I beg to move,
That this House
has considered e-petition 598986, relating to safety at nightclubs.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Gray, to discuss petition 598986 on making it a legal requirement for nightclubs to search guests thoroughly on entry. We have all seen the stories from around the UK, mainly about women having their drinks spiked and even being jabbed with drugs in some nightclubs. In Swansea, the police are investigating a number of incidents of drink spiking, and as of last week the police in Nottinghamshire were dealing with 15 separate incidents of spiking with something sharp. We now see nightclubs such as Sin City in Swansea taking action by ordering 12,500 StopTopps—anti-spiking lids—as well as implementing a policy that allows those who think their drink might have been spiked to get a replacement for free. In the absence of comprehensive drinks testing, that makes sense.
While those steps from some nightclubs are welcome, what will happen after the media interest has died down? It is not good enough for this issue to be in the hands of some nightclub owners. The Government must realise that something has to be done. A number of clubs have extra security staff on the floors of their nightclubs, so surely it is not beyond the owners’ financial capabilities to invest in making security checks a permanent feature across all clubs in the UK. I understand that this has been a financially difficult 18 months for many venues, but does the Minister agree that some investment in keeping people safe on a night out will make going out a much more attractive proposition and therefore worth it in the long run for club owners?
Many colleagues will have seen the Big Night In initiative, where cities across the UK boycotted pubs and nightclubs in a show of defiance against the increase in spiking. Many town centres were much quieter than normal. With 51% of the population being women, and other groups also being vulnerable to spiking, that is big spending power not out in the clubs; they have made their voices and concerns heard. I thank the many groups who have supported the campaign, including student unions, bars and clubs across the country that closed early, and the Swansea University men’s rugby team, who were among the first to show their solidarity.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing forward the debate. We have had 21 incidents of spiking in the last month in Northern Ireland. Does she agree that all Administrations in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland must agree a policy that protects women? We could do it here centrally and feed it out to the Administrations.
I welcome the hon. Member’s comments. That is what the UK Government need to do, working hand in hand with the devolved countries. I thank him for that.
The petition has now been signed by more than 172,000 people, including 180 people in Gower and 224 in the Minister’s constituency, which demonstrates the strength of feeling on the issue. The aim of the petition is for
“the UK Government to make it law that nightclubs must search guests on arrival to prevent harmful weapons and other items entering the establishment. This could be a pat down search or metal detector, but must involve measures being put in place to ensure the safety of the public.”
That seems wholly acceptable to me and many others. The Government can take the lead. Working with local authorities to put in place clear and definitive guidelines to protect the safety of people using licensed premises seems a very sensible thing to do. It would protect not just customers but club owners and workers.
Perhaps the Minister can answer these questions. How many people have to be spiked before the Government will do anything? Do we have to wait until something terrible happens for the Government to act? Local authorities will be key in making these changes. Under their licensing powers, they should take measures to make clubs and pubs safe places to go. What discussions has the Minister had with local government to address this?
I thank Hannah Thomson, who started the petition, for her hard work in promoting it and for speaking to me last week. Hannah was a student in Edinburgh for four years, and though she graduated last year, she still has friends based there. A friend showed her the story about spiking with needles in Edinburgh, and they both questioned how needles were getting into clubs undetected. Hannah realised that in her entire time as a student, she had never been searched when entering a club. That prompted her to do some more research. She found that there is no law on this, and she felt that she could change that.
My hon. Friend mentioned very good work by Swansea police, but she may not be aware of a case that I had where a person was spiked with a needle, and the day after, their arm came up with a massive swelling. They went to the police, who said that the person was just drunk and they refused to look at the CCTV evidence. Does my hon. Friend agree that, while that may be an isolated case, it is important that the police take these incidents very seriously? Any CCTV evidence should be examined, and we should consider testing drinks, which has been piloted in Cornwall.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I do not think his case is an isolated incident. These incidents are becoming increasingly visible and are happening in nightclubs across the country. My evidence is anecdotal, but A&E departments have seen a rise in cases specifically as a result of university terms starting. That needs to be reported. That is why it is important that the Government take responsibility and find out what the data is. They must raise awareness, working with local authorities and the police to ensure that these are not seen as drunken incidents.
My point is that it is imperative that the police take these issues very seriously on all occasions and do not, as I understand they sometimes do, dismiss them as, “Oh, she was drunk.” Sometimes these people have been spiked or drugged.
I agree with my hon. Friend. He is right––there can be no excuses. The police need to investigate every incident.
Hannah also explained that when she went to a festival in Manchester, she was thoroughly searched and her bag swabbed to ensure that she was not carrying any drugs. She was then given a stamp that required her to be searched again a couple of days later. There is no reason why that could not be introduced in clubs. Safety should never be about cost. What would the cost of serious injury, rape or even death be for a club owner? It would be much, much worse.
When I spoke to Hannah about her petition last week, she outlined some of the comments that she had received. I have looked at her Instagram account and even though she has deleted many of the worst comments, there is a real misunderstanding of what the petition is trying to achieve. She sent me some screen shots. While she did not call them abuse herself, they clearly constitute aggressive and sometimes threatening behaviour, mainly men saying that she was a feminist––I do not see that as an insult––and a racist. This requirement would cover everyone entering a nightclub and is for everyone’s safety.
One theme of the comments was that men were saying that women should not be on a night out if they cannot protect themselves. Now, some people are not fortunate enough to have played rugby for Wales, like me, and be able to look after themselves. But that is not the point; that is not what this is about. Those comments are not welcome. How about men stop attacking women when we are just going about, and carrying on, our lives? How about men start calling out other men on their behaviour? As the Duchess of Cornwall said the week before last,
“rapists are not born, they are constructed.”
Toxic masculinity, extreme porn and the normalisation of violence against women in all areas of popular culture drive this level of violence against women. That is what the Government need to address.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a real need for a systemic approach to capturing data on the number of incidents from across universities, the police, and health services? Does she also agree that some universities are falling way short and not taking responsibility by providing healthcare in clinics 24/7? After facing an incident, young people, particularly women, do not want to go to accident and emergency or to the police straightaway; they need on site, on-campus support that they know how to access, but that is not the case in many universities across the country.
My hon. Friend has made absolutely wonderful and excellent points. This should be data driven, and the universities must be working in concert. There has to be consistency across the whole United Kingdom. There need to be guidelines. That is why this petition calls on the Government to take control of the situation.
Let me go back to think about how Hannah felt. This young woman, a year out of university, feels so motivated to make a difference, and she is in Edinburgh, just going about her everyday life. We have to take notice. This issue is happening everywhere. I will go back to talk about Hannah’s social media posts. What happened when she reported some of the comments? What support was she getting from Instagram? Absolutely nothing. It said that it would not take action against those posting the comments, so in the end she had to delete them. It became a really difficult thing for one person, one young woman, to have to deal with. I say to those social media platforms that are unwilling to act: get your house in order; you may be able to change your company name, but we still know who you are, and we will be taking action to make sure that you clean up the cesspit that social media can be.
Clubs themselves also have to take responsibility. When Hannah went on one radio show to talk about this issue, a nightclub owner was arguing that the rise in reported drink-spiking incidents was because students going out were not used to drinking so much after being stuck indoors because of covid and were reporting it as spiking. Fortunately, that attitude seems to be limited to a few uncaring club owners. In fact, Mike Kill, chairman of the Night Time Industries Association, has called on the Government to hold an inquiry into spiking. The association would like a review of the way in which spiking is classified and recorded, meaning that it could look at solutions based on the full facts. It has also highlighted a scheme put in place by Devon and Cornwall police that provided on-site testing as soon as there was a report of spiking. That meant a uniform approach to reporting, assessment and evidence gathering, which increased confidence and reduced fear of crime among customers. Will the Minister today agree to meet me and the Night Time Industries Association to discuss the scheme trialled in Devon and Cornwall and see how we can roll this out across the country? Where there are patterns of this behaviour that can be identified, it is much easier for effective policies to be put in place, and this could be put in place quickly.
I thank Hannah for talking to me about how she and her friends felt. I really appreciate her efforts on this issue and hope that we can get some concrete commitments from the Minister today.
The last 18 months have been particularly hard on women. I am thinking of Sarah Everard, Nicole Smallman, Bibaa Henry and Sabina Nessa and of those women who were locked down with their abusers. The subject of today’s debate is just part of a wider picture for women all over the United Kingdom. Violence towards women and girls is an epidemic of epic proportions, and the Government must act now to stem it.
The issue that we are addressing today was raised with me, before the recent media attention, by school students at King Edward VII School in Sheffield. The prevalence that they describe, in terms of their experience, is distressing. I have also had reports of incidents at house parties. Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue does not simply end with nightclubs but is about a wider spectrum of behaviour? There have been some good campaigns. My own student union in Sheffield has a good initiative and some nightclubs are working well, but, as she has said, but there has not been a comprehensive approach, which is what we need to address this.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government need to work with the police and other authorities to treat the issue more seriously and view it in the wider context of violence against women and girls? Does she also agree that the strategy needs to challenge the whole spectrum of behaviour, which starts with casual harassment and ends with sexual violence?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. It is really shocking to find out that school students in his constituency were raising this issue with him before it even came to the public eye. That shows that they know about it through social media platforms and have an understanding of this danger. I am concerned that this is happening not only in nightclubs, but in the wider community, in house parties. It is becoming a craze and a trend. It has to be taken seriously by everybody. That is why education is key. We have issues in this country around access. More young people are online now and they have access to all sorts of very dangerous pornography and materials. That needs to be addressed as a cultural issue.
Tomorrow, North Yorkshire police will have a multi-agency meeting, including with universities and higher education institutions, to discuss the issue of spiking. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to talk about the availability of trauma services, which are seriously underfunded and understaffed?
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments about trauma services. As we have seen, those services are needed 24/7 at universities. They are needed at police stations. They are needed everywhere and the issue needs to be addressed.
We cannot go on like this. Radical action needs to be taken. Misogyny should be a hate crime. Support for women facing domestic abuse needs to be restored. Education for boys and men needs to be put in place. This is a specific debate, but it speaks to a much wider issue—one which needs action, not words, today.
I welcome today’s extremely important debate. I agree overwhelmingly with what other Members have said.
I came to speak in this debate because I was contacted this morning by a concerned parent about what was, to me, a new horror: spiking by injection. It is fair to say that when I was young enough to go to nightclubs—a very long time ago—we may have feared that people would spike our drinks with spirits. The idea that today, people—overwhelmingly young women, I understand—might be spiked by injection is a grave horror. I want to use the word “grave” a few times.
To inject a person against their will should be regarded as a grave assault—one of the most serious assaults. They are injected not only against their will, but with a substance unknown, with the purpose of intoxicating them and, presumably, with a view towards raping them. That is the most extraordinary horror. Yet, as we heard earlier, the police do not always take it as seriously as they might. I want to know what my hon. Friend the Minister is going to do to make sure that what is the most exceptionally serious assault is treated as such. This kind of crime should attract the most serious penalties, and no one should be in any doubt about how serious it is. That includes security staff at nightclubs and police officers, though I do not wish to assign blame to any of those groups. Ambulance crews should also be aware that while somebody they pick up may seem to be intoxicated, they might in fact have been injected with a drug.
This morning, after hearing such an alarming account, I called Michael Kill, the chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, and asked him about it. I will not repeat the remarks that Tonia Antoniazzi made about his comments, but I will add an extra quote:
“Our industry has been deeply concerned by the rise in reported spiking incidents across the country, and have been extremely proactive in our reaction so that everyone can enjoy a night out free from fear of being spiked, as it should be.”
He goes on to refer to the Home Office inquiry sought by the association and to which the hon. Lady has referred.
I strongly endorse the call for action on spiking by injection. Of course, I care about spiking through drinks as well, but we should draw the distinction that injecting somebody with a substance unknown ought to be treated as among the most grievous assaults that could be carried out, partly because of its motivation, which is probably that of rape. I am so horrified that I find it difficult to put it in words, so I do not wish to labour the point.
My final point is a difficult one to make. It is about the hon. Lady’s point about men as a class. I do not doubt for a moment that men as a class conduct most of the violence that is conducted against others and against women. I am very much inclined to take the position that she set out that men should do this or that. However, one of the women in my team, who has worked in the past with abused men, asked me not to do that, because the vast majority of men are decent, civilised and law-abiding people who want women to be treated with respect and do not perpetrate violence. I have been asked, despite a mistaken chivalry on my part, not to blame men as a class.
I totally respect the hon. Member’s comments about men. It is just that the victims in this case tend to be women and the perpetrators tend to be men, but I completely respect that my comments may have come across like that. We do have an issue that we need to address—let us work together and not make it an issue of sex, but of how we can keep people safe.
I totally respect what the hon. Gentleman says. Of course, we should not undo the fact that many men behave well and are decent towards women. However, we have a culture where women are not treated with respect where, through banter and all sorts of things, it goes into more horrible and violent behaviour. It is the underlying and, unfortunately, still prevalent culture of disrespect to women that we need to address.
As I have said, my instinct is with the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Gower, but I have been asked to swallow my pride and to not demand that fellow men as a class change their behaviour; it is men who commit wicked acts who need to change. It is men whose attitudes towards women are appalling who need to change. It is people who do wicked things who need to change, and we need to be a bit careful about painting all men as some kind of criminals.
The basic point is that 5.2% of sexual assaults involve drugging people. Of those, 5% are against women and 0.2% against men. In other words, the incidence is twenty-fivefold for women, so we have to put this in context. Men and women are victims, but it is basically about men attacking women, so let us not pretend that it is not.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not mind me saying that any fair-minded person listening to my remarks will not suggest for a moment that I have pretended what he suggested. What we need to do is carry all men with us. All men need to understand that we have a duty towards women and to treat women equally, but we also must be careful to not do what I have perhaps done in the past, which is to have a chivalry, which is seen as misplaced these days.
I do not think my wife would mind me saying that I am married to a retired Royal Air Force wing commander who has been on operational service a number of times, and I think I can fairly claim to be capable of treating women equally. Indeed, I recognise that my military service was not anything like my wife’s military service. I yield to no one in my willingness to treat women with respect and equally, but I recognise the statistical reality the hon. Gentleman gave. We need to recognise that we need to carry men with us if we are going to solve the problem of violence against women and girls.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, but I hope he will agree that we have to educate our young boys so that they become men who will righty treat women with the respect they deserve. It starts from school. Those young boys will grow up to become the men who will stand up and protect women and girls, and carry society with them.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the issue of schools. Every time I listen to teachers, particularly headteachers, I hear inspiring messages about how we should behave and the values we should have. Indeed, I wish those messages were heard far more often among the adult population, not least Members of Parliament—excluding, of course, everyone present at this debate.
I agree with the hon. Lady on schools and education. We must ask ourselves, however, how can it be that, even though headteachers and teachers articulate values of which we can all be proud, somehow people who make it through the system end up conducting violence against women and girls. Sometimes that begins with relatively minor behaviours, which then escalate out of all proportion into the most heinous crimes. We have to challenge ourselves on all of these matters.
To conclude, we ought to be taking much more seriously the problem of spiking people by injection, which is part of an escalation of abuse directed overwhelmingly towards women. It is among the most grievous crimes that one could conceive. It seems to lead overwhelmingly towards an intention to rape women, and it must be treated with the gravity that those implications deserve. I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will reassure us all that spiking by injection will be dealt with in the proper manner.
This has not come out of nowhere, but the incidence, escalation and scale of the issue are extraordinary. Although date rape drugging was on my radar—and, I am sure, that of many others—this sudden phenomenon of spiking through needle is a shocking escalation.
In terms of the wider issue, the figures obtained by the BBC back in 2019 showed an increase in recorded cases of drink spiking of more than 2,600 since 2015. This is a significant problem in our society. Just this week, Nottinghamshire police said that they had received a total of 15 reports of alleged spiking with a sharp object since
I am sure that many of us will have been horrified by the incident in Texas, which illustrates that this is not just a UK problem. There is a phenomenon and copycat behaviour, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower, in terms of social media and how quickly these things get shared, perhaps among males, not just across campuses, towns, cities and countries but globally. In Texas, where eight people died and hundreds were hurt, police are investigating reports that somebody in the audience was injecting people with drugs, such that several concert goers had to be revived with anti-drug overdose medicine.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this problem has a new face to it but, as he has pointed out, it has been there in the form of drugs being used for rape? I have certainly come across examples in my constituency in the past. Does he agree that the use of needles adds another health dimension, with the potential spread of diseases such as HIV, and that hospitals need to respond to that risk as well? Does he agree that Universities UK needs to come together and address some of the challenges at university level in order to support students? Finally, does he agree that conviction is required for those who are perpetrating, and that we need to know what the police are being instructed to do by the Government in order to get a grip on this issue before more fatalities occur?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that there is an urgent need for the data, which I think was mentioned earlier in the debate, but also for multi-agency meetings through the local authorities, the police, and universities—wherever. Some of the work being done by Devon and Cornwall police, which was discussed earlier, is really interesting. We as parliamentarians should certainly be pushing for that, but so should the Government be urging the Home Office to call on chief constables to work with local authorities, those on campuses, universities and further education colleges to lead on and to try to address this phenomenon.
It is certainly really alarming to the National Union of Students, which is rightly urging that any case needs to be investigated quickly and that the findings need to be shared across the country through different authorities, because there is an information vacuum at the moment. We just do not have the data, as has been discussed, and we need to know the scale of the problem, particularly with the spiking by injection that my hon. Friend Rushanara Ali referred to. Students across the country are understandably very anxious and are panicking about this issue. Some are taking extreme measures, in an effort to protect themselves when venturing out. The reports that we are getting are extremely horrifying and need investigating, but perhaps the NUS would be saying that we have to be cautious about measures to increase surveillance in clubs, because that can cause problems of its own.
I apologise that I was not able to be present for the start of the debate—I was in a Delegated Legislation Committee.
Does my hon. Friend agree that in formulating a response to the reports of spiking by injection, and the impact that it is having on young women and their lives because of the fear that they feel, it is really important that the authorities, the police, our universities and our health service listen to young women and hear about the things that they want, the things that would allow them to feel safe, and the things that they want to hear about men changing their behaviour? This should not be about victims; it should be about changing the behaviour of perpetrators.
I absolutely agree with the point made by my hon. Friend: it is about changing behaviour among perpetrators and young men. Going back to the points that were made earlier by my hon. Friend Florence Eshalomi, the problem absolutely starts at a very young age. We must change the norms of behaviour—certainly among young males—at a much younger age. She is right in the point that she makes.
I will move on to two examples; I did not want to take examples from across the country, but these are very real examples I have had to deal with through constituency casework, and so are specific to the University of Warwick, which is close to me. One constituent’s daughter was unable to seek urgent medical care, so had to travel to her home in Manchester, and go to Manchester Royal Infirmary, because she could not get the care that she needed locally. The hospital has implemented a separate pathway and recording system for spiking victims, so all credit that Manchester should have done that. Another student is currently in A&E at University Hospital Coventry, being treated for a suspected spiking with a needle. That is just in the last couple of weeks.
It is no wonder that the Girls Night In campaign quite rightly drew attention to this nationally. If we are to bring about change, we need to have an impact on the night-time economy, and we need people to wake up to the immediate urgency of this. I would echo the calls that I made earlier. It was interesting to listen to the point made about the work being done in Devon and Cornwall. If there is a chance of rolling that out, that would be terrific, but we need to quickly share that information. I hope the Minister will be listening carefully to this, because it does need leadership from the Government.
This is a terrifying phenomenon for young women, and it is leading to a real change of behaviour in our towns and cities. The Government and police need to get to grips with it very quickly, and ensure that the night-time industry meets with them and can bring about the changes that are needed. The NUS has called for greater training for staff, to understand and identify those visiting their nightclubs and so on, looking at alcohol vulnerability and the potential for sexual harassment and assault, with a focus on how to respond and intervene if incidents take place.
In my constituency, I want to pull together the police, the local authorities and the university, but also meet with a panel of young women to understand what is really going on. This is happening quickly, and it needs a response from Government. I really hope that they will look to work with all sectors to co-ordinate some sort of response, because this issue needs urgent leadership from them.
Going out and having fun is an important part of everyone’s life. We need it for our general wellbeing, to switch off from our busy working lives, and for our social lives. Nobody should be excluded from it, or live in fear that their night out will turn into a nightmare. Why should so many women live with that fear when most men do not?
I am fully behind the many women, including those in my constituency in Bath, who have taken to the streets or boycotted nightclubs to campaign against the rise of spiking incidents. Just imagine the fear and trauma of suddenly losing control of your body on a night out: your vision becomes blurry; you feel dizzy or sick; your memory disappears. You wake up in the morning with no recollection of how you got home, or with a fear that something really bad happened that you cannot even remember.
Spiking is predominantly an attack on women, and happens primarily to young women. One of my constituents wrote to me to say,
“not only have I been spiked myself—so have two of my close friends and nameless other girls I know”.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council has reported almost 200 confirmed incidents of drink spiking across the UK in the past two months alone. Reports of spiking by needle have added an extra layer of fear, and I completely agree with Tonia Antoniazzi that those reports need to be treated with much more severity, because they represent another level of crime. Those recent reports are not isolated incidents: data shows that drink spiking has been a growing problem in the UK for several years. Over 2,600 reports of spiking have been made to the police in England and Wales between 2015 and 2019, and that number may just be the tip of the iceberg, as many who have been spiked do not come forward.
Some have called for increased police presence in venues, or searches upon entry to night-time venues, but I am not sure that that is the right approach to stamping out spiking once and for all. As we have seen with stop and search policies under the Government’s hostile environment policy, increased police presence and searches often end up disproportionately affecting marginalised communities. We need a solution that considers the impact on all groups within our society. However, the Government should act urgently to make night-time venues safer for everybody. Spiking test strips should be made freely available at every venue; if necessary, that should be backed by Government funding. Police and venue staff should be given specific training to spot the signs of spiking so that they can give proper support when incidents occur. I urge the Minister to convene a conference of senior police officers from forces across the country as soon as possible. We need to get a complete picture of what is happening and draw up a national action plan on spiking, particularly the urgent issue of spiking by injection.
There is an epidemic of violence against women, and the rise in spiking incidents is simply the latest manifestation of that. We need to get to the root causes of why so many women are still regarded as inferior or, worse, a target for hate. Again, I agree with the hon. Member for Gower—
I mean Mr Baker—I am terrible with names. We need to bring everybody with us in order to achieve behavioural change—I do get it—but we also need to call out what needs to be called out, which is that this behaviour is increasing, and it is predominantly a crime committed by men against women. We cannot paint that fact out of the picture, but we absolutely need to have men on our side, and we need men to find this behaviour despicable. I know that many men, particularly in this Chamber, find it despicable and are on our side as women to stamp it out.
I repeat my call to the Minister to make misogyny a hate crime. The culture that allows crimes such as spiking to continue without sanction must change. Women must be given confidence that the system is not stacked against them, and must feel confident that those who are perpetrators of disrespect and hate against women are being brought to justice. That starts by making misogyny a hate crime, but today we are talking about spiking, so I look for leadership and urgent action from the Government. They should call a conference of all senior police officers across the country in order to get a proper picture, and listen to what the young women who have been affected by this despicable crime are asking for.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. As Wera Hobhouse highlighted, we have seen nearly 200 reports of drink spiking in the UK, with 58 of those recorded by the Metropolitan police here in London. Each of those reports represents a shocking violation of a woman’s—and victim’s—safety and privacy. As my hon. Friend Tonia Antoniazzi highlighted, the vast majority of victims are women—young women—and there can be a devastating impact on their lives and consequences later on. The reality is that no one is immune from spiking, and every woman feels the impact of spiking every time they go out.
Coming out of lockdown in July, so many people were looking forward to enjoying that freedom and to go out clubbing. For a number of women, going out to support their local bars and clubs was something that they wanted to do, and for some of those young women in my constituency at the Kings College university campus in Waterloo, the past few months have been the first time that they have been able to go out. A number of them are students in their first year, which is a seminal time for everyone, and they should be enjoying that freedom. My constituency has so many thriving nightclubs and bars—hon. Members may have visited some of them on occasions—but, unfortunately, some of those young women have to live in fear of becoming a victim of spiking whenever they go out.
Too often in these debates, we hear about the steps that women have to take to keep themselves safe. Why are we policing women’s behaviour in response to a problem that they did not cause? That needs to change. The tragic death of Sarah Everard earlier this year showed that women are expected to jump through hoops to change their behaviour and are told that they need to keep safe, but still misogynistic violence and abuse goes on. It is not good enough for us to tell women to avoid going clubbing, not to be drunk when they go out and to be uber-vigilant when they go out, especially as, even if they do all those things, they can still be subject to harmful spiking. In a bar, in a club and on their way home, women must be able to enjoy their night out with the same freedom and frivolity as their male colleagues.
We need a sea change in treating violence against women and girls to tackle misogyny and hate. If we want to make our society safer, that must include having conversations with everybody, including our men. I hope that the Minister will reassure us and outline the steps that the Government will take to address the issue fully.
Is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am about reports of Metropolitan police WhatsApp groups containing misogynistic, sexist and racist commentary, which is often about victims? Does she agree that we need a wholesale review to pull the rotten apples out of the barrel and culturally change the Metropolitan police, as well as the education system, so that women are not in fear and can go out in freedom?
I agree. We should highlight that one bad apple does not exist in isolation with the Met police; unfortunately, this is an issue right across our police forces. I hope that the Minister will outline steps that will be taken where officers are found guilty—in my view, they should face disciplinary action. There should also be more training on dealing with misogyny for our police officers.
The shadow Minister, Jess Phillips, was unavoidably detained in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate and therefore missed the first half of the speech by Tonia Antoniazzi. Because there was a perfectly reasonable reason for her delay, I am content to allow her to speak for the Opposition. I call Jess Phillips.
Thank you, Mr Gray. I apologise to all assembled. I tried to leave the Chamber but was called as I was leaving—I was assured by Mr Speaker that he wanted me to speak. I have read the remarks made by my hon. Friend Tonia Antoniazzi and am forever grateful to her for making them. She is a brilliant advocate of women’s rights, and it is no surprise to hear her speaking up with the petitioners in this instance.
It is also no surprise to me to see the number of Members who represent university towns, and the clear level of concern across the country about this particular issue. I do not know what the explanation is, and I very much doubt that the Minister knows what the explanation is, for this sudden moment in which the issue is reaching the headlines. It seems unusual that this situation is occurring, apart from the fact that it is not in any way unusual that women in our country have to run the gauntlet, whether at home, at work, going on a night out, walking to get anywhere, going on a bus, or—in some terrible cases—when approaching those agencies that are meant to be there to protect them.
I am afraid to say that spiking is by no means a new thing. In 2019, a BBC investigation uncovered 2,600 reports of drink spiking to police in England and Wales over the previous four years, and everybody will know that that is only a tiny fraction of what actually happened. Who knows? Every woman I know has been on a night out with a group of their friends and one of them is suddenly uncontrollable, or their legs suddenly go away from them and they are much drunker than they should be. That is not an unusual circumstance. The trouble is that when it is violence against women and girls, it does not matter that there were already 2,600 reports in 2019; we never seem to be able to quite reach a big enough number for things to actually get done.
I regularly stand in front of the House of Commons and say these things. The Office for National Statistics told us this week that reported rape had gone up by 8%, so it is now 62,000, 1.6 million women are victims of domestic abuse and, only two years ago, as I say, there were 2,600 reports of drink spiking. With this new phenomenon, this new issue, it is the introduction of the use of a needle that is frightening. Mr Baker quite rightly pointed out that such an action needs to carry a more severe punishment. To me, carrying into a nightclub a drug to put into somebody’s drink, or for injection—it seems harrowing, to inject somebody—is like carrying a knife, a weapon. In fact, it is not like it—it is carrying a weapon. The only aim is to harm.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and she is also right that we do not really know what is going on. I wonder whether there is a kind of dual phenomenon, whereby we have a very well-known and long-standing problem with drink spiking, which seems even to be increasing, putting vulnerable women, mainly, at risk, but I wonder whether there is something else going on, which is people being stabbed by a sharp implement—a needle-stick injury—for reasons or motivation unknown, and that becoming a copycat thing around the country. It could be that those two phenomena are going on at the same time.
The reason I raise this point—
My hon. Friend is right. Both these things are problems, which is why it is really important that the call from the Night Time Industries Association for an inquiry into this situation, to get to the bottom of it, should be heeded.
I agree, although I have to say that even that kind of spiking is not necessarily a new phenomenon. I am a little old for nightclubs now—actually, I am not—but I remember there being a similar phenomenon. The Minister, whose constituency is a near neighbour of mine—at certain points she has been a nearer neighbour as a representative in Birmingham—will remember that there was a story about a particular nightclub in Birmingham. It is no longer there, so I can name it and not bring it into any disrepute—it was called The Dome. There were all these stories about pinpricks, and I am talking 20 years ago.
I do not know whether this new form of spiking is a new phenomenon, but the thing is that we do not know. What women know, and what my hon. Friend the Member for Gower and the petition are suggesting, is that they are seeking some level of security so that they can go into a place and feel safe. We can never stop all harm; we cannot. However, I really hope to hear from the Minister some tangible asks and action about how we will make sure people can feel safe.
Does the hon. Member feel, as I do, that there might be a fatality at some point? Then we would think, why do we always wait until something really dreadful happens before we take action?
Every single constituency Member of Parliament who has ever tried to get any sort of road safety measure in and has been told that they have to wait until somebody dies on that street hears the call of the hon. Member for Bath. I am afraid to say that a woman is murdered every three days in the UK by violence against women and girls; if that was happening at football matches in our country, football matches would be banned. The reality is that even if somebody does die in these circumstances, I do not think that will be what suddenly changes things. I want to hear from the Minister what exactly the Government will do to make it so that women can feel safe, and that perpetrators are the ones who are scared?
The reality is that this is all about an assault against a woman, and somebody invading her space. That is the issue that needs to be addressed. We know there is massive underreporting of violence against women; whatever the statistics are, the reality is probably far greater. It is about bringing about action now, whether there is one case or several thousand cases.
The underreporting of this, and of all violence against women and girls, is well charted. We estimate that, at best, we are hearing about 20% of it. It used to be that only 8%—or even 4%—of people had come forward about rape. At the very best we are only seeing 20% of the problem, and 80% is missing from our eyes. With nightclubs, what worries me even further is that young women especially, and I remember this because I was one, will not speak up because of fear for their liberty—by which I mean the fear that their moms and dads will not let them go out again. When bad things happen when they are young, girls keep those secrets close because they are worried about their freedom.
In nightclubs, whether we like it or not, there will be people who take recreational drugs. That is just the world that we live in. The idea that people will not want to come forward because they are frightened, because they have been taking recreational drugs, is something that we have to deal with. We do not want to deal only with perfect victims. We must never fall foul, as so many of us have over many years, of only seeing victims who have a halo that allows us to see their abuses and not others.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech, as she always does on this subject. Does she share my concern that one reason why women may not come forward, and why we do not have evidence about whether there is a link between these sharp-object incidents and toxicology, is because when women do seek help in instances of spiking they are sometimes not believed, dismissed as being drunk and, I am told, they are not seen quickly when they attend A&E? Does she agree that this response is discouraging women from coming forward and preventing us from getting the evidence that we need to better understand this latest problem?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and our hon. Friend Matt Western pointed out very clearly that one of his constituents had that exact experience. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower talked about good services and best practice in Devon and Cornwall; some best practice in hospitals in Manchester was also highlighted by hon. Members. But that simply cannot be the case everywhere. As with all violence against women and girls, those presenting at A&E will be made to feel brilliant in some places—amazing and believed, and there will be specialist workers there—and in other places that will absolutely not be the case. But the single most important thing that the Government have to tackle is not how victims interact with the system. We have spent so many years trying to improve the experience of people who end up in this situation, which is noble—I will not stop trying to do that, and I am sure nobody else in the House will either. However, the fundamental point is that we have to end the perpetration. We have to make perpetrators feel as frightened of being caught with this type of thing in a nightclub as being caught with a knife. A rape victim once said to me, “If I had a stab wound, I wouldn’t have to prove that I’d been stabbed—everybody would be able to see that—but because I’ve been raped, I have to prove it. I have to prove it to you.”
We have heard many brilliant examples from Swansea and elsewhere of women speaking up with one voice. I have spoken to women about the issue, such as a local councillor in Oxfordshire who has been dealing with around 20 cases. She is working with 25 young student freshers who have been spiked in recent months, who were all deeply reluctant to report it to the police, saying that they did not want the hassle or were worried they would not be taken seriously. Statistics are starting to flood in from big and small organisations, and I am sure we can all see it on Instagram. I came across a Birmingham women’s safety initiative group that had done a survey of 100 Birmingham respondents, and more than 95% said they felt unsafe in their local area.
As always, I stand with each and every one of these women. There are things we can do now and I would like to hear what the Government will do to make sure that they happen. Venues must be clearly led to do far more robust security and search protocols, improve training for staff and have high-quality and well-positioned CCTV. The Minister might know that I am not always a fan of the sticking plaster of CCTV, because I would like someone to be stopped from hurting me, rather than it being possible to find my body. However, I have seen CCTV work well in clubs when something is found which shows that women were not drunk or stupid or lying or attention seeking.
I have a slight concern about searches in nightclubs, relating to the protocols for testing and securing staff who work on the doors of nightclubs. There has been a series of newspaper articles in recent weeks about the vetting of people who work on the doors of our nightclubs. There is a live debate among Members of Parliament about having our own security and how we vet the people doing that. I am afraid to say that, in lots of circumstances, journalists found what a lack of vetting had not: door staff who had been convicted of sexual assaults. I have to say, remembering what it was like to be searched going in and out of clubs, that it can often feel like a sexual assault to lots of women. We need to make sure that there are women on hand to ensure that those searches are done properly and appropriately. I certainly would only ever want to be searched by a woman.
It is very important that we do not treat this as just another issue where not much can be done. The Government need to start telling us exactly how they are going to deal with perpetrators of violence against women and girls. They are currently resisting, stating for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that they will make it a serious crime, and that local authority areas have to—not can choose to, if they like, which is the sort of standing we give violence against women and girls—have a violence against women and girls prevention plan, as they would for crimes such as county lines. They have to have a public health approach to that locally. In this instance, the Government could be working with licensing; it would be incredibly helpful to have a protective duty.
I would hope to see the Government committing, finally, to make violence against women and girls a serious crime with a serious crime prevention duty. Mainly, I hope that they will take the advice of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services. The former Prime Minister, Mrs May, did lots of good work in this area, but the inspectorate’s very long name is not something I will ever thank her for. It is a ridiculously long name. Her Majesty’s inspectorate has clearly set out a timeline and a timeframe for exactly how police forces could be working to tackle perpetration and build up trust in victims to come forward. The Government are, for some reason, still resisting saying how they are going to do this.
I will sit down now so that the Minister can speak, but I want to finish by saying that my parliamentary assistant, as I was preparing for the debate, told me this morning that at the weekend her and her mates had had to compare the features of their new safety keyrings, which included whistles, seatbelt cutters and rape alarms, just so that they could go on a night out. It is no longer on the young people and women in this country to make themselves feel safer. It is on the Government now.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I am extremely grateful to all Members who have spoken in this debate. It has been wide ranging and excellent, with some good contributions from across the House.
I am incredibly grateful to Hannah Thomson for starting the petition. Tonia Antoniazzi has outlined her tribute, and I want to add my voice to that. It is not a small undertaking to present a petition to Parliament at any age, particularly at Hannah’s. I want to pay tribute to her and all the other campaigners in this space, who have successfully brought a debate in Parliament. We are now discussing these issues and I hope we are according them the seriousness that they deserve.
I agree with the hon. Member for Gower when she said that we women are 51% of the population and we wield considerable financial muscle. Part of the natural financial muscle is going on a night out. That is something I am absolutely sure all of us have enjoyed in the past. For some of us it is the more distant past—Mr Gray, perhaps?
Perhaps not. I certainly, in common with Jess Phillips, remember many nights out in various Birmingham nightclubs, including the one she referred to and many others.
On the point of going out in the past, would the Minister agree that we need to see more women and girls going out and supporting our full range of businesses in the night-time economy, because of that financial muscle power? That will not happen until they feel safe.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that the night-time economy is vital. It is very important that we have thriving local economies. It is a vital to our financial prosperity, and it is part of our building back better agenda.
Turning to the issue and petition at hand, there are, of course, growing concerns about safety in the night-time economy. The specific focus on searches in nightclubs comes as no surprise. We know that over 172,000 people have added their name to the petition. I am sure that that is driven by concern over the rise of media reports on spiking. It is perhaps not a completely new issue, but there has been a focus on the needle aspect as something that is new. It is certainly receiving a lot more attention than it has done in the past. However, Members have rightly said that the spiking of drinks is something we have seen for some time.
Reports of spiking, whether that is adding substances to drinks or injecting people with needles, are extremely concerning. I have every sympathy with victims and anyone who might feel unable to go out and enjoy a night out without fear. The fear factor is very serious, and no one should feel frightened or vulnerable when they go out. We utterly condemn the people who perpetrated those attacks, and they should be brought to justice. I want to begin by saying very clearly that I want to reassure Members that this is something that we are taking seriously. The day on which we heard the first accounts—I think it was a few weeks ago—the Home Secretary wasted no time in getting reports, requiring additional data and convening police chiefs at the highest level.
Let me be clear: any spiking constitutes criminal conduct. The necessary offences are on the statute book. In response to my hon. Friend Mr Baker, where a drink is spiked and where there is sexual motivation, administering a substance with intent is an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and could carry a 10-year sentence. Depending on the specific nature of the assault and offence, it could also be classed as common assault, which includes grievous bodily harm, and could carry a sentence of five years up to a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment. I want to reassure him that this is a serious criminal offence. As with any crime, it falls to the police to investigate it and ensure that those responsible are dealt with in accordance with the law.
I want to update the Chamber on the fact that there is no doubt that police are taking this seriously and are working at pace to gather intelligence and identify perpetrators. It is a changing and evolving picture. We have been gathering reports from forces across the country, and at the time of my making these remarks, we have 218 reports of needle assaults and injections since September. Over the same period, the police are aware of 250 drink spikings. Those numbers broadly chime with what Members have reported to me. Those numbers are subject to change as the police continue to gather information. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley is right in saying that this is a crime in which not all instances are reported. I strongly encourage anyone who has been a victim to report it to the police. It is difficult to make comparisons with the past, and I have stressed to my team that we need to understand more about this crime, and that is absolutely what we will do.
Members may be pleased to know that there have been at least three recent arrests for this and a number of active police investigations are under way. I very much hope that we will be able to bring more perpetrators to justice in the coming weeks.
I am very grateful for what the Minister has said. Will she undertake to carry out some kind of public information activity to make sure that potential perpetrators are aware of the gravity of the offences that they are considering? We need to make sure that people are dissuaded from what, I think we all agree, is a very serious set of crimes.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. We have a number of communication plans within the wider violence against women and girls strategy, and we will absolutely make sure that this issue is included in that work, which I am sure he will welcome.
The Home Secretary has already asked the National Police Chiefs’ Council to urgently review the extent and scale of the issue, and we are receiving regular updates from the police. We are working locally, regionally and nationally, including with our partners in the National Crime Agency. The NPCC has convened a group of policing leads, including Jason Harwin and Maggie Blyth—the Government’s new lead on violence against women and girls—which is meeting several times a week, with the aim of understanding the issue and ensuring that there is a strong police response.
Turning to the licensing regime, I think it was Matt Western who referenced the fact that not all of these cases occur in nightclubs. [Interruption.] Apologies, it was Paul Blomfield. Not all of these attacks occur in nightclubs, but our understanding is that the majority of these settings are probably targeted specifically by offenders.
There are lots of numbers floating around, and many of them probably underestimate the scale of the problem. My understanding is that the Alcohol Education Trust has done some work on this, and has suggested that there are slightly more incidences of drink spiking in house parties than in nightclubs. How will the Government reflect that in the strategy that they are looking at?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, and it is important that we continue to ensure that we gather data from all these incidents, regardless of whether they take place in homes or nightclubs.
I turn now to the issue of nightclubs, which is the subject of the debate. It is really important to say that there is nothing preventing a nightclub from introducing searches on entry, and a number of nightclubs are doing that already. Lincolnshire police are working with their local licensing authority and a local nightclub to address concerns about spiking. The club has made an extra search on going into the premises a condition of entry and, additionally, it is using stickers to place over the tops of drinks at key locations within the premises. Many other clubs across the country are doing that as well, and we have heard references made to the work in Devon and Cornwall. In fact, I did a quick straw poll with my children, who are all of clubbing age. Two of them had been out clubbing in London over the weekend and had seen in action some quite detailed and thorough searches when they went into clubs.
Will the Minister clarify what she will do quickly to make sure that all nightclubs follow the good examples that she is citing? She is responsible for making it happen and for giving families across the country the reassurance they need that, whichever nightclub young people go to, they can go safely.
I am coming to that, and I very much hope to satisfy the hon. Lady. It is important that I make it clear that premises such as nightclubs have a responsibility, which I will set out, if she will bear with me.
Premises that have a high volume of customers are required to assess what steps they think are needed for the venue, but we are not solely reliant on venues taking action themselves. The law already allows relevant conditions to be imposed. The Licensing Act 2003, which governs the control and issuance of licences to sell alcohol, allows local licensing authorities to take a tailored approach to granting premises licences in order to uphold the four licensing objectives. The most relevant is of course the objective to prevent crime and disorder. It is important to state that the Act applies only to premises in England and Wales, as licensing is devolved in Scotland. I note that the petitioner is from Scotland, so I definitely encourage her to have similar conversations with her local authorities. I very much hope that they will consider those issues.
In order to reduce crime, licensing authorities can impose conditions on any business that wants to sell alcohol, which can include requiring the presence of suitably trained and accredited door staff or CCTV. A licensing authority can also require a licence holder to introduce entry searches as a condition of a premises licence.
We have a rich and diverse night-time economy across the country, catering to many different communities: big cities with a large student population—many Members have referred to their local universities—towns with a high proportion of families and holiday visitors, and rural areas with local pubs. We have venues and villages, and everything in between. It is a fundamental and important premise that, with very few exceptions, decisions on which licences to grant, and on how premises should be managed, take into account local issues, demographics and circumstances. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to licensed premises. We do not wish to see mandated national conditions, which could be disproportionate and burdensome to some venues. Even among nightclubs, there is a huge diversity of premises, so what is required for one will not work for another.
I will allow the hon. Lady to intervene, but I also need to allow some time for the hon. Member for Gower to sum up.
I can assure the hon. Lady that we insist on it and require them to do so, and it is part of their statutory duty. They are of course accountable to their populations, and they are staffed by locally and demographically accountable members of their council.
I want to make the House aware that the police already have considerable powers to take action where they think there is a problem. They can call for a review of a premises licence and work with the management and licensing authority. Local mechanisms can introduce searches where they are needed more quickly than waiting for a national mandate to be brought into effect. Licensing laws allow longer-term measures as well, to improve management of the night-time economy. For example, the night-time levy, with which some Members may be familiar, enables local authorities to collect a financial contribution from businesses. Some of the initiatives are really helpful and have been used to fund additional police officers, community protection officers and local projects, such as club hosts and taxi marshals, all of which can help keep people safe.
The Act also allows the licensing authority to carry out a cumulative impact assessment, to help it to limit the number of types of licence applications granted in areas where there is no evidence to show that the number or density of licensed premises in the area is having a cumulative impact and leading to problems that could undermine the licensing objectives.
As I have said, the night-time economy is varied and diverse, and covers many types of areas. Alongside the specific measures I have outlined, there are other things that local areas can and should be doing. I have been impressed by some of the initiatives I have seen around the country. Some areas have introduced safe spaces, where a combination of medical assistance, supervised recovery and other support services are provided to intoxicated, injured or vulnerable individuals.
In another area, I saw a scheme where door staff convert into street marshals at the end of the night, across the whole city centre. I pay tribute to other organisations, such as Street Pastors, who provide invaluable assistance. Members have highlighted good work going on in their local forces and in some of their local universities. In addition, initiatives such as Ask for Angela, X Marks the Spot, Safe Havens and Good Night Out provide opportunities, help and support to everyone who is concerned for their safety.
Many Members talked about the wider and broader issues of violence against women and girls, which I come to now. We published our new cross-Government tackling violence against women and girls strategy this summer, to help to ensure that women and girls are safe everywhere. I fully agree with all the comments that have been made by hon. Members that this is not about blaming women, or requesting or expecting women to change their behaviour. It is about tackling the root cause of the violence.
I recognise what my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe said about this not being about all men perpetrating these crimes, but about recognising that in the majority of the spiking incidents the victims that we know about are young women. It is at the forefront of the Government’s mind and our priority is to tackle the perpetrators and prevent this from happening.
On the specific work we have already funded, we are delivering a pilot £5 million safety of women at night fund, focused on preventing violence against women and girls in public spaces at night, particularly in the night-time economy. That is in addition to the £25 million safer streets fund, which focuses on improving public safety, with an emphasis on the safety of women and girls, and their feelings of safety in public spaces.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley referred to doorkeepers and their qualifications, which is an important issue. I have met the Security Industry Authority and I assure her that it is cognisant of the issue. It is working to ensure that qualifications for door supervisors and security guards include specific content relating to violence against women and girls. It is now working at pace to remind the industry and those operatives of their role and responsibility to keep people safe, with a focus on women’s safety. In our violence against women and girls strategy, we have committed to further work to see what more we can do to strengthen those safeguards.
I want to conclude my remarks and allow time for the hon. Member for Gower to respond. Violence against women and girls is abhorrent. As I have set out, the Government are taking wide-ranging action to prevent these crimes, support victims and pursue perpetrators. I congratulate the hon. Member for Gower on her speech. I fully agree that some of the issues that she highlighted around our sexist and victim-blaming culture are wrong and need to stop. We in the Government are completely behind that. The measures that I have set out, and more, are the measures that we will be using to bear down on this abhorrent behaviour. We are putting the full force of the Government behind tackling the issue, because we want women and girls to feel safe when they are going out at night.
I welcome the comments that the Minister has made in response to the petition and I thank everybody who has participated from the Back Benches for their comments. One thing that comes across is the need for consistency, for people to work together, and for all organisations to ensure that this behaviour does not continue but is addressed by the Government. I welcome the comments made by Mr Baker: he says that we need to have a campaign that raises the profile of the issue. The Minister spoke about the public information and the communication plan; I hope to see this at the forefront, especially now, with young people in university and more active—going out—in the night-time economy.
I will just refer to some of my notes. My hon. Friend Matt Western talked about pulling the local authorities together with young people to discuss what is happening in his constituency. I will be suggesting with my Swansea colleagues some of the things talked about today—meeting the local night-time industry and also working with the licensing agencies. It is important that people who set up campaigns in the UK know the situation with the licensing laws and the local authorities and where those responsibilities lie, so that they can take this further.
I thank Hannah Thomson, because what she set up has brought about a debate in this House, which is important. This is not about chivalry; it is about working together. It is not about calling out any particular people, but we do need to raise the fact that the way we treat women and girls in this country is, frankly, a disgrace. I am fed up of hearing about how we are just putting them aside. I hate the word “banter”. I have a 17-year-old son who thinks banter is hilarious. It is not hilarious, because it has consequences. We have to change our mindset and our culture. We have to deal with the online harms Bill. We have to ensure that our young people, our women and girls, are safe and that we have a respectful culture in this country whereby we can all go about our lives and live our best lives. I thank the Minister; I thank those on our Benches; and thank you, Mr Gray.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered e-petition 598986, relating to safety at nightclubs.