Moved by Lord Falconer of Thoroton
284: After Clause 170, insert the following new Clause—“Harassment in a public place(1) A person must not engage in any conduct in a public place— (a) which amounts to harassment of another, and(b) which he or she knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other.(2) For the purposes of this section, the person whose conduct is in question ought to know that it amounts to harassment of another if a reasonable person would think the conduct amounted to harassment of the other.(3) For the purposes of this section—“conduct” includes speech;“harassment” of a person includes causing the person alarm or distress.(4) Subsection (1) does not apply to conduct if the person can show—(a) that it was for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime,(b) that it was under any enactment or rule of law or to comply with any condition or requirement imposed by any person under any enactment, or(c) that in the particular circumstances it was reasonable.(5) A person who engages in any conduct in breach of subsection (1) is guilty of an offence.(6) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or both.”Member’s explanatory statementThis would create a specific offence of street harassment.
These important amendments deal with the attempts to make this Bill a reset as far as violence against women and girls is concerned. They create a number of new offences and indicate that there should be reviews in certain areas in relation to harassment and other related things. I will go through each one in turn.
Amendment 284, in my name, would create a specific offence of street harassment. It is not limited to sexual harassment because the experience of men and women on the street is not restricted to sexual harassment. In July 2021, the Home Secretary indicated that she was thinking of introducing a crime of sexual harassment. There are a whole range of studies about the effect, particularly on women, of harassment in the street. A United Nations study, not restricted to the United Kingdom, said that 70% of women had been affected by street harassment, 4% said that it was worth complaining about it and 45% said that it was not. The sort of harassment that one has in mind in relation to this offence is wolf-whistling, people being called out to, people being the victim of people treating them with a total lack of respect in a way that might cause alarm or distress. As I say, it is not restricted to women; other groups are affected as well. Members of the LGBTQ community speak of harassment that they suffer in particular places. It would be wrong to restrict the terms of this offence to a particular type of harassment or a particular group of people, but this proposed new clause makes it an offence to subject somebody to what a reasonable person would regard as harassment, and harassment includes causing that person alarm or distress.
I very much hope that the Government will take up the opportunity that the Home Secretary herself indicated was worth taking up. That would indicate that the sorts of behaviour that in many cases occur throughout the length and breadth of the country would no longer be acceptable, and if people behave better and do not commit acts of harassment, that will have an affect right up the scale. In terms of the drafting, the proposed new clause sets it out very clearly, but we are open to any suggestions about how it may be drafted better.
Amendment 285 makes it an offence to kerb-crawl. We define it as
“an offence for a person, from a motor vehicle while it is in a street or public place … to engage in conduct which amounts to harassment in such manner or in such circumstances as to be likely to cause annoyance, alarm, distress or nuisance to any other person.”
That seeks to deal with people in their cars winding down their windows and shouting, barracking and making life difficult, often with a sexual undertone or more than an undertone. Again, that should be a crime, and something that we very much hope that the Government will treat as a serious matter. We hope that they will take up the suggestion that has been made. Again, if there are better ways of drafting it, we are more than open to hearing them, but Amendment 285 provides the basis for such a crime.
Amendments 292A and 292B are about sex for rent, which should be a crime. This is where an individual offers accommodation at a reduced cost or free in exchange for sex. This arrangement can be either at the beginning of a tenancy or enforced during a tenancy, often when tenants are experiencing difficulties in finding somewhere to live or in paying the rent. Sex for rent arrangements force people, especially women, into the most vulnerable of situations, often in enclosed private spaces to which a perpetrator has constant and unrestricted access. This has been a matter of campaign for a considerable period, particularly from groups such as Generation Rent. Politicians from all parties have picked it up and investigative journalists have too.
This Bill provides an opportunity to do something about it. A 2016 Shelter survey found that 8% of women had been offered a sex-for-rent arrangement at some point in their lives. In 2018, YouGov and Shelter estimated that 250,000 women had been asked for sexual favours by their landlords in exchange for free or discounted accommodation at some point between 2013 and 2018. More recent research by Shelter, which regards this as a serious issue, suggested that 30,000 women in the United Kingdom were propositioned with such arrangements between the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and January 2021. It is not difficult to imagine that the question of how one affords accommodation became more and more difficult for certain people during the pandemic.
An investigation by the Daily Mail published on
As I have already indicated, the pandemic has made women more economically unstable and therefore more vulnerable to sex-for-rent crimes. One in four women in the UK saw a drop in her income last year due to the pandemic, according to research from Fidelity International. Mothers were especially hard hit by the drop in income and were 47% more likely to lose their job than fathers, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Mothers were also more likely to be furloughed and to have their hours cut back by 50% or more. This means that as a result of the pandemic women are now facing even greater instability in an already insecure market.
Sex for rent should be an offence. Under the current legislation an individual can be prosecuted for such a crime only under Section 52 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 for causing or inciting prostitution for gain. Only one person has ever been charged in a sex-for-rent case, as recently as January this year. It is wholly wrong that, in order for it to be prosecuted, the victim has to be characterised as being engaged in prostitution. The law has made it extremely difficult for victims in sex-for-rent cases to seek justice. As I have indicated, the form of the current offence is wholly inappropriate to make it an offence.
This Bill gives us a chance to take action in relation to this matter. I very much hope that the Government will take this up. If they have a better suggestion about the drafting, we are willing to listen, but the thing to do in a Bill such as this, because these opportunities do not come along very often, is to do something about it. Here is an opportunity. This House will co-operate and there will not be opposition from people to this amendment, so I very much hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, will be able to give a favourable answer in relation to this.
Amendment 292B is contingent on Amendment 292A. It creates an offence of arranging or facilitating an offence of requiring or accepting sexual relations as a condition of accommodation. This is intended to capture, for example, publishers or hosts of advertisements for such arrangements. The penalty for this facilitation offence would be a fine of up to £50,000.
Next, Amendment 292M calls for a review of the offence of exposure, under Section 66 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, to be set up within a very short period after this Act is passed. A review under this section must consider, among other things: the incidence of it; the adequacy of the sentencing guidelines; charging rates and prosecution rates; the adequacy of police investigations into reports of exposure; what sorts of sentences are effective; what the reoffending rates are; and, crucially, whether people who commit the offence of exposure go on to commit more serious offences. Everybody in this Chamber will have in mind that the killer of Miss Everard had committed two offences of exposure prior to the offence that has caused so much public distress. We want the Government to look into whether or not the offence of exposure has been properly treated.
Amendment 292R calls for a review in relation to the prevalence of, and the response of the criminal justice system to, the offence of administering a substance with intent, under Section 61 of the Sexual Offences Act. Again, this is to look into the question of spiking. Is spiking becoming a prevalent offence? If it is, what should we be doing about it? It is something that needs to be looked into.
Finally, Amendment 292T proposes that where somebody, A, kills another person, B, in the course of, or with the motive of, sexual gratification, if A intended the action that led to the death of B, that should be an offence that has a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. This is to ensure that the “rough sex” defence cannot be deployed. It means that where that does happen there is an offence, punishable up to life, available to the prosecutors to prosecute and for the jury to find the person guilty of. I would be very interested to hear the Government’s reaction to that. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendment 284 for all the reasons that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has explained. However, I respectfully suggest to him that there is a slight mismatch between that amendment and Amendment 285. Amendment 284 is so broadly defined, for the reasons that have been very well expressed, that it would include the conduct that is described in Amendment 285. Indeed, if we look at the wording of Amendment 285, harassment is an essential element of that offence.
I raise the point because there is a difference between the penalties. The value of the kerb-crawling clause is that it introduces a possibility of disqualification, and I see the force of that, but the fine is only level 3, whereas the fine in Amendment 284 is level 5. If I was a prosecutor, having to decide which charge to bring, I would probably go for the offence in Amendment 284 and forget about the disqualification. I wonder whether, if the noble and learned Lord is thinking of bringing the matter back, he might try to amalgamate these two and perhaps put a subsection into Amendment 284 to cover the situation that if the harassment offence is conducted from a motorcar, in the way broadly described in Amendment 285, it would attract the additional penalty of disqualification. It would then be brought into Amendment 284’s sanctions, which are imprisonment, which might well be appropriate in a kerb-crawling offence, and also the level 5 fine. That is a refinement of drafting, but I am very much in favour of Amendment 284 as it stands, particularly in view of the broad way in which it is expressed.
My Lords, I offer Green support for all these amendments. Some of my questions have just been answered by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and his suggestion that some of the amendments be combined is positive, because retaining the opportunity to take away the right to a vehicle in an offence involving a vehicle is very useful.
I am aware of the time and the pressure to make progress, but it is a great pity that we are discussing such an important group of amendments, all put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, so late at night and in this rather rushed way. I will just draw some comparisons and links between them.
One thing to highlight is how much these amendments come from community campaigning from the grass roots up. I imagine that the campaign for the offence of harassment draws, in large part, from the group called Our Streets Now, set up by sisters Gemma and Maya Tutton, aged 16 and 22, who are working with the charity Plan International UK. Their hashtag is #CrimeNotCompliment. I suspect that the noble and learned Lord might have drawn on their ready-made Bill and I note that this has had strong cross-party support in the other place. I draw on the words of the women’s rights campaigner Nimco Ali, who said it is “bizarre” that street sexual harassment is still legal. Littering and smoking are banned, but this kind of behaviour is not.
On Amendment 285, I briefly highlight that Generation Rent, another grass-roots campaign group, has been pushing for action here. A report by Shelter in January found that, between March and September 2020, around 30,000 women had been offered housing in exchange for sex. This is a function of the extreme dysfunction of our current housing system.
I have to address Amendment 292M personally because, as I suspect is the case for many people, particularly women, it is something I have personally experienced. I was 11 years old in another country, out in the centre of Sydney on my own, when I was subjected to this offence. I was taught, as lots of young girls were then and probably still are now, to laugh, turn around and walk away. But that I can still vividly remember that street scene shows that it had an impact on me. When I look back now, I felt as an 11 year-old that this was a threat to my right to be on the streets. I did not tell my mother, because I was worried that she would think I should not be allowed out on my own to exercise the freedom that I wanted and continued to exercise. It is crucial that we see a change in attitude here and a review is a good way to address that.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has covered Amendment 292T very well, but we must note that Femicide Census, campaigning on this and broader issues, reports no sign of a reduction in the rate of femicide. That study covered a 10-year span from 2009 to 2018. We are not making progress on this, but we need to. I hope the Government will go away and look at this important group of amendments very seriously, and come back to us with proposals covering—I like to be an optimist—all of them.
My Lords, spiking is a serious matter and people who do it should be caught and punished, but I issue a note of caution, because I am slightly worried about Amendment 292R, put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I am worried it might be too reactive and respond to the perception that this is a major problem, rather than a cool factual analysis. Calling for an urgent review could unintentionally fuel what might be a moral panic and create a climate of fear.
To give some context, despite the headlines and social media hysteria, some careful commentators and a range of experts have raised doubts, queried some of the sensationalist coverage and warned against overreacting. There was a useful article in Vice that started the debunking, which quoted Guy Jones, a senior scientist at the drugs charity The Loop, who pointed out that
“few drugs would be able to be injected like this”, using a needle. Administering drugs in this way is just not an easy task. Some experts have explained that it would be particularly difficult to use date-rape drugs, because of the larger needle that would be needed and that it would need to be in the body for at least 20 seconds.
The director of the Global Drug Survey, Adam Winstock, notes:
“There are very few widely accessible drugs” that could be used in this way and given intramuscularly in small enough volumes that people would not notice. A critical care nurse I saw interviewed suggested that the likelihood of administering drugs like ketamine was virtually zero. After a high-profile report about somebody being infected by HIV, the National AIDS Trust pointed out:
“Getting HIV from a needle injury is extremely rare. A diagnosis takes weeks.”
So it is worth pausing.
It is true that, although the police have accumulated lots of reports, there are very few instances where there are injuries that would be consistent with a needle. Yet, despite these contradictions, the lack of evidence and some doubts about the feasibility of injection spiking, all sorts of institutions, such as universities and political organisations, have accepted these stories at face value and ended up sending out scare messages themselves. When a story goes viral on social media, students find themselves deluged with official email warnings about unacceptable, reprehensible and life-threatening practices if they go out for the night to a nightclub. I am concerned that those in positions of authority risk frightening young women and demonising the same generation of young men with no evidence of a wide-scale problem.
At the moment, a petition that has been officially sanctioned by all sorts of people is going round saying that nightclubs should be legally required to search guests thoroughly. That is no small matter. It is worrying how many people are so fearful that they would endorse full body searches for a night out. I note that students at the University of Bristol have set up a group called “Girls Night In”, which urges young women to stay indoors until clubs change their ways. In other words, fear can be a serious barrier to women’s freedom. I want to avoid ratcheting up threats and undermining women’s confidence about participating in public life fully. As legislators, we need to encourage a sense of perspective and at least consider that anything we do does not fuel what might be a moral panic. I know that the review would look at facts, but the fact of having an urgent review might actually make things worse.
I have a particular query for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, on Amendment 284, which stresses that “‘conduct’ includes speech”. Obviously, as somebody who is always concerned about free speech, how does he envisage people not ultimately being criminalised and penalised for things they say? How does he balance that with the need to protect people’s freedom of speech?
My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendments 292A and 292B. In doing so, I declare my interest as director of Generation Rent.
In my view, men advertising free rent for sex are not landlords, they are predators; they prey on vulnerable women and men with limited financial options. The fact that they use Covid as a marketing technique is abhorrent. They do not provide, or even attempt to provide, a safe, secure home; they deliberately take advantage of people. Although the law and CPS guidance in this area were updated a few years ago, they are still flawed and inadequate. Action against these predators needs to be enforced, investigated and prosecuted. The web platforms such as Craigslist, which is reportedly worth £7.5 billion, that facilitate this exploitation need to have action taken against them. They host these ads, yet they are ignored by law enforcement. Some of these predators may not be aware that they are breaking the law; however, I am sure that many are laughing at the law. They post their ads, which are open and explicit, and their criminal actions pass by unhindered because they know that they can post these ads without consequence.
Despite it being a criminal offence, as my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton said, there has only ever been one charge for sex for rent. That was in January this year, and it was because of the good work of journalists who passed their evidence to the police. Thanks to that and an investigation by ITV researchers in 2009, this then resulted in further criminal inquiries.
Of course, as director of Generation Rent, I would say that dealing with the criminal justice aspects of this issue is only one side of the problem. Hand in hand with these criminal justice changes there needs to be action to address the insecure housing situation and financial vulnerabilities of thousands of people in this country. We need a dramatic increase in social housing. It was reported last week that fewer than 6,000 social homes were built last year. We need more interventions to support renters in arrears. Rent arrears have tripled during the pandemic, and more renters than ever are now on universal credit. We need a proper and permanent end to private renters being able to be evicted for no reason with just two months’ notice. Hundreds of thousands of people are financially vulnerable and live at risk of homelessness and exploitation.
No one should ever be forced by coercion or circumstance to exchange sex for a home. The law needs to better protect renters from these predators, who seek to exploit them in return for a roof over their head. I very much support the amendments tabled by my noble friend and look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I entirely support the motivation behind all the amendments in the group, comprehensively spoken to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I am, however, hesitant about the detail of the new offences proposed, and that goes further than the drafting—I fully accept that the noble and learned Lord suggested that there could be changes to the drafting. All five of the new offences have problems of breadth. That prevents me giving unqualified support to creating these new offences without considerable further research being undertaken.
I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, that there is some danger to having a review of the spiking offence, but, in general, as distinct from the specific new offences, I am entirely unqualified in my support for the two amendments calling for urgent reviews of the law on exposure and on spiking. We need to consider carefully how the law in these two areas is working, the extent to which it needs reform and exactly what reform is needed. The review mechanism proposed in the amendments is comprehensive and sensible, and the amendments have the potential, if accepted, to lead to measured and evidence-based reform which will work well. It is that type of reform that we should all want.
The amendments creating each of the five new offences in this group respond to entirely justifiable views that something must be done, but I am not sure that the conditions on which criminal liability is imposed have been sufficiently reviewed and considered. The response I would like to see in each case from the Government is a promise to consider the new offences carefully and, with expert help, to see whether they can come up with offences that would be clearly defined, thoroughly drafted and delineated, and limited to behaviour that should properly be criminal, with all the pitfalls considered.
I fully agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, that we have suffered in this Bill from trying to do everything in a rush. These amendments, while well intentioned and in the right spirit, fall into that danger.
We could take the creation of the new offence of non-fatal strangulation in the Domestic Abuse Act as a useful template. The proceedings on that provision in that Act also proved that there does not need to be undue delay in ensuring that a well-drafted provision reaches the statute book. Indeed, it might be possible to include new offences in all these areas, if only the Government would give a sensible allocation of more time for their consideration.
Perhaps I may give several examples of my concerns—they include those expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, but go further. On street harassment, in Amendment 284, I am concerned about the breadth of the proposed offence. The noble and learned Lord saw it as a virtue that it was not confined to sexual harassment. I do not agree with that, because “harassment” as defined is so broad that it criminalises behaviour that many people would not believe ought to be criminal.
I am also concerned about the use of the words “ought to know” in the context of harassment. When a defendant does not know that conduct amounts to harassment but is charged on the basis that he ought to have known it, is that properly a criminal offence? These are not drafting points; they reflect a concern about criminalising behaviour with a particular target—generally sexual harassment, as has been said—while included in the target are far more offenders than could properly have been envisaged.
On kerb-crawling, I am concerned that the definition in subsection (1) of the proposed new clause in Amendment 285 is far wider than anything that would normally be understood as kerb-crawling, which usually has to do with soliciting prostitution. This would cover any conduct amounting to harassment, after getting out of the vehicle, that is
“likely to cause annoyance, alarm, distress or nuisance”.
It seems to me that any incident of road rage could therefore be covered. The proposed offence is completely two-sided. The suggested penalty is revocation of a licence, or a fine. Why revocation of a licence? Incidents of road rage may be two-way—there may be blame on both sides. Why not a shorter ban, if the removal of a licence is indeed appropriate?
Amendment 292A concerns the offence of sex for rent and Amendment 292B concerns facilitating it. These amendments are directed at unscrupulous landlords and owners or providers of accommodation. Appalling behaviour, such as that outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, would be covered by the proposed offence, but is that behaviour all that the proposed offence would cover? The definition includes the words “requiring or accepting” sexual relations. Is the provider of the accommodation always the only guilty party? Should such behaviour always be criminal? What about the landlady of the bed and breakfast who seduces the potential paying guest and offers him or her a free room in return? Is that always to be criminal? Even if it is, is that offence always triable on indictment only? Is that proportionate? I suggest not—it needs further thought. The business of sex for rent is disgraceful, in exactly the way expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, but we need to be very careful about what we introduce in response to the outrage that is felt as a result.
On Amendment 292T and sexually motivated homicide, of course one understands the motivation behind creating that new offence, but my concern is that, as drafted, the offence would criminalise behaviour where the perpetrator intended no harm at all to the person who died. It covers a person who kills another
“in the course of … sexual gratification” and intends the act—in other words, has the intention to do whatever sexual act it is that led to the death of the person who dies. Would this not cover consensual acts desired or intended by both parties which, whether by accident or misfortune, led to the death of one of them? The noble and learned Lord said that this was there to outlaw the defence of rough sex. I understand that it is there for that purpose, but people have sex that gives them heart attacks—that is an extreme and, in a sense, absurd example, but there are a lot of sexual acts that lead to harm. You cannot criminalise them all just to deal with the defence of rough sex. Some of those acts would be unintentional and innocent.
My point is not to resist any change in the criminal law; it is simply to point out how careful we need to be in passing new legislation before we introduce new rafts of offences that go far too wide. That would be a restriction on freedom, not an improvement in the freedom of the citizen from new offences. I hope that the Government will respond to these amendments in a positive way, but with great care and in the spirit of compromise between the need for care and the need to criminalise behaviour that truly ought to be criminal.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for setting out these amendments, which call for new offences to tackle street harassment and so-called sex for rent, propose a review of the offences of exposure and administering a substance with intent, and seek to address cases which involve the so-called rough sex defence.
On Amendments 284 and 285, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, no one can doubt the gravity of the issue these amendments seek to address. Like the Committee, the House and the whole country, I was very shocked by the tragic events of September; first, Sabina Nessa and then the revelations about how the murderer of Sarah Everard had abused his position as a police officer to commit his awful crimes. While these are the most serious violent crimes which can happen to women, they form just one part of what Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary referred to in its recent report as an epidemic of violence against women and girls.
What is so striking is how these crimes have galvanised so many women and girls across the country to talk about their experiences and their suffering. To many of us—although not, of course, to those who experience it—the sheer scale of the problem has been shocking. Many of the more than 180,000 responses which we received to the call for evidence on the Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls strategy addressed this issue, as did the report published by Plan International UK in September. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics in August about perceptions of personal safety and experiences of harassment were equally shocking. For example, two out of three women aged between 16 and 34 had experienced one form of harassment in the previous 12 months. Thankfully, those experiences are not of the same level of gravity as what happened to the women who I have just spoken about, but they are still deeply traumatic to their victims.
I assure noble Lords that tackling violence against women and girls is a huge priority for this Government. We published our new Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls strategy in July. As the Home Secretary wrote in her foreword, violence against women and girls is not inevitable, and
“This Strategy will help bring about real and lasting change.”
On the issue of sexual harassment in public places, it sets out a number of commitments. A national communications campaign will challenge this kind of behaviour and ensure victims know how and where to report it. To ensure police are confident about how to respond to public sexual harassment, the College of Policing will provide new guidance for officers; this work is already well advanced. To prevent the behaviour happening in the first place, we will work to deepen our understanding of who commits these crimes, why they do it and how this behaviour may escalate, including through our new funding on what works to tackle violence against women and girls.
The strategy confirmed that we will pilot a tool, StreetSafe, which will enable the public to anonymously report areas where they feel unsafe and identify what it was about the location that made them feel that way, so that police can use that information to improve community safety. The pilot launched in August. The strategy also confirmed that the Government are investing a further £25 million in the safer streets fund to enable local areas to put in place innovative crime prevention measures to ensure that women and girls feel safe in public spaces. The successful bids were announced in October. The strategy also confirmed that the Home Office would launch a £5 million safety of women at night fund focused on the prevention of violence against women and girls in public spaces at night. The successful bids were announced on
However, there is rightly considerable interest in the legal position, including whether there should be a new law specifically targeted at this type of behaviour. I pay tribute to parliamentarians in both Houses for their campaigning on this issue and to the organisations Plan International UK and Our Streets Now—the latter, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, said, set up by two sisters out of a determination that other women and girls should not suffer sexual harassment as they had.
As noble Lords will know from the tackling VAWG strategy, while there is not a specific offence of street harassment, there are a number of offences in place that capture that behaviour—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Marks, who talked about behaviours—depending on the specific circumstances, including offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Public Order Act 1986 and the Sexual Offences Act 2003. However, we are looking carefully at where there might be gaps in existing law and how a specific offence of public sexual harassment could address those. That work continues and is being informed by the results of the call for evidence and by our direct engagement with campaigners on this issue. We have not yet reached a position on it and I cannot commit to have done so ahead of Report; as the strategy notes, this is a complex area and it is important that we take time to ensure that any potential legislation is necessary, proportionate and reasonably defined.
On Amendments 292A and 292B, we can all agree that so-called sex for rent is an exploitative and abhorrent phenomenon that has no place in our society. That said, there are existing offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 that might be used to prosecute the practice, including the Section 52 offence of causing or inciting prostitution for gain and the Section 53 offence of controlling prostitution for gain. Both offences carry a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment and can capture instances of “sex for rent”, dependent on the circumstances of the individual case. The Section 52 offence would apply when the identified victim had been caused or incited to engage in prostitution. In addition, the online safety Bill will also place duties on sites that host user-generated content, such as social media companies, to protect their users from illegal content. This would include posts that are committing the offence of inciting—
I apologise for interrupting, but is it right that those existing sexual offences all require the victims in “sex for rent” cases to be characterised as engaging in prostitution?
I was going to get on to that, because I had noted the noble and learned Lord’s point. There are two answers. The first is that anyone who makes the report to the police will benefit from the anonymity provisions in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. The second is that the Section 52 offence applies when an identified victim has been caused to engage in prostitution or incited to do so, whether or not the prostitution takes place. In other words, a victim does not have to identify as a prostitute for the Sections 52 and 53 offences to be used. I hope that partly answers his question, although he does not look entirely convinced.
How can the Minister tell when I am wearing my mask?
I can see the noble and learned Lord’s eyebrows.
In 2019, the Crown Prosecution Service amended its guidance Prostitution and Exploitation of Prostitution to include specific reference to the potential availability of charges under the Sections 52 and 53 offences where there is evidence to support the existence of “sex for rent” arrangements, and—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, pointed out—in January this year the CPS authorised the first charge for “sex for rent” allegations under Section 52.
I do not disagree that it is only now being prosecuted. The point is that it is being prosecuted, and that is what I was trying to get over. The defendant in that case has pleaded guilty to two counts of inciting prostitution for gain, but as there is due to be a trial on an unrelated matter, it is probably not wise for me to comment further on this.
The noble Baroness talked about landlords. It is imperative that we ensure that landlords are not able to use their status and exploit any legal grey areas that could abuse their tenants or any other vulnerable people in society. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, also cited a number of examples. Local authorities and police forces are aware of these issues, and they will ensure that those convicted of these offences are banned from engaging in managing or letting residential accommodation.
Amendments 292M and 292R would require the Secretary of State to review the operation of two offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003: namely, those of “exposure” and “administering a substance with intent”. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has explained, both amendments are in response to recent events. I appreciate the issues that the noble and learned Lord has raised, but I do not think that it is a requirement to put into primary legislation. I am sure he will remember from his tenure as Secretary of State for Justice that the Ministry of Justice, together with the Home Office, keeps the operation of the criminal law under review, and if there are problems they will act where necessary.
I am not sure whether it was the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, or the noble Lord, Lord Marks, who pointed out that we need to make legislation following full investigation of the facts and the consequences of making new laws, but we will continue to review the law in these areas and to ensure that it is up to date and fully equipped to protect victims of exposure and, indeed, spiking.
In relation to exposure and the police response to allegations in respect of Sarah Everard’s killer, the Committee will be aware that the first part of the inquiry announced by the Home Secretary will examine the killer’s previous behaviour and will establish a comprehensive account of his conduct leading up to his conviction, as well as any opportunities missed. We will, of course, want to learn any lessons arising from this and other aspects of the inquiry.
The recent reports of spiking—adding substances to drinks and injecting victims with needles—are concerning, and I have every sympathy with victims and anyone who might feel unable to go out and enjoy a night out for fear that they might be targeted. Any spiking constitutes criminal conduct, and the necessary offences are on the statute book. As with any crime, it falls to the police to investigate and ensure that those responsible are dealt with in accordance with the law.
The police are, of course, operationally independent, and it would not be right for me to comment on specific instances and allegations at this time when there are ongoing investigations, but they are taking it very seriously and working at pace to gather intelligence and identify perpetrators. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has already asked the National Police Chiefs’ Council to urgently review the extent and scale of the issue and is receiving regular updates from the police, as has been widely reported. This is being done using resources at local, regional and national level, including the National Crime Agency.
Finally, turning to Amendment 292T, we return to the issue of the so-called rough sex defence. Noble Lords will remember the extensive debates on this topic during the passage of the now Domestic Abuse Act 2021. In that Act, the Government responded to concerns from the public and from across the House that defendants, invariably men, argued that the death of a person, invariably a woman, was caused by “rough sex gone wrong”.
In the Domestic Abuse Act, we did two things. First, we created a new offence of non-fatal strangulation, which makes it easier for the police and the CPS to secure convictions for strangulation. Secondly, we reinforced the principle, set out in the case of R v Brown, that a person cannot consent to activity that results in serious harm or their death. We have therefore made clear in statute, in Section 71 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, that it is not a defence to claim that a person consented to activity that led to their death or serious harm.
I understand that concerns still exist about this issue, not least because of the recent and tragic death of Sophie Moss. We offer our sincere condolences to her family at what must be a dreadful time. I do not want to comment specifically on the charging decisions or sentence imposed in that case. I think it is clear that my right honourable friend the Attorney-General sought a review of that sentence as unduly lenient. We were disappointed by the decision of the Court of Appeal, but we of course respect the findings that it made.
I fully understand the context and the thinking behind this amendment. We do not disagree with the concern, but we have to realise what this amendment would actually do, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, pointed this out: it would create a new offence that carries a life sentence where a person kills another person in the course of sexual gratification and intends the action that led to the victim’s death.
It is worth comparing that to the tests for murder and manslaughter. For murder, we need an intent to kill or to cause grievous bodily harm. For manslaughter, we need an intent to carry out an unlawful act that leads to the death. This new offence would require an intent to do only the act that leads to the death. As the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said, that means that an intention to do any act, lawful or unlawful, would be sufficient to be convicted of this offence and face a life sentence. In other words, this offence would cover a genuine accident caused by a lawful act.
I do not think it is necessary for me to go into great detail about the other issues with this approach, but we are concerned that such a significant change in the law needs to be extremely carefully considered. We need to get the balance right between those who act with malice or are reckless as to the welfare of their sexual partners, and those who engage in genuine, consensual and lawful activities without any malicious intent. I know that the noble and learned Lord will appreciate that this amendment requires further and in-depth consideration.
We also need to look at the wider issues surrounding these cases—for example, the emerging evidence of the limited pressure required to cause serious injury and therefore the test of whether someone intended at least GBH if they engage in strangulation. We do and will keep the law on this important issue under review. We consider very carefully the implications of court decisions and whether further legislative and non-legislative measures need to be considered.
In conclusion, we agree with the sentiments behind these amendments. We need to ensure that the criminal justice system, and indeed wider society, responds effectively to these offences, but it is important that we create new offences only where there is a clear need to do so. As I said, we continue to explore whether further legislation is needed to tackle street harassment, and we continue to keep the law as it applies to so-called “sex for rent”, exposure, spiking and the so-called “rough sex defence” under review. On this basis, I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, would be happy to withdraw his amendment.
I am very much obliged to everybody who has taken part in this incredibly important debate. It is terribly unfortunate that this debate is happening at this particular time—I am very glad to see the Minister nodding. This is incredibly unfortunate when we are talking about violence against women and girls, which is the big issue in relation to this Bill. This is no attack on the Whips, but they asked prior to the dinner break that we get on as quickly as possible. It is an incredibly unfortunate way for this House to look at legislation such as this.
I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for his support for Amendment 284, which concerns street harassment. I take note of what he said in relation to Amendment 285 and the difference between the penalties. He was suggesting that there might be a way to amalgamate the two. That suggestion seems to be very well made, and I hope that when we come back with this on Report, we might try to follow it up. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for her support in relation to all of the amendments.
I take note of what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, said in respect of the review on spiking. One is in a bit of a dilemma: there is already some degree of anxiety in relation to spiking. I think that what she was saying was, “Do not have an immediate review because that increases the anxiety,” but if you do nothing about it, the anxiety continues. My own judgment would be that one should have the review.
Separately, the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, asked whether one should be worried if one is criminalising through harassment conduct including speech. I do not think that that criminalises free speech, because the sorts of speech that we would intend to criminalise under the harassment crime would be cajoling, offensive behaviour—not expressing an opinion but insulting people or demanding sex or other things of people in a wholly inappropriate way. I do not think that would give rise to the risk of an attack on free speech.
I suppose it is following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Marks, pointed out, about the broadness of that amendment. Since 2016, I have been subjected to a “fair amount of verbal”, as they say, walking around the Westminster village, from people who did not approve of my Brexit views. It was not pleasant: it was not sexual, but it was particularly obnoxious and offensive; but I do not know whether that should be against the law. I might have a moral view of it, but I would not want them all to be arrested. I am saying that, while verbal harassment is unpleasant, there is a question as to whether it should be made criminal. I just do not want everyone being locked up for things they say, even if what they say causes distress.
I completely take the noble Baroness’s point. The law has been very, very aware of that. There is a difference between people saying to you on the street, “I very much disagree with your views on Brexit” and others saying, “Why are you such a stupid, awful” and then a series of expletives, and chasing you down the street, just abusing you. The law is capable of making distinction.
Then there might be a point where that becomes harassment.
I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, to be terrible. He sounded like a Government Minister in relation to this, thinking of excuses why not to do something about harassment, not just against women—against other people as well—but particularly against women. I was very struck by the fact that the Minister at least acknowledged that there is a real problem in relation to this. Her speech accepted that something had to be done about it, which that of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, did not.
There was a difference between the view of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, which was broadly to accept the proposals that I am making in Amendment 284, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, who raised two particular points in relation to street harassment. One was about the breadth of the offence, which is not limited to sexual matters. I do not think it should be limited to sexual matters. If somebody who is disabled is chased down the street by a group of people taunting them for being disabled, that should be harassment. The second point the noble Lord was worrying about was “ought to know”. The sort of conduct that we are seeking to criminalise here is where people behave in a way that is wholly unacceptable. If you say, “I did not know that it was criminal to wolf-whistle and chase somebody down the street,” the fact that you did not know that should not be any defence. Those were the only two points he made in relation to it.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way and I am sorry that he found my speech terrible. I think he missed the point. I am not suggesting that there should be no criminalisation of the sexual offences. It may well be that the behaviour about disability that he mentions is already criminal. The point I am making is that you have to be very careful to delineate offences so that they are criminalising only conduct that ought to be criminal.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, with whom I do not always agree, made the distinction very well. In my understanding of the Minister’s speech, she and I were on exactly the same page. We both believe that violence against women and girls has to be treated extremely seriously. We both believe—and if I sound like a Government Minister, the noble and learned Lord knows that I am not and never have been one—that the Government have a responsibility to ensure that the ambit of the criminal law is kept within the ambit of the law that people can trust and have confidence in. They cannot do that if you randomly criminalise behaviour that ought to be without the criminal law.
I do not know where to start in relation to that intervention. I agree with the noble Lord that we need a clear delineation. We need to come forward with something. We have come forward with something that, interestingly enough, the former Lord President of the Court of Session in Scotland found completely acceptable but the noble Lord, Lord Marks, does not, for the two reasons that he has given that seem to me to be ill founded. We need to make progress in relation to it. We are not going to have an opportunity to do it. What I take the noble Lord, Lord Marks, as saying is that he will co-operate with us in trying to delineate an offence for the purposes of this Bill because something needs to be done now.
The noble and learned Lord invites a response. I can certainly say that we will co-operate with that and I completely agree with him that the degree to which we are forced to rush this legislation inhibits progress on the kinds of proposals he is making. The difficulty is that one has to look at these offences in detail.
The noble and learned Lord suggested—rather unfairly, I think—that the two points I made against the street harassment offence he was particularly concerned with were the only two points I had. I made it absolutely clear in my speech that these were just examples. I agree with the Minister that you have to look very carefully at the whole area of new offences. That is why the reviews are important in relation to the spiking and exposure offences. You simply cannot legislate in a hurry to create new offences, as his amendment seeks to do.
I have no idea whether that was a yes or a no to my question. I assume the two points the noble Lord made were his two best points and the other two were no better than that, so I do not know where the Liberal Democrats stand in relation to that now.
In relation to the sex-for-rent offence, various points were made about whether the case of the landlady who seduces the male tenant and then does not charge rent should be an offence. I am more than happy to work out whether there should be certain defences available. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, made clear, it is something that urgently needs criminalisation—and criminalisation that does not require the victim to be either characterised as engaged in prostitution or incited to commit prostitution. The implication of the law, even if it gives the victim anonymity, is that by succumbing to the sex-for-rent proposal the person is forced to become engaged in prostitution. That is not the way the law should be. There should just be a straightforward criminalisation of it.
Of course, I am sure that the offence can be made better in terms of its drafting but it is a drafting issue, not an issue of substance between us. If we do not do it in this Bill, when will we do it? The point that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, makes is almost unanswerable: there has been one prosecution. I could not work out whether there is maybe another one coming, from what she said. That would make it two, over years, and it is wholly unacceptable that that is the position.
In relation to the two reviews, of spiking and exposure, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said that the Government keep all the criminal law under review. Honestly, from my experience, they do not. The criminal law is not kept constantly under review. The things that the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice look at are the things that require urgent attention. The things that require the most urgent attention are those requiring a review as a result of a statute, and that is why we propose a review based on a statutory requirement to do it.
The last point is in relation to Amendment 292T, which concerns deaths that occur under the rough sex defence. It may well be that substantial thought needed to go into that, but surely the answer to that one would then be that there is a review in relation to that issue, so that there would be some hope that legislation might follow. Despite my extreme disappointment—more with the Liberal Democrats, noble Lords have probably noticed, than with the Government on this occasion—I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 284 withdrawn.
Amendments 285 to 291 not moved.