Moved by Baroness Bertin
55: Clause 12, page 13, line 4, at end insert “, and domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would clarify on the face of the legislation that the definition of serious violence, for the purpose of the proposed Serious Violence Prevention Duty, includes domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual offences.
I apologise for being a bit quick off the mark earlier.
Amendment 55 would clarify in the legislation that the definition of serious violence, for the purpose of the serious violence prevention duty, would include
“domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences”.
While it is right to acknowledge the many male victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence—and this amendment would serve them also—the change we seek today is about stamping out a culture where violence against women and girls has been tolerated for too long. Zoë Billingham, the excellent outgoing inspector for Her Majesty’s Constabulary, described the level of violent and abusive offending against women and girls in this country as an “epidemic”. She is right: 1.6 million female victims of domestic abuse; 892,000 female victims of stalking; 618,000 female victims of sexual assault; 55,000 rapes, with less than a 2% charge rate; and, finally, 110 women murdered last year. Some names we know, but many more we do not. This grim tally should mark a watershed in our attitudes, and I heap praise on the domestic abuse commissioner and her team for their leadership in this regard.
I also thank my cosignatories—the noble Lords, Lord Polak, Lord Rosser and Lord Russell of Liverpool. This amendment is truly cross-party, as it should be. The strength of feeling on this issue bridges the political divide and, for once, I am absolutely delighted by the gender imbalance in this line-up of names. While of course it is men’s behaviour that is the problem, we must be careful not to pitch this as men versus women. This is about violent men versus the whole of society, but we need men—all men and all society—to engage in this and be part of the conversation and the solution.
The main justification for excluding sexual offences and domestic abuse from the Bill has been its focus on localism and flexibility, allowing local leaders to fit the strategy to local crime profiles. That is of course entirely reasonable when talking about gun and gang crime and such issues, where there are clear geographical hot spots, but this simply is not the case with domestic abuse and sexual offences; these crimes are happening everywhere. To my mind, localism is about where we put new housing estates and schools. It should never be about allowing individual areas to opt out of prioritising domestic abuse and sexual violence. This is the wrong issue on which to devolve decision-making, but it is already happening, which is why this amendment is more crucial and urgent than ever.
Of the 18 violence reduction units that have already been set up, only eight have included domestic abuse and sexual violence in their plans. Indeed, the Government’s own serious violence strategy makes no meaningful reference to sexual violence and domestic abuse, which is a problem, as often local boards refer back to it when making their policies. I am keen to stress that this amendment would not restrict flexibility at a granular level; of course a strategic needs assessment would still be carried out and specific interventions would differ from area to area.
I also say, on the record, that I absolutely do not doubt the Government’s commitment on this issue. I know they listen and I know they care. They listened to people on the front line a great deal during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act, and look at the changes that have come in: the rough sex defence has been ended; revenge porn, coercive control and economic abuse offences have been extended; and upskirting is now a crime. Very importantly, they have extended the period of time in which you can put forward an assault charge based on domestic abuse; that was crucial. I will not list them all, as the list is long, but it is important to acknowledge that the Government have done a good deal. I hope they continue in that vein.
I strongly believe that explicitly including these offences in the duty would maximise the potential for a multiagency, public health preventive approach. We have talked about this a great deal in the House, and we all know that this is the only way to see real change on such a deep-seated societal issue. If we do not take this approach, we will be making these speeches again and again, for many years to come.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Does she agree that the passing of her amendment, or something like it, would send out a clear message to the Crown Prosecution Service that its policy change-based failure to prosecute significant numbers of rape offences and other serious sexual offences should be reviewed as soon as possible?
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention and absolutely agree. Of course, it would not solve the entire issue, but it would set us on the right path in sending that signal to the CPS, as well as to the police.
The multiagency, public health preventive approach is so important. Education plans, health plans and a more standardised perpetrator scheme would all be part of what this change could look like. It is important to note that the HMIC report that the Home Secretary commissioned warned that this duty, as it stands, would not go far enough in that regard.
The noble Lord, Lord Polak, mentioned in his speech at Second Reading that we need to make sure that such landmark legislation, the Domestic Abuse Act and this Bill, does not stand in isolation. We need to sustain the momentum of this ambition. Let us once and for all try to buck the trend of silo policy-making and bring together this work in a meaningful way.
As others have discussed in previous debates, it is right that the burden should not fall entirely on the police. I think we spoke about “broadening the base”, and that is why it is crucial that we get this duty right. Nevertheless, the specific policing response and the CPS response deserve a lot of attention. One-third of all violence reported to the police is domestic abuse related. This is not a small slice of their work. While their response to this crime has certainly improved over the past decade, and there are pockets of excellence and dedication, which we must acknowledge, there are still inconsistencies at every level in how the police respond to victims of domestic abuse and sexual offences, and shocking variations in how frequently—perhaps infrequently would be more appropriate—different forces use the protective powers available to them. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will speak at length on stalking; some forces around the country seem entirely unaware that stalking protection orders are available to them, and this has to change.
Another statistic that shocks me is that three-quarters of all domestic abuse cases are stamped with “no further action”. We know from the rape review that was launched this year, and as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, has pointed out, that that happens with so many incidents of sexual offences. It cannot continue. The lottery of standards among the 43 police forces in this country, and within individual forces, means it very often boils down to who picks up the phone or who responds to the call as to how victims are dealt with.
I will make one further point before I finish. As with other high-harm crimes, such as terrorism and organised crime, I believe strongly that violence against women and girls should be marked with a clearer focus, better funding, minimum standards and far more national co-ordination. This amendment is only part of the answer—of course it is—but it could be instrumental in starting that journey to greater consistency. Small actions taken together can make a big difference. While this amendment is relatively simple, its effects could ripple out.
Finally, you do not wake up one morning and become a murderer or a rapist; you work up to it. The horrific chain of events leading to Sarah Everard’s terrible murder laid this bare in the starkest of terms. We have to act to do all we can to stop this kind of behaviour in its tracks before it escalates and takes lives. There is an opportunity in this Bill, and we must take it.
My Lords, before I speak to my Amendment 56, I will start by saying that I completely agree with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has just said. Amendment 56 adds to Amendment 55’s
“domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences” the words “and stalking”, to be added to the definition of the serious violence prevention duty. As the noble Baroness identified, this is a keen interest of mine. I also support the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, pushing for a charging review for this range of crimes. Too often, they are either ignored or charged at a much lower crime rate.
The Minister will remember that, during the passage of the then Domestic Abuse Bill, many hours were spent looking at the typical progression of violence in obsessed perpetrators. Some of us asked the Ministers to look at the reverse structure of someone who had committed a crime of serious violence. All too often, the elements of behaviour were there from early on in their fixated behaviour. I understand that that is why the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, and others have laid their amendment to ensure that this trajectory of behaviour starts to be monitored early; and it also recognises when domestic violence accelerates very quickly. Adding
“domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences” is absolutely vital.
But I regret that stalking was not on the list in her amendment, and I will focus briefly on that. First, victims of stalking say that they often do not go to the police until around the 10th worrying event has happened. Shamefully, it often takes many more before stalking is taken seriously by the police. But many perpetrators of stalking, as I have said, progress in their fixated behaviour, and serious violence and homicide are too often evident.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, referred to stalking protection orders. I was pleased when they were implemented, but they are far too sparingly used, and some victims are told, “That’s all you need. It’ll be fine now”. Yet injunctions still have to be taken out and cautions still have to be issued, and, all the while, their stalker’s behaviour is becoming worse and worse.
According to Dr Jane Monckton-Smith, stalking sits at point 5 of the eight points on the homicide timeline, due to the fact that risk to the victim escalates at the point of leaving an abusive relationship. Monckton-Smith’s 2017 study of 358 homicides, all of which involved a female victim and a male perpetrator, revealed stalking behaviour as an antecedent to femicide in 94% of the cases. These figures demonstrate how vital it is to work on prevention for stalking cases.
There is a misconception that stalking is almost exclusively perpetrated by people on former partners and, therefore, probably covered by domestic abuse. This is untrue. The real figure is closer to 50%. Too many victims of non-partner or former-partner perpetrators of stalking report that, the first time that they talk to the police, they are told that they are overreacting, and some, especially young women, are even told that they should be grateful for the attention.
So stalking victims are too often ignored, and that is worrying. There is no other word for it than “ignored”—I know. The man who stalked me and other colleagues—he stalked men, too—over a three-year period grew progressively more fixated. Among other very unpleasant acts, such as abusive anonymous letters and telephone calls, his violence was initially against property—breaking windows, pulling down signs and scratching cars—but, each time, it was a bit stronger, more aggressive and more distressing. It took well over a year and 130 incidents before the police started taking it seriously. But their attitude changed completely when, night after night, he started using a very large knife to slash tyres. Their forensic psychologist warned that they expected that he would start using that knife on his targets next. We all knew who the perpetrator was, and, finally, we saw that the police started to move. He was then arrested quickly, and he pleaded guilty.
More recently, in June this year, Gracie Spinks, who, like many stalking victims, was let down by police because they did not take any of the early reports and link them together, was murdered at the riding stables she worked at by a former colleague from a previous job. She had reported her concerns to police four months earlier. He had turned up unannounced at the stables. Separately, a bag containing knives, an axe, a hammer and a note saying “Don’t lie” was discovered very close to the stables six weeks before Gracie’s murder. That breadcrumb trail was all there, and it was typical of a serious stalker, too—the perpetrator profile is well known. Gracie’s father, Richard, has said that if only the police had connected the incidents, his daughter would not have died.
Neither Gracie’s nor my case would have been covered by Amendment 55. Stalking needs to be added to this section on the serious violence protection duty just as much as domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences.
My Lords, I am very pleased to add my name to Amendment 55 and pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Bertin for her leadership on these matters. I was also pleased to have worked with my noble friend, together with the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Russell of Liverpool, during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill.
The amendment in our names is an extension of our previous work. I shall not repeat and rehearse the reasons why it is important that the definition of serious violence for the purpose of the proposed serious violence prevention duty must include domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences. For me, it is straightforward, and I make a simple appeal to my noble friend the Minister, who was so instrumental in piloting the Domestic Abuse Bill through Parliament with such professionalism, dedication and patience. There is an opportunity to cement and build on that historic and vital legislation, to build on what was achieved, so that it can be possible for the serious violence strategy to recognise domestic abuse and sexual violence. Can it be possible for a serious violence strategy not to recognise them as forms of serious violence? It would be difficult to understand.
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, has said that the Government risk missing an opportunity to make a “historic shift” in the handling of this problem. She went on to suggest that this amendment could deliver a step change, ensuring a focus not only on crisis provision but on early intervention and prevention measures to stop abuse occurring. I totally agree with her.
The Home Office’s draft guidance says that local areas “could” consider violence against women and girls as part of the new duty if they choose to. I am still trying to get my head around “could”. How about “must”? This short and succinct amendment is so important, and I just do not understand who could not support it.
The Minister has been nothing but consistent in advocating what the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, described as localism, which is enabling local areas to decide for themselves what they include in their definitions of serious violence. Here I pay tribute—which may surprise some people—to our Home Secretary, because earlier this year, in the wake of the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, she commissioned a study by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, under the leadership of Zoë Billingham, referred to earlier, to look into the circumstances which had allowed the murder of Sarah Everard and so many other women to take place. That report was published three days after Second Reading of this Bill last month.
The report, which the Home Secretary asked to be done, says clearly, in black and white, that localism is not working. In fact, localism is serving to fuel what I can only describe as a wave of domestic terrorism, because essentially domestic violence is domestic terrorism. If you look at how many people are killed in this country on average each year through terrorism, it is, thankfully, a minuscule amount. If you look at how many women—primarily—are killed every year in this country through what I am calling domestic terrorism, it is approximately two and a bit every week, week in, week out. We know the figures. It does not stop. It is like an awful, ghastly Halloween metronome that will not stop. We have to do something to stop it.
Zoë Billingham’s report demonstrated graphically that, at national level, local level, force level and individual level, there are severe, endemic failings. That is primarily because, despite some good initiatives in some police forces, such as Nottinghamshire and the Met in London, they have been done in such a scattered and disaggregated way that they are as nothing compared with what is going on in the vast majority of police forces. You cannot develop proper, joined-up best practice unless you are doing it in a concerted, integrated and thoughtful way.
Essentially, Zoë Billingham’s report provides strong backing for what the Domestic Abuse Commissioner has asked the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, the noble Lords, Lord Polak and Lord Rosser, and me to do, which is to articulate and to give voice to the profound and troubling but stark findings of that report. I appeal to the Government to build on the good work started by the Home Secretary. This report has provided the evidence that the Government need to take action and, I would argue, please, to accept this amendment.
My Lords, I add my support for the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, in Amendment 55, and I will speak in support of Amendment 56. I want to develop the theme that both she and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, have been talking about, which is of the inconsistencies in the local response to this huge challenge.
I go back to HM inspectorate’s report, because it laid this out. It started by paying tribute to dedicated professional police officers, which is absolutely right, but it found that, at individual level, victims reported very different responses, depending, as the noble Baroness said, on which officer they spoke to or which call handler took the call. It told us that some officers showed exceptional care and sensitivity, while others made the victims feel that they were not believed. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about the specifics of her own case and the huge challenge that she had in getting the police to start to take it seriously.
The inspectorate goes on to say,
“at force level: there are unexplained variations in how frequently different forces are using the protective powers and orders at their disposal to protect women and girls; at local partnership level: roles and responsibilities for partners working together in multi-agency safeguarding arrangements vary considerably; and at national level: actions to improve the police response are split over multiple Government strategies. These structural, strategic and tactical inconsistencies must be addressed if the police and their partners are to make inroads in tackling the deep-rooted problem of VAWG offences.”
That is why we need some action at national level. If we leave it to local forces and the local safeguarding arrangements, I am afraid that nothing will happen to improve the situation.
I want to say a few words in support of our Amendment 56. We would like to add “stalking” to the noble Baroness’s amendment and perhaps persuade her to come back on Report with a more comprehensive amendment, if at all possible, because we are all batting off the same wicket. We know that stalking is a very serious crime, but it is underreported and underprosecuted. We debated this during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill. The case is as strong as ever. Stalkers are often mischarged with other crimes and it is common for the National Stalking Helpline to see high-level stalking cases managed as low-level nuisance behaviours. As a result, stalking behaviours are not being adequately identified. We believe that the noble Baroness’s amendment could be enhanced by the addition of stalking as a serious issue that is not being tackled effectively at the moment. I am sure that I speak for many noble Lords in hoping that we can pull all this together in a consensus amendment on Report.
My Lords, I applaud my noble friend Lady Bertin’s eloquent speech about something so sensitive and dangerous.
During the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, we had lots of discussions about stalking. I rise to speak because my name is on Amendment 56. It saddens me that we are still battling in this area, which is so fragile and misunderstood by the agencies that are there to protect. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister, who listens to our speeches all the time and takes them on board, but I reiterate the seriousness of what my colleagues have said. We are talking about human lives. We are not talking about figures or money; we are talking about human lives that are being brutally lost.
This is where we need to gain some perspective on what we are doing in legislation. Legislation is important to legal people, politicians and your Lordships’ House but, on the outside, how does it protect an individual who is being stalked or is losing their life through domestic abuse? Where do we draw the line in saying, “Enough is enough, we’re going to protect you”? As we have heard, Dr Jane Monckton Smith’s report says that stalking sits at point five of eight on the homicide timeline due to the fact that risk to the victim escalates at the point of leaving an abusive relationship. We need to include stalking in my noble friend’s Amendment 55 because that is the only way in which the serious violence reduction duty will guarantee robust prevention work being rolled out consistently across the country. We talk about localism and centralism but, for everybody on the street, that is not language that they understand. This is about their safety and agencies understanding the issue.
In the dictionary, stalking is like a cat chasing a bird. Put simply, that is what is happening to these people. There is a delicate line in proving it when people are traumatised and are being brutalised in their home, in their workplace and wherever they travel. If we cannot get this right in the Bill, we simply are not listening to the figures on the human lives that are being lost every day. As we speak, somebody is being stalked and going through that. I ask my noble friends the Minister and Lady Bertin: please can we look at this? I would love to have this issue included at the end of Amendment 55.
My Lords, Amendments 57A and 59A have been grouped here. I am always hesitant to follow with a small, perhaps technical, point on important points such as have been made this afternoon.
My amendments are intended to inquire of the Minister the place of online activity in this issue. The clauses that we are looking at are very much place-based—this part of the Bill refers to “area” almost throughout—but what prompts the violence may not be place or area-based. Given the statutory requirements for the assessment of the criteria, my amendments probe whether the role of online activity has a place in that assessment. Grooming and other activities may be generated in one geographical or police force area but directed more widely.
There are examples, obviously, of violence online intended to prompt copying, which this amendment is not specifically directed at. I dare say that the answer to that will be the online harms Bill. But I would like to ask the question, perhaps in another way, of how this legislation is to work together and to be assured that we are not at risk of missing opportunities or leaving gaps.
My Lords, I, too, support Amendment 55 in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin, and I pay tribute to all the work she has done in this area. This is a relatively straightforward amendment which would send a very strong message to police forces, local statutory agencies and the public that domestic abuse and sexual violence are priorities to be both prevented and tackled.
Too often, our response to these types of crime comes too late for the victim. The benefits of this duty would be to ensure that we have a robust preventive approach that brings together a range of different partners and ensures that police forces are considering domestic abuse and sexual violence within the definition of serious violence for the proposed new statutory duty.
I, too, congratulate my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on calling for the HM inspectorate report following the tragic death of Sarah Everard. The report, whose authors I also congratulate, points to
“the co-ordinated and bespoke multi-agency response that is needed specifically for VAWG.”
It also says that the current drafting of the proposed serious violence prevention duty in the Bill does not go far enough.
The Government have already made significant progress on tackling domestic abuse through the Domestic Abuse Act, and I pay tribute to my noble friend the Minister and her team for all the dedication and hard work that have gone into that landmark piece of legislation. There is still more to be done. I think this amendment could be the missing piece of the puzzle to help maximise the approach in regard to domestic abuse, homicide and sexual offences.
I understand that the Government have some concerns that Amendment 55 could undermine the flexibility of the duty, but it simply clarifies the nature of the definition. It does not bind local areas to that definition, but it would require them to take this issue more seriously and would, I hope, prevent some of the dreadful acts we have heard about today and at Second Reading. This amendment is supported by the domestic abuse commissioner, and I join in the thoroughly deserved praise that the commissioner and her office have already received. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench, who I know cares passionately about these issues as well, will listen to the strength of the arguments on this amendment.
My Lords, I start by apologising to the Committee for not speaking at Second Reading—I am afraid that I had a household full of Covid. I am finally here and delighted to support Amendment 55 in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin, and congratulate her on her brilliant campaigning.
I am quite surprised that my noble friend still has to campaign. While I had Covid, I watched the debate from start to finish and listened to the Minister’s response. I think, first, that my noble friend’s amendment is clearly on the right side of the moral argument; there is no disagreement there. But because she is so persuasive, we have to test the counterarguments. I have done that, and I think that it is entirely properly thought-through and proportionate, so perhaps my noble friend the Minister could help me with some things I genuinely still do not understand about the Government’s hesitation.
I noted in particular the Minister’s reference to scope and her concern that other offences could, in effect, be pushed out should my noble friend Lady Bertin’s definition be added to the Bill. In other instances, however, where the Government believe that clarification is necessary, there are named forms of violence; for example, against property. This is a general question rather than a veiled assertion. Can the Minister clarify this for me?
Others, including the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and my noble friend Lord Polak, have challenged the Government on local decision-making. I tested myself and wondered whether I was being hypocritical here, because I often tell the Government that they are too prescriptive and we cannot have a Whitehall-down approach. However, in this case, if I may say so, I think that the Government are misguided. My noble friend Lady Bertin always sets things out so powerfully. It is not as if there are areas living blissfully free from domestic abuse and sexual violence. If any areas believe that they are—and I very much doubt it—surely that is all the more reason for national leadership on this issue and definitive action through the Bill.
As my noble friend Lord Polak mentioned, the Home Office guidance states that local areas “could” consider violence against women and girls as part of the new duty if they choose to. The logical conclusion, then, is that the Government are—what?—neutral or relaxed if a local area chooses not to. I cannot believe this is the case, especially knowing my noble friend the Minister as I do, but she must see the effect of this equivocation.
I must remind myself to stick to the amendment, so I will wrap up simply by saying that I believe that the Government’s intentions are very good, but I do not think that their performance is always coherent when it comes to violence against women and girls. I will pay very close attention to the Minister’s response, and I assure my noble friend Lady Bertin of my support, whatever happens going forward.
My Lords, I too add my support to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. Many points have been covered, and I simply want to say that if the definition of serious violence is not expanded in this way, the concern is that many local areas will not consider it within their strategies.
Join-up on this is absolutely vital. Local strategies to prevent domestic and sexual violence through education, research and specialist violence reduction units are key, including primary prevention, which I have raised before in your Lordships’ House. We must do all that we can to enable work across services and through effective partnership.
As has been said, the Domestic Abuse Act is a very good thing, yet a lot of time was spent during the passage of that Bill in this House trying to highlight overlooked groups and issues. This amendment once again highlights these issues by creating the necessity of more joined-up thinking between key agencies and ensuring that they remain cognisant of the issues. This amendment is vital.
My Lords, I support everything that has been said so far. I will speak to Amendments 57 and 58, in which I am endeavouring to specify the broad categories of serious violence, ensuring that any violence that is serious enough to result either in injury requiring emergency hospital treatment or harm constituting grievous bodily harm would meet the threshold for serious violence.
I am grateful for the general support I have had, especially from those noble Lords with long policing experience who see merit in what I present today. It might be that, as yet, we have not quite got the wording right. It is a bit like the debate that we have been having so far. There is a case for us coming together if in fact we can convince the Minister that, in principle, there is merit in what we are arguing; we could come together later, perhaps, to get the wording right, if the Government are to be so convinced.
My amendments are not solely about knife crime, but the intention is to ensure that the broad categories of serious violence are specified so that local partnerships must address such violence in their prevention plans and take full account of the information available on serious violence, which comes up in the A&E data. That is particularly important.
When the Home Secretary introduced the assessment of the public health duty—the public health measures—on
The violence that constitutes serious violence is not specified in this Bill. Good legislation depends on such specifications and definitions. It will rightly be for the local partnerships to decide how they will reduce serious violence, but it would be neglectful if this legislation does not state what serious violence includes.
The impact assessment signed by the Home Secretary relies heavily on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the use by local partnerships of data collected in hospital accident and emergency departments for the prevention of serious violence. This approach, known as the Cardiff model for violence prevention, has been found in rigorous evaluations to reduce violence related to hospital admissions and serious violence recorded by the police by as much as 38%.
This approach has four principal advantages in the context of the Bill. First, it specifies a broad category of serious violence: violence serious enough to result in emergency hospital treatment. Secondly, it makes sense from a public health perspective, which is missing in what is, after all, a public health duty. Thirdly, following the implementation of the emergency care data set, the Cardiff model data on violence location, weapons and assailants, for example, can be recorded and shared for violence prevention by every NHS trust with an A&E. Fourthly, these NHS data are valid and reliable measures of serious violence, which would be available for joint inspections. Most importantly, even if just 5% of partnerships achieved the Cardiff-model benefits identified in the impact assessment, total benefits are estimated to be at least £858 million over 10 years and a reduction of around 20 homicides a year.
On Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred to the invaluable work of Professor John Shepherd at Cardiff University. Professor Shepherd has helped greatly in the scheme that has been running in Cardiff—he certainly helped me in preparing these amendments and for speaking today. He makes the point that, if the amendments are not adopted, the Bill when enacted is most unlikely to achieve the reductions in serious violence. There is nothing specific around which to achieve that objective. Violence that results in emergency hospital treatment, and which affects all age groups and both genders, in and outside the home, would not be considered serious. The Bill when enacted would not resonate or easily be owned by the NHS and by clinical commissioning groups; they would not be obliged to commission this approach.
We therefore have to make sure that the local authorities get the data, get an outline of what needs to be done, and then get a clear instruction, from within the Bill itself, that there must be action taken and that they must not ignore what has been produced in this very valuable information.
I therefore hope that we can move forward collectively in looking at the range of amendments and see if we can produce something that actually puts specifics in the Bill, that then can be acted on lower down the line.
My Lords, I support Amendment 58 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, but I think all of the amendments in this group are extremely worthwhile. The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, gave a thoroughly well-argued pitch for her amendment, to which the Government have to listen. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, also argued very comprehensively for the inclusion of stalking, and I agree with that very strongly.
I wanted to sign every single amendment to this Bill, so I have ended up signing a sort of weird collection, and I apologise for that; I care about it all because I am so distressed about the Bill in general.
On Amendment 58, we need to know exactly what the Government intend with their duty to reduce serious violence. We talked earlier about intrusions, particularly relating to confidentiality, so it is quite important to have a redefined definition of serious violence. Because we have identified those intrusions, without safeguards, we must be sure that Parliament is clear and precise about the situations to which we intend this duty to apply; otherwise, we are left with a vague duty that interferes with people’s right to privacy in arbitrary and unfair ways. I very much hope that the Minister is listening and agreeing.
My Lords, I support Amendments 55 and 56, principally because, apart from their justice, it is naturally the right thing to do. As importantly, the amendments move the police into the preventive area more than they are now. I keep urging the Government and the Home Office in particular to make statutory the preventive duties. I am afraid that that is not yet taking shape, and this is a way in which it could do so.
There is a consequence of this. People have talked about the inconsistent approach around the country. That will generally tend to happen: with 43 organisations, we will always end up with an inconsistent approach. For me, 43 is at least 42 too many. That is my view; others will have different views but having so many organisations will lead to inconsistency.
More importantly, we are asking for officers to be more specialist in their investigative capacity. If it is left to the front-line officers, often they do not always have the time, or, frankly, the skills, to investigate these serious types of crime. The natural consequence of that is that more people will be moved out of uniform and into specialist areas. We all need to keep in mind that although part of the public will urge being able to see officers more often, officers are more effective when they are more specialist. How we get that balance right is difficult. This is not a plea for another 20,000 cops; it is about getting the balance right between the specialist who can be more effective and the uniformed officer who is more visible. That debate continues, and the amendments support that.
I rose to talk in particular about Amendments 57 and 58, which I support. Professor Shepherd has achieved some incredible things from his base in Cardiff. There are two big reasons why I support those amendments. The first is the constant bid for consistency. They provide a further test on the definition of serious violence, such as the requirement for hospital attendance, particularly at A&E. There is a danger, of course, that some people will attend A&E who do not really deserve to go there—they believe that they are seriously ill, when in fact they are not—but that risk is fairly low. Most importantly, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said, the amendments will urge the health service to share the data it has to better inform the police and the Home Office on the strategies for the future. I am afraid that if the police can be inconsistent, so can the health service in sharing data that is vital to understanding the nature of serous violence around the country. Without that information, neither the Government nor the police, nor others, can take action.
For those reasons, I support these amendments, which are sensible conclusions.
My Lords, I have already made a comment about serious sexual offences but there is something else that I want to raise, into which I have been provoked by my noble friend Lord Hogan-Howe. The point I want to make is about consistency. I do not agree with my noble friend that we should have a single national police force, but I do believe that 43 territorial police forces is a real recipe for inconsistency. I regret very much that successive Home Secretaries, from all political parties, have failed to take on this issue. What actually happens—Charles Clarke did it when he was Home Secretary—is this: when a Home Secretary has the courage to say they are going to reorganise police forces to bring policy consistency on issues such as this, immediately that Home Secretary is told by Members of another place that the world will fall apart if the Loamshire police force is abolished, because how could the world continue without it?
I was a Welsh MP for 14 years. There are still four police forces in Wales; there should not be. The Dyfed-Powys Police, the force in my constituency, operated generally well, but I could not possibly argue that more than one police force is needed, in Wales, at any rate. I therefore ask the Government to take consistency as a major theme in this matter and reflect—
We are going into a wider debate. My personal view is that we should never have abolished the Oxford City Police force in the 1960s, because we never recovered when it became part of Thames Valley Police, and we had our own watch committee. But there is an issue here, is there not, between what might be regarded as operational efficiency and overpoliticisation? Frankly, the experience in Scotland is not a good example of the risks of too direct a relationship between a national Government and a police force. That would surely be the risk in Wales.
I realised when I started on this that there were one or two noble Lords around the House—I saw one agreeing with me, I think—who are, or have been, police and crime commissioners, who might disagree. I respect the noble Lord enormously, as he knows, but I say to him that the experience in Scotland was not good to begin with but is much, much better now.
I will cite just one piece of evidence. The small number of counterterrorism units operate very well as a group. They have a very good collegiate function and there is real consistency between their operations. In my view, the way that CTUs have developed is a paradigm for the reorganisation of the police. I do not want to prolong this part of the debate, but I urge the Minister to consider whether the best route towards consistency is to reorganise the police, reluctant though many will be.
My Lords, perhaps we should leave the reorganisation of the police to another occasion. The first attraction of Amendment 55 is its utter simplicity and simple, clear language. You have no idea how anybody who has had to spend a lifetime looking at criminal justice legislation greets with acclaim a simple piece of legislation, which this is. There is no misunderstanding about it. It does what it says on the tin. Nobody can reconstruct it afterwards or say Parliament had a different intention—it is there.
More importantly, the argument is irrefutable. I had prepared quite a long speech to make today—long by my standards—but I will not make it. We have heard the arguments. This is a special, national problem—full stop. The best solution to a special, national problem is for it to be dealt with nationally. I therefore support this amendment.
My Lords, first, I have absolutely no doubt about the Minister’s commitment to dealing with the sorts of offences we are talking about today, particularly violence against women and girls. I also have absolutely no doubt about the Government’s commitment to tackling those issues. This makes the Bill even more puzzling. We support all the amendments in this group, but I want to look at this from a slightly different angle.
This group of amendments is intended to ensure that certain categories of crime are always included in the serious violence duty. It raises the wider issue of what this whole chapter of the Bill is about. Crime and disorder partnerships—noble Lords will know from previous debates that I am quite keen on these—have for many years been responsible for a multiagency approach to preventing and tackling crime and disorder in their areas, including serious violence. They have the advantage of being able to assess what local needs are and prioritise the crime and disorder that is a particular problem in their areas.
In light of these well-established existing partnerships, one must ask why there is a need for an additional serious violence duty. There has been much concern about knife crime in recent years and Scotland has demonstrated how successful a public health approach to the problem can be, where police enforcement is just part of a multiagency, multipronged approach to tackling knife crime. There may be characteristics of the knife crime problem in Scotland and solutions tailored to tackle them there that may not be completely transferrable to other parts of the UK, but the general principle is sound: law enforcement is only one of many approaches that need to be brought to bear on a problem.
If the Government were focusing solely on this type of serious violence, one could understand, in the face of the growing public concern, that a public health approach to knife crime might be mandated—but that is not what the Bill says. However, there are clues in other parts of the Bill that that is what the Government were initially thinking. For example, we will shortly come on to offensive weapon homicide reviews and serious violence prevention orders, which are all about knife crime.
The Bill talks about serious violence generally, including threats of serious violence but excluding terrorism. It goes on to talk—in Clause 12(4)—about a list of factors that must be taken into account, such as: the maximum penalty that a court could impose; the impact on the victim; the prevalence of the violence in the area, and the impact on the community. Presumably, other factors could be considered when the local area is considering its own serious violence. This effectively makes any violence serious—for example, hate crime. Hate crime should be considered serious violence because, by definition, it has a serious impact on the victim.
Amendment 55, from the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, says that domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences should always be included in the serious violence duty. As the noble Lord, Lord Polak, said, how can any of these offences not be considered serious violence? If the Government do not accept this amendment, can the Minister say what types of domestic abuse, domestic murder or sexual offence are not serious, or in what areas they are not far too prevalent? Amendment 56 also includes stalking, for the reasons that my noble friend Lady Brinton so powerfully argued.
Amendment 57, from the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, includes all violence that results in emergency hospital treatment, or GBH—for very good reasons. As I mentioned in discussion on an earlier group, as the noble Lord did just now, the Cardiff model—that of sharing depersonalised accident and emergency information on knife and gun crime with the police—has proved invaluable. Furthermore, as the definition of serious violence includes threats of serious violence, my noble friend Lady Hamwee is quite right to point out that social media and other electronic communication—the impact of which may go beyond the geographic area for which the authorities that have a serious violence duty have responsibility—require a duty that goes beyond a single area.
In defining serious violence in such a wide way, the Government must either accept that all violence has the potential to be serious, or risk being accused of saying that violence associated with hate crime, violence against women and girls, domestic violence, and almost any other form of violence, is not serious, or should not be treated as serious in every police area.
What the Government should have done, and what they should do now, is go back and look at crime and disorder partnerships, which are already established and responsible for preventing and tackling all forms of crime and disorder—as their consultation on this issue said they should. They should look at where crime and disorder partnerships need to be strengthened —whether, perhaps, to include partners not currently involved—or where legislation needs to be changed to facilitate co-operation and the exchange of information, instead of mandating others to provide information to the police to enable a police-led enforcement approach to tackling serious violence—whatever that means. Of course, we will support all the amendments in this group for as long as the Government continue with such a broad definition of serious violence.
My Lords, like other noble Lords I await with interest the Government’s response to all the amendments in this group. My name also appears on Amendment 55, which, at the beginning of this debate, was so ably and comprehensively moved, as we knew it would be, by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. This issue was raised by the shadow Minister for Policing in the House of Commons, and I only hope it receives a more enthusiastic hearing from the Government in this House, given that it is being presented with such strong cross-party support across the House.
The serious violence duty introduced by this Bill, as we know, requires local authorities, the police, fire and rescue authorities, specified criminal justice agencies and health authorities to work together to formulate an evidence-based analysis of the problems associated with serious violence in a local area and then produce and implement a strategy detailing how they will respond to those particular issues. Prison, youth custody and education authorities may also need to work with these core partners.
As more than one noble Lord has said, the amendment is clear and straightforward in its intention, which is to make clear in the Bill that the definition of serious violence for the purpose of the serious violence prevention duty includes domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual offences. That begs the question of why this amendment is necessary. As the noble Lord, Lord Polak, said, and he was not the only one, is it not obvious that domestic abuse, homicide and sexual offences must come within the definition of serious violence? Apparently it is not. Despite domestic abuse representing one-third of violent crime recorded by the police and despite 20% of all adult homicides and 50% of adult homicides where the victim is female being domestic homicides, the Government’s serious violence strategy does not recognise domestic abuse and sexual violence as forms of serious violence.
No doubt, that is one explanation why between April 2014 and March 2020 the annual number of domestic abuse-flagged cases referred to the Crown Prosecution Service by the police fell by 37%, with similar declines in prosecutions and convictions. No doubt, it is also one explanation why over the same period of time the annual number of prosecutions in rape-flagged cases fell by 55% and the annual number of convictions fell by 44%. No doubt, also, it is one explanation why in the year ended March 2020 only 9% of domestic abuse-related crimes and 1.4% of rape-flagged cases recorded by the police led to a charge or summons.
This Bill’s proposed serious violence prevention duty places a requirement on public authorities to collate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence. While Clause 12 explicitly includes some named forms of violence, such as violence against property and threats of violence, to ensure that they are regarded as a form of violent crime across the board, violence against women and girls is not put in the same category, even though rates of domestic abuse and sexual violence, as so many other noble Lords have said, are consistent across England and Wales and do not vary greatly from one area to another.
Instead, intended Home Office guidance simply says that local areas can consider violence against women and girls as part of the new duty if they choose to and not that it is expected. Clearly, the Home Office is not too fussed one way or the other what areas decide on this very serious issue. There are attacks on statutes, and the Home Office gets very troubled. There are violent domestic attacks on human beings, particularly women, and the Home Office, however different the reality may be, appears so laid back that it wants to leave it to other people to make their own decisions on whether to regard these attacks as serious violence. It appears to want to leave it to other people to decide whether these dreadful attacks come within the scope of the serious violence prevention duty and the requirement on a range of public bodies, including local statutory agencies and the police, to work together to prevent and tackle serious violence with the aim of reducing the numbers of victims and perpetrators of such dreadful crimes.
Explicitly including domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual violence in the sexual violence reduction duty and its multi-agency approach would send a clear message to the police, prosecutors and a range of statutory agencies, including local agencies, that violence against women and girls is just not acceptable and that they all have to play a crucial role in tackling it.
At the moment there appears to be a distinction within the criminal justice system so that violence that takes place in the home or at the hands of an intimate partner is regarded as less serious than violence perpetrated in the public sphere. Only around one-half of police forces, as I understand it, have opted to take up Women’s Aid’s Domestic Abuse Matters specialised training on domestic abuse. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, said, only eight of the 18 violence reduction units established in police force areas, which are funded by the Home Office and considered forerunners to the new violence prevention duty, name domestic abuse in their strategies.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services has recently published its report into policing and violence against women and girls, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, and others have said. It specifically raised concerns that the current drafting of the proposed serious violence prevention duty
“will not go far enough to promote the co-ordinated and bespoke multi-agency response that is needed specifically for VAWG.”
“the introduction of a new statutory duty on all appropriate partner agencies to collectively take action to prevent the harm caused by VAWG.”
No doubt, we will hear in the Government’s response what they intend to do in relation to that recommendation.
I would also like briefly to touch on the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and supported by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, which would add stalking to the list of specified offences to be prevented. My noble friend Lady Royall is unfortunately unable to be with us today to add her expertise to this debate, but I am sure the House recognises the years of work she and others have put into this issue. Stalking, as has been said, is representative of many VAWG offences in that it is high harm and it escalates. Despite the early warning signs in many of these cases, the risk is not properly recognised or responded to until it is too late.
The last time we debated this issue, during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, the Opposition Benches and Members on all sides of this House pressed for more robust action on stalking, including a register of dangerous perpetrators. Since that debate, more women have been failed and killed, and the list of bereaved families has grown longer. The Government, as others have said, should seize this opportunity to tackle the epidemic of violence against women and girls because currently this Bill is missing that priority. Recognising violence against women and girls as serious violence is a vital place to start and one of the key changes so many of us in this House are calling on the Government to make to this Bill.
My Lords, I assure noble Lords that I will not be getting into a debate about the number of police forces we should have, but I will say two things on that: first, consistency is key; secondly, good leadership is crucial. That said, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Bertin, the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for setting out the case for these amendments, which have, quite rightly, attracted a wide-ranging debate about the scope of the serious violence duty. I am also pleased about the gender balance of the tablers of the amendments, and I join my noble friend Lady Bertin in paying tribute to the DA Commissioner and join the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, with whom I have worked on many occasions on stalking.
I will start by addressing Amendments 55 and 56. The Government remain absolutely focused on tackling violence against women and girls. There is no place in society for these abhorrent crimes. That is why in July we published a new cross-government Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls strategy, which includes a range of actions to help ensure that more perpetrators are brought to justice and face the full force of the law and that we improve support to victims and survivors and work ultimately to prevent these crimes, as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said, and send a message of clear expectation, as the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Rosser, pointed out.
The strategy builds on our existing work, as my noble friend Lady Bertin said, including the new legislation that we have brought forward, which includes specific offences of forced marriage, upskirting, and the disclosure of private sexual photographs. The Domestic Abuse Act, which secured Royal Assent in April and which I am very proud to have taken part in and led through your Lordships’ House, will strengthen our response to domestic abuse at all levels. The Act includes a new duty for local authorities in England to ensure the provision of support for victims of abuse, both adults and children, in refuges and other safe accommodation.
Amendment 55 seeks to make it clear on the face of the Bill that domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual violence are included within the meaning of “violence”. We recognise the importance of multiagency working to address these crimes, as my noble friend has stressed, and I assure noble Lords that the draft statutory guidance for the serious violence duty, published in May this year, does already make it clear that specified authorities will be permitted to include in their strategy those actions which focus on any form of serious violence which is of particular concern in a local area.
I note the point that noble Lords have made that domestic violence is prevalent in every area, but it could include domestic violence, alcohol-related violence, sexual exploitation, or modern slavery. Ultimately, the specified authorities are best placed to determine what the specific priorities are for that area based on the local evidence. However, all that said, I can see value in the intention of this amendment, to expressly provide on the face of the Bill—and avoid any doubt—that domestic abuse, including domestic homicide, and sexual offences, falls within the definition of “violence” that specified authorities should follow when considering what amounts to serious violence and making that evidence-based determination as to what the specific priorities should be for their area.
Regarding the specific addition of “stalking”, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for drawing attention to this important issue. I recognise that there are other forms of crime which disproportionately affect women and girls which local areas may want to consider for the purpose of the duty, and the draft statutory guidance highlights that they may wish to do this. However, we might risk creating confusion if we specified too many crime types under the meaning of “violence”, and we must consider carefully where to draw the line. I discussed this with the domestic abuse commissioner the other day and she agrees that the definition of “domestic abuse” should be broad enough to draw attention to this issue where it takes place in a domestic abuse context. In addition, while many stalking offences do take place in a domestic abuse context or ultimately involve violent behaviour, that cannot be said for all, and so I am not convinced that an express reference is appropriate.
In any event, we remain completely focused on our efforts to tackle these crimes. The Home Secretary will chair a new violence against women and girls task force to drive cross-government activity and help maintain public confidence in policing. We are funding the first full-time national policing lead in this area, Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth, as I mentioned during the Urgent Question yesterday, and later this year we will publish a new domestic abuse strategy.
Having listened to the debate, I am in no doubt about where the whole Committee stands on this issue. We can all agree in this place that we need to do much more to tackle violence against women and girls. The multi-pronged strategy we published in the summer is directed to that end. We intend to build on that further, having listened to the views of the Committee. The Government agree that part of the response must include the police, local authorities, health bodies and the other agencies to whom the serious violence duty applies, working together to prevent and reduce domestic abuse and sexual violence in their area. Therefore, I agree with the aim of my noble friend’s amendment and will work with her ahead of Report to agree how we might best reflect this.
Amendments 57 and 58 would require violence to be defined as serious in a local area should it result either in injury requiring emergency hospital treatment or in harm constituting grievous bodily harm. I agree that such consequences are clear indicators of the seriousness of the violence in question, but we want to consider further any implications of adding such specific language to the definition of serious violence in the Bill.
The Bill already specifies certain factors that specified authorities must consider when determining what constitutes serious violence for their local area: the maximum penalty that could be imposed for any offence involved in the violence; the impact of the violence on any victim; the prevalence of the violence in the area; and the impact of the violence on the community in the area. We expect the specified authorities to use the evidence gathered from their strategic needs assessment to answer these questions and set the priority areas for their local strategies accordingly. We think that current drafting ensures that specified authorities consider the most harmful types of violence, including those resulting in acute physical injury, as part of their local strategies. However, we recognise the need to further consider the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe.
Finally, Amendments 57A and 59A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raise another important issue. It is true that serious violence is often not contained by local borders and, owing to electronic communication, perpetrators of violence are able to have an extended impact in areas far across the country and beyond. We fully recognise this, and it is why Clause 8 permits specified and relevant authorities to work across local government boundaries with other authorities and, in doing so, to collaborate on strategies that cover areas greater than those where they primarily provide services. This could include collaboration with authorities in neighbouring areas or further afield. We have also included advice within the draft statutory guidance to this effect. For this reason, we do not think these amendments are necessary.
The Government have been clear that internet companies must go further and faster to tackle illegal content online. It is already an offence to incite, assist or encourage violence online, and we will continue to work with the police to support proactive action against and to address illegal material posted and offences perpetrated online.
In conclusion, I assure noble Lords that I will reflect very carefully on this debate and, in particular, on the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I will continue to work with them to find an agreed way forward ahead of the next stage. On that basis, I hope my noble friend will withdraw her amendment, on the clear understanding that we will return to these issues on Report.
My Lords, first, I thank everyone for their powerful collection of persuasive speeches supporting the amendment in my name, for which I am hugely grateful. The House is at its best when it comes together on an issue that bridges the political divide and about which we all feel strongly. I am grateful to noble Lords for that. I thank the Minister for her support and what she just said in response, in particular to my amendment. She always gives a huge amount of time and she is such a diligent Minister. The Government are lucky to have her. I think I speak for the whole Committee when I say that she works incredibly hard and cares so much. I am grateful and I thank her.
I consider myself lobbied by my noble friend Lady Newlove, the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Royall—who is of course absent—and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. My noble friend knows that I agree with every word she said on stalking. I cannot promise that I will change the amendment, but I promise that I will go to bat and lobby as hard as possible, because there is a huge problem here. Some 1.5 million people are being stalked a year, and less than 2,000 people are ever brought to justice. There is a massive problem here and, for too long, it has not been taken seriously enough. I want to work more on that, and I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for saying that she will look at these amendments and that we can discuss this further before Report.
It is very difficult for me to respond to amendments that are not in my name, and I will probably not do justice to them, but I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for laying his amendments—he had hugely persuasive arguments—and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for the amount of work she does on these issues. She is absolutely right that social media companies need to be kept in check. I could not disagree with the points that she made.
That is where I will leave it, but I am grateful and look forward to Report. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 55 withdrawn.
Amendments 56 to 58 not moved.
Clause 12 agreed.
Clause 13: Involvement of local policing bodies