Criminal Justice Bill

– in the House of Commons at 1:10 pm on 28 November 2023.

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Second Reading.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Before I ask the Home Secretary to move the Second Reading, just another little reminder that as well as being here at the beginning to listen to the opening speeches, it is important that those who are participating not only stay in for the majority of the debate but get back in good time for both the Opposition and Government wind-ups. If anybody feels that they cannot get back in time, they should let me know now so that I can withdraw their request to speak.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department 1:56, 28 November 2023

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Victims of crime must have justice, and lawbreakers must face the consequences of their actions. This Criminal Justice Bill will give the police the powers they need to crack down on criminals and ensure that those who pose the biggest threat to the public are imprisoned for longer. It will give the public greater trust in the police and more confidence that the system works for them. We have always faced criminal threats, but those threats mutate and evolve, so we have to stay ahead of them by updating our technological capability and also updating our laws.

We are building on strong foundations. Compared with the year ending spring 2010, as measured by the crime survey of England and Wales, domestic burglary is down 57%, vehicle-related theft is down 39% and violent crime is down by 52%. Police-recorded homicide is down by 15% and the number of under-25 NHS admissions for assault by a sharp object is down by 26% in the year ending June 2023, compared with the year ending December 2019.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. It is so good to see him in the Chamber now. Could he tell us what the percentage increase has been in knife crime since 2015?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not have the figures to hand, but the—

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Lady has made an intervention. Let me make some progress now—[Interruption.] If she had the answer, she could have just stood up and said it rather than making this rather performative intervention. I will make some progress.

We have also taken the fight to the county lines drug gangs and to antisocial behaviour. Of course, these successes are not the Government’s alone, but we have enabled and supported that success with record funding for police; record numbers of police officers in England and Wales; expanding the powers to stop and search; and expanding the powers to tackle disruptive protests. Of course, we have also cut red tape, which means that more of those police officers are out on the beat fighting crime. We are building over 20,000 more prison places and ensuring that offenders face the toughest possible punishment for their crimes.

We will never rest, and we will go further still. This Bill will support the Government’s zero-tolerance approach to crime by giving the police, the courts and the other criminal justice agencies the powers they need to make our neighbourhoods even safer still.

Illegal drugs and knife crime bring chaos and misery to individuals. They destroy families and ruin neighbourhoods. Knife crime is a scourge in many of our cities and, during my time on the London Assembly and as a Member of this House, I have seen for myself the devastation it can bring to families.

Any family can be affected by drug misuse. I send a message to so-called casual users of recreational drugs that their actions underpin a vicious trade that has a profound and negative human cost. That is why we are giving the police more powers to seize and destroy bladed articles and to drug test more suspects upon arrest.

The Bill increases the maximum penalty for selling dangerous weapons to under-18s and creates a new criminal offence of possessing a bladed article with intent to cause harm. It will enable the police to seize, retain and destroy knives held in private when officers are lawfully on private property and have reasonable grounds to suspect the item or items will likely be used in violent crime.

The police will also be able to test individuals in police detention for specified class B and class C drugs, just as they can already test for specified class A drugs. This will mean that the police can direct more suspects using illegal drugs into treatment, which will help to reduce drug use, support recovery and, of course, cut crime. Those who refuse a drug test, or who fail to attend or stay for the duration of a directed drug assessment, may be committing a further offence.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale

Although drug testing makes sense, it is also important that we have drug and alcohol treatment facilities, which are still very patchy across the country. Will the Home Secretary comment on what can be done to improve that patchiness?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. Of course, this Bill focuses on the crime and criminal justice part of the equation, but he is right that treatment is important. That is why I am very proud that this Government have invested an extra £600 million in the very thing he raises, because we realise that, as well as having robust criminal justice action, we need those treatment facilities.

A tough but humane approach to illegal drugs is the only plausible way forward. The House knows that being a victim of any kind of crime is deeply distressing. No crime should be screened out by the police solely because they perceive it to be minor. In August, the police committed to following all reasonable lines of inquiry for all crime types. That is a hugely welcome development, and it is my job to give police forces every possible support in that endeavour.

The Bill confers additional targeted powers on the police to enter premises without a warrant to seize stolen goods such as mobile phones where they have reasonable grounds to believe that there are particular items of stolen property on the premises. GPS location tracking technology, for example, could provide such grounds. This gives the police an opportunity to address a particularly prevalent crime type. The Bill also gives the police greater access to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s driver records in order to identify criminals.

Public confidence in policing is, of course, vital, but it is also vital that officers have confidence in each other and that police leaders can root out those who are unfit to wear the uniform. We want to ensure that we never again see the culture of defensiveness and self-interest that, sadly, we saw in the aftermath of the terrible incident at Hillsborough and following the killing of Daniel Morgan. The Bill therefore introduces a duty of candour in policing. This follows Bishop James Jones’s report, which shone a light on the experience of the incredibly brave families of the Hillsborough victims. Those families have been through a lengthy and terrible ordeal.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I welcome the Home Secretary to his position. He rightly says that a new proposal is being brought forward on police misconduct, but he also mentions public confidence. Would the public not have more confidence in the police if any officer who failed their vetting was automatically dismissed?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We are taking action to ensure that police officers, both at the start of their career and through their career, are held to appropriately high standards. On that particular issue, this is something we are taking forward. It is part, but not the totality, of what needs to be done, which is why we are outlining a number of things in the Bill.

Through the Bill, we will give chief constables the right to appeal the outcome or findings of a misconduct panel to the police appeals tribunal. Chief constables are responsible for upholding standards in their force, so it is right that they have a statutory route to challenge decisions that they consider unreasonable.

A person is not safe unless they are safe everywhere: in their home, at work, in public places and, of course, online. The Bill builds on the intimate image sharing offences in the Online Safety Act 2023 by introducing new offences addressing the taking or recording of intimate images or films without consent, as well as addressing the installing of equipment to enable the commission of the taking-or-recording offence. This means we now have a comprehensive and coherent package of offences that is effective in tackling intimate image abuse, which is a truly horrible crime that can have a lasting negative effect on victims.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

I thank my right hon. Friend and his colleagues for their fantastic work in implementing the Law Commission’s review in this area. It really is a testament to the Government that they have done that. However, some victims of intimate image abuse face another issue, because their images are still legally online and have not been taken down by some website providers. Will my right hon. Friend encourage one of his Ministers to meet me to talk about this further, and about possibly addressing it in this Bill?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s intervention. I am more than happy to ensure that her point is discussed with the Department, so that we can see what we can do to incorporate what she hopes to achieve either in this Bill or in guidance to the internet service providers and online platforms.

The Bill also fulfils the Government’s commitment made during the passage of the Online Safety Act to broaden the offence of encouraging or assisting serious self-harm to cover all means, not just communications, by which serious self-harm may be encouraged or assisted. That could include, but is not limited to, direct assistance such as giving someone a blade with which to seriously harm themselves. This broader offence will give full effect to the recommendations of the Law Commission’s 2021 “Modernising Communications Offences” report.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

I welcome the Home Secretary to his post. Not only is he the Home Secretary, but he is an old friend of mine, and I hope he stays longer in this post than he has in the others. Having had a tragedy close to my family of a young woman taking her own life, may I ask that we remove from social media these aids to and promotion of suicide, and things showing people how to conduct it?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. Sadly, far too many people have, like him, experienced the implications of this kind of content online, and I take his point very seriously. We will look at both legislative and non-legislative measures to make sure that we genuinely do everything we can to remove content that encourages sometimes very vulnerable people into a dark place.

The Bill creates a new statutory aggravating factor for murders that are connected to the end of a relationship or the victim’s intention to end a relationship. Killing in that context is the final controlling act of an abusive partner, and its seriousness will now be recognised in law. The Bill also adds the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour to the list of offences that require automatic management of offenders under the statutory multi-agency public protection arrangements.

We recognise that antisocial behaviour does so much to blight people’s lives and undermine the pride and confidence that they rightly have in their local communities. At its worst, antisocial behaviour can drastically lower the quality of life for whole neighbourhoods. The Government’s antisocial behaviour action plan, published in March, sets out a strong approach to working with local agencies so that antisocial behaviour is treated with the seriousness and urgency it deserves. The Bill enhances that with a range of new measures, including enabling the police to make public spaces protection orders and registered social housing providers to issue premises closure notices; lowering the minimum age of a person who may be issued with a community protection notice from 16 to 10; and increasing the maximum amount of a fixed penalty notice from £100 to £500 for breaches of a public spaces protection order or community protection notice.

Every public service should be accountable to the public, and we are strengthening the accountability of community safety partnerships and improving the way in which they work with police and crime commissioners to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour. For example, PCCs will be given the power to make recommendations on the activity of community safety partnerships, which in turn will be duty-bound to consider those recommendations. That proposal follows feedback from various sources that the powers available to the police, local authorities and other agencies could be used more consistently. We need every part of the system to work together as one well-oiled machine.

Nuisance begging and rough sleeping can, of course, be a form of antisocial behaviour. The former may be very intimidating and the latter may also cause damage, disruption and harassment to the public.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The Home Secretary will be aware of the campaign across the House to scrap the Vagrancy Act 1824, which does not come into force until all these clauses come in—so I am very pleased to see them. Looking at the detail, we see that it forms a third of the Bill—it is enormous. Does he share my concern that by replacing the Vagrancy Act with a measure of this level and strength, we are not treating homelessness with the compassion that we said we wanted, and we are creating a rod for our own back, which we just do not need?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We have committed to scrapping the 1824 Act, and nobody should or will be criminalised simply for having nowhere to live. That is why we are repealing the outdated 1824 Act. However, we need to make sure that things such as nuisance begging are addressed, because the British public have told us that they feel these actions are intimidating—I am sure that Members from across the House hear that in our advice surgeries and will have had people tell them that—and it is right that we respond to their concerns. The hon. Lady makes the point, implied in her question, that people end up rough sleeping for a wide variety of reasons, including, sometimes, because they are themselves the victims of abuse or they have medical conditions, be they physical or mental. That is why last year we published our “Ending rough sleeping for good” strategy, and we have made an unprecedented £2 billion commitment over three years to accelerate the efforts to address homelessness at source.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I thank the Home Secretary for giving way again; I will not test his patience too much more. However, I should point out that we have been working on this since 2018, when I started this campaign. I have met countless Ministers over the years and not once did nuisance rough sleeping come up as the issue. Nuisance begging did, and there is a debate to be had on that and I would happily have it. All I ask is: will he consider meeting me and others from both sides of the House who have taken a keen interest in this issue for a very long time so that we can put across our concerns about what is in this Bill to replace the 1824 Act? I say that because this looks like Vagrancy Act 2.0 on steroids.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We have presented a Bill and the House has the opportunity to debate it. So rather than having conversations in private, the legislative process—the process of debate—is designed for Members from across the House to inject their ideas, thoughts and suggestions into the legislation. That is literally what the passage of a Bill is designed to do.

Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Labour, Liverpool, Wavertree

I wish to share my concerns, which are those the hon. Lady has mentioned. The Bill introduces a wide definition of “nuisance rough sleeping” that is incredibly concerning to me, because it will criminalise people who are rough sleeping. In practice, it will result in worse criminalisation of people sleeping rough than under the draconian Vagrancy Act. Will the Home Secretary and Government Members give any assurance and clarity about the intentions?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Bill makes it clear that any actions that will be taken will be in response to a continuing refusal to abide by the moving-on powers that the Bill provides, so I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s assessment of how this will play out in practice. However, as I say, this is the Second Reading of the Bill and there will be opportunity through its passage for ideas, thoughts, concerns and potential improvements to be put forward. I encourage her and Layla Moran to put forward their ideas, because we recognise that this is an important issue. We want to get it right, but we are responding to specific concerns that have been raised.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

The Home Secretary is right to say that the Vagrancy Act, as it comes to its bicentenary, is ripe for renewal and change, and there is an interesting debate to be had. He is right to identify that it is a problem for many of our constituents. The other problem, which he knows I will be talking about later, is the offence of spiking. I was listening keenly to what he said and no doubt he will touch on that in a moment or two.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the need to update a number of provisions, including the Vagrancy Act 1824. I know he feels strongly about that and, through the passage of the Bill, I am more than happy to listen to his contributions about other opportunities to update and modernise legacy legislation, which has served us well but for a very, very long time, to ensure that it is relevant for the modern world, not the Victorian—or sometimes Georgian—era when the provisions were originally drafted.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

These matters raise the issue of proportionality, and I am sympathetic to the Government’s position, but does my right hon. Friend accept that a number of other areas in the Bill, most of which is very good, will need careful examination? For example, the power to enable entrance to premises without a warrant will need to be supported by the evidence base. Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that we need to move with some care on the practicalities of transfer to foreign prisons? Although that may be useful to have in the toolbox, when it has been used abroad the evidence is very mixed as to how long and significant a difference it can make. As the Bill progresses through the House, will he engage with the Justice Committee and others on the evidence that we have received on those issues?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My long-standing hon. Friend makes a number of points. Of course we want to ensure the Bill works. When the Bill is enacted, we want to ensure it improves the lives of people who might be victims of crime and helps to avoid that victimisation, but we also want to ensure that appropriate checks and balances are in place. I feel confident that those are in place, but it is the duty of those on the Treasury Bench to ensure that all Members of the House share that confidence.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

In that spirit, on the basis that this is Second Reading and there are opportunities for this otherwise good Bill to be improved, will my right hon. Friend take on board the important points about ensuring that we get right the extension of the identification principle on corporate criminal liability? We made big progress in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 and the Government are now following through on their intention, but I want to ensure we get the wording absolutely right.

Secondly, I note with enthusiasm the presence in the schedule of restricted cost provisions relating to restraint orders for the proceeds of crime. We have long said that uncapped costs are a deterrent to making robust applications. Will he consider extending those principles to other areas of activity, so that we can see more applications being made without the fear of being clobbered by costs?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My right hon. and learned Friend makes some important and useful points based on his extensive experience. Of course, we listen very carefully to the contributions that have been made. With the indulgence of the House, I want to make progress so that Back Bench Members have time for debate.

We need to understand that crime is a business—a big business. Serious organised criminals are relentless, adaptable and resourceful. That is why we are banning articles that are used to commit serious crime, including templates for 3D printed firearms components, pill presses, and vehicle concealment and signal jammers that are used in modern vehicle theft. In banning the supply, adaptation, manufacture and import of those articles, as well as their possession, we will target the corrupt individuals who profit from supplying those articles to those involved in serious criminality while keeping just enough distance from the offences being carried out to avoid facing the inevitable consequences of their actions.

We are also strengthening the operation of the serious crime prevention orders. It is absolutely right to make it easier for the police and other law enforcement agencies to place restrictions on offenders or suspect offenders and stop them from participating in further crime. Fraud is now the most prevalent form of crime. It costs this country billions of pounds annually and is a terrible personal violation. I have no doubt that every Member of the House will know constituents who have suffered from that type of crime.

The Criminal Justice Bill contains several new measures to tackle fraudsters and the perpetrators of other serious crimes. We are prohibiting the possession and supply of SIM farms that have no legitimate purpose. Law enforcement agencies will have extended powers to suspend domain names and IP addresses used for fraudulent purposes or other serious crimes. We are also reforming the powers used to strip convicted criminals of the proceeds of crime. A new scheme will see the Government work with the financial sector to use the money in accounts suspended on suspicion of crime to fund projects tackling economic crime.

Going beyond economic crime, we are further expanding the identification principle, so that companies can be held criminally responsible when a senior manager in that company commits a crime.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

While fraud accounts for 40% of recorded crime at the moment, only 1% of police resources are used to deal with it. What are the Home Secretary’s thoughts on that?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

By the nature of this crime type, specialism in investigation is inevitable. Ultimately, the training and deployment of the resources of the police and other crime fighting agencies will naturally need to reflect that. It is not quite as simple as mapping the proportion of crime to the proportion of police officers, but implicit in the right hon. Lady’s question is the fact that we need to upskill investigators so that they can focus on those crime types. We are putting the legislative measures in place, the funding is in place, the increase in police numbers is in place and we are happy to work with PCCs and chief constables to ensure that those resources are deployed in the most effective way.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

It may save the House hearing from me at some length later.

I welcome the measures on fraud, because they follow on from the Justice Committee’s report last year that highlighted the gaps in our ways of dealing with it. Will the Home Secretary look carefully at how we reform the identification principle? There remains a concern that the exemptions that were placed on the size of businesses in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 may have the perverse effect of allowing many fraudsters to split their businesses up into smaller units that fall below the threshold in that Act. Glencore, for example, had only 50 employees but was still one of the biggest frauds that did massive harm. Can we take the opportunity to look at that issue?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Once again, my hon. Friend makes a good point. We are always willing to listen to suggestions from colleagues around the House that will strengthen the ability to close loopholes, so that sinister but clever and adaptable individuals do not find a way of navigating through the legislation, so I take his ideas on board. I do not have much of my speech left, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure you would encourage me to move quickly, and I beg the indulgence of the House to do so.

There has been a concerning increase in the number of serious offenders refusing to attend their sentencing. It is a further insult to the victims and the families; as we have seen, it causes a huge amount of upset. That is why we are giving judges express statutory powers to order offenders convicted of an offence punishable with a life sentence to attend their sentencing hearings. That measure will apply to all offenders convicted of any offence that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Adult offenders who refuse to do so, without reasonable excuse, will face punishment with an additional custodial sentence of up to 24 months. The legislation will also make it clear that judges in the Crown court may direct the production of any adult offender, and that the custody officers can use reasonable force to ensure that they are produced.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am sorry, but I promised Madam Deputy Speaker that I would be winding up.

Last year, the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse published its final report. It revealed the terrible extent to which children have been betrayed over decades not only by rapists and abusers but sadly, in too many instances, by those who should have been there to protect them. We must honour the courage of those who have spoken out by doing things differently. Everything possible must be done to prevent these crimes. When they do occur, they should be met with heavy punishment. The Bill introduces a new statutory aggravating factor to capture offenders who demonstrate grooming behaviours in connection with specified sexual offences against children and young people, or whose offences have been facilitated by grooming by others.

The grooming itself need not be sexual; it may be undertaken by any offender or a third party and committed against the victim of the underlying offence or a third party. The Government will also bring forward amendments to the Bill to restrict the ability of registered sex offenders to change their names in certain circumstances. Following consideration of the responses to our consultation, which closes on 30 November, we also plan to bring forward amendments to provide for a legal duty to report child sexual abuse.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I am incredibly grateful to the Home Secretary for bringing forward legislation on sexual offenders changing their name by deed poll, but we could not find it anywhere in the Bill, so is there any reason why there is a lag?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is because we will have to bring it through as an amendment, but I can assure the hon. Lady that we are committed to making this work. [Interruption.] It is a Government amendment. [Interruption.] I disapprove of theft in all circumstances except for when someone brings forward a truly good idea.

Let me return now to the duty to report child sexual abuse. Walking by or turning a blind eye should never, and must never, be an option. The Bill enables polygraph testing to be extended to more serious sexual and terrorism-linked offences, including for convicted murderers who are assessed as posing a risk of sexual offending on release. It also ensures that those serving multiple sentences alongside a sentence for a sex offence can be tested for the whole of their licence period. The measure further applies to individuals convicted of non-terrorism offences who would have been determined by the court to have a terrorism connection if the option had been available at the time of the sentencing.

The Government have a programme to build 20,000 new prison places. It is the biggest prison building programme since the Victorian era. Prison demand is likely to increase over the medium term, as we continue to empower police forces and the courts to drive down crime and punish offenders.

In order temporarily to increase prison capacity, the Bill will introduce domestic powers to transfer prisoners to rented prison spaces overseas subject to future agreements with other countries. Norway and Belgium have successfully rented prison places from the Netherlands in the past. The Bill will also extend the remit of His Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons to include any rental prison places abroad.

The Criminal Justice Bill will give the police greater powers, the public greater confidence, and the courts greater ability to punish offenders and protect the law-abiding majority, and I invite the whole House to get behind it.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department 2:34, 28 November 2023

It is good to see the Home Secretary in his place. He was not here for the urgent question earlier, but he has been having a bit of a week of it. He had to pseudo-apologise yesterday to my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham for his language. He has been rude about northern towns and rude about northern MPs. Although he may be all over the place on home affairs, we should perhaps be relieved that he is no longer in charge of diplomacy for the nation—although, to be fair, given the treatment of the Greek Prime Minister in the past 24 hours, things may have got even worse since he left.

As I said, the Home Secretary did not come to the Chamber earlier to answer the urgent question, but I gather from reports that he was meeting Back-Bench Conservative MPs. Certainly, yesterday, he had half his party standing up to complain about his policies. The problem seems to be that he thinks his Rwanda policy is batshit, that has driven his Back Benchers apeshit, and now his whole party is in deep sh-ambles.

The Home Secretary told us yesterday that he does not really know yet what is going on in the immigration system, so I assume from today’s speech that he is still getting the hang of what is going on in the criminal justice system. His claims about how well things are going are incredibly out of touch. Let me sum it up for him. After 13 years of Conservative Government, things are pretty dire: 90% of crimes now go unsolved; the charge rate has dropped by two thirds; more criminals are getting off; and more victims are being let down. The Prime Minister has an excuse when he says that things are great: he only sees things from a helicopter, but the rest of them have no such excuse and they are out of touch.

If a person commits a crime today, they are less than half as likely to be caught as they were under the previous Labour Government. That is the collapse of law and order under this Conservative Government, who have been in power for 13 years. In the past eight years, we have had eight Home Secretaries and 10 Justice Secretaries. We have huge court backlogs and delays, record numbers of crimes being dropped with no suspect identified, and record numbers of victims dropping out of the criminal justice process due to lack of support and unacceptable delays.

New technology has helped to prevent some volume crimes, but serious violence is up by 60% on 2015. The Home Secretary did not have the figures to hand on knife crime, but knife crime is up by 70%, and the number of young victims of violence is at its highest in a decade. I have spoken to mums who have lost their children through knife crime; they feel as if they have lost their future, but they want us to act to save other children’s lives.

Crime at the heart of our communities and town centres is also on the rise. We have seen shoplifting surge to record levels—up 25% in the past year alone—but town centre policing has dropped. Many towns have seen a huge drop in neighbourhood police on the beat and half the country say that they do not see police on the streets. There are now 10,000 fewer police and police community support officers in neighbourhood teams. When the Home Secretary talks about police numbers, we remember the 20,000 police officers that his party cut, for which we are still paying the price across the country. The lack of police on the street means that half the country never see them. That is the result of 10,000 fewer police and PCSOs on our streets, and that is the backdrop to this Bill. Quite simply, it is not enough to tackle the serious problems that the country and the criminal justice system face.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

My right hon. Friend is speaking with great authority on this. Every Member of this House knows how underfunded the police are. We have not only an underfunded police force, but a justice system that has been cut and cut and cut again. We must do something to build it up again, and perhaps the way we will do that is to have a new Labour Government.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is right that huge damage has been done to policing and the criminal justice system. In addition, because police are often the public face of the criminal justice system, the fact that confidence in policing has been heavily knocked has an impact on confidence in and respect for the rule of law in our country. That is why it is so serious and why there ought to be cross-party support for restoring confidence in policing and the criminal justice system.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

One more very small point: I think my right hon. Friend knows of my interest in miscarriages of justice, but is it not a fact that in this underfunded criminal justice system we see more miscarriages of justice?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is certainly the case that far too many victims are not getting justice, because they are either dropping out of the system or being let down.

The Opposition support the Bill before us and we will support its Second Reading. Of course there will be individual measures that we need to pursue, but there are many measures in it that were Labour policies or that Labour has called for. However, the Bill simply does not go far enough to address the challenges that we face.

We welcome the fact that the Government have now agreed to Labour’s calls to crack down on antisocial behaviour by going after drug dealers with stronger closure orders and the introduction of the power of arrest for breaches of antisocial behaviour injunctions. In 2013, the then Conservative Home Secretary removed the power of arrest when antisocial behaviour injunctions were introduced, and we warned that they would not be strong enough. It has taken the Government 10 years to restore the power of arrest, but we welcome it.

On fraud, we called for the introduction of corporate criminal liability during the passage of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023, so we are pleased to see it in this Bill now. We have also supported stronger sentences on sexual offences. We support the increase in sentencing for the most serious offences and the power to compel perpetrators to attend sentencing in person. Justice must be seen to be done and the victims of the most heinous crimes need to see justice done and sentence given with the perpetrator standing before the court.

We also welcome plans to tackle revenge porn and image-based abuse. Dame Maria Miller makes a very important point on that, which we are keen to discuss further and support in Committee. We also welcome tougher sentences for those who commit murder at the end of a relationship.

It is welcome that the Government have ditched the plan to make cancelling tents their entire policy on homelessness, but we will need to pursue the detail of the measures in the Bill, because they do not address the root causes of homelessness. The last Labour Government cut rough sleeping by two thirds, but under the Conservatives that progress has been reversed and it is now up by 75%.

Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Labour, Liverpool, Wavertree

In February last year, both Houses of Parliament supported the repeal of the Vagrancy Act 1824 via an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. However, no commencement date was included in the amendment, so the Vagrancy Act technically remains in force. The Government are now introducing replacement legislation via this Bill. Is my right hon. Friend as confused as I am about why that would be?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the detail and I hope that, in the evidence-gathering sessions in Committee, evidence is properly taken on that. It is an area where the legislation needs to be got right and concerns have been raised. There is also the wider problem of a toxic mix of rents and the failure to end no-fault evictions, which is hitting vulnerable people hard, and the Conservatives still have not kept their promises to act on that.

There is still a series of substantial omissions from the Bill that we would like to see added to it. There is nothing to ensure that neighbourhood policing is properly restored. We have set out proposals for 13,000 more neighbourhood police and police community support officers, and we want to see that underpinned in legislation.

There is nothing in the Bill to turn around the shocking collapse in charge rates. For example, there is no plan to tackle the problem of redaction—a problem I know the Policing Minister recognises—where officers effectively spend hours and the equivalent of a bottle of Tipp-Ex having to redact a whole series of things before files are even passed to the Crown Prosecution Service. Many have argued that legislation needs to be changed to tackle that. Doing so could save police officers hours and hours of time, and I think it is included in the police productivity review. Surely we ought to be able to tackle that, but it is currently not in the Bill.

The Bill is also not strong enough in its measures to tackle town centre crime. A law brought in by the Conservative Government, again around 10 years ago, means that shop thefts under £200 often are not investigated, even if the same gang comes back time and again. We should end that £200 rule to tackle the shoplifting gangs. We also have shop staff who are petrified to go to work when there are 850 incidents a day of violence and abuse against shop workers.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

The week before last, during Respect for Shopworkers Week, I had the pleasure of visiting one of my local Co-ops. They have had £155,000-worth of goods stolen in the first six months of this year. For many stores, that is enough to close them down. I commend USDAW—the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—and the Co-op for the work they are doing on that, but the police are just not turning up or taking it seriously. I commend what my right hon. Friend says; let us see whether she can push the Government to move further here.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the impact of shoplifting. If town centres do not feel safe, it is local businesses that are hit and can end up going under as a result, undermining local economies and putting off local residents who want to go shopping. Sometimes elderly residents, in particular, will simply not go into town anymore if they do not feel safe, and if they feel that laws are just not being enforced when they watch people leaving the shops with a big bag of goods stolen from the shelves and see nothing being done. It is just not good enough.

That is why my hon. Friend Alex Norris rightly called for stronger measures to tackle assaults on shop workers. The Government did finally agree, as a result of his campaigning, to an aggravated sentence for assaulting shop workers, but that is not enough. The whole point is to make it simpler for the police to take action and to send a clear message from Parliament to police that this is an offence we take immensely seriously. That is why Labour will be tabling amendments that reflect the campaigns by USDAW, the Co-op, Tesco, the British Retail Consortium and small convenience stores for a new law and tougher sentences for attacks on our shop workers. Everyone should have the right to work in safety and to live free from fear.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

We do take retail theft and shoplifting very seriously and agree that more needs to be done, but may I draw the shadow Home Secretary’s attention, and that of the House, to the retail crime action plan, which the Government agreed with the National Police Chiefs’ Council just a few weeks ago? In that plan, the police commit to investigating reasonable lines of inquiry for all shoplifting cases, including running CCTV evidence through facial recognition software, attending the scene of a crime where that is necessary to gather evidence, where there has been an assault or where the offender has been detained, and using data analytics specifically to go after prolific offenders. All that is in addition to Project Pegasus, a joint project with retailers to go after serious and organised crime. I hope she will join me in welcoming the plan, which I believe will be very effective.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

I would gently say to the Minister that the fact that it is an announcement—

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is a plan; it is not even an announcement of something that is going to happen. It is an announcement that there is a plan for the police to check CCTV when a theft has taken place. That just shows how bad things have got over the past 13 years. We welcome any work that is being done, including by the British Retail Consortium with the National Police Chiefs’ Council. However, the Government are not taking the action that they should be taking to underpin this. In particular, they are not changing the law either on assaults against shop workers or on the £200 limit, and neither are they supporting the neighbourhood police we need to do the work to deliver the plan. There are 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police and PCSOs on our streets and in our communities, and communities know that. It does not matter what the Policing Minister says or what figures he plucks from thin air: people know. They can see it. We all see it in our own towns in our own constituencies, and half the country now say they never see the police on the beat.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will give way, because the Policing Minister is a glutton for punishment on this one.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

The shadow Home Secretary is very kind to give way. I am sorry that facts and figures get in the way of her argument but, as I said at oral questions yesterday, the neighbourhood policing figures that she keeps quoting are unintentionally misleading. Local policing numbers cover neighbourhood policing, emergency response and others. Since 2015, which is the year that she cites, those numbers have gone up from 61,000 to 67,000, and overall policing numbers are at record levels, at 149,566—3,500 higher than under the last Labour Government.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

This is the problem with the Policing Minister: he just thinks that the country has never had it so good on crime and policing. As far as the country is concerned, he is incredibly out of touch. That is not what is happening in towns and cities across the country. The idea that we can just merge neighbourhood policing and response teams, which are different things, shows that he simply does not understand the importance of neighbourhood policing or what it actually does.

Neighbourhood police are the teams who are located locally. They will not just be called off for a crisis at the other end of the borough, district or force area; they are the police officers who can deal with local crimes. They are not the officers who have to deal with rising levels of mental health crisis, which we know so many of the response units have to deal with. There has been a big shift away from neighbourhood policing and into response policing because the police are being reactive, dealing with crises that this Conservative Government have totally failed to prevent for 13 years.

The Government have demolished a lot of the prevention work and teamworking between neighbourhood officers and other agencies in local areas, and as a result the other response officers are having to pick up the pieces instead. The Policing Minister’s approach just shows why the Tories are failing after 13 years. It is not the answer.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Labour, Middlesbrough

On the restoration of police numbers, may I inform the Policing Minister that in Cleveland the numbers have been slashed by 500 since 2010? They have still not been restored, so we are still down in those numbers. On retail crime, we cannot take any lessons from the Conservative party—the Conservative police and crime commissioner in Cleveland received a caution for handling goods stolen from his then supermarket employer. This stuff about retail crime is, quite frankly, hogwash.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend makes an important point—[Interruption.] I do not think the claims made from a sedentary position by the Policing Minister help him in the slightest, given the challenges involving the current police and crime commissioner.

We ought to have a consensus on tackling knife crime. There are some measures in the Bill, but they do not go anywhere near far enough. I urge the Home Secretary to consider a proper offence of child criminal exploitation to prevent people drawing children into criminal activity in the first place, as well as stronger action on the loopholes that still allow online marketplaces to sell knives. We have had multiple announcements over the years about taking action against zombie knives, but it is groundhog day, because far too many are still being sold easily and not enough is being done about it.

The Bill also does not go far enough on violence against women and girls. We still need rape investigation units in every police force, we need all 999 control rooms to have domestic abuse experts, and we need stronger requirements on police forces to use the tactics and tools normally reserved for organised crime and terrorist organisations to identify and go after the most dangerous repeat abusers and rapists and get them off our streets.

Too many things are not in the Bill. Overall, there is still no proper plan to raise confidence in policing and the criminal justice system. That confidence has plummeted, putting respect for law and order in our country at risk. We support the Bill and will work across parties to strengthen the measures in it, but it will not tackle the serious problems that we face. Security is the bedrock of opportunity. If people do not feel safe—if they do not believe that anyone will come or anything will be done when things go wrong—that undermines confidence in their community, in their way of life and in the rule of law in our country.

That is what is at stake here, that is why incremental measures are not enough, and that is why we need to tackle the crisis of confidence and halve serious violence. Labour has committed to halving serious violence, including violence against women and girls, and to increasing policing confidence, the number of criminals who are charged, and the number of victims who get justice. Those ought to be shared objectives, but for too long the Conservatives have undermined them. That is why we need change.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham 2:55, 28 November 2023

It is a pleasure to follow the opening Front-Bench speeches, to which I have listened with interest. It feels like groundhog day, if I may say so, on many counts and fronts.

First and foremost, there is much to welcome in the Bill. I bear the scars of having taken a number of criminal justice measures through the House—with great pleasure and through working with colleagues, including some Back-Bench colleagues who served with me in government. I think we can all reflect on how important it is that this criminal justice legislation strikes a fundamental balance between protecting civil liberties; supporting victims wholeheartedly in everything that we do as legislators; preventing crime, which must be absolutely front and centre of what it does; and punishing offenders.

This is a point of reflection. We in this House have discussed all those themes in separate debates, urgent questions and statements over a number of weeks. When it comes to punishing offenders, I know that the Lord Chancellor has, from the Dispatch Box, tried to address the issues to do with prison spaces. At the same time, we have been having conversations about preventing crime and supporting victims. Those are all personal and human aspects on which we must get the balance right.

I cannot emphasise this enough: we need to bring in and operationalise practical measures that deliver the desired effects and outcomes. In the debate thus far, we have not fully reflected on what it means to put into practice the delivery of such measures—what it means for resourcing, policing, prison spaces, the use of stop and search, and, importantly, how we put victims front and centre of everything we do. We must also demonstrate why those desired impacts are needed above and beyond what is already in place. We have good measures in place already, but now we have to reflect on them and go over and beyond, in the light of some of the points that have been made in the debate. I will come to many of those points.

I know that, while the Bill is going through Parliament, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will have to brace himself for the significant amount of lobbying that will come his way from inside and outside the House. I reflect on that because a great deal of experience that will come his way, and those important discussions will be moments for him to reflect on the practicalities not just of what goes in the Bill, but of its delivery. I thank him for the conversations that we have had in the past week. He will build on the many practical suggestions that will come his way.

Before I comment on the measures in the Bill, it is important to reflect on the actions that have been taken in recent years and the difference that they are making. It is too easy to come in and throw the baby out with the bathwater. A lot of good was done in previous Bills. I will pay tribute later to the work to invest in and recruit 20,000 more police officers. That has had an effect not just on the criminal justice system, but on building public confidence in policing—we should never stand still on that. At the end of the day, the public look to us all—certainly to a Conservative Government—to ensure that we have the manpower to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour, which has been mentioned. Importantly, we must give the public confidence that law and order is on their side and will use every pillar and strain every sinew, including police officers and the criminal justice system, to be on their side. Of course, the beating crime plan contained significant details about measures to target hotspots of criminal activity, including many dreadful aspects that have been touched on today, such as antisocial behaviour, homicide and knife crime. For example, the plan included the introduction of violence reduction units and investment in safer streets through the safer streets funds—important measures that must be built on to deliver safety practically and to build confidence in the criminal justice system.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

The right hon. Lady talks about having confidence in the criminal justice system. I will park for a moment the reason we are seeing an increase in police numbers: that, obviously, there was a drop previously. Does she agree that one of the biggest problems is the huge backlog in the courts—not as a result of covid; that has exacerbated it, but it was there before—that will take until 2025 to get anywhere near back to previous levels? I have a constituent who was violently attacked in front of her seven-year-old child. It was three years before her court case was taken. The situation leaves the police powerless, as the individual in question can keep breaking his non-molestation order, with no further action taken. It is all very well having the police officers, but does the right hon. Lady have anything to say about the court system?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

The hon. Member is absolutely right. We have discussed that issue more broadly in relation to an end-to-end criminal justice system being fit for purpose: working to a sensible timeframe; the police being able to process the cases with the Crown Prosecution Service; and then, obviously, the cases going to court. I am afraid that there is a lot of merit in the whole debate, particularly around sexual violence and rape cases. We have discussed the matter many times and much more can be done.

Good support has been brought in to address violence against women and girls—the rape review has taken place and there has been investment in independent domestic violence advisers—but there are fundamental criminal justice system issues around cases of this nature, including: the time such cases take; the level of attrition; and the retraumatisation of victims, because these cases are absolutely appalling. I have raised this subject in the House many times, including from the Dispatch Box, and have spoken about personal cases that have come to me through constituents. We all have tragic constituency cases, and we have to make sure that we are strong advocates to bring about justice for those victims.

Let me turn to a number of strong measures that are already in place. A great deal of work has taken place to tackle drugs gangs, organised crime and county lines. The Government deserve great credit for that and for their work on the ring of steel. I used to harp on about the fact that we do not grow these drugs in our country—and some are obviously manufactured—but it is vital that we have in place a ring of steel around our ports and airports to make sure that we do absolutely everything we can to stop at source the scourge of terrible chemicals and drugs coming into our country. We should never, ever stop doing that work; and that goes back to the point about the investment required in our ports and in law enforcement.

The violence against women and girls strategy and the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 have helped victims of the most horrific crimes, but I will touch on what more can be done. I welcome the new Minister, my hon. Friend Laura Farris, to her place. I look forward to working with her on these sensitive and difficult issues.

On policing, the Government have enshrined the police covenant in statute, given the police more powers to fight crime and increased prison sentences. That is all part of offender management and making our communities safer.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

I know that the former Home Secretary takes the police covenant very seriously. Does she agree that, as well as the police covenant, we should have a police bravery award for those who lose their lives in the line of duty?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right; we have had discussions about that point previously. I think this might be an opportune moment to pay tribute to those police officers who have lost their lives defending communities, being braver than ever and going after the criminals out there. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] We see so many acts of bravery, but I am sorry to say that they are sometimes not recognised enough. A lot of our police officers sadly get a bad rap because of other reporting issues and all sorts of things, but the reality is that we should pay tribute to and give the right recognition to those who are out there on the frontline, defending us. The right hon. Lady will be familiar with the police bravery awards—what a sobering moment, when we honour our police officers—but we must do more to represent the fallen and to protect family members. That is why the police covenant is so important. I would like this House and Ministers in particular to do much more collectively to recognise that bravery, because the families of officers are affected in a very challenging way.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

I was moved, around the period of remembrance, that Gloucestershire Constabulary arranged for a short ceremony in which all the MPs in our county gathered together with the Gloucestershire Constabulary to commemorate those who had died in earlier conflicts and those who have suffered during very difficult moments more recently. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is something that might be rolled out across the country?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

That is a very nice practical example of a community coming together to commemorate and recognise that public service. We are speaking about people who give public service to our country to protect us all, while at the same time making enormous sacrifices. I had the great privilege of spending much of my time as Home Secretary with law enforcement, including police officers on the frontline, and with some of their family members, so I have heard first-hand testimony of the sacrifices made. That is particularly the case for the loved ones of officers who have died in the line of duty; it is incredibly sobering.

This Bill is important, and as it progresses I look forward to working with the Front-Bench team on the measures they are introducing. I will touch on some of the positive measures, as there are sections of the Bill that are hugely welcome. This legislation goes further in giving the public confidence in criminal justice and policing to keep our citizens and our country safe. There are provisions to address the use of 3D printers and electronic communications devices that aid vehicle theft. I think it is fair to say that we are great believers in designing crime out through the use of technology—making it harder for criminals who abuse the system to even commit the crime in the first place. The measures in the Bill should help in that preventive work.

Criminals are clever: they are constantly adapting, they are agile and they evolve their methods. As legislators, we must be prepared to make sure that we can do more to support the police to fight offenders. I welcome more details on how the Government will continue to grow their plans. The Policing Minister mentioned facial recognition, and I support that work. It is about time that we stood up to some of the legal challenges and brought in more facial recognition provisions to strengthen law enforcement.

I particularly welcome the measures in clauses 9, 10 and 18 relating to knives and bladed articles. I agree that more can be done. Online loopholes around the purchase of weapons has been a subject of discussion in the House for a long time, and I think we could do much more there. It is a fact that we are all horrified and shocked by the impact of knife crime on our streets on victims and their families. The lives of so many young people are blighted by the horrors of knife crime, and we can absolutely come together on this issue. Our hearts go out to victims of knife crime and their family members. We never, ever want to experience the grief and anguish that they endure, but we can do more. I pay tribute to the many campaigners in this space; we should stand with them to do much more.

I am pleased to see that clause 13 and schedule 2 include new provisions to strengthen the legal framework to prevent people taking, sharing and broadcasting intimate images—of course, I am referring to revenge porn. There are still loopholes, and we want to do more to close them. It is a sickening offence that blights people’s lives. Essex police investigated a very high-profile revenge porn case that led to the successful prosecution of an offender, Stephen Bear. I pay tribute to Georgia Harrison, who was on television again just yesterday, both for her bravery in speaking out so strongly and encouraging others to come forward and for the many ways in which she has championed this issue. Our laws have to be flexible and able to adapt to modern technology, so that victims are protected from the people who commit those dreadful crimes.

That brings me on to the measures in the Bill that cover the management of offenders who have a record of coercive and controlling behaviour. Clause 30 puts those offenders under the multi-agency public protection arrangements, which is very welcome. Those measures build on a strong record of supporting victims of domestic abuse and violence, and it is vital that they are put into effective practice. Having mentioned domestic abuse and violence, I want to touch on a really harrowing aspect of that issue: domestic homicides. A great deal of work has taken place in the Home Office around domestic homicide reviews. I led that work, and would like to see it strengthened so much more. We see too many loopholes, and I am afraid local authorities are not always following up on domestic homicide reviews in the way we would like them to. A lot of good practice is already out there, with some local authorities championing that work, working with multi-agency teams and law enforcement.

I also welcome the measures in clause 32 of the Bill to confiscate the proceeds of crime, and serious crime prevention orders, which are dealt with in clauses 34 and 37. Again, it is important that we constantly adapt and update our legislation, and that those measures are operationalised and implemented in an effective way. I look forward to hearing more details from the Government about those areas.

I have already touched on the great work undertaken to keep our streets safe and fight crime, particularly the work of the police, who are on the frontline. I believe that we should back the police when it comes to new technology, but also by standing by them as legislators, including in difficult times when the way in which they are policing and operationalising and their professional judgments are under scrutiny, including public scrutiny. The police are the ones who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public, and in recent weeks, we have seen the pressures they face when it comes to policing in challenging circumstances. I pay tribute to the police—I have seen them in very difficult situations. They are skilled professionals, and the recruitment of 20,000 police officers did not come out of the ether. A great deal of detailed work took place around that recruitment, but also around retaining them—how our laws back them, and how new technology and funding enables them to do their jobs. Our police officers are a credit to our country, and we should always show them our appreciation. They are diligent and maintain the highest possible standards, as I have seen myself.

However, we have of course seen some shocking and disturbing incidents, inappropriate conduct and serious criminality involving police officers. We have debated that issue in this House many times, both during my time as Home Secretary and since I left that position. It is right that chief constables and police commissioners across the country work to improve professional standards—I have had many discussions to that effect—but it is also important that we learn the lessons when things go wrong. In particular, the measures in clause 73 relating to ethical policing and the duty of candour can build on the work that has taken place through recent reviews. Of course, inquiries are still taking place, in particular the Sarah Everard inquiry that Dame Elish is working on. It is important that we maintain those standards going forward—we have a lot of work to do.

I will now touch on some areas in the Bill where I want to see greater scrutiny to ensure that the measures in this legislation will make a difference and will go further in some quarters. One area that needs reflection is clause 19, which the Chair of the Justice Select Committee, my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill, touched on already. That clause contains measures that would permit entry into private premises without a warrant.

I am the first to recognise the desired outcome that the Government are seeking: to support the police in tackling the issue of stolen goods by enabling them to enter and search premises and to seize items without a warrant. We all want to see those responsible for those crimes apprehended more quickly, and the goods returned to their rightful owners—that is absolutely right. Too often, victims of crime are left frustrated by the challenges involved in investigating those crimes and getting their goods back. However, as the party of law and order that believes in safeguarding the rule of law, I want to ensure that if this power is introduced, freedom and civil liberties are maintained and due process remains in place. There is the prospect that that power will be misused, leading to miscarriages of justice.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I share my right hon. Friend’s slight misgivings about that clause; it will be interesting to hear the argument that the Minister makes. Obviously, there are already circumstances in law where, if the police have reasonable suspicion that a person has committed a crime, they are able to enter that person’s premises in pursuit of them or the goods they have supposedly stolen. As such, I am unsure what more the clause will add; it will be interesting to see where the Government take it. I share my right hon. Friend’s nervousness about breaching a long-standing settlement with the British people about their privacy and the ability of the police to invade it.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. He and I spent a great deal of time discussing policing powers and what more we could do to strengthen them in relation to all aspects of criminality. The Bill rightly includes some safeguards, but there are measures in place already. We need to understand how the proposed powers will work—how their use will be authorised, and in what circumstances. The Bill is at an early stage, and it will obviously be scrutinised in Committee, but there are questions that need to be answered. We welcome those discussions.

I will say a few words about the provisions relating to nuisance begging and rough sleeping. I have listened with interest to the comments that have already been made about this issue on both sides of the Chamber. Members will recall that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 contained provisions to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824, which is nearly 200 years old. I and my colleagues in the Government at the time worked with all Members of the House on that—it was right that the repeal took place—and we spoke about the replacement legislation as it came forward.

No one in the House would dispute that dealing with homelessness is a difficult, sensitive and highly complex issue. I worked with Government, local authorities and charities on these issues as Home Secretary, as did my former ministerial colleagues. In particular, we looked to provide resources and the right kinds of interventions to support those sleeping rough on our streets. Project ADDER was brought in to deal with a lot of the addiction issues that are associated with homelessness. That is an incredibly successful programme that works with local authorities. The Government must invest more in it and roll it out further.

I recall working on this issue with my right hon. Friend Kit Malthouse, who was then Policing Minister. He brought his London experience to the fore regarding problems in central London. There were some specific cases of begging and homelessness on Park Lane, and we were able to address those issues and deal with rough sleeping, which was causing a lot of problems in that community, by bringing in the police and Westminster City Council and taking some proactive measures. There are also some incredible charities doing outreach work in London and across the community, in particular those that engage with rough sleeping.

We should reflect on the fact that this issue involves some veterans with complex needs, including the challenges posed by mental health issues, as well as some individuals who need trauma-informed support. We need to invest time across different Departments and agencies to tackle this problem, rather than looking at it just in the context of a criminal justice Bill. It is right that the Government look at the legislation required to prevent rough sleeping, and it is also essential that they bring in measures from other Departments to provide the right help and support. It will be interesting to hear from Ministers about the work that will take place in this area and to hear some of their reassurances.

I would like to touch on the point my hon. Friend Richard Graham made about spiking. Some work on that has taken place already, and we have met victims of this horrendous crime and campaigners against it. I had the privilege of working with the police on spiking issues, and in fact with Assistant Chief Constable Maggie Blyth, who was brought in to support all the work on violence against women and girls in particular.

During my tenure as Home Secretary, we certainly introduced new restrictions on some of the drugs used for spiking, and we brought in tougher sentences. We also reviewed whether a new and specific offence was needed. One has not been brought forward, but it is subject to debate, and the Policing Minister is familiar with all this. As the Bill progresses, it will be interesting to see where the Government take this issue, particularly because it is difficult to track, as we know from policing data. We should recognise that as a House, but we want to do more to prevent further victims of spiking, and we need to come together to look at what practical measures can be put in place.

I look forward to working with Ministers. We have a very strong team, who will be very diligent when it comes to both building on previous measures and looking to strengthen the Bill to bring in proper practical measures. No one would dispute that the country wants robust action when it comes to going after offenders and punishing those who do dreadful things across our communities, leaving victims harmed. It is right that the Government bring in this Bill and it is right that we work collectively to strengthen our laws, but we do need practical measures to make sure that the legislation actually delivers for victims. We want fewer victims of crime, and we want to protect our communities and strengthen our safety.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration) 3:22, 28 November 2023

It is a pleasure to follow the former Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and I certainly agree with her remarks on homelessness and veterans. I have a number of veterans charities in the Glasgow South West constituency, and they work with me and other elected representatives to make sure that veterans get the support they need. She was absolutely right about their trauma and some of the issues they have to face, and I certainly hope that the Government listen to her remarks.

Some of this Bill relates to Scotland. I will touch on those parts, and then I may sound like an international observer making constructive comments, because many other parts of the Bill affect England and Wales only. As the explanatory notes say, the Bill affects and applies to Scotland in relation to

official secrets;
terrorism; telecommunications and wireless telegraphy;
financial and economic matters;
and consumer protection.”

I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that her officials and Scottish Government officials are engaging on those issues to make sure that the Scottish Parliament will be asked to approve a legislative consent motion. There will be some grey areas—consumer matters are often seen as one—but perhaps the Minister, in summing up the debate, will talk about what work is being done with the Scottish Government.

It does seem as though, instead of solving challenges relating to crime or alleviating push factors such as poverty—instead of tackling the causes of crime—the Government are intent on more incarceration. There are some welcome aspects of the Bill, such as measures to tackle organised gangs and violent crime, remove templates for illicit activities and tackle communications offences. There are 650 Members of Parliament, and certainly my view from what I see on social media is that the attacks on all of us are getting worse, so we do need to look at that. However, this is not just about us, of course; there are many other communications offences. We certainly need to strengthen the law on revenge porn.

The Home Secretary has had to leave for other business, but he served with me on the all-party Youth Violence Commission before his elevation on to the ministerial ladder. I do hope that the Government will look at the SNP’s continued call, which is also the call of the all-party Youth Violence Commission, for the implementation of a violence reduction unit equivalent to the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, which focuses on preventing violent crime through community and youth work, education and social services. In the Glasgow South West constituency, youth organisations play a vital role in making sure that we turn young people away from youth violence. There is a clear role for social services and education in the whole approach to ensuring that we reduce violent crime, particularly for young people.

The Scottish Government’s annual figures show that the rate of homicides continues to fall. The number of homicide victims has shown a downward trend since 2004-05. In 2022-23, there were 52 victims of homicide in Scotland, one fewer than in 2021-22. However, the biggest reduction in the number of homicide victims is among those aged between 16 and 24: for the last five years, the average rate of homicides in that group was 10 per million of the population per year. I hope that the Government will look seriously at what happens in Scotland and learn from it by having a youth violence reduction unit for the UK and engaging with social services, education and the great youth organisations out there right across these islands engaging young people.

As the world is changing its views on drugs, the Government appear to be expanding drug testing on arrest, and there is a concern that stop and search may disproportionately target those from an ethnic minority background. In the year ending 31 March 2022, there were 516,684 stop and searches in England and Wales. For 20% of those, the person’s ethnicity was not known or not recorded. There were 8.7 stop and searches for every 1,000 people, but there were 27.2 stop and searches for every 1,000 black people compared with 5.6 for every 1,000 white people. I think there is a concern there and I hope the Government will look at it. It does look as though the black, Asian and minority ethnic community is being discriminated against.

In tackling antisocial behaviour, we really do need to look at provisions that move us away from the theory that homelessness is some sort of lifestyle choice. The immediate predecessor of the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, was wrong-headed in weakening modern slavery laws that target organised begging in the streets and then suggesting that people living in tents is some sort of lifestyle choice. I do not think I was the only one to find that comment completely and utterly ludicrous.

The Bill enshrines that,

“An authorised person may give a nuisance begging direction to a person appearing to be aged 18 or over if satisfied on reasonable grounds that the person is engaging, has engaged, or is likely to engage, in nuisance begging.”

Again there seems to be a complete mismatch of Government priorities. Instead of scrapping section 21s, which allow landlords to evict tenants who are not on fixed-term contracts without giving a reason in England and Wales, the Government will criminalise begging, which shows their warped priorities.

Between 2018 and 2022, nearly 4,000 people were arrested under vagrancy laws for sleeping rough or begging. Begging is legal in Scotland unless it is deemed to be aggressive. According to campaigners, begging has become a common sight, but steep fines and criminal charges do not tackle its root causes. Crisis chief executive Matt Downie has said:

“While genuine anti-social behaviour must be addressed, we know that engaging people in support services is much more effective at ending their homelessness for good”, and he continued:

“Above all, no one should be punished just for having no home.”

In tackling antisocial behaviour, the Government appear to be reheating a ban on zombie knives, which successive Home Secretaries since 2016 have tried and failed to ban the manufacture, sale and importation of. The Government must get this right. Under the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 offenders with banned firearms can be jailed for up to 10 years, while those found with other weapons can be jailed for up to six months and fined. Under current rules, the possession of machetes and zombie knives is not outlawed unless they feature images or words that suggest they could be used for violence. This means that if police find weapons in someone’s home, they cannot seize them even if they believe they will be used to commit a crime. I hope the Government will tidy up the legislation so that from now on there will be a criminal offence of possession of a bladed article with the intent to cause harm.

The Tories appear to be prioritising more freedom of movement rights for prisoners than for any other UK citizens. British prisoners have more rights to stay in Europe than UK citizens currently do, with a 90-day maximum limit post-Brexit and a visa and/or residence permit required thereafter. The UK Government said the plan would only be undertaken if the

“facilities, regime and rehabilitation provided meets British standards.”

Transferring prisoners engaged in active legal proceedings in the UK, such as those appealing against their sentence, risks violating article 6 of the European convention on human rights guaranteeing the right to a fair trial, as enshrined in the Human Rights Act 1998. There are also concerns about violating article 8 on the right to a family life due to the difficulties in ensuring family visits for inmates being kept overseas, as well as fears over the general quality of treatment.

The Government have accepted that the scheme could be costly, not least because taxpayers may have to pay for families to visit relatives in overseas jails and would only be pursued if it represented value for money. The Government point to similar practices by other countries but there are still concerns. Questions remain over how the Government could prove that their values and legal obligations were upheld in another territory. That is an important point which I hope the Minister will address in the closing remarks. If prisoners do not volunteer or consent to being transferred overseas, principles of procedural fairness could be violated that encourage prisoners to be able to share their side of the argument and have that considered in decisions made about them, such as on good behaviour for parole.

In concluding, I associate myself with the remarks of the shadow Home Secretary on shop workers. Daniel Johnson, a Labour Member of the Scottish Parliament, had a private Member’s Bill that went through the Scottish Parliament with support from the Scottish Government, and I hope the UK Government will listen and look to work constructively on any amendments that protect shop workers. What happened in Scotland was built by persuasion and consensus and I hope the UK Government will listen, because if they do shop workers across these islands will be very grateful.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford 3:33, 28 November 2023

I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak about this very important Bill, and it is of course a pleasure to follow Scottish National party spokesman Chris Stephens.

There are some very positive aspects to the Bill that are welcome. Tackling violence against women and girls, giving powers to law enforcement agencies to respond to technological change, and strengthening the law to protect the public from violence and intimidation are much-needed measures that will certainly reassure my constituents. There are communities across my constituency that have been the victims of appalling antisocial behaviour in recent years. The police and local councils are doing what they can to protect these communities with the application and implementation of community protection notices and then public spaces protection orders, but one challenge that the police have faced is that many of the perpetrators of antisocial behaviour are under 16. Lowering the age of a CPN to 10 will help the police in tackling antisocial behaviour and is much appreciated.

However, I am not comfortable with parts of this Bill—the last Criminal Justice Bill before the next election—and there are also things that are missing from it. I shall be as brief as possible. I apologise to those who have provided some excellent information, and I will probably do them a disservice as a consequence. I will also be blunt, as there is no other way of saying this, and I find myself being slightly firmer on this than the shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper: I did not work as a Minister and as a Back Bencher on the repeal of the Vagrancy Act, only to see rough sleeping criminalised again via a different piece of legislation.

I get that there is an issue with aggressive begging. We on the ministerial taskforce, which my right hon. Friend Priti Patel was very much a part of, were always aware of that. There was always a view that other pieces of legislation, such as the existing antisocial behaviour legislation, could cope with aggressive begging being transferred in. At no point did we, either as a taskforce or as part of the Vagrancy Act repeal, hear evidence about aggressive rough sleeping.

Rough sleepers require holistic support. They often have extremely complex needs, including significant mental health needs. Visibility may be uncomfortable for many, but it also enables support workers from the many brilliant charities and local authorities to reach out to them. Issuing prevention notices does nothing to solve the problem, but pushes them further away from the solution. Sentencing them to prison creates nothing more than extra problems for the person and the creaking prison estate.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

What the hon. Lady is saying is incredibly powerful, and I wholeheartedly agree with her. Does she agree that one challenge we face is that we have a homelessness crisis? In my local area, our brilliant night shelters are already full, and the people working with the homeless would find it harder to help them if they had a criminal record. It would be counter-productive to the very good work we all know needs to happen to prevent homelessness so that it is one night only.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford

I completely agree with the hon. Lady. People who find themselves sleeping rough on the streets are in a desperate situation, and the provisions in the Bill will do nothing to help them. Our local authorities, which often get a bad rap for the consequences of rough sleeping, have many officers doing brilliant work in trying to support rough sleepers. We need a holistic approach to tackling that issue. We do not need to criminalise them through these provisions, some of which, by the way, are laughable, respectfully. We have the idea that a prevention notice can be served to a rough sleeper at their last known address in writing. I am not entirely sure why that provision is even in there.

The point is that we need to be supporting people who are rough sleeping. I get that there is an issue with aggressive begging. In fact, various mayors across our metropolitan cities have said that, but rough sleeping does not need to be criminalised. We got rid of that as part of the Vagrancy Act repeal, which was supported by the Government. All we are doing is bringing that criminalisation in by the back door.

I will support the Bill on Second Reading because of the other measures, but I strongly urge the Government to remove the clauses on nuisance rough sleeping from the Bill. If not, I will certainly lend my name to amendments to remove those clauses from the Bill, on which I hope I would get cross-party support as a consequence. There are other ways of dealing with rough sleeping, rather than criminalising people.

The Bill also contains welcome measures to improve public confidence in policing after significant failings within forces to identify and investigate criminal behaviours. Those are welcome, given the shocking high-profile cases of recent years, but I suggest we reflect on how we protect good officers who do their job in challenging and fast-moving situations from prosecution. The Times on Saturday reported on the prosecution of PC Paul Fisher, who crashed en route to south London, where Sudesh Amman, a convicted terrorist, had stabbed two members of the public. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said that it

“undermines the confidence of all officers using their powers to keep the public safe.”

He is spot on.

A constituent of mine—a frontline Metropolitan police dog handler—was sentenced today having been found guilty of actual bodily harm after apprehending a dangerous criminal, who was subsequently sentenced to 14 months in prison. At the time, he was hailed “brave” and a “hero”. A complaint made from prison was dismissed by every level of the internal standards process, and it was only when the prisoner appealed again that it ended up in court, with the shocking guilty verdict. My constituent’s 21 years of exemplary service are in tatters due to a system that actively works against frontline officers and instead advocates for passive policing. We do need to improve standards of policing across our forces, but, at the same time, we need to protect those officers who are doing their jobs.

I turn to issues that would be helpful inclusions in the Bill. This morning, the first part of the inquiry into the depraved acts of David Fuller in the mortuaries of the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust was published. The families of the victims of Fuller are always at the front of our minds when we, the MPs whose constituencies are covered by the trust and where many of them live, are informed about the inquiry. We collectively agree that the Government, the NHS and the trust should accept and act on the recommendations of Sir Jonathan’s report without delay.

Fuller will rightly serve the rest of his life in prison for the heinous crimes he committed, but there are two additional aspects of his crimes that the Government must also act on. First, the woefully short maximum sentence of two years for anyone found guilty of the sexual assault of a dead body needs to be substantially increased to at least 10 years, as per Baroness Noakes’s amendment to the previous Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Secondly, the current legislation applies only to the sexual assault of a dead body that involves penetration. Given the sensitivity of this matter, and on this day when coincidently the inquiry published its report and we are debating the Bill, I do not want to go into further details, but, in short, non-penetrative sexual assault of a dead body is not included under existing legislation, and that needs to be changed. I and my right hon. Friend Greg Clark, who is currently abroad on Government business, will table an amendment to the Bill to that end. I truly hope that we will never see such depravity again, but in memory of those who were victims of Fuller’s crimes, we must ensure that the offence covers all acts of assault and that sentences are increased significantly.

I turn to an entirely different point. I am surprised not to see in the Bill a specific offence of tailgating at football matches. The House will have seen Baroness Casey’s report following the violence at the Euro 2020 finals. Tailgating causes significant operational, safety and security problems for major events at Wembley stadium as well as other football matches across the country—I witnessed that as I experienced the surge of those illegally attempting entry to Wembley as I queued to get into the final. I understand that the Home Office agrees with the recommendation for a specific offence and that King’s counsel has recommended to the FA that that can be done through either an update to the Football (Offences) Act 1991 via statutory instrument, or adding it to the Bill. Given that the Bill is in front of us, it feels like a missed opportunity not to include that offence in it, so I will happily table an amendment to ensure that it is in place long before we host Euro 2028.

Finally, there is one other point that I was surprised not to see in the Bill. There are many reasons for us to be disappointed that the Government dropped the kept animals Bill, but one particular reason, which is relevant to this Bill, is that it would have introduced a specific pet abduction offence. Given that there is no debate about the harm and impact of pet theft, I was surprised not to see the offence included in this already wide-ranging bill. There has been an increase in pet theft, and the Government’s pet theft taskforce believes that pet owners should not live in fear of this cruel crime. Since this was in our manifesto, I hope the Government will either table an amendment or support a Back Benchers’ amendment that creates a stand-alone offence and bring reassurance to the millions of pet owners across the country.

I appreciate that I have raised a varied list of points, and that others wish to speak and I am running out of time. In summary, this is an important Bill—our last Criminal Justice Bill before the election. There are things in it that we need to do. There are things in it that we do not need to do. There are still things that we need to put into it. Fortunately, we have an excellent ministerial team responsible for the Bill. I look forward to working with them as it progresses through Parliament.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee 3:45, 28 November 2023

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak on the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill. It is always a great pleasure to follow Tracey Crouch, who made a powerful speech. She speaks for many in Chamber when saying that there are things in the Bill that should not be there and things that should be that we do not have yet. I hope that we will see some improvements in Committee.

I refer back to the point made by the previous Home Secretary, Priti Patel, on spiking. That is an ongoing issue—Richard Graham is in his place, and he has done an enormous amount of work on it. The Home Affairs Committee carried out an inquiry and produced a report in which we were clear that we would like a specific offence of spiking to be introduced. We were also conscious of how important it is to work on prevention. That is ongoing work, and I am hopeful that we might see some progress from the Home Office in the coming months. It will be interesting if we get to the point where we need to table amendments to introduce that specific offence.

Another Session, another Home Office Bill. As the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford said, it is probably the last before the general election. I want to focus on the issues that the Home Affairs Committee has considered in some detail in our recent inquiries. A few weeks ago we published our policing priorities inquiry, and before that a report on police misconduct. I want to look specifically at the clauses relating to policing. It is important to pay tribute to our police forces and officers for their work day in, day out, dealing with very difficult circumstances. However, we all know and accept that, in recent years, policing has had far too many scandals. Far too many police forces have gone into special measures, and there has been a real exposure of the racist, sexist and homophobic culture in many of our police forces. We must be mindful of the powerful report by Dame Louise Casey this year on the Metropolitan police. The Committee has been conscious of her recommendations in that report and the need for action from the Home Office and the Mayor of London.

I turn to clause 73, which I welcome in principle. It is the requirement that the College of Policing issue a code of practice on ethical policing. The College of Policing already publishes a code of ethics, so I assume from the drafting of the clause that the new code of practice relies on a trickle-down effect from chief officers, rather than being—as we all thought it would be—a general duty for all officers at all ranks to be open and honest with the public when mistakes are made. The importance of leadership in driving and improving culture is recognised in our policing report, but the public are entitled to expect openness and honesty from officers at all levels. The creation of a less defensive culture across policing is necessary to rebuild public trust and confidence in the police.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

The right hon. Lady is making a powerful speech and has concentrated on the ethics of policing in a constructive way. The Government are introducing the duty of candour, which we welcome, although there has to be concern about how that fits within the overall structure of the language of ethical policing, which is important. She will be familiar with the work of the College of Policing and of His Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services and its chief inspector, former police constable Andy Cooke, who has been doing a great deal of work on this. It has to be deliverable. We are learning lessons from Hillsborough and other reports in the past, but we need specifics about what this means in practice.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady, who speaks with great knowledge about this area and about how legislation has to be deliverable. It has to work for every officer at every level in all our police forces, so there is a job of work to be done. I hope that in Committee the information on how it will all fit together will become clear. The Home Office has said that the duty will filter down to all officers. The concern of the Home Affairs Committee is that if we are really serious about changing police culture we need more than just a hope that things will cascade down. We need clear responsibilities and clear duties.

Clause 74 gives chief officers a statutory right to appeal to a police appeals tribunal against a disciplinary decision. I would like to highlight again that the Home Affairs Committee heard, on several occasions, that simply giving chief constables more powers of appeal will not solve the underlying problem of the initial quality of investigations or even the confusion over the definition of misconduct. That has proved very problematic in dealing with disciplinary cases, so more clarity on that is needed.

The Bill will allow the Secretary of State to enable appeals by police and crime commissioners in limited circumstances where the chief constable is the officer subject to a misconduct decision. The Home Affairs Committee has previously questioned whether extending rights to challenge misconduct hearing outcomes in general to police and crime commissioners would create a conflict of interest for them. The Committee was concerned that giving PCCs extra powers to challenge individual misconduct hearing outcomes could encourage them to stray into operational decision making, and that the often party political and elected nature of their posts could be seen to influence their decisions. The Committee concluded that PCCs should drive systematic improvements in local forces, for example by taking steps to assure themselves that misconduct and competence processes are fit for purpose, rather than intervening in individual cases.

At this point, I want to make a comment about something that is not in the Bill, but which the Committee would have liked to have seen in it. The Independent Office for Police Conduct has, very unusually for such an organisation, one post for the roles of chief executive and chair. The Committee has been concerned about that for some time, and a review of the structure of the IOPC is ongoing. Separating out those two very important roles would be an important part of the reform of the IOPC that is perhaps still needed, and that is not in the Bill.

Clauses 15 to 17 expand police powers to test suspects in police detention for drugs. I would be really grateful if the Minister was able to confirm what resourcing will be put in to ensure that any increase in those testing positive for the extended range of drugs will be matched by the necessary diversion services. I think we all want the Government’s 10-year drug strategy to meet its aims and objectives, but if it is to do that we must be clear that much more work needs to happen.

As the Committee set out in its recent report on drugs, we must have the right interventions in place to help people break away from the terrible cycles of addiction and criminality that drug addiction can cause. They need the right support to let them deal with addiction, but they also need psychosocial support and interventions to deal with the underlying trauma that may have led them to drugs in the first place. I welcome the measures in clauses 1 to 3, including the creation of a new offence to better enable law enforcement agencies to prove illicit use of pill presses. That is very welcome, and it too was proposed in our drugs report. However, I hoped that the Government might make an announcement about a roll-out of naloxone to all police forces. In Scotland it is carried by all police officers, and it plays an important part in saving the lives of people who have taken an overdose.

Clause 19 deals with extending the powers of the police in respect of acquisitive crime. There are some important unanswered questions here. First, can the Minister provide examples of what might constitute “reasonable grounds” for believing that goods are stolen and on the specified premises? Secondly, how confident is she that the new power to enter any premises without a warrant will be used proportionately? Thirdly, given that forces are committed to following

“all reasonable lines of enquiry” in the case of every crime, may I ask how they can be adequately resourced to undertake what they have promised to do?

There are a couple of other measures, recommended by the Select Committee in the past, that I hoped would be in the Bill. The first involves retail crime. We made a very specific recommendation that certain offences be created. A few weeks ago, the manager of my local Co-op was showing me the system that it had on its CCTV. While I was at the back of the store, someone came in, opened the door of the fridge, scooped out all the chicken legs and thighs and other kinds of meat, and then left. According to those at the Co-op, the crime that they see the most is organised crime. It is not a case of someone stealing a loaf of bread or some sandwiches; people are going into stores and stealing every day, and that needs to be addressed.

This issue has already been raised, but I still do not understand why each and every one of our police forces—rather than just two thirds of them—does not have specialised units dealing with rape and serious sexual assaults, when all the evidence makes it clear that what is needed is specialist investigation of those very serious crimes.

There is another provision that is not in the Bill and ought to be, in the light of recent disturbing and tragic events. I have mentioned several times in the Chamber that women can still face prosecution under section 58 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 if they end a pregnancy after the legal time limit. In 1861 Queen Victoria was on the throne, Charles Dickens was writing “Great Expectations”, women could not vote or be Members of Parliament, and the age of consent was 12. The maximum penalty under section 58 is life imprisonment.

Between 1861 and November 2022, just three women were convicted of having an illegal abortion, but let us make no mistake: this not a defunct piece of legislation quietly gathering dust on the shelf. Since December 2022 one woman has been convicted for a late termination, and six women are awaiting trial. We also know that police officers have investigated at least 52 women over the past eight years on the basis of suspicions that abortions have taken place after the legal limit.

Abortion care providers also report a stark increase in information requests from the police. For example, after Hampshire police found a human placenta in woodland in Southampton over the summer, it contacted the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and asked for details of anyone who had been seen at a clinic but turned away because they were past the time limit at which they could seek an abortion. That request was made without any court order. Earlier this year, it was reported that distressed women who have had miscarriages are being tested for abortion drugs by the police. Abortion providers have warned that women suspected of illegal abortions have been pushed into having these tests while in hospital, with no legal representation and without their proper consent being obtained. No woman should be pursued by the police for ending her pregnancy.

Those calling for the threat of criminal prosecution relating to abortion to be lifted from women include the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives, the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and Rape Crisis England & Wales. That is why I will be tabling a new clause to remove women from the criminal law relating to abortion. Let me be very clear with everybody: this is a very limited and highly targeted amendment. It would not change any law regarding the provision of abortion services within a healthcare setting in England and Wales. The abortion time limit, the legal grounds for abortion and the requirement for two doctors’ approval would all stay as they are. What the amendment would do is usher in an end to women being put in jail for having an abortion, and in 2023, I hope that we can all come together and agree on that course of action.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke 4:01, 28 November 2023

It is a great pleasure to follow Dame Diana Johnson. She knows that I very much agree with the sentiment that she has just expressed around the criminalisation of women who are in one of the most difficult situations. In years gone by, people who took their own lives were subject to the criminal law. We have seen the error of our ways and changed the law on that, and I hope that we will on this too.

There are many good things in this Bill, and we have heard from the Home Secretary that there are more good things to follow, particularly the legal duty to report child sexual abuse and the prohibiting of sex offenders from changing their names. Sarah Champion has had a great deal to do with those measures and she certainly has my fulsome thanks for all the work she has done on them. These are important changes, and the fact that the Government have listened demonstrates not only the strength of her arguments but the strength of our ministerial team.

There is nothing more corrosive than the fear of crime, and we therefore have to be careful in how we use language to frame this debate. At the beginning of today’s debate, there were way too many statistics being bandied around for my liking, so I am going to start my comments with one fact. I was going to quote Mark Twain, but I am not sure that the word “lie” is acceptable parliamentary language, so I will not talk about lies and statistics; I will just talk about facts.

One of the most important facts, and one that will help to stop an unnecessary fear of crime, is that this Government have put in place 20,000 more police officers. We now have over 149,000 police officers in England and Wales and the fact is that that is the highest number on record. That is unequivocal. I would like to pay tribute to my local constabulary, Hampshire police, and particularly to my police and crime commissioner, Donna Jones, because they have gone above and beyond what the Government asked for, which was around 500 new officers in Hampshire. More than 600 new officers have been recruited to Hampshire. Those are facts, not statistics, so hopefully we can all agree on them.

It is important that we do not use inflammatory language when it comes to crime, because people become unnecessarily concerned. I see that on the doorstep when people start talking about their fear of burglary, whereas the Home Secretary has rightly said that burglary rates have fallen dramatically. There are many other sorts of crime that we should be concerned about, so let us not make our residents concerned about things that have fallen dramatically.

As my right hon. Friend said, this Bill demonstrates the constantly changing shape of crime. People find new unacceptable ways to benefit from others, and we have to make sure they become illegal. Following some very high-profile cases, of which we are all aware, I very much welcome the introduction of a broader offence of encouraging or assisting serious self-harm. I also welcome the new aggravating factors that increase the seriousness of child sex offences where there is grooming, and of murder connected with the end of a relationship. There are important changes to be made.

There will be a duty on the College of Policing to issue a code of practice on ethical policing, which is particularly important for those of us who are proximate to the Met police—my constituency almost neighbours the Met.

There are powers for the courts to order the attendance of offenders at sentencing hearings, and to punish them if they do not attend—again, this follows some very high-profile cases. Obviously, refusing to attend a sentencing hearing can cause huge distress to families.

The Bill also has measures on knife crime. Basingstoke is a county-lines town, as we are a gateway to Hampshire. We have seen some horrific knife crimes involving young people, often from south London, and I am not surprised to see that knives account for more than 40% of homicides in the last year. The Government have introduced measures to increase the maximum penalty and to criminalise the intent to cause fear of violence, and these are all things that need to be better dealt with in law.

My hon. Friend Tracey Crouch spoke about the antisocial behaviour provisions, which will introduce new powers to lower the age limit of community protection notices to cover younger perpetrators aged 10 or above. It is sad that I recognise the measure’s importance, because my local police have talked to me about people under the age of 16 who are creating appalling nuisance and antisocial behaviour in my community. Extending community protection notices to that younger age group, and increasing the upper limit of fixed penalty notices, will help to give the police the tools they need to deal with the real crime in our community.

I will now comment on two particular elements of the Bill, before suggesting a couple more that the Minister may want to think about. Although I understand the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, I think the measures on nuisance begging and rough sleeping will be more warmly received in my community than she suggests, because organised begging in our town centre, often by criminal gangs, and begging that causes a nuisance around shops and cash machines is a concern not only to residents but to retailers and business owners. It is important that we have measures in place to deal with these issues as robustly as possible, but—and this is an important but—they need to go hand in hand with effective measures to make sure we do not simply move the problem of rough sleeping either into our prisons or into other communities.

We ran a very effective programme in Basingstoke under the then Conservative administration that I hope the current independent administration will continue. It was started by then Councillor Terri Reid, who worked with Julian House, a well-known charity that, through its outreach work, supports rough sleepers into accommodation and into the help they need. If the Minister’s intention with this Bill is to marry together these provisions with effective support, I can see how it might work. This measure worked in my constituency because the money that was given by the Government to the upper tier authority was passported down to the lower tier one, and it could then work much closer to the community and to the problem, making sure that we have effective plans in place. The number of people now homeless in my community is extremely small indeed.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford

I want to put on the record, for clarity, that the Bill contains separate provisions to deal with nuisance begging and with nuisance rough sleeping. Nuisance begging is absolutely an issue that blights communities, and people from across the House will agree that the provisions from clause 38 to clause 50 are definitely necessary—the question is whether that needs to be done in this Bill. Nuisance rough sleeping is addressed from clause 51 and it is entirely separate. The criminalisation of the rough sleepers is the issue here, not the nuisance begging, which is dealt with under entirely separate provisions.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Let me confirm that I was talking about rough sleeping. The antisocial behaviour action plan, which is cited in the explanatory notes, to provide the support that is needed is vague, and I hope that the Minister will reassure us that far more support will be given to local authorities if these measures come through, to make sure that they have effective provisions in place.

I will speed up, Mr Speaker. The provisions in the Bill on intimate image abuse relate directly to the Law Commission’s work in this area. Again, I pay tribute to it for bringing forward those provisions and to the Government for taking them up. They will start to complete the necessary legislation to protect individuals from intimate image abuse online. To have an intimate image published online without one’s consent is akin to rape and it is now being dealt with in the criminal law, for which the Government are to be applauded. I also thank Professor Clare McGlynn, at Durham University, who has done so much work in making sure that these provisions are as they should be.

There are a couple of issues where the Government might consider adding provisions into the Bill. I have already raised the first of those with the Home Secretary in my intervention: non-consensual intimate images not being removed online, even though they may have been part of a criminal case where somebody is now in jail. There are mechanisms for us to be able to remove these images, but it sounds as though some people are not removing them and that the law may need to be tightened further. Finally, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North has suggested that this Bill may be a place to decriminalise abortion for women. We will come later on, perhaps in the remaining stages, to whether this Bill is the right place to do that, when there is perhaps not sufficient time to go through all the details. If that were to be the case, I gently suggest that perhaps the Government will want to look again at my sentencing guidelines Bill so that we make sure we continue to take incremental steps to modernise the way women are treated in the law on abortion. We have had provisions on buffer zones and telemedicine, and sentencing could well be a way in which we could make sure that women are starting to be treated in the way they should be: as patients and not as criminals when it comes to abortion.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee 4:13, 28 November 2023

This Bill presents a precious opportunity to address some of the big problems that exist within our justice system. Despite this Bill making some progress on the sentencing of serious offenders, it is frustrating that the Government are seemingly refusing to use it to fix those fundamental problems. I hope I am wrong or, at the very least, that this is just a starting point and the Bill will be improved during its passage through both Houses. I commend all the recommendations that hon. Members have made today.

Let me start with the positives. I am genuinely relieved that the Government have finally introduced legislation on the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has reported that nearly a quarter of girls who have taken a nude photo have had their image sent to someone else online without their permission. I and many others have called repeatedly for action on this issue. I pay tribute to Dame Maria Miller for her persistent work and successful campaigning, and I assure the Minister that she will continue campaigning until the law properly reflects what is needed.

I am also supportive of increased powers to ensure that offenders attend their own sentencing hearings. Sentencing should be a moment of justice for victims and families. For abusers and perpetrators to refuse to take the stand is morally wrong, as it denies closure to those they have harmed. The Government must ensure that the measures are balanced, but their priority should be to ensure that victims receive the outcome they need.

Now for the “needs improvement” section. I welcome clause 23, which makes grooming an aggravating factor when an offender is being sentenced for child sexual abuse. I hope victims will begin to feel that the jail time that their abusers receive reflects the devastation that the crime causes. However, this is just one step in sentencing. Grooming is already an offence—I know that because I have already changed the law on it. If the Government genuinely want more prosecutions, they need to invest in our police and courts, which have been utterly decimated in the last 13 years. Introducing an aggravating factor to an offence that is already on the statute book will not get sentences meted out unless we have the resources to make that happen.

Likewise, I welcome the principle of mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse, but unless there are fully funded police, investigative and criminal justice services, just reporting it becomes a tick-box exercise; it will make people feel that they have done their duty, but there will be no back office to actually prosecute the people carrying out the abuse. I worry that the measure is seen as an easy solution rather than getting into the detail.

Similarly, requiring judges to consider the end of a relationship as an aggravating factor in murder cases is a good step, but we should go further. We need recognition of something that is the precursor to the murder of many women: stalking. Why not take the opportunity that the Bill presents to address that? I continue to call on the Government to take stalking as seriously as other forms of violence. The Minister can use the Bill to prevent murders by rolling out harsher sentences for the factors that lead up to them.

Now for the bad, I am afraid. I am genuinely outraged that the Government are taking such draconian steps towards criminalising rough sleeping. I support 100% the comments made by Tracey Crouch. I am genuinely baffled why the Bill treats homelessness as a “nuisance” rather than providing the help that homeless people clearly need. During the pandemic, the Government did amazing work getting every rough sleeper off the streets. Why are they criminalising them now?

Crisis has stated that anyone who is judged to look as though they are going to sleep rough and is capable of causing a nuisance could fall foul of the Bill. That is not how we make good laws. No one would voluntarily choose to sleep on the street or in a tent. People do it because they are desperate. They need support, not to be criminalised, especially when our criminal justice system is already at breaking point. In reality, the police will take them off the street and put them in a cell for a night, and then they will be back out again the next morning. That is not a solution. Will the Minister work with her colleagues on housing rough sleepers and providing them with a long-term route out of poverty, rather than criminalising them?

This Bill is a missed opportunity for some of the changes that are needed in the justice system. I am keen to support my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman in amending the Bill to remove parental responsibility from all those convicted of sexual offences against children. We must also ensure that the Bill repeals the ridiculous, archaic laws that criminalise people when it is expressly not in the public interest to do so.

I give my support to the comments of my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson and to what I believe will be the comments of my hon. Friend Stella Creasy, because women in 2023 should not be punished in criminal law for accessing abortion. I will be supporting the amendments that I believe they will be tabling to drag our laws out of the 19th century and into the 21st century, where women are entitled to support when making choices about their reproductive health.

Finally, I am surprised, relieved and delighted that the Home Secretary has announced that he will be adopting my legislation to prevent registered sex offenders from changing their name by deed poll. I pay tribute to Della for her campaign and to The Safeguarding Alliance, which has been working for years alongside me and other campaigners to make Ministers understand both the scale of this problem and the threat that it presents.

As I was coming down to London on Monday, I saw in the Metro a report of a teacher who had a relationship with a 15-year-old. He went to jail for three years because of it. He has now come out and changed his name, and he is working in a pop band. I believe that that presents a very real risk to other 15-year-olds. I really hope that the Minister will work with me and others to get the legislation right quickly, in order to protect everyone.

There are provisions in the Bill that are welcome, while others highlight weaknesses and areas that need to change. The issue is that the Government are bringing forward individual measures, rather than focusing on the much bigger problem—the lack of joined-up thinking around our justice system. There is much missing from the Bill that would ensure that the public were safe and that victims received the justice that they need, and I do hope the Minister addresses that.

The Conservatives can claim that they are tough on criminals, but when it comes to the practicalities of keeping the public safe from known offenders, I am saddened that, as it stands, this Bill is a missed opportunity. Please, Minister, do not just let this be PR and puff; let it be something that everybody can be proud of.

Photo of James Wild James Wild Conservative, North West Norfolk 4:22, 28 November 2023

I rise to support the Bill, which will help to make our constituents safer, including by imposing tougher sentences; imposing new measures to fight knife crime, including zombie knives; tackling violence against women and girls; and giving law enforcement agencies the powers that they need to respond to changing technology.

In the previous Session, we legislated to ensure that the most serious offenders serve longer in prison. Through this Bill, we will impose tougher sentences for child sex offences by making grooming an aggravating factor, and implement recommendations by introducing an aggravating factor for murder at the end of a relationship.

I wish to highlight the importance of judges imposing sentences that reflect the intent of this House. In 2022, we legislated to increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving, yet sentences continue to be too short. The mum, sister and stepfather of my constituent Summer Mace were killed in an appalling incident, but the offender got a sentence of only 10 and a half years and could be out after seven years. Ministers and Parliament need to make sure that the sentencing guidelines actually do what we legislate for.

Turning to some of the specifics in the Bill, I particularly welcome the new power in clause 22 to allow judges to compel offenders to attend sentencing hearings, rather than their hiding away in their cells to avoid victims or their families and the powerful victim statements that are made. That abuses the victims and their families all over again. This is something that I supported and campaigned for after a case in my North West Norfolk constituency where an offender refused to attend the sentencing hearing when he was found guilty of sexual assault of a girl under the age of 13, and of intimidating a witness. Indeed, he failed to attend most of the trial.

The explicit statement that reasonable force can be used by the police and escort officer staff will ensure that the power to make defendants appear in court is very clear. However, as it is currently drafted, that provision applies only to offenders awaiting sentencing for an offence for which a life sentence must or may be imposed. That would not address the case from my constituency, as the maximum sentence for that sexual offence was 14 years. Abusing a child is an incredibly serious offence. I therefore urge the Minister and the Home Secretary to look at the provision again and expand the range of offences to which it applies, because it is important for all victims that offenders face justice. It is important that there is punishment if the requirement is breached and that, where the new power cannot be used—for example, if someone is so violent or disruptive that it is not possible—there will be an additional custodial sentence of up to two years. I fully support that.

One issue I want to raise relates to bail. I hope Ministers will consider, through this Bill, amending the Bail Act 1976 to allow the imposition of electronic monitoring in police bail conditions. In an Adjournment debate that I led on behalf of my constituents on the dangerous driving case I mentioned and unduly lenient sentences, I spoke about the offender, who in June 2023 was sentenced for three counts of causing death by dangerous driving. At the time of the crash, he was on police bail for a driving offence and was subject to a curfew. He also had several previous convictions for motoring offences.

Currently, section 3 of the Bail Act allows courts to impose electronic monitoring as a condition of bail, but electronic monitoring is not permitted under the conditions of police bail. When that offender broke his curfew and set out that night to drive, there was no electronic monitoring in place. Who knows whether, if it had been in place, that tragedy might have been avoided? One of the changes that my constituent and her family are campaigning for is to allow electronic tagging in cases of police bail. Their petition in support of the change is backed by more than 13,000 people. I ask the Home Office to look at whether it can use this Bill to introduce a change to help to reduce the likelihood of other offenders committing such appalling acts.

There are many measures in the Bill that I support. Those to tackle the scourge of fraud are very welcome, given that that is the most common crime and one that causes true misery for our constituents, especially for vulnerable and elderly people. In particular, banning SIM farms, which are used by criminals to send thousands of scam texts at once, will help to protect people, together with the initiatives being taken by mobile networks. Of course, it is sensible that the Government can respond to developments by updating the list of banned technologies and articles through secondary legislation, rather than having to wait for another criminal justice Bill—although they do come round rather frequently.

The Bill includes new powers to help make our communities safer, to cut serious crime and to tackle antisocial behaviour. However, I have outlined specific improvements that I would like, and I hope that Ministers will consider them carefully and bring them forward as the Bill continues its passage.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow 4:27, 28 November 2023

There are a number of measures in the Bill that we can all agree are very welcome, and I want to recognise that. However, there is a wider challenge for us all when we see such a deconstruction of our criminal justice system, given that parliamentary time is so rare and precious. Are we doing everything we can do through this Bill to tackle the challenges in our constituencies?

I am sad that the Home Secretary is not here. His approach to talking about knife crime will not go down well in my constituency. We are facing an epidemic of knife crime in our community. For many of my residents it is a sign of real concern that they see a lack not only of the police they want, but of the social fabric that we need, both to tackle knife crime and to prevent it in the first place. I am also sorry that our SNP colleague, Chris Stephens, is not in his place. He talked about the Glasgow model. I would go further than a public health model; I would go for an education model to try to prevent these issues in the first place.

I ask Ministers to look again at what more we can do to tackle knife crime. It has risen substantially and I am afraid that my local police consistently seem stretched to the point where they cannot do the work I know they want to do. I put on record my gratitude to the police for the work they are attempting to do, but we all know it is not enough.

The same is true for antisocial behaviour. My office has taken to mapping out the many areas where we know there is persistent drug dealing, in the hope that at some point we might be able to use that information to effect change and progress. We hear from residents that, even when they report things and try to do everything we tell them to do to stop those problems, nothing changes. I look at the Bill but do not see the measures that will help them with antisocial behaviour.

I am sorry that Tracey Crouch is not in her seat because I absolutely agree with what she said about rough sleeping. There is a rough-sleeping epidemic in my local community. Criminalising it—separately from begging—will not help us to deal with it, and, indeed, could be counter-productive. I hope that, as the Bill progresses, we recognise the overwhelming cries from those in our brilliant night shelters, who work on the ground to tackle rough sleeping, about how counter-productive that would be.

I put on record my gratitude for the work of Daniel Johnson, a Labour/Co-op MSP, on tackling violence against shopworkers. My Front-Bench colleague, my hon. Friend Alex Norris, has done brilliant work on that in this Parliament. We have a model for what works. We know that our shopworkers deserve better; they are trying to help us. I hope that we can finally agree that such legislation is needed.

In an outpouring of collegiality, let me also agree with everything that my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson said, as well as with my hon. Friend Sarah Champion, who is a powerhouse of changes in this place, as she has proved yet again. I agree with the case made by my right hon. Friend about the decriminalisation of abortion. I will focus on that in my speech because I will also table an amendment on that matter. I will set out why I believe we can take that way forward. I think there is growing agreement that the issue needs to be addressed.

Indeed, on 15 June, when faced again with the evidence of the continued prosecution, criminalisation and incarceration of women for having abortions, the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Edward Argar, challenged us by saying that it was up to this place to do something about that if it had a problem with it, particularly the difference now between the experience of women in Northern Ireland and women in England and Wales. He tried to argue that the House made a decision knowing that it would create a different regime for access to abortion in Northern Ireland. I disagree. As somebody who was heavily involved, I do not think that, when we voted, we deliberately wanted to give second-class status to our constituents in England and Wales as to their rights. But I also recognise the challenge that the Minister set us that day: to test the will of the House through a free vote on an amendment to a piece of legislation.

Let me clear: I intend to table an amendment to begin that process of testing whether an Englishwoman’s right to choose should be confined by a piece of legislation from the 1600s. We know that abortion is a routine health procedure. One in three women in this country will have one in their lifetime. This Bill is the right place to act, because even if we see abortion as a healthcare matter, it is first and foremost a criminal offence that every one of those women is enacting before seeking exemption from prosecution.

When Roe v. Wade was repealed in America last year, many were quick to dismiss the idea that such attacks on women’s basic rights were possible in this country—access to abortion was secure and reflected the settled will of the people—but in the last few months alone, we have seen what the Government have done on buffer zones, for which the House voted overwhelmingly. Those same voices are silent as the Government drag their heels on the implementation of buffer zones, which are the will of Parliament.

In the meantime, multiple women are awaiting trial, under a law that is older than Germany, for the offence of just having an abortion. Last year, six women were charged with having an abortion. Each of them could, in theory, spend the rest of their lives behind bars. It is not just about the high-profile cases that have gone to court and been in the press, and the prison sentences that the legislation drives; investigations into women have rocketed in the last few years, too. Police data shows that, since 2015, 52 women have been reported for having an abortion.

I am sorry to disagree with Dame Maria Miller, who is no longer in her place, but I genuinely feel that looking at sentencing guidelines alone will not do. It is having the offence in the first place that is driving those investigations and prosecutions. The cases that come to court are the tip of the iceberg of a culture in which we use a woman’s reproductive capacity against her at a time when she is most vulnerable. Many people agree that that is wrong, but we in this House have yet to address it because we have always put decriminalising abortion in the “too difficult” box.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

I have been listening very carefully to the hon. Lady. Can I ask her to explain why there is a sudden rash of prosecutions of women? It seems extraordinary. What is the catalyst that has caused it?

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

I wish I could tell the hon. Gentleman what I think is the cause for sure. There are a number of pressures—perhaps the move towards telemedicine or a renewed interest in the issue—but I hope we can agree that in the 21st century the idea that having an abortion in and of itself is a criminal offence is outdated and unworkable with a commitment to equality between the sexes. Indeed, we are increasingly seeing—I know this will shock him—any woman who has had a miscarriage or stillbirth being at risk of being dragged into a criminal investigation.

A young teenager called Megan suffered a stillbirth at 28 weeks. The police investigated Megan’s involvement in her child’s death for a year before the post-mortem confirmed that the pregnancy loss was due to natural causes. She faced that ordeal while dealing with the trauma of stillbirth, and it resulted in her needing emergency psychiatric care. She is not the only one. Another young teenager, unaware she was pregnant, delivered a stillborn child. Once this was declared, her hospital room was flooded with police officers—the presumption of foul play assumed before a post-mortem or a doctor’s examination. Although sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 have become more widely known, it is section 60 that is most frequently used to charge an individual at initial stage, and that was originally written in 1643 to be used to prosecute where there was a suspicion of abortion. That is why senior obstetricians are now raising concerns that the provision, if it stays on the statute book, leaves bereaved parents exposed to intrusive questioning and investigation from the police.

For those who have suffered a stillbirth, the knock on the door that they need is from a counsellor, not a constable. If these cases were occurring in Northern Ireland, women would not face this pressure. That is why in 2019 MPs in this place voted to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. It is also why women in Northern Ireland now have buffer zones; they are part of a decriminalised process and protected as such. Crucially, when we know people wish to attack a woman’s basic right to choose, in Northern Ireland the Secretary of State must uphold that human right to choose to have an abortion—safely, legally and locally. Those who seek to frustrate that access, whether through formal or informal ways, face a Government who know they will have to go to court if they do not overcome those barriers and protect the rights of women to choose. That is because that legislation is founded under the auspices of the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women—a treaty that we technically have yet to ratify fully, but which expressly states that states parties should remove criminalisation of abortion and

“withdraw punitive measures…on women who undergo abortion”.

The amendment that I will table this evening, which is open to all MPs to support—and which I hope I can convince my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North to co-sign—does not ask for something new or to set a new precedent. It is rooted in practice and evidence about what works when we are protecting the human right of women in the UK to choose. This is not untested because decriminalisation of abortion has already happened not just in Northern Ireland, but in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. We are simply asking for equality and for somebody in Government whose role it would be to uphold that right to access an abortion without the threat of punitive measures.

In tabling my amendment I want to be very clear, because I understand that there will be concerns, especially in the light of recent court cases: nothing in my proposal will change the time limits in the Abortion Act 1967. Indeed, my amendment would explicitly enshrine those limits in future regulations. We should all be clear that 90% of abortions in this country happen before 10 weeks and that those having late-term abortions often do so for the most heartbreaking of reasons—the fatal foetal abnormality that means that if we try to move the time limit, we force women to give birth to babies they know will die. After carrying a much wanted child, we would be criminalising them rather than medicalising this matter.

Decriminalisation is about taking away the threat of prosecution. It does not take away the principle of viability in accessing services, so I state here and now—and for the purposes to be repeated online and offline as we move through the issue—that a vote for decriminalisation is explicitly a vote against abortion up to birth, though some have tried to scare otherwise. It is not the case in Northern Ireland, and it will not be the case here. Neither is it a vote for no regulation: the removal of the criminal underpinning of our legislation would mean its replacement with a medical one that puts the health of women first and ensures appropriate professional delivery of services as well as clinical safeguards.

I know there are some who will never want this progress. I respect their views: I respect the fact that they do not believe abortion should be an option, and will fight for their voices to be heard in this democracy. Surely we all want positive sex education in all our schools and support access to contraceptives, which will reduce the number of abortions required. However, many more of us disagree that a woman should be forced to give birth, and recognise that having bodily autonomy is a human rights issue.

The Northern Ireland experience shows that it is possible to make progress but also means that we currently have a two-tier system, with women in the UK being given different rights depending on where they live. Why should the women of Birmingham, Bangor, Bradford, Bury, Broadstairs, Bournemouth and Barking not enjoy the same protection of buffer zones as the women of Belfast? If colleagues voted for those buffer zones in Northern Ireland, why would they not extend them to their own constituents? If colleagues were not in this place to vote for them in Northern Ireland, why would they accept their own constituents being considered second-class citizens when it comes to their basic human rights?

Now is the time to recognise the damage being done because our criminal code does not allow a right to be accessed safely, legally, locally and equally across our nations. We know that this will be a long fight, that the wording may change and different variations may be put forward, but we also know that the time is now. Colleagues who agree—who do not want to see women prosecuted, obstetricians worried and stillbirths penalised in this way—should co-sign our amendment and say, “It is now an equal time to choose for all our constituents.”

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne 4:41, 28 November 2023

I am pleased to welcome the Bill, and many of the measures to tackle serious organised crime and antisocial behaviour that it contains. These are important issues that are often raised by my constituents in surgeries and through surveys, because they impact on people’s daily life and their sense of safety and belonging in their community. I pay tribute to the work of Sussex police, as well as the Government funding that has focused action on the town centre most particularly, delivering the safer streets that give people the confidence to be out and about, especially in the night-time economy. However, I will confine my remarks not to measures that are in the Bill but to one measure that is not in the Bill but might be.

If there is one place where everyone should feel safe, it is surely within the comfort and confines of their own home, but the reality is that thousands of vulnerable people across the country are terrorised in their own home by criminals who take control of that home and use the property for criminal purposes. That horrendous exploitation is known as cuckooing, where criminals target the most vulnerable, such as socially isolated people, those with learning difficulties or those dealing with addiction and drug use. They may initially befriend those people, or may simply threaten them. They are often violent, ultimately taking over the victim’s home to store drugs, grow cannabis and facilitate prostitution or any number of other criminal activities. The influence of cuckooing goes further and wider, because the neighbours of people whose homes have been invaded have to contend with disruption, antisocial behaviour and intimidation from the criminals who operate from that property.

Cuckooing happens across all communities in our country, including—I am very sorry to say—in my own constituency of Eastbourne, and it is a rapidly growing problem. Figures from Sussex police reflect that: in the past five years, there has been a tenfold increase in cuckooing. Understanding the impact on the victim in one local case—their powerlessness, despair and shame at having been so abused and exploited—must surely command further action.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

May I ask my hon. Friend what the reason is for a tenfold increase in cuckooing in Eastbourne?

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne

I thank my right hon. and gallant Friend for his question. I cannot explain the increase in Eastbourne, but I imagine that the increase is across the land. There will be an increase and an uptick because it has been found to be a very effective way for criminal gangs to operate, and they move from home to home to evade detection. It is an absolutely vile crime, but one that clearly lends itself to the activities being pursued.

It was actually a real shock to me to discover that this hostile takeover or invasion—this taking over of somebody’s home—was not already a crime. However, I believe the Government recognise the need for it to be, because in the antisocial behaviour action plan, published just in March, there was a commitment

“to target the awful practice of ‘cuckooing’ or home invasion” and a pledge or commitment to

“engage with stakeholders on making it a new criminal offence.”

Indeed, Emily Drew, who is the exploitation co-ordinator at Sussex police, substantiated that point when she said:

“It’s definitely hard to tackle cuckooing when it’s not technically a crime. There are lots of other tools and powers we can utilise and we can be quite creative with it but it does rely on perpetrators committing other offences.”

Hence the real challenge of making this a stand-alone and discrete crime.

Clearly the action plan was a very positive step forward, but at the moment the Bill does not include such an offence. However, in his opening remarks, the Secretary of State talked of “every possible support” and “additional powers” for the police. He spoke about people feeling safe in their homes, and about opportunities during the passage of the Bill to consider further amendments to cover some of the concerns raised by hon. Members. I very much hope that the Bill will provide the perfect opportunity to introduce a new criminal offence to outlaw cuckooing once and for all. I hope the Minister and the excellent ministerial team, with the Secretary of State, will bring forward such an amendment in due course.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 4:47, 28 November 2023

I rise to speak to some of the amendments and proposals outlined in this Bill, and to echo some of the comments made by right hon. and hon. Members. One of the key things in it—requiring individuals who are facing a sentence to come up and hear their sentencing—is a step in the right direction. I am sure that provision is welcomed, and it is good to see that the Home Secretary and Ministers are listening to many of the bereaved families about the impact non-attendance has on them. They have spoken about how it is distressing, exacerbates trauma and essentially denies them the opportunity to address the perpetrators. However, I hope that the Minister, in responding, will address some of the concerns of campaigners and organisations, including Justice, which have highlighted that the use of force may have a disproportionate impact on BAME offenders and could also put custody officers and prisoners at risk. I hope that the Government will bear that in mind when they are looking at how to implement this power.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

I totally agree with what the hon. Lady has said. Are we envisaging someone who refuses point blank to come into court to receive their sentence being forced into court by police officers and manacled to the dock? Personally I agree with that, but is that what we are envisaging?

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

This is where we need clarity, not only for offenders but for prison officers who are going to be dealing with those people and making sure no harm comes to them. There must be a clear definition of the use of force, recognising that this is a very distressing time for the families and those in the dock but also recognising that there must be appropriate use of force.

Many Members have highlighted the second area I want to focus on: the new proposal on the power of nuisance begging and nuisance rough sleeping. Tracey Crouch and my hon. Friend Sarah Champion are not in the Chamber at present, but I agree entirely with their comments. There is no mention in the proposals of any support to address rough sleeping, yet we have a number of punitive measures that will only end up criminalising people who are already facing a difficult and challenging time. Those measures will do nothing to end rough sleeping and homelessness. Specifically, the penalty for nuisance begging or nuisance rough sleeping is one month of imprisonment. The measure might not work, either, because the Government have been honest in saying that there is a lack of capacity in prisons—there is just no space. That is evident in the Government’s proposals in clauses 25 to 29 to transfer individuals to rented prisons abroad.

Short-term prison sentences are expensive, and studies show that they do not work in having a positive impact on re-offending. I am co-chair of the all-party group for ending homelessness, and our inquiry last year heard from many people who had experienced rough sleeping and homelessness. The key issues they highlighted were mental health problems, substance abuse, domestic abuse, alcohol and poverty. All of them are key drivers in forcing people to experience rough sleeping and homeless.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

Given that this is a Home Office Bill, does my hon. Friend recognise that one of the challenges we are seeing is an increasing number of people who are refugees becoming homeless because they are given such short notice that they are no longer going to be housed in hotels? Perhaps if we had a little more notice and planning we might be able to avoid some of those people sleeping rough, because we could work with them to make sure they were able to find housing or other accommodation in their new country when they have the status they need to be here.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that matter, because it is as if she is reading my mind. Our all-party group took evidence from a number of different organisations as well as London councils, refugees and people from the Homes for Ukraine scheme. We heard about people who had been housed and supported by various councils and host families, but who were now presenting to councils up and down the country as homeless with nowhere to go. The Government need a joined-up approach to addressing this.

We also have to recognise that people who are rough sleeping are also very vulnerable and are more likely to be victims of crime and antisocial behaviour, yet they will not report that to the police because of the stigma of being homeless.

Everyone needs a good-quality home to live in. It is central to our wellbeing and our physical and mental health, and it should be a basic human right. I urge the Minister and the Government to remove the clause in question and instead to work with local authorities, charities, shelters and organisations including St Mungo’s, Crisis, Shelter, Homeless Link and a range of others, who are working hard to provide support to people so that everyone can find a decent home and keep it.

I also want to talk about the vetting, suspension and misconduct of police officers. This Bill presented a good opportunity to introduce reform in those areas. We have had various reports and studies on police conduct both in London and across the country, and the fact that seven of our police forces are still in special measures should alarm us. The duty of candour for police under clause 73 falls short of the wholesale review we need in policing. There is a requirement on the College of Policing to issue a code of practice to set out the actions to be taken by a chief officer. That essentially leaves the College of Policing to determine what

“acting in an open and transparent way” means.

One of the key areas cited in Baroness Casey’s report was the defensiveness of organisations such as the Met police when faced with criticism. My right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman put forward a number of sensible proposals to look at reforming that, and they go way beyond what the Government are outlining in the Bill. They include automatic dismissal for a serving officer convicted of a serious criminal offence, automatic suspension of an officer charged with a serious criminal offence and automatic dismissal of a serving officer who fails their vetting. That would help restore some of the trust and confidence in our policing, because at the moment criminals see that those who are supposed to uphold the law are not within the law themselves and are facing criminal charges. That should not be happening.

We welcome some of the good measures in the Bill. Some of the measures on knife crime are good, but on their own will they not go far enough to address knife crime. One of the most difficult things I have had to do as a Member of Parliament is to meet bereaved families. I have sat in a family’s front room and looked over their shoulder and seen a picture of the loved one they have lost—that young smiling face. I held my constituent’s mum earlier this year after her daughter was brutally murdered at 4 pm on 1 May. She asked me, “Why?” She asked why she has to wait over a year to get justice for her daughter. There is nothing you can say.

Just introducing new measures and legislation on zombie knives and other knives will not address the chronic issue of knife crime that we see across the country. We need a full-scale, holistic public health approach. We need funding, education and a mental health approach to dealing with the root causes of knife crime. We cannot just lock people up to get out of this—that is not the solution. Those who have lost family members know that is not the solution, and they want to work with the Government to address this matter properly. I ask the Government again: instead of introducing yet another measure on knife crime, will they work with local authorities, youth services, councils and police forces up and down the country to have a wholesale public health approach to dealing with this pandemic of knife crime?

Hate crime has sadly risen, too. Earlier this year there was a horrific hate crime attack at the Two Brewers in Clapham in my constituency. We have seen a massive increase in LGBTQI+ hate crime. Someone being attacked simply for who they love is wrong. Again, the community feel that when they come forward to report such crimes to the police, their concerns are not taken seriously. Will the Government look at the inefficiencies in reporting and addressing those crimes?

A number of Members have mentioned retail crime and visits they have made to stores in their constituencies. Like my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson, I visited a Co-op store in my constituency. In the South Lambeth Road store, shopworkers mentioned a situation where the same offender had come to the shop 17 times. Shopworkers are going out to work every day knowing that they could be physically attacked and abused, and that is not right. I started my working life in Sainsbury’s on Clapham High Street. Yes, customers could sometimes be aggressive, especially when the focaccia bread was sold out by 11 am on Saturday morning—it was Clapham High Street—but no one should have to tolerate abuse and physical abuse just for going to work. Staff on the frontline in our retail shops are being attacked day in, day out, and that cannot go on. The Government are not recognising that, and are saying that thefts under £200 will not be looked at. We need to ensure that the police have the resources to address this issue, because low-level antisocial behaviour escalates. In some cases, that physical and verbal abuse, God forbid, turns into a stabbing and an innocent shop worker being killed. We should not have that happening to our frontline workers. There are sensible proposals in the Bill, but I urge the Government to think carefully about those that will not have an impact in addressing the key issues of crime and antisocial behaviour.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings 5:00, 28 November 2023

The Conservative writer and statesman John Buchan said:

“You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilisation from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass.”

Too often, our constituents are exposed to how fragile that thread is as they deal with the barbarity of crime. It is true that, as the new Home Secretary said, some crimes have fallen—burglary has certainly declined, as well as some other crimes—but too many of our constituents have a diminishing faith in the rule of law. Order delivers and depends on a secure sense of certainty shaped by shared values and, as communities become increasingly fragmented by social breakdown, those values are eroded. There are many reasons for that, but just two of them are the pace and character of change. We cannot admit 1.3 million people into the country in just two years and hope that communities will hang together. In some places, there is nothing to integrate into, even if the people coming would like to do so. We have to deal with the rapid pace of change and its effect on the character of community and the shared values on which we all depend.

There is another problem, which sadly is prevalent in the Chamber; I hear it prosecuted many times. That is to assume that the focus in criminal justice should be on the criminal, not the crime; the cause, not the event. That implicitly limits—I would say that it reduces—our concern for victims as we perpetually ask why something has happened rather than what has happened. The effect of a crime—the event—is immediately felt, and the consequences of that event are measurable, so let us stop agonising about why, and deal with what and how, and what we will do about it.

What will the Government do about it in the Bill? There is much to be welcomed. The new crackdown on antisocial behaviour is overdue and insufficient but welcome. There is the concentration on knife crime and new offences for carrying knives. That, by the way, needs to be backed up with much more extensive use of stop and search—I hope we will hear that from the Minister when she winds up—because there is no point in having something on the statute book that says, “If you carry a weapon, you will be prosecuted” if we do not know whether people are carrying one or not. We know that stop and search works and we want to see more of it.

There are also sensible changes to the laws on vagrancy. Again, let us be crystal clear about those changes. The Bill says—this is not the hyperbole we have heard from some Opposition Members—that we will ban begging where it is causing a public nuisance such as by a cashpoint, in a shop doorway, on public transport, or approaching people in their cars at traffic lights. It will also introduce a new offence targeted at organised begging, which can be facilitated by criminal gangs to gain money for illicit activity—that is organised, orchestrated begging on a large scale. It will also introduce powers for the police and local authorities to address rough sleeping where it is causing damage, disruption, harassment, distress, or a security or health and safety risk such as the obstruction of fire exits or blocking pavements. That all sounds eminently reasonable.

Of course, those measures are not part of a bigger strategy on homelessness—I acknowledge and accept that—but my constituents tell me that they suffer from exactly the things that I have just detailed and want something done about it. The Government are to be congratulated for responding to those calls. The Government are right, too, to insist that criminals are in court when sentenced. We all saw recently that Lucy Letby was able to avoid meeting the families of her victims by cowering in her cell when she was duly sentenced.

There are things that are not in the Bill. I would have liked it to look at raising minimum and maximum sentences for all kinds of crimes. I would like more custodial sentences, not fewer, and not just for serious crimes. We have heard a lot about shoplifting. Let us imagine if we said to our constituents that the Government are increasing sentences for serious crimes, but a perpetual shoplifter will never go to prison; someone engaged in criminal damage by defacing or attacking a war memorial in our constituencies will not go to prison; someone involved in perpetual antisocial behaviour will not go to prison. That is not good enough, it is not what our constituents expect or want and it is not what the Government should do.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the power of community payback is enormous, visible and makes a huge difference to our communities? When those who commit petty crimes are seen to be painting or gardening in city or town parks, the offence is commensurate with the justice mooted, and we can all benefit from that.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

Yes, but it is a big mistake to assume that the principle aim of criminal justice is to avoid recidivism. That seems to underpin much of what the Government think. It is true that we want to stop people becoming perpetual criminals, but that is not the only measure of criminal justice. The purpose of justice is to punish. People want to see

“the infliction of an ill suffered for an ill done”.

For people’s faith in criminal justice to be maintained, they need to know that if someone does something wrong, they will suffer for it.

Similarly, imprisoning someone takes them away from where they committed the crime and thereby stops them from committing another. In the case of shoplifting, at the very least it provides respite for those plagued by shoplifters—often, the same families, groups and social networks are involved in that concentrated and organised shoplifting. It is not the person stealing the occasional thing; unfortunately, it has been institutionalised in certain criminal communities and among a certain kind of felon. We need to think about criminal justice in those terms. Community sentencing can play a part, but it is important that criminal justice is retributive. That argument is made to me perpetually by my constituents, but in their eyes, it seems to fall on deaf ears among the political elite. Protecting the public, punishing criminals and providing victims with a sense that justice has been done are all essential to maintain popular faith in criminal justice.

I know that others want to speak, and too many speeches in this Chamber are too long. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, there is no such thing as a political speech that is too short. So I will conclude with a different quote from a different character. C S Lewis said:

“I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can.”

We will never eradicate the wickedness of crime. No society ever has. But in tackling evil, first we must recognise it, and secondly be intolerant of it. To be intolerant of wickedness is not only the right thing ethically but would allow us to say with pride that we are defending the innocent against those who seek to make their lives a misery. Let us move forward with the Bill with a spirit of righteous intolerance of evil. On that note, I look forward to the new Minister, whom I welcome to her place, illustrating her vigorous intolerance of all that is wicked and criminal.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee 5:09, 28 November 2023

I thank Sir John Hayes for his contribution, but I feel I have to pick up on his point about stop and search.

As I know from my own constituency, done badly, stop and search can have a lifetime impact on trust in the police. I know men of my age who can still remember when they were stopped and searched frequently and badly. It absolutely has to be intelligence-led and done respectfully, so that any young person—or any person stopped by the police—knows their rights and is treated properly, because not everybody carries a weapon. There is a point to it when it is well-targeted, but we have to keep monitoring the police so that the number of stop and searches and the number of weapons found are proportional. Across London—I know my hon. Friend Florence Eshalomi will find this as well in her constituency—people caught with a weapon will often hide it in the bushes or somewhere else because they know it will be found by stop and search. If it is used badly, it does not work; if it used well, it does have a place in policing. It cannot be got rid of completely, but it must be done respectfully and properly.

Given the current challenge the police are facing, particularly in London, in terms of trust with the community, we need to be really careful. In my constituency, I watch the statistics closely for who is stopped and searched, and the proportion of knives caught. It is important that we all keep an eye on that. We are at a point of disagreement, but I hope we can disagree well on this issue. The tone of the debate has been like the old days— we are actually discussing the matters in the Bill.

I want to focus on a number of issues, starting with that important matter of public trust in policing, which we know is currently a real challenge. We have policing by consent in this country and that is a prize worth fighting for. In my constituency, over a very long period of time, before my election 18 years ago and since, we have seen that lack of trust and challenge played out viscerally at times. Nationally, we had the shocking cases of police officers Wayne Couzens and David Carrick. They were serving officers and continued to be in employment despite previous incidents that were clear red flags.

I strongly commend to the House Baroness Casey’s review into the standards of behaviour and internal culture in the Metropolitan police. It sets out clearly the scale of the problems and is a seminal piece of work, but it will only be a seminal piece of work in reality if it is actually taken on board. I therefore welcome the commitments made by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, to tackle those issues, and his strong acknowledgement of the systemic problems in the force he now leads. The leadership has to come from the top, but it needs to be root and branch from below as well. We need to have confidence that the police can report issues among their colleagues —the duty of candour is an important element. The idea that things are hidden from senior management, or that senior management will not deal with them, needs to be in the bin now. Sir Mark Rowley needs power to his elbow to continue to deliver what he is trying to do. I am very concerned about how we got here and there are still lessons to be learned.

Very many years ago, I became a Home Office Minister. I had responsibility for the vetting and barring service. Building a picture about an individual police officer and vetting is still not being applied to the police. I served as a Home Office Minister for the three years from 2007 until the general election in 2010. Colleagues may remember the Bichard report, published in 2004 after the tragic murder of two young girls in Soham. The importance of recording and aggregating inappropriate and concerning incidents and behaviours carried out by people in professional roles, or indeed anyone, was not being managed well. Someone could commit a crime in one area—or not even commit a crime, but come to the attention of the police force in that area—and then move to a different area and repeat the same actions, and there would not be an overall picture of what that person had done.

As the Minister responsible for the then vetting and barring scheme, since subsumed, alongside the Criminal Records Bureau, into the Disclosure and Barring Service, I helped to shape that picture, focusing particularly on people working in education and health settings and bringing together and changing the rules governing the way in which people were supported. But that picture building also plays a much wider role. I know, having dealt with it in such detail at the time, that if it is used and shared properly, it can prevent opportunities for more serious crimes to be committed.

It is a tragedy and an irony that that type of intelligence gathering, which is now well established in many professions, including education and healthcare, had clearly not been happening in policing. The vetting system alone was different. Someone could be vetted and passed to become a police officer in one area, but in another area the vetting would disbar him or her from that force. Actions could be registered on people’s files and records as employees in one force, and in another force—or, indeed, in the same force—the accumulation of those actions did not lead to those people losing their jobs.

Before Wayne Couzens was convicted of rape and murder, six incidents of indecent exposure were linked to him, and in a previous job he was known as “the rapist” because of how he made women feel. David Carrick’s offences spanned a 17-year period—almost as long as I have been in the House—with reports to the Met first made in 2000. Here we are in 2023, more than 20 years after the tragedies in Soham, and that picture building and intelligence gathering across police forces has still not been happening. There is a great deal to be done to build trust between the public and the police, and it is clear that immediate progress needs to be made on the issues that I have mentioned.

I want to say something about the Home Office’s recent review of police officer dismissals, in particular its recommendation that misconduct hearing panels should be chaired by senior police officers supported by a legally qualified panel member and an independent member. Previously the panel would have been chaired by the legally qualified panel member, supported by the other two members, in order to ensure, rightly, that those chairing misconduct hearings had the appropriate knowledge and skills and were removed from any actual or perceived conflict of interest in the case. I fear that the change in the make-up of the panel threatens public confidence in the transparency and independence of the proceedings.

For example, a police chief or a police and crime commissioner might be required to make a statement immediately following a police incident, something we regularly see on our television screens and read about in the media. After that, the officers involved could be subject to a disciplinary hearing. How could that police chief then chair the panel objectively? There would be a clear conflict of interest.

The Bill creates the right of a chief constable to appeal against a decision made by a misconduct hearing panel. The rationale for that is that police chiefs should have a right to determine whom they employ in their forces. On one level I completely understand that, and, as I say, all power to the elbow of Mark Rowley in wanting to get rid of bad officers in his employment. However, it adds another layer of proceedings—another potentially lengthy and resource-draining element.

Policing is not a regulated profession, which is extraordinary when we think of comparable professions. As the IOPC points out in its response to the Home Office’s review of the process of police officer dismissals,

“Police disciplinary proceedings have their origin in the employer-employee relationship between a constable and their chief officer. However, that relationship has been overlaid incrementally by a statutory regime intended to promote public confidence. As has been noted in various legal judgements, the legislative regime that has resulted is very complicated.”

In regulated professions, the professional body deals with the public interest in fitness to practise issues, which means striking off people from the professional register when that is appropriate, while employers deal with breaches of the contract of employment, which means dismissal or some lesser sanctions. In the absence of a fitness to practise model in the police, a neat solution would be to separate findings relating to misconduct from the sanctioning element. A panel—chaired, I suggest, by an independent member—could find an officer guilty of misconduct and make a recommendation regarding an appropriate sanction, but the police chief would then make the decision to retain or sack that officer on the basis of the independent findings.

We all know that confidence in policing is the foundation of our system and that policing by consent is something we should prize. It is essential for my constituents in Hackney and for people up and down this country that we take concrete steps to address the problems and fix the long-standing systemic issues. I think there is an opportunity to do that in policing. I can see why the police will have lobbied the Government to have the right to chair misconduct proceedings, but I think there is a way of resolving that and keeping the independent oversight while giving police chiefs the right to sack people who have done the wrong thing.

I also want to touch on something I mentioned in an intervention on my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper in relation to shoplifting. Shoplifting has increased 25% in the last 12 months alone, with offences under £200 rarely being enforced. I recently visited the Gainsborough Co-op in Shoreditch to talk to the staff there, and I thank them for hosting me. I have also spoken to the trade union USDAW. It was interesting and sobering to talk to the member of staff at the Co-op who is responsible for collecting the information about shoplifting across the Co-op group. A lot of evidence is collected. We have heard examples of people going in and sweeping up food, with the same person often making several visits a day; they know when the security guard is on a break and go in then. They case the joint and steal repetitively. They are also increasingly aggressive, and staff tell me that they now go behind the tills more often.

The staff now wear cameras to try to record video evidence. They collect video evidence and they collect evidence from staff, who have to take time out of their duties to report it. They tell me that they are assiduous in doing that because they see the importance of trying to tackle the issue. The Co-op then pulls together that data—USDAW tells me that it is the same for other stores—and presents it to the police en masse to try to get a conviction, yet so little is taken up. A police officer will not necessarily attend an individual incident. I understand the pressures on the police in my borough, where there are lots of things going on. There always has to be a priority, but shoplifting is so often down the list of priorities that it is a real tragedy for those working in those shops.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

The hon. Lady and I see eye to eye on quite a few of the points that have been raised today. She mentioned a Co-op store, which is part of a wider group that clearly has a few more resources than independent retailers do. Does she agree that we really need to change not just the mindset in policing but the law to ensure that all crimes are treated equally, particularly when it comes to shop crime and its impact on retailers?

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

The right hon. Lady and I are perhaps surprised to find ourselves in such agreement, but absolutely. I will finish highlighting what the Co-op does, because I think it plays into what happens in smaller stores.

The staff pull together enough information to make it evidentially strong enough to take through the prosecution service and into court, but even then they often struggle to get any interest—and of course, if the stores clamp down in one area by putting more security into a shop where there has been a particular issue, the criminals just move to the next property. We have to deal with this problem area-wide, which is why it needs to be a police matter and not just dealt with store by store. Crucially, as the right hon. Lady says, if the Co-op, Tesco or Sainsbury’s clamps down on a particular store or stores in an area, other shops are left with less support. They are often small corner shops with a lone shopkeeper, and the fear for them is palpable. It is really worrying. If they know that the police are not going to come, they just have to back off and their goods are stolen.

The Co-op that I visited has lost £155,000-worth of goods in the first six months of this year. For a small shop, that is the difference between existing and not. We rely on those local shops, and in lockdown we needed their support. Now we need to support them, and this needs to be a higher priority for the police. The Government could also be doing more. This is something that my own party is keen to look at. I am a Labour and Co-op Member of Parliament, so I am particularly keen to see this dealt with. I was struck as I talked to the staff in store by how helpless they feel when someone pretty much jumps across the till to take cigarettes and booze. They have to hide things, and they have to stock dummy products, which is inconvenient for customers. Of course, customers sometimes go into one of these shops and find that the goods they want to buy are not there because, as my hon. Friend Florence Eshalomi said, the shop has just had a large-volume raid.

Shoplifting needs to be taken much more seriously. Nobody should go to work and expect to be attacked. Everyone I spoke to had suffered an incident of shoplifting. Even if they stepped back and were not violently attacked, it is still very damaging psychologically. No wonder we see such turnover among shop workers.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

Does the hon. Lady agree that perpetual shoplifters of the kind she describes, who intimidate people and make the lives of shopkeepers and shop assistants a misery, should be banged up?

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

Again, I find myself breaking out in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman.

If the sanction is too low, people will keep doing it. As with county lines, it is clear that criminal gangs are often using and exploiting vulnerable people to do their dirty work. Those vulnerable people get caught, but we do not get Mr Big. Shoplifting is becoming an epidemic in many of our areas.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

One of my conversations with shop workers was about the mental health impact of being attacked and abused day in, day out. A number of them were thinking of changing profession. We might think they have support, but Priti Patel mentioned that, in most circumstances, smaller shops have just one person in the store. Does my hon. Friend agree that their safety has to be paramount and that we need more action?

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Like her, I have spoken to shopkeepers and it is heartening that they want to do a good job. They said the problem is that, after a shoplifting incident, not only do they go home with it in their head but they have to take time out to record it all. This is what one said to me, and it was really heartfelt: “It stops me doing what I’m here to do, which is to help customers.” He was so proud of his job, and he wanted to help customers. Nobody should be forced not to do their job well. Frankly, there is a real issue here, and there needs to be a strong signal that there will be action on the ground, with the police working with the retailers. The big retailers can help, but action needs to be area-wide. We need to take a completely different approach to shoplifting.

I commend the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall on knife crime. She highlighted the utter tragedy that she and I have experienced too often. It is not right that our young people feel unsafe roaming the streets. They should have the right to roam, but instead they and their parents are constantly worrying about knives on the streets.

Just banning zombie knives is not enough, because people will hide them. As with county lines, people will find a way. An 11-year-old in my constituency was recently asked to hide a gun, and when the gun went missing—it was taken from him—he had to pay back the person who had asked him to look after it. That is a classic example of grooming, and the same thing will happen with knives, which are not always held by the criminals themselves. Those who want to get hold of a dangerous weapon can do so all too easily, even if it is banned in law. That alone is not enough for somebody who is determined to do this.

We need to take a much more holistic public health approach to knife crime. I was in the Home Office when my party was last in government. Priti Patel and I are proud of our service in the Home Office, which is a great Department to be in, but it is also frustrating. At that time, we were trying to work with accident and emergency departments to get the data so that we could track what was happening, to make sure we had a more holistic approach. This is not just a crime issue; it is about making sure we are helping and diverting young people, who are often drawn into this activity not because they want to be but because, for young people living in certain areas, it is safer to be part of a gang than to step away. It is hard to resist that pressure at times, and those innocent young victims need as much support as other victims.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We can all reflect on where other parts of the state drop the ball on this issue, for young people in particular. Tragically, as she will know from her constituency—I have spent a lot of time with families in central London who are grieving because they have lost their children, their nieces or their nephews—these children get trapped into bonded labour, basically. They are treated like slaves. Somewhere along their journey the state, whether it is social services or the Department for Education, has failed. These kids may have been kicked out of school. That is where we need early intervention to stop the rot setting in.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I absolutely agree on that, and we need resourcing for that early intervention. Something we look at on the Public Accounts Committee, which I have the privilege of chairing, is what I call “cost shunting”. A classic example of that would be where mental health services get cut and the police end up picking up mental health patients and having to divert resources there. We could have early intervention to support young people so that they are not caught up in this. I am not blaming young people, as they themselves are not a problem—the young people in my constituency are amazing and are going to be great leaders of the future—but some of them, sadly, get sucked into this. That little bit of money going in early can prevent a lot of challenge for young people.

Many years ago, a police chief in Lambeth, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Florence Eshalomi, did a bit of work to analyse the tragic knife crimes of that year and a clear pattern of victims emerged, one that often related to their being in care and to challenges in the education system. I give credit to Hackney’s gangs intervention unit, which finds the young people who are at risk of getting involved or who are involved. It then finds a way to divert them out of that path, through rehousing and education, and supports the family in doing that. This is a real challenge and so many parents want to talk to me about it. They do not want a uniformed police officer coming to the door if they know that there is a drug or gang issue in their area, because they do not want the young person in their family, often their son or daughter, to be targeted. We can talk about that issue.

Frankly, it will be cheaper for the Home Office to put money into early intervention than deal with the aftermath—the victims, the deaths and, later, the prison system, which goes to the Ministry of Justice budget. We need to break the government spending silos, looking across them with a mission statement as the leader of the Labour party has suggested. No longer can we look at individual silos; we need to find a way of tackling these wicked issues.

On fraud, the PAC has been looking at the issue for some time, and it is a failure of the system that we have such a poor response to it. The PAC looked at fraud in 2017 and again this year. Outlawing SIM farms is all very well, but victims continue to be let down. This is like the tip of an iceberg; it is as though the Government had to put something about fraud in the Bill so they went for SIM farms. Is that going to solve anything, given that most of the crime is overseas? When we looked at this again this year, the Committee concluded that fraud is

“everyone’s problem but no one’s priority”.

The Bill backs up that premise. Some 41% of all crimes currently committed are frauds; we are talking about 3.8 million instances of actual or attempted fraud in the year to June of last year. Such little progress has been made in the past year, with fraud increasing and victims paying the price. The cost of fraud to individuals cumulatively is £4.7 billion. We all want to boost the economy, so if we stop fraud, we could have £4.7 billion being spent in our economy. I am not being flippant, because this has a huge impact on the individuals who get hit, sometimes to the tune of several thousand pounds. For many of my constituents, even £50 or £100 is enough to tip them over the edge in a month, so this is a really big concern. Of course, this is about not just financial fraud, but other fraud.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend is talking about fraud. The Home Affairs Committee has just started an inquiry on fraud and we learnt that only about one in seven people who are the victim of a fraud report it, because of the shame and stigma attached. Is she is concerned as I am that people are not reporting fraud and so this is the tip of the iceberg?

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I absolutely am. I recommend to my right hon. Friend our report of this year and, I am sorry to say, our back history of reports on this issue, because things have moved so slowly that people might as well read the 2017 report as not much has moved on since.

I am going to come on to the issue of how reporting works, because the Bill misses an opportunity there.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

The right hon. Lady may recall that when I was a Home Office Minister—we are all sharing our Home Office histories here—we set up the National Cyber Security Centre and the national cyber-security strategy. We have made significant progress, but she is right to say that, as with shoplifting, fraud and cyber-crime are at epidemic levels. Part of that is about the way we constructed systems that are interdependent, interconnected and interoperable. Sometimes that adds to vulnerability, so we must change culturally how we go about doing business and interacting.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I do not dispute what the right hon. Gentleman says, but there is a danger that that lets the Home Office off the hook. In the five or six years during which the Public Accounts Committee has been looking at the issue, fraud has got worse. Indeed, I was dealing with some of the issues when I was a Home Office Minister, and we are seeing a growth in the crime but not a growth in the action in response to it. That is not surprising, as the volume and complexity of cases are overwhelming police forces and Action Fraud, the civil body to which people report such crime.

The point that the right hon. Gentleman makes about interdependency is valid. Because the Home Office is dependent on the banking, technology, telecoms and retail sectors to fight fraud, its response has been slow and sluggish, relying on voluntary agreements with organisations in those sectors to deliver change. Frankly, those agreements have not delivered enough. The banks were reluctant to give evidence at all to the Public Accounts Committee—I suggest to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson, that she pushes the banks to give more information—and when we suggested publicly reporting fraud levels against the banks, they were apoplectic. We ended up recommending slightly time-delayed reporting as a way of keeping institutions on their toes, so that customers could vote with their feet and know exactly which banks were on top of dealing with fraud. We think that the different sectors where fraud is happening could do more.

Over 70% of fraud has an international element, so whatever we do domestically will not resolve the situation unless we have better relationships with overseas criminal justice agencies. This is immature in the Home Office currently, as we concluded in our report published earlier this year, and the matter is not helped by the lack of capacity in the UK. Only 1% of police are dedicated to fraud, yet it represents 41% of crime. The Home Secretary said that percentage balancing was not possible, but we can all acknowledge that if 1% of police officers are dedicated to fraud and 41% of crime is fraud then the balance is out of kilter.

Some 20,000 new police officers are being recruited, which is a welcome step, but only around 2% of them—some 380 officers—will be focused on fraud. The Public Accounts Committee looked at new officer recruitment; recruiting fast can mean that a lot of junior staff are recruited, not the specialists that are needed, so there has been a missed opportunity. I will not go into that further, as it is outside the scope of the Bill.

Public communications could be improved by the Home Office, working in partnership with others, as campaigns can be effective. When the Committee looked at communications this year, there were 13 public campaigns running about fraud, but fewer than 10% of citizens were aware of any of them. We raised the matter five years ago, when the Take Five campaign was run by the National Crime Agency. However, five years on, that campaign is still being evaluated, so it is not working very well.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North raised the issue of fraud not being reported by people. Only 300,000 cases were reported to Action Fraud by the public, which given the overall numbers is not very many, and another 600,000 were reported by business and industry. Of the 900,000 cases reported annually, fewer than 15% end up with further action and only 1% result in a criminal justice outcome. Action Fraud is set to be replaced in the new year, yet the Bill does not mention the victim experience, which is a missed opportunity. I hope that will be probed further by members of the Bill Committee.

It is sobering that the time taken by law enforcement agencies to take on and tackle fraud is often longer than the sentence that the fraudster receives, so something is going wrong. We need a concerted effort to deal with this wicked issue, which cuts across many areas.

The measure relating to intimate images is welcome. I pay tribute to my previous constituent, Emily, who has now moved back to the United States, who worked tirelessly over a period of years to shift the dial on the issue, after she was filmed naked without her consent. I held an Adjournment debate in April 2018 calling for exactly this issue to be addressed and made an offence. New section 66AA sets out three offences of taking or recording intimate photographs or film, including an offence of “intentionally” taking a photograph or recording a film that shows another person in an intimate state without that person’s consent or a reasonable belief in their consent.

This is a moment to pay tribute to Emily Hunt, who bravely named herself, took on the system and was a force of nature in making sure the issue was tackled. We could not understand why the crime of taking such a photograph was not identified in law. At the time, the fact the person who had taken it had not published it was the issue, but this measure has now been introduced and it would have protected Emily. My hon. Friend Sarah Champion highlighted what happens to many young teenagers, particularly teenage girls, so this measure acts as a protection. In addition, we need to ensure we educate people that such behaviour should not happen. As the Bill makes progress, I hope some of those issues will be picked up in Committee.

Photo of Julie Marson Julie Marson Conservative, Hertford and Stortford 5:39, 28 November 2023

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to accept the Home Secretary’s invitation to get behind this Bill, because there is much to commend in it. The process is an iterative one, as it builds on so much work that the Government have already done on crime and on the criminal justice system. I was honoured and pleased to serve on the Public Bill Committee that considered the Domestic Abuse Bill, enacted in 2021, and an example of a further improvement in the Criminal Justice Bill is the addition of an aggravating feature to reflect the crimes of men whose control of their partners ends with the heinous crime of murder.

As I say, this is very much an iterative process, and there is much to like in the Bill, such as the way it bears down on drug crime; the way it bears down on knife crime; the way it bears down on sexual offending, and sexual offending against children in particular; and the way it bears down on serious organised crime. The one area that I emphatically support is the Bill’s requiring those criminals—they are cowards—who have the nerve, having committed a crime, not to face up to their victims, to attend their sentencing hearing.

As a proud daughter of a police officer, I welcome the focus on police standards, and I note that, for the vast majority of policemen, there is nothing worse than misdemeanour and criminal activity in their own ranks. I know that the vast majority of police will very much welcome that focus.

There is no such thing as a minor crime. Crime is a violation of that feeling of safety and security that we all deserve. My constituents in Hertford and Stortford certainly deserve that sense of security going about their daily business and their daily lives. Antisocial behaviour is a scourge on our communities and one that we have concerns about in Hertford and Stortford. I wish to pay tribute to my local police as well as to Chief Inspector David Cooke and all his team. They have used closure notices and closure orders, which are very useful tools.

What has been raised with me by my local police—I have also raised this with Ministers—is that we have a bit of a revolving door with closure orders. A closure order can be issued by a court, and it is very effective. The community breathes a sigh of relief, as it has respite from the problems that they have been experiencing for a period of time, but, at the end of that order, the same occupants can go back into the same property, or a similar property, and the community is left absolutely distraught—in fact even worse than the first time, because they have had a sense of relief but then the problems have recurred. Antisocial behaviour is something that we need to bear in mind because it is a blight on local communities.

The provision to extend the power to issue and to apply for closure orders to registered social housing providers is very welcome, because that helps to give extra responsibility to those providers, and it will, I think, encourage them to take the matter seriously to try to avoid that revolving door element and look for more permanent solutions, which will be hugely beneficial to local communities.

As I say, this is an iterative process, and there are opportunities in this Bill to create other criminal offences. My hon. Friend Caroline Ansell, who is not in her place, raised the issue of cuckooing, which I would also like to suggest as a separate offence. Very often criminals use properties for illegal activity, and this action is not victimless, because often they move into a property—the better term for it is actually a home invasion—where there are vulnerable people, who are used as a vehicle for criminal purposes. Those people are often physically or mentally vulnerable or have addiction problems. They are real victims, and they need to be protected. Society needs to say, “We do not accept this.”

In order to measure, name and deal with a crime we have to accept it as a crime. This cruel and cynical activity should be criminalised as a separate offence. There are different offences we can use to tackle cuckooing, but those would generally be drug offences or antisocial behaviour offences, which do not reflect the gravity of the crime and the fact that there are victims. We should be saying, “We don’t accept it and we don’t tolerate it. We want to measure it and know the scale of it, so we have to name it and make it a separate offence.”

Along the same lines, another horrific crime that has no separate offence is spiking, which has been mentioned already. My hon. Friend Richard Graham has done a lot of work on the issue already and I know he will continue to do so. It beggars belief that someone would go out and prepare to administer toxic, noxious substances to another person—usually, but not exclusively, a woman—often for sexual or control purposes. Here again we currently rely on other offences, but we must name that offence. We must see it, we must convict it and we must sentence it as the crime it is.

I sat on the bench as a magistrate many times. I saw the victims of offences and I saw how much it means to them to have their day in court—to be able to give their evidence and to have the crime that has been perpetrated against them named and recognised and sentenced. It means a huge amount to them, and it should mean everything to us. We often hear that the punishment should fit the crime but, in the case of cuckooing and spiking, it is my assertion that the crime should fit the crime and that they should be separate offences. I hope that Ministers and the Government will look at them carefully.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester 5:47, 28 November 2023

What a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Julie Marson and to hear her mention the issue of spiking, as several others have done. I will not speak for quite as long as Dame Meg Hillier, who I think managed 40 minutes, but there is enough time to mention two or three quick points of interest to the House.

This is, after all, a debate on issues of huge importance to all our constituents, issues of safety and justice. Much has been said from all parts of the House that many of us can agree on. I particularly enjoyed the speeches from my right hon. Friend Priti Patel, my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch, my right hon. Friend Dame Maria Miller, Sarah Champion, my hon. Friend James Wild and Dame Diana Johnson, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.

The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North has done great work on spiking. She, I, the former Home Secretary my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham, and others are completely aligned in our proposal to the Ministers on the Front Bench and to the Home Secretary that this is not just a great opportunity to follow through on some of the things that are already in the Bill—for example, the importance of criminals attending their sentencing, preventing sex offenders from changing their names to confuse the register of sex offenders and other very good initiatives—but a historic opportunity to make spiking a separate, specific offence defined in law and to send a very clear message to a lot of people. This is not the first time that I have sung this tune, Mr Deputy Speaker. As you and others will be aware, we had debates in my name in January, two ten-minute rule Bills in January 2022 and June of this year, and a Home Affairs Committee report in April this year. They have all recommended the creation of a separate offence of spiking.

It now falls to the new Ministers, whom I warmly congratulate on their appointments—especially new the safeguarding Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Laura Farris—to seize the moment and bring the change to life. The reason it matters so much is partly that, rather like the with Vagrancy Act 1824, we need to update legislation to reflect modern practice and language. We need to define the term “spiking”, bring together elements of two separate existing acts—one of them Victorian—and ensure that the police record complaints and accusations, help to collect evidence, and refer cases to the CPS when appropriate.

However, behind all that is the straightforward truth for anyone listening to the debate: we all know, or know of, at least one person who has been spiked. That includes several Members of this House or members of their families, as well as so many of our constituents. Almost all those cases have not been reported or recorded. Let me give three quick examples of spiking that we do know about.

The first is an example sent to me this morning by a colleague whose friend, a male in his 60s, was here in London on business. He dropped

“into a pub near his hotel and had his drink spiked.”

The guy who spiked the drink

“supposedly ‘helped’ him back to his hotel where the assault and rape happened.”

The individual who was raped was not a gay, so it was particularly traumatic. Our colleague from this House says that the individual thus abused

“is mostly over it now”.

That is just one example of an incident that has not gone anywhere near the police, let alone the courts.

There is, of course, an infamous example from Manchester that has come to light and, indeed, gone on to court: the case of Mr Reynhard Sinaga, who raped more than 50 men under the guise of being a Christian befriending those who were sleeping rough in the evening. My right hon. Friend David Mundell has mentioned his constituents Mandy and Colin Mackie, who created Spike Aware UK after their son Greg’s tragic death following a spiking.

All three examples are relatively unusual, partly because they have come to light, but also because they are all male on male. However, we know—both anecdotally and through research done by Stamp Out Spiking, for example—that the vast majority of cases are man on woman, especially in the night-time economy and particularly among university and college students, although by no means exclusively. So there is a key element of violence against women and girls in the whole business of spiking, which is another reason tackling it is so important.

Sceptics tend to ask, “So how many spiking crimes have been committed?” That is an almost impossible question to answer, not just because there is currently no offence of “spiking”, but because proving attempts or committed acts of spiking is hard, and the presence of drugs in the body fades quite fast. That only emphasises why legislative change is necessary: once spiking is an offence in its own right, those who have been spiked will get more support from the police, the CPS, the NHS and night-time economy venues. That is why many police forces, including Gloucestershire constabulary—my local force—and its chief constable, and PCCs including Gloucestershire’s excellent Chris Nelson, recognise that making spiking an offence in its own right matters. It will enable proper data collection, encourage victims to come forward, and drive technical changes to capture the evidence more effectively, and, crucially, it should result in an increase in simple messaging and a decrease in offences.

If we can achieve all that through some crisp drafting by the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, we will have done many people a great favour.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury 5:54, 28 November 2023

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Richard Graham.

This is an important Bill that highlights the Government’s commitment to improving our justice system and making our communities safer. I would like to focus the majority of my remarks on one aspect of the Bill that I am pleased to see has received so much attention, which is antisocial behaviour. Members across the House might well represent different parties or political beliefs, but I am confident that I can safely say that we will all have received complaints from our constituents about antisocial behaviour in one form or another. Although it is formally considered to be low-level criminality, the reality is that, left unchecked, antisocial behaviour causes frustration and misery to many, many law-abiding citizens; it is undoubtedly the area of criminal behaviour about which I receive the greatest amount of correspondence. I therefore particularly welcome clauses 65 to 71, which extend the maximum period of certain directions, reduce the minimum age for community protection notices and allow for the closure of premises by registered social housing providers. I am confident that those provisions will all bring tangible benefits to my constituents and those of hon. Members across the House.

I am also glad to see the proposals for reviews of antisocial behaviour by the local policing body, which I know are supported by the excellent police and crime commissioner for Thames Valley, Matt Barber. It can often be difficult to know where exactly responsibility lies for tackling antisocial behaviour—whether it is with the local authority or the local police force, or whether a particular act might straddle the responsibilities of both—as I highlighted in Home Office questions in May. Proposed new section 104A in clause 71 provides the opportunity to make real progress in resolving such difficulties, and as the PCC for Thames Valley, Mr Barber, told me, it should provide more power to enact change and really stand up for residents.

Tackling antisocial behaviour does not mean always acting after the event, though. Indeed, one of the most effective crime-fighting tools is to prevent crimes from being committed in the first place and to divert those at risk of offending to more meaningful pursuits. In my constituency of Aylesbury, we have some excellent local initiatives to provide activities for young people to help prevent them from becoming involved in criminality. I saw that for myself just last Friday, when I spent the afternoon with the Aylesbury neighbourhood community policing team, led by Sergeant Clare Farrow. Two of her PCSOs, Lee Abrahams and Rachel Matthews, joined me at Southcourt baptist church in Aylesbury, where they help to run a weekly boxing club alongside the pastors and other members of the local community. The club has 100 young people on its books, and engages boys and girls from all parts of Aylesbury’s very diverse community. For some children it has helped to build confidence, for others it has brought resolution between bullies and victims, and for all it has provided a constructive activity, keeping young people off the streets and away from the temptation to become involved in criminal behaviour.

So dedicated are PCSOs Lee and Rachel that they even give up their own time to go and help at the club when they are not on duty, and this service has rightly won them and their colleagues the community policing award for Thames Valley in the category of problem solving. It is problem solving that is key to successful neighbourhood policing, which needs special skills and talent. The social enterprise Police Now recruits officers specifically for that type of policing; I was pleased to meet one of its undoubted success stories, PC Elliott Jones, who has been working in Aylesbury for the past year. Spending just a few hours with that neighbourhood team was genuinely inspiring, and I thank all the neighbourhood teams in my constituency for their superb work.

Mindful of the time, I would like to touch briefly on a couple of the other measures outlined in the Bill, given my previous experience as a magistrate and at His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Laura Farris—who I am absolutely delighted to see on the Front Bench, having served with her on the Justice Committee—can help to provide a little more detail on these measures, either now or at a later date.

I absolutely recognise the reasons for the Government’s introduction in clause 22 of powers to compel attendance at a sentencing hearing. I entirely understand the anguish that has been caused to victims of crime when the perpetrator of the offence has simply refused to return to the dock, demonstrating, frankly, utter disdain for the harm that they have caused. But I am pleased that the power to produce the offender in court remains at the discretion of the judge, because it is the judge who will be best placed to decide on the individual circumstances of a case. I would be keen to hear more from the Minister about how that might operate in practice, particularly if an offender refused to leave prison to go to court in the first place. I am aware of cases where forcing somebody to leave his cell and get on to the van would have taken a very considerable number of prison officers. While one can reasonably say that that prisoner should be forced to hear his sentence and face justice in person, the reality is that the prison officers involved are taken away from their usual duties and responsibilities. That could—indeed, likely would—impact the normal regime of the prison, which in turn would prevent other prisoners from engaging in the work, education and training that can reduce their chances of reoffending. It is important that we get the balance right, and I am keen to hear how we will make sure that we do so.

Turning to the transfer of prisoners overseas, I am pleased that clause 28 makes provision for His Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons to inspect overseas prisons. However, as a former member of the independent monitoring board at HMP/YOI Feltham, I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister outlined how she envisages conditions being monitored on an ongoing basis. The role of IMBs is not necessarily as well known as it should be, perhaps even in this House, but to quote the IMB website,

“IMB members are the eyes and ears of the public, appointed by ministers to perform a vital task: independent monitoring of prisons and immigration detention. They report on whether the individuals held there are being treated fairly and humanely and whether prisoners are being given the support they need to turn their lives around. This can make a huge difference to the lives of those held within these facilities.”

A critical element of that role is that IMB members can turn up at any time, unannounced, and go to any part of the prison they wish with their own set of keys. I would be grateful if the Minister set out what equivalent provision will exist for overseas prisons.

There is much else in this Bill that is important, including measures to respond to changing technology used by criminals, such as 3D printers. As someone whose own car was stolen by thieves accessing the vehicle by intercepting the signal from an electronic key, I particularly welcome clause 3. However, I do not wish to detain the House any further: I conclude simply by welcoming the Bill, and the many ways in which its provisions will make the people of my Aylesbury constituency safer and more secure.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

I call the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman to wind up the debate.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice) 6:01, 28 November 2023

Over the past 13 years, our criminal justice system—once the envy of the world—has crumbled as a consequence of Tory mismanagement, but I pay tribute to the police and the court and probation staff who work hard in such difficult circumstances. Victims in our country are left traumatised, waiting years for justice only to be let down again; trials are delayed for years on end and victims pay the price, with record numbers withdrawing from their cases. The Crown court backlog now stands at a record high of almost 65,000 cases. There is a crisis in prison capacity, to the point where convicted criminals are having to be let out early or are even not being sentenced in the first place, despite the Government’s fantasy plans to send prisoners aboard. The Home Secretary talks about powers, but can the Minister tell us what discussions with credible partner countries have taken place to make that fantasy a reality?

Simply put, this Conservative Government have failed in the first duty of Government: to keep its citizens safe. This Bill is further evidence of that continuous failure, and while it contains some measures that we on the Labour Benches welcome, it is the absences that are most glaring. The Bill contains no assurance at all that the existing systems in our country are ready to cope with the many changes it will introduce, as Priti Patel recognised in her speech.

Time and again, this Government have failed to deliver the prison places we need. They have once again pushed back their deadline for delivering all 20,000 places, this time shifting their own target from 2025 to 2030. According to the most recent debate, only 8,200 places are due to be delivered by 2025, a shortfall of nearly 60%. With 10 Justice Secretaries and eight Home Secretaries in 10 years, this Government have focused on fighting each other instead of fighting for justice, and it is the British people who have paid the price. There have been repeated urgent warnings going back years: the 2020 prison population projections predicted a significant rise to 98,700 by September 2026, and the National Audit Office also warned in 2020 that

“demand for prison places could exceed supply between October 2022 and June 2023.”

After that warning from the NAO, the Government introduced a number of measures through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 that added even more pressure to the capacity crisis. I was the shadow Minister on the Public Bill Committee at that time, and I raised my concern with the Minister, Chris Philp—he is just taking his seat—who is now the Policing Minister. If the House will indulge me a little as I quote myself, in Committee I put it to the Minister:

“The Opposition would welcome further information from him about the impact on the prison system… The impact is to be felt very shortly indeed, and at a time when our prison services are recovering from the exceptional operational difficulties of the pandemic… Given all the additional prisoners that the system will have to cope with in not just seven or eight years’ time but as early as next year”— this was last year—

“how will the Government ensure that our prisons do not become even more overcrowded and unsafe?”––[Official Report, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Public Bill Committee, 8 June 2021;
c. 422-3.]

So there it is: we were raising serious concerns, but Ministers fobbed everyone off with the assurances that all would be well. However, we know that the building programme is now well behind and our prisons are absolutely stuffed. It is no way to run a Government.

As the Prison Reform Trust has said:

“This lack of strategic approach means that the prison service has been forced to operate in an almost perpetual state of crisis. To cope, it has pursued short-term expediency over effective long-term planning. This has included a reprieve of prison accommodation which should have been decommissioned decades ago;
the use of police cells;
the rapid construction of temporary cells”— and—

“a staff recruitment scheme working flat out to keep officer numbers stable”.

Indeed, it is only now that prisons are completely at full capacity that we have seen any sort of acknowledgement from the Government, and then only out of sheer necessity, not because they have some sort of new commitment to prison reform.

The best the Government can do is a series of half-baked ideas that do nothing to address the very serious and immediate issue of convicted criminals who should be in prison being out on our streets instead because there are not enough cells to put them in. I know most of those ideas are contained in the Sentencing Bill, but as we have heard, this Bill contains the provisions relating to the transfer of prisoners to foreign prisons. However, these provisions will make absolutely no impact on the current crisis because we do not have a deal in place with another country. It is nothing more than gesture politics.

Reducing demand on the prison system is also dependent on a robust probation service that can supervise and work with probationers to reduce crime, but there is a capacity crisis there too. Probation delivery has been seriously undermined by the failed structural reforms of this Conservative Government. The disastrous transforming rehabilitation reforms have left probation, in the words of the Public Accounts Committee,

“underfunded, fragile and lacking the confidence of the courts.”

The probation inspectorate has found

“a critical lack of frontline staff” that has led to “excessive caseloads”. Recent research has found that less than half of probation practitioners believe they have a manageable workload. The probation service needs ambitious and transformative support from Government, but this Bill is yet another missed opportunity. While the extension of polygraph conditions and the changes to multi-agency public protection arrangements are welcome, it is an insult that these are all that is on offer from a Government who have driven probation into the ground.

As my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper said in her opening speech, there are a number of measures in the Bill that we actually support. First, I would like to refer to the speech by Tracey Crouch, who felt the need to be blunt with her own colleagues when addressing the outdated Vagrancy Act. She is right that aggressive rough sleepers need support, and that issuing prevention orders does nothing to address the underlying problem.

We back the powers to compel attendance by offenders at sentencing hearings, and I pay tribute to Farah Naz, Cheryl Korbel, Ayse Hussein and Jebina Islam for their tireless campaigning on this issue. However, it will be no surprise to the Government that we support this measure, since we have been calling for new laws to be introduced on this since April last year.

Let me give hon. Members a preview of another request that we similarly invite the Government to borrow from us. We would like to see the Bill amended so that offenders who have sexually harmed children and are sent to prison as a result lose the ability to control their own children from behind bars. This is a long overdue measure that will ensure all children are safe from these dangerous predators, including their own parents.

We have had a good debate, and before concluding I would like to refer to some of the other speeches made by our colleagues. I was pleased to see my hon. Friend Sarah Champion celebrating today, and I welcome the fact that her long campaign to stop sex offenders changing their names has come to fruition. She also went on to address all manner of other things including action on the sharing of explicit images.

My right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, spoke of a campaign for a specific offence of spiking. She spoke of her Committee reports on policing and the work needed to build trust within the community, and I am pleased to see that she has the cross-party support she wants.

Dame Maria Miller said too many statistics had been bandied about but then went on to give some of her own—but she claimed they were facts rather than statistics. Yes, the Government might have gone some way towards replacing the police that they had cut over all those years, but it is the job they are doing that matters and we need more of our police out on the streets.

My hon. Friend Stella Creasy talked about the epidemic of knife crime in our community and the need for so much to be done, and the need for a public health approach and prevention as well. My hon. Friend Florence Eshalomi talked about the proposals for offenders to face their sentencing in court but rightly questioned how that would work. She joined in the concern about rough sleepers and made the point that they are more likely to be a victim of crime than to commit crime. And we would of course all expect a long and comprehensive speech from my hon. Friend Dame Meg Hillier, covering everything from policing by consent to misconduct and shop crime to fraud.

In this Bill, and indeed in the Sentencing Bill, there are a number of clauses that will lead to more people being imprisoned or being imprisoned for longer and we support many of them. However, it beggars belief that such proposals are put forward without any certainty whatsoever that the Government will be able to actually provide the prison places needed. It is no good posturing on law and order when the criminal justice system is crumbling as a result of 13 years of mismanagement by this Conservative Government. This Bill is yet another failure of this Government’s record on justice, but we will work with Ministers to improve it where we can.

Photo of Laura Farris Laura Farris Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) 6:11, 28 November 2023

It is a pleasure to close this important debate on the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill, a Bill that puts public protection and community confidence at its core. It has a strong empirical basis, building on the detailed work undertaken by the Law Commission, by Baroness Casey into misconduct in the Metropolitan police, by Clare Wade KC into domestic homicide and coercive control, and by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse.

It consolidates the significant progress this Government have made since 2010 and it was disappointing to hear Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, only rely on the statistics from police recorded crime when she knows as well as I do that the Office for National Statistics says that the correct measure is the Crime Survey for England and Wales, which provides—

Photo of Laura Farris Laura Farris Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I will not because I have little time. That survey provides a more reliable measure of long-term trends than police recorded data.

Photo of Laura Farris Laura Farris Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

If we use the correct measure, the regrettable conclusion for the Opposition is that like-for-like crime is down by 56%.

Photo of Laura Farris Laura Farris Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Violent crime is down from where it was in 2010 by 52%, and domestic burglaries are down by 57%. If we compare—[Interruption.] If we compare where we were in 2019 to today—

Photo of Laura Farris Laura Farris Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Domestic abuse, a sensitive category of crime, has fallen between 2019, before the pandemic, to today by 16%. [Interruption.]

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Minister will know that the time is not limited. We do have time and she has named me. I do understand that she has the right not to take an intervention but she will also know that, having named me, as a courtesy to the House, she would normally do so.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

That is not strictly a point of order for the Chair. The right hon. Lady understands the procedures extremely well.

Photo of Laura Farris Laura Farris Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Alex Cunningham said that this Government have failed in their duty to keep citizens safe. It is regrettable that His Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary, Andy Cooke, takes a different view. He has said:

“England and Wales are arguably safer than they have ever been.”

In the limited time I have available, I will address some of the points that came up today. I will respond in writing to those whose speeches I cannot address. Under this Bill, we are taking the fight to serious organised criminals, cutting off their capacity to churn out new firearms, mass-produce illegal drugs and perpetrate fraud with devices using multiple SIM cards. As my right hon. Friend Priti Patel elegantly put it, we are designing crime out. We are cracking down on some of the most pernicious harms, which are often hidden from view. We are developing recommendations of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, and we are developing the package of measures announced by the Prime Minister in April by creating an obligation in law to treat grooming as an aggravating factor in sentencing.

I congratulate Sarah Champion on the name change measure. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mark Fletcher, who introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on that issue. I will just pick up on the point about mandatory reporting, which the House will know was the subject of a principal finding and recommendation of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse. I hope that the hon. Member for Rotherham agrees that the measure is a good step forward.

I will briefly address two other issues. Making murder at the end of a relationship an aggravating factor, recognising that the moment of maximum danger for many victims is when they tell him finally that they are leaving, is not the only thing we are doing in that space. Yesterday, the Ministry of Justice announced a consultation on whether coercive and controlling behaviour or the use of a knife or weapon that is already on the scene should become aggravating features in any murder case. I pay tribute to Carole Gould and Julie Devey for their campaign on that.

Finally, I will address the point that was raised about whether the measures we are taking adequately answer the findings of Baroness Casey in her report into misconduct in the Metropolitan police and our handling of it. The measures in the Bill are not the only ones we are taking. We are also acting to ensure that any officer who cannot hold appropriate vetting clearance can be removed from office and that a finding of gross misconduct will automatically result in summary dismissal, and we are giving chief constables the right of appeal following a misconduct hearing if the conclusion is that one of their subordinates has not been subject to an adequate sanction.

The depth and breadth of this debate highlights the need to stay ahead of criminal ingenuity through enhanced supervision, interception and disruption, and by cutting criminals off from the tools of their trade. We are developing legal principles that find their roots in the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 and the Online Safety Act 2023. We are cracking down on crime at every level. From antisocial behaviour all the way to serious organised crime, it blights our communities and targets the most vulnerable. I therefore commend this Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.