Clause 15 - Guidance about independent domestic violence and sexual violence advisors

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:00 am on 24 May 2024.

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Victims and Sentencing) 11:00, 24 May 2024

Indeed. I was obviously a lousy teacher, as she ended up a Conservative Member of Parliament, but I wish her well in the future as she leaves this place. I also send my well wishes to the Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Robert Neill, who is a friend from across the House, and who conducts himself in a manner that we can all aspire to.

As we stand here at this critical point, we are reminded of how significant the Bill is. I am pleased that the Government have come to their senses and given the British public the opportunity to go to the polls and have their say on who will run the country, but that should not come at the expense of victims. That is why we welcome the discussions, held through the usual channels, that allowed us to arrive at what we have today.

We will support the measures outlined by the Minister. Victims have waited for over eight years, and eight Justice Secretaries, for legislation addressing the failures and injustices that they face. Supporting victims is a priority for Labour. In the spirit of bringing forward the overdue changes to our criminal justice system and beginning the work of trying to restore public confidence in it, we are pleased to support the Bill. We have strived to be collaborative throughout, and I think the Minister has acknowledged that. We recognise the Government’s willingness to negotiate in the final hours of this Parliament.

I take this opportunity to acknowledge the exemplary efforts of my predecessors, who did most of the heavy lifting on the Bill before I took on this role: my constituency neighbour and hon. Friend Anna McMorrin, and my hon. Friend Ellie Reeves. I also extend my thanks to the Minister for the cordial and constructive approach he has taken throughout the Bill’s progress.

The Labour party is resolute in its commitment to putting victims back at the heart of the criminal justice system, and we recognise the importance of not only listening to them, but going further and delivering robust support to them, empowering them and enhancing their rights. On the duty to collaborate with the Victims’ Commissioner, it is heartening to know that the hard work conducted in opposition does sometimes get recognised and is used for the benefit of the public. The success of Lords amendment 32, which introduces a duty to collaborate with the Victims’ Commissioner, is a perfect example of the effort exerted by the Opposition paying off.

Labour has been clear that it is imperative that we strengthen the powers of the Victims’ Commissioner. Although we sought to go further than we have been able to while in opposition, we recognise that the new duty on justice agencies to co-operate with the holder of the commissioner role is a useful start. We remain committed to recognising the significance of the Victims’ Commissioner and the desperate need for that office to be strengthened. It is long past time for the system to be truly accountable for the needs of victims not being met, so we are glad that we are taking this step towards having a fully empowered Victims’ Commissioner. We have listened to the calls of previous commissioners and victim support services and will continue to do so. We are firmly committed to further strengthening to commissioner’s powers, should we have the privilege of sitting on the Treasury Benches in a few weeks’ time.

On part 2 of the Bill and the provisions concerning the victims of major incidents, we were pleased to see, through Lords amendment 54, that our colleagues in the other place understood the importance of the introduction of a duty of candour for public bodies. I thank my colleagues in the other place for their hard work, and particularly Lord Ponsonby, our Front-Bench representative, for his evidently persuasive contribution when moving the amendment. I welcome the statutory review that the Minister announced, which is provided for in the Government amendments.

Labour is committed to introducing a statutory duty of candour. It is as simple as that. And we are absolutely committed to ensuring that public authorities and officials co-operate with official investigations in the wake of public disasters, as they should if they are to act in the public interest. In the wake of several high-profile and devastating miscarriages of justice, this is more important than ever. Only then can we ensure that we end evasive and obstructive practices following state-related deaths.

Although, to date, we have been dealing with a Government who have dragged their feet a bit on this issue—I hope the Minister does not mind my saying that—we have at last had the opportunity to secure agreement in the Bill, and it now remains only to finalise the all-important last details of how that duty of candour will work in practice. Labour will work on that from our earliest days in government. If we win the election, we will make this change.

On the infected blood scandal, it would be remiss not to refer to my constituent Sue Sparkes, who visited the House this week. She was at first, it could be described as, elated by Sir Brian Langstaff’s report, but she then described to me how she became deflated as the Government made their statements to the House regarding compensation.

I am in complete agreement with my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson, whom I worked with on this issue for many years, long before I took my current role. She is absolutely right in what she said. I remember both she and I a year ago from the Back Benches calling on the Government to get on with the design and payment of these compensation payments to the victims. I, too, am very sad that that work has not been done in the meantime, it would appear.