Voyeurism: additional offences

Part of Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 12th July 2018.

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Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent 12:00 pm, 12th July 2018

I rise to speak briefly on the question of motive, which we are all clearly thinking about. Although there is widespread support for the Bill, this is an important question on the detail.

I certainly feel that the weight of evidence we heard was on the side of victims, and victims arguing that motive should not matter. If someone were a victim of upskirting, whatever the reason for doing it, it would still feel awfully humiliating and degrading for that person. We have heard the concern that someone might argue in defence that it was just for a laugh or high jinks. I do not think any of us believe that that is appropriate, because it would be deeply humiliating, but there is a concern that that might be argued as a defence—even though, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, who has expertise in the area, has said, it would be highly unlikely that that would be permissible as a defence as the intention would clearly be to humiliate somebody.

The weight of evidence has been in support of the principle that motive should not matter. We should just think about the other side. Who would give evidence on the other side of the argument? There are lots of people who are standing up for victims, and we heard very compelling cases from people who have been victims, including a very powerful one that we have been asked not to quote from.

There was only one witness who gave the other side of the story very strongly. Lisa Hallgarten from Brook said:

“It is interesting that we are going from lots of schools not even excluding a child who has been proven to be involved in sexual bullying or harassment to moving to prosecution. It would be good to think about the different steps that are appropriate at different ages for a child and different kinds of offence.”––[Official Report, Voyeurism (Offences) (No.2) Public Bill Committee, 10 July 2018; c. 32, Q73.]

What she brought to light is that we are going from nought to 60 here. The Government are absolutely doing the right thing and I have huge respect for the hon. Member for Bath for pushing this—we must urgently plug this loophole in the law—but there is a question of proportionality and of making sure that we do not unintentionally criminalise people. Being a criminal would have such a huge impact on lives—I think about teenagers. As I say, it is totally inappropriate to do this for a laugh, and the level of sexual harassment and bullying in schools concerns me. The Minister mentioned that 10-year-olds and upwards may be criminalised by the Bill, so we must be mindful of the need to get the balance right.

Many of us have an instinct to be campaigners. We stand up for the women of the world and we want to put an end to such horrendous, degrading offences, which technology has made possible—the law has not necessarily kept up with technology—but in this room we are not so much campaigners as legislators. We must be conscious of the enormous power of Government, which has certainly struck me since I became a Member of Parliament, and ensure that our decisions are proportionate.