20 Baroness Thornton debates involving the Leader of the House

Mon 25th Mar 2024
Mon 26th Feb 2024
Tue 13th Feb 2024
Wed 7th Feb 2024
Victims and Prisoners Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage part one
Wed 7th Feb 2024
Victims and Prisoners Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage part two
Mon 5th Feb 2024
Tue 28th Jun 2022

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Baroness Thornton Excerpts
Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, I have added my name to both stand part notices. The first question I asked myself way back before Second Reading, and I still need to ask myself, is why on earth the Government put these two clauses in the Bill. They do not seem to do anything to make the prison regime any better or to make the work that goes on in supporting people in prison any easier. In fact, they appear to be cruel in a variety of ways.

The Secretary of State being able to approve a marriage or civil partnership only based on exceptional circumstances, even if you felt there was a rationale or a reason, is surely the wrong way around. Surely, the Secretary of State should be able to deny them only if there are exceptional circumstances. This measure will apply regardless of the way in which anybody in future seeks a partnership or marriage.

It worries me, as I am sure it does many others in this Committee, how much placing people in prison for their lives will add to—or detract from—what happens inside the prison. It is going beyond punishment. Whatever anybody feels about what happens in a prison establishment, providing some hope for the future of their lives, understanding how their lives work and making sure they feel a sense of purpose in remaining alive is part of the job of the state, which must retain that ability.

These clauses, once again, chip away at those fundamental human rights, disapplying human rights to a specific cohort of people. The universality of human rights in this circumstance is doubly important because, of course, the state is totally responsible for whatever rights and purposes prisoners have. It has to manage them. It is precisely in custodial institutions such as prisons that human rights protections are most vital, because the individuals are under the control of the state.

It would appear, as in the Illegal Migration Act and the safety of Rwanda Bill, that we are beginning to see a testing period for making controversial changes to our human rights framework. It seems to me and those on these Benches that this particular measure is offensive to that spirit of how the state should manage the lives of people in this circumstance. If there were to be a case for saying that somebody cannot get married or have a civil partnership, that is surely by exception rather than by practice.

It appears to me that these clauses do not really fit into this Bill, because of that sense of things being done in the wrong direction. More than anything else, I seek to understand from the Government why they have put this in place. If it is because of a single case, as we have just heard, to write law on the basis of a single case is surely not the correct way to go about it.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I wondered why this was in the Bill; it is because this is a victims Bill. My honourable friend Jess Phillips MP is familiar with victims of the crimes of Bellfield, so I looked at what she had to say about this issue. She is a great champion for victims of crime. What she said was quite interesting. She was reflecting on what had been said by Sarah Champion MP, who had put a point reflecting what my noble friend Lord Bach has just said.

Jess Phillips said:

“I truly appreciate my hon. Friend’s fundamental point: everybody hopes for rehabilitation. With this, the only case we have to debate is that of Levi Bellfield, as mentioned. Having worked with some of his direct victims and the families of those victims, while I do not disagree that we sometimes chase headlines and make bad legislation in doing so, with his case I am not sure, from previous behaviour, that I would categorise it as rehabilitation. I would categorise it as behaviour to get headlines. The desire in Levi Bellfield’s case, as has been put to me by many of his victims, is that these schemes keep him constantly in the media, and that is incredibly painful for them. There is a bit from both sides of the argument in this debate: trying to stop the headlines and allowing rehabilitation”.—[Official Report, Commons, Victims and Prisoners Bill Committee, 11/7/23; col. 480.]


My noble friend Lord Bach raises some very important questions about the legality of this proposal. It is important that the Government explain why only one case has led to this being in the Bill.

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I hope that the Government will accept that this data must be collected and published, but I also hope that they will ensure that the benefits of disseminating that information will not just help to reduce reoffending, nor just improve the quality of life between prisoners and their families while they are in prison, but will actually make a substantial difference to these children in their broader lives.
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, because I could not possibly better her introduction to this amendment. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Ponsonby and I were very pleased to put our names to it. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that you cannot create robust policy if you do not have the data. She has helpfully illustrated to the House that it can be done and that, therefore, it should be done.

When I first saw these amendments—I have said this several times in the course of this Bill—I could not quite believe that it was not already happening, but it is not happening. I ask the Minister to seriously consider that this needs to be done for those children.

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
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My Lords, I do not pretend to be an expert on prisons, as some noble Lords are who have put forward this amendment. However, I also wanted to speak briefly to it, and for the very same reason, which is that I just could not believe that we did not collect the numbers on children who have a parent or a primary carer in custody. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, put down a Written Question and that the Government said that they do use a figure, which is 200,000. But that is from a survey from 2009—a pretty long time ago—and that is very different from the 312,000 figure that Crest Advisory has claimed.

We should say that the Government recognise that this is a problem. In that same Written Answer, the Government said they had made changes to the basic custody screening tool. In other words, this means that, when people go into prison, they are asked how many children they have back home. We know that they will not always say, not least because they will be worried about children being taken into care, and again, the Government recognise this. So in that Written Answer they talked about using a linked data programme called BOLD. They said the results should be published this spring and that that should be able to give us a better estimate. So can my noble friend the Minister explain, not necessarily today but perhaps in writing, how this programme works in practice and whether it will provide a permanent solution to the problem, as this amendment would do? If it will not, I ask the Government to consider making this change. Otherwise, as others have said, we will be letting down a group of very vulnerable children.

Finally, the Government’s own statutory guidance, Keeping Children Safe in Education, says that children and young people will be impacted by having a parent or relative in prison. I am a little confused as to how, on the one hand, in guidance we can state that we know this is a problem and that children will be affected, but on the other we can say that we do not know how many children are affected because we do not gather the numbers. How can we provide the support if we do not know how many children there are or where they are?

Lord Roborough Portrait Lord Roborough (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Farmer for tabling this amendment and to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester for moving it. It would require the Secretary of State to collect data centrally about prisoners who are primary carers of children and the numbers of dependent children who have a primary carer in prison, and to publish the data annually, including the ages of the children. My noble friend, who is not in his place today, knows that the Government fully support the intention behind this amendment. The Government echo the right reverend Prelate in paying tribute to his work and ongoing contribution towards this issue.

Understanding the personal circumstances of those in custody, including responsibilities for dependent children, is essential if we are to provide effective support for those prisoners to help them maintain contact with those children. Strengthening family ties is an integral aspect of the work of HM Prison and Probation Service. We recognise the importance of maintaining a prisoner’s relationship with family, friends and their wider community, particularly where the best interest of the child is served through maintaining a strong relationship with their parent. Prisons across England and Wales offer a range of services to maintain family relationships, including social visits, family days, secure video calling and Storybook Mums and Dads, an award-winning, charity-led initiative that enables parents in prison to record bedtime stories for their children.

In answer to the right reverend Prelate’s comments on supporting children impacted by parental imprisonment, ministerial responsibility for supporting children who might be vulnerable due to parental incarceration sits with the Department for Education in England and the Welsh Government, and the Ministry of Justice is actively committed to joined-up working across government to better understand the nature of this issue. The Female Offender Strategy, published in 2018, encouraged a partnership-focused approach to addressing the needs of both imprisoned mothers and children affected by maternal imprisonment. We published the female offender strategy delivery plan in January 2023, with a progress report, the Farmer Review for Women, in 2019. Outstanding commitments from the Farmer review are being taken forward under the delivery plan.

Understanding how many children are impacted by parental imprisonment is just as important, because having a parent in prison is a recognised adverse childhood experience that can impact a child’s mental health and lead some to feel they are being judged for the actions of their parents. From the perspective of the criminal justice system and echoing the number that has been mentioned a couple of times in this debate, evidence has shown that over 60% of boys who had a father in prison went on to offend themselves. Therefore, identifying and supporting those individuals at an early stage has the potential to divert them away from the criminal justice system, preventing future victims of crime.

While we are fully supportive of the amendment’s intention, we do not believe that legislation as proposed here is necessary. Our prison strategy White Paper. published in 2021, outlined our intention to address this issue through engagement with other government departments, and to commission updated research to improve our collective understanding of the overall number of children affected by parental imprisonment.

As my noble friend mentioned, we are delivering this commitment through our Better Outcomes through Linked Data project, known as BOLD. It is an almost £20 million cross-government shared outcomes fund that will link data to enable better evidence and more joined-up cross-government services. Through BOLD, we will be publishing a report that will estimate the number of children with parents in prison. We expect findings from the project to be published by spring 2024. This should provide some of the critical data that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, called for. We are working to collect and improve data. We have previously made changes to the internal management—

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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Why are the Government aiming to have an estimate? We need to know the actual number of these children.

Lord Roborough Portrait Lord Roborough (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her intervention and appreciate that this debate has focused very much on the wish of many noble Lords to have very accurate data. I am very aware that BOLD will be an estimate. We expect it to be a reasonably accurate estimate, which will be very good information for forming policy. The extent to which more detailed data could be required in future we will keep under review. If it is helpful, I can offer a further meeting on that outside this Committee.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Baroness Thornton Excerpts
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I was pleased to put my name and that of my noble friend to this amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, has given us a comprehensive introduction to this issue. Given that this is an issue of current discussion across the country, there is not much point in me going into detail on the rights and wrongs, as well as the injustices, that we all know the Horizon scandal involved. It is shocking; it is a scandal that we should all be aware of and seek to remedy as quickly as we can.

This amendment and the one before show that this Bill is important because of its inclusiveness—I look to the commissioner—and it is not the first time I have said that in this discussion. It is very important that, in the course of the Bill, we recognise the different sorts of victims that there are in terms of the way the state has behaved, the major catastrophes that people suffer, and the issues of the courts and our justice system. That is all to the good because we will, I hope, end up with an Act that will really serve victims in all of those areas well.

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Moved by
148A: After Clause 47, insert the following new Clause—
“Licence conditions for serial and serious harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators under Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements(1) A condition of the release and licence of serial and serious harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators must be included in the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements.(2) The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is amended as follows.(3) In section 325 (arrangements for assessing etc risk posed by certain offenders)—(a) in subsection (1), after ““relevant sexual or violent offender” has the meaning given by section 327;” insert ““relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator” has the meaning given in section 327ZA;”;(b) after subsection (2)(a) insert—“(aza) relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrators,”.(4) After section 327 (Section 325: interpretation) insert—“327ZA Interpretation of relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator (1) For the purposes of section 325, a person (“P”) is a “relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator” if P has been convicted of a specified offence or an associate offence and meets either the condition in subsection (2)(a) or the condition in subsection (2)(b).(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), the conditions are—(a) P is a relevant serial offender; or(b) a risk of serious harm assessment has identified P as presenting a high or very high risk of serious harm.(3) An offence is a “specified offence” for the purposes of this section if it is a specified domestic abuse offence or a specified stalking offence.(4) In this section—“relevant serial offender” means a person convicted on more than one occasion for the same specified offence, or a person convicted of more than one specified offence;“specified domestic abuse offence” means an offence where it is alleged that the behaviour of the accused amounted to domestic abuse within the meaning defined in section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021;“specified stalking offence” means an offence contrary to section 2A or section 4A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.(5) Within 12 months of the day on which the Victims and Prisoners Act 2024 is passed the Secretary of State must commission a review into the operation of the provisions of this section.””
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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It is a great pleasure to move Amendment 148A and speak to Amendment 148B. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for their support in this suite of amendments, both of which deal with stalking. They insert two new clauses into the Bill, and they are part of the whole suite of amendments on this.

I will be brief because my noble friend Lady Royall is in the Committee today, and she has been tireless over the years in championing this cause and using every opportunity to find remedies to deal with this pernicious crime, almost always perpetrated by men on women, wrecking lives, sometimes with fatal consequences. These two amendments, and the group following this concerning MAPPS in the name of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, seek to bring further coherence to law enforcement, record sharing and protection for these victims.

If only the police could see stalking for what it truly is—often a stepping stone on the route to murder—perhaps they would take it more seriously. At present, I am afraid they do not—certainly, it is patchy—and stalking victims are dismissed too easily and too often. They are told, “It’s just online. It will die down. Change your number. Delete your social media accounts. It’s just a lovers’ tiff”.

I will give just one example and then sit down. When the Derbyshire police accepted that they failed Gracie Spinks—who was murdered after reporting her stalker to the police—and when they apologised to her family and promised that lessons would be learned, I could almost feel the weariness of victims, their families, the campaigners and the Victims’ Commissioner in saying, “How often do we have to be told that lessons can be learned when they haven’t been?” That is what these amendments and the ones we have already discussed are about: they seek to make a change. I beg to move.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, I was happy to put my name to these to these two amendments, and I am equally happy that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, is here. She will go into some current and fairly shocking detail about some recent examples of stalking that show that it is as pernicious and present as ever.

Both of these amendments are proposed in the clear and distinctly uncomfortable knowledge that I think all parties acknowledge: we have some way to go, to put it mildly, before we can say, with any degree of truth, that we have the measure of the huge and insidious problem that is stalking. These amendments propose some changes to MAPPA, including perpetrators in MAPPA, as a condition of potential release and licence, and the creation of a register to make perpetrators subject to notification requirements as a condition of release. The important common theme to both these amendments is the requirement for the Secretary of State to commission reviews to look at the issues and challenges around stalking in a comprehensive and informed manner.

But what is repeatedly and continuously frustrating is that we have proper on-the-ground evidence of approaches to stalking that are proving to be effective. In particular, there is the multi-agency stalking intervention programme—MASIP—which has marked a significant advance in our ability to anticipate, identify and tackle the complex issue of stalking. The MASIP model, thankfully funded by the Home Office, has pioneered this approach in London, Cheshire and Hampshire, and it works. Early evidence is compelling and extremely positive. So one just asks oneself: why is it not possible to do this more widely? The approach co-ordinates activity around both the victim and the perpetrator, and it incorporates an essential pathway to address the fixation and obsession in perpetrators that might be contributing to their stalking offending. The final evaluation proves that it works, so why is it so difficult, first, to acknowledge best practice when it is staring one in the face and, secondly, to implement it more widely?

One frustrating thing—here I refer to an article in today’s newspaper—is some news about the Government’s end-of-custody supervised licence programme, which was introduced in the autumn to relieve some of the huge pressure on our overcrowded jails, enabling perpetrators to be released earlier than their recommended sentence. It was put in as a temporary scheme, but it has apparently now been extended indefinitely. That does not mean for ever; it just means that the Government have given no indication of how long they intend to continue to allow this degree of leniency, the sole reason for which is the huge pressure on our prisons.

The Government rather inelegantly call this the problem of demand and supply in the prison population. If you were to try to explain that terminology to victims, they would find it slightly difficult to understand why supply-side economics should govern the early release of some perpetrators, particularly of domestic abuse and stalking, in many cases without the victims knowing what is going on.

We will make concerted progress only when we acknowledge the complexity of stalking and finally design a proactive and joined-up approach that is implemented consistently across all jurisdictions and agency boundaries and effectively identifies, outlaws and penalises any evidence of the unfairness and madness of what we are allowing today—effectively, a postcode lottery for victims.

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For these reasons, the Government feel that the aims of the amendments are already met through existing provisions, and I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendments.
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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Why does the Minister think we tabled these amendments?

Lord Roborough Portrait Lord Roborough (Con)
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I think I understand the point of the amendments, which is the belief that stalking and domestic abuse deserve to be treated the same way as terror and murder offences. I hope the explanation I have given shows that these offences, on a discretionary basis, can be treated with the same seriousness under MAPPA 2 and MAPPA 3. The Government have described an ongoing process of trying to improve the implementation of it.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for the detail he has gone into. I am not making fun of him; I am genuinely wondering if he thinks it is all going in the right direction and fast enough. If so, we would not have needed to put the amendments down. We have tabled them because things are not moving fast enough.

Most of the examples my noble friend Lady Royall gave were not current, though some of them were. It is, therefore, perfectly all right to discuss them because they are a long time past and they show the failures of our systems to deal with and recognise stalking and the problems it poses. The reason we have tabled the amendments is because the systems we have at the moment are clearly not working and are very patchy. As my noble friend Lady Royall said, guidance does not always serve, and it does not serve in these circumstances.

I thank everyone who has spoken in the debate. It was very well informed. I think the Minister may have underestimated our determination on the matter. We may return to it at a later stage in the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 148A withdrawn.
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Her experience and those of many others speak to why we need to ensure that victims of child sexual abuse are given the confidence that their perpetrator will not be able to contact them after their release. I beg to move.
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I do not need to add much to the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, because she has explained exactly why this is an important matter. I was slightly astonished when I read the amendment that this was the case and that this was something that we would need to remedy, so I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for this amendment, which, as she explained, would require the Crown Court to automatically impose a restraining order on anyone convicted of a child sex offence; that would apply regardless of the type or length of sentence passed. There is no need for me to underline the horror of child sex offences and the lifelong harm that is inflicted on the victims. I therefore have a great deal of sympathy with the intent behind the amendment to do even more to try to minimise the impact of that harm, as well as protect the community from any further offending.

Restraining orders are a discretionary power available to judges to impose in cases where there is a need to protect people from harassment or conduct that causes fear of violence. The current regime allows for such orders to be imposed where there is sufficient evidence on conviction, post conviction or post acquittal. At present, applications for restraining orders are considered by the Crown Prosecution Service on a case-by-case basis, recognising that there is a need to keep a victim safe and take their views into account. Actions prohibited by the restraining order, such as going to certain locations or contacting the victim, may be a breach of the order which is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. Variation or discharge of the restraining order must be undertaken by the court.

When dealing with child sex offences, the court has a range of sentencing options available that may include life sentences. The vast majority of offenders who are released are subject to licence conditions that could include conditions to protect the victim, such as prohibiting contact. Breaching the terms of any licence condition can result in an offender being recalled to prison.

Offenders are also subject to notification requirements, commonly known as the sex offender register, where individuals convicted or cautioned for a sexual offence must provide certain details to police, including address, national insurance number and bank account details. Furthermore, they will also be managed under Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements, or MAPPA, for the duration of those requirements that, in many cases, will be for life.

Other measures to protect victims are also available. The sexual harm prevention order, or SHPO, can be made in relation to a person who has been convicted of a broad range of sexual offences, committed either in the UK or overseas. No application is necessary at the point of sentence, but courts may consider it in appropriate cases. Otherwise, applications can be made by the police, or other agencies, in preparation for the offender’s release on licence.

The prohibitions imposed by the order can be wide-ranging, such as limiting forms of employment that may involve contact with children or restrictions on internet access. The orders may be for a fixed period not exceeding five years but are renewable. More than 5,000 SHPOs were imposed in the year 2022-23, which shows that the courts are using the tools and powers available.

While I support the well-meaning intention of the amendment, I do not believe it is necessary, because there is a wide-ranging and effective set of measures to monitor and control offenders. I also suggest that the point at which these additional measures would be needed are when someone’s licence comes to an end; until then, conditions such as non-contact and exclusion can be in place on the licence. So it would be better to take decisions on the controls necessary at the conclusion of the licensing period, rather than attempt to predict them at the point of sentencing.

Requiring the Crown Court to automatically issue a restraining order as a condition of release in every case caught by this amendment would constrain the court’s discretion not to issue an order where it was not needed or desired. From a practical perspective, a mandatory restraining order imposed on an offender at the point of sentence, which could be many years before the end of the sentence, would be a duplication of some of the other controls I have already set out and it could create practical difficulties down the line, especially where the sentence is very long.

We also must remember the voice of the victim, which plays an important part in decision-making. Where an offender has received a custodial sentence of 12 months for violent or sexual offences, which of course include sexual offences against children, victims will be automatically referred to the victim contact scheme. Where the victim is a child, a parent or guardian may join the scheme on their behalf. If they choose to join the scheme, a victim liaison officer will inform them when the offender is going to be released and help them to request licence conditions that will apply upon the offender’s release, such as prohibitions on contacting the victim or entering an exclusion zone.

In conclusion, I hope I have adequately explained the wide-ranging provisions already available to safeguard victims, which we should allow the courts to impose as they see fit, according to the circumstances of a given case. I hope that, on reflection, the noble Baroness agrees and feels able to withdraw the amendment. In saying that, I make it clear, as I often do, that I am happy to talk to her after Committee to explore these matters further.

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Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, started her speech by talking about sex offenders changing their names frequently, and there is no doubt that this happens. I will come on to explain why I think that there is help in that. However, her amendment seems to be intending to strengthen identification of individuals on licence who have a different gender assignment from that given at birth. It implies a perceived need to know that person’s birth gender, legal gender and legal identity, and that they are relevant to the prevention of a sex crime. This is, as I think the noble Baroness is aware, highly contentious and a sensitive topic, with implications for the equality, dignity and fair treatment of transgender people.

His Majesty’s Prison Service estimates that there are approximately 2.9 transgender prisoners per 1,000 in custody. There were 281 prisoners living or presenting in a gender identity different from their birth sex as of 31 March last year. At the same time, the number of prisoners with a gender recognition certificate was only 13. HMPPS already has robust arrangements in place for identifying individuals who have undergone gender change at the point of entry to custody. That is because there are already rules inside prisons for making sure that there are no risks to the prison population—or indeed to those who have changed their gender, who sometimes are attacked as well.

Nevertheless, even if an individual somehow managed to slip through the net, establishing it would require staff checking the legal gender of every person convicted of a sex event who was released from prison—effectively trying to prove that they do not have a GRC by asking the gender recognition panel. Proposed new subsection 2 of the noble Baroness’s amendment is about the database recording absolutely everybody who has committed a sexual offence in their gender at birth. Data published on 31 December last year shows there were 14,152 people serving a sentence in prison for a sex offence. I wonder whether the Minister cares to hazard a guess at how much time would be spent if HMPPS and the GRC trawled through that lot. HMPPS is required to accurately record a person’s legal gender upon entry to custody, and the policy states that, where legal gender has not been confirmed, efforts to establish legal gender must be recorded separately when different—so both are still recorded.

Furthermore, I remember that during the course of the then Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in 2021, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on behalf of the Government, said:

“There are no other instances across government where there is a mandatory requirement to record both a person’s sex as registered at birth as well as their acquired gender, if that is applicable. The Office for Statistics Regulation is clear that it is for each department to decide when and how it collects data, including data on both sex and gender.


We have already stated that we do not plan to require biological sex to be recorded across the criminal justice system in our response to a recent petition calling for the biological sex of violent and sexual offenders to be so recorded”.—[Official Report, 22/11/21; col. 724.]


Given that, and given the protections that the Prison Service must follow through with every transgender prisoner, I wonder if there is actually a real reason for the need for this amendment. I appreciate the tale that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, gave us from the individual, but I am not sure that what she requires in this amendment would actually help the victim in this case.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I echo the worry of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about this, partly exactly because it may not solve the victim’s problem that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, outlined in proposing this amendment. We have also talked a lot about the unevenness of the criminal justice system’s data collection and everything else; I wonder how on earth it would do this, to solve what is probably a very small problem—but a challenge, absolutely—and whether there may be another way of resolving it. I look forward to the Minister’s remarks.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, for explaining the background to her amendment. It would require by law that the criminal justice agencies—the police, prisons and probation—identify and record any change of gender identity by a sex offender as a condition of their release on licence. It would also require the police to record the offender’s name and birth sex as a condition of their release on licence.

It may help if I outline the measures we already have in place, which I think address the spirit of this amendment. Part 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 requires sex offenders who have been convicted of an offence in Schedule 3 to that Act to notify the police of their personal details annually and whenever they change. Those details include information such as names, including aliases, and addresses. They also include details of activity such as foreign travel and residence in a household with children.

Sex offenders subject to the notification requirements in Part 2 of the 2003 Act are managed under the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements. MAPPA is a statutory arrangement, through which the responsible authority—the police, prisons and probation—work together and with other agencies to discharge a statutory duty to co-operate, to assess and manage the risk posed by registered sex offenders and others living in the community.

In February 2023, the Ministry of Justice and His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service created a presumption that all transgender female prisoners, whether they have a gender recognition certificate or not, would not be held in the general women’s prison estate. The Prison Service is able to verify, with the gender recognition panel, whether an offender has a gender recognition certificate. Any difference between an offender’s birth sex and assumed gender will therefore be recorded and made known to the probation and police services through their co-operation under MAPPA.

The MAPPA responsible authorities use the VISOR database to share information about registered sex offenders. VISOR enables the recording of sex, gender identity and gender presentation. An offender’s legal sex will be changed on VISOR only if they have provided a GRC to the police, probation or prison service. However, MAPPA agencies are still able to have regard to an offender’s change of gender where it is necessary to manage their risk, or prevent or detect crime.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Baroness Thornton Excerpts
Moved by
122: After Clause 28, insert the following new clause—
“Code for victims of major incidents(1) The Secretary of State must issue a code of practice as to the services to be provided to victims of major incidents by persons having functions relating to—(a) victims of major incidents, or(b) official inquiries and investigations following a major incident.(2) In this Part, the “code for victims of major incidents” means the code of practice issued under this section.(3) The code for victims of major incidents must make provision for services which reflect the principles that victims should—(a) be provided with information to help them understand the investigatory process following the major incident of which they are a victim;(b) be able to access services which support them (including, where appropriate, specialist services);(c) have the opportunity to make their views heard in the investigatory process following the major incident of which they are a victim;(d) be able to challenge decisions which have a direct impact on them.(7) The code for victims of major incidents may make different provision for different purposes, including different provision for—(a) victims of different descriptions;(b) persons who have different functions of a kind mentioned in subsection (1).”
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Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 122, I shall also speak to Amendment 123. I thank Justice and Inquest for the briefings they have given us about this issue. I hope the noble and learned Lord the Minister will be back with us at some point as the Bill proceeds, although the duo who have taken his place are doing a great job.

These amendments follow on from our debate at the end of the proceedings last week about victims of major incidents and how they should be treated. The amendments are about the fact that bereaved people and survivors in inquests and inquiries will have suffered serious harm but do not receive the same recognition from the Government as victims of crime, so are not entitled to the minimum level of support and services. Instead they are often expected to navigate complex legal processes, with little recognition of the harm they have suffered or the trauma they have faced.

Under Clause 2, the victims’ code in the criminal justice context would reflect the principles that victims

“(a) should be provided with information … (b) should be able to access services which support them … (c) should have the opportunity to make their views heard … (d) should be able to challenge decisions which have a direct impact on them”.

Applying these principles to the victims of major incidents and interested persons at inquests would have a significant, practical and symbolic benefit, consistent with the Government’s pledge to place victims at the heart of their response to public tragedies.

Extending the provisions of the victims’ code could be achieved by introducing a requirement in the Bill for the Secretary of State to issue a separate victims’ code relating specifically to victims in the context of inquests and inquiries. Such a code could be guided by the same principles and have the same weight and legal status as its criminal justice counterpart. Before drafting the code, the Secretary of State should be required to consult the survivors of major incidents and the bereaved. Further consultations should be required before any changes were made to the victims’ code or its provisions relating to victims in the inquests and inquiries context.

The Government could be invited to suggest their own way of achieving the proper support for victims of major incidents. These are probing amendments about the best way forward, and this may not be it. Inquest contends that

“affording victims of major incidents and Interested Persons entitlements under the Victims Code would represent a recognition of their status as victims of significant, and often wrongful, harm who should be treated in a manner that is dignified and promotes participation”.

I beg to move.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for tabling these important amendments creating a code for victims of major incidents and the processes by which it should be laid before Parliament. At Second Reading, a number of noble Lords raised the problem in the Bill that faces victims who are not victims of a type of crime listed in Schedule 1 and relating only to the first part of the Bill. It is self-evident that the victims of major incidents are not all covered by crime, or sometimes criminality may not be evident for a long period after the incident. However, the consequences of these incidents are often life-changing and require the same sort of support that victims of serious crimes do.

It would be iniquitous if the victims of aircraft accidents, flooding disasters, stadium collapses and many others were not able to access the support of the relevant services via an advocate and agencies that they need. That is why amendments debated last week, as well as those today, make strong arguments for provision. The advocates also need to know what rights these victims have in major non-criminal incidents and which services to refer them to.

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Lord Roborough Portrait Lord Roborough (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for Amendment 122. This amendment would require the Secretary of State to prepare and issue a new code of practice for victims of major incidents. I will focus my response on the content of Amendment 122, as Amendment 123 is consequential on the former. While I understand the intentions of the amendments, I do not believe they are necessary, because existing codes and related commitments are already in place to achieve their aims.

First, the purpose of establishing an independent public advocate is exactly as the noble Baroness has outlined. It is to ensure that victims understand the processes and actions of public authorities and how their views may be taken into account; to provide information concerning other sources of support and advice; and to communicate with public authorities on behalf of victims in relation to the incident, especially in situations where the victims have raised concerns. Through the advocate’s ability to act as a conduit between victims and the Government, victims will have the opportunity to make their views known and have their voices heard to effect change in real time.

Secondly, it is likely that in most circumstances in which a major incident is declared and an advocate is appointed the victims will have been a victim of a crime. In such instances, they are already covered under the victims’ code, which sets out the services and support that victims of crime can expect to receive from criminal justice agencies. An additional code for victims of a major incident may therefore be duplicative, and as such may be counterproductive.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton, Lady Brinton, Lady Hamwee and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, have argued powerfully that non-criminal major incidents may need to be addressed. Victims of non-criminal major incidents will have an advocate appointed to help them access support services, navigate the processes—

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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I wonder whether the code would cover the Hillsborough situation. It seems that the definition the noble Lord has just given would not cover that situation—one in which people may think that a crime was committed but nobody has ever been charged with a crime, and there were definitely a very large number of victims.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. The other point he has raised about the type of—if I can call it this— “victimhood” completely ignores the experience of the victim, the journey they have to make, and the services, which are so vital to the victims’ code. How can he explain that victims of major incidents that are not deemed to be a crime at the time would be able access those services in the same way? They are no less victims.

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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, during the debate on the victims’ code, we discussed the problem that victims are often advised not to undergo any counselling or therapy because that might damage how their evidence is characterised by the defendant’s counsel. I have no idea whether this issue has arisen in connection with major, possibly non-criminal incidents, but I can see that this could become something that makes its way into people’s thinking: “Don’t go for therapy because you might have to give evidence to a public inquiry, and how would that be perceived?” I just throw that in as another consideration. There may be similar points, not about what victims should do but about things they should not.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for throwing that in. The Minister will know that this is a discursive process and this is a probing amendment. Although we will press him on all the different things, I am grateful for the commitment to talk and to continue the dialogue about how we deal with this particular group in the code. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 122 withdrawn.
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Moved by
124: Clause 29, page 30, line 16, at end insert—
“(2A) When carrying out its functions under subsection (2)(a) in relation to a specific major incident, the standing advocate must seek, and relay to the Secretary of State, the views of victims of that incident concerning—(a) the type of review or inquiry held into the incident, and(b) their treatment by public authorities in response to the major incident.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would require the standing advocate to communicate the views of the victims of a major incident to the Secretary of State.
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 124 I will speak to Amendments 125 and 128 in the name of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby. We are now, of course, continuing our discussion about major incidents and the role of the advocate.

The reason for Amendment 124 is that the press release introducing the standing advocate position states that the role will

“give victims a voice when decisions are made about the type of review or inquiry to be held into a disaster”.

However, there is no requirement in the Bill for the standing advocate to directly consider the views of victims of a major incident when advising the Secretary of State. The Bill provides for an individual other than the standing advocate to be appointed as the advocate in respect of a major incident. In these circumstances in particular, it is not clear from the Bill how and whether the views of victims will be communicated to either the standing advocate or the Secretary of State. That is the situation that Amendment 124 seeks to rectify. It would require the standing advocate to communicate directly to the Secretary of State the views of victims in relation to the type of review or inquiry to be held into the incident and their treatment by public authorities.

I turn now to Amendment 125. The Government have said that the appointment of advocates for individual major incidents will allow for expert insight from, for instance, community leaders who hold the confidence of victims. There is no requirement to consider the views of the community affected by the incident when deciding whether and who to appoint as a specialist advocate in relation to a specific incident. We appreciate that the need for rapid deployment of an advocate following a major incident—which noble Lords have been talking about already—may make it difficult to seek the views of victims before appointing an advocate in respect of that incident. However, once an advocate has been appointed, the Secretary of State should seek the views of victims as to whether to appoint an additional specialist advocate and who to appoint. This is what Amendment 125 in the name of my noble friend seeks to do.

Amendment 128 would require the Secretary of State to consider the views of the victims of an incident before making a decision to terminate the appointment of an advocate appointed in respect of that incident.

This suite of amendments strengthens the role of victims, which is what we are seeking to do in this Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for laying these amendments and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for introducing them. After the last group, we continue to delve into the role of standing advocates. Once again, the lack of a victims’ code for those major incidents not deemed to be criminal, or not obviously criminal, means that the voice of the victim may not be heard.

One would hope that any standing advocate would seek and relay to the Secretary of State the views of the victims, but it is not evident from the Bill as published exactly how that would happen. These amendments create the golden thread that ensures that a standing advocate must do that, and that the Secretary of State, before they terminate the appointment of an advocate, must consider the views of the victims of a major incident. For example, there might be a conflict of interest with a future Government who are unhappy about the direction in which a standing advocate is going. The standing advocate might think that what the victims are saying goes beyond what the Government had hoped, and there might be a push to remove the standing advocate. Under this amendment, the standing advocate would be able to produce the evidence brought to him or her from the victims to say why the matter should be taken seriously. At the moment, there is no such structure to do that.

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Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that explanation. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Newlove, the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and my noble friend Lord Wills for their support for this small group of amendments. The Minister is right that we have no disagreement about the outcomes we wish to see at the end of this. Our concern is that giving a voice to victims in major incidents is so important that it needs to be explicitly mentioned in the Bill.

I accept that Clause 29(2)(a) does go some way, but it does not actually say that the job of the special advocate is that they have to talk to the victims. I listened to hear whether the Minister would say something about guidance or statutory instruments that might say that, because obviously that would help us with this issue. Certainly, a policy statement would be very welcome.

The question of the confidence that victims or the Secretary of State would or would not have in the special advocate is one of great sensitivity. It could be that the special advocate was giving the Government a very hard time and they may not be enjoying that, and we need to make sure that that person is protected by the statute under those circumstances. However, we have made some progress in opening up this discussion, which I know we are going to follow through in the next group of amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 124 withdrawn.
Moved by
78: 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.”
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, as well as moving Amendment 78, I shall also speak to Amendment 79 in my name, with the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I will speak to the other amendments in this group, and I am particularly pleased to be able to support the amendments in the name of the noble Baronesses, Lady Bertin and Lady Morgan. Both are on important issues, which we will discuss this afternoon.

The amendments in my name seek to ensure that there is a scheme to give victims of rape access to free independent legal advocates—available in every police force area in England and Wales—and that the Secretary of State must develop proposals for a scheme to give these victims access to free, independent legal advice. The idea of independent legal advice and representation for victims in these circumstances is not a new one. In 2005, the then Government announced their attention to introduce legally aided representations for victims in homicide, rape and domestic violence cases—though it was not brought in. In March 2014, the Minister of Justice in the current Government again raised the idea of independent legal representation in a review of the treatment of victims in sexual offences cases, but, again, did not implement the policy. Now it is time to make this a reality.

Independent legal advice and representation can provide an important mechanism and layer of accountability, which results in improved police and CPS policies and procedures. Independent legal advice has already been successfully piloted in Northumbria, and exists in many other jurisdictions, including most European countries, Australia, California and Ireland. Evidence clearly indicates that this legal advice and representation can operate well, alongside the rights of defendants to a fair trial. This proposal does not propose changes to the role of victims and survivors in the criminal justice process, or the rights of audience that currently exist—nor does it change the adversarial system that we have in the UK.

In 2017, the sexual violence complainants advocate scheme was piloted in Northumbria by the then PCC, Dame Vera Baird, to engage local solicitors to provide legal advice and support to local adult rape complainants. The support primarily related to complainants’ Article 8 rights to privacy, advising on digital download requests and demands for material in the hands of third parties—such as school reports, medical records and therapy notes.

The pilot scheme took 83 referrals from September 2018 until December 2019, and was evaluated. Case file analysis showed poor practice around victims’ privacy rights—some police officers believed that there was no need to seek consent from the victims. The SCVAs challenged data requests in fewer than 47% of the cases. The evaluation showed that the scheme was overwhelmingly positive. It increased complainants’ confidence in, and understanding of, the justice system—which is likely to reduce attrition. There was consensus that the project changed organisational cultures—significantly decreasing police and CPS requests for indiscriminate evidence. Police and the CPS felt the investigations were more efficient, relevant and proportionate. A judge commended the pilot as encouraging earlier consideration of disclosures and issues—making cases more efficient and proportionate. All the pilot’s participants agreed with the principle of legal support being made available for sexual offence complainants.

The CPS’s victim’s right to review, which allows a challenge to a decision not to prosecute has been broadened by the High Court to offer an opportunity for a victim to make representations. A victim who wants to use this new voice will need publicly funded, independent, legal representation, so that there can be an equality of arms with the reviewing lawyer from the CPS.

In Amendment 115, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, the

“court’s permission must be obtained for access to, service or disclosure of”

the victim’s counselling record—which is why it is linked, in a way, to the amendments I have previously spoken to.

“The court must direct that access should not be granted, or evidence should not be served or disclosed, if the court finds that this would disclose a protected confidence”.


In the Government’s own end-to-end rape review, and in debates around the digital extraction clauses in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, it has been understood that it has become almost routine for victims of rape to be subjected to credibility trawls. This is when victims are asked, sometimes without proper regard to the law, to relinquish their private and personal information for scrutiny by the police and the prosecution.

I am sure the noble Baroness will tell us about the issues this raises in more detail, but in summary: victims and survivors who have reported sexual violence to the criminal justice system are often put in an impossible position, forcing them to choose between seeking justice and accessing therapeutic support. Neither existing legislation nor guidance in this area has effectively addressed the problem of widespread inappropriate requests for this material. The law must change to introduce new higher thresholds for disclosure that is unique to counselling and therapy records to be applied through judicial scrutiny.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, with this group of amendments we arrive at a particularly sensitive and emotive set of issues, as noble Lords have so movingly described. I shall do my best to provide responses to each of the amendments in as constructive and informative a way as I can.

I start by addressing Amendment 101, in the name of my noble friend Lady Morgan and spoken to by my noble friend Lady Bertin. The amendment seeks to revise the Government’s new Clauses 44A to 44F, which place a duty on authorised persons, including the police, to request victim information only when it is necessary and proportionate in pursuit of a reasonable line of enquiry. It would instead require agreement before the police could request victim information.

To pick up a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, when we were developing this legislation we wanted to consider very carefully the desirability of aligning the provisions around requests for victim information and the extraction of information from digital devices. Where possible, we have ensured consistency between those provisions.

The new victim information clauses in this Bill do not grant new powers to authorised persons; instead, they place safeguards around requests for third-party material. This is unlike the powers governing the extraction of material from devices in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which give new statutory powers to authorised persons to request a device and extract information from it on the basis of agreement.

My noble friend’s amendment is based on the principle of victim agreement, but there is a key point we need to remember here. Unlike the information contained on a personal device, the victim does not own the material held by a third party, and therefore cannot agree to its disclosure. That does not mean that the victim’s views are immaterial, and I will come on to that, but the decision to release this information instead lies with the third party. The third party, of course, must be able to fulfil their own obligations under the Data Protection Act 2018, which governs the processing of personal data by competent authorities.

When considering digital information, it is likely that information held on a device could be accessible via other sources: that is, messages between a victim and suspect could be accessible from the suspect’s device. That is unlikely to be the case for third-party material. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to mandate that a victim agree to a request before the third party can disclose the material, because that may prevent the police accessing vital information relevant to the case.

Furthermore, a suspect’s right to a fair trial is already enshrined in law as part of the Human Rights Act 1998, which new measures must not contravene. This amendment could prevent authorised persons accessing information they need to support a reasonable line of inquiry, whether it points towards or away from a suspect. Investigators should always work to balance the public interest in obtaining the material against the consequential impact on the victim’s privacy.

Of course we recognise that it is best practice for investigators to work with and consult victims, so that their views and objections can be sought and recorded. That is why we have supported police in doing so in the draft statutory code of practice that we have published alongside the Bill.

Amendment 106 seeks to revise current data protection legislation, so that victims of malicious complaints involving third parties can prevent the processing, and subsequently request the deletion, of personal data gathered during a safeguarding investigation where the complaint was not upheld.

It is of course right that people are able to flag genuinely held concerns about children whom they believe to be vulnerable. It is also right that social services fulfil their duty to treat each safeguarding case seriously and to make inquiries if they believe a child has suffered or is likely to suffer harm. However, equally, malicious reporting and false claims made to children’s social care are completely unacceptable. They not only cause harm and distress to those subject to the false claims but divert crucial time and resources from front-line services and their ability to undertake investigations into cases where there are genuine safe- guarding concerns.

Current data protection legislation sets out that data controllers must respond to any request from a data subject, including requests for erasure, and then must consider the full circumstances of a request—including the context in which the data was provided—before refusing. Where a data subject is dissatisfied with the response to their request, the current rights of appeal allow a data subject to contest a refusal and, ultimately, raise a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office.

I assure my noble friend that, as part of its decision-making process, the ICO will take into consideration circumstances where a malicious claim has been made that may or may not amount to criminal conduct. Where a complaint to the ICO is upheld, the ICO can tell the organisation to assist with resolving the complaint, such as providing information or correcting any inaccuracies. The ICO can make recommendations to the organisation about how it can improve its information rights practices, and can take regulatory action in the most serious cases.

I hope that the process I have set out reassures my noble friend, and the Committee, that the current data protection legislation provides adequate protection. Therefore, in our view, additional provision is not needed.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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Can the noble Earl clarify that he is saying that it is up to the victim to take the action?

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I would be happy to write to my noble friend.

Amendment 173 seeks to extend Clause 24 to the whole of the UK. At the moment these measures apply to England and Wales, on the basis that policing is a devolved matter. This aligns with the territorial extent of the majority of measures within the Bill. We have also taken the decision to limit the scope to England and Wales as, following engagement with the devolved Governments, it is clear that there is no appetite at present for these provisions to extend further.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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I assume the noble Earl is asking me to withdraw my amendment.

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. The noble Earl will be able to report with some veracity to his noble friend, who we hope will be back with us next week, that there is a complete degree of unity across the Committee about the need for action on all these amendments.

I thank the noble Earl for the fact that there has been some movement; I think that at least two meetings will flow from this group of amendments. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, in place of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for her introduction and the suggestion that we should meet to discuss Amendment 106 and take that discussion forward together.

On Amendment 106, we have talked about my honourable friend Stella Creasy, who I have known since she was about 16 or 17 years old, but the briefing we got told us of many other examples of people who had been harassed. As one anonymous case said:

“Out of the blue Z received a call from their local police sharing details of a complaint made about the treatment of her children. The anonymously submitted complaint made a series of false claims accusing Z of neglect and abuse ranging from failing to feed or clothe their children correctly or take them to the dentist and GP. Social services were able to confirm that Z’s children attended school, the dentist and were registered with their local GP. Despite a lengthy investigation Z is no further in understanding who made this complaint, and their children’s record remains”.


She feels wretched about that fact. Of course, that carries forward to what happens to those children. Every time that mother has to fill in a form or a job application in public services of some sort, the fact that the report exists on the record is material.

Many noble Lords hold positions. I am a non-executive director of the Whittington Hospital and have had to go through the usual CRB checks to hold that position. If this was me, I would have to have declared that. That is what happened to Stella Creasy and all these other women who have been harassed and about whom vexatious complaints have been made. It is not just that this is unfair and a continuation of harassment; it has a material effect on those people and their children. We need to find a remedy for this issue.

I turn to the other amendments. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, for her introduction and for the way in which she talked to her amendments. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, made her usual powerful and informed contribution. The words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, were very wise. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, champions some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, was perfectly correct in saying that the effects of Amendments 78 and 79 in my name would be only beneficial, not just for the victims of rape but for all the authorities and for their conduct in dealing with these victims.

The question is: can we wait another couple of years for the Law Commission to report and for the Government to consider it and take it forward? I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, had to say. This issue may not fall within the scope of what the Law Commission is considering. We all need to know that, so that the discussions we might have with the Minister can be resolved in a spirit of information. I praise the noble Earl who has had to stand in for dealing with all these issues in his normal informed and courteous manner.

Finally, Amendment 115 on not delaying therapy is vital. As my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti said, the idea that you have to choose between therapy and justice is so abhorrent that we cannot wait another couple of years to be able to sort that out.

I thank the noble Earl. I look forward to the meetings and conversations we will have between now and Report, when I suspect we will return to many of these issues. I withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 78 withdrawn.
Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
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My Lords, I have noticed the time as well, and the points that I was going to raise have already been made. I will talk about how it feels, as a victim in a murder trial, to hear, after sentencing, all these professionals say that the offenders, who have been found guilty and sentenced, will now appeal their convictions and sentences. But nothing goes in, and the clock is ticking.

When we are looking at extending times and providing information, we are talking about an area that we all know about to a degree, but the victim does not understand unduly lenient sentencing. It is actually the media that leads the way. I think we need to look at this again. We now have flexible working hours, so who is going to pick up the inbox if nobody is in until the next day? We need to be more creative in how we do this. To tell the victim, such as Tracey Hanson, that they are out of time is not a fair and level playing field. If the offender has a legal advocate to do all the paperwork, and does not have to lift a finger, maybe we need a legal advocate to help the victim understand. We can say that people should go on the website and read this, that and the other, but they are traumatised and still trying to get their heads around what they have just listened to in court.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I apologise for the previous explosion from my phone—I was just making sure that you are all paying attention.

This is one of those groups—we have already had a couple of such occasions during this Committee—where you look at it and think, goodness me, why is that not happening already? Why is that not being done, when it is so obvious that it should happen? Like in many of the other cases, it comes down to the question of whose responsibility it is to make sure that the victim is properly informed, and their family properly supported, to know what is going on. It would be great if the Minister could tell us what the answer to that question is, as it is kind of at the heart of everything we have been discussing so far. I look forward to hearing the answer.

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

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Sandhurst for Amendment 113, in relation to the unduly lenient sentence scheme. It seeks to ensure victims and their families are given the necessary information about the scheme and, where this does not happen, provide for an extension of the relevant deadline. I understand the distress that victims may feel if they believe that the sentence given to an offender is not sufficient. The unduly lenient sentence scheme provides a way to ensure that victims, their families and members of the public can request for sentences for certain serious crimes to be challenged, by asking the Attorney-General to consider making an application to the Court of Appeal for a sentence to be reviewed.

Amendment 114 seeks to allow extension of the time limits for applications under the scheme, which must currently be made within 28 days of sentencing. However, the scheme has a fixed time limit to reflect the importance of finality in sentencing for both the victim and the offender. Although we will keep this this limit under consideration, there are no current plans to remove the certainty of this absolute time limit. The 28-day time limit reflects similar constraints on defendants appealing against conviction or sentence; it is important for both victims and offenders that we avoid ongoing uncertainty about the sentence to be served.

Amendment 113 puts forward a duty to inform victims and families of the scheme. It might reassure my noble friend to know that the current victims’ code is already clear that victims should be informed about the scheme by the police’s witness care units at the same time as they are told about the sentence; this is expected to be done within six days of sentencing. It may also help if I explain that “witness care unit” is the generic name for a police-led function that provides information and support to victims, as well as witnesses, in cases progressing through the criminal justice system. Under the victims’ code, the witness care unit is responsible for providing services to victims who are not witnesses in the trial, as well as those who are.

For example, under right 9 in the code, all victims are entitled to be told at the end of the case the outcome, including a brief summary of reasons for the decision where available. This also includes telling victims about the ULS scheme when they are told the sentence in the case, which is in paragraph 9.6 of the code. It is heartening to hear from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, that the scheme is well used, despite examples of where it has not worked being given by others in this short debate.

In answer to the noble Lady Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Thornton, as part of the CPS’s bereaved family scheme, the CPS and the trial advocate will meet the family at the court following the sentence to explain it and answer any questions. The scheme will be highlighted in appropriate cases as part of this.

My noble friend Lord Sandhurst raised an unfortunate case in which consideration under the slip rule means that 28 days had elapsed. In general, the law officers and the Attorney-General’s Office endeavour to review any sentence referred to them, the only exception being those where there is insufficient time to do so; for example, if it is received late in the day, the statutory time limit runs out. In those cases where the slip rule applies, CPS guidance instructs prosecutors to apply for the sentence to be corrected under the slip rule quickly and within the 28-day period for the ULS scheme. This means that, if the application is unsuccessful, the Attorney-General is not time-barred from being able to make an application under the ULS scheme within the 28-day period.

Where there seems to be broad consensus in this debate is on the need to do better on informing victims and their families about their rights under the scheme. This has been brought up by the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton, Lady Hamwee and Lady Newlove. I am open to discussing further with noble Lords how best to ensure that victims are better informed of the scheme and its deadline, but I respectfully ask that my noble friend withdraw his amendment.

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Moved by
121: After Clause 28, insert the following new Clause—
“Victims of major incidents: registration of deathThe Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for a relative to provide information in the connection with the registration of the death of a person who was a victim of a major incident, even if an investigation is conducted under Part 1 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.”Member's explanatory statement
This is a probing amendment concerning the need for a qualified informant such as a relative of the deceased to be permitted to provide information to register the death after a major incident.
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Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, in many ways, my Amendment 121 continues the discussion about the victims of major incidents; in fact, I think we have a suite of amendments that talk about the issues that surround those who have been involved in major incidents, whether they were quite some time ago, as my noble friend Lord Wills said, or more recently.

I refer to the work of my honourable friend Emma Lewell-Buck, as she raised this issue in the Commons. This is a probing amendment, because it is important that we start this discussion, and I think that everybody is aware that the issues of registering deaths are not uncomplicated. When she raised this in the Commons, the Government said that they

“intend to launch a full public consultation on the role of the bereaved in death registration following an inquest, including those impacted by a major disaster”.—[Official Report, Commons, 4/12/23; col. 138.]

In the Commons, the Minister told my honourable friend that it was no longer possible to accept her amendment

“due to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, which will digitalise death registration”.

I report that, because my honourable friend said that her amendment would

“give the Secretary of State the power to modify any provisions, which would enable the clause to be shifted to a digital state in future”,—[Official Report, Commons, 4/12/23; col. 122.]

and the Minister at the time said that the Government were incredibly sympathetic to the purpose.

I will relate the reason why this is important. My honourable friend has been campaigning for this change for some time on behalf of her former constituents Chloe Ann Rutherford and Liam Thomas Allen-Curry, who were murdered in the 2017 Manchester Arena attack. She explained in her speech, which is on record, that in 2022, after sitting through the public inquiry and listening to every agonising detail of what their children went through, Chloe and Liam’s parents were told that they would be denied that right to register their children’s deaths due to outdated legislation that states that, where deaths require an inquest or an inquiry, death registration is to be done solely by the registrar. All that those devoted parents wanted was to be part of the final official act for their precious children, but they were denied that.

After meeting the Minister, they were given assurances that he would look urgently at whether and how those changes could be made. Emma Lewell-Buck said:

“With each change of Minister”—


of course, that has been a feature of some ministries in this Government—

“the promises continued, yet nothing has changed”.—[Official Report, Commons, 4/12/23; col. 122.]

In February 2023, the bereaved families attended yet another meeting with Ministers, at which they felt they were treated with contempt, patronised and insulted, and that it was clear that they been misled by the Government for nearly a year, because despite it being entirely possible to change the law, the Government simply did not seem to want to do so.

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

My Lords, Amendment 121, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, is intended to establish a regulation-making power to allow a qualified informant, typically a relative or close friend, to provide information to register a death where the death is the result of a major incident. I thank the noble Baroness for this intervention on such an important and complex issue. I also pay tribute to the Member for South Shields and the right honourable Member for Garston and Halewood for their commitment and determination in championing this cause on behalf of the families bereaved by the Manchester Arena attacks. I also extend my deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones in that terrible incident.

The Government are committed to ensuring that bereaved people remain at the heart of the inquest process and are able fully to participate in it. Bereavement is never easy, but it is inconceivably difficult to lose a loved one in circumstances which, by definition, are unexpected and traumatic, so we fully understand the importance for bereaved families of having a role in the registration of their loved one’s death following an inquest. For them, as for all who are bereaved, this could be a vital part of the grieving process. In this regard, I agree with many of the comments from my noble friend Lady Newlove.

However, it is also our responsibility to uphold the integrity of the inquest process. While all deaths must be registered, not all deaths will be investigated by a coroner. Deaths which are subject to a coronial investigation and include an inquest cannot be registered until the inquest has concluded. That is because in such cases the inquest is where all the facts including the personal details of the deceased and the cause of death are established. The legislation requires the registrar to register the death following the receipt of a certificate from the coroner. The registrar has the sole responsibility to register all deaths.

The amendment does not disapply the registrar’s statutory duties in this regard and would exist alongside those requirements. So, while I fully understand and sympathise with the intent behind it, it is unclear what the statutory purpose of the relative’s provision of information and the status of that information would be.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, I believe that there are a number of good reasons why we will not accept this amendment. We must be mindful that an amendment of this kind could inadvertently undermine the integrity of the inquest process, in particular where the bereaved family is not in agreement with the coroner’s conclusion at the inquest. Furthermore, the amendment is limited to those bereaved by a major incident. The distress of losing a loved one in this way is unimaginably difficult. However, I do not believe that it is right that we legislate for this now, knowing that there would be many who would not be able to utilise the new provision.

While I am sympathetic to the purpose behind the noble Baroness’s amendment, the Government cannot support it for the reasons I have given. That said, we are very aware of the sensitivities surrounding this issue and it is important that we identify the most appropriate way forward. In doing so, we must also take into account the practical implications of other legislation, such as the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill—referenced by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton—also currently before this House, which will enable implementation of remote delivery of registration processes in the near future.

For these reasons, I can confirm that—as my ministerial colleague the Minister for Prisons, Parole and Probation announced in the other place—the Government will undertake a full public consultation, as soon as practicable, on the role of the bereaved in death registration following an inquest. This will enable us to gather a wide range of views on potential ways forward. I hope that the noble Baroness will welcome my reiteration of this commitment, even if it goes no further as she has asked, and that, together with the Members who continue to champion this issue in the other place, she will work with the Government as we seek a solution to this sensitive and complex issue.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - -

I thank the noble Lord for that answer. If I understood him correctly, his key point was that there is concern that the registration process might be compromised, but he did not say how. I do not understand how that could be. There is no question that the death must be registered, and bereaved families know that that cannot happen until the inquest has been completed, even if it takes years, as it sometimes does. I do not understand how that process would be compromised under these circumstances. I would be reassured if I thought that the consultation the Government are initiating will ask that question and work out how to solve that problem.

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

It might help the noble Baroness if I wrote with a fuller explanation of how it could compromise that process.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - -

That would be useful to the Committee, because then the legal eagles behind me and on other Benches could look at it and see whether it holds water. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove—whom I thank for her support—and I are not convinced. However, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 121 withdrawn.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Baroness Thornton Excerpts
Moved by
67: Clause 15, page 12, line 12, at end insert—
“(c) independent stalking advisors.”
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I will speak also to Amendment 69 in my name, and I have the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, whom I thank very much. The Government also have an amendment in this group, which I will comment on when we reach the end of the debate and I have heard what the noble Earl has to say about it.

We are in that part of the Bill that is concerned with the issue of stalking—indeed, in the group that we have just discussed I had my name to Amendments 54 and 81, alongside the noble Lord, Lord Russell. It is important to say that we are indebted to Laura Richards, the founder of Paladin, and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, for their relentless work to have the vicious and pernicious crime of stalking recognised, acted on and integrated into the legal framework tackling violence against women and girls—and for us that includes this victims’ Bill.

I am aware that we have to ensure that stalking is dealt with across all the criminal justice legislation that we are dealing with, so that there is a read-across with MAPPA and the issues that we will be discussing later in the Bill, not just for this Bill but for the Criminal Justice Bill, which we know is coming down the track. Can the Minister assure the House of that legislative coherence? For too long we have been waiting for there to be legislative coherence that can be enforced for the crime of stalking—its recognition and dealing with it.

The context is that women, children and men are being failed and not protected. There is no compulsion on the police to automatically identify serial domestic abusers and stalkers, so they do not—of course they do not. So, for example, although the application of Clare’s law is not in the scope of the Bill, it is the lack of that application across all police forces which means that there are victims in the criminal justice system who need not have been there. This amendment seeks to address that issue of recognising the particular needs of victims of stalking.

We should recognise that a lot of work has been done on this over the years. These two amendments are quite simple. Independent stalking advocates should exist, and an independent stalking advocate means

“a person who provides a relevant service to individuals who are victims of criminal conduct which constitutes stalking”.

That means creating what are called ISACs in the Bill—independent stalking advocacy caseworkers.

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Lord Roborough Portrait Lord Roborough (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her point. While we are clear that there should be no hierarchy of support, and we know that ISVAs, IDVAS and ISAs are most effective when part of a wider support network, I will take that point away and consult the Minister.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for his comprehensive remarks and for his explanation about why Clause 15 is being replaced. I sought advice from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and from other organisations which I knew had been in discussion with the Government. I am advised that the reason the Government have put forward their amendment is that they have met stakeholders and that the original plan to place ISVAs and IDVAs in the Bill was a concern that came from the violence against women and girls sector and was shared by the children’s sector and modern slavery and stalking charities. There was a concern about creating a hierarchy and, therefore, I understand the Government’s motivation for replacing Clause 15.

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Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, and the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, who said he felt that the entire House was behind this amendment, it is important for them to know that some people disagree with it. Although I understand where the noble Baroness is coming from, it does not help the issue inside our refuges. The most urgent thing is to help women, regardless of their natal birth, if they have been assaulted and raped and need somewhere safe to go.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Foulkes on his suite of amendments. I am not surprised that he has tabled them; he is quite right that older people need particular support and help as victims of violence. We can imagine why that might be the case. It feels like we should not really have to say it, but it is the case, and this is an important suite of amendments, which I hope the Minister will invite to be part of the wider discussion that we will have about how different groups can be supported as victims as we move forward. That goes without saying.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, that I am confident that the arrangements to be put in place will comply with the Equality Act 2010.

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

I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate on two related amendments. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, would require the Secretary of State to publish guidance about older people’s IDVAs and ISVAs. The Government recognise the vital support that older people’s advisers provide to older victims of these terrible crimes. The advisers offer invaluable emotional support, provide a focus on safety and help them navigate the criminal justice system.

As I have indicated in relation to the amendment on children’s ISVAs and IDVAs, the Government are open to considering the case for guidance for other types of roles, although my starting point is that guidance for these roles will be covered within the planned umbrella guidance for ISVAs and IDVAs. This will cover a range of specialisms, including the different considerations needed for older people.

I reassure noble Lords that we are continuing to draft guidance with the support of a working group made up of various representatives across the sector, including Hourglass, which does a fantastic job supporting and advocating for older victims of abuse, so that we get it right. The dedicated section on tailoring services to meet victims’ needs covers the particular needs that older victims may have.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, for speaking to the amendment that seeks to require the IDVA and ISVA guidance to include provision about allowing victims to ask to be supported by an IDVA or ISVA of the sex of their choosing, and the Government would agree to a meeting with Sex Matters.

I reassure the noble Baroness that the Government have made it clear through the victims funding strategy that victims should be at the heart of every decision a commissioner or service provider makes. Service providers are best placed to tailor services to individual victims and decide the most appropriate person to support them. They will take into account the needs and preferences of the victim, the availability and capacity of staff, and staff members’ skills and experience, to ensure they can meet the victim’s needs.

This amendment seeks to require that the ISVA and IDVA guidance cover this topic. As there are a wide range of relevant issues that this guidance covers, we do not propose to list each issue in the Bill, but I can confirm that the draft guidance will have a dedicated section on tailoring services to meet victims’ needs. This includes setting out the different considerations for supporting both male and female victims, which may include considering the sex of their ISVA or IDVA.

The noble Baroness raised one particular circumstance, but there could be a number of reasons why a victim may wish to request a particular support worker—for example, language, age or cultural needs. The Bill is not the right place to set out these considerations, nor how a service should respond. Service providers are best placed to make those decisions and must also comply with the Equality Act 2010, as the noble Baroness pointed out, in the provision of all services that they operate. I hope this demonstrates that the Government are committed to ensuring that victims of these terrible crimes receive support, and I hope the noble Baroness will not move this amendment.

Lastly, Amendment 67A would require the Secretary of State to publish guidance on other relevant specialist support services. Such guidance would cover a wide range of services. It is not clear, without knowing which support roles this amendment is intended to cover, that such services need or would value government-issued guidance to support or improve the consistency of their service. Government Amendment 74, which amends Clause 15, provides a more flexible mechanism afforded by regulations to set up relevant victim support roles for which guidance must be issued.

I turn to a couple of the other points raised during this debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, mentioned whether services should provide single-sex spaces for victims. The Government are committed to ensuring that victims get the right support at the right time and that that support is tailored according to needs. The Equality Act 2010 sets out that providers have the right to restrict use of spaces on the basis of sex where it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

In response to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about guidance based on age, the draft guidance has a specific section on how IDVAs or ISVAs may respond to meet the needs of different types of victims, which includes examples of how they may tailor their support to meet the distinct needs of female and male victims. The guidance also highlights that some victims may prefer to be supported by a worker of their own sex or age and may prefer to access single-sex services where available.

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

My Lords, I was there in the 1960s but that is not quite the object of this debate.

I was struck during the previous group of amendments, and it has continued in this one, by the question of training. What everyone involved in these issues needs is professional curiosity and an ability not to compartmentalise people’s reactions. Older people’s vulnerabilities—I have come across Hourglass, and I admire it—can also be found in younger people, so training needs to be thorough, with no cliff edges in how it is delivered. We are all different people and we all exhibit a variety of traits, which at different ages and in different circumstances may rise higher up the list than at other times. I was glad to hear my noble friend say that she could see a single wide amendment coming, because I think it is needed.

The Istanbul convention has been debated in this House before, as has the reputational damage of the country in this context. However, I put it in again today.

There is an important debate to be had on data collection and the argument about consistency. However, it is a very wide debate and not something that can sensibly be addressed in a Bill which is about a discrete area of work.

My name is to Amendment 107, which may not give it a very good prognosis, since I opposed paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 to the then Data Protection Bill all the way through its passage through the House and led a vote against it. The paragraph says—this is not verbatim—that the exemption for personal data does not apply, fit to prejudice, to immigration enforcement. I never succeeded in my opposition, but I hope that might change.

On the detail of the amendment, there is one thing I need to say in making the case for it. It is not only a matter of information about someone’s immigration status being given where, in the views of all speakers, it should not go, and immigration officers turning up on the doorstep; it is the deterrent effect of an abuser telling a victim, “You’re not entitled to be here. I’ve got your papers, and there’s nothing you can do about it. If you complain, you’ll be thrown out”. Abusers have been known to lie and, from what one hears from the organisations working in the sector, that happens a great deal in this situation.

I suppose that “domestic abuse” is the correct term, but this situation does not apply only to people who are in a personal relationship; domestic workers are very vulnerable to this abuse. The deterrent effect on them complaining about the appalling treatment that some of them suffer is very notable. On behalf of these Benches, I hope we manage to make some progress on this issue during the course of the Bill.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate; it has been interesting, if slightly wider than we expected. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for introducing it. I put my name to Amendment 75. This is the first time that we have talked about women and girls at all; the noble Baroness was right to initiate that. I also tabled Amendment 80, which we on these Benches feel strongly needs to be addressed in the course of the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to Amendment 107, which the Government will also have to address, because it is clearly about a very serious issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is completely right about the importance of the UK’s reservation on Article 59 of the Istanbul convention, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is right about the reputational damage it does to our country. I hope the Minister will be able to respond to that.

I thank Southall Black Sisters for the excellent brief it produced about seeking to ensure that victims of domestic abuse who do not have the recourse to public funds are still entitled to be provided with services in accordance with the victims’ code. It was thorough and I hope that a Minister will respond, even if it is not this Minister. It is very nice to be opposite the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for the first time in quite some years; we faced each other for about seven or eight years on health matters. Of course, we have two Fredericks on our Front Benches, which is probably worth noting.

Southall Black Sisters has done extensive research on the effect of having no recourse to public funds. It has made a very serious record of the hardship and cruelty that this can lead to. I very much hope that the Minister will look at that evidence and that we will be able to take this forward. I will not say anything further, because we have had a very thorough discussion about the amendments.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I too am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken to this group of amendments, which cover a range of sensitive and complex issues.

I turn first to Amendment 104, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on the UK’s reservation on Article 59 of the Istanbul convention. We were delighted to ratify the Istanbul convention. I believe that our doing so sent a clear message, not only within the UK but overseas, that Britain is committed to tackling violence against women and girls. I need to explain the point around the reservation, though. First, we are far from alone in making such reservations. Secondly, and more germanely to the noble Baroness’s concern, the reservation does not mean that we are not committed to supporting migrant victims, as I shall now explain.

We will continue to consider the findings of the SMV—support for migrant victims—scheme pilot, along with other assessments, and take account of the domestic abuse commissioner’s report Safety Before Status: The Solutions. This is very much work in progress. I assure the noble Baroness and the Committee that we will consider all matters in the round before making any further decisions on our policies and compliance position on Article 59. We have been clear about this in our last two annual progress reports, which were laid before Parliament, as we have been in many other fora.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Baroness Thornton Excerpts
Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, these amendments all refer to student unions. We have been concerned about the rather heavy-handed approach to student unions in the Bill. Amendment 16, to which my noble friend Lord Wallace has added his name, seeks to ensure that student unions are fully aware of the regulations with which they must comply. We are particularly concerned in connection with further education student unions, which are likely to be very small and have very few funds available. Presumably they are included in the Bill. The regulations are complex and students will obviously be transitory in post, so simplicity of guidance is essential if they are not to find themselves caught up in unwittingly breaching the rules, as the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, has just set out. This amendment would be a very straightforward way of helping students, and it would be very easy to adopt.

Like others, we support the intention of Amendments 11, 15 and 25 but we remain unsure about how they could be implemented. As the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, said, some of these actions may well be criminal behaviour, in which case they do not need to be part of the Bill because they should be something else. I liked the tale told by the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner. There are other ways of dealing with hecklers, and ridicule is often one of the very best. We do not see that these amendments should be in the Bill, but some code of practice or regulation would probably be worth it. However, Amendment 16 is well worth government consideration.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we have had a thorough exploration of the issues that would face student unions as a result of the passage of the Bill. Amendment 16 in the names of my noble friends Lord Collins and Lord Blunkett and me, with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, is not intended to be patronising. It seeks to ask the Government whether they will ensure that the guidance to student unions gives young people all the help and support it can to carry out the duties and responsibilities that the Bill will impose on them. Some of them will be 17, 18 or 19 years old, and this will be something they are absolutely unfamiliar with. That is really all that one needs to say about Amendment 16.

I agree that Amendments 11, 15 and 25 are probably not appropriate for the Bill. As somebody who has been a moderately successful heckler myself, I think they certainly should not be in the Bill.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will address this group of amendments relating to codes of practice and the guidance under the Bill. I thank all noble Lords for their thoughtful and considered remarks.

Amendments 11 and 15 tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, would require higher education providers, colleges and student unions to include in their codes of practice specific measures

“to ensure that a person is not prevented from speaking by attempts to drown out or silence a speaker”.

Amendment 25 would require the Office for Students to include in any guidance it issues under new Section 69A, in Clause 5 of the Bill, guidance on such measures.

The purpose of the Bill is to protect freedom of speech within the law. As part of that freedom, individuals have the freedom to speak on topics of their choice, as well as to engage in peaceful protest against such speech, as the noble Lord clearly stated. These aspects of freedom of speech both need to be protected. The Bill does not give priority to one individual over another. This means that providers, colleges and student unions must take “reasonably practicable” steps to ensure that speakers who are speaking within the law, as well as those who wish to protest in disagreement with those views, are able to speak—and are not, in the noble Lord’s words, forced to stand by passively.

I should be clear that the Bill means protest in the form of speech, writing or images, including in electronic form. It does not include, for example, tying oneself to a railing or blocking a street—activities that are not speech and therefore not covered by this legislation, but are clearly covered by other legislation.

I reassure your Lordships that we expect event organisers to plan for what to do in the event of disruptive protests. The duty to take “reasonably practicable” steps does not mean that such disruption has to be tolerated. In fact, the duty to take such steps, as regards the speaker at the event, means that action should be taken to deal with such disruption. That might mean that security should be provided or that a protest outside a venue should be set back sufficiently from the windows.

The codes of practice are already required under the Bill to set out “the conduct required” of staff and students in connection with any meeting or activity on the premises. I hope that addresses the question from the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, about whether this applies to individuals. These amendments are not necessary as the issue is already covered by the Bill.

Equally, we expect the OfS to consider these practical issues and to provide advice about how providers, colleges and student unions can fulfil their duties, as well as share best practice that they identify—again, a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.

I trust that your Lordships are reassured by what I have said about how the Bill will operate and will agree that these amendments are not needed.

Amendment 16 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, seeks to ensure that clear guidance is issued by the Secretary of State within three months of the passing of the Bill to help student unions to comply with their new duties. The publication of guidance for student unions is already covered by the Bill. Section 75 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 is amended by paragraph 9 of the Schedule to the Bill. Section 75, as amended, will provide that the regulatory framework which the Office for Students is required to publish must in future include

“guidance for students’ unions to which sections A5 and A6 apply on their duties under those sections”.

This must include

“guidance for the purpose of helping to determine whether or not students’ unions are complying with their duties under sections A5 and A6”.

The guidance may in particular specify what the OfS considers that student unions need to do to comply with those duties under new Sections A5 and A6, and the factors which the OfS will take into account in determining whether a student union is complying with its duties. It is worth noting that Section 75 requires consultation on the regulatory framework before its publication, and it must therefore be laid before Parliament, giving proper transparency.

In the new regulatory regime that the Bill will establish, including under Section 75, it would be wrong for separate guidance to be published by the Secretary of State rather than the regulator—the OfS. It would also, in practical terms, be too tight a timescale to require publication within three months of Royal Assent. There will be a great deal of work to be done on implementation, including setting up a complaints scheme team, drafting the new complaint scheme rules, drafting guidance, consulting on the changes to the regulatory framework and making those regulations; as your Lordships know, that will take time.

I hope my explanation has satisfied the concerns of the noble Lord and that the House will agree that the Bill deals with these issues appropriately as it stands.

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

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 21, standing in my name. It dawned on me, as I said in Committee, that the purpose of some noble Lords was not to improve this legislation that has been passed by the Commons but to eviscerate it. The speech just given by the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, seems to illustrate exactly that.

One of the few things on which I agreed with my noble friend Lord Willetts in Committee was when he said that there were two powerful elements in this Bill that made a real change, one of which was Clause 4. That is why it is a crying shame that the Government have conceded so much in relation to Clause 4; they have effectively turned it into a shrivelled sausage when it could have been something that actually made a real difference. But even with that concession from the Front Bench, it does not seem to be enough for my noble friend Lord Willetts or the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, who are insisting that even that pathetic thing be removed and crushed altogether.

A principal argument in favour of Amendment 20, tabled by my noble friend on the Front Bench, is that the Government intend thereby to give the universities an opportunity to resolve the problem through mediation and a complaints system. The difficulty is that, in terms, university authorities have expressed repeatedly the fact that they do not consider that there is a problem: they consider it to be an invented problem, or a problem which, if it exists at all, is rare and egregious and can be handled by the universities. Plainly, there are those of us who feel that the universities have failed to handle it, and need to be brought to book.

If the universities genuinely want to give mediation a chance, Amendment 21, standing in my name, gives them the opportunity to demonstrate that. A similar amendment was tabled in Committee by my noble friend Lord Sandhurst, and it is retabled here—I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, and my noble friend Lord Strathcarron for adding their names to it. Amendment 21 would retain the substance of Clause 4 as originally proposed by the Government and approved by the other place, but would give to universities the opportunity in each case to ask the court to stay proceedings so as to allow mediation to take place. It would be at the discretion of the court whether to agree to that. I am sure that, if the court thought that there was a prospect of success in the mediations, it would agree.

This is modelled on legal practice in certain other areas where I understand, for example, that the provision and possibility exist—although noble Lords know that I make no claim to be a legal expert on pensions entitlements and so on. So the principle is a workable one: the university can say, “Please will you stay the proceedings while we exercise mediation”. It preserves the substance of the tort in Clause 4 and gives academics, in particular, an opportunity to make their representations in the way that the Government originally envisaged.

I will address the Government’s proposal, because the proposal being advanced by my noble friend Lord Willetts—who I understand may speak shortly—and endorsed by the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, is to delete the clause altogether. The Government’s proposal would allow those administering the complaints system to indulge in indefinite delay. There is no time limit by which a decision has to be reached in this amendment. My noble friend Lord Howe said something vague about how he thought that 12 months might be something that already existed and might therefore be applied or extended to this activity, but there is actually no time limit by which a complaint has to be resolved which would allow the complainant to trigger the tort. It would remove the possibility of seeking urgent injunctive relief, which is something that could be obtained through the courts. It would push complainants back to a choice between a financially ruinous application for judicial review—because it is financially ruinous for the individual —or continuing with a possibly endless complaints process in which, as has been said by others in this context, the punishment is the process. You are an academic with a career to pursue and you are probably not even in a properly tenured post, but to vindicate your rights you have to undertake a process, extending potentially over many months, which comes to consume your life and, ultimately, to damage your career. It is an unenviable choice, and the tort gave people some other option to allow, potentially, for more rapid relief.

Most of all, the Government’s amendment sends a signal to academics who feel oppressed, feel that they cannot express themselves and feel that they are required to conform to an ideology which they know in their heart they do not endorse that a Government who had said that they were on their side and were taking steps to protect them are no longer interested. That is a very bad signal indeed to be sending. I am sorry to say this, but I think that the Government are being feeble.

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

Now that was a heckle of some value.

To conclude, it might be nice if the Front Bench, which has shown itself capable of endorsing enthusiastically the very laudable Amendment 6, tabled by the Labour Front Bench, could reciprocate by accepting one from its supportive Back-Benchers. If so, I strongly recommend Amendment 21 in my name.

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Moved by
26: Clause 9, page 12, line 41, after “provider” insert “or the governing body of a constituent institution”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would make provision for collegiate universities, making clear that a governing body of a college – rather than their overarching provider – should report information under Clause 9.
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we have three amendments in this group, which have been proposed by my noble friend Lord Collins, with the support of my noble friends Baroness Royall and Lord Blunkett. They pick up some of the questions that were raised in Committee about transparency and proportionality with regards to overseas funding.

Amendment 26 would make provision for collegiate universities, making it clear that it is the governing body of a college, rather than its overarching provider, that should report information to the Office for Students under Clause 9.

Amendment 27 is intended to make the OfS power to gather information more proportionate, and to prevent commercially sensitive information being subject to a freedom of information request through the regulator having requested it. Several colleges and universities have contacted us about this matter, as I am sure is true for other noble Lords, so it is important that this be clarified at this stage.

Amendment 28 would prevent universities having to disclose sensitive commercial information to the OfS, and prevent independent trading entities—for example, the university press—being forced to violate commercial contracts not governed by UK law, because, of course, many of them have contracts with overseas organisations and institutions.

That is a summary of the amendments, and as my noble friend Lord Collins said at Second Reading or in Committee, the key to addressing these issues is transparency and ensuring that that transparency is proportionate. I could quote to the House many of the problems that have been outlined to us by others who are concerned about this, but because Clause 9 explicitly includes commercial partnerships, it is vital that the Government take on board these concerns and explain, on the record, how they will be dealt with, or provide clarification at the next stage of the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Portrait Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab)
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My Lords, I support these Amendments. Amendment 26 is self-explanatory, and it would be great if the Government could clarify that the governing body of a college, rather than the overarching university, will be responsible for reporting information to the OfS. It would be very good if the Minister could put that on the record today in Hansard.

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My Lords, I will address this group of amendments relating to overseas funding and the application of the reporting requirements to the regulator. Amendment 26, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, seeks to ensure that it is the governing body of a constituent institution rather than their registered provider that must report information required under Clause 9 to the Office for Students. This is rather complex, in that the duty of the OfS in Clause 9 is to be exercised via the existing regulatory regime for registered higher education providers. The OfS already has the power to obtain information from providers.

New subsection (4), which is the subject of this amendment, refers to Section 8(1)(b) of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. This requires that there is a condition of registration under which the governing body of a provider must supply the OfS with information for the purposes of the performance of the OfS’s functions as the OfS may require. This is achieved by registration condition F3, as described in the OfS’s regulatory framework, which applies to providers and not to constituent institutions.

The approach in proposed new Section 69D of the 2017 Act is that the OfS may require the governing body of a provider to supply information about relevant funding received by the provider or “a connected person”. A connected person is defined in subsection (6) as including

“a constituent institution of the provider”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked for clarification and I hope that that is clear. If it is not now, it may appear clearer in Hansard.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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I think what the Minister said was quite clear, but the concern is whether that is a satisfactory way to proceed for collegiate universities.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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As I said, it builds on the existing approach to regulation of constituent colleges.

Amendments 27 and 28, also tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, seek to reduce the scope of Clause 9. Amendment 27 would allow the Office for Students to seek information only where the OfS considered that there were reasonable grounds to suspect a breach of the freedom of speech duties. Amendment 28 would remove overseas commercial partnerships from the definition of “relevant funding”, meaning they would not be within scope of the clause.

New Section 69D(1) will require the OfS to monitor the overseas funding of registered higher education providers and their constituent institutions so that it can assess the risk which the funding may pose to freedom of speech and academic freedom in the provision of higher education. The only way that the OfS can monitor the funding is if it has the necessary information. The power to require such information is linked to the registration condition that already exists under Section 8(1)(b) of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017; that is, condition F3 as described in the regulatory framework that I have already mentioned. Clause 9 is not about the speculative investigation of individual contractual arrangements; it is about routine monitoring of relevant information, at a sufficient level of detail, but no more than that, to allow the OfS to monitor the risk to freedom of speech.

As I said before, Amendment 27 would limit the power to require information from providers to where the OfS considered that there were reasonable grounds to suspect a breach of the freedom of speech duties. That test sets a very high bar which could arguably never be met. The OfS would not be in a position where it could suspect a breach because it would not have evidence to support that. However, at the same time, the amendment would mean that it would not be able to require information that may provide such evidence, so this would be circular, resulting in the inability of the OfS to obtain information on overseas funding. That in turn would mean that the OfS would not be able to carry out its duty to monitor the risk to freedom of speech that overseas funding may pose. This would mean that new Section 69A would be ineffective and would subvert the whole point of the overseas funding clause.

I should add that the effect of the drafting of this amendment would not be to prevent commercially sensitive information becoming subject to freedom of information requests through the regulator having requested it, which I understand the intention of the amendment to be, noting that the amendment does not refer to that and focuses simply on suspicion of breach. In any event, approved fee cap providers are themselves subject to freedom of information requests, so disclosure of information to the regulator would not result in new exposure to that legislation, and, of course, the OfS already holds sensitive information about providers as part of its overall regulatory role—for example, financial information—so this will not be new.

As for Amendment 28 and the removal of commercial partnerships from the scope of new Section 69A, the Government are of the view that the funding received from such partnerships could pose a risk to freedom of speech and academic freedom. Accordingly, if we do not include commercial partnerships in new Section 69A, we would be leaving a large gap.

The OfS will decide on the level of detail that it will need as regards the information that it will require from providers, liaising with the sector as need be in order to determine that. The OfS will of course consider how to handle any sensitive commercial information that it requires to be provided, but, as I have said, it already holds sensitive information, so this would not be new.

I note that the noble Lord references in his explanatory statement that the clause may force a violation of commercial contracts not governed by UK law. My understanding is that commercial contracts are likely to contain a standard clause dealing with disclosure to regulators, so disclosure under the Bill would be covered by that.

As for the particular situation of a university press, which my noble friend Lord Patten of Barnes referred to, such a body will be in scope only if it is legally part of the provider. In that case, it would not be an independent trading entity. If it chooses to have as its legal status to be a department of a provider, as I am aware is the case for Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press, it inevitably brings itself within scope of regulation as a part of that provider. I would be more than happy to follow up with my noble friend if he would like to progress that conversation or requires any further clarification on that point.

With regard to the point by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, about the National Security Bill, as we have heard from earlier amendments, the Government are keen that there is consistency across legislation. That applies in this case also. The noble Lord also hinted at the regulatory burden. He will be aware that the Office for Students is required, when performing its functions, to have regard to the need to protect the institutional autonomy of providers and to the principles of best regulatory practice, including that it should be transparent, accountable, proportionate and consistent.
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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I am still not clear how the fishing expedition that the noble Lord, Lord Patten, mentioned would be avoided. That is the point here, is it not? There is a vulnerability and a risk. The Minister needs to explain that to the House—if not now, certainly before the next stage of the Bill—otherwise we will need to return to this. It is not at all clear to me how that risk is averted through the regulation that the Minister has explained.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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Given the hour, I am more than happy to set that out in detail in a letter to the noble Baroness. I hope that will allow us to explain to the satisfaction of the House how this provision will operate and that the amendments—

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I hear the noble Baroness’s request. I hope my letter will be able to reassure your Lordships that these amendments are not necessary.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I think the Minister will understand that the House is still not satisfied that we are in a safe place with Clause 9. I hope we can achieve that before we get to the next stage of the Bill, but we may need to return to this at that stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 26 withdrawn.
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Moved by
29: Clause 10, page 15, line 11, at end insert—
“(1A) The appointment of the Free Speech Director is subject to a confirmatory resolution of the relevant Select Committee of the House of Commons. (1B) The person appointed as the Free Speech Director must present a report to Parliament no later than 31 December 2023, and once a year thereafter.(1C) The report must include an assessment of—(a) the impact the role is having,(b) the implementation of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2022, and(c) the state of freedom of speech at the providers encompassed by that Act.”
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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Noble Lords will know that we have galloped around the director of free speech’s appointment several times at Second Reading and in Committee. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and my noble friend Lord Blunkett for their support. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and I are obviously still at one in our concerns about this matter.

Amendment 29 would subject the appointment of the free speech director to confirmation by a Commons Select Committee and compel them to report to Parliament every year on the impact their role is having, the implementation of the Bill and the state of freedom of speech at the providers. This is important because if the Bill is to do what we want it to do—deliver protection and support for freedom of speech—then the director who is responsible for that, the regulator, should be accountable to Parliament. The fact that this person sits on the board of the Office for Students, and is therefore only the chair of the board accountable to Parliament for that work, is not satisfactory. This is too important to be delivered without having any accountability to Parliament for the director of freedom of speech, both on their appointment and the work that they do.

I am not going to repeat everything I said in Committee and earlier stages about this. I think this legislation was pre-empted by the appointment already being made—I am not absolutely certain it has happened yet, but I think that the interviews were taking place during the summer—and that is a shame, but we can rectify that to a certain extent by making this person accountable to Parliament. I beg to move.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, my name is on Amendment 30, which is an alternative version, and I wish to add my concerns. The Minister will know that there has been a lot of controversy about the overall public appointments process. There has been criticism in the press and from people who have been involved in acting as independent advisers on public appointments, in general and in particular.

The appointment of the current chair of the Office for Students was particularly controversial. There was criticism that the balance of the appointing committee appeared to be much more political than expert, and that the person appointed appeared to have no previous qualifications or expertise for the job, beyond having been a Conservative MP who had lost his seat and managed Boris Johnson’s campaign to be Prime Minister. That does not give us great confidence in the appointment of a freedom of speech champion; it also lessens confidence in the sector that the appointment process had been started so early. The Minister will be aware from the letter she had from a number of leading academics that this is one of their active concerns.

Given the particularly controversial nature of this appointment, if you want to achieve a degree of public confidence among those who will be affected by it in universities and elsewhere, it pays if it is seen to be a fair, open and reasonable process. That is not the case at present, and rumours of the sort of people who might be appointed—the names scattered around include those of one or two other Members of this House—would not at all assure the sector, so this is a particularly important process and appointment.

I ask the Minister to give us an assurance, as strongly as she can, that Universities UK, the Russell group and other stakeholders will be consulted about the process and the qualifications needed in such a person; that the appointing committee will be appropriate to the task to be undertaken; and that the Government will ensure, as far as possible, that the person appointed commands the confidence of those whom he or she will be regulating. That is not too much to ask but, against the context of what we have seen with public appointments in the past three or four years, it is a necessary ask. I hope she will be able to take us some way in that direction.

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Of course, members of the OfS board regularly appear before the Education Select Committee; for example, the chair and chief executive both appeared before it in May 2020 in relation to issues arising from the pandemic and, more recently, in September, the chief executive was a witness in relation to controversial research content and free speech.
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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Can the Minister say whether the chief executive or chair could refuse to allow the director for freedom of speech to appear in front of a Select Committee? Could they say, “Sorry, there is no requirement for them to do that and we are not going to let them”, even if that Select Committee has asked for them to do so?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am afraid that I do not strictly know the answer to the noble Baroness’s question, but that would go absolutely against the spirit of the way in which our public bodies and arm’s-length bodies engage with our Select Committees. I cannot imagine that would be the case, but I will clarify for her whether it is even a possibility and write to her on that point.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The noble Lord makes several important points, the first being the quality of our universities and the pride that we all take in that—the Government echo the sentiments he expressed about their quality and the global esteem in which they are held. We take this appointment extremely seriously, hence the fact that we are following the public appointments process.

The role of the regulator is very sensitive, as the noble Lord understands extremely well, and that is absolutely why there is the level of transparency and accountability to Parliament that I just set out. We take this extremely seriously, for some of the reasons the noble Lord expressed. The only point I might disagree on is that the driving force behind the Bill was a concern about freedom of speech within our universities, rather than a particular political angle, but we can perhaps discuss that outside the Chamber.

Most recently, the chief executive of the OfS went before the Education Committee as a witness in relation to controversial research content and free speech. If the focus of the appearance were to be on free speech in the future, the director for freedom of speech and academic freedom may well of course be involved with that.

Given what I have said, I hope that your Lordships agree that there are sufficient safeguards in the Bill as drafted to deal with these important points of concern. I hope that the noble Baroness opposite will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that extensive explanation. We are probably 50% happy and 50% still worried, and part of the reason for that is that time has passed in terms of the appointment and so on, and the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, about how this has been achieved and why people might be worried about what the director for free speech might get up to and how they would do their job. It must be in the Government’s interest not to allow those concerns and worries to exist. I will of course withdraw the amendment, but I put on the record, as we have, that this is not where we would want to end up: we want more confidence in the system, rather than less. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 29 withdrawn.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Baroness Thornton Excerpts
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I forgot to declare my interests as a visiting professor of practice at the LSE and in receipt of research services from a PhD student from King’s College London. To support the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, if this is becoming such a difficult area, it will be tempting for regulators that “may” issue guidance not to do so in a particular contentious area. We go down this road or we do not, to some extent. If there are rows between competing minority interests and around particular foreign policy issues, then if I were a regulator, it would be all too tempting to sit back. That has sometimes been the case in the past, whether with the police or regulators. That is in support of the rather tighter duty that the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, proposes to put on the regulator.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I am not going to say very much because this debate has covered most of the ground that we need to cover on how this issue should be decided. However, I always listen to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, very carefully. When he says that simplicity is best, that is probably right. We definitely find Amendments 33 and 54 to 56 the more attractive amendments. As my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti said, they are the common-sense amendments. I am more attracted to them than to Amendment 31 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan.

This debate has shown, and I agree with those who have said so, that while the words in the noble Lord’s amendment are of course very laudable, actually it is the words that go in the Bill and create the law that are important. That is our job here in this House. It is certainly not our job to put words into legislation that might create more confusion and proclaim values at this stage. The Minister will probably tell us how the Government feel about that. My noble friend Lord Smith outlined in the earlier debate what a hard job the leaders of our universities have in balancing their duties and rights. That was amplified by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, when he spoke to his amendment.

In reflecting on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, I do not think that this amendment would have stopped what happened to Kathleen Stock. That was a failure of the leadership of her university to fulfil their duty of care to her and their need to promote free speech in their institution. This amendment would not have stopped that, because it is to do with how that university conducts itself.

Lord Grabiner Portrait Lord Grabiner (CB)
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My Lords, I will be very brief. On the point made a moment ago by the noble Baroness, one of the oddities about the Kathleen Stock case—the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, knows a lot more about this than I do—is that she undoubtedly would have had a claim for breach of contract. It appears that some agreement was arrived at and the matter was settled, but she would have had a very clear and good claim against the employer for breach of contract, without the need for anything in this Bill, which does not advance matters. However, we will come to that at a later moment.

I respectfully support the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, but I am not going to get involved in the Moylan debate. I firmly support Amendments 54 to 56 because what is critical, as has become apparent in the course of these debates, is the importance under the Bill of the guidance and code of practice. It is vital that the code of practice that eventually results is an absolutely bullet-proof and really impressive document. The proposals from the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, would achieve that and strengthen the current drafting.

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I was tempted to declare my own interest as an assistant general secretary of a trade union that used to commission research. Once I knew the question and its answer, I would commission the research. There is that political side; social science is often involved in that sort of thing.

This has been a worthwhile debate. I am pretty certain that this Bill, or even this debate, is not the right place for these amendments.

The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, raised some fundamental points. One of my responsibilities is as the shadow FCDO Minister. In global research, how research—particularly medical research—can be innovative, and who controls and pays for it, is an interesting question. I certainly do not relate that to academic freedom; that is a different, commercial issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevens, made the excellent point that, if you are going to do research in a particular medical area, you are not going to be bound by employing someone who has no interest in pursuing that line of inquiry. For me, whenever these sorts of questions come up, the interesting thing about the sort of research done by my noble friend Lord Sikka is that the key is always transparency. Whenever a piece of research is published, I want to know who has funded it. I want to know who is ultimately responsible. To me, that is absolutely the key to this issue.

I was going to ask the Minister about impact; the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, raised this. Students Organising for Sustainability asked whether these duties would present a conflict between some universities’ health departments—at Imperial, for example—that have funding conditional on not recommending big tobacco in their careers service? That relates to advisers and freedom of speech. It would be interesting to hear the Minister’s view on that in relation to the debate on these amendments.

I have promoted debates in the Chamber on the broader issue of commercial research, particularly about who at the end of the day owns and controls the—I have a mental block.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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Copyright? Intellectual property?

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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Yes. Then we get into a much bigger question, which for me is the most important political question. I know my noble friend has also entered into debates on that issue, including on TRIPS and stuff like that.

I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response to this point. Personally, I do not think that these amendments are in the right Bill or the right place.

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Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, my main regret about this debate is that my noble friend Lord Triesman did not mention the London School of Economics, which is where I went. While we were having this debate, I looked it up and there are hundreds of societies at the LSE. I enjoyed the fact that, if you look at the history of the student union—the student union at the LSE is the oldest in the country—you find that I feature in there, having led occupations of the director’s studio for the nursery campaign in the early 1970s. I was trying to think how on earth we would have coped with this legislation when I was a member of the student union executive at the London School of Economics in the early 1970s.

My noble friend Lord Triesman was quite right. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith, said, I do not think what is in the Bill at the moment meets the test of what will actually work and be able to be delivered by our student bodies. It is too complex. My understanding is that student unions also have the Charity Commissioners as part of their regulation, so that adds extra complexity to this issue.

I think I agree with other noble Lords that the Government need to look at this issue again. The noble Baroness’s amendment might provide a good basis for something that is simpler and which can actually be delivered by 18 and 19 year-olds. I look at the Bill team, and some of them are not that far away from having been rather young. They need to think back to what they would have done in their student days and how they might have been able to protect the right of freedom of speech then.

This is one of those occasions when the Government might need to look at this again and ask whether it will work as it is intended. Have discussions taken place with student union representatives in a process of asking them how this will work and whether it will be able to be carried through?

In case noble Lords are looking it up, my name does not appear but I did lead the occupation of the director’s studio for the nursery campaign.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 47 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, and her colleague the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, seeks to change the way in which student unions are regulated under the Bill.

This amendment would remove the duties on student unions in Clause 3, and instead add them to the duties on providers under the Education Act 1994. The addition of these requirements to that Act would mean that the duty would be on the governing body of the provider to

“take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure”

the various requirements set out in the amendment and no direct duties would be imposed on student unions. Amendment 47 would therefore make Clause 7 unnecessary. I note the wish of the noble Baroness to remove the clause from the Bill altogether.

Extending the legislative framework to student unions at approved fee cap providers under Clause 3 is a significant step, which fills a gap in the current legislative framework. Freedom of speech on our campuses is an essential element of university life. Student unions play a vital role in this, providing services and support, representing their members and working closely with their provider. It is important that these bodies are accountable for their actions.

There are examples of where student unions have failed to secure freedom of speech. Notably, the student union at Swansea University failed to support members of the university’s Feminist Society, who were threatened and abused for supporting Kathleen Stock—a name I am sure we recognise by now. Rather than protect their freedom of speech, the student union removed the society’s email account and profile page from its systems, denying this group an important platform for reaching others. This incident illustrates the need for action to ensure that student unions are subject to duties on freedom of speech, since we cannot allow that sort of behaviour to continue unchallenged and unregulated.

I noted the support for the amendment expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, but if we took the approach proposed in Amendment 47, the duty would be on the provider to take reasonably practicable steps to secure the various freedom of speech obligations, as I have said, but there would be no requirement on student unions to comply with those requirements. If they did not, this would potentially only result in an internal dispute with the provider.

Although the Charity Commission is involved in regulating student unions which are charities, that is only in respect of charity law. There would also be no oversight of whether or not providers comply with the duty imposed on them. This means that there would be no enforcement or regulatory action taken if they failed to do so.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly in the context of the new regime that this Bill will establish, there would be no means for individuals whose freedom of speech has been improperly restricted to seek recompense. Since the Bill will impose new duties on student unions, it is also necessary that mechanisms are in place to ensure that compliance with the freedom of speech duties of student unions is monitored effectively and that action is taken if those duties are infringed upon.

The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, read into these provisions a burdensome requirement placed on every single student society in every university in England. I make it clear to him that the duties are on student unions and not student societies, even though they may be affiliated with their student union. In practice, this means that only the student union—that is to say, one union per provider—will be regulated.

Clause 7 therefore extends the regulatory functions of the Office for Students so that it can regulate these student unions. This new provision will require the OfS to monitor whether student unions are complying with their duties under new Sections A5 and A6 as inserted by Clause 3. If it appears to the OfS that a student union is failing or has failed to comply with its duties, it will be able to impose a monetary penalty.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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I need some clarification from the noble Earl. I suspect that most of the things that have caused problems have been organised by the societies and all the organisations that are part of the student union. At the LSE, we had a rugby club that invited strippers to its annual dinner—you can imagine how well that went down—but it was not the student union that dealt with that. It was not its job to deal with what the rugby club was doing. This was a very long time ago, but lots of the things that we have been calling in aid in this Bill have not been organised by student unions. Some will have been, but most will have been organised by their constituent parts—the societies and other parts of the student union.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I take the noble Baroness’s point. Those societies will be expected to abide by a code of practice which will be promulgated to all students. While the societies will not be subjected to the full extent of the regulation that I have been talking about, expectations will be placed on them. I cannot yet tell the noble Baroness what will be contained in the code of practice but, as I have mentioned, that code will receive appropriate publicity.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Baroness Thornton Excerpts
Finally, I want to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, because, notwithstanding the comfort offered by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, I think he has a point. The interaction between the provisions in the Bill as drafted and the quality of research and expression of research has not been adequately considered. As I read the Bill, the academic who is put under pressure for the quality of their science being inadequate or anti-science will now have access to the new statutory tort. Of course, if they lose their job, that is a real loss. That problem will not be solved even by the proposition of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, about pecuniary loss because, by definition, the academic who was putting out bad science or non-science and was not standing up to refereed scrutiny will have pecuniary loss and is going to say, “I deny the climate catastrophe”, or “I deny any human contribution to the climate catastrophe”, or “I deny that tobacco has any effect at all on cancer, and that is my belief, that is my freedom of speech, I am a member of this university, you have put me out of a job and I am suing.” I do not see anything in the Bill that helps potentially beleaguered universities with that challenge.
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, this is a very important small group of amendments. It seems to me that the previous group was about what the law should say, while this debate has been about is who it is going to apply to. I was struck by my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti’s description of the academic who might suffer. I was thinking back and remembering, and I need to say that I am an emeritus governor of the LSE, but I think I am absolutely not a member of the academic staff there. When I was at the LSE, I attended a whole year of lectures and I fell asleep at every single one, but I do not think that counts with this.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has been very clever in these two groups; his small amendments are exactly how you probe a Bill. I am full of admiration for his ability to do that, and I am grateful. The issue here has been mentioned by most noble Lords, because it is vital in legislation that we define who will be affected by the legislation and in what way. That is why my noble friend Lord Collins added his name to Amendment 26 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst. My noble friend Lord Triesman made some very good points, as did the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, and others. I think the Minister will need to continue the discussion on this because by now the Bill team and the Minister will realise that there is a lack of clarity here, which provides enormous risks to the effectiveness of this legislation.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this second group of amendments relates to members and academics, as covered by the Bill, but I will also try to address the questions put to me on related issues.

Amendments 4, 37 and 57 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, seek to probe the meaning of the term “members” in the Bill. The term “member” in the sphere of higher education has a specific meaning as a term of art. It includes in particular a member of the governing council of a university and those with certain honorary positions, such as an emeritus professor. Such a person may not be a member of staff of the institution and so needs specific provision in order to be protected under the Bill.

A member does not include a person who simply studies or used to study at the university, though some might use the term in that way. Current students would be covered by the term “students”. It also does not include a recipient of an honorary degree, which is awarded to honour an individual and does not give any academic or professional privilege.

The term “member” is well understood in both legislation and universities. In particular, it is already a category of individuals which is protected under the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, which sets out the current freedom of speech duties.

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Lord Strathcarron Portrait Lord Strathcarron (Con)
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My Lords, I speak to my Amendments 17, 18, 19 and 21. We have already debated Amendment 17 at some length. I hope that Amendments 18, 19 and 21 are uncontroversial; I merely hope to tighten up and future-proof for anything that comes in the future. I believe that they address some concerns raised in an earlier group by the noble Lords, Lord Collins of Highbury and Lord Triesman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, and I hope they prove agreeable.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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I briefly say that I think the noble Earl has three things he needs to address in this group of amendments. The first is academic freedom, which has been referred to before. My noble friend Lord Triesman has brought to the Committee an amendment that deserves consideration, because I think it helps us. The second issue has created quite a discussion—what is the interface between the terms and conditions, the values and employment of an academic and their speech? I am not going to comment on that, frankly; the noble Earl is going to have to tell us what the Government think about that. The third issue, of course, is whether the other issues raised in this group affect the practicality and appropriateness of universities’ appointment procedures. I am not sure at all that that is the case. Those are the three issues I think the noble Earl will have to address, probably the next time the Committee meets.

Debate on Amendment 12 adjourned.
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who will speak in today’s debate and all the organisations and the Library for their excellent briefing on the Bill.

I also thank the Minister for presenting the Bill with his usual clarity and elegance, expressing many aspirations that many of us would agree with about free speech. Having worked with the noble Earl for many years, both as a Minister and in opposition, revising and improving many pieces of legislation, I have come to admire his intellectual acumen and political nous. I fear that he will have to bring both to bear in great measure to justify and succeed in getting what is regarded by many as a shoddy piece of legislation—at best, unnecessary and, at worst, divisive—through your Lordships’ House in its present form.

Labour, unlike the Conservatives, over many years, has always championed free speech. It was a Labour Government who introduced a law guaranteeing freedom of expression. It seems to us on these Benches that, as higher education and our students move out of the difficult and sometimes traumatic time that Covid brought, the Government should be addressing the immediate issues of rent, getting a job and the rise of mental health conditions among our young people. Three out of every four students are currently worried about managing financially, one in four has less than £50 a month to live on after rent and bills, and 5% of students are using food banks to get by. Surely these matters are the priority, rather than focusing on a row largely manufactured in Whitehall based, at best, on flimsy evidence. A review of 10,000 events revealed that only six were cancelled and four of those because of faulty paperwork.

The Commons Minister, Michelle Donelan was asked what evidence lies behind her statements on ConservativeHome that there is

“a cluster of institutions that are in the grip of a close-minded, intolerant ideology—and at the centre of this cluster lie our universities.”

She said that she believed it to be true. This seems a flimsy base for legislation from a Secretary of State who says that he believes in an evidence-based approach. Can the noble Earl please tell the House to which “institutions” his honourable friend was referring? As my honourable friend Kate Green MP said at Second Reading over a year ago,

“it is an evidence-free zone when it comes to underpinning the concerns that he says it is addressing.”—[Official Report, Commons, 12/7/21; col. 53.]

The lack of an evidence base is one challenge the noble Earl will have to face as the Bill progresses through your Lordships’ House, but there are others. There is an understandable concern that the Bill may undermine existing protections against discrimination. That it introduces a new mechanism that some believe may allow hate-filled individuals to sue a university if they feel that their opinion has not been adequately heard may allow extremists, racists and Holocaust deniers to have a voice and a much-craved platform on our campuses. We will need to test these things during the passage of the Bill.

Additionally, we need to ask how the resources to fight those challenges will be found. We will test the effectiveness of the new clauses added by the Government. From these Benches, we will seek to amend the Bill to require an independent appointments process for, and prevent party-political donations from, the new, to-be-appointed director of free speech. We will seek to broaden the definition of academic freedom to include, for example, criticism of institutions, conducting research and joining a union. We will seek to add a sunset clause, so the legislation expires after three years unless an extension is approved through an affirmative SI. We will seek to require the Office for Students to consider competing freedoms when investigating free speech complaints and seek to prohibit the use of non- disclosure agreements by universities in relation to sexual harassment.

I want to raise with the noble Earl the appointment of the director of free speech. This job was advertised on 13 June or thereabouts, which is, of course, the date that the Bill completed its passage through the Commons but had yet to reach your Lordships’ House. The closing date for applications is 13 July—so be quick if you want to apply for this almost £100,000-a-year job. Can the noble Earl address the question of pre-emption? When will the appointment be made if the closing date is 13 July? Will it before the position has been agreed by Parliament? What parliamentary scrutiny will the appointment receive?

Looking at the job description—which I recommend noble Lords to read—the position seems to require no legal background. I hold no brief to create work for lawyers, but surely if we are to have a director of free speech, a person tasked with the job of settling contentious cases, it must be in all our interests for that person to have a broad understanding of the sector, the legal framework around free speech to which I have referred and the sector’s regulatory framework, but these elements are not essential in the job description.

In conclusion, the issue here is evidence, and that is why these Benches have deep reservations about the unintended consequences of this Bill. Its top-down, one-size-fits-all approach demonstrates the weakness at the heart of the Government and their misplaced lack of trust in our academic community. I have great hope that the many noble and learned Lords and the phalanx of chancellors, vice-chancellors and heads of colleges who inhabit your Lordships’ House will cast their eyes on the Bill and between us we might knock it into some sensible shape. At the least we can do no harm, and if we are very successful, we may enhance free speech in higher education. I look forward to the debates to come and the next stage of the Bill.