sexual communication. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said, his amendment is supported by the NSPCC. It proposes a new offence so that it is always illegal for an adult intentionally to send a sexual message to a child.
In recent years children’s internet usage has grown exponentially. As your Lordships know, children between the ages of eight and 15 now spend far more time online than they do watching television. They are also keen users of social networks, with many engaging in risky online behaviour, including being in contact with people via social networks who are not directly known to them, sharing personal information, which makes them vulnerable to abuse, and sharing indecent pictures. We have heard about that from the noble Lord, Lord Harris.
Indeed some people behave in very different ways online to offline, apparently. Police interviews with sex offenders show that the majority differentiate the real world from cyberspace believing that their behaviour is acceptable because what is happening is not real or tangible. One offender said that masturbating on a webcam in front of a teenager seemed like “Fun at the time”. He stated that he would not behave that way offline. Consequently, young people are experiencing all sorts of abuse on a scale that we have never seen before. Last year, Childline, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said, had an amazing 168% increase in contacts from children relating to online sexual abuse.
The law needs to be changed better to protect children from adults who send these sorts of sexual messages to them. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, suggested that existing laws cover online grooming but the NSPCC and others who support this campaign do not believe that is true. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 was referred to. But, increasingly, abusers online have no intention to meet and abuse the individual child physically. Therefore, the Act apparently does not cover online grooming. There is a similar situation with the Malicious Communications Act 1988. Finally, if the Crown attempted to prosecute an offence under the Communications Act 2003, the defence could argue that the threshold of,
“a message … that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”
had not been met. The Act also does not cover the use of private networks to communicate.
Current laws mean that police can be powerless to act until a child has been coerced into sharing an indecent image, lured to a meeting offline or, in the worst cases, sexually abused. The confusing nature of the law in this area means far more needs to be done to enable the police to take early action to prevent abuse escalating, reducing the risk to children and young people and helping them to keep safe online.
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, seeks to close this gap in the law better to protect children online and would enable action to be taken against offenders at an earlier stage of the grooming process before an arrangement to meet had been made. It would help protect children from unwanted sexualised content online, potentially have a deterrent effect on offenders and put more responsibility on adults to ensure that who they are talking to online is indeed another adult. More than 75% of people believe it is already illegal for some aged over 18 to send a sexual message to a child under 16, while more than 80% of people have expressed support for such a change in the law. I very much hope that the Government will support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Harris.
My Lords, it always seems churlish to take up points in the text of an amendment when one supports the thrust of it but I am afraid I am going to. The action of grooming is hugely serious. On the noble Lord’s example, I wonder whether at least a part of that will be covered by the revenge porn amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill about the use of images, moved on Report. My noble friend Lady Grender, who put her name to it, arrived just after I had managed to find the text of that amendment. However, that is not my only point on this amendment.
The grooming which the noble Lord described often includes a lack of knowledge in either direction of the people taking part in e-mail exchanges. Therefore, I wonder whether it is appropriate to use the words, which I think have come from the 2003 Act, of A not reasonably believing that B is 16 or over, particularly as I suspect—I do not have detailed knowledge of this—that B, the child, may often claim to be older than she or he is. That is probably my major concern. There is also a reference to subsection (3) which sets out the circumstances in which no offence has been committed—but that only applies to paragraph (1)(d) where it must also apply to (1)(c), and it does not actually need stating in either case.
Perhaps I had better not go down the road of whether communications are written or oral—perhaps verbal is the word one should use there. More serious is the question of whether the list in proposed new subsection (4) is intended to be exhaustive. I would have thought not, but it reads that way. In proposed new subsection (4)(d) I query the reference to promotion of,
“emotional well-being by the giving of advice, and not for a sexual purpose”.
I am not sure whether those words correctly describe the difference between the sexual purpose of the perpetrator and the connection between emotional well-being, sexual advice and sexual well-being, which are inseparable.
Finally, might it not be better to go at this by trying to amend the Sexual Offences Act itself? That would lead to consequences, including the sex offenders register, to which the noble Lord quite rightly referred. Again, while I support the thrust of this, I am afraid that I could not support this particular amendment, which would take us in a direction that might be more difficult to untangle.
My Lords, as we have already heard, the NSPCC supports the amendment and, as it always hold children’s best interests at heart, it is good that we are debating why it does so.
For children and young people, the internet is an exciting extension of their offline world, a source of information and communication and a way to expand their social lives and networks. However, along with the great benefits of the internet there is also a considerable amount of risk—a dark side, from which we need to protect children by putting measures in place.
As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said, ChildLine last year had a 168% increase in contacts relating to online sexual abuse year. This is a most disturbing trend. Young people have told ChildLine that they are experiencing all sorts of new abuse on a scale never before seen, and many parents say that keeping their children safe online is a key concern for the welfare of their child.
The problem is that there is inadequate protection for children from adults who send obscene or disturbing material to them—in the majority of cases, over the internet. The current law in this area is fragmented and confused, making it hard for police to deal with sexual messaging appropriately. Existing legislation, such as the Sexual Offences Act 2003, predates the widespread use of the internet and the huge growth in the number of offenders targeting children online.
Evidence has shown that, increasingly, offenders have no intention of meeting the child because the internet gives them new ways to control and influence children without ever having to touch them. The end goal may now be to persuade, coerce or groom a child to get them to perform sexual acts via a webcam. This can sometimes leave children feeling mentally abused, with low self-esteem, and is often the start of self-harming.
Under the current law it is hard to tackle grooming behaviour at an early stage, meaning that intervention can often be made only when the abuse gets to a more serious and extreme level, such as when the child sends an image of themselves, or when arrangements are made to meet and abuse the child. There have been suggestions that there is adequate provision in existing law to cover online grooming. However, the NSPCC and other children’s charities do not agree. Under existing legislation, many of these offences would not be captured because the defence would argue that the threshold required for the communication to be covered by the offence had not been met. What is the solution? The NSPCC believes that this amendment would close a gap in the law, to better protect children online.
A YouGov poll found that three out of four adults believe that it is already illegal for someone over 18 to send a sexual message to a child under 16. The fact is that no such specific offence exists. Eight out of 10 people polled by YouGov said that they would support a change in the law. This simple and sensible change would have a number of positive effects in relation to protecting children from online abuse, primarily helping to protect children from unwanted and distressing sexual contact online and enabling action to be taken against offenders at an earlier stage of the grooming process, thereby helping to prevent abuse escalating. I hope that the Government will give full consideration to this amendment, to protect our children. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Harris and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, have undertaken a service to your Lordships’ House by tabling this amendment for debate today. There is no doubt that, alongside the advantages that modern technology brings, it also brings new dangers for children. Looking across your Lordships’ House, I suspect that when any of us went out to play as kids, our parents would tell us, “Careful how you cross the road, and don’t talk to strangers”.
If I am honest, my parents were happiest if they thought that I was safe upstairs in my bedroom with my friends, playing my music or pretending to do my homework. Nowadays, parents have those same fears while the child is at home in their bedroom, on their computer or mobile phone. It is very difficult for parents always to understand or put in the controls that need to be there. The danger has moved; it can now be in the home or in the child’s bedroom. The law has to keep pace with the changes that have come about. The technology has moved, and the law has to move too.
I am very grateful to the NSPCC for what I thought was a very helpful briefing. I also agree with the point that my noble friend Lord Harris made about the “slow burn” of these types of offences. I recall dealing with a case some time ago where there was a man in his 30s, who had a family, who was corresponding with an 11 year-old girl in another country, who thought that she was in contact with another 11 year-old girl. In that case, he was stopped before it went too far, but it is easy to see how over a period of time somebody can believe that the person they are in contact with is someone just like them. It is their friend, whether it is a boyfriend or someone of the same gender. This is the grooming that is referred to.
I will not go into the detail of the legislation, because my noble friend Lord Harris explained that, but I am sure that the Minister’s file covers this area. When he took up his post, he was kind enough to meet me. He thought that I had been a Home Office Minister. I was not; I was a Home Office PPS. Part of my duties as a PPS was to run two paces behind my Minister, clutching the file as he went into Committee. On every page, against an amendment put down by a member of the Opposition was a line which read, “Resist, it is covered by other legislation”. I expect that the noble Lord has a very similar file in front of him today.
I will give the Minister the benefit of my experience on this issue. This came up previously when we were debating the anti-social behaviour Bill in your Lordships’ House. I was brought a proposal from the Manchester police and crime commissioner about how to shut down more quickly premises that have been used for grooming young girls for sex. I was told “We do not have the powers”. I had a letter from Norman Baker, the Home Office Minister which said, “Of course you have the powers; this can be done; you can use the prostitution laws”. How could you use the prostitution laws with an 11 or 12 year-old girl? You could not. However, the advice from the Home Office in correspondence after correspondence was that it was already covered by existing law.
We often hear that it is covered by existing law, but our experience when we see offences being committed, but not being prosecuted, is that the existing law is inadequate. On that occasion we tabled an amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, had the same concerns then as she has expressed today about it not being the right kind of legislation and said that it should be in another Bill. Where there is a will, there is a way. If we really want to address some of these problems, we can. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, was very helpful on that occasion. I withdrew my amendment. The Government came back with their amendment which we were delighted to support and were very grateful to do so.
There is an opportunity here. The wording may not be perfect; I am sure that the Minister has his note saying, “resist”; but there is an issue here that has to be addressed. Failure to address it now will mean that we lose the opportunity until the next Home Office Bill. I know that they are like double-decker buses sometimes, but we have an opportunity here to bring the law up to date. The law exists in Scotland and is used for prosecutions in Scotland when other laws fail. So here is an opportunity. I hope that the Minister can just put his file to one side and not resist, just until Third Reading, to see whether there is a way forward to address what is becoming a pretty serious problem.
I am tempted by the Baroness’s offer to put my file aside, but I will stick with it a little because, as we have seen through this whole process of discussion in Committee, which she has been following right from the beginning, it is not the case that “resist” is there because it is something that someone just does not want to consider. All the way through, we have seen the openness of officials to have meetings with groups and with Back-Bench Peers. The genuine government amendments that have been brought forward, and the responses, not least today and on other matters, show that we are all very much on the same side on all of the issues, whether it is FGM, mandatory reporting, or indeed this one.
However, there are genuine differences between people in some NGOs about the best way of achieving this. Officials are using their knowledge and expertise of the system to ask whether this is actually something which is going to strengthen our hand. A great forecast was made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, of what was actually in my speech. I can assure him that I shall not disappoint him in referring to those specific Acts. One reason why I shall not disappoint him is that the Ministry of Justice has met with the NSPCC, as you would expect, and talked to it about its concerns in this area. It has shared its thoughts on the amendment.
I will try to be as helpful as I can, but I need to get some remarks on the record. If the House could bear with me in my responses, I will come back to the specific issues raised. I share the noble Lord’s objective, which is to ensure that we have a robust body of criminal law to tackle predatory sexual behaviour by adults against vulnerable children. The House remains united in its condemnation of the sexual abuse of children, and it is through the work of noble Lords across all parties and none that we have some of the strongest and most respected criminal laws in the world to deal with this dreadful offending.
I thank the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which has proposed this new offence and brought its concerns to this debate. Its efforts, and those of its supporters, have helped to create a tough range of criminal sanctions and provided support to help to protect children. I also thank the NSPCC for engaging in constructive talks with my officials about this new clause. I also mention ChildLine in this context.
The new clause would create a new criminal offence prohibiting an adult from communicating with someone under 16 who they do not reasonably believe to be over 16, or someone who is in fact under 13 years of age, where that communication is sexual or intended to elicit a response that is sexual. The person’s purpose in sending the communication or seeking a response would need to be sexual.
As I said, we have some of the strongest and most robust laws in the world to deal with sexual offences against children. Although we are examining this issue, our preliminary view is that the behaviour targeted by this amendment is already captured under existing law.
I hope that noble Lords will bear with me while I outline some of the existing relevant provisions. If a message is sent by means of a public electronic communications network—that would include the internet—and its content is grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing, it will fall foul of the offence in Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. Those convicted of this offence who pose a risk of serious sexual harm to the public can be made subject to a sexual offences prevention order. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, mentioned that the situation in Scotland was much better, but in this regard the Communications Act 2003 does not apply to Scotland. It does apply in England and Wales, and there have been 1,314 prosecutions under Section 127 of the Communications Act in 2013 alone. This will cover a range of issues, not the specific ones that he is concerned about, but it is certainly not something that the police feel that they have no opportunity to prosecute under the Communications Act 2003.
I realise that this offence would not apply to non-electronic communication or perhaps private communications networks, but our other laws here are broad enough to capture sexual messages to children in this manner. If the messages, including any sent images, are indecent or grossly offensive, sending them may fall foul of Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988. I readily acknowledge the point made by my noble friend Lady Benjamin, who talked about 1988 certainly predating the world-wide web in that context, but some of the laws that are in place for offensive materials and activities relating to other media are still relevant to the new media, and we should not just disregard them. They fall foul of the Act provided that they are sent with the purpose of causing distress or anxiety to a person to whom the material is communicated, or intended to be communicated.
I shall try not to intervene too often, given that we are on Report, but I would be grateful for this clarification. The Minister has referred to Section 127 of the Communications Act, which requires the message from the perpetrator to be,
“grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”.
He also referred to Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act where the offence is,
“with intent to cause distress or anxiety”.
In the sorts of cases that I have been talking about, there is no intent to cause distress or anxiety. There is no need to be,
“grossly offensive … indecent, obscene or menacing”,
because this is about coaxing the young person through flattery to send a naked image of themselves. Clearly, if it falls into these categories, there is no question that the Act covers it, but these are communications of a different nature.
I accept that—and this may not endear me to the noble Lord, but I am only halfway through my speech. I will go through some other laws that could catch that particular matter. If it is not the case, I shall certainly come back and address the specific one that he deals with.
It has been pointed out that the Section 1 offence in the Malicious Communications Act is not suitable because it is a summary one and subject to a six-month time limitation on prosecutions. I assure the House that the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill includes an amendment to the 1988 Act, making that offence triable either way, which would have the effect of removing the six-month time limit. The material, depending on the content, could also be caught under the Obscene Publications Act 1959. There was a recent conviction under the Act which captured a paedophilic sexual discussion being held in a private e-mail conversation between paedophiles. This significant conviction demonstrates that the offence can be made out by a publication to one person.
If the contact or messaging involves the creation of indecent photographs of children under the age of 18, legislation such as the Protection of Children Act 1978 could be used against those circulating such images if, for example, an adult is inciting a child to self-produce indecent images. That was a specific issue that the noble Lord focused on. Section 160 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 covers the simple possession of these images. There are a range of offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, including laws on attempting these offences, which would very likely cover this behaviour, its consequences or intended consequences. I shall spare the House a list of all the offences in the 2003 Act that might be engaged, but let me offer one example. Under Section 10 of the 2003 Act it is an offence for a person over 18 to cause or incite a child to engage in sexual activity. This carries a maximum 14-year sentence. Depending on the individual circumstances, this offence would very likely come into play when sexual communications were exchanged with children, or when they were coaxed, or when non-sexual communications were intended to elicit a sexual response.
There are other offences to deal with exploiting children through involvement in pornography and prostitution. I take the point that the noble Baroness took from the example in Manchester. But this is something that is constantly under review, and has to be, as part of wider efforts to tackle this issue. We have had conversations with the Crown Prosecution Service, which does not feel that there is a gap in the law at present. We have had conversations with the national policing lead, who also does not feel that there is a gap at present. These discussions are ongoing, and I will be very happy to include noble Lords—and specifically the noble Lord, Lord Harris, in the context of this amendment, as well as the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe and Lady Benjamin, in some of the discussions with the CPS and the police to see what needs to be done and whether the provisions are sufficiently robust to deal with the specific examples and case studies that they have given.
Even if the messages are not themselves illegal, if their distribution or sending to a child is carried out as part of a course of conduct that alarms the child or causes distress—something raised by a number of noble Lords—this could amount to a criminal offence under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. On the face of it, therefore, it would appear to be the case that the current law, if applied properly, already does what the amendment seeks to do. We should be very wary of adding new offences to the statute book if to do so would result in an unnecessary and undesirable duplication of the existing criminal law. However, the Government are always open to suggestions that could strengthen the law in this difficult and sensitive area.
I agree with this amendment to the extent that we want to be absolutely sure that offenders who communicate sexual messages to children or elicit sexual replies are appropriately dealt with by the criminal law. We are therefore investigating with the Crown Prosecution Service and the police to ensure that there are no such gaps that could let those who offend against our young people in this manner escape justice. I am very happy to include noble Lords in that discussion. As part of our ongoing consideration of this issue, I have extended that invitation to discuss. I trust therefore that the noble Lord might accept that, in this regard, it is not a “resist” but that the Government are considering carefully what is being proposed, in the light of the existing legislation and to continue that discussion. In the mean time, I ask him to consider withdrawing his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful for the support that this amendment has had from the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe and Lady Benjamin, as well as my noble friend Lady Smith. The Minister said clearly that he shared its objectives. I have the advantage of seeing his colleagues behind him and I noticed that not only did quite a number of them seem to share the objectives but they were also not entirely convinced by some of his suggestions that these offences were met by the Bill.
I shall deal quickly with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. She did not disappoint us in that she made her usual series of very precise and small points on the amendment. I am clear that this is not a professionally drafted amendment or one that would meet all the best requirements of those who sit in garrets in the Home Office or the Ministry of Justice producing these things. My hope was that the Minister would say that there were sufficient points here that he would come back to us at Third Reading with a beautifully professionally drafted amendment. However, I am not sure that the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made were terribly helpful. She talked about the recent amendment on revenge porn. The issue there was publishing material that had been shared in a private capacity more widely because the relationship had broken up. This does not apply in this instance; this is about eliciting an image from a child, not necessarily to share—although that might happen—but simply to obtain the image. So I am not sure that that change necessarily helps us on this issue. I am sure that we could all struggle with defining age and knowledge of age and we could no doubt find ways in which this proposal could be improved. I hope that the Government can accept that there are at least some points here that need to be looked at.
The Minister then went through, as predicted, some of the various sections that we talked about. Most of them require an intent to cause distress or anxiety, or that the matter is grossly offensive, or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character. As I have said repeatedly—I do not think that the Minister has addressed this issue—those are not the circumstances in which such messages are sent. They are sent not to cause offence to the child concerned, but to make children feel sufficiently comfortable to be able to share naked pictures of themselves.
The Minister referred to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, and causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity. I appreciate that there is a fine line to be drawn here, but I wonder whether it would be sufficient to achieve a conviction under Section 10 of that Act if all that the perpetrator has done is to persuade the child to stand naked in front of a webcam. No sexual activity is taking place there, so there are some issues around that.
The provision in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 depends on whether the sender knows or ought to know that what is happening amounts to harassment of another. Harassment includes alarming a person or causing a person distress—but the child concerned may not be alarmed or distressed at the point when the actions take place. The child may only realise many years later what they have done, and what the implications are. Again, I am simply not convinced that this is covered. Scotland has legislation covering this point; there is a gap in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
I am disappointed in the Minister’s reply. I take his offer for further consultation at face value, but I am conscious that Third Reading is only just over a week away, and I hope we can make some progress before then. Without that, I would feel that we need to return to these issues at that stage. However, on the basis of the promised discussions, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 46 withdrawn.
Clause 67: Offence of female genital mutilation: extra-territorial acts
46A: Clause 67, page 50, line 18, at end insert—
“( ) after section 4 insert—“4A Anonymity of victims
Schedule 1 provides for the anonymity of persons against whom a female genital mutilation offence (as defined in that Schedule) is alleged to have been committed.”;”
Amendment 46A agreed.
46B: Clause 67, page 50, line 21, at end insert—
“(1A) Insert as Schedule 1 to that Act the following Schedule—
Schedule 1Anonymity of victimsProhibition on the identification of victims in publications1 (1) This paragraph applies where an allegation has been made that a female genital mutilation offence has been committed against a person.
(2) No matter likely to lead members of the public to identify the person, as the person against whom the offence is alleged to have been committed, may be included in any publication during the person’s lifetime.
(3) For the purposes of this Schedule, any consent of the person to an act giving rise to the alleged offence is not to be taken as preventing that person from being regarded as a person against whom the alleged offence was committed.
(4) In any criminal proceedings before a court, the court may direct that the restriction imposed by sub-paragraph (2) is not to apply (whether at all in England and Wales and Northern Ireland, or to the extent specified in the direction) if the court is satisfied that either of the following conditions is met.
(5) The first condition is that the conduct of a person’s defence at a trial of a female genital mutilation offence would be substantially prejudiced if the direction is not given.
(6) The second condition is that—
(a) the effect of sub-paragraph (2) is to impose a substantial and unreasonable restriction on the reporting of the proceedings, and(b) it is in the public interest to remove or relax the restriction.(7) A direction under sub-paragraph (4) does not affect the operation of sub-paragraph (2) at any time before the direction is given.
(8) In this paragraph “the court” means—
(a) in England and Wales, a magistrates’ court or the Crown Court;(b) in Northern Ireland, a magistrates’ court, a county court or the Crown Court.Penalty for breaching prohibition imposed by paragraph 1(2)2 (1) If anything is included in a publication in contravention of the prohibition imposed by paragraph 1(2), each of the persons responsible for the publication is guilty of an offence.
(2) A person guilty of an offence under this paragraph is liable—
(a) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to a fine;(b) on summary conviction in Northern Ireland, to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.(3) The persons responsible for a publication are as follows—
Type of publication Persons responsible Newspaper or other periodical Any person who is a proprietor, editor or publisher of the newspaper or periodical. Relevant programme Any person who—is a body corporate engaged in providing the programme service in which the programme is included, or has functions in relation to the programme corresponding to those of an editor of a newspaper. Any other kind of publication Any person who publishes the publication.
Type of publication
Newspaper or other periodical
Any person who is a proprietor, editor or publisher of the newspaper or periodical.
Any person who—is a body corporate engaged in providing the programme service in which the programme is included, or has functions in relation to the programme corresponding to those of an editor of a newspaper.
Any other kind of publication
Any person who publishes the publication.
(a) a senior officer of a body corporate, or(b) a person purporting to act in such a capacity,the senior officer or person (as well as the body corporate) is guilty of the offence and liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.(5) “Senior officer”, in relation to a body corporate, means a director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate; and for this purpose “director”, in relation to a body corporate whose affairs are managed by its members, means a member of the body corporate.
(6) Proceedings for an offence under this paragraph—
(a) if alleged to have been committed in England and Wales, may not be instituted except by, or with the consent of, the Attorney General;(b) if alleged to have been committed in Northern Ireland, may not be instituted except by, or with the consent of, the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland.Offence under paragraph 2: defences3 (1) This paragraph applies where a person (“the defendant”) is charged with an offence under paragraph 2 as a result of the inclusion of any matter in a publication.
(2) It is a defence for the defendant to prove that at the time of the alleged offence, the defendant was not aware, and did not suspect or have reason to suspect, that—
(a) the publication included the matter in question, or(b) the allegation in question had been made.(3) It is a defence for the defendant to prove that the publication in which the matter appeared was one in respect of which the victim had given written consent to the appearance of matter of that description.
(4) The defence in sub-paragraph (3) is not available if—
(a) the victim was under the age of 16 at the time when her consent was given, or(b) a person interfered unreasonably with the peace and comfort of the victim with a view to obtaining her consent.(5) In this paragraph “the victim” means the person against whom the female genital mutilation offence in question is alleged to have been committed.
Special rules for providers of information society services4 (1) Paragraph 2 applies to a domestic service provider who, in the course of providing information society services, publishes prohibited matter in an EEA state other than the United Kingdom (as well as to a person, of any description, who publishes prohibited matter in England and Wales or Northern Ireland).
(2) Proceedings for an offence under paragraph 2, as it applies to a domestic service provider by virtue of sub-paragraph (1), may be taken at any place in England and Wales or Northern Ireland.
(3) The offence may for all incidental purposes be treated as having been committed at any place in England and Wales or Northern Ireland.
(4) Nothing in this paragraph affects the operation of any of paragraphs 6 to 8.
5 (1) Proceedings for an offence under paragraph 2 may not be taken against a non-UK service provider in respect of anything done in the course of the provision of information society services unless the derogation condition is met.
(2) The derogation condition is that taking proceedings—
(a) is necessary for the purposes of the public interest objective,(b) relates to an information society service that prejudices that objective or presents a serious and grave risk of prejudice to that objective, and(c) is proportionate to that objective.(3) “The public interest objective” means the pursuit of public policy.
6 (1) A service provider does not commit an offence under paragraph 2 by providing access to a communication network or by transmitting, in a communication network, information provided by a recipient of the service, if the service provider does not—
(a) initiate the transmission,(b) select the recipient of the transmission, or(c) select or modify the information contained in the transmission.(2) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (1)—
(a) providing access to a communication network, and(b) transmitting information in a communication network,include the automatic, intermediate and transient storage of the information transmitted so far as the storage is solely for the purpose of carrying out the transmission in the network.(3) Sub-paragraph (2) does not apply if the information is stored for longer than is reasonably necessary for the transmission.
7 (1) A service provider does not commit an offence under paragraph 2 by storing information provided by a recipient of the service for transmission in a communication network if the first and second conditions are met.
(2) The first condition is that the storage of the information—
(a) is automatic, intermediate and temporary, and(b) is solely for the purpose of making more efficient the onward transmission of the information to other recipients of the service at their request. (3) The second condition is that the service provider—
(a) does not modify the information,(b) complies with any conditions attached to having access to the information, and(c) if sub-paragraph (4) applies, promptly removes the information or disables access to it.(4) This sub-paragraph applies if the service provider obtains actual knowledge that—
(a) the information at the initial source of the transmission has been removed from the network,(b) access to it has been disabled, or(c) a court or administrative authority has ordered the removal from the network of, or the disablement of access to, the information.8 (1) A service provider does not commit an offence under paragraph 2 by storing information provided by a recipient of the service if—
(a) the service provider had no actual knowledge when the information was provided that it was, or contained, a prohibited publication, or(b) on obtaining actual knowledge that the information was, or contained, a prohibited publication, the service provider promptly removed the information or disabled access to it.(2) Sub-paragraph (1) does not apply if the recipient of the service is acting under the authority or control of the service provider.
Interpretation9 (1) In this Schedule—
“domestic service provider” means a service provider established in England and Wales or Northern Ireland;“the E-Commerce Directive” means Directive 2000/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2000 on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market (Directive on electronic commerce);“female genital mutilation offence” means—(a) an offence under section 1, 2, 3 or 3A;(b) an offence of attempt or conspiracy to commit any such offence;(c) an offence under Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 (encouraging or assisting crime) in relation to any such offence;“information society services”—(a) has the meaning given in Article 2(a) of the E-Commerce Directive (which refers to Article 1(2) of Directive 98/34/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 June 1998 laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulations), and(b) is summarised in recital 17 of the E-Commerce Directive as covering “any service normally provided for remuneration, at a distance, by means of electronic equipment for the processing (including digital compression) and storage of data, and at the individual request of a recipient of a service”;“non-UK service provider” means a service provider established in an EEA state other than the United Kingdom;“programme service” has the same meaning as in the Broadcasting Act 1990 (see section 201(1) of that Act);“prohibited material” means any material the publication of which contravenes paragraph 1(2);“publication” includes any speech, writing, relevant programme or other communication (in whatever form) which is addressed to, or is accessible by, the public at large or any section of the public; “recipient”, in relation to a service, means a person who, for professional ends or otherwise, uses an information society service, in particular for the purposes of seeking information or making it accessible;“relevant programme” means a programme included in a programme service;“service provider” means a person providing an information society service.(2) For the purposes of the definition of “publication” in sub-paragraph (1)—
(a) an indictment or other document prepared for use in particular legal proceedings is not to be taken as coming within the definition;(b) every relevant programme is to be taken as addressed to the public at large or to a section of the public.(3) For the purposes of the definitions of “domestic service provider” and “non-UK service provider” in sub-paragraph (1)—
(a) a service provider is established in a particular part of the United Kingdom, or in a particular EEA state, if the service provider—(i) effectively pursues an economic activity using a fixed establishment in that part of the United Kingdom, or that EEA state, for an indefinite period, and(ii) is a national of an EEA state or a company or firm mentioned in Article 54 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union;(b) the presence or use in a particular place of equipment or other technical means of providing an information society service does not, of itself, constitute the establishment of a service provider;(c) where it cannot be determined from which of a number of establishments a given information society service is provided, that service is to be regarded as provided from the establishment at the centre of the service provider’s activities relating to that service.””
Amendments 46C and 46D (to Amendment 46B) not moved.
Amendment 46B agreed.
46E: After Clause 67, insert the following new Clause—
“Offence of failing to protect girl from risk of genital mutilation
(1) The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 3 insert—
“3A Offence of failing to protect girl from risk of genital mutilation
(1) If a genital mutilation offence is committed against a girl under the age of 16, each person who is responsible for the girl at the relevant time is guilty of an offence.
(2) This is subject to subsection (5).
(3) For the purposes of this section a person is “responsible” for a girl in the following two cases.
(4) The first case is where the person—
(a) has parental responsibility for the girl, and(b) has frequent contact with her.(5) The second case is where the person—
(a) is aged 18 or over, and(b) has assumed (and not relinquished) responsibility for caring for the girl in the manner of a parent.(6) It is a defence for the defendant to show that—
(a) at the relevant time, the defendant did not think that there was a significant risk of a genital mutilation offence being committed against the girl, and could not reasonably have been expected to be aware that there was any such risk, or(b) the defendant took such steps as he or she could reasonably have been expected to take to protect the girl from being the victim of a genital mutilation offence.(7) A person is taken to have shown the fact mentioned in subsection (5)(a) or (b) if—
(a) sufficient evidence of the fact is adduced to raise an issue with respect to it, and(b) the contrary is not proved beyond reasonable doubt.(8) For the purposes of subsection (3)(b), where a person has frequent contact with a girl which is interrupted by her going to stay somewhere temporarily, that contact is treated as continuing during her stay there.
(9) In this section—
“genital mutilation offence” means an offence under section 1, 2 or 3 (and for the purposes of subsection (1) the prosecution does not have to prove which section it is);
(a) in England Wales, has the same meaning as in the Children Act 1989;(b) in Northern Ireland, has the same meaning as in the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (S.I. 1995/755 (N.I. 2));“the relevant time” means the time when the mutilation takes place.”
(3) In section 4 (extension of sections 1 to 3 to extra-territorial acts)—
(a) in the heading, for “3” substitute “3A” and after “acts” insert “or omissions”;(b) after subsection (1) insert—“(1A) An offence under section 3A can be committed wholly or partly outside the United Kingdom by a person who is a United Kingdom national or a United Kingdom resident.”
(4) In section 5 (penalties for offences)—
(a) for “A person guilty of an offence under this Act” substitute—“(1) A person guilty of an offence under section 1, 2 or 3”;
(b) at the end insert—“(2) A person guilty of an offence under section 3A is liable—
(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years or a fine (or both),(b) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or a fine (or both),(c) on summary conviction in Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (or both).””
Amendment 46F (to Amendment 46E) not moved.
Amendment 46E agreed.
46G: After Clause 67, insert the following new Clause—
“Female genital mutilation protection orders
(1) After section 5 of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 insert—
“5A Female genital mutilation protection orders
(1) Schedule 2 provides for the making of female genital mutilation protection orders.
(2) In that Schedule—
(a) Part 1 makes provision about powers of courts in England and Wales to make female genital mutilation protection orders;(b) Part 2 makes provision about powers of courts in Northern Ireland to make such orders.”(2) After Schedule 1 to that Act (inserted by section 67(1A)) insert—
Schedule 2Female genital mutilation protection ordersPart 1England and WalesPower to make FGM protection order1 (1) The court in England and Wales may make an order (an “FGM protection order”) for the purposes of—
(a) protecting a girl against the commission of a genital mutilation offence, or(b) protecting a girl against whom any such offence has been committed.(2) In deciding whether to exercise its powers under this paragraph and, if so, in what manner, the court must have regard to all the circumstances, including the need to secure the health, safety and well-being of the girl to be protected.
(3) An FGM protection order may contain—
(a) such prohibitions, restrictions or requirements, and(b) such other terms,as the court considers appropriate for the purposes of the order.(4) The terms of an FGM protection order may, in particular, relate to—
(a) conduct outside England and Wales as well as (or instead of) conduct within England and Wales;(b) respondents who are, or may become, involved in other respects as well as (or instead of) respondents who commit or attempt to commit, or may commit or attempt to commit, a genital mutilation offence against a girl;(c) other persons who are, or may become, involved in other respects as well as respondents of any kind.(5) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (4) examples of involvement in other respects are—
(a) aiding, abetting, counselling, procuring, encouraging or assisting another person to commit, or attempt to commit, a genital mutilation offence against a girl;(b) conspiring to commit, or to attempt to commit, such an offence.(6) An FGM protection order may be made for a specified period or until varied or discharged (see paragraph 6).
Applications and other occasions for making orders2 (1) The court may make an FGM protection order—
(a) on an application being made to it, or(b) without an application being made to it but in the circumstances mentioned in sub-paragraph (6).(2) An application may be made by—
(a) the girl who is to be protected by the order, or(b) a relevant third party.(3) An application may be made by any other person with the leave of the court.
(4) In deciding whether to grant leave, the court must have regard to all the circumstances including—
(a) the applicant’s connection with the girl to be protected;(b) the applicant’s knowledge of the circumstances of the girl. (5) An application under this paragraph may be made in other family proceedings or without any other family proceedings being instituted.
(6) The circumstances in which the court may make an order without an application being made are where—
(a) any other family proceedings are before the court (“the current proceedings”),(b) the court considers that an FGM protection order should be made to protect a girl (whether or not a party to the proceedings), and(c) a person who would be a respondent to any proceedings for an FGM protection order is a party to the current proceedings.(7) In this paragraph—
“family proceedings” has the same meaning as in Part 4 of the Family Law Act 1996 (see section 63(1) and (2) of that Act), but also includes—(a) proceedings under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court in relation to adults,(b) proceedings in which the court has made an emergency protection order under section 44 of the Children Act 1989 which includes an exclusion requirement (as defined in section 44A(3) of that Act), and(c) proceedings in which the court has made an order under section 50 of the Children Act 1989 (recovery of abducted children etc); “relevant third party” means a person specified, or falling within a description of persons specified, by regulations made by the Lord Chancellor (and such regulations may, in particular, specify the Secretary of State).(8) Regulations under sub-paragraph (7) are to be made by statutory instrument, and any such instrument is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
Power to make order in criminal proceedings3 The court before which there are criminal proceedings in England and Wales for a genital mutilation offence may make an FGM protection order (without an application being made to it) if—
(a) the court considers that an FGM protection order should be made to protect a girl (whether or not the victim of the offence in relation to the criminal proceedings), and(b) a person who would be a respondent to any proceedings for an FGM protection order is a defendant in the criminal proceedings.Offence of breaching order4 (1) A person who without reasonable excuse does anything that the person is prohibited from doing by an FGM protection order is guilty of an offence.
(2) In the case of an FGM protection order made by virtue of paragraph 5(1), a person can be guilty of an offence under this paragraph only in respect of conduct engaged in at a time when the person was aware of the existence of the order.
(3) Where a person is convicted of an offence under this paragraph in respect of any conduct, the conduct is not punishable as a contempt of court.
(4) A person cannot be convicted of an offence under this paragraph in respect of any conduct which has been punished as a contempt of court.
(5) A person guilty of an offence under this paragraph is liable—
(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or a fine, or both;(b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or a fine, or both.(6) A reference in any enactment to proceedings under this Part of this Schedule, or to an order under this Part of this Schedule, does not include a reference to proceedings for an offence under this paragraph or to an order made in proceedings for such an offence.
(7) “Enactment” includes an enactment contained in subordinate legislation within the meaning of the Interpretation Act 1978.
Ex parte orders5 (1) The court may, in any case where it is just and convenient to do so, make an FGM protection order even though the respondent has not been given such notice of the proceedings as would otherwise be required by rules of court.
(2) In deciding whether to exercise its powers under sub-paragraph (1), the court must have regard to all the circumstances including—
(a) the risk to the girl, or to another person, of becoming a victim of a genital mutilation offence if the order is not made immediately,(b) whether it is likely that an applicant will be deterred or prevented from pursuing an application if an order is not made immediately, and(c) whether there is reason to believe that—(i) the respondent is aware of the proceedings but is deliberately evading service, and(ii) the delay involved in effecting substituted service will cause serious prejudice to the girl to be protected or (if different) an applicant.(3) The court must give the respondent an opportunity to make representations about an order made by virtue of sub-paragraph (1).
(4) The opportunity must be—
(a) as soon as just and convenient, and(b) at a hearing of which notice has been given to all the parties in accordance with rules of court.Variation and discharge of orders6 (1) The court may vary or discharge an FGM protection order on an application by—
(a) any party to the proceedings for the order,(b) the girl being protected by the order (if not a party to the proceedings for the order), or(c) any person affected by the order.(2) In the case of an order made in criminal proceedings under paragraph 3, the reference in sub-paragraph (1)(a) to a party to the proceedings for the order is to be read as a reference to the prosecution and the defendant.
(3) In addition, the court may vary or discharge an FGM protection order made by virtue of paragraph 2(1)(b) or 3 even though no application under sub-paragraph (1) above has been made to the court.
(4) Paragraph 5 applies to a variation of an FGM protection order as it applies to the making of such an order (and references in that paragraph to the making of an FGM protection order are to be read accordingly).
Arrest under warrant7 (1) An interested party may apply to the relevant judge for the issue of a warrant for the arrest of a person if the interested party considers that the person has failed to comply with an FGM protection order or is otherwise in contempt of court in relation to such an order.
(2) The relevant judge must not issue a warrant on an application under sub-paragraph (1) unless—
(a) the application is substantiated on oath, and(b) the relevant judge has reasonable grounds for believing that the person to be arrested has failed to comply with the order or is otherwise in contempt of court in relation to the order.(3) In this paragraph “interested party”, in relation to an FGM protection order, means—
(a) the girl being protected by the order, (b) (if a different person) the person who applied for the order, or(c) any other person;but no application may be made under sub-paragraph (1) by a person falling within paragraph (c) without leave of the relevant judge.Remand: general8 (1) The court before which an arrested person is brought by virtue of a warrant under paragraph 7 may, if the matter is not then disposed of immediately, remand the person concerned.
(2) Paragraphs 9 to 14 contain further provision about the powers of a court to remand under this paragraph.
(3) Sub-paragraph (4) applies if a person remanded under this paragraph is granted bail under paragraphs 10 to 14.
(4) The person may be required by the relevant judge to comply, before release on bail or later, with such requirements as appear to the judge to be necessary to secure that the person does not interfere with witnesses or otherwise obstruct the course of justice.
Remand: medical examination and report9 (1) Any power to remand a person under paragraph 8(1) may be exercised for the purpose of enabling a medical examination and report to be made if the relevant judge has reason to consider that a medical report will be required.
(2) If such a power is so exercised, the adjournment must not be for more than four weeks at a time unless the relevant judge remands the accused in custody.
(3) If the relevant judge remands the accused in custody, the adjournment must not be for more than three weeks at a time.
(4) Sub-paragraph (5) applies if there is reason to suspect that a person who has been arrested under a warrant issued on an application under paragraph 7(1) is suffering from mental disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 1983.
(5) The relevant judge has the same power to make an order under section 35 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (remand for report on accused’s mental condition) as the Crown Court has under section 35 of that Act in the case of an accused person within the meaning of that section.
Remand: further provision10 (1) Where a court has power to remand a person under paragraph 8, the court may remand the person in custody or on bail.
(2) If remanded in custody, the person is to be committed to custody to be brought before the court—
(a) at the end of the period of remand, or(b) at such earlier time as the court may require.(3) The court may remand a person on bail—
(a) by taking from the person a recognizance (with or without sureties) conditioned as provided in paragraph 11, or(b) by fixing the amount of the recognizances with a view to their being taken subsequently in accordance with paragraph 14 and, in the meantime, committing the person to custody as mentioned in sub-paragraph (2) above.(4) Where a person is brought before the court after remand the court may further remand the person.
(5) In this paragraph and in paragraphs 11 to 14, references to “the court” includes a reference to a judge of the court or, in the case of proceedings in a magistrates’ court, a justice of the peace.
11 (1) Where a person is remanded on bail, the court may direct that the person’s recognizance be conditioned for his or her appearance—
(a) before the court at the end of the period of remand, or(b) at every time and place to which during the course of the proceedings the hearing may from time to time be adjourned. (2) Where a recognizance is conditioned for a person’s appearance as mentioned in sub-paragraph (1), the fixing of any time for the person next to appear is to be treated as a remand.
(3) Nothing in this paragraph deprives the court of power at any subsequent hearing to remand a person afresh.
12 (1) The court may not remand a person for a period exceeding 8 clear days unless—
(a) the court adjourns a case under paragraph 9(1), or(b) the person is remanded on bail and both that person and the other party to the proceedings (or, in the case of criminal proceedings, the prosecution) consent.(2) If sub-paragraph (1)(a) applies, the person may be remanded for the period of the adjournment.
(3) Where the court has power to remand a person in custody, the person may be committed to the custody of a constable if the remand is for a period not exceeding 3 clear days.
13 (1) If the court is satisfied that a person who has been remanded is unable by reason of illness or accident to appear before the court at the end of the period of remand, the court may further remand the person in his or her absence.
(2) The power in sub-paragraph (1) may, in the case of a person who was remanded on bail, be exercised by enlarging the person’s recognizance and those of any sureties to a later time.
(3) Where a person remanded on bail is bound to appear before the court at any time and the court has no power to remand the person under sub-paragraph (1), the court may, in the person’s absence, enlarge the person’s recognizance and those of any sureties for the person to a later time.
(4) The enlargement of a person’s recognizance is to be treated as a further remand.
(5) Paragraph 12(1) (limit of remand) does not apply to the exercise of the powers conferred by this paragraph.
14 (1) This paragraph applies where under paragraph 10(3)(b) the court fixes the amount in which the principal and the sureties (if any) are to be bound.
(2) The recognizance may afterwards be taken by a person prescribed by rules of court (with the same consequences as if it had been entered into before the court).
Contempt proceedings15 The powers of the court in relation to contempt of court arising out of a person’s failure to comply with an FGM protection order, or otherwise in connection with such an order, may be exercised by the relevant judge.
Other protection or assistance against female genital mutilation16 (1) Nothing in this Part of this Schedule affects any other protection or assistance available to a girl who is or may become the victim of a genital mutilation offence.
(2) In particular, it does not affect—
(a) the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court;(b) any criminal liability;(c) any civil remedies under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997;(d) any right to an occupation order or a non-molestation order under Part 4 of the Family Law Act 1996;(e) any right to a forced marriage protection order under Part 4A of that Act;(f) any protection or assistance under the Children Act 1989;(g) any claim in tort.Interpretation17 (1) In this Part of this Schedule—
“the court”, except as provided in sub-paragraph (2), means the High Court, or the family court, in England and Wales;“FGM protection order” means an order under paragraph 1; “genital mutilation offence” means an offence under section 1, 2 or 3;“the relevant judge”, in relation to an FGM protection order, means—(a) where the order was made by the High Court, a judge of that court;(b) where the order was made by the family court, a judge of that court;(c) where the order was made by a court in criminal proceedings under paragraph 3—(i) a judge of that court, or (ii) a judge of the High Court or of the family court.(2) Where the power to make an FGM protection order is exercisable by a court in criminal proceedings under paragraph 3, references in this Part of this Schedule to “the court” (other than in paragraph 2) are to be read as references to that court.
(3) In paragraph (c)(i) of the definition of “relevant judge” in sub-paragraph (1), the reference to a judge of the court that made the order includes, in the case of criminal proceedings in a magistrates’ court, a reference to a justice of the peace.
Part 2Northern IrelandPower to make FGM protection order18 (1) The court in Northern Ireland may make an order (an “FGM protection order”) for the purposes of—
(a) protecting a girl against the commission of a genital mutilation offence, or(b) protecting a girl against whom any such offence has been committed.(2) In deciding whether to exercise its powers under this paragraph and, if so, in what manner, the court must have regard to all the circumstances, including the need to secure the health, safety and well-being of the girl to be protected.
(3) An FGM protection order may contain—
(a) such prohibitions, restrictions or requirements, and(b) such other terms,as the court considers appropriate for the purposes of the order.(4) The terms of an FGM protection order may, in particular, relate to—
(a) conduct outside Northern Ireland as well as (or instead of) conduct within Northern Ireland;(b) respondents who are, or may become, involved in other respects as well as (or instead of) respondents who commit or attempt to commit, or may commit or attempt to commit, a genital mutilation offence against a girl;(c) other persons who are, or may become, involved in other respects as well as respondents of any kind.(5) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (4) examples of involvement in other respects are—
(a) aiding, abetting, counselling, procuring, encouraging or assisting another person to commit, or attempt to commit, a genital mutilation offence against a girl;(b) conspiring to commit, or to attempt to commit, such an offence.(6) An FGM protection order may be made for a specified period or until varied or discharged (see paragraph 23).
Applications and other occasions for making orders19 (1) The court may make an FGM protection order—
(a) on an application being made to it, or(b) without an application being made to it but in the circumstances mentioned in sub-paragraph (6).(2) An application may be made by—
(a) the girl who is to be protected by the order, or(b) a relevant third party. (3) An application may be made by any other person with the leave of the court.
(4) In deciding whether to grant leave, the court must have regard to all the circumstances including—
(a) the applicant’s connection with the girl to be protected;(b) the applicant’s knowledge of the circumstances of the girl.(5) An application under this paragraph may be made in family proceedings or without any family proceedings being instituted.
(6) The circumstances in which the court may make an order without an application being made are where—
(a) any family proceedings are before the court (“the current proceedings”),(b) the court considers that an FGM protection order should be made to protect a girl (whether or not a party to the proceedings), and(c) a person who would be a respondent to any proceedings for an FGM protection order is a party to the current proceedings.(7) In this paragraph—
“family proceedings” has the same meaning as in the Family Homes and Domestic Violence (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 (S.I. 1998/1071 (N.I. 6)) (see Article 2(2) and (3) of that Order), but also includes—(a) proceedings under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court in relation to adults,(b) proceedings in which the court has made an emergency protection order under Article 63 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (S.I. 1995/755 (N.I. 2)) which includes an exclusion requirement (as defined in Article 63A of that Order), and(c) proceedings in which the court has made an order under Article 69 of the 1995 Order (recovery of abducted children etc); “relevant third party” means a person specified, or falling within a description of persons specified, by order made by the Department of Finance and Personnel (and any such order may, in particular, specify that Department).Power to make order in criminal proceedings20 The court before which there are criminal proceedings in Northern Ireland for a genital mutilation offence may make an FGM protection order (without an application being made to it) if—
(a) the court considers that an FGM protection order should be made to protect a girl (whether or not the victim of the offence in relation to the criminal proceedings), and(b) a person who would be a respondent to any proceedings for an FGM protection order is a defendant in the criminal proceedings.Offence of breaching order21 (1) A person who without reasonable excuse does anything that the person is prohibited from doing by an FGM protection order is guilty of an offence.
(2) A person guilty of an offence under this paragraph is liable—
(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or a fine, or both;(b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or both.Ex parte orders22 (1) The court may, in any case where it is just and convenient to do so, make an FGM protection order even though the respondent has not been given such notice of the proceedings as would otherwise be required by rules of court.
(2) In deciding whether to exercise its powers under sub-paragraph (1), the court must have regard to all the circumstances including—
(a) the risk to the girl, or to another person, of becoming a victim of a genital mutilation offence if the order is not made immediately,(b) whether it is likely that an applicant will be deterred or prevented from pursuing an application if an order is not made immediately, and(c) whether there is reason to believe that—(i) the respondent is aware of the proceedings but is deliberately evading service, and(ii) the delay involved in effecting substituted service will cause serious prejudice to the girl to be protected or (if different) an applicant.(3) If the court makes an order by virtue of sub-paragraph (1), it must specify a date for a full hearing.
(4) In sub-paragraph (3), “full hearing” means a hearing of which notice has been given to all the parties in accordance with rules of court.
Variation and discharge of orders23 (1) The court may vary or discharge an FGM protection order on an application by—
(a) any party to the proceedings for the order,(b) the girl being protected by the order (if not a party to the proceedings for the order), or(c) any person affected by the order.(2) In the case of an order made in criminal proceedings under paragraph 20, the reference in sub-paragraph (1)(a) to a party to the proceedings for the order is to be read as a reference to the prosecution and the defendant.
(3) In addition, the court may vary or discharge an FGM protection order made by virtue of paragraph 19(1)(b) or 20 even though no application under sub-paragraph (1) above has been made to the court.
(4) Paragraph 22 applies to a variation of an FGM protection order as it applies to the making of such an order (and references in that paragraph to the making of an FGM protection order are to be read accordingly).
Jurisdiction of courts24 (1) For the purposes of this Part of this Schedule, “the court” means the High Court, or a county court, in Northern Ireland.
(2) Sub-paragraph (1) is subject to—
(a) sub-paragraph (3), and(b) any provision made by virtue of sub-paragraph (4) or (5).(3) Where the power to make an FGM protection order is exercisable by a court in criminal proceedings under paragraph 20, references in this Part of this Schedule to “the court” (other than in paragraph 19) are to be read as references to that court.
(4) Article 34(3) to (10) of the Family Homes and Domestic Violence (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 (S.I. 1998/1071 (N.I. 6)) (allocation of proceedings to courts etc) applies for the purposes of this Part of this Schedule as it applies for the purposes of that Order but as if the following modification were made.
(5) The modification is that Article 34(8) is to be read as if there were substituted for it—
“(8) For the purposes of paragraphs (3), (4) and (5), there are two levels of court—(a) the High Court; and(b) a county court.”Power to extend jurisdiction to courts of summary jurisdiction25 (1) The Department of Justice in Northern Ireland may, after consulting the Lord Chief Justice, by order provide for courts of summary jurisdiction to be included among the courts who may hear proceedings under this Part of this Schedule.
(2) An order under sub-paragraph (1) may, in particular, make any provision in relation to courts of summary jurisdiction which corresponds to provision made in relation to such courts by or under the Family Homes and Domestic Violence (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 (S.I. 1998/1071 (N.I. 6)).
(3) Any power to make an order under this paragraph (including the power as extended by paragraph 29(1)) may, in particular, be exercised by amending, repealing, revoking or otherwise modifying any provision made by or under this Part of this Schedule or any other enactment.
(4) In sub-paragraph (3) “enactment” includes Northern Ireland legislation.
(5) The Lord Chief Justice may nominate any of the following to exercise the Lord Chief Justice’s functions under this Part of this Schedule—
(a) the holder of one of the offices listed in Schedule 1 to the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002;(b) a Lord Justice of Appeal (as defined by section 88 of that Act).Contempt proceedings26 The powers of the court in relation to contempt of court arising out of a person’s failure to comply with an FGM protection order, or otherwise in connection with such an order, may be exercised by the relevant judge.
Appeals from county courts27 (1) An appeal lies to the High Court against—
(a) the making by a county court of any order under this Part of this Schedule, or(b) any refusal by a county court to make such an order,as if the decision had been made in the exercise of the jurisdiction conferred by Part 3 of the County Courts (Northern Ireland) Order 1980 (S.I. 1980/397 (N.I. 3)) (original civil jurisdiction) and the appeal were brought under Article 60 of that Order (ordinary appeals in civil cases).(2) But an appeal does not lie to the High Court under sub-paragraph (1) where the county court is a divorce county court exercising jurisdiction under the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 (S.I. 1978/1045 (N.I. 15)) in the same proceedings.
(3) Provision must be made by rules of court for an appeal to lie (upon a point of law, a question of fact or the admission or rejection of any evidence) to the Court of Appeal against—
(a) the making of any order under this Part of this Schedule, or(b) any refusal to make such an order,by a county court of the type referred to in sub-paragraph (2).(4) Sub-paragraph (3) is without prejudice to Article 61 of the County Courts (Northern Ireland) Order 1980 (S.I. 1980/397 (N.I. 3)) (cases stated).
(5) On an appeal under sub-paragraph (1), the High Court may make such orders as may be necessary to give effect to its determination of the appeal.
(6) Where an order is made under sub-paragraph (5), the High Court may also make such incidental or consequential orders as appear to it to be just.
(7) Any order of the High Court made on an appeal under sub-paragraph (1) (other than one directing that an application be re-heard by the county court) is to be treated, for the purposes of—
(a) the enforcement of the order, and(b) any power to vary, revive or discharge orders,as if it were an order of the county court from which the appeal was brought and not an order of the High Court.(8) This paragraph is subject to paragraph 28.
Appeals: transfers and proposed transfers28 (1) The Department of Justice in Northern Ireland may, after consulting the Lord Chief Justice, by order make provision as to the circumstances in which appeals may be made against decisions taken by courts on questions arising in connection with the transfer, or proposed transfer, of proceedings by virtue of an order made under Article 34(5) of the Family Homes and Domestic Violence (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 (S.I. 1998/1071 (N.I. 6)) as applied by paragraph 24(4) and (5) above.
(2) Except so far as provided for in any order made under sub-paragraph (1), no appeal may be made against any decision of a kind mentioned in that sub-paragraph.
(3) The Lord Chief Justice may nominate any of the following to exercise the Lord Chief Justice’s functions under this paragraph—
(a) the holder of one of the offices listed in Schedule 1 to the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002;(b) a Lord Justice of Appeal (as defined in section 88 of that Act).Orders29 (1) An order made under or by virtue of paragraph 19(7), 24(4) and (5), 25(1) or 28(1)—
(a) may make different provision for different purposes;(b) may contain incidental, supplemental, consequential, transitional, transitory or saving provision;(c) is to be made by statutory rule for the purposes of the Statutory Rules (Northern Ireland) Order 1979 (S.I. 1979/1573 (N.I. 12)).(2) An order made under or by virtue of paragraph 19(7), 24(4) and (5) or 28(1) is subject to negative resolution (within the meaning of section 41(6) of the Interpretation Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 (c. 33 (N.I))).
(3) An order under paragraph 25(1) may not be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the Northern Ireland Assembly.
(4) Section 41(3) of the Interpretation Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 (c. 33 (N.I.)) applies for the purposes of sub-paragraph (3) in relation to the laying of a draft as it applies in relation to the laying of a statutory document under an enactment.
Other protection or assistance against female genital mutilation30 (1) Nothing in this Part of this Schedule affects any other protection or assistance available to a girl who is or may become the victim of a genital mutilation offence.
(2) In particular, it does not affect—
(a) the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court;(b) any criminal liability;(c) any right to an occupation order or a non-molestation order under the Family Homes and Domestic Violence (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 (S.I. 1998/1071 (N.I. 6));(d) any civil remedies under the Protection from Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 (S.I. 1997/1180 (N.I. 9));(e) any protection or assistance under the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (S.I. 1995/755 (N.I. 2));(f) any right to a forced marriage protection order under Schedule 1 to the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007;(g) any claim in tort.Interpretation31 In this Part of this Schedule—
“the court” is to be read in accordance with paragraph 24;“FGM protection order” means an order under paragraph 18;“genital mutilation offence” means an offence under section 1, 2 or 3;“the relevant judge”, in relation to an FGM protection order, means—(a) where the order was made by the High Court, a judge of that court;(b) where the order was made by a county court, a judge or district judge of that or any other county court; (c) where the order was made by a court in criminal proceedings under paragraph 20— (i) a judge of that court, or (ii) a judge of the High Court or a judge or district judge of a county court.””
Amendment 46G agreed.
47: After Clause 67, insert the following new Clause—
“Protection of children: duty on internet service providers
(1) Internet service providers which provide third parties with any means or mechanisms to store digital content on the internet or other location remote from the third party must consider whether and to what extent the services they provide might be open to abuse by such third parties to store or transmit indecent images of children, contrary to section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 (indecent photographs of children).
(2) Where an internet service provider considers that there is a material risk that their network or other facilities could be misused as set out in subsection (1), they must take such reasonable steps as might mitigate, reduce, eliminate or other disrupt said behaviour or restrict access to such images.
(3) In this section, “internet service provider” has the same meaning as in section 124N of the Communication Act 2003 (interpretation).”
I am grateful to the Lord Chairman for allowing me to collect my thoughts on this amendment while he was going through those other amendments. The purpose of this amendment, which is rather different from that of the previous one, is to create a requirement for an internet service provider that provides a facility for the storage of digital content to consider—no more than that—whether and to what extent that facility might be open to abuse by the storage of indecent images of children. Where the service provider,
“considers that there is a material risk … they must take such reasonable steps as might mitigate, reduce, eliminate or … disrupt”,
The context of the amendment is the fact that there are tools available to internet service providers to find out whether such indecent material is contained on their systems. As I am sure noble Lords are aware, images are reduced to digital content as a series of zeroes and ones, so even a very complex image, whether pornographic or otherwise, is simply reduced to a series of zeroes and ones. Most abuse photographs are circulated and recirculated. Many of them are known to the law enforcement authorities, and it is possible for those authorities to search for identical images, so that they know whether a particular image has appeared before, and in what circumstances.
However, I am told that increasingly, abusers are making tiny changes to images—sometimes no more than one pixel—so that the images are not identical, and are not picked up in the same way by those methods. However, I understand that Microsoft has developed a system called PhotoDNA, which it is making available free to providers. This converts images into greyscale and breaks the greyscale image down into a grid. Then each individual square on the grid is given what is called a histogram of intensity gradients; essentially, that decides how grey each square is. The signature based on those values provides a hash value, as they call it, which is unique to that particular image—I appreciate that these are technical terms, and until I started looking into this I did not know about them either. This technique allows people to identify images that are essentially the same.
Until now, the way to identify which images are essentially the same is that some poor police officer or analyst has had to look at all the images concerned. But it is now possible to do that automatically. Because the technology can operate in a robust fashion, it can identify what images are appearing, and whether they are essentially the same. It is not possible to recreate the image concerned from that PhotoDNA signature; it is only possible to scan systems or databases for signature matches. What is more, because the data for each signature are so small, the technology can scan a large volume of images extremely quickly. Apparently there is a 98% recognition rate.
I have gone through that in some detail simply to illustrate that there are such techniques available. I believe that Google is working on something—which would, of course, have to be bigger and more complex than what has been produced by Microsoft—which will do the same for videos. It will then be possible to identify similar videos in the same fashion.
The benefit of these techniques is that they make it possible for ISPs to trawl their entire database—to trawl what people are storing online and to identify whether some of the previously known indecent images are in the system. They will then be able to see whether there is a package, or a pattern, and whether particular users are storing more than others. That then gives them the opportunity to raise that issue with law enforcement officials or take disruptive action, perhaps by withdrawing service from that user.
The benefits of the specific technology are that humans do not have to scan the individual images. A number of noble Lords have seen the suites used by CEOP or New Scotland Yard whereby a row of police officers sit viewing indecent images of child pornography, which is distressing for those officers and possibly harmful to them in the long term. That does not need to happen in this case. The service providers do not have to store the images that they are matching to carry out this exercise because all they are storing are the DNA hash values of the images concerned, and they are therefore not exposing themselves to potential charges as far as that is concerned. The technology makes this comparatively easy and simple to do and does not involve a great deal of data. It also means that the service providers are not interfering in any way with the privacy of their users other than to check, in this anonymised way where they do not view the images, that no images contained there are of known child pornography.
The purpose of this amendment is to place an obligation on service providers to make use of these technologies as they are developed. Some providers already do this and are willing to do this. I think that Facebook has quite a good record as far as this is concerned. However, the amendment would place an obligation on all of them to consider whether they should use these techniques. As I say, in this instance Microsoft is making the technology and the system available free to providers.
Before the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, goes through whatever drafting faults the amendment may contain, I should point out why I think it is important. In our discussions just three months ago on the DRIPA legislation it was suggested that one of the reasons why the relevant changes were being made was to provide service providers with legal cover against legal challenge in other countries in which people asked why they were allowing law enforcement officials to do these things. The amendment would provide some legal cover for those service providers—in exactly the same way as the DRIPA legislation does—against challenges that this measure somehow infringes the freedom of speech of people who want to store pornographic images of children. The purpose of this amendment is to require service providers to consider whether or not they might be at risk of this misuse and then to take appropriate reasonable steps using the best available techniques to,
“mitigate, reduce, eliminate or … disrupt”,
it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise briefly to speak in support of Amendment 47 of the noble Lord, Lord Harris. Some may take the view that internet service providers cannot be held responsible for information that people use them to hold. Although, in my view, ISPs certainly do not have responsibility for generating content, they do, however, play a very important role in facilitating it: first, in the sense that storage protects the material in question and thereby helps to guarantee its continued existence; and, secondly, in the sense of providing a basis from which the said material may be transmitted. In so doing, they have a responsibility actively to take all reasonable steps to ensure, on an ongoing basis, that they are not facilitating the storage and/or transmission of material of the kind set out in subsection (1) of the clause proposed in the amendment.
For myself, I would also like ISPs to have to demonstrate that these active steps have indeed been taken, and are being taken, on an ongoing basis. We must foster a legislative framework that exhibits zero tolerance of all aspects of child sex abuse images, including ISPs facilitating the storage and/or transmission of such images. I very much look forward to listening to what the Minister has to say in his response to this important amendment.
My Lords, I hate to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Harris, but I fear that I am going to, as I simply have a question for him. I speak from a basis of almost no technological knowledge, but I would have thought that, presumably, all the services are open to abuse. Can I just ask what consultation there has been on this? The noble Lord talked about the responsible, innovative and exciting—if you are that way inclined—work being done by some of the ISPs. Like him, I have found the big players to be very responsible and wanting to be seen to be responsible. However, the proposed provision would obviously put an obligation on them. I would be interested to know how they have responded to it, if the noble Lord has had the opportunity to ascertain that.
My Lords, I rise to speak briefly on this issue. During the Recess we had a meeting with Microsoft to discuss how it approached this matter. I was grateful for that because I probably share only one thing with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and that is that I have no technical knowledge or expertise and felt quite at a loss when looking at these issues. Microsoft officials gave us an understanding of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, about the codes used to identify photographs and the hash code it used and they discussed whether it was an offence to store the coded photograph itself. Microsoft has developed its PhotoDNA technology that enables it to identify minor changes that abusers make in trying to slide past any checks and balances in the system, so it is carrying out impressive work to try to address this issue.
In listening to the presentation, I was particularly shocked by the sheer number of photographs and images, and the numbers of people involved, worldwide. At the beginning of his comments, the right relevant Prelate the Bishop of Derby, I think, referred to a recent case in Southend. That is close to where I live, so noble Lords can imagine that my local papers had a tremendous amount of coverage of that and I had commented on it. The case involved the head teacher of a local private school, who was interviewed by the police following the fact that his name came to light in an investigation carried out originally in Toronto. His name was passed to the UK, but it took far too long—well over a year—for him to be interviewed, following delays at CEOP and the police. When he was finally interviewed, he was found dead the following day. The amount of information that was found on his computer was staggering. Time will tell us the outcome of this as the investigations progress, but presumably that head teacher must have had links with people in other parts of the country and elsewhere in the world, and photographs may have been exchanged; certainly, he obtained photographs from others.
The scale of that activity is phenomenal and it is a tall order to expect the police to visit every single person involved in it. Having said that, I am critical of the fact that so few people, who we know have committed these abuse offences and have inappropriate images of children, have been visited by the police. I think that we could do far better in that regard and the delays are a cause for concern. However, we are talking about a massive number of people, so if technology is available that can block these photographs or allow the police to identify people more quickly, we should take every available opportunity to use it.
As I say, I was very impressed by the efforts being taken both by Microsoft, which briefed us, and by others to ensure that they can identify photographs, code them and pass on information. As I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, does not place an obligation on internet service providers but allows them to take action. It basically says that they should consider the issue and, if there is a material risk, they should look at what they can do and take reasonable steps that might,
“mitigate, reduce, eliminate or other disrupt said behaviour”.
There are no sanctions or penalties for failing to do so, but it allows the internet service providers to take some action—action that we would want them to take and, I think, they would want to take.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, has already said that he does not feel that he has a monopoly on being the world’s greatest drafter and is prepared to accept that there occasionally may be things that could be improved. He has, however, hit on something here. It is an issue to be addressed. I hope that the Government are having urgent meetings with the ISPs to see how they can work together on this. This amendment provides an opportunity to do so, and I would be interested to know what discussions the Government are having with internet service providers. It is an issue that we need to address. If we can deal with it at source and identify those who are responsible early on, it seems to me that would be a huge step forward in protecting children from this kind of abuse.
My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right again, in the sense that technology is the problem and therefore technology needs to offer the solution. Simply put, the numbers and the scale—of course, she has had those briefings and I have had them, too—are both distressing and mind-blowing in terms of their reach. As the technology is not limited to, and does not respect, geographies or jurisdictions, the matter is a global one. Therefore, we need to work very closely with the industry to ensure that this can be done.
I want to cover some of the issues that are being addressed at present which noble Lords may not be aware of. We recognise the concerns that the noble Lord has raised about the use of the internet to store and circulate indecent images of children. We fully accept that more needs to be done to address this issue, but I hope to be able to persuade the noble Lord that legislation is not required at this point, although we continue to keep that option under review.
We believe that the internet industry operating in the UK has taken significant steps, on a self-regulatory basis, to tackle the availability of indecent images online. The internet industry in the UK has worked closely for many years with the Internet Watch Foundation and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection command of the National Crime Agency to tackle illegal images. We recognise the support that responsible internet service providers have given to the Internet Watch Foundation, both financially and through taking action on the Internet Watch Foundation’s list of web pages identified as containing illegal images by either taking down such sites, if they are hosted in the UK, or blocking access to them if they are overseas.
The public and businesses can report images to the Internet Watch Foundation, which assesses them and determines whether they are illegal. Indeed, the Internet Watch Foundation took more than 51,000 reports from all sources last year. If the site containing the image is hosted in the UK, the details will be passed to law enforcement agencies, and the ISP will be asked to take down the web page using the “notice and take down” process. In 2013, the Internet Watch Foundation found that 47% of UK child abuse web pages were removed within 60 minutes. Thanks to the work of the Internet Watch Foundation, and the internet industry, less than 1% of the global total of indecent images of children is hosted in the UK.
However, we are not complacent, and we recognise the need to adapt to changing uses of technology by paedophiles. As the Prime Minister made clear in his speech to the NSPCC in July last year, we need to do more to eradicate these images from the internet and, in particular, ensure that the internet industry plays its full part in doing so. We have been working closely with the industry, and with its support we believe that significant steps have been taken towards removing these images. We have asked internet search engine providers such as Google—which was referred to by the noble Baroness and also by the noble Lord—and Microsoft to make changes to their search mechanisms, and these measures have been effective in preventing access to child abuse images.
We are also creating a new child abuse image database, using much of the same technology that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to in setting out and introducing his amendment. This will enable the police to identify known images more quickly on suspects’ computers and will improve their ability to identify and safeguard victims from the images. A key part of this is not just about lining up prosecutions by identifying these images or getting the images taken down; it is about realising that the children behind them are vulnerable victims and need to be protected and get the help and support that they need.
Not only do we want the industry to remove such images, we want it to use its technical skills and capability to help develop the technical solutions to prevent the dissemination of these images online. The Home Office and the US Department of Justice have created a taskforce that provides a platform for industry to develop technical solutions to online child sexual exploitation. This work is ongoing under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lady Shields.
The UK will host a summit in December on online child exploitation. We have invited representatives of key partner Governments and organisations, including the internet industry, to participate in the summit, which will focus on protecting the victims of online child abuse and examine how we can work internationally to prevent children being exploited online.
The Government are very clear that those who provide services online, particularly those where images can be stored—a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, made—have a responsibility to take action to prevent those services being used for the purposes of storing and sharing indecent images of children. In that regard, as she rightly said, we should have zero tolerance. We believe that internet service providers operating in the UK have a good record in this respect, both through their support for the Internet Watch Foundation and through the actions that they are taking to support the Prime Minister’s call for action.
Against this background of good co-operation and progress at present, we believe that the current system of self-regulation has been effective, and we are not persuaded at this time that more would be achieved by placing a legal requirement on these companies. In that regard I hope that, having heard the progress that has been made and our undertaking to keep this under review, the noble Lord will feel sufficiently reassured to consider withdrawing his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and my noble friend Lady Smith for the support that they have given to this amendment. To the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I say that, as I am not doing this on behalf of the Government or anyone else, I am not engaged in a lengthy process of consultation with internet service providers, but I would make the point that this is a very soft change. It is simply asking them to consider and, where they think there is a material risk, to take reasonable steps. It is difficult to imagine any internet service provider, unless it wants to provide a service for expressly illicit purposes, finding this difficult.
I am of course encouraged by what the Minister has described. Most of it does not in fact apply to the issues that I have raised, because this is about images stored for private purposes rather than public purposes. The web page stuff and the work of the Internet Watch Foundation, with which I am very familiar—I think I am an ambassador or a champion; I cannot quite recall what the certificate says—are clearly about public-facing material which people may access. All that work is extremely good. I accept that many internet service providers are extremely responsible and are operating as one would hope in a self-regulatory way. I think this would have helped encourage those that are not being quite so public-spirited or sensitive to these issues to be more so in the future.
However, in the light of the Minister’s undertakings that this is something that will continue to be looked at, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 47 withdrawn.
48: Before Clause 68, insert the following new Clause—
“Knives and offensive weapons in prisons
After section 40C of the Prison Act 1952 insert—“40CA Unauthorised possession in prison of knife or offensive weapon
(1) A person who, without authorisation, is in possession of an article specified in subsection (2) inside a prison is guilty of an offence.
(2) The articles referred to in subsection (1) are—
(a) any article that has a blade or is sharply pointed;(b) any other offensive weapon (as defined in section 1(9) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984).(3) In proceedings for an offence under this section it is a defence for the accused to show that—
(a) he reasonably believed that he had authorisation to be in possession of the article in question, or(b) in all the circumstances there was an overriding public interest which justified his being in possession of the article.(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—
(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding four years or to a fine (or both);(b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to a fine (or both).(5) In this section “authorisation” means authorisation given for the purposes of this section; and subsections (1) to (3) of section 40E apply in relation to authorisations so given as they apply to authorisations given for the purposes of section 40D.””
My Lords, the violent use of knives and offensive weapons in prison poses a real threat to the safety of prison staff and prisoners. Only earlier this month we saw reports that an officer at Swaleside prison in Kent was attacked with a blade. I am sure that the whole House would agree that the possession of weapons in prison is unacceptable—and yet, unlike in public places and schools, possession of such weapons in prison is not currently a criminal offence. This new clause will put that right.
Amendment 48 would insert new Section 40CA into the Prison Act 1952 to create a new offence for persons in prison to possess any article that has a blade or is sharply pointed, or any other offensive weapon, without authorisation. This will include weapons manufactured by prisoners from everyday items, which are the types most commonly used.
While possession of such items is a criminal offence in a public place and in schools, it is not currently a criminal offence in prison. This has led to a disparity between the penalties available to tackle this sort of crime in the community and those available within prison establishments. This disparity must be addressed. Assaults and violence are a long-standing problem within prisons. If left unchecked, they can quickly destabilise a prison and threaten the safety of both staff and prisoners. While assaults without weapons are more common, assaults with weapons are not infrequent and can inflict life-changing injuries.
The new offence will add to the existing criminal offences in the Prison Act that make it an offence for a person to convey certain items—including firearms, explosives and other offensive weapons—in or out of prison without authorisation, or to be in possession of a camera, sound recording device, mobile phone or other similar device in prison. Possession of weapons by prisoners is currently dealt with through the prison adjudication system. The maximum penalty for a disciplinary offence under the internal adjudication system is 42 added days served in prison compared with the four years’ custodial maximum for the equivalent offence committed in the community.
Criminalisation will ensure that the more serious weapon possession offences can be punished through the criminal justice system rather than the prison adjudication system, as appropriate. The maximum penalty for the new offence will mirror the maximum penalty for the offence in the community: a four-year maximum sentence on conviction on indictment or a fine, or both; or, on summary conviction, a maximum six-month sentence or a fine or both.
There are of course legitimate circumstances in which persons in prison, including prisoners, may need to have sharp items or other articles in their possession. For example, a prisoner may need to use a bladed tool in a carpentry session, or may use kitchen knives when preparing meals. The authorisations framework in the Prison Act recognises this reality. Subsection (5) of the new clause therefore applies the existing authorisations framework to the new offence. Authorisations may be given administratively by the Secretary of State or by the Prison Rules in relation to all prisons or prisons of a specified description. Authorisations may also be given administratively by the Secretary of State, the governor or director of the prison, or by a person authorised by the governor or director in relation to particular prisons.
Amendments 58 and 65 are consequential on the lead amendment. All three amendments will ensure that the current maximum sentence for the offence of possession of a knife in the community is also available in prisons. This will act as a more effective deterrent and ensure that tougher punishments are available to tackle the problem of weapons and violence in prisons. The message to prisoners who want to possess offensive weapons is clear: we do not tolerate it in the community and we will not tolerate it in prisons. I beg to move.
Amendment 48 agreed.
49: After Clause 69, insert the following new Clause—
“Domestic violence as a serious crime
For the purposes of this Act, domestic violence is deemed to be a serious crime.”
My Lords, I have tabled the amendment in order to enable this House to have a debate concerning bringing domestic violence within the scope of the Bill. I also welcome Amendment 49C, which is grouped with mine and goes further in a direction with which I concur, although I none the less feel it would be useful to have the words of my amendment in the Bill.
The amendment was tabled partly in anticipation of the fact that Members of the other place are likely to table amendments on domestic violence during the Bill’s later stages and it was thought that, as a result, this place too should have an opportunity to debate this serious offence. The amendment is therefore an enabling amendment and seeks to argue that changes to the law on domestic violence should be within the scope of the Bill.
Last February, my colleague, Elfyn Llwyd MP, introduced a ten-minute rule Bill in another place to criminalise all aspects of domestic violence, including coercive control in a domestic abusive situation. That Bill had all-party support, including MPs from five parties, such as Cheryl Gillan, Robert Buckland, Sandra Osborne, John McDonnell, Bob Russell, Caroline Lucas and Hywel Williams. The objectives of that ten-minute rule Bill have been supported by more than 100 MPs in Early Day Motions that called for coercive control to be an offence in its own right.
Domestic violence is without doubt a serious crime. A principal aim of the amendment would be to encourage more victims of domestic violence to come forward and report the crime, as well as to secure more thorough investigations by the police, and therefore more successful prosecutions. The purpose of Elfyn Llwyd’s Bill was to place a statutory framework around domestic violence since, at present, there is no specific law covering this offence. Indeed, the fact that coercive control is not an offence is a contributory factor to the low rates of reporting, of arrests, charging and of convictions. According to Women’s Aid, less than 7% of domestic violence incidents reported to the police lead to a conviction. Currently, 25% of domestic violence cases passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service result in no action being taken.
Elfyn Llwyd’s Bill followed on from the highly successful campaign during 2011-12 for the introduction of stalking laws in England and Wales, which was spearheaded by Elfyn Llwyd, and advised by Laura Richards, a leading criminal behaviour psychologist, and Harry Fletcher, then of Napo. Under the terms of that Bill, a person convicted of coercive control could face up to 14 years’ imprisonment. The Bill placed statutory responsibilities on the police to develop and implement domestic violence policies, to provide written policies that encourage the arrest and charge of a perpetrator, and to make investigation of complaints a priority. The Bill also created domestic violence orders, which would prevent further contact that could in itself amount to domestic violence, prohibit the perpetrator from engaging in certain activities, including contact with the victim or children of the victim, and exclude the perpetrator from the victim’s home.
In addition, the Bill would have prevented a victim from having to disclose details of their address or whereabouts in open court, thereby preventing the perpetrator from having this information. Members of this House will be concerned to learn that, this time last year, a victim of abuse who was in a place of safety was required by a judge in the north of England to disclose where she was living, despite the fact that her abuser was present in court. That cannot be allowed to continue. The Bill also gives the court the power to undertake a risk assessment on the impact of domestic violence on the victim and, importantly, on their children.
Probation staff have been concerned for years about the extent of domestic abuse, low reporting rates and how few convictions result from reported incidents. The Probation Service provides victim liaison, women’s safety officers and perpetrator programmes. All of these services are under threat from privatisation and cuts. Plaid Cymru’s leader, Leanne Wood AM, previously served as a probation officer. I would like to draw to the House’s attention a highly relevant comment she made recently on this issue. She said:
“In my many years’ experience as a probation officer and a women’s aid support worker, I worked with countless women and their children who had been severely damaged by domestic abuse. Even though there is wider awareness today and a range of support services, instances of domestic abuse do not appear to be diminishing. In my work, I often came across professional people in various organisations who made assumptions about emotional abuse not being as serious as other forms of abuse, especially violence. It’s difficult to compare years of put-downs and public humiliations or being told you have a mental illness when you don’t, to individual physical assault. All forms of abuse can have long-lasting and deep consequences and recognition of that is vital if we are to make sure that victims and survivors get the justice and the services they need to recover”.
Similarly, Harry Fletcher, who was involved in drafting Elfyn Llwyd’s Bill, and who is now director of the Digital Trust, a new organisation committed to fighting online abuse, which is frequently seen in cases involving coercive control, has said:
“It is outrageous that so few women have confidence to report domestic violence to the police and that the number of convictions as a percentage of all violence is so low”.
He has also commented that the original Bill was based on the successful experience of naming domestic violence as a crime in the United States. Emulating this experience from the United States would go a long way towards protecting vulnerable women.
In the UK there are scores of domestic violence-related homicides or incidents of serious harm every year. Last year 7% of women, according to the Home Office, reported having experience of domestic abuse, which is equivalent to 1.2 million women a year. Two out of three incidents were experienced by repeat victims. The Home Office also reports that two women are killed by a partner, ex-partner or lover every week.
By contrast, the situation in the United States, where specific laws exist, is quite startling. Since laws were introduced at various times over the past 20 years, reporting has increased by nearly 50% and incidents of violence have decreased by over one-third. Plaid Cymru MPs are currently conducting research into how the laws covering domestic violence operate across the United States and I am sure that there is much that we could learn from their experience.
It is essential that domestic violence is perceived as a serious crime. If the Government are presented with an opportunity to strengthen the law, they must surely seize that opportunity. I hope that Members of this House will signal their support for such a change in the law. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am pleased to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. In my remarks, I shall focus on the experience of a specific victim of domestic violence—Laura, as she is called—to illustrate why, because of the shocking treatment that she has received not just from her abuser but from the authorities, all the changes that are being proposed are so important.
Laura’s case highlights why the law must change, to take account of all forms of domestic violence, emotional as well as physical, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said. Her case also serves to show why police and prosecutors should look at the patterns of behaviour in these crimes.
I will quote Laura’s own words. She said:
“I was made to feel worthless—made to feel that the way I was treated was normal. I was punched, kicked, slapped, strangled, thrown around, spat at and emotionally mocked ... I was locked in and outside my house if I went out or did something without his permission. I was watched by him on a daily basis by cameras that were put up in our home by him”.
The abuse to which the victim was subjected continued over a three-year period. In that period there were numerous witnesses to the abuse, including local builders, members of the public and even a bank teller, who recorded him physically assaulting the victim. Laura has also spoken of the factors that inhibited her from leaving her home. It is important that these are also put on the record, since in many instances people who have not been subject to domestic violence cannot understand why the victim would not leave the perpetrator. It is this precise ignorance among some police and prosecutors that leads to victims not being taken seriously when they finally reach the end of their tether and report the crime.
Laura has spoken about how her abuser threatened to cut himself out of the lives of their children or indeed to harm her, leaving her children without a mother. It is also telling that she said:
“I left on a number of occasions, but he kept stalking and harassing me. In the end I just thought … I may as well return to a controlled situation where I knew what to expect. Also, his side of the family pressured me and made me believe that, every time, he had changed and how unfair I was being on my daughter by taking her dad away”.
Laura eventually went to the police, but she said:
“I was very afraid, so at times I didn’t want to give statements as I knew it was his word against mine. The police were always called by other people, but he was always let off, even when there was strong evidence. The final time I left and never went back I moved to an address I kept secret. I was harassed constantly via the phone, sent death threats, stalked, chased in my car. When he did find out where I was living he tried to break into my house and then when he finally saw me he threatened to burn my house down with me and my daughter in it. Again there were witnesses. People told him to leave and in the end he left … I reported this all to the police. This was the final straw. I did make a statement about the offences he had committed where there were witnesses ... but it turned out that there were no laws in place to protect me at all ... he was let off”.
Laura has spoken about how disappointed she felt at the treatment that she had received from the police. She has spoken about how the police did not always give due credence to how distressing coercive and controlling behaviour can be. For instance, she says that to this day, 14 months after she reported the crime, she is still waiting for the police to take her phone and download abusive messages that the perpetrator left for her.
That is why the training of police and prosecutors must be improved, to take account of all methods of domestic abusive behaviour and to have regard of the impact that this debilitating crime can have on its victims. To make matters worse, this victim was also told that because the perpetrator had left the country for six months, the time limit on his crimes had elapsed and he could not be prosecuted. That is why many campaigners believe that domestic violence cases should not be subject to time limits. I certainly agree on that point.
It is clear that the current law is not working for victims. Laura’s message to those in power is:
“Please recognise the need for change. We need to ensure new laws are brought in ... We need harsher punishment for perpetrators. We need to ensure that we are doing all we can to support victims and to charge the offenders ... The whole background of the relationship needs to be taken into consideration and indeed … the perpetrator’s whole background in general. Information on past relationships where similar incidents were reported, even if no charge was brought forward, must not be ignored. This is an issue that needs to be dealt with”.
I commend Amendment 49 to the House and to the Government.
My Lords, the purpose of our amendment, apart from giving an opportunity to debate the law relating to domestic abuse, is to provide for the Secretary of State to consult on ways of strengthening the law in relation to domestic abuse, which is perpetrated overwhelmingly against women, with that consultation taking place within six months of this Act coming into force. Our amendment also sets out some of the issues that the consultation would consider, without it being an exhaustive list.
Those issues are: should a specific offence or offences criminalising coercive and controlling behaviour, or a pattern or acts of behaviour within an intimate relationship, be created? Should the violent and sexual offenders register include serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators and be managed through the multiagency public protection arrangements? Should a new civil order be created to place positive obligations on serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators? Should the breach of domestic violence protection notices and orders be a criminal offence? Should domestic violence protection notices and orders extend across European boundaries?
One of the problems, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said, is that the Government’s definition of domestic abuse, adopted from the general definition of the Association of Chief Police Officers, is not reflected in the law. The Government’s definition is:
“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality”.
“can encompass, but is not limited to … psychological, physical, sexual, financial … emotional”.
However, the current law does not capture the Government’s non-statutory definition of domestic abuse as there is no statutory framework around it. Currently, offenders can be prosecuted only for acts of physical violence, when such violence is often the culmination of psychological and minor physical abuse which constitutes domestic abuse, which is outside the reach of the existing criminal law and does not get reported until it has actually escalated into physical violence—which, to put it mildly, is a bit late in the day.
The figures have already been quoted, but I shall repeat them. According to the Home Office, last year 7% of all women reported having experienced domestic abuse, which is equivalent to 1.2 million women a year. Two out of three incidents involved repeat offenders. The reality is that on average women do not report abuse until there have been at least 30 incidents. Since the age of 16, according to statistics published by Women’s Aid and the Home Office, almost one-third of women have experienced domestic abuse. Interestingly —although perhaps that is not the appropriate word—one in three women who attend an A&E department does so because she has been domestically abused.
As the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said, according to Women’s Aid, only 6.5% of domestic violence incidents reported to the police lead to conviction and 25% of domestic violence cases that are passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service result in no action being taken. There is an issue around the successful prosecution of cases. In some cases, of course, the victim withdraws their statement to the police of domestic abuse or violence, does not come to court, or comes to court and gives evidence that is contrary to their original statement. However, bearing in mind that on average women do not report abuse until there have been at least 30 incidents, the strong likelihood is that any reluctance to go through the legal and court process is not because the domestic violence and abuse did not actually occur, but for other reasons.
An important reason for consultation, including on the specific points referred to in our amendment, is that following the introduction of specific domestic abuse laws in the United States, there was apparently a 50% rise in women reporting the behaviour, and with it a large increase in the number of perpetrators being brought to justice, along with a decrease of over one-third in incidents of abuse. One key area is the need to consult, as the Government have done, on criminalising abuse that involves coercive control in a domestic setting as well as making domestic abuse itself a separate criminal offence.
A further issue for consideration is whether the prosecution of domestic abuse and domestic violence cases should be subject to statutory time limits. Domestic abuse and violence has often gone on for some time before an incident is reported by the victim. Under the current arrangements, many earlier incidents that have occurred and which make up the totality of the abusive behaviour, cannot also be the subject of a prosecution along with the incident that finally led the victim to decide to report what had been happening.
Our amendment also calls for consultation to consider a new civil order which would be intended to prevent further contact that amounts to domestic violence, would prohibit the perpetrator from engaging in certain activities, perhaps including contact with the victim and the children of the victim, and would exclude the perpetrator from the victim’s home. Such a consultation could also consider whether a breach of this civil order should be a criminal offence and whether such notices and orders should extend across European boundaries, with offending histories and restrictions being shared.
The issues to which I have referred and those set out in the amendment providing for consultation are ones that outside organisations and experts in this field have advocated. The government consultation on coercive control has recently concluded. It would be helpful to know, first, what steps the Government intend to take following that consultation and, secondly, whether the issues referred to in my Amendment 49C and others to which I and other noble Lords have referred, are also either being considered by the Government or were part of the consultation that has just concluded. I hope that the Minister will be able to indicate in his response what issues or courses of action the Government are now considering following their consultation on strengthening the law on domestic abuse.
My Lords, I am in no doubt that there needs to be more effort, more prosecutions, more resources, better practice and better training in the area of domestic abuse. I find it difficult to comment on the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, because it is essentially a trailer for provisions that we do not have before us, but the first steps must be about implementing the existing legislation in a consistent and robust fashion: prosecuting for physical and non-physical forms of abuse, both of which are possible. However, successful prosecutions are rare. I have mentioned training; there is a need for specialist training throughout the criminal justice system. The issue is hugely important to ensure, among other things, that the basics of violence in a domestic situation are properly understood.
The series of actions that constitute abuse are crimes now. Interestingly, the domestic violence charity with which I have the closest links, Refuge—I do not know whether I need to declare an interest in that I chaired it a while ago—commented in its response to the Government consultation that it is concerned that creating a separate domestic violence offence could in fact lead to it being treated less seriously and being downgraded. We know that the phrase, “It’s just a domestic”, is still hanging around. The charity points out that there is a risk that even physical offences may be downgraded, so I think that there is a debate to be had on that. It does not necessarily follow that badging what is a domestic crime would lead to it being regarded in a different way.
Indeed, and no doubt that is why the Government have consulted on it. I, too, am looking forward to hearing the results of the consultation, and I hope that if the responses indicate the need for legislation, there will be legislation. I am not saying that there should not be legislation to fill in any gaps, but that I am not convinced that a completely new approach is what is needed here.
Finally, because I am conscious of the time, I am aware that there is opposition in some quarters to relying on sentencing; in other words, regarding an offence as being domestic as an aggravating factor. If what is being considered in this debate is more serious sentences, we have to look at what sentences are available for the offences as they stand, so I would like to see a general debate about whether there is a sentencing element in this or whether it is about the offences in themselves.
My Lords, I, like my noble friend Lord Dobbs, have not been involved in the conversations during this Bill, but I speak because of the importance of the issue and our debating it in full. I am very glad to be discussing whether domestic abuse, including psychological abuse, coercive control and a pattern of abuse should be seen in the eyes of the law as a serious crime. The impact of domestic violence on women and their children can be devastating and long lasting, yet its essence of power and control is not criminalised.
My noble friend will be aware of surveys which show the strength of support for change. The Victims’ Voice survey found that 98% of victims feel that reform of the law is needed. A survey of front-line domestic violence professionals found that 97% agree that coercive control should be recognised in law, with 96% agreeing that patterns of behaviour and psychological abuse should be recognised in law.
I welcome the Government’s consultation and appreciate that it will take time for my noble friend and colleagues to consider the 700 or so responses before deciding whether legislation would provide better protection to victims, but, like other noble Lords, I look forward to hearing the outcome of the consultation. Changing the definition of domestic abuse in March last year was obviously a very important step, but there is a clear need to create a culture where victims report much earlier, are believed when they do and the dynamics and patterns of abuse are recognised and understood. Will my noble friend also look at other countries which have successfully criminalised psychological abuse, coercive control and clear patterns of behaviour, because this could be the catalyst which will not just save money but save lives?
My Lords, first, I will make a brief response to my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott. One of the things which struck me very much when I was preparing for this debate was the final page of the HMIC report into domestic abuse, which contains some of the statistics. It lists that in the 12-month period to 31 August 2013, the period which was reviewed, 1.01 million calls for assistance were as a result of domestic abuse. There were 269,700 crimes of domestic abuse. This figure goes to the heart of what my noble friend was saying: there were 57,900 individuals at high risk of serious harm or murder. On average, every 30 seconds, someone contacts the police for assistance with domestic abuse.
I think that those statistics show the importance of the issue which the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has brought before the House this evening. I am sure that we are all very grateful to him for doing so, and also to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. I am glad to have this opportunity. I entirely agree with the sentiment behind Amendment 49. Domestic violence and abuse are unquestionably serious crimes and must be treated as such. It is an appalling violation of the trust that those in intimate relationships place in each other. Last year, an estimated 1.9 million people were abused at the hands of those with whom they were closest.
The Government recognise that domestic abuse has not always been treated as the serious crime that it undoubtedly is. That is why, in September last year, the Home Secretary commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct an all-force review of domestic abuse. HMIC published its findings in March and highlighted serious failings in the police response to these issues, which my noble friend Lady Hamwee touched on under the heading of “It’s a domestic” in terms of giving the seriousness to calls for help in this way that they would in any other circumstance in any other public place when somebody is under threat.
Moreover, the Home Secretary has initiated a number of other measures to improve the police responses to domestic abuse. This includes the establishment of a new National Oversight Group, which she chairs. While further legislation may have its place, new laws cannot be a substitute for the vital work of driving improvements in the response from the criminal justice agencies themselves.
In addition to the important operational improvements, the Government want to ensure that front-line agencies have the tools they need to provide the best possible protection for victims. In March, we announced a national rollout of the domestic violence protection orders, to which, again, a number of noble Lords have referred, that can prevent the perpetrator from having contact with the victim for up to 28 days, and the domestic violence disclosure scheme, which enables the police to disclose to the public information about previous violent offending by a new or existing partner. This, I felt, went to the heart of the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, when she raised that harrowing case study of Laura and the inability to take action. Clearly, this was something where the domestic violence protection orders may not be the solution but they are certainly an indication of a recognition of the problem.
In March last year we changed the non-statutory definition of domestic abuse to capture non-violent controlling behaviour because we recognise that abuse is not always physical, as a number of noble Lords have mentioned. Between 20 August and 15 October we ran a public consultation to gather views on whether the law needs to be strengthened to provide the best possible protection to victims and to keep pace with these developments. Violent behaviour was deliberately left out of the scope of the consultation. Violence perpetrated by one person against another clearly already falls within the range of existing criminal offences and is successfully prosecuted under the existing criminal law. Non-violent behaviour which is coercive or controlling in nature can be harder to recognise, but it can be equally damaging to its victims.
We have listened carefully to the front-line professionals, women’s groups and others, who tell us that stalking and harassment legislation, which could afford protection for victims through the criminal and civil courts, is applied inconsistently in cases involving intimate relationships. We are keen to explore whether more needs to be done to protect victims of abuse. However, legislation on this difficult and sensitive topic needs to be approached judiciously, as a number of noble Lords recognised. We have carried out a public consultation because the views of victims should be at the heart of any development of the criminal law on this important issue, as my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott said. We want to see more perpetrators brought to justice. We do not want victims to be deterred from reporting by a legal framework or a criminal justice system that does not work for them.
I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the whole House that we are considering the more than 700 responses to the recent consultation as a matter of urgency. This will necessarily take time and, of course, it would be wrong for us to pre-judge the outcome of the consultation at this stage. That being the case, I think it unrealistic to expect an announcement on the outcome of the consultation before the Bill leaves this House. However, I have no doubt that this issue will be picked up again in the other place, not least because Elfyn Llwyd, the colleague of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, will be meeting the Home Secretary later this week. I pay tribute to the noble Lord and his colleague for the work that they have done on highlighting this important issue. Of course, should an amendment on this issue be made in the House of Commons, it would need to come back to this House for consideration.
Amendment 49C, standing in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, would place an obligation on the Government to hold a consultation on various other domestic violence provisions. As I have outlined to the House, the Government are pursuing a range of measures to improve protection for victims of domestic abuse, stalking and all forms of violence against women and girls. This includes improving the police response to managing perpetrators of these serious crimes. I am sure noble Lords will agree that we must be careful not to legislate unnecessarily. Often the goal of managing the perpetrators of stalking and domestic abuse effectively can be met through operational improvements. The Home Secretary’s work to drive delivery against the inspectorate’s recommendations is critical. The national oversight group which she chairs is focused on delivering immediate and tangible improvements in the response received by victims who are brave enough to come forward. The work of the group includes a review by the College of Policing of what works in tackling domestic abuse perpetrators and helping them to break the cycle. In itself, this work will result in significant improvements in the handling of offenders without the need for fresh consultations or legislation.
Regarding the specific proposals put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, it is important to note that convicted stalkers and domestic abusers will already be captured by the police national computer. We are focused on improving data held on domestic abuse and making better use of existing databases rather than risking fragmenting systems by creating new databases or registers for each and every offence.
On the question of positive obligations, I also remain unconvinced that further legislation is required at this stage. The House will be aware that criminal behaviour orders, introduced by the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, can be issued by any criminal court against an offender who is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to another person. These orders can include positive requirements to get the offender to address the underlying causes of their behaviour. The orders can be applied to perpetrators of any criminal offence, including domestic abuse, stalking and harassment. Given those flexible provisions, we do not see the need to create another civil order.
Finally, domestic violence protection orders are a new and highly effective tool for the police to provide immediate protection to victims of domestic abuse. I welcome the support for them from the noble Baroness and other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. The national rollout of these orders began only in March this year. The Home Office will be carrying out a full review of implementation in coming months, which will inform any future action. We will continue to work with our partners to keep these and a range of other options for protecting victims and managing perpetrators under review. Legislation requiring us to consult is unnecessary. The Government do not need to be compelled to consider improvements in tackling violence against women and girls. It is one of our top priorities.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, for initiating this timely debate and ask him to withdraw his amendment in the knowledge that we will announce the outcome of the consultation on strengthening the law on domestic abuse as soon as possible, so that it can inform further debates on the Bill as it passes through the House of Commons.
My Lords, I am very grateful to those who have participated in this debate—the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe, Lady Hamwee and Lady Stedman-Scott, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser—and to the Minister for his response. Needless to say, this was a probing amendment. It was a hook on which to hang an argument here and, had it been included in the Bill, in another place. I was encouraged to hear from the Minister that, as a result of the consultation that is currently going on, the Government most certainly have not closed their mind to the possibility of bringing forward further legislative proposals in the House of Commons when the Bill goes there and that there will be an opportunity for us to return to this matter if such amendments are built into the Bill and it comes back here.
I very much hope that the Government will look particularly at the issue of coercive control, although no doubt a number of other issues will come out of this consultation, and we will be in a better position to comment further when all that information and the Government’s response to it are available to us. On the basis of that and of the cross-party interest that has been shown in this matter and the commitment and the strength of feeling that there is on it, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 49 withdrawn.
Amendment 49A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
49B: After Clause 69, insert the following new Clause—
“Investigatory powers and crime: legal privilege and journalistic source material
(1) In section 22 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (obtaining and disclosing communications data), after subsection (9) insert—
“(10) Subject to subsection (11), nothing in this section shall authorise the obtaining and disclosing of—
(a) items subject to legal privilege, or(b) journalistic source material,for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime. (11) The obtaining and disclosing of the items and material referred to in subsection (10) may be authorised by a judge in accordance with the procedure set out in section 22A.
(12) In this section—
“items subject to legal privilege” has the same meaning as in section 10 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984;
“journalistic source material” means material which may identify a confidential journalistic source.”
(2) After section 22 of that Act insert—
“22A Authorisation by a judge to obtain communications data: legal privilege and journalistic source material
(1) This section applies to an application for a warrant or authorisation under section 22(11).
(2) A person designated for the purpose of this Chapter may apply to a judge for an authorisation.
(3) The application must be made in writing and must set out the grounds on which the application is made.
(4) An application for an authorisation under section 22(11) must be made on notice to any person to whom the authorisation or notice which is the subject of the application relates save that notice of an application is not required if the service of such notice may seriously prejudice the investigation to which the application relates.
(5) Where notice of an application for an authorisation has been served on a person, he shall not conceal, destroy, alter or dispose of the material to which the application relates except with the leave of a judge until—
(a) the application is dismissed or abandoned; or(b) he has complied with an authorisation given on the application.(6) An authorisation shall only be issued or granted if the judge is satisfied that—
(a) it is necessary for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime, and(b) the conduct authorised is proportionate to what is sought to be achieved by that conduct, having particular regard to the importance of the protection of legally privileged communications and journalistic sources.(7) In this section “judge” means a Circuit Judge.
(8) In this section and in section 22(10) “serious crime” means the committing or suspected committing of one or more of the offences in England and Wales specified in Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the Serious Crime Act 2007.””
My Lords, Amendment 49B seeks to repair a serious flaw in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, a defect that has emerged only recently. Your Lordships will recall that many people inside and outside this House have been warning for years that RIPA as a whole is not fit for purpose because, among other things, its scope is far too broad; it has large built-in loopholes; its oversight provisions have proved to be hopelessly ineffective; and it has been left behind by several generations of new technology.
Perversely, the Government have been claiming for years that RIPA is the best thing since sliced bread so far as the regulation of intrusive powers is concerned. But in July this year, the Government finally bowed to the inevitable and accepted that all is not well with RIPA. They set up a review of the Act under David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. His report is due before next year’s election, with a view to legislation in the next Parliament, but the particular problem that has just appeared will not wait two years to be dealt with; it needs to be addressed immediately. It concerns the misuse of RIPA by the police in two ways: to uncover journalists’ sources and to access legally privileged information.
The problem with journalists’ sources was brought to light by the Met’s report on Operation Alice, which was its investigation into the “plebgate” affair. It revealed, presumably by accident, that Met officers had secretly used RIPA to get their hands on the phone logs of the Sun’s news desk and its political editor, Tom Newton Dunn. They then proceeded to trawl through a year’s worth of phone calls to find the source of the paper’s stories about “plebgate”. By the way, not a single prosecution has ensued from Operation Alice.
It then emerged that this was not an isolated case. We learnt that Kent Police had used RIPA to obtain the phone records of journalists working for the Mail on Sunday, and that the Suffolk Constabulary had used it against a journalist at the Ipswich Star. It would seem that there are many more cases but the police are very reluctant to reveal details. The Met commissioner steadfastly refuses to let on how many times his force has used RIPA in this way, or when or why, despite many demands that he come clean about this in his regular so-called transparency sessions, the most recent of which was in September.
Why does this matter? There is a well established tradition throughout the world that journalists do not reveal their sources, and many journalists have ended up in jail or worse—much worse—defending this principle. If potential whistleblowers in this country conclude that journalists can no longer guarantee their anonymity because the police can secretly identify them, a lot fewer whistles are going to be blown. They and we know what would happen to them if their cover was blown. They could be arrested; they would be intimidated; they would be ostracised; and they would lose their job and their pension. If insiders who know about wrongdoing stop coming forward because they can no longer be guaranteed anonymity, important information that deserves to be in the public domain will never see the light of day.
I will give the House a few recent examples. In uncovering the phone hacking scandal, the Guardian was helped by sources in the police, who provided important information on the condition that they remained unidentified. They did this in the public interest, knowing that senior ranks were promoting a false version of events to the press, the public and Parliament. If those sources had been identified, they would have faced the loss of their careers and their pensions.
In another example, two anonymous whistleblowers from inside BAE revealed wholesale corrupt payments by the arms company and that BAE had set up secret subsidiaries in the British Virgin Islands, which it was using to channel corrupt payments to Swiss bank accounts. Even more to the point, it was a third anonymous whistleblower, in an official position, who revealed to journalists that Prince Bandar of the Saudi royal family had been paid a total of £1 billion, plus a gift of a personal Airbus, in order to promote arms sales.
If it were not for whistleblowers, patients at NHS trusts such as Mid-Staffs would still be dying unnecessarily and police such as those at Hillsborough would still be covering up their failings, as would corrupt politicians, dishonest businessmen and child-abusing celebrities.
Prying into journalists’ sources is not what RIPA was intended for, as has been confirmed by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary who took it through Parliament. Two weeks ago, when talking about RIPA, he said that no one at the time imagined that,
“legislation secured through parliamentary debate would be used to fetter the right of a free press in a democratic nation to do a responsible job”.
RIPA was supposed to be a weapon against terrorism and other serious crime, not for investigating internal police disciplinary matters and the like.
Until recently, attempts by the police to access a journalist’s records have been dealt with under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Under PACE, the police are obliged to apply to a judge for permission to access the phone records of a journalist. The judge needs to be convinced that a serious offence is involved and that the disclosure is in the public interest. The journalist is notified and may be represented at the hearing to contest the application. The PACE safeguards have worked well.
On the other hand, RIPA has no external real-time safeguards at all. Police applications for phone data are subject to no judicial oversight and are simply self-authorised by a so-called “designated person” who is usually a superintendent in the same force. There is no special treatment for journalists’ records; the journalist is not informed that the demand for the records is being made to his phone company, and the company is legally obliged to hand everything over without the journalist’s knowledge.
Kevin Hurley, who is the police and crime commissioner for Surrey and was once a chief superintendent in the Met, referring to the “plebgate” case, said that RIPA was used there,
“to compromise a journalist’s sources by the back door and without external scrutiny for no reason other than to defend the reputation of the Metropolitan Police Service. Seizing journalistic materials is a serious decision indeed, and one with consequences for our country as a whole. Such a move must be subject to debate and challenge in court if it is to have legitimacy”.
Responsible investigative journalism is a bulwark of our democracy. Unless we take action, this misuse of RIPA to evade the safeguards in PACE—or this “weasel wangle”, as Peter Preston has called it—will have a chilling effect on free speech. It will interfere with our freedom of information and with the public’s right to be informed, as defined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The purpose of this amendment is to graft on to RIPA similar protections to those already applying under PACE: judicial oversight of applications involving journalists’ records and legally privileged information, and to require an open hearing with both sides represented. The judge will need to be satisfied that disclosure is necessary for the detecting or preventing of serious crime, and that the request for data is proportionate to what is being sought to be achieved with it. The judge will have to have particular regard to the protection of legally privileged information and journalistic sources.
The Home Secretary has spoken of amending the code of practice relating to RIPA as an alternative solution to this problem, but that would not offer the cast-iron protection that journalists and their sources need. Only primary legislation will achieve that.
The omission of these safeguards from RIPA is just one of the many flaws in this legislation. It can be argued, with justification, that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act is less about regulating the investigatory powers of government and more about conferring those powers without much regulation at all. Noble Lords should not forget that we only became aware of the particular abuse we are discussing today—the misuse of RIPA to access journalists’ sources—because it was inadvertently mentioned in the Met’s report on Operation Alice. If that had not happened, this practice would not have come to light. The terrible truth is that this House, this Parliament and this country have no idea about what RIPA is being used for by the police and by the many other public bodies that are authorised to use or abuse it.
RIPA gives highly intrusive powers to the police, the intelligence services and hundreds of other public authorities. Its drafting was so broad that there are no real constraints on how those powers can be used, or misused; and it all happens in secret and without any effective oversight by Parliament. It is no wonder, then, that RIPA has become a charter for snooping where there should be no snooping; and no wonder that it started to suffer from mission creep from day one, being used in ways that were not intended by its authors.
Edward Snowden’s revelations demonstrate that RIPA has been used to legitimise the interception and storage of the private communications of millions of British citizens on a truly massive scale by exploiting antiquated statutory definitions and changes to communications technology. No matter what view is taken on the ethics of Snowden’s actions, nobody has disputed his accuracy. With that in mind, I ask the House to reflect on what he had to say about how innocent British citizens’ private data are being hoovered up without any limits:
“GCHQ has probably the most invasive network intercept programme in the world. It's called Tempora and it's the world's first Full Take, they call it, and that means content in addition to metadata, on everything”.
RIPA has allowed this to happen without Parliament or the people knowing a thing about it or being asked to consent to it. We were not asked; it just happened. It is to be hoped that David Anderson’s review will come up with a blueprint for an up-to-date, clearly defined and proportionate regime for authorising these highly intrusive techniques where they are needed and preventing their use where they are not justified. The next Parliament will then have to legislate. In the mean time, we have an urgent job to do. We need to stop the police from evading PACE’s protections for journalists’ sources and for legally privileged information. This amendment adds the missing provisions to RIPA to achieve that.
Before I sit down, I should mention that although this amendment was tabled late, I did all I could to circulate it and I am grateful for the widespread support it has attracted from the media, NGOs and several noble Lords who are unable to be in the House today. The campaigning group Justice has been in touch to remind me that it made clear its support for more protection under RIPA for legal professional privilege in its earlier report, Freedom from Suspicion.
I will close with the words of Chris Frost, chair of the National Union of Journalists’ ethics council:
“In my experience virtually every serious investigation is launched on the back of a … whistleblower who needs to remain anonymous for their protection”.
Since this is the first opportunity that the House has had to debate this matter I do not intend to divide the House at this stage. However, I will be disappointed if the Government reject this amendment outright, especially when all that is offered in its place is a review and no action before the general election or a review of the code of practice. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare an interest in this subject as executive director of the Telegraph Media Group and draw attention to my other media interests listed in the register.
I very much welcome this amendment. Although I have some concerns about aspects of the drafting, the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, is to be congratulated on shining a spotlight on an incredibly serious and troubling issue arising from a piece of legislation that is now looking increasingly arcane. I fundamentally agree with him that we cannot wait for a permanent solution to this.
It is an issue that should concern every reporter in the UK and every citizen because of the impact on press freedom and the quality of our democracy. It is also an issue that has a resonance beyond our shores, which should be a real worry to us, because what we are doing in the United Kingdom is sending an authoritarian message to the rest of the world that it is all right for police forces or other public authorities to track down the confidential sources of journalists.
I do not need to dwell on the importance of confidential sources of information. It was put best in the case of Goodwin v United Kingdom in the European Court of Human Rights back in 1996:
“Without ... protection, sources may be deterred from assisting the press in informing the public on matters of public interest. As a result, the vital public-watchdog role of the press may be undermined and the ability of the press to provide accurate and reliable information may be adversely affected”.
That is absolutely right. As we heard, the use of confidential sources is vital for whistleblowing and investigative journalism, but it is also crucial for day-to-day reporting on matters of public interest. In a democratic society, people need to be able to talk to the media about current debates without fear of reprisal or retribution. The alternative is sterile political and public debate, with a profound impact on the substance of our character and democracy. That is what will happen unless the chilling impact of this out-of-date legislation is not reversed.
It is a matter of regret to me to have to ask why we should have been surprised by such recent revelations. The Newspaper Society, representing Britain’s regional press, and the Society of Editors made clear during the passage of RIPA back in 2000 that its terms would inevitably lead to an erosion of the confidentiality of sources because they could so often be easily identified by information obtained under the new powers by a wide range of specified organisations. The newspaper industry at the time suggested that the number of organisations able to exercise RIPA powers should be limited, that the ground for the use of those powers should also be strictly limited to the most senior personnel and that all applications for use of such power should be subjected to prior judicial scrutiny, especially to protect confidential sources. The Act as it arrived on the statute book and various codes since then clearly did not provide adequate safeguards in any way.
Over the years since then, I have heard anecdotal evidence of the problems, often from local newspaper editors voicing their concerns, often about attempts to trace the source of leaks of council information by local authorities using RIPA powers of surveillance and access to telephone records. Occasionally, a case of this arose in the public domain. Back in 2010, the Derby Telegraph reported on how the local authority there dispatched two officers to a local Starbucks to spy on a reporter who had been seen talking to current and former council employees. That council used RIPA powers to do that because they give local authorities the right to watch and record people covertly. Just think about the disastrous impact on local press reporting of local authorities if such sources of information dried up. More importantly, we need to think about the impact on local people and democracy. Incompetence, waste and corruption in local government would remain uncovered and unpunished. It is the ordinary people who pay the bills for that who would really suffer.
As the noble Lord said, we are only now beginning to see the full extent of this problem, partly as the result of the work of the Mail on Sunday, which helped uncover this abuse through a sheer stroke of luck followed up by a brilliant piece of investigative journalism. My real concern is that we may be seeing only the tip of the iceberg. As the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, said, we just have no idea about the extent of the abuse. Other examples that I have heard are extremely troubling. I draw noble Lords’ attention to the disturbing case of Sally Murrer, recently highlighted in Press Gazette. Thames Valley Police applied to a court to bug the conversations of this lady but did not tell the court that she was a journalist when it did so. Recently, that force had to admit that it used RIPA powers to bug the car of her alleged police source back in 2006. If either the law or a statutory code had forced police to make that clear, it would—as Gavin Millar, her QC, said—have ensured that the authorising authority had the chance to use the,
“correct, and very strict, legal test for overriding journalistic source protection”.
He also made the point that the use of the Act in this way, which he described as widespread, is almost certainly completely illegal under European law.
Mention of Europe leads me to a very brief point. I said earlier that I am anxious about the impact of this issue beyond our shores. It does not take a great deal of imagination to see how a Government in a Commonwealth country might look at how the law is utilised here and deploy something similar in a turbo-charged manner in their own country. That is already causing considerable concerns among world press freedom organisations. Ronald Koven, the acting director of the World Press Freedom Committee, wrote to me and put it this way:
“Police the world over have repeatedly shown they cannot be trusted to exercise needed self-restraint and their zeal must be contained by independent judicial supervision. That has unhappily proven to be the case in Britain as well ... It is the view of the World Press Freedom Committee that the law should be amended to impose appropriate and effective judicial oversight”.
We need to be mindful of the way that this issue feeds into debates in Europe, too. There, the European Newspaper Publishers Association—on whose board I sit—made representations on protection of journalistic sources in respect of very similar EU legislation on access to communications content, communications data and surveillance. In the context of the issue that this amendment highlights, those concerns also need to be treated with the utmost seriousness if we are not to end up in exactly the same position in a few years’ time.
I am aware that the noble Lord produced this as a probing amendment and of course he is absolutely right to do so. I support the principles behind it—particularly that of prior judicial authorisation—but, as I said, I have some concerns about the detail, because I do not believe that it would actually deliver the extremely high threshold that should be needed for police or other authorities to be able to access journalists’ sources. I also do not think that judicial authorisation would necessarily apply in all the cases where RIPA powers can be deployed. It is a very good start, but further thought needs to be given in those areas. Of course, there are now a number of inquiries into this issue and the abuse of RIPA. I believe the impact on press freedom and on the quality of our democracy should be guiding features of those inquiries. I hope that my noble friend will listen to the strength of feeling and that—either in this House or another place—the Government will come back with their own amendment to deal with the issue that the noble Lord’s amendment highlighted so importantly today and which, in a free society, we should treat with the utmost seriousness.
My Lords, I also rise to support the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, spoke about the need to align PACE and RIPA and thereby to protect journalism. I agree that journalistic material needs to be protected from police officers using RIPA provisions, which were designed originally to get at something completely different. It is equally important, though very much less a subject of public debate, to protect items subject to legal prejudice, which this amendment, if it became law, would do.
I am a solicitor—it is probably my only declarable interest—and, like all solicitors, a solicitor of the Supreme Court, which I would like everybody to remember as a statement. I have been consulted by people anxious about fraud, bribery and commercial organisations who are naturally seeking a safe and effective way of making their concerns known. They are whistleblowers. Any solicitor would make a file note, and it is not a happy thought that a police officer, solely on his own authority, could seek access to that note and thus to the relationship of confidentiality with our clients that we lawyers have been brought up to believe is a vital foundation.
It may also fall to any practising solicitor to be consulted by someone seeking, as for example in the Jimmy Savile saga, to allege that serving police officers were complicit in abuse, and then to be approached by a police officer, perhaps seeking to head off trouble at the pass, being able to access information via RIPA without ever having to explain to a judge what evil it was he was specifically seeking to expose. I accept—of course, I do—that client confidentiality can and must be breached in extremis and with the issue of a warrant or authorisation by a judge, but it should not be possible for police officers to avoid the PACE rules or to go round them and get at the principle of client confidentiality by using legislation that was never intended to do that.
We solicitors are all members of the Supreme Court. We are bound to assist it, but we are bound to assist judges. We are not meant to be a branch of the Executive and, as such, we ought to be subject—and all legally applicable documents ought to be subject—to the power of the courts and not to the power of the police, or indeed, if push came to shove, to the Secretary of State. I commend the amendment.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen of Pimlico, and to make the same point from the point of view of the Bar. I do not think that legal professional privilege is fully understood. Certainly in the criminal field, there may be a perception that defence barristers get together with their client and cook up some story, and if only the police could have access to the instructions of the barrister or the solicitor, all would be revealed. The contrary is the truth.
If I can bowdlerise a little bit, when I see a client for the first time, I say to him, “Will you please not tell me any bull? I want to know the truth. Unless you tell me the truth, I am not able to help you. I am not able to give you proper advice, just as though you went to the doctor saying that you had a pain in your toe when in fact the pain was in your head. Tell me the truth”. It very often happens that the client will then come out with a story which you can then check against the other evidence in the prosecution case, and go back to him and say, “You did tell me a lot of bull. I really need to know the truth if I am to represent you properly”. He will change his story in some instances and will tell the truth. With that truth, you can win cases or you can mitigate the just punishment that will ultimately be imposed on him and advise him to plead guilty if that is the right thing to do.
It is an extremely delicate relationship between the client and the barrister or solicitor—I have been in the solicitor position as well—that many people do not understand. A judge understands it. If a judge, on a proper application being made to him, decides that it is in the public interest that this relationship should be investigated, and if there is something about the way in which the case is being conducted that gives rise to suspicion so that prying into the papers of the defence is an appropriate thing to do, the judge from all his experience—all judges will have been through the mill themselves and will know precisely how these things should be approached—will give the ultimate permission for the file or the papers to be looked at. Generally speaking, though, he will not do so, and it is quite wrong if the police use RIPA powers—legislation that was intended for a completely different purpose—to break into that very delicate relationship and break it up.
That is the importance of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, and I support it entirely.
My Lords, I can be fairly brief in this debate because I think the Minister will have heard the very real and deep concerns across the House on this. It is not the first time that concerns have been raised about the use or misuse of RIPA. In this instance we are talking about the rights of journalists obtaining information from confidential sources to retain that confidentiality without which some information may never come to light. Previously, there had been anecdotal reports of local authorities using the legislation, which the noble Lord, Lord Black, mentioned, including identifying whether parents were living in a school catchment area. These issues raise serious concerns and have serious implications for individuals and for issues of collective privacy.
I will say something about the wider and serious implications of misuse of the legislation, but I want to address the specific role of journalists’ sources. In effect, we are discussing how new technology has brought with it new challenges for a free press and for personal privacy. Thirty years ago, if the police wanted access to journalists’ sources, they would have to go to a court to obtain their notes. There were no mobile phone records they could access at that time. Similarly, we would not have seen journalists illegally hacking into private phone calls, as shamefully came to light more recently.
Over the weekend, like other noble Lords, I read some of the obituaries of Ben Bradlee, and this amendment came to mind as I was reading about his editorship of the Washington Post. I also watched “All the President’s Men”, which is one of my favourite films. The main people portrayed in that film—Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and Ben Bradlee—uncovered the most serious corruption at the highest level of government. I might tag this amendment as “the Watergate amendment” because, although the jurisdictions are entirely different, the principle is the same. Would that story, with all the implications for democracy and secrecy, ever have been told if the Nixon Administration had been able to identify the Deep Throat source or access the records of the journalists he was speaking to? If Nixon had been able to obtain mobile phone records in secret, would we ever have found out what was going on? There will be parallels in the UK, although perhaps they will not be so dramatic. That underlines the value and importance of serious investigative journalism. I am not talking about sensationalist stories about people that most of us have never heard of, but about the best kind of journalism, which I hugely admire, acting in the public interest, not just on what is of public interest.
Noble Lords will recall that, when the Government brought in new powers into the DRIP Act by fast-track legislation to deal with serious and organised crime, including terrorism, we were highly critical of the way in which they acted and of the need to use the fast-track process. Part of our demands in supporting that legislation was that there should be a complete, thorough and independent view of RIPA. We have said for some time that it is becoming increasingly clear and obvious that RIPA is out of date and does not have the right kind of framework or the safeguards we need. Recent reports that RIPA has been used to access journalists’ sources reinforce that. It is right that the Interception Commissioner is looking at it, but in addition it is essential that we get a clear guarantee from the Minister today that this issue will be included as part of the comprehensive review of RIPA led by David Anderson, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, that was agreed by the Government during the debates on DRIPA.
For many, the world seems less safe today. We must be vigilant against organised and serious crime and terrorism. I believe that the public understand and support the need for measures that the Government must put in place to deal with these threats to our safety. In order to have and maintain that public support, it is vital that such powers are only ever used for the purpose for which they were intended. If those powers are abused, whether by government, police or local authorities, it undermines public confidence in the very measures needed for the most serious issues, and that puts us all at risk.
Of course, journalists are not above the law. Like anyone else, they need to be investigated if they have committed a serious crime, and I do not think anybody is arguing otherwise. As noble Lords have pointed out, there is already an independent judicial process with prior jurisdiction needed by which the police can apply for access to journalists’ information, but we have a long tradition of additional safeguards in law to recognise the role of a free press in a democracy and to protect whistleblowers, and this should not be compromised.
That is why we need the RIPA legislation to be examined in its entirety, including in context and in application, to ensure that the legal framework enables the police to access the data they need to solve serious crimes and to ensure that it does not have a chilling effect on free speech and the free press on which our democracy depends. The Government must ensure that David Anderson’s review is ambitious enough in scope to resolve these problems and to respond positively to the issue before us now. We seek an assurance from the Minister that this matter will be considered in the review. In addition, the Government must make it clear by whatever means are appropriate that such legislation must only ever be used for the purpose for which it was intended.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for explaining the purpose of this amendment. I do not believe there is any difference between my noble friend and me, or indeed any of your Lordships who have contributed to this debate, on the key issue at stake here. We all agree that a free and fearless press is fundamental to a democratic society. A key element of journalism is the protection of sources, and I can assure your Lordships that the Government do not wish to do anything which would undermine the operation of the vibrant and independent press that operates in this country.
The amendment which my noble friend has moved seeks to require public authorities who acquire communications data under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 to seek the authorisation of a judge when the material requested is subject to legal privilege or relates to journalistic sources. However, this is unnecessary, given the strict regulation RIPA already contains and the additional safeguards we are already putting in place.
Communications data—the who, when and where but not the content of a communication—would reveal the telephone number a journalist or lawyer calls, but would not reveal any of what was said or written in a communication. Last month, the independent Interception of Communications Commissioner issued a statement in which he said that communications data,
“do not contain any details of what was said or written by the sender or the recipient of the communication. As such, the communications data retained by CSPs”—
communications service providers—
“do not contain any material that may be said to be of professional or legal privilege—the fact that a communication took place does not provide what was discussed or considered or advised”.
None the less, I recognise that this is a sensitive issue. It is personal information and RIPA already applies rigorous controls on its acquisition.
Communications data can only be obtained when their acquisition is necessary for a specified purpose, such as preventing and detecting crime, and then only when it is proportionate to do so. Anyone can complain to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal if they think the powers have been used unlawfully against them. The whole system is presided over, and reported on, by the Interception of Communications Commissioner, a senior judicial figure.
These controls apply to all requests for communications data, and I believe we have one of the most stringent systems to be found anywhere, with both strict internal controls and independent oversight. If any of your Lordships have doubts on this point, I would recommend reading the annual report of the Interception of Communications Commissioner. Sir Anthony May’s report, published in April of this year, includes a detailed account of how the system works and a full statistical breakdown of communications data requests.
However, we recognise the special considerations that apply to journalists, lawyers and a number of other professions which may involve access to sensitive information. We have announced plans to update the Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data Code of Practice. These changes will make clear that specific consideration must be given by the senior authorising officer to the level of possible intrusion in cases likely to involve the communications data of those engaged in certain professions who may have obligations of professional secrecy. These professions include journalism, as well as those of lawyers, doctors and Members of Parliament, and will also include those known to be close contacts of members of these professions. Any application for communications data that are known to be the data of members of these professions or their close contacts will have to state this clearly in the application. It will also require that relevant information is available to the authorising office when considering necessity and proportionality. This change will make clear in the statutory code what is already existing best practice.
We will publish the updated draft code of practice for public consultation as soon as possible, noting the acting Interception of Communications Commissioner’s request to expedite publication of the code. It is also worth pointing out that on 6 October the acting Interception of Communications Commissioner, Sir Paul Kennedy, announced that he had,
“launched an inquiry into the use of RIPA powers to determine whether the acquisition of communications data has been undertaken to identify journalistic sources”.
It would certainly be premature to take any legislative action in advance of knowing his findings.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, asked whether David Anderson’s review of RIPA would cover this area. I am sure that David Anderson will wish to look at all aspects of RIPA interception and communications data, including this issue.
In the light of the protections already available, the very clear commitment to strengthen these through the code of practice and the ongoing inquiry by Sir Paul Kennedy, I invite my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, it has been an interesting debate. The House seems to have one view and the Minister seems to have another. I thank noble Lords who have partaken in the debate: my noble friends Lord Black and Lord Thomas, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Cohen and Lady Smith.
I do not think that the Minister was listening to what I said. Everyone outside the Home Office and the Foreign Office knows that the safeguards in RIPA have been proved ineffective time and again. I rather anticipated that the Government would try to fob us off with some tweak of the code of practice. Tweaking the code of practice is not going to offer the certainty that journalists need; it is not going to offer the transparency. All of this is still going to carry on in secret. We will not know what on earth is going on, and it will not give the press, the journalists or the media the opportunity to challenge the police’s intention to seek their phone records and others from the phone companies. So it will not take us any further forward at all.
I have to say that, as you might have detected, I am more than somewhat disappointed with the Government’s response. They have not listened to the debate. I hope they will reflect on the debate and come back with something more substantive. If not, I am quite sure that I and others, including those in another place, will return to this issue with a vengeance. How