Commons Amendments and Reason
9C: Page 57, line 36, at end insert the following new Clause—
Report on the use of contact centres in England
(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the relevant period, prepare and publish a report about the extent to which individuals, when they are using contact centres in England, are protected from the risk of domestic abuse or, in the case of children, other harm.
(2) “The relevant period” means the period of 2 years beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.
(3) In this section “contact centre” means a place that is used for the facilitation of contact between a child and an individual with whom the child is not, or will not be, living (including the handover of the child to that individual).”
9D: Page 59, line 8, after “72” insert “, (Report on the use of contact centres in England)”
9E: Page 60, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) section (Report on the use of contact centres in England);”
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar much regrets that he is not able to move this Motion himself; he is giving evidence to the Justice Select Committee in another place. As I am sure noble Lords will appreciate, this is another important part of his work and accountability to Parliament. He is very grateful to noble Lords who have engaged with him on this issue since our last debates on the matter.
Since then, the elected House has disagreed with Amendment 9B—as it did with the previous Amendment 9 —by a significant majority of 133. Noble Lords will recall that Amendment 9B would require the Government to introduce a set of national standards for child contact centres and services to which organisations and individuals would be required to adhere. This would, in effect, be a form of indirect accreditation which the previous Amendment 9, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and debated on Report, explicitly sought to establish.
When we debated Amendment 9B last Wednesday, my noble friend Lord Wolfson was very clear that there is nothing between the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and other noble Lords who have supported these amendments, and the Government when it comes to our commitment to the protection of vulnerable children and the victims of domestic abuse. These are absolute priorities for Her Majesty’s Government. That is why we have listened intently during the passage of this Bill to the arguments made both in your Lordships’ House and in another place and have acted to strengthen the Bill in a significant number of ways. That is also why we have established the expert panel on harm in the family courts, and why we are now acting on its recommendations better to protect domestic abuse victims in the family courts. Where we have been persuaded of the case for change, we have acted, and will continue to act, in the interests of victims.
In this instance, the problem we face is one of evidence, as we have stressed previously. We have explained in detail the safeguards that are in place in relation to child contact centres and services in both public and private law and the steps that are being taken with the President of the Family Division and the chief executive of Cafcass to reinforce existing expectations. I hope noble Lords will forgive me for not repeating the detail of those safeguards again on this occasion, as I hope my noble friend has covered them in adequate detail previously and I believe that our time would be better served by outlining the steps the Government now propose to take.
As I say, my noble friend is very grateful for the constructive way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and other noble Lords have engaged with him and others on this matter. We are also grateful for the evidence provided to the NACCC in support of Amendments 9 and 9B. While we remain of the view that the evidence provided so far is insufficiently robust to justify new statutory requirements, we are also keenly aware of the limited time which has been available to investigate this matter systematically in order to build a more convincing evidence base—a point made last week by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in her concluding remarks.
We are also drawn heavily towards the comments made by my noble friend Lady McIntosh last Wednesday, when she suggested that the Government might investigate the evidence available themselves rather than the NACCC which, as she rightly said, should focus its efforts on the protection of children. We agree. We accept that if there is a demonstrable problem here, the risks to children are real. But if a demonstrable problem does exist, we would also need to understand fully how prevalent it is and how it manifests itself in order to understand how we can address it effectively and proportionately. Without this research, any measures seeking to address the perceived problem may not be effective and may have unintended consequences. It is for this reason that the Government have tabled their Amendments 9C to 9E, which were agreed by another place yesterday, in lieu of Amendment 9B.
Amendment 9C would place a duty on the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a report about the extent to which individuals are protected from the risk of domestic abuse when they use a contact centre or, in the case of children, other harms. The amendment draws the definition of a “contact centre” widely to include any place used to facilitate contact between a child and an individual with whom they do not or will not live. The scope of the amendment goes beyond a formal child contact centre accredited by the NACCC to include more informal arrangements, in order to address the issues at the centre of noble Lords’ concerns.
The amendment requires that the results of the review be published within two years of the Bill being passed. I want to make it categorically clear that this timescale, which some might argue is too long, does not mean that the Government are not serious about this review. It is already clear that it is not easy to gather evidence in this area, and it is important that we take time to investigate thoroughly in order to reach meaningful and robust conclusions. We will proceed with the review as quickly as possible after Royal Assent and publish its findings. I also give the Government’s commitment to act appropriately in response to those findings.
I am sure that noble Lords will understand that, before the review is launched, there is more work to do on establishing its precise terms of reference, scope and exact timescales. We will want to consult with experts in this area—including, for example, the NACCC, the judiciary, Cafcass, local government and victims’ groups—before reaching final decisions on these points.
However, I reassure your Lordships, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh, that the scope will be sufficiently broad to cover both private and public law and circumstances where parents may decide to approach those providing child contact services outside court proceedings. It will also include an external consultation to gather information from key parties.
I repeat the commitment my noble friend Lord Wolfson gave in our debate on 21 April: that we are ready to explore, as part of the review, whether there is a case for ensuring that appropriate arrangements are in place whereby anyone who seeks to set themselves up as a provider of child contact centres would be subject to criminal record checks. Indeed, the Home Office and Ministry of Justice are already exploring the feasibility of extending eligibility for higher-level criminal record checks to the self-employed.
In developing the terms of the review, I also commit explicitly to engaging further with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh. The Government would welcome the noble Baronesses’ input in establishing the review, given their commitment and interest in this area, and I am sure that they will have valuable evidence to contribute—all the more so, given the additional time that the review will afford.
In conclusion, I hope your Lordships’ House will agree that in bringing forward our amendments in lieu, the Government have shown their commitment to giving this important issue the detailed consideration it deserves. We can build a robust evidence base concerning the scale of any problem with regulating those providing child contact centres, so that we can reach a fully informed decision on any further steps which may be necessary. I put on record again our appreciation of the dedication shown by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh on this subject. I ask them and the rest of your Lordships’ House to accept the Commons amendments in lieu and to agree Motion A. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 9C and its consequential Amendments 9D and 9E, which the Government have tabled in place of my original Amendments 9 and 9B, which had support across this House.
I am most grateful to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, who has met with me and colleagues across the House and spoken with us on several occasions about this issue. He clearly has listened to our concerns. We are of course disappointed that our amendments have not been accepted but appreciate that this is such an important Bill that we must not jeopardise its passage at this stage in the Session. I have the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, ringing in my ears from an earlier meeting at which she expressed just this fear.
I have three questions for the Minister. First, can he confirm that the term “contact centre” means the people who work in a place or use a place for facilitating contact between a child and the person they are not living with? A place could be an empty building or open parkland. It is the way that a place is used by people that matters—and it was the people involved who were the subject of my Amendment 9B.
Secondly, can the Minister confirm that the spirit of Amendment 9B is encapsulated in proposed new subsection (1) of the government amendment, where it is stipulated that a report must explicitly tackle the extent to which individuals are protected from the risk of domestic abuse or, in the case of children, other harm. All we have asked is that, as outlined by Sir James Munby in his statement in support of our previous amendment, the
“standards in child contact centres and services are consistent and high, and domestic abuse and safeguarding is appropriately handled through high quality staff training to protect those children and families who find themselves involved with the family justice system.”
These vulnerable children must have the same standard of safeguarding as other children, such as those going to childminders, those in nurseries and those aged 16 to 19 in education.
Thirdly, can the Minister confirm that the judicial protocol on child contact will be actively promoted across all family courts to ensure that it is properly used in practice?
Jess Phillips MP, shadow Minister with responsibility for domestic violence and safeguarding, recounted in the other place yesterday that she has heard of case after case where there is poor practice, bad handovers and perpetrators can access victims. Now, all this evidence must be gathered in one place. It must be clear and publicised to whom such evidence is to be addressed, as some people reporting may feel intimidated at drawing attention to a problem, particularly in small and somewhat closed communities.
All those involved in this debate will, I am sure, be entering a date in our diaries two years hence when we expect the report to be published. We all hope sincerely that no disasters will happen between now and then. We all believe that there is a loophole that must be closed. Let me be clear: I welcome the proposed investigation by the Secretary of State and greatly appreciate all the work the Minister has put into this to date. In the meantime, we appreciate the government Amendments 9C to 9E.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and thank her for all the work and passion that she has shown in bringing this series of amendments to the House. I am also grateful for the support shown across the House, especially by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and others on all Benches. I also thank and pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar in his absence. Without his particular personal interest in the issues before us we would not be where we are today. I therefore ask my noble friend Lord Parkinson to pay fulsome thanks to him.
It is important to welcome the fact that there will be some movement. I say that especially as vice-president of the National Association of Child Contact Centres and co-chair of the All-Party Group on Child Contact Centres. However, I regret that, under the terms of the amendments before us in the name of my noble friend on the Front Bench, it may be two years before we see any change whatever. It is welcome that all of us across the House are united in wanting to ensure that children can continue to see absent parents in the event of a family breakdown in safety.
However, I regret that there is no sense of urgency, such as that which we have seen with the Private Member’s Bill that will go through in this parliamentary Session, which makes sure that there are national standards and safeguards for all those working with 16 to 19 year-olds. It is bizarre and slightly concerning that they are being treated preferentially as compared with those in a younger age group, infants and those possibly up to the age of 18, seeking to meet parents in child contact centres and settings.
It is important that we establish that contact centres and services, as outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, are subject to the same basic minimum safe- guarding, training, DBS and criminal checks, and enhanced checks as all others working with children, including childminders and nurseries. The Bill will leave the House today with the addition of these amendments, which I welcome in so far as they go, but it does not go as far as it should.
I shall quote the statement issued yesterday by Sir James Munby, as president of the National Association of Child Contact Centres, and former President of the Family Division. He stated:
“The government’s reservation to support Baroness Finlay’s amendment, which has been drafted in partnership with the National Association of Child Contact Centres, would be a missed opportunity to address an anomaly in safeguarding children and improving standards in general and specifically in regard to domestic abuse…The amendment is seeking is to ensure the same standards of safeguarding, accreditation, checks and training for all child contact centres and services whether in a public or private setting, and on the same basis as those who work with children as child minders, in nurseries and now with 16-19 years olds in education.”
Perhaps the most disappointing omission in the Government’s amendments is that we have failed to alert them to certain essential facts. DBS checks already apply to those setting up contact centres through an accredited service. However, if one is not accredited, one can go ahead without getting DBS checks. Therefore, amending the regulations will not move matters forward. That applies also to enhanced DBS checks. About one-third of families who attend child contact centres are self-referrals, so they have no-one to guide them to an accredited centre unless they go on to the NACCC website. Also, in tune with what the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, the weight placed on the judicial protocol means that guidance will need to change to the equivalent of a requirement to ensure that it can support the expectation being placed upon it. The essential fact is this: if there is no one to check whether someone has DBS certificates, how would anyone know whether they have them or not?
I simply end with a question to my noble friend. If evidence comes to light within the two-year period he has allowed for the review, which is welcome, will the regulations that the Government are empowered to apply through the Ministry of Justice be put in place? Secondly, why is a higher bar being asked for in the evidence required for the younger age group of infants to 18 year-olds than that required in the Private Member’s Bill introducing safeguards for 16 to 19 year-olds? However, I welcome the movement that has been made and hope that we can work together with the departments concerned in this regard.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay of Llandaff and Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for their tenacity in protecting the interests of vulnerable children and abuse victims. Their knowledge and experience have fuelled their tenacity and insistence that a solution be found. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has used his great experience in the family courts, and I have had, if not exactly the same level of experience, raw enthusiasm in backing the cause.
However, that would have all been to no avail if the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, had not only seen what we were trying to achieve but gone the extra mile in seeking a solution, despite the fact that we did not have all the incontrovertible evidence he sought. I am sorry that he is not in his place, but I know that the Minister will pass on these remarks. When we suggested that the Government, not the NACCC, should obtain the evidence, he has come up with the amendment, which I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, will be minded to accept, to go and get the evidence. The widening of the definition of a child contact centre will catch many informal organisations—those that we are most concerned about—in the net.
All that any of us wants is to protect our children at a most difficult and vulnerable time, to ensure that unskilled and even unscrupulous people do not get anywhere near those children, and that those children are received into a welcoming environment manned by skilled, trained and compassionate people. We are not there yet and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, said, the movers of the original amendment will be setting two-year reminders in their diaries after the passing of the Bill, so the Government can expect timely reminders if the report has not appeared as the deadline looms.
My Lords, I too pay tribute to the tenacity of the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay of Llandaff and Lady McIntosh of Pickering. Although I have experience in the family courts and was aware of the child contact centres, I was not as well briefed on this issue as I am now, given the noble Baronesses’ backgrounds on this matter, particularly the legislative history of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh.
I should also pay fulsome tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, who is relatively new to our House. We met him a number of times; he has properly engaged on the issues and expressed scepticism, which is sometimes helpful to people moving amendments. He has come up with a solution. Although, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, it may fall short of what we were hoping for, it nevertheless provides a road ahead for addressing the concerns that he expressed. He has potentially come up with a proper solution for the various loopholes in the child contact centre system, if I can put it like that.
As the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, said in his introduction, the Government’s problem was one of evidence. As we repeated in numerous meetings, it is very difficult to get evidence of contact centres that come and go, perhaps operating in particular communities and essentially functioning under the radar. I am glad that the Government appreciated that point to the extent that they are willing to take on the responsibility of seeing whether this is a real problem and whether appropriate measures can be put in place to protect children who go to these child contact centres.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked three good questions for the Minister to answer. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, went on to quote Sir James Munby’s support for the earlier amendments. Sir James Munby has unequalled experience in these matters, so the Government should listen to what he says.
In conclusion, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, and I have sat on a lot of committees together over the last couple of years and she has always been sensible in her support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady McIntosh. As she said, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, accepts the Government’s amendments and that we continue to work together for the next couple of years to ensure that the Government follow through on their promise to review the existing provision.
My Lords, first, I thank and agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh for their tenacity in pursuing this issue in the interests of vulnerable children. We have all been mindful of that throughout these discussions and are grateful to them. I am also grateful to noble Lords for their tributes to my noble friend Lord Wolfson. I will pass on their thanks and appreciation, and I know that he would have liked to have been here to see the conclusion of this important matter. But I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, for saying that my noble friend went the extra mile. That has been the Government’s approach to the Bill throughout and, even those provisions that will not be in the Bill have launched some important work, which will continue to bear fruit and help victims of domestic abuse, whether legislatively or not.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked three questions on which I hope I can provide reassurance. Her first was about whether contact centres mean the people who work in the place. Yes, we are going to review the way that a place is used, rather than a building, which may be empty. Her second was about the spirit of the amendment. Again, yes, we want to build an evidence base through the review that assesses the need for regulation, along the lines that the noble Baroness proposed. Her third was about promoting the judicial protocol. That protocol is being updated and will be communicated by the judiciary, not Her Majesty’s Government. That will provide an opportunity for its promotion but, as I am sure she and other noble Lords understand, that is a matter for the judiciary.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked some questions about the review. As I say, we want to establish a robust evidence base about the scale of the problem, so that we reach a fully informed decision about any further steps necessary. We would welcome her input and that of others into establishing the terms of the review. We will also be engaging the judiciary, among others, so the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about Sir James Munby is well heard.
That has answered all the questions raised. Again, we are very grateful to all noble Lords for their engagement on this and hope that it is a sensible resolution. I hope that noble Lords support Motion A.
Motion A agreed.
40D: Page 57, line 36, at end insert the following new Clause—
“Data processing for immigration purposes
Review of processing of victims’ personal data for immigration purposes
(1) The Secretary of State must before the end of the relevant period—
(a) review the processing of domestic abuse data carried out by specified public authorities for immigration purposes,
(b) prepare and publish a report setting out the findings of the review, and
(c) lay a copy of the report before Parliament.
(2) In carrying out the review, the Secretary of State must have regard to the recommendations of the HMIC Report.
(3) In subsection (1), the “relevant period” means the period beginning with the day on which this section comes into force and ending with 30 June 2021 (but see subsection (4)).
(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations extend the relevant period by a further period of up to 6 months.
(5) The power conferred by subsection (4) may be exercised only once.
(6) In this section—
“domestic abuse data” means personal data obtained for the purposes of, or in connection with, the provision of support in relation to domestic abuse to victims of domestic abuse or their children;
“the HMIC Report” means the report on Liberty and Southall Black Sisters’ super-complaint on policing and immigration status published by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary on 17 December 2020;
“immigration purposes” means the purposes of—
(a) the maintenance of effective immigration control, or
(b) the investigation or detection of activities that would undermine the maintenance of effective immigration control;
“immigration officer” means a person appointed as an immigration officer under paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971;
“personal data” has the meaning given by section 3(2) of the Data Protection Act 2018;
“processing” has the meaning given by section 3(4) of that Act; “specified public authority” means—
(a) a chief officer of police of a police force maintained for a police area in England and Wales;
(b) the chief constable of the Police Service of Scotland;
(c) the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland;
(d) the Chief Constable of the British Transport Police Force;
(e) the Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police;
(f) an immigration officer or other official of the Secretary of State exercising functions in relation to immigration or asylum.”
40E: Page 57, line 36, at end insert the following new Clause—
“Code of practice
(1) The Secretary of State may issue a code of practice relating to the processing of domestic abuse data for immigration purposes.
(2) A code of practice issued under this section—
(a) must be kept under review;
(b) may be revised or replaced.
(3) A person to whom a code of practice issued under this section applies must have regard to it in processing domestic abuse data for immigration purposes.
(4) In preparing, revising or replacing a code, the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) the Domestic Abuse Commissioner,
(b) the Information Commissioner, and
(c) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(5) Before issuing a code (or a revised code) under this section, the Secretary of State must lay the code before Parliament.
(6) If, within the 40-day period, either House of Parliament resolves not to approve the code—
(a) the code is not to be issued, and
(b) the Secretary of State may prepare another code.
(7) If no such resolution is passed within the 40-day period, the Secretary of State may issue the code.
(8) In this section, the “40-day period” is the period of 40 days beginning with the day on which the code is laid before Parliament (or, if it is not laid before each House of Parliament on the same day, the later of the 2 days on which it is laid).
(9) In calculating the 40-day period, no account is to be taken of any period during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which both Houses are adjourned for more than 4 days.
(10) In this section—
“domestic abuse data” has the same meaning as in section (Review of processing of victims’ personal data for immigration purposes);
“immigration purposes” has the same meaning as in section (Review of processing of victims’ personal data for immigration purposes);
“personal data” has the meaning given by section 3(2) of the Data Protection Act 2018;
“processing” has the meaning given by section 3(4) of that Act.”
40F: Page 58, line 36, leave out “or 72” and insert “, 72, (Review of processing of victims’ personal data for immigration purposes) or (Code of practice)”
40G: Page 59, line 8, after “72” insert “, (Review of processing of victims’ personal data for immigration purposes), (Code of practice)”
40H: Page 59, line 36, after “35(7),” insert “(Review of processing of victims’ personal data for immigration purposes)(4),”
40J: Page 60, line 15, at end insert—
“( ) sections (Review of processing of victims’ personal data for immigration purposes) and (Code of practice),”
40K: Page 60, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) section (Review of processing of victims’ personal data for immigration purposes);”
Noble Lords are aware that Amendment 40B seeks to create a data-sharing firewall, so that the personal data of victims of domestic abuse that is given or used for the purposes of their seeking or receiving support is not used for immigration control purposes. Amendment 40C introduces a conditional commencement procedure, so that the firewall comes into force only once the review into current data-sharing procedures has been completed and following a vote in both Houses.
While I appreciate the case that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and other noble Lords have been making, the Government remain of the view that Amendments 40B and 40C are premature, pending the outcome of the review of the current data-sharing arrangements, as recommended by the policing inspectorate following its December report on the super-complaint from Liberty and Southall Black Sisters.
In an effort to meet the noble Baroness half way, the Government tabled Amendments 40D, 40E, 40F, 40G, 40H, 40J and 40K in lieu to which the Commons has agreed. Amendment 40D places our review of data-sharing arrangements on to a statutory footing, with a duty to lay a report before Parliament on the outcome of the review by 30 June, a little over two months away.
In addition, Amendment 40E confers a power on the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice relating to the processing of domestic abuse data for immigration control purposes by specified public authorities. Persons to whom the code is issued, notably the police and Home Office immigration staff, would be required to have regard to that code. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that although the new clause provides for a power rather than imposes a duty to issue a code, it is the Government’s firm intention to issue such a code, following the completion of the review. Noble Lords will note too that Amendment E also places an obligation on the Secretary of State to consult the domestic abuse commissioner, the Information Commissioner and others before issuing the code.
We are on track to publish the outcome of our review by the end of June. As part of our review, we have given a commitment to engage with domestic abuse sector organisations and the domestic abuse commissioner to better understand concerns about why migrant victims might not feel safe in reporting their abusers to the authorities for fear of enforcement action being taken. We have tabled amendments, now agreed by another place, to place the review on to a statutory footing and to provide for a statutory code of practice relating to the processing of domestic abuse data for immigration purposes.
I hope noble Lords will see that we have listened and acted. I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the whole of your Lordships’ House to support Motion B.
My Lords, I shall respond to the Minister and the Government’s amendment on the safe reporting of crimes by domestic abuse victims who have uncertain immigration status. I am very grateful to our Ministers for their sympathetic handling of this Bill and for the incredibly helpful meetings that we have had with all of them in previous weeks, and to the Government for tabling the compromise amendment. Of course, it does not achieve the reassurance that we sought with our original amendment, but it paves a way forward that could help these most vulnerable of women.
I welcome the fact that the report on the government review of this issue will be laid before Parliament and that this is put in statute by the Government’s amendment. That is definitely a step forward. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that the review will seek to identify the depth of fear of many of the victims of concern here. That is important—about half do not report crimes because they are too frightened, in particular in situations of modern slavery, for example. A concern in the field is that the six-month possible extension for the publication of the review could be used by the Government to prevent anyone making progress in the meantime. Three months would be greatly preferable. Does the Minister have any comment on that? Do they really need six months to complete this? If it means that they will do a more thorough job, I suppose we must be grateful.
Turning to the code of practice, I am concerned about subsection (1) of the proposed new clause, which says that the Secretary of State
“may issue a code of practice”
rather than that they “shall” issue such a code. Again, I am grateful to the Minister for emphasising in his remarks that the Government have a clear intention to issue such a code. It would also be helpful if he could indicate in his closing comments a timeline for the code of practice and confirm its purpose—again, this is an important point—to provide protection from the immigration system for vulnerable victims of domestic abuse whose immigration status is uncertain.
The amendment makes it clear that the domestic abuse commissioner, the Information Commissioner and
“such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”
must be consulted in relation to this code of practice. I put on record the importance of consulting survivors and specialist organisations such as the Step Up Migrant Women campaign, which, incidentally, apart from doing a huge amount of work to support these women, has been a pillar of strength in the background, behind these debates in this House. It would be very helpful if the Minister could confirm that those survivors and organisations will be consulted. With the hope that the Minister can provide some assurance on these points, I will not oppose the Government’s Motion.
My Lords, the essence of this Motion is to ensure that victims of domestic abuse, whoever they are, are not afraid to come forward to report the matter to the police without fear of being reported to immigration enforcement. No review or code of practice will reassure them without an undertaking that enforcement action will not be taken. The Government know this, and I therefore conclude that they place more importance on immigration enforcement than on protecting the victims of domestic abuse—a disgraceful position for the Government to take. We will not allow this matter to rest here, even though we are unable to take it further today.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has received strong support from the Opposition Benches throughout the progress of this important Bill, and that support is not diminished at this final stage. We will continue to press the Government on this very serious issue, to make sure victims can feel safe coming forward to report abuse. It has been a pleasure to learn from her and work with her on this amendment. The noble Baroness’s amendment provided for the circumstances where victims’ data cannot be shared for immigration purposes if they come forward to report abuse. She is content to agree the important concessions that she has obtained from the Government on her amendment and, to that end, it just leaves me to thank her and all noble Lords who have spoken so eloquently and with passion throughout the passage of the Bill.
In the other place yesterday, the shadow Minister spoke movingly about her own experiences and reiterated her thanks for some movement by the Government on this amendment. But I echo her remarks of concern by asking the Minister if we can ensure that there are buy-in services for the very victims we are talking about, that they are consulted throughout the process, and that the whole point of the code is explicitly there to ensure that data can be shared only to enable victims to receive protection and safety. We now have mention of a victims’ code, so what happens when there is a breach of the code? We need clarity; we seek to have things written into primary legislation so that there is no doubt when barriers are crossed.
I eagerly await the translation into law of this landmark legislation. I thank my Opposition Front Bench colleagues and the staff team who have so ably guided me through my first major Bill in this House; what a maiden Bill it has been to have contributed to. My thanks go to the Minister and others who have listened and acted upon amendments to make better laws alongside our charities, support organisations and, indeed, the brave survivors whose lived experiences and testimonies have spoken out loudly and clearly throughout the course of the Bill: stand up to domestic abuse.
My Lords, I again applaud and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for her tenacity on this point in standing up for another vulnerable group of victims. I thank her for the time that she has spent engaging with me on this point since your Lordships last debated it. I am grateful that she sees the amendments that we have put forward in lieu as a step forward, and want to reassure her on the points that she raised; as I said previously, one of the frustrations in this area is not knowing what we do not know about the depth of fear among those who may be reluctant to come forward. That is why we are engaging with domestic abuse sector organisations to better understand the scale of that problem and to allay any concerns that people have. I am pleased to say that engagement with those groups is beginning next month.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked about the timeline for the code; we would seek to have that in place as soon as is practicable after the completion of the review. We would of course need time to consult the domestic abuse commissioner and the Information Commissioner’s Office. The power to extend the deadline is purely precautionary, as, alas, the experience of the pandemic over the last year or so has shown the need to expect the unexpected, but it is our intention to proceed swiftly on this. As the noble Baroness noted, despite the word “may” rather than “shall”, it is our firm intention to issue such a code, so I reiterate that for her reassurance. We will look at enforcement issues when drawing up the code.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, suggested that we are approaching these issues the wrong way round. I hope people appreciate that the Government have a statutory obligation under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to maintain an effective immigration system, but we have been clear throughout that both the police and immigration enforcement officials deal with victims as victims first and foremost. We are very mindful of that. With those answers, and in reiterating my thanks in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, I urge noble Lords to support Motion B.
Motion B agreed.
41C: Because the Amendment would involve a charge on public funds, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.
My Lords, to recap, Amendment 41B seeks to lift the no recourse to public funds condition for migrant victims of domestic abuse until the conclusion of the support for migrant victims scheme. The amendment also provides that, within two months of the scheme’s conclusion, the Secretary of State must consult the domestic abuse commissioner and specialist sector, and publish a strategy for the long-term provision for victims who do not have leave, or have leave subject to the no recourse to public funds condition. I am conscious that after two full debates, in Committee and on Report, along with our consideration last week of the Commons reasons, we are all likely to be well versed in the points that I have highlighted and will highlight now, and those which proponents of Amendment 41B will outline. For that reason, I will try to make my points relatively short.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester knows how much I respect her, and I share her commitment to providing protection and support for migrant victims of domestic abuse. But I still do not believe that Amendment 41B represents the appropriate course of action. The other place likewise disagreed with this amendment, again on the basis of financial privilege. Waiving the no recourse to public funds condition for 12 months—double the six months provided for in the earlier Amendment 41, which sought an extension to the DDVC—would clearly involve a significant charge on the public purse.
As I have emphasised previously, there is a clear precedent for our current position regarding the no recourse to public funds condition. Successive Governments have taken the view that access to publicly funded benefits and services should normally reflect the strength of a migrant’s connection to the UK. We continue to believe that such access should become available to migrants only once they have settled here. There is a clear rationale for this policy; namely, that it seeks to assure the public of the benefits to our country that controlled immigration can yield, to ensure that public funds remain protected for permanent residents, and to manage the UK’s finite resources. Automatically waiving the no recourse to public funds condition irrespective of the diverse financial circumstances of victims is not a desirable or necessary outcome.
Moving beyond the precedent for our position, Amendment 41B presents other significant difficulties. Leave and access to public funds cannot be separated as easily as it suggests. As I highlighted last week, to provide access to public funds, one must also necessarily confer leave. We have launched the support for migrant victims scheme because it can provide support for migrant victims of domestic abuse who have no recourse to public funds by funding the required support directly from Southall Black Sisters and its delivery partners, bypassing the need to access public funds. To reiterate, the support for migrant victims scheme will provide support to this vulnerable cohort.
As I have highlighted many times during the passage of the Bill, the support for migrant victims scheme is designed to provide support to those individuals who fall through the gaps of other support mechanisms, such as the DDVC. It provides a safety net of support through provision of accommodation in a refuge or other relevant safe accommodation. Additionally, the scheme can provide wraparound provisions, including practical support such as immigration advice. The support provided by the scheme can be tailored to the needs of the individual victim much more than a blanket automatic granting of public funds.
I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester for her continued commitment to the cause of migrant victims of domestic abuse. It truly is a cause that I share. However, while we seek a similar outcome, we have different ways of getting there. I hope that noble Lords are mindful of the votes in the elected House, along with the reasons given for disagreeing with this amendment, and are content to agree Motion C. We must now ensure that the Bill is enacted and implemented. I assure noble Lords that this Government have not, and will not, forget about migrant victims of domestic abuse. I have no doubt that the right reverend Prelate will continue, rightly, to press us to act on the outcome of the support for migrant victims scheme in the months to come. I beg to move.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, who moved the successful amendment on migrant women and recourse to public funds during the first stage of ping-pong in this House on the Domestic Abuse Bill last Wednesday, regrets that she cannot be here in person today. I pay tribute to the work that she has done—and will, I am sure, continue to do—on this issue. On her behalf, I have been asked to say the following, which also reflects my feelings:
“I would urge the Government to consider all victims of domestic abuse as victims first. It is therefore regrettable that recourse to public funds has not been made available to a small but extremely vulnerable group of migrant victims. That said, at this stage, we accept that it has not been possible to add this to the Bill. We hope that when the pilot scheme comes to an end, careful note will be taken of the results. The organisations providing support and hope to these migrant victims must be consulted, and we would do well to listen well to their experience.”
My Lords, I too pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate for championing this issue.
Again, I will boil this down to its essence. The refusal of the Government to offer equal protection to all victims of domestic abuse, whatever their status, which is the effect of their rejection of the Lords amendment, is a clear breach of the Istanbul convention. As I said when we considered these matters last time, this Government cannot claim that this is a landmark Bill when they continue to treat those with irregular immigration status less favourably. These are some of the most vulnerable victims of domestic abuse.
We are unable to take this matter further today, but the Government cannot avoid ratifying the Istanbul convention much longer without serious reputational damage.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester for her work on this Bill. I hope I have made it clear throughout the passage of the Bill, including in my introductory remarks today, that people—women mostly—who are victims of domestic abuse should get the support that they need when they need it.
On the Istanbul convention, as set out in our latest annual report on our progress towards ratification of it, published last October, the position on whether or not we are compliant with Article 43 of the convention, to the extent that it relates to non-discrimination on the grounds of migrant or refugee status, and with Article 59 relating to resident status, is under review, pending the findings of the evaluation of the support for migrant victims scheme. We will consider compliance with Article 59 in parallel with Article 43. As such, it also depends on the outcome of the support for migrant victims scheme. Far from not being compliant, we are working towards that compliance. I hope that noble Lords are content with what I have set out today and in previous stages of the Bill.
Motion C agreed.
42G: Page 53, line 10, at end insert the following new Clause—
“Strategy for prosecution and management of offenders
(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, prepare and publish a document setting out a strategy for—
(a) detecting, investigating and prosecuting offences involving domestic abuse,
(b) assessing and managing the risks posed by individuals who commit offences involving domestic abuse, including (among others) risks associated with stalking, and
(c) reducing the risk that such individuals commit further offences involving domestic abuse.
(2) The Secretary of State—
(a) must keep the strategy under review;
(b) may revise it.
(3) If the Secretary of State revises the strategy, the Secretary of State must publish a document setting out the revised strategy.
(4) In preparing or revising a strategy under this section, the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, and
(b) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(5) Subsection (4) does not apply in relation to any revisions of the strategy if the Secretary of State considers the proposed revisions of the strategy are insubstantial.
(6) In this section, the reference to “risks associated with stalking” is to be read in accordance with section 1(4) of the Stalking Protection Act 2019.”
42H: Page 59, line 8, after “section” insert “(Strategy for prosecution and management of offenders),”
42J: Page 60, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) section (Strategy for prosecution and management of offenders);”
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for the very constructive discussions that we had on this matter at the end of last week and this morning, to make some final adjustments to what I think we all agree is a very good Bill.
Amendment 42D, put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, seeks to amend the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to provide for a new category of offender to be managed under multiagency public protection arrangements, known as MAPPA. The intention is then that such offenders are recorded on ViSOR—the dangerous persons database—although this is not set out in the amendment. The new category would cover perpetrators who have either been convicted—and “convicted” is the operative word—on two or more occasions of a relevant domestic abuse-related or stalking offence, or have been convicted of a single such offence and have been assessed as presenting a high risk of serious harm.
The elected House has now disagreed with noble Lords’ amendments on this issue for a second time, and again by a substantial margin. That said, we agree that more needs to be done, but we do not think that this amendment is the right way forward. Many have asked why the Government will not support the amendment, and the simple and honest answer is that we do not think it will be effective in securing the changes that we all want to happen. As I have said before, if we did, we would have no hesitation in supporting it. When the Bill was last in this House, I set out in detail our concerns surrounding the amendment and I will not go through them again. In essence, I do not think it adds anything substantial to the current legislative landscape around MAPPA.
Much has been said during the course of our debates and in the media about what this amendment will achieve. An example of this is that it will create a register; it does not. In fact, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and others have said that that is not what they wish to achieve. Equally, it does not address the issue of perpetrators not being charged and convicted of the offences they have committed. We should not lose sight of the fact that MAPPA is a framework for the management of convicted offenders, and a good number of the cases cited of failures to intervene relate to perpetrators who had not been convicted of an offence. I want to take a moment to place both these points on the record, because any miscommunication on this highly important issue feels deeply unfair to victims. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, would not want any such misunderstandings to take root.
This is a very sensitive and difficult issue and there is no easy solution to it. However, I want to stop focusing on—and noble Lords will know I have done this the whole way through the Bill—where we do not agree and instead put our focus on the many areas where we do agree. Everything I have heard during the passage of this Bill continues to lead me to the firm belief that the issue we need to address is not the legislative framework but how offenders are brought to justice and, once convicted, how MAPPA operates on the ground to ensure that agencies actively identify those offenders who pose the highest risk and then manage them effectively.
I reassure the House that we are undertaking a substantial programme of work to tackle this issue from multiple angles to make a real difference to the outcomes for victims. I will take the opportunity briefly to go over these again and to provide some further updates on developments. We will refresh and strengthen the MAPPA statutory guidance to make it clear that convicted offenders who demonstrate a pattern of offending behaviour that indicates either serious harm or an escalation in the risk of serious harm, related to domestic abuse or stalking, which is not reflected in the charge for which they were actually convicted, should be considered for category 3 management. The guidance will set out the importance of being mindful of the totality of an offender’s behaviour in domestic abuse and stalking cases. I know that this is an important point for the noble Baroness.
The strengthened guidance will ensure that all agencies involved take steps to identify offenders who are domestic abuse perpetrators whose risk requires active multiagency management and take action based on that risk, no matter what the category. The guidance is statutory, which means that agencies must have due regard to it. It is in no sense voluntary. I should add that the updated guidance will be dynamic. We will keep it under regular review to ensure that it reflects developing good practice.
We will consult MAPPA-responsible authorities and agencies with a duty to co-operate on the updated guidance by the Summer Recess and, once we have their views, we will also share a draft with the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. We will also consult both the domestic abuse and victims’ commissioners. Once the revised guidance is settled, we will promulgate it through a Written Ministerial Statement, and this will provide an opportunity to update the House on the delivery of the other commitments I have set out. Noble Lords talked about having some sort of debate in this place, perhaps after the Summer Recess. I am very happy with that—the beauty of this place is that we can organise debates through noble Lords.
We will have oversight of and monitor the impact of the updated guidance through the responsible authority national steering group. This group is chaired jointly by the chief constable who is the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead for MAPPA and by the public protection group director of HM Prison and Probation Service. The group provides strategic direction for MAPPA-responsible authorities and partner agencies and monitors key aspects of their performance. Senior nominated representatives of the police, National Probation Service and HM Prison Service, as well as specialist representatives from the Youth Justice Board, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Home Office and the Parole Board are members of the group.
In addition to the role of the responsible authority national steering group, I have no doubt that the domestic abuse commissioner and the victims’ commissioner will also be monitoring the impact of the strengthened guidance and the other actions we are taking. In addition, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary has the police response to domestic abuse as part of its thematic inspection programme for 2021-22. The inspectorate will also continue to monitor progress made by policing against recommendations from its previous thematic inspections of the police approach to tackling harassment and stalking. There will also be a continuing role here for the prisons and probation inspectorates.
In the case of the domestic abuse commissioner, I remind noble Lords of the powers available to her under Part 2 of the Bill. In particular, the police and others are under a duty to co-operate with the commissioner, and this includes the provision of information. Moreover, the commissioner can make recommendations to Ministers, the police and others subject to the duty to co-operate, and they will be required to respond to these within 56 days. Taken together, Part 2 affords the commissioner important powers to monitor progress in strengthening the management of perpetrators, whether under MAPPA or other arrangements.
In addition to the statutory guidance—and to ensure maximum accessibility and clarity—we will publish a succinct thresholding document to guide practitioners in deciding on the most appropriate level of management. The different levels of management under MAPPA are set to ensure that resources are properly targeted at those offenders who pose the highest risk and are the most complex to manage.
However, we need to be sure that action is taken where there are indicators of escalating harm for those managed at the least intensive level. Therefore, HM Prison and Probation Service will issue a policy framework for its staff setting out clear requirements for their management of all cases at MAPPA level 1. This will further help improve the quality of information sharing, the consistency and regularity of reviews and, importantly, the identification of cases where additional risk management activity is required. Both the policy frame- work and the thresholding document will include specific reference to domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators. We will decommission ViSOR, which is now almost 20 years old, and bring in the new multiagency public protection system, which will be piloted from next year.
We will bring forward a new statutory domestic abuse perpetrator strategy as part of a holistic domestic abuse strategy to be published later this year. Following discussions last Friday with the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, we have modified the government amendment in lieu to expressly reference stalking that occurs within a domestic abuse context. As I have indicated, I believe the MAPPA guidance—the perpetrator strategy—is the appropriate place to address the issue of risk assessments taking into account past patterns of behaviour, rather than Amendment 42G.
In the last debate the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked about the dual strategy approach. In the summer the Government will publish a tackling violence against women and girls strategy, and further to the Government’s amendments in the Bill we will also bring forward our complementary domestic abuse strategy. This approach will allow us to focus on lesser-understood violence against women and girls crimes, while a dedicated strategy on domestic abuse, given its high-volume, high-harm nature, will ensure it gets the attention it deserves.
The VAWG strategy will include a perpetrator strategy pillar, which will, among other things, address stalking perpetrators. I should clarify that “violence against women and girls” is an umbrella term and, while we know that these crimes disproportionately affect women and girls, we recognise that men and boys also experience them. We will therefore consider this as part of the VAWG strategy, alongside updating the male victims position statement.
We are also legislating already in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to put beyond doubt the powers of duty to co-operate agencies to share information under MAPPA by clarifying existing information-sharing provisions. We are investing new resources to tackle perpetrators, with an additional £25 million committed this year.
While we might not agree with the approach set out in Amendment 42D, we do not shy away from taking action to tackle this issue. The last time the Bill was in the House, many noble Lords—including the noble Baroness, Lady Royall—agreed that these actions we have set out are tangible and would make a real difference in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of current offender management arrangements. I hope the noble Baroness and the whole House will support Motion D so that we can pass this truly landmark Bill and it can be enacted. I beg to move.
Motion D1 (as an amendment to Motion D)
42K: Before Clause 69, insert the following new Clause—
“Strategy for prosecution and management of offenders
(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, prepare and publish a document setting out a strategy for—
(a) detecting, investigating and prosecuting offences involving domestic abuse,
(b) assessing and managing the risks posed by individuals who commit offences involving domestic abuse, including (among others) risks associated with stalking and an individual’s past pattern of behaviour; and
(c) reducing the risk that such individuals commit further offences involving domestic abuse.
(2) The Secretary of State—
(a) must keep the strategy under review;
(b) may revise it.
(3) If the Secretary of State revises the strategy, the Secretary of State must publish a document setting out the revised strategy.
(4) In preparing or revising a strategy under this section, the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, and
(b) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(5) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 3 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, publish revised statutory guidance on Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements to provide that—
(a) a person assessed by the responsible authority to pose a high risk of stalking; or
(b) a person assessed by the responsible authority to pose a high risk of domestic abuse,
must be placed under Category 3 in Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements.
(6) When assessing a risk of stalking or repeated domestic abuse the Responsible Authority must take into consideration a person’s past patterns of behaviour involving stalking or domestic abuse.
(7) The Secretary of State must make arrangements to require—
(a) an individual who is convicted on more than one occasion of a specified domestic abuse offence;
(b) an individual who is convicted on one or more occasions of a specified stalking offence,
to be automatically risk-assessed in Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements.
(8) Where a person is—
(a) risk-assessed under Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements; or
(b) placed under Category 3 in Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements
as a result of offending which involves either domestic abuse or stalking, notice of this must be given to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for the purposes of a report on these decisions to inform the strategy on an annual basis.
(9) Subsection (4) does not apply in relation to any revisions of the strategy if the Secretary of State considers the proposed revisions of the strategy are insubstantial.
(10) In this section, the reference to “risks associated with stalking” is to be read in accordance with section 1(4) of the Stalking Protection Act 2019.
(11) In this section—
“responsible authority” has the same meaning as in section 325 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003;
“specified domestic abuse offence” means an offence where it is alleged that the behaviour of the accused amounted to domestic abuse within the meaning defined in section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021;
“specified stalking offence” means an offence contrary to section 2A or section 4A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.”
42L: Page 59, line 8, after “section” insert “(Strategy for prosecution and management of offenders),”
42M: Page 60, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) section (Strategy for prosecution and management of offenders);””
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her full response, including to my amendment, which followed the Government’s revised amendment passed in the Commons last night. I am also grateful to her for our very constructive meeting and for the letter responding to the issues raised by me and my colleagues in our meeting; I think it was last Friday, but it feels a long time ago.
Yes, we have come a long way with this very good Bill, and indeed on the perpetrator strategy on both stalking and domestic abuse. I am glad our various debates have highlighted the fact that the current system is not working. Indeed, it is indefensible and leads to thousands of women living in fear and hundreds murdered. It is for this reason that the noble Baroness and I are in complete agreement that there must be a change. The change that I believe would be most effective, and will continue to argue in favour of, is the inclusion on the new database of all serious and serial high-risk perpetrators of stalking and domestic abuse. I am perplexed by the articles in the press—I think it was in the Times at the weekend—suggesting that a comprehensive database would soon be forthcoming. Nothing has been said at the Dispatch Box in either your Lordships’ House or the Commons to confirm this. I leave that to one side.
I was confused last night when listening to the Minister in the Commons address the issue of the MAPPA categories, although the noble Baroness the Minister has been much clearer and more explicit. The new policy framework is welcome, but can the noble Baroness again confirm that domestic abuse and stalking will be flagged in category 1, so that when assessing risk or managing a sex offender, consideration will have to be given to whether he poses a domestic abuse or stalking threat? I believe that to be the case, but I would like her to make that point once more. I am grateful for her assurance in writing that all category 3 offenders will be on ViSOR and therefore on MAPPS.
Listening to the Minister in the Commons last night, my biggest concern was that she did not propose a significant expansion to category 3—quite the contrary; she rejected the repeated suggestions from my right honourable friend Yvette Cooper. She repeated the current practice: that it will be up to the professional judgment and professional curiosity—I find that quite a strange and unfortunate phrase—of the relevant authorities as to whether they think a domestic abuse or stalking case could benefit from being managed through MAPPA. That is not good enough.
The Minister spoke of the flexibility of MAPPA 3, which, as my honourable friend Jess Phillips pointed out, was part of the problem, in that there is no proper direction for its use, and the resources are so stretched that the authorities cannot use their professional judgment. But that flexibility is also part of the solution, in that its use will now be expanded. It is very good to hear that category 3 will not be restricted to people who have been sentenced for one year or more. I believe that to be the case and would like the Minister to reiterate that. We all agree that that is a major gap: that people who have not been sentenced but are serial perpetrators and whose actions escalate into heinous crimes are still out there, and no information about them is being exchanged.
Adequate resources are critical. If sufficient funding is not available, the people making the decisions will be constrained in their actions. Last night the Minister mentioned an additional £25 million. Will any of that be ring-fenced for MAPPA 3? If not, what additional resources will be specifically allocated to MAPPA 3?
Currently there are only 330 offenders in total under category 3 MAPPA, compared with more than 60,000 in category 1 and more than 20,000 in category 2. MAPPA includes all offences, but in future it absolutely must include the thousands of high-harm repeat perpetrators of stalking and domestic violence. The Minister has been very clear that when assessing a risk of stalking or repeated domestic abuse, there must be consideration of a person’s past patterns of behaviour involving stalking or domestic abuse. That is a major step forward and is very welcome.
It is only with the new guidance mentioned by the noble Baroness that we can ensure that practice really is changed, so that serial and high-harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators are flagged to MAPPA and heard there. But that guidance must be informed by experts, by the people who will use the guidance, who are frustrated that the current system is not working. Everyone using the new guidance must be trained in order to effect the change so desperately needed. That must be included in the guidance and the requisite funds made available. We expect the head of MAPPA to ensure that this happens. The ever-vigilant noble Lord, Lord Russell, noticed that NOMS is looking for a new head of MAPPA. I am sure he will speak to this, but I merely urge that the current job description be updated to reflect the changes being introduced in this Bill.
I am glad to hear that the guidance will be dynamic. A debate on the guidance in the autumn is an excellent idea. May I also have an assurance from the noble Baroness that specialist domestic abuse and stalking services will be invited to attend MAPPA? Timing is of the essence. The Minister has given her assurance that the MAPPA guidance will be revised before the Summer Recess; I thank her.
I am grateful for the explanation of the current plan, that oversight will be undertaken through the responsible authority national steering group. I may be wrong, but it does not sound as if that is an impartial body. It sounds as if it will be required to mark its own homework, and we believe that the oversight must be independent. The Minister said,
“I have no doubt that the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and the Victims’ Commissioner will also be monitoring the impact of the strengthened guidance and the other actions we are taking.”
However, I firmly believe that the independent monitoring and oversight must be undertaken by the domestic abuse commissioner, who clearly has the powers and must have systematic access to all the information relating not just to people included in MAPPA 3 but to those whom she might believe should be included in MAPPA 3. In this way the commissioner, your Lordships and the wider world will be able to measure and judge the success of the actions outlined by the Minister, including the strategy and the revised guidance. I beg to move.
My Lords, I too wish to start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for her helpful speech from the Dispatch Box this afternoon and for the repeated emails and meetings with some of us to try to progress matters. We recognise that some of the things we would like to see in this Bill are better placed in statutory guidance and I thank the Minister for her reassurance and the offer of showing us that draft statutory guidance to bring these perpetrators to justice. It was also encouraging to hear details about the thresholding document.
Herein lies the problem, which the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred to in part. We need to substantially change the culture and practice inside the criminal justice system to tackle these particular perpetrators. We have said repeatedly that the consequence is that these fixated, obsessive, serial and high-risk perpetrators escalate their behaviour—far too often resulting in serious violence and murder. That is why we welcome the changes to the current arrangements for a perpetrator to be considered for MAPPA category 3. The assessment of past patterns of behaviour is vital—something we asked for in the stalking law reforms of 2012—including convictions at a lesser level. I thank the Minister for her words on that.
One of the consequences of an effective risk assessment for these serial and high-risk perpetrators is that MAPPA teams need more resources than they currently receive. It should not be possible for these cases to be disregarded because of resources. I echo the question that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked about how much of the extra perpetrator funding the Minister outlined during the passage of the Bill will be dedicated resource for local MAPPA areas to manage a larger numbers of offenders. This is one of those few times when it will be good to see numbers going up, because it will provide reassurance that these perpetrators are being managed properly. This Bill and these arrangements will fail without those resources—and this Bill must not fail.
The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, cannot be in her place today, but she specifically asked me to make the following points to your Lordships’ House on her behalf. She joins those of us who signed the amendment on Report in expressing concern that serial and serious high-risk perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking must be included and therefore on the database.
Can the Minister give the House some assurance that domestic abuse and stalking experts and agencies will be included as a matter of course in the MAPP meetings? Their expertise at a local level will be vital; risk assessments of patterns of past fixated behaviour will not be effective without their input. It is the early identification of these patterns of behaviour that can change the experience of the victim and, with appropriate support, can help the perpetrator too.
The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, also asks whether the domestic abuse commissioner and the Victims’ Commissioner will have access to MAPPA data— especially, but not only, that relating to those serial and high-risk stalking and domestic abuse perpetrators. It is vital for them to be able to hold those making decisions inside the criminal justice system to account. She makes the point that this is particularly important because, until the victims law the Government have promised comes into force, it will provide powers for the Victims’ Commissioner. Until then, there will be no powers for the Victims’ Commissioner to perform that role. It is vital that both the domestic abuse commissioner and the Victims’ Commissioner have similar powers to hold the Government and agencies to account.
I will end by looking both backwards and towards the future. This month marks the 16th anniversary of the start of the harassment and stalking campaign of which I was the principal target. It took three years before the perpetrator was caught and my many discussions with the police mirrored far too many of the cases we have heard of elsewhere. I swore to myself that no one should have to repeatedly explain incident after incident to the police as if each one were the first—but that is still the case far too often.
During the passage of this Bill we have all spoken of the tragic deaths of far too many women at the hands of stalkers and abusers—currently between two and five per week. This morning on Radio 4’s “Today” programme Zoe Dronfield spoke movingly of her own experience. She discovered, after escaping a violent attack with her life, that her previous partner had stalked and attacked a dozen women before her. This Bill and the arrangements for the statutory guidance the Minister outlined have the capacity to start to change the experience of victims such as Zoe, but only if every single part of the criminal justice system engages with these changes to make them work. That is why the expertise that exists in pockets of good practice in the police and probation needs to be mainstreamed into MAPPA—and the work before MAPPA in call centres, front-line policing and the court system—with effective training throughout to watch for the red signals and pick up on this type of behaviour.
I want Parliament to hear of reductions in attacks and murders, of an increase in the number of offenders successfully managed by MAPPA, and a world where victims can start to live their lives no longer in fear—knowing that they can turn to the police and others for help. This Bill is the start of a very long journey to be continued in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and the domestic violence and violence against women and girls strategies. We will watch with interest and, in fulfilling our duty, we will return to challenge and scrutinise how these important changes are being effected. At the end of the day, lives depend on the Government and everyone in the police and criminal justice system getting it right.
My Lords, at the last stage of the Bill I started by saying it felt dangerously like
“déjà vu all over again”.—[Official Report, 21/4/21; col. 1935.]
I am very pleased to announce this afternoon that it does not feel like déjà vu any longer. I think we are in mortal danger of actually moving forward—for which I thank the Minister very warmly.
It is perhaps no coincidence that this group of amendments, which in many ways is at the heart of the Bill, is coming right at the very end of it. The reason for that is that it is probably the most difficult part of the Bill to deal with. Almost all the excellent work done in both Houses up until this point has been dealing with some of the effects and after-effects of domestic abuse. What we are talking about in this group is trying to identify the causes and early signs of domestic abuse: in other words, trying to stop it happening rather more efficiently and effectively than we have done in the past.
To the Government’s credit—and this is not easy to admit—they have admitted that the current system is not working well. You just have to look at the weekly litany of deaths and some of the stories behind them to realise that it is not working. But it still takes a certain amount of courage to admit that one has not got it right and that one needs to change—so I am very grateful for that.
Although I have played an insignificant part, I am also extremely grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Brinton, the latter of whom is an expert on stalking, for putting forward such compelling arguments for stalking to be included that the Government have acceded to the strength of their arguments. I am extremely grateful for that.
I am also grateful that new statutory guidance will be forthcoming. But at this point I want to issue a very strong health warning. I apologise to the Minister, who heard me go on a bit about this earlier this morning. For any new guidance to be effective, it must be created and then applied in a fundamentally different way from the way it has been done in the past. Part of that is that it needs different voices and experiences around the table. The individuals responsible for MAPPA at a national level and in the 42 different MAPPA areas all around the country—effectively, each police force—are largely the same group of people from the same organisations that have been responsible for trying to make the MAPPA system work over all these years.
However, part of the Government’s recognition of the complexity behind the causes of domestic abuse—in particular the addition of stalking—means that there is a compelling need to bring these new experiences and knowledge to the table. They have to become an integral part of MAPPA. They must have the same power of voice and vote around the table. Part of what needs to happen is for MAPPA to evolve and develop a different way of looking at all this. It needs to develop a new language, and new forms of assessment and forecasting, and to do so in a dynamic way, not looking at things every six months or every two years. It has admitted that part of the reason why the statutory guidance is now online rather than printed is that it has probably already been out of date by the time it has been printed. Putting it online means that it can be updated constantly; I genuinely welcome that.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, I managed, by googling away, to find the job description for the new head of MAPPA, who Her Majesty’s Government are currently seeking. Some of your Lordships may have seen a slip of paper in the past couple of weeks, before the election of the Lord Speaker, where, after 30 or so years of being a head-hunter, I put pen to paper—actually finger to iPad—and wrote a brief description of some of the attributes I thought were important in the role, as well as, very importantly, some of the deliverables. The glaring omission in the job specification for the head of MAPPA is any definition of relevant experience. There is nothing whatever to indicate what type of prior experience and knowledge would qualify the candidates to be on that shortlist. I put it to the Minister that whoever becomes the next head of MAPPA must have a breadth of knowledge, an openness of mind, and an ability to manage and argue compellingly for change of a different order of magnitude from what has been required before. That will be absolutely fundamental.
I finish my rant by again thanking the Minister very much indeed. We have made considerable progress. I look forward to not forgetting about the rear-view mirror —as a dedicated cyclist I know that would be extremely dangerous; indeed I have rear-view mirrors on both of my bicycles. I congratulate the Government on the progress they have made, but I ask them to take what I have said seriously to heart and to try to make sure that we get it right this time. The test will be when the awful metronomic death toll of the work done week in, week out by the Counting Dead Women initiative starts going down, and the number of people on the MAPPA system starts going up with the right sort of people. At that point we can feel that we are actually doing something that all these victims and their families have been looking for, for so many years; that will be really good news.
A Member in the Chamber has indicated his wish to speak. I call the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
My Lords, I should be sitting on a Back Bench, but there is no space on our Back Benches. Noble Lords might perhaps just assume that I am speaking from the Back Benches.
I have not spoken on this issue before but, as a former senior police officer, I feel that I should say a few words. I agree with the Minister that this is largely a failure of implementation rather than of legislation, but the movers of these amendments have had to resort to legislation due to frustration with the lack of progress in improving the situation. This could potentially be the result of a lack of resources, or, as my noble friend Lady Brinton said, there is a need for a change of culture—something to which the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, also alluded. It is very welcome that the Government are looking to refresh and strengthen the MAPPA statutory guidance. I recommend that, if at all possible, they consult with Laura Richards; I was going to say that she is an acknowledged expert, but she is the expert in this area.
One question I have for the Minister that causes me some concern relates to her remarks about stalking “within a domestic abuse context”. Stalking needs to be addressed both within and without the domestic abuse context. Can she please reassure us on that point?
Does anyone else in the Chamber wish to speak? No? Then I call the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull.
My Lords, my group and I wish to avoid putting this Bill in jeopardy by doing our own bit of disagreeing with the Government and forcing another round of ping-pong just before Parliament is dissolved. We have achieved so much for victims in this Bill, with the exception, yet again, through the Government agreeing to Motion C, of failing to treat all victims equally and thereby failing to meet the criteria of the Istanbul convention, as my noble friend Lord Paddick said. The right reverend Prelate must be as disappointed, as so many of us are, that this was the only amendment to “go the distance” and be substantially modified, but still get no movement from the Government. Anyway, I digress; I have no wish to detain the House.
I feel reassured at the Minister’s words regarding Amendment 42. If I have misunderstood anything that she has said at the Dispatch Box, will she please disabuse me in her final remarks? My understanding is that, first, experts in domestic abuse and stalking will be included in the MAPPA process, assessing patterns of behaviour to decide which category an offender should be placed in. I particularly welcome the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, on how MAPPA should change the way it works.
Secondly, I understand that the assessment of MAPPA categories will depend on patterns of behaviour, not on the sentence received—I was going to say, “if any”, but from what the Minister said I understand that there must have been a conviction, not necessarily with the one-year criteria.
Thirdly, I understand that the domestic abuse commissioner and the Victims’ Commissioner will get access to the figures on stalking and domestic abuse from MAPPA under the duty in this Bill to co-operate. References to the inclusion of stalking by the Minister have been heard loud and clear.
Finally, I reiterate what my noble friend Lady Brinton said: we are at only the start of this process. We have heard so many stories from victims of how their repeated calls for help have been ignored and threats and actions underplayed until the worst happened. Our culture must change; our responses must improve. Only then will we be able to say that the Bill has achieved its purpose. However, it is a great tribute to the Minister and her ministerial colleagues that we are where we are on the Bill today.
My Lords, we on these Benches are grateful for the movement from the Government that we have heard in the debate, including the inclusion of domestic abuse-related stalking in the perpetrator strategy. I pay tribute to the Minister for all her work on the Bill and for the many welcome changes, including these, that have been made during its passage. That is not to say that we do not still have some concerns that the proposed changes to the MAPPA guidance will not be strong enough. We welcome the idea of a debate in the autumn on the effectiveness of the guidance.
I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon for all her work on the issue of stalking, not only in the context of this Bill but over many years of campaigning in this House. The progress that we have made to date would not have been possible without her work. I also pay tribute to the work and support of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, and many others in this House.
I think we have all accepted that the system as it stands is not working—it is not catching the perpetrators where the Minister claims it should be. I would like her to be clear about what it is specifically about this change to the guidance that will make it work. If it is simply about a change in the guidance, we could have done that before. What is it about this amendment to the guidance that is going to deliver change?
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, I listened to the “Today” programme this morning and heard the contribution from Zoe Dronfield; I do not know if other Members have. It was harrowing to listen to what that poor woman has gone through. She met someone and, after a few weeks, thought it was going to work, but then there were all the phone calls, the texts, the knock on the door and then her front door being kicked in. At no point did she get help from anyone—the police said, “He hasn’t really done anything, has he?”—and it had to get to the point where he nearly killed her before action was taken. That is totally wrong. These amendments are trying to stop the situation where you have to be nearly killed before any action is taken. We need a guarantee that serial and high-risk offenders will be risk-assessed and, where the risk of harm is identified, be included under MAPPA —otherwise, what is changing?
The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, is right that the death toll has to come down for us to see that the guidance and the Act are working. If we do not see that happen then we are failing victims, their families and campaigners. In the weeks and months ahead we have to see effects from this. If we do not then we have failed in our duty.
It is key that an offender’s past behaviour must be considered. Zoe Dronfield told the “Today” programme that she was not the first case; the person who attacked her had previously abused and attacked 12 other women, but she knew nothing about it. We have to ensure that the system starts to recognise the reality of these crimes and where the risk escalates—otherwise, what are we doing here today?
My noble friend Lady Royall has asked a number of detailed questions and I am sure the Minister will respond to them. The debates that we have had, particularly on this issue, have shed light on the failures of the past and current failures, and we all agree that we have to do better. I look forward to seeing the effective action that is going to happen.
I know that my noble friend and other campaigners, in this House and elsewhere, will be back if this does not work. We have the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, as well as other debates and issues—this is not going to go away; for too long victims have wanted to get this sorted out. The Government have done loads of good work on this and a good job with the Bill, which we are very happy with. But if there are issues that have not been sorted out, we will be back to ensure that they are, because we owe that to the victims and their families.
My Lords, to take the words that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has just spoken, I would expect the House to be back if the measures that we have put into the Bill and the accompanying guidance and practice around them were not working. He asked what it was about this Bill that would change things. The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, has said that this last bit is the hard yards, because it asks the question: where in practice will what is in the Bill change things? That is absolutely the right thing.
In no particular order, I shall go through the various questions that noble Lords have asked. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked about domestic abuse and stalking in category 1. The revised guidance will address the management of domestic abuse perpetrators at level 1 for category 1 sexual offences. In addition to guidance, and to ensure that there is maximum accessibility and clarity, we will, as I have said, publish a succinct thresholding document to guide practitioners in deciding on the most appropriate level of management. The different levels of management under MAPPA are set to ensure that resources are directed to, and properly targeted at, those offenders who pose the highest risk and are the most complex to manage. However, we need to ensure that action is taken where there are indicators of escalating harm, as a number of noble Lords have mentioned, for those managed at the least intensive level. HMP Prison and Probation Service will therefore issue a policy framework for its staff setting out clear requirements for their management of all cases at MAPPA level 1.
On the question about a person not being sentenced for something, and therefore where the information is, the guidance will make very clear that convicted offenders who demonstrate a pattern of offending behaviour that indicates either serious harm or an escalation in the risk of serious harm relating to domestic abuse or stalking but which is not reflected in the charge for which they were actually convicted—I think this is what the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, was referring to—should be considered for category 3 management. The guidance will set out the importance of being mindful of the totality of an offender’s behaviour in domestic abuse and stalking cases. The noble Baroness reiterated her points, and I know this is an important issue for her. She wanted me to say it again, and I hope she is happy with that.
On MAPPA category 3, there is no minimum sentence for those who can be managed under that category. On commissioners monitoring the impact of the actions that I have outlined, they are independent but I am certain that they will be monitoring the impact of those actions, because one of the first things that will be on the commissioner’s desk when she is formerly in post is the Domestic Abuse Act and the implications and practices arising out of it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, talked about the very important issue of the sharing of information. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill specifically clarifies that information can be shared with non-duty-to-co-operate agencies—for example, specialist domestic abuse organisations—if they can contribute to the risk management plan.
The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, talked about the job description for the head of MAPPA. He said that whoever does it will need a breadth of knowledge and a broadness of mind. Perhaps they might refer to Hansard for inspiration from the passage of this Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked whether stalking was covered within and outwith domestic abuse. The answer to that is yes.
The last thing that I must talk about is funding. Funding was set out in the Budget but MAPPA is clearly a set of arrangements for managing high-harm offenders and, as such, is resourced from within the existing budgets of responsible authorities. However, the Government are committed to an additional 20,000 police officers, of which 6,600 have already been recruited. As I have already said, we are investing £25 million in additional funding to tackle perpetrators in 2021-22. We will continue to work with specialist domestic abuse organisations and the domestic abuse commissioner to ensure that that funding is spent effectively. We will continue to push to maintain that investment in perpetrator programmes as part of the next spending review.
As a House of Lords, we have come a long way with this Bill. We have revised it for the better. The Government have acquiesced to virtually all that noble Lords have asked in order to make this the excellent Bill that it now is. I hope that noble Lords will not divide on this matter and that they wish to see this Bill pass. The test will be the difference it makes to the lives of so many women and children.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this hugely important debate. I thank the Minister for her responses to this most difficult part of the Bill. The thresholding document she mentioned will be extremely important, as will the policy framework.
The guidance is critical. I am grateful to the Minister for saying that we will have this before the summer, and we look forward to being consulted. It is crucial that we see it before the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill reaches this House. If it is seen to be in any way inadequate, and if it is not accompanied by a statement of the funding allocated to its implementation —including for training—we will revisit this issue then.
The noble Baroness suggested that funding came from various departments. I accept this answer, but it is not enough. Some funding needs to be ring-fenced. This will ensure that MAPPA 3 can be implemented, as we all believe it should be, in order to increase the number of perpetrators encompassed by MAPPA 3 who are assessed and managed accordingly.
The Minister has made many commitments, for which I am grateful. We will continue to follow their realisation closely. In a year’s time, my noble friends and I will table a debate to enable a progress report. We expect to see that the number of murders has greatly diminished.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Newlove, and the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, are most definitely my noble friends in this context. I thank them for their support. We shall continue to work together, doing everything possible to ensure that the perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking are identified, assessed and managed, so that their actions are not repeated and escalated. We wish to bring about the necessary change in culture. The number of people in MAPPA 3 must go up and the number of murders must go down.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, spoke about Laura Richards, the global expert on stalking. She is the most extraordinary woman who should be consulted at every step of the way.
I thank all the brave women, such as Zoe Dronfield and Rachel Riley, who have come forward to tell us of their appalling experiences. I thank the families of victims who have used their pain and grief to campaign for change which will benefit others—the Cloughs, the Ruggles, the Gazzards of this world, and many more.
I also thank the Minister for her amazing work on this excellent Bill, for the progress she has made and for her time and shared determination to bring about change. This will prevent women living in fear and prevent murder.
As so many noble Lords have said, this is the beginning. We have much work to do, but together we can do it. The debate today is another step in the building block towards bringing about the necessary change. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Motion D1 withdrawn.
Motion D agreed.