Skip to main content

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Volume 835: debated on Monday 5 February 2024

Committee (3rd Day)

Relevant documents: 7th Report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, 1st Report from the Constitution Committee

Debate on Amendment 30 resumed.

My Lords, I add my support to Amendments 30, 31, 37 to 46, and 53. Compliance with the victims’ code goes straight to the heart of what the Bill is about. This year, the code will have been on the statute book for 20 years. Its creation was based on good intentions, and the many entitlements, if properly implemented, would deliver the support and treatment deserved. On that we all agreed.

As discussed in the previous debate, the same piece of legislation sought to underpin the code by setting up the role of an independent Victims’ Commissioner, whose role is to

“review the operation of the code”.

Twenty years later, I think we all agree that the expectations created by that piece of legislation have never been fully met. Victim Support has found that as many as six in 10 victims do not receive their rights under the victims’ code, two in 10 are not referred to support services, and six in 10 are not referred to a needs assessment. In my most recent victim survey, fewer than three in 10 respondents were aware of the existence of the code. Only 29% recalled being told about the entitlement to make a victim personal statement.

In December, we had the report of the joint inspection on how well the police, the CPS and probation supported victims, which also found that the focus on complying with rights under the victims’ code has led to an emphasis on process rather than quality of service. The police, the CPS and the Probation Service did not always consider the needs of victims. As for police sharing information with victims, the report found that this was often a box-ticking exercise, with no evidence of quality. We love tick boxes, but we are missing the whole point of issuing this information and supporting victims. As the recent case in Nottingham has shown so powerfully, the quality and timeliness of communications with victims are crucial.

After 20 years, it is disappointing that we need to have this debate yet again. During that time, there have been many well-intentioned attempts to drive up performance: a tweak here, a nudge there, and yet another revision of the code. This Bill must not be allowed to become another nudge and another tweak.

There is much in the Bill to commend it. It will set up a structure whereby data is collected locally, with the Secretary of State issuing guidance on the data required. There will be an internal process to oversee monitoring of compliance, a programme board, and a ministerial task force. If an agency fails to deliver, it will eventually be issued with a notice of non-compliance. These are all positive developments.

Yes, I do have some concerns—for example, about whether the police and crime commissioners will be resourced to undertake the required data collection and analysis, and about the influence they will be able to assert over national criminal justice agencies at a local level—but let us not focus on those for now. The question we must ask ourselves is: will regional directors of, say, the CPS or the Probation Service lie awake at night worrying about an MoJ notice? I very much doubt it. Where are the transparency, the public accountability, the independent scrutiny and the challenge? By itself, will this worthy framework deliver the culture change we have all been talking about?

As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said last week—I know we have had a weekend in between—we might ask: does it have teeth? I fear that it does not. I support the amendments in this group not because I want to undermine or devalue the work that has been done in government, but because I want to give the Government the tools to make it succeed.

Amendment 30 sets out a framework for the Government to hold the criminal justice agencies to account should they fail to deliver a minimum level of compliance with victims’ rights. This proposal is not a straitjacket; it is a framework. The Government set the threshold, and the timeframe is two successive years. A failure to meet the Government’s set thresholds will result in an inspection, which in turn will result in a published report highlighting shortcomings and making recommendations for the change. This holds agencies fully to account and provides much-needed transparency. To put it bluntly, it has much more clout than an MoJ non-compliance notification.

For the same reason, I support Amendment 31, which gives holders of my role the opportunity to issue non-compliance notices where there is evidence of persistent non- compliance.

I turn to Amendments 44 to 46, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. The systematic collection of compliance data offers an opportunity for proper scrutiny and accountability. The publication of the data will be a significant development, but the Government propose to give themselves the responsibility for delivering the assessment of the data. Therefore, they decide on the data to be collected. They fund the PCCs, victim activity and data collection. They also publish their own internal assessment of the data. As the noble Lord, Lord Russell, says, this smacks of the Government marking their own homework.

This framework lacks independent scrutiny and challenge. We can do better than this. This assessment needs to be undertaken by the person who has statutory responsibility for reviewing the operation of the code—in other words, the Victims’ Commissioner: someone who has the freedom to report without fear or favour, and who is able to challenge both the Government and the criminal justice agencies. As a person independent of government, his or her findings would be viewed as credible by victims, the public and the media. I add that my term expires in October, so this responsibility would fall to the future commissioners.

A former CEO of the office of a police and crime commissioner watched the debate last Wednesday, and she emailed me to say that the concerns from speakers about the approach of the criminal justice agencies to the code resonated with her. She said:

“On the additional ‘A’ being added by Lord Bellamy of ‘adaptable’, I understand the point he was making, but I would suggest the agencies sat around the Local Criminal Justice table have made full use of the adaptable nature of the code to date and the lack of governance around it which is why we are in the position we find ourselves with only a third of victims having awareness of the code”.

This needs to change. From the outset, I have constantly said that the credibility of the Bill rests on delivering code compliance and ending the culture within our agencies of adapting themselves around it. This is something on which we are all agreed, and I hope the Minister and the Government will, at long last, listen and act upon our concerns.

My Lords, I have added my name to Amendments 30 and 44 to 46 in this group, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. Others have spoken at length and much better than I can about these, so I really just want to echo the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, here. These amendments are about compliance, accountability and the Victims’ Commissioner. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, talked about tweaks and nudges, which we do not want—just give the Victims’ Commissioner teeth, because independence and rigorous scrutiny are vital if the Bill is to have the confidence of victims.

My Lords, I have signed Amendments 31, 51 and 83 in this group. Amendment 31 would give the Victims’ Commissioner an additional role in ensuring the victims’ code in the event of non-compliance. As other noble Lords have said today and last Wednesday, the real problem with the Bill is that there is no duty on agencies to comply. I support the two previous speakers—nudging agencies will not create the right effect.

Amendment 51, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, would ensure that the justice agencies are properly trained. As with Amendment 83, the aims and objectives of Amendment 51 are something I have laid repeatedly over the decade and more since I have been pushing for training, particularly on matters to do with victims. I am really pleased that the noble Lord has tabled the amendment; I am also pleased that the family courts are beginning to understand that there is a crossover between what happens to victims in the criminal justice system and their experiences in the family court system. I will not say more, because we will be debating a group of amendments on that on Wednesday. However, none of that will happen unless everybody involved in the criminal justice procedure is fully trained. I understand that the justices are extremely concerned that Parliament should ask them to be trained, but it is not just about people sitting on the Bench. This is about everybody who is engaged.

I know that I have said in private and perhaps in public that, when I went to the sentencing of my stalker, I was placed literally next to him. I had no choice of where to sit—that is where the clerk who took me in sat me. It was the first time I had seen him since he was arrested, and it was a real shock to the system. So, when I talk about right through the system, I mean absolutely everything, including the people who help manage the seating areas in the court. Above all, we need a system whereby the family courts will ensure that victims are not victimised twice. It is broader than that, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, for tabling that amendment.

Amendment 83 would ensure that front-line agencies are trained to recognise stalking. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for expanding it to include higher education places. Stalking in its most unpleasant form is manipulative and coercive. Families and friends of those being stalked are also stalked, meaning that people who come into contact with them, including in schools, colleges, universities and the health system, need to understand when they are being played by a stalker. Because stalkers are very good at it—every single day cases come to court with stalkers behaving in this appalling manipulative way. It is extremely unpleasant and frightening. To train everyone to recognise it, to be able to ask the right questions and, as we discussed last week, to signpost people to the right services, is vital.

There is another reason why Amendment 83 is important. One problem of the Domestic Abuse Act is that it has downgraded non-domestic stalking. The priority in the system is for domestic stalking, and without a specific amendment providing for stalking in one form, we will not see this form of discrimination, which happens simply because it is not domestic—and I am afraid that some people in the criminal justice system think that non-domestic stalking is not as severe.

Overall, from these Benches we welcome the amendments. The deluge of amendments that the Minister is facing is because we know that the victims’ code that the Government have put forward, with which we all agree in principle, will not work without the strengthening of the responsibilities of the Victims’ Commissioner and other agencies involved in managing the lives that victims have after they have become victims.

My Lords, I support in broad terms the need for the commissioner to have more powers to intervene on behalf of victims, and my questions are about how that should be done most effectively to create the atmosphere that is needed.

For many years we have had people who have intervened on behalf of suspects, but very few people who have been able to intervene on behalf of victims, and I really support that changing. Amendment 30 talks about the ability to produce reports. My questions are about whether the reports are the right way to achieve the outcome, when people in fact want individual interventions for their particular problem. To give more powers to the commissioner to intervene in individual problems might be more powerful.

First, the Government ought to be clear, if they are to follow Amendment 30, what the inspection burden will be, which is growing for many public services. Police, prisons and probation have multiple inspectors carrying out multiple inspections together and sometimes they have not agreed their priorities. This causes time and money to be spent on their recommendations. It would be helpful if they were sometimes able to agree those recommendations before they published them. I am afraid that does not always happen. Adding more reports and inspections has to be thought through before it happens and not afterwards, because the compound effect of these inspections is not always helpful. The irony is that sometimes inspections have not prevented any of the things they were worried about. Usually, reports are retrospective about something that has happened, and do not stop something that should not have happened.

My second point on this amendment is something we need to be clear about. Is the idea that, if there is a simple breach of the code—for example, in one person’s case—then subsection (2) of this proposed new clause will kick in? Or will there have to be a general failure across a number of cases? I am not quite clear what standard must be achieved before the inspection and report have to kick in. A simple failure in one case would not be sufficient but, of course, multiple failures over a sustained period would. A strategic failure of course might engage this type of inspection and report. So I ask for more clarity about when it will kick in and what standard will need to be breached.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 36, which is in my noble friend Lord Bach’s name, as well as my own. This is a probing amendment. It does not set out to challenge the Government’s position on delivering their commitment regarding local criminal justice boards, within the scope of the clauses on code compliance. It seeks to set out the benefits of putting LCJBs and police and crime commissioners together.

First, it will drive consistency of approach to code compliance, which can be monitored through LCJBs. Secondly, it will deliver effective collaboration and shared accountability of code compliance and encourage attendance from criminal justice boards. Thirdly, it will ensure that statutory guidance is reflective of the LCJB approach. Fourthly, it will recognise the LCJB role in victims’ code compliance, given the policy intent to place the boards on a statutory footing.

This amendment does not state that LCJBs are the only forum in which to comply with the current regulations. However, LCJBs are important forums that need to be bolstered in order to deliver on the Bill’s ambitions, drive consistency and ensure local shared accountability for code compliance across criminal justice bodies and the elected policing bodies. This amendment will deliver that aim through enshrining them in this Bill.

The Ministry of Justice published guidance for LCJBs in March 2023. This guidance reiterated the commitment to placing LCJBs on a statutory footing:

“In line with recommendations made by the Review, a suitable legislative vehicle is being sought to place LCJBs on a statutory footing and mandate that the PCC act as Chair”.

By giving local criminal justice boards their own place in the legislation, this amendment would remind local partners of their shared accountability for and commitment to supporting victims of crime and to delivering the new responsibilities set out in this Bill. We would also provide PCCs, who chair the majority of these boards, with the levers they need to ensure that the boards are effective and set clear expectations of their members.

Turning to the other amendments in this group, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, spoke to Amendments 30 and 31, and I agree, of course, with the points she made. She spoke very powerfully on the importance of independent scrutiny and transparency, and she proposed a “framework, not a straitjacket”. She believes, as do I, that what she is proposing is a better way of holding agencies to account. She also quoted the noble Lord, Lord Russell, on the Government currently marking their own homework; he wants to deliver a better system through these amendments.

I also want to endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said about recognising both domestically related and non-domestically related stalking. I have dealt with stalking matters quite a few times in magistrates’ courts, and even though, from an outsider’s point of view, they can seem less important, I am absolutely convinced that, for the people being stalked, it is an extremely alarming and frightening position to find themselves in. In fact, I dealt with that sort of case very recently. It also reinforces the point in Amendment 51 about the training needed for justice agencies in order to recognise stalking and its importance.

In conclusion, I noted with interest the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, to the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, about multiple inspectors and inspections and the need for this to be carefully thought through. They were very fair questions, but I do not think they add up to an argument against. Their points were well made, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s answer.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords very much for their contributions to this group. I first apologise for my heavy cold and thank my noble friends Lord Roborough and Lord Howe for stepping into the breach and dealing with subsequent groups today.

The amendments in this group essentially seek stronger compliance mechanisms, credibility, as has been said, more specific obligations on training and a wider role for the Victims’ Commissioner—in other words, we are in the field of awareness and accountability, to use two of my four “A’s”. The Government would not be proceeding with this structure if they did not believe that they were delivering a credible structure. The whole purpose of Clauses 6 to 10, combined with guidance under Clause 11, is very much to improve awareness and compliance. Under Clause 6, criminal justice bodies must promote awareness and review their compliance, and, in particular, under Clause 7 the PCCs for each area must supervise the criminal justice bodies in their area and provide reports for the Secretary of State. That is all combined with the collection and sharing of information about how they are functioning, together with the publication of compliance information under Clause 10.

In that latter regard, I ask noble Lords not to underestimate the importance and strength of shining light in dark corners. We have seen it in other parts of the criminal justice system, such as the family justice system. Once you have the information and it is in the public domain, that is a huge contributor to raising standards generally. As the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, pointed out, some police forces are doing extremely well; I think Cheshire was the example he gave. So it can be done under the existing system. The question is, how we bring everybody up to the same standard. Clauses 6 to 10, coupled with the duty to collaborate under Clause 12, and the preparation of the strategy and the needs assessment under Clause 13, all involve everybody collaborating, working together, learning from each other and generally arriving at best practice. In the Government’s view, that is a perfectly sensible and entirely efficient and fruitful way to go. So in general terms, at least at this stage, the Government are not persuaded of the need for the further amendments in this group.

I turn for a moment to the rights of individual victims under the statutory code. Without reopening exchanges from the previous occasion, I would like to state categorically on behalf of the Government, at the Dispatch Box, that Clause 5 is not and is not intended to be an ouster of judicial review. The code, its operation and the bodies responsible for this operation are, in the Government’s view, subject to judicial review. From the point of view of the individual victim, that may be something of a technicality but, given the modern prevalence of public interest litigation by groups of various kinds, it is not insignificant that the relevant bodies and the code itself are subject to judicial review.

As for the individual victim, the Government agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that giving victims the right to sue directly in the courts—for example, for damages—is not the best approach. In the case of the individual victim, the route is a complaint to the ombudsman, who may give such redress, including compensation, as it is within their power to give. Noble Lords will note that another improvement in the Bill, in Clause 23, enables the victim complainant to go direct to the ombudsman rather than through one’s MP. That is an important reform.

What are the enforcement mechanisms if this system does not work as envisaged? What are we going to do about it? I shall give noble Lords a little bit of colour from the additional document about compliance oversight, published on the MoJ website last month and referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. At national level, there will be a new cross-criminal justice system governance system, with a programme board and a ministerial taskforce to monitor compliance nationally. The Victims’ Commissioner will be fully involved; we are putting the Victims’ Commissioner at the heart, administratively speaking, of the way in which this is developing—as will the various inspectorates and other important stakeholders.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, said, one weapon with which to address non-compliance will be the use of non-statutory non-compliance notifications similar to those used in the Prison Service to drive change. Also very potent, if I may say so, are the inspections themselves. Clauses 19 to 22 give the relevant powers to the inspectors of constabulary and probation and so forth to have inspections. Another aspect that adds to the powers of the Victims’ Commissioner is to build the commissioner into those structures and to require those bodies, when developing inspections, to fully consult the commissioner. There is also the possibility of joint inspections, which is another tool. So when you need to do something on a targeted basis, in this Bill you have the powers, in the end, to do it. That is the Government’s general position.

I now turn to the specific amendments. Amendment 30, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, seeks to create a duty on the Secretary of State to set out in regulations minimal thresholds for the code of compliance and to instigate inspections when these are breached in two consecutive years. The Government’s position is that we fully agree that clear indicators are needed to identify severe and persistent non-compliance. However, it is almost certain that what the Government propose to adopt will be a range of indicators, rather than a specific minimum threshold, to consider not just when entitlements are being delivered but how they are received by victims. Those indicators should be decided by the bodies that are responsible for delivering the code, which is why it will be a matter for the ministerial task force. As I have said, the task force will include the inspectorates, the Victims’ Commissioner, and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

The development of thresholds, not quite in the statutory form that the noble Lord is proposing but within the framework that will be developed, is certainly envisaged. However, one needs a slightly more flexible and responsive system than Amendment 30 would allow. Certainly, the Government’s view is that it would not be acceptable for whatever indications there are to be breached for two consecutive years—that is rather a long period, in the Government’s view. We are not persuaded that Amendment 30 is, of itself, a necessary or positive addition to the armoury that is already there.

Once again, I draw attention to the ability to implement joint inspections in cases where there has been a failure to operate this system. We can discuss this further, but I hope I have managed to convince your Lordships that the Government’s approach is workable and will drive real accountability.

Amendment 50, again proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Russell, seeks to require the Secretary of State to provide an annual statement on compliance. I am pleased to commit the Government to publish an annual report on compliance. Details can be worked out, but there is no doubt in my mind that that is something that will be available for debate in Parliament. It will be a published annual report and it will include information on severe and persistent non-compliance. This is another example of the Government’s approach, which is to shine a light on all these areas. I will not mention any counties other than Cheshire, because we know Cheshire is good, but when you see your next-door neighbour is doing much better than you are, there is a very natural pressure to raise your game, and there is quite a lot of reliance by the Government on that aspect. However, the Government have no particular problem with the underlying purpose of the amendment, which is to provide this annual statement on compliance.

Then we get to the role of the Victims’ Commissioner and exactly where it sits in the system. Is it an outside, independent policeman of all this, or is it, as it is at the moment, the ability to make views known, require reports and so on? It is very important that the Victims’ Commissioner plays a huge role in this whole structure. I accept that, which is why we envisage that the Victims’ Commissioner should be in the ministerial task force and fully engaged with the task force, the inspectorates and other stakeholders to drive forward the success of the Bill. Knowing as I do the present Victims’ Commissioner, I have no doubt at all that, through sheer force of personality, that will naturally happen, if I may say so.

There are three important things about the Victims’ Commissioner in this Bill that we should not lose sight of. First, Clause 18 enables the Victims’ Commissioner to address reports to relevant agencies and requires them to respond to the recommendations within 56 days—that is a new power. Secondly, the other new power is the ability of the Victims’ Commissioner to be involved in the construction and framework for the inspections that will become necessary if there is a major failing somewhere in the system. That is provided for in Clauses 19 and 20, where the Victims’ Commissioner is given specific status in relation to the Inspector of Constabulary and other relevant inspectors. Thirdly, the Victims’ Commissioner’s role in the task force, while not exactly enshrined in statute, is enshrined for all practical purposes in day-to-day management. It is entirely unlikely to imagine that this enterprise on which we are jointly engaged could function for a moment if the Victims’ Commissioner was not fully involved.

Against that background, how do we think about Amendment 31, which would allow the Victims’ Commissioner herself, or himself, to issue notices to improve compliance and to publish those notices and in the end take legal proceedings? The need for some sort of enforcement mechanism in this area, relating to the non-statutory, non-compliance notifications that I mentioned earlier, is quite a reasonable suggestion. However, the legislation underpinning the Victims’ Commissioner’s role at the moment precludes them from conducting particular court proceedings, or legal proceedings, and it is not, in the Government’s view, yet clear that this would be a useful innovation.

I pay tribute to the inventiveness—imagination underplays it—of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for thinking this up as a possible process. However, the Government are not convinced that it would be a useful process, and it would undoubtedly lead to the diversion of time and resource to legal proceedings. If there is one thing the Government are doing their best to avoid in this area, it is money unnecessarily going on legal proceedings. The Government are not persuaded that Amendment 31 would be an appropriate way to go.

Perhaps the Minister can drink a bit more water at this point, though that is not the sole reason for my intervention.

I am grateful for the Minister’s clarification, but my own clarification is that no one suggested, at any point, that Clause 5 is an ouster of judicial review. Last time, I was trying to make it clear that, in Clause 5, the code does not give any right to civil proceedings, and so no individual can sue on the code. In the creative scheme that we devised, we were not suggesting that individuals should be able to sue either. We certainly agree with not wanting more litigation for people who have already had a terrible time with litigation and probably have no civil legal aid anyway.

The point was that the Victims’ Commissioner should be more than a toothless tiger. Whether or not it is through force of personality, as with the current commissioner, future commissioners should have something in their back pocket for recalcitrant public authorities which, year after year, do not respect the victims’ code. Even in the scheme that we developed, litigation should not be the first resort for a Victims’ Commissioner either today or in future. They should have to jump through hoops first—the issue of private notices followed up by the issue of public notices. Only in extremis should the Victims’ Commissioner alone—in relation not even to particular a criminal case but to systemic failure—be able, as a last resort, to sue on the code. I understand the Minister’s position, but I hope he will at least take the opportunity to reflect on what noble Lords have suggested before the next stage.

I thank the noble Baroness for that intervention. I will continue to reflect on all the points made, including this one. The Government’s present position is that this “slap on the wrist” power for the Victims’ Commissioner probably does not take matters much further forward, but I may reflect on that further.

I turn to Amendments 37 to 42 from the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and other related amendments, which, as I understand it, require the Secretary of State, rather than the police and crime commissioner, to monitor code compliance for a local police area. For transparency, the Government are committed to national oversight via the ministerial task force, but there is an essential role for local accountability. There is a hierarchy here, and the police and crime commissioner is the right person to be responsible for ensuring compliance in that local area as they already play a vital role in improving and championing services for victims through commissioning support services and chairing local criminal justice courts. The Government attach importance to that local activity.

This brings me to Amendment 36, supported by the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Bach, which seeks to specify that criminal justice boards and PCCs may use local criminal justice boards for the purposes of local review. We entirely agree. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said—I completely recognise this—we need a wider debate about placing local criminal justice boards on a statutory footing. The Government have expressed support for that happening in a way that reflects the full remit of the work they do. Once we find a legislative opportunity to do so, it should be taken forward. The Government are very much of the view that their often vital work should be supported.

I return to awareness and training in Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, and Amendment 83 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, on training in support for victims of stalking. The noble Lords are quite right that there is an obvious need for more training. The Government hesitate to have a national training framework because so much will depend on the local situation. These amendments apply to a vast range of organisations and a one-size-fits-all approach will not appropriately support staff to meet the diverse needs of victims in the wide range of settings in which they operate.

However, it is very difficult to imagine guidance on Clause 11 which does not include a reference to the kind of training that should be done. If you are placing a duty on the agencies to work with victims day in, day out to promote awareness of the code, it seems implicit that the relevant persons have to be properly trained. The Government agree with that.

On the specific issue of stalking, which we may come back to later in other areas of the Bill, the Government recognise that this is a complex offence and are committed to supporting the victims. We are carefully considering the Suzy Lamplugh Trust’s report, alongside the coroner’s recommendations following the inquest into the tragic death of Gracie Spinks, which found failings in the police’s understanding of stalking. We are looking closely at this important issue to understand where government intervention could improve the response. That is important again in terms of statutory guidance; in the Bill under Clause 11, for example, I would have thought it is an issue we need to address.

I hope this gives your Lordships at least some reassurance that we are committed to ensuring that there is a framework in place to achieve clear awareness, accountability, accessibility and affordability, and appropriate training. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the Minister, who for 25 minutes has responded to this group when he quite clearly would rather be in another place; I do not mean down the Corridor. We all wish him a speedy recovery, but we would also be well advised to keep a fairly safe distance from him for the immediate future.

The Minister said at the beginning that the key to making the victims part of the Bill work is culture change. To mix metaphors, there was culture change with teeth—which sounds like a strange creature for well-paid Harley Street specialists to dream up new procedures for.

Before I continue with that, it would be nice if we could try to stop in its tracks the growing confusion which has come since the arrival in your Lordships’ House of a brace of Russells. I point out that I am a lowly Baron—the bottom of the heap, Lord Russell of Liverpool—and not the much more elevated noble Earl, Lord Russell, who is in his place. To back up my point, I will quote the letter that the noble Earl’s grandfather and my grandfather wrote jointly to the Times in 1959, which I think makes the point rather clear:

“Sir—In order to discourage confusions which have been constantly occurring, we beg herewith to state that neither of us is the other”.

I hope that puts that particular care to rest.

When talking about what the Government are proposing in the victims part of the Bill, the Minister asked the rhetorical question of whether it is a credible structure. Do we need, as the Government are saying, a strengthening and reinforcing of the current structure or—and this is not rhetorical—is the structure itself part of the problem? The structure has been in place in a slightly weakened form for many years and it is clearly not working. The Government have recognised that, and put a commitment in the 2019 manifesto to try to put that right and produce a victims Bill.

In reflecting on how best to respond to the manifest failings in the current structure—although there are some good points—I suggest to the Government that the best solution is not to try to reinforce the current structure by putting sticking plasters and various forms of glue into various parts of it.

I also point out that, while best practice certainly exists—we know it is exists; there are examples all over the country—we also know a great deal about human nature. Human nature is perhaps best exemplified by something known to anybody now in your Lordships’ Chamber who was once a Minister—a political Minister, not of the Church—in any shape or form: hell hath no fury like different government departments trying to ignore one another, and, above all, like a department doing everything it can desperately to avoid taking on any good practice from another department, which might be seen to imply that its own practice was not as good. We have all known about that; “Yes Minister” was a very successful programme for many years, partly on that premise. That is human nature; it is the same with departments of state, police and crime commissioners and the 43 separate police forces in England and Wales—all the different bodies dealing with this.

I come back to what I mentioned last week: the paean for a past age identified by the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, when you could essentially rely on people and parts of the state doing what is expected of them—the “good chaps” theory of government and administration, if you like. There is so much evidence to indicate that, for all sorts of reasons that we will not go into today, that is not happening. We would be doing ourselves, and in particular the Government, a favour if we looked in the mirror and recognised that it is not working.

The Victims’ Commissioner has to be the most obvious channel for dealing with an awful lot of these issues. In particular, the current interim commissioner, who was largely responsible for the role being created in the first place, has direct experience of being a victim at great cost and has, for the last 15 years or more, dedicated her life to helping other victims and to talking to a variety of individuals and organisations to work out how better to understand what victims are going through and to do something to help them. She knows what she is taking about—she really does. When she talks to the Government and suggests, in her usual very polite way, that things are not quite as they may seem and that things may not turn out quite as the Government hope they will, it behoves the entire House to listen to her very carefully.

An unfortunate fact in recent history is that because the noble Baroness’s predecessor as Victims’ Commissioner was not invited to return for a second term of office, there was a significant period when there was no Victims’ Commissioner and no proper voice for victims. That took place at a critical time when the Bill was going through its birth pangs and was being put together. It would be good for the Government to acknowledge the insights and information that the noble Baroness could have given to the inception, crafting and architecture of the Bill—particularly its structure, which we will come back to. The Bill would have been infinitely improved if it had had the benefit of more input from her and the team around her. It is never too late, and I hope that we can use the time between now and Report to have some intensive meetings and discussions in a completely non-combative way. I and others said at the beginning of the Bill that our role is to drain any politics from the Bill to the extent that we can. It is not about politics; it is about people and victims. The Victims’ Commissioner is the obvious driver of culture change; she is better placed to do that than anybody else, and it behoves the Government to acknowledge that and to listen to her.

As for the minimum threshold, I hear what the Minister said about having a range of indicators rather than minimum thresholds. The sceptic in me would point out that if you are asking a range of institutions—which are themselves being asked to work out whether they are meeting those thresholds—to come up with their own preferred indicators, you may possibly not come up with some of the more challenging and awkward indicators. You may well come up with a preferred list of indicators that are rather more easy to accede to. Philosophically, there is at least a question mark over that approach, and we would like to discuss that further.

I say a big thank you to the Government for acknowledging that an annual statement of the state of affairs is very welcome. I think I can see the noble Baroness nodding. We are grateful for that and regard it as a good step forward.

To come back to the role of the Victims’ Commissioner, whoever is in this role should be front and centre in making the Bill as effective as possible, and then being accountable for holding the Government and the different agencies to account for delivering on it. It is not a satisfactory course to expect the Government to hold themselves to account. In theory, the Government have held themselves to account in this area for the last 20 years, and the report card is perhaps not as stellar as the Government would like it to be. I am grateful that the joint criminal boards are acknowledged as an important part of the process; that is a good move.

As far as training is concerned, I am grateful in particular that the Government are looking at the super-complaint that the Suzy Lamplugh Trust put forward on the basis of some dreadful stories. Stalking is incredibly complex. We need to sit down and try to make sure that people understand just how large scale, complex and insidious it is. To expect any public servant—or even victim—to understand what they are dealing with without effective, precise training will not give a good result, as I learned from talking to Richard Spinks, the father of Gracie Spinks, two weeks ago. He was not bitter, but he was desperately disappointed that Gracie had complained to the Derbyshire police more than 40 times about the way she was being threatened and the concerns she had about what might happen—and it did happen. It happened in plain sight, and the Derbyshire police in effect chose to be blindfolded and mute. To their credit, they have acknowledged after the event that they failed egregiously. What was needed was proper training in place, a proper understanding of dealing with this and, above all, proper leadership. If you want real culture change, you need really good leadership. I put it to noble Lords that having the leadership of a really effective Victims’ Commissioner is probably the most effective way to drive this forward.

We all welcome the Minister’s invitation to have further meetings to, as he put it so elegantly, reflect further—hopefully when his sinuses permit. On that basis, I withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 30 withdrawn.

Clause 5: Effect of non-compliance

Amendment 31 not moved.

Clause 5 agreed.

Clause 6: Code awareness and reviewing compliance: criminal justice bodies

Amendments 32 to 34 not moved.

Amendment 34A

Moved by

34A: Clause 6 page 5 line 25, at end insert—

“(4A) Regulations under subsection (2) must require information about compliance with the victims’ code to be linked to a consistent victim identifier that is used across the agencies of the criminal justice system.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment comes from the perspective that achieving the Bill's aims of putting victims at the heart of the criminal justice system requires addressing the issue that the information systems used by criminal justice agencies do not at present collect or share information satisfactorily.

My Lords, although this amendment has been put down rather late, I hope that once the Committee has heard about it, it will realise that it has some potential importance in this debate. I want to thank publicly the Public Bill Office of this House, which is superb in the way in which it deals with each of us in turn so ably. For it to be able, on Friday afternoon with an hour to go before closing, to deal so satisfactorily with the issue that I now raise is a real compliment to it, and I do not think you would see that in every part of the public or private services.

The Bill was introduced with the express aim to

“put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/5/23; col. 666.]

That this legislation is necessary is an acknowledgement of the fact that, for far too long, the processes and systems adopted by our criminal justice agencies have failed to prioritise victims and have, inadvertently perhaps, rendered their existence and experience sometimes invisible.

To give just one example to the Committee, during Covid, at a time when the case backlogs were skyrocketing, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime here in London convened partners to try to understand what might be done to better support victims. Despite the very best efforts, the mayor’s office found that the information collected across agencies rendered it unable to assess the true extent of the problem, let alone devise measures to resolve it. It was unable to tell how many victims were in the backlog, how many were vulnerable, how many were eligible for special measures, what stage their case was at or how long they had waited, because all the information held was structured around the case, not the victim, and none of it was joined up.

Putting the point simply, the police count crimes, the Crown Prosecution Service counts defendants and the courts count cases, but no one is counting the people who rely on the justice system to protect them. We cannot understand victims’ journeys through the system, their experiences, the outcomes they secure or how to improve them. Clause 6 has been drafted to guarantee that information in compliance with the victims’ code, but no one is counting the people who rely on the justice system to protect them. We cannot understand their journeys through the system and how to improve them. Therefore, Clause 6 shows the need for that, and that the present system is inadequate to ensure that the Bill delivers on its aim of placing victims at the very heart of the system.

My Amendment 34A would require information on compliance with the victims’ code to be linked to a “consistent victim identifier”, like an NHS number. This would enable code compliance information to be linked to a person, not a case, and would support criminal justice bodies to perhaps understand victims’ journeys within and across services. Without this amendment, it is argued, criminal justice leaders will be unable to routinely assess what proportion of all victims receive their rights, whether there are disparities in the experience of victims from different backgrounds, or to measure the impact of code compliance on vital outcomes, such as—as happens too often—victim withdrawal from prosecutions.

In some sections of government, such as education and social care, IDs are increasingly seen as a crucial way to better services. In the justice system, however, the idea of unique IDs for victims is still just an idea. The Government have confirmed—I believe in this House—that the new digital systems they have invested in make the introduction of personal level identifiers possible. This is, therefore, a problem of vision and of ambition, not of technical feasibility.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to that in due course, but I would like to end as follows. Natalie Byrom, a distinguished expert in this area, wrote an article in the Financial Times on 14 January, which I know a number of noble Lords have read. She sits on the Civil Justice Council and the Ministry of Justice senior data governance panel. At the end of that article she says:

“Creating robust data governance is vital to maintaining public trust, and making changes will require investment. But in a context where the criminal justice system is at breaking point, and victim trust and confidence is low, politicians must weigh the cost of allowing the status quo to persist, against that of taking action.”

I beg to move.

My Lords, as it happens, I did read the article in the Financial Times, and pressed the little button to save it, because I thought what an interesting idea it expressed, particularly as this Bill was sailing on its way into Committee.

Victims in our system, depending on where they are in the system, are often invisible. I spoke earlier about the case of Gracie Spinks, and the number of times she complained to the police, yet none of it was joined up. Eleven years ago, there was a lady called Helen Pearson, who was repeatedly stabbed in a churchyard after she had been given a new and different reference number for each of the 125 previous reports she had made against her stalker. The failure to link these reports meant that the police had missed vital opportunities to understand the pattern that was building up and the degree of danger that she was potentially under. That is a graphic example: there were 125 different reference numbers for the same person, in each case complaining about the same person. That is not good practice, and it is not acceptable.

We do not have an answer today, but I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for raising the issue at this stage, to give us a chance to look at it carefully. I know that His Majesty’s Government, and many other institutions, do not have a brilliant track record in implementing new data and information systems, and many careers have suffered as a result. But that is not a good reason for not looking into this and seeing whether we can use modern technology to try to make victims’ experience better, and above all to help the bodies that are charged with trying to identify what those victims are suffering to do something about it. Having a tool such as that suggested by the noble Lord seems a bit of a no-brainer, and it would be an excellent topic for further discussion between now and Report.

I too support the amendment. I am grateful that we have put people into the Bill, because that is what this legislation is about: it is about people. I do not think that victims want to be at the centre of the criminal justice system, but they do want a level playing field; that narrative has been overused, although I mean no disrespect to the noble Lord, whom I met as police and crime commissioner—I loved travelling round the country on trains for two and a half years, meeting everyone, when I was previously Victims’ Commissioner. I agree that the Bill is about people. We hear many times that the police servers do not talk to one another, and all these servers do not seem to interact with all the other agencies or all feed into the Ministry of Justice.

I am delighted that this issue is being raised. This morning we talked about it in the context of the National Health Service. A Times Health Commission report out today looks at a similar thing. Even GPs cannot talk to hospitals, and even consultants within the same hospital cannot talk and get the information out. Again, that is about patients. It is important that we are talking about it at this stage. I would welcome further discussions. Victims are given different messages, different police officers and different everything. It does not mount up. How many recordings and crime reference numbers do we need? It should be one. There is one portal for every police force that a victim can feed into. Therefore, it should be the other way around. A victim should have one record and be able to put the narrative together so that they feel safe in our communities. I welcome the amendment.

My Lords, I too welcome this amendment. Although I am speaking from the Liberal Democrat Benches, first, I will speak personally, as I have had a number of amendments in other Bills relating to the use of very personal data, whether it is medical data or data with other identifiers.

There is a very strong argument for this. I noted that the briefing which we were sent earlier today talked about the independent review of children’s social care, recommending the re-use of the NHS number for the consistent child identifier. One of my concerns is that a lot of different departments of government or agencies are trying to create their own individual number, which suddenly means that you must remember or have access to your NI number, your DVLA number, your NHS number, your school number or whatever it is. For things such as this, provided that there are the appropriate data safeguards, it is sensible to use a number that is already there. My personal view is that it would be interesting to hear the arguments about whether it should be a separate number or the NHS number, because, after all, everybody has an NHS number.

The briefing also talked about the savings to the criminal justice system from having such an approach. One of the big scandals that we have at the moment is that, because the system is failing, victims often withdraw from any criminal justice system. They do not want to appear as witnesses or they find it very difficult to do so. If we really believe that this number is going to help support victims and to help them to stay through the course and get the justice that they deserve, it will also provide many millions of pounds of cost saving over the years to offset any very minor costs and administrative irritations from adding the NHS number or the victim’s journey number to every form.

From these Benches, we welcome anything that we can debate with the Government between Committee and Report to strengthen the role of a victim and ensure that they get the right support.

My Lords, I too read Dr Natalie Byrom’s compelling piece. I very much took to heart the points made by my noble friend Lord Bach. He said that the police count crimes, the CPS counts defendants, the courts count cases, but nobody counts the victims.

I was interested in the reference by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, to using NHS numbers so that you are not constantly duplicating numbers. I was reflecting on this because in another life I have dealt with large amounts of data as an engineer. I am very conscious that putting in more identifying numbers does not necessarily make situations more straightforward. Nevertheless, it is a good idea and worth exploring further.

A couple of questions occurred to me during my noble friend’s speech and other contributions. How would you record out-of-court disposals? How would you record withdrawals from cases where there may have been a crime committed but not necessarily a victim identified? Also, what would happen when you got cases of a relatively low nature which were across different police forces and were not necessarily picked up? That is often a source of problems.

The context of this debate is stalkers and domestic abuse, but of course it goes wider, because we were talking in earlier groups about anti-social behaviour and where repeated examples of it were not picked up and acted on. It is a good idea and one that is worth looking at further, but I do not underestimate the complexities of putting it in place.

My Lords, I do not think I could have put it better than the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. It is a good idea, but there are lots of complexities. I am sure that noble Lords agree that, in many ways, joining the dots and handling data is one of the most critical challenges any Government face—whether it is between departments or within the NHS, within the justice system, within or across police forces, et cetera. We still have 43 different police forces with computers that do not even necessarily talk to each other.

I thank the noble Lord for his amendment, which would introduce a consistent victim identifier for the collecting and sharing of code compliance information. This is extremely important so that we can better understand and meet victims’ needs. As I understand it, there is a Ministry of Justice pilot called the Better Outcomes through Linked Data—or BOLD—programme, which is already exploring how to link victims’ data to improve our understanding of their experiences. It is right that we should have a much better knowledge of the victim’s journey through the system and, in particular—to pick up a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, made—better understand why people drop out of the system at a certain stage. Although I do not have a more precise date, I gather that the results of that pilot will be available in 2024.

Whether it is something that is either sufficiently developed or should be in the Bill as a matter of principle is perhaps another question. At this stage at least, the Government are not persuaded that it that should be in the Bill, but they are persuaded that it is something we should continue to work on to understand the complexities and arrive at practical solutions.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this fairly short yet important debate. I thank the Minister for answering the question so positively. Whether or not it is for this Bill is a matter for discussion between now and Report, but it seems that while there are, of course, considerable issues around this in practice, the idea that the victim should be treated in the same way, being known about and followed, as it were, in this area seems an important principle, and would raise the position of the victim—as the Bill says it intends to do. I hope we will come back to this issue. It is worthy of discussion and has had a good outing today in Committee. I do not think it will go away—if we do not take advantage of digital advances in this area, as in every other, we are not doing our duty. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 34A withdrawn.

Amendments 35 and 36 not moved.

Clause 6 agreed.

Clause 7: Reviewing code compliance: elected local policing bodies

Amendments 37 to 43 not moved.

Clause 7 agreed.

Clauses 8 and 9 agreed.

Clause 10: Publication of code compliance information

Amendments 44 to 46 not moved.

Clause 10 agreed.

Clause 11: Guidance on code awareness and reviewing compliance

Amendments 47 and 48 not moved.

Clause 11 agreed.

Amendments 49 to 52 not moved.

Clause 12: Duty to collaborate in exercise of victim support functions

Amendment 53

Moved by

53: Clause 12, page 10, line 20, at end insert—

“(4A) Collaboration may include the co-location of services in accordance with the Child House model, as defined by the Home Office guidance entitled “Child House: local partnerships guidance”, published on 6 September 2021.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would include within the duty to collaborate the use of the Child House model, described by the Home Office guidance as “a multi-agency service model supporting children, young people and non-abusing parents, carers and family members.”

My Lords, I will speak briefly to my Amendment 53, which would insert the concept:

“Collaboration may include the co-location of services in accordance with the Child House model”.

We have heard much talk about the child house model pilot project at the Lighthouse in Camden. It is a multiagency model for children and young people who have experienced any form of sexual abuse. I urge noble Lords to visit this place; it is a shining example. It is an extraordinarily light, welcoming and unthreatening place where children and young people can go to receive medical help and counselling, but also where they can tell their story. As we have said, children tend to tell their story only once, so if we want justice from these places, this is the place to do it. It is a pilot scheme that needs to be rolled out.

At the moment the Bill seems to be in either/or mode when it talks about local authorities. The amendment would clarify that a multiagency, multiborough or multi-council format could be used as best practice for child victims when, as must happen, this model is rolled out across the country. With that, I beg to move.

My Lords, I shall speak to a variety of amendments. I support the amendment just moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, but I will leave it to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, to talk about it when he winds up. I will speak to my Amendments 54 and 81. I support Amendments 56 and 59 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. I will then speak to my Amendments 58, 60, 62 and 64.

Amendments 54 and 81 return to the subject of stalking. There were 1.6 million victims of stalking in the year ending 2023, so it seems strange that there is relatively little mention of stalking and stalking victims in the Bill. That is something we hope to persuade His Majesty’s Government to consider. Part of that is the importance of independent stalking advocates, which we will come to in a later group. We particularly welcome the Government’s new measures to expand Clause 15 to include guidance about a number of specialist support roles, including, we hope, independent stalking advocates. But I stress that, although what they propose is extremely welcome, it is obviously a very good idea to think about this and develop the list in close co-operation with some of the organisations and bodies closest to the front line in dealing with victims and experiences.

Stalking should certainly be included within the scope of the duty to collaborate in Clause 12. The Minister said in considering the previous group that the Government are looking carefully at the super-complaint made by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust about stalking not being dealt with effectively, but again, we know that it is being dealt with extraordinarily well in some parts of the country. So we know that there are ways of tackling it, but unfortunately that is being done in only a handful of parts of the country. If you are unfortunate enough not to live in those parts, you will have a pretty ghastly experience, like Gracie Spinks and so many other people. That is probably enough on stalking; I think the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, can be relied on to talk about that in more detail, and, very importantly, from direct personal experience, which has its own power.

The two amendments put forward by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester try to ensure that funding for victims and witness support services is sufficient to meet the needs across the country, particularly the demand for specialist domestic abuse services. While the idea of a duty to collaborate is a wonderful one, to be truly effective we judge that it would be helpful if there was a requirement on the Secretary of State to support duty-holders to meet the needs identified by providing adequate and sustainable funding. The figures are not insignificant. Women’s Aid estimates that it would cost at least £238 million per year to meet the need for community-based services across the country. We feel that the Bill is an opportunity to put in some safeguards to provide a legal framework through which sustainable community-based services and funding could be provided.

Turning to Amendment 59, some “93% of frontline workers” surveyed for Refuge’s Local Lifelines report said that

“their service was being impacted by staff shortages”,


“64% said their service was impacted by short-term contracts”.

Therefore, the principle of multiyear funding to try to enable these services to be set up to a sustainable and effective level is extremely important. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will expand on that in a minute.

I come to the last set of amendments—Amendments 58, 60, 62 and 64—which come from working closely with Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner, and her team. There is a patchwork of provision for victims, survivors and their children when trying to access services. Community-based specialist domestic abuse services are literally life-saving and life-changing for many of these victims. Despite this, there is no duty to fund these community-based services, and in the current economic environment, you can imagine that they are not necessarily at the top of every cash-strapped local authority’s “must do” list of services to which to try to apportion diminishing funds.

Without making too much of it, this is a crisis, and in the Bill we have an opportunity to ameliorate that. We must really try to focus our minds on what is required to deliver sustainable, entrenched, well-run, effective services across the country. This Bill is a chance to try to do it right, so I hope we will take that opportunity.

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 56 and 59 in my name; I also support the other amendments in this group. These amendments would all help to firm up the very good intentions set out in Clauses 12 and 13.

In an earlier group, I tabled an amendment to ensure that victim support services were properly signposted; it is no use a service existing if the people it is meant to serve are not able to access it. But now we come to, if anything, a more fundamental point: how do we ensure that the right services exist for victims, and in each and every part of the country?

The Bill as drafted gets much right: it requires policing bodies, integrated care boards and local authorities to collaborate in assessing the needs of victims, producing a published strategy and, indeed, revising that strategy as occasion requires—so far, so good. But, as things stand, and as the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, has indicated, that assessment and strategy could be little more than a combination of the unaffordable and the non-existent—a bit like an overambitious child’s Christmas wish list.

My two amendments seek to plug those gaps. The first simply requires the Secretary of State to ensure that the relevant authorities have the wherewithal to carry out their strategy. As the noble Lord has just reminded us, Women’s Aid estimates the funds required to provide that at £238 million per year. It does sound a lot, but not only would this funding save lives, it would make even greater savings for society.

Sustainably funding specialist support services reduces the need for survivors to use statutory services. It saves money, helping to reduce the staggering economic and social costs of domestic abuse. I have seen Home Office estimates of £78 billion a year. Economic analysis published by Women’s Aid found that every £1 invested in domestic abuse support is estimated to make at least £9 of savings to the public purse. Until recently, I was chair of a large charitable endowment fund, and I can assure noble Lords that an investment return at that level makes sound financial sense even before we account for its impact for good on the lives of victims.

My second amendment gets to the heart of how, in a local area, the commissioning bodies can ensure that a sufficient range and quality of services for victims can be provided in a sustainable way. In 2022, the domestic abuse commissioner found that fewer than half of survivors who want to access community-based services are able to. For minoritised women—those seeking support from specialist by-and-for organisations—the barriers are even greater. Some 85% of front-line workers surveyed for Refuge’s local lifeline support said that their services were impacted by insufficient funding; 76% of front-line workers said that their case load had increased in the last year. There is a real risk of services, even where they exist, collapsing under the weight of demand and the shortage of funds.

Stability is vital for the long-term sustainability of the victim support sector. Community organisations build up levels of trust over time. This allows them to support victims who have often had their ability to trust damaged very severely by the abuse and criminality they have suffered. Again, Refuge produced figures showing that some 95% of survivors it supports rely on just such community-based organisations. The problem is that those organisations are often dependent on short-term grants, and they like long-term stability.

My amendment seeks to ensure that services commissioned under this clause will be able to have sustainable funding models, allowing for long-term planning and stability, except where that is not necessary. I have seen too many charitable bodies spending half their time fighting to win the grants and support for the next year’s budget—time taken away from providing front-line services. That would make it easier for organisations to recruit and retain quality staff. It takes pretty high motivation to stay working for an organisation that constantly has only a few months of its budget left. The amendment would enable them to develop new resources and, to go back to my earlier point, to build up the levels of trust that then ensures that their work reaches those who really need it and impacts their lives for the better.

If we can establish this collaboration between statutory and community bodies, supported by government, for the well-being of victims of crime and abuse, we may be going some way to resurrect what a few years ago the then Prime Minister, now a Member of your Lordships’ House, so powerfully encouraged us to think of as the big society.

My Lords, I support the amendments in this group specifically on domestic abuse services. The Justice Committee, in its pre-legislative scrutiny report, observed:

“Additional funding is required to enable services to meet demand and allow the Victims Bill”—

as it then was—

“to live up to its ambitions”.

As the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, pointed out, a mapping exercise by the domestic abuse commissioner revealed just how patchy is the support available to domestic abuse victims and survivors from community-based services because of funding difficulties. Funding, such as it is, is often short-term and insecure, which reduces services’ capacity and ability to plan, with implications for effective service provision and the recruitment and retention of staff.

The mapping exercise also underlined the importance of community-based services, which was what most victims and survivors wanted. This chimes with the experience of organisations such as Refuge and Women’s Aid. The domestic abuse commissioner found that the weaknesses due to funding difficulties were

“compounded for victims and survivors from minoritised communities who face the greatest barriers to support, with specialist ‘by and for’ organisations increasingly defunded despite being best placed to meet their needs”.

In an earlier briefing on the Bill, she pointed out that such organisations

“are particularly ill served by local commissioning, where commissioners can favour fewer larger contracts to cover their whole population, or where there is not the critical mass of individuals from a particular community in a given geographical area for commissioners to commission a bespoke service”.

She emphasises that her mapping exercise shows that by-and-for services are

“by any measure, the most effective services for victims”,—[Official Report, Commons, Victims and Prisoners Bill Committee, 20/06/23; col. 7.]

especially those from minoritised communities.

Women’s Aid makes an important point that the distinction between specialist and generic VAWG services is recognised in Article 2 of the Istanbul convention and should be reflected in the Bill. Women’s Aid also argued that, on the basis of economic analysis conducted for it by ResPublica, the funding of specialist domestic abuse services can be seen as spending to save, given the savings it would generate elsewhere, as the right reverend Prelate underlined.

I return now to a point I raised at Second Reading on the significance of economic abuse. To the Government’s credit, this is now recognised in law. Community-based services need to be able to help victims and survivors of economic abuse, the impact of which can be devastating—even more so given the financial pressures so many families are facing. A Women’s Aid survey last year found that the cost of living crisis has hurt both specialist domestic abuse services, leaving many on their knees, and of course victims and survivors themselves. Of the women surveyed, 73% told them the charity it had either prevented them leaving or made it harder for them to flee. Some two-thirds said that abusers are now using the increase in the cost of living and concerns about financial hardship as a tool for coercive control, including to justify further restricting their access to money.

This underlines the importance of economic advocacy, both for those who have suffered economic abuse and more generally for domestic abuse victims and survivors. Surviving Economic Abuse has done so much to put the issue on the political map. It has made the case for including economic advocacy in the provision of community-based services, including by-and-for specialist services. It sees this as

“key to victim-survivors’ immediate safety as well as long-term economic independence”.

The charity warns:

“Post-separation economic abuse is the primary reason women return to an abusive partner”.

Economic instability affects the ability to access the criminal justice system and pursue a prosecution. Economic abuse, including post separation, makes rebuilding an independent life extremely challenging. The charity therefore recommends

“that the standard support offer in all domestic abuse services should include economic advocacy in partnership with money, debt, and benefits advice as well as financial services, to help victim-survivors establish … economic safety”.

Existing examples of such support show how it can help victim-survivors establish their economic safety and rebuild their financial independence.

As I have said, economic advocacy is important not just for those subject to economic abuse. The DAC’s mapping exercise found that half of victim-survivors wanting support for domestic abuse during the previous three years mentioned the need for help with money problems or debt. Of those, only 27% were able to get such support, which is almost the largest category of unmet need that the survey found. This suggests that higher priority must be given to funding economic advocacy generally; otherwise, there is a real danger that some victim-survivors will end up returning to an abusive partner because of the dire economic circumstances they face trying to establish an independent life free of abuse.

My Lords, I wish to speak in support of Amendments 59, 60, 62, 64 and 65. When you become a victim of crime, your life is thrown into disarray in a moment, as I know only too well from bitter personal experience. Indeed, I had to become the main breadwinner as well as supporting my daughters through the most horrendous acts they had ever seen in their lives. What people need at this time is help and support so that they can attempt to pull their lives back together and to recover. The victims’ code gives all victims of crime the right to refer to support services. However, I am often told how difficult it can be to get access to these services. In fact, people do not even know they exist half the time.

In my victims’ survey, only 46% of people—less than half of the people who responded—said they were referred to victims’ services. Even if they are referred, getting that service does not prove easy, with only 43% of respondents agreeing with the statement, “It was easy to get access to victims’ services”. One victim told me that

“it took a really long time to get the support I needed at that time, as I was going through a very traumatic time and this was really impacting my mental health in such a negative way”.

I appreciate that there are, and will always be, constraints on funding, but the way victims’ services are funded contributes to the problems faced by many of these organisations. Victims’ support services are currently delivered via a complex network of statutory and non-statutory agencies, which compete with other providers for funding. There are huge regional inequalities for victims trying to access support services. Access to counselling—the most sought-after type of support—showed the biggest disparity, with 58% of victims in the north-east of England able to access counselling, compared with 37% in Wales. Demand is increasing for these services, but this increase is not being met by additional funding or capacity being allocated by the local authority.

We need long-term, sustainable funding for victims’ services. Importantly, these contracts should be for no less than three years. I feel that I am on a carousel, because I have been arguing for that since day one as Victims’ Commissioner. This would give these organisations the stability they need to be able to recruit, train, and, most importantly, maintain staff. Staff are given notices three months before this funding is even being put into accounts. Nobody in any job can absolutely go through that, when they have mortgages, children to feed and everything else. It is not acceptable.

In the victims’ funding strategy, the Ministry of Justice is committed to the principle of multiyear funding for core victim support services, and I welcome this. However, the short-term nature of contracts and the competitive tendering process really do have a damaging impact on organisations’ ability to deliver services—especially the smaller organisations, many of whom deliver by-and-for services. By-and-for services are extremely valuable in the support landscape, because these are organisations that are run and staffed by the marginalised communities they support. It is vital that victims feel supported and, more importantly, build relationships to feel they are being understood by getting support in an environment that is comfortable to them. For many, this means being supported by people who understand their culture or have similar life experiences. Again, in my recent survey, only 29% of victims told me they were able to easily find suitable services for their specific issues.

The commissioning processes fail these specialist by-and-for organisations, because the way in which they are structured favours bidders who can provide support at lower costs and have a larger reach in terms of numbers—not necessarily the best practice for victims. They can also force providers into partnerships and consortium arrangements in which by-and-for organisations are underresourced, silenced, marginalised or squeezed out. It is vital that these organisations can continue the vital work they do, and not be continually disadvantaged by short-term funding rounds. That is why I am in favour of ring-fenced funding. I know that the Government do not like ring-fencing—but a ring-fencing pot is essential for specialist by-and-for support services.

I also want the statutory guidance on the duty to collaborate to include direction to commissioners on the importance of commissioning practices that do not discriminate against smaller specialist services but encourage them to fund a range of services suitable for all victims.

My Lords, I am going to speak to my Amendment 65. I am delighted that the noble Baroness who has just spoken supports it. It was supported also by the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, who cannot be in his place today. I remind the Committee that I was a police and crime commissioner for five years and had some responsibility for victims’ services at the time. This amendment springs from a view of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, and I am very grateful for its help.

Noble Lords will have seen that the duty in relation to victim support services to collaborate and the strategic guidance under Clauses 12, 13 and 14 refers to police areas in England alone. The purpose of the amendment is to try to persuade the Government that the duty to collaborate should apply to elected policing bodies across England and Wales while, of course, respecting Welsh devolved powers.

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, which of course represents all police and crime commissioners across England and Wales, is enthusiastic and welcomes the Bill—I should say that to start with. However, it thinks that there is a problem in that, as the clause is drafted now, it could make a real difference to the effectiveness of Welsh police and crime commissioners, and more particularly to how they are perceived in both Wales and England. I want to make it clear that I am advised that the four Welsh police and crime commissioners who would be most directly affected by the amendment are all strongly in favour of it. I emphasise to the Committee that they are not all from one political party; politics does not come into this particular issue.

All noble Lords will of course appreciate that policing in Wales is a reserved power of the UK Government, so that these four Welsh police and crime commissioners operate under the same rules and regulations as their colleagues in England. Nevertheless, of course, they operate entirely within the boundaries of the principality. Therefore, to be effective they have to take fully into account the ways in which health, local government, highways, housing and their local public services are organised and delivered in Wales, notwithstanding the fact that they themselves are not under the control of the Welsh Government.

The four Welsh police and crime commissioners have expressed concerns about the Bill, hence this amendment. Their concerns are that while the Bill imposes on their English colleagues a duty to collaborate in the exercise of victim support services, it does not impose the same duty on them. The Welsh police and crime commissioners believe that this could make a significant difference to their effectiveness in this field and, more significantly, lead to a perception that they are less committed to dealing with such issues as violence against women and girls than are their English colleagues—and nothing could be further from the truth.

Equally, and this is perhaps a significant point, although Welsh police and crime commissioners engage enthusiastically at present with the partnerships set out in the Welsh legislature, they are under no statutory obligation to do so. There are impending elections, and these could change collaborative approaches without such a duty as this amendment seeks to safeguard continued partnership engagement.

It is for this reason that the amendment has been drafted. It recognises the special circumstances under which the four Welsh PCCs operate, but at the same time makes it clear that Welsh police and crime commissioners are no less determined to support victims of crime than are their English colleagues, and no less determined to collaborate with other agencies in Wales to achieve this object.

Neither I nor, with great respect to him, the noble Lord, Lord Russell, are experts in the details of the Government of Wales Act 2006, or the legislation, regulations and administrative arrangements that flow from it. If the Government, in further discussion with the Welsh Government, have concerns with the drafting of the amendment and suggestions for improving it, we would be very happy to welcome them. We are concerned here with the principle of the amendment: to ensure that the obligation that the Bill imposes on police and crime commissioners in England to collaborate in the exercise of their functions to support the victims of crime is extended to the four police and crime commissioners in Wales, whose powers are in every other way identical to those of their English colleagues. On that basis, I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I want to pick up the last point of the noble Lord, Lord Bach. The duty to collaborate is extremely important, and both his amendment and that of the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, are certainly worthy of consideration. The lighthouse model that has been referred to is extremely impressive. I have also seen, in times past, really effective local working, particularly through services for child victims. However, it would be good if this were strengthened to ensure that part of the victim’s journey, regardless of their age, was helped.

It is a convention in this House that, if we are not quite sure where to go next, we ask for reports. However, we have tabled a lot of amendments about a lot of detail because we are concerned about the practice, and this is one instance where reports actually become vital. They are vital not just to hold the Government to account in Parliament but to ensure that the Government are forced to reflect on how the systems are working, because if this continues for yet another decade, we will be going through another Bill in 10 years’ time saying the same things. A report might help focus the mind when the systems are not working.

I support the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in her comments about the provision of DA support and the real crisis times that victims face, with their lives in complete upheaval. I agree particularly with her points about economic coercive control, which is really worrying and something I have heard more and more about. I have been working with one victim for about 15 years; it took her 10 years to clear the debts that she was left with as a result of the coercive control of her partner, who completely disappeared. She is on the minimum wage, and it has been very difficult and has affected her life for that long.

I signed Amendments 54 and 81, which the noble Lord, Lord Russell, outlined in his speech, on including stalking in the list of relevant victim support services and placing a duty on the Secretary of State to assess a number of advocates, including stalking advocates. I go back to the issue we discussed in the last group: how important it is to have a victim journey number.

In the case where my colleagues and I were victims, our first barrier was finding one crime number. The man who stalked me pleaded guilty to 67 crimes and asked for another 100-and-something to be taken into account. Not all of the crimes happened to me; some of them happened to council colleagues and supporters of my party, and some happened to people who were, unfortunately, parked on the driveways of supporters of my party. Each time we rang the police, we were given a different number. As the PPC, I started a spreadsheet, and when it got to 30 I went back to the police and said, “This is impossible”. We did not know who it was—we had suspicions—but we knew that it was a very particular campaign.

At that point, about six months in or perhaps slightly more than that, we had the one funny incident of a two and a half year-experience, where, every week in the Watford Observer, there was a letter being very unpleasant about me and occasionally about my council colleagues. The letters got more vitriolic, but each was signed by somebody else. I went with a colleague to see the editor of the newspaper, and he said, “Politics is a tough old game, and you just have to accept that, if people want to write in and tell me that you are poor on this topic and not a very nice woman given what you do with your children, I will print it”. I asked him if I could read out the surnames of the people who had written in over the last few weeks: they were Freeman, Hardy, Willis, Debenham and Freebody. At that point, he realised he was being had, but we had been watching the letters go in for four months at that stage. The objective was to destroy my campaign—that is what the judge said when the man was sentenced. But that was the only funny part.

The other thing about stalkers is that, when they do not achieve what they want, their behaviour becomes more drastic; the Suzy Lamplugh Trust will tell you that this is well-known. The man then started printing completely fictitious letters about one of my council colleagues who lived just round the corner from me and literally scattering them along the road in his car. At that point, we thought we knew who he was, but we could not get the police to take it seriously. The letter said that my council colleague—who was married to his one and only wife—had deserted his previous wife and was not paying her maintenance and that his daughter was distressed; funnily enough, my colleague was up for election that year. That was a step up, and then it went a step further up during the 2005 general election, when all the poster boards were pulled down. My husband, who happened to be our poster board supremo, kept creating higher and higher stakes for the poster boards—we really made it into an artform. When one got to three times the normal height, the man scratched the car on the driveway of the house. Thereafter, it moved on to petty crime, but it was not stalking because it was petty crime against other individuals. That is why we need one crime number for this sort of thing, but also recognition that, although there is a core victim, there are other victims because of the nature of stalking.

What really freaked them out was when he started to put knives through the tyres of cars on driveways at night and spray epithets on the homes of councillors. My husband had installed 10 closed circuit cameras on the most likely places by then. The police provided one on our house, and our house was never targeted—I cannot imagine why. We were able to use that evidence, along with a picture of him where you could see that he was wearing a watch on his right arm which matched the one seen during the spray-painting. At that point—this was the worst day—the police said that a forensic psychiatrist had come in as they were worried about the behaviour, and it was clear that he was going to go for people with the knife next, and it was a 10-inch knife.

At that point, we were well over two years in. That is why, 15 years on from his sentencing, when the noble Lord, Lord Russell, spoke about knives the other day, my blood ran cold. I was remembering when the police came to our house and upped security. Stalking can be very dangerous. I was lucky; we got it taken seriously and he pleaded guilty when caught, but there are other cases.

After Second Reading, Metro covered two cases of stalking on the same day. In one, somebody fitted a GPS tracker to his former partner’s car and used it to monitor her movements. He was eventually caught watching her at a pub and was sentenced, despite no remorse in pre-sentence reports and trying to blame her for his feelings—the judge found

“victim blaming for these instances of control”—

to an 18-week suspended sentence and a five-year restraining order. The other person, convicted at the same time but from a completely different part of the country, was a McDonald’s worker obsessed with a former colleague. He set up a string of social media accounts, including one under an alter ego pretending to be his girlfriend, and befriended the victim, saying, “I know what you’re going through”. He then told the police he was being stalked himself. When he finally tried to get into his victim’s home, he said that he was a police officer. At that point, he was sentenced to seven years and eight months, because he pretended to be a police officer. I do not know what it would have been without that. As to how people think about stalking, one policeman said to a victim I know very well: “You should be flattered by the attention”. That is what they are told, and often people believe it.

I will not give any other examples, but our papers are full of them every day. Not quite half of them are non-domestic. Because they are not domestic, they are unaffected by the consequences of the Domestic Abuse Act, good as it is, and its importance in resolving this. We must put stalking support services into this legislation because, if they are not there, they will not happen.

My Lords, to repeat what I said earlier, I dealt with a couple of stalking cases relatively recently. Interestingly, they were both of women stalking men. It is a very difficult scenario and can get extremely complex when you are assessing behaviour over sometimes protracted lengths of time. I absolutely recognise the trauma that it inflicts on the victims.

I will open by looking through the other end of the telescope. As a magistrate, for every sentence I give, I put in place a victim surcharge. That money, which at the moment is 40% of any fine I put in place, goes into a victim and witness general fund. Can the Minister say where that money goes? Is it enough to fund all the victims’ services that we are talking about? Does it need topping up for the other victims’ services that are provided? Interestingly, when the fund was first introduced in 2007, it was set at about 10% of fines. Now it is 40%, so there has been a big increase in the amount of money going into that fund over the last few years.

In general, this group of amendments is about the funding and provision of victim support services. The theme from all noble Lords has been sustainability, predictability and consistency of funding. There are any number of organisations and charities supporting victims, sometimes on a small scale and sometimes on a large, integrated scale. I know from my experience of the Minerva project in Hammersmith in London that it is part of a wider network of support for women going through the criminal justice process, sometimes as victims and sometimes as perpetrators. There is a wide network of services, but it is uneven across the country and funded in different ways. They all aspire to sustainability of funding, as we have heard from all noble Lords, so that they can make best use of the available funding.

My noble friend Lady Lister spoke about economic coercive control in particular; I absolutely agree with the points she made. Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner, has been campaigning on this for many years. I am very glad that it is getting more recognition as an offence that should be brought to court if appropriate.

The noble Lord, Lord Russell, spoke earlier about the “child house” model. I went on that visit to the Lighthouse project with him. The general theme here is the integration of services to meet the particular needs of victims. I have some peripheral experience of that, but my most direct and relevant experience is not of victims but of young men coming out of jail under a previous funding model by the Conservative Government—the troubled families programme—funded in three boroughs in south-west London. There was an integrated approach to supporting and providing services to those young men as they came out of prison, across the CPS, housing, health and education, and more widely, so that they did not reoffend. I sat on the board for a number of years. It was very interesting that, when the money dried up, the co-operative approach dried up as well. That was very regrettable, but it taught me the lesson that the co-operative approach works best when there is a focus and an impetus through funding to make those co-operative services work effectively.

Everybody aspires to co-operative funding. Of course it is a good thing, but there needs to be either a direct instruction or a direct pot of money for people to co-operate as they should. So often, co-operation is difficult and the lack of it makes it easier for individual organisations to continue to work along their separate tramlines. I hope the Minister will say something about how to use that money imaginatively and sustainably so that co-operation across services can be embedded into victim support.

My Lords, this group of amendments brings together a very important set of issues, as we have heard. I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for their amendments on the funding and provision of victim support services, where I will start.

The right reverend Prelate’s Amendment 56 seeks to require the Secretary of State to have regard to the needs assessments identified under the duty to collaborate and use these to ensure that local commissioners effectively commission relevant support services. I hope I can be helpful in providing some reassurance on that topic. Under the duty to collaborate, local commissioners must have regard to their joint needs assessments when producing their local strategies. The strategies should include evidence of how relevant authorities have carried out the needs assessments, as well as how the assessments have informed their commissioning decisions. A ministerially led national oversight forum will be set up to scrutinise the local strategies; that is how we can join up the process. For that reason, I respectfully suggest that the amendment the right reverend Prelate has tabled is unnecessary.

The oversight forum will have the relevant insights and information and undertake appropriate scrutiny of the published strategies to assess whether and how relevant support services are commissioned in individual local areas. The insights will also be used to inform national funding decisions made through the spending review process; again, that is another element in the join-up process. That is the right approach to setting government budgets. Looking at everything in the round, the measures will achieve the objective the right reverend Prelate’s amendment also seeks to achieve.

Amendments 58, 59, 60 and 62 would require the Secretary of State to make a statement every three years, in response to the strategies published under the duty to collaborate, on support for victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and stalking. They would also require the Secretary of State to ensure that commissioners, under the duty, have sufficient multi-year funding, and the establishment of a cross-government by-and-for funding stream. The key point here is surely transparency. As I indicated a moment ago, the local strategies under the duty to collaborate will be published and will provide valuable insights into the levels of service certain victims are receiving in each local area. Therefore, additional reporting in a statement made by the Secretary of State would be largely duplicative.

I am, however, in full agreement that the funding of victim support services is crucial to enable victims of crime to cope and build resilience to move forward with their lives. That is why we have already committed to quadruple funding for victims’ services by 2024-25, up from £41 million in 2009-10. This includes funding that the Ministry of Justice provides to police and crime commissioners, specifically ring-fenced for domestic abuse and sexual violence services.

There are two additional points I can make on this. The joint needs assessments will help local areas to make the best use of existing funding through the collaborative process. This will lead, I suggest, to a more efficient use of money. Following on from that, the information that flows from it will strengthen the evidence base used to inform funding decisions made through the spending review process. The Government have responded to intelligence from local commissioners previously. For example, PCCs received a £6 million boost in funding per annum over the spending review period for community-based services supporting victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked what happens to the money that goes into the general support fund for victims. The victim surcharge provides a contribution towards MoJ-funded victim and witness support services. It does not cover the full cost of victim support services funded by the MoJ, but it makes a contribution. Income from the surcharge is then topped up from departmental budgets.

On multi-year funding, for which my noble friend Lady Newlove so powerfully advocated, the Government have already committed to it where possible and appropriate. The victims funding strategy set out an expectation for all commissioners to pass multi-year commitments on to their providers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, understandably commended by-and-for services. We know that these services play a vital role in the collective response to violence against women and girls, and that they improve outcomes for victims through the support they receive. That is why the Government have targeted funding for by-and-for services since April last year.

However, we know that not all victims’ needs are the same, and it is also right that services be commissioned at a local level based on specific needs and populations, as assessed. For that reason, we provide PCCs across England and Wales with annual grant funding to commission local services at their discretion, which can include specialist by- and-for services, based on assessment of local need. I contend that given the existing funding available, there is no need for a new cross-government by-and-for funding stream, and that government budgets and funding streams should continue to be decided through the spending review process, rather than through legislation.

I am sorry to interrupt, and I realise that the Minister has had to take over the brief at short notice. He paints a rather positive picture whereby the Government are doing all these wonderful things. Why, therefore, is the domestic abuse commissioner so concerned about the patchy provision of services in general, particularly by-and-for services?

That is clearly a concern, and we must listen to the domestic abuse commissioner very carefully. I have tried to set out how we have responded within existing powers and structures to improve funding across the piece. If one is not careful, there will be too much micromanagement from the centre. I always resist that, and we know that it can lead to perverse results in all sorts of contexts. I would be very happy to talk further to the noble Baroness about the domestic abuse commissioner’s concerns in this context after we finish the debate, as I am sure my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy would also be glad to do.

Moreover, as part of the joint needs assessment in the duty, commissioners will be required to have regard to the particular needs of victims with protected characteristics. This could result in the commissioning of by-and-for services.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for submitting Amendment 64, which would introduce a statutory requirement for certain commissioners and sector stakeholders to be consulted before issuing statutory guidance on the duty to collaborate. The Bill already requires the Secretary of State to consult such persons as they consider appropriate before issuing the guidance, without specifying particular bodies or roles. This is because of the wide-ranging nature of the duty and the key stakeholders involved—a list of relevant consultees could be extensive and change over time. Naturally, the department would continue to engage thoroughly with the various key stakeholders as the guidance develops. Therefore, we do not need a legislative requirement specifying who exactly that should be to enable them to do so.

I thank the Minister very much for what he said. Does he accept that the officeholder, who is perhaps in the best position of all to guide His Majesty’s Government towards the most effective organisations with which they should be co-operating and talking, is the Victims’ Commissioner himself or herself? The Victims’ Commissioner is at the centre of an information web and, frankly, is likely to be better informed than His Majesty’s Government.

I understand the virtues of police and crime commissioners and, in principle, would agree with the Minister that micromanagement can be a very bad thing. However, if I were a victim, I would be in favour of slightly more micromanagement to make sure that, wherever I lived in England and Wales, the type of service I got was more uniform, consistent and joined up. In evidence, I cite a glossy 2022 document from the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners celebrating

“10 years of PCCs Making a Difference”.

It lays out no fewer than 39 different schemes across England and Wales that different PCCs have put in place for

“advocating for victims; developing innovative services for victims; and using multi-year funding to fund quality services”.

While that is a wonderful idea—let a thousand flowers bloom—what the system is currently sorely lacking is any comprehensive follow-up and measurement to see how effectively all those initiatives work. Do any of them still exist? Have they been developed any further? If some of them are working particularly well, is there an effective mechanism to ensure that other police and crime commissioners are taking on those best practices and applying them in their areas?

First, I take the noble Lord’s point about the Victims’ Commissioner; I am happy to feed that into the department. Secondly, I come back to the point I made earlier about building transparency into the process. The local strategies will be published and then scrutinised by the oversight forum, which will be ministerially led, so there will be a way for the commissioning practices to be exposed to daylight at the local level. I suggest that that could reveal the kind of disparities that the noble Lord referred to; that would be very helpful, not only as regards funding but for sharing best practice. He raised a very important point, but I like to believe that we have thought about it and are addressing it.

I turn to the issue of stalking. I do not think that any of us could fail to be impressed by the horrific examples given by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I listened also with care to the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Ponsonby, on this issue. Amendment 54 seeks the inclusion of support services for victims of stalking under the duty to collaborate. Stalking—which I am the first to agree is a tremendously important and emotive issue—can already be covered by the duty. The accompanying statutory guidance will make it clear that stalking is one of a number of crime types that sits across the scope of domestic abuse, serious violence and sexual abuse, and needs should be assessed accordingly. I fully appreciate the concerns raised by stakeholders that, all too often, stalking is considered only as a form of domestic abuse, and support is provided largely on that basis. The definition of serious violence under this duty is deliberately broad to allow commissioners to determine what constitutes serious violence in their local area, which can include stalking as well, including where it is not perpetrated by an intimate partner.

It is important to retain legislative flexibility in this area so that the duty can evolve, if it needs to, just as the overarching offences of serious violence, sexual abuse and domestic abuse evolve. A prescriptive approach, as proposed by the amendment, would restrict our ability to be flexible, but we will continue to engage with commissioners and stakeholders on the guidance as it develops, and with noble Lords who are willing to lend their expertise. I am sure that my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy would be glad to do that. I can commit him in his absence to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, if they would find that helpful.

I apologise for interrupting the Minister. I am very grateful for his response; I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, would have responded in the same way. What is happening in practice and on the ground with front-line services—in the police and the criminal justice system—does not reflect what the Minister just said at the Dispatch Box. The problem over the last few years has been trying to make that happen, which is why we believe that stalking needs to be added to the duty. Can he reassure me, in other ways, on how the actual practice will change? Therein lies the problem.

Indeed. We come back to the earlier amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, on how one should best join up individual reports of crime, abuse or whatever else so that the police and others can obtain a rounded picture of what is going on. I fully take the point about changing practice. This is perhaps a subject for a longer discussion than today’s debate. I do not pretend to be expert on operational practices at the local level, so it would be wrong of me to chance my arm. The point is well made, and I am very happy to ensure that we have a separate discussion about it before Report.

Can I make one additional point? The Minister just referred to allowing police and crime commissioners—and, I assume, chief constables—to decide what type of criminality should be regarded as serious or violent. One of the issues with the complexity of stalking is that, in many cases, stalking does not start from a violent position. Stalking, in many cases, can evolve, sometimes over a period of years, in a series of interactions by the predator, in such a way that, unless you know what you are dealing with, it is very hard to understand that there is a pattern developing or what type of stalking it is. We will come to the issue of training and advocates in the next group, but all the evidence produced by using the police force in Cheshire as a test case—to drive through the organisation clear understanding, training, lines of communication and technology to put this all together—has been transformative for the victims.

This is a victims’ Bill. Often, when I hear the Front Bench talking about the response to some amendments, I hear the voice of—understandably—the Government looking down on the victims. I very rarely get a sense of the Government articulating and espousing the rights of the victims themselves as they look up into the system, which they feel is failing them at the moment.

I think we come back to the guidance on this—to get the guidance right and ensure that the focus on victims’ needs is there, and on teasing out what we mean when we refer to certain terms. Again, the process of formulating the guidance is not by any means complete. I am sure the whole debate that we have had today will be extremely helpful for officials in the work that they are doing on that front.

I am also grateful for the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for his Amendment 81, which seeks to improve the process for assessing the numbers of ISVAs, IDVAs, stalking advocates and other specialist support services in England and Wales. I reassure him that I fully recognise the importance of understanding both provision and demand so that resources are targeted, as they should be, and the right victims’ services are commissioned. I am confident, in the light of advice that I have received, that measures are already in place to appropriately assess support provision through existing reporting measures, and I believe that a central annual report risks duplicating work.

I also point to the Bill’s duty to collaborate, which will enhance transparency around what local services are being funded by requiring the relevant authorities to publish local strategies, which is the point I made a little earlier. These strategies will be informed by joint needs assessments that will assess the needs of victims of domestic abuse, sexual abuse and serious violence—which can include stalking—and consider whether and how those needs are being met. This will encourage joint local efforts to rectify data gaps, and drive evidence-informed decisions for prioritising funding to address local needs. The noble Lord suggested that too often he was hearing from the Front Bench a kind of government top-down view of life. What we have tried to emphasise through these measures is our desire to see local needs defined, and those needs—the needs assessment—being the bedrock for any service provision that commissioners decide upon. So we are encouraging, I hope, a victim-focused process.

Requiring separate reporting will, I fear, duplicate the activity that I have outlined and put an additional burden on victim support services to share information, which would inevitably take resources away from direct front-line provision for victims. However, I know that my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy is, again, open to considering what could be included in the supporting guidance for the duty to help ensure better understanding of provision.

I hope that what I have set out demonstrates that we already have the necessary mechanisms for assessing need and provision for victim services. So I hope that the noble Lord and, indeed, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester will not feel compelled to move their amendments on this topic when they are reached.

Amendment 53 from the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, would include the “child house” model in the duty to collaborate. I listened very carefully to what he had to say about that. It is right that we continue to innovate and trial different ways to support victims, such as the “child house” model, exemplified in areas such as Camden through the pilot programme. The duty to collaborate aims to create a strategic and co-ordinated approach to commissioning services, ensuring that victims—including, notably, children—receive the necessary support. I assure the noble Lord that the services which the “child house” model co-ordinates will already be caught by the duty to collaborate where they provide support to child victims of domestic abuse, sexual abuse and serious violence. Moreover, the statutory guidance for the duty will suggest that local commissioners refer to Child House: Local Partnerships Guidance when considering how good commissioning practices can help address the needs of children. I hope that is helpful, because I do not think that we should be specifying operational models in primary legislation. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw that amendment.

Turning finally to Amendment 65 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, I am grateful to him for raising the issue which it covers. The amendment would ensure that the duty to collaborate will apply to elected policing bodies across England and Wales, while respecting Welsh devolved powers. There is already similar legislation in Wales under the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, which I will refer to as the 2015 Act. The 2015 Act places a duty on Welsh local authorities and local health boards to jointly prepare, publish and, from time to time, review a local strategy setting out how they will help improve local arrangements and support for victims of these crime types.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, is right to state that elected policing bodies in Wales are not required to collaborate in this duty, but the statutory guidance states clearly that Welsh local authorities and health boards must invite PCCs to participate in their activities under the Act. Engagement between the Welsh Government and Welsh PCCs has shown that Welsh PCCs are active partners in the delivery of the Welsh Government’s 2015 Act strategy through the blueprint, which is the shared governance structure to support delivery of the strategy, and also through regional boards. As a result of ongoing engagement and collaboration with the Welsh Government, we have come to the collectively agreed position that we do not currently consider a duty on Welsh PCCs to be necessary, per the intention of the noble Lord’s amendment.

There is a subsidiary point on the drafting of the amendment, but I do not need to go into that, unless the noble Lord would like me to. However, I reassure him, because this is a significant issue, that we will continue to work with the Welsh Government on the implementation of the duty to collaborate and any interactions between this duty and that under the 2015 Act. On the basis of the points I have made, I hope the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to move the amendment when it is reached.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in this extraordinarily wide-ranging debate, which seemed to come down to three strands. The first was collaboration and how local services, the police—any groups—can work together better. Secondly, we had powerful discussions again about stalking and how we can make that work much more efficient so that these ridiculous repetitions cannot go on; the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, gave some extraordinarily good examples and a very amusing one I will take away. The third was how on earth it will all be funded, with some eye-watering numbers being talked about. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, asked the very interesting question about where the victims’ fund goes.

I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, is drinking a soothing hot lemon and honey somewhere, perhaps taking two aspirin and lying down, but I thank the noble Earl the Minister for another very collaborative series of answers, with lots of words of reassurance on the needs assessment, the forum being set up for national funding assessments, the duty to collaborate, talk of transparency—which is always good—and of exposing to daylight, about stalking being tremendously important, and what statutory guidance will make clear. A lot of points were made and I am afraid my pencil got worn down to the nub trying to write down the different funding strands pouring in that will be used, so I cannot get too technical on that.

There was talk of more efficient use of money and full agreement on funding victim support—quadrupling the funding of that. The victims’ surcharge is being topped up and multiyear funding is happening—the Government are committed to that—although the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has concerns there as well. This genuinely sounds great, but partly we need to make the money work not harder but smarter, which I think is what we are all trying to do here. The proof is inevitably what will come out of the oven at the end of it all. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment 53.

Amendment 53 withdrawn.

Amendment 54 not moved.

Clause 12 agreed.

Clause 13: Strategy for collaboration in exercise of victim support functions

Amendments 55 to 59 not moved.

Clause 13 agreed.

Clause 14: Guidance on collaboration in exercise of victim support functions

Amendments 60 to 64 not moved.

Clause 14 agreed.

Amendment 65 not moved.

Clause 15: Guidance about independent domestic violence and sexual violence advisors

Amendment 66 not moved.

Amendment 67

Moved by

67: Clause 15, page 12, line 12, at end insert—

“(c) independent stalking advisors.”

My Lords, I will speak also to Amendment 69 in my name, and I have the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, whom I thank very much. The Government also have an amendment in this group, which I will comment on when we reach the end of the debate and I have heard what the noble Earl has to say about it.

We are in that part of the Bill that is concerned with the issue of stalking—indeed, in the group that we have just discussed I had my name to Amendments 54 and 81, alongside the noble Lord, Lord Russell. It is important to say that we are indebted to Laura Richards, the founder of Paladin, and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, for their relentless work to have the vicious and pernicious crime of stalking recognised, acted on and integrated into the legal framework tackling violence against women and girls—and for us that includes this victims’ Bill.

I am aware that we have to ensure that stalking is dealt with across all the criminal justice legislation that we are dealing with, so that there is a read-across with MAPPA and the issues that we will be discussing later in the Bill, not just for this Bill but for the Criminal Justice Bill, which we know is coming down the track. Can the Minister assure the House of that legislative coherence? For too long we have been waiting for there to be legislative coherence that can be enforced for the crime of stalking—its recognition and dealing with it.

The context is that women, children and men are being failed and not protected. There is no compulsion on the police to automatically identify serial domestic abusers and stalkers, so they do not—of course they do not. So, for example, although the application of Clare’s law is not in the scope of the Bill, it is the lack of that application across all police forces which means that there are victims in the criminal justice system who need not have been there. This amendment seeks to address that issue of recognising the particular needs of victims of stalking.

We should recognise that a lot of work has been done on this over the years. These two amendments are quite simple. Independent stalking advocates should exist, and an independent stalking advocate means

“a person who provides a relevant service to individuals who are victims of criminal conduct which constitutes stalking”.

That means creating what are called ISACs in the Bill—independent stalking advocacy caseworkers.

I was interested in one of the briefs I read, from Laura Richards, which said that she designed and undertook some of the early training of Paladin ISACs and other specialists—and, since then, hundreds of ISACs have been trained. They are vital to the system because they

“put the voice of the victim first and they ensure they are not alone and that their voice is heard”.

This is a life-saving service that is absolutely important, because the statistics show that

“2 in 5 victims who were supported by an ISAC said they helped them report to the police … 1 in 3 saw their stalkers charged compared to 1 in 435 nationally … 1 in 4 saw their stalkers prosecuted compared to 1 in 556 … 1 in 4 saw their stalker convicted compared with 1 in 1,000”.

The case really makes itself.

I realise that in his amendment the Minister will be changing the clause that we would amend here. However, that does not undermine the case for what these two amendments seek to do. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for speaking to these amendments.

We return to stalking; stalking is stalking us yet again, as I am afraid it will continue to do through time immemorial, and until and unless we really grab hold of this. The case for independent stalking advocates is fairly undeniable. One can scarcely imagine what it must feel like when you do not know where to turn, you do not really understand what is going on, and the people that you are turning to for help clearly do not really understand what is going on either. It must be a pretty horrendous state to be in, and the independent stalking advocate can and does make an enormous difference. They can undertake risk assessments and work with the different authorities to ensure that safety plans are put in place to protect victims—and, importantly, where children are involved, those around them—from further harm.

The research that has been done by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust indicates that: 77% of stalking victims are not able to access an independent stalking advocate; 69% could find no advocacy support of any kind whatever; only 4% access support from a non-specialist service; and only 15% of victims were referred to an independent stalking advocate by the police. So even the police themselves, in 85% of cases, failed to point the potential stalking victim in the direction of help.

The demand for such stalking advocates far exceeds current capacity. National stalking services supported a combined total of just under 12,500 stalking victims in 2021, and there were 1.5 million stalking victims in total. Noble Lords can do the maths; that is not a highly impressive percentage. In some parts of the country, there are effectively no local specialist supporting services whatever.

I mentioned earlier that I had the privilege of speaking with Gracie Spinks’s father, Richard Spinks, a couple of weeks ago. One of the extreme examples of the more than 40 reports that Gracie made to the police over an extensive period was a case when, after she had pointed out that she was again being threatened, the police undertook a search in the vicinity of where she lived, and they found a bag of weapons—knives, hammers and so on. What did they conclude from having found that cache of weapons? They told Gracie that they were probably theatre props. Clearly, the officers involved had undergone extensive training, but probably in how to supervise playgroups, rather than in helping victims of crime. That shows the gulf between the sort of support, help and advice that one might expect as a victim of stalking and what actually happens.

As we mentioned on earlier groupings, at the end of 2022 the Suzy Lamplugh Trust submitted a super-complaint against the police, outlining systemic issues such as those that we have talked about in previous groups. One of the recommendations was that the College of Policing

“mandate that all officers that deal with cases of stalking complete training by a specialist stalking training provider, in order to adequately identify, investigate and—

this is very important—

“risk assess cases of stalking”.

We referred earlier to the pilot that the Suzy Lamplugh Trust ran in Cheshire. I conclude by giving some quotes from the senior police officers involved in the study and what they observed happening through the results of this programme. One front-line officer said:

“It’s an injustice that in nearly half of all stalking cases unrelated to prior intimate relationships, victims must rely on luck for access to specialised, local advocacy—something that should be a non-negotiable right. Including Independent Stalking Advocates … in the Victims and Prisoners Bill isn’t just an option; it’s an imperative step towards rectifying this imbalance.”

Finally, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire said:

“Cheshire’s example shows that multi-agency working delivers results for victims and it benefits all agencies involved. The impact of ISAs”—

independent stalking advocates—

“here is clear to see, and I believe it would hugely enhance our collective ability to deliver justice for victims of stalking if they were to be included in the Bill”.

My Lords, I support all the amendments. Listening to stories of stalking, we realise that it is just one simple word but it has a huge impact, including, sadly, loss of life. Before we start talking more about it, it is important to say that, as legislators in the House of Lords, we have done enough talking; we need now to put in legislation support to protect families who have lost loved ones through such horrendous acts.

I welcome government Amendment 74. Since my appointment as Victims’ Commissioner, my feet have not touched the ground. I have met over 20 different victim organisations to discuss this Bill. Many raised concerns about placing advocates, or advisers—whichever the Government want to choose—in the Bill. I know that the judiciary gets a bit twitchy when we mention advocates; for me, it is all about what the victim gets from this person who helps them tremendously. These concerns were set out very clearly by the VAWG sector in particular. I hope that Amendment 74 will alleviate concerns when the Government come to explain it. It provides the flexibility to include as many or as few advocates as they see fit, working, I hope, in close collaboration with the relevant stakeholders in the victims sector. However, I would welcome an assurance from the Minister that the Government will consult extensively with all stakeholder groups before finalising the guidance.

I have also received a briefing from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. I feel that we are on a carousel now—none more so than the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, who has worked tirelessly, having been a victim of stalking herself.

I agree about the collaboration in Clause 12, because it is extremely important to ensure that we have multi-agency working. I also agree on mandatory training for police; that goes without saying. I work with trainee police students to ensure that they understand the victim’s journey, but, again, it is about breaking down the culture.

I have lots of briefing here, and I would like to thank many of the organisations. Laura Richards, who I work closely with, has given me tons of briefing, because she has worked in this area for so long. She must feel like a parrot, but she does it so elegantly. I will pull out bits from the briefing that people really need to understand.

Stalkers do not play by the rules. Restraining orders and other pieces of paper do not protect the victims. There is still no stalkers register, which would mean the perpetrator’s history would have to be checked. Sadly, though we still hear about Clare’s law, it has not been put into practice. Yesterday, I heard a victim who was desperate for Clare’s law, but the police did nothing. Even as we speak, I am still helping and supporting somebody.

My friend the noble Lord, Lord Russell—not the Earl—emphasised how tragic the murder of Gracie Spinks was. Similarly, when I was working on the Domestic Abuse Bill, I had the honour of talking about Georgia’s story. She was 14 years old, and watched her mother being murdered. I will never forget that.

For me, the solution is amendments to prevent and protect, saving lives and saving money. The same tactics must be applied to serial and dangerous domestic violence perpetrators and stalkers as to organised criminals and sex offenders. That would cut off opportunities for them to cause harm, and ensure that they faced the consequences of their actions. As we discussed in the context of anti-social behaviour, more and more the police report such actions as individual crimes. They do not join the dots, or “flag and tag” serial high-risk perpetrators. Instead, they focus on the victims. The victims do not know what happens on any other crime, so they feel that they are constantly going back and back.

Stalking is not like having a broken leg, where people can see it; it is like having a chronic invisible illness. Because people cannot see anything they think everything is okay—again and again, it is all down to the victim.

I finish with a recommendation from Laura Richards, who recommends a consistent national and collaborative multi-agency approach, led by statutory agencies, with specialist domestic abuse and stalking professionals round problem-solving tables. That would save lives and money. It would not be a talking shop; they would know what they are doing and would be professional, and they would make better policies.

In this Chamber, we are all so passionate about this, but we really have to do something to protect victims of stalking. We cannot keep doing the talking and then reading in the media about these horrific offenders. Even this weekend, we have more victims, because the police and the agencies are not joining the dots. I am sick and tired of inquiries and “lessons learned”. This is about lessons learned now, to protect the victims of stalking and give them the advocates that they rightly deserve and must have in the future.

My Lords, I signed Amendments 67 and 69, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. She was right to talk about a strategic perspective over the whole of the legislation coming through from both the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office. Once again, the debate we are having about stalking advisers is because other parts of the system are not working.

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, for laying Amendment 74. However, it is not specific to stalking, and talks about the importance of having a range of advisers. I do not disagree with that at all, but, for reasons I shall go into when I say more about why stalking advisers need to be visible in the Bill, there are very particular issues relating to stalking that mean that we must ensure that people get the best support they can.

I also thank the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and Laura Richards, not just for their briefing but for the phenomenal work they do every single day. It is extraordinarily difficult work and, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Russell, it is only a drop in the ocean given the number of victims of stalking now. In an age when people can use mobile phones and apps, stalking is becoming all the more prevalent.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, cited the benefits of an independent stalking adviser. From my perspective, most victims of stalking arrive at the beginning of a journey through the criminal justice system knowing nothing about it, let alone about any stalking experience other than theirs at that point—which may not be the last point of the crime of stalking against them. We need training for police officers, community officers, call centre staff and those in the education system to be able to recognise it and know when they need to get help.

Once cases are referred to detectives, as mine was, it is no good having generalist detectives who do not understand the issues. When you explain to them the nature of a whole series of incidents, they look at you as if you have gone slightly mad. It takes some time for them to begin to understand that this is a game being played by a criminal who wants to unnerve you, and that as it progresses it gets more serious. We need detectives who have been trained and who understand stalking, that stalkers are manipulative and coercive, and that the behaviour of not all but some stalkers becomes increasingly serious and is likely to become violent.

We also need to ensure that the post-parole and release system knows and understands how to handle stalkers. She does not talk about it very much but Claire Waxman, the London victims’ commissioner, is herself a victim of stalking. In 2022 her 20-year stalker was jailed again, for breaching a lifetime restraining order for the sixth time. Because he had already been on remand for 16 months, he was released immediately, but Claire did not know. This character’s habit is to hang about near her place and do constant Google searches to try to get near her. This time he made false claims about her to her employer, the Mayor of London.

When we talk about manipulative behaviour, people who are listening to this for the first time may think that is extreme. It is not. We do not hear about most of the cases that go on, with the really sad perpetrators who cannot let go of the idea of the person they are targeting. Increasingly we are seeing more about personalities. I worry greatly for well-known personalities who have to make enormous security provisions, but it also happens to private individuals. We need stalking advisers to help guide them through the process, from the first day that they think something is happening, when they first go to the police, and as they then go through the police system, because they might see two or three different teams of people. What happens when they get to the courts? What happens if their stalker is jailed? What happens after they are released? What do you do if it starts all over again? That is a specialist training.

There is an important point about parole. I know that parole is in the Bill later, but I cannot wait. What people do not understand is that if there are exclusion zones, the offender knows where you are yet the victim does not know where they are because the victim is not allowed. We need to protect victims even more when the stalker comes out because they will carry on, and the exclusion zone gives them an idea, even though it is there to protect the victim.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for that very helpful intervention.

At the end of the debate on the previous group, I asked the Minister how we can get into the culture, focusing on the things that need to be looked at in stalking cases. Stalking advisers would be key to that. They would not just support the victim but know and understand the local people in their system and the criminal justice system; they would talk to them and ask them to look out for things. I hope the Minister can give a positive response. From our Benches, we support these amendments.

My Lords, I will speak extremely briefly, because others have spoken at great length, to support very strongly Amendments 67 and 69 and to applaud the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for seeking to ensure that the Secretary of State provides guidance for stalking advocates along with guidance for domestic abuse and sexual violence advisers.

As we know, stalking all too often ultimately leads on to criminal violence against women. An important measure ultimately preventing violent crime against women is to provide this support and advice for stalking advocates. It is far better than waiting for violence to occur before intervening. These are much more important amendments than they might appear.

My Lords, government Amendment 74 has been tabled to place a duty on the Secretary of State to issue guidance about victim support roles specified in regulations and to give the Secretary of State a power to make regulations that specify those roles. This replaces the current Clause 15, which specifies that guidance must be issued about independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers.

Through the Bill’s passage to date, we have carefully listened to concerns that naming particular roles in the Bill could be misinterpreted by funders as the Government prioritising these roles above others. We remain clear that ISVAs and IDVAs are only two roles within a rich and diverse support sector, meeting a range of victim needs, and that the right mechanisms are in place to ensure that funding for services is determined on the basis of local need for a resilient and cost-effective support offer. But we are conscious that the debate about naming certain roles in the Bill risked overshadowing the purpose of the clause, which is simply about improving a consistency of certain roles. While we know that this is not an issue or intervention wanted or needed for all support roles, we have also listened to arguments put forward that there are other support roles that might benefit from the improved consistency provided by national statutory guidance.

Therefore, this amendment avoids naming any victim support roles in the Bill. It instead provides the more flexible mechanism afforded by regulations to set out the relevant roles for which guidance must be issued, for use now and in the future. We intend to still use this only in cases where consistency of service provision is of sufficient concern to warrant national statutory guidance. This of course remains the case for ISVAs and IDVAs.

I am pleased to announce today that following constructive debate and engagement, the Government agree that such guidance is warranted for independent stalking advocates. They do vital work to support victims of these terrible crimes, as highlighted in the coroner’s report following the inquest into the tragic death of Gracie Spinks. Clear national guidance on the role of independent stalking advocates will be an important step in improving support for stalking victims. In response to my noble friend Lady Newlove, the Government can of course commit to consulting thoroughly with all stakeholders. We will require guidance to be issued on support services named in regulations. We will shortly publish draft regulations that will list independent domestic violence advisers, independent sexual violence advisers and independent stalking advocates. We have therefore heard the point on the value of ISAs and will require guidance to be issued.

I offer my thanks to the Victims’ Commissioner, my noble friend Lady Newlove, and the domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, for their engagement on this clause, to the National Stalking Consortium, convened so well by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, and to the wider victim support sector, which is assisting the Government in developing the relevant guidance.

Turning to some of the points that have been raised in this helpful debate, I hope I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. The Criminal Justice Bill does not have any stalking-related measures, but stalking victims have further been supported by the following legislation since 2012. The Stalking Protection Act 2019 aimed to protect people from the risks associated with stalking. Stalking can fall within the scope of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 where the perpetrator and victims are 16 or over and personally connected. With the Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Act 2023, if someone commits an offence under existing Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986, and does so because of the victim’s sex, they are liable for a higher maximum penalty. Finally, the Online Safety Act 2023 names Section 2A and 4A offences as priority offences.

I turn to some of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. The Government of course recognise the value of ISAs—and I have recognised it in this amendment today—and have provided additional funding to stalking charities to help support victims, including funding specifically for advocacy. The Home Office part-funds the National Stalking Helpline, run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, providing £160,000 annually between April 2022 and 2024.

Through the Government’s up-to £39 million domestic abuse and stalking perpetrator intervention funds, PCCs for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Cheshire, Kent, Sussex and the West Midlands are delivering interventions for perpetrators of stalking, and support for victims. An evaluation partner has been appointed so that we can develop an evidence base from this fund that works to protect and support victims. It is fair to say the Government can always do better, and we welcome a response to many of the points that have been raised and any dialogue between the department and interested parties.

In response to the noble Lord’s point about the Suzy Lamplugh Trust’s super-complaint to the police, we recognise the devastating impact stalking can have and expect the police to take reports seriously and to take swift action. We thank the trust for submitting this complaint—the Government will follow its progress with interest and have already provided relevant information about some of the issues to the investigating organisations.

To, I hope, reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, we have been engaging with stakeholders about the inclusion of ISAs throughout the passage of the Bill, and we are pleased to be able to confirm that we intend to specify in regulations that ISAs are included in the duty of the Secretary of State. As I mentioned earlier, our point is that these advocates are of equal status, and we do not want to create a hierarchy, so inclusion puts them on the same level as ISVAs and IDVAs.

On the points about information and how these offences are treated, stalking is an offence that often escalates over time—as we have heard earlier in this debate. That is why it is important to take preventative steps to protect victims of stalking at the earliest possible opportunity. In January 2020, the Home Office introduced stalking protection orders, which aim to address perpetrators’ behaviours before they become entrenched or escalate in severity. The Government have also awarded up to £39 million, as I mentioned, for the domestic abuse and stalking perpetrator intervention funds. Finally, victims can access support at any stage of their journey through the National Stalking Helpline, which is run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and funded by the Home Office.

As we are bringing forward this amendment, and intend to specify ISAs in regulations, I urge the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, not to press her amendments requiring guidance to be issued for independent stalking advocates. I hope that this demonstrates that the Government are committed to ensuring that victims of these terrible crimes receive the right support.

Before the Minister sits down, he said there is no need to add or specify independent stalking advisers because there is no other specific reference, but in Clause 15(1) there is a reference to “domestic violence advisors” and “sexual violence advisors”. That is the problem, because some advisers are named and, unfortunately, stalking advisers are not. If they are not in the Bill, they will not go down—right the way down to the front line—as people who need to be approached.

I thank the noble Baroness for her point. While we are clear that there should be no hierarchy of support, and we know that ISVAs, IDVAS and ISAs are most effective when part of a wider support network, I will take that point away and consult the Minister.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive remarks and for his explanation about why Clause 15 is being replaced. I sought advice from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and from other organisations which I knew had been in discussion with the Government. I am advised that the reason the Government have put forward their amendment is that they have met stakeholders and that the original plan to place ISVAs and IDVAs in the Bill was a concern that came from the violence against women and girls sector and was shared by the children’s sector and modern slavery and stalking charities. There was a concern about creating a hierarchy and, therefore, I understand the Government’s motivation for replacing Clause 15.

The point that I will make echoes that from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. The Minister needs to understand that there is scepticism in this Chamber about whether things are going to move and work. We need to be sure that all those issues—and stalking—will have the power of compulsion that we need them to have to make the Bill work. The test we might have at the next stage is how we can be sure that the regulations and guidance will do what we want them to in all these important areas. While the Minister listed all the things that have been done about stalking, the truth is that it has not worked yet, and so we have to be coherent.

I am not one for placing bets about things on this side of the Chamber. However, I think the Minister might find some stalking amendments coming down the track in the justice and crime Bill that is coming after this—I may even have seen a draft of one. That is because there is a need to address all the bits of the criminal justice system to do that.

I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton, Lady Meacher and Lady Newlove, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for taking part in this debate, which I think was useful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 67 withdrawn.

Amendment 67A not moved.

Amendment 67B

Moved by

67B: Clause 15, page 12, line 12, at end insert—

“(c) older people’s independent domestic violence advisors;(d) older people’s independent sexual violence advisors.”

I must declare an interest, not because of my own age but because I used to work for Age Concern Scotland and am now proud to be a patron of the Hourglass Safer Ageing organisation, along with the noble Baronesses, Lady Gale, and Lady Ritchie, who both support this amendment. The amendment would ensure that police and crime commissioners included specialist

“older people’s independent domestic violence advisors”


“older people’s independent sexual violence advisors”

in their work.

There are currently PCC contracts for such OPIDVAs in Thames Valley, Sussex, Kent, and in five boroughs in London—Greenwich, Southwark, Bexley, Lambeth and Lewisham. There are similar domestic abuse support workers who specialise in supporting older victims in Sussex, Surrey, and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and another commissioner in Wokingham Borough Council. They are doing a good job, but clearly there are many parts of the country that do not have them, and I am suggesting that we should encourage them.

In areas where local PCCs have commissioned generic adviser services, their casework is often referred to the Hourglass Safer Ageing charity, which is a UK-wide charity supporting older victims, survivors of abuse and survivors of neglect, to provide the specialisms as a backbone service. Hourglass receives no additional funding or support to deliver what is, in many instances, very complex casework.

The challenges that older victim-survivors present include digital exclusion, dementia and increased vulnerability due to disability. As a result, generic domestic abuse services are often not appropriate for older victim-survivors. Older people often do not want to take up the time of other abuse services, which they deem to be for younger women escaping domestic violence, while the abuse of older people is just as harrowing as the victims often do not see themselves in that way. Sadly, the perpetrator is often a close family member—for example, where the abuse has been committed by the victim’s child or grandchild. As a result, victims are reluctant to report it or feel that it is a reflection on them as a parent or a grandparent if they do so. That abuse can be financial, as well as physical and in other forms.

When PCCs were given funding to commission IDVA and ISVA services in 2022, the Government said that specialist children’s services should be provided by each PCC, but older people also require specialist support when they experience abuse or neglect. PCCs should be required to make this support available. The Bill provides us with the opportunity for the Government to ensure that this happens.

The Minister, Edward Argar, has said that the Government will issue guidance to PCCs on tailoring support to meet victims’ needs. He also said that the duty to collaborate will require PCCs to work together to ensure that services support people with protected characteristics, including older people, so that they have the support they need. While this is encouraging, it falls short of ensuring that specialist support for older people will be available in every PCC area. I hope the Minister will take note of these amendments, consider them carefully and see what can be done to make that commitment stronger.

In 2018, Hourglass received 4,000 calls to its helpline, but this year it expects to receive more than 50,000 contacts from the ageing population, and the number of cases will increase rapidly. We need to ensure that there is specialist support and advocacy for older people everywhere. It is something that families are often reluctant to talk about and older people are reluctant to reveal, but it can cause great hardship and misery and ought to be dealt with by specialism. I hope consideration will be given to this amendment. I beg to move.

My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 72, which I am delighted is supported by the noble Lord, Lord Jackson of Peterborough. This was originally an amendment to Clause 15 relating to guidance for independent domestic violence and sexual violence advisers, but the Government have rather usurped that, as we have heard. However, the issues my amendment probes the Government on—specialist victim support for women, in my instance—are still pertinent. I listened to the debate on the previous two or three groups and refrained from speaking, but the issues we have been discussing could have been reflected in all the themes I am interested in looking at.

To state something absolutely obvious, but it is important to remind ourselves: certain crimes are predominantly aimed at women. Although it is true that anyone can suffer domestic abuse or be raped—I acknowledge that male victims may be underreported and I do not want to downplay that women can be perpetrators—all the evidence suggests that approximately 90% of victims of rape or domestic abuse are female. I will return to the reliability of data and whether we can trust it with an amendment in the next group.

My amendment probes whether the Government can ensure, via this Bill, that female victims of sexual and domestic violence have the option of female advocates, advisers and services, and that these victim advocates respect victims’ requests for access to women-only provision. This choice is no longer guaranteed, largely due to the turmoil and confusion caused by gender ideology and political rather than material definitions of what a woman is. This turmoil was vividly illustrated by an invaluable report published last week by the campaign group Sex Matters, entitled Women’s Services: A Sector Silenced. I will ensure that whichever Minister responds gets sent a copy of the report because it is a must-read. Will the Minister agree to meet with its authors? Its contents directly relate to the Bill’s important aim of improving service provision for victims.

The Sex Matters report reveals that the women’s service sector is mired in confusion as it grapples with the conflicts arising out of a move towards either trans-inclusive or so-called gender-neutral services, which are often forced on them by funders and commissioners, all at the expense of women victims’ choices. I will stress why this choice is crucial for victims of certain crimes. I have used the point about choice and options very carefully in my amendment. I quote JK Rowling explaining why she financially backed Beira’s Place, a single-sex rape crisis resource service in Scotland:

“As a survivor of sexual assault myself, I know how important it is that survivors have the option of women-centred and women-delivered care at such a vulnerable time”.

I testify to that from my own experience.

The Equality Act recognises the importance of offering such support as a choice and uses rape counselling as an example of a service where it is proportionate to discriminate—for example, by restricting counselling jobs to women. Despite that, even services that claim to be women-only are compromised by policies based on the belief that anyone who identifies as a woman—even those with male bodies—is a woman. To quote the head of operations of one charity that offers, it says, counselling, advocacy and group work for survivors of sexual violence and abuse in Sussex:

“We do not police gender and we do not define who is and is not a woman; we allow women to define this for themselves”.

I am afraid that such policies are hardly reassuring and create real quandaries for some victims and, indeed, service employees alike.

As we speak, a high-profile and important employment tribunal is taking place in Scotland, involving former staff support counsellor, Roz Adams, who is claiming constructive dismissal against the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre. In evidence, Ms Adams explained how she was told that revealing the biological sex of support workers to centre users was transphobic. The issue arose when a 60 year-old female survivor of sexual assault said she would feel uncomfortable talking to a man, but when she inquired about the sex of the centre’s volunteers, Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre’s response was that it was inappropriate to disclose such information. Worse, her question led to her being sent an email saying that she was not a suitable user of the service—the wrong sort of victim, I assume. Surely it is essential that any advocacy or advice services should be honest with victims about something as basic as the sex of staff who will provide victim support.

Yet, to muddy the water further, consider this. When Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre advertised a senior post a couple of years ago, the job blurb read “only women need apply”, citing the single-sex exemption in the Equality Act. All clear, noble Lords might think, and that would satisfy me. Or perhaps not, because the “only women need apply” job advert then added that as a diverse organisation, applications from trans women—that is, biological males—were especially welcome. Noble Lords may think, “That’s just Scotland: it’s all got a bit gender bonkers up there”, but these confusing trends are widespread throughout the UK. The domestic violence and sexual violence service sector is in turmoil. As the Sex Matters report reveals, there are serious consequences, such as women victims self-excluding and being reluctant to seek help because they do not want to risk being counselled by a man.

A story from Sussex Rape Crisis Centre illustrates the dilemma—it has been in the news recently. One service user, Sarah Summers, is suing Survivors’ Network for discrimination because it refused to provide a women-only peer support group. Sarah had joined a female-only group, which she found helpful and supportive as a victim, until a man who identified as a trans woman joined the group, making her feel uncomfortable and unable to be open about her past trauma. Sarah explains, in completely reasonable terms, that she knew:

“Some women are happy to be in that space, and obviously trans survivors have a need for that support. But single-sex spaces should be an option”.

Indeed, Survivors’ Network has such groups for trans, non-binary and intersex people.

Despite that, Sarah was told that she was no longer welcome; she had to go elsewhere because she asked, quite reasonably, whether she could go to a women-only group. However, she discovered that she could not go elsewhere in the local area because there are no other support groups in Brighton solely for biological female victims—they all state in their policy that they welcome self-identifying females, which is not the same thing. This pattern is replicated across the sector, with funders and local councils even using a seemingly innocuous term such as “gender-neutral” to defund single-sex services.

Do noble Lords remember when Brighton Council told the charity Rise a couple of years ago—I know it was referred to by noble Lords in the House—that, although its 25 year-old refuge and outreach service pioneered services for LGBT people, because Rise also ran an exclusively women’s service for domestic abuse victims, it was losing a lucrative tender to non-gendered suppliers? Such procurement priorities are limiting choice. We have already heard passionate explanations of why funding pressures on organisations are really frightening for them, but you can imagine that funding can almost be used in a blackmail-like way—“You won’t get the funding if you don’t do this policy”. That is limiting choice for women.

Finally, throughout the Bill and discussions in Committee that we have heard, we tend to assume that victim-related advocates, NGOs, third-sector organisations and charities are always on the side of victims, and we should not ask any questions. We need to query that slightly—at least not take it at face value. We need to confront the fact that there is a growing fracture between too many trustees or senior professionals who run victim support projects, versus the needs and choices of grass-roots service users and even their own staff. For example, the CEO of the Survivors’ Network, which is funded by this Government, local authorities and the NHS, stated in written evidence to the Commons Select Committee that she “strongly” felt

“that the use of women only spaces by trans women should be actively encouraged”.

That is advocacy for ideology, not for victims.

Meanwhile, the CEO of the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre I discussed earlier, Mridul Wadhwa, a trans woman who has boasted about not having a GRC, infamously told a podcast in 2021 that rape victims who went to that centre had bigoted and unacceptable beliefs because they wanted women-only facilities, and that actually they could expect to have those bigoted, prejudiced, transphobic views challenged if they used the service provision she runs. That is not service provision; that is ideological propaganda.

This amendment simply wants to ensure that such politicised, ideological attitudes within the sector do not deny victims the option of choosing the sex of the advisers allocated to act on their behalf or the services they want to use, and can choose women-only provision. Unless we make it explicit in the Bill, it just will not happen.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, and to support her Amendment 72 to Clause 15. I do so as a man, because I am not embarrassed to say that the safety, health and welfare of women is not just a women’s issue. It is an issue for men and women, and anything that compromises that is an issue of public interest.

It seems to me, reading the amendment, it is pretty axiomatic that it is a good thing and I hope Ministers will look very favourably on it. The wider context we need to look at, though, is the whole issue of gender-critical views. Noble Lords will know that in June 2021 in the Forstater ruling, it was found that it was not an ignoble thing to have gender-critical views. The premise that they were not worthy of respect in a democratic society was repudiated by Mr Justice Choudhury in that ruling, which overturned an employment appeals tribunal.

I also draw your Lordships’ attention again to the excellent report that the noble Baroness referenced, from the author Matilda Gosling and the Sex Matters organisation. The ruling found specifically that gender-critical beliefs are now legally protected from discrimination and harassment in employment and specifically—the key words—in respect of service users. To further quote from that ruling,

“it is clear from Convention case law that … a person is free in a democratic society to hold any belief they wish, subject only to ‘some modest, objective minimum requirements’”.

So a lack of belief in transgenderism and a lack of belief that someone can change their biological sex are both protected by the Equality Act 2010, provided that there is a reasonable expression and manifestation of that belief.

So I believe that this amendment should be in primary legislation because there is a concern among many women in many of these organisations that do superb work—refuges, counselling and support services, and rape crisis centres—that further guidelines without statutory impact and force will not actually deliver the results they need and want. This is about clarity in the Bill, but, more fundamentally, it is about the agency and autonomy of women in the most difficult circumstances imaginable—women who are damaged, women who are angry, women who are vulnerable and women who have been mistreated, in particular by men but also by society as a whole. It is about their agency and autonomy, and this amendment makes that specific.

It is not about bigotry or discrimination in respect of trans people, or biological men who identify as women. It is not that at all; it is important to put that on the record. The report referenced earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, gives much food for thought in terms of some of the impacts of self-censorship and a feeling that people have to change their policies in order to protect themselves from, sometimes, the pernicious attacks of trans activists, and their representatives and supporters in, for instance, Stonewall. That may give rise to things such as poor mental health, safety risks, self-exclusion, a poorer quality of service delivered, discomfort and forced compliance. So it exacerbates the very reason they had to access these services. Therefore, it is not just an arcane technical issue; it is about real-life, vital and imperative issues for a small group of women impacted.

I put on record my admiration for those women who have stood up and been counted on the gender-critical side in the so-called culture wars. It has taken great courage for them so to do. They include Maya Forstater, Jo Phoenix, Allison Bailey and Rachel Meade.

The wider context of the report is that the Government need to be seen—I hope that the Minister is mindful of the strength of feeling over this—to be taking real action and cutting through the confusion. The report says, among other things, that the GRA and the Equality Act 2010 need to be explicit in protecting women and the concept of women as a sex, and allow for information sharing. There is clear guidance on gender recognition certificates in the GRA with organisations, and those organisations should leave the Stonewall champion scheme and review their own training.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission also needs to issue guidance and model policies for organisations in the women’s sector, and for organisations with statutory bodies subject to the victims’ code. There should also be clear guidance for charity regulators, specifically on charities that provide single-sex as opposed to mixed-sex services.

This is a popular policy. In recent polling, the public are broadly behind this amendment in making the value judgment that it is important to have single-sex services for women in the most vulnerable position. I hope that the Minister will look favourably on the amendment; it has broad support across the House, and I support my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley.

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, was not here to move his amendment. Given the debate we had on the previous group, I think he would have made the point that we need specific guidance for other specialist services as well. I hope that the Minister will respond to that.

I was very taken with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, about older people. We assume that it is younger people who tend to be victims of domestic abuse, economic abuse and sexual violence, but that is not the case. Older people’s circumstances are often different, and they require more specialist advice. That does not mean that a person cannot be qualified to be a specialist adviser in two or three areas, but it means they have done the training and understand the differences. I am very mindful of that, and these Benches are supportive of it.

On the amendment spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Jackson of Peterborough, I am wondering how it would work. I think the noble Baroness is saying that trans women are incapable of understanding, helping or addressing trauma, yet trans women are already accessing women’s refuges because they have been victims of trauma.

Let me develop this point first. The difficulty that I have is that the one place where a trans woman can feel safe if she has been assaulted by a man is a women’s refuge. I have looked and looked to see whether I can find evidence of trans women assaulting women in refuges, and I can find none. I cannot find any publicity, and in the current culture wars that the noble Baroness spoke of, it would be everywhere if that were the case. I hope that it does not happen. From talking to trans women, I know that they have frequently—more frequently than women, if you look at the ratio; it is a very small number of trans women—been assaulted and raped. Therefore, I would be very concerned about anything that removes their rights. I am worried that there is not a problem that needs to be solved. I say that with the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, and the noble Lord, Lord Jackson.

I only want to clarify. The example that I used, to be clear, concerned instances where there was provision for trans women but not all natal women wanted to share their trauma with trans women. I did not mention assault by trans people against anyone, because that is not what this is referring to. The women’s-only facility argument in relation to services for sex, sexual assault and violence and domestic abuse is quite straightforward; it is understood in the law that women can have only-women provision, but the use of the word “woman” is now so misunderstood and can be interpreted as including trans women that it gets very confusing. I am afraid that that means that the lack of choice is not for trans women but for natal women—women.

With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, and the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, who said he felt that the entire House was behind this amendment, it is important for them to know that some people disagree with it. Although I understand where the noble Baroness is coming from, it does not help the issue inside our refuges. The most urgent thing is to help women, regardless of their natal birth, if they have been assaulted and raped and need somewhere safe to go.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Foulkes on his suite of amendments. I am not surprised that he has tabled them; he is quite right that older people need particular support and help as victims of violence. We can imagine why that might be the case. It feels like we should not really have to say it, but it is the case, and this is an important suite of amendments, which I hope the Minister will invite to be part of the wider discussion that we will have about how different groups can be supported as victims as we move forward. That goes without saying.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, that I am confident that the arrangements to be put in place will comply with the Equality Act 2010.

I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate on two related amendments. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, would require the Secretary of State to publish guidance about older people’s IDVAs and ISVAs. The Government recognise the vital support that older people’s advisers provide to older victims of these terrible crimes. The advisers offer invaluable emotional support, provide a focus on safety and help them navigate the criminal justice system.

As I have indicated in relation to the amendment on children’s ISVAs and IDVAs, the Government are open to considering the case for guidance for other types of roles, although my starting point is that guidance for these roles will be covered within the planned umbrella guidance for ISVAs and IDVAs. This will cover a range of specialisms, including the different considerations needed for older people.

I reassure noble Lords that we are continuing to draft guidance with the support of a working group made up of various representatives across the sector, including Hourglass, which does a fantastic job supporting and advocating for older victims of abuse, so that we get it right. The dedicated section on tailoring services to meet victims’ needs covers the particular needs that older victims may have.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, for speaking to the amendment that seeks to require the IDVA and ISVA guidance to include provision about allowing victims to ask to be supported by an IDVA or ISVA of the sex of their choosing, and the Government would agree to a meeting with Sex Matters.

I reassure the noble Baroness that the Government have made it clear through the victims funding strategy that victims should be at the heart of every decision a commissioner or service provider makes. Service providers are best placed to tailor services to individual victims and decide the most appropriate person to support them. They will take into account the needs and preferences of the victim, the availability and capacity of staff, and staff members’ skills and experience, to ensure they can meet the victim’s needs.

This amendment seeks to require that the ISVA and IDVA guidance cover this topic. As there are a wide range of relevant issues that this guidance covers, we do not propose to list each issue in the Bill, but I can confirm that the draft guidance will have a dedicated section on tailoring services to meet victims’ needs. This includes setting out the different considerations for supporting both male and female victims, which may include considering the sex of their ISVA or IDVA.

The noble Baroness raised one particular circumstance, but there could be a number of reasons why a victim may wish to request a particular support worker—for example, language, age or cultural needs. The Bill is not the right place to set out these considerations, nor how a service should respond. Service providers are best placed to make those decisions and must also comply with the Equality Act 2010, as the noble Baroness pointed out, in the provision of all services that they operate. I hope this demonstrates that the Government are committed to ensuring that victims of these terrible crimes receive support, and I hope the noble Baroness will not move this amendment.

Lastly, Amendment 67A would require the Secretary of State to publish guidance on other relevant specialist support services. Such guidance would cover a wide range of services. It is not clear, without knowing which support roles this amendment is intended to cover, that such services need or would value government-issued guidance to support or improve the consistency of their service. Government Amendment 74, which amends Clause 15, provides a more flexible mechanism afforded by regulations to set up relevant victim support roles for which guidance must be issued.

I turn to a couple of the other points raised during this debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, mentioned whether services should provide single-sex spaces for victims. The Government are committed to ensuring that victims get the right support at the right time and that that support is tailored according to needs. The Equality Act 2010 sets out that providers have the right to restrict use of spaces on the basis of sex where it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

In response to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about guidance based on age, the draft guidance has a specific section on how IDVAs or ISVAs may respond to meet the needs of different types of victims, which includes examples of how they may tailor their support to meet the distinct needs of female and male victims. The guidance also highlights that some victims may prefer to be supported by a worker of their own sex or age and may prefer to access single-sex services where available.

I think it is rather early to be saying, as the Minister did, having not read the Sex Matters report, that delivery organisations are best placed to make their own policies. The report finds that they are trying to negotiate a maelstrom of difficulties, so for the Government to take a set view that the delivery organisations are best placed to do this, using the rationale of the Equality Act 2010, is not sufficient.

I should also say that I expected a less peremptory response from the Labour Front Bench to the very well-argued amendment.

I am afraid that the response to my noble friend is that the Government are absolutely adamant that service providers are the right people to make these decisions. They deal with a number of different concerns from victims and have to balance those against the resources available to their organisations.

I know that noble Lords want to move on, but the key to what I was saying is that service provision has been compromised by political and ideological interventions. If anything, this undermines the very exemptions in the Equality Act. I am afraid that saying “It’s up to them”, when they are the problem, potentially, is not quite going to cut it.

Could the Minister at least take back to the department that we will be returning to this issue on Report? It is very important, and we need some clarification. Maybe it can come after the meeting with the Sex Matters report writers, but saying that the status quo prevails does not work in this instance.

I am very happy to take the noble Baroness’s comments back to the Minister and the Government, and to discuss them.

My Lords, I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and my noble friend Lady Thornton for their kind, sympathetic words. I appreciate them and I know that Hourglass will too.

The Minister has been very helpful, saying that older people will be considered as a group and their special needs will be considered in the following discussions. That was a very helpful response and in light of it, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 67B withdrawn.

Amendments 68 to 73A not moved.

Amendment 74

Moved by

74: Leave out Clause 15 and insert the following new Clause—

“Guidance about specified victim support roles(1) The Secretary of State must issue guidance about specified victim support roles.(2) In this section—“specified” means specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State;“victim support role” means a role performed by individuals which involves the provision of support to victims of criminal conduct (where the support relates to that conduct).(3) A victim support role may be specified by reference to (among other matters)—(a) the circumstances in which the role is performed;(b) the type of support provided in connection with the role;(c) the type of criminal conduct in relation to which such support is provided.(4) Guidance under this section about a victim support role must include provision about—(a) the support provided in connection with the role;(b) training and qualifications for individuals who perform the role;(c) how individuals who perform the role, and other persons who have functions relating to victims or any aspect of the criminal justice system, work together.(5) Guidance under this section must (where relevant) make provision in relation to victims who are children or have protected characteristics within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010.(6) Any person who has functions of a public nature relating to victims, or any aspect of the criminal justice system, must have regard to guidance under this section where—(a) the person is exercising such a function, and(b) the guidance is relevant to the exercise of that function.(7) Subsection (6) does not apply to anything done by any person acting in a judicial capacity, or on the instructions of or on behalf of such a person.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment requires the Secretary of State to issue guidance about victim support roles of types specified in regulations.

Amendment 74 agreed.

Amendment 75

Moved by

75: After Clause 15,

insert the following new Clause—

“Mandatory training: violence against women and girls(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations require certain police officers and employees of the Crown Prosecution Service to receive training in respect of violence against women and girls.(2) Regulations under subsection (1) must—(a) make provision about the content of mandatory training, including training on the impact of trauma on victims of violence against women and girls; and(b) make provision about the persons for whom this training is mandatory.(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.”Member's explanatory statement

This new Clause requires the Secretary of State to bring forward regulations to provide for mandatory training for certain persons in the criminal justice system to receive mandatory training in respect of violence against women and girls.

My Lords, I can be fairly brief because we have covered the issue of mandatory training in other areas earlier today and on previous days in Committee. Obviously, one does not know prior to starting Committee how many vaguely similar amendments are likely to be laid. That does not, however, reduce the importance of mandatory training for police officers and employees of the Crown Prosecution Service specifically in respect of violence against women and girls.

The amendment asks for regulations to be formed and provision to be made about the persons for whom this training is mandatory, and then an SI to be drawn up, presented to Parliament and approved by a resolution of Parliament.

We have not talked much about girls; most of our discussions have been about grown-ups and women. There is a particular need to support younger girls if they have been the victims of domestic abuse or stalking. The Minister said earlier that that was not necessarily excluded from the broader debate, but their needs are particular. The way they are approached by the police, perhaps when they first report an incident, may need to be very different. I know the police are pretty well trained, but it is none the less important that we see that support. I suspect that, when we get to Report, a single global training amendment may be tabled, rather than lots of different ones.

My Amendment 104 asks the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament within six months of the Bill being passed a report on the impact of the UK’s reservation of Article 59 of the Istanbul convention. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, referred earlier to the convention. It is a vital document, and it was very important that the UK signed it in 2012. It is a shame that it took 10 years for it to be ratified, but it is now.

However, the problem is that there are some reservations, and one of them is Article 59. The real issue is the Support for Migrant Victims Scheme. One of the things we are concerned about is a migrant victim not getting the benefits of the Istanbul convention when they are a victim of domestic abuse or trafficking. It would be really helpful if the Minister could outline the Government’s current position and whether they will report on it. I understand from the Government that it was already under review, pending the results of the evaluation of the Support for Migrant Victims Scheme. In summer 2022, the Government said that this decision is

“without prejudice to the substantive decisions which the government will make on the matters relating to article 59, in the light of the results and evaluation of the support for migrant victims scheme”.

So we are still waiting to hear what the issues are relating to it, and I hope that the Minister will give us a response. I know that elsewhere in this group, my noble friend Lord German might also touch on this issue, so I will leave him to do that; but the Istanbul convention is something that this Government have quoted themselves and believe is still important, and that should happen for anybody who ends up in this country.

Amendment 76 (to Amendment 75)

Moved by

76: In subsection (2)(a), after “girls” insert “and domestic abuse as defined in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, with specific reference to controlling or coercive behaviour and economic abuse”

My Lords, I will speak also to Amendments 77 and 107 in my name, and in support of Amendment 80, to which I have added my name. I very much support Amendment 75, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, but believe it could be strengthened: first by specific reference to domestic abuse—in particular, to controlling or coercive behaviour, including economic abuse—and secondly by ensuring that such training is delivered by specialist providers in the violence against women and girls sector. I tabled my Amendments 76 and 77 on behalf of Surviving Economic Abuse—SEA—with which I worked closely on the Domestic Abuse Act and for whose help on the amendments I am grateful.

As an officer of the APPG on Domestic Abuse and Violence, I have been struck by how often the domestic abuse sector has referred to the need for “training” or “improved training” on domestic abuse—particularly coercive control, including economic abuse—for those working in the criminal justice system. According to SEA, 5.5 million women experienced economic abuse from a current or former partner in the previous 12 months. As I argued earlier, it causes significant hardship, damages mental and physical health and makes it harder for a survivor to leave the abuser, putting them and their children at increased risk of further harm or even being killed. It also often continues long after separation, yet for those who build up the confidence to report it to the police, the criminal justice system is not using all its powers to tackle controlling or coercive behaviour, including economic abuse.

The latest criminal justice statistics from ONS showed that there were nearly 44,000 reports of coercive control recorded by the police in the year ending in March 2023, yet there were just 611 court proceedings and 566 convictions handed down in the year ending the previous December. Evidence shows that in many cases, the police rank economic issues as “low” when it comes to risk. They tend to focus on gathering evidence of physical abuse, even when victims disclose economic abuse. This is leading to perpetrators not being held to account for this crime, and victim-survivors left without true justice and at risk of further economic abuse. It is also particularly concerning given that economic issues were identified in just over a third of intimate-partner homicides analysed by the Home Office.

SEA has demonstrated that, when training is developed and delivered by specialist providers and is informed by the lived experience of survivors, it can positively change practice. Following training it developed and delivered to domestic abuse champions in 10 police forces, in partnership with SafeLives, nine in 10 police officers could recognise economic abuse and knew how to gather evidence to support a prosecution. There is a real danger that the positive steps that the Government have taken to tackle this form of abuse will be undermined by a lack of understanding on the part of the police and others in the criminal justice system. This can be straightforwardly addressed through access to necessary training, so that criminal justice professionals can identify controlling and coercive behaviour, including economic abuse, effectively build a case for prosecution and make sure that victims are referred to life-saving specialist support. I hope, therefore, that the Government will look sympathetically on these amendments.

I have tabled Amendment 107 as a probing amendment, designed to explore the issue of the use of a victim’s personal data for immigration purposes. Its substance has been promoted consistently and forcefully by the domestic abuse commissioner, and organisations supporting migrant victims of crime. In his letter of 12 January to Peers, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, acknowledged the importance of victims and witnesses being free to report crimes without fear, and that it is in the interests of the general public for all crimes to be fully investigated. But then he continued:

“We are, however, also duty bound to maintain an effective immigration system to protect our public services and to save the most vulnerable from exploitation because of their insecure immigration status”.

Can the Minister tell us how this is consistent with the repeated ministerial claim that domestic abuse victims/survivors must be treated as victims first and foremost, regardless of immigration status, given that the argument is, in effect, putting immigration status first—not “safety before status”, in the phrase used by the domestic abuse commissioner?

The reference to safeguarding those most vulnerable to experiencing serious crime because of their insecure immigration status simply does not make sense. As the DAC and all the organisations in the field, notably the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, point out, the absence of a firewall, in the DAC’s words,

“allows dangerous offenders to continue to abuse with impunity; safe in the knowledge that their victims … are too afraid of enforcement action to report to the police”.

The DAC has heard from many migrant victims and survivors that contact from immigration enforcement, particularly following a disclosure to the police or other statutory services, can instil fear and insecurity and prevent them coming forward for support in the future. In fact, recent data has shown that all police forces in England and Wales have referred victims or survivors of abuse to immigration enforcement in the last three years. Victim Support states that this is often the reason why victim-survivors do not seek support sooner.

The DAC’s concerns were echoed in the pre-legislative scrutiny report. This cited evidence from the organisation Imkaan that more than 90% of abused women with insecure immigration status had their abusers use the threat of their removal from the UK to dissuade them from reporting the abuse. It argued that the lack of a firewall denies safety to victims and witnesses and may allow perpetrators to commit further offences. No doubt the Minister will argue that these concerns will be addressed in the forthcoming immigration enforcement migrant victims protocol that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, mentioned in his letter. It is disappointing that the protocol has still not been published, despite it originally being promised at the end of last year. According to a recent Written Answer to me, it is now expected in “early 2024”. But, given that the Home Office can be rather vague in its temporal references, can the Minister say what is meant by “early”?

However, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, said in his letter, we know it will put limits on immigration enforcement action against migrant victims. But that is not enough to satisfy the domestic abuse commissioner, who argued that victims would still be open to contact from immigration enforcement, meaning that the fear of any immigration enforcement is not removed, and nor is the risk of potential immigration action once criminal proceedings conclude—which, for the victims and survivors of domestic abuse, can be within days. In view of the DAC’s continued concern, I urge the Minister to look again at this.

Turning to Amendment 80, the domestic abuse commissioner told the Public Bill Committee that one of her main concerns when it comes to genuinely providing services for all is the continued exclusion of migrant survivors, which could, she argued, be

“fixed quite simply by allowing recourse to public funds for domestic abuse survivors”.

According to the briefing from Southall Black Sisters and four other on-the-ground organisations, these women continue to face a stark choice between domestic abuse or deportation and destitution. Many are unable even to enter a women’s refuge, as they cannot pay their rent or living costs, as they are not eligible for housing or other social security benefits. Women and their children are vulnerable to homelessness and exploitation and can be locked in new, dangerous situations or even driven back to abusive relationships.

We tried to address this issue with amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill, which were resisted by the Government. The current amendment is much more limited so as to remain within scope; the hope was that the Government would look more kindly on it—yet still they resist it, or they did so in the Commons. When it was proposed in Committee there, the Minister responded that victims without recourse to public funds are eligible for support under the terms of the code. However, he acknowledged that the “no recourse” rule affects the ability of victims of domestic abuse with insecure immigration status to access some accommodation-based support services. He went on to pray in aid the pilot established in 2020, as if that negated the need for the amendment, but did not otherwise offer any substantive arguments.

That year—2020—the Government said that they would consider the pilot’s findings once the evaluation was published and develop sustainable options for the future. The independent evaluation funded by the Home Office was published last year, as was an academic evaluation for SBS. The pilot demonstrated the need for support for this group, and the evaluation found that for the most part it performed well in meeting the immediate and emergency needs of victims and survivors. But it also identified problems with, for instance, the level of subsistence payments—a particular issue for those with children, according to the SBS evaluation—and the provision of suitable accommodation within the constraints of a pilot.

With regard to the latter, the report for the Home Office noted:

“Refuges could almost never be covered within the accommodation budget, meaning that some victims/survivors were housed in a patchwork of other provision which might be unclean, unsafe, or unreliable”.

The evaluators made it clear that it was outside their remit to provide policy recommendations but concluded with the

“hope that the insights contained within this report will help to provide the support needed to victims/survivors with NRPF”.

Well, they will be disappointed, because instead of the long-term solutions, together with a clear timetable for implementation, to which the Home Office committed itself in principle back in 2022 following a DAC report, the response to the evaluations was to extend the pilot yet again—this time to 2025.

I asked at Second Reading for an explanation of why the Government have failed to come forward with the long-term solutions originally promised in principle, now that they have the findings from two evaluations. I did not get an answer; nor was there one in the detailed letter from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, which simply set out the current position. I would be grateful if the Minister could provide an explanation now.

More fundamentally, could we have a clear explanation as to why the Government are rejecting this very modest amendment? In the Commons, Sarah Champion suggested that it was due to the hostile environment towards people from overseas. I hope that the Minister can assure us that this is not the case. Surely, whatever one thinks of the hostile/compliant environment, it should be irrelevant if policy is to reflect the ministerial mantra cited by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, in a Written Answer that

“anyone who has suffered domestic abuse must be treated as a victim first and foremost, regardless of immigration status”.

That point applies also to Amendment 107 on the firewall. I beg to move.

I rise to say very quickly, because I know that we are trying to get through this, how much I support Amendment 75. To be perfectly honest, I find it deeply depressing that we have had so many debates and so much legislation on this issue and it is still so patchy. We have 43 police forces around this country, and we are still the victims of, or are at the mercy of, the priorities of those forces. We have a strategic policing requirement that includes violence against women and girls and domestic abuse, yet I am not sure that we are seeing it put into action. I wholeheartedly support this proposal, in the hope that the Government take it on board.

My Lords, reference was made briefly to Amendment 80, and

“services for victims … with no recourse to public funds”.

I want to offer brief but firm support for that amendment. Quite simply, victims of domestic abuse with no recourse to public funds are some of the most disadvantaged people that one sees in the family justice system. It is unthinkable, in my view, that they could be excluded in any way from the benefit of services under the victims’ code.

My Lords, I have an amendment in this group—sometimes the way the groupings lie is a bit difficult. This group covers violence against women and girls, and my amendment relates to how we assess data on that violence. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra and Lord Jackson of Peterborough, for their support—and we shall hear from one of them shortly.

Amendment 105 seeks to probe problems with the data that we use to develop policies and ensure that there is guidance to establish that sex registered at birth is used for any analysis of patterns of offending and recording victim and perpetrator profiles. Ideally, this would apply throughout the whole criminal justice system but, for now, this amendment focuses on violence against women and girls. I hope that, on this topic at least, there will be unanimity in acknowledging that sex difference between men and women can impact on people’s experience of victimisation and offending and on patterns of offending and risk.

Official crime data is used to assess the most appropriate services that should be developed, and how resources should be targeted effectively—something that the Bill has focused on at length in relation to support for victims. But any claims for evidence-based policy must be based on material reality and cannot depend on, for example, subjective assertions or ideological beliefs, both of which could be misleading. I invite people to agree with me that data needs to be accurate, credible and consistent. The problem is that accuracy, credibility and consistency are being undermined at present, because the criminal justice system has either conflated or replaced data based on immutable sex with data based on more fluid concepts, such as gender identity or self-declared sex.

I am aware that even discussing the collection of data based on a person’s sex, whether male or female, has become controversial these days. One has only to look at last week’s media reports of internal rows taking place in the Office for National Statistics about the methodology used in the census. But that is all the more reason why my amendment emphasises the need to raise the consistent measure of sex registered at birth. At present, there is an inconsistent model of options. The variable category of “gender” is used carelessly in criminal justice circles as interchangeable with sex. Sex can mean, if used imprecisely, sex as self-declared gender. It can mean a legally recognised but none the less acquired gender, sometimes evidenced by a gender recognition certificate—GRC. It can also mean changed government records, such as passports, driving licences, or NHS numbers, even though a person’s biological sex does not change, even if the documentation does. But the introduction of this vast array of recording practices creates a lack clarity about what is being measured and what exactly some types of official criminal justice data represent.

To illustrate that confusion, let us consider that a few years ago the British Transport Police stated that, because the BTP treats all people—victims, offenders and witnesses—with dignity, it

“records their gender according to the gender they present as, and/or how they self-identify their gender”.

That seems to suggest that the British Transport Police is undoubtedly well meaning but none the less prioritises validating people’s identity rather than understanding that data collection is a critical variable in crime statistics. It is important we ensure that official statistics are not treated as personal records of preference; they must be objectively accurate if they are to be useful. What is more, different police forces use different criteria for data collection, and this is very important for our understanding of violence against women and girls.

Keep Prisons Single Sex is involved in an invaluable project and public service which annually submits freedom of information requests to all police forces in the UK with the aim of determining how they record a suspect’s sex. The campaign’s findings for 2023 make for troubling reading. Just for a taster, of the 32 forces that answered the freedom of information request, no force records sex registered at birth in all circumstances; 20 forces use legally recognised acquired gender where the suspect has a GRC; and 13 forces stated that, where a suspect has a self-declared gender identity, they will record this as sex, rather than sex at birth. Some 22 forces answered the question on how a rape suspect’s sex is recorded, with 20 forces recording legally recognised acquired gender—in other words, GRCs—and only one force recording sex registered at birth. This means that suspected rape perpetrators and convicted rapists can be recorded in official statistics as female, if they no longer wish to identify with their male birth sex. To confuse matters further, 22 forces answered questions on how they record the sex of a suspect who identifies as non-binary, with 11 recording sex as “indeterminate” or “unspecified other”, and only nine using sex registered at birth.

Noble Lords might wonder whether any of this matters, and some say it does not. However, in 2019, when Fair Play For Women revealed results from its FOI requests to police forces, the National Police Chiefs’ Council responded that:

“There is no evidence to suggest that recording a person’s gender based on the information that they provide will have an impact on an investigation or on national crime statistics, because of the low numbers involved”.

That is wrong-headed and complacent. On the point about the low numbers involved, one might ask what will happen if many more people apply for a legal sex change. Organisations such as Stonewall claim that the UK trans population is up to 500,000, even though only a small minority have GRCs. That would make a significant error in the datasets. Small numbers of cases misclassified in this way can lead to substantial bias in crime stats, and, importantly, can distort and mislead public understanding of the nature of, in particular, violence against women and girls and offending patterns in relation to sexual offences.

If the police now record female crime based on gender identity, this means female crime statistics include both women who were born female and trans women who were born male. I do not know whether noble Lords recall that, in 2021, newspaper headlines screamed that the number of female paedophiles had doubled in four years. This shocking statistic was based on a Radio 4 “File on 4” documentary that used data from FOI requests. It claimed that, between 2015 and 2019, the number of reported cases of female-perpetrated child sex abuse prosecuted by police in England and Wales had risen from 1,249 to 2,297, an increase of 84%. A moral panic followed, as people assumed that that meant that more women were sexually abusing children, with endless talking heads on TV discussing why. The furore calmed down only when it dawned on commentators that no account had been taken of whether males who identify as women might be responsible for the apparent increase because of confusion about data protection. Of course, maybe it is the case that there are more women sexually abusing children—after all, offending patterns do change. However, it is impossible to know or make that claim from the collected data based on a mixture of gender identity and sex registered at birth.

This sort of unreliability surely erodes public understanding. Trust is eroded when sex-disaggregated data held by the police does not actually record what most people think it does. Unsurprisingly, this can lead to media reports of female rapists, women as sex abusers and so on, when in fact what is being reported is male perpetrators claiming female gender identity. We have to look only at the widespread public shock when it was revealed that a double rapist treated as a woman when remanded in a Scottish women’s prison was in fact not the female Isla Bryson but Adam Graham. Indeed, that scandal precipitated the downfall of the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

To finish, routinely such confusions continue. Only last week, in media coverage of a trial at Southampton Crown Court, both broadcast and print media reported that a 56 year-old female charity shop worker was charged with exposing “her” penis. Lawyers in court were quoted as describing how Samantha Norris pulled down “her” trousers and manipulated “her” penis in front of two 11 year-old girls as they walked past the window of “her” home. But it is “his” home, “his” pants and “his” penis. Mr Norris may identify as a woman and be treated as such by criminal justice agencies, but he is male. How can the public or public authorities have any realistic picture or analysis of the threats posed by violence against women and girls if these confusions are reflected in official data?

My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, and shall speak to her Amendment 105. I apologise that I was not able to participate at Second Reading due to attending another meeting.

I submit that sex registered at birth is a fundamental demographic and explanatory variable reflecting the reality of sex-based differences between men and women. Sex registered at birth is a powerful predictor of outcomes and is established throughout the criminal justice system as important in the analysis of offending and pathways into offending and risk.

Males and females offend at different rates, with males offending at significantly increased rates to females. In September 2021, women represented just 4% of the total prison population. Some offence categories, including serious violent and sexual offences, are only very rarely committed by females, with the overwhelming majority of these offences being committed by males. For example, in 2019, women comprised 2% of prosecutions for sexual offences, 16% of prosecutions for violence against the person and 7% of prosecutions for possession of weapons. The groups with the highest proportion of males prosecuted were sexual offences, at 98% male, and possession of weapons, at 93% male. Pathways into offending also differ between the sexes. There are strong links between women’s acquisitive crime—for example, theft and benefit fraud—and their need to provide for their children. For women, a history of male violence, including coercive control, frequently forms a distinct pathway into offending.

Sex registered at birth underpins the provision and planning of services within the criminal justice system, with the female offender strategy providing an evidence-based case to address the distinct needs of women in the criminal justice system. More generally, differences due to sex underpin risk assessment processes, the provision of offender treatment programmes, and the differing security categorisation and arrangements in the male and female prison estates. It is for these reasons, I suggest, it is fundamentally important that, throughout the criminal justice system, suspects’ sex registered at birth is recorded—for all offences, not just violent or sexual offences against women and girls.

However, despite the clear, established, evidence-based importance of sex registered at birth, throughout the United Kingdom police forces routinely record suspects’ gender identity, self-declared gender, legally recognised gender or transgender identity and not their sex registered at birth, including in the case of rape. I will not quote all the statistics which the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, quoted on the freedom of information access requests acquired by Keep Prisons Single Sex, but it seems to be the case that in at least 32 of our police forces there is a complete mishmash in recording the sex of offenders, and that leads to perverse consequences.

There is no evidence that either legally recognised acquired gender, where an individual has been issued with a gender recognition certificate, or self-declared gender or gender identity have even equivalent explanatory power. In fact, where evidence is available, it continues to demonstrate the superior explanatory power of sex registered at birth to offending. I am sure some will argue that, even if sex registered at birth is erased from data in this way, surely the number of times it happens is so small that there is no appreciable impact on the data overall, so why does it really matter and why get upset about it.

My first response is that there is simply no way of ascertaining from the data collected by police forces how many suspects have their gender identity recorded in lieu of sex registered at birth, whether this is on the basis of self-declaration or subsequent to obtaining a gender recognition certificate. The number of suspects for whom sex registered at birth is not recorded could be small, as some police forces allege, or it could be large—we simply do not know. It could be stable across time, or it could be growing. There are no data collected that will allow us to answer those questions. That fact alone should give us pause in our considerations tonight. Even working on the assumption that the number of suspects for whom something other than sex registered at birth is recorded is small, this can still have a significant impact on the data. This impact is disproportionate across the sexes, and it will have the greatest effect on the data for females where suspects whose sex registered at birth is male are allocated to the female subgroup: this is because of the significance of sex registered at birth as a predictor of offending. Offending patterns differ significantly on the basis of sex registered at birth for all offences and for individual offence categories.

A good example that is available in the public domain will help to make this clear. In 2016, Claire Darbyshire, also known as Christopher, was convicted of murder at the Old Bailey; Darbyshire was recorded as female. We have been able to identify this as the conviction of a male offender who was recorded as female because the case was widely reported in the press and it is clear that Darbyshire’s sex registered at birth is male. Indeed, Darbyshire was imprisoned in the male prison estate at HMP Belmarsh. Recording this conviction as female elevated the number of females convicted of murder in that year by 5%. For offence categories that women rarely commit, the inclusion of just one offender whose sex registered at birth is male can have a marked impact. This was not a violent offence against a woman; Darbyshire’s victim was male.

This is not just about individual cases. I will not requote what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, said, but that those 45 regional police forces reported a huge, 84% increase in female-perpetrated child abuse was extraordinary. That was an incredible increase in reported crimes that women rarely ever commit. We need further analysis to understand why this is and what needs to be done. However, because some police forces are not recording sex registered at birth, there are at least three possible explanations: the same number of women are committing these offences but the victims are more able to step forward and make a report; or it could be there are more women committing these offences; or it is males who are committing these child sexual offences but they are being recorded in increasing numbers in the female statistics. We simply do not know which explanation, or combination of explanations, is responsible for that large increase of 84%, but we should get to the bottom of it and that is the important point of this amendment. Currently, the Home Office does not centrally mandate how police forces should record an offender’s sex; this amendment provides the opportunity to redress this omission.

When aiming to balance the legitimate functions of the state to capture core data about its citizens and the relevant privacy rights of individuals, we must be mindful that, for the criminal justice system, the aim is to produce accurate, relevant and reliable data on offending to support the analysis of patterns of offending, pathways into offending and risk of offending in order that this analysis is of relevance and utility to service development and management. Accurate, relevant and reliable data on offending is a legitimate public interest, and I hope the amendment succeeds.

My Lords, I rise to speak on behalf of two of my colleagues who have supported amendments in this group. My right reverend friend the Bishop of Gloucester regrets that she cannot be in her place to add her voice in support of Amendment 80, which concerns a cause on which she has long been an advocate. She tabled an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill, with cross-party support in 2021. Advocates have campaigned for 30 years to improve conditions for migrant women who have no recourse to public funds and who are victims of domestic abuse. While there has been some progress, including the introduction of the domestic violence indefinite leave to remain rule and the destitution domestic violence concession, there is still much more to be done to make sure that victims of domestic abuse with no recourse to public funds, or who are undocumented, are eligible for those schemes. Victims face an impossible choice: domestic abuse or deportation and destitution. Many are unable even to enter a women’s refuge; they cannot pay their rent or living costs as they are not eligible for housing or other social security benefits.

As we have heard, not much has changed since my right reverend friend raised these issues in 2021. The Government have extended the support for migrant victims pilot scheme, so it can be concluded that the support it offers is valued. Why not then grant a long-term solution? The pilot offers a victim financial assistance for 12 weeks towards rent and subsistence to enable them to leave an abuser and to begin the process of regularisation of their immigration status. More support for longer is needed, as those delivering the pilot scheme are finding that they are providing advocacy and counselling support pro bono as the pilot funding is insufficient. Victims of domestic abuse with no recourse to public funds deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and offered the support they need to leave their abuser. Alongside my right reverend friend the Bishop of Gloucester, I support Amendment 80.

I also support Amendment 107, alongside the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, who has added her name and sends her apologies because she cannot be present today. This amendment seeks to ensure that the data of a victim of crime is not shared between statutory agencies and immigration enforcement for any immigration control purposes without their consent. The amendment covers victims of serious crimes including domestic abuse, sexual violence and modern slavery. There is much evidence that shows that migrant victims of crime cannot report a crime to the police and other statutory agencies due to the fear of facing immigration control. This is even more pertinent for women who have experienced abuse or exploitation, as the threat of detention or removal is used by their abuser to prevent them coming forward. The Latin American Women’s Right’s Service and the Step Up Migrant Women campaign found that 62% of migrant women had experienced such a threat from their abusers.

The findings of the first super-complaint investigation by three independent police watchdogs concluded that data sharing arrangements harmed the public interest as crimes are unreported,

“victims are denied justice, while offenders go unpunished and remain a threat to the public”.

In the immigration enforcement migrant victims protocol that the Government have proposed, the conflict of interest at its heart remains. Asserting that data sharing with immigration enforcement is essential for victims’ protection misses the years of evidence and campaigning on this issue. It does not address the fear of data sharing that prevents victims of crime coming forward. We have a responsibility to victims and cannot prioritise immigration enforcement over safe reporting pathways. The barriers that migrant women particularly face in reporting crimes put them at risk and protect the perpetrators. I support Amendment 107.

My Lords, I rise to add my support to those remarks from the right reverend Prelate. I have added my name to Amendment 80, and I wish to say a quick word about the Istanbul convention and about the firewall, which, as we have just heard, is an issue.

If you want to understand why Amendment 80 has been tabled, you need to get out a calendar and track what has happened in the last three years. There have been huge inconsistencies between the Government’s approach and the wording of their priority policies. Initially, they responded to the needs of those with no recourse to public funds—largely, migrants seeking refuge —by saying that they would introduce the support for migrant victims scheme, with two platforms of funding. I will not bore the Committee with the names of those funds, but the Government wished to pilot the scheme. As we have heard, it has now been extended. In fact, the pilot has now been going on longer than if you were to sail around the world in a boat twice over. It has been a hugely long pilot and there has been extensive evaluation of it, so a scheme has clearly been put in place.

However, then the domestic abuse commissioner made a study of the scheme and recommended implementing flexible support for all migrant victims regardless of their status. The Government responded in 2022 by saying that they were not considering a routine pathway between public services and the domestic abuse sector because they felt the regulations already in place were sufficient. In those regulations that they think sufficient, you find that the support for migrant victims—SMV—scheme they put in place is applicable only to those of certain status seeking refuge or to live in this country. Certain groups are excluded. The Government’s response was basically: “We have what we’ve got. We won’t do anything more”. However, they did not say so in their response to the domestic abuse commissioner; there they simply said that they already could, but you can clearly see from the government regulations that they cannot.

Last year, we had the Illegal Migration Act. A whole host of people—I hope the Minister can tell us how many—who entered this country since it was enacted suddenly have no status, because they are not eligible for anything. We do not even ask them any questions. I do not believe that the Government know nothing about these people. They must know something, but we do not know what it is. We know neither the exact numbers of people who have arrived nor anything about them, because we do not ask them what they are here for. We simply warehouse them before some scheme to remove them from the country—although nowhere near the numbers of people who arrived—takes place. There is a cohort of people who do not have the status currently required for the support for migrant victims scheme. We do not know who they are because the Government do not ask them, but we know that there are substantial numbers of people in that cohort who are suffering or have suffered from domestic abuse.

This is where the problem gets complex. In their evaluation of the Government’s scheme, the London School of Economics and the Oxford Migration Observatory found that the extension of the scheme would produce major cost savings for the Government in the longer term. It estimated that there are potentially 32,000 victims with no recourse to public funds who are likely to report domestic abuse to an authority in each year and that only 7,700 of these victims are likely to access a refuge or accommodation for a short period. It recommended the extension of the model to benefit all the people in that cohort and to do so until their circumstances could be put right.

The government-funded evaluation of the scheme said that it needs to be expanded to include all those without recourse to public funds. There is also a view that more money needs to go into that scheme to provide enough money to give people a route out of the problems they face, which anyone who has contributed to this Bill will know about.

The second hole the Government have relates to the Istanbul convention. They have this consideration, which they say is an important matter, but it was a temporary consideration while the SMV pilot—going on from 2020 to 2025—was being assessed. The pilot evaluation has already been assessed, but it is still a pilot instead of a fully rolled out scheme. It assessed the impact of providing support to victims but not of providing status. The problem with the Istanbul convention is that, while ratification is welcome, the reservation the Government have expressed discriminates by restricting the rights of migrant women to a safety currently available to non-migrant women.

Amendment 80 seeks to fill the lacuna we are faced with. If the Government are honest about their recommendation that safety comes first before status then they clearly need to address the lacuna.

I will add a quick word on what is called the firewall—where people’s information and data are not transferred. A domestically abused person might decide to go to the police, and we now know that police routinely pass that information to Home Office immigration officials. So a person goes to the police to try to find a route from domestic abuse and the next thing they know, a Home Office immigration official arrives on their doorstep. If that is not enough to turn people away from going to the police, what is? That is why there is a problem with underreporting: people will not go to the police for fear the Home Office will deport them. They could either be deported by the Home Office or persecuted by their domestic abuser. What sort of choice is that? That is why these amendments are so important.

Finally, we must all agree, as I am sure the Government do, that safety comes before status. In his reply, perhaps the Minister can tell us how many people are affected by the lacuna? How do we know what information we have about them? They are the two things we do not know. If we want safety before status, we must have information. I therefore support the amendments tabled, particularly Amendment 80.

My Lords, I will make two extremely brief points. First, I will address Amendments 80 and 107, affecting individuals facing domestic abuse who have an immigration status of “no recourse to public funds”. I strongly express the Green Party’s support for these amendments. We are essentially forming again a collation—across the Committee in total, and with full political breadth—as was put together during the Domestic Abuse Act. The Government need to get the message that this coalition is not going away and will keep hammering away on this point.

Secondly, on Amendment 75, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, I am aware that it refers to the education of the CPS. I think we have to look at the very recent context. In a discussion on violence against women and girls with the Culcheth & Glazebury Parish Council, the Cheshire police and crime commissioner, John Dwyer, was quoted as saying:

“I notice school girls in my area are all wearing very short skirts and this did not happen in the 1960s”.

There is an evident need across the criminal justice system for a great deal of education. It is possible we might think some people are beyond education, but we need it to be happening anyway. We need it to deliver confidence to the victims of crime, so that they feel they can come forward and be treated properly.

My Lords, I was there in the 1960s but that is not quite the object of this debate.

I was struck during the previous group of amendments, and it has continued in this one, by the question of training. What everyone involved in these issues needs is professional curiosity and an ability not to compartmentalise people’s reactions. Older people’s vulnerabilities—I have come across Hourglass, and I admire it—can also be found in younger people, so training needs to be thorough, with no cliff edges in how it is delivered. We are all different people and we all exhibit a variety of traits, which at different ages and in different circumstances may rise higher up the list than at other times. I was glad to hear my noble friend say that she could see a single wide amendment coming, because I think it is needed.

The Istanbul convention has been debated in this House before, as has the reputational damage of the country in this context. However, I put it in again today.

There is an important debate to be had on data collection and the argument about consistency. However, it is a very wide debate and not something that can sensibly be addressed in a Bill which is about a discrete area of work.

My name is to Amendment 107, which may not give it a very good prognosis, since I opposed paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 to the then Data Protection Bill all the way through its passage through the House and led a vote against it. The paragraph says—this is not verbatim—that the exemption for personal data does not apply, fit to prejudice, to immigration enforcement. I never succeeded in my opposition, but I hope that might change.

On the detail of the amendment, there is one thing I need to say in making the case for it. It is not only a matter of information about someone’s immigration status being given where, in the views of all speakers, it should not go, and immigration officers turning up on the doorstep; it is the deterrent effect of an abuser telling a victim, “You’re not entitled to be here. I’ve got your papers, and there’s nothing you can do about it. If you complain, you’ll be thrown out”. Abusers have been known to lie and, from what one hears from the organisations working in the sector, that happens a great deal in this situation.

I suppose that “domestic abuse” is the correct term, but this situation does not apply only to people who are in a personal relationship; domestic workers are very vulnerable to this abuse. The deterrent effect on them complaining about the appalling treatment that some of them suffer is very notable. On behalf of these Benches, I hope we manage to make some progress on this issue during the course of the Bill.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate; it has been interesting, if slightly wider than we expected. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for introducing it. I put my name to Amendment 75. This is the first time that we have talked about women and girls at all; the noble Baroness was right to initiate that. I also tabled Amendment 80, which we on these Benches feel strongly needs to be addressed in the course of the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to Amendment 107, which the Government will also have to address, because it is clearly about a very serious issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is completely right about the importance of the UK’s reservation on Article 59 of the Istanbul convention, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is right about the reputational damage it does to our country. I hope the Minister will be able to respond to that.

I thank Southall Black Sisters for the excellent brief it produced about seeking to ensure that victims of domestic abuse who do not have the recourse to public funds are still entitled to be provided with services in accordance with the victims’ code. It was thorough and I hope that a Minister will respond, even if it is not this Minister. It is very nice to be opposite the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for the first time in quite some years; we faced each other for about seven or eight years on health matters. Of course, we have two Fredericks on our Front Benches, which is probably worth noting.

Southall Black Sisters has done extensive research on the effect of having no recourse to public funds. It has made a very serious record of the hardship and cruelty that this can lead to. I very much hope that the Minister will look at that evidence and that we will be able to take this forward. I will not say anything further, because we have had a very thorough discussion about the amendments.

My Lords, I too am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken to this group of amendments, which cover a range of sensitive and complex issues.

I turn first to Amendment 104, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on the UK’s reservation on Article 59 of the Istanbul convention. We were delighted to ratify the Istanbul convention. I believe that our doing so sent a clear message, not only within the UK but overseas, that Britain is committed to tackling violence against women and girls. I need to explain the point around the reservation, though. First, we are far from alone in making such reservations. Secondly, and more germanely to the noble Baroness’s concern, the reservation does not mean that we are not committed to supporting migrant victims, as I shall now explain.

We will continue to consider the findings of the SMV—support for migrant victims—scheme pilot, along with other assessments, and take account of the domestic abuse commissioner’s report Safety Before Status: The Solutions. This is very much work in progress. I assure the noble Baroness and the Committee that we will consider all matters in the round before making any further decisions on our policies and compliance position on Article 59. We have been clear about this in our last two annual progress reports, which were laid before Parliament, as we have been in many other fora.

Can the Minister give the Committee any sense of the timescale? This is really overdue. It was promised some time ago. It would be enormously helpful to know what the blocks are and how long he thinks it will take.

I will need to write to the noble Baroness—and to other noble Lords, of course—on that point, as I have no advice. I shall come on to Amendment 80 in a moment.

Amendment 75 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and Amendments 76 and 77, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, would require the Government to bring forward regulations to provide for certain persons in the criminal justice system to receive mandatory training in respect of violence against women and girls. My ministerial colleague and noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy has emphasised to me that we are deeply committed to driving improvements to the police and criminal justice response, which we know has too often not been good enough.

In that context, we recognise the importance of police officers and prosecutors having the right skills and knowledge to respond effectively to VAWG crimes. While the police and Crown Prosecution Service are operationally independent of government, we have taken action to help ensure that police officers and prosecutors are equipped to respond in three principal ways—through our tackling VAWG strategy and complementary domestic abuse plan, and the rape review. This includes funding the College of Policing, which is responsible for setting standards on police training, to develop and implement a new module of the specialist domestic abuse matters training for officers investigating these offences. This will enable further improvement in the way that police respond, investigate and evidence this crime. The domestic abuse matters programme has been completed by 34 police forces to date.

Ultimately, as has often been pointed out, this comes down to culture. It is therefore imperative that the right culture is in place. That is why the Government are driving forward work to improve culture, standards and behaviour across policing. That includes implementing recommendations from the Home Office’s police dismissals review to ensure that the system is fair and effective at removing officers not fit to serve. Given the significant work already under way that is expressly designed to strengthen both the police and CPS response to violence against women and girls, I hope the noble Baronesses will feel comfortable not to move these amendments when they are reached.

Turning next to Amendment 80 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, I thank her for raising this issue because it allows me to put on record how victims without resident status who do not have recourse to public funds are entitled to be provided with services in accordance with the victims’ code. The proposed new clause would state that victims of domestic abuse who do not have recourse to public funds can still receive services under the victims’ code.

However, I reassure the Committee, particularly in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, that the code does not contain eligibility requirements linked to immigration status. It explicitly states that victims are entitled to receive services regardless of resident status, which means that victims who have no recourse to public funds are still able to receive support under the code. This includes right 4 in the code, which is the entitlement to be referred to and/or access services that support victims. However, we are aware that, in practice, the recourse to public funds rules in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 impact the ability of victims of domestic abuse with insecure immigration status to access some accommodation-based support services.

Victims with no recourse to public funds can access safe accommodation funding and can do so through our destitute domestic violence concession, which has been in place since 2012. It is a quick route to public funds and for those eligible to regularise their immigration status. Furthermore, the statutory guidance for the duty to provide safe accommodation under Part 4 of the Domestic Abuse Act makes it clear that this provision is for all victims of domestic abuse, including migrant victims with insecure immigration status.

We remain of the view that this amendment is not necessary, and I hope that what I have said goes some way to reassuring the noble Baroness of the various ways that the Government are supporting victims regardless of their resident status, especially victims of domestic abuse.

I turn to Amendment 107, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, which I recognise covers a very sensitive issue. We remain determined that all victims and witnesses must be free to report offences without fear. However, this must be balanced with the need to maintain an effective immigration system, to protect our public services, and to safeguard the most vulnerable from exploitation because of their insecure immigration status.

It is the role of law enforcement agencies to protect victims, bring offenders to justice, prevent the commissioning of offences and preserve order. For them to discharge these functions, information sharing, very much on a case-by-case basis, must be allowed to take place, having regard to all the circumstances of the case. I say that especially because this information in some instances may help to protect and support victims and witnesses, including identifying whether they are vulnerable, and aiding their understanding of access to services and benefits.

However, we agree that more can be done to make it clearer to migrant victims what data can be shared and for what purpose. That is why we will set out a code of practice on the sharing of domestic abuse victims’ personal data for immigration purposes. This will provide guidance on circumstances when data sharing would or would not be appropriate and will provide transparency around how any data shared will be used. We will consult on this prior to laying the code for parliamentary scrutiny and approval by this spring.

That is not all: the Government are also committed to introducing an immigration enforcement migrant victims protocol for migrant victims of crime, which we aim to launch later this year. The protocol will give greater transparency around how any data will be shared.

Finally, Amendment 105 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State for Justice must issue guidance in respect of data collection to ensure that sex registered at birth is recorded for both victims and perpetrators of crime in respect of violence against women and girls. I was very interested to hear the statistics that she quoted on this issue and the arguments that she advanced—and I say the same to my noble friend Lord Blencathra about his powerful speech.

It may be helpful if I set out what the current system provides for as regards data collection. The Home Office collects, processes and analyses a range of national crime and policing data provided by the 43 territorial police forces of England and Wales. These collections form part of the Home Office annual data requirement—ADR. The ADR is a list of all requests for data made to all police forces in England and Wales under the Home Secretary’s statutory powers. The Home Office issued guidance in the ADR in April 2021 that sex should be recorded in its legal sense —what is on either a birth certificate or a gender recognition certificate. Gender identity should also be recorded separately if that differs from this. For consistency, this is based on the classifications used in the 2021 census for England and Wales.

Since implementing this guidance, the UK Statistics Authority has launched its own review on guidance given on the recording of sex, and that is expected to report this year. The Home Office will consider the new guidance in deciding whether or not changes are needed to the recording of the sex of victims and perpetrators dealt with by the police, including whether to move from the existing voluntary basis to a mandatory footing. I suggest that we do not need to amend the Bill to achieve what the noble Baroness seeks, in the light of the action under way to help address this issue. I hope she will feel a little more comforted than she was earlier as a result of what I have been able to say.

My Lords, I gather that I am supposed to speak now, because I moved an amendment to the amendment. I did not realise that I would be responding, so I am sorry if I do not do it terribly competently. I thank the noble Earl for his very full reply, and all noble Lords who have spoken, particularly in support of my amendments. I shall be brief because I am conscious that there is other business waiting.

On training, I agree with the noble Earl on one thing, which is the importance of culture. But culture does not just come out of thin air—and, judging by what the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, there will be a more amalgamated amendment on training coming down the track. She is nodding, so I am afraid we still think we need something in the Bill on that subject, but perhaps something broader than the original amendment.

On no recourse to public funds—this is not surprising, and I do not blame the noble Earl—what we have heard is what the Minister said in the Commons, which I argued against as inadequate. We just had the same again. That is what happens so often. There is an argument in the Commons, we argue why that is not enough, and then we get the same argument again.

I asked some specific questions, which I will not repeat now, but again, perhaps a broader letter could be sent to noble Lords covering the different things that were asked about. On the firewall, again there is the sense that we just go round in circles. When I asked for clarification on the protocol promised for early 2024, the Minister talked about later this year, which sounds rather ominous. It sounds later than early 2024.

So it feels that on both the recourse to public funds—the noble Lord, Lord German, spelled out at great length the saga on this and the history of it—and on the firewall, that we are just waiting for Godot. We just wait and wait and get nowhere. I do not know whether the domestic abuse commissioner is watching, but she will definitely read the debate and will be extremely disappointed, because the Minister may say that legislation is not necessary, but organisations on the ground such as Southall Black Sisters, which has been cited, and the domestic abuse commissioner feel very strongly that legislation is needed. It is disappointing, but I will leave it at that. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment to the amendment.

Amendment 76 (to Amendment 75) withdrawn.

Amendment 77 (to Amendment 75) not moved.

Amendment 75 withdrawn.

House resumed.