Victims and Prisoners Bill - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 3:31 pm on 18 December 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Lord Bellamy:

Moved by Lord Bellamy

Welsh Legislative Consent sought.

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Photo of Lord Bellamy Lord Bellamy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, in opening this important debate, I first express the Government’s warm thanks to all those who have contributed to this Bill’s engender, notably the many organisations and individuals who have responded to consultations or made representations, successive Lord Chancellors—not least the right honourable Sir Robert Buckland KC MP and the right honourable Dominic Raab MP—and many honourable Members on both sides in the other place who have worked to improve this Bill in its passage through Parliament.

I venture to suggest that most of the issues before us are not in essence party political. I trust and hope that the general direction of this Bill, which aims to enhance and protect the position of victims in the justice system in its widest sense, will command broad support across the House. We will, I anticipate, be mainly considering the means rather than the ends. I would like to say at the outset that my door is always open to any noble Lord who would like to discuss these issues in more detail as our debates proceed. In anticipating a full and constructive debate, I particularly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, on her re-appointment as the Victims’ Commissioner, and much look forward to her contribution to our work.

I turn then to substance and will take the main highlights of the Bill in sequence. Part 1 further enhances the positions of victims of criminal conduct—widely defined under Clause 1—in two main respects. One is the victims’ code and the other is victim support services. First, there are important improvements to the effectiveness of the existing victims’ code, which sets out what victims are entitled to expect from the criminal justice system, as last updated and improved by this Government in 2021. The principles underlying the victims’ code are now set in statute for the first time—that is in Clause 2. Clause 6 requires the police, the CPS and other criminal justice bodies to promote awareness of the code and to keep under review how victims’ services are provided. Clause 7 requires police and crime commissioners to oversee those victims’ services and to report their findings to the Secretary of State, who in turn must publish compliance information, so that all may see how their local area is performing. This combination of enhanced statutory duties on the one hand and significantly increased transparency on the other hand will secure that victims are aware of their rights and that the victims’ code is even more effective.

Secondly, on the important question of victims’ support services, Clauses 12 and 13 require the local police, local integrated care boards—namely, the National Health Service—and local authorities to collaborate to prepare and publish a strategy for delivering victims’ support services in their area as regards criminal conduct consisting of domestic abuse, sexual conduct or serious violence. They must assess the needs of their area and indicate whether they are met. Again, those strategies must be published.

In essence, this is an anti-silo provision. Experience shows that a number of agencies operating locally do not always join up sufficiently, and they certainly do not, on the whole, develop joint strategies. The provisions are designed to break down silos and to foster join-up and transparency. They should lead to better planning, better provision of vital services and the identifying and filling of any gaps.

On a related point, victims are sometimes discouraged from coming forward for fear of intrusive investigation of their personal lives. Clauses 24 and 25 now limit requests by the police to obtain information about victims from other authorities—for example, information relating to the victim’s health, notes of therapies, et cetera—which might be used to discredit the victim in court. Those requests must now be limited to what is necessary and proportionate. This aims to curtail what has sometimes been an intrusive investigative overreach in the past.

The measures on victims in general in Part 1 are underpinned by the enhanced role of the Victims’ Commissioner, whose reports must be laid before Parliament and whose recommendations relevant authorities must publicly respond to. Further powers of joint inspection by His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Chief Inspector of the CPS and Chief Inspector of Probation will further ensure that these measures take effect. In addition, there is the right of victims to go directly to the parliamentary ombudsman, rather than through their MP, as is the case at present.

All that reinforces what I hope your Lordships will see as a comprehensive effort to improve the position of victims, which is entirely in line with, and takes forward, this Government’s related work in recent years. That includes the Domestic Abuse Act 2021; the creation of the office of the domestic abuse commissioner, who, in the respected person of Nicole Jacobs, is already making a substantial mark; measures such as allowing pre-recorded cross-examinations so that the victim does not have to face the offender in court; the introduction of independent domestic violence and sexual violence advisers, about which the Bill provides further guidance in Clause 15; an increase in the money for victims’ support, which is now £140 million by 2024-25; and several other measures. No one who watched the dignified statements made by the family of Sarah Everard can be in any doubt of the importance of placing victims at the heart of our justice system.

That in essence covers Part 1 on victims. Taking the Bill in sequence, I move to a very specific victim situation: where one parent has killed the other. In response to calls for what has been called Jade’s law, Clauses 16 and 17 broadly provide that, where one parent is convicted of the murder of the other, the criminal court must, in most circumstances, make a prohibited steps order removing parental responsibility from the surviving, offending parent. The local authority, in whose area the child resides, must apply within 14 days to the family court to review that order. In other words, the last word will lie with the family court, which is bound to consider the welfare of the child as the paramount consideration.

I have spoken so far of provisions that typically affect a single victim or a small number of victims. Part 2 of the Bill moves to the situation where we have multiple victims, where there has been a major incident, and noble Lords will of course have well in mind Manchester Arena, Grenfell, Hillsborough and similar cases. Part 2 creates what has become known as an independent public advocate, or IPA, appointed where groups, very often large groups, of victims are affected by a major incident. It has become only too apparent that in the aftermath of such incidents, victims have nowhere to turn, no one to give them information and no one to deal with their needs or answer their questions. These provisions fill that gap.

Following government amendments during the passage of the Bill, the Government will appoint a standing advocate to advise the Secretary of State on the interests of victims of major incidents and their treatment by public authorities and submit and publish annual reports. These functions include advising the Secretary of State on what sort of inquiry should be held. Where there is a major incident, the Secretary of State may further appoint the standing advocate or another appointed advocate to carry out the functions indicated in Clause 33, which are: to support victims in the aftermath of that incident, in particular in relation to any subsequent inquest or inquiry; to help them understand the actions of the public authorities; to ensure victims’ views may be taken into account; and to provide support or advice to them, communicate with public authorities on their behalf, and assist them to obtain access to documents.

The broad idea is that the advocate will not themselves carry on a legal activity but can help and guide victims as to their immediate needs, how to get advice and/or legal aid and what sort of processes to expect. They can answer their questions and help them get answers to their questions from the relevant public authority, as well as advise as to what questions need to be addressed or raised before any inquest or inquiry.

An important aspect of this is that in advising the Secretary of State on the treatment of victims by public authorities, the standing advocate will be able to hold public authorities to account in relation to the Hillsborough charter, which, as your Lordships know, was signed by the Government on 6 December as part of the Government’s response to Bishop Jones’ Hillsborough report. On that day, the Lord Chancellor made a Statement in the other place setting out the Government’s response, which I repeated in this House that evening. The charter sets out in detail how public authorities are to behave, in particular putting the public interest ahead of the interests of their own organisation. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Wills, and many others in pressing for this reform—in particular, of course, the Hillsborough families, who have endured so much and whom I trust we all salute.

I come to Part 3 and Clause 40, inserted in the other place on Report, which provides for the setting up of a public body to administer compensation to yet another group of victims: those affected by the infected blood scandal. I understand that a Statement is being made in the other place at this very moment by my right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster-General, and I further understand that that Statement will be repeated in this House tomorrow by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. I think that in those circumstances, I should leave that matter there for the moment. I am sure we will return to it in Committee. I am also glad to tell the House that my noble friend Lord Howe will be assisting us on this aspect of the Bill.

I turn finally to the “prisoners” part of the Bill, Part 4, although I suggest respectfully that this part of the Bill is as much about victims as it is about prisoners. We should approach this part of the Bill from a victim’s perspective. This part has the following aspects. First, there is the public protection test, to be applied where the Parole Board is considering the release of a prisoner eligible to be released on licence. Under the existing law, which is in the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997, the Parole Board must be satisfied that

“it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the prisoner should be confined”.

Clauses 41 and 42 of this Bill strengthen that principle by providing that the public protection test is met only if there is

“no more than a minimal risk” that, if released,

“the prisoner would commit a further offence … which would cause serious harm”.

Serious harm is defined as the commission of one of the serious offences listed in Schedule 18B to the Criminal Justice Act 2003. This approach effectively tightens up the public protection test to be applied both to recognise public concern and, as importantly, to protect future victims.

Secondly, Clause 44 introduces a new procedure for the release by the Parole Board of prisoners convicted of murder, unlawful child death, terrorism, rape or rape of a child. If the Parole Board directs the release of such a prisoner, and the Secretary of State considers that such a release

“would be likely to undermine public confidence” and that the Upper Tribunal might consider that the release test was not satisfied, the Secretary of State may refer the case to the Upper Tribunal for a further judicial consideration of whether the release test is, in fact, met. We saw only three days ago that a double murderer, Lawrence Bierton, was released again and then killed for a third time, having been released on licence. This new mechanism is aimed at that kind of case to protect victims—notably future victims—and ensure public confidence in the system.

Other provisions affecting the Parole Board include the inclusion of persons with law enforcement experience on Parole Board panels and provisions that the chair of the Parole Board should not sit on individual decisions and that the latter is removable by the Secretary of State in the event of a loss of public confidence.

I turn now to IPP prisoners, dealt with in Clause 48. Noble Lords will know of the difficulties arising from those imprisoned under IPP sentences, which were abolished in December 2012. They were described by the present Lord Chancellor as

“a stain on the justice system”.

At the same time, this issue poses an acute conflict between, on the one hand, the situation of the individual prisoner and, on the other hand, the protection of the public.

Any Government have to focus on the risk to public safety and the risk to future victims. In broad terms, the total number of IPP sentences ever imposed was just over 8,000. The present situation is that approximately 1,270 prisoners have never been released, and almost all have now served their original tariff. The only reason they have not been released is that the Parole Board has determined, often on several occasions, that they are not safe to be released. However, if an IPP prisoner is released on licence, under the existing law 10 years must elapse before they can apply to the Parole Board to determine that licence. There are about 3,100 prisoners on licence in the community and a further 2,920 have been recalled to prison. Sadly, there are 23 prisoners in secure hospitals.

The effect of Clause 48 is fourfold. First, the period before which an offender may be considered for licence termination is reduced from 10 years to three years from first release. Secondly, that three-year period does not reset in the event of a recall, so even if recalled a prisoner may, as it were, bank those three years from the date of first release. Thirdly, after those three years there is a presumption that the licence should be terminated. Fourthly, even if the Parole Board rebuts that presumption and maintains the licence, it automatically terminates after a further two-year period if the offender can do a further two years in the community without being recalled.

I know that this sounds rather complex but, in broad terms, the result is expected to be that over the next couple of years or so, the licences of the majority of those who are currently in the community will terminate. Many will terminate as soon as this Bill becomes law. For many if not most of the recalled population, when they are next released by the Parole Board, their licence will terminate after two years if there is no intervening recall. For those still in prison who have never been released—admittedly, a most difficult group but one that includes many violent and sexual offenders—there is now a detailed action plan by HMPPS that is much more specific to each prisoner, overseen by a specific IPP progression board and involving an external challenge group. The latter consists of representatives of the families, some of whom I have met together with the right honourable Damian Hinds, the Prisons Minister at the time. The relevant prison authorities will work on a bespoke sentence plan for each remaining prisoner as well as supporting those on licence in the community. I hope that your Lordships will see this twin-track approach—additional support for the unreleased and a substantial relaxation of the licence arrangements for those in the community—as marked progress in this difficult area.

Finally on prisoners, Clauses 55 and 56 prevent whole-life prisoners marrying or entering into a civil partnership unless exceptional circumstances exist. This is in response to a recent case in which surviving families of the victim of a most serious murder were openly mocked by the convicted offender, who trumpeted his right to marry, causing distress to many.

In conclusion, I hope your Lordships will accept that this is a balanced Bill that substantially enhances the position of victims in our system. After all, any one of us may have been, or may one day be, a victim. I commend this Bill to your Lordships, and I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 3:52, 18 December 2023

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Ponsonby and I have not mixed up the order in which we are speaking, even if the speakers’ list has. I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill today with such clarity. That greatly helps the House. I also thank the many organisations that have sent briefings, particularly the Library. I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carter.

The level of interest in this Bill suggests that there is no doubt that many people recognise the importance of the Bill and the opportunity it presents. I will focus on victims. Notwithstanding the words of the Minister, as with many matters associated with this Government, we are worried that the lack of grasping the opportunity that the Bill presents is the challenge we face and why so many organisations are so interested and want to make recommendations about how it might be improved. I think we would all agree that the challenge for this Bill is to redress a terrible and historic imbalance. In an adversarial system in which the state investigates and prosecutes the defendant, the judge ensures that he or she has a fair trial and the jury decides their guilt, it is easy for all the agencies to look in the defendant’s direction while the victim, even if a witness, comes and goes as what the academic Professor Paul Rock has called fodder for the system.

It may not be what anyone intends, but it is what happens—and worse, victims’ experience may be callous, careless and deeply scarring. We are currently failing victims, as I think we all agree, and they in turn may increasingly be abandoning the criminal justice system. So this is our long-awaited chance to bring about change.

The recent Victims’ Commissioner, the right honourable Dame Vera Baird KC, summed it up very well in her submission to the victims Bill’s consultation process in June last year, when she said:

“We emphasise that a profound cultural change will be needed from the criminal justice agencies to achieve the expectations and the Government’s aims”.

We can put this right if we focus on what victims have told us they want as a minimum, and ensure that it is delivered and can be done without impacting in the slightest on the fair trial rights of the defendant. So, despite the positive words of the Minister and after all the years waiting for this moment, we think the final product needs to be better than this, and it is our job to make it so. This was in the Conservative manifesto in 2015, so we know that we have been a long time waiting.

We need to improve support for victims who are leaving the justice system through its lack of regard for them and endless delay. People cannot move on with their lives while locked into the 65,000-long case backlog in the Crown Court—a backlog higher than at the end of the pandemic. The latest survey from the Office of the Victims’ Commissioner is a disheartening read—71% of victims were dissatisfied with the police response to their crime and only 28% believed it had been taken seriously. A tiny 6% agreed that victims were fully supported by the Crown Prosecution Service and only 8% that they were fully supported by the courts. Even more worrying, a full third—34%—of victims said they would not even report a crime to the police after their previous experience

The thing is that victims are not asking for much. Like all of us, they want a competent, speedy justice system. Vital to them are the delivery of simple procedural justice; being given a voice about what happened to them; and sensitivity to their interests and needs. Victims’ needs and interests are well-identified in the victims’ code of practice, which sets out the minimum standards of service required from criminal justice agencies and was introduced by the Labour Government in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act of 2004. The code has been updated since then; the problem is that it is simply not implemented.

There are plenty of instances we will all hear about in this debate of where things have gone wrong and victims have found themselves put into terrible positions, both before and in our courts. The Office of the Victims’ Commissioner’s most recent survey shows that only 29% of victims had ever heard of the victims’ code, despite their journey through the very agencies required to deliver on it—that is an identical figure to the one in 2021.

We agree with the Justice Select Committee that, while putting the code on a statutory basis, which the Bill does, is important, it will not, of itself, make it effective. That PCCs will have to collect data on compliance is welcome, although accurate compatible data has proved difficult to find and PCCs have no means to enforce collaboration. If we give somebody a right, in this case the victims, we must give them a means of enforcing it and a remedy for its breach. Local victims’ champions in PCC offices might play a key role in prioritising the right in the currency of the case and dealing with complaints in default. The Government frequently say that they are increasing sentences of one kind or another to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system, but these simple rights will not actually help the victims if the victims’ code is not enacted.

This is what the Justice Select Committee said:

“The Government has committed to enshrining the rights of victims in law. We find that the draft Bill does not appear to do any more to achieve this than is already provided for in existing legislation. The draft Bill includes overarching principles that are weaker than those consulted on and which, as currently drafted, will do little to improve agencies’ compliance with the victims’ code”.

So one of our main jobs is to ensure enactment and implementation of the victims’ code.

There are other issues that we will look for and raise during the course of the Bill’s passage which we hope will strengthen it. We want to look at free legal advocates for rape victims—a statutory right to free legal representation for the protection of the rights of rape victims. Protection for third-party material of rape complainants is proposed. That would mirror the PCSC Act for the contents of phones.

We need to test excluding pre-trial therapy notes being used in a sex case at all unless a judge, after a fully contested application, agrees to their relevance. It is a major deterrent to women taking a case forward when they are told that what they have said to their therapist may have to be revealed. The Minister is aware of this matter. I think we will have some useful discussions in Committee about that.

We wish to include victims of anti-social behaviour in the definition of “victims”. We want to consider the commissioning of specialist women’s community-based domestic abuse and sexual violence support services. We agree with Barnardo’s and the NSPCC about putting children at the heart of our considerations, particularly on the inclusion of child criminal exploitation and supporting children throughout any of these proceedings.

We think it is important to enshrine a duty to co-operate with the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses. We want that to be included in the Bill.

Finally, there is the issue of migrant domestic abuse victims with no recourse to public funds and without a firewall against immigration controls. They are entitled to criminal justice support if they are victims and should not be treated as suspects; that seems an important matter of injustice that we have to address.

I very much look forward to working with my noble friend Lord Ponsonby on this important Bill, with the Minister and other noble Lords, and I very much look forward to the rest of today’s debate.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat 4:01, 18 December 2023

My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, and his officials for the helpful meetings and discussions that we have had so far. I look forward to further discussions as the Bill progresses. I also thank the very many organisations that have sent us briefings. I also look forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carter.

My victims of crime Private Member’s Bill was introduced in July 2017 because, despite promises in the 2015 general election, the Conservative Government had done nothing up to that point to deliver it. So it is something of a relief that the Government have finally produced this Bill, which has come from another place—although, as I will outline later, it falls short of what is needed for victims. A year ago, the proposed Bill was only about victims, and it is helpful that there was pre-legislative scrutiny in May 2022, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, outlined. But the Bill published in March this year had two new substantive parts, one on victims of major incidents and one on prisoners and the parole system. Neither of those was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, which is to be regretted.

It is also to be regretted that, despite arguing that this Bill is a priority repeatedly in public, it has taken months for it to be given time to be debated in both Houses. We on these Benches have repeatedly asked the Government to take action, but I am afraid that there has been dither and delay, with many more victims of crime lacking the statutory support that they need after their lives have been affected by some of the worst attacks, whether physical or psychological, and with no changes to a criminal justice system that is patchy in its support at best and downright dangerous and damaging for victims at worst. As we heard in a recent survey, 71% of victims are deeply unsatisfied.

There is one key and fundamental failing in Part 1, which echoes the failing in the current victims’ code. There is no statutory duty on those agencies that come into contact with victims to deliver the principles outlined in the Bill. It is absolutely no good saying to victims that they are entitled to a series of rights but then not placing a duty on service providers and agencies to deliver those rights to them. There are a number of uses of “should” in this Bill that we wish to see changed into “must”. Without that, there is no liability for failing to deliver the support and the code.

The reason for that is evident from the many briefing we have received, with horror story after horror story of how victims are traumatised twice: first by the crime and, secondly, by the system that fails to support them properly. The problem is that the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 has not proved enforceable, as I discovered in 2008 when my stalker and harasser was finally caught. I wish that I could say that things have improved in the intervening 15 years, but they have not.

At the heart of the problems is inconsistency in application, whether in police forces, courts—criminal, civil and family—judgments, or all ancillary support mechanisms, often including local government. There are pockets of excellent practice, yes, but far too often for victims it is a complete lottery. This Bill is the perfect opportunity to remedy that. Training is needed throughout the criminal justice system, not just for specialist teams. I have been laying that training amendment for nearly 10 years now. Let us hope that we get some progress in the Bill on that.

When victims of rape have a first encounter with the police, it should be supportive, knowledgeable and understanding, rather than accusing them of “asking for it”, or—in the case of victims of spiked drinks—telling them it was their fault because they were drunk. This still happens. Independent legal advice and access to free transcripts of Crown Court hearings are also very necessary for victims of crime.

I echo the compliments about the role of the Victims’ Commissioner nationally and in London. Vera Baird, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and Claire Waxman have done an amazing job, which none of us could have foreseen they would do with the few resources they have been given. It is working well. I wonder whether we now need to consider local victims’ commissioners, perhaps covering the same areas as police and crime commissioners; but it cannot be done by PCCs—it is a very different role.

Not all victims of stalking and harassment are domestic. The progress of legislation relating to victims of domestic abuse, welcome though it is, has left a legal hole for victims of serious crimes that are not considered domestic. Stalking is the key issue there.

While the definition of a “victim” in the Bill is helpful, there remain gaps for family members or third-party victims of crimes such as sexual abuse, sexual violence and other serious crimes, including domestic abuse, which is omitted. Only where a murder or death has happened are family members included. Family lives are often shattered by these crimes.

We also need an immigration firewall to ensure that the details of those who are victims and also migrants do not end up being used against them in any action in the migration system. The exploitation of children and vulnerable adults, whether in modern slavery or other forms, also needs to be dealt with in this Bill.

The approach to violence against and abuse of children specifically needs to be strengthened. We have long argued from these Benches for mandatory reporting of child sex abuse, as has happened successfully in Australia, Canada and many other countries. This was a recommendation of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, but the Government have done nothing to implement it yet. The Children’s Commissioner makes a strong argument for separate identification of the needs of child victims, seeking an advocate for every child victim of the most serious crimes. This will give children agency when involved in the criminal justice system, and a victims’ code that is designed with and for children, because their needs are very different from those of adults.

Part 2, on supporting “victims of major incidents”, needs to include the Bishop of Liverpool’s recommendations on public authority accountability—the “Hillsborough law”. There also needs to be careful scrutiny of the role of the standing advocate for victims of major incidents. The charter proposed by the Government, and amendments in the Commons, are all helpful, but there needs to be further strengthening and, above all, a commitment to fund the office of the independent public advocate. We on these Benches remain concerned that the powers of the Secretary of State over the independent public advocate might jeopardise their independence.

It is good to see a new Part 3 providing some legal status for the victims of the infected blood scheme. However, the new Clause 40 is only the first step. There are concerns that the Government are already slowing down on the issue of interim payments. Like other noble Lords, I look forward with interest to the statement that is happening today.

I agree that most of the issues in the Bill are not partisan, and there is cross-party support for the truly transformative processing and treatment of victims, evident in the debates in the Commons and in your Lordships’ House. However, in Part 4, on prisoners and parole, we remain particularly concerned about the Henry VIII powers, the independence of the Parole Board and the Human Rights Act.

Lastly, there is real concern that the first three parts of the Bill all demand more of our public services, creating new and important roles, but do not provide support for them—unlike Part 4, which I understand is receiving around £500 million. The Autumn Statement Green Book notes on page 83 that there will be £10 million extra for domestic abuse for the financial year 2024-25 but the figure is zero in future years, and there is no mention of extra support for victims. Can the Minister explain why the victim elements of the Bill are funded only to a derisory level for one year and why victims once again appear abandoned after that?

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee) 4:10, 18 December 2023

My Lords, I too welcome the Bill, and I thank the Minister for the concise way in which he outlined its provisions. However, there are some changes that need to be made. I shall look at three topics. The first is victims, including the position of victims in Wales; secondly, I shall say something about the Parole Board; and, thirdly, I will deal with sentences of imprisonment for public protection.

I support the aim of the Bill to improve the position of victims. Over 20 years ago it was said that the victim should be put at the heart of the criminal justice system; that was a well-known phrase used by the Blair Government. Why is that not the case? When the Minister referred to the means being the subject of debate, I am not sure that he meant “means” in the broadest sense. There are two means that I think are critical: one is culture and the other is money, because we do not improve the position of victims simply by enacting legislation and codes.

I looked at this matter when I had the privilege of chairing the Commission on Justice in Wales, which reported some four years ago. There were four particular complaints about victims. First, they did not have sufficient advice and support, particularly the old and the disabled. The figures given by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for people who said they would never touch the criminal justice system again, we found, were reflected.

Secondly, there was not enough information on the right to challenge the decisions of the police and the CPS, but there the law has been changed, largely due to the actions of Sir Keir Starmer when he was DPP. Again, I suspect that if that is a complaint, there is not enough change in culture.

Thirdly, regular updates should be provided. This is something I have come across when looking at the position of victims across Europe. The best system was then the Dutch one, but the Dutch expended huge sums of money on ensuring that sufficient information was constantly made available.

The fourth area about which there was concern was sentencing. We have a sentencing code that is about an inch thick. Our position is immensely complicated, and it is important that we first explain to victims the range of options before the sentence. If they want to attend the hearing, give them support, but explain it afterwards. That is a big job, and it all costs money and involves cultural change. In Wales we recommended that that issue be addressed collaboratively, taking advantage of the small size of Wales and the fact that people know each other well and—by and large—get on. I think I can safely say that, despite some observations.

Much has been done since our report was published four years ago. I very much welcome the Government’s approach in Clauses 12 to 14, which is confined to England and therefore allows the Government of Wales to carry on the good work they are doing under the various provisions of Welsh legislation providing for duties and strategies. That is all I wanted to say about victims at this stage, but there may be more to say in detail later.

I turn to the Parole Board. First, on Clause 44, if serious cases are to be referred by the Secretary of State, then they must be referred to a body with great experience. Presently, the Upper Tribunal deals essentially with civil cases. I could understand the logic of this if the Parole Board was to be given its proper status as a tribunal, which would solve all these problems. Why is it going to the Upper Tribunal? I look forward to the Minister explaining this. Is a new chamber going to be created? Would it not be better to look at an existing body that could give guidance in cases that go wrong, such as the Court of Appeal Criminal Division?

Turning to Clause 54, the Parole Board is a judicial body. It seems to me that enabling the Secretary of State to remove the chairman is a fundamental contradiction to judicial independence. I simply do not understand the provision. It appears that the Bill seeks to deal with this issue by providing that the chair is not to be involved in judicial work; there is an express provision to that effect. However, I think the drafters of the Bill have overlooked one critical fact. As I understand the rules of the Parole Board, the selection of panel members is still within the compass and duties of the chairman of the Parole Board. Selecting members of a tribunal is a wholly judicial function. In some countries they go so far as to provide for random selection. You cannot have a chairman who is capable of being removed by the Secretary of State responsible for selection.

I cannot understand why this provision is there, because the chairman is not responsible for individual decisions which might cause a loss of confidence. I could have possibly understood why persons other than the present Lord Chancellor might have suggested this; I simply do not understand why it is there. I would suggest that the ability to remove is deleted from the Bill and that the board should be led by someone who is engaged in judicial decision-making so that they bring their experience to bear. It would be wholly intolerable if a senior judicial post was held by, for example, someone who did not sit in criminal work. You have to know what is going on. This bit of the Bill is a relic of something or other—I cannot speculate on what—but it is flawed and should be removed.

Finally on this part, on Clauses 49 to 52, I cannot understand how the clauses disapplying the Human Rights Act are compatible with the certificate given by the Minister. More importantly, it seems to me that if anyone needs protection of their human rights, it is prisoners.

Finally, I will say a word about IPPs. I leave all the detail to a speech I agree with in advance: that to be given by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. However, I want to make one very short point; when we come to look at this, we must look at the responsibility of the state. To my mind, it is not right or just to transfer the risk of the commission of further offences to the offender and not accept that there is a strong view, supported I think by some evidence, that the reason so many of these people are dangerous is because the state has failed them—first, by the imposition of this sentence, which is accepted to be wrong in principle and, secondly, by for years doing nothing about it. We as a state ought to bear some of the responsibility. That is why re-sentencing is the only just cause.

Photo of The Bishop of Newcastle The Bishop of Newcastle Bishop 4:18, 18 December 2023

My Lords, it is a privilege to speak today, to follow the noble and learned Lord, and to be in the company of those to follow. This is an important piece of legislation. We all know that the work of delivering justice for victims does not end with this legislation. Ultimately, we all want safer communities, so it is vital that we consider what really helps to rehabilitate people in prison so that they do not offend again on release. The work of reconciliation and restoration, challenging as it is, invites us to consider deeper issues. Root and branch reform of the criminal justice system is long overdue.

There are unresolved issues with the Bill, some of which I hope will be considered in this House. I will mention four very briefly, which my right reverend friend the Bishop of Gloucester will be interested in as the Bill progresses.

We know that many people in the criminal justice system are both victims and offenders. In the case of women, almost 60% of those supervised in the community or in custody have experienced domestic abuse, although many believe the true figure to be higher. Research has shown that women’s offending is often directly linked to their own experience of domestic abuse, so we are unfairly criminalising victims. This Bill brings an opportunity to consider making the defence of self-defence more accessible for victims of domestic abuse who use force against their abuser and to provide a defence where victims of domestic abuse are coerced into offending. This is welcomed.

We must also guard against unintended consequences of some welcome aspects of this Bill in regard to parental access to children when a domestic homicide is committed. The welfare of traumatised children is critical, and the family courts are better placed than criminal courts to consider the individual needs of such vulnerable children. We also need to better understand just how many children in the country have a primary carer who is in prison for whatever kind of offence. We know those children are likely to suffer lifelong consequences, and we must do more to think about criminal justice reform in generational terms.

Like others, I am concerned that the issue of imprisonment for public protection has not fully been resolved, although the proposed changes are commendable and I thank the noble and learned Lord the Minister for his comments in his opening speech. I add my voice to those of others that this Bill might still afford an opportunity to finally put right that injustice. Might the Minister look again at the principal recommendation of the Justice Committee on re-sentencing?

This Bill should seek to help all victims. Migrant women who face abuse and violence in the United Kingdom need access to a permanent, long-term welfare safety net, including refuge spaces and support services. We know that migrant victims of crime fear data sharing between the police and the Home Office; a firewall would enable victims of domestic abuse to come forward to seek help in confidence without fear of immigration enforcement. This was mentioned just now by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. Firewall amendments were tabled during the course of the Domestic Abuse and Illegal Migration Bills, and my right reverend friend the Bishop of London hopes to support this measure during this Bill as well. No one should feel unsafe in reporting a crime committed against them or one that they have witnessed.

I conclude by commending the Government for this Bill and many of its proposals to improve the experience of victims of crime, and I look forward to working with colleagues as it progresses through your Lordships’ House.

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee 4:23, 18 December 2023

My Lords, with your Lordships’ permission, I will use the minutes available to me to speak principally about the clauses that relate to prisoners detained indefinitely for public protection. Before I do so, I congratulate in advance the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Haslemere, on his impending maiden speech.

We have had a great discussion of human rights in various contexts over the last few weeks and months, and noble Lords no doubt do not need reminding of the scandal of a sentence that was actually abolished because of a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights but is still being served 10 years on by those caught up in it. My noble and learned friend the Minister provided some figures to the House about the current situation, and I will just highlight a few of them, with none of which I am disagreeing. There are nearly 3,000 people in jail serving this sentence and, of those, 57% are on recall and 43% have never been released. Nearly all those people who have not been released have served their minimum tariff; only 20 have not and all the rest are over tariff and more than half of those have been held for 10 years or more over their original tariff. I will finish with a figure that my noble and learned friend did not mention, but I shall: there were 78 people serving an IPP sentence who have taken their own lives while in prison.

The truth is that this sentence is a form of mental torture: to have no notion of when you might be released and to have only vague ideas of the hoops that you have to go through and steps that you have to take—hoops that are very often withdrawn because of administrative failings or because of a move in prison, and steps that you cannot take and so you are knocked back again, and “knocked back” is the term that is used. If you eventually get to a Parole Board, you find that, unlike any other prisoner, you have to demonstrate that you are safe before you can be taken out—and, at the same time, to do this in a context where your mental health is very likely deteriorating.

More and more people are aware of this situation. The fact that the existing Lord Chancellor has actually described it as a stain is an extremely welcome acknowledgement on his part of the scandal. A video is going round, circulated by the Campaign for Social Justice, which claims recently to have achieved 7 million views. The public are aware of this issue, and they are sympathetic to the plight of these prisoners, as I suggest we should be. The Justice Committee in the other place did a very thorough, serious and sympathetic report earlier this year. Its principal recommendation was a re-sentencing exercise. The Government have rejected that; no doubt, it is something that we will return to in your Lordships’ House. But there are also many other ways in which we could help those in prison.

The Government are to be commended on certain things—and I know the personal efforts of my noble and learned friend the Minister. Since earlier this year, we have an action plan that contains discernible actions and appears to be getting attention from the civil servants at the Ministry of Justice, which is very welcome. I also welcome the amendments made to the Bill by the Government in the other place, which addressed issues to do with IPP prisoners. However, all the amendments inserted in the other place relate to prisoners who are out on licence. As I say, I think they are the best you could hope for—they are very good amendments—but they do nothing for those serving a sentence of imprisonment in jail. There is a range of ways in which we could help those people. Some of them are perhaps at the more radical end, but there are others that are very gentle, which I hope my noble and learned friend would find it possible to accept easily in Committee, when we shall table amendments relating to them.

Finally, I echo what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said about the responsibility of the state and the necessity of recognising our moral responsibility in relation to prisoners suffering mental health issues, very often because of the way we have treated them—a way which we acknowledge is not compatible with their human rights. My noble and learned friend the Minister made a great deal of the principle of public protection, but those are not the words over the door when he goes into his office; the words over the door say, “Ministry of Justice”. When it comes to Committee, I very much hope that noble Lords will be supportive of those amendments put forward that would perhaps put that balance right and re-emphasise the responsibility of the state to administer justice to people who have been neglected too long.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour 4:29, 18 December 2023

My Lords, it is an absolute privilege to follow that outstanding speech from the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. I hope he will forgive me for associating myself with every single word of it. I declare my non-pecuniary interest as a council member of both Justice and the Howard League for Penal Reform.

I am also grateful for the opportunity to speak in advance of the forthcoming maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Haslemere, who I had the pleasure of working for as a government lawyer in the late 1990s. He may not forgive me for saying it—and please, do not hold it against him—but I learned so much from him in those days, as a young lawyer, about law, good government and policy-making. I found him to be almost the personification of qualities in the subsequently much maligned Civil Service: independence, integrity, intellect and humanity. In a year when we have lost the noble and learned Lords, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood and Lord Judge, I think the arrival of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, on the Cross Benches must be particularly welcomed.

I now come to the Victims and Prisoners Bill, and I welcome the way that this debate has been opened by all the major groups in your Lordships’ House. In a December that will feel not quite like Christmas for too many struggling families, including those blighted by crime in this country, the Government bring us a not quite Christmas tree Bill. While I welcome its much delayed arrival, and the much delayed arrival of any Bill supposedly aimed at enhancing victims’ rights, I query, like the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, whether it would not have benefited from a tighter focus in some places, or at least some pre-legislative scrutiny.

However, my greatest concern, perhaps, lies in the way the contradictions at the heart of the Bill represent those at the heart of the Government. I have no doubt that the Bill has been much improved by the arrival of the new Lord Chancellor—rightly, one of the more liberal and more pro rule of law members of the Cabinet. We see that reflected in the removal of what would have been a Secretary of State’s direct veto over Parole Board release decisions. I am very glad to see that that has been removed. Similarly, there has been some movement, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, in relation to some IPP prisoners, but not all. On the IPP point, I look forward to listening to the noble Lord’s partner in crime, if I may call him that, my noble friend Lord Blunkett.

However, one need not be the greatest Kremlinologist to divine that, just days before the publication of the Rwanda Bill, the Lord Chancellor appears to have lost a battle with No. 10 over the disapplication of Section 3 of the Human Rights Act—which of course requires legislation to be read compatibly with rights and freedoms, so far as is possible—from the parole provisions of the Bill. I am very sad about that. I am also sad about the proposals mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, that would allow the Secretary of State to interfere with the independence and the composition of the Parole Board. I think that will be another provision that will require noble Lords’ attention in due course.

In the always affable and open spirit in which the noble and learned Lord the Minister opens these debates, I ask him to explain why this disapplication of Section 3 of the Human Rights Act was thought necessary in the case of this Bill. I ask him how it squares with his Section 19 statement—it is not quite a certificate; it is a statement of compatibility. Is it not just political signalling that if the Human Rights Act is not immediately to be repealed wholesale, it will instead suffer death by a thousand cuts, as a sop to those so-called “five families” who want their party to leave the European convention and, accordingly, the Council of Europe at next year’s general election? A little explanation of the thinking for the disapplication of human rights would be incredibly welcome.

In my experience, the convention on human rights has done more for victims’ rights in this country than, with respect, the common law ever did, and indeed more than party politics probably every did. One only needs to look at the case law to see that borne out, particularly in relation to the rights for the most vulnerable victims, including children and women, and victims of sexual crime. By contrast, the victims’ rights in this Bill, while well intended, are, to a large extent, toothless. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about that. They are too much a dead letter in a sealed book, without the means to make them real or enforce them. I look forward to hearing from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, about whether she thinks the Bill goes far enough, because I would like to see the victims’ code in the Bill and very clear methods of accessible enforcement. Otherwise, we are in danger of letting down victims yet again, by suggesting a promised land that just is not coming. That would be a terrible mistake after the lengthy wait for this kind of legislation.

Similarly, victims of major incidents are too narrowly defined and their protections are too weak. They should have more ready access to independent advice and representation. I have seen that in other inquiries and compensation schemes, not least Windrush and Leveson—on which I served—and so on.

There seems to be a lot of common ground between different groups in this House and a very receptive Minister, so I hope that we can all work together to improve the Bill in Committee and beyond.

Photo of Baroness Coussins Baroness Coussins Crossbench 4:37, 18 December 2023

My Lords, I welcome the Bill’s provision to bring the victims’ code into primary legislation and want to flag up a few points relating to the first principle listed in the code, which is the victim’s right to understand and be understood, with access where necessary to interpretation and translation services. I declare my interests as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages and vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Linguists.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, may remember that he was kind enough to meet me during the Brexit process, when I wanted to make sure that the Government retained the right to interpreting and translation for people suspected or accused of an offence, which was established by an EU directive in 2010 and subsequently transposed into domestic law. Happily, I was reassured. Since then, the MoJ has launched an independent review of the qualifications and experience required by court interpreters, which I hope will soon be published. The Bill provides another much-needed piece of the criminal justice jigsaw as far as language services go.

A victims’ code already exists, but as we know only too well from other areas of public services, non-statutory codes or guidance do not always guarantee the type or quality of service needed or intended—or even if they do, we do not necessarily know whether they do. For example, I asked a Written Question recently to try to find out who was responsible for monitoring compliance with the NHS England guidance on interpreting and translation services in primary healthcare. The answer was “No one—we do not monitor compliance”. It is a very welcome step forward that, in this Bill, not only will the code be statutory but there will be a duty on relevant bodies to promote awareness of it and a compliance monitoring framework.

However, it is not enough just to declare a right of access to language services if needed. As specified in the original EU directive, they must be of an appropriate professional quality. In other words, public service interpreters, or PSIs, must be qualified and experienced. They are specialist professionals and not a casual nice-to-have. There is little point engaging someone with a tip-top level 6 diploma in public service interpreting for a complex court case if they have never set foot in a court before and are unfamiliar with procedure or terminology. There is a well-known case from many years ago, which I am sure the Minister will recognise, that provides a good example of such danger. A woman was wrongly convicted of murder because it emerged on appeal that the so-called interpreter, who was inexperienced, had not known the difference between murder and manslaughter. It is also self-evident that an interpreter with the right languages should be engaged—and not someone turning up with fluent Latvian when Lithuanian is needed, or Punjabi instead of Gujarati. I am not making these examples up—they have all happened.

There will also be situations where the victim needs an interpreter whose professionalism and qualifications are combined with empathy and sensitivity. This might be provided only by someone of the same sex, given the intimacy of what that victim needs to describe in cases of sexual violence or exploitation. A requirement that interpreters should be on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters is also worth considering as a guarantee of standards. There must be no more situations in which a neighbour, friend, teenage child or court usher is asked to play the interpreter in lieu of a properly qualified and suitable professional.

I hope the Minister will say a little more about the compliance monitoring framework. Flexibility for bodies to choose how they meet the duty to promote awareness could easily result in unacceptable discrepancies from one area to another. I would prefer to see minimum standards and expectations clearly spelled out and specific reference to interpreting and translation services in the Bill.

An excellent precedent for setting standards and consistency is the police approved interpreters and translators scheme, or PAIT, launched in 2020. Instead of a hotchpotch of different police forces operating different systems, now most police regions in the UK mandate the same terms and conditions, and external provider agencies are monitored and regulated. I was therefore concerned to find out that the national manager for the PAIT scheme has not been involved in or consulted on the development of this Bill. I strongly urge the Minister to ensure that this happens. We must avoid a situation where different parts of the criminal justice system deal with language services in different ways and with different standards, criteria and guidance.

We will need better data collection, and swift updating and strengthening of the code and all the accompanying detailed regulations. All promotional materials, as well as the code, must be produced in a variety of languages. This would be an excellent topic for the joint thematic inspections envisaged under the Bill; I ask the Minister to consider that as soon as possible. If the Bill and the current review of courts and tribunals are to have the desired effect and lead to more consistent and effective language services, the MoJ will need urgently to put energy and resources into a serious campaign to improve the supply chain of public service interpreters, or this victims’ right will be nothing more than an empty shell.

Thousands of PSIs have left the profession because of poor levels of pay and conditions. Added to this, the post-Brexit Immigration Rules, especially with the new salary threshold, act as a major barrier to the PSI pipeline, most of whose practitioners are freelance. Will the Minister speak to his colleagues in the Home Office about this specific group of professionals? I look forward to his comments on all the issues I have raised.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee 4:44, 18 December 2023

My Lords, I share the view that victims deserve a Bill to themselves. Extending the Bill to prisoners reflects how our system treats victims, whom I prefer to think of as survivors: necessary for a trial but, in many ways, peripheral. It is largely due to those working in the sector that I clocked this. I thank all the stakeholders and organisations for their briefings; they are so valuable, and not referring to them in a debate such as this does not mean that they have not been read.

I will spend several of my few minutes on Part 4 of the Bill, but that is not because I am not concerned to make the rest of the Bill as good as it can be. I welcome that the Government have brought forward Part 1, and I hope the Minister can see calls to make the victims’ code enforceable and make the duty to collaborate effective, for instance, as supportive.

I found it shocking to discover that a victim has to pay for a transcript of a trial—something that my honourable friend Sarah Olney has been pursuing—and at such cost. Is that open justice? Surely technology should make transcripts much cheaper to produce. Even if you are relaxed, it is not easy to take in everything when you are listening, and I am often quite surprised when I read Hansard after a debate. Stress makes that harder. I understand that the Government are to undertake a one-year pilot on the production of a transcript, but only for limited categories of offences. Will this be for those offences in all courts? On what criteria will the pilot be evaluated? Will victims be consulted throughout the process?

I will be surprised if I am the first to ask what news there may be on getting offenders to hear—one cannot make people listen—the sentences and sentencing remarks. I accept that this is not a straightforward matter at all.

It is also shocking that victims are deterred from counselling because of defendants’ access to counselling records and how they may be used. Confidentiality is essential for counselling to be effective. If an assault left a victim with a broken leg, you would regard immediate treatment as essential.

Another issue of confidentiality—which has been mentioned several times—is the need for a firewall regarding immigration information. On these Benches we did all we could to remove the immigration exemption from what became the Data Protection Act 2018. The practical implications of the issue can be immense when the police automatically and, it seems to me, quite casually pass information to the immigration authorities. That enables the perpetrator to threaten the victim with disclosure—if that is not misusing the term. We should protect victims by protecting their data. I do not imagine the Minister is in a position to comment on last week’s judgment from the Court of Appeal on the application by the organisation the3million and the Open Rights Group, but I hope he will be able to do so when we get to an amendment—and an amendment there will be—on a firewall.

We have plenty to consider when we come to the provisions about major incidents and the role and powers of advocates—which in some cases read to me as assisting the Secretary of State rather than the victims. I do not pretend to have a full understanding of the requirements of those caught up in an incident—which is such a small word—but dealing with the media, which can play an important part, is not always easy. That is an issue for discussion, along with legal representation at any inquest.

For people trapped in the nightmare of IPPs, we cannot restore what they have lost—as we have been reminded, what they have lost is hope—but let us put things right to the extent that we can.

I find it difficult to read Part 4 as being as much about victims as it is about prisoners, but I am willing to learn. I do not think it is being soft, woke or whatever term is current to say that prisoners have rights. The penalty for their offence is the loss of liberty, not the loss of rights. It must have taken some brass neck on the part of the original signatory of the statement that the Bill is compatible with the convention rights when it actually disapplies some of them in terms. The affable and thoughtful noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, was put in a rather difficult position on this, I suspect.

As somebody has already said, there is more messaging and more nibbling away at human rights to appease those who say they are not British. The numbers of people affected may be low, but that does not mean the rights are not significant. The court is to

“give the greatest possible weight to the importance of reducing the risk to the public from persons who have committed offences”.

That seems to me to pitch incarceration against rehabilitation. I wish I thought that the latter was intended.

There is no right for whole-life prisoners to marry or form civil partnerships. What is the evidence that their having the right undermines public confidence? We are told that there is evidence, and one instance has been cited. Should we go on the basis of one example? What about the partners and children of those prisoners? The numbers may be vanishingly small, in the jargon, but for each individual the issue can be far from the vanishing point.

As for parole, how can I put this? The current Lord Chancellor is clearly treading a line between loyalty to his Government, and therefore his predecessor, and his own instincts—but the Bill still too much follows the design of his predecessor. The figures in the Explanatory Notes give the context of about 26,000 cases reviewed by the Parole Board each year, with fewer than one in four prisoners reviewed judged to meet the statutory test for release, and less than 0.5% of those released convicted of a serious offence within three years. The implication that is being read into the need to have people with a law enforcement background sitting on the Parole Board is that the board is too soft.

On the power of the Secretary of State to remove the chair to maintain public confidence, my own confidence comes from confidence in the chair’s independence and confidence in colleagues—if I can call them that—such as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and their views on this subject. When the Justice and Home Affairs Committee met the Lord Chancellor in October, he was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, to confirm that the statutory power to remove the chair is under consideration. He said that it is something that he continues

“to have an interest in”.

I hope I have not stolen a line from her speech. Indeed, he said:

“There are all sorts of aspects of this legislation that are under consideration”.

I look forward to hearing more over the course of the debates on the Bill, and very much look forward to hearing the next speaker.

Photo of Baroness Newlove Baroness Newlove Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:53, 18 December 2023

My Lords—no pressure for me now. Nearly 13 years ago I stood, with some trepidation, as I made my maiden speech to your Lordships in this House. In that speech, I called for victims to be treated with respect and to be helped to participate in the criminal justice system. I informed the House that if victims do not have confidence in the justice system, and if witnesses walk away, we all suffer.

In 2007, I learned that courage was not the absence of fear; I hid it behind a mask of boldness. Today, sadly, I am a little older but, I hope, a little wiser—and, yes, maybe there are a few grey hairs. After losing Garry 16 years ago, I have, with every year that has gone by, faced barriers, the waiting and the silence. There have been many appeals and many paroles; I have sat through every application. Nevertheless, my determination and passion to see all victims of crime being treated with respect and, furthermore, given all the support they need in their criminal justice journey is just as strong today.

This Bill has been a very long time coming, but, with the upmost respect to all noble Lords across the Chamber, I have heard too many things about prisoners. That is why I was disappointed, when the Bill was announced in the other place, that we now have the Victims and Prisoners Bill. For many prisoners, there is lots of legislation; for victims, it was paramount that they were foremost at the top of the tree. I should know, because I have been calling, along with many others in this sector, for a Bill on victims’ law for close to a decade—yet we are sharing the platform with prisoners once again. Therefore, this Bill must be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform victims’ experiences of our criminal justice system.

Justice should always treat victims with decency and respect. It should listen to victims, instead of talking at them. It should share information willingly and with sensitivity. It should give victims a voice and make them feel like a participant and not an onlooker. A justice system that does all of the above only then will help heal some of the victims’ wounds. It can bring catharsis, regardless of the outcome. It can also give other victims the confidence to come forward and report crimes committed against them. On the other hand, a justice system that does none of these things will only add to the trauma of the crime and create disillusionment, with victims and witnesses simply walking away and saying, “Never again”.

I applaud the Government for making the time for this important Bill. However, in the middle of the Christmas period, it feels very fast-forward, so I look forward to working hard in Committee. I say that with no disrespect to my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy, who I am very glad is still here after the reshuffle. I also thank the officials for their hard work in putting the Bill together. None the less, I have to say that I do believe the Bill needs strengthening if it is to deliver the change that has been promised for so long—and we are look forward to getting that. When I say “all”, I mean all. I believe that the ambition cuts across all party lines; it is shared by noble Lords on all sides of the House. I know from the work on the then Domestic Abuse Bill and the then Online Safety Bill that this House is at its finest when it comes together, cross-party, to scrutinise a Bill.

Since my reappointment as the Victims’ Commissioner in October, I have made it a priority to reach out and engage with as many victims’ groups as possible. I have written many letters to Ministers—so they have lots of homework, just like me. The consensus is clear: they welcome the Bill, but they tell me that it does not go far enough. Let me explain why. The victims’ code sets out the rights that victims should expect to receive, from the moment they report a crime to the end of their trial. As I have been told previously in my journeys as the Victims’ Commissioner and as a victim, surely that is just persuasive guidance. Rights under the code therefore include help to understand the process, updates on their case, respectful treatment, procedural justice and support as and when it is needed. However, time and again, victims tell me that their treatment falls below this standard. According to my Victim Survey—I thank other noble Lords for mentioning it in the House—less than a third have even heard of the victims’ code. I repeat: they have not heard of the victims’ code.

I am sure that, for some, criminal justice agencies are well intentioned when dealing with victims, but all too often the culture is more “Let’s do what we can”, rather than “Supporting victims goes to the heart of what we’re all about”. My response to these good intentions is, “Thank you very much, but victims want more than just favours”. They need proper statutory rights. They want their rights to be made fully known to them and to be enforceable, properly monitored and delivered with respect and sensitivity. On this point, I am just not convinced that the Bill as it stands can deliver that. The Government promised they would be putting the victims’ code on a statutory footing, giving victims enhanced rights. Yet the Bill as drafted falls short of doing this. This needs to be addressed.

Then there is the issue of compliance. Rights are meaningless unless they are upheld, and there needs to be a robust system in place to make sure they are being upheld. The Bill makes a good attempt at achieving this and has much that I applaud, but compliance monitoring needs to be more transparent. Importantly, it also requires independent scrutiny to avoid the impression of the Government marking their own homework. The Bill needs to go further on this issue. In fact, I believe effective oversight and scrutiny of compliance is fundamental to the Bill’s success.

As well as better compliance, I am also keen to see the Bill reaching out to those groups of victims who are currently left in the cold. Persistent and targeted anti-social behaviour is a crime that is not low-level. It causes high levels of harm, as I know only too well. Yet there is no mention in the Bill of how these victims can be guaranteed to receive the support they often so desperately need. We must remedy this. Victims of some of the worst crimes have fewer rights in cases where the perpetrator is detained under the Mental Health Act, yet the impact of the crime is no less than on any other victim. I want this Bill to deliver parity of treatment for those victims.

Finally, we all know that victims of sexual violence face huge hurdles in getting justice. Too often, they face unwarranted invasions of their privacy. If we are to help them receive true justice, the Bill needs to do so much more to give them the protections they deserve. Again, I see this Bill as a vehicle to deliver these protections.

In conclusion, I welcome the Government’s commitment to deliver for victims, but I truly believe we must be more ambitious if we are to achieve the transformation that victims rightly deserve, because a law without justice for victims is a wound without a cure.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour 5:03, 18 December 2023

My Lords, it is a genuine privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. I was privileged to work with her as the Home Secretary who brought in what was then the original Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill. I am painfully aware of how little progress we have been able to make and how important this legislation is today. I would also like to commend the noble Lord, Lord Carter, on his forthcoming maiden speech and to reconnect with him—I am sure he will make an enormous contribution—and share with my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti the sadness that we are not joined this afternoon by the late and much-lamented Igor Judge and Simon Brown, whom I personally miss greatly.

I will say just a word in following up what the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, said. If there is a sense of commitment and duty, it is embodied in her decision to come back to take on this role. I share what she just said about the issues relating to mental health and what amounts to considerable and persistent anti-social behaviour and abuse by people who, of course, need treatment and support, but we also need to support those who are the victims of it. I have received many letters over the years—and still do—from people who have found their lives as neighbours simply made a misery. So I hope we can find a way of including persistent anti-social behaviour in this legislation.

I also hope—and perhaps the Minister might reflect on this—that we might help those who do not get support from the police; the victims of offences who contest the police’s failure to act and get caught up in internal reviews for which there is no appeal. The reviews by some forces in this country are excellent, and people are informed clearly as to why action has not been taken. But I will give just one example this afternoon: that of the Warwickshire Police force, which, frankly, in my view is an absolute disgrace, and the chief constable cannot even be bothered to write personally to a former Home Secretary. I will take that up another day.

I move now to Clause 48. I welcome very strongly the decision taken by the current Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, and commend the Minister in this House. It is really nice to have people who are prepared to listen and, even close to an election, take decisive decisions. The reduction in the licence period for IPPs is very welcome indeed. I commend everything that the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, said on this, and I am very glad that he has taken up the cudgel and is leading on these matters.

It surely must be possible to be able to distinguish IPPs from DPPs, and the young people who were sentenced under that particular clause when they were juveniles, as opposed to those who were sentenced as adults, even if the Government are not prepared to take up the challenge of the sentencing. It surely must be possible to provide mentoring and advocates on behalf of those who are caught up in this, as has been described this afternoon. It surely must be possible to pick up the excellent thematic inspection report of His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation. I spent the weekend reading it—Christmas is coming late in the Blunkett household this year. The 11 recommendations and its conclusions are excellent, but they need implementation. It is incumbent on all of us to press the Government to make the action plan statutory; to include the recommendations in any iterations of the probation action plan; to take up the challenge, which has already been mentioned this afternoon, of what happens when prisoners are preparing for their appeal to the Parole Board and for release, where the inspection report indicates that there is a woeful lack of support and help for those who are preparing. There is a complete disconnect with offender managers, both inside the service and when people are on licence, partly because of the massive turnover and strange management practices within the service. I commend those to the Minister, and hope that he will be able to respond positively later this evening on those matters.

Finally, it is crucial we understand that, if we are to prevent victims of the future, we need to ensure that the rehabilitation of those who have committed offences is taken as seriously as it is in the debate this afternoon. In seven minutes, I have not really been able to cover the field. There is so much to be done and so much to come together, but in the spirit of what the current Lord Chancellor and the Minister in this House are doing, we might just be able, in the months ahead, to get this right. I sincerely hope so.

Photo of Lord Hogan-Howe Lord Hogan-Howe Crossbench 5:08, 18 December 2023

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. Unfortunately, the House will hear two Sheffield accents within a short time, so I apologise that we always end our sentences on a down note. I will do my best.

I support this Bill. It is time that victims receive statutory support for their rights in a way that suspects have for quite a long time. To get a balancing Bill is a good thing. Despite that, I still have some questions, mainly because I wonder whether all that the Bill intends to achieve will be achieved by some of the remedies that are suggested. I am not sure that they are all entirely effective, and they may, at times, have a counterproductive effect.

First, it seems to me that providing some rights for the victim within the criminal justice system is a good idea, because it is often run for the benefit of the suspect. This is done for good reason: obviously anyone who is charged with an offence might reasonably expect that their defence is provided as a priority. However, at times it seems to result in the victim and the witnesses having to wait two to three years for a case to come to trial so that the defence can prepare their case. That is not a fair balance. There seems to be some balancing weight within the criminal justice system that says that the victim and the witnesses can expect to get to court reasonably quickly, and two to three years—which is not entirely down to the pandemic but is down to a backlog—is surely a condemnation of what the system should be doing.

The second benefit described in the Bill is that there will be cross-inspectorate inspections. This is a good thing. They already happen, to some extent, but this time they will be done from the perspective of the victim, not that of all the people who populate the system. My concern is that inspections take a long time. Reports are published a long time after the event and the victim is still waiting for their issue to be resolved—which I am afraid that the inspectorate reports do not do. The inspectorate publishes recommendations which, if you are lucky, might make a difference in two to three years. They are essential in a way, but I am afraid they do not always achieve what this Bill intends to achieve.

The criminal justice departments in our police services are well populated. There are probably around 10,000 people whose role is to make sure that, from charge through to court, the system goes smoothly. However, what the system actually does is ensure an exchange of documents between the prosecution and the defence. The victims and the witnesses are kept informed, but often not well enough, and often their needs are not considered. It is not about resources but about what priority is given. Again, where is the remedy? As the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said, how do you get something to change within the police service, the CPS and the courts when you have a complaint? I am not sure that the remedies are in place.

In its conclusion, the Bill talks about the costs that might be included in implementing this as an Act. I think it is a gross undercount of what might be needed. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, mentioned earlier that we will need to invest in this area. However, the numbers involved are very small—£2.5 million for the tribunal process beyond probation, and less than £1 million for each element of the policing, CPS and court settlements. That is quite a big underestimate. If you put this Bill into each of those services, it will be deprioritised. Asking people to do more with the same resources is always a difficult task.

I had hoped that the Bill would say more about what some people have referred to as simplifying sentencing. I still think it is a great dishonesty in sentencing that, when the court announces that someone will spend five years in prison, what they mean is that they will spend three years in prison unless they misbehave or the Parole Board finds that they will misbehave when they leave. Why can we not just say that they will spend three years in prison unless they misbehave? That way, we are not being dishonest with the victim. They do not understand the criminal justice system, and why should they? Some of them will be professionals who understand it well, but it is far better to be open and transparent that this is the process, and then people will not be disappointed. We set their expectations. I am surprised that this Bill has not done something about that. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, even the judges struggle to understand the complexity of the sentences that are passed down and the rules that surround them. Surely the public deserve a better or simpler system.

I support the higher test for top-tier offenders being considered by the Minister of State and then a referral to the Upper Tribunal. There have been cases where we have been surprised by the release of people who appeared to be dangerous. It is probably best that at least those cases are reviewed. I take this to be the case; it is applying the same test but by a different set of people. That seems a wise thing.

There is one part of the Bill I wonder about, in its breadth. The description of a victim includes those who are harmed or who have

“seen, heard, or otherwise directly experienced the crime” in live time. Harm is defined quite extensively in the Bill—so I will not read it out—and does not have to be verified by a third party. I wonder about cases such as bombings and those involving roving terrorist gunmen. Should the Bill leave such a wide scope? The Government may want to consider some kind of conditionality being placed upon that, when you have mass events where there are large numbers of victims. My point is not that victims should not be helped but that, to ensure that you can help them, it is critical that you have defined them in a proper way. I think this is drawn rather widely.

I fully support the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, about interpreters. The police have made some progress in this area but, again, it is an area of cost. Particularly in cities such as London, where over 40% of the population often speak a second language and sometimes a first language that is not English, either victims or suspects—usually about 38% are foreign national offenders—will, on arrest, require some kind of translation. This is either by phone or in person, but it is expensive. Those costs have grown over time—for good reason, because the quality of interpreting has improved, but it imposes more costs on the system and I am not sure that has been considered, either in the Act or in general.

I said that I thought the Bill, well intended as it is—and I think it will make some good progress—might have to answer some acid tests from the public at the end. One or two people have mentioned things they think the system does not currently help with. These are my four or five things that I do not think the system does. Will the Bill make a difference?

Will the victim have a right for the police to attend the scene of a crime when the police say, “We’re not coming”? A shoplifter, for example, or a car theft, or all the other things we keep hearing about where the police do not seem to want to go to the scene of the crime. I find that confusing, and the victim certainly does. Whether you are a vulnerable victim or not, you ought to be able to expect the police to at least come, talk to you about it, have a look at the scene and see whether there is a chance of investigating it. On the telephone is convenient for the police, but I would argue it is not convenient for the victim.

The second area is about economic crime, for which most people seem to have no chance of having any investigation at all. Is this going to make a change in that area? I disagree with the present CPS rule which means there must be a 51% chance of success before it will take a case to court. The victim gets confused by that as well. Why can it not just be a prima facie case? That is one of the biggest disappointments they have. Another area is the time it takes to get to court.

Finally, we still have a very low success rate in terms of sexual offenders. When 70% of victims are vulnerable either through age, infirmity, alcohol, drugs or some other reason, they make not ideal witnesses for a system that demands perfection—they are not always consistent. How do we allow the law to support those victims, when the system itself does not seem very fair to them or their families?

Photo of Lord Farmer Lord Farmer Conservative 5:17, 18 December 2023

My Lords, my interest in the Bill lies in how families and children affected by crime are supported. I will also highlight that victims and prisoners are often overlapping categories.

The duty to collaborate, in Clause 12, reinforces recommendations I made in my 2019 Ministry of Justice review on female offenders. Early intervention in the community requires addressing women’s vulnerabilities that can lead to offending. These include them being victims of crime—for example, as we heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle, 57% of women in prison have themselves endured domestic abuse.

Joining up services, peer support and voluntary sector activity is vital for addressing the multiple drivers of women’s offending. I recommended establishing local accountabilities to make sure this join-up happens, so I welcome this duty. I also emphasised the need to include family and relationship work in diversion and out of court disposal programmes for women, and outlined the importance of family hubs. These are now official government policy and being rolled out in 87 local authority areas. I declare my unremunerated interest as a director and guarantor of the not-for-profit consultancy The Family Hubs Network Ltd.

Many family hubs provide domestic abuse services but want to do far more and are very well placed to help children who have experienced or witnessed domestic abuse. Can the Minister confirm that the duty to collaborate will require the police and others to work with family hubs? They need to be cemented into local support infrastructure wherever possible.

Further, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner highlighted at Commons Committee stage that many bereaved families have a poor experience of the Parole Board in terms of being kept informed, and their feelings considered, ahead of the release of offenders. Ideally, the Bill would drive improvements in family liaison.

I am interested in how the Government would have treated Harriet Harman’s new Clause 36, which was selected for consideration on Report but not debated. It called for annual data collection to establish

“how many prisoners are the primary carers of a child … how many children have a primary carer who is a prisoner, and … the ages of those children”.

This was recommended in her Joint Committee on Human Rights report The Right to Family Life: Children Whose Mothers are in Prison. The Government responded positively to this recommendation, provided an accurate method can be found that protects the rights of vulnerable individuals.

Cambridge criminologists Murray and Farrington referred to children of prisoners as “forgotten victims” of crime and “the Cinderella of penology”. This new clause could fit well into a Bill to make provision about victims of, and others affected by, criminal conduct. Accurate numbers and knowing exactly who is affected are both important to mitigate the deleterious effects of parental imprisonment on children, including the greater likelihood that they will themselves become offenders. Studies by Farrington et al and Dallaire found that over 60% of children of incarcerated parents offend themselves.

Mothers are more likely to be primary carers. However, today’s family complexities make this “primary carer” tag less clearcut. Men increasingly fill this role and many have “shared care” of children after parental separation. So, while I support this data collection, it should not further downplay the importance of fathers in children’s lives. That the Joint Committee felt justified in looking at the right to family life only for children whose mothers are in prison exposes an assumption that needs to be challenged. Can the Minister impart any early insights about the Government’s appetite to make such data collection a statutory requirement?

Where prisoners are concerned, public perceptions of men are very different from those of women. Important male/female differences affect the way each sex experiences incarceration, but there is far less societal acceptance that many convicted men are also victims. Yet for both sexes there is a deep connection between being a victim and ending up in prison—a quarter of prisoners were in local authority care. In The Honest Politician’s Guide to Prisons and Probation, the former Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, describes how

“‘a vast range of people in our prisons are inadequate in one way or another’, including many young people who suffered ‘horrific social deprivation’ … ‘Youths who stab people; they don’t control their emotions and so they do something horrific. But there is no point locking them up for … 20 years for a two-minute loss of temper’”.

By young people he means young men: less than 1.5% of the child and youth estate is female—the rest are male—and only 4.5% of the adult prison estate is female.

Without in any way excusing their crimes, I say that many young men have been through a range of adverse childhood experiences but often lack the developed emotional intelligence to articulate how they have been affected by them. It is a skill shaped through early nurturing relationships—precisely what many have not had when fathers have been absent. The ensuing vulnerability often comes out in anger, gang involvement and, ultimately, self-destructive acts, which can also devastate others’ lives. Victims of such crimes matter enormously, but courts exist to prevent vigilantism, vengeance and private justice.

Some are concerned—I mention here my noble friend Lady Newlove—that this is no longer just a victims’ Bill. But we must learn from those who speak for female offenders and extend to men and boys the recognition that we cannot neatly divide the world into victims and perpetrators. This is not to excuse—I disagree that women should not be in prison, even if they are parents, let alone men—but to build public understanding that funding for effective rehabilitation is money well spent. So, in ending, I ask the Minister to consider that victim/offender is an overlapping category that could be usefully established in law through this Bill, given its somewhat unique title.

Photo of Baroness Gohir Baroness Gohir Crossbench 5:24, 18 December 2023

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, in particular that I am the CEO of Muslim Women Network UK, which is one of the charities that responded to the Government’s consultations on the Bill. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, for outlining the key points in the Bill. Many gaps remain, but I welcome the Bill and I hope that the gaps can be addressed. I will try to point out a few examples.

The Bill does not adequately protect children. I look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, has to say about this later. The definition of “victim” in Clause 1 needs to be expanded further to include children who have been forced or coerced into criminal activity. A statutory definition of “child criminal exploitation” must also be introduced, as recommended by several children’s charities such as the NSPCC, Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society. It would prevent statutory agencies from regarding these children as perpetrators only.

Many child victims of abuse and exploitation go unsupported because they are not able to access specific services to meet their needs in their locality. The Bill must place a duty on commissioners to commission sufficient specialist child-specific support and advocacy services to ensure that all child victims are supported, no matter where they are in the country.

Clause 15, which focuses on creating guidance for independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers for adults must go further and create guidance for child ISVAs and child IDVAs. The guidance does mention service provision for children, but having child ISVAs and child IDVAs would strengthen protection for them. Clause 15 does not mention when the guidance will be reviewed, and it would be helpful to add a timeframe to ensure that the guidance is kept up to date.

I welcome Clause16, which restricts parental responsibility when one parent kills another. However, to further safeguard children, parents who have been convicted of committing serious sexual offences against their children or other children in their households should also automatically lose parental responsibility. The automatic parental right of men who have fathered a child through rape should also be removed. This is especially important, given that anyone born as a result of rape is now being recognised as a victim in their own right in Clause 1 of the Bill. Parents should not have to spend thousands of pounds to protect their children by going through court—and how about those parents who do not have the resources to do that?

How will the needs of children will be incorporated into the victims’ code? Does the Minister agree that the Secretary of State should also be required to provide a victims’ code specifically designed for children, as recommended by the Children’s Commissioner? The code will only be effective if all professionals receive the same level of training, and there is accountability. These issues have already been mentioned in depth by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.

Clause 6 mentions awareness-raising only for service users and public; it is silent on training for professionals who will be tasked with delivering the code of practice. There is also no punishment for failing to act in accordance with the code. The power to punish non-compliance, even if discretionary, would give victims more trust and confidence in the criminal justice system. I think we would all agree that such trust and confidence is at an all-time low.

The Bill states that the code can be revised from time to time. However, to ensure that this review is not delayed, I recommend that we put in a time frame such as every three to five years. The Bill does not adequately protect adults either. Stalking is poorly understood. Police forces are failing to address stalking even though we have stalking legislation. Independent stalking advocates should therefore also be included in Clause 15; it would help to save lives.

All victims of violence, no matter their background, should have equal access to services. We must therefore have a firewall to stop statutory agencies reporting migrant victims of domestic abuse to Immigration Enforcement when they try to seek support and help. We must expand the destitution domestic violence concession model to ensure that migrant victims of domestic abuse get the financial support they need, regardless of their immigration status. We must have ring-fenced funding for specialist services at both local and national level, and that funding must be accessible. The current funding model means that smaller specialist “by and for” organisations often do not meet the income thresholds that the Government tend to set, which prevents them applying for funding.

The right to contest decisions is a fundamental pillar of justice. Clause 2(3)(d) mentions that victims

“should be able to challenge decisions which have a direct impact on them”.

However, the Bill does not mention anywhere the victims’ right to review. For noble Lords who are not familiar with the victims’ right to review, I will explain its status and the gaps. A victim of crime has the right to seek a review of a CPS decision not to prosecute. That right was established by article 11 of EU directive 2012/29. At present that directive is still law for us because of some of the EU legislation that we have retained.

However, the legislation contains a significant gap for victims who are subjected to crime by multiple perpetrators, such as victims of gang rape or child sexual exploitation. At present the victims’ right to review works only if there is a single perpetrator. In cases in which there are multiple perpetrators but only one or some are charged—say, for rape—and others are not, the victims do not have the right to ask for a review on why other perpetrators have not been prosecuted. That has resulted in many victims dropping cases and perpetrators not being brought to justice. The Bill provides an opportunity to address that gap. Does the Minister agree about the unfairness of the current victims’ right to review? Will he consider strengthening it in the Bill or in the victims’ code of practice?

The Bill presents a significant chance to enhance the safeguarding of victims and guarantee a response that meets their needs. I urge the Government to do all they can to make this a reality and address all the gaps.

Photo of Baroness Burt of Solihull Baroness Burt of Solihull Liberal Democrat 5:32, 18 December 2023

My Lords, in the main I welcome the measures introduced in Parts 1, 2 and 3 of the Bill, with provisos. While I welcome the enforcement of the victims’ code in law, it needs to have sharper teeth by requiring the measuring and monitoring of service levels—otherwise, how can we know whether agencies are complying?

I heard the Minister’s arguments about transparency in his opening remarks, but the charity Victim Support found that as many as six in 10 victims do not currently receive their rights under the victims’ code. Improving enforcement rates will need adequate funding. What additional resources will be allocated to ensure that the code is enforced?

There is a narrative running through the Bill to empower and protect victims and give them more of a say—but not all victims. The Government are leaving out two or arguably three classes of victim. According to the Centre for Women’s Justice, more than half the women in prison or under community sentences are themselves victims who have been coerced in some way into crime, as so ably described by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle. I expect the Committee stage to involve amendments to ensure a new statutory defence for victims: that the victim was made to or pressured to commit certain offences.

The second group of victims are victims of human trafficking and other migrants who fear to report abuse to the police because, according to research by the Victims’ Commissioner, every single police force in England and Wales had passed on data to Immigration Enforcement. If the Government truly mean it when they say that no victim of domestic violence should be fearful of coming forward, they must erect a firewall, as several Peers have said today—otherwise, the most vulnerable victims will continue to suffer.

There is much more to say about victims, but time does not permit because I want to move on to Part 4 of the Bill, which I do not agree with. The victim protection theme continues, in that public safety is made paramount. Indeed, the thrust of the Bill concerns not prisoners but protecting the public against them and, apparently out of sheer vindictiveness, punishing some of them to the extent of contravening the convention on human rights, which should be for everyone. For example, why rob the whole life tariff prisoner of the right to marry or form a civil partnership? It boils down to the medieval concept of “civic death”, like the fact that we continue to flout the convention by not allowing prisoners to vote. If you have committed a severe crime, been found out and punished with imprisonment, you become a non-person—your stake in society is lost. Taking away the right to marry from whole life tariff prisoners is vindictive, especially, as I learned only today, because it appears to be based on just one case. If the Minister believes it is not vindictive, let him explain why in his concluding remarks or write to me.

The new right for the Secretary of State to refer release decisions for so-called top-tier prisoners to an Upper Tribunal or High Court is better than the Secretary of State, a politician, making that decision, but best of all would be to allow the Parole Board to make all release decisions, as recommended by the Law Society. After all, that is what it is there for. According to the Howard League, referral to another level will bring further delay and uncertainty. Why not just let the Parole Board do its job?

Finally, I want to talk about indeterminate-sentence prisoners, who are arguably victims in their own right since almost all have now been forced to overstay their original tariff and 85% have served more than 10 years over tariff, according to the charity UNGRIPP. While I welcome the measure to introduce a new right for IPPs to be eligible for release from licence after three years, the Bill still fails to deal with the 1,312 IPP prisoners who have never been released, and possibly never will, because they are deemed to be unsafe to the public. Last week the Justice Secretary said at an all-party group meeting that these prisoners are likely never to be released, so that is why the Justice Committee’s recommended re-sentencing programme could not be adopted, but what sentences were given for similar cases before and after the advent of IPP prisoners? Surely that is exactly why they should be re-sentenced. The Crown is holding out the false hope of release for these poor people, year after miserable year. The UN special rapporteur on torture, Dr Alice Jill Edwards, argued that we

“must reject the misleading public safety arguments against reviewing these unfair sentences and review all such sentences. Locking people up—and in effect throwing away the keys—is not a solution legally or morally”.

I do not accept the Government’s argument against re-sentencing, and I never will.

Photo of Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Labour 5:39, 18 December 2023

My Lords, I welcome this Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, has said, it is one we have waited quite a long time for. We will therefore want to strengthen it because I suspect there will not be another one coming down the road very quickly.

I will confine my remarks to a very specific area, although I support what others have said about children and other aspects of the Bill. I have spent far too many years working with women who have been abused and who have experienced violence. I really did think that, by this stage in my life, I would not have to be making as many interventions of this nature about this issue. You would have thought that we would be on top of this issue and made sure we had the legislation right. However, the reality is that the perpetrators are quite crafty. They have a persistence and determination to look for new vulnerabilities and new ways of exploiting the most vulnerable.

The 2018 Spicer review was a review of cases in Yorkshire and the north-east involving the grooming of young girls by large numbers of men for sexual purposes and other horrendous crimes. I have been working with an organisation which has renamed itself the STAGE project. It is a group of several organisations working in that region on the issues those young women faced then, and working with those same women and others as they have become adults and continue to be exploited. These young girls were targeted, groomed, raped and sexually exploited across the part of the world that I absolutely love, but the support for them has been very challenging.

The Spicer report acknowledged for the first time that not only children but women over the age of 18 are being groomed and sexually exploited. The problem is that too often this is seen not as a crime but as consensual: they are going with men in cars for sex, and being given drugs—what do they expect us to do about it? They are getting on with it; that is how they are making their money. But we also now hear about young women who cannot get accommodation—we even hear this about students—and are expected to give sexual favours in return for accommodation.

As STAGE says, we need to “change the narrative”. We need to understand what is really happening and make sure that those women are treated as victims and get the appropriate support to make sure they understand that they have had criminal activity perpetrated against them, and that there are routes for them to get support and for the perpetrators to be arrested, charged and punished. I have several copies of Changing the Narrative, and I will make sure the Minister and anyone else who wants one can have one.

I have been working with the organisations working with women who have experienced this level of exploitation. The stories are harrowing, and I am not going to repeat them in the Chamber today. The point I want to establish is that too often, the crime is not recognised. They are therefore not recognised as victims and the ability to change their lives and experiences simply disappears. A lot has been gained by the national definition of child sexual exploitation which came out of this work a few years ago, but we now need one for adult sexual exploitation.

I want the Secretary of State to consult on and develop a statutory definition of adult sexual exploitation and to publish accompanying guidance, and I will push the Government to accept that. Many organisations come up with their own definitions, which means that they vary enormously. Again, many women simply do not have trust in that. I know that Ministers have thought about this, but I want to make sure that this Minister understands where I am coming from and what I think we would gain by having that definition. It would enable everybody who works with victims—the police, probation, anybody in the criminal justice system—to understand what is happening to these women and help us build the right sort of support to tackle it.

There are ways forward. Too many times I have talked to young women whose support fell off a cliff edge when they were 18 because nobody saw it as exploitation any more—they were simply making decisions for themselves. They were far from making decisions for themselves: they were being exploited and are being exploited, and we should do something about it.

Photo of Baroness Sanderson of Welton Baroness Sanderson of Welton Conservative 5:47, 18 December 2023

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak in this debate, and I, too, look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Haslemere. I first began working with the noble Lord at the Home Office. As we all know, the department is a place of many minefields, but when the noble Lord entered the room, there was always a sigh of relief. You knew that with Harry, you were in safe hands. He is a wise man with a profound intellect and great humanity, and I know this House will benefit greatly from his future contributions. He is also a modest man, so he would probably prefer it if I now turned my attention away from him and to the matter in hand.

Like others, I welcome the Bill and the changes made in the other place. There are some areas on which I agree with the domestic abuse commissioner—in particular, the request for a national assessment of the need for and provision of domestic abuse services across the country. The Government have done so much in the Bill to address this at a local level. It makes sense to provide that cohesion and insight at a national level, not least because we still need to understand whether the duty on accommodation-based services in the Domestic Abuse Act, while done with the best of intentions, has inadvertently created a two-tier system within essential community-based services. I also share the Children’s Commissioner’s concerns about the need better to protect those subjected to child criminal exploitation, which has been mentioned already, and the need for specialist advocates for child victims of the most serious crimes.

I will focus my remarks on the role of the independent public advocate, which, I am afraid, does not go far enough if the position is to achieve what the Government say they want it to achieve. Fundamentally, as the Government have made clear, the IPA is there to ensure that the victims of major disasters do not encounter the difficulties and injustices that others have encountered, such as the Hillsborough families and the bereaved and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire.

In terms of offering support and signposting through an overwhelming, inevitably complex system, the IPA will do just that. It will help with the difficulties, particularly now that we will have a standing advocate—a change to the original proposal which is to be applauded. However, what it will not be able to help with are the “injustices” mentioned by the Government. The victims of such incidents do not want just hand holding, important as that may be; they want to know the how and the why of what happened to them, and are acutely aware that these answers are not always easy to come by. That is why the IPA must have the powers of a data controller and the ability to compel public authorities to provide information.

The Government have said that if the IPA conducts its own investigations, this could complicate the landscape of other formal proceedings such as potential investigations, statutory inquiries and inquests. I take the point, but the Government have also said that the standing advocate will advise the Government on victims’ treatment by public authorities in response to major incidents and that it could also advise on the most appropriate form of government review following an incident. Is it not therefore sensible for the IPA to have the ability to request the information and evidence necessary to inform that advice, as well as to assuage the concerns of the people the advocate is there to represent?

Having worked with many groups affected by various disasters—I declare my interests as set out in the register—I know that they share a distinct trait: a complete lack of trust in government and those in authority. It is hardly surprising, given the history: the doctored witness statements of Hillsborough, the unanswered safety concerns of Grenfell residents, the sub-postmasters who were told that they were the only ones encountering problems with the Horizon IT system; I could go on. At the heart of every tragedy lies an institution intent on protecting itself, and while the Government are making great strides in the efforts to change this culture, it would be naive to think it does not still exist. Certainly, to those caught up in such scandals, it is their working assumption.

If we are to give people true equality of arms in the form of a standing advocate to represent them and be their voice, that advocate must have the power to truly act on their behalf by having the ability to break down the barriers that people will quite reasonably suspect are being put in their way. You may say that that is the job of a public inquiry or panel—certainly, that is the case in all the instances I have just mentioned—but what about other disasters, perhaps smaller in scale but no less devastating for those involved? What about disasters which merit the involvement of the advocate but do not meet the bar of a statutory inquiry? What happens to those families? How do they get the answers they need?

Moreover—and this is key—the independent public advocate has the potential to play a powerful role not just by providing practical help but by initiating the delicate process of building trust between victims and the state where no such trust exists. It can do this only by having the power to hold public authorities to account. I am afraid that I am going to disagree with my noble and learned friend the Minister: I do not think the Hillsborough charter will be enough in this instance.

I defer to the noble Lord, Lord Wills, who has done so much in this area, but in the light of the conversations I have had, without this power there is a feeling that the lessons have not been learned from the tragedies that have gone before. Instead, there is only the frustration that other people will face the same battles and endure similar injustices, and the independent public advocate will not have the support of the groups the Government say have done so much in helping to inform the parameters of this position. To that end, I hope that my noble and learned friend the Minister will look at this again, or at least provide the flexibility in the Bill for such a power to be added at a later stage, should it become clear that it is necessary—as I think it will—once the IPA has begun its work.

I have one more question—forgive me if this is covered in this afternoon’s statement—regarding the infected blood scandal. The new government amendment is most welcome but, rather proving my point about the lack of trust, campaigners are still concerned about the timing of the new judge-led body to administer the compensation scheme. There is a commitment for it to be established within three months of the passing of the Act, and the amendment includes the need for a small advisory board made up of potentially eligible persons and their representatives. Make no mistake, this is undoubtedly a good thing, but such boards are not always straightforward to set up. Can my noble and learned friend the Minister confirm that the need to begin conversations about this now has been relayed to the Lady Chief Justice, so that no further delays are inadvertently added into the mix?

Photo of Baroness O'Loan Baroness O'Loan Crossbench 5:55, 18 December 2023

My Lords, I wish to speak today on a couple of issues to which the Bill gives rise. Noble Lords have said that, on the face of it, this seems an eminently sensible Bill in many respects, and I think there will much support for elements of it across the House. However, it has caused significant concern among organisations and NGOs that operate in fields such as criminal justice and the protection of victims of domestic violence. I am thinking of organisations such as Amnesty, Justice and Inquest and, most recently, some of the families affected by the Hillsborough disaster, the Manchester bombing, the Grenfell Tower fire and the Daniel Morgan case.

In all these cases, those charged with inquiring into what happened experienced delays and even obstruction in getting access to material necessary to establish what had happened. The measures in this Bill and the Criminal Justice Bill do not go far enough in addressing the problems identified by victims during repeated criminal cases and inquiries over the years, not least the disproportionality of resources available to statutory agencies, which may be able to brief several leading counsel, and to victims, who find themselves struggling to afford the costs of one. All these matters increase the stress experienced by victims, and a code and a charter do to not equate to a statutory obligation on agencies. I attended the Minister’s briefing on his Government’s response to the Jones report on the Hillsborough case and the experience of victims, and there was universal sadness and concern about the Government’s response.

The Human Rights Act has been very significant in strengthening the rights of those who, for various reasons such as poverty, homelessness and marginalisation, are unable to engage as fully as they might with the criminal justice system, whether as victims, perpetrators, alleged perpetrators, or even ultimately as prisoners. These tend to be the people for whom life is hardest, very often for reasons outside their control. It has been observed on many occasions that people can end up in prison for less serious offences, while the perpetrators of serious crimes may not even be investigated because of the lack of the resources needed for serious criminal investigations.

It is important that, having reappointed the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, as Victims’ Commissioner—a recognition of her significant contribution in this area—the Government should listen carefully to the observations about the Bill which she expressed in a fine contribution this afternoon. She brings such experience and courage to this role. I particularly ask the noble and learned Lord the Minister to consider enhancing the provisions in the Bill on the care and support of victims of domestic violence.

Clauses 49 to 51 provide for the setting aside of the Human Rights Act, which requires public authorities and judges to interpret and apply legislation in accordance with human rights law in so far as is possible. Clause 52 weights judicial decisions on qualified human rights decisions against prisoners. Matters relating to release issues such as the right to family life, the right to liberty, and the right of access to the courts and a fair hearing, will be impacted by these clauses. Allowing judges to continue to take into account issues which are relevant in the light of Section 3 of the Human Rights Act is not a matter of going soft on prisoners. Reducing that judicial capacity is not justified by the evidence we have to date.

I had the privilege to serve under Lord Justice Sir Peter Gross in the review of the Human Rights Act a year or so ago. Despite taking extensive and varied evidence, we did not identify any grounds for the changes to the application of the Human Rights Act proposed in this Bill. It should be a matter of concern to all of us that we are progressively and incrementally dismantling the provisions of the Human Rights Act that have applied in this country under the ECHR, and now under the Human Rights Act, for the past 70 or so years. We were rightly proud of our contribution as a country to the creation of the convention, which followed the Second World War, with its appalling death toll, its genocide, and the attacks on homosexuals, Christians, the disabled and many others who were regarded as unnecessary or unwanted by the Nazis, and its devastation and destruction of the world.

The convention articulated very basic human rights, and Section 3 is a statement of the need for the judiciary to act in accordance with it, as part of the rule of law now. Over recent times, we have seen legislation which seems simply to ignore these obligations under domestic and European human rights law. I think of the Illegal Migration Act, so roundly condemned in your Lordships’ House. Then there is the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act, currently the subject of multiple judicial review applications challenging its legality—judicial reviews that were anticipated from the very beginning, at the First Reading of that Bill. The world anticipated those judicial reviews, and it is important that we do not get a reputation for setting aside our human rights obligations when they seem to become less than convenient.

Paragraph 100 of the Explanatory Memorandum explains:

“The purpose of this is to avoid courts adopting a strained section 3 interpretation, which ultimately disregards the policy intentions of the release regime. The measures also provide that, where a court is considering a challenge relating to a relevant Convention right, in relation to application of any of the release legislation, the court must give the greatest possible weight to the importance of reducing the risk to the public from the offender”.

There is very little evidence to support the existence of this hypothetical risk. These provisions have the effect of discriminating against one small sector of society by disapplying rights that others have. The parole and release systems have generally worked well. This intervention is not necessary or proportionate, and I urge government to think very carefully about the effects on the UK’s reputation and its global capacity of the way in which this legislation is formulated.

Photo of Lord Wills Lord Wills Labour 6:02, 18 December 2023

My Lords, this is an important Bill. The Government deserve credit for seeking to address many of the ways that victims of crimes and public disasters have been let down by the state over the years. I pay tribute to the Victims’ Commissioner, as many others have tonight. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, deserves credit for the way in which she has campaigned tirelessly on behalf of victims for over a decade.

However, it is disappointing that, in many areas, the Government have not gone as far as they could have done, and should have done, to provide better protection for victims. In his opening remarks, the Minister said that his door was always open, and he has certainly proved that to me personally. I hope that he has taken careful note of the number of speakers who tonight have said that this Bill just does not go far enough.

Why, for example, have the Government not introduced a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation, to ensure that children who have been forced into committing crimes are recognised as victims, not as perpetrators? Why, for example, are victims and survivors of rape who have had the courage to report appalling acts of sexual violence still being denied adequate legislation and guidance to prevent intrusive and inappropriate requests for survivors’ personal records? That forces them often to choose between vitally needed therapy and the pursuit of justice. Furthermore, there is no adequate means of enforcement of the victims’ code.

I want to focus my remarks on Part 2 of the Bill, relating to victims of major incidents. This derives from my two Private Member’s Bills, which endeavoured to set up an independent public advocate to act on behalf of the victims of large-scale public disasters and those bereaved by them. It has been a long journey to get to this stage. I introduced my first Private Member’s Bill nearly a decade ago. Since then, I have campaigned to get it adopted by the Government, as has my colleague and friend in the other place, the right honourable Maria Eagle MP, who has campaigned to get a similar Bill adopted there. The proposal went into the Conservative manifesto in 2017, and into the subsequent Queen’s Speech. And so finally here we are.

Throughout this process, successive Ministers and their officials have been generous with their time in consulting me. I place on record my thanks to all of them, including most recently the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy. I am particularly grateful to the former Prime Minister, the right honourable Theresa May MP, who immediately saw the merits of this proposal when she was Prime Minister and has campaigned for it ever since. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson, for her kind remarks about this; she was a very important member of that team that first brought the independent public advocate into seeing a serious possibility of legislation. She also deserves tribute for her part in this long journey to where we are tonight.

The Government have shown themselves willing to listen, and the version of Part 2 that is now before your Lordships’ House is a significant improvement on the original, profoundly flawed draft. However, it still will not deliver what victims of public disasters and those bereaved by such disasters want and need. The extraordinary persistence, dignity and solidarity of the Hillsborough families’ campaign that generated the momentum that led to the development of the concept of the independent public advocate really deserve better.

The challenge—and it is a challenge—is to strike a balance between the impartial discharge of justice and good government on the one hand and protecting the interests and feelings of the bereaved and injured survivors on the other. My Bill sought to establish two fundamental pillars of a new system, based around the institution of an independent public advocate, both of which this Bill fails to deliver.

The first pillar was transparency. Without it, the bereaved will never achieve anything approaching closure, and, without it, it is difficult and often impossible for the public policy lessons to be learned and necessary reforms made. The second pillar—and this is important in everything that we have heard tonight about what the state should be doing better for victims—was ensuring that victims and the bereaved have some agency in the process. No longer must they be left on the sidelines, dealing with unimaginable grief and loss while the state proceeds, apparently on their behalf, but without giving them any agency in the process. The Government’s proposals do not provide any guaranteed mechanism for securing full transparency, such as the Hillsborough independent panel achieved, and they deny victims and the bereaved any effective agency.

The Government’s view appears to be that, as His Majesty’s Government are democratically accountable, they must be able to wield the executive power for which they will be held to account by Parliament and the electorate. This is not an unreasonable approach, but it does not mean that they should deny bereaved families any effective agency at all in these matters, which is the current position, and nor can it justify any failure to maximise transparency. Again, that appears to be the current position of the Government.

As I have suggested before in your Lordship’s House, one way forward might be to specify that the Secretary of State, in proceeding with an independent public advocate, must act with regard to the dues of bereaved families, the benefits of an independent public advocate and/or an inquiry and/or a Hillsborough-type panel, including in relation to cost, timeliness and transparency, and any wider public interest. Crucially, I have suggested that the Secretary of State must—not may—produce a debatable report to Parliament justifying why they have proceeded as they have done and why, if they have not exercised this power, they have not done so, and that this debatable report should be produced as soon as possible after the public disaster. James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, in his masterful report, to which the Government have only just responded, points out that any delay allows these public organisations to protect themselves, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson, has just said, and produce a false narrative. We saw that demonstrated graphically in the case of the Hillsborough disaster.

As the Bill progresses though your Lordships’ House, I will bring forward amendments to try to achieve greater transparency and greater agency for the families. I hope the Government are really listening and will find it in themselves to adopt them—I cannot see any reason why they should not.

Finally, I take this opportunity to urge the Government to reconsider their long-delayed and half-hearted response to Bishop James Jones’s report on the Hillsborough disaster, aptly titled The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power, and to use the legislative opportunity of the Criminal Justice Bill, or indeed this Bill, to introduce a statutory duty of candour for those operating across public services, such as policing, health, social care and housing. By requiring openness and transparency, a statutory duty of candour would assist in creating much-needed cultural change in how state bodies approach inquests and inquiries. It would give confidence to individual members of those organisations who want to assist such inquiries and investigations but may be experiencing quite intolerable pressure, in many circumstances, not to do so. We must see an end to these sorts of evasive and obstructive practices by state bodies following deaths in these circumstances. We have seen, all too often, the damage that this causes, not least following the Hillsborough disaster. A statutory duty of candour would help end this.

The families bereaved at Hillsborough fought a dignified, indomitable campaign for decades to secure truth and justice for those they lost. By ensuring that those similarly bereaved in future never have to endure what they endured, the institution of the independent public advocate will be a legacy for their struggle and for their loved ones. I ask the Government to make it a meaningful legacy and give all the Hillsborough families hope that the Government will be prepared to amend the Bill in the ways I have described.

Photo of The Bishop of Manchester The Bishop of Manchester Bishop 6:11, 18 December 2023

My Lords, I am grateful to His Majesty’s Government for introducing this Bill. I am also grateful that shortly we will hear a maiden speech from the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Haslemere. His long experience of the law and the Civil Service will serve your Lordships’ House well. I look forward to his remarks today and on many future occasions.

I also welcome the focus on victims that lies at the heart of the Bill. As we have just heard, it builds on the report of my right reverend friend Bishop James Jones, a former Member of your Lordships’ House, into the Hillsborough tragedy. I was a young member of the clergy called into the stadium to support bereaved families. I will never forget the sight of iron barriers twisted out of shape by the pressure of human bodies being crushed against them. Hence I warmly commend the proposal for independent public advocates in cases such as that and the Manchester Arena attack, to which the Minister referred in his opening remarks—I thank him for doing so. As Bishop of Manchester, it fell to me to help lead my city’s response to the brutal murder of 22 people and the injuring and traumatising of hundreds of others.

How inquiries are set up and resourced is vital to whether they gain the confidence of the public in general and of survivors and bereaved relatives in particular. I hope that as the Bill progresses we can reflect on whether the current draft does enough to ensure that. Specifically, it would be well to widen the cases in which an advocate would be appointed to include all incidents where there is a deep public interest in ensuring a thorough investigation. If the advocate is to be truly independent, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Sanderson of Welton, have reminded us, they need their own data controller powers and for the powers of the Secretary of State in relation to their appointment and functioning to be the minimum. All that is achievable through amendments to the Bill, which I hope to support later.

I also welcome placing IDVAs and ISVAs on a statutory footing, but the word “independent” matters and I hope that we can clarify, in the Bill or in statutory guidance, that they are fully independent from both the police and the criminal justice system. Many victims find community-based services, especially those led by people with lived experience of the issues they themselves face, to be the most accessible and most useful means of support. However, the vast majority of such services struggle financially—around 90%, according to a recent report—with inadequate, short-term, unreliable funding; that threatens their continuance. Hence, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and others, I agree with the suggestion from the domestic abuse commissioner of a clause placing a duty to collaborate on PCCs, local authorities and ICBs in the commissioning of appropriate local services. Alongside this, we need to think more widely, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, indicated, about how we fund the community-based services that are the bedrock of so much support across Britain.

With one or two notable exceptions, it is some time since most of us were children. Hence we need to scrutinise legislation with particular care to ensure that children’s needs are properly included. I am glad that so many speeches this afternoon and evening have referred to that. I support the call from many of our major children’s charities that every child in England and Wales affected by abuse and exploitation must have access to specialist advocacy support. The Bill should establish the role of independent child sexual violence advisers, independent child domestic violence advisers and independent child trafficking guardians as a support offering for children and young victims. It must also provide central funding for their employment.

Beyond this, I hope we can also explore, as others have said, the establishment of a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation, perhaps along the lines proposed by Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society, which define it as when

“another person or persons manipulate, deceive, coerce or control the person to undertake activity which constitutes a criminal offence where the person is under the age of 18”.

If we can get to a better definition over the next few weeks, well and good, but let us not miss this opportunity to have some definition in the Bill.

As the noble Baronesses, Lady Chakrabarti and Lady Hamwee, have reminded us, at present the Bill contains measures to disapply Section 3 of the Human Rights Act. While I understand that reducing risk to the public must be a high priority, I hope we will scrutinise this very carefully. Human rights are not something we earn through good behaviour, and nor should they lightly be taken from us. We rightly accept that such rights may be qualified when they conflict with other human rights but, like the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, a few minutes ago, I urge that we be very restrained in enacting wider restrictions.

Finally, I am aware that my native northern bluntness can on occasion lead me to what some may perceive as an over-acerbity of comment, but today I wish to be entirely kind to the Bill and to the Government for bringing it before us. I believe that with some non-partisan working and a little careful amendment in your Lordships’ House, it can become a stronger and better Bill. To that end, I and my colleagues on these Benches look forward to engaging with it in detail in the new year. Our society will then be better for it being added to our statute book.

Photo of Lord Meston Lord Meston Crossbench 6:17, 18 December 2023

My Lords, the Bill covers a lot of ground, and I agree that in some respects it has benefited from the extra time allowed, having been carried over from the previous parliamentary Session. I also agree that there is more to be done.

The valuable definition of victims at the start of the Bill is clearly the product of careful thought and is welcome. That definition helps to dispel the notion of victimless crime. It focuses on the impact of harm, including the effects of domestic abuse on children. When dealing with such cases in the family court, it is still surprising to realise how people do not recognise or grasp the misery and insecurity caused to children in environments where abuse occurs and where children have to accept it as the norm. That is not just distressing in the short term but damaging in the long term. Domestic violence begets violence and, it is now well understood, creates intergenerational problems when witnessed by children. I support the suggestion that has been made in this debate that there is scope for including reference in Clause 1 to exploited children. I also ask whether there is scope for referring to developmental harm caused to unborn children by domestic violence inflicted during pregnancy.

The intention of Clause 15 is welcome, providing for guidance to independent domestic and sexual violence advisers. In the family court, there is already specific provision for such people to accompany parents into court, and the judiciary and practitioners have become aware of, and value, the practical and emotional support provided, particularly by IDVAs, in cases in which abuse is a feature. If nothing else, such advisers can manage expectations. However, I suspect that the availability of such advisers is patchy and I assume that the hope is that guidance will provide some consistency. It would be helpful if the Government could clarify the expected nature and benefits of such guidance. It is also, as other noble Lords have suggested, a real opportunity to consider whether there should be a role for such specialist independent advisers specifically focusing on children affected by abuse.

I also wish to welcome the introduction of Clause 16, otherwise known as Jade’s law, which will require the Crown Court to restrict the exercise of parental responsibility by a parent who has been convicted of the murder or manslaughter of the other parent. There are few more difficult and sensitive cases for the family court to deal with than when one parent has killed the other. A range of immediate practical, legal and emotional problems arises for the surviving family, and for the children most affected. In such circumstances, it is inconceivable that a perpetrator without parental responsibility would then be granted it. Accordingly, if that perpetrator does already hold parental responsibility, typically by being named on the birth certificate, it is surely right that his status should be curtailed. In effect, the bereaved child has suddenly lost both parents, and will be traumatised, confused and in need of immediate expert support.

If the child is fortunate, there are capable grandparents or step-parents who come in, or the local authority will have taken responsibility under established guidance in case law. However, if the child is less fortunate, the surviving relatives may lack insight into how best to meet the needs of that child, and they may compete for control. Such disputes are utterly wretched. Clause 16 should at least ensure that arrangements and decisions that have to be made for the child, or children, cannot be impeded or complicated by the perpetrator. In principle, the surviving relatives should not have to deal with the perpetrator when making such arrangements and decisions, whether important or less so. Clause 16 should relieve them of that possibility.

My initial thoughts about the scope of this new power, and how it would work in practice, related to whether it could be extended, perhaps in discretionary form, to other situations which I and others have come across—for example, when one parent has caused the death of the other by dangerous driving in a car in which both were travelling, or where there was a conviction for a very serious assault which did not result in death. However, on reflection, I do not think that the Crown Court should be expected, as part of a sentencing exercise, to make automatic prohibited steps orders in these less extreme cases. The Crown Court will not have, and cannot be expected to have, a full appreciation of the family’s structure and dynamics, and of the circumstances of the children concerned, and will not have input from Cafcass.

That said, there was a worrying report on the Radio 4 “Today” programme on 20 November about the very costly struggle a mother had in respect of the so-called parental rights of her former partner, who was in prison as a convicted paedophile. I would ask if the Government have taken note of that case and have considered whether in future any steps can be taken, by way of legal aid or otherwise, to assist a mother who might find herself in that position.

Having heard earlier contributions, I can see there is a potential argument for extending this to the removal of parental responsibility from fathers whose child is a product of a rape. However, of course, he is unlikely to have parental responsibility because he is unlikely to be named on the birth certificate—but it may arise in cases of marital rape after a conviction. Subject to that, the balance is well struck and the new Clause 16 is limited to extreme cases.

Finally, the impetus for the provision to prohibit serving whole-life prisoners from forming a marriage is well understood and may be justified in some cases. It is subject to the possibility of permission from the Secretary of State in exceptional circumstances. That is no doubt to reduce human rights problems and may manage to do so. Following what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, can the Minister indicate the type of situations in which permission might be granted? There may be a case for allowing marriage in cases of terminal illness, but I am afraid I cannot think of many others and I look forward to hearing a response on that point.

Photo of Lord Sandhurst Lord Sandhurst Conservative 6:25, 18 December 2023

My Lords, I look forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Haslemere, whom I am sure will bring much to this House. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Moylan on his powerful speech on IPP prisoners, a subject which I shall not be addressing. My focus today is simply on Part 1, on victims. I am particularly grateful for the briefing which I received from Claire Waxman OBE, who is London’s Victims’ Commissioner.

I welcome this Bill, but I believe it could, and should, be strengthened in significant ways to assist the victims of crime. Bills like this do not come along every year. We have waited a long time for it and we really must take the opportunity we have; it may be another 20 years before we get another one. As other noble Lords have said, it can and should be strengthened to make it clear that agencies are under a statutory obligation to deliver certain core rights for victims. A bland entitlement that victims should receive certain rights, with no adequate machinery for enforcement, is not enough. The Bill must make it clear that victims’ rights must be identified. These must be unequivocal and must be enforceable in the event that agencies default—so the drafting of the code will be very important.

It must be premised on the basis that victims are entitled to, and must have, the benefit of certain treatment, and that there must be an enforceable obligation on the agencies so to provide. That will require measures to ensure positive compliance. Such measures will require minimum threshold levels and sanctions or, at the very least, inspections of agencies that do not meet those requirements. There must, of course, in addition be obligations on the agencies to collect and publish data on compliance, and those must be enforced. I say that because, as Claire Waxman has helpfully explained in her briefing, Clause 5 of the Bill replicates the non-compliance provisions of the Domestic Violence, Crimes and Victims Act 2004. Her coalface experience is that these have proved insufficient in practice, and we should learn from that.

My next point is to turn to Jade’s law, which of course we all applaud and are pleased that it is introduced. I heard with interest what the noble Lord, Lord Meston, had to say, and he has great experience, having sat as a family judge for many years. We appeared against each other in the family courts many years ago, so I bow to his experience, but I think we can and should do something, at the very least on an optional basis, to protect children who have been abused by their parents.

So, while I welcome the provisions that will ensure that parents who kill a partner, or former partner, by whom they have had children, will upon sentencing have their parental responsibility automatically suspended, I favour also giving the Crown Court an optional power: in other words, to expand Clause 16 to go further, to include among those whose parental rights may be suspended by the Crown Court parents convicted of committing serious sexual offences, such as rape, against their children or other children in the household, and other serious offences such as grievous bodily harm with intent, contrary to Section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act.

This should be only for really serious cases. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Meston, about the issues that can arise in complicated family situations, but there will be clear cases where to make a decision on sentencing at the end of the trial will be of enormous benefit to the family, so the court should have discretion. I am persuaded of this by the story of Sammy Woodhouse, a victim of the Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal. According to a report in the Times, the man, Hussain, was sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment for offences including rape, abduction and indecent assault—but not murder. He was then allowed to participate in family court proceedings when the child, the progeny of the rape, became the subject of voluntary care proceedings. By definition, he was the rapist of the mother. That should have been the end of that. It must be possible to extend the scope of Clause 16 to protect children and mothers who are the actual victims of such sexual offences, but I agree that it must be discretionary and not on a mandatory basis.

Finally, continuing with victims, I draw attention to the witness preparation programme developed over the last 35 years in the province of Quebec in Canada. It uses crime victims assistance centres and carefully trained workers to prepare adult victims who will give evidence at a trial in ways that ensure that the specifics of the case are not discussed and that there is no adverse impact on the evidence presented by a victim at trial—no coaching, in other words. This is important because, very often, in practice a vulnerable witness does not meet Crown counsel until the morning of the trial and knows little of the reality of what lies ahead in the Crown Court.

As John Riley of the Criminal Bar Association told the Commons Justice Committee inquiry into sexual offences evidence, defence counsel may have had one or more conferences with the defendant and discussed the evidence in detail with them. The defendant knows what is coming, as is right and proper, but too many victims have no practical grasp of either the process or what they may be confronted with. Time does not permit me to go into the detail of the Quebec process, but Ms Waxman has produced a short report of her visit this May and I will provide a copy to the Minister.

In short, I commend this Bill but it could do even more.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour 6:33, 18 December 2023

My Lords, a recurrent theme so far today, in the Commons and in briefings, including from the children’s and domestic abuse commissioners, has been that the long-overdue victims part of this Bill represents a real and welcome opportunity but that it will be a missed opportunity if it does not strengthen the rights of children and domestic abuse victims and survivors. The Children’s Commissioner and the children’s coalition have spelled out a number of measures that are needed, in the commissioner’s words,

“to truly transform the response to child victims”.

These would, among other things, give due recognition to children’s agency, needs and rights and ensure specific appropriate support for children affected by violence, abuse and exploitation, including specialist advocacy.

Children are all too often the forgotten victims of domestic abuse. A number of reforms are needed for domestic abuse victims more generally if, in the words of the domestic abuse commissioner, DAC, the Bill is fully

“to realise the change needed to meet the needs of victims and survivors”.

There has been widespread welcome for the Bill’s introduction of a duty to collaborate and related duties, but the DAC, the Justice Committee in its pre-legislative scrutiny and domestic abuse organisations, including Women’s Aid and Refuge, have all raised concerns about the provision of heavily used specialist community-based services and, in particular, the precarious situation of “by and for” services, which are crucial to the adequate support of members of minoritised communities.

They have also emphasised the need for adequate and sustainable funding for these services. The Justice Committee observed:

“Additional funding is required to enable services to meet demand and allow the Victims Bill to live up to its ambitions”.

The DAC has recommended a duty on national government to

“meet the needs of minoritised victims and survivors through funding special ‘by and for’ services directly”, which her mapping exercise has showed are

“by any measure, the most effective services for victims”.—[Victims and Prisoners Bill Committee, 20/6/23; col. 7.]">Official Report, Commons, Victims and Prisoners Bill Committee, 20/6/23; col. 7.]

Surviving Economic Abuse, SEA, with which I worked closely on the Domestic Abuse Bill, argues that this Bill

“can do more to recognise economic abuse, support economic abuse victim-survivors to ensure those who seek a criminal justice response are supported through the system and ensure all economic abuse survivors, whether they seek a criminal justice response or not, are supported to establish their economic safety and rebuild lives”.

Its research underlines the devastating impact that economic abuse can have. I hope that we can take forward some of its specific proposals in Committee, including the need for mandatory training of members of criminal justice agencies, as emphasised by Women’s Aid, London’s Victims’ Commissioner and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.

SEA observes that migrant victim survivors can be particularly vulnerable to economic abuse and supports proposals from others, including the DAC, designed to protect migrant domestic abuse victims. This was a gaping hole in the Domestic Abuse Act that the Government refused to fill despite the best efforts of your Lordships’ House. As we have heard, there are two main issues here: the impact of the no recourse to public funds rule and the need for a firewall between Immigration Enforcement and statutory services for domestic abuse victims. The Government’s negative response to attempts to address these issues in the Commons by my honourable friend Sarah Champion, to whom I pay tribute, was disappointing.

I also pay tribute to Southall Black Sisters, the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and other organisations with which they collaborate for their tireless efforts on behalf of migrant victims and survivors. SBS is delivering the official support for the migrant victims pilot scheme to support women with no recourse to public funds facing domestic abuse. This pilot was supposed to provide the information the Government said they needed before deciding on a longer-term solution, even though all involved were adamant that sufficient evidence already existed. Yet here we are, nearly three years on and with the benefit of two independent evaluation reports—one of which was funded by the Home Office—which made clear what was needed in the longer term, but instead of a long-term solution to the problems highlighted by the pilot, we have a further extension to 2025. Can the Minister explain why?

The pre-legislative scrutiny report called for an immediate end to data sharing between the police and the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes and the introduction of a complete firewall. I have been struck by the range of organisations supporting the strong and persistent call for a firewall from the DAC. For example, Victim Support argues that, without it, victims with insecure immigration status

“will be denied access to safety, support and justice”.

I also seek clarification on the intention behind Clause 2(6), which allows for the exclusion of certain groups from the protection of the victims’ code. Researchers into forced migrant survivors of sexual and gender-based violence at Birmingham University have raised fears that this might be used to exclude such victims, deemed “illegal” migrants under the Illegal Migration Act. I hope that is not the case.

When introducing the Bill’s Report stage in the Commons, the Minister said that the Government wanted

“to draw the definition of those entitled to support under the victims code as widely as possible” —[Official Report, Commons, 4/12/23; col. 91.] in the interests of the Bill being “inclusive”. Yet so long as it excludes migrant women from the protections it provides, it cannot claim to be inclusive. No doubt the Minister will repeat the Government mantra that they see migrant domestic abuse survivors first and foremost as victims. However, unless they accept amendments that would explicitly include migrant women under the Bill’s protections, they cannot claim to be putting “safety before status”, as called for by the domestic abuse commissioner.

Finally, like other noble Lords, I was dismayed to see the clauses in Part 4 which will, like the Rwanda Bill, undermine the universality of human rights by excluding from the full protection of the Human Rights Act a politically unpopular group—in this case prisoners. What possible justification can there be for including this regressive step—of grave concern to many bodies from Amnesty, Liberty and the Howard League for Penal Reform to the Law Society, the EHRC and the Joint Committee on Human Rights—in what was originally a Bill purely about progressing the rights of victims? The Minister asked us to look at this section through the lens of victims. In what way will this help victims?

Nevertheless, thank goodness we have a Minister who engages with noble Lords. I look forward to answers to our questions.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees 6:41, 18 December 2023

My Lords, for me, there were echoes of the arrival of the Online Safety Bill in your Lordships’ House earlier this year when this Bill arrived. The similarities they have are years in gestation, promises repeatedly made, and undertakings and apparent commitments made, particularly to victims, but the feeling upon arrival is slightly underwhelming. Rather like the school reports which my despairing parents had to read year after year when I was put in various penal establishments which purported to be educational establishments, which would say, “Could do better if he tried”, in this case, as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, said, it is, “Could do better if His Majesty’s Government tried”.

As the Minister said at the beginning of his speech, we need to avoid the needless politicisation of the Bill. When the Minister was kindly giving us a briefing last week, I said that the duty of most of us in this House is to try to drain the politics from the Bill. That is certainly what I intend to do. Yes, we are apparently going to be in an election year quite soon, but in no way, shape or form should victims become political footballs.

The huge imbalance in the resources that are going to be applied to different parts of the Bill mirrors rather accurately the differing focus on priorities. Are victims really at the centre of the Bill? The estimated costs of Part 1 are £30.4 million. The estimated costs of Part 3 are £530 million. Part 1 is 18% of that total; that does not feel like a particularly strong focus on victims. To add insult to injury, Part 3 is part of a continuing effort by His Majesty’s Government to repair a parole system which was comprehensively blown up by an earlier iteration of this Government, almost exactly nine years ago. However, we are where we are.

I will be focusing primarily on Part 1 of the Bill as it goes through Committee and Report. The victims’ code must be made flesh. It must not just be an aspiration, or a nudge to authorities to do the right thing. We tried that approach over many years and it does not work. If at first you do not succeed, you emphatically should not try repeatedly to do what has been proven to fail.

I would never be so rash as to deem to speak on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, but I always listen to what she says with great attention. I suspect her patience and hopes of delivering a marked improvement to the unacceptably varied experiences which victims are undergoing is being sorely tested by what is currently going on. If she, the domestic abuse commissioner, the victims’ commissioner for London—to whom the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, referred—and the Children’s Commissioner are collectively or individually unhappy with parts of the Bill, I think the Government can expect significant pushback from a great many of us.

As I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said very forcibly earlier on, unless you have two things in tandem, this is not going to work. You need a serious fundamental culture change and you also need resources. It is a painful word for the current Government: money.

There are many examples of where we could do better but I will mention only a couple. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, mentioned, stalking is one of the most common and prevalent crimes which creates victims. However, looking at the Bill it is very hard to see an acknowledgment that this is the most prevalent type of crime and that it has the most impact on the largest number of victims, particularly women. We can and we should do better there. The lack of funding to support community-based services, where 70% of domestic abuse victims receive their support, should certainly be looked at.

Other noble Lords have mentioned having a proper statutory definition of child criminal exploitation to ensure children who have been forced into committing crimes are recognised as victims and not as perpetrators. The Children’s Commissioner has come up with five very clear asks, which I am sure have been forwarded to the Minister, and I support all of those.

Lastly, on needs, I will mention a friend of mine. She is a lady called Stella Creasy, and one of the bravest Members of Parliament I know. Some of you may have read what she went through in the press. As your Lordships probably know, she is somebody who is not afraid to call out misogyny in its many forms. Some men do not like this. A particular man put in a complaint to Leicestershire Police, basically saying that, given her views on men, she should no longer be in charge of her children. Leicestershire Police, in its wisdom, made a formal complaint to Waltham Forest Council. This eventually went to court and was completely and comprehensively thrown out. The response of Leicestershire Police was that this had been referred to its professional standards department and some “advice and reflective learning” was provided to officers. What she has gone through is pretty shocking. She is a brave and a tough lady. I saw her the other day and it had really shaken her. Out of sheer spite, somebody had tried to take her away from her children. That is totally and utterly unacceptable.

Working with other noble Lords, I am trying to elicit from the police and other victim services what they want from the Bill. We are talking about an awful lot of push today—what we would like and what is not working properly. Those that are charged with doing something to help victims know they are not doing a good job and they want to do better. I am trying to encourage them to come forward to say what would be most helpful and useful for them in the Bill. But in such a devolved and disjointed landscape, with 43 police forces and the same number of police and crime commissioners, how do you get best practice? Each change in leadership results in a change of focus and prioritisation. The victim ends up being a powerless bystander in this transient postcode lottery. That is not good enough.

We have to avoid in this Bill the temptation to say, “My victim is more important than your victim”. They are all equally important. We have much to do. Let us try to do it in a co-operative spirit, focusing on the victims. If it is not working for the victims, let us not insult their feelings by trying to justify the unjustifiable.

Lastly, let me I say how sympathetic I am to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who is about to give his maiden speech. Normally in your Lordships’ House, a maiden speech happens about a quarter of the way through. He has been made to suffer a cruel and unusual punishment by waiting so long, and I wish him all the best.

Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat 6:50, 18 December 2023

My Lords, I too welcome the Second Reading of the Victims and Prisoners Bill, as it offers a vital opportunity to ensure that victims and witnesses are given better protection and support. However, it does not go far enough in protecting child victims, including those who have suffered the most serious crimes. This is also the view of the children’s coalition that is working on this Bill, which includes the NSPCC, Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society and other like-minded organisations. I declare an interest as the vice-president of Barnardo’s.

Would it not be great if we had a Cabinet-level Minister for children to ensure that we do not have this type of omission? Children constitute a high proportion of victims of the most serious crimes, and, unfortunately, children experiencing abuse and exploitation is so frequent in our society that we no longer see these instances as rare. It can happen to any child, in any family, in any place. Shockingly, 500,000 children in England and Wales are sexually abused every year, according to the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse. One child is being abused right now, as we speak. Women’s Aid estimates that 16,000 children in England are currently living in households where domestic abuse is taking place. Research shows that the impact of growing up with domestic abuse is the same as living in a war zone for child victims. Barnardo’s has found that up to 50,000 children and young people could be at risk of criminal exploitation. This number is likely to grow, according to Barnardo’s’ Invisible Children report, which found that the cost of living crisis is putting even more children at risk of criminal and sexual exploitation.

Child criminal exploitation is not defined in legislation, despite affecting the lives of thousands of children, young people and their families and communities each year. Without this statutory definition, children are going unidentified, unsupported and even blamed and criminalised for the abuse they receive. Organised criminal gangs prey on the vulnerabilities of these children, knowing that they will take the fall if the police catch them. I urge the Government to include a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation in the Bill. Without one, these children, who have faced physical, sexual and emotional abuse, will continue to be overlooked and invisible. There is little cost to doing this, but the signal it would send to the statutory agencies could make a huge difference by igniting new insight into this horrendous crime, the impacts of which are complex and far-ranging, affecting children’s physical and mental health behaviours, relationships, education and future work prospects. For many, these impacts can stay with them for the rest of their lives, and the lives of those closest to them, as well as society as a whole.

Despite the unimaginable damage and trauma that being a victim of these most serious crimes causes, children are not able to access the child-specific specialist support that is so crucially needed, and this Bill does nothing to address these gaps. Child-specific support and services provide a safe place for children to start to come to terms with their abuse and exploitation, and to be understood as victims. These services support children’s recovery through empathetic listening, emotional regulation, positive psychology and personal goal-setting. Specialist practitioners also work alongside parents and carers to support the child to recovery. This can reduce future harms and risk too, including by reducing alcohol and drug abuse, the risk of going missing from home, and interaction with the criminal justice system in the future.

But these services are few and far between, and children are facing a postcode lottery in accessing them. A freedom of information request made by Barnardo’s earlier this year showed that more than two thirds of local authorities had not commissioned any child sexual abuse/exploitation or child criminal exploitation services in the previous 12 months. Research by the domestic abuse commissioner found that only 29% of adult victims and survivors who wanted support for their children were able to access it, because these vital services are not available to all child victims. Child-specific support services, including child independent domestic violence advisers, child independent sexual violence advisers and independent child trafficking guardians, play a vital role in supporting child victims. They support children through the practical challenges and emotional trauma following abuse and exploitation, signposting support services, providing help, navigating the criminal justice system and giving emotional and well-being support. The Victims and Prisoners Bill must address this.

How can we leave children who have experienced the most hideous crimes unsupported and unprotected? It is imperative that the Victims and Prisoners Bill place a duty on commissioners to commission enough child-specific specialist support and services for child victims. This should be centrally funded, so that commissioners, including local authorities and police and crime commissioners, are able properly to support child victims.

I welcome the Bill placing independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers on a statutory footing with the creation of statutory guidance for these roles. However, these roles mainly support adults; there is no equivalent for children. Will the Government please create similar statutory guidance for children and ensure that the Bill places a duty on the Secretary of State to issue statutory guidance for them? This will play a vital role in supporting child victims of sexual abuse and exploitation, and domestic violence, which is not recognised or invested in by the state.

We cannot afford to lose the opportunity to provide support for child victims. I urge the Government to get this right and to ensure that children are prioritised in this Bill, because as I always say, childhood lasts a lifetime. I look forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carter.

Photo of Lord Carter of Haslemere Lord Carter of Haslemere Crossbench 6:57, 18 December 2023

My Lords, it is a great honour and privilege to have taken my seat and to be giving my maiden speech today—not without a certain amount of trepidation, I should add.

I must say at the outset how touched I was by the very kind, but without doubt overly generous, comments of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chakrabarti and Lady Sanderson. It is typical of them to be so kind.

I thank everyone here, especially the doorkeepers and attendants, who have been so helpful in explaining the inner mysteries of the House. Everyone here has made me so welcome, and that has been very evident this evening. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson, and the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, for supporting me at my introduction. I apologise for the delay which occurred between my Writ of Summons being issued and taking my seat. This was because of the conflict of interest which would have arisen if I had participated in your Lordships’ House while finishing my career as a Crown Servant.

My path to your Lordships’ door has been slightly unusual, as I have been a government lawyer for the last 34 or so years. I joined the legal advisers’ branch of the Home Office in the 1980s, which was then led by the late Sir Anthony Hammond. I will always be grateful to him for taking me on—that cannot have been a straightforward decision. Since then, as a government lawyer, I have been able to advise across the full range of public law issues affecting successive Governments and to work with talented politicians and civil servants in formulating policies, steering Bills through Parliament and defending litigation. It is creative, intellectually challenging and endlessly varied work, and I would heartily recommend it to any young lawyers wondering what career path to choose. It has enabled me to work in areas as diverse as: prisons and sentencing; the prevention of terrorism, especially in the aftermath of 9/11; Northern Ireland affairs, where I had the privilege of working with the incomparable Mo Mowlam on the Belfast agreement; immigration law, a rite of passage for any Home Office lawyer, of course; extradition; modern slavery; and many more.

For the last seven years, I have been general counsel in No. 10 to four successive Prime Ministers, which has enabled me to see close up the inner machinery of government, with all its ups and downs. Very often, I have sat in the—it has to be said—slightly cramped officials’ Box over there, advising Ministers on what to say, or what not to say, in response to your Lordships’ probing questions. In fact, it feels slightly odd to be standing here rather than being over there; I dare say I will get used to that.

I have always hugely admired the depth of insight, expertise, experience and sheer wisdom of your Lordships’ House. I just hope that my experience will be able to contribute, even in a small way, to your Lordships’ debates on improving the quality of legislation and in addressing some of the injustices we see across the nation. The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, said, in a speech last year on crime, reoffending and the rehabilitation of prisoners, that service in this House is

“a service for the common good”—[Official Report, 30/6/22; col. 803.] and not for personal ambition. I intend to approach it in very much that spirit.

Turning to the subject of today’s debate, I should declare my interests as having recently become a trustee of the Prison Reform Trust and as having given some advice as a government lawyer on the infected blood inquiry and on some early thinking and drafts of Part 4 of the Bill relating to prisoners. Looking at the Bill as a whole, I welcome it. I strongly support the strengthened rights for victims in Part 1 and the appointment of an independent standing public advocate provided for in Part 2. These are long-overdue reforms and I look forward to seeing them strengthened as the Bill progresses. I also obviously welcome the requirement that Part 3 will impose on the Government to set up a scheme for compensating victims of the infected blood scandal.

I have two slightly more substantive comments on Part 4 on prisoners, the first of which concerns IPP prisoners. I met one of these prisoners just a couple of weeks or so ago in a London prison. Coming face to face with him brought home to me the injustice which he and many others in his position have faced, serving a sentence for so many years that was described as indefensible and unfair by government Ministers at the time it was abolished in 2012. It is disappointing and surprising that no transitional provision was made at that time to deal with existing IPP prisoners. We are where we are and, while I support the earlier expiry of IPP licences, I personally would have preferred to see a re-sentencing exercise as proposed by the Justice Committee. While that would not necessarily have resulted in the earlier release of prisoners who were obviously dangerous to the public, it would have put right a historic wrong; it would have given these prisoners a sense that justice had finally been served, albeit 11 years too late. It might also have provided a little more hope, which is a much-needed commodity in our prisons.

My second point concerns the power of the Secretary of State to refer to the Upper Tribunal, on public confidence grounds, serious offenders who have previously been directed for release. The Bill is silent on how public confidence will be assessed. The Lord Chancellor at Second Reading in the other place referred to the cases of Worboys and Pitchfork—two truly awful cases, but not typical of the vast majority of Parole Board decisions, which correctly assess risk. We all know that hard cases make bad law, so can the Minister say how public confidence will be assessed in each case and whether it can be done in a principled and quasi-judicial way?

Looking at the Clock, I am reminded that I had the great privilege last year of meeting the much-missed Igor Judge. He advised me to keep my maiden speech short. If he were here now, he would have started to look at the Clock and would be giving me a gentle but knowing look—so I will stop there. I thank noble Lords so much for bearing with me and for all their kindness this evening.

Photo of Lord Garnier Lord Garnier Conservative 7:06, 18 December 2023

My Lords, I will begin with the routine: reminding the House of my entry in the register of interests, including my practice at the Bar, which covers cases that have to do with the general subject matter of the Bill.

I now move to a unique, but none the less welcome, aspect of today’s proceedings. We have just heard the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Haslemere—and it was, if I may say so, worth waiting for. As the noble Lord explained, his peerage was gazetted in 2019, but he was introduced into your Lordships’ House only a couple of weeks ago. He also explained why there had to be a hiatus: for the last seven years he has been general counsel to No. 10 Downing Street, giving legal advice to four successive Prime Ministers. I am sure that he provided a much-needed element of stability at that address. Listening to the dangerously quiet advocacy that he was able to deploy just now makes me grateful that there is such a thing as the Government Legal Service and that such intellects as the noble Lord’s are deployed in its service.

It would have been difficult for a government lawyer working at the very heart of the Administration, who was not a law officer, to speak without giving the impression that he was speaking for the Government and, more particularly, the Prime Minister. But now the noble Lord is one of us: free to speak his mind from the Cross Benches and to give us the benefit of his experience and undoubted wisdom acquired over his many years in the Government Legal Service. He has worked on dozens of Bills, taking them through their entire legislative cycle, from policy formation to implementation into law, so we will rely on him to ensure that legislation leaving this House is in better shape than it was when it arrived.

Like the noble Lord, I am a trustee of the Prison Reform Trust and I particularly look forward to his reforming the law on IPPs and other aspects of the criminal justice system, as well as his analysis of Home Office and Ministry of Justice Bills—I am sure that we will not be short of them—and his contributions to our debates on international and treaty law. Today we heard the overture, and it is with eager anticipation that we await the many, I hope, successive acts of the opera. The noble Lord is more than welcome, and we all wish him well as a Member of your Lordships’ House.

I turn to what I believe to be an important omission from the Bill, which otherwise I generally support. For want of time, I will not discuss the vital question of IPPs, but other noble Lords from right across the Chamber have already done so, and I dare say that others may yet do so. My noble friend Lord Moylan and other noble Lords will table amendments in Committee, and I will join them when they do.

The omission I would like to deal with is the absence of support for overseas victims of corruption and fraud. Thanks to the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022, the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 and the Online Safety Act 2023, economic crime, bribery, money laundering and fraud are back in the news and on political agendas—although they have not really been out of the spotlight over the last 20 years.

Multinational companies have been fined more than £1.5 billion over the past decade after investigations by the Serious Fraud Office into corruption abroad, but only 1.4% of those fines, amounting to about £20 million, has been used to compensate victim countries. That is according to research carried out by Mr Sam Tate, a partner of the City of London law firm RPC. This needs to change.

Much of this corruption occurs in African countries that are already suffering terrible economic hardship from food, climate and energy crises, as well as from inflation. They are in dire need of economic support to repair the damage caused by corruption. The British Government have been vocal in their support for compensating foreign state victims of corruption, but the action actually taken to compensate foreign states tells a different story and leaves us, I fear, open to charges of hypocrisy. Most corruption cases brought before the English courts involve foreign jurisdictions. This country steps in as the world’s prosecutor and prosecutes crimes that take place in other countries, but then keeps all the fines for itself.

This is important, because corruption causes insidious damage to the poor and to the not-so-poor, particularly in emerging markets and economies. The United Nations says that it impedes international trade and investment, undermines sustainable development, threatens democracy and deprives citizens of vital public resources. The African Union estimated in 2015 that 25% of the continent’s gross domestic product was lost to corruption. Every company convicted of overseas corruption in this jurisdiction should be ordered to compensate the communities they have harmed. That would be both just and effective. Compensation should come through investment in programmes targeted at decreasing corruption and benefiting local communities by, for example, building and resourcing more schools and hospitals.

At first glance, our law encourages compensation: it is required to take precedence over all other financial sanctions. So far, so good—but, as with many noble ambitions, the problems lurk in the detail. Compensation is ordered in criminal cases only where the loss is straightforward to assess, even though the trial judge is usually a High Court or senior Crown Court judge who will deal routinely with complex issues every day.

Let me refer to two completed cases that are matters of public record. In 2022 Glencore pleaded guilty to widespread corruption in the oil markets of several African states. Although it was ordered to pay £281 million, not a single penny has been ordered to go back to the communities where the corruption happened, largely because it was held that compensation would be too complicated to quantify. The Airbus deferred prosecution agreement tells a similar story: the company was required to pay £991 million to the United Kingdom in fines, but compensation to the numerous Asian companies where the corruption took place formed no part of the deferred prosecution agreement.

The process for compensating overseas state victims needs urgent simplification so that real money can be returned to them. An answer lies in incentivising the corporations that commit these crimes to pay compensation voluntarily on the understanding that it would not increase the total amount, including penalties and costs, that they would have to pay. The company could be further incentivised by receiving a discount on the fine it would still be required to pay to the UK Treasury, or an increase to the fine if it refused or failed to make redress.

The required changes are straightforward and would cost the taxpayer nothing. We could create a standard measure of compensation that would ensure consistency and transparency, as well as avoiding the difficulty of calculating a specific amount of loss or damage in each case. The compensation figure could equal whichever is the higher of the profit made by the company from its corrupt conduct or the amount of bribes it paid to obtain the profits. This already happens when companies are sentenced, save that all the money goes to the British Treasury. The defendant company would pay nothing more, but at least some of the money would benefit the victim state and its citizens.

This could be achieved by requiring the defendant companies to enter into an agreement with the relevant state that would include obligations to comply with UN guidance on the treatment of compensation funds and to identify projects for which the funds could be used. To encourage states to enter into these types of arrangements, corporations could be permitted to donate the compensation funds to the World Bank or the IMF for projects in the region instead—or to pay down the country’s debt if an agreement cannot otherwise be reached.

The benefit of this approach is that unlike at present, where there is no disadvantage in doing nothing, it puts the onus on the corporates to take restorative action. It also addresses the difficulties in quantifying loss by creating a simple approach that gives companies early sight of the amount they will have to pay.

I am not so naive as to think that compensation paid to some foreign Governments by, for example, British corporate defendants found guilty of overseas bribery in our courts, will necessarily be spent on good causes in that state. I accept that such a scheme might encourage corruption by permitting foreign government officials to benefit from the corruption and then to benefit from the compensation, but the time has come for us to design a scheme to increase dramatically the percentage of recovered money that repairs the damage caused by corporate corruption abroad.

If the Government are serious about placing victims at the heart of the criminal justice system—and I believe they are—that should include an effective, watertight compensation regime that makes a reality of the mantra that corruption is not a victimless crime. Overseas victims of complex financial crime such as corruption are currently finding it far too difficult to be recognised and to receive support and compensation in our courts. Compensation should be returned to those affected by corruption, in line with the principles that the United Kingdom committed to at the Global Forum on Asset Recovery, a continuing by-product of the Anti-Corruption Summit initiated by my noble friend Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton in 2016.

This Bill would be enhanced if victims of complex financial crime and corruption from other jurisdictions were recognised as victims and compensated appropriately. These reforms would comfortably fit into this Bill, I suggest, but they need the political will to amend the sentencing guidelines on corporate corruption. They will need a carefully designed set of rules to implement the practical aspects of the policy. If we do this, we can hold our heads high and enhance our national reputation in the fight against international corruption.

Photo of Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Labour 7:18, 18 December 2023

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Haslemere, on a very wise maiden speech. He will clearly bring to this House a great wealth of experience, and I am very glad to add my welcome to others.

This is clearly a much-needed Bill, and today’s many contributions show how important it is that the Bill achieves its aim of increasing support for victims of crime and strengthening their voice. I think the interest in this Bill also reflects how far it still needs to go to achieve that aim. As has been said, the victims of crime have been waiting a long time for this legislation. We owe it to them to ensure the Bill is able to deliver.

It is also now a very wide-ranging Bill, but I want to focus my remarks on Part 1 and the duty to collaborate, particularly in regard to victim support services. Like other noble Lords, I have received emails and briefings from advocacy groups raising concerns about the Bill, and I am particularly grateful for the briefing from Refuge. As Refuge highlights, the Bill presents a vital opportunity to improve survivors’ access to life-saving community-based domestic abuse services. These specialist services provide practical and emotional support to survivors in a safe and local setting, yet many of these services are desperately underfunded, leading to what the domestic abuse commissioner earlier this year highlighted as a patchwork of provision and a postcode lottery when accessing support.

The Bill before us seeks to improve collaboration between commissioners of victim support services via the “duty to collaborate” and has benefited from amendments requiring duty holders to conduct joint strategic needs assessments. But this duty to collaborate must be supported by adequate, sustainable funding. Without new funding to stop the gaps identified by the JSNAs, the Bill—as Refuge highlights—will

“fail to deliver meaningful change for survivors of domestic abuse”.

Increased funding for victim and witness support services to the tune of £147 million a year to 2024-25 from the Ministry of Justice is not ring-fenced to domestic services, and Refuge tells us that existing commitments are insufficient to meet the demand for specialist domestic abuse services. Can the Minister provide any assurance on a commitment to amending the duty to collaborate Clauses 12 to 14 to introduce adequate, sustainable funding for specialist domestic abuse community-based services? The Women’s Aid Federation England has put this figure as at least £238 million a year.

In 2022, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner found that fewer than half of survivors who want to access community-based services are able to do so. Underfunding of community-based services and inadequate contracts often mean that service providers have to rely on insecure, fundraised income. So can the Minister equally offer any assurances on requiring services commissioned via the duty to be delivered on sustainable contract terms of at least three years?

This Bill is also a vital opportunity to strengthen children’s rights to safety and justice. We must not waste this opportunity. Children are disproportionately victims and survivors of the most serious crimes, yet the criminal justice system is not set up to meet children’s needs. National data tends to report on crime trends for those aged 16 and over, so those younger than this are not reflected in the way services are designed and commissioned. As the Children’s Commissioner highlights in her powerful briefing for this debate, a child in care, a child living in a mental health setting, and a child in custody all have the right to request an advocate; yet this is not extended to child victims of the most serious crimes.

In 2022, only 1% of clients accessing IDVA—independent domestic violence advocate—services were under the age of 18, despite the high prevalence of domestic abuse in this age group. The Children’s Commissioner highlights the lack of investment in, and patchy provision of, child independent domestic violence advisers, or child independent sexual violence advisers. These advisers not only work with children to help them understand the criminal justice process and provide much-needed emotional and well-being support, but serve as a vital point of contact with criminal justice agencies. I am glad that in Part 1, under the duty to collaborate, there will now be an explicit requirement to have regard to the particular needs of certain victims such as children. But the Bill needs to go further. Can the Minister offer any assurance that the Bill will ensure that every child victim of the most serious crimes will be offered a specialist advocate, thereby bringing child victims’ rights into line with their entitlements in other systems?

The Children’s Commissioner estimates that one in 15 children under the age of 17 lives in an abusive household, while nearly half of potential victims of modern slavery referred to the national referral mechanism are under 18. Child criminal exploitation is the most common referral reason.

I believe that all child victims should be represented in this Bill, and children who have been criminally exploited, such as those who have been coerced into county-lines drug dealing—an issue that has previously been raised in this House—are victims of abuse. Yet children victimised through criminal exploitation do not always get the support they need. There is currently no statutory definition of child criminal exploitation, so there is a risk that children who are forced to commit crimes are punished rather than safeguarded as victims. A definition of CCE, with guidance following, would help improve the identification of children at risk and allow for better assessment of need. Does the Minister agree that introducing a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation through this Bill would ensure that we see such children as victims first and foremost?

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 7:25, 18 December 2023

My Lords, as I so often find myself saying in your Lordships’ House, in the Green Party, when we are talking about justice policy, we would not start from here. Green political philosophy puts at its heart restorative justice. That means putting the victim at the centre in aiming to restore—or ideally, improve—their condition comparative to what it was before the crime, and ensuring that the offender’s rehabilitation is built on making amends both to the individual victim and to the community.

Paragraph CJ201 of our Policies for a Sustainable Society sets out, as one of its key objectives:

“To assist the victims of criminal acts as much as possible”.

I note that, when I look at the CPS website, there is a restorative justice page that was updated in February this year. It notes that restorative justice can play a part at any stage of the criminal justice process. It does, however, go on to note that it is most often associated with conditional cautioning. A phrase that particularly caught my attention was,

“where trained personnel are available, it should always be considered”.

My question for the Minister now—or perhaps he could elaborate later in writing—is: where do the Government see restorative justice? I have looked carefully at the Bill and there does not seem to be an obvious way in which that is considered part of it. I would be interested to see whether there is any part of the Bill that is seen to be associated with that and to learn how the Government see restorative justice as part of the overall system.

Of course, if we were approaching the Bill from that perspective, any Bill by definition would involve both victims and offenders—but that, of course, is not where we start with this Bill. So I begin by sharing the disappointment expressed by many that this is now a victims and prisoners Bill. Surely, we would be in a better place if there were now two separate Bills, with a chance for both Houses to fully focus on victims in particular, their care and support, rather than finding ourselves at the same time dealing with some extremely knotty and long-running problems, notably the clear injustice of the IPP—imprisonment for public protection —sentences.

Looking at that focus on victims, we come back to the issue of resources, but also of commitments of resources. I note the excellent briefing from Victim Support, which calls for the Government to commit in the Bill to ensuring that all the rights of the victims’ code are monitored and reported on by criminal justice agencies, not just some of the rights. It says—and I suspect this will find a great deal of support in your Lordships’ House—that this has to be written on the face of the Bill. Victim Support also says—and I have to concur—that the Government should be sharing and publicly consulting on the data proposed for the monitoring of victims’ rights while the Bill is progressing through your Lordships’ House. So often we find ourselves saying very similar things.

In discussing the word “must”, I have to associate myself with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about the need to replace many of the “shoulds” in this Bill with “musts”; although we might have to bring in the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, at that point, because she has her own inimitable perspective on those particular debates.

Talking again about resources, the lack of support for community-based services, particularly for victims of domestic abuse, is something that I have been talking about for at least a decade. So many of our community-based services have to rely on a year-by-year, bid-by-bid state of total uncertainty about funding. We have seen some changes and improvements on that in the most recent years, but still we need to ensure that, if we are going to identify needs through the joint strategic needs assessment introduced by the Bill, there is actually the ability to deal with those needs. It is really important, when we look at the independent domestic violence adviser role, that that has to be an absolutely independent role. We have seen from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for example, how strong and important such advocates can be right across the functioning of our society.

According to the Local Government Association’s briefing—I declare my interest as a vice-president of the LGA—the Bill states that PCCs, health bodies and local authorities must work together in commissioning support services for the victims of domestic abuse, serious violence and sexual violence. That is a great objective, but we all know just how incredibly stretched local government and all such services are. The recent report by the domestic abuse commissioner noted that insecure and insufficient funding was a key driver of services struggling to meet demand. I have pointed out in a number of different contexts that it is important to acknowledge the needs of victims of crime and bereaved families from abroad, ensuring their right to access support in England and Wales. I have raised in Written Questions the issue of ensuring that people who are British residents but not British citizens, and who were victims of crime abroad, get consular support and support when they return home.

Observant noble Lords may have noticed that I am speaking on issues that more regularly fall within the purview of my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I am sure that she will be picking up on some of these during the progress of the Bill, but there are a couple of issues on which your Lordships’ House may well hear from me again. One is protecting and supporting victims of major incidents and government wrongdoing. The Minister is already aware of my interest, which I raised with him during the Hillsborough Statement repeat, in the “Truth About Zane” campaign, which concerns the tragic death of young Zane Gbangbola. I am pleased to tell the Minister that Zane’s parents are keen to take up the offer to share with the department their experience of having an extreme inequality of arms in Zane’s inquest, with fully lawyered-up public bodies against a grieving family forced to resort to crowdfunding and pro bono support.

I note that the proposed independent public advocate, added after pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and without consultations with organisations such as Inquest, Justice or any related to Hillsborough, is being instructed at the discretion of the Secretary of State, rather than the circumstances in which it is to be appointed being set out in statute. That surely cannot be right. I also note that there is no equality of treatment between the victims of major incidents and the victims of state wrongdoing and other crimes, nor any government justification for this disparity. In another revisiting of issues—I see a very familiar cast in this area—I particularly associate myself with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on the importance of services for victims of crime with no recourse to public funds, an issue which many of us addressed during consideration of the Domestic Abuse Bill, and the firewalling of immigration matters from victims of domestic abuse and other crimes.

I see that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, is not in his place, but hopefully he will see in Hansard later that although he and I are perhaps not very often aligned on economic matters, I very much associate myself with his remarks about the victims of economic crime. He focused on corruption and overseas victims of economic crime—I would add victims of economic crime in the UK. To quote UK Finance, we are

“the fraud capital of the world”.

We are not doing enough for fraud and corruption victims around the world. I hope that I can work with the noble and learned Lord on those issues.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 7:33, 18 December 2023

My Lords, this Bill covers a great deal of ground, and I will restrict my comments to a limited number of issues.

I welcome the intention of the Bill to improve the experience of victims in the criminal justice system, but I agree with other noble Lords that it will need strengthening if it is to achieve that objective. Further, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Russell, the biggest problem for survivors of crime and domestic abuse who need support is the appalling underfunding of support services. I hope that at later stages, we can consider addressing in the Bill the need for adequate funding for such services.

On a very different issue, as president of the Haemophilia Society I turn to Part 3 of the Bill. Our Minister, understandably and rightly, deferred any comments on this part of the Bill until Committee. However, as a Back-Bencher I welcome the requirement for the Secretary of State to create a body to administer the compensation scheme for victims of the infected blood scandal of the 1970s and 1980s. Of course, this should have been done decades ago. Of about 1,400 people infected with HIV and other problems as a result of being injected with infected imported blood products, only about 350 are alive today. Most of those infected with HIV have died from the infections directly caused by the contaminated blood products.

Nevertheless, even at this late stage, I welcome this important initiative. However, in Committee we will need to consider filling the gaps in the compensation plan. An interim compensation payment was made to direct victims and some partners in October 2022. However, no payment was made to parents who lost children as a result of the scandal, or to children who lost parents. We need to clarify in the Bill the total numbers eligible for compensation, to ensure that all those directly or indirectly affected by the contaminated blood products imported for NHS patients in the 1970s and 1980s receive compensation, even at this very late stage.

I welcome Clause 48, which deals with the treatment of those on indeterminate sentences that have been imposed for public protection. Other noble Lords have mentioned this incredibly important issue, and I agree with those who have applauded the more proportionate and effective means in this Bill to review and terminate an IPP licence. The existing 10-year post-release wait before the sentence can even be reviewed is inhumane. The clause introduces a three-year qualifying period, which creates the realistic prospect of an end to the sentence. Also, very importantly, the clause provides that if the licence is not terminated by the Parole Board at the three-year point, it will be automatically terminated two years later. I hope we will consider in Committee the vital role of the state in this area in rehabilitating and providing mental health treatment for people serving an IPP on licence in the community, in order to make a success of their resettlement and to ensure that they cease to be a risk to their community. These people inevitably will be suffering as a result of the state’s imposition of such a cruel sentence.

A deeply concerning proposal in the Bill is that in Clauses 49 to 52, which disapply Section 3 of the Human Rights Act to prisoners as a group. This provision contradicts one of the fundamental principles of the Human Rights Act: universality. Clause 52(4) goes some way to mitigating the consequences of these curbs, but only in relation to prisoner release cases; and it fails to retain the right under Article 3 of prisoners not to be treated in an inhuman or degrading way. The House will surely want to look at those clauses in Committee.

Even after the Commons amendments, the Bill includes limitations on the Parole Board’s independence, which, again, this House may want to consider. For example, the Parole Board is given powers to release very serious offenders. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, mentioned, the Secretary of State can refer a Parole Board decision on such cases to the Upper Tribunal—or, in particularly sensitive cases, to the High Court—if the relevant court may reach a different decision if it believes that the release test has not been met. Also, Clause 54 prohibits the chair from being involved in individual Parole Board cases or from trying to influence the outcome of the board’s decision in such cases. These seem to be extraordinary curbs on the powers and responsibilities of the chair. If we want the Parole Board to attract the best possible people, we should not undermine the independence of the members or the chair.

In conclusion, this Bill includes some valuable reforms but needs strengthening in some areas and very careful consideration by this House in others.

Photo of Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Labour 7:39, 18 December 2023

Any legislation that might improve the position of victims is to be welcomed. As someone who has practised at the English Bar for five decades now, I can say that I have seen huge changes taking place—I see jaws are dropping at the idea of my having practised for so long, but it is true; I was very young when I qualified. When I started, the idea of us considering the position of victims did not exist at all. We have seen incrementally changes being made, but unfortunately the Bill will need some amendment to make it do what we all hope for, which is a serious updating on the rights of victims.

I sit on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is a wonderful committee, combining Members of both Houses of this Parliament. We have made notes on a number of issues that still concern us after this matter has gone through the Commons. We are delighted at the introduction of the role of the independent public advocate—something that we really endorse. Bishop Jones of Liverpool and others gave evidence in front of us in relation to the Hillsborough disaster, and they convinced us all of the need for an independent advocate to support victims of major incidents. However, we want that person to be fully independent of government. I emphasise the need for independence and for immediate action in the aftermath of major incidents.

We were concerned also about the Parole Board process and giving the Secretary of State the power to direct the referral of decisions to the Parole Board to himself, and to be retaken. This is again an issue of independence—how will you secure the services of independent-minded people if they feel that their carefully considered opinions are going to be abandoned at the whims of a populist Home Secretary?

The fact that there are 3,000 prisoners still serving sentences of imprisonment for public protection is a matter that has concerned the Joint Committee for quite a long time. Despite our having raised serious concerns about all that, we feel that Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right not to be subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment, and Article 5, the right in respect of arbitrary detention, and even the right to life, are all interfered with by imprisonment for public protection. We are urging that the amendment that Sir Robert Neill put forward to the Commons might be considered by this House.

We are also concerned about the disapplication of Section 3 of the Human Rights Act in respect of the full legislative framework in England and Wales relating to the release, licences, supervision and recall of indeterminate and determinate sentenced offenders. It is a shocking business that a section of vulnerable people—because they are out of sight and therefore often out of mind—will not have the protections of the Human Rights Act. Again, I urge this House not to listen to the siren voices of those who have never liked the Human Rights Act and to recognise it as a wonderful addition to our legislative framework. I am a big believer in the common-law tradition, but it has been enriched by the Human Rights Act.

In keeping with previous recommendations, we would also like better data collection. A particular matter of concern to all of us, and something I have written about over the years, is the publication of the number of people in prison who have responsibility for the care of a child. Do we take enough care about that? I am not sure that we do, and I would like to have better data collection of the information.

I want to mention Sarah Everard, because my friend the Minister mentioned that that was a pivotal moment. It gave us a sense of something I have written about extensively: the lack of confidence that women and girls have in the justice system around sexual matters, meaning that so many would never turn to the law and feel that they are not listened to and cannot be confident of positive outcomes. To recover—though I do not know whether we ever had it—or secure the confidence of women and girls in our society, we must have reform. I urge that we take positive steps around the whole issue of rape and sexual assault, and perhaps look at the New South Wales model, or the Canadian model that was mentioned by one of the noble Lords on the Government Benches. We should be looking at better ways of supporting those who are victims.

There should also be the protection of survivors’ counselling and therapy records. I have seen it myself: there was a time when women were encouraged not to take counselling or see a therapist after they had been sexually violated because it would in some way call into question the credibility of what they were telling a court because they had talked about it too much and might have had ideas introduced into their heads. Now they are allowed to see counsellors, but misuse is often made of the records. Where women have said that they feel a sense of shame, that is used to question why they would feel shame if they were the victim. This has got to stop. I urge that we provide proper protections of women around the misuse of their records and that they have legal advice, funded by the state, around what is going to be involved in a trial.

When the then Domestic Abuse Bill came before this House, I made the argument for there being changes to the law in relation to the current defences that exist in certain areas of crime. Many of the women who are in prison—and they are a tiny part of the prison population—almost invariably are themselves people who have been victimised. Something like 78% of women in prison have themselves been abused, either as children or as adults, at the hands of partners and husbands. Many of the offences that women are in prison for have been committed at the behest of men—they have been coerced by men to commit them. What I am calling for—I will again raise the issues that I raised and had support for during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill in this House—is that there should be statutory defences for women who commit crimes, such as handling stolen goods or carrying drugs, for their coercive partner because they know that not to do it will bring down serious punishment and they have become so coerced and controlled that the ability to say no or go to the authorities is out of their reach. There has to be something better in the way of defences for women who are forced into crime and end up imprisoned for those reasons. For women who end up killing their abusers after years of abuse, there has to be a proper way of considering defences that might be available. Many of those currently available are failing women because of the way they are constructed.

I have always argued, and have written books on the subject, that law was historically created by men, and it has been only in the process of women being involved in our parliamentary processes and on our senior judiciary that law has been changed. We have to change the law so that it delivers for women too. I will be putting amendments to this Bill that I hope this House will accept and return to the Commons to improve it for women and girls who continue to be abused.

Photo of Lord Hampton Lord Hampton Crossbench

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Carter of Haslemere on his excellent maiden speech. I shall treat it as a template for how to make a speech from now on. It was also an honour to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and I congratulate her on her reappointment as Victims’ Commissioner.

This is a welcome Bill and I agree that it is overdue, but, as I was reading it, something was nagging at me. It was not until I went to the Children’s Commissioner’s very useful briefing that I realised what it was: children are hardly mentioned at all, and nor as the victims of crime, as the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Gohir and Lady Benjamin, so aptly described. At this point, as ever, I declare my interest as a state secondary school teacher in Hackney. It is true that Clause 16 is entirely about the relationship between a parent and a child, but even that relationship is seen from an adult standpoint. As far as I can see, the issues of children then cease to be considered in the rest of the Bill, as several noble Lords have noted.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said most powerfully, the children’s coalition suggests introducing a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation in Clause 1 so that a victim can be described as a victim of child criminal exploitation and the crime itself is defined. This seems an opportunity to protect children and ensure that children who have been forced into committing crimes are recognised as victims, not perpetrators. I, among others, would welcome the Minister’s thoughts on that.

As my noble friend Lord Meston said, when a child is the victim of a crime they should be treated very differently from an adult. Clause 15 talks about independent domestic violence advisers and independent sexual violence advisers, but again, there is no mention of a child victim adviser. We all know that it can be extraordinarily bewildering and challenging for a child to go through the justice system, whether as a victim or witness. According to data from Safelives, already cited by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, only 1% of clients accessing independent domestic violence adviser services were under the age of 18, despite the high prevalence of domestic abuse in this age group.

The solution is that we need a specialist for every child victim. The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, quoted the Children’s Commissioner as saying:

“The Victims and Prisoners Bill should mandate that every child victim of the most serious crimes be offered a specialist advocate … This advocate must have the training and qualifications needed to work with vulnerable children. As well as specialism in the specific harm children have experienced, these advocates should also have the skillset of a Registered Intermediary, to ensure language and communication is appropriate to the child’s development level”, as my noble friend Lady Coussins admirably described. As the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Gohir, and the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, have all quoted, Claire Waxman, the London Victims’ Commissioner, agrees:

“Clause 15 provides guidance about ISVAs and IDVAs, but does not recognise other victim advocates—including Stalking Advocates and Child Domestic Violence Advocates—who operate in the justice system and are crucial to victims. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, for example, has shown that victims NOT supported by an Independent Stalking Advocate had a one-in-1,000 chance of their perpetrator being convicted, compared with one in four if they HAD this advocate”.

Surely this alone would make the idea worth while and repay any further investment tenfold. It would also fulfil the Government’s wish to avoid silos. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response on this.

Another issue that has been flagged is that the Bill treats all under-18s as children. There is obviously a risk of adultifying them, but as the Children’s Commissioner also states, we need to deal with young people on a case-by-case basis to ensure that the criminal justice process is not disempowering for them.

We have to increase the profile of children and young people in this Bill. I will leave your Lordships with a quote from a 15 year-old rape victim: “I think if I could do it again, I wouldn’t report it, because I’d get over it much faster”.

Photo of Baroness Prashar Baroness Prashar Crossbench 7:54, 18 December 2023

My Lords, I declare my interest as a former executive chairman of the Parole Board of England and Wales. Although that was some 25 years ago, I have continued to take a keen interest in this work.

I too have received several excellent briefings from organisations concerned about victims of crime and abuse. I share their concerns with regard to victims and agree with the points that a number of noble Lords have made about the weaknesses and gaps in this Bill. I agree that it falls short of its original aim of strengthening and securing the rights of victims. Contrary to the Minister’s comment in his introduction, the changes proposed with regard to parole and prisoners, as Claire Waxman, the London Victims’ Commissioner has said, will have a negative impact on victims by causing delays. This will be a lost opportunity if we do not take the time to improve the Bill in this House.

However, I will confine my comments to the provisions in Part 4 concerning prisoners and parole. Despite the amendments in the other place giving powers to the Secretary of State to refer certain prisoners’ release decisions where sensitive material may be relevant for reconsideration to a higher court, these provisions undermine the independence of the Parole Board. They are also unworkable, unclear and unnecessary. They will add unnecessary complexity and delay to an already burdened system, not least the Upper Tribunal’s capacity and expertise.

It is not clear what problems these provisions attempt to solve. The Parole Board’s record speaks for itself. There is very little evidence that its decision-making falls short when it comes to public safety. The Bill’s Explanatory Notes state:

“Less than 0.5% of prisoners released by the Parole Board are convicted of a serious further offence within three years of the release decision having been made”.

Perhaps the Minister can tell the House what is broken which this Bill is trying to mend.

It is also inappropriate to introduce a public confidence test as a filter for deciding which cases should be referred to a higher court. As we know, a similar criterion was introduced by the previous Secretary of State in seeking to reduce the number of indeterminate prisoners being moved from closed to open conditions. This was reversed by the current Secretary of State as it was deemed highly subjective and difficult to apply. It was also criticised by the High Court, which stated that this policy criterion adds nothing.

It is dangerous if we use public opinion as the basis for ministerial interference in an independent process. Clauses 53 and 54, which give the Secretary of State the authority to remove the chair of the Parole Board in the interest of public confidence and enable executive interference in the composition of particular board members, are quite alarming. Given the sensitive nature of the role of the chairman of the Parole Board, he or she requires more protection, not less. Such interference will, in effect, undermine the Parole Board’s independence. In a recent judgment, the High Court said that it is

“well established that, when exercising powers in relation to the Board, the Secretary of State must not do anything that undermines or would be perceived as undermining the independence of the Board or that encroaches upon or interferes with the exercise by the Board of its judicial responsibilities”.

As we know, this also risks being incompatible with Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Perhaps the Minister can tell the House why this is necessary when there is already an established process for removing the Parole Board chair from office.

This new power to specifically remove the chairman on the grounds of public confidence can be interpreted only as responding to media outcry or political pressure following an unpopular parole decision. This will damage the Parole Board and undermine its ability to undertake effective risk assessments.

Clause 54 also prohibits the chairman from being involved in individual parole cases and from trying to influence the outcome of the Parole Board’s decision in such cases. The question of whether the chairman is involved in individual cases should be a matter for the board and not a statutory prescription. It is another unnecessary interference. Furthermore, mandating the Secretary of State to make rules to require a certain type of person to sit on panels is wholly inappropriate in terms of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights and basic principles of fairness.

It would breach principles of justice and common-law standards for one party to proceedings to have power over the composition of the judicial panel to which they are presenting their case. These measures do not make any logical sense and should be dropped.

Then, as others have said, there are the proposals to disapply fundamental human rights to prisoners. This would set a very dangerous precedent. These specific disapplications of human rights for people given custodial sentences would undermine one of the fundamental principles underlying human rights: universality and application to each and every person on the simple basis of their being human.

Because those in prison are under state control, their human rights are all the more important. They need protection, not erosion, of their fundamental rights. These gradual encroachments into dismantling our human rights framework—as we also saw during the passage of the Illegal Migration Bill—are worrying, dangerous and totally unacceptable. It is a slippery slope. On the one hand, the Bill includes a statement of compatibility with the Human Rights Act; on the other hand, it contains provisions to disapply a critical aspect of the Act. Can the Minister please explain?

Apart from arguments on grounds of principle against these provisions, there is no practical need for these clauses to disapply the Human Rights Act either. The Government’s argument that these measures protect against judges misusing the powers given to them by the HRA rings hollow when the Government’s own Independent Human Rights Act Review, chaired by Lord Justice Sir Peter Gross, found no evidence of this being a problem. This is a very flimsy justification for these measures.

We all care about public safety and public protection, but we also care about the values and principles that should underlie public policy. These measures will weaken, not strengthen, the work of the Parole Board and, of course, erode the well-founded principles that underpin our public policy.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Labour 8:01, 18 December 2023

My Lords, it is a particular pleasure for me to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, whom I admire hugely and with whose speech I agree 100%. She has seen everything in her very distinguished career, and the Government should take considerable notice of what she had to say about Part 4 of the Bill.

We can see from reading the debates in the other place that this is not particularly a politically controversial Bill, unlike many we have seen recently and, alas, may see again before very long. However, there are important arguments, very well put by the many experts in this House, that, as far as victims are concerned, while improving the position—the Bill does that—this may yet turn out to be a wasted opportunity.

I speak as the only Member of either House—so far, and perhaps not for long—who has served as an elected police and crime commissioner. I have therefore consulted opinion, to some extent at least, regarding the role of the police and crime commissioners, their offices and their responsibilities under the Bill. They are clearly being asked to do more than before. If the House will indulge me, I will briefly explain how they feel about the Bill at this stage. I tend to share their view.

Their general view is to welcome the proposals as they affect police and crime commissioners, but of course there is concern about effective implementation—the real question being: are there the facilities of leverage and resourcing that are needed for them to fulfil their roles? In particular, there is a view that the local criminal justice boards should be on a statutory footing. These are local fora where police and crime commissioners will seek assurances from criminal justice partners around code compliance—one of the responsibilities they are given—and shared accountability. The Home Office review on police and crime commissioners recommended that these local criminal justice boards should be statutory. That is not in the Bill. Have the Government changed their mind about that, or might we see this in the other criminal justice legislation that we will hear of in the months ahead?

Secondly, police and crime commissioners would generally welcome further levers to encourage code compliance, which is a duty imposed on them and others. Will they be given the power to demand and set expectations locally for other agencies? There is a welcome focus on good data and robust metrics, including feedback from victims, of course, and there are two new senior data analysts for each office of a police and crime commissioner. They are welcome too, but why the silence about long-term funding for those rather important posts?

Equally, as to the resourcing of the vital and welcome duty to collaborate, there are many similar duties in recent legislation that have gone through this House. In practice—that is the important point—these place a significant resourcing challenge to the parties involved, which, it is felt, are not always appreciated by the Government. Will the Minister please look at that issue again?

Finally, and more generally, where gaps in local services are found, there is no provision in the Bill for funding services. Will the Government step up to meet unmet victims’ needs?

Those, in short, are the views of police and crime commissioners. I cannot speak for them all, but I hope the Minister will take note of those views.

As for the code itself, I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, on what she had to say about the need to strengthen the code and tighten it up in regard to victims who have English as a second language. It is an important point, and I hope we do that at a later stage of the Bill.

The Minister will not be surprised to hear me ask about legal aid for Part 2 of the Bill. I would like more clarity as to where legal aid will come in and whether it will be means tested. If victims of an appalling incident want—as they may well—to instruct their own lawyers in the circumstances, what will the legal aid position be? Is that yet clear?

Finally, I want to express the widely shared view concerning the Bill’s proposals for the future of the Parole Board. Of course, the change of heart in giving the Lord Chancellor the option to direct the Parole Board and then to refer the case to the Upper Tribunal is to be welcomed, but some questions arise and I would like to put them quickly.

First, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, asked, why was the Upper Tribunal chosen? Secondly, on the point that the Lord Chancellor will send some cases where he thinks the Parole Board has got it wrong up to the Upper Tribunal, but not others, why must he not send them all up to whatever the judicial body is? How will he pick and choose? A less generous Lord Chancellor than we have at the moment may well take a completely different view and not send anything up to the Upper Tribunal, which will of course make the effect of this alteration negligible.

Thirdly—I have some experience of how busy Cabinet Ministers are, from having been a junior Minister in the Ministry of Justice, albeit a very long time ago—will the Lord Chancellor himself decide these issues by reading the papers? Will it be a junior Minister or a senior civil servant, on behalf of the Executive, who will make the decision that will affect the lives of individual prisoners?

In principle, the Executive should have no—or a minimal—part in the area of sentencing and the disposal of individual criminals. That actually breaches the rule of law in a fundamental way. The strength of the Parole Board, as the noble Baroness said, has been its independence, but that independence is being compromised by the proposals in the Bill. Allowing the Executive any greater role needs to be scrutinised with great care and permitted only when the necessity is proven. In my view, that case is not proven here.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 8:10, 18 December 2023

My Lords, I declare my non-remunerated role as chair of the Commission on Alcohol Harm. That is relevant, as up to 70% of prisoners indicate that they had been drinking at the time of committing their offence. Overall, alcohol-related crime costs England alone £11.4 billion each year, consuming 53% of police time. Where a child is killed or maimed, over one-third of cases have antecedents in parental alcohol use. Following my noble friends Lord Meston and Lord Hampton, I shall focus on children overall as victims. I will come later to the cross-border issues relating to the devolved Governments.

Despite the Government’s 119 amendments in the other place, they still have not adequately ensured that the concept of victim recognises that a person of any age and any degree of mental capacity can become a victim. A child can be a victim of many types of events, including domestic abuse, that do not reach the criminal conduct threshold. Child victims need independent support that does not intimidate them and which is appropriate for their level of emotional and intellectual development. It is important to understand that these do not necessarily coincide and may be quite different from the child’s chronological age, particularly where the child has been a victim for some time and their emotional development may have been impacted as a result. The Bill stipulates broad criteria that the victims’ code should meet, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, pointed out, it does not state that it must meet them, giving rise to concern that the flexibility in the Bill is so great about the provision to victims that it may remain as inadequate as it is today.

To state that the Bill requires provision for victims of different descriptions, which by implication covers all ages, is inadequate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, pointed out, the Bill needs amending to ensure independent children’s advocacy. Such provision must apply up to the age of 18. When a person over 18 has learning difficulties, they will need to be able to access the age-appropriate support that should be built into the Bill for those under 18. Currently in the Bill, a child under 18 appears to forfeit their right to engage directly with their case in certain circumstances, such as when receiving direct support from the independent public advocate.

Wherever a child is interviewed, the process needs monitoring and quality assurance, particularly the communication skills and management of distress, with interviews recorded and independently reviewed. Communication must be child-centric, not speaking over them, to provide the child with a sense of control in a situation that is difficult and traumatic. It is important to remember that a great deal of violence, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and negligence occurs within families, as well as in relationships outside the home. These children may already feel failed by social services’ involvement, and they need completely independent and consistent support. Let us not forget that four in 10 victims of modern slavery are under the age of 18.

In major incidents, children are often secondary victims. When their parent or sibling is killed or injured, even if they were not present at the time, they will be a secondary victim. If a parent is a paedophile or they witness financial abuse in their family, they will feel tainted as secondary victims. The terrible ongoing trauma to children and young people following the major incidents in this country that we have heard about, such as the Manchester bombing and the Grenfell Tower fire, and indeed the infected blood scandal, cannot be underestimated. That was starkly illustrated abroad following the terrorist bomb at Brussels airport in which 32 victims died. Although Shanti De Corte, age 17 at the time, miraculously was not physically injured, she was so psychologically traumatised by witnessing the event that she eventually sought and received euthanasia six years later.

The Bill’s requirement for a victim assessment is not enough. As well as calling for a mandatory multiagency needs assessment for a child victim specified in the code of practice, there must also be a requirement to act on that assessment. If little or no action is taken then the child or young person can feel further exploited by the system itself and further alienated. I hope the Minister will listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, in her new role, which she has taken up again, as Victims’ Commissioner. Sadly, she has a great deal of experience.

I turn to cross-border working. Many aspects of the Bill will involve services that fall within the devolved competencies of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I want to concentrate on Wales because the territorial extent and application of the Bill is far more extensive in relation to Wales than to Scotland or Northern Ireland. However, the Explanatory Notes to the Bill suggest that legislative consent has been sought only on Clause 15, concerning independent domestic violence and sexual violence advisers, and Clauses 28 to 39, concerning major incidents.

So I ask the Minister why no legislative consent has been sought on the other clauses—excepting 12 to 14, as we heard—since the Bill in many cases involves the health services, relevant authorities and so on in the devolved Governments. What discussion has been held with Welsh Ministers in all the relevant departments, particularly health and social care, justice, education and local government? Can the Minister explain how a crime or major incident that occurs in Scotland, with the victims living in Wales, will be dealt with under this Bill? On cross-border issues, who will be responsible for appointing the standard advocate? Turning to the funding for the victims of contaminated blood payments, will all the funding come from the Treasury, because the events all occurred prior to devolution settlements?

Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench 8:17, 18 December 2023

My Lords, more than 30 years ago, when I was Bishop of Oxford, I was very much heartened by the initiative of the Thames Valley Police force in pioneering restorative justice. Restorative justice enables victim and offender to be brought together, either directly or indirectly, through the mediation of a third party. Since then, it has become an established part of the criminal justice system as a whole. However, much more use could be made of it. I believe that this Bill provides an opportunity to enable it to be more widely taken up. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, pointed out, it does not yet appear in the Bill and, although it is part of the criminal justice system, references to it are often rather tentative and half-hearted.

This Bill is primarily about victims. It should be stressed that the prime concern of restorative justice is with the victim and what might be helpful to them. Hopefully, it also has a significant impact on the offender but, first and foremost, it is the victim whom restorative justice has in mind.

When restorative justice was first introduced, questions were properly asked about its effectiveness. Since then, a fair amount of research has been undertaken to find out. In 2022, the College of Policing published an evidence review on JR. It concluded that restorative justice can be used at all stages of the criminal justice process and that it has been shown to be effective in both reducing reoffending and enhancing victims’ satisfaction with the criminal justice system.

The review quoted the Campbell systematic review of RJ interventions, which showed that

“post-traumatic stress symptoms in victims were reduced, compared to those victims whose cases were only dealt with in court”.

It showed that

“apologies were more important to victims than material restoration … repeat offending was generally reduced in seriousness and frequency … costs from the criminal justice system are reduced through diversion and reduced reoffending”, and that

“lower recidivism rates were found compared to imprisonment alone, for both youth and adult offenders”.

In addition to this:

“Twelve randomised trials of mainly police-led face-to-face RJ conferencing … found that RJ benefits most victims in terms of a reduction of stress, and benefits most offenders in terms of a reduction in recidivism over the following two years. This research programme found that RJ appears to be more effective for violent crime compared with property crimes—and perhaps for more serious than less serious crime generally—and for high-frequency offenders compared with offenders with medium rates of offending”.

So restorative justice is effective for both victims and offenders, but is it as accessible and available as it ought to be? In its inquiry into access to restorative justice in 2021-22, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Restorative Justice found that, all too often, inadequate funding for commissioned restorative justice services has led to a postcode lottery for those wishing to participate in restorative justice. Furthermore, disparities in the type of offence considered appropriate for restorative justice presented further barriers to equal access.

The inquiry repeatedly heard that access is also hindered by gatekeepers, where professionals, such as probation staff, victims’ services, police and prison officers made a decision on behalf of either the victim or offender about the suitability of restorative justice. The evidence presented to the inquiry suggested that these decisions are often made by individuals who do not really have the skills, experience and knowledge of restorative justice to make an informed decision about its suitability.

I pay tribute to the APPG on restorative justice, which has commissioned work in this area and, in particular, to its chair, Elliot Colburn, the Member in the other place for Carshalton and Wallington. The APPG argues, as do others involved, that more use could be made of RJ than is presently the case and that a suitable amendment to this Bill would encourage this. I agree, and I hope that, perhaps in co-operation with other noble Lords, we can present an amendment along the lines of the one presented in the other place and which the Government might, in the end, come to support.

What matters is that restorative justice is available and known to be available right across the criminal justice system. I believe that this Bill offers us an opportunity to ensure that this is much more seriously and realistically the case than it is now.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru 8:22, 18 December 2023

My Lords, I am grateful to have two minutes in the gap to register my interest, and that of Plaid Cymru, in this Bill. I identify with most of the concerns expressed over the past five hours.

The Bill raises issues which I hope to address in Committee. I certainly concur with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, on IPP sentences. That is an issue on which I campaigned for several years back in Wales. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carter, on his comments in a splendid maiden speech.

I highlight the uncertainty across party lines in Senedd Cymru in relation to the impact of this Bill on devolved responsibilities. The Welsh Government have complained about a lack of consultation before the Bill was published and suggest that it trespasses on areas of devolved competence. Can the Minister clarify what the latest position is on this?

As mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, a moment ago, there is also a question about who funds the compensation to the victims of the infected blood scandal, which occurred long before the existence of devolved government. Will the UK Government pay those in Wales who have an entitlement or is it expected that the Welsh Government will do?

Welsh Women’s Aid has highlighted the danger of specialist support services such as advocacy, recovery groups and counselling falling outside the scope of the proposed ISVA and IDVA in Clause 15. There needs to be some clarification and perhaps further thought on that matter.

In Clause 12, a “duty to collaborate” is placed on PCCs and local authorities in England only. Will that apply in Wales? If so, does Senedd Cymru have the necessary devolved powers to make it happen or will such powers be transferred to it?

These and other issues are ones which I hope to address in Committee and I am grateful for this brief opportunity to draw them to the attention of the House.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat 8:25, 18 December 2023

Before I sum up on behalf of these Benches, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Haslemere, for his wise and thoughtful speech. Now that he is out of that Box, I think we are all going to benefit from his wise words in the future. I must pay absolute tribute to him for a splendid maiden speech in this Chamber.

This Bill is heading on the right track, but there is a substantial number of bumps, deep potholes and curves which will need sorting before it will be best suited to reach its destination. It is sad that this Bill is of two parts—a victims’ part and a prisoners’ part. As many noble Lords have said, it tends to deflect from the importance of one or the other, and probably this would have been better in two separate pieces of legislation. But, while this Bill is on the right track but needs amending, it falls very short. I am going to mix my metaphors a little, because this Bill has been late out of the station, but in this House we have a duty to ensure that it gets to its destination in a fit and proper state.

I will speak largely about Part 4 of the Bill, but I want to pay tribute to my colleagues who have spoken about earlier parts of the Bill and it is important to recall the main issues my noble friends have raised. My noble friends Lady Brinton, Lady Burt, Lady Hamwee and Lady Benjamin all raised the gaps in the definition of victims, including the rights of rape victims, victims of anti-social behaviour, victims who are coerced and, as explained by my noble friends Lady Brinton and Lady Benjamin, children who are subjected to sexual and domestic abuse—crimes of the most heinous kind.

My noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lady Brinton emphasised the need for the victims’ code to have a statutory basis, with a statutory duty for public services to deliver the new rights to these victims. The costs of this provision are strangely absent, as is an impact assessment. I ask the Minister: will we have an impact assessment to cover Part 1 at some stage in this process?

My noble friend Lady Hamwee raised the issue of victims having to pay for transcripts. Can noble Lords imagine the outcry if the public had to pay to download Hansard? I think that would probably shake at the roots of what we try to do in this Chamber.

My noble friends Lady Brinton, Lady Hamwee and Lady Burt spoke of the need for an immigration firewall—we need to protect migrants’ rights to data privacy to ensure that they are free to come forward in the same way as other victims, and my noble friend Lady Burt pointed out quite rightly that currently six in 10 victims do not receive their rights.

This is indeed a catalogue worthy of change, which we on these Benches will pursue during the passage of the Bill. As my noble friend Lady Brinton put it, there are a lot of “shoulds” in this Bill which need to be changed to “musts”.

In Part 4, I want to raise several issues, but the one at the root at some of them is what I call the “public confidence” issue. It is twice used in the Bill, first as the judgment to be used by the Secretary of State to refer a case heard by the Parole Board to the courts and secondly as a judgment test for the Secretary of State to remove the chair of the Parole Board. In other words, it hands power to the politician from the independent board. The problem is that the public confidence test is both undefined in the Bill and subjective. The director general operations of His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service in another context said that using these words

“is highly subjective and, as a result, has been difficult to apply in practice”.

The Howard League for Penal Reform points out, from a High Court judgment this year, that

“this policy criterion … adds nothing”.

The court found that all matters said to be relevant to the issue of public confidence were aspects of the prisoners’ risk, with no factor going to public confidence being distinct from a risk factor. The Howard League further states that public opinion should not influence the independent judicial process. I wonder whether the Minister agrees with that statement.

I turn to the disapplication of Section 3 of the Human Rights Act, mentioned by many noble Lords. It is a growing trend within this Government. First, it conflicts with the statement in the Bill. I know that the Minister has asked for us to understand why it says on the face of the Bill:

“In my view the provisions of the Victims and Prisoners Bill are compatible with the Convention rights”, when, later on, we are asked to disapply the convention rights. I hope that he can tell us how both those statements are correct. What is the justification for the difference of fact between those two statements in the same Bill?

Secondly, on a more general point, could the Minister tell us what the Government object to in Section 3 of the Human Rights Act? It would be good to know what it is.

Thirdly, as many noble Lords have said, a human right is applied universally. As soon as you carve out that a right does not exist for one group of people, it ceases to become a universal human right. Does the Minister agree that a human right applies to all humans, not just some of them? As my noble friend Lady Hamwee put it, the penalty for crime is the loss of liberty but not the loss of rights.

Many noble Lords have spoken about the problems with the IPP section of this Bill. The changes made by the Government in the Commons are welcome, but they do little or nothing, as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, pointed out, for those still trapped in the system. There are around 1,200 people sentenced under the IPP rule who have never been released, and about 1,600 who were in custody who were released on licence but have since been recalled. This cohort will first need to convince the Parole Board that the risk to community has been reduced enough for them to be released on licence and remain out of prison on licence for a further two years before the provision to cancel their licence will apply. As many noble Lords have said, the Justice Committee in the Commons recommended re-sentencing as the best way in which to bring this dreadful and much-abused sentencing policy to an end. Will the Minister give attention to using the Justice Committee’s approach for this cohort of IPP prisoners?

There are also practical issues with this Bill that need sorting out. The impact assessment, which needs updating, states that a further 640 prison places will be required. The prison estate, as we all know, is already full. The extra cost to the public purse of building additional prison places will be £250 million over the next decade; the cost of running them will be £28.7 million a year. If those figures are no longer correct, because they were put in place and outlined before the changes were made in the House of Commons, perhaps the Minister can tell us whether there will be a new impact assessment that is to alter those figures. If they are to stand, they are somewhat important to our knowledge and understanding of how the Bill might work.

Additionally, can the Minister tell the House whether there will be a disproportionate impact on black and ethnic-minority prisoners as a result of this Bill? There are also questions around the availability and suitability of community support once people are released from prison and, in particular, the need for mental health services.

I turn to the impact the Bill will have on Parliament and the way it can deal with matters relating to it. Clause 59 basically says that if the Government wish to amend primary legislation, to change it in some way or to repeal or revoke it, they can do that by the affirmative measure of a statutory instrument. It further states:

“Any other statutory instrument containing regulations under this Act is subject to” the negative procedure. I am sure that the Committee of this House will want to look at that very carefully, but certainly I find that a very strange way in which both Houses of Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise major change to the Bill when it comes about. These are all issues that will need exploring as the Bill passes through the House.

Finally, there are the issues relating to the Parole Board which need further examination. My good colleague, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, expressed that in his normal, vigorous, Welsh manner. It is not just because I am Welsh also that I absolutely agree with him and the manner in which he put it. What is the need for the use of the public confidence test for the removal of the Parole Board chair? Does not the existing power for the removal of the chair provide an appropriate safeguard? Besides which, are we prepared to have a politician making decisions, rather than an independent body which has judicial functions? I would be grateful if the Minister, in replying, could also lay out the reasons for excluding the chair from having a role in individual parole cases. If the chair is to be responsible for the operation of the Parole Board, why on earth can the chair not have a part in those deliberations?

The Bill falls short in an important range of areas, and it will need amendment. I look forward to future stages of our work on it to ensure that it can meet its fundamental objective of an effective, efficient and just victims’ rights system, and a just system for rehabilitation of offenders. To return to my earlier metaphor, this train is years late leaving the station, but when it does leave, it must be in the best condition for those victims who, unfortunately, have to travel on it, and for them to have their rights known, available and enforced.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 8:37, 18 December 2023

My Lords, I open by thanking the Minister for the tone in which he introduced the Bill. It has been widely anticipated, we have all received a huge amount of lobbying on it, and I hope that we can consider it in the same tone as we have had this debate here today. The Bill covers a great deal of ground and there has been a fair amount of consensus displayed in today’s debate.

As my noble friend Lady Thornton pointed out, we have been waiting a long time: the Bill was originally in the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto, since when there have been government consultations, reviews and announcements and extensive revision in the other place. Many of the advocacy groups which have contacted me and others see the Bill as an opportunity to better embed victims at the heart of our justice system. In fact, every speech I have read on the Bill, from the original Lords Chancellor’s introduction to those of opposition Members of Parliament and Peers here, shares that ambition, and it is the role of the House to look to introduce further improvements.

I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Haslemere. He has huge experience in this matter. Not only do I have no doubt but I do not think anybody who has taken part in this debate will have any doubt that he will make a substantial contribution to the work of this House.

I am taking my structure in dealing with the Bill from the Lords Library Note, which I found to be quite helpful. In that, there are six main provisions, which I will go through, and I will refer to a couple of other matters as well. The first provision in the Library Note is

“placing key victims’ code rights into law and reviewing compliance with the code”.

My noble friend gave the statistics from the latest survey from the office of the Victims’ Commissioner, and those statistics were indeed disheartening. Putting code rights into law is surely the minimum required and we will look at what extra we can do to ensure those minimum requirements are met.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, my noble friend Baroness Chakrabarti, the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt and Lady Coussins, the noble Lords, Lord Hogan-Howe and Lord Russell, and others, spoke about adding teeth to this element of the Bill, changing the culture and the money available to make the victims’ code and rights of tangible benefit to victims of crime, rather than aspirational. My noble friend Lord Bach, a former police and crime commissioner, went into interesting detail on tangible things that can be included in the Bill to encourage code compliance. He also said that legal justice boards should be put on a statutory footing, which is an issue we might want to examine at a later stage.

The second point in the Lords Library Note refers to changing the requirements for making victim information requests during criminal investigations. All noble Lords have had a lot of lobbying on this matter—for example, about whether rape victims’ therapy notes should be available to the prosecution. The Minister referenced that point in his opening speech, as did my noble friend Lady Thornton. There are many other examples detailing how information is made available to victims.

Victim information requests and victim support surely go to the heart of how the criminal justice system treats victims, while maintaining confidence in the fairness of the trial itself. Clause 15 seeks to standardise of the role of IDVAs and ISVAs. While this is welcome, we had a number of contributions from noble Lords about extending this to children. I and other noble Lords have had a lot of lobbying from children’s advocacy groups, which regard the Bill as excessively adult-focused. They are looking for the Bill to acknowledge that children need particular support when they are victims of or witnesses to crime. The speech by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, was particularly interesting on this matter. I absolutely acknowledge his expertise as a family court judge, and he made some interesting points about how children need to be supported as they go through those difficult processes, in not only the criminal court but the family court. Other noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Gohir, Lady Finlay and Lady Benjamin, my noble friends Lady Lister and Lady Warwick, and the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, all spoke with great authority about beefing up the support for children in the Bill. We have an opportunity, and we should take it.

The third point in the Lords Library Note concerns requiring a compensation body to be established within three months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent, in order to deliver compensation to victims of the infected blood scandal. We welcome the Government’s climbdown on this matter, and particularly that the change was introduced in the other place, which makes it even more likely to become law. I understand that there was a Statement earlier today, which will be repeated tomorrow and handled by the Cabinet Office. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, urged the House to consider filling the gaps in compensation in the Bill; she may well bring up that issue at later stages. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, spoke about the position of Welsh victims, who, of course, would have been infected before devolution.

The fourth point in the Library Note addresses Part 4 of the Bill, which introduces various parole system reforms, including allowing the Secretary of State to refer prisoner release decisions for top-tier offenders to the Upper Tribunal or High Court. While I welcome the Government’s amendments to the Parole Board provisions in the Bill, I remain baffled as to why the Lord Chancellor would want to retain these powers for himself. Surely the Lord Chancellor’s involvement in Parole Board cases will create delay and uncertainty for victims and offenders, and a political spotlight on any particular case will not help in the reaching of a just decision.

Many noble Lords spoke about the provisions of Part 4. Although all noble Lords spoke with great authority, I will focus on the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, who has particular knowledge of this point. She asked, rhetorically, why the system was broken and needed fixing. She quoted the figures on the extremely low failure rate—when people go on to reoffend—and raised a very fair point. I simply do not understand why a Lord Chancellor would want to be involved in these decisions. It will not help the reaching of just decisions.

My noble friend Lord Bach asked why it would be the Upper Tribunal and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, asked why we do not make the Parole Board a tribunal itself, which is an interesting idea. My noble friend also asked, if the Lord Chancellor is to make these decisions about whether to refer matters, who will actually do the work—will it be him or a civil servant? The Minister should answer that question.

The fifth point in the Library Note is around amending the process for the termination of licences for those serving imprisonment for public protection sentences. A number of noble Lords welcomed this; no doubt, we will hear more from the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, at a later stage if he tables amendments, which I would welcome and look at constructively.

The sixth point in the Library Note concerns prohibiting whole-life order prisoners from marrying or forming a civil partnership. While this is perhaps the smallest measure in the Bill in respect of the number of people affected, my personal view is that it is difficult to escape the conclusion that it is a petty measure that will do no good and may do harm. The Minister referred to a particular case in his introduction, but I am not sure that one difficult case is enough to justify changing the law. We are constantly told in debates around sentencing powers and keeping prisoners in custody about the importance of hope and relationships. It is difficult to see how this small measure will enhance the ease with which a prison regime can be managed.

We have heard a number of powerful speeches on independent public advocates, including from my noble friend Lord Wills, who of course has a great background of knowledge on this matter, the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and my noble friends Lady Kennedy and Lord Bach—he also asked about legal aid, which I am sure will be raised in Committee.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, raised restorative justice, which is absent from the Bill. We have had many debates on it in previous criminal justice Bills and it is embedded in the work of the Probation Service and the Youth Justice Board. I would be interested if the Minister could say something about the continuing work of developing restorative justice in our wider Probation Service.

As I turn to Clauses 49 to 52, I can do no better than quote Sir Robert Neill, chair of the Commons Justice Committee:

“Whatever one’s view of the Human Rights Act, there is no evidence that this is a problem in such cases. In fact, the evidence we heard from practitioners, from both sides, is that it can be helpful to have … regard to section 3 in these hearings. These clauses seem to be trying to solve a problem that does not exist, and I wonder whether we really need them. It is perfectly possible to have a robust system that still complies with section 3. This is a needless distraction that sends the wrong signal about a certain desire to pick unnecessary fights, which I know is not the current Secretary of State’s approach”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/5/23; col. 604.]

I think he says it all. Many noble Lords have expressed similar concerns, so I look forward to the Minister’s justification for disapplying parts of the Human Rights Act.

Photo of Lord Bellamy Lord Bellamy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 8:50, 18 December 2023

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Haslemere, on his magnificent maiden speech. I hope your Lordships will forgive me but, following a five and half hour debate at a relatively high level, I do not wish to close my door now, having previously said it will remain open, by being too definitive on the various points we have discussed.

I will take briefly three points. First, I will have to come back to the issue of legislative consent, and we will need to explore it further, given the inter-relationship between the various authorities and responsibilities. I acknowledge the existence of that issue. Secondly, on the impact assessment, about which certain comments have been made, I have gathered during the debate that it probably needs to be looked at again and perhaps revised and expanded. That is another task to be completed. Thirdly, I gather that at Report stage in the Commons the Government gave an undertaking that restorative justice would form part of further guidance to the relevant authorities when commissioning various services. At the moment, that is as far as I can take the issue of restorative justice, important though it is.

Having made those preliminary points, I also add a brief word on scope. The Bill does not deal with what could be described as purely operational decisions by the police, such as the failure to make an arrest or not turning up to a domestic burglary or something of that kind. That is for another way of complaint, through the police complaints systems. The Bill does not address the difficult problems victims experience simply because there is a backlog in the criminal justice system. That is for another day. It also does not address—and I do not think it would be in scope to address—certain points made in this debate about sentencing and how we come to sentence offenders.

The first group of points made is about Part 1 and victims, with the essential point being that the Bill does not go far enough. In the Government’s view, the Bill goes a very long way. It is not just a gentle nudge, as has been suggested; it is a tremendous shove in favour of victims. It combines real efforts to change culture, greatly improve transparency and give proper statutory duties to various bodies, including police and crime commissioners and others, to get this organised. It requires cross co-operation and involves further resources.

As I think I said in opening, we have quadrupled the money available to victim services over the last few years. I take entirely the points made by, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, that further clarification and development of these ideas could be very helpful. Others have said that bodies such as the Metropolitan Police, for example, would welcome further guidance, clarity and work on exactly how we can make this structure effective.

I think we all agree that we want to make an effective structure; the question is how to get there. At the moment, at least, to bring in a rather blunt statutory duty—in effect, a law giving victims further rights to sue and to bring in more lawyers, more legal proceedings and so forth—is not the right way to go, in the Government’s view. We do not want more satellite litigation. The real issue is how we effect cultural change.

How do we get there? The Government’s position at the moment is that this structure provides a very positive basis for effecting that much-needed cultural change, not least through the existence of transparency and, for example, the power of the Secretary of State to publish where local areas are on all these things and the powers of local police and crime commissioners to invigorate their local communities in all these respects. In the Government’s view, that is the way to go.

In relation to victims, there have clearly been many—perfectly understandable—references to particular kinds of victims, notably children. I briefly point out that child victims of crime and exploitation are encompassed within the Bill’s definition of a victim, and child criminal exploitation is in fact defined in statutory guidance for front-line practitioners in publications such as Keeping Children Safe in Education and Working Together to Safeguard Children. However, the point that we need to think very hard about is how we protect child victims, and it is certainly a point we should jointly further reflect on and consider.

Indeed, in relation more generally to women and girls in the justice system, victims of domestic violence, stalking, grooming and anti-social behaviour, and persons whose first language is not English, those are all examples of particular victims that we need to make sure are encompassed within our remit. Proper attention should be given to those particular kinds of victims. Those points are well made and, if I may briefly use an Americanism, will be taken under advisement.

In broad outline, that is the victims part of the Bill. As far as the IPA is concerned, the Government’s position is that this is a major advance, particularly the creation of a standing advocate who can advise the Secretary of State and, when appointed on a major incident, “look after” the victims. At the moment the Government do not think that it is useful to give this standing advocate a sort of roving power to conduct their own inquiries or demand their own documents and so forth, because of the risk—among other things—of real duplication in major inquiries such as Manchester Arena, Hillsborough or Grenfell. We already have very effective procedures. Bishop Jones’s inquiry was very effective; it was a non-statutory inquiry set up by the Government, and it got to the bottom of things. The Government are not convinced that we need yet another operator operating in this area.

I think that my noble friend Lady Sanderson asked about smaller incidents. Let us take an incident such as the Shoreham air disaster, where 11 people were killed. Leaving to one side the question of whether that was a major incident, in that example there was the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, a criminal case and an inquest. Do we really need yet another body investigating, demanding documents and imposing more costs on the whole system? The Government are not yet convinced, certainly at this stage, that we should go any further than we have gone in the Bill, which is already a very long way. That is the general position of the Government at the moment.

I listened very carefully to noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Meston, on the issue of parental responsibility and whether we should go further and include other cases. There are already procedures for effectively taking away, or at least hollowing out, parental responsibility that exist in family law in the family courts and the Government do not feel that we should go any further at the moment.

On infected blood, noble Lords will be able to ask questions of my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe tomorrow when she updates the House on the Government’s position. I have no doubt that we will come back to that in the fullness of time in Committee.

On IPP prisoners, the present proposals, I hope and trust, will deal quite effectively with prisoners who are currently in the community and who have a prospect of being released—I think they will deal with that. I think that we all recognise that our real problem is the hard core of about 1,200 prisoners who have not been released. It is very important to say that the Government have not given up on those prisoners. In the last two years, 400 prisoners who had not previously been released have been released. There is very detailed work going on in the Prison Service; I am very happy to share with noble Lords more detail about that, if it is of use. It relates to particular sentencing plans for particular prisoners, so that they have an individual sentencing plan for further support in the community when they are released, and for a much more active IPP progression programme. So we are still working towards the release of these prisoners when it is safe to do so. The Government currently see that as a much more sensible and justifiable approach than the alternative of the re-sentencing exercise.

As noble Lords know, the basic problem with the re-sentencing exercise is that you are raising expectations that people will be released. But the people we are dealing with have been found not to be safe to be released, so how are we going to tackle that? Are we going to take the view, “We’ll just release them”? As in the case of Mr Bierton that I mentioned in my opening speech, do we say “We don’t care whether further offences are committed by these highly dangerous people, we’re just going to release them because that is what justice demands”? The Government ask: what about future victims? What risks are you taking; is it worth the risk; can you take the risk? The Government are not prepared to take that risk. But they are prepared to work very hard for these prisoners, to give them at least some hope of an eventual release. That is the Government’s present position on these issues.

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee

My Lords, it is with the greatest respect that I intervene on my noble and learned friend. I genuinely congratulate him and welcome his personal and very human engagement with this problem, which I know he has wrestled with the whole time he has been a Minister—I think it is fair to say that it has always been on his agenda. But I add, in fairness, that the Prison Service releases daily people into the community who would be assessed as dangerous if the Government had the option of retaining them in custody. That is because they have reached the end of a definitive sentence.

It is a risk that we have learned to manage. It does indeed occasionally go wrong—of course it does—and there are future victims; the point made by my noble and learned friend is not empty. However, we manage it. The fact is that of these people we are discussing, very few committed crimes that were egregiously heinous or violent, compared to many others who have, before and since, being given determinate sentences that see them released into the community at the end of that sentence, if not earlier.

Photo of Lord Bellamy Lord Bellamy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, my noble friend makes a perfectly fair debating point—and we are debating, so it is perfectly fair that he makes a debating point—but it is a debating point at the end of the day. The point is: are you prepared to take the risk of 1,200 dangerous people being released from prison? The Government are not prepared to take that risk. We can of course discuss it further, but I am just explaining what the Government’s position is: it is better to work with those prisoners to ensure that they are safe to release eventually.

That probably takes me on to the issue of public protection and related issues. First, perhaps I may clarify what seems to be a muddle that has arisen about the statement in the Bill that it is compatible with convention rights. The Bill is perfectly compatible with convention rights: it does not take away any convention rights at all. Section 3 of the Human Rights Act is a procedural provision only, which gives the court an—to use a neutral word—unusual power to reinterpret what Parliament has said in a manner that may not have been and probably was not Parliament’s original intention so as to render a particular provision compatible with the convention.

On the provision in the Bill disapplying Section 3, which at least one member of Sir Peter Gross’s commission thought we should get rid of, and on other parts of Section 3, Sir Peter himself recommended a rather complicated hierarchy of different ways of applying the section. It has been quite a difficult section to apply. Case law has gone all over the place over the years, although it has settled down more recently. It introduces uncertainty where the Government want to have certainty in this area: that this is the test for public protection for these prisoners, that is what Parliament has said, and that is the end of the matter.

If that was found to be incompatible with the convention in any case, hypothetically, the court would have to make a declaration of inapplicability, and Parliament would have to deal with it. But the underlying issue is the constitutional balance between the courts and Parliament. That is quite an issue, and it has not gone away, but that is how the Government understand this particular point.

As regards the question of the Parole Board and all the various provisions affecting it, it is worth making the point that when these very high-risk offenders are released, they live in the community. Who speaks for the people in the community who have to live with them? Are they represented at all in this system? The only person who can represent the interests of the community with whom released prisoners have to live is the Secretary of State. All we are doing is saying that if there is some doubt about the application of the public protection test, it is wise from the point of view of the system—

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

I am sure that the noble and learned Lord understands the irony of that statement, set against his statement that victims’ rights should not be put on a statutory, enforceable footing.

Photo of Lord Bellamy Lord Bellamy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I am not sure that I entirely understood the noble Baroness’s point, but it is perfectly true that I am thinking—rather, the Government are thinking; I should not put it in personal terms—about the potential victims of people who have been released and the actual families of those who have suffered at the hands of the offender. We are simply saying that there might be some very high-profile cases where it is sensible for there to be a second judicial look. That is a very much modified position from the position originally in the Bill, but it is, I hope, a sensible one.

I have used up my time, but I hope that I have covered most things. I apologise to noble Lords whose specific points I have not met. Anyone is fully entitled to write to me or ask me questions and I will, of course, answer them. If I may just finish with the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, who was kind enough to say he was going to be kind to the Bill. Let us be kind to the Bill and—

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

It is very generous of the Minister to say, as he has done with other Bills, that we should write to him with concerns, but given that he said at the start of his response that he was going to take a high-level approach, it might be helpful if he were to write to all of us about the issues we have raised. There might then be a subsequent correspondence. However, if we are thinking about tabling amendments, rather than waiting for us to write and say, I think he has most of our questions.

Photo of Lord Bellamy Lord Bellamy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I warmly thank the noble Baroness for that intervention. I will ask my officials to go through this debate, identify at least the principal questions and see whether we can write to the House on the various points that have been made.

On that note, given the season of the year in which we find ourselves, we may not quite have reached

“Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled”, but I hope we have taken the matter forward. I beg to move.

Bill read a second time.