Motion A

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Commons Amendments and Reasons – in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 24 May 2024.

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Lord Bellamy:

Moved by Lord Bellamy

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 32 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment 32A in lieu—

32A: Clause 18, page 18, line 25, at end insert—“(3A) After section 51 insert— “51A Duty to co-operate with Commissioner(1) The Commissioner may request a relevant person to co-operate with the Commissioner in any way that the Commissioner considers necessary for the purposes of the Commissioner’s functions. (2) A relevant person must comply with a request made to the person under this section, so far as it is appropriate and reasonably practicable for the person to do so. (3) In this section “relevant person” means a person who is not an individual and is subject to the duty in section 5(A1) of the Victims and Prisoners Act 2024 (duty to provide services in accordance with the code issued under section 2 of that Act).””

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

My Lords, with the leave of the House, in moving Motion A I will speak also to Motions B to H.

It is a privilege to bring the Victims and Prisoners Bill back to this House from the other place, whence it has returned in relatively good shape. I am grateful to Members of both Houses for the constructive way in which they have engaged with the Bill, especially on this last stage of its passage. I again thank all the officials at the Ministry of Justice for their hard work on the Bill. The other place has made some amendments, which I will consider in turn. I hope they will not be controversial. I will take them in what seems to me to be a logical order, which is not necessarily the alphabetical order in which they now stand in the Motions.

Lords Amendment 33, which is the subject of Motion B, seeks to require training to be provided to those with obligations under the victims’ code. Of course, agencies should, and do, have training in place to deliver the legislative duty to act in accordance with the code, but that training must be tailored to the specific function that each person is discharging, and agencies are best placed to do that. As it would place an additional burden on the Secretary of State to implement a strategy of training, we consider this amendment would be costly and inefficient. It would not be proper for an amendment from the Lords to place financial burdens on public authorities.

We also consider that the more effective approach, as has been committed by the Government in the other place, is to include a requirement for agencies to report on the adequacy of their code training as part of evidencing delivery of code entitlements. This gives us a route to identify and address ineffective training if it has led to non-compliance with the code. For those reasons, the Government do not support the original Lords Amendment 33.

Lords Amendment 47, which is the subject of Motion E, seeks to establish a firewall and prevent the police sharing data relating to immigration status with Immigration Enforcement. We disagree with this amendment because it would be inappropriate to impose a blanket restriction on the use of personal data in the circumstances to which the amendment relates. It would not prevent the perpetrator informing Immigration Enforcement about the victim’s immigration status, and it would impact on the ability to investigate crimes and support victims.

Leaving those two amendments aside, the Government have today brought forward a number of other amendments in lieu. I turn to Amendment 32, which is the subject of Motion A and concerns the duty to co-operate with the Victims’ Commissioner. We have accepted the principle of the amendment put forward, which would place a duty on relevant authorities to co-operate with the Victims’ Commissioner when requested. Again, I am pleased to see my noble friend Lady Newlove in her place today. We hear the strength of feeling that a response to the Victims’ Commissioner as they do their important work should not be seen as a favour and that there should be clear, open co-operation as an integral part of enabling the independent scrutiny that victims deserve.

The Government’s Amendment 32A makes a few minor changes to Amendment 32. First, it extends co-operation further than simply assisting the commissioner in monitoring compliance with the victims’ code. Instead, it requires co-operation in relation to any of the Victims’ Commissioner’s functions, including promoting the interests of victims and witnesses. Secondly, it adds important safeguards to make it clear that any co-operation must be not only practical but appropriate. This protects against, for example, potential interference with activities that are rightly independent, such as when exercising prosecutorial discretion. Thirdly, it future-proofs the clause by putting this duty on the agencies that deliver services under the victims’ code, rather than including a specific list of bodies that may become out of date over time.

I turn now to Lords Amendment 35, which is the subject of Motion C. This amendment disapplies Clause 18 in relation to devolved matters in Wales. Only yesterday, I think, I explained the devolution position as regards Wales. We are seeking to amend the measures that relate to the issuing of guidance about victim support roles, which now form Clause 18. Victim support roles operate across different settings, some of which are devolved. The Senedd did not grant legislative consent for this measure as previously drafted. I am therefore putting forward an amendment so that the duty to issue guidance applies to England and reserved matters in Wales only, and have consequently removed the requirement to consult with Welsh Ministers on “any” guidance issued. I am grateful for the constructive discussions that have taken place in relation to the important principles that sit behind this clause, which aims to improve the consistency of support services provided to victims, and am confident that we can continue to work together so that victims have this consistency across England and Wales wherever possible.

I now come to Motion F, which concerns the amendment on the duty of candour. Lords Amendment 54 seeks to place a statutory duty of candour on all public authorities, public servants and officials after a major incident has been declared in writing by the Secretary of State. The Government entirely share the desire to see an end to unacceptable institutional defensiveness, dissembling or what can perhaps be described as an economical approach to the truth. However, we are unable to accept the amendment in its current form as it would not sit neatly on top of the existing frameworks; it is ill suited to replace what already exists, both in the context of major incidents and beyond; it fails to take into account the nuances of different professions in the spheres of the public sector; and it would entail significant legal uncertainty. The area is complex, and we believe that it would be unwise to rush forward with this amendment for these reasons.

Therefore, we have tabled Amendment 54A to require a statutory review to determine whether additional duties of transparency and candour should be imposed on public authorities and public servants in relation to major incidents. This review will need to be completed by the end of the calendar year, and, following the completion of this review, a report will need to be laid before Parliament.

I come to Motion G, which concerns the MAPPA amendments. In effect, government Amendment 99A replies to Lords Amendments 98 and 99, which relate to MAPPA. Amendment 99A would ensure that those convicted of controlling or coercive behaviour who are sentenced to at least 12 months’ imprisonment will be automatically subject to management under the MAPPA arrangements, thereby ensuring that we are effectively managing and targeting the most dangerous domestic abuse offenders.

The previous amendment to the Bill was tabled in the other place to add domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators to those who qualify for automatic MAPPA management. While there is a legal definition of domestic abuse, a domestic abuse crime does not exist with the exception of controlling or coercive behaviour. Therefore, although well intentioned, this amendment would still have required criminal justice agencies to decide on a case-by-case basis whether an offender is eligible for MAPPA management and consequently would not quite have achieved the intention to reduce or eliminate any scope for local discretion.

There are already provisions in place that require offenders on licence to live only at an address approved by probation. All offenders released on licence are further subject to standard conditions, and there are numerous additional licence conditions that can be imposed to address specific risk factors. Those conditions also allow for information to be collected and used to manage the risk. The previous amendment would have added little to public safety but could result in a significant pressure on resources.

Offenders who perpetrate other forms of domestic abuse, such as threats to kill, actual and grievous bodily harm, attempted strangulation, putting people in fear, and stalking, including fear of violence, serious alarm or distress, are already automatically managed under the automatic MAPPA of sentence to 12 months custody or more. Adding the additional offence of controlling and coercive behaviour will ensure that the most harmful domestic abuse offenders will be automatically covered by these arrangements. These changes mean that these offenders will be automatically managed under MAPPA in the same way as those convicted of sexual, violent or terrorist offences. This is crucial, as controlling or coercive behaviour is a known risk factor for domestic homicide. Treating these offenders in the same way as the most violent offenders is critical to improving the safety of domestic abuse victims.

I come, therefore, to Motion H, which I think is the last Motion before the House, which is the home detention curfew amendment. For someone in my position, this is procedurally somewhat difficult to follow, because it involves the Government disagreeing with their own amendment, Amendment 106, in order to reintroduce it with an addition. Amendment 106A is exactly the same as Amendment 106, but Amendment 106B, which is the important amendment, extends the eligibility of the home detention curfew scheme to offenders serving four years or more.

The original aim of the home detention curfew scheme was to help suitable lower-risk offenders who had been in custody to reintegrate into society in a controlled manner. As sentences become longer, it is important that we revisit whether eligibility for HDC continues to allow all those who may be suitable and would benefit from the scheme to be considered, as originally intended. That means looking again at whether offenders who are excluded solely because of sentence length or old curfew breaches, rather than any assessment of risk, should be able to be considered for HDC. Since HDC was introduced, sentences have grown longer and should no longer be the sole determination of whether someone is eligible to be considered for HDC. A four-year sentence length for old curfew breach is not a useful measure of whether an offender is lower-risk and suitable for HDC.

While this amendment increases the number of offenders eligible for HDC, it does not extend the range of offences that make an offender eligible for HDC. All sexual offenders and serious violent offenders are excluded from the scheme, as are those subject to Parole Board release. Those convicted of offences often associated with domestic abuse, such as stalking or harassment, are also excluded. So are many other people, including category A prisoners. There is also a robust risk assessment to ensure that offenders are released only if there is a plan to manage them safely in the community. In every case, that includes a curfew backed up with electronic monitoring.

I think I have covered Motions A to H, and I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 3:15, 24 May 2024

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Brinton will respond to most of these items. I cannot resist wondering whether she will comment on whether it is inappropriate to rush towards the duty of candour given the history of the item, but I want to speak particularly to Motion E regarding data sharing for immigration purposes. This amendment has an unhappy history: we have never succeeded before, and I know we will not succeed today—as I say that, I look at the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, in whose name the amendment was tabled to this Bill.

The threat comes from abusers, often domestic abusers, but other abusers as well. In saying to someone who has immigration status that they are illegal, it is irrelevant that that is inaccurate: the abuser provokes fear, and this trumps everything in the mind of the person who is affected. Sadly, for some people, this amendment would be highly “appropriate”, picking up the words in the Commons reason, and the circumstances are immigration control. But for the Home Office, immigration control, even if this amendment is not really about immigration control, trumps everything. The Home Office has previously resisted attempts to control data sharing, so this is no surprise, but we will not pursue it today.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

My Lords, it seems only 24 hours ago that we were discussing these amendments. Indeed, we were. There has been some progress made, for which we thank the Government from these Benches. It may not meet everything that we were seeking, but there has been some clarity on some of the issues.

On Amendment 33—the training support and the alternative offer from the Government—the reason that those of us who supported it really wanted to see it is the lack of consistency in training between police forces and other parts of the criminal justice system. Although the Minister says that is expensive, it is also very expensive when mistakes are made because the training has not been adequate. We put on notice that this is yet another of the items that will, I suspect, appear as amendments in the future.

I completely support everything my noble friend Lady Hamwee has said on the immigration firewall, and I will not add any more to that. The review of the duty of candour for major incidents is welcome, given that the Government would not agree to Labour’s amendment on it. I hope the review will look at not just major incidents but the duty of candour widely in the public sector, because I am not sure, for example, that the infected blood scandal would have appeared as a major incident for perhaps a decade, or two decades, or even longer. I hope those involved with that committee will look at that, but we welcome the review.

On the MAPPA points, I think that is a helpful amendment, and I can understand why it has been laid. From these Benches, we would like to see it in operation to make sure that it works.

The final point I want to come to is on the Government’s own amendment to the eligibility for home detention curfews. I am very pleased that the Minister specifically mentioned that those convicted of stalking, even with sentences of under four years, will not be able to access home detention curfew. We spent some considerable time during the passage of the Bill also discussing why it is often the case that the CPS charges people with things other than stalking. Those people who are known to be stalkers, but are convicted of a lesser crime, still pose the same risk, particularly when they have been multiple offenders. We urge the Government from these Benches to make sure that the CPS looks at charging stalking and a lesser offence because we believe that that is a problem for many of the things that have been progressed during the passage of the Bill.

I will say very briefly that I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for her help as the Victims’ Commissioner, and to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and the London Victims’ Commissioner —who is in the Gallery today—and all their teams. They have briefed your Lordships’ House to help the progress of this Bill. The London Victims’ Commissioner and I were remembering that it was 14 years ago that the stalking inquiry report was published, and much but not all of that has been enacted. I hope that future Governments will make sure that we can better resolve stalking cases in the future.

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

My Lords, we welcome the discussions that have taken place in the usual channels to ensure that the calling of the election does not unduly disadvantage victims who have waited for many years for this legislation to be brought forward. We on our side have strived to be collaborative throughout the Bill’s progress and, while we have not been able to achieve everything we would have liked, we acknowledge that the department has been willing to negotiate on some matters and make a number of amendments in lieu.

It is a shame that my noble friend Lady Royall’s amendments on stalking were not successful as part of the negotiating process. On stalking and the eligibility for home detention curfew, I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, made a very interesting point about the CPS charging stalkers with alternative offences as well. As I have said in other debates, I have dealt as a magistrate with stalking matters relatively recently. If lesser charges of harassment can be pressed in the alternative, the court would have better choices to make when determining guilt or otherwise. I thought that that was an interesting point.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, did not mention unduly lenient sentencing. While that was not part of the wash-up agreement, the Government nevertheless committed from the Dispatch Box to keep unduly lenient sentencing under review. As far as I can or cannot commit any future Government, I think it is something that any Government would want to keep under review, as the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is important.

We also welcome the amendment in lieu, Amendment 32A, on the duty for agencies to co-operate with the Victims’ Commissioner. I congratulate her on all her sterling work on this Bill. This does not go quite as far as we asked, but it is an improvement, nevertheless.

The Labour Party remains committed to introducing a statutory duty of candour. It is a shame that the Government have not felt able to go further, but at least there is a review in the Bill.

We are pleased that the infected blood provisions will make it on to the statute book and be commenced at Royal Assent, and we welcome the recent government Statements and hope that compensation will get to people as early as possible.

On IPP, we have tried to work collaboratively across party lines and there is further work to be done. We want to ensure that solutions proposed are robust and assessed with public safety in mind, and we will work at pace, consulting widely on potential ways forward.

We of course welcome the concession on controlling or coercive behaviour and the MAPPA process, in Amendment 99A. It is an important marker, but only part of a bigger picture where violence against women and girls needs to be addressed. There is more work to do, but passing this Bill is an important step towards a new era of transparency and advocacy for victims of crime.

In conclusion, I thank my honourable friend Kevin Brennan for steering Labour’s response to the Bill through the other place and my noble friend Lady Thornton for her support for me during the passage of the Bill. I also thank our advisers, Catherine Johnson and Clare Scally.

Finally, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy. I also thank his civil servants, who have been extremely helpful to me and, I know, to many other noble Lords who have taken an interest in this Bill. Turning back to the noble and learned Lord, I know he will say that he works as part of a team, but the team needs a leader and he has been the leader for this Bill in this House—and that has been to the benefit of all noble Lords who have taken an interest in the Bill.

The Bill is an accomplishment. It is only a step in the road, and I hope we can work on the progress that has been made in any future Governments who may be formed.

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

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I will deal briefly with the points made. The point the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made about the firewall is a difficult one. No doubt it will continue to be discussed in the years ahead. The Government do not feel able to go further at the moment.

On Motion E, which is on the importance of training, I hope we have now put in place something effective, though indirect, to ensure that training will happen properly. That will no doubt be kept under review and be publicly reported in the annual report, so that this House and the other place can monitor how that is going.

On Motion G, which is on MAPPA, I respectfully suggest that the Government’s amendment completes the picture. It includes coercion and controlling behaviour. The point the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, made about the importance of the CPS considering exactly what it charges is important, but I stress my own understanding that a risk assessment will take place in every case so that, even if there is not actually a stalking charge, the fact that it is stalking-like behaviour should be properly taken into account in assessing the risk before HDC is used.

On the commitment in relation to unduly lenient sentences, which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, mentioned, at the time we envisaged that we would include something in the Criminal Justice Bill. Unfortunately, that has not taken place. The Government’s commitment remains as long as the Government are the Government—no doubt a future Government will wish to take that matter forward as well.

Those are my brief comments on the substantive points that have been made, but I will make some very brief concluding remarks as we reach the concluding stages of the Victims and Prisoners Bill. I once again thank all those who have engaged and collaborated throughout the passage of the Bill. I particularly thank my noble friends Lord Howe and Lord Roborough, who, if your Lordships remember, took over the passage of the entire Bill at a certain stage in Committee and have taken on certain sections of the Bill. My noble friend Lord Roborough has done very important work, particularly on MAPPA and related points, but my noble friend Lord Howe, as your Lordships know, has taken on a major role in relation to the infected blood issues. I am very grateful to them.

I am very pleased that the Bill has made it through this process. We have not lost it and I put on record my own thanks to all the officials who contributed to the Bill. They have already been warmly thanked in the other place, but I need particularly to mention Nikki Jones, Katie Morris and Lizzie Bates, who were among the team leaders. I also personally thank the infected blood team at the Cabinet Office.

Since I may not have another opportunity, I will say, personally, what a privilege it has been to deal at this Dispatch Box with the affairs of the Ministry of Justice over the last two years, and how much one appreciates the courtesy, perspicacity and hard work of this House. Members actually listen to the debates and take on board the points made. I think most people understand that we are trying to find solutions to very difficult problems and there are very often several points of view. My overall impression is that, on the whole, the House works very closely and collaboratively. As a newcomer to your Lordships’ House, I may say personally that that is a most impressive situation—possibly unique among legislatures in the western world.

I reciprocate the kind remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, and thank him particularly as having been my principal interlocutor over the last two years. I thank him for his pertinent questions, unfailing courtesy and wise responses. Although, as he would say, “I am not lawyer”—he is a non-lawyer, albeit a magistrate—I would say that the noble Lord is one of the best non-lawyer lawyers one could possibly have. By which I mean that, in law as in life, technical knowledge is not by any means the whole story. What matters is common sense and wisdom. The noble Lord has those qualities in abundance. I wish him and all Members of this House, from whatever side, all the best in the future. I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Motion A agreed.