97 Earl Howe 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
Wed 25th Oct 2023
Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, it has been a short and interesting debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, introduced the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Jackson. On this side of the House, we will listen to the Minister’s response very carefully. I agreed with the sentiments that she expressed to the extent that the Parole Board should be cautious and fair, and that there needs to be a balance between victims, the process and the prisoners.

The point where I depart from her—which is really the substance of her amendment—is that it should be by default that parole hearings are conducted in public. I am not sure that I would go as far as that but, nevertheless, I agreed with a lot the points that she made. As I said, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

I move on to Amendment 171B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, which was spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord German. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, summed up the points succinctly: that giving the Parole Board discretion is desirable. Each case is different and, if the Parole Board has more discretion, it can reduce the potential impact on victims—I understood that point. It can also reduce the number of repeated applications, which have a cost to the public purse, where there may be no real change in circumstances. If one were to give the Parole Board more discretion, it might reduce that impact on victims. Again, this is an interesting amendment, and I look forward to listening to the Minister’s response.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, in their respective absences, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, and my noble friend Lord Jackson for their amendments, which have been so ably spoken to by my noble friend Lady Lawlor and the noble Lord, Lord German.

I will turn first to Amendment 174A, tabled by my noble friend Lord Jackson. This would create a presumption for parole hearings to be conducted in public and a power for the Secretary of State, in effect, to direct a public hearing, contrary to any opposing view from the chair of the Parole Board.

The provision for public parole hearings was introduced by the Government in 2022 in amendments to the Parole Board Rules statutory instrument. This allows any hearing to be conducted in public if the chair of the Parole Board decides that it is in the interests of justice to do so. Prior to this, the rules required that all hearings be held in private.

Hearings are private by default, but applications for public hearings can be made by anyone directly to the Parole Board. The criteria used by the chair to decide applications have been published by the Parole Board on its website. The individual decisions are also published. Since the provisions were introduced in 2022, three public hearings have been held and a further five have been agreed by the Parole Board, which will be heard in the coming months.

The provisions are operating as intended, because the rule changes were made with the understanding that most hearings would continue to be held in private and only a small number of public hearings would be held. This amendment would, in effect, reverse that position, so that all hearings were public by default and a private hearing would take place only with the agreement of the Secretary of State in response to any representations made by the chair of the board.

The amendment also proposes that the Secretary of State should be the person to decide whether a hearing takes place in public. I am afraid I must push back on that idea. Noble Lords will be aware that the board is a quasi-judicial body which makes court-like judicial decisions. As part of its consideration of case, the board will decide whether an oral hearing is necessary or whether a case can be completed on the papers alone. If, having decided that a hearing is necessary, the board is then responsible for the arrangements, conduct and management of that hearing.

It would be out of step with the rest of the process if we gave the Secretary of State a power, in effect, to force the board to hold a public hearing against its wishes. As the body responsible for the hearing, the Government believe that it is right that the board has the final decision on whether the hearing should be public or private.

I hope the Committee will accept that not all cases will be suitable to be heard in public; for example, because of particularly sensitive evidence or the concerns of the victims. It is vital that the risk assessment is not compromised, and witnesses are able to provide full and frank evidence to the board.

The current provisions in the Parole Board Rules mean that the board and the Secretary of State have to consider these issues only in response to an application. The amendment would require them to consider the merits and contact the victims in every single hearing—more than 8,000 cases a year. It would be an enormous administrative burden with very little obvious benefit to the parole system or to the individuals affected by it.

In conclusion, I recognise the disappointment and frustration that may be caused when a public hearing application is rejected, especially where the victim is the applicant. Public hearings are a comparatively new element of the parole system. The Government are committed to improving further the openness and transparency of parole. However, we submit that a complete reversal of the current approach is not merited at this time. On this basis, I hope that Amendment 171A can be withdrawn.

I turn to Amendment 171B, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord German. This seeks to allow the Parole Board to direct the period of time which should elapse before a subsequent application to be considered for release can be made. As things stand, under the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997, the Secretary of State has ultimate responsibility for referring a prisoner’s case to the Parole Board within two years of the previous review.

This amendment would transfer this responsibility to the board and allow them to set the interval between reviews of anywhere between 12 months and five years. The current system already provides for flexibility in the time set for the prisoner’s next parole review. His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service—HMPPS—considers a range of factors in deciding when to refer the prisoner to the Parole Board on behalf of the Secretary of State. Reasons must be given for the length of the interval between reviews. These include the Parole Board’s reasons for declining to direct the prisoner’s release at the conclusion of the last review and the interventions required to allow them to progress.

Giving responsibility for setting the period between parole reviews to the Parole Board could potentially result in hearings being set too soon, before interventions have been able to take effect, increasing the number of adjournments and causing further distress for victims. This is not to say that the board does not play an important role. Its insights provide valuable information for HMPPS staff, but HMPPS is best placed to make these decisions.

There is then the question of what the period between hearings ought to be. This amendment aims to increase the maximum interval from two to five years. I fully understand why this is being proposed, but it might be helpful if I outline why it would not be lawful; the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, has already referred to this. Where indeterminate sentence prisoners have served their tariff—that is the minimum term set by the judge at sentencing—they are then eligible for a parole hearing. Unless the Parole Board is satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the prisoner should be confined, they will remain in prison. If they are not released, my advice is that subsequent reviews must be conducted speedily and at reasonable intervals to satisfy the requirement of Article 5(4) of the convention. I note and take on board the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, in this connection.

I appreciate the motivations at play here. Parole reviews can be difficult for victims. I sympathise with the desire for a longer interval between reviews. I stress to the Committee that the Government always consider victims where the parole system is concerned. I hope we have demonstrated this principle in other measures we have taken. We understand the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord German, that, in essence, greater transparency of the parole system is inextricably linked to the involvement of victims.

Since October 2022, victims have been able to observe Parole Board hearings, as part of a testing phase currently running in the south-west. The testing has now progressed to include the Greater Manchester probation region. During the hearings, victims are supported by a Probation Service victim representative, who discusses the parole process with them. Their VLO will ensure that, if appropriate, they are signposted to relevant support following the hearing.

Business of the House

Earl Howe Excerpts
Monday 18th March 2024

(1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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That, in the event of the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill having been brought from the House of Commons, Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Tuesday 19 March to allow the Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal, I beg to move the first Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Motion agreed.

Business of the House

Earl Howe Excerpts
Monday 18th March 2024

(1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord True Portrait Earl Howe
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That Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Tuesday 19 March to enable the National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) (No. 2) Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day and that, in accordance with Standing Order 47 (Amendments on Third Reading), amendments shall not be moved on Third Reading.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal, I beg to move the second Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper. It may assist the House if I set out the plan for this Bill agreed in the usual channels.

The Bill’s Second Reading will take place today, with the debate in the name of my noble friend Lady Vere on the Spring Budget. Noble Lords have until 11 am tomorrow, Tuesday 19 March, to table amendments for Committee on the Bill, and should approach the Public Bill Office in the usual way. Committee and all remaining stages will take place tomorrow. If there is a need to have further substantive stages after Committee, these will be announced in the Chamber in the usual way.

Motion agreed.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, this group of probing amendments, which have the aim of ensuring decent and necessary payments to all those bereaved in this disastrous scandal, has given the Committee the chance to consider the appalling plight of the victims of the infected blood scandal.

We welcome Clause 40, in particular Clause 40(3)(a), which says that:

“In exercising its functions, the body must … have regard to the need of applicants for speed of provision, simplicity of process, accessibility, involvement, proactive support, fairness and efficiency”.


It is only to be hoped that the Government live up to the promise of that clause in future, because they have signally failed to do so in the past.

If this Bill has taught us anything, it is that all victims of crime, major incidents and appalling and deeply shocking medical errors such as this, as well as other administrative disasters such as the Post Office Horizon scandal, have so many needs that resemble each other. We need early admissions of responsibility and culpability. We need government and administrative bodies to face facts. We need to ensure that victims have early access to the services and support they need and that such services and support are in practice provided in full and in good time.

Of course, one of the tragic aspects of this scandal is that the need for speed is particularly severe. It is worth reminding ourselves that, since Sir Brian Langstaff’s interim report of April 2023, more than 70 victims have died. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, gave evidence to that inquiry, as did the noble Lord, Lord Owen. Both spoke eloquently of its conduct, and it is worth remembering the conclusion of the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, that the state let people down and should accept responsibility. He spoke of defending the indefensible, and the noble Lord, Lord Horam, echoed his words. Delaying compensation is denying responsibility. As all noble Lords who have spoken have said, there is no reason at all to wait any longer—certainly not until the Government have digested at length the contents of Sir Brian’s final report. Any such delay would be a travesty of Sir Brian’s principal call, which was for urgency.

Sir Robert Francis’s recommendations, in his report in June 2022, on the way that compensation should be handled, along with Sir Brian’s report, now need urgent implementation. It is to be hoped that the work of the expert panel—established under the chairmanship of Jonathan Montgomery, who is the chair of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, which was not a mile away from involvement in the crisis—does not delay or water down the recommendations of the two reports. It is right to say that the campaigners are deeply concerned, as the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, stressed.

In opening the debate, my noble friend Lady Brinton and the noble Lord, Lord Owen, pointed out the strength and determination of this very long campaign. We mourn Lord Cormack, whose involvement in the campaign was also extensive and long lasting.

The noble Lord, Lord Owen, spoke of the difficulties facing doctors, and the lack of political will needed to ensure self-sufficiency in blood products in this country. We can only hope that the noble Lord’s optimism in expecting the Government now to react quickly and finally, following the report due in May from Sir Brian Langstaff, is justified. My noble friend Lady Featherstone and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, added their accounts of personal tragedy, and thereby movingly added to the demand for urgency.

We know that the Horizon case led to definitive action only following ITV’s television drama. It should not be the same with the infected blood scandal, but we understand that ITV has commissioned Peter Moffat to write such a drama, so perhaps public opinion will come to the rescue once again. The burden of my speech, and the speeches of all noble Lords who have spoken today, is that this should not be necessary in a civilised and compassionate democracy.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, in arriving, as we now have, at Part 3 of the Bill, I should like to begin by thanking all noble Lords who have spoken so powerfully and movingly on a set of events which many regard as constituting the worst disaster in the history of the National Health Service. The story of those who received infected blood as part of their NHS care and treatment is one of unimaginable suffering and terrible tragedy over more than four decades. It is a story that is still not yet over. The victims’ suffering has been made even worse by an absence of full justice for those individuals and, alongside that, a failure to reach—as far as may be possible—a sense of closure.

The official public inquiry currently under way, under the chairmanship of Sir Brian Langstaff, is the start of delivering the justice that is needed. The inquiry has been informed by the expert work of Sir Robert Francis, and Sir Brian has so far published two interim reports on his findings, with his final report due on 20 May. Meanwhile, in the other place, Clause 40—as it is now—was added to the Bill to speed up the delivery process.

The Government accept the will of Parliament that arrangements should be put in place to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that the victims receive justice as quickly and efficiently as possible. Therefore, my desire—and, I trust, that of all noble Lords—is to see the Bill added to the statute book as soon as is reasonably practicable. The Government are well aware that every passing season sees more suffering, death and bereavement. We are therefore eager to avoid more needless delay.

Ministers have already taken action and given a number of undertakings. First, we have promised that within 25 sitting days of Sir Brian Langstaff’s final report being published, we will make a Statement to Parliament setting out the Government’s response. The period of 25 days is not a target but a deadline. We will issue our response as soon as we possibly can.

Secondly, in response to a recommendation from Sir Brian, we have made interim payments amounting to £440 million to infected individuals or bereaved partners registered with existing infected blood support schemes.

Thirdly, in readiness for Sir Brian’s final report, we have appointed Sir Jonathan Montgomery to chair an expert group whose remit is to advise the Government on some of the legal and technical aspects of delivering compensation. I realise that some have questioned Sir Jonathan’s appointment because of his former connection with Bayer. Noble Lords may wish to note that Sir Jonathan ceased to be a member of the Bayer bioethics council on 31 October 2023. The council was an independent advisory group which had no role in the day-to-day operations of the company. It has had no executive power in the operational business of Bayer.

I emphasise that nothing in the work of the expert group is intended to cut across the conclusions of the inquiry or the advice of Sir Robert Francis—quite the opposite, actually. The expert group is there to enable Ministers to understand certain technical issues and thus enable decisions to be taken more quickly.

On the amendment passed by the House of Commons, which we are now considering, noble Lords will understand that the provisions of any Bill need to be legally coherent and should not cut across the integrity of the statute book. There are two principal defects with Clause 40: first, its coverage does not extend to the whole of the United Kingdom. The Government are clear that infected blood is a UK-wide issue. For that very reason, the infected blood inquiry was set up on a UK-wide basis. In March 2021, we announced uplifts to achieve broad financial parity across the UK’s infected blood support schemes, increasing annual payments to beneficiaries across the country as a whole. Maintaining a commitment to parity across the UK is extremely important.

We also need to agree on a set of arrangements that are workable and, above all, work for victims. It is therefore essential for the UK Government to engage with all the devolved Administrations with those aims in view. That is what we are now doing. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office met counterparts from the Welsh Government, Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive earlier this month to discuss this matter; those discussions will continue.

The second principal defect of Clause 40 is that in proposing the establishment of an arm’s-length body, as Sir Brian recommended, it does not also propose any specific functions for that body. The Government’s intention, therefore, is to bring forward an amendment on Report which will correct these two deficiencies and add further standard provisions to ensure a more complete legal framework when setting up an ALB. I plan to engage with noble Lords in advance of Report to discuss the content of the government amendment once it has been drafted.

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Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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The Minister mentioned that there will be government amendments on Report to address the deficiencies in Clause 40 that he has identified. Does he envisage having the opportunity, between now and Report, to prepare amendments to address some of the other legal impediments—for example, to widening the cohorts—that he has identified? That could accelerate clarification and speed up the process.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I anticipate using every opportunity available to engage with noble Lords on not only what the amendments will comprise but what we intend to do thereafter. As the noble Lord will appreciate, there is a wealth of regulations in this space. I venture to say that quite a lot of the detail of the arrangements will be contained in regulations, which will be laid as soon as possible. To the extent that I can go into detail on what those regulations will contain, I shall be happy to do so, but I hope that the noble Lord will understand that I am not in a position to do so today.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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I apologise for interrupting the Minister. He referred to the payment of £100,000 to a lot of people in 2022, but is he aware that the whole point of Amendment 134 is to fill the gaps for all the people who did not receive an interim payment? When he referred to speeding up their response to the Langstaff inquiry, that was a verbal commitment, as I understand it. The point is that these people need an urgent payment of £100,000; as I understand it, they have not received any compensation, so it is urgent. We are talking about something that happened 50-odd years ago. The idea that we still need more time cannot be right, so I hope that the Minister can reassure us that absolutely everything will be done to get a payment of £100,000 out to the groups of people who have not yet received compensation—immediately and within a month of the passing of the future Act, as the amendment says.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I perfectly understand the noble Baroness’s strength of feeling on this long-standing scandal. It may be of some reassurance to her if I repeat the words of my honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office in the other place, who said in December:

“The victims of the infected blood scandal deserve justice and recognition. Their voice must be heard, and it is our duty to honour not only those still living and campaigning but those who have passed without recognition”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/12/23; col. 1147.]


I met the Minister for the Cabinet Office to discuss these matters. My right honourable friend assured me that this is indeed his highest priority, and I undertake to the Committee that I will continue to work closely with him ahead of the next stage of the Bill.

I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to the debate and for highlighting so compellingly the issues that bear upon this appalling human tragedy. Ministers will reflect carefully on all that has been said. I hope my response has provided the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, with enough by way of assurance—although I wish I could reassure them even further—about the Government’s intended course of action to enable the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment and for the other amendments in the group not to be moved when they are reached.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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Before the Minister sits down, I would like to ask him a couple of questions. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Marks, who asked exactly the question I wanted to know about: what is going to happen between Committee and Report?

In other instances, it has been quite speedy to set up a shadow body—after all, the Government now know how to do it. Is there any capacity to start setting up a shadow body that will be ready to go?

We do not yet know the timetabling for the Report days, but clearly Members of the Committee are going to need to see the Government’s amendments in enough time, particularly—to pick up the point raised just now by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher—to try to address the deficiencies if those who are not currently included remain so.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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On the noble Baroness’s latter point, I hope to have extensive discussions with noble Lords about the Government’s amendments and their intended and literal effect.

On setting up a shadow body, I myself asked that very question. There are some issues here. I am advised that it would not save any time. There are still a number of decisions to be made on the government response to infected blood, and clearly we cannot pre-empt those decisions by establishing an arm’s-length body without clarity on what its precise functions or role would be. As I have said, our intention is to table amendments on Report that will correct the defects in Clause 40 and have the desired effect of speeding up the implementation of the Government’s response to the inquiry.

However, I will take that point away to make sure that there really is no advantage in not having a shadow body. The Government have done that before in other circumstances and it is worth thoroughly exploring as an option. I think I will be told that any idea of a shadow body would need to be considered alongside its interaction with the passage of the legislation and the Government’s response to the recommendations of the second interim report, and indeed the report as a whole, but I hope the noble Baroness will be content to leave that question with me.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been an important debate. In fact, I go further: it has been a historic debate, because in a relatively short debate we have had the noble Baronesses, Lady Featherstone and Lady Campbell, who spoke about very close relatives who have been affected by this tragedy; we have had the two noble Lords, Lord Bichard and Lord Owen, who gave evidence to the inquiry; and the noble Lord, Lord Owen, in his speech, went back the furthest, if I can put it like that, to 1975. There are Members who have spoken in this short debate who have tracked this issue for the many decades that it has lingered.

Nobody is questioning the best intentions of the noble Earl, Lord Howe; he has been involved in this issue in a number of ways over many years. My amendments are essentially probing amendments, and I acknowledge the letter that the noble Earl has sent to us. We will not press the amendment, but I was going to ask the same questions as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about process. The Government have said they will table amendments on Report, and the Minister said there will be an opportunity for noble Lords to see the amendments before then and to discuss them, but we may want to table amendments to his amendment and we will want to make sure we have ample time to do that. I know the noble Earl understands that point, but I repeat it from these Benches as well.

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The important point about this amendment is this: it is clear that cover-ups and bad behaviour have been rife throughout the Horizon scandal. Dealing with those must not stop the compensation and the justice that the victims need. We must be able to go forward from this point to make sure that those victims get the compensation they need as quickly as possible. Although this may not be quite the right amendment—they are often not—I encourage the Minister to tell us, as he did in the previous discussion, how the Government intend to take this forward in a positive fashion.
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for her amendment, which, as she explained, would require the Government to publish a timeline for the payment of interim payments for victims of the Horizon scandal. As she knows, the amendment takes us back to a subject that the House has discussed several times in recent weeks. In all parts of your Lordships’ House, there is a strong desire to see justice for the victims of the Horizon scandal—in particular, to see them receive prompt financial redress. The Government share that desire.

The effects of the scandal on some postmasters have been, to put it at its mildest, truly awful. Some of them have lost their livelihoods, their homes or their health—or even all three. Others have faced serious financial impacts. The noble Baroness’s question is therefore extremely pertinent.

For reasons of history, there are three separate compensation arrangements in place; I hope that the Committee will allow me to put them on the record. One is for people who have had convictions for criminal offences overturned. A second, which is delivered by the Department for Business and Trade rather than the Post Office, is to top up the compensation settlement for unconvicted postmasters made at the end of the original so-called GLO High Court case, which exposed the scandal. The third—the Horizon Shortfall Scheme or HSS—is for postmasters who were neither in the GLO group nor convicted.

In two of the streams, we have recently announced fixed offers of settlement: £600,000 for those with overturned convictions and £75,000 for the GLO group. These fixed offers allow postmasters to receive substantial compensation without delay or hassle. Of course, those with larger claims will not generally want to accept these sums. They will instead, quite rightly, have their compensation individually assessed. For both groups, substantial interim payments are made promptly. Further payments are available to those facing hardship while their full claims are being assessed. We have undertaken to make first offers within 40 working days of receiving a completed application for the GLO scheme.

The HSS is already well advanced. All 2,417 of the people who applied by the original scheme deadline have had initial offers. More than 2,000 of them have accepted settlements and been paid. Late claims are still coming in—some stimulated by the ITV drama, in fact—and are being dealt with promptly.

However, two crucial drivers of the pace of compensation are not controlled by either government or the Post Office. First, the overturning of convictions has, of course, been in the hands of the courts, and it has been frustratingly slow. We believe that more than 900 people may have been wrongly convicted in this scandal, but, to date, only 97 of them have had their conviction overturned. The process has been not only slow but uncertain. In too many cases, the evidence has been lost or destroyed over time, and many postmasters have understandably lost all faith in authority and cannot face the prospect of yet another court case to clear their name.

That is why, on 10 January, the Government announced that they will be introducing legislation to overturn all the convictions resulting from this scandal. We recognise that this is an unprecedented step, but it is necessary if justice is to be done. I can tell noble Lords that, this afternoon, my honourable friend in another place has made a Statement about that legislation. We hope to introduce this legislation within a few weeks. I am sure that it will be widely supported across the House and in the other place, and that it will therefore be able to progress quickly. We hope to see it become law before the summer, with prompt compensation to follow.

That takes me to the second area where we do not have control of the timescale: postmasters and their lawyers need time to formulate claims and gather evidence, with some needing specialist reports from medical or forensic accounting experts. Setting arbitrary deadlines for the submission of claims would, I suggest, be deeply unfair to postmasters, and we therefore should not do it.

That is why the House recently and enthusiastically passed the Post Office (Horizon System) Compensation Bill, which implemented the Williams inquiry’s recommendation to remove the arbitrary deadline of 7 August 2024 to complete the GLO compensation scheme. It remains the Government’s goal to complete that scheme by August, but if postmasters need longer, that is fine.

The Government are determined to see financial redress delivered as quickly as possible for all postmasters, including those whose convictions will be overturned by the forthcoming Bill. However, setting a fixed timetable would entail rushing postmasters into major decisions about their claims and the offers they receive. I hope that, on reflection, the noble Baroness agrees that we should not do that, and will therefore feel able to withdraw her amendment.

The noble Baroness asked me a number of detailed questions. If she will allow me, I will write to her as fully as possible in response to her particular questions about legal advice, the Green Book, the logjam of claims and a number of others.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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I am grateful to the Minister for his response. As ever, it was thoughtful and very helpful.

I laid the amendment principally because it seemed to me that there were two issues. The first was about everything being done, where possible, by August, which seemed encouraging but clearly is not going to be hit in many cases. The detail that I gave to the Committee in the speech is what worries me more: there seems to be a chasm between Post Office Ltd and the postmasters about what is eligible in damage. I do not think it is just about whether people can get access to information, because of this proviso. I will be grateful for any letter, but would the Minister be prepared to meet between Committee and Report to discuss the detail? The most urgent thing, from their perspective, would be a grant for legal advice, given the complexity of applying. If that can be speeded up in any way, shape or form, that would be enormously helpful.

I suspect I will bring something back on Report, though probably not the same thing at all. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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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.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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I am very grateful to the Minister and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. I am very grateful for his explanation of the system, but my difficulty with his response is that it does not make sure that the victim does not have to be proactive to go back to the court and make a statement, if they are very clear.

I hear what the Minister says about a sentence of more than 12 months, and I may return on Report with a slightly different amendment. This is a particular problem for victims of child sexual abuse of those who are discovered to have abused others and who present other issues. It is not just a one-off case that we are trying to resolve. In the meantime, I withdraw the amendment.

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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.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Wills, so ably explained, this group of amendments covers a number of issues: the appointment of the standing advocate, the function of the standing advocate, the appointment of additional advocates, and a review of the scheme’s effectiveness.

I will deal first with the noble Lord’s Amendment 123A, which would set a duty on the Secretary of State to appoint a standing advocate within one month of Royal Assent. The Government entirely share the noble Lord’s desire for the standing advocate to be in place as soon as possible once the Bill becomes law. However, we have a few concerns about the proposed amendment.

First, Part 2 of the Bill will be commenced by regulations made by the Secretary of State. That is the appropriate commencement mechanism for this type of provision. Secondly, it has always been our intention to run a fair and open competition for the office. Obviously, there is due process involved in that, which necessarily occupies a certain amount of time. Thirdly, as I hope the noble Lord will appreciate, the Government will want to carry out all relevant due diligence prior to making the appointment, and this process will also take a little time.

If the Government were to proceed as the noble Lord suggested, it would necessitate a direct appointment by Ministers. Of course, that is theoretically possible, but such appointments are normally used to address a short-term need and are typically for posts that last 12 to 18 months or something of that sort. This point also relates to the noble Lord’s other amendments on the appointment process, which would require the Secretary of State to obtain the approval of a relevant Select Committee and to hold a Motion for resolution before making the appointment, or to give an Oral Statement if it is refused.

It may help if I outline the Government’s current intentions for the recruitment process. Given the nature of the role and the tireless efforts and campaigning of so many people—not least the noble Lord, but also other parliamentarians, Bishop James Jones and, in particular, the Hillsborough victims and their families—for the establishment of the IPA, it is of the utmost importance that we get this right. On that basis, the Government intend to recruit the standing advocate through the public appointments process.

To remind noble Lords, theprocess is operated under the Governance Code on Public Appointments and is regulated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The scheme will ensure that the competition for the role is fair, open and transparent. It will provide the opportunity for anyone with the appropriate skills and experience to apply and help to ensure that we will have as a diverse a range of candidates as possible to choose from.

I would also like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Wills, that the public appointments process already provides the opportunity for the appropriate Select Committee to interview a proposed candidate. If it would be helpful, I am open to discussing this point further with the noble Lord. Indeed, it is within the discretion of Select Committees to encourage potential candidates to apply. They can also hold a statutory officeholder to account once in post, as the noble Lord well knows. Additionally, we have also taken the step of ensuring, within this legislation, that the IPA will be subject to the scrutiny of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, which adds a further layer of accountability. Taken together with the pre-appointment scrutiny that the public appointments process already affords Select Committees, it is the Government’s belief that no changes to the process are required at this time.

I now turn to Amendments 123D and 124B. These add a specific mention so that the clauses apply only when additional advocates are appointed. I do not think these amendments are necessary; the legislation as drafted already covers the point the noble Lord is trying to make. Ultimately, the clauses in question are intended to allow the standing advocate to provide a leadership function to any additional advocates appointed alongside them. Where no additional advocates are appointed, the leadership function would not be needed or executed. These amendments are therefore not necessary.

Amendment 124A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wills, seeks to grant the standing advocate the right to request all the relevant powers to establish an inquiry; to impose a duty on the Secretary of State to answer any requests from the standing advocate within two weeks; to impose a duty on the Secretary of State to make an Oral Statement to the other place should they refuse any request; and to impose a duty on the Secretary of State to demonstrate that they have had regard to various factors while considering the public interest. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, asked me to clarify the Government’s policy intention in this area. The Government have always been clear that the purpose of the IPA scheme is to support victims of major incidents, rather than undertaking their own independent investigations. Our position remains unchanged. This amendment would run counter to the policy intention.

The noble Lord, Lord Wills, quoted the words of my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy in explaining the rationale for the Government’s approach. Briefly, the Government are of this view because they believe that giving the IPA investigatory powers could conflict with the work of other investigative authorities and risks duplicating or undermining them. I acknowledge all that the noble Lord said about the intended effect of his amendment. I am sure that he will know that, in recognition of the desire here and in the other place to see the IPA having a greater role in reviews, the Government announced additional functions for the standing advocate. The standing advocate’s functions, as set out in Clause 29, give it the ability to advise the Government on the most appropriate form of review mechanism in relation to a major incident and what the scope of that review should be. It will also have a vital role in relaying the views of victims in relation to this decision. The Government believe that this is the most appropriate form of involvement for an advocate to add value, without duplicating or undermining other processes.

While I obviously regret that the noble Lord and the Government are not at one on this issue, I hope he will welcome the shift that the Government have made. I did not close my ears to what he said; I also listened carefully to my noble friend Lady Sanderson. I would of course be happy to discuss this further with him and my noble friend in the coming weeks, as I know would my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy. For now, I hope that the noble Lord will not feel the need to move the amendment.

My noble friend Lady Sanderson asked me what engagement has taken place with victims in shaping the role of the advocate. I can tell her that, since March, we have written to victims and given them an inbox, and we are happy to keep those conversations going while operationalisation continues. We have also met the representatives of the Grenfell and Hillsborough families. Further to that, we wrote to the victims of Hillsborough, Grenfell and Manchester at each stage of the Bill where amendments were being made, and very much welcomed their engagement.

On the question of whether, if Horizon occurred today, the victims could write to the IPA and ask it to look into the matter, the advocate would be able to ask questions of public authorities, such as the Post Office, and could advise the Government if it became aware of a developing situation. However, it could not currently represent Horizon victims, because this would be retrospective. If an IPA had been in place at the time that that scandal emerged, then they could have spoken to it.

On the question of whether the advocate could support victims at inquiries, at statutory inquiries the chair is able to make provision for legal representation for core participants. The advocate would not represent victims in a legal capacity at either inquests or inquiries.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about—

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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I am sorry to intervene on the noble Earl. I may be an amendment or two later than the point in the speech which I address, but is he sure that Horizon would count as a major incident, bearing in mind the definition of major incident in Clause 28(2), where a major incident

“means an incident that … occurs in England or Wales after this section comes into force, … causes the death of, or serious harm to, a significant number of individuals, and … is declared … by the Secretary of State to be a major incident for the purposes of this Part”?

I can see that Horizon caused serious financial harm, but is that the harm envisaged? I am not sure that it is. Would the Secretary of State be entitled to declare a major incident in the Horizon circumstances?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I think we have already debated the latitude that the Secretary of State enjoys in interpreting the word “significant” when we debated the previous group of amendments. The noble Lord has asked a very fair question; I perhaps should not have rushed into an answer to the question I was given on Horizon in particular. It might be wise if, rather than go further at the Dispatch Box, I wrote to the noble Lord about the Horizon case specifically.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about the IPA’s secretarial and admin support; that was also touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Marks. We will be coming to that in the fourth group of amendments, so if they will allow, we can defer the point to that debate, which my noble friend Lord Roborough will be responding to.

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Lord Wills Portrait Lord Wills (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who has spoken to this group of amendments. I think everyone, with the exception of the Minister, has spoken broadly in support of them. As always, I am particularly grateful to the Minister for his extremely courteous and open response to quite a weighty volume of amendments which covered quite a lot of ground.

On the basic question of further engagement with Ministers and officials, I would be delighted. I am extremely grateful for the offer, and I hope we can arrange something in the very near future, in good time before Report, to deal with some of these questions. Quite a lot of them are details of drafting, and I may well have misunderstood the intent of the drafting. It may be that some further clarification is needed. These are details in the drafting of the amendments, and I am very grateful to move forward on them. The review question, dealt with in Amendment 133ZA, is similarly complex, and I am glad that, when we spoke a few days ago, the Minister and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, seemed to welcome the principle. It would be good if we could clarify that and bolt it down to something practical that will work.

Amendment 124A is on the crucial question of fact-finding and transparency. I think the noble Lord, Lord Marks, referred to it as a modest amendment. If I had any hope of the Government accepting something more radical, I would have been far less modest, but I do not, I am afraid. The Minister’s response confirmed my worries about this. He repeated what has always been the Government’s position: that the role of the advocate is essentially a pastoral one—that advising the Secretary of State, as the Minister just described, is really only a baby step away from what is essentially a pastoral role. That really is not sufficient. Merely reiterating the Government’s purpose does not justify the purpose; it only shows that, for some reason I really do not understand—I really do not understand it, because I can see no practical benefit of it at all, to anybody—the Government are resistant to giving the public advocate further powers.

It is not a question of defensiveness over a particular issue. As the Minister said, the Bill is not retrospective at the moment, although I welcome his indication that he may be able to introduce that element of retrospection. I am frankly baffled. Timeliness is so important for victims who are suffering unimaginable trauma and grief, and all of whom, in their different ways, are seeking closure, because they fail to understand what has happened to their loved ones, out of a clear blue sky, and are given no explanation for why what happened has happened. As the magisterial report on Hillsborough by Bishop James, the former Bishop of Liverpool, shows, these delays allow those in power to construct false narratives about what happened. We saw that graphically at Hillsborough, when the Sun newspaper and the former Prime Minister told lies about football fans who lost their lives because of the negligence of the police.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I meant to respond to the very pertinent points the noble Lord made on the cost and duration of public inquiries. He is, of course, quite right. This is a matter of concern. It is not for a trivial reason that your Lordships’ House is looking at this very issue in one of its special committees at the moment. However, one of the advantages, as we see it, of the IPA will be that he will be able to recommend to the Secretary of State a non-statutory route to inquiring or looking into incidents. I am sure that his or her voice in making such a recommendation will, for entirely the reasons that the noble Lord cites, be a very powerful lever in the process.

Lord Wills Portrait Lord Wills (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Minister; he pre-empted me, as he could see where I was going to go next with this. He is quite right that the Inquiries Act 2005 is increasingly widely recognised as clunky and in need of revision, but that is not for now. That is inevitably going to be a lengthy process, and certainly for another Parliament, but we have this Bill in front of us.

Giving the public advocate power to advise the Secretary of State has no teeth at all. We know how Ministers take advice: sometimes they do and sometimes they do not. In the meantime, the victims, for whom this Bill is intended, go on suffering. While the Secretary of State decides and deliberates and moves on, is sacked, reshuffled and all the rest of it, the victims go on suffering the agony of not knowing what has happened to their loved ones, while over and again those in power use taxpayers’ money to construct false narratives. There is no end in sight to that in this Bill.

We have the opportunity to give real power to the independent public advocate, speaking on behalf of victims who have been left abandoned, over and again, for years and decades. The person who is meant to represent them “may” be given the power to advise the Secretary of State, who can then do what he or she likes, with no accountability—nothing. I urge the Government to look again at this.

Notwithstanding the obvious problems with public inquiries, here is a chance to do something. We have the model. The Hillsborough Independent Panel, which was set up by a Labour Government and championed by a Conservative Home Secretary and Prime Minister in the right honourable Theresa May MP, with cross-party support, is universally accepted as a model of how these things can operate. Yet the Government persist in rejecting the possibility for the independent public advocate to set up something like that in future.

Why? We know that it can save money. We know that it can produce a timely explanation of what happened, which is of incalculable benefit to victims. Yet the Government go on resisting it. Timeliness, cost benefits and transparency; what is not to love about those virtues? Yet the Government resist it. As I say, I am baffled. We will return to these issues on Report. I am grateful to everyone, and particularly to the Minister, for his approach to all this. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, this group concerns the obtaining of the views of victims by the standing advocate and their being taken into account, or relayed to the Secretary of State so that they can be taken into account. The central point was that made by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. If victims of major incidents are to be given a voice and that voice is to be heard, they need, under this scheme, the standing advocate to be that voice—a voice that co-ordinates and articulates the victims’ response. It will often be a joint or combined voice and the stronger for that.

Under Amendment 124, the type of review or inquiry held would be the subject of the views that must be obtained and relayed. It is a matter on which the views of victims are strongly held. They are often views that are in conflict with the views of the Government. That is a central point about independence.

The next point under this amendment is their views on

“their treatment by public authorities in response to the major incident”.

Again, this is an area of not invariable but regular conflict between victims and government. The questions that arise are, “Was enough done to avoid the incident?”, “Was what was done done in time?”, and “Were sufficient resources devoted to relief and recovery after the incident?”. All those are crucial issues on which the voice of victims needs to be independently heard and taken into account.

Amendment 125 concerns the appointment of additional advocates and says the Secretary of State must seek victims’ views on whether to appoint additional advocates and whom to appoint. Again, that is a requirement that is plainly right, because the identity of the advocate and the appointment of additional advocates matter to victims, who are extremely concerned to know that the investigation and any inquiries are going to be properly carried out.

Finally, the views of the victims to be taken into account include the views that they express before the termination of an appointment of an advocate. Again, that is self-evidently right. We have in a later group an amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, removing the right of the Secretary of State to remove the standing advocate on such grounds as he thinks appropriate. I put my name to that. That is an important amendment that we will address when it comes, but it goes hand in hand with this amendment because the purpose of both reflects the reality that inquiries into major incidents may cast light on failings of government or organs of government that may cause the Government embarrassment.

One of the chief virtues of the independent public advocate system proposed in this Bill is precisely its independence of government. It is therefore essential that an advocate appointed to represent victims’ interests should be clear and free to carry out those functions fearlessly. If that involves criticism of government or individual Ministers, those criticisms should be made and investigated. The views of victims on the termination of an advocate’s appointment will therefore be central to that process. They should be central to any consideration of the termination of an advocate’s employment. That should not be left to the Secretary of State without regard to the views of victims.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I express my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for these amendments, which bring us to an important dimension of any major disaster or incident: the need to give families a voice in decisions about the support they receive. I have a great deal of sympathy with the aims of these amendments. I will take them in turn.

Amendment 124 would require the standing advocate to obtain the views of victims of major incidents regarding any review or inquiry held into the incident and their treatment by public authorities, and then communicate those views to the Secretary of State. Let me say immediately that there is no disagreement here between the noble Baroness and the Government as regards the desired outcome. We agree that an important function of the standing advocate will be to champion victims’ voices to the Government and facilitate better engagement between them and government in the aftermath of a major incident. We agree that part of this involves the standing advocate understanding the views of victims and relaying them to the Secretary of State.

It is the Government’s intention that through Clause 29(2)(a) the advocate will communicate the views of victims of a major incident to the Secretary of State. This could include their views regarding any government-initiated review or inquiry into the major incident and their treatment by public authorities. This will provide victims with agency in the process, which is vital. It is therefore a matter of the best way to deliver this policy. The Government’s position is that it is best achieved without the Bill being overly prescriptive, and with Clause 29(2)(a) providing the foundation. A particular advantage of this approach is that the standing advocate would be able to advise on the full range of review mechanisms, including non-statutory inquiries—as I said a while ago to the noble Lord, Lord Wills—which by their nature cannot be specified in legislation. These are valuable options and can be very successful. The Hillsborough Independent Panel has already been mentioned as a good example.

The noble Lord’s Amendment 125 would require the Secretary of State to consider the views of victims before making the appointment of additional advocates. The intention behind the appointment of additional advocates has always been to prevent a single advocate being overwhelmed, or to ensure where necessary the specialist knowledge needed to provide swift and tailored support to victims. One of the key functions of the standing advocate, as outlined in Clause 29, will be to advise the Secretary of State as to the interests of victims, and the Government would consider this to include advice on whether additional advocates are needed and who may be suitable to appoint. This advice could include the views of victims which they had gathered.

Furthermore, as the Secretary of State has already committed, we will publish a policy statement that will give additional detail about the factors the Secretary of State will consider when appointing additional advocates, including the needs of victims. We believe this to be a better and more flexible approach to ensure that additional advocates can be deployed swiftly when needed. I am concerned that if we were to proceed as the noble Lord suggests with this amendment, a consultation process with the victims would be required prior to any further advocates being appointed. A consultation has the potential to unduly delay the appointment of further advocates and reduce the agility of this scheme to react to the developing situation. Furthermore, the last thing that we would wish to impose on victims during their grief is an additional bureaucratic consultation process.

I come lastly to the noble Lord’s similar Amendment 128, which says that the Secretary of State must consider the views of victims before an advocate’s appointment is terminated. There are a few scenarios in which we imagine that the Secretary of State will use his or her discretion to determine the appointment of an advocate using this power. I will speak to this in more detail in response to the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in a later grouping. However, I believe it would be helpful to briefly summarise those scenarios.

First, should additional advocates be appointed, it is right that the Secretary of State has the ability to scale down the number of advocates should the need no longer exist when the peak of activity is over. Secondly, the Government have always been clear that we will prioritise rapid appointment of an advocate following a major incident to ensure that victims are supported from an early stage. However, it may be necessary, following a greater understanding of the developing needs of the victims, or conversely the capacity of an advocate, to substitute one advocate for another. Thirdly, this power may be used to replace an advocate who does not command the confidence of the victims. I hope that those explanations are helpful to reassure the noble Baroness as to the intent behind this provision.

Lastly, as with the noble Baroness’s Amendment 125, I am concerned that, should the Secretary of State be required to carry out a consultation process with the victims, that would severely cut across the ability of the scheme to be flexible and adapt quickly to changing demands.

I believe that victim agency—if I may use that word again—is important, and that has come through strongly during the passage of the Bill, not least in another place. While the amendments serve as a reminder of that principle, I do not believe they are necessary.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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I am very grateful to my noble friend for so admirably speaking to Amendments 78 and 79—I will not cover them again—and to all noble Lords who have spoken. I want to focus my contribution initially on Amendment 106, which I have also signed. I have talked to Stella Creasy both about her own experience and about mine.

I had two incidents with my stalker-harasser. The first was at the beginning of the 2005 election, when, coming out of a Sky studio, I was told that my local newspaper wanted to speak to me about the fact that I was under investigation by Special Branch for electoral fraud—which was the first I had heard of it. It transpired that the person who was then identified as my stalker had reported me to Special Branch for falsifying my nomination papers and had then issued a press release for the weekly deadline of my local newspaper—which rather left me in a difficult position to discuss it.

A few hours later, my agent and I sat with two officers from Special Branch, who were extremely helpful. They were clearly more senior than the police officer that Stella encountered, because they were very clear that this was malicious. Worse than that, it was an intent to waste police time and money on an investigation that had no cause. They had briefly examined the allegation about why my nomination papers were false and deemed that this was malicious too. As a result, the whole problem went away, other than a severe talking-to to the person who had made the complaint.

Three years on—I think I mentioned this in one of the earlier sessions—one of the letters to the newspapers about me alleged that I was not fulfilling my role as a foster parent correctly by being a candidate. They had also reported me to social services. At that point, it became extremely helpful for the social worker, whom we knew quite well, to be able to ring Special Branch and say, “There is a malicious campaign going on,” and the whole thing just stopped. Is that not what should happen in every single case where it is clearly malicious?

I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, about Waltham Forest. It seems to me that they have lost sight of the actual case here. While it is important that both Stella Creasy and her children are appropriately protected, to do so following a malicious complaint in the terms of that complaint seems to me to be completely and utterly wrong.

From these Benches, we support all the other amendments that have been laid, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, for introducing amendments on third-party materials and therapy and counselling data. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for her Amendments 78 and 79. As my noble friend Lord Marks outlined, this is absolutely at the heart of giving victims justice during a process and after a process. They are, perhaps, very detailed amendments— I am very aware of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, about the police needing a balance, but there is a way through that. At the moment, the balance is entirely against the rights of the victim, and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond in a positive way.

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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The law is there to enable them to do that. However, where they have an advocate, that person can act on their behalf. I recognise what the noble Baroness is implying in that question. All this is an extremely stressful and traumatic process for the individual involved.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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May I pick up on the Minister’s response to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton? The whole problem in this group is about the onus that is continually placed on the victim. It would be really helpful for the victim and those supporting them if there were an ability to short-cut some of that access. It would be enormously helpful if the Minister could go back and perhaps seek advice from the ICO about whether there are exceptional circumstances like that, because it is such a burden.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I will be very happy to do that because I fully recognise the seriousness of the issue, and in particular the appalling events that Stella Creasy had to endure.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
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The noble Earl has laid out, in his usual exemplary way, the way that the system is meant to work and the way it is designed. I suggest that the acid test would be to go to the officials concerned in Waltham Forest and ask them to describe, without leading the witness, exactly how they see what the noble Earl has just described—how they understand it—and how they therefore see what they can and should do. I suspect the results would be some distance away from what the noble Earl has just described, and therein lies the problem. It is fine to have a system, a process and a code that are meant to work, but if they are not working, which they clearly were not in this case, to put the onus on the individual victim to try to rectify that does not seem like justice, and neither does it seem sensible or proportionate.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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I have heard the strength of feeling on this, and I will be more than happy to take the issues raised back to my colleagues and officials in the department. I will be happy to write to noble Lords about this, and I would also be happy to arrange for my noble friend and interested Peers to meet me, or my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy, to discuss the issues that have arisen.

I turn to Amendment 103, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton. We recognise the importance of ensuring that the distinct needs and experiences of children are reflected in the code of practice that the noble Lord mentions, and that is why we have included specific guidance in the draft code for handling victim information requests for children. I agree with the noble Lord that it is essential to make sure that the final code reflects best practice in this area, and that is why my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy has instructed officials to review the list of statutory consultees for this code of practice.

I turn next to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, which seek to require the development of proposals for schemes to give victims of rape access to free independent legal advice and representation. I agree that it is extremely important that victims are confident in their rights and are aware of those rights, particularly when preparing for trial and when requests for their personal information are made; I found much that I could agree with much of the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Marks.

We wanted to ensure that our understanding of this issue is as comprehensive as possible and, to that end, the Government asked the Law Commission to consider the merits of independent legal advice for victims as part of its comprehensive review into the use of evidence in sexual offence prosecutions. The consultation closed in September last year, and we expect the final report to be delivered in the autumn of this year. To avoid making changes at this stage that could pre-empt the outcome of the Law Commission’s review, and to ensure that we are considering all the evidence as a whole, we will consider the Law Commission’s report and respond in due course. There is no reason why the tenor of this debate should not form part of the Government’s deliberations once we have the Law Commission’s report in our hands.

Perhaps I could add something around the therapeutic support issue. Victims of rape should not be told that they cannot access the therapeutic support that they need to heal from the trauma that they have endured. The Crown Prosecution Service pre-trial therapy guidance is absolutely clear that therapy should not be delayed for any reason connected with a criminal investigation or prosecution. The guidance sets out clearly that it is for the victim to make decisions about therapy with their therapist and that criminal justice practitioners should play no role in the decision-making process.

In the rape review action plan, we recognised that victims of rape frequently experience intrusive requests for personal information. To improve that situation, we have taken a number of actions, including legislating through the Bill to introduce a statutory code for the police to ensure that requests for victim information are made only when necessary, proportionate and relevant to a reasonable line of inquiry. The police must also provide full information to the victim on what information has been requested, why it has been requested and how it will be used. A draft code of practice has been published. When it is finalised, it will be statutory, and police will have a duty to have regard to the code when making requests. I hope that that is helpful.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. I ask whether the code will, in fact, introduce what the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, called a privilege against requests made for records of therapeutic interventions. That is one of the problems: therapy is deterred by the fear of a future request for notes to be disclosed. That is a very serious issue.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I recognise the seriousness of the issue. I have no advice in my brief on that, but I will be happy to write to the noble Lord on that point.

Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
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My Lords, it is exactly as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said. He put it so succinctly, more so than I did—I would go on, because I am so passionate about this.

I have admiration for the noble Earl. What worries me in all this legislation is that it is so simple to say, but when it is enacted on a traumatised rape victim, it is not as simple as joining the dots. I am up for having further conversations, but this is for the professionals. While we can stand here and say this, I am still going through the criminal justice system, and believe you me: I could write another book on how it does not do a service to victims—and I am in the position that I am in, as is the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton; it does not follow.

For rape victims, it is really hard-hitting when they are going to a SARC centre to be forensically examined, and they are talking to individual people. While we want to have trust and faith in our police officers, the police are so not like what we will have in statutory guidance. Also, what do we class as reasonable? Everybody within our criminal justice system has a different definition. It should not be for the victim to think, “What is reasonable?”, when they just want to do what is best.

I really want this to work, but I wish we could be cautious and understand that the people we are talking about are traumatised. They may have been raped not once or twice: it could have been in their home. Everything is intrusive, and it is down to the victim to have a voice to go forward. I wish we could get that in the guidance and the legislation, because it is their lives that we are speaking about and it is their lives that we need to put back on a level playing field.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My Lords, I will also come in on this. I have huge respect for the noble Earl, and I have huge respect for the police, but I am afraid I cannot accept the idea that all 43 police forces and all chief constables will look at, understand and know the code of conduct, and that this will somehow be better than a judge saying that something is right or wrong when it comes to releasing therapeutic records. I would certainly like to meet him and others about this, ahead of Report.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I am the first to agree that a code of practice takes us only a certain distance. We also need to ensure that there is proper training for police and others. We had a short debate about this earlier in the week, and I hope I gave some useful information to noble Lords on that front. I am, of course, very happy to speak to my noble friends about this—as I am sure my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy will be, once he gets better. It is not a simple matter, and I did not intend to suggest that it is.

On the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Bertin, as I have already said, it is vital that victims of crime can access the justice system and get the support they need without fear that their privacy will be violated. I am aware of concerns that deeply private information about victims, including notes from counselling sessions, have sometimes been used inappropriately to discredit victims—in particular, victims of rape and serious sexual offences—seeking justice through the criminal justice system. This can, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, pointed out a minute ago, prevent victims from accessing the support they need in the first instance. That should not be the case, and I am grateful to my noble friend for raising the topic through the amendment.

My noble friend’s amendment seeks to put in place a judicial barrier for disclosure of counselling records and, with some exceptions, to create a requirement for the court not to grant access to this material where the disclosure was made in confidence by the victim to a person providing support services in a professional capacity.

Through the Bill, we are placing a new statutory duty on the police, as I have said, to request victims’ information from a third party only where necessary and proportionate in pursuit of a reasonable line of inquiry. Police must also provide information to the victim on what information has been requested, why, and how it will be used.

As I have outlined, the Government have asked the Law Commission to examine the trial process in sexual offence prosecutions and consider the law, guidance and practice relating to the use of evidence. This review will include consideration of whether a court direction should be required before accessing third-party material such as counselling records, and consideration of international examples where this system is in place.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. I have not spoken in this group so far, because I agreed with everything said by the proposers and did not want to take up the Committee’s time, but, in the light of what I have just heard—in general, but also specifically about counselling notes— I feel moved to. A general obligation on necessity and proportionality is not going to cut it, I am afraid, because counselling and therapeutic notes are special. Just as legal advice is special, and subject to special protection in the courtroom, there is no reason why we cannot act to make such notes special too.

I appreciate that the noble Earl is heroically stepping into another’s brief, no doubt at short notice, but I think that it is for the department to reflect on the quality of thinking so far. Waiting for the Law Commission will take too long. There are already too many women who have not come forward to report their rapes because of the well-publicised problem with counselling notes. They are being counselled by public authorities to choose between counselling or taking their criminal case forward—this is totally unacceptable.

My goodness, the irony of relying on general principles in the Human Rights Act is perhaps the richest I have heard in a long time, given some of the positions that senior members of the Government are taking on that Act and the ECHR. I hope the noble Earl will reflect on these answers or urge others responsible to reflect.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, having tasked the Law Commission, as we have, with preparing a full-scale set of recommendations in this area, it would be unthinkable for us to pre-empt its report. I am afraid I must disagree with the noble Baroness. I realise how emotive and stressful an area this is for anyone who is intimately involved in it day to day, but that is how we have to proceed.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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I want to make a technical point about the Law Commission review, which I have full respect for. As I understand it, the commission will not be looking into pre-charge situations, so the amendment would still stand as that subject is not being tackled by the Law Commission. I reiterate that I just do not buy the idea that police officers all around the country are necessarily going to have the right training to enact the responsibilities that we are putting on them. We really will be pursuing this, I am afraid.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I hear what my noble friend has said. I was able to give what I hoped was helpful information in our debate on Monday about police training, but it is by no means an overnight process, as I am the first to acknowledge. Still, work is under way, and it is surely an important ingredient in the mix.

We think that the Law Commission is best placed to conduct a holistic review of the existing system and to make recommendations for improvement where necessary, and the Government are most reluctant to make changes at this stage that could pre-empt the outcome of its review. However, we can all look forward to closely reviewing and responding to its findings and recommendations when they are published later in the year.

Before I turn to Amendment 173, I shall address the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, about victims with limited mental capacity. There are general points in the code about enhanced rights if the victim’s quality of evidence is likely to be affected because of a mental disorder. They may be supported by a registered intermediary if a mental disorder affects their ability to communicate. Some communications under the code might be done with a nominated family spokesperson if the victim’s mental impairment means that they are unable to communicate or lack the capacity to do so.

The Law Commission is looking at the impact of rape myths on people with disabilities or mental health conditions and how the current legislation and practice of the use of intermediaries is working in respect of complainants in sexual offence cases with disabilities and disorders.

Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful for that response to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I did a report on registered intermediaries. Again, I mean no disrespect to the Minister, because this is a very passionate area that we are speaking about, but we have a shortage of registered intermediaries, and they are the ones who train the police to get the best evidence.

I am concerned about people with autism or special needs, and even victims who have nothing apart from their trauma. My concern is that there is a shortage of registered intermediaries, and the reason is that they were not getting paid to do the job. I ask the Minister to write to me to see where we are on that position. While he has given a copy-and-paste response, in a sense, it does not help to fix the problem for people with special needs.

I have met a couple of victims of rape who were disabled. They thought they were raped because they were disabled, but it has never left me that when they went through the court trial they found that those people were on the web and looking at disabled people. It was not because that victim was disabled. So I am concerned. The Minister does not have to answer now, but I ask him to write to me about where we are on registered intermediaries after that report six or seven years ago.

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.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I open by agreeing with the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, that the overall path of this group of amendments is consistent with the harm panel’s recommendations.

In debating the group, I can see that there may be drafting improvements to be done. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Meston, for the points he made regarding the drafting of particular amendments.

I remind noble Lords that I sit as a family magistrate in London, and have been one for about 10 years. About 80% of the work that we deal with in our practice is private law, and so very much the types of cases that we are considering in this group of amendments.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti for the way she divided this group into two—Jade’s law and then the amendments that focus on using the family court to perpetrate or perpetuate abuse, which is almost always abuse of the woman.

I will not go through the amendments individually, because they have been fairly widely debated, but I will make some particular points, the first of which is on Amendment 82, which the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, questioned and spoke to. The point she made was about the medicalisation of parental alienation, and I think she argued that the courts should decide.

Some noble Lords in the Committee will have taken part, about three years ago, in the Second Reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill, as it was then, when the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, spoke passionately about parental alienation. She absolutely believes that parental alienation is real, and that she experienced it with her own sons. In my experience of when domestic abuse allegations are made, which is fairly frequent, it is not an unusual scenario where the woman is making accusations of domestic abuse against the man and the man is applying for a child arrangements order to restart contact with his children, and he is making allegations of parental alienation. When that happens at magistrates’ level, we kick it upstairs.

We know it is a complex area, where, as the noble Lord, Lord Meston, said, there has been recent advice from the president on this matter, and we know that, particularly when there are wealthy individuals involved, there will be any number of experts who are brought into the court to try to resolve cases. We see these allegations a lot at my level, and we try, if possible, to resolve them there, but if they are persisted with, we will put them up to district judge or circuit judge level.

I want to reiterate what the noble Lord, Lord Meston, said about the Crown Courts putting in place protection orders to prohibit repeated applications and that this should be a decision for the family court. It is something that is routinely done in the family court, when you see persistent applicants who are abusing the process, and I argue that it is usually evident when we see it and they are orders that are regularly put in place.

The other point that the noble Lord, Lord Meston, made, was on Amendment 89, which I support. He questioned the degree of drafting in the amendment. The point I would make is that while there may well be shortcomings in the drafting, the direction of travel is clear and consistent with the rest of the amendments in the group. That may well be something that this side of the House would want to persist with at later stages of the Bill, depending on how the Minister replies to this debate.

In summary, family courts present some of the most difficult cases that I deal with. You see more tears in a family court than in any other court structure. I had a meeting this morning with a group representing fathers. This is an unusual group: you do not see them that much, and not much lobbying material has been sent to me regarding this or the Bill as a whole. The group that came to see me this morning was called Dads Unlimited, and its particular interest is in male suicide and male self-harm. The point that it was making to me—I must admit that it had some pretty persuasive data—was that, when men are involved in the family court system and making applications to court, they hide their mental vulnerabilities. They do not go to see their GP, and they do not want to talk about it, because they believe that it will be used against them when they are making their applications to court to restart contact with their children.

This is a difficult issue, and I think everybody understands that. Nevertheless, these amendments are trying to codify and build in protections to reduce abuse within family courts as far as possible, and I support them.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for tabling this group of amendments, which take us deep into the heart of the family court and its proceedings. The noble Baroness speaks compellingly and with great passion on these matters. I think she would agree with me that family court proceedings involve some of the most sensitive and difficult decisions that any court has to make, resulting as they do in often profound consequences for parents, children and whole families.

All the amendments in this group have noble aims. They seek to protect vulnerable children and victims of domestic abuse, and that is an agenda that I and the Government strongly support. I shall address each in turn, but I need to start by airing what I see as a difficulty running through these amendments: in one way or another, a number of them seek to curtail the family court’s discretion to take individual decisions on a case-specific basis on what is in the best interests of the children involved. With enormous respect to the noble Baroness, whose experience is much wider than mine, we need to be a bit careful here. The paramountcy principle, enshrined originally in the Children Act, provides the bedrock of all family court decisions. It is a principle that I firmly believe we must protect and uphold.

I start with Amendment 89. As the noble Baroness explained, it seeks to exempt from the provisions of Clause 16 victims of domestic abuse who then kill their abuser; this is Jade’s law, as she mentioned. None of us can have anything but the deepest sympathy for people who find themselves dealing with these extremely difficult and challenging situations. That is why my response on this amendment is that the Bill already allows for this protection. Clause 16 gives a clear route to protect victims of domestic abuse who have killed their abuser. It allows the Crown Court not to suspend parental responsibility in cases of voluntary manslaughter where it would not be in the interests of justice to do so. Our intention in including this exemption is that it could be used in situations where a victim of domestic abuse kills their abuser after a campaign of abuse. I hope the noble Baroness will find that assurance helpful.

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Lord Meston Portrait Lord Meston (CB)
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My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt, and I understand the drift of what the noble Earl is saying, but all I was suggesting was that, although I fully understand the desirability in many cases of having Section 91(14) orders—and suggest that in these extreme cases they should be the norm—it should not be done in the Crown Court but should be part of the mandatory requirements at the review hearing that will follow shortly afterwards in the family court. It should, at the very least, be something in the statute that the reviewing family court should be required to consider.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I am very grateful to the noble Lord for those comments and will ensure that they are fed back to my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy, and the department as a whole.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I take the opportunity of this conversation to request that, when the noble Earl feeds back to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, he emphasises that the concern here was not the Crown Court versus the family court and disrespect for any court’s expertise; it was for families being dragged into another process, possibly without legal aid, and going through the trauma of that procedure when they have just lost a loved one to murder by the spouse or partner. If, somehow or other, the Government could consider—the noble Earl dropped some breadcrumbs when he spoke of the duties of local authorities—a way to relieve the burden on the families who have to spend money and go through further trauma, that would be very welcome.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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I take the point about burdens placed on families at exactly the point they should not be, and I will feed that in.

Amendments 85 and 96 seek the automatic suspension of parental responsibility in cases where a parent has been convicted of sexual offences

“against the child, or a child in the family”.

I understand the motivations behind the amendments, but there are good reasons for limiting Clause 16 to instances of murder and manslaughter. Where one parent has killed the other, the children involved will, in many cases, have no one left to exercise parental responsibility apart from the perpetrator. It is absolutely right that, in those circumstances, those caring for the children are spared the burden of commencing family proceedings to restrict the offender’s parental responsibility.

Where a parent has committed another serious offence, the situation is very different. The other parent will, in most cases, be able to exercise their own parental responsibility and, if required, apply to the family court to restrict the offender’s parental responsibility. Legal aid is available for these applications.

There is a further point here. There may, and almost certainly will, be many cases in which an offender is not seeking to abuse anyone, or even to exercise their parental responsibility, and the children and family involved therefore have no interest in going through court proceedings to see their parental responsibility formally restricted. In those scenarios, it is unlikely to be in the best interests of the child and their family to be drawn into court proceedings that would inevitably be triggered by the automatic suspension, and the further distress that this will cause. Again, these amendments have a worthy aim but there is already a clear legal route for these restrictions to be put in place, and I hope that provides some reassurance.

Amendment 110 seeks to ensure that only experts regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council can undertake psychological assessments in family court cases. As the noble Baroness knows, the instruction of an expert within the framework of Section 13 is a matter for judicial discretion. There are, however, clear rules governing the use of experts in the family court. Practice direction 25B covers the role of experts in the family court, and an annexe outlines the 11 standards that experts must comply with. Where an expert’s profession is not regulated, it details the alternate obligations to ensure compliance with the appropriate professional standards.

I have already mentioned the Family Justice Council’s draft guidance on responding to allegations of alienating behaviour. The guidance notes that only experts regulated by the HCPC should give evidence in cases where alienating behaviours are alleged. Despite the measures already in place, and the upcoming guidance, it is clear that concerns exist. Officials are considering what else can be done in this area. I am mindful that we are dealing with an existing system of judicial discretion, so I am keen that any additional action does not disrupt the safeguards already in place but addresses the legitimate concerns that have been raised.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for what she said on this topic. I hope she is reassured that we are taking seriously the issue of unregulated experts and seeking to resolve this matter through the appropriate route.

Amendment 111 seeks to remove the presumption of parental involvement in domestic abuse cases and to prohibit unsupervised contact between any person and a child where they are awaiting trial, are under police investigation, are on bail, or are going through criminal proceedings for domestic abuse, sexual violence or a child abuse-related offence. I recognise how important the issue of parental involvement is. However, the existing legislation, namely the Children Act 1989, provides sufficient safeguards to address these concerns. Section 1(6) of that Act, first, requires courts to consider whether a parent can be involved in the child’s life in a way that does not put the child at risk of suffering harm. The presumption of parental involvement applies only if that test is met. The presumption, where it does apply, is also rebuttable where there is evidence that the involvement will not further a child’s welfare. The court must treat the child’s welfare as its paramount concern.

In addition, practice direction 12J clearly sets out the factors that the court should consider when deciding whether to make an order for a parent to have involvement with a child. The court must be satisfied that the physical and emotional safety of the child and the parent can be secured before, during and after any contact.

I appreciate the aims of this amendment, and the noble Baroness will be aware that the Government are currently reviewing how the courts apply the review of the presumption of parental involvement, which will be published in due course. However, as there is already a clear legislative route for the court to determine if parental involvement should be prevented to protect the child. I therefore believe the proposed amendment is unnecessary.

Next, I will address Amendment 117, which seeks to prevent the family court from ordering a victim of domestic abuse to disclose their medical records to their abuser, unless there are exceptional circumstances. The Family Procedure Rules give the court the power to control the disclosure of evidence. Rule 22 provides that the court may give directions about the type and nature of the evidence it can order, alongside outlining the nature of the evidence required to reach a decision. The court will also decide how any evidence should be placed before the court. Rule 4.1(3)(b) gives the court the power to make an order for disclosure and inspection, including the disclosure of documents, as it thinks fit.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for bringing forward the amendments in this group. All but one relate to the important issue of the definition of a major incident and its scope. I will address them in turn.

First, I will respond to Amendments 119A, 119B and 119C from the noble Lord, Lord Wills. These amendments seek to expand the scope of the independent public advocate scheme to include an event or series of linked events which have occurred prior to this section coming into force. In practical terms, as he has made clear, they would introduce a retrospective element to the scheme, allowing the Secretary of State to declare historic events as major incidents and to appoint an advocate accordingly. The noble Lord has brought this important issue to the Government’s attention. It is right that we should debate it.

At the outset, I need to state the Government’s position. Incidents which occur wholly—I emphasise “wholly”—before this part is commenced are not in the scope of this scheme. I recognise that the tragic events of the past and the experiences of those impacted by them have clearly highlighted the need for the independent public advocate. I do not mean to suggest otherwise. However, the IPA is designed as a forward-looking initiative to assist victims in the immediate aftermath of a major incident when there are investigations, inquests and inquiries into what happened. The scheme is intended as a way of providing support at an early stage. Given this, the Government believe that there would be limited additional benefit in appointing an advocate to support victims of incidents where the official processes are at an advanced stage or may have already concluded.

As the Bill stands, I can confirm that the definition of a major incident already covers either a single-time incident, or a series of linked incidents. It does not allow for the advocate to support the families of those who died or individuals who were seriously harmed by any linked incidents which occurred prior to the Bill’s commencement. Having said that, I recognise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wills, that recent events have shown that it can take time for events and their circumstances to become clear. There may be instances where these events do not occur during the same time period. I was grateful for the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, on that theme.

I understand the importance of getting right the definition of a major incident. I have therefore asked my officials to consider it further. If it would be helpful, I would be happy to continue engaging with the noble Lord about this so that we can return to it on Report.

I turn to Amendment 120 from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, which seeks to expand the definition of a major incident and therefore the IPA scheme. The amendment would allow the Secretary of State to declare a major incident in circumstances that do not meet the threshold of a significant number of deaths or those suffering serious harm but attract a significant public interest.

It is important for me to make it clear that the impetus for establishing a public advocate has been the experience of victims following past disasters that were exceptional, presented unique challenges and involved multiple organs of the state, which victims found difficult to navigate or have their voices heard by. The Government believe that it is important that the scope of this scheme is controlled and is clearly focused on assisting victims of major incidents which are, by their nature, rare. This amendment would set a possible expectation that the IPA might be appointed to support victims who have been involved in smaller-scale incidents, especially those where there are very few injuries or fatalities, which is not the policy intention.

There is a further and possibly helpful point that I can make. Arguably, the Secretary of State already has a broad discretion in the Bill to declare a major incident and to interpret the term “significant”. For those reasons, the Government, at this time, do not believe that this change is necessary. The public interest will also be one of the considerations that the Secretary of State will have in mind when making their decision, and more detail on this will be included in the policy statement.

Lastly, proposed new subsection (2B)(a) of this amendment seems to imply that blame or liability must have been found prior to this power being exercised. If the Secretary of State were to act quickly, they may risk prejudicing any subsequent investigation, which would not serve the interests of victims.

I am afraid that the amendment runs counter to the Government’s policy intention, but I hope that it is helpful that I have pointed out that potential element of discretion that is built into the wording in the Bill, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, will understand why we cannot support the amendment.

Lastly, I turn to Amendment 126 from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, which would require the Secretary of State to obtain the concurrence, or in other words the agreement, of Welsh Ministers before appointing an advocate in respect of a major incident occurring in Wales. The purpose of the independent public advocate scheme is to support victims of major incidents. This Government agree that these functions fall within the devolved competence of the Welsh Senedd, with the exception of the amendments to the Coroners and Justice Act, which Clause 34 provides for.

The Ministry of Justice has engaged with officials in the Welsh Government during the development of this policy. It is clear that there is great benefit to having a single scheme that covers England and Wales to provide consistency of service. Our discussions with the Welsh Government are ongoing, as we seek a legislative consent Motion for these measures. Ministers in the UK Government will write to Welsh Ministers shortly, setting out a proposal for their role with regard to declaring a major incident which occurs wholly in Wales, and the subsequent appointment of an advocate in respect of that major incident.

I hope that that reassures the noble and learned Lord that this is a live issue that is very much on the radar of my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy. He is very much aware of the devolution implications, and we are actively working to find a solution. The Government will bring forward any necessary amendments on Report, and I am happy to return to this topic at that time.

Lord Wills Portrait Lord Wills (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who has spoken in this short discussion and to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, for his remarks, and particularly for his cogent justifications for these amendments in terms of retrospection, which were an extremely valuable contribution to the debate. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson, and to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, for their support too.

I am also extremely grateful to the Minister for his open mind on this issue, if I may take it that far—or at least a willingness to continue discussion on what is quite a crucial question. I am very happy to do that, and I shall withdraw the amendment shortly.

I just want to say a few words about the Minister’s comments. He stressed the word “wholly”—major incidents that happened wholly in the past. That is a very important word, because it means when the incident no longer has any impact on the victim. In most cases—to think of the bereaved or those who suffered, not necessarily directly but indirectly, as in the examples from both the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and my noble friend Lord Ponsonby—such incidents are by definition not wholly in the past. The postmasters’ suffering is not wholly in past, even though the damage was done in the past. Similarly, for the victims of blood transfusions and their relatives, and the victims of nuclear tests in the 1950s and 1960s, these are ongoing traumas. They are the people who need the support of the independent public advocate.

I am, as I say, very happy to carry on this discussion in the hope that we can find some sort of resolution. A large number of people are still grievously affected by these major incidents, and I hope that this rare legislative opportunity to help them can be seized. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, to repeat what I said earlier, I dealt with a couple of stalking cases relatively recently. Interestingly, they were both of women stalking men. It is a very difficult scenario and can get extremely complex when you are assessing behaviour over sometimes protracted lengths of time. I absolutely recognise the trauma that it inflicts on the victims.

I will open by looking through the other end of the telescope. As a magistrate, for every sentence I give, I put in place a victim surcharge. That money, which at the moment is 40% of any fine I put in place, goes into a victim and witness general fund. Can the Minister say where that money goes? Is it enough to fund all the victims’ services that we are talking about? Does it need topping up for the other victims’ services that are provided? Interestingly, when the fund was first introduced in 2007, it was set at about 10% of fines. Now it is 40%, so there has been a big increase in the amount of money going into that fund over the last few years.

In general, this group of amendments is about the funding and provision of victim support services. The theme from all noble Lords has been sustainability, predictability and consistency of funding. There are any number of organisations and charities supporting victims, sometimes on a small scale and sometimes on a large, integrated scale. I know from my experience of the Minerva project in Hammersmith in London that it is part of a wider network of support for women going through the criminal justice process, sometimes as victims and sometimes as perpetrators. There is a wide network of services, but it is uneven across the country and funded in different ways. They all aspire to sustainability of funding, as we have heard from all noble Lords, so that they can make best use of the available funding.

My noble friend Lady Lister spoke about economic coercive control in particular; I absolutely agree with the points she made. Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner, has been campaigning on this for many years. I am very glad that it is getting more recognition as an offence that should be brought to court if appropriate.

The noble Lord, Lord Russell, spoke earlier about the “child house” model. I went on that visit to the Lighthouse project with him. The general theme here is the integration of services to meet the particular needs of victims. I have some peripheral experience of that, but my most direct and relevant experience is not of victims but of young men coming out of jail under a previous funding model by the Conservative Government—the troubled families programme—funded in three boroughs in south-west London. There was an integrated approach to supporting and providing services to those young men as they came out of prison, across the CPS, housing, health and education, and more widely, so that they did not reoffend. I sat on the board for a number of years. It was very interesting that, when the money dried up, the co-operative approach dried up as well. That was very regrettable, but it taught me the lesson that the co-operative approach works best when there is a focus and an impetus through funding to make those co-operative services work effectively.

Everybody aspires to co-operative funding. Of course it is a good thing, but there needs to be either a direct instruction or a direct pot of money for people to co-operate as they should. So often, co-operation is difficult and the lack of it makes it easier for individual organisations to continue to work along their separate tramlines. I hope the Minister will say something about how to use that money imaginatively and sustainably so that co-operation across services can be embedded into victim support.

Earl Howe Portrait The Deputy Leader of the House (Earl Howe) (Con)
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My Lords, this group of amendments brings together a very important set of issues, as we have heard. I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for their amendments on the funding and provision of victim support services, where I will start.

The right reverend Prelate’s Amendment 56 seeks to require the Secretary of State to have regard to the needs assessments identified under the duty to collaborate and use these to ensure that local commissioners effectively commission relevant support services. I hope I can be helpful in providing some reassurance on that topic. Under the duty to collaborate, local commissioners must have regard to their joint needs assessments when producing their local strategies. The strategies should include evidence of how relevant authorities have carried out the needs assessments, as well as how the assessments have informed their commissioning decisions. A ministerially led national oversight forum will be set up to scrutinise the local strategies; that is how we can join up the process. For that reason, I respectfully suggest that the amendment the right reverend Prelate has tabled is unnecessary.

The oversight forum will have the relevant insights and information and undertake appropriate scrutiny of the published strategies to assess whether and how relevant support services are commissioned in individual local areas. The insights will also be used to inform national funding decisions made through the spending review process; again, that is another element in the join-up process. That is the right approach to setting government budgets. Looking at everything in the round, the measures will achieve the objective the right reverend Prelate’s amendment also seeks to achieve.

Amendments 58, 59, 60 and 62 would require the Secretary of State to make a statement every three years, in response to the strategies published under the duty to collaborate, on support for victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and stalking. They would also require the Secretary of State to ensure that commissioners, under the duty, have sufficient multi-year funding, and the establishment of a cross-government by-and-for funding stream. The key point here is surely transparency. As I indicated a moment ago, the local strategies under the duty to collaborate will be published and will provide valuable insights into the levels of service certain victims are receiving in each local area. Therefore, additional reporting in a statement made by the Secretary of State would be largely duplicative.

I am, however, in full agreement that the funding of victim support services is crucial to enable victims of crime to cope and build resilience to move forward with their lives. That is why we have already committed to quadruple funding for victims’ services by 2024-25, up from £41 million in 2009-10. This includes funding that the Ministry of Justice provides to police and crime commissioners, specifically ring-fenced for domestic abuse and sexual violence services.

There are two additional points I can make on this. The joint needs assessments will help local areas to make the best use of existing funding through the collaborative process. This will lead, I suggest, to a more efficient use of money. Following on from that, the information that flows from it will strengthen the evidence base used to inform funding decisions made through the spending review process. The Government have responded to intelligence from local commissioners previously. For example, PCCs received a £6 million boost in funding per annum over the spending review period for community-based services supporting victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked what happens to the money that goes into the general support fund for victims. The victim surcharge provides a contribution towards MoJ-funded victim and witness support services. It does not cover the full cost of victim support services funded by the MoJ, but it makes a contribution. Income from the surcharge is then topped up from departmental budgets.

On multi-year funding, for which my noble friend Lady Newlove so powerfully advocated, the Government have already committed to it where possible and appropriate. The victims funding strategy set out an expectation for all commissioners to pass multi-year commitments on to their providers.

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Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I am sorry to interrupt, and I realise that the Minister has had to take over the brief at short notice. He paints a rather positive picture whereby the Government are doing all these wonderful things. Why, therefore, is the domestic abuse commissioner so concerned about the patchy provision of services in general, particularly by-and-for services?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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That is clearly a concern, and we must listen to the domestic abuse commissioner very carefully. I have tried to set out how we have responded within existing powers and structures to improve funding across the piece. If one is not careful, there will be too much micromanagement from the centre. I always resist that, and we know that it can lead to perverse results in all sorts of contexts. I would be very happy to talk further to the noble Baroness about the domestic abuse commissioner’s concerns in this context after we finish the debate, as I am sure my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy would also be glad to do.

Moreover, as part of the joint needs assessment in the duty, commissioners will be required to have regard to the particular needs of victims with protected characteristics. This could result in the commissioning of by-and-for services.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for submitting Amendment 64, which would introduce a statutory requirement for certain commissioners and sector stakeholders to be consulted before issuing statutory guidance on the duty to collaborate. The Bill already requires the Secretary of State to consult such persons as they consider appropriate before issuing the guidance, without specifying particular bodies or roles. This is because of the wide-ranging nature of the duty and the key stakeholders involved—a list of relevant consultees could be extensive and change over time. Naturally, the department would continue to engage thoroughly with the various key stakeholders as the guidance develops. Therefore, we do not need a legislative requirement specifying who exactly that should be to enable them to do so.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
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I thank the Minister very much for what he said. Does he accept that the officeholder, who is perhaps in the best position of all to guide His Majesty’s Government towards the most effective organisations with which they should be co-operating and talking, is the Victims’ Commissioner himself or herself? The Victims’ Commissioner is at the centre of an information web and, frankly, is likely to be better informed than His Majesty’s Government.

I understand the virtues of police and crime commissioners and, in principle, would agree with the Minister that micromanagement can be a very bad thing. However, if I were a victim, I would be in favour of slightly more micromanagement to make sure that, wherever I lived in England and Wales, the type of service I got was more uniform, consistent and joined up. In evidence, I cite a glossy 2022 document from the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners celebrating

“10 years of PCCs Making a Difference”.

It lays out no fewer than 39 different schemes across England and Wales that different PCCs have put in place for

“advocating for victims; developing innovative services for victims; and using multi-year funding to fund quality services”.

While that is a wonderful idea—let a thousand flowers bloom—what the system is currently sorely lacking is any comprehensive follow-up and measurement to see how effectively all those initiatives work. Do any of them still exist? Have they been developed any further? If some of them are working particularly well, is there an effective mechanism to ensure that other police and crime commissioners are taking on those best practices and applying them in their areas?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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First, I take the noble Lord’s point about the Victims’ Commissioner; I am happy to feed that into the department. Secondly, I come back to the point I made earlier about building transparency into the process. The local strategies will be published and then scrutinised by the oversight forum, which will be ministerially led, so there will be a way for the commissioning practices to be exposed to daylight at the local level. I suggest that that could reveal the kind of disparities that the noble Lord referred to; that would be very helpful, not only as regards funding but for sharing best practice. He raised a very important point, but I like to believe that we have thought about it and are addressing it.

I turn to the issue of stalking. I do not think that any of us could fail to be impressed by the horrific examples given by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I listened also with care to the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Ponsonby, on this issue. Amendment 54 seeks the inclusion of support services for victims of stalking under the duty to collaborate. Stalking—which I am the first to agree is a tremendously important and emotive issue—can already be covered by the duty. The accompanying statutory guidance will make it clear that stalking is one of a number of crime types that sits across the scope of domestic abuse, serious violence and sexual abuse, and needs should be assessed accordingly. I fully appreciate the concerns raised by stakeholders that, all too often, stalking is considered only as a form of domestic abuse, and support is provided largely on that basis. The definition of serious violence under this duty is deliberately broad to allow commissioners to determine what constitutes serious violence in their local area, which can include stalking as well, including where it is not perpetrated by an intimate partner.

It is important to retain legislative flexibility in this area so that the duty can evolve, if it needs to, just as the overarching offences of serious violence, sexual abuse and domestic abuse evolve. A prescriptive approach, as proposed by the amendment, would restrict our ability to be flexible, but we will continue to engage with commissioners and stakeholders on the guidance as it develops, and with noble Lords who are willing to lend their expertise. I am sure that my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy would be glad to do that. I can commit him in his absence to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, if they would find that helpful.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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I apologise for interrupting the Minister. I am very grateful for his response; I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, would have responded in the same way. What is happening in practice and on the ground with front-line services—in the police and the criminal justice system—does not reflect what the Minister just said at the Dispatch Box. The problem over the last few years has been trying to make that happen, which is why we believe that stalking needs to be added to the duty. Can he reassure me, in other ways, on how the actual practice will change? Therein lies the problem.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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Indeed. We come back to the earlier amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, on how one should best join up individual reports of crime, abuse or whatever else so that the police and others can obtain a rounded picture of what is going on. I fully take the point about changing practice. This is perhaps a subject for a longer discussion than today’s debate. I do not pretend to be expert on operational practices at the local level, so it would be wrong of me to chance my arm. The point is well made, and I am very happy to ensure that we have a separate discussion about it before Report.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
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Can I make one additional point? The Minister just referred to allowing police and crime commissioners—and, I assume, chief constables—to decide what type of criminality should be regarded as serious or violent. One of the issues with the complexity of stalking is that, in many cases, stalking does not start from a violent position. Stalking, in many cases, can evolve, sometimes over a period of years, in a series of interactions by the predator, in such a way that, unless you know what you are dealing with, it is very hard to understand that there is a pattern developing or what type of stalking it is. We will come to the issue of training and advocates in the next group, but all the evidence produced by using the police force in Cheshire as a test case—to drive through the organisation clear understanding, training, lines of communication and technology to put this all together—has been transformative for the victims.

This is a victims’ Bill. Often, when I hear the Front Bench talking about the response to some amendments, I hear the voice of—understandably—the Government looking down on the victims. I very rarely get a sense of the Government articulating and espousing the rights of the victims themselves as they look up into the system, which they feel is failing them at the moment.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I think we come back to the guidance on this—to get the guidance right and ensure that the focus on victims’ needs is there, and on teasing out what we mean when we refer to certain terms. Again, the process of formulating the guidance is not by any means complete. I am sure the whole debate that we have had today will be extremely helpful for officials in the work that they are doing on that front.

I am also grateful for the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for his Amendment 81, which seeks to improve the process for assessing the numbers of ISVAs, IDVAs, stalking advocates and other specialist support services in England and Wales. I reassure him that I fully recognise the importance of understanding both provision and demand so that resources are targeted, as they should be, and the right victims’ services are commissioned. I am confident, in the light of advice that I have received, that measures are already in place to appropriately assess support provision through existing reporting measures, and I believe that a central annual report risks duplicating work.

I also point to the Bill’s duty to collaborate, which will enhance transparency around what local services are being funded by requiring the relevant authorities to publish local strategies, which is the point I made a little earlier. These strategies will be informed by joint needs assessments that will assess the needs of victims of domestic abuse, sexual abuse and serious violence—which can include stalking—and consider whether and how those needs are being met. This will encourage joint local efforts to rectify data gaps, and drive evidence-informed decisions for prioritising funding to address local needs. The noble Lord suggested that too often he was hearing from the Front Bench a kind of government top-down view of life. What we have tried to emphasise through these measures is our desire to see local needs defined, and those needs—the needs assessment—being the bedrock for any service provision that commissioners decide upon. So we are encouraging, I hope, a victim-focused process.

Requiring separate reporting will, I fear, duplicate the activity that I have outlined and put an additional burden on victim support services to share information, which would inevitably take resources away from direct front-line provision for victims. However, I know that my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy is, again, open to considering what could be included in the supporting guidance for the duty to help ensure better understanding of provision.

I hope that what I have set out demonstrates that we already have the necessary mechanisms for assessing need and provision for victim services. So I hope that the noble Lord and, indeed, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester will not feel compelled to move their amendments on this topic when they are reached.

Amendment 53 from the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, would include the “child house” model in the duty to collaborate. I listened very carefully to what he had to say about that. It is right that we continue to innovate and trial different ways to support victims, such as the “child house” model, exemplified in areas such as Camden through the pilot programme. The duty to collaborate aims to create a strategic and co-ordinated approach to commissioning services, ensuring that victims—including, notably, children—receive the necessary support. I assure the noble Lord that the services which the “child house” model co-ordinates will already be caught by the duty to collaborate where they provide support to child victims of domestic abuse, sexual abuse and serious violence. Moreover, the statutory guidance for the duty will suggest that local commissioners refer to Child House: Local Partnerships Guidance when considering how good commissioning practices can help address the needs of children. I hope that is helpful, because I do not think that we should be specifying operational models in primary legislation. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw that amendment.

Turning finally to Amendment 65 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, I am grateful to him for raising the issue which it covers. The amendment would ensure that the duty to collaborate will apply to elected policing bodies across England and Wales, while respecting Welsh devolved powers. There is already similar legislation in Wales under the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, which I will refer to as the 2015 Act. The 2015 Act places a duty on Welsh local authorities and local health boards to jointly prepare, publish and, from time to time, review a local strategy setting out how they will help improve local arrangements and support for victims of these crime types.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, is right to state that elected policing bodies in Wales are not required to collaborate in this duty, but the statutory guidance states clearly that Welsh local authorities and health boards must invite PCCs to participate in their activities under the Act. Engagement between the Welsh Government and Welsh PCCs has shown that Welsh PCCs are active partners in the delivery of the Welsh Government’s 2015 Act strategy through the blueprint, which is the shared governance structure to support delivery of the strategy, and also through regional boards. As a result of ongoing engagement and collaboration with the Welsh Government, we have come to the collectively agreed position that we do not currently consider a duty on Welsh PCCs to be necessary, per the intention of the noble Lord’s amendment.

There is a subsidiary point on the drafting of the amendment, but I do not need to go into that, unless the noble Lord would like me to. However, I reassure him, because this is a significant issue, that we will continue to work with the Welsh Government on the implementation of the duty to collaborate and any interactions between this duty and that under the 2015 Act. On the basis of the points I have made, I hope the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to move the amendment when it is reached.

Lord Hampton Portrait Lord Hampton (CB)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in this extraordinarily wide-ranging debate, which seemed to come down to three strands. The first was collaboration and how local services, the police—any groups—can work together better. Secondly, we had powerful discussions again about stalking and how we can make that work much more efficient so that these ridiculous repetitions cannot go on; the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, gave some extraordinarily good examples and a very amusing one I will take away. The third was how on earth it will all be funded, with some eye-watering numbers being talked about. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, asked the very interesting question about where the victims’ fund goes.

I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, is drinking a soothing hot lemon and honey somewhere, perhaps taking two aspirin and lying down, but I thank the noble Earl the Minister for another very collaborative series of answers, with lots of words of reassurance on the needs assessment, the forum being set up for national funding assessments, the duty to collaborate, talk of transparency—which is always good—and of exposing to daylight, about stalking being tremendously important, and what statutory guidance will make clear. A lot of points were made and I am afraid my pencil got worn down to the nub trying to write down the different funding strands pouring in that will be used, so I cannot get too technical on that.

There was talk of more efficient use of money and full agreement on funding victim support—quadrupling the funding of that. The victims’ surcharge is being topped up and multiyear funding is happening—the Government are committed to that—although the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has concerns there as well. This genuinely sounds great, but partly we need to make the money work not harder but smarter, which I think is what we are all trying to do here. The proof is inevitably what will come out of the oven at the end of it all. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment 53.

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Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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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)
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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.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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Can the Minister give the Committee any sense of the timescale? This is really overdue. It was promised some time ago. It would be enormously helpful to know what the blocks are and how long he thinks it will take.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I will need to write to the noble Baroness—and to other noble Lords, of course—on that point, as I have no advice. I shall come on to Amendment 80 in a moment.

Amendment 75 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and Amendments 76 and 77, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, would require the Government to bring forward regulations to provide for certain persons in the criminal justice system to receive mandatory training in respect of violence against women and girls. My ministerial colleague and noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy has emphasised to me that we are deeply committed to driving improvements to the police and criminal justice response, which we know has too often not been good enough.

In that context, we recognise the importance of police officers and prosecutors having the right skills and knowledge to respond effectively to VAWG crimes. While the police and Crown Prosecution Service are operationally independent of government, we have taken action to help ensure that police officers and prosecutors are equipped to respond in three principal ways—through our tackling VAWG strategy and complementary domestic abuse plan, and the rape review. This includes funding the College of Policing, which is responsible for setting standards on police training, to develop and implement a new module of the specialist domestic abuse matters training for officers investigating these offences. This will enable further improvement in the way that police respond, investigate and evidence this crime. The domestic abuse matters programme has been completed by 34 police forces to date.

Ultimately, as has often been pointed out, this comes down to culture. It is therefore imperative that the right culture is in place. That is why the Government are driving forward work to improve culture, standards and behaviour across policing. That includes implementing recommendations from the Home Office’s police dismissals review to ensure that the system is fair and effective at removing officers not fit to serve. Given the significant work already under way that is expressly designed to strengthen both the police and CPS response to violence against women and girls, I hope the noble Baronesses will feel comfortable not to move these amendments when they are reached.

Turning next to Amendment 80 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, I thank her for raising this issue because it allows me to put on record how victims without resident status who do not have recourse to public funds are entitled to be provided with services in accordance with the victims’ code. The proposed new clause would state that victims of domestic abuse who do not have recourse to public funds can still receive services under the victims’ code.

However, I reassure the Committee, particularly in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, that the code does not contain eligibility requirements linked to immigration status. It explicitly states that victims are entitled to receive services regardless of resident status, which means that victims who have no recourse to public funds are still able to receive support under the code. This includes right 4 in the code, which is the entitlement to be referred to and/or access services that support victims. However, we are aware that, in practice, the recourse to public funds rules in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 impact the ability of victims of domestic abuse with insecure immigration status to access some accommodation-based support services.

Victims with no recourse to public funds can access safe accommodation funding and can do so through our destitute domestic violence concession, which has been in place since 2012. It is a quick route to public funds and for those eligible to regularise their immigration status. Furthermore, the statutory guidance for the duty to provide safe accommodation under Part 4 of the Domestic Abuse Act makes it clear that this provision is for all victims of domestic abuse, including migrant victims with insecure immigration status.

We remain of the view that this amendment is not necessary, and I hope that what I have said goes some way to reassuring the noble Baroness of the various ways that the Government are supporting victims regardless of their resident status, especially victims of domestic abuse.

I turn to Amendment 107, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, which I recognise covers a very sensitive issue. We remain determined that all victims and witnesses must be free to report offences without fear. However, this must be balanced with the need to maintain an effective immigration system, to protect our public services, and to safeguard the most vulnerable from exploitation because of their insecure immigration status.

It is the role of law enforcement agencies to protect victims, bring offenders to justice, prevent the commissioning of offences and preserve order. For them to discharge these functions, information sharing, very much on a case-by-case basis, must be allowed to take place, having regard to all the circumstances of the case. I say that especially because this information in some instances may help to protect and support victims and witnesses, including identifying whether they are vulnerable, and aiding their understanding of access to services and benefits.

However, we agree that more can be done to make it clearer to migrant victims what data can be shared and for what purpose. That is why we will set out a code of practice on the sharing of domestic abuse victims’ personal data for immigration purposes. This will provide guidance on circumstances when data sharing would or would not be appropriate and will provide transparency around how any data shared will be used. We will consult on this prior to laying the code for parliamentary scrutiny and approval by this spring.

That is not all: the Government are also committed to introducing an immigration enforcement migrant victims protocol for migrant victims of crime, which we aim to launch later this year. The protocol will give greater transparency around how any data will be shared.

Finally, Amendment 105 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State for Justice must issue guidance in respect of data collection to ensure that sex registered at birth is recorded for both victims and perpetrators of crime in respect of violence against women and girls. I was very interested to hear the statistics that she quoted on this issue and the arguments that she advanced—and I say the same to my noble friend Lord Blencathra about his powerful speech.

It may be helpful if I set out what the current system provides for as regards data collection. The Home Office collects, processes and analyses a range of national crime and policing data provided by the 43 territorial police forces of England and Wales. These collections form part of the Home Office annual data requirement—ADR. The ADR is a list of all requests for data made to all police forces in England and Wales under the Home Secretary’s statutory powers. The Home Office issued guidance in the ADR in April 2021 that sex should be recorded in its legal sense —what is on either a birth certificate or a gender recognition certificate. Gender identity should also be recorded separately if that differs from this. For consistency, this is based on the classifications used in the 2021 census for England and Wales.

Since implementing this guidance, the UK Statistics Authority has launched its own review on guidance given on the recording of sex, and that is expected to report this year. The Home Office will consider the new guidance in deciding whether or not changes are needed to the recording of the sex of victims and perpetrators dealt with by the police, including whether to move from the existing voluntary basis to a mandatory footing. I suggest that we do not need to amend the Bill to achieve what the noble Baroness seeks, in the light of the action under way to help address this issue. I hope she will feel a little more comforted than she was earlier as a result of what I have been able to say.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, I gather that I am supposed to speak now, because I moved an amendment to the amendment. I did not realise that I would be responding, so I am sorry if I do not do it terribly competently. I thank the noble Earl for his very full reply, and all noble Lords who have spoken, particularly in support of my amendments. I shall be brief because I am conscious that there is other business waiting.

On training, I agree with the noble Earl on one thing, which is the importance of culture. But culture does not just come out of thin air—and, judging by what the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, there will be a more amalgamated amendment on training coming down the track. She is nodding, so I am afraid we still think we need something in the Bill on that subject, but perhaps something broader than the original amendment.

On no recourse to public funds—this is not surprising, and I do not blame the noble Earl—what we have heard is what the Minister said in the Commons, which I argued against as inadequate. We just had the same again. That is what happens so often. There is an argument in the Commons, we argue why that is not enough, and then we get the same argument again.

I asked some specific questions, which I will not repeat now, but again, perhaps a broader letter could be sent to noble Lords covering the different things that were asked about. On the firewall, again there is the sense that we just go round in circles. When I asked for clarification on the protocol promised for early 2024, the Minister talked about later this year, which sounds rather ominous. It sounds later than early 2024.

So it feels that on both the recourse to public funds—the noble Lord, Lord German, spelled out at great length the saga on this and the history of it—and on the firewall, that we are just waiting for Godot. We just wait and wait and get nowhere. I do not know whether the domestic abuse commissioner is watching, but she will definitely read the debate and will be extremely disappointed, because the Minister may say that legislation is not necessary, but organisations on the ground such as Southall Black Sisters, which has been cited, and the domestic abuse commissioner feel very strongly that legislation is needed. It is disappointing, but I will leave it at that. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment to the amendment.

NHS: General Medical Practitioners

Earl Howe Excerpts
Monday 20th November 2023

(5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, it is the turn of the Cross Benches.

Lord Stirrup Portrait Lord Stirrup (CB)
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My Lords, it is clear that allowing doctors to spend more time with their patients would permit more searching diagnoses, leading to fewer unnecessary referrals and helping to take some of the pressure off secondary care waiting lists. What allowance has been made for this in the calculation of the total GP requirement?

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
Moved by
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 22B, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 22C.

22C: Because local authorities should continue to meet in person to ensure good governance.
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, in moving Motion A I shall also speak to Motion B. Your Lordships will remember that, during our consideration of Commons amendments on Monday this week, two amendments were carried by the House for further consideration by the other place. The first, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, was on virtual attendance at local authority meetings, and the second, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, related to consideration of climate change within the planning system. I will take each of these in turn.

Amendment 22B, tabled by my noble friend, has been decisively rejected by the other place. I well appreciate that this issue has elicited a range of differing views among your Lordships. However, I have to tell my noble friend, whom I greatly respect, that the Government’s position on the matter has not changed. Throughout the passage of the Bill, the Government have not wavered from their clear, strong and principled view that preserving in-person debate is important for maintaining the integrity of local democracy. My noble friend’s amendment is quite clearly at odds with that position, as it provides the power to any future Government to potentially make regulations that go so far as allowing all local authorities to always meet remotely, without any limitations.

Local authorities need councillors to be physically present, to actively take part in democratic decision-making affecting the citizens they represent, and to interact with their fellow councillors at every opportunity to develop a sound understanding of local needs and priorities. That understanding is clearly vital for ensuring the strong local leadership that councils depend on to deliver for the electorate. Perhaps most importantly, councillors need to be physically present to interact with citizens in a way that builds meaningful relationships with their community and ensures that they are, in the fullest sense, accountable to their electorate.

The Government stand by their opposition to this amendment. The other place has agreed with that position. Therefore, again with great respect to my noble friend, I suggest that we have reached a point where it is right for us to draw a line under this issue. I hope that, on reflection, my noble friend will agree.

I now turn to the other outstanding issue, which is the way in which climate change is considered within the planning system. The Government continue to be committed to ensuring that the planning system supports our efforts in meeting our legal net-zero commitments by 2050 and tackling the risks of climate change. As I said earlier this week, we believe that there are already strong provisions within the Bill and other legislation that set the framework for this to happen. We have also committed to developing national policy in a way that is consistent with this.

But we have heard the strength of feeling that this commitment should be further enshrined in law. Therefore, the Government have gone a step further in tabling an amendment to require that, in preparing any national development management policies:

“The Secretary of State must have regard to the need to mitigate, and adapt to, climate change”.


As I have already made clear, we are fully supportive of the intentions of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, but we remain concerned that the amendment, as drafted, would give rise to significant challenge to how local councils fulfil their obligations to consider climate change within their planning functions. Notably, the combined effect of local authorities having to prove that their plans and decisions have “special regard” to climate change, while also proving that they are consistent with strategic national targets on carbon reduction, will at the very least create significant debate and deliberation on how to demonstrate this, but will very likely also give rise to litigation over the justifications presented.

The additional legislative provisions we have bought forward put climate change considerations at the centre of the development of new national development management policies, and in turn enable those considerations to influence all local planning decisions. I believe that this new provision takes us a lot closer to the position the noble Lord sought to arrive at with his amendment. I hope that both he and the House will be content to approve it. I beg to move.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for coming to the Dispatch Box in his charming and inimitable way to consider my humble little amendment once again. It is almost 20 years to the day since I joined a shadow team of which he was an eminent member; I hope that our co-operation will continue long into the future.

I think that any primary school pupil who has been watching our proceedings will be confused by our exhausting not just every letter of the alphabet except the letter O but additional letters of the alphabet. I am inclined to agree to disagree with the House of Commons’s disagreement with Amendment 22B, and will rehearse a couple of reasons why. The revised Amendment 22B was very modest in its remit. I accept my noble friend’s premise that local councils should primarily meet physically, but we went on to state that limited circumstances specified in regulations passed by the Government would permit a normally wholly physical meeting to be attended virtually. I am a little baffled and bewildered by the Government’s unwillingness to move a little more along these lines.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said, significant changes have been made to improve the Bill while we have worked on it over the past 10 months—although I have to say that it is beginning to feel like a lifetime.

However, we are mainly looking at the two amendments in front of us—first, on whether local authorities should be allowed to meet virtually with hybrid technology. I commend the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, on her assiduous work in pressing this issue and continuing to bring it to the attention of your Lordships’ House. We find the Government’s response deeply disappointing. In many ways, I would like better to understand why they have dug their heels in on this issue, because I genuinely do not understand why there could not be a little flexibility. Local councillors can see that, in your Lordships’ House, we are able to take advantage of hybrid technology, so why is this refused to councillors? It could have been put in legislation with fairly strict reasons for its use, so that is disappointing. I genuinely do not understand why no progress whatever was made on this.

Moving on to progress, we welcome the amendment in lieu of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, on climate change and planning. I congratulate him on his work on this and on getting the Government to recognise that this is an important issue that needed an amendment to the Bill. We endorse the noble Lord’s proposals on how we can continue to take this forward.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said, it is disappointing that, in a levelling-up Bill, neither child poverty nor health inequalities were included, because they are central to levelling up. On that, it is disappointing that the Prime Minister has chosen to remove the cap on bankers’ bonuses.

I thank everyone who took part and the noble Earl for his generosity in meeting to discuss these issues. We may be saying goodbye to the levelling-up Bill, but there is still much to do if we are to achieve levelling up in this country.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Hayman of Ullock, for their respective remarks.

As I said earlier, I appreciate that my noble friend and other noble Lords beg to differ from the Government’s position on remote meetings of local authorities. However, the Government’s position rests on an issue of principle that has served local government well for over 50 years. The Local Government Act 1972 is clear that “attending” a council meeting means attending physically in order to be “present” at such a meeting. I appreciate that the Covid regulations saw us through some difficult and exceptional circumstances, but the democratic principle of face-to-face attendance of meetings at all tiers of government is important. There is a long tradition of local authorities meeting in person and, since the expiration of the temporary arrangements put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic, they have continued to do so without issue. Having said that, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving us fair warning that she expects to bring us back to these issues at a suitable point in the future.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, for welcoming the government amendment. I suggest to noble Lords that we should not underplay the effect of the Government’s amendment in lieu, which will mean that all national development management policies will give consideration to their impacts on climate change mitigation and adaptation while they are being developed and designated. I will take back for consideration the noble Lord’s suggestion about including targets in the Explanatory Notes.

Finally, in response to my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, I can tell the House that the Scottish Parliament granted legislative consent for relevant parts of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill yesterday, following the agreement with the Scottish Government that was mentioned in the House previously.

Motion A agreed.
Moved by
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 45 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment 45C in lieu.

45C: Clause 87, page 95, line 11, at end insert—
“(2A) The Secretary of State must have regard to the need to mitigate, and adapt to, climate change—
(a) in preparing a policy which is to be designated as a national development management policy, or
(b) in modifying a national development management policy.”