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.