Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 1st, 2nd, 4th and 6th Reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 6th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 7th Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 8: Powers to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence
Amendments 36 to 41 not moved.
Clause 8 agreed.
Clause 9: Power to authorise collaboration etc. with other persons
Amendments 42 to 48 not moved.
Clause 9 agreed.
Amendments 49 to 53 not moved.
Clauses 10 agreed.
Schedule 1: Specified authorities and local government areas
Amendment 54 not moved.
Schedule 1 agreed.
Clause 11 agreed.
Schedule 2 agreed.
Clause 12: Preventing and reducing serious violence
55: Clause 12, page 13, line 4, at end insert “, and domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would clarify on the face of the legislation that the definition of serious violence, for the purpose of the proposed Serious Violence Prevention Duty, includes domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual offences.
I apologise for being a bit quick off the mark earlier.
Amendment 55 would clarify in the legislation that the definition of serious violence, for the purpose of the serious violence prevention duty, would include
“domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences”.
While it is right to acknowledge the many male victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence—and this amendment would serve them also—the change we seek today is about stamping out a culture where violence against women and girls has been tolerated for too long. Zoë Billingham, the excellent outgoing inspector for Her Majesty’s Constabulary, described the level of violent and abusive offending against women and girls in this country as an “epidemic”. She is right: 1.6 million female victims of domestic abuse; 892,000 female victims of stalking; 618,000 female victims of sexual assault; 55,000 rapes, with less than a 2% charge rate; and, finally, 110 women murdered last year. Some names we know, but many more we do not. This grim tally should mark a watershed in our attitudes, and I heap praise on the domestic abuse commissioner and her team for their leadership in this regard.
I also thank my cosignatories—the noble Lords, Lord Polak, Lord Rosser and Lord Russell of Liverpool. This amendment is truly cross-party, as it should be. The strength of feeling on this issue bridges the political divide and, for once, I am absolutely delighted by the gender imbalance in this line-up of names. While of course it is men’s behaviour that is the problem, we must be careful not to pitch this as men versus women. This is about violent men versus the whole of society, but we need men—all men and all society—to engage in this and be part of the conversation and the solution.
The main justification for excluding sexual offences and domestic abuse from the Bill has been its focus on localism and flexibility, allowing local leaders to fit the strategy to local crime profiles. That is of course entirely reasonable when talking about gun and gang crime and such issues, where there are clear geographical hot spots, but this simply is not the case with domestic abuse and sexual offences; these crimes are happening everywhere. To my mind, localism is about where we put new housing estates and schools. It should never be about allowing individual areas to opt out of prioritising domestic abuse and sexual violence. This is the wrong issue on which to devolve decision-making, but it is already happening, which is why this amendment is more crucial and urgent than ever.
Of the 18 violence reduction units that have already been set up, only eight have included domestic abuse and sexual violence in their plans. Indeed, the Government’s own serious violence strategy makes no meaningful reference to sexual violence and domestic abuse, which is a problem, as often local boards refer back to it when making their policies. I am keen to stress that this amendment would not restrict flexibility at a granular level; of course a strategic needs assessment would still be carried out and specific interventions would differ from area to area.
I also say, on the record, that I absolutely do not doubt the Government’s commitment on this issue. I know they listen and I know they care. They listened to people on the front line a great deal during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act, and look at the changes that have come in: the rough sex defence has been ended; revenge porn, coercive control and economic abuse offences have been extended; and upskirting is now a crime. Very importantly, they have extended the period of time in which you can put forward an assault charge based on domestic abuse; that was crucial. I will not list them all, as the list is long, but it is important to acknowledge that the Government have done a good deal. I hope they continue in that vein.
I strongly believe that explicitly including these offences in the duty would maximise the potential for a multiagency, public health preventive approach. We have talked about this a great deal in the House, and we all know that this is the only way to see real change on such a deep-seated societal issue. If we do not take this approach, we will be making these speeches again and again, for many years to come.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Does she agree that the passing of her amendment, or something like it, would send out a clear message to the Crown Prosecution Service that its policy change-based failure to prosecute significant numbers of rape offences and other serious sexual offences should be reviewed as soon as possible?
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention and absolutely agree. Of course, it would not solve the entire issue, but it would set us on the right path in sending that signal to the CPS, as well as to the police.
The multiagency, public health preventive approach is so important. Education plans, health plans and a more standardised perpetrator scheme would all be part of what this change could look like. It is important to note that the HMIC report that the Home Secretary commissioned warned that this duty, as it stands, would not go far enough in that regard.
The noble Lord, Lord Polak, mentioned in his speech at Second Reading that we need to make sure that such landmark legislation, the Domestic Abuse Act and this Bill, does not stand in isolation. We need to sustain the momentum of this ambition. Let us once and for all try to buck the trend of silo policy-making and bring together this work in a meaningful way.
As others have discussed in previous debates, it is right that the burden should not fall entirely on the police. I think we spoke about “broadening the base”, and that is why it is crucial that we get this duty right. Nevertheless, the specific policing response and the CPS response deserve a lot of attention. One-third of all violence reported to the police is domestic abuse related. This is not a small slice of their work. While their response to this crime has certainly improved over the past decade, and there are pockets of excellence and dedication, which we must acknowledge, there are still inconsistencies at every level in how the police respond to victims of domestic abuse and sexual offences, and shocking variations in how frequently—perhaps infrequently would be more appropriate—different forces use the protective powers available to them. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will speak at length on stalking; some forces around the country seem entirely unaware that stalking protection orders are available to them, and this has to change.
Another statistic that shocks me is that three-quarters of all domestic abuse cases are stamped with “no further action”. We know from the rape review that was launched this year, and as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, has pointed out, that that happens with so many incidents of sexual offences. It cannot continue. The lottery of standards among the 43 police forces in this country, and within individual forces, means it very often boils down to who picks up the phone or who responds to the call as to how victims are dealt with.
I will make one further point before I finish. As with other high-harm crimes, such as terrorism and organised crime, I believe strongly that violence against women and girls should be marked with a clearer focus, better funding, minimum standards and far more national co-ordination. This amendment is only part of the answer—of course it is—but it could be instrumental in starting that journey to greater consistency. Small actions taken together can make a big difference. While this amendment is relatively simple, its effects could ripple out.
Finally, you do not wake up one morning and become a murderer or a rapist; you work up to it. The horrific chain of events leading to Sarah Everard’s terrible murder laid this bare in the starkest of terms. We have to act to do all we can to stop this kind of behaviour in its tracks before it escalates and takes lives. There is an opportunity in this Bill, and we must take it.
My Lords, before I speak to my Amendment 56, I will start by saying that I completely agree with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has just said. Amendment 56 adds to Amendment 55’s
“domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences”
the words “and stalking”, to be added to the definition of the serious violence prevention duty. As the noble Baroness identified, this is a keen interest of mine. I also support the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, pushing for a charging review for this range of crimes. Too often, they are either ignored or charged at a much lower crime rate.
The Minister will remember that, during the passage of the then Domestic Abuse Bill, many hours were spent looking at the typical progression of violence in obsessed perpetrators. Some of us asked the Ministers to look at the reverse structure of someone who had committed a crime of serious violence. All too often, the elements of behaviour were there from early on in their fixated behaviour. I understand that that is why the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, and others have laid their amendment to ensure that this trajectory of behaviour starts to be monitored early; and it also recognises when domestic violence accelerates very quickly. Adding
“domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences”
is absolutely vital.
But I regret that stalking was not on the list in her amendment, and I will focus briefly on that. First, victims of stalking say that they often do not go to the police until around the 10th worrying event has happened. Shamefully, it often takes many more before stalking is taken seriously by the police. But many perpetrators of stalking, as I have said, progress in their fixated behaviour, and serious violence and homicide are too often evident.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, referred to stalking protection orders. I was pleased when they were implemented, but they are far too sparingly used, and some victims are told, “That’s all you need. It’ll be fine now”. Yet injunctions still have to be taken out and cautions still have to be issued, and, all the while, their stalker’s behaviour is becoming worse and worse.
According to Dr Jane Monckton-Smith, stalking sits at point 5 of the eight points on the homicide timeline, due to the fact that risk to the victim escalates at the point of leaving an abusive relationship. Monckton-Smith’s 2017 study of 358 homicides, all of which involved a female victim and a male perpetrator, revealed stalking behaviour as an antecedent to femicide in 94% of the cases. These figures demonstrate how vital it is to work on prevention for stalking cases.
There is a misconception that stalking is almost exclusively perpetrated by people on former partners and, therefore, probably covered by domestic abuse. This is untrue. The real figure is closer to 50%. Too many victims of non-partner or former-partner perpetrators of stalking report that, the first time that they talk to the police, they are told that they are overreacting, and some, especially young women, are even told that they should be grateful for the attention.
So stalking victims are too often ignored, and that is worrying. There is no other word for it than “ignored”—I know. The man who stalked me and other colleagues—he stalked men, too—over a three-year period grew progressively more fixated. Among other very unpleasant acts, such as abusive anonymous letters and telephone calls, his violence was initially against property—breaking windows, pulling down signs and scratching cars—but, each time, it was a bit stronger, more aggressive and more distressing. It took well over a year and 130 incidents before the police started taking it seriously. But their attitude changed completely when, night after night, he started using a very large knife to slash tyres. Their forensic psychologist warned that they expected that he would start using that knife on his targets next. We all knew who the perpetrator was, and, finally, we saw that the police started to move. He was then arrested quickly, and he pleaded guilty.
More recently, in June this year, Gracie Spinks, who, like many stalking victims, was let down by police because they did not take any of the early reports and link them together, was murdered at the riding stables she worked at by a former colleague from a previous job. She had reported her concerns to police four months earlier. He had turned up unannounced at the stables. Separately, a bag containing knives, an axe, a hammer and a note saying “Don’t lie” was discovered very close to the stables six weeks before Gracie’s murder. That breadcrumb trail was all there, and it was typical of a serious stalker, too—the perpetrator profile is well known. Gracie’s father, Richard, has said that if only the police had connected the incidents, his daughter would not have died.
Neither Gracie’s nor my case would have been covered by Amendment 55. Stalking needs to be added to this section on the serious violence protection duty just as much as domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences.
My Lords, I am very pleased to add my name to Amendment 55 and pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Bertin for her leadership on these matters. I was also pleased to have worked with my noble friend, together with the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Russell of Liverpool, during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill.
The amendment in our names is an extension of our previous work. I shall not repeat and rehearse the reasons why it is important that the definition of serious violence for the purpose of the proposed serious violence prevention duty must include domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences. For me, it is straightforward, and I make a simple appeal to my noble friend the Minister, who was so instrumental in piloting the Domestic Abuse Bill through Parliament with such professionalism, dedication and patience. There is an opportunity to cement and build on that historic and vital legislation, to build on what was achieved, so that it can be possible for the serious violence strategy to recognise domestic abuse and sexual violence. Can it be possible for a serious violence strategy not to recognise them as forms of serious violence? It would be difficult to understand.
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, has said that the Government risk missing an opportunity to make a “historic shift” in the handling of this problem. She went on to suggest that this amendment could deliver a step change, ensuring a focus not only on crisis provision but on early intervention and prevention measures to stop abuse occurring. I totally agree with her.
The Home Office’s draft guidance says that local areas “could” consider violence against women and girls as part of the new duty if they choose to. I am still trying to get my head around “could”. How about “must”? This short and succinct amendment is so important, and I just do not understand who could not support it.
My Lords, I also support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. I thank her for putting it so cogently and the noble Lord, Lord Polak, for following up.
The Minister has been nothing but consistent in advocating what the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, described as localism, which is enabling local areas to decide for themselves what they include in their definitions of serious violence. Here I pay tribute—which may surprise some people—to our Home Secretary, because earlier this year, in the wake of the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, she commissioned a study by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, under the leadership of Zoë Billingham, referred to earlier, to look into the circumstances which had allowed the murder of Sarah Everard and so many other women to take place. That report was published three days after Second Reading of this Bill last month.
The report, which the Home Secretary asked to be done, says clearly, in black and white, that localism is not working. In fact, localism is serving to fuel what I can only describe as a wave of domestic terrorism, because essentially domestic violence is domestic terrorism. If you look at how many people are killed in this country on average each year through terrorism, it is, thankfully, a minuscule amount. If you look at how many women—primarily—are killed every year in this country through what I am calling domestic terrorism, it is approximately two and a bit every week, week in, week out. We know the figures. It does not stop. It is like an awful, ghastly Halloween metronome that will not stop. We have to do something to stop it.
Zoë Billingham’s report demonstrated graphically that, at national level, local level, force level and individual level, there are severe, endemic failings. That is primarily because, despite some good initiatives in some police forces, such as Nottinghamshire and the Met in London, they have been done in such a scattered and disaggregated way that they are as nothing compared with what is going on in the vast majority of police forces. You cannot develop proper, joined-up best practice unless you are doing it in a concerted, integrated and thoughtful way.
Essentially, Zoë Billingham’s report provides strong backing for what the Domestic Abuse Commissioner has asked the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, the noble Lords, Lord Polak and Lord Rosser, and me to do, which is to articulate and to give voice to the profound and troubling but stark findings of that report. I appeal to the Government to build on the good work started by the Home Secretary. This report has provided the evidence that the Government need to take action and, I would argue, please, to accept this amendment.
My Lords, I add my support for the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, in Amendment 55, and I will speak in support of Amendment 56. I want to develop the theme that both she and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, have been talking about, which is of the inconsistencies in the local response to this huge challenge.
I go back to HM inspectorate’s report, because it laid this out. It started by paying tribute to dedicated professional police officers, which is absolutely right, but it found that, at individual level, victims reported very different responses, depending, as the noble Baroness said, on which officer they spoke to or which call handler took the call. It told us that some officers showed exceptional care and sensitivity, while others made the victims feel that they were not believed. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about the specifics of her own case and the huge challenge that she had in getting the police to start to take it seriously.
The inspectorate goes on to say,
“at force level: there are unexplained variations in how frequently different forces are using the protective powers and orders at their disposal to protect women and girls; at local partnership level: roles and responsibilities for partners working together in multi-agency safeguarding arrangements vary considerably; and at national level: actions to improve the police response are split over multiple Government strategies. These structural, strategic and tactical inconsistencies must be addressed if the police and their partners are to make inroads in tackling the deep-rooted problem of VAWG offences.”
That is why we need some action at national level. If we leave it to local forces and the local safeguarding arrangements, I am afraid that nothing will happen to improve the situation.
I want to say a few words in support of our Amendment 56. We would like to add “stalking” to the noble Baroness’s amendment and perhaps persuade her to come back on Report with a more comprehensive amendment, if at all possible, because we are all batting off the same wicket. We know that stalking is a very serious crime, but it is underreported and underprosecuted. We debated this during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill. The case is as strong as ever. Stalkers are often mischarged with other crimes and it is common for the National Stalking Helpline to see high-level stalking cases managed as low-level nuisance behaviours. As a result, stalking behaviours are not being adequately identified. We believe that the noble Baroness’s amendment could be enhanced by the addition of stalking as a serious issue that is not being tackled effectively at the moment. I am sure that I speak for many noble Lords in hoping that we can pull all this together in a consensus amendment on Report.
My Lords, I applaud my noble friend Lady Bertin’s eloquent speech about something so sensitive and dangerous.
During the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, we had lots of discussions about stalking. I rise to speak because my name is on Amendment 56. It saddens me that we are still battling in this area, which is so fragile and misunderstood by the agencies that are there to protect. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister, who listens to our speeches all the time and takes them on board, but I reiterate the seriousness of what my colleagues have said. We are talking about human lives. We are not talking about figures or money; we are talking about human lives that are being brutally lost.
This is where we need to gain some perspective on what we are doing in legislation. Legislation is important to legal people, politicians and your Lordships’ House but, on the outside, how does it protect an individual who is being stalked or is losing their life through domestic abuse? Where do we draw the line in saying, “Enough is enough, we’re going to protect you”? As we have heard, Dr Jane Monckton Smith’s report says that stalking sits at point five of eight on the homicide timeline due to the fact that risk to the victim escalates at the point of leaving an abusive relationship. We need to include stalking in my noble friend’s Amendment 55 because that is the only way in which the serious violence reduction duty will guarantee robust prevention work being rolled out consistently across the country. We talk about localism and centralism but, for everybody on the street, that is not language that they understand. This is about their safety and agencies understanding the issue.
In the dictionary, stalking is like a cat chasing a bird. Put simply, that is what is happening to these people. There is a delicate line in proving it when people are traumatised and are being brutalised in their home, in their workplace and wherever they travel. If we cannot get this right in the Bill, we simply are not listening to the figures on the human lives that are being lost every day. As we speak, somebody is being stalked and going through that. I ask my noble friends the Minister and Lady Bertin: please can we look at this? I would love to have this issue included at the end of Amendment 55.
My Lords, Amendments 57A and 59A have been grouped here. I am always hesitant to follow with a small, perhaps technical, point on important points such as have been made this afternoon.
My amendments are intended to inquire of the Minister the place of online activity in this issue. The clauses that we are looking at are very much place-based—this part of the Bill refers to “area” almost throughout—but what prompts the violence may not be place or area-based. Given the statutory requirements for the assessment of the criteria, my amendments probe whether the role of online activity has a place in that assessment. Grooming and other activities may be generated in one geographical or police force area but directed more widely.
There are examples, obviously, of violence online intended to prompt copying, which this amendment is not specifically directed at. I dare say that the answer to that will be the online harms Bill. But I would like to ask the question, perhaps in another way, of how this legislation is to work together and to be assured that we are not at risk of missing opportunities or leaving gaps.
My Lords, I, too, support Amendment 55 in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin, and I pay tribute to all the work she has done in this area. This is a relatively straightforward amendment which would send a very strong message to police forces, local statutory agencies and the public that domestic abuse and sexual violence are priorities to be both prevented and tackled.
Too often, our response to these types of crime comes too late for the victim. The benefits of this duty would be to ensure that we have a robust preventive approach that brings together a range of different partners and ensures that police forces are considering domestic abuse and sexual violence within the definition of serious violence for the proposed new statutory duty.
I, too, congratulate my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on calling for the HM inspectorate report following the tragic death of Sarah Everard. The report, whose authors I also congratulate, points to
“the co-ordinated and bespoke multi-agency response that is needed specifically for VAWG.”
It also says that the current drafting of the proposed serious violence prevention duty in the Bill does not go far enough.
The Government have already made significant progress on tackling domestic abuse through the Domestic Abuse Act, and I pay tribute to my noble friend the Minister and her team for all the dedication and hard work that have gone into that landmark piece of legislation. There is still more to be done. I think this amendment could be the missing piece of the puzzle to help maximise the approach in regard to domestic abuse, homicide and sexual offences.
I understand that the Government have some concerns that Amendment 55 could undermine the flexibility of the duty, but it simply clarifies the nature of the definition. It does not bind local areas to that definition, but it would require them to take this issue more seriously and would, I hope, prevent some of the dreadful acts we have heard about today and at Second Reading. This amendment is supported by the domestic abuse commissioner, and I join in the thoroughly deserved praise that the commissioner and her office have already received. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench, who I know cares passionately about these issues as well, will listen to the strength of the arguments on this amendment.
My Lords, I start by apologising to the Committee for not speaking at Second Reading—I am afraid that I had a household full of Covid. I am finally here and delighted to support Amendment 55 in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin, and congratulate her on her brilliant campaigning.
I am quite surprised that my noble friend still has to campaign. While I had Covid, I watched the debate from start to finish and listened to the Minister’s response. I think, first, that my noble friend’s amendment is clearly on the right side of the moral argument; there is no disagreement there. But because she is so persuasive, we have to test the counterarguments. I have done that, and I think that it is entirely properly thought-through and proportionate, so perhaps my noble friend the Minister could help me with some things I genuinely still do not understand about the Government’s hesitation.
I noted in particular the Minister’s reference to scope and her concern that other offences could, in effect, be pushed out should my noble friend Lady Bertin’s definition be added to the Bill. In other instances, however, where the Government believe that clarification is necessary, there are named forms of violence; for example, against property. This is a general question rather than a veiled assertion. Can the Minister clarify this for me?
Others, including the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and my noble friend Lord Polak, have challenged the Government on local decision-making. I tested myself and wondered whether I was being hypocritical here, because I often tell the Government that they are too prescriptive and we cannot have a Whitehall-down approach. However, in this case, if I may say so, I think that the Government are misguided. My noble friend Lady Bertin always sets things out so powerfully. It is not as if there are areas living blissfully free from domestic abuse and sexual violence. If any areas believe that they are—and I very much doubt it—surely that is all the more reason for national leadership on this issue and definitive action through the Bill.
As my noble friend Lord Polak mentioned, the Home Office guidance states that local areas “could” consider violence against women and girls as part of the new duty if they choose to. The logical conclusion, then, is that the Government are—what?—neutral or relaxed if a local area chooses not to. I cannot believe this is the case, especially knowing my noble friend the Minister as I do, but she must see the effect of this equivocation.
I must remind myself to stick to the amendment, so I will wrap up simply by saying that I believe that the Government’s intentions are very good, but I do not think that their performance is always coherent when it comes to violence against women and girls. I will pay very close attention to the Minister’s response, and I assure my noble friend Lady Bertin of my support, whatever happens going forward.
My Lords, I too add my support to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. Many points have been covered, and I simply want to say that if the definition of serious violence is not expanded in this way, the concern is that many local areas will not consider it within their strategies.
Join-up on this is absolutely vital. Local strategies to prevent domestic and sexual violence through education, research and specialist violence reduction units are key, including primary prevention, which I have raised before in your Lordships’ House. We must do all that we can to enable work across services and through effective partnership.
As has been said, the Domestic Abuse Act is a very good thing, yet a lot of time was spent during the passage of that Bill in this House trying to highlight overlooked groups and issues. This amendment once again highlights these issues by creating the necessity of more joined-up thinking between key agencies and ensuring that they remain cognisant of the issues. This amendment is vital.
My Lords, I support everything that has been said so far. I will speak to Amendments 57 and 58, in which I am endeavouring to specify the broad categories of serious violence, ensuring that any violence that is serious enough to result either in injury requiring emergency hospital treatment or harm constituting grievous bodily harm would meet the threshold for serious violence.
I am grateful for the general support I have had, especially from those noble Lords with long policing experience who see merit in what I present today. It might be that, as yet, we have not quite got the wording right. It is a bit like the debate that we have been having so far. There is a case for us coming together if in fact we can convince the Minister that, in principle, there is merit in what we are arguing; we could come together later, perhaps, to get the wording right, if the Government are to be so convinced.
My amendments are not solely about knife crime, but the intention is to ensure that the broad categories of serious violence are specified so that local partnerships must address such violence in their prevention plans and take full account of the information available on serious violence, which comes up in the A&E data. That is particularly important.
When the Home Secretary introduced the assessment of the public health duty—the public health measures—on 15 July 2019, he said that collaboration to reduce serious violence was particularly important. The Government have of course moved to introduce this legislation following that.
The violence that constitutes serious violence is not specified in this Bill. Good legislation depends on such specifications and definitions. It will rightly be for the local partnerships to decide how they will reduce serious violence, but it would be neglectful if this legislation does not state what serious violence includes.
The impact assessment signed by the Home Secretary relies heavily on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the use by local partnerships of data collected in hospital accident and emergency departments for the prevention of serious violence. This approach, known as the Cardiff model for violence prevention, has been found in rigorous evaluations to reduce violence related to hospital admissions and serious violence recorded by the police by as much as 38%.
This approach has four principal advantages in the context of the Bill. First, it specifies a broad category of serious violence: violence serious enough to result in emergency hospital treatment. Secondly, it makes sense from a public health perspective, which is missing in what is, after all, a public health duty. Thirdly, following the implementation of the emergency care data set, the Cardiff model data on violence location, weapons and assailants, for example, can be recorded and shared for violence prevention by every NHS trust with an A&E. Fourthly, these NHS data are valid and reliable measures of serious violence, which would be available for joint inspections. Most importantly, even if just 5% of partnerships achieved the Cardiff-model benefits identified in the impact assessment, total benefits are estimated to be at least £858 million over 10 years and a reduction of around 20 homicides a year.
On Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred to the invaluable work of Professor John Shepherd at Cardiff University. Professor Shepherd has helped greatly in the scheme that has been running in Cardiff—he certainly helped me in preparing these amendments and for speaking today. He makes the point that, if the amendments are not adopted, the Bill when enacted is most unlikely to achieve the reductions in serious violence. There is nothing specific around which to achieve that objective. Violence that results in emergency hospital treatment, and which affects all age groups and both genders, in and outside the home, would not be considered serious. The Bill when enacted would not resonate or easily be owned by the NHS and by clinical commissioning groups; they would not be obliged to commission this approach.
We therefore have to make sure that the local authorities get the data, get an outline of what needs to be done, and then get a clear instruction, from within the Bill itself, that there must be action taken and that they must not ignore what has been produced in this very valuable information.
I therefore hope that we can move forward collectively in looking at the range of amendments and see if we can produce something that actually puts specifics in the Bill, that then can be acted on lower down the line.
My Lords, I support Amendment 58 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, but I think all of the amendments in this group are extremely worthwhile. The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, gave a thoroughly well-argued pitch for her amendment, to which the Government have to listen. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, also argued very comprehensively for the inclusion of stalking, and I agree with that very strongly.
I wanted to sign every single amendment to this Bill, so I have ended up signing a sort of weird collection, and I apologise for that; I care about it all because I am so distressed about the Bill in general.
On Amendment 58, we need to know exactly what the Government intend with their duty to reduce serious violence. We talked earlier about intrusions, particularly relating to confidentiality, so it is quite important to have a redefined definition of serious violence. Because we have identified those intrusions, without safeguards, we must be sure that Parliament is clear and precise about the situations to which we intend this duty to apply; otherwise, we are left with a vague duty that interferes with people’s right to privacy in arbitrary and unfair ways. I very much hope that the Minister is listening and agreeing.
My Lords, I support Amendments 55 and 56, principally because, apart from their justice, it is naturally the right thing to do. As importantly, the amendments move the police into the preventive area more than they are now. I keep urging the Government and the Home Office in particular to make statutory the preventive duties. I am afraid that that is not yet taking shape, and this is a way in which it could do so.
There is a consequence of this. People have talked about the inconsistent approach around the country. That will generally tend to happen: with 43 organisations, we will always end up with an inconsistent approach. For me, 43 is at least 42 too many. That is my view; others will have different views but having so many organisations will lead to inconsistency.
More importantly, we are asking for officers to be more specialist in their investigative capacity. If it is left to the front-line officers, often they do not always have the time, or, frankly, the skills, to investigate these serious types of crime. The natural consequence of that is that more people will be moved out of uniform and into specialist areas. We all need to keep in mind that although part of the public will urge being able to see officers more often, officers are more effective when they are more specialist. How we get that balance right is difficult. This is not a plea for another 20,000 cops; it is about getting the balance right between the specialist who can be more effective and the uniformed officer who is more visible. That debate continues, and the amendments support that.
I rose to talk in particular about Amendments 57 and 58, which I support. Professor Shepherd has achieved some incredible things from his base in Cardiff. There are two big reasons why I support those amendments. The first is the constant bid for consistency. They provide a further test on the definition of serious violence, such as the requirement for hospital attendance, particularly at A&E. There is a danger, of course, that some people will attend A&E who do not really deserve to go there—they believe that they are seriously ill, when in fact they are not—but that risk is fairly low. Most importantly, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said, the amendments will urge the health service to share the data it has to better inform the police and the Home Office on the strategies for the future. I am afraid that if the police can be inconsistent, so can the health service in sharing data that is vital to understanding the nature of serous violence around the country. Without that information, neither the Government nor the police, nor others, can take action.
For those reasons, I support these amendments, which are sensible conclusions.
My Lords, I have already made a comment about serious sexual offences but there is something else that I want to raise, into which I have been provoked by my noble friend Lord Hogan-Howe. The point I want to make is about consistency. I do not agree with my noble friend that we should have a single national police force, but I do believe that 43 territorial police forces is a real recipe for inconsistency. I regret very much that successive Home Secretaries, from all political parties, have failed to take on this issue. What actually happens—Charles Clarke did it when he was Home Secretary—is this: when a Home Secretary has the courage to say they are going to reorganise police forces to bring policy consistency on issues such as this, immediately that Home Secretary is told by Members of another place that the world will fall apart if the Loamshire police force is abolished, because how could the world continue without it?
I was a Welsh MP for 14 years. There are still four police forces in Wales; there should not be. The Dyfed-Powys Police, the force in my constituency, operated generally well, but I could not possibly argue that more than one police force is needed, in Wales, at any rate. I therefore ask the Government to take consistency as a major theme in this matter and reflect—
We are going into a wider debate. My personal view is that we should never have abolished the Oxford City Police force in the 1960s, because we never recovered when it became part of Thames Valley Police, and we had our own watch committee. But there is an issue here, is there not, between what might be regarded as operational efficiency and overpoliticisation? Frankly, the experience in Scotland is not a good example of the risks of too direct a relationship between a national Government and a police force. That would surely be the risk in Wales.
I realised when I started on this that there were one or two noble Lords around the House—I saw one agreeing with me, I think—who are, or have been, police and crime commissioners, who might disagree. I respect the noble Lord enormously, as he knows, but I say to him that the experience in Scotland was not good to begin with but is much, much better now.
I will cite just one piece of evidence. The small number of counterterrorism units operate very well as a group. They have a very good collegiate function and there is real consistency between their operations. In my view, the way that CTUs have developed is a paradigm for the reorganisation of the police. I do not want to prolong this part of the debate, but I urge the Minister to consider whether the best route towards consistency is to reorganise the police, reluctant though many will be.
My Lords, perhaps we should leave the reorganisation of the police to another occasion. The first attraction of Amendment 55 is its utter simplicity and simple, clear language. You have no idea how anybody who has had to spend a lifetime looking at criminal justice legislation greets with acclaim a simple piece of legislation, which this is. There is no misunderstanding about it. It does what it says on the tin. Nobody can reconstruct it afterwards or say Parliament had a different intention—it is there.
More importantly, the argument is irrefutable. I had prepared quite a long speech to make today—long by my standards—but I will not make it. We have heard the arguments. This is a special, national problem—full stop. The best solution to a special, national problem is for it to be dealt with nationally. I therefore support this amendment.
My Lords, first, I have absolutely no doubt about the Minister’s commitment to dealing with the sorts of offences we are talking about today, particularly violence against women and girls. I also have absolutely no doubt about the Government’s commitment to tackling those issues. This makes the Bill even more puzzling. We support all the amendments in this group, but I want to look at this from a slightly different angle.
This group of amendments is intended to ensure that certain categories of crime are always included in the serious violence duty. It raises the wider issue of what this whole chapter of the Bill is about. Crime and disorder partnerships—noble Lords will know from previous debates that I am quite keen on these—have for many years been responsible for a multiagency approach to preventing and tackling crime and disorder in their areas, including serious violence. They have the advantage of being able to assess what local needs are and prioritise the crime and disorder that is a particular problem in their areas.
In light of these well-established existing partnerships, one must ask why there is a need for an additional serious violence duty. There has been much concern about knife crime in recent years and Scotland has demonstrated how successful a public health approach to the problem can be, where police enforcement is just part of a multiagency, multipronged approach to tackling knife crime. There may be characteristics of the knife crime problem in Scotland and solutions tailored to tackle them there that may not be completely transferrable to other parts of the UK, but the general principle is sound: law enforcement is only one of many approaches that need to be brought to bear on a problem.
If the Government were focusing solely on this type of serious violence, one could understand, in the face of the growing public concern, that a public health approach to knife crime might be mandated—but that is not what the Bill says. However, there are clues in other parts of the Bill that that is what the Government were initially thinking. For example, we will shortly come on to offensive weapon homicide reviews and serious violence prevention orders, which are all about knife crime.
The Bill talks about serious violence generally, including threats of serious violence but excluding terrorism. It goes on to talk—in Clause 12(4)—about a list of factors that must be taken into account, such as: the maximum penalty that a court could impose; the impact on the victim; the prevalence of the violence in the area, and the impact on the community. Presumably, other factors could be considered when the local area is considering its own serious violence. This effectively makes any violence serious—for example, hate crime. Hate crime should be considered serious violence because, by definition, it has a serious impact on the victim.
Amendment 55, from the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, says that domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences should always be included in the serious violence duty. As the noble Lord, Lord Polak, said, how can any of these offences not be considered serious violence? If the Government do not accept this amendment, can the Minister say what types of domestic abuse, domestic murder or sexual offence are not serious, or in what areas they are not far too prevalent? Amendment 56 also includes stalking, for the reasons that my noble friend Lady Brinton so powerfully argued.
Amendment 57, from the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, includes all violence that results in emergency hospital treatment, or GBH—for very good reasons. As I mentioned in discussion on an earlier group, as the noble Lord did just now, the Cardiff model—that of sharing depersonalised accident and emergency information on knife and gun crime with the police—has proved invaluable. Furthermore, as the definition of serious violence includes threats of serious violence, my noble friend Lady Hamwee is quite right to point out that social media and other electronic communication—the impact of which may go beyond the geographic area for which the authorities that have a serious violence duty have responsibility—require a duty that goes beyond a single area.
In defining serious violence in such a wide way, the Government must either accept that all violence has the potential to be serious, or risk being accused of saying that violence associated with hate crime, violence against women and girls, domestic violence, and almost any other form of violence, is not serious, or should not be treated as serious in every police area.
What the Government should have done, and what they should do now, is go back and look at crime and disorder partnerships, which are already established and responsible for preventing and tackling all forms of crime and disorder—as their consultation on this issue said they should. They should look at where crime and disorder partnerships need to be strengthened —whether, perhaps, to include partners not currently involved—or where legislation needs to be changed to facilitate co-operation and the exchange of information, instead of mandating others to provide information to the police to enable a police-led enforcement approach to tackling serious violence—whatever that means. Of course, we will support all the amendments in this group for as long as the Government continue with such a broad definition of serious violence.
My Lords, like other noble Lords I await with interest the Government’s response to all the amendments in this group. My name also appears on Amendment 55, which, at the beginning of this debate, was so ably and comprehensively moved, as we knew it would be, by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. This issue was raised by the shadow Minister for Policing in the House of Commons, and I only hope it receives a more enthusiastic hearing from the Government in this House, given that it is being presented with such strong cross-party support across the House.
The serious violence duty introduced by this Bill, as we know, requires local authorities, the police, fire and rescue authorities, specified criminal justice agencies and health authorities to work together to formulate an evidence-based analysis of the problems associated with serious violence in a local area and then produce and implement a strategy detailing how they will respond to those particular issues. Prison, youth custody and education authorities may also need to work with these core partners.
As more than one noble Lord has said, the amendment is clear and straightforward in its intention, which is to make clear in the Bill that the definition of serious violence for the purpose of the serious violence prevention duty includes domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual offences. That begs the question of why this amendment is necessary. As the noble Lord, Lord Polak, said, and he was not the only one, is it not obvious that domestic abuse, homicide and sexual offences must come within the definition of serious violence? Apparently it is not. Despite domestic abuse representing one-third of violent crime recorded by the police and despite 20% of all adult homicides and 50% of adult homicides where the victim is female being domestic homicides, the Government’s serious violence strategy does not recognise domestic abuse and sexual violence as forms of serious violence.
No doubt, that is one explanation why between April 2014 and March 2020 the annual number of domestic abuse-flagged cases referred to the Crown Prosecution Service by the police fell by 37%, with similar declines in prosecutions and convictions. No doubt, it is also one explanation why over the same period of time the annual number of prosecutions in rape-flagged cases fell by 55% and the annual number of convictions fell by 44%. No doubt, also, it is one explanation why in the year ended March 2020 only 9% of domestic abuse-related crimes and 1.4% of rape-flagged cases recorded by the police led to a charge or summons.
This Bill’s proposed serious violence prevention duty places a requirement on public authorities to collate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence. While Clause 12 explicitly includes some named forms of violence, such as violence against property and threats of violence, to ensure that they are regarded as a form of violent crime across the board, violence against women and girls is not put in the same category, even though rates of domestic abuse and sexual violence, as so many other noble Lords have said, are consistent across England and Wales and do not vary greatly from one area to another.
Instead, intended Home Office guidance simply says that local areas can consider violence against women and girls as part of the new duty if they choose to and not that it is expected. Clearly, the Home Office is not too fussed one way or the other what areas decide on this very serious issue. There are attacks on statutes, and the Home Office gets very troubled. There are violent domestic attacks on human beings, particularly women, and the Home Office, however different the reality may be, appears so laid back that it wants to leave it to other people to make their own decisions on whether to regard these attacks as serious violence. It appears to want to leave it to other people to decide whether these dreadful attacks come within the scope of the serious violence prevention duty and the requirement on a range of public bodies, including local statutory agencies and the police, to work together to prevent and tackle serious violence with the aim of reducing the numbers of victims and perpetrators of such dreadful crimes.
Explicitly including domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual violence in the sexual violence reduction duty and its multi-agency approach would send a clear message to the police, prosecutors and a range of statutory agencies, including local agencies, that violence against women and girls is just not acceptable and that they all have to play a crucial role in tackling it.
At the moment there appears to be a distinction within the criminal justice system so that violence that takes place in the home or at the hands of an intimate partner is regarded as less serious than violence perpetrated in the public sphere. Only around one-half of police forces, as I understand it, have opted to take up Women’s Aid’s Domestic Abuse Matters specialised training on domestic abuse. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, said, only eight of the 18 violence reduction units established in police force areas, which are funded by the Home Office and considered forerunners to the new violence prevention duty, name domestic abuse in their strategies.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services has recently published its report into policing and violence against women and girls, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, and others have said. It specifically raised concerns that the current drafting of the proposed serious violence prevention duty
“will not go far enough to promote the co-ordinated and bespoke multi-agency response that is needed specifically for VAWG.”
“the introduction of a new statutory duty on all appropriate partner agencies to collectively take action to prevent the harm caused by VAWG.”
No doubt, we will hear in the Government’s response what they intend to do in relation to that recommendation.
I would also like briefly to touch on the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and supported by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, which would add stalking to the list of specified offences to be prevented. My noble friend Lady Royall is unfortunately unable to be with us today to add her expertise to this debate, but I am sure the House recognises the years of work she and others have put into this issue. Stalking, as has been said, is representative of many VAWG offences in that it is high harm and it escalates. Despite the early warning signs in many of these cases, the risk is not properly recognised or responded to until it is too late.
The last time we debated this issue, during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, the Opposition Benches and Members on all sides of this House pressed for more robust action on stalking, including a register of dangerous perpetrators. Since that debate, more women have been failed and killed, and the list of bereaved families has grown longer. The Government, as others have said, should seize this opportunity to tackle the epidemic of violence against women and girls because currently this Bill is missing that priority. Recognising violence against women and girls as serious violence is a vital place to start and one of the key changes so many of us in this House are calling on the Government to make to this Bill.
My Lords, I assure noble Lords that I will not be getting into a debate about the number of police forces we should have, but I will say two things on that: first, consistency is key; secondly, good leadership is crucial. That said, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Bertin, the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for setting out the case for these amendments, which have, quite rightly, attracted a wide-ranging debate about the scope of the serious violence duty. I am also pleased about the gender balance of the tablers of the amendments, and I join my noble friend Lady Bertin in paying tribute to the DA Commissioner and join the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, with whom I have worked on many occasions on stalking.
I will start by addressing Amendments 55 and 56. The Government remain absolutely focused on tackling violence against women and girls. There is no place in society for these abhorrent crimes. That is why in July we published a new cross-government Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls strategy, which includes a range of actions to help ensure that more perpetrators are brought to justice and face the full force of the law and that we improve support to victims and survivors and work ultimately to prevent these crimes, as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said, and send a message of clear expectation, as the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Rosser, pointed out.
The strategy builds on our existing work, as my noble friend Lady Bertin said, including the new legislation that we have brought forward, which includes specific offences of forced marriage, upskirting, and the disclosure of private sexual photographs. The Domestic Abuse Act, which secured Royal Assent in April and which I am very proud to have taken part in and led through your Lordships’ House, will strengthen our response to domestic abuse at all levels. The Act includes a new duty for local authorities in England to ensure the provision of support for victims of abuse, both adults and children, in refuges and other safe accommodation.
Amendment 55 seeks to make it clear on the face of the Bill that domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual violence are included within the meaning of “violence”. We recognise the importance of multiagency working to address these crimes, as my noble friend has stressed, and I assure noble Lords that the draft statutory guidance for the serious violence duty, published in May this year, does already make it clear that specified authorities will be permitted to include in their strategy those actions which focus on any form of serious violence which is of particular concern in a local area.
I note the point that noble Lords have made that domestic violence is prevalent in every area, but it could include domestic violence, alcohol-related violence, sexual exploitation, or modern slavery. Ultimately, the specified authorities are best placed to determine what the specific priorities are for that area based on the local evidence. However, all that said, I can see value in the intention of this amendment, to expressly provide on the face of the Bill—and avoid any doubt—that domestic abuse, including domestic homicide, and sexual offences, falls within the definition of “violence” that specified authorities should follow when considering what amounts to serious violence and making that evidence-based determination as to what the specific priorities should be for their area.
Regarding the specific addition of “stalking”, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for drawing attention to this important issue. I recognise that there are other forms of crime which disproportionately affect women and girls which local areas may want to consider for the purpose of the duty, and the draft statutory guidance highlights that they may wish to do this. However, we might risk creating confusion if we specified too many crime types under the meaning of “violence”, and we must consider carefully where to draw the line. I discussed this with the domestic abuse commissioner the other day and she agrees that the definition of “domestic abuse” should be broad enough to draw attention to this issue where it takes place in a domestic abuse context. In addition, while many stalking offences do take place in a domestic abuse context or ultimately involve violent behaviour, that cannot be said for all, and so I am not convinced that an express reference is appropriate.
In any event, we remain completely focused on our efforts to tackle these crimes. The Home Secretary will chair a new violence against women and girls task force to drive cross-government activity and help maintain public confidence in policing. We are funding the first full-time national policing lead in this area, Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth, as I mentioned during the Urgent Question yesterday, and later this year we will publish a new domestic abuse strategy.
Having listened to the debate, I am in no doubt about where the whole Committee stands on this issue. We can all agree in this place that we need to do much more to tackle violence against women and girls. The multi-pronged strategy we published in the summer is directed to that end. We intend to build on that further, having listened to the views of the Committee. The Government agree that part of the response must include the police, local authorities, health bodies and the other agencies to whom the serious violence duty applies, working together to prevent and reduce domestic abuse and sexual violence in their area. Therefore, I agree with the aim of my noble friend’s amendment and will work with her ahead of Report to agree how we might best reflect this.
Amendments 57 and 58 would require violence to be defined as serious in a local area should it result either in injury requiring emergency hospital treatment or in harm constituting grievous bodily harm. I agree that such consequences are clear indicators of the seriousness of the violence in question, but we want to consider further any implications of adding such specific language to the definition of serious violence in the Bill.
The Bill already specifies certain factors that specified authorities must consider when determining what constitutes serious violence for their local area: the maximum penalty that could be imposed for any offence involved in the violence; the impact of the violence on any victim; the prevalence of the violence in the area; and the impact of the violence on the community in the area. We expect the specified authorities to use the evidence gathered from their strategic needs assessment to answer these questions and set the priority areas for their local strategies accordingly. We think that current drafting ensures that specified authorities consider the most harmful types of violence, including those resulting in acute physical injury, as part of their local strategies. However, we recognise the need to further consider the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe.
Finally, Amendments 57A and 59A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raise another important issue. It is true that serious violence is often not contained by local borders and, owing to electronic communication, perpetrators of violence are able to have an extended impact in areas far across the country and beyond. We fully recognise this, and it is why Clause 8 permits specified and relevant authorities to work across local government boundaries with other authorities and, in doing so, to collaborate on strategies that cover areas greater than those where they primarily provide services. This could include collaboration with authorities in neighbouring areas or further afield. We have also included advice within the draft statutory guidance to this effect. For this reason, we do not think these amendments are necessary.
The Government have been clear that internet companies must go further and faster to tackle illegal content online. It is already an offence to incite, assist or encourage violence online, and we will continue to work with the police to support proactive action against and to address illegal material posted and offences perpetrated online.
In conclusion, I assure noble Lords that I will reflect very carefully on this debate and, in particular, on the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I will continue to work with them to find an agreed way forward ahead of the next stage. On that basis, I hope my noble friend will withdraw her amendment, on the clear understanding that we will return to these issues on Report.
My Lords, first, I thank everyone for their powerful collection of persuasive speeches supporting the amendment in my name, for which I am hugely grateful. The House is at its best when it comes together on an issue that bridges the political divide and about which we all feel strongly. I am grateful to noble Lords for that. I thank the Minister for her support and what she just said in response, in particular to my amendment. She always gives a huge amount of time and she is such a diligent Minister. The Government are lucky to have her. I think I speak for the whole Committee when I say that she works incredibly hard and cares so much. I am grateful and I thank her.
I consider myself lobbied by my noble friend Lady Newlove, the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Royall—who is of course absent—and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. My noble friend knows that I agree with every word she said on stalking. I cannot promise that I will change the amendment, but I promise that I will go to bat and lobby as hard as possible, because there is a huge problem here. Some 1.5 million people are being stalked a year, and less than 2,000 people are ever brought to justice. There is a massive problem here and, for too long, it has not been taken seriously enough. I want to work more on that, and I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for saying that she will look at these amendments and that we can discuss this further before Report.
It is very difficult for me to respond to amendments that are not in my name, and I will probably not do justice to them, but I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for laying his amendments—he had hugely persuasive arguments—and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for the amount of work she does on these issues. She is absolutely right that social media companies need to be kept in check. I could not disagree with the points that she made.
That is where I will leave it, but I am grateful and look forward to Report. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 55 withdrawn.
Amendments 56 to 58 not moved.
Clause 12 agreed.
Clause 13: Involvement of local policing bodies
59: Clause 13, page 13, line 25, after “body” insert “for a police area”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that references in Clause 13(2) to “the police area” are to the police area of the local policing body mentioned at the beginning of that provision.
My Lords, Amendment 59 to Clause 13 is a drafting amendment. Clause 13 concerns the involvement of local policing bodies in local serious violence strategies. This amendment simply clarifies that references in Clause 13(2) to “the police area” are to the police area of the local policing body mentioned at the beginning of that provision. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has given notice of a stand part debate on Clause 13 so, if it please the Committee, I will hear from him, but, for now, I beg to move.
My Lords, we on these Benches want to probe whether Clause 13 needs to stand part of the Bill. Can the Minister explain to the Committee why there is a need for legislation to allow a local policing body, presumably a directly elected mayor or a police and crime commissioner, to assist in preventing or tackling serious violence?
I could understand if the clause stated that local policing bodies must assist or monitor what specified responsible authorities were doing and must report their findings to the Home Secretary, but that is not what it says. It says that such assistance, monitoring and reporting are voluntary, in that these bodies “may” assist, “may” monitor and “may” report.
Subsection (4) states:
“The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision conferring functions on a local policing body”.
Does that mean that, although in primary legislation—the Bill—all this is voluntary, the Secretary of State can by regulation make it compulsory?
Subsection (5) states that the functions contained in regulations
“may include provision ... for a local policing body to arrange for meetings”.
Why does the Secretary of State need to pass regulations for a directly elected mayor to hold a meeting? Can the Minister explain why Clause 13 needs to be part of the Bill at all? We on these Benches are struggling to understand why.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for this stand part debate. If the Committee will forgive me, I will say, as quickly as I can, a word or two about how I perceive the role of police and crime commissioners up until now.
Clause 13 is clearly an important element in establishing, from the Government’s point of view, a serious violence reduction duty on a more statutory basis—if I can put it that way—than exists presently. This obviously involves police and crime commissioners in particular. It is important to remember—I think this is what the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, was getting at, in part—that police and crime commissioners have, in their nine-year existence, voluntarily worked hard to establish partnership working and commission partnership services. In many cases, they have taken a lead in those partnerships.
There is a fundamental misunderstanding—not, I am sure, in this Committee—that, somehow, the only real role for police and crime commissioners is to hold their police force, and the chief constable in particular, to account. That is a crucial part of their duties, but I point out—the Committee does not need this pointing out—that they are not just police commissioners but crime commissioners as well. At the very least, they should have a significant duty to find ways to prevent crime and its effects on victims and society, working alongside partners, of course.
This is not about dealing with crime that has taken place, whether it is antisocial behaviour or serious violence. It means dealing with what has become a hackneyed phrase but is crucial here: the causes of crime, going back to early childhood development and early intervention. It is always about poverty and its effect on crime. It is about bad and lousy living conditions, and it always involves looking after the vulnerable, whoever they may be—we are all vulnerable at some stage or other in our lives. Above all, it is about preventing lives being thrown away, whether they are those of victims or perpetrators. I have to confess—noble Lords may have already realised that this is what I am about to say—that this kind of work or duty, as I call it, gave me and many other police and crime commissioners the greatest buzz of all.
It was crucial to achieving anything that one worked with partners, local and national, very much including government. To their credit, the Government set up violence reduction units, changed their support—I do not mean that in any bad way—and became very keen on the public health approach to dealing with these matters. That was a huge and important change, and many of us were convinced by the work that we did and seeing what happened in Scotland that this was the right course to take.
Where I was police and crime commissioner, we have what we call a violence reduction network, rather than a unit. I argue that it has achieved quite a large amount already, with great projects. My predecessor as police and crime commissioner for Leicestershire ran and started an office of the police and crime commissioner-run strategic partnership board, or SPB, which, by the time I left office, included all—I mean all—of the main public services in the area covered by the force, from local government to health, education, the police, fire and ambulance services and more.
The other example I give is that I was the chairman of the East Midlands criminal justice board. Other police and crime commissioners were chairs of their local boards or whatever they chose to call it. Clearly, if Clause 13 and other parts of this chapter pass into law, there will be—I am guessing that this is how the Government will put it—more statutory backing for this way of approaching the serious violence reduction duty. I am not against that in principle, but my one concern is that, in my experience, police and crime commissioners are a little bit like elected mayors: if they are good, they are very good, and they can make a huge difference, but if they are not so good, they can make a huge difference the other way.
I was lucky in that I had a brilliant team working for me in my office. As it happens, it has been decimated by my successor, but that is for another day, certainly not for today. Also, when I was there, other police and crime commissioners, whatever their party politics or lack of it, seemed to me to be able people who wanted to do the right thing and were very committed. As the noble Baroness and the Committee will know, many new police and crime commissioners were elected in May this year, which is no doubt a good thing, and many more of them were women—it is about time, too. It is too early to say whether they will grab these extra opportunities, but I hope that they will.
There are two big issues as far as the future is concerned in the real world. One, of course, is data sharing, which the Bill is very concerned about, and so it should be. So often, people of good will get together on behalf of organisations that are not prepared to share data. That has to change in this area, otherwise there will be no achievement. The second issue—I hate to mention it but it is the usual one—is funding. If we are going to fund all these exciting proposals, it will require government to take a leading step in that.
I am grateful to the Committee for listening to my speech. I thought it might be useful in terms of this clause.
I thank the Minister for her explanation of government Amendment 59. She said it makes a minor clarifying change, and we have no concerns to raise on it. However, I look forward to the Minister’s replies on the questions and issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and my noble friend Lord Bach. I am not sure whether I have fully understood this issue, and if what I am going to say now indicates that I have not, I apologise in advance.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, indicated in his explanatory statement, which he repeated, that he has tabled the Clause 13 stand part Motion so that he can
“probe how the provisions of this Bill and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 will work in practice; and the relationship between Crime and Disorder Partnership and Police and Crime Commissioners.”
As I understand it, Clause 13 provides that local policing bodies, such as PCCs and the Mayor of London, may assist authorities in delivering the serious violence duty, monitor how authorities are exercising their duties, report back on their findings to the Secretary of State and be given authority by the Secretary of State to assist the duty in specific ways, such as providing funding or convening meetings on the duty. It also provides that authorities must co-operate with local policing bodies. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 created community safety partnerships, and that raises the issue of how this duty will interact with the existing duties on CSPs.
The Government have published draft guidance on the serious violence duty. It says:
“In order to comply with the duty it is not necessary to create a new partnership, instead the specified authorities should use existing partnerships where possible and with appropriate modifications.”
It goes on to say:
“The Duty is an opportunity to simplify and add focus to existing partnership arrangements rather than add any additional complexity to the current multi-agency landscape.”
On community safety partnerships, the draft guidance says—it says quite a bit, actually—that the Bill
“amends the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to include a requirement for CSPs to formulate and implement a strategy to prevent people from becoming involved in serious violence, both as victims and perpetrators, and reduce instances of serious violence in the area.
Should specified authorities consider the CSP to be the most appropriate local multi-agency structure through which they intend to fulfil the requirements of the duty, then the strategic needs assessment and strategy produced by the CSP may account for both the Serious Violence Duty and Crime and Disorder Act requirements.”
It goes on to say:
“In recognition of a CSP’s wider remit in relation to community safety, and that many issues concerning violent crime can be interrelated, a CSP may choose to incorporate their strategy for preventing and reducing serious violence into a wider plan which also encompasses their other priorities. This will also help to ensure that individual strategies are aligned without being duplicative.”
I simply raise a key question. Certainly I, and extend it and say surely we, understand how the Government envisage the serious violence duty working with existing structures. If I am not mistaken, Clause 19 directly amends the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to require community safety partnerships to implement a strategy on preventing and reducing serious violence. However, the draft guidance says that there is flexibility for specified authorities to choose the most appropriate local multi-agency structure to deliver on the new duty. It would be helpful if the Government, in their response, could provide some clarity on what the Bill will mean for community safety partnerships on day one. Surely the key questions are simple, as far as any question is simple: how do we avoid duplication and how do we avoid adding complexity into existing structures?
I shall raise one final point. it was raised in the Commons but did not get an answer. It is about funding, to which my noble friend Lord Bach referred. The Local Government Association has raised the issue that CSPs have had their funding steadily withdrawn since 2010. As the Bill appears to create an additional duty, do the Government have plans to review the impact that funding reductions have had on the ability of councils to work with other partners to tackle crime?
My Lords, with apologies for rising at this late stage, I lay my cards on the table and say that I have never been the greatest fan of legislating to require public officials to work together and creating byzantine edifices of legislative partnerships. However, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has a point. If this is to stand, we need to understand whether “may” means “may” or “may” means “must” or whether “may” will become “must” because of regulations that will be made under what Clause 13(4), as it is now, will eventually become. That is just good law-making.
Unlike my wonderful noble friend Lord Bach, I have not been a great enthusiast for police and crime commissioners. I have to be clear about that. I always thought that it would lead to a politicisation of the police and, I am sorry to say that in many cases I feel that that has been the case. I will not dwell on the very crass remarks made by a particular commissioner in the wake of the Sarah Everard case. I am not a fan of that particular politicised mechanism for holding the police to account.
We will no doubt come to this in later clauses, but of course we must have a public health or more holistic approach to tackling—dare I say it—the causes of crime, as well as crime. But setting the policing bit and the Home Office above the other parts of the partnership, with the powers to mandate and the money and so on, is a journey we began with the Crime and Disorder Act, probably 23-odd years ago, when I had the privilege of sitting over there, in the Box. It is a journey that we still seem to be on. I am sorry to say that the poor old Home Office is often the dustbin department, picking up problems in society when it is almost too late. A lot of the deep-seated causes of crime come from other places and need to be tackled; yes, by preventive action—many noble Lords have made that point—but such preventive action belongs in education, in health and in tackling poverty and inequality. We all know this—I am preaching to the choir—but to set up an edifice whereby the senior partner, with all the powers to mandate and all the money to donate, is the policing bit, the security bit, the interior bit and the Home Office bit, is something we need to explore further, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, intends, during the scrutiny of these clauses.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. Clause 13 provides a power for a local policing body—namely, a PCC, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, or the Common Council of the City of London in its capacity as a police authority—to assist authorities in meeting the requirements of the serious violence duty. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, was absolutely correct, as was the noble Lord, Lord Bach—as I always say, we are immensely lucky to have Parliament’s only PCC in our place; the benefit of his experience is incredibly useful.
Local policing bodies have an important part to play in convening partner agencies. PCCs and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, as elected local policing bodies, are the voice of the local community in relation to policing and crime. This is reflected in their current functions in relation to community safety partnerships. Local policing bodies are responsible for the totality of policing in their force area—the noble Lord, Lord Bach, pointed out some of the things that they get involved with—as well as for services for victims of crime. They will therefore have shared objectives in relation to the prevention and reduction of serious violence. That is why this clause provides local policing bodies with a discretionary role in supporting specified authorities with the preparation and implementation of their strategies, as well as monitoring their effectiveness and impact on local serious violence levels. I underline that the PCC role is discretionary and that it cannot be mandated through regulations.
The PCC, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, and the Common Council of the City of London will not be subject to the serious violence duty as specified authorities. However, as with the existing functions of these local policing bodies in relation to community safety partnerships, they may choose to collaborate with local partnerships. They may also take a convening role to support effective multiagency working.
Regulations made by the Secretary of State may provide further detail on the ways in which local policing bodies may assist specified authorities, including convening and chairing meetings, requiring certain persons to attend such meetings and providing funding to a specified authority to support the implementation of the local serious violence strategy. They will also have a power to require information for this purpose, as set out in Clause 16. In undertaking their monitoring functions, local policing bodies may report their findings to the Secretary of State to ensure compliance with the duty.
Specified authorities will have a duty to co-operate with local policing bodies when requested to do so. However, we have made clear in the draft support guidance the need for the relevant local policing body to consider the proportionality of additional requests and anticipated costs to specified authorities before making any such requests.
The overall objective is to provide additional support and leadership, if and when required, and not to place additional burdens on those authorities subject to the duty. The approach is very similar to arrangements in place for CSPs. There has been a mutual duty on PCCs and CSPs to reduce offending since the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. I am sure noble Lords will agree that, to engender an effective multiagency approach to preventing and reducing serious violence, we must ensure that all relevant parts of the system play their part and have sufficient support in place to enable them to do so. We believe that local policing bodies, including PCCs, are best placed to provide that support. I take also the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about funding.
I have just a couple of questions. First, what aspects of Clause 13 are local policing bodies currently not allowed to do that the clause allows them to do? Secondly—and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for articulating what is in the guidance—my understanding is that crime and disorder partnerships could be the mechanism chosen to deliver on the serious violence duties in a particular area, or it could be a different mechanism, and the police and crime commissioner might want to be part of that or might not. That does not appear to provide the clarity of leadership and accountability necessary to deliver a serious violence strategy. Perhaps the Minister can explain how this all works.
My Lords, I shall try to. At the moment, PCCs and other local policing bodies have the powers to work with the specified authorities to support multiagency working. The serious violence duty is a new duty, and the legislation clarifies how it will fit together. PCCs are the elected bodies; they work with local forces. The multiagency working can be through the CSPs, or there is flexibility around how the local partnerships are constituted. Because it is a new duty, it is definitely worth clarifying in legislation how it might work out.
Amendment 59 agreed.
Clause 13, as amended, agreed.
Clause 14: Involvement of educational, prison and youth custody authorities
Amendments 59A and 60 not moved.
Clause 14 agreed.
Clause 15: Disclosure of information
Amendments 61 to 64 not moved.
Clause 15 agreed.
Clause 16: Supply of information to local policing bodies
Amendments 65 to 68 not moved.
Clause 16 agreed.
Clause 17: Directions
Amendments 69 to 71 not moved.
72: Clause 17, page 17, line 5, leave out “consult” and insert “obtain the consent of”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to obtain the consent of the Welsh Ministers before giving a direction under Clause 17 to a devolved Welsh authority.
Amendment 72 agreed.
Debate on whether Clause 17 should stand part of the Bill.
I rise to explore whether Clause 17 should in fact stand part of the Bill. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for his support. He knows a great deal more about all this than I do. I will focus my remarks on Clause 17(1)(a), which refers to Clause 16(4). That subsection makes clear that a person employed by any specified authority who is requested to supply information to a policing body must comply with the request. Of course, these bodies may include a health authority as well as an education authority, prison authority, youth custody authority or any other authority named by the Secretary of State.
My objections to Clause 17, if I have understood it correctly—and I am humble enough to know that I may not have—are rooted in my objections to the earlier clauses requiring disclosure of information by public servants to the police. Clause 17 seems to add insult to injury by giving the Secretary of State powers to issue directions to any public servant failing to provide information in order to secure compliance with the duty. Clause 17 goes on to say that a direction can be enforced by a mandatory order. Can the Minister assure the House that these clauses exclude the disclosure of information that could identify an individual? This is vital, as the Minister knows—and I have a great regard for our Minister, who understands these things.
A doctor or teacher, for example, may take the view that to pass information that risks identifying a patient, pupil or other individual to the police would be contrary to the interests of that person and would not contribute significantly to preventing or reducing serious violence. They may make a professional judgment not to disclose information that could identify a patient, pupil or other. I seriously question the Government’s proposals in Clause 17, unless this issue can be clarified.
For example, a patient may suffer from mental health problems and may be causing difficulties, but may still be making good progress in a therapeutic programme. It is likely to be utterly destructive to draw that person to the attention of the police. Likewise, if a child has severe behavioural problems at school, is vulnerable and is being targeted by a drug dealer but has agreed to co-operate with a cognitive behaviour programme and other support designed to deal with his or her problems, it would be incredibly damaging to involve the police at this point. That child could be driven into a life of drugs and crime instead of being carefully steered away from such a path.
Having worked as a social worker many decades ago—goodness knows how many—and worked with families with problems, and having also been on the Police Complaints Authority for nine years, I think I can look at these issues from both points of view. I have considerable regard for the police, despite being—indeed, perhaps because I was—involved in investigating complaints against the police for all those years. I understand that they do want information about young people who may be committing crimes. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, knows well my view that a radical review of our Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to focus on drug treatment, rather than criminalising sick addicts, would be a great deal more fruitful in reducing drug abuse and serious violence, including county lines, than this Bill, the serious violence prevention orders and these disclosure clauses.
I hope that the Minister will explain what penalties the Government have in mind if a public servant fails to provide information in accordance with a mandatory order. Are the Government at risk of criminalising public servants? I hope the Minister can reassure the House on these issues and that she will, if necessary, seek the agreement of her colleagues to reconsider the approach in Clause 17 before Report. I look forward to her reply.
My Lords, I have to support what I have just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for reasons we began to articulate on Monday evening. Noble Lords will remember we began to have a discussion about what is to be shared and in what circumstances existing duties of confidence and existing professional duties need to be overtaken in the public interest. But who decides? The Minister kindly gave me a very specific answer at one point in our discussion, when she said that it will be decided by the person who holds the data, but, obviously, that can be subject to challenge. That of course is my traditional understanding of professional confidence.
Way before this, and way before the Crime and Disorder Act, that was the traditional position: if the doctor, the teacher or whoever is not minded to hand over to the police the data about a specific person, or more general data, the police will have to go to the courts and try to get a warrant. That is the place for those hopefully rare disputes between professionals and the police, who are coming at this from different positions, to be decided, rather than being decided by direction from the Secretary of State.
Of course, normally, we want the health professionals, the policing professionals and the educational professionals to be working in discussion and collaboration, but, where there is a rare dispute because of their different professional angles and ethics, it really is for a judge to decide and not for the Secretary of State to trump all those existing ethics and duties. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is nodding at me. That is the concern I hope the Minister can address in her explanation and defence of Clause 17.
My Lords, I rise to support the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, taking us back to very late on Monday night, if the Minister remembers, when we were discussing Clause 15, on the disclosure of information. The Minister—I think, from memory, although it was late—implied that the disclosure of information was voluntary and that the clause was there simply to facilitate the disclosure of information. In challenging the Minister in that, I quoted from Clause 17.
I can be brief. Clause 17 enables the Secretary of State, if satisfied that a specified authority, educational authority or youth custody authority has failed to comply with the duties to collaborate or disclose information—including, presumably, sensitive personal information and information covered by a duty of confidentiality—to direct the authority to comply and enforce her direction through a mandatory order. That is what Clause 17 says.
I have already explained at length why professionals should use their professional judgment—as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, just said—within existing policies, procedures, practices and protocols, rather than being forced to divulge sensitive personal information when it is not, on balance, in the public interest to do so. For example, there will often be a greater good to be derived from maintaining a relationship between, say, a youth worker and a young person at risk of becoming involved in serious violence than from divulging sensitive information to the police. All authorities dealing with these issues are committed to preventing and tackling serious violence. They may, from time to time, have a different perspective on the problem, or a different view on the best way to achieve what we all are desperately seeking to do.
This clause is one of the reasons why so many organisations believe that the Bill is really about a police-led enforcement approach, because it is the Home Secretary who can force them to comply, rather than the public health, multiagency, multifaceted approach that has been so successful in preventing and tackling knife crime in Scotland. Can the Minister give examples of where public authorities involved in preventing and tackling serious violence have obstructed efforts to achieve those objectives? If not, why is this clause necessary? We believe that Clause 17 should not stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, this group starts with government Amendment 72, which I will say a brief word about. The amendment requires the Secretary of State to obtain the consent of Welsh Ministers—not just consult them—before giving a direction under Clause 17 to a devolved Welsh authority. I understand that the change was requested by the Welsh Government, and we support it on this side of the House.
I turn to the debate on whether Clause 17 should stand part of the Bill, which was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who introduced it, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. Their explanatory statement says that:
“The purpose of this amendment is to explore the extent of the Secretary of State’s powers to issue directions under this section and the consequences of failure to comply with such a direction.”
A number of very searching questions have been raised, and I have a few questions myself. It would be helpful if the Minister could give some more information on what a “direction” might be and what it might consist of under this clause. The central point made by both the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, was about the context of police-led enforcement rather than a more equal arrangement between other agencies such as education and the National Health Service.
In the House of Commons, the Minister said that it is envisaged that this power will be used extremely rarely. Nevertheless, could the Minister give an example of when this power might be used and what checks might be in place when it is used? What would the prior steps be before a direction is considered? How would an authority’s progress in acting upon a direction be measured? Further, can the Minister say something about how the Government see this power working in practice?
I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, raised a particularly interesting question about what the sanction might be if a public servant fails to comply with an order to disclose information. My noble friend Lady Chakrabarti also spoke of the rare disputes between professionals and how these may be resolved by direction from the Secretary of State, rather than through the courts. She gave a historical context, if you like, to that status of professionals making their own judgments.
I look forward to the Minister’s answers to these questions, because, in a sense, they go to the heart of the recognition of the police’s authority and the status of professionals when they are asked to disclose sensitive information.
My Lords, we expect that the duty will provide the right legal basis for improved multiagency working and draw in the correct set of partners to prevent and reduce serious violence effectively. We think it is right, however, to ensure that there are means of securing compliance should a specified authority refuse to play their part—in other words, in adherence of the duty. So we have included provision within Clause 17 for the Secretary of State to issue a direction to secure compliance, should a specific authority, educational institution, prison or youth custody authority fail to meet the requirements of the duty. For publicly managed probation service providers, prisons, young offender institutions, secure training centres or secure colleges, existing mechanisms can be utilised through the relevant Secretary of State to ensure compliance with the duty.
As a result of the amendment to this clause just agreed by the Committee, the Secretary of State must now obtain the consent of the Welsh Ministers before issuing a direction to a devolved Welsh authority, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said.
I now take the opportunity to address concerns that were raised previously by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick —it was only on Monday night, but it seems quite a long time ago. Let me be clear: a direction can be issued only to certain specified or relevant authorities and not to individual front-line professionals or practitioners. In addition, directions can be issued only in respect of certain duties, as listed in Clause 17(1). On information sharing, no directions can be issued in relation to the exercise of the powers in Clause 15 or any regulations made under Clause 9, which enable but do not mandate information sharing. I hope that answers the question from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
Directions can be made by the Secretary of State in relation to a failure to discharge the mandatory duty in Clause 16 to share information with a local policing body. As I have said previously, the purpose of Clause 16 is to enable the local policing body—that is, the PCC and their equivalents—to request information in order to assist the specified authorities and monitor the effectiveness of local strategies. To reiterate—this may assist the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti—this power would not enable the Secretary of State to directly compel an individual doctor, teacher or social worker to disclose personal information. Additionally, any direction given to an authority cannot require a disclosure which would be in breach of the data protection legislation. If an authority refused to comply with the direction due to concerns that doing so would breach the data protection legislation, the Secretary of State could apply for a mandatory order and the court would then determine the question. I hope that this clarification is helpful.
I assure the Committee that, in any case, we expect these powers to be seldom used and utilised only where all other means of securing compliance have been exhausted. I am sure noble Lords would agree that, in order for this duty to be effective, a system needs to be in place to ensure that authorities comply with the legal regulations we are proposing to help prevent and reduce serious violence.
A direction by the Secretary of State may require the authority in question to undertake specific actions in order to comply under the duty, and directions may be enforced by a mandatory order granted on application to the Administrative Court in England and Wales. Further detail on this process will be set out in statutory guidance, which will be subject to a public consultation following Royal Assent. I commend Clause 17 to the Committee.
My Lords, the direction power is not available in relation to probation services provided by the Secretary of State or publicly run prisons, youth offender institutions, secure training centres or secure colleges. As I said earlier, existing mechanisms will be available to ensure that they are meeting the requirements of the duty. In addition, as I have already outlined, the Secretary of State must also obtain consent from Welsh Ministers before exercising the direction power in relation to a devolved Welsh authority.
Before the Minister sits down, I have one further question about the protection on data protection. My understanding is that, essentially, it works by limiting the control and transfer of data to the purposes for which the data is held. However, if this legislation changes those purposes to include, for example, the serious violence duty, data protection will not help any more because there will be a purpose that overrides the existing primary purpose. Perhaps during the next few hours—or years—of this Committee, we could get some advice from our friends in the Box.
I am grateful to the Minister. I think I need to read what she said and compare it with what is in other clauses in the Bill because, although it is difficult to hold everything in one’s head, I am not sure that everything she said is consistent with what is in the Bill.
However, there are two specific questions that the Minister did not answer. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked what the sanction would be for failure to comply. Is it right that a mandatory order is an order of the Administrative Court to comply with a legal duty, and therefore failure to comply with a mandatory order would be in contempt of court? The second question, which I asked, was: can the Minister give examples of where public authorities involved in preventing and tackling serious violence have obstructed the efforts to achieve those objectives? If not, why is the clause necessary? I do not expect the Minister to have examples at her fingertips but perhaps she could write.
I thank the Minister for her response on Clause 17. However, I wish to express a bit of concern. Although she assured the Committee that an individual doctor or youth worker would not be required to provide information, nevertheless an authority might well provide information, without consulting the individual doctor or youth worker, that would identify individuals who were receiving services in that authority. After the Minister’s response, I am not at all clear that we can be completely sure that this will not happen; I believe that there should be some wording in these clauses to specify that information from authorities about individuals would not be accepted if they provided it. This is an incredibly dangerous situation if individuals find that their authority has been divulging information to the police; it could destroy the efficacy of our public services—it is that serious.
I am not trying to be awkward; I just feel that we need some assurances in these clauses that individuals will not need to be concerned about the disclosure of information about them. Various subsections in Clauses 15 and 16 and so on indicate that, in looking at data protection, you must take account of the regulations in this Act. It is quite complex but it is not reassuring, if I may say so.
My Lords, I am keen for this not to be left hanging in uncertainty. Perhaps a bit of further explanation will be helpful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
This is a backstop power that will be used rarely. However, if needed, it could be utilised; for example, where one of the specified authorities fails to participate in the preparation of the local strategy. If a direction was issued and the authority still refused to comply—that was the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—on the basis that it believed that doing so would breach data protection legislation, the Secretary of State would need to apply for a mandatory order and the court would ultimately decide, but I do not think that there is any question of breaching data protection legislation.
My Lords, it might be helpful to the Committee if I clarify what may be a slight confusion. The group was led by Amendment 72 but noble Lords will recall that Amendment 72 was agreed to in its place. The question that the Committee now has before is that Clause 17, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
Clause 17, as amended, agreed.
Clause 18: Guidance
73: Clause 18, page 17, line 17, at end insert “and contained in regulations”
Member’s explanatory statement
The aim of this amendment is to ensure that the guidance under this Clause is able to be scrutinised by Parliament
My Lords, in moving Amendment 73, I will speak also to Amendment 74 in my name.
Clause 18 states that those authorities that are, under this chapter of the Bill, under a duty to prevent and tackle serious violence
“must have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State”.
However, in the Bill, the only people the Secretary of State must consult are Welsh Ministers. As we will see in a later group, when it comes to similar guidance in relation to offensive weapons homicide reviews, Clause 31 requires the Secretary of State to consult
“persons appearing to the Secretary of State to represent review partners”
“such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”
That is in addition to Welsh Ministers.
We on these Benches believe that the Secretary of State should also consult representatives of the authorities that will be subject to the guidance, and such other persons as may be appropriate to consult. That is the intention of Amendment 74. We also believe that such guidance should be statutory—that is, contained in regulations—to enable Parliament to scrutinise the guidance before those involved become subject to it, as set out in Amendment 73. I beg to move.
My Lords, we support the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. On Amendment 74, we believe it is vital that the Government should consult front-line organisations on the content of the guidance. They are the ones who know how this will, or will not, work in practice and their expertise is the driving force behind the duty. The Government have of course published draft guidance on this, and I ask the Minister whether this guidance is being consulted on.
Amendment 73, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is a recommendation of the DPRRC. The committee said it was unconvinced by the reasons given by the Government on why, throughout the Bill, guidance should not be subject to parliamentary procedure. It raised the potential power of this type of guidance, which authorities are told in statute to have regard to. The committee said:
“The guidance could … go much further than simply assisting those to whom it is directed: it would allow the Secretary of State to influence how statutory powers and duties are exercised”.
Will the Minister accept the committee’s recommendation?
My Lords, that was quick for a Committee debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for setting out the case for these amendments, which relate to the power to issue guidance in relation to the serious violence duty. I am sure we all agree that legislation works far better, in practice, when it is implemented alongside clear guidance. In the case of the serious violence duty, we want to ensure that the guidance is clear on the expectations of all specified authorities, that it provides sufficient advice in meeting them and that it highlights best practice from across England and Wales. It is also crucial that such guidance is developed in collaboration with and with input from those who will be subject to the legislation and those who represent them to ensure that it is fit for purpose.
That is why, prior to the implementation of Chapter 1 of Part 2, we will publicly consult on the guidance to support the duty. As a first step, we have published the guidance in draft to assist the scrutiny of these provisions. I have a copy of it here. We welcome feedback on the draft and will take that into account when preparing an updated draft for consultation following Royal Assent to the Bill.
Clause 18 already expressly requires consultation with Welsh Ministers, as the noble Lord said, in so far as the guidance relates to the exercise of functions under this chapter by a devolved Welsh authority. But we are committed to going further and, as part of the public consultation on the statutory guidance, we intend to invite views from key representative bodies and other relevant persons, such as the Children’s Commissioner and the domestic abuse commissioner. Given this commitment, I do not think it would be appropriate, at this point, to include a broader duty to consult in the Bill.
The stated aim of Amendment 73 is to enable the guidance to be scrutinised by Parliament. In principle, I have no difficulty with that at all; it is open to Parliament to scrutinise guidance at any time. However, the effect of this amendment, when read with the provisions in Clause 21, would be to make the guidance subject to the affirmative procedure. I am not persuaded that this level of scrutiny is necessary—and nor, for that matter, was the DPRRC, which recommended that the negative procedure should apply in this case. We are carefully considering that committee’s report and will respond ahead of the next stage. In light of the commitments I have given, would the noble Lord be happy to withdraw his amendment?
My ventriloquism skills are not so good that the Minister would think I was the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. But I am glad that the Minister is going to consider the regulations again. I am not sure that the intention of my amendment was to ensure that guidance would be approved through the affirmative procedure. Any procedure would be better than no procedure at all, and it does not look like there is any provision in the Bill for parliamentary scrutiny of guidance, so I am grateful for that undertaking. I will go back and look again at a later part of the Bill, which includes the need to consult on guidance. I may need to come back on Report and again challenge why, in that part of the Bill, guidance has to be consulted on, but not in this part. Having said that, I withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 73 withdrawn.
Amendment 74 not moved.
Clause 18 agreed.
Clauses 19 to 22 agreed.
Clause 23: Duty to arrange a review
75: Clause 23, page 22, line 7, at end insert—
“(c) no other mechanism is available to review or hold an investigation or inquiry into the death”Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the reviews conducted under Clause 23 do not duplicate any other review taking place into the same death, for example a Coroner's inquest.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 75 I will speak also to Amendments 76 and 77 in this group, all in my name. We now come to offensive weapons homicide reviews and there are two points I will make initially. The first is to point to the evidence that the provisions on this in the Bill were probably, quite rightly and properly, about knife crime. Chapter 2 is about offensive weapons homicide reviews and, predominantly if not almost exclusively, homicides involving offensive weapons are knife crime offences.
Secondly, as with Chapter 1, the primary motive of the Government is to produce the illusion of doing something when the changes in the Bill have little practical beneficial effect. As we argued in Chapter 1, the Government’s approach potentially does more harm than good. Amendment 75 is a probing amendment to ask the Government why, just as Chapter 1 should have strengthened existing crime and disorder partnerships, this chapter should not strengthen the already considerable and comprehensive powers of coroners, if this were necessary, rather than creating a new and separate legal duty to conduct offensive weapons reviews—other than the obvious explanation that the Government could point to it and say they had done something about knife crime.
For every death where the cause of death is still unknown, where the person might have died a violent or unnatural death or might have died in prison or police custody, a coroner must hold an inquest. Clearly every qualifying homicide, as identified by Clause 23, and every potential qualifying homicide, even if the Secretary of State changed the definition by regulations, as subsection (7) allows, would be subject to a coroner’s inquest. Paragraph 7 of Schedule 5 to the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 provides coroners with a duty to make reports to a person, organisation, local authority, or government department or agency, where the coroner believes that action should be taken to prevent future deaths. All reports, formerly known as rule 43 reports, and responses must be sent to the Chief Coroner. In most cases, the Chief Coroner will publish the reports and responses on the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website. Coroners are very powerful members of the judiciary. Attendance at a coroner’s court takes precedence over an appearance at any other court, if a witness is required to attend more than one court at one time, for example.
Can the Minister tell the Committee what consultation took place with coroners before this chapter was drafted? What was their response? What additional benefit would an offensive weapons homicide review have over a coroner’s report? If benefits were identified, what consideration was given to the coroner, rather than a review partner, being given the power to order a homicide review? Can the Minister also explain what happens if one of the review partners considers that none of the conditions in Clause 23(1) is satisfied, but another review partner considers that the conditions are met? Does the review take place despite the review partner’s objection, and, if it does, does the review partner that objected have to participate if it does not believe the conditions are met? Is there a hierarchy of review partners? So, if the police believe the conditions are met, must the review go ahead? And if a clinical commissioning group believes that a review should go ahead, but the police do not believe the conditions are met, does the review take place and do the police have to participate?
The Government may say that all this will be set out in regulations, but the existing provisions in the Bill are a shell of an idea, where this Committee is left to guess what actually happens in practice; what a qualifying homicide is, because that can be changed by regulation; who the review partners will be, because that will be set out in regulations; and what happens if there is disagreement among review partners about whether the conditions are met.
We already have child death reviews, domestic homicide reviews—on which more in a subsequent group—safeguarding adult reviews, and, now, offensive weapons homicide reviews. With the Bill as drafted, how many of the sadly too many knife crime deaths a year will be subject to a review? According to the Bill, factors that decide whether a review is necessary may include, for example, the circumstances surrounding the death, the circumstances or the history of the person who died, or the circumstances or history of other persons with a connection with the death, or any other condition the Secretary of State sets out in regulations. How many reviews do the Government believe will have to be conducted each year by our overstretched police, local authority and health services? I ask the Minister to not give the answer: “It depends what conditions are contained in the regulations”.
Amendment 76 is intended to ensure, as with the serious violence duty, that professionals, including doctors and counsellors, are not forced to disclose sensitive personal information that is subject to a duty of confidentiality, unless, in exceptional circumstances, it is in the public interest to do so, and in accordance with existing policies and practices, although I accept that these may be less stringent in the case of information regarding the deceased.
As before, Clause 31 says that review partners must have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State, but there is no mention of parliamentary scrutiny of such guidance. My Amendment 77 requires the guidance to be laid before Parliament to ensure parliamentary scrutiny. I beg to move Amendment 75.
My Lords, I am glad to support my noble friend in questioning whether the processes outlined in this clause should be altered so that they protect the procedures that we already have and have had for a thousand years, to use the system of coroners to investigate unexplained deaths of a wide variety of types. Instead, we have the offensive weapons homicide review added to the system. It is unclear how this will relate to the coroner’s duties in a situation where such a death has occurred, because the coroner’s duties do not disappear because we have legislated this system into existence. I hope the Minister will clarify this point.
There was a time when the Government might have felt that the system of coroners was not quite up to the job in some areas. We had problems over the years with inconsistencies in standards of coroner, but considerable attention has been given to that in recent years and I think the system now has much more consistency about it. We are not subject to some of the problems of particular localities which existed in the past. The creation of a Chief Coroner, although in a more limited way than originally envisaged, I think has helped in that process.
It seems to me that the Government are not saying that the coroner system cannot handle this, they are simply legislating for an additional mechanism, because that seems to be a good, visible response to a problem that we all acknowledge is a serious one. But serious problems are not solved by creating more structures and processes, particularly in the circumstance where what is a qualified homicide appears to be so uncertain that the Government have to keep to themselves powers to change the meaning of qualified homicide while the legislation remains in force.
I am very unpersuaded about this system and certainly would like to know what coroners are supposed to do when they find themselves presented with the likelihood of such an inquiry taking place and may have their own duties in respect of the death that has taken place.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has made it clear that these are probing amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Beith, has just expressed scepticism about the number of initiatives which the Government have put forward in this section of the Bill.
Having said that, we support this part of the Bill on offensive weapons homicide reviews. Amendment 75 raises the question of what happens if a death is already covered by an existing review mechanism, and not duplicating reviews. When this question was raised in the other place, the Minister said:
“To avoid duplication of work, the Bill provides that these new offensive weapons homicide reviews will be required only where there is not an existing statutory requirement to review the homicide”.—[Official Report, Commons Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Committee, 27/5/21; col. 268.]
Clause 23(5) provides that a review is not required under this chapter if a review of the death is already taking place under different arrangements. If I understand it correctly, I think this meets one of the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in his amendment.
Amendment 76 deals with data protection. It would prevent data being shared for these reviews if it breaches an obligation of confidence or any other restriction other than the Data Protection Act. These issues were debated in detail on Monday in relation to the serious violence reduction duty. Obviously, data sharing is absolutely key to a homicide review to allow us to identify and learn lessons from the death, and to decide on actions to take in response. However, as raised in the earlier debate, we must know how this is to be balanced with safeguards.
Clause 29 provides that a person may not be required to disclose information under this chapter that they could not be compelled to disclose in High Court proceedings. It would be helpful if the Minister could talk us through the specific provision of potential High Court proceedings.
Amendment 77 is based on a recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The DPRRC has said that guidance on this chapter of the Bill provided by Clause 31 should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and done through a statutory instrument subject to the negative procedure. We support the committee’s suggestion and call on the Government to look carefully at all the committee’s recommendations.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for explaining his amendments to the provisions in the Bill which establish offensive weapons homicide reviews. Before I turn to the specifics of the amendments, it may assist the Committee if I first set out the context and rationale for the introduction of these reviews. Noble Lords asked a lot of questions and I will do my best to get to all of them. If I have missed any, I will write to noble Lords.
Every homicide is a tragedy and the Government are committed to doing all they can to prevent the senseless loss of life and tackle serious violence. We are naturally disturbed by data showing that homicide has risen by about a third in England and Wales between 2014-15 and 2018-19. We have also seen that homicides involving offensive weapons now make up a large and growing proportion of all homicides—approximately 354 out of 732 in 2019. Homicide is now the fourth leading cause of death for men aged 20 to 34, behind suicide, drug overdoses and car accidents. Yet there is currently no legal requirement to formally review the circumstances around the majority of homicides involving an offensive weapon.
This provision will require local agencies to consider the circumstances of both the victims and perpetrators during an offensive weapons homicide review, and identify lessons that could help prevent future deaths. By deepening our local and national understanding of homicide and serious violence, together we can improve our response and ultimately save lives.
The amendment would change the definition of a “qualifying homicide” whereby, alongside the other requirements already set out in Clause 23, an offensive weapons homicide review would be applicable only if no other mechanism is available to review or hold an investigation or inquiry into the death. We agree with the sentiment of the amendment that it would not be necessary or proportionate to require the review partners to conduct an offensive weapons homicide review where the homicide already meets the conditions for an existing review—for example, a domestic homicide review—as this would involve duplication of work and create an unnecessary burden on the review partners, yet produce the same outcomes. However, we do not consider the amendment necessary as Clause 25 already provides for the relationship between offensive weapons homicide reviews and other review requirements to avoid duplication of effort, including disapplying the duty to conduct an offensive weapons review in certain cases.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, cited coroners’ inquests as an example of existing reviews that would preclude a homicide from qualifying for a review under Chapter 2 of Part 2 of the Bill. We should remember that inquests are designed for a different purpose. They are legal inquiries into the cause and circumstances of a death, and are limited to the four statutory questions of who, where, when and how or by what means a person came about their death. Further to this, in many homicides where an offensive weapon is used, there will not be an inquest because the criminal trial will answer the statutory questions and an inquest will not need to take place.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also asked if consultation with coroners had taken place at an official level. It has and that will continue during the design phase.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. It cannot possibly be right that a coroner’s inquest is not held if a criminal trial answers the statutory questions. Why is a coroner’s inquest into the Manchester Arena bombing currently taking place after two people have been convicted in criminal trials? I cannot believe that what the Minister just said is true.
I am not in a position to answer that question, I am afraid. I shall have to write to the noble Lord.
I can now confirm that coroners’ inquests will not preclude an offensive weapons homicide review.
In homicide cases where there is an inquest, its purpose would not be to provide the same in-depth review as an offensive weapons homicide review, which will identify points of failure, lessons learned and opportunities to intervene, which will help partners tackle homicide locally and nationally. Due to this, we do not consider that the amendment is necessary. I may have already said that, in which case I apologise. In fact, I have said that; I shall move on to Amendment 76.
Amendment 76 relates to information sharing in relation to confidentiality obligations and data protection in Clause 29. To review the circumstances leading up to a homicide involving an offensive weapon, to identify lessons and produce recommendations that will have a meaningful impact and save lives, the review will undeniably need to be able to access and consider information and material relevant to the homicide. Such information may include information about the victim or the alleged perpetrators or perpetrator. It may relate to their interactions with police forces, social services, health practitioners, educational institutions, employers or third-sector organisations. It may relate to information about their known associates.
It is not for the Government to determine what information is relevant. That will be for the review partners. I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about the High Court proceedings. That issue is dealt with in Clause 29, which sets the terms on which disclosures of information required or authorised by Clauses 26 to 28 may be made. I do not have precise details on the High Court proceedings but I will come back to the noble Lord, if that is all right. Clause 28 includes a power enabling review partners to provide information to another review partner for the purpose of enabling or assisting the review partners to arrange and carry out an offensive weapons homicide review.
I have mentioned review partners a number of times and it is worth digressing briefly to attempt to answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about the backstop, effectively—what happens if there is no review partner? That is not possible because in cases where there is no relevant review partner, the regulations also allow for the Secretary of State to be given the power to direct which partners are the relevant ones. I hope that answers his specific question.
Clause 28 also includes a power for review partners to require information from other persons. However, review partners may request information under this power only for the purposes of enabling or assisting review partners to arrange and carry out an offensive weapons homicide review, and the request may be made only to a person whom the review partner considers likely to have such information. The scope of the information that might be requested, and who it might be requested from, is therefore limited.
This power does not, however, affect the availability of any other duties or powers to share information such as existing lawful routes for information to be shared for safeguarding purposes or for the purposes of the detection and prevention of crime. As currently drafted, the provisions in the Bill ensure that relevant information may be disclosed, and such disclosure would not breach existing obligations of confidence, but any disclosure must still abide by the data protection legislation—that is, the Data Protection Act 2018 and regulations made under that Act, the UK General Data Protection Regulation, regulations implementing the GDPR and the law enforcement directive—and must not be prohibited by specified provisions of the Investigatory Powers Act. For example, where personal data is subject to the UK General Data Protection Regulation, that regulation sets out the principles, rights and obligations that apply to the processing of personal data, including exemptions from particular provisions that can apply in certain circumstances, as set out in Schedules 2 to 4 to the Data Protection Act 2018—for example, in the prevention and detection of crime.
Additionally, Clause 29 provides that a person cannot be required by Clause 28 to disclose information that they could not be compelled to disclose in proceedings before the High Court, meaning that information that is subject to legal professional privilege cannot be required to be disclosed. Due to those safeguards, we do not feel that Amendment 76 is necessary.
I should also like to confirm that we have consulted the Information Commissioner’s Office throughout the development of these provisions and will continue to engage with it as we develop guidance and prepare to pilot these reviews. We consider the information-sharing provisions in Chapter 2 of Part 2 necessary to facilitate an effective multiagency approach to preventing and reducing homicide and serious violence.
Amendment 77 would ensure that guidance under Clause 31 is laid before Parliament. The statutory guidance provided for in Clause 31 will assist the review partners in understanding the statutory responsibilities placed on them, as well as providing best practice on how to fulfil those responsibilities. Among other things, the guidance will provide further information on the notification requirements, the conduct of reviews, the content of the final report and information sharing. We intend to publish an outline draft of the guidance document to allow time for further development before consulting on the guidance, as required by Clause 31. The guidance document will be finalised and published ahead of the pilot commencing.
As I have mentioned the pilot, I will take this opportunity to confirm that we have reached agreement with local leaders in London, the West Midlands and Wales that several authorities in these areas will take part in the pilot of offensive weapons homicide reviews. They were chosen to provide insight from places with differing levels of homicide and serious violence in both England and Wales. We are working with local leaders and partners in these areas on the design and pilot, and further details will be provided in due course.
Returning to the specific matter of the guidance, I can confirm that the guidance document will be published on GOV.UK and be available for everyone, so that families, friends, the public and organisations which have an interest in an offensive weapons homicide review can understand what to expect from such a review. As to whether the guidance should also be laid before Parliament and subject to parliamentary scrutiny, we note the recommendation made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in this regard. We are considering carefully that committee’s report and will respond ahead of the next stage of the Bill.
In conclusion, I am happy to consider Amendment 77 further, but I hope that I have persuaded the noble Lord that Amendments 75 and 76 are unnecessary and that, accordingly, he is content to withdraw Amendment 75.
Before my noble friend does that, can the Minister clear up a mystery? I remain mystified. A person has been stabbed, but no charge has been laid against anyone because the police have not yet identified who might have carried out the stabbing. The coroner opens and adjourns an inquest in those circumstances. What happens then? Is the coroner told that he must close down this inquest? Does the coroner continue to co-operate with the police in the normal way, as they bring to him the information that they have gradually obtained about how this death might have taken place? In passing, I should say that it would be wrong to give the impression that coroners do not, as a matter of course, draw lessons from public bodies and others which arise from any death that they report on.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for attempting to answer my questions. I am very grateful for his undertaking to write to me on any questions that were not answered. I just add one question to that.
One of my big regrets in life is not taking shorthand, so I must paraphrase what the Minister said. It was something along the lines of there being no existing legal duty to review the circumstances surrounding an offensive weapon homicide to prevent future deaths. I appreciate that the Minister is behind the curve, as he relies on a brief that is given to him before the contents of what I say immediately beforehand are known. Paragraph 7 of Schedule 5 to the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 provides coroners with a duty to make reports where the coroner believes that action should be taken to prevent future deaths. How is that not a legal duty to review the circumstances surrounding an offensive weapon homicide to prevent future deaths? If the Minister can add that to the unanswered questions, then, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 75.
Amendment 75 withdrawn.
Clause 23 agreed.
Clauses 24 to 28 agreed.
Clause 29: Information: supplementary
Amendment 76 not moved.
Clauses 29 and 30 agreed.
Clause 31: Guidance
Amendment 77 not moved.
Clauses 31 to 35 agreed.
78: After Clause 35, insert the following new Clause—
“Domestic homicide reviews
(1) Section 9 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 is amended as follows.(2) For subsection (2) substitute—“(2) The Secretary of State must in all cases which meet the circumstances set out in subsection (1) direct a specified person or body within subsection (4) to establish, or to participate in, a domestic homicide review.”(3) After subsection (3) insert—“(3ZA) The Secretary of State must by regulations set out—(a) the type of data relating to domestic homicide reviews which must be recorded, including—(i) the number of domestic homicide reviews taking place across England and Wales annually; and(ii) the time taken to complete each individual domestic homicide review;(b) that the data must be recorded centrally in a Home Office database; and(c) that the data must be published annually.””Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause seeks to modify the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 to force the Secretary of State to automatically direct a domestic homicide review in circumstances as outlined in Section 9 of the Act. The new Clause also aims to improve data collection methodologies around domestic homicide reviews.
This amendment deals with domestic homicide reviews, which are provided for in Section 9 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004. Domestic homicide reviews are concerned with where a domestic murder or manslaughter occurs, meaning where somebody over 16, living in the same household as somebody else, is murdered or is the victim of manslaughter, or some other crime, leading to death. The purpose of the domestic homicide review pursuant to Section 9(1) of the 2004 Act is to identify the lessons to be learned from the death. It is envisaged that it will be a multiagency review.
These domestic homicide reviews have proved to be of real value because they have identified the sorts of things which, if they were remedied, could help to prevent subsequent occurrence. The two big issues to emerge, time and again, in domestic homicide reviews are the proper recording of domestic violence complaints and whether the risk that the recording revealed has been properly dealt with, particularly by the police but also by other agencies. The Home Office published what lessons have been learned from a whole range of domestic homicide reviews in a 2016 document. I cannot find any subsequent document that brings together lessons learned.
We seek to do two things by this amendment, and there is a connected issue that I raised with the Minister before coming to this debate today. First, according to Section 9(2) of the 2004 Act, the Secretary of State has a discretion as to whether he orders a domestic homicide review in any case. On this side of the House, we consider that there should be a domestic homicide review in every case. Documents emanating from the Home Office suggest that it believes that there is such a position. Looking at Section 9 of the 2004 Act, it is quite difficult to ascertain whether or not there is an obligation in every case for there to be such a domestic homicide review. We think that there should be, and our proposed amendment to subsection (2) seeks to achieve that. I would very much welcome the Minister telling us what the position is in relation to it and what legal duty exists to ensure that there is a domestic homicide review. If there is any doubt about it, can he confirm that the Government’s position is that there should be a domestic homicide review in every case and that he would consider making the necessary legal changes to ensure that?
Secondly, we take the view that there should be proper recording of all that is learned from domestic homicide reviews, and, in particular, that the information is readily available in a centralised place to determine the sorts of things that lead to domestic homicides, so that it is available to everybody, in particular every police force that is dealing with it.
Thirdly, and separately—this is not specifically covered by the amendment, but I raised it with the Minister beforehand—a domestic homicide sentencing review was commissioned by, I think, the previous Lord Chancellor, on 9 September 2021. This has involved the instruction of Clare Wade of Her Majesty’s Counsel to look into the sentencing of people convicted of a domestic homicide. Will the Minister please say what the terms of reference of Clare Wade’s review are? When is it expected to report, and what will be done with its recommendations?
We start, on this side, from the premise that this Bill does not sufficiently address violence against women and girls in particular. In two-thirds of domestic homicides, of which there are about 150 a year, a woman is the victim. The pattern of sentencing by courts has evolved in such a way that in the case of victims of stabbing outside of a domestic context the courts are guided to give very heavy sentences, while for victims of stabbings in a domestic context the courts are not given such stringent guidance. We think that that needs to be looked at: a domestic killing should not be treated as less serious than one committed outside the home. I would be grateful to hear the Minister’s explanation of the position in relation to the review. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. My noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb signed this amendment but is, unfortunately, unable to be in the House tonight and I speak in her place.
Essentially, I agree with everything the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, said. I will add just a couple of points. It is worth noting that the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing produced a report on domestic homicide in August, which described it as
“an entrenched and enduring problem.”
The report makes very disturbing reading. It records that just over half of suspects were previously known to police from domestic abuse cases, and another 10% were known for other offences, while 44% of households not covered by those categories were known to some other agency in some way. There is clearly an issue, therefore, with lessons learned.
It is good to have a report such as this: it is very useful and informative. But what is being proposed here is a register—something ongoing that can be a continual source of information and learning. We should make a couple of comparisons here. One is with air safety, where there is an assumption that whenever anything goes wrong every possible lesson will be learned and every piece of information will be extracted from it. We should be looking at domestic homicides in the same way.
Another parallel is with the Vision Zero approach to road crashes which many nations are increasingly adopting. We should be among them, and we should be looking to have zero serious injuries or deaths on the road. We know from the report that in nearly all cases of domestic homicide there has been an opportunity for someone to intervene. We should be looking towards a Vision Zero for domestic homicides.
My Lords, I listened very carefully to the arguments put forward by the noble and learned lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, but I am not sure that there needs to be a domestic homicide review in every case—or whether that is not already the situation.
In my experience, some cases of domestic homicide are very straightforward, and I remind the Committee of my remarks on the previous group: that coroners—rather than, for example, the Secretary of State—should perhaps have the power to order such a review if they believe it is in the public interest.
We support the need to ensure that lessons are learned from domestic homicide reviews, that they are regularly published, and that these offences are treated with utmost seriousness. Being attacked and killed in your own home, a place where everyone should feel safe, is far more serious than being attacked and killed on the street. That is why it is so important that any lesson that can be learned from any domestic homicide should be learned, and why the courts need to take these offences far more seriously than a random attack or a gang-related attack on the street.
I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for his conversation this afternoon, which was very gracious of him.
As the noble and learned Lord has set out, this amendment seeks to amend the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 to require the Secretary of State to direct a domestic homicide review to be carried out in circumstances outlined in Section 9 of that Act. The amendment also aims to improve data collection methodologies around domestic homicide reviews. I shall go into that now and, I hope, answer noble Lords’ questions in the course of my remarks.
As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, noted, domestic homicides are an abhorrent crime. Every death is a tragedy. I will explain some of the measures we are taking to tackle the perpetrators of these crimes, because it is germane to this amendment. In 2020-21 £7 million was awarded to police and crime commissioners to fund 28 perpetrator programmes, including the Drive project, which works with high-harm and high-risk perpetrators. This year we have also allocated £11.3 million to further expand the geographic scale of perpetrator programmes.
I return to the amendment. Domestic homicide reviews are a valuable mechanism for understanding what lessons can be learned from these deaths to prevent further tragedies. We recognise that there is room for improvement in the way these reviews are conducted and the lessons applied.
Domestic homicide reviews should be considered where the death of a person appears to have been caused by someone to whom they are related or had an intimate relationship with, or by a member of their household, with a view to identifying lessons from the death. The statutory guidance dictates that these decisions are to be made by community safety partnerships at local level. The Home Office should be notified of these decisions by the CSP. CSPs comprise representatives from responsible authorities: police, local authorities, probation and health services.
The chair of the CSP holds responsibility for establishing whether a homicide is to be the subject of a DHR by giving consideration to the definition set out in Section 9(1) of the 2004 Act, as noted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and whether the statutory criteria in that section are satisfied. There will be occasions where a CSP may consider it inappropriate to conduct a DHR based on the information before it, either because the statutory criteria are not met, in its view, or for other reasons.
The Home Office expert quality assurance panel reviews all decisions not to proceed with a review. The decision is then ultimately escalated to the Secretary of State, who can exercise her reserve power in Section 9(2) of the 2004 Act to direct a community safety partnership to conduct a review. This was first utilised in the very tragic case of Ruth Williams. Since March 2021, the Home Secretary has made four such directions.
In a very small number of cases, it is possible that the criteria for a domestic homicide review are met, but it is agreed that a review is not the best way to ensure that lessons are learned from the tragic death, for example when there is inadequate information to proceed or when a different safeguarding review would be more appropriate. I reassure the noble and learned Lord that these decisions are taken very carefully by the quality assurance panel and the Home Secretary.
In short, domestic homicide reviews already take place in the great majority of cases where the criteria in the 2004 Act are met. Given this, and the existence of the Home Secretary’s reserve power to direct a review, we are not persuaded that the framework for triggering these reviews is wanting and in need of change.
Turning to the second aspect of the noble and learned Lord’s amendment, I accept that there are concerns about the collection of data relating to domestic homicide reviews. This is why the Home Office has undertaken to create a central repository to hold all domestic homicide reviews. Funding has been secured for this and it is expected to go live next year. Once introduced, all historical reports will be collected to ensure that there is a central database on domestic homicides.
Furthermore, I should add that Section 17 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which comes into force on 1 November, will amend Section 9 of the 2004 Act to make it a requirement for CSPs to send all completed DHRs to the domestic abuse commissioner as soon as reasonably practicable after completion. This will be a useful source of information from which the commissioner can drive forward change.
To go on to the noble and learned Lord’s final question about the sentencing review, the Government recognise the legitimacy of the concerns around the sentencing of domestic homicide cases raised by the families of Poppy Devey Waterhouse and Ellie Gould and those highlighted by the Victims’ Commissioner and domestic abuse commissioner. That is why we are conducting a review into such cases. It will be a targeted review of how domestic homicide cases—specifically those involving fatal attacks on intimate partners or ex-partners—are dealt with by our justice system, and will take account of sentencing outcomes and available data. The first stage of this review, an analysis of data and relevant sentencing for cases of domestic homicide tried between 2018 and 2020, is now complete.
As the noble and learned Lord noted, Clare Wade QC has since been appointed as the independent expert to conduct the second and final stage of the review. This will involve the consideration of both internal findings and existing external analysis carried out by academics and campaigning organisations, followed by the identification of potential options for reform. The expectation is that Ms Wade will report back to the Secretary of State before the end of the year.
In conclusion, I hope that the ongoing work in the Home Office on domestic homicide reviews and the domestic homicide review repository that I have described reassure the noble and learned Lord that the objectives he seeks through this amendment are already in place or under way. On that basis, I hope that he will be content to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for speaking in the debate. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, for his very comprehensive answer, though I find the answers that he gave quite concerning for three reasons.
First, he did not give a coherent basis for why there are domestic homicide reviews in some cases but not others. I completely accept that there might be cases where it was not appropriate, but the set-up of the statute gives no real indication in relation to that. He indicated that the Secretary of State had intervened on a few occasions, but did not give the basis. It would be helpful to know how many domestic homicides had a review and how many did not in the last two years and what was the basis for the selection. If he feels able to write, that would help me in considering what to do with this next.
Secondly, on the centralisation of information, he did not really come forward with a proposal for how one would improve the information in relation to that. I need to consider what he said on that. Thirdly, I may have missed it—I will need to read Hansard—but he did not say what the terms of reference are for Clare Wade’s review. Are they written down somewhere? Could somebody let us see them?
At this stage, of course, I withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 78 withdrawn.