House of Lords

Tuesday 23rd April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Tuesday 23 April 2024
14:30
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.

Introduction: Lord Goodman of Wycombe

Tuesday 23rd April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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14:39
Paul Alexander Cyril Goodman, having been created Baron Goodman of Wycombe, of High Wycombe in the County of Buckinghamshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Howard of Lympne and Lord McLoughlin, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Covid-19 Vaccination: Coronary Disease

Tuesday 23rd April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Question
14:44
Asked by
Lord Farmer Portrait Lord Farmer
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the connection between COVID-19 vaccination and increased prevalence of coronary disease.

Lord Markham Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Markham) (Con)
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The Government are taking action to tackle cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease, including through supporting improved uptake of the NHS Health Check England cardiovascular disease prevention programme. There is no evidence linking Covid-19 vaccines to increased levels of coronary heart disease. All vaccines used in the UK are authorised only once they have met robust standards of effectiveness, safety and quality set by the UK independent regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

Lord Farmer Portrait Lord Farmer (Con)
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I thank the Minister for his reply. A considerable number of cardiologists, other medical practitioners and scientists have raised concerns about a link, especially among younger people, amid a pervasive sense of a lack of transparency. A reluctance to disclose the full gamut of information sits uneasily with the Government’s ongoing encouragement for people to get vaccinated. To resolve this, can the Government at least publish data on cardiac deaths in the ever vaccinated and never vaccinated by age group for 2022, 2023 and onwards?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for this question. The ONS has provided this information and made it available for research purposes to make absolutely sure that we get to the bottom of this issue. For the understanding of noble Lords, every medical vaccine has side-effects, but the MHRA has investigated this, and the side-effect that people are worried about is heart inflammation. One to two people per 100,000 who have had a vaccine experienced side-effects, but, for people who have had Covid, it is 150 per 100,000. Having these vaccines is a much safer route to go.

Lord Allan of Hallam Portrait Lord Allan of Hallam (LD)
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My Lords, there is one substance that we put into our bodies during Covid that has been clearly linked to thousands of excess deaths: alcohol. Are the Government carrying out studies into what happened with alcohol consumption during the pandemic, who was most at risk and how we can ensure that in any future pandemics we do not see excess deaths? We are talking about 2,500 excess deaths during 2022.

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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The noble Lord is quite right. There were much wider effects and impacts in the lockdown, and alcohol intake was one of them; mental health, particularly of our children, was another. My sincere hope is that these are the kinds of issues that the Covid inquiry should really be investigating: the wider impacts on society caused by lockdown.

Lord Patel Portrait Lord Patel (CB)
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My Lords, a recent study published in Vaccine of a cohort of 99 million people who were vaccinated with one of the vaccines—either vector or messenger RNA vaccines—showed an increased risk related to myocarditis and pericarditis. The incidence, particularly among the younger people, was about one in 10 in a 1 million population, as opposed to the non-vaccinated who got Covid. That should be the comparison, not the non-vaccinated who did not get Covid. In those cases, things such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is a long-term viral fatigue syndrome, occurred at a higher incidence in non-vaccinated people than in vaccinated people, particularly with the Oxford/AstraZeneca number 1 vaccine, which was withdrawn. Therefore, it is a balance of whether the disease or the vaccine will make you more sick. With any treatment in any branch of medicine, there is always a risk to the treatment. There has to be a balance.

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I am sure I speak for the whole House when thanking the noble Lord for his expert understanding and insights. As he said, the evidence is very clear that while no vaccine is risk-free, what it saves you from is much greater. The very firm advice is that you are much better off having the vaccine.

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister about the efficacy of the vaccine in preventing transmission? It does seem to be very good at keeping people out of hospital and keeping people alive, but we built the most immense edifice of restrictions around the idea that it was preventing the transmission of Covid. We had vaccine passports and travel bans, and it now seems that both the WHO and Pfizer knew at the time that its efficacy when it came to preventing transmission was negligible. Can my noble friend the Minister tell the House what his department’s latest assessment is of the vaccine’s ability to prevent giving Covid to other people?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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The main thing that the vaccine did was prevent any bad effects if you did get Covid. While it might not have reduced transmission much, its main benefit was that it reduced the effects if you had it, as well as hospitalisations and deaths. Making Covid a less serious disease, basically, enabled us to open up the country and we were one of the first to get going again because we knew that the disease no longer posed the high risk that it did before we had the vaccines.

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I have some personal experience here. One week after I had my first course of Covid vaccination, I had an attack of pericarditis and ended up in St Thomas’ Hospital. I am convinced that there is a link, but it is important to look at the longer-term effects—having an attack of Covid causes more heart problems, as well as having a long-term impact on your general health.

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely correct. The MHRA study on heart inflammation, which he mentioned, said that there is that side-effect for one to two people per 100,000—unfortunately, the noble Lord seems to have been one of them. However, if you get Covid it affects 150 people per 100,000. On balance, if you have not had the vaccination, your risk is 22 per 100,000. The statistics are very clear.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, does the Minister think that we need to do far more on public awareness of vaccines and their benefits? All sorts of people out there are spreading malicious tales about the implications of taking them, whether for mumps or Covid.

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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Absolutely. We are all very aware of the damage done by all the myths around the MMR vaccine 20 to 30 years ago and the impact that has had on people. The more we can get the message out, the better. As the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, asked me yesterday, we have learned that it is about making sure that we communicate to all groups so that we can make sure that ethnic minorities and other minority groups get that information.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, after many years of stalled progress, the rate of premature deaths from cardiovascular disease continues to increase, for reasons that the British Heart Foundation describes as “multiple and complex”. The warning signs of this have been present for over a decade. As this phenomenon did not start with Covid, what assessment has been made of the contributory factors of government policy pre Covid and what steps are being taken to turn this around?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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Deaths from heart disease among those under 75 are down by about 20% compared with 2010, which is a clear trend. Notwithstanding that, we are very aware—Sir Chris Whitty is concerned about this—that Covid meant that a lot of people did not get basic heart and blood pressure checks. That is why we have introduced the Midlife MoT, which is designed to give people a 10-year risk analysis; have put blood pressure devices in pharmacies and all sorts of other places to get 2 million checks; and have a workplace heart disease strategy check. All this is designed to get that prevention in place so that people are aware of and understand the risks.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that, although we are talking about heart disease, we must also remember pulmonary embolism from clotting disorders, which can persist for up to six months after even a mild Covid infection? A massive pulmonary embolus is another cause of mortality in people who have Covid. One of the problems with the virus is its ability to mutate, but the evidence is that vaccination, even if it does not give you complete protection, moves you from obtaining serious Covid to having milder Covid. That risk of thromboembolism also needs to be monitored in the long term in relation to Covid infections, including for those who have had a mild infection and those who have long Covid.

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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The noble Baroness is absolutely correct: a vaccine helped you avoid not just heart disease but all the other impacts of Covid that she mentioned, including long Covid and a whole list of other things. Again, the undeniable advice is that it is much better to have the Covid vaccine.

Expansion of Free Childcare

Tuesday 23rd April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:54
Asked by
Baroness Twycross Portrait Baroness Twycross
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the implementation of the expansion of free childcare hours.

Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
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My Lords, I can confirm that over 200,000 parents of two year-olds are now benefiting from the Government’s help with childcare costs as part of the largest ever expansion of childcare support in England. From September 2025, our full expansion will save parents up to £6,900 a year. Our investment will be over £400 million in 2024-25 alone, and by 2027-28 we expect to spend in excess of £8 billion every year on free hours and early education, doubling our current spending.

Baroness Twycross Portrait Baroness Twycross (Lab)
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My Lords, the DfE’s own pulse survey from last week found that 45% of childcare and early years providers said that it was unlikely that they would increase the number of places they offer to under-threes as a result of the Government’s childcare expansion. The maths does not add up for providers and there is patchy provision across the country, with the sector still losing staff. Despite the confidence of the Minister and in the Statement earlier today in the other place, is this not simply a good idea that is going disastrously wrong?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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We have to be careful about describing 200,000 additional children going into childcare aged two from this April as something “going disastrously wrong”. I argue that it is a huge success.

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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My Lords, I know from some of the information that has come to me that it has been estimated that we are 40,000 workers down on the target to implement this fully—in a sector where about half the workers are saying that they want to leave within the next 12 months due to a lack of pay and overwork. What will the Government do to square that circle?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The figure of 40,000 is the increase in the workforce that we need to achieve by September 2025. That is exactly why we are having a phased introduction to this policy. Even before we increased the rates for providers last year, there was almost a 13,000 increase in the workforce, and we have a number of initiatives to build on that.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, I very much welcome the increase in free childcare hours, but is my noble friend the Minister aware that some parents of children with special educational needs are finding it difficult to find a placement? Is she satisfied that the extra allowance attached to those children is sufficient to encourage nurseries to take them on?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend for raising that, because this can be an incredibly valuable support for children with special educational needs in their early years. We have increased the hourly funding rates and the dedicated additional SEND funding, but the department is doing a review of the SEND inclusion fund, to understand better how it is being used and whether we can improve on it.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister has been asked many times about the apparent disconnection between the aspiration of this policy—which is admirable, as I have said before, and I think that most people would agree—and the ability of the sector to deliver it, and it has come up again today. If, for example, she had in her family a young person who was thinking about making a career in early years work, would she recommend them to do so? Where would she expect them to find the best career opportunities in the next three or four years?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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First, it is more than an aspiration. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State talked about aiming for 150,000 additional children taking up the entitlement offer in April. As I said, we are at just over 200,000, and we think that that number will continue to tick up, so it is more than an aspiration. Secondly, I was genuinely having this conversation at dinner with a friend, whose granddaughter was thinking about what to do with her career. There are fantastic opportunities in early years and childcare, such as apprenticeships and bootcamps, and we are introducing a route for people with experience but perhaps not the same formal qualifications. These are for all age groups and stages, and they include men as well as women.

Lord Laming Portrait Lord Laming (CB)
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My Lords, the increase in free childcare hours is a welcome development, especially for families with the least and with the greatest needs. It is a step along the way. Could the Minister assure the House that there are plans in place to extend the facilities across the country, to make sure that there is availability of these important services?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The noble Lord is right that one part of delivering this is to do with workforce, and we are focused on delivering that, but the other part is to do with the physical buildings and facilities, particularly for much younger children. We have supported local authorities with £100 million of capital funding and we are also testing a pilot in school and college facilities where they have spare space, to determine how that might be made suitable for childcare provision.

Care Worker Visa Regime

Tuesday 23rd April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:01
Asked by
Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait Baroness Pitkeathley
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To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they plan to review the care worker visa regime.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government introduced changes to the visa requirements for how carers can be recruited to the UK on 11 March. The Home Office worked with the Department of Health and Social Care to implement these measures. We will continue to keep all visa routes under review, and will consider changes where appropriate.

Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait Baroness Pitkeathley (Lab)
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I am sure the Minister will agree that the already beleaguered and inadequate social care workforce needs extra people. Until we are able to recruit and train them here, they must be found from overseas. There have been multiple failures identified in the Home Office system for awarding care worker visas. It has underestimated demand by a large degree, it applied an inappropriate scheme in a high-risk area, and it has nothing like enough staff to regulate licence sponsors or process applications. As they review this policy, will the Minister commit the Government to working with the social care sector, which is knowledgeable about these issues, to rectify these problems, and to ensure that there is sufficient supply of care workers to meet the ever-growing demand?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The Home Office seemed to bear the brunt of the noble Baroness’s accusations, but this was a cross-government exercise, involving the Department of Health, the Treasury, No. 10, the Cabinet Office and other departments. The fact is that the most recent published statistics, relating to the year ending December 2023, show that we have issued more than 146,000 health and care worker visas. To suggest that we are not supporting the sector would be inaccurate—we are. That includes things such as how to register good applications, explaining the rules around genuine vacancies and addressing the mismatch between the actual job and salary, not things such as anticipated demand. There is a lot of work going on.

Lord Allan of Hallam Portrait Lord Allan of Hallam (LD)
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My Lords, there are accounts of care workers coming to the UK being exploited, as either the jobs do not exist as advertised or they find themselves in hock to middlemen. Does the Minister agree that people who come here and apply for these visas in good faith should be treated with compassion? Can he explain how many people the Home Office has employed to help those people by going after fraudulent sponsors and exploitative agents?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Lord is right; there has been some abuse of the system, which is readily acknowledged by the sector itself. I noticed that the Skills for Care website points out that this system has been open to abuse in the past, and it provides some helpful links to some of the stories about modern slavery. Of course, the Government will not tolerate illegal activity in the labour market in general. Any accusations of illegal employment practices will be thoroughly investigated, and we strongly condemn offering health and care worker visa-holders employment under false pretences, which partly motivates these changes.

Baroness Cavendish of Little Venice Portrait Baroness Cavendish of Little Venice (CB)
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My Lords, the charity Unseen and the union UNISON have compiled substantial evidence of the exploitation of some of these workers, who now find themselves in limbo because they have been hired by agencies that do not have enough hours for them and they are not allowed to switch to any other profession. Will the Minister undertake to look at what quality control the Care Quality Commission used last year when it licensed a very large number of new providers into the market, which is already saturated with providers? Have the Government looked at the churn in the number of those providers and how many of them have already closed? What steps can the Government take to stop these fraudulent recruitment agencies operating in other countries? They are fundamentally misleading good people who wanted to come to our country and have been sorely mis-sold.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Baroness makes a very good point about activities that have taken place in some other countries. Our abilities to influence those are somewhat constrained. I do not know how the Care Quality Commission goes about licensing. I will find out and report back to her on that. I repeat my previous answer: we will of course go after all those who are engaged in fraudulent practices.

Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway Portrait Baroness O’Grady of Upper Holloway (Lab)
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Does the Minister agree, on reflection, that preventive measures should have been put in place? Many unions and organisations are now arguing that no business should be able to sponsor care workers unless it has been in operation for at least two years and unless it has had an inspection first, rather than after the event. Also, how are we going to go after abuses in the labour market when there are so few inspectors? For example, 18 inspectors are supposed to deal with an agency sector covering 40,000 businesses.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am afraid I cannot comment on the number of inspectors because I genuinely do not know the answer to how many there are, but I take the noble Baroness’s points. I reiterate that we will go after people who are abusing the visas and the individuals. We should remember that the employers also need to be supported to recruit staff from abroad in a way that meets the needs of those people. Skills for Care makes that point, and I completely agree.

Lord Laming Portrait Lord Laming (CB)
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My Lords, the work of care workers is extremely valued, particularly by those who are dependent on them for their daily living. This extends across the whole age range of the population, not only in residential establishments but in home care facilities. Underlying all this is one of the difficulties: although this care work is highly valued, it is a low-paid occupation. I hope the Government will give thought to a way in which we can improve the status of care workers and thereby their earning potential in this country.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I very much agree with the noble Lord that the care workers themselves need all our support and, indeed, our praise for the very important and necessary work they all do. Of course, care workers are not subject to the same salary cap as other workers, so applicants to the health and care visa are exempted from the new £38,700 salary threshold. They must be paid at least £23,200 per annum, so the system, as constructed, takes into account the relatively low-paid nature of this work.

Lord Jackson of Peterborough Portrait Lord Jackson of Peterborough (Con)
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My Lords, following on from the very good question from the noble Lord, Lord Laming, do we not have a moral duty and a responsibility in terms of public policy not just to import the best people from abroad but, given that we have record numbers of people on out-of-work benefits, to give opportunities, training and skills to our own young people, who would benefit very much from that and enhance that industry, rather than continually looking to foreign nationals to come in and do the jobs that British people could be trained to do?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I agree with my noble friend on that. We remain committed to developing the domestic workforce. We are doing that by investing in retention—there is a high churn rate in this sector, as is well understood—through better workforce training, recognition and career progression. A new career structure is being launched for care workers so that all staff can build their careers and more experienced care workers are recognised for their skills. We are creating new qualifications and a digital skills record to reduce the need for retraining costs. We are increasing funding for learning and development. The Government have made available up to £8.6 billion in additional funding over the financial years 2023-24 and 2024-25 to support adult social care and discharge. I trust that all noble Lords will support the PM’s valiant efforts to mobilise those who are not currently engaged with the domestic workforce.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister spoke of fraudulent sponsors and exploitative agents. What assessment have the Government made of the need to tighten up repayment clauses for relocation and visa costs, and requiring compliance with Department of Health and Social Care rules on international recruitment as a condition of gaining a sponsor licence?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Lord develops on a theme explored earlier, in a question I could not entirely answer. I will come back to him with a better answer in due course.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab)
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My Lords, given that the Minister in effect embedded the idea of care work being low paid, in the answer he gave earlier about salary caps in relation to visas, does he think that £23,500 is an adequate reflection of the real value that any individual care worker provides through their work?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I did not embed anything; I was just restating a fact. Whether or not I think it is the right number for the sort of work that is done, obviously there is considerable variety in the type of care that is given. I do not think it would be appropriate to comment on the number in its totality.

Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Portrait Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top (Lab)
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My Lords, I am sure the Minister will feel, at the end of this, that anyone listening to the totality of this Question will see that there are very serious issues. The Government have failed to address the whole issue of social care. It is a sector that is failing the country, at a time when we know there needs to be a lot more because, as we see around us, we are all getting older and living longer, and need more care. The Government have now had 14 years; when will they actually address the sector as a whole and reform it?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Baroness asks me about the care sector in general; I am obviously here to talk about visas. What I will say about visas is that the Government have in fact clamped down on the abuse of the visa system and once again are endeavouring to protect the integrity of our borders; I am sure the noble Baroness would welcome that.

Personal Independence Payments

Tuesday 23rd April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:12
Asked by
Baroness Hughes of Stretford Portrait Baroness Hughes of Stretford
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on disabled people and their families of changes being considered in the review of personal independence payments announced by the Prime Minister on 19 April.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Viscount Younger of Leckie) (Con)
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My Lords, we will shortly publish a consultation on personal independence payments. This will explore potential options to reshape PIP, to ensure that support is focused on those with the greatest needs, and will run for 12 weeks, ending in July. Outcomes for disabled people will be considered before implementing changes. There will be no immediate changes for current PIP claimants. I encourage all stakeholders to input to the consultation when it has been published.

Baroness Hughes of Stretford Portrait Baroness Hughes of Stretford (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for his Answer. In his announcement, the Prime Minister singled out people with mental health problems as a particular group that could be excluded from personal independence payments in the future. As we know, these were introduced to help to meet the higher cost of daily living associated with long-term disability and ill health. The Prime Minister stated that people with mental illness would be better helped by treatment and services, but he failed to admit that there are currently 1.9 million people on waiting lists for NHS mental health services in England; they simply cannot get the treatment, because of chronic under- investment by the Government. Mental health services are, frankly, on their knees. Families living with disability are already disproportionately represented among the millions of our citizens currently struggling to meet the rising cost of living. If they are to be denied access to personal independence payments, does the Minister conclude, as I do, that these families would be pushed even further into more severe hardship and poverty?

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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We need to take a step back. It has been over 10 years since the introduction of PIP, and we need to ensure that our system is fair and accurately targeted at those who need our support most. In the decade since PIP was introduced in 2013, the nature of health and disability has changed. The noble Baroness mentioned mental health, and she is right, but there may be better ways of supporting people to live independent and fulfilling lives. This could mean financial support being better targeted at people who have specific extra costs.

Baroness Buscombe Portrait Baroness Buscombe (Con)
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My Lords, only yesterday in Grand Committee, my noble friend the Minister stated that the DWP is forecast to pay out nearly £300 billion in benefits by 2024-25, a sum which is completely unsustainable if we are to have sufficient funding for any other departments: defence, health, education and so on. Will he please just remind us of the future cost of the personal independence payment?

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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My Lords, I reiterate that there are several reasons why we want to bring forward this consultation, which will be launched in coming days. Cost is one factor but not the only factor, as I alluded to in my answer to the noble Baroness. Over the coming four years, PIP spending alone is forecast to rise by 63% from £21.6 billion to £35.3 billion. That is for the years 2023-24 to 2028-29. That is one of the reasons why we are reviewing PIP to ensure that the system is fair, accurately targeted to those who really need it the most, and delivers the right kind of support for people with disabilities and health conditions.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lord, PIP is not a general living benefit, unlike universal credit. It is designed specifically to help fund the extra costs that long-term severely disabled people have just to be able to live their lives, and often to be able to get to work. The Minister said just now that it is important to review all processes. I entirely agree, so why is it that seven out of 10 PIP appeals are won on the same evidence that the DWP had originally, which shows that this funding is desperately needed for the most disabled in our community?

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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I have already said that this Green Paper is a conversation that we are starting to see how the costs are best targeted and how people are best supported. The noble Baroness will know that some claimants will have considerable extra costs relating to their disability—quite right too—and others will have fewer costs or minimal costs. That is why this Green Paper will look at whether there are ways in which we can improve how we support people in the right way and in a way that is fairer to taxpayers.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, yesterday I visited National Star, an FE college that serves young people with severe lifelong disabilities. Many of them are being subjected again and again to reassessment throughout their lives. That is not only traumatising but a complete waste of time and resources. What will the Government do to take this into consideration so that people with severe lifelong disabilities are not subjected to reassessment again and again, unless, of course, that disability is generative?

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate makes a very good point. It chimes with what I said earlier, which is that we need to target our resources in the right place and be sure that individuals are looked after in terms not of the end result but of the process. That is extremely important. I will make this point again: where an individual has severe conditions, it must be right that we, the state as a compassionate country, look after them, and we need to be able to provide a better focus. This is, again, one of the reasons why we are bringing forward this Green Paper.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, it is common ground among commentators that claimants who have realistic work prospects should be offered high- quality employment support. Why do the Government have so little confidence in their own policy that they feel it necessary to impose benefits cuts and the threat of sanctions, risking greater poverty and even destitution, rather than the life of dignity promised in the DWP press release?

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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As the noble Baroness will know, you can claim PIP whether you are in or out of work. More than 5 million disabled people are in work. One of the aims is to continue to encourage those who are disabled to take up some form of work. I say again that it is incredibly important that this is done in a measured and targeted way in line with the needs of the individual.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister mentions that this as a conversation but that is not how the headlines read, is it? The headlines are that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are all about cracking down on young people, mental health problems, people who are sick, and people who do not want to work. The Government created PIP, so if there is a problem with PIP it is their problem. Everything about it is the Government’s responsibility. We have had 14 years. We have a problem with record numbers of people being locked out of work because of long-term sickness. How much of that is to down to the NHS failing? How much is down to lack of mental health services? How much is down to the fact that the systems that the Government have created do not work? We need change but, somehow, it is always jam tomorrow. I want to hear the Government come up with ideas. I do not want speeches that point out that we have spent 14 years buying no jam, then saying that there is no jam, then saying that jamlessness is a problem—but no actual jam comes along. Where is the jam?

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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I am certainly not going to allude to any jam. It may come with my tea later if I am allowed it. As the noble Baroness has alluded to, this conversation is designed to consider what future support for individuals should look at. That is why we are bringing forward this consultation on PIP. As the Prime Minister said on Friday morning, and I was there in person to see him deliver what I thought was a brilliant speech:

“This is not about making the welfare system less generous”.


It is for a greater focus on those “with the greatest needs”, for whom

“we want to make it easier to access”

support “with fewer requirements”. Those who need support will continue to get the support that they need. The consultation will explore changes to the eligibility criteria, the assessment process, as alluded to earlier, and the types of support that can be offered so that the system is better targeted towards individual needs.

Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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My Lords, does anyone give any attention to the many millions of trade unionists who are paying the tax bills for all this? We keep on about the need to do things, which I am sure we need to do, but we seem to forget who is paying the taxes to make all this possible. We have to have a better balance. Tax has never been higher for middle-income earners. It needs to be put under control.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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My noble friend is right. I have been very careful to say—and it is true—that we clearly need to continue to focus on those with the greatest needs. As has been mentioned earlier, we are due to spend £69 billion this year on benefits for people of working age with a disability or health condition. This is not sustainable, as the Prime Minister said himself on Friday morning.

Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment, Surrender and Compensation) Order 2024

Tuesday 23rd April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
15:22
Moved by
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom
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That the draft Order laid before the House on 25 January be approved.

Relevant document: 12th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument). Considered in Grand Committee on 18 April.

Motion agreed.

Goods Vehicles (International Road Transport Permits and Haulage Within the EU) Regulations 2024

Tuesday 23rd April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
15:22
Moved by
Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower
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That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 4 March be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 18 April.

Motion agreed.
Commons Amendments
Relevant document: 18th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
15:23
Motion on Amendment 1
Moved by
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom
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That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment 1.

1: Clause 11, page 31, line 36, leave out “a court or tribunal” and insert “the Investigatory Powers Tribunal”
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will also speak to Amendments 2 to 17.

The Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill has returned to us in good shape thanks, in great part, to the expert input of noble Lords when we first considered the Bill. The Government have therefore made only a small number of amendments to the Bill in the other place, which we will consider today.

Clause 11 ensures that there is clarity for tele- communications operators operating within the IPA framework, as to which regulatory body certain personal data breaches should be notified to. It also provides a statutory basis for the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to be notified of such breaches.

Amendments 1 and 2 update this clause to provide a clear route to redress for those impacted by personal data breaches committed by telecoms operators. They ensure that the Investigatory Powers Tribunal has the jurisdiction to consider and determine complaints about such breaches, within the context of the use of investigatory powers, and grant a remedy.

Turning to Amendments 15 and 16, noble Lords will recall that the Government accepted several amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, on Report in relation to the alternative triple lock process for warrants which enable the intelligence agencies to acquire the communications of parliamentarians. As I set out at the time, while the Government agreed with the bulk of these amendments, our view was that we would need to clarify one relatively small aspect. The inclusion of “routine duties” was overly restrictive and would have undermined the resilience of the triple lock process that these clauses seek to safeguard. Amendments 15 and 16 therefore replace this with “relevant operational awareness” to ensure the necessary flexibility and resilience while maintaining a proportionate scope for delegation.

I turn now to Amendments 3 to 6, which make changes to Clause 14. This clause concerns the restoration of specified public authorities’ general information powers to secure the disclosure of communications data from a telecommunications operator by compulsion. These amendments do not create new powers for these bodies. These amendments limit the restoration of the powers to those public authorities already listed in Schedule 4 to the IPA and those in new Schedule 2A.

Bodies in Schedule 4 to the IPA may use powers within the IPA to acquire communications data for the statutory purposes within the Act. Therefore, it is right that they are also able to use their existing statutory regulatory and supervisory powers outside the IPA in support of their statutory functions, provided there is no intention to use the communications data for the purpose of investigating or prosecuting a criminal offence.

The creation of new Schedule 2A ensures that those bodies which are not in Schedule 4 but have a clear requirement to utilise their existing supervisory and regulatory powers can continue to do so, such as His Majesty’s Treasury in respect of the sanctions regime. This schedule can be amended in future via a new delegated power, ensuring continued parliamentary oversight of which bodies are included.

Once again, I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, and members of the Intelligence and Security Committee for their engagement on improving this clause. I hope that noble Lords will agree that the amendments provide greater clarity and ensure that Parliament has oversight of the bodies to which the relevant powers can be restored.

Finally, Amendments 7 to 14 make minor and technical changes to Clause 21 on notification notices, ensuring consistency in language across the Investigatory Powers Act. Amendment 17 removes the privilege amendment inserted by the Lords and is procedural. I beg to move.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, when I heard that the Government were bringing forward amendments to this Bill in the Commons, I was somewhat suspicious, but I am pleased to say that it seems, after yesterday, the Minister has migrated to a slightly calmer situation today, as the amendments in front of us are all amendments that we can pass without too much ado. Amendments 3 to 6 are useful clarifications of where we should be; the Commons has done a good job in clarifying that area and that should be noted. I am sure that Amendments 15 and 16 will be an understandable change to the original amendment of the noble Lord, Lord West. I would like again to thank the Minister and the Bill team for their openness and their help in working through these amendments and, of course, the previous Bill. With that, we on these Benches are happy to accept these amendments.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, once again, I thank those in the intelligence community who defend our country. I thank all MPs and Peers from both Houses for their dedicated scrutiny of the Bill, which we fully support. As the noble Lord outlined, it is a good Bill that has been improved by your Lordships’ scrutiny, and it benefited from starting in your Lordships’ House before it went to the other place. I thank—as did the noble Lord, Lord Fox—the Bill team for their work and for their genuine engagement with us as the Bill progressed. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for the detailed report that he did, which led to much of what we see in the Bill, and it is good to see the noble Lord in his place.

15:30
We support the various amendments that the Minister outlined. I welcome the changes made to Clause 11 ensuring that the Investigatory Powers Tribunal is able to consider and determine complaints about personal data breaches. Clause 14 has also been improved after input from my noble friend Lord West in this Chamber and colleagues from across Parliament. While we all accept that updating the Investigatory Powers Act to reflect changes in threats and technology is necessary, any additional or broadened powers granted must be proportionate and have a clear structure of scrutiny and accountability. That is especially true when the Government are proposing that those powers be extended to those outside the intelligence community. It is therefore right that the powers of public authorities to obtain disclosures of communications data under Clause 14 have been limited to the Treasury and local authorities, while the Government retain the flexibility of being able to modify this list.
I have a couple of questions about that. What does “The Treasury” include? Does it include all the various agencies of the Treasury? Similarly, could the Minister detail what “local authority” includes? My understanding is that it does not include town councils, but I wonder whether the Minister could clarify whether it includes all other tiers of local authority. What about regional mayors and police and crime commissioners, or is that something the Government would consider looking at in future? Are they able to do so under the provisions of the Act? It is regrettable that the power to amend the list of public authorities is not subject to the affirmative procedure. I hope the Minister can give us some assurance that there will be the opportunity for Parliament to debate changes to any of this.
The Government have made changes to my noble friend Lord West’s amendments, which were accepted on Report in this House, regarding the interception and examination of communications of Members of Parliament and others. These changes retain the intention of my noble friend’s amendments and, as such, we are happy to accept them. Again, we welcome the way in which the Government have engaged with my noble friend to come to a compromise on this issue.
There is one point that it would be remiss of me not to mention, particularly with my noble friend Lord Murphy and others sitting here. I say to the Government once again that there is a need for the role of the Intelligence and Security Committee to be considered, along with whether the terms of reference for that committee need updating in light of the various changes we have seen and the various extensions of responsibilities to other government departments. I know that is outside the scope of the amendments before us, but it would be remiss of me not to mention an extremely important thing that needs to happen as soon as possible.
Lastly, I wonder whether the Prime Minister has found time to meet the Intelligence and Security Committee yet.
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who were involved in the passage of the Bill. I restate my thanks to the intelligence agencies and law enforcement for their contributions to the Bill and of course for the work they do every day to keep this country safe.

I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that I genuinely thought that I had got away with being the Prime Minister’s diary secretary for once. I am afraid the answer is that I have not.

I thank both noble Lords for their appreciative comments about the Bill team and indeed about the Government. We have tried hard to engage to make the Bill as good as it can be, and by and large I think we have succeeded.

I shall address the specific points that were raised. The noble Lord asked about His Majesty’s Treasury and local authorities. New Schedule 2A has been created to provide Parliament with further clarity on which public authorities will have their regulatory and supervisory information-gathering powers restored by Clause 14. That follows concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord West, and other members of the ISC.

We are aware that His Majesty’s Treasury and local authorities in particular require legal certainty on the exercise of their pre-existing statutory powers in respect of their supervisory and regulatory functions. Other bodies which have been affected by the revocation of powers by Section 12 of the IPA, such as His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Financial Conduct Authority, are already listed in Schedule 4 as they are able to acquire communications data in support of their criminal investigations under Part 3 of the IPA. There will be other public authorities which have pre-existing information-gathering powers in respect of their supervisory and regulatory functions, but it has not been possible to establish a complete list at this time; instead, we have created a new delegated power to add further bodies to Schedule 2A as necessary.

On the specific questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, the existing definition of “local authority” as found at Section 86 of the IPA applies in respect of the communications data acquisition powers under this Act, so it is not mayors. I have, helpfully, been sent what “local authority” means and I will read it into the record. It is a district or county council in England, a London borough council, the Common Council of the City of London in its capacity as a local authority, the Council of the Isles of Scilly, a county council or borough council in Wales, a council constituted under Section 2 of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994 and a district council in Northern Ireland. In terms of the Treasury and what that involves, it is the Treasury and its arm’s-length bodies.

The noble Lord also asked why we are using the negative procedure, rather than an affirmative one, to add new bodies to Schedule 2A. These amendments limit the effect of Clause 14 and will afford Parliament greater scrutiny than under the original drafting. The House did not object to the original drafting, so I hope we will welcome the additional parliamentary oversight that the amendments provide. As the process will focus solely on ensuring that pre-existing statutory powers can be effectively exercised, an affirmative procedure would be disproportionate. This is because the appropriate in-depth parliamentary scrutiny will have already occurred when relevant bodies were given their statutory responsibilities in the first place. The negative procedure is more appropriate as it allows for additions to be made to the schedule swiftly to ensure that existing statutory powers are not unduly inhibited from being exercised. Since the information-gathering powers are necessary for these bodies to fulfil their regulatory and supervisory functions, any delay could hinder a body from operating effectively. These reinstated powers will be available only where there is no intention to use that data for the purposes of investigating or prosecuting a criminal offence.

The Bill will help our intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies keep pace with developments in technology and changes in the threat landscape. They will help to make the UK a safer place. I remain hugely grateful for their work, and I hope that noble Lords will see fit to agree to the handful of Commons amendments before us today.

Motion on Amendment 1 agreed.
Motion on Amendments 2 to 17
Moved by
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom
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That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 2 to 17.

2: Clause 11, page 32, line 19, at end insert—
“(1A) In section 65 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (the Tribunal)—
(a) in subsection (2), after paragraph (b) insert—
“(ba) to consider and determine any complaints made to them which, in accordance with subsection (4AA), are complaints for which the Tribunal is the appropriate forum;”;
(b) after subsection (4) insert—
“(4AA) The Tribunal is the appropriate forum for a complaint if it is a complaint by an individual about a relevant personal data breach.
(4AB) In subsection (4AA) “relevant personal data breach” means a personal data breach that the individual is informed of under section 235A(5) of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (serious personal data breaches).”
(1B) In section 67 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (exercise of the Tribunal’s jurisdiction)—
(a) in subsection (1)(b), after “65(2)(b)” insert “, (ba)”;
(b) in subsection (5)—
(i) the words from “section” to the end become paragraph (a), and
(ii) after that paragraph insert “, or
(b) section 65(2)(ba) if it is made more than one year after the personal data breach to which it relates.”;
(c) in subsection (6), for “reference” substitute “complaint or reference has been”.
(1C) In section 68 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Tribunal procedure), for subsection (8) substitute—
“(8) In this section “relevant Commissioner” means—
(a) the Investigatory Powers Commissioner or any other Judicial Commissioner,
(b) the Investigatory Powers Commissioner for Northern Ireland, or
(c) the Information Commissioner.””
3: Clause 14, page 34, line 14, after “exercise” insert “by a specified public authority”
4: Clause 14, page 34, line 26, at end insert—
“(5A) After subsection (5) insert—
“(5A) In this section “specified public authority” means a public authority which is—
(a) listed in Schedule 2A, or
(b) listed in column 1 of the table in Schedule 4.
(5B) The Secretary of State or the Treasury may by regulations modify Schedule 2A by—
(a) adding a public authority to, or
(b) removing a public authority from, the list in that Schedule.””
5: Clause 14, page 35, line 6, at end insert—
“(6A) In section 267 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (regulations), in subsection (5), after paragraph (a) insert—
“(aa) regulations under section 12(5B),”.”
6: Clause 14, page 35, line 6, at end insert—
“(6B) In the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, after Schedule 2 insert—
“SCHEDULE 2A
SPECIFIED PUBLIC AUTHORITIES FOR THE PURPOSES OF SECTION 12
1 The Treasury.
2 A local authority.
In this Schedule “local authority” has the same meaning as in Part 3 (see section 86).””
7: Clause 21, page 45, line 7, leave out first “person” and insert “relevant operator”
8: Clause 21, page 45, line 8, leave out “person’s” and insert “relevant operator’s”
9: Clause 21, page 45, line 29, at end insert—
““relevant operator” has the same meaning as in that section.”
10: Clause 21, page 45, line 35, leave out “notice, as varied,” and insert “variation”
11: Clause 21, page 46, line 2, leave out first “person” and insert “relevant operator”
12: Clause 21, page 46, line 2, leave out second “person” and insert “relevant operator”
13: Clause 21, page 46, line 5, leave out “person” and insert “relevant operator”
14: Clause 21, page 46, line 6, leave out “person” and insert “relevant operator”
15: Clause 22, page 47, line 17, leave out from “and” to end of line 19 and insert—
“(b) has the necessary operational awareness to decide whether to give approvals under subsection (2).”
16: Clause 23, page 48, line 15, leave out from “and” to end of line 17 and insert—
“(b) has the necessary operational awareness to decide whether to give approvals under subsection (3) or (6).”
17: Clause 33, page 56, line 1, leave out subsection (2)
Motion on Amendments 2 to 17 agreed.
Report (2nd Day)
Welsh legislative consent sought
15:38
Clause 2: The victims’ code
Amendment 19
Moved by
19: Clause 2, page 2, line 36, at end insert—
“(5A) Regulations under subsection (4) must make provision for a person to be able to obtain free of charge, on request, a transcript of the court’s summing up and sentencing remarks from a trial in which—(a) the person was a victim of a crime, and(b) that crime is tried in a court where the hearing is recorded.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment will provide all victims with a right to free transcripts of the sentencing remarks and the judge’s summing up where the trial takes place in a court where the hearing is recorded.
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, Amendment 19 in my name was originally proposed by my honourable friend Sarah Olney MP in another place. It highlights a scandalous failure towards victims, especially in the most serious crimes such as rape, serious sexual assault and stalking. It is completely unacceptable in this day and age that victims are forced to pay thousands of pounds to access a transcript of their own case while defendants can access them as part of their basic rights.

Let me quote:

“Accessing transcripts from proceedings in serious criminal cases is not only a fundamental right of victims but is also essential for maintaining transparency and accountability within the justice system”.


These are not my words, or Sarah Olney MP’s words; they are the words of the Government’s own Minister, Mike Freer.

In order to recover and cope, victims and family members need to be able to understand the reason a verdict has been reached, or the reason a certain sentence was imposed. Without this, many are left traumatised and are unable to move on with their lives. We have heard from many victims, saying they are constantly advised by the police and prosecutors not to attend a trial after they have given their evidence and, worse, not to attend sentencing hearings. Letters from the witness care unit literally capitalised the word “NOT” in “You are NOT required to attend”. Furthermore, videolinks to observe trials are rarely offered or facilitated for victims or bereaved families.

Unfortunately, the Government have cited the cost of court transcripts delivered through contracts with private, profit-making companies, and these prices can be prohibitive. With that, we agree. While the average sentencing remarks may only be £45 to £60, according to the Government, many complex cases can be significantly higher just for these comments—up to £200. The judge’s summing up can be higher still and we have heard of figures of over £500.

We are very grateful to the Government, and to the Minister particularly, for the meetings we had since Committee. We note that there is a pilot proposed. While the pilot proposed by the Government is welcome for these victims, it simply does not go far enough. It would, for example, not support the mother whose partner attempted to murder her and who is unable to move on. The pilot is very narrow in scope, running only for one year, only applying to victims of rape and serious sexual offences, and only giving access to sentencing remarks. Furthermore, we are not quite sure that the Government are clear on what they are hoping the pilot will achieve or demonstrate. We have discussed, with the Minister, the issue about data, and that remains an issue.

Ministers have suggested that transcripts are expensive to produce manually and the technology to automate the process is either expensive or not yet up to the standard. We do understand this point from the Government. This is why my amendment has been tabled, following discussion in Committee. Automation of the process at this stage would be needed only if the cost of producing transcripts was beyond the reach of government. In limiting this amendment to only sentencing remarks and summing up, we believe the cost, while prohibitive to many victims individually, is able to be taken on by the Government to provide open justice.

In conversations, the Government have questioned whether sentencing remarks really present a barrier. We know that they do, and I will give two very brief examples in a minute. Ministers have, on at least two occasions, said victims can go to a Crown Court and listen to the relevant audio recordings from the trial but may not record it themselves or transcribe it. This is wholly impractical, unknown among professionals, and we have never seen it happen once in practice. Having spoken with members of the judiciary, they were unaware that the practice even existed. The victims we are aware of who have tried to access this have all been denied.

The Minister has also previously stated that, in certain cases, a copy of the sentencing remarks can be made available to the public free of charge at the judge’s discretion. If this is true, members of the judiciary whom we have talked to are also unaware of this. We are certainly aware of some cases where they have been refused.

Here are two very brief cases. Juliana Terlizzi was quoted thousands of pounds for a transcript of her trail, and said:

“The trial was a culmination of almost two years I had fought to bring a dangerous, prolific sexual predator to justice. I was shocked to find out that I had to pay over £7,000 to get the transcript and I knew I couldn’t afford that”.


Rowan, whose daughter went through a gruelling court experience said:

“My daughter remains traumatised by her two days on the witness stand where she was character assassinated by the defence barrister.”


To prove the defence acted outside their own code of conduct, the family needed a copy of the court transcript and was quoted £22,000. This puts justice beyond the reach of victims.

There are other victims as well whom I have met and talked to: Charlotte, David, Victoria, Lily and Rosie. Those are not all their real names, because some of them are too scared to have their names mentioned. I particularly thank Claire Waxman and her team at the London Victims’ Commissioner’s office.

I have also signed some other amendments in this group and will be very brief. I have signed Amendments 57 and 59 on collaboration and adding stalking to the duty to collaborate. I have also added my name to Amendment 66 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, on supporting a parliamentary report, once every three years, setting out the position regarding stalking. Importantly, I have also signed the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester’s Amendment 70, about the Secretary of State including statutory guidance on sustainable, multi-year contracts. One of the big problems we have with victim services at the moment is that there is nothing in the medium term, let alone long-term planning.

15:45
I appreciate that the Government are concerned and have come a little way with the details of their pilots, but these victims need the ultimate justice. They are not part of the court system, and to ask them to pay for their justice seems unfortunate, at the very least, and absolutely inequitable in most cases. That is why I may have to press this amendment when it comes to a vote.
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, a number of the amendments in this group are in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Thornton.

Addressing first Amendment 19, which the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, has spoken to, we agree with every word she said about the importance of this amendment. Access to transcripts for victims seems basic, given that this is a victims Bill, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, eloquently set out her case. Unfortunately, if she is to press this question to a Division, we will abstain. I regret that position, but it is a reality of the costs involved implicit within the amendment. I know that the Minister is going to acknowledge the desirability of court transcripts; I know that judges acknowledge that as well. There needs to be a technical fix for this, which will take a certain amount of investment and redrafting of existing contracts. But it is eminently achievable and I hope that the Minister will explain how the Government propose to achieve this end.

Moving on to Amendment 57, which is in my noble friend’s name, this proposed new clause would place a duty on specified public authorities to co-operate with the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses. The Government have previously agreed that it was vital for bodies to co-operate with the Victims’ Commissioner. However, the Government Minister, Mr Argar, previously stated that the Government chose not to add the duty to the Bill as they

“have not seen any evidence that there have been problems with a lack of co-operation in practice and therefore feel that the additional duty is unnecessary”.—[Official Report, Commons, Victims and Prisoners Bill Committee, 29/6/23; col. 258.]

They concluded that it was neither “necessary or proportionate” to alter the powers of the Victims’ Commissioner in this way.

The proposed clause would allow the commissioner to request a specific public authority to co-operate with them in any way they considered necessary for the purpose of monitoring compliance with the victims’ code. It also places a duty on the specified public authority to comply with that request. The clause would increase the powers and authority of the Victims’ Commissioner, in line with those of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, who is the most recent commissioner to be granted that power. These powers are essential for commissioners to drive forward change, and to hold agencies and national government to account for their role in responding to domestic abuse. It is therefore perfectly reasonable to grant the Victims’ Commissioner the same authority. I know that the Minister has moved in a number of ways on this issue, and I will listen very carefully to what he says when considering how to proceed with this amendment.

Amendment 61 is in my name. It seeks to ensure that consideration of children’s support needs is built into the heart of the Bill. We require that authorities must provide evidence in the published strategy of how they are meeting victims’ and survivors’ needs under the duty to collaborate. The needs of children are distinct from those of adults. It is vital that this legislation directs named authorities to explicitly consider this when delivering victim support services. They must be held accountable.

The support that children and young people require after experiencing abuse or exploitation is specialised in nature. It demands services and practitioners that understand their specific needs and requirements. We must support authorities to get it right for children. In order for the duty to collaborate model to be successful, the Bill must direct attention to and seek consultation with those who are best placed to understand the needs of children affected by abuse and exploitation.

I remember attending various meetings with other noble Lords taking part in this Report stage about the very specialist support that children need and the ambition to arrange things so that children have to tell their story only once. That is a difficult ambition to achieve and it works only when different authorities integrate their support, with people who understand children’s particular vulnerabilities. This amendment seeks to address that issue.

Amendments 72 and 73 are in my name. They state that the Secretary of State must issue guidance about specified victim support roles in England, but that Welsh Ministers should issue guidance in Wales. I tabled the amendment on behalf of the Welsh Government. The same amendment was tabled during similar stages in the other place. The Government have tabled Amendment 75, because previously there was no requirement in the guidance for the Secretary of State to consult Welsh Ministers. The government amendment is an improvement to the Bill—we acknowledge that—because it will require the Secretary of State to consult Welsh Ministers about the guidance to be issued under Clause 15. Nevertheless, I will listen with interest to the Minister’s response to Amendments 72 and 73, although I acknowledge that Amendment 75 has gone part way to meeting the requests in the amendments in my name. I will certainly not be pressing my amendments to a vote.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, this is quite a large group and I will speak briefly on the amendments I have my name to or on which I have something to say.

The first amendment in the group, from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is on free transcripts. What I would ask the Government—I think the answer will be yes—is whether they agree in principle that this is and should be a right of victims: a proportionate right, without exorbitant costs and without needing pages and pages of transcripts. Do they agree that it is a fundamental right for victims to have the essence of what is said in a trial that involves them or their perpetrator, to understand the deliberations and the verdict that the judge and jury have come to, in a form and manner that is helpful to them and that they can use? In the same way that prisoners or perpetrators who have been found guilty go to appeal, the right that they have to access transcripts—quite rightly—is completely disproportionate when compared with the current right of victims to get almost any proceedings from the trials that concern them.

I think we are looking and hoping for an acceptance by the Government that the principle is right, understandable and correct; we are trying to find a practical way of achieving a form for that right to be exercised in a proportionate way for victims. While the RASSO model is a good start, it is clearly quite limited in extent. I will listen very carefully to what the Minister says in reply, and, of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will come to her own conclusions about what she decides to do.

Amendment 57, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, is about the duty to collaborate. The Minister may recall that, last week, we spoke about the fact that, if there is not a duty to collaborate, certain agencies will take it upon themselves to interpret statutory guidance in a way that is convenient to them, rather than in a way that is aligned to the requirements of the relevant commissioner.

In particular, I mention the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs. I was able to catch up with Nicole yesterday afternoon—I suspect it was not very long after she ran into the Minister—and we had a discussion. The content of the discussion was that, even if you have statutory guidance that says one should be collaborating, the fact is that some agencies will take that on board in the spirit it is intended and will collaborate, while others will say that they understand in theory that it is very important and should be done but will decide that they have other things that are more important, or that they do not have the time, money or resources to respond. That makes the role of a commissioner extraordinarily difficult.

Data is king. Knowing what is going on is fundamental to interpreting what is and is not working. If you do not have systematic, reliable data from every part of the country, it is very difficult to do one’s job and give sensible advice to the Government. It is hard, frankly, to look victims in the face and say, “We are doing everything we can for you”. Despite the fact that statutory guidance is written down, some agencies are deciding for themselves whether or not to comply. This is clearly unsatisfactory.

I asked the Domestic Abuse Commissioner what she would change, with the benefit of hindsight, about the way in which this was encapsulated in the Domestic Abuse Act and the guidance. She said that it is ultimately about accountability in so many areas; it is about who is ultimately responsible and who will be held to account if something which should be happening is not. At the moment, that is quite unclear. Having 43 different police forces, with police and crime commissioners on top, makes it rather difficult. The commissioner’s instinct was that perhaps one should hold police and crime commissioners’ feet to the fire and make them primarily responsible for ensuring that all the agencies in their jurisdiction take the statutory guidance seriously and comply. If they did not comply, some very awkward questions should then be asked of the police and crime commissioner to find out why.

Another thing that would be helpful is something that we have started to do in the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. We have a table which lists each department and ranks them by the egregiousness and inadequacies of their Explanatory Memoranda and the idiocy of their impact assessments. We are hoping that this will concentrate minds because, once again, data is king. It is extraordinarily important that one is able to measure what is going on.

I will listen carefully to what the Minister says on this and to the response of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. From the well-intended evidence about what we hoped and thought was going to happen in the Domestic Abuse Act, we have a chance to learn from what we thought was going to work well and which is not working so well and to try to do it better this time.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I will say a couple of words on—

Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD)
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I do not think the noble Lord has finished.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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I am so sorry; I thought that the noble Lord had finished.

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Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
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Nearly—soon, I devoutly hope, but I have more to talk about, sorry. My Amendment 59 is about the inclusion of stalking within the scope of the duty to collaborate. Alongside the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, I had the privilege of speaking at a conference of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust this morning, because this week is National Stalking Awareness Week. I say on the record that we are extremely grateful that the Home Office issued some new guidance yesterday on the creation of stalking protection orders, which has significantly changed the game. Previously, one had to reach the level of criminality for a stalking protection order to be put in place, but it is now at the level of a civil offence, which is a great improvement that we are extremely grateful for. But I can only emphasise again how important it is that stalking is included. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust made a freedom of information request to every police force about what they were doing on stalking, and only seven had a dedicated stalking officer in place, while 12 of them admitted to having none at all. You have to concentrate on this really hard to make people realise that they have to take it seriously.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester will, I am sure, speak to his amendments, so I will not go on about them, other than to say that I broadly support them. I will listen carefully to the arguments he puts forward and to the Minister’s reply. I understand that any plea that involves pounds and pence does not go down terribly well with His Majesty’s Government at the moment, but I will listen carefully to what they have to say.

Lastly, Amendments 62 and 71 are in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Polak, who is unable to be here. I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, will speak to those later—I see her nodding, so I do not need to go on at length about them. They are part of our campaign, working with the children’s coalition, to better support children through the provision of services and of advocacy for children, both of which are incredibly important.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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My Lords, I will speak to my Amendments 60, 64 and 70, which echo amendments on support services for victims that I tabled in Committee. I am grateful to the Minister for his responses at that stage and for his kindness in meeting me and representatives of Refuge and Women’s Aid in the interim. In light of those conversations, it is not my intention to press any of these amendments to a Division today. However, I hope that, in this debate and in the Minister’s response to it, we can clarify a little further how His Majesty’s Government will seek to ensure that victims across the country have access to quality support services provided by organisations that hold their confidence and understand their specific circumstances. As we are now on Report, I will not repeat the detailed arguments of Committee, but I think their force still stands.

Amendment 60 places a duty on the Secretary of State to define in statutory guidance

“the full breadth of specialist community-based support domestic abuse services”.

This would ensure that victims receive quality support that meets their needs, and that they are made aware of the variety of community-based support available to them. Victims seek various forms of support, which might include advocacy, outreach, floating support, formal counselling or being part of a support group. All of these have a vital role to play. The guidance could cover the holistic support intersectional advocacy that is often provided by what we call “by and for” services —these are particularly helpful for black and minoritised women—as well as those providing specialist advocacy to deaf and disabled people and LGBT+ victims.

The implementation of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 demonstrates why a clear and precise definition is now critical. Under Part 4 of that Act, a statutory duty was placed on local authorities to fund domestic abuse support in safe accommodation. We found that organisations with a much wider remit than domestic abuse, and often services that had no expertise at all, because they are eligible for refuge funding under the duty, have now moved into that area, entering a sector previously run by specialists who really understood the service users.

What we find when local commissioning bodies rely too much on non-specialist organisations—which can be for financial reasons, or because they are easier to get hold of or to deal with—the result is that victims, particularly those from minority backgrounds or specialised contexts, receive much poorer support, yet these are, of course, often among the most vulnerable in our society. The amendment would simply ensure that commissioning bodies have to pay attention to their needs. Although I am not pushing it to a Division, my question to the Minister is: in the absence of placing a duty on the Secretary of State in the Bill, what assurances can he offer us today that the Government will place appropriate pressure on local commissioning bodies to procure the full range of specialist services from specialist organisations that such victims need?

Amendment 64 would require the Secretary of State to address the funding gaps identified by joint strategic needs assessments and support local authorities, integrated care boards and police and crime commissioners to deliver their duties under the duty to collaborate. The amendment has been framed so as to avoid requiring the Secretary of State to go outside the normal spending review processes, which I hope will give some assurances that this is not about trying to break the bank.

Without sufficient funding, it will not be possible for local commissioners to have regard to their joint assessments when producing strategies and providing services. The gaps in service provision that will likely be identified are already known, and there simply is not the funding available to plug them. Ultimately, the scale of the funding shortfall facing local commissioners —and in turn those specialist services—means that the Government do have a role to play.

Although the Ministry of Justice has committed to increasing funding for victim and witness support services to £147 million per year until 2024-25, this funding is not ring-fenced to domestic abuse services. Of course, existing commitments are simply insufficient to meet the demand around the country. Women’s Aid has found that a minimum of £427 million a year is really needed to fund specialist domestic abuse services in England: £238 million for community-based services and £189 million for refuges. Moreover, specialist services are now feeling the effects of this concerning rise in local authorities issuing Section 114 notices. This is a crisis that will only get worse.

However, I welcome the Minister’s statement in Committee that a ministerially led national oversight forum will be set up to scrutinise the local strategies. This could be the vehicle to identify systemic shortfalls in service provision, and hence to put pressure on commissioning bodies to plug the gaps. It could also provide the evidence to justify more adequate funding settlements, with specific requirements to include specialist community-based services. I would therefore be grateful if he could say a little more about how the ministerial-led forum he has promised will function.

Finally, Amendment 70 would require the Secretary of State to include advice on sustainable, multi-year contracts with statutory guidance. I know that the Government are already committed in principle to multi-year contracts in the victims funding strategy. The problem is that in practice, this is not happening. Refuge monitors all commissioning opportunities nationally, and half of commissioning opportunities are for less than three years. There is no enforceability mechanism for the victims’ funding strategy, and in the absence of that, short-term contracts are prevalent across the specialist domestic abuse sector. Such contracts make recruitment and retention of staff more difficult as services cannot offer fixed-term contracts. That leaves survivors forced to find alternative sources of ongoing support at critical points in their recovery and prevents services being able to take root properly in local communities. This is why I feel that a statutory requirement is necessary.

This amendment is a change from the one I proposed in Committee, where I sought to put the requirement into the Bill. I am glad that the Minister acknowledges the problem and would be grateful if, in responding, he could set out what further action the Government will take to ensure that longer-term contracts for specialist service providers become the norm and not the exception.

Finally, I support other amendments in this group, in particular Amendment 79 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, but will leave my right reverend friend the Bishop of Gloucester to speak to that.

Lord Meston Portrait Lord Meston (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak briefly again in relation to the provision of transcripts covered by Amendment 19. I fully understand the point and the force of the amendment and wish to emphasise a point that perhaps the noble Baroness did not. She is not, in fact, talking about transcripts of the whole trial or transcripts of sections of evidence. I could not help suspecting that the costly examples she gave were of much lengthier transcripts than transcripts of the summing-up and sentencing remarks about which she seeks to make provision under this amendment.

To that extent, the noble Baroness may well have undermined her own case, because I suspect that transcripts of the sentencing remarks and summing up are much cheaper, but I cannot give expert evidence on that. Particularly important to some victims is the transcript of the sentencing remarks, because that gives the victim, and those who may advise or support them or provide them with therapy and counselling, an appreciation of what the judge assessed to have been the culpability of the offender and the impact on the victim.

As far as it concerns the provision of a transcript of the summing up and sentencing remarks, I support this amendment. This is subject to the caveat I mentioned at an earlier stage: in the case of sexual offences the distribution of transcripts needs to be subject to safeguards, because otherwise they can and do fall into the wrong hands. From time to time, I have been asked to authorise the distribution of a transcript, and a lot of thought has to go into who can and cannot see them and what happens to them once provided. If they get into the wrong hands, it will do the victim, among others, a great disservice.

Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 57. Why would I not, since it is a duty to collaborate and co-operate? We like a lot of “C”s in this Bill. I also support what has been said about transcripts. It is so important to have the sentencing remarks, so that further down the line you have the time to read them and digest them. I have some sympathy and understanding of what it feels like.

This amendment is so important to future Victims’ Commissioners. In Committee, I told noble Lords that it was time we gave the Victims’ Commissioner the tools to do the job that Parliament intended. I am not on the state pension yet, but this amendment would mark the coming of age of the role of Victims’ Commissioner. It would require criminal justice agencies listed under the victims’ code to co-operate with commissioners not as a favour or because they happen to get on with them but because they have a statutory duty to do so. This is how it should be.

When I met my noble and learned friend the Minister to discuss this amendment, he told me that commissioners had very different roles, and that the authority given to one commissioner should not automatically be given to others. I do not disagree but—I say this with the greatest respect to him—that is not why I back this amendment. All commissioners rely on the co-operation of government departments and agencies to deliver an outcome. They do not, as a rule, have executive powers invested in them. Whatever the differences in their remits, whether it be victims, domestic abuse, children or modern slavery, the underlying requirement to work collaboratively with key stakeholders remains the same. All commissioners are dependent on the co-operation of others if they are to effect change.

My office was asked to provide examples of where agencies have not co-operated in the past. We duly provided this information. I do not intend to share our examples today, but I believe they made the case for the change that we are calling for. To allay any concerns, we recognise that sometimes data might simply not be available or that there may be very good reasons for not sharing it with us. However, the reasons for withholding information are not always explained to us, and we do not always get the impression that agencies have considered whether they hold other sources of data that might be helpful as a substitute.

In conclusion, when asking my team members for other examples, I was concerned to be told that they generally do not ask for information as they know that it will not be shared with them. That cannot be right. If further Victims’ Commissioners are to be part of the solution in driving change and improvement, they need the support and co-operation of criminal justice colleagues. I await to hear what the Minister will say, but I am tempted to support the amendment if it is put to a vote.

16:15
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, Amendment 79, in my name and that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, would ensure that migrant victim-survivors of domestic abuse subject to the “no recourse to public funds” condition would be fully entitled to services covered by the victims’ code. I return to this amendment because of the unsatisfactory ministerial response to it in Committee, which simply repeated what was said in the House of Commons—which I had already challenged—and which tried to reassure us that the amendment was not necessary. However, on-the-ground organisations—notably Southall Black Sisters, to which I pay great tribute for its indefatigable work in this area—and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner see it as very necessary. Moreover, in February, the UN special rapporteur on VAWG recommended scrapping the NRPF condition altogether for this group.

In Committee, I asked for an explanation as to why the Government have still not implemented a long-term solution for this group, despite three years of pilots—now extended to 2025—which have been subject to both an official and unofficial evaluation, that clearly demonstrated where reform is needed, and despite strong pressure not just from the sector but from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner herself. The pilot was set up because the Government said that they needed more evidence. While that need was disputed at the time, surely now they have sufficient evidence to put in place the long-term solution that is needed. Once again, I ask: why have they not done so?

I hope that the Minister will not try to argue that the reforms to what was the destitute domestic violence concession—now the migrant victims of domestic abuse concession—spelled out in his letter to me and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, constitute such a solution. While these reforms extend the concession’s protection to partners of worker and student visa holders, they do not also extend eligibility for settlement under the domestic violence indefinite leave to remain.

Southall Black Sisters dismisses this reform as a red herring. In a letter to the Home Secretary, written along with over 50 other organisations, it makes clear:

“We oppose this so-called ‘extension’ because it creates a cliff edge at the end of three months for those who are unable to pursue any settlement route. They are usually expected to leave the country, which will discourage many victim-survivors from coming forward for fear of deportation, rendering the extension ineffective”.


It is also concerned that

“creating a separate route which is a watered-down version of the DDVC and DVILR model”—

the value of which, it is worth pointing out, is recognised internationally—

“will create confusion for victim-survivors and professionals, putting victim-survivors at risk of not making informed decisions about their rights”.

That is all the more true, given the near total destruction of legal aid and the lack of adequate funding for specialist services that could provide advice.

Here, I express my support for Amendment 60, in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, as specialist community-based domestic abuse services, particularly “by and for” organisations, are a vital element of the domestic abuse victim-survivors infrastructure.

Returning to the question about “no recourse to public funds”, the DAC has commented that the revised scheme

“doesn’t even scratch the surface of what is truly needed to support migrant victims and survivors of domestic abuse. The time-limited support of the MVDAC, and its separation from the DVILR provides no clear pathway for migrant survivors to regularise their status”.

She explained that we know that the two schemes

“work best when they work together”.

Far from providing the long-term solution that she and others have been calling for, she fears that this reform

“is little more than a 3-month sticking-plaster and will discourage migrant survivors from coming forward”.

She calls instead for

“thoughtful investment to ensure that all migrant survivors have access to public funds, specialist domestic abuse support, and a route to regularise their status. Anything short of this simply won’t be enough”.

In view of these criticisms of the reforms outlined in the Minister’s letter, from both specialist front-line organisations and the DAC, can he please address their concerns in his response? Will he provide an explanation as to why there is still no long-term solution to ensure the adequate protection of migrant victim survivors of domestic abuse?

Finally, if the only real objection to the amendment is that it is not necessary, what harm would there be in simply accepting it, to show that the Government are at least listening to some of the concerns of front-line organisations and the DAC?

Baroness Gohir Portrait Baroness Gohir (CB)
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My Lords, I rise to support Amendments 60 and 64 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, to which I have added my name. I declare my interests as set out in the register. The charity that I run operates a specialist domestic abuse service. I want to use my charity as an example of why these amendments are needed.

Muslim Women’s Network operates a national specialist helpline. It runs other projects in addition, but because it is not solely a domestic abuse service it has been excluded from stakeholder meetings by decision-makers, and also excluded from funding. For this reason, it is important to define the full breadth of specialist community-based domestic abuse services, which can then be used to hold decision-makers to account if they are excluded from being consulted, or when it comes to applying for funding. It can be quite short-sighted if organisations have that intersectional experience of cases. They also hold important data.

There is a huge funding gap, which has been mentioned. Barriers are put in the way particularly of small, specialist minority-ethnic organisations. We have seen this more in recent years under the current Government. As an example, there are very high thresholds to make grant applications. Thresholds can be so high that they exclude minority groups from putting in funding applications unless they form a coalition, which can be burdensome for a small organisation. The other problem this poses is that, if they form a coalition and there is a lead partner that gets a large chunk of money, most of that money goes out to the other partners in the coalition. That organisation then goes to, say, the charitable foundation sector to try to obtain funding and is told, “You’ve gone over the income threshold; you can’t apply for the funding because you have plenty of money coming in”. It is not considered that most of that money is going back out—this poses another barrier for small, specialist organisations.

These types of issues need to be considered to effectively commission relevant victim support services. I support the other amendments in this group, of course.

Lord Hogan-Howe Portrait Lord Hogan-Howe (CB)
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My Lords, I support Amendment 19 from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, principally because it is a good idea in principle that victims should have the reasons why the sentence has been decided. You could argue that the summing up can be a very long process and has to account for all the evidence that is offered; I can therefore understand why the costs might mount for the summing up, but I cannot understand why the costs would mount for the sentencing.

It seems vital for the victim to understand why a sentence was given. There has not always been a reasoned decision as to why a sentence was given, but they are provided more often now, not least because the suspect has the right to appeal their sentence, and they need to understand—as does any appellate court—the reason why a sentence was awarded.

I would have thought, although I have been quietly informed otherwise by a noble and learned neighbour, that all judgments, and the reasons for the sentence, would be written down. Apparently, they are more often ex tempore. That seems a little dangerous to me, but I am not in a position to argue. Apparently, there are times when sentences, and the reasons for them, are written down and published—and there must be times when they are transcribed for appeals et cetera—so, if they are available, that is not an extra cost.

In any case, I would have thought that judgments need to be recorded. If they are recorded, why can they not be shared, certainly for the victims’ reasons? I understand that there might have to be a cut-off point—perhaps for the seriousness of the sentence given, which may be imprisonment compared with a more summary offence—but I cannot quite understand why the sentencing decisions cannot be shared with the victims. It might well be that they do not want to be in court when the sentence is announced, or that they are not available to be in court. Quite often, nobody knows the time at which the sentencing decision will be made: nobody knows exactly when the hearing will finish, when the jury will decide its findings or when the judge will be available to deliver the sentencing judgment.

I support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and if she decides to divide the House I will certainly support it. I realise that the Opposition have decided not to, but I am a little surprised.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, from listening to this debate, I am struck again and again by how so much of what we are saying was said in this House during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill. We need to listen to and be aware of that. I hope the Minister will reflect on that.

I agree with much of what has been said this afternoon. I will briefly add my voice in support of Amendment 79, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, to which I have added my name. I simply echo her frustration that we are no further forward in securing a long-term solution for migrant victim survivors of domestic abuse who are subject to the no recourse to public funds condition. I raised this during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill. As has been said, we were told then that the Government needed more evidence before implementing policy change, and here we are three years later, with so much evidence produced, both officially and unofficially, about the need for reform but a reluctance from the Government to make the much-needed change. I simply hope that the Minister might answer the very valid questions raised by the noble Baroness, especially on the inadequacy of the reform to the migrant victims of domestic abuse concession.

Baroness Benjamin Portrait Baroness Benjamin (LD)
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My Lords, I fully support my noble friend Lady Brinton’s Amendment 19 and her passionate and common-sense contribution, which I hope the Minister will consider. I will speak on Amendments 62 and 71, to which I have put my name.

Child abuse and exploitation affects hundreds of thousands of children across this country each year. Sadly, any child, in any place, can be a victim of abuse. Children are also disproportionately impacted by abuse. The Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse found that children are the victims of 40% of sexual offences. Being a victim of abuse has a devastating effect on children, with the impacts often staying with them for the rest of their lives. Yes, childhood lasts a lifetime.

Despite this, we are leaving our most vulnerable children without access to essential child-specific victim support services and child-specific victim support roles. It is key that, when commissioners decide what services and roles to commission to support victims, they must pay attention and due regard to the need for child-specific victim support services and roles to meet the need in their local area.

That is why I put my name to Amendments 62 and 71. These amendments would strengthen the duty to collaborate in the Bill and have a huge impact for children who have experienced the most horrific crimes. Child-specific victim support services play a crucial role in helping a child to start to recover from abuse and trauma, giving children a space to work through their trauma and offering mental health and counselling services.

However, support services are hugely underfunded and undervalued, and children are facing a postcode lottery in accessing them. Recent research by the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse found that across England and Wales there are only 468 services providing support to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. This is despite an estimated half a million children suffering from some form of sexual abuse every year. Barnardo’s, which offers child sexual exploitation services—I declare an interest as its vice-president—has found that an additional 1,900 child independent domestic violence advisers and almost 500 child independent sexual violence advisers are needed across England and Wales to support the number of identified child victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

16:30
Commissioners must have due regard to child-specific victim support services when they are collaborating on commissioning strategies; this is why I support Amendment 71. This amendment simply aims to extend the scope of guidance given to commissioners under the duty to collaborate to include further detail about victim support services. This will ensure that commissioners are able to understand the type of victim support services that will need to be considered, including child-specific services.
Too often, children are only offered the support of independent domestic violence advisers and independent sexual violence advisers who are designed to support adults. These roles are not equipped to have the capacity to respond to children, whose abuse often looks very different from the abuse of an adult and who have different support needs. Amendment 62 would simply make it explicit that, when undertaking their duty to collaborate, commissioners must have due regard to the statutory guidance. It would be good to hear what the Minister has to give us as reassurance on this point.
It is shameful that so many children who have suffered unimaginable harm and trauma have been left without much-needed support. The Victims and Prisoners Bill offers us a key opportunity to make sure that these children are better supported to recover from their abuse in the future. The amendments I am supporting do not call for additional funding but solely aim to strengthen the Bill and the duty to collaborate. In turn, this will ensure that all victims, including children, are at the centre of commissioning strategies. If we want to support child victims, this is crucial. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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My Lords, I had not intended to speak on this group but, having heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, I want to add my 100% support for what she has just said. As a family judge for something like 35 years, I tried cases of sexual abuse against children. I also happened to do a report on the diocese of Chichester, and I met adult members of that group who had suffered serious sexual abuse. It lasts a lifetime, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said. I particularly realised it when I met these young men who had suffered abuse from clergy, I am sad to say—one of whom went to prison and one of whom died before. It lasted years and years. Everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said, is entirely right, and I support it tremendously.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Russell. I was surprised when there seemed to be a hiatus—I had not allowed for his need to draw a breath. He mentioned his conversation this morning with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner. I am not surprised to hear what she said. I recall that, before the Bill even arrived in this House, she was making her views about a duty to collaborate very clear and well known.

I simply wanted to support my noble friend in her amendment on transcripts. I have to say that sitting through most of the Committee and Second Reading of this Bill has really made me reflect on how victims can be treated as almost peripheral to a trial, because inevitably there is a focus on the defendant. It is inevitable because the court is determining guilt or—I was going to say innocence—not guilt. It would never have occurred to me that the availability of a transcript might depend on whether it has to be available to the defendant.

As the noble Lord, Lord Meston, said, this is quite a narrow amendment. The Minister was very clear about the constraints and difficulties. As well as being narrow, this amendment would reduce costs, which we were talking about at the previous stage. It is important that we pursue this.

Lord Hampton Portrait Lord Hampton (CB)
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My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendment 61, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, and Amendments 62 and 71, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Polak and Lord Russell of Liverpool, and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. In this, as ever, I must declare my interest as a state secondary school teacher.

The great thing about following the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, is that it is like somebody doing your homework for you. All the way through this stage of the Bill, we have talked about children as being separate victims, and we got the “Uncle Tom Cobley and all” reason back—in that, if you have to mention one, you have to mention all in this. I think we have to be specific. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and I went to the Lighthouse child house and saw its model. We saw how, when victims are treated specifically, we can get higher levels of prosecution, better health for them in future and save money in the outcome. Why would you not do that?

Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I first bring forth the Government’s Amendment 75, which requires that Welsh Ministers be consulted on any guidance on victim support roles under Clause 15, so far as the content relates to devolved matters. Victim support roles may operate across criminal justice settings and include devolved health and local authority responsibilities. It is therefore right and entirely in line with the devolution settlement that Welsh Ministers are properly and fully consulted and that the Welsh context is properly reflected in the resulting guidance that will flow from that. I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his Amendments 72 and 73, which relate to this matter. It is the Government’s view that government Amendment 75 covers that ground and that it is no longer necessary for the noble Lord to press his amendment in this respect.

Amendment 61 is about consultation with providers who are under a duty to collaborate. It would create a mandatory requirement for relevant authorities to consult those providing support to child victims during the formulation of their strategy under Clause 13. We have just heard moving contributions on children. As I said last week during the debate, the Government have been clear throughout Part 1 that the distinct needs of children should indeed be taken into account. That is reflected in particular in Clauses 13(4) and 15(5), which specifically relate to children, now defined as individuals under the age of 18. Those clauses, among other things, require the commissioners to make reasonable efforts to obtain the views of relevant victims, which will expressly include children. The guidance will underpin that duty and set out best practice for consulting child victims and those who provide services to such victims.

We have fully discussed children. I do not think I need repeat anything that I have already said. The position of children is very widely recognised. Therefore, in the Government’s view, Amendment 61 is overtaken by the provisions that already exist in the Bill and what has already been said on behalf of the Government in this respect.

I come to Amendment 79 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, which relates to support for victims with no recourse to public funds. I thank her for tabling that amendment. The code is clear that victims are entitled to access services, including support services, under the code regardless of their resident status. As has been mentioned, there is also access to funding and support through the migrant victims of domestic abuse concession. That mechanism was expanded last February to give victims who are here as the partner of a worker or student a short period of lawful status, financial stability and support while they consider their future options. That is a major extension of the concession that was first introduced in 2012.

Of course, the Government have heard the concerns raised about the need for a longer-term solution in this matter. Basically, two points arise. First, this is not that easy to address in the context of the wider immigration system and immigration policy. We cannot ignore the fact that there is a risk of creating a route that is attractive to some who seek to shortcut or abuse the immigration system, rather than the genuine victims of domestic abuse whom we all seek to support. That has to be worked through. However, if I may speak frankly, while the Government will of course continue to support this important matter, which has been raised many times in recent years, resources are not unlimited and this must now take its place in the next spending review. No doubt the Government will then come to a view as to how resources are allocated.

In the meantime, there is support under the migrant victims of domestic abuse concession. There is also the support for the migrant victim scheme, which provides wraparound support, including accommodation, subsistence and counselling to victims with no recourse to public funds. As I understand it, that has supported over 1,200 victims since April 2021. I would like to go further towards the noble Baroness and others who have supported this amendment, but I hope that what I have been able to say will at least persuade her not to press it further.

I come now to Amendments 60, 64, 66 and 67, which variously relate to guidance defining specialist community-based services for victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and so on, as well as the funding gap, a requirement that sufficient funding is provided annually to the relevant authorities to commission the relevant victim support services, and the establishment of cross-government “by and for” funding services. It is quite a large group, but your Lordships will have the general picture.

First, I very much thank the right reverend Prelate and others for their engagement on these amendments, along with representatives from the sector. Of course, the duty to collaborate under the Bill will need to have regard to the joint needs assessments, and the local strategies, which will be published, should include evidence of how the relevant authorities have carried out their needs assessments, as well as how those assessments have informed commissioning decisions.

I can commit that noble Lords will see in the draft guidance, shortly to be available, that it will set a clear expectation for local commissioners to share both a self-contained joint needs assessment document and joint strategies with the Ministry of Justice to enable the Government to bring together local intelligence on need. I very much hope and expect that this will provide the national framework for addressing the problems raised in this debate.

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The guidance will make clear the Government’s intention to use the insight from the joint needs assessments to inform a co-ordinated and strategic approach to national funding, so that when we come to the next spending review, we can, as is it were, properly develop a national joined-up approach to these very important matters. Indeed, the very fact of collaboration should improve the use of existing funding, reduce duplication and enable better targeted use of resources. The Government’s position is that the spending review is the appropriate route for setting these budgets. We have to build in the necessary flexibility, in terms specifically of “by and for” services, which are indeed very important—the Government recognise that.
There has been just under £6 million of funding for those services in the past two years. One of the ambitions is to build further capacity for “by and for” services to better support victims, and in addition—this is perhaps in the sense of a separate bucket—police and crime commissioners across England and Wales with annual grant funding can include specialist “by and for” services based on their own assessment of local need. In the Government's view, we do not need to provide for this specifically in legislation, but it is very much part of the general approach to ensuring better support for victims’ services through the co-ordinated strategy that one hopes will emerge from the Bill.
Of course there is an enormous range of specific domestic specialist abuse services offered. As for the guidance sought under Amendment 60, we are quite reluctant as a Government to highlight some services over others. We would not want to inhibit new services being established in the future. But the general framework under the Bill, I respectfully suggest, is a very important step forward in relation to better funding for victims’ services. In the light of those assurances and remarks, I hope that this group of amendments need not be pursued.
Related to that is Amendment 70 on guidance for multiyear contract terms. Of course the Government have recognised the importance of multiyear funding. I can quite understand the position of the right reverend Prelate in particular that multiyear funding should become the norm. In many ways, the Government encourage that. The Victims’ Service Commissioning Framework should reiterate it as an expectation. The statutory guidance under the duty to collaborate should refer to that point.
Again, one is essentially juggling the various resources. One cannot account for unforeseen events. It is not always possible to provide things on a multiyear framework, but that is undoubtedly desirable. Grant agreements with police and crime commissioners include a requirement to commit to multiyear funding for the providers of local services they commission where possible. The Government themselves have committed over £150 million to the victims budget on a multiyear basis across the current spending review period, totalling £460 million over three years. The next spending review period should see those approaches continue. The Government’s view is that these existing mechanisms outside the legislation to ensure consistency of funding for victims’ services should and do suffice. There is a government commitment to multiyear funding to wherever we can make that possible. On that basis, I urge the right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords who support the amendment not to pursue it.
I thank in particular the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for Amendment 65, which requires evidence of how the relevant authorities have fulfilled their obligation under the duty in Clause 13. On this point, the Government will strongly recommend in guidance that duty holders will include evidence in their strategies. On that basis, I suggest respectfully that the inclusion of this requirement in the Bill is not necessary.
Amendments 62 and 71 would place a duty on local commissioners to have regard to guidance on support roles, particularly the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Polak and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin—we revert again to children, and rightly so. I can only repeat what I have just said: children are already very much in focus under the Bill, and we do not think it appropriate to go any further than we have. I think and hope I have said enough today, and on the previous occasion, to emphasise the importance that the Government place on proper victim services for supporting children.
On Amendment 59, which is the stalking amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Russell, rightly referred to the steps announced this week by the Government to improve the approach to stalking through the lower standard of proof required for stalking protection orders. Stalking is already covered by the duty to support victims and is almost certain to be a criminal offence in many cases under the Protection from Harassment Act or other Acts. The Government have been listening to concerns in this respect and will make sure that the draft statutory guidance highlights that support for victim services should be needs-led rather than crime-focused, if noble Lords understand what I mean—that is, what the victims have been suffering is the important thing to focus on. I am very much persuaded that the guidance should highlight the particular problems of stalking, and that is a problem that needs to be addressed. If I may put it like this, it is coming up the agenda, and I hope that sufficiently covers the matters that are addressed in Amendment 59.
That takes me to the duty to co-operate with the Victims’ Commissioner in Amendment 57. This is not in any way a reflection on present company, as it were, but the Government are not yet persuaded that we need more powers for the Victims’ Commissioner. The points can be summarised shortly. This particular commissioner’s function is much wider than that of other commissioners; it covers all crime across a very wide area. It has been a very successful office that has existed now for 14 years—it is not a new office—so it is not entirely clear why these extra powers would be needed. I have indeed had a conversation with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, and if I took away something from that it was that statutory guidance powers do not actually help that much, to tell the truth; you still have the problems.
In this case, the role of the Victims’ Commissioner has already been substantially strengthened. The commissioner may now make recommendations to any authority, as in Clause 18, and that authority has a duty to respond. I suggest that that is in effect a duty to collaborate. The commissioner has the power to be consulted by the four inspectorates mentioned in Clauses 19 to 22. People can go direct to the parliamentary ombudsman. The commissioner’s functions include keeping the code under review, being a member of the ministerial task force and being consulted on non-compliance notifications and on the annual report, and Ministers will be required to consult the Victims’ Commissioner when issuing or amending the code. That is a large package of measures, and I therefore suggest that Amendment 57 is not required.
Lastly, I turn to the first amendment—an occasion where the last should be first, but the first is not last, as it were—which is the question of the transcripts. If I may say so, this is a question not of principle but of ways and means. In answer specifically to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Russell, I can accept on behalf of the Government that a proportionate right to have access to what is said in the trial—certainly as regards sentencing remarks—is a proposition that we could accept. The issue is how we give context to that, whether it is through listening to the remarks in court, obtaining a transcript, listening to the audio, or perhaps listening remotely in another room or somewhere else where the proceedings are being transported remotely.
There are two aspects to the problem, really. In my letter of 27 March I think I set out all the arguments; I will not repeat them now. I gave details of the one-year pilot that the Government have committed to run and subject to the results of that we shall see what the next steps are, but it is important to complete the pilot before we take a decision. It is worth mentioning that there are roughly 46,000 convictions per annum in the Crown Court; that is quite a lot of transcripts even if you are limiting yourself to sentencing remarks, so it is a question of cost. However, it is very important that we keep a focus on this point, finish the pilot first and ensure that victims are supported at every stage.
Finally, I echo the comment from the noble Lord, Lord Meston—which was also made to me in Edinburgh two weeks ago by senior members of the Scottish judiciary—that in some cases involving sexual offences you have to be very careful about the dissemination of transcripts. That is another aspect to a not entirely straightforward question. I think I have replied to the points raised.
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this group, and particularly the Minister for his response. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Meston, for his clarification of which parts of the court process are concerned. I was quoting both the judge’s summing up and judgment as well as the bigger costs for a wider trial transcript. I was trying to make the point that it can be asked for now but it is entirely at the judge’s discretion whether it happens and therein lies the problem, which is why we find ourselves here.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, for his help. He said: why can sentencing not be shared? I think that is one of the key points here.

I am very grateful to the Minister for his explanation but the difference between my amendment and the pilot is that the pilot remains at the judge’s discretion, which means that it becomes very difficult to collect any data on the efficacy of allowing victims to have these decisions at the point of judgment.

I was very moved by the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, relating to Amendment 57 —which I did not comment on earlier—and if the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, wishes to test the opinion of the House, these Benches will support her.

I believe that victims need to see progress in this area. I recognise that my amendment is not what they really want but it would be a step forward and, on that basis, I wish to test the opinion of the House.

16:59

Division 1

Ayes: 82

Noes: 211

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Amendments 20 to 22
Moved by
20: Clause 2, page 3, line 13, leave out paragraph (c) and insert—
“(8A) The victims’ code may make different provision for different areas.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is a drafting change to reflect current practice not to treat provision for different areas as provision for different purposes.
21: Clause 2, page 3, line 13, at end insert—
“(8A) In considering whether to exercise the power in subsection (8)(a), the Secretary of State must have regard to the particular needs of victims who are under the age of 18 or who have protected characteristics within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Secretary of State, when considering whether to make different provision in the victims’ code for victims of different descriptions, to have regard to the particular needs of victims who are under the age of 18 or who have protected characteristics.
22: Clause 2, page 3, line 21, leave out “6” and insert “5”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on my amendments of Clauses 5 to 10.
Amendments 20 to 22 agreed.
Amendment 23 not moved.
Clause 3: Preparing and issuing the victims’ code
Amendment 24 not moved.
Amendment 25
Moved by
25: Clause 3, page 3, line 28, at end insert—
“(b) the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses, and(c) the Welsh Ministers.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment, together with my amendment of Clause 4, page 4, line 22, requires the Secretary of State to consult the Victims’ Commissioner and the Welsh Ministers when preparing or revising the victims’ code.
Amendment 25 agreed.
Amendments 26 and 27 not moved.
Clause 4: Revising the victims’ code
Amendment 28
Moved by
28: Clause 4, page 4, line 22, after “General” insert “, the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses and the Welsh Ministers”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment, together with my amendment of Clause 3, page 3, line 28, requires the Secretary of State to consult the Victims’ Commissioner and the Welsh Ministers when preparing or revising the victims’ code.
Amendment 28 agreed.
Amendments 29 and 30 not moved.
Clause 5: Effect of non-compliance
Amendment 31
Moved by
31: Clause 5, page 4, line 27, at end insert—
“(A1) Where the victims’ code makes provision about a service to be provided to victims by a person, the person must provide the service in accordance with the code unless the person has good reasons not to. (A2) Any person who is subject to the duty in subsection (A1) and is not an individual must ensure that procedures are in place by which other persons may complain about an alleged failure to comply with the duty.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment requires persons specified in the victims’ code to provide services in accordance with it, unless they have good reasons not to, and to have procedures for dealing with complaints.
Amendment 31 agreed.
Amendment 32 not moved.
Clause 6: Code awareness and reviewing compliance: criminal justice bodies
Amendment 33
Moved by
33: Clause 6, page 4, line 38, leave out “victims’ code” and insert “duty in section 5(A1)”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on my amendment of Clause 5, page 4, line 27.
Amendment 33 agreed.
Amendment 34 not moved.
Amendment 35
Moved by
35: Clause 6, page 5, line 25, at end insert—
“(4A) Regulations under subsection (2) must require information about compliance with the victims’ code to be linked to a consistent victim identifier that is used across the agencies of the criminal justice system.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would allow for the creation of a unique identifier for victims in the criminal justice system which would be linked to information on compliance to the victims’ code.
Lord Bach Portrait Lord Bach (Lab)
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My Lords, Amendment 35 would require information on compliance with the victims’ code to be linked to a consistent victim identifier. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and my noble friend Lord Ponsonby for supporting this amendment. Members may recall the helpful discussion on this issue in Committee. I am grateful to colleagues and to the Minister for their engagement on this topic.

I have been moved to reintroduce this amendment because I remain convinced that, without this change, the Government’s ambition to harness the Bill to put victims at the heart of the justice system and increase accountability may well fail; it is that serious. I thank Natalie Byrom, whose article in the Financial Times in January 2024 kicked off this important debate.

I begin by being extremely clear about what is being proposed. Put simply, this amendment contemplates the creation of a unique identifier allocated to victims at the point at which they first report a crime to the police, to which all subsequent crime numbers and case updates can be linked. Compliance with the measures in the victims’ code must also be recorded against this identifier. Information about the victim’s demographic and protected characteristics can also be added to the victim identifier, provided that the victim consents to provide this. In the absence of the introduction of this identifier, it will continue to be impossible to routinely link information on victims’ code compliance to the demographic characteristics of victims or criminal justice outcomes. This makes it impossible to tell what measures are working and for whom. Information will remain partial, piecemeal and costly to collect.

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We are not talking here about a vast undertaking, linking information from the justice system to other records, but about simply ensuring that information about victims is joined up and shared across the agencies of the criminal justice system. The existing system makes as much sense as your GP starting a new record for you each time you attend their surgery, forcing you to relate your entire medical history each time you contact them, and ending their records for you at the point at which you are referred to hospital.
I cannot state the problem better than the Victims’ Commissioner herself, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, who I am delighted to see is in her place. In the context of our previous debate, she stated:
“Victims are given different messages, different police officers and different everything. It does not mount up. How many recordings and crime reference numbers do we need? … A victim should have one record and be able to put the narrative together so that they feel safe in our communities”.—[Official Report, 5/2/24; col. 1474.]
We would not and do not tolerate this in other public services, such as health or education, and we should not continue to tolerate it in the context of our justice system.
What is more, the technical infrastructure needed to introduce victim identifiers already exists—Ministers have confirmed as much in response to Written Parliamentary Questions. All this amendment asks of the Government is that they harness the opportunity provided by this important victims Bill to ensure that this emerging good practice is shared, scaled and rolled out. If the Government were minded to accept this amendment, the impact might well be transformative. It could even save lives. Engagement with victims’ groups has demonstrated that the status quo impacts disproportionately victims of crime characterised by repeated patterns of behaviour: stalking, which we have talked about this afternoon, as well as domestic abuse and anti-social behaviour.
Anyone who has been involved in policing in Leicestershire—as I have had the honour to be, as the police and crime commissioner—will remember well the case of Fiona Pilkington, who killed herself and her disabled 18 year-old daughter after being subjected to a campaign of anti-social behaviour and abuse. Fiona reported incidents of harassment and abuse to the police 27 times over a three-year period prior to her death. There had been missed opportunities to protect her and her daughter as a direct result of the failure to link the reports she had made. Victims need and deserve better, and the Bill could be the opportunity to ensure that, from this point on, they receive the protection that they are entitled to expect.
I close by clarifying one of the points raised by the Minister in our previous discussion in Committee. He suggested that the BOLD programme—Better Outcomes through Linked Data—and specifically the victims pathway pilot, might provide the solution to the challenges that I have tried to highlight. Although the victims pathway pilot has certainly been important in helping government to understand the challenges experienced by agencies in collecting and sharing data about victims of crime, it is not a solution to existing issues or a replacement for victim identifiers. It is a small-scale, time-limited research project, and it is not intended to link data and make it available for operational use. On the other hand, the introduction of victim identifiers would support research programmes and initiatives such as BOLD, not duplicate or replace them.
Implementing victim identifiers would also address concerns raised by victims’ groups about the progress that has been made following the publication of the rape review in 2021. In short, the introduction of victim identifiers would both help secure the success of the Bill before us and enable the Government to deliver on several other policy commitments. Put simply, the police count crimes, the CPS counts defendants and the courts count cases, but no one is counting the people who rely on the justice system to protect them. I hope the Minister will give a sympathetic hearing to what I have said, and I look forward very much to hearing what he has to say. I beg to move.
Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, I rise very briefly to support this, with a slightly heavy heart. It has the virtue of common sense, which I feel might not necessarily chime terribly well with the Front Bench; it seems eminently sensible. I realise that the Minister often talks about the need to join the dots, and I think this is a textbook example of a challenge of trying to join up a great many dots that are all over the place at the moment.

I recognise that the Front Bench is not going to stand up and say, “What a wonderful idea; we will do it immediately”. At the very least, if there is an acknowledgement of the fact that we have a problem—and I think we all agree that the status quo at the moment, as far as victims are concerned, is a long way from where we would wish it to be—it behoves the Government to think about putting together a properly resourced project to look at this systematically, across all the different agencies, and at least analyse the scale and complexity of the problem and perhaps come up with a range of two or three possible solutions, with the pros and cons of each, the costs and the time they would take to implement. We would then, at least, have a better handle on how we might deal with this problem, which we all acknowledge is a problem.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, it is important to acknowledge that we need to improve the kind of data collection that we have. This is a really good idea, and I would like it to be pursued. I have an amendment later on consistency of data. One of the things I felt when I was looking at the issues was that, too often, victims are not counted properly. We know that there is a range of ways to produce crime statistics: discussions about victims can be very emotive and subjective. The more accurate information we have and the more rationally collected it is—a point was made about common sense—the better it is for society, so that it cannot be turned into a political football. We would know exactly what was going on, so that the right kind of research and resources could be allocated. I would like to hear from the Minister some ideas about at least being open to this and experimenting with it. It is eminently worth exploring further, and I would like to hear a positive response.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, I spoke in Committee on this issue, and I continue to offer our support from these Benches. I will not repeat the detail of what I said, but through the passage of the Children and Families Act we had to make sure that there was specific identifying data to link up children who were having to access services in more than one department. That picks up very much on a point made by the noble Lords, Lord Bach and Lord Russell, about the complexity of data.

There has been a really good period between Committee and Report in which the Minister and other Ministers have made themselves available for discussing lots of these amendments, but the main problem is that we do not have a lot of data about victims. We have plenty of data about crime, but we just do not understand victims’ experience through data. One of the side benefits of the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Bach, is that having that unique identifying number will create automatic access to make assessments, while protecting GDPR. I have spoken about that on other Bills, but it is important. I hope that this Government and any future Government will assess this as a key part of better services for victims, because we will better know and understand who they are.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing this amendment. As he said, we had a helpful discussion on this proposal in Committee. The unique identifier for victims is a good idea and may well solve a lot of problems. As he said, why not harness this Bill to do it?

I will briefly repeat a point I made in Committee. I strongly suspect that this is a more difficult problem than it might seem on the surface, given that there are different computing systems in different parts of the system and different ways of collating data. It is a problem. I am well aware of the shortcomings of data retention within the wider criminal justice system. When I sit in a magistrates’ court, I see the PNC for offenders; very often, they will have multiple dates of birth and names. One only hopes that one is dealing with the same individual as recorded on the police national computer. There is a single identifier for the offender, but there may be a fair number of errors in there as well.

Nevertheless, it is a good idea. The noble Lord, Lord Russell, said that it has the virtue of common sense; I almost thought he was going to say that it has the vice of common sense. It needs to be considered carefully. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, we want to hear that the Government are taking this seriously and that there is a programme in place to look at this seriously and try to help victims through this mechanism.

Lord Roborough Portrait Lord Roborough (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for his amendment, which seeks to introduce a consistent victim identifier for the collection and sharing of code compliance information.

The Government agree that data is a vital tool to help better understand victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system and whether and how they are receiving the relevant entitlements under the victims’ code. That is precisely why the Bill also introduces duties on criminal justice agencies to collect, share and jointly review code compliance information.

In addition, to respond to the questions and comments of many noble Lords, our existing Better Outcomes through Linked Data, or BOLD, programme is already exploring linking system data about victims’ interactions to improve our understanding of victims’ experiences. The BOLD programme is funded by HM Treasury’s shared outcomes fund from 2021 to 2024; it is a long-term project conducted by the Ministry of Justice to improve our understanding of victims’ experiences. BOLD has just received an extra year’s funding to continue exploring data and data linking until March 2025. It has been created to demonstrate how people with complex needs can be better supported by linking and improving the government data held on them in a safe and secure way.

The Ministry of Justice is leading on a victims’ pilot that seeks to share and link data to help improve outcomes for victims. We hope that it will unlock insights into supporting victims of crime, such as understanding their end-to-end journeys and experiences, the effectiveness of victim services and the factors behind victim attrition rates at different stages of the criminal justice system. This is a proof-of-concept research project, and findings on the BOLD victims’ pilot will be published in 2024 and 2025. The pilot has initially focused on exploring what data is available in both criminal justice system agencies and victim services, particularly at a local level through partnership with Synergy Essex, a partnership of rape and sexual abuse centres in Essex.

The pilot work is a necessary precursor to data linking, and this essential precursor work should be completed first. As BOLD shares findings and as the duties in the Bill begin to be operationalised by bodies, the emergent picture will inform future innovation on how data can be used to improve the victim experience. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, I say that this demonstrates the Government acknowledging and addressing the issue.

17:30
Two areas would need significant thought before we move beyond the current work in train and commit to an approach in primary legislation. This is a very material undertaking and I agree with the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, on exactly that. First, a victim identifier has the potential to be linked to a great deal of personal and inherently sensitive data. Careful thought would be needed to ensure that such innovation would appropriately consider data protection rules and not inadvertently deter victims from engaging with the criminal justice system due to nervousness over privacy concerns or other issues. Secondly, this could require at least 42 police forces and a number of national agencies to be equipped with the necessary and consistent technology to facilitate such a system. One cannot shy away from the potentially significant resourcing implications and cost impacts of implementing such a cross-agency system. There are, no doubt, many more considerations aside that should be properly worked through before a solution is arrived at.
On the tragic case cited by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, I say that there is considerable work on information sharing and what we can and hope to do better, which we will discuss in future groups not concerned with victim identifiers. While future approaches to understanding and improving the victim experience may include a new system of unique victim identifiers, I do not agree that primary legislation would be the appropriate way to establish it at this point. I therefore respectfully ask that the noble Lord withdraws this amendment.
Lord Bach Portrait Lord Bach (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for his response. I also thank noble Lords around the House who have been sympathetic to the amendment that I moved.

Because it is such common sense, this will happen in time. The sooner it happens, the better for victims and the justice system. I am realistic, so I understand that there are complications, as my noble friend Lord Ponsonby said, that will have to be worked through before we get to the stage—which I hope will happen sooner rather than later—where something like this comes into being.

For the moment, I am delighted to hear that the Government understand the problem and are working hard to solve it. There is a real issue as to whether the BOLD development is the answer to the issue that I have tried to raise today. I ask the Government to look very carefully at whether that is a better alternative to the proposal I made today. It seems to me that it would not be sensible to divide the House on the issue, however much I might be tempted to do so, because there is more work to be done. However, I go away with the feeling that the Government are sympathetic to the idea that this whole system should be very much simplified. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 35 withdrawn.
Amendments 36 and 37
Moved by
36: Clause 6, page 5, line 27, leave out “such” and insert “the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses and such other”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to consult the Victims’ Commissioner before making regulations under Clause 6.
37: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—
“Arrangements for collection of victims’ feedback(1) This section applies where the Secretary of State has made arrangements with a person for the collection by the person of information which—(a) relates to the characteristics or experiences of users of services provided by a relevant criminal justice body in a police area, and (b) is collected for the purposes of assessing whether and how those services are provided in accordance with the duty in section 5(A1).(2) The Secretary of State and the Attorney General may by a joint direction require the body to provide specified information to the person for the purposes of enabling or assisting the performance of the arrangements.(3) A relevant criminal justice body which is directed to provide information under this section must provide it—(a) in such form and manner as may be specified, and(b) at such times or within such periods as may be specified.(4) In this section—“relevant criminal justice body” means a criminal justice body falling within paragraphs (a), (b) or (e) of the definition of “criminal justice body” in section 6(6);“specified” means specified in the direction.”Member's explanatory statement
This new clause, to be inserted after Clause 6, requires certain criminal justice bodies to cooperate with persons with whom the Secretary of State has made arrangements for the collection of feedback from victims, if directed to do so.
Amendments 36 and 37 agreed.
Clause 7: Reviewing code compliance: elected local policing bodies
Amendments 38 and 39
Moved by
38: Clause 7, page 6, line 4, leave out “victims’ code” and insert “duty in section 5(A1)”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on my amendment of Clause 5, page 4, line 27.
39: Clause 7, page 6, line 22, leave out “such” and insert “the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses and such other”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to consult the Victims’ Commissioner before making regulations under Clause 7.
Amendments 38 and 39 agreed.
Clause 8: Code awareness and reviewing compliance: British Transport Police
Amendments 40 and 41
Moved by
40: Clause 8, page 6, line 37, leave out “victims’ code” and insert “duty in section 5(A1)”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on my amendment of Clause 5, page 4, line 27.
41: Clause 8, page 7, line 26, leave out “such” and insert “the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses and such other”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to consult the Victims’ Commissioner before making regulations under Clause 8.
Amendments 40 and 41 agreed.
Clause 9: Code awareness and reviewing compliance: Ministry of Defence Police
Amendments 42 and 43
Moved by
42: Clause 9, page 7, leave out line 40 and insert “duty in section 5(A1).”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on my amendment of Clause 5, page 4, line 27.
43: Clause 9, page 8, line 23, leave out “such” and insert “the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses and such other”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to consult the Victims’ Commissioner before making regulations under Clause 9.
Amendments 42 and 43 agreed.
Clause 10: Publication of code compliance information
Amendments 44 and 45
Moved by
44: Clause 10, page 8, line 26, at end insert—
“(A1) The Secretary of State and the Attorney General, acting jointly, must—(a) keep under review the code compliance of the persons mentioned in subsection (1), and(b) annually, prepare and publish a report about the code compliance of those persons in the period to which the report relates.(A2) If the Secretary of State and the Attorney General agree that the code compliance of a person mentioned in subsection (1) is unsatisfactory they may—(a) if the person is the chief officer of police for a police area, give the elected local policing body for the area a notice setting out their reasons for being of that view;(b) in any other case, give the person a notice setting out their reasons for being of that view.(A3) If the Secretary of State and the Attorney General give a notice under subsection (A2) they must—(a) if the notice is given under paragraph (a) of that subsection, send a copy of the notice to the chief officer of police to whom the notice relates, and(b) in any case, publish the notice in such form and manner as they consider appropriate.(A4) The Secretary of State and the Attorney General must consult the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses before—(a) publishing a report under subsection (A1)(b);(b) giving a notice under subsection (A2).(A5) The Secretary of State must publish such compliance information as the Secretary of State considers will enable members of the public to assess the code compliance of the persons mentioned in subsection (1) in the period to which the information relates.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment gives the Secretary of State and the Attorney General joint functions in relation to reviewing compliance with the victims’ code by police forces and other criminal justice bodies. The Secretary of State must also publish certain information in relation to the code compliance of such bodies.
45: Clause 10, page 8, leave out lines 27 to 29 and insert—
“(1) The persons are—”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on my amendment of Clause 10, page 8, line 26.
Amendments 44 and 45 agreed.
Amendments 46 and 47 not moved.
Amendments 48 to 53
Moved by
48: Clause 10, page 8, line 33, leave out “these purposes” and insert “the purposes of this section”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on my amendment of Clause 10, page 8, line 26.
49: Clause 10, page 8, line 35, at end insert “, or information collected under arrangements mentioned in section (Arrangements for collection of victims’ feedback)”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on my new Clause to be inserted after Clause 6.
50: Clause 10, page 8, line 36, leave out from “is” to end of line 39 and insert “whether and how the services provided by the person in the relevant area are provided in accordance with the duty in section 5(A1).”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on my amendment of Clause 5, page 4, line 27.
51: Clause 10, page 9, line 3, at end insert—
“(3A) The first report under paragraph (b) of subsection (A1) may relate to any 12 month period that includes the day on which that paragraph comes into force.(3B) Subsequent reports must relate to the 12 month period immediately following the 12 month period to which the previous report relates.(3C) The Secretary of State must lay each report before Parliament.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on my amendment of Clause 10, page 8, line 26.
52: Clause 10, page 9, line 4, after “Information” insert “or a report”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on my amendment of Clause 10, page 8, line 26.
53: Clause 10, page 9, line 9, leave out “(1)(a)” and insert “(A5)”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on my amendment of Clause 10, page 8, line 26.
Amendments 48 to 53 agreed.
Clause 11: Guidance on code awareness and reviewing compliance
Amendment 54
Moved by
54: Clause 11, page 9, line 23, leave out “children or individuals” and insert “individuals who are under the age of 18 or”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment replaces a reference to “children” with a reference to under-18s.
Amendment 54 agreed.
Amendment 55 not moved.
Amendment 56
Moved by
56: Clause 11, page 9, line 34, leave out “such” and insert “the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses and such other”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to consult the Victims’ Commissioner before issuing guidance under Clause 11 on raising awareness of, and reviewing compliance with, the victims’ code.
Amendment 56 agreed.
Amendment 57
Moved by
57: After Clause 11, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to co-operate with Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses(1) The Commissioner may request a specified public authority to co-operate with the Commissioner in any way that the Commissioner considers necessary for the purposes of monitoring compliance with the victims’ code.(2) A specified public authority must, so far as reasonably practicable, comply with a request made to it under this section.(3) In this section “specified public authority” means any of the following—(a) a criminal justice body, as defined by section 6(6);(b) the Parole Board;(c) an elected local policing body;(d) the British Transport Police Force;(e) the Ministry of Defence Police.(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend this section so as to—(a) add a public authority as a specified public authority for the purposes of this section;(b) remove a public authority added by virtue of subsection (4)(a);(c) vary any description of a public authority.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would create a duty for specified public authorities to collaborate with the Victims and Witnesses Commissioner.
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Thornton, I wish to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 57.

17:35

Division 2

Ayes: 200

Noes: 192

17:45
Amendment 58
Moved by
58: After Clause 11, insert the following new Clause—
“Training: support for victims(1) The Secretary of State must publish and implement, in consultation with the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses, a strategy for providing mandatory training on the contents and application of the victims’ code for relevant staff of the following organisations—(a) the police,(b) the Crown Prosecution Service,(c) probation services,(d) the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office,(e) health and social services,(f) victim support services, (g) maintained and independent schools and colleges of further education, and(h) such other bodies as the Secretary of State deems appropriate.(2) The strategy under subsection (1) must be reviewed and updated every three years.”Member's explanatory statement
To ensure justice agencies responsible for giving effect to the Victims Code are properly trained and familiar with its provisions and deliver it effectively.
Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, we debated this amendment on the first day on Report last week. It is to do with training. All of the discussions that I have had in the intervening time with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, with the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and with others, demonstrated the overwhelming importance of training, and the lack of training being a common theme, again and again, when things go wrong for victims. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

17:46

Division 3

Ayes: 203

Noes: 192

17:56
Clause 12: Duty to collaborate in exercise of victim support functions
Amendments 59 and 60 not moved.
Clause 13: Strategy for collaboration in exercise of victim support functions
Amendments 61 and 62 not moved.
Amendment 63
Moved by
63: Clause 13, page 11, line 27, leave out “children or” and insert “under the age of 18 or who”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment replaces a reference to “children” with a reference to under-18s.
Amendment 63 agreed.
Amendments 64 to 66 not moved.
Clause 14: Guidance on collaboration in exercise of victim support functions
Amendments 67 to 71 not moved.
Clause 15: Guidance about specified victim support roles
Amendments 72 and 73 not moved.
Amendments 74 and 75
Moved by
74: Clause 15, page 12, line 31, leave out “children or” and insert “under the age of 18 or who”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment replaces a reference to “children” with a reference to under-18s.
75: Clause 15, page 12, line 39, at end insert—
“(8) The Secretary of State must consult the Welsh Ministers before issuing guidance under this section, so far as the guidance relates to a matter provision about which would be within the legislative competence of Senedd Cymru if it were contained in an Act of the Senedd (ignoring any requirement for the consent of a Minister of the Crown imposed under Schedule 7B to the Government of Wales Act 2006).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to consult the Welsh Ministers about guidance to be issued under Clause 15, so far as it relates to a matter provision about which would be in the legislative competence of Senedd Cymru.
Amendments 74 and 75 agreed.
Amendment 76
Moved by
76: After Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—
“Disclosures by victims that cannot be precluded by agreement(1) A provision in an agreement is void in so far as it purports to preclude the making of a disclosure falling within subsection (2).(2) A disclosure falls within this subsection if it is a disclosure of information that is made by a victim or a person who reasonably believes they are a victim—(a) to any person who has law enforcement functions, for the purpose of those functions being exercised in relation to relevant conduct;(b) to a qualified lawyer, for the purpose of seeking legal advice about relevant conduct;(c) to any individual who is entitled to practise a regulated profession, for the purpose of obtaining professional support in relation to relevant conduct;(d) to any individual who provides a service to support victims, for the purpose of obtaining support from that service in relation to relevant conduct;(e) to a regulator of a regulated profession for the purpose of co-operating with the regulator in relation to relevant conduct;(f) to a person who is authorised to receive information on behalf of a person mentioned in paragraph (a), (b), (c), (d) or (e) for the purpose mentioned in that paragraph;(g) to a child, parent or partner of the person making the disclosure, for the purpose of obtaining support in relation to relevant conduct.(3) But a provision in an agreement is not void by virtue of subsection (1) so far as it purports to preclude a disclosure made for the primary purpose of releasing the information into the public domain.(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend this section—(a) to add, remove or modify a description of disclosure in relation to which subsection (1) applies (“a permitted disclosure”);(b) to extend the application of subsection (1) to a provision in an agreement which purports to impose an obligation or liability in connection with a permitted disclosure.(5) But regulations under subsection (4)(a) must not make any provision which would apply subsection (1) in relation to a disclosure—(a) made by a person other than a victim or a person who reasonably believes they are a victim, or(b) that does not relate to relevant conduct.(6) In this section—“entitled to practise” , in relation to a regulated profession, is to be read in accordance with section 19(2) of the Professional Qualifications Act 2022; “law enforcement functions” means functions for the purposes of the investigation or prosecution of criminal offences or the execution of criminal penalties;“partner” : a person is a “partner” of another person if they are married to each other, in a civil partnership with each other or in an intimate personal relationship with each other which is of significant duration;“qualified lawyer” means a person who is an authorised person in relation to a reserved legal activity for the purposes of the Legal Services Act 2007; “regulated profession” and“regulator” have the same meanings as in the Professional Qualifications Act 2022 (see section 19 of that Act);“relevant conduct” means conduct by virtue of which the person making the disclosure is or reasonably believes they are a victim (see section 1(1) and (2)).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new clause, to be inserted after Clause 15, would make a provision of an agreement void if it purports to preclude a victim from making certain types of disclosure, unless the disclosure was made in order to release the information into the public domain.
Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Amendment 76 has been tabled to clarify that victims of crime can get the support they need without fear of legal action under confidentiality clauses, also known as non-disclosure agreements or NDAs. NDAs can and do serve a valid purpose to protect commercially sensitive information and deliver a clean break where parties seek closure on an issue, but they have been misused to make victims fear repercussions if they seek access to justice or support services. Reporting a crime to the police is already protected under common law, but the legal position is not as clear as it could be. The Government wish to avoid a situation where NDAs might be used to prevent victims telling support services and close family about criminal conduct that has happened to them.

I am therefore pleased to bring forward this amendment, which makes it clear in primary legislation that confidentiality clauses cannot be legally enforced to the extent that they prevent victims reporting a crime or accessing confidential advice and much-needed support. It sets out who a victim can make disclosures to and for what purposes, which includes the police, regulatory bodies, lawyers, support services, and a victim’s partner, parent, or child. However, to protect legitimate uses of NDAs, subsection (3) of the proposed new clause makes it clear that disclosure to those permitted third parties must not be for the primary purpose of releasing information into the public domain, because we want to avoid a situation where somebody, for example, uses a lawyer to front up the disclosure of confidential information when that is not justified.

18:00
I should make clear—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Wills, who raised the question—that this provision does not conflict with the very important whistleblowing legislation in the Employment Rights Act. That Act allows workers to make a protected disclosure in certain circumstances. This new provision under Amendment 76 has no impact on those existing rights. Alongside wider regulatory efforts to clamp down on NDA misuse, we intend to further empower victims of crime to seek the support and advice they need without fear of legal action, and I commend this amendment to the House.
Government Amendment 85 is to facilitate victim impact statements to the mental health tribunal. We have carefully listened to concerns that victims have differing entitlements depending on the setting of the offender’s release. The mental health tribunal has so far not had exactly the same treatment as the Parole Board. This amendment makes provision for a victim impact statement to be made to the mental health tribunal, which may be factored into its decisions. We know that some victims want to read their statement, and this amendment will also give victims entitled to make a statement a statutory entitlement to apply to read their statement at a hearing, where one takes place. This application should normally be approved, unless there are some good reasons not to, as is the case with the Parole Board. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, the Victims’ Commissioner, for her engagement on this issue. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, also spoke to this point in Committee.
It may be convenient, although I am not completely sure it is procedurally correct, for me to signal in advance the Government’s position on Amendments 87, 88, 89 and 94 proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, which include new measures to introduce further protections for victims, governing police requests for victims’ counselling records. I extend my thanks to the noble Baroness for her dedication to this issue and her amendments, which I hope address the issue. Excessive and disproportionate requests for counselling records represent an unacceptable level of intrusion into a victim’s private life. Fearing their notes will be shared in court, some victims may decide not to seek justice, while others may decide not to receive therapeutic support. We agree that this is unacceptable, so I can confirm that the Government have heard the case made by the noble Baroness and recognise her tireless campaigning. We will therefore support those amendments when they are moved.
This leads on effectively to the next group, which we will be debating shortly, on the question of free legal advice for victims of rape. The Government’s view is that the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, will greatly reduce the need for independent advice to victims of rape or other serious sexual crimes, because they will be presented with far fewer requests—perhaps if any—for counselling notes or similar documents.
That takes me to Amendments 87A and 88A proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, which would require agreement from the victim before the police could approach a third party to request victim information. As I understand it, these are effectively modelled on new Section 44B of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which effectively deals with mobile phones and gives the victim particular rights in relation to extracting information from a victim’s device. I am very grateful indeed to the noble Baroness for tabling these amendments.
The Government’s position is that we cannot make a direct comparison between mobile phones on the one hand and counselling notes on the other, not least because counselling notes are prepared by somebody else—a third party, whose notes they are. That is basically third-party data, which in some—I hope exceptional—circumstances, the police may be entitled to request. Essentially, the Government accept and believe that the problem rightly identified by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, is now in effect covered by the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. I respectfully invite the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, not to press her amendments when we come to them. These are delicate issues; we have to make various balancing choices, and the Government believe that Amendments 87, 88, 89 and 94 effectively cover the ground and de facto ensure the protection suggested by Amendments 87A and 88A.
Before I sit down, I will also briefly deal with Amendment 158, which would extend the relevant clauses to the whole of the United Kingdom, as distinct from England and Wales. The Scottish Government are in a separate position, because Scotland is a separate legal jurisdiction. We have engaged with Northern Ireland and will work to assist it in implementing similar measures should it choose, but again that is a separate jurisdiction. Amendment 158 is not one that the Government could support.
In this group, that leaves Amendment 96 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher—forgive me for not coming to it earlier. This is about the migrant victims firewall. We remain determined that all victims and witnesses must be free to report offences without fear, but this must be balanced with the need to maintain an effective immigration system, protect our public services and safeguard the most vulnerable from exploitation. In the Government’s view, information to discharge those functions on a case-by-case basis should be allowed, having regard to all the circumstances. This information, in some instances, may help to protect and support victims and witnesses, identify whether they are vulnerable and aid their understanding of access to services and benefits.
However, we agree that more can be done to make it clearer to migrant victims what data can be shared and for what purpose. That is why we will set out a code of practice around data sharing of domestic abuse victims’ personal data for immigration purposes. This will provide guidance on circumstances in which data sharing would or would not be appropriate, and provide transparency around how any data shared will be used. We will consult on this prior to laying the code for parliamentary scrutiny and approval, hopefully this spring. The Government are also committed to introducing an immigration enforcement migrant victims protocol for migrant victims of crime, which we aim to launch later this year. The protocol will give greater transparency around how any data will be shared. I hope that the net result will be that, although we will not prevent the sharing of data in all circumstances, the rules relating to that will be much clearer and better presented in the guidance to which I have just referred.
I commend the Government’s amendments to the House, and I hope that the other amendments in this group will not, in the end, need to be moved. I beg to move.
Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to speak to the amendments in my name: Amendments 87, 88, 89 and 94. I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy for his time and for the Government’s thought on these amendments, which, as he rightly pointed out, concern the disclosure of therapy notes. I am sure he probably questioned his life choices when he saw me and other colleagues popping into his Zoom calls quite a bit over the Easter Recess. I am absolutely delighted that he has indicated that the Government will accept these amendments. It has been a long, hard- fought campaign by a formidable team of campaigners from Rape Crisis, the Centre for Women’s Justice, the End Violence Against Women Coalition and Rights of Women. I thank the Government for listening.

I believe this will make a material difference to the confidence and well-being of victims of rape, and I hope that over time it will also help reduce the attrition rate in the justice system, which, at 62%, we can all agree is far too high. These amendments are a proportionate compromise. Again, I want to praise the Government. They thought long and hard about getting these amendments right. They do not jeopardise the right to a fair trial, which is crucial, but they correct a significant wrong when it comes to routine intrusion into victims’ therapy notes.

I will be very brief because we are on Report, but just to set the context of why these amendments are needed, when a rape victim reports the offence to the police, they are often put in the impossible position of being forced to choose between pursuing justice or seeking counselling due to the likelihood of their private records and counselling notes being accessed by the police. We know that more than one-third of rape cases had those notes accessed. Very often, victims choose not to seek counselling and those who continue with therapy ahead of a trial are often told that they must not talk about what happened to them. How ridiculous is that? You need to talk about the rape, the thing that happened to you, in order to get over it. Both scenarios leave many victims without vital support at a time when it is needed most. The reality is that the notes that counsellors take in those sessions are to inform their next session. It is not an evidence-collecting process, so very often those notes are not very useful and are often thrown out of court if they get into a courtroom situation. They are not useful, but they are incredibly damaging. Also, justice and proper support should never cancel each other out.

I am very grateful that my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy has set out the detail, so I will not repeat it in a too-drawn-out way. Essentially, the important point of this amendment is that it raises the threshold at which the police and other bodies are able to request counselling notes during an investigation. In order to request such notes, the police will have to show that they have been able to rebut the presumption that counselling records are not necessary and proportionate to a law enforcement purpose and that they consider that the counselling records are likely to be of “substantial probative value”, which is a higher threshold than “necessary and proportionate”, which we have at the moment. To ensure that this new threshold of substantial probative value is properly understood, because we know that, with 43 police forces around the country, it could easily be misunderstood or not adhered to, the Government should provide clear guidance in the code of practice, working with other relevant partners such as the CPS, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Attorney-General.

Finally, a very important part of these amendments is requiring the Secretary of State to publish a review of how these measures are working and being adhered to three years after the provisions come into force. We all know that post-legislative scrutiny of these difficult areas of law and of how the measures are working in practice is crucial. Taken together, the new threshold and the guidance will enhance the work of transformative programs such Operation Soteria and are another step in the right direction of dismantling the criminal justice system’s focus on victims’ credibility rather than the actions of the suspect.

18:15
Baroness Morgan of Cotes Portrait Baroness Morgan of Cotes (Con)
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 87A, 88A and 158, which, as the Minister has already said, discuss additional protections for victims of rape who are subject to requests for third-party material. I thank my noble friend Lady Finn, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for their support for these amendments, which I know are also supported by my noble friend Lady Newlove, the Victims’ Commissioner, and across the House as well. I am sorry that I was not able to speak to them myself in person—I am very grateful to those who did —in Committee due to a family emergency.

The Government argue that their amendment covering these issues sets out clearly in law that the police should request third-party materials only if they are necessary and proportionate to a reasonable line of inquiry. However, these amendments do no more than reinforce existing legal provisions that are already not adhered to. No additional safeguards or protections are being offered. This will do nothing to change policing culture around excessive requests because it will merely reaffirm what already exists in law rather than encouraging operational change. I listened very carefully to what the Minister had to say. Although I do not necessarily intend formally to move these amendments this evening, I am concerned to hear that the third-party material we are talking about is not going to be treated as sensitively as mobile phone data because the material we are talking about could be medical material, school information or even social services records. It may be created by a third party, but it is all sensitive data about the victim of a rape or a serious sexual assault. I think it is a mistake not to have entertained more the protections that we are talking about in these amendments.

Just last week, the Home Office published its report of a case file review of police requests for third-party material in rape cases. The findings are truly shocking, and I encourage anybody who does not believe this is an issue to read that report in full. I think we should consider the findings regarding each of the tests that the police are supposed to apply when making requests for this material. First, is it necessary? In the review of 342 third-party material requests, only 176 requests had a recorded rationale, leaving 49% of requests without an explanation for the necessity of that request. Is the request proportionate? The report found that nearly two-thirds of requests did not contain any parameters, such as a timeframe, to limit the amount of information about the victim being requested. Is the request following a reasonable line of inquiry? Nearly one-quarter of rationales given for the third-party material request were generic or not specific to the case. If the reasoning for making a third-party material request is speculative, it is unlikely to be necessary to make the request in pursuit of a line of inquiry.

We know there is a problem, but there is also a solution. As we have already heard, there is a well-developed framework within the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. That framework applies to requests for digital data held on phones, and it sets out that requests for victims’ digital data must receive the consent of victims. If consent is not received, this must not lead to the termination of the police investigation. One of the most serious aspects of this is that where the victim does not give consent, that is almost used as a reason to drop the investigation, which is devastating for the victim concerned. In that Act, there are strong safeguards offering key protections for vulnerable victims. That is what these amendments seek to do: to amend the wording in the Bill to mirror that in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act.

Anecdotal evidence from victim advocates indicates that, since that Act was introduced, they have seen fewer requests, as well as requests being more appropriate in scope, because of that framework. I do not understand why the Government will not adopt that framework for third-party material requests. It does not make any sense to have two different regimes. Often, this material is sought in tandem. It would be better for victims, and for the police, for there to be one regime.

Victims of crime should not be forced to choose between their own privacy and their right to justice. I hope the Government will look favourably on these amendments, if not now, then in the future.

I want briefly to pay tribute to the work of my noble friend Lady Bertin for Amendments 87, 88, 89 and 94. She is absolutely right that victims and survivors of sexual violence should never have to choose between seeking justice and accessing therapy and support. I thank all those across the House who have supported her in making that case, and my noble friend the Minister for listening.

Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
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My Lords, I am using IT in this speech—trying to get trendy, as my daughters tell me to do. My apologies, as I have sausage fingers with arthritis.

First, I would like to speak to Amendment 85. In April 2018, I published a report highlighting the discrepancies between the treatment of those victims whose perpetrator was serving a sentence in prison and those whose perpetrator had been detained under the Mental Health Act. I pressed the Government for change. Dame Vera Baird, who followed me, also took up the cudgels on behalf of this too-often overlooked group of victims. Our argument was that the grief and trauma caused by serious violence and sexual crime was no less if the perpetrator was in a hospital rather than a prison. They all deserve support. They all deserve to have their voices heard.

When I returned to the office last October, there remained unfinished business. Victims of patients detained in hospitals still could not submit a victim’s personal statement to the tribunal when discharge was being considered. Neither could they attend the hearing to present. I am therefore delighted that, on this occasion, the Government and my noble friend the Minister have listened and acted. I welcome the government amendment, which will ensure that, at long last, there will be parity of treatment for this group of victims. I again thank the Minister and his team for bringing this about. I feel sure that it will be welcomed across the House.

I support of Amendments 87A and 88A, which would, if adopted, increase protections for victims of rape who are subject to requests for third-party material. Before turning to those amendments, I thank the Government for their thoughtful consideration of amendments tabled in Committee by my noble friend Lady Bertin. These sought to provide additional protections for victims around notes of therapy, measures which I truly support. I am delighted that the Government have agreed to change the legal threshold for this material, and I hope that they may be persuaded to provide greater protections around other forms of third-party material.

I turn now to Amendments 87A and 88A. The Government argue that their own amendment to the Bill will stop demands for personal and private information from rape complainants but, as they stated in Committee, their clauses do nothing more than consolidate the current legal framework—a framework which has not been followed. How can things change? The Home Office report to which my noble friend Lady Morgan already referred found that, in almost a quarter of these cases, credibility was specifically cited as the reason for requesting third-party material. While credibility can sometimes form a reasonable line of inquiry in investigations, it is most often used in rape investigations. That is because, in rape cases, it is the victim who is being investigated to see if they are believable or credible, not the accused. In no other crime type is the credibility of the victim so scrutinised. Victims must be properly protected from these intrusive demands, as they have been by the Government’s measures in the PCSC Act, which successfully curbed the ambiguous practice of digital download from complainants’ phones—the digital strip-search, as it was known. The Government could, as it did there, introduce a new regime that empowers and protects victims, but instead they are merely reiterating the current framework and hoping that guidance will elicit change. It will not. The officers making the requests referred to in the Home Office report were operating under the existing framework —the same framework that the government clauses will consolidate in this Bill.

The Government point to the defendant’s right to a fair trial as the reason why Amendments 87A and 88A cannot be adopted. But there are other legal mechanisms available to the police and prosecution to obtain this material if the complainant does not agree to access, so the right to a fair trial is not impacted. Additionally, these amendments would provide consistency with the framework around digital material. This consistency is good for the police, and it is so good for the victims.

I urge support for Amendment 87A and 88A, which, along with the Government’s own measure on digital material, and now on notes of therapy, make a significant difference to the victims of this horrendous crime. I also support Amendments 77 and 78, which both seek to provide rape victims with legal advocacy when their right to privacy is engaged by the system. The Government have promised on numerous occasions to explore this option, but they have yet to do so in a meaningful way. It is being considered as a recommendation to the Government by the Law Commission, precisely because of the huge invasions of privacy that victims experience if they report a rape. I urge noble Lords to support these measures.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I speak to my Amendment 96. I thank those noble Lords who added their names to this amendment: the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Brinton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester.

The Government’s aim in this Bill is to improve victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system and their access to support, yet the Bill provides no protection for victims with insecure immigration status who have been the subject of serious crime. If these victims provide information for the police, the Bill as its stands allows their personal details to be passed to the immigration authorities. Amendment 96 tackles this problem. This is important because migrant victims are more vulnerable to experiencing serious crime and less likely to receive redress. In particular, we need Amendment 96 so that migrant victims are protected under the Bill from crimes such as violence against women and girls and modern slavery. The amendment is explicit that the personal data of a victim of a crime of domestic abuse, harassment, modern slavery, a sexual offence or other offences specified in regulations by the Secretary of State must not be used for any immigration control purpose without the consent of the individual.

The amendment also ensures that, before issuing any guidance under this amendment, the Secretary of State must consult the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner or other such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate. The amendment is thus well protected in statute.

Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to serious crime, including violence against women and girls and modern slavery. Abusers use their control over the victim’s immigration status and their right to live and work in the UK to threaten and trap these victims in abuse or exploitative working conditions.

We have a wealth of evidence that, for victims with insecure immigration status, the fear of data sharing between the police and immigration services constitutes one of the most severe barriers to accessing the criminal justice system. Research by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and the Step Up Migrant Women campaign found that fully 62% of migrant women had specifically been threatened about their immigration status if they reported abuse. These are not empty threats. For example, the Police Service of Northern Ireland was reporting 29 victims and witnesses of crime to the Home Office every day; that amounts to nearly 10,000 people in a year.

To date, the Government have rejected the firewall proposal. They prefer to try to combine enforcement of immigration control and the protection of victims. I, along with the organisations working in this field, do not accept the Government’s proposal as workable. The Justice Committee recommended the introduction of a complete firewall, as proposed here, and, along with the EHRC, called for the immediate end of data sharing between the police and the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes.

This is urgent. We know from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s office that all police forces in England and Wales share victims’ data with immigration enforcement staff. The absence of a firewall significantly harms not only victims of crime but the public interest, as crimes of course are not reported and therefore remain unpunished. Other countries have recognised the importance of building trust with migrants in order to solve more crimes and prevent and address serious crimes.

I did not fully understand the introductory remarks by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, but I hope that on reflection he will feel that a firewall in this field is justified and could support this amendment or introduce a similar government one in its stead.

18:30
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, I offer some brief words in support of Amendment 96. Like the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, I was very disappointed with the response in Committee, which simply rehashed old arguments that I had already challenged. I have two practical questions. First, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, promised the long-awaited code of practice for parliamentary scrutiny by the spring. It may not feel very spring-like, but spring is passing and there is still no sight of it. Surely it should have been made available in time to inform our debate today. The Minister said it would hopefully be this spring, but he did not sound very sure. Can he give us a firm assurance that it will be made available this spring?

Secondly, whereas I had been told in a Written Answer that the also long-awaited protocol would be published in early 2024, all that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, could say in Committee was that it would be launched “later this year”. How much later? Why the delay?

Finally, I never received an answer to my much more fundamental question: how do the Government square their intransigent position on the firewall supported by the DAC, various parliamentary committees and all organisations on the ground with repeated ministerial assurances that domestic abuse victims/survivors must be treated as victims first and foremost, regardless of immigration status? As it stands, it is a case not of safety before status, as called for by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, but of status before safety.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I support the amendments to which the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has spoken. This was an issue that I came across only when preparing for Second Reading. I do not want to repeat her arguments, and I could not make them as well or as thoroughly as she has, but I was shocked to discover the problems that have arisen in connection with counselling and advice. I also support the firewall amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. We have been here before many times, have we not?

Last week the previous Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, speaking to the committee reviewing the Modern Slavery Act, raised the interesting position of one law enforcement sector withholding information from, or not sharing information with, another law enforcement sector. She came to her conclusion, but I did not read her as having reached it entirely easily. I reached the conclusion that there should be a firewall for the reason put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher: imbalance of power—that is what it is about—between a victim and somebody to whom material is made available for abuse. These are very vulnerable victims. I have circled words such as “later this year” and so on, which the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, mentioned. I will not repeat them, but it would be good to make some progress on this issue.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, my honourable friend Layla Moran laid an amendment about the ending of non-disclosure agreements that prevent victims disclosing information to the police or other services, including confidential support services, ensuring that they cannot be legally enforced. She has campaigned on this issue for some considerable time. She and I both thank the Minister for the progress in Amendment 76, which is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. It certainly will help some victims access the support they need, but we on these Benches regret that this is not enough to fully give victims their voice back. We still need a complete ban on the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual misconduct, harassment and bullying to ensure that no victim is ever silenced. We will campaign on this in future but appreciate the step forward that has been made in this Bill.

I have signed Amendments 87, 88, 89 and 94 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. I also thank the Minister for the meetings, his Amendment 76 and what he said in introduction—I agree with the response by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes, talked about third-party data requests, and again it was a privilege to be involved in those meetings. I thank her for her comments and her remaining concerns. She is absolutely right that it does not take us further forward enough.

Finally, I signed Amendment 96 from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on the immigration firewall. My noble friend Lady Hamwee was absolutely right: we have been here before. I was just thinking about amendments during the passage of the Illegal Migration Bill, the safety of Rwanda Bill and, I suspect, the Nationality and Borders Bill before that—yet we are not making progress. It is very unfortunate that the Government have gone backwards since the Modern Slavery Act in the protection of these particular victims. I know that across the House we will continue to push for ensuring that the loophole is closed.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, it is really a pleasure to respond to this group from these Benches, because there is real progress. It is important to record thanks to everybody who has made this progress happen. I very much welcome the clarification that the Minister has made in Amendment 76. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is quite right, though, that this is a first step. Indeed, today a useful brief was sent to me and possibly other noble Lords from the Bar Council, which makes the point that the issue of non-disclosure agreements is ripe for legislative change. The Bar Council welcomes the Government’s intention to implement legislative reform and recognises that some NDAs are abusive in nature. NDAs cannot cover criminal acts, and under existing common-law protections many are already unenforceable, but those who are asked to sign them are not always aware of the relevant legal principles. When you have the Bar Council and everybody else on your side, you know that this is an important first step.

On the Government’s amendments, I welcome Amendment 85, as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, welcomed it. I thank the Minister and his team for listening and for bringing forward this amendment, which was aired in Committee very powerfully indeed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Watkins and Lady Newlove. Then, of course, there is a suite of amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. I was very pleased to be able to support these in Committee. These Benches are absolutely in favour of them; they have the support of the whole House. I know from the very long time ago when I was a Minister how much work goes into getting to this place. I congratulate the noble Baroness and say how much we are in favour of these amendments.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, is absolutely right to be disappointed about the Government not accepting Amendments 87A and 88A. It is probably clear that we have not come to the end of this. The noble Baroness is quite right in nodding to say, “We have definitely not come to the end of this discussion about what needs to happen to support victims with requests for dealing with digital and other information, and providing the right kind of safeguards for them”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is right, and she has our Benches’ support for her amendment. If there were to be a Division on this then it would be next week. Between now and then we need to look at what the Minister has said to see if we can push him a bit further than he has gone, and then maybe we could avoid that, but the noble Baroness needs to know that she has these Benches’ support, and probably that of the Liberal Democrats, if we need to take the issue further. All in all, we have made great progress.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I shall answer a couple of questions and make one clarification. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, who said, “Come on now, when are the code and the protocol going to be available?” I am afraid that, at this point, I cannot advance matters further other than to say, according to my instructions, that the code will be available for parliamentary scrutiny this spring—I know that is not as precise as anyone would like—and that the protocol will be launched later this year. These matters are under the control of the Home Office, and we had a discussion earlier about the relationship between 102 Petty France and Marsham Street. That is as far as I can go at the moment, and I apologise to the noble Baroness that I cannot be more precise.

I am prepared, as always, to have a further exchange of views on Amendment 96. I am not sure we can take it much further but we are always ready to listen, since throughout the Bill we are dealing with the problem of striking a balance between effective immigration control and victim support, and unfortunately there are always trade-offs to be made.

To respond to my noble friend Lady Morgan about requests for relevant information, new Section 44A(6) requires that the request is proportionate. The authorised person must be satisfied that there is no other means of obtaining the information or, if there are such means, that they are not practicable. The decision to release the information ultimately lies with the third party, and that third party has their own obligation under the Data Protection Act and their own duties of confidentiality owed to the person concerned. Again, I respectfully suggest that, bearing in mind my noble friend Lady Bertin’s amendments, the balance between fair-trial rights and victim protection is effectively drawn in the result that we have arrived at. It is not perfect, I know, but it seems to be a practical solution to a very difficult problem.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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I hope the Minister will forgive me for interrupting him, but I want to thank him for suggesting that we might meet to discuss Amendment 96 before we come back next week. Obviously, I would be delighted to have a discussion about that.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I am always happy to meet, but we might not get much further.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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I just wanted to put on record that we have agreed that we will meet, and I welcome that.

Amendment 76 agreed.
Amendment 77
Moved by
77: After Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—
“Free independent legal advocates for rape victims(1) The Secretary of State must develop proposals for a scheme to give victims of rape access to free, independent legal advocates available in every police force area in England and Wales.(2) For the purposes of this section “independent legal advocate for rape victims” means a person who is a qualified solicitor, with experience working with vulnerable people, who provides appropriate legal advice and representation to individuals who are victims of criminal conduct which constitutes rape.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to develop proposals for the provision of free legal advocates for rape victims in every police force.
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak to this briefly, although we regard it as fundamentally important. Amendment 77 would require the Secretary of State to develop proposals for the provision of free legal advocates for rape victims in every police force. Amendment 78, which we regard as part of the same package, would require the Secretary of State to develop proposals for the provision of free independent legal advice for rape victims. A lack of resource cannot and should not be a reason for not getting legal advice, and it should not depend on a postcode lottery either. This is a similar point to those made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, on Amendments 87A and 88A. I beg to move.

18:45
Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames wanted to speak to these two amendments but is unable to be here today, for which he apologises.

In Committee, the Government’s position, which was entirely sympathetic in principle—the noble Earl is rarely unsympathetic—was that the Law Commission is going to consider this in any event, so we should wait for it to do so before pressing the matter further. However, my noble friend says that that is not good enough. There is no reason for a further report before proceeding with the provision of free legal representation and advice for rape victims. If we wait for the Law Commission then there will have to be a further consultation, but that is not necessary—Liberal Democrats do not say that consultations are not necessary lightly—and then there has to be the process of producing a report and then, finally, a Bill. All in all, that is a long delay on an issue on which the principle is uncomplicated and, in any event, conceded. We support these two amendments.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and, in her absence, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for Amendments 77 and 78, which, as we have heard, seek to require the development of proposals for schemes to give victims of rape access to free independent legal advice and representation.

I agree that it is extremely important that victims are aware of their rights and confident in those rights, particularly when preparing for trial and when requests for their personal information are made. While it would be novel to provide access to free legal advice and representation for just one type of crime, we recognise that, if there is one category of people who are especially vulnerable, it is victims of rape and sexual offences. We also recognise that victims of these crimes are more likely to receive requests for sensitive personal information as part of an investigation, and that there are calls for independent legal advice to help victims with that situation as well.

That is why the Bill tackles the problem in a different way, by introducing measures designed to minimise requests for information, as my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy explained in the previous group of amendments. Through the Bill we are placing a new statutory duty on the police to request third-party material relating to victims only when necessary, proportionate and relevant to a reasonable line of inquiry. Following the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Bertin, which the Government have accepted, there will also be a requirement that the Requests for Victim Information code of practice must state that the police and other law enforcement agencies should start an investigation with the presumption that requests for counselling notes are not necessary or proportionate.

My noble friend’s amendments also mandate that counselling notes can be requested by police only if they are likely to have “substantial probative value” to a reasonable line of inquiry. This higher threshold will ensure that police are not routinely requesting counselling notes and that the privacy of these victims is respected.

As I have said, we do not want to create a hierarchy of support by granting government-funded legal advice to victims of just one type of crime. Alongside that, there are some complex and sensitive considerations regarding the introduction of independent legal advice for such victims. In particular, we have to be mindful of the role of the victim as a witness in proceedings and avoid anything that might have an unintended impact on the defendant’s right to a fair trial. This concern emerged very explicitly from the pilot scheme run in the north of England. I direct that point particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and, in his absence, the noble Lord, Lord Marks; we need to take account of the findings from that pilot, which expressed those concerns. A subsidiary but still important point is to consider the potential impact on timeliness as a result of another process being inserted into the system. That was another concern that arose in the pilot.

These are all far-reaching considerations which, I suggest, require expert input before any statutory measures are considered. The Law Commission’s review will consider all these factors, including—the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, may like to note—the impact of existing schemes in other jurisdictions. When it publishes its report later this year, its findings and recommendations on independent legal advice will provide us with the robust evidence base that we will need should we wish to go forward and develop the sort of policy proposals that the amendment points us towards. Therefore, it is right for us to wait for those findings.

There is a further point of principle which I ought to flag: it really is not appropriate to place a duty on the Secretary of State in primary legislation to develop policy, especially without any specification of what such proposals should entail and who is responsible for implementing them once they have been developed. Once again, it is much better that we await the Law Commission’s recommendations.

I know how important this issue is to noble Lords opposite, but I hope that I have given the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, sufficient pause as regards his original intention to divide the House. There are some good reasons why the amendments should not be pressed, which I hope I have been able persuade him of. I therefore very much hope that he will withdraw Amendment 77 and not move Amendment 78.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I am not convinced by the noble Earl. When he opened, he acknowledged that this is an especially vulnerable group and that some cases have a case for novel funding arrangements. He talked about the possibility of unintended consequences of unfair trials—a comment about the pilot funding scheme. In other jurisdictions, such as the family court, there is funding for victims of domestic abuse. If a woman—and normally it is a woman—is a victim or potential victim of domestic abuse, there is funding available in that case as well. Given that this is such a vulnerable group, and since this is an issue of great importance to many Members of this House, I would like to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 77.

18:54

Division 4

Ayes: 168

Noes: 177

19:06
Amendments 78 and 79 not moved.
Clause 16: Restricting parental responsibility where one parent kills the other
Amendment 80
Moved by
80: Clause 16, page 13, line 14, at end insert “or a sexual offence against the child or a child in the family”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would remove the presumption of custody for children of offenders of child sexual abuse, requiring a Crown Court to make a prohibited steps order protecting the children of an offender on sentencing.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, we are now in the family court because in the real world and in a joined-up justice system, victims are being dealt with not just in the criminal justice system but in the family system.

I have Amendments 80, 83, 84, 91 and 92 in this group. I will try to deal with them as succinctly as possible given the hour and what noble Lords across the House have had to endure in the last 24 hours. I am dealing with three issues. The first relates to Clause 16, the so-called Jade’s law. I will speak to that in a moment. That is covered in Amendments 80, 84—which is consequential on Amendment 80—and 83, which is distinct, but I am led to believe that the usual channels have agreed that Amendments 80, 83 and 84 will be treated as a package. I will wait for someone opposite to jump up and tell me if I am wrong about that.

Amendment 91 deals with “cowboy experts”—I am trying to be as succinct as I can—that is, unregulated experts giving opinions and getting paid. These unregulated opinions and expertise lead to considerable injustice in the family court, including people having to spend a lot of money and people losing responsibility for or contact with their children. Amendment 92 would ensure that those suspected of or charged with domestic abuse, sexual violence and child abuse are not permitted unsupervised access to their children.

Jade’s law is Clause 16, on which the Government are to be commended. Amendments 80, 83 and 84 attempt to tighten up loopholes in Jade’s law, and they are supported by the family of Jade Ward. On account of the time, I will not recount the details of that case. Noble Lords will know that, in its current form as proposed by the Government, Clause 16 places a parent convicted of the murder or manslaughter of the other parent under a prohibited steps order. This is so that we do not have the murderer or manslaughterer effectively controlling the family from behind bars. The Government are to be commended on responding to the campaign and taking up that issue, but we think there is a loophole in that there are sex offenders—not just murderers and manslaughterers—who are attempting the same coercive control, by way of the family courts, from behind bars.

Amendments 80 and 83 would extend Jade’s law and are supported by the family of Jade Ward, whose campaign originally led to Clause 16. We would extend the provisions of Clause 16 to those convicted of a sex offence against a child in the family.

I am aware that, in response to an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill in the other place from my right honourable friend Harriet Harman, the Government have announced that they want to do something and give a concession in our direction in relation to those who rape a child under 13. With huge respect to the Government, that is not enough, because there are very serious sex offences that are not rape and there are very vulnerable children who are just over 13. A child is a child—not least for the purposes of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, if one can still talk about such instruments in Parliament—until they are 18, and certainly there are very serious sex offences that are not rape. So we wish to go further in the ambit of Clause 16, which is Jade’s law.

We also have Amendment 83. This deals with the exception to Jade’s law, as rightly constructed by the Government in the principal amendment. Understandably, and very sensibly in my view, the Government have created, from subsection (5) onwards, an exception to the prohibition in relation to the murderer or the manslaughterer, normally but not always a woman, who is a victim of domestic abuse that led to the murder or manslaughter.

We seek to include domestic abuse, as defined in legislation. At the moment there is an exemption where the offender is convicted of manslaughter and it appears to the Crown Court that this would not be in the interests of justice. We say “the interests of justice” is too vague a concept and they have to be a victim of domestic abuse, as determined by the 2021 Act. “The interests of justice” is too vague a concept to ensure proper protection for all those we seek to protect.

19:15
I move on to unregulated cowboy shrinks—if I can put it like that for the purposes of speed. Amendment 91 seeks to ensure that only properly regulated experts are called on to give evidence in proceedings involving victims. This is supported by the Association of Clinical Psychologists, so I hope the Government might have something positive to say about it. Again, what we are worried about is the weaponisation of the family court, normally by one parent who has more wealth and power and is able to pay for experts, including unethical cowboy experts.
As I say, it could go either way in terms of the mother or the father, but in many cases the mother is accused of this concept of “parental alienation”. We all know that divorced people fall out and are sometimes indiscreet in front of the children, but to turn this into a fake syndrome called “parental alienation” and call in expensive cowboy shrinks to say that the upset mother should no longer have access to her children, or should go on some therapeutic treatment programme that will cost thousands of pounds before she can have access to her children, is a travesty of family justice and not something that we should allow. As I say, all we want is for experts, who are very important in the justice system, to be properly regulated, just as lawyers, doctors and other experts are.
Finally, Amendment 92, as I said, would ensure that contact with a parent who is currently under investigation, on bail or awaiting trial for domestic abuse, sexual violence or child abuse is supervised.
I could go on, but I do not want to, because it is important that other noble Lords get to speak and that we move swiftly to determining your Lordships’ views on these provisions.
Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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My Lords, I have put my name to these four amendments. I feel quite strongly about Amendment 80 in particular, although I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that they are in fact a package. I was, as I have said many times, a family judge and I tried a great many sexual abuse cases. I spoke earlier about the trauma of sexual abuse lasting right through adulthood. But I ask your Lordships: can you think of anything worse than a child being raped by a parent? It is the destruction of trust in a whole part of the family, where one member creates a situation in which the child is abused. I have to say that they can be abused in two orifices, not just one—and I have heard all too many cases of both.

Sexual abuse seems to be an issue that is almost as important as murder, because the parent is lost to that child for the rest of the child’s life, but the parent retains, under Section 2 of the Children Act 1989, parental responsibility for the whole of the child’s childhood up to 18—I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, would prefer us to refer to “those who are under the age of 18”.

It is such a serious matter that I commend the Government—I really congratulate them—on Clause 16. It is splendid, but it needs this one extra bit. The clause needs to recognise the intense seriousness and the unbelievable trauma for a child. I heard the case of one child, a little girl of the age of four, who was so sexualised by her father that she became a danger. It was not a case between parents, but a care case in which no foster parent who was a man could possibly care for the child. A single woman had to be found to care for that child and teach her to live a normal life. I remember that case always; it really shocked me.

Amendments 83 and 92 deal with the impact of domestic abuse. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said, in a case where a mother, or occasionally a father, has been so traumatised by domestic abuse that he or she—mainly she—kills the other parent who has committed it, it would not necessarily be right to deny them parental responsibility.

In relation to Amendment 91, I declare an interest as an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. I have had the experience of listening to experts say that one parent was unfit, and I am glad to say that I just did not believe them. However, some of them are quite persuasive and have the most extraordinary proposals. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has talked about parental alienation. There was a certain period in which that was rather popular, but it is dangerous. There are parents who alienate children from the other parent, but it is not a syndrome; it is a fact of life, and it is a very unattractive way in which one parent treats the other. It should not be given the status of some sort of medical condition. There is nothing medical about it; it is just abhorrent.

I also support Amendment 92, but what really matters for me is Amendment 80. We should add sexual abuse to the otherwise admirable Clause 16.

Baroness Helic Portrait Baroness Helic (Con)
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My Lords, I support these amendments. They are underpinned by a simple principle: the best interests of the child. They seek to prevent the subversion of the family court, so that it cannot be used by abusers to extend their influence and control over victims; and to ensure that, as far as possible, children are protected from abuse and trauma.

Whether directly or indirectly, children are victims of domestic abuse in a household. Tragically, they are sometimes victims of abuse at the hands of their own parents. In such circumstances, the normal assumption that their best interests are served through contact with their parent must be reconsidered. This is why we seek to extend Jade’s law so that not just offenders who are convicted of murdering a partner but those convicted of sexually abusing a child in the family will automatically have their parental responsibility suspended on sentencing, rather than placing the burden on the family to go through family court proceedings after the criminal conviction.

It is why we seek to prohibit unsupervised contact for a parent who has perpetrated domestic abuse, sexual violence or child abuse. Too often, “best interests” has been determined as almost synonymous with increased parental contact. In most cases, that may be true, but we need to make sure that the law works when it is not. Sadly, contact does not correlate to care. Unsupervised contact with someone accused of abuse is a serious risk to the well-being and safety of a child.

Other amendments in this group seek to limit the ability of domestic abusers to carry on their abuse by subverting our justice system and using court procedures to harass and control their victims. The proceedings of our courts must be fair, and we must not let them be used as a tool of abuse. To that end, we must also make sure that any expert advice is properly regulated. This was discussed in some detail during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act. The sorry truth is that we continue to see allegations of so-called parental alienation used routinely by abusers and the so-called experts they produce in the courts to try and discredit children’s testimony and avoid the charges they face. Victims are even encouraged not to disclose domestic abuse as it will only see them cast as unco-operative. This is a deeply alarming situation which poses a real risk for victims and children.

The UN Human Rights Council report Custody, Violence Against Women and Violence Against Children recommends that states legislate to prohibit the use of parental alienation or related pseudo-concepts in family law cases, and the use of so-called experts in parental alienation and related pseudo-concepts. In an early 2023 case involving a regulated psychologist, the President of the Family Division held that it was at Parliament’s discretion whether a tighter regime should be imposed. We should exercise that discretion.

My sense from Committee was that the principles behind the various amendments in this group are widely supported across the House and the differences are largely down to practicalities. It is precisely because of the practicalities that these amendments are needed. Without them the psychological, practical and financial burdens placed on families trying to recover from abuse is very heavy. I shall give just one example. A mother in Cardiff had to spend £30,000 on court costs to remove parental rights from her ex-husband, who was a convicted child sex abuser, to protect her daughter. This is sadly not untypical. In another case I have been told about, a father was found to have used abusive behaviour towards his children and rape their mother. The mother’s court costs were £50,000. Eventually, the father was ordered to pay, but the very prospect of such high sums risks putting children’s safety at an unjust price.

Victims of domestic abuse must be able to have faith that any abuse endured will not be manipulated against them in court. These amendments are firmly in line with the Government’s ambitions for the Bill. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will accept them.

Lord Meston Portrait Lord Meston (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendments 80 and 84. These amendments would extend the provision of Jade’s law in the Bill, which relates to murder and manslaughter cases, and would deprive a convicted offender of parental responsibility. The amendments would extend the provisions to sexual offences against children in the family. A powerful case has been made for this extension. It was recently approved, as has been said, in another Bill before the Commons. The examples provided in the briefing material fully justify this amendment.

If I may be pedantic for a moment, I will point out that in the explanatory statement attached to Amendment 80 there is an incorrect reference to removal of “the presumption of custody”. There is no such presumption, and the concept of custody has not existed since the Children Act 1989, although it persists in soap operas, to the irritation of family lawyers.

This amendment would prohibit the exercise of parental responsibility by convicted offenders in cases of child sexual abuse. Allowing sexual offenders to continue to exercise parental responsibility would be wholly inappropriate. Amendments 80 and 84 are well suited to the structure of the Bill, which provides for an order to be made by the Crown Court and then automatically reviewed by the family court when there is perhaps a fuller picture of the family circumstances and a fuller picture of wider implications.

In many ways, cases of sexual offending are more difficult because, sadly, in cases of murder and manslaughter, both parents are not alive. When both parents are still alive, and when there is the possibility that the offender is not in custody—or not for very long —serious thought needs to be given, after the automatic order in the Crown Court, by the family court. That is why I suggest that these amendments are well suited to the structure of the Bill.

19:30
I have some reservations about Amendment 83, which I expressed in Committee. I find it more difficult. I understand the point of the amendment but question its scope. It would apply to cases of murder as well as manslaughter, and it would do so irrespective of the nature, extent and seriousness or otherwise of the abuse suffered. It would also apply irrespective of its lack of relevance to the offence for which the parent has been convicted. Abuse in these situations may be rather remote and unrelated to the offence, and, in cases of murder, it will not have affected the decision to convict. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, accepted, there is a discretion under new Section 10A(5), to be inserted by the Bill into the Children Act, in manslaughter cases at least, to allow some relief from the provisions of Jade’s law. I venture to suggest that that might well be sufficient and would allow for a case- specific decision in each case.
I support Amendment 91, which relates to expert evidence and particularly refers to the problems of psychological experts, highlighted in recent decisions of the Court of Appeal and the family court. I can tell the noble Baroness that it is cowgirls as well as cowboys who operate in this field. If I can be anecdotal for a moment, I particularly recall an advocate recommending fervently the instruction of a psychologist of whom nobody had heard and who turned out to be the advocate’s wife.
When the court decides that expert evidence is needed in difficult cases, the courts and the parties are entitled to expect professionals who are objective, authoritative and have relevant skills and qualifications, not those with their own agenda, unhelpful rigid views or preformed assumptions. We need experts to assist with the analysis of past events, but, more importantly, as the noble Baroness said, even if that is left to the court, the expert is needed to help with recommendations for suitable and available appropriate therapy to deal with the problems of the family revealed by the case. The purpose of experts at that stage can be to see whether there is any possibility of restoring family relationships, particularly in the so-called alienation cases.
It is frustrating, and it still happens, that you come across a recommendation for a form of treatment that is not available, either because it is too costly or because it is not available under the health service. That is less likely to happen if the expert who has been instructed is a mainstream practitioner grounded in the real world. I repeat what I said in Committee: it would, frankly, be better if this provision applied to all psychological experts used in such cases, not just those instructed to assess the victim but those instructed to assess the perpetrators and the children. Quite often, you get jointly instructed experts required to carry out what are called “global assessments” of all involved. Although I appreciate why this amendment focuses on the assessment of victims, it is to be hoped that, if it is introduced as part of the statutory framework, it will apply to raise standards across the board.
I support Amendment 92. Much of what it seeks to achieve is or ought to be covered by the relevant practice direction in the Family Procedure Rules. As I said in Committee, it is sometimes quite difficult to discover what the state of the investigation has been and what bail conditions apply. It is therefore quite difficult to align bail conditions with orders required by the family court. Nevertheless, I support the amendment because it will, in practice, assist the courts.
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, I added my name to Amendments 80, 83, 91 and 92, and I support Amendment 84 as well, although I have not signed it. I will not repeat everyone else’s comments, but I support virtually all of them—though I might take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Meston, on a couple of minor details about why amendments have been laid.

I will make one point about Amendment 91 that nobody else has made. The very helpful briefing that we received from the Association of Clinical Psychologists and the Law Society Gazette this week set out the technical anomaly that exists with regulated psychologists. The position of the regulator, the Health and Care Professions Council, is that it wrote to the director of workforce at the Department of Health and Social Care to highlight risks presented by unregulated psychologists, including in relation to the provision of expert evidence. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Meston, that it was writing in a broader way than just for the courts.

In the landmark case of Re C, the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, determined that the courts could not prohibit the appointment of an unregulated person who called themselves a psychologist as a psychological expert because there is no regulation of the term “psychologist”. The way round this would be to take this amendment, to make it absolutely clear. However, there are slightly broader issues that the Government now need to look at, not just from the courts but the wider health system, to make sure that those who are bound by the HCPC are the ones who are regulated to work in these areas—nobody else should be permitted to do so.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, although this has been a relatively short debate, it has been quite comprehensive. All noble Lords have spoken with brevity about these sensitive issues.

I will highlight two points. First, I pick up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Meston, about how any order made by the Crown Court should automatically be reviewed by the family court. That was a useful addition to the amendment, although I suspect my noble friend may be pressing the amendments as they are. Nevertheless, I thought it was an insightful point.

My other point about Amendment 91, on psychologists and people with professional expertise, is that the problems extend beyond experts. In family courts, I see McKenzie friends who clearly have their own agendas, and it is an issue with which one has to deal—but that is a tangent to the main points in these amendments. If my noble friend chooses to press her amendment, we will of course support her.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, we have before us various amendments that deal essentially with family justice. I will deal first with Amendment 91, which proposes that only experts regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council undertake certain psychological assessments. The Government entirely appreciate the aim of this amendment—something needs to be done. This problem probably extends to healthcare generally. In the Ministry of Justice, we have been in discussion with the Department of Health about the term “psychologist”, what it means, whether one should regulate it and so forth. The Government’s position is that only psychologists who are regulated should be undertaking psychological assessments in the family court.

The short point is that this is going to be better dealt with under the Family Procedure Rules than in primary legislation. In particular, in this Bill, for reasons of scope, you can deal with it only in relation to victims of criminal conduct. We need an across-the-board solution, worked out through the Family Procedure Rule Committee, to implement changes that would ensure that, where a psychologist undertakes any psychological assessment in private law children proceedings, they are suitably regulated and that that broader work encapsulates any other problems that arise in relation to unregulated experts. The position of the Lord Chancellor is that this matter should be undertaken now by the Family Procedure Rule Committee—which operates in very close collaboration with practitioners, judges and all those involved in the family law scene—to implement changes, rather than it being done through this primary legislation.

Lord Meston Portrait Lord Meston (CB)
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I fully understand the point that the Minister is making. Can he indicate whether this problem has now been referred to the relevant Family Procedure Rule Committee? If it has, I would hope that it would get urgent and speedy consideration. If it has not, when will it be?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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There have been preliminary discussions with the committee but it has not formally started work. I cannot give the noble Lord a precise date, but I can say that there is a reserve power under Section 78A of the Courts Act 2003 which entitles the Lord Chancellor to require the Family Procedure Rule Committee to consider the point. In the Government’s submission, that is the way that this should be dealt with, rather than in this necessarily narrow Bill.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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Will the Lord Chancellor do that?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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It would be extremely regrettable if the Family Procedure Rule Committee were to refuse to embark on this exercise, particularly in the light of the comments made in the House today and in the other place. It is clearly something that should be done. That is as far as I can reasonably go at the Dispatch Box. That is essentially our position on Amendment 91: let us take it down the route of the Family Procedure Rule Committee.

Amendment 83 brings us to Jade’s law and Clause 16. This is where one parent murders the other. It is a very specific situation, because you have got only one parent left. In all other situations that we are discussing, you have two parents. Amendment 83 concerns where the parent who has committed the murder is a victim of domestic abuse. That is the purpose of this. The Government’s position—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Meston, came quite close to saying the same thing—is that this is effectively already dealt with in the existing Clause 16. It does not suspend parental responsibility for an offender convicted of voluntary manslaughter where it would not be in the interests of justice to do so.

We are talking here about a Sally Challen-type case, if I may use that expression. The “interest of justice” test is one with which Crown Court judges are familiar in the context of sentencing guidelines. Engaging the test is a matter for judicial discretion, but certainly in those cases where the victim has lashed out after years of abuse, they are very likely to fall within this exception, and that is why we have provided for voluntary manslaughter.

It does not seem to the Government that we need any more formal provision in the existing Clause 16 to take account of the situation where the murderer has suffered domestic abuse, because that is already implicit in the clause. If it were the case that, for some reason, Clause 16 was nonetheless to bite, it does, as has been pointed out, provide a pathway for review by the family court. The family court is not going to take away parental responsibility from a mother who has lashed out, if I may use that expression. The Government’s view is we do not need Amendment 83: it is already fairly well covered. I take these points quite shortly because I think it is important to keep this debate fairly short.

19:45
Amendment 92—and the situation where we have both parents still alive—seeks to remove the presumption of parental involvement where a child or a parent is a victim of domestic abuse as defined by the Bill. I caution against trying to amend family law in the context of this Bill. The presumption of parental involvement is central to family law: we already have protections under the Children Act 1989 and a forthcoming review is about to be published by the ministry. We have the Family Procedure Rules, and we have practice direction 12J, which deals with all the protections for children.
The important point is to strike the right balance between the benefits a child receives from the involvement of both parents and preventing harm to the child. Those are challenging things, but we should leave it to the individual circumstances of each case and work with the judiciary, with careful consideration and without, in this context, changing what is effectively the foundation of the Children Act 1989 in relation to the law on presumption of parental involvement. The Government would caution against going down that that route.
We had an important debate on this last night, in a Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, about the importance of the involvement of both parents in children’s lives and the work of the new pathfinder courts in dealing with these cases. Let us not divert all that good work by trying to review and amend family law in the context of this victims Bill. We are dealing only with victims in this case. That is the Government’s position on Amendment 92.
Amendment 80 seeks to extend the automatic expansion of Jade’s law to those who have been convicted of a sexual offence against the child, and that is linked to Amendment 84. Again, this is quite an important extension of the principle. As drawn, the amendment refers to “the child” and another child and “a sexual offence”, which could be a very wide concept as it includes lesser offences, as well as serious ones. The Government’s position is that, once you start to go down the road of Jade’s law, you have to be a bit careful about where the stopping point is to give the criminal court power to remove parental responsibility.
The Government’s position is that, in the case of child rape, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler- Sloss, said, the issue would be very clear. We propose to move an amendment in another statutory vehicle for the automatic suspension of parental responsibility in cases where an offender has been sentenced for the rape of a child, which will mirror the approach taken in Clause 16. There will be a review by the family court and so forth.
Beyond that, I caution this House against going further at this point. This is an important and novel change to the law around parental responsibility; we must go very carefully and understand the impact on the children and families of perpetrators. Adding a wide range of offences under which this mechanism would be triggered would put significant pressure on the family court and be quite difficult operationally. In the Government’s view, one should not go as far as the present amendment does. However, we are prepared to move an amendment in another Bill on the specific case of the rape of a child. The Government respectfully suggest that this is a sounder response than this very widely drawn amendment.
Government Amendments 81 and 82 clarify certain technical points about the operation of Clause 16, which I do not think I need explain in more detail.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I hope noble Lords will forgive me for forgetting courtesy in my brevity. I failed to mention the various supporters, some of whom have identified themselves: my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Helic, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. As always, I am also grateful for their expertise—including correcting an error in the explanatory note—and the expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Meston.

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Minister for understanding the problem with unregulated experts. He alluded to a potentially broader, and quite possibly effective, solution by way of procedure rules and, under pressure from the noble Lord, Lord Meston, said that it would be extraordinary if this did not happen. I will hold my fire until Report and have great hope—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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This is Report.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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Then I have no hope. But I will take comfort from the Minister’s comments, because that would be a better, rounder solution in relation to proceedings and it could be broader than just victims. I would prefer that outcome. I hope the Government as a whole will look at unregulated psychologists more generally, in relation not just to proceedings but the public more generally. I take comfort from that and am grateful for it.

On Amendment 83, the current provision for the Jade’s law exemption is vague. If we are trying to deal with domestic abuse, let us call it what it is—it is defined in statute.

On the presumption of parental involvement, the logic of the idea that convicted sex offenders should be presumptively allowed parental involvement escapes me. Jade’s law should be extended. The Minister is almost with me. He wants to act in another Bill, but the clock is ticking for this Parliament and we have a Bill right here on Report in which we could protect children from sex offences, including very serious sex offences that are just short of rape, for reasons which the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, put more graphically and with greater expertise. We should take this opportunity to act. I wish to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 80.

19:53

Division 5

Ayes: 144

Noes: 154

20:04
Amendments 81 and 82
Moved by
81: Clause 16, page 13, line 22, after “step” insert “of any kind”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies the extent of the restrictions placed on an offender with respect to a child by a prohibited steps order made under new section 10A of the Children Act 1989.
82: Clause 16, page 13, line 29, at end insert—
“(za) making the order is prohibited by section 29(3) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002,” Member's explanatory statement
This amendment means that the Crown Court must not make a prohibited steps order under new section 10A of the Children Act 1989 with respect to a child who is the subject of a placement order under section 21 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002.
Amendments 81 and 82 agreed.
Amendments 83 and 84 not moved.
Amendment 85
Moved by
85: After Clause 17, insert the following new Clause—
“Victim representations to mental health tribunals(1) Chapter 2 of Part 3 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 (victims’ rights to make representations and receive information) is amended as follows.(2) In section 37(8)(c)(i), for “that area” substitute “that local probation board”.(3) After section 37 insert—“37ZA Victim impact statements where restriction order made(1) This section applies if, in a case where section 37 applies, an application or reference mentioned in subsection (5) of that section is made to the First-tier Tribunal or the Mental Health Review Tribunal for Wales.(2) The relevant probation body—(a) must take all reasonable steps to ascertain whether a person who appears to the body to be the victim of the offence or to act for the victim of the offence wishes to provide a victim impact statement to the body, and(b) if the person provides such a statement, must forward it to the tribunal.(3) Where a victim impact statement has been forwarded to the tribunal under subsection (2), the tribunal must—(a) allow the person who made the statement to request permission to read the statement to the tribunal at a relevant hearing, and(b) grant such permission unless the tribunal considers that there are good reasons not to.(4) The tribunal may have regard to the statement when determining a matter specified in section 36(5)(a) or (b) (but must not have regard to it for any other purpose).(5) In this section—“relevant hearing” means any hearing held by the tribunal before making a decision which disposes of proceedings on the application or reference mentioned in subsection (1);“the relevant probation body” has the meaning given in section 37(8);“victim impact statement” means a statement about the way in which, and degree to which, the offence has affected and (as the case may be) continues to affect the victim or any other person.””Member's explanatory statement
This amendment makes provision for victims of certain serious offences, where the offender is subject to a hospital order with a restriction order, to provide a "victim impact statement" to a tribunal which is considering certain matters in relation to the discharge of the offender.
Amendment 85 agreed.
Clause 18: Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses
Amendment 86
Moved by
86: Clause 18, page 17, line 17, at end insert—
“(za) in subsection (1)(c), for “section 32” substitute “section 2 of the Victims and Prisoners Act 2024, including the extent to which the duty in section 5(A1) of that Act (duty to provide services in accordance with the code) is being complied with”;”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Victims’ Commissioner to keep under review compliance with the victims’ code (see my amendment of Clause 5, page 4, line 27).
Amendment 86 agreed.
Clause 24: Information relating to victims
Amendment 87
Moved by
87: Clause 24, page 22, line 38, at end insert—
“(3A) A counselling information request may be made only if the authorised person has reason to believe that the information sought is likely to have substantial probative value to a reasonable line of enquiry which is being pursued, or is to be pursued, by the authorised person or another authorised person.(3B) For the purposes of subsection (3A), a “counselling information request” means a victim information request to a person who provides counselling services of a description specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment requires an authorised person to believe that the information sought by a counselling information request is likely to have substantial probative value.
Amendment 87 agreed.
Amendment 87A not moved.
Amendment 88
Moved by
88: Clause 24, page 23, line 21, at end insert—
“(10) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (3B) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment provides for regulations defining the counselling services in relation to which my amendment of Clause 24, page 22, line 38 applies to be subject to the negative resolution procedure.
Amendment 88 agreed.
Amendment 88A not moved.
Amendment 89
Moved by
89: Clause 24, page 25, line 6, at end insert—
“(1A) The code must in particular—(a) provide that an authorised person must, when considering whether they are satisfied as required by paragraph (c) of section 44A(3) in relation to a counselling information request, start from the presumption that the request is not necessary and proportionate to achieve a purpose in that paragraph, and(b) set out the steps that must be taken by an authorised person when deciding whether that presumption is rebutted.(1B) For the purposes of subsection (1A), a “counselling information request” has the meaning given by section 44A(3B).”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment requires the code of practice issued under new section 44D of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 to provide for authorised persons to presume that counselling information requests are not necessary and proportionate and to take certain steps when considering making such requests.
Amendment 89 agreed.
Amendment 90
Moved by
90: After Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—
“Child victims of domestic abuse(1) The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 is amended as follows.(2) After section 49 insert—“Notifying schools etc if child is suspected victim of domestic abuse
49A Arrangements to notify schools etc(1) A chief officer of police of a police force maintained for a police area must ensure that arrangements are in place to secure the objective in subsection (2).(2) The objective is that, if a member of the force has reasonable grounds to believe that a child who resides in the police area may be a victim of domestic abuse, any relevant educational establishment is notified as soon as is reasonably practicable except in such circumstances as may be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.(3) For the purposes of this section, each of the following is a relevant educational establishment in relation to a child—(a) a school at which the child is a registered pupil;(b) if the child is not a registered pupil at a school—(i) if the child is receiving education at only one educational establishment, that establishment;(ii) if the child is receiving education at more than one educational establishment, such one or more of those establishments as is determined in accordance with the arrangements in place under subsection (1) for the police area in which the child resides.(4) In this section—“child” means a person under the age of 18 years;“educational establishment” means—(a) a school in England or Wales;(b) an institution within the further education sector, within the meaning given by section 91(3) of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992;(c) in relation to England, a 16 to 19 Academy, within the meaning given by section 1B of the Academies Act 2010;“registered pupil” , in relation to a school, has the meaning given by section 434 of the Education Act 1996;“school” has the meaning given by section 4 of the Education Act 1996. 49B Power to extend section 49A to childcare providers
(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend section 49A so that the objective in subsection (2) of that section applies in relation to childcare providers, or childcare providers of particular descriptions, as it applies in relation to relevant educational establishments.(2) In this section—“childcare” —(a) in relation to England, has the meaning given by section 18 of the Childcare Act 2006;(b) in relation to Wales, means anything that amounts to child minding or day care for children for the purposes of Part 2 of the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010 (nawm 1) (see section 19(2) to (5) of that Measure);“childcare provider” means—(a) in relation to England, a person who provides childcare—(i) in respect of which the person is registered under Part 3 of the Childcare Act 2006,(ii) in respect of which the person would, but for section 34(2) or 53(2) of that Act, be required to be registered under Chapter 2 or 3 of Part 3 of that Act, or(iii) in respect of which the person would, but for section 63(3) of that Act, be able to be registered under Chapter 4 of Part 3 of that Act;(b) in relation to Wales, a person who provides childcare in respect of which the person is registered under Part 2 of the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010.”(3) In the italic heading before section 50, for “and orders” substitute “, orders and notification arrangements”.(4) In section 56 (interpretation of Part 3), in subsection (4), after paragraph (b) insert—“(c) section 3 (children as victims of domestic abuse).”(5) In section 87 (regulations), in subsection (6), after paragraph (a) insert—“(aa) regulations under section 49B,”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment requires police chiefs to ensure that arrangements are in place for relevant schools and colleges to be notified if a member of the force has reasonable grounds to believe that a child who resides in the police area may be a victim of domestic abuse.
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak on behalf of my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy. Government Amendment 90 would require the police to notify schools as soon as possible when they have reasonable grounds to believe that a child in their police force area may be a victim of domestic abuse. That means that all children who may be a victim of domestic abuse will receive the necessary support and relevant safeguarding interventions.

Domestic abuse is an abhorrent and sometimes fatal crime, yet it is far too common. It is high volume, high harm and high cost. We fully recognise the devasting impact that it can have on children and young people, which is why we are determined to protect and support better the victims of abuse, including children, and bring perpetrators to justice. The landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021 acknowledged, for the first time, the appalling damage that domestic abuse can inflict on children and young people and recognised the damage caused to children who see, hear or experience the effects of domestic abuse.

Recognising children as victims of domestic abuse in their own right is a very important step. It helps to ensure that children themselves remain visible in the multi-agency response to domestic abuse. This government amendment will help us take this work one step further. It will legislate that each chief officer of police across England and Wales must ensure that arrangements are in place to notify schools when they have reasonable grounds to believe that a child may be a victim of domestic abuse.

This amendment places the notification scheme, widely known as Operation Encompass, on a statutory footing. It is already in operation across all 43 police forces in England and Wales on a voluntary basis. By enshrining the scheme in law, we can ensure that it is consistently applied across all forces. This will help improve early intervention and enable the most vulnerable children to be safeguarded from the harms of domestic abuse.

This Government are committed to supporting child victims and protecting them from domestic abuse. The amendment will be key in our efforts to do so. I therefore hope that the House will welcome it, and I beg to move.

Lord Meston Portrait Lord Meston (CB)
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My Lords, I support Amendment 90, which provides for the relaying of information to schools. Schools need accurate and prompt information about what is going on. They need to know, and understand, what is happening, or what is suspected. Therefore, I welcome the amendment. It is almost as important as the information going the other way—that is to say, schools relay information to local authorities and, where appropriate, to the police.

I am afraid to say that there are a few cases I have come across where schools, or individual members of school staff, have been reluctant to get involved in child abuse cases, or where there is suspected child abuse. Albeit this amendment provides for the information to pass the other way—from the authorities to the school—if it serves to do anything it may well encourage the passing of information in both directions.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, from these Benches, we also welcome Amendment 90. I want to add one other issue though. It is very much a one-way system, as the noble Lord, Lord Meston, has announced, and I ask whether the noble Earl will write to me, the noble Lord, and any noble Lords who speak in this group, to report on the Government’s progress on the recommendations that they have accepted following the independent inquiry into child sex abuse. Recommendation 13 is about the need for mandatory reporting, and the Government said, over a year ago, that there would be a full public consultation beginning with a publication of a call for evidence. I have seen neither, but, more importantly, I want to know when we can—perhaps through this Bill—have something going the other way, as the noble Lord so rightly pointed out.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I have a genuine question. Of course, I suppor