[Esther McVey in the Chair]
[Relevant documents: e-petition 598986, Make it a legal requirement for nightclubs to thoroughly search guests on entry; and e-petition 597143, Fund free drink spiking test kits for all bars.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the prevention of spiking incidents.
It is very good to have this debate under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. It is also good to see colleagues present, including recent former Home Office Ministers from several parties, despite competition from Select Committees and other vital business of the House.
The truth is that it should not have been necessary to have this debate. I do not intend to run through all the evidence showing why spiking is such an increased modern risk, particularly to young females and particularly in the night-time economy, because that is all on the record, including in Home Affairs Committee papers and in my ten-minute rule Bill on spiking offences, which I promoted almost exactly a year ago.
I will briefly mention, however, recent findings, the most striking of which are the data presented by the National Police Chiefs’ Council. For the year from 1 September 2021 to 31 August 2022, it has recorded 2,581 reported cases of spiking by needle; 2,131 reported cases of spiking by drink; and 212 reported cases of spiking by other means, particularly food. That is a total of almost 5,000 reported cases for the last year on record, and if that is not an indication of how serious this issue is, I struggle to understand what is serious.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his work on this very important issue. Following the announcement that he had secured this debate, I received a message this afternoon from the police and crime commissioner for Dyfed-Powys, Mr Dafydd Llywelyn, informing me that the number of spiking incidents has been increasing over the last few months.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He and his Plaid Cymru colleagues epitomise why so many of us from all parties in the House are concerned about this issue, despite the problem of data collection, which I will come on to.
Let me now give a tiny bit of context. After I promoted my ten-minute rule Bill almost a year ago, a Home Office Minister promised me that the Department would research this issue and come back to me. By the way, very similar promises were made to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), who is with us in Westminster Hall today. That feedback has now come, but last autumn Ministers were intimating that they were working on a positive solution to confirm that spiking or any attempt at spiking is illegal, and that this simple amendment to existing law would provide a very clear message in words that the nation could easily grasp.
I thank my hon. Friend for all his work on this issue. Chelmsford has a very busy night-time economy and I was really concerned to hear before the end of last year about experiences that many young women have been reporting online about spiking in one Chelmsford nightclub. I visited the club and I was really pleased that it had put in CCTV and a lot of other things to keep women safe. It is important, however, that spiking is clearly recognised as a criminal offence, so I want to put on the record my support for this campaign. Also, I encourage anyone who has been a victim of spiking to come forward quickly, so that evidence can be gathered and the perpetrators held to account.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, because she has said what I think many Members of this House are saying. Indeed, I know that the daughter of one colleague has been spiked and that a Minister has been spiked, so this is something that, unfortunately, is not remote from us at all. It has happened to people in this House, it has happened to their families and it has happened to our constituents. That is why I was so encouraged when Ministers were saying last autumn that there was a positive solution within their grasp. I believe their intention was to come back very early this year with a specific proposal, but, alas, that has not come to pass.
Instead, the Minister for Safeguarding, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines), who is not in her place because she is attending a Select Committee hearing, has written to me and the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North, whose Committee has done such valuable research on spiking, which I will come on to. The Minister’s letter was six dense pages of argument that amounted to two letters: no. In almost 13 years as an MP, I have not read such an extraordinary letter. The Minister in attendance is the Minister for Security, but, to be frank, his portfolio has the least relevance to spiking. He should be focused on major threats to the nation, such as terrorism. I am sure he is grateful for this hospital pass. For his sake, it is relevant to comment on the letter. The Select Committee has today put in the public domain, so other Members may not yet be aware of it.
Let me first say what is helpful in the letter to those of us concerned about the prevalence of spiking, the lack of knowledge about relevant law and the lack of data about instances of spiking.
After the pandemic, the first students to return to university in my constituency saw a huge increase in spiking—both of young males and females, and both by needle and in drinks. West Yorkshire Police responded by buying testing kits because they had no evidence base at all. Surely part of the solution is that all police forces should have testing kits and test in all incidents, so that we can collect data. We are not getting very far with prosecutions under the current law, because there is no evidence base.
The hon. Member makes good points. I was going to mention this as the first point that was constructive in the Minister’s letter. To be fair to the Home Office—this is the first constructive point in the Safeguarding Minister’s letter—it has
“supported Universities UK and the Department for Education to provide guidance to universities on spiking published ahead of the Autumn term and the ‘freshers’ period.”
That is precisely because of the point the hon. Member made about the sharp increase in spiking before term started in 2021. That is a positive.
It is also positive that the Minister has proposed, subject to consultation, amendments to section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003, which
“could include explicit reference to spiking, providing a government definition of the crime, highlighting the existing offences which can be used to prosecute incidents of spiking including examples of spiking”.
She suggests that the Government could also direct licensing authorities to send a strong and explicit message that
“no matter how you spike someone…it is against the law.”
I agree. That is exactly the message that we need in law through a simple amendment to the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, so why do the Minister for Safeguarding and the Home Office not get it?
The letter then puts out various straw man arguments, which I will deal with in turn. I place the first point the heading, “Existing offences coverage”. The letter goes into considerable detail and concludes that
“all methods of spiking are already covered within the current legislation.”
It highlights section 24, which includes a crime described as
“Maliciously administering poison, &c. with intent to injure, aggrieve, or annoy any other person.”
That could cover, the Minister argues, a potential gap regarding spiking done “for fun”. Personally, however, I believe that proving an intent to annoy could be easily met by the defence, “I didn’t mean to annoy or upset”. Should we not recognise that spiking is, at the least, annoying, full stop, without prevaricating about it? Most importantly, cannot all of these sections of the 1861 Act be grouped under a single, compelling umbrella statement very similar to that proposed for the guidance to the night-time economy?
I place the second point under the heading, “Absence of the word spiking in law”. The Safeguarding Minister recognises, while arguing that existing law already covers spiking, that there is currently no agreed definition of spiking. But she has also suggested that Government provide a definition for section 182 of the Licensing Act, so that point is already dealt with—the Government have already promised to provide that. She goes on to say that introducing a new offence would “overlap with existing offences”, but I am arguing that adding a grouping to include existing offences under the simple term “spiking” would do the job. We do not need a new offence; we need to amend existing law, not create a new law.
The Minister acknowledges that the law does not actually reference spiking, but she argues that, while it can be tempting to “reflect modern terminology”, effectively we should not do so. But we have done exactly that with legislation on upskirting, a term I am confident did not exist in 1861 any more than spiking by needle in nightclubs did. We do reflect modern terminology in law. We can do so and we should do so.
Thirdly, on the name of the offence, the Minister goes on to say that the general public
“believe that spiking is illegal, even if they cannot name the specific offence it comes under.”
If the first part of that were true, I doubt any of us would be here, nor would my and many other Members’ constituents—one victim is here today—be pressing us to action, such as Dawn Dines, founder of Stamp Out Spiking, and our police and crime commissioners and the police lead on this issue would not be saying that they believe action is necessary.
The second part of the Minister’s letter on naming the specific offence shows precisely why an amendment is necessary. The offence is known to the public as spiking, and that is what the law should reflect. Although the detail of a 162-year-old Act may be fine, the law can also play a vital role in behavioural change. An amendment reflecting modern language would do just that, making the law unambiguous, especially for a younger generation, who are largely the victims and sometimes the perpetrators of spiking offences.
Fourthly, on data collection, data is critical to understanding both why we need laws and what is happening in society. The Minister writes that a specific spiking offence would
“add to the existing offences…hence potentially confusing the data analysis picture further.”
But that is not what the Select Committee was told. I will quote from former deputy chief constable and lead for drugs at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Jason Harwin, who highlighted to the Select Committee that it is near impossible to get reliable data on drink spiking, saying:
“A challenge is that if it goes on to a second offence—rape or other offences—the original offence that could be linked to spiking, while recorded, is no longer identified in terms of how we flag it within our records.”
In answer to a question from the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) about a specific criminal code for spiking helping, he said that
“we cannot get the data together as quickly, because it might be spread over a number of offences.”
He went on to say:
“The reality is we cannot readily connect offences or offenders straight away”,
and that having a separate offence—effectively, as I would call it, an umbrella offence—
“would help us identify the picture quickly now.”
One of the arguments I have heard about them not needing a separate offence is that section 61 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 makes it an offence for somebody to administer a substance to, or cause it to be taken by, another person without their consent and with the intention of stupefying or overpowering them to enable that person to engage in sexual activity with them. Could my hon. Friend comment on how his proposed offence is different? I would be grateful for further clarification.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The other aspect of the offences that we are dealing with is committing the offence for sexual gratification. That has undoubtedly been a driver in many cases. I do not have the data to hand, but other colleagues may be able to recall how many instances of rape there have been that started with a spiking offence. In fact, a Government adviser on some of these issues was herself both spiked and raped. This is close to home, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that.
That leads on to the very important point. It is not just women; in an increasing number of instances, it is young men who are being spiked in order to gain access to their bank account. They are sometimes robbed of many thousands of pounds. Trying to link this offence to sexual offences only would provide even less clarity. The spiking could take place for the purposes of entertainment, robbery or some other reason, so we cannot link it to sexual offences only.
My right hon. Friend has made two correct points. First, it happens to men as well as women. When I promoted my ten-minute rule Bill, I highlighted the unfortunate case of a Christian Indonesian in Manchester, Mr Sinaga, whose videos later revealed to police 58 cases of men being sexually assaulted. Many of those men did not know they had been sexually assaulted until the police showed them the video evidence. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right on that point. Her second point, on spiking taking place for all sorts of reasons, including that of entertainment—“It’s cool, it’s fun, it’s a dare”—is absolutely valid. That is why we need to ensure that any attempt to spike, or any spiking act, is completely illegal, whatever the motive. She is right to highlight that point.
I will finish on the question of data collection, with a quote from the response of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. It was given in response to the Home Affairs Committee report by the joint leads for the APPC’s addictions and substance misuse portfolio —one is from Durham and the other from Dorset—who said that
“we agree that the creation of a separate criminal offence for spiking would send a clear message to perpetrators that this behaviour is not acceptable and could encourage victims in coming forwards to report incidents.”
That is critical. I know from my constituent Maisy that a lot of young people who have been spiked do not, for various reasons, want to come forward to report the incident. They are frightened of the repercussions and do not believe it will necessarily get anywhere. I believe that the almost 5,000 reports that I mentioned earlier is almost certainly an underestimation of the volume of incidents.
The hon. Member is making an excellent speech and I thank him for the huge amount of work that he has already done on this issue. Does he agree that women in particular are tired of being told that it is our responsibility to protect ourselves from male violence, and that we have to be careful where we go, how much we drink, use anti-spiking straws or even flag down a bus if worried about being victimised? Does he agree that it is time to focus on the perpetrators and on educating men, tackling the root cause, which is misogyny, and actually prosecuting crimes?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point, although, as we have heard, there are young males who are also victims of spiking. As a father, when my daughter was young and first going out to nightclubs, I advised her to be very cautious. I gave her a list of things she could do to reduce the possibility of inadvertently getting mixed up in spiking and all sorts of other things. The hon. Lady is right to highlight that we should be focusing on the perpetrators and where the problem is, which is why it is so important to have spiking as an overall offence. She is right to say that this is not in any way about telling young women that they cannot go out and have a night of fun.
That leads me on to the next point I want to highlight from the Minister’s letter, which is about violence against women and girls. The Minister writes that the Government are focused on practical rather than legal action, and goes on to list various funding streams for VAWG initiatives. I believe that all of those are important, but they miss the specific point. I, my constituent Maisy, her mother Rosie, so many other constituents of colleagues here—including the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), who sent me a case from her constituency—the Stamp Out Spiking group, which is represented here today, and many other colleagues who are not able to be here but would have wanted to, all want to see legal action as well as practical action in the form of a simple amendment such as I outlined earlier.
Such an amendment would also be very practical, I believe. It would enable media, social media, local government authorities, police, licensed victualling associations and nightclub managers to say, absolutely correctly and for the first time, that spiking is a named legal offence—that those who even attempt to do it might be cautioned or prosecuted, and might therefore be convicted of a criminal offence, which would seriously damage their chances of keeping or winning a job. I believe that will be very powerful, particularly for students. That message, clear and unambiguous, is what I believe the law should say, not just as guidance to the night-time economy managers but to everyone. It can be done through a simple amendment, which Government and parliamentary lawyers will be able to quickly come up with. I believe work was already being done on that by previous Ministers. It will add to the commitment made by the Prime Minister and this Government to reducing violence against women and girls, as well as affected males—a point that was made earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes).
So, Minister, will this Government see the light, recognise the value of a simple amendment—not a new law; I get the point on that—and recognise that it is both desirable and necessary to get the message out there? This Government and Parliament could be the ones that make spiking completely illegal for the first time. I believe that other Ministers understood that, and I call on Ministers at the Home Office today to finish the job, and avoid the need for further debate and my wasting their precious ministerial time again. That is the challenge today, and I hope very much that the Minister and the Department will rise to it.
There are a great number of Members wanting to speak in this debate, so I will have to impose a maximum limit on speeches of three and a half minutes, to allow everybody to get in. I will remind people of the times. I will call the Front Benchers just before 3.40 pm, to allow Richard Graham to wind up at about 3.58 pm. I also want to mention that there could be a vote; if so, I will suspend the sitting for that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on securing this very important and timely debate. I echo the concerns about spiking in the night-time economy. Action is needed, especially a specific criminal offence of spiking. The Government did promise that in their announcements last year, but they have now decided against that much-needed change. Recent figures pointed to almost 5,000 spiking incidents in just one year. Those figures are shocking, but they are likely to be the tip of the iceberg, with some reports estimating that as many as 97% of incidents go unreported.
In some settings, that non-reporting is because the possibility of spiking is never explored with the victim, and reporting is never suggested or is not easily available. I am referring specifically to outdoor music festivals. Festivals are big businesses and are now seen as a rite of passage for many 16 to 17-year-olds, who attend events with camping for days on end. Under-16s, too, attend with an adult, but that condition is likely to be checked just once, on entry. Recognising this, the Home Affairs Committee’s report on spiking recommended that all staff working at music festivals, including vendors, be given compulsory safeguarding training, and that that be a requirement that licensing authorities consider when approving events. Sadly, the Government’s response did not support taking those recommendations forward. I ask the Minister to think again.
Festivals are huge pop-up towns, but the police and emergency service presence is often minimal. Police often stick to traffic calming, for obvious reasons, rather than policing the festival itself, as the organisers provide event security and medical facilities. For a successful prosecution of a suspected spiking indecent to be a realistic option—for evidence to be gathered and victim support given when potentially dealing with a child—arrangements at festivals need re-examining.
Ministers instructed police forces to record spiking incidents at festivals last year and report back via Operation Lester. I ask the Minister to share that data and other outcomes of Operation Lester as soon as possible. Much better data would be welcome, as it is currently not gathered centrally. My research of police forces shows just 10 spiking reports from a decade of festivals. It is unrealistic that it is just 10. The same data recorded 193 sexual offences, almost a third of which were against children under 18—the youngest was just 12 years old. The incidents were nearly exclusively against women and girls.
I acknowledge that there is some good practice at some festivals, but in general they are a legislative and response blind spot when it comes to spiking and sexual offences. What response would be expected in any other setting? I suggest that it would be very different indeed. It is time that the Government act to protect young people from these evil spiking predators wherever this crime occurs.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I praise my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) for all his work and his very significant and assiduous campaigning. When I was Home Secretary, I had the privilege of working on this issue with him and my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), who was Minister for Safeguarding.
There is a lot I could say, but our time is limited. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester has presented figures and statistics on the prevalence of spiking. Although we started to see the first cases of spiking materialise in 2021, particularly in parts of the country such as Nottingham—the student population and young ladies, in particular, were being targeted—the evidence base for spiking with needles is still underdeveloped, and a lot more work is required.
I want to make some general and some specific points. Spiking incidents are obviously unacceptable. They now include a multitude of examples involving food, drinks and now spiking with needles, as we have heard. The prevalence of such incidents is deeply worrying, and the numbers are going up. At the same time, we know that women are involved in this, as well as men.
The Government need a coherent approach to address spiking and criminalise it through law. That can be done through amendments to existing legislation—we do not need to reinvent the wheel here, folks. Work undertaken for the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Act 2022 has laid the foundations for a lot of good work, with which the Minister will probably be familiarising himself today. I think that can be a really strong approach for the Government.
That also links to the violence against women and girls strategy. We cannot lose sight of that work. We have heard about some of the practical measures that have been put in place, and that leads to the policy intent and what that means, in terms of the full force of the law. We absolutely need to acknowledge the courage and determination of the victims who have given voice to this issue, and ensure the campaigning organisations and groups that are represented here today are heard. That must come into force in law too.
In the short time I have left, I want to speak about the end-to-end criminal justice system. A lot of work has been undertaken, including the rape review, to ensure the criminal justice system delivers what it says on the tin: justice for victims. A great deal of work is still required to ensure the police and the Crown Prosecution Service join together to recognise the severity of spiking and the range of offences—the umbrella offences, to use my hon. Friend’s phrase. That would give victims the confidence to come forward and would ensure that they are trusted and that the evidential base that they bring forward is heard.
I will close because I am conscious of time. Offenders and perpetrators must be caught and brought to book. At the same time, as we have heard today, we must give victims the confidence and assurance that when they come forward, they will be treated with respect and all seriousness. We must also go after the perpetrators and ensure that much more work is undertaken to deal with perpetrator behaviour.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on securing this important debate on spiking, which is faced by both men and women, and which must be addressed as part of a wider campaign to prevent violence against women and men of all ages.
The offence of spiking is one of the most repugnant that can be knowingly committed by a criminally minded individual against an unsuspecting victim, who may or may not be known to them. It is also known to have been committed by family members. It goes against all social norms of decency, and our natural social sense, as a betrayal of trust. It goes to the heart of the notion that we should all feel safe and secure, particularly, although not solely, at social occasions where alcohol is often consumed.
There are several reasons why someone might decide to spike another’s drink with alcohol or drugs. It might be as a prank or joke, or to make it easier for them to commit a criminal offence of violence, sexual violence or robbery. Although the public perception may be that this is an offence generally perpetrated by men against women, perhaps in a night club or similar environment, against someone they have only recently met or become casually acquainted with, we should not lose sight of the fact that it is a problem for all sections of the community.
That is terrifyingly and tragically illustrated by the case of Reynhard Sinaga in Manchester in 2020. He was convicted of 159 sex offences, including the rape of 136 young men, who were almost entirely heterosexual, after befriending them and offering to let them stay in his flat, where he drugged them with gamma hydroxybutyrate —commonly known as GHB and well known as a date-rape drug—and raped or sexually assaulted them.
A further case of spiking being used against men is highlighted by the conviction of Stephen Port, who befriended men through the dating site Grindr, and in 2016 was convicted of the murder of four young men, the rape of three others, 10 counts of administering a substance with intent, and four sexual assaults. Most, if not all, of those offences were carried out by Port surreptitiously administering GHB, amyl nitrite, mephedrone and methamphetamine—also known as crystal meth—to his victims. Such cases are extremely rare, but they highlight the potentially dangerous misuse of substances for spiking and their ready availability.
I am aware of calls for a new specific offence of spiking. It is already illegal to spike drinks with GHB, GBL and 1,4-BD, which are commonly used as spiking agents. From April 2022 in England and Wales, people found in unlawful possession of those drugs face sentences of up to five years behind bars. Those involved in supply and production face up to 14 years in prison. That is also an offence under section 61 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
Despite those existing offences and the punishments available, I would support the introduction of a new specific offence of spiking, drawing all the current offences together to make it clearer for the public, police, prosecutors and courts to understand fully the severity of the crime and the public disapproval of anyone who commits such an awful offence, reinforced by high-tariff penalties.
In the meantime, we need a more targeted and determined effort by police services to use existing laws in this new context, and where evidence is available, for the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute offenders proactively, and the courts to impose significant sentences to deter others from committing this heinous offence.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I rise in support of my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), and I congratulate him on securing this important debate and on his recognition in the recent new year’s honours.
I mainly wanted to join this debate about spiking, date rape and all that comes with it because I and many in my constituency of Stroud are working really hard to tackle violence against women and girls. Our local police, Stroud Women’s Refuge, the Nelson Trust, campaign groups such as This Ends Now, Safe Space, businesses and local schools are all urging for societal and legislative change to protect women and girls and change behaviours, so I know they will expect me to be active on this issue.
According to YouGov, one in nine women claims that they have been a victim of spiking and 6% of men have also been targeted, so it is right that this issue receives some serious attention in this place. The date rape cases are probably quite familiar to most of the public—as covered in the soaps, Rohypnol and GHB are commonly used and are undetectable in drinks—but other drugs are now being used, with people becoming more and more creative in their use of spiking to commit assault. People have long been aware of how to deal with drink spiking. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, the advice goes out to young women that if they go to a nightclub, they should put their hands over their glasses and not leave their drinks, but it is nigh on impossible for them to protect themselves from somebody brushing up against them with a needle. The police are left literally trying to find a needle in a haystack.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester has previously spoken movingly about his constituent Maisy Farmer. It is anybody’s worst nightmare to not know what happened to them the night before, but then they have to go through the absolute hell of worrying about whether they have contracted HIV or hepatitis and waiting for the results. That is a double horror.
We are dealing with faceless criminals, and the police are really stuck with what to do. We need to raise awareness about reporting incidents, going and getting help, and being tested very quickly, but we also need to help our nightclub staff, police and medics, because it is clear to me that they are asking for support. A legislative change would raise the bar and completely change the game on these offences.
I pay tribute to the Gloucestershire police and crime commissioner, Chris Nelson, who quickly gripped this issue. He was the first in the UK to launch an operation to tackle spiking in the nightclub economy. In Stroud, we are reopening our nightclub after a very long period because of the pandemic, and I will be working with the police to ensure that the police and crime commissioner’s work is known well throughout our towns.
I welcome the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester on this issue, and I will continue to watch closely and to see how we can find more ways to protect men and women in Stroud, Gloucestershire and beyond. I love the fact that we have raised it to an issue of national security by accident and that we have such an eminent Minister in our midst, but this is very serious and I am pleased to see so many Members present. Well done to my hon. Friend for bringing it forward.
It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Ms McVey. It is a privilege to follow the contribution from the hon. Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie), which I agreed with wholeheartedly, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on securing the debate. The number of Members who have turned up to speak is a testament to the importance of the subject, and I know that many Members who wanted to speak could not do so, which just goes to show how vital this issue is. We need to take action today.
I want to talk about the victims of this crime, because behind every spiking incident is a traumatised victim, very often a young woman. As we have heard, however, men are victims too. My heart aches for every single victim. I want to place on the record my overwhelming admiration for Sharon Gaffka, the anti-spiking campaigner, who has led the way on this issue over the past few years. She recently wrote about her own experiences, and her bravery in speaking out about her personal experience of spiking has inspired countless others to come forward and talk about their experiences. I thank her for bravely speaking out.
The prevalence of such horrendous acts is sickening, and I am disturbed by how normalised it is for women and girls to take measures to prevent spiking from taking place. As we have heard, women are often advised to cover their drinks, to wear a denim jacket to prevent being spiked by a needle, to not wear provocative clothing, to not take a drink from a stranger and to wear special nail varnish. How many more times do we have to tell victims to take action against being abused, against being spiked, or against being raped or murdered? I am sick and tired of women—it is particularly women—being told to take responsibility for actions and behaviours being perpetrated against them.
Enough is enough. It is about time we focused on perpetrators, which is why I wholeheartedly support the report of the Home Affairs Committee and, as other hon. Members have said today, creating a new offence for spiking. Every woman deserves to enjoy a night out without living in fear that a predatory man—let us be honest, it is almost always a man—will slip a drug into their drink, or spike them, just as shockingly, with a needle. They could be anywhere, any time, any place.
I thank the nearly 2,000 victims who came forward and participated in the Committee’s survey on spiking. Their bravery has paved the way for this debate here today, and will hopefully, in turn, pave the way for a new offence to be created. They are to be commended. I thank each and every victim for coming forward and talking about their experience. We can all agree that a new offence would go a long way to deter perpetrators and empower the police to conduct more investigations. We need to end the culture of victim blaming and make sure that allegations of spiking, attempts at spiking and spiking itself are taken seriously.
I commend my own local business improvement district in Pontypridd. It has taken direct action, working with the night-time economy. It has delivered spiking awareness training to the Pubwatch team. It has highlighted known or alleged perpetrators. It is well known locally, and South Wales Police are to be commended on the action they are taking, but it is not enough. We need a joined-up, holistic approach from the UK Government that ensures consistency across our police services. We need to empower our police forces to prosecute perpetrators and record spiking rates. As the Committee report also argues, we need to collect data from perpetrators on motivation; as we have heard, spiking is not always sexually motivated.
Without the UK Government leading the way here, we will be failing the victims of a hugely under-reported crime. I urge the Government and the Minister to show leadership and tackle the scourge of this largely hidden crime. We need to make sure of a long-lasting legacy for the victims, and ensure that no one faces this horrendous crime.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and all colleagues who have spoken. I will never forget my visit to Gloucester at my hon. Friend’s invitation, to meet his constituent Maisy and her mother and to hear her story first hand, and to speak to Sharon Gaffka, as many of us have, and to Dawn Dines, who I am delighted to see is with us today.
We need a holistic response to this crime. I want to use my time to point out some of the fantastic things that the Home Office has done and is doing, as well as to ask some questions of the Minister and point to where he and his colleagues can go further.
We did a great job in the festival sector last summer. The sector came together to protect young people in their first summer of fun after the pandemic—the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and I spoke about this issue. We know that when the education, support and guidance is put in place, and when work takes place across the night-time economy with the police, that can make a real difference. A lot of young people went out and had a great time, safely.
I thank all those partners and pay tribute to businesses in the night-time economy. They have stepped up to the plate, working in their local areas, making use of Government funding pots such as the safer streets fund and the safety of women at night fund. They have put practical measures in place. We need the legislative change that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester spoke about so clearly, and we need to keep going with that holistic approach, making sure that police forces can gather data and mount prosecutions using forensic capabilities, which need to be boosted.
The response from the National Police Chiefs’ Council highlighted the lack of a clear criminal offence for spiking. Will the Minister expand on the Home Office’s view that no criminal offence or change to the law is required, given that expert advice from frontline policing? If it is not the position to introduce a new offence—I also served in the Ministry of Justice, and I understand that there are arguments and nuances here—what other measures should be introduced to enable the police to investigate and record crimes more accurately and bring more perpetrators to justice? There is clearly a lot of work to do.
What concrete actions can the Minister take with colleagues to make sure that police forces are recording data accurately so that we can develop the right policy and make sure that the considerable amount of Government funding—multimillion pounds of funding are going into these support services—is going to the right places at the right time, and that data is being gathered quickly?
The Home Office is to run a consultation on the statutory guidance on licensing premises. That is a good idea. Will that cover restaurants? Members might recall that Sharon Gaffka was spiked in a Mayfair restaurant; so was Emily Hunt. We need to ensure that we are covering all the places where women, girls and men can be spiked. What has been learned from the phenomenal work—I pay tribute to the Home Office officials who did that work—in the festival sector? Is that being rolled out again and what more can be done? What are the universities doing? We know that they play a crucial role.
There was a fantastic suite of cross-Government working with the higher education Minister, with public health and with the emergency and urgent care response. We need to stand that up and learn from it. Finally, what has been learned from all the money that has been spent on what actually works to stop this in a particular area? I want to thank Maggie Blyth, who is the Government’s policing lead for violence against women and girls, for everything that she has done with her colleagues in the police force to ensure that there is a response. She said clearly, “If you are spiked, you must come forward. If you have taken illegal drugs, still come forward and report it.”
I thank the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) for bringing this issue forward. He deserves credit for his perseverance, commitment and dogged determination to ensure that we get change, and we are all here to support him and ensure that he gets that—well done to him. Spiking is not an issue that applies to a certain location or region. This is a nationwide issue that has impacted the lives of many young people. It is important to be here today and I want to add a Northern Ireland perspective to the debate. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Spiking over the past couple of years in the UK has unfortunately become a common occurrence. A report in April 2022 showed that as many as 43,000 people have been spiked in the UK over the past year—more than double the figure for 2018. That underlines the point made by the hon. Member: this needs to be legislated for, and that needs to be done sooner rather than later. I have been in contact with constituents in relation to spiking incidents in Northern Ireland, especially in the nightclub scene. I am far too old for nightclubs, but my constituents have contacted me so I can refer to that with some credibility and honesty. The Police Service of Northern Ireland revealed that there have been up to 17 spiking incidents in one nightclub in Londonderry alone, which is frightening not only for young people, who want to go out and enjoy themselves, but for their parents, because families are affected by this issue as well.
There are evil people out there who will make irresponsible decisions to make committing crimes easier. If taken at a low dose, a spiking drug can disappear from someone’s system in 12 to 24 hours. With an increased dose, victims are induced into a coma-like state. Spiking has often been used in places like clubs and at raves to enable perpetrators to commit sexual assault. There was a story in the news today—I am not smarter than anybody else; it was on the news this morning—about a venue in London being closed because young males were being spiked with drugs and their money was being taken. The right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) spoke about that—I had it written down in my notes, but she beat me to it. I thank and support her in what she has put forward. I agree that there needs to be greater co-ordination between the Government and nightclub staff, owners and bouncers, so that this issue can be minimised and dealt with to the best of our ability.
That is the first time I have heard anyone mention bouncers, and they have such a crucial role to play. A constituent of mine who was spiked was picked up in the ladies loo and dumped on the pavement because they thought she was drunk, not drugged. That is such a crucial thing, and we need training for bouncers as well.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. It is important that we take a holistic approach that involves all those who have a role to play, including bouncers, and that it is done in a positive way. The spiking I mentioned earlier in Londonderry was in relation to Ulster University students. There is most certainly a spiking problem in universities, particularly for students. There has been an initiative by the Government, the Home Office and the Department for Education to help nightclubs tackle spiking. I understand that this issue is not directly the responsibility of the Minister, but perhaps he could ensure that the Minister responsible provides some clarity as to whether this strategy would apply to Northern Ireland or whether any scheme would have to go through the Department of Justice back home. Again, I want to ensure that what happens here happens in Northern Ireland.
I have two examples. Some nightclubs in Scotland have introduced paper dip tests that change colour if a suspicious substance is added to a drink. In addition, I have been made aware by some of my younger members of staff that there are cup covers that cover the top of a cup and only allow a hole for a straw. Those are some things that we can do. However, the most important thing is that today, in this Westminster Hall debate, through the office of the hon. Member for Gloucester, we start the process of change.
Many of the points I was going to make have already been made, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham). I will cover some other points in the short time that we have.
I recently went out into Loughborough with the Street Pastors, a Christian organisation that does excellent work in Loughborough and around the country. It offers help and assistance to those on a night out who have perhaps lost the friends they came with, who are feeling a little worse for wear or who have been spiked.
While I was out with the Street Pastors, the local police had a knife arch in place at one of the pubs. They had been moving it from one venue to the next to attract attention and introduce people to it. Visitors to the pub, security staff, police and owners were all very much in support of the knife arch, and residents told me that it made them feel safer. With that idea in mind, I am interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on a knife arch scheme and on the other things that we are talking about to do with spiking.
Before the debate, I contacted Loughborough Students Union for its views on the matter. In response, the union’s president, Harry Hughes, said:
“As much as we don't like to admit it or recognise it spiking is a serious issue that can have serious consequences for the safety and well-being of all our students. It is important for everyone especially pub and club staff and security to be aware of the risks of spiking and to take steps to protect themselves and their patrons against the ordeal. It is also important for the general public and students alike to feel comfortable around venue staff and police officers so they are more likely to report any incidents of spiking and seek medical attention as early as possible, giving us a more accurate reading of the current crisis and allowing us to begin to form change.
The government, local authorities and licensing authorities need to do more to safeguard our students and the wider population against individuals who commit this crime. We believe more can be done and Student Unions across the country are all singing from the same hymn sheet on this issue."
He also set out a number of recommendations from the union on how the situation could be improved. First, it would be beneficial if training for the current Security Industry Authority—the SIA—included a section on spiking awareness, and went into more detail on the signs and symptoms of spiking. The union also feels that greater training is needed for door supervisors on the topic in general, to ensure that they take each reported concern seriously.
Secondly, the union would like to see section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003 updated to encourage local licensing authorities to consider placing additional conditions on licences to safeguard patrons against spiking. Thirdly, the union is keen to see significant data collection on the use of local licensing authorities’ powers to impose conditions or revoke premises’ licences when venues do not take sufficient measures to protect and provide support to customers in spiking incidents.
Fourthly, the union thinks that local authorities and licensing groups should have the power to enforce the use of pub and club watch schemes. It should be considered mandatory for all venues to be part of such a scheme to ensure that adequate communication takes place. That could be extended to include student unions that operate any form of pub or night time activity.
There are varying responses to this issue in towns and cities across the country. Some venues provide little or no support, while others do much more. Ensuring that each venue has a spiking response procedure as part of its licensing agreement is key to venue safety, and I am interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on those suggestions.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I thank the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) for securing the debate and for attempting to introduce a Bill on this issue. As the shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, I have a particular interest in this issue, as women and girls make up 74% of all victims, although men are also affected, especially gay men, who are very vulnerable to this.
Last year, it was reported that almost 5,000 cases of spiking occurred across Britain, and in Bolton there were over 50 reported cases of spiking—almost five people a month—in the last year. We know that, realistically, the actual figure is much higher, as a survey by the Home Affairs Committee found that 72% of victims do not report the incident. I wrote to licensed institutions in my constituency, imploring them all to carry out Ask for Angela training, which can help to protect women and girls who are concerned about their safety. The increased incidence of spiking makes that training vital.
Members across the House will know someone or have a colleague or friend who has had this happen to them. The pioneering Manchester news outlet, The Mill, covered spiking at length late last year. It told the personal stories of people such as Charlotte, who woke up in the morning after a party with her legs covered in bruises and her memory patchy, and Hannah, who sipped a drink that caused her heart palpitations and prompted her to collapse, feeling paralytic. I also know two people who have had their drinks spiked. One of those incidents occurred in the ’90s, so this is not a new problem. It has been in existence for a very long time; it just has not had the attention that we are now giving it.
It is important to make this a crime. It will not be the complete solution to the problem of spiking—other things need to be done—but it is a vital start, to ensure that this is criminalised. Once it becomes a crime, it will be recorded properly, and we will have a better picture of the extent of spiking. We all know about the incidents that occur in universities, and it is something that people are so vulnerable to. One of the two people I know who have been subject to spiking said that she felt so paralytic and so unwell that she was very grateful she had friends with her, and the bouncers in the nightclub were exceptionally good and helped her. I urge the Minister to make this a crime as soon as possible.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms McVey. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on securing a debate on this very important issue. As he said, spiking is illegal, but as it has become a serious problem in the United Kingdom, with thousands of young people falling victim to this disgusting crime, causing considerable fear and anxiety among many more, there are, understandably, calls for spiking to be made a separate offence.
As we have heard, almost 5,000 reports of needle and drink spiking were made to UK police forces over the course of 2022. However, that does not represent the scale of the problem, as most victims of spiking do not report it to the authorities. I was perturbed to read recently that Sussex has the seventh highest level of drink spiking in the UK. Most victims say they do not report it because they are embarrassed or ashamed, because they do not remember what happened or because they do not believe anything will be done about it.
Many things need to change so that our young people can feel safe while socialising. The culture around spiking needs to change. We need anti-spiking measures at UK nightclubs and bars, and they need to become commonplace. Convictions for spiking need to increase, with the most severe sentences handed down. The education of young people is a key starting point, to prevent the risk of harm in the first place. Clubs and bars can take many safety measures to reduce the threat of spiking, and the training of staff, for example, is crucial. They are likely wise to the effects of increased alcohol consumption and, as such, can read when someone is reaching their limit, but spotting a potential spiking is different; greater awareness is therefore required.
I will point out the Ask for Angela scheme, which is a brilliant safety initiative that protects people if they feel unsafe, vulnerable or threatened in a bar or club. The codeword is a signal to staff that someone requires assistance or help. Many establishments have adopted the initiative, and I hope that it becomes much more commonplace. I thank Sussex police for its work in highlighting the scheme.
I am also aware of some clubs using spiked drink test strips to test random, unattended drinks, or the drinks of concerned customers, for substances. Some bars and clubs have fully qualified first aid responders or medics on site throughout the night; however, that is rare, and we need to look at more initiatives on this. It is crucial to have more co-ordinated support from venues, police and health services. When someone believes that they have been spiked, they should be able to access health services as quickly as possible. They should be tested quickly for substances, because spiking drugs pass through people’s bodies so quickly that it is hard to collect evidence and prosecute offenders.
Clubs, bars, pubs and individuals can all take action to protect their customers and themselves against spiking, but I urge the Minister to expedite progress on legislation, which is also required. Spiking largely affects women and girls, although men are victims too; we must stand up for women and girls, and for their rights and safety, and show that we have zero tolerance. This Conservative Government have done much to fight violence against women and girls, and further legislation—or a change in legislation—should be part of our armour.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
The debate may continue until 12 minutes past 4.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on his determination and perseverance on this issue. The fact that this debate has been so well attended shows the strength of feeling on spiking. It is important to note that the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), and the former safeguarding Minister, the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), have taken part in this debate and made their views very clear, which is helpful.
The Home Affairs Committee carried out an inquiry on spiking last year, which reported in April 2022. Some 2,000 victims and 1,400 witnesses of spiking responded to our call for evidence. It is interesting to note that 75% of the victims had not reported the spiking incident to the police. We made a number of recommendations; I want to go through them quickly, and then refer to the letter from the Government dated 20 December. The first recommendation was on education, training and awareness—to aid prevention, detection and reporting of spiking. We also talked about action by local authorities and reviewing the guidance under section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003. I am pleased that we have heard reference today to door staff, because they are very important in how spiking incidents are dealt with.
We talked about a national strategy on prevention. There is much good work done locally, but nationally we do not have an overarching strategy. We talked about a duty on all police forces, so that when incidents of spiking are reported, there is access to rapid testing. We also asked the Government to consider whether a new offence around spiking was required. From the letter from the Government dated 20 December, published by the Home Affairs Committee this morning, I was very pleased to learn that the Government plan to have a review of section 182 of the Licensing Act, but I ask the Minister to set out the timetable for that consultation, and to say when we are likely to know the results.
I am disappointed that the Government do not accept the arguments for a new specific offence. They say that there is sufficient legislation on the statute books, but it is clearly not working; it is not being used, reporting is low and prosecutions are very rare indeed. The hon. Member for Gloucester has made a very clear and compelling case for a way forward on a specific spiking offence. Can the Minister tell the House what the Government target is for increasing the use of existing legislation to hold perpetrators of spiking to account? Also, what increase would show that the Government were successfully dealing with spiking offences?
We are told that data can be collected centrally, and that there is a development of central procedures. Can the Minister explain to the House what the process will be, how it will work and what the timetable is for this data to be captured?
In the letter from the Minister, the Government say that their public awareness campaign on violence against women and girls, which is known as Enough, and to which I pay great tribute, covers spiking, but anyone looking online at the information about that campaign would have to search very hard to find any reference to spiking. I ask the Minister to go away and have a look at it for himself, to assess how clear it is that the Government take spiking very seriously in their fight against violence against women and girls.
Some work has been done, which we welcome, but there is much more to do. This is an ongoing issue. It needs to be properly resourced, and Government and statutory responses to the problem need to be embedded, so that the Government uphold their commitment to combatting violence against women and girls.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), not only on securing this debate but on his committed campaigning on this issue.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) said that she is sick of young women being told to take precautions. I am sick of that, too, but I am even more sick of the seemingly endless number of ways of intimidating and hurting women that some men think up. I have seen so much of it in my last three years as an MP. We need to be as creative when it comes to stopping them—indeed, to stopping all spiking offences, because, as colleagues have said, although those affected are mostly women, they are not only women.
Sadly, it did not surprise me to see my constituency near the top of the list when it came to support for the petitions related to this debate, because Nottingham saw a spate of spiking in autumn 2021, and last year it had one of the highest number of reported incidents of needle-spiking.
The better the data we have, the better our response will be. I am pleased that the Government asked the National Police Chiefs’ Council to establish a reporting mechanism, so that all police forces can report incidents of spiking centrally. That will help us to gain a better understanding of the scale and nature of the problem. The Government have also worked with clubs, bars and universities to raise awareness of spiking, to help to prevent it. For example, Nottingham Trent University has funded intervention training for staff in city-centre venues, and many other universities have increased bag searches at events, and provide drinks protectors and kits to test for spiking.
Rushcliffe has benefited from the Safer Streets Fund; West Bridgford and Trent Bridge have received nearly £250,000, which has provided new safer street wardens in the evenings, and more closed circuit television. I am a strong supporter of the Enough campaign, which highlights the different forms of violence against women and girls, including spiking, as well as the simple acts that anyone can take to challenge perpetrators of abuse, because at the end of the day only a society can change a culture. However, I take on board the comments that the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee made about the campaign; I hope that the Home Office will review its content on spiking. I am also pleased that the Government have reclassified GHB, the date-rape drug, so that offenders face up to five years in prison.
On the issue of a specific offence of spiking, there are already a range of offences that could cover spiking in certain circumstances. However, what we really need to understand from the Government in the report that I think is being published at the end of April is how effective efforts to prosecute incidents of spiking are under existing laws. We also need to know what the average sentence is for spiking offences prosecuted under these laws—not the maximum penalties for these offences, which is what the Government are publishing in response to parliamentary questions. That is the only way we can gauge whether the existing penalties are likely to provide sufficient punishment for offenders. We need to send a very clear message from this House that spiking is a vicious attack. If someone is going to attack people in this way, whether their weapon is a pill slipped into someone’s drink or a needle jabbed into their arm, they should expect a custodial sentence.
I thank all Members for keeping to the time limit and enabling everybody to speak in this well-attended debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey, and to be in a debate in which the majority of speakers are women. Unusual as that is, it perhaps reflects the fact that this is seen as a women’s issue. It largely is, but we could do with more male allies. That is why I am even more grateful to the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) for all the work he has done.
There are two others here!
And indeed there are other male Members here. I am getting myself into trouble before I have even started.
This is an important issue, and we have said that men are affected by it. Yesterday, I was reading in the Evening Standard about people being drugged in a club and having vast amounts of money stolen from them, so spiking is also used as a means to steal, but it still largely affects women. Stamp Out Spiking says that four out of five victims are women.
This crime has historically been dismissed, although it has been around for years. As has been said, it is often seen as the fault of the victim for going out, having too much fun and drinking too much. The stigma that attaches to that means that lots of people do not come forward. Spiking happens because of criminals. It is a violent act with damaging physical and mental health consequences. Women and men should be able to go about their business and enjoy their nights out without fear. It is pernicious and a route to further criminality, be it acquisitive crime, robbery, sexual assault or, in some cases, rape.
We need leadership on this issue. The hon. Member for Gloucester, the Home Affairs Committee and Members on both sides of the House are calling on the Government to act, and move further faster. Just shy of 5,000 cases were reported in the 12 months to September 2022, but as has been said, there is massive under-reporting; many people do not come forward. As the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee said, the majority of people who came forward in her Committee’s consultation did not report anything to the police. That lack of confidence in authorities—that pessimism that nothing will be done—is a real problem, so I ask the Minister, following on from the Select Committee’s recommendations, what more work the Government can do to improve the reporting of spiking, and to support victims in coming forward.
The lack of a specific offence is obviously the main topic that we have been talking about. Last year, Labour added to calls for the Government to introduce a specific offence of spiking and intent to spike. We tabled an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill calling for urgent action, and a review of the prevalence of spiking and the criminal justice system’s response to it. The Government sadly did not agree to it.
The Government could commit today to referring spiking sentencing to the Sentencing Council. Analysis of how many prosecutions occur is very difficult because we do not have all the figures, but there were only 36 prosecutions and 20 convictions over 2020 for what is called “other miscellaneous sexual offences”, of which spiking is one category. In the 10 years to 2020, there were only 286 convictions under that offence. Only three people were prosecuted under section 23 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 in 2020, and there were only 104 section 24 offences of administering poison with intent to injure or annoy. There is a wide range of offences that spiking can fall under. It is complicated. As the hon. Member for Gloucester argues, we should call a spade a spade and introduce a specific offence for spiking.
There is good work being done across the country on this. I went to the west midlands and walked about Birmingham with PCC Simon Foster, who is doing some really good work. West Midlands police have a system in which they attend all allegations, and triage victims in Birmingham safe space areas, which are staffed by security and medics throughout the night. Drugs screening is prioritised, and urine samples are taken within 72 hours. The speed with which those drugs leave our bodies makes evidence gathering far harder, but the police react with a speed that keeps up with that.
In Northumbria, Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness has placed dedicated officers on patrol in Newcastle’s bustling night-time economy, which I enjoyed when I was at Durham University. They are there to protect individuals and target those who commit offences. We have talked about the Ask Angela scheme in places such as Leeds; more than 650 night-time economy providers have signed up to those scheme, through which those who feel unsafe, vulnerable or threatened can seek help discretely by approaching staff and asking for Angela.
While spiking is a horrid and invasive crime, it is just one of the threats to women engaging with the night-time economy. All too often, bouncers throw out young women, or young people, because they are too drunk, with little care for their safety, when in reality they are under the influence of something that was slipped into their drink. Even when they are leaving because they have had too much to drink, they are still vulnerable and need support. There is some really good work around the country that I would like the Government to look at rolling out. For example, if someone leaves a nightclub in Birmingham, there are lots of phone numbers that the bouncers and others can use to get someone from St John’s Ambulance to come and make sure that person gets home safely. That is simple but really effective.
There is a great epidemic of violence against women and girls in this country. Spiking, as a violent act, in many cases is based on misogyny and lack of respect. When done with a needle, it involves a weapon, too. The Labour party has repeatedly pushed the Government to go further, faster, on violence against women and girls. Labour has produced a comprehensive violence against women and girls White Paper, setting out our vision of a Britain that is safe for women and girls. We have consistently called for VAWG to be part of the strategic policing requirement that has been promised by the Government but not delivered. Police forces are not yet required to tackle crimes against women as a priority. That is unforgiveable, and yet another example of a Tory Government refusing to take concrete action to protect women.
Following on from the Select Committee recommendations, what work are the Government doing to improve reporting of spiking? Will the Minister accept the arguments for making spiking a specific offence? Will he go further on violence against women more broadly, not least by making it a specific strategic requirement?
Yesterday, I was in a youth centre in Croydon, and as always there were a range of leaflets there. I picked one up, and it said, “Keep an eye on your drink. You won’t know your drink has been spiked until it is too late, so be careful.” It can no longer be solely the duty of our women and girls to keep themselves safe. After years of neglect in this area, the Government must step up and take action.
The Minister should be mindful to leave two minutes for a winding-up speech.
I am entirely mindful of that, Ms McVey. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) quite rightly stated at the beginning of the debate, this is not normally an area I have taken the active interest in that I have today. The reason is that it has been covered by many other brilliant Ministers, and I am delighted to see several of them in the Chamber, notably my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), who has done so much for the protection of women and girls in her role in the Home Office. She has spoken out in many other ways and at many other times for the protection of women and girls, not just in the United Kingdom but around the world. If I may, I pay personal tribute to her on the record and thank her for the protection she offered Afghan women and girls, when she was instrumental in helping so many escape that terrible moment in 2021 when the Taliban were doing more than anyone has done in decades to reverse the rights of women and girls.
Many powerful voices have spoken out. She did not speak today, but I speak in particular praise of the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), who has spoken out on the record publicly about her own experience of spiking and the reason it matters so much to her and many others. She has exposed a very important truth, which is that, although we have spoken a lot about women and girls today, this crime is not about women and girls, but about our whole society. It affects many young men as well, and it affects many more people in our community than just those who are spiked. It affects families and loved ones. It affects partners and friends, who deal with the pain of seeing a victim suffer and with the trauma that affects a community afterwards.
I place on the record the importance I attach to this crime, as I know the Safeguarding Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines), also does, as does the Home Secretary, who has been very clear in her defence of not just women and girls, but all people in our society over the months in which she has been in post. This is an enormously important issue, and I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester and to all other Members who have spoken out today. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) put it, this is a crime of violence, and violence should be punished.
There is an awful lot that is already being done. We should be especially grateful to people such as Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth, who is the national policing lead in this area. She has done huge amounts of work to make sure that, in cities across England and Wales, uniformed police officers visit venues and work closely with those who are guarding them. The SIA has also made it part of the conditions for licensing in the industry, including for bouncers, to consider the importance of standing up for women and girls and knowing how to act in certain circumstances. That change was brought in by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham—that was another moment when she was active in defending people who require assistance in moments of emergency and trauma. I am extremely grateful for the work that has been done.
I am also grateful for the work done with groups such as Eurofins, which has developed a rapid testing capability. Forgive me for going on about it, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham was again instrumental in that development. I am also grateful for the work of police forces around the country, in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, in making sure that police officers are properly trained and ready to respond.
It is absolutely right that we now look at where the law is. Last year, we reclassified the so-called date rape drug GHB and two related substances from class C to class B, under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which made those drugs harder to access and increased the maximum jail sentence from two to five years. Spiking is one of the crimes that is affected by those drugs, and that change was an important step in addressing the use of those drugs and their availability.
Since 2021, £30 million has been invested in projects with a particular focus on protecting women in communities. This Government have also been absolutely adamant about setting up a tackling violence against women and girls strategy, to ensure that women and girls are safe on our streets and in our night-time economy. It is worth saying that action taken to protect women and girls protects all people in our night-time economy, which is absolutely essential.
It is also important that the Enough communications campaign has been having an impact. It is good to see so many different groups supporting it and pushing out the different ways in which it can been helpful.
Another aspect is the additional £50 million invested into the 111 projects through the safer streets fund, which has focused on tackling violence against women and girls in public places, as well as neighbourhood crime and antisocial behaviour. I am very grateful that so much of that funding has gone through and has now been seen in a range of interventions, including bystander training programmes, taxi marshals, CCTV and street lighting, drink protectors and educational training for night-time economy staff.
Public safety is of course paramount, which is why we worked so closely with festivals and festival organisers and the outdoor events sector last summer to ensure that the necessary protocols, training, communications and guidance were in place ahead of events, and why so much work has been done with universities ahead of freshers week. Sadly, it is a time when events can lead to offences, and we need to ensure that everyone is aware of the challenges that we face and the dangers that some people bring. I am extremely grateful for all the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester has done to highlight the issue, not least through introducing a private Member’s Bill last year.
The Home Office, and the Home Secretary in particular, is committed to examining whether, in addition to the existing range of offences that can be used to cover spiking, there is need for a further criminal offence. The Home Office has told me that it has carefully considered the case for further legislation, and the Minister for Safeguarding has written to the Home Affairs Committee. There is clearly more that has come out today. There is clearly a strength of feeling in the House and a voice that is coming from so many parts of this Chamber that needs to be listened to. I am sure that the Minister for Safeguarding will listen to this debate and hear exactly what has been said.
I am interested to note that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester has mentioned that, given the strength of existing legislation, he is not of the opinion that a new offence is required. I will listen carefully to his point and his suggestion that a so-called umbrella amendment may be possible. This is not an area on which I have spoken to officials, so I hope he will forgive me, but my understanding is that this would come under the Offences against the Person Act 1861 and would require—I see that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham is nodding, as she is more aware of this than I am—conversation and discussion with the Ministry of Justice. I will take that away and come back to him, or ask the Minister for Safeguarding to come back to him to look at where different aspects could be investigated, because no one wants a gap in the law. No one wants to see crimes going unpunished and no one wants to see victims unable to achieve the level of protection that is absolutely essential.
Having heard the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), and the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), make such powerful points in the debate, I think there certainly are areas in which we could investigate further opportunities for co-operation and ensuring that spiking is not only reported but counted in the data, so that we can target responses in exactly the way we should for the protection of others.
This morning, the Home Affairs Committee published the letter from the Minister for Safeguarding, which is dated 20 December—sent just before Parliament rose for the Christmas recess. Is the Minister now saying that he is moving away from the unequivocal position set out in that letter, which said that there was going to be no change to the law because existing legislation stands and is sufficient? From what the Minister is now saying, it sounds that way to me. If he is, can he please write to the Committee and to the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), because we were under the impression that that was not the Government’s case at all?
My position and the Government’s position on this is that the Minister for Safeguarding has written clearly to the right hon. Lady, but I was merely identifying the fact that the whole point of this Chamber is to debate and explore ideas, and ideas have been explored this afternoon. As new ideas come forward and new issues are raised, it is appropriate that we respond to them. I am sure the Minister for Safeguarding will be delighted to respond to them, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester has raised other issues that could offer a different way of looking at things. There are always areas where we can engage in debate and discussion. After all, that is the point of this Chamber.
I am going to leave it there, because my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester will want to wrap up, but I will very briefly go through the facts that have been laid out so clearly. First, this is a crime that sadly affects far too many people in this country and seems to be growing. Secondly, this is a crime that disproportionately affects women and girls, but does also affect many others. Thirdly, the Government take this extremely seriously. In many ways, over many years, they have sought to tighten up the defence of women and girls, of those enjoying the night-time economy and of individuals who may find themselves vulnerable. In that light, I pay huge tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Mid Sussex, for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) and for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham, for the work that they have done in this area in safeguarding others, because it is hugely important not just to the Government, but to all Members of this House.
I believe that today the Government have heard a very clear message from colleagues from five different parties that something more should be done in law about spiking. I accept that we do not need a new and separate law, and I think most other Members do too, but I also believe that the Minister has registered the strength of feeling about our arguments for amending the existing law to include the offence of spiking in all its different forms.
I thank all colleagues who came and spoke in the debate, some of whom are not here now, understandably. I am particularly grateful for the contributions from the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel); the former safeguarding Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean); the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson); my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie), who rightly highlighted the good work done by our police and crime commissioner in Gloucestershire; the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans); and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). They all raised different issues, and the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) made a particularly important speech.
The point of everything that was said in today’s debate is that we have all spoken with one voice in order to represent the thousands and thousands of people across the country who have been spiked. Although some of them are men, they are mostly young women, such as my constituent Maisy Farmer and Lorna Street, who is in the Public Gallery. Many victims have not reported their cases and their hurt, and we have therefore given them a voice today.
We also heard from the Minister that the door is open a fraction, which I appreciate. I believe—I hope that colleagues will join me—that we must now do what we can to push that door further open and reach the success of an amendment.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).