“The Director of Public Prosecutions shall ensure, within six months of this Act coming into force, that any guidance issued under section 37A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 is amended to ensure that such guidance specifies information to be provided to the Director of Public Prosecutions to assist with—
(a) the prosecution of an offence under this Act, and
(b) the identification of any aggravating factor to an offence under this Act.”—(Stella Creasy.)
This new clause requires the Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure that guidance provided to the police is amended to require the police to provide information to assist with the prosecution of the offences under this Bill or the identification of any aggravating factors.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
“for a purpose mentioned in subsection (3))”.
Amendment 2, page 2, line 1, leave out paragraph (c).
Amendment 3, page 2, line 6, leave out subsection (3).
As drafted the Bill potentially does not outlaw “upskirting” in certain cases such as for purely financial motives; or where the motivation is “group bonding” where the identity of the victim is irrelevant. This amendment makes all “upskirting” an offence.
Amendment 5, page 2, line 8, at end insert—
“(3A) It is an offence for a person (A) to disclose an image of another person (B) recorded during the commission of an offence under subsection (2) if the disclosure is made without B’s consent.
(3B) It is a defence for a person (A) charged with an offence under subsection (3A) to prove—
(a) that disclosure of the image was necessary for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime, or
(b) that A did not disclose the image with the intent of disclosing an image of another person’s genitals, buttocks or underwear.”
As the Bill is currently drafted it would be an offence to take an upskirting picture but not necessarily an offence for it to be distributed (existing “intimate image” legislation does not outlaw the distribution in all cases). This amendment makes it an offence to distribute non-consensual “upskirting” images.
Amendment 7, page 2, line 13, at end insert—
“(4A) Where a court is considering for the purposes of sentencing the seriousness of an offence under this section, and either or both of the facts in subsection (4B) are true, the court—
(a) must treat any fact mentioned in subsection (4B) as an aggravating factor (that is to say, a factor that increases the seriousness of an offence), and
(b) must state in open court that the offence is so aggravated.
(4B) The facts referred to in subsection (4A) are that—
(a) at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrated towards the victim of the offence hostility based on the victim having (or being presumed to have) a particular sex characteristic, or
(b) the offence was motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards persons of who share a particular sex characteristic, based on them sharing that characteristic.
(4C) For the purposes of subsection (4B), “sex characteristic” means the protected characteristic of sex in section 11 of the Equality Act 2010.
This amendment ensures that if the crime is motivated by misogyny then that will be considered by a court as an aggravating factor when considering the seriousness of the crime for the purposes of sentencing.
Amendment 4, page 2, line 27, leave out
“mentioned in section 67A(3)(a) (sexual gratification)” and insert “of obtaining sexual gratification”.
Amendment 6, page 2, line 29, leave out from “the” to end of line 40 and insert
“offender was aged 18 years or older at the time of the offence”.
This amendment makes the offence notifiable in all cases when the offence is committed by a person aged 18 or over and for sexual gratification.
I want to put on record my tremendous respect for the very hard work done by Gina Martin to get this legislation before Parliament and by Wera Hobhouse. It is a testament to the power of a good argument whose time has come. All these women are right that we should not wait around for this legislation, but we should make sure that it works.
I also want to put on record my support for the work that Mrs Miller has done, and for her amendments and the case she is making. I will be voting for the Bill and supporting it wholeheartedly, but I will also be supporting all efforts to improve it, because I do not believe that those two things are incompatible. We should never let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We should recognise that legislation with holes in it will inevitably return to us. It is in that spirit that I have tabled my new clause and amendment, which are about the context in which this crime takes place, and I am proud to see the support for them from across the House.
Let me be very clear that treating misogyny as something we should tackle is not about flirting. It is not about banter. It is not about telling all men that they are rapists. It is not even about new crimes. We cannot apply a hate crime tariff to something that is not already a hate crime. It is about something that has become so widespread that we treat it as a fact of life—but only for 51% of our population.
Across the UK, a huge majority—85%—of young women and nearly half of all women report experiencing sexual harassment in public places. Only one in 10 of them have ever reported receiving help after such incidents. Without recognising the role of misogyny in the day-to-day experiences of women in our society, our legal and criminal justice system masks the true extent of the hostility that exists against gender. This is not about criminalising wolf-whistling or flirting. It is about recognising existing crimes that are motivated by hostility towards somebody because of their gender, as well as recognising what they are—hate crimes.
Although women have protection in their workplaces under equality legislation, as soon as they step out of the door on to our streets, they are not protected. If somebody targets people on the basis of their faith or religion, they can receive a tougher sentence for their behaviour under the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Somebody who repeatedly targets women in the same way faces no such comparable sanction.
I hope that we all agree that our young women deserve better. It is particularly our young women who are reporting this as part and parcel of everyday life. One thousand women aged 14 to 21 were asked by Plan International about their experiences in public settings, whether on transport, walking on the street, just going to school or even going to work, with 66% saying they experienced unwanted sexual attention or sexual or physical contact in a public place. Some 40% said that they experienced verbal harassment and 15% said they had been touched, groped or grabbed at least once a month.
What does that mean in practice? It means the experiences of my own constituents, whom I asked about this issue. One woman was followed down the road by a man in a car demanding that she get in. She was then told that he was pranking her when she complained and called a racist for refusing to go with him. A mother wrote to me about her young daughter. Only last week, somebody had come up to her in a tube station, put his face right up in hers and shouted, “Sexy bitch, ” very aggressively. She had been sitting on a bus as men played videos of men masturbating, showing the phones to her to make sure she had seen them. As the mother said:
“This is not about trying to chat someone up—it’s a power play, exerting control and making women feel frightened and unsafe in their own streets.”
Girls and women are nervous about retaliation and worried about what might happen if they fight back. Women say that it is not about whether they are attractive, because violence is never far behind if they reject these advances.
This is about what makes a hate crime. It is not pleasant and funny; it is a way of keeping women and girls feeling on edge all the time and unable to move freely in their own areas. As the mother said, her children walk around “heads down, headphones in”, tensely and purposely avoiding eye contact or hassle from men. That is harassment—it is legally harassment. The women have said no, yet these men still persist. All of us worry what a man who behaves like that might go on to do if his behaviour is not addressed.
It is really important for us to be very clear that we are not talking about all men. Most men in this country do not behave like that towards women, and would be horrified to see that kind of behaviour happening to their mothers, daughters, wives, sisters or friends. In proposing my amendments, I want to defend the reputation of the men of this country. This is not about their behaviour; it is about some men’s behaviour—enough men’s behaviour to make women’s lives difficult, and enough men’s behaviour to mean that women experience hatred.
I am listening with great care, as ever, to the case that the hon. Lady is making, and I have some sympathy with it. My problem—will she help me with this?—is that I will be really troubled if we see all this offending as offences of hate against women, because much of it is genuinely in the category of sexual offending, which is often a deeper problem that must absolutely be stopped, prosecuted and so on, and sometimes it is harassment. I do not support the hon. Lady’s amendments; I think that we need to know more about this. Although my own view is that this absolutely needs to go to the Law Commission, I do not care where it goes, but it needs proper and full exploration so that we get this right. I am sure that she is right that some of the behaviour is misogynistic, but not all of it is.
As ever, I agree with much of what the right hon. Lady says. I think we need to say that the bigger thing she is talking about is misogyny. There are men out there who are hostile towards women and act accordingly. As a result, 51% of our population experiences harassment and a particular type of crime. At the moment, we cannot name, recognise and differentiate it, and therefore say, as we do with racially or religiously targeted hatred, that there is a premium on it. That is what the amendments would achieve.
This is also about what drives police behaviour, because if something is a crime, the evidence about it of course needs to be gathered. I have to admit to my honest frustration, as the first female MP for Walthamstow, where a number of people have tried to report their experience. Let me give the Minister some examples of the things we are talking about—the responses the women I have mentioned got back when they reported these crimes. In particular, in response to the woman followed down the street by a man demanding that she get into his car and threatening her with his behaviour when she tried to say no, the police said that the
“behaviour is only threatening, abusive, or insulting if the person…intended it to be so, or if he was aware…that it was so. The comments about his believing it to be a prank and being blown out of proportion would make that difficult to achieve.”
Let us think about that for a moment: the experience of the victim of this behaviour—their fear, their terror—means nothing because the man just said, “I was kidding”. We would not allow that for any other form of crime, so why do we allow it when it comes to men who harass women?
As always, the hon. Lady makes a powerful point, but just because a defendant or suspect alleges that that was in their mind and therefore has a defence, it does not mean a tribunal of fact—magistrates or a jury—will believe it. Very often they say, “What a load of old nonsense. We’re going to convict you.” Does she agree?
I hesitate to say that the hon. Gentleman was not listening to what I said, but this was what the police said. Such a case will never get to a point at which a jury or somebody looks at the evidence base because we do not have a commitment to recording and recognising misogyny. Such a commitment would mean that the police would record and recognise it in the same way as racial or religious hatred. Before this case got to the test that the hon. Gentleman is setting, the police said that they would not investigate it further. The challenge facing women across this country is that we do not take this seriously: 66% of women have changed their behaviour to try to avoid street harassment as the police are not taking it seriously.
I am sure that the hon. Lady shares my concern that many crimes with a gendered aspect have rates of reporting and of final prosecution that are so low. We need to look at all the reasons for that.
I completely agree. This is the point about changing the mindset. Let me reassure Alex Chalk that where police forces, particularly in Nottingham, have started to record misogyny as a hate crime—this is not a new idea—it is transforming the experience of women not just when it comes to street harassment, but when it comes to violence against women in total.
I rise purely to put on record that that has been done by Nottinghamshire police. I think it is the first force to do so, and we believe that the evidence is showing that it is having exactly the right effect on the police, in that they are taking this seriously and seeing it as an offence.
I desperately apologise to the people of Nottinghamshire for forgetting the “Shire”—I am not a fan of “The Lord of the Rings”. I hope the right hon. Lady will forgive me.
As a former Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, I stress that just because the police were not willing to take the matter forward, it does not mean that an offence has not taken place. This will be driven forward by guidance to the police, particularly from the College of Policing, and by the evidence about what is happening in Nottinghamshire. The offence is there, whether or not we change the wording of the Bill today. Trying to force someone into a car is an offence, and the police should take it seriously.
I understand the point that my colleague is making, but women in this country have suffered from this chicken-and-egg syndrome for too long. The idea is that because the offence exists, somehow it will be taken seriously, but the bitter reality of women’s experience shows that that is not the case. New clause 1 is designed to amend the guidance that is given to the police in recognition of that fact. The existence of specific offences has driven change, as amendment 7 is designed to do. I do not disagree with my colleague, but unless we get the proposed measure in the legislation, the way in which the police deal with the problem will not change quickly enough to give the women of today the freedom to walk on the streets, as he does, without being frightened.
My hon. Friend will know that one reason why hate crime legislation is so powerful is that the emphasis is on the victim and how they perceive the crime. If misogyny was a hate crime, the police response to the examples that my hon. Friend has given would automatically not be permissible. Power is shifted to the victim.
As ever, my hon. Friend is on the money about the importance of a victim-centred approach. We know from Nottingham—[Interruption.] I do apologise; I meant Nottinghamshire—sorry, Frodo. We know from those examples that recognition of the multiple kinds of intersectional hostility that women may face has been a powerfully positive experience, particularly for women from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.
Internationally, this is not a new idea. Spain, Croatia, Sweden, Estonia, Italy, Belgium and France all recognise gender and misogyny as a basis for hate crime. We are talking about replicating our current model for racial and religious hatred, and saying that we should be able to recognise similar hostility in the sentencing of particular crimes. We should be able to recognise the hate as it is.
There is already a framework that Ministers can use. The Crown Prosecution Service and the police already define cases involving hostility as
“any…offence that is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by hostility or prejudice.”
The CPS does not have a legal definition of hostility; it uses the everyday understanding of the word. We all understand and recognise misogyny when we talk about ill will, spite, contempt, prejudice, unfriendliness, antagonism, resentment and dislike. We seek to echo existing protections and to put the protections that we offer someone for their religious or ethnic background in a position of parity with those that we offer them for their sex background.
I accept that amendment 7 is not a perfect amendment because it covers only upskirting, but upskirting is a classic example of an offence that happens within the context of misogyny. It is motivated by misogyny.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful point, but she has identified something that she is right to concede is a weakness. It would be very odd, would it not, if misogyny could be applied to the offence of upskirting but not to rape, sexual assault or revenge porn? Does she therefore agree that a solution might be to get the Law Commission to look at the matter in a more holistic way?
It is almost as though the hon. Gentleman read my mind—he is right. The data shows us that 15% of young girls say that they are being groped, and there might be somebody behind that and we want to record where it is happening. Clearly, this is not just about how people use mobile phones in the modern world. It is about the hatred towards women that exists among a small group of men in our society, and the damage that that is doing to our society as a whole.
I have said clearly that we would not press the amendments if we could have a meaningful and properly funded Law Commission review into all hate crime, including misogyny, looking at both existing and new legislation. I do not think that that is a lot to ask. I know that the Law Commission is open to looking at the matter and that it recognises the importance of new legislation. We required new legislation to extend such protections to disability and transgender identity.
In the interim, while we wait for a wider review of the law on hate crime generally, would it be helpful for police guidance to reflect the points that the hon. Lady is quite rightly raising, in the way that it does on sexting, for example?
Absolutely. I would love it if all police forces, including the Metropolitan police—I know that the Mayor of London is looking into this issue—could learn from Nottinghamshire police and the other four forces that are acting, but I also recognise that the police are asking Parliament to offer guidance on these issues, and that is what we can do today. If we change the law and offer women new protections from hatred, we will send a clear message to women that they can report these crimes, and a clear message to the police that they should not only record them, but do something about them.
I am pleased that the Law Commission is open to reviewing this issue, and I am pleased to hear from those who work with people who deal with hate crime on a daily basis. The proposal in the new clause has the support of Refuge; the Southall Black Sisters; Stonewall; Citizens UK, which has been doing fantastic work campaigning on this issue in Nottinghamshire; the Fawcett Society; Tell MAMA; Dimensions, which works with people with disabilities; Solace Women’s Aid; and Respond, which works with children and adults with learning disabilities. There is a whole panoply of people who recognise that hate is holding our society back and that it is right that we make sure that that does not happen.
Right now, we say that if a woman is targeted in her workplace, we know who is wrong, but as soon as she steps outside, we do not know what happens. New clause 1 is about that gap in our legislation.
I know that some people—not just on Twitter—are going to ask about men. The “What about the men?”s—the misandry point. The Law Commission review could look into all that, but let us be clear that it is not men who are trying to report this crime on a regular basis. It is not men who are experiencing this regularly. It is not men who are being targeted in this way. It is not men who we say are worthy of protection at work, but not if they dare to go out at night. Let us engage in all the whataboutery that we want to, but do not tell me that women’s experiences do not matter. When people argue against these proposals, they are saying that, on that basis, the existing protected characteristics are not that important—that there is a limit to how far they want equality to go.
I have had that in some of the comments I have received about this issue. A gentleman wrote to me today to say:
“Obviously this is a law to prevent perverts’
fantasies. Yet as a society why is it we have allowed women and even our daughters and granddaughters to dress even more suggestively than was the case generations ago that must be giving rise to fantasies…out there?”
Under your eye, Sir, if you have been watching. May you be blessed.
Another man wrote to me to say that I am abusing my position
“to push for Misandry to be juxtaposed with her Misogyny.” and to
“target the bloke-hating females of the species” because I am a
“a nasty feminist ‘I’m Offended’
snowflake whinger hell bent on emasculating male society.”
The vast majority of men in this Chamber and in our society do not want to be associated with that bile, but they do want to make sure that people are safe, and that is what this is really all about. It is not about flirting or banter. I have yet to meet a couple who have said that they met because he followed her down the street demanding that she get in the car with him. It is about how we make this a country where everybody is free.
I am really done with all the whataboutery and all the opposition to this. It is not really a lot to ask for, is it? We would like to be able to walk around this country free from fear. We would like those who target women in a hostile way to be held to account. We would like the harassment to stop.
I am fed up with being told that there have been private briefings saying that somehow this issue is too controversial—too difficult—and that we are going to delay legislation. This is 2018. This is not Gilead. It is not about all men, but it is about some men. There is only one person who can stop this legislation, and that is the gentleman sitting opposite—the Secretary of State—but I know that he does not want to do that. I know that he can hear a reasonable request to review all hate crime, and to look at new and existing legislation to get it right for the 21st century so that we can protect everyone from being targeted just for being who they are. I will tell him, though, that we will not keep waiting. We will not keep being frightened. We will not keep being hassled for going about our daily lives. Please, do not tell women to put up with this because you find it difficult. Let us get on and make 21st century laws to stop it.
My hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope was right. In objecting, he has given Parliament the proper opportunity to scrutinise the Bill. If he had not objected, the Bill would have gone through on the nod and the amendments we are debating today would not have been possible. The failings of the private Members’ Bill procedures are not for discussion on Report. No one, least of all me, is denying the need to address swiftly the wrongdoing of upskirting, but that should not be at the expense of proper scrutiny. We have to wake up to the need to jettison antiquated, opaque procedures in this place, procedures that in this instance I believe have left a respected and longstanding hon. Member, my friend and fellow Wessex Member of Parliament, open to hostile attack for acting to ensure that this new law is subject to appropriate levels of scrutiny.
As we have just heard from Stella Creasy, the issues we are discussing today on upskirting are a part of far broader issues to do with image-based abuse and sexual harassment in public places. It is right that we address upskirting, but it is also right that we reject the piecemeal approach for dealing with these issues. The Women and Equalities Committee is looking at the issue of sexual harassment in public places. Sarah Champion is in her place. We have taken copious amounts of evidence on this issue and we will be issuing a report in autumn dealing with many of the issues that the hon. Member for Walthamstow has raised today. The Government need a cohesive strategy in this area. I believe this piecemeal approach is not the right way forward. Indeed, if we had a cohesive strategy, we would not need this Bill.
In wanting to move so swiftly to change the law, the Government are right to use the existing Scottish legislation as its base. However, the Scottish Act was passed eight years ago, and in that time the Scottish Government have themselves recognised significant shortcomings in their own law and made changes, changes that are not reflected in the Bill before us today. The amendments tabled in my name and in the names of right hon. and hon. Members from across the Conservative party, the Liberal party, Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National party and Labour seek to rectify those shortcomings and tackle the emerging problems that we are seeing with the Scottish legislation: very, very low levels of prosecutions and convictions, with legislation that has now been in place for eight years.
Amendment 3 makes all upskirting a crime. At the moment, the Bill is very narrowly defined. There should never be an instance when it is acceptable to take a photo up anyone’s skirt without their consent. The issue should be the lack of consent, not the motivation of the perpetrator. The perpetrator’s intentions can be difficult for the police to prove. Is it to humiliate? Is it to alarm? Is it to distress the victim? They may never know or care who the victim is. The picture may be shared for a laugh, or taken and sold and then sold on again. How do the police track the buyers and sellers of these photographs? The Bill explicitly does not outlaw upskirting per se; it outlaws it in certain circumstances.
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend’s vitally important amendments. Looking at the evidence of what happened in Scotland, we see that the very low number of prosecutions—as low as three, I think—was partly because the intent of the upskirting could not be proved. Instead of the offence just being, “This is wrong, let’s prosecute”, the intent had to be proven. That was the problem with the Scottish legislation and why the number of prosecutions was so low. My right hon. Friend’s amendments will address that issue. If they are not accepted today, I hope this issue can be addressed in the other place once the Select Committee’s report comes out.
We have to make the law work in practice, as well as on paper. Like my right hon. Friend, I believe that because these things have been made so complex, the police are finding them difficult to implement. I am not sure that we have an investigation into that. The Minister may want to talk to us further about what she has found out from her Scottish colleagues, because I think they are looking at it in a lot of detail.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend, particularly for the generous comments with which she began her remarks.
As a consequence of this being a Government Bill rather than a private Member’s Bill, my right hon. Friend will have seen its financial implications. The financial implications set out in the explanatory notes are on the basis that there will be 29 prosecutions a year—that is all. Is she surprised at all the hoo-hah about this, and that the Government are expecting only 29 prosecutions a year?
My hon. Friend will hear my thoughts on that in a few moments when I talk about my experience of estimates of the levels of revenge pornography, which were equally low. In practice, there has been much more of it. I therefore wonder how accurate the projections are.
My concern is that drawing the Bill in this way will artificially depress the number of people who come forward. The courts might think that Parliament, in its specific omission of certain groups of people who perpetrate this crime—we know they are doing it already—is artificially narrowing the number of convictions that are brought forward. I do not think that is how Parliament wants the Bill to work. Amendment 3 would make sure that it worked far more broadly and called to account all the people who are committing this crime, not just a very small section of them.
The Minister was at pains in Committee to underline that the two purposes are based “word for word”, as she said, on the Scottish Act. As we have heard, only a handful of cases have been brought under that legislation—just three a year over the past eight years. That is an extraordinarily low level in the context of the statistics that the hon. Member for Walthamstow went through. Research tells us that about one in 10 young people in this country experiences upskirting. That would mean a far higher rate than just three in Scotland or just under 30 in the UK. We need to hear from the Minister what information she has received from Scotland on why there is such a low level of conviction, and what will be done to change that.
“It is not inconceivable that suspects will advance the defence that…they had another purpose, such as ‘high jinks’.”
That is a direct quote from her. How confident is the Minister that the CPS has a true grasp of the nature of this offence, given the data we have that implies that there are far more than just a handful of cases every year? As I said, I recall being told that there were just a handful of cases of revenge pornography—fewer than 10 every year—by the same Crown Prosecution Service. With the right legislation, which was put in place by the coalition Government, we now see more than 500 convictions a year for revenge pornography.
Adopting the Scottish model might artificially limit the number of cases that are brought forward. What will the Government do to address that? Will the Minister undertake to have a review of the way the law is working in practice, so that we are not simply having a nice debate today that has very little impact on the lived reality of people who experience this appalling invasion of their privacy and this virtual sexual assault?
Rather than requiring the police to tease out the motivation of an offender and to prove that a victim was humiliated, alarmed or distressed, amendment 3 would make upskirting of any kind a crime. It would have absolutely no impact on the ability of a court to identify the most dangerous offenders and place them on the sex offenders register. Nor would it increase the number of people who are drawn into that.
Amendment 5 directly tackles the other shortcoming in the Scottish Act by making it an offence to distribute upskirting images. Given the Government’s stated objective of copying the Scottish Act word for word, it is unclear why they have chosen to omit the pivotal amendment made to the Scottish Act in 2016 outlawing the distribution, particularly online, of upskirting images. Our existing laws on this issue are patchy at best. I am aware of the Law Commission’s long overdue inquiry into laws in the online world, but to present the Bill with an essential element missing appears to me to be at best an oversight. Will the Minister explain why she felt she should omit this element of the Bill, when it was deemed an essential change required in Scotland?
We need a broader review of the law on image distribution—I have felt that strongly since I was first approached by a constituent about revenge pornography—and I am delighted that the Law Commission is now doing work in that area, but it will take a number of years to complete. In the meantime, outlawing distribution in this Bill specifically would be a stopgap solution, with the Scottish experience as a clear legal rationale. Will the Minister speak to her Scottish counterpart to understand why the amendment was made in Scotland and perhaps even revisit this in the Lords? I am sure their lordships will also be keen to take an interest in this aspect of the Bill.
There was much talk in Committee about not wanting to unintentionally criminalise people, particularly young people, and that is absolutely right—there can be few people who see that as helpful—but rather than dwelling on the perpetrators, we also need to think about the victims and the huge damage being done, particularly to young women, who are on the receiving end of this type of sexualised assault. What message is Parliament sending to young men who are taking pictures up the skirts of their school mates for a laugh if this place excludes that from the law? What are we saying to those young women about the value we put on their right to be protected in law if we see this sort of non-consensual virtual sexual assault as a price worth paying?
I commend the hon. Member for Walthamstow for raising the issue of misogynistic hate crime. It is under active consideration by the Women and Equalities Select Committee in its current inquiry, and I would not want to prejudge that inquiry, but I will say that the scale of sex-based and gender-based crime needs to be recorded, recognised and acted upon, and it needs to be tackled much more broadly, not just in terms of upskirting. I also fully endorse her sentiments about the Law Commission, although it could be said that including that element in the Bill could be problematic in other discussions.
Wera Hobhouse is a tenacious campaigner, and it is to her credit that we are here today discussing the Bill, which deserves the full support of the House. As today’s debate proves, swift change does not have to come at the expense of proper scrutiny.
I want briefly to share my experiences last week in Korea, in Seoul, where upskirting has not been addressed either by society or by the law. The situation there for women and girls is truly horrific. Girls are scared to go into any sort of public toilet, whether in their school or a shopping mall, and women, when they go into public toilets, take a device with them and scan the toilet to see whether they are going to be violated in this way. I do not want us to go down that route. I want us to look at what is motivating society. Why do men seem to feel entitled literally to expose women in this way, sharing the images and seeing them as objects they can control and do whatever they want with?
We have spoken a little bit about the potential of there being only a low number of prosecutions for this crime. I see that as a good thing. What making this illegal would do is send out the clearest message to people that this is a crime and an offence and that they will have action taken against them if they carry it out.
I am incredibly pleased that relationship education is now coming into primary school for all children. A key component of that is explaining to children what is and is not acceptable and that these gender assumptions are put upon them from the very youngest age and that it is their right to challenge them and to have society challenge them on their behalf, so that they can live a full life, making the choices that they believe in and that they are able to make.
I want to reflect briefly on our society and on how we have come to this point now where we have femicide—two murders a week of women—where violence against women is commonplace and where we have this complete objectification of women without any recourse. I go right back to the very beginning when little girls are effectively told what their expectations can and should be. They are given dolls and tea sets. They are told to be complicit and they are told to be quiet. Boys are told that they will be great crusaders. They have guns and they can become world leaders. We encourage children’s expectations at the age of two or three. That then becomes amplified through social media and, specifically, through online porn.
Porn is overwhelmingly made by men for men and overwhelmingly sees the woman as an object that a man can use and abuse however they choose with no repercussion. Until we get the relationship education that shows children that this is a fantasy—in many cases, a perverse fantasy—that is what children will believe that they have to be subjected to. I am talking about boys and girls. When Members go into secondary schools, I am sure that they have young boys and girls coming up to them and asking them, “Do I have to have anal sex? Do I have to strangle my girlfriend when I have sex? Do I have to have sex with other people there?” They are genuinely anxious about this, and we are letting our children down. This legislation on upskirting is about saying, “No, this is unacceptable. It is unacceptable for you to perpetrate and it is unacceptable for it to happen to you.” It sends out a really clear message. I am incredibly grateful that the Government have introduced this Bill.
I also wish to focus on the amendments that include the distribution and the profiting from upskirting. Much of this is being done for money. In Korea, that is what is happening. People are humiliating women not just for their personal gratification, but to make money, so it would be a grave omission if that were not included.
I turn now to the substantive point that I have been trying to make: this crime is a symptom of the misogyny that we are experiencing in this country and that we are seeing escalating in this country, and it needs to be tackled in this country. I urge the Minister to carry out the review that has been proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for “Walthamshire”—[Laughter]—and to incorporate the amendments in the Bill.
May I say how much I welcome this debate? I am grateful to the Government for taking forward this measure as a Government Bill rather than relying on the private Members’ procedure. I am also very grateful to my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller, the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, for her generous comments about the importance of being able properly to scrutinise in a sober fashion the very serious issues that are contained in this Bill and indeed the wider debate, which has been developed by Stella Creasy. In answer to her point on that, I say bring on the Law Commission. As a member of the Home Affairs Committee, I think that it is very important that we should try to keep abreast of new developments. Hate crime is one of those vile activities that we need to legislate against, but we need to do it in a really good way. The best way to do that is, as she suggests, by getting the Law Commission on board because it has the expertise to help us in this House.
The original Bill was brought forward and the rest is history in a sense. I shouted “Object” on
What happened was that on that day in the newspapers there was a report quoting the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend Lucy Frazer, currently sitting on the Front Bench, saying she had announced:
“By making ‘upskirting’
a specific offence, we are sending a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated”.
I thought that was an expression of intention by the Government that they would bring forward their own law, but then I was surprised to find that that was not their original intention and I wrote a letter to The Times, which was published on the following Monday, and said:
“To ensure the fastest, fairest and surest passage to the statute book for a bill to outlaw “upskirting”, the Government should introduce its own without delay. I shall then give it my wholehearted support.”
I am glad the Government did do just that, and I put on record my appreciation.
As a result of the publicity generated around this issue even Lord Pannick felt obliged to use his weekly column on the law in The Times to write an article on
Isabel Hardman has recently written a book about the need for Members of Parliament to concentrate on their key role of scrutinising, rather than doing other things, and if we are to scrutinise these Bills, we need to get down to looking at the detail, which is what my right hon. Friend has done. It is a pity that, because she expressed to the Government Whips some differences with the Government on the content of the Bill—which obviously I had done, too—despite her position as the Chairman of the Women and Equalities Committee, she was immediately deemed not qualified to serve on the Second Reading Committee. The Selection Committee had obviously decided that there were better stooges around than my right hon. Friend, or me for that matter. If we are to make the system of scrutiny work, we must free up the selection system under the Selection Committee. I note that there is a motion on the Order Paper for later today, and perhaps the Government’s mind might be concentrated a bit if there were an objection to it.
I feel the need to stand up for the members of the Committee, having been a member of it myself, and to reflect that the discussions we had in Committee about treating misogyny as a hate crime did not receive Front-Bench support. That made me, as a Back-Bench Member scrutinising the Bill, reflect on what more could be done to win that argument. It is not always a good thing to be told no.
I have nothing but praise for the hon. Lady. Fortunately, the Opposition Whips, who are represented on the Selection Committee, obviously did not think it was necessary to allow the Bill to proceed without any amendment. It is worth putting on record that, during that Committee debate, the official Opposition spokesman said:
At that stage, the Opposition were blindly supporting the Bill, rather than being prepared to examine exactly how it might be improved.
My hon. Friend has referred to the procedures, processes and membership of Committees. I should like to remind him that the Second Reading of this Bill was done in Committee, and I had to fight slightly to be a member of that Committee. Does he agree that using these kinds of techniques has not really speeded up the delivery of the Bill up to this point and that it has created an opaqueness about the methodology that Parliament uses?
It has certainly done the latter. It is quite a long time since a Second Reading Committee was set up to consider a piece of legislation, but in terms of making faster progress, there is no doubt that we are much further on than we would have been if this had remained a private Member’s Bill. Some of the other Bills that had already had their Second Reading have yet to come out of Committee and reach their Report stage. So those are some of the advantages of having a Government Bill. Another advantage is that when the Bill goes into Committee, the Committee has the opportunity to take evidence. My right hon. Friend gave potent evidence to the Committee, as did other witnesses. That would not have been possible if the Bill had stayed a private Member’s Bill.
Can the hon. Gentleman perhaps confirm that he said “Object” on
My purpose in saying “Object” was that I wanted the Bill to be scrutinised, and full marks to the Government—I do not always give them full marks—for recognising that this was a Bill that could be properly scrutinised only if it became a Government Bill. So did I achieve my objective? Yes, I did. I am pleased that the Government have done this. I am sure that the hon. Lady, having seen the strength of some of the amendments and new clauses, will reflect on the fact that if the Bill had been left as a private Member’s Bill for her to steer through, she would have been under pressure from the Government throughout. They would have told her not to accept any amendments, and that if she did, the Government would prevent the Bill from making progress. The Bill would have been vulnerable as a private Member’s Bill—that is particularly true when a Bill reaches the other place.
Mr Speaker, I know that I am going to be told that I am straying from the amendments that I am seeking to address, and I apologise if I am doing that. I am hoping to establish support for amendment 1, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, to ensure that the Bill delivers what it says on the tin. The Minister said that she was going to outlaw upskirting, and judging by the correspondence that I have had, most people assumed that that was what was going to be delivered. But then when one looks at the detail of the Bill’s financial implications, one works out that the Government are banking on it costing only £230,000 a year to a prosecute all these offences. When one divides that by £8,000, which is the cost of each case, one comes up with a figure of 29 prosecutions a year. If Wera Hobhouse had gone out into the street in her constituency and said, “I’m bringing forward this really important piece of legislation that will result in 29 prosecutions a year,” I am unsure whether people would have thought that it was as significant as it was being portrayed.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that we are trying to prevent the crime from being carried out by making it clear in this Bill that upskirting is a crime? It should therefore be seen as a good thing if the Bill brings down the number of cases of upskirting.
I agree with the potential deterrent role that legislation can have, but I would use a different analogy. There is a general law against driving without due care and attention, but due to the incidence of and public concern about people driving while using mobile phones, which was and is, strictly speaking, an offence under the law against driving without due care and attention, Parliament decided to introduce a specific offence, effectively replacing the previous one. The hon. Lady will know that, sadly, that specific offence has not actually had the deterrent effect for which many people had hoped, and that large numbers of people are still offending.
Taking that analogy and looking at the specific offence contained within the Bill, amendments to which we are seeking to discuss, if the general common law under which a lot of upskirting activity is prosecuted at the moment is replaced with a specific statutory law, prosecutions will come under the specific law, rather than under the general common law, which, as Lord Pannick has said, is vague and ambiguous in many respects. If the consequence of the Bill is that all offences of upskirting are then brought within its ambit and prosecuted on that basis, that will be great and I am all in favour of it.
However, if we are going to do that, we should not constrain those offences by saying that they can be proved only if a motive is also proved. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke asked, why is not the mere fact that somebody takes a photograph without the consent of the “victim” an offence in itself? Why do we have to limit the offence in the way that this Bill does?
Order. I have been listening patiently and most attentively to the hon. Gentleman, who has offered the House a procedural disquisition and some remarks that touch on what might be called the theology of the Bill, which is of considerable interest to the House. He also animadverted to a number of the Bill’s explanatory notes, but if he felt able to proceed fairly promptly to the amendments, which relate specifically to guidance, purposes, aggravating factors, and notification under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, he would be beautifully in order.
I am most grateful to you, as ever, Mr Speaker, for your guidance on such matters. Turning specifically to my right hon. Friend’s amendment 1, it would remove from the Bill any requirement to prove a motive. It seems to me that the activity itself should be criminal and should not need to have a motive ascribed to it. As soon as a motive has to be established, it makes it much more difficult for the prosecuting authorities. It makes it so easy for members of Her Majesty’s constabulary to say, “Well, there was no motive.” Why do we need a motive in respect of an offence that outrages public decency? No one has written to me saying that they think upskirting is a reasonable activity in which to participate. I very much hope the Government will accept amendment 1, tabled by my right hon. Friend.
Being conscious, as always, of time, I will now address my amendment 6, which would change the notification rules under clause 1(4). This provision was not in the original private Member’s Bill, but the Government rightly say that if a person is guilty of upskirting for the purpose of sexual gratification, in certain circumstances they should be put on the sex offenders register. Why should not everyone who has committed an act of voyeurism for the specific purpose of sexual gratification be put on the sex offenders register? Why should putting an offender on the sex offenders register be conditional on whether they have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment, been detained in a hospital or been made the subject of a community sentence, or whether the victim is under 18? Surely, if we want to toughen up the law and, to follow the point made by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, try to deter such activity, why do we not ensure that all cases of upskirting for sexual gratification result in being put on the sex offenders register?
My amendment also says that there should be an exemption for offenders aged under 18. I discussed that with my hon. and learned Friend the Minister, and she said she is not quite sure about allowing any exceptions. If we are talking about 29 prosecutions a year, we are hardly talking about very many people going on the sex offenders register. It would be easier to say that people aged over 18 will go on the sex offenders register.
There could be implications for young people if they find themselves on the sex offenders register in circumstances where they are full of remorse. I remember when, some time ago, I was a practising member of the Bar and a candidate came forward for pupillage. When asked whether he had done anything in the past of which he might be ashamed, he admitted to the offence of mooning while he was at Cambridge University. Some of us in the chambers were quite understanding, but the head of chambers took the view that anybody who had behaved in such an outrageous manner was unfit to be a member of those chambers. I cite that as an example of the unforeseen implications for people who find themselves on the sex offenders register.
If a person over the age of 18 commits upskirting for sexual gratification, why are we faffing about and saying that they may or may not have to go on the sex offenders register? Why do we not put those people on the sex offenders register?
Whether or not these offenders should be on the sex offenders register is a difficult issue, because many of these offences will be committed by under-18s on under-18s; they will receive short sentences, but they will be committing offences on other children. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is right that we have this discussion now? Does he also agree that the police guidance on sexting may be very useful in working out a way forward on this difficult and sensitive matter?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that it is very important that we should have this discussion, as this issue is complicated, and I agree with her suggestion. That is another argument in favour of having a proper, sober debate on this issue, without getting too much emotional involvement in it.
Finally, if the Government are reluctant to accept the amendments put forward today and reluctant to extend the scope of the Bill so that it embraces more than 29 potential prosecutions every year, I hope that when the Bill reaches the other place their lordships will look at this legislation and say, “We want to make sure it actually delivers what it says it is going to deliver.” It certainly does not do that at the moment, and it will not unless it is amended. One final consequence of this being a Government Bill is that when it goes to their lordships’ place nobody will be deterred from tabling amendments on the basis that if they do so, there will not be time to consider those amendments in private Members’ Bill time in the House of Commons and therefore the Bill will be killed. That argument will not run in the House of Lords in relation to a Government Bill, which this is. That is another reason why it is a very good idea that it is a Government Bill. I am very enthusiastic about amendment 1, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, and obviously equally enthusiastic about my own.
It is a pleasure of sorts to follow Sir Christopher Chope. We have disagreed on things, but I am pleased to say that I agree with him that we want to make this Bill as good as possible and, in particular, to ensure that it acts as a good deterrent so that people do not consider this vile practice.
I am immensely grateful that the Government have taken the upskirting Bill through the House so quickly. Everyone involved can be very proud of what has been achieved so far. This Bill is testament to how we can all work together constructively. We all agree that upskirting is a vile practice and has to become a specific sexual offence. We all agree that either to gain sexual gratification from upskirting or to take an image for the purposes of distress, humiliation or alarm should not be tolerated and should now be prosecuted in law. We also agree, by and large, that the worst offenders should go on the sex offenders register.
This Bill is aimed at stopping a vile offence by either deterring upskirting in the first place or through the successful prosecution of offenders. We want to ensure that everybody is protected from this crime. We are not debating those common principles today; we are debating how to bring about effective prosecutions and not allow anyone to slip through the net. The wide-ranging discussion on this Bill over the summer has led me to put my name to amendments that explore how we make this upskirting Bill as watertight and effective as possible. I believe that we can strengthen it in two ways.
First, the Bill, as drafted, makes upskirting a sexual offence only if it is done for sexual gratification or if photos are taken to humiliate, distress or alarm the victim. That means that those taking upskirting images for other purposes, for example financial gain, non-sexual enjoyment or “having a bit of a laugh”, would not be committing an offence. However, I believe that whether an offence has taken place should be determined by whether the victim has consented and whether the images were taken intentionally. The harm caused to the victim is substantial, regardless of the motivation of the perpetrator. Upskirting should be an offence regardless of the motive.
Secondly, the Bill would make the taking of the image an offence, but not necessarily the distribution of the image. Amendment 5 would make it an offence to distribute an upskirting image without consent, to which two defences would be available—to prevent or detect crime, or that the person distributing the image did not know that it was an upskirting image.
The large increase in sexually offensive images online is a real problem. Only on Monday, the Home Secretary made a speech talking about his shock at the sexual exploitation of children online, and the responsibility of online platforms. I understand that the Government intend to conduct a wide-ranging review of this problem, but it will probably be years before we can successfully tackle the issue in law. I therefore see no harm in trying to prevent the distributing of upskirting images now, even if other legislation lags behind.
I want the Bill to stop the vile practice of upskirting. It should be a successful tool for prosecution, but it should also act as a deterrent—zero tolerance, no loopholes. Since I got involved in the upskirting campaign, I have understood how distressing upskirting is to victims. I want to make sure that anybody even considering taking an upskirting image should think twice. I would also like the Bill to have a wider purpose—to inform the wider discussion around consent, online distribution of sexual images, and outdated attitudes, especially towards women. We have heard about that subject today, and I very much welcome the contribution by Stella Creasy. The Bill marks an important stepping stone, and I am grateful for the largely consensual debate on how we can stop upskirting for good.
It is a privilege to follow Wera Hobhouse and I congratulate her on the tireless work she has done. I also congratulate Gina Martin, who is a brilliant campaigner: I wish she was with me campaigning on issues in my constituency.
I was not here on the Friday when the private Member’s Bill was objected to, but I was conscious of it when Stella Creasy said that not all noes are bad. There was a no, and it means that we are here today. The Bill before us is not perfect, and I shall say more about that, but the reason the Bill has been expedited and we have the amendments is because of what happened then. While my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope was vilified and attacked in some parts of the press, I think that in his heart of hearts what he wanted—he has objected to many Bills over the years—is scrutiny and for the Government to come forward with their arguments for and against, rather than being squeezed by the technical procedures of Friday sittings.
As a former Minister, I know that the Minister will be under pressure not to accept amendments. I have sat on the Treasury Bench on many occasions and read the notes and briefings. I often got in trouble because I would say, “No, common sense needs to prevail here, because some of these amendments are right.” In my opinion, some of the amendments to the Bill are right, and if Ministers do not accept them—or give a very good explanation of how they will address the points made—the House should divide on them. The country is looking to us to give a lead on this important legislation.
One reason we do not have very many prosecutions for the offences that already cover upskirting—the hon. Member for Walthamstow mentioned some of them in her contribution—is that the police and the CPS do not have the confidence that that is what this place intended. I know that because I was a Justice Minister with responsibility for policing and victims, and I have had that put to me. The judges in the appeal courts say all the time, “What is the intent? If Parliament had intended that, it would have put it on the face of the Bill.” There are things missing from the face of the Bill that I will now address.
I agree with the hon. Member for Walthamstow that new clause 1, to which she is the main signatory, further expands the provision, but the Law Commission is where this needs to be done. I hope that, when the Minister stands up, common sense will prevail, that we do not need to divide and that the Law Commission can look at the wider aspect of this hate crime, which is what this is.
As the father of two gorgeous young ladies, who have grown up into wonderful women, I would be distraught if anybody attempted to take photographs under their skirts. I know what they would feel. I know what my wife would feel if it happened to her or to the children. To me, it is a complete no-brainer that this House has had to catch up—very slowly—with technology and mobile phones. The peeping Tom who was around in the old days is now on the end of a mobile phone on the tube, at work or in the lift. That is what they are: peeping Toms. This voyeurism is an offence, so I do not understand why all upskirting is not an offence on the face of this Bill. It is not possible to accidentally upskirt a lady, as was mentioned earlier. How on earth can someone accidentally take such a photo? Does anyone in this House know how that could possibly happen? Again, it is a no-brainer. The whole act of upskirting should be an offence.
I also cannot understand why the Bill does not include the offence of distribution for cash. Distributing such images to other people is abhorrent and horrible. Why is that not an offence on the face of the Bill? To address amendment 6, why are people convicted of these offences in a court in this country not put on the sex offenders register? I accept some of the points made by my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope regarding young people. It is really for the courts to decide what happens if the perpetrator is under 18. But if someone is over 18 and has been convicted of this abhorrent, horrible offence that they cannot do by accident —they either do it for money or for their own sexual gratification—they should be on the sex offenders register in order to protect the people whom we were sent here to protect.
The Government have done the right thing by coming forward and expediting the Bill to this position, but it would be a crying shame if we missed the opportunity to send out a message that this House and this Government understand how abhorrent this offence is—if people do it, they will be convicted in a court; if they are found guilty, they should go on the sex offenders register. There can be no argument that the person did it by mistake, that it was just a joke or anything like that. It is not a joke to the lady that it has happened to—my daughter, my wife, my constituent.
We should accept the amendments. I think that we can probably agree regarding new clause 1, if the Law Commission and the Government can commit to a review. As a former Justice Minister, I am slightly apprehensive because lots of things get referred and never come back; the long grass in the Justice Department is very deep at times. But I think we can take the Minister at her word, if she agrees to the Law Commission review.
I would really like the Minister to accept the amendments as they are, as they will not cost the Government huge amounts of money. By the Government’s own estimates, a tiny number of people will be prosecuted. I think that those estimates are wrong and that there will be lots more prosecutions if the police and the Crown Prosecution Service have the guidance from this House to protect our constituents and our families.
It is an honour to follow Sir Mike Penning and his excellent speech, which summarised much of what I intend to say now; I hope he will forgive me.
I would also like to refer to new clause 1 and the need for a review by the Law Commission. With hate crime, we need to look at the rates of reports as compared with the rates of successful prosecutions. If those are low or if something appears difficult to explain, there should then be a consideration of why they are low. I suspect that in many cases we will find that we are trying to use common law or pieces of statute that are now dated and just not clear. Under the weight of criminal activity, it is sometimes very challenging for the police to know how they are going to deal with the matter if there is not a clear route ahead.
I want to speak in support of the amendments tabled in the name of Mrs Miller. Amendment 3, along with amendments 1 and 2, make all upskirting an offence regardless of the motivation of the perpetrator. As I said, the legal clarity necessary to prosecute upskirting becomes blurred when the focus is directed towards establishing an answer to the question of why someone has taken an intimate photo of someone else without that person’s consent. Taking a private, intimate photo of someone else without their consent should always be illegal. The legislation as it currently stands ignores victims and their experiences and places its focus solely on the intentions of the perpetrators. It thus fails to capture all instances of upskirting, fails adequately to protect the victim, and fails to make all perpetrators liable for prosecution.
These amendments rightly take the issue of consent as the primary concern, although it is evident that the motivation of the perpetrator should not be completely disregarded; rather, it should be treated proportionately, as we do in other crimes. Serious sexual offenders, such as those who commit upskirting for the purpose of sexual gratification—rather than, say, for financial gain—should still be subject to notification requirements, and the amendment does not stop that from happening. The prosecution of an act of upskirting can examine whether consent was gained when the image was taken, and look at why the image was taken, in order to ensure that offenders are treated appropriately on conviction, with some being placed on the sex offenders registers as necessary, according to their motivation. The amendment does not seek to make all perpetrators of upskirting offences subject to notification requirements, but seeks to ensure that all perpetrators of upskirting offences are able to be prosecuted, regardless of the reasons behind their actions.
The Minister has justified the current drafting of this legislation on the grounds of existing legislation in Scotland, which it mirrors. It is entirely right that we legislate to ensure that upskirting is illegal, but simply copying the legislation as it stands in Scotland, which has recently been revealed to be in need of review, will not result in an effective or long-term solution. The CPS stated to us in Committee that, if the Scottish legislation were to be replicated in England and Wales, it would
“anticipate that most offending will fall comfortably within these categories”,
but the evidence from Scotland now shows that this is unlikely. Recent figures show that, in the first six years of the law being in operation in Scotland, just 21 prosecutions have taken place out of a total of 142 charges reported—only 15%. That is a clear example of the type of gendered legislation that is not resulting in effective prosecutions. It would be irresponsible for us as legislators to press ahead with this legislation when we have clear proof that many of the reports due to be brought to the police in its name would be unlikely to lead to successful prosecution.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech. I want to explore one thing, if I may. She is saying, I think, that someone should be guilty of an offence whatever the motivation. If a court were to find that the offence were committed for the purposes of obtaining sexual gratification, then the defendant should be put on to the register, but how, if clause 3 is deleted, will a court be able to establish what the motivation was? Is there not a danger that a jury would not be deciding it but instead a judge? Is there not some logic to ensuring that it will be the jury who will determine this matter, which has important consequences for the penalty that follows?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. We need to have this debate in relation to these crimes. None the less, if we find ourselves in a situation where the motivation is the sole means by which we decide to move ahead or not, then we are providing a bolthole that will give people a defence. I hope that the Department will be discussing further with its counterparts in the Scottish Government exactly why the prosecution rates are so low there. If there are concerns that we are giving a line of defence on the grounds of motivation, we must be very careful. Are we prioritising the right issue, or is it, as I was trying to explain, rather a matter of proportionality when it comes to sentencing and knowing what the motivation is?
I will now speak in support of amendment 5, which seeks to close the biggest loophole in this legislation—namely, that it would be an offence to take an upskirting picture but not necessarily an offence to distribute it. When the amendment was introduced in Committee, the Minister explained that there were already statutes that might capture the distribution of such photos, such as section 127(1) of the Communications Act 2003 and section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988. Just as the motivation clause of this legislation means that not all upskirting would be outlawed, nor does the present legislation outlaw distribution in all cases.
We should not be passing legislation that only works to a certain extent. I appreciate that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Law Commission are working together to look into the onward sharing of images as part of their review in relation to online abuse, but failing to include anything in this legislation about distribution risks creating a giant loophole that would facilitate the further distress of victims. It is an entirely predictable outcome that we can see from where we stand.
We have the opportunity to address this issue now, and we should seize it, instead of holding back. When the original upskirting legislation was passed in Scotland, it had to be followed up with additional legislation to cover the distribution of these images. The UK Government unfortunately appear blithely to be following the process of the original legislation in Scotland. I propose that we take the opportunity to learn from the pitfalls experienced there, rather than run headlong into the same complexities. I urge the Minister to commit to work with Scottish legislators to strengthen the Bill.
I encourage the UK Government to join colleagues across the House, who have made some excellent speeches this evening, in supporting the amendments. Otherwise, they risk waving through legislation whose excessive complexity and obvious loopholes will hobble it from day one.
I will keep my remarks very short, Mr Speaker.
I want to begin by acknowledging why we are here discussing this very important issue: the incredible work of Gina Martin and her lawyer, my fellow Aberdonian Ryan Whelan. They have worked so hard to campaign on this issue, raise awareness of it and take it forward. I remember meeting Ryan in my constituency office and talking about Gina’s experiences a victim of upskirting, and I just could not believe that this was happening across England and Wales. It felt wrong that it was happening, and that certainly motivated me to get involved in the campaign to give justice to women and victims, and to ensure protection for all young women.
I thank all Members of the House because the Bill has had genuine cross-party support from the Labour party, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party. Their real support for the Bill has helped it to progress so swiftly through the House. It is at moments like this that Parliament shows itself at its best, with cross-party co-operation to put something on the statute book that will do good for our constituents.
We all came into Parliament to make a difference. We want to be able to serve our constituents, to change the law, to right wrongs and to protect some of the most vulnerable. Together, we are doing that. So often people see on television the spats that we have—there will be many more—and the rowdy Prime Minister’s questions, but often moments like this, which I genuinely think are when our Parliament is at its best, do not get coverage.
The practice of upskirting—taking a photograph up a person’s skirt or clothes without their consent—is truly horrific, and those who have been the victims of such a crime have been clear about how it has personally affected them. Some have described their experiences of upskirting as “scarring”, “a real invasion”, “embarrassing” and “humiliating”. When the Minister talked to the Committee, she referenced the fact that one victim described the invasion of upskirting as making her want to “peel off her skin” and scrub herself clean.
There is a real gap in the law that needs to be filled, and we can do that. This is the moment to do it because upskirting is a terrible and horrific crime. It is a horrendous invasion of privacy, and it is right that offenders will be appropriately punished following the creation of a specific upskirting offence. The whole House will be able to send a clear message to potential perpetrators that this behaviour will not be tolerated.
To address the amendments in the name of Stella Creasy—this has been mentioned by other Members, including my hon. Friend Alex Chalk—I simply note that they are not about whether misogyny should be a hate crime, but, on their own terms, only about whether misogyny should be introduced as an aggravating factor in respect of this one offence. I believe that to be inappropriate. It would be better for the Bill to be passed and for the Law Commission to look at the merits of making misogyny a hate crime, and I hope that there is consensus on that in the House.
Lastly, because I do not want to take up too much more time, I think that the House is showing itself at its best. As new technology continues to adapt, so should the law. It is right that the Bill has come through Parliament so quickly and that we will get it on to the statute book as soon as possible. Today’s debate, and in fact the whole debate on this issue, has been thoroughly thought-provoking, and it is right that we have given the Bill due scrutiny. I thank all Members who have participated, including Wera Hobhouse who, by introducing her private Member’s Bill, really helped to take forward this issue. It is right that we are taking this action and doing so quickly, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s speech.
I thank all the members of the Public Bill Committee, from both sides of the House, for their work and active participation. May I say that none of them were stooges? They all actively participated in Committee.
I want to congratulate the campaigner Gina Martin, who highlighted this very important issue and the lacuna in the law. I also acknowledge the work of Wera Hobhouse, who introduced this measure as a private Member’s Bill. Mr Speaker, you could say that this is one of the lessons of the law of unintended consequences. When Sir Christopher Chope objected to giving that private Member’s Bill a Second Reading, that resulted in an outcry and criticism from every quarter, but it is fair to say that were it not for that, this Bill would not have seen the light of day.
In 2017, the shadow Justice Secretary, my hon. Friend Richard Burgon, wrote to the Lord Chancellor to ask the Government to enact such legislation in Government time, but they refused to do so. However, we are pleased that they have now been catapulted into bringing forward this Bill. We have supported the Bill at all stages and supported the Government because we recognise the urgency of a situation that needs to be addressed. The Bill was drafted by Ms Martin’s lawyers and we did not want in any way to cause difficulties or a delay in proceedings.
Let us be clear: upskirting is a depraved violation of privacy. It is shocking that in England and Wales at the moment there is no specific criminal offence to cover this, and that it is instead being prosecuted under more general offences such as outraging public decency, although we know it can be difficult to satisfy many of the requirements of such offences. The law as it stands means that the focus of the offence is often on protecting the public from potential exposure to lewd, obscene or disgusting acts, rather than on protecting the individual victim. Some people have been prosecuted for upskirting on the basis of outraging public decency, but that is not really what that specific provision in law was designed for.
The law should focus on individual victims and the crimes committed against them. A number of cases have highlighted the failings of the current law, and I start with the case in 2007 of Simon Hamilton, a barrister, who was convicted after secretly filming up the skirts of women in supermarkets. He was able to appeal on the basis that because none of the victims had been aware of the filming and no one had seen the film, public decency had not been outraged. Then there was the case of Guy Knight, a former chartered accountant, who took photographs up women’s skirts on trains over a period of five months while commuting to work. He was caught after suspicious passengers reported him to the police. More than 200 illicit images were found on his phone and laptop, and 10 of the women in the pictures were traced by the police. None of them was aware that they had been photographed.
This campaign came about because of Ms Gina Martin. About a year ago, she was at a festival in London with her sister when she noticed that the man behind her had taken photos up her skirt. Shocked and distressed, she sought help from the police, but the law was not sufficient to ensure that they could help her. That is why a change in the law is required, and it is why we have supported the Government throughout proceedings on this Bill.
We must remember that many women right across the UK are being affected. This can happen to any woman on public transport, in a park, at a concert, or even just on a walk along a busy street without the victim even realising that the photographs have been taken. It is impossible to judge how many women have been victims of upskirting, although a quick internet search will bring up hundreds of sites and thousands of images. On phones and laptops there may be millions more pictures that were taken on the streets, on escalators, in shopping centres, in supermarkets, in nightclubs and in other places. I think the hon. Member for Christchurch may be wrong to say that the Bill will cover only 29 cases per year.
There are endless web forums where amateur upskirters can exchange tips on how to get the best picture. One was posted by a man who had made a “cam-bag”—a holdall that had a specially made pocket with a hole for a digital video camera lens. The post says:
“Never forget to shoot their faces before or after to know which girls the ass belongs to…After the first…asses, they look very similar and you lose most of the fun. After upskirting them, either step back and wait for them to turn or step by them and shoot directly sidewise.”
Another poster on the forum said that he operates
“mostly at theme parks and tourist hotspots, or really anywhere that draws a large crowd of spectators and cameras”.
“an attractive young lady, preferably a teen for my tastes, and then I evaluate the situation.”
The hon. Lady mentioned that my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope referred to 29 cases. It was the Government, not my hon. Friend, who said that there would be 29 cases a year. Does she not share the concern that that is a very small number, given the prevalence of the problem and the evidence that she is presenting about the number of websites on which this issue is so blatant?
I thank the right hon. Lady for that intervention, and I stand corrected. The hon. Gentleman referred several times to the figure of 29 cases, and I sensed that he was trying to say that the estimate that 29 people a year would be affected made the Bill not very important. By referencing, as the right hon. Lady said, what is happening online, I was trying to emphasise that the Bill will potentially cover many, many more people.
If the hon. Lady needs a reference for the figure—I am surprised if she does—it is contained in the explanatory notes. Paragraphs 29 to 31, which concern the financial implications of the Bill, make it clear that the cost per prosecution is £8,000, and that the total cost to the Exchequer of the legislation will be £230,000 a year. If we divide one into the other, we get the figure of 29.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful lesson in arithmetic. I can do that arithmetic, but the point I was trying to make was that he kept repeating that figure, so it seemed to me that he was trying to suggest that the Bill might not cover as many people as it purported to do.
Another man posted:
“I’ve been upskirting chicks, mostly at clubs, for almost two years. The club I go to is a great spot, real crowded, strobe lights going, loud music, so no one notices me sitting near the edge of the dance floor and if a woman in a skirt ends up by me I stick the cam under and snap.”
Legislation is needed to deal with those types of cases.
Several Back Benchers tabled amendments. My hon. Friend Stella Creasy spoke with great passion about her new clause and street harassment, and we support her on that. The Government must urgently look into bringing forward a comprehensive Bill to deal with many issues, including anonymity for victims of revenge porn; the cross-examination of victims of abuse by defendants, as occurs in civil courts; and the distribution and sharing of images. We need a fundamental review of all hate crime and sexual legislation to ensure that victims are protected and have access to justice, so it would be very welcome if the Law Commission or another body could look into this issue, with its recommendations implemented in law as soon as possible.
I commend Mrs Miller for her tremendous work as the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, which itself does tremendous work. I hope that the Government will address the points in her cogent and pertinent amendments and take on board the matters that she raised and the issues of concern. Hopefully, as the Bill progresses through both Houses, the Government will consider those amendments.
Lastly, on the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Christchurch, I believe that in all cases judges should have discretion in deciding who should be put on a sexual register and when. That should not be a blanket proposal; it should be left to the individual judge in an individual case to decide whether somebody should be put on a sexual register, because being on the sexual offenders register has clear implications and repercussions for people.
Upskirting can be humiliating and degrading, and it is appropriate that that is recognised by the criminal law. As Yasmin Qureshi rightly mentioned, although there is not currently a specific offence on our statute books, fortunately the law does already provide some protection. Prosecutions can be and have been brought under the common law offence of outraging public decency and the offence of voyeurism.
There is a gap in the law that needs to be filled, and it relates to where the offence takes place. Currently, if the offence takes place in a public place, such as a street, a person can be caught under the outraging public decency legislation, and if the offence takes place in a private place, they can be caught under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. However, there is a gap if the offence takes places somewhere that is neither public nor private. Worryingly, such places could include a school or a workplace. The Government have therefore introduced this Bill to seek to address this issue. As my hon. Friend Ross Thomson said, it follows Gina Martin’s effective campaign.
Members have tabled a number of amendments that seek to expand the Bill’s scope. I shall address each in turn—and I assure my right hon. Friend Sir Mike Penning that I will take the approach that he took when he was a Minister and consider each one in turn on its own merits, as a matter of policy and of principle.
First, I will deal with new clause 1 and amendment 7, tabled by Stella Creasy. They seek to ensure that when offenders of the crime of upskirting are motivated by misogyny or misandry this should be considered by the court as an aggravating factor when considering the seriousness of an upskirting offence for the purpose of sentencing. She also seeks to amend guidance to highlight this issue. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South mentioned, it is very important to point out that the hon. Member’s amendments do not propose that misogyny becomes a hate crime, but is simply raised in the context of the upskirting offence. If the perpetrator of the offence was motivated by hostility against women, that should be taken into account on sentencing.
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Walthamstow for providing a further opportunity to discuss these important issues. While the offence is not specific to women, it is likely that women will most often be the victims. The hon. Member is very right to highlight that this is something we in Parliament should be thinking about very carefully. I recognise her motivation, but I do not think it would be right to pass her amendments. This is because statutory aggravating factors do not usually apply to one or two offences, as would be the effect of her amendment. It would make the new offences inconsistent with all other sexual offences, and there is no rationale for the proposed amendment to apply simply to these offences.
In relation to guidance, I can confirm that work is already under way to develop and update guidance on upskirting without the need for any legislative obligation to do so. I recognise the intent behind the amendments, but this narrow Bill is not the place to debate misogyny becoming a hate crime. However, we as a Government are concerned to ensure that our hate crime legislation is up to date and consistent. I am pleased to announce today that I will be asking the Law Commission to undertake a review of the coverage and approach of hate crime legislation, following its earlier recommendation to do so. This will include how protective characteristics, including sex and gender characteristics, should be considered by new or existing hate crime law. As my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry, my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South mentioned, this is the right way forward. I will confirm that the Ministry of Justice will make available the necessary funds for the review and I will write to the Law Commission this week outlining our intention. On that basis, I ask the hon. Member for Walthamstow to withdraw her amendments.
I am grateful to the Minister for announcing a review by the Law Commission. Will she commit to considering in the review a wider range of protective characteristics that are recognised by some police forces, in particular my own in north Wales, which considers English and Welsh language as hate crime protected characteristics? Will she consider those in the review as well?
I am happy to take that away and consider it. It is appropriate that when we look at protected characteristics we do not look exclusively at sex and gender characteristics, which as I said will be included. I am very happy to consider the point the hon. Lady makes and I will get back to her on that.
Secondly, I would like to deal with amendments 1 to 4, tabled by my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller, in relation to purposes. Before turning to the substance of her amendments, I would like to pay credit to her for all her work in this area. For many years, as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee and individually as a Member of Parliament, she has continually stood up for the rights of women. I am very grateful to her for highlighting important points to me on the Bill in Committee and more informally. The Department has considered very carefully the issues she raises and reflected on them. I will set out in due course how we propose to deal with the points she has very carefully and helpfully raised for consideration, but first I will deal with the substance of the Bill as drafted.
In the Bill as drafted, upskirting is criminalised if the perpetrator takes an image with the purpose of either sexual gratification or causing humiliation, distress or alarm to their victim. The reason those motivations are identified in the Bill is that they are used in other current legislation. Amendments 1 to 4 would remove those defined purposes, effectively taking away any mens rea to the offence and therefore criminalising the taking of all upskirting photographs whatever the circumstances. As I understand it from the explanatory statement and the speeches today, the intention behind amendment 3 is to ensure that those undertaking this sort of inappropriate behaviour for group bonding or financial gain are caught.
My hon. and learned Friend is making very clear when it is not acceptable to take an upskirting photograph. When is it acceptable to take an upskirting photograph, because by definition there must be some instances when she thinks it is acceptable?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. It is never acceptable to take a photograph up someone’s skirt without their consent, but we as legislators have a very important duty when we pass laws, particularly criminal laws. Criminal laws set out a criminal liability and give people a criminal record, which has significant consequences for their lives. We need to take that duty and that obligation extremely seriously, so not every act that is inappropriate becomes criminal.
I am speaking to a QC, so I am treading very carefully here. We have an obligation as Parliament to be crystal clear to the judiciary, as my right hon. Friend Sir Mike Penning said eloquently in his speech. What the Minister just said is entirely confusing to me and possibly to the judiciary. If she is saying that there are examples where upskirting is allowable, she should be clearer. She cannot have her cake and eat it, if I may be so bold, and say that there are such instances, but there aren’t really.
I am very grateful for what my right hon. Friend says. I have the highest regard for the work she has done and for the importance she places on this subject. When judges look at what people should and should not be criminally responsible for as a matter of law, they will look at the legislation we have passed. It is important that that is set out in the legislation and that the legislation is clear.
I will identify three reasons why accepting the amendments proposed by my right hon. Friend would make the law less clear, less certain and less advantageous. First, we believe it is likely that those who engage in upskirting for the purposes set out in the explanatory statement on amendment 3, which she outlined, will be caught in any event by the Bill as drafted. Sarah Champion said that we should think about a situation where someone takes an upskirting image to upload it to a website for financial advantage, and possibly catch it in the Bill. We think that it will be caught by the Bill as drafted, because in uploading the photograph to a website where people will pay for it, the person intends others to look at it to obtain sexual gratification. Equally, if someone took an upskirting image primarily for a laugh, they would likely be captured on the basis that the amusement was caused by the humiliation, alarm or distress that they intended the victim to feel.
I will continue for the moment. If I have time, I will happily take further interventions.
The reason the Government do not favour widening the scope of the purposes is that a blanket liability risks criminalising those whom we do not want to criminalise. The amendments could bring in serious unintended consequences and risk bringing too many people within the scope of criminal law. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke recognised, the amendments risk criminalising young children who are over the age of liability, which is 10, but who do not realise the impact of their actions and mean no harm when they carry out the act.
There is one further critical issue, which my hon. Friend Alex Chalk mentioned. If all the purposes were removed by amendments 1 to 4, there would be no need for the prosecution to bring forward evidence of the perpetrator’s motivation of sexual gratification. That could mean that those who posed a threat to the public were not put on the sexual offenders register, because the issue had not been determined in court.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke highlighted the small number of prosecutions that have been brought, and highlighted the fact that we anticipate only a few more in the impact assessment. The reason for that, as paragraph 29 of the explanatory memorandum makes clear, is that there are already laws that catch this activity. What the impact assessment identifies are the new offences that we think will be caught by filling this narrow gap.
The hon. Member for Rotherham rightly stated that we need to change the culture, not lock up more offenders, and education is an important part of that. We recognise, however, the value of the points that my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke and others made, and therefore I am happy to confirm that the Government will review the operation of these offences after two years of their coming into force. This will include working with the police and the CPS and reviewing cases so far brought.
I will briefly deal with sharing. Amendment 5 would create a further offence of disclosing and sharing an upskirt image. We in the Department share the intention and desire to ensure that the sharing of images is robustly dealt with. The best way to do that, however, is not by way of an amendment to the Bill. Legislating in one area alone is not the right way forward. The Government are already looking at this wider issue. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has already asked the Law Commission to look into online abuse.
The first stage of that review, which is an analysis of the existing law, will be completed in October, and I am pleased to confirm that following the completion of this first phase, the Ministry of Justice, working with DCMS, will ask the Law Commission to take forward a more detailed review of the law around the taking and sharing of non-consensual intimate images. This will build on the Law Commission’s review of online abuse and allow the Government to consider how to address this issue more widely, rather than just for upskirting images. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke said, it is not appropriate to legislate in a piecemeal way.
My right hon. Friend also mentioned the Scottish changes in 2016. My understanding of them is that they were not specific to upskirting but created a separate offence in relation to the distribution of intimate images in the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016. This is the broader approach that we in government want to continue.
In his amendments, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch suggests that offenders under the age of 18 not be put on the sex offenders register at all. We are concerned that there will be offenders under the age of 18 who need to be on the register, and only if we put them on the register will we protect victims who need protection now and in the future. He also suggests that we need to toughen up and put everyone on it who is over 18. That will diminish the effect of the register and not allow police resources to be concentrated. For those reasons, and in the light of the fact that we are offering a review of legislation after two years and a review of offences more widely, I hope that hon. Members will not press their amendments.
I thank the Minister for listening. For the first time, we are now saying as a country that misogyny is not a part of life or something that should be tolerated but something we are going to tackle. Her commitment to the Law Commission review of all forms of hate crime, including misogyny, and the need for new and existing resources to fund it, is really welcome and a positive reflection of what this place can achieve. We have just sent a message to every young woman in this country that we are on their side. On that basis, I am very happy to withdraw the amendment. I look forward to working with the Minister and the Law Commission review in taking this forward.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
I remind the House that before Second Reading, as required by the Standing Order, the entire Bill was certified as relating exclusively to England and Wales and within legislative competence. The Bill has not been amended since then. Copies of the certificate are available in the Vote Office and on the parliamentary website.
That the Committee consents to the Voyeurism (Offences) No. 2 Bill.—(Lucy Frazer).
The occupant of the Chair left the Chair to report the decision of the Committee (
The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair; decision reported.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Third time.
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak. I cut short some of my comments on Report to ensure that I covered all the points. I would like to mention something that I did not say when I addressed the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope. It was suggested at one stage that he had opposed the legislation that will criminalise upskirting. I know that he never opposed it as a matter of substance, but objected to it as a matter of procedure, as we have heard today. Like other Members, he has made it clear that he supports criminalising this inappropriate behaviour. I spoke to him about his amendments, and I am very pleased to be able to address them at this stage.
I wish to highlight the fact that this is a simple but important piece of legislation with a very clear purpose—to fill a gap in the law in the prosecution of those who upskirt. I am grateful to Members across the House who have engaged with this Bill as it has progressed, and I hope that that spirit will continue in the other place. We can all be rightly proud of this Bill, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who has contributed to it.
There has been much discussion about the sharing of upskirting images. This is an important issue and one that we need to tackle as a Government. However, the Bill is narrow, and is not the right place to solve the many issues that have been raised. We will work with the Law Commission to look at legislation in relation to the sharing of intimate images.
We have welcomed the opportunity to debate the purposes of the Bill and whether it will capture all those who commit this offence. The Bill should catch those who should be criminalised and ensure that the reach of the criminal law does not extend to where it should not extend to. The post-legislative review in two years’ time will help ensure that the offences that the Bill will introduce are as effective and as comprehensive as intended. I am grateful to the House for its support.
I want to touch on the notification requirements, which are an important aspect of the Bill. It is not an issue that we take lightly, which is why we have committed to place those who commit this offence for reasons of sexual gratification on the sex offenders’ register, subject to certain thresholds to ensure proportionality, focusing resource on those who pose a significant risk to the community. I am confident that the Bill strikes the right balance in this regard.
We have had an interesting debate on hate crime. Although these are important issues, this Bill focuses on a narrow issue and it is not the right place to bring forward small, narrow legislation. However, hate crime is an area that the Government intend to look at closely, and we will be asking the Law Commission to conduct a review of hate crime.
Let me conclude by thanking once again and paying tribute to Wera Hobhouse for introducing the Bill and Gina Martin who first raised awareness of this important issue. I also wish to mention the important work of my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller both in her work as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee and more broadly to ensure that the important issues in this Bill have been debated in this House. It is also important to recognise the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch who put forward ideas in relation to the sex offenders’ register. I am grateful to Yasmin Qureshi and the Opposition for their support in getting this important Bill through the House so quickly.
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend about the good work done by campaigners in this area. I want to make one specific point: so often women and girls have been told that it is their fault if they are harassed, because it is their fault for choosing to wear a short skirt, for example. Does she agree that the Bill puts into law the important point that the person at fault is not the woman or girl who chooses to wear the short skirt, but is the person who chooses to harass them and makes the poor choice to take a photo up their skirt?
That is a very important point, and such legislation sends a message about how people should act in relation to women.
I was mentioning those who have played a significant part in this Bill’s progress. My hon. Friend served on the Committee, and I also thank the other members of the Committee; we had an interesting debate on the provisions before the recess.
I thank, too, the other parties’ spokespeople on justice: Joanna Cherry, and the hon. Members for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly) and for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts). I worked closely with them as this Bill went through the House. I also extend my thanks to our hard-working Bill team, our private offices, our parliamentary private secretaries and the Whips, who can get overlooked at times. I also thank the Clerks and the other parliamentary staff for their sterling work and support on this issue.
It has been an honour to take the Bill from Second Reading through to today, particularly given the strong support from all parties across the House. I wish the Bill a safe and speedy passage through its remaining stages.
I, too, want to place on record my thanks and appreciation to all Members who served on the Bill Committee. They were genuinely and passionately involved; it was not one of those cases where the Whips had forced them on to the Committee; Members were engaging in the debate and on this legislation. It is a small piece of legislation, but it is also important and does need to get on to the statute book as soon as possible. I am heartened to hear the news that the Minister was able to give that the Law Commission will be looking at this whole area of the law and at the recommendations. I hope that will be done as soon as possible and that we can implement its recommendations as soon as possible, too.
I also thank the House authorities, the Clerks and the Public Bill Office for all their work in putting the amendments together and their other tremendous work. I thank, too, my colleagues for being here today; a number of them do not need to be present, but they are still here because they are interested in this Bill.
Like the Minister, this is the first Bill I have taken from the beginning to the end in this House, and I, too, wish it a speedy journey and hope it will be on the statute book soon. It addresses a particularly vile and disgusting practice that needs to be brought to an end.
“Courage calls to courage everywhere”: that is what we have been saying so much this year, and I welcome the courage of Gina Martin to take action, of Wera Hobhouse for following it through, of my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope for saying no and of the Minister for listening, and I welcome her clear undertakings today. I was reflecting that when I joined this place some years ago now in 2005, I do not think we would have passed a Bill like this. I think Parliament now has the courage to deal with these sorts of issues as well.
I welcome my hon. and learned Friend the Minister’s undertaking to have a Law Commission review of hate crime. That is an enormous step forward, and she is to be applauded for making sure that happens, as well as for making sure that we have a review of this legislation after two years and that we have a long overdue Law Commission review of non-consensual intimate images, which would make the need for this sort of piecemeal legislation redundant.
This Bill is the start of a process of creating a more coherent strategy for tackling non-consensual abusive images and, potentially, misogynistic crimes that create such a negative and demeaning environment for women and girls in this country. I wish the Bill well in its passage to the other place, and I hope that their lordships will take a further look at the issues that we have debated here today, to ensure that all victims have recourse to justice and that the Scottish experience in relation to outlawing distribution in the context of upskirting is adequately dealt with in the short term as well. I am sure that there lordships will look in great detail at the discussions that we have had today before the Bill reaches the Floor of their House.
From the very beginning of its journey, the upskirting Bill has been the result of brave individuals —particularly women—speaking out. They chose to speak out about a vile crime that was going not only unpunished but largely unnoticed. They courageously spoke out about their experiences, to try to draw attention to the gap in the law. The Bill is the result of their hard work, and each and every individual who helped this campaign to materialise into the legislation before us should feel proud.
It was back in February that I drafted the Bill, in time for International Women’s Day. As a female Member of Parliament, I felt bound to try to honour the day with a real change that would improve the lives of women across the country. It shocked me that upskirting was not already a specific crime. There was a victim from near my constituency of Bath who was just 10 years old, and it was clearer than ever that something had to be done. I spoke to victims and campaigners, notably Gina Martin, and together with her lawyer, Ryan Whelan, we put together a Bill that would ensure that taking a photo up someone’s skirt without their consent would become a specific sexual offence.
I am incredibly grateful for the work of my colleagues across the House. In particular, I would like to thank the Minister for Women, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins, as well as the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Lucy Frazer and the Prime Minister herself, all of whom have been supportive throughout the Bill’s passage, from agreeing to back my original Bill to tabling another version when mine was blocked in June. Equally, I am grateful to the many Members who have supported and worked on the Bill, particularly Mrs Miller and Stella Creasy. To have the Bill supported by five parties and the Government—as well as my own colleagues, of course—demonstrates not only how import this issue is but what can be achieved when we work together.
There are many unnamed and unsung heroes in this place. By this I mean our staff who support us, and I want to put on record my particular thanks to my parliamentary assistant, Jess Clayton. Without her passion, her enthusiasm, her thoroughness—at one point, she knew a lot more about upskirting than I did—and her help and support, we would not be here today. So I thank Jess Clayton, my parliamentary assistant. Primarily, though, the Bill is a credit to all those who are seen as everyday ordinary women who have achieved something extraordinary. By campaigning, by pressuring those in power and by protesting—with pants!—when the campaign faced adversity, they have ensured that upskirting will become what it deserves to be: a specific sexual offence.
It is an honour to speak in this Third Reading debate. I pay tribute to the new Secretary of State for Justice—my neighbour and my roommate for many years—who has been involved in this issue for many weeks. I also pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend Lucy Frazer. We normally get a fair bit of notice when a Bill comes forward, and we argue our points in the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee. Instead of that, this has been a fast one. It is a real privilege to have taken part in this debate as a man, a father and husband, and to try to understand and get the public to understand what has been going on out there with this voyeurism and upskirting. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State and to the Minister and her colleagues for listening to the House, because the House is supposed to replicate what is going on out there in the country.
I am sure that Stella Creasy is absolutely thrilled about the review of the general legal area. It will be a real move forward. The amendments were tabled in good faith. I am not legally trained—even though I was a Justice Minister—and I am still confused about when upskirting would be legitimate. I do not understand that, but perhaps their lordships will understand it better than I do.
At the end of the day, however, this Bill started as a private Member’s Bill that would have really struggled, no matter who was backing it. It would not have received the amendments or the debates, and we certainly would not have a Law Commission review. All that would never have happened without the time here this evening to debate the legislation and take it through.
Everybody has quite rightly paid tribute to individuals—those who have tabled amendments, served on Committees and so on—but we should be paying tribute to this House, because without the various roles in this pluralistic House the democratic process would not happen. It does not happen every day, and it is rare that we are in complete agreement. I agree with the Opposition spokeswoman on many things, but it is good that she is as happy as we are for this legislation to go to the other House. It is not yet finished and there will be quite rightly be a lot of scrutiny in the other House, which is there to scrutinise and improve, not to block, and I hope that the Bill receives Royal Assent soon. We can look at the reviews that come forward, and everyone is certainly looking forward to the Law Commission review. This is a good day for democracy and a good day for this House.
I say “Hear, hear” to what my right hon. Friend has just said. This is a good day for democracy. I pay tribute to the Minister for the understanding that she has demonstrated throughout the course of this debate and for her kind personal remarks about my motivation, which has been so misunderstood—deliberately by some and in ignorance by others.
Owing to the shortage of time on Report, the Minister was unable to take my intervention when she was responding to my amendment 6. However, I know that on Third Reading we discuss the content of the Bill, rather than rejected amendments, so I want to look at the part of the Bill that my amendment was intended to address.
My hon. and learned Friend slightly misrepresented what I was proposing, because, far from wanting to weaken the Bill, I was suggesting that, as presently drafted, clause 1(4) will not ensure that sufficient numbers of people who are guilty of voyeurism with the motivation of sexual gratification actually reach the sex offenders register. The Bill is currently drafted in such a way that someone can be guilty of voyeurism for the purposes of sexual gratification, but they will not go on the sex offenders register if they are under 18 unless they have been sentenced to a term of at least 12 months’ imprisonment, which is extremely unlikely and de minimis.
The more important aspect is that the Bill as currently drafted means that someone will not go on the sex offenders register even if they have committed an offence of upskirting with the motivation of sexual gratification unless the victim was under 18 or the offender has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment or detained in a hospital or made the subject of a community sentence of at least 12 months. The offence of voyeurism with the intent of sexual gratification should be linked directly with the sex offenders register, and I do not understand why the Government have been unwilling to tighten that up in the way that some of us would have wished. I hope that that will be considered in the other place.
Like my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller, I hope that the other place will also look carefully at the restrictions that are currently in proposed new section 67A(1)(b) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which is found in clause 1(2) and relates to the necessity of proving a purpose in order to establish guilt. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister talked about mens rea—I am not sure whether, in due course, we will get on to “womens rea”—and I would like her to explain how it is that, under the current common law offence of outraging public decency, for which she says this Bill is filling a geographical gap, there is no requirement for mens rea. That common law offence is on the statute book, so if there is no requirement for mens rea in relation to that offence, why are we saying that the geographical gap in the law can be filled only by legislation that includes a requirement of mens rea and a requirement to prove the motive of sexual gratification in particular, and other motives besides?
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke asked, which instances of voyeurism that are currently subject to the common law, and that can be prosecuted under the common law offence, will not be covered by this Bill in the geographical location that is not covered by the offence of outraging public decency? It does not seem to me that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister has addressed that conundrum, and in the absence of its having been dealt with in this House, I hope it will be dealt with in the other place.
My hon. and learned Friend has offered a review of the legislation after two years, which is obviously better than nothing, but with the greatest of respect, the best thing for her and her Department to do is to review the Bill between now and when it is debated in the other place—that will hopefully be a lot sooner than two years—so that we can try to get some consistency. As a leading counsel, she will know that, where a statutory offence is introduced, it trumps a common law offence as a matter of principle. Surely the Government’s motivation is to simplify the law in this area and to ensure that all offences of upskirting are dealt with under the Bill, rather than under the common law. It would help to spell that out, not least for the benefit of police officers and the prosecuting authorities.
If that is the intention—I drew an analogy earlier with the offence of using a mobile phone while driving compared with the offence of driving without due care and attention—there is a lot to be said for having the specific offence in the Bill cover all instances of upskirting. If and when the Minister addresses the issue, perhaps she will come up with an answer to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke of what offences of upskirting she believes should not be subject to any criminal sanction. That is our challenge to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister.
In all the correspondence I have received, people feel that all upskirting offences should be subject to the criminal law and criminal sanctions, irrespective of motive. If there are to be offences that are not subject to criminal sanctions, we need to spell them out squarely and fairly, which has not been done so far.
I welcome the scrutiny the Bill has received so far, the way in which the Minister has accepted the spirit of new clause 1 and her willingness to look again at other issues, and I am happy to support Third Reading. But I hope that when, eventually, the Bill returns to this House, the Government will accept amendments made in the other place that make it even better.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.