Amendment 1

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:23 pm on 16 April 2024.

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Lord Russell of Liverpool:

Moved by Lord Russell of Liverpool

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out “a person” and insert “any adult or child”

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, this will be a mercifully brief group and I will speak primarily to Amendment 1 in my name, which has the great virtue of complete and utter simplicity. It was an attempt to get His Majesty’s Government to recognise that children are different from adults and have different needs and requirements. I am glad to say that in the discussions we have been having, particularly between the Children’s Commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner and the Minister and his team, we have made significant progress in recognising in various places in the Bill that children have particular needs and are a particular group that needs to be thought of in a particular way. The reason behind that is simply the need to recognise children’s unique and special characteristics.

I suspect that, like many of us, one has been to meetings where different charities and others that help children have brought parliamentarians together to listen to the experience of victims. It is pretty searing to hear directly from victims who have suffered a whole variety of terrible things happening to them, but particularly searing is listening to children who have experienced this. Some of us who have been working in this area were privileged to listen to some of those children, who very bravely spoke about their experiences, some of which were truly shocking. In one instance we not only had a victim talking powerfully but immediately after that we had the victim’s mother talking about the effect that it had had on her child and her family. In this instance, it was made even more ghastly by the fact that the perpetrator of her daughter was actually one of her grandfathers. It was almost unimaginable.

The needs of children who have gone through that sort of trauma are very specific. However well intended it may be to say that we will allow children to have access to what are essentially adult services, those services may be very good at treating adults but children are definitely different. Done well with individuals, psychologists and trained people who really know how to deal with children sensitively, the outcomes can be hugely better than well-intended interventions by people who, frankly, are not qualified to do so. I am hoping to hear from the Minister at the Dispatch Box on not only the amendments that the Government have brought in but, more broadly, the Government’s intention to try to do everything they can for children. On that basis, I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

My Lords, I tried to add my name to this amendment but in fact I was on holiday, staying with my daughter in Spain. The suggestion that I sent put me on to Amendment 2 instead of Amendment 1, but I strongly support Amendment 1.

I was for many years a family judge and President of the Family Division. I spent a great and uncomfortable part of my time hearing about the sexual abuse of children, very seldom from the children, though occasionally, but otherwise from the doctors—the paediatricians and psychiatrists—on the trauma suffered by children. Since I left being a judge, on a number of occasions I have met those adults who cannot forget, 20, 30 or 40 years later, what hit them sometime around the age of eight, 12 or 14. The trauma is shocking; it may be short, medium or, for many, long. Those who live with it are never quite the same.

We therefore have to look at what we do for children in the Bill, and this is the purpose of the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, has put down. I support it for those reasons, given my own experience over 35 years in different parts of being a judge, where I lived that at second hand. I have to tell the House that judges obviously do not cry in court—except one, once—but I sat in my room sometimes in floods of tears from hearing what happened to these children. I strongly support this amendment.

Photo of Lord Hampton Lord Hampton Crossbench 6:30, 16 April 2024

My Lords, I too have added my name to Amendment 1. The great thing about following my noble friend Lord Russell is that I need to say very little. The beauty of this is its simplicity. We have talked about this again and again, and I thank the Ministers for their hard work and the very collegiate attitude we have had. People have come to an agreement and the Government have given a lot. However, it is so beautifully simple to change “a person” to “any adult or child”. There is a lot of talk about how, if you start doing that, where do you stop? But “any adult or child” is perfect.

Photo of Lord Meston Lord Meston Crossbench

My Lords, we discussed this in Committee. Since then, a decision of the Court of Appeal comprehensively rejected the rather eccentric argument that a child is not a person. In fact, reading that judgment, it is quite clear that there was never any doubt that a child is a person. The Oxford English Dictionary definition, which was quoted, defines a person as:

“An individual human being; a man, woman, or child”.

The purist would say that this amendment is unnecessary, but I suggest thinking about it a little more deeply, and that the arguments we have heard in support of the amendment, which makes it clear that children are individually and separately covered by the Bill, should ultimately carry the day.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

My Lords, as we begin Report, from these Liberal Democrat Benches I thank the Minister and his fellow Ministers for talking to noble Lords in the short time between Committee and the commencement of Report. We understand that this has been difficult during the Easter Recess, but it has been extremely helpful to hear the Government say where they are and are not prepared to make some progress on closing the gap between themselves and others across this House on this important Bill.

This group, as has already been outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and other noble Lords, relates to the importance of ensuring that child victims are recognised as having different needs and services available to them under the victims’ code and this Bill. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, echoes that made in Committee specifically changing the definition of victim to “any adult or child”.

Amendment 21 and others tabled by the Minister choose a different definition:

“victims who are under the age of 18 or who have protected characteristics”.

I am grateful to the Minister for that addition because, as somebody with a protected characteristic—in my case, a disability—it makes it clear that age alone does not cover some of the particular vulnerabilities faced by those with protected characteristics. In this case I am thinking of those over the age of 18 with an intellectual disability, who may need a heightened level of support under the code. However, there is a broader point that we welcome from these Benches. Under the terms of the Equality Act 2010, those with protected characteristics have enhanced rights in relation to crimes against them, because of their protected characteristics. We welcome that. Can the Minister explain why the government amendments are phrased the way they are and why the Government are therefore still resisting the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell?

Photo of Lord Polak Lord Polak Conservative

My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell. I spoke extensively on including such a provision on children in the Bill because of the information I received from children’s charities, which explained to us the importance of including it. It is vital for them in their work, and I trust what they say. The Minister has been extremely helpful in moving this forward. Having children at the forefront, as I said, is vital, and I hope the Government will accept the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell.

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

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for his extensive consultation with me and colleagues on my side of the House, and with many other noble Lords who have taken an active interest in the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Russell, very adequately set out his amendment. It is not a matter for me, but my understanding is that he is unlikely to push it to a vote. If he were to do so, we would not support it, as I have explained to the noble Lord. Having said that, I acknowledge that there has been wide consultation and the Government are moving their own amendments in this group. I look forward to hearing the Minister's explanation of his amendments.

I will briefly touch on the personal testimony of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, about her life as a family judge. I will also touch on what the noble Lord, Lord Russell, said about the meetings he went to with the victims, which I also attended. But I want to say something a little bit different. Of course, it was extremely upsetting, but I have to say that I was absolutely amazed by the resilience of the victims we spoke to and their keenness to help other child victims who still come forward today. I found that extremely admirable.

This is the first group, and we will be moving on to more contentious issues in subsequent groups. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

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

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for moving his amendment, and those who have spoken in support of it. In particular, I thank the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for her sobering words. I also salute the courage of the children who have participated in discussions about the progress of the Bill. I say to them: you have achieved quite a lot by participating in this discussion.

As I hope to explain to the House, the Government are absolutely clear that victims who are children have particular experiences of criminality that are different from the adult experience. They have different needs from adult victims and they therefore require a different approach. That, as I hope to explain, is fully recognised.

That said, the amendment in itself is not one the Government can support, for the simple reason that children are already included as victims under Part 1 of the Bill. The Government’s view is that that is manifestly clear, as a matter of legal drafting, across the statute book. As the noble Lord, Lord Meston, has just pointed out, “person” includes “child” and that is beyond argument. That is the customary usage across the whole statute book, and the Government are not persuaded that we need to make an exception in this case.

On the technical matter of legal drafting, as I have just emphasised, children are in a very special position when it comes to the victims’ code. That is why the current code sets out specific provisions for child victims and others who are considered vulnerable or intimidated. Those are known at the moment as enhanced rights. That is also why we have committed—and I therefore recommit the Government—to ensuring that the new victims’ code, which will go out to consultation as soon as we have Royal Assent, fully addresses the needs of child victims in particular. We shall seek views on the proposals regarding children in that public consultation.

I come to the government amendments in this group. In particular, we have listened carefully to the arguments for greater assurances as to the Government’s intentions, which is why we are proposing government Amendment 21, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, which will ensure that the Secretary of State must consider whether different provision is required in the code as a result of the particular needs of children, now defined as those under the age of 18, and those with protected characteristics, when the new code is prepared and during any future revisions to the code. Although this group is about children, I entirely take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about other vulnerable persons, who are also covered by Amendment 21. That is a perfectly fair point, and one that the Government have well in mind.

The Government are delighted to have worked constructively with the Children’s Commissioner to consider how the victims’ code can better reflect the distinct needs and experiences of child victims. I am pleased that the noble Baroness expressed personally to me the other day her strong support for this amendment and her personal appreciation of the Government’s work in this area.

To move on through the Bill, in addition, Clause 11 requires the Secretary of State to issue guidance for agencies delivering code awareness and compliance duties, which will specifically include guidance on how sensitively and effectively to gather information on children. Clause 13 states that commissioners under the duty to collaborate must consider the specific needs of children when preparing their joint needs assessments and local strategy. Clause 15 requires the same when issuing guidance on support roles. I hope noble Lords might accept that we now have, in the Bill itself and prospectively in the revised code, very full provision for children.

The word “children” is a slightly colloquial term—it can mean a number of things to different people—so, for absolute clarity, we have tabled amendments to change the references to “children” in Clauses 11, 13 and 15 to

“individuals who are under the age of 18” to make it clear that there is a very clear legal cut-off for the special requirements of children, which is those under the age of 18. Those are Amendments 54, 63 and 74.

Finally, I add also that we have heard the concerns about young victims not always being able to engage with the code or understand the sometimes overcomplicated documents that the Government produce. On behalf of the Government, I commit to developing an accessible version of the new code—a “child-friendly” version, if I may refer to it colloquially—which we also intend to consult on post Royal Assent, as we recognise that we can do more to improve the accessibility of these provisions for children themselves.

All that said, I think I have already explained that the Government do not, for what I must confess is a somewhat technical reason, but a real reason none the less, support the proposal to change the drafting as suggested in Amendment 1. But I hope that I have sufficiently explained the supreme importance of children, and the Government’s recognition of that importance.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. What a change of atmosphere in the Chamber from the business that we had earlier on this afternoon—long may it continue. I pay tribute to the Minister and his colleagues for the amount of time and effort that they have put into this issue. While this amendment may not be perfect in the legal sense, its sheer simplicity has helped to galvanise the debate to make it clear how important it is that children are identified clearly as a group. It has achieved its purpose in that sense.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, talked about meeting those child victims and how struck he was by their resilience. The moment he said that, I reflected on it, and I asked myself why they were so resilient. In large part the reason why they were so resilient is, first, down to the individuals themselves but, secondly, due to the fact that all the victims who spoke to us had had the benefit of working with highly specialised help in the major children’s charities. That had helped them to emerge from the unspeakable traumas that they had experienced, to the extent that they could stand up in front of a group of probably slightly intimidating parliamentarians and they were able to speak clearly, without undue emotion and with great clarity and force, about their experience and how important it was for us to understand what we need to do as parliamentarians in this Bill to enable as many other victims as possible to benefit from the support that they had received. That was the key message that I got from that.

I welcome the idea of having an accessible version of the victims’ code for children. It occurs to me that probably quite a lot of adults—including those in the agencies that are tasked with trying to enforce it—could do with an accessible version of the victims’ code. A lot of evidence over the years has shown that many of those officials charged with enacting the victims’ code, when put on the spot and asked about in detail, actually do not know very much about it. An accessible version for adults might be an idea.

I thank the Minister for having been so helpful. I think that we have moved forward in the right direction. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.