I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Two weeks ago, a group of more than 50 girls and women walked after dark from Rusthall, one of the villages in my constituency, to the centre of Tunbridge Wells. Those women, several of whom are in the Public Gallery, walked together to make a point. They felt safe together, but had they walked the same route alone at night, they would have felt afraid. Some would not have embarked on the journey at all, and many would have taken avoiding action such as getting a lift, a bus or a taxi. Some would have arranged to walk with someone else. Others would have deployed tactics all too familiar to women and girls across the country such as pretending to have a conversation on their mobile phone to signal that they were in contact with someone else. If alone, they would have been fearful of being followed or of having an offensive, suggestive or obscene comment directed at them, or of being obstructed or intimidated as they walked alone, as well as the fear of being physically assaulted.
For every woman and girl on that walk, hundreds more find that they have to engage in these routines and protections day in, day out to feel safe—and that is in Tunbridge Wells, a place with a strong community, a committed police force and less crime than in many others. When I visit schools, and especially sixth forms, confidence in using our streets, especially at night, is almost always raised by students, including by one young woman who came to see me to describe how outraged she was by the experience of being kerb-crawled by a man in a car when she was out jogging one morning. Why should a woman feel less confident on our streets than a man? The streets are theirs equally, but that is not how it is experienced.
According to the charities Our Streets Now and Plan International, who have done so much to highlight the issue and press for change, twice as many girls and women feel unsafe when alone on our streets as do boys and men. It is not just the commission of physical violence or assault that makes women feel unsafe. Deliberately distressing acts such as following a woman closely through the streets at night or directing explicit, abusive comments at women can and do contribute to that insecurity.
At the moment, there is no specific offence of public sexual harassment, yet in private settings, such as the workplace, everyone knows that sexual harassment is specifically and explicitly prohibited. Other types of harassment in public are identified in law—rightly, in my view—as being especially serious. They include harassment of someone on the grounds of their race or because they are gay. My Bill would close a loophole in the law whereby deliberately harassing another person on the grounds of their sex with the intention and effect of causing alarm or distress would be a specific criminal offence. It would, like harassment on the grounds of sexuality or race, be capable of similar penalties, should the court wish, as those other crimes.
The proposal was subject to a consultation carried out by the Home Office. I am grateful to the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Priti Patel, for her passionate commitment to confronting the issue and for launching the consultation before the summer. The Bill follows that consultation, and I am grateful for the assistance of the current Home Secretary, and to the Minister and her officials for their help in preparing it.
The Bill is a simple one, as private Members’ Bills should be. It is intended principally to close a loophole and bring into alignment the treatment of harassment on the grounds of sex with harassment on the basis of other protected characteristics. It follows the comments of the Law Commission to its report on hate crime laws in December 2021, which said the Government should consider
“a specific offence to tackle public sexual harassment, which would likely be more effective than adding sex or gender to hate crime laws.”
One reason not to simply add sex to the list of hate crimes is that although harassment on the grounds of race is considered to be driven by a hatred towards a person’s race, specifying hatred or hostility could leave open a legal defence that a man who deliberately harassed a woman in public was not guilty of a hate crime offence, because it could not be proved that his behaviour was motivated by actual hatred of women. The simplest way to proceed, and a subject that the Home Office consultation examined, is to add to the existing law of harassment in the Public Order Act 1986. My Bill would therefore add a new offence of intentional harassment, alarm or distress on the basis of sex to that Act of Parliament.
Under my Bill, if an act of intentional harassment, alarm or distress is carried out in a public place because of the relevant person’s sex, an offence of sex-based harassment has been committed and can be punished, as with offences on racial grounds or grounds of sexuality, at the higher tariff that applies to those crimes by dint of the Crime and Disorder Act 1988—in other words, above the limit set in the magistrates court.
It is important to make a few features of the Bill clear. First, it is not meant to—nor will it—criminalise thoughtless or clumsy words. It is sometimes the case that behaviour, although unwelcome, is not motivated by the deliberate intention to cause alarm or distress. Sometimes, men and boys—even girls and women—can say or do the wrong thing without meaning to make another person threatened or alarmed. Such behaviour is not within the scope of the Bill, neither is behaviour that would be considered reasonable by normal standards. The Bill targets people who deliberately target other people to do them harm.
Secondly, although I referred to sexual harassment, the scope of the offence includes, but does not have to entail, a motivation of sexual gratification. Just as in the workplace, the harassment of women may be based on attitudes towards women that might not be best described as linked to sexual gratification. Thirdly, the Bill is drafted to address the specific loophole in the law about harassment based on sex. That means, in principle, that it applies to women and men if they are deliberately publicly harassed based on their sex. Public sexual harassment can affect men and boys, but we should be clear that it disproportionately affects women and girls.
Some might be concerned that my Bill, if enacted, would place extra pressure on police forces to investigate and arrest those suspected of deliberately sexually harassing women in public places. We all want the police to focus on fighting crimes, but these are serious crimes that affect the lives of millions of girls and women every day, causing them to change their behaviour when they should have no reason to do so. Recent years have shown that it is important that all of us, including the police, give greater attention to the protection of women. The consequence of passing this law to make sexual harassment in public a specific offence, triable if necessary in the Crown court, will be to establish that setting out deliberately to alarm or distress a victim is a serious matter that will be dealt with seriously.
The real purpose of the Bill is to help to change the culture of society so that it becomes even more obviously unacceptable to abuse, humiliate and intimidate women and girls in public. I hope that few prosecutions under the law would ever be required, but it is important that the law is there. We have seen that this is possible. To see someone abusing someone else racially in public is now universally seen as deeply shocking and obviously wrong. In my spare time, I enjoy attending football matches, and it is not many years since it was quite common to hear racial abuse on many terraces. It would be inaccurate to say that it has been completely eradicated, but it is vastly less frequent and is taken with great seriousness not just by the authorities, but by other people present.
Too many girls and women feel unsafe when alone on our streets—twice as many as men. Two thirds of girls and women have changed their plans at some time because they have been worried about or have experienced public sexual harassment. Our streets are their streets, and they should not have to do that. The Bill, if it is supported by Parliament, would eradicate the unconscionable situation in which public sexual harassment is not a specific crime. It will make it clear that the crime is serious and it will provide sanction against those who deliberately set out to frighten women and girls on our streets. It is a tightly drawn but, as I hope the House will agree, valuable step in protecting the more than half of our population who, for too long, have had to change their ways of living their lives when the abusers should change theirs.
My right hon. Friend is making a fantastic point. I fully support the Bill, but it still has to go through Parliament. Is he aware of the StreetSafe service, run by the police, through which any person who feels unsafe can report dark spots, lights that are out and difficult areas? Authorities can then look at and address them to make sure that we are immediately safer in our communities.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, which allows me to emphasise that although I think my Bill will be a great step forward in providing for a specific offence, many other measures are needed. That includes providing information nationally and, especially, locally. I commend the Home Office for its initiative in recent weeks to advertise in public places, encouraging people to step in when they see women and girls being abused. All of us as Members of Parliament and everyone in the community can step up and make a difference through those actions.
Those of us in the Chamber today can go a step further and make it very clear that the offence of harassing someone on the grounds of their sex in public will be taken very seriously. It will provide clarity that people will be arrested for that, and I hope that it will lead to a safer future for women and girls in this country. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.
I congratulate Greg Clark on introducing the Bill. It reflects not a recent concern, but years and generations of campaigners and women speaking out about the most basic and fundamental thing: freedom. At its heart, the Bill is about our freedom as women to lead the same lives as men in where we go and what we do.
I will start by adding to the list of organisations and campaigners that we acknowledge and recognise for their work on this issue. They include Our Streets Now, Plan International UK, Citizens UK, the Fawcett Society, Stonewall, Tell MAMA, Nottingham Women’s Centre, Dimensions, René Cassin, Refuge, Hope not Hate, Sister Supporter, the Jo Cox Foundation, the Young Women’s Trust, Safe & The City, Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham. I also pay tribute to the work done in the other place by Lord Russell and Baroness Newlove.
The right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells talked about his shock that women in Tunbridge Wells felt unsafe walking their streets. Every woman in this Chamber was not surprised by the picture that he painted. It is the culture we grow up in, and we should start by recognising and naming that culture: misogyny. This is about the sense that 51% of the population do not have the same rights and freedoms to move around and to be seen as others do.
It is fantastic that the Bill learns lessons from what we know from the police about how to recognise that and how it drives crime, and I will root my support for the Bill in that. I hope that the Government will support this move because it reflects Government consultation, and I will make suggestions about how we can further develop the Bill so that it truly is the landmark Bill that it can be. Twelve police forces out of 44 are now united with those campaigners and the people who the right hon. Member talked about in recognising that women are disproportionately subject to harassment.
I say to Dr Evans: this is not about dark streets. This is one of the few crimes where we always challenge the victim. We query them: “What were you wearing? Where were you going? Did you have your headphones on? Were you carrying your keys? Were you sensible?” We tell young women that it is their responsibility to protect themselves, in a way that we would never do with any other crime. We hold education sessions, which we would not do for burglary. Yet somehow, when it comes to the basic freedom of women and girls to go about their daily business, we ask them to be responsible, rather than holding those who seek to abuse that freedom accountable.
I often hear—from men, I am afraid—this idea of them having had a “revelation” that safety should be an important thing. I hear some men—indeed, men in positions of serious importance—talk about how being a father of girls has opened their eyes to the need to tackle these issues. I like to call that the Jay-Z defence, because he said the same thing about having a girl while being married to Beyoncé. This kind of legislation is not just about daughters. It is about wives, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, friends, neighbours and co-workers. Women are everywhere, but we do not get to go everywhere without being frightened—without that daily experience of thinking, “What route should I take? Should I put my keys in my hand? Should I be frightened about going down this street? It’s a cold night now, so maybe I won’t go out in the dark.” It is not the dark that is the problem; it is the people. That is what we need to tackle and that is what the Bill does.
According to data from the Office for National Statistics, every single day 24,000 women in this country experience public harassment, with those from minority communities much more likely to be affected. Frankly, I will stop campaigning for misogyny to be recognised as a driver of crime when I go to a wedding and the bride gets up and says, “Well, he followed me down a dark street, demanding to touch my breasts, and I thought it was the most romantic thing I’d ever heard. I had to stop and get in his van.” It does not happen. Yet millions of women have a story like that—a story about the fear and the impact it had on their lives.
No other crime is so prevalent that it is shrugged off as a fact of life, yet the harassment of woman has been for too long. Why is that? It is because when women come forward to report, often they get asked whether they did something to generate that experience. Often, the experience women then have is that they are told—I am sorry to say that this goes for both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service—that it is too difficult to find the person or that it was perhaps a misunderstanding.
I want to be very clear in supporting the Bill: this is not about bad manners between men and women. We are talking about crimes and offences. When we started campaigning for misogyny to be recognised as part of hate crime, we were told we were somehow criminalising wolf-whistling. One of the things I find really powerful is that people have now finally recognised that any form of harassment or unwanted attention in the streets is not endearing. It enables a culture in which it is acceptable to target women. That is what we have to change.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for her excellent campaigning in this area, and I thank Greg Clark for bringing forward the Bill in a joint, cross-party way. Does she agree that the Bill will only be successful if the enforcement of this important legislation is properly resourced?
I completely agree. Indeed, one of the frustrations that many of us have had through the years has been police sources in forces that do not adopt this approach saying that it is a resourcing issue. There is no other form of crime to which we say, “Look, there’s just so much of it that we’re not going to do anything about it.”
We know how serious these crimes are. We look at the histories of offenders involved in rape or serious sexual assault and we see the escalation process; because, oddly enough, the person who starts by following women down the street does not usually stop there. Tackling that is absolutely crucial to addressing these crimes. That is why I want to pay tribute to Sue Fish. Anybody who has spoken to Sue Fish, who started off by recording misogyny as hate crime in Nottingham, knows how powerful and transformative her approach has been in Nottingham, and there are now 12 police forces taking this approach. They have recognised how it is driving crime. One crucial aspect to this issue is change to the culture within the local police. Some 80% of women do not report crimes to the police, because they do not believe that the police will take them seriously. I have been in meetings where the police have said, “Well, the women have to come forward.” They do not recognise that they are not creating an environment in which women feel they will be taken seriously.
As an MP in London, I am dealing with a dramatic loss of confidence in the police because of institutional misogyny, institutional racism and homophobia. The differences seen in the police forces that have introduced this policy are one reason why I have been such a passionate champion of it and why I have challenged my local police to pick it up too. Misogyny is at the root of many crimes against women. This is not just about public harassment; it is about changing the culture in our police forces and, indeed, as the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells said, in our society. We have normalised the harassment of women and an environment in which it is acceptable to target women, and then we blame women for not taking the joke and not thinking that it is a fair game or that it is nice that somebody is attracted to them—it is never about attraction.
The 12 police forces currently recording where a crime is motivated by a victim’s sex or where their sex is a factor in it have clearly stated the benefits of that approach, and the Bill will underpin and enhance it. One of my frustrations is that, nearly two years ago, the Government agreed that police forces should record that data, but some forces are yet to implement that policy. Therefore, all the benefits of institutional change and reporting change that we have seen in Nottingham, North Yorkshire, Devon, Somerset and Gloucestershire have not yet been rolled out across the country. Residents in those communities are clear that the policy has increased police confidence and changed the way the police deal with serious sexual assault. Oddly enough, when forces have this policy, it is not wolf-whistling that people come forward to report, but rape, kidnapping and assault. People recognise that the police will not only believe them, but treat those things as the crimes they are.
I want to be very clear that, in some ways, we should not need this Bill, because it does not criminalise anything that is not already criminal. Nothing has been more frustrating for me, as the person who secured the Law Commission review into misogyny as hate crime, than hearing people ponder whether we should make street harassment, or public harassment, an offence—it already is. The point about the Bill is the uplift, and that is why this is such a powerful moment, because we are mimicking the idea of bringing misogyny into hate crime legislation. We can argue about and debate cut-outs, where the Law Commission got to and why it has taken so long to get here, but I really welcome the fact that we are here, and I hope the Bill will be the start of something much bigger. This will be the first time that every police force has had to record this data. Therefore, every police force will have to be trained in what it is looking for and how to recognise it.
That change matters, not least for those who are affected by these things. Right now, we ask women to pick a side of their identity in order for a crime to be recognised as targeting them. Particularly with women from minority communities, we have to ask, “Is it because you’re a Muslim? Is it because you’re gay? Is it because you’re disabled?” It may be all those things, but we are asking women to fit a box, rather than recognising all those things. That is why the Bill is so powerful and why it is so important that it is about public harassment, not sexual harassment.
A couple of years ago, somebody in my local community was targeting Muslim women and pulling off their hijabs. That was not just about Islamophobia; it was also about misogyny, because this person was not targeting Muslim men. The offences in the Bill would allow us to recognise that and to see the victims for who they are, rather than asking them to fit a box. The Bill also covers men, which is important, but I note the data from the police forces that are already putting this policy into practice, which show that 80% to 90% of the victims coming forward are women. The Bill will help us to start changing the culture.
I appreciate the point about data on men and women, and this is predominantly a women’s issue. However, we are also talking about culture, and men might not come forward because they perceive that no one will listen to them. This is about creating a culture where anyone who experiences this behaviour can come forward.
I agree that we want people to come forward, but it is also about time that we recognised—and, frankly, apologised to the women of this country for the fact—that it has taken us this long to see that they are disproportionately affected by street-based harassment and that it is curtailing their lives. I go back to my initial point: this is about our freedom. I would hope that nobody in this Chamber and nobody in the times to come will ever experience what I experienced as a woman growing up in that culture—I am middle-aged now—as I know every woman in the Chamber did. I would not wish this for the hon. Gentleman, but we have to recognise that challenge. So, absolutely, we want everyone to come forward, but it is about time women were heard on this issue, and therefore about time to recognise that women will particularly benefit from this Bill. That is a good thing, not something we have to have a qualm about.
If there is one thing I would want to encourage the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells on, it is how we can build on this legislation when, as we hope, the Government accept it. I note what he said about proving hatred, and I think there is a real challenge here. We live in a culture in which it has become so endemic to harass women that often we look at women and say, “Why are you reacting like that?” rather than saying to the other person, “Why are you doing this?”. Even worse, for several years the Met police have been running education sessions in my local community and somehow treating this as a matter of bad manners; it is as though if we talk to men nicely, they will not harass women any more. The time has come to recognise that most men do not harass women and therefore most men know that harassing behaviour is unacceptable. Where the Bill can be further improved is by learning from other parts of the law about the concept of “foreseeable” harassment incidents. So I give the right hon. Gentleman notice that if we do progress this legislation, I would like to see it learn from that concept.
What does “foreseeable” mean? It means that there would not be a defence of someone not realising that a woman would be offended when they were trying to grope her private parts, because most men do know that and it is about time we held men to account for the fact that they should know better. The concept of foreseeable harassment means that we would remove that defence of, “I did not realise that a woman would be offended if I did that.” That is particularly important when it comes to street-based harassment. In normal harassment cases there have to be several instances and a point at which the victim has said, “Stop!”, but with street-based harassment we need to tackle men who think they have a right to harass women and who should know better.
I note that the Minister said that the Government were looking at the concept of foreseeability as part of the consultation, so it would be helpful to understand from her whether that has progressed further. The one gap in the Bill relates to making sure that there is not a defence of, “I just thought she couldn’t take a joke”, because women have had to take those “jokes”—we have had to take those comments. We have had to be the ones carrying keys in our hands, not going out late at night, trying to find somebody else to travel with, and being told by that the police, “Oh, it’s about dark spots”, or, “I’ll tell you what, we’ll walk with you”. That has meant we have not had the freedom that we want for every woman of any age in this country to go where she wants, do what she wants, wear what she wants and be what she wants. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells, because this Bill and the recognition of misogyny as a driver of crime is a start of that process. We have a long way to go. I hope, like him, that in 20 years’ time “jokes” that we see on our television right now and people like Dapper Laughs will never be seen as acceptable ever again. I think this Bill can be part of that, and I look forward to seeing it go through Committee.
I rise with some trepidation, as this is my first debate of this sort in this role, but what a pleasure it is to do so with what I hope will be cross-Chamber and cross-party agreement on this serious issue. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for being here on a Friday to discuss this serious Bill. In particular, I thank and pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Greg Clark. Members who are here will have heard the real passion and conviction with which he presented his arguments in introducing the Bill. That interest has been inspired by not only his own deep-felt thoughts of what is right, but by hearing individual accounts from constituents, including women who are here today. I am grateful to him for his dedication. One thing I can say is that society is changing for the good in this space, and this Bill will make things better. Things such as intentional kerb-crawling are not going to be acceptable.
I also wish to thank the other Members who will be speaking today and Stella Creasy, who has already spoken. I know that many have campaigned compassionately and passionately for a long time to introduce this legislation, and I would mention Members who are not here but who have been working hard on this issue, such as Ms Harman. Of course, we will be hearing from many other Members shortly.
I pay tribute, too, to the many charities that have worked assiduously for change, such as Plan International UK and Our Streets Now. My ministerial predecessors and I have been in receipt of many letters from hon. Members on behalf of constituents who support the campaign. I know that the efforts of Our Streets Now, in particular, are inspired by the real world experiences of its two founders and of many other young women.
Public sexual harassment is a terrible crime and, as we all know, it is far too widespread. Recent Office for National Statistics data, based on a survey carried out in January, February and March this year, found that one in two women and, indeed, one in six men felt unsafe walking alone after dark in a quiet street near their home. It is important to state that this legislation is not in any way to be construed as being anti-men, anti-women or anti-anyone. This is pro safety and pro people. It is to protect people who might be targeted because of their sex. We know that, by and large, it is women, but it is also boys and men. This is to protect us all.
I am sure that colleagues from all parts of the House will agree when I say that the ONS data contains shocking findings. Public sexual harassment is not only harmful, but totally unacceptable. Why should a woman, or a young man, have to let their friends know which route they will take home and what time they intend to arrive? Why should a woman have to hold her keys in her fist? It is the most basic responsibility of Government to keep our public places safe. Everyone should be able to walk our streets without fear of violence or harassment. Women, and of course men too, should feel confident, safe and secure when they are out and about in our cities, towns and villages.
There has been much discussion generally about non-legislative actions. These matters are, clearly, of the utmost importance and they are being treated as such by the Government. I am really proud of the many actions that we have taken. For example, we have awarded £125 million through the safer streets and safety of women at night funds to help women and girls feel safer in public places and to make the streets safer for all, whether through additional patrols, extra lighting or more CCTV. I know that the figures and sums of money that we cite seem rather abstract, so let me bring them to life with one example. From the safety of women at night fund, we funded West Yorkshire Combined Authority to launch a train safety campaign to promote access to an online link with safety information for public transport users, such as bus tracking. This means that there is no longer a need for someone unnecessarily to stand at a bus stop alone waiting for a delayed bus. That is just one of many examples of how money can help in this area, rather than just giving a nod to what ought to be.
Anybody who lives in London and has to wait for buses that never seem to show up would welcome that, but it is also important to say that it is not the case that, if somebody was at a bus stop that did not have any lighting, or if they went somewhere that was still dark, they are somehow culpable for these crimes. The funding that the Minister has mentioned should be about making sure that everybody is safe. Women in particular should not face any challenge that they went somewhere that was not on the list of places where there was the lighting, for example.
That is, of course, part of the change that we all want to see. As with most Government strategy now, we will be looking in the future at the perpetrators, not the victims. That is a move forward. Although the hon. Lady’s intervention re-echoes what she said a little earlier, I just want to remind the House that there are a number of great initiatives under way. Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth, who, as we know, is the national police lead for violence against women and girls. The Government has confirmed, with, I hope, the support of all parties in the House, that we are adding violence against women and girls to the strategic policing requirement. This is that huge shift from victims to perpetrators, which is only right.
Let me provide some other examples of where money is effectively and properly being targeted on these issues. Our safer streets tool is allowing people to pinpoint on a map places where they felt unsafe. This really helps. We all know how digital innovations can make things far easier and far more focused. More than 23,000 reports have been made using that tool. That is empirical evidence. We very much need to base our legislation on the evidence—not on window dressing or what is thought to work, but on what actually does work. This Government, with Opposition assistance, are moving in the right direction.
In addition to what we are instigating, the College of Policing and the CPS have published new guidance for officers and prosecutors on how to respond to reports of public sexual harassment. I know that Members are concerned about enforceability and getting convictions and the right evidence. We are doing that.
Finally for the moment, I ask everyone to look at the Enough campaign, which has been funded and stretched out over the past few months. This communications campaign is giving bystanders—because we are all in this together, and our focus should not just be on particular people experiencing alarm and distress—the confidence to safely intervene when they see harmful behaviour. It is empowering victims and getting to the root of the perpetrator’s behaviour. We all know that it can start young and then gain in momentum.
I pay tribute to the Government for their advertising campaign and for giving the public strategies to step in, even if just as a distraction by asking for directions, for example. Breaking the behaviour is so important, and everyone in this place and across the country can try to call it out.
My hon. Friend is right. The campaign has cut through. We see posters and stickers everywhere, even on vape stores. Those who have a lot to do with young men and women have seen a change in the conversation, with young men in particular saying to their friends, “That’s not okay,” and women saying, “We’re not going to copy men’s banter.” We have seen progress, and the campaign is based on empirical evidence and the money is targeted. It is not about how much money we spend, but about how we spend it. I am glad to see progress in this area.
On offender behaviour, will my hon. Friend give some attention to the work that is being done in prisons to address perpetrators of sexual violence? The projects that support reduction in reoffending by sexual offenders are varied in their effect, and it is worth the Government paying close attention to the varied effect of those programmes. Some are better than others, but those that are good really do work and should be supported.
One of the joys of being a relatively new Minister is the feeling that we can have substantive change. I would welcome anyone in the Chamber coming to talk to me about issues that have concerned them for years. I say to those in the Public Gallery as well as to hon. Members that every member of society can change something in this area: you can go to school or university and you can change things.
Alongside the measures we have taken, legislation has a key part to play, and that is why we are here today. As has been well set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells and others, the Bill will provide that if someone commits an offence under existing section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986—namely, the offence of intentionally causing someone harassment, alarm or distress—and does so because of the victim’s sex, they could get a longer sentence of up to two years in prison, rather than six months. That is real change.
The Bill is deliberately not prescriptive about exactly what types of behaviour are covered. We do not want to create a tick-box approach that limits the behaviours that could be prosecuted. The explanatory notes will give Members a good idea of that. Cases will, of course, be dependent on the individual circumstances, but examples might include somebody being followed closely at night, obstructing a person’s passage down the street—otherwise known as cornering them—or making an obscene gesture at someone. The offence targets not lawful behaviour but actions clearly intended to intimidate. I know that the issues of intention and intimidation will be looked at very closely. At this stage, the right way to go, in my respectful view as a lawyer, is that there needs to be intent. The House will, of course, look at all aspects of this good Bill.
Our approach reflects our considered view that all the behaviours are covered by existing offences—though I know that others take a different view—so a wholly new offence that duplicated existing ones would not have positive consequences. We cannot just window dress things and bring in laws for the sake of it. We need to be bespoke and clever about what we are doing, and actually get results. There is a real need to provide a clear offence in law that would help to deter perpetrators and give victims the confidence to report what has happened to them. Many victims do not want the aggressor or the perpetrator just to have a slap on the wrist; they want them to have a real meaningful sentence, which will drive change.
I have mentioned intention, but it is so important. The police and the CPS will need to properly gather the evidence that they need, of course—that is the way the system works—but we are working extremely hard to improve that core part of the criminal justice process. One thing that I would like to say at this point in the debate—I know that hon. Members will say more on it—is that there are always concerns that a person could claim that they had an intention other than harassing the other person. We need to look at particular actions, such as wolf whistling. I would not for one minute say that the state needs to intervene on every piece of language used, but when intention needs to be proved we know what a wolf whistle is when it leads to nefarious motives.
This law will not, I hope, in any way say that a low-level wolf whistle gets someone two years in prison. We need to have a sense of proportion. We cannot demonise any section of society, whether it is men or women. We cannot demonise people, but we can stop perpetrators, whatever their sex is. It is disrespectful to women, and wolf whistling, as we know, extends into other behaviours. We need to look at the overall picture, and Enough’s communication focuses on exactly that.
I confirm the Government’s strong support for this excellent Bill.
The explanatory notes, under “Territorial extent and application”, say that the Bill extends to England and Wales, and that clause 2 will apply only to England. As the matter is devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland, I wonder whether the Minister is in conversation with the rest of the Union to work out whether a similar piece of legislation is being introduced, or is already in place, there?
My Department is, of course, in conversation there.
Before we get to other Members who want to add to the debate, I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells for introducing the Bill. I look forward to its swift passage through this House and the other place. It is an issue that goes to the heart of what sort of society we want to live in. The idea that in 2022 anyone should be harassed, intimidated or targeted when simply going about their everyday life is scarcely believable, but we know that it is happening, and too often. It is still, by far, too much of a reality for many people. That is why it is high time that we send an unambiguous message that we will do everything in our power to ensure that women, and indeed everyone, can walk on our streets without fear.
It is that time of year.
It is indeed. I welcome the Minister to her new role. She and I have shared time on Bill Committees, and it is good to be debating these issues again with her. I congratulate Greg Clark on achieving Government support for his Bill. I very much welcome the people from his constituency who are in the Gallery, and who perhaps played a part in helping him to introduce the Bill. Seeing as they are in the Gallery, I reference a television programme called “God Rot Tunbridge Wells!”, which tells the story of Handel’s life. The honourable people in the Gallery and the right hon. Member may like to watch that programme, because they will see that I play a starring role in it. That is something to look out for.
I also pay tribute to Plan International UK for all the amazing work it has done in its “Crime Not Compliment” campaign, launched in 2020 to call on the Government to finally make public sexual harassment a crime. My hon. Friend Stella Creasy has named a large number of organisations this morning that have been working in this space, and my tribute goes out to them, as well.
That we have such behaviour in our society is bad enough, and the statistics in Plan International’s report, “Everything is Racialised on top” make for stark reading. Its work shows that, while 75% of white girls have suffered public sexual harassment, that figure rises to 82% for black, black Caribbean and black British girls, and 88% for mixed race girls. The Bill today does not go quite as far as Plan International would like. It would like a law that criminalises all forms of public sexual harassment and comprehensively closes the legal gaps surrounding this behaviour, but the Bill is a welcome first step in the right direction, and Labour is pleased to support it. That will be of no surprise to the Government, as we tabled many amendments to address sex-based harassment in public when the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 was in Committee last summer. Sadly, the Government voted those ideas down.
We were in the same position last week, with the Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill, to which my hon. Friend Yasmin Qureshi spoke. We tabled a specific amendment to the same Bill, and I am pleased that prisoners will not now be released on Fridays, when many of the services they need are closing down.
While I am glad that the Government are finally taking action on all these issues we were debating a year and a half ago, the chaos at the heart of Government means that these important reforms are still being delayed time and again. It is simply not good enough, and our constituents deserve better.
I turn to the content of the Bill. We all know that public sexual harassment can have a real and serious impact on those who experience it. It can seriously impact how safe and confident women feel in public places, and it is mostly women who are victims of this abuse at the hands of mostly male perpetrators. However, as has been mentioned, it is also important that male victims are included, and we are glad that the Bill makes such provision.
As we have already heard, sexual harassment in the streets can be a precursor to even more serious kinds of discrimination and violence against women and girls. As Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, puts it:
“As a society, the normalisation of sexual harassment in public spaces plays a huge part in creating a gendered power imbalance and ingraining derogatory attitudes and behaviours towards women. What starts in public spaces doesn’t stay there. It plays into discrimination against women in the workplace and abuse in the home. If we say street harassment doesn’t matter, we’re designating women’s bodies public property. And that has a huge knock-on impact.”
As we know, the call for evidence for the Government’s tackling violence against women and girls strategy received 180,000 responses. I wonder how many women out there would have liked to contribute, but did not know that they actually had that opportunity. I suspect that, if they all had known, it could have run into millions of people sharing their stories. However, the fact that there were 180,000 responses is testament to the extent of the problem. Those who have bravely spoken up have contributed to some distressing, although sadly not surprising, findings. One in two women and one in six men felt unsafe walking alone after dark on a quiet street near their home. Some 45% of women and 18% of men felt unsafe walking alone after dark in a busy place. One in two women aged between 16 and 34 had experienced one form of harassment in the previous 12 months, with 38% of women aged between 16 and 34 having experienced catcalls, whistles, unwanted sexual comments or jokes, and 25% of women felt they were being followed in the street.
Last year, research by UN Women UK found that only 4% of women who had suffered sexual harassment reported the crime, and only 45% believed that reporting the crime would make any difference. Among those who did not report the crime to the police were people who had been groped, followed and coerced into sexual activity. It is deeply distressing that women do not feel they can put faith in our justice system when it comes to such abuses. The figures underline the urgency of the need for concrete action from the Government beyond the provisions of this Bill, as so much more needs to be done.
I am encouraged that in this debate there is cross-party consensus that enough is enough. We need to make sure that women and girls can trust the justice system to address these harms in the knowledge that this type of behaviour will be treated with the severity it truly deserves. If we demonstrate how seriously we take such behaviour, the perpetrators on our streets will know their abuses will not be tolerated. The Opposition agree that public sex-based harassment is a crime, not a compliment.
The Minister talked about the money spent on many initiatives throughout the country, and that spend is welcome. She also referred to the fact that many young boys now recognise that the behaviour of some of their peers is far from acceptable, and I agree. It is wonderful that education in schools is perhaps now catching up and boys are getting the right message about how they should treat girls. More importantly, it is tremendously good news that some of them are prepared to stand up and defend women and young girls in their own classroom.
We need changes in the law to ensure that women and young girls can feel safe. The House needs to do so much more to ensure that they feel safer in public spaces. The Government missed golden opportunities to do so in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, but I am glad that today we can at least take another step in the right direction. We will support the Bill.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Greg Clark, who has done such an incredible job to get the Bill to this point. I appreciate that it has a long way to go yet, but I welcome the cross-party support for it and the comments made by my hon. Friend the Minister.
I do not recall the first time that I spoke in this Chamber about public sexual harassment, but I vividly recall doing an interview with “Woman’s Hour” in 2019, when I was ridiculed for saying that public sexual harassment should be a specific crime. I remember the commentary on the website afterwards saying I did not know what I was talking about, and I remember the Daily Mail calling me mirthless because I did not think it was funny. The reality is that public sexual harassment is never funny: it is always scary and it dominates the lives of too many women.
There has been some focus this morning on the lives of young women, but the stark reality is that there is probably not a woman in this place who has not experienced public sexual harassment at some point. It can happen at any age to any person, and it does happen to men as well, particularly young gay men. They need our support every bit as much as women do.
I certainly remember why I first started talking about this issue: it was largely because of a coalition of really impressive women and women’s organisations—people who had come to see me and raised the issue with me. I am going to list them all, because I argue that, once we have on our side Our Streets Now, Plan International, the Girl Guides, the Soroptimists and the Women’s Institute, we have brought together a very impressive coalition of women of all ages and backgrounds who are prepared to speak up and determined to do so. When we read the statistics, they are absolutely terrifying. They show the sheer scale of the problem. When an issue dominates the Girlguiding girls’ attitude survey and dominates the experiences of young women at school, college and university, we have to reflect that it is well past time that we did something about it.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister, who will have the pleasure—I suggest—of responding to my right hon. Friend’s Bill, of taking it forward, and of seeing it eventually go on to the statute book. However, there is a long history of other committed female Ministers, many of whom, over the past few years, have sidled up to me and said, “Keep going: keep pushing at that door.”
Let me give some indication of the scale of support there has been. I remember my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins, on many occasions in Westminster Hall, begging me to keep going—to keep on asking difficult questions, and to keep on ensuring that this issue remained uppermost in people’s minds—but, of course, she is not the only one. My right hon. Friend Karen Bradley has held this brief, as have my hon. Friend Rachel Maclean and my hon. Friend Mims Davies, who was in the Chamber earlier: she too has played a role in keeping this issue on the priority list. There is also, of course, my right hon. Friend Mrs May, not to mention the former Members of Parliament Amber Rudd and Sarah Newton, both of whom also held this brief at various points.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells said, back in December last year we saw the Law Commission’s review, which clearly stated that the Government should consider making public sexual harassment a specific crime, although, interestingly, at that time the commission rejected the idea of adding misogyny to the list of hate crimes. I was not particularly happy about that, but I was prepared to wear it on the grounds that we would see public sexual harassment made a crime. It was a shame that there was not enough time for the Government to do that, but I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for bringing the issue as far as this point.
I want to pay tribute to some of the brilliant women out there in the community who are working both for and alongside the police, whom I consider to be real champions in this regard. The Minister mentioned Maggie Blyth, the deputy chief constable of Hampshire constabulary—my home force—who is also the national police lead for violence against women and girls. I also pay tribute to our police and crime commissioner in Hampshire, Donna Jones. I have attended many events relating to violence against women and girls where she too has proved herself to be a real champion in sticking up for the 51% of the population who are affected by these matters. Another is Caroline Henry, whom I met the day before yesterday to talk about the issues affecting women and girls.
Let me give a specific example to show why I think the Bill is so important. I have heard successive Ministers say that such legislation is not necessary, because there is existing legislation to protect women and girls from sexual harassment. I am going to recount the story of a constituent who spoke to me about it, and my subsequent conversation with the then Minister about what had happened to that constituent. This was a 22-year-old working in the retail sector—a very glamorous job, pushing trolleys around the supermarket car park in the depths of February. I want Members to imagine her uniform: a puffer coat made of hi-viz material, a pair of leggings, heavy boots, a bobble hat, and, because this was at the height of covid, a mask. She said to me, “I hate lunchtime.” I thought that was bizarre: I thought most young people quite liked having a lunch break. She said, “I have to work from 12 pm until till 2 pm, because that is when the supermarket is busiest and I have to return all the trolleys to the front door, and I hate it.” I said, “Why? What is so difficult about lunchtime?”
I apologise for generalising, and I apologise to all those employed in the construction industry who will hate what I am going to say next. My constituent replied, “Because that is when the builders come for their lunch.” When I asked what happened when the builders came to the supermarket to get their lunch, she said, “They make comments about me, they follow me around the car park, they talk about how my bum looks, and this week one of them came up to me, put his hands on either side of my face, and told me that I was too beautiful to be pushing trolleys.” I looked at her in horror, and then I went to see the Minister at the time and said, “You’ve been telling me for months that there are crimes already being committed and that there is legislation to protect people like my constituent who tells me that she hates lunchtime and spends it pushing trolleys back to the entrance of the supermarket as quickly as she can, because that is where the security guards are—she spends her lunchtime trying to be within range of the security guards. What was the specific crime there? What legislation can we use to protect girls like her?” She looked at me and said, “I don’t know. I don’t think a crime has been committed there.” I entirely accept that we must not demonise all men and we must not demonise all builders, but that is the type of behaviour that this legislation is designed to counteract, so I welcome it wholeheartedly.
We know that 50% of young women have experienced sexual harassment in schools or colleges. We know that 37% have experienced it on public transport. I pay tribute to the amazing work done by the British Transport police, among other organisations, to highlight the unacceptability of it and the strategies and tactics that we can all use to stop being bystanders and to intervene and help women in situations where they are uncomfortable and are being harassed. We know that 33% of sexual harassment happens in public buildings and that 75%—three quarters—of all women have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lives. All of us in this Chamber know a victim of it, which also means that all of us in this Chamber know a perpetrator. It is the perpetrators who we need to identify and we need to stamp out their behaviour.
I want briefly to talk about the cultures behind public sexual harassment. My Select Committee has done and continues to do significant work on this. I remember telling a colleague that we were doing some work on the cultures that underpin male violence against women, and she looked at me and said, “You’re trying to overturn 2,000 years of male behaviour, are you?” I said, “Yes! Absolutely—that is what we have to do.” We have to put a marker down somewhere. If we are not prepared to do it now, today, in this place, then do we wait another 10, 20 or 1,000 years? Are we prepared to do that? I am certainly not. I find that it is very liberating being a woman in your 50s; you suddenly find that you are in a terrible hurry to get stuff done now. Now is today, and the Bill is that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells.
My Committee is doing some great work looking at the experience of young women in education settings, and it is harrowing. I did a roundtable with the Agenda Alliance for women and girls at risk, which includes girls who have been through the care system and girls who have experienced all sorts of horrors in their lives. Many of them told me about their experiences in pupil inclusion units; we have to be careful about the terminology we use, in terms of whether it is exclusion or inclusion. Girls in those settings are heavily outnumbered. In some instances, it is 90% boys and 10% girls. One of the girls told me that there is a poster in her education setting talking about consent, and every day, that poster is slashed and torn off the walls. She said, “How do you think that makes me feel? It makes me feel that I am not worthy. It makes me feel that I am in danger and at risk in my education setting.” She was perfectly happy to accept that it was a suboptimal education setting, and that there were many reasons why she had ended up there, but she said, “I should be valued and protected as much as the boys in that place.”
The work that the Committee is doing is fascinating, important and worth while, but it is harrowing to hear the stories and the experiences, particularly of black women working in the music industry and of how they can be sexualised, victimised and harassed because of their skin colour, their sex and the fact that they want to get on in an industry that is incredibly male-dominated and competitive. They feel that if they make a fuss, their careers will be pushed to one side.
We heard a couple of weeks ago from Fern Whelan, the ex-England footballer, about the experiences she had as a footballer. We like to think that sport is a great leveller and that everybody is equal, but the harassment that women still face in football is significant, and it continues when they move on to careers in the media after they have finished their playing careers. She told a fantastic tale of how she had made a comment and was endlessly trolled for it, with hundreds of comments basically telling her to get back into the kitchen, while her male contemporary had made the same comment and not one single person had reacted to it in any way.
While these incidents may appear to be the less serious end of harassment, it is cultural, and it is embedded in all the places that women go, where women work and the activities they want to take part in. It is crucial that we pursue the culture. I absolutely accept that it is not all men; there are some brilliant men. I think in particular back to 2020, when women were feeling empowered and emboldened to speak up about their experiences walking home, and I shared the fact that, when I leave this place at night, I do so with my flat keys in my hand and wearing a pair of trainers. I know that they are not much beloved of Madam Deputy Speaker, who would prefer none of us to wear trainers in this place, but actually as a woman it is much easier to run home in flat shoes. I suspect that few of my male colleagues have ever reflected on their footwear before trotting home across Westminster bridge.
We must tackle the cultures. We must recognise this good Bill, which my excellent colleague has brought forward, as a first step. There will be a very long way to go yet for all of us to stand up for brilliant young women like Maya and Gemma Tutton, who have been such an inspiration to me and others in this place, and ensure that this is a first step and that we continue the work.
I have a hard act to follow in my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes, who made an excellent contribution. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend Greg Clark on one of the many other excellent contributions as well as on securing the Bill and bringing it to this point. I know that he will take it further and get it on the statute book, because everybody in the Chamber wants to see the Bill become an Act of Parliament. He embodies what we need to do, because men are part of the solution.
Men are the problem—there is no doubt about it. We have talked about how the Bill can protect men and women, but women and girls are predominantly the victims of harassment in public, so we need men such as my right hon. Friend to stand up and say “No” and to say that they need to be part of the solution, because the many fantastic women who have campaigned on this for many years will get it finished only if men come on board, too. I congratulate him on his work so far. I know that he will succeed and that he and others in the Chamber and in this place believe that this the right approach and that men need to be part of the solution.
We should be thinking about the safety of women and girls all the time. The media get interested in it only when there are high-profile cases. Those cases are heartbreaking and, every time there is such a case, I, and I suspect every other woman in this place, think how it could have been them. They remember the time they took the short cut home and wondered why they had when they finally got behind their door because that short cut is dangerous. They remember walking home with their keys in their hand. I still do, because if my hands are in my pocket and my keys are in my hand, should someone approach me, I have got a weapon—something that allows me to counteract the strength of a physical attack from, inevitably, a much stronger man.
We have all got the bus to the next stop—one more stop than we would normally go—because that is the lighter walk home, so we feel safer. In these cold, dark nights, we will all think, “Is it the right way to go, or should I walk out of my way and take that different route home that means that I will not be home, enjoying the warmth of my home, until later than a man would?” A man will not think about that. A man will just take that short cut or take the short bus route home. A man will not have to think about it.
Stella Creasy talked about how this is not right. We have to start being able to just live our lives. We should not be saying to women, “Oh, just man up.” Goodness me, that is not right. We should be able to take the bus route that gets us home quickly. We should be able to walk the shortcut. We should not have to have training on how to protect ourselves. This is not what our society should be. The hon. Lady was absolutely right and I pay tribute to her campaigning. When I was the Minister in the place of my hon. Friend Miss Dines, the hon. Lady was a thorn in my side, but quite rightly because she said many things that made a great deal of sense. It is great to see that this issue has now come to this House.
I welcome my hon. Friend to the Front Bench. She made a point that I want to gently pick her up on. She said we want to empower victims. We do not want to empower victims; we do not want victims in the first place. We do not want to be in a position where we are apologising and explaining our behaviour. It is about the perpetrators. We want people not to be perpetrators. We do not want the crime to happen in the first place, and we need to send that very clear message.
Let me compare the attitudes on this issue with attitudes on bullying in the playground. Nobody says that somebody being bullied in the playground should man up and learn how to fight back and protect themselves. No, we deal with the bullying. We take the bully and tell them that it is socially unacceptable to be a bully. I have seen the difference in my children’s education from what I received at school. They are told, “No, you can’t be a bully. If you’re a bully, we’ll take you out of the school. You will be excluded.” We deal with the perpetrators of bullying in the playground, yet in the field of violence against women and girls, we far too often look at potential victims and try to stop them from being victims. Everyone should take safety measures. We should lock our front doors when we leave and close our windows with security locks to stop us from being burgled. Of course we should take sensible measures, but we should not have to take additional measures as women just to go about our lives because we may be harassed in public, as if that is okay and acceptable.
I was the Minister with responsibility for this area way back when. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells said, I think I was the first woman in the coalition Government to manage that portfolio. I was followed by Sarah Newton, my hon. Friends the Members for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies) and now for Mid Derbyshire—sorry, Derbyshire Dales. I should know that, as she is my next-door neighbour.
It is a wonderful portfolio, but it can be the most difficult portfolio to deal with emotionally because the depravity that human beings can show to other human beings is sometimes extraordinary. The safeguarding brief is one that exposes any Minister to the depths of human behaviour, but it also shows the best sides of human behaviour. It can be the time when the champion and the hero is found—the person who will stand up and be counted. It can be the most rewarding.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price, because when she was a Health Minister she took this issue seriously. It is not just a Home Office response; there has to be a response from across Government. While I am getting tributes out of the way, when my right hon. Friend Mrs May was my boss at the Home Office, she was the Home Secretary who spotted that this victim-based crime needs to be taken seriously. Victims need to be believed, and we need to stop the perpetrators before they even become perpetrators. Too often with this sort crime, we remove the victim from the setting. We take the victim to another place and it is the victim who suffers, rather than the perpetrator. It must not be that way—it must be the perpetrator who suffers. I continue in the theme of congratulating women Ministers by mentioning Amber Rudd and my right hon. Friend Priti Patel. All those women Ministers in the Home Office have taken this issue seriously.
To conclude on this point, the Bill demonstrates what Parliament and parliamentarians want. We are showing leadership: we are saying that this is not acceptable and society needs to listen and act differently. Taking steps like this—making what appear to be very small changes to the law—can make an enormous difference.
I want to pick up on the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells made about hate crime. He is absolutely right that the more effective way to deal with the issue at this stage, as the legal framework sets out, is to make this change to harassment in public. However, it might not necessarily be the right way or everything we need to do in future, in a different framework. My right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North talked about the campaign continuing, and it does. This is not the end; it is just another step in this long journey that we are taking. But this simple Bill makes a big statement, and I say to police forces, law enforcement bodies, prosecution services and others: Parliament wants you to act in this area; Parliament wants you to take action and make sure these crimes are taken seriously. The greatest success of this Bill after it becomes an Act is that there will not be any prosecutions, because there will not need to be prosecutions, because society will have recognised that this is not acceptable and will start to behave differently.
I again pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells. He has my full support on this Bill, and I look forward to it returning to this place for Report and Third Reading, and then to the other place, and then to my right hon. Friend coming in with Royal Assent at some point in the future.
It is with great pleasure that I add my support to the Bill of my right hon. Friend Greg Clark. I congratulate him on bringing forward what is actually quite a radical measure. There is an outbreak of consensus across the House today, but we should reflect on the fact that these issues have been causing nuisance and misery for women for generations. We have had women representatives in this place for over 100 years, and it is amazing that it has taken us this long to bring forward a measure that, as Stella Creasy said, will be liberating, because we as women have all had our freedoms compromised by having to tolerate behaviour that should have been ruled unacceptable a long time ago.
I listened very carefully to my right hon. Friend’s speech, and he presented his Bill in such an articulate and factual fashion that he made it unarguable. That is a great contrast with what I heard a Prime Minister say from the Dispatch Box only this year: that we should not criminalise this as it would cause too much work for the police. That statement on its own tells us that women remain second-class citizens before the law of this country, because women are not the problem here. Women are the victims; the problem is the behaviour, and that behaviour absolutely must be tackled.
It is also great to follow three great champions of women in this place: we wheeled out the star turns today, in no small part down to my right hon. Friend, who helpfully reminded us all that this Bill was coming forward today, but it is great to see them here. I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes, who has been dogged in her pursuit of Ministers on this issue. As she pointed out, only in 2019 she was vilified for making a public claim on this topic, and in that very short space of time this debate has been transformed. So this is a good day for women in Parliament.
I am pleased that the Minister said the Government support this measure. I am, however, slightly concerned by what she said about establishing intent, because the behaviours that the Bill is designed to tackle should be unacceptable in any context. Let me draw an analogy. When the Mayor of London reduced the speed limit on the Embankment to 20 mph, I got two speeding tickets because I did not know. I did not intend to break the law, but I had committed an offence because the law had changed and I was in breach of it. I had no real grounds on which to defend myself, because the behaviour was wrong. That is exactly the standard that should be brought to bear here, particularly as some of these crimes will be committed by groups of men in gangs, cajoling each other and egging each other on. Somebody may feel that they could argue, “Well, it wasn’t a problem. I didn’t intend to cause any offence. We were just having a bit of fun.” That cannot be acceptable; there can be no question of allowing any kind of loophole.
We have heard repeatedly in this House that women have to take decisions every day of the week about their safety. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North outlined, we need to bring those to life to make the whole House realise what we are talking about. She talks about wearing her trainers to walk home, and that is the kind of thing we do. I am sure I am not alone in putting my hood up to make sure that no one can see me. Even now, as a woman in her 50s, I am still making these decisions; these things do not just affect young women. However, I want to speak specifically about young women this morning, because some of the experiences they have during their teens, as they start to become noticed for being women, can cause real harm. Young girls can be traumatised by the attention they attract from men. I have said before in this place that, for young women going through puberty and through changes in their body that they are not comfortable with, it can be traumatising to have uncomfortable male attention overlaid on to that.
Let me relay a conversation I had recently on a school visit. All of us go into schools and talk about being Members of Parliament. Sometimes those visits are really good, and sometimes they are quite hard work and it takes a while to get the students going and asking questions. This visit was for International Women’s Day, when I went to speak to a group of girls who were all 13 or 14 years old. It was hard work; they were not being very forward. Then, I just chucked in, “So, how many of you in this room have been victims of street harassment?” I am not naive about this sort of stuff, but even I was shocked, because every single one of them had a story. One particular girl, bless her, was quite inspirational. She was 14 but could have passed for much older, and she told a story about how she had been followed. She had started to feel threatened, because this man was coming up quite close and he kept making suggestive comments to her.
Bless that girl, at 14 years old, she deliberately walked to where there were a lot of people in a shopping centre, turned round and hollered at him. I suspect that that was not the first time he had done that to any girl. I also suspect he will think twice about doing it again after she did that. This was a 14-year-old girl doing that. If we are expecting our teenage girls to have that degree of courage, bravado and strength, we are expecting an awful lot of them. The reality is that what should be tackled is that aggressive, entitled behaviour. What that man was doing was basically saying, “My entitlement to get enjoyment from ogling you, young girl, trumps your ability to say no.” The fact is that we have allowed our laws to continue to absolutely embed that principle in all aspects of our law. This Bill will help to change that.
The other aspect of that visit was that a male teacher was in the room, and the beauty of it was that, as each one of their girls shared their experiences, you could see the revelation for him. At the end of the meeting, he spoke quite emotionally to the girls and said, “Look, we need to do something about this in school. We need to start telling the boys how you feel when they behave like this.” I thought, “That’s great. I have done a good day’s work here,” and off I tootled. A few weeks ago, I was attending a church service and this girl up to me, grabbed hold of my arm and said, “I just wanted to thank you, because I was in that room when you came to school. I have now become the head girl and we have a project running all the way through the school and we are all talking about it.” I thought, “Fantastic,” but this is the lived experience of teenage girls up and down the country.
There is lots of criticism of the fact that there are too many cars outside schools. We have to get people on to public transport, but for girls it is like a war zone. We talk about how there is not a single women in this House who has not experienced this stuff, and public transport systems are probably one of the worst places to be. When introducing policies to achieve net zero, we need to think about some of the implications of these things. It is why things such as this Bill are so important to make everybody safe.
I am pleased that opinion is changing, and changing very rapidly. One of the reasons for that is that the terrible incident of Wayne Couzens, and the dreadful crimes that he perpetrated, forced everybody to stop in their tracks, and perhaps tell all the men in this House that it could happen to anyone. These are not crimes that are just directed at people in more deprived communities, lower-income groups or people who have been through the care system. They can, and do, happen to anyone.
I remember speaking to a ministerial colleague who told me that he had gone home and expressed his shock at what happened, only to have the revelation from his wife and sister that this was our lived experience all the time. Another colleague, after I had been on one of my regular diatribes on this subject, told me that now when he gets into the lift in Parliament with a woman he feels really uncomfortable in case he is intimidating her. I thought, “Good. We’re achieving something.” When men start to think about how their behaviour affects women, we are doing something right, so I make no apologies for making him feel uncomfortable.
The truth is that society has looked the other way for too long. We have seen these behaviours normalised, and women have been expected to just suck it up, and we have. Some women still think that it is “just bants”. Well, it is not bants; it can do harm. As I said, this is about power. This is about men using their collective accepted powers to reassert their power over women. Again, it comes as something of a shock that, for all our messages of equalities and efforts to get more women into Parliament and to create more equality of opportunity, some men still use low-level behaviours to intimidate women. They would use powers to intimidate other people as well, but women are perhaps the softest target to make inadequate men feel superior. It just is not okay to do that.
Lewd cat-calling, which covers some of the behaviours that we are talking about, can also make women feel very uncomfortable about their bodies. I return to the issue of how uncomfortable it can be for teenage girls. It is no surprise to me that so many teenage girls are exploring new gender identities at the moment, because the attention that they are receiving from men can be so unwelcome. If I think back to my time as a teenager, we did not have the amount of porn, one click away on the screen of a phone, that we do now. In those days, porn was much more restricted. Highly sexual images of women, and women’s bodies, were not as freely available.
The truth is that boys will have seen the kind of stuff that used to be on the top shelf of a newsagent before they reach their teens. It is no surprise, therefore, that a sexualised view of girls starts to materialise much quicker. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North outlined, so much of the sexually aggressive behaviour that girls experience starts in schools. There is a broader behavioural pattern here. One of the most important things about the Bill is that it will send a message to society that this behaviour is not okay—that it is wrong and harmful. As for the idea that we should worry about the volume of work that the police will have to do as a consequence of the Bill, that is not the issue. This is about sending out the message that we are not prepared to tolerate this behaviour any more.
I want to underline the point that the hon. Member for Walthamstow made about the Bill changing the culture of how women view the police in this area, because the crimes that will be escalated and reported are such things as rape and domestic violence. The message will be sent out that the criminal justice system is on the side of women. Culturally, we have to put up with things that cause us harm but which the law trivialises. Automatically, that does not put us in a good position to have respect for the institutions of the law. The fact that the police will have to record incidents will mean that they take the whole issue of gender crime more seriously.
As consequence of the Bill’s implementation, I would like to see, and I am confident that we will see, much more willingness on the part of victims and law enforcement to pursue these serious crimes. I look forward to the rape conviction rate being higher. We all share that objective, but we have never really examined how the wider aspects of the law affect women and get in the way culturally. That is also the reason why so many incidents of domestic violence go unpunished. It has been a long time since women were treated as the property of their husbands and fathers-in-law, but behaviourally, those issues have left a legacy. That means that women are not treated fairly in the criminal justice system when it comes to getting justice.
In summary, I am hugely supportive of the Bill and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells for promoting it. I am pleased that the Government support it, but we need to challenge much more on the wider issues of the law and the behaviour of all our institutions to make sure that we tackle violence against women—the fact that we call it “violence against women and girls” rather than “male violence against women and girls” epitomises the problem. We have always made it the victim’s problem, a woman’s problem, but it is not; the perpetrators are the problem. The perpetrators are men and we should send a very strong signal that some behaviours will not be tolerated and that we will do all we can to protect women and girls.
I have spoken before about the serious and outrageous behaviour that girls from Stroud High School in my constituency reported to me. Those girls, in their distinctive school uniform, deal with completely unwanted public sexual harassment from men. There are random comments sometimes, and the comments are sometimes sexualised and are sometimes just really weird. I listened to their experiences. They took the initiative of creating a survey, so they went around their school—these are really smart kids—and they discovered, to their horror, that girls as young as nine had experienced public sexual harassment.
We have all experienced that and we have spoken about that in the Chamber. It ranges from being shouted at to comments by those who think they are being funny, to people being flashed at and far more serious incidents. We saw from the Everyone’s Invited campaign that this is prevalent among schoolgirls and schoolchildren. I started to investigate this, listening even more closely to my excellent colleagues and looking at the fantastic work that went on prior to my joining this House, and it became really obvious that things needed to change.
In Stroud, sadly, we have had a series of rapes and sexual assaults, which is totally devastating for the victims and their families. It has also completely rocked our community. This is a safe, beautiful Cotswolds town, which is similar to what my right hon. Friend Greg Clark said about his area and the need for strong police and strong communities. We now have women who are worried about going out. We have women who are worried about going for a run during the day down our championed canal routes, because one of the attacks was in broad daylight. The Bill is not about rape—I get that—but about public sexual harassment. None the less, from speaking to the women and girls in my constituency and from listening to the experienced hon. and right hon. Members in this place, I know that, although the harassment on the streets and the trolling that is happening online daily, even hourly, to women and girls may be down to keyboard warriors being idiots, it is also fuelling physical abuse in the real world.
My hon. Friend is making the important and powerful point that we must never ever forget that there is, uncomfortable though we may find it, a pyramid of offending. Although not every flasher becomes a rapist, every rapist has started somewhere, and public sexual harassment can be the somewhere. Does she agree that that is one of the many reasons why we have to make sure that it is stamped out at source?
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. That is why I get so frustrated when people dismiss this as unnecessary, going too far, or too heavy-handed. It is a very short hop, skip and jump from someone shouting obscenities or being rude to a woman on the street to being rude in their own home, if that is their mentality. We have to make that connection and we have to keep making it strongly.
When we had those rare horrendous incidents in Stroud, the advice that was immediately given was for women. They were told, “Change your behaviour. Change your clothes.” It was exactly as Stella Creasy said. It was also, “Don’t wear your headphones. Think a little bit more about where you’re going to walk”. Where do I want to walk in a beautiful Cotswolds market town? I want to walk everywhere. I do not want my thought processes to be about whether I will get attacked on any given day.
But Stroud fought back. This is a very spirited place, very politically bouncy, as anyone who follows politics will know, and my inbox is very bouncy, too. Anybody who thought that they would get away with attacking women and girls or being rude to them on the streets in my area was very, very wrong. We have all banded together to make changes, which is why I am so much in support of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells is doing. Our voices are being reinforced, although it is not just about our voices: in all of our constituencies, we have Government support for a very important Bill.
I have led a successful campaign, which the Government have now supported, to change the law and reduce anonymous online abuse, which, as I said, is completely connected to the real world. Hundreds of people in Stroud have marched, on a number of occasions now, specifically on these issues. Our police and crime commissioner, Chris Nelson, and our police have joined those marches. That is a really important step. Our PCC has made tackling violence against women and girls a focus of his work. The hon. Member for Walthamstow was talking about police forces that were ahead of the curve; Gloucestershire is one of them and I am very proud of it for that, although the police have a lot more work to do. We held a public meeting about these issues, and even though we have been reporting hate crimes and public harassment for much longer than other forces, women were standing up saying that they still did not feel comfortable going to the police. There is an awful lot of work to do, and I know that the Gloucestershire constabulary understand that.
Two fabulous constituents, Nikki Owen and Sydney-Anne McAllister—I met Sydney quite recently—have launched a pressure group called This Ends Now. They want to change the law and the media, and they are challenging both to do better, particularly on language. Where there is a rape, it should be reported in the media as a rape, not as a sexual assault, and it should not be played down in any way, shape or form. I believe that committed women in my patch will be pleased to see what we are trying to do today.
I encourage all Members of the House to look up the work of the Holly Gazzard Trust, which was set up by a family who were devastated by the loss of their daughter. They have gone on to campaign on domestic abuse and to really change the lives of many other families, and they are front and centre in supporting and fighting for women and girls in Gloucestershire.
We also have Chrissie Lowery, who is winning awards all over the place. Following the rapes and other incidents I have mentioned, and the rise of concern among our school girls about public sexual harassment, she took up the baton and created the Safe Space campaign, which Stagecoach, the police and lots of local businesses are now on board with. After an incident in a very dark, dingy, scary tunnel, Chrissie took the initiative of getting some amazing artists together, and we painted the tunnel, which sounds very simple. My daughter and I went down, and we put butterflies on the wall of this horrendously dark tunnel; it is now a beautiful open space that people are comfortable going down during the day, and we are looking at having lighting and CCTV at night. These efforts are small acts of kindness, but they will all join up to make a difference.
Gloucestershire police have created something called the Flare app, which is being rolled out to other forces. It allows people to put in the details of places they are worried about in the Stroud district and creates a heat map, so the police know to go to specific points of concern and the council can come in and do work on things such as CCTV. It is really innovative, and we can probably do more with it, but 3,000 people have downloaded it, so it is going pretty well for a new piece of kit.
Given that my community and constituents have done so much legwork—there are more examples, but I will not go on and on—it is right that we in this place constantly review the law. Following the advice from bodies such as the Law Commission—where very learned people have spent a lot of time investigating this issue—my right hon. Friend’s Bill assists us in doing that. We are creating a new law that deals with intentionally harassing or seeking to cause alarm, which is a gap in the legislation that we have in this place, so I welcome the Bill.
However, it is right that there is a balance in what we are trying to do and in what happens should somebody be pulled up for sexual harassment, so I welcome the explanation of what will and will not result in imprisonment. The headlines and challenges that we have seen—that someone will be sent to prison because they wolf-whistled—are immediately dismissive. It is therefore right that we are clear about what the Bill does and does not do and about how we have sought to strike a balance. The test is the intention to cause distress. Where somebody is being a plonker, that is a very different test—we could deal with plonkers in other ways. This intention to cause distress is a serious test, which will hopefully lead to prosecutions in the right places and then to deterrence, so that we can start to change society and culture.
Does the hon. Lady also recognise the point I made earlier about adding the concept of “foreseeable”? The risk with intent is the young man who says, “I didn't realise that this would be harassment,” when everybody else would. When we look at intent, we have to be clear that it is foreseeable that some behaviour could cause distress; otherwise, we create a big loophole, and we will not make the progress we want to make.
I heard what the hon. Lady said earlier. It is not something that I have looked at, but I understand that there are already examples in legislation and I heard the challenge to the Minister to look carefully at this. It is important. We cannot create legislation in the knowledge that people are going to get let off the hook or that they will learn how to respond when pulled up by the police. That is why we have to be clear about the balance and about what the Bill does and does not do. We have to think through a range of different examples and about the responses that will be given by the perpetrators, so that the legislation is tight.
As the shadow Minister, Alex Cunningham, made clear, we have to avoid demonising all men and boys. They are not all bad. They are not all plonkers. We know that men and boys are very much part of the solution. Early education in our schools is absolutely vital, but we cannot get away from the fact that the incidents are generally perpetrated by men. It is right to continue that debate and to also be really careful with our language about men and boys.
To conclude, the reality is that only 26% of those who experience public sexual harassment report the incident to the police, no matter how scared, harassed or intimidated they have been by it. We have also heard examples such as that robustly and passionately given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North of the girl in the supermarket. That was a really visual story of the nonsense that girls and women have to go through every single day when they are not asking for it or wearing anything provocative but just trying to do their job. With such examples in our minds and this happening every single day of the week, of the month, of the year, we have to make changes.
I am relieved and really grateful that the next time I am in Stroud with Stroud High School girls or with the campaign group This Ends Now and other teams, or the next time I am on a march or dealing with these issues in front of a group of people in our town hall, I will be able to point to the Government backing this Bill as yet another example of the Government wanting to protect women and girls and being prepared to create the legislation to do so and bring our laws up to date.
It is almost two years since Maya and Gemma Tutton from Our Streets Now first approached me in Parliament. I pay tribute to them for their campaigning. As Stella Creasy points out, there have been many voices along the way, but those two are notable because they are among the youngest campaigners and have been among the most persistent over the past two years. This Bill is in no small part a product of their efforts.
I have asked for laws on public sexual harassment a number of times in this place and have been met with two objections, both of which are legitimate and which I want to deal with at the outset. The first is the point about wolf whistling. Are we creating a de minimis criminal offence that will result in the police going on a wild goose chase after builders who have happened to wolf whistle at somebody? Gemma Tutton was asked that question when interviewed on the “Today” programme this morning. I will return to it later in my speech, but her answer was no and that what we are talking about is “really sexual intrusive abuse”. When we mention that in any roundtable we conduct in our constituencies or when we meet women’s groups, everybody knows an example of what is being referred to. The language used in that context would be completely unacceptable to repeat in this place, but such behaviour is pervasive and serious and the purpose of the offence is to address it.
The other objection that I have encountered in the past is that it is already a criminal offence under the Public Order Act 1986. The truth is that that is true in principle, but it is not really true in practice. Very rarely do women even know that they would have a right to go to the police to report public sexual harassment if someone said something really obscene to them in the street. On the very few occasions that I have encountered somebody who has been to the police, they tell me that they have been met with a really inconsistent and imperfect response by police officers who—and I say this respectfully—sometimes do not really know that there is such an offence and are unfamiliar with what they are required to do under the Public Order Act. I think that creates two imperatives to look at this.
I was very glad to hear the Minister respond positively at the Dispatch Box. I am going to expand on why the Government need to be enthusiastic about the Bill. It is right that the Government are responding to the recommendation of the Law Commission. I know that, when the Government have developed their work on tackling violence against women and girls, they have always wanted to do so following consultations and with a proper evidence base. After the comprehensive work the Law Commission did, it is difficult to say now that that has not come forward.
It is true to say that, in the last two to three years, the Government have increasingly shown that they are willing to enter the public sphere—the public, rather than the private—in the treatment of women. An example of that is when they outlawed upskirting. We are currently discussing the Online Safety Bill and the sharing of intimate images. My right hon. Friend Dame Maria Miller is leading the charge on this, but the Government have made positive indications, and downblousing, another form of intrusive imagery, is likely to be included.
It was this Government a decade ago who created a distinct offence for stalking. I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not suggesting stalking is comparable to public harassment. It can be a much more serious offence, but at its inception, the first time someone acts, there is the idea of fixating on somebody and thinking about how to encroach on their public space in a way that will humiliate them, cause them fear or have a predatory impact. That offence has something in common with what we are trying to achieve today.
The purpose of this commendable private Member’s Bill from my right hon. Friend Greg Clark is in some way to draw all these strands together. I would respectfully say that it is far better that we talk in the wider language of public sexual harassment, rather than in a piecemeal way, where we deal with individual acts and offences as they arise, such as upskirting and downblousing. Even those slightly contrived expressions show that we are dealing with the issue in a piecemeal way, rather than looking at it in a more cohesive sense.
There is also an important point to be made about consistency with the law. Since 1975, there has been a prohibition on sexual harassment in the workplace and in educational settings. That was set out in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, but it now appears in section 26 of the Equality Act 2010. It is clear that the 2010 Act has informed this Bill, because I notice that some of the statutory language is replicated. It is not as if the Government are unfamiliar with the law of sexual harassment, or that it does not exist anywhere. It does and it has been borrowed a bit here.
The whole sense of sexual harassment is something that has been brought into sharp focus since #MeToo particularly. We talk about sexual harassment in the workplace, but in the last year or so, particularly in educational settings such as universities, we have talked about non-disclosure agreements. That has been a big topic, and it is another part of what we are discussing today.
Another point, which we have all been tiptoeing around a bit, is how we draw the line at reasonableness and find the minimum threshold at which it would not be appropriate to criminalise somebody’s conduct. I would respectfully say that that already exists in law. I refer the House to section 26(4) of the Equality Act, which sets out a reasonableness condition that is necessary to establish, whatever the conduct complaint in the workplace, that it meets the threshold for unlawful harassment. It is not simply enough for somebody to assert that something has happened and on proving those facts establish that a civil tort has been made out. They must meet the reasonableness threshold set out in the Act, and I see no reason why equivalent terms could not be transposed into the criminal law, because the law is already used to looking at this.
It is true to say that there is a pervasive problem about women’s safety in public places. When I did a women’s safety survey in my constituency, 85% of respondents gave me an example of somewhere in the town of Newbury where they had felt unsafe. When specifics were given, they were much analogous to the kinds of harassment this Bill seeks to proscribe. Nearly every incident that I was given detail about had occurred in Newbury and at night, and I note that there have been two sexual assaults reported to the police in Newbury alone.
I want to pick up on another point that many MPs have made. I represent a market town in Berkshire; it is a low-crime area. None the less, in the three years since I was elected, the area has seen one violent murder of a woman by her partner, for which Christopher Minards was sentenced to life at Reading Crown court last September; a rape, for which Mark Tooze was sentenced to five years at Reading Crown court last July; a former Newbury police officer given a three and a half year sentence for abusing his position by coercing vulnerable women into sexual relationships; and a number of sexual assaults. Even in a low-crime area, very serious violence against women is happening, and therefore I do not take gateway issues, which I believe public sexual harassment can be, lightly.
As my hon. Friend Siobhan Baillie said, public sexual harassment is particularly directed at younger women and girls. Like her, I did a roundtable with some schoolgirls, and the girls at Park House, a big secondary school in Newbury, told me about being particularly targeted when wearing their uniforms and the men who kerb-crawl at the end of the day or wait at certain junctions, saying obscene things out of the window. The girls definitely thought that there was a link to wearing the school uniform and felt more vulnerable when wearing it. My constituency of Newbury is far from alone in this. Plan International gave me some data when I was preparing for the debate, and it shows that 75% of girls and women aged 12 to 21 have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space.
This is a very important and helpful Bill because it creates for women a clear set of contours so that they know when their rights have been infringed. It is also helpful to the police, because the words “public order offence” are quite vague, and if there is a public sexual harassment offence and police have training on it, it will be much clearer to them what they are expected to do and how they are expected to act when it is drawn to their attention. We can probably all agree that there has never been a more important moment for the police to reinject confidence in their relationship with the public, particularly in terms of how they are prepared to deal with violence against women and girls.
I want to end by agreeing with my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price: I cannot bear the expression “tackling violence against women and girls”. I regret that we use it and that we tolerate it in the passive voice. It is male violence against women, and as lawmakers, we should call it what it is; I really feel strongly about that. Overall, this Bill is an important and valuable tool in our long battle to completely overhaul women’s safety.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend Laura Farris, and I commend my right hon. Friend Greg Clark for bringing this Bill before the House. Listening to the speeches this morning has been a real eye-opener. We have heard some powerful arguments from Members across the House for why this legislation is unfortunately still necessary.
I repeat the plea of my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes: hopefully this legislation will never have to be used. What I am hearing from across the House is that lived experience needs to be more widely shared. I became an uncle again last week to a beautiful little girl who we have nicknamed Jingles while her parents think of a more appropriate long-term name, and I want to be able to say to her and my other nieces, as well as to my sisters-in-law, my parents and all my female friends and family that we are on a journey to making sure that this is stamped out.
I was brought up in the Greater London area, and I remember walking the streets of east London and how I was intimidated back then. If I could speak to an equivalent of myself at that age now, I am pretty sure their life would be a lot easier, but that journey has not been as quick for women in this country. As a House, we recognise that, which is part of the reason we are debating this today, but there is much more that can be done. As someone who has spent a bit of time in the Home Office, I know that the Government are doing a lot on this. My hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price spoke about the terminology used in a particular report, and I hope that those on the Front Bench listened to that.
We need to continue to make men a bit more self-aware. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock spoke about a colleague being a bit self-conscious in the lift; that is absolutely the right type of attitude that we want to instil. We need to be conscious that when men walk down the local street or home from the tube station, we generally do not bat an eyelid in respect of our safety. When I was at university—I remember this shocking me at the time—each and every one of my female friends at the time had a story about feeling scared. If I repeated that exercise today, the likelihood is that unfortunately each person would have the same answer.
We have spoken about some stats; I would argue that a lot of those stats are probably hiding a lot of the issues. Although the stats show that 75% of females feel intimidated, I am pretty sure it is closer to 100%, but the other 25% do not yet feel confident enough to start to say, “Actually, I may have been a victim of harassment or other issues.”
We need to be more socially and culturally aware. As someone who thinks about doing the right things even when no one is watching, I know that there will have been instances when I was with a bunch of predominantly male friends, especially in my younger days, when we may have ended up with a herd mentality. We need to nip that in the bud.
I compliment British Transport police: on my commute in recent weeks and months I have seen advertising hoardings that tell people to call out bad behaviour and explain how to intervene safely and securely if they see a potential domestic violence issue on the London underground. Part of what we need to do today—I hope to take this away afterwards—is encourage further education for us all on how to nip things in the bud at an early stage. We spoke earlier about the pyramid model, and I do think that is correct. If we do not deal with bad behaviour early in someone’s trajectory, they could go on to bigger and worse offences that none of us wants to see.
I am conscious that I have probably spoken for longer than I intended, but I am grateful for being allowed to contribute.
I thank my right hon. Friend Greg Clark, who is very well respected in Scunthorpe because of his work on the steel industry some years ago. I thank him for that work and for bringing forward this very important private Member’s Bill. It is a pleasure to be here to speak about it. It is important that we recognise that we are having this debate during the UN’s 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. This is a matter of interest to many of my constituents and I am pleased to represent them today and to talk about this issue.
I am also here as a person who completely understands, as we all do, the fear of being inappropriately approached in public. I am here as a parent, as an aunty and as a member of our society who understands. There cannot be anyone present who has not had a friend, a sister, their mum, their aunty or somebody they know ring them up and say, “Can you just stay on the phone with me please? I have got off the bus and I think maybe there is someone behind me,” or, “I feel a little uncomfortable; will you stay on the phone with me until I get home and let you know that I’m safe?” We will all have experienced that.
As the Office for National Statistics tells us, one in two women feels unsafe walking home at night. The proportion for men is much lower, at one in six. It is no wonder that the calls for change we have heard so passionately expressed by so many colleagues today are so loud, because we all understand, instinctively and innately, that this is an issue of concern that affects our families, friends and constituents. We all understand that it is right that we address it, so I am grateful that we have the opportunity to do so today.
We have seen various petitions and many of our constituents have expressed concerns. As has been said, we have to acknowledge that legislative change alone will not address this issue in its entirety. It has to be a much wider conversation that we start with our own children, nieces and nephews and other children we spend time with, and part of the conversations we have in schools, colleges, universities and the workplace. It should be a conversation that we continue to have and revisit throughout our whole lives.
I want to recognise the work in my local area through my local police and crime commissioner, Jonathan Evison. He has opened a community safety fund that supports projects that, among other things, improve the safety of outdoor public spaces and support those most at risk of crime. I absolutely take on board the points that have been made today. We should be safe to walk anywhere at any time, whether the lighting is good or terrible, and whether it is an alleyway or a wide open space—whatever it is. It is helpful and right that we make those spaces as safe as we can by making them well-lit and by recognising areas where it is less pleasant and where we feel less safe and addressing that.
The police and crime commissioner’s strategy emphasises the collation of data and understanding some of the root causes we have heard about today. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells mentioned the thousands of years of history and some of the root causes of the behaviour that we still see. The strategy seeks to put forward some solutions to this violence that women and girls face.
We also saw the launch of the safety of women at night fund, which is specifically targeted at public spaces at night. We all know of areas in our constituencies and places where we spend time that feel safe, open and well-lit in the daytime, but which at night can be a completely different environment where we do not feel comfortable or safe spending time. I congratulate the police and crime commissioner on that work, because this is real money going to real effective projects, and we can see the results.
We also have, as was mentioned earlier, the StreetSafe project. I have spoken to young women and girls in my constituency who have told me that they know areas where they expect this kind of behaviour to take place. I have spoken to local police officers who were genuinely concerned and understood the issues. They, too, knew where some of these places were. The StreetSafe tool, which is a mapping tool that I have advertised on my Facebook and encouraged people to use, allows us to share information, build a picture and collect the data about areas where this behaviour is taking place. The police can then understand that and show that resources need to be allocated to those spaces.
In terms of the wider legal context, I am not a lawyer. I understand the arguments about existing legislation, and what that does and does not cover, and I defer to my more learned colleagues who do understand that. I am well convinced by the words of hon. and right hon. Members that this Bill is required and that we are not able to take the steps we need to take, to send the messages we need to send and to make the changes we need to make with what is available to us at the moment. I am completely convinced on that matter.
My view is that the intention of this Bill is good. It is needed, and we can see that it has cross-party support in the House today. This Bill should only ever have been rejected if the Government could show that the existing framework would put us in a position where we can tackle this issue. I am pleased to hear the Government’s response today. I want us to reach the end of this process and be able to say clearly that the law is written in the most optimal way it can be to prevent further instances of sex-based harassment on our streets. I wish my right hon. Friend the very best with this Bill as it continues its progress, and I commend him on the work he has done so far. I hope we reach the correct outcome.
It is a great privilege to speak in this debate and in support of my right hon. Friend Greg Clark. Like many Members, I am new to this House and sitting here this morning I was starting to think that, as a new MP, sometimes we are away from home for quite a lot of time. This week has been a full week, before I go back to North Norfolk to switch on a few Christmas trees in my constituency tonight. I have sat here listening to the contributions, some of which have been extremely powerful. I think it was the one from my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes that made me suddenly think for a moment about how I would feel.
Sitting here, we begin to think about going back home to our families. I have two little girls; I have often spoken about them. Like their father, they are quite nice little dots. Isabelle and Eleanor are 11 and seven, with blonde hair. I sat here, as a father, listening to what my right hon. Friend said. I think that I speak for every father, and indeed mother, in this place when I say that if one day I had to come home and hear about one of my little girls being spoken to by a man about what she looks like, or what her bottom is like, and having had a man touch her while she was waitressing or putting trollies away in the supermarket, I would want the law to protect her. What we heard from my right hon. Friend was disgraceful, and well done to her for looking after her constituents so well. I am very honoured to support the Bill based on what was said this morning.
Turning to the Bill and some of the research that I have done, harassment in public on the grounds of race or disability is rightly treated extremely seriously. Following what I have just said, I firmly believe that to harass someone due to their sex is absolutely no different, and should incur exactly the same response. I have heard over the last three years from constituents, usually women and girls, about their own lived experiences. To hear some of those stories, just like what has been spoken about this morning, is deeply saddening, and in many cases they feel powerless to get something done about it.
I find the statistics extraordinary, with 75% of girls reportedly experiencing unwanted sexual attention in public and over 30% of girls receiving verbal harassment at least once a month. It is unthinkable, and clearly something must be done about it. We need to ensure not only that sexual harassment is punished, but that the victims know who they can report it to, and where they can receive the necessary aftercare. I find the statistic of 68% of adult women experiencing sexual harassment since the age of 15 deeply disturbing.
That is a really important statistic. Has the hon. Gentleman heard the term “adultification”, which sadly a number of young black girls suffer from? They are perceived as being much older than they are, and they are treated unfairly, including unwarranted sexual assault and sexual touching.
I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. I am not an expert in this area, and it is not something that I know a great deal about, but I have had the privilege of sitting here this morning and hearing and learning. I will certainly go away and look at her point, and I thank her for making it.
To sum up my thoughts, I will go back to my two little girls, whom I look forward to seeing later. I, like every other Member of this House, want my daughters to be able to walk home at night feeling safe. I want them to be able to feel confident that the law will protect them. I find the statistics that we have been given a sad reflection on society. We have a society that seems to tacitly tolerate so much sexual harassment, and turn a blind eye to it. For too long, women and girls have had this experience of deliberate harassment intended to raise alarm and cause concern when they are just going about their everyday lives. I entirely support the Bill, and commend it to the House.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Duncan Baker, and to take part in the debate.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend Greg Clark on his Bill. I have the privilege of serving on his Select Committee, the Science and Technology Committee, and the Bill bears all the hallmarks of his forensic attention to detail and, indeed, fundamental decency. I also pay tribute to Safenet, Rochdale Women’s Welfare Association, Independent Choices Greater Manchester, and Superintendent Nicky Porter of Greater Manchester police, who is the VAWG lead for GMP and also my local superintendent. She does remarkable work, and I look forward to supporting her in that regard.
I was struck by something that Stella Creasy said in her speech. We often talk about oppressed minorities in this place, but in this instance we are talking about an oppressed majority. She said something thoroughly depressing: “Women are everywhere, but we do not get to go everywhere without being frightened.” What an awful statement that is, and how awful it is to have to realise that that is the truth, the lived experience for the majority of people in the country. It is flabbergasting; it is horrendous.
Safety is not something we should ever be able to take for granted. Walking down the street at night, travelling to school, going to the gym—these are things that women and girls, and men and boys, should be able to do without fear. However, that is just not the case. It is not the lived reality. According to Plan International, 62% of women have avoided doing something routine because they have either experienced sexual harassment or feared it. That is a disgrace, and that is why the Bill is so important. By amending section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986, it will make public sexual harassment a sex-specific offence for the first time. Some have suggested that it might be simpler to add misogyny and misandry to the list of hate crimes. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells pointed out, we do not want to leave open a loophole enabling an abuser to simply say that the harassment was not motivated by hatred of a particular sex. While I agree that this is a good first step, I think we need to think about how, technically, we can make those offences work in law.
More important is the fact that the changes proposed in the Bill have not come out of the blue. I take the point made by my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price that the passive term “violence against women and girls” is not an appropriate moniker, and I hope we will start to change that language, but it was the Government’s VAWG strategy that highlighted the need to take public sexual harassment more seriously. The Law Commission then suggested that more attention should be paid to legislative changes. It was therefore good to see the Home Office launch its consultation over the summer to determine how best the law can protect individuals from public sexual harassment.
I say “individuals” because it is important that to remember that this behaviour does not just affect women and girls, and that men can also experience harassment based on their sex. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes, it disproportionately affects the LGBT+ community. I certainly do not wish to diminish the experience of the women who are in the Chamber today, but I myself have experienced a form of sexual harassment. I am a member of that community, and it is pervasive. Even if only one in six men fear it, I think we need to keep an eye on it.
I hope that the Bill will enable us to give more support to victims of public sexual harassment so they are able to identify instances of criminal behaviour, and to feel confident that once they have been reported, their cases will be dealt with properly. Only through greater clarity in the law can the public have confidence that intentional harassment based on sex will be dealt with swiftly and appropriately by the police.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case about the importance of being specific, and I think we need to be clear about the fact that this is not about sexual harassment alone. It is about sex-based harassment, because these behaviours are about power—the power to demean and insult somebody, with that sense of entitlement. It must be made clear that, in the case any of the victims, this does not have to involve sexual words or behaviour to be sex-based harassment under the Bill. Whether it constitutes misogyny or misandry, it is unacceptable.
The hon. Lady makes an extremely important point, and I absolutely agree with her; these behaviours are entirely about power, and therefore a sexual element is not always necessary in order for them to permeate. I am simply speaking to the use of the language. As I said, this Bill is a good starting point. We need to have a broader conversation about how we specifically make misogyny and misandry hate crimes, but obviously the technical implementation of that will take time. We need this legislation in place now, which is why I will be actively supporting it.
We have heard some powerful speeches today. People have said, “As a father”, “As a husband”, “As an uncle”, and so on, and those are laudable reasons to give. I am not a father, which will not surprise anybody. I am not married to a woman. I have female relatives, but that is not the reason I am supporting the Bill. I am supporting it because it is morally the right thing to do. It is completely unsustainable that the majority of the people in this country live in constant fear of injury, harassment and simply not being able to go about their lives as I can.
I have the privilege of being a white middle-aged man. I live in a society that was specifically designed by people who look like me for people like me; that is fantastic, I can breeze through life and 90% of the time I will not be affected by anything. I am a member of a particular protected characteristic, but perversely the law already protects me. I can be protected on the grounds of my sexuality but not on the grounds of my sex, which is not an appropriate way for the law to operate in this day and age. So I will be supporting the Bill because it is morally the right thing to do. It is the decent thing to do and, once again, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells on having the initiative to do this, because it has been far too long.
I, too, want to start by congratulating my right hon. Friend Greg Clark on introducing this important Bill. It is humbling to speak after so many passionate speeches; there have been more than in any other debate I have been involved with, particularly from the female Members. I think in particular of the speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Newbury (Laura Farris) and for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), Stella Creasy, my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) and for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft), and my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes. We heard a lot of incredibly informed and powerful speeches.
I think it is important for me as a man also to speak about this, for two reasons. The first is that this Bill is about a problem that affects us all. As other Members have mentioned, we men have daughters, wives, mothers, sisters and we are also directly affected by this; I want all my loved ones not to have to live in fear. Secondly, it is important for men to speak about this because although this problem primarily affects women—it does affect some men as well—it is primarily and overwhelmingly men who are the perpetrators of it. The problem is not women’s behaviour. The problem is men’s behaviour and it absolutely need to change, and that is what we hope this Bill will succeed at. We also need to educate men about the importance of changing behaviour and about how a lot of what they currently do is unacceptable. Wolf-whistling is unacceptable, so is deliberately following women down streets at night and so is leering over them in the tube and making sexual comments—it is not okay. Men have to change their behaviour, and we need to educate young men, boys, children in schools that that behaviour is unacceptable.
Attitudes have changed over time. I recall as a child going past a building site where various builders cat-called, wolf-whistled out to a woman, who was clearly very distressed by it, and other people nearby found it acceptable that that was happening. It was a sort of “joke”, although clearly it was not a joke for her. Nowadays, people would find that far less acceptable, but clearly attitudes need to change far more. One clear lesson from this morning’s debate—I will not recite all the statistics that other Members have used, although I have them here—is that this is still a very widespread problem. It is far too prevalent. Clearly, it is completely unacceptable that the majority of the population live in fear and we absolutely have a duty as a Parliament to deal with it.
As the hon. Member for Walthamstow mentioned, we already have a law for this. The Public Order Act 1986 does cover harassment, not sex-based harassment, and there are penalties for it. Clearly, however, the current legal framework does not work, because this is still a problem. That is why it is clearly necessary to up the ante, have a particular sexual harassment-based crime and increase the penalties, as this Bill does. That should sent out a message to three different groups: the police, the victims, and the perpetrators. The message to the police, law enforcement agencies, courts and judges is: society and Parliament expect you to treat this with the seriousness it deserves; this is not something you can expect victims to shrug off or “man up” and deal with. Some people have talked about that.
The police and the courts have an absolute duty to clamp down on this. Increasing the penalties and having a specific law for it will make it clear to them that they need to do that. It sends a message to victims as well that it is important that they get the protection that they want.
It sends a message to victims as well that it is important that they get the protection that they want, and that there is a law out there to protect them. The law enforcement agencies, if they step up to the plate—we expect them to—will make it clear to victims that the harassment they are experiencing is not acceptable. The victim should therefore feel more empowered to come forward and report it. At the moment, few do so, because they know that it will be ignored, but the Bill will ensure that such cases are taken seriously.
The third message—this is perhaps the most important one—is to the perpetrators: that such behaviour is totally unacceptable, that they absolutely must stop doing it and that, if they do not, they could face up to two years in prison. Perpetrators should know that cases will be taken seriously, that victims will report them and that the law enforcement authorities will treat them with the seriousness that it deserves.
I am proud to speak in favour of the Bill and glad that the Government are supporting it. Again, I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells for bringing it forward.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Anthony Browne. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Greg Clark on bringing forward the Bill. He is taking the opportunity to raise a hugely important issue and has introduced a Bill that will better protect our constituents. We have heard some excellent and moving speeches, and with good reason, because this is an important issue that affects everyone, either as a victim or as a relative of a victim.
Having served on the Women and Equalities Committee under the excellent chairmanship of my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes and on the Bill Committee for the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, together with regular engagement with my local police, my local domestic abuse refuge and the night-time economy, including a recent shift at the newly established night-time hub in Darlington, I am only too well aware of the need for our society to do more to protect people, and particularly women and girls. I am therefore pleased to support the Bill, which will help to put in place further measures that will improve the safety of our constituents.
The Bill is undoubtedly another good step forward. It is simply wrong that, in modern Britain, women and girls still face harassment and fear being in public alone. Victims of abuse and harassment—predominantly women and girls—have been failed time and again by the criminal justice system. We can always do more, and we must do more to prevent that from continuing.
I again commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells on bringing forward the Bill for its Second Reading. It will provide another layer of protection in our society and is a great move in the right direction. It is vital that we see it progress through its legislative journey, and I offer my services on the Bill Committee should he require them.
With the leave of the House, I will make a few comments about the way in which the debate has been conducted. It has been a pleasure to respond on behalf of the Government to the excellent Bill promoted by my right hon. Friend Greg Clark. Sitting next to me is the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend Mims Davies, who previously held my role.
On the history of this issue, I want to give thanks not only to the parliamentarians on both sides of the House but to those who have held office and fought really hard continuously to get this moving. I must also mention the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Mrs May, all the senior parliamentarians who have held ministerial posts or the Chairs of Select Committees, and everyone who has worked so hard on this. The joy of this place, and not only for those watching our proceedings at home, is that there is a learning curve. The pace of change gets faster, and this issue is one on which we can look forward to seeing real, radical change brought in by the Government, hopefully with cross-Chamber support.
Another joy of this place is that I, as a member of the 2019 intake, can look around me and see a wealth of experience, which, may I say, comes in all shapes and sizes, let alone sexes and appearances, and haircuts? It is just so wonderful that, with every election, we have a new intake in this wonderful place, which brings fresh ideas, fresh experiences and fresh ways of engaging with communities. We have heard a lot about the good work with communities.
I pay tribute to many of our police and crime commissioners who are stepping up to the plate. We have heard numerous examples from Members across the House of their own initiatives brought forward by police and crime commissioners. That is exactly what this is about: change from the police as well as change from perpetrators. I thank Stella Creasy for her hard work. She spoke about freedom; it is always wonderful when Members of all parties use that word. That is what we are here for. It is all about freedom, in contrast to many countries in the world. We are leading the world in this piece of work, and it is wonderful it is cross-party.
On the challenges moving forward, a few Members mentioned that I said I want to empower the victim. I do not say that with any exclusivity, to mean that the victim is at fault or that is the only forward. It is not mutually exclusive. The Government’s focus is on perpetrators—it is about gathering information and evidence on perpetrators with new initiatives, not least on rape and serious sexual offences and violence against women and girls. That is wonderful. It is exactly what will cut through. I apologise for having said “empowering victims”—I mean that in the context of empowering them to go to the police and expect to be taken seriously, rather than being brushed off and told that it does not really matter because it is part of being a young girl. That is the empowerment I meant, though the emphasis may not have been quite right.
I thank all those who intervened and did not make a substantive speech, such as my hon. Friend Dr Evans. Some very serious points were made. In response to the forthright and useful comments made by the Opposition spokesperson, Alex Cunningham, I reassure him that when he said enough is enough, that resonates with the Enough media campaign. I paid quite a harrowing visit to Charing Cross police station with the public protection unit yesterday. I heard horrendous stories, as hon. Members can imagine. Some of the senior officers were saying that enough is enough. These are words that resonate and have the power to change.
My right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes has done a huge amount of powerful work. I thank her for the explanation that she gave of constituents and other people who have spoken to her and given evidence to her in her work over the years. She mentioned Donna Jones, the police and crime commissioner for Hampshire, whom I met just a few weeks ago. She is leading in this field. I am so pleased that women—men, too, but it seems to be mainly women—can work together to cut through this issue. It is useful, and I thank her for that. Karen Bradley has worked closely with others in the field and was a Minister in the role that I now hold. We need trailblazers to kick us in the right direction, and I thank her for her work.
My hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price is always an impassioned speaker, and I always listen carefully to what she has to say. For MPs from the 2019 intake, such as me, it is wonderful to have depth of experience from across the House to help us. She spoke about mens rea and whether there needs to be intention to commit an offence. She made a comparison with speeding, which is a straightforward, strict liability, no-defence case. There will be further discussion. As mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells, we need to prove the defendant’s mental state. That is a well-established legal tradition over hundreds of years, and we have to be careful if we go in a totally new direction. We will look at each of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock raised.
My hon. Friend also raised, as did many Members, the need to put together better male education together for our young boys—also girls, but particularly boys—so that they do not get peer pressure towards certain behaviour when the hormones kick in and think that it is okay. The sooner we shout out that sort of behaviour, the better. As a basic comparison, it is like when we teach a child not to steal 50p from the table. It means that they are less likely to steal 50p from a shop and go on to commit fraud. In the same way, failing to call out harassment when someone is very young can lead to much more serious crime in future, as many Members said. It is important to tackle that, and education across the board is needed.
My hon. Friend Siobhan Baillie is very experienced in this field, as are all the other Members who have contributed today, and has done commendable work. It is startling to hear of such serious crimes being committed in Stroud or in Newbury; it is shocking to think that sleepy places experience crimes as serious as those anywhere else. This truly happens across the country. In my new role, sometimes eyebrows are raised and I am asked which part of the country this affects—people ask whether it happens everywhere or is geographically specific. We need a bespoke approach to dealing with certain issues in certain areas, but we need to improve on this across the board. It does not matter where we live: girls and boys must have the same rights.
We need to empower girls and boys who have suffered from sex-based harassment to go to the police. A lot has been done on this, and my hon. Friend Laura Farris set out the new laws and the work we have done: there is the new law on upskirting, and we are working on downblousing and online safety. This is important, innovative work, and I am very pleased to be part of a Government who are taking this issue by the neck and shaking it. I was particularly interested in the discussions my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury has had with secondary schoolchildren, especially girls. That takes us back to the need for better education across the board.
I thank my hon. Friend Mr Mohindra for his intervention. It is always touching to hear a few heartfelt words from a Member who has thought deeply about these matters; everybody has thought deeply, but that came over very well and clearly from South West Hertfordshire’s eloquent MP. He mentioned education again, too.
We cannot the forceful points made by my hon. Friend Holly Mumby-Croft, not on this occasion about steel, but about the equally important subject of her police and crime commissioner Jonathan Evison and the use of mapping tools. I am sure the police use those tools in other areas, not just in constituencies represented by Conservative MPs, and mapping tools that are adapted to each locality have proved very effective and a good use of money. I look forward to them being used more.
My hon. Friend Duncan Baker movingly described his concerns for his daughters, but, as others have said, it is no longer just fathers and uncles who should talk about these things; everybody must speak out now. I also thank Florence Eshalomi, who is not in the Chamber at present, for her brief intervention, and my hon. Friends the Members for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson), for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) and, last but not least, for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for their comments.
I thank all Members for their useful contributions, but finally I once again thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells for introducing this really good Bill and I look forward to it progressing.
I would like to briefly respond to this excellent Second Reading debate. I thank all colleagues for coming in, and we have heard powerful contributions from all parts of the House. As the Minister said, it is particularly good not only that we have heard from the accomplished Women and Equalities Committee Chair, my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes, but that a galaxy of former holders of office are represented here. I welcome the Minister stepping into her new responsibilities, and she clearly has plenty of good advisers.
I will not comment on every speech, as some Members want to get on to the business to follow, nor will I add to the long list of organisations outside this place that have been mentioned, but I do want to emphasise one that was mentioned, the Soroptimists. They are very active and important members of the Tunbridge Wells community, and they are represented in the Public Gallery, today so I emphasise my welcome to them.
It is clear from the speeches made today that there is universal recognition that public sexual harassment is an all too frequent experience that women and girls, especially, endure every day in all parts of the country. The most powerful change we can and must make is cultural—it must become as obviously unacceptable to abuse a woman on the streets of our country on the basis of her sex as it is to abuse someone on the basis of their race or sexuality—but the law can play an important role in accelerating that cultural change. As we heard, the lack of any specific crime of public sexual harassment can contribute to uncertainty on the part of victims as to whether it is worth reporting it to the police, as well as to uncertainty, I dare say, in the minds of perpetrators who might commit these crimes that this is a crime. They should be well aware of that. The Bill will make a significant step in establishing that deliberately intimidating and abusing women is a crime.
Good suggestions have been made about how the Bill might be improved and I hope that the Bill Committee will provide that opportunity. That said, I am conscious that, for a private Member’s Bill that does not have the luxury of Government time attached to it, what might be the Bill’s ideal scope and coverage has to be proportional to the opportunity that we have, which is to change the law to make public sexual harassment an offence for the first time in our history, and to do so before the summer. Future Bills, whether they are Government or private Members’ Bills, could make further reforms, and I hope that Members will have that in mind in Committee.
I want to end by thanking the Home Secretary and the Minister for their support and for the hard work of their excellent officials in advising me on the Bill’s contents. I am grateful to the Government Whips Office and its officials. In particular, my hon. Friend the Comptroller of His Majesty’s Household is very effective, and she is assisted very ably today by my equally honourable Friend, the Vice-Chamberlain of His Majesty’s Household. I also thank the superb Clerk of Private Members’ Bills in the House Service, Anne-Marie Griffiths, and the print team for its patience and responsiveness when the deadlines for printing the papers for the Bill sometimes went close to the wire. In the hope that we might make the first big step towards safety and confidence for women and girls right across the country, I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (