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I beg to move amendment 1, page 1, line 16, after “police” insert
“for a police area in England and Wales”.
This amendment and Amendments 2 and 6 would allow the chief constable of the Ministry of Defence Police and the Chief Constable of the British Transport Police Force to apply for stalking protection orders and interim stalking protection orders, and to take part in related procedures.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
“who applied for the stalking protection order and (if different) the chief officer of police for the area in which the defendant resides, if that area is in England or Wales.”
See the explanatory statement for Amendment 1.
Amendment 3, in clause 9, page 6, line 2, leave out “within” and insert “before the end of”.
This amendment would ensure a person can give notice that they are going to use a new name before doing so.
Amendment 4, page 6, line 8, leave out “within” and insert “before the end of”.
This amendment would ensure a person can give notice that they are going to change their home address before doing so.
Amendment 5, in clause 10, page 6, line 30, leave out
“whose home address is not” and insert
“who does not have a home address”.
This amendment would cater for the possibility that a person might not have a home address.
Amendment 6, in clause 14, page 8, line 9, at end insert—
““chief officer of police” means—
(c) the Commissioner of Police for the City of London;
(d) the chief constable of the British Transport Police;
(e) the chief constable of the Ministry of Defence Police;”
See the explanatory statement for Amendment 1.
Amendment 7, in clause 15, page 9, line 4, leave out from “force” to the end of line 5 and insert
“two months after the day on which this Act is passed.”
This week we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first woman taking her seat in this House. I am immensely proud, as a Devon MP, that that woman was Lady Nancy Astor, and I think all of us in this House owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for the work she did, particularly in fighting on behalf of women and girls. I am proud that this Government have continued that work. Indeed, Members from across this whole House have done so much to advance this cause.
Or course, stalking does not just affect women—it affects men as well, and it is a vile crime of an insidious nature. I am very grateful to all those, both within this House and beyond, who have contributed to the passage of this Bill, including with advice, which has caused me to table some important amendments. They are minor in nature, but I think they will greatly improve the Bill.
Amendments 1, 2 and 6 would enable the chief constables of the Ministry of Defence police and the British Transport police to apply for stalking protection orders and interim orders, and to initiate related proceedings in connection with the variation and renewal of an order. That is because stalking occurs across a range of contexts and situations, with devastating consequences, and it is essential that a stalking protection order is available to police in a variety of situations. There may be circumstances in which the British Transport police or MOD police are best placed to seek an order, for example if the stalking conduct has taken place on the railway network or a perpetrator lives or works in MOD premises.
Amendments 3 and 4 would modify the notification requirements on a person subject to a stalking—
I know that my hon. Friend was about to move on, but I just wanted to inquire about a thing not included in this list: the Civil Nuclear constabulary. The MOD police are included, and they protect particular areas. I welcome the amendments, but is there any particular reason why the Civil Nuclear constabulary is not included?
I thank my hon. Friend for his point, which we could consider in the House of Lords as the Bill continues its passage.
Amendments 3 and 4 would modify the notification requirements on a person subject to a stalking protection order. Under the notification requirements, as drafted, a perpetrator must notify the police within three days of a change taking place. These amendments simply enable the perpetrator to give such notice in advance of a change taking place, and I hope that colleagues from across the House will recognise that that is a small, technical, but important change.
Finally, amendment 5 also relates to notification requirements. It caters for circumstances where the subject of a stalking protection order has no home address. In such a case, the amendment provides that the perpetrator can instead notify of a place where they can regularly be found. That simply mirrors notification requirements related to registered sex offenders. My hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope also has an amendment in this group, but I do not see him in the Chamber today, so I think we will assume that he does not wish to press that amendment. For now, I commend the amendments standing in my name to the House.
We are immensely grateful to her; she has been the epitome of succinctness, which serves as a useful model for other colleagues.
Ah, a veritable slew of colleagues wishing to take part. I call Mr Alex Chalk.
What a pleasure it is to say a few words in this debate.
Before I move on to the specifics, it is important to look at some of the context, because of course it was not until fairly recently that stalking was made a crime. Before 2012, the concept of stalking was perhaps not taken terribly seriously at all—it was almost considered something of a joke—but over the past decade there has been a recognition that, as my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston said, stalking is an insidious and wicked crime. I pay tribute to her work to ensure that society’s response truly fits the scale of the threat.
I was hoping to intervene on Dr Wollaston, but she concluded her speech very promptly. I echo the hon. Gentleman’s sentiment—it is critical that we focus on the outcome of the Bill, which is to deal with what even for one person in this country is such an oppression that none of us in this House can really fathom it, if we have not been on the receiving end of it. Stalking can consume someone’s life and be devastating, and it can have both physical and mental health consequences, so let us not forget the victims who have to contend with stalking throughout the country.
As always, the hon. Lady makes her point extremely well—she is absolutely right. When I came into this place in 2015, I really had only the most limited understanding of what stalking was all about but, exactly as the hon. Lady indicates, it has an incredibly insidious effect.
Like so many of us in this place, the circumstances in which I came to understand stalking revolve around a constituency matter. My constituent, Dr Ellie Aston, was a local GP, and someone started to stalk her. What was worrying was the extent to which the behaviour ratcheted up from something that was initially fairly innocuous in terms of attention from a patient to something that became concerning, and then deeply troubling, as the letters multiplied, as he started to attend her home address, as he then started to attend her children’s birthday parties and when there were concerns about the gas supply being interfered with. What is so troubling is that this went on for more than seven years. When the person was arrested, the police looked into his computer and found that he had searched for “How long after a person disappears are they considered dead?” When he was released, he sent a message to the victim saying simply, “Guess who’s back?”
No wonder, then, that many victims of stalking refer to it as murder in slow motion. That might sound like an entirely melodramatic phrase, but they say it because over time their freedom and ability to go about their business starts to be eroded. They are looking over their shoulders and increasingly become prisoners in their own lives. What is so worrying is that stalking can escalate to very serious violence, which underpins why we need to take action early.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I realised the extent of stalking when people brought cases to me. I was particularly struck when it involved an ex-partner and I saw how seriously the police took it. I had a case in which the person moved, and on the day she moved in, she received a card from her ex-partner. The police said, “Well, that’s just quite a nice thing to do.” Actually, it was clearly the ex-partner saying, “I know where you live.”
That is precisely it. The weight of that experience means that something that might be perceived to be innocuous in isolation becomes a deeply upsetting episode. I shall deal with that in a little more detail in due course.
The hon. Gentleman might not know this, but I always sit in front of the memorial to my parliamentary neighbour Jo Cox. As the whole House knows, she was a victim of a type of stalking. I served on the anti-stalking commission, and that really opened my eyes to the misery of victims and the fact that very often they do not complain because they are terrified to do so.
That is absolutely right, and the hon. Gentleman will know that the rise of digital means of stalking has magnified the problem over the past decade or so. It used to be that the stalking might consist of the person turning up at someone’s home address and then doing that threatening but apparently innocuous act of driving past. Of course, people can now stalk others using multiple fake identities. I heard about an appalling case in which somebody had generated the identity of the victim’s dead partner—you could not make it up. They were seeking to harass, intimidate and upset that individual.
When I was working on this issue with my hon. Friend Richard Graham, it became clear to us that although society and this place had started to react to the issue by generating the offence of stalking, the penalties that existed for it were manifestly inadequate. The penalty at the time of only five years’ imprisonment was less than the maximum penalty for the theft of a Mars bar, which is seven years, and less than the maximum penalty for non-residential burglary—lock-up burglaries and so on—which is 10 years or so, yet stalking can genuinely ruin people’s lives. The sentence was insufficient.
My hon. Friend is obviously a great expert on these matters and I do not want to divert him too much, but while probably all of us in this Chamber have been trolled—we have probably all been trolled repeatedly, with quite vicious language at times; it is a function of being in this place—hopefully most of us have not been stalked. Surely one thing we need to be clear on is the difference between the two. Presumably the lines will blur as cyber-crime grows and that sort of behaviour continues.
My hon. Friend makes an acute point. We must always recognise that whenever we legislate in this place, there is always the potential for the law of unintended consequences to apply. One thing that the courts will have to consider is precisely what stalking means, and that is covered by the Bill. Notwithstanding the possible pitfalls, there is no doubt that there was a gaping hole that needed to be filled. We in this country have moved much faster than most to seek to fill that gap.
I do not want to spend too much time looking into the history, but it is important to spend a moment putting the measures into context. The maximum penalty was five years’ imprisonment. When the judge came to sentence my constituent’s stalker at Gloucester Crown court, he said, “I simply don’t have the powers required to do justice in this case.” We know that if the maximum sentence is five years, which is of course 60 months, and the defendant pleads guilty—very often the evidence is so overwhelming that that is the only sensible approach for them—that takes it down to 40 months. They then serve half, and indeed they may even be released on a tag before the halfway point, so in reality the maximum penalty is around 18 months’ imprisonment. For a GP who has been stalked for seven years, driven to post-traumatic stress disorder and advised to come off the General Medical Council register, and who cannot begin to rebuild their life until they know that the person is in custody and they themselves are safe, 18 or 20 months is manifestly inadequate. I was therefore grateful to colleagues from all parties who came together to change the law and protect victims.
It is worth noting the work that my hon. Friend did with my hon. Friend Richard Graham to produce a report that provided compelling evidence for why the House should change the law. It is appropriate that that is put on the record. Perhaps my hon. Friend may wish to reflect on the impact of that work.
It is very kind of my hon. Friend to say that. Our work has had an impact, but none of that would have been possible—as I say to Dr Aston and, indeed, as I say to the family of Hollie Gazzard, who was very sadly killed by a former partner in Gloucester—or achievable in this place without people being brave enough to support the campaign. When I sat down with Ellie, I said, “Are you prepared to put your name to this and to try to change things?”, because I was always concerned that it could reheat old traumas, but to her great credit that was precisely what she agreed to do.
Let me turn to the Bill. Again, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes for the work she has done. With characteristic clarity, she has identified the importance of early intervention. The reality of this behaviour is first that it escalates, and secondly that it can become ingrained very quickly. For both those reasons, it is important to intervene, because the nature of this kind of offending is such that—and this is not a criticism of the police at all—the police intervene only after it has escalated and the behaviour has become ingrained.
Just imagine the circumstances in the example of my constituent. A GP says to the police, “I’m a bit concerned because I’ve had five letters from my patient.” The police officer says, “Well, it seems a bit odd, but probably no crime has been committed.” She then says, “Actually, it has now escalated, because he’s turned up at my home address. He didn’t say anything violent, but he didn’t have any particularly good reason to be there.” The police officer says, “Yes, well, that also sounds a bit odd, but it probably doesn’t cross the threshold for actually arresting or prosecuting someone.” One can imagine the drip, drip over time, and we are suddenly one, two, or three months down the line. Meanwhile, that behaviour and that fixation has become truly entrenched.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for very kindly giving way again. It is worth putting on the record one of the key points of this Bill that we have not yet discussed this morning: we know already that there are too many people across our country who have to bring forward civil action at their own cost in order to contend with this challenge, which can take years of some people’s lives. The real purpose of the Bill, and the essence of what we are discussing today, is to ensure that that does not have to happen and that we empower victims and give them the support that they rightly deserve and need.
That is absolutely right. We spend a lot of time in this House passing legislation, and we collectively tend to pat ourselves on the back and say, “Well, look, brilliant, we’ve done it.” But unless legislation can be enforced, it becomes a dead letter. That is conversations that we have in this place in respect of all sorts of things ranging from the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 to the Equality Act 2010 and so on. The concern here is that unless people can get ready access to these sorts of protections then they are, as I say, a dead letter. The point that the hon. Lady makes about injunctions is an extremely good one. How many people want to issue a writ in the county court, or indeed in the High Court, at significant personal cost? Litigation of any type is an uncertain option, and—this is the critical point—what would be the remedy in the event that that injunction is breached? What we need is a swift and muscular—if I may use that expression—approach in order to be able to intervene early. It also has to be fair. That is the point that I will come to after I have taken this one intervention, and then I will make a bit more progress.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, sometimes, the police fail to look at the whole pattern of behaviour and just look at each case in isolation, and it never quite reaches the mark that makes them feel that they need to do something about it?
The hon. Gentleman absolutely puts his finger on it. I will develop that point in a moment. One thing that I have experienced in my time in practice, particularly in relation to this kind of offence, is that the approach and the attitude of the officer in the case is absolutely crucial. If an officer understands precisely the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, which is that individual instances are not necessarily picked up and allows them to slide, then it can become a problem. On the other hand, if a police officer, because he has been properly trained or is particularly engaged in the case, is excellent at collating that evidence and material to build that picture, that can have a dramatically different impact, first, on the way the victim feels about it, and, secondly, on the remedy that they are likely to get.
I want to develop this other point. One thing that we have not dealt with in this piece of legislation, and that we need to go on to, is to look at the role of technology in all this. What do I mean? An individual victim will always be better and more effective at recording the litany of instances than the bureaucracy of the police. That is not a criticism of the police, but a statement, I would imagine, of the blindingly obvious. What we need to do is to put into the power of individuals the right, in appropriate circumstances, to record and list episodes as they take place. We might say, “Well, hang on, why don’t you just do that on a sheet of paper?” No, what we should be doing is potentially looking at an app, so that when the police, for example, authorise an app and say that they are going to open an investigation, the complainant or victim can, when there is an incident, record it on this app—what happened, the time that it took place and any photographs that go with it—and that can then be reviewed and assessed by police officers in due course. Otherwise, the danger is that if a person has to go down to a local police station every time their stalker walks past their house, it is terribly bureaucratic and inefficient.
I do not want to go down a rabbit hole, but there is an important role in ensuring that victims are best able to record and collate what, ultimately, will make the difference to an effective prosecution in due course. It becomes 10 times more powerful if the individual can say, “I remember that, at that precise moment, he walked past my house, or he knocked on the door, or he put the letter through my door, or he terrified my children and I will record it at that precise moment, and this is the evidence that I have collated.” That is powerful evidence and we should be helping to facilitate that.
My hon. Friend is making a very persuasive speech. Of course, what will be required is for the police to prioritise their resources to police this new offence. What that will also mean is that they may have to deprioritise other areas, or receive additional resources. I understand that an extra £410,000 is being allocated. Does he think that that will be enough to deliver the measures that he rightly talks about this morning?
It is an extremely important point, and it does build on the point that I was making just now. There is no doubt that if this is not handled correctly—if it is not arranged correctly—there is a danger that it becomes more onerous than it needs to be. The example that I want to develop is the one on which I have just briefly touched. Principally, the old analogue techniques are that if somebody is robbed in the street, the police officer will say, “You are making a complaint, I understand that. Please come to the police station on a certain date and we will sit down and prepare a statement. You, the complainant, will make the allegation of what happened to you in the street. I, the police officer, will write it down. It will be in longhand, running to various sides of paper. You will then sign each page and so on.” That process could easily take an hour and a half. It then gets logged onto a system and so on.
That might be perfectly appropriate where the allegation relates to an incident that took five minutes in, say, a high street, but where the allegation relates to a cumulative total of ongoing events, innocuous in isolation but insidious in combination—to coin a phrase—we need to have a more digital approach. That is why I invite the Home Office to consider digital techniques to allow the police to work as effectively—and to take up my hon. Friend’s point—and efficiently as possible, otherwise there is, of course, the danger of resources being mopped up. The only point that I would say on this resource issue is that there can be few more compelling priorities in circumstances where the evidence suggests, compellingly, that if we do not address this behaviour early it can have very serious consequences. In other words, this is a worthy candidate, I respectfully suggest, for the prioritisation to which my hon. Friend refers.
My hon. Friend is making a very good speech, and this is a very good Bill. May I just come back to a point that he made earlier? I know that he had extensive legal experience at the Bar before coming here, so can he confirm his view that there is no adequate provision in existing law for this sort of thing to be brought forward by a victim or by the police—for example a restraining order—and that this effectively fills a gap that currently exists?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is true to say that there are measures that could be imposed to say to a would-be defendant, “Don’t do this.” Luciana Berger talked about injunctions. It is true that there could be bail conditions further down the line, or indeed restraining orders. What this Bill does is provide for much earlier intervention. That is the critical point. It would mean that a chief police officer, under clause 1(1), could apply to the magistrates court for an order in respect of the defendant if it appears that the defendant has carried out acts associated with stalking and so on and so forth. I respectfully completely agree with the points that were made about the amendments. The reason why it is important is that a person then gets a hearing before the court in short order and it is a judicial process.
By the way, this is the other point that we need to be crystal clear about: just because we think that these allegations are serious, and just because we know that they can lead to very harmful consequences, it does not mean that we should jettison a proper judicial process. People should be made subject to these orders only if evidence is called—cogent, compelling and admissible evidence—to ensure that individuals are properly subject to these orders. We should make no mistake about this: they are deliberately onerous and deliberately restrictive, because they are designed to protect the individual, but also, and importantly, they are designed to provide the courts with the tools they need to seek that early intervention and rehabilitation of the complainant. I am pleased to note also that duration of orders comes under clause 3, which provides that the stalking protection order has effect until a further order. In other words, if things have changed, and if as we all, I am sure, hope get to the point where an individual defendant finds themselves rehabilitated, they can come back to the court and apply to have the order discharged if that would be the appropriate thing to do.
The point that was made very well by my hon. Friend Chris Philp is about providing a new tool in the armoury. The reason why it is in the armoury, so to speak, is that there are serious consequences in the event that someone breaches it. Clause 8, which covers the offence of breaching a stalking protection order, provides a power of imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, a fine or both.
I am finding my hon. Friend’s speech both interesting and persuasive. Does he agree that we must be very clear that these powers are in addition to the powers that the police and the courts already have, and that they should in no way be seen as an alternative? If someone has committed an offence under existing legislation with the penalties that it carries, then that should be used? This measure should be viewed as a way of protecting someone in addition to those powers, and not as a replacement in any way?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; this is in addition.
Many victims have told me that by the time a perpetrator can be convicted under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, when the court says, “Yes, an offence has been committed, the defendant has been convicted and we will now impose a restraining order,” they want to say, “Well, thank you very much, but the damage has been done,” because the concerns are in place and the behaviour is entrenched. Therefore, although one would not wish for one moment to remove that power—it remains an important tool for the courts—this provision fills that gap earlier in the process.
I have spoken for far too long, Mr Speaker. [Hon. Members: “No, no!”] Hon. Members are very kind. In conclusion, we as a society have come an awfully long way on this issue, and we have done so as quickly as any other peer nation. It has been a process, and we are now close to, if not completing that process, getting to the point where these tools are available to the authorities. Ultimately, however, what will make the difference, whether in the criminal justice system or in any other part of public life, is the individuals who actually use these powers.
I wish to pay tribute to Gloucestershire Constabulary, whose police officers have put so much effort into this cause. They are leaders in their field. They have seized the baton and run with it, because they recognise the implications for people in our county—Hollie Gazzard is an obvious example, and Ellie Aston is another. Ultimately, it will be the officer who receives the complaint from the victim who, through their compassionate and organised response—I say “organised” because it is about collating so much data—will make the difference in whether justice is done. I think that that conscientious, professional officer will now have the tools that he or she needs to keep victims safe. On that basis, I am delighted to support the Bill.
I must say that it makes a pleasant change to be called to speak so early in the debate, because usually I have the joy of almost having to sum up, particularly on a Friday. It is a pleasure to speak to the amendments tabled by my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston. It was a joy to serve on the Public Bill Committee for this important legislation, which will provide protection for many victims of stalking.
This debate is timely, given the experiences of Devon and Cornwall’s police and crime commissioner, who we have learnt has been a victim of domestic violence and stalking offences. Of course, the Bill relates more to victims who have not been in a relationship with the perpetrator, but it is very welcome that she has spoken out, and hopefully her experience will inspire other victims of stalking to realise that they need not stay silent.
Turning to amendment 1, I think that it makes eminent sense to be clear that the Bill applies to virtually every police force operating in England and Wales, and not just to the geographical police forces. The inclusion of the British Transport Police makes sense, given the obvious potential for stalking offences on public transport. For example, a stalker could follow their victim on to the train they take to work each day. Trains coming into London can be particularly crowded, and the four minutes to 4 train from Exeter to Paignton can be exceptionally crowded. That could give stalkers an opportunity to be in close physical contact with their victim. Normally that is just considered part of commuting. We have all experienced the joy of taking the tube at about 20 minutes to 9 in the morning, when the trains are packed. It is a chance to get very close to our fellow passengers, although not by choice. The inclusion of the British Transport Police is therefore welcome.
I should be clear that I support the amendments. I note that amendment 6 lists the police forces involved. That brings me to a query about whether the Civil Nuclear Constabulary ought to be included—the Minister might like to reflect on this—considering that these provisions could apply in instances where there has not been an intimate relationship. For example, someone working at a nuclear establishment could be stalked purely on the basis of their views on nuclear power generation. The same could be true for those who protect sites such as Sellafield. Or would that be an encumbrance in the legislation? That is more of a query, rather than something I think should necessarily be amended immediately.
I note that the Ministry of Defence police are included. I should explain, for the benefit of those following our proceedings—I always think that it is important to help people understand this point—that they are different from the military police or the naval provosts, who enforce military law against service personnel. The Ministry of Defence police are very visible in Plymouth, where I grew up, because of their role in enforcing the law at Her Majesty’s naval base Devonport and the submarine refit complex. They are police officers who work with the military; they are not the military police. It is important to be clear about their role.
The Civil Nuclear Constabulary operates as a fully armed constabulary, given the nature of its officers’ work and the sites they protect, and particularly given the threat of terrorism. Again, should they be included in the Bill? I see the Minister dutifully noting down these queries, so I am sure that we will have a full response when the time comes. We should consider whether these would be useful additions, as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes touched on when I intervened earlier. Of course, although we in this House will complete our consideration of the Bill today, it is still to go through the other place, where this matter might be considered further.
It makes eminent sense to tidy up provisions for when someone might need to give notification and how they are to do so. The Bill needs to be robust and we must not create any loopholes, as my hon. Friend Alex Chalk explained in his excellent speech, because many of those engaging in this kind of behaviour not only ruthlessly work out how to intimidate their victims and gain power over them, but research the law in an effort to stay just this side of committing a criminal offence. My hon. Friend described the impact on his constituents, which was welcome, because this is not some dry debate about legal orders that prevent people from doing something; it is about real victims.
Do we not sometimes lose sight of the overall context? In this country today, deep into the 21st century, we have a tremendous problem with violence against women. There is not just stalking; there are gangs up and down our country—gangs of men of Pakistani origin prey on young girls and even children—and domestic violence. There is a real problem in our country with violence of all kinds against women. This Bill is part of the fight to roll that back.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He is right to highlight that there is a real issue. It is not just physical violence; it can be verbal violence. It is about someone trying to gain power over someone and have them under their control, whether through direct violence, intimidation or other actions, such as constant emailing or the sending of cards, as we have heard. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham made the point that sending a Christmas card might seem innocuous, but it must be seen in the context of the overall behaviour. It can be about the perpetrator being constantly in the victim’s life.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned violence against women. I am a supporter of the white ribbon campaign in my constituency, and I hope he is doing the same—I am sure he is—in his own constituency. This is about men standing up and saying that other men’s violence against women is unacceptable. I have a close relative who experienced a violent relationship for a significant period. She was physically abused—in one case, she was hospitalised by the attack launched against her—but what sticks is the constant name calling and running down. One of the points she used to make was that if someone who did not know them had observed what was going on and then asked what her name was, they would have been given not her name but two swear words put together. I do not need to repeat such language in the Chamber; Members can work out for themselves what sort of language I am referring to. She felt that that was how she would be known.
There was constant denigration and running down, and then when trying to move away from the relationship, there were constant phone calls and texts. Bluntly, it was only when BT’s choose to refuse service became available that a lot of that could finally be brought to an end through blocking the numbers. I wonder whether, if something like the Bill had been available, it might have helped to build confidence in tackling those situations.
It is right that we have clear penalties. We have been clear that this is an additional way of protecting potential victims of stalking, not about replacing existing legislation. For me, this is not just about those who have been in relationships. As I touched on in my comments about the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, such actions may in effect be stalking but are due to other reasons, such as political reasons.
Yesterday, along with my hon. Friend Robert Courts and the hon. Members for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) and Ian Austin, I had a very interesting visit to the Community Security Trust, which works with the Jewish community, and heard about the experiences of some of the people there. The reason for someone in effect stalking or harassing in such cases is based on their faith. Again, it would be interesting to hear what the Minister thinks about someone engaging in the completely unacceptable behaviour of targeting people for that reason, but doing so in a way that looks very much like stalking. She is an eminent lawyer in her own right—a learned Member—and I am sure she will outline how some of these powers might be of assistance.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree with me—I make this point not specifically to my own Front Benchers but about successive Governments—that although Parliament is very good at creating new laws, if money, resources and guidance are not provided, the authorities responsible for enforcing those laws cannot deliver on that, which calls the laws into question in the first place? I found that as a district councillor under the previous Labour Government and I am afraid it is happening again. I absolutely support this Bill, but there is a wider point. When Parliament passes a new law, should there be a money resolution not for the Bill to be carried forward but to make sure that it can be enforced and delivered on the ground? Otherwise, we are, I am afraid, misleading people.
Obviously, there is a money resolution to carry through the Bill, but I am talking about an ongoing money resolution, as it were, to make sure that the police have the resources to deliver it.
My hon. Friend is right. There clearly needs to be an intention not just to pass a piece of legislation—it makes us sound very virtuous, and we can pop our speeches on to our websites when we get back to the office—but to ensure it has a real and clear effect. I am sure that the Minister, who I see has already made some notes, will talk about how the Home Office will seek to work with police forces to make sure this power is used and brought into effect.
I have one slight disappointment. My hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope was due to talk this morning on his amendment 7, which is about when the Bill will be brought into force. Again, when we move on to Third Reading—I hope the Bill will be given a Third Reading later today—it would be interesting to hear the Minister’s thoughts about when she intends to bring it into force. We do not just want to pass the Bill and then leave it sitting on the statute book, but to bring it into force.
On the question raised by our hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill a few moments ago—[Hon. Members: “And Battle.”] Let us not forget Battle. My hon. Friend Huw Merriman asked about funding. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Government intend to increase funding to combat violence against women by £100 million between now and 2020? That may go some way to addressing the concern that our hon. Friend has raised.
I thank my hon. Friend for yet another very well thought through and incisive intervention. I am obviously encouraged to hear that news, as I am sure Members from across the House will be. We probably should be clear that this law is gender-blind—the victim of stalking could be male or female. I remember a case in Coventry, where a male vicar was targeted by a female stalker. I absolutely welcome the funding, which is a sign of the intention to tackle a problem from which, sadly, too many women suffer. When a relationship is breaking down, or even when it is still going, it can go from love and affection to aggression, control and domination.
My hon. Friend should give himself more credit. This comes back to the point made by my hon. Friend Chris Philp. The Government of course focus resources on certain policy areas. I absolutely agree. They have spent £802 billion—that is what this Government do and they do it well—but when we state that we are spending this amount on a generic area, and that it is not ring-fenced to a particular offence or new legislation, people are somewhat left short. I am thinking of the free bus passes that the previous Government brought in. I was a district councillor, and we found that they were not funded at all, and the district councils took the rap.
My hon. Friend—I visited the Battle part of my hon. Friend’s constituency, at his invitation, earlier this year—makes a valid point. When I was deputy leader of Coventry City Council, the funding for free swimming passes was distributed. Bizarrely, some councils with swimming pools struggled with the amount of funding they received, yet one council received the funding even though it did not have a swimming pool. One council got the bill and another got the funding, so it was a bizarre situation.
To return to the Bill, I know that the Minister, who is in her place on the Front Bench, will be keen to reply to us to confirm how we see it being taken forward, implemented and explained in guidance. We should not get drawn into the amount of additional resource because this is also partly about the police officer who is looking for legal options to deal with a case and a victim. The Bill gives them that option. In many cases, that can be done with existing resources. It is about assisting officers in dealing with a situation that may otherwise escalate into a worse one—with a much more serious crime being committed, necessitating even more police resources—or one where they have to let it run, because at the moment the law does not quite kick in. The Bill gives officers an opportunity to make an application. I am certainly satisfied that the protection of requiring the application to be made to a court means that there will be a fair process, and this cannot just be used arbitrarily. As Members will have noticed, there is also provision for an interim order, pending a full application, if the court feels that is appropriate.
I would not necessarily say that this should be codified in an amendment, but it might have been helpful if my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch had spoken to his amendment to allow us to discuss the exact time the measure will be brought in. However, we certainly want to reflect on the fact that we need not just to pass legislation, but to provide an element of funding to ensure that it becomes of real help on the ground.
The amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes make eminent sense. They will strengthen the Bill and introduce additional tweaks to those measures introduced in Committee, and they will make the Bill even more robust as—hopefully—we send it in the not-too-distant future for scrutiny by their lordships. The Bill will be welcomed. I hope that hon. Members will support the amendments and that we will not be forced to spend time on Divisions that could otherwise be spent on Third Reading. I congratulate again my hon. Friend on the progress of the Bill so far.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Kevin Foster. He said that the House probably did not want to hear more, but he does himself a disservice. I was certainly left wanting more, and I look forward to hearing him speak on other matters, possibly later today. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston for introducing this important Bill. As a child I remember being a great fan of the Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett, and the episode that scared me the most was “The Solitary Cyclist”—
The Minister clearly shares that recollection. As a child I found the concept of a lone female on a bicycle being followed at distance by someone else on a bicycle absolutely terrifying. That was a drama, and without giving a spoiler to anyone who does not know the story, the gentleman was not quite as nefarious as perhaps the lady had feared at the start, but in summarising the sense of fear produced by stalking, that story left an indelible mark.
I wish to refer to a specific constituency case regarding this Bill, but I will keep it for Third Reading when I hope to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, because it is more a point of principle. It is a matter that I have previously discussed with the Minister, and I think it may well be raised in another place, perhaps by Lord Deben or the newly ennobled Lord Garnier. The point is incredibly important to me personally and to my constituency, so I shall keep it for Third Reading.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay I welcome amendment 1 on the Ministry of Defence police and the British Transport police, and I shall focus my remarks on that. South Suffolk contains the village of Wattisham. Strictly speaking the Wattisham Army airbase is in the constituency of my hon. Friend Jo Churchill, but many service people reside in my constituency. They live either on the base or in the nearby town of Hadleigh.
To underline the importance of that base, at the Remembrance Sunday service in Hadleigh the entire regiment and town come out, and we have a fly-past by Apache helicopters. I do not know what the probability is or what the statistics are on stalking occurring in those residential homes, either within the base or for service personnel who live in towns, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay that there is every reason to extend these powers to those officers because stalking could occur. Stalking is not confined to any part of society—it embraces all of society, including my constituents, and it affects men and women as both victims and perpetrators.
The British Transport police are often undervalued, but they perform a fantastic job protecting the transport network. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay referred to being on the tube at twenty to nine in the morning, and being uncomfortably and involuntarily close to people and their armpits—[Interruption.] I am sure you have experienced it too, Mr Speaker, and that is the nature of the tube at busy times. It can be quite unpleasant, but we grin and bear it so to speak. The point is that someone could be on that tube following, pursuing or stalking someone. I do not necessarily understand exactly when the order could be placed, and whether it would be done by the normal constabulary in respect of the person being stalked and their home address, or whether the British Transport police would have specific responsibility for doing that. I will leave that to finer legal minds than mine, but the logic of extending those powers seems straightforward, and I am happy to support the amendment.
I want to build on my hon. Friend’s powerful point by saying that, in my community, public transport is essentially how everybody gets around. People often travel on the overland or underground late at night, and this is a crucial amendment to a crucial Bill that I very much support. I am pleased that my hon. Friend supports the Bill, and I add my support to his.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Although most of her constituents use public transport, things are slightly different in rural constituencies where there is more dependency on the car, which leads on to a point about police resources.
I am very much enjoying my hon. Friend’s detailed remarks and his usual analysis of the Bill. Does he agree that involving the British Transport police—or, for example, the Metropolitan police—means that either/or, or even both could apply to the court? That is the approach they should adopt, rather than waiting to agree or thinking that the other force will act. Each force has the ability to apply once the evidence is there. Will my hon. Friend join me in encouraging information sharing between the forces so that we do not have half the evidence required with the British Transport police, and half with the Metropolitan police, without the two being put together?
That is a good point, and the fact that I am unable strictly to comment on it underlines why politicians should probably not have a role in frontline policing matters. We do, however, have responsibility for making the law and resourcing the police, and I want to focus on that point. My right hon. Friend Justine Greening made a good point about public transport. We have public transport in South Suffolk—indeed, many of my constituents wish we had more buses and so on, and there is one train station—but in rural constituencies people overwhelmingly rely on cars. This is an issue of police resources. On many occasions I have been happy to defend the Government’s position of enabling police and crime commissioners to decide whether to raise the precept to fund the police, but if we pass laws that may result in more being asked of the police, we must ensure that they have the resources to carry out those tasks.
Putting aside the money coming from the precept, we feel concerned that the funding formula penalises Suffolk. Norfolk is a very similar county in many ways—of course, it is not quite as good in some respects—and it receives about £1 million more per year than Suffolk for no obvious reason, and significantly more per head, which is even more indefensible. I very much welcome the funding to deal with violence against women, but will it be distributed to forces under the current formula, and how will that be determined? Stalking is a terrible crime that we all oppose—that is why we are here to support the Bill. If it is that serious a crime, and if the police are to be given more resource to deal with it, how will that resource be distributed and where will it come from?
I support the amendment but I have a caveat about resourcing. As the Minister will be aware—perhaps the note from the officials is on this point; I hope it is—on funding we must take rurality into account, and not just in terms of reliance on the car. I submitted a written question to the Home Office to ask whether it has considered the difference in cost between rural and urban policing, and it responded that no such study has been undertaken.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the impact of rurality. Does he agree that in that context it is even more important to consider technological solutions, so that individuals are able to record and report allegations that relate to stalking or other offences, without necessarily having to make long journeys to local police stations to make a statement? Only by properly harnessing technology can the police truly build effective prosecutions that lead to justice.
I talked earlier about my lack of expertise in police matters, but of course my hon. Friend has considerable expertise on criminal law matters. I am sure he is correct about the role of technology.
My final point on funding relates to pensions. As I believe all hon. Members are aware, the police will be required to make additional pension contributions and they will have to be funded. There is no choice in the matter. On the strategy of using the precept, whether to raise funding for more resources to deal with stalking or any other crimes or issues that present a resource challenge to the police, it is one thing for me to say to my constituents in Suffolk, as I do, that I defend the use of the precept by saying, “You know that every pound raised is spent in Suffolk on our police”. However, if we are to raise that money and give it to the Treasury to fill a pension deficit, I think that argument becomes harder to make. On that basis, it would not be unreasonable for the centre to say, “Look, we’ve had to make an adjustment here. It wasn’t expected. Chief constables were not expecting this and therefore there should be central recompense.”
That is a pitch I make to the Minister because this is an incredibly important Bill. Stalking is a terrible crime: a crime of cowardice and bullying. On Third Reading, I will refer to a constituency case that comes under that heading. If the police are to adequately deal with these measures, whether the British Transport police, the Ministry of Defence police or the constabularies in our counties and cities, they will have to be adequately resourced.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friends the Members for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster), and in particular my hon. Friend for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), who speaks with great knowledge of these issues. I congratulate my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston on introducing this very important Bill.
I would like to speak briefly to a few amendments. There is complete agreement among Members that stalking is an abhorrent behaviour that can have terrifying consequences for its victims. It can cause significant psychological damage and worse. Sadly, I have heard from constituents who have been victims of stalking just how it can take over their lives, not only when the stalking is happening but for years afterwards. It is therefore very important that we take action.
The House heard during our previous consideration of the Bill how the powers currently available to the police to intervene in stalking cases are insufficient. The responses to the Government’s consultation demonstrated that “stranger stalking” in particular is a form of crime that is not adequately addressed by existing laws. The passing of the Bill will send a very clear message to victims and perpetrators alike that stalking in all its forms is despicable, will not be tolerated and will have serious consequences.
Thanks to the excellent work of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes, the Bill has cross-party support, as well as the backing of the Government, so there are very few amendments for me to address at this stage. However, I would like to talk about a few. I welcome the broadening of the Bill’s scope that amendments 1, 2 and 6 would bring. We all recognise that there is a gap in the existing protective order regime, particularly in terms of provisions for early intervention in stalking cases or addressing emerging patterns of behaviour. Under the current regime, it is difficult to take any action in cases in which the criminal threshold has not yet been met, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham articulated, in which the stalking occurs outside a domestic abuse context, or in which the perpetrator has not been intimately linked with the victim previously.
One of the Bill’s most important benefits is the fact that it transfers the onus to take action away from the victim, giving other bodies—the police and the courts—the additional tools they need to intervene in stalking cases at an early stage. The amendments will ensure that access to the new tools created by the Bill is not limited solely to local police forces in England and Wales, but given to the chief constable of the Ministry of Defence police and the chief constable of the British Transport police. It can only benefit the victims of stalking if we ensure that those other branches of our police forces are able to act on their behalf.
The technical changes made by amendments 3 to 5 put in place important safeguards that should reduce the likelihood that perpetrators of stalking could evade the Bill’s provisions. As colleagues will be aware, the Bill creates a new civil stalking protection order that will enable the imposition of both prohibitions and requirements on individuals who are deemed to be perpetrators of stalking. One of those requirements, introduced by clauses 9 and 10, is that any person subject to a stalking protection order would have to give their name and address to the police by attending the local police station and also notify the police if their address changes. There was, however, a lack of clarity in the Bill about when persons subject to an order would have to notify the police of any changes to their registered details. Amendments 3 and 4 provide important clarification by requiring individuals to give notice of their intention to change their name or address, rather than being able to inform the police after the fact.
Under the Bill as originally drafted, there was a danger that perpetrators with no fixed address could evade the requirement to register their details with the police. Amendment 5 addresses that directly by explicitly catering for the possibility that a perpetrator may not have a home address. All the amendments are eminently sensible and receive my support. I support the Bill and I look forward to speaking on Third Reading.
It is a pleasure and privilege to speak on Report. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston on promoting such an important Bill. I steered a private Member’s Bill through this place in my first year as a Member, so I know the many demands that can suddenly appear in the inbox and arrive down the telephone line the moment one is draw in the ballot, as there are any number of competing calls from non-governmental organisations and campaign groups. I can think of very few issues that are more worthy to pursue than the one that my hon. Friend has chosen.
It was a particular privilege to serve on the Bill Committee with my hon. Friend and to hear some of the examples from Members on both sides of the House. The core purpose of the Bill is to fill gaps in existing legislation and to ensure that our laws keep up with the changing pattern of stalking offences and developments in our understanding of them. It is a testament to the skill with which my hon. Friend has steered the Bill that it received overwhelming support from both sides of the House and that our proceedings in Committee were so straightforward. There was strong support for both the principle and the detail. She has rightly continued to work to ensure that every t is crossed and every i is dotted so that the Bill can fulfil its potential.
I join my hon. Friend Nigel Huddleston in speaking very briefly to the amendments, which will make this very good Bill even better. I think that most Members will welcome amendments 1, 2 and 6 as common-sense clarifications. We would expect most applications for protection orders to involve police forces that cover geographical areas in England and Wales, but it would clearly be undesirable to allow specific cases to fall between the gaps purely because the jurisdiction they occurred under was covered by the British Transport police or the military police. As my hon. Friend Kevin Foster suggested, the Civil Nuclear constabulary would be a sensible addition to those bodies, should the opportunity arise at a later stage of the Bill’s passage. Those three amendments clarify that the orders are not confined purely to what we might think of as police forces, but cover all parts of our police service.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire pointed out, when one of the core provisions of the orders is notification requirements, it is very important that those notification requirements are sensible and comprehensive. It would be frankly absurd to preclude people covered by the orders from being able to notify the appropriate authorities before they changed their name or address, but the Bill as originally drafted could easily have been interpreted as saying that the sole period within which people could make notifications was during the three days immediately after the changes came into effect. In tabling her amendments, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes has provided clarification and brought forward what most Members would see as common-sense provisions. Similarly, there is further clarification on people without a home address—particularly those of no fixed abode—and clearly, it would not be fit the purpose of the Bill if orders could not apply to people in such circumstances.
I think that this is an extremely important and welcome Bill, and the amendments will make it even better. I hope to catch your eye on Third Reading, Madam Deputy Speaker, to speak about the Bill more generally.
May I say what a pleasure it is to support the Bill and these amendments today, Madam Deputy Speaker? The whole House thanks my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston for her incredibly hard work on the Bill, helped by her members of staff. This has been a shining example of the House of Commons at its best: we have cross-party agreement; we know the direction of travel and the destination we want to get to; and we have had constructive criticism, questions and so on to help us to improve the Bill. In that spirit, I thank all Members who have contributed on Report.
If I may, I will reflect on my hon. Friend’s comments about Lady Astor being the first female MP. I have the pleasure of representing a seat for which the second female MP stood—we always remember the firsts for landmark events, but we tend not to remember the second. Margaret Wintringham represented the seat of Louth in 1921. She was the first ever British-born female MP—the second ever female MP—and she took a slightly different approach to campaigning than I or any of my colleagues, because she took a vow of silence during the campaign, which might commend itself to some of us in future.
In that spirit, I welcome these modest refinements to the Bill. Amendments 1, 2 and 6 will expand the list of chief officers who will be able to apply for the orders to the Ministry of Defence police and the British Transport police—we have heard from colleagues about the benefits that this could have—and they will be able to initiate related proceedings in connection with the variation and renewal of an order.
I listened very carefully to the observation made by my hon. Friend Kevin Foster about the Civil Nuclear constabulary. Its role is to provide security for nuclear material and sites, and of course we recognise that that covers workplaces. I am mindful of figures that were released only yesterday by the Office for National Statistics. It compiled a bulletin of data from the national stalking helpline, which is run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. In an analysis of the calls to the helpline, which is an incredibly important facility, it looked at the types of stalking behaviours experienced by callers who reported stalking by an ex-partner or family member, so it was restricted to, as it were, intimate relationships, as opposed to stranger stalking. None the less, I note that 4% of calls reported stalking in or through the workplace, so my hon. Friend raises a very good point regarding the Civil Nuclear constabulary, and we will look into that as the Bill proceeds through another place.
I thank the Minister for her detailed response and agree with her proposed approach. As I said, the reason why I raised the point was because the Ministry of Defence police focuses fundamentally on securing a base, but may react to incidents on the periphery of the base. It is about the police being part of the process, but I welcome her proposal.
Indeed, and I note that my hon. Friend James Cartlidge raised a more general point about service personnel. The Bill already covers acts of stalking by forces personnel against civilians, and stalking offences apply to service personnel automatically by virtue of the Armed Forces Act 2006. However, I will look into the points that he raised.
Stalking occurs across a range of contexts with devastating consequences. It is therefore essential that the orders are available to different police forces, and I am delighted that the amendments will help us to achieve that. While I am speaking to clause 1, and I have notified my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes about this—who knows, it may be that my legal skills are causing me to examine the text too carefully—I want to commit to clarifying the terminology in the clause, which moves between “defendant” and “person”. I want to make it absolutely clear for the police, those who litigate on their behalf and magistrates how the Bill should be navigated, so I will provide clarity on the use of terminology in the other place.
Before I move on to amendment 3 and 4, I want to thank my hon. Friend Alex Chalk for his speech. I will be more loquacious about his contribution to this issue on Third Reading, but I note his point about the police updating their processes to include, for example, the use of apps to help to record instances of stalking. I will explore that with the police, because it seems to be a very valid point.
I am grateful for the observations from my hon. Friends the Members for South Suffolk and for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) on police resourcing. We make an economic impact assessment of the effects of any Bill, so one has of course been conducted for this Bill. I heard what they said about the police settlement, which they will both know is coming forward in December. We have managed this year to provide a further £460 million for policing, with the help of police and crime commissioners, but it is very important that we listen regarding any further support that can be given in pressing the case for dealing with the challenges of changing crime in the 21st century. The full economic impact is a reason why we have not placed a commencement date in the Bill. That point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay, and I will deal with that at the end of my speech.
Amendments 3 and 4 will modify the notification requirements on a person subject to a stalking protection order. I am pleased that they have the approval of the House. Under the requirements as drafted, a perpetrator must notify the police of a change of name or address within three days of that change taking place. It enables the perpetrator to give such notice before the change takes effect. Amendment 5 caters for circumstances in which the subject of a stalking protection order does not have a home address, and mirrors the notification requirements relating to registered sex offenders.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay examined the issue of commencement dates. We propose to deal with that through regulations, and he will know that that is the usual way of enacting provisions in any Bill that receives Royal Assent. We have gone for the traditional or usual way of commencement because we are mindful that if the orders are to be used as effectively as all colleagues wish, there will be implications for the courts, legal aid, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Prison Service and the National Probation Service, as well as the police who will require training and who will make the applications. We want to allow a little time for that to bed in, and guidance will be issued as part of that.
I thank the Minister for the details that she is providing on commencement. Would she provide a rough timeline for the benefit of those following our proceedings? It makes eminent sense to give those organisations time to prepare, but I assume that we are talking about a matter of months, not years.
Most certainly. My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot give precise dates, but it is certainly months. We want to get this on the statute book, and put it in force as soon as possible. We have a date for consideration in the other place early in the new year, and we want the measure to be put into force as soon as possible. May I thank all hon. Members, including my hon. Friends, for their contributions to this stage of scrutiny, and commend the amendments to the House?
Amendment 1 agreed to.