Amendment 52

Domestic Abuse Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 10:22 pm on 10th March 2021.

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Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames:

Moved by Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames

52: After Clause 68, insert the following new Clause—“Controlling or coercive behaviour by persons providing psychotherapy or counselling services(1) A person (“A”) commits an offence if—(a) A is a person providing or purporting to provide psychotherapy or counselling services to another person (“B”),(b) A repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards B that is controlling or coercive,(c) the behaviour has a serious effect on B, and(d) A knows or ought to know that the behaviour will or may have a serious effect on B. (2) A’s behaviour has a “serious effect” on B if—(a) it causes B to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against B, or(b) it causes B psychological harm which has a substantial adverse effect on B’s usual day-to-day activities.(3) For the purposes of subsection (1)(d) A “ought to know” that which a reasonable person in possession of the same information would know.(4) In proceedings for an offence under this section it is a defence for A to show that—(a) in engaging in the behaviour in question, A believed that he or she was acting in B’s best interests, and(b) the behaviour was in all the circumstances reasonable.(5) A is to be taken to have shown the facts mentioned in subsection (4) if—(a) sufficient evidence of the facts is adduced to raise an issue with respect to them, and(b) the contrary is not proved beyond reasonable doubt.(6) The defence in subsection (4) is not available to A in relation to behaviour that causes B to fear that violence will be used against B.(7) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or a fine, or both;(b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or a fine, or both.”

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

My Lords, we had an extensive debate on our amendment in this form in Committee. We have brought it back on Report because we are determined to make progress on criminalising the fraudulent behaviour of the charlatan psychotherapists and counsellors this amendment is directed at. I believe we have made some progress since Committee and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, from the Department of Health and Social Care for their time, attention and sympathetic response at the meeting they arranged for a number of us who support this amendment.

I certainly think the meeting increased government understanding of the truly shocking wrongs these charlatans perpetrate towards the young people they prey on, the prevalence of this behaviour and the perniciousness of its effects—with the lives of many young and vulnerable people ruined, often permanently. Our debate and the meeting also reminded the Government of a long history of attempts to secure legislation curbing this behaviour and of the strength of feeling and determination of those who strive for change on this issue —an issue which is certainly not going to go away.

As we discussed in Committee, these totally unqualified charlatans ply their trade by offering what they call counselling or psychotherapy services, mostly to young adults, to whom they often charge very substantial fees. They then build up in their patients or clients—in reality, their victims—a misplaced trust in them and engineer a false dependence by a process of transference. This exploitation is often assisted by the perpetrators implanting entirely false memories in their victims of imagined but illusory abuse during their childhood, usually by their parents.

The process is aimed at alienating these young people from their parents and other family members—often permanently—inflicting profound and long-lasting psychological damage upon them. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, with all her extensive experience, tellingly described this unscrupulous exploitation of vulnerability, which is what this amendment aims to stop.

My understanding is that the Government maintain their position that the new offence we advocate should not be part of the Bill because, they say, there is a concern to confine the Bill to the domestic context, and these so-called counsellors and psychotherapists provide their services outside their victims’ homes. I disagree with that position for two reasons. The first is that this abuse is in fact domestic abuse, because its perpetrators, although not operating from within their victims’ family homes, are usurping the position of their victims’ parents and family members. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, put it in Committee,

“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.”—[Official Report, 8/2/21; col. 23.]

Secondly, I do not believe we should be too precious about the ambit of a particular piece of legislation, including this Bill. The Domestic Abuse Bill before us amends other legislation in a large number of its provisions. Our amendment would add a new clause modelled on Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. Other amendments have been made to that Act in this Bill, notably the non-fatal strangulation offence incorporated in the Bill this afternoon, which inserts a clause of general application after Section 75—a clause which is not restricted to domestic abuse.

I suggest that if new legislation is necessary and within scope of the Bill—as the Public Bill Office decided our amendment was when it accepted it—we should legislate. The way to legislate on this issue is by adapting Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act, as we advocate.

It is high time for legislation. In Committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, explained the history of his involvement with seeking legislation on this issue when he was Solicitor-General. He raised the question of why, if they can legislate to outlaw this behaviour in France, Belgium and Luxembourg, we cannot legislate here. We have received no answer to that question.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, also made the point that we have been trying fruitlessly to make progress for more than 20 years. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, pointed out that this type of alienation is nothing new; domestic alienation has been happening for 50 years, with the quasi-healers operating with immunity. So have the other forms of domestic abuse we are tackling in this Bill—but we are now trying to tackle them. The Bill involves an enlightened process on which we are embarked, but we should take care that in seeking enlightened progress, we do not make it exclusive.

Both before and since the debate in Committee, I have received a number of letters—some long, all well argued, clearly emotional and universally tragic—from parents and other family members who have, through no fault of their own, lost the relationships they once enjoyed with children and relatives, leaving them heartbroken and bereft, on the basis of falsehoods peddled by exploitative quacks. My noble friend Lady Jolly pointed out the degree to which this so-called therapy is entirely unregulated, and she powerfully demonstrated how relevant that was.

At our meeting, the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, raised the possibility of regulating psychotherapists by statutory instrument, and that is something we would be keen to follow up. However, it will certainly continue to be insufficient, as it has been to date, to rely on voluntary registration with the Professional Standards Authority, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, in Committee.

Strong and effective regulation will help and should be introduced, as proposed by my noble friend Lord Alderdice in his Private Member’s Bill as long ago as 2001. However, the thrust of our amendment is to criminalise this predatory abuse, and we need legislation to do that on the statute book. The Government seem to sympathise with that aim and the direction of our amendment, their unhappiness being at the prospect of including it in this Bill. But the one thing I have not heard from the Government is any suggestion that a coercive control offence modelled on Section 76, as this amendment is, is not a suitable way to achieve our aim. We therefore encourage the Government, even at this late stage, to accept this amendment or commit to legislation in this area.

If our amendment is not accepted, we will be back. If the Government cannot accept it now, will they please say what they propose? If not now, when? This cannot wait much longer. Victims and their families continue to suffer. They all need and deserve statutory protection. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Garnier Lord Garnier Conservative 10:30 pm, 10th March 2021

My Lords, I co-signed and spoke in favour of this amendment when it was moved in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, and supported by the overwhelming majority of contributors to that debate. His arguments are as powerful today as they were in February. I join him in thanking my noble friends Lord Parkinson and Lady Penn for discussing the issue with us on Zoom since Committee. It was a helpful and useful meeting.

I explained in Committee—reasonably cogently, I hope—why this amendment would work both theoretically and practically as an addition to the criminal law and that, although not an exact replica, it is similar to laws in force in at least three other countries that adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights, namely Belgium, France and Luxembourg.

The Government raised two substantive arguments against the amendment in Committee. First, my noble friend Lord Parkinson of Whitely Bay said in his courteous response that a new offence criminalising controlling or coercive behaviour by persons providing psychotherapy or counselling services would alter the “dynamic” of a Bill specifically about domestic abuse and, further, would upset the Bill’s “architecture”. Secondly, my noble friend said that there were other remedies more suited to dealing with the issue such as registration with, or accreditation by, existing and respected professional bodies. Quacks and charlatans do not bother with accreditation; they do not bother with qualifications gained after years of study. But if accreditation is to have value, it needs to be underpinned by the force of the criminal law to deter the quacks and charlatans.

No doubt, requiring psychotherapists to be professionally qualified and accredited members of a professional body would enable well-motivated counsellors to gain standing and proper recognition. It already assists members of the medical and legal professions—such as the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Mallalieu, the noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Alderdice, and me—to be members of the royal societies, colleges or other bodies regulating our respective professions. It also, of course, assists our patients and clients.

More pertinently, however, it is a criminal offence under Section 49 of the Medical Act 1983—not just a breach of a regulation or professional etiquette—for someone wilfully and falsely to pretend to be, take or use the name or title of

“physician, doctor of medicine, licentiate in medicine and surgery, bachelor of medicine, surgeon, general practitioner or apothecary, or any name, title, addition or description implying that he is registered under any provision of this Act, or that he is recognised by law as a physician or surgeon or licentiate in medicine and surgery or a practitioner in medicine or an apothecary.”

A similar criminal offence is set out in Section 21 of the Solicitors Act 1974, and a man was recently jailed for over four years for a string of deception-related offences that included pretending to be a barrister by unlawfully carrying out what is known as a reserved legal activity.

My noble friend the Minister accepted the argument put by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, that as a country we have been slow to appreciate the scale of coercive behaviour. He further acknowledged that most noble Lords who supported this amendment in Committee had pointed to evidence and indeed to specific cases suggesting that fraudulent psychotherapists and counsellors were taking 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.

So far as worries about the Bill’s “dynamic” or “architecture” are concerned, one can accept or reject them depending on how urgently one thinks the problem needs to be addressed. I suggest that this is no more than a variation of the oft-repeated line that this or that amendment, while commendable in almost every respect, is being attached to the wrong Bill. The Minister told us in Committee that he did not want to be seen to be downplaying the seriousness of the issue, and of course I accept his word without question. It may well be that this amendment does not fit into the precise definition of domestic abuse within the particular relationships specified in the Bill, but as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, has just said, it is in order and it complies with its Long Title.

Like other amendments which have been accepted by the Government today, in my submission this amendment does not upset the Bill’s architecture. Looking at just two relatively recent Acts of Parliament, one is entitled to ask if the Government’s architectural analogy is a good one. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 deals with subjects as varied as search warrants, bail, cautions, disclosure, mode of trial, appeals, bad character evidence, sentencing and release on licence. The Policing and Crime Act 2009 covers subjects as diverse as the appointment of senior police officers, prostitution, selling alcohol to children, gang-related violence, confiscation of property and airport policing, among others. The architectural combination of the Baroque, the Romanesque and the Gothic in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela has a more cohesive theme than many Acts of Parliament. If that building has stood for many centuries, I suspect that this Bill can accommodate this amendment.

Many of our criminal law statutes are Christmas trees on to which people hang the latest fad, but this amendment has been carefully thought about. It is necessary and it is timely. I would not want it to be thought that the Government’s desire to get this right through further cautious study was simply an excuse for delay and the cultivation of long grass.

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

My Lords, we discussed in Committee that there are no laws against anyone operating as a therapist, psychotherapist or counsellor. Cheap online courses allow people to cheat to complete them, leading to qualifications that are often meaningless. The Health and Care Professions Council is a statutory regulator for practitioner psychologists in the UK. “Registered psychologist” and “practitioner psychologist” are protected titles, as are the specialist titles “clinical psychologist”, “counselling psychologist”, “health psychologist” and others. The title “chartered psychologist” is also protected by statutory regulation, meaning that a psychologist is a chartered member of the British Psychological Society, but not necessarily registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. However, the title of “psychologist” by itself is not protected, meaning that if psychologists do not use one of the protected titles, they can offer their psychological services without any regulation. The public have no idea that these people are not regulated in any way; even if serious concerns are expressed or complaints raised about them, they remain immune from investigation because they are not registered.

These people can wreak huge harm and havoc in other people’s lives. They can drain them of all their finances, create false assertions, produce false evidence and exploit them, driving them away from family members who love them and would support them, and trapping them in a cycle of ever more dangerous psychological dependency. Yet, the victims of such charlatan practitioners have no redress. That is why this amendment is needed and I strongly support it.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, in addition to the powerful arguments that have already been brought by noble friends, I have a few more. The first question is whether the amendment is appropriate to a Bill about domestic abuse. Few would argue that the victims of domestic abuse are not entitled to seek emotional and psychological help and support. The problem is that, either when they are undergoing the abuse or when they are trying to put their lives back together after a period as a victim of abuse, they are likely to seek psychological help.

If they can access psychotherapists, psychologists or others through the health service, there is a degree of protection. Even in a context where there is no statutory registration of psychotherapists working within the health service, as is the case, there is a degree of protection for the patient or client. But the majority of psychotherapists do not work in the health service; they work in private practice, community facilities or voluntary organisations, but not in the health service.

This produces two kinds of vulnerability. First, as we have already discussed, the victims themselves are open to be abused by those who claim to be psychotherapists, but who have a malign influence. I do not think I would have to go terribly far in your Lordships’ House to find uncertainty or confusion about what is a psychiatrist, psychologist, psychotherapist or similar title. One could hardly expect vulnerable victims to be more able to parse and find an appropriately trained person.

There is a further complexity, which has been made worse by Covid. Many perfectly reasonable and helpful people who are not registered psychotherapists and, in some cases, are not registered with any organisation never mind statutorily are working in quite isolated situations themselves now. I have talked to some psychotherapist colleagues, who are working from morning until night, every day of the week, on Zoom, with very vulnerable people. They are isolated themselves, socially and professionally, so their relationships with their patients and clients begin to have a degree of dependency. These people are not even professionally protected so, apart from the malign individual who consciously exploits the victim of domestic abuse, either currently or after their victimhood, it is not hard to see how a person who is not particularly malign may find themselves behaving in that way, for a series of psychological reasons.

What is troubling is that the knowledge of this has been around for a long time. In 1971, the Government commissioned and received a report from Sir John Foster. It was stimulated by concern about the Church of Scientology, but it looked at people who used coercive or controlling behaviour when providing psychotherapy or counselling services under that institution. The recommendation was that there needed to be registration —50 years ago. In 1978, Paul Sieghart produced a report with the same recommendations and, in 1981, Graham Bright produced a Private Member’s Bill in the other place based on Paul Sieghart’s report to register psychotherapy.

When I was appointed as the first consultant psychiatrist in psychotherapy in Ireland, north or south, I started training in psychotherapy through the medical faculty at Queen’s University Belfast, not just for those who were medically qualified but for others who were not, to enable them to become properly qualified. However, I quickly discovered that there was lots of what I call “wild psychotherapy”, so I talked to the Department of Health and Social Services, which agreed and provided some funds. We appointed one of my staff, Gillian Rodgers, to do a report, and she presented it to the department in May 1995—nothing was done.

As has already been referred to, I went to see the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who was Health Minister in the Lords, in 1999. She agreed, saying, “Yes, there is a serious problem; will you try to do something about it?” I did: I got together with all the psychotherapy organisations and we eventually brought forward a Bill, with their agreement, in the early 2000s—two Bills in fact. The Government did not follow either of them, although the second went through your Lordships’ House.

This is not a recent problem, but it is getting worse for a whole series of reasons. If the Government argue that this is not the Bill, I do not think that is valid: it is the Bill that can address it, at least for the victims of domestic abuse. I think that the Government are bound to let us know when and how they intend to bring in the registration of psychotherapy for the protection of clients and patients, and vulnerable therapists, who themselves are working outside the health service and do not have the protection that they need in these difficult times. I look forward to what the Minister has to say, and I hope that he will be able to go further than Governments have gone in 50 years of failure to follow up on the report that they themselves commissioned in 1971.

Photo of Baroness Mallalieu Baroness Mallalieu Labour 10:45 pm, 10th March 2021

My Lords, the arguments about the Bill being suitable for this measure that have been advanced again today by the noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Alderdice, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, were powerfully deployed in Committee. They cut no ice with the Minister, and I have seen nothing to indicate since then that there is likely to be any change of heart. This will mean that this is yet another missed opportunity to deal with a very real problem.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, accepted that there is a need to find a remedy for this damaging and often criminal preying on the vulnerable who seek help for mental distress from unregulated and often totally unqualified self-styled talking therapists. There is ample evidence of the harm that has been caused: the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has just given us some. Victims have been alienated from their families, and, as I remember from my years in practice at the criminal Bar, on occasion this led to criminal trials based on what later appeared to be false memories implanted by self-styled talking therapists.

However, I believe that there has been a degree of progress since Committee, and I was very grateful to be included in the meeting that the noble Lord, Lord Marks, arranged with the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, the Minister and others; I thank the Minister for that. It became clear from that meeting that there are at least two ways in which a solution could be achieved if this Bill is not allowed to be the vehicle to deal with this.

Apparently, under the Health Act, regular reviews take place to decide whether specific occupations should require compulsory registration. This means that a successful applicant must meet proper standards and checks, and faces sanctions if the rules are broken. The change from voluntary to compulsory registration can be made by regulation, so no primary legislation is required.

The bogus practitioners of talking therapies, at whom this amendment is directed, currently do not have to register; as a start, they should be required to do so. These people use a variety of names for what they do and might well try to change their descriptions to avoid mandatory registration of a particular category. However, a generic name can surely be found and such a relatively minor difficulty overcome. After all, they are all talking therapists.

It became clear from our meeting that members of the public but also, surprisingly, some of those who direct them to these services, such as GPs, need to be better informed of the importance of using only registered practitioners. The public surely deserve to be better protected and compulsory registration would help to do just that. However, more is required, too: having to register might make it difficult for those who do not meet the required standards, but not impossible for the unscrupulous to continue to operate. There are criminal elements to the way in which some of these so-called therapists operate, which this amendment addresses. They will still need to be addressed in addition to compulsory registration. If that cannot be done in the Bill, as the Government contended in Committee—I still hope that they will change their mind—it can and should be met by a provision, possibly in a forthcoming health Bill or, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, in other legislation to be brought forward as soon as possible.

These are not isolated cases. When the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, raised this matter in the House last year, she received an astonishingly large response from victims and their families. This type of abuse, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, just said, has gone on unchecked for many years. It continues to sever children from their families, causes mental harm and misery to victims and their relations, and in some cases leads to serious false allegations being made. All sides agree that a remedy is needed yet every time an attempt is made to find one, successive Ministers have said, “Not this Bill—not my department, guv”.

Two common defects in our present system of government are stopping abuses being prevented in future. The first, I fear, is a culture of siloed departments: “We can’t deal with this or that because it’s someone else’s brief, someone else’s department”. Too often, there is a reluctance or failure to collaborate across departments to pass on and follow-up a problem which arises, or there is a change of Minister so that the problem falls—as this one has done over and over again down the years—into a black hole of inaction between them. It was therefore encouraging that the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, also attended the meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson. The second is the shortage—not an absence but certainly a shortage—of Ministers who, when those in their department say “We can’t do it” say to them: “This is a real problem. I want to find a solution. Please go away and come back with a way in which we can do it.”

The Minister was very helpful in our meeting, which enabled us to focus on the direction of some possible solutions. What we now need from him, if he cannot change his mind about the admissibility of the amendment in this legislation, is a commitment that the issue will at least receive urgent attention across departments and, after so long be treated as a priority. In this of all weeks, it is worth perhaps saying that people in mental turmoil who need help will, we hope, go searching for it. Failure to guide them to genuine help from properly registered practitioners is allowing some to fall into unscrupulous and dangerous hands. I do hope that the Minister will give us the assurance we need tonight.

Photo of Lord Fairfax of Cameron Lord Fairfax of Cameron Conservative

My Lords, I too speak this evening in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marks. I apologise that I was unable to speak in Committee but I have read that debate, including the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Jolly, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I agree with all that they said.

I developed an interest in this subject because I personally knew two families where young adult, female family members were, might I say, captured by what the noble Lord, Lord Marks, has called a charlatan counsellor—with prolonged, distressing and tragic consequences for the families and individuals in question. But as he and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, have reminded us this evening, this issue is much more widespread: so much so that, as the House has heard, France, Belgium and Luxembourg have legislated against this behaviour.

At this late hour, I do not propose to repeat the arguments compellingly put both this evening and in Committee in favour of similar legislation being enacted here. My understanding is that the Government, as they have said before, may be sympathetic in general but, as several speakers this evening have intimated, too often one gets the timeworn mantra from the Government that this is not the right time and not the right Bill. I remember this particularly being said several years ago in relation to the Leveson Section 40 point.

My question to the Minister this evening is the same as that put by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and other noble Lords. If that is the Government’s position, when will be the right time to legislate against these reprehensible practices by charlatan counsellors who cause so much distress to so many families? In closing, I respectfully suggest that, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, government inaction on this issue has already dragged on unacceptably long.

Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Liberal Democrat

My Lords, this has been an interesting debate and I thank all Members who have taken part. The proposed new clause in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, both of whom have spoken very forcefully, would create an offence of:

“Controlling or coercive behaviour by persons providing psychotherapy or counselling services” in a person’s home.

We have heard that my noble friend Lord Alderdice, himself a psychiatrist, has long taken an interest in this issue, even tabling a Private Member’s Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff—another doctor—the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax of Cameron, and the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, have made excellent cases for outlawing these charlatans. I thank them all for their robust and informed support.

Some time ago, I was approached by someone whose child in their 20s had their life ruined by an unregistered and untrained counsellor. Both the behaviour of and treatment by this charlatan were coercive and turned the child completely against their family. This is not something that many families talk about at length, but after hearing the dinner hour debate in the House some time ago, when my noble friend Lord Marks and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, both spoke, a significant number of people approached me and provided the evidence that convinced us that this is an issue that deserves attention from government.

What is done by these bogus counsellors is lawful but also amoral, unethical and without shame. I ask the Minister to support the proposed new clause. Without it, charlatans posing as professionals will be able to ruin yet more families and more young, vulnerable lives.

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)

My Lords, Amendment 52 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, seeks to insert a new clause into the Bill. This issue was debated in Committee and I was clear then that I supported the intention of the proposed new clause but was not convinced that this was the right Bill. There is always a problem with finding ways to address issues, whether through primary or secondary legislation, or finding a Bill that is in scope or the regulation or order that can be used to make the necessary changes.

On the issue itself, both in Committee and on Report, a powerful case was made by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, and my noble friend Lady Mallalieu. This is a serious matter where people can be victims of some very dubious, unscrupulous and frankly criminal practices.

As we have heard, a traumatised person seeking help from a counsellor, therapist or psychotherapist has absolutely no idea whether that person is properly trained and able to give them professional help—or, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, said, a charlatan preying on young people or vulnerable clients to debilitate and exert control. The risk is that the counsellor is untrained and unqualified and will do lasting damage to their client.

In responding to this debate, I hope the Minister is able to set out a pathway to remedy this undeniably serious problem so that patients who run the risk of becoming victims of further trauma or abuse are helped and supported. Is the remedy to seek some form of compulsory registration, for other health professionals to be clear about the importance of only using registered therapists, and to agree on a name on which everyone is clear so that there is no confusion?

I hope there is some movement from the Government today. Clearly, there have been a number of useful meetings since Committee. I agree that we need to deal with this serious problem, so I hope the Minister will be able to give us a positive response.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 11:00 pm, 10th March 2021

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, and all other noble Lords who have supported this amendment, for again setting out the case for it. The amendment seeks to create an offence of controlling or coercive behaviour for psychotherapists and counsellors providing services to clients.

Amendment 52 seeks, in effect, to replicate the coercive or controlling behaviour offence under Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. This offence was created to close a gap in legislation regarding patterns of coercive or controlling behaviour in a domestic abuse context; that is, during a relationship between intimate partners, former partners or family members. As such, the offence applies only to those who are “personally connected” as defined within Section 76 of the 2015 Act. The amendment would extend the offence beyond those who are personally connected as defined by that Act so that it applied to psychotherapists and counsellors.

In Committee, and again today, the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and others have strongly made the point that unregulated and fraudulent psychotherapists are able to take advantage of their clients’ vulnerability by supplanting parents and families in the affections and minds of their clients, with the purpose of turning them against their friends and families through a process called transference. The noble Lord has 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.

As my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier noted, we have had a number of debates on this issue and on the importance—in the Government’s submission—of preserving the meaning of “personally connected” in relation to domestic abuse, both in this Bill and, by extension, for the purposes of the Section 76 offence. The Government recognise that noble Lords have raised an important issue and have made some spirited and cogent arguments in favour of doing something now. However, we still feel it is important to acknowledge that domestic abuse, including controlling or coercive behaviour, is a unique type of abuse underpinned by an emotional and affectionate bond between the victim and the perpetrator, as well as a complex power dynamic. The paid-for or commercial nature of the psychotherapist-client relationship represents a fundamentally different power dynamic from that of domestic abuse. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier and others, that is why we do not believe that it is appropriate to replicate the Section 76 offence in other contexts such as this. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for recognising that this might not be the right Bill in which to do it.

As I mentioned in Committee, this is a matter for consideration by the Department of Health and Social Care. I am pleased that a number of noble Lords who have spoken in Committee and again tonight had the opportunity to discuss it in more detail with my noble friend Lady Penn, on behalf of that department, and with me. I am glad they found the discussion productive, as we did. I am grateful to those noble Lords for their time and engagement with us and with officials from both the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care.

As noble Lords noted, there is at present a system of accredited voluntary registration by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care. 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 in relation to around 50,000 talking therapy professionals. These registers should be used by service users to choose a practitioner to meet their needs and to be assured that they are safe, trustworthy and competent to practise. To gain accreditation from the authority, organisations must meet 11 standards for accredited registers. I set those out in Committee so will not do that again now, but any registrant who is removed from an accredited register for conduct reasons cannot join another accredited register.

I recognise that these registers are voluntary, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out, but they provide assurance that practitioners who are on the registers are safe, trustworthy and competent. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, is right that more can be done in this area, and the Department of Health and Social Care is working with the Professional Standards Authority to improve awareness of the accredited registers programme and to encourage service users and providers—people such as GPs, as she says—to seek out the services of practitioners on an accredited register rather than unregistered individuals.

The Government are committed to a proportionate system of safeguards for the professionals who work in the health and care system, and from time to time we bring new professions into regulation. It is important that decisions to regulate a profession are evidence-based and consider the risks posed by the profession in the round, not just the risks posed by unscrupulous practitioners. The Professional Standards Authority has developed its “right-touch assurance” tool with the aim of providing advice on how best to regulate different groups in health and care. Where the Government are satisfied that the conditions for regulation of a profession are met, that can be taken forward through secondary legislation using powers in the Health Act 1999, a point that, as noble Lords mentioned today, we have explored in our helpful discussions since Committee.

The Department of Health and Social Care is currently conducting a programme of work to reform the professional regulation framework for healthcare professionals. That will provide an opportunity to consider whether the professions protected in law are the right ones and to ensure that the level of regulatory oversight is proportionate to the risks to the public.

I am conscious, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, set out in his contribution, that this is an issue that has been around for a very long time—since 1971, in some form—and he has been working on it for many years. I hope that reassurance and the points that have been raised, both in these debates and in our meeting since Committee, will be fed into that work. Perhaps this will provide further reassurance: as a couple of noble Lords have alluded to, one person who spoke in Committee but is not speaking today is my noble friend Lady Finn. If nothing else, I hope noble Lords will note that they have another person on the government side who is fully sighted on these issues.

The noble Lords who have spoken in favour of the amendment have once again underlined this important issue, but I hope they will accept why we believe this is not the appropriate Bill in which to pursue the regulation of psychotherapists and counsellors. I have no doubt that they will take the further opportunity to debate this issue soon in the context of Department of Health-led legislation and, moreover, as I have indicated, the issue of regulation can be considered afresh in the context of the forthcoming review of the regulation of healthcare professionals.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, spoke of a pathway. It may not have as many paving stones as noble Lords might wish but I hope that they can discern one, and that on that basis the noble Lord, Lord Marks, will be content to withdraw his amendment.

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

My Lords, it is late in the evening and I shall be brief. We have heard a detailed argument from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, and my noble friend Lord Alderdice as to why this amendment fits so clearly within the ambit of the Bill. From my noble friend Lord Alderdice we also heard how close is the link between therapy and domestic abuse, and from all around the House we have heard how overdue this measure is and that it is not a recent problem that we are seeking to address.

It is also significant that this amendment attracts support from doctors and lawyers and Members of your Lordships’ House who are neither. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said how common and how wrong it is that bogus therapists can take advantage of their clients, causing them real harm. The noble Lord, Lord Fairfax, was one of many Peers who know families who have been victims of this abuse, and he also powerfully argued for an end to inaction on the part of government. My noble friend Lady Jolly was another, who described graphically the behaviour of these charlatans as unethical and without shame. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, described our case on the amendment as a powerful case for change and called for action. So let us, please, not miss yet another opportunity, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, put it. As the noble Baroness said, compulsory registration must sit alongside criminal sanctions, in just the way as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, pointed out. An offence of coercive control modelled on the Serious Crime Act may not be the only way to achieve it, but it is a good one.

Whatever form an amendment of the criminal law takes, the House and the Government know clearly what it is that we are trying to achieve. They really ought now to be implementing change, rather than closing the road to change. The Government need to get over the temptation to insist on drawing the distinction between what the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, described as the emotional and affectionate bond that characterises domestic abuse and the type of abuse that these charlatans and quacks perpetrate on their victims. It will be interesting to see whether the Government can move away from insisting on that distinction. I described it earlier as a precious distinction, but it is purist at best.

“Not this Bill, not now” is no answer to the suffering of victims. We need the Government to be prepared to say, “Yes, this Bill and now”. At the very least, if they cannot say that, “The very next Bill, and soon”. We will take such opportunities as we can to bring about change. I accept that there will be opportunities to come, as the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, indicated, and they may well be in health-driven legislation. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment tonight, but we will be back seeking change in due course.

Amendment 52 withdrawn.

Schedule 2: Amendments relating to offences committed outside the UK

Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Chair, European Union Committee, Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Chair, European Union Committee

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 53. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.