With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments 2 to 73, 75 to 96, 108 to 126 and 132 to 143.
We have heard today passionate arguments from all parts of the House on parts 2 and 4 of the Bill on secure colleges and judicial review. The Government amendments made to parts 1 and 3 of the Bill in the House of Lords have significantly enhanced it. I do not intend to explain every amendment at great length, but I will touch on some.
Lords amendments 70 to 72, 116, 117, 126 and 142 introduce important changes to the law by creating a new criminal offence that specifically targets the behaviour commonly referred to as revenge pornography. I am sure that hon. Members across the House will agree that this behaviour is intolerable.
As the Minister says, this is a very important issue, and I raised it when the Bill was here before it went to the other place. It is very good to have this criminal sanction, but does he agree that it will be effective only if it is matched by education so that it is not necessary because people simply do not do these things?
I pay tribute to the part that the hon. Gentleman played in earlier debates on this issue. He is of course right: the law can go so far, but people need to be educated, and that is absolutely part of what we need to do to stamp out this despicable practice.
The malicious disclosure of intimate sexual photographs and films is undoubtedly an extremely distressing experience for victims. Most are left distraught, not only by the disclosure of images that they once thought were private and personal, but by the breach of trust perpetrated by this abhorrent offence. Careers and subsequent relationships have often been ruined as a result.
The offence will apply to disclosure of private sexual photographs or films of people, such as those of them engaged in sexual activity or depicted in a sexual way, where what is shown is not the kind of thing that would ordinarily be seen in public. To constitute an offence, the disclosure must take place without the consent of at least one person featured in the image and with the motivation of causing that person distress. The offence could potentially apply to any individuals in a range of circumstances, although a common scenario would be one in which an individual posts sexually explicit photographs of an ex-partner on the internet without their consent and with intent to cause them distress. It will be punishable with a maximum custodial sentence of two years.
The amendment before the House is the result of much detailed consideration and discussion and is carefully constructed to target the specific behaviour in question. I believe this offence will provide an important means of redress for victims of this cruel behaviour, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend Maria Miller and my hon. Friend Dr Huppert for their excellent work in bringing this to the Government’s attention.
We have also, through Lords amendment 73, made changes to the offence of grooming under section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. This amendment reduces the number of occasions on which the defendant must initially meet or communicate with the child, so that one single meeting or communication will suffice. The Government are, once again, grateful to Sarah Champion for passionately arguing the cause for this change.
We have built on the amendments to the Malicious Communications Act 1988 made in this House by my hon. Friend Angie Bray, by increasing through Lords amendment 82 the time within which prosecutions for offences under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 can be brought.
We have taken considerable steps towards protecting victims and witnesses under the age of 18 by introducing more effective youth reporting restrictions. Lords amendments 92 to 94, 112, 114 and 141 provide the criminal courts with a new statutory discretionary power to order lifetime reporting restrictions in respect of a victim or witness involved in criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 at the time those proceedings commence, and whose quality of evidence or level of co-operation may be affected by their fear of being identified by members of the public as a person concerned in the proceedings. This replicates the current situation for adult witnesses in appropriate circumstances who are already afforded lifetime protection.
The Government were pleased to accept Lords amendment 75 tabled by the Earl of Listowel to change the law on how 17-year-olds are treated when held overnight post-charge and pre-court appearance in police custody. As with children aged 12 to 16, they will be transferred to suitable local authority accommodation for overnight detention, rather than spending a night in police cells.
I draw the attention of the House to Lords amendments 5 to 35 and 121 to 123, which introduce new powers that enable the Secretary of State to appoint recall adjudicators. Recall adjudicators will take on the functions relating to the release of recalled determinate sentence prisoners that are currently performed by the Parole Board. These amendments will allow the board to focus its resources where they are most needed—on conducting hearings for indeterminate sentence prisoners. The details of how the recall adjudicator model will operate in practice will be the subject of further development, but Members might find it reassuring to know that my noble Friend Lord Faulks made a commitment in the other place that the Government would lay a report before both Houses before the new system is brought into force.
We have made other positive changes to the Bill through Lords amendments 1 to 4, 36 to 47, 83 to 85, 88 to 91, 113 to 115, 124 and 140. These include minor amendments to some of the existing provisions in the Bill, such as on the offence of police misconduct. They also add new provisions, such as banning the offer of inducements to make personal injury claims, and introducing greater flexibility in the Court of Protection by re-routing appeals away from the Court of Appeal, which will reduce the burden on its work load.
The Government tabled an amendment that will allow the UK to give effect to a proposed new bilateral treaty between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, which will permit mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between the two states, flowing from the EU 2014 opt-out decision. The Government accepted non-Government Lords amendments 48 to 67 and 124 in the other place, which have the effect of aligning the offence of possessing an offensive weapon with the wider sentencing framework.
I urge the House to support the Government in agreeing with the Lords amendments in this group.
Even by the Government’s standards, making 140 amendments in the other place, ranging from new offences and procedures to a plethora of corrections to drafting and operational errors, is remarkable. In the end, most of the matters are uncontentious or the Government have had notice of our objections in terms, so I can be succinct. We do not intend to press any of the Lords amendments in this group to the vote.
However, some issues require considerably more explanation and reassurance, not least the new role of the recall adjudicator. We welcome the fact that Ministers have recognised the additional burdens placed on the Parole Board. Labour has made that point repeatedly during the Bill’s passage. The Government’s impact assessment accepts that the Bill will create at least 1,100 extra Parole Board hearings at a time when its work load is rising and its staff numbers are falling. Nearly one in five staff has been cut since the last election, many of whom were vital supports to the 232 Parole Board members, who are paid per hearing. The staff left in place have to clear a substantial backlog of outstanding cases, while recent Supreme Court judgments have also impacted on its case load. With that in mind, we do not oppose the Government’s efforts to redress the burdens on the Parole Board in principle, but we need assurances on several points.
Introducing the provisions in the other place, the Minister accepted that
“the Bill is silent on the precise workings of the recall adjudicator”, and that there is
“a great deal of further work to be done on the detail.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 10 November 2014; Vol. 757, c. 14-15.]
Yet Ministers seem determined to rush through the changes with many questions left unanswered.
The Bill currently does not make it clear who the recall adjudicator would be, what the nature and scope of their role would be limited to, how the appointment process would work, what the costs of the new system would be, or how adjudicators would co-operate with other criminal justice agencies to ensure a fair, robust and effective system of recall. It is not clear what experience, training or expertise would be required of recall adjudicators.
So far, the Government have gone only as far as saying that they intend the positions to be filled by people with “significant criminal justice experience”. The point is best summarised by their impact assessment:
“Recall adjudicators will need to be carefully selected and trained and provided with a clear process and guidance to mitigate the risk of their release decisions either being too risk averse, which would add to the pressure on prison places, or failing to take full account of relevant risk factors, which could lead to the release of prisoners who breach their licence conditions and/or re-offend. This would have adverse consequences on the system as well as incur reputational damage to the MOJ.”
Such “reputational damage” to the Ministry of Justice means a risk to the public that decisions are wrongly taken. Can the Minister give the House any further detail on that point? The Government confirmed in the other place that they had
“certainly not ruled out the possibility of using magistrates.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 10 November 2014; Vol. 757, c. 15.]
That has raised particular concerns, because magistrates have varying levels of experience and, as adjudicators, would be dealing with prisoners on sentences over and above their usual sentencing powers.
Furthermore, there has been no formal process of consultation on the adjudicator proposals, despite the significant changes that they would mean to the scope and function of the Parole Board. The Government committed themselves in the other place to present further reports to Parliament before this policy is taken any further. Will the Minister confirm what these reports will contain, when he expects them to be laid before Parliament and whether any further consultation will be carried out in the meantime?
The Government have failed to carry out an equality impact assessment on the introduction of adjudicators. Will the Minister explain why? This is perhaps the most crucial point. Until we know what proportion of those who are subject to recall have protected characteristics—I include in that young people, elderly people, people with a physical disability, those who suffer from a mental illness and those with other protected characteristics—and until we know whether those who will undertake the job are qualified to deal with those characteristics, we will not know whether the new system is fit for purpose.
Ministers have cited the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Whiston to show that the creation of a recall adjudicator will not be incompatible with human rights obligations. However, Justice has suggested that
“the case does not provide a full proof justification for the new position, as compared with the independent and suitably qualified Parole Board.”
Can the Minister offer the House any specific assurances on that point?
Finally on this matter, what assurance can the Minister give that the new system will be as robust as the current process? Risk assessing whether prisoners can be released back into the community is a complex judgment and the Parole Board has more than 40 years’ experience in it. Reducing administrative burdens is all well and good, but the cost of it must not be to cut corners and jeopardise public safety.
I welcome the Lords amendments that clarify the sentencing for driving and knife offences, as well as the new offences of police corruption and ill treatment or wilful neglect by care providers. The last of those was recommended by the Francis report. Although the Opposition are disappointed that the Government are not implementing Robert Francis’s recommendations in full, we are pleased that they are implementing his recommendations in this instance.
Those changes highlight the fact that this is a rather different Bill from the one that was first presented to the House earlier this year. The Government’s initial impact assessment confirmed that the measures in the Bill would create nearly 1,000 additional prison places. Since then, the Government have added several new offences to the Bill, many of them tabled just days before a debate in Parliament, with no specific impact assessment, and rushed through with limited opportunity for proper scrutiny. That is not a proper way to legislate. At the same time, our prisons have lurched further into crisis, with overcrowding and violence spiralling. Now that the Bill is back in the Commons, will the Minister give us the updated number of prison places it will require and where they will be provided?
I congratulate my hon. Friend Sarah Champion on her proposals that became Lords amendments 73 and 143, which tackle child exploitation. She has championed those changes since the Bill’s Committee stage in the Commons. It is testimony to the campaign that she has run and to the parliamentary inquiry she led alongside Barnardo’s that the Government have accepted her amendments and included them in the Bill. I also welcome Lords amendments 70 and 71, which relate to the creation of a new offence to tackle the increasing problem of so-called revenge porn.
The Lords amendments that relate to personal injury and fundamental dishonesty are very flawed. They will require a court to dismiss in its entirety any personal injury claim when it is satisfied that the claimant has been fundamentally dishonest, unless it would cause substantial injustice to the claimant so to do. Last Wednesday, I spoke at the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers’ autumn conference, where I heard the concern that, once again, the Government are stacking the deck in favour of defendant insurers. On these proposals, APIL commented that
“there is no provision in this clause for the defence to be dismissed. The rule of law demands a level playing field”.
It stated that the clause
“tilts that playing field firmly in favour of defendants and their insurers who pay compensation to injured people.”
It might be more appropriate to have a criminal standard of proof when questions of fundamental dishonesty are at issue.
There are minor changes on the new sentencing scheme for serious offences and to allow the President of the Supreme Court to report to Parliament on matters that concern that Court and its jurisdictions—those, we approve. There is also a large number of technical amendments. As I said, those are uncontentious.
The Bill has been going through the two Houses for almost a year and there are some things that we welcome either for technical or policy reasons, but there are a number of issues, which we debated earlier this evening, on which we are fundamentally at odds with the Government, principally in relation to secure colleges and judicial review. Any impartial observer would say that whatever the merits or demerits of the Bill, the way it has been presented has been somewhat chaotic. It is not good practice to begin with a moderately sized Bill and have to pack it with additional amendments throughout Committee, Report and Third Reading in both Houses, and on that basis it is perhaps not surprising that the other place has found so much to criticise.
Lords amendments 70 to 72, 116, 118, 126 and 142 will make posting revenge porn a criminal offence, and I rise to support them.
I have been campaigning on behalf of women who have contacted me to get a change in the law to make posting revenge pornography a crime, and today we have a chance to make a change that will literally transform the future for many people in our country. Nude or sexually explicit images taken as part of a private relationship and that were always intended to be private, should stay private. People should expect better treatment under the law, and the amendments would ensure that that is the case in future.
The seemingly growing industry of revenge pornography, where images are posted for all to see, is completely unacceptable in our country and the law must reflect that. The current mishmash of legislation does not provide adequate protection. The posting of such images is often a one-off and therefore not subject to harassment legislation, or an image could be deemed not to be grossly offensive and therefore not subject to the Communications Act 2003 or the Malicious Communications Act 1988. There is therefore need for a new law, and the Bill provides that opportunity.
I pay tribute to the Crown Prosecution Service which has attempted to provide better guidance in this area. However, as the police made clear in evidence sessions on revenge pornography with the Lords Bill Committee held during the summer, it is not necessarily against the law to post such pictures online. The amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill will close that loophole and provide comfort to hundreds or perhaps even thousands of men and women in this country who have had nude or sexually explicit images of them posted without their permission.
The law must keep up to date with the ever-evolving changes and challenges thrown down to us by the internet and digital technology. What is illegal offline is illegal online, but the impact of having a nude or sexually explicit image posted on the internet for thousands or even millions of people to see is entirely different from the impact of a similar image being distributed offline, and I believe that the law should reflect that. We need the law to keep pace with the internet, and I commend the Minister for listening to the arguments and being prepared to take action.
There are those who have said that a new law is not needed. Some have gone so far as to say to me that if a woman has a nude or sexually explicit photo taken in private, she has no right to expect protection under the law if that image is made public without her permission; that in some ways it is as if she was “asking for it”. I completely reject that argument as, I hope, will every Member of the House. The law needs to protect men and women and to send a clear message to the perpetrators of these heinous acts that their actions are not tolerated by this society or in criminal law.
I pay tribute to the work of Baroness Trish Morris and Elizabeth Berridge in the other place for working with me, and for making the case so powerfully and so successfully to enable us to debate these amendments today. I also pay tribute to Women’s Aid, the Safer Internet Centre, Ban Revenge Porn, and many others who have written to me in support of the amendments over the past six months. I thank the ministerial team and their officials for listening to the arguments and for acting, and I urge Members across the House to support the amendments.
If images are posted online, victims want them to be taken down quickly. Protocols put in place by internet service providers and social media in relation to child abuse images prove beyond doubt that the industry can, through its own actions, come together to remove illegal images effectively and swiftly. Good progress on child abuse has been made by the industry, working with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and other law enforcement agencies. The Minister perhaps needs to look at that work as a template for the sort of action the industry needs to take on the issue of revenge pornography. We need an industry-wide code of practice for removing revenge pornography to ensure that people have certainty that action will be taken.
The incidence of sexting among under-18s is now put as high as 20%, so the volume of potential revenge porn images in the future is alarming. Indeed, one in five reports from industry received by CEOP relates to self-generated indecent images of people under the age of 18. What will the Government do to put a stop to the already illegal practice of sending nude images of under-18s through mobile phones and then uploading them on to websites? This seems to be becoming increasingly accepted as part of society today, but it should not be. It is illegal and the Government need to act to stop this ticking time bomb of images that could haunt the next generation of people into adulthood.
Victims want help. They want an industry-wide reporting regime. They want help to be available. The Safer Internet Centre, which was established to support professionals who work with children, is now receiving calls from adults affected by revenge pornography, as they have nowhere else to turn to. In September, I met the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, the industry board that looks at these issues. I set out my concerns and asked the industry to take action. I asked for there to be an industry-standard reporting mechanism, an industry-standard response time for taking down illegal images of adults and support for victims through a helpline. This sort of industry-wide approach is what we should all expect from a mature multinational sector of our economy. We should not expect the burden of removing illegal images from commercial websites to be solely the responsibility of the police—the industry has an obligation to act too. If websites are hosted in more obscure countries, splash pages should be used to block illegal pornography images from being viewed in the UK in exactly the same way as they have been used to block child abuse images. It is a tried and tested methodology that can address this problem. I look forward to the Minister confirming today how he can handle the logistics in the future, working of course with other ministerial colleagues in other Departments.
I applaud the Government for acting when some were resistant. The Ministers have shown foresight and their actions will be warmly welcomed by those who have had to endure the appalling consequences of revenge pornography being posted online without their consent. On behalf of all those women—and the men affected, too—who have contacted me, I thank the Ministers for their work. I hope that in their response today they are able to provide some reassurance on the questions I have posed.
I, too, would like to speak to amendment 70. I will not detain the House for too long, as some of the points have already been raised. I called for this amendment when the Bill was going through this House and in the Queen’s Speech. It was very helpful after that to get the support of Maria Miller in her Westminster Hall debate.
There is a gap in the law that we are closing. It is surprising that, while there are many laws that touch on the issue of revenge porn, none of them quite tackles the essential issue. People were being harmed and a clear wrong was being done, but nothing could be done because there was a hole in the law. I am therefore delighted that the Government accepted the case. There has been substantial debate in the other place and I pay particular tribute to my colleagues, Baroness Grender, Baroness Brinton, Baroness Barker and Lord Marks, who tabled amendments in the other place. Between us, we have managed to get the Government to work out the amendments.
I pay tribute to the victims. I have spoken to many of them, but in particular I pay tribute to Hannah Thompson who has played a very key role in speaking out publicly. That was a very brave thing to do about something that feels very shaming. We should remember her work and pay tribute to her. She will protect many people in the future. The psychological trauma can be huge, as the right hon. Lady has already said. We have seen people face the shame—the sense they did something wrong—when it was someone else who behaved badly. People have lost confidence, they have lost their jobs and, in some cases around the world, they have committed suicide. I therefore welcome the Government’s steps to make this a new offence. It is absolutely the right thing to do. It sends a message that revenge porn should not be tolerated and people should not be able to share these intimate images, entrusted to them, and expect their actions to be completely unpunishable.
That will not be enough, however. Although the right hon. Lady spoke about automatic processes to filter these things out, there will be challenges. The work of the Internet Watch Foundation—I declare an interest as one of its champions—on child abuse images is fantastic, but it cannot be directly mapped on to images of revenge porn, because the images themselves are not the issue; it is about intent and consent. It is hard to distinguish automatically between an image shared voluntarily, which we should not be criminalising if the person is over 18, and an image shared involuntarily, which is the issue that the amendment would tackle. It is not as easy as in the case of child abuse images—not that that is trivial or easy either.
For clarification, I was clearly pointing out that once an image had been identified as illegal, the same technology could be used to remove it from the internet. Obviously, this is about data-matching the images.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right about there being scope for data-matching images, and there is some nice work being done on technologies for hashing an image so that it can be identified, but it will be harder than in the case of child abuse images.
As I said in an intervention on the Minister, we need a substantial improvement in education not just around this offence—ideally we want a situation where no one is ever prosecuted under the offence because the message has been sent so clearly that people simply do not share intimate images of former partners or whomever—but on the much broader issue of sex and relationships education. For me, this is fundamentally an issue not about revenge or pornography—the term “revenge porn” is not ideal—but about consent. We need a system where, particularly through education, we get people to understand what consent is about: what can be agreed to and what cannot be agreed. Whether it is sexual assault and physical violence, emotional assault or the taking and spreading of such images, it should be about whether consent has been given. That is the education I would like to see. The Government should have compulsory sex and relationships education for everybody at school to tackle these issues of consent, and they should do what they can to ensure society changes so that we have that focus on consent. I welcome the amendments very much, and I am grateful the Government have agreed to them.
Very quickly, amendment 73 was led by Sarah Champion, who did a fantastic job. I had the privilege of co-sponsoring the amendments, but she did the work, and I am not in any sense trying to claim credit. The amendment will make a big difference to grooming. Her approach to the amendments—working constructively with Ministers, discussing the issues, not trying to play party politics, but making the case sensibly and pragmatically—has delivered her success, and she should be very proud of getting the law changed to protect young people. Perhaps there is a lesson there for other right hon. and hon. Members about how to get the law changed.
I thank all Members who have contributed to this wide-ranging and considered debate; the number of points raised confirms the importance of the amendments we have made during the Bill’s passage. As I set out, the Bill represents the next stage of our reforms to deliver a cost-effective system in which the public can have real confidence. The amendments in the other place have advanced and improved the Bill, and I thank its Members for their continued scrutiny.
Hon. Members have raised several issues that I shall address as best I can in the time left. Mr Slaughter touched on the issue of recall adjudicators. He will be aware that the Government decided to legislate now because of the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Whiston, which was handed down on
As I said earlier, once the details of the new recall adjudicator model have been fully worked up, it will be possible to say more about how it will operate and what the expected costs and benefits will be compared with the current system. We will need to work closely with the Parole Board and others to ensure that any new system achieves what is intended. I will be happy to share further information with Parliament as and when it is available. There will also be an opportunity for Parliament to scrutinise the procedural rules produced by the Secretary of State, which will set out the procedures that recall adjudicators will be required to follow.
Individual policy impact assessments have been published where the amendments made to the Bill in the other place would lead to an impact of £5 million a year or more on the public sector. These include impact assessments for recall adjudicators and provisions that prohibit the offering of inducements. On the equality impact assessment, we did indeed consider the impact of the proposals ahead of the introduction of the relevant clauses, in accordance with the Ministry of Justice’s duties under the Equality Act 2010.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith asked about the impact of the Bill on prison places. I can tell him that the Government are committed always to have enough prison places to allow us to provide capacity for those sent to us by the courts, and we have indeed considered the impacts carefully.
My right hon. Friend Maria Miller spoke powerfully about the part that she and others have played in bringing the issue of revenge pornography to the House. I want to put on record my gratitude to her and my hon. Friend Dr Huppert for what they have done to persuade the Government to take action on this issue. Parliament needs to be relevant. It needs to deal with the issues presented to us, and this is a good example of Parliament and the Government doing exactly that. I listened carefully to the important point she made about the data matching of images, which is one that the Government will certainly bear in mind.
My right hon. Friend is also completely right about the social media and internet industry playing its part to deal with the terrible crime of revenge pornography. We cannot just expect the law to provide the complete solution; we need everyone to play their part. We need education and we need the industry to do its part as well.
Will my hon. Friend join me in urging the industry to take action and put in place a code of practice to ensure that those affected by this dreadful crime know where to go, who to report the offence to and how long it will be before the images are taken down? People want certainty; they do not want the uncertainty that currently prevails.
Yet again, my right hon. Friend speaks very wisely. I agree with the challenge she has put to the industry. She is right to do that and I hope it will pay attention to the debate in this House. I am with her in the demands that she has quite properly placed on the industry in expecting it to fulfil its proper social responsibility in this regard. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge talked about the important role that victims have played, and I think he did the House a service by putting on record the role that victims have played in describing the terrible ordeal that they have been through. That has certainly helped inform our debate.
These amendments address a number of issues that have been brought to our attention by Members in the other place as well as those brought forward by the Government. I firmly believe that they enhance and improve the Bill, and I am proud to say that we are tackling the appalling behaviour known as revenge pornography, which has featured considerably in tonight’s debate. We are also addressing an important lacuna in the reporting restriction framework and introducing recall adjudicators to go some way to alleviate the pressure on the Parole Board. These and other measures are not only critical, but absolutely necessary. I urge the House to support them.
Lords amendment 1 agreed to.
Remaining Lords amendments agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 5 to 34, 75, 123 and 124
Ordered, That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments.
That Andrew Selous be the Chair of the Committee;
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Damian Hinds.)
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.