Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Paddick, for their very constructive comments, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, for her always very constructive approach in bringing these matters forward.

The point about someone having to identify as a prostitute is a really serious matter. I say again that anyone who makes a report to the police would benefit from the anonymity provisions in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. The Section 52 offence applies when an identified victim has been caused to engage in prostitution or incited to do so, whether the prostitution takes place or not. The Section 53 offence applies where a victim has on one or more occasions provide sexual services to another person in return for financial gain.

The consultation on this will be before the Summer Recess. We will write about the terms of reference once they are settled. The consultation will be confined to the case for a bespoke new offence.

On the online safety Bill and where it meets what we have been talking about, the legislation will define the harmful content and the activity covered by the duty of care. This includes illegal content and activity, harms for children and legal but harmful content, and activity for adults. The relevant offences, which are Sections 52 and 53 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, have been included in that list of priority illegal harms in the Bill, demonstrating the importance that the Government attach to the tackling of these harms.

I hope that answers the noble Lords’ questions. Again, I thank them for their constructive work on this.

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Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, I rise with some trepidation as the first man to speak in the debate—sorry, after the noble Lord, Lord Russell, of course, the proposer of the Motion. Something seriously needs to be done about misogyny in society, as the noble Baronesses said. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, who said that misogyny is not hatred of women. My understanding is that it is hatred of women who are not subservient to men and who do not allow men to do what they want because they can, because they are stronger or because they think they can get away with it.

I have to say that I do not understand the Law Commission’s assessment that having misogyny as an aggravating factor would undermine the investigation and prosecution of things such as domestic abuse and sexual violence. Racism is treated as an aggravating factor by the courts, yet black victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence are not disadvantaged by having racism as an aggravating factor. So why should women be disadvantaged were misogyny to be an aggravating factor? Perhaps the Minister can answer that question.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, that we must deal with misogyny in terms of the actions that have a detrimental impact on women—not the thought but the deed, not the prejudice but the discrimination against women.

Amendment 72B in Motion D1 would create a new offence of harassment or intimidation aggravated by hostility towards sex or gender, where the maximum penalty for the new offence is the same as the offence, under Section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986, of intentional harassment, alarm or distress without any aggravating factor. So there is an issue there.

There is a crisis of misogyny in society in general and in the police service in particular. Urgent, decisive action needs to be taken, notwithstanding the Law Commission’s findings. Creating a new offence, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, in the form and with the penalties suggested might not be the right answer, but it is a vehicle to allow the Government to come forward with a better alternative using the Bill. We do not know when the next legislative opportunity will arise and we need to force the Government to take action now.

This urgency is reinforced by the fact that, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, said, the undertakings given by the Government when we last debated this issue during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill—now an Act—to ensure that all police forces flag offences aggravated by hostility towards sex or gender do not appear to be happening. Even if the Government are not convinced that legislative change is needed, surely they must deliver on their commitment to ensure that the nature and extent of the problem of misogyny in society is measured by the recording of such offences by the police. Surely the Government must understand why police forces might be reluctant to record misogyny as a hate crime when there is clear evidence of a culture of misogyny in police forces. That is why they should be compelled to do so by the Government.

I am concerned that the Government, encouraged by the Law Commission, are going into reverse on the issue of misogyny, betraying women who suffer every day from male violence. If for no other reason, we should support Motion D1 and Amendment 72B.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been an extraordinary debate in many ways. It has really gone to the heart of the issue. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Russell, in the way he moved his amendment.

I will start by addressing a specific point that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made about the way sentencing is done in courts. I speak as a magistrate who sits in London. When I sentence on a matter where there is racism as part of the sentence, I explicitly have to say in court what the uplift is because of the racist element. However, when there are other aggravating factors, be they misogyny or any other factor, such as the fact that the victim works in a public-facing way, I am not required to do that, but I can if I wish to. That is a very specific example of the difference in the way sentences deal with particular different types of aggravating factors.