Amendment 292N

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (11th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 24th November 2021.

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Lord Russell of Liverpool:

Moved by Lord Russell of Liverpool

292N: After Clause 170, insert the following new Clause—“Strategy on stalking(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, prepare and publish a document setting out a strategy for—(a) detecting, investigating and prosecuting offences involving stalking,(b) assessing and managing the risks posed by individuals who commit offences involving risks associated with stalking, and(c) reducing the risk that such individuals commit further offences.(2) In preparing the strategy, the Secretary of State must—(a) seek to adopt a multi-agency stalking intervention programme;(b) seek to ensure that risk assessments for stalking victims are carried out by trained specialist stalking professionals;(c) seek to ensure that any judge, police officer or other relevant public official involved in an investigation or legal proceedings involving stalking has attended and completed relevant training.(3) The Secretary of State—(a) must keep the strategy under review;(b) may revise it.(4) If the Secretary of State revises the strategy, the Secretary of State must publish a document setting out the revised strategy.(5) In preparing or revising a strategy under this section, the Secretary of State must consult such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.(6) Subsection (5) does not apply in relation to any revisions of the strategy if the Secretary of State considers the proposed revisions of the strategy are insubstantial.(7) In this section—the references to “acts associated with stalking” and “risks associated with stalking” are to be read in accordance with section 1 of the Stalking Protection Act 2019;“multi-agency stalking intervention programme” means a programme through which public authorities, including police forces, probation services and the National Health Service, collaborate with each other and stalking advocacy support services to intervene on those carrying out acts associated with stalking, whether or not convicted of an offence, depending on the level of risk they pose to the victim and the public.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment aims to promote the early identification of and intervention on stalking, and better investigation and prosecution of the crime, by requiring the Government to develop a strategy that includes: the adoption of a multi-agency intervention programme, risk assessments for victims to be carried out by trained professionals, and training for relevant public officials.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I rise to propose this amendment, because the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, is suffering from an extremely painful frozen shoulder. She has had an injection of cortisone, which I hope is having the desired effect and, if she is listening to this debate, I hope she is seated in a comfortable chair, because she deserves a good rest. I thank in advance the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who have also kindly added their names to this amendment.

This is déjà vu all over again. We keep returning to stalking, because we have not yet been able to take all its complexities on board, for all our attempts to deal with this bit and that bit, this piece of revised guidance and a bit of training, and this new perpetrator system to replace ones that have manifestly failed; for all the admonitions for different agencies and statutory bodies that are not co-operating as they are meant to, and despite pilots here and there, X millions of pounds spent here and new resources there. Despite all this effort and the extensive time that Ministers have spent at the Dispatch Box, the headlines keep on coming up with new cases of victims who are being failed, despite all the time, effort and resources expended to try to protect them.

It is not working. Just ask the elected Members of another place, particularly female MPs, what it feels like to be stalked, targeted, and even to require personal protection. What price democracy when its representatives are being systematically intimidated to the point that it inevitably begins to impact on their mental health—and even, as we have tragically seen recently, their personal safety?

I know that the Minister and Her Majesty’s Government are serious and well intended in their attempts to deal with stalking, but our contention is that the evidence suggests that they are not doing this well enough to make a tangible difference for the estimated 892,000 female victims of stalking for the year ending March 2020. That is according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

The Minister will not be surprised that, in evidence to back up the case I am putting forward, I will refer to Zoë Billingham’s September 2021 HMICFRS report, Police Response to Violence Against Women and Girls. Its findings are worrying. Its findings on the much-vaunted use of stalking protection orders, introduced in January 2020—18 months before this report—are on pages 56 to 59. The report found that the application of stalking protection orders by police forces is very inconsistent. Some are using them carefully and effectively, but others are doing little or nothing. One force had failed to issue a single stalking protection order, because its legal department thought that every case had to be approved in person by the chief constable. In fact, statutory guidance makes it very clear that decision-making can and should be delegated to superintendents.

The report examined 25 stalking protection orders in detail. Two findings stand out. A majority of the orders did not contain any positive request to be placed on the person subject to the order. The report rather dryly remarks:

“This is disappointing and may indicate that forces aren’t familiar with this important change of practice.”

The second finding was that the details of 16 out of the 25 protection orders and their conditions have not been circulated and communicated within the relevant police force, so the offices within the police force were not even aware that an SPO had been issued to somebody within their jurisdiction. What happens if and when SPO conditions are breached? The report says:

“We conclude that some forces do not pay enough attention to breaches of orders, the effect they have on victims and how well they”— the police forces—

“perform in this important area.”

Enough of this report, but I strongly recommend that it should be required reading for anybody interested in or charged with the responsibility for reducing violence against women and girls.

Although it is often a significant factor in many domestic abuse cases, stalking is broader and more complex. Fifty-five per cent of stalkers are ex intimate partners, which would therefore be regarded as domestic abuse stalking, but that means that 45% are not. The latter group could be an acquaintance, a neighbour, a friend, a stranger or even a colleague. Surely it is imperative that all stalking victims are offered the same level of protection, regardless of their relationship, and sometimes no relationship at all, to the stalker. For all its many excellent new laws and guidance, the Domestic Abuse Act does not support the victims of this enormous group of 45% of stalkers.

This amendment has a straightforward aim: go back to the drawing board; look at the totality and complexity of stalking of all kinds; look at what we have tried and has worked, at least in part; acknowledge where we have tried and failed; look at the entire ecosystem within which stalkers sometimes seem to act with impunity; come up with an all-embracing plan to anticipate, prevent, intervene and even mitigate as appropriate; and deliver a solution that prioritises the protection of the stalked, prosecutes effectively when justified, tries to understand and work with perpetrators who could benefit from tailored prevention programmes, and creates a trained and educated set of voluntary and statutory agencies that are properly equipped to be proactive, rather than endlessly reactive.

In other words, it is to act swiftly to consider whether, for example, some of the very effective initiatives, such as the multiagency stalking intervention programme, known as MASIP, which is funded by the Home Office’s own police transformation fund, can be rolled out with alacrity. The early findings of the pilot schemes are extremely positive, so there is something ready— I hesitate to use the word “oven-ready”—to be rolled out very quickly.

This is what the amendment is asking the Government to do. If we do not do it, stalking will stalk us and the Government Front Bench into the foreseeable future. The Minister is already very familiar with the shock troops who support the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, on the issue of immigration and citizenship fees, known under the banner of the “Lister terriers”. I give the Minister fair warning that the Royall-Brinton group—the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Brinton—are gathering under the banner of “Stalk the stalkers”. There is far too much talking about stalking and not enough effective action, however genuinely hard Her Majesty’s Government have tried. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health) 6:15 pm, 24th November 2021

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, has very ably set out the reasons why this amendment has been tabled, so I will be brief. Let me put it politely: the House will know that a number of us remain concerned that stalking is still not taken seriously by the Home Office, the Government and some parts of the criminal justice system. We know that training remains patchy, and that victims are still told they should be grateful for the attention of their stalker. That is why we tabled this amendment to create a stalking strategy—not for the first time; I have been tabling amendments on a stalking strategy for a decade—for training in recognising, and working in a truly multidisciplinary way to recognise, possible stalking perpetrators, and to let MAPPA professionals become involved at an early stage as soon as the possibility of fixated and obsessive behaviour emerges.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, told your Lordships’ House during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, on consideration of Commons’ amendments, that the Government were consulting with different key parties in the criminal justice system to amend the guidance on MAPPA and to recognise and manage stalking. I thank her for sharing the proposed revisions to the statutory guidance. She said:

“Once the revised guidance is settled, we will promulgate it through a Written Ministerial Statement, and this will provide an opportunity to update the House on the delivery of the other commitments I have set out. Noble Lords talked about having some sort of debate in this place, perhaps after the Summer Recess.”—[Official Report, 27/4/21; cols. 2180-81.]

When will this be brought back to your Lordships’ House for such a debate?

The noble Baroness also said:

“We are also legislating already in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to put beyond doubt the powers of duty to co-operate agencies to share information under MAPPA by clarifying existing information-sharing provisions. We are investing new resources to tackle perpetrators, with an additional £25 million committed this year.”—[Official Report, 27/4/21; col. 2182.]

I understand that that is not just stalking perpetrators but perpetrators of a range of serious crimes.

Despite her encouraging us to bring back stalking-specific matters to this Bill because they were not appropriate for the Domestic Abuse Bill, it is noticeable that there is still no sign of a stalking strategy. It is as if stalking protection orders, now passed, are the magic answer, when actually they are part of the toolkit for managing fixated and obsessive perpetrators who may not come under domestic abuse legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Russell, demonstrated, the patchy application of SPOs is real evidence of the old problem continuing. The choice about how to apply the stalking laws remains with people inside the police and courts system.

In a case in Wales in the last two weeks, a man was charged with two incidents relating to stalking his ex-partner, but she had already moved home twice and it is evident from the case that this stalking had been going on for a considerable time. Can the Minister say what training is happening within all police forces and all the courts—family as well as criminal—and for social workers, among others involved in MAPPA?

It is 13 years since my stalker was convicted—after 100 incidents had happened—and close to 10 years since stalking was created as a separate offence from harassment, but people being stalked still have to face many issues in the system because there is no overarching strategy for dealing with stalking. It is time that there was.

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

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, has eloquently and bravely described on a number of occasions and brought home to us just how important it is to tackle stalking in an effective way. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, who has been an inspiration during our discussions on these issues.

I will make just two points to emphasise the excellent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Russell. First, he mentioned the huge number of women who are victims of stalking and the disgracefully low number of prosecutions. The problem is not just the inconsistencies to which he and HM Inspectorate have referred. It is also clear that in too many police forces stalking is seen as a low-level nuisance behaviour issue rather than the serious crime it often is.

We know that a number of stalking perpetrators who potentially pose the highest risk to victims would not meet the threshold for the assessment and management of risk for a relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator, as proposed under the MAPPA model. This is a big problem. As the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which does so much fantastic work in this area, has identified, stalking is often not recognised as a crime. The level of risk to a victim is therefore inadequately identified and addressed, and this has the potential to put many lives in serious danger.

I refer the Minister to Dr Jane Monckton Smith’s 2017 study of 358 homicides, all of which involved a female victim and a male perpetrator. It revealed stalking behaviour as an antecedent to femicide in 94% of those cases. That demonstrates why it is so important to work on prevention and action in relation to stalking.

The noble Baroness responded at great length to our previous debate in Committee, setting out the proposals and the actions her department is taking. As the noble Lord, Lord Russell, said, in the end they do not really amount to a cohesive strategy that will actually start to take this seriously. I hope the Minister will perhaps agree to reflect on this between now and Report to see whether we can take this any further.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I believe the case for this amendment has already overwhelmingly been made from all sides of this Committee. The Green group would have attached our name to it to make it even more cross-party, had there been space.

I go to the words of one victim that, I believe, sum this up. They are taken from an article in the popular mainstream magazine Vogue, published this week. They are from a single victim whom it called “Chloe”, whose stalker was jailed after breaching protective orders more than a dozen times, even though he had never been convicted of stalking. Chloe told Vogue:

“The system designed to protect us is broken and reactive. It waits for harm … I will live in fear until the day he dies.”

Those are the words of lived experience. The system is broken. I believe the case for this amendment and for a strategy has been overwhelmingly made.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for moving Amendment 292N on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove; I wish her well.

Victims of stalking, including female Members of Parliament, are being failed, as the noble Baroness has just said. As the noble Lord, Lord Russell, set out in his opening speech, there were 892,000 victims of stalking in the year to March 2020, according to the crime survey. The noble Lord pointed out the findings of the HMICFRS report on violence against women and girls regarding the inconsistent approach across different police forces to stalking protection orders; that the majority of orders had no positive obligation on the perpetrator; and that officers in force areas were unaware that the perpetrators were even subject to the orders, so there was no enforcement of the orders.

There is clearly a need to address perpetrator behaviour, in addition to protecting victims. My noble friend Lady Brinton said—and I agree—that stalking is not being taken seriously enough. That is as much a cultural issue for the police and courts as it is for society as a whole. There is clearly a need for a stalking strategy to ensure a consistent and effective response from all the authorities involved, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, just said—not just the criminal justice system but charities and others that offer services to address the behaviour of offenders. We support this amendment.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

I will be very brief as the case for this amendment has been so eloquently put by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, and other noble Lords who have spoken. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, who unfortunately cannot be in her place tonight, and to the other noble Lords who are signatories to the amendment, for their tireless work on this issue. In that context, I also pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon, who cannot be in the Committee today, for her dedication and years of leadership on this issue.

I know the Minister is also passionate about this issue, but for years the House has found itself returning to this debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, said, and each time the answer from the Government is largely that the current system is adequate although improvements are needed in how it is delivered. Yet each time we come back to it, more women have been killed and more lives devastated. This amendment has our wholehearted support, and I hope we can now look forward to a clear and encouraging response from the Government.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for setting out this amendment calling for a strategy on stalking. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, pointed out, this can have a devastating impact on the victims that are pursued. I actually have much higher figures than those that noble Lords talked about today: an estimated 1.5 million people were victims of stalking in the last year. I assure noble Lords that this Government are utterly committed to protecting and supporting victims of stalking, as some of our work in the last few years demonstrates. We will do everything that we can to ensure that perpetrators are stopped at the earliest opportunity.

I sympathise with the aim of the amendment. I am less persuaded that we need a separate strategy on stalking to achieve that aim. Tackling stalking is already a key part of our new strategy, Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls, which was published this July. Work is already under way to deliver the commitments made in relation to stalking in the strategy, and it would not be the best approach to have a separate strategy for each crime type that falls within the ambit of that strategy.

The VAWG strategy will help us better target perpetrators and support victims of these crimes. In order to support victims and reduce the risk of perpetrators committing further offences, the strategy confirmed £11.1 million for police and crime commissioners to run programmes to address the behaviour of domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators. The noble Lord, Lord Russell, made a comment about money being spent here and spent there, and I accept that point, but, actually, money here and there helps to increase the capacity and capability of those agencies that are trying to tackle this problem. Since the publication of the strategy, eight PCCs have been awarded funding to provide programmes for stalking perpetrators. The aim of the programmes is to encourage behavioural change—one noble Lord mentioned that—in order to reduce the frequency and gravity of abuse presented by the perpetrator and to improve the safety and protection of the victim.

The Domestic Abuse Act of this year placed a duty on Ministers to publish a domestic abuse perpetrator strategy that aims to bring more perpetrators to justice and reduce reoffending. This will be published in the new year, as part of a holistic domestic abuse strategy, and it will help transform our response to domestic abuse, which also includes the risks associated with stalking.

As the noble Lord, Lord Russell, pointed out, in January of last year the Government introduced new civil stalking protection orders to protect victims of stalking at the earliest possible opportunity and help to address the behaviour of perpetrators before it becomes entrenched or escalates. I recall the valuable contributions of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on this during the passage of the legislation that established those orders. Stalking protection orders can be used in relation to stalking carried out in any circumstances and have the flexibility to impose both restrictions and positive requirements on the perpetrator.

We have made very good progress on the recommendations from the review into stalking protection orders. The Committee will want to know that the Minister for Safeguarding recently wrote to all chief constables whose forces applied for fewer stalking protection orders than might be expected, to encourage them to always consider applying for them. The NPCC’s stalking lead also sent a letter to all police forces to the same effect, as well as outlining some of the findings from the review. The NPCC has identified examples of good practice to share with police forces and their legal teams.

Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals ServiceHMCTS—has also issued a targeted point of guidance for magistrates’ legal advisers, outlining the conditions that can be included on an SPO and emphasising that conditions relating to monitoring or prohibiting cyber-related activity should be used, if appropriate. Furthermore, HMCTS has sent a notice to heads of legal operations to encourage early listings for stalking protection order hearings within magistrates’ courts to enable quick and early protection for victims. On looking at the hard numbers, we are working with the MoJ towards some figures being available for publication.

On progress that the Government are making on refreshing the MAPPA guidance, which the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, talked about, during the latter stages of the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act, the Government gave certain undertakings in response to a Lords amendment regarding the management of high- harm and serial domestic abuse and stalking offenders under Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements—MAPPA—such as updating the MAPPA statutory guidance and developing a threshold document. Good progress has been made on these commitments.

The Ministry of Justice expects to publish shortly a separate chapter of MAPPA guidance, entitled “Domestic abuse and stalking”, to raise the profile of this type of offending. The new chapter will highlight the importance of agencies making use of MAPPA to strengthen the effective management of serial and high-harm domestic abuse and stalking offenders. Once we have issued the guidance, officials will work closely with local strategic management boards to support implementation at a local level.

The Ministry of Justice has also made good progress on developing a thresholding document to guide practitioners in deciding upon the most appropriate level of management under MAPPA. The different levels ensure that resources are focused on offenders who pose the highest risk and that multiagency meetings are focused on the most complex cases. Stalking will be included in the supporting materials to illustrate the importance of considering all relevant cases for MAPPA management. We expect to publish this by the end of this year, which is not far away.

A new policy framework was published on 16 August this year, setting out clear expectations of the probation service’s management of all cases at MAPPA level 1, where formal MAPPA meetings are not held, including those of stalking perpetrators. The aim is to help to improve consistency in the quality of information sharing, the regularity of reviews and the identification of cases where additional risk-management activity is required.

The VAWG strategy also includes a commitment for the Home Office to work with the police to ensure that all forces are making proper use of stalking protection orders. As I have just said, the Minister for Safeguarding recently wrote to all chief constables whose forces applied for fewer SPOs than might have been expected.

With regard to a debate in this place, we in your Lordships’ House are very lucky that we are self-regulating, and it is in noble Lords’ gift to secure debates on issues such as stalking. I would be very happy to respond to one in due course, should noble Lords bring one forward.

I understand and appreciate the rationale behind the amendment, but I respectfully suggest that a separate strategy on stalking is not required because the new VAWG strategy addresses many of the issues that have been raised, and tackling stalking sits as a vital part of the strategy. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment on behalf of the noble Baroness.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees 6:30 pm, 24th November 2021

My Lords, I thank the Minister, as usual, for her comprehensive reply and praise the fact that, unlike some incumbents on the Front Bench from time to time, she actually listens to the debate and tries to respond to points, which can be a refreshing change. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this mercifully short debate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, pointed out that there is still no sign of a comprehensive stalking strategy. We have heard that elements of it are coming together, but I am not sure that it would meet the requirement to be regarded as a completely comprehensive strategy—but we shall see when it happens. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, made an extremely good point about the contrast between the extraordinarily high number of victims of stalking—nearly 900,000 women in one year—and the derisory level of prosecutions. There are echoes of what is happening with rape convictions, and that parallel is worrying.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, pointed to the case of Chloe. The phrase that resonated with me from that case was when Chloe said that she will probably live in fear for the rest of her life. That is the effect stalking can have on an entirely innocent individual. I sometimes think that not only do we not realise it; given the evidence from a lot of the agencies and individuals charged with trying to arrest or identify perpetrators, and to do something about it, I am not sure whether they understand the real effect stalking can have on people. That is where effective training comes in, to make them understand what they are dealing with and to help them deal with it in a much more proactive and sensitive way.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, speaking from direct experience of his time in the police force, once again put his finger on a critical problem. There is a cultural issue within the police force and some other statutory agencies that deal with stalking in understanding what it is in all its myriad guises, recognising it and knowing what to do about it—both for the victims and the perpetrators.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, echoed my déjà vu all over again by reminding us that the issue keeps stalking this House. It recurs again and again. The contributions have indicated just why that is the case.

I thank the Minister very much for her reply. I am pleased to hear of the different initiatives being undertaken, so the positive side of me welcomes that. The slightly more sceptical—and stalked—side of me thinks, “Here we go again.” Here we have a range of initiatives which may or may not be as joined up as we passionately believe they should be. Unless they are completely joined up, and unless one is clear about what they are there to do and how all the bodies and individuals involved are meant to act in pursuit of these initiatives, I have a horrible feeling. If Zoë Billingham’s successor did a similar report looking at the effect of all these initiatives in about two years’ time, I personally have no high degree of confidence that the findings would be different. That is a cause for concern.

I take the point that if we want to have a MAPPA debate, it is for this House to choose it. I am sure we will stalk the usual channels to try to ensure that it takes place. If the Minister is open to discussing this, in the extremely long time we have between now and Report, that would be very helpful. What I take away from this is that I understand all the initiatives taking place, particularly those focused on domestic abuse, for obvious reasons, but what about the other 45% of stalked women? I come back to those who are not in domestic abuse situations. Most of these initiatives are aimed at the domestic abuse arena, and I laud them, but what about the 45%? If we are to have a cohesive strategy—frankly, that is why we need one—the 45% have to be included so that we are looking at 100% of the problem. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 292N withdrawn.