Domestic Abuse Bill - Committee (5th Day)

– in the House of Lords at 2:46 pm on 8 February 2021.

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Relevant documents: 21st and 28th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee

Debate on Amendment 141 resumed.

Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames tabled this amendment and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, added his name, as did I.

I will not speak for long—just a few minutes—but I would like to give this amendment some context. Just over a year ago, my noble friend was approached by a concerned mother about the “treatment” of her adult daughter by a person who described themself as a psychotherapist. This treatment would not have been recognised by any professional body and did a disservice to the regulated profession of psychotherapy. Such an individual is able to walk into a stranger’s home after being contacted on the strength of an advertisement in a shop window, local newspaper, magazine or online. Counterfeit certificates, business cards and brass plaques are easily obtained to give undeserved credibility.

The phoney therapist broke no law, but the treatment was unrecognised by any regulating body and did great harm to the young woman. She was turned against her family by coercive behaviour and a catalogue of lies. She was turned inside out emotionally and her family were left distraught. I was somewhat taken aback to receive letters from other families whose adult children had been in receipt of similar coercive treatment, leaving them a shadow of their former selves.

This amendment sets out to right these wrongs and ensure that the therapist would not be able to practise in future. I thank my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, who spoke in that debate, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier. The amendment sets out clearly what is an offence in this context, and how to determine that the perpetrator’s behaviour had a serious effect. It also sets out what would count as a defence for the person purporting to be the therapist, and, if found guilty, what the maximum terms of imprisonment would be.

Having listened to my noble friend Lord Paddick last week at the beginning of the debate, I think it worth mentioning that, although the original case concerned a young woman, there is no reason why it should not apply to a vulnerable young man. The amendment is gender neutral and goes a long way to right the wrongs in the case that brought me to this Bill in the first place. I am delighted to support it. I say to the Minister that the coercion was carried out in the victim’s home. It was abuse in a domestic setting and should have been a crime. This amendment will stop others being controlled or coerced by bogus therapists and, if they are sentenced, the punishment will fit the crime.

I wonder whether, before Report, the Minister would be willing to meet some of those who have spoken in this debate.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, I welcome the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the opportunity to talk about the role of psychotherapists. As I will be discussing regulatory issues, I declare my membership of the GMC.

I have no doubt about the value of psychotherapists and the beneficial impact of their work for so many people. But there are potential risks, which the noble Lord, Lord Marks, referred to eloquently when we last debated the amendment. Also, in a Lords debate on 2 March last year, he said:

“We have heard harrowing accounts of victims, often young, brainwashed by unscrupulous and controlling individuals. These charlatans play on their clients’ suffering, deluding them into a false belief in their treatment, often conjuring up in them fake memories about their early years and inducing unhealthy long-term dependence on the therapist and rejection of families and friends.”—[Official Report, 2/3/20; col. 477.]

That was reinforced by the case the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, just referred to.

Patients and clients can be vulnerable, and an insensitive, critical or sexually exploitative therapist could increase the risk of the patient having a poor—and potentially damaging—outcome from their therapy. The big problem is that the terms “psychotherapist” and “counsellor” are not protected. Any one of us could call ourselves one of those titles and advertise our services to unsuspecting and sometimes vulnerable people. I have long had worries about this, going back to when I was a Health Minister, some 20 years ago.

In 2001, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, introduced a Private Member’s Bill to provide for the regulation of psychotherapists and make provisions to enable the registration of the profession. Since then, we have established workstreams to look into regulation, but, unfortunately, the profession found it difficult to reach a common cause, principally because there were so many different, and sometimes conflicting, schools of thought.

That, I am afraid, was the start of a long and unhappy journey. In 2007, the then Government published a White Paper which included plans to introduce statutory regulation for psychotherapists and counsellors. But, unfortunately, by 2010, this did not import into statute, even though, by then, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, had done a sterling job in pulling the different psychotherapy schools together and getting agreement on the way forward. We then had the coalition Government in 2010, which announced a new approach to regulation and a belief that centralised statutory regulation was not always the most effective or efficient way of ensuring high-quality care. That, essentially, is where it stayed.

The debate in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, last March, induced the following response from the Health Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell:

“The Government are committed to a proportionate system of safeguards for the professionals who work in the health and care system … Where practitioners pose a direct risk of harm to the health and well-being of patients, legal avenues will and must be explored … However, more rules are not always the answer to every problem. While statutory regulation is sometimes necessary where significant risks to users of services cannot be mitigated … it is not always the most proportionate or effective means of assuring the safe and effective care of service users.”—[Official Report, 2/3/20; col. 480.]

He also referred to the more than 50,000 talking service professionals on the registers accredited by the Professional Standards Authority. That is welcome, but it is not statutory regulation, nor is it protection of title, which means any of us could, if we wanted to, continue to call ourselves a psychotherapist or counsellor.

The big problem here is that the Government are basing this on a risk assessment for which there is little evidence. There is a real lack of hard research in this area. I am grateful to the Library for unearthing a 2019 article, published in Frontiers in Psychology, which provided a potential explanation of why there may currently be a lack of quantitative research. It said:

“Although the broad topic of negative outcomes has been extensively discussed, empirical research on patient safety, directly examining the causes and prevention of harm, is not well established. Because harm … is relatively rare, and not amenable to experimental manipulation, such research is difficult.”

In 2017, the Brighton Therapy Partnership, a continued professional development and training organisation for counsellors and psychotherapists, said:

“There is very little research into the harm that properly executed therapy can cause. This is an unusual anomaly for a medical field, as in every other area research is abundant into both efficacy and failure of all treatment options.”

When the Government say, as I have no doubt the Minister will today, that it is not proportionate to regulate psychotherapists, there is an absence of evidence to base that on. In the meantime, in the absence of statutory regulation, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, is essential. I hope he is prepared to support this all the way in the Bill. There is a dangerous gap, and some action needs to be taken.

Photo of Baroness Finn Baroness Finn Conservative

My Lords, I speak in support of this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the other noble Lords who have signed it. It seeks to create a new offence of

“Controlling or coercive behaviour by persons providing psychotherapy or counselling services”.

First, I commend the apposite wording—in particular, “persons providing … services,” since these abusive individuals are rarely actually psychotherapists, counsellors or registered practitioners of any kind, but individuals purporting to offer such services. That these charlatans are able to operate beyond the law and act on vulnerable people should be revisited, even if it is not the specific subject of this Bill.

The Domestic Abuse Bill will update our laws to recognise the breadth, and, unfortunately, the subtlety, of the crime. It will now include, among other things, the offence of coercive control. However, while the Bill recognises that such insidious behaviour is punishable within a household, it clearly exists outside the household too. This amendment seeks to address that omission, but it also speaks to the notion of what constitutes “domestic,” namely, the definition of the “connected” person. If one reads the language of the Bill and hears the heartbreaking stories of this abusive practice, there is surely no doubt that this proposed new clause belongs in the Bill.

We are talking about situations where bogus therapists attempt to alienate their subjects from their families and breed dependence on them, the so-called counsellors. False memories are concocted and sown, with happy childhoods replaced with nightmares of abuse that never happened. The symptoms follow a familiar pattern: the self-styled development coach preys on their vulnerable clients and tears them away from their families, to the extent that they break off all contact and become estranged. There are countless such cases. The goal of such therapy is coercion and control, to debilitate and disable—abuse, if ever there was.

The Bill currently defines “connected” persons using the language of intimate personal relationships, among other things. This captures the nature of what occurs in these bogus sessions. Families, friends and loved ones are wilfully alienated by the abuser, who then offers him or herself as a replacement. A dependence is created, and contact and communication of any kind with family and friends are discouraged. This is intimate, yet clearly abusive—exactly the subject of this Bill and exactly why I hope the Government will accept this amendment.

I began by lamenting the lack of legal protection and redress for those who might be duped by unqualified counsellors and psychotherapists, and I believe that this is definitely worthy of more debate and attention from the Government. But what we are talking about now is including such controlling and coercive behaviour by those who cruelly abuse their professional trust. The consequences for the individuals concerned and their families are profound and long-lasting. What goes on in these cases is intuitively and evidentially abuse. It is clearly coercive and controlling, and it is clearly done in the context of the intimate relationships captured by “connected” persons. For all these reasons, I would argue that the new offence belongs in this Bill. I strongly support the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated 3:00, 8 February 2021

My Lords, during the Committee discussions last week, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, commented on how helpful the debate on presumed parental consent was, and I agree. I felt that I was back on “Moral Maze”; I was moving around the issue and considering it from all sides. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, made concrete for us that day, lots of issues thrown up by this proposed legislation are complex and nuanced moral dilemmas. It shows what a difficult task we have here in applying public law in what is usually the terrain of private and intimate relationships.

In some ways, though, that discussion on presumed parental consent focused our minds on the domestic core at the heart of this legislation. My concern is that this amendment shifts our focus away from that domestic core—although the previous noble Baroness tried to suggest that we should now broaden our understanding of “domestic”. It shifts our focus, broadens it too widely and potentially dilutes it. Do not get me wrong; when, at the end of the last Committee day, the noble Lord, Lords Marks of Henley-on-Thames, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, spoke passionately and movingly—and we have heard similar testimony since—on the devastating impact of those reaping the bitter winds of recovered memory syndrome, which has been a dogma, sadly, I was cheering them on. I have been following the bitter memory wars since the 1990s, and consequences such as the satanic ritual abuse panics and various other panics. When that was a fashionable theory among trauma therapists, sections of social work professionals and some feminist academics, I argued against it. Now that form of therapy has largely been discredited by modern memory science, and is widely ridiculed, as it has been in this discussion, as pseudoscientific quackery.

I share noble Lords’ frustrations that the practice continues unlicensed and unregulated. I have no doubt that unethically encouraging vulnerable people to interpret their present woes through the prism of abuse, and then unethically planting false memories, is coercive. But my worry is that this amendment stretches the definition of coercive control, in the context of domestic abuse, too far. There is a danger, to quote a noble Baroness from an earlier Committee day, that this legislation will be seen as a Christmas tree on which everyone can hang a different preoccupation or grievance. That makes the definition so elastic that it can be a catch-all, and unintentionally relativises our gaze from the specific and discrete brutality of domestic abuse. I am already worried that this Bill has defined abuse far too promiscuously, and that it might well backfire and not help those it is intended to.

It is not just our focus—our gaze as legislators—that it will shift. How will it affect the police and criminal justice system if we label too many incidents as domestic abuse? Part of the popular frustration with the status quo is that serious incidents, threats or credible risks are not taken seriously, sometimes with tragic consequences. People go to the police and they are sent away. Surely what we do not want is for the authorities and the police to be swamped with endless numbers of complainants citing this Bill and a loose basis of the definition of coercive control, starting to make complaints.

I am all for dealing with, and exposing, the charlatans who call themselves counsellors, who play on the therapeutic culture and wo are only too willing to use the issue of abuse to push their own agendas with the consequence of destroying families. Let them be dealt with. I hope the Minister will look at how to deal with psychotherapists exploiting those who turn to them for help, but this is not the legislation to pursue that. So I will not be supporting the amendment, even though I cheer on those who wish to expose the charlatans.

Photo of Baroness Mallalieu Baroness Mallalieu Labour

My Lords, on Wednesday, both the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, put the detailed legal arguments for this amendment, and I have added my name to it as well. I shall not try to repeat what they said, but instead will say something that has, perhaps, been said by all bar the last speaker in this debate, which is that I strongly support this amendment.

As a nation we have been very slow to recognise the way in which the human mind can be coerced and controlled by unscrupulous people without the use of violence. I am not sure that until “The Archers” featured Rob Titchener in its storyline about marital coercive control, and gripped the nation with it, many of us would have been able to describe or recognise it on our own doorsteps. We have been even slower as a nation to recognise and enact legislation to protect those who are its victims in another category, namely those whose vulnerability, whether it is emotional or psychological, renders them a target for the bogus counsellors, the amateur psychotherapists and the self-styled life coaches, usually bent on profit, who may appear to be well intentioned but still often inflict real harm and damage on their so-called patients and their families.

This is not a new phenomenon. Unhappy people often search for explanations and cures, and the unscrupulous offer false promises of help and future happiness. They frequently obtain substantial amounts of money from them and very often, using transference, seek to replace contact with parents and families, sometimes by implanting false memories, which in turn often sever domestic relationships for life. As a pupil barrister in 1970s, I remember cases involving the Scientologists. I know the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, remembers cases involving the Moonies. Domestic alienation was a common feature then, 50 years ago, as it is today with some of the quasi-healers operating in this country right now with impunity.

I personally am aware of one family whose adult daughter fell into the hands of just such people in London. They were paid substantial sums of money by her. Their methods involved repeated “counselling” sessions lasting six or seven hours at a stretch during which, exhausted, she was persuaded to sever all contact with her parents and her family. It took some years for them even to find her, and eventually get her back. She was one of the lucky ones. These people are untrained, unqualified, unregulated and damaging to the vulnerable on whom they prey. Yet our present law currently provides no adequate protection from their activities.

Our understanding and recognition of mental illness is, thankfully, advancing rapidly today. Yet we are only beginning to understand more about how the power of words, whether they are spoken directly or via the internet, can convince an otherwise intelligent adult to become a jihadi or embrace a coronavirus conspiracy theory and, in so doing, often damage and even destroy their closest domestic relationships. On this form of abuse, we have looked the other way for far too long. We have given protection, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, said, to other vulnerable categories by law—whether they are children, the mentally ill or the elderly—and it is now surely time to add those who are at the mercy of these bogus healers.

The Government argument is often, “Yes, but it’s not right in this Bill”—but I do not see a better Bill on the horizon to deal with this particular lacuna in the law. I totally understand that members of a Bill team that has produced an excellent Bill, as this team has, will always be reluctant to look at a new amendment that may, they fear, perhaps alter the architecture of the Bill on which they have worked so painstakingly. However, I do not see any other way, in the near future, of tackling something that I believe has not only been overlooked for far too long but I suspect is likely to grow, particularly in these times when so many young people are searching for an explanation of why their lives have changed so drastically from their expectations.

I hope that the Minister will agree to take this amendment away, have a look at it with his Bill team and, hopefully, come back with a solution. If he did so, I believe that he would have support across the whole House.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, this important amendment seeks to include controlling and coercive behaviour by a psychotherapist or counsellor in the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, clearly laid out the reality of very unscrupulous practices. When working as they should, psychotherapists are generally trained to work over a long period of time with more complicated mental health issues, whereas counsellors are generally trained to work in the shorter term with life issues such as bereavement and relationships—although in practice there is huge overlap.

A problem arises for the person whose world is in tatters, who feels at sea and is desperate for some help. How do they have any idea whether the person they have been referred to or had suggested to them to see is a charismatic charlatan or an excellent counsellor who will help them to restabilise their life? In this process, they are even more vulnerable than prior to the consultation—a vulnerability that is exploited by the unscrupulous and by sects, as we have heard. They go to speak to a stranger, often paying for the privilege, and as they tell their story, they reveal their vulnerabilities and are often retraumatised by remembering the abuse as they relate events. This is psychological intimacy, and the person is certainly profoundly psychologically connected to their victim.

As we have heard, only the titles “clinical psychologist” and “counselling psychologist” are professionally restricted and must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. By contrast, the terms “therapist”, “psychotherapist” and “counsellor” are not protected; courses in these subjects are unregulated and vary very widely, which leaves unregistered and poorly trained people wide open to engaging in controlling and coercive behaviours.

Reputable employers providing counselling services, such as Women’s Aid, will expect an employee to have undertaken professional training. Often membership of a relevant professional body, such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the UK Council for Psychotherapy or the National Counselling Society, is required to ensure continuing professional development and ongoing supervision to enhance practice. All these bodies stipulate certain standards and ethical codes.

Proposed new subsections (1) and (2) set out what constitutes an offence and emphasise that controlling and coercive behaviour can be both physical and psychological. However, given the lack of regulation, I wonder whether this important amendment sets too high a bar, even for registered and well-trained professionals.

Proposed new subsection (4) raises a concern for me, but I am sure that it can be sorted out. It states that it is a defence to show that, when engaging in the behaviour in question, the psychotherapist or counsellor was acting in the person’s best interests. Here I declare my interest as chair of the National Mental Capacity Forum. As your Lordships know only too well, the term “best interests” is laid out in the Mental Capacity Act.

If a person has capacity to consent freely to whatever is proposed, there seems no rationale to make a best interests decision for them, and no form of controlling or coercive behaviour would be in their best interests. The person must have had the capacity to be able to consent to the counselling session. If the person lacks capacity to consent to a particular decision at a particular time, that decision should be deferred until they regain capacity for that decision. If restrictions of any sort have to be put in place in a person’s best interests because they cannot consent to the proposal, a formal best interests decision-making process, as laid out in statute, must be undertaken. A deprivation of liberty safeguard procedure or safeguarding may be required. I am worried that this defence, as written in the amendment, actually lessens the safeguards of a vulnerable person. I am sure that that is not what it aims to do.

For children and young people under 18, there are specific requirements about consent that would suggest that a child or young person would need to show relevant competence to consent to counselling in any service. If they do not show that, surely only a professional registered with the Health and Care Professions Council—and subject to oversight—should be involved with the child.

Those deeply traumatised by domestic abuse need to be protected from people who may be exploiting their vulnerability for financial and other personal gain. The issues raised in this amendment are very important. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, laid out the sad story of our attempts to establish registration some years ago. Now, enough is enough. Proper registration processes for those calling themselves counsellors, psychologists or psychotherapists are essential so that anyone providing such services of any sort, whether to victims or to perpetrators of abuse, must be trained against some minimum registration criteria, with ongoing supervision and outcome audits.

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) 3:15, 8 February 2021

My Lords, Amendment 141, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, raises the important issue of controlling or coercive behaviour.

This proposed offence is modelled on the existing offence of coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship, as set out in the Serious Crime Act 2015. I support the intent behind the amendment, but this appears to be an offence committed by a person who has a relationship with a family member; this is not about families, it is a professional client/patient relationship, so it is slightly different.

My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath set out the timeline of discussions over the last 20 years. It made quite sorry listening—such a long period has elapsed and so little has been achieved. That in itself should be concerning to all noble Lords.

As we have heard in this debate, it is worrying that potentially dangerous individuals can set themselves up with little or no control or regulation—no standards appear to be adhered to—and seek to offer professional services to people who are vulnerable or have issues. Quite clearly, they are only going to make the situation much worse. My noble friend Lady Mallalieu talked about what she referred to as “quasi-healers” and gave an example of the suffering and damage that these people can cause.

I support the intent behind the amendment and its aim. However, I am not sure that this is the right Bill for it, although I accept the point made by my noble friend Lady Mallalieu that we cannot see a Bill on the horizon that it could obviously slot into, which is itself a problem for us all. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, will set out what the Government propose to do to address this issue and say not just that it does not belong in this Bill but what we are going to do about it, because, as we have heard today, there are clearly some serious problems that deserve to be addressed by Parliament and the Government. I would particularly like to hear what he intends to do between now and Report; I have no doubt at all we will discuss the issue again on Report after the Recess.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate today and on Wednesday evening, when we began it. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, for setting out the case for this amendment, which, as he explained, seeks to extend the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour to psychotherapists and counsellors providing services to clients.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, was right; we have perhaps as a country been slow to appreciate the scale of coercive behaviour. I am very proud that it was my right honourable friend Theresa May who provided for the offence of “controlling or coercive behaviour” in Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. That offence applies only to those who are “personally connected”, as defined in the section. It applies to intimate partners, regardless of whether they live together, to ex-partners who live together and to family members who live together. Amendment 141 would extend the offence beyond those who are personally connected, as defined by Section 76, so that it would apply to psychotherapists and counsellors. Most noble Lords who have spoken in this debate have pointed to evidence and indeed to specific harrowing cases suggesting that fraudulent psychotherapists and counsellors—or, as they understandably refer to them in many cases, charlatans—take advantage of their position to supplant friends and families in the minds and affections of their clients for the purpose of turning them against those friends and families. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, suggested that this abuse should be caught by the controlling or coercive behaviour offence because therapists are abusing their position of trust and the dependence of their clients.

We have already had a number of debates in Committee on earlier amendments where my noble friends and I have stressed the importance of preserving the meaning of “personally connected” for the purposes of the definition of domestic abuse and, by extension, for the purposes of the Section 76 offence. The controlling or coercive behaviour offence was created in 2015 to fill a particular gap in the criminal law in relation to a pattern of abusive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. We are not persuaded that what looks like the beguilingly simple act of taking the concept of controlling or coercive behaviour in a domestic abuse setting and applying it to abuses of power by psychotherapists or counsellors should be undertaken without careful and detailed analysis. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, has said, the professional/client relationship is a different one.

We have had a thoughtful but not conclusive debate on the definitions of what constitutes a domestic setting and an intimate relationship. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, said, these things may take place in the home, but often they will not. My noble friend Lady Finn explored what constitutes a domestic setting, but it is the personal connection that matters. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, that we want to maintain a careful focus on the definition of domestic abuse as it is widely understood, and as we want the Bill to draw further attention to. That matters not only for the architecture of the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, but in making sure that the police and other agencies are tightly focused on tackling the scourge of domestic abuse, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, said. We think, therefore, that without proper study it would not be right to transplant the concept of controlling or coercive behaviour into what is quite a separate power dynamic.

That is not, of course, to downplay the seriousness of this issue or the harrowing examples raised by noble Lords. The Government believe that we should look to other remedies, and it might be helpful to set out some of those that exist through the action that has been taken. A system of accredited voluntary registration with the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care already exists. The authority has a process for quality assuring voluntary registers of health and care professionals in the UK who are not subject to statutory regulation. It currently accredits 10 voluntary registers relating to counselling and psychotherapy, providing assurance to the public on approximately 50,000 talking therapy professionals. The registers can be used by service users to choose a practitioner to meet their needs and to be assured that those practitioners are safe, trustworthy and competent to practise.

To gain accreditation with the Professional Standards Authority, organisations have to meet 11 standards for accredited registers. These standards require organisations to have a focus on public protection, to have processes in place for handling complaints against practitioners, to set appropriate levels of education and training for entry to the register, to require registrants to undertake continuing professional development and to understand and monitor the risks associated with the practices of registrants. Any registrant who is removed from an accredited register for conduct reasons cannot join another accredited register. I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said that these registers are voluntary. We would urge anyone looking to engage the services of a psychotherapist or counsellor to ensure that they are accredited by the Professional Standards Authority.

Noble Lords have raised issues which I know have been the subject of separate and indeed long-standing debates in your Lordships’ House. My noble and learned friend Lord Garnier and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, both referred to their experiences and insights from their time as Ministers and set out some of the actions which have been taken since. While there may be a need to legislate on this matter in the future, that is a question for the Department of Health and Social Care. I cannot commit the department one way or the other today, but for reasons of focus on the particular offence of domestic abuse, we do not feel that this Bill is the right place to do that. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Baroness Henig Baroness Henig Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, and the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and Lord Kennedy of Southwark. I will call them in that order.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

My Lords, one salutary and useful aspect of this amendment is that it has focused our minds on false memories and false allegations. It is therefore a reminder that we must challenge what we believe to be the victim mindset that can lead to grave injustices. The amendment should remind the Government that abuse is so emotive that it becomes quite hard to challenge if it has been alleged. The reason why false memories have been so damaging over the years is that once the victims say that they have been abused while under the care, guidance, manipulation or coercive control of said “quack” counsellor, no one can challenge that because it is an accusation of abuse. This legislation bends the stick in the direction of victims far too much, in my opinion, and I urge the Minister to take great care and perhaps investigate some of the harrowing stories of false memory syndrome in order to learn lessons and not make the same mistakes here.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Baroness is right to say that this area needs continued and careful thought, a point also made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, who referred to the complexity of the issues and the matters which have to be considered. We will indeed do that.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his careful response. He said that this issue goes wider than his own department, and I agree. In the period between Committee and Report, would it therefore be possible for him to meet with the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, to discuss it? It is clearly a serious issue that demands a cross-government response and that would not necessarily be met only by an amendment to a particular Bill.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

That is a sensible suggestion from the noble Lord and I am happy to commit to speaking to my noble friend about it.

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)

I was going to make the same suggestion as my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who made the point that this is an important issue that runs across departments. As he said, I am not sure that this is the right Bill in which to address it, but equally, I am concerned that there may not be a right vehicle at the moment. We have to find some way of dealing with this issue, which has been raised across the House. We have potentially dangerous people treating very vulnerable people and thus only making the situation worse. We should not allow that to happen and we must find a way of dealing with it.

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, I am grateful to all who have spoken in this important and fascinating debate about some terrible behaviour. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, explained, the principle of this amendment has a long history of parliamentary support. It would rightly criminalise quack counsellors, who, as all have said, suborn vulnerable young people and exploit their weaknesses, in a way that amounts to a classic demonstration of how clearly abusive coercive and controlling behaviour is.

The noble and learned Lord, with all his experience as Solicitor-General, set out the tests that, he explained, are appropriate to determine whether a new offence should be introduced. My noble friend Lady Jolly gave a further account of the appalling effect of the behaviour of these charlatans on young people’s lives. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, a member of the GMC, lent powerful support to this amendment. He warned us of a lack of any regulation and the danger of unregulated practitioners claiming respectability and abusing the confidence of innocent clients. He also made the important point that, in the absence of regulation, the offence that I have called for is urgently needed to fill the gap. He spoke of the importance of using this legislation to do it, if we can, in the absence of other legislation coming forward.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finn, powerfully demonstrated that this type of abuse is intimate. It is intimate in a way that clearly makes it domestic abuse, so the offence belongs in the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, supported much of the intent behind the amendment. In her question after the Minister, she gave an interesting insight into false memory implantation, yet she suggested that this amendment shifted the focus of the Bill away from the domestic context. I do not think that is right, for the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Finn. If the kind of quackery that amounts to coercive control, which destroys families in the way that this type of abuse does, cannot be outlawed by the criminal law in the context of domestic abuse, the criminal law is failing in its duty.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, also saw the Bill as the proper context for this amendment, showing just how unscrupulous these so-called therapists are in exploiting vulnerable people within family contexts, often for substantial sums of money. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, with her wide professional experience of vulnerability and exploitation, as well as of mental capacity, showed clearly how far these bogus therapists are from genuinely motivated therapists and counsellors. I am grateful for her suggestions on how the defence to the offence in the amendment, modelled on the Serious Crime Act, might be better defined. As she said of this kind of behaviour, enough is enough.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, helpfully supported the intent behind the amendment and was clear that he wanted to know what the Government were going to do, even though he had some doubts as to whether this was the Bill for it. In his careful response, for which I am grateful, the Minister correctly described the amendment as extending the ambit of Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act. I accept that that applies to coercive and controlling behaviour in a domestic context, but it is difficult to see how this is not a domestic context, if one is prepared to allow that that context is not always within a family. I join the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in asking what the Government are going to do.

The Minister talked of the necessary study of this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, talked about the difficulty of securing evidence in this area; that was his justification for saying that we need an offence in the meantime. The Minister talked of voluntary registration, but this is not dealt with by a question of registration. More importantly, this type of behaviour is not dealt with by the law at all, at the moment. The Minister talked about legislation in futu-re.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, suggested a meeting between the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Bethell. I believe that other noble Lords would be grateful for a meeting between now and Report to discuss how we go forward. With the indication that the Minister gave in response to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I hope that he is amenable to such a meeting. We need to know how we will secure this legislation, and quickly. On the basis that we will talk about how to do that, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment, but I hope to get some progress.

Amendment 141 withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Henig Baroness Henig Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 3:30, 8 February 2021

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 142. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Schedule 2: Amendments relating to offences committed outside the UK