Committee (10th Day) (Continued)
284: After Clause 170, insert the following new Clause—
“Harassment in a public place
(1) A person must not engage in any conduct in a public place— (a) which amounts to harassment of another, and(b) which he or she knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other.(2) For the purposes of this section, the person whose conduct is in question ought to know that it amounts to harassment of another if a reasonable person would think the conduct amounted to harassment of the other.(3) For the purposes of this section—“conduct” includes speech;“harassment” of a person includes causing the person alarm or distress.(4) Subsection (1) does not apply to conduct if the person can show—(a) that it was for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime,(b) that it was under any enactment or rule of law or to comply with any condition or requirement imposed by any person under any enactment, or(c) that in the particular circumstances it was reasonable.(5) A person who engages in any conduct in breach of subsection (1) is guilty of an offence.(6) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or both.”Member’s explanatory statement
This would create a specific offence of street harassment.
These important amendments deal with the attempts to make this Bill a reset as far as violence against women and girls is concerned. They create a number of new offences and indicate that there should be reviews in certain areas in relation to harassment and other related things. I will go through each one in turn.
Amendment 284, in my name, would create a specific offence of street harassment. It is not limited to sexual harassment because the experience of men and women on the street is not restricted to sexual harassment. In July 2021, the Home Secretary indicated that she was thinking of introducing a crime of sexual harassment. There are a whole range of studies about the effect, particularly on women, of harassment in the street. A United Nations study, not restricted to the United Kingdom, said that 70% of women had been affected by street harassment, 4% said that it was worth complaining about it and 45% said that it was not. The sort of harassment that one has in mind in relation to this offence is wolf-whistling, people being called out to, people being the victim of people treating them with a total lack of respect in a way that might cause alarm or distress. As I say, it is not restricted to women; other groups are affected as well. Members of the LGBTQ community speak of harassment that they suffer in particular places. It would be wrong to restrict the terms of this offence to a particular type of harassment or a particular group of people, but this proposed new clause makes it an offence to subject somebody to what a reasonable person would regard as harassment, and harassment includes causing that person alarm or distress.
I very much hope that the Government will take up the opportunity that the Home Secretary herself indicated was worth taking up. That would indicate that the sorts of behaviour that in many cases occur throughout the length and breadth of the country would no longer be acceptable, and if people behave better and do not commit acts of harassment, that will have an affect right up the scale. In terms of the drafting, the proposed new clause sets it out very clearly, but we are open to any suggestions about how it may be drafted better.
Amendment 285 makes it an offence to kerb-crawl. We define it as
“an offence for a person, from a motor vehicle while it is in a street or public place … to engage in conduct which amounts to harassment in such manner or in such circumstances as to be likely to cause annoyance, alarm, distress or nuisance to any other person.”
That seeks to deal with people in their cars winding down their windows and shouting, barracking and making life difficult, often with a sexual undertone or more than an undertone. Again, that should be a crime, and something that we very much hope that the Government will treat as a serious matter. We hope that they will take up the suggestion that has been made. Again, if there are better ways of drafting it, we are more than open to hearing them, but Amendment 285 provides the basis for such a crime.
Amendments 292A and 292B are about sex for rent, which should be a crime. This is where an individual offers accommodation at a reduced cost or free in exchange for sex. This arrangement can be either at the beginning of a tenancy or enforced during a tenancy, often when tenants are experiencing difficulties in finding somewhere to live or in paying the rent. Sex for rent arrangements force people, especially women, into the most vulnerable of situations, often in enclosed private spaces to which a perpetrator has constant and unrestricted access. This has been a matter of campaign for a considerable period, particularly from groups such as Generation Rent. Politicians from all parties have picked it up and investigative journalists have too.
This Bill provides an opportunity to do something about it. A 2016 Shelter survey found that 8% of women had been offered a sex-for-rent arrangement at some point in their lives. In 2018, YouGov and Shelter estimated that 250,000 women had been asked for sexual favours by their landlords in exchange for free or discounted accommodation at some point between 2013 and 2018. More recent research by Shelter, which regards this as a serious issue, suggested that 30,000 women in the United Kingdom were propositioned with such arrangements between the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and January 2021. It is not difficult to imagine that the question of how one affords accommodation became more and more difficult for certain people during the pandemic.
An investigation by the Daily Mail published on 1 January 2021 found lists of sex-for-rent advertisements open on the website Craigslist with landlords’ telephone numbers included. Anyone can be a victim of sex for rent, but overwhelmingly this is a crime enacted by men against women. According to the Women’s Budget Group, in no region in England is it affordable to rent privately on women’s median earnings, meaning that many women are vulnerable to this sort of disgraceful behaviour. There are some indications that race, gender identity and personal circumstances play a role. Very little research has been conducted on those most vulnerable to sex-for-rent crimes, but a number of experts have commented on this and have pointed out that very often it is minority-ethnic groups, sex trafficking survivors and ex-prisoners who are the most vulnerable to this sort of offence.
As I have already indicated, the pandemic has made women more economically unstable and therefore more vulnerable to sex-for-rent crimes. One in four women in the UK saw a drop in her income last year due to the pandemic, according to research from Fidelity International. Mothers were especially hard hit by the drop in income and were 47% more likely to lose their job than fathers, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Mothers were also more likely to be furloughed and to have their hours cut back by 50% or more. This means that as a result of the pandemic women are now facing even greater instability in an already insecure market.
Sex for rent should be an offence. Under the current legislation an individual can be prosecuted for such a crime only under Section 52 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 for causing or inciting prostitution for gain. Only one person has ever been charged in a sex-for-rent case, as recently as January this year. It is wholly wrong that, in order for it to be prosecuted, the victim has to be characterised as being engaged in prostitution. The law has made it extremely difficult for victims in sex-for-rent cases to seek justice. As I have indicated, the form of the current offence is wholly inappropriate to make it an offence.
This Bill gives us a chance to take action in relation to this matter. I very much hope that the Government will take this up. If they have a better suggestion about the drafting, we are willing to listen, but the thing to do in a Bill such as this, because these opportunities do not come along very often, is to do something about it. Here is an opportunity. This House will co-operate and there will not be opposition from people to this amendment, so I very much hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, will be able to give a favourable answer in relation to this.
Amendment 292B is contingent on Amendment 292A. It creates an offence of arranging or facilitating an offence of requiring or accepting sexual relations as a condition of accommodation. This is intended to capture, for example, publishers or hosts of advertisements for such arrangements. The penalty for this facilitation offence would be a fine of up to £50,000.
Next, Amendment 292M calls for a review of the offence of exposure, under Section 66 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, to be set up within a very short period after this Act is passed. A review under this section must consider, among other things: the incidence of it; the adequacy of the sentencing guidelines; charging rates and prosecution rates; the adequacy of police investigations into reports of exposure; what sorts of sentences are effective; what the reoffending rates are; and, crucially, whether people who commit the offence of exposure go on to commit more serious offences. Everybody in this Chamber will have in mind that the killer of Miss Everard had committed two offences of exposure prior to the offence that has caused so much public distress. We want the Government to look into whether or not the offence of exposure has been properly treated.
Amendment 292R calls for a review in relation to the prevalence of, and the response of the criminal justice system to, the offence of administering a substance with intent, under Section 61 of the Sexual Offences Act. Again, this is to look into the question of spiking. Is spiking becoming a prevalent offence? If it is, what should we be doing about it? It is something that needs to be looked into.
Finally, Amendment 292T proposes that where somebody, A, kills another person, B, in the course of, or with the motive of, sexual gratification, if A intended the action that led to the death of B, that should be an offence that has a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. This is to ensure that the “rough sex” defence cannot be deployed. It means that where that does happen there is an offence, punishable up to life, available to the prosecutors to prosecute and for the jury to find the person guilty of. I would be very interested to hear the Government’s reaction to that. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendment 284 for all the reasons that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has explained. However, I respectfully suggest to him that there is a slight mismatch between that amendment and Amendment 285. Amendment 284 is so broadly defined, for the reasons that have been very well expressed, that it would include the conduct that is described in Amendment 285. Indeed, if we look at the wording of Amendment 285, harassment is an essential element of that offence.
I raise the point because there is a difference between the penalties. The value of the kerb-crawling clause is that it introduces a possibility of disqualification, and I see the force of that, but the fine is only level 3, whereas the fine in Amendment 284 is level 5. If I was a prosecutor, having to decide which charge to bring, I would probably go for the offence in Amendment 284 and forget about the disqualification. I wonder whether, if the noble and learned Lord is thinking of bringing the matter back, he might try to amalgamate these two and perhaps put a subsection into Amendment 284 to cover the situation that if the harassment offence is conducted from a motorcar, in the way broadly described in Amendment 285, it would attract the additional penalty of disqualification. It would then be brought into Amendment 284’s sanctions, which are imprisonment, which might well be appropriate in a kerb-crawling offence, and also the level 5 fine. That is a refinement of drafting, but I am very much in favour of Amendment 284 as it stands, particularly in view of the broad way in which it is expressed.
My Lords, I offer Green support for all these amendments. Some of my questions have just been answered by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and his suggestion that some of the amendments be combined is positive, because retaining the opportunity to take away the right to a vehicle in an offence involving a vehicle is very useful.
I am aware of the time and the pressure to make progress, but it is a great pity that we are discussing such an important group of amendments, all put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, so late at night and in this rather rushed way. I will just draw some comparisons and links between them.
One thing to highlight is how much these amendments come from community campaigning from the grass roots up. I imagine that the campaign for the offence of harassment draws, in large part, from the group called Our Streets Now, set up by sisters Gemma and Maya Tutton, aged 16 and 22, who are working with the charity Plan International UK. Their hashtag is #CrimeNotCompliment. I suspect that the noble and learned Lord might have drawn on their ready-made Bill and I note that this has had strong cross-party support in the other place. I draw on the words of the women’s rights campaigner Nimco Ali, who said it is “bizarre” that street sexual harassment is still legal. Littering and smoking are banned, but this kind of behaviour is not.
On Amendment 285, I briefly highlight that Generation Rent, another grass-roots campaign group, has been pushing for action here. A report by Shelter in January found that, between March and September 2020, around 30,000 women had been offered housing in exchange for sex. This is a function of the extreme dysfunction of our current housing system.
I have to address Amendment 292M personally because, as I suspect is the case for many people, particularly women, it is something I have personally experienced. I was 11 years old in another country, out in the centre of Sydney on my own, when I was subjected to this offence. I was taught, as lots of young girls were then and probably still are now, to laugh, turn around and walk away. But that I can still vividly remember that street scene shows that it had an impact on me. When I look back now, I felt as an 11 year-old that this was a threat to my right to be on the streets. I did not tell my mother, because I was worried that she would think I should not be allowed out on my own to exercise the freedom that I wanted and continued to exercise. It is crucial that we see a change in attitude here and a review is a good way to address that.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has covered Amendment 292T very well, but we must note that Femicide Census, campaigning on this and broader issues, reports no sign of a reduction in the rate of femicide. That study covered a 10-year span from 2009 to 2018. We are not making progress on this, but we need to. I hope the Government will go away and look at this important group of amendments very seriously, and come back to us with proposals covering—I like to be an optimist—all of them.
My Lords, spiking is a serious matter and people who do it should be caught and punished, but I issue a note of caution, because I am slightly worried about Amendment 292R, put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I am worried it might be too reactive and respond to the perception that this is a major problem, rather than a cool factual analysis. Calling for an urgent review could unintentionally fuel what might be a moral panic and create a climate of fear.
To give some context, despite the headlines and social media hysteria, some careful commentators and a range of experts have raised doubts, queried some of the sensationalist coverage and warned against overreacting. There was a useful article in Vice that started the debunking, which quoted Guy Jones, a senior scientist at the drugs charity The Loop, who pointed out that
“few drugs would be able to be injected like this”,
using a needle. Administering drugs in this way is just not an easy task. Some experts have explained that it would be particularly difficult to use date-rape drugs, because of the larger needle that would be needed and that it would need to be in the body for at least 20 seconds.
The director of the Global Drug Survey, Adam Winstock, notes:
“There are very few widely accessible drugs”
that could be used in this way and given intramuscularly in small enough volumes that people would not notice. A critical care nurse I saw interviewed suggested that the likelihood of administering drugs like ketamine was virtually zero. After a high-profile report about somebody being infected by HIV, the National AIDS Trust pointed out:
“Getting HIV from a needle injury is extremely rare. A diagnosis takes weeks.”
So it is worth pausing.
It is true that, although the police have accumulated lots of reports, there are very few instances where there are injuries that would be consistent with a needle. Yet, despite these contradictions, the lack of evidence and some doubts about the feasibility of injection spiking, all sorts of institutions, such as universities and political organisations, have accepted these stories at face value and ended up sending out scare messages themselves. When a story goes viral on social media, students find themselves deluged with official email warnings about unacceptable, reprehensible and life-threatening practices if they go out for the night to a nightclub. I am concerned that those in positions of authority risk frightening young women and demonising the same generation of young men with no evidence of a wide-scale problem.
At the moment, a petition that has been officially sanctioned by all sorts of people is going round saying that nightclubs should be legally required to search guests thoroughly. That is no small matter. It is worrying how many people are so fearful that they would endorse full body searches for a night out. I note that students at the University of Bristol have set up a group called “Girls Night In”, which urges young women to stay indoors until clubs change their ways. In other words, fear can be a serious barrier to women’s freedom. I want to avoid ratcheting up threats and undermining women’s confidence about participating in public life fully. As legislators, we need to encourage a sense of perspective and at least consider that anything we do does not fuel what might be a moral panic. I know that the review would look at facts, but the fact of having an urgent review might actually make things worse.
I have a particular query for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, on Amendment 284, which stresses that “‘conduct’ includes speech”. Obviously, as somebody who is always concerned about free speech, how does he envisage people not ultimately being criminalised and penalised for things they say? How does he balance that with the need to protect people’s freedom of speech?
My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendments 292A and 292B. In doing so, I declare my interest as director of Generation Rent.
In my view, men advertising free rent for sex are not landlords, they are predators; they prey on vulnerable women and men with limited financial options. The fact that they use Covid as a marketing technique is abhorrent. They do not provide, or even attempt to provide, a safe, secure home; they deliberately take advantage of people. Although the law and CPS guidance in this area were updated a few years ago, they are still flawed and inadequate. Action against these predators needs to be enforced, investigated and prosecuted. The web platforms such as Craigslist, which is reportedly worth £7.5 billion, that facilitate this exploitation need to have action taken against them. They host these ads, yet they are ignored by law enforcement. Some of these predators may not be aware that they are breaking the law; however, I am sure that many are laughing at the law. They post their ads, which are open and explicit, and their criminal actions pass by unhindered because they know that they can post these ads without consequence.
Despite it being a criminal offence, as my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton said, there has only ever been one charge for sex for rent. That was in January this year, and it was because of the good work of journalists who passed their evidence to the police. Thanks to that and an investigation by ITV researchers in 2009, this then resulted in further criminal inquiries.
Of course, as director of Generation Rent, I would say that dealing with the criminal justice aspects of this issue is only one side of the problem. Hand in hand with these criminal justice changes there needs to be action to address the insecure housing situation and financial vulnerabilities of thousands of people in this country. We need a dramatic increase in social housing. It was reported last week that fewer than 6,000 social homes were built last year. We need more interventions to support renters in arrears. Rent arrears have tripled during the pandemic, and more renters than ever are now on universal credit. We need a proper and permanent end to private renters being able to be evicted for no reason with just two months’ notice. Hundreds of thousands of people are financially vulnerable and live at risk of homelessness and exploitation.
No one should ever be forced by coercion or circumstance to exchange sex for a home. The law needs to better protect renters from these predators, who seek to exploit them in return for a roof over their head. I very much support the amendments tabled by my noble friend and look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I entirely support the motivation behind all the amendments in the group, comprehensively spoken to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I am, however, hesitant about the detail of the new offences proposed, and that goes further than the drafting—I fully accept that the noble and learned Lord suggested that there could be changes to the drafting. All five of the new offences have problems of breadth. That prevents me giving unqualified support to creating these new offences without considerable further research being undertaken.
I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, that there is some danger to having a review of the spiking offence, but, in general, as distinct from the specific new offences, I am entirely unqualified in my support for the two amendments calling for urgent reviews of the law on exposure and on spiking. We need to consider carefully how the law in these two areas is working, the extent to which it needs reform and exactly what reform is needed. The review mechanism proposed in the amendments is comprehensive and sensible, and the amendments have the potential, if accepted, to lead to measured and evidence-based reform which will work well. It is that type of reform that we should all want.
The amendments creating each of the five new offences in this group respond to entirely justifiable views that something must be done, but I am not sure that the conditions on which criminal liability is imposed have been sufficiently reviewed and considered. The response I would like to see in each case from the Government is a promise to consider the new offences carefully and, with expert help, to see whether they can come up with offences that would be clearly defined, thoroughly drafted and delineated, and limited to behaviour that should properly be criminal, with all the pitfalls considered.
I fully agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, that we have suffered in this Bill from trying to do everything in a rush. These amendments, while well intentioned and in the right spirit, fall into that danger.
We could take the creation of the new offence of non-fatal strangulation in the Domestic Abuse Act as a useful template. The proceedings on that provision in that Act also proved that there does not need to be undue delay in ensuring that a well-drafted provision reaches the statute book. Indeed, it might be possible to include new offences in all these areas, if only the Government would give a sensible allocation of more time for their consideration.
Perhaps I may give several examples of my concerns—they include those expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, but go further. On street harassment, in Amendment 284, I am concerned about the breadth of the proposed offence. The noble and learned Lord saw it as a virtue that it was not confined to sexual harassment. I do not agree with that, because “harassment” as defined is so broad that it criminalises behaviour that many people would not believe ought to be criminal.
I am also concerned about the use of the words “ought to know” in the context of harassment. When a defendant does not know that conduct amounts to harassment but is charged on the basis that he ought to have known it, is that properly a criminal offence? These are not drafting points; they reflect a concern about criminalising behaviour with a particular target—generally sexual harassment, as has been said—while included in the target are far more offenders than could properly have been envisaged.
On kerb-crawling, I am concerned that the definition in subsection (1) of the proposed new clause in Amendment 285 is far wider than anything that would normally be understood as kerb-crawling, which usually has to do with soliciting prostitution. This would cover any conduct amounting to harassment, after getting out of the vehicle, that is
“likely to cause annoyance, alarm, distress or nuisance”.
It seems to me that any incident of road rage could therefore be covered. The proposed offence is completely two-sided. The suggested penalty is revocation of a licence, or a fine. Why revocation of a licence? Incidents of road rage may be two-way—there may be blame on both sides. Why not a shorter ban, if the removal of a licence is indeed appropriate?
Amendment 292A concerns the offence of sex for rent and Amendment 292B concerns facilitating it. These amendments are directed at unscrupulous landlords and owners or providers of accommodation. Appalling behaviour, such as that outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, would be covered by the proposed offence, but is that behaviour all that the proposed offence would cover? The definition includes the words “requiring or accepting” sexual relations. Is the provider of the accommodation always the only guilty party? Should such behaviour always be criminal? What about the landlady of the bed and breakfast who seduces the potential paying guest and offers him or her a free room in return? Is that always to be criminal? Even if it is, is that offence always triable on indictment only? Is that proportionate? I suggest not—it needs further thought. The business of sex for rent is disgraceful, in exactly the way expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, but we need to be very careful about what we introduce in response to the outrage that is felt as a result.
On Amendment 292T and sexually motivated homicide, of course one understands the motivation behind creating that new offence, but my concern is that, as drafted, the offence would criminalise behaviour where the perpetrator intended no harm at all to the person who died. It covers a person who kills another
“in the course of … sexual gratification”
and intends the act—in other words, has the intention to do whatever sexual act it is that led to the death of the person who dies. Would this not cover consensual acts desired or intended by both parties which, whether by accident or misfortune, led to the death of one of them? The noble and learned Lord said that this was there to outlaw the defence of rough sex. I understand that it is there for that purpose, but people have sex that gives them heart attacks—that is an extreme and, in a sense, absurd example, but there are a lot of sexual acts that lead to harm. You cannot criminalise them all just to deal with the defence of rough sex. Some of those acts would be unintentional and innocent.
My point is not to resist any change in the criminal law; it is simply to point out how careful we need to be in passing new legislation before we introduce new rafts of offences that go far too wide. That would be a restriction on freedom, not an improvement in the freedom of the citizen from new offences. I hope that the Government will respond to these amendments in a positive way, but with great care and in the spirit of compromise between the need for care and the need to criminalise behaviour that truly ought to be criminal.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for setting out these amendments, which call for new offences to tackle street harassment and so-called sex for rent, propose a review of the offences of exposure and administering a substance with intent, and seek to address cases which involve the so-called rough sex defence.
On Amendments 284 and 285, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, no one can doubt the gravity of the issue these amendments seek to address. Like the Committee, the House and the whole country, I was very shocked by the tragic events of September; first, Sabina Nessa and then the revelations about how the murderer of Sarah Everard had abused his position as a police officer to commit his awful crimes. While these are the most serious violent crimes which can happen to women, they form just one part of what Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary referred to in its recent report as an epidemic of violence against women and girls.
What is so striking is how these crimes have galvanised so many women and girls across the country to talk about their experiences and their suffering. To many of us—although not, of course, to those who experience it—the sheer scale of the problem has been shocking. Many of the more than 180,000 responses which we received to the call for evidence on the Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls strategy addressed this issue, as did the report published by Plan International UK in September. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics in August about perceptions of personal safety and experiences of harassment were equally shocking. For example, two out of three women aged between 16 and 34 had experienced one form of harassment in the previous 12 months. Thankfully, those experiences are not of the same level of gravity as what happened to the women who I have just spoken about, but they are still deeply traumatic to their victims.
I assure noble Lords that tackling violence against women and girls is a huge priority for this Government. We published our new Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls strategy in July. As the Home Secretary wrote in her foreword, violence against women and girls is not inevitable, and
“This Strategy will help bring about real and lasting change.”
On the issue of sexual harassment in public places, it sets out a number of commitments. A national communications campaign will challenge this kind of behaviour and ensure victims know how and where to report it. To ensure police are confident about how to respond to public sexual harassment, the College of Policing will provide new guidance for officers; this work is already well advanced. To prevent the behaviour happening in the first place, we will work to deepen our understanding of who commits these crimes, why they do it and how this behaviour may escalate, including through our new funding on what works to tackle violence against women and girls.
The strategy confirmed that we will pilot a tool, StreetSafe, which will enable the public to anonymously report areas where they feel unsafe and identify what it was about the location that made them feel that way, so that police can use that information to improve community safety. The pilot launched in August. The strategy also confirmed that the Government are investing a further £25 million in the safer streets fund to enable local areas to put in place innovative crime prevention measures to ensure that women and girls feel safe in public spaces. The successful bids were announced in October. The strategy also confirmed that the Home Office would launch a £5 million safety of women at night fund focused on the prevention of violence against women and girls in public spaces at night. The successful bids were announced on 10 November, and our commitment to this issue cannot be in doubt.
However, there is rightly considerable interest in the legal position, including whether there should be a new law specifically targeted at this type of behaviour. I pay tribute to parliamentarians in both Houses for their campaigning on this issue and to the organisations Plan International UK and Our Streets Now—the latter, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, said, set up by two sisters out of a determination that other women and girls should not suffer sexual harassment as they had.
As noble Lords will know from the tackling VAWG strategy, while there is not a specific offence of street harassment, there are a number of offences in place that capture that behaviour—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Marks, who talked about behaviours—depending on the specific circumstances, including offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Public Order Act 1986 and the Sexual Offences Act 2003. However, we are looking carefully at where there might be gaps in existing law and how a specific offence of public sexual harassment could address those. That work continues and is being informed by the results of the call for evidence and by our direct engagement with campaigners on this issue. We have not yet reached a position on it and I cannot commit to have done so ahead of Report; as the strategy notes, this is a complex area and it is important that we take time to ensure that any potential legislation is necessary, proportionate and reasonably defined.
On Amendments 292A and 292B, we can all agree that so-called sex for rent is an exploitative and abhorrent phenomenon that has no place in our society. That said, there are existing offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 that might be used to prosecute the practice, including the Section 52 offence of causing or inciting prostitution for gain and the Section 53 offence of controlling prostitution for gain. Both offences carry a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment and can capture instances of “sex for rent”, dependent on the circumstances of the individual case. The Section 52 offence would apply when the identified victim had been caused or incited to engage in prostitution. In addition, the online safety Bill will also place duties on sites that host user-generated content, such as social media companies, to protect their users from illegal content. This would include posts that are committing the offence of inciting—
I apologise for interrupting, but is it right that those existing sexual offences all require the victims in “sex for rent” cases to be characterised as engaging in prostitution?
I was going to get on to that, because I had noted the noble and learned Lord’s point. There are two answers. The first is that anyone who makes the report to the police will benefit from the anonymity provisions in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. The second is that the Section 52 offence applies when an identified victim has been caused to engage in prostitution or incited to do so, whether or not the prostitution takes place. In other words, a victim does not have to identify as a prostitute for the Sections 52 and 53 offences to be used. I hope that partly answers his question, although he does not look entirely convinced.
How can the Minister tell when I am wearing my mask?
I can see the noble and learned Lord’s eyebrows.
In 2019, the Crown Prosecution Service amended its guidance Prostitution and Exploitation of Prostitution to include specific reference to the potential availability of charges under the Sections 52 and 53 offences where there is evidence to support the existence of “sex for rent” arrangements, and—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, pointed out—in January this year the CPS authorised the first charge for “sex for rent” allegations under Section 52.
If the offences were in place in 2003 and the guidance updated in 2019, why does the Minister believe that it is only this year that the first charge has been made for sex for rent?
I do not disagree that it is only now being prosecuted. The point is that it is being prosecuted, and that is what I was trying to get over. The defendant in that case has pleaded guilty to two counts of inciting prostitution for gain, but as there is due to be a trial on an unrelated matter, it is probably not wise for me to comment further on this.
The noble Baroness talked about landlords. It is imperative that we ensure that landlords are not able to use their status and exploit any legal grey areas that could abuse their tenants or any other vulnerable people in society. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, also cited a number of examples. Local authorities and police forces are aware of these issues, and they will ensure that those convicted of these offences are banned from engaging in managing or letting residential accommodation.
Amendments 292M and 292R would require the Secretary of State to review the operation of two offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003: namely, those of “exposure” and “administering a substance with intent”. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has explained, both amendments are in response to recent events. I appreciate the issues that the noble and learned Lord has raised, but I do not think that it is a requirement to put into primary legislation. I am sure he will remember from his tenure as Secretary of State for Justice that the Ministry of Justice, together with the Home Office, keeps the operation of the criminal law under review, and if there are problems they will act where necessary.
I am not sure whether it was the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, or the noble Lord, Lord Marks, who pointed out that we need to make legislation following full investigation of the facts and the consequences of making new laws, but we will continue to review the law in these areas and to ensure that it is up to date and fully equipped to protect victims of exposure and, indeed, spiking.
In relation to exposure and the police response to allegations in respect of Sarah Everard’s killer, the Committee will be aware that the first part of the inquiry announced by the Home Secretary will examine the killer’s previous behaviour and will establish a comprehensive account of his conduct leading up to his conviction, as well as any opportunities missed. We will, of course, want to learn any lessons arising from this and other aspects of the inquiry.
The recent reports of spiking—adding substances to drinks and injecting victims with needles—are concerning, and I have every sympathy with victims and anyone who might feel unable to go out and enjoy a night out for fear that they might be targeted. Any spiking constitutes criminal conduct, and the necessary offences are on the statute book. As with any crime, it falls to the police to investigate and ensure that those responsible are dealt with in accordance with the law.
The police are, of course, operationally independent, and it would not be right for me to comment on specific instances and allegations at this time when there are ongoing investigations, but they are taking it very seriously and working at pace to gather intelligence and identify perpetrators. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has already asked the National Police Chiefs’ Council to urgently review the extent and scale of the issue and is receiving regular updates from the police, as has been widely reported. This is being done using resources at local, regional and national level, including the National Crime Agency.
Finally, turning to Amendment 292T, we return to the issue of the so-called rough sex defence. Noble Lords will remember the extensive debates on this topic during the passage of the now Domestic Abuse Act 2021. In that Act, the Government responded to concerns from the public and from across the House that defendants, invariably men, argued that the death of a person, invariably a woman, was caused by “rough sex gone wrong”.
In the Domestic Abuse Act, we did two things. First, we created a new offence of non-fatal strangulation, which makes it easier for the police and the CPS to secure convictions for strangulation. Secondly, we reinforced the principle, set out in the case of R v Brown, that a person cannot consent to activity that results in serious harm or their death. We have therefore made clear in statute, in Section 71 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, that it is not a defence to claim that a person consented to activity that led to their death or serious harm.
I understand that concerns still exist about this issue, not least because of the recent and tragic death of Sophie Moss. We offer our sincere condolences to her family at what must be a dreadful time. I do not want to comment specifically on the charging decisions or sentence imposed in that case. I think it is clear that my right honourable friend the Attorney-General sought a review of that sentence as unduly lenient. We were disappointed by the decision of the Court of Appeal, but we of course respect the findings that it made.
I fully understand the context and the thinking behind this amendment. We do not disagree with the concern, but we have to realise what this amendment would actually do, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, pointed this out: it would create a new offence that carries a life sentence where a person kills another person in the course of sexual gratification and intends the action that led to the victim’s death.
It is worth comparing that to the tests for murder and manslaughter. For murder, we need an intent to kill or to cause grievous bodily harm. For manslaughter, we need an intent to carry out an unlawful act that leads to the death. This new offence would require an intent to do only the act that leads to the death. As the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said, that means that an intention to do any act, lawful or unlawful, would be sufficient to be convicted of this offence and face a life sentence. In other words, this offence would cover a genuine accident caused by a lawful act.
I do not think it is necessary for me to go into great detail about the other issues with this approach, but we are concerned that such a significant change in the law needs to be extremely carefully considered. We need to get the balance right between those who act with malice or are reckless as to the welfare of their sexual partners, and those who engage in genuine, consensual and lawful activities without any malicious intent. I know that the noble and learned Lord will appreciate that this amendment requires further and in-depth consideration.
We also need to look at the wider issues surrounding these cases—for example, the emerging evidence of the limited pressure required to cause serious injury and therefore the test of whether someone intended at least GBH if they engage in strangulation. We do and will keep the law on this important issue under review. We consider very carefully the implications of court decisions and whether further legislative and non-legislative measures need to be considered.
In conclusion, we agree with the sentiments behind these amendments. We need to ensure that the criminal justice system, and indeed wider society, responds effectively to these offences, but it is important that we create new offences only where there is a clear need to do so. As I said, we continue to explore whether further legislation is needed to tackle street harassment, and we continue to keep the law as it applies to so-called “sex for rent”, exposure, spiking and the so-called “rough sex defence” under review. On this basis, I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, would be happy to withdraw his amendment.
I am very much obliged to everybody who has taken part in this incredibly important debate. It is terribly unfortunate that this debate is happening at this particular time—I am very glad to see the Minister nodding. This is incredibly unfortunate when we are talking about violence against women and girls, which is the big issue in relation to this Bill. This is no attack on the Whips, but they asked prior to the dinner break that we get on as quickly as possible. It is an incredibly unfortunate way for this House to look at legislation such as this.
I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for his support for Amendment 284, which concerns street harassment. I take note of what he said in relation to Amendment 285 and the difference between the penalties. He was suggesting that there might be a way to amalgamate the two. That suggestion seems to be very well made, and I hope that when we come back with this on Report, we might try to follow it up. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for her support in relation to all of the amendments.
I take note of what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, said in respect of the review on spiking. One is in a bit of a dilemma: there is already some degree of anxiety in relation to spiking. I think that what she was saying was, “Do not have an immediate review because that increases the anxiety,” but if you do nothing about it, the anxiety continues. My own judgment would be that one should have the review.
Separately, the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, asked whether one should be worried if one is criminalising through harassment conduct including speech. I do not think that that criminalises free speech, because the sorts of speech that we would intend to criminalise under the harassment crime would be cajoling, offensive behaviour—not expressing an opinion but insulting people or demanding sex or other things of people in a wholly inappropriate way. I do not think that would give rise to the risk of an attack on free speech.
I suppose it is following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Marks, pointed out, about the broadness of that amendment. Since 2016, I have been subjected to a “fair amount of verbal”, as they say, walking around the Westminster village, from people who did not approve of my Brexit views. It was not pleasant: it was not sexual, but it was particularly obnoxious and offensive; but I do not know whether that should be against the law. I might have a moral view of it, but I would not want them all to be arrested. I am saying that, while verbal harassment is unpleasant, there is a question as to whether it should be made criminal. I just do not want everyone being locked up for things they say, even if what they say causes distress.
I completely take the noble Baroness’s point. The law has been very, very aware of that. There is a difference between people saying to you on the street, “I very much disagree with your views on Brexit” and others saying, “Why are you such a stupid, awful” and then a series of expletives, and chasing you down the street, just abusing you. The law is capable of making distinction.
It was the latter rather than the former, I have to say.
Then there might be a point where that becomes harassment.
I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, to be terrible. He sounded like a Government Minister in relation to this, thinking of excuses why not to do something about harassment, not just against women—against other people as well—but particularly against women. I was very struck by the fact that the Minister at least acknowledged that there is a real problem in relation to this. Her speech accepted that something had to be done about it, which that of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, did not.
There was a difference between the view of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, which was broadly to accept the proposals that I am making in Amendment 284, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, who raised two particular points in relation to street harassment. One was about the breadth of the offence, which is not limited to sexual matters. I do not think it should be limited to sexual matters. If somebody who is disabled is chased down the street by a group of people taunting them for being disabled, that should be harassment. The second point the noble Lord was worrying about was “ought to know”. The sort of conduct that we are seeking to criminalise here is where people behave in a way that is wholly unacceptable. If you say, “I did not know that it was criminal to wolf-whistle and chase somebody down the street,” the fact that you did not know that should not be any defence. Those were the only two points he made in relation to it.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way and I am sorry that he found my speech terrible. I think he missed the point. I am not suggesting that there should be no criminalisation of the sexual offences. It may well be that the behaviour about disability that he mentions is already criminal. The point I am making is that you have to be very careful to delineate offences so that they are criminalising only conduct that ought to be criminal.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, with whom I do not always agree, made the distinction very well. In my understanding of the Minister’s speech, she and I were on exactly the same page. We both believe that violence against women and girls has to be treated extremely seriously. We both believe—and if I sound like a Government Minister, the noble and learned Lord knows that I am not and never have been one—that the Government have a responsibility to ensure that the ambit of the criminal law is kept within the ambit of the law that people can trust and have confidence in. They cannot do that if you randomly criminalise behaviour that ought to be without the criminal law.
I do not know where to start in relation to that intervention. I agree with the noble Lord that we need a clear delineation. We need to come forward with something. We have come forward with something that, interestingly enough, the former Lord President of the Court of Session in Scotland found completely acceptable but the noble Lord, Lord Marks, does not, for the two reasons that he has given that seem to me to be ill founded. We need to make progress in relation to it. We are not going to have an opportunity to do it. What I take the noble Lord, Lord Marks, as saying is that he will co-operate with us in trying to delineate an offence for the purposes of this Bill because something needs to be done now.
The noble and learned Lord invites a response. I can certainly say that we will co-operate with that and I completely agree with him that the degree to which we are forced to rush this legislation inhibits progress on the kinds of proposals he is making. The difficulty is that one has to look at these offences in detail.
The noble and learned Lord suggested—rather unfairly, I think—that the two points I made against the street harassment offence he was particularly concerned with were the only two points I had. I made it absolutely clear in my speech that these were just examples. I agree with the Minister that you have to look very carefully at the whole area of new offences. That is why the reviews are important in relation to the spiking and exposure offences. You simply cannot legislate in a hurry to create new offences, as his amendment seeks to do.
I have no idea whether that was a yes or a no to my question. I assume the two points the noble Lord made were his two best points and the other two were no better than that, so I do not know where the Liberal Democrats stand in relation to that now.
In relation to the sex-for-rent offence, various points were made about whether the case of the landlady who seduces the male tenant and then does not charge rent should be an offence. I am more than happy to work out whether there should be certain defences available. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, made clear, it is something that urgently needs criminalisation—and criminalisation that does not require the victim to be either characterised as engaged in prostitution or incited to commit prostitution. The implication of the law, even if it gives the victim anonymity, is that by succumbing to the sex-for-rent proposal the person is forced to become engaged in prostitution. That is not the way the law should be. There should just be a straightforward criminalisation of it.
Of course, I am sure that the offence can be made better in terms of its drafting but it is a drafting issue, not an issue of substance between us. If we do not do it in this Bill, when will we do it? The point that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, makes is almost unanswerable: there has been one prosecution. I could not work out whether there is maybe another one coming, from what she said. That would make it two, over years, and it is wholly unacceptable that that is the position.
In relation to the two reviews, of spiking and exposure, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said that the Government keep all the criminal law under review. Honestly, from my experience, they do not. The criminal law is not kept constantly under review. The things that the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice look at are the things that require urgent attention. The things that require the most urgent attention are those requiring a review as a result of a statute, and that is why we propose a review based on a statutory requirement to do it.
The last point is in relation to Amendment 292T, which concerns deaths that occur under the rough sex defence. It may well be that substantial thought needed to go into that, but surely the answer to that one would then be that there is a review in relation to that issue, so that there would be some hope that legislation might follow. Despite my extreme disappointment—more with the Liberal Democrats, noble Lords have probably noticed, than with the Government on this occasion—I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 284 withdrawn.
Amendments 285 to 291 not moved.
292: After Clause 170, insert the following new Clause—
“Automated decision-making: safeguards
(1) Where data is being processed for a criminal justice purpose, section 14 of the Data Protection Act 2018 is to be read as if the amendments in subsections (2) to (7) had been made.(2) In subsection (1) after “solely” insert “or significantly”.(3) In subsection (4) after “solely” insert “or significantly”.(4) In subsection (4)(a) after “solely” insert “or significantly”.(5) In subsection (4)(b)(ii) after “solely” insert “or significantly”.(6) In subsection (5) after paragraph (a) insert—“(aa) provide to the data subject all such information as may be reasonable regarding the operation of the automated processing and the basis of the decision,”(7) After subsection (5) insert—“(5A) The controller’s powers and obligations under this section are not limited by commercial confidentiality claimed by the provider of equipment or programmes used”.”
My Lords, changing the subject, the Data Protection Act 2018, reflecting the GDPR, in Section 14 provides that “decisions based solely”— solely—“on automated processing” are “subject to safeguards.” Such a decision
“produces legal effects concerning the data subject, or … similarly significantly affects the data subject.”
The decisions are subject to safeguards under the Act, notification of the data subject and the right of the data subject to request reconsideration or, importantly, a new decision not based on automated processing. Noble Lords will appreciate the potential importance of decisions affecting liberty and that the use of artificial intelligence may well involve profiling, which does not have an unblemished record.
This amendment would alter the term “solely,” because “solely” could mean one click on a programme. The term “significantly”, proposed in the amendment, is not the best, but I think it will serve the purpose for this evening. I do not claim that this is the best way to achieve my objective, but I did not want to let the moment pass. The Justice and Home Affairs Committee —I am not speaking as its chair—has had this issue raised a number of times. The Information Commissioner is one who has raised the issue. Elizabeth Denham, before she left the office, said it should not just be a matter of box-ticking. The guidance of the Information Commissioner’s Office provides that there should be the following three considerations:
“Human reviewers must be involved in checking the system’s recommendation and should not just apply the automated recommendation to an individual in a routine fashion; reviewers’ involvement must be active and not just a token gesture. They should have actual ‘meaningful’ influence on the decision, including the ‘authority and competence’ to go against the recommendation; and reviewers must ‘weigh-up’ and ‘interpret’ the recommendation, consider all available input data, and also take into account other additional factors.”
The Minister will, I am sure, refer to the current government consultation on data, Data: A New Direction, published in September. We dealt with this issue by putting the amendment down before then but, even so, the consultation questions the operation and efficacy of the Article 22 of the GDPR, which, as I said, is the basis for Section 14. I appreciate that the consultation will have to run its course but, looking at it, the Government seem very focused on the economic benefits of the use of data and supportive of innovation.
Of course, I do not take issue with either of those things, but it is important not to lose sight of how the use of data may disadvantage or damage an individual. Its use in policing and criminal justice can affect an individual who may well not understand how it is being used, or even that it has been used. I was going to say that whether those who use it understand it is another matter but, actually, it is fundamental. Training is a big issue in this, as is, in the case of the police, the seniority and experience of the officer who needs to be able to interpret and challenge what comes out of an algorithm. There is a human tendency to think that a machine must be right. It may be, but meaningful decisions require human thought more than an automatic, routine confirmation of what a machine tells us.
The government consultation makes it clear that the Government are seeking evidence on the potential need for legislative reform. I think that reform of Section 14 is needed. AI is so often black-box and impenetrable; even if it can be interrogated on how a decision has been arrived at, the practicalities and costs of that are substantial. For instance, it should be straightforward for someone accused of something to understand how the accusation came to be made. It is a matter of both the individual’s rights and trust and confidence in policing and criminal justice on the part of the public. The amendment would extend the information to be provided to the data subject to include
“information … regarding the operation of the automated processing and the basis of the decision”.
It also states that this should not be “limited by commercial confidentiality”; I think noble Lords will be familiar with how openness can run up against this.
Recently, the Home Secretary told the Justice and Home Affairs Committee twice that
“decisions about people will always be made by people.”
The legislation should reflect and require the spirit of that. A click of a button on a screen may technically mean that the decision has a human element, but it is not what most people would understand or expect. I beg to move.
My Lords, with the leave of the Committee, I will speak briefly. In my comments on the previous group on which I spoke—the one beginning with Amendment 278—I did not mean to suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, was filibustering. I tried to inject a little humour into proceedings, bearing in mind the wide range of issues that we discussed in the debate on that group and the length of that debate. I joked that it was beginning to look like a filibuster. I have apologised to the noble Lord but I wanted to include that apology in the official record.
We support this important amendment. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, Section 14 of the Data Protection Act 2018 provides some safeguards against important decisions being taken by automated processing. It allows a human review on appeal with the subject having been told, but only if the decision was “solely” taken automatically, rather than “significantly”, as my noble friend’s amendment suggests. Experience in the American criminal justice system of using algorithms shows that bias in historical decisions is replicated, even enhanced, by algorithms. We therefore support this amendment.
As has been said, Article 22 of the general data protection regulation provides that a person has
“the right not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated processing, including profiling, which produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her.”
It also provides that there is an exemption to this if the automated decision-making is explicitly provided in law. Section 14 of the Data Protection Act 2018 provides, as has been said, some safeguards based on Article 22 for cases where the law allows automated decision-making on things that may have a significant effect on a person. It provides that where a significant decision is made by automated means, the subject may request that the decision is retaken with human oversight. The section currently provides protections for a decision taken, as has once again been said, “solely” by automated means. The amendment would extend this provision to decisions taken solely “or significantly” by automated means.
The issue of automated decision-making will become, and indeed is becoming, increasingly prevalent in our lives—a point made by all sides during the passage of the 2018 Act, when we tried to add far stronger safeguards to the then Bill to prevent decisions that engaged an individual’s human rights being decided by automated means. On that basis, I am certainly interested in the points raised to extend the right of appeal to decisions that are based “significantly” on automated processing.
Finally, it is potentially concerning that the Government are currently consulting on removing Article 22 of the GDPR and the associated protections from UK law altogether. I believe that consultation closed last week. Can the Government give an indication of when we can expect their response?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for explaining this amendment, which relates to automated decision-making. Let me first say that the Government are committed to maintaining high standards of data protection and agree that the clarity of safeguards relating to automated decision-making is important. The Government are also aware of some of the difficulties faced by organisations in navigating the terminology of these automated processing provisions.
As all noble Lords have noted, to address this issue the Government are currently seeking evidence via a public consultation, which is being run by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, noted, that consultation closed only last Friday. He also mentioned Article 22. The consultation is looking at the need for legislative reform of the UK data protection framework overall, including GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018. It covers Article 22 of the UK GDPR, including organisations experienced with navigating the solely automated processing and similarly significant terminology. As I say, that consultation closed on 19 November.
In examining the responses to the consultation, the Government will consider the safeguards in respect of automated decision-making that involve personal data in the round. We will address this matter in the government response to the consultation, which we expect to publish in the spring. We also look forward to the report of the inquiry by the Justice and Home Affairs Committee, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and will take its conclusions and recommendations into account when bringing forward our proposals for legislation. In the meantime, with apologies for being brief, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. This amendment and this concern are about far more than navigating terminology. It is actually a fundamental point, but I do not intend to keep the Committee any longer. I think I have made it clear that I am probing but, I hope, probing to an end. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 292 withdrawn.
Amendments 292A to 292D not moved.
292E: After Clause 170, insert the following new Clause—
“Crime scenes: religious rituals or prayer
In securing a crime scene where a person within that crime scene is severely injured, such that there is a strong likelihood that they might die, there is a presumption that the constable in charge will allow entry to the crime scene to a minister of religion in order to perform religious rituals or prayer associated with dying.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is intended to probe expectations of police procedure.
My Lords, before I get to the amendment, I think I can speak for all of us in saying that our thoughts are with the Amess family this evening.
Noble Lords who were in the Chamber for the tributes to Sir David Amess after the horrific crime that led to his shocking death will recall that at the end of her contribution the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked a question. I will quote her directly:
“Could priests be allowed to attend a crime scene so that they can give the victim their last rites, especially when they are dying?”—[Official Report, 18/10/21; col. 26.]
She posed this question, because it was reported that Sir David’s local priest had been denied access by the police to attend him in person to administer the last rites. It should be stressed that the priest accepted the instructions of the police and said prayers beyond the perimeter of the crime scene. I am not going to rehearse the events of that tragic day. None of us were there. It is not for me or any of us to second-guess the police officers on duty. I believe that the police should have the discretion to make whatever operational decisions they judge to be right, depending on the situation they are dealing with at any given time.
However, like the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and many others, I found the news that a local priest was not able to attend to a dying man surprising and, to my surprise, somewhat upsetting, especially because he was the victim of such an horrific crime. I do not believe that this is a matter for legislation. Others who participate in this debate might think differently, including those who have put their name to this amendment. But after the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and I talked, we decided to table this probing amendment to explore whether the presumption could be that at a crime scene the police constable in charge would allow entry to a minister of religion to give the last rites or other prayers associated with dying.
Perhaps now is the moment to declare that I am not a Catholic, or, I have to say, particularly religious, but like most of us who are perhaps hatch, match and despatch types, agnostics or atheists, I respect and understand how important faith is to people who practise their religion and recognise that it can become important at times of grief and loss, irrespective of the extent of our convictions. Like most other people, I think it is right that the police and all public authorities respect all religious faith, but I do think it is reasonable to expect the main elements of the Christian faith to be understood or more familiar to the police than most religions, because while religious affiliation is in decline among today’s Britons, it is still safe to say that Christianity is the main religion in the UK. That complex picture of increasing diversity and a declining majority does not mean that we should not give the importance of Christianity a plug from time to time and should not take for granted that something such as a priest being given access to a dying man at the scene of a crime will happen just because we assume that the reason why it is important is widely known and understood.
Even though there is no evidence that this was anything other than an isolated incident, having learned that something so innocent yet important was prohibited, those of us who are public figures have a responsibility to say loud and clear that we would expect it to be possible unless there are good reasons otherwise, and that we do not want the myriad sensibilities which these days the police are required to take account of to be at the expense of timeless expectations, such as access of a religious minister to someone at their most desperate hour of need.
I am grateful to the Catholic Union, which has been in contact with me since I tabled this amendment. It has been at pains to emphasise that the Catholic Church is not looking for special treatment for priests; it believes it is important for all people of faith to have access to ministers of religion when they are sick or dying. I know that the Catholic Union and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference have requested a meeting with the Minister. Notwithstanding what my noble friend has already said at Oral Questions today—I was not in the Chamber for that, but I caught up with it and know that a working group has been set up off the back of a discussion between Cardinal Nichols and the Met Police Commissioner—I reinforce that request for a meeting, so that we can discuss the appropriate steps for the Government to communicate to the police the level of importance that Parliament has afforded this matter and to receive assurance from the police that they have understood our concerns.
If it is doable, my noble friend the Minister might also like to invite a ministerial colleague from the Department of Health and Social Care, as I understand that there is growing evidence of a lack of access for priests and ministers of all faiths to care homes, hospices and some hospitals. This too was raised during Oral Questions earlier today. I realise that this would have been difficult during Covid because of lockdown restrictions, but the fear is that social norms may have been permanently uprooted and replaced by new customs and practices which, while necessary during a pandemic, are here to stay because they are more convenient for the institutions concerned.
I know from my private conversations with her that my noble friend the Minister cares deeply about this topic. In her response, I hope she is able to tell the Committee what action the Government have taken to assure themselves that, in all possible circumstances, the police will give access to a local priest or religious minister. I very much look forward to hearing what she has to say. Meanwhile, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, for allowing me to work with her on this, and to all noble Lords who have put their name to this amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, for introducing this amendment. When I read about the terrible murder of Sir David Amess while he was attending his parliamentary surgery, I was very shocked and saddened. Later, I learned that his parish priest was denied entry by the police to the crime scene to administer the last rites. I was also shocked and surprised then. After the disgusting and tragic murder of Sarah Everard by a member of the police force, I hope they will show some contrition by understanding this sensitive amendment. We need kind, honest, well-trained police to undertake their vital work to keep everyone safe.
David Amess was an honourable, brave man. He will be remembered as an exemplary Member of Parliament. If someone else had been murdered instead of David, I feel that David would be bringing an amendment similar to this to Parliament.
The sacrament of the last rites, which is also known as extreme unction or anointing the sick, is for people who are gravely ill or close to death. It is the sacrament for the remission of sins, to strengthen and comfort the soul, and food for the journey. While not every Catholic will request the last rites to be administered by a priest, many do. It can be of utmost importance to some.
I would like to thank Alasdair Love from the Public Bills Office, who helped to put together this amendment. I am pleased that Cardinal Vincent Nichols and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Dame Cressida Dick, have agreed to establish a joint group to study these issues. I hope that training for police officers on this matter will be included. This gives some hope. I add that the coronavirus has made this sensitive and important matter even more complicated, but problems are for solving. I hope that providing the sacrament of healing to the dying who desire it will become more available. I look forward to the Minister’s reply and thank all who support this amendment.
My Lords, this is very sensitive territory. Dying is sacred and is part of our living. I think I am the only minister of religion here, and I have accompanied many people, including my own father, to and through their death. If you have been party to that, you will know that it is holy territory.
One could say that violent death is even more holy because of how that dying has been brought about. It seems that there needs to be religious literacy on the part of the emergency services and the police, and that the religious bodies need also to improve their literacy in relation to the nature of these events and how they are dealt with.
The noble Baroness the Minister mentioned at Oral Questions the complicating factor that this is a crime scene. The body becomes significant—I do not know what the correct terminology is, but you cannot muck about. Adding oils to the body or whatever becomes significant. But it should not be beyond the wit of man and woman to come to a reasonable accommodation.
Some 20 years ago, I came down to London to become the Archdeacon of Lambeth. I was surprised at how organised the Church of England was in south London, though not because it was south London—I had come from Leicester. There was a very well worked out arrangement with what are called ecumenical borough deans, so that each borough had a way of bringing the different faith communities together—not just Christians —working with the Met and other emergency services to ensure that, when there was a disaster, violence or violent death, there was a way of ensuring that ministers could have access to provide the ministry that the victim or their family requires.
I know that this is a probing amendment. I praise the emergency services and the police for their sensitivity in the way they have addressed this, but they are doing so within a culture that often treats religion as a private matter. I get told sometimes that Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus are all the same but just wear different clothes and have a different diet. It is not like that. Culturally, we need a deeper religious literacy—in the media, in our public institutions and public life, and in the nature of our discourse, where the language is often a giveaway.
I am glad that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Cardinal Nichols are having these conversations. I ask the Minister to urge that those conversations perhaps go wider and deeper, as we take our time to work out a more effective way of handling what is very sacred territory.
My Lords, I have two points to raise. Following the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, I start by saying that this is a sensitive subject. I agree with him that, even though this is the day of burial of Sir David Amess, and he is in our thoughts, I do not wish to criticise the police and their conduct on that day or talk about that incident. I want to talk at a slightly more abstract level. I appreciate that anyone in charge of the crime scene on that day faced a difficult decision and it is not for me to criticise what they did at that time; that is not my point.
My first point is to stand back and ask a more abstract question: who owns a death? The assumption, especially when a death is violent or in emergency circumstances, is that the death is owned by the state—by the police and the ambulance service primarily. They are in charge, it belongs to them and everybody else must have permission to be admitted. Even the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds sort of admitted that and gave that point away by saying that police needed better training to understand why and when they should admit people to the scene.
I would go a little further and say that the claims of the police and ambulance service have to be understood and considered in the light of other claims. Those other claims include the claims of the family and the dying person themselves as to who owns what is going on and who has a say. If we simply collapse into thinking that it is just a matter of getting better police procedure, we are conceding the major point. Of course it is in the public interest that a criminal who has killed people should be brought to justice, that their trial should be fair and the evidence preserved. But that is not the only interest in a death. It is not the only subject and there are other claims we should consider.
This afternoon, as some noble Lords know, there was an Oral Question on this topic in my name on the Order Paper. One noble Lord genuinely asked: has this subject ever come up before? I think he meant: has it ever come to a ministerial desk before? The answer of my noble friend was that she thought not—that the Amess case had brought it to public attention, but it had not really come up before. However, the real answer to that question is, “Yes, yes, yes”. It has come up before, for example at the Manchester Arena, and countless times in care homes over the last year throughout this country; it just does not rise to the level of Ministers’ desks.
Here, I have to admit that I have taken some advice from a distinguished academic specialising in emergency response, and I am told by her that this is partly because there is indeed police training on this subject, but it is primarily focused on how to explain to the families afterwards why the priest was not allowed in. That is the main focus of police training, rather than training them to think of the circumstances in which they might relinquish their claim—valid though it is—in order to respect the claims of others. That is my first point, and I think we should reflect on that.
My second point is a little more practical: we can do this better if we want to. We have done it better in the past. I was told today, again by the same distinguished academic, that there are lovely pictures from the Second World War of ARP wardens going into bomb sites—arduous and horrible work—immediately after a bombing to try to rescue the dying and recover the dead. They were accompanied by clergy with “ARP clergy” written on their tin hats, because it was assumed that these people were correctly and properly embedded in any team that was going to identify, and to find and rescue, people who were dying in the wake of a bomb. Of course, in those circumstances, there was no question of identifying the perpetrator. The perpetrator was well known and was not going to be brought to criminal trial on that basis.
I am treading on slightly uncertain ground for me here, but if you go to other countries—to Israel, for example—I am told that where there are bombs and emergency responses, there are people who are again embedded with the police. They would not be clergy because Judaism operates in a different way; there is no function, as I understand it, reserved to a clergyman in Judaism that cannot be carried out by a lay person. Although the approach to death is slightly different—it is not a question of last rites for the dying, but more a case of the proper treatment of the dead—these people are embedded with the police and it is all well understood. My noble friend Lord Moynihan, asking a supplementary question earlier today, drew attention to practice in certain US states. Again, there is much better relationship, a working relationship, between the police and what are called faith groups, in exactly these circumstances.
That illustrates the two points. First, we need to ask ourselves some radical questions about who is charge in these circumstances, and who has a claim—not just as a petitioner, merely standing at the door asking—to be there at the death. Secondly, if we want to, we can do better. That is why, today, I asked my noble friend if she would at least undertake a study that looked at practice in other countries and jurisdictions to see how they do it and what we can learn from that. I think we would benefit greatly from that. I do not ask any more.
I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Stowell and Lady Masham, for tabling this probing amendment, prompted by the tragic and terrible murder of Sir David Amess and the inability of the attending priest to gain access to Sir David in what may have been his final moments. I am not sure if it is a declarable interest but, like Sir David, I am a Catholic. My support for this amendment is a product of my faith.
In almost any situation in which someone has suffered a terrible injury, there is the possibility that a crime has been committed and therefore, of course, the location of that injury will become a crime scene. Current police procedures are very specific about the management of such scenes and actions taken in those first minutes may be critical to resolve any crime that has been committed. The responsibility lies with the first officers to attend. Access to such a scene is necessarily limited. A scene log will be created to manage and record all the activities within the crime scene. However, a variety of people do gain access. They include ambulance and medical personnel, undertakers, photographers and scene of crime officers. They all have a legitimate purpose in being at the scene, but not all these purposes relate to the maintenance of the integrity and provenance of any material that may be recovered from the scene. Crime scene officers are required to ensure that persons entering the scene are wearing suitable protective clothing to prevent contamination of the scene, and to ensure that they are protected from any hazards present. So, it is possible to provide safe access for clergy that will not in any way contaminate or inhibit an investigation. The question then must be: is it desirable to do so?
Northern Ireland has seen the cost and the benefit of the presence of a priest on many occasions. The PSNI has worked with very well with clergy of all denominations. Perhaps I could remind your Lordships of the terrible murder of the two corporals, Derek Wood and David Howes, by the Provisional IRA on 19 March 1988 in west Belfast. Father Alec Reid of nearby Clonard Monastery attended them as they lay dying. His prayers—his intervention at that most savage moment—were enormously important to so many.
Two Belfast priests died during the Troubles attending their parishioners who had been shot. Father Hugh Mullan died in 1971, going out into gunfire knowing that he could be shot. Another, Father Noel Fitzpatrick, died in 1972 when accompanied by a parishioner, Paddy Butler. Waving a white handkerchief, he attempted to reach wounded men during sustained and heavy gunfire. These were brave men living their call to minister. It has long been a tradition in this country and many others that there is recognition of the value of spiritual and pastoral support. For this reason, chaplaincy services are publicly funded in many situations. However, at the present moment, attending an emergency scene as a priest can be a daunting experience, as the response of police and ambulance personnel is not certain. It depends on a decision made by someone who may have no religious faith and who may see absolutely no justification for permitting access by a priest.
To be able to receive sacramental spiritual support in the event of a death, or possible imminent death, is of profound meaning and importance to Catholics. Indeed, the support of a priest or other minister of religion is of great importance to those of other denominations and faiths. As your Lordships have heard, Cardinal Nichols and the Commissioner of the Met have agreed to establish a joint group to study the access given or refused to Catholic priests at scenes of traumatic violence and to consider whether any changes are required to the guidance issued to officers facing such a situation. This is a very positive initiative that will inform the national debate. There can be no doubt that many factors will be considered but, given that safe access, with protection against any crime scene contamination, can be secured, the primary question must be whether such access should and can be managed in a way that will enable the celebration of the sacraments at this most sacred moment, the moment when we believe a soul is passing.
Undoubtedly, any future guidance will require processes for the identification, training, et cetera, of clergy who might be granted access in such situations, but these are practical issues which can be resolved. I put my name to this amendment because I believe it can be done, and it should be done, for the support of the dying person and for their family and friends, who may be enormously comforted by the fact that a priest was allowed to attend someone at this most sacred moment.
My Lords, I support this amendment. I appreciate the time, but as somebody who has lost somebody to a violent act and has been in a crime scene, I reiterate the words of my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan. I am a Roman Catholic, but actually I am speaking about the procedures that the police had in place on that night. I was in a crime scene and I had to wait for permission to leave that crime scene and to be able to go and see Garry, who was dying. He died on the ground—he came around and then they rushed him. It may have been only minutes but it was hours in my mind. You have to wait for police procedures. I fully respect that the police are doing what they are doing, but it did feel at times that it was about the process and not about the dying man on the ground and my three daughters, who were covered in blood, being whisked away as victims of a horrendous, horrific crime. Even the priest in the hospital had to step away with anger at seeing how vicious a scene it was.
I support this probing amendment, not out of disrespect for the police officers, but I do believe that there are a lot of processes that go on. Even the Home Office is on the phone to see if things are flagging up. So, with respect, to make this procedure a lot better, we have to look at how we help victims and their families. My heart has gone out to Sir David’s family, because the shock of those seconds of losing somebody is something you will never, ever get over.
My Lords, that was one of the most powerful statements I have heard in this House, coming from someone who knows what it is like to suffer. It is a horrible tragedy that the Amess family have suffered. I echo the noble Baroness who introduced the amendment in saying that our thoughts and prayers are with them tonight, and for the repose of Sir David’s soul.
I was not sure that I could add much to this debate, but I gave it some thought and would like to share some personal observations. Thinking about the amendment, I recalled the singing of the hymn, “Abide With Me”. I have heard it sung twice recently: first, when I tuned into a vigil mass celebrated by Canon Pat Browne, the Roman Catholic priest in Parliament, on the eve of Armistice Day, and, again, when I watched the Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall on television. What kept coming into my mind was a line in that hymn:
“Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes.”
Those words express what I believe many people of the Christian faith hope for at the end of life. They emphasise how important it is to receive spiritual comfort.
For Catholics like me, the last rites are an important and spiritual passage, a sacrament, an opportunity for reflection on past failings and for seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. I bear witness from within my own family of the peace experienced by loved ones when they were supported in their faith by a priest administering the last rites.
People of faith, whether Jews, Muslims, Christians or indeed of any other faith belief, desire the spiritual support that their faith can give them at the end of life. More widely, I think that many of my friends who have no faith would always wish to be surrounded by family and friends at the end of that life. Let us ask ourselves: who among us would not hope to leave this life comforted by family and friends or, as in the case promoted in this amendment, by a priest?
I strongly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, who made it clear that this is a probing amendment and the matter does not require legislation. Rather, it requires a little bit of common sense, perhaps education, training and research, so that the blue-light services, especially the police, recognise this matter and treat a request such as the one that has prompted the tabling of this amendment in a way that will allow a minister of religion to be with a dying person at the end.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, for bringing this amendment to the Committee, particularly in such a selfless way in that she said that she was neither a Catholic nor particularly religious. Seeing the arrival of Sir David Amess’s body at the House this evening was very moving, and our thoughts are with his family. I thank the noble Baroness for saying that she was not second-guessing the police officers at the scene of that terrible tragedy, but, as she said, there was a local priest who was not allowed to give the last rites.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds gave a very moving and sensitive speech, and I agree with much of what he said. I should declare an interest both as a Christian but not a Roman Catholic and as a police officer who served for more than 30 years. Religious faith is important to people, but so is bringing offenders to justice, particularly those responsible for offences where fatal injuries or injuries expected to be fatal are inflicted. The contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, was extremely powerful in giving first-hand experience of that tension between the need to preserve evidence in order to convict those responsible and wanting to address the needs of the dying person and their family.
Securing forensic evidence is often vital to the identification and prosecution of offenders, as in the case of Sir David Amess. I agree that there needs to be a meeting of police and religious leaders—not just Roman Catholics—to ensure that both sides understand the needs of the other. Police officers should have a real understanding of the religious needs of people and the religious leaders should understand the needs of the police in these circumstances. As I said this afternoon in Oral Questions, surely there must be a role for government in bringing these two sides together, in facilitating this understanding and in ensuring that, after this understanding has been reached, operational police officers share it and know how to respond in these very difficult situations.
Interestingly, in groups of amendments that are to come, I refer to the valuable lessons from Northern Ireland to which I do not think we are paying enough attention. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, for her remarks.
My Lords, what a moving and powerful debate we have had this evening. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and her noble friend will have been moved by it as well. The real challenge that has been presented to the Minister and the Government is how to capture what has been said in this Chamber tonight in relation to the practice that takes place in very difficult and challenging circumstances.
I am not going to rush this, and I am pleased that noble Lords have not rushed this either, as this is too important a debate to be rushed. In speaking to their amendment, the noble Baronesses, Lady Stowell and Lady Masham, spoke in such a way that gave respect to the awfulness of what happened with David Amess. I pay tribute to the noble Baronesses. Out of the horror of that situation, they are trying to make something positive happen in future. We have all been moved by that. The challenge for the Government is how to do something about it.
I say gently to the Minister that the system will respond in a bureaucratic, almost insensitive way, by saying, “It’s really difficult, Minister. It’s very tough to do something about this.” This is one of those situations that requires the system to respond. Human needs to speak to system and make it work, and that is not easy—it really is not.
The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, brought her perspective from Northern Ireland. She did incredible work there in trying to ensure that, among the terrorist atrocities, somehow or other there was comfort for the dying and bereaved, as well as the pursuit of justice. That was a beacon in that situation, and they made it happen there. The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, talked about the situation in his own family. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, made a very moving, personal statement about the horror of what happened to her and the tension between trying to comfort the dying while ensuring that the police were allowed to do their work.
The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, made a brilliant speech. I am not a lawyer so, when I spoke just now, I spoke as a politician who demands that the system works. There are brilliant lawyers on both sides of this Chamber who can dissect the law; that is not me. I say to those with legal expertise, like the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, that I may not have that legal expertise, but I know what the public would expect the system and the law to do. I know how they would expect the legal system, the courts and the police to respond, and how they would expect the system to work.
The phrase that the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, used was, “Who owns the death?” Who owns it? I will talk about myself because that is easier to do. Maybe I have got this wrong, but my sense is that, if I were attacked in the street and stabbed—God forbid that this happens to any of us, but if it happened to me and I was dying—I would not want a police officer ensuring that the crime scene was not compromised. If my wife, or my children, or my grandparents were nearby, that is who I would want to come. I would not care if the crime scene was compromised; I would not.
I know that that is difficult for the police because the police will want—as, of course, in generality, we would all want—the perpetrator to be caught, put before the courts and dealt with. I am just saying what Vernon Coaker, a human being, would want: I would want my family or my friend, if they were nearby, to be allowed to come and see me and talk to me, in the way that no doubt the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds has had to do on many occasions. I would want them to give me comfort, and to give me a sense that I could say goodbye properly to my loved ones.
I do not know what that means for the law, to be honest, or what it means for the guidance, but I do not believe that it is impossible to learn, as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, laid out, from other countries or jurisdictions, or from what is done elsewhere, to find a means of balancing those two priorities in a more sensitive way than perhaps we see at the moment. That is all that this Chamber is asking for—and that is what the Minister needs to demand from the system. The system will say, “It’s tough, it’s difficult. We need to do that, but we have also got to preserve the crime scene.” The Chamber is saying, “Yes, preserve the crime scene; yes, let’s catch the perpetrators, but not at the expense of everything else.” Let it not be at the expense of human beings knowing what is best for themselves—of individuals at the point of death being able to choose who they want to see.
I suggest that the majority of us would want our family with us, even if it meant some compromise to the crime scene. That is what I think and what I believe this Chamber is saying and demanding. The debate has been incredibly moving; people have laid out their souls. They have done it with a sense of purpose, to say to the law and the system: it needs to change; this cannot happen again. If this had happened to somebody else, I believe, as somebody else said, that David Amess would be saying the same as the rest of us. Maybe that is a fitting tribute to him as well.
My Lords, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker; this has been one of the loveliest debates that I have ever been privy to in this Chamber. As his family prepares to say goodbye and his body lies in the Crypt just yards away, may we all spare a moment to think about David Amess, and the tragic way in which he died. It was absolutely senseless; it has shocked us all.
As noble Lords have said, we must extend our thanks to Essex Police and the Metropolitan Police for their quick and comprehensive response, and apprehending and charging the alleged culprit. I also bring out for special mention my thanks to my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston for moving this amendment, to my noble friend Lady Newlove, whose testimony with her first-hand experience was deeply moving, and to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, who has shared such experience in this area, particularly in Northern Ireland, and how it has been dealt with day in and day out for decades.
As a Catholic, I understand the importance of extreme unction, absolution and viaticum for those close to death. However, this is not just about Catholics, of course, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds said. To answer my noble friend Lord Moylan’s point about who owns a death, we have to strike a sensitive balance. Humanity and sensitivity need to be shown to families and the person who is dying. That is the balance that we need to strike here.
On the first aspect of this, the duties of the police, one of the primary duties of a police constable is the protection of life, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said. Where a person is injured, the first responsibility of any police officer is to preserve life, whether by directly administering emergency first aid or supporting paramedics to do the same.
As well as the protection of life, the police need to consider the preservation of evidence at a crime scene. Forensic evidence is the crucial piece of the puzzle in many investigations, so it is vital that anything that might be relevant is properly retained and free from contamination. The College of Policing’s guidance outlines the importance of securing and preserving a crime scene and avoiding cross-contamination. It states:
“Anyone who enters the scene both takes something of the scene with them and leaves something of themselves behind … If scenes are not properly managed, this can distort initial findings and prolong subsequent efforts to identify offenders.”
These are not easy decisions, especially in situations where a victim is critically injured and likely to die. However, the presumption that any religious official be allowed to enter a crime scene has the potential to prevent the police being able to do their job effectively in catching criminals and bringing them to justice. That said, I will take back the things noble Lords have said tonight, particularly the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan.
By the same token, no noble Lord would want to see the guilty walk free as a consequence of such unintended contamination of forensic evidence. Given those considerations, the decision to allow a priest or other minister of religion access to a crime scene must be an operational one for the officer in charge of the scene and taken on a case-by-case basis.
As I said earlier, I am pleased that, on 9 November, Cardinal Vincent Nichols announced that he and the Met Police Commissioner had agreed to work together to establish a joint group to study the access given or refused to Catholic priests to crime scenes related to traumatic violence. I understand that, in particular, the group will consider whether any changes are required to the guidance issued to officers faced with such situations. I am sure noble Lords would agree that that is an encouraging development.
I know that my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston, echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, understands that this is not a matter for legislation and that the police are in a really difficult situation in these circumstances. The priority for the police must be securing the crime scene in pursuit of the investigation and bringing the guilty to justice. With such sensible heads on this, I am confident that a sensible decision and suitable guidance will be arrived at.
Covid has put aside many norms, including, as my noble friend said, chaplains in care homes and maybe in hospitals, although I understand that chaplains are available 24 hours a day in hospitals. I am more than happy to meet my noble friend and the Catholic Union ahead of the next stage and to request a Health Minister. However, I hope that, in light of the discussions between the archbishop and the Metropolitan Police, and having had this opportunity to debate this difficult issue, my noble friend would be happy to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend the Minister and to all noble Lords who have spoken today. First, in response to my noble friend’s last couple of points, of course I will withdraw this amendment, and I am grateful to her for agreeing to the meeting requested by the Catholic Union and for including in that meeting a Minister from the Department of Health and Social Care. Having been requested, it is important that that meeting goes ahead and provides an opportunity for a discussion on these issues from that single perspective. As she has already said, it is very encouraging that Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Dame Cressida Dick have initiated this working group to look at the issues arising from the events of that tragic day.
The debate this evening has been remarkable. I have found it quite moving. I was very unsure about tabling this amendment, if I am honest. I hesitated quite a bit about it, and then after I had tabled it, even with the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, I kept thinking, “Oh God, is this the right thing to do?”, but I thought it was important that we had an opportunity to debate these matters. As I said earlier in my opening remarks, I genuinely felt that it was important for us to stand up and say, “This is important”, rather than just accept it as something that happened and move on.
The result of that seems to have been noble Lords expressing views and raising points that I had not even thought about and elevating the importance of this issue. In addition to what the Minister has already agreed to, it would be proper for her to give further thought to how we can explore its importance even more. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, who suggested that the Government facilitate the dialogue between the various different religious faiths. As the right reverend Prelate, to whom I hope I did justice to at the beginning, said, this is not just about the Catholic faith but about how we address some of these bigger issues, which really do need to be considered. As a society, we have to make sure that the things that are really important to us as human beings and to our cohesiveness as communities are recognised and given the attention and weight that they deserve by those of us in positions of power to make these things happen.
Again, I am grateful to all noble Lords and I look forward to sitting down with the Minister and the representatives of the Catholic Union. Until then, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 292E withdrawn.
292F: After Clause 170, insert the following new Clause—
“Modern slavery through control of another's property
In Section 1 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (Slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour) after subsection (1)(b) insert—“or(c) the person occupies or exercises some substantial control over another’s home in connection with the commission of another criminal offence and the person knows or ought to know that the other person—(i) has not given consent,(ii) is unable to give free and informed consent, or(iii) has withdrawn consent.””Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would make exploitation through exercise of control over another person’s property without their consent an offence under Section 1 of the Modern Slavery Act.
My Lords, over the six years since the Modern Slavery Act was passed, we have seen the criminals involved in modern slavery continuing to find new ways to exploit others for their own advantage. In particular, we have seen the rise in criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults in county lines drug dealing. Amendment 292F seeks to address the phenomenon of cuckooing, which is an example of criminal exploitation that has recently grown in prominence.
Cuckooing is the evocative name given to a situation whereby criminals take over a person’s home against their wishes and use the property to facilitate criminal activity. Most commonly, this occurs where drug dealers take over the victim’s home and use the premises to store, prepare and distribute drugs. Your Lordships may be unfamiliar with this issue, but just last month there was a national police week of action on county lines drug dealing during which the National Police Chiefs’ Council reported that 894 cuckooed properties were visited in just one week.
This is a crime affecting hundreds if not thousands of people. Victims of cuckooing are often quite vulnerable people, perhaps people with learning disabilities or mental or physical health challenges, survivors of abuse or people living with addiction. Their vulnerability is exploited by the criminals, who take advantage of them to control their home. None of us could accept that indignity, insecurity and wrongful intrusion into that most precious space, one’s home. That is what the victims endure.
It is important that the Government are tough on this area of crime. As David Cameron said in 2010, burglars
“leave their human rights at the door.”
An Englishman’s home is his castle, and if the law cannot protect him there, then who can?
Victims are targeted by criminal gangs and have their homes taken over for prolonged periods by sometimes dangerous people, putting them at significant risk of harm. One such victim was Anne. Anne had had a difficult upbringing and suffered many abusive relationships. After leaving an abusive marriage, she became a victim of cuckooing when she was given local authority housing in an area where there were many drug dealers. Due to alcohol and drugs, Anne’s physical and mental health deteriorated quickly. When the police entered her home they found a perpetrator, who was just 21 years old, lying on a sofa. He was in possession of drugs, weapons and some cash that the police found in the flat. Anne was in a very bad state but she saw the perpetrator as her protector who was keeping trouble out of the door, yet he himself punched and assaulted Anne, threatening her on multiple occasions. He told her to go to the streets to supply other dealers but she was not getting any money, just some drugs.
This is clearly a form of modern slavery. The victim’s home is taken over without their consent, and they are vulnerable and powerless to prevent it in the face of dangerous criminal gangs. Like Anne, victims are often physically and emotionally abused. Although police and prosecutors are aware of this phenomenon and determined to target the criminals, it seems that the law may not offer them adequate tools for the job. Cuckooing does not meet the definition of the human trafficking offence in Section 2 of the Modern Slavery Act because there is no travel involved. According to the CPS, however, neither does it fall within the definition of slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour under Section 1 of that Act unless the criminals demand labour or service from the victims in addition to occupying their home.
While it may be possible to prosecute these criminals for other offences, such as drug crimes, we cannot be satisfied with a situation that does not reflect the exploitation of a person at the heart of the offence. We must hold criminals to account for the harm done to victims of this exploitation and offer victims hope for a future free from this kind of control. There is a clear public interest in protecting the right of every person to their private and family life without having their home taken over against their will.
The vulnerable are often targets as they offer little resistance, are easily manipulated and may have a history that would make them poor witnesses. In these cases, the law must enable and encourage prosecutions to combat this cynical form of offending. A clear offence that makes unwanted occupation by somebody using property in connection with offending is needed; my amendment would do just that. I understand that the Home Office, the police and prosecutors are aware of the challenge in bringing criminal charges for cuckooing, but victims like Anne urgently need a solution.
There have been positive developments. The Sun reported recently that the Home Secretary is currently planning a new law to crack down on cuckooing. She has recognised that we must act for the sake of the potentially hundreds of victims currently being bullied, coerced and exploited in their own homes. This is a hidden crime quite literally taking place behind closed doors in private homes. It must remain hidden from the law no longer. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, for raising the important issue of cuckooing. This is when criminals, mainly drug dealers, take over the homes of vulnerable people. It is a very serious and not uncommon problem, as the figures cited by the noble Lord gave witness to. I look forward to the Minister explaining why this amendment is not necessary or what alternative the Government propose.
I note the work that the noble Lord, Lord McColl, has done on modern slavery over many years, and thank him for it. It is right for us to acknowledge that in speaking to this amendment.
I want to draw particular attention to the section of the noble Lord’s amendment that covers something that is often not recognised to the degree it should be when it comes to county lines gangs’ operations and the way cuckooing works. Proposed new sub-paragraph (ii) talks about when a person
“is unable to give free and informed consent”.
That is the crucial bit. Too often, people are asked, “Why have you allowed this to happen? Why have you let them take over your property?” It is almost as though they have given their consent. But they are sometimes so frightened that they give their consent because, if they do not, the consequences will be such that they live in fear. Somehow, the law does not seem to recognise that.
Proposed new paragraph (c)(ii) refers to someone being unable to give “free and informed consent”. This is absolutely crucial to stopping the offence of cuckooing. People sometimes appear almost as though they have left a property of their own free will, saying, “Here you are. Come into my property. Use it for drugs and county lines operations.” Then, sometimes—not always, but sometimes—the police say, “Well, what did you do about it? Why didn’t you stop it?” That does not reflect the real world. People are terrified; they are frightened. They are told, “If you don’t let us use your property and get out of it, or if you tell anyone about it, we are going to do X, Y or Z to you or to your family.” That is sometimes not recognised, but it is the crucial part of what the noble Lord’s amendment gets at. If we want to stop cuckooing, we must understand that people are coerced into giving their consent; often, the law seems to treat them as though they have given their consent willingly. If we are to stop cuckooing, we must understand the context in which it occurs. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to reflect on that.
I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord McColl for introducing this amendment which seeks to provide for a bespoke criminal offence to tackle what is known, as he pointed out, by the evocative name of “cuckooing”. I assure noble Lords that this Government take all forms of exploitation seriously and we are determined to tackle it. I fully sympathise with the intentions behind this amendment, as we recognise that these unscrupulous exploiters often target the most vulnerable in our society to control their homes and, as my noble friend argued most powerfully, against their will to perpetrate a range of crime types. This practice is often associated with drug dealing, which is a feature of county lines offending, but also encompasses other forms of exploitation types such as sex work, which not only devastates the lives of the victim but impacts the local community in which they live.
While I support the sentiments behind this amendment, we remain to be persuaded that a new offence is needed. There are existing powers that can be and are being used to disrupt cuckooing, including the use of civil preventive orders, such as closure orders and criminal behaviour orders, breach of which is a criminal offence. As to the criminal law, there are offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 which may be charged, specifically those under Section 4 relating to the supply of controlled drugs and under Section 8 relating to the occupier of premises knowingly permitting the production or supply of drugs from their property. The offence of participating in the activities of an organised crime group in Section 45 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 may also be relevant. That said, this is an area of the criminal law which we continue to examine.
Moreover, I am sure my noble friend would agree that were there to be a new offence, Section 1 of the Modern Slavery Act is not the proper place for it. That section deals with offences where a person exercises control over another person to hold them in slavery or servitude, or requires them to perform forced or compulsory labour. The focus is on controlling another person and not their property or belongings. Having said all that, we recognise the seriousness of this phenomenon, and we will continue to look into it and support law enforcement partners in their efforts to tackle this malicious crime. In the light of this assurance, I hope my noble friend will be content to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for his reply and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for being so supportive. The problem is that this is falling between two stools, and I do not quite understand how the present law is going to be used to deal with this problem. I would like some explanation; perhaps the Minister could write to me explaining exactly how the present law can and should be used. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 292F withdrawn.
292G: After Clause 170, insert the following new Clause—
“Recording the sex and acquired gender of alleged victims and perpetrators of crime
After section 44 of the Police Act 1996 insert—“44A Recording sex registered at birth and acquired gender (1) Police forces in England and Wales must keep a record of the sex registered at birth of each person who is—(a) the alleged victim of a crime reported to that police force, or(b) arrested for a crime by a member of that police force.(2) Police forces in England and Wales must keep a record of the acquired gender of each person with a gender recognition certificate who is—(a) the alleged victim of a crime reported to a member of that police force, or(b) arrested for a crime by a member of that police force.(3) Provision by a police force to the Secretary of State of any protected information recorded under subsection (2) above does not constitute an offence under section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amends the Police Act 1996 to ensure that the sex registered at birth and acquired gender, if appropriate, of anyone who is the alleged victim of a crime or who is arrested for a crime will be recorded by police.
My Lords, before I say anything substantive about this amendment standing in my name and the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris of Yardley, Lady Grey-Thompson and Lady Ludford—who apologises for not being in her place this evening—I apologise to the House myself for having been unable for medical reasons to attend the Second Reading of this important Bill. However, I watched the debate with much interest, and was impressed by the wide range of issues raised and the very strong feelings with which many of those issues were discussed.
For me, the key point at Second Reading was made by the Minister, my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford, who, when introducing the debate, described the Bill as having one overarching objective; namely, to keep the public safe. I have devoted almost the whole of my professional life to advancing this objective, both in this country and abroad, and it is for this reason that I enthusiastically welcome the Bill and welcome the opportunity to speak to this amendment.
If I were asked to name the most important lesson I learned from my long experience of policing, on both sides of the Atlantic, I would say that it is the importance of accurate, timely and comprehensive information in reducing crime and making communities safe. Without such information, policing and crime reduction become simply a matter of guesswork and luck. With such information, however, our police forces and those who advise and assist them can begin to understand why, when and where crimes occur, and to develop effective evidence-based plans, strategies and tactics for tackling them. In a nutshell, the more comprehensive, consistent, timely and accurate the information available to our police forces, the more effective their efforts and the safer our communities will be.
Everyone who cares about policing and public safety recognises this, and it is this concern for consistent, accurate and comprehensive national information which accounts for Section 44 of the Police Act 1996, which gives the Home Secretary the power not only to require all forces in England and Wales to collect, maintain and return information about criminal behaviour and policing but to
“specify the form in which information is to be provided.”
It is this power to specify the form of the information to be provided that makes our national collection of criminal statistics so useful, because it permits the Home Office to issue its so-called counting rules—a set of memoranda that spell out in detail what information is to be collected by individual forces. These rules, which are kept regularly up to date to reflect new crimes and other changes in legislation, ensure that our national collection of criminal information is accurate, comprehensive and timely, rather than a set of random figures that reflect the whims and preferences of individual chief constables or police and crime commissioners.
I am making something of these Home Office counting rules because I want noble Lords to appreciate that there are already in place tried and tested arrangements to collect information from the police and to ensure that these collection arrangements are easily amended in the light of practical experience on the ground. For this reason, I very much hope at this late stage of this evening’s debate to concentrate on the main proposals of the amendment and not get bogged down in discussing the modalities of how this information should be collected. These are matters of detail for practitioners to consider in the light of the general principles that Parliament lays down for them, and not really matters for primary legislation.
Let us turn, therefore, to the heart of the amendment. It aims to fill a serious gap in our national collection of criminal statistics caused by the fact that, at present, police forces are not routinely or consistently required to collect data on the sex of all alleged victims or perpetrators of crimes. As a result, practice on the collection of sex data varies across forces and, in recent years, there has been a confusion with gender and related concepts, such as gender identity, which have been compromising the accuracy of our national data relating to sex. For example, most police forces currently allow biologically male alleged perpetrators to self-identify as women, even when charged with rape, and will then record the crime as carried out by a woman.
As is obvious from this example, our present laissez-faire attitude to how sex is recorded by forces across England and Wales has important practical consequences. It deprives policymakers and police practitioners of accurate and consistent national statistical data about discrimination on the basis of sex. It thus makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to develop effective evidence-based policies for fighting these crimes, especially crimes relating to violence against women and girls—the tackling of which is one of the Government’s principal objectives and one to which they are committed by international agreement.
The amendment aims to fix this problem by amending the Police Act 1996 to require all forces to collect, for
“each person who is … the alleged victim of a crime reported to that police force, or … arrested for a crime by a member of that police force”,
at least one and in some cases two pieces of personal information. The first is the sex registered at birth of the alleged victim or arrestee, and the second is the acquired gender of that person, provided that he or she has a gender recognition certificate—known as a GRC—which legally recognises their acquired gender in the UK. I am sure some noble Lords would wish to argue that neither of these categories is appropriate in the context of the criminal justice system and that forces should collect only information on alleged victims’ or arrestees’ gender identity as he or she declares it to be. Let me deal with this argument in stages.
As for the requirement that forces should collect information about the sex registered at birth, I should have thought the case was obvious. Since criminological research began, information about the sex of victims and arrestees has been collected and analysed across the globe by sex registered at birth. In my view, it would be nothing short of vandalism to permit forces, of their own volition, to stop collecting such information. This would at a stroke destroy the essential consistency, and therefore usefulness, of our national collection of criminal statistics.
Another, more detailed argument for collecting information about sex registered at birth is that because of the special arrangements whereby people with GRCs receive a new and altered birth certificate, not recording sex registered at birth could compromise accurate sex data. I appreciate that the number of people with GRCs is currently small, but all forecasts are for it to grow significantly over the coming years.
Yet another reason for collecting this data about the possession of a GRC is that experience has shown that it is very useful for overall sex data to be disaggregated, so that both sex registered at birth and acquired sex can be interrogated as separate data fields in research. This is essential for the protection of both women and those who have GRCs.
What about a person’s self-declared gender identity? Why do we not simply require forces to collect this information rather than the sex at birth or the acquired gender of those with a GRC? The simple reason is that at present, in this country, the concept of gender identity is neither definable nor defined clearly enough in our law to form the basis of reliable, accurate, long-term national information for use in internationally recognised criminological research, or even as the basis for policy-making at home.
This leads me back to the issue of collecting information on those with GRCs. There has been much passionate discussion in recent years, particularly on social media, about how trans people are treated by the police and other parts of the criminal justice system. But because forces are not recording accurate sex data or data about people in possession of GRCs, much of this debate is based not on accurate information but on anecdote. This cannot be a sensible way to debate important societal problems or to develop effective policies for tackling them; hence the case for this amendment, which would give us reliable, timely, consistent national data about whether the victims and perpetrators of crimes are male or female—a question which presently cannot be answered with confidence. For these reasons, I commend this amendment to the Committee. I beg to move.
My Lords, I wish to speak against this amendment, because on first reading it set off a number of alarm bells. But I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, that I listened carefully to what he said, to try to understand his arguments. For me, there are consequences for trans people in the amendment that no other group of people with protected characteristics would have to face in our society.
Those who have laid and spoken to amendments to this Bill against transgender people have repeatedly said there is a data collection problem. But I do not understand why the data needs to be collected by the police, given that for most crimes—whether the victim or the person being arrested, as set out in this amendment—being a trans person is just not relevant.
A parallel example would be requiring a disabled person to register with the police. I have chosen this example deliberately because, four years ago, I was physically attacked in my wheelchair at Euston station. For that incident, the wonderful British Transport Police recorded the crime as a disability hate crime—the crime, note, not the victim or the perpetrator. I would be appalled if every time I reported a crime thereafter—online fraud, for example—I had to say, “By the way, I’m disabled and I’m on your disability register.”
Rape offences are probably the only offences where the police need to know the sex of the offender because the legislation is dependent on the person’s genitals. It is otherwise not relevant information because the police do not need to know it. The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, says that it is easy to add one section to the crime reporting information system—CRIS—but is it so easy? Adding just one extra category will take time and, for an existing reporting system, is usually very much more expensive than expected. Just ask the Government about the costs of adding the booster jab details to the Covid app, when they have thrown millions at IT during the pandemic.
I note that the amendment says that the above
“does not constitute an offence under section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004”,
which prevents the disclosure of this protected information. On what grounds, then, is it acceptable to share people’s protected characteristics when the GRA says that is private information? In the context of personal information, can the noble Lord confirm whether the amendment complies with GDPR? I am not sure that it does, as it is not personal information that is essential to record.
I return to why the amendment was laid. Can the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, answer some questions to try to explain the aims of his amendment? I will give a hypothetical example: a trans individual is subject to house burglary or to a street mugging unrelated to their gender. This amendment requires them, if they report that crime, to out themselves to the police. Why should they suffer that loss of privacy and human rights, and to what end? Why should trans people face such a disincentive to report crimes perpetrated against them? Why is this the one group of people being singled out as victims?
I have a second example. A trans person is arrested for being drunk and disorderly but they have been assaulted and in fact are suffering from concussion, which can give the same appearance. That would be a defence to any charge but they are required to out themselves upon arrest. Why? A key tenet of our law is that accused persons are presumed innocent and mostly have the same right to privacy and liberty as all citizens. That is different for criminals. The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, referred two or three times to crimes and criminals but that is not what this amendment says. It concerns anyone who is arrested. What is the position of an accused person who refuses to provide the relevant information? The amendment does not make this clear. Would they be obstructing a police officer in the execution of their duty under Section 89(2) of the Police Act 1996?
A further real concern about this amendment, if enacted, is that it would prevent trans people coming forward to report being victims of crime as they would have to out themselves. Many would not be comfortable with disclosing that sort of information. It also implies that a gender recognition certificate is what defines gender, whereas many trans people do not have or want one of them.
The fundamental problem for me, though, is the labelling and targeting of trans people, either as victims or those arrested by the police, alone of any group in our society. While this amendment may not be being instructing them at this stage to wear a pink triangle on their jackets at all times, there would be a data pink triangle. It would set them apart from every other grouping in society. It sets a dangerous and unacceptable precedent. I hope the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I have put my name to this amendment and I shall speak in support of it. I very much welcome the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, presented the argument. He gave a lot of detail, and at this time of night I will not go over it again, but I want to emphasise one or two points.
To begin with, I say that I sort of understand the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and I take them seriously, because anybody who thinks that any proposed legislation will discriminate against one group deserves to be heard and to have those questions explored. But at the core of this is the collection of data; we are an immensely data-rich society at the moment. Sitting here, throughout the debates this evening, there have been so many times when the argument that has been put forward has depended on the collection of data. Whichever public service you look at, whether it be education, health, the criminal law or whatever, much of the progress that we have made over previous decades has been because we have had the ability to collect data.
I am a woman, and I think that my sex has made many advances over the past decades because people arguing for legislation that has protected women, men, people with disabilities and people who are transgender have been able to make the case only because they have been able to collect the data. Unless you have the data, you are arguing vaguely about some impression about something that might happen, so I am deeply wedded to the idea of collecting data in the formation of public policy and the advancement of political ideas.
I think that is defensible, but I do not take for granted the fact that we do not give something up in the collection of that data. I will be honest. I am trustee of a number of charities, as I think everybody in this Chamber is. Every year, when I am asked to fill in the data declaration, I see another bit of data there. Sometimes, I think “Why do they want to know that about me?”, and the one I am saying that about at the moment is sexuality. I sit there, I tick the box that says “heterosexual”, and I think “What’s that got to do with me being a trustee of this body?” But I sign it, because I think that, on the whole, that declaration of bits of information about ourselves can be put to the common public good. If we were to look at charities, without declaring that information, how do we ever get to make the argument that women, or people who are black or from ethnic minorities, or from the gay community, are not represented on charities? Whether we like it or not—and I accept that it is difficult to come to terms with it sometimes—it is about the protection, rights and freedoms of individuals. But I would never say that we do not pay a price for the collection of this data, or that we must not continuously and constantly make sure that the data we are asking to be collected is in the public policy interest.
That is why I have come to this amendment and why I very much support the arguments that have been made. What the amendment asks is simply that we collect two bits of data, among others. One is the sex at birth and the other is any gender acquired during the lifetime of the person. Without that, I do not know how we can go on to develop public policy in the pursuit of those who have committed crime and of the public duty to protect those who have been victims of crime. Unless we have the data about how many of which groups there are, they will be ignored.
I have sat through a long and very interesting debate today. My noble friend on the Front Bench said that one of the most important things about the Bill before the Committee is that it is a Bill about protecting women and girls. I do not know how you do that unless you collect the data. We have heard about county lines and knife crime. Unless we collect the data to know that many of the people who are drawn in and persuaded to commit those crimes are young men, we cannot develop a suite of policies that support them. When we collect data about sex, it is entirely proper to ask about acquired gender as well. We must not conflate the two.
The problem at the moment is that different police forces are collecting data about sex at birth and about gender acquired at some other point and then conflating the two. We do not have the sequencing of data and information across police forces in this country that can enable us to make public policy. That is what this amendment is asking. It wants to disaggregate those, as the mover of the amendment has said.
The amendment wants to begin to collect the data so that public policy can follow it, but it does not ignore the fact that this is sensitive and must be done in a confidential and sensitive way, with a clear purpose of public policy. It is not beyond the wit of our society to collect that data in a way that does exactly that. The amendment does not say how it will be collected. It is easy to make an argument that it will become about outing yourself or declaring it publicly, but it need not be so, because that is not required. The purpose of this amendment is the collection of accurate data in the proper pursuit of public policy and the protection of individuals. I very much hope that the Minister will give it serious consideration and let us know the Government’s views.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, for tabling this amendment, to which my name is attached, and for very clearly explaining it. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for talking about public policy interest. That is the reason I have attached my name to this amendment.
I believe that the collection of consistent, routine and accurate data is paramount, not least in order to provide the correct services and support for both alleged victims and perpetrators of crime. But the data has to be consistent in being able to spot trends, allocate resources and make historical comparisons. In the past, the words “sex” and “gender” have been used interchangeably. This is no longer the case. A clear definition and understanding of what information is useful and appropriate to be recorded is important.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on her point that people need to feel safe and be encouraged to come forward and report crimes, but I am afraid I do not agree with her when she talks about having a register that adds people. That is not my intention in supporting this amendment. Disclosure can be an issue, and it can trigger strong emotions and fears for some vulnerable individuals. As legislators, we must understand and address such fears, but also recognise that they are not a sufficient reason to compromise accurate data collection for the benefit of everyone in society.
It is really important that data is taken in a careful and sensitive way. By carefully gathering this data, this amendment seeks partly to help policymakers in making decisions on support for alleged victims and treatment for those who commit crimes, but also to provide consistency and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris said, the best information that we can get to make good public policy.
My Lords, we clearly have a division in the House about the merits of this amendment. There are those of us who quite clearly understand the way in which the terms “sex” and “gender” are used and have been used, not just in this country—under several bits of legislation, most importantly the Gender Recognition Act—but also in international law. There is a growing body of international law in which “gender” and “sex” are well understood.
I simply want to ask the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, to explain three points that he made in his speech. First, he said that the intention of this amendment was to keep the public safe by the accumulation of accurate, appropriate, timely and consistent data. If that data is not aligned with a person’s gender identity, then it will not be accurate, so how can he ask us to accept it? Secondly, he told us that we should not get bogged down in modalities, but this is about a very practical exercise of gathering data, not in a theoretical way and not on the basis of gender-critical beliefs but actually on the basis of people’s lives. Does he not think that this is important enough detail to put into primary legislation? Finally, he said that experience has shown that it was very useful to gather information about sex and gender. Whose experience? Can he give us more information about that?
My Lords, I will speak briefly. I thank all noble Lords who spoke to this. It is a controversial amendment, but I think it has been spoken to quite sensitively, all things considered; maybe it is the lateness of the hour—maybe that was a good move.
I agree with the previous speaker that difficulties in the drafting of an amendment cannot just be dismissed as modalities because when we put forward draft amendments to legislation and say “must” we need to examine what that means. If, as the amendment suggests:
“Police forces in England and Wales must keep a record of the sex registered at birth of each person”,
how is that going to be executed and what will the consequences be? One has to imagine that one is a younger version of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in the police station back in the day. People turn up to record whatever it is—a theft, shoplifting, burglary, or a violent offence. How is this recording of the birth sex as well as the subsequently declared gender going to happen and what is the sanction for the “must”? That is not a modality, it is what law requires; there have to be consequences to a “must” being breached. Whatever is really going on, I know there are really sensitive issues in our society at the moment of sex and gender which we will not, I suspect, resolve tonight—we might, but maybe not.
I agreed with my noble friend about the value of data. Whether in the health service or criminal justice system, data is great, but there is another side too, which I think my noble friend acknowledged: that data will put some people off. There are other jurisdictions not far from here where people are really nervous even about declaring their race because of obvious historic reasons for being sensitive about declaring your race at the police station—let alone declaring your birth sex.
We need to see the yin and yang of this particular debate. On the one hand is the brilliant research and analysis of crime we could do if we had more and more data. But on the other hand—and this is not completely different from the previous debate—what we want is victims to come forward and criminal justice to be done. We do not want to do anything that discourages victims from coming forward and reporting crime. That includes people who feel anxious about certain sensitive pieces of information about themselves. We would never want them to put off going to the police station for fear that they say too much. For instance, a person who has been burgled thinking “Was I burgled just because I was burgled, or because I am a trans person? Do I really want to draw more attention to myself because I am an anxious victim of crime?” We need to think about that, let alone the poor old practicalities for a younger version of the very youthful-looking noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for introducing my speech. This amendment is designed to compel police forces to
“keep a record of the sex registered at birth”
of anyone who is a crime victim or who is arrested by the police for a crime. It also forces the police to
“keep a record of the acquired gender of each person with a gender recognition certificate”
who is a crime victim of crime or is arrested for a crime.
It also says that providing this data to the Secretary of State will not be an offence under the Gender Recognition Act. Again, I want to try to focus on the amendment and not get drawn into the wider debate, as far as I can. As the noble Baroness pointed out, I was a police officer for over 30 years, so I want to look at this from the perspective of the police.
How will a police officer know what the sex registered at birth is—thumbscrews, or a chromosome test—even without the consent of the victim? Maybe they could force victims to give their fingerprints, in the hope that they may have had their fingerprints taken before they transitioned and that will prove it—except they may have had them taken after they transitioned, and that will then show their acquired gender, so that will not work. Will victims have to produce their birth certificates before they are even allowed to report a crime? Of course, if someone has acquired a gender recognition certificate and used it to have their birth certificate changed, as they are legally allowed to do, the birth certificate will show their acquired gender, so that will not work either. How exactly will police forces keep a record of something they do not know and have no reasonable way of finding out unless the victim or perpetrator volunteers the information?
If the victim or the perpetrator is a trans person, they are legally protected from having to disclose that information. “Well, it’s obvious,” some people will say, “you can tell, can’t you?” I have met trans men who you would never believe were assigned female sex at birth and trans women who you would never believe were assigned male sex at birth. I have also, embarrassingly, been with a lesbian friend of mine, assigned female sex at birth and who has always identified as a woman, who was stopped going into a women’s toilet in a top London restaurant because they wrongly thought that she was a man.
The supporters of this amendment may say that if they do find out, maybe the police can record it—that maybe the victim is reporting a transphobic hate crime or for some other reason volunteers that information.
The second part of the amendment is totally unnecessary. Section 22(4) of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 already states:
“But it is not an offence under this section to disclose protected information relating to a person if … (b) that person has agreed to the disclosure of the information”—
for example, if they are the victim of a trans hate crime—or, as stated later in the same section, at paragraph (f),
“the disclosure is for the purpose of preventing or investigating crime”.
So the police can use that information already, without fear of being prosecuted. The amendment is not necessary if the victim or perpetrator volunteers the information.
My noble friend Lady Brinton asked if she would have to declare every time she becomes a victim of crime, even if it is a burglary, that she has a disability? What about me? Will the next step be that I have to tell the police that I am gay before I can report that my flat has been broken into? For what purpose should victims have to out themselves? What if I get caught stealing a bottle of Marks & Spencer Prosecco?
You can do better than that.
It is very good, actually; I had some on Saturday. I have not tried to do that but if I did, will I have to admit being gay, as well as being a shoplifter?
In 2018, the Government tentatively estimated that there were between 200,000 and 500,000 trans people in the UK. Noble Lords have said they like data; I am going to give them lots of data. Between the Gender Recognition Act coming into force and 2018, 4,910 trans people have been issued with a gender recognition certificate. If we take the top of the range of the estimate, I make that 0.75% of the population identifying as trans and 0.0076% of the overall population having a gender recognition certificate, or less than one in 10,000 people.
Even if a victim went through the whole criminal justice process without disclosing, and without the police establishing the sex assigned to them at birth, if they were a trans woman, it would increase the number of woman victims, and if they were a trans man, it would diminish the number of woman victims, and taken together, and taking account of the total number of trans people, it would even out. Taking into account that only a fraction of them will become victims of crime who report it to the police, any difference to the crime statistics will be statistically insignificant.
The police arrest, on average, 12 in 1,000 people each year—three in 1,000 women. I do not know how many of the estimated 7.5 in 1,000 trans people are trans women and how many are trans men. Of course, if trans women are counted in the female offender figures, they will also be counted in the female population figures, boosting both the numerator and the denominator. I was never any good at mathematics—I left that to my twin brother—but it is quite clear to me that trans people are not going to make any statistically significant difference to the crime figures unless we assume, and there is no factual or statistical basis to think otherwise, that trans people are more likely to commit crime or to commit particular types of crime.
Some people will point to rape statistics—somebody has already mentioned it this evening. They will say that only men can commit rape and, therefore, any woman who is recorded as having been convicted of rape must be a trans woman. That is not true. If a woman acts in joint enterprise with a man in order to commit rape, they are both guilty of rape, whether the woman restrains the victim, drugs the victim or in any other way acts as an accessory to the rape.
There is no evidence that the tiny proportion of trans people in the population, of which an even smaller proportion will be trans women, of which an even smaller proportion will have a gender recognition certificate, of which an even smaller proportion will commit crime or become a victim, and an even smaller proportion of which will be arrested, will make any significant difference to recorded crime, whether as victims or perpetrators. The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, says that this is a serious gap in our crime statistics. Is he really saying, after all his experience with the police, working with CRIS in the Metropolitan Police, that this is a significant gap in the crime statistics, based on the data that I have just given the Committee?
This amendment is unreasonable, impractical and unnecessary and we oppose it.
My Lords, interesting points have been raised by Members around the Chamber. I agree with my noble friend Lady Morris about the need for data; how you collect it and what data you collect is always the issue, but data is essential, obviously. We have some concerns around this amendment regarding its breadth and the inclusion of victims. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, pointed out, to require someone who is a victim of any crime, from theft of a pet up to violent robbery, to record their sex at birth in order to report that crime and interact with the criminal justice system is, in my view, quite troubling. It may have a significant effect on anybody potentially coming forward if that is an actual requirement of every single victim of every single crime. I think it may well act as an impediment to their coming forward and that is a consideration.
Having said that, there are some concerns around certain types of crime, namely rape and sexual violence. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about what the data says, but I think the impact on victims of how these crimes are recorded does vary between police forces in a way that is not helpful either. I did a little research, and I just preface this by saying that the only research I could find was a couple of years old, so if it is out of date, I apologise, but it did point to a problem around this.
“Police forces are recording suspected and convicted rapists as female if they no longer wish to identify with their male birth sex. Six forces”—
I will not name them—
“disclosed under freedom of information laws that if someone is arrested for or convicted of rape, the official record will state the gender they chose to identify themselves as. A further five forces … did not answer the question directly but each said they recorded gender in line with the person’s wishes.”
Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of what that data would tell us, I do not think it is helpful to have such a stark difference between lots of different forces. That goes to the point that my noble friend Lady Morris made, unless I misunderstood her, about the consistency of data that can be applied in a way that means we can learn from it and make judgments about it. Those are the only comments I would make on this amendment.
I thank my noble friend Lord Wasserman and others for explaining this amendment, which relates to the recording of sex and gender by the police.
The Government do not currently stipulate how a victim’s or offender’s sex at birth or gender identity must be recorded by the police. It is an operational matter for each individual police force to decide what information to record in cases where a crime is committed, taking into account any relevant national guidance. There are no other instances across government where there is a mandatory requirement to record both a person’s sex as registered at birth as well as their acquired gender, if that is applicable. The Office for Statistics Regulation is clear that it is for each department to decide when and how it collects data, including data on both sex and gender.
We have already stated that we do not plan to require biological sex to be recorded across the criminal justice system in our response to a recent petition calling for the biological sex of violent and sexual offenders to be so recorded. The response cited the practical difficulties in recording biological sex, some of which have been cited this evening, as well as the implications for those with a gender recognition certificate as justification, the implications of which I will touch on later.
I understand that this issue has received media attention, with the media reporting that there have been cases of sexual offences committed by transgender women where these crimes, which are traditionally male crimes, have been recorded as being committed by women. The Daily Mail reported that the Home Office is working with police to develop a new procedure for officers to record the sex of criminals in order to ensure that crime statistics are more accurate.
As noted in much of this reporting, the Home Office has already started work with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to promote a standardised approach—a phrase that lots of noble Lords have used—to the recording of all protected characteristics, which is currently at an early stage. Further, the Office for Statistics Regulation has issued draft guidance for the collection of sex and gender data for public bodies. This work should bring greater accuracy and consistency of the recording of sex and gender and allow the police to understand how best to collect it. I think it is through these processes, rather than legislation, that it is appropriate to improve the accuracy of the recording of sex and gender.
There are also a number of legal concerns arising from the amendment. It is unclear why the Government would need to mandate the uniform recording of this information regarding both alleged victims and perpetrators for all offences, and how this would be considered both necessary and proportionate for operational purposes. Accordingly, it could amount to an unlawful interference in someone’s right to respect for their private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The requirement might also breach Article 14 on the basis that it amounted to discrimination where transgender individuals are concerned. It is not clear, due to the scope of the amendment, that such a requirement could be lawfully justified.
I put it to the Committee that legislating so that the police routinely record this type of data is not the solution to the problem of standardising how sex and gender are recorded. Reasonable and appropriate actions are already being taken to address this that do not carry the same potential consequences as mandating it by law. There will be more to be said on this in the coming months, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said, but I hope that for now I have said enough to persuade my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for her comments, which were thoughtful and helpful, as ever. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that now, after midnight, I will withdraw my amendment. She need not worry about any more debate.
I recognise very much the problems of collecting this information, which is why I went out of my way to speak at some length about the Home Office counting rules. I happened to be involved with their development when I was at the Home Office. They are very much based on consultation with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, experts, think tanks, academics and so on. As I said, these rules ensure that the collection arrangements are easily amended in the light of practical experience on the ground. I have no doubt that any debate about the collection of such information will get careful consideration by the experts at the Home Office who run the counting rules, by the police, and others.
I still think that it is important to have national criminal information. One of the weaknesses of our system, as we said in an earlier debate on the Bill, is that we have 43 separate forces with 43 chief constables, each deciding how they will collect and maintain crime statistics. This is not the best way to do it. Some noble Lords will no doubt suggest a single police force, as in Scotland. That is not such a good idea, but there is another way of doing it—by Parliament setting clear rules at high level, and the experts then deciding how best to collect the information sensitively, with due respect to human rights and to people’s deepest feelings, ensuring that they take the population with them. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 292G withdrawn.
House adjourned at 12.12 am.