Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 22nd June 2021.
“(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations implement any recommendations of the Law Commission following the conclusion of its review of hate crime.
(2) The power conferred by subsection (1) includes—
(a) power to amend primary legislation; and
(b) power to amend or revoke subordinate legislation.
(3) A document containing a draft of regulations under subsection (1) must be laid before Parliament not later than three months after the publication of the Law Commission’s recommendations, and that draft must be in a form which would implement all those recommendations.
(4) Draft regulations under subsection (1) must be laid before Parliament not earlier than 60 days, but not later than 120 days, after the document referred to in subsection (3) was laid before Parliament.
(5) The draft regulations laid before Parliament under subsection (4) must be in the form in which they appeared in the document laid before Parliament under sub-section (3), except that they may contain any changes which have been recommended by any committee of either House of Parliament which has reported on that document.
(6) A Minister must make a motion in each House of Parliament approving the draft regulations laid before Parliament under subsection (4) within 14 days of the date on which they were laid.
(7) Subject to subsection (8), if the draft regulations are approved by both Houses of Parliament, the Secretary of State must make them in the form of the draft which has been approved.
(8) If any amendments to the draft regulations are agreed to by both Houses of Parliament, the Secretary of State must make the regulations in the form of the draft as so amended.”—
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to implement any and all recommendations made by the Law Commission’s review of hate crime. Draft regulations implementing the Commission’s recommendations would be subject to the super-affirmative scrutiny process (by subsections (3) to (5)), and would be amendable (under subsection (8)).
With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 25—Strategy to tackle misogynist attitudes in society—
“(1) Within 12 months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a comprehensive national strategy to tackle misogynistic attitudes in society for the purpose of reducing the number of violent and non-violent offences perpetrated against women and girls.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) misogyny is defined as the dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against, women or girls.”
This new clause compels the Government to commit to the creation of a comprehensive national strategy to tackle the misogynistic attitudes which underpin the abuse faced by women and girls in society for the purpose of reducing the number of violent and non-violent offences perpetrated against women and girls.
I thank my hon. Friend Stella Creasy for her tireless work in drafting the new clause, as well as her efforts to draw attention to this important issue. I met her in the corridor on the way back to the Committee this afternoon, and she was wishing us all well—“everybody,” she said—in the hope that we could move this matter on. She knows that the community out there are watching closely, because they understand that it is this afternoon that I will be speaking to these new clauses.
New clause 19 would compel the Government to act on the recommendations of the Law Commission review on hate crime legislation, which we expect to be published later in 2021. As members of the Committee will be aware, the Law Commission’s remit for the review is to
“review the current range of specific offences and aggravating factors in sentencing”.
In its initial report published in September 2020, the Law Commission made several initial recommendations, one being that it explicitly supported the inclusion of “sex or gender” into the framework of protected characteristics. The effect of this would be to place “sex or gender” alongside characteristics that are currently protected by hate crime legislation—race, religion, transgender identity, disability and sexuality.
Unfortunately, history shows us that without a clear legislative vehicle for Law Commission proposals, it can be years until recommendations are implemented. That was the case with the 2014 Law Commission review into hate crime, which has yet to receive a response from the Government and has now been superseded by the more recent review.
For that reason, the Opposition wholeheartedly support new clause 19. Victims of misogynistic hate crime cannot afford to sit back and wait years for the Government to implement the Law Commission’s recommendations, if they choose to implement them at all. We have seen that happen before and we cannot allow it to happen again. We cannot have more dither and delay––something this Government are unfortunately all too keen to do. New clause 19 would use the statutory instrument process to enable the Government to introduce legislation to enact the commission’s recommendations. It has been drafted specifically to provide for parliamentary oversight of the introduction of the recommendations, including the ability to vote on them using the super-affirmative process.
While it is not possible to require the Government to act on recommendations that do not yet exist, this process would ensure that parliamentary time is made available for debate, scrutiny and amendment as soon as they do. Without new clause 19, there is a very real chance that the Law Commission’s recommendations will take years to be introduced into law and, given the current epidemic of violence against women and girls, that is time victims cannot afford. Taken in isolation, recognising misogyny as a hate crime will not be the silver bullet in the battle to tackle the way women and girls are treated as a whole. That is why we have tabled new clause 25 to stand alongside it.
In order to really take on violence against women and girls, we first need to recognise and treat the root causes that drive it. As the Minister must agree, a culture where misogyny is accepted without challenge, or shrugged off all together, underpins many of the violent and abusive crimes perpetrated against women and girls. As Sophie Maskell of the Nottingham Women’s Centre puts it so brilliantly:
“Misogyny is the soil in which violence against women and girls grows.”
As long as we see violence against women and girls as somehow being created in a vacuum, we will never be able to fully tackle it. If we really want to confront the growing threats women and girls face, we must be more ambitious than simply looking to tackle individual acts of crime and must divert our gaze to the cause. In this case, that cause is misogyny. We must accept that hostility towards women and girls is deeply engrained in our society and it is this toxic culture, and our combined failure to tackle it, that enables perpetrators to commit their crimes. Whether the crime is serious sexual assault, domestic abuse or wolf-whistling at a woman in the street, unless as a society we start to take misogyny seriously, we will continue to lose the battle.
I was reminded of the horrific and pervasive impact of misogyny recently when I met a group of inspirational young women from St Michael’s Catholic Academy in Billingham in my borough who are doing a project on the impact of sexual harassment on women and men. They were full of energy to tackle society’s challenges, but they told me that they did not feel like they were being listened to; that they did not have a voice. That was only a few weeks ago, and I promised them that I would give them a voice today in this Committee.
Cassidy Desira told me:
“Our trauma is often minimalized and stigmatized, because the alternative of taking it seriously is too uncomfortable… I believe the issue is that people don’t actually see the issue at all, or they plainly do not want to, they believe that they can see the world how they please, how they were raised, as the law is clean-cut, their outdated opinions won’t destroy someone’s life. Unfortunately, the law has failed assault victims many, many times.”
She went on to say:
“In my opinion, these ideas must be conveyed from the youngest ages possible, that means burning the victim-blaming ideology from the root, as sexual assault only gets worse over time. It starts with a whistle, soon the predator feels entitled to take it even further.”
Emily Barlow, another student at the school told me:
“Peer pressure is a very big reason as to why boys in particular feel the need to degrade girls. Pride. Many boys think of the comments and actions they say and make as normal, this is because sexual harassment has become so normalised that it has become second nature but the scary thing is that they don’t know they are doing it.”
I hope the Government will listen to the powerful words of those young women and support the Opposition’s new clause, which will compel Ministers to commit to a comprehensive national strategy to tackle the misogynistic attitudes that underpin the abuse faced by women and girls in society, including that described by my constituents. Tackling crimes against women and girls is too important to be party political. Today, I hope that the Minister will join me in saying that, now more than ever, it is critical that we take the first steps to tackle the causes of abuse at their root. We can no longer refuse to ignore this issue. I ask the Committee to support new clauses 19 and 25.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his speech. He does not need to implore this Government to listen to the girls he has quoted. Not only are we listening, not only have we listened, but we are following through with a tackling violence against women and girls strategy that is truly ambitious and, I believe, an unprecedented effort to tackle the issues that the girls he quoted have to contend with.
As I said, we conducted the first ever call for evidence on tackling violence against women and girls. No other Government have gone out to the public as we have to ask girls and women for their experiences of what they face day in, day out in their lives. We opened the conversation to the whole of society, so men and boys were very welcome to contribute as well.
I set my officials the challenge of reaching a young woman in her 20s, getting the bus home from work at night, who would not normally respond to surveys. We would somehow try to find ways of reaching her. Not only did we try that in December, but following the awful events of earlier this year—I deliberately do not name anyone, because I am respectful of the family, but I suspect we know the events of which I speak—we reopened the survey, precisely because we understood that women and girls want to talk and to share their experiences.
That is when we received 160,000 further responses. Each and every one is being read and considered carefully in drawing up our tackling violence against women and girls strategy. However, because the Government place so much focus on crimes that disproportionately affect women and girls, we have also decided to focus not one, but two national strategies on such crimes. For the first time, therefore, we have split out domestic abuse from the catch-all phrase “violence against women and girls”, not because we are trying to de-gender it or to deny that the crime disproportionately affects women and girls, but because it is such a high-volume, high-harm crime that it deserves its own national strategy. Thus, we are giving it the focus it deserves in the domestic abuse strategy, which will be published later this year, after the VAWG strategy.
If nothing else has come out of recent events, it is that the range of offences that VAWG covers is significant, so we cannot pretend that a one-size-fits-all approach will suit all those crimes. We do not try to do that, and we are certainly not working towards that. We want to have tailored strategies fit for the 2020s, looking at both offline and online behaviour.
I hope the Minister is aware of how grateful I am for all the work she has done on this cause. She has really been a champion for it. Is she able to share with the Committee her thoughts about whether the crime is increasing or our awareness is increasing? Does she have any thoughts she can share about the root causes of this, and therefore how early prevention will stop it happening?
It is a complicated answer to a complicated question. We know, for example, that some forms of crime are increasing, and there is ongoing academic research into some of those, but we have reason to believe that more women are reporting facing violent acts within sexual relationships. That encompasses a range of relationships, from intimate, long-term relationships to first dates. That is precisely why, on the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, we worked across the House with colleagues to clarify the law on the so-called rough sex defence, because we knew that women in intimate, long-term relationships and in shorter relationships were experiencing that. Through that Act, we also brought in the prohibition on non-fatal strangulation, and again we worked on a cross-party basis. There is emerging evidence, particularly on the latter, that more and more victims of domestic abuse, but also those in other types of relationships, are facing these acts within—to use shorthand—the bedroom. We very much wanted to put a marker in the sand to say, “This sort of behaviour is not healthy, and it is now not lawful.”
The thinking is that those sorts of behaviours have increased over recent years. The thinking behind that is that online pornography has had an impact. However, I refer the hon. Lady to the research that I commissioned when I was Minister for Women and Equalities on the impact of online pornography and attitudes towards women and girls. The Government published that a few months ago. It is fair to say that there are not quite the clear lines that some would expect, but there are common themes there, if I can put it as broadly as that. Online pornography is a factor with some crimes, but sadly violence against women and girls is—dare I say it?—as old as time. The ways in which a minority of men—I make that absolutely clear—see fit to behave towards women and girls is part of the Gordian knot that we must try to untie. It will be a longer-term process than this Bill or the next Bill that comes along when legislation is appropriate. It will require a cultural education journey, as well as shorter-term fixes.
I am very pleased that the hon. Member for Stockton North raised the Law Commission research. As part of our work on ensuring that the law is keeping up to date with modern practices, we have commissioned a lot of work from the Law Commission recently. I do not apologise for that. In fact, it gives me the opportunity to thank the Law Commission for the work it conducts, often looking into very complex areas of law and trying to find ways through in order to assist this place and the other place in updating the law.
The current investigation into hate crime illustrates that point very well. In 2018, we asked the Law Commission to consider the current range of offences and aggravating factors in sentencing and to make recommendations on the most appropriate models to ensure that the criminal law provides consistent and effective protection from conduct motivated by hatred towards protected groups or characteristics. The Law Commission published its consultation document in September. It was an enormous document—more than 500 pages and 62 separate questions. The Law Commission has been very clear that the consultation document was exactly that; it was not a report or a set of conclusions. It does not represent the Law Commission’s final position on any of the issues raised.
I make that point because the new clause invites Parliament to adopt those recommendations wholesale, and I think we are all duty bound to acknowledge that what we have had so far from the Law Commission is a consultation document. It is not its final report. Indeed, the Law Commission hopes to report in October, and of course the Government will give that report very, very careful consideration. I do not believe, however, that it would be appropriate for this Government, or indeed any Government, or any Parliament, to sign what is effectively a blank piece of legislation without seeing what the Law Commission is going to recommend.
We do not know what the consequences may be of the recommendations, nor what would be required to enact and enable them. It may be, for example, that changes to primary legislation would be required. I have to say that I feel uncomfortable at the prospect of the Bill permitting other parts of primary legislation to be overwritten—overruled—by virtue of the super-affirmative procedure. We must surely ensure that significant changes to the law should be properly debated by both Houses of Parliament in the normal way, with any Bill going through all the normal processes and stages.
I gently suggest to the Opposition that perhaps they should be careful what they wish for, because in this very Bill clause 59 gives effect to the Law Commission’s recommendation relating to the common law offence of public nuisance. It made that recommendation in 2015 and recommended that it be put into statute. If I recall our deliberations correctly, the Opposition opposed that very clause. I cannot imagine what the reaction would have been had we attempted to have this super-affirmative procedure imposed in relation to clause 59.
The Minister points to the risks of legislation being passed that defines something that is as yet undefined, and that being a blank cheque. Does she agree that our concerns about the protest element of the Bill, which gives the Home Secretary the right to define vast sections of the Bill after the legislation has been passed, relate to the same principle?
No, no, no, on the very contrary. I do not want to get into very technical discussions about the ways in which hate crime legislation is drawn up, but the hon. Lady will know that there are reams of statute setting out various elements of hate crime and aggravating factors in sentencing. The proposed new subsection to which the hon. Lady refers in clause 54 relates to the definitions of
“serious disruption to the activities of an organisation which are carried out in the vicinity of a public procession, or…serious disruption to the life of the community.”
It is not a proper comparison in any way, shape or form, because that is a definition of two terms, whereas—who knows?—the Law Commission may be very radical in its reform and recommend that we change many parts of primary legislation that has been passed over several years by various Governments.
On new clause 25, we have already taken significant action, not least with the passing of the Domestic Abuse Act, but we must go further. That is why we will publish the tackling violence against women and girls strategy and a complementary domestic abuse strategy to focus all our attention on those crimes that disproportionately affect women and girls. I have already spoken about the importance of education and challenging some cultural attitudes that exist in corners of society. That will be very much part of the work of both of those complementary strategies, so I invite the Committee to await the Law Commission’s publication of its conclusions, and publication of the Government’s VAWG and domestic abuse strategies. I hope that the hon. Member for Stockton North will be content to withdraw his new clause.
There are sufficient protections for Parliament in the secondary legislation process. Given what the Law Commission has done in the past, “radical” does not strike me as a word that would be applied too often.
Will the Opposition then change their mind and support clause 59, which is a Law Commission recommendation to put public nuisance on the statute book?
Indeed we will not.
The important thing here is to think about what we are trying to achieve. We are actually trying to achieve better protection for women and girls out there in society, day after day, week in, week out.
The Minister managed to talk about commissioned reports, two strategies and one survey. We have so much information in the system already that we know now that we need to act to deal with this. The evidence that I quoted from Emily and Cassidy bears that out. They are 15 or 16 and they were making it very clear that this is a major problem in society. I praise their school for facilitating discussions across the school. I hope that other schools will follow on, because that might build awareness and do away with us punishing people as, hopefully, society changes to the extent that women and girls are much more valued and not subject to the abuse that they suffer now, which may start as verbal but ends up very physical.
Will my hon. Friend comment on Nottinghamshire police’s pilot on misogyny as a hate crime? They thought it worked exceptionally well in challenging behaviour. That is the sort of thing that we need rolled out across the country.
As I said earlier, we have evidence that things are working in some areas and that there is a real need to do much more across the country. For that reason, we should be strong enough to accept with confidence that we can examine the Law Commission’s recommendations later in the year and commit the decision making to a legislative Committee. On that basis, I shall press new clause 19.
I am mindful that the Whips want to finish at 5 pm. We need to make progress if that is to be achieved.