Amendment 148C

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 26 February 2024.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede:

Moved by Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

148C: After Clause 47, insert the following new Clause—“Report to Parliament on including MAPPS as a condition of release and licence for certain offences(1) The Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament on the Government’s progress in designing and creating new Multi-Agency Public Protection System [MAPPS] for prisoners subject to notification requirements and licence conditions under the Victims and Prisoners Act 2024.(2) The report under subsection (1) must be published within twelve months of the day on which this Act is passed.(3) The report must include a timetable for the planned implementation of MAPPS.”

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 148C. I want to speak more widely than the previous group and briefly recount my experience as a magistrate. It so happens that the last two stalking cases I dealt with were of women stalking men. I have also dealt with recent cases where MAPPA—as it was called—was relevant to the bail decisions which we were making. The reason I want to speak more widely than the previous group is because, in my experience, the MAPPA system is also used for tracking and being aware of people with mental health difficulties who are perceived as dangerous. These are not stalkers but people who may well be dangerous because of their mental condition.

In fact, the last case that I dealt with—which was probably a couple of years ago now—was of a young man with a gun obsession, but who had clear mental health problems. It was going to fall to MAPPA to make sure he was properly protected—which I suppose is the right way of describing it—because he was likely to be released into the community. In that case, I quizzed the relevant offices about MAPPA, as it then was, and what was likely to be put in place for that young man. It was absolutely clear that there were a number of agencies involved. The key was multiagency working. As a court, we needed confidence that people would indeed be able to work across the agencies to try and keep proper tabs on the young man, to make sure he did not go off the rails again—if I can put it like that.

How are the types of cases dealt with by MAPPS and MAPPA recorded? They are not all stalking-related and domestic abuse-related cases; they go wider than that. They include a lot of agencies: not just police and probation, but also housing, local authority and health agencies. The whole point of that system is essentially to provide support for people who are potential offenders, to try and stop them from reoffending. How are the types of cases dealt with by MAPPA tracked? Is the Minister confident that the tracking of those releases means that the response can be properly tailored for the individuals whom they are dealing with? It is certainly my experience that very often, when things go wrong, it is because the agencies are not working together properly. This is a repeated theme of what I have seen when cases come before me in the magistrates’ court.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees 6:45, 26 February 2024

My Lords, I would like to put my name to this amendment, because it is a continuation of the theme around stalking which we have repeatedly returned to in the Bill, as indeed we went on at length about in the Domestic Abuse Act.

In listening to the reply of the Minister to the last group of amendments, I was trying to imagine what a robust list would look like. I was somewhat puzzled as to how it would really have any effect at all. I was also pondering the term “discretionary management”, given that if only 1.4% of stalking cases actually end up in a successful prosecution, it is quite easy for the advisers who are writing the Minister’s brief to talk about percentage increases in performance. If one knows anything about mathematics, it is relatively easy to get rather spell-binding percentage increases in performance by starting from an exceedingly low base—a base of 1.4% of stalkers being successfully prosecuted, I am not a fan of percentages in a situation like this.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, effective multiagency co-operation is clearly not working at the moment. This amendment gives the Government the opportunity to provide the single most important thing to make multiagency co-operation work: clear, outstanding, determined and consistent leadership. Leadership which transcends politics and different Ministers being responsible for the same area as the ministerial merry-go-round continues is incredibly important. The attempts by MAPPA to create an effective multiagency co-operation environment are so far not compelling. This amendment is an invitation for the Government to sit down and reflect on the lessons of what has not been and is not working as we would wish it, to create something more fit for purpose, and—in a non-political environment—to create a form of new MAPPS which is nothing to do with politics.

If the Great British electorate—of course, we are not allowed to participate—decide on a change of His Majesty’s Government at some point in the next 12 months, I hope that the department can come up with a form of multiagency co-operation which an incoming Government, should they be of a different political persuasion, would be positive about and could run with and make effective, rather than starting the clock all over again and losing valuable time. During this time, goodness only knows how many more victims will fall to the pursuit of stalkers, many of whom have been operating and stalking for many years, and many of whom are known all too well to the victims, but whom various multiagency authorities seem to be wilfully blind to.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I have also signed Amendment 148C and thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for introducing it, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for his very eloquent contribution just now.

I too return to the Minister’s remarks at the end of the previous group, because it will help with this amendment. Part of the problem is that those of us who raise these issues about multiagency protection have assumed the corporate knowledge of the House about the previous six days and of all the amendments we have debated—in particular, those relating to domestic abuse and stalking. I fear that is not the case. One of the reasons we need this report is to ensure that Ministers and officials absolutely see what is happening in the data and bring it to Parliament to be held to account for it.

When I gave an example of a live case, I used the term “restraining order”. In his response to me, the Minister talked about a “stalking protection order”. They are completely different tools. An SPO is given by the police as a sort of special caution. It identifies the crime and says to the offender—there may not even be an offender at that point—that they have to mend their ways. A restraining order is given by the courts—it can happen at various levels of the courts—and is much more serious.

Most stalkers who are on restraining orders now will have been through the earlier processes, including, I am afraid, a number of stalking protection orders. While they may be a useful tool for the one stalker who is obsessed with one person but can get over it, the group of people that we are talking about in the MAPPA arrangements are completely and utterly different. They are extremely obsessed and manipulative people, who are physically dangerous in some cases, and certainly through coercive control. Not only are they a danger to the person for whom a restraining order may have been given but, in all the examples I gave in my speech on the previous group, they are known to be likely to offend with other people and to move around the country to get out of trouble and get away from the police force taking notice of them.

Given that we are talking about the most serious level of offences, whether it is domestic abuse or stalking, we need a consistent system across the country. Amendment 148C, through the report, would hold the Government—whatever Government, of whatever colour—to account, forcing them to produce data to show that they understand the difference. Until that happens, there will be Members of your Lordships’ House who will return, Bill after Bill, with horror stories of murders, attacks and everything else, but nothing will have changed.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, I apologise for not having contributed to debates on the Bill as it has gone through its various stages. I spoke to my Front-Bench colleagues and the others who have added their names to this amendment, and I want to bring my experience as the independent chair of the Nottingham Community Safety Partnership, as laid out in the register of members’ interests, by speaking briefly to this amendment.

I welcome the Government’s intention to move from MAPPA to MAPPS and all the various comments I have read that have been made throughout the passage of the Bill about the importance of change. However, the reality is that, whether it is called MAPPA, MAPPS or something else, without the sort of change that my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and others have mentioned, nothing will change.

I am sick of having domestic homicide reviews. They say exactly the same thing, time after time. It is not a lack of desire or care on the part of the people involved; the system simply does not work. We have a situation where people do not share data because they do not think that they are allowed to—even though everyone says, “Oh, that’s ridiculous. Of course they’re allowed to”. The Minister of the Crown has to get hold of this; he needs to tell people to share the data in order to save lives—because they do not do so.

I am sorry to keep going on about this, but I am sick of reading about the same problem occurring, time after time: information is not being shared and people say that they did not know about this or that it was supposed to have happened. Again, it is not the dedication of the people that is in question—they all care and want to do good—but we need to know what is happening that does not allow it to take place.

The Minister has to get a grip of this. It does not matter whether it is called MAPPS or something else; without a change, nothing will improve. I know that that is the intention of the Government—of course their intention is not to make it worse—but what are we going to do about it?

I will tell the Committee about another problem. At times, the meetings are packed—absolutely rammed—with people representing, for hours, different parts of the system. What I say is that everybody is responsible but nobody is responsible. I repeat that: everybody is responsible because everybody cares, but nobody is responsible. The question is: who holds the ring? Who is the person accountable for ensuring that something is done and delivered, whether it is a review of a domestic homicide or prisoners coming out and being subject to the MARAC or MAPPS, as it will be called?

My final point is that the delivery of this from an office—I do not mean that disrespectfully—to a house or street is absolutely crucial, and yet nobody has done anything. I will give the Committee an instance. The Government have recruited new police officers—I am not making a political point—and so we have new front-line police officers, who are often very young and very willing, with the desire to do well. When they go to a prisoner out on licence or to a domestic incident, many of them go in blind, because they are young and inexperienced and have no idea what to do. They try to assess whether there is a threat to life, but, as we know, often with domestic homicides there is no immediate, obvious threat to life. That is the nature of domestic violence and, unfortunately, sometimes of domestic homicides; the offenders do not wear a sign saying, “I am going to kill someone”. The police officer goes there, as a 999 response officer, and deals with the immediate emergency as he or she sees it. Realising that there is no immediate threat to life, as far as they are aware, the police officer leaves.

Sometimes, the information that that has happened is not passed on. Sometimes, the police officer is rung again—“Come back, there is a problem”—and they go back but there is nothing going on. It is not as though somebody is running around with a gun, ready to shoot. If that does not change, it will not make a shred of difference whether you call it “MAPPS”, “super-MAPPS”, “extra-MAPPS”, or “brilliant-MAPPS”.

The Government want to make a difference, so they have to do something about the mechanism by which everybody is responsible but nobody is responsible, about what happens with the front-line delivery, and about the sharing of data and information. That is patchwork at best. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, say that the report has to address those problems. But the Minister does not need a report in 12 months; he could get on the phone or get a meeting now and ask why it is that the law allows you to share data but you are not.

My question to the Minister is this. When people say that they cannot share data in MARACs, or whatever else, are they right? Are they in a situation where they can do that? I think that they are wrong; I think that they can share that information. As a start to what the noble Lord, Lord Russell, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and my noble friend Lord Ponsonby asked, why does the Minister not write to every single MARAC in the country and say, “Notwithstanding the Victims and Prisoners Bill that is going through Parliament, the existing law allows you to share information. Don’t worry, you will not be prosecuted or get in trouble for doing that”. They do not believe that—we may all say that that is ridiculous but that is the reality. What I want is for the Government to address on the ground the reality of what is happening. The Minister needs to get involved and do that. The Government want it to improve, as of course we all do, but that change is needed for an improvement to happen.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, might like to know that, in evidence that the Justice and Home Affairs Committee took recently on community sentences, we came across various NGOs that were stuck because they were frightened of sharing information. It held up the system; it completely stopped things working as they should and could have.

Photo of Baroness Newlove Baroness Newlove Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 7:00, 26 February 2024

My Lords, this amendment is important. As someone who knows first-hand what it is like to gather information and then find out that the Home Office wants to gather information about red flags, I have to say it is amazing that all that information is shared for the Home Secretary to look at on a murder case.

I agree with the passionate assertion by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that data sharing is important. In a domestic homicide review, the families already know the information and have complained about it, but the Government have to wait for this review to come out with “lessons learned”. That is further insulting to the victims’ families and indeed to the victims, and it beggars belief that we have not moved on.

I want to tell my noble friend about data sharing. I attended a MARAC a few years ago as Victims’ Commissioner—not every MARAC is fantastic, I have to say—and what concerned me was that when a police officer gave evidence that the prisoner had been released, his offender manager, who was at that same table, was concerned because the last thing she knew was that he was still meant to be in prison. She had to leave the room to double-check, because he should not have been released. Unfortunately, I did not manage to find out the result, but the police and offender management had to try to establish whether the prisoner had even been released. That shows how important it is for data to be shared for the protection of victims. People need to understand what can be shared so they can find out whether a prisoner is even in their cell.

Photo of Lord Roborough Lord Roborough Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his amendment regarding the Multi Agency Public Protection System, MAPPS. I understand that the debate has not really been very much to do with MAPPS, but I will first address the amendment, which does address it. Amendment 148C would place a duty on the Secretary of State to publish a report on progress of the development of MAPPS for prisoners subject to notification requirements and licence conditions under the Victims and Prisoners Act 2024, within 12 months of Royal Assent.

It may be helpful if I provide some explanation of MAPPS. This will answer some of those questions, but I have better answers at the end. MAPPS is a Home Office IT project, currently jointly funded with the Ministry of Justice, to enable the improved management of dangerous offenders, including violent and sex offenders, under Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements, or MAPPA. It is intended to replace the current case management system, the ViSOR database, which has been the main IT tool used by the police, probation and prison services since 2005.

The current database, ViSOR, while stable, is now almost 20 years old. The Home Office and the Ministry of Justice began work on MAPPS in 2020 to enable criminal justice agencies to share information in real time and improve their risk assessments and the management of all MAPPA nominals. That can include domestic abuse perpetrators and stalkers, as referenced in Amendments 148A and 148B.

I am sure we all agree that it is essential that police and other MAPPA agencies have the tools they need to manage the risk posed by serious offenders, and MAPPS will do just that. The new functionality will include greater capacity; a more intuitive system with push notifications; and increased mobility. MAPPS, as a new and modern system, will be more responsive to agency needs, and adaptable to any new notification requirements.

As noble Lords would expect for a project so important to public safety, we are being diligent in our approach to MAPPS development. MAPPS is a custom product, being built to meet the bespoke needs of police, prison and probation officers as well as other MAPPA authorities. While third-party contractors are used, given other discussions on the Bill, I am sure that noble Lords will want to note that Fujitsu is not involved in MAPPS development and never has been.

We welcome the interest in the MAPPS programme and, while the work is ongoing, the Government will of course further update Parliament on its development and implementation. Given that MAPPS is already being designed specifically to meet the needs of those agencies involved in the management of all MAPPA offenders, in conjunction with those very agencies, I do not consider that the proposed report would say anything more than has already been mentioned, and it is therefore unnecessary.

I turn to the debate that we have had in Committee. MAPPA deals only with convicted offenders under four categories, but much of the debate has been about information sharing in a way that is not consistent with that use of it. In answer to numerous noble Lords—the noble Lords, Lord Coaker, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Russell of Liverpool, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Newlove and Lady Brinton—on data sharing, the PCSC Act put beyond doubt the authority of agencies to share relevant information for the purposes of assessing and managing an offender’s risk, and to enable agencies and individuals who do not have a duty to co-operate to share information where they can contribute to the assessment and management of an offender’s risk. These measures clarified existing arrangements and will ensure that agencies understand how any sharing of information for the purposes of MAPPA management interacts with the obligations contained in the data protection legislation.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, we are bringing coercive individuals under the management of MAPPA but it is potentially under the lower categories 2 and 3, as I mentioned in the previous debate. There have been numerous questions. I am sure I have not answered them all and I will write to noble Lords.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

The amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, gives the Minister of the Crown the opportunity to jolt the system to tell people dealing with prisoners under licence or with potential domestic homicide incidents—within these multi-agency arrangements, whatever they are called or are going to be called—“You can share information in a way that you don’t believe you currently can”. If the Minister does that, it will save lives.

As I said, I am sick of reading domestic homicide reviews where people are killed and then, time after time, it turns out that it might have been avoided if information had been shared, but the people involved did not think they could do so. Why does the Minister not say to them in some way—in writing or from the Dispatch Box, using his powers as a Minister—that they can? That would make an immediate difference.

Photo of Lord Roborough Lord Roborough Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble Lord for his comments, and for his comments earlier. Everyone in this Committee has the same interests at heart. We are all trying to achieve the same thing. I think I have read out a form of words that explains how data sharing is possible at the moment, but I take the point that there is the possibility of acting considerably more vigorously on this. I will take that back to the department. His words have not gone unnoticed.

Photo of Lord Harris of Haringey Lord Harris of Haringey Labour

My Lords, that is a very helpful comment from the Minister—I apologise for not having intervened previously in the Bill—but, in other things that I have done over the last few years, there have been three separate areas of activity where the belief of professionals is that they cannot share the data despite the clear legislation, and despite the fact that a threat to life trumps most data protection legislation. It needs a bit more than the Minister saying, “I hear what has been said and we take it very seriously”. There has to be action to make those legal rights and that legal possibility absolutely clear.

Photo of Lord Roborough Lord Roborough Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord makes a good point. Hardly a piece of legislation goes through this House where there is not a data protection aspect. That creates confusion and it is up to the Government to bring clarity, particularly in this area. I thank him for that interjection.

I encourage the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, this has been a useful debate because it has been focused on the effectiveness of MAPPA, soon to be MAPPS.

As the Minister said, MAPPS deals only with convicted offenders. However, in the previous group he spoke at length about domestic abuse protection orders and stalking protection orders. Those are not criminal convictions so the people involved would not get on to the system in the first place.

From my own experience as a magistrate, from the experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, as someone who is currently involved with the criminal justice system, and from the experience of my noble friend Lord Coaker, who is on the Nottingham Community Safety Partnership, we are all looking at the same problem from different perspectives, but it is about one thing: data sharing and being able to monitor that data.

The Minister is addressing the Committee as a Minister of the Crown. He has authority and can follow this through. The same message has come from everyone who has spoken in this short debate: it is about data sharing. I look forward to the Minister using his authority to make sure that that message is rammed home to those people who sit on those committees. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 148C withdrawn,