Debates between Victoria Atkins and Sarah Champion during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 13th July 2020
2 interactions (102 words)

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Nineteeth sitting)

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Sarah Champion
Thursday 24th June 2021

(4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause places a requirement on the Secretary of State to collect and publish annual data on child sex offences, child exploitation offences and modern slavery offences. Data collection is vital to ensure appropriate policy responses, and that is even more important when it comes to crime. Publishing transparent crime statistics is key to understanding how the criminal justice system is working and whether victims are getting the justice they deserve.

New clause 38 asks the Government to collect and publish, by police force area, annual data on the number of child sexual offences, child sexual exploitation offences and modern slavery offences committed against children aged under 18 in England and Wales. There is a data blind spot when it comes to tracking a reported crime through to sentencing. Because of the way data is collected, this proves especially difficult for 16 and 17-year-olds against whom sexual offences are committed. I know that the Government are committed to tackling child abuse and exploitation in all its forms. The new clause would help in that fight, by filling in the blanks and allowing us to have an informed discussion on what needs to improve to ensure that victims get their day in court and criminals are brought to justice.

Despite older teenagers in particular being at high risk of sexual offences, due to the way that the data is collected they are often not included in the reported numbers on child sexual abuse. The tackling child sexual abuse strategy states:

“Over 83,000 child sexual abuse offences…were recorded by police in the year ending March 2020, an increase of approximately 267% since 2013… Due to the way this data is collected, and different sexual offences defined, these figures do not capture certain sexual offences committed against 16 and 17-year-olds, such as rape, as well as sexual assault committed against children over the age of 13.”

The Children’s Society’s analysis of the data shows that those two categories are the biggest groups of sexual offences reported to the police, which therefore indicates that the true scale of recorded sexual offences against children is very likely to be much higher. Collecting information is key to showing the true scale of sexual offences and to showing where the cliff edges are in the victim’s journey through the criminal justice system.

The Children’s Society previously found that

“54,000 sexual offences against children under the age of 18 were recorded by 43 police forces in England and Wales between 1 October 2015 and 31 September 2016.”

However, it stated that

“Only around 16% of offences reported where the investigation was completed resulted in charges, summons, community resolution or cautions against the perpetrator… For offences that did not result in action against the perpetrator the most common reason was evidential difficulties”.

Let us take the example of Margaret, aged 16. Throughout her life, Margaret had many interventions from children’s services. Margaret disclosed to family that she was raped and was a witness to another person being sexually assaulted. She disclosed that she was scared of reporting the offence, but did so with her family’s support. Long delays, a change of police staff and her mobile phone being taken for 10 months meant that Margaret eventually stopped supporting the police investigation. The case did not progress to prosecution and the young person remains at risk of sexual abuse.

We need to learn from these cases. New clause 38 would give us a clearer understanding of how many reported crimes against children drop out before a defendant is charged. That would enable us to make improvements in criminal justice. What we know is that a shockingly low number of crimes reported result in a successful conviction.

The Office for National Statistics reported in 2020 that there were more than 12,000 crimes flagged as sexual exploitation, but fewer than 2,000 child sexual exploitation charges were brought against perpetrators. There are several different crime datasets published each year, but none follows a reported crime right through to sentencing. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service must have the right tools to prosecute perpetrators, and that is where robust and transparent data collection comes in. Proper data collection will also enable local areas to plan appropriate safeguarding responses for all children under the age of 18 who are at risk of sexual offences or modern slavery offences in their area.

Figures from the ONS have shown that children are more likely than the general population to be victims of sexual offences, with young people aged between 15 and 19 accounting for nearly a quarter—23%—of all rape offences. I hope the Government will acknowledge the importance of better data collection in their response and will commit to providing the information on an annual basis, so that we can review the effectiveness of the current disruption tools, criminal offences and attrition rates for child sexual abuse and exploitation. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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The Government recognise the importance of collecting data to inform policy and operational decisions and to see the effect of those decisions. I want to take this opportunity to reassure the Committee that there are already robust mechanisms in place across Government, the police and the criminal justice system for gathering, recording and publishing data. Through the Office for National Statistics, the Government routinely publish data for child sexual abuse crimes committed against children aged under 16 years old. Data for children aged between 16 and 18 is recorded differently, as there are no specific crime codes for this age group. In 2019, however, the ONS carried out analysis of sexual offences perpetrated against 16 and 17-year-olds and published its findings as part of the England and Wales crime survey. Offences relating to child sexual exploitation will be recorded using a variety of crime codes, including those for child sexual abuse and those relating to trafficking. As such, there are no specific crime codes for CSE, and police forces are required to flag child sexual exploitation offences when providing data to the Home Office.

Modern slavery offences committed against children are recorded and published by the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Ministry of Justice. The Crown Prosecution Service maintains a central record of the number of offences for which a prosecution commenced, including offences charged under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. All modern slavery offences committed against children are identified through the child abuse monitoring flag, and the Crown Prosecution Service definition of child abuse covers any case where the victim was under 18 years of age at the time of the offence. Through the ONS, the Home Office already publishes both the number of recorded crimes and the number of persons charged under part 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Alongside that, the Ministry of Justice already facilitates the collection and publication of data on the number of persons prosecuted, the number of persons sentenced and the length of sentences.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister will not be surprised that I investigate the data quite routinely, and there are two problems that she might be able to address. First, when the ONS data come out, they tend to be a big lump —the data are not broken down into specifics. Secondly, she is talking about the data collected on charging, prosecuting and outcomes, but what we are arguing for is the need to look at the number of reported crimes.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I will take those points away, because it is incredibly complicated, as the hon. Lady’s speech and, I suspect, my speech have demonstrated. We do not routinely publish data on the number of child victims by age, as the police record the data on offences rather than on the victims who have experienced them. I suspect that this is the nub of the hon. Lady’s point. I am told that the reason for that is that an offence may come to the attention of the police, but there might not be a specific intended or identifiable victim attached to it. Additionally, the same child may be the victim of multiple offences—indeed, we know that to be the case with gang exploitation—so we have used data gathered through the crime survey in order to try to inform our understanding of the number of victims and their ages.

The Home Office also publishes data on potential child victims of modern slavery who have been referred through the national referral mechanism, which is the framework for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery. Of course, that stands apart from the criminal justice system. Someone may be referred to the NRM but might not participate or have a part to play in the criminal justice system. There are a great many data sets, but I take the hon. Lady’s point about the identification of child victims. We will see what more we can do.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for that reassurance, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 43

Offence of interference with access to or provision of abortion services

“(1) A person who is within a buffer zone and who interferes with any person’s decision to access, provide, or facilitate the provision of abortion services in that buffer zone is guilty of an offence.

(2) A ‘buffer zone’ means an area with a boundary which is 150 metres from any part of an abortion clinic or any access point to any building that contains an abortion clinic.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (1)—

‘interferes with’ means—

(a) seeks to influence; or

(b) persistently, continuously or repeatedly occupies; or

(c) impedes or threatens; or

(d) intimidates or harasses; or

(e) advises or persuades, attempts to advise or persuade, or otherwise expresses opinion; or

(f) informs or attempts to inform about abortion services by any means, including, without limitation, graphic, physical, verbal or written means; or

(g) sketches, photographs, records, stores, broadcasts, or transmits images, audio, likenesses or personal data of any person without express consent.

(4) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable—

(a) in the first instance—

(i) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or

(ii) to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or

(iii) to both; and

(b) on further instances—

(i) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years, or to a fine, or to both; or

(ii) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to a fine, or to both.”.—(Sarah Champion.)

This new clause would introduce areas around abortion clinics and hospitals (buffer zones) where interference with, and intimidation or harassment of, women accessing or people providing abortion services would be an offence.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I am proud to speak to this clause, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and supported by more than 35 MPs from across the House.

As we come to the end of Committee stage, a significant portion of our debate has focused on the safety of women in public spaces, and I am grateful for that. We can all recognise, to a greater or lesser degree, that existing public order legislation does not provide the necessary framework to address women’s fear and concerns in public spaces.

This new clause raises a discrete problem—harassment outside abortion clinics. The issue has been raised in the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton for several years, with great support from other Members on both sides of the House. As hon. Members will see on the amendment paper, the new clause has cross -party support from Members from five different parties.

Although my hon. Friend was driven to raise this issue by harassment in her own constituency, this is not a local issue. Figures from the Department of Health and Social Care and abortion providers indicate that in 2019 more than 100,000 women—or more than half of everyone who has an abortion—had to attend a hospital or abortion clinic that had been targeted by anti-abortion groups.

I want to make it clear that this new clause is not about abortion. A woman’s legal right to end a pregnancy is supported by the House and by the public and has been in statute since 1967. It is, however, about the ability of a woman to exercise this legal right without the fear of harassment or intimidation. Therefore, this new clause has a narrow purpose to introduce buffer zones 150 metres around abortion clinics, where certain activities designated as pressuring women about their decision to access abortion are banned.

Currently, around the country, anti-abortion groups engage in activity at the clinic gate seeking to deter or prevent women from accessing abortion care. This takes many forms, including the display of graphic images of dismembered foetuses, large marches that gather outside the clinic, filming women and staff members, following women down the street, sprinkling sites with holy water and handing out leaflets that tell women, falsely, that abortion causes breast cancer, suicidal intentions and can lead to child abuse. Recently, groups have been handing out advertisements for dangerous and unproven medication to reverse an abortion. This activity has been an almost permanent fixture outside several clinics for years. Abortion providers such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service have collected thousands of accounts from women they have treated about the activities outside clinics and the impact it has had on them. In the past year alone, even during lockdown, this harassment has continued.

One woman, in Liverpool, reported in February:

“She told me that I should let God decide—that it will torture me for the rest of my life and don’t let them do it. She told me her daughter couldn’t have kids and I’m wrong for killing a baby…that I’ll have no luck in the future if I kill a baby.”

Another woman, in Bournemouth, said in December 2020:

“My partner was waiting in the car and he had one woman staring at him and walking around his car whilst showing him a cross. Both my children (both under 4) were in the car waiting with my partner…I felt uncomfortable walking out of the clinic knowing they were there.”

The mother of a patient in Bournemouth just last week said:

“The protester was stood by the entrance with a banner. My daughter is autistic and this procedure is stressful and traumatic—and when she realised they were outside it caused her to have a panic attack”.

Doctors and nurses are not immune to harassment, either. In Brighton in October 2020, one reported:

“There was a man in the entrance lobby—my colleague didn’t know what to do. He wouldn’t leave. He asked us if this was a place where ‘you kill babies’, if I ‘agreed with murdering babies’, and whether I was ‘happy to murder foetuses’.”

This is not a protest—the groups involved in this activity are very clear that they are not seeking to change lawmakers’ minds or amend the abortion legislation. Instead, they seek direct access to individual women who have no choice but to approach them as they access legal and essential healthcare. It is, quite simply, targeted harassment.

The solution is simple and has been used successfully across Canada, Australia and parts of the USA. We need to protect women seeking confidential medical care by making it clear that it is unacceptable to accost a woman at a clinic gate, harass her and lie to her about medical procedures.

We must also recognise that much of the legislation has been thoroughly inadequate at addressing the problem. I am sure the Minister will wish to mention that. The only law that has ever been successful in solving the problem at clinic levels is public space protection orders, which enable a council to create its own local buffer zone, but only three counties across the country have them in place, leaving more than 90% of affected clinics with nothing to protect them. That creates a postcode lottery of protection from harassment, and that is just not good enough. We need a national solution to this national problem. I hope the Minister will consider the impact of this activity on women, and I hope she will recognise that, despite the existing law, it has continued unabated for years.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for setting out the case for this new clause, tabled by the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton. As she rightly identifies, it is supported by parliamentarians from across the House. I approach this issue with the respect that such a widespread array of support deserves.

We have looked into this issue and kept it under very close review over the past few years, and I will set out in a moment some of the steps we have taken. I want to be very clear that I have sympathy for what the new clause seeks to achieve, in that harassment and intimidation of women who are seeking medical care is completely unacceptable.

The hon. Member for Rotherham is right to emphasise that this new clause is confined to a very narrow basis. We are not debating the provision of abortion services; we are talking about the public order element surrounding clinics and hospitals. For the benefit of colleagues and others who may be watching this debate closely, given that we are looking purely at a public order issue, on a very narrow basis, my Whips have concluded that this is not a matter of conscience, so the matter is whipped. It is in a different category from the wider issue of abortion, about which Members have many varied and strongly held opinions. We confine ourselves to the public order element of what the new clause is trying to achieve.

We keep this matter under very close review. As the hon. Lady knows, it is an offence under the Public Order Act 1986 to display images or words that may cause harassment, alarm or distress. The police have certain powers under that Act if the purpose of the assembly is to intimidate others into doing or not doing an act. Clause 55 of this Bill strengthens those powers and enables the police to place any necessary conditions on such assemblies.

The power that has found resonance with local authorities and has been upheld by the Court of Appeal recently is the power under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to implement public space protection orders to create buffer zones around abortion clinics or hospitals, when they are satisfied on reasonable grounds that protests are having an unreasonable and persistent detrimental effect on the quality of life of people in the area. Three local authorities have imposed such orders around particular clinics. Indeed, I am led to believe that Ealing, which imposed the first such order, very recently renewed it following its expiration.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for recognising that this is harassment rather than protest. Does she share my frustration that more councils are not using public detention orders?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I will come to the figures in a moment because they will, I hope, help the Committee understand the approach that the Government are taking.

In the protests, or demonstrations—or however one wants to describe them—there can be a range of activities, and the hon. Lady has, understandably, focused on some of the most upsetting forms of activity. There are more peaceful ways of protesting, however, and I do not think it would be right for me to pretend that every single protest has the ability to harass and alarm in the way in which she has said some protests do. The advantage of PSPOs is that they are very local. They are brought by local authorities in the circumstances of their area, and the conditions imposed will reflect the conditions of the protests faced outside service providers.

--- Later in debate ---
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

My right hon. Friend raises an important point. That is why we have looked so carefully at the universality of the measures put forward by the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton and why we believe that PSPOs, which are targeted and have been upheld by the Court of Appeal, seem to be the most effective way of managing these very difficult circumstances outside particular service providers.

I appreciate that this may be corrected before Report, but we are also concerned that proposed subsection (3) of the new clause potentially includes medical practitioners and others providing advice on abortion services within the confines of the buffer zone—in other words, within the clinic. Nobody—but nobody—would want that to be an unintended consequence of the new clause. My right hon. Friend has alighted on another unintended consequence—that other forms of protest may be caught by the new clause.

We very much understand the motivations behind the new clause and the work that parliamentarians have been conducting over recent years in order to shed light on this issue, but the Government do not feel able to support new clause 43.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hear what the Minister says. I am still very concerned that, by the Minister’s own figures, we are looking at a quarter of clinics being targeted. I am very concerned about the postcode lottery. Would the Minister be open to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton working with her civil servants to try to come back with a more appropriate wording for Report?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

In fairness—I am sure the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton will back me up on this—we have been working. I do listen. I have meetings with colleagues from across the House—both those who support the intentions of the new clause and those who do not. We must acknowledge that there are colleagues and members of the public who want to defend their right to make their feelings and their views known in front of these service providers. I am very happy to meet colleagues representing the range of opinions on this issue. I have met the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton several times and am very happy to meet other colleagues, whichever side of the debate they may stand on.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With those reassurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Tom Pursglove.)

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Eighteenth sitting)

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Sarah Champion
Tuesday 22nd June 2021

(4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins)
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his speech. He does not need to implore this Government to listen to the girls he has quoted. Not only are we listening, not only have we listened, but we are following through with a tackling violence against women and girls strategy that is truly ambitious and, I believe, an unprecedented effort to tackle the issues that the girls he quoted have to contend with.

As I said, we conducted the first ever call for evidence on tackling violence against women and girls. No other Government have gone out to the public as we have to ask girls and women for their experiences of what they face day in, day out in their lives. We opened the conversation to the whole of society, so men and boys were very welcome to contribute as well.

I set my officials the challenge of reaching a young woman in her 20s, getting the bus home from work at night, who would not normally respond to surveys. We would somehow try to find ways of reaching her. Not only did we try that in December, but following the awful events of earlier this year—I deliberately do not name anyone, because I am respectful of the family, but I suspect we know the events of which I speak—we reopened the survey, precisely because we understood that women and girls want to talk and to share their experiences.

That is when we received 160,000 further responses. Each and every one is being read and considered carefully in drawing up our tackling violence against women and girls strategy. However, because the Government place so much focus on crimes that disproportionately affect women and girls, we have also decided to focus not one, but two national strategies on such crimes. For the first time, therefore, we have split out domestic abuse from the catch-all phrase “violence against women and girls”, not because we are trying to de-gender it or to deny that the crime disproportionately affects women and girls, but because it is such a high-volume, high-harm crime that it deserves its own national strategy. Thus, we are giving it the focus it deserves in the domestic abuse strategy, which will be published later this year, after the VAWG strategy.

If nothing else has come out of recent events, it is that the range of offences that VAWG covers is significant, so we cannot pretend that a one-size-fits-all approach will suit all those crimes. We do not try to do that, and we are certainly not working towards that. We want to have tailored strategies fit for the 2020s, looking at both offline and online behaviour.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope the Minister is aware of how grateful I am for all the work she has done on this cause. She has really been a champion for it. Is she able to share with the Committee her thoughts about whether the crime is increasing or our awareness is increasing? Does she have any thoughts she can share about the root causes of this, and therefore how early prevention will stop it happening?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

It is a complicated answer to a complicated question. We know, for example, that some forms of crime are increasing, and there is ongoing academic research into some of those, but we have reason to believe that more women are reporting facing violent acts within sexual relationships. That encompasses a range of relationships, from intimate, long-term relationships to first dates. That is precisely why, on the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, we worked across the House with colleagues to clarify the law on the so-called rough sex defence, because we knew that women in intimate, long-term relationships and in shorter relationships were experiencing that. Through that Act, we also brought in the prohibition on non-fatal strangulation, and again we worked on a cross-party basis. There is emerging evidence, particularly on the latter, that more and more victims of domestic abuse, but also those in other types of relationships, are facing these acts within—to use shorthand—the bedroom. We very much wanted to put a marker in the sand to say, “This sort of behaviour is not healthy, and it is now not lawful.”

The thinking is that those sorts of behaviours have increased over recent years. The thinking behind that is that online pornography has had an impact. However, I refer the hon. Lady to the research that I commissioned when I was Minister for Women and Equalities on the impact of online pornography and attitudes towards women and girls. The Government published that a few months ago. It is fair to say that there are not quite the clear lines that some would expect, but there are common themes there, if I can put it as broadly as that. Online pornography is a factor with some crimes, but sadly violence against women and girls is—dare I say it?—as old as time. The ways in which a minority of men—I make that absolutely clear—see fit to behave towards women and girls is part of the Gordian knot that we must try to untie. It will be a longer-term process than this Bill or the next Bill that comes along when legislation is appropriate. It will require a cultural education journey, as well as shorter-term fixes.

I am very pleased that the hon. Member for Stockton North raised the Law Commission research. As part of our work on ensuring that the law is keeping up to date with modern practices, we have commissioned a lot of work from the Law Commission recently. I do not apologise for that. In fact, it gives me the opportunity to thank the Law Commission for the work it conducts, often looking into very complex areas of law and trying to find ways through in order to assist this place and the other place in updating the law.

The current investigation into hate crime illustrates that point very well. In 2018, we asked the Law Commission to consider the current range of offences and aggravating factors in sentencing and to make recommendations on the most appropriate models to ensure that the criminal law provides consistent and effective protection from conduct motivated by hatred towards protected groups or characteristics. The Law Commission published its consultation document in September. It was an enormous document—more than 500 pages and 62 separate questions. The Law Commission has been very clear that the consultation document was exactly that; it was not a report or a set of conclusions. It does not represent the Law Commission’s final position on any of the issues raised.

I make that point because the new clause invites Parliament to adopt those recommendations wholesale, and I think we are all duty bound to acknowledge that what we have had so far from the Law Commission is a consultation document. It is not its final report. Indeed, the Law Commission hopes to report in October, and of course the Government will give that report very, very careful consideration. I do not believe, however, that it would be appropriate for this Government, or indeed any Government, or any Parliament, to sign what is effectively a blank piece of legislation without seeing what the Law Commission is going to recommend.

We do not know what the consequences may be of the recommendations, nor what would be required to enact and enable them. It may be, for example, that changes to primary legislation would be required. I have to say that I feel uncomfortable at the prospect of the Bill permitting other parts of primary legislation to be overwritten—overruled—by virtue of the super-affirmative procedure. We must surely ensure that significant changes to the law should be properly debated by both Houses of Parliament in the normal way, with any Bill going through all the normal processes and stages.

I gently suggest to the Opposition that perhaps they should be careful what they wish for, because in this very Bill clause 59 gives effect to the Law Commission’s recommendation relating to the common law offence of public nuisance. It made that recommendation in 2015 and recommended that it be put into statute. If I recall our deliberations correctly, the Opposition opposed that very clause. I cannot imagine what the reaction would have been had we attempted to have this super-affirmative procedure imposed in relation to clause 59.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Seventeenth sitting)

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Sarah Champion
Tuesday 22nd June 2021

(4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles, as always.

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) for tabling her amendment. I know it will not be pressed formally, but I put on the record my thanks to her for bringing the issue before the House and, indeed, to the hon. Member for Stockton North for giving us the opportunity to debate this important issue in Committee. The Government are absolutely committed to tackling all forms of abuse against women and girls, including sexual harassment. No one should feel unsafe while going about their daily life, and it is completely unacceptable for anyone to make a woman or girl feel objectified or scared.

Following tragic events earlier this year, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary reopened the first ever public call for evidence for the new tackling violence against women and girls strategy, to capture the many stories that women and girls shared with their friends and their family and on social media. We want to capture those stories as part of our work to shape the new strategy that is coming forward later this year. More than 160,000 responses were received in just two weeks, bringing the total of public responses to more than 180,000—an extraordinary figure for a Government consultation. It says so much about the determination of women and girls to stop those sorts of behaviours.

We are equally determined to respond to the sharing of those experiences. The new strategy will include work to tackle sexual harassment and to recognise the disproportionate impact it has on women and girls.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for giving way—we are so intuitive now that we do not need to ask to intervene on each other.

This sort of behaviour starts at a very young age, which is why the Government were right to accept my amendment to the Bill that became the Children and Social Work Act 2017, to make relationships education for all primary school children mandatory. That should have started last September; we are now told it will start this September. Will she comment about that early intervention and the importance of it?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for her previous work and for making this important point. I want to give the Committee an impression of the work that we are undertaking as part of the strategy. Legislation is of course an option, but we need to do so much more. We need boys and young men to understand that some of the things that they might have seen on the internet are not real life and not appropriate ways to behave towards women and girls in the street, the home or the school, as we have seen in the Everyone’s Invited work. Education is critical and, I promise her, flows throughout our work on the strategy.

I wish to correct some impressions that might exist. While there is not an offence of street harassment—or, indeed, of sexual harassment—a number of existing laws make harassment illegal, including where such behaviour occurs in a public place. That can include, depending on the circumstances of the case, offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Public Order Act 1986 and the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

However—this is a big “however”—I assure hon. Members that we are looking closely at the existing legislation on street harassment and we are committed to ensuring that the law is fit for purpose. We remain very much in listening mode on the issue. We will continue to examine the case for a bespoke offence and will listen closely to the debate as it develops through this House and the other place.

It is important to stress that a law is of limited use unless people know it is there and have the confidence to make a report in accordance with it. Equally—this relates to the point made by the hon. Member for Rotherham about education—it is important that police officers and law enforcement know how to respond properly to such allegations.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Sixteenth sitting)

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Sarah Champion
Thursday 17th June 2021

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins)
- Hansard - -

I was, Mr McCabe—thank you very much. I understand that the Opposition do not oppose clauses 141 to 143, but I will obviously respond to new clause 65, tabled by the hon. Member for Rotherham and signed by more than 30 other Members. I understand the message of how seriously Members across the House take the issue. We are very alive to the ability of sex offenders to manipulate systems, build trust, groom, and use many evil, awful methods in order to commit their crimes.

I am not naive to the risks that the hon. Lady put forward in her very well argued speech about the motivations of sex offenders in changing their name. As she said, there are very strict rules: sex offenders are required to notify the police within three days of changing their name—indeed, failure to do so is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment for a maximum of five years. I note her concerns, and those of others, about what can be done, if a sex offender does not so notify, to ensure that there are not consequences further down the line.

In fairness, parliamentarians have been having this debate for some time. I have received a great deal of correspondence on this matter, particularly in conjunction with the campaign run by the Safeguarding Alliance. As a result, I have commissioned officials to look into the matter very carefully. I have written to the Master of the Rolls requesting that a judicial working group set up by the Ministry of Justice should consider how the deed poll process can be exploited for criminal ends.

The work of that group includes considering whether amendments to the Enrolment of Deeds (Change of Name) Regulations 1994 are required. I raise that because the regulations for changing name by deed poll are made by the Master of the Rolls, not a Minister, and I must of course respect and honour that; it is not as straightforward as me signing my name and changes happening. The ball has already started rolling with the Master of the Rolls, and indeed the Ministry of Justice, to try to find ways of addressing the concerns that the hon. Lady and many other Members have voiced in recent months.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope the Minister recognises my concerns around enrolment, and the fact that the data then gets published. The enrolled deed poll does not include the question whether someone has a criminal past. I am still concerned that that could be a loophole.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Interestingly, the point that the hon. Lady has highlighted about, for example, victims of domestic abuse having to publish their addresses is one of the factors that we are very much having to bear in mind as we look at this. I have also received a great deal of correspondence from hon. Members concerned about the safety of transgender people, for example, and victims of domestic abuse. We can think of other examples of where people have changed their name and there are security issues therein as well as the fact of the name being changed. It is a very complicated area.

I have also listened to the concerns about the Disclosure and Barring Service system. As colleagues will know, the DBS conducts criminal records checks and maintains lists of people who are barred, by virtue of their previous convictions, from working with either children or vulnerable adults—sometimes both. That is an incredibly important process. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) has done a great deal of work on the issue as well.

I have asked my officials to work with the Disclosure and Barring Service, employers and others, including the General Register Office, to examine whether, for example, requiring birth certificates would help assure employers such as schools of a person’s history and previous names. The work is very complicated, not least because we have to bear in mind, for example, that 20% to 25% of records checks involve applicants born overseas. Although one would hope that it is easy in this country to obtain a copy of a birth certificate if one has lost it, that may not be the case elsewhere in the world.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has been going through the same process that I have been going through. Rather than putting a blanket demand for birth certificates on everybody, is there the potential to flag all sex offenders? I am not sure about the Minister’s view, but mine is that when someone carries out a sexual offence, they lose some of their rights. If all sex offenders had a flag on them that automatically triggered the check, either with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency or the Passport Office, that would seem a more manageable way forward administratively.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

The Passport Office can already refuse to change the names on a passport under the existing regulations, but this whole area is incredibly complicated; it involves not just regulations but the common law as well. There is a great tradition in common law of people being able to change their names, and we would not want to trespass upon that. What we are trying to do is target sex offenders who are not doing what they should be—namely, notifying the police of any changes to their names.

I have gone through some of the work that we are conducting, albeit quietly; we have not gone to the lengths of describing it as a review. Given the wording of her new clause, I hope that the hon. Member for Rotherham takes comfort from the fact that we are looking at the issue seriously. We are working across the MOJ, the Home Office and other agencies relevant and important to the issue to try to find answers that are proportionate and protect the rights of the very people we are not trying to target.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby gave the example of someone who changes their name on getting married. I am sensitive to the resource implications of having blanket orders. We will continue with this work. I am happy, as always, to involve the hon. Member for Rotherham because I know of her great interest and expertise on these matters, but I hope I can persuade her not to push her new clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 141 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 142 to 144 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 145

List of countries

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 3, in clause 145, page 143, line 16, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment would place a requirement on the Secretary of State to prepare (or direct someone to prepare) a list of countries and territories considered to be at high risk of child sexual exploitation or abuse by UK nationals and residents, rather than leaving at the Secretary of State’s discretion to produce such a list.

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Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I previously spoke about the horrific nature of online exploitation and the need for an urgent and robust response from the UK to disrupt the cycle of supply and demand fuelling that abuse. As I previously argued, the Bill is an important opportunity for the Government to take action in this area, and clause 145 is no different. I very much welcome the measures set out in the Bill and particularly in clause 145, which provide for the establishment and maintenance of a list of countries and territories in which children are considered to be at high risk of sexual exploitation or abuse by UK nationals or residents. Tied to this, clause 146 would require applicants—for example, the police—for a sexual harm prevention order or sexual risk order to have regard to that list. These important measures should be welcomed. They give effect to a recommendation made by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

It is vital that we do all we can to tackle contact offending overseas, but we must also take into consideration online offending against children overseas. My amendments 4 and 5, to clause 145, would require the Secretary of State to produce a list of high-risk countries for both in-person and online abuse. As currently drafted, the Bill grants the Secretary of State the ability to publish a list of countries and territories in which UK nationals pose a high risk of sexual exploitation and abuse. Through my amendments, I am seeking to clarify that that relates to both in-person and online abuse. Through amendment 6, I would make it a requirement that the Secretary of State do this; currently, it is a matter of discretion.

It is hoped that, through consultation with law enforcement and civil society, we will enable an accurate list of high-risk areas to be gathered together. That would be an immeasurably useful resource for targeting resources in the future. This process will also help us to better understand the nature of exploitation and abuse by UK nationals, enabling us to ensure that interventions are effective in achieving prevention.

As with my other amendments on online sexual exploitation of children, these amendments are supported by the International Justice Mission. I am very grateful for its support on this matter, but also for all the work that it does around the world to protect children. It knows only too well the horrific nature of online abuse carried out by UK offenders against children overseas. I really hope that the Minister is minded to add a provision about online abuse to the Bill or is able to give reassurance that the online proliferation of abuse will be included in the list.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Again, I am mindful that the clauses are not opposed by the Opposition, so I hope that I can move straight to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Rotherham. However, I should just say, for those who are not familiar with why we are putting together a list of countries, that it was a recommendation of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse that we as a country must look very carefully and seriously at how sexual offenders within the UK travel abroad to rape and sexually assault children overseas. That is an incredibly important matter and one that we take very, very seriously.

The inquiry recommended that we bring forward legislation providing for the establishment of a list of countries where children are considered to be at high risk of sexual abuse and exploitation from overseas offenders—I underline that. This is a list to help people regarding offenders from the United Kingdom, not a commentary on offenders within the countries that are so listed.

The purpose of the list is to help the police and courts identify whether a civil order with a travel restriction should be made. The list has been created. We commissioned the National Crime Agency to develop the list of countries, and it brought together insights from sensitive law enforcement data, open-source intelligence analysis and the expertise of those who work with the victims of child sexual exploitation, in drawing it together.

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Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand the logic of the argument that the Minister is putting forward, but what I hear anecdotally from the police is that there is that escalation. I would have thought that knowing, for example, that they are able to watch children being abused in the Philippines would be a draw for UK abusers who want that escalation to go to the Philippines. Having the word “online” there would make the police recognise the very severe damage that happens, whether it is done in person or is being directed by a UK national. It is about the recognition of how this escalates.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Yes, I do understand that point, but there has been very careful consideration of the effects of an order to prohibit a person from travelling overseas. I am told that adding “online” to the clause would undermine the appropriateness of such orders.

I also draw the Committee’s attention to the Online Safety Bill, which will help more generally in the online world. It will place a duty of care on tech companies to target grooming and the proliferation of child sexual abuse material. Of course, Members will in due course scrutinise the draft Bill that has been put before the House for its consideration.

On amendment 6, the effectiveness of the list is dependent on its reflecting the current global intelligence picture. The Secretary of State must retain the right to withdraw the list in the unforeseen event that the intelligence picture changes rapidly or that the list becomes no longer of practical use. I stress, however, that our intention is to maintain the list, and any decision to withdraw it would be taken on an exceptional basis.

I welcome the hon. Lady’s, and indeed the Opposition’s broad support for the clauses, and invite her to withdraw the amendment.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 145 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 146 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 147

Standard of proof

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Amendments 162 to 164 were tabled in not only my name but that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson). They amend clauses 148 and 149, which relate to sexual harm prevention orders and sexual risk orders. The Government are introducing the clauses to expand the role of those orders so that positive requirements can be placed on individuals, and we welcome that. Currently, the law allows only for individuals to be ordered to stop things.

Given that the Government are introducing changes to the orders, I believe that the law could be strengthened even further, which is why I am speaking to the amendments in the name of my right hon. Friend. The amendments would impose a positive duty to refer to a treatment programme all individuals who are subject to a sexual harm prevention order where they have been convicted, or a sexual risk order when a conviction has not yet been obtained. For example, that could be prior to a court hearing when there is sufficient concern for an order to be made before a conviction is obtained.

Under the amendments, a mandatory referral to treatment services would be required for all those engaged in criminal sexual behaviour and where a SHPO or SRO is to be put in place. That is an attempt to intervene at the earliest opportunity, and in particular to stop non-contact sexual offending behaviour escalating. Starting with non-contact sexual offending, such as indecent exposure or voyeurism, is necessary as it is often a gateway to more serious offending. There is a great deal of evidence that those who commit low-level or non-contact sexual offences will often escalate their behaviour and take more risks, with the potential for increasingly violent sexual crimes.

That pattern of behaviour is encapsulated by the case of a University of Hull student, Libby Squire, who was out in Hull one night when she was picked up by a man who went on to rape and murder her and then dumped her body in the River Hull. She was not found for many weeks. It was later revealed that the man who murdered Libby had been prowling the streets of Hull for many months committing low-level sexual offences such as voyeurism and burglary of women’s underwear and sex toys. Those crimes took place between 2017 and January 2019.

The last known non-contact sexual offence that the man committed happened just 11 days prior to the murder of Libby Squire. Unfortunately, very few of his crimes were reported to the police before Libby went missing. Even if the offender had been charged or convicted of those non-contact sexual crimes, the police believe that little would have been done to address his offending behaviour, as his actions did not meet the high threshold for referral to specialist treatment.

The amendments would address that issue and make referrals mandatory for all sexual offending, including lower-level or non-contact sexual offending. That would effectively interrupt a pattern of behaviour at the earliest possible point and help to prevent an escalation of sexual offending, thus helping to reduce the risk of sexual harm to women and girls and the wider public. I look forward to hearing what the Minister says about this group of amendments, as I know that she too is very concerned about these matters.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Again, I am not going to address the clauses, because I understand they are not opposed. If I may, I will deal with the amendments. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Rotherham and the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North, who has rightly brought to the fore the case of Libby Squire. Although I am not a Hull Member of Parliament, I have some knowledge of it because it is in my part of the country, and everyone in our region watched the facts of that case unfold with growing dismay, gloom and horror when it was eventually clear what had happened to poor Libby, so I very much appreciate the chance to put on the record our condolences to her family. I also completely understand why the right hon. Lady has tabled the amendments.

We are not able to agree to the amendments because we are concerned that for each offender, even of so-called low-level offences, one has to be very, very careful to make it clear that those offences are still by their very nature serious. Sadly, the depravity and gravity of sexual offences is such that there is a range, and the lower-level offences are ones that are particularly troubling to the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North in the context of this clause.

It is important to make an individual assessment of the value of a treatment programme in each case, using risk assessment and risk management plans to inform the decision. Sadly, not all offenders will respond appropriately to a treatment programme. Indeed there are fears that, in some cases, it could exacerbate their offending behaviours. At the moment and for the foreseeable future, we intend that treatment programmes should be directed towards offenders who would benefit most. When I say “benefit”, it is for the wider benefit of the community that these perpetrators are stopped, but it is for those offenders who will respond best to the programmes. That means that a case-by-case assessment must occur, rather than the universal approach proposed by the right hon. Lady.

I have spoken to the right hon. Lady and received a letter from her setting out her concerns. I know that her principal concern is how we manage effectively the risk presented by sex offenders whose offending behaviour starts with non-contact sexual offences such as indecent exposure, but which then escalates. There is a growing understanding that there is a range of behaviours that can escalate, and we very much want to address that escalation in behaviour.

However, one of the challenges is that, as the right hon. Lady acknowledges, the lower-level non-contact sexual offences might not be reported. If they are not reported, the police cannot deal with an offender if they do not know about that offender. They cannot manage the risk presented by such offenders if the behaviour is not reported and prosecuted as appropriate. So, from this afternoon, let us all encourage people who see the voyeurism or indecent exposure that concerns us in this particular area to please report that to the police. If it is reported, it begins to build a picture of that offender so that appropriate and necessary action can be taken.

Where such offences are reported and lead to convictions, the offender will be made subject to the notification requirements under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and risk-assessed and managed under a multi-agency public protection arrangement. That plan will be implemented with support from other relevant agencies within the MAPPA framework.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Fifteenth sitting)

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Sarah Champion
Thursday 17th June 2021

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

If I may, I will keep that point back for a little later, but I will develop it. I promise the hon. Gentleman that every single constabulary area was considered carefully and we arrived at the result in a data-driven way. I hope to answer that point in due course.

We know that the police see stop-and-search as a vital tool to crack down on violent crime and we have already made it easier for forces to use existing powers, but too many criminals who carry knives and weapons go on to offend time and again, and serious violence reduction orders are part of our work to help to end that cycle.

The orders will give the police powers to take a more proactive approach and make it easier to target those already convicted of offences involving knifes and offensive weapons, giving the police the automatic right to search those offenders. SVROs are intended to tackle prolific, high-risk offenders, by making it easier for the police to search them for weapons.

SVROs are also intended to help protect vulnerable first-time offenders from being drawn into further exploitation by criminal gangs, by acting as a deterrent to any further weapon carrying and providing a credible reason for those young people to resist pressure to carry weapons.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am interested in the point the Minister is making about first-time offenders. A lot of children and young adults carry knives because they are scared and because they are aware of the crime going on in their area and they want to protect themselves—they feel vulnerable without a knife. What guidance will be in place for police officers to make the distinction?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

First and foremost, this will be piloted and there will be lessons learned during the careful piloting of the orders. Also, the orders are only available to convicted knife carriers above the age of 18.

I compare and contrast with knife crime prevention orders, which form part of the overall context of the orders. The hon. Member for Croydon Central will recall that KCPOs were introduced in the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 and are intended to be rehabilitative in nature. We have both positive and negative requirements that can be attached to them. They are available for people under the age of 18, from the age of 12 upwards. That is the difference between the two orders.

The hon. Member for Croydon Central asked me about the piloting of KCPOs. Sadly, because of the pressures of covid, we were not able to start the pilot when we had wanted to, but I am pleased to say that the Metropolitan police will start the pilot of KCPOs from 5 July. We will be able to gather the evidence from that type of order alongside the work on SVROs, which will obviously start a little later than July, given the Bill will not yet have Royal Assent. That will run alongside. It will run for about 14 months and we will be able to evaluate and see how the orders are working.

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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I wonder whether it would be convenient for the hon. Member for Rotherham to speak?

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It would be convenient—thank you. It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr McCabe.

I found a very real problem that I did not know existed. I have spoken to a number of Ministers in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice about it, and they all recognise that it is a real problem. I am seeking, through new clause 65, to get a review into how registered sex offenders are changing their names, and in doing so, are slipping under the radar with some absolutely devastating consequences.

Currently, all registered sex offenders are legally required to notify the police of any changes in their personal details, including names and addresses. Those notification requirements are incredibly weak, however, and place the onus entirely on the sex offender to report changes in their personal information. I would like to say that, by their very nature, sex offenders tend to be incredibly sneaky and used to subterfuge, so the likelihood of them actively notifying their police officer is quite slender.

At this point, I would like to mention the crucial work that has been carried out by those at the Safeguarding Alliance, who identified this issue four years ago and alerted me to it. They have an upcoming report, from which I will use just one case as an example. It is the case of a woman called Della Wright, the ambassador for the Safeguarding Alliance, who is a survivor of child sexual abuse. She has bravely chosen to speak out and to tell her story, which is symptomatic of that of so many other survivors who have been impacted by the serious safeguarding loophole.

When Della was between six and seven years old, a man came to live in her home and became one of her primary carers. He went on to commit the most heinous of crimes, and was free to sexually abuse Della at will. Years later, Della reported the abuse in 2007 and again in 2015. Then it quickly become apparent that the person in question was already known to the police. He had gone on to commit many further sexual offences against an undisclosed number of victims. During this time, Della was made aware that his name had changed. It has since been identified that he has changed his name at least five times, enabling him to relocate under the radar and evade justice. When Della’s case was finally brought to court, he was once again allowed to change his name, this time between being charged and appearing in court for the planned hearing. That slowed down the whole court process, adding additional stress to Della, and made a complete mockery, I may say, of the justice system.

While the loophole exists, Della’s abuser is free to change his name as often as he likes, including from prison.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Tenth sitting)

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Sarah Champion
Tuesday 8th June 2021

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Very much so. This is about ensuring that the rights that we have spoken about so far are protected, and that the integral balance of the social contract is maintained. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right.

The police already have the power to impose any necessary conditions on marches. If it is acceptable for the police to impose any such conditions on processions, as they have been able to do since the 1930s, it is difficult to see the basis for the Opposition’s objection to affording equivalent powers to impose conditions on an assembly when it presents an equivalent public order risk.

In his evidence, Chief Constable Harrington said words to this effect—my apologies to Hansard: “We asked for consistency between processions and assembly, which this Bill does.” The police will impose those conditions only where they are necessary and proportionate, complying with their obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998. In fairness, Chief Constable Harrington set out the care and training that the police receive to ensure that they can carry out their obligations carefully.

Clause 56 closes the loophole in the offence of failing to comply with a condition attached to a procession or assembly. When the police impose conditions on a protest to prevent serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community, they ensure that protesters are made aware of those conditions through various means. Those can include communicating with protesters via loudspeakers or handing out written leaflets.

Some protesters take active measures, such as covering their ears and tearing up leaflets without reading them, to ensure that they are not aware—or to complain that they were not aware—of the conditions being placed. Should they go on to breach the conditions, they will avoid conviction as, under current law, an offence is committed only if a protester knowingly fails to comply with the condition.

Clause 56 will change the threshold for the offence to include where a protester ought to have known of the conditions imposed, closing the loophole in the current law. That is a commonly used fault element in criminal law—indeed, I note that the hon. Members for Stockton North and for Rotherham use it in new clause 23, which provides for a new street harassment offence. The police will continue to ensure that protesters are made aware of the conditions, as they currently do. The onus on the prosecution would change from having to show that an individual was fully aware of conditions, to showing that the police took all reasonable steps to notify them. As I said earlier, the standards and burdens of proof apply, as they do in any other criminal case: it is for the Crown to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt.

This particular proposal was examined by the policing inspectorate and it is again worth quoting from its report in March. It said:

“Our view is that the fault element in sections 12(4) and (5) and sections 14(4) and (5) of the Public Order Act 1986 is currently set too high. The loophole in the current law could be closed with a slight shift in the legal test that is applied to whether protesters should have known about the conditions imposed on them. On balance, we see no good reason not to close this loophole.”

The clause will also increase the maximum penalties for offences under sections 12 and 14 of the Public Order Act 1986.

Due to the increasingly disruptive tactics used by protesters, existing sentences are no longer proportionate to the harm that can be caused. Organisers of public processions and assemblies who go on to breach conditions placed by the police, as well as individuals who incite others to breach conditions, will see maximum custodial sentences increase from three to six months. Others who breach conditions will see maximum penalties increase from level 3 to level 4 on the standard scale, which are respectively set at £1,000 and £2,500.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can the Minister give an example of an occasion when the current sentence has not been proportionate, in her opinion? Is she looking at custodial sentences and considering the impact they would have on the courts and on the Prison Service?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

The custodial aspect has been increased from three months to six months in relation to organisers of public processions and assemblies who go on to breach conditions, as well as those who incite others to breach conditions. The sentence in relation to the fine is for those who breach conditions. They go in a different category from organisers and those who incite others to breach conditions.

I do not have any examples to hand immediately, but I imagine some will find themselves in my file in due course. We are looking at maximum sentences, but it is still for the independent judiciary to impose sentences in court on the facts of the case that they have before them. That is another safeguard and another check and balance within this legislation. It will be for the judiciary to impose individual sentences, but it is right that Parliament look at the maximum term.

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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Again, I point to the disruption and to the tactics that have been developing over recent years, which have grown not just more disruptive but, in some cases, more distressing. There are examples of an ambulance being blocked from an A&E department and of commuters being prevented from getting on the train to go to work in the morning by people who had attempted to climb on to the train carriage. We are seeing more and more of these instances, so it is right that the maximum sentence is commensurate.

If protesters feel that such measures are disproportionate, they will presumably put that defence forward in court. It will be for the Crown to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt and for their counsel to mitigate on their behalf. We are trying to show the seriousness with which we take these small instances, where the balance between the rights of protesters and the rights of the community that is not protesting is disproportionate within the checks and balances that we have already discussed in the course of this debate.

I turn now to the measures relating to noise. The provisions will broaden the range of circumstances in which the police may impose conditions on a public procession or a public assembly to include circumstances where noise may have a significant impact on those in the vicinity, or may result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation. These circumstances will also apply to single-person protests.

The hon. Member for Rotherham asked whether the noise provision was London-centric, with the biggest protests happening in London. As I said earlier, one would not want to assume that some of the protests that we have seen on the news could not happen outside London, as with the “Kill the Bill” protests in Bristol. It is right that we have clarity and consistency in law across the country so that if a group of protesters behaved in the way people appear to have behaved in the Bristol protests—injuring many, many police officers who were just acting in the line of duty—one would expect the law to apply as clearly in Rotherham as in central London.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her clarity on that. I completely support her point when violence is being done or emergency services are being blocked and the disruption is in no way proportionate to the nature of the protest, but I would like her to give some clarity on the issue of noise. Is it a decibel thing? Is it an irritation thing? Who decides what the irritation is? What is and is not acceptable? Would the threshold be lower in a small village because noise would not normally be heard, whereas in a big city with lots of industrial sites it would be a lot higher? It is that subjectivity that I put to the Minister.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

That is precisely why we are introducing an objective test in clause 54(3). The hon. Lady will see the wording:

“For the purposes of subsection (1)(ab)(i), the noise generated by persons taking part in a public procession may have a relevant impact on persons in the vicinity of the procession if—

(a) it may result in the intimidation or harassment of persons of reasonable firmness with the characteristics of persons likely to be in the vicinity.”

That is consistent with other parts of the criminal law. The wording continues:

“or (b) it may cause such persons”––

that is, persons of reasonable firmness––

“to suffer serious unease, alarm or distress.”

We have been very mindful of trying to help the police because it would be a matter for the police to weigh up during a procession, assembly or one-person protest or before one starts. It would be for the senior officer to make that assessment, but it is an objective test.

I hope that the hon. Lady will not mind my raising it, but the example she gave of the impact that hearing a drill had on her personally was her personal, subjective experience; we are saying that this would have to be an objective test—the reasonable firmness of people in the vicinity of that noise.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let me give an example that I am sure everyone in this room will have experience of, as I have. An MP might be speaking at a demo or rally and a group of people feel the need to say, “See you next Tuesday” during the speech. That distresses the church group being addressed. Would that reach the threshold? Is it more of a decibel thing rather than it being directed to the MP? For example, in Rotherham the community came together to hold peaceful vigils but the far right held counter-protests in which they felt the need to call us paedophiles.

I appreciate that I am being annoying on this, but I just do not get it. These particular cases feel subjective and that is why I would like to get the clarity bedded down.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

First and foremost, the hon. Lady is certainly not being annoying; she is doing her job and her duty on the Committee. I am feeling my way here carefully because obviously Ministers should not comment on individual cases, but, on her example, in a scenario where someone is being at shouted at or spoken to as she described, there is a very good argument for saying that the person doing the shouting is committing a public order offence under the 1986 Act—that could be a section 5 offence of causing harassment, alarm or distress at the moment.

Again, I read across to other parts of public order legislation. That is why the objective test is an important one. We want first to be consistent with other public order measures. However, we recognise that there may be some instances in which an individual, for whatever reason—medical or otherwise—may have a particular sensitivity. In the criminal law, we say, “Look, we have got to deal with this on an objective basis, because it is the criminal law and the consequences of being convicted of a criminal offence are as serious as they are.” I have some hypothetical examples to give a bit of colour in due course, but, if I may, I want to complete outlining the checks and balances as written in the Bill so that everyone has a clear picture of the steps that a senior officer will have to go through to satisfy herself or himself that a condition can be imposed on the grounds of noise.

The senior officer must decide whether the impact is significant. In doing so, they must have regard to the likely number of people who may be affected, the likely duration and the likely intensity of that impact. The threshold at which police officers will be able to impose conditions on the use of noise is rightly very high. The examples I have been provided with—I am sure the Committee will understand that I am not citing any particular protest or assembly—are that a noisy protest in a town centre may not meet the threshold, but a protest creating the same amount of noise outside a school might, given the age of those likely to be affected and how those in the school are trying to sit down to learn on an average day. A noisy protest outside an office with double glazing may not meet the threshold, but a protest creating the same amount of noise outside a care home for elderly people, a GP surgery or small, street-level businesses might, given the level of disruption likely to be caused. Again, that refers to the conditions in clause 54(3) about the likely number of people, the likely duration and the likely intensity of that impact on such persons.

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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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Indeed. Of course, we are rightly sitting here scrutinising every single word of the Bill carefully, but a senior police officer on the ground will have had a great deal of training and years of experience as an officer working in their local communities. They will also have the knowledge of their local communities. I imagine that policing a quiet village and policing the centre of Westminster are two very different experiences, and the officers making such decisions will be well versed in the needs of their local areas. None the less, officers across the country will be bound by the terms of subsection (3)—those checks and balances I have referred to throughout—and the European convention on human rights.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for being generous; it is appreciated. On the examples I supplied, her response was that the existing legislation ought to be covering the point. She mentioned a case study in which a protest could reach the threshold if there was no double-glazing. What concerns me is the organiser who could now face up to six months in jail. Are they meant to know whether properties do or do not have double-glazing, and therefore instruct the march to be silent for a specific 100 yards, as they could otherwise fall foul of the earlier clause? I say to the Minister that I just do not like subjectivity when it comes to the law.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

The organiser in those circumstances would, of course, be liable to having a committed an offence only if they breached the order. Indeed, this is the important point. It is for the police to make that assessment. If the police have a conversation with an organiser and say, “We believe that using your very high-level amplification system in this residential street meets the criteria under subsection (3) such that we are going to impose a condition asking you to turn it down,” the organiser, or the person deemed to be the organiser, will have had that conversation with an officer, and I very much hope that they will abide by the condition. If they do not, that is where the offence comes in, and that is a choice for the organiser.

As is already the case with processions, those conversations will happen and it will be a matter for the organiser as to what course of action they choose to take. One hopes that they will take the advice and guidance of the police, adapt and therefore be able to continue with their protest in a way that meets the expectations of the local community or local businesses. I appreciate that the detail is incredibly technical, and I am trying to work through every set of factual circumstances. I understand absolutely why people want to work through those, but there are checks and balances that run throughout the Bill.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Ninth sitting)

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Sarah Champion
Tuesday 8th June 2021

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Let me make a genuine effort to help Her Majesty’s official Opposition. They are surely not saying that death threats are an acceptable form of protest. Death threats are terrifying for those who are victims. Indeed, I would say they impede democracy in this country precisely because people worry about the threats to their personal safety. I just want to clarify.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Mr McCabe. I think the Minister has misinterpreted what I said. I had protests against me that were rallying the crowds, which led to the exact same phraseology that went into death threats. I am saying that that was incredibly chilling and uncomfortable. Of course I wanted it to stop, but I do not try to deny people’s right to protest.

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Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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Would those actions not already be criminal activity under existing legislation?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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They would. The hon. Lady may remember that I questioned Mr Wagner about his interpretation of the Public Order Act. We acknowledge, and I think the police have said, how dynamic a public protest can be; it changes very quickly and they have to make decisions very quickly, on the ground. I asked Mr Wagner, because I was slightly concerned about some of the evidence he had given earlier:

“Do you accept that the Public Order Act 1986 is a piece of legislation that has stood the test of time and should remain in law?”

He said:

“I think I would be neutral on that. It is a very wide piece of legislation. Every time I read it, I am pretty surprised at how wide it is already. What I am pretty clear about is that section 12 does not need to be widened.”––[Official Report, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Public Bill Committee, 18 May 2021; c. 76, Q109.]

Then I asked whether that meant the Public Order Act went too far for his liking. He replied:

“Well, potentially. The proof is often in the pudding. It depends on how the police use it and whether they are using it effectively.”––[Official Report, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Public Bill Committee, 18 May 2021; c. 76, Q110.]

I agree wholeheartedly with his summation that it is about how the police employ the powers, but we need to just have in mind the range of views that have been expressed by witnesses giving evidence to the Bill Committee, whether in writing or orally. It would appear that there are some for whom the current legislation goes too far, yet we hear of instances such as the “Kill the Bill” protests where very significant harm has been done to police officers. Hon. Members will be able to draw on their own memories of other protests that have resulted in police officers being very badly injured and hurt by the protests of a minority. It shows, again, the need for a balance.

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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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The hon. Lady has summarised the very great responsibilities borne by senior officers in charge of protests. Of course protest should not be banned—I said at the beginning that that is not what the Bill is about—but the point does show the very fine judgments that senior police officers have to make in the moment of the protest. Where there are organisers, they will have been able to have discussions beforehand, but where protests spring up on social media and it is not clear who the organisers are, police officers are having to make decisions on the ground very quickly.

I am asked what has changed in the 35 years since the Public Order Act came into force. The role of social media in getting the message out, and protests being organised at very short notice, means that it can be difficult for police officers to identify to whom they should be speaking when it comes to how these protests or gatherings are policed and managed.

The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate mentioned Pride. I would not call Pride a protest, although it may have had its roots in protest. I hope we now see it as a glorious celebration enjoyed, from the photographs I have seen in newspapers, by the police as much as by other people in attendance. That is an example of a gathering where the organisers are very clear, and they work extremely well with the police to ensure that the procession, the celebration, is enjoyed by all and is safe for all.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, people all around the world are being murdered for being gay, so there is the element of protest. Secondly, can the Minister confirm that the measures she is putting in the Bill would address the fire-starting protests that come up? If that is the nub of what she is trying to address, it seems to me that the clauses go a lot further than that.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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That is one of the things addressed by the Bill’s clauses. If I may, I will go methodically through the examination of the clauses.

There is a reason why we are trying to draw consistency between processions and assemblies. In 1986, the distinction between the two might have been very clear, but we heard evidence from the police that nowadays a protest can become an assembly and an assembly can become a protest. They change, so we are trying to bring consistency between the two forms of gathering, irrespective of the mobility of the participants, so that we have clarity of law as to what applies to participants when they gather together.

At this stage in my submission, I am going to introduce some context. Again, the misunderstanding might have arisen that the measures will apply to every single protest that ever takes place, which is not the case. In his oral evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights on 28 April this year, Chief Constable Harrington said that between 21 January and 21 April this year, more than 2,500 protests were reported to the National Police Chiefs’ Council, and of those 2,500 protests, conditions were imposed on 12.

As I develop my argument and talk about these powers being used very carefully by the police, and about the checks and balances within the legislation, I point to how rarely the conditions are imposed in the range of protests that go ahead. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby might have wished that conditions were imposed in other protests, but we foresee the legislation being deployed rarely and very carefully.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Seventh sitting)

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Sarah Champion
Thursday 27th May 2021

(5 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for all the points she made, which, to be quite honest, are common sense, but would cause a huge shift in victims’ and survivors’ perceptions of their rights. I have questions for the Minister.

On data storage and security, I am sure we were all pretty shocked and disgusted to hear that images relating to Sarah Everard were not secure in the police system. While I have a very high regard for the police, they can be a leaky sieve—let us be honest. Why do we not simply clone phones at the point of taking them? Why is it months, or usually years, before the victim gets their phone back? Would it be possible to put in legislation or guidance a timeframe on how long that phone can be held for? Having spoken to officers, it seems that cloning a phone is complicated and geeky; it tends to be put in a back drawer until they absolutely have to do it. A timeframe would give a lot of comfort to victims and survivors; they would know it was only a week until they got their photos back, for example.

Finally, a myth has been perpetuated that victims and survivors have to hand over their phone or mobile data to the police or their case will not be taken forward. I have heard examples of victims and survivors being told expressly that if they do not hand it over, they are withholding evidence and could be prosecuted. At that point, unfortunately, a number of survivors drop out of the process and withdraw their charges altogether. If the Minister is able to give reassurance on that, that would be hugely appreciated.

I turn to amendment 115, on the list of people who may extract data. The list is pretty extensive, but one group stood out: immigration officers may request a mobile phone. A few months ago, I went to a large asylum hospital in my constituency, where there were 50 to 100 men—I do not know how many—and what concerned them most was that, literally as they entered the country, their mobile devices and indeed clothes were taken off them. There was no debate or explanation; it is just part of the process.

I completely understand the argument that very bad people, such as gangmasters, who come into the country may have a lot of contacts that are relevant to police inquiries. The police and transport police are already on the extensive list of people who may access electronic devices, so if an immigration officer was concerned, they could get a police officer to take the digital device away. That is not a problem. Extracting data is a complex process that requires specialist experience, and it ought to be managed under the law. I am concerned that we are asking immigration officers to be incredibly mindful, and to be trained and resourced, and to have all the skills, to request that device.

The people I met fell into three camps: economic migrants, who have paid to come over here; people who have been trafficked over here; and those brought in specifically for modern slavery. All the men I spoke to wanted to see pictures of their loved ones. They wanted those memories from home, and a mobile phone may be the best way to hold those memories and connections.

I do not know anyone’s telephone number aside from my parents’—it was the one I grew up with. I can call the police, the NHS helpline and my mum, but everything else is stored on my phone. If I lost it, I would not know how to respond—and I have back-ups that I can access, and English as my first language. When I changed phones, I did not download properly and lost five years of photos. That was so painful. Imagine someone being trafficked into this country, and probably horrifically abused on the way in. The one thing they can hold on to is their memories on that digital device, but that is taken away. They have no information about why it was taken, or when it will be returned, and all their contacts have been lost.

All the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central made apply in this case. Immigration officers are one of the groups who may take these devices—this is not a dig against immigration officers, who do a difficult job—but in any other situation a police officer or a court order would be required to take such detailed data. I ask the Minister please to remove immigration officers from the list.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I welcome the discussion about this chapter of the Bill, because the framework we are setting out is a really important step forward in improving the expectations about and management of digital data that victims and complainants may have on their digital devices. Of course, completely understandably, the focus has been on complainants in sexual violence cases—I will go into some detail on that in due course—but the chapter applies across the board. If, for example, in cases that do not relate to sexual violence, a mobile phone is deemed to be relevant and the authorised person is satisfied that the exercise of the power is necessary and proportionate, this chapter will apply.

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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Thank you. The Minister for Crime and Policing, my hon. Friend Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) answered the urgent question on the timing of the rape review. Colleagues will know that for the last two years, the Government have commissioned intensive research into each stage of the process within the criminal justice system of a rape case or a sexual violence investigation, from the moment of reporting through to the moment when the case finishes, whether by way of a verdict or if a trial does not go ahead for any number of reasons. We had very much hoped to publish that review by the end of last year. However, we were very understanding of the fact that the Victims’ Commissioner and women’s charities wanted to make representations, in particular looking at the shadow report by EVAW—End Violence Against Women. We were mindful that there was a super-complaint under way as well. Therefore, we have paused publication in order to take into account some of those factors.

The Minister for Crime and Policing informed the House this week that we plan to publish the review after the Whitsun recess. It will show the Government’s intentions in relation to this particular category of cases, sexual violence cases, and will of course sit alongside this Bill, but will go much further than the Bill. On some of the situations, scenarios and experiences that were described today and last week in evidence, I just urge caution until the rape review is published, because there may be answers in that document.

In terms of the legal framework, I think it is really important that we have this in the Bill and that the rights of victims and of suspects and defendants are set out and clarified and that we introduce consistency where that has been alleged in the past to be missing.

I note just as an example that one of the other ways in which we are really trying to help victims of sexual violence is through support for independent sexual violence advisers. We already have ISVAs working with victims across the country. This year, we have been able to announce the creation of 700 new posts, with some £27 million of funding. I give that just as an example. This is an important part of our work, but it is not the only piece of work that we are doing to address some of these very genuine concerns.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am hearing everything that the Minister is saying. Knowing that the review is coming out—I assume it is something that she has been working on or very closely with, because of her intense involvement and support in this area—does she feel that the measures in the Bill are proportionate or are they something that, once the review comes out, she may look at changing, to ensure that the safeguards that she speaks of are embedded in the final Act that we see?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

We have been working together on this. We must not not forget that the background to the legal framework has to take into account the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 and the more general disclosure rules, for example. But this has been very much a piece of work across Government, because we want this framework to give confidence and clarity to victims and to suspects, but also, importantly, to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, because they are the ones who must administer and work within the legal framework and the code of practice.

If I may, Mr McCabe, I will take a bit of time, because this is such an important measure and I am mindful that there are questions about it, to set out some of the detailed thinking behind the way in which the clauses have been drafted. The current approach to the extraction of information from digital devices has indeed been criticised by some as feeling like a “digital strip-search” where devices have been taken as a matter of course and where, in many cases, all the sensitive personal data belonging to a device user was extracted and processed even where it was not relevant to the offence under investigation. We absolutely understand the concerns that have been raised in relation to that.

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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I will deal with that in detail in due course. Just so that colleagues understand how that age was settled upon, in the drafting we carefully considered people’s views, including the Information Commissioner, about the freedoms and the feelings of power and authority that users of devices have. We settled on the age of 16 because we understand that a 16-year-old is different from a 12 or 13-year-old, if their parents have allowed them mobile phones, although I am banning my son from having a mobile phone until he is at least 35, but there we go. A moment of lightness, sorry.

I will deal with the point in more detail later, because it is important, but there is a difficult balance to maintain between rights of victims, suspects and defendants but also rights of users, particularly under the European convention, so that has been the Government’s motivation in this. However, we are alive to scrutiny.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think this involves the focus that I hope the Minister is going to come to. I hear everything she has just said about the justification and I am going along with that, but it is clear in subsection (10):

“In this Chapter—

‘adult’ means a person aged 16 or over”.

Why was that specific wording chosen rather than “the remit of the clause covers people from the age of 16 onwards”, for example?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I will come to that later, but the hon. Lady knows that I am in listening mode on this. The Bill includes requirements to obtain agreement to extract information; to ensure there is reasonable belief that the required information is held on the device; and, before using this information, to consider whether there are less intrusive means of obtaining it. That is an important point that I know hon. Members have focused on. The clauses will ensure that the victim’s right to privacy will be respected and will be at the centre of all investigations where there is a need to extract information from a digital device.

The Bill also includes a new code of practice. This will give clear guidance to all authorities exercising the power. It will address how the information may be obtained using other, less intrusive means; how to ensure that agreement is freely given, and how the device user’s rights are understood. All authorised persons will have a duty to have regard to the code when exercising or deciding whether to exercise the power. The clauses are also clear that the code is admissible in evidence in criminal or civil proceedings and that a failure to act in accordance with it may be taken into account by the court. It will give up-to-date, best practice guidance for selectively extracting data considering existing technological limitations. That will be updated as and when further capabilities are developed and extended to all authorities able to use this power.

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Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hear what the Minister says about cloning and the risk that it is not suitable for admission in court. Will the Minister comment on a kindness that could be done—giving a clone of photos to an asylum seeker, for example?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am so sorry—I have not quite understood the hon. Lady. On the taking of a phone, if I have just been told that we are concerned about the ramifications of cloning it, I do not see why we would clone it despite those reservations in order to provide photographs. I would be very uneasy about having differences in how the police handle digital data depending on the personal circumstances of the person from whom they have taken a phone, including nationality. I would be very cautious about going down that road.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I did not mean to be used in court. I meant for the individual who has lost their one contact with home—that they could get a copy or a print-out of photos, rather than the device just being taken away with no explanation of when they are going to get it back again.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am very cautious about distinguishing between different victims. Perhaps the hon. Lady is alleging that the person she is talking about is a victim. The framework is about consistency and clarity, and I would be concerned about having caveats here and there in order to fit individual facts. Part of this test is about relevance, necessity and proportionality. Those are the tests that we are asking officers to apply, and we would have to apply them across the board.

There are situations within the framework whereby the power can be used without agreement, such as to locate a missing person where the police reasonably believe that the person’s life is at risk. Under clause 36, the police may have good reason to believe that a device has information that will help to locate the person. In such circumstances, clearly the person is not available to give their consent, so clause 36 ensures that officers can extract data, if it is necessary and proportionate, to protect the privacy of the user. That also applies in relation to children who need to be protected.

New clause 49 raises the bar for the exercise of the power in clause 36(1). The necessity test under new clause 49 is one of strict necessity. I am not persuaded that adopting the phrase, “strictly necessary and proportionate”, instead of “necessary and proportionate”, will make a material difference. This phrase is well used in the Bill. I note that article 8.2 of the European convention on human rights—the very article that people are relying on in relation to the framework—permits interference with the right to respect for private and family life. Such interference is permitted where it is necessary to achieve various specified objectives.

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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

On what the hon. Lady has described, I am not sure what difference it would make. I am trying to put myself in the boots of a police officer. Would a police officer ask for data if they read the words, “strictly necessary”, but not if they read the word, “necessary”? Actually, the problem that has been identified by the figure quoted by the hon. Lady is police officers’ understanding of the legislation, which comes back to training. Article 8, on which many rely in this context and in this part of the Bill, refers to “necessary” interference, and I am not clear what “strictly necessary” would add to that.

New clause 49 seeks to provide that information may be extracted only for the purpose of a criminal investigation

“where the information is relevant to a reasonable line of enquiry.”

There are safeguards within the clauses to ensure that information is not extracted as a matter of course, and they have been drafted with respect for victims’ privacy in mind. They include a requirement that the authorised person has a reasonable belief that the device contains information that is relevant to a purpose for which they may extract information, and that the exercise of the power is necessary and proportionate to achieve that purpose.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hear everything the Minister is saying and it is very plausible, but I want to challenge her assertions on necessary, proportionate and clear lines of inquiry, based on the answer I received to a written question to the Home Office on 11 November. I asked about the process of extracting mobile phones. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Croydon South replied:

“Immigration Enforcement search all migrants”—

at this point, “all migrants”, so we do not know yet whether they are an asylum seeker, being trafficked or are here for nefarious purposes—

“upon arrival at the Tug Haven at Dover. In the event that a mobile phone is discovered it will be seized as part of an investigation into the organised crime group involved in the facilitation.”

Again, we do not know if they are a criminal or a victim at this point, but the phone will be seized regardless.

“The migrant will be informed verbally that the phone will be kept for evidential purpose for three to six months. They are provided with a receipt and contact details. Attempts will be made to communicate this in their first language, although this can be challenging due to external factors.”

So people arrive here, immediately their phone is taken away from them and they might not even know why. It is great that within “three to six months”, they are meant to have that response—

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Sixth sitting)

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Sarah Champion
Tuesday 25th May 2021

(5 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

When the national referral mechanism was introduced, I was struck that the responses to my freedom of information requests showed that it was not UK children who were being referred. There was a perception that it was international children, whereas the act of trafficking can mean literally taking a child from one side of the street to the other. Has the situation changed, and will anything in this work make that apparent to local authorities and other safeguarding organisations?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. Sadly, the situation has changed and now the most common nationality of potential child victims of modern slavery is British. As she knows, the NRM is more than a decade old. The criminal world has moved on and the needs of the children we are trying to help, as well as those of adult victims, have changed.

The transformation programme is looking at whether there are different ways in which we can help victims, depending on the safeguarding arrangements that may already be in place and whether children have any family or parental links with this country. Clearly, the needs of a child from Vietnam who has no family links in this country may be very different from those of a child who has been born and brought up here, with parents looking after them and with brothers and sisters. We are trying to find ways to address the needs of all victims, but particularly child victims in this context.

Local authorities are of course already responsible for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of all children in their area, including child victims of modern slavery. Children’s services must already work in close co-operation with the police and other statutory and non-statutory agencies to offer child victims of modern slavery the support they require. With the background and context that it is already mandatory, we therefore conclude that it is not necessary to include that as a further requirement in the Bill.

I turn to amendment 92 and an early help strategy. The hon. Member for Croydon Central is right to point to the need for a focus on prevention, which is a key part of what the duty seeks to achieve. Early intervention is an important part of prevention work and reducing serious youth violence. The duty already sets out the responsibilities of specified authorities and the work they are to undertake, which includes risk factors that occur before a young person has become involved in serious violence. The specified authorities, including the local authority that has responsibility for children’s social care, will be required to consult education authorities in preparing the strategy. They can also be required to collaborate on the strategy. As such, the provision should already ensure that a strategy to reduce and prevent serious violence would encapsulate early help for this cohort, so we do not believe that an additional strategy is required. Again, I refer to the draft statutory guidance that already has early intervention running throughout it. Indeed, we plan to add case studies before formal consultation, to help explain and guide multi-agency partners.

On amendment 93, children’s social care authorities have a crucial role to play and significant insights to share, particularly for those young people at risk of becoming involved in serious violence, child criminal exploitation or other harms. However, local authorities that are already named as a specified authority under the duty are responsible for children’s social care services. Therefore, for the reasons I have already outlined, we do not believe it necessary for the clause to contain the explicit requirement to consult such services, because they are within the definition of local authority. Again, we will make it clear, as part of our draft statutory guidance on the duty, that social care services, among other vital services for which local authorities hold responsibility, must be included.

We believe that amendment 82 is also unnecessary, given the functions conferred on local policing bodies by clause 13, which are intended to assist specified authorities in the exercise of their functions under the duty and to monitor the effectiveness of local strategies.

I turn to new clause 17 and the important issue of child criminal exploitation. I thank the hon. Member for Rotherham for setting out the case for providing in statute a definition of child criminal exploitation. Child criminal exploitation in all its forms is a heinous crime, with the perpetrators often targeting and exploiting the most vulnerable children in our society. We are determined to tackle it. There is already a formal definition of child criminal exploitation included in statutory guidance for frontline practitioners working with children, including “Keeping children safe in education” and “Working Together to Safeguard Children”. In addition, as the hon. Lady noted, the definition is also included in the serious violence strategy, published in 2018, the Home Office’s “Child exploitation disruption toolkit” for frontline practitioners, and the county lines guidance for prosecutors and youth offending teams.

We have discussed the introduction of a further statutory definition with a range of organisations and heard a range of views. On balance, the Government have concluded that there are risks with a statutory definition. Some partners highlighted the changing nature of child criminal exploitation. Inherent to such exploitation is that it evolves and responds to changes in the criminal landscape and the environment. As such, there are concerns that a statutory definition could prove inflexible as the nature of child criminal exploitation adapts.

In addition, as the hon. Lady has rightly noted, the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act, conducted by Frank Field—now Lord Field—and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and Baroness Butler-Sloss, considered the definition of child criminal exploitation under the Act and concluded that it should not be amended, as the definition currently in place is sufficiently flexible to meet a range of new and emerging forms of modern slavery.

We believe that our focus should be on improving local safeguarding arrangements to identify and support victims of child criminal exploitation, and on working to ensure that the right support is in place locally to protect these very vulnerable children.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate, foresaw and understand all the objections that the Minister raises. As she is a former barrister and someone who uses the law, does she agree that it would help to have a definition, as our witnesses said?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Well, we do have the definition in the Modern Slavery Act. Modern slavery cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute because, as with other hidden harms, they require the involvement of often very vulnerable people, including adults as well as children. They include people who might not have English as a language at all, let alone as a first language, and people who might be targeted precisely because of their vulnerability. Although we are looking very much at the context of children, we know that vulnerable adults have their homes taken over by county lines gangs to cuckoo and sell their drugs from, with all the horrendous violence and exploitation that vulnerable adults have to endure as part of that.

We will continue to look at this. As evidence develops, we will be open to that, but, on balance, we have concluded that it is preferable at this stage to focus on the local multi-agency safeguarding arrangements, and to work on the serious violence duty to get a level of understanding of all the good practice taking place at the local level, which the hon. Lady and others have talked about.

One should not view the Bill as being the only thing that the Government or safeguarding partners are doing to address concerns. We have increased the dedicated support available to those at risk and involved in county lines exploitation, and have provided funding to provide one-to-one caseworker support from the St Giles Trust to support young people involved in county lines exploitation. We are funding the Children’s Society’s prevention programme, which works to tackle and prevent child criminal exploitation, child sexual abuse and exploitation, and modern-day slavery and human trafficking on a regional and national basis.

We are also working on a public awareness campaign, #LookCloser, which was rolled out nationally in September and focuses on increasing awareness of the signs and indicators of child exploitation so that the public and frontline services report concerns quickly to the police. As I say, on balance, at this point, we do not believe that a statutory definition is the correct approach, but we are focusing on practical responses to exploitation.

On new clause 47, I have great understanding as to why the hon. Member for Croydon Central tabled it. It would require specified authorities to prepare and implement a strategy to prevent and reduce child criminal exploitation and to safeguard affected children. We have, however, built flexibility into the duty to allow areas to decide which specific crime types are a priority locally. We have done that deliberately so that local areas can react to what is needed in their areas. Indeed, the draft statutory guidance sets that out. Under the duty as drafted, the specified authorities will already be able to include child criminal exploitation in their local serious violence strategies, should that be of particular concern to them. I very much understand the motivation behind the new clause, but we are not convinced that a separate strategy is necessary.

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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I hope that the Committee feels that, in my responses to the amendments, I have dealt with the substance of most of the clauses. I want to emphasise that clause 8 is included to reflect the fact that, particularly in the instance of county lines gangs, criminal gangs do not respect county boundaries, police force areas or local authority areas. They will reach their tentacles across the country, wherever they think there is a market and they can do their harm. The clause encourages and requires authorities to collaborate to address those concerns.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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Does the Minister agree that they are keen to look at the legislation to see where it is weakest, and to target accordingly?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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Criminal gangs are keen?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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Very much so. Criminal gangs are very adept at spotting Government and local priorities and adjusting their behaviours. During the global pandemic, still some county lines were adjusting their methodology to evade detection when they were moving around the country. It is disgraceful, disgusting behaviour, and I hope that this duty and the requirement to collaborate will help to address that.

On the point that the hon. Member for Croydon Central made about housing priority need and the comparison with domestic abuse dealings in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, I will arrange for a letter to be written to her on that point. Unless there are any more interventions, I will sit down.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 8 to 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 12

Preventing and reducing serious violence

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Fifth sitting)

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Sarah Champion
Tuesday 25th May 2021

(5 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins)
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Thank you, Sir Charles. It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

First, I thank Opposition Members for the constructive tone of the debate so far. I very much take the point that this covenant meets with the approval of all the parties represented here today and, I am sure, others as well. We are all conscious of the terrible incidents that members of the police force and the wider policing family have to endure on a daily basis, but we are also particularly mindful—reference has been made to this—of what they have had to endure and the services that they have had to provide in the past 12 months. It has been a very difficult time for the whole of society, and it is, I hope, no surprise to anyone that members of our policing family have been at the forefront of that and have been protecting us through these very difficult 12 months. I am therefore really pleased by the constructive tone of the debate thus far.

I am particularly grateful to the hon. Members for Rotherham and for Croydon Central for tabling these amendments and explaining their reasons for doing so. As I hope will become clear, we very much understand the motivations behind the amendments and, indeed, we have great sympathy with what they seek to achieve. We may just have different ideas of how to achieve them.

Let me put the clause in context. I am pleased that parliamentary counsel decided to put this clause at the very start of the Bill, because it is a significant Bill—the largest criminal justice Bill that Parliament has considered for some time—and I think it right that the police covenant is at the very start. It sets the tone for the rest of the legislation.

This clause will enshrine in law a duty on the Secretary of State to report annually to Parliament on the police covenant, which has been introduced with a view to enhancing support for the police workforce and their families—a very significant point. Even in this Committee Room, there are members of the policing family—they are not direct members themselves, but their fathers, mothers and so on have served in the service—and it is right that we include them in our consideration.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate the Minister giving way. She says, “and their families.” She has just done some exemplary work on the Bill that has become the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and knows that a disproportionately high number of cases of domestic violence and abuse happen within the police world. One would hope that, were we able to tackle the root cause of that by addressing the trauma at the very beginning and putting support in place, the knock-on repercussions would be prevented, which I am sure she and I both really want.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady. She is right: in the course of proceedings on that Bill, we examined the impact that domestic abuse has on members of the wider policing family. She is absolutely right, and I will come on to that point about the trauma, if I may. I do very much acknowledge it.

I will just explain the thinking behind the clause as currently drafted. The covenant takes the form of a declaration and is not set out in the Bill. In particular, the report must address the health and wellbeing of members and former members of the police workforce in England and Wales, their physical protections and support for their families. Over time, the report may deal with other matters addressed under the banner of the police covenant.

The clause is in the Bill because our police put themselves at risk on a daily basis, dealing with some of the most challenging, toughest and most heartbreaking situations—hon. Members have given examples of that during this debate. I will explain how the covenant came into being. We set out a frontline review, inviting police officers, staff and community support officers to share ideas, in order to change and improve policing. The results of that review identified the fact that more must be done to support the wellbeing of those across the policing community. We have therefore announced plans to establish a police covenant, to recognise the bravery, sacrifices and commitment of those who work, or who have worked, in policing. No member of the police workforce should suffer any disadvantage as a result of their role in policing, and the covenant will support that aim.

The examples that hon. Members have provided show, first, the challenges, difficulties and—actually—terror that officers must face on occasion. However, I also hope—I am grasping for silver linings—that some of the stories show the improvements in our collective understanding of the impact of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder on mental health.

The example that the hon. Member for Rotherham gave of the officer who—I think she said that they were not even asked if they were okay, which, as the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood quite rightly said, should be only the beginning of the conversation; of course, much more must flow from that first question. However, the officer to whom the hon. Member for Rotherham referred had to leave the force in 1999. I hope that we all, as a society, have gained a better understanding of the impacts of trauma and so on on mental health since then.

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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I am developing my argument, if I may. The reason I referred to that particular officer, although other examples were given, is that under the covenant, as it is drafted, that officer—as a former member of the police force—is covered by the covenant, and we very much want it to support not just serving members but those who have served and have since retired, or had to leave.

We now come to the nub of the issue—the inclusion of words in the legal framework, as set out in the Bill. We believe very strongly that the consideration of the impact of working with traumatised survivors on the morale and wellbeing of members and former members of the police force is already within scope of the clause, as currently drafted. It falls within the broad categories of health and wellbeing, as set out in clause 1.

Again, just to give the Committee some comfort and, indeed, I hope confidence in what we intend to do, our initial priorities for year one, which will be overseen and monitored by the police covenant oversight board and the police covenant delivery group, will include working towards ensuring that occupational health standards, including for mental health, are embedded in all forces; holding chiefs to account for providing the right quality and investment in their workforce; further consideration of a new chief medical officer for policing in England and Wales; working on a review to establish what is a good support model for families, drawing on established good practice and research from other sectors and international partners; and once that is agreed forces will be required to implement locally bespoke schemes in their local infrastructure. It will include development training for GPs around the role of the police, similar to the military veterans’ GP training, and development of pre-deployment mental health support provided to the police workforce, particularly in the light of the pandemic and the effect that it will have had on the police workforce.

Rather like the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, whereby in the definition we set out the very broad legal framework, and there were many examples of domestic abuse behaviour in those categories, which were then put into the statutory guidance. The wording, “health and wellbeing”, provides the legal framework. Within that, it is for the board, the delivery group and, ultimately, the Secretary of State, to include those matters in the report.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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The Minister’s words are giving me a lot of comfort, but could she clarify a little more? What she is talking about is retrospective support once the incident has happened. Is it her intent that there will be preventive action at the very beginning of police training, so people are aware what the trauma is in advance, rather than just focusing on once it has happened?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I am sure that I will give further clarification in due course if it is needed, but I draw comfort from the fact that the wording I have here is the development of “pre-deployment” mental health support. If that requires further explanation, I am sure that I will provide that explanation in due course.

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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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This is very speculative, so forgive me, but let us follow the hon. Lady’s example. If the board has an independent chair, and to everyone’s surprise they make recommendations to the Secretary of State that do not include measures relating to mental health, the Secretary of State is then in a very difficult position, because she is accountable to Parliament for the contents of the report, yet the work of the report, driven by a committee that is not chaired by one of her Ministers, has come to a set of results that she may not agree with and cannot account for. This is about the trail of accountability from the covenant through to the Dispatch Box. That is why—[Interruption.] I am so sorry; I have just been handed a note but cannot read the writing. I think I can get it. We have that chain of accountability through to the Dispatch Box, which is precisely what we are trying to achieve. We do not want the report or the Minister not to be accountable.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I will give way, but then I must make some progress.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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For clarity—I am sorry to labour the point, but it is important—will the board be on a formal setting? Is it an actual thing? Is it the same group of organisations that make up the report at present? If the board is an actual thing, my concern is this. To take the Minister’s hypothetical example, a new Home Secretary might not have any interest in mental health and wellbeing, but if the board is on a statutory footing, it still has a duty to push whoever is chairing it in the right direction. Could the Minister clarify whether the board is a formal body?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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Of course, and as with other boards, as I have said, the terms are set out and agreed. We want to be open and transparent on that. Its membership will include all the key policing representatives that one would imagine and, what is more, we have tried to go further by giving the Secretary of State the freedom to consult others. If there is a particular charity or organisation that is addressing a particular issue that the board feels is important that year, the Secretary of State has the power to consult that organisation. Again, to provide comfort, we will review the governance arrangements six months after the board is constituted, and we will consider the independence of the board’s chair as part of that.

Amendment 76 is an important amendment. We are exploring how the police covenant, as currently drafted, can apply to police forces and law enforcement organisations that do not fall within the remit of the Home Office, in particular the British Transport police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the Ministry of Defence police and the National Crime Agency. We are very much alive to the points made both by organisations and in this debate. With that work ongoing, I trust that the hon. Member for Croydon Central will not press the amendment to a vote.

Finally, new clause 44 would place a duty on specified health service bodies to have due regard to the police covenant principles. I recognise that, in advancing this new clause, the hon. Member for Croydon Central has drawn on the provisions of the Armed Forces Bill 2021 in respect of the armed forces covenant. The difficulty is that the two covenants are at a different stage in their development. The armed forces covenant has been around for some years, and in that context it is right that it should now develop, with the new duty provided for in clause 8 of the Armed Forces Bill. In contrast, we are just getting started with the police covenant. At the moment, we do not think it appropriate to place a requirement on specific public bodies to have due regard to the police covenant. We must gather robust evidence and have careful consideration of the needs and consultation with the relevant health service bodies.

I want to reassure the hon. Lady that, through the reporting requirement that we have set out in the legislation and the governance process, we will be looking at the best way to ensure that our police can access the right care when they need it. In the light of my explanation and my assurance that we are continuing to consider how best to address the report requirement for non-Home Office forces, I hope that the hon. Member for Rotherham will be content to withdraw her amendment.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Sarah Champion
Monday 13th July 2020

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Very much so. I can assure my hon. Friend that the places of worship protective security funding scheme has been designed so that each place of worship can apply for practical security measures that suit their individual needs, ranging from CCTV to alarm systems. This allows each place of worship to remain open and accessible for worshippers, while providing greater security. We want to ensure that this scheme listens to worshippers and their communities when seeking to achieve the balance to which he rightly refers.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
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What progress she has made on preventing the sexual exploitation of children by organised gangs. [904592]