House of Lords
Wednesday 17 March 2021
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Winchester.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, 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.
Retirement of a Member: Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe
My Lords, I should next like to notify the House of the retirement, with effect from today, of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I should like to thank the noble and learned Lord for his much-valued service to the House.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them no longer than 30 seconds and confined to two points? I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Drug-related Mental and Behavioural Disorder Hospital Admissions
My Lords, in 2019-20 there were 7,027 admissions for drug-related mental and behavioural disorders. Admissions were 5% lower that year than in the previous year and 18% lower than at their peak in 2015-16. The factors driving changes in this data are complex. None the less, admissions are too high and the Government are committed to further progress in reducing them, including through increased funding for drug treatment and mental health services and improving co-ordination between their provision.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her Answer. Cannabis use does not just lead to mental ill-health and behavioural disorders; it is also contributing to the existential threat that is falling fertility levels and particularly falling sperm counts across the western world. Do the Government recognise the seriousness of these outcomes from recreational drug use and will they factor them into policy decisions, rather than being deterred by liberal individualism?
My Lords, any illegal drug use, including use of cannabis, can be harmful both from immediate side-effects and from long-term physical and mental health problems. It can, for some, have a negative impact on fertility. Cannabis is classed as a class B drug, which is a matter for the Home Office, but there are no plans to change that classification.
Look, my Lords, there is no great mystery: people with mental health problems have seen their community services reduce over time, which means that there is an inevitable increase in admissions to hospitals under a section of the Mental Health Act. The promised reform of the Mental Health Act might help and will be welcome in any event, but it is obvious that more resources in community support are needed to prevent admissions, as well as an increase in the numbers of skilled professionals to provide the therapy. What is the Government’s plan to improve these mental health services outside hospitals and where are the necessary resources?
My Lords, the Government are committed to increasing resources for drug treatment services in England next year and we have put in an extra £80 million for that. That will fund, among other things, additional in-patient detox beds. We are also committed to increasing the resources that go into mental health treatments through the NHS long-term plan.
My Lords, with the number of people across the United Kingdom suffering from drug-related mental and behavioural disorders at a serious level, what education awareness or other preventive measures are the Government providing to stem the tide of drug-related illnesses? When will adequate mental health resources be made available? What percentage of those admitted to hospital with these illnesses are readmissions?
My Lords, one of the complexities in the data that I referred to is that we do not know whether the increase in admissions relates to different people being admitted each time or multiple readmissions among people with drug misuse problems and mental health issues. On education, Public Health England’s Rise Above social marketing campaign aims to equip 11 to 16 year-olds with the skills required to reject or manage risky behaviours, including taking drugs. Talk to FRANK is the Government’s drugs information and advice service, which provides information and advice to young people and parents to help to protect children from drugs and/or alcohol misuse.
My Lords, a recent report from the Centre for Social Justice found that the number of young people in treatment for drug and alcohol dependency had dropped by 35% since 2009. It is accepted, however, that this cannot be explained by differing consumption levels. Since 2014, approximately 30 residential rehabilitation centres have been forced to sell assets to survive public funding cuts. What assessment, if any, have the Government made of the CSJ report recommendations, including returning funding to the sector to at least the levels of 2012 and the creation of a prevention and recovery agency for the formulation of an addiction strategy?
My Lords, to address this, we have asked Dame Carol Black to complete part 2 of a review of drugs to look at treatment for people with substance misuse problems. As I said earlier, we have increased the funding for drug treatment services in England next year, including for additional in-patient detox beds.
We now have several reports showing that LGBT people have a greater than average incidence of mental health and substance misuse problems. Yet there is no mention of this community in the latest mental health proposals and a complete absence of any mention of this group of people in the NHS plan. What will the Government do to make the leadership of the NHS stop ignoring this particular bunch of taxpayers?
My Lords, in April 2019, we appointed Dr Michael Brady as the first national adviser on LGBT healthcare, and we also had the £1 million LGBT health and social care fund to tackle health inequalities experienced by LGBT people. Projects funded by that initiative included Advonet, which developed a self-advocacy course for LGBT people with mental health issues, and training by the Royal College of General Practitioners for GPs and surgery staff on LGBT health and inequality.
My Lords, can the Minister confirm that there will be an advertising campaign highlighting how recreational cocaine use destroys the lives of vulnerable young people because of county lines activity? Can she ensure that the campaign includes cannabis and skunk use, not least because of the mental health harms raised by my noble friend, which we as a nation are increasingly concerned about?
My Lords, there are the two educational campaigns that I have already referred to: PHE’s Rise Above social marketing campaign and Talk to FRANK. My noble friend mentioned county lines activity, which is of great concern to the Government. On 20 January, we announced £40 million of dedicated investment to tackle drug supply and county lines and to surge our activity against these ruthless gangs.
My Lords, alcohol is by far and away the most common and popular drug, yet 9% of people with alcohol dependence account for 59% of alcohol-related admissions to hospital, which take up 1.4 million beds a year. This seems a shameful waste of resources and source of human misery. Can the Minister assure me that the detox beds are only a part of the solution, as just taking someone away from alcohol for four days will not be a long-term solution?
Absolutely. Part 2 of Dame Carol Black’s review of drugs, which should report to the Government shortly, is expected to include recommendations on what can be done nationally and locally to tackle drug and substance misuse and the support needed for those who face addiction and mental health issues.
My Lords, in 2019, five out of 12 English regions did not have a doctor training to specialise in addiction psychiatry. Indeed, funding for addiction services in England fell by 29% in real terms from 2013 to 2020—and we can add to that the fact that virtually all services and treatments available have been disrupted by the Covid-19 epidemic. Do the Government have a plan to address the regional disparities of drug misuse and drug-related mental and behavioural disorders?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right that we need to do more in this area and that Covid has made it harder. That is one reason why the Government have announced an additional £500 million for 2021-22 to support NHS mental health services to recover from the pandemic, address wait times and invest in the NHS workforce.
The long-term use of cannabis and high-strength cannabis contribute a great deal to diseases of the mind and the brain. Have their effects been factored into social care and dementia strategies and the long-term NHS plans? Can the Minister elaborate on that?
Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the terms of reference of the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform include (1) reviewing existing employment rights, and (2) making recommendations for reform; whether trade unions will be consulted as part of any such review; and when they expect the review (1) to be completed, and (2) to be published.
My Lords, the terms of reference for the task force have been published on GOV.UK. The task force has been commissioned by the Prime Minister to consider opportunities for regulatory reform independently, and to report to him in April. It is a matter for the task force to decide its focus within its terms of reference, and a matter for the Prime Minister as to whether the report will be published.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. On 19 January, BEIS confirmed that a post-Brexit review of workers’ rights was under way; on 25 January, it was confirmed that the plan had been scrapped; on 2 February the task force was announced with a remit to
“scope out … how the UK can take advantage of our newfound regulatory freedoms”.
The chronology provokes nervousness but, for the moment, I do not pursue the reduction of workers’ rights. Instead, I ask: who outside government is being consulted and when will we see the Government’s employment Bill?
My Lords, as to the employment Bill, I am not the Minister responsible but I will answer on the matter before the House. I draw the noble Lord’s attention to the third part of the terms of reference, which mentions
“maintaining the Government’s commitment to high environmental standards and worker protections”.
I hope that allays his fears.
My Lords, the Covid pandemic has affected young people particularly hard in their education and when beginning their careers. To this end, and in terms of “Build back better” and this task force, will the Government put an end to the pernicious practice of unpaid internships? The Prime Minister and the public are in favour of a prohibition. Does my noble friend agree that this would be a clear illustration of levelling up and a labour market that works for everyone?
Again, my noble friend asks me a question which goes well beyond my remit in the Cabinet Office. I note and respect what he says. The Government’s position is that, for some internships, early years in the labour market can help in securing work and gaining experience. However, he raises important issues. As for the task force issue, that is an independent matter for the task force.
The UK has a hard-won reputation, internationally,
“as a great place to set up and scale a business due to its stable and predictable regulatory environment, competitive product and labour markets and dynamic financial sector”.
Regarding the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform, does the Minister agree that we should beware of opportunism at the expense of a more strategic approach and that regulation must be in the service of building a competitive, dynamic and future-focused economy, including net zero, digital, R&D and innovation, and life sciences, for example? Does he also agree that with the UK’s leadership of the G7 and COP 26, we have a chance to reinforce our commitment to international co-operation on equity standards and burnish our credentials as a leading innovator across international regulatory reforms?
I fear I was not able to catch all the matters to which the noble Lord referred. While I do not favour opportunism, I agree that there is great opportunity out there, which flows from the kind of innovation that he describes. Britain certainly intends to be a world leader.
My Lords, given the recent Supreme Court decision in the Uber case, does the Minister agree that it is time to unscramble the unnecessary and divisive distinctions still made in statute between workers and employees, and to remove the taxation differences that affect both groups?
My Lords, in the terms of reference to which the Minister referred, the aim of TIGRR is to “reduce administrative barriers”. Since January, hundreds of thousands of businesses have started to encounter extreme administrative barriers doing things that had previously been seamless. Because of their poor negotiating, the Government have left these businesses—from fishing to cosmetics, advanced manufacturing and food—with miles of new red tape. Does he agree that it is a bit absurd to set up this task force when they have dumped literally container-loads of red tape on British business?
Absolutely not, my Lords. Again, the noble Lord does not show the respect due for the decision of the British people to leave the European Union. The reality is that this task force is asked to look at reducing barriers in whatever context, and I draw his attention to great steps forward. For example, there is the trade agreement with Japan.
My Lords, in response to three questions today, the Minister has said that he cannot answer because it is not his department. He is no novice at the Dispatch Box. Can I gently remind him that at the Dispatch Box he answers on behalf of the Government, not just one government department? My specific question is around the task force that he refers to; none of the questions on it should be a surprise to him at all. I have read the terms of reference. They are about business, environmental standards and workers’ protection, but the only members of this task force are three Conservative MPs. Does he think it has any credibility when there are no representatives of employers or employees on the task force? Would it not have been better set up as a Conservative Party task force, to report to the leader of the Conservative Party, rather than being able to get Civil Service support when it is clearly just a Conservative Party body?
My Lords, I disagree. As to the first part, of course I acknowledge that I answer on behalf of government, but the competence of a Minister to answer on specific questions outside his departmental responsibility is not always the same as that of the Minister responsible. I refer comments on, as I said in another answer. Concerning the second part of the noble Baroness’s question, it is entirely reasonable for any Prime Minister to seek blue-sky thinking, and ideas outside and in parallel to the Government. Mr Blair, for example, did exactly that when calling in the noble Lord, Lord Birt.
My Lords, will my noble friend confirm whether the remit covers the plight of part-time working women, particularly those who work, for example, in supermarkets on zero-hour contracts and who have no rights to paid holidays, sick pay or pensions? What is the value of what would be a worthwhile exercise in having the task force if the results are not to be published?
My Lords, I did not say that the results were not going to be published, but that it would be a matter for the Prime Minister whether they will be. That will happen after the report is presented, at the end of April. On the specific issues concerned, as I have said before, I will draw my noble friend’s points to the attention to those responsible. I am sure that within the terms of reference it would be open to them to look at some of the issues she describes.
On 31 January, Sir Iain Duncan Smith wrote in the Daily Telegraph that
“Despite what the naysayers have said, their worst predictions have not come to pass—goods continue to flow”.
In fact, the ONS reports that exports to the EU were down 40% in January, in part due to the increased regulation brought about by Brexit. Does the Minister believe that Sir Iain Duncan Smith will bring a suitably realistic approach to chairing the task force, rather than the sort of blue-sky thinking in that Telegraph article?
I declare an interest in that I am a member of the GMB trade union, which has spent the last five years fighting legal battles on behalf of Uber drivers. The Supreme Court ruled last month that Uber drivers were indeed workers, which means that they are entitled to holiday pay, the minimum wage and all the other benefits of being classified as workers. Does the Minister welcome the Supreme Court’s decision and undertake that the Government will bring forward emergency legislation to clarify the position of gig economy workers and address the problem of bogus self-employment?
My Lords, again, that goes beyond my specific remit but I will draw my colleagues’ attention to what the noble Baroness says. Of course the Government consider with respect any judgment made in the courts. I assure her that among those organisations which I understand the task force has reached out to are trade unions.
Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum
My Lords, the UK has no direct involvement in this case, but we are aware of the allegations surrounding Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum. The Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights has asked the UAE for further information and for proof of life. We have not had discussions with the UN regarding this, but we are supportive of the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and will continue to follow developments closely.
My Lords, following the public statement last month from the Foreign Secretary that he was looking for proof that Princess Latifa was still alive, could the Minister indicate what evidence the Foreign Secretary has now received in relation to this matter? Have concerns been expressed to the United Arab Emirates over its questionable human rights record and, if so, has there been any particular outcome?
My Lords, as my right honourable friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have said, this is a concerning case. The Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights has asked for proof of life from the UAE mission in Geneva. We understand that the UN is yet to receive a reply, but we will continue to monitor developments closely. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said, we would welcome confirmation that Sheikha Latifa is alive and well.
My Lords, is my noble friend familiar with the account that was provided last month by Sheikha Latifa about the conduct of Indian armed forces in her capture and forced return to Dubai, including the use of tranquillizers and India’s failure to consider her claim for political asylum? What representations have been made to India about its lack of transparency or adherence to international conventions and protocols in its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers?
We are aware of the allegations made by Sheikha Latifa to which my noble friend refers. If an incident involved a UK-flagged vessel, it would fall under the UK’s jurisdiction under international law. However, this alleged incident did not involve any UK-registered vessels or British nationals, so the UK does not have a direct involvement in this case.
Why has the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed, not been prosecuted for kidnapping his daughter Princess Shamsa from UK jurisdiction in Cambridge and for continuing to hold hostage his other daughter, Princess Latifa? Are the Government turning a blind eye to the many cases of flagrant abuse of women in Dubai because Sheikh Mohammed is a close friend and ally of Britain with property here?
The noble Lord refers to the case of Sheikha Shamsa. Criminal matters are a matter for the police. An investigation was conducted by Cambridgeshire Constabulary, which is of courses operationally independent, and the Government had no role in that investigation or its outcome. The UK believes that all states, including the UAE, need to uphold international human rights obligations. We have a close relationship with the UAE, which means that we can raise issues where needed.
My Lords, the Integrated Review says that we will
“shape the international order of the future”
and that global Britain is showing
“a renewed commitment to the UK as a force for good in the world”.
Does that include defending the rights of women and girls in the UAE? The Minister appears to be saying that we have not raised this case with the Government of the UAE.
My Lords, the Integrated Review indeed sets out, as does my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary’s speech today in Aspen, how we want the UK to be a force for good in the world, defending democracy and human rights. In this case, we are raising the matter through the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and we continue to follow developments closely.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hain mentioned the wider abuse of women in the UAE. I draw particular attention to its labour law, which excludes from its protection domestic workers, who have faced a range of abuses, including unpaid wages, confinement to house, work days of up to 21 hours and physical and sexual assault. What are the Government doing to address this issue and raise with the authorities the need to protect domestic workers?
My Lords, one of the pillars of the Integrated Review is our vision for the UK as a force for good in the world, defending democracy and human rights, including championing gender equality. Of course, our world-leading Domestic Abuse Bill sets an international example and will be further considered on Report in your Lordships’ House today.
My Lords, this is indeed an unfortunate matter. The UAE is a friendly and close ally of this country and it is well worth expending some capital to keep it that way. I have been impressed by its green policy plans moving forward and hope that the UK can work closely with it and assist in that regard. Can the Minister assure noble Lords that every diplomatic effort is being made satisfactorily to resolve this matter, taking account of course of the cultural differences that no doubt exist between the two states?
We have a close relationship with the UAE, which means that we can raise issues directly with it. The noble Lord is right to refer to the work that it is doing on the environment. The Prime Minister met Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, in December, and they agreed to strengthen our ties across a range of areas, including green technology, infrastructure and defence.
My Lords, last year the judgment in the UK family court case brought by the sixth and youngest wife of Sheikh Mohammed was that, on the balance of probabilities, the Sheikh had conducted a campaign of fear and intimidation against Princess Haya and had ordered the abduction of his daughters Princesses Shamsa and Latifa. What representations have our Government made to the ruler of Dubai that he will make no attempt to remove his former wife and their children from the UK against their will?
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, referred to reports that Sheikha Latifa was abducted in international waters with the help of Indian special forces. If that is the case, would such action be lawful and has the Foreign Office raised the matter with the Indian Government?
My Lords, as that alleged incident did not involve any UK-registered vessels or British nationals, it does not fall under the UK’s jurisdiction under international law. Accordingly, we have not raised it with the Government of India.
My Lords, building on the questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I refer to the 80% of the UAE population who are low-paid migrant workers. What representations have been made on the fate of what seem to be at least hundreds of women a year, including rape victims, who are prosecuted and jailed under the laws against extra-marital sex? What representations have been made on the impact of those laws not only on migrant workers, but also on women across the UAE population generally?
My Lords, we have a close relation with UAE and we are therefore able to raise matters directly with it. The Integrated Review, to which I have referred, sets out the UK’s policy and stance to make us a force for good in the world.
My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked and we now move to the next Question.
Police: Sarah Everard Vigils
My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has said, she met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick last Friday and over the weekend to discuss the vigil. Her view that the images from Saturday are upsetting is a matter of public record and she has asked for an independent review into the matter.
Ministers have made it clear for months that there should be a tougher approach to Black Lives Matter, climate emergency and anti-lockdown demonstration, and all that is reflected in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Operational independence does not preclude Ministers, PCCs or mayors from providing advice to police leaders on how their actions will be seen and on the community effect of operational decisions. That is what political oversight is all about, so what advice did the Home Secretary offer on this occasion? When she and the commissioner spoke by telephone while the ugly scenes on Clapham Common were taking place, what did they talk about—the weather?
My Lords, I will quote directly from the Home Secretary, who said:
“It is right that I have had many discussions with the Metropolitan police and specifically the commissioner on Friday and over the weekend in relation to preparations and planning prior to Saturday evening. My comments are public and on the record regarding what has happened and, quite frankly, the upsetting images of Saturday evening. A review is now being conducted by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary. It is right that that takes place.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/3/21; col 29.]
The noble Lord talks about operational independence. It is absolutely right that the police have operational independence, but it is also absolutely right that, first, the Government make the law and, secondly, that conversations take place between the Executive and some of the agencies of government.
My Lords, as the day wears on, many protests give rise to excesses all round. My family tells me that, this Sunday afternoon, the police were courteous but firm. Was it the Government’s purpose in their regulations to ban all protests? If so, will they now regulate to preserve the right of protest, so that both police and the public are able to return to normality?
My Lords, noble Lords will recognise that banning protests was not at the heart of what the Government did; banning protests was part of keeping the public safe in this global pandemic—keeping down the numbers of people who get infected and therefore keeping people out of hospital.
My Lords, last week, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services published a report that found that,
“when forces do not accurately assess the level of disruption caused, or likely to be caused, by a protest, the balance may tip too readily in favour of protesters.”
The author, Matt Parr, a former Royal Navy officer, is currently suing the Home Office, claiming that he is being paid less than a colleague because he is a white man. Politically, do the Government believe that the rear-admiral is the best person, and HMICFRS the best organisation, to be conducting the so-called independent review into the protests by women on Clapham Common, in the light of its recent report and the tribunal action?
On the noble Lord’s former point, this is obviously an equal pay matter and that process will take its path. I think that HMICFRS is the right organisation to investigate, because it is the body that we would appoint to do such work.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister and her ministerial colleagues in the Home Office on giving police and crime commissioners their unequivocal support for the internal review of PCCs, the findings of which were announced earlier this week. I express my hope that the electorate across England and Wales will be encouraged by this review to turn out and vote on 6 May for their local PCC. Given that it now appears that PCCs will be with us for some time, does the Minister agree that PCCs should make it a priority to develop close working relationships with their chief constables so that the operational decisions of their chiefs on matters such as the policing of vigils and other major events are publicly supported by the local PCC on the basis that they had been fully consulted about them beforehand?
Before the Minister responds, could I ask noble Lords to please keep their questions brief?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his kind words, and of course PCCs have our full support. It is absolutely crucial that the various agencies communicate with each other when such events are to take place and that PCCs are fully keyed into those events. For the most part, the events held over the weekend went very peacefully.
My Lords, vigils were held outside London, including one in Victoria Square in Birmingham. More than 100 people attended and the West Midlands Police responded in a peaceful way. It reinforced its commitment to policing through explanation, engagement, encouragement and using force only as a last resort. When it comes to this kind of operational decision, could I urge the Minister that we should learn the lessons of more peaceful demonstrations and find out why things so clearly went wrong at Clapham Common last Saturday?
I thank the noble Baroness for that question because it segues quite nicely from the points that I have just made. Yes, most of the events and vigils went peacefully with people socially distancing and the police having no problems at all. I think that the review by Sir Tom Winsor will give us a greater insight into why some things went wrong on Saturday at one particular event.
On Monday, the Home Secretary told the Commons that the Metropolitan Police Service was “rightly operationally independent.” Given that, what was the purpose of the extensive discussions held by the Home Secretary with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner throughout the weekend on police planning and preparation for the vigil? Was the purpose that the Home Secretary wanted to make sure that the Metropolitan Police would not do anything with which she did not agree?
My Lords, it is absolutely right that the commissioner of the largest police force in the country should keep the Home Secretary up to date, and I know that she speaks with her regularly. That is not so the Home Secretary can dictate what the Metropolitan Police does, but it is very important that the two keep in communication.
Mozambique: Militant Violence
Private Notice Question
My Lords, the UK is deeply concerned by the deteriorating security situation in north-east Mozambique due to increasing attacks by groups with links to Islamic extremism. To date, the insurgency has claimed more than 2,000 lives and has displaced more than 670,000 people. The UK is supporting the Government of Mozambique to address the drivers of insecurity and has provided £90 million of humanitarian support to help those displaced by the conflict.
My Lords, given the obvious parallels with the long-standing violence in the Niger Delta associated with oil and gas production, what assessment have the Government made of the possible interrelationship between the discovery and exploitation of gas off Cabo Delgado and the subsequent explosion of extremist violence?
My Lords, we have worked closely with the Government of Mozambique to encourage a response to the insurgency that addresses its root causes. This includes ensuring that local populations in Cabo Delgado province can share in any economic benefits of development in the province.
My Lords, the World Food Programme has long warned that the violence is worsening food insecurity. The country representative said last week that it was important to join efforts now to protect food and nutrition security, as the livelihoods of the Mozambiquans have been impacted not only by the armed conflict but by Cyclone Kenneth and, of course, Covid. What steps is the United Kingdom taking to promote food and nutrition programmes in Mozambique?
The UK provides significant ODA to Mozambique, worth £179 million in 2019-20. This supports work in a number of different sectors, including health, education, water, sanitation, better governance and inclusive economic development. Revised allocations for next year will be published by the Treasury soon, but the ODA support that we provide to Mozambique is all about helping it to achieve sustainability across all sectors.
My Lords, Mozambique has a terrible history of conflict, but had pulled itself out of that. We played our part in that. The Integrated Review says that we will work together with others in Africa to build
“resilient and productive economies and open societies”.
Will the Minister guarantee that, in this circumstance, the FCDO will maintain the level of support? If not, how much aid will it cut from Mozambique?
My Lords, we are committed to supporting the Government and people of Mozambique to address, among other things, the conflict’s root causes. We do not see this as a purely military problem or an external problem. It is about marginalisation, poverty and the prospect of the arrival of massive gas income, which people worry they might not see. That concern has no doubt been exploited by Islamists. We are committed to continuing our work in Mozambique, tackling those root causes. I am not able to provide any figures yet in relation to the subsequent ODA allocations, but an answer will be forthcoming shortly.
My Lords, the Minister is precisely right that this is as much an economic problem as an aid problem, but the two are linked. Will he accept that an absolute and a relative reduction in our overseas aid budget will have a direct effect on our failure to deter insurgents from recruiting young, unemployed men in this province? That will have a direct, strategic impact on the political and economic stability of this Commonwealth country.
My Lords, as I said, the UK is working with the Mozambique Government to develop a coherent strategy on the conflict. That means addressing the root causes of conflict and extremism, creating economic opportunities and jobs for young people in Cabo Delgado and building community resilience to recruitment by extremist groups. On the broader issue of cuts to ODA, the UK economy is undergoing the worst contraction for three decades. Against that backdrop, we have had to make some hard choices, including temporarily reducing the ODA target from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI. Despite that, we remain a world-leading donor and will spend more than £10 billion of ODA this year. We will return to 0.7% when the fiscal situation allows.
My Lords, beyond the desperate situation internally in Mozambique, if insufficiently accountable leadership, social injustice and income disparities, compounded by isolated villages, are root causes of a problem that will likely increasingly threaten stability across the continent, what advice can be given or action taken to counter the resulting network of terror groups, which cross-reference on attrition, intimidation and provocation with the ultimate goal of forming multiple caliphates?
The noble Viscount makes an extremely important point. We understand—and our response reflects the understanding—that this problem in Mozambique is not a localised one, an external one or a military one; it has its roots in much broader concerns. Our support for Mozambique reflects that. The same is true, as the noble Viscount said, across the continent. That is why, as we develop the next round of programmes and a pipeline of projects through our ODA spending, we will focus increasingly on issues that pose long-term threats to stability in countries right across the continent, not least climate change and environmental degradation. This is very much at the heart of the approach that we are taking.
My Lords, the atrocities in Cabo Delgado are unforgettable, but so should be the underlying factors stoking the insurgency. Reference has been made to unemployment among the young, which means that many have joined the Islamic rebels with their promises to replace corrupt, elitist rule. Last year, a loan agreement including $1 billion from the UK was signed to fund a gigantic gas project, creating tens of thousands of jobs offshore, with hardly any—just 2,500—in Mozambique. Will the Government ensure that their export finance policies place emphasis on socioeconomic job creation as part of, to quote the Foreign Secretary,
“the road map … guided by our moral compass”?
On the project that the noble Lord refers to, UK Export Finance committed up to $1.15 billion to support the liquefied natural gas project in Mozambique. The project is designed to help Mozambique transition away from dirtier forms of fuel, such as coal, as well as to alleviate poverty. Since that decision was made by UKEF, the Prime Minister announced at the Climate Ambition Summit in December last year that the Government will end any new export support and overseas development assistance to overseas projects involving fossil fuels. We recognise that there is, without a doubt, a gas component—in particular the profits that will arise from this gas project—which is at least part of the problem that has erupted in the region.
My Lords, is not this an all-too-familiar cocktail of exploitation of rich natural resources, corruption, poverty, terrorism and, as we have been told in this case, barbarism? Will not the Government of Mozambique’s position inevitably be diminished if there is any cut in the aid that this country has previously offered to them?
My Lords, I am afraid that I am not able to shed any light on future programming, although I hope that I or my colleagues will be able to do so very soon. I have no doubt about the value of our ODA spending in the region and I believe that by sharpening our focus on some of the longer-term threats faced by the region—not least climate change, environmental degradation and exploitation of the rich resources that many countries have—we will have much better, bigger and more refined impacts than we have had in the past.
My Lords, to understand what is really happening on the ground in Cabo Delgado, we need the public scrutiny of military operations and alleged abuses that comes with unobstructed media freedom. What action have our Government taken on reports from UNOCHA and Human Rights Watch of documented incidents of the Mozambiquan security forces intimidating, detaining and prosecuting journalists? Can the Minister also say whether the BBC has full access to the conflict areas in Cabo Delgado?
My Lords, we are of course deeply concerned by numerous reports that we have received more recently and the horrific videos released in September showing alleged human rights abuses by the Mozambiquan security forces—really appalling scenes. We have urged the authorities to ensure that there is a full investigation to identify the perpetrators and to bring them to justice. The Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Africa have both publicly condemned the vicious attacks and will continue to raise this issue at every opportunity.
My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume, and I ask Members to respect social distancing.
I will call Members to speak on the consideration of Commons reasons on the Fire Safety Bill, as there are counterpropositions to two of the Motions and everything is to be taken in one group. Any Member in the Chamber may speak on this group, subject to the usual seating arrangements and the capacity of the Chamber. Any intending to do so should email the clerk or indicate when asked. Members who are not intending to speak should make room for Members who are, and all speakers will be called by the Chair. Short questions of elucidation after the Minister’s response are discouraged and any Member wishing to ask such a question must email the clerk.
The groupings are binding. A participant who might wish to press an amendment other than the lead amendment to a Division must give notice in the debate or by emailing the clerk. Leave should be given to withdraw Motions and, when putting the question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely wants their voice to be accounted for if the Question is put, they must make this clear when speaking to the group. Noble Lords who are following the proceedings remotely but not speaking may submit their voice, content or not-content, to the collection of the voices by emailing the clerk during the debate. Members cannot vote by email; the way to vote will be via the remote voting system.
Fire Safety Bill
Relevant documents: 25th and 29th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
2A: Because the Government has announced that it intends to bring forward its own legislative proposals to address the issues mentioned in the amendment.
My Lords, I will speak also to the House’s Amendments 3 and 4, with which the other place has disagreed for its Commons Reasons 3A and 4A. Before I address the amendments agreed at the Lords Report stage, I would like to make a few comments about the overall importance of this piece of legislation. The Bill was introduced in the other place nearly a year ago today and we are moving closer to getting it on to the statute book. As there are a couple of issues to resolve, it is vital that we should remind ourselves of the fundamental purpose of the Bill. It is an important step in delivering fire and building legislative reforms. It is purposely short because it has been designed to provide much-needed legal clarification that the fire safety order applies to structure, external walls and flat entrance doors. What this will mean on the ground is that these critical elements will be covered in updated fire risk assessments and ensure that enforcement authorities can take action where necessary. In short, the current legal uncertainty will end.
I turn to Amendment 2 and Amendment 2B proposed in lieu by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. The Government remain steadfast in their commitment to delivering the Grenfell Tower inquiry recommendations, including those on the duties of an owner or manager. As such, the amendments are unnecessary. However, I thank him for his constructive engagement with me prior to this debate. I will be able to provide further reassurances to the House in respect of timing that he is seeking and look forward to outlining them in response to the debate.
I turn now to Amendment 3. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for the constructive conversations that we have had regarding a public register of fire risk assessments, and I am grateful to her for not pressing her amendment again today.
I move on to Amendment 4, Amendments 4B, 4C, 4D and 4E proposed in lieu by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, and Amendment 4F proposed in lieu by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. I recognise the concerns of your Lordships to ensure that swift action is taken to protect leaseholders from the significant remediation costs related to unsafe cladding and other historic building safety defects. We are all acutely aware of the full toll that this has taken on leaseholders and the pain and anguish that it has caused. I expect that we will hear a number of views during the debate on the important issue of remediation. However, this is a highly complex matter without a simple solution, and it cannot be resolved in this short Bill.
I make it clear now that we have a number of concerns about the alternative amendments, and I will set out my specific views on them at the end of the debate. I beg to move.
Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)
2B: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Legislative proposals relating to duties of owner or manager
(1) Within 90 days of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish draft legislation to require an owner or a manager of any building which contains two or more sets of domestic premises to—
(a) share information with their local Fire and Rescue Service in respect of each building for which an owner or manager is responsible about the design of its external walls and details of the materials of which those external walls are constructed,
(b) in respect of any building for which an owner or manager is responsible which contains separate flats, undertake annual inspections of individual flat entrance doors,
(c) in respect of any building for which an owner or manager is responsible which contains separate flats, undertake monthly inspections of lifts and report the results to their local Fire and Rescue Service if the results include a fault, and
(d) share evacuation and fire safety instructions with residents of the building.
(2) Within 90 days of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish a statement on a proposed timetable for the passage of the draft legislation mentioned in subsection (1).
(3) Within 120 days of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish a statement confirming whether the draft legislation mentioned in subsection (1) has progressed.””
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, the chair of the Heart of Medway Housing Association and a non-executive director of MHS Homes Ltd. In moving Motion A1, I will address all the Motions before the House today.
It is disappointing that the Government have over- turned the amendment passed by this House. The intent of our amendment was to make progress in implementing the recommendations made in the first phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry. Our frustration, along with the frustration felt by many, has been that since the recommendations made in the first phase were published, progress has been extremely and annoyingly slow. Being told by the Government that in most cases we do not need legislation to make progress is in some ways even more frustrating because nothing has happened, which is again very odd. This is the first piece of legislation we have seen that will bring anything into force. Frankly, the victims and their families deserve better. People living in properties that are unsafe or blighted deserve better than that.
This led me to propose Motion A1, which proposes to insert a new clause into the Bill. What my amendment seeks to do is accept the Government intention to take action but to add some rigour and rigidity to the proposals with clear timescales for action. As I have said previously, this has all been too slow with no clarity about what the timescales are for action through primary legislation and through secondary legislation and guidance.
This morning I received a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, which seeks to add some clarity to the timescales for action, and that is welcome. We also have the Government’s response to the consultation, which is helpful. It looks as if we are finally making some progress and I welcome that. It would be good to hear him, when he responds to the debate, set out the timescales for the actions the Government are proposing, and I look forward to that. That will be part of the official record of the House and the Government will be held accountable for the pledges that they make today.
In respect of Motion B, while I accept that the Commons can assert financial privilege and the need not to give any other reason, we must consider the subject of the amendment that was rejected and the circumstances that have led to this Bill, as well as the intention behind the amendment that the other place has rejected. We would have hoped to have got a little more than the assertion of financial privilege. This is about fire safety and reassurance for residents that the register is up to date, that it can be relied on and that it is publicly available and transparent so that sunlight on fire risk assessments will provide more reassurance. I hope that when the noble Lord responds to Motion A, he will provide a bit more clarity than just relying on financial privilege as expressed by the other place.
Motion C1, tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, seeks to add to the Bill Amendments 4B, 4C, 4D and 4E. They would prohibit the owner of a building from passing on the costs of annual remedial works attributable to the requirements of the Act to leaseholders or tenants, except where the leaseholder is also the owner of the building. The amendments under the Motion tabled by the right reverend Prelate have my full support, and the Labour Benches will support him if he decides to divide the House. I hope very much that he will do so.
Leaseholders are victims and have done nothing wrong. They deserve to be treated much better than they have been by the Government. They have done everything right. They have bought their properties and are paying their mortgages. Now they are being penalised for the failure of others. Surely that cannot be right. The fact that their buildings have been covered in dangerous cladding has made their flats worthless. They cannot sell their properties, but they are still expected to pay their mortgages and other charges. They cannot get work done; they may be paying for a waking watch and in some cases the properties will have guarantees on them which need to be drawn down. There will be warranties for work done which need to be used. They have been paid for, otherwise they are literally not worth the paper they are written on.
We should all stand up to support leaseholders and tenants and get those who have done the work to accept their responsibility and put this right. The Government are failing leaseholders and tenants. Their actions are just not good enough and fall far short of what they promised.
I want to be clear. For the individual builder, contractor, company, warranty provider or insurance company, it cannot be right for people to wriggle out of their responsibilities. The Government need to take firm action. Supporting the Motions and amendments before the House today will be an opportunity to ask the Government to think again, and I hope we take it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak to Motion C1 and Amendments 4B to 4E. I give notice of my intention to seek the opinion of the House when the time comes. I declare my interest in the register in that I, too, am a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I first thank the honourable Members for Stevenage and for Southampton, Itchen, who originally prepared these amendments, as well as the signatories from all parties when they were tabled in the Commons. I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, who joins me in supporting it, and pay tribute to one of our colleagues, the Bishop of Kensington, who has worked very closely on the ground with victims of Grenfell and leaseholders.
Grenfell was an unmitigated tragedy brought about, it would seem, by institutional failings on multiple levels. The recent revelation that the cladding provider knew that it could result in tragedy and death is nothing short of a disgrace. It has been a tragedy for many lives: ordinary families have been ripped apart by this terrible event.
The Bill will deal with the problem of dangerous cladding by creating a quick and easy mechanism to force freeholders to remove dangerous cladding and other fire safety defects. That is undoubtedly a good thing and will, hopefully, protect against future tragedies, but I share the disappointment of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that Her Majesty’s Government have not sought to address the severe adverse financial consequences that the Bill will create for leaseholders. In the Bill’s current form, whenever the fire service serves notice to the freeholder requiring remedial work to be undertaken, the freeholder will be able to force leaseholders to reimburse all the costs incurred. These costs are staggering.
At this point, I say that our hearts go out—I am sure we all share this—to all the people who are struggling. I have been inundated with emails, tweets and people contacting me who are at their wit’s end looking at what is likely to unfold in the next few weeks. Far from the Government’s estimated remedial costs of around £9,000 per leaseholder, depending on the terms of the lease and the work involved, a leaseholder could very easily be handed a bill of £50,000, payable within weeks.
Inside Housing conducted its own private survey of 1,342 leaseholders. Its findings reveal a very different picture to that of Her Majesty’s Government. Among those surveyed, 63% of respondents faced a total bill above £30,000 for remedial costs and 15% faced a bill of more than £100,000. Of course, a few of these lease- holders may be well off, some will have disposable income, but most will not: 60% had a household income of less than £50,000, with only 8.7% reporting a household income of more than £100,000. In other words, this will primarily affect ordinary middle to working-class people.
In addition, 56.4% of those surveyed were first-time buyers. They have followed that life trajectory that many Conservative Governments have sought to promote by working hard, saving and purchasing a property. These are people with aspirations—something I totally support—yet nearly everything they have worked hard towards, over many years, could be taken away from them, as shown by the alarming 17.2% of respondents who say that they are already exploring bankruptcy options. I must remind the House that the costs mentioned above include only the remedial costs; they say nothing about the interim fire safety costs that leaseholders already incur.
Government figures show that the average monthly cost of a waking watch in England is estimated at nearly £18,000 per building and around £330 per dwelling, rising to nearly £20,000 and £500 respectively in London. This is not to mention the cost of new alarm systems, ranging from £50,000 to £150,000 per block. How can this be fair or just? It was not the leaseholders who sold or fitted defective cladding; leaseholders are the innocent party. They purchased their properties in good faith, believing them to be safe. If the Bill passes unamended, it is they who will pay—not the cladding providers or the developers but hard-working ordinary people, forced to pay for defects that were deemed safe when they purchased their apartments.
I do not have the technical knowledge about how the Motion fits with the Bill and so on, and whether it would be better placed in a later Bill. What I do know is that we are faced with some immediate challenges. Any solution cannot be deferred until the building safety Bill, which could be as far as two years in the future. We have to try to do something now. Supporters of this Motion and I have argued that because this legislation creates the problem for leaseholders, it should likewise solve the problem. I acknowledge that there are some weaknesses in this Motion; it does not solve every problem for leaseholders. Even if it is passed, leaseholders will still shoulder ongoing interim fire safety costs. However, by preventing remedial costs from being passed on to leaseholders, a significant proportion of the financial burden placed on them should be eased. As one leaseholder said, “We need a solution so we can finally move on with our lives, something denied to us now for several years. We just want this nightmare to end”.
I hope that by passing this Motion, we can begin to end that nightmare and the anxiety plaguing the lives of thousands of leaseholders, allowing them to move on. The Bill solves the fire safety defects that lay at the heart of the Grenfell tragedy. The Government are absolutely right to do that and I am grateful for what they have done, but I believe they are morally wrong in their treatment of leaseholders in this crisis. By not including sufficient provision to protect leaseholders, a conscious decision would be made to impose poverty, possibly bankruptcy and certainly misery on thousands of ordinary people whose only crime was being aspirational.
Those responsible should be the ones who pay. Only the Government can provide the capital up front to pay for these works; only the Government can introduce levies on those responsible to claw back that money over the next few years. A great injustice is currently being done to leaseholders and a fair solution is needed, which is why I bring this Motion to your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, to speak to but not, at this point, to move Motion C2.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and a member of Kirklees Council.
Much has happened since the Bill was last debated in this House in November. It is already clear from the contributions to this debate today that this is an unresolved crisis of major proportions. I thank the Minister for the opportunities that he has provided to discuss the issues raised. The Government’s response has been to regard this as largely an issue for lease- holders and freeholders to resolve. Gradually, however, they have acceded to the principle that, without government intervention and funding, the problem will not be resolved.
The purpose of all the amendments in my name and that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans is to extend the principle already agreed by the Government. Amendment 4F in my name would extend the contribution that the Government make to cover not just the remediation but the extortionate service charges and higher insurance costs that are currently being levied on these leaseholders. This serious problem can be successfully fixed only with up-front funding from the Government, which can then be recouped from developers, construction firms and manufacturers.
The Government’s own estimate is that the total cost of remediation will be in the region of £16 billion. The buildings involved are not just in London but all across the country. Following the Grenfell tragedy, we now know that ACM cladding was affixed to blocks when it was known to be inflammable. As the cladding is peeled away, further serious building defects are revealed. The Government recognise this, as they have issued a directive to local authorities requiring an inspection of various features, including fire breaks, insulation and spandrel panels, as well as cladding. This is now much more than a cladding scandal; it has become a construction crisis.
Worse still is that some of the defects that are being exposed were in breach of building regulations even at the time of construction. The big question then is: who is going to pay? Currently, the Government are providing grants for the removal of cladding only and are restricting those grants to buildings of 18 metres or more in height. Yet cladding has to be removed from all blocks, irrespective of height. The Government have chosen 18 metres partly because they simply have no idea how many blocks there are that are lower than 18 metres. I have asked the ministry for the analysis of those risks to which the Minister will refer but have received no reply to date. Good decision-making is dependent on well-researched data, which is then shared for all decision-makers.
At the heart of this crisis are people who have done everything right and nothing wrong. They are innocent victims and have suffered enough. Imagine living in a flat with your family, knowing for three years or more that the home you saved hard to buy is a significant fire risk. That fact alone has left emotional scars on those leaseholders. Then imagine, having carefully budgeted, being faced with an additional service charge of several hundreds of pounds each month to cover the extras: waking watch, insurance and more. For some, the final straw is that you are then billed for the costs of total remediation. For individuals faced with these enormous bills, the choices are very limited.
Bankruptcy has already been the solution for too many. George is one such. He describes himself as a frightened leaseholder and says, “I have been informed that it will cost £2 million to replace the cladding and remedy the defects. That is £50,000 per flat. I’ll be bankrupt by the end of the year at the age of 28. The building has one grant, covering 10% of the costs.” Everything that he and others have worked and saved for is lost through no fault of theirs. It can lead to homelessness. Sarah lives in a flat in the Royal Quay in Liverpool. The normal year service charges for that block were £270,000; this year, the service charges are nearly £1 million. Sarah says that the defects are so numerous that the fire service may have to escalate from a compliance to a prohibition notice, which will shut down the complex. If that occurs, 400 residents will be made homeless.
Not surprisingly, given those examples, for some the stress is such that very serious mental illness, or worse, has followed. Hundreds of thousands of individuals and families are watching and waiting for the decision of this House today. They are willing us on to help to find a fair and just solution to a problem that is not in any way of their making, yet they are the ones who are being asked to pay the price. If the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans wishes to divide the House, as he has indicated, the Liberal Democrat Benches will support him. If, however, he chooses not to do so, then I will wish to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a vice-president of the LGA and as a practising chartered surveyor. I have very considerable sympathy with all these amendments but, the matter having now been decided by this House, gone to the other place and now come back, it behoves us to consider all these matters with a degree of objectivity, despite the clear emotions that are involved.
With regard to Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I agree that it has taken far too long to deal with this matter, which has allowed the issue to grow in a way that should have been nipped in the bud at an earlier stage, but I realise the complexities of the issues, which I will address in a moment. On all these amendments, I must say at this juncture that I do not know which way I would vote; it will become apparent why as I proceed.
It goes without saying that I have the greatest possible respect for the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the powerful case that he makes for Motion C1 and, for that matter, the case made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, on the allied Motion C2. Indeed, every fibre of my being tells me that a great injustice has been visited on many innocent people as leaseholders and tenants in buildings affected by this Bill who have faced the burdens of past failings, delays and inaction, which they themselves may be powerless to deal with. It must be as if the whole system of property law and ownership has conspired against them. As a property professional, I feel that most acutely. It has been made worse, as I say, by the length of time that these problems have been gestating.
However, whatever my heart tells me on the grounds of ethics and justice, my professional experience tells me that these amendments would, almost inevitably, not achieve their aims or address the present or future fundamental issues. This Bill potentially affects a very wide category of property and tenure, not just high-rise blocks. The provisions of Clause 1 extend the regulations to any property comprising two or more separate units of accommodation. I ask noble Lords to contemplate just what that means in practice.
To some extent, the measures are retroactive. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 will, at a stroke, be extended to a large number of properties previously exempted, with application of new responsibilities and duties to those deemed to be in control of them. Within its orbit will fall many factors, both known and as yet unknown, some with causes going back many years. This consideration is objectively a good thing in terms of safety, but it will certainly catch unawares many property owners, managers, tenants and long leaseholders, due to its retroactive nature.
All property ownership carries duties, responsibilities and risks. I have often commented to clients that one disbenefit of membership of the property-owning democracy is that, from time to time, one has to incur expense to defend one’s interests at net cost. That is different from the point made about the innocent and not well-funded person having to bear totally improbable levels of costs.
Although the ghastly trigger for all this is raw in our memories, identifying specific groups as special cases or categories of person who should be absolved from any liability for costs is not, to my mind, a solution. It does not take account of the general need for periodic repair, replacement and remediation common in the built environment. Crucially, it does not move us any closer to the relief of burdens on the innocent or the attachment of liability to those responsible, even less to the financial expenditure ultimately necessary to solve the problem. It might simply move things to another, equally blameless sector when, in fact, the need is to contain and address matters where they now arise and not allow this contagion to spread further.
I am far from sure that every potential measure to every property covered by this Bill is free from some latent previous work or alteration. In many ways, everybody here is pleading not guilty. I mentioned some of the players at Report, and I will not repeat that—the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, has reminded us of some. The Motion seeks to address a specific issue by altering the general operation of laws on liability for costs, and I am really not sure that that works, even less that it is without significant further consequences.
Left to my own devices, I might have proposed something far more radical than this Motion, such as the removal of the principle of caveat emptor so that property sellers might be liable for poor or dangerously sloppy workmanship during their period of stewardship; or preventing the use of corporate special purpose vehicles to protect large and wealthy development companies from the responsibility for poor construction standards on individual sites; or ensuring that, if the comfort of a construction warrantee forms part of what the purchaser or mortgagee might reasonably be expected to rely on, then it does in fact sit behind the same kind of quality standards reasonably to be expected under the sale of goods and services generally in this country.
I know that among all the moving parts of the laws of property, construction, contract regulation and insurance, civil and criminal liability, fraudulent misrepresentation and so on, even greater collateral damage could be caused to one of the slickest property markets in the world if we are not extremely careful. My recommendation would be to follow a route that is clearly within government competence in circumstances of systemic failure in order to provide relief where it is most needed and to stop the contagion; but that almost certainly does not lie within this Bill. I must recognise what the Minister can deliver, the degree to which HM Treasury will agree to fund, and what the Commons will agree to in this context. I try not to ask for the impossible but there are serious problems here, and beyond individual hardship, personal tragedy and dire effects on individual health and well-being, there are also powerful economic arguments for putting this right—there, I am entirely with the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness.
We need to think positively and creatively. The Government are right to stand guarantor and should go further in providing the bridging finance for much of what is clearly essential work to alleviate the worst of the problems, thus enabling swift rectification. However, rectification depends on available competent labour and capacity in this specialised field, plus there are new issues of liability and insurance for anyone now working on cladding. We must review the scope of what is genuinely high risk and perhaps find ways that, while not reducing to zero the risks to occupiers, allow for an incremental process of staged remediation and upgrading and take some of the stress out of the current situation. Surely there must be some cheaper alternative to the waking watch in a form that does not cost everyone their livelihoods.
I used to have to negotiate derogations on fire safety when dealing with old tinderbox listed buildings where the object was to get everyone out to safety via a defined and protected route, even if the building was a total loss as a result. Dirigiste and risk-averse absolutism is often the enemy of reasonable best practice, but I make this point knowing that at this very moment, part of a huge body of work is in progress in government among experts, in which I know the Minister has a direct hand.
We certainly cannot wait for the legal and judicial processes to establish liability before remedying this situation. There are far too many moving parts, as I have already observed, and things could simply grind on for years. Longer term, maybe we need another Law of Property Act, but it might have such far-reaching implications that I merely park the point at this juncture.
Whatever one does in the context of the Bill, it has consequences in several other areas, so while I am hugely sympathetic to these amendments, I am forced to conclude that they may not achieve what is necessary. They are not the fix that is required in a moving and evolving situation, with some crucial areas clouded in uncertainty. I will listen carefully to what the Minister has to say but the Government need to be on the front foot here. These amendments seek to address part of a huge problem that is not going away and which must be addressed.
The following members present in the Chamber have indicated that they wish to speak: the noble Lord, Lord Newby, the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I will call them in that order, so the first speaker is the noble Lord, Lord Newby.
My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest. I am a leaseholder in a block where I stay when I am in London during the week which has been found to have major safety defects and in which a waking watch is now in operation. I have therefore been able to see in my own bills but also by talking to people who live in the block what the consequences of the current situation really are. I strongly support the Motions in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and of my noble friend Lady Pinnock.
This is a scandal of major proportions, and it is a modern one. Most of the buildings we are talking about have been built in recent years. We are not talking about a problem left over from the Victorians or the Edwardians; this is a recent problem of our own times. As we have heard, it is causing great distress, not minor worries, to a large number of people. The scale of the financial consequences of the problems they face affects not just their short-term economic position but every aspect of their lives. The immediate costs in themselves are pretty horrendous for people on modest incomes. In my block, as elsewhere, people in that position are having to take out loans at very high rates of interest to deal even with the ongoing waking watch costs, which are considerable. However, beyond that, people are stuck. They cannot sell their flat or move, even if there were compelling reasons for them to do so. In some cases they feel unable to start a family as they planned, because of the overwhelming financial uncertainties that they face. None of this, as is obviously the case, is their fault at all. The Motion in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans deals with the core of the problem and would remove from them the cloud of the future financial burdens they face. I strongly support it.
For reasons which I fully understand, his Motion does not deal with who should ultimately pay for all this. In my mind, that is pretty straightforward. The principal burden should fall on those who are culpable: the developers. They have made very significant profits over very many years from building substandard accommodation, and they should pay for it. In the case of Barratt Developments, which built the block in which I live, its profits over the past five years alone have been more than £3.5 billion. It can afford to clean up its own mess, and the same applies to other major housebuilders. Exactly how that is done is, I admit, complicated, but this is a challenge for the Government which they have not begun to meet.
During the lockdown, television channels are showing old series because it has been so difficult to make new ones. Last night, I watched an old episode of “Yes Minister”, which I strongly recommend. It is clear that the Minister here watched it as well because he has used exactly the arguments which Sir Humphrey used to persuade his Minister not to take action: “It’s highly complex. I’m really sorry. We’d love to do it but it’s really quite difficult, you know. Even if we could do it, which we can’t, it’s not appropriate to do it in this Bill. If we can do it—and I’m not sure we can—it may be possible to do it in a future Bill. I’m not sure which Bill; I don’t know when it’s going to come. But because it’s very complicated, you wouldn’t expect me to say further.” That is the Minister’s response to this.
In last night’s “Yes Minister”, what happened was that the Minister in it, completely frustrated by these usual arguments, put his foot down by announcing on national television that something was going to be done, which in effect bounced his Permanent Secretary into doing it. I suggest that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, takes a leaf out of that Minister’s book and goes on television this very evening to say that he has been so impressed by the debate he has heard that the Government will now act speedily.
The truth is that the reason we are hanging about has everything to do with a lack of political will, and not to do with the technicalities. It is the job of government to deal with difficult things. Most bits of public policy are tricky and difficult. This is no exception but it does not mean that the Government have no policies on anything. It means that they choose what they want to devote time and effort to, and they have decided they are not prepared to put in the time, effort, commitment and funds to deal with this glaring injustice.
The right reverend Prelate’s Motion is a start because it removes the major part of the cloud facing people currently in difficulty and it should be supported. But even when it has been supported, it does not absolve the Government from grappling with this issue and sorting it out properly.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the National Housing Federation, the representative body for housing associations in England. Our members house 6 million people in 2.6 million homes, including a significant number of flats in multi-storey, multi-occupied buildings that need remedial work on their external wall system.
Nothing is a greater priority for housing associations than their residents’ safety. Following the awful Grenfell tragedy, they have been leading the way in the past three years by identifying buildings that need urgent work and carrying it out as quickly as possible. In his Motion C1, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans wants to protect leaseholders from huge bills to make their homes safe, and I support him. Leaseholders should not be facing such costs. Other noble Lords have given vivid examples of the impact on leaseholders.
Housing associations are doing what they can to ensure their leaseholders do not have to foot the bill for developers’ mistakes by pursuing the companies that built the buildings, as well as warranty and insurance providers. Sadly, these efforts are not always successful so I applaud a move by this House to provide extra assurance to leaseholders living in these homes.
However, housing associations face a huge dilemma. They exist predominantly to provide social homes to those on lower incomes. The buildings that housing associations need to remediate due to safety concerns will largely be made up of social housing. This welcome move to protect leaseholders must also be coupled with further government funding to pay for the necessary remedial works to all the buildings that need them. While the funding that the Government have made available for remediation costs so far is very welcome, the £1 billion building safety fund and the additional £3.5 billion announced last month are not available to remediate homes in which social tenants live.
Housing associations do not make profits to draw from, so any costs that they incur will generally be met using income from tenants’ rents, as well as money that could otherwise be spent on improvements to tenants’ homes and communities. This would mean that without additional funding, this amendment could result in charitable housing associations paying for works to both leaseholders’ and social tenants’ homes; effectively subsidising leaseholders’ share of remedial works costs with the money that social tenants pay for the upkeep of their homes and communities. Building remediation could cost the housing association sector upwards of £10 billion in total. Of course, I do not want to see leaseholders picking up large bills for this reason, but I do want to see government funding to pay for leaseholders’ share of all works in all buildings, to protect housing association renters from effectively picking up the bill.
Importantly, housing associations also use their funds to build affordable housing. Paying for urgent remedial works to people’s homes must be and is the sector’s top priority. But this essential work means that fewer affordable homes will be built in the future, at a time of desperate need. Research shows that we need 90,000 new social homes every year to meet demand in our country. The G15, a group of London’s largest housing associations, worked out that they have in aggregate spent in the last year, expect to spend next year or have included in their business plans up until 2031, a total of £2.9 billion. They estimate that, as a result of this spend, they will build 72,000 fewer affordable homes to rent, as they continue to prioritise these essential safety works. In addition to this, many of these housing associations will have to defer planned maintenance works and upgrades beyond those required to maintain decent homes compliance.
That group represents just 12 housing associations from a raft of hundreds of organisations that provide affordable homes. This is why legislating for building owners to cover remediation costs does not have the intended effect in all cases. In the case of social providers, they are facing astronomical costs for buildings that they did not construct in the first place.
We are right to seek protection for leaseholders, but that must sit alongside government funding to remediate all buildings in need, including social housing. Otherwise, tenants and people who need social housing will suffer needlessly now and for years to come. As the right reverend Prelate said, the Government are the only agency that can do this, and I hope that the Minister will confirm today that the Government will provide up-front funding for all remedial works and recoup the costs to the taxpayer by establishing liabilities later.
My Lords, I wish to support the Motions in the name of my friends the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, which provide a more comprehensive solution than is already in this Bill.
As the 133rd Bishop of London, it has been my privilege to serve this city for the last three years. Unfortunately, I have seen how inequality of outcome is built into our city. As I have followed this debate, it has moved me to speak today. It is almost four years since the Grenfell Tower disaster. Hundreds of thousands of citizens in London and other cities across this country still lie awake at night wondering whether their homes are safe and they can weather the financial hardship of the life-changing remediation bills that they face.
This is having a major impact on the health and well-being of our communities, the communities in this city. My work on the ground with the Bishop of Kensington has meant that I engage with people who are bearing the real cost of this: costs not just financially but to their health and mental well-being, with some facing suicidal thoughts. While they may bear the cost today, they will also do so in the future and there is no doubt that the NHS will bear the cost in the years to come.
We have heard from the Government and substantial sums of money have been cited, but I fear that they do not really go far enough. The amendments of my right reverend friend the Bishop of St Albans and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, exist because each month, people edge closer to bankruptcy and struggle to sell their properties with debts attached from the exorbitant remediation and interim fire safety costs. Due to these financial pressures, some will pay almost 60% of their annual salary on those costs.
The Government’s current approach of a levy on developers has some weaknesses. If the scope of the levy was extended to cover other responsible parties, such as major contractors and suppliers of defective products, greater sums could be raised. The amendments attempt to distribute responsibility fairly, because it is a shared responsibility of the developers’ community, testing and regulatory guidance communities and major contractors to ensure that those who bought their homes in good faith and understood them to be safe, be they high or low-rise, do not face the burden of cost to refit their properties and make them safe. It is our responsibility as representatives of your Lordships’ House to make sure that we do right by the people of this country, even if it is complex. That is the role of government.
The Church of England is quite clear. In a recently published Archbishops’ housing commission report, we recommended that the Government should cover remediation costs and recoup their initial outlays from those responsible. We are looking to the Government to develop a simple, fair and comprehensive solution to the current crisis, but this solution must be clear and cost-effective. It also must be quick. Any solution should be based on “polluter pays” principles, with those responsible for unsafe buildings being required to put them right.
I therefore press the Minister, first, for assurances that the Government will implement a comprehensive solution, to ensure that leaseholders living in blocks more than 18 metres high and blocks between 11 and 18 metres do not pay for any remediation or interim fire safety costs through the building safety Bill, and that they will be compensated for their losses so far. Secondly, I press him to improve the Government’s current approach, which consists of a levy on developers, and distribute the responsibility for these costs as far as possible to all those responsible for the current crisis, and so protect leaseholders and taxpayers. Finally, I press him to create a legacy for the future of buildings and houses that are fit for purpose for those in our community and in a UK post Covid.
If these commitments cannot be given today, will the Minister meet me and representatives of the Archbishops’ housing commission to discuss how we can take forward these solutions in the coming building safety Bill? I support the amendments in the names of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock.
My Lords, the most important work this House does is to legislate and, within that work, to assert its view and opinion against the Government and the other House, because that is where we are acting independently, as opposed to acting simply either as a rubber stamp or a deliberative assembly. It always amazes me how little time and attention we spend on our most important function. Many noble Lords are in Committee until 11 pm or midnight, day after day. We discuss amendments a first time, refine them for Report the second time and may come round to them again at Third Reading.
However, when it comes to the most controversial issues in a Bill, which, by definition, are those which we send to the other place, we are expected to hurry them all through. Very inadequate notice is given of matters coming back to this House. There are no proper structured arrangements for discussion, in the way that there are for the ordinary consideration of legislation. We are faced with reasons on hugely weighty issues from the House of Commons as to why it will not accept our view, which usually consist of one or two lines of the utmost banality: statements like “Because the Government has announced it intends to bring forward its own legislative proposals”, full stop.
That is supposed to be a reason why we should set aside all the hours of deliberation by this House, as well as its votes, and simply accept a government assurance. We are always put under great time pressure, and then the Salisbury convention is brought in telling us why this House, having spent hours—and having had many votes—on these issues, should not even spend the proper time and consideration required, including using our undoubted powers to continue to ask the House of Commons to consider these matters again.
Other legislatures with two Chambers deal with these matters much better. They have arrangements for joint sittings on issues that are contested between the Houses, which I believe that we should have. Our arrangements are due only to historical reasons dating from the Middle Ages. One of the right reverend Prelate’s 133 predecessors probably devised these arrangements in the 13th century, even before “Yes Minister”. They are absolutely not fit for purpose in the 21st century. We inhabit the same building; we have electronic means of communication; we can consider these matters better. By definition, when we come to this stage of a Bill, these are always weighty and substantial matters. We would otherwise not be engaging, for the second or third time, in a conflict with the House of Commons.
These are hugely important issues. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said that we needed to be objective rather than emotional. But the objective thing to be on this issue is emotional because we are dealing with people who face, as the two right reverend Prelates and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said, potential bills of £40,000, £50,000 or £60,000 apiece. This will drive them into bankruptcy and cause them huge mental anguish. In some cases—let us be frank; we have all heard of such stories—it can lead to suicide, since these are absolutely catastrophic impacts on individuals. We, as legislators, have a duty to take account of that and reach the best possible arrangement. I stress that we should not be railroaded on issues of this kind into either having to cave in or taking quick decisions before there has been proper consideration.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London referred just now to the Archbishops’ Council. I know that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has been leading work on this issue, with a number of extremely distinguished experts on housing, and would like to meet the Minister. The very least that the Minister should say in response to her, assuming that this amendment goes back, is that before it comes to this House again he and the Secretary of State will meet the right reverend Prelate, the most reverend Primate and their advisers—who I happen to know include a former Permanent Secretary and other very senior and expert people—to discuss these issues. These are matters of huge anguish and importance.
It is very important that we play fair by people who, as everyone has accepted, are not facing big charges which were expected. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said that in respect of property one has duties, responsibilities and risks, but these are not normal risks. People should be expected to bear normal and reasonably foreseeable risks but these were completely abnormal, of a scale they could not have been expected to foresee or budget for.
Their other consequences have not even been mentioned in the debate so far. This is leading to a substantial seizure of the entire property market at the moment. Large numbers of people with leasehold properties simply cannot sell them at the moment. Until these risks are properly quantified, and the allocation of the burdens is properly determined, people cannot sell. It is a huge problem in the property market, and this will continue until it is done.
When the Minister, for whom we have great respect and who knows these matters at first hand, as the former leader of a local authority with large numbers of leaseholders, said that the Government were seeking to crunch through these matters bit by bit and deal with them, that goes straight back to “Yes Minister”. The Grenfell Tower fire was on 14 June 2017. That is, by my calculation, three years and nine months ago. We are not exactly rushing with indecent haste to deal with these issues. It is perfectly reasonable to expect that the Government should do their job, which is to safeguard the community on matters of huge public importance, including putting schemes in place. It took 20 years to build the great wall of China, and we are saying that after four years, the Government still do not have a proper scheme in place to deal with these issues.
So I strongly urge the House to agree to both my noble friend’s amendment and those of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, partly because they are correct, but also because these are huge issues that will, of necessity, require further elucidation and debate. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans did something that politicians in this House very rarely do, which was admit that his Motion is not perfect. He pointed to one or two defects, which is an unusual procedure in the House.
What is now needed is a further process of deliberation, because the costs involved and the impacts on individuals are huge. The figures are not even agreed. There is a big difference between what the Government say is the average cost estimate for remedial work, £9,000, and the £50,000 that the right reverend Prelate said. That £41,000 is about one and a half times the average yearly wage in this country. It would be good to agree some of those matters and to have a proper scheme. Certainly we should not be railroaded into closing this matter down today. We should send these amendments back to the House of Commons, because it would give us a reasonable length of time—we do not want another ping- pong taking place later this week or next week—to consider these issues and for a scheme to be brought back.
I will make a few comments on the substantive points at stake. The Minister circulated a letter this morning. Again, it came at the last minute; I read it literally just before coming into the Chamber. It said three things in response to my noble friend Lord Kennedy’s amendment. First, it said that the Government would publish responses to the fire safety consultation. It said that they had done it today, but I could not find them in the printed papers. It also said that they would publish regulations to deliver on the Grenfell Tower inquiry’s recommendations and would indicate where further legislation would be forthcoming. To those of us who are not encyclopaedic experts on what is going on with the Grenfell Tower inquiry and the matters at stake, what the Government are saying is not clear.
Perhaps I could press the Minister on my noble friend Lord Kennedy’s Amendment 2B, which proposes in new subsection (1):
“Within 90 days … the Secretary of State must publish draft legislation to require an owner or a manager of any building … to … share information with their local Fire and Rescue Service in respect of each building … undertake annual inspections … undertake monthly inspections of lifts … and share evacuation and fire safety instructions with residents of the building.”
I would think that all noble Lords would consider these proposals reasonable and essential, so can the Minister tell us whether my noble friend’s four points are met in the responses to the fire safety consultation and regulations to deliver on the inquiry’s recommendations, which they are publishing today? This is crucial to how we decide to proceed with my noble friend Lord Kennedy’s amendment.
On remediation costs, it seems the crucial point is the proposed new subsection (1) in Amendment 4F of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, which states:
“The Secretary of State must design and implement a scheme”
to deal with costs,
“including but not limited to the building owner, freeholder or developer.”
So the question for the Minister to answer at the end, which is crucial to how we decide to proceed, both in the vote at the end of this debate and afterwards, is what the Government’s intentions are in respect of designing and implementing a scheme.
I take up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, both about the scale of the costs and the absolutely correct liability to which developers should be held. Developers such as Barratt have armies of lawyers and the capacity to see off little people—which is most people when it comes to the likes of Barratt. If they have to deal with Her Majesty’s Government in respect of their liabilities, and a Minister of the calibre of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, turns up on their doorstep and says that they are expected to shoulder these costs —as per a scheme that has been designed and is being pushed by the Government—I assure your Lordships that it will lead to a much bigger result than if it were all left to individual leaseholders and freeholders.
So can the Minister say what the Government are intending to do? Is their intention to stand by and leave hundreds of thousands of leaseholders at the mercy of individual negotiations and freeholders? Or will they move with a Government-led and nationally driven scheme to recover these costs, wherever possible, from developers who have made an absolute killing—sorry, that is not an appropriate word in this context—a fortune on developments, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, rightly said? They often expect returns of the order of 20%, 25% or 30% when taking forward these developments. As has been shown, with substandard cladding fire safety regulations have not been properly enforced, so it is reasonable that they should be held accountable, and it is the Government, on behalf of the people at large, who should be holding them accountable. Before we pass this legislation into law, we should be assured that the Government have a proper, viable and effective plan to bring that about.
My Lords, is there anyone present in the Chamber, who has been here since the beginning of the debate, who wishes to contribute? No? In which case, I revert to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the debate and will take this opportunity to address noble Lords’ comments and concerns in more detail. I start by addressing Amendment 2B. I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for his constructive engagement with me on this. I reiterate again that the Government remain steadfast in their commitment to deliver the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report’s recommendations in full. It is understandable that the House wants to see visible progress on this and to have a better understanding of the timing of next steps and of the proposals that we will bring forward.
Today, the Government published their response to the fire safety consultation. This is an important and clear demonstration of our progression towards implementing the inquiry’s recommendations. I am clear that, subject to the Fire Safety Bill gaining Royal Assent, the Government intend to lay regulations before the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report that will deliver on the inquiry’s recommendations. These will include measures around checking fire doors and lifts.
I am also committed to seeking further views, as soon as practicable, through a further public consultation on the complex issue of personal emergency evacuation plans. We already know that some of our proposals from the consultation will require primary legislation. They include strengthening the guidance relating to the discharge of duties under the fire safety order and the requirement for responsible persons in all regulated premises to record who they are and provide a UK-based address. We intend to include these measures, and possibly others that come out of the consultation, to strengthen fire safety in the building safety Bill, which will be introduced after the Government have considered the recommendations made by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, and when parliamentary time allows.
I thank the noble Lord for, I hope, not pressing this matter to a vote. He is right in his role to hold the Government to account for delivering on the Grenfell recommendations, and I am pleased to have provided the reassurance that he sought.
I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for not pressing her amendment. I understand her interest in this area. More generally, we are looking at specific information-sharing provisions in the regulations and later in the building safety Bill, which we see as a first step to meeting the Grenfell recommendations on this issue.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, the other reason for resisting the public register amendment is that anyone from the general public would be able to access fire safety information about a building, which poses a security risk in the event that the information were accessed by someone with malicious or criminal intent. But the Government do agree with the principle that residents should be able to access critical fire safety information for the building that they live in, and we include proposals for this in the fire safety consultation.
I will now address Amendments 4B to 4F. First, I reiterate the intention conveyed in the other place that we share the concerns around the costs of remediation and the need to give leaseholders peace of mind and financial certainty. I have always been clear that all residents deserve to be and to feel safe in their homes. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has committed to taking decisive action to deal with the cladding crisis, and, through the Government’s five-point plan, to provide reassurance to home owners and build confidence in the housing market.
First, as has been commented on, the Government will provide an additional £3.5 billion to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding on residential buildings. This will be targeted at the highest-risk buildings—those over six storeys or above 18 metres—that have unsafe cladding. This is in line with long-standing expert advice on which buildings are at the highest risk. This brings the Government’s investment in building safety to an unprecedented £5 billion or more.
Secondly, we have been clear that leaseholders in lower-rise buildings, with a lower risk to safety, will gain new protection from the costs of cladding removal through a long-term, low-interest, government-backed financing scheme. Leaseholders in a residential building that is 11 to 18 metres in height with unsafe cladding will never pay more than £50 per month towards this remediation.
It is important that this government funding does not excuse building owners of their responsibility to ensure that buildings are safe. We have been clear that building owners and industry should make buildings safe without passing on costs to leaseholders. They should consider all routes to meet cost—for example, through warranties and recovering costs from contractors for incorrect or poor work.
As the Minister for Building Safety and Fire Safety, I will ensure that we drive forward to ensure that remediation of unsafe cladding is completed. I am clear that we have an ambitious timescale to do so. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, progress has not been as fast as we would have liked, but we are making great progress, particularly given the constraints of the pandemic this year. Around 95% of high-rise buildings with Grenfell-type ACM cladding identified at the start of 2020 have completed remediation or have works on site to do so by the end of the year.
I want to be clear that, while this issue is vital, it would be impractical and confusing to include remediation measures in the Bill. This is because the fire safety orders are a regulatory framework that sets out the duties of a responsible person in relation to fire risk assessments. It does not cover the relationship, including potential financial obligations or prohibitions, between freeholder and leaseholder. The Bill is so important because it allows for effective enforcement where responsible persons are not abiding by their responsibilities. It addresses the situation where responsible persons refuse to remediate, which is an issue that I am sure the whole House wants resolved as soon as possible.
In contrast, the draft building safety Bill is the appropriate legislative mechanism for addressing the issue of who pays for mediation. Through the building safety Bill, the Government will strengthen the whole regulatory system for building safety, and ensure that there is greater accountability and responsibility for fire and structural safety issues throughout the life cycle of buildings within the scope of a more stringent regime. That Bill’s provisions will put the management of risk front and centre. It is important that remediation is addressed using its proactive mechanisms for managing fire and structural safety issues, such as the safety case. Remediation and costs to leaseholders should be dealt in the context of the Fire Safety Bill to ensure that legislation is coherent with the aims and scope of the new regime.
In response to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, I point specifically to Clauses 88 and 89 in the building safety Bill, which relate to charges. These clauses facilitate regulations that would amend the building safety Act and the Landlord and Tenant Act. We will add to what is already in the draft Bill, including additional duties on the accountable person to seek alternative funding before they pass costs on to leaseholders.
While I appreciate the desire that many noble Lords have for a quick legislative solution to the “who pays” issue, we also have a duty as parliamentarians to implement a clear framework and transparent legislation to support fire and building safety reforms. Even more than this, it is important to ensure that the practical implications of any legislation are properly worked through, rather than being rushed on to the statute book in this Bill. In this vein, I am clear that these alternative amendments do not work.
I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for his amendment in lieu. However, it does not take into account remedial works that arise outside the fire risk assessment process—for example, costs identified as a result of a fire or building works taking place. Such cases would not prevent costs being passed on. Further, the amendment is insufficiently detailed and would require extensive drafting of primary legislation, thereby delaying the implementation of the Fire Safety Bill and the crucial measures it puts forward to improve the fire safety regulatory system.
If the amendment were to be added to the Bill and became law without the necessary redrafting, the Government and taxpayers might be exposed to protracted action by building owners and the courts. Building owners could use litigation to claim for costs that they feel they are entitled to pursue from leaseholders under the terms of a lease agreement. While litigation is ongoing alongside disputes over where costs should be, there would also be delays to construction work to carry out urgent remediation and, possibly, interim safety measures.
I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for her amendment in lieu. However, as with the amendment from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, there are concerns that it would fail to achieve the intention of prohibiting costs being passed on. There are significant legal risks in trying to prohibit the passing of remediation costs through service charges, including an increased risk of facing legal action from landlords without the sufficiently robust legislative detail to override possible conflicts with the terms of existing lease agreements. This, and the need for extensive drafting of all primary legislation, is likely to result in delays, and defects identified outside a fire risk assessment will continue to be passed on to leaseholders.
Moreover, the amendment may be too narrow in its scope by focusing on service charges as the primary site to prohibit landlords passing on remediation costs. They might find other ways to pass remediation costs on to leaseholders, for instance, through additional or exceptional fees and charges, which they might be allowed to pass on to leaseholders under the terms of existing lease arrangements. As such, the amendment has laudable intentions. However, it is unlikely to generate beneficial outcomes for leaseholders.
I have touched on the legal problems that could arise from both the alternative amendments on remediation. I reiterate the complexity around remediation costs, which I believe supports the case that this is not the right Bill to consider these concerns. As I mentioned in my specific points concerning the amendments from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, there are concerns about contractual disputes and potential litigation impacting the Government, the taxpayer and leaseholders. Stating in legislation what the landlord can and cannot recover from leaseholders could contradict the provisions set out in the contractual terms of a lease. As a result, it would be unclear where the costs should lie, rather than being determined by the terms of the lease.
Furthermore, the amendments do not reflect the complexity involved in apportioning liability for remedial defects. There are a range of views as to how costs should be distributed among leaseholders, freeholders, developers, construction industry contractors and other parties. It would be remiss to introduce legislation that places liability firmly on the landlord without adequate discussion about where the costs should lie or how they should be disbursed.
In response to the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of St Albans and the Bishop of London, the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, we have announced measures with greater nuance concerning the distribution of costs. This approach combines government funding, repayments from leaseholders, and contributions from developers and industry through an upcoming tax and levy. While the merits of this approach can be discussed separately, one thing that we can agree on is that the simplistic approach of passing these orphan liabilities entirely to landlords despite the terms of existing lease agreements is not the right manner in which to proceed. Not only would the decision to pass all these costs to building owners be overly simplistic, it would also be counterproductive. It would be self-defeating if landlords who have paid a small amount to collect ground rents from flats decide simply to walk away when faced with remediation bills of this size.
Many freeholds are held in special-purpose vehicles to limit the liability held for the individuals involved, and in these cases they could simply activate an insolvency procedure to avoid the debt. This also highlights the lack of robust detail in this amendment, as it contains no due consideration of what would happen to the liabilities at this point. If these owners walked away, leaseholders would be left in the same position, continuing to live in unsafe properties and with no further clarity as to where these costs should lie or who is responsible for payment.
Working through these types of issues in a proper way will require much more extensive drafting of primary legislation. We must avoid encouraging an escalating quantity of contractual disputes and litigation from landlords who feel that the legislation runs counter to their rights and liabilities, as laid out in existing lease agreements.
However, I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, that we must look at radical ways of improving the recourse to redress mechanisms, and I thank him for his contribution to this debate. I invite the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, to find out more about the building occupied by George to see whether we can help that building access the available funds, such as the waking watch relief fund and the building safety fund, to help support the funding of remediation costs. I also note the problems highlighted by the noble Baroness about Sarah, the resident of Royal Quays. We are aware of this development and the difficulties that it faces. I sympathise greatly with the problems raised. We are working alongside Liverpool City Council to do what we can to support the building. This includes considering eligibility for public funding.
I also point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, that if housing authorities have to pass costs on to leaseholders, they can apply to the building safety fund, so the leaseholders in housing associations have the same access to funding and will be protected in the same way as those in private housing. I am happy to meet with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and any members of the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing who want to discuss these issues in greater detail.
Let me be clear: it is unacceptable for leaseholders to have to worry about the cost of fixing historic building safety defects. These are recent issues, but not just of the last 10 years, but the last 20 to 25 years. This is not something that has cropped up in the last couple of years; it is a generational problem, in many ways. However, I ask noble Lords to recognise that while these amendments are based on good intentions, they are not the appropriate means of solving these complex problems. On invoking “Yes, Minister”, yes, we need political will, but we also need a political brain to recognise that these problems will not be solved by a simplistic intervention, by orphaning liability or by assigning liability to a freeholder who can subsequently walk away from playing any part in remediating the costs of making the building safe.
For practical reasons, these amendments are likely to be ineffective and may even make the situation worse for some leaseholders. Litigation arising from disputes over what landlords can and cannot recover from leaseholders, where legislation runs contrary to the provisions in existing lease agreements, and where there are disagreements over who should pay costs based on the source of a particular safety defect, is likely to be substantive and problematic. This might result in crucial remediation and even interim measures to protect residents from being delayed. I therefore hope that these amendments will not go to a vote.
I have received a single request to speak after the Minister. I called the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.
The Minister did not comment on the figures given by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, which struck the House as of great concern. He said that average remediation costs could be in the order of £50,000 to £60,000 per leaseholder. Can the Minister comment on those figures?
I have seen figures in the order of £50,000, but that is an aggregate figure that covers cladding costs and more historic building safety defects. Clearly, as we bring forward the legislation to deal with these issues, which will be in the building safety Bill, we must conduct a further impact assessment, but I am aware of the figures that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans presented.
My Lords, I will not speak for long. I do not want to detain the House with a long debate. I thank everyone who has spoken. We have heard many very powerful speeches, and very important points were well made. I thank the Minister for his response to my Motion A1, for the time he has taken to speak to me outside the Chamber, and for the letter I received today in addition to the all-Peers letter. It sets out some clear commitments from the Government, a plan and, most importantly, a timetable for action. I welcome this very much.
I listened carefully to the contributions of all noble Lords and agreed with almost every one. I hear the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. He may be right, but it is our job to press the Government to do the right thing by the people of this country, as the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London said. I also thank my noble friend Lord Adonis for his support. He made some very valid general points about how we deal with matters from the other place, and points specific to this Bill. I also listened carefully to the Minister’s response to Motion B. I had said that all they rely on in the other place is privilege, and his response was very fair. I can see his point—it is a shame that the other place could not—and I had not thought of it beforehand, so I accept it. We are trying to ensure, in respect of that Motion particularly, that residents, tenants, the fire authorities and the fire brigade have transparency. That is what we want to shine the light on. Perhaps the Minister will not be able to address those issues; it is a shame that the other place did not.
Sometimes the Government say, “We have an ambitious programme” or “We are striving to make progress”, but they have been very slow on this and everyone is frustrated with them. As my noble friend Lord Adonis said, it is three years and nine months since the fire, and this is the first piece of legislation. It is frustratingly slow. Can the Minister talk to the Prime Minister? These issues will not go away, and we will keep raising them until we get some proper action. He has made some commitments today, which is good, but it is only a start. This House will hold him to account on them, because so far this has been frustratingly slow.
Having said that, I am pleased that we got so far today. I have enough to withdraw my Motion A1. I hope that the right reverend Prelate moves his Motion for debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion A1 withdrawn.
Motion A agreed.
3A: Because it would involve a charge on public funds and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.
Motion B agreed.
4A: Because the issue of remediation costs is too complex to be dealt with in the manner proposed.
Motion C1 (as an amendment to Motion C)
4B: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Prohibition on passing remediation costs on to leaseholders and tenants
(1) The owner of a building may not pass the costs of any remedial work attributable to the provisions of this Act on to leaseholders or tenants of that building.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to a leaseholder who is also the owner or part owner of the freehold of the building.”
4C: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Costs arising from relevant notices or risk based guidance under the Fire Safety Order
(1) This section applies to a long lease of a dwelling in a relevant building.
(2) This section applies—
(a) where a notice has been served by an enforcing authority under article 28, article 29 or article 30 of the Fire Safety Order; or
(b) where a responsible person carries out works on the basis that they are required or said to be required by the risk based guidance issued by the Secretary of State under article 50 of the Fire Safety Order.
(3) In the lease there is an implied covenant by the lessor, or any third party to the lease, that the lessor or third party shall not recover from the lessee any amount in respect of the costs of works under subsection (2) where the works are to remedy any defect, risk or issue that predated the first grant of a long lease of the dwelling.
(4) Subsection (3) does not apply where the works are to repair a deterioration in original condition.
(5) Subsection (3) does not apply to any interest or shareholding the lessee may have in any superior lessor or freeholder.
(6) This section does not apply to commonhold land.
(7) “Dwelling” has the meaning given by section 112 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 and “long lease” has the meaning given by sections 76 and 77 of that Act, save that, in the case of a shared ownership lease, it is irrelevant whether or not the tenant’s total share is 100%.”
4D: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Restriction on contracting out of section (Costs arising from relevant notices or risk based guidance under the Fire Safety Order)
A covenant or agreement, whether contained in a long lease to which section (Costs arising from relevant notices or risk based guidance under the Fire Safety Order) applies or in an agreement collateral to such a long lease, is void in so far as it purports—
(a) to exclude or limit the obligations of the lessor or the immunities of the lessee under that section, or
(b) to authorise any forfeiture or impose on the lessee any penalty, disability or obligation in the event of the lessee enforcing or relying upon those obligations or immunities.”
4E: Clause 3, page 2, line 28, at end insert—
“( ) Sections (Costs arising from relevant notices or risk based guidance under the Fire Safety Order) and (Restriction on contracting out of section (Costs arising from relevant notices or risk based guidance under the Fire Safety Order)) shall each come into force on the same day as section 1 comes fully or partially into force in respect of any premises in England.”
Motion C2 not moved.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, we come to day four of Report on the Domestic Abuse Bill. I will call Members to speak in the order listed. Short questions of elucidation after the Minister’s response are discouraged. Any Members wishing to ask such a question must email the clerk. The groupings are binding. A participant wishing to press an amendment other than the lead amendment in a group to a Division must give notice 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. We will now begin.
Domestic Abuse Bill
Report (4th Day)
Relevant documents: 21st and 28th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
As it was not possible to proceed with a Division on this Bill on Monday, I will call for the deferred Division on Amendment 87, which was fully debated and pressed to a Division on Monday. No further speeches will be heard on this amendment. We begin with the deferred Division on Amendment 87, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The Question will be decided by a remote Division. I instruct the clerk to start a remote Division.
Debate on Amendment 87A resumed.
My Lords, I have had more emails asking me to support Amendment 87A than any other part of the Bill—I am sure that that is true for many other Members of this House. There is clearly not only great support for it across the country but a major concern about the impact on children of access to online pornography and its link with domestic abuse.
As noble Lords know, pornography is easy to access online, and we know that children are susceptible. I remember being told by the manager of a refuge about a little boy of five hitting his younger sister, who was four; when he was asked why he did it, he said, “That is what daddy does to mummy every day”. Noble Lords may remember that the 10 year-old killers of the little Bulger boy had watched the most appalling videos before they carried out this tragic murder, copying some of what they had watched.
Since age verification has been approved by both Houses, I share the view across the House that it should now be implemented in this Bill.
My Lords, I again commend the Government for bringing forward the Bill, as I have done throughout its passage through this House. I thank the Minister for the work that has been undertaken thus far. However, as the tragic events in Clapham so shockingly remind us, speed is of the essence when it comes to changing the attitude of men and boys towards women and girls in our society.
The Minister has been keen to point out that the Government’s own pornography research does not prove causation—how could it? It does demonstrate a clear association between pornography consumption and male aggression and sexual violence, as does other research in the field. In this context, addressing the impact of pornography consumption on male aggression towards women must form part of a credible legislative approach to violence against women and a credible response to the outpouring of stories that we have all been moved by this week.
In recent debates, much has been said about how Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act protects children from pornographic websites through age verification. That is certainly very important because, if Part 3 was in place now, children today would be less likely to be exposed to pornographic websites. It would therefore be less likely that they would move into adulthood with the expectation that violence is a natural part of sexual relationships, with all that this means for behaviour.
However, after the events of last week, it is also important to stress that another feature of Part 3—namely, the regulator’s power to take robust action against websites showing illegal extreme pornography, regardless of age verification—is important, because it will help foster an environment that challenges the normalisation of violence against women. It is a vital change that women and children could benefit from right now, that could have brought huge benefits from last year and, crucially, that could bring huge benefits very quickly, for reasons I will explain, if the Government implement Part 3.
The latest letter on this from the Minister comes with an estimated timetable of between 22 and 27 months for implementing Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017, with a new regulator. This is perhaps the finest example of a cannot-do, rather than a can-do, attitude to emerge from Whitehall since Sir Humphrey Appleby took his retirement. It is deeply problematic for at least two reasons. First, it clearly draws out the process to the greatest possible extent, making it as long as possible. Secondly, it rests upon a strategy that hopes that none of us will be cute enough to spot the elephant in the room.
The truth is that, if the Government were prepared to redesignate the BBFC as the regulator for Part 3 during the interim period, while the online harms Bill is being developed, then women and children would benefit within a matter of months from the very important protections that this House has already sanctioned in relation to pornographic websites. The taxpayer would also see a return on the £2.2 million investment in the steps taken in preparing for implementing Part 3.
The question the Government must answer is this: is bowing to their preference that Ofcom be the regulator, rather than the BBFC, so important that they are prepared to demand that the price for it is that women and children should be denied the protections that this House has sanctioned for them for a period of years? We can argue about how long it might take for the online harms framework to reach the point of implementation, but if we use the Digital Economy Act as a model, we can assume that the time from the arrival of the primary legislation in Parliament to the point at which it and the attendant secondary legislation and guidance are passed will be about three years. Is the Prime Minister prepared to tell the women and children of the United Kingdom that his preference for Ofcom over the BBFC is so great that women and children should be denied these important protections from pornographic websites for some years, even though he can still have Ofcom when the online harms regime comes into play? Is he prepared to ignore Women’s Aid? Are the Government saying that, because they cannot consent to this, we should cease support for this amendment and all those who want implementation now?
I trust that the Prime Minister still has his political wits about him. I trust that he will think better of taking a different position from all these bodies and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, whom the people of this country hold in such high regard. Redesignation would take 40 days, as per Section 17 of the 2017 Act, where it was agreed that we should give the websites three months to get ready.
By my reckoning, if the Government show a fraction of the determination that we saw at the vigil in Clapham on Saturday night, Part 3, with all its protections for women and children, could be in force before this House rises for the Summer Recess. It is my great hope that the Government will do the right thing today and tell the Minister before she gets to her feet that she can announce that the Government will now implement Part 3, so that the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, whose leadership on this issue demands our great respect, can withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am pleased to speak today in support of the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. I am grateful too for the powerful briefings and extensive correspondence on this amendment that I have received from several organisations and individuals.
Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I have seen the Government’s letter of 8 March. I found it unconvincing and I am concerned that there is a danger of completely missing the point of the amendment. As we saw over the weekend, the country is very concerned about attacks on women. I think, too, that we are all concerned about the level of violence against children, and indeed against men, in our society. It is clear that the consumption of pornography is associated with aggression and violence against women, men and children. This is an issue on which we can act today.
Had the Government implemented Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act as planned, we would have had a functioning regulator today. He or she would have been able to take a series of robust actions against any pornographic website showing illegal extreme pornography. We would have seen the introduction of age verification on pornographic websites.
Today, 14 women’s organisations, including Women’s Aid, have written to the Prime Minister asking him to instruct his Ministers to respond to the debate by making a commitment to implement Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act as an interim measure to protect women and children, treating them with dignity between now and when the online harms regime will be ready, probably in three years.
The suggestion in the Government’s letter that
“commencing Part 3 of the 2017 Act as an interim measure would … create a confusing and fragmented regulatory landscape”
is unconvincing; it is also regrettable.
The online harms Bill is not yet before Parliament; it will take time to pass through Parliament and, even if it is passed as suggested and the Government commence implementation immediately, the interim arrangements proposed today would be in place and working for two or three years before it would be realistically possible for any benefit to be experienced through such an Act. That would be years of additional protection before any further legislation was operative.
If providing a greater measure of protection for women and children is a critical issue, as the Government have said, they cannot continue to argue that the legislation that we have passed should not be implemented now, even as work proceeds on developing even better legislation for the future. With child-on-child sexual abuse, we know that between 2012 and 2016 there was a 78% rise in England and Wales. Research from 2017 on preventing harmful sexual behaviour involved interviews with young sexual offenders, asking them what might have stopped them. Their answers included “help in management of pornography”. Implementing Part 3 would do this; it would help to save and protect until new legislation is enacted.
I urge the Government to respond positively to noble Lords who have spoken in favour of this amendment and the many women’s groups that have written to the Prime Minister today, and I shall support the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, if she divides the House on this amendment.
We should all thank the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for Amendment 87A. It has been thrown into stark relief by the terribly tragic death of Sarah Everard.
In 2017, Parliament agreed powers to take action against any website showing illegal extreme pornography, yet although we have agreed that non-fatal strangulation is a crime, we still face the cultural normalisation of aggressive sexual activity, of which strangulation activities are the most extreme example. Fuelling such activities is violent pornography and the underlying problem of sex addiction, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich. As with any addiction, the person requires ever more potent dosages of the source of their addiction, whether drugs, alcohol, gambling or abnormal sex. When sexual potency appears to fail, the man seeks greater stimulation in an attempt to achieve satisfaction, developing psychological tolerance to abhorrent acts. The pornography sought gradually becomes ever more extreme, with films and images made exploiting those who are vulnerable, often underage, enslaved or both. This is not about choice or self-control; the addict has surrendered choice—they are controlled by their addiction, compulsively drawn by dependence to extreme pornography. That does not absolve them from responsibility at all but, by leaving the extreme pornography there, we do not just normalise these practices but fuel the addiction, similar to the drug trafficker providing cocaine to the addict.
The Government’s own research into the impact of pornography on male aggression reported in February 2020 that
“there is substantial evidence of an association between the use of pornography and harmful sexual attitudes and behaviours towards women”.
We need robust action against websites based anywhere in the world, accessing the UK with illegal extreme pornography. Age-verification checks would ensure that children are significantly less likely to be exposed to pornographic websites, which have negative implications for their development and give an expectation that violence is a natural part of sexual relationships, with all this means for their behaviour. The terrible costs of not implementing Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act are evident. As has been said:
“It’s now easy to find content on the major porn sites of women being hung, strangled, suffocated, garrotted—and with ‘choking’ content often featuring on the front page.”
Moreover, on September 2019, the Journal of Criminal Law noted:
“Evidence suggests that the mainstream online pornography websites, while declaring such material as contravening their terms and conditions, continue to host such material”.
We cannot wait for the online harms Bill. Women up and down the country—[Inaudible.]
I suggest that we move to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. If we can reconnect with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, we will return to her after the Minister.
First, I want to acknowledge that noble Lords all around this House are concerned about the link between violent pornography and violence against women and girls. I accept that this is an important issue that needs to be debated and addressed, but I remind noble Lords of what the amendment actually says. It would require an investigation into the link between children accessing online pornography and domestic abuse. It would require the person appointed by the Secretary of State to conduct an investigation into whether such a link exists and for that person then to decide whether to implement Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act if that person thinks that implementing Part 3 would prevent domestic abuse.
Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act is about preventing children under 18 from accessing online pornography. It does nothing to control adults accessing violent pornographic content unless that content is extreme and, therefore, illegal. Extreme pornography is defined by Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 as
“grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character”.
Examples are given in the Act, which I shall not quote directly, but they are such things as an act that threatens a person’s life; an act that causes serious injury to intimate areas of a person’s body; sex with dead bodies; and sex with animals. When it says extreme, it really does mean extreme.
Part 3 requires only the policing of content that would be banned from sale in a sex shop. When we debated these measures, many noble Lords said that Part 3 did not go far enough. This amendment, if passed, would do nothing to prevent adults viewing violent pornography, other than extreme pornography, which is already illegal. The amendment would attempt to prevent those aged under 18 accessing any kind of pornography from commercial pornographic websites. Of course, I accept the argument that children under 18 should not be able to access pornography, whether from commercial websites or when it is shared on social media, which Part 3 does not cover. Part 3 provides inadequate protection for children online and does nothing to address noble Lords’ wider concerns about adults accessing violent pornography and the link to violence against women and girls.
This amendment is about preventing children accessing online pornography, because there is believed to be a link between viewing pornography and domestic abuse. The amendment would force the Government to implement Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act if such a link was proved and it was believed that implementing Part 3 would reduce domestic abuse. The Government, as I am sure we will hear from the Minister in a moment, have decided not to implement Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act because they want to incorporate different ways in which to protect children into the online harms Bill instead.
We support what my noble friend Lady Benjamin is trying to achieve in protecting children from pornography, but there are also issues with the wording of her amendment. As I said, the amendment requires the person nominated by the Secretary of State to investigate whether there is a link between children accessing pornography and domestic abuse and report within three months—a very short timescale. If the link is proved and the nominated person believes that Part 3 would prevent domestic abuse, the Government would have to implement Part 3; the decision to implement it would be taken out of their hands.
We believe that any decision to implement Part 3 should be taken by a Secretary of State, who would be accountable to Parliament for that decision, not by a person nominated to undertake a review. We also believe that the issue of protecting children from accessing pornography is wider than domestic abuse. Even if the link between children accessing pornography and domestic abuse were not established, children should still be protected from online pornography.
For those reasons, those of us on our Front Bench for this Bill cannot support the amendment. However, I can assure noble Lords that Liberal Democrats will be holding the Government to account to ensure that effective and proportionate measures are introduced in the online harms Bill to protect children online.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for her commitment on this issue—a commitment that all speakers in the debate share. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, all Peers who have spoken have acknowledged the link between pornography and violence against women.
Of course, we strongly agree that there needs to be a mechanism to prevent children accessing pornographic material. We also believe that the Government have failed to show leadership on that matter and have dragged their feet. They should already have brought the online harms Bill forward.
As Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act was going through, we in the Labour Party criticised it as inadequate because it failed to focus on where some of the most serious harm was caused—for example, by not tackling social media sufficiently. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also made that point.
My understanding is that we now have a timeline for the online harms Bill, with pre-legislative scrutiny expected immediately after the Queen’s Speech—before the Summer Recess—and that Second Reading would be expected after the Summer Recess. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that my understanding of the timetable is correct.
We think that there are real inadequacies in Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act, and that the best way to deal with this matter is in full, and as a priority, in the online harms Bill. That will give time for the Commons to consider the amendments to this Bill that we have already sent back to it, including the supervision of dangerous perpetrators, ensuring that all women have access to life-saving services, and ensuring that child contact centres are regulated to protect our children.
I freely acknowledge that the decision we have taken to abstain on this matter has been a difficult one—but I think it would be wrong to give a misleading sense of certainty by passing this amendment, when that certainty is not merited by the Digital Economy Act. For that reason, we shall abstain on this vote.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, outlined on Monday when we began this debate, her Amendment 87A would require the Government to undertake an investigation of the impact of children’s access to online pornography on domestic abuse, and to review the commencement of Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017.
Her Majesty’s Government are committed to ensuring that the objectives of Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act will be delivered by the online harms framework. Children will be at the heart of our new online safety Bill, which will bring in a new era of accountability for online services. I am afraid I cannot comment on the timings that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked about, as announcements about the Queen’s Speech and other things have not yet been made. I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord on that.
We are confident that the online safety Bill will provide much greater protection for children than would have been the case with Part 3 of the 2017 Act. Unlike that Act, the online harms regime will capture both the most visited pornography sites and pornography on social media, thereby covering the vast majority of sites where children are most likely to be exposed to pornography.
One of the criticisms of the 2017 Act was that its scope did not cover social media companies, where a considerable quantity of pornographic material is available to children. Research by the British Board of Film Classification published last year found that across a group of children aged between 11 and 17, 44% intentionally accessed pornography via a social media site, compared to 43% for dedicated pornography websites and 53% via an image or video search engine.
Crucially, however, just 7% of children accessed pornography only through dedicated pornography sites. Most children intentionally accessing pornography were doing so across a number of sources, including social media, as well as video-sharing platforms, fora, and via image or video search engines, the majority of which would not fall within scope of the Digital Economy Act, but will fall within the scope of online harms legislation.
Implementing Part 3 of the 2017 Act would therefore leave a significant gap in meeting the Government’s objective of preventing children from accessing pornography —an objective that has also been raised by noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. Our online harms proposals will achieve a more comprehensive approach and allow us to address children’s access to pornography in the round, and avoid children moving from one, more regulated, area of the internet to another, less regulated, area to access pornography.
In addition, recent technological changes could render Part 3 of the 2017 Act ineffective in protecting children if it were introduced as an interim measure. One of the Act’s enforcement powers was the power to require internet service providers to block access to material on non-compliant services. Internet service providers themselves have made it clear that they are no longer the sole gatekeepers to the internet. Current and future developments in the way the architecture of the internet functions mean that they may not always be able to offer effective blocking functions, which might make this power obsolete. These potential enforcement challenges could make age-verification very difficult to enforce via the 2017 Act, even as an interim measure.
The most recent prominent change is the introduction of DNS over HTTPS—that is a bit of a mouthful; it is also known as DoH—which, in specific implementation models, could provide an alternative route to access online content that bypasses the current filtering function of internet service providers. Other proposed internet encryption standards may in future limit even further the ability of providers to filter. The Government are actively engaging with the industry to ensure that the spread of DoH and future internet encryption standards do not cause unintended consequences. For example, specific implementation models of DoH could circumnavigate the current filtering mechanisms of internet service providers, which are used to block access to child abuse content.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, raised the definition of internet service providers in the Digital Economy Act. A reference in legislation to internet service providers or similar is usually applied in the traditional sense, requiring the major internet service providers to block access to certain websites. The Secretary of State would have to prepare revised guidance to the regulator to implement Part 3 of the 2017 Act. As the noble Lord has said, this guidance, coupled with the broader terminology of an “internet access service”, as used in European Union legislation, might offer sufficient flexibility to extend the duty for internet service providers to cover other means of accessing the internet, where technically feasible. However, the key point that my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford set out in her letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, was that, given the evolving nature of how internet services are provided, this approach lacks the necessary certainty.
The proposals in the online safety Bill will future-proof the legislation, and address anticipated, longer-term changes to the architecture of the internet, by enabling the regulator to require alternative third parties to carry out blocking measures. This includes any organisation in the internet infrastructure supply chain which facilitates access to a non-compliant service to restrict that access.
It would also not be a quick solution to commence Part 3 as an interim measure, and this would take much longer than the three months that the noble Baroness suggested on Monday. The Government announced in October 2019 that they would not be commencing Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act and, as part of this, took steps to de-designate the British Board of Film Classification as the age-verification regulator. The Government would therefore need to identify a new regulator and ensure that the necessary arrangements were in place before proceeding with formal designation of that regulator. That regulator would then need to produce statutory guidance, as required under the 2017 Act, and consult publicly on this, and the Government would then need to lay regulations and this statutory guidance before Parliament ahead of any new regime coming into force.
As an indication of the potential timescales that would involve, the implementation period for Part 3 of the 2017 Act took over two years, following Royal Assent in April 2017, to the then proposed commencement date of 15 July 2019. Our analysis indicates that it would take a minimum of just under two years to implement the provisions of Part 3 of the 2017 Act. Such a lead-in time, in addition to the nine-month period set out in the noble Baroness’s amendment, would run well into the online safety legislative process, so any benefits of an interim measure would be minimal at best.
Finally, commencing Part 3 of the 2017 Act as an interim measure would create a confusing and fragmented regulatory landscape. It would also require aligning two different enforcement regimes. The regulatory regime under Part 3 of the 2017 Act focuses on a specific requirement on industry to address a specific harm, rather than the wider, more holistic approach to systems and processes under our online harms proposals, which will deliver more comprehensive protections for children as well as for adults.
All pornography services in scope of the duty of care will need to tackle illegal content on their services. Where content is illegal under any criminal law, this will be captured by the online harms duty of care. As the possession of extreme pornography imagery is illegal under existing legislation, it will fall within the duty of care. Our new approach will be more robust than the Digital Economy Act, as it will capture extreme pornography as well as other illegal pornography, including non-photographic child sexual abuse content, which is not included in the definition of extreme pornography referred to in the Digital Economy Act. Companies will need to ensure that illegal content is removed expeditiously and that the risk of it appearing is minimised through effective systems.
In addition, any pornography sites which are designated as category 1 providers will be required to take action on content and activity that is legal for adults but which may be harmful. We expect that priority categories of legal but harmful content for adults set out in secondary legislation will include violent or abusive content. Category 1 services will need to be clear on their platforms about what is acceptable in their terms and conditions and enforce them consistently and transparently.
Given the timeframes for implementing the regulatory framework under the 2017 Act, it is also possible that we would be asking the industry to prepare to comply with the provisions of Part 3 at the same time as the forthcoming online safety legislation, which could distract attention and divert companies’ resources away from preparing for that new legislation, which will deliver better outcomes for children.
We are clear that companies should not wait for legislation to take action to protect children from accessing online pornography, and we are encouraging companies to take steps ahead of the legislation to do just that. To help achieve this, we are working closely with people across the industry to establish the right conditions for the market to deliver age-assurance and age-verification technical solutions ahead of the legislative requirements coming into force. In addition, alongside the full government response, we published an interim code of practice on the steps that companies can take to tackle online child sexual exploitation and abuse.
I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and other noble Lords, that we are working at pace to develop online harms legislation and that the online safety Bill will be ready this year. The Government will continue to work closely with your Lordships’ House and others over the coming months as we prepare this vital legislation. We are already working closely with Ofcom to ensure that the implementation period following passage of the legislation will be as short as possible.
The Government also recognise the vital role that education can play in supporting children to navigate the online world safely. A number of noble Lords mentioned that in their contributions. In England, the Department for Education introduced the statutory relationships, sex, and health education curriculum in September last year, alongside the computing curriculum. Both support children’s online safety. The secondary school component of the relationships, sex, and health curriculum includes teaching that specifically sexually explicit material, for example pornography, presents a distorted picture of sexual behaviours, and can damage the way people see themselves in relation to others and negatively affect how they behave towards sexual partners.
Finally, the noble Baroness has previously raised concerns about Ofcom’s ability to block non-compliant sites and take enforcement action on companies based overseas. I reassure noble Lords that Ofcom will have a robust range of enforcement powers available to use against companies which fail to fulfil the duty of care, or which fail to put in place appropriate measures after being alerted to an issue, no matter where companies are based. Ofcom will be able to issue fines and take business disruption measures against them. This may include removing access to key services to limit the commercial effectiveness of the organisation. For the most serious and egregious failures, Ofcom will be able significantly to restrict access to the services from the United Kingdom. We anticipate that, as other countries introduce similar laws, Ofcom will be able to work with its counterparts overseas to support compliance.
We will be able to deliver the strongest possible protections for children through the online harms framework, rather than Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act. I hope that I have provided some further reassurance that Amendment 87A is not necessary. The Government have demonstrated their strong commitment to protecting children online, a point which ran through all the contributions in this debate. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, will be willing to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I have received requests to ask a short question from the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, and the noble Lord, Lord Morrow. I call the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, to ask a short question for elucidation.
The Minister has continued to suggest that it will take a long time to implement Part 3. Why would that be the case if the Government used the BBFC as the regulator, as everything is in order in that regard, save the need to formally redesignate it, which Section 17 of the Digital Economy Act defines as needing only 40 days?
My Lords, I hope that my noble friend in her letter, and I in my contribution, explained the reasons why we think it would take so long, because it has been de-designated. As the noble Lord will know, work is already going on in relation to Ofcom in preparation for the online safety Bill which, for the reasons I have outlined, we think better addresses the concerns that he and other noble Lords have raised in this debate.
My question is quite similar. Why is it more important not to have the BBFC and leave women and children with no protection at all for three years? As has already been said, if you used the BBFC, it would just take over three months to have that.
I hope that in my contribution I covered the points about the role that Ofcom can and will play in the new online harms framework, including the point I made at the end of my speech about the enforcement action that it will be able to take, not just in the UK but overseas as well.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, both on Monday night and today, and the Minister for his response. Today, we are confronted with another pandemic, one that ruins lives and for some is the cause of death. That pandemic is violence by men against women. I am very grateful to all those who have spoken in support of my amendment, which attempts to deal with this pandemic. I am also touched and encouraged by the huge amount of support I have received from NGOs and members of the public. I am grateful to them.
I am, of course, very disappointed by the Government’s response, especially as the Minister cannot confirm that the online harms Bill will be debated soon. I am disappointed that, even though those who spoke so passionately in support of my amendment made it clear that we are not opposing the online harms Bill—I want it to come to the House as soon as possible—so much of the Minister’s response was devoted to that issue. I am also disappointed the Minister’s response addressed Part 3 as though it was narrowly concerned with child protection. Of course it is about child protection, but it is also very relevant to stopping domestic violence, because it would make it less likely that children are exposed to pornographic websites as they move into adulthood with the expectation that violence is a normal part of sexual relationships.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and speaker after speaker have highlighted the fact that, if Part 3 had been implemented, we would today have a regulator that would take robust action against any website showing illegal, violent, extreme pornography in the UK. As we contemplate what is happening in our country at the moment and the concerns about violence against women, the very least the Government could do would be implement Part 3 so that we can create an environment that is less hostile to women by tackling illegal, violent, extreme pornography on pornographic websites.
The Minister also said that it would take far longer than I have suggested to implement Part 3. Apart from the fact that it would take less time to implement primary legislation that has already been passed than primary legislation that has not even been published, the Minister failed to engage with the very serious point that I, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and others made that Part 3 could be in place in months if the BBFC was used as a regulator. It is capable of doing that. It is all set up to do that.
At the present time, the argument that the Government do not want to use the BBFC because they prefer Ofcom is not convincing. Nor is the argument about changes in technology; this does not hold water. The Government can use Ofcom as a regulator for the online harms Bill legislation when it is implemented, but, as a powerful open letter to the Prime Minister published today by women’s organisations makes clear, if the Government try to suggest that the safety of women should be needlessly compromised over the next few years just because they do not want to designate the BBFC as an interim regulator, that will go down very badly with the public. The public have told me that, and Members across the House have seen what the public feel about that.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Grey-Thompson and Lady Finlay, reminded us of the evidence of how the compulsive use of pornography can affect the brain and the decision-making process of the user over time. This is something we have to take very seriously indeed.
The Prime Minister quite rightly says he wants to protect women and children from violent attacks. My amendment will allow him to do so immediately, by enforcing legislation that has already been passed. Waiting on the online harms Bill means we will continue to create a conveyor belt of sexual predators who commit violence against women because of the porn they watch as boys and men.
There are times in life when we have to do the right thing, especially in the context of the current outpouring of concern about women’s safety. I believe that, regardless of what great protections an online harms Act eventually provides, history will judge that, from the perspective of the best interest of the safety of women and children in the second half of 2021, and 2022 and 2023, the non-implementation of Part 3 was a grave mistake. This is why I simply cannot let this matter go. I would be failing in my duty as a parliamentarian whose life has been devoted to promoting the best interests of women and children. Therefore, it is with a heavy heart that I wish to test the opinion of this House.
I will now put the Question on Amendment 87A. We heard a Member taking part remotely say they wished to divide the House in support of this amendment, and I will take that into account.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 87B. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.
87B: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Guidance on domestic abuse and offences involving hostility based on sex or gender
(1) 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 or gender.(2) In preparing guidance under subsection (1) 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.(3) In this section—“chief officer of police” and “police force” have the same meaning as in section 70 of this Act;“relevant crime” means a reported crime in which—(a) the victim or any other person perceived the alleged offender, at the time of, or in a recent period before or after, the offence, to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on sex or gender, 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 or gender.”
My Lords, as is customary, I make it clear at the start of this debate that I may wish to test the opinion of the House on my amendment, though I say to the Government that if, after reflecting on the debate today and in Committee, they are willing to engage constructively with the issue of data collection and the intention behind this amendment, of course I will withdraw it.
In the last two weeks, women and men across the country have come forward to demand action. In sadness and in anger, there is solidarity. The question before us now is whether we will heed their call for change. Will we take a decision that will help ensure that all women, everywhere, can enjoy the same freedoms as men when it comes to being able to go where we want and do what we want without fear?
Our hearts go out to the family of Sarah Everard. She walked down well-lit streets and she wore bright clothes, yet today we stand here knowing that she was not safe. Since Sarah’s tragic murder came to public attention, women everywhere have shared their stories of harassment, abuse and violence at home and on the streets, and their frustration that all too frequently these crimes are not treated with the seriousness they deserve. This amendment is about how we can change that and, in the process, ensure that every police force in England and Wales learns from the best practice in this area from across the country.
Violence against women and girls does not occur in a vacuum. Hostility towards women and girls generates a culture in which violence and abuse is tolerated, excused and repeated. Gathering evidence about the extent, nature and prevalence of hostility towards women and girls and how these interplay with the experience of domestic abuse is crucial to recognising these connections. Last week, UN Women released a report which found that, among women aged between 18 and 24, 97% said they had been sexually harassed, while 80% of women of all ages said they had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. Critically, 96% of respondents said that they did not report these incidents, with 45% saying it was because it would not change anything. It is not hard to understand why they feel this way.
Rape convictions have been dropping since 2017, and fell to a record low this year: only 1.4% of cases reported resulted in a charge. At least 1,000 fewer men accused of rape are currently being prosecuted than two years ago. A recent report by the End Violence Against Women Coalition found that almost one in three women aged between 16 and 59 will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. More than half a million women are raped or sexually assaulted each year. There are more than 135,000 women and girls affected by FGM living in England and Wales. During the first national lockdown, the National Domestic Abuse Helpline saw an 80% increase in calls, and Karma Nirvana, which supports victims of so-called honour-based abuse and forced marriage, reported a 162% average increase in its case load. We need to explicitly acknowledge this epidemic of violence against women and girls. To do that does not mean we are saying that men are not attacked or abused; it is to recognise that these crimes are disproportionately affecting women.
Some 92% of defendants in domestic abuse-related prosecutions last year were male and 77% of victims were female. When other groups in society are targeted for a fundamental element of their being—the colour of their skin, their religious identity or their sexuality—we rightly say that this should be recognised and addressed. Amendment 87B is about doing the same for sex and gender.
This approach, and treating misogyny as a hate crime, was piloted in Nottinghamshire in 2016, under the leadership of former Chief Constable Sue Fish, who explained:
“Making misogyny a hate crime was one of the simplest tasks I’ve ever done working in the police—and yet the results that we saw were incredible. Some of the feedback we had was that women, for the first time, described themselves as walking taller and with their ‘heads held high’.”
The Crime Survey for England and Wales shows that 36% of hate crime victims said they were “very much affected”, compared with 13% for all crime. The survey also found that gender was perceived to be the motivation for more than half of hate crimes reported by women.
So we women know that we are being targeted, but the police do not. Amendment 87B is about ensuring that all police forces do something which increases the confidence of victims to report crime and helps improve their detection. In areas where misogyny has been included in hate crime reporting, there has been an increase in reporting. As police get better at identifying the motivation behind crimes, women feel more confident in coming forward.
If there is so much to support, why would anyone oppose this? I will take each concern I have heard in turn. First, some will say we should wait for completion of the Law Commission review on hate crime. I welcome that review. It has been running for nearly three years and has called for misogyny to be included in our hate crime rubric; I hope to see its outcome realised in the sentencing Bill. However, we do not have to wait for this review to ask all police forces to follow best practice and start gathering data on where existing crimes are targeted at women. We can take this step now and start benefiting from it now.
Some will say that the police do not have the resources to do everything. One chief constable actually said, “I am questioning whether a criminal offence is the best way of dealing with what is essentially an issue about how we all treat each other.” The women in Nottinghamshire were not reporting men for not opening doors for them or calling them rude names. They were reporting incidents that are crimes—sexual assault, abuse and violence. These crimes need to be recorded so that they can be properly addressed.
In addition, 11 out of the 43 police constabularies in England and Wales are currently recording misogyny as a hate crime, have trialled the policy or are actively considering implementing it—North Yorkshire, Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Gloucester and Northamptonshire are some of the forces already putting this into practice. This approach also has the support of the national policing adviser for hate crime and metro mayors Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram, Sadiq Khan and Dan Jarvis, and many police and crime commissioners and multiple councils around the country are passing motions in support.
Some will query the wording of this amendment, which talks about recording crimes that are motivated by sex or gender; this is the wording used by the Law Commission. The issue here should not be whether someone was born a woman or becomes one, but identifying and stopping those who target women, full stop. Indeed, while trans identity is currently protected by hate crime, sex is not. Worded in this way, the amendment ensures that no one can avoid accountability for their behaviour through discriminating or further demeaning the victim.
Some will say, “What about misandry?” Whenever a crime is motivated by hate, it needs to be recorded. But, as we have seen from the data so far, the vast majority of victims coming forward are women. For example, in the first two years in Nottinghamshire, of the 265 misogyny hate crime victims who were recorded, 243 were female and six were male.
Finally, some will rightly worry about this being part of a Bill on domestic violence and the risk of creating a hierarchy of sexual violence or reducing sentences for such crimes. This amendment is not about the sentencing element of recognising misogyny as a hate crime; it is about the data required to identify crimes and the interconnections between violence against women in the home and in the community. It complements the Law Commission’s work but is not dependent on it. It would require the police to report on those connections, rather than denying them or missing them, to the detriment of our policing.
In closing, I acknowledge the wide breadth of support for this proposal and those who have campaigned for it for many years: Citizens UK, Stonewall, Refuge, the Fawcett Society, Tell MAMA, the Jo Cox Foundation, HOPE not hate, Plan UK, Our Streets Now, Centenary Action Group, UN Women UK, the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, JUNO Women’s Aid and Muslim Women’s Network UK. All of them are asking for our support for this amendment today.
Across the country, women everywhere are looking to us not just to express sympathy with their concerns but to act: to stop telling them to stay at home and be careful and start finding those responsible for the violence. If we are not recording crime that is targeted at women, how can we effectively address violence against women and girls and the police’s response to it? What is happening to women of all ages, colours and backgrounds is illegal, but clearly it is not being effectively addressed. Let us take the opportunity to put that right with this amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, who has made a powerful speech on her amendment, to which I will add a fairly brief footnote.
As she said, over the last few days we have seen growing pressure on the Government to alter the terms of trade, the balance of power, between men and women. The murder of Stephen Lawrence in the 1990s marked a turning point in our attitudes towards race in this country; the murder of Sarah Everard may do the same for attitudes towards women. Other noble Lords may have had telephone calls yesterday from women asking for support for this amendment. Elesa Bryers rang me, asking if she could send me a petition she had started which had some 700 signatures. I readily agreed.
It is crucial for the Government to strike the right balance in response, avoiding a knee-jerk reaction and a headline-grabbing solution that does not stand the test of time but recognising that, after careful analysis, we have to move on from where we are. I can think of few people better placed to help make that judgment than my noble friend the Minister who is replying to this debate.
Turning to the amendment, no one could say that this is a knee-jerk reaction to the tragic events of last week, as, of course, the case for it was made last month in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and others. I have reread the reply that the Minister gave on that occasion. My noble friend said:
“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.” —[Official Report, 8/2/21; col. 59.]
“We do not think it would be appropriate” is not a total rejection of what we were asking for. Indeed, one could argue that the amendment would add significantly to the evidence base that the Minister referred to in her reply, because it would broaden that evidence base beyond the 11 police forces which currently collect the relevant statistics. I wonder whether my noble friend has sought the views of the Law Commission on this amendment as it completes its work.
We know that the domestic abuse commissioner is supportive of the principles behind the amendment and strongly welcomes proposed subsection (2) about issuing guidance. I was pleased to hear in her interview on Friday that the domestic abuse commissioner said she was listened to by the Government, and my noble friend can build on that basis of trust in her response today.
Winding up the debate in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Russell, offered a way forward by suggesting that we should
“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.” —[Official Report, 8/2/21; col. 61.]
Perhaps that offers us the way forward today.
Rereading the briefing for this amendment, I was struck by the evidence from Citizens UK and from the organisation HOPE not hate that ideological misogyny is emerging in far-right terrorist movements, and that there has been a growth in online misogynistic abuse. Hate motivated by gender is a factor in a third of all hate crimes, the same briefing tells us—all of which reinforces the case for a fresh look at this issue.
As other noble Lords have said, we need to rebuild confidence in the police. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, referred to the case of Nottingham and the survey, where they have already adopted the measures outlined in this amendment, as she said. That survey showed, first, that the problem was taken seriously by the police and, secondly, that what Nottingham did increased public confidence in the police in the county. Adopting this amendment could do the same for the police nationally.
My Lords, I was very happy to put my name to this amendment, and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for the eloquent and detailed way in which she has introduced it.
At Second Reading on 5 January, I mentioned that I would raise the issue of misogyny and probably put forward an amendment in Committee. First, those of your Lordships who, like me, laboured through the Second Reading—there were no less than 90 contributors —were brave, but, secondly, it is interesting to note that, of all the contributors, I think I was the only one to actually mention the dreaded noun “misogyny”. I was not surprised when the Minister, in her summing up of so many contributions, also did not mention misogyny.
We fast forward to Committee, and on 8 February—the fifth day in Committee—I put forward an amendment, ably assisted by the noble Lord, Lord Young, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bull and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, to all of whom I am extremely grateful. As the noble Lord, Lord Young, said, the Minister basically said, “We can see it is quite a good idea, but we have asked the Law Commission to look at this, and we will wait and see what it recommends”.
Now we fast forward to today—17 March—the fourth day of Report, and Amendment 87B. Harold Wilson once said that one week is a long time in politics. I do not know about the rest of your Lordships, but, for me, the last 10 weeks since Second Reading have felt like a lifetime in politics. But more to the point, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, said very movingly on Monday, the last 10 weeks have not only seemed like a lifetime, they have also seen the loss of no less than 30 lives—30 women killed by men, whose names she read out on Monday.
I pay tribute to the police forces that have decided, on their own initiative, to start recording incidents of misogyny as perceived by women and have started tabulating that properly, listening to the women and taking note of what they say. I especially pay tribute to Nottinghamshire, which was the pioneer in this, starting in April 2016, and to the chief constable at the time, Sue Fish, who was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. Coincidentally, she happened to be on “Woman’s Hour” yesterday. I would like your Lordships to listen and reflect on what Sue Fish, the retired chief constable of Nottinghamshire, said. She said that while for herself reporting a crime against a property would not be “an issue” if she was going to the police, for a crime committed against herself, she would “probably struggle” reporting that to the police because she would be concerned about how she would be judged. She said:
“I also know in terms of conviction rates and the challenges of going through the criminal justice system, as a woman, it’s thankless … Endless repeated humiliation, telling your story over and over again, worrying whether you’re ever going to be believed, putting yourself through that repeatedly, as well as the shame of what’s happened to you.”
Turning to the police forces in general in England and Wales, while admitting that many of our police are wonderful in every way and are completely aligned with what we are trying to achieve in this amendment, she also said:
“I think there is still significant parts of policing where there is a very toxic culture of sexism, of misogyny that objectifies women”.
That gives us something to reflect upon.
I pay tribute to the person who has been the most vocal in Parliament raising this as an issue over several years: Stella Creasy. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and thank her for taking on the baton from me from Committee. I also thank the Minister, who has been, as usual, extremely helpful during this process. I know she has been listening. I know this is something that she feels personally, and I am looking forward very much to her response. If it is positive, I will jump up and down with joy.
I would like to leave your Lordships with one other thought. It comes from earlier on today, after Prime Minister’s Questions in another place. Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s chief political reporter, wrote on BBC online:
“From a political point of view, there is no agreement on how to tackle the issue of violence against women, and what the next steps should be.”
As I am a Cross-Bencher, noble Lords would expect me to take a rather dim view of that. But I really do think that the issues we are discussing about violence against women—predominantly male violence against women—have absolutely nothing to do with politics whatever. They are to do with fundamental human rights, dignity and respect for one another.
Every single one of us in this Chamber was born of a mother; many of us have daughters, sisters, nieces and grandchildren. It is unacceptable. We have to start moving forward, and I think this amendment would be an excellent way for the Government to indicate that they are really listening and for the majority of the police forces that I am sure are considering this to actually take the plunge and do it.
My Lords, outside this place the amendment is causing quite a lot of excitement and anticipation—certainly a lot of interest —on social media, in the press and among the NGO world and women’s groups, as we have heard. It has been directly linked to the tragic and brutal murder of Sarah Everard. The Fawcett Society, which, along with other groups such as HOPE not hate, the White Ribbon Association, Tell MAMA and others that we have heard about have focused their lobbying on the need to act now against violence against women. We are told that now is the time to change. That was echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, when she introduced the amendment.
We have been asked to vote for the amendment because it will make misogyny a hate crime and will require all police forces to record where crimes are motivated by hatred of women. However, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors here. We need to be careful about allowing an emotive tragedy to be exploited in a way which will not help women and not enhance the Bill. I understand that when something as brutal as Sarah’s murder captures the public imagination, there is a desire to do something. For any of us who have been unfortunate victims on the receiving end of a violent sexual attack, let me tell noble Lords that I empathise with those expressing sorrow, anger and a feeling that they need to act, whether by attending a vigil, going on a protest—legal or otherwise—lighting a candle or even demanding more laws.
Here in this House, we need dispassionate, cool heads and to scrutinise exactly what amending the law in this way will achieve. It is hard to be objective when discussing the murder or abuse of women, of course. There may be a temptation to rush to appropriate blame beyond the perpetrator or to ascribe social and cultural explanations beyond the immediate crime. However, what are asserted as facts are often, at the very least, contentious or contested political concepts. Misogyny is one of those. It is popularly understood as hatred of women but in the past week, and even today, as has been hinted at, the police have been described as institutionally misogynist. Is it true that the police hate women? Should we repeat the mantra that society is suffering an epidemic of misogynist violence? I do not recognise that nightmarish catastrophising vision.
In the Nottinghamshire pilot on measuring misogynist hate crime that has been mentioned, misogyny can include cat-calling, following and unwelcome approaches, which can be conflated with flashing, groping and then more serious assaults. That is all thrown into the misogynist hate-crime category. Meanwhile, as we have heard from another noble Lord, HOPE not hate’s lobbying email for the amendment told us that ideological misogyny is increasingly at the core of far-right thinking, including the threat of far-right terrorism. So, we have gone from wolf-whistling to terrorism. We cannot therefore assume that there is any shared meaning of misogyny and it is therefore unhelpful to tack it on to a Bill on domestic violence or abuse.
I do not think that misogyny is widespread in society and I certainly do not believe that domestic abuse is driven by ingrained hatred of women. That flies in the face of all the nuance, complexity and evidence that we have heard in the many hours of our discussion on the Bill, whether it is our understanding of the impact of alcohol or mental health, the recognition that there are male victims or the debate that we have just had on pornography.
I understand that perhaps opinions are not enough. I acknowledge that the amendment is an attempt at collecting data to assess how much domestic abuse is driven by prejudice, anti-women prejudice. However, if we want accurate data, we should not look to hate- crime solutions because hate is almost impossible to objectively define. The amendment states that the person who defines this hate is the complainant. The police will be asked to collate data based on what
“the victim or any other person perceived the alleged offender, at the time of, or in a recent period before or after, the offence, to demonstrate hostility or prejudice”.
What would be recorded is when an accuser
“perceived the crime to be motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility or prejudice”.
That is not a reliable way in which to collect accurate data and will not help us understand perpetrators’ behaviour as it is based on perceptions, dangerously subjective and untestable legally. There are also some wholly undesirable potential outcomes. It can only encourage individuals to attribute motives to others. Even if they are completely wrong about those motives or intentions, the police will record them as hate-driven. This floats dangerously close to legislating thought crime and could well lead to finger-pointing, malicious allegations, the stigmatising of all manner of behaviour and the labelling of all manner of speech as hateful prejudice.
We already know that the fear of being accused of prejudice or hate is one key factor in chilling free speech. Being officially counted by the police as a bigot would inevitably affect free expression and close down debate. No doubt, some noble Lords will say that I should stop privileging free speech over the amendment because it will mandate the police, to quote the charities, to gather crucial
“evidence about the extent, nature and prevalence of hostility towards women and girls”
and how it relates to domestic abuse. But let us be clear. This is an illusion, too, even a deception because to present the amendment as having anything to do with women or girls is not true. Women are not mentioned in the wording and they are not the focus at all of the amendment. In fact, the language used is particular and purposeful. An amendment championed in the public realm as anti-misogyny and assumed to be about women talks of hostility towards persons who are of a particular sex or gender. That can only muddy the waters and make any data collection unreliable and opaque. Citing the Law Commission as an explanation for the wording does not work because the Law Commission has not yet reported.
Gender is not defined in UK law and is a cultural identity—malleable, subjective and one of choice. Sex is, however, a material objective reality. The Office for Statistics Regulation recently emphasised the need for clarity about definitions and stressed that sex and gender should not be used interchangeably in official statistics, and gave the example of criminal justice statistics. Highlighting that variation in the way in which data about sex is captured across the system means that it is not possible to know which definition of sex is being captured. This, in turn, places limitations on how some criminal justice statistics can be interpreted and used. I should say, in referencing the new resource Sex Matters, that by adding the word gender into this confusing mix the amendment undermines any possibility of accurate information being accrued, let alone of addressing the prior problem that that information is based on subjective perception. If our intention is for the police to track whether domestic abuse crimes against women are based on prejudice and hatred, that should be simple enough to do if the police have a clear definition and a reliable data field for the sex of victims and perpetrators. The amendment will not help and will confuse the situation.
If there is one example of misogyny in plain sight, it is surely here. If I thought that erasing the word “woman” from the maternity Bill was bad, not naming women in an amendment on misogyny seems to be even worse. More grotesquely, it could mean that women will be labelled by the police as misogynistic perpetrators if they are perceived as hostile to a person’s gender in a domestic setting. Is the mother who misgenders their child the perpetrator, the hate criminal? Should the position on sex-based rights and service provision of female staff at a women’s refuge be perceived as motivated by prejudice? The highly charged and febrile atmosphere of the past week, of which I am sensitive, in focusing on violence against women, must not pressurise us into passing an amendment that will allow the Bill to be the midwife of criminalising women with gender-critical views. It will not, anyway, help us to understand or help any victim of domestic abuse.
My Lords, for those who are wondering why I am at this position in the list, it is because I wanted to speak personally on this issue, rather than as the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesperson on the Bill. Having just listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, that turns out to have been a wise decision. I remind the House of my experience of 30 years as a police officer in the Metropolitan Police service and as a survivor of same-sex domestic violence. Those are the positions from which I make this speech, rather than as the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman on the amendment.
I want to start by saying that, obviously, I cannot talk about the substance of this amendment without addressing the context of last week’s events. I echo the comments of former Chief Constable Sue Fish, quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. I did not hear Sue Fish on “Woman’s Hour”, but I want to echo what she said.
As I said in the House yesterday, a serving police officer has been charged with kidnap and murder. He is innocent until proven guilty, and the matter is sub judice. Other Metropolitan Police officers are awaiting trial in connection with sharing selfies taken with the bodies of two women who had been murdered. Some years ago, there was an investigation into officers sharing violent pornography while on duty. I believe that there is a prima facie case for an investigation into whether a toxic macho culture exists in the Metropolitan Police Service. Sue Fish thinks that it should go broader than that, beyond any investigation into these specific incidents.
There is also a prima facie case that politics is becoming increasingly populist—not just in this country—and that this facilitates and encourages
“misogyny, xenophobia and intolerance of diversity.”—[Official Report, 16/3/21; col. 186.]
I do not care which political party noble Lords are from or whether they belong to none, if we advocate for or acquiesce to the erosion of civil liberties and support an authoritarian approach to issues that require a far more nuanced approach just to gain votes, we are facilitating and encouraging that culture. It is time politicians woke up and accepted responsibility for what is happening in our country.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, questioned whether this amendment would result in trivial offences being kidnapped and the development of thought police. I am reminded of the time many years ago when the probation service had a rule that it would not engage with racist offenders. It changed its mind on that approach because it felt that it could do some good with these offenders. Its report was called From Murmur to Murder, because people who expressed racist views could end up murdering on the basis of their hatred. I am not suggesting that trivial offences should be recorded as misogyny; I am suggesting that crimes should be recorded as misogynistic if it is suspected that the motivation of the offender was hatred on the basis of sex and gender. I will come to the noble Baroness’s concerns about including gender a little later.
Some people claim that this amendment would make misogyny a hate crime. It does not. It requires police forces to record offences only where someone perceives that the offender demonstrated
“hostility or prejudice based on sex or gender”.
I have seen emails urging noble Lords to vote for this amendment, one of them written after the author witnessed the appalling scenes at Clapham Common on Saturday evening. It says about offences motivated by misogyny:
“Only when all police forces treat these incidents seriously and with compassion will women begin to rebuild their trust in the police.”
After the week we have had, they may well be right, but nothing in this amendment requires the police to treat offences motivated by misogyny seriously and with compassion.
I want misogyny to be treated as a hate crime comprehensively—not only for the police to record it but for them to provide an enhanced response to victims and provide more support, as is the case with other hate crimes. I also want the courts to treat misogyny as an aggravating factor when it comes to sentencing. When offences are motivated by misogyny, the criminal justice system’s response should be better for victims and make things worse for perpetrators. The Law Commission is looking at doing just that in its review of all hate crimes. The last thing I want is for the Government to say to the Law Commission, “Relax, we dealt with this in the Domestic Abuse Bill”, when this amendment does not do the job.
Hate crimes are crimes against a vulnerable group whose members are targeted because of their membership. I know; I am gay. On Sunday, a government Minister claimed that misogyny cannot be a hate crime because women are not a minority. Hate crimes require an enhanced response from the criminal justice system because victims are targeted because they are vulnerable, not because they are in a minority. In the case of misogyny, on average, women are physically vulnerable to male violence. Men abuse women because they can—because the power in a patriarchal society rests predominantly with them. That makes women vulnerable to abuse because they are women, which is why misogyny should be treated as a hate crime. Being targeted because of your vulnerability demands enhanced victim support and demands that offenders are treated more severely by the courts. This amendment does neither of those things.
I am very concerned—even more so now—about violence and harassment directed at women and girls on the streets. However, this Bill is about domestic abuse against all victims—including male ones, who make up a third of all victims of domestic abuse. Men are three times less likely to report being a victim of domestic abuse than women. There is a danger that this amendment would further discourage such reporting if it were included in this Domestic Abuse Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, referred to retired Chief Constable Sue Fish, who argues that women are less reluctant to come forward once misogyny is recorded. However, the underreporting of domestic abuse is even worse when the victim is male or in a same-sex relationship than it is with women victims of male domestic abuse. Associating domestic abuse with misogyny could make that underreporting worse; for example, by leading to a victim thinking, “I am a male victim but this can’t be domestic abuse as it’s not motivated by misogyny”.
As I said in Committee last week, the essence of a coercive and controlling relationship is when
“compliance is rewarded and defiance is punished.”—[Official Report, 10/3/21; col. 1736.]
I know; I have been there. In the domestic abuse setting, it is difficult to differentiate those elements of coercive and controlling behaviour that are motivated by misogyny from those that are simply the exercise of power by one partner over another. There were no amendments to this Bill seeking domestic abuse to be recorded as motivated by race or by homophobia, because domestic abuse is a serious offence in its own right. Any enhanced victim support or aggravating factor for it to be treated as a hate crime is eclipsed by the seriousness of the substantive offence of domestic abuse.
I am not yet convinced that the downsides of this amendment in relation to domestic abuse, and the potential for shifting the dial further towards the exclusion of victims of domestic abuse who are not victims of male violence against women, have been adequately addressed.
That having been said, we need to reverse the tide of populism and its associated impact on the way that women are being mistreated on our streets, but not by simply requiring the police to record misogyny as a motivation and leaving it at that, as this amendment does. I could not vote for this amendment because it does not go far enough, and it potentially provides the Government with an excuse not to do what really needs to be done: to make misogyny a hate crime with enhanced care for victims and harsher penalties for offenders.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of her speech on this amendment—assuming that she has not changed it since Monday. I agree that Section 44 of the Police Act 1996 makes Amendment 87B unnecessary if, and only if, the Government use existing legislation to require police forces to record offences in accordance with the amendment. I will listen carefully to the Minister, but the Government’s concession does not go as far as the amendment and is in danger of creating unintended consequences.
Here I return to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, considering gender. If the Government only require police forces to record crimes where the victim perceives them to have been motivated by hostility based on the victim’s sex, which is what I believe the Government’s concession consists of, it does not go far enough. Current hate crime offences are recorded when anyone perceives the offence to have been motivated by hatred, not just the victim. The amendment includes sex and gender, and this is important. If an offender believes the victim is a woman, and anybody perceives that the offence was motivated by hatred of women, it should be recorded as a crime motivated by hatred of women. It makes no difference in these circumstances whether the victim is a transgender woman. Where the victim or a witness believes that they were attacked because they were a woman because they perceive the offender believed the victim was a woman, it should be recorded as such. The use of the term “sex” on its own may exclude some offences, and the whole purpose of recording these offences is to ensure the recording of any attack motivated by hatred of women. Whether they are allegedly by some people who think that trans women are not real women does not make any difference; if that is what they thought the person they were attacking was, it should be recorded as misogyny.
If noble Lords or Members of the other place do not think we should wait for the Law Commission’s report, there is an imminent legislative opportunity to make sure that hatred of women is treated in every way as a hate crime. We could work cross-party to amend the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is being debated in the Commons, to make misogyny a hate crime in every sense of the term. Even if the noble Baroness is not convinced by the Government’s concession, we do not need to rush this amendment through now when the ideal legislative opportunity is at our fingertips.
My Lords, we are clearly not going to finish our scrutiny of this Bill before 6 pm, which is the time on the Order Paper suggested for the Statement which follows. Given that there is quite a lot of business still to get through, I gently appeal to noble Lords for brevity in their contributions.
My Lords, I can only begin speaking on this amendment by taking a moment to think of the victims of the Atlanta spa shootings and their families. It is very early to understand motives for a deadly mass attack, but it is hard not to suspect a link to the kind of hate crime, possibly intersectional hate crime, that we are discussing today.
I want to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, and the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Young of Cookham, for their work on this amendment and their powerful presentations for it. Had I known there was a space, I or my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, who backed a similar amendment in Committee, would certainly have joined them.
I will be fairly brief, noting the intervention we have just had, but it is important to note that this amendment marks a potential national step forward for a grass-roots movement which, as other noble Lords have noted, started in Nottingham. This amendment has not, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, identified, gone as far as Nottingham in data collection, but it is certainly a step in that direction. The recording of misogyny by police in Nottingham can be taken as a case study of how political campaigning works and how grass-roots, community-centred action can make a big difference in the individual community and far beyond. Now, 11 out of 43 police constabularies in England and Wales have made recording misogyny a hate crime part of their practices or are actively considering the policy.
How did this all start? It started with a community group called Nottingham Citizens, which conducted a survey that found that 38% of women had reported a hate crime that was explicitly linked to their gender and that one in five hate crimes that took place were reported. Nottingham Women’s Centre held a conference about street harassment at which the police and crime commissioner asked those who had experienced misogyny to raise their hand. The police and crime commissioner, Paddy Tipping, was quoted afterwards as saying “I just thought people should not be treated like this.” Since the change has been made in police recording in Nottingham, reports indicate that women say that they have been able to walk down the street with their heads held higher and debate and action have made a lot of men recognise the extent of the problem. I urge the House to listen to the experiences of the women of Nottingham and of the increasing areas of the country where people have had their experience understood and recorded and apply that to the victims of domestic abuse.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, linked the amendment and support for it to the current level of rightful anger in the country following the death of Sarah Everard, but as the noble Lord, Lord Russell, pointed out, the proposal originated far before that. Indeed, I have to pay tribute to the deputy leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, Amelia Womack, who has bravely publicly identified herself as a victim of domestic abuse and who has been campaigning on this issue for many years.
In response to the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, about potential confusion, any examination of what has happened in Nottingham shows that real-world experience does not demonstrate significant difficulties.
It is said often that we have an epidemic of misogyny and violence against women, but my science background makes me want to be precise in my use of epidemiological wording. We have endemic misogyny. “Endemic” defines a disease that is always present in a certain population or region. Smallpox was once an endemic disease in much of the world, but we have almost eradicated it. We need to have the same target in mind, as distant as it may look, for misogyny. That is the only way that women and girls can be safe. I do not think I can put it any better, so I will finish by quoting Mel Jeffs, the former CEO of Nottingham Women’s Centre:
“Misogyny is the soil in which violence against women grows.”
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, for her work in this area. The figures that she mentioned are terrifying, and I agree with many of her points.
I received a number of emails asking me to speak to this amendment because of the level of concern about misogyny. Like many others, I am tired of misogynistic behaviour and appalled by the way that women are still treated in society. However, what looks like a simple amendment that I could support is in fact far more complicated. The amendment does not explicitly state the word “misogyny”, and to me the inclusion of the word “perception” is not precise enough.
I am grateful for the various views from other noble Lords and, as always, the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, has given me much to think about and challenged my views about what misogyny actually is. I am still inclined towards a legal framework for it, but I am tired of women having to change their behaviour because of it.
However, we need to consider what we can do to prevent, report and tackle it, and which legislation it should be placed in. Both men and women are affected by domestic violence and all those affected by it deserve protection, but women are undoubtedly more commonly victims. There is only one place in the Bill where the word “female” is used and we should take absolute care with it because it is the only place where women are centred in the legislation.
Domestic abuse legislation is complicated; it should not be, but it is. Last week the Government told me that including a specific provision in the Bill for disabled people who experience abuse in the domestic environment would be too complicated. I am strongly in favour of improving law enforcement around violence against women and girls, which we desperately need, but, while I am moving towards the idea of having a legal framework for misogyny, I do not think the Bill is the right vehicle for it. We should spend more time and care on the question of hate crimes—I am particularly keen to look at disability hate crimes—than on an amendment that comes towards the end of the Bill. We should have an opportunity to explore more options to enable us to do the job that we want it to: offering protection to women and girls.
Counting women should not be complicated. The amendment is largely about the counting aspect of hate crimes. How do the police measure how many crimes of male violence against women are reported and how many are prosecuted? That is fundamental, and this is where it does not need to be complicated. Scotland passed a Bill on hate crimes last week and excluded women and misogyny from it, saying that the issue was too complicated. There is a working group led by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and many will be interested in its outcome, but that will not be for many months.
I understand that the word “gender” was added to the amendment after previous stages in another place. Earlier versions used the correct legal definition of “sex” and did not have the late insertion of “or gender” so that has not been through lengthy scrutiny. I am concerned that adding “gender” here takes away from the clarity of Clause 73 in centering women. I reiterate that anyone who experiences domestic abuse deserves support and protection. Gender is neither definable nor defined in law, so including it here could undermine the single use of the word “female” in the Bill, again given that it is women who are disproportionately affected by domestic abuse. Surely we should be concerned about whether the police take crimes of violence, abuse and sexual harassment against women seriously, not what they perceive the attitude of the perpetrator towards the idea of sex or gender to be. Sex is a protected characteristic and defined in law, and is adequate to cover the intention of the amendment if it goes forward.
The Law Commission is developing a proposal on reforming hate crimes legislation and has consulted on it. It has an open question on whether include sex or gender in future, and that section alone runs to 43 pages out of a 544-page document. I understand that it received a great number of responses but, again, it will not be reporting any time soon, so it is important that we do not prejudge that outcome. It is also notable that the Law Commission’s proposal draws on the Office for National Statistics in setting out what it means by sex and gender. After the ruling announced this morning from the High Court, it may need to go back to the drawing board. My noble friend Lord Pannick, who is unable to be in his place today, has stated that he thinks it would be very unwise to legislate on this sensitive issue until we see the Law Commission consultation.
Scotland recently removed the word “gender” from a Bill on forensic medical services for victims of sexual offences to ensure that if a woman asks to be examined by a female doctor, there is no confusion or negotiation about what that means. I would also be really interested in the opinion of the domestic abuse commissioner on this amendment, particularly on the addition of the word “gender”.
My worry is that including gender and sex as a caveat to the word “female” in the guidance would prevent domestic violence services being clear about sex. Women who have been victims of domestic abuse need to be able to access female-only services if they choose and, again, all victims of domestic abuse need to be able to access services that offer support and protection. We must take misogyny and violence against women seriously, not just seek to be seen to do something when the issue is in the headlines. It happens every single day.
The Government have just reopened the consultation on their violence against women and girls strategy. Surely that is the right place to be dealing with this complex issue, rather than via this last-minute amendment and its additional wording.
My Lords, I am pleased to speak in support of Amendment 87B, moved by my noble friend Lady Kennedy of Cradley and supported by the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Young of Cookham. My noble friend gave the House some harrowing facts and figures today. They were shocking and, for me, illustrate why the Government need to act. This is not a time to hide away; it is the time to step up, and my noble friend’s amendment does just that.
The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, led the debate on misogyny in Committee. We have spent considerable time during the Bill talking about violence, and violence directed towards women. As the noble Lord told us, this hostility against women generates a culture in which violence and abuse are tolerated, excused and repeated. Understanding how that interplays with domestic abuse is important; I agree entirely with the noble Lord’s comments and analysis there.
We need a culture change, from one where violence and abuse can be excused, tolerated and repeated to one where it is entirely unacceptable and not tolerated. To bring about that culture change, however, we need evidence, and that is what the amendment is all about. All through the passage of the Bill in your Lordships’ House, we have heard appalling examples of violence and tragic outcomes, in which often women victims of violence have been killed. In the examples given to this House there is a common factor of repeated reports being made to the police and other authorities but little or no action being taken until, tragically, it is often too late.
Several police forces have started to record misogyny as a hate crime, and that is enabling valuable data to be collected. The amendment from my noble friend Lady Kennedy of Cradley would move us further forward and require all police forces to record this information and access how it influences the incidence of domestic abuse. That would add to our understanding and help the Government in their difficult task of addressing this truly terrible situation. Sadly, that has been brought sharply into focus by the murder of Sarah Everard and the events on Clapham Common last weekend.
I am also clear that both men and women may experience incidents of violence and abuse. Nothing that I have said previously detracts from that, and we have all been moved by the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in previous debates. I agree with many of his points today, but possibly not with his conclusion. I think the amendment is a step forward, and this is an issue on which many of us agree. The noble Lord knows that I like and respect him very much, but I believe that women are more likely to experience repeated and severe abuse, including sexual abuse. I remind him of the dreadful fact that my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon told the House: 30 women were killed by their partner or ex-partner between Second Reading of the Bill and Committee on Monday night, and she read out the names of those women to the House.
I too pay tribute to Sue Fish, the retired chief constable of Nottinghamshire, for the work that she and all the officers and staff of Nottinghamshire Police have done in this area since 2016. It has become the first police force to enable women and girls to report cases of abuse and harassment as misogyny. As my noble friend Lady Kennedy of Cradley said, thanks to the work taking place there, women in Nottinghamshire have been coming forward and reporting crimes. The noble Lord, Lord Russell, reminded us in Committee that to recognise misogyny as a category of hate crime would not make anything illegal that was not already illegal; instead, the amendment would enable a better understanding of the forms of violence and abuse that women experience by ensuring that they are all recorded effectively.
I am aware of the Law Commission’s review that is presently under way. I believe that the amendment would help it with that review, even just for a few months before it reports, and would further supplement the Government’s work in looking at the review and give them valuable data to enable them to respond positively. I am also aware of the interim report from the Law Commission and its views on sex and gender.
I concur with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. I believe that the intent behind this amendment will assist the Government in dealing with the appalling events that have been brought more sharply into focus not only last weekend but also during the discussions on this Bill.
The contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, was interesting, although it is not one that had much in it that I can agree with. For me, this is not an issue of free speech; it is an issue of dealing with the most appalling violence against women and girls and how we can deal with that effectively. I support my noble friend Lady Kennedy of Cradley, and the Labour Benches will support her if she decides to divide the House. However, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, will respond positively and thus make a vote unnecessary.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in what has been an incredibly thoughtful debate, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, for her rather timely retabling of this amendment, which in Committee was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. The noble Baroness has highlighted how the collection of data could add to our understanding of the nature of hate crimes against women and thereby find ways of tackling it, and I agree on that. Perhaps I may make it absolutely clear to the noble Baroness that we are more than willing to engage on the issue of data collection. Not only is it crucial to our understanding of the issue, it will enable us to find solutions to some of the problems we face.
I have read the article about Sue Fish’s appearance on “Woman’s Hour”. I was rather taken aback that the woman who had instigated the collection of data in Nottingham said that she would be reluctant to come forward about something that happened to her personally because of some of the prejudice that she felt she might face. That should give us all pause for thought about the issue at hand.
I join with other noble Lords in being appalled and shocked at the killing of Sarah Everard, and again our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has pointed out, criminal proceedings are under way, but this brings into sharp focus the need to protect women and girls from violence. The Government are of course deeply committed to tackling all forms of violence against women and girls, and this Bill is a testament to that. We have also brought forward a number of measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which just last week was introduced in the House of Commons, to strengthen the management of sex offenders and those who pose a risk.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, who said that we should not react in a knee-jerk way. I do not think that we have done that in this Bill, but I have given this issue much thought. We need to do more to keep women and girls safe from harassment, abuse, sexual and other violence, That is why in December we launched a call for evidence to inform our forthcoming Ending Violence Against Women and Girls strategy. When it closed last month, it had already received more than 19,000 responses, and in recognition of the renewed debate on women’s safety in recent days, we have now reopened it for a further two weeks to 26 March. We have already received over 120,000 responses and I would encourage the public to share their views. We will use the responses to develop a strategy to better target perpetrators and to support victims and survivors. Our aim is to publish the new strategy by the summer.
I cannot but agree wholeheartedly that all hate crimes are abhorrent and should be dealt with using the full force of the law, regardless of gender or any other characteristic. I made the position of the Government quite plain in Committee that all crimes motivated by hatred are totally unacceptable and have no place in our society. I also set out that this was the reason why, in 2018, as part of the Government’s updating of our hate crime action plan, we asked the Law Commission to undertake a review of the current hate crime legislation. This includes a review of whether other protected characteristics such as sex, gender and age should be included.
During the course of the review in 2019 and last year, the Law Commission organised events across England and Wales, speaking to as many people as possible who have an interest in this area of the law. We asked the commission to look at the current range of offences and aggravating factors in 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. In addition, the review took account of the existing range of protected characteristics to identify potential gaps in the legislation so that the review could make recommendations to ensure consistency of approach. As noble Lords will know, the consultation of the Law Commission to support the review closed in December. In that consultation, it focused on the issue of whether sex or gender should be added to hate crime law, noting that adding misogyny by itself might introduce inconsistencies to hate crime laws.
The Law Commission has pointed out that this is complex. Its consultation has highlighted a number of issues that need further consideration to ensure that adding sex or gender to the hate crime framework brings greater rather than less effectiveness to the law. This includes ensuring that linking domestic abuse and sex-based hostility does not create a hierarchy of harm in those cases of abuse where a sex-based hostility is more difficult to demonstrate and is seen as being less important. The Law Commission also talked about the need to ensure that the law itself is coherent, which is why it has been discussing the possibility of carve-outs to ensure that domestic abuse legislation does not conflict with how hate crime laws operate. These are just two examples of the complexity of this issue that the Law Commission is still working through.
I shall go back to the point made by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. Before we make long-term decisions on changes to police recording practices in this area, I still think that we should wait for the outcome of the Law Commission’s review, which is an in-depth and wide-ranging one into the complex area of hate crime. Moreover, I do not think that further legislation is required. Section 44 of the Police Act 1996 already allows the Secretary of State to require chief officers of police to provide information relating to policing in their area. This might include statistical or other information related to policing, crime and disorder. It provides the statutory basis for the annual data requirement from police forces in England and Wales, which includes recorded hate crime.
While the amendment is not needed, as the necessary powers are already in place to require forces to provide information of this kind, we agree that data can be helpful and we know that some police forces like Nottingham are already collecting it. I advise the House that, on an experimental basis, we will ask police forces to identify and record any crimes of violence against the person, including stalking and harassment, as well as sexual offences where the victim perceives it to have been motivated by a hostility based on their sex. As I have said, this can then inform longer-term decisions once we have considered the recommendations made by the Law Commission. We will shortly begin the consultation with the National Police Chiefs’ Council and forces on this with a view to commencing the experimental collection of data from this autumn.
In response to the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the noble Lords, Lord Russell and Lord Paddick, the detail of the consultation is still to be worked through. That is not to exclude gender, but just to say that the detail remains to be worked out. In giving this undertaking and in the knowledge that the necessary legislation is already in place, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, will be happy to withdraw her amendment.
I have received two requests to speak after the Minister, from the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Russell of Liverpool. I will call them in that order.
My Lords, I warmly thank my noble friend Lady Kennedy and the Minister for her response. Can the Minister confirm that the Nottinghamshire Police official definition is the following:
“Incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman and includes behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman”?
I take it that there is no question of introducing the sex or gender terminology used in this amendment, which is different from the amendment moved in Committee, and has certainly not been endorsed by the Law Commission.
I thank the Minister very much for that helpful response. I would like clarification on how we are going to proceed. Does she agree that the police forces currently recording crimes such as misogyny are doing so slightly differently in each case, because each police force has decided to interpret it in its own way? What the Minister’s department is about do to with the National Police Chiefs’ Council is to look at the different ways different police forces currently collect this data. I imagine she will also work with the Law Commission to take into account its evidence taken on sex and gender and its interim recommendations. Therefore, she will come out with a clarification of the guidance to be given to all police forces in England and Wales.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken today, in particular the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Young of Cookham, who championed this amendment in Committee and again in this debate. I also pay tribute to the many campaigners and women who have taken time to contact noble Lords, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. I also pay tribute to my colleagues in the other place, namely the Member of Parliament for Walthamstow, Stella Creasy, and the Member of Parliament for Birmingham Yardley, Jess Phillips, for all their determined work in fighting for action to end violence against women and girls.
I particularly agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. This data would add to the Law Commission’s consultation and broaden the evidence base to allow us to move forward. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, who gave us a poignant reminder of the shocking figure of the number of women who have lost their lives since we started the debate. I agree with his assessment that this amendment would help us deal with the culture of misogyny and sexism in our country.
Regarding the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, I respect his knowledge and experience as a former serving police officer. His insight is invaluable, and I hope he will support the offer from the Minister today and agree that this is a first step to record data. If data is not recorded, it is hidden. Data shines a light on an issue and allows it to be addressed. I will be with him, by his side, in future legislation to ensure that misogyny becomes a hate crime, which I believe the majority of the House wishes to see.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for reminding us to think of the victims of the Atlanta shooting—our thoughts are with them—and for her clear explanation of her support and of why and how the work of Nottinghamshire Police has been important. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Grey- Thompson: women are tired—tired of changing our behaviour to keep ourselves safe.
Therefore, I thank the Minister for her response and her confirmation that, starting this autumn, the Government will require police forces to record and flag any crimes of violence against the person, including stalking, harassment and sexual offences, where the victim perceives it as motivated by sex and gender-based hostility. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for seeking that clarification. This commitment is extremely welcome.
In the police forces already doing this, not only has it helped with detecting crime, it has helped with confidence in the police and changing the culture within the police about how to deal with violence against women. I thank the noble Baroness for confirming that the Government will move forward in this way and thank her for the way she has, as always, sought to engage positively with Members of this House to reach a consensus.
Now all police forces will begin to record this critical data from the autumn. By recording crime targeted at women, I believe we can more effectively address violence against women and girls and the police response to it. As the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, said, we should remind ourselves that violence against women and girls should be an issue that unites us, not divides us. As such, I withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 87B withdrawn.
The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, indicated that she may press Amendment 87C to a Division. Does she wish to move it?
87C: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Transfer of joint tenancies and survivors of domestic abuse
(1) This section applies where there are two or more joint tenants under a secure or assured tenancy and the landlord is a local housing authority or a private registered provider of social housing.(2) If one joint tenant (“A”)