Amendment 292N

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (11th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 24th November 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 6:15 pm, 24th November 2021

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.