Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office
Baroness Kennedy of Cradley Portrait Baroness Kennedy of Cradley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as director of Generation Rent. I will speak briefly to Motion M. Campaigners have argued consistently for a specific offence to more easily prosecute predators who seek to exploit women and men, including renters, by asking for sexual favours in return for a roof over their heads. It is disappointing that the Government did not accept the Lords amendment. It is not right that a victim has to be defined as a prostitute for justice to be served. The fact that there has only ever been one prosecution is proof that the current law is woefully inadequate.

However, movement has been made on this issue: there is recognition that it needs addressing and, of course, we welcome the public consultation as a step forward. In welcoming that, I ask the Minister—I am sure that other noble Lords will want to know the answer too—when the timetable and the terms of reference for the consultation will be published.

Regarding action against online platforms and hosts, for too long the tech firms have not been held accountable for hosting harmful and abusive content. Instead, they have been able to facilitate the exploitation of renters through sex-for-rent ads, completely without consequence. The Minister confirmed that this will be dealt with in the online safety Bill. Can she confirm that paragraphs 16(a) and 16(b) of Schedule 7 will mean that sex-for-rent ads will be classed as priority illegal content and will therefore be dealt with under the schedule? Can she confirm the sanctions that will be used to deter tech platforms from hosting sex-for-rent ads and the consequences if they continue to do so?

I appreciate that, as a Minister in a different department, the noble Baroness may not know the full detail of the DCMS Bill to answer my specific questions about sex for rent and Schedule 7, but if she could commit that she or someone else will write to me to explain exactly how the online safety Bill will deal with online sex-for-rent ads under the “Priority offences” schedule on illegal content, I would be very grateful. Will these online safety provisions be part of the public consultation or will the consultation deal solely with the criminal justice aspects of sex for rent?

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I open by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for the way in which she introduced the two government Motions.

First, on Lords Amendment 70 in my name and the Government’s Amendment 70A, it is fair to say that the Government’s response goes wider than my original amendment. That is a good thing. It is indeed true that the Government are considering the issue in the round. Sexual motivation is not the only reason why people are spiked through their drinks or through needles; there may be any number of motivations for people doing it, so it is reasonable to look at this matter in the round and that is what the Government are proposing to do through their amendment. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for his support on this matter.

Moving on to sex for rent, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Kennedy, who has played a leading role in this House in promoting Amendments 141 and 142. She showed her knowledge in this area in the questions that she put to the Minister about how this matter will be taken forward regarding the online safety Bill. She put some pertinent questions and I hope that I can be copied in on the answers regarding the timetable and whether particular aspects of the DCMS Bill will address the sex-for-rent issue.

The further concession, if I can use that word, which the Minister has made is that there will be a public consultation, which will launch by the Summer Recess. Of course that is welcome but, as she fairly pointed out, there are a number of elements to this. It is not an issue for one department or one that is easy to solve. Indeed, it is not easy to quantify, although there is no shortage of horrific examples that one can see online on any number of websites where people seek sex-for-rent arrangements.

I thank the Minister for the way she introduced the Government’s Motions. We will support them if they are put to a vote.