Victims of Crime (Rights, Entitlements, and Notification of Child Sexual Abuse) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:46 pm on 19th July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing) 1:46 pm, 19th July 2019

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and congratulate her on introducing this Bill. It has been a long time coming, but it is useful and worthy. I was sorry to learn—I had no idea—about the abuse that the noble Baroness has suffered that she told House about today. We all condemn that abuse. It is dreadful. But of course social media has made that even worse. This abuse is so prevalent in life now and I condemn it all. I am sure that we have all seen the disgusting abuse suffered by many Members of the other place, and in particular women Members of the other place—threats to be killed, raped or assaulted. It is disgusting and totally unacceptable and the perpetrators should be brought to justice. We have seen the disgusting abuse suffered by Diane Abbott, Stella Creasy, Jess Phillips, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry, Luciana Berger and many other Members of the other place. It is completely disgraceful and out of order and firm action must be taken.

It is not only people in public life: it also affects people who are not in the public eye. They are not affected by this Bill, but the whole issue of how people feel needs to be dealt with by the Government. Clearly, the internet companies have failed to do this properly and the Government need to act to deal with this dreadful situation.

The Bill contains many excellent provisions, which, if they became law, would make a positive difference for the victims of crime. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, that the noble Baroness introduced the Bill very well and comprehensively and set out a compelling case that I hope the Government will listen to carefully.

However, it is disappointing that these measures are unlikely to make further progress in their passage through Parliament. It is tragic when we think that, as most noble Lords would agree, we have not been exactly busy in this House with legislation in recent times. It is tragic when there is a really good piece of legislation in front of us here and it will probably not go any further because there is no time. The new Prime Minister should take a long hard look and we must move on from the situation we find ourselves in when good legislation cannot move forward and we spend a lot of our time discussing Motions that this House notes. That is regrettable. We will have the new Prime Minister next week and there is talk of a Queen’s Speech and other matters and I hope that we can make some progress.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, also outlined two cases that would have been protected had these measures been in place, and that is very important. I hope when we get the Queen’s Speech that measures such as this will be included. These are the things that Parliament needs to be doing urgently and we are not doing them at the present time. If we do not, but we get a criminal justice Bill, and the noble Baroness moves amendments on these measures and they are in scope, I can assure her of the support of the Labour Benches; we will get those things through the House.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester and his diocese must be congratulated on the work they do with the white ribbon campaign. It is a great campaign to end male violence against women; I know one or two of the people involved.

On the whole issue of domestic violence, a couple of years ago I went down to Greenwich police station and met the domestic violence unit there. The stuff that goes on is horrific. I was completely shocked when I saw the cases they have to deal with there. It is really important that the Government act, because the stuff I have seen is really horrific.

As the right reverend Prelate said, the Bill is sensible and obvious and should be law. I very much agree with the contribution he made. In recent years, though, we have made progress on the impact and consequences of crime on its victims. We have done some things, but things are far from perfect. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and thank her for all the work she did as the Victims’ Commissioner. I welcome Dame Vera Baird and the work she will do as the new Victims’ Commissioner. Getting the definition of victims of crime is important, as is the change to the victims’ code of practice proposed in this Bill.

I like the sections of the Bill about economic support and compensation orders; they have considerable merit. Expanding the role of the Parliamentary Ombudsman is really important. The requirement to get those reports to both Houses enables Members here to be aware, raise those issues in the House and, as necessary, propose legislation. That is really good.

The area victims’ plan in all police areas is a good idea, and the Victims’ Commissioner assessing the adequacy of the plans and ensuring that they meet an acceptable standard is something we should all support. There is clearly an important role for police and crime commissioners as well.

I strongly support the measures in the Bill to place a duty to notify the police of possible victims of child sexual abuse. We have seen in recent years that this is a horrific, hidden crime, and we must do everything we can to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice and the victims protected. For too long we have seen too many failures in great institutions in our country that have clearly failed to protect vulnerable young children. That is shameful, disgraceful and disgusting. It is important to place a duty that people who suspect this abuse need to report it to the police so that it can be properly investigated and, where appropriate, the perpetrators brought to justice and the victims saved. Children have the right to protection, to be a child and to have a life free from abuse. We have to make sure that this duty is brought in; nothing less will do.

I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, that much more needs to be done to prevent these crimes in the first place. In all that we deal with, prevention is of course always much better than cure. I hope that when the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse reports, its recommendations will be taken up quickly by the Government.

In conclusion, I again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for introducing the Bill, pay tribute to her for the work she does in this House for victims, and assure her that we will support her in what she does. Perhaps we will all be surprised when the new Prime Minister announces that he will quickly take up measures in both the Bills we have been involved with in this House today.