I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 2.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 70, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.
Lords amendment 72, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 114 to 116, Government motions to disagree, and Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.
Lords amendment 141, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 142, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 3 to 57, 59, 60, 108 to 113, 117, 147, 153 and 154.
I propose first to talk about some of the key changes made to the Bill in the other place as a result of amendments brought forward by the Government, then to turn to the Lords amendments with which, sadly, the Government disagree for various reasons.
The Bill as passed by this House already included a number of significant measures to tackle violence against women and girls, and we have added to them during the Bill’s passage in the Lords. Lords amendments 13 to 15 make it clear in the Bill that domestic abuse and sexual violence are included within the meaning of the term “violence” for the purposes of the serious violence duty. It was always our wish that the serious violence duty should be all-encompassing, but following representations by Baroness Burton and others who were concerned to emphasise its importance, we are happy to agree to this being included in the Bill. The accompanying statutory guidance, which will be subject to public consultation, will make it clear that local areas, in drawing up their strategies to prevent and reduce serious violence, can and should include measures to tackle domestic abuse and sexual violence based on their local assessments.
With regard to Lords amendments 34 to 55, on Report in this House the Minister of State, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins, reiterated the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the provisions of the Bill relating to the extraction of information from electronic devices are accompanied by strong privacy safeguards. These Lords amendments deliver on that commitment. Among other things, they add a new clause setting out the conditions that must be met in order for a device user to be treated as giving agreement to the extraction of information. These changes will increase victim confidence and ensure that the individual’s right to privacy is respected and placed at the centre of all investigations.
Lords amendment 56 will create new offences to criminalise recording images of, or operating equipment to observe, a person at a time when they are breastfeeding, without the person’s consent or reasonable belief that they consent. On Report, Stella Creasy made a powerful case for introducing such offences. Although at that time we made it clear that the Law Commission is currently reviewing the law in this area, we do believe that this amendment will ensure that parents are protected from non-consensual photography and can feel safe to breastfeed in public, ahead of the publication of the Law Commission report later this year.
Another compelling argument was made on Report last July by Yvette Cooper and my hon. Friend Tim Loughton, who is sadly not in his place, to address concerns that the time limit for bringing prosecutions for common assault or battery involving domestic abuse is unfairly short. Currently a prosecution for common assault or battery must be brought within six months of an offence occurring. However, victims of domestic abuse may often, understandably, take some time to report an offence, leaving the police and the Crown Prosecution Service with little time to conduct an investigation and prosecute the offender. In some instances, the time limit has expired before the victim even approaches the police. To address this issue, Lords amendment 57 will extend the time limit for commencing a prosecution for common assault or battery involving domestic abuse so that the six months runs not from the date when the offence occurred but from when it is formally reported to the police through either a witness statement or a video recording made with a view to use as evidence. A prosecution must be commenced within an overall limit of two years of the offence. This amendment will make a real difference to victims of domestic abuse and stop perpetrators hiding behind an unfair limitation on victims’ ability to seek justice.
Lords amendments 59 and 60 will ensure that the police’s processing of personal data in non-crime hate incident records is made subject to a code of practice issued by the Home Secretary. The amendments will address concerns raised by my hon. Friend Philip Davies, also sadly not in his place, in this House and by Lord Moylan and others in the other place by bringing parliamentary oversight to this process. The College of Policing is currently responsible for producing non-statutory hate crime operational guidance. The Government’s statutory code of practice, once in effect, will replace the relevant section of this guidance on non-crime hate incidents. The college’s guidance will remain in place until the new code enters into effect. When drafting the code, the Government will work closely with policing partners, including the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, to make sure that it will respect the operational importance of recording non-crime hate incidents to help to keep vulnerable people and communities safe while balancing the need to protect freedom of expression.
Let me turn to the Lords amendments that the Government cannot support—at least, not in their current form. Lords amendment 70 would require the Secretary of State to establish a review of the prevalence of, and the response of the criminal justice system to, the offence of administering a substance with intent under section 61 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003—commonly known as spiking. The Government share widespread concern about the offence that has prompted this amendment, whether spiking of drinks or spiking by needles, and we are taking the issue extremely seriously. I particularly commend my hon. Friend Richard Graham for bringing forward his recent ten-minute rule Bill on this issue. Everyone should be able to enjoy a night out without fearing that they will be a victim of this dreadful crime.
In September 2021, the Home Secretary asked the National Police Chiefs Council to review urgently the extent and scale of needle spiking. It is clear from what the police have told us that this behaviour is not exclusively linked to sexual activity and that it demands a response that goes beyond the criminal justice system. We have therefore tabled our amendment in lieu of Lords amendment 70, which is drafted more broadly than the Lords amendment and is not linked to any specific offence. It will require the Home Secretary to prepare a report on the nature and prevalence of spiking and to set out the steps that the Government have taken or intend to take to address it. In this context we are also exploring the need for a specific criminal offence to target spiking directly, as my hon. Friend recommended in his ten-minute rule Bill. The Home Secretary will be required to publish this report and lay it before Parliament within 12 months of Royal Assent. In preparing the report we will want to take into account the findings of the current inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee. This approach addresses the concerns that prompted the Lords amendment but in a way that enables the Government to consider the issue in the round.
Lords amendment 72 seeks, in common parlance, to make misogyny a hate crime. Hon. Members may be aware that in December last year, at the Government’s request, the Law Commission provided recommendations on the reform of hate crime laws. Looking very carefully at this issue, it found that adding sex or gender to hate crime laws may prove “more harmful than helpful”, as well as “counterproductive”. The principal reason is that it could make it more difficult to prosecute the most serious crimes that harm women and girls, including rape and domestic abuse. Obviously such an awful unintended consequence is not the intention of those who tabled the amendment in the other place. As such, the amendment seeks to exclude certain offences where the risks to their prosecution are acute.
The Law Commission looked at every possible model and unfortunately also found the one proposed in the amendment unsatisfactory. Time is short and I do not want to dwell on all its problems, but the review identified that to reflect sex and gender in some offences but not others would make the law very complex and imply that very harmful excluded offences such as rape are less serious, would result in tokenistic coverage of many misogynistic crimes, and would create new inequalities in how different groups are protected by hate crime laws.
The inner house of the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest court, has recently clarified that in the Equality Act 2010 “sex” does indeed have the meaning set out in section 11 —that is, that it refers to one or other sex, male or female. Does the Minister share my concern that this amendment has that definition of “sex” but the word “gender” is undefined? Is he aware that many feminists feel that gender is not the same as sex and that in fact gender is a tool of sex-based oppression?
I acknowledge some of the problems with the amendment that the hon. and learned Lady sets out. I think it is Women’s Aid that rejected the amendment and said that it would do more harm than good on the basis that she outlined: it is not specific about targeting crimes against women in particular.
I would like to correct the record, because that is not what Women’s Aid has said.
The Minister highlighted the issue of a carve-out as being the reason why the Government do not believe in adding sex or gender to ensure that any perpetrator who attacks a woman or someone they believe to be a woman can be captured by the offences in question. I think we would all agree that is important, but he argues that the carve-out is not the right thing to do. Does he also make the same argument then that it is tokenistic to carve out offences based on racial or religious hatred, which we already do in our legislation? We have carve-outs. Stephen Lawrence’s killers were not prosecuted for a hate crime, but we recognise the hate behind it. Why does he think that women do not deserve the same protection?
I had hoped to avoid the approach that the hon. Lady takes. Of course we believe that women deserve strong protection—we absolutely do—but all I can say to the hon. Lady is that the Law Commission, in looking at the evidence over a three-year period and consulting widely across the sector and society more generally, found that the additional complexity was likely to make it harder to prosecute these crimes. I ask her to reflect on the fact that in proceedings in this House, she put her name to an amendment compelling the Government to adopt the Law Commission’s proposals in full. I am not sure why she has now reversed that position, but I hope she appreciates that we are as dedicated to and interested in the safety of women as she is.
My right hon. Friend and I worked hard on the issues underpinning the Bill and on the Bill itself. May I press him on Lords amendment 72? I accept that the amendment is defective. It does not create a new offence, however, but is about aggravating factors in sentencing. I commend to him the positive findings of the Law Commission, namely its proposal to develop an offence of street harassment, albeit with a sexual motive. I take issue with that—I think it needs to be a wider offence of street harassment, because we need to deal with wider issues than sexual motive—but I press the Minister to commit the Government to getting on with work on the Law Commission’s important recommendation to create a new offence based not just on racial hatred, but on hatred motivated against gender or sex.
My right hon. and learned Friend is right that we need to have a serious look at the suite of offences used in this area. He will know that many street harassment offences are classified as some kind of public order offence. That causes a number of problems, not least the lack of transparency with the police’s analysis of what is going on out there in our streets.
There are three further areas of work that we want to turn to, as we sadly reject this amendment, well motivated though it absolutely is, on the basis of the Law Commission’s evidence. Those three areas are first, as my right hon. and learned Friend says, to adopt the Law Commission’s other proposal of looking at a specific offence of public sexual harassment, as my neighbour, my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes, asked for today. Personally speaking, I think it could be a new offence, but it could be some amendment to public order offences to allow us to deal with this particular issue.
The second area is police recording. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon has raised the issue a number of times with me outside the Chamber, and he is right that we need to look carefully at the forces recording data at the moment, what they are learning from it and what impact it has, because the Law Commission was equivocal about the value of that recording. I am not convinced personally, and I would like to understand what impact it is having from a policing point of view.
The third area of work I would like to see is encouragement of reporting. One of the key things, whatever the offence type, is that we know a lot of women, particularly in the public realm, who are harassed do not have the confidence to come forward or do not think anything will happen if they do. I am pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Rachel Maclean, is today launching an extensive communications campaign called “Enough”, encouraging bystanders and peers to report this kind of behaviour to the police.
I have listened with care to my right hon. Friend, and I accept what he says. I am encouraged by what he says about development of the law. May I press him on reporting and recording? As part of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 process, we undertook to ensure that recording was rolled out nationally. That was more than a year ago. For that to happen, there must be proper expedition on this. It is no good saying that there is not a particular offence on which the police can hang this recording. We need to get on with it, because the time is coming, sooner or later, when there will be a relevant offence, and I would rather that the Government were ahead of the pack rather than behind.
I completely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend, and I am as impatient as he is, not least because I am keen to kick off some analysis programmes looking at particular patterns of behaviour in particular postcodes. We men all know women who have been subject to this kind of abuse out in the public realm. My personal theory is that this sort of behaviour is not something a man does once. Much of this offending is repeated, and there are prolific offenders in particular neighbourhoods who could and should be identified, and they would be if we were better able to record it and had more transparency from a public order offence point of view. That is what we will be committing to do.
I am grateful for what the Minister has said, particularly about the early amendment on spiking. On this particular offence of misogyny, can we have it on the record in this House that no one in this House has any time for misogyny? The issue is purely one of law and what will be most effective. Everything that my right hon. Friend the Minister has said in answer to my neighbour, my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland, is extremely relevant. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that some police forces, such as my own—Gloucestershire constabulary—are recording data on this and believe it to be useful? I hope he agrees that that could be an encouraging form of evidence towards the aggravating factor he referred to earlier.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and he is absolutely right that we need to look carefully at the recording patterns and what they are telling forces such as Gloucestershire about how they can and should intervene in particular neighbourhoods. We then need to look to other forces exhibiting the same patterns of offending, but not necessarily recording it, so that we can act to spread this kind of practice more widely.
I am encouraged by my hon. Friend’s sense of cross-party enthusiasm for this issue. I know that some in the House—I am not sure necessarily anybody present here—would seek to make it a political issue, but as the person who devised and published the first ever violence against women and girls strategy in the entire country when I was deputy Mayor for policing at City Hall, I am proud of the work I have been able to do in this particular area over the past decade or so, and I hope I will do it for many years to come. This issue breaches all divides, because we are all sons, brothers, sisters, fathers—whatever it might be—and we all know people who have been subjected to this crime.
The amendment to the hate legislation does not create a new offence, and the Minister will be aware of that. I had a long discussion with the Law Commission last week, and it admits that not all women’s rights organisations agree with its view. Many organisations, such as the Fawcett Society and the Young Women’s Trust, support this amendment.
All I can do for the hon. Lady is quote from the Law Commission’s report, which I assume she has read, extensive though it is. It specifically states:
“We recognise that many people may disagree with our conclusion and find it difficult to understand given the prevalence of sex and gender-based violence and abuse…our recommendations have been decided…on the strength of the evidence and policy considerations before us.”
I hope she will understand that notwithstanding the division of opinion there may be, the fact that the Law Commission—after three years, and with weighty legal minds—disagrees with this move, along with large women’s organisations, such as Rape Crisis, means that in all conscience we cannot support an amendment that they say will make things worse. We have to commit ourselves to making things better and by other means, as my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland has pointed out. That is exactly what I am doing today.
I thank the Minister for all his work. I am concerned about how ladies and girls will have confidence in the processes coming forward. He has clearly said that the amendment is not acceptable because he feels that, legislatively, the Government are addressing those issues, but the people who speak to me—the ladies and gentlemen, and the young girls in particular—need to have confidence in the processes. I do not see that, so how will he legislatively ensure that that is there for ladies and girls?
I completely sympathise with the hon. Gentleman’s sentiment. Having been in this House for nearly seven years, I have often realised that we mistake the introduction of legislation for actually doing something out there on the street. Although we can and should legislate to make things crimes and to better dispose of them, we actually need somebody to take off their bicycle clips, walk out of the office or station and do something different out there on the street to make those of us in society who feel unsafe—particularly, sadly, women and girls—feel safer.
We are trying to give concrete life to that through schemes such as the safer streets fund, where we are specifically spending money on public realm improvements, whether that is CCTV or better street lighting, in areas where women and girls feel unsafe. I hope that the huge increase in police numbers that we are seeing at the moment will see more uniforms out there on the street in those areas where women and girls feel unsafe. There are wider cultural issues that we also need to address. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out, however, that legislation will only take us so far and that what is required is action out there on the streets.
It sounds a bit like the Minister is saying that the words we say in here do not really matter, but the legislation that we pass here, including making misogyny an aggravating factor, sends messages to people out there. When I sat on the Committee of the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019, the Government were clear that although other laws could be used to stop the awful practice of upskirting, it needed to be in a clear law against it. During the passage of that Act, they promised that they would look at and bring forward a measure to make misogyny an aggravating factor in hate crime. Why are they delaying on the promises that they have made?
I am sorry, but I am not sure that the Government ever made that promise. [Interruption.] Hold on, I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has read the Law Commission’s report. Has he read it?
The Law Commission report is unequivocal about the dangers that it may present. Stella Creasy is shaking her head, but the report’s conclusion says:
“We recommend that sex or gender should not be added as a protected characteristic for the purposes of aggravated offences and enhanced sentencing.”
That is the specific recommendation in the report. The Law Commission has much greater and more skilled legal minds than mine, and other groups do not support the amendment.
I realise that the issue is of great importance to hon. Members, and we must all reflect on the feelings of insecurity that women and girls feel in the public realm, but we are being told by the experts—by the Law Commission—that the measure is likely to do more damage than good. That is not necessarily a substitute for us not doing anything and I have outlined what more we may do, but the point is that we have to listen to the experts. To be honest, I am quite surprised that a party led by a former Director of Public Prosecutions would seek to ignore the Law Commission.
I would like to correct the record, because the Minister seemed to suggest that I was against what the Law Commission has said. He is asking all hon. Members whether they have read it so it is worth checking whether he has, because it says that there is a case for there being offences motivated by misogyny—for example, stirring up incitement or public sexual harassment. Those of us who have constituents such as Muslim women who get attacked in the street for being both Muslim and a woman recognise that misogyny is about not just sex but power, so we need offences to tackle that.
Does the Minister recognise that if the Law Commission is saying that there are offences motivated by misogyny, the risk of not including it as an aggravating factor is that we could end up in a whack-a-mole situation? For example, we could end up saying, “In these cases of incitement, what is incitement? In these cases, what might be sexual harassment?” It would be simpler to include it and it would recognise what the police are telling us. I stress that the police are telling us that they want this data and they want the courts to back them. They want misogyny to be treated in the same way as racial or religious hatred, because they see it driving crimes on our streets. I am pleased to hear that he is concerned for women, but women have had concern for donkey’s years. What we now want is action.
I can appreciate the hon. Lady’s requirement for action. As I say, action is what we are trying to put in place. To be clear, again, we are not saying that the fact that we are declining to make this Lords amendment means that we should not do anything. As I said to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon, there are further offences that we need to consider.
In fact, the Law Commission’s report went further and said that if we were to introduce that offence, it would complement other work on offences that may be coming forward, such as cyber-flashing, which my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller has raised several times in the House; rape threats; and intimate image abuse. There are several areas where we need to consider interlocking offences, and that work will take time beyond this Bill to get right. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North urged us, we are committed to adopting both recommendations of the Law Commission, and that is exactly the work that we intend to do in the months to come.
“Rape prosecutions are already at an all-time low, and we believe adding sex/gender as a protected characteristic would further complicate the judicial process and make it even harder to secure convictions.”?
My hon. Friend has put her finger on the button of the problem. It is not that we are unsympathetic to the issue—of course we are not. I just do not see how, given the views of large organisations and of the Law Commission, somebody could, with any conscience, vote for something that they are being told might be damaging. I understand that the hon. Member for Walthamstow is exercised by the issue—as are all hon. Members present—but we hope to address it in other ways and to look seriously at the further offence that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon has urged us to look at and bring it forward in future.
In support of the English Law Commission—hon. Members should be aware that the legislation applies only in England and Wales—in Scotland, when the Scottish Government were looking at introducing hate crime legislation, they rejected misogyny as an aggravating factor after submissions from Rape Crisis, Women’s Aid and Engender in Scotland. Baroness Helena Kennedy is now chairing a panel to look at that with a view to reporting. There are arguments on either side.
I am most concerned that if we are to have an aggravation based on sex or gender, gender must be defined. We already have a protected characteristic of transgender identity, which is very important, but in this Lords amendment, sex is defined but not gender. Does the Minister agree that, in future, we should define what we mean by gender so that people know what it means?
There are a number of definitional issues within the Lords amendment that produce fatal flaws, but I absolutely commend the spirit behind it. It comes from a good place and from a concern that we share. Given that legal expertise advises us against it and advises us to pursue another course, that is our intention and that is what we will do.
I turn now to Lords amendments 114 to 116, which relate to the piloting and national roll-out of serious violence reduction orders. I assure the House that we want to pilot them robustly, which is why the assessment of the pilot will be conducted by an independent evaluator and the Government will thoroughly consider the report’s findings before any decision is made to roll them out across the whole of England and Wales.
The report of the pilot will be laid before Parliament, but commencement regulations are not generally subject to any parliamentary procedure and the Government do not agree that that approach should be changed for SVROs. To assuage the concerns that have been raised in relation to the pilot, amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendments 114 to 116 will set out in the Bill a non-exhaustive list of matters that must be addressed in the report of the pilot.
Lords amendments 141 and 142 seek to create two new offences to tackle so-called sex for rent. We are clear that exploitation through sex for rent has no place in our society and is a revolting phenomenon. We therefore fully understand the motivation behind these amendments. There are existing offences in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 that can and have been used to prosecute this practice successfully, but we do recognise the need to do more to stamp out this abhorrent practice and to support those at risk of exploitation.
As we announced earlier this month, the online safety Bill will include relevant offences relating to the incitement and control of prostitution for gain in the list of priority offences that internet companies will need to take proactive steps to tackle. The Bill will capture user-to-user sites where the majority of sex for rent advertising takes place. Notwithstanding the existing offences in the Sexual Offences Act, we recognise the arguments for a more targeted offence to help stamp out this practice. Accordingly, I am pleased to announce that, ahead of the summer recess, the Home Office will launch a public consultation on this issue, which will enable us to engage further with victims groups, the police, the CPS and others on how the current legislation works in practice and to consider the evidence for a new bespoke offence.
On the consultation that the Minister will undertake, is it a very targeted consultation on the specific offence of sex for rent, or does it recognise the sexual exploitation of women in other areas and broaden it out to prostitution more generally?
I am grateful to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. I cannot give her a definition as it stands, but I am happy to write to her about the scope of the consultation. If she wishes to make representations about the scope, I am sure we will take them into account. However, we are very focused on the notion of a specific offence, so my assumption is that the consultation will be relatively specific.
It does sound, from what the Minister has shared, that this is seen solely through the prism of advertisements online—where there is a suggestion of sex for rent, but through an online medium—but is that right? Will any suggested proposal brought forward in this consultation cover media outside the online sphere?
We do believe that the online harms Bill will cover the vast majority of the offending where this is advertised, and I have to say that the vast majority of that these days does seem to be online. However, the hon. Member raises a very good point, and I will make sure that the team putting the consultation together consider whether we should include that in the scope of the consultation and if a further offence is needed.
I thank the Minister for giving way on that point. Shelter states that over 30,000 women since the beginning of the pandemic have been pestered by landlords to exchange sex for a roof over their heads. Does the Minister not think that there is more the Government should be doing to move this forward? How long is the consultation period, and what will happen in the meantime?
As I say, there are already offences being committed in those circumstances, and we have had successful prosecutions in exactly the circumstances the hon. Member outlines. Anybody who has been subjected to that kind of criminality should, I hope, feel in a position to report it. However, we need to look at whether there is scope for a more specific offence in this area, because at the moment some of the offending is dealt with through the prostitution legislation, which may not be entirely appropriate. The consultation that we will undertake before the summer recess will run for the normal period, and I hope we will then bring forward expedited legislation, possibly in the same vehicle in which we bring forward the further offences on street harassment. Let us see how we get on.
The other place has proposed some welcome improvements to the Bill, but it has also put forward some amendments that, while often well meaning and extremely well motivated, I am afraid we cannot commend to the House for the various reasons I have set out. I hope that the House will join me, as we support these various amendments, in sorting out what works and what does not, so that we can all move forward in this important area of policy.
Order. As everybody can see, the Lords amendments are in three groups. Please speak only to the Lords amendments in group 1 and do not stray into groups 2 and 3, as there will be opportunities to speak about those Lords amendments later.
I thank the Minister for his speech. He comes late to this party—he was not part of the Committee stage—and he has done well to catch up at this point.
We believe parts 3 and 4 of the Bill represent a power grab that bans peaceful protests and compounds inequalities, which is why we voted against the Bill in its entirety on Third Reading, but we also think that this Bill is a huge wasted opportunity. With crime up, prosecutions down, victims losing faith and criminals getting away with their crimes, there has never been a more crucial time to get to grips with law and order. Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have urged the Government to use this opportunity to move further and faster to tackle the epidemic of violence against women and girls.
Time and again, however, this Government have failed to act with the urgency that this epidemic requires. During the passage of the Bill, the Government have already rejected minimum sentences for rape and stalking, our plan to make street harassment a crime and our plans to protect victims with proper legal advice, but we still have time tonight, thanks to our friends in the other place, to make some changes. I urge the House to consider two Lords amendments in this group that the Government are rejecting that would make a real different to women’s lives.
I will start with sex for rent. Lords amendment 141 introduces a new offence of requiring or accepting sexual relations as a condition of accommodation. There are few things more horrific than someone using their power as a landlord or an agent to get sex. Predators advertise sex for rent blatantly. We can see in internet searches hundreds of adverts offering rooms or beds for free to young people, usually women, in return for sex. I understand the Government saying that they are going to look at this and potentially act at some point in the future, but women are being exploited all over the UK now and they cannot wait for another long Government consultation. As my hon. Friend Janet Daby has pointed out—the Minister needs to talk to Shelter to understand this better—the impact of the pandemic means that more people, especially women, are facing financial hardship, which is making them vulnerable to this vile exploitation.
I thank my hon. Friend for making such a fantastic speech. Does she agree with me that there needs to be a specific offence to punish landlords who engage in this awful practice of exploitation through sex for rent?
I absolutely do agree with my hon. Friend, and that is what we are trying to achieve tonight. This is not overly complicated, and I think it is staggering, when the Government are introducing legislation far faster in other cases, that they will not support the Lords amendment—and women—in this way.
The second opportunity we have, thanks to the Lords, is Lords amendment 72, which would add prejudice based on sex and gender to hate crime legislation. This would make misogyny a hate crime, which we have talked about so much already tonight. I know that the Law Commission has some concerns, but this is a simple and straightforward step that will increase public awareness, improve victims’ confidence—crucially—in reporting, and enhance the way the police respond to violence against women and misogyny. The symbolism of this is so important. We were all so shocked by the Independent Office for Police Conduct report into Charing Cross station and the misogyny in those messages that we never thought we would see in the police.
Would the hon. Lady agree with me that introducing this will require an extra burden of proof to be established through the court process, which as a result may actually make things worse for those reporting a crime?
I understand what the hon. Member is saying, but as my hon. Friend Stella Creasy said, there is a carve-out clause particularly designed to satisfy that concern. I believe that distinguishing between serious sexual violence crimes and other forms of crime that may be enacted with a misogynistic intent would solve that problem.
These kinds of misogynistic attitudes and this kind of behaviour are more widespread in society than we care to think. We must be absolutely intolerant of it, and the hate law speaks to that. Such attitudes erode the very fabric of society and we should collectively reject them.
I share the hon. Lady’s horror of misogyny, but I do not understand why although “sex” is defined in the amendment, “gender” is not. What does she understand by the term “gender” in the amendment? Why is it not defined?
I understand the point that the hon. and learned Lady is making. The offences are motivated by hostility towards the sex or gender of the victim, and the amendment is designed to be as inclusive as possible, but I hear what she says. Refuge and some other women’s organisations have published a good briefing that tackles some of these issues, and perhaps we could have a conversation about it afterwards. I think her concerns are unfounded, but I understand the point she makes. These issues are complex and difficult, and we must make sure we get them right.
But surely as legislators, if we use a word we have to define it. We all know that there have been problems with conflating sex and gender. The amendment clearly states “sex or gender” and since “sex” is defined, as one would expect, by reference to section 11 of the Equality Act 2010, surely we can define what we mean by “gender”. If we cannot define what we mean by “gender”, why are we including it as an aggravation?
Does my hon. Friend agree that given that “gender” is defined in legislation—indeed, the Government rather helpfully defined it in their consultation document, so we have a definition of “gender”—it is therefore important that we focus on perpetrators? The point behind hate crime is that I could be a victim of antisemitic abuse whether I am Jewish or not. It is about the motivation of the perpetrator. By recognising that sex or gender can motivate hostility based on misogyny, we are ensuring that no perpetrator could have a defence where they demean a victim, and no perpetrator can avoid that hostility being reported because somebody wants to put them in the trans box rather than in the misogyny box. The amendment is inclusive, but it ensures that it protects women, whether they were born or become one, using definitions that already exist in law.
I feel as if there should be a three-way conversation in another place to tackle some of these questions. But they are real questions, and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow has campaigned on this issue for a very long time, and it is important that we listen to what she says.
Perhaps I can help out and say that, although no legislation is a silver bullet, this measure would make powerful progress and take a powerful stance against certain attitudes that are so prevalent and stare us in the face. We should send a signal that such attitudes are unacceptable, in the same way that we have done with other hate crime legislation.
The hon. Lady puts it very well, and I completely agree. We have seen with the recording of such crimes in Nottinghamshire and other places that this measure works. It is welcomed by the police, as it is a useful thing for them as well.
The hon. Lady talks about the importance of symbolism, and I agree with her. Is she concerned that if we were to accept an amendment that exempts domestic abuse and sexual offences from the aggravating element of misogyny, that would be a terrible message to send? They are some of the most serious crimes against women, yet they would be exempt from that aggravating factor in sentencing.
Just to correct the record, surely the issue was that there was no hate crime legislation to prosecute that murder. It was not that it was specifically carved out.
By the time that prosecution happened such legislation was in place, and there is precedent for that. I could point the hon. Lady in the direction of a very good briefing that explains all that in much greater detail, and I would be happy to send that to her.
Tonight we have two opportunities—I mean to touch on them briefly, Mr Speaker—for the House to tackle pernicious practices that have no place in society, and we would support the Government if they chose to back the Lords amendments. I should acknowledge properly the work of the other place on this Bill. Members of the Lords did some terrific work voting late into the night, and we are grateful to them. Hard work and strong arguments by many of my Labour colleagues in the Commons and the Lords have already forced the Government into several defeats and U-turns. Indeed there have been more successful Labour amendments to this Bill than to any other Bill this Parliament.
On data extraction, the Government have conceded Labour’s calls to protect victims, particularly victims of rape and sexual abuse, from painful and often unnecessary intrusion into their lives by the mining of their phone data. We welcome that shift. On the serious violence duty, after continued pressure from Members across the House, the Government agreed to make clear in the Bill that the definition of “serious violence” for the purpose of the serious violence prevention duty includes domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual offences. We welcome that shift.
My right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper has campaigned on time limits for prosecutions, and the Government have accepted our proposal to stop victims of domestic abuse being timed out of justice. The campaign by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow on voyeurism means that there will be a new offence of breastfeeding voyeurism. Under pressure from Labour, the Government have agreed to a review into “spiking” to find out how widespread it is and who is being targeted. We welcome that.
However, tackling the horrific prosecution rates, repeat offenders, and making women feel safer on the streets and in their homes will take so much more. We have a list of 50 proposals that we wanted to be included in the Bill to tackle violence against women and girls, and by my count the Government have agreed to two of them. I am happy to give the Minister a copy of the list, and perhaps we could see some more action.
Serious violence is a significant problem, and offences involving knives or sharp instruments increased by 84% between 2014 and 2020. Of course serious violence went down during lockdown, as we would expect, because people were indoors and shops and places of work were closed. The police were able to be proactive in tackling crime—indeed, a senior officer said to me that it was almost like policing used to be when they had proper resources. We are now out of lockdown, and the reports we are getting suggest that serious violence is back on the rise.
Labour will support any measures that tackle violence. That is why we carefully considered the serious violence reduction orders in part 10 of the Bill. We have concerns, which the Government have acknowledged, about the powers that officers would have to stop and search people with an SVRO without reasonable grounds, and whether that would significantly increase disproportionality. Stop and search is a crucial tool for the police, which we all agree with when used alongside good local police intelligence. Badly targeted stop and search is a waste of police resources, and it reinforces lack of trust in local communities. SVROs are to be piloted in four places, and Lords amendment 116 would require the Secretary of State to
“obtain, record and publish all reasonably available data,” on the effect of SVROs over a period of no less than 12 months before the report of the pilot.
The Government have tabled their own amendments in lieu. We welcome that U-turn up to a point, but we do not believe it goes far enough to address our concerns. We fear that SVROs might be similar to knife crime prevention orders, which were hailed several years ago as the answer to violence, but have not yet been introduced, probably because it is hard to make them work. Good policing and prevention is key, and the Government should focus their attention on that.
In conclusion, we urge the Government to back Labour’s sensible amendments through the Lords to tackle violence against women and girls, and to have a relentless focus, not on stopping singing in the street—we will come to that later—but on tackling serious crime. The Government have created this Bill with the objective of being divisive, but Members across the House, and in the other place, have come together and voted to improve this flawed piece of legislation. We are proud of the changes we have delivered, but Labour Members will not stop pushing the Government to get a grip on the issues that matter: reducing crime, improving prosecution rates, supporting victims, and giving people the security they deserve.
Order. Members should stand only if they want to take part in debate on the first group of amendments, not the second or third groups. We are time-limited, so perhaps Members could focus on the duration of their speeches as well as on the content, to give an opportunity for other Members to take part.
As a woman who is perennially in a hurry and terribly impatient, I will ensure that my contribution is blissfully short. There is much in the Bill that I feel encouraged about. As hon. Members might expect, as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, I will focus specifically on those areas that affect women.
Inevitably, I will always say to the Government that they have missed opportunities, that they have not gone far enough and that more could have been done. I very much feel that the Bill could have done more, but I very much welcome the amendment on voyeurism and breastfeeding, which was put forward by Stella Creasy and has been accepted by the Government. That is a step in the right direction for women. I also welcome Government amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 70 on spiking. I am the first to acknowledge that spiking is not necessarily a gendered crime, but in many instances it is, and we know that young women in particular fall victim to it. Although there are concerns around spiking for robbery, for other forms of violence and abuse and, indeed, in some cases, just for entertainment, a massive proportion of it is about taking sexual advantage—usually of women.
As hon. Members might expect—it was inevitable—I turn to amendment 72 on misogyny. Consistency is important, so I have always said that I would accept and welcome what the Law Commission recommended in its review. However, if we are to go to its recommendations on misogyny and the complications that it rightly highlighted—this is an incredibly difficult area—we should also look at public sexual harassment, which it has also said should be a specific crime.
I started by saying that I am a woman in a hurry, and I am. I welcome my right hon. Friend the Minister’s comments on what the Government are planning to do on public sexual harassment, but this feels like a missed opportunity. I look for confirmation on whether the specific legislative vehicle—this looks very much like one—will be the victims Bill or something tailored to PSH, because this absolutely matters. If we are to start tackling the cultures that underpin violence against women, we must look at the cultures that mean that some men think it is okay to harass women on the street and on public transport.
Girls from Stroud High School got me into their school to talk about the public sexual harassment that they receive—often daily and often in their school uniforms—which is outrageous. Under the “Everyone’s Invited” campaign, many schoolgirls—and schoolboys as well—have reported exactly what they experience. Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the comments that we have heard from the Minister are incredibly positive, we must recognise that the calls for such changes come not just from this place or from adults but from young girls everywhere who are experiencing really tough times?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is in our schools that those calls are strongest, which means that young women in their school uniforms are being significantly impacted. They feel scared to walk home alone. They are given advice to stay to well-lit areas, to ensure that they walk in areas with CCTV and to be careful on public transport. Yet again, we are saying, “Girls, be careful,” and not, “Men, don’t do it.” That is why I feel so strongly about specific legislation on public sexual harassment that empowers women to point at behaviours and say, “That is a crime.”
I completely agree with everything that the right hon. Member said. It is frustrating as always that, yet again, we are asking women to think about how they keep themselves safe rather than thinking how we stop the perpetrators, let alone the focus being somehow on street lighting, as if these incidents happen only in certain places and spaces. She talks about public sexual harassment. One of the challenges, as the Law Commission admits—I have met and talked to the Law Commission about this—is that not all harassment motivated by misogyny is sexual. I go back to the Muslim women targeted to have their hijabs torn off and disabled women, who are targeted in particular. How can we expand our understanding of how misogyny is driving crimes if we think it is only about sex? Does she agree that we need to find a way to recognise that broader concept of harassment, abuse and incitement, as the Law Commission said should happen but did not come up with legislation?
The hon. Lady makes an important and powerful point. It is imperative that we look at this issue not just in terms of sexual harassment. I apologise for detaining hon. Members a moment longer than I intended, but I want to highlight the case of a constituent who came to see me. She was 23-years-old and had a job in Waitrose pushing trolleys around the car park. She said, “I hate lunch time.” That seemed an odd comment to make, so I asked, “Is it particularly busy at lunch time?” She said, “No. It’s when the white van men turn up.” She told a tale of how, in the depths of winter, when wearing a beanie hat, a puffer coat and a mask—it was at the height of covid—a man walked up to her, put his hands either side of her face and said, “You’re too beautiful to be doing this job.” I have spoken to colleagues in this place who are eminent lawyers— they know much better than me what is criminal and what is not—and asked them, “Where’s the crime?” Not one of them could come up with an actual crime for that. The hon. Lady is therefore right: that was not sex-based; it was just harassment in the same way as we see people stood outside abortion clinics hurling abuse at people going to access those services. We must ensure that abuse directed at women on the grounds of their gender or sex is tackled, and tackled effectively.
The Women and Equalities Committee is about to do an enormous piece of work about the cultures that underpin this problem and hopes to come up with recommendations that the Government will listen to and act on. We want to see legislation that makes women feel safer because they can point at behaviours and say, “That is a specific crime,” that allows perpetrators to look at behaviours and think, “Actually, I shouldn’t do that—I might get in trouble,” and that allows the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to look at behaviours and think, “There’s the crime.”
On a small point of clarification, my right hon. Friend quite rightly referred to how the vast majority of spiking cases are about men spiking women’s drinks, and there is no question about that, but I am sure she recognises that some cases—I think in particular of the heinous case of Reynhard Sinaga, who was found guilty in Manchester of spiking and raping at least 48 victims man on man—are the other way.
I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. I hope that I did not in any way give the impression that men are not victims, because, yes, they are. When we talk about violence perpetrated against others, sometimes we do not adequately identify the many instances in which young men, and young gay men in particular, can fall victim to such horrific behaviours.
I want to see something on the statute book, and I will press my right hon. Friend the Minister for something quickly. It is not good enough to kick this issue into the long grass and say that we need another review or more consultation. We see that too often. Young women, the girls of the Girl Guides, those from Plan International UK, older women—the Soroptimists have summoned me to tell me that this must be done urgently—and the Women’s Institute all want action. Later this evening, I will attend the event downstairs—it is on now—looking at the Government’s strategy. If we are serious, we must send a clear and powerful message to both victims and perpetrators about what is and is not criminal. Everyone in this House knows a victim; we also all know a perpetrator.
Order. To help those people who have asked about the noisy protest and the right to protest, that is in group 3, not group 1 or 2.
I will keep my comments to Lords amendments concerning the extraction of information from electronic devices. To be clear, it is not that the Scottish National party does not have views about everything else, and it is certainly not that we do not care; it is because provisions on those other matters are applicable to England and Wales only.
The Scottish Government have been working with the UK Government to refine the draft code of practice for the data extraction provisions to account for Scotland's interests. The UK Government have confirmed that the draft code of practice would not be finalised until after the Bill attains Royal Assent to ensure that it is fit for purpose. They have also confirmed that the data extraction provisions will not be commenced in Scotland until the code of practice has been finalised. The Scottish Government are therefore content that the arrangements for the code provide sufficient scope for Scottish input.
We are generally content with the Government amendments, which improve the powers by, for example, starting to define an “agreement” to a digital search, but some are concerned that they do not go far enough to protect privacy rights and access to justice. Digital strip searches are now a common tool for the police and, as Big Brother Watch has said, experience tells us that policy changes and guidance are not enough.What is required is clear statutory change and retraining. I urge the Government to ensure that that is in place before they consider the widespread use of digital strip searches.
In Scotland, we have concerns about amendments 39, 40 and 44. That needs some further discussion with the Scottish Government. In English law, all children are children until the age of 18, but that is not the legal position in Scotland. The age of legal capacity in Scotland is 16. It certainly does not feel right to us for a nearly-18-year-old to have no say in whether their phone is taken from them and its data extracted.
I am conscious of time, you will be glad to hear, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I have kept my points very brief and I will save my main points for group 3, but I will briefly voice my disappointment and dismay at the undemocratic way in which the Government have amended this mammoth piece of legislation. Eleventh-hour amendments introduced in the House of Lords were thankfully defeated in a very public and, I am sure, embarrassing way for the Government. That should never have happened, and I pay tribute to those in the Lords who opposed them. This place is here for a reason. We are here for a reason. It is not for the Government to bypass the scrutiny that this place provides. I have received hundreds of emails from concerned constituents that their rights are being steamrollered by behaviour like that.
I think, listening objectively to today’s debate, there is an enormous level of agreement on both sides of the House that there is a job of work to be done to protect women against abuse, and that there are different options for how we might achieve that. That is the point at debate: what we do, not whether we need to do something. That is really important to acknowledge. I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for his opening explanation of the resistance particularly to amendment 72, and I commend my near neighbour in Hampshire, my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes, the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, for her excellent and impassioned speech on why we need to do more.
The Lords amendments show that more can be done. Lords amendments 13 and 57 show that the Government can continue to be pressed to do more on these important issues. I am glad to see that they are doing more to extend serious violence duties to include domestic abuse and sex offenders. Lords amendment 57 extending the time limit in the way that it does will significantly help. The real issue is, if we want to tackle the issue of sexual harassment and the abuse of women, how do we do that most effectively? I think Amendment 72 has been looked at in detail by the Law Commission, which has been looking at the issues since 2018. There is, I am afraid to say, widespread support for the Government’s thesis that this is not the right way to tackle the problem.
The Law Commission is very clear that there is demonstrable need for additional law when it comes to supporting and protecting women and girls, and that there is more than ample evidence of the harm that is done. Its real concern is how we tackle this in practice. We have to listen very carefully; otherwise, we risk undoing the good work that has been done. The need for additional law is not under debate; it is the form that that law takes. Sometimes we just have to take a moment, and I think that this is a case in point. We cannot just say, “Something must be done.” We have to ensure that we are doing the right thing. We have to accept the role of the Law Commission in helping us to make law that works in practice. It does not see misogyny being a hate crime as the way to solve the problem that has been so eloquently outlined by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Its concern is not because of a lack of understanding of the problem; it is whether the change that is being proposed will work in practice.
Although I listened very carefully to the interventions of Stella Creasy, it concerns me that the solution that is being put forward involves carve-outs for domestic violence and sexual offences, which could in a way suggest, or give people ammunition to say, that those issues are not as connected with misogyny as I am frankly sure that most Members of this House would agree that they are. The concern is not about being able to prove that a crime was motivated by hostility to gender—a point made by the CPS and Rape Crisis. In particular, Rape Crisis said that such an approach would make trials even more complex—an issue brought out by an hon. Member earlier. I also fear trial juries being asked to navigate questions around gender-based hate crime, which frankly we in this House find very difficult to navigate our minds around—all of this leaving people very confused.
I really hope that the Minister, although he may not be able to go much further today, can very shortly tell us much more about what he will be doing on issues that the Women and Equalities Committee has been looking at for more than five years. We did Select Committee reports on sexual harassment in schools back in 2015, in universities, in public spaces, online and in the workplace. This is not a new issue; this has been an issue looked at not only by the Law Commission but by the Select Committee for well over six or seven years. It would be disappointing if the Government were coming back now to say that they will be taking further the idea of public sexual harassment, as if it were a new notion that had just emerged from the ether. It is something that many of us have been looking at, and calling for it to be tackled more effectively, for a number of years.
Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister can, when he sums up, indicate in a little more detail how he intends to take forward what I think will be a sensible way of trying to tackle the issue that has been so eloquently talked about in today’s debate. Adding sex or gender into hate crime law may not be the way to tackle things, but there is extensive evidence of how the harm disproportionately impacts women, especially online. The Government have a VAWG strategy, and today they are launching a communications strategy, but too many of us still see deficits in the law when it comes to sexual harassment. There needs to be more focus on prevention by demonstrating across the board that sexual harassment towards women, in the same way that my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North talked about, is a crime that is utterly unacceptable whenever it occurs, at any stage of our lives. Until we get to that stage, all of us will be calling on the Government to take more action.
I will start, because I have had an unintended hiatus from being in the Chamber as a result of having to breastfeed a child, by welcoming the Government’s commitment to amendment 56. It is a cross-party amendment, and I pay tribute to Lord Pannick and Baroness Hayman for the work that they did in the House of Lords on it, my hon. Friend Jeff Smith, who also led on it, and above all to Julia Cooper, who was a much braver woman than me. I experienced someone taking a photograph of me breastfeeding my child without my permission. She did too, but she challenged the person and went to the police. The police said that there was no protection for her. She started a petition. She took that voice and has turned it into this legislation. We should all be grateful for a woman like that, who stood up.
What Julia faced is what we are also here tonight to talk about on amendment 72. I certainly hope that the Minister, who has come to the debate rather late but I appreciate has come with a deep concern for women’s rights, has been talking to his colleague Lord Wolfson, whose argument against making it illegal to photograph without her consent a woman who was breastfeeding was that a man might be taking pornographic photographs of his wife on a beach and accidentally catch a woman breastfeeding in his camera lens, and that would be terrible. Of course, many of us think for some time about that husband’s discussions with his wife before we think that that is a realistic example.
Time and again on the Bill, we are told that, when it comes to women’s safety, matters are complex. It is put in the “too difficult” box. The trouble for Ministers tonight is that next week will be the anniversary of the murder of Sarah Everard. Since Sarah was murdered, we have had more deaths: the murders of Bibaa and Nicole, and of Sabina. In my constituency, I hear countless stories of violence against women. It is the fierce urgency of now that drives this piece of work. I am sure that the Minister is aware, because he has been asking us repeatedly whether we have read the report of the Law Commission, of its provenance. I was on the upskirting Bill, and the Government agreed to commit to the recommendation of the Law Commission as a result of an amendment that we tabled then, recognising that there were crimes driven by misogyny, and that that was putting women at risk.
It was time to turn the debate around—to stop telling women to keep themselves safe and providing money for lighting, because somehow it is about where they go running, and to start saying that this is about the perpetrators, and holding them to account for what they do. The challenge before the Minister is Lords amendment 72, which, again, is another cross-party effort. I pay tribute to Baroness Newlove, who is a goddess in my mind for her determination to speak up for victims, and Lord Russell, as well as my colleagues on the Government Benches who have been working to look at these issues. We are listening to the police. We are listening to the quarter of police forces that already record sex or gender when it motivates crimes, to help them catch the perpetrators. They recognise that it helps. It helps them to develop the patterns of behaviour.
I gently say to the Minister that when he says the problem is that women do not report, he needs to ask himself, as the policing Minister, not why women are not reporting, but why they do not feel they can come forward to report. It is not about the women; it is about the reporting. It is about the response they get. My colleague, Caroline Nokes, is absolutely right when she says that everybody knows a victim and everybody probably knows a perpetrator. Many women will have experienced sexual harassment. They will have experienced abuse online, offline and in our daily lives to such an extent that it infuses what we do: the flinch when we come out of a tube station to make sure there is nobody behind us; carrying our keys in our hands; worrying about what our daughter is wearing; and hoping that our son is not one of those people who does it.
The truth for the Minister is that the police are telling us, “Actually, we have a clear policy that helps us to identify people early on.” He is right when he talks about patterns of escalation. Many perpetrators start with what people might think of as lower-level offences. I have to tell the Minister that I have always said I will stop campaigning on this issue when I go to the wedding where the bride gets up and says, “Well, he followed me down the street demanding I get in the back of the van because he wanted to grope me and I thought it was the most romantic thing ever.” It does not happen. What does happen is that that is the daily experience for women across the country and the truth is that the Bill does not offer anything to resolve that. It does not offer anything to back the police, when they say to us that they want to capture that data.
I understand the concern raised about the carve-out and I will come on to that specifically, but we should be very clear that the first thing the amendment would do is record all that data, including domestic abuse and rape, as misogynistic, because it would help to form a pattern. When we talk to the police in the areas where they are recording it, it is not, frankly, the catcalling that people are reporting. It is serious sexual assault, violence against women, rape and abuse, because they have the confidence that the police are going to recognise it for what it is, which is serious violence.
I also say to the Minister gently that he might want to correct the record, because the Law Commission did not look at this very proposal. This proposal is based on the Bertin amendment. The Bertin amendment carves out a definition of serious sexual violence which we did not have, so by its very definition the Law Commission could not have looked at it to consider whether or not it addresses that concern. It is not that we should not record data where crimes are misogynistically motivated, but how we deal with them in sentencing. Carving these offences out does not mean that they are not misogynistic; it means we ensure that the already pitiful sentencing regime does not go any lower.
There is something crucial in the amendment about how it works with the police and the courts, and what the police are telling us in the areas where they are doing this. I see Government Members who have police who are doing it. The police want the courts to back them. They are gathering the data and using it to track perpetrators, finding them early on in their offending careers before we get to the points that people are talking about in the press. They want the courts to back them, just as they back them when it comes to hatred of someone’s skin colour or their religion.
Twenty or 30 years ago, when I was a young woman—a long time ago—there was a culture where things were said on TV and things that people said that we would now rightly recognise as racist or as religious hatred. Hate crime legislation does not just target perpetrators, but cultures. Most of all it changes the culture within the police, because the police forces that are doing this are talking about the mindset change among their members. As a Member for a local community where women have been ignored by the Met police for years, I have to say that that mindset change is something we should all desperately want, so we can recognise the danger when somebody starts following women and how that might escalate. We have all seen it in those reporting histories.
The Minister wants to hide behind the Law Commission. I understand that. I have said to him that I will uphold—[Interruption.] Well, the Minister said I signed an amendment asking him to back the Law Commission. I want him to look closely at what the Law Commission is saying, which is that there are crimes motivated by misogyny, so then it becomes about where the offence is. He said he was not convinced about the reporting. I urge him to speak to North Yorkshire hate crime co-ordinators, and to those in Avon and Somerset, Gloucestershire, West Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, where they have been doing this for years and getting real results. He should speak to the chief constables who have gone on the record saying that they want him to make this change—after all, he is the Policing Minister.
I also ask the Minister to talk to those people about crimes against women from minority communities. There is something so important about their voices being heard in this process. Muslim women who are targeted not just for being Muslim but for being women have to pick a side of their identity under our current hate crime legislation. They have to be seen for 50% of who they are. That means that the police do not recognise what is going on. Disabled women are not heard by our policing structures, because they do not quite fit the right tick-box. They can be a victim of more than one form of hate, but right now if you are a disabled woman, a lesbian or a black woman being targeted for being both those things, you are not seen by our legislation. The amendment would correct that.
The carve-out ensures that sentences are not lesser. As we have said, Stephen Lawrence’s killers were not tried for a hate crime, but we all recognise the hatred that drove the crime. Carve-outs are not an unusual precedent. They exist within legislation. What the Law Commission was concerned about was how to do the carve-out. The Bertin amendment, which Lords amendment 72 is based on, answers that point.
I am listening very closely to what the hon. Lady is saying, but the Law Commission was very clear in saying that this would make matters so much more complex, and it worries about how that would affect securing the sort of convictions that I know the hon. Lady and I want to see.
I hope the right hon. Member will understand what I am saying. The Law Commission did not look at this amendment, which has learned from the Bertin amendment. [Interruption.] She shakes her head, but the Bertin amendment, which sets out explicitly the offences we would carve out, did not exist during the time of its work. One argument the Law Commission made was with regard to the difficulty of carving those offences out. The amendment builds on where a carve-out can be made.
This is an important issue and I am grateful to the hon. Lady, but I just wanted to point out to her that the Law Commission said in its consultation paper that it thought it might be possible to overcome the challenges involved in excluding certain violence against women and girls contexts and there would still be value in including sex or gender within hate crime laws for the remaining criminal contexts. It specifically considered the notion of carve-outs. However, following further reflection and analysis, and with the benefit of detailed and thoughtful consultation responses, it now believes that all the possible models to do so create more problems than they solve. So the Law Commission did look specifically at this model of carve-outs, and indeed it specifically considered the option of the full recognition of sex or gender in aggravated offences, with enhanced sentences on the same basis as for other recognised characteristics.
I am sorry, but the Minister is conflating two different things here. The Law Commission did not look at the Bertin amendment. What it looked at was whether one might inadvertently downgrade sentencing for rape or domestic abuse by including it within this hierarchy. That is why, for example, Rape Crisis was concerned about a generalist clause. I am sure the Minister has spoken to Rape Crisis since the Law Commission’s report was made. I certainly have. I talked to it about this amendment, and it has been much more positive about it. I hope, if the Minister is quoting Rape Crisis, that he will listen to it when it says that it recognises what is being tried here.
I am not here to say that the Lords amendment is perfect, but I am here to say the because there are other crimes that could be motivated by misogyny, which it is right to recognise within sentencing and to treat as serious—for example, exposure, cyber-flashing, assault or blackmail targeted at disabled women; we see a lot of that in the evidence base—that means that we should dismiss this entirely and say, “Well, we won’t do this at all,” is yet again to ask women to wait for something that will never come. That is the challenge we have here.
The Minister wants to say, “Let’s not politicise it.” I agree. I extend my hand to him to say let us work together to get this right, but let us recognise that misogyny is driving crimes and that the Law Commission has said that. Its arguments were technical ones about how to do the drafting, not about the principle. I hope that the Minister would acknowledge that, because he cannot both argue—
That is not what the Minister has said, but I am pleased to hear him say that—[Interruption.] Great. Wonderful—consensus is breaking out, but consensus will not deal with the fact that women right now are at risk and are being harmed. This proposal is helping to improve conviction rates and to track perpetrators in the areas where it is operating.
The Minister will be aware that an amendment to the Bill that became the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 was withdrawn in the other place because Ministers committed to making sure that all police forces would do the reporting, but they have not. We can agree that the reporting is necessary, but it is not sufficient to give the police the backing that they need or to say, “This is about street lighting”. We have to look at how we tackle violence against women and at why and how we could have a carve-out to make this work. That is essentially what an incitement offence would do—
I am sorry, but the hon. Lady seems determined to have a fight about this and I really do not want one. She keeps referring to street lighting, but that is one of a suite of things that we need to do generally in the public realm regarding safety. For clarity, I of course acknowledge that there are offences that are motivated by misogyny—I say that clearly, as I did in my opening speech—but this requires a number of approaches and solutions. We are merely saying that the evidence that the Law Commission and other groups put before us is that this particular approach is likely to cause more harm than good. We have committed to look at the other areas that it has highlighted, particularly the crimes that are motivated by misogyny, which I read out from its report. I reassure hon. Members that we are duty-bound to respond to the Law Commission’s report in six months, and we will do so.
I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I mention that there are, I think, more than 17 Law Commission reports that have been published since 2010 that the Government have not responded to and acted on—and that is just to look at the Law Commission. He also keeps saying that the Law Commission has looked at this proposal. No—the Law Commission looked at including sex or gender in all instances. It then looked at whether it was possible to have a carve-out, but we did not have the Bertin amendment, which specifically identified the offences in question and helped to shape this Lords amendment.
The Minister has said that he does not want to have a fight about this. Well, he is going to have one, because he is opposing the proposal and not coming up with any alternatives. He is not saying, for example, “We will introduce a proposal in the other place that addresses these issues” or that he will listen not just to all the chief constables across the country who have said that they want to see this happen, but to the organisations that have. Seeing as he is obsessed with major organisations, let us run through them: the Fawcett Society; Citizens UK; Refuge; Stonewall; HOPE not hate; Dimensions; Tell MAMA; the Jo Cox Foundation; and Safe & the City. Many of us have been talking to people who have expressed concerns to identify what those are and learn from them; that is where this amendment has come from.
The Minister will use the Government majority to vote this Lords amendment down, to say that violence against women is a complicated issue and that there are other approaches, and he will wait patiently and in fear that, yet again, there will be another moment as there was a year ago. The trouble is that, for us as women, waiting in fear is our daily experience, because we do not see things changing any time soon. We see the evidence base from Nottinghamshire and from the Met police. We want to know why there is a postcode lottery when it comes to the police taking violence against women seriously. We want to know why our courts want to exclude sex or gender from the protected characteristics that we rightly recognise when crimes are motivated by a hatred of somebody just for who they are, and we will tackle that.
People made many of these arguments 20 years ago on recognising racially and religiously motivated abuse. We now, rightly, all benefit from the protection and the freedom that has been given to people, so that they do not have to live in fear that they will be attacked just because of the colour of their skin or their religious identity. The Minister’s problem is that he says that he listens to and knows women and that he understands this area, but if he understands it at all, he should listen to the suffragettes, who told us that it was “deeds not words” that matter. All we have heard tonight is words.
This proposal is backed by the police. Opposition Members and many Government Members want to back the police and want to see the courts back up the police. If he does not accept this amendment, the Minister has the time and the opportunity in the Lords to come up with an alternative. He will have my support and that of the Cross Benchers to make that happen. However, if he continues to ignore women, to say that he understands the challenge and to blame them for not coming forward and reporting things—[Interruption.] He is right to shake his head, but he can probably go home without looking over his shoulder. Many of us cannot.
Order. I am just thinking about protecting a bit of time for the Front Benchers, so if I put on a four-minute time limit, we can hopefully get a few more Members in.
I would like to speak in support of the Government and against making misogyny a hate crime, as suggested in Lords amendment 72. It is safe to say that everybody understands the strength of feeling about adding sex and gender to hate crime laws—as I do, not least, from my mailbox—and this debate has shown that. However, I feel unable to support the amendment in the light of the Law Commission’s conclusion in its independent review of hate crime laws in December last year. It said that such a step would potentially
“prove more harmful than helpful, both to victims of violence against women and girls, and also to efforts to tackle hate crime more broadly”— the Law Commission’s words, not mine. It specifically noted that adding those characteristics may make the prosecution of crimes disproportionately affecting women and girls, such as sexual offences and domestic abuse, much more difficult.
That issue arises because establishing whether a hate crime has occurred would require additional proof to be demonstrated in court. The Law Commission notes, by contrast:
“It might be practically difficult to prove a sex or gender-based aggravation in the context of VAWG crimes that usually take place in private”.
As a result, the Law Commission notes:
“We are particularly concerned about the potential for this to make some sexual offence prosecutions more difficult”.
We should not put this in the “too difficult” box; it will just work against women and girls who are the victims.
The Law Commission subsequently recommended against adding these characteristics to the law. Given those and other potential unintended consequences, as we have heard, organisations responding to the consultation support the Law Commission’s review in opposing these characteristics being added to the law.
It is also worth Members noting, when they come to their decision today, that the Lords amendment seeks to mitigate the most serious risks identified in what I have spoken about by excluding certain offences from any hate crime designation, including sexual offences and domestic abuse. However, the Law Commission similarly identified that such models would not be helpful, noting that this would then make the addition of the characteristics largely “tokenistic”—the Law Commission’s words, not the Minister’s—by excluding the most serious offences that frequently harm women and girls. It also noted that the exclusion of these offences risks suggesting that they are, by default, less serious or not rooted in misogynistic hostility, and would treat sex and gender unequally to other characteristics in the scope of hate crime laws.
I therefore share the Law Commission’s concern that adding sex and gender to hate crime laws in any form could prove unacceptably counterproductive and work against women and girls.
I rise to speak in support of Lords amendment 72. Existing hate crime legislation must be extended to include misogyny, and the police must be required to record hate crimes as misogynistic. The amendment has the backing of such powerful organisations as the Fawcett Society, Refuge, the Young Women’s Trust and many more, as well as the police.
Last year was a terrible year for women and girls, with two high-profile cases of young women murdered on our streets by vile sexual predators, peaceful women’s protesters pinned to the ground by serving police officers, thousands of women being subjected to spiking, including in my Bath constituency, and countless other horrific crimes against women and girls.
There is growing and very obvious evidence that misogyny is at the centre of violence against women and girls. Nottinghamshire police have led the way to enabling cases of abuse and harassment to be recorded as misogyny; Avon and Somerset police are following suit. I commend all police forces that are doing so, but it should not be a postcode lottery.
Making misogyny a hate crime would send a powerful signal. We need a culture change, and we in this House have a duty to lead it. I have listened carefully to this evening’s debate, in which the Government have said that making misogyny a hate crime could lead to unintended consequences, possibly making it harder to prosecute the most serious cases of sexual violence. Of course we need to protect those women who are exposed to the most serious cases of sexual violence, but Lords amendment 72 especially sets out to avoid any such consequences.
I spoke to the Law Commission a few days ago. Its argument is that if we excluded the most serious offences from our legislation, it would be tokenistic. I disagree, and I think it is okay to disagree, because what we are saying is that making misogyny a hate crime is not a silver bullet, but it is progress. Let us stop making excuses. Women’s safety matters every day.
I will not, because of time.
We should start sending a very strong signal today. Hate crime legislation has made a difference to religious and racial hate crime, so why should women not have the same right? Let us listen carefully to what is being said and make sure that we make progress. It would not be an entire answer, but making misogyny a hate crime would send such a powerful signal that certain attitudes that lead to harassment and later to more serious crimes are not okay, and they are not lawful.
I spent last Friday evening in St Peter’s Rooms in Ruddington with a nurse, councillors, shop owners, a reiki practitioner, childcare professionals and many more members of the community. We were taking part in a training programme to help people to identify signs of domestic abuse, talk to survivors they might come across in their place of work and put them in touch with local professional services. The programme is called J9, after Janine Mundy, who was brutally murdered by her ex-husband. I think I must have taken part about 15 times now in the course, which I am delivering across the constituency with my constituent Nicola Brindley, but it never gets any easier to hear the stories of abuse suffered.
I therefore strongly welcome Lords amendment 57, which extends the time limit for prosecution for common assault or battery in domestic abuse cases. There are so many reasons why it takes time for victims to come forward. We must do everything we can to stand with them and support them when they do.
I also welcome Lords amendment 13, which clarifies the inclusion of domestic abuse and sexual offences in the serious violence duty, and Lords amendment 56, which protects women doing the most natural thing in the world: breastfeeding their child. I commend Stella Creasy for all her work in the area.
Also before the House is the issue of making misogyny a hate crime, as set out in Lords amendment 72. I fully support the intention behind the amendment, as I think every Member does, but having read the Law Commission’s report, I share some of the concerns voiced. I take very seriously the concerns raised by organisations such as Rape Crisis, which believes that adding sex or gender as a protected characteristic would further complicate the judicial process and make it harder to secure convictions.
Lords amendment 72 also carves out sexual offences and offences related to domestic abuse from the scope of prosecution as a hate crime motivated by sex or gender, because there are considerable difficulties with keeping them in. As the Law Commission’s report shows, research has shown that sex or gender-based hostility is much more likely to be identified or proven in the context of sexual violence perpetrated by strangers in public settings, particularly where it is accompanied by physical violence. Using misogyny as an aggravating factor in such cases would risk perpetuating the highly damaging myth that there is a hierarchy of sexual violence, which already does so much damage to victims whose experience is different, but whose suffering is no less.
In many crimes of violence against women and girls, such as those in cases of domestic abuse where the victim is known to the perpetrator or is in an intimate relationship with them, it may be more difficult to evidence hostility to gender, so I understand why those offences have been left outside the amendment’s scope. I understand the very strong views of Opposition Members that the amendment should be made without including them, but I worry what sort of message we would send as a Parliament if we made crimes such as domestic abuse and sexual violence—some of the most serious crimes against women and girls—exempt from an aggravating sentencing factor of misogyny. Those concerns, which have been set out by the Law Council, Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid, are the reason I cannot support the amendment.
The findings of the Law Commission, which I believe began its consultation with the expectation of supporting such a change, show why it is so important that changes to law are based on evidence so that we can focus on the most effective measures, which is why I welcome the Home Office’s public consultation on the issue of sex for rent—
The Bill is dangerous and undemocratic and has united a broad church of organisations in opposition. Even if all the Lords amendments that I rise to support today are agreed to, there would still be a huge amount in it that causes me concern. Our task today, though, is to try to improve what is before us.
Lords amendment 72 would play a key role in updating our existing hate crime laws to give our police forces and courts the vital tools that they need to tackle violence motivated by misogyny. By including sex or gender in hate crime reporting and sentencing, with exceptions for more serious sexual violence offences to ensure that sentences for them remain higher, it would give our police and courts the ability to track and hold to account those who target people for crimes purely because of who they are. As we have heard, selected police forces have already identified when crimes are motivated by hatred of someone’s sex or gender. They have already seen an increase in victims’ confidence to come forward and report those crimes.
The Government’s position is that making misogyny a hate crime goes against the Law Commission’s advice, but as Stella Creasy set out extremely eloquently, that is not entirely correct; the Law Commission was not commenting on the Bertin amendment. In line with concerns raised by the Law Commission about changing the burden of proof in relation to sexual or domestic offences, the amendment creates a carve-out whereby it would not apply to such offences. It uses the wording “sex or gender”, which is in line with the approach proposed in the Law Commission’s report on hate crime, and which would ensure that all crimes motivated by misogyny, or indeed misandry, are captured by the new law rather than leaving loopholes that could undermine the system.
This simple but powerful change would send an incredibly important signal. It would be part of the cultural change that we have been talking about. It would give women and girls the same protections that we give to others who are targeted solely because of who they are. It would show how seriously we take crimes motivated by misogyny. Frankly, the Government have been kicking the issue into the long grass for too long. It is time to step up and do the right thing by women and girls.
I will speak briefly to Lords amendments 114 to 116. As numerous organisations from Liberty to the End Violence Against Women Coalition and the Runnymede Trust attest, serious violence is a human rights issue. It devastates communities across the country and demands an evidence-based approach that works with, rather than against, those communities that bear its brunt. There is simply no evidence that serious violence reduction orders will protect communities from harm, however, and there is a wealth of evidence that they will sanction injustice and discrimination and risk fracturing public trust in public services and in the authorities. There is a risk that they will entrench the harms of ineffective, suspicion-less stop and search and that they will expand the injustice of the doctrine of joint enterprise, with a disproportionate effect on over-policed and marginalised groups, including young women experiencing domestic abuse and criminal exploitation.
It therefore seems entirely right and sensible that a robust pilot be carried out and that decisions to roll out SVROs nationally be informed by its findings and come before Parliament, as Lords amendments 114 to 116 propose. The amendments, which I support, reinstate democratic oversight of laws engaging rights and equalities issues and affirm the importance of an evidence-based approach to tackling serious violence.
I turn to Lords amendments 141 and 142. I have received emails from a number of constituents about how tens of thousands of women are being propositioned by predators offering free or discounted accommodation in exchange for sexual favours. Only one person has ever been charged for that kind of crime, because the law is woefully inadequate, leaving men to get away with sexually exploiting renters in need of a home. The Lords amendments specifically criminalise such landlords; they also implement financial penalties on websites and platforms. That is why they have my support.
I will confine my remarks to Lords amendment 72. Let me to say at the outset that I understand the laudable intention behind it, but I want to explain why, with the greatest of respect, I believe it to be misconceived.
It was the murder of Stephen Lawrence that set the origins of hate crime in train. He was killed in 1993, and hate crime became a criminal offence in 1998 under the Crime and Disorder Act. There was some confusion about the chronology earlier, but it is set out in paragraph 1.3 of the final report of the Law Commission. A hate crime is not a stand-alone offence, but it elevates another crime, most commonly assault, to an aggravated offence under section 28 of the 1998 Act if the prosecution can show that the offence was motivated wholly or partly by hostility towards another group. In the following year, the Court of Appeal finessed the test that applied, saying, in The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) v. Pal, that the prosecution must prove some demonstration of that hostility, most often a form of language that was used at the time when the crime was committed.
There are two reasons why I do not think that the amendment works in the context of violence against women. First, it sets the jury off down the wrong line of inquiry. Do we really want to legislate for a system that invites juries to judge the seriousness of an offence such as stalking, rape or domestic abuse through the prism of whether the perpetrator demonstrated hostility towards women? Even leading juries down that line of inquiry risks making acquittal more likely if they conclude that the defendant harboured no particular ill will towards women. When would we find examples of that kind of language? It would be much more likely in “stranger” contexts, and less likely when the victim had been on Tinder that night, had been out at a club or had been drinking, and this took place were behind closed doors—we know that that accounts for about 90% of serious sexual assaults—and we already have the greatest difficulties in securing convictions in such cases. Rape Crisis has said that
“the motivation of hostility is much more likely to apply to stranger perpetrators, and here we see the hate crime framework as propping up harmful myths about violence against women.”
My second reason concerns causation. Many offences against women are not motivated by hatred. Subtle, insidious factors are often at play—power, control, obsession, revenge, jealousy—none of which would meet the threshold for hate crime, but which are no less toxic or deserving of criminal punishment. In fact, we as a Parliament have worked collectively in the last decade to see the treatment of women through a more expansive lens. We recognised these complex causes when we passed the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, with its provisions on revenge porn and coercive control, and when we criminalised stalking in 2012. It is with that in mind that I am regretfully of the view that making misogyny a hate crime would be regressive rather than progressive, and would deliver less, not more, justice for female victims.
I recently had a conversation with a constituent who has introduced reporting of misogyny as a crime in Nottinghamshire, where she is a senior police officer. She says that it has progressively changed the culture. Does my hon. Friend agree that the culture may change in police forces when acts of misogyny are recorded at an earlier stage?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and it is the point that Stella Creasy was making about policing. It is true that the police have responded positively in reporting such incidents, but it is also true that the pilot has shown no increase in the number of prosecutions or successful convictions, with which we are primarily concerned. It is an enduring concern that we do not do enough to record violence against women and girls in general, and I think we ought to do more in that regard.
Let me address my final comments to Sarah Jones, who said in her opening remarks that this was a simple and straightforward step. Wera Hobhouse said that the evidence was “obvious”. Let me gently point out that prominent feminists in the House, including the Mother of the House, do not support this proposal for exactly the same as reasons as me. I hope that the closing remarks from the Opposition will reflect the fact that there is a respected strain of feminist opinion that does not take the same view as the hon. Member for Croydon Central.
The Bill contains many good provisions, but I will confine myself to the subject of the serious violence reduction orders. Let me start by thanking the House of Commons Library for its report of September 2021, “Knife Crime in England and Wales”, which has been very helpful.
In 2010, stop and search was widely used in the fight against knife crime. It succeeded not only in catching people carrying knives and offensive weapons, but in deterring people from carrying them. However, its success was limited, as it was scaled down because many felt that its implementation was disproportionate and reduced community trust. If it did indeed reduce community trust, especially in the police, it was counterproductive. As a result, by 2020 there were fewer than half as many stop and searches as in 2010: in fact, the reduction was some 56%.
Did this lead to a reduction in the number of fatal stabbings in London? I am all too aware that we know the answer to that question. No, it did not; it had the opposite effect. The number of fatal stabbings increased by 81% in London. Ten teenagers were fatally stabbed in 2010, and a decade later that grim statistic was 27. Twenty-seven teenagers with their lives before them had those lives snuffed out, and for what? If stop and search had not been scaled down, how many of those young men would be alive today? How many lives have been lost because of the reduction in stop and search? I ask again, how many? Who here wants to see a life taken away? Nobody does, but I believe that opposing stop and search has led to that.
Increasing stop and search with serious violence reduction orders would be likely to reduce knife crime, but it must be done along with changes in police practice to avoid the mistakes of the past. The Government’s amendment to Lords amendment 116 will play an important role in that. By collecting statistics on who is affected by SVROs and what their impact on reoffending is, we can ensure that police officers are using this tool in a specific and targeted way. What of outside London? It will help there too. Sadly, what we have seen in London seems to be spreading to cities and communities beyond our capital. In the past year in South Yorkshire, we have seen an epidemic of shootings and stabbings.
What has happened to bring this about? What can be done to stem this tide and bring lawfulness back to our communities? The answer is “many things”, and we all have a part to play. We in this House must vote for the Bill. It needs to become law so that the police have the tools that they need to combat crime and disorder. Outside the House, each of us can play an important part as well. We can work with the police. If they want to stop and search us, we should let them do so. It will save lives. Stop and search might have saved the lives of two young men who were stabbed to death last month locally.
I say this to every parent in the country, and to every person who is lucky enough to have the responsibility of bringing up children. We are role models to our children, so we should all act like role models. We should all set a good example for them to follow. We should live our lives responsibly, and we should be the good role models in their lives—not some local thug, and definitely not a glamorised thug on television. The best way to teach a child how to behave is to live our lives in the right way. We all have a part to play in making our communities better week by week, year by year. Let us work together, and let us work with the police. I commend this Bill.
I find this fascinating. So often in these debates, it is entirely understandable for the Opposition to say that the Government have not been in listening mode, and therefore amendments from the Lords have been turned down. Today, however, the evidence is striking. The Government are accepting, I believe, 22 Lords amendments on a wide range of matters, including emergency workers, domestic abuse, breastfeeding, common assault, data, hare coursing and child cruelty. I think that that is a good indication of both Houses working together.
I want to say a few words on Lords amendment 70 on spiking, and the Government amendments in lieu of it, and then on Lords amendment 72 on misogyny. On spiking, I am grateful to the Minister for his kind words about my 10-minute rule Bill, which is supported by Members from five different parties in this House, and which I think has helped to ensure that spiking is covered in this Bill. Certainly, when I originally proposed it, the thinking was that that would not be possible, so I recognise the movement that the Government have made.
The specific reason that I do not think the Lords amendment does the job that it could do is that it specifically calls for an amendment to the offence under section 61 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The truth, as we covered in the 10-minute rule Bill, is that there is more to spiking than sexual offences, although they are a big part of the problem. I am therefore satisfied that the amendments in lieu tabled by the Government will make a significant difference to the issue of spiking. As the Minister has said, it is clear that this behaviour is not exclusively linked to sexual activity, and the requirement on the Home Secretary to provide a report on the wider issues is therefore important. I believe that the Minister’s commitment—he might want to nod to repeat it—that the Home Secretary will be required to publish and lay the report before Parliament within 12 months of the Royal Assent of this Bill, is significant.
I note that the Minister has also asked officials to explore the need for a specific criminal offence to target spiking directly. I believe that this would change patterns of behaviour. It would have a preventive effect, and it would give young people—particularly young women—more confidence, especially at university. I would be delighted if he was able to commit to come back to this within six months of Royal Assent with a decision on whether to proceed with this further specific criminal offence, and I hope that he will say something on that in his winding-up speech. I have decided to pull my 10-minute rule Bill from its Second Reading, which had been proposed for
On Lords amendment 72, we have heard from distinguished colleagues including my hon. Friend Laura Farris, Caroline Lucas, my hon. Friend Ruth Edwards and Stella Creasy—four powerful advocates balancing strength of feeling with legal expertise on this issue. My own feeling is that, since I have just explained why I believe that a spiking Bill will help in terms of having a preventive effect and giving young people more confidence, there is something to this and I am glad that the Minister will come back and report to the House—
With the leave of the House, I shall respond to the debate. I am grateful to all the Members who have spoken, and I hope that what has been exhibited is our shared concern for many of the issues we have talked about today, not least the safety of women and girls, which has naturally and rightly dominated the debate. A number of undertakings were sought from me, latterly by my hon. Friend Richard Graham, who has done so much work on the offence of spiking. I am happy to give him a commitment that we will come back within a six-month period, as he requested. Obviously we will be producing a wider report within 12 months, but we should be able to give him an indication at the time.
My right hon. Friend and neighbour, Caroline Nokes, asked for a specific legislative vehicle, but I am afraid that I cannot preview the Queen’s Speech, much as I would love to. I cannot give her a specific vehicle, but I can tell her that we will be responding to the Law Commission’s report within six months. We are giving serious consideration to the work streams that I have talked about. As I have said to her, it is my personal view that we have an issue that needs to be addressed, either through public order offending, through recording or through a specific offence. I hope that on that basis she will feel able to support us this evening.
The work that we will be doing in this area sits alongside an awful lot of other work looking at the issue of street harassment, including our safety of women at night fund and the safer streets fund. In September we launched the new StreetSafe tool, allowing the police to access greater information and data about where people feel, or indeed are, unsafe. I am told that more than 12,000 reports have already been submitted through that line. In December, the College of Policing published new guidance showing what the police can and should do when they receive a report of public sexual harassment. The criminal offence is already available and other protective tools can be used. As I hope my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North has just been to see, we have also launched a new communications campaign this evening. There is an awful lot to cover in this first group of amendments, but I hope that we have looked at a wide range of offences and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester for pointing out that we have been listening. The number of amendments we have accepted weigh in the balance of support for the votes that we are about to undertake.
On the misogyny issue, I commend the motivation behind the set of amendments that we are sadly declining. We understand people’s genuine concern about the safety of women and girls in the public sector, and indeed we share it. We are determined to make significant inroads in this area. As my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller, my hon. Friend Craig Whittaker and my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Newbury have pointed out so effectively, we cannot in all conscience support an amendment that the Law Commission and other large groups interested in this area believe runs the risk of damaging the cause of women’s safety. That puts an obligation on us to bring forward alternatives that will do something positive for women’s safety. That battle is under way, and we commit to doing exactly that.
Lords amendment 2 agreed to.
Lords amendment 70 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) and (b) made in lieu of Lords amendment 70.
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 72.—(Kit Malthouse.)
The House divided: Ayes 314, Noes 190.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Lords amendment 72 disagreed to.
More than two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (
Lords amendment 114 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 115 disagreed to.