23 Baroness Fox of Buckley debates involving the Ministry of Justice

Thu 23rd May 2024
Tue 21st May 2024
Tue 14th May 2024
Tue 23rd Apr 2024
Tue 16th Apr 2024
Tue 12th Mar 2024
Wed 24th Jan 2024
Victims and Prisoners Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings
Tue 6th Dec 2022

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Baroness Fox of Buckley Excerpts
Lord Garnier Portrait Lord Garnier (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is not the Oscars ceremony, but I just wanted to agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, in relation to the Arbitration Bill. I am precluded by the rules of the House from mentioning the other, uncontentious piece of legislation—but I quietly agree with him.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I just want to say that it is the Victims and Prisoners Bill and it is very important that we acknowledge the work that has been achieved for IPP prisoners. I thank the team for that. Even though I wanted it to go further, I understand when progress has been made.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, will not mind me saying that the noble Lord, Lord Roborough, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, have also been very receptive and very helpful. For the first time since I have been here, I have had meetings with officials—it has all felt very grown up—in which I felt that they were listening and that things were being done. So, on this Bill at least, I felt that it was a very constructive engagement. Even though sometimes we have to be antagonistic and critical of the Government and the Front Bench, because they do not do exactly what we want them to do, that does not mean that we do not appreciate the work that has gone on and goes on. I for one will now be contacting the IPP prisoners who, like the people who have been mentioned in relation to the blood scandal, have been, with their families, contacting me all night, saying, “Please don’t let this drop”. Leaseholders are less happy, but that is a different story. Anyway, in this instance, I say thank you on behalf of both victims and prisoners.

Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy, the ministerial team and everybody across the Chamber from different teams. It has been heartwarming to see everybody trying to get the best result for victims and their families and make sure that the system understands what their journey is about. I also thank the Bill team, whom I have worked with not just on this Bill but as Victims’ Commissioner. I am very proud to be able to work my way round in that role as well.

Most importantly, it was not very nice to have “victims and prisoners” on the Bill, but we are where we are. However, to understand what victims go through is very important. I give huge congratulations on not throwing the baby out with the bath-water in all the politics. This is about people and this legislation is so important. It is a driver for getting other things on to it, whoever gets into power. It is important never to forget that victims have a voice and that voice must always be listened to. That is, as legislators, how we make legislation far better as it goes through these Houses.

I thank the ministerial team and everybody else who has joined in support of these amendments.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Baroness Fox of Buckley Excerpts
I have a premonition that the Minister may have some very helpful things to say in response to Amendment 140. If he cannot see his way to supporting it today, can he at least agree to meet the experts from the forensic faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists and me? If he is agreeable to this modest request and my premonition comes true, I could well be persuaded not to press Amendment 140 to a vote.
Lord Garnier Portrait Lord Garnier (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I wish I could speak as eloquently as a number of those who have already spoken—I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, will do so in a moment. We have travelled quite some way over the last few weeks, to a large extent due to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and other colleagues of his on the Cross Benches, and my noble friend Lord Moylan, who has been our shop steward in our discussions with my noble and learned friend the Minister.

I hope I will not embarrass my noble and learned friend by repeating what others have said about him, but it is clear that without his willingness to listen and his understanding of the deeply serious problems that IPPs present, we would not be where we are today. I salute him for his patience and kindness in listening to me and in understanding the plight of IPP prisoners. As a Government Minister—particularly one in charge of the justice system and the prison system—the most important phrase that concerns you when you get up in the morning, or go to bed at night, and think about a Bill such as this is “the protection of the public”. We have heard him use that expression any number of times during our discussions. The great advantage we have had in talking to him is that we have had discussions, not rows. The whole temper of the debate this afternoon demonstrates that, across the House, we want a discussion because we want to reach a just and fair answer to this very difficult problem.

I have co-signed a number of the amendments on the Marshalled List, but I want to concentrate, reasonably briefly, on Amendment 149A, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and others, have spoken. It seems to me to encapsulate the essence of what we are trying to do: yes, to ensure the protection of the public when it is necessary to do so, as the Minister wishes to do, but also to bring a degree of proportionality into the decisions that have to be taken by the Parole Board. There are no double negatives in this proposed new clause; there is a straightforward fixation upon doing what is just and fair.

Many noble Lords will have read the terms of the noble and learned Lord’s proposed new clause, but really one has to read carefully only subsection (2) of it to see that it allows for the Government—any Government—to protect the public, but also allows for our justice system to end the monstrosity which is the injustice and the unfairness of the IPP system. We have had two examples from the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and two more examples from the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, but there are many, many more. Those are the prisoners who have survived, but bear in mind that there are a number of IPP prisoners who have died by their own hand because they have run out of hope. The one thing that a justice system must provide is the ability for a prisoner to get better, to rehabilitate, to return to society and to make his or her way in the world.

Subsection (2) says that

“the Secretary of State must by order pursuant to section 128 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 … direct that, following the prisoner’s referral to the Parole Board they will not be released unless the Board is satisfied that, having regard to the proportionality of the term served to the seriousness of the offence or offences of which they were convicted”.

Come back to the 18-month tariff, come back to the two-year tariff, and see that these men are in prison 18 years after being sentenced, nearly two decades after that tariff has expired. Importantly, the subsection also refers to “any other relevant factors”. The Parole Board is not required to just open the door and release them regardless because they are still there 20 years later, well beyond their two-year or 18-month tariff. It can take into account any other relevant factors. That could be the mental instability of the prisoner concerned or any number of characteristics or behaviours that the prisoner demonstrates, which demonstrate to the Parole Board and those who advise it that this particular prisoner—albeit he has served 20 years beyond his two-year tariff—is still, none the less, unsafe to release.

The burden must surely be on us, as representatives of the state in your Lordships’ House and as makers of legislation, to do things which promote fairness and justice, in a way that is transparently sensible. If I may say so, Amendment 149A speaks nothing but common sense, justice and fairness. Even at this very late stage of the Bill, I urge the Government to have one more think. This is not a matter of Labour against Conservative, Cross-Benchers ganging up on the Government, or the Liberal Democrats ganging up with the Labour Party against the Government. It is not even a matter of a couple of lily-livered, pinko Conservative drips ganging up on their Government and trying to engender a rebellion.

Lord Garnier Portrait Lord Garnier (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a cross-party justice question. If I cannot stand up and speak for justice as a Conservative, I am in the wrong business. I will be voting with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, this evening.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, how do I follow those words about pinko commie Conservatives? Quite easily.

Perhaps we would not start from here, but as we are here, I too warmly welcome the Government’s concessions. They show that the Minister has been listening in Committee and at all the meetings. I hope that his listening continues, because there are many very fine amendments in this group, as reflected by the many very fine speeches. Even if the amendments are not voted on, I still think that they are worth considering, and I hope that the officials and the department will take on board what is being said.

All the amendments in this group tackle very specific, and sometimes seemingly technical, matters that remain outstanding in trying to tackle the IPP issue. It strikes me that all these fiddly, piecemeal issues could have been dealt with historically in one fell swoop, and once and for all, by a resentencing amendment. Although I know that that is off the table for now, it will need to be brought back by some future Government. For all that, this group of amendments adds up to more than the sum of its parts, which is why I hope that the amendments will still have an impact, even if they will not all be voted on.

Before I speak to the amendments that I put my name to, I want to show my support for Amendment 145, which the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, said he cannot now press because of a lack of support. The notion of reversing the burden of proof when applying for parole made for one of the most important amendments in this group, not least because it would have had a material impact on the 3,000 IPP prisoners still in jail and it presents the most hope of the amendments here. A lot of people have rightly congratulated UNGRIPP and Donna Mooney on the work that they have done. She reminded us why she wanted Amendment 145 in particular to pass: she is worried that the IPP prisoners who are still incarcerated feel doubly abandoned by this Bill, because it does so little for them as a group. I concur, and I wanted to see that rectified.

That is why it was so gratifying in Committee to hear the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, had described then as a “nudge” to the Parole Board that would make a significant difference. Indeed, as we speak, the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, from the Dispatch Box are being echoed and cheered on widely in a clip featuring them in Peter Stefanovic’s latest short vlog, which has had over 1 million views in a matter of days. It is interesting that those words are being cited as a positive example of cross-party co-operation on an important matter of principle about criminal justice. I hear that the Labour Front Bench is now unable to support this amendment.

I want to counter something that the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, mentioned. He said that, in the build-up to an election, this is a toxic topic. I understand the nervousness about law and order, but I will challenge that. I do not think that it is as toxic as we in this House or the other place sometimes suggest to the public. In fact, I think that public opinion can be won over—and is being won over—on IPPs. The fear that politicians have of the public and public opinion is sometimes an underestimation of the public’s sense of fairness and justice, as we have seen with the range of scandals over recent weeks and months—there have certainly been far too many.

The principle behind Amendment 145 is still important to consider, because if the state insists on retaining the power to continue incarcerating people for decades after their original tariff is spent, using a sentencing regime that the state itself has abolished as not fit for purpose, it is only right that the burden of justifying such extraordinary power should then lie with the state.

Parc Prison

Baroness Fox of Buckley Excerpts
Tuesday 14th May 2024

(1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I regret that, but unless I am advised otherwise, it was a 10-minute Question and it has been completed.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

With no Back-Benchers.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

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)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

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)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
93: After Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—
“Collection of data on victims of crimeThe Secretary of State must issue guidance for relevant bodies including police and crime commissioners in respect of data collection to ensure that sex registered at birth is recorded for both victims and perpetrators of crime.”
Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, Amendment 93 simply but crucially calls on the Secretary of State to

“issue guidance for relevant bodies”,

such as the police and police and crime commissioners,

“in respect of data collection to ensure that sex registered at birth is recorded for both victims and perpetrators”.

Just to note, the heading in the amendment is rather misleading when it says:

“Collection of data on victims of crime”.


Actually, the main confusion lies with the perpetrators, which obviously has an impact on the victims.

For the policies and proposals in the Bill to be effective, which we all want, many of them will rely on evidence. That means criminological research and official crime data, such as recorded crime and victim surveys, which will enable stakeholders, policymakers and researchers to analyse patterns in both victimisation and offending, and will allow interventions and services to be developed and resources to be targeted effectively.

As I pointed out in Committee, criminal justice data needs to be accurate, credible and consistent. However, data on a person’s sex is now not accurate, credible or consistent because agencies in the criminal justice system do not distinguish between sex, gender identity or self-declared sex. I will not repeat the detailed evidence collected by freedom of information requests that I cited in Committee, but police forces increasingly differ from area to area, recording crime statistics variously, some by biological sex but others by some other concept based on ever-fluid and subjective ideas about gender identity, which is often recorded as if it were sex.

The guidance I ask for in this amendment would clarify that gender should not be used as a synonym for sex, as it leads to confusion and conflation. In turn, this conflation of sex and gender compromises official statistics in terms of trustworthiness, quality, and value for policy and for public understanding. The guidance should untangle the vast array of muddled recording practices around government records, such as passports, driving licences, NHS numbers, et cetera, all of which can be changed, but no amount of documentation changing affects the need for a consistently applied legal identity that is fixed and unchanging from birth to death, registered with the state and necessary for the state to fulfil its responsibilities to citizens—no more so than in criminal justice. That is why data based on sex registered at birth is so important, as it is a fundamental demographic variable, reflecting the reality of sex-based differences between men and women.

Those compiling the guidance might look at other identifiers. For example, in the debate on my Amendment 18 on the previous day on Report, I discussed the problems of identity confusion in relation to safeguarding checks. Keep Prisons Single Sex has made an interesting recommendation relating to the mandatory use of national insurance numbers for DBS checks in relation to identity changes. National insurance numbers remain constant throughout an individual’s life. They are unique to each individual. They do not change and they are unchangeable—even, for example, when an individual obtains legal recognition of acquired gender. So even if someone is issued a GRC, the individual’s new details are listed against their existing national insurance number, which is unchanged and retained until 50 years after the individual’s death. It seems that the state does understand the importance of accurately recording and knowing who a citizen is, and their natal sex, when it comes to collecting taxes. Such seriousness is necessary in other policy areas.

We can see the dangers of confusion if we look at what the Cass review has to say about data in relation to NHS numbers; I am grateful to Sex Matters for its briefing on this issue. NHS numbers are the unique national patient identifier in the UK’s health and social care system, and are vital for clinical safety, record management and, of course, clinical research. However, it has been policy for some time that GP surgeries can change a patient’s recorded sex on their medical records at any time, without requiring diagnosis or any form of gender reassignment treatment, and request a new NHS number. Public Health England tells GPs that medical information on the person’s record must be gender neutralised and transferred to a newly created medical record.

The Cass review found that many children seen by GIDS had changed NHS numbers before they had been seen by specialists, and some were “living in stealth”—that is attending school in the opposite sex. The Cass review draws attention to the dangers this poses, which is helpfully analogous to the problems I am raising and that we face in the lack of clarity on crime data. Dr Cass raises

“concerns about children and young people’s NHS numbers being changed inconsistently, as there is no specific guidance for GPs”.

The review highlighted changing NHS numbers putting children and young people “at risk”—for example,

“young people attending hospital after self-harm not being identifiable as … on a child protection order”,

And, from a research perspective, creating difficulties in identifying

“long-term outcomes for a patient population for whom the evidence base is weak”.

In criminal justice, inconsistent data collection, due to the conflation between sex and gender, can similarly compromise safeguarding and especially distort research—as a consequence, potentially distorting the way the public access facts in relation to crime. Take the differing offending patterns between males and females. Males commit the large majority of offences per se, and some offence categories are only or very rarely committed by females, such as sexual offences or violent crime in particular. That means that even if only a small number of natal males who identify as females are recorded as women, this skews the female sex-offending statistics in a misleading way.

This amendment proposes that the Government use guidance to bring clarity to the situation. This is of democratic importance and seems an important part of the Bill, which means more accountability to and about victims and accountability to the public about the victims and perpetrators of crime. The truth is that the practices of criminal justice agencies recording self-declared sex as actual sex were introduced by public authorities without proper democratic debate, behind the backs of the public, depriving the public of clarity about what is measured in crime data. That then seeps over into misleading the public about precisely who commits crime when it arrives in the public sphere, via the media, for example.

I warmly welcome the manifesto for police and crime commissioners published by campaign groups Fair Cop and Keep Prisons Single Sex, and one section seems especially pertinent to finish with. It says that police and crime commissioners’

“Press releases and communication with the public must be written in accurate and accessible language. Suspects, and other persons of interest, must be described in a way that the public can clearly and quickly understand. Sex registered at birth is always information that must be shared with the public”


and not concealed. Beyond this official crime agency language and media reporting, police-collected data must not be allowed to erase measurable facts and objective reality.

I hope that this amendment will receive support across the House as a modest contribution to clearing up these confusions. I am hoping the Overton window has shifted of late, by the way. How welcome it was to hear Labour shadow Justice Secretary Shabana Mahmood acknowledge that she agrees with JK Rowling that

“biological sex is real and is immutable”.

As well, I welcome her comments on the dangers of justice by hashtag and free speech. This amendment simply seeks to ensure that criminal justice data also recognises the immutable nature of sex. I hope the Labour Party will back me in relation to this. I am grateful as well to the Government and the Minister, who has organised for officials to discuss these issues with Kate Coleman from KPSS before Third Reading. It is in everyone’s interest that crime data is accurate, credible and consistent. At present, it is not. I beg to move.

Lord Roborough Portrait Lord Roborough (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, for her Amendment 93, which requires guidance to be issued on data collection of sex registered at birth for victims and perpetrators of crime. I recognise the noble Baroness’s commitment to this topic, and I believe the House will return to the subject tomorrow. Many of the points I will make were made last week while discussing the noble Baroness’s other amendment that sought to require data to be collected. I therefore apologise for any repetition.

The Government recognise that accurate data and statistics on biological sex are important to good research and effective policy. For this reason, the Home Office issued guidance in April 2021 in the annual data requirement that sex should be recorded in its legal sense, what is on either an individual’s birth certificate or their gender recognition certificate. Gender identity should also be recorded separately if that differs from that. For consistency, this is based on classifications used in the 2021 census for England and Wales.

Since implementing this guidance, the Government have commissioned an independent review of the recording of sex by public bodies, which will report at the end of August 2024. The Home Office will consider this new guidance once it is available in deciding whether changes are needed to the recording of the sex of victims and perpetrators dealt with by the police.

However, we recognise that there are concerns in this area, and the department has committed to meet groups such as Keep Prisons Single Sex to hear their concerns. Legislation is not required for guidance to be issued on this area. We will continue to work with stakeholders and await the outcome of the review for whether further guidance is needed in this area. I respectfully ask that the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, when I was at school, there used to be a tactic called sending people to Coventry, in which you were ignored as a sign of contempt. I am disappointed a second time that the Opposition Benches do not think it worth engaging on the issue, regardless of whether they want to engage with the individual who is putting forward the issue. I am very glad to hear the Minister’s words that the Government are taking this seriously. I genuinely hope that Opposition parties will take this seriously as well, because there is a problem. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Bach, talk earlier about the importance of accurate and consistent data and simplifying data. He made a good point, and I backed him up on it. I was rather hoping that this side of the House—the Labour Benches—might see that through and at least make some positive comments in relation to my amendment.

I will, of course, withdraw the amendment, but I do not withdraw the importance of the issue. I hope that the detail that will be brought by somebody who has got a detailed knowledge of this—Kate Coleman—to the meeting will help any guidance that might emerge in August and also ensure that we no longer carry on showing the public confused data and hoping that they can work their way through it. It is a democratic question, and I hope that, in future, democrats will take it more seriously than perhaps we have seen tonight. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 93 withdrawn.
Moved by
17: Clause 2, page 2, line 27, at end insert—
“(e) should be able to secure access to support from an individual of the same sex as registered at birth and women-only support service provision should be confined to those registered women at birth.”
Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 17 and 18. It is interesting listening to the discussion that we have had this evening, because many people that I speak to, particularly women, assume that the consultation on the victims’ code or discussions on enhancing victims’ rights will mean better support for female victims, particularly in relation to service provision. All that Amendment 17 seeks to do is to clarify what I am sure is the intention of the Bill, which is to be supportive of, for example, single-sex provision for women and the appropriate service provision that can be given, and to ensure that we know what we are talking about.

It might appear that getting a commitment that police and crime commissioners, integrated care boards and local authorities will all work together to commission support services for, for example, victims of domestic abuse or sexual abuse, ensuring that they can access the services that they need, and lots of discussion about services by women and for women, would be clear enough. However, as I explained in Committee and in a much-appreciated and helpful meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Roborough, and officials— I back up what others have said about how it was refreshing to have a Minister, or someone from the team, who is prepared to talk to us quite openly—having heard from the charity Sex Matters, all is not as it seems. I fear that, if the Government do not address this by sorting out the language and clarifying matters, their aspiration to enhance female victims’ rights will suffer because of confusion over the law and over the definition of sex.

“By women and for women” might seem a straightforward proposition until we ask, “What is a woman?” In 2024, that has become a contentious question. Over recent years, we have lost clarity over what we mean by the categories “men” and “women”, and that can undermine women’s services. This has happened due to the insistence from some quarters—often very powerful quarters—that women’s services must be trans inclusive by including men who identify as women in what should be women-only provision.

For example, the terms of references for Avon and Somerset Police women’s independent advisory group—to use just one example—state: “In this group we use ‘women’ as a term that is inclusive of the legally protected characteristic of female sex and gender identity as well as gender expression and those who are perceived and treated as women and those who identify as women”. This is such an expansive, non-material, confusing definition of women.

The amendment is simply trying to ensure that, where the victims’ code talks about services for women or makes any assumption that there will be services for women victims, we use the clear category of “sex as registered at birth”, rather than that ever-expansive term in which women—as in biological natal women—are merely a subcategory of this newly expanded definition of women.

Sometimes we are told that, unless trans women are treated as women, it would be in breach of Schedule 3 to the Equality Act. The Government need to clarify the law in this regard because, in fact and in law, a service can be female-only as a matter of policy. Apart from anything else, the Equality Act requires public authorities to have due regard to meeting the specific needs of women.

Another misunderstood factor is that even when a person has acquired a different gender under the Gender Recognition Act, that does not affect the status of the person as a man or a woman in relation to the Equality Act. Indeed, it would be helpful if the Government could give clear guidance to people applying for GRCs that this change in documentation does not give them the right to access services or spaces set aside for the opposite sex. Such clear guidance would also be helpful for service providers and commissioners, and in relation to how people read the victims’ code.

I want to illustrate the negative impact of these kinds of confusions on women victims seeking help by citing a worrying but brilliant piece of investigative journalism. Children of Transitioners has collated evidence that there is no women-only service provision in Bristol. This mirrors exactly the situation in Brighton that I described in some detail in Committee. I have detailed examples from Bristol, but I appreciate that the House will not bear with me so I will not go through them. Needless to say, if you are a woman who has been raped or sexually assaulted or suffers domestic abuse and reports it to police officers in Bristol, they will suggest to these distraught women—these victims—where they can get further support. They may well be sent to “by women and for women” provision, which those police officers feel are safe spaces. It is just that when you actually look at the provision in Bristol, you will find consistently that women-only services are also accessible to and welcome trans women. Trans women are men who identify as women and should be provided with services as appropriate, but not in women-only services. So this provision is not actually women only; it is mixed sex.

I was struck by the fact that, when the integrated care board of Bristol lists a range of “by women and for women” organisations, an example it gives is Womankind. Noble Lords would think that, with a title like that, the clue would be in the name. Womankind calls itself a service for women and girls. Online, it displays lovely suffragette colours. What is not to like? Actually, in correspondence with Womankind, another story emerges. Womankind says that it is for women and for

“those who identify as such in a significant way, including those who experience discrimination as … for instance, trans women … and non-binary”.

Womankind confirmed, after the investigation was done, that there is not one abuse support service in Bristol for natal women victims alone. Its advice for those unhappy with the situation was to “try London”, which seems extraordinary.

I use these examples because I know from replies from the Dispatch Box and at the meeting that there is very much a feeling that this is not a problem that the Government have detected when meeting service providers and commissioners. It is important to dig beneath the language of saying, “There is provision available; what’s the problem?”. It depends on who you ask. Bristol Women’s Voice—an organisation that claims to represent women’s voices to the council and to the police—does not see a problem, so in that sense if the Government were talking to that organisation they would think that there is no problem. But Bristol Women’s Voice does not think there is a problem because it also has a policy of trans-plus inclusion in relation to its definition of what a woman is.

It would also be naive not to look at the evidence about layers of public bodies and local authorities being lobbied and influenced by ideologically driven NGOs such as Stonewall, which has been much in the news of late. Ministers also tell us that it is up to service providers to choose the most appropriate services. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Roborough, heard from the evidence from Helen Joyce and Maya Forstater in the Sex Matters report, Women’s Services: a Sector Silenced, that many of those who provide women-only services often self-censor to placate funders and to avoid being investigated, ostracised, disciplined or maligned as bigots, all of which are career-threatening.

In case you think this is all hyperbole and question what I am talking about, there is a very similar pattern here to those whistleblowing medics at the Tavistock Clinic whose stories of malpractice have now so vividly been exposed in the Cass review as true. They were maligned for raising them. It is to the credit of Victoria Atkins that her excellent Statement in the other place drew this out. Credit is also due to Wes Streeting from the Opposition, who also accepted that the Cass review was an important step forward. Kemi Badenoch made the point:

“Had those who warned that gender services in the NHS had been hijacked by ideologues been listened to instead of gagged, children would not have been harmed and the Cass review would not have been required”.


So, although I am making a fuss, I want to say to the Government that maybe they should listen to the warnings from whistleblowers in the women’s services sector who are explaining that we are denying women victims single-sex provision, causing great harm and trauma for vulnerable women who might self-exclude and might well not even seek support if services to which they are referred may include men identifying as women.

I will say something very quickly about Amendment 18, because I discussed it fully in Committee. This is an attempt to use the victims’ code to tackle a loophole whereby, if incarcerated or registered sex offenders change their gender, even just by a self-declaration, they are afforded enhanced privacy protection that allows their new identity to disappear from view in terms of criminal justice and normal safeguarding procedures and before criminal justice bodies. Through the sensitivity applications route, a sex offender who changes their gender identity can conceal their past identity and sex for the purpose of, for example, disclosure and barring services—DBS—checking processes. This means that a sex offender’s past name and identity are not displayed on any DBS certificates; they can have their self-declared gender identity instead.

In Committee, I explained that the reason I knew about this loophole was due to the story of Clive Bundy. He was imprisoned for 15 years in 2016 for sexually abusing his own daughter, Ceri-Lee Galvin, throughout her childhood, but was released half way through his sentence. Clive Bundy changed his gender before his early release and became a self-identifying woman, named Claire Fox. This is what drew my attention to this particular case.

This amendment tackles the anomaly that, due to Bundy’s enhanced privacy rights in relation to his gender change, Ceri-Lee, his victim and his daughter, had no right to know that he had been released as a woman called Claire. After his release, Clive Bundy, also known as Claire Fox, went to live in the same town as his daughter and her daughter. As Claire Fox, he could apply for jobs or to be a volunteer locally and work with children, including potentially his own granddaughter and no one would know. Any DBS check would not show up red flags and the family would not be forewarned. Amendment 18 wants the Government to look at whether they can do something about this loophole.

Lord Roborough Portrait Lord Roborough (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, for tabling Amendment 17, which seeks to ensure that victims are able to access support from someone of the same sex, as registered at birth, and that women-only support service provision is confined to those registered as women at birth. I also want to thank the noble Baroness and Maya Forstater and Helen Joyce from Sex Matters for their time in discussing these matters with me yesterday, ahead of this debate.

From the outset, let me be clear that this Government recognise the importance of a victim feeling confident that they can ask for particular things, such as someone of a particular sex to make them feel comfortable and help them best engage with support. We also recognise that single-sex services can and should be provided in some circumstances. That is why we have written to providers who receive funding from our rape and sexual abuse support fund to make clear our expectation that they should take reasonable steps to provide spaces which exclude service users who are not biologically female or male, where that has been requested by a victim and where it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, in line with the Equality Act 2010.

--- Later in debate ---
Finally, I make a legal point, but an important one: the victims’ code would not provide the legal effect being sought by this amendment. Mirroring the current scope of the victims’ code, the amendment that we have tabled, which imposes a duty to provide services in accordance with the code, applies only to persons who have functions of a public nature; it would not extend to third parties that provide support services for victims. As such, we could not set expectations to deliver services in a certain way through the victims’ code. For these reasons, I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

At this late hour, I will read what has been said in Hansard and write with any clarifications, if that is okay with the Minister. It is important to acknowledge that this is not a straightforward issue, because of the ideological context in which it is occurring. I hope that noble Lords will read the Cass review and details of the brilliant discussion on it yesterday in the other place, and see that this is not simply a technical matter. That needs to be taken into account.

I also register my great disappointment that noble Lords from the Opposition parties had nothing to say in relation to single-sex provision for women victims. However late it is and however unpopular I am, I just think it is a shame. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 17 withdrawn.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Baroness Fox of Buckley Excerpts
Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Moved by
167: After Clause 48, insert the following new Clause—
“Re-sentencing those serving a sentence of imprisonment for public protection(1) The Lord Chancellor must make arrangements for, and relating to, the re-sentencing of all prisoners serving IPP sentences within 18 months beginning on the day on which this Act is passed.(2) Those arrangements must include arrangements relating to the establishment of a committee to provide advice regarding the discharge of the Lord Chancellor’s duty under subsection (1).(3) The committee established by virtue of subsection (2) must include a judge nominated by the Lord Chief Justice.(4) A court that imposed an IPP sentence has the power to re-sentence the prisoner in relation to the original offence.(5) But the court may not impose a sentence that is a heavier penalty than the sentence that was imposed for the original offence.(6) In relation to the exercise of the power in subsection (4)—(a) that power is to be treated as a power to re-sentence under the Sentencing Code (see section 402(1) of the Sentencing Act 2020);(b) the Code applies for the purposes of this section (and, accordingly, it does not matter that a person serving an IPP sentence was convicted of an offence before 1 December 2020).(7) In this section—“IPP sentence” means a sentence of imprisonment or detention in a young offender institution for public protection under section 225 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 or a sentence of detention for public protection under section 226 of that Act (including such a sentence of imprisonment or detention passed as a result of section 219 or 221 of the Armed Forces Act 2006);“original offence” means the offence in relation to which the IPP sentence was imposed.(8) This section comes into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.”Member's explanatory statement
This new clause would implement the recommendation of the Justice Committee’s 2022 Report that there should be a resentencing exercise in relation to all IPP sentenced individuals, and to establish a time-limited expert committee, including a member of the judiciary, to advise on the practical implementation of such an exercise.
Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

I rise to move Amendment 167 on resentencing those serving a sentence of imprisonment for public protection. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Moylan, Lord Blunkett and Lord Woodley, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee: what a formidable cross-party, cross-Committee group of people that is.

We have talked a lot about hopelessness, and I am aware that moving this amendment probably fits under that category, but I am going to do it anyway. Along with other noble Lords, I warmly welcome the Government’s incremental reforms in relation to IPP sentences contained as part of the Bill. It is brilliant that they restore some sense of fairness for IPPs, especially on licence, by creating a realistic prospect that the sentence could be brought to a definite end in the foreseeable future.

However, these moves will do little for the 1,227 people who, as we have discussed already tonight, have never been released, even though 98% of them have already served beyond their tariff, the majority of which were tariffs for less than four years. Yet 58% have been locked up for an additional 10 years on top of that original tariff.

--- Later in debate ---
Amendments 167B and 167C not moved.
Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

I want to make some clarifications. I will deal with them all together, using my right of reply. I was not suggesting that the parole boards were dodgy, although I was suggesting that the evidence that they were using could be. In that instance, I was referring to some of the requirements where people had done courses that were not evaluated and there is some dispute as to their effectiveness. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the Minister are assuming that the Parole Board’s assessment of dangerousness is some sort of objective assessment of dangerousness that we would recognise, whereas we have just spent a number of hours talking about, for example, the fact that you might well be assessed as dangerous because of deteriorating mental health. The difficulty there is that, as a rule, we remove and section people only when they have serious mental health problems. We think very long and hard about putting someone away, but this is keeping people in prison on an indefinite sentence because they have a mental health problem that could make them unsafe to be released.

I do not understand why the Minister does not understand that we are not just talking about the people who have never been released. I argue that there are all sorts of reasons why they might never have been released that go beyond dangerousness. They have gone well beyond the tariff that they originally received, and we at least have to take some responsibility for that. However, those people who are recalled into prison then become prisoners. The Minister keeps saying, “It’s all right because we’re going to sort that lot out”, but they are in prison now. They have gone back into that system and they therefore need to be sorted out through a resentencing regime.

The point that I want to stress is that the resentencing amendment was not written on the back of an envelope by people who do not understand the system, as the noble and learnt Lord, Lord Thomas of—sorry, I am from Wales but not from the bit that can pronounce Welsh. The point is that this is the most comprehensive and well-researched amendment with all sorts of strategies, options and flexibility built into it. If only the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, or the Minister would say, “We’ve looked at one section of it. We like that bit, and we could adapt it”. It is the principle of resentencing that we would like to see, but I am worried that it is just being dismissed as though it is too damaging to do.

I am not cynical about the Government’s motivation. I feel as if I cannot bring myself to believe that this is just because we have an election around the corner, because I do not believe that is the case. However, you can be overly risk-averse about letting prisoners out. If we adopted the precautionary principle and risk aversion then we would never let anyone leave prison, but we do so all the time. We have sentenced an awful lot of people for exactly the same “dangerous behaviour” since IPPs were abolished. What is happening to them? They have determinate sentences and are then let out. So I am not convinced that we are not creating the worst kind of bogey-man in our minds. Anyway, the amendment would allow for complex cases to be dealt with, and it considers all those aspects.

A story that had me amused, because this is the Victims and Prisoners Bill, was that of one IPP prisoner—the Minister says they have never been released—who was one of the “never been released” until, after 18 years, he was; he might have been in for 10 years originally but eventually he got through the Parole Board, and then had a reconciliation with the victim of the original crime for which he was put in prison. The victim could not believe that he had been in prison for 18 years. She said, “I thought you were out years ago!” We talk about protecting the public and victims and so on, but that victim was horrified that a crime that had been committed against her had led to someone being incarcerated for such a long period.

We do not want to caricature any side in this. As I have pointed out, public protection should not mean great injustice at the expense of people’s rights, and I do not think the public would thank us for that either. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 167 withdrawn.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Baroness Fox of Buckley Excerpts
Lord Garnier Portrait Lord Garnier (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am most grateful to my noble friend. I will have to check tomorrow morning the Hansard report of where I had got to in my speech; I have a suspicion I was in the middle of a sentence in which I was just about to say exactly what my noble friend said—but I am grateful to him, because he was able to say it so much more eloquently than I would have done.

We are in the position with criminal justice and sentencing that we were in the first decade of the 20th century with Dreadnought building. If the Germans have five, we must have six. If we have six, they must have 10. If they have 10, we must have 15, and so on —and guess what? You get 1914.

Here, we are dealing with adult, mature politicians who take instructions from editors and proprietors. Yet, if they bothered to ask the public—and occasionally the press do ask the public—they would find that the public are not nearly as keen on longer sentences or on IPPs as they might think. Had they been braver and bolder—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, would have us be—perhaps we would not have arrived at where we are.

I regret that I have spoken for far too long in Committee, but over the last 25 years this issue has really annoyed me. I am so grateful to the Prison Reform Trust, of which I too am a trustee, for its assistance in trying to restrain my enthusiasm and, at times, my anger about this subject and for providing me with the information and the assistance which I hope have to some extent informed this debate. There is not a single amendment on the Order Paper this evening which does not deserve the gravest consideration of this Committee and the urgent action of this Government.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, it was a real privilege to witness that exchange and I think we are getting to the heart of why we are all here and are so passionate about this. I have a couple of short clarifications, because at this point by the time I get to my amendment on re-sentencing there really will be nothing else to say; I am rewriting my speech rapidly every time everyone speaks.

When I first heard about the indefinite sentences that were associated with IPPs—when they first came out in that arms race to prove how tough we could be on law on order—I was horrified. I was delighted when the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, abolished them; I thought that was it, because I was not in Parliament and not following. I went into prisons as part of work I was doing with an educational project called Debating Matters Beyond Bars which encouraged prisoners to debate and could not believe it when I discovered that, despite the sentences being abolished, there were still IPP prisoners.

In fact, I told the prisoners in my own characteristic way that they were wrong and that IPPs had been abolished and could not still exist. So I was determined once I got in here to at least discover what on earth had gone wrong. I cannot bear it, now we are tackling the issue, that, even though the sentences have been abolished, they will still exist when we have finished dealing with this Bill. It seems abhorrent.

I wanted particularly to back up the mentoring proposals from the noble Baroness, Lady Blower. If you talk to any families of IPP prisoners, or IPP prisoners themselves, they know that they have been destroyed and damaged by this sentencing regime. They are not gung-ho about it. They do not just say, “Release us, we’ll be fine”. What they would really gain from is mentoring. It is the kind of creative solution that would help us support the re-sentencing amendments. This is the kind of support that people will need.

It was hard not to shed a tear at the very moving speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, who said that many of the people whose mental health was suffering had been destroyed by IPPs. But we should also note that it could well be that their mental health is not permanently damaged by the ongoing psychological uncertainty, anxiety, torture and so on. We need a combination of the mentoring scheme and a recognition of the fact that the sentencing is, to be crude, literally driving people mad—and the sanest person would go mad. You do not necessarily need medication; you need compassionate, grown-up intervention and support. In that sense, I support all the amendments in this group and all the others, but I really think that, for want of a better phrase, we have to be the grown-ups in the room now and try and sort this out.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I particularly support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, although I support all of them. I also thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for remembering Lord Lloyd of Berwick in this debate. I recall him very well, indefatigably picking up this baton.

Many of us were alarmed when prisoners were added to victims in this Bill, but this amendment is absolutely with the grain of the first part of the Bill. We talked about ISVAs, IDVAs, child trafficking and guardians, and I recently heard about victim navigators who work as supporters and mentors to victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. We are all accepting the notion that, in slightly different ways, the criminal justice system does not do well by its victims—as has been said, IPP prisoners are victims—and that this needs addressing with a range of support measures. It is very much the direction of travel and I hope that this notion can be pursued.

--- Later in debate ---
This is the most important point, which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, very fairly started with. I share his look of regret that we are dealing with this very difficult problem. The purpose of Amendment 161, as the Government understand it, is to make it easier to release the remaining cohort, but by definition this cohort is the most difficult of all to manage: they have been up before the Parole Board many times, some as many as 10 times, and many three, four, five or six times. The Parole Board has never so far been satisfied that they are safe to release, so making it easier to release those—
Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

Unlike other prisoners, they may have been up before the Parole Board many times, but this is long after their tariff has ended and the sentence originally given was handed out to them. That is quite a distinction from other prisoners. The suggestion that they are a particularly difficult group to manage because they keep going before the Parole Board slightly misses why they have become a difficult or different group. The main thing is that they would have been released if they were any other group of prisoners, yet they have to go to the Parole Board to say that they are safe and risk-free maybe five or six years after their tariff has ended. That is why people see the burden of proof being in the direction it is in. They also have to fulfil a range of courses and so on, which people are not convinced will even indicate that they are safe anyway, but we will get on to that. To the suggestion that we do not understand why anyone is raising this, it is because the set of circumstances for these prisoners is very different. That is why we are all here talking about it.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I entirely understand the point that the noble Baroness is making, which effectively encapsulates the problem that we are up against: how do we protect the safety of the public on the one hand and, on the other, deal with the outstanding problem? I think the Government’s point is that to make it easier to release those prisoners who are potentially most likely to cause harm is counterintuitive and unacceptable from the point of view of public safety.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

I did not suggest that they were more likely to cause harm. The argument is whether we accept that they are deemed dangerous and therefore cannot be let out through the Parole Board, because what deems them dangerous is a set of hoops that they have to go through and that do not necessarily indicate that they are dangerous. That is one of the difficulties with this. It is doublethink and double-talk.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as I have tried to say, the whole purpose of the action plan is to create a framework in which this cohort, properly managed, could progress to safe release, with sentence plans, psychological support, support from psychology services and other support towards a safe release. That is a better route than tinkering with the release test. I will not say it is exactly a legal quibble, but it is a bit of a legalism to be fiddling with the release test.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, my name is on the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, although it was not meant to be—there was some confusion between “Sally” and “Sal”—but I am glad that it has remained there. I also commend the noble Baroness for that neat handover of the chair.

The noble Baroness introduced the amendment thoroughly, but, reading the briefing from the Victims’ Commissioner, I remembered one experience of a friend. It was nothing as extreme as a homicide, but her husband died unexpectedly on a business visit to the United States. It was hugely emotionally difficult for her, as well as practically difficult: different language is experienced even in the United States, and certainly there are different procedures and cultures. One needs signposting to the right people, who can deal with the procedures as well as support. I remember her talking about the difficulty in bringing him home.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I welcome this discussion and having a sense of clarification about who a “victim” is in a Bill at least half of which is about victims. I especially support Amendments 2 and 8, but I have some questions for those who tabled the other amendments. Although having too narrow a definition can be a problem, it strikes me that we could cause real problems for victims if we had too broad a definition. I am obviously thinking about resources and overstretching support. So many people can be victims of crime if you start broadening it so much.

As hinted at by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, in her interesting Amendment 3, it is a tragedy for the families of perpetrators too. They can also be victims, and whole ranges of people—friends, acquaintances and other people who have genuinely suffered—could say that they are victims, but are we seriously trying to put them all in scope? I want to know how we can ensure that, even if we are acting in generosity to try to broaden the definition, we do not water down a focus on the actual victims of crime that the Bill is designed to help. In other words: where do we draw the line?

In that context, I am slightly concerned about a broadening of what now constitute victims of crime. In Amendment 4, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, explained, it then becomes anti-social behaviour. He gave a moving account of what it feels like to be a victim of anti-social behaviour, but we could probably all stand up and give moving accounts of being victims of something—bullying and all sorts of other behaviour that makes people suffer. I am slightly concerned that we might end up relativising the experience of victims of crime in an attempt at broadening this too much. Whether we like it or not, culturally, we live in a society in which victimhood is valorised. I do not want the Bill to contribute to that relativising experience, because there is a danger that, if we make it too broad, we could trivialise the real victims of crime. But then you could rightly ask me: who do I mean by “real victims”? I do not want it to go so far so that we lose all sense of its meaning.

Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this Committee, both as Helen Newlove and as Victims’ Commissioner. I thank all the victims I have spoken to over the years. We are bringing their voices to this Committee, right through to the end, because we cannot be grateful enough for their bravery and their having come forward.

I have a list, but I will try to get through it. Amendment 2 is welcome and rightly looks to put bereaved victims of homicide abroad into the code. As has been said, to lose a loved one to murder is horrific and devastating—I can personally say that—no matter where the crime takes place. However, the families I have met whose loved ones have been murdered abroad have to get through significant additional financial, legal and logistical burdens in a different language and a different system—it is not as simple as we put on this script for Hansard today, believe you me.

To have to repatriate the body of a loved one is not simple, because families have to look to the coroner so that they do not harm evidence. That has to be co-ordinated with a foreign criminal justice system, where some families have sat in police stations with photographs of their loved ones, waiting for someone to pick up on that in their language. That image has never left me to this day. To feel alien in a country, knowing how you have lost a loved one, must be horrendous. It is bad enough in the system in this country, but to have that in a foreign country is very demeaning to a hurt family.

As has been said, there are only 60 to 80 such families a year, but that is enough. It is important that this small group of families has the same entitlements as those of bereaved families in this country. There really needs to be change. They are not entitled to criminal injuries compensation unless the death occurred as a result of a terror attack, as we have heard. This is particularly unjust when you bear in mind that they will have the same additional financial burdens as a victim of terrorism abroad. We all live on mobile phones; to have to pay a mobile phone bill just to get family help, when you do not have the finances, must be horrendous. We need to look at how we can balance this.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group. I am interested in verbal harm because it is true that, as politicians, we get a lot of that. I have had verbal abuse from that Front Bench, in fact, but I am old enough that it has not affected my behaviour.

Amendments 5 and 6 are quite crucial here, as is Amendment 10 on child criminal exploitation. On top of all the important points made by noble Lords here about child victims, I want to ask the Minister about the Government’s role in re-victimising children and young people by deploying them as covert human intelligence sources or child spies. I have raised this issue a few times over the past few years. It is still a practice that absolutely horrifies me—that the Government would actually encourage the further criminalisation of children. In recent years, the Government have actually expanded the use of child spies, including authorising them to commit criminal offences. I do not expect the Minister to answer this this evening, but I would like a full answer, because this is an issue that fills me with horror.

The Government’s actions obviously meet the definition of child criminal exploitation in Amendment 10, as these children are being

“encouraged, expected or required to take part”

in criminal offences by the police. Can the Minister therefore outline what victim support and other help is provided to these child spies when they are being sent back into dangerous criminal situations? Will they be eligible as victims under the victims’ code—I assume they will—and can the Minister give up-to-date figures on how many child spies are currently being used by police forces? I have been consistently told that it is a very small number. In my view, any number is wrong, but if I could have that information, I would be very grateful.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I was quite surprised to see the amendments, and also the way they have been motivated—by the need to get children in the Bill, as though there were a lack of sympathy with children as victims, particularly of sexual abuse. That is not something that I am aware of in society, which seems to me to be more than preoccupied with that issue, and rightly so.

If anything, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester made clear, it depends which children you are talking about, because one of the shocking aspects of the Rochdale grooming scandal was that a particular group of children were seen to be the wrong kind of children—in the words of the perpetrators, “white trash”. If you read the many reports on this, as I have done, even the officialdom—the police, local authorities, social workers and all sorts of things—saw these children as perpetrators who could be ignored. In general, society is horrified, it seems to me, at child abuse, but it depends which children. I did not know that we needed to get the idea of children as victims on the face of this kind of Bill in order to be sympathetic to children as victims, so I am a bit confused about the necessity of that. However, I am open to being convinced.

As it happens, I completely agree with the horror of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, at child spies, and I share that point of view as well. But she does raise a problem that I have with Amendment 10, inasmuch as I think it is unclear what the definition of “child criminal exploitation” would be. Where it says that

“a child under the age of 18 is encouraged, expected or required to take part in any activity that constitutes a criminal offence”,

first, there would be an argument about those child spies. Other people would presumably say that that was not what was happening there.

But there is a danger, particularly when we use that wording: “encouraged, expected or required” is very loose in terms of problems we might well have with agency of young people. We have already heard about anti-social behaviour; often that is committed by under-18s. Knife crime is often committed by under-18s. There is a danger that, in our attempt at fighting genuine exploitation of children to force them into criminal activity, we end up in a situation whereby young people, who I am afraid can on occasion be responsible for crimes, are able to say that they did not do it because they were encouraged or put under pressure and so on. I am just worried about the wording there.

Finally in this group—and this is not something I like doing, because I have enormous respect for the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—I absolutely disagree with his Amendment 9 on verbal harm. One thing that is quite interesting is this idea that we have to make young people—or everybody—aware of the dangers of verbal harm. The one group of people who are very aware of the dangers of verbal harm are young people and children because they are reared in a society that tells them that words are harmful. They are so embroiled in that notion that, as we know, they will say that they are victims because of words that have been said to them. We see this played out in schools, sixth forms and universities all the time, to the detriment of free speech.

People might think that is glib, but I am constantly involved in arguing the point with young people who say that words are as harmful as fists, knives and anything else and that they should not be exposed to individuals saying certain words because they are just as harmful as criminal activity. I do not want the Bill to give even more succour to this idea that words, which are often opinions that people do not like, are harmful. Even though words can make you feel uncomfortable, we must distinguish between words and actions, in my opinion, and not encourage young people to always think that they are victims of some crime if they hear words that they find unpleasant, even though I understand that some words are unpleasant to be on the receiving end of.

Baroness Benjamin Portrait Baroness Benjamin (LD)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support Amendments 6 and 10 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. I was pleased to hear that verbal abuse is being highlighted and I commend the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for that.

Children who are criminally exploited suffer unimaginable abuse and harm, which have long-lasting impacts and can cause physical and mental harm and trauma which can impact their development. As we know, childhood lasts a lifetime so this will go on to affect society in the long term, directly and indirectly.

The Covid-19 pandemic increased the risk of children being exploited and this has been made even worse by the cost of living crisis. Despite this, all too often children who are victims of exploitation are blamed and criminalised for their own abuse. Black and minority ethnic children and children in care are more likely to be criminalised than other children, which can be a double jeopardy for them.

There is no statutory definition of child criminal exploitation, which means that those working with children lack a shared understanding and can miss key intervention points and fail to identify victims. For child victims, this means that they are falling through the cracks of statutory support and perpetrators of this vile abuse are going unpunished.

At Second Reading, the Minister set out that a definition of child criminal exploitation already exists in statutory guidance, which is a good step in recognising the issue. However, confusion remains among those on the front line, and it is clear that a statutory definition would be welcomed by them. The Government need to use the Bill to give child criminal exploitation a statutory definition in its own right.

In 2021, Barnardo’s—I declare an interest as its vice-president—made a freedom of information request to police forces across the UK. Some 30 police forces responded, but only one force was able to provide any data about child criminal exploitation. Interestingly, many forces asked Barnardo’s about how child criminal exploitation is defined, which shows just how misunderstood it is by those working in this area. A police officer who spoke to the Children’s Society said:

“What is applying in Newcastle is totally different to Surrey, and current definitions are too open to interpretation and this breeds an inconsistent approach”.


Other police officers working on the front line have said that they would definitely value a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation, and that the definitions that already exist in statutory guidance are weaker and can be harder to prove.

Prisons: Education

Baroness Fox of Buckley Excerpts
Thursday 23rd March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the answer is yes. Prison governors are now specifically required to have regard to developing employment opportunities for those in prison, attendance rates at courses and other matters. I pay tribute to Clink, which is a very well-known and respected organisation. Similar programmes are being offered by other employers, and this is all, I respectfully suggest, good progress.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is the turn of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, in my experience with broader education projects such as Debating Matters Beyond Bars, I have found that private sector prisons can be more flexible and less bureaucratic than some state-run prisons. Does the Minister agree that we should focus less on who provides prison education and that education should be given far more priority? Does he also agree that prison education should not be limited to literacy, as it often is, but should be far more imaginative?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Government regard prison education with high priority and are working to improve its imaginative and innovative aspects all the time.

Prison Capacity

Baroness Fox of Buckley Excerpts
Tuesday 6th December 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as I have just said, that is an area for the courts. Judges, of course, have fairly extensive training in sentencing and I think I can fairly say that no judge would send anyone to prison if a community or other sentence was a realistic option.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I concede that many members of the public want tougher sentences for serious crimes, but can the Minister comment on a key point made at the North Wales Women’s Centre’s 21st anniversary in Rhyl that I was at the other day? They made the point that far too many prisoners are locked up for short, two-week sentences for non-violent crimes, rather than the Government investing in alternatives to custody. Secondly, if capacity is at such a crisis point, will the Government use the opportunity to finally deal with IPP sentences? They were so awful they were abolished in 2012, but still thousands on IPP are languishing in prisons indefinitely. It is time to end them and free up the space.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, in relation to the comment from Rhyl in north Wales, I entirely take the point that is being made. Unfortunately, the courts sometimes feel that a short sentence is the only available, or the best, option in those circumstances—and that, as I have already said, is a matter for the courts. As far as IPP prisoners are concerned, the Government will respond to the recent report from the Justice Committee of the other place, I hope next week.