House of Lords
Monday 8 February 2021
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Coventry.
Introduction: Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie
Stephanie Mary Fraser, having been created Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie, of Craigmaddie in the County of Stirlingshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Strathclyde and Lord McInnes of Kilwinning, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, while others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask all Members to respect social distancing. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
Oral Questions will now commence. I ask those asking supplementary questions to keep them no longer than 30 seconds and confined to two points. I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Shawcross Report: Compensation for Victims
My Lords, I am sure I speak for the whole House in expressing our deepest sympathies to the victims of Gaddafi-sponsored IRA terrorism, and indeed to all the victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. This is an important issue and we recognise that Parliament takes a close interest in it. Ministers across government are carefully considering the internal scoping report that Mr Shawcross has produced in order to do justice to the important and sensitive issues that it covers, giving due respect to the victims.
My Lords, the finding of the Shawcross report was submitted to the Government last May, and I have to say that it is deeply regrettable that the report has not been released. Sadly, as in so many other cases, many victims of republican terrorism continue to feel abandoned by the process, and some rightly ask why they must continue to wait for justice. The Minister will be aware that there has been a long campaign for the frozen assets of Colonel Gaddafi to be used to compensate the victims of Colonel-Gaddafi-sponsored IRA terrorism, in line with that previously paid out to French, German and American victims of Colonel-Gaddafi-sponsored terrorist attacks. Does the Minister agree that every effort must be made by the Government to support the victims in their long struggle for justice? The delay in the release of the report has left them feeling abandoned, hurt and betrayed.
My Lords, I note what the noble Lord has said. On the delay, the challenges of the pandemic have meant that we wanted to give the report appropriate discussion across Westminster. I assure the noble Lord that we put victims at the heart of our approach. He mentioned victims from other countries, and he will of course note that where there are direct victims—in the case of the United Kingdom, those around Lockerbie—appropriate compensation has been paid out.
Oh, come on, my Lords: the Government have sat on this report for almost a year. The first excuse, which the Minister has repeated, was Covid. Then, in response to an FOI request, the excuse was that it would affect unspecified British interests abroad; next, that it would somehow prejudice relations with the Northern Ireland Executive; and, lastly, that it contains private and confidential information, which presumably could be redacted. So what is the real reason? US victims of Gaddafi-backed terrorism have been compensated. There are £12 billion-worth of frozen Libyan assets in the UK. Last year, the Government promised that they were committed to supporting the victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism, so why have they been dragging their feet?
My Lords, I believe I have already answered the noble Lord in part. I do not agree with him that we have been dragging our feet. As I said, the report is wide-ranging, and we are giving it careful consideration. On the asset freeze that he specifically mentioned, he will know that UK regulations prohibit any dealings with assets owned, held or controlled by designated persons, as specified in law. I note what the noble Lord has said, but I assure him that we are looking at this across government.
As others have said, it is now over nine months since William Shawcross submitted his report to the Government and over a year since new wider commitments to legacy issues were set out in New Decade, New Approach, yet victims are still waiting for action. Even given the complications caused by Covid, does the Minister not accept that this is an unacceptably long wait for the victims, who have already waited for so long?
My Lords, at the risk of repeating myself, as I have said, yes, I accept the premise of the noble Baroness’s question about the delays caused by Covid, but equally the report needs a measured response. I assure the noble Baroness and all noble Lords that we are looking at it very carefully.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that, very often, when Governments—I put it in the plural because it is not just this Government—sit on reports, that has a disproportionate effect on the febrile imagination of people looking on, because they assume that something is being hidden? Even more important in this case are the victims. We have heard of their pain and suffering, and it is quite possible that some of those victims will die before they get compensation. Is that an aspect of the speed of this that worries the Minister, and how is he going to address it?
My Lords, as ever, I note the concerns that noble Lords are expressing on this important and sensitive matter. Again, I assure the noble Lord that we are looking at this with the victims fully in mind and at the heart and centre of our approach.
My Lords, in accordance with international law, when assets are frozen they continue to belong to the sanctioned individual or entity—in this case, the Libyan state. Any revenue raised specifically from frozen assets would have gone into the Government’s Consolidated Fund. I assure the noble Lord that the victims of such actions, and terrorism, are very much at the front of the Government’s mind and we will seek to continue to support victims across the piece when it comes to issues of terrorism.
My Lords, I served on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board for Great Britain until 1992. There was then a concurrent scheme for Northern Ireland, which was subject to a strict one-year limitation period for claiming, without any discretion to extend, save for children. Would it not be desirable now—particularly if the Government are in receipt of income from frozen Libyan assets in the way of tax—to open up a window of, say, six months, for claiming on an ex gratia basis for those who were too terrified or intimidated to claim as victims of terrorist acts at the time?
My Lords, I note what the noble Lord has said but, as he will appreciate, I cannot respond to the specific terms of his proposals. He will be aware that in January 2020, in the absence of the Northern Ireland Executive, the UK Government did legislate to establish a victims’ payment scheme. The Northern Ireland Executive are responsible for delivering the scheme, which will be open for applications from March 2021.
My Lords, does the Minister really understand how the victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism feel genuinely abandoned by this Government? Other countries’ Governments all negotiated substantial payments for their victims—victims of the Docklands bombing of 25 years ago tomorrow, of the Harrods bombing and of the Enniskillen bombing, all got compensation. Why will the Government not even commit definitely to publish the Shawcross report? Have they got something to hide, or are they perhaps trying to protect the republican movement and aspects of people in the IRA? Will the noble Lord the Minister now commit that Her Majesty’s Government will veto any attempt by the United Nations Security Council to release the millions of pounds of assets held in London banks unless there is a deal with the United Kingdom on compensation for the victims?
My Lords, the noble Baroness rightly raises the issue of the US, French and German Governments’ claims for atrocities. She will also note that these were direct atrocities—including, from a UK perspective, the killing of WPC Fletcher, as well as the victims of Lockerbie—and they have been compensated. By contrast, Libya was defined as a third party in IRA terrorism. I understand what the noble Baroness says, including about the importance of a UN review of the regime within the context of UN Security Council resolutions, but I assure her, as I have other noble Lords, that we are continuing to look at victims. An important and sensitive report has been produced internally and we are looking at all matters before responding appropriately. I cannot give the noble Baroness more detail than that at this time.
HS2: Phase 2B
My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that the Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east realise the benefits of high-speed services. The integrated rail plan will set out the best way of delivering the eastern leg of HS2 phase 2b and will consider how to sequence its delivery to ensure that benefits are realised sooner and that it is integrated with other major schemes such as Northern Powerhouse Rail and Midlands Engine Rail.
I thank the Minister for her reply. Only the full HS2 eastern leg and Midlands Engine Rail—including the developments from regeneration around the HS2 East Midlands hub at Toton—would deliver the connectivity and ambition needed to revive the Midlands economy post Covid. Does the Minister agree that the HS2 East Midlands hub should remain at Toton? The scale of development at Toton, creating 84,000 jobs and adding £4.8 billion to the value of the regional economy, will be key to levelling up the Midlands region after years of underinvestment.
My Lords, we have been very impressed by the scale of the regeneration plans for the proposed HS2 station at Toton. In the IRP it is very important that we consider regeneration and economic impacts on local areas, as well as how to create the right kind of rail network.
The Government were right, following the review by Doug Oakervee, to continue with HS2, which is now happening and taking place to Birmingham and Manchester. Does the Minister agree that it is absolutely essential that the eastern leg of the project, which takes in the cities of Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds, also gets the benefits from what is a major engineering project for this country?
My noble friend might have seen a letter published today by Connecting Britain, which is made up of 120 leaders from the places that he mentions and beyond. It says:
“The Integrated Rail Plan is your chance to move on from Covid to what the future of the UK should look like. Levelling up parts of the country that have seen traditional and considerable underinvestment, and that would benefit from a plan for growth.”
That is exactly what we intend to do.
My Lords, the UK has underinvested in rail and road infrastructure under all Governments for over 50 years. As a consequence, we have the worst transport infrastructure of any major country. Does the Minister agree that the payback to the economy of major infrastructure investment—think of the M1, for instance—comes not only over decades but, more likely, over the best part of a century?
My Lords, I join the general trend of support and welcome for the Government’s continued commitment to the entire HS2 project. Could the Minister take the opportunity to reinforce the point that this is not a zero-sum game, with one part of the country gaining at the expense of another? We all gain from the introduction of the project, not least those of us who live in London; we gain because the north gains. Would the Minister confirm that?
The noble Lord is completely right—this project is about connectivity and capacity, and the connectivity strand is about connectivity throughout the country. HS2 provides a wonderful opportunity to create a high-speed rail spine down the centre of the country which will benefit both the cities it connects and the local communities beyond them.
My Lords, this Government made manifesto promises on levelling up the north-east and produced a prospectus called HS2: Getting the Best out of Yorkshire. I have listened carefully to the Minister’s words today; can she tell us the timescale for legislation to allow the HS2 eastern leg to go forward? Can she unequivocally confirm that that will be happening?
The noble Baroness has been in this House long enough to know that I cannot possibly confirm that, because of course to have legislation, particularly a very complicated hybrid Bill, there are a number of steps that we have go through beforehand. One of those steps will be the publication of the integrated rail plan. It will be published in early 2021—so, very shortly—and in it we will set out exactly what we will do for the eastern leg and how we will integrate it with plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail and Midlands Engine Rail.
The National Infrastructure Commission’s report is clearly a further blow to the east Midlands and Yorkshire economies, the Government having already pulled back on the full electrification of the east Midlands main line. Reference has already been made to the 120 business leaders from across the north and the Midlands who wrote to the Prime Minister calling for the full delivery of the eastern leg of HS2. Is the Minister giving us a commitment that the Prime Minister will be restating his commitment to the eastern leg of HS2 in the integrated rail plan, within the existing timescale for the completion of that eastern leg?
I am not sure precisely what commitment the noble Lord would like me to give, but the Prime Minister recently spoke about
“the power of great infrastructure projects to deliver jobs, which is why we are getting on with both the eastern leg of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.”—[Official Report, Commons, 9/12/21; col. 839.]
My Lords, on 31 January 2017, I tabled an amendment to the HS2 Bill which would have stopped this ridiculous vanity project in its tracks. I lost, but 26 Members of your Lordships’ House who really understood HS2 supported me. A petition demanding a Commons debate on its continuation has so far received approximately 150,000 signatures and will have to be granted. Rather than tinkering with the existing scheme, I urge the Minister to scrap it, and to urgently and carefully look at all the available proposals to spend money on worthwhile railway schemes across every region in the country. This would be of great benefit to passengers and commuters nationwide, do less harm to the environment and people’s lives, utilise all the expertise acquired by HS2, and, in the light of the effect of the Covid pandemic, which has changed working practices forever, allow us to extricate ourselves from a doomed project which cannot possibly succeed.
A couple of things are conflated in that question. Regarding the pressing ahead, the London to Birmingham section was far more developed than any other section, and therefore it could be taken forward more quickly. Regarding allowing costs to rise, the Government have a laser-like focus on the cost of HS2. I am sure that my honourable friend in the other place, Minister Stephenson, will continue to ensure that they are as low as possible.
My Lords, given the recent delays, is it not now the case that the north-east—Durham, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear—will not now benefit from HS2 until after 2040? If the Government want to level up, are there not other schemes in the north-east far worthier of immediate support, such as the full reopening of the Leamside line, which MPs, local authorities of all parties and business leaders are very keen to support?
My Lords, it is not an either/or when it comes to railways in the north or anywhere else. That is why we have the Restoring Your Railway Fund, which is looking at reopening certain lines. I assure the House that the integrated rail plan is about not only ensuring that all these projects are integrated but delivering them as quickly as we can.
Do the Government still agree with the economic justification for HS2, which shows that in Sheffield, Leeds, Chesterfield, Nottingham and the east Midlands, HS2 will create over 136,000 new jobs, including many highly skilled positions, and that the full multibillion pound increase in GVA will come to fruition only if the eastern leg goes ahead all the way to Leeds?
We are in frequent discussions with stakeholders across the north and the Midlands to fully understand the economic benefits of HS2 to their areas. It is absolutely clear to us that the benefits are very significant. We will set out the exact way forward in the integrated rail plan.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) the impact of the conflict in Tigray upon the stability of the Horn of Africa region, and (2) the implications of that conflict for their Overseas Development Assistance policy.
My Lords, we are concerned about the impact of the conflict in Tigray on the humanitarian situation and wider regional stability. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary urged all parties to bring an end to fighting, prioritise the protection of civilians, allow unfettered humanitarian access and preserve regional stability when he met Prime Minister Abiy on 22 January. As a result of the conflict, the UK is considering its safe delivery model in Ethiopia. Our priority remains to support Ethiopians in need, which we will do by supporting the most vulnerable in the country.
My Lords, I welcome last week’s agreement allowing the UN access to Tigray, whereas some refugees are reduced to eating tree bark as a result of the Ethiopian Government blocking humanitarian access. What specific action will the UK take during its presidency of the UN Security Council to resolve the crisis in a country which is the fourth-highest recipient in the world of UK aid?
My Lords, my noble friend makes a very pertinent point. The situation on humanitarian access remains dire in country, as was emphasised by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary during his visit. Regarding the UN Security Council point, on 3 February, UN Security Council members under the UK presidency discussed the humanitarian situation. At that time, we also heard from Sir Mark Lowcock, who heads up humanitarian affairs at the UN. The situation remains very challenging, but we will continue to implore all sides to allow unfettered humanitarian access.
My Lords, although in receipt of budgetary support, the federal Government can find resources to carry on this war, and allegedly are using starvation as a weapon of war. In 2019, we gave Ethiopia £300 million in bilateral aid, which was then the second-highest amount, after Pakistan. Does this give us any leverage at all in this conflict, and will we and the international community be expected to pick up the vast bill for the reconstruction of Tigray?
My Lords, the noble Lord is right to raise bilateral support. Ethiopia remains one of the largest recipients of UK support, although, as I said in my original Answer, we are reviewing, particularly with an eye on Tigray, whether that support is getting through. The noble Lord also raises a valid point about the leverage that this provides. I assure him that we are talking directly to the Ethiopian Government about the support that we give to the most vulnerable, to ensure that it reaches those most in need.
My Lords, in January 2021, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees learned of additional military incursions consistent with open-source satellite imagery showing fires and other signs of destruction at two Eritrean refugee camps in Tigray. Have Her Majesty’s Government made any representations on an independent investigation into human rights violations in those camps?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to raise those camps. We have raised concerns directly. Our ambassador on the ground has also raised concerns with the Eritrean authorities. I assure the noble Baroness that the issues of violence in this conflict, particularly gender-based violence and sexual violence, are at the forefront of our approach and challenges, and once the situation settles, we must ensure that perpetrators are held fully to account.
My Lords, the UN interagency response plan for this crisis is less than 60% funded, and the UK has an important role to play here, but nearly three months on from the announcement that the Government will cut £4 billion from our overseas development budget, we have yet to see any details of how these cuts will be made. Will they come from UN agencies, which are doing such vital work in Tigray, or from bilateral programmes such as our important nutrition work in Ethiopia? Can my noble friend the Minister tell us when any information on these cuts will be made available to Parliament?
My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness that we are focused very much on ensuring that the most vulnerable are supported in this conflict, particularly those in Tigray, and our funding—whether through multilateral or bilateral support—is focused on that. On the specifics of future funding, we are currently reviewing our ODA budget for this year, and I will, of course, share that with my noble friend as soon as that decision is made.
My Lords, the BBC reports that an immense tragedy is unfolding in Tigray. Has anyone from the British embassy, other members of the diplomatic community or one of the four African Union special envoys been able to visit Tigray to make an independent assessment of the situation? Do the UK Government have firm evidence of the involvement of Eritrean forces in Tigray?
My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s final point, we need to ensure that all the facts are fully available before any assessment is made, but undoubtedly the Eritrean forces have been present. We continue to call for full cessation and the allowing of humanitarian access. That is why we have continued to emphasise that some NGOs are operational, specifically in Tigray. When the Foreign Secretary visited Ethiopia, he called for unfettered access into the region. I will continue to update the noble Baroness as further details unfold.
My Lords, in order to ensure that our aid to the Horn of Africa reaches the right people, is it still Government policy to give aid to charities that are reliable and transparent, such as the Tropical Health and Education Trust, CAFOD and others in the same league that are free from somewhat dubious political activities?
My Lords, apart from the humanitarian crisis in Tigray, what actions are being taken to protect the key strategic trade routes to the Horn of Africa? In the knowledge that the region is highly vulnerable to climate change and water security issues, and with Ethiopia controlling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, what measures are being taken to address tensions relating to trans-boundary water relations?
My Lords, the noble Lord raises extremely important points, particularly in respect of strategic locations. This is why we have taken a very strong approach through a direct intervention by the Foreign Secretary in country. The matters he raised in terms of both the situation in Tigray and the wider implications were very much part of his discussion with Prime Minister Abiy when he was in country.
My Lords, I pick up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, on the impact of some of the cuts in our bilateral programmes, but also in our multilateral programmes. As food security is obviously a critical issue in the Horn of Africa, will the Minister tell us whether we will make food security a priority at the G7 summit, which will take place later on this year?
My Lords, there are many elements in the G7 discussions, but the noble Lord is right to raise the issue of food security. In any conflict zone, that becomes an immediate personal priority and I support his view. We have managed in Ethiopia, over many years, to support efforts on sanitation, school education and avoiding famine. However, the situation in Tigray in particular remains extremely worrying, not just with regard to the refugees in nearby Sudan but also with regard to the internally displaced refugees, whose numbers at the moment are very fluid.
My Lords, the noble Lord is right that there are important discussions to be had. I have already alluded to the UN Security Council meeting. In addition to this, we are talking to key players within Africa, most notably leaders in Sudan and South Africa, among others. We emphasise the important role of the UN and other agencies, as well as the African Union, in finding a resolution to this conflict.
My Lords, with more than 6 million sick and starving refugees from the conflict, does the Minister agree that the first priority must be the cessation of violence and the setting up of a round-table meeting with both sides and UN officials to establish safe conditions for the supply and distribution of urgently needed humanitarian aid?
My Lords, I am sure that the Government are aware that the World Food Programme has already commenced distributing food in the Tigray region to the tune of 20,000 tonnes to support around 1.3 million people. As nearly 3 million need help, will the Government support the UN in its efforts to provide extra aid to extend that supply to the other 1.7 million people?
My Lords, my noble friend is right to raise the issue of the UN World Food Programme, which has provided food assistance for 2.9 million people. He will be pleased to hear that, thanks to this being a priority issue for us, we now have an envoy, Nick Dyer, who covers humanitarian issues, conflict and famine, and who has visited Ethiopia to determine what the current priorities are. As I said to noble Lords in answer to previous questions, the situation in Tigray itself remains very fluid. A lot of the details are unknown, which is why we will continue to press, as the first priority, for unfettered humanitarian access to the region.
Genetically Modified Food
My Lords, our legislation includes rigorous requirements for assessing health and environmental risks associated with GM food production. Approved GM crops and GM food products must pass a robust, case-by-case safety assessment reflecting independent scientific advice.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Although I have some questions about gene editing, I recognise the potential it has to revolutionise the agricultural sector. My concern is for farmers and any potential barriers to trade with the EU that this might introduce. Although the Commission has indicated its intent to review the current rules, this has been countered by the European Parliament, which signalled its objection. What is Her Majesty’s Government’s assessment of the impact of gene editing on our ability to export agricultural products to EU markets?
My Lords, the purpose of our consultation is principally to consider the issue of gene editing, which we think has a very strong future in assisting us in many respects in food production and the natural environment. Obviously, we shall consider the response to that consultation, and the right reverend Prelate’s remarks about the rest of the world, certainly including the European Union countries, are relevant. I know that the French Agriculture Minister has expressed concern about the European court’s view on gene editing.
My Lords, the Minister may recall that in the early days of devolution, Wales’s National Assembly passed, as was in its devolved powers so to do, orders prohibiting on precautionary principles the growth of certain genetically modified crops in Wales. That caused some cross-border dispute on the Wales-Cheshire border. If the Government are considering any new initiatives in England, will he undertake to discuss at an early stage with the Welsh and Scottish Governments whether their plans might cause any difficulties, and endeavour to find a mechanism to resolve them this time round, prior to them becoming issues of heated controversy?
My Lords, we have engaged very strongly with the devolved Administrations on the consultation, for instance in advance of its publication. As the noble Lord said, GMOs are a devolved matter and decisions on marketing are a matter for the relevant devolved Administration. We will continue to keep up a very strong dialogue.
My Lords, my noble friend the Minister has already referred to the fact that the French Agriculture Minister has disagreed with the EU’s stance on genetic editing. I also note that the US has approved some genetically modified seeds for use, as of last year. Studies suggest that genetic editing has the potential to improve yields while using significantly fewer resources, improving soil quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and could be worth in the region of $200 billion to $300 billion per year. Have these international developments informed Defra’s thinking at all? Does the Minister agree that this science offers promising opportunities for the UK?
My Lords, many countries have been considering their approach to GMO governance and regulation in the light of technological advances. Indeed, these international dimensions have helped to inform our approach to the consultation. We recognise that innovations through technology such as gene editing can help to create new markets, support a sustainable economy, help UK businesses globally and improve agricultural productivity in a way that enhances the natural environment.
My Lords, my interests are as recorded on the register. Does the Minister accept that gene editing and genetic modification are different technologies and that the Government will be considering them separately in terms of policy? Have the Government conducted any consumer research recently into the acceptability of these technologies?
My Lords, the noble Lord is right about the distinction. Indeed, gene editing should not be confused with gene modification. Gene-edited organisms generally do not contain DNA from different species. They contain changes that could be made more slowly using traditional breeding methods. We think there is merit in that, which is why we have consulted. Indeed, we want responses to the consultation, which closes on 17 March, and we are very keen to hear from interested parties and members of the public.
My Lords, the reality is that no one knows which gene-edited or genetically modified crop might have an adverse impact on the environment. For example, pest-resistant crops can pose threats to important insect populations. The Government’s consultation is totally silent on what environmental regulatory regime would replace the current one. Can the Minister tell the House whether there will be a new regulatory system requiring a case-by-case environmental impact assessment before release? Will Natural England be given adequate resources to oversee effect EIA or are the Government simply intending to deregulate irrespective of the biodiversity risks?
Let me be clear: our endeavours in this matter are for better regulation, not deregulation. We think that gene editing has considerable benefits for the natural environment but clearly on a precautionary basis we will be working to ensure that, case-by-case, there is an environmental assessment. We look forward to the responses in the consultation.
My Lords, organic farming has risen by 13% in the past year, but organic farms are at extreme risk of cross-contamination from genetically modified crops putting their own crops at risk. How does the Minister propose to protect organic farms from GM contamination?
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, in making assessments of health and environmental risks, which have a huge impact on conservation, biodiversity and land management, the risks and consequences of both action and inaction will be considered equally?
My Lords, I declare an interest in Rothamsted Research as recorded in the register. We welcome the Government’s consultation on gene editing and the distinction drawn between genetic modification and gene editing. Can the Minister assure us that any changes in the regulation of gene editing will be balanced alongside policies to minimise the use of artificial pesticides and artificial fertilisers so that there will be a net gain for the protection of public health and the environment from any changes?
My Lords, what the noble Baroness has said is why we believe there could well be environmental benefits from gene editing, whether they are reduced use of neutron additions, reduced use of chemical pesticides, increased crop yields or crops that are more resilient to climate change. These are the areas that, in an honest endeavour, we should be looking into and why the consultation is so important as part of the first phase before any change may occur.
My Lords, about three-quarters of the world’s soya and nearly one-third of the world’s maize and oilseed rape is GM. Europe, including the UK, is one of the world’s largest importers of GM soya. Does the Minister agree that no human health risks have been identified as a result of consuming these GM foods? Is he aware that the chair of the Food and Drink Federation organic committee recently said that the tide of opinion on genetic editing has changed and that the organic sector could end up isolated if it did not welcome this technology?
My Lords, I agree with the whole thrust of what the noble Lord said. We think that science and our knowledge of gene editing have advanced since the GM framework nearly 30 years ago, and therefore we think that there are advantages to the environment. That is why we want to proceed.
My Lords, I declare an interest as set out in the register. My noble friend the Minister will be aware that soil structure and quality have been diminishing for many years. He will also be aware of the excellent work being done by the GWTC and Harper Adams University into minimal till regimes, which are proving to have a beneficial effect, certainly on soil structure and the wider environment. Does he agree that, in tandem with emerging best practice based on the science, GM crops are an important component in enhancing yields and reducing the use of fertilisers and pesticides and therefore in protecting and feeding the consumer?
My Lords, my noble friend has made a very important point: we have to feed the world’s increasing population. We think that, particularly in the area of gene editing crops, there are potentially very strong advantages in sustaining and improving the natural environment while improving the hugely important ingredient of soil health with reduced nutrient additions and chemical pesticides.
Support for University Students: Covid-19
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Wednesday 3 February.
“The honourable Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) is an assiduous campaigner for students and has spoken to me many times on the topic. I agree with him on how incredibly difficult this time has been for students, given the unprecedented disruption caused by the global pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, I have been working with the universities to prevent students from getting into hardship. We have worked with the Office for Students to allow flexibility in the spending of £256 million of student premium money, enabling it to be spent in relation to hardship, mental health and digital poverty. In December we announced an initial £20 million of additional student hardship funding, and yesterday I announced £50 million, taking the total funding available to £70 million for the remainder of this financial year. My focus as Universities Minister has always been to work with the sector to make sure that the right support gets to the students who need it the most, and the new student hardship funding will really benefit those students by putting money into their pockets.
Providers will have flexibility in how they distribute the funding to their students in a way that is best prioritised to meet the greatest needs. Given that we have asked the majority of students not to return to their university term-time accommodation in this lockdown, support might include help for students facing additional costs arising from having to maintain accommodation in more than one location, or assistance for students to access teaching remotely. The funding can be distributed to a wide population of students, including postgraduates and international students. The House can be assured that we will continue to monitor the impact this funding is having on students.
Also, because of the changing position on face-to-face teaching and the occupation of accommodation, student maintenance loan entitlement for the current term will not be reassessed if students are still incurring accommodation costs away from home. This means that students in receipt of the away-from-home loan rate will retain the maintenance loan paid at the start of the spring term.
The Government recognise that many students are facing additional mental health challenges due to the pandemic, and at every stage I have reinforced to providers the importance of prioritising mental health. I have established the higher education mental health and well-being working group, and I have worked with the Office for Students to provide Student Space, which has funding of up to £3 million.
I agree that the pandemic has been tough on young people, particularly students. The £70 million that we have allocated to student hardship for the remainder of this financial year will help those students who are most in need because of the pandemic.”
My Lords, last week a survey from the Office for National Statistics found that 63% of students have reported worsening mental health and well-being since the start of the 2020-21 academic year, compared with 57% last November. The Covid-19 pandemic has intensified the student mental health crisis, with many isolated at home, without support, unfairly paying for accommodation that they are forbidden to use, and feeling a sense of hopelessness about their futures. With placements cancelled, jobs disappearing and whole industries at risk of collapse, the only certainty is that they are faced with significant student debt. The pandemic has undoubtedly been especially hard for students with disabilities, who face additional challenges and might need more support to continue their studies and find a worthwhile job once they have left. Will the Government commit to providing further funding to support the substantial increase in demand that university well-being and support services are experiencing, as well as direct support for students with disabilities?
The noble Lord is absolutely right to point to the mental health and well-being challenges that the pandemic places on students. The Government are very alive to these. We wrote to vice-chancellors in October, outlining that student welfare must remain a priority during the pandemic. My honourable friend the Universities Minister convened a working group of representatives from the higher education and healthcare sectors to look into what we can do. We have been working with the Office for Students to provide Student Space, which has been funded by up to £3 million to bridge any gaps in support that exist for students and their mental health needs, although I am pleased to say that universities themselves have been doing great work directly with students. Of course, as the noble Lord knows, last week we announced an additional £50 million of funding, on top of the £20 million that we provided in December, to assist students who face hardship at this difficult time.
My Lords, everyone will be pleased that the Government are making this additional financial support available for students to help with their well-being and mental health. University students will, naturally, be worried and anxious about their academic work and assessments. What is the Minister’s view of essay mills and contract-cheating companies that prey on students’ vulnerability and isolation? Will the Government finally bring in legislation to act against those companies?
My Lords, those who prey on the vulnerability of students, particularly at this time, deserve our condemnation. We were concerned about online provision from these companies even before the pandemic, and of course we will continue to monitor that.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on the additional help that has been given to students at this time but, given that we are still charging students an interest rate of 5.6% on student loans while they are studying, when the Government can borrow money at 0.3%, might this not be a good time to implement the Economic Affairs Committee recommendation that we cut the interest rate on student loans?
My Lords, my noble friend has long taken an interest in this matter through his work on your Lordships’ Economic Affairs Committee. The Government have already announced that the maximum fees will remain at £9,250 for a standard full-time course, and we intend to freeze the maximum tuition fee caps for 2022 and 2023—the fifth year in succession that maximum fees have been frozen—to make sure that university education is available to, and affordable for, those who want it.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the additional funding announced last week, but what action are the Government planning to take on the QAA’s guidance, which says that thousands of students might have to repeat a year because of the professional nature of their qualifications and the lack of practical teaching? To pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, will those students have to pay an additional year’s tuition if they have to repeat a year, and, again on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, will the Government at least contemplate for existing students a payment freeze on interest—if nothing else, a sort of holiday on the interest rate payments or a reduction of those payments? In piling on debt for those students, the amount charged is ridiculous.
We have been prioritising a return to face-to-face teaching for courses which, as the noble Baroness says, have to be delivered in person. They include courses for students studying medical, clinical and healthcare-related subjects, including nursing, social work, dentistry and veterinary studies. Universities have been working very hard to ensure that the quality of tuition they provide is maintained at a high standard, and we have been very clear that it should be. We want to see minimum disruption to people’s study, even during the challenging circumstances of the pandemic.
My Lords, while the short-term support offered by the Government to students facing financial difficulties is most welcome, the pandemic has also generated uncertainty about graduate employment in the short, medium and long term. What plans do Her Majesty’s Government have for supporting students and graduates who are or will be seeking skilled graduate employment?
The right reverend Prelate is right; this has been a challenge. From taking A-levels, to being at university, to graduating: as he says, these are difficult times. The Government are providing support to people going into employment as well as to students currently completing their studies. We want to make sure that we look after people at every stage of that journey.
Additional funding is welcome, but the University of Greenwich, of which I happen to be chancellor, is experiencing what many other universities are experiencing in London: the removal of the London-weighting element of the teaching grant funding allocation. This is having a very adverse effect on our financial viability, costing us some £2.5 million per year. We put disadvantaged children and children and young people from minority ethnic backgrounds at the very forefront of our concerns in the first part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. We are finding it very difficult to do this in the face of this cut in our funding allocation. Will the Government reconsider their decisions in that regard to enable us to do that much more for these needy students?
The noble Lord is right to point to the impact the pandemic has had on institutions as well as the students studying at them; I commend the work that they do. The Government have already provided significant support for the higher education sector, bringing forward £2 billion of tuition fee payments, providing £280 million of grant funding for research and establishing a loan scheme to cover up to 80% of a university’s income losses from international students. That, of course, is on top of the generous package of support that my right honourable friend the Chancellor provided for businesses, so we certainly are providing the assistance that institutions need.
I am pleased to reassure my noble friend that the hardship funding, including the additional £50 million announced last week, can be distributed to a wide population of students, including international students studying here in the UK. We want to make sure we support people in hardship, wherever they come from.
My Lords, one or two Edinburgh students I know personally have suffered considerably. Many were shut in their rooms for a fortnight when one of them contracted the virus. Should students who can prove limited access to education at various times have to pay a full rent? Should remote learning without proper tutorials not be compensated during a pandemic? I am assuming the virus is not a devolved matter.
Many universities and accommodation providers have already offered rent refunds for students who have been asked to stay away from their term-time accommodation. We welcome that and strongly encourage others to do the same. We have been asking all providers of student accommodation to make sure that they have the students’ best interests at heart.
Following on from the question of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, does the Minister agree that student accommodation providers that are still charging students rent when they are having to work from home are completely wrong? There is no point in just encouraging them to take action. What action are the Government taking to stop this exploitation?
My Lords, the Government do not run the accommodation for students, but we do applaud those universities and institutions that have taken action and encourage others to do the same. For commercial tenancies the Government have, as the noble Lord will know, made a package of financial support available to tenants, but where they can continue to pay the rent they should do so. We encourage all landlords to take a pragmatic and compassionate approach during this pandemic.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, that there was not time to take her question.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. I ask all Members to respect social distancing.
I will call Members to speak in the order listed in the annexe to today’s list. Members are not permitted to intervene spontaneously; the Chair calls each speaker. Interventions during speeches or “before the noble Lord sits down” are not permitted.
During the debate on each group, I invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request and will call the Minister to reply each time. The groupings are binding and it is not possible to de-group an amendment for separate debate. A participant who might wish to press to a Division an amendment other than the lead amendment in a group must give notice, either in the debate or by emailing the clerk. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely wants their voice accounted for if the question is put, they must make this clear when speaking on the group.
Domestic Abuse Bill
Committee (5th Day)
Relevant documents: 21st and 28th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
Debate on Amendment 141 resumed.
My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames tabled this amendment and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, added his name, as did I.
I will not speak for long—just a few minutes—but I would like to give this amendment some context. Just over a year ago, my noble friend was approached by a concerned mother about the “treatment” of her adult daughter by a person who described themself as a psychotherapist. This treatment would not have been recognised by any professional body and did a disservice to the regulated profession of psychotherapy. Such an individual is able to walk into a stranger’s home after being contacted on the strength of an advertisement in a shop window, local newspaper, magazine or online. Counterfeit certificates, business cards and brass plaques are easily obtained to give undeserved credibility.
The phoney therapist broke no law, but the treatment was unrecognised by any regulating body and did great harm to the young woman. She was turned against her family by coercive behaviour and a catalogue of lies. She was turned inside out emotionally and her family were left distraught. I was somewhat taken aback to receive letters from other families whose adult children had been in receipt of similar coercive treatment, leaving them a shadow of their former selves.
This amendment sets out to right these wrongs and ensure that the therapist would not be able to practise in future. I thank my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, who spoke in that debate, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier. The amendment sets out clearly what is an offence in this context, and how to determine that the perpetrator’s behaviour had a serious effect. It also sets out what would count as a defence for the person purporting to be the therapist, and, if found guilty, what the maximum terms of imprisonment would be.
Having listened to my noble friend Lord Paddick last week at the beginning of the debate, I think it worth mentioning that, although the original case concerned a young woman, there is no reason why it should not apply to a vulnerable young man. The amendment is gender neutral and goes a long way to right the wrongs in the case that brought me to this Bill in the first place. I am delighted to support it. I say to the Minister that the coercion was carried out in the victim’s home. It was abuse in a domestic setting and should have been a crime. This amendment will stop others being controlled or coerced by bogus therapists and, if they are sentenced, the punishment will fit the crime.
I wonder whether, before Report, the Minister would be willing to meet some of those who have spoken in this debate.
My Lords, I welcome the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the opportunity to talk about the role of psychotherapists. As I will be discussing regulatory issues, I declare my membership of the GMC.
I have no doubt about the value of psychotherapists and the beneficial impact of their work for so many people. But there are potential risks, which the noble Lord, Lord Marks, referred to eloquently when we last debated the amendment. Also, in a Lords debate on 2 March last year, he said:
“We have heard harrowing accounts of victims, often young, brainwashed by unscrupulous and controlling individuals. These charlatans play on their clients’ suffering, deluding them into a false belief in their treatment, often conjuring up in them fake memories about their early years and inducing unhealthy long-term dependence on the therapist and rejection of families and friends.”—[Official Report, 2/3/20; col. 477.]
That was reinforced by the case the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, just referred to.
Patients and clients can be vulnerable, and an insensitive, critical or sexually exploitative therapist could increase the risk of the patient having a poor—and potentially damaging—outcome from their therapy. The big problem is that the terms “psychotherapist” and “counsellor” are not protected. Any one of us could call ourselves one of those titles and advertise our services to unsuspecting and sometimes vulnerable people. I have long had worries about this, going back to when I was a Health Minister, some 20 years ago.
In 2001, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, introduced a Private Member’s Bill to provide for the regulation of psychotherapists and make provisions to enable the registration of the profession. Since then, we have established workstreams to look into regulation, but, unfortunately, the profession found it difficult to reach a common cause, principally because there were so many different, and sometimes conflicting, schools of thought.
That, I am afraid, was the start of a long and unhappy journey. In 2007, the then Government published a White Paper which included plans to introduce statutory regulation for psychotherapists and counsellors. But, unfortunately, by 2010, this did not import into statute, even though, by then, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, had done a sterling job in pulling the different psychotherapy schools together and getting agreement on the way forward. We then had the coalition Government in 2010, which announced a new approach to regulation and a belief that centralised statutory regulation was not always the most effective or efficient way of ensuring high-quality care. That, essentially, is where it stayed.
The debate in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, last March, induced the following response from the Health Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell:
“The Government are committed to a proportionate system of safeguards for the professionals who work in the health and care system … Where practitioners pose a direct risk of harm to the health and well-being of patients, legal avenues will and must be explored … However, more rules are not always the answer to every problem. While statutory regulation is sometimes necessary where significant risks to users of services cannot be mitigated … it is not always the most proportionate or effective means of assuring the safe and effective care of service users.”—[Official Report, 2/3/20; col. 480.]
He also referred to the more than 50,000 talking service professionals on the registers accredited by the Professional Standards Authority. That is welcome, but it is not statutory regulation, nor is it protection of title, which means any of us could, if we wanted to, continue to call ourselves a psychotherapist or counsellor.
The big problem here is that the Government are basing this on a risk assessment for which there is little evidence. There is a real lack of hard research in this area. I am grateful to the Library for unearthing a 2019 article, published in Frontiers in Psychology, which provided a potential explanation of why there may currently be a lack of quantitative research. It said:
“Although the broad topic of negative outcomes has been extensively discussed, empirical research on patient safety, directly examining the causes and prevention of harm, is not well established. Because harm … is relatively rare, and not amenable to experimental manipulation, such research is difficult.”
In 2017, the Brighton Therapy Partnership, a continued professional development and training organisation for counsellors and psychotherapists, said:
“There is very little research into the harm that properly executed therapy can cause. This is an unusual anomaly for a medical field, as in every other area research is abundant into both efficacy and failure of all treatment options.”
When the Government say, as I have no doubt the Minister will today, that it is not proportionate to regulate psychotherapists, there is an absence of evidence to base that on. In the meantime, in the absence of statutory regulation, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, is essential. I hope he is prepared to support this all the way in the Bill. There is a dangerous gap, and some action needs to be taken.
My Lords, I speak in support of this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the other noble Lords who have signed it. It seeks to create a new offence of
“Controlling or coercive behaviour by persons providing psychotherapy or counselling services”.
First, I commend the apposite wording—in particular, “persons providing … services,” since these abusive individuals are rarely actually psychotherapists, counsellors or registered practitioners of any kind, but individuals purporting to offer such services. That these charlatans are able to operate beyond the law and act on vulnerable people should be revisited, even if it is not the specific subject of this Bill.
The Domestic Abuse Bill will update our laws to recognise the breadth, and, unfortunately, the subtlety, of the crime. It will now include, among other things, the offence of coercive control. However, while the Bill recognises that such insidious behaviour is punishable within a household, it clearly exists outside the household too. This amendment seeks to address that omission, but it also speaks to the notion of what constitutes “domestic,” namely, the definition of the “connected” person. If one reads the language of the Bill and hears the heartbreaking stories of this abusive practice, there is surely no doubt that this proposed new clause belongs in the Bill.
We are talking about situations where bogus therapists attempt to alienate their subjects from their families and breed dependence on them, the so-called counsellors. False memories are concocted and sown, with happy childhoods replaced with nightmares of abuse that never happened. The symptoms follow a familiar pattern: the self-styled development coach preys on their vulnerable clients and tears them away from their families, to the extent that they break off all contact and become estranged. There are countless such cases. The goal of such therapy is coercion and control, to debilitate and disable—abuse, if ever there was.
The Bill currently defines “connected” persons using the language of intimate personal relationships, among other things. This captures the nature of what occurs in these bogus sessions. Families, friends and loved ones are wilfully alienated by the abuser, who then offers him or herself as a replacement. A dependence is created, and contact and communication of any kind with family and friends are discouraged. This is intimate, yet clearly abusive—exactly the subject of this Bill and exactly why I hope the Government will accept this amendment.
I began by lamenting the lack of legal protection and redress for those who might be duped by unqualified counsellors and psychotherapists, and I believe that this is definitely worthy of more debate and attention from the Government. But what we are talking about now is including such controlling and coercive behaviour by those who cruelly abuse their professional trust. The consequences for the individuals concerned and their families are profound and long-lasting. What goes on in these cases is intuitively and evidentially abuse. It is clearly coercive and controlling, and it is clearly done in the context of the intimate relationships captured by “connected” persons. For all these reasons, I would argue that the new offence belongs in this Bill. I strongly support the amendment.
My Lords, during the Committee discussions last week, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, commented on how helpful the debate on presumed parental consent was, and I agree. I felt that I was back on “Moral Maze”; I was moving around the issue and considering it from all sides. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, made concrete for us that day, lots of issues thrown up by this proposed legislation are complex and nuanced moral dilemmas. It shows what a difficult task we have here in applying public law in what is usually the terrain of private and intimate relationships.
In some ways, though, that discussion on presumed parental consent focused our minds on the domestic core at the heart of this legislation. My concern is that this amendment shifts our focus away from that domestic core—although the previous noble Baroness tried to suggest that we should now broaden our understanding of “domestic”. It shifts our focus, broadens it too widely and potentially dilutes it. Do not get me wrong; when, at the end of the last Committee day, the noble Lord, Lords Marks of Henley-on-Thames, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, spoke passionately and movingly—and we have heard similar testimony since—on the devastating impact of those reaping the bitter winds of recovered memory syndrome, which has been a dogma, sadly, I was cheering them on. I have been following the bitter memory wars since the 1990s, and consequences such as the satanic ritual abuse panics and various other panics. When that was a fashionable theory among trauma therapists, sections of social work professionals and some feminist academics, I argued against it. Now that form of therapy has largely been discredited by modern memory science, and is widely ridiculed, as it has been in this discussion, as pseudoscientific quackery.
I share noble Lords’ frustrations that the practice continues unlicensed and unregulated. I have no doubt that unethically encouraging vulnerable people to interpret their present woes through the prism of abuse, and then unethically planting false memories, is coercive. But my worry is that this amendment stretches the definition of coercive control, in the context of domestic abuse, too far. There is a danger, to quote a noble Baroness from an earlier Committee day, that this legislation will be seen as a Christmas tree on which everyone can hang a different preoccupation or grievance. That makes the definition so elastic that it can be a catch-all, and unintentionally relativises our gaze from the specific and discrete brutality of domestic abuse. I am already worried that this Bill has defined abuse far too promiscuously, and that it might well backfire and not help those it is intended to.
It is not just our focus—our gaze as legislators—that it will shift. How will it affect the police and criminal justice system if we label too many incidents as domestic abuse? Part of the popular frustration with the status quo is that serious incidents, threats or credible risks are not taken seriously, sometimes with tragic consequences. People go to the police and they are sent away. Surely what we do not want is for the authorities and the police to be swamped with endless numbers of complainants citing this Bill and a loose basis of the definition of coercive control, starting to make complaints.
I am all for dealing with, and exposing, the charlatans who call themselves counsellors, who play on the therapeutic culture and wo are only too willing to use the issue of abuse to push their own agendas with the consequence of destroying families. Let them be dealt with. I hope the Minister will look at how to deal with psychotherapists exploiting those who turn to them for help, but this is not the legislation to pursue that. So I will not be supporting the amendment, even though I cheer on those who wish to expose the charlatans.
My Lords, on Wednesday, both the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, put the detailed legal arguments for this amendment, and I have added my name to it as well. I shall not try to repeat what they said, but instead will say something that has, perhaps, been said by all bar the last speaker in this debate, which is that I strongly support this amendment.
As a nation we have been very slow to recognise the way in which the human mind can be coerced and controlled by unscrupulous people without the use of violence. I am not sure that until “The Archers” featured Rob Titchener in its storyline about marital coercive control, and gripped the nation with it, many of us would have been able to describe or recognise it on our own doorsteps. We have been even slower as a nation to recognise and enact legislation to protect those who are its victims in another category, namely those whose vulnerability, whether it is emotional or psychological, renders them a target for the bogus counsellors, the amateur psychotherapists and the self-styled life coaches, usually bent on profit, who may appear to be well intentioned but still often inflict real harm and damage on their so-called patients and their families.
This is not a new phenomenon. Unhappy people often search for explanations and cures, and the unscrupulous offer false promises of help and future happiness. They frequently obtain substantial amounts of money from them and very often, using transference, seek to replace contact with parents and families, sometimes by implanting false memories, which in turn often sever domestic relationships for life. As a pupil barrister in 1970s, I remember cases involving the Scientologists. I know the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, remembers cases involving the Moonies. Domestic alienation was a common feature then, 50 years ago, as it is today with some of the quasi-healers operating in this country right now with impunity.
I personally am aware of one family whose adult daughter fell into the hands of just such people in London. They were paid substantial sums of money by her. Their methods involved repeated “counselling” sessions lasting six or seven hours at a stretch during which, exhausted, she was persuaded to sever all contact with her parents and her family. It took some years for them even to find her, and eventually get her back. She was one of the lucky ones. These people are untrained, unqualified, unregulated and damaging to the vulnerable on whom they prey. Yet our present law currently provides no adequate protection from their activities.
Our understanding and recognition of mental illness is, thankfully, advancing rapidly today. Yet we are only beginning to understand more about how the power of words, whether they are spoken directly or via the internet, can convince an otherwise intelligent adult to become a jihadi or embrace a coronavirus conspiracy theory and, in so doing, often damage and even destroy their closest domestic relationships. On this form of abuse, we have looked the other way for far too long. We have given protection, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, said, to other vulnerable categories by law—whether they are children, the mentally ill or the elderly—and it is now surely time to add those who are at the mercy of these bogus healers.
The Government argument is often, “Yes, but it’s not right in this Bill”—but I do not see a better Bill on the horizon to deal with this particular lacuna in the law. I totally understand that members of a Bill team that has produced an excellent Bill, as this team has, will always be reluctant to look at a new amendment that may, they fear, perhaps alter the architecture of the Bill on which they have worked so painstakingly. However, I do not see any other way, in the near future, of tackling something that I believe has not only been overlooked for far too long but I suspect is likely to grow, particularly in these times when so many young people are searching for an explanation of why their lives have changed so drastically from their expectations.
I hope that the Minister will agree to take this amendment away, have a look at it with his Bill team and, hopefully, come back with a solution. If he did so, I believe that he would have support across the whole House.
My Lords, this important amendment seeks to include controlling and coercive behaviour by a psychotherapist or counsellor in the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, clearly laid out the reality of very unscrupulous practices. When working as they should, psychotherapists are generally trained to work over a long period of time with more complicated mental health issues, whereas counsellors are generally trained to work in the shorter term with life issues such as bereavement and relationships—although in practice there is huge overlap.
A problem arises for the person whose world is in tatters, who feels at sea and is desperate for some help. How do they have any idea whether the person they have been referred to or had suggested to them to see is a charismatic charlatan or an excellent counsellor who will help them to restabilise their life? In this process, they are even more vulnerable than prior to the consultation—a vulnerability that is exploited by the unscrupulous and by sects, as we have heard. They go to speak to a stranger, often paying for the privilege, and as they tell their story, they reveal their vulnerabilities and are often retraumatised by remembering the abuse as they relate events. This is psychological intimacy, and the person is certainly profoundly psychologically connected to their victim.
As we have heard, only the titles “clinical psychologist” and “counselling psychologist” are professionally restricted and must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. By contrast, the terms “therapist”, “psychotherapist” and “counsellor” are not protected; courses in these subjects are unregulated and vary very widely, which leaves unregistered and poorly trained people wide open to engaging in controlling and coercive behaviours.
Reputable employers providing counselling services, such as Women’s Aid, will expect an employee to have undertaken professional training. Often membership of a relevant professional body, such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the UK Council for Psychotherapy or the National Counselling Society, is required to ensure continuing professional development and ongoing supervision to enhance practice. All these bodies stipulate certain standards and ethical codes.
Proposed new subsections (1) and (2) set out what constitutes an offence and emphasise that controlling and coercive behaviour can be both physical and psychological. However, given the lack of regulation, I wonder whether this important amendment sets too high a bar, even for registered and well-trained professionals.
Proposed new subsection (4) raises a concern for me, but I am sure that it can be sorted out. It states that it is a defence to show that, when engaging in the behaviour in question, the psychotherapist or counsellor was acting in the person’s best interests. Here I declare my interest as chair of the National Mental Capacity Forum. As your Lordships know only too well, the term “best interests” is laid out in the Mental Capacity Act.
If a person has capacity to consent freely to whatever is proposed, there seems no rationale to make a best interests decision for them, and no form of controlling or coercive behaviour would be in their best interests. The person must have had the capacity to be able to consent to the counselling session. If the person lacks capacity to consent to a particular decision at a particular time, that decision should be deferred until they regain capacity for that decision. If restrictions of any sort have to be put in place in a person’s best interests because they cannot consent to the proposal, a formal best interests decision-making process, as laid out in statute, must be undertaken. A deprivation of liberty safeguard procedure or safeguarding may be required. I am worried that this defence, as written in the amendment, actually lessens the safeguards of a vulnerable person. I am sure that that is not what it aims to do.
For children and young people under 18, there are specific requirements about consent that would suggest that a child or young person would need to show relevant competence to consent to counselling in any service. If they do not show that, surely only a professional registered with the Health and Care Professions Council—and subject to oversight—should be involved with the child.
Those deeply traumatised by domestic abuse need to be protected from people who may be exploiting their vulnerability for financial and other personal gain. The issues raised in this amendment are very important. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, laid out the sad story of our attempts to establish registration some years ago. Now, enough is enough. Proper registration processes for those calling themselves counsellors, psychologists or psychotherapists are essential so that anyone providing such services of any sort, whether to victims or to perpetrators of abuse, must be trained against some minimum registration criteria, with ongoing supervision and outcome audits.
My Lords, Amendment 141, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, raises the important issue of controlling or coercive behaviour.
This proposed offence is modelled on the existing offence of coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship, as set out in the Serious Crime Act 2015. I support the intent behind the amendment, but this appears to be an offence committed by a person who has a relationship with a family member; this is not about families, it is a professional client/patient relationship, so it is slightly different.
My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath set out the timeline of discussions over the last 20 years. It made quite sorry listening—such a long period has elapsed and so little has been achieved. That in itself should be concerning to all noble Lords.
As we have heard in this debate, it is worrying that potentially dangerous individuals can set themselves up with little or no control or regulation—no standards appear to be adhered to—and seek to offer professional services to people who are vulnerable or have issues. Quite clearly, they are only going to make the situation much worse. My noble friend Lady Mallalieu talked about what she referred to as “quasi-healers” and gave an example of the suffering and damage that these people can cause.
I support the intent behind the amendment and its aim. However, I am not sure that this is the right Bill for it, although I accept the point made by my noble friend Lady Mallalieu that we cannot see a Bill on the horizon that it could obviously slot into, which is itself a problem for us all. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, will set out what the Government propose to do to address this issue and say not just that it does not belong in this Bill but what we are going to do about it, because, as we have heard today, there are clearly some serious problems that deserve to be addressed by Parliament and the Government. I would particularly like to hear what he intends to do between now and Report; I have no doubt at all we will discuss the issue again on Report after the Recess.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate today and on Wednesday evening, when we began it. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, for setting out the case for this amendment, which, as he explained, seeks to extend the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour to psychotherapists and counsellors providing services to clients.
The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, was right; we have perhaps as a country been slow to appreciate the scale of coercive behaviour. I am very proud that it was my right honourable friend Theresa May who provided for the offence of “controlling or coercive behaviour” in Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. That offence applies only to those who are “personally connected”, as defined in the section. It applies to intimate partners, regardless of whether they live together, to ex-partners who live together and to family members who live together. Amendment 141 would extend the offence beyond those who are personally connected, as defined by Section 76, so that it would apply to psychotherapists and counsellors. Most noble Lords who have spoken in this debate have pointed to evidence and indeed to specific harrowing cases suggesting that fraudulent psychotherapists and counsellors—or, as they understandably refer to them in many cases, charlatans—take advantage of their position to supplant friends and families in the minds and affections of their clients for the purpose of turning them against those friends and families. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, suggested that this abuse should be caught by the controlling or coercive behaviour offence because therapists are abusing their position of trust and the dependence of their clients.
We have already had a number of debates in Committee on earlier amendments where my noble friends and I have stressed the importance of preserving the meaning of “personally connected” for the purposes of the definition of domestic abuse and, by extension, for the purposes of the Section 76 offence. The controlling or coercive behaviour offence was created in 2015 to fill a particular gap in the criminal law in relation to a pattern of abusive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. We are not persuaded that what looks like the beguilingly simple act of taking the concept of controlling or coercive behaviour in a domestic abuse setting and applying it to abuses of power by psychotherapists or counsellors should be undertaken without careful and detailed analysis. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, has said, the professional/client relationship is a different one.
We have had a thoughtful but not conclusive debate on the definitions of what constitutes a domestic setting and an intimate relationship. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, said, these things may take place in the home, but often they will not. My noble friend Lady Finn explored what constitutes a domestic setting, but it is the personal connection that matters. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, that we want to maintain a careful focus on the definition of domestic abuse as it is widely understood, and as we want the Bill to draw further attention to. That matters not only for the architecture of the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, but in making sure that the police and other agencies are tightly focused on tackling the scourge of domestic abuse, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, said. We think, therefore, that without proper study it would not be right to transplant the concept of controlling or coercive behaviour into what is quite a separate power dynamic.
That is not, of course, to downplay the seriousness of this issue or the harrowing examples raised by noble Lords. The Government believe that we should look to other remedies, and it might be helpful to set out some of those that exist through the action that has been taken. A system of accredited voluntary registration with the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care already exists. The authority has a process for quality assuring voluntary registers of health and care professionals in the UK who are not subject to statutory regulation. It currently accredits 10 voluntary registers relating to counselling and psychotherapy, providing assurance to the public on approximately 50,000 talking therapy professionals. The registers can be used by service users to choose a practitioner to meet their needs and to be assured that those practitioners are safe, trustworthy and competent to practise.
To gain accreditation with the Professional Standards Authority, organisations have to meet 11 standards for accredited registers. These standards require organisations to have a focus on public protection, to have processes in place for handling complaints against practitioners, to set appropriate levels of education and training for entry to the register, to require registrants to undertake continuing professional development and to understand and monitor the risks associated with the practices of registrants. Any registrant who is removed from an accredited register for conduct reasons cannot join another accredited register. I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said that these registers are voluntary. We would urge anyone looking to engage the services of a psychotherapist or counsellor to ensure that they are accredited by the Professional Standards Authority.
Noble Lords have raised issues which I know have been the subject of separate and indeed long-standing debates in your Lordships’ House. My noble and learned friend Lord Garnier and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, both referred to their experiences and insights from their time as Ministers and set out some of the actions which have been taken since. While there may be a need to legislate on this matter in the future, that is a question for the Department of Health and Social Care. I cannot commit the department one way or the other today, but for reasons of focus on the particular offence of domestic abuse, we do not feel that this Bill is the right place to do that. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, and the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and Lord Kennedy of Southwark. I will call them in that order.
My Lords, one salutary and useful aspect of this amendment is that it has focused our minds on false memories and false allegations. It is therefore a reminder that we must challenge what we believe to be the victim mindset that can lead to grave injustices. The amendment should remind the Government that abuse is so emotive that it becomes quite hard to challenge if it has been alleged. The reason why false memories have been so damaging over the years is that once the victims say that they have been abused while under the care, guidance, manipulation or coercive control of said “quack” counsellor, no one can challenge that because it is an accusation of abuse. This legislation bends the stick in the direction of victims far too much, in my opinion, and I urge the Minister to take great care and perhaps investigate some of the harrowing stories of false memory syndrome in order to learn lessons and not make the same mistakes here.
The noble Baroness is right to say that this area needs continued and careful thought, a point also made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, who referred to the complexity of the issues and the matters which have to be considered. We will indeed do that.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his careful response. He said that this issue goes wider than his own department, and I agree. In the period between Committee and Report, would it therefore be possible for him to meet with the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, to discuss it? It is clearly a serious issue that demands a cross-government response and that would not necessarily be met only by an amendment to a particular Bill.
I was going to make the same suggestion as my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who made the point that this is an important issue that runs across departments. As he said, I am not sure that this is the right Bill in which to address it, but equally, I am concerned that there may not be a right vehicle at the moment. We have to find some way of dealing with this issue, which has been raised across the House. We have potentially dangerous people treating very vulnerable people and thus only making the situation worse. We should not allow that to happen and we must find a way of dealing with it.
My Lords, I am grateful to all who have spoken in this important and fascinating debate about some terrible behaviour. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, explained, the principle of this amendment has a long history of parliamentary support. It would rightly criminalise quack counsellors, who, as all have said, suborn vulnerable young people and exploit their weaknesses, in a way that amounts to a classic demonstration of how clearly abusive coercive and controlling behaviour is.
The noble and learned Lord, with all his experience as Solicitor-General, set out the tests that, he explained, are appropriate to determine whether a new offence should be introduced. My noble friend Lady Jolly gave a further account of the appalling effect of the behaviour of these charlatans on young people’s lives. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, a member of the GMC, lent powerful support to this amendment. He warned us of a lack of any regulation and the danger of unregulated practitioners claiming respectability and abusing the confidence of innocent clients. He also made the important point that, in the absence of regulation, the offence that I have called for is urgently needed to fill the gap. He spoke of the importance of using this legislation to do it, if we can, in the absence of other legislation coming forward.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finn, powerfully demonstrated that this type of abuse is intimate. It is intimate in a way that clearly makes it domestic abuse, so the offence belongs in the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, supported much of the intent behind the amendment. In her question after the Minister, she gave an interesting insight into false memory implantation, yet she suggested that this amendment shifted the focus of the Bill away from the domestic context. I do not think that is right, for the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Finn. If the kind of quackery that amounts to coercive control, which destroys families in the way that this type of abuse does, cannot be outlawed by the criminal law in the context of domestic abuse, the criminal law is failing in its duty.
The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, also saw the Bill as the proper context for this amendment, showing just how unscrupulous these so-called therapists are in exploiting vulnerable people within family contexts, often for substantial sums of money. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, with her wide professional experience of vulnerability and exploitation, as well as of mental capacity, showed clearly how far these bogus therapists are from genuinely motivated therapists and counsellors. I am grateful for her suggestions on how the defence to the offence in the amendment, modelled on the Serious Crime Act, might be better defined. As she said of this kind of behaviour, enough is enough.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, helpfully supported the intent behind the amendment and was clear that he wanted to know what the Government were going to do, even though he had some doubts as to whether this was the Bill for it. In his careful response, for which I am grateful, the Minister correctly described the amendment as extending the ambit of Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act. I accept that that applies to coercive and controlling behaviour in a domestic context, but it is difficult to see how this is not a domestic context, if one is prepared to allow that that context is not always within a family. I join the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in asking what the Government are going to do.
The Minister talked of the necessary study of this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, talked about the difficulty of securing evidence in this area; that was his justification for saying that we need an offence in the meantime. The Minister talked of voluntary registration, but this is not dealt with by a question of registration. More importantly, this type of behaviour is not dealt with by the law at all, at the moment. The Minister talked about legislation in futu-re.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, suggested a meeting between the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Bethell. I believe that other noble Lords would be grateful for a meeting between now and Report to discuss how we go forward. With the indication that the Minister gave in response to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I hope that he is amenable to such a meeting. We need to know how we will secure this legislation, and quickly. On the basis that we will talk about how to do that, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment, but I hope to get some progress.
Amendment 141 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 142. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
Schedule 2: Amendments relating to offences committed outside the UK
142: Schedule 2, page 64, line 37, leave out paragraph (b)
My Lords, as a member of the Joint Committee that undertook pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft domestic abuse Bill, I know that the extraterritorial jurisdiction provisions of the Bill are intended to fulfil the UK’s obligations under Article 44 of the Istanbul convention. I welcome the fact that these provisions will bring the UK closer to ratifying a convention that we signed in 2012 and which will protect women and girls from violence and abuse.
My amendments concern a very specific issue—marital rape—where I believe the Bill as presently drafted may leave a potential loophole. I recognise that the drafting of the amendments may itself be imperfect, and my noble friend the Minister will no doubt speak to that, but I would like to explore whether the Bill could be strengthened so that people from this country cannot exploit laxer laws elsewhere.
In this country, the common-law presumption of a marital exemption from the offence of rape was overturned by your Lordships’ House in the case of R v R in 1991. Some countries similarly do not have any exemption for marital rape, and in others marital rape is explicitly criminalised, but there is a small minority of countries in which marital rape is not illegal. As drafted, the Bill appears to require that a prosecution for rape and other sexual offences committed against adult victims outside the UK may be brought in the UK only when the offending behaviour is also an offence in the country where it happens, but that requirement could prevent us prosecuting someone for marital rape committed outside the UK, if such behaviour is not included in or is exempt from the equivalent offence in the other jurisdiction.
This may be a small gap. I certainly hope that there would not be many, if any, cases of marital rape perpetrated by a UK person in a country that does not consider such behaviour to be a crime, but I believe that, if there is potential for this to occur, we should act to prevent it. I beg to move.
My Lords, Section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 makes it an offence, in England and Wales, for a UK national or resident to commit sexual offences against children outside the UK, in an effort to clamp down on so-called sex tourism. Paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 to this Bill makes it an offence, in England and Wales, for a UK national or resident to commit sexual offences, under Sections 1 to 4 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, against people aged 18 or over at the time of the offence, extending extraterritoriality to serious sexual offences against adults as well as children.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has explained, the idea is to ensure that the Government comply with the Istanbul convention but, as she pointed out, for somebody to commit an offence, it has to be an offence not only in this country but in the country where the offence took place; in some of those countries, marital rape may not be criminalised. Therefore, I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has identified a potential loophole. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, for tabling these amendments and spotting this loophole in the Bill. It is good to have this debate today. As she has said, marital rape can happen in a country where it is not illegal locally, and we would then not be able to prosecute the offence here in the UK. Nobody in this Committee wants that situation. I hope the Government will confirm that they either accept her amendments, or accept that she has identified a very serious loophole and bring in their own amendments on Report.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Bertin has, as she has explained, tabled an amendment which seeks to ensure that UK citizens who commit marital rape in countries where such behaviour is not criminal may be prosecuted in the UK. Such countries are thankfully in the minority. We of course want to prevent any exploitation of more lax laws on marital rape elsewhere.
I hope that the Committee will allow me a moment to put these amendments into context so that we can understand the legal architecture that we are talking about. Schedule 2 contains amendments to various enactments to provide for extraterritorial jurisdiction over certain offences under the law of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Together with provisions in the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill currently before the Northern Ireland Assembly—it gives extraterritorial effect to the new domestic abuse offence in Northern Ireland—and Clauses 66 and 67, it ensures that the UK complies with the jurisdiction requirements of Article 44 of the Istanbul convention. That article requires the UK to be able to prosecute criminal conduct set out in the convention when that conduct is committed outside the UK by one of our nationals or by a person who is habitually resident here. Part 1 of the schedule covers England and Wales and deals with cases under Sections 1 to 4 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, where the victim of the offence is aged 18 or over. Parts 2 and 3 cover Scotland and Northern Ireland on a corresponding basis.
In keeping with the normal principles of extraterritorial jurisdiction, there is a requirement that a prosecution for one of the relevant sexual offences—which includes rape—may be brought in the UK only where the offending behaviour is also an offence in the country where it happens. That is called dual criminality, which respects the notion that generally it is inappropriate for the criminal law of state A to be applied to conduct that occurs in state B where that conduct does not offend the law of state B. In most circumstances, the dual criminality requirement is not a barrier to prosecution because serious sexual offences against adults are likely to be criminal in most other countries. However, it could mean that, in some circumstances, UK authorities would not be able to prosecute someone for a marital rape committed outside the UK if such behaviour is not included in or exempt from the equivalent offence in the other jurisdiction. As it stands, the Bill applies a dual criminality requirement for the relevant sexual offences committed outside the UK by UK nationals and UK residents. My noble friend’s amendment would remove the dual criminality requirement for UK nationals, but not for UK residents. As explained by my noble friend, and by the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Kennedy of Southwark, the effect of this would be that the UK could prosecute UK nationals who commit marital rape against adult victims in countries where such behaviour is not criminal, but could prosecute UK residents who commit marital rape of adult victims abroad only if the behaviour is also criminal in the country where it is committed.
In principle, that is the right approach, as the link to the UK is stronger where the offending behaviour is perpetrated outside the UK by a UK national, rather than by a non-UK national ordinarily resident in the UK. Existing law already makes that distinction with regard to extraterritorial sexual offences where the victim is under 18. The amendments extend only to England and Wales and, as my noble friend identified, one would need to alter the drafting if they were to go further. However, I do not want to focus on the drafting issue. I am grateful to her for raising this important issue and possible lacuna in the Bill. Marital rape is abhorrent behaviour, and I agree that we should consider carefully the case for amending the Bill to cater for it. But—it is an important but—as the extraterritoriality jurisdiction provisions are UK-wide, we need first to consult the devolved Administrations to ensure a consistent approach across the UK. To that end, I respectfully invite my noble friend to withdraw her amendment on the clear understanding that we will give this matter serious and sympathetic consideration ahead of Report.
I thank the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Paddick, for their very thoughtful remarks, and for their support on this amendment. It is a very small gap, but I think it worth plugging none the less. I thank the Minister for his thorough and illuminating remarks, from which I learned quite a bit. I am pleased that they were very warm words as well, and I thank him for his consideration of this amendment. I look forward to further conversations and some progress, I hope. It has been a refreshingly short debate, and I will keep it so. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 142 withdrawn.
Amendments 143 and 144 not moved.
Schedule 2 agreed.
Amendment 145 not moved.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with the question that Clause 69 stand part of the Bill. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or the amendment in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
Clause 69: Polygraph conditions for offenders released on licence
Debate on whether Clause 69 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, opposition to clauses standing part of a Bill usually arises out of outright opposition, and in my case I said at Second Reading that I shared the view of my noble friend Lady Burt that polygraph testing on the present state of the technology has no place in our criminal justice system. The basic response of most lawyers to polygraph testing is to oppose its use in a criminal context precisely because there is no firm evidence of its reliability. We tend to the view, which I am sure the Minister understands, that a system of evaluating evidence whose reliability is not assured and produces essentially binary results—true or false—is inherently inimical to the approach of common-law lawyers used to a carefully balanced system of gathering, testing, and evaluating evidence.
However, my perception of polygraph testing has now become somewhat more nuanced. A major contributor to a shift in my view was an excellent teach-in organised by the Ministry of Justice last Thursday, very well presented by Heather Sutton, senior policy adviser on polygraphs and sexual offending, and Professor Don Grubin, emeritus professor of forensic psychiatry at Newcastle University. They gave a number of noble Lords a comprehensive outline of the way in which polygraph testing is used in the management of offenders subject to recall from licence under existing legislation. For my part, I have no experience of the use of polygraph testing, and no expertise on the subject. Opposition to its use as part of this Bill was canvassed in another place by my honourable friend Daisy Cooper MP. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk MP, provided a detailed and helpful response to a number of questions which she raised. As a result of his answers and what we were told on Thursday, I accept that there may be some force—subject to a number of questions—to the argument that there is a legitimate place for the use of polygraph testing in necessary cases, where its purpose is to avoid serious harm.
I add one particular proviso, among others, that evidence of polygraph testing must never be relied on as part of the evidence in a criminal case until its reliability is far more conclusively established than it is now. However, as I understood it, we were assured last Thursday—I would be grateful for confirmation of this from the Dispatch Box—that no decisions on recalls from licence can be taken as a result of a test indicating deception. If the result of a test implies that an offender is lying about a breach of a licence condition or about further offences, for example, investigators will ask the police to look further to see what the truth is before taking any positive action. There is therefore no recall, as I understand it, on the basis of a failed test, which will lead only to recall if the police find other evidence establishing that a breach has occurred.
However, I have some concerns about cases where an offender makes a disclosure in a polygraph test confessing to behaviour that is a dangerous breach and might therefore be recalled. It is important in such cases that the veracity or genuineness of the disclosure and its voluntariness can be thoroughly tested before any recall can take place. Our understanding was that such a disclosure would be followed generally by a hearing before a recall was confirmed, but again I seek confirmation of that.
This is genuinely a probing amendment. It is for that reason that our stand part opposition is coupled with Amendment 191, through which I advocate regulations to prevent Clause 69 being brought into force before such a scheme is piloted. I note that the Government propose to pilot these provisions before rolling them out. However, we ask that regulations bringing Clause 69 into force are not made permanent before Parliament has had an opportunity to consider a report from the Government on that pilot and has agreed to regulations being made permanent under that clause.
I appreciate that polygraph testing is used already in the case of high-risk sexual offenders to manage compliance with licence conditions and that it is included in the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill for monitoring terrorist offenders released on licence. As I understand Clause 69 of this Bill, testing will be imposed on adult high-risk offenders who are convicted of serious offences involving domestic abuse, including coercive or controlling behaviour in the domestic context, breaches of restraining orders and of a domestic abuse protection order, who have been sentenced to at least 12 months’ imprisonment. I understand that its application will be limited to offenders released on licence and to monitoring their compliance with licence conditions. However, I understand that it is also proposed to include on a discretionary basis offenders for whom concerns about the risk of reoffending would justify mandatory testing to manage risks posed by the offender to the community.
I pose a number of questions to the Minister in connection with that and other issues. Is there a cast-iron guarantee that the results of polygraph testing carried out under the clause could not be used to secure convictions for a criminal offence? To what extent could an offender be recalled from licence on the basis of a polygraph test in which he made disclosure of a breach of condition of his licence? What would be the procedure for such a recall? What is the effect of a breach of polygraph licensing conditions to be? Could evidence of such a breach be itself based on a failed polygraph test? What are the Government’s proposals for piloting in respect of polygraph tests in connection with monitoring compliance with licensing conditions in domestic abuse cases? Will there be a report of any such pilots back to Parliament? Will Parliament have an opportunity to consider the question of polygraph testing before the regulations make it permanent?
My Lords, this is not the only Bill currently in your Lordships’ House that seeks to extend the use of polygraphs. I am not surprised that lawyers and what I have learned in another Bill to call operational partners have different starting points in their attitudes and expectations of polygraphs. My position is similar to that of my noble friend.
Given that we have more than one Bill proposing to introduce polygraph conditions, is this indicative of a policy change on the part of the Government, with wider use of polygraphs—perhaps wider than just these two Bills? If so, what consultation and evaluation has there been? I appreciate that it is intended that there will be a pilot of the use under this Bill, which my noble friend seeks to be absolutely sure about in Amendment 191.
Last week, during Committee on the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, I asked about consultation with the probation service with regard to the balance between periods of custody and licence—a different point. I have now received a letter from the Advocate-General for Scotland, for which I am grateful, which, inter alia, said:
“The Probation Service is not normally consulted in respect of the creation of new custodial sentences or their licence periods.”
It is, of course, the licence period in which I am interested.
I have a similar question about consultation on the use of polygraphs during the licence period. The provisions preclude evidential use. As I understand it—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—their purpose is to discourage reoffending. I have said before that I would prefer to put effort into training probation officers in spotting small signs of what is the truth, what is editing the facts and what are porkies.
The Home Office fact sheet published in conjunction with the Bill refers to eligibility criteria as if there are criteria beyond what is in the Offender Management Act and the Bill. Another question is whether there are additional criteria. It also refers to high-risk perpetrators. Does that mean more than the custodial sentence, as provided by the Act? Does it mean more than repeat offences? Can the Minister say something about the assessment tools in arriving at the conclusion that someone is high risk?
The Home Office factsheet refers to risk as a test. The briefing last week to which my noble friend referred was very interesting and informative, and clearly those involved with the current use of polygraphs on sex offenders are enthusiastic—one would have expected that. But we were told that, in the US, historically there has been some inappropriate or, one could say, dodgy use. I was interested that the accreditation was to standards set by the American Polygraph Association. Given that our legal systems are not identical, has the Minister any comment on that?
I had understood that it was not possible actually to fail a test, because the examinations are used to point probation officers to an offender’s possible actions and behaviours, but that term is also used in the fact sheet, where it refers to “sanctions for failing”. One step available is the imposition of additional licence conditions. My noble friend mentioned DAPOs, or domestic abuse prevention orders. Can a polygraph test be used to prompt an investigation as to whether a DAPO or, indeed, a domestic abuse prevention notice, has been complied with before custody? Can a court dealing with a DAPO require a polygraph?
I suppose that one could summarise our attitude to Clause 69 as positive but remaining to be completely convinced—so possibly somewhere between yes and no.
I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon. We do not seem to have him, so we will go on to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark.
My Lords, the opposition to Clause 69 standing part, and Amendment 191, both in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, have enabled us to debate the whole issue of mandatory polygraph tests, and the fact that such tests could be made a licence condition for domestic abuse offenders.
I certainly want to see effective action taken against offenders, and effective punishments given to them. I have some concerns about the use of the polygraph test. If we rely on it further and further, it should be piloted in the way set out in Amendment 191, and we must be convinced of its reliability. As the noble Lord set out in his amendment, a report evaluating the trials must then be laid before Parliament and debated and a positive resolution passed by both Houses. I have had no involvement in this technology and I have no understanding of it—apart from what I have seen on television—so I believe that we must be very careful to get this right.
I was concerned by the comment made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, which seemed to suggest that we would not have our own standards but would import them from another country—America. I would much rather that as a country we had our own standards, in which we had confidence, than import them from elsewhere. But polygraph testing is not widely used in this country and before we go much further, we need to be confident that it is reliable, and an effective and useful tool in the management of offenders.
My Lords, shall we see if we have the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, on the call? I do not think we do, sadly, in which case I call the Minister.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, seeks to strike out—alone among the clauses in the Bill—Clause 69. I will endeavour to persuade him, and the rest of the Committee, that this clause, like others, can play an important part in protecting victims of domestic abuse. Right at the start, however, I join the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in thanking those at the MoJ who provided the presentation made to them. This was a very good example of how that sort of interaction—what one might call a learning session—can help everyone when we debate these matters in Committee.
Clause 69 allows the Secretary of State for Justice to introduce mandatory polygraph examinations as a licence condition for offenders convicted of a relevant domestic abuse-related offence. The relevant offences have included, until now: murder, specified violent offences, and the controlling or coercive behaviour offences set out in the Serious Crime Act 2015.
Polygraph examinations are already successfully used in the management of sexual offenders supervised by the National Probation Service. The clause extends the use of testing to include—in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—high-risk domestic abuse perpetrators: those who have been released from custody having served a sentence of 12 months or more and are on licence.
The polygraph testing is used to monitor an offender’s compliance with other licence conditions, such as those restricting contact with their victim, requiring the offender to notify the probation officer when they form new relationships, or prohibiting entry into an exclusion zone; for example, around their victim’s home. It is also used to monitor dynamic risk factors such as alcohol or substance misuse.
I will try to respond to a number of questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, but if I miss any out, I undertake to write to him after reviewing the Official Report.
The policy underpinning these provisions does not allow offenders to be recalled to custody for failing a test. I use the word “fail” being cognisant of the fact that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, we are not talking here about failing in the normal sense of the word. Indeed, I think the noble Baroness explained her approach to polygraphs as being somewhere between a yes and a no; that might be applicable to the polygraph itself. The clause does, however, enable offenders to be recalled for making disclosures during testing which, when considered with other evidence, suggest that the risk can no longer be managed in the community.
The offender can also be recalled to custody if he or she refuses to take the test or tries to trick it in some way; for example, by controlling their breathing. However, in response to the questions put to me, I draw the Committee’s attention to the fact that disclosures made voluntarily by the offender during the polygraph examination may reveal that they can no longer be safely managed in the community. Those circumstances would also lead to a return to custody. The important point to bear in mind in that regard is that that is no different from a situation in which an offender makes such disclosures without the polygraph licence condition.
Polygraph testing can be required as part of the licence conditions imposed on an offender following their release from custody. It can be imposed only where it is deemed necessary and proportionate to the risk posed. Importantly, in its report on the draft Bill the Joint Committee did not object in principle to extending polygraph testing to domestic abuse offenders; it sought assurance on two issues.
First, it sought an absolute assurance that no statement or data derived from a polygraph test would be used in criminal proceedings. The Joint Committee acknowledged that this appeared to be the effect of the draft Bill. In that regard, the provision in Clause 69 must be viewed alongside the existing provisions relating to polygraph testing in the Offender Management Act 2007. Section 30 of that Act provides unequivocally that any statement or any physiological reaction made by an offender during the polygraph session may not be used in criminal proceedings in which that person is a defendant.
To be clear, however, this does not preclude information derived from a polygraph examination being shared with the police, who may decide to use the information to conduct further inquiries. If, as a result of those inquiries, the police obtain other evidence that suggests that an offence has been committed, charges may be brought against the offender.
The second concern raised by the Joint Committee was that polygraph testing should not become a substitute for careful risk analysis—a point that, I think, was also made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I assure the Committee that the use of polygraph examinations will not replace any other risk assessment tools or measures, such as the multiagency public protection arrangements—MAPPA—but will provide an additional source of information that would not otherwise be available.
The evaluation of the pilot mandatory polygraph testing for sexual offenders concluded that offender managers found polygraph testing very helpful. To date, 5,000 tests of that type have been carried out on 2,249 offenders, and 1,449 tests have resulted in the offenders making significant disclosures that led to either a refined risk management plan or recall to custody.
With regard to the qualifications of those carrying out the examinations, I assure the Committee that they are carried out by qualified and experienced probation officers who have completed three months’ residential training to become accredited polygraph examiners, and all polygraph examinations are quality assured by an independent external provider.
However, while the use of polygraph examinations is tried and tested, as I have said, in the context of the management of sex offenders, the Government accept that domestic abuse perpetrators represent a different cohort of offender. That is why we are committed to piloting the provisions in Clause 69. I draw the Committee’s attention to the commencement provisions in Clause 79, which expressly provides for such piloting; we will begin this as soon as is practicable after Royal Assent.
We intend to run a three-year pilot in the north of England, involving about 600 offenders. Half will be subject to testing and half—the control or comparison group—will not. The Cambridge Centre for Evidence-Based Policing, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, will conduct an independent evaluation of the pilot, and only if the results were positive would we roll out testing across England and Wales. In response to the specific question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, in conjunction with his Amendment 191, I am happy to commit that the Government will lay a copy of the evaluation report before both Houses prior to any decision on wider rollout, enabling noble Lords to consider the findings in full. I hope that that is helpful in response to his question.
Given the benefits that we have seen with the use of polygraph testing to help us to manage the risk posed by convicted sex offenders, I apprehend that the noble Lord, Lord Marks, now sees the merit, at least in principle, of analysing the question of whether we can use the same procedure with regard to serious domestic abuse perpetrators. Indeed, last week, we heard calls for the more efficient and effective use of technology to protect victims of domestic abuse—Clause 69 does just that.
With the repetition of the point that I will go through the Official Report, because there may be one or two questions that I have not directly answered but which deserve and will get a written answer from me, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his challenge to Clause 69, which I commend to the Committee.
My Lords, I am afraid that we have had no luck getting in contact with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and to the Minister for his careful response. I echo both his thanks to those in his department who organised the learning session last week and his view that it sets a good example; it would be very good to hear more often from experts in the department—particularly about the use of technology, where Members of this House perhaps have less expertise than they do in other legal areas.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee asked a number of questions, some of which were answered by the Minister. I am not sure that he addressed the question of what is meant by, and what the criteria are for, “high-risk” perpetrators. She also wanted to know what exactly is meant by “failing” a test; I understand, as did the Minister, the concept of evaluating a test, but there is a problem with our general understanding of results of polygraph tests as binary and with the use of the term “failed test”, which frequently figures in discussions around this issue. Given his echo of the description of answers as “somewhere between yes and no”, as expressed by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, the Minister clearly appreciated that these tests cannot provide definitive answers. Will he and others give consideration to how far they should be treated as more indicative than binary?
I am less concerned about the use of information, as described by the Minister, that is derived from polygraph testing and used to submit information to the police for further investigation, which would then come up with real evidence. I am, however, a little concerned about recall based on disclosures. I understand the point that there is some similarity between disclosures that arise as a result not of polygraph testing but of, for instance, discussions with probation officers; however, I still think that there need to be safeguards. The Minister may like to consider those and put out some guidance as to how they are to be dealt with.
I join my noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in questioning how far it is appropriate to use US systems of accreditation for testing in this country. I take the point that there is proper training for polygraph operators in this country, but I am not sure that the Minister answered the point about the origin of the accreditation system.
I understand what the Minister said about piloting and the role of Parliament in considering polygraph testing. I understand that he will lay a report on the rollout before Parliament so that it can consider it, but I would like to know if it is proposed that there will be further regulations before the clause and system are made permanent, which will need parliamentary approval—perhaps he could tell us that in due course. However, on the basis of what he has said, I withdraw my opposition to the Question that Clause 69 stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I regret to say that I have had a late request to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I apologise: there is often a delay when the clerk sends a message to the Woolsack. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
Thank you. I apologise for throwing the proceedings. I have just received an email saying that I am about to be called.
My question concerns how the Minister dealt with the fact that information—I hesitate to use the term “evidence”—obtained during a test cannot be used as evidence in legal proceedings. It has only just occurred to me that, of course, family proceedings in particular—as well as civil proceedings—are very important in respect of domestic abuse. I am unclear as to the status of what is learned during a polygraph test for family proceedings. If the Minister cannot answer that now, could he add it to the questions that he will reply to after today?
Clause 69 agreed.
My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 146. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate and that anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.
Clause 70: Guidance about the disclosure of information by police forces
146: Clause 70, page 54, line 8, at end insert—
“(2A) The Secretary of State must issue guidance under this section which takes account of evidence about the relationship between domestic abuse and offences involving hostility based on sex.(2B) In preparing guidance under subsection (2A) the Secretary of State must require the chief officer of police of any police force to provide information relating to—(a) the number of relevant crimes reported to the police force; and(b) the number of relevant crimes reported to the police force which, in the opinion of the chief officer of police, have also involved domestic abuse.(2C) In this section—“relevant crime” means a reported crime in which—(a) the victim or any other person perceived the alleged offender, at the time of or immediately before or after the offence, to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on sex, or(b) the victim or any other person perceived the crime to be motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility or prejudice towards persons who are of a particular sex;“sex” has the same meaning as in section 11 of the Equality Act 2010 (sex).”
My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 146 in my name, supported by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bull and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. I will explore this relatively fully because it is, I think, the first time that misogyny, per se, has reared its ugly head in this Bill, so I hope that the House will forgive me if I go into detail to explain why I think it is important to consider it.
What, then, is the issue? What is this about and why on earth would anyone want to open what some might consider the Pandora’s box of recognising the link between misogyny and domestic abuse? Indeed, is this the “woke police” on the march, or is there actually a reason behind it?
Violence against women does not occur in a vacuum. Hostility towards them generates a culture in which violence and abuse are being tolerated, excused and repeated. Changing that means challenging not only individual acts of abuse but the very roots of the culture that enables it. Gathering the evidence about the extent, nature and prevalence of hostility towards women, and how these interplay with the experience of domestic abuse, is crucial to recognising these connections.
At Second Reading I mentioned the dreadful case of Kellie Sutton, a mother of three children under 15 who killed herself in 2017 after suffering five months of psychological and physical abuse from her partner, who was subsequently jailed for four years and three months and, in addition, given a 10-year criminal behaviour order requiring him to tell the police of any sexual relationship lasting more than 14 days that he enters into. Why is this case relevant to the amendment? It is because the perpetrator had already been reported to the police in previous years by three different partners. In his regulation 28 report to prevent future deaths, the senior coroner for Hertfordshire highlighted the fact that police records failed to flag up that this was a repeat domestic abuse perpetrator. The previous three complaints had been filed away as non-crime reports, which meant that the police would have found a link to the perpetrator only if they had searched for the victims, since no reports at all had been filed against the abuser. The coroner concluded in his report:
“This sort of information is clearly of value to inform officers’ decision making, when dealing with a report of potential domestic abuse and clearly of value when seeking to safeguard more widely the vulnerable parties in abusive relationships.”
The amendment seeks to do that by learning from the experience of the police forces around the country which have started to record misogyny as a hate crime. By requiring all police forces to do that and to assess how it influences incidents of domestic abuse, the amendment seeks to add to our understanding of the nature of violence against women and so the work on how to end it.
We are all aware that police forces are very stretched in their manpower resources, and that they approach domestic abuse incidents with great caution. Given the pressures that the police are under, why have some forces voluntarily taken on what some might regard as just more form-filling or box-ticking? The evidence of where misogyny has been identified as a hate crime to date by police forces in their recording of crime has been that it helps increase the understanding of the causes and consequences of violence against women. It is critical that every case of domestic abuse should be taken seriously and each individual given access to the support they need.
Both men and women may experience incidents of interpersonal violence and abuse but women are considerably more likely to experience repeated and severe forms of abuse, including sexual violence. They are also more likely to have experienced sustained physical, psychological or emotional abuse, or violence that results in injury or death. There are important differences between male violence against women and female violence against men; namely, the amount, severity and impact. Women experience much higher rates of repeated victimisation and are much more likely to be seriously hurt or killed than male victims of domestic abuse.
In one study of 96 cases of domestic abuse recorded by the police, it was found that men are significantly more likely than women to be repeat perpetrators and to use physical violence, threats and harassment. Over a six-year tracking period, the majority—83%—of recorded male perpetrators had at least two incidents of recorded abuse, with many having a lot more and one man having no fewer than 52 repeat incidents, whereas in cases where women were recorded as the perpetrator, the majority, 62%, had only one incident of abuse recorded, and the highest number of repeat incidents for any female perpetrator was eight, compared with 52.
In 2016 Nottinghamshire Police became the first police force in the country to enable women and girls to report cases of abuse and harassment as misogyny under their misogyny hate crime policy. Misogynistic hate crimes recorded by the police since Nottinghamshire adopted that policy include stalking, groping, indecent assault and kidnapping. While they initially did not include domestic abuse in that reporting as it was already being recorded as a form of crime, those involved in the scheme now say:
“Our experience of delivering training to the police tells us that, even though domestic abuse is not included within the hate crime policy, officers are often able to recognise that misogyny is likely to be at the root of this too. Similarly, we are aware that misogyny hate crime can act as a bridge to women talking about (and recognising) other forms of violence against women. Where women may feel that domestic abuse is something that happens to other women and is not linked to inequality, they are more readily able to recognise this with misogyny hate crime.”
Following Nottinghamshire’s example, the police forces in North Yorkshire, Avon and Somerset, and Northamptonshire have also made misogyny a hate crime, and are therefore already recording these figures to enable such an approach. The amendment would require other police forces to follow suit. Women’s Aid reports that police forces that are recording misogyny have not seen an influx of reporting of wolf-whistling but instead have received a growing number of reports of serious sexual harassment and assault. Making misogyny a hate crime would mean simply that police forces logged and monitored such incidents and thereby enabled to create a fuller picture of the problem, support victims and make them aware of where incidents were recurring. Indeed, women and girls need to feel that their concerns are being taken seriously by the police and that misogyny is not normalised. Categorising and calling out misogyny wherever it occurs would send a clear message that such behaviour was not acceptable, and should prevent more serious offences in the long term.
As we all know, domestic abuse cases have risen dramatically during the pandemic crisis, with cases of domestic homicides doubling in the UK. The Bill states that the Secretary of State must give guidance on the kinds of behaviour that amount to domestic abuse. The amendment states that the guidance should further take account of
“evidence about the relationship between domestic abuse and offences involving hostility based on sex.”
While there is no legal definition of “hostility”, the Crown Prosecution Service uses the everyday understanding of the word, which includes ill will, spite, contempt, prejudice, unfriendliness, antagonism, resentment and dislike. The amendment seeks to build on that concept. It would ensure that all police forces in England and Wales recorded any crimes where the victim or any other person perceived the crime to be motivated by this hostility or perceived the perpetrator to have demonstrated hostility in committing the crime. The police would then also be required to assess how that interacted with domestic abuse by making an assessment of how many of those crimes met the definition as set out in this legislation.
Proposals to recognise misogyny as a category of hate crime would therefore not make anything illegal if it was not illegal already. Instead, the amendment would help build our understanding of the forms of violence and abuse that women experience by ensuring that all were recorded. Those working in areas where this approach is being taken have reported the transformative effect that it has had on safety. As Helen Voce, CEO of the Nottingham Women’s Centre, pointed out:
“Misogyny is the soil in which violence against women grows.”
That is why we need to tackle it.
Following an amendment to the upskirting Bill, Her Majesty’s Government instructed the Law Commission to carry out a review of all hate crime and to consider incorporating misogyny as a new category of hate crime. The commission notes that there were 67,000 incidents of hate crime based on gender in 2018, 57,000 of which were targeted at women. Without recognising the role of misogyny in the experiences of women, our legal and criminal justice system masks the true extent of hostility based on gender.
This review is ongoing as it has been delayed due to the crisis. It is now due to report in July this year on how it will consult on recognising misogynistic crime within our legal system. In its interim report, the Law Commission said:
“Given that hate crime laws apply to existing criminal offences, the addition of sex and gender characteristics as a protected category would implicate any criminal offence committed in the domestic abuse context. Part of our consultation paper must therefore carefully consider how sex/gender-based hate crime protection might operate in overwhelmingly gendered contexts such as domestic abuse.”
While it is absolutely right to await the outcome of this review for the new legislation required to recognise misogyny within our criminal justice system as an aggravating factor, this amendment complements this work by gathering data about these crimes in a consistent fashion across England and Wales ahead of any legislative proposals. I beg to move.
My Lords, my normal reaction to an invitation from the noble Lord, Lord Russell, to sign an amendment on social reform is to reach for my pen, but on this occasion I confess I hesitated—not of course having heard the compelling and moving speech he has just made. This is because, while a member of the other place, I spent 30 days with the Hampshire Constabulary, and a constant complaint was about the number of forms they had to fill in, regarding it as an unwelcome diversion from the prevention and detection of crime.
Amendment 146 would require the chief officer to provide information, presumably on a form, about domestic abuse crimes where the offender demonstrated hostility or prejudice based on sex. A strong case needs to be made for this, to which I will come in a moment. In addition to the requirement to fill in a form, the amendment raises the question as to how a chief officer might judge whether a crime involving domestic abuse might have been motivated by hostility or prejudice based on sex—given that there are varying motives for domestic abuse, as we have heard during earlier debates on the Bill, and often no witnesses.
To get a better understanding of the complex issues behind domestic abuse and hate crime, I went to the Law Commission document referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Russell, called Hate Crime Laws: A Consultation Paper. This is not light reading, weighing in at 544 pages, with a glossary and a foreword but no executive summary. But it did look, as the noble Lord has just said, at broadening the range of hate crimes to other categories, of which sex was one.
The relevant chapter for this debate is chapter 12, which looks at extending existing protected characteristics to gender or sex. It is 48 pages of closely argued and sympathetic analysis, which ends with a provisional recommendation, followed by a question:
“We provisionally propose that gender and sex should be a protected characteristic for the purposes of hate crime law. Do consultees agree? We invite consultees’ views on whether gender-specific carve-outs for sexual offences, forced marriage, FGM and crimes committed in the domestic abuse context are needed, if gender or sex is protected for the purposes of hate crime law.”
I appreciate that, as the noble Lord has just said, the amendment does not propose extending hate crime to gender or sex. However, the issues raised by the amendment are similar to those in the Law Commission’s document and, as I shall argue, the amendment offers the opportunity to shed light on the provisional conclusions of the Law Commission, and indeed helps to answer their questions.
To summarise the document, the commission identified three relevant criteria before extending hate crime. The first is demonstrable need—evidence that targeting based on prejudice or hostility towards a group is prevalent. The second is additional harm—evidence that that targeting causes additional harm to the victim, members of the targeted group and society more widely. The third is suitability—whether protection of this group fits within the framework of criminal law, is workable in practice, and is an efficient use of resources.
Again, to summarise, the first two boxes were ticked. On demonstrable need, the commission concluded that there is
“overwhelming evidence that women and girls are targeted for certain crimes”
because of hostility to their gender. On additional harm, it concluded that hostility causes
“harm to the social value of equality and can prevent women’s equal participation in society”
and so causes wider harm to that society.
On suitability, the commission is frankly more cautious. It points to the risk of dividing offences into misogynistic and non-misogynistic, and creating a hierarchy of offences. It also mentions the difficulty of proof. Proof is often difficult enough in domestic abuse cases, but having to prove that the offence was aggravated by prejudice against women could provide an additional hurdle.
The commission also touched on issues relating to resources. Hate crime resources are limited, prosecutions and convictions are down and, as we have heard in earlier debates, support services are under strain. I quote from the Law Commission report:
“In this light, one argument might be that resources for tackling violence against women and girls would be more efficiently spent on increasing access to all survivors, particularly survivors who encounter additional barriers to access such as BAME survivors or migrant survivors.”
This then led the commission to discuss the possibility, if hate crimes were to be extended to gender or sex, of carving out domestic abuse and sexual crimes from gender-based aggravation, as already happens in certain states in America. It conceded that this would lead to a certain incoherence in the law and stated:
“This raises much wider questions as to whether hate crime is the right framework for the criminal justice system to deal with gender-based crimes.”
On balance, the commission proposes that gender should be a protected characteristic, but qualifies this by making it provisional and subject to consultees’ agreement.
Why is this relevant to the amendment, which I support? Because I believe that not going outright to make gender-based crime a hate crime, but suggesting this interim step, helps to answer the questions posed by the commission and provides key information on practicality and suitability. As the noble Lord has just said, the amendment would secure the evidence about the extent, nature and prevalence of hostility towards women and girls, how these interplay with the experience of domestic abuse and the practicality of this proposed extension.
A better understanding of these issues is crucial. As we have heard, 11 out of the 43 police constabularies in England and Wales have made misogyny a hate crime, trialled the policy or are actively considering implementing it and voluntarily filling in the necessary forms—dealing with my initial reservation. The amendment would broaden the base by requiring all police forces to do this and so it would add to our understanding of the nature of violence against women and so how work to end it might be accelerated. If we go down this path, I hope the Minister will do this sensitively and cautiously, taking on board the points in the Law Commission reports. If carried, the amendment would be an important addition to this progressive piece of legislation.
My Lords, I rise to speak in support of this amendment, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for his comprehensive introduction. It may be hard for some people to fully comprehend the role that misogyny and sexism play in the lives of women and the extent to which it permeates our every day: from offhand pejorative language that belittles feminine characteristics and female achievements, through lazy gender-based assumptions about preferences, capability and behaviours, to uniquely gendered insults and slurs.
At one end of the spectrum are behaviours and attitudes that might be considered by their perpetrators to be gallant or even protective of the “fairer sex”—what some researchers characterise as “benevolent sexism”. At the other end is the hostile sexism of overtly negative stereotypes and antagonism towards women; the kind of sexism that sees gender equality as attack on masculinity and the kind of sexism that is known to represent a significant danger to women.
We worry, with good reason, about social media platforms creating environments for this kind of misogyny. Indeed, research from the University of Pennsylvania on just one social media platform located more than 2.9 million tweets in one week containing instances of gendered insults. That averages 419,000 sexist slurs per day. That data is from 2019; we can only imagine that today’s figures might dwarf that number.
But perhaps we should worry more about the fact that this online aggression simply mirrors traditional stereotypes and attitudes towards women—a hostility based on sex that women experience everywhere: at school, at work, on public transport, in taxis, on the street and of course at home.
Research from Brazil and Turkey into the connection between sexism and domestic abuse shows a positive correlation between sexism and attitudes that legitimise abuse in intimate relationships. Put simply, men who hold sexist beliefs are more likely to translate them into actions through the use of coercion and force. The researchers make the point that, although benevolent sexism might be thought to promise some kind of protection for women as the perceived weaker sex, in fact this promise rings hollow. It found that benevolent and hostile sexism acted in a carrot-and-stick combination, with protective affection a reward for compliance, and abuse and violence the stick employed should the woman fail to fall into line.
Of course, the impact of sexism and misogyny within the home is doubly worrying. Not only does it have a grave impact on the abused partner; it is also likely to be witnessed and internalised by children, influencing their behaviours and expectations in their adult lives.
The noble Lord, Lord Russell, talked about the lack of knowledge about the experience of victims—the wisdom from their perspectives. This lack of focus is evident in the literature. There is a significant gap in our knowledge about how women experience misogynistic hate crimes. A Swedish study from September 2020 aimed to fill that gap, drawing from a sample of 1,767 female students. It showed that women with experiences of misogynistic hate crimes are more likely to be subjected to sexual harassment and repeat victimisation. They consistently report higher levels of a fear of crime and higher rates of anxiety, depression and stress.
The research supports the thesis that misogynistic hate crime is what is often called a “message crime”. Its negative effect extends far beyond the direct victim, because the offences spread fear and insecurity within entire minority communities and contribute to the marginalisation of particularly vulnerable groups.
As we have heard, this amendment would lead to the gathering of more data about the extent, nature and prevalence of sex-based hostility towards women and girls, and this would improve our understanding of how this intersects with domestic abuse. The very act of collecting this data would likely have benefits in itself.
As the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, said and as we have heard, 11 out of 43 police constabularies in England and Wales already identify misogyny as a hate crime or are considering doing so. The increased rate of reporting in those areas suggests overall improvements in the ability of officers to identify these crimes but also increased confidence levels among women to come forward and report them. Requiring all police forces to follow their example would allow the capture of data on a national scale, supporting the gathering and analysis of evidence, revealing the patterns and extent of women’s experiences, and, ultimately, enabling the development of strategies that would protect women and girls from being targets of crime on the basis of their sex.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for his very clear introduction and explanation, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, for her description of misogyny.
As we have heard, the amendment would require guidance to take account of the role that hostility against a particular sex plays in domestic abuse cases. It would also require the police to collect data on the number of relevant hate crimes based on sex and on how many of them are misogyny or misandry related. As the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, said, the picture is patchy to say the least.
The problem is that currently all but four police forces do not record crimes based on misogyny or misandry, although I totally accept the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, about how the picture needs to be built up. As the noble Lord, Lord Young, said, another seven forces are thinking about recording such crimes, but there are 43 police forces in total, so we can hardly get a picture of what is happening and of the contribution that these crimes make to domestic abuse in particular. In order to be able to measure and interpret trends in hate crimes, we must have the information; otherwise, how can we know what we are dealing with and how can we build that picture?
So far, I totally support the amendment and agree that recording cases of misogyny can really help the police to build up a picture of abuse. But I just wonder why, in the last line of the amendment, a definition of “sex” has been considered necessary. The terms “sex” and “gender” are interchangeable across English law, so why have the drafters of the amendment seen fit to throw in a definition of “sex”? I have just a twinge of anxiety that the trans community might feel excluded, and this legislation must be inclusive. After all, trans women can be victims of misogyny just as much as any other type of woman, so any definition of sex for the purposes of this clause must be trans inclusive, which is the default position for all our laws. Therefore, although I totally agree that misogyny should be recorded as a hate crime, as that would play a very valuable role, I hope that that anxiety will be assuaged; otherwise, I may not be able to support the amendment.
My Lords, I am absolutely delighted to be a signatory to this long overdue amendment, which I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and the other co-signatories for bringing forward. It relates to a policy that I have advocated for years—that we should make misogyny a hate crime.
Part of the problem is that misogyny and sexism are deeply embedded in our society. The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, talked about a protective kindness from men towards women. Quite honestly, we do not need that. Misogyny and sexism can be covered up by teasing and even flattery, but it is totally inappropriate and it is time that men learned that. We have enshrined our condemnation of racism and homophobia in law, but we are not treating sexism as the same kind of priority and it is time that we did.
According to statistics, 90% of British women experienced street harassment before the age of 17. Street harassment is being shouted at. We are not talking about wolf-whistling; we are talking about men shouting at women, making them embarrassed and perhaps making them feel less free to walk down a street. Eighty-five per cent of women aged 17 to 24 have been subjected to unwanted sexual advances. Can your Lordships imagine that—that 85% of women have been groped by people whom they do not want to be groped by? Therefore, it is time to make misogyny a hate crime.
The amendment is long overdue and I hope that the Minister will say that she accepts it completely. Several noble Lords have talked about Nottinghamshire Police being trailblazers on this. It has seen a 25% increase in the reporting of misogynistic crime and a very high level of satisfaction among the people—mainly women—who have reported those crimes, because finally they have been taken seriously. As noble Lords have also said, only 11 out of 43 police forces in England and Wales have made misogyny a hate crime, have trialled it or are actively considering implementing this.
Part of the problem is that, just as the police are representative of society, there will be police officers who are sexist and misogynistic. This means that they need training. I have in the past mentioned the sort of domestic abuse training that some police forces are already getting. It makes the officers aware of exactly what happens and creates more empathy for the people who are being abused. For me, domestic abuse training is part of what will help to solve this problem that we have of misogyny. I hope that standing up and talking about it here will also help.
It would be a real shame for this amendment not to be accepted on to the statute book, but will the Minister at least promise to open a debate on this issue among police forces? It is in her power to do that. I would be very pleased if she accepted this amendment but, if not, could she take it forward in any way that she can?
I call the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.
It will be immensely helpful to have a process of gathering information ahead of the Law Commission report on whether extension of hate crimes to embrace misogyny will work, and how. At present, we do not have good information. This is a really difficult area; I do not think that any of us has trouble with the concept of hate crimes, but the Scottish Parliament is currently undergoing extreme difficulty with the concept of hate speech. Many police forces in the UK are doing some very strange things with “hate incidents”, where these can be recorded just on the say-so of one person and then appear in another person’s DBS check. There are some difficult things happening around hate crimes and hate incidents generally; having good data must, surely, be at the core of reaching good conclusions.
Here, we have a difficulty in that the police have changed their recording of crimes and reports so that they record only the reported gender of a person and not their natal sex, as is the protected characteristic under the Equality Act. Recently, we have seen extraordinary rises in the reported level of sexual abuse by women. Is this real? Is there something happening to women in our country that we really ought to understand, or is this a fiction of the change in the police reporting method? Not having accurate data disables us in understanding what to do.
I very much hope that, if something comes of this—I hope it will—the police will not only record the natal sex but will record the gender of all the people concerned so that we can understand exactly what is happening. It really does not help trans people that the hate they are subject to is subsumed under misogyny if they are trans women. We need to know whether this is happening to them because they are trans. We are trying to gather data and understanding; the better the data we have, the better our response.
I support, but would like to see extended, the definition at the end of this. It is really important that we have clarity and completeness. Let us record sex as per the Equality Act definition because that is, as my noble friend on the Front Bench has confirmed to me on previous occasions, the basis on which the Government are working. Let us also record self-identified gender or whatever other formulation works best—we could perhaps adopt the one from the forthcoming census—so that we have a complete picture of misogyny and trans misogyny and can, when the time comes, craft effective laws about it.
I am very pleased to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell. Members may have seen recent reports in the media covering the experience of elite female athletes being subject to harassment and intimidation when doing training runs in the street. They cannot go to their athletic tracks to train at the moment because of lockdown. As has been said, this is not about wolf-whistling; it is about violence and harassment, mainly against women. If those athletes were competing in an Olympic stadium, they would be cheered to the rafters for their success, but because they are training on the streets and are anonymous, somehow they are objectified and are easy prey.
During White Ribbon Week, I asked the Minister to accept the two year-old Law Commission’s report recommending that misogyny be made a hate crime. This is now a matter of increasing urgency. The police forces that have been adopting policies to record gender hate crimes are to be congratulated, but this needs to be adopted generally. Superintendent Andy Bennett of Avon and Somerset Police said:
“We know women are less likely to report hate crime committed by strangers in public, which could be because discrimination is normalised for many women.”
As the noble Lord, Lord Russell, said, Nottinghamshire Police was the first force in England and Wales to start recording hate crimes against women and girls. Sue Fish, the former chief constable of Nottinghamshire Police, said:
“Some of the feedback we had was that women, for the first time, described themselves as ‘walking taller’ and with their ‘heads held high’.”
According to the White Ribbon Campaign, one in five British men thinks that feminism has gone “too far”. Online misogyny can also be a gateway to wider divisions in society. A HOPE not hate report shows that some young men who interact with men’s rights activists online are on the first step to more extreme racist or far-right groups and regard more rights for anyone—such as people of colour, the LGBT community and people with disabilities—as a threat to their status. The chief executive of HOPE not hate supports this amendment. He states that misogyny is a recruiting tool for hate groups and a means to radicalise, especially among the very young. These online groups radicalise young men who go on to commit acts of aggression designed to intimidate, humiliate and control women.
Having better-quality information throughout all police forces is not just another paper exercise. It helps to increase understanding of the causes and consequences of violence against women and girls, and it gives women more confidence that their issue will be taken seriously. It may even go on to protect more women from violence and intimidation. I hope that the Minister will accept this amendment.
My Lords, this afternoon, many noble Lords have described misogyny outside the scenario of domestic abuse—such as elite athletes training in the street, as the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, just said. I hope to explain that, while I agree that the recording of misogyny as a hate crime is a good thing, it may confuse things when it comes to domestic abuse.
As has been explained, Clause 70 requires the Secretary of State to
“issue guidance to chief officers of police about the disclosure of police information by police forces for the purposes of preventing domestic abuse.”
This amendment is about including in that guidance that the police should record any crimes where the offender demonstrated hostility or prejudice based on sex, or where it is perceived that the crime was motivated by hostility or prejudice towards persons who are of a particular sex. This, in effect, would require police officers to record misogyny as a hate crime, although as it is worded in gender-neutral terms it would also require them to record misandry as a hate crime. I am confused about why misandry would be a hate crime, but we will move on. It then tries to bring this within the scope of Clause 70, which is about preventing domestic abuse, by mentioning taking account of evidence about the relationship between domestic abuse and misogyny and recording misogynistic crimes that, in the opinion of the police, have also involved domestic abuse.
As my noble friend Lady Burt said, the amendment defines “sex” as having the same meaning as in Section 11 of the Equality Act 2010.
The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, referred to a tragic case of repeat domestic abuse that resulted in murder. The failure to identify repeat domestic abuse perpetrators, as we will hear on a later group, is believed to be the result of a failure to include serial domestic abuse perpetrators in multiagency public protection arrangements, not a result of failing to record misogyny as a hate crime.
This amendment presents a series of challenges. It appears to extend the definition of hate crime beyond what currently exists. The CPS describe a hate crime as when someone is hostile to another person because of their disability, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity. Section 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, as amended, which deals with hate crime offences, talks about the offender demonstrating hostility or being motivated by hostility. It makes no mention, as this amendment does, of demonstrating prejudice. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, can explain how prejudice can be demonstrated in a way that does not involve hostility. This amendment also makes no change to the penalty for an offence motivated by misogyny in the way that existing hate crimes create aggravated offences. As such, the amendment simply requires the police to differentiate and record crimes motivated by misogyny to plug a gap in the intelligence picture of offender behaviour.
Misogyny has been described as rewarding women who uphold the status quo but punishing those who reject the subordinate status of women in a patriarchal, male-dominated society; the noble Baronesses, Lady Bull and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, alluded to that. Misogynists effectively differentiate between “good women” who accept a subordinate role to men, who they are loving towards and admiring of, and “bad women” who challenge the status quo or otherwise fail to comply with misogynists’ distorted expectations of how women should look or behave. I wonder whether that reminds noble Lords of any former Presidents.
In my personal and professional experience, this failure to accept domination—to accept a subordinate role—is the essence of domestic abuse, but it is equally true whatever the sex of the perpetrator or the victim. My abusive male partner was loving towards me when I complied, and violent when I stood up for myself. This is typical of a misogynist’s behaviour towards a woman. In my personal experience of domestic abuse, it was motivated by neither misogyny nor misandry but was typical of coercive and controlling behaviour. There is a real danger of confusing misogyny with other forms of domestic abuse that are not motivated by hatred of women. I welcome the cautious approach recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham.
However, there is merit in collecting intelligence to identify patterns of criminal behaviour, by individuals or within communities, or within society as a whole. That is why intelligence is already kept and shared about those who perpetrate domestic abuse. It would therefore be helpful were the police to collect information on crimes that were likely to be motivated by misogyny outside the domestic abuse arena but beyond the scope of the Bill. Intelligence to protect victims from serial perpetrators of domestic abuse is already collected, although imperfectly, as we will hear on a later group.
What would the purpose of this amendment be? As the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, said, it would be to identify assailants committing crimes motivated by hostility towards women, or that society or a section of society is demonstrating hostility by committing crimes against women. This is something the police, politicians and wider society need to be aware of. I have no problem with the Home Office issuing instructions to the police service requiring it to record such intelligence, but I am not sure that this needs to be in primary legislation, and I have doubts, for the reasons I have explained, that it needs to be in this primary legislation.
Again, on a later group we will debate whether, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell, claimed, domestic abuse is a gendered environment. There is also a danger of confusing the recording of domestic abuse. Currently domestic abuse is not recorded as racial domestic abuse, homophobic domestic abuse, or any other type of intersectionality. I therefore ask why domestic abuse should be characterised as misogynistic domestic abuse. To clarify, I say that my understanding is that only four police forces currently record misogyny as a hate crime, but they also record misandry as a hate crime, and that seven other police forces are piloting or considering doing so.
Finally, I am concerned that we do not get embroiled in the debates between those with entrenched views in relation to trans women. In spite of my noble friend Lady Burt’s concerns, and despite what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, we clearly do not need to go there in relation to this amendment. Existing hate crime legislation is quite clear, as is this amendment, that a relevant crime means a reported crime in which the victim or any other person perceived the alleged offender to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on sex, or to be motivated by it. In other words, if the victim or anyone else believes it is misogyny, it should be recorded as such. Furthermore, Section 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 talks about,
“hostility based on the victim’s membership (or presumed membership) of a racial group”,
where “presumed” means presumed by the offender. If the offender presumed the victim to be a woman, it is, and should be, recorded as misogyny.
We support misogyny being recorded by the police to fill a gap in the intelligence picture outside the domestic abuse setting, but we are not convinced that it should be an amendment to this Bill.
My Lords, I fully support Amendment 146, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. The noble Lord set out in detail the issue of violence against women; he seeks in his amendment to make effective use of data to secure evidence, in order to help our understanding of the offence and our ability to prevent it. That is the whole point of data; the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made reference to that. By collecting data we can understand the issue, and that can then help us to find solutions. This is why data is so important to everything we do and what is so good about the amendment.
The amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish guidance that took account of evidence about the relationship between domestic abuse and other offences involving hostility based on sex. It would require all chief police officers to collect and provide data on relevant crimes reported to police forces which they believe have also involved domestic abuse. Sadly, there are some men around who hate women for no other reason than that they are a woman. I do not know what the issue is; perhaps they feel that the woman somehow threatens their identity as a man—that she might be smarter than them or know a bit more about something. I do not know what it is, but there are men who absolutely hate women. We have to ensure we understand that more so that we can provide solutions. It is horrific when you think about it, but it is the case.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, made reference to social media, which has shone a light on this. We think of the abuse received by our colleagues in the other place—on all sides of the House—if they dare to suggest anything that some people do not like. They have been threatened with all sorts of acts of violence, called names and generally abused. Some really offensive and disgusting remarks have been made about them, which are absolutely appalling and should be highlighted, but those are just the tip of the iceberg. Social media has allowed this to be brought into the sunlight and in that sense it is good, although I am sure we will come back to social media companies and their responsibilities another time. It is a dreadful situation.
As the noble Lord, Lord Russell, said, it is important to note that nothing in this amendment makes anything an offence that is not already an offence. It is merely about collecting information, and understanding the issue in order to help us understand the problem. Many noble Lords have heaped praise on Nottinghamshire Police for their work. I used to work in Nottinghamshire many years ago so I have dealt with the police there on different matters. They are an excellent police force. I am looking forward to my honourable friend Vernon Coaker coming to join the House next month. In his roles as a teacher, a councillor and a Member of Parliament in the other place for 23 years, he had lots to do with Nottinghamshire Police; I am sure that we will benefit from his experience.
I agree with all the contributions of noble Lords who have spoken—the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, the noble Baronesses, Lady Bull, Lady Burt of Solihull, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and others. In particular, my noble friend Lady Donaghy talked about the risk of young men caught in this horrible tide of misogyny who are being dragged into other dreadful crimes. We should be very worried about that as well—about people who get dragged into other dangerous, illegal and criminal activity. We need to understand that.
I am very lucky in that my mum, my sister and my wife are all much smarter than me; I have been lucky to have them in my life to help me out. When I came into this House, my two sponsors were my two previous bosses in the Labour Party, both women—Baroness Gould and my noble friend Lady McDonagh. Lots of women in my life have helped me out on a whole range of things, and I am very grateful for that. This is a very important amendment. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate, which has been excellent. I can categorically attest to the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is not a misogynist. The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, talked about how the behaviour of parents has almost a direct correlation with how their children might behave when they grow up. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, talked about the trans community; the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, might have looked at my notes because the words I have written in response to her remarks are almost identical to what he said: that hate crime laws in England and Wales protect identity characteristics such as race, religion or sexual orientation, or groups such as trans or disabled people.
I thank noble Lords for all their comments, including the very thoughtful comments of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, talked about the abuse of parliamentarians—it is horrific to see the comments that people have made—much of which is misogynistic. The opening gambit of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, was the tragic case of Kellie Sutton, which shows two things, one mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. It shows the failure to include domestic abuse in the MAPPA arrangements and the need for more effective use of Clare’s Law; the Bill remedies that, as it puts the guidance on a statutory footing. Noble Lords have talked about police forces that record misogyny. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, rightly pointed out that those which record misogyny also record misandry.
I will be quite clear about the Government’s position on hate crime. All crimes that are motivated by hatred are totally unacceptable and have no place in this society. That is why, in 2018, as part of our updating of the Government’s hate crime action plan, we asked the Law Commission to undertake a review of current hate crime legislation, including considering whether other protected characteristics such as sex, gender and age should be included. We asked it to review both the adequacy and the parity of protection offered by the law relating to hate crime and to make recommendations for reform. This review began in 2019; over the course of that year and last, the Law Commission tried to meet as many people as possible who had an interest in this area of law, organising events across England and Wales to gather views and, of course, evidence, which the noble Lord so often talks about.
The noble Lords, Lord Paddick, Lord Kennedy and Lord Lucas, stressed the importance of data in our considerations. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked about opening a debate with the police; I am sure that, following the Law Commission’s findings, such a debate will be opened up. However, we have specifically asked the commission to consider the current range of offences, aggravating factors and sentencing, and to make recommendations on the most appropriate models to ensure that the criminal law provides consistent and effective protection from conduct motivated by hatred towards protected groups or characteristics.
The review also took account of the existing range of protected characteristics, identifying any gaps in the scope of protection currently offered under the law and making recommendations to promote a consistent approach. The consultation to support the review closed on Christmas Eve of last year. That consultation focused on whether sex or gender should be added to hate crime laws, noting that misogyny by itself might introduce inconsistency to hate crime laws—as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also pointed out.
We will respond to the review when it is completed. Given the range and depth of the work undertaken by the Law Commission, we do not think it would be appropriate to prejudice the outcome of its work, including by issuing guidance or requiring the collection of statistics along the lines proposed by the amendment. As I have said, the noble Lord rightly wants to see evidence-based policy. The work of the Law Commission will add significantly to that evidence base. I hope the noble Lord will agree that we should allow it to complete that work rather than pre-empting it. We will consider what changes need to be made once we have had the opportunity to fully consider the Law Commission’s final recommendations. On the basis of these comments, I hope that the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank everybody who took part in this wide-ranging debate. I thought it was appropriate for it to be introduced by a member of the weaker sex, but I thank everybody of whatever sex for their contributions. I thank my colleague in the other place, Stella Creasy. She and I had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time together at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where I got to know her. She has been a doughty champion of trying to get misogyny recognised as a rather pervasive element in modern society and I applaud her for her efforts, which have been supported across the Chamber in another place.
The noble Lord, Lord Young—with his usual erudition and from his commanding height—laid out just how extensive the Law Commission’s interim report is. I, too, waded through 40-odd pages, and I confess that I did not look at about 500 footnotes in detail, but it is very impressive and goes very deep. What comes out of it very clearly is that the case for the prosecution is proven: misogyny is something that actually exists, is tangible and has a very unpleasant effect on a lot of people. However, finding out that it is bad is the easy bit; the difficult bit, which is what the Law Commission is trying to do now, is translating that knowledge—that truth—into legislation in a form that will have a materially beneficial effect on the very large number of victims of misogyny. That is the difficult piece to try to get right. Frankly, the more data that we have to help us try to understand how to do that effectively, the better.
My noble friend Lady Bull laid out some of the international context. This is not something that takes place only in our disunited kingdom, it is an international syndrome and a shameful one. The existence of gender-based hostility is a fact of life and it has probably always been with us from Neolithic times. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, quite rightly made the point that we must have the right information. I am to some extent agnostic on the technical issues of sex versus gender and all the rest of it. That is not a battle that I am going to fight. I do not feel qualified to do so, but I am quite sure that the Law Commission will look at that in detail as it is looking at all the other elements.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, talked about the pervasiveness of misogyny, based in part, I suspect, on her own experience and that of others that she has seen. It is shameful. She also made an extremely good point about the value of really good police domestic abuse training. I do not know to what extent there is a template for best practice and what good really looks like. I suspect that, as ever, some police forces are doing it infinitely better than others. Can the Minister tell us how much knowledge the Home Office has of where best practice is in existence or being evolved and, if so, what is it doing, or what does it aspire to do, to try to make sure that that is applied everywhere, not just in those police forces that are ahead of the game?
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, talked about the importance of enhanced information, but he rightly made the point, as a lawyer, that hate crime is a difficult and very sensitive area, and data really will be king. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, I saw the reports about the way in which female athletes have been tormented and abused because they cannot go to the normal stadia and places to exercise. It is absolutely deplorable that one should be trying to do what one loves and has a passion for—indeed, what one may be representing one’s country for—and is subject to abuse on the street. I cannot even imagine what that would be like. I hope that if I witnessed someone doing something like that, I would give them a piece of my mind—not that they would probably take much notice.
The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, also pointed out that misogyny is a recruiting tool for hate groups. In doing research for this debate, I went down one particular rabbit hole that I found on the internet: a very bizarre male forum in which feminism is regarded as the root of many of modern society’s ills and as a conspiracy to belittle men and reduce their role. It was eye-closing, rather than eye-opening, to try to read it, but it exists and we cannot ignore it. We have to try to do something about it.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, quite rightly, with his extensive experience, laid out some of the heffalump traps that exist legally and in the way in which the police might try to apply this. He knows far more about it than I do, but I would defer to the Law Commission to try to work its way through some of the complexities that he outlined. I probably agree that they do not necessarily need to be in primary legislation; that is not the object of this probing amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, again, referred to the importance of data and the role of social media. Like him, I greatly look forward to the arrival of our new colleague: his friend and mine, Vernon Coaker. When he arrives, he will be a sterling addition to your Lordships’ House. I also—since I am married to one—agree with the noble Lord on the very important role of powerful women.
The Minister quite rightly mentioned the pervasive influence of the home that one is fortunate or unfortunate enough to grow up in, and how that influences one’s views. We both have shared history in the importance of timely, accurate and informative data. I think we all agree that although we know this is here, we still do not really understand its full complexity, how to record it accurately or how to respond to it. I hope that the Law Commission will come up with some answers, but the pandemic has acted like a pressure cooker on an awful lot of what is going on. Many women and children are suffering unspeakable oppression at the moment and I am very conscious that, while it is neat and tidy to say that we will wait for the Law Commission findings to come out, there is a feeling among most of us who have spoken that it would be good to do as much as we can in the interim to acknowledge that this is a live and shameful issue, rather than just sit on our hands hoping that the Law Commission will pull a rabbit out of the hat.
On that basis, I thank everybody who has taken part. I thank the Minister for listening so politely and answering as I expected she might, but I hope that she and her colleagues will consider whether more could be done, given the circumstances that so many of these women and children are in, to try to send some message to police forces about the benefits that other police forces which have trialled this are having from it, and to encourage them to look at it seriously. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 146 withdrawn.
Clause 70 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 146A. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
Clause 71: Homelessness: victims of domestic abuse
146A: Clause 71, page 55, line 15, after “abuse” insert “, or
(ii) resides or might reasonably be expected to reside with a person who falls within sub-paragraph (i) and is not the abuser”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment allows the applicant for homelessness assistance to be either the survivor or someone who resides with the survivor or might reasonably be expected to reside with the survivor. However, the applicant cannot be the abuser.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lord Naseby for their support for Amendment 146A in my name.
I welcome Clause 71, which builds on the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, piloted through the other place by Bob Blackman and through this House by the noble Lord, Lord Best, in providing a better deal for those confronted with being homeless. As the Explanatory Notes say, the clause gives those who are eligible and are homeless as a result of fleeing domestic abuse priority-need status for accommodation provided by the local authority. Crucially, it removes the need for the person who is homeless as a result of domestic abuse from having to fulfil the vulnerability test of the 1996 Housing Act.
This change is needed because of examples such as that of Danielle, who was made homeless when her relationship ended, after a neighbour called the police following a two-day beating. Despite visible bruising and a letter from her partner admitting abuse, she was told by the council that she needed to provide further evidence of her vulnerability and that she was not a priority. She ended up homeless, sofa surfing for two years. Hopefully, the clause will mean that there are no more cases like Danielle’s.
Access to suitable housing is often the critical barrier to survivors fleeing domestic abuse. Inexcusably, some victims are forced to choose between returning to live with a perpetrator—a dangerous or potentially life-endangering situation—or facing homelessness because they cannot access housing. That is why I, along with many of my parliamentary colleagues and organisations across the domestic abuse and homelessness sectors, including Crisis, Women’s Aid, Refuge, St Mungo’s and many others, supported the “A Safe Home” campaign of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness, which urged the Government to extend automatic priority-need status for housing to survivors of domestic abuse through an amendment to this Bill. In May 2020, the Government listened to the expertise derived from the work of the group and amended the Bill, which I welcome.
However, the detail of that amendment as currently drafted concerns those same organisations, as the Government’s amendment on priority need fails to entirely protect survivors of domestic abuse. Critically, as it stands, the Bill does not give a legal assurance to allow anyone else in the household to apply for homelessness assistance on a victim’s behalf. This is only stated in guidance, which falls short of a legal guarantee and means that some victims are likely to fall through the gaps between the different practices of different local authorities. Although the circumstances may be rare in which this additional provision is necessary, they can occur. For example, an adult child living with the abused and the abuser may be able to help the victim by filling out the forms and formally making the application, particularly where the victim does not speak English or has difficulty with form filling. This situation could occur in a multigenerational household, perhaps in a BAME community.
It is clear from front-line services supporting survivors that it is not always safe for survivors of abuse to make the application for homelessness assistance themselves. This could be, for example, because it too dangerous for them to leave their home until they know that they have somewhere safe to flee to. It might also be the case that they are unable to attend in person because they are receiving hospital treatment as a result of the abuse that they have experienced.
Furthermore, this is not the case in other areas of homelessness legislation. For example, Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 allows for another member of a household to make the application for housing assistance, such as when a woman is pregnant or when an individual is vulnerable through old age or physical disability. The Government have argued that the requirement for survivors to personally make an application is to stop further abuse from a perpetrator. However, experts in the domestic abuse and homelessness sectors firmly disagree. In response to a possible objection, I understand that there is no known case where the individual for whom the application has been made has come forward to say that they did not support it.
I support the call of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness, which is also supported by Women’s Aid, for survivors in England to have the same support and legal protections as survivors throughout the rest of the UK and for the Government to address this anomaly or gap in the Bill. This change would not result in additional significant burdens on local authorities but would have a significant impact on survivors of domestic abuse, giving them an absolute, clear and guaranteed right to housing when they need it most. Given that we know that survivors are most at risk of homicide when they flee a perpetrator, it is vital that the Government look again at priority need and provide vulnerable survivors with a legal assurance of a clear, safe route out of abusive and life-threatening situations. This change will provide a vital safeguarding mechanism and a powerful lifeline for those in need. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, whose amendment I support. I will speak to my Amendment 147—I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for adding his name to it. I also thank Women’s Aid for pointing out the problem that I aim to solve with this amendment.
Women and men experiencing domestic abuse face long-term and often lifelong risks from the perpetrator. Domestic abuse does not end when a relationship ends and research has consistently found that women are at significantly high risk when leaving the relationship. Often a woman can access safety only when she moves far away from the perpetrator. However, in recent years, Women’s Aid has seen a worrying trend in local authorities introducing “local connection” rules to tenders, with local refuges being capped on the number of non-local women whom they are able to accept. The very existence of refuges depends on these services’ ability to accept women from out of the area, as women will often need to flee from their local area to be safe. Data from Women’s Aid’s annual survey in 2017 shows that over two-thirds of women in a refuge on one day crossed local authority boundaries to access it. Women often cannot access a refuge in their local area due to the severe and ongoing risks faced from a perpetrator.
Women fleeing to a refuge rely on these services being able to accept them and their children from outside their local area, with no “local connection”. Government guidance makes it clear that locality caps and restrictions should not be written into tenders or contracts relating to domestic abuse and violence against women and girls. However, this guidance is not consistently applied across England, leading to something of a postcode lottery of access to refuges and a major risk to the safe operation of this national network of services.
Similarly, there are real concerns about the inconsistencies between local authorities across England in meeting their obligations to house those from another area fleeing domestic abuse. I agree with Women’s Aid and many other NGOs that the ban on “local connection” rules and residency requirements must extend to wider homelessness duties and housing allocations, to ensure that all survivors can access safe housing.
Homelessness teams refusing to support women who are escaping abuse because they are not from their local area must also be included. Nearly a fifth of women supported by Women’s Aid’s No Woman Turned Away project in 2016-17 were prevented from making a valid homeless application on the grounds of domestic abuse for reasons that included having no local connection to the area, with local housing teams deprioritising survivors who do not have a local connection within their housing allocation policy.
Guidance from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government currently encourages
“all local authorities to exempt from their residency requirements those who are living in a refuge or other form of safe temporary accommodation in their district having escaped domestic abuse in another local authority area.”
However, this is not a requirement and does not apply to women who have not escaped into a refuge or other form of temporary accommodation. Local authorities often use blanket residency tests in allocation schemes, without accounting for exceptional circumstances, such as for a woman fleeing domestic abuse.
The Government already require local authorities to make exemptions from local connection requirements or residency tests for certain groups, including for members of the Armed Forces and those seeking to move for work. My Amendment 147 would include a specific bar on local authorities from imposing local connection restrictions on survivors of domestic abuse when accessing refuges and, importantly, longer-term housing. This is needed to sit alongside the government department’s proposed statutory duty on local authorities to fund support in refuges and other forms of safe accommodation. This will ensure that all women and children fleeing domestic abuse can access safe accommodation where and when they need to.
Women’s Aid has given me a real example that highlights the urgency and importance of why this amendment is needed:
“A has experienced domestic abuse for the last 10 years from two partners as well as witnessing domestic abuse perpetrated by her father against her mother growing up. She has been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD. After fleeing her abusive partner with three children, she moved into a refuge in a London borough to be near her mother, who was her main source of support. She was only able to find a refuge in a different borough to her mother, and after six months she was required to leave that refuge. She presented to the borough her mother lives in, but she was informed she was not entitled to be housed there as she did not have a local connection. The local authority stated she had a local connection to the borough she had been living in for six months. This is despite her being a survivor of domestic abuse, having no option other than to live in the first borough where a refuge space was available at the time of fleeing and the fact that she felt at risk from the perpetrator’s extended networks there.
The borough her mother lived in then housed A and her three children, who were all under 14, in one room in mixed-sex temporary accommodation. This was extremely distressing for her. She describes feeling retraumatised from the experience of being forced to live alongside men she did not know. She also felt scared for her children, who did not feel safe in the mixed-sex hostel. The room was highly unsuitable as the entire family lived in it and were required to cook in it, which is of course unsafe for a toddler. Another child had ADHD, so A struggled to provide them with any quiet time and appropriate support. This experience also exacerbated her PTSD, depression and anxiety, and she reported feeling low and stressed regularly due to feeling unsafe in the accommodation. She is now having to live there indefinitely while the boroughs have been assigned an arbiter to decide who has a duty.”
I would also like this to apply to victims of modern-day slavery who can equally fall foul of this problem, as I, as a deputy chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation, am only too aware. While I am aware that this Bill deals only with domestic abuse, I would ask my noble friend to look into this, whether people are the victims of domestic abuse or, indeed, of modern slavery. I ask that this should be done because housing has to be looked at seriously as a way of addressing the abuse that these victims suffer.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 146A, to which I have added my name. We know about the strong link between domestic abuse and homelessness, with access to housing often presenting as a critical barrier to survivors fleeing abuse. For example, in Wales, between 2018 and 2019, nearly 2,500 households were provided with assistance by their local authorities following homelessness caused by the breakdown of a relationship with a partner. Almost half of those relationship breakdowns were violent. In May 2020, the Government listened to the expertise of organisations across the domestic abuse and homelessness sectors, and the views of women who had experienced domestic abuse. In response, the Government amended this Bill to extend automatic priority-need status for housing to survivors of domestic abuse in England, as was already the case in Wales. This welcome amendment will provide a vital lifeline for many survivors of domestic abuse.
In Wales in 2018-19, over 300 households were owed a duty to secure settled accommodation as they were in priority need after fleeing domestic violence or being threatened with violence. However, organisations across the domestic abuse and homeless sectors have raised concerns that the government amendments will not adequately guarantee clear access to housing for all survivors of domestic abuse. Critically, it will not enable other members of a household to apply for this assistance on the survivor’s behalf, as is the case in other areas of homelessness legislation. For example, when a woman is pregnant, a partner is allowed to make the application for them. This sounds like a small distinction, but front-line services that are supporting survivors every day know that it is not always safe for survivors of abuse to make an application for homelessness assistance themselves. Allowing other household members to be the lead applicant provides a vital safeguarding mechanism which could give a vulnerable survivor a route to safety when they need it most.
The Government have argued that requiring survivors to make an application personally will help to prevent further abuse from a perpetrator. However, experts in the domestic abuse and homelessness sectors, who are, sadly, experts from experience, disagree. In Wales, where survivors of domestic abuse already have automatic priority-need status for housing, another member of a household is allowed to make the application for housing assistance on the survivor’s behalf. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness sought views from domestic abuse and homelessness organisations in Wales. It found no evidence that this had ever led to further abuse from a perpetrator. The chair of the national housing network reported that he had not come across further abuse in this way while working with the 22 local authorities across Wales. He went further when he said that he did not understand the logic behind the Government’s position.
What is clear from the experience of services working on the front line in Wales is that it is not always safe for survivors of abuse to make the application for homelessness assistance themselves. Restricting the ability of other household members to do this on their behalf puts another barrier in front of someone trying to flee a dangerous and potentially life-threatening situation. Given that we know that the greatest risk of homicide is when the victim flees the perpetrator, I ask the Government to take this opportunity, as the Bill passes through the Lords, to look again at priority need and remove this unnecessary barrier to accessing support by allowing other household members to apply for settled housing on a survivor’s behalf.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 146A and I support Amendment 147, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Like others, I welcome the provisions in the Bill, but this is rather typical of the pattern of responses to many aspects of the Bill: the amendment seeks to tweak the provisions to ensure that the Bill works as I believe is intended.
There is an assumption that refuges are the answer to abuse, but that they should be only temporary for reasons relating to the individuals who occupy them and because people who get stuck in them become, to use an unpleasant term, bed blockers, which is not how anyone would like to see themselves. Refuges are certainly not a permanent solution. There are not enough refuge spaces even for temporary provision, and it is very natural for victims to want the security of their own home for themselves and their children.
Like others, I am indebted to the organisations which know their way around the legislation that relates to their own services, as is the case here. Of course, domestic abuse is by no means the only cause of homelessness, which is why one has to look at priority need. But, given that the Government have addressed this, the Bill should be complete and replicate the provisions allowing applications to be made on behalf of vulnerable individuals, as other noble Lords have said. It must be safe for the survivor to access the housing.
As regards Amendment 147, there is no need to repeat the debate about why it may be essential for someone to get right away from her or his local area. No one with children would contemplate that; you only have to think about school and social connections. I have to say I am not entirely sure how one would administer “likely to become” a victim. I remember from my days as a local councillor the difficulties related to the size of a family, because you cannot take account of a child who is not yet born. But the importance of enabling someone to get away before there is too much harm is obvious, and the need to get away demonstrates how extreme the situation must be, because often you want the support of your community for yourself and your children.
The scope for more joint working between local authorities is outside this Bill, but the use of reciprocal arrangements has a very helpful, if not very big, place in this scene. But the real issue is the need for more support and, overall, more housing supply. Not for the first time, it is a matter of resources. For every housing offer to one person, someone else is not receiving an offer.
My Lords, Amendment 146A, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, is one I fully support. I would have signed it if there had been a space, but people got there before me. The amendment ensures that someone made homeless as a result of domestic abuse will have priority need for housing support. It cannot be right that a victim is left with the choice of staying with an abusive partner or becoming homeless. That is no choice at all. The amendment would allow the applicant for homelessness assistance to be either a survivor or someone who resides with the survivor—but, of course, not the abuser. Again, enabling somebody else in the household to make an application could be an important protection.
I was delighted to sign Amendment 147, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, which would ensure that local connection cannot be used as a restriction when someone applies for housing, either in a refuge, in other temporary accommodation or in longer-term accommodation. This is very important to enable someone to get the help and support they want, to get them near to friends, to get them away to a place where they are not known or to get them wherever they want. It enables those in difficult, dangerous situations to get somewhere where they can rebuild their lives.
I want to thank Women’s Aid and other organisations for the help they have given all noble Lords on this Bill and for their general work. I have always been grateful to Women’s Aid for its advice on a number of issues. The example that the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, gave from Women’s Aid highlights the reason his amendment needs to be agreed—or, if the noble Baroness cannot agree the amendment, I hope she recognises the problem and will try to resolve it by bringing something back on Report.
In our discussion last week, we looked at the risks to victims, at home or at work, of being murdered. We have to ensure that, if somebody leaves a relationship, they can get somewhere they are safe and can rebuild their lives. It might be that they want to move to a completely different part of the country where no one knows them at all. Some victims have to completely cut off contact with abusers, because some abusers would do their damnedest to find somebody. We know people can choose not to be on the electoral register and that there is anonymous registration, but what shops they go to and where their families and friends are will still be known, so we have to ensure that people who want to can get away completely and start life afresh. That is why the noble Lord’s amendment is so important—so that no local authority can suggest, “Oh, you can’t come here because you’ve got no connection”. “That’s exactly why I want to come here—I’ve got no connection.” That is a really important issue. I look forward to the response from the noble Baroness at the end of the debate.
My Lords, I rise to speak briefly in support of Amendment 146A, so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. Like him, I welcome the extension of automatic priority-need status for housing to survivors of domestic abuse, but I share his regret that there is no current right for anyone who lives with the survivor, or might reasonably be expected to live with them, to apply for this assistance on their behalf. This amendment aims to address this and to ensure that survivors have access to what one has been described as the first and most important priority for anyone escaping domestic abuse—a safe roof over their head.
Domestic abuse is often about control. There is a horrible, perhaps inevitable, consequence when that control is challenged, which is that abusers are likely to become even more violent as they seek to reinstate or retain their dominance over their victim. My noble friend Lady Finlay has already said the risk of domestic homicide is at its highest during separation. Research studies show that the worst incidents of abuse are triggered by the victim having left the abuser, and the abuse is even more extreme if the victim has left for another partner. In such cases, the risk of femicide increases fivefold. Interviews with men who killed their wives in the United States pointed to separation or a threat of separation as the most common trigger for the murder. This means that the difficult decision by a victim of domestic abuse to leave their abuser and seek out support may well result not in the provision of a safe haven but in further victimisation, physical risk and even risk to life.
Front-line services in both the domestic abuse and the homelessness sectors are clear about the potential risks to survivors of abuse in making an application for homelessness assistance themselves. They know that abusers will employ the most varied and creative tactics to track their partner, from using GPS locators in their partner’s phone to calling around women’s shelters or even filing a missing persons report. Front-line workers know that in some cases a call for help may become a death sentence.
This amendment addresses this risk and provides an important safeguarding mechanism by allowing an ally to fill in the application, thus allowing victims of abuse to make plans without running the risk of those plans, or the location of their future home, being discovered by their abuser. It has the backing of Women’s Aid and of the APPG for Ending Homelessness. I urge the Government to listen carefully to their arguments and to the arguments in your Lordships’ House and to adopt this amendment so that survivors of domestic abuse have a clear legal route to that most basic of needs—a safe roof over their heads.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. I agree with all she said and give my unreserved support to both these amendments.
In a long Committee stage, some amendments are, very properly, probing amendments. Others stand out as improving amendments. I really hope that this amendment, so eloquently moved by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, and the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, will be incorporated into the Bill. Perhaps there will have to be the odd change of word, but I have referred to the Bill on a number of occasions as a landmark Bill, and a landmark Bill, in this area, has to be able to deliver as near perfect, total security as it can.
In common with many constituency Members of Parliament, I saw young women—they were mostly young women—who had been harassed, bullied, tormented and beaten, who needed somewhere to go. They needed a safe and secure refuge. In the immediate future that was often a home of refuge, where others were similarly placed. But what they needed most of all, as they came out of the trauma they had suffered, was a secure permanent home. Very often, for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, that had to be some distance from where they had suffered.
Between them, these two amendments close a gap in the Bill. It needs to provide a safety net, and a safety net is no use if it has holes in it. I appeal to my noble friend on the Front Bench who will reply to this debate to accept the thrust and spirit of these amendments, and to say that they or something like them will be incorporated in the Bill on Report. I give my wholehearted support.
My Lords, the next speaker on the list, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top.
My Lords, I am pleased to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Young, and Amendment 147. Both deal with being clear about what the Government have sought to do in Clause 71 to extend to survivors or victims of domestic abuse the priority need for homelessness. It is very clear that women who are leaving or seeking to leave an abusive relationship need to be seen as a priority. I am delighted that the Government acknowledge that.
I am concerned that, with both these amendments, the Government are undoing some of their good intent by not making sure that those who live in a multigenerational household are not able to ask someone else to be their advocate in front of the housing department or homelessness unit. Someone is fleeing the locality that they live and are well known in to escape their abuser, but they are not automatically seen as being in priority need when using either of those routes.
I understand that the Government are reluctant to keep opening the category of priority need, because there is not enough housing and because waiting lists for social housing are getting longer, not shorter. But I think that they need to be clear in their will to support women who have experienced domestic abuse in both Amendments 146A and 147. I know that they will want to move words and so on, but I feel that they need a general acceptance that women who experience domestic abuse should be treated by the local authority homelessness unit as being in priority need. They need to make sure that that happens in the two cases that these amendments deal with.
It is very straightforward to accept this sort of amendment. I just hope that the Government recognise what the APPG is saying and what the Welsh Government have achieved in their legislation. We need that acknowledgement in our legislation in England. The sooner they do this, the more it will reassure people that they are going to get the sort of priority need that they are looking for, if they have been abused. The trauma of being abused is one that most of us can only imagine. I have met many of these women and this issue has been raised with me, on numerous occasions. I hope that the Government find a way to meet the aspirations of these women, so that they get the independent housing that they require of their local authority.
My Lords, these are two good rounding-out amendments, well argued for by all speakers, and I fully support them both. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, I would have signed Amendment 146A too, if I could have.
Clause 71(5) deals with priority need for victims, as we have heard. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, introduced Amendment 146A, which seeks to extend the application of priority need for housing for homeless victims of domestic abuse to those who live with, or might be expected to live with, the victim. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, explained that this already works perfectly well in Wales. I am sure that the Government have looked at that and seen it for themselves.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, described the lengths to which an abuser will go to find out where the victim has gone, which is why it may not be possible for the application to be made in person. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, reinforced the need of so many victims to get right away. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, there is a great shortage of housing, which causes a lot of consternation. It is much better on every level for the perpetrator to move. I am just trailing my amendment that tries to achieve this, which is Amendment 163, coming on Wednesday.
Amendment 147, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, tackles the local connection issue for a victim fleeing an area. It would ensure that, even if the victim were not from that area, this would not count against them for housing priority, hence them being designated with a local connection. It stops local authorities from refusing survivors on the grounds of no legal connection. The example from the noble Lord, Lord Randall, shows exactly why this is needed. Both these amendments make a great deal of sense, and I hope that your Lordships’ House is minded to support them.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I come first to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. He explained that Amendment 146A seeks to amend Clause 71 to allow those who are not experiencing domestic abuse themselves, but are in the same household as someone who is, to be given priority need status. I share his ambition to make sure that all victims of domestic abuse and their household are supported by ensuring that they have access to a suitable offer of safe and secure accommodation. I agree that it is vital that domestic abuse victims who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, are supported to find an accommodation solution that is safe, meets their needs and reflects their individual circumstances. We think that this amendment is unnecessary because, when an applicant has priority need, the Housing Act 1996 already requires local authorities to provide accommodation that is available for occupation and is suitable for the whole household.
We see several risks with this amendment. We know that victims of domestic abuse may be vulnerable and at risk of being exploited, manipulated and controlled by those in their lives, including family members, the perpetrator or a new partner who may also be abusive. Allowing someone else in the victim’s household to be in priority need would mean that that person, not the victim, would be the primary contact with the local authority. They would receive all correspondence and the offer of accommodation would be in their name. For this reason, it is important that the victim of domestic abuse alone has the priority need for accommodation, guaranteeing the victim control of the application and the rights to secure the accommodation as it will be in their name. I recognise and share my noble friend’s intention to ensure that all victims are able to access accommodation, and that the process of making an application for homelessness assistance should not be a barrier to accessing support. However, for the reasons that I have set out, I disagree with him on how best to achieve that intended outcome.
I agree that it is vital that domestic abuse victims can be supported to make a homelessness application. That is why the Government have made clear in the published draft Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities that they should be flexible in their approach to taking homelessness application from victims, by enabling victims to be supported in making that application by a family member, friend or support worker if they wish to be. The guidance also reinforces that local authorities should facilitate interviews by phone or online, where this is most appropriate for the victim, and make sure that translation services are available. Lastly, the guidance highlights that local authorities, where appropriate, should accept referrals from concerned parties, allowing someone else to make the initial approach on behalf of the victim, provided that they have the victim’s consent and the application can be safely verified with the victim. In short, we believe that there is already provision in place to achieve the outcomes sought by my noble friend in his Amendment 146A.
Amendment 147 in the name of my noble friend Lord Randall seeks to amend the Housing Act 1996 to give victims of domestic abuse a local connection to all local authorities in England when seeking homelessness assistance under Part 7 of that Act. The existing legislation and guidance on this matter is clear that a housing authority cannot refer an applicant to another housing authority where they have a local connection if they or anyone who might be reasonably expected to reside them would be at risk of domestic abuse in that area. The Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities makes clear that a housing authority is under a positive duty to inquire where the applicant would be at risk of actual or threatened domestic violence. It stipulates that authorities should not impose a higher standard of proof of actual violence in the past when making their decision. If an applicant is at risk, they can present at another local authority.
As such, protections are already in place for victims of domestic abuse that ensure they are not housed in a local authority area where there is any risk of violence or abuse. The local connection test seeks to keep a degree of fairness to ensure that those who live locally are prioritised and that no one authority gets oversubscribed. The current provisions in place under Section 198 of the 1996 Act strike the right balance to support victims.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, talked about when women often flee to other local authorities, and the situation with social housing need. They are absolutely right that many victims of domestic ab