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Victims and Prisoners Bill

Volume 837: debated on Tuesday 16 April 2024

Report (1st Day)

Clause 1: Meaning of “victim”

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out “a person” and insert “any adult or child”

My Lords, this will be a mercifully brief group and I will speak primarily to Amendment 1 in my name, which has the great virtue of complete and utter simplicity. It was an attempt to get His Majesty’s Government to recognise that children are different from adults and have different needs and requirements. I am glad to say that in the discussions we have been having, particularly between the Children’s Commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner and the Minister and his team, we have made significant progress in recognising in various places in the Bill that children have particular needs and are a particular group that needs to be thought of in a particular way. The reason behind that is simply the need to recognise children’s unique and special characteristics.

I suspect that, like many of us, one has been to meetings where different charities and others that help children have brought parliamentarians together to listen to the experience of victims. It is pretty searing to hear directly from victims who have suffered a whole variety of terrible things happening to them, but particularly searing is listening to children who have experienced this. Some of us who have been working in this area were privileged to listen to some of those children, who very bravely spoke about their experiences, some of which were truly shocking. In one instance we not only had a victim talking powerfully but immediately after that we had the victim’s mother talking about the effect that it had had on her child and her family. In this instance, it was made even more ghastly by the fact that the perpetrator of her daughter was actually one of her grandfathers. It was almost unimaginable.

The needs of children who have gone through that sort of trauma are very specific. However well intended it may be to say that we will allow children to have access to what are essentially adult services, those services may be very good at treating adults but children are definitely different. Done well with individuals, psychologists and trained people who really know how to deal with children sensitively, the outcomes can be hugely better than well-intended interventions by people who, frankly, are not qualified to do so. I am hoping to hear from the Minister at the Dispatch Box on not only the amendments that the Government have brought in but, more broadly, the Government’s intention to try to do everything they can for children. On that basis, I beg to move.

My Lords, I tried to add my name to this amendment but in fact I was on holiday, staying with my daughter in Spain. The suggestion that I sent put me on to Amendment 2 instead of Amendment 1, but I strongly support Amendment 1.

I was for many years a family judge and President of the Family Division. I spent a great and uncomfortable part of my time hearing about the sexual abuse of children, very seldom from the children, though occasionally, but otherwise from the doctors—the paediatricians and psychiatrists—on the trauma suffered by children. Since I left being a judge, on a number of occasions I have met those adults who cannot forget, 20, 30 or 40 years later, what hit them sometime around the age of eight, 12 or 14. The trauma is shocking; it may be short, medium or, for many, long. Those who live with it are never quite the same.

We therefore have to look at what we do for children in the Bill, and this is the purpose of the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, has put down. I support it for those reasons, given my own experience over 35 years in different parts of being a judge, where I lived that at second hand. I have to tell the House that judges obviously do not cry in court—except one, once—but I sat in my room sometimes in floods of tears from hearing what happened to these children. I strongly support this amendment.

My Lords, I too have added my name to Amendment 1. The great thing about following my noble friend Lord Russell is that I need to say very little. The beauty of this is its simplicity. We have talked about this again and again, and I thank the Ministers for their hard work and the very collegiate attitude we have had. People have come to an agreement and the Government have given a lot. However, it is so beautifully simple to change “a person” to “any adult or child”. There is a lot of talk about how, if you start doing that, where do you stop? But “any adult or child” is perfect.

My Lords, we discussed this in Committee. Since then, a decision of the Court of Appeal comprehensively rejected the rather eccentric argument that a child is not a person. In fact, reading that judgment, it is quite clear that there was never any doubt that a child is a person. The Oxford English Dictionary definition, which was quoted, defines a person as:

“An individual human being; a man, woman, or child”.

The purist would say that this amendment is unnecessary, but I suggest thinking about it a little more deeply, and that the arguments we have heard in support of the amendment, which makes it clear that children are individually and separately covered by the Bill, should ultimately carry the day.

My Lords, as we begin Report, from these Liberal Democrat Benches I thank the Minister and his fellow Ministers for talking to noble Lords in the short time between Committee and the commencement of Report. We understand that this has been difficult during the Easter Recess, but it has been extremely helpful to hear the Government say where they are and are not prepared to make some progress on closing the gap between themselves and others across this House on this important Bill.

This group, as has already been outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and other noble Lords, relates to the importance of ensuring that child victims are recognised as having different needs and services available to them under the victims’ code and this Bill. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, echoes that made in Committee specifically changing the definition of victim to “any adult or child”.

Amendment 21 and others tabled by the Minister choose a different definition:

“victims who are under the age of 18 or who have protected characteristics”.

I am grateful to the Minister for that addition because, as somebody with a protected characteristic—in my case, a disability—it makes it clear that age alone does not cover some of the particular vulnerabilities faced by those with protected characteristics. In this case I am thinking of those over the age of 18 with an intellectual disability, who may need a heightened level of support under the code. However, there is a broader point that we welcome from these Benches. Under the terms of the Equality Act 2010, those with protected characteristics have enhanced rights in relation to crimes against them, because of their protected characteristics. We welcome that. Can the Minister explain why the government amendments are phrased the way they are and why the Government are therefore still resisting the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell?

My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell. I spoke extensively on including such a provision on children in the Bill because of the information I received from children’s charities, which explained to us the importance of including it. It is vital for them in their work, and I trust what they say. The Minister has been extremely helpful in moving this forward. Having children at the forefront, as I said, is vital, and I hope the Government will accept the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell.

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for his extensive consultation with me and colleagues on my side of the House, and with many other noble Lords who have taken an active interest in the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Russell, very adequately set out his amendment. It is not a matter for me, but my understanding is that he is unlikely to push it to a vote. If he were to do so, we would not support it, as I have explained to the noble Lord. Having said that, I acknowledge that there has been wide consultation and the Government are moving their own amendments in this group. I look forward to hearing the Minister's explanation of his amendments.

I will briefly touch on the personal testimony of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, about her life as a family judge. I will also touch on what the noble Lord, Lord Russell, said about the meetings he went to with the victims, which I also attended. But I want to say something a little bit different. Of course, it was extremely upsetting, but I have to say that I was absolutely amazed by the resilience of the victims we spoke to and their keenness to help other child victims who still come forward today. I found that extremely admirable.

This is the first group, and we will be moving on to more contentious issues in subsequent groups. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for moving his amendment, and those who have spoken in support of it. In particular, I thank the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for her sobering words. I also salute the courage of the children who have participated in discussions about the progress of the Bill. I say to them: you have achieved quite a lot by participating in this discussion.

As I hope to explain to the House, the Government are absolutely clear that victims who are children have particular experiences of criminality that are different from the adult experience. They have different needs from adult victims and they therefore require a different approach. That, as I hope to explain, is fully recognised.

That said, the amendment in itself is not one the Government can support, for the simple reason that children are already included as victims under Part 1 of the Bill. The Government’s view is that that is manifestly clear, as a matter of legal drafting, across the statute book. As the noble Lord, Lord Meston, has just pointed out, “person” includes “child” and that is beyond argument. That is the customary usage across the whole statute book, and the Government are not persuaded that we need to make an exception in this case.

On the technical matter of legal drafting, as I have just emphasised, children are in a very special position when it comes to the victims’ code. That is why the current code sets out specific provisions for child victims and others who are considered vulnerable or intimidated. Those are known at the moment as enhanced rights. That is also why we have committed—and I therefore recommit the Government—to ensuring that the new victims’ code, which will go out to consultation as soon as we have Royal Assent, fully addresses the needs of child victims in particular. We shall seek views on the proposals regarding children in that public consultation.

I come to the government amendments in this group. In particular, we have listened carefully to the arguments for greater assurances as to the Government’s intentions, which is why we are proposing government Amendment 21, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, which will ensure that the Secretary of State must consider whether different provision is required in the code as a result of the particular needs of children, now defined as those under the age of 18, and those with protected characteristics, when the new code is prepared and during any future revisions to the code. Although this group is about children, I entirely take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about other vulnerable persons, who are also covered by Amendment 21. That is a perfectly fair point, and one that the Government have well in mind.

The Government are delighted to have worked constructively with the Children’s Commissioner to consider how the victims’ code can better reflect the distinct needs and experiences of child victims. I am pleased that the noble Baroness expressed personally to me the other day her strong support for this amendment and her personal appreciation of the Government’s work in this area.

To move on through the Bill, in addition, Clause 11 requires the Secretary of State to issue guidance for agencies delivering code awareness and compliance duties, which will specifically include guidance on how sensitively and effectively to gather information on children. Clause 13 states that commissioners under the duty to collaborate must consider the specific needs of children when preparing their joint needs assessments and local strategy. Clause 15 requires the same when issuing guidance on support roles. I hope noble Lords might accept that we now have, in the Bill itself and prospectively in the revised code, very full provision for children.

The word “children” is a slightly colloquial term—it can mean a number of things to different people—so, for absolute clarity, we have tabled amendments to change the references to “children” in Clauses 11, 13 and 15 to

“individuals who are under the age of 18”

to make it clear that there is a very clear legal cut-off for the special requirements of children, which is those under the age of 18. Those are Amendments 54, 63 and 74.

Finally, I add also that we have heard the concerns about young victims not always being able to engage with the code or understand the sometimes overcomplicated documents that the Government produce. On behalf of the Government, I commit to developing an accessible version of the new code—a “child-friendly” version, if I may refer to it colloquially—which we also intend to consult on post Royal Assent, as we recognise that we can do more to improve the accessibility of these provisions for children themselves.

All that said, I think I have already explained that the Government do not, for what I must confess is a somewhat technical reason, but a real reason none the less, support the proposal to change the drafting as suggested in Amendment 1. But I hope that I have sufficiently explained the supreme importance of children, and the Government’s recognition of that importance.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. What a change of atmosphere in the Chamber from the business that we had earlier on this afternoon—long may it continue. I pay tribute to the Minister and his colleagues for the amount of time and effort that they have put into this issue. While this amendment may not be perfect in the legal sense, its sheer simplicity has helped to galvanise the debate to make it clear how important it is that children are identified clearly as a group. It has achieved its purpose in that sense.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, talked about meeting those child victims and how struck he was by their resilience. The moment he said that, I reflected on it, and I asked myself why they were so resilient. In large part the reason why they were so resilient is, first, down to the individuals themselves but, secondly, due to the fact that all the victims who spoke to us had had the benefit of working with highly specialised help in the major children’s charities. That had helped them to emerge from the unspeakable traumas that they had experienced, to the extent that they could stand up in front of a group of probably slightly intimidating parliamentarians and they were able to speak clearly, without undue emotion and with great clarity and force, about their experience and how important it was for us to understand what we need to do as parliamentarians in this Bill to enable as many other victims as possible to benefit from the support that they had received. That was the key message that I got from that.

I welcome the idea of having an accessible version of the victims’ code for children. It occurs to me that probably quite a lot of adults—including those in the agencies that are tasked with trying to enforce it—could do with an accessible version of the victims’ code. A lot of evidence over the years has shown that many of those officials charged with enacting the victims’ code, when put on the spot and asked about in detail, actually do not know very much about it. An accessible version for adults might be an idea.

I thank the Minister for having been so helpful. I think that we have moved forward in the right direction. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendment 2

Moved by

2: Clause 1, page 1, line 14, at end insert “, including the death by homicide of a British national outside the United Kingdom”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would provide bereaved victims of homicide abroad with the same support given to victims of homicide within the UK in recognition of the distress they experience and which is exacerbated by having to deal with the criminal justice systems of foreign jurisdictions.

My Lords, in speaking to Amendment 2, I shall speak also to other amendments in the group.

Amendment 2 deals with the victims of a homicide that has taken place outside the United Kingdom. I am very glad to see the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, behind me, as this amendment was in her name in Committee and, but for a slip of the pen, she would be the person standing here speaking, rather than me. However, because we wanted to get this amendment down, it has my name on it, so she will speak in due course about this, very knowledgeably indeed.

In essence, this amendment seeks to ensure that victims of homicide outside the United Kingdom are guaranteed to receive adequate support and are provided for adequately in the victims’ code. At the moment, no single UK agency has an overarching view of the end-to-end experience of victims of homicide abroad. Families fall through the gaps between the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Ministry of Justice, the jurisdiction of the crime and our own police. I am aware that the Government are likely to argue that expanding the remit of the code will bring cost and place greater pressure on services, but we would suggest that the cost is relatively minimal. We are looking at between 60 and 80 cases in total per annum, and the number of cases has been going down year on year. That is less than 0.01% of the total number of victims in the UK.

There is a precedent for giving victims of crime abroad access to criminal injuries compensation. Since 2015, if a victim is killed by a terrorist, the family has a legal right to claim compensation. We can see no apparent rationale for differentiating between victims of terrorism and other victims of homicide. To those bereaved families, murder is murder.

We feel strongly that the FCDO must be included as an agency with accountability under the code. The joint memorandum between the Foreign Office, the MoJ and the police, which is currently a document that does not have legal status, must be incorporated within the code. That is what this amendment seeks to achieve.

Three successive and very distinguished Victims’ Commissioners have all been very strongly in favour of this amendment, and remain so. I am talking about the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, who unfortunately cannot be with us today, as well as Dame Vera Baird and the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. If three Victims’ Commissioners, who, in total, have been arguing the case for this for the past 16 or 17 years, are still arguing for it and still feel passionately that it is something that needs to be addressed, that has a certain force. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say at the Dispatch Box.

By mistake, we put down Amendment 3 and Amendment 6, which the Public Bill Office discovered this morning were identical—better late than never. I will speak to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, on anti-social behaviour and trying to ensure that victims of persistent anti-social behaviour are recognised as victims and provided with their own victims’ code rights. The evidence is that anti-social behaviour is quite frequently, in relative terms, trivialised by criminal justice agencies. We have had evidence from a great many different people about the devastating impact that that can have. Time and again, we also hear that victims are told that they have to put up with it: “If you can’t take the heat, why don’t you think about moving house?” That is not an adequate way of telling a somewhat traumatised victim of anti-social behaviour that that is the best that can be done for them. Effectively, it means that they have to help themselves.

This amendment would ensure that a victim who meets the anti-social behaviour case review threshold is referred to victim support services and receives the help they need. I know the Minister is well aware of the scale of the problem and that work is being done at the moment to try to achieve a resolution, but I commend this amendment as part of the debate to try to move this forward and see whether we can get something done. Again, I look forward to his comments on this.

I will speak briefly to Amendment 8 on child criminal exploitation, as others will cover it. Creating a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation would create a degree of understanding across agencies and professions that at the moment is not clear. If you asked a variety of people what child criminal exploitation was, you would get slightly different answers. In the interests of children, we feel that that is simply wrong. We need complete clarity on what it is and how it should be dealt with, and that is not the case at the moment. There is some way to go to make this happen. I look forward to hearing the contributions of others to this debate, but for now I beg to move.

My Lords, I am most grateful for the way that my noble friend Lord Russell introduced these amendments. I will speak to Amendment 2, which I tabled in Committee. I am also grateful to the Minister for having arranged a meeting for me, the noble Baronesses, Lady Newlove and Lady Brinton, and others with officials from his department, and for the positive conversation that took place.

I remind the House that there is more than one murder a week abroad, involving different countries, languages and legal systems, and very different circumstances. The report from the All-Party Group on Deaths Abroad, Consular Services and Assistance showed that there is a lack of consistency in contact and communication with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. It highlights that there are protocols but that these inconsistencies seem to override them. There are particular inconsistencies about reporting a death and methods of communication. Staff rotation in the FCDO means that people are sometimes repeating their story time and again, which results in secondary victimisation, as they are retraumatised by having to repeat the same story to different people. In some countries, legal processes are very rapid and there are huge language barriers. Sometimes people have been given a list of lawyers with no details about their ability to speak English or even their specialisation, and have found themselves referred to a legal team who do not know much about homicide. In one case I came across, they knew about conveyancing property, which was completely inappropriate.

After all that, there is a real problem with repatriation of the body, which can be very expensive. Some people have had to resort to crowdfunding because there is no assistance. The other problem that families face when they come back to this country is that, if there have been difficulties with the body or it has been disposed of abroad somehow, they then have to prove that the death has happened and the veracity of whatever processes went on.

I am most grateful to the charity Murdered Abroad for an extensive briefing, which I will not go through because this is Report. It is very keen to work with the FCDO. It has a great deal of experience and could be involved in training and drawing up clear protocols. It could provide the resource, which would not be expensed to the FCDO; in fact, it would probably be cost-effective because it would avoid duplication of work that is going on. It could ensure good communication skills and the language and translation that need to occur. One problem with having a small team in the FCDO is that staff change and move on and collective memory, which is really important, is lost.

I am grateful to the Minister for communicating that he does not intend to accept this amendment, but I hope that in reply he will take forward that officials need clear protocols, with good education, liaison and learning from experience, rather than simply to be responding to cases as they come in from all over the world to embassies or consulates. Sometimes they come to somebody quite junior who happens to be on duty that day. The whole thing could be better streamlined and support should be given when they come back to this country.

My Lords, I have put my name to Amendment 2 and would have liked to put my name to Amendment 8. I do not need to say much about Amendment 2 because it has been extremely well explained by the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. I support everything they have said.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has not yet spoken to Amendment 8, but a very good example of this, and of slavery, is children who are called “county lines”. We regularly get situations around the country of children, largely in housing estates and often from families with very little money, who become carriers of drugs. Because the cities and big towns are inundated with drugs, they carry them, for money, to small towns and villages. Only relatively recently has the National Crime Agency appreciated that these are children who are exploited and, very often, victims of modern slavery, rather than children who are committing offences and to be put before the magistrates’ court, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, will understand very well. Of course, county lines is not the only situation in which children are exploited. This is a worthy point to make and I very much support it.

My Lords, I thank all noble colleagues and friends around the House who have spoken about such an important area: victims murdered abroad. I also thank my noble and learned friend the Minister and his officials for meeting me and other Peers, as was highlighted, to discuss this amendment and how we might find a way forward. I am grateful to the officials who have worked with my office to see whether there is scope for compromise.

As has already been said, to lose a loved one to homicide is truly devastating, and I stand here because I know that only too well. When the death happens in the UK, the system wraps itself around you, and you are guided through what can feel like a surreal process of inquests, court hearings and meetings with the police, barristers and support workers. However, when that death happens in another country, as is the case for just 60 to 80 families a year, why is it that the experience is very different, when these are UK citizens? They are suddenly confronted with an alien legal system, a different language and logistical problems, such as finding out how to get the body returned or what is happening with the police investigation—all at a time when they are trying to support each other while grieving and not having a clue where to go next.

They will also discover that here in the UK—the country they call home, where they have lived all their life and where they pay their taxes—they are not formally recognised as a victim of crime and the victims’ code does not apply to them. They may have a family liaison officer, a coroner’s inquest and access to the national Homicide Service. If the perpetrator is repatriated, the victim’s family will be offered access to the victim contact scheme. That sounds well, but they do not fall within the victims’ code; they have no statutory entitlements.

Instead, they are reliant on discretionary support. A family liaison officer may be allocated to them, but only at the discretion of the chief constable of that force. Access to the national Homicide Service is at the discretion of the Justice Secretary. Access to financial assistance appears to be at the discretion of caseworkers. Any support that they receive from the victim contact scheme is entirely discretionary; it is not set out anywhere in law. Neither will they have a code of practice that they can refer to. The agencies that work with these victims—the police, the FCDO and the MoJ—have a memorandum of understanding, on which I worked alongside those agencies, but that document is for officials to use and is not intended for victims.

Clearly, the UK victims’ code cannot apply to a foreign jurisdiction. I recognise that, as do the victims’ families. I am calling for the discretionary support offered by UK agencies here at home to fall within the remit of the UK victims’ code. I want to see these families—whom I have sat with and listened to for many years—move from discretion to statutory entitlements, all clearly set out in a legal document with which compliance is a legal requirement. Where agencies fail to comply, there should be clear lines of accountability. As has been said, the costs of such a move are miniscule but the impact on the families would be huge. For the first time, they would be part of the British justice system, which is where they belong.

To close, I will leave your Lordships with this thought. I know that the Minister, whom I admire greatly, will tell the House that this amendment would create a precedent. However, in 2015, following the Sousse terrorist attack on UK holidaymakers on a beach in Tunisia, the Government, directed by the Prime Minister, set up a cross-government task force, of which I was a member, to co-ordinate support for the victims and their families. It achieved a great deal in a short space of time. It even established a compensation scheme for them. It showed me that, where there is a political will, we can move mountains. Today, I am not asking noble Lords to move mountains; I am asking them to show the political will to bring these families, who find themselves in exactly the same situation as the Sousse families, in from the cold and give them the legal entitlements they rightly deserve.

My Lords, I will speak very briefly to Amendments 5 and 8, to which I have added my name. One of the things that has changed hugely over my adult lifetime is an understanding of just how lifelong traumatising events that take place in childhood are. For that reason, we need to be very clear and careful when working with children.

In the current legislation, there are the things on the statute book that refer, in different places, to child criminal exploitation, but the definitions given there are not consistent. In the previous debate, the Minister very wisely spoke about the need to have materials that are clearly understandable by children, but we need to be equally clear about when a child falls under the terms of this Bill as somebody who ought to receive support because they are a victim of child criminal exploitation. At the moment, the conflicting definitions in other bits of legislation do not give us that clearly enough. Therefore, I urge your Lordships to support the amendments, which will give us a clear definition that will help to support children. Even if just one or two children fall through the net as a result of not having a clear definition, their lives would be scarred worse than they would be otherwise—and for ever.

My Lords, I have Amendment 7 in this group and have also signed Amendments 3 to 5 and 8. I will refer to Amendment 7 and then briefly cover the others.

My Amendment 7 is similar to the one I tabled in Committee. I thank the Minister for arranging for Restitute CIC, which is championing the amendment, and me to have a meeting with his officials, and for his recent letter to me. I am disappointed that the Government are not going further by producing their own amendment, but I hope that there will be recognition soon that family members who relive the experience of their loved ones, as they help them to recover, may actually be victims themselves. Many have had mental health support themselves and have had to give up work. Often, other family relationships have been fractured, and the lives of all involved have been completely and utterly changed. I am disappointed by the lack of progress and feel that this is something that will keep coming back to bother Ministers as more Bills come down the line in the criminal justice area.

We have heard some very moving contributions on Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, on homicide abroad; a similar amendment was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in Committee. I also thank the Minister for his extremely helpful meeting. We really need to support this amendment because the sort of service that the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, described, which was set up specifically for one particular tragedy, is absolutely vital. We heard from officials that, in theory, the arrangements are in place through co-ordinators to make sure that those links are made. But in practice, without formal guidance for every single department that victims will come to, there are far too many holes and victims’ families are absolutely not getting the help that they need. I hope that the Minister will consider that in future.

On Amendments 5 and 8 on child criminal exploitation, I remind your Lordships’ House that Home Office data from 2023 sets out that more than 7,000 referrals relating to children have been made to the national referral mechanism, the framework for identifying potential victims of modern slavery and criminal exploitation. That was an increase of 45% since 2011. The most common reason for referral was criminal exploitation. However, the problem is that the lack of a legal definition means that there is no effective data collection across the UK; there is a patchwork of data, which includes just the tip of the iceberg. A statutory definition of CCE is essential in ensuring a consistent understanding of and response to child criminal exploitation across the country by all agencies and sectors. Crucially, the experts think that will help to identify exploited children more quickly.

I turn now to anti-social behaviour. We have not heard yet from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, but the very moving speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, in Committee set out the reality of the devastating consequences of repeated and escalating anti-social behaviour. I will not repeat what has already been said today in your Lordships’ House, but we on these Benches will support the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, if he wishes to test the opinion of the House.

My Lords, I will first address Amendment 2, which was so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Russell. I picked up from the debate on Amendment 2 the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, about the lack of appropriateness of existing protocols and how they have been designed for a specific situation, whereas in fact murders abroad happen in a huge variety of situations, for all the reasons that she outlined. I think what the noble Baroness was really asking the Minister was that he undertakes to encourage the Foreign Office and other affected government departments to better devise protocols to deal with these situations. I think that was the meat of the argument we heard regarding Amendment 2.

Amendment 3, which is in my name and which has also been spoken to by other signatories to it, is the anti-social behaviour amendment. I too remember the very poignant speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, in Committee. Again, I know that the Minister is sympathetic to this, but there needs to be a step change on the Government’s behalf in acknowledging the cumulative effect of anti-social behaviour, both criminal and non-criminal, and how this can be cumulatively assessed to make sure that the appropriate services are utilised for the victims of anti-social behaviour.

There was a particular question which I did not get an answer to, about the use of callouts by the police of non-criminal anti-social behaviours and whether those callouts, which are recorded by the police, can be used in prosecutions to try to build a picture when assessing a particular case which is brought to court. I made the point to the Minister that this approach is used in domestic abuse cases, as well as in family law cases, as I regularly see. I just say to the Minister that this could be used, first, to increase the likelihood of getting convictions but also to demonstrate that the country and the police are taking this behaviour very seriously, doing something and putting in specific measures to try to crack down on anti-social behaviour—and I have to say that I will seek the opinion of the House on Amendment 3 in due course.

Amendments 5 and 8 deal with child criminal exploitation; Amendment 8 is the definition of child criminal exploitation. A number of noble Lords made the point about the variability of definitions in different parts of government. The particular example I have here is that there is a working definition in the Home Office, in the Working Together guidance, a separate definition in the national referral mechanism, and there are other definitions in other parts of government. The point which a number of noble Lords and the right reverend Prelate have made is that, if there is a single definition, it will make the working response more effective. In addition, there is the point which the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, made, which is that it will make data collection more effective as well.

In a sense, we do not really know the scale of this problem. I have heard a lot of rhetoric on this, and I have used a bit of it myself over the years. However, we do not really have a sense of the scale of it. Just to go back to the point that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, made about the victims of modern slavery and county lines and all the rest of it, in the last few years we have seen the total overwhelming of the national referral mechanism as so many of our young people are referred into that assessment mechanism before the charges are either dropped or brought to court. Certainly, my experience as a youth magistrate is that it has added to a huge delay in bringing cases to court, which is very unfortunate but nevertheless gives an indication of the scale of the problem. Again, I will be seeking the opinion of the House on Amendment 5 and the consequential Amendment 8, as I think it is something where we can make a very specific change in the Bill that will greatly enhance our understanding of the problem itself and, I hope, enhance our ability to address this problem.

In conclusion, on Amendment 7 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, she said that family members may well be victims themselves. I listened to what she said and I understand that the Minister will acknowledge the issue but not concede on it. However, I agree with her that this issue may well come back. I understand that it is difficult to try to quantify this, so in a sense I am sympathetic to the Minister and to the noble Baroness—but there we go. However, as far as this group is concerned, in due course I will be testing the opinion of the House.

My Lords, apologies; I have a migraine and I think the medication has messed with my head. I meant to talk also to Amendments 3 and 6.

Although, again, I appreciate all the informal meetings and the meetings with my office, I still wish to make a point about the impact of anti-social behaviour. It is generally accepted that victims of persistent anti-social behaviour can suffer enormous anguish and harm. Indeed, that is the rhetoric that we hear, but people really do not grasp and do not see what is underneath. I say this because I have met many victims who are unable, sadly, to live in their own home: parents who tell me their teenage children have had to leave the family home sooner than otherwise to escape distress, and grandparents who are no longer able to look after grandchildren in their own home as they fear for their well-being. This is first hand from the very people who suffer on a daily basis. The intolerable strain this behaviour can have on personal relationships, the adverse effect it can have on children’s behaviour in school, the terrible difficulties for adults coping with this stress while holding down employment—all this is due to the trauma caused by persistent anti-social behaviour.

One of the recurring messages I hear from these victims is that they feel they are going through this nightmare entirely alone. All too often, police officers, housing officers and local government officials who are dealing with their complaints fail to recognise the level of harm being caused. In many cases, these officials even fail to acknowledge that the victims are being wronged. Some police officers are all too quick to tell the victim that it must be six of one and half a dozen of the other, no doubt in an attempt to avoid investigating the complaints. Let me tell noble Lords that that statement can have a devastating effect on the victim.

Yet, as was acknowledged by the Minister and officials when we met last week, the vast majority of these victims are victims of crime. As such, under the victims’ code, they are entitled to receive support from victims’ services. Yet I know that all too often, victims are not advised of this, nor is any referral made. Why not? Because the police do not want to tackle the issue through criminal action against the perpetrators. A victim’s entitlement to support does not depend on a decision by a police officer on what action, if any, they plan to take against the perpetrators. Once the action of the perpetrator reaches the criminal threshold, the victims’ code entitlements are automatically activated.

The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Russell, seeks to plug this gap. I recognise that there are many other ways in which we can achieve this objective. It is hugely reassuring that this amendment has prompted a discussion between Ministers and officials in the MoJ and the Home Office. I look forward to hearing my noble friend the Minister’s response to these discussions and hope that the measures which he sets out today provide reassurance, not only to this House but to the many victims of anti-social behaviour across this country, who have suffered alone and are sitting in silence as we speak about this behaviour today.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this part of the debate, where we are discussing extending the definition of “victim” and providing mechanisms for dealing with four different areas: anti-social behaviour; child criminal exploitation; victims abroad; and carers of victims of serious sexual and violent crime. I thank noble Lords for their thanks and reciprocate to everyone in the House, on all sides, who has collaborated with the Government generally on trying to move this Bill forward.

It is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, that the Government lack sympathy for the various points that have been made—quite the contrary. For various reasons, some technical, some substantive, the Government do not feel that the statutory amendments in this group are the right way to go in changing the statute, as distinct from other means of addressing the issue.

I will deal first with anti-social behaviour, and pick up some of the most moving remarks that the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, has just made, The Government have listened very carefully to these concerns. The impact of persistent anti-social behaviour, and the need to deal with it, is very firmly on the Government’s radar. However, the first point to make is that which the noble Baroness has just made: almost all cases of persistent anti-social behaviour of the kind that are causing real damage are already criminal conduct. In a most moving letter to me of 4 April, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, made exactly the same point, saying that this is already a crime, and so people are already entitled to the protection and services available under the code. The question is how we do this in practice. How do we join the dots, if I may put it like that, and overcome the widespread fallacy that because the police have not done anything one is no longer a victim? The police not having done anything does not mean that victim services should not be available. That is the practical problem that we are facing.

At the moment, the Government are not persuaded that this amendment would solve the practical problem. It has one significant disadvantage—possibly an inadvertent disadvantage—in that it would extend the code to non-criminal behaviour that falls within the context of anti-social behaviour. With cases of loud music and so forth, which really is a nuisance, such lesser kinds of anti-social behaviour would benefit from the victims’ code. In the Government’s view, that is not a good or desirable result, because it would mean extending victim services, which are already very stretched, away from the really serious problems and difficulties that victims are facing to lower levels of anti-social behaviour. That is perhaps an unintended consequence but not one that the Government particularly want to encourage via this amendment. Therefore, the amendment is too widely drawn.

To step back, rather than going down the route of this amendment the Government propose, in line with other improvements to the code in other areas, to update the anti-social guidance where necessary to ensure that, when a crime is identified, victims are informed of their entitlements under the victims’ code. The Government’s intention is to explore and consult on how best to make clear in the new victims’ code that its entitlements apply to persistent anti-social behaviour where the criminal threshold is met and that police are required to refer people to support services regardless of whether there is sufficient evidence to charge or whether they are going to pursue any particular action. If we get the code right on this point, it will help victims and service providers to recognise that failing to refer these victims to support services could be a breach of the new duty—which we will discuss in the next group—to act in accordance with the code.

On top of that, the code’s compliance mechanisms, at Clauses 6 to 11, will shine a light where non-compliance issues are found to be systemic. That will enable robust additional tools and steps to be brought to bear when agencies fall short. As we will explain in the next session, the Victims’ Commissioner will play a very central role in overseeing this new code, and be consulted on all its aspects and on ensuring that we join the dots and that this problem finally is tackled.

In addition, the Criminal Justice Bill, currently making its way through the other place, particularly in Clause 81, addresses some of the existing concerns and processes to tackle, among other things, persistent anti-social behaviour, including promoting awareness of the review process and setting out more consistently what local policing bodies have to do, so that victims can expect a more consistent service.

Rather than going down one particular way of dealing with this problem, which is the subject in the amendment, and which may have unintended and too wide consequences, the Government’s position is to tackle this through the code. We will continue, of course, to engage with the Victims’ Commissioner and seek her views on our work in this area. She is particularly well placed to help the code, the Government, the local police forces and so forth develop proper mechanisms for joining up these dots.

There are parts of the country where this is working quite well, so let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Because of the way in which the assessments will be made, and because of the oversight that is envisaged in the structure of the Bill, there will be ways of bringing the less well-performing police forces and local services up to the level of those that do it properly. That will ensure that victims know how to access these services.

Let us not forget that there is a wider anti-social behaviour action plan, which goes hand in hand with this. There has been £160 million of new funding to tackle anti-social behaviour. With these various routes and approaches, and determination to tackle the area, that is the Government’s position. We respectfully suggest that it is a more positive, sensible, broadly based and effective way of doing it than this amendment, well-intentioned though it is. That is the Government’s position on anti-social behaviour.

On child criminal exploitation, the first and obvious point to make is that there is again no doubt that a child who has been criminally exploited in the way that we are discussing is already a victim under the Bill and is already covered by the definition of a victim, because they will have suffered harm as a direct result of criminal conduct or will have seen, heard or otherwise directly experienced the effects of criminal conduct. That is made absolutely clear in, among other things, the Home Office guidance on the subject, which was published in October 2023. I should say to noble Lords that a great deal of guidance on all this area was updated at the end of last year, which may not have entirely crossed everybody’s radar. The Home Office guidance says that

“individuals who have been groomed and exploited into criminal activity have not freely chosen to be involved, cannot consent to being exploited and so should be seen as victims first and foremost”.

That is the Home Office position, and it is the Government’s position: these children are already victims. Indeed, adults who have engaged with children in these circumstances are committing offences—probably under the Serious Crime Act, the Misuse of Drugs Act or the Modern Slavery Act. So the position of child criminal exploitation is fully recognised as a real problem and children should be recognised as victims.

Beyond that, there is already extensive government guidance explaining child criminal exploitation for front-line practitioners working with children, including in Keeping Children Safe in Education 2023, published by the DfE, which is directed to schools and colleges, and Working Together to Safeguard Children 2023, which is directed to local authorities and the police and was last updated in December 2023. So, again, it is the Government’s position that these amendments, although put forward entirely genuinely, do not change what is already there, as the question of what constitutes child criminal exploitation should already be firmly in the heads of those working as front-line practitioners with the detailed guidance. In the Government’s view, simply putting the proposed definition in the Bill would not be a particularly effective way to change practice or lead to more consistent identification of victims or be more responsive.

I am not at all sure that the proposed amendment would much help with collecting data. There is no separate offence of child criminal exploitation; the data is collected under the particular offences, whether that be misuse of drugs or modern slavery or whatever, rather than under a separate heading of “child criminal exploitation”, so I am not sure that, at this stage of our reflections, the data point necessarily takes one much further.

I was trying to make the point that the noble and learned Lord has started to make: there are lots of different agencies involved, and they do not collect the same, consistent data. Something on the face of the Bill would ensure that the data was consistent and would help everybody.

Again, that is going a little bit further than either the amendment or the Bill as it stands, because the collecting of data in this area is a very complicated task, and we know that collecting data in general is quite tricky. What I am saying is that I am not entirely convinced at the moment by the argument put forward by the noble Baroness. In all respects, the Government consider that the amendment would not really take things further. Extending the definition of a victim is unnecessary because the issue is already covered.

I should say a word about the county lines problem. A full county lines programme has been in operation now for some years. The figures I have are that we have had 16,000 arrests and 9,000 safeguarding referrals. The Government are working very hard on dealing with the county lines problem, and there is special support through the county lines programme for children involved in that. It is clearly a difficult area, but it is not that nobody is tackling it. Would the amendment take the issue forward particularly in the county lines situation? I respectfully suggest that that is doubtful. So that is the Government’s position on child criminal exploitation.

On homicides of British nationals abroad, again the Government are entirely sympathetic to the various points that have been made. On a point of detail, since we are talking about what the victims’ code should cover, if the perpetrator of the murder is another British national, then that can be an offence triable in this country and it would trigger the application of the victims’ code. But most of these cases will be where the perpetrator is not a British national, and it seems reasonably clear that, where the offence or murder or homicide is in Ecuador or Peru or South Africa or wherever it is, large parts of the victims’ code by their nature will not be applicable. The various rights to information, the various rights about prosecution decisions and the right to make a personal statement would all, by the nature of the situation, not apply. From a quick look at the victims’ code, rights 1 to 3 and 6 to 11, for example, just would not apply. I think that leaves, essentially, right 4, which is the right to victims services. At the moment, the support available is provided by the Homicide Service, which in the United Kingdom is provided by Victim Support, a most excellent organisation, to which the Foreign Office can refer victims.

So there is already, by proxy, support for victims of homicide abroad, but I think that the complaint is that it is not sufficient. Hearing that complaint, the Government, as we develop the new victims’ code, will review the information provided for bereaved families of victims of homicide abroad so we can be clear what the entitlements of families are. The NPCC, the FCDO and the MoJ have committed to working together to explore separate guidance, to be referenced within the code, specifying the roles and responsibilities of each department and their services. That would act as a public commitment on how they will work together to support bereaved families and, I think, provide the consistent protocol—to use the words that were being used some moments ago—to assist families in this very difficult position.

Finally, in relation to the amendment regarding carers—

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. In the plan he has just outlined of the three departments working together, does he envisage establishing a checklist that FCDO staff in every embassy and consulate will have that will mean they will prospectively know about interpreters and appropriate lawyers who could be pulled in, in the event of there being a homicide in that jurisdiction, so that some of the problems that have arisen to date would be avoided by each consulate and embassy being adequately prepared? Will the education behind that become mandatory guidance, so we would know that, in practice, a clear system had been set up? I would be grateful if he clarified that, because simply the three departments working together here might not influence what happens on the ground elsewhere, learning from the experience of other places.

My Lords, I do not think I can, at the Dispatch Box this evening, commit the Government to proposing such a checklist in that detail, because the details will have to be worked out. However, the Government hear what the noble Baroness says and it is an obvious matter to consider. That is as far as I can go this evening.

Finally, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will forgive me if I take the question of carers a little bit shortly. The central problem with the amendment is the extension of the code and the rather blurred boundaries that might lead to quite a lot of extra resource demands, extra entitlements and so forth, so the Government are not persuaded that we should go as far as that. However, this point is correctly raised as a social and quasi-legal issue, and I can commit that the Government are already working with the Children’s Commissioner specifically on children’s needs and looking afresh at the needs of vulnerable adults ahead of public consultation on the code. I can commit to considering the experience and needs of parents and carers as they support particular victims through the criminal justice system. As to whether that requires further provision, I can commit to carefully considering how the accompanying statutory guidance might best set out how criminal justice bodies can effectively engage with the very important group that the noble Baroness identifies, who are so key to the support of their loved one, the direct victim, but I think that is as far as I can go on this group.

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for summing up so comprehensively —in fact, going over the new Report stage time limit, for which I am grateful. The issues we are talking about, in particular murder abroad, anti-social behaviour and the definition of child criminal exploitation, are long standing and not new; they come back again and again. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, said, in a situation such as in 2015, after the incident in Tunisia, the Government decided that they were going to do something about it, got their act together in short order and demonstrated what is possible if they really put their mind to something. In a sense, that is what we are challenging the Government to do, in separate ways, on each of these issues.

On anti-social behaviour, the Minister talked about joining the dots and getting the code right. He admitted that it is not as joined up as it should be. The problem that I think many of us have with the way the Government are responding to some of these issues is that they keep returning to saying what different agencies and individuals should be doing, but they seem very afraid to say what they must be doing. The common theme in all these areas is that we are challenging the Government. Indeed, what are a Government elected to do—albeit not by noble Lords, because we are not allowed to vote—if not to make things happen? That is really what we are looking for. In the case of anti-social behaviour, if the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, decides to test the opinion of the House I would fully endorse that.

On child criminal exploitation, the updated guidance is fine. The key, as ever, is consistency, and at the moment there is a lack of consistency. The Minister said, and I am quoting, that it should be “in the heads” of front-line practitioners. The fact is that it is not in their heads in the same way for all the key front-line practitioners. That is the complexity. The challenge for the Government is to try to get a degree of consistency in the way child criminal exploitation is understood and dealt with, which is clearly not the case at the moment, so there is more to be done.

I thank my noble friend Lady Finlay very much for what she said about homicides abroad. I take the point about what happens if the perpetrator is not a UK national but, again, if the Government really wanted to put their mind to this, I am sure they could find a way. We are talking about such a small group—60 to 80 individuals per annum. It is not beyond the wit of man, let alone a Government, to focus and try to find a way of ameliorating a situation that has been festering for years and really does need to be dealt with. We also have more to do on carers.

I reiterate that the challenge for the Government is that we are looking for guidance from them as to what must be happening, not simply what should be happening. That has been the case for the last 15 years, and what should be happening is not happening in so many areas. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Amendment 3

Moved by

3: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—

“(e) where the person has experienced anti-social behaviour, as defined by section 2 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, and the conditions necessary for an ASB case review under section 104 of that Act have been met.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would include victims of long-term anti-social behaviour in the statutory definition of a victim.

Amendment 4 not moved.

Amendment 5

Moved by

5: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—

“(e) where the person is a child who is a victim of child criminal exploitation.”

Amendments 6 to 8 not moved.

Clause 2: The victims’ code

Amendment 9

Moved by

9: Clause 2, page 2, line 13, after “functions” insert “of a public nature”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment clarifies that the victims’ code issued under Clause 2 is directed at persons exercising functions of a public nature relating to victims or any aspect of the criminal justice system.

My Lords, in speaking to the relevant government amendments on the victims’ code and compliance, I will summarise the ways in which the Government have strengthened the code and the framework in which the various duties under the code arise.

There are essentially seven points to make quickly. There is a new statutory duty on agencies to act in accordance with the code and a statutory duty to have a complaints procedure. The amendments set out what is now required instead of what “should” happen. There is a duty on Ministers to review the code, and to publish an annual report on compliance and lay that before Parliament. There is a power to issue non-compliance notices, a most important enforcement mechanism. There is significant strengthening of the role of the Victims’ Commissioner, who is empowered to keep under review compliance with the code; has a right to be consulted on all the regulations and guidance, and the code itself; and will also be part of the ministerial task force to enforce the code and the statutory guidance under Clause 11. Those are the various amendments which I will move, but I summarise them as a package so that people can see the whole package as an important strengthening of the code. I hope we have arrived at a very considered position in relation to the status of this code.

I will go through the amendments in turn. Government Amendment 31 would place a statutory duty on relevant agencies to provide services in accordance with the victims’ code unless there is a good reason not to. This duty does not give agencies licence in any way to ignore the code. It allows for a bit of operational discretion to cope with circumstances where the agency is, for whatever reason, short of resources or cannot quite meet the timescale or whatever, but it places that statutory duty firmly on the agencies. In addition, Amendment 31 places a duty on relevant agencies to have complaints procedures for non-compliance with their duty to provide services in accordance with the code. That is a duty that has been elevated from the code into the statute, to demonstrate that complaints must be taken seriously and victims should receive the level of service they are entitled to and deserve. Government Amendments 33, 38, 40, 42, 98 and 99 are consequential on that.

There is a short amendment, Amendment 9, that makes it clear that the victims’ code is applicable only to

“persons exercising functions of a public nature”.

That is a small tidying-up amendment and is, I hope, not controversial.

We have then done a lot of work in Amendments 10 to 12, 14 and 15 to remove the word “should” and, where relevant, replace it with the revised word “require”. This is a point that I think the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, was particularly pertinent on in Committee, and I hope we have recognised the point that was being made there and have amended the relevant clauses accordingly.

The most important amendment is Amendment 44. Ministers now have a duty to review national code compliance, to publish an annual report and, most importantly, to issue non-compliance notifications. If I may say so, this amendment does build on an amendment, in broadly the same direction, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, about what procedures we should have in place for ensuring compliance of one sort or another. The amendment will require Ministers—in practice, the Secretary of State for Justice, the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General, although to the extent that, for example, the Ministry of Defence Police are involved, it might involve the MoD as well—to jointly review agencies’ compliance with the victims’ code and enable them to take action where agencies fall short. It also sets out the important, central role the Victims’ Commissioner will play in that process.

I think I mentioned in Committee a non-legislative commitment to establish a ministerial task force to oversee compliance with the code, and I can now say that we intend to publish the minutes of that task force. Of course, the Victims’ Commissioner will be a member of the task force and thus centrally involved.

To address unsatisfactory compliance, the amendment will provide Ministers with the power to issue and publish non-compliance notifications. That will be an extremely salutary power. It also requires Ministers to prepare and publish an annual report on code compliance and lay it before Parliament—all, of course, in consultation with the Victims’ Commissioner, who will provide independent scrutiny before carrying out either of these actions. The fact that this comes before Parliament is, again, a powerful reinforcement of the code.

Clause 11 provides for statutory guidance, which will include details of how the national oversight system of the ministerial task force will operate, various trigger points for the non-compliance notifications and so forth. The Victims’ Commissioner will be fully involved in that development as part of the task force. Those are fairly central amendments, and Amendments 45, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52 and 53 are consequential on those.

Then we have Amendments 86 and 97, which again refer to the Victims’ Commissioner reviewing national compliance with the code. Government Amendment 86 goes further, updating the Victims’ Commissioner’s functions to include keeping the operation of the code under review, thus bringing that role of the commissioner clearly within the purview of the Bill. That will be discharged through the ministerial task force, as well as the commissioner’s independent actions of oversight and scrutiny. I hope that these amendments demonstrate the Government’s intention to improve the situation for victims. Government Amendment 97 is consequential on what I have just said.

Amendments 25, 28, 36, 39, 41, 43 and 56 in various respects concern the duty to consult on the code and the various code compliance regulations and guidance. They require, in particular, Ministers to consult the Victims’ Commissioner. We have listened carefully to the points made in Committee—notably by my noble friend Lady Newlove, but also by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and others—regarding the specific statutory role of the Victims’ Commissioner. We will introduce these new consultation duties to align directly with the Victims’ Commissioner’s statutory responsibilities and to formalise the independent role of scrutiny of the code that the commissioner undertakes.

Finally, there is the important element of consultation on the code. Amendments 25 and 28 place a duty on the Secretary of State to consult the Victims’ Commissioner and Welsh Ministers when preparing or amending the victims’ code, to ensure that the code takes fully into account the systems operating across both England and Wales. Government Amendment 37, which is important, is the feedback amendment. It will facilitate the collection of victim feedback on code compliance by a third party in relation to criminal justice bodies, if required. That will allow Ministers effectively jointly to direct certain bodies to provide specified information to a third party for the purposes of enabling or assisting them to collect victim feedback. That is going to be an important mechanism for following how we develop these various mechanisms.

If I may, I will take this opportunity to reply to a query my office received recently from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about whether this interfered with data protection legislation in any way. The answer is no. Clause 26 makes it perfectly clear that all data protection is subject to data protection regulation. The code compliance duty already involves the collection of information and sharing it between bodies. Victim feedback is a vital part of this and is going to provide very important insight into the experiences of victims. This amendment will give us flexibility on how that is collected, and the compliance framework.

There are also one or two minor technical amendments to Clause 20 that I need not dwell on. They make a minor drafting change, updating statutory practice relating to provisions for different purposes, which is a technical point. However, overall, I hope the House will accept that in tabling these amendments the Government have gone a very long way to improving the force, standing and legal status of the code and, in particular, of the Victims’ Commissioner. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have proposed Amendment 16 to ensure that all victims have the same right to have a CPS or police decision reviewed. At present, the criminal justice system does not allow the same right for all victims. This anomaly, which the Government seem to want to retain, has arisen because of the inherited EU legislation that we have adopted. It could be put right if my amendment is accepted. We have discussed amendments on how to strengthen the Bill in relation to victims of anti-social behaviour and child sexual exploitation. This amendment seeks to help those types of victims and victims of other horrific crimes such as gang rapes—in other words, crimes committed by multiple perpetrators.

At present, a review can be requested only if there are no perpetrators. In cases where some perpetrators are charged, or even one perpetrator is charged, and others are not, a victim cannot then go and ask why the other perpetrators are not being charged. It is not about opening up new cases; it is about reviewing the decisions that have been made. We know that the police and CPS make mistakes. There have been cases where there have been no charges at all and, when a review has taken place, charges have been brought forward.

One argument used against the amendment is that it could delay justice for the perpetrators who have been charged; but surely, at that point, it could be explained to the victim that, if they go for review, it may delay the process. At least the victim can then make an informed choice. They may decide that, actually, they do not want to have a review.

Including the amendment in the Bill would not only help victims to have the same right to review but would make sure that the police and CPS were not cutting corners. At present, the system works in favour of the CPS and the police rather than the victims. In cases where there are multiple perpetrators, they can choose to charge some perpetrators or just one, fully knowing that their decision cannot be challenged. That is exactly what happened in a case on the helpline of the charity that I run: the Muslim Women’s Network, in which I declare my interest as the CEO. In that case, where a woman was gang-raped, only one person was charged; the other perpetrators were not. She was shocked, and she tried to get a review, but was unable to get one. That resulted in more trauma and the case was then dropped.

Charging one person involves far less work than charging several perpetrators. I am not suggesting that police are cutting corners in every case, but it is plausible to suggest that this may, and does, happen some of the time.

We know also that racism exists in the criminal justice system, and there is plenty of data showing that minority-ethnic victims are treated less favourably in the system. The loophole that currently exists in the right to review could lead to further inequalities. The amendment would therefore also help to reduce the misuse of police and CPS power.

I thank the Minister for meeting me online last week and discussing this in more detail. I know that he understands the concerns. One suggestion has been that, in exceptional circumstances, in the cases that I have described, there could be a right to review, but, unless that is written down somewhere, it simply will not happen. If it can be included in the code of practice, the term “exceptional circumstances” will need to be defined. I hope that I can persuade the Minister to change his mind and accept my amendment.

My Lords, I will speak briefly on several amendments. On Amendment 16, on which the noble Baroness has just spoken, it is hard in principle to disagree with her. Clearly there is an anomaly here that needs to be dealt with. The way that it is working at the moment is inconsistent and not as clear as it could be. I do not think I need to say any more than that. I echo her wish that the Minister and the Bill team will reflect on this and find a way of clarifying the situation and improving the lot of those victims. One can hardly imagine what it must be like to be a victim of the type that the noble Baroness described and to find that, having been violated by a whole series of perpetrators, they have absolutely no idea why one is singled out and the others are left out. I entirely endorse and support that amendment.

On Amendments 46 and 47, about publishing code compliance, we have made—I thank the Minister for this—significant progress in this area, so I do not need to talk any further about that.

I will speak a little bit about Amendment 58, on training, which is in my name with the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. Clause 6 of the Bill says that criminal justice bodies must

“take reasonable steps to promote awareness of the victims’ code”

to victims, but what it fails to mandate is that professionals within those bodies receive any form of training. In our view, the Bill should ensure that all organisations that come within the victims’ code not only understand it but are capable of delivering the rights that the victims’ code embodies.

There is a clear evidence base for training and a widespread lack of awareness of victims’ rights. In Committee, the Minister said:

“The noble Lords are quite right that there is an obvious need for more training”,

but he also said:

“The Government hesitate to have a national training framework because so much will depend on the local situation”.—[Official Report, 5/2/24; cols. 1467-68.]

I understand that point of view but I am not sure I entirely agree with it.

I would look at some evidence and input that has come this week from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner herself. The Domestic Abuse Act statutory guidance contains the following:

“Public agencies should invest in awareness raising, specialist training and systems change within their services to ensure that victims receive effective and safe responses and that information about their services reach the range of different communities and protected groups in their areas”.

Nicole Jacobs says that the guidance, despite that clear stricture, is inconsistently interpreted, applied and delivered. She is very much of the view that training needs to be in legislation, not in accompanying guidance, as the guidance on the Domestic Abuse Act has led to a very disparate picture across the country. Some agencies in areas that recognise the importance of this have implemented good training and awareness raising, but other areas have simply not done anything because, as she summarises their feedback, “It’s just guidance so we don’t actually have to do it”. That very current evidence from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner about the importance of training, showing that it should be mandated in a way that means it is delivered effectively and consistently, is a very strong case, and I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to it.

I agree entirely with the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, in principle and in spirit. I am not sure the Government will accede to it, but I hope there will be a cumulative force of arguing for the code being much better understood and to have much more substance and muscle than it has been demonstrated to have over the many years that it has been in place. It needs to be improved.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend the Minister for all the conversations and meetings we have had with his officials and other Peers. In Committee I expressed my concerns about provisions in the Bill, so I am speaking in support of Amendments 46 and 47 but, having listened to the Minister, I am delighted that we have resolved this issue.

The provisions in the Bill relating to delivering code compliance are important because they must be strong enough to give effect to the level of change that we require. I have always maintained that the success of this Bill will depend on whether future victims receive their code entitlements. I am delighted that the Government have listened to our concerns and reviewed their proposals. The government amendments tabled last week are an important step in the right direction. Statutory non-compliance notices, coupled with statutory changes to ensure that future Victims’ Commissioners are able to provide rigorous scrutiny of compliance data, are important and I welcome them.

Naturally, I want to see the Government go further. It is important that details on how the Government’s compliance regime will operate are set out clearly in statutory guidance. I also want to see trigger points for non-compliance enforcement to be set out clearly. I am delighted that there will be transparency as the minutes of the task force meeting will be made public.

Of course, setting out a compliance regime is one thing but making it happen is another. I do not underestimate the challenges in building a dataset that provides us with a comprehensive understanding of exactly what is happening and what is not. Importantly, we also need to understand how well services and entitlements are being delivered. While these provisions are a step in the right direction, we still have a long way to go before we can say that all victims are getting the support they deserve.

We must not confine ourselves to compliance monitoring. We need to tackle the culture of our criminal justice system when it comes to victims. Earlier the Minister referred to training, which certainly has an important part to play, but we need to go further to understand why the victims’ code is of secondary importance in the eyes of so many practitioners.

Defendants have statutory rights; victims do not. The victims’ code was described to me by a government lawyer as “persuasive guidance”, but at times I, along with many victims, would question just how persuasive it actually is. I make no secret of the fact that I would like to see victims’ rights elevated to statutory rights as proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, in Amendment 23. I also support Amendment 16 from the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir. It is important that every victim has a right to review when there are multiple defendants in the dock. As somebody who has personally experienced that, it is so important for the victim to have that individual right to make sure they get answers and an understanding of what is going on.

My Lords, it is pretty much an understatement to say that it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, the Victims’ Commissioner. She and my noble friend Lady Lawrence of Clarendon are very special Members of your Lordships’ House, if I may say so, for their extraordinary superpower and ability to turn experiences that no one should have to endure into a subsequent lifetime of public service, for which I think we are all very grateful.

I will take my lead from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. I do not think it is a secret that my many amendments in this group were tabled with her blessing and that of the London Victims’ Commissioner, Claire Waxman. I am also grateful to a number of victims’ groups and NGOs for their support of these amendments.

This is Report, not Committee, and we have had a long day, so I do not want to trouble noble Lords for too long, but I am grateful to the Minister and his team. Petty France may have shown Marsham Street that it is possible to engage just a little—half a loaf is better than no bread. Of course, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, and I are going to disagree about the extent to which government amendments to this part of the Bill are a huge step in the right direction, but they are a step. I thank him and his team, including those who are not in your Lordships’ Chamber. This is the way, perhaps, that we ought to try to do legislation.

The motive behind my many amendments was to try to put victims’ rights on a proper statutory footing and to make them equivalent to suspects’ and defendants’ rights. Divide and rule is a really bad thing, and for decades Governments of both persuasions have sometimes been able to be in an arms race where victims’ rights are set against defendants’ rights. As the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, put it so eloquently yesterday at Questions, if you treat a suspect badly and delay justice, that is justice denied. The same is true for victims, and for some years now we have told victims that they have rights and a code, but those rights have been totally unenforceable and that is not fair. That false expectation has caused enormous trauma and concern.

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, for moving things on just a little, but I hope that a future Government of any persuasion will go further still. I hope I am not dishonouring the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and letting her down in saying that. I can say thank you for what has been achieved but still be more ambitious for change.

The justice department has, I think, had the biggest cuts of any department in recent years. To deliver rights for victims takes resources and investment. Sometimes with suspects’ and defendants’ rights, you can deliver something by holding back, but when it is victims’ rights you really need to invest in the different entrances—in the staff of any criminal justice agency who will be there and so on. I am so grateful and do not want to seem churlish, because this is something, but I hope that it is the building block for further reforms so that we can have a level playing field.

Finally, I remind noble Lords that suspects’ rights came from a Conservative piece of human rights legislation: the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Given that both parties often compete for the law and order agenda—forgive me, I should say all parties—it seems odd to me, as a human rights campaigner of many years, that we would entrench and codify suspects’ and defendants’ rights in a way that we have yet to do for victims.

My Lords, I start by referring to Amendment 16 from the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir. I will not repeat the points she made but she emailed me just prior to us starting this evening’s debates on Report. I am interested that she notes that this is a loophole caused by us exiting the EU. I have immense sympathy with the amendment. If it is a clear anomaly caused by us exiting the EU, I remember considerable debate on the retained EU law Bill about what to do when things were discovered. Ministers said on more than one occasion that in the EU withdrawal Act there is something called the correcting power, and that that can be used to correct any anomalies, providing they are not the Government’s whim because they have changed their policy on something. I do not know the detail because I have not seen where the loophole has come from, but it seems to me, on the amendment the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, has described, that if this is caused by our leaving the EU then there is a remedy of legislation. Perhaps the Ministry of Justice will take that away and look at it, and the Minister will write. It can be done quite simply in most cases by regulation, which is why the retained EU law Bill took such a long time to wind its way through Parliament—I worked on a lot of those amendments. It seems that if the Minister has sympathy with this, there is an easy remedy.

My own Amendment 34 seeks to ensure that each criminal justice body makes arrangements to provide adequate training regarding violence against women and girls for all personnel supporting them. The hour is late, so I will not say very much, other than that there is already a substantial amount of training in other areas but the guidance on what that training should be and how it should happen is not the same. The Domestic Abuse Act statutory guidance is clear, and at paragraph 225 provides that:

“Public agencies should invest in awareness raising, specialist training and systems … to ensure that victims receive effective and safe responses”.

Unfortunately, that is not the same in the code of practice; it is not as strong. My Amendment 34 attempts to strengthen that.

I am mindful of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Russell. I know that he has spoken, but his amendment is slightly broader than mine and, if he chooses to divide the House on it next week when we return, I think our Benches will be happy to support him.

I end by reflecting on the debate we have had on the Minister’s amendments and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. It seems to have been the prime debate that we have had since the start of this victims Bill about its function and practice. I echo the thanks from all around the House for the steps that the Government have taken to strengthen it. I am still with the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that it is not quite there, but I will take any change at all.

I am mindful that, when we first managed to introduce a specific stalking law with a maximum sentence of five years just over a decade ago, two subsequent pieces of legislation have been added since to strengthen it. That has helped and enhanced it. I hope that these government amendments are the beginning of a journey. I believe that practice will show that there needs to be further strengthening. In the meantime, I am very grateful to the Government for taking these steps forward.

My Lords, there is great consensus across the House to say thank you to the Minister and his team for the steps that have taken us forward. I went through all these amendments to look at what they contained. They reminded me of the debates that we had in Committee about the things we wanted to see strengthened in the Bill. We should be pleased that we have made such progress. The Minister has done a great service to the victims’ code and compliance. I am also with my noble friend, in that it is a good start but we would like to go further. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, echoed that.

We would be very pleased on these Benches to support the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, in her amendment. I have been in the House for 26 years and have been in a similar position as a Back-Bencher on something I really cared about and thought should happen. It is possible that we may have a solution from the Liberal Democrat Benches, and that would be great, but there is always another Bill coming down the track. I can say from these Benches with some certainty that, if there is another Bill coming down the track and the noble Baroness goes for it again, we will support her. It sometimes takes a little while but, quite often, if you have an issue that you care about—I think this is a really important issue—you will get there. But perhaps the Minister will say yes to the noble Baroness —let us hope so.

The second issue is in the amendments about training, both of which are very important. We will certainly support the noble Lord, Lord Russell, in his amendment at the appropriate time, when it is dealt with. This is a very good example of how the House works best when we continue to talk to each other about all the things that we want to see happen. It is amazing how often you start a Bill and the Government Benches and the Bill team think that the Bill they have is perfect—of course they do—and should not be changed, but the iterative process of discussion and debate we go through in this House does improve legislation. This is a good example of that.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for the sincerity with which their various points have been made. I will briefly reply to the amendments not proposed by the Government. Unfortunately, while understanding all the points that have been made, the Government are not in a position to accept the amendments as they are. Although noble Lords have been kind enough to say that this is good progress and to express their thanks, I make it absolutely clear that I work with my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk, and he is the boss, and my right honourable friend Minister Argar was responsible for this Bill in the other place. Although it is very kind of noble Lords to make compliments to me, they should please bear in mind that I am part of a wider team, supported by an excellent staff.

We are not in competition with Marsham Street—or at least, we do not see it that way—but under the present Lord Chancellor, progress on this Bill has reflected the current ethos of the Ministry of Justice. I fully welcome and support the plea from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for more financial resources for the Ministry of Justice; that would be wonderful. But we work with what we have and, of course, some of those constraints have provoked the Government’s inability to go quite as far as others would like.

Amendments 23 and 122, from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, would place the victims’ code in a schedule to the Bill and make related changes. I hope I have reassured her on our strengthened approach, and that compliance with the code is not optional. It may have been seen as optional in the past, but this is quite a change. As an alternative to Amendment 32, which would promote enforcement through the courts, we have a different non-compliance notification process which I hope will be equally effective. We are very reluctant as a Government to go down a court-based route because that can take up more resources and be less effective and more counter-productive than other routes.

We are very much in favour of the other routes that we have developed, I hope comprehensively, in the Bill, including the need to have clear compliance procedures, bolstering the accountability framework to make sure that there is appropriate recourse and, in particular, relying heavily on the independent scrutiny of the Victims’ Commissioner. So those various mechanisms collectively should give us a good framework; let us give them a good try and see, as noble Lords have suggested. At some point we may need to go further, but this is a good start, is it not? That question is rhetorical, so noble Lords do not have to answer.

Amendments 24, 26, 27, 29 and 30 concern consulting the Victims’ Commissioner. We have effectively covered the same ground in the Government’s amendments, and I do not think I need say any more about that. We have not gone down the route of putting all this through the affirmative procedure. I am not entirely persuaded that the affirmative procedure is as good as it might be, in that you can only say yes or no, et cetera. But the procedures we have for bringing the code into force, reviewing it, issuing it and consulting on it are all good and should work quite well. I hope that, in the light of that, there is no need to pursue those amendments.

Similarly, Amendments 55, 68 and 69—the latter being one of the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool—concern consulting various commissioners and “by and for” services on the duty to collaborate. I am very grateful to all the commissioners who have collaborated with us on developing these measures. We will publish draft guidance on this part of the Bill, but the Government’s position is that the overall framework we have for consultation and publishing guidance is already sufficient and appropriate.

Of course, the department will continue to engage with all national commissioners. I am particularly grateful for the support of the Victims’ Commissioner. I mentioned earlier the Children’s Commissioner, and I work very closely with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner. They are all making a very significant contribution to a better system. Of course, we will continue to engage with a whole range of providers, including the “by and for” organisations. It is very much in the Government’s interests to consult and engage as widely as possible, so there is no reason not to.

Amendments 46 and 47 would require code compliance data to be shared with the Victims’ Commissioner. We have put forward a number of amendments to make the central role of the Victims’ Commissioner clear. I hope these are sufficient to place the Victims’ Commissioner at the heart and centre of the system, remembering that they already have existing and separate powers to issue reports and recommendations, and, under this Bill, the agencies have to respond to them.

This brings me to the important subject of code training in Amendments 34 and 58 from the noble Lord, Lord Russell. He is rightly concerned about this and has emphasised it throughout. I do not at all hide behind this fact, but if you believe in devolution—and we have 43 different police forces, different local authorities and 43 police and crime commissioners—you have to accept a certain degree of difference in the way those authorities operate. That is inherent in any devolved system. None the less, it is of fundamental importance that front-line staff are adequately trained to support victims of all crimes. That is why I can and do commit to using the statutory guidance to be issued under Clause 11 to set a clear expectation that agencies should have adequate training on the code so that staff know what the code is, can inform victims of their entitlements under it and do their job in a way that complies with it.

The Government are of the view that legislation is not the right place for such matters, given the level of operational detail required and the diverse requirements of the various organisations delivering the code. However, we appreciate that there needs to be a mechanism to ensure that training not only exists but is effective. I believe we can achieve the right balance by committing to prescribing in the regulations that bodies must collect and share information on the training they have in place to ensure that the code is delivered effectively as part of the delivery assessments within the compliance framework.

The Minister mentioned that he works very closely with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner. Given what I said about her experience that, for training, the statutory guidance which is part of the Domestic Abuse Act is very inconsistent, despite being statutory guidance, will he undertake to go back to her and explore in more detail what she has experienced since the Act was passed and see whether any lessons can be learned that can be applied immediately to this Bill?

I am quite happy to accept the noble Lord’s invitation to have a conversation with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to explore her experience and see whether it is transferable to what we are discussing here.

My Lords, I hesitated to intervene in this debate, but with the leave of the House I will add a thought for the Minister. Keeping training up to date is important because the understanding of the issues is developing quite dramatically. Nobody would have identified the acronym VAWG not that long ago and our understanding of what comprises violence against women and girls, for instance, is developing very fast.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, as always, made a very pertinent point: we must have up-to-date training. Both learning and knowledge in this area are developing very quickly. That is quite a challenge for the authorities, but we should meet it— I fully accept that. Of course, under the compliance framework, there are powers to issue non-compliance notices and to understand why agencies are falling down. Almost certainly, a lack of training will be an explanatory factor in underperformance, so that will be overseen by Ministers, the criminal justice agencies and the Victims’ Commissioner.

The annual report is also a useful vehicle for focusing on areas for improvement, and it may well be that training will be one of them. If training is not mentioned, noble Lords will ask why and demand to know what is going on. We have a framework for testing and improving the system as we go along. I hope that what I have said so far will enable the various amendments that I have dealt with—in essence, those of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell—not to be pressed.

That takes me to the important Amendment 16, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, for which I thank her. We have discussed the issue that arises. The question here is whether the victims’ right to review scheme strikes the right balance. I was not sure, but I have just received a message that confirms my understanding: I do not think that it is a gap caused by our exit from the EU. The EU directive on victims provided for that scheme, but a Court of Appeal decision—R (Chaudhry) v DPP [2016]—found the present scheme to be compliant with the directive. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, did not raise the EU point directly—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, did—but it is something of a red herring.

It is worth saying that, in that case, which is one that influences the Lord Chancellor, the Court of Appeal said that a requirement to halt the prosecution process, while the position of several individuals who might have been charged was reviewed, risks slowing down the whole thing. You have to go up through a process, and the whole time you are balancing whether you want to slow down the prosecution process by having internal reviews of who should be charged or whether you get on with prosecuting the person who is charged. The Government’s overall position is that that balance—the way that it should work—is broadly right. There are some difficult trade-offs here: time spent by independent prosecutors reviewing the evidence in cases involving multiple suspects is time that they would no longer spend charging someone else or pursuing the prosecution. You are making a trade-off in all these cases.

The point that I do accept, which is a fair point made by the noble Baroness, is that the present situation under the right to review scheme and the accompanying ability to lodge a complaint is not very well communicated. I can commit to making it clear in the victims’ code what the options are for victims in cases where the prosecution proceeds against one but not all suspects. I am not sure that I can go so far as to define in advance what the exceptional circumstances might be, because, by their very nature, we do not quite know what they are until they have happened. The approach of a case-by-case basis is, in the Government’s view, the right one to take in this matter.

However, to address the wider issues of making sure that victims understand why decisions are taken in cases, this is an important issue, and we have seen it highlighted in the recent Nottingham case, for example. Therefore, there have been conversations and there will be further conversations between the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions about encouraging prosecutors to initiate further discussion with victims when decisions are made not to proceed in those types of cases. I cannot mention Nottingham because there are ongoing proceedings, but that was a decision to make one charge rather than another.

This whole area of communicating to victims is under the microscope at the moment. There is no reason why the matter we are on, rightly raised by the noble Baroness, should not be part of those conversations, and to align this aspect with the CPS work ongoing through the victim transformation programme should introduce a more proactive policy of communication from the CPS with the victims. I think the Attorney-General believes that this will go at least some way forward to addressing the point raised by the noble Baroness without creating additional pressures on the criminal justice system through diverting resources from the most important job of pressing on with the prosecutions that we have.

Therefore, while completely understanding the points made, I hope the noble Baroness will not feel the need to press the amendments.

Amendment 9 agreed.

Amendments 10 to 12

Moved by

10: Clause 2, page 2, line 19, after “victims” insert “require”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment and my other amendments of subsection (3) of Clause 2 clarify the principles that must underpin the victims’ code issued under that clause.

11: Clause 2, page 2, line 20, leave out “should be provided with”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment and my other amendments of subsection (3) of Clause 2 clarify the principles that must underpin the victims’ code issued under that clause.

12: Clause 2, page 2, line 22, leave out “should be able to access” and insert “access to”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment and my other amendments of subsection (3) of Clause 2 clarify the principles that must underpin the victims’ code issued under that clause.

Amendments 10 to 12 agreed.

Amendment 13

Moved by

13: Clause 2, page 2, line 23, after “services” insert “, including professionally qualified interpreters and translators”

My Lords, Amendment 13 is in my name. I remind the House about my various interests in relation to languages and linguists.

In Committee, I proposed four amendments in relation to language services, but I accepted the Minister’s argument, in relation to three of them anyway, that they concerned operational detail rather than matters of principle and were therefore more appropriate for guidance or regulations in the future than for putting in the Bill. However, the fourth of my amendments in Committee and the subject of the amendment I have tabled this evening is in a different category altogether. I feel very strongly that it is a matter of principle, which is why I have brought it back at this stage. It is the principle that, where interpreting and translation services are needed by victims, as they have a right to expect under the victims’ code, those interpreters and translators should be qualified and professional.

I am very grateful indeed to the Minister and his officials for meeting me twice and for giving careful, serious attention to the points I made in Committee about the importance of this issue. I understand that there is a reluctance on the part of the Government to add new points to the Bill. I had thought that by getting this issue into the Bill itself, it would be given more weight and less wriggle room. However, I also understand that the intention now is that the status of the code itself will be effectively upgraded and more binding than it is at present.

We have heard this evening about the very welcome government amendments about, for example, a statutory duty on relevant bodies to provide services in accordance with the revised code and a duty of compliance on relevant public bodies. Therefore, in the light of all that, I can see that my fears of non-compliance with anything short of what is actually in the Bill could fall away because of this elevated status.

I have been very encouraged by what has been suggested to me by the Minister as a positive alternative to my amendment. I assume that he will be sharing with the House what he has already been generous enough to share with me, which is a significant strengthening of the wording of the relevant parts of the victims’ code in relation to interpreting and translation services. I have consulted with the Chartered Institute of Linguists, the National Register of Public Service Interpreters, and the Bell Foundation, and all these organisations also regard the proposed draft revisions to the code as a very welcome step in the right direction.

I suppose I should not say any more about what is proposed myself, as I am sure that the Minister will want to do that. Suffice it to say that the two key words “professional” and “qualified” make a decisive appearance in the proposed revisions. If the Minister confirms this tonight, I will regard it as a positive outcome that delivers on my objective and shows that the Government have taken my point seriously, and I thank the Minister most sincerely for his engagement and his willingness to get this right.

I hope that these changes, if they come to fruition, will mean that we will no longer see services resorting to drafting in the court usher, the hospital porter who happens to speak Polish, the neighbour’s teenage son because he is doing Spanish at school or the man who runs the Chinese restaurant up the road. These are all real examples that have been brought to my attention. I hope that, if we are looking instead at what should be there, which is to do with professional, qualified interpreters and translators, all that will be a thing of the past.

In closing, I caution the Minister and his department to be aware that there will be very close monitoring of these aspects of the revised victims’ code to assess compliance. It is well worth reflecting that the use of professional, qualified interpreters and translators is not just right and proper for the victims, who need their services; it cuts both ways, also enabling those responsible for the administration of justice and the quality of justice to understand better what has happened and what needs to be done about it. I look forward to the Minister’s reply and, for the moment, I beg to move.

My Lords, from these Benches we pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for her absolute and consistent determination that we should be reminded about the need for professionally qualified interpreters. We had a good debate in Committee on her previous amendments. I will not repeat what I said then. I have torn up what I was going to say because I will be very interested to know what the Minister is going to say. I hope that the noble Baroness gets some very good news.

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, who has pursued this matter doggedly. We have all received emails updating us on the discussions. I too look forward to what the Minister says. We all have our own horror stories of inappropriate translation and interpretation. I am sure that the Minister has from his career, too; it is a feature of life in courts and the wider criminal justice system. Nevertheless, I will listen with anticipation to what the Minister has to say.

My Lords, talking of experiences, my abiding memory is of a case in the county court where the interpreter opened the proceedings by telling the judge that he was deaf. Matters deteriorated from there.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, very much for her Amendment 13. The Government recognise that victims must be confident that the criminal justice process will be accessible to them so that they can participate effectively, regardless of their first language. We think that details of the specialist support services are better in the code, but I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her constructive engagement on this issue.

As she is aware, we have been drafting strengthening content for right 1 of the victims’ code, which is the right to understand and be understood, ahead of publicly consulting after this Bill has received Royal Assent. This strengthened wording makes it clear that victims are entitled to access interpreting and translation services from qualified professionals. “Qualified” and “professionals” are the decisive words that the noble Baroness referred to. I hope that I have reassured her that we have heard and considered her arguments carefully and are committed to addressing their intent through the victims’ code. On that basis, I invite her not to press her amendment.

My Lords, all I can do is once again thank the Minister and, indeed, all noble Lords who have supported my amendment throughout the process of this Bill and all who have spoken this evening in support. I thank the Bill team as well as the Minister, because they have all been extremely helpful in our discussions. I look forward to the public consultation on a revised, strengthened victims’ code, and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 13 withdrawn.

Amendments 14 and 15

Moved by

14: Clause 2, page 2, line 24, leave out “should have”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment and my other amendments of subsection (3) of Clause 2 clarify the principles that must underpin the victims’ code issued under that clause.

15: Clause 2, page 2, line 26, leave out “should be able” and insert “the ability”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment and my other amendments of subsection (3) of Clause 2 clarify the principles that must underpin the victims’ code issued under that clause.

Amendments 14 and 15 agreed.

Amendment 16 not moved.

Amendment 17

Moved by

17: Clause 2, page 2, line 27, at end insert—

“(e) should be able to secure access to support from an individual of the same sex as registered at birth and women-only support service provision should be confined to those registered women at birth.”

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 17 and 18. It is interesting listening to the discussion that we have had this evening, because many people that I speak to, particularly women, assume that the consultation on the victims’ code or discussions on enhancing victims’ rights will mean better support for female victims, particularly in relation to service provision. All that Amendment 17 seeks to do is to clarify what I am sure is the intention of the Bill, which is to be supportive of, for example, single-sex provision for women and the appropriate service provision that can be given, and to ensure that we know what we are talking about.

It might appear that getting a commitment that police and crime commissioners, integrated care boards and local authorities will all work together to commission support services for, for example, victims of domestic abuse or sexual abuse, ensuring that they can access the services that they need, and lots of discussion about services by women and for women, would be clear enough. However, as I explained in Committee and in a much-appreciated and helpful meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Roborough, and officials— I back up what others have said about how it was refreshing to have a Minister, or someone from the team, who is prepared to talk to us quite openly—having heard from the charity Sex Matters, all is not as it seems. I fear that, if the Government do not address this by sorting out the language and clarifying matters, their aspiration to enhance female victims’ rights will suffer because of confusion over the law and over the definition of sex.

“By women and for women” might seem a straightforward proposition until we ask, “What is a woman?” In 2024, that has become a contentious question. Over recent years, we have lost clarity over what we mean by the categories “men” and “women”, and that can undermine women’s services. This has happened due to the insistence from some quarters—often very powerful quarters—that women’s services must be trans inclusive by including men who identify as women in what should be women-only provision.

For example, the terms of references for Avon and Somerset Police women’s independent advisory group—to use just one example—state: “In this group we use ‘women’ as a term that is inclusive of the legally protected characteristic of female sex and gender identity as well as gender expression and those who are perceived and treated as women and those who identify as women”. This is such an expansive, non-material, confusing definition of women.

The amendment is simply trying to ensure that, where the victims’ code talks about services for women or makes any assumption that there will be services for women victims, we use the clear category of “sex as registered at birth”, rather than that ever-expansive term in which women—as in biological natal women—are merely a subcategory of this newly expanded definition of women.

Sometimes we are told that, unless trans women are treated as women, it would be in breach of Schedule 3 to the Equality Act. The Government need to clarify the law in this regard because, in fact and in law, a service can be female-only as a matter of policy. Apart from anything else, the Equality Act requires public authorities to have due regard to meeting the specific needs of women.

Another misunderstood factor is that even when a person has acquired a different gender under the Gender Recognition Act, that does not affect the status of the person as a man or a woman in relation to the Equality Act. Indeed, it would be helpful if the Government could give clear guidance to people applying for GRCs that this change in documentation does not give them the right to access services or spaces set aside for the opposite sex. Such clear guidance would also be helpful for service providers and commissioners, and in relation to how people read the victims’ code.

I want to illustrate the negative impact of these kinds of confusions on women victims seeking help by citing a worrying but brilliant piece of investigative journalism. Children of Transitioners has collated evidence that there is no women-only service provision in Bristol. This mirrors exactly the situation in Brighton that I described in some detail in Committee. I have detailed examples from Bristol, but I appreciate that the House will not bear with me so I will not go through them. Needless to say, if you are a woman who has been raped or sexually assaulted or suffers domestic abuse and reports it to police officers in Bristol, they will suggest to these distraught women—these victims—where they can get further support. They may well be sent to “by women and for women” provision, which those police officers feel are safe spaces. It is just that when you actually look at the provision in Bristol, you will find consistently that women-only services are also accessible to and welcome trans women. Trans women are men who identify as women and should be provided with services as appropriate, but not in women-only services. So this provision is not actually women only; it is mixed sex.

I was struck by the fact that, when the integrated care board of Bristol lists a range of “by women and for women” organisations, an example it gives is Womankind. Noble Lords would think that, with a title like that, the clue would be in the name. Womankind calls itself a service for women and girls. Online, it displays lovely suffragette colours. What is not to like? Actually, in correspondence with Womankind, another story emerges. Womankind says that it is for women and for

“those who identify as such in a significant way, including those who experience discrimination as … for instance, trans women … and non-binary”.

Womankind confirmed, after the investigation was done, that there is not one abuse support service in Bristol for natal women victims alone. Its advice for those unhappy with the situation was to “try London”, which seems extraordinary.

I use these examples because I know from replies from the Dispatch Box and at the meeting that there is very much a feeling that this is not a problem that the Government have detected when meeting service providers and commissioners. It is important to dig beneath the language of saying, “There is provision available; what’s the problem?”. It depends on who you ask. Bristol Women’s Voice—an organisation that claims to represent women’s voices to the council and to the police—does not see a problem, so in that sense if the Government were talking to that organisation they would think that there is no problem. But Bristol Women’s Voice does not think there is a problem because it also has a policy of trans-plus inclusion in relation to its definition of what a woman is.

It would also be naive not to look at the evidence about layers of public bodies and local authorities being lobbied and influenced by ideologically driven NGOs such as Stonewall, which has been much in the news of late. Ministers also tell us that it is up to service providers to choose the most appropriate services. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Roborough, heard from the evidence from Helen Joyce and Maya Forstater in the Sex Matters report, Women’s Services: a Sector Silenced, that many of those who provide women-only services often self-censor to placate funders and to avoid being investigated, ostracised, disciplined or maligned as bigots, all of which are career-threatening.

In case you think this is all hyperbole and question what I am talking about, there is a very similar pattern here to those whistleblowing medics at the Tavistock Clinic whose stories of malpractice have now so vividly been exposed in the Cass review as true. They were maligned for raising them. It is to the credit of Victoria Atkins that her excellent Statement in the other place drew this out. Credit is also due to Wes Streeting from the Opposition, who also accepted that the Cass review was an important step forward. Kemi Badenoch made the point:

“Had those who warned that gender services in the NHS had been hijacked by ideologues been listened to instead of gagged, children would not have been harmed and the Cass review would not have been required”.

So, although I am making a fuss, I want to say to the Government that maybe they should listen to the warnings from whistleblowers in the women’s services sector who are explaining that we are denying women victims single-sex provision, causing great harm and trauma for vulnerable women who might self-exclude and might well not even seek support if services to which they are referred may include men identifying as women.

I will say something very quickly about Amendment 18, because I discussed it fully in Committee. This is an attempt to use the victims’ code to tackle a loophole whereby, if incarcerated or registered sex offenders change their gender, even just by a self-declaration, they are afforded enhanced privacy protection that allows their new identity to disappear from view in terms of criminal justice and normal safeguarding procedures and before criminal justice bodies. Through the sensitivity applications route, a sex offender who changes their gender identity can conceal their past identity and sex for the purpose of, for example, disclosure and barring services—DBS—checking processes. This means that a sex offender’s past name and identity are not displayed on any DBS certificates; they can have their self-declared gender identity instead.

In Committee, I explained that the reason I knew about this loophole was due to the story of Clive Bundy. He was imprisoned for 15 years in 2016 for sexually abusing his own daughter, Ceri-Lee Galvin, throughout her childhood, but was released half way through his sentence. Clive Bundy changed his gender before his early release and became a self-identifying woman, named Claire Fox. This is what drew my attention to this particular case.

This amendment tackles the anomaly that, due to Bundy’s enhanced privacy rights in relation to his gender change, Ceri-Lee, his victim and his daughter, had no right to know that he had been released as a woman called Claire. After his release, Clive Bundy, also known as Claire Fox, went to live in the same town as his daughter and her daughter. As Claire Fox, he could apply for jobs or to be a volunteer locally and work with children, including potentially his own granddaughter and no one would know. Any DBS check would not show up red flags and the family would not be forewarned. Amendment 18 wants the Government to look at whether they can do something about this loophole.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, for tabling Amendment 17, which seeks to ensure that victims are able to access support from someone of the same sex, as registered at birth, and that women-only support service provision is confined to those registered as women at birth. I also want to thank the noble Baroness and Maya Forstater and Helen Joyce from Sex Matters for their time in discussing these matters with me yesterday, ahead of this debate.

From the outset, let me be clear that this Government recognise the importance of a victim feeling confident that they can ask for particular things, such as someone of a particular sex to make them feel comfortable and help them best engage with support. We also recognise that single-sex services can and should be provided in some circumstances. That is why we have written to providers who receive funding from our rape and sexual abuse support fund to make clear our expectation that they should take reasonable steps to provide spaces which exclude service users who are not biologically female or male, where that has been requested by a victim and where it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, in line with the Equality Act 2010.

I have listened to the concerns raised by the noble Baroness and reassure her that officials regularly engage with those commissioning and providing services through ongoing grant-management processes. We will continue to use these channels to understand whether there are any barriers experienced in the delivery of single-sex services, and how the Government might support services to address them—and we will continue the conversation that we have started with Sex Matters to carefully consider how we can best serve victims.

In relation to support workers, we have included a dedicated section on tailoring support to meet victims’ needs in the draft independent domestic violence adviser and independent sexual violence adviser—IDVA and ISVA—guidance. It sets out different considerations for supporting male and female victims, which may include a preference for a particular sex of their IDVA or ISVA.

The noble Baroness asked specifically what we were doing to improve this guidance. The draft guidance has a specific section on how IDVAs and ISVAs may respond to meet the needs of different types of victims. This includes examples of how they may tailor their support to meet the distinct needs of female and male victims. For example, the guidance recommends how the IDVA or ISVA can address commonly held misconceptions about female and male victims that may prevent them from reporting their experiences. It also highlights that some victims may prefer to be supported by a worker of their own sex and to access single-sex services, where available.

Ultimately, as referred to by the noble Baroness, we consider that service providers are best placed to engage with the needs of victims and adjust their service accordingly. There is a practical element to this, too: while we know that providers will do their utmost to take into account the preferences of the victim, they are clearly constrained by their staff’s skills, expertise, capacity and availability to ensure that they meet the victim’s needs. It is for that reason that it is simply not workable to seek to entitle victims to a particular support worker they have requested.

Beyond that, I respectfully disagree with the noble Baroness’s suggestion that, in all cases, victims should be entitled to support from someone of the same sex, as registered at birth. To require this to happen in all cases requested, service providers may need intentionally to exclude transgender persons from support roles which, depending on the circumstances, could amount to unlawful discrimination pursuant to the Equality Act 2010.

Finally, I make a legal point, but an important one: the victims’ code would not provide the legal effect being sought by this amendment. Mirroring the current scope of the victims’ code, the amendment that we have tabled, which imposes a duty to provide services in accordance with the code, applies only to persons who have functions of a public nature; it would not extend to third parties that provide support services for victims. As such, we could not set expectations to deliver services in a certain way through the victims’ code. For these reasons, I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

At this late hour, I will read what has been said in Hansard and write with any clarifications, if that is okay with the Minister. It is important to acknowledge that this is not a straightforward issue, because of the ideological context in which it is occurring. I hope that noble Lords will read the Cass review and details of the brilliant discussion on it yesterday in the other place, and see that this is not simply a technical matter. That needs to be taken into account.

I also register my great disappointment that noble Lords from the Opposition parties had nothing to say in relation to single-sex provision for women victims. However late it is and however unpopular I am, I just think it is a shame. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 17 withdrawn.

Amendment 18 not moved.

Consideration on Report adjourned.

House adjourned at 9.35 pm.