Amendment made: 6, page 8, line 9, at end insert—
““chief officer of police” means—
(a) the chief constable of a police force maintained under section 2 of the Police Act 1996 (police forces in England and Wales outside London);
(b) the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis;
(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;” —(Dr Wollaston.)
See the explanatory statement for amendment 1.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
May I begin by thanking the Minister and all her officials for the extraordinary amount of work that they have put into assisting with the Bill, and for everything that the Minister has done to progress the violence against women and girls agenda in the House? I also thank Daragh Quinn in my team for his work and for doing so much to co-ordinate and help with the preparation of the Bill. I also thank the many individuals and organisations outside the House that have made such a difference. I am thinking of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Paladin, the Gloucestershire Stalking Advisory Service, the National Stalking Consortium and many others, such as police and crime commissioners for Sussex, for Northumbria, and for Devon and Cornwall, as well as officers from Thames Valley police and Devon and Cornwall constabulary, I thank them for their valuable advice, and I also thank the stalking lead for the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
I would particularly like to pay tribute to colleagues and Members across the House for their work. Having listened to the characteristically thoughtful speech by my hon. Friend Alex Chalk, I pay tribute to the work that he has done, along with my hon. Friend Richard Graham, on stalking, which has made an extraordinary difference.
My hon. Friend is being extremely gracious. I thank her for introducing the Bill, which undoubtedly will be of benefit to my constituents in Aldershot and Farnborough. We are very grateful.
I thank everyone who has contributed today with thoughtful speeches and interventions, including my hon. Friend Kevin Foster, my neighbour, whom I join in his tribute to the police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall for her courage in talking about her experience. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), and for Dudley South (Mike Wood), for their thoughtful interventions. I thank the hon. Members for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), as well as my hon. Friends the Members for Croydon South (Chris Philp), and for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), for their ongoing and long-standing work. I greatly appreciate all the support that I have received from colleagues across the House.
As we have heard, stalking is an insidious and dangerous crime with devastating consequences for victims and their families. Acts that initially appear, as we have heard, to be trivial, when seen as a whole have an extraordinary effect, not just on the individuals immediately affected but on everyone around them. Stalkers contact not just members of the family—my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham spoke about his constituent, Dr Aston—but people’s workmates and neighbours. There is a sense in which it never stops. As we heard from my hon. Friend, it is often described as murder in slow motion. It affects people’s physical and mental health, leaving them feeling isolated and fearful. It can escalate rapidly. In the context of domestic violence, about 50% of threats of violence are acted on, and there are many examples in which stalking has escalated to rape and murder.
Stalking behaviour is much more common than people realise. About one in five women and one in 10 men experience some kind of stalking behaviour in their adult lifetime, according to the crime survey for England and Wales. It typically takes about 100 episodes of stalking behaviour for victims to come forward. That is what the Bill is partly about. It is also about raising awareness and allowing this to be taken seriously. We hear time and again of people coming forward to report stalking behaviour, but it is dismissed as somehow a compliment.
I am impressed by what my hon. Friend is saying, as it shows the great passion that she has brought to the Bill. We would all agree that it adds huge value by protecting our constituents and bringing greater security and peace of mind to those who have suffered from this, knowing that others may be better protected in future.
I thank my hon. Friend.
Raising awareness will help to encourage more people to come forward. There has been some encouraging progress. In the 2017-18 crime survey for England and Wales, there were more than 10,000 recorded offences of stalking, almost double the previous number of 5,313. The increase is likely to be due to improvements in the recording of the crime, rather than an increase in stalking. That is an important point: laws in themselves will not protect victims. A key focus is to make sure that we have better recording so that victims are more confident about coming forward. That does not mean that every instance of unwanted attention will lead to prosecution for stalking—of course not.
Stalking is a type of harassment characterised by fixation and obsession. As hon. Members have said, the Bill will allow earlier intervention, rather than allowing that to become a deeply ingrained pattern of behaviour that carries on for decades. We heard that Emily Maitlis’s stalker pursued her for more than two decades and even, disgracefully, managed to continue his behaviour from prison. There is a possibility that, if we can intervene at an earlier stage, we can stop this behaviour in its tracks, and I think that that is an important aspect of the Bill.
I pay tribute to the courage of all the victims who have come forward and spoken out. I am not talking just about celebrities; as we have heard, stalking affects people in their everyday lives, and stalking patterns of behaviour sometimes follow relatively trivial encounters. I pay particular tribute to Alexis Bowater, from my own area, for her long-standing work and her campaign for changes and increased protections.
I, too, welcome the courage of the people who have been able to speak out, but we should recognise that hundreds, if not thousands, of people throughout the country are unable to do so. I have heard victim impact statements read out in court from people who have not been able to come forward because the stalker’s behaviour has had such a negative impact that it has affected their mental and physical health, and their ability to conduct their daily lives. That has impeded them from speaking out, although they may have wanted to.
That is an extremely important point. There is, of course, another group who cannot speak out: those who have lost their lives at the hands of stalkers. Some of the most moving testimonies that I heard when I was preparing the Bill have come from families who have been bereaved by stalking. I am thinking in particular of the family of Alice Ruggles. I pay tribute to all those people, and I am grateful to the Minister for meeting some of them at a roundtable. I think that we were both struck by their personal courage and bravery in trying to change a hideous experience into an attempt to protect others in the future, and I thank them all.
Another point that has been raised today concerns the growth of online stalking. There is nothing new about stalking, but, sadly, what is new is the increase in the number of avenues that are open to stalkers. That is one of the reasons the Bill does not strictly define stalking. This is a rapidly evolving, changing field, and it is important for us to retain some flexibility. The number of avenues that are open has increased even over the last few years, and if we defined stalking too tightly, we might restrict future opportunities to head off stalking behaviour. The Bill leaves the definition open, giving examples of the kinds of behaviour that could constitute stalking. As I have said before, the point about stalking is the fixated and obsessive nature of it, and the fact that it is a form of harassment. That needs to be recognised as a whole. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham made an important point when he said that an app should be considered. That would enable the full picture to be seen, and I hope that the Minister will consider adopting my hon. Friend’s welcome suggestion.
The Bill is important because it fills a significant gap in the law relating to those who are subject to so-called stranger stalking—that is, stalking by someone who is not a former, or indeed current, intimate partner. It is also important because it takes the onus away from the victim. It means that someone else can come forward to apply for a civil stalking protection order on the victim’s behalf, rather than the victim’s incurring a huge amount of expense and trauma in trying to establish protections on their own behalf. That is one of the key features of the Bill. Moreover, because this is a civil order, it can be imposed on the balance of probabilities—although, importantly, breaching it is a criminal offence. There are real penalties, which I think have been lacking in the past. Stalking is punishable with up to five years’ imprisonment. However, the protection order is not intended to replace a prosecution for stalking. When the criminal threshold has been met, we would expect the police and the whole criminal justice system to go down that route, but we know that a case can take time to build. The point about a stalking protection order is that it could be there while that case was being built for a full prosecution.
My hon. Friend is making a very important point, not least for this reason. A substantive and full prosecution could allow the court to consider the entirety of the conduct in its full context, to ensure that the punishment was truly fitting and appropriate. If the prosecution related purely to a breach of a stalking protection order, the courts might not have the powers that they required, because the offending itself would not be fully set out. Does my hon. Friend agree?
Absolutely. Following the important work that my hon. Friend has himself undertaken, longer sentences are available following a full prosecution for stalking. However, as he will know, it takes time to build a case, and in the meantime the behaviour is allowed to continue.
Another feature of the stalking protection order is that it has both positive and negative requirements. It is a bespoke order, so it can allow the court to include a requirement to undergo a psychiatric assessment or, if necessary, to take part in a perpetrator programme. I hope that the Minister will look into perpetrator programmes, and what we can do to ensure that more of them are available where they could help.
The Bill also makes it possible to consider the full range of stalking behaviour in imposing prohibitions. For example, much more of such behaviour now encompasses online stalking. The orders would ensure that perpetrators not only registered their names and addresses, but registered all their names and addresses, and the aliases that they used. They could be required not to have encryption software on their computers, so that it could be demonstrated whether or not they were continuing to contact their victims using another means. If, for example, they did have encryption software, that in itself would constitute a breach of the order and a criminal offence. A bespoke order allows us to be flexible about all the different methods that perpetrators are currently using.
Some people may fear that we would use the orders in inappropriate circumstances. Others have suggested to me that a person who complains of being stalked may, in fact, turn out to be the stalker. That is why this must be a very careful process, and the orders must be demonstrated to be necessary to protect. They must pass that test. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham has already pointed out, there needs to be a very effective process for people to be able to come back and challenge the orders, and that, I think, is another important aspect of the Bill.
Overall, the Bill improves protection for victims against what is a really horrible crime, which is much more common than people realise. It fills a gap in the law for those who are victims of so-called stranger stalking, and I think that it has shown the House working at its best. Colleagues on both sides of the House have recognised the gap in the law and made constructive suggestions for improving it. I am grateful to everyone who has supported the Bill and helped it to make progress.
I would like to start by congratulating wholeheartedly Dr Wollaston, who, with her characteristic diligence, perseverance and cross-party approach, has succeeded in uniting the House behind these important measures that will protect victims and save lives. I can think of few tasks more important to this House than keeping our constituents safe, and she has done all our constituents a huge service through this Bill.
We have heard the emotional and chilling testimonies of constituents who have brought their cases to their MPs. They show why this Bill is so important, and it will undoubtedly ensure better and earlier protection for victims of these terrible crimes.
Far too many stalking crimes go undetected. In 2015, there were just 194 convictions for stalking offences. Yet, the crime survey suggests that one in five women and one in 10 men will be affected by stalking in their lifetime, while the under-publicised national stalking helpline has responded to almost 14,000 calls since it was established in 2010. Clearly the conviction rate is barely the tip of the iceberg.
Providing the police with the vital additional tool of this Bill is important to protect victims, and, importantly, puts the onus and the priority on the police. The hon. Lady knows that we wholeheartedly support this Bill and will continue to do so as it makes its way through the other place.
However, as is clear from this debate, it will be important to continue to keep the measures under review and look at what more might be needed in future in order to build on this architecture to ensure long-term safety and protection for victims. There are simply too many gaps in the current legislation as it stands. With increased technology and globalisation it is important that legislation covers cyber-stalking and crimes carried out from other countries, and it is also important that measures extend to strangers.
Last year the House amended the law so that perpetrators of stalking may now receive much longer maximum sentences. We know that the way that victims are dealt with is simply not good enough, however. Charges are amended and dropped with no notice and victims can be cross-examined by their own tormentor in court. It is a matter of deep regret that the Government have failed to bring forward a victims law, as promised in successive manifestos. It would enshrine the rights of victims in law and create important new measures to support victims. If the Government chose to bring forward such a law, they would have the full support of Labour for the creation of an independent victims advocate, who would help the victim navigate their fundamental rights at a traumatic time, when the array of services and institutions they have to deal with can often be overwhelming and bewildering. The rights of victims often end up, almost unwittingly, falling by the wayside in this process.
The measures in this Bill are essential for early intervention, not just because prevention is always better than cure, but because even before arriving at sentencing, victims of stalking face additional hurdles in their treatment by the criminal justice system. It has been shocking to hear that victims experience on average 100 occurrences before coming forward to report the crime. As with all serious crime, the police and the entire criminal justice system need an integrated and informed approach if the issue is to be tackled effectively. Better detection and better treatment of victims must be their priorities. That has been very apparent in today’s debate.
This insidious form of harassment has been acknowledged and recognised only over the last few years, and the impact on, and implications for, victims and the difficulties they face in attempting to get the authorities to take them seriously has been described by several Members. Alex Chalk made an excellent speech, in which he compellingly described this form of crime as “murder in slow motion”. He talked about how the victim’s freedom is constantly chipped away and horrendous psychological damage caused, and the feeling that the crime will not be taken seriously by the authorities. As constituents of mine have experienced, such crimes are sometimes taken seriously only once an actual violent crime has been committed.
Despite the obvious progress made since 2012, I have repeated conversations with the police about the difficulties they face in bringing successful prosecutions. As we know, access to the police and support for victims is at an all-time low, and there is serious concern that despite all the tools the police undoubtedly now have to tackle harmful crimes such as these and crimes of domestic violence and coercive control, they do not have the resources to devote to the kind of service necessary for the support of victims and for the required level of investigation to secure a successful prosecution. The numbers of these crimes are rising year on year while prosecution rates continue to fall.
Huw Merriman made the important point that, with such limited resources, it is inevitable that if the police are to focus on these crimes they will deprioritise other areas. He said that the Government have a duty to ensure that resources are continuously available to enforce the legislation that we bring forward in this place. The police are constantly frustrated that we reach for a legislative response in dealing with serious issues and crimes while not ensuring that they have the resources on the ground to get the job done.
That issue was raised by several other Members, too. James Cartlidge raised the issues that Suffolk experiences because of the funding formula; next-door Norfolk, with very similar issues and priorities, receives significantly more funding. The issue of the pensions gap was also raised, and the £165 million of further cuts for 2019-20, which is forcing police and crime commissioners to use their precept to plug the gap. The hon. Gentleman rightly said it was indefensible to ask local people to pay more in rates to plug a gap for the Treasury when that money should only be spent in the local area on local policing priorities.
Indeed, an unusually high number of Conservative Members have raised the issue of resources today and the fact that the police simply do not have the resources that need to be devoted to investigations in order to secure prosecutions for these crimes. Despite the rise in serious crime, this Government have cut the number of police officers by over 21,000 and continue to make cuts, with below-inflation budget rises even given the precept flexibility—and now there is the £165 million pension gap. Those cuts have consequences, and they are having consequences in every community in our country.
When our officers face this much pressure, it leads to the downgrading of crimes; that has been reported on a number of times over the last four or five years. To add to that, officers have not been sufficiently trained to tackle stalking crimes. That decreases the chance of prosecution even with new legislation. Police forces need the specialist resources required to address crimes such as stalking which touch on and concern violence against women in particular.
The measures in this Bill are vital but not sufficient. I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes again and all who have supported the Bill’s safe passage through the House, particularly the Minister and her officials. It is a privilege to support this Bill and I wish it speedy passage through its remaining stages.
I thank my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston for introducing this important Bill, and for her assiduous work in bringing it forward. I also thank Opposition Members, including the hon. Members for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) for contributing powerful arguments this morning and situating this Bill and this change in the context of a wider agenda to prevent violence against women. Today we are taking an important step to protect victims of stalking, but it will not, of course, be the final step.
One reason why I am keen to speak in this debate is that I have constituents who have been the victims of stalking: the family of Alice Ruggles, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes has mentioned. Alice was murdered in 2016 by Trimaan Dhillon, who has now been sentenced to life imprisonment. Alice’s story is a perfect example of so many of the problems that my hon. Friend’s Bill seeks to solve. Alice had twice told police that Trimaan Dhillon was harassing her. He was given a police information notice, but that did not stop his obsessive behaviour. Later, it emerged that police had previously given Dhillon a restraining order for harassing another ex-girlfriend. Alice’s family have established the Alice Ruggles Trust to make the case for changes to protect future victims of stalking, and I pay tribute to them for their incredible courage.
I am therefore very pleased to support this Bill today. It will fill a clear gap in the protective order regime and protect people like Alice in the future. It will enable effective action to be taken against stalkers whose actions are not yet provably over the criminal threshold. As my hon. Friend set out, the instrument being created today is highly flexible and will enable us to cover all the different new types of stalking behaviour. At present too many people who pose a real threat to life are simply being repeatedly cautioned and given PINs, or action is simply not taken against them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes pointed to the fact that there has been a huge increase in the registration of stalking cases, and that is welcome. It suggests that the police are now taking this more seriously. I hope that creating this new tool for the police in the form of the stalking protection order will help to solve the problem. The sanctions that it will create will help to stop stalkers whose behaviour is escalating, and the prohibitions it creates will help victims to live without fear. My hon. Friend Alex Chalk made a powerful speech in which he talked about “murder in slow motion”, and about the fact that cases can go on for years and years.
This is a hugely important new instrument, and I hope that, as well as providing these direct benefits, its introduction will be a catalyst for the police to improve their handling of stalking cases more generally. A report published last year by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service found that people who had suffered repeated harassment or stalking were frequently being let down by under-recording, by inconsistent services and by a lack of understanding in the criminal justice system.
In one of the most powerful parts of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, he described why these cases are so hard to tackle, and how something that can start off seeming slightly unsettling can shade off into something more sinister and then become more and more worrying. At what point do the police, who are busy all the time, take action? That is why this is such an important piece of legislation, and I hope that it will trigger police forces to review how they handle stalking and to start following the best practice guidance set out by the charity Paladin. This is a hugely important piece of legislation. It is not the end of the story, by any stretch of the imagination, but the flexibility the Bill creates will allow stalking protection orders to be useful in a wide variety of circumstances. It will improve lives and I hope that it will save lives. I support it in the strongest possible way.
It is a great pleasure, as always, to follow my hon. Friend Neil O’Brien. Let me join other hon. and right hon. Members in extending my warm congratulations and thanks to my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston, who has conceived the Bill and steered it so expertly through the various stages of the legislative process. She does the whole country a great service in the work that she has done, and I am sure that all Members across the House are grateful to her for her hard work and for the expertise and dexterity that she has brought to bear in bringing this legislation almost to its final stage.
I was not going to make my own contribution today, but I should like to echo what the hon. Gentleman has just said about the cross-party spirit in which the Bill has been brought forward. It is also no mean feat to get a private Member’s Bill passed. We all know colleagues on both sides of the House who have secured their place through the ballot and presented a Bill to the House but who have not secured cross-party or Government support. I congratulate Dr Wollaston on the fact that we are here today supporting this Bill, and I look forward to its making progress and being passed.
I strongly agree with the hon. Lady’s comments. The House of Commons is at its best when we come together and find cross-party consensus on these issues. This is often evident only on a Friday when private Members’ Bills such as this are being debated. Perhaps it would be better if we could find similar common ground on other days of the week. Who knows, maybe we will do so in due course.
My hon. Friend’s Bill fills a lacuna in the current legislative framework. My hon. Friend Alex Chalk laid this out with his characteristic forensic attention to detail during his speech on Report a short while ago. He made it clear, very powerfully, that the tools available are not adequate to deal with this particular category of emerging stalking that we are addressing today. For example, the measure of taking out an injunction in the civil court is extremely complicated and expensive, so it is unreasonable to expect a victim of stalking to have to take out their own injunction in the county court or the High Court. Restraining orders generally follow conviction, or at the very least they follow court proceedings, so that occurs only when the problem has become so serious that the threshold of criminality has clearly been crossed and, generally speaking, adjudicated on by a criminal court. Bail conditions only follow arrest. So the measures of restraining orders and bail conditions cannot be used at an early stage in the pattern of offending. That is why the measure that we are debating today is so welcome; it gives victims protection at a very early stage in the process of the offending behaviour.
In the consultation that the Government ran on this legislation, 69% of respondents felt that the current legislative arrangements were inadequate and that something more was required. There is no question but that these stalking protection orders will fill the gap identified by those respondents. The gap is powerfully illustrated by a conviction that was handed down yesterday by the Crown Court in Hove in Sussex. The defendant who was convicted was in fact a resident of my borough, Croydon, and unusually it was a female defendant. Most defendants in these cases are male. This defendant, Lina Tantash, aged 44, is a resident of Croydon and she was jailed yesterday for four years for stalking offences that had carried on over a period of 10 years. The conviction applied to three of those years. She had persistently harassed and stalked the victim by turning up unexpectedly at his place of work—even turning up at his office Christmas party—by making thousands of phone calls and by offering money to his colleagues to provide his personal mobile phone number. Eventually, the victim had to leave the country.
This was a serious pattern of behaviour that took place over many years. When the sentence was handed down yesterday, it was accompanied by a restraining order to prevent any repeat of the offence, but by then it was far too late. Had this legislation been in place some years ago, it would have been open to the victim to go to the police and ask them to seek a stalking protection order. That would have prevented the offending from getting to that serious stage and it would probably have prevented the need for a criminal conviction. It would have protected the victim, but in a sense it would also have protected the perpetrator, because they would never have reached the point of facing a four-year prison sentence. This legislation would have benefited both the victim and the stalker, because it would have prevented the stalker from ending up with a criminal conviction. One of the most powerful elements of this proposal is that it can prevent the offending from escalating in a way that is damaging to everyone.
I have listened attentively to what the hon. Gentleman has said about that specific case. I served on the original stalking commission. Stalking is wrong, and it is women who are affected in a huge proportion of cases. Does he not think that this country should have some sort of universal Bill of Rights for women to be free of violence? We need to guarantee that women can be free from the fear of violence, whatever their ethnicity and whatever part of the country they come from.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right to point out that the vast majority of victims of these terrible crimes are women. He is also right say that we should ensure that women from all backgrounds are protected. He made reference to a Bill of Rights that was gender-specific, but I believe that rights are universal and that they should be enjoyed by people regardless of their gender or race. However, his objective—that women should be completely protected—is one that I wholeheartedly agree with.
I made a speech in Westminster Hall in 2009 about what I knew to be going on in the gangs working across our cities who were preying on women and on children in care. At that time, the police were saying to me, “Well, guv, it’s difficult. It’s expensive. And in their culture, certain things are acceptable.” No violence against women is acceptable in my book.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There can be no excuses, based on cultural background or anything else, for the mistreatment of women in any way, whether that is stalking, forced marriage or female genital mutilation. All those things, and others, are abhorrent. No woman of any age or of any ethnic background should experience them, and categorically cultural background is no excuse; it does not make it okay.
Members on both sides of the House, and I hear agreement coming from the Government Front Bench, should all make it clear that it is totally unacceptable. There can be no excuses, and there can be no tolerance for these kinds of offences on any grounds at all. I am at one with the sentiments of Mr Sheerman.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the prevalence of these offences. Indeed, there were 1,000 reported cases of stalking in London in 2017, and there may, of course, be many more that were not reported. There were a further 12,000 cases of harassment. This clearly is a wide-scale problem, and the police need to focus on it.
I am pleased to hear that the Metropolitan police—I am a London MP, so I pay particular attention to the Met—have recently set up a stalking unit, but that unit has only eight officers. Clearly, if there are 1,000 stalking offences being reported, eight officers strikes me as quite a small number. I encourage the Metropolitan police to consider increasing the size of its stalking unit, bearing in mind the scale of the problem.
This is an excellent and welcome Bill. Its provisions should in no way deter the police or the Crown Prosecution Service from pursuing prosecutions where they find evidence of criminal behaviour. This does not replace criminal sanctions; it is an additional tool that should be used at a very early stage in the pattern of behaviour.
Clause 12 provides for the Secretary of State to issue guidelines suggesting to the police how and when these powers might be exercised. It is important that the police are proactive in this area and that, when a victim comes to the police, they respond energetically and proactively. Those guidelines are important to making sure that police forces across the country actually use these powers. This worries me sometimes. We pass legislation in this Chamber on all kinds of topics, but legislation is impotent and ineffective unless it is used and implemented by the public bodies it empowers. In this example, it is critical that the police actually use this legislation when they are approached by victims, and the House should keep a close eye on it to make sure that, once this legislation becomes active, it is used by police forces across the country.
A chief constable told a group of us only two weeks ago that the Crown Prosecution Service is very restricted in resources at the moment in taking cases forward. That was the police saying, “We can’t get the action because the CPS is in that position.” The budgetary concerns are broader than just the police.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for putting that concern on record. As we go through the comprehensive spending review next year, laying out departmental spending limits for the four or five years to come, it will be a good opportunity for Members on both sides of the House to make submissions to the Treasury on such issues to make sure that the resources are in place to enable the CPS and the police to prosecute people, as appropriate.
My last observation, in passing, is that I notice there is no formal definition of stalking in the Bill or in the interpretations at the end. When stalking is referred to, it is with a lower-case s. Stalking does not seem to be formally defined. I consulted my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, who drew my attention to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which lists some examples of stalking behaviour, but again it does not provide a precise definition. I wonder whether at some point, in future legislation, it might be worth our creating a more formal definition of what constitutes stalking to help police forces and the CPS in their work.
This is an excellent Bill and, again, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes on her fantastic work, her legislative dexterity and her perseverance in getting this Bill to Third Reading. The Bill fills an important gap in our current legislative framework. I am delighted to give it my enthusiastic and vocal support and, if necessary, to support it in the Lobby.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston on bringing this important Bill to this advanced stage. My only disappointment is that, in its current form, it does not apply to Scotland.
In Scotland stalking is covered under the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, section 39 of which includes some of the measures we discussed this morning. Section 39 specifically mentions conduct, especially the different kinds and modern forms of stalking. The conduct defined in that Act includes: following someone; contacting or attempting to contact them by any means; publishing material relating to, purporting to relate to or purporting to originate from them; monitoring their use of electronic communication; entering premises; loitering in any place; interfering with their property; watching or spying on them; or acting in another way that a reasonable person would expect to cause the victim to experience or suffer fear or alarm.
The 2010 Act has no provision for a stalking protection order, which my hon. Friend seeks to introduce today. If the Bill is successful, we can work with colleagues in the Scottish Parliament to make sure there is equality of law and equality of the protection of rights across the United Kingdom.
This truly is a British problem. In 2017-18 there were 1,376 reported cases of stalking in Scotland, up from 495 in 2011-12—a 170% increase in the incidence of stalking. I know from the personal experience of constituents coming to my office that geography is no hindrance to such crimes, and it is important that, across the United Kingdom, our citizens have the same rights and protections.
My hon. Friend Kevin Foster spoke on Report about the British Transport police—an issue that has been a bone of contention back home and has been debated here and elsewhere. It is particularly important that these powers include the British Transport police, because these crimes have no respect for geography. He accurately highlighted that busy commuter trains and other forms of transport are where individuals can be at the greatest risk, especially in this day and age when a mobile phone can be used to take a picture or a video of someone sitting on a train, reading a paper in a tube carriage or doing anything else on public transport. That is another realm of risk, and many years ago, or even in the 2010 Act, we would not have appreciated the current extent of that risk. Including the British Transport police and making sure we have a co-ordinated and joined-up approach across the United Kingdom are both important.
Many Members have spoken today about their experiences as Members of Parliament, and about the experiences of their constituents. A number of constituents have approached me with varying degrees of relationship and other issues, and whether they go to the civil courts or cross over to the criminal courts, it is important that such personal and individual matters are given the right expression and protection in this place.
Individuals can be affected in incredibly negative ways when what originally seems to be innocent following turns a lot more malicious. It is important to make sure that the protections are there for these individuals, which is why I started my speech by talking about the different forms of conduct. It is important that we consider the breadth of conduct.
I listened carefully to my hon. Friend Chris Philp, who talked about a definition of stalking. My hon. Friend Luke Graham has just raised that matter again. The real problem sometimes is that what seems innocuous to most people preys on the mind of the person who is being stalked, so a little thing that we may think is nothing actually has a huge impact. That is one of the problems of defining stalking.
I thank my hon. Friend, who makes, as always, a very wise contribution that is very welcome. As I was saying, it is important that we protect these individual rights and make sure that, no matter how seemingly innocent these actions are, people have the right protection so that the experience is right for them because it is about their own fear of harm and harassment.
I welcome the provisions to extend this to the British Transport Police and to make sure that the protections for individuals are there. I hope that, if my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes is successful with the Bill, she will work with colleagues in the Scottish Parliament as well to make sure that we have equal rights across our United Kingdom.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Luke Graham. Although this Bill does not apply to Scotland, it is great to see representation for Scotland in the debate—and eloquent representation it was, too.
It is a pleasure to join other Members in supporting my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston. Sometimes, I feel, we do not agree on other subjects, so it is excellent to be able to contribute to a debate in which we are perfectly aligned, the alignment being not just on our side of the Chamber but on both sides.
We have heard some excellent legal minds give their insightful view on this Bill, so I want to adopt a slightly different approach and use the latitude that is sometimes afforded to us on Fridays to give a public information broadcast. First, anybody who is at risk of stalking, experiences stalking or has family members who are being stalked should contact the national stalking helpline on 0808 802 0300. That line is run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. The interesting thing about it is that it is a freephone number from landlines, but it also free from a number of mobile service providers. Also, the number will not show up on someone’s phone bill if they are phoning from a BT line, which might be important for some people who are concerned about stalking and do not want information to be shown on their telephone bill.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust is a great source of information on stalking. Let just briefly remember why the trust was set up. Suzy Lamplugh was 25 years old in 1986 when she disappeared, and her parents, Paul and Diana, set up the trust to provide incredible support to people who are victims of the type of terrible tragedy that they have experienced and to others who are victims of stalking. The trust receives money from the tampon tax fund, from which the Government contribute approximately £15 million a year, using money taken from VAT on sanitary products to support organisations that provide support for disadvantaged women. The trust is one of a number of organisations that that supports. It is a fantastic charity. It was very tragically in the news most recently because police excavated the site of John Cannan’s mother’s house to try to finally find evidence to attribute the crime to him.
The trust is not the only charity that provides support in this field. In preparation for this debate, I also came across the Hollie Gazzard Trust. Last night, I tried to download the Hollie Guard app, which I thought I might be able to utilise to offer some feedback to the House on its efficacy or otherwise. Unfortunately, it is necessary to register to use the app and I am still awaiting notification that I can be registered as a user. However, I believe that it provides a valuable tool. If someone is walking home and feels that they might be vulnerable, the app enables them to register their start and final destination. It will track their progress and, if they do not arrive at that destination within a prescribed time, it can alert people they have predetermined from the contacts in their phone. It can also turn the phone into an alarm so that it gives out a high-pitched noise and the torch comes on as well to attract attention.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for doing the research and finding out about that. I know Nick and Mandy Gazzard, the parents of Hollie Gazzard, and they will be absolutely thrilled to hear that he has, first, researched it, and secondly, accurately identified precisely what it does. Good for him—I am very grateful.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I would like to further endorse the work of Nick Gazzard. In December last year, West Midlands police operated a Facebook page where people could type in comments if they had concerns about stalking, and Nick was responding to those comments with Detective Inspector Jenny Bean from West Midlands police. He is doing incredibly valuable work and supporting people, following the terribly tragic circumstances of his daughter’s death in February 2014. The joint report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the CPS inspectorate identified 112 stalking cases that were not dealt with correctly, and in 60% of cases a risk assessment was not prepared. Clearly there is some work to do, but it certainly sounds as though West Midlands police are doing their best to make sure that they address this.
I would also like to mention Black Country Women’s Aid, which set up a stalking support service in January this year, also funded by the tampon tax fund. I thank Lorraine Garratley for her support and the information that she has provided me with in preparing for this debate. The group provides support for women and young girls over the age of 13 to help them through this difficult experience.
Again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes. I completely endorse this Bill.
I, like every Member in this House today, thank my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston for bringing forward this Bill. I pay tribute to the work done by the Ministers, officials and many people across both sides of the House in making sure that this happens. I look forward to voting in favour of the Bill in a short while.
As I said on Report, stalking is an abhorrent behaviour, and its victims often suffer devastating consequences that should not be underestimated. It has widespread ramifications for the victim. It not only severely impacts their mental state but can affect their careers, their relationships, and so many other things. The relentless nature of stalking, often over a period of many years, can leave the victims feeling absolutely helpless. This is exacerbated by the high threshold that must be met under the current regime for police to be able to intervene. There are many improvements in this Bill that will change things substantially.
Stalking is commonly misunderstood. Reporting unsolicited advances or a bombardment of messages can seem trivial if not considered as part of an overall pattern of harassing behaviour. Some victims have said that they were made to feel as though they were overreacting, or even wasting valuable police time, when trying to report their experiences. As one constituent of mine said about their own experiences of being stalked: “No one considers me seriously. There is no emergency but I am living with things that I simply should not have to live with.”
We should also remember that stalking can be a gateway to other criminal behaviour and often escalates, sometimes to the point of rape and murder. I welcome the fact that this Bill makes it clear that, where the police are empowered to apply for a stalking protection order on the basis that it is necessary to protect a person from risk, this risk can be of either physical or psychological harm. The risk element is key. Much progress has been made on the reporting of stalking offences over the past few years, but much more needs to be done. Although the number of recorded stalking offences has trebled in England and Wales since 2014, prosecution rates have significantly declined. It is clear that there is a gap in the law and the powers available to the police are not sufficient to tackle stalking in its various forms. As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes said, an astonishing one in five women and one in 10 men have experienced stalking behaviour in their lives, and this Bill will help police effectively to address the huge volume of cases that have not become criminal but are nevertheless emotionally traumatic for the victim.
I suspect that there is a problem between the stalking and the reporting of it and, in some ways, a higher level of reporting is a good thing because it means that more people are coming forward with their concerns. I do not think we will ever be able to get a fully accurate record because there will always be situations and circumstances where some people, for whatever reason, do not wish to report.
Three or four years ago, the stalking commission looked at this issue. Anonymity and social media are very much at the heart of this, as there is this wicked ability for people to insinuate themselves into someone else’s life anonymously through social media. The people who run social media have a lot to answer for.
The hon. Gentleman is making a valid point, and I certainly hope that the online harms White Paper, which will be coming out before the end of winter, will address some of these issues, too. I understand that the White Paper is being produced jointly by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office, and I am sure this will be much debated again. The social media companies have a lot of power and a lot of responsibilities, but they have to take those responsibilities seriously.
I spoke earlier about the dangers of stranger stalking and I will not repeat those comments now. I just want to say in conclusion that this Bill sends a clear message that stalking is a crime that the Government take seriously and that all of us in Parliament take seriously. It has a devastating impact on people’s lives, and I fully support all the measures in the Bill.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston on successfully steering this important Bill through the House. May I also take this moment to pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and for Gloucester (Richard Graham), both of whom have done so much work over the past few years to ensure that those who are convicted of the terrible offence of stalking meet the justice they deserve? My thanks also go to Conservative colleagues, and to colleagues from across the House, many of whom speak to me quietly behind the scenes about cases that concern them and that their constituents have suffered. Those Members know who they are, and I thank each and every one of them for their help.
Stalking is a terrible crime that still affects literally millions of people and often makes their lives a misery. The title of last year’s inspection report, “Living in fear”, sums up well what it feels to be as a victim of stalking. I am proud of the actions that this Government and their predecessors have taken to reduce that fear, from the original Protection from Harassment Act 1997—we heard from Mr Sheerman about the role he played in that—to introducing the specific stalking offences in 2012 and the funding we have given to the excellent national stalking helpline.
At this point, may I just thank my hon. Friend Eddie Hughes for his speech, which was public service broadcasting at its best? He made the important point that there is help available, albeit we sometimes need to search for it, and that is something that I have very much taken away with me. That helpline has helped almost 14,000 callers since 2010, as the shadow Minister said, and 94% of those callers say that they feel better about their situation immediately after making contact with that helpline. There is clearly a need, and the helpline is playing a huge role in helping victims.
Other projects are going on across the country to deliver innovative solutions to tackle this terrible crime. The Metropolitan Police Service, in partnership with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, has received more than £4 million from the police transformation fund for a multi-agency stalking interventions programme to share best practice and learning on developing interventions to tackle stalking. Northumbria has received more than £600,000 under the violence against women and girls service transformation fund for the Northumbria Building Capability project, which includes a specific project on cyber-stalking. Several projects to tackle stalking are funded through the tampon tax fund, including the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which has received money to scale up its casework support service for women who are being stalked. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North mentioned Black Country Women’s Aid, which has received more than £200,000 to pilot the first specialist support service for victims of stalking across the Black country area and to conduct research on stalking.
Eddie Hughes, with whom I work on other campaigns, made a brilliant public service broadcast, but one thing he missed out was saying that when people are in trouble with stalking, MPs can help. MPs and our staff are very skilled at helping—we know about stuff—so please let us not underrate the job that MPs can do.
I very much agree. Cross-party co-operation really can and must happen on such issues. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that Members of Parliament can do a great deal to help, and I thank him for his work on this topic.
A project called YOU Trust is another example of work to help to tackle stalking specifically. It provides a victim support service to women who experience stalking, risk assessing all cases and delivering solutions appropriate to that risk. We are working closely with the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and other partners to raise awareness of stalking and to ensure that appropriate guidance and training are in place. Colleagues have been right to express concerns about the initial response of some police forces—although not all, by any means. It is right that we focus on the training offered to the police and ensure that their conduct is examined in inspections. That is why the findings of last year’s joint inspection report are so important. They are being addressed through a national oversight group chaired by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and the action includes revising the legal guidance on stalking and harassment and delivering updated mandatory training for prosecutors. [Interruption.] Sorry—would somebody like to intervene?
I do not know quite how to respond to that, so I shall move on quickly.
The 2017-18 performance data indicated that joint police and CPS work to take forward more prosecutions for stalking rather than harassment, when that is the right course, had a positive impact. I listened carefully to the observations of my hon. Friend Chris Philp, who quite rightly made the point that stalking protection orders are in addition to the ability to prosecute, not instead of it. He asked about putting a definition of stalking into the Bill or the underlying 1997 Act. As he rightly said, there is a checklist of behaviours in that Act, but we are conscious that types of stalking behaviour can change. Indeed, in 1997, when that Act was passed, cyber-stalking was unheard of—it simply did not happen. Sadly, time has shown that nowadays it can and does happen. I hope that the list of examples helps not only my hon. Friend but practitioners on the ground to understand what can fall into the category of stalking behaviour.
I acknowledge the observations of my hon. Friends the Members for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who both referred to the breadth of practices in stalking behaviour. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay mentioned specifically conduct against people’s political and religious beliefs, which was of course a very valid point.
At this point, may I also thank Luciana Berger, who is no longer in the Chamber? I look forward to joining her on Monday in this place for a day of commemoration and solidarity against those who continue to behave disgracefully towards Jewish people and to give support to the Jewish community.
I just want to put it on record that there is cross-party support for this excellent Bill. I also congratulate Dr Wollaston on introducing it.
The Minister mentioned behaviour. Surely one thing that we should be looking at is educating people about the behaviour that leads to stalking. Does she have any thoughts about what can be done to educate people to stop them stalking in the first place?
Very much so, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Again, I am happy to acknowledge the work, co-operation and collaboration on the Bill of Members across the House, for which I thank them. There are a number of projects, some of which I have already referred to, including in London with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, to help to intervene with perpetrators as well as to support victims. I hope that one of the most exciting aspects of the Bill is the potential for positive as well as negative requirements under the orders, such as requiring the perpetrator to seek mental health treatment if that is appropriate. I hope that the orders will bring about innovative thinking that is very specific to the person against whom the order is applied to help them to tackle their behaviour so that they do not continue to offend.
We all acknowledge that there has been a gap in the system, as was revealed in the public consultation in 2016, particularly around how to bring security to victims in the early stages of so-called stranger stalking. Early intervention is always important when tackling crime, but it is fundamentally so in the case of stalking, when apparently innocuous behaviour can often escalate into something more sinister, as hon. Members have been very good at describing today. I am delighted that this Bill will plug that gap and provide additional security to victims.
These orders will be a vital tool that the police can use to protect victims and to control the behaviour of perpetrators. As has been noted, one of their greatest virtues is their flexibility, permitting positive and negative requirements that will help to stop perpetrators from behaving as they have been. Of course, the ultimate sanction is available through criminal sanctions should people breach the terms of these orders.
Stalking can have devastating effects for women and girls; indeed, it can for men and boys as well, but we know from the evidence that the vast majority of victims are female. This measure will, I hope, be passed by the House just two days before the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which is on Sunday.
The Government are carrying out a whole raft of work on tackling violence against women and girls, not least by refreshing the VAWG strategy alongside introducing the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which I hope to bring to this House before not too long.
I must finish by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes for introducing the Bill, the officials who have advised me and who have worked so hard on the Bill, and hon. Members across the House for their help with the Bill, including those who served on the Bill Committee.
I finish by reflecting on the people whom this Bill seeks to protect: the victims of stalking and their families. My hon. Friends the Members for Totnes, for Harborough (Neil O'Brien), for Cheltenham and for Walsall North, as well as other Members, referred to families who have lost loved ones as a result of stalking. I have had the privilege of meeting Mr and Mrs Ruggles, Mr Gazzard and others during the passage of the Bill and through our work more generally on stalking and harassment in the Home Office. This Bill is for them. It is to protect their families, their friends, their work colleagues and so on, and it is about trying to ensure that the terrible, terrible cases of stalking that we have heard just a little about today do not happen in future, and that we keep the victims of stalking safe.
I thank the Minister, her officials and Members on both sides of the House. This debate has shown Parliament at its best. I look forward to the Bill making progress in the other place, and I thank Baroness Bertin for taking it forward.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.