Debates between Victoria Atkins and Sarah Jones during the 2019 Parliament

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Sarah Jones
Monday 12th July 2021

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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The hon. Lady rightly raises the names of those who have been murdered in her constituency, and of course our thoughts go to the families and friends affected by that. Of course, serious violence does not just affect the individual family; it affects the whole community. That is why we are taking this whole-system approach: very tough law enforcement, but critically, also trying to intervene at an early stage to help young people to avoid gangs, which will have an impact on the streets more widely. That is why the serious violence duty is so very important. I really hope that, on the next occasion the Labour party has to vote in support of the serious violence duty, it takes the opportunity to do so. Working together with schools, hospitals, other healthcare agencies, the police and local authorities is how we are going to help ensure that the sorts of incidents she describes do not happen again.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) (Lab)
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As we have been watching the incredible achievements of the England football team, the epidemic of violence on our streets has been growing, with younger and younger boys losing their lives in horrific murders, including a 16-year-old we are mourning in my constituency. Many of our football heroes had tough upbringings and have spoken out about the importance of role models and mentors—adults in their lives who helped them unlock their talent. I want all our young people to be able to unlock their talent, including that small group of vulnerable people at risk of being gripped by crime, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) says, many of those adults—in youth work, in education, in social care, in the health service—have disappeared following a decade of extreme cuts. Our summer holidays should be flooded with youth work, mentorship programmes, sports clubs and mental health support, as well, of course, as good neighbourhood policing. The scale of the problem deserves an appropriate response, so will the Government today recognise the potential of our whole nation and commit to helping every vulnerable child this summer?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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May I join the hon. Lady in acknowledging the sportsmanship, the talents, the dignity and the joy that the English football team have brought so many people over the tournament? They have been the very best of us; and they have been the very best of us while facing some horrific abuse—absolutely horrific racist abuse—during the tournament, and that is not acceptable.

The hon. Lady is quite right to raise the question of role models. I know from my own son’s adoration of many of the England footballers just what powerful role models many of those footballers are to younger people. Sadly, of course, we cannot incorporate a Sterling or a Harry Kane into every youth project, but what we can do is build the structures around them. That is precisely what we are doing, with increased investment both through the Department for Education funding over the summer and through our own work in funds such as the trusted relationships fund, which is helping young people to build positive relationships with positive role models. I join the hon. Lady’s cri de coeur that we should pay full credit and respect to our footballers. They themselves tell the tale that if you have the belief and you have the talent, my goodness you can make it.

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

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

(4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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Very much so. Indeed, that has been part of our work with the review. We conducted the first review in 2018 and, to put this in context—I will read the figures out because I want to make sure they are correct—of the 406 clinics and hospitals identified as providing those services, providers told us that only 36 had stated that they experience any protest activity.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) (Lab)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to state publicly that I very much support the new clause. On the point that the Minister has just made, in my local area abortion services can be accessed in the large hospital. There is no protest there because it is a large hospital with loads of people coming and going for other things, but in areas with stand-alone abortion clinics, we all know where they are, and people are known to stand outside. Although I understand the point about things being different in different areas, when people are standing outside, holding something and not saying anything, it is still enormously judgmental, scary and upsetting, even though what those people are doing perhaps does not look to the police to be as intimidating as it is. I am sure that some turn away because they cannot face going past that.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I accept that, and of course, women can be in a distressed state when they are approaching clinics. They may be in turmoil and may have questions about what they are about to do—they may well have doubts. I am sympathetic to the idea that not every protest has to display the sorts of posters that the hon. Member for Rotherham has described to unsettle or upset women accessing those services.

I have a second set of figures. The figures are important because we as a Government have to look at proportionate responses. The first set of figures came out of the 2018 review. Since then, to come to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby, we have again asked service providers for their views and whether there has been an increase or decrease in activity. The figure I have been provided with is that 35 out of the 142 registered clinics are currently or have recently been affected by protest activities. Five hospitals have been affected. That compares with 32 clinics and four hospitals being affected in 2018.

I am told, incidentally, that one of the clinics that had been reviewed in 2018 has since closed down, so that may explain that difference. I give the figures because that is why we are concerned that a blanket ban across all of the service providers may not be proportionate, given that the majority of clinics and the overwhelming majority of hospitals that provide these services do not appear to have been affected by protest activity thus far. That is why we believe that a localised approach of PSPOs, with councils using the orders, is the way forward.

We have also looked very carefully at whether there is work we can do to help councils understand the powers that they have under the orders. Again, we believe that the law is in a good place at the moment, but we very much keep this under review.

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

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

(4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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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.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
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The Minister points to the risks of legislation being passed that defines something that is as yet undefined, and that being a blank cheque. Does she agree that our concerns about the protest element of the Bill, which gives the Home Secretary the right to define vast sections of the Bill after the legislation has been passed, relate to the same principle?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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No, no, no, on the very contrary. I do not want to get into very technical discussions about the ways in which hate crime legislation is drawn up, but the hon. Lady will know that there are reams of statute setting out various elements of hate crime and aggravating factors in sentencing. The proposed new subsection to which the hon. Lady refers in clause 54 relates to the definitions of

“serious disruption to the activities of an organisation which are carried out in the vicinity of a public procession, or…serious disruption to the life of the community.”

It is not a proper comparison in any way, shape or form, because that is a definition of two terms, whereas—who knows?—the Law Commission may be very radical in its reform and recommend that we change many parts of primary legislation that has been passed over several years by various Governments.

On new clause 25, we have already taken significant action, not least with the passing of the Domestic Abuse Act, but we must go further. That is why we will publish the tackling violence against women and girls strategy and a complementary domestic abuse strategy to focus all our attention on those crimes that disproportionately affect women and girls. I have already spoken about the importance of education and challenging some cultural attitudes that exist in corners of society. That will be very much part of the work of both of those complementary strategies, so I invite the Committee to await the Law Commission’s publication of its conclusions, and publication of the Government’s VAWG and domestic abuse strategies. I hope that the hon. Member for Stockton North will be content to withdraw his new clause.

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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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New clause 24 seeks to establish a review into sentencing in cases of domestic homicide, following many tragic cases, including those of Ellie Gould and Poppy Devey Waterhouse, among others, where there remain concerns about the sentences handed down by courts. The Government recognise those concerns, which is why my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor has already announced a review of sentencing in domestic homicide cases.

We are carrying out a targeted review of how such cases, focused on those that involve fatal attacks on intimate partners or ex-partners, are dealt with in our justice system, including how such cases are sentenced. It is the Lord Chancellor’s intention to make quick progress on this and to conduct the review while the Bill is making its way through the legislative process. The first phase of the review is under way to gather data and relevant information, following which the Lord Chancellor will consider the best form for the next phase of the review.

As for a review of domestic abuse legislation more generally, Parliament has just finished scrutinising, at length and in depth, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. The Act contains many important reforms and proposals for the future, and our focus must be on implementing those reforms before reviewing their impact.

Turning to new clauses 48 and 55, clause 27(7) requires the Secretary of State to publish or make arrangements to publish the report of an offensive weapons homicide review, unless publication is considered inappropriate, in which case the Secretary of State must publish as much of the report as is considered appropriate for publication. Beyond that statutory requirement, we want to ensure that the recommendations from offensive weapons homicide reviews are shared, considered, debated and, where appropriate, implemented locally and nationally in England and Wales. We will therefore set up a new Home Office homicide oversight board to oversee the introduction of offensive weapons homicide reviews to monitor implementation of any findings and to support dissemination of learnings locally and nationally. We will set out further details about the board and how it will operate in due course.

We have already undertaken to create a central repository to hold all reports from DHRs. Once introduced, all historical reports will be collected to ensure that there is a central database on domestic homicides. That is a significant move forward. We are working closely with the domestic abuse commissioner on the detailed arrangements for that central repository so that it can be effective in helping all relevant agencies to access and apply the lessons learned from DHRs.

Finally, in relation to child death reviews, the “Working together to safeguard children” guidance sets out the statutory requirements regarding child death reviews. Established processes are already in place to collate and share learning from such reviews, and it is a statutory requirement that child death review partners make arrangements for the analysis of information from all deaths reviewed and that learnings should be shared with the national child mortality database. The database analyses the patterns, causes and associated risk factors for child mortality in England and disseminates data and learning from the reviews via its annual and thematic reports.

We are not persuaded that new clause 55 is necessary. The statutory guidance for DHRs makes it clear that where the criteria for a review are met a review should be conducted. The power in section 9(2) of the 2004 Act to direct that a review be undertaken is a backstop and, in practice, is rarely needed. However, when it is needed, it is exercised. Indeed, the Home Secretary exercised it recently in the case of the death of Ruth Williams, because Torfaen Council had refused to progress a DHR. Furthermore, we have introduced a process whereby the DHR quality assurance panel reviews all cases where a decision has been made not to conduct a review. The quality assurance panel is made up of members representing statutory bodies and expert organisations, and they are well placed to consider whether a DHR is necessary and to offer appropriate feedback. That process ensures that DHRs can commence as soon as practicable, without needing the Home Secretary to intervene in every case.

In summary, we agree that the lessons for all the homicide reviews must be learned and applied locally and nationally. Mechanisms are already in place, or are indeed being put in place, to ensure that that happens, so we are not persuaded that the two new clauses are necessary at this stage.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
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I am interested in the homicide board to which the Minister referred. We would appreciate more details about how that would work, and it would be nice if we could get them before Report. I am reassured about the number of databases that there are, because we know that violence breeds violence, and I suspect that there are themes across all these areas from which we could learn more. I ask the Minister to keep pushing the issue.

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

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

(4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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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.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) (Lab)
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I am glad about what the Minister has just said, that she remains in listening mode and that she will continue to examine the case. Does she have more detail on what form that listening mode takes? Are people in the Home Office looking at this? Is there any possibility of it? Is there a timeline, a review, that we are waiting for before a decision or any kind of structure around that?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I hope the Committee will understand that it is taking us time to work through the 180,000 responses that we received—an extraordinary number for any Government survey. We have a team of officials who are working through each and every response, and we have taken each and every response very seriously. It is taking a bit of time. Once that exercise, the results of the survey, has been fully understood—fully collated and absorbed—from that, the strategy will be shaped. Later this year, we hope to be able to publish.

The strategy will deal not just with the sorts of topics that have been discussed in the course of the Committee, along with many other forms of crimes that disproportionately affect women and girls, including, for example, female genital mutilation, so-called honour-based abuse and such like. We want this to be an ambitious strategy that meets the demands of the 2020s, including the emergence of online crimes. We know from our discussions of this Bill and the scrutiny of what became the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 that perpetrators of crime can find ample opportunity online to continue their abuse. We are being mindful of all those aspects when drawing up the strategy.

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Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
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My hon. Friend is right, as always. The purpose of the new clause would be of no concern to people who drive safely and competently.

The new clause would also make it a requirement for companies to hand over that black box data to the police should they request it. As Members of the House have communicated to me, this problem is repeatedly raised on the doorstep in some communities and in constituency surgeries, and getting a grip of it would not only make people safer, but push back on the costs picked up by responsible road users who are penalised through their own insurance to cover the risk presented by a minority of reckless road users who drive vehicles without insurance that become involved in crashes.

The Motor Insurers Bureau has shared with me some troubling examples of questionable insurance policies being used by some companies in this rental sector. Agencies agree that costs are passed on to law-abiding road users by those abusers of system. A black box would help to provide an evidence base for determining whether road traffic offences had been committed and, ultimately, for securing prosecutions if necessary. That would protect law-abiding road users from risk and cost to them.

Over the years, I have seen the police and various partnerships deploy several attempts to address the issue, with varying success. The new clause would make a start by using legislation to address reckless driving facilitated by the irresponsible use of hired supercars.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I have listened very carefully to the arguments made by the hon. Lady, and it seems to me that the issue comes down to the driving habits of the small group of people in West Yorkshire and elsewhere that she described.

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Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
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I fear, Sir Charles, that two non-car-experts are talking about cars, which is probably uncomfortable for car experts across the country. Many of the cars the Minister has mentioned are fitted with black boxes. Police cars are fitted with black boxes. A lot of companies offer much cheaper insurance if someone has a black box fitted to their car. Indeed, there are insurance companies with the words “black box” in their name. The provision is not extreme, and this is becoming normal anyway. Given the Minister’s argument about the breadth of models of car that might be affected by the new clause, perhaps she will commit herself to considering a better definition so as to tackle this particular, extreme problem, which is very concerning for a lot of people.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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There are other concerns about the new clause, which come back to the proportionality argument. I fully accept, of course, for those communities that are affected by the sort of antisocial—indeed dangerous—driving that hon. Lady has described, that their feelings as to proportionality will differ from those in a quiet rural area, for example, where there is no such behaviour, but this is where the powers that I have already outlined come in. They include public spaces protection orders, which can be particularly powerful, because they allow a local area to address the concerns in a particular part of the area as appropriate.

The concern that we have for the wider hire market is that the requirement to fit devices to these vehicles—the Honda Civic, the Volvo V60 and suchlike—could restrict choice and availability of vehicles. The low threshold may defeat the objective of stopping higher-performance vehicles being driven at speed. Consumers may in fact switch to lower-powered vehicles so as not to be monitored by black boxes, and continue to break the law.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
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As I understand it, given the problems that have been described to me, people specifically want to hire these high-glamour cars—Lamborghinis and so on—because they want to show off and race each other. Getting a lower-performance car is not what they are aiming for; the point is to hire these big, high-powered, high-glamour cars and show off in front of their friends.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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This is difficult, in terms of defining the type of car. But I also fall back on the proportionality argument, because in requiring devices to be fitted to every single car as a matter of law, we would be affecting the overwhelming majority of law-abiding citizens, who do not race Lamborghinis and so on—although I do note, having watched Jeremy Clarkson’s farming programme, that he has a Lamborghini, albeit a Lamborghini tractor, which I suspect would not fall into this category.

We would have further concerns about the privacy consequences of fitting these devices, because to ensure that we were acting in the way that the new clause sets out, it would have to affect responsible road users as well as irresponsible ones. Telematic data is normally used to assess individual road safety risk, which can be an inexact science. As the hon. Lady said, this is currently voluntary, not mandatory. Forcing those using even medium-sized rental cars to have these devices fitted could understandably lead to privacy concerns on the part of all rental vehicle users and not just the irresponsible racers, on which the new clause is understandably focused.

For those reasons—for reasons of proportionality but also because there are existing powers to deal with this irresponsible, dangerous behaviour—we do not believe that the new clause is proportionate and therefore we hope that the hon. Lady feels able to withdraw the motion.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have heard from several MPs about the problem that this behaviour is causing in their constituencies. The argument of proportionality is always a strong one, but in this case the problem is such that people are concerned for their safety and for the lives of the people hiring these vehicles, and therefore I would like to press the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

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

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

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
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I want to speak briefly to the clauses, which we support. I begin by paying tribute to Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt, whose lives were so tragically cut short at the Fishmonger’s Hall attack. Protecting the public is the overall and overriding priority for us all, and clauses 157 to 162 would help law enforcement and counter-terror policing to better manage and monitor the risks when terrorist offenders are released on licence.

Lone attackers intent on causing carnage have taken the lives of innocent people, injured more and caused enormous suffering to all those affected. In the year ending June 2020, 34 sentenced terrorist offenders were released from prison custody. Between July 2013 and June 2020, 265 terrorist prisoners were released from a custodial prison sentence, but the statistics do not show which of those were released on licence. It would be helpful if the Minister had any statistics on the number of terrorist prisoners released on licence in recent years.

As we know, this is an issue of heightened importance since the atrocities at Fishmonger’s Hall and Streatham. The perpetrators were terrorist risk offenders or were on the authorities’ radar to a certain degree. The Opposition have repeated called for a review into lone actor terrorism and the need for a clearer strategy to tackle it.

It emerged in the spring that the Home Office had in fact conducted a review of that kind but through an internal unit, so few details are known about it. My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) pressed Ministers for more details about the review and for its key findings to be shared confidentially with us, but we have had no response. All along, we have said that we want to work with the Government to get these crucial matters right and to strengthen national security, which is our top priority. We can do that better if we have the right information and if there is full transparency by the Government about where the system needs to improve.

Overall, we welcome the provisions in clauses 157 to 162 that will insert four new sections into the Terrorism Act 2000, providing for new powers to manage terrorist offenders. We were pleased that the Government asked the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Jonathan Hall, QC, to review multi-agency public protection arrangements regarding the management of terrorist offenders and other offenders of terrorism concern. In the joint letter by the Justice Secretary and the Home Secretary to Jonathan Hall, QC, they wrote that

“officials consulted all operational agencies, including counter-terrorism, police and the National Probation Service, which confirmed how useful the new powers would be and in what circumstances they might be used.”

Labour welcomes this statement.

In the evidence sessions for the Bill Committee, Jonathan Hall, QC, made some important points, one about a specific safeguard, which I would like the Minister to respond to. Jonathan Hall, QC, said on the power in clause 159 to apply for a warrant to search the premises of a released offender, which he supports, that

“it would be possible to apply to a judge for a warrant that would allow you to enter on any number—potentially an infinite number—of occasions. If you think about released terrorist offenders on licence, their licences can last a very long time—for example, 10 or 15 years—so perhaps the Committee may want to think about whether it is appropriate to have a power that would authorise multiple entries into a person’s premises throughout 10 or 15 years. The power of multiple entry under warrant does exist when you are talking about a live operation, and the police find that quite useful. I am not quite sure whether it is justified in the context of this particular risk.”––[Official Report, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Public Bill Committee, 18 May 2021; c. 51.]

Since this is our first chance to discuss small points of detail in the Bill, it would be helpful if the Minister could respond to the point that Jonathan Hall, QC, made.

Furthermore, on clause 158 Jonathan Hall, QC, had a question about the purpose of this search, in that the clause is drafted in a way that makes its scope wider than that of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011. Can the Minister say what precisely is the purpose of the search, and can she respond to the point made by Jonathan Hall, QC, that it may be that the purpose of the search goes a bit wider than necessary?

Finally, Jonathan Hall, QC, said in March that the Government have not taken any steps in the Bill to address the fact that there is no proof that the desistance and disengagement programme for released terrorists is working. Can the Minister point us to anything in the Bill or elsewhere that addresses that point?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt, whose lives were tragically cut short in a horrific manner in Fishmongers’ Hall. I am really pleased that these clauses meet with the approval of both the Government and the Opposition parties, so that we are able to make some very substantial changes, as recommended by Jonathan Hall, QC. He examined the legislation with great care and attention following the commission from the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor.

The hon. Lady asked me a few questions. If I may, I will write to her on the point about the statistics; I do not have the statistics to hand, I am afraid, but I will write to her with them. She asked about the ability under clause 159 for officers to apply for a multiple entry ability warrant. The reason for that ability is that we anticipate that there will be a very small number of cases in which counter-terrorism police officers believe that a warrant permitting multiple entry is required. An application by the police will only be made following cross-agency work, including discussion with probation services on the justification for a warrant and its appropriate scope. Ultimately, of course, it would be for the court to decide, and clause 159 is clear that the court should issue the warrant only if it is satisfied that such authorisation is necessary for purposes connected with protecting members of the public from a risk of terrorism.

To reassure colleagues, Parliament has previously agreed to the creation of premises search powers that permit multiple entries. For example, the search power under section 56A of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 provides for that, and it was inserted by the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019. I hope that as we felt able to do that in that legislation, we will feel able to do the same in the Bill, given all the safeguards.

The hon. Lady asked about the purpose of a search. The personal search will provide the police with the means of conducting assurance checks. We envisage that in the majority of cases, they will be checks on whether a relevant terrorist offender is in possession of something that could be used to harm or threaten a person—a weapon or a fake suicide belt, for example—but there may be other limited scenarios in which a personal search for something that appears innocuous may be necessary for purposes connected with protecting members of the public from a risk of terrorism. An example would be a personal search to check whether the offender was in possession of a mobile phone in violation of their licence conditions.

This provision gives a better means of monitoring risk, because a contraband phone would be unlikely to meet any definition of something that could be used to threaten or harm, but depending on the offender’s background, it might embolden them to make contact with their previous terrorist network, enable them to access materials useful in preparing an act of terrorism, or provide a route for them to radicalise others. I hope that I have addressed the hon. Lady’s concerns.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 157 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 158 to 161 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 18 agreed to.

Clause 162 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 163

Rehabilitation of offenders

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

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

(5 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. She speaks with great experience, and she is absolutely right: doing these reviews has wider benefits. Reading the review on Child Q and hearing the stories from the father, mother and family members about him, we can see, hopefully, some form of the beginnings of closure from the review. Therefore we are very much in favour of extending homicide reviews in the way provided for under the Bill. We have some amendments, but they come later, so I will not speak to them now.

To do the victims and their families and friends justice, we need to ensure that the lessons are learned. Part 2, chapter 2 of the Bill will require police, local authorities and clinical commissioning groups to conduct offensive weapon homicide reviews when an adult’s death involves the use of an offensive weapon. Police recorded 625 homicide offences in the year ending December 2020. Of all homicides recorded in the last year—the latest year that we have information for—37% were knife-enabled crimes. A large proportion of homicides involve offensive weapons. In the year ending March 2020, 275 homicides involved a sharp instrument, 49 involved a blunt instrument and 30 were homicides involving shooting. It is therefore absolutely right that the Government look to learn the lessons from those homicides not currently reviewed by multi-agency partners.

In my constituency, there have been incidents in which adults have been killed and an offensive weapon was involved. In one instance, there were incidents in the same area within weeks of each other. Those cases were not linked together, but actually, when people looked into the background and how those murders occurred, it turned out that they were linked.

It is therefore important that the pathways that lead people to be involved in homicides, whether as victims or perpetrators, can be understood and the knowledge can be shared. Offensive weapon homicide reviews will be similar to the domestic homicide reviews that already take place. Domestic homicide reviews are carried out when someone over the age of 16 dies as a result of domestic violence, abuse or neglect. The Government have committed to taking action to address homicide, but have not previously committed to introducing offensive weapon homicide reviews specifically.

Clause 23 will require an offensive weapon homicide review to be carried out when a qualifying homicide has taken place. A qualifying homicide occurs when an adult’s death or the circumstances or history of the person who has died meet conditions set by the Secretary of State in regulations. In accordance with clause 27, the purpose will be to identify lessons to learn from the death and to decide on actions to take in response to those lessons.

Clauses 24 to 35 do a number of things, including giving the Secretary of State the power to specify the relevant review partners in regulations and which of the listed public bodies will need to carry out the review in these circumstances, and to clarify when offensive weapon homicide reviews do not need to be carried out. Importantly, review partners must report on the outcome of their review to the Secretary of State. In addition, there are other key regulations about the obligations of offensive weapon homicide review partners.

Clause 33 is important, as it will require offensive weapon homicide reviews to be piloted before they are brought into force. The Secretary of State will be required to report to Parliament on the pilot. It is vital that offensive weapon homicide reviews are piloted before being rolled out nationally, but the provisions are fairly light on detail. It would be helpful if the Minister could provide any further information on the piloting. Can she clarify how many local authorities or police forces they will work with to pilot the reviews?

Standing Together, a domestic abuse charity, recently reviewed domestic homicide review processes in London boroughs. Its 2019 report identified several areas for improvement, including how domestic homicide reviews are stored and retrieved, how chairs are appointed, and how appropriate funding is secured. It also highlighted that not enough sharing of knowledge is happening.

We are glad that the pilot partners will report on these reviews before they are implemented, but could the Minister explain in a bit more detail what those reports will include? Will there be regular reporting and evaluation of these offensive weapons homicide reviews once they are implemented? Where there is an overlap, and a homicide fits into two different categories—for example, if there is a domestic homicide review and an offensive weapons homicide review—how will the lessons be learned? Will there be two reviews, or just one? I am also keen to hear how the lessons from all existing homicide reviews can be better understood and shared between partners to ultimately make our streets safer and save lives.

The Secretary of State is given the power to make regulations on offensive weapons homicide reviews, to provide information on how to identify which local services are relevant to the review and how local services can negotiate who carries out the review when the circumstances are not clear. This is defined in regulatory powers, not on the face of the Bill; perhaps the Minister could explain why, and also explain what her expected timeframe is for these powers. If the duty to conduct these reviews will not be carried out until the criteria are defined in regulation, will there be a delay? What period of time is the Minister expecting that to be—because those regulations will need to go through Parliament—and what will happen after the regulations are published? Can she provide any data on how many more homicide reviews this change will actually bring; what expected number of reviews will need to be undertaken? Finally, what are the plans for budgets to cover local safeguarding partners’ costs for the delivery of these reviews? That question was raised in evidence from the Local Government Association, so will the Home Office be submitting a case to increase the funding for local authorities? If not, how does it envisage that these reviews will be funded? I will leave it there.

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

It continues to be a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Croydon Central for setting out some of the background to these clauses. Through the clauses relating to offensive weapons homicide reviews, we want to tackle the growing proportion of homicides that involve offensive weapons, for all the reasons that one can imagine: for communities, and for the families affected. As the hon. Lady has set out, there is at the moment no legal requirement to review such homicides unless they are already subject to review: if, for example, the victim is a child or a vulnerable adult, or the homicide has happened in a domestic setting. As such, we want to introduce these offensive weapons homicide reviews to ensure that local agencies consider the circumstances of both victims and perpetrators, and identify lessons from these homicides that could help prevent future deaths.

Taking a step back and looking at the Bill as a whole, this work will form part of the local authorities’ work on the serious violence duties. I hope there will be much cross-learning between those duties and the homicide reviews that may occur in local areas, as part of a joined-up approach to tackling such homicides. All persons, bodies and organisations with information relevant to the decision to conduct a review or to identifying lessons, such as schools and probation services, will be legally required to provide information deemed relevant to the review.

The hon. Member for Croydon Central has understandably asked where these reviews fit in with existing homicide reviews: child death and adult safeguarding reviews in England, and their equivalents in Wales, as well as domestic homicide reviews. To avoid duplication of work, the Bill provides that these new offensive weapons homicide reviews will be required only where there is not an existing statutory requirement to review the homicide, which I hope answers her question.

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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I am very pleased to confirm that the Home Office will provide funding for the relevant review partners to cover the costs of the reviews during the pilot stage, and will meet the cost of the Home Office homicide oversight board. If the policy is rolled out nationally, funding arrangements will be confirmed after the pilot, but in that initial period that is certainly the approach.

I am trying to see whether I have further details about the pilots that I can assist the Committee with. Clause 33 requires that a pilot of the reviews takes place for one or more purpose, or in at least one area. We intend to pilot reviews in at least three areas and are currently in discussions to enable that to happen. We will announce the pilot areas in due course. We want to pilot the reviews in areas that have high levels of homicide and in areas that have low levels, and that represent regions in both England and Wales.

We will also specify in regulations the length of time that the pilot will last. We currently intend to run the pilot for 18 months to ensure that the review process can be tested properly in each of the pilot areas, but clause 23 allows us to extend the length of the pilot for a further period, which may be useful if further test cases are needed. Our approach is to ensure that the pilot provides us with the greatest insight and information as to how the reviews would work if we roll them out across the whole of England and Wales. In the interests of transparency, clause 33 also requires the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report on the operation of the pilot before the reviews can come fully into force across England and Wales.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 23 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 24 to 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 36

Extraction of information from electronic devices: investigations of crime etc

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 94, in clause 36, page 29, line 5, at end insert—

“(c) the user who has given agreement under subsection (1)(b) was offered free independent legal advice on issues relating to their human rights before that agreement was given.”

This amendment would ensure that users of electronic devices were offered free independent legal advice before information on their device could be accessed.

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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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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.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
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The Minister is outlining how important the code of practice is. Is she therefore sympathetic to the view that we have put forward in our new clauses that that code of practice should be pulled together with a list of eminently sensible and professional organisations and people, and that we should define in the Bill some of what that should include because it is so important?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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We are going to be even more ambitious than that. We aim to publish a draft on Report, which means the House and the other place will be able to scrutinise the draft code of practice during the scrutiny of the Bill as a whole. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, we will consult formally on the code of practice, including with the relevant commissioners, to enable a more detailed draft to be laid before the House. Again, we are in listening mode on the ways in which the code of practice should be drafted, because we understand how important it is and how important it is that victims, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, among others, have confidence in the document.

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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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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.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand what the Minister is saying. The review in Northumbria showed that about 50% of requests were not strictly necessary and proportionate. That must be wrong, and we are trying to make sure that people know what they are giving over, that they do it voluntarily and that it is absolutely necessary that such information is requested. Apart from trying to be clear about what is proportionate and necessary, what solution can the Minister put in place to make sure we do not have 50% of cases involving asking for information where it is not necessary and proportionate?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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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.

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

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

(5 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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Clauses 4 to 6 provide a new test to assess the standard of driving of a police officer. Should an officer be involved in a road traffic incident, this new test will allow courts to judge their standard of driving against a competent and careful police constable with the same level of training, rather than against a member of the public, as at present. Clause 4 applies the new test to the offence of dangerous driving, while clause 5 makes similar provision in respect of the offence of careless driving.

We believe that police officers need to be able to do their job effectively and keep the public safe. We are aware of concerns among some police officers over the legal position when pursuing suspected offenders or responding to an emergency. The hon. Member for Croydon Central asked about different standards of training. The proposed changes seek to strike the right balance between enabling the police to keep the public safe on the roads and pavements, apprehending criminals around the country who would otherwise pose a threat, and effectively holding to account the minority of officers who drive inappropriately.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council has worked closely with police forces to standardise police driver training across England and Wales. This will ensure that police drivers are trained to a similar standard, depending on their role, and that the legal test for police drivers will have a fairer comparator. This will also include different levels of training to reflect the training and skills that each role requires.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The NPCC made exactly that point: people will have different levels of training. It just wants reassurance about officers who are not trained to do something that they end up having to do in the line of duty. Will they be affected because they have not had a very high level of training when, for example, pursuing somebody?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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This will include different levels of training to reflect the training and skills that each will require, so that difference is reflected. We are pleased to introduce these clauses. There is a careful balancing act between the interests of the law-abiding public and police officers while ensuring that standards are maintained on the road. These provisions will also extend, I am happy to say, to police driving instructors when they carry out advanced police driving techniques for the purpose of teaching trainee police driving instructors and trainee police drivers in the territorial police forces and other police forces. We believe that this new test strikes that balance, so I commend the clauses to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 5 and 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7

Duties to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 78, in clause 7, page 7, line 33, after “violence”, insert “and safeguard children involved in serious violence”

This amendment, together with Amendments 79, 80, 83, 84, 85, 86, 88 and 89, would ensure specified authorities involved in the “serious violence duty” safeguard children at risk of or experiencing from harm.

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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I do not assume that the duty and the draft statutory guidance preclude that consistency of standard; but in this arena and also with other crime types that are hidden and which prey upon vulnerable people, I am very keen that we encourage innovation. We are seeing some really interesting work being conducted through the Youth Endowment Fund. The hon. Gentleman may be familiar with that; it is a fund that stretches over a decade. It is protected money of £200 million that is being invested across the country and is evaluated very carefully in order to build a library of programmes that work—and also programmes that do not work: we need to know both those things, to help local commissioners make good decisions about what they should be funding with taxpayers’ money. I am keen that we enable that sort of innovation.

Of course, consistency of standards is one of the reasons why we want to introduce the duty—precisely because we are aware that those areas that have VRUs may well be a few steps ahead of other parts of the country that do not have them because they do not suffer the same rates of serious violence as London or Manchester, for example. I very much take the point about consistency, but we believe that that can be addressed through the duty itself and the draft statutory guidance.

I am going to come to an end soon, Sir Charles. There is a requirement to include how inter-agency training will be commissioned, delivered and monitored for impact in the published local safeguarding arrangements. That is relevant to the point that the hon. Member for Stockton North just made. Safeguarding partners must also publish an annual report on their safeguarding arrangements, which should include evidence of the impact of the work of the safeguarding partners and relevant agencies, including training.

I am pleased that the Committee has had the opportunity to debate this duty. We have more debates ahead of us, I suspect. We believe that the three safeguarding partners already in place, through the multi-agency safeguarding arrangements that came into being in 2019, are the way to address some of the important issues raised by hon. Members in this part of the debate.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sir Charles, I am sorry about turning my back previously. It was a very appealing amendment and it is hard not to look.

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Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
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I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his political jibe. He is correct to say there are examples of bad housing in Croydon, as there are in other parts of the country. It has a massively serious effect on people’s lives. [Interruption.] I can hear the hon. Member for Croydon South muttering about it from a sedentary position.

I will move on to the issue that we are talking about. When an urgent move is required because of gang violence, temporary accommodation is often the only realistic option. The law currently does not prioritise families in this situation, in contrast with the requirement for victims of domestic abuse to be treated as a priority for rehousing. Section 189(1) of the Housing Act 1996 gives victims automatic priority need, so that victims fleeing domestic abuse are moved urgently and thus protected. That is not the case when the threat of violence is external, which means that families are often forced to choose between giving up a secure tenancy and making a homeless application to their local authority, or keeping their secure tenancy and staying somewhere where they are in danger. The child safeguarding practice review published last year notes a case where a family moved back to an area where they were at risk in order to prevent the loss of their right to permanent housing. Within months, their son was killed.

The problems do not stop there. Evidence from practitioners shows how people at risk of violence who approach their local authorities are often not given adequate support due to their not being categorised as priority need under section 189(1) of the Housing Act. Youth workers who work with victims of gang violence often try to identify mental or physical health needs in the family in order to create a workaround. This shows that the system is not responding to the needs of victims of violence because of their status as victims. Support workers at New Horizon Youth Centre in London state that when young people are found in priority need, it is often as a result of any mental health conditions that they have managed to have diagnosed during the centre’s work with them following a serious incident of violence—it is not on the basis of being a victim or being at risk of such violence. In most cases, there is police evidence of risk, but the support workers have found that this is not enough to secure a positive priority need decision.

Kate Bond, the youth outreach project manager at New Horizon Youth Centre, explains: “We have seen so many cases where violence or the threat of violence is rejected as a reason for young people to be seen in priority need under the Housing Act. We have cases where even though there is clear evidence that someone’s life is at risk—not only because of their current injuries, hospital letters and police reports, but also proof from a range of other relevant services—they are not found in priority need. Too often, we end up having to pay for these young people in emergency accommodation and spend a long time gathering proof under other grounds for priority need, keeping the young person in limbo. Traumatised young people are further demotivated by this process and the sense that their lives being at risk is not enough to secure them somewhere safe to live. This continues to put lives and communities at unnecessary risk. However, even that threshold for proof required by local authorities before they will place young people in temporary accommodation can be difficult to reach. Often, for example, young people cannot go to their GP because it is in an area where they feel unsafe, so securing medical proof becomes more challenging and the diagnosis of mental health conditions more difficult.”

Under sections 177(1) and 177(1A) of the Housing Act, a person is legally homeless if violence or the threat of violence means that they cannot be reasonably expected to remain in their current accommodation, but the homelessness code of guidance for local authorities currently provides no guidance for local authorities on how to consider whether an applicant might be in priority need because their current home puts them at risk of gang violence, harassment or grooming. Currently, there is only general advice on the assessment of violence in paragraph 8.36, whereas the assessment of domestic abuse is dealt with in some detail by the statutory guidance. The guidance also says that a shortage of housing could be taken into account when considering whether a family should be moved.

Housing providers such as local authorities or housing associations may also hold critical information that can be used as evidence to support the homelessness application, safeguarding, or police investigations. They may be able to support young people and families to access alternative accommodation. Practitioners are reporting, however, that housing representatives are often not included in relevant case forums and discussions on families at risk of harm. Similarly, when people fleeing violence present at their local authority for rehousing, there is currently no duty on the local authority to seek information from the police to ascertain the level of risk when assessing the housing application.

As I said, amendments 50 to 62, and new clauses 28 and 29, were drafted by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow in collaboration with the co-chairs of the Housing Law Practitioners Association and Garden Court Chambers, and with the backing of many organisations such as Centrepoint, New Horizons Youth Centre, Shelter, Crisis, Barnardo’s, the Big Issue Foundation, St Basils, Catch-22, Redthread, Homeless Link, Nacro, the Revolving Doors Agency, Fair Trials and the St Giles Trust.

New clause 28 would ensure that we learn from best practice of housing support services for victims of domestic violence, and that those who are at risk of violence owing to gang behaviour are prioritised for rehousing away from harm. For children and adults affected by and at risk of serious violence, seeking support to secure a safe place to live can be extremely difficult. Evidence from practitioners shows how young people, care leavers, people with multiple needs, and families facing threats of violence are not given adequate support when approaching their local authorities to seek help moving out of harmful situations because, despite meeting the threshold for vulnerability, given that they have fled violence or threats of violence, they are not seen as in priority need. In many cases, they do not receive the initial duties and assessment to which they are entitled under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. New clause 28 is designed to remove that hurdle and set outs clearly that anyone at risk of violence is in priority need, whether the violence takes place inside or outside the home.

New clause 29 would ensure that the current homelessness code of guidance is updated to take into account the specific needs of those fleeing gang violence and exploitation. Serious cases reviews have shown that the current guidance is not sufficient and young people are paying the price with their lives. Victims of serious violence are often forced to choose between remaining in an area where they are at risk or making a homeless application and giving up a secure tenancy. In the financial year 2019-20, more than 7,000 households were recognised as being at risk of or experiencing non-domestic violence and abuse and seeking homelessness support. It is right that the departmental guidance provides specific guidance for people in that situation.

Homelessness and housing precarity are significant contributing factors to children and adults becoming vulnerable to violence as they respond to offers of accommodation from those seeking to exploit them. Prevention of that trend and early intervention to reduce the harm they may face requires their housing needs to be met quickly and appropriately. The current homelessness code of guidance highlights certain vulnerabilities faced by groups such as young people, care leavers and victims of trafficking, who should be considered as part of the housing application, but there is little guidance around young people at risk of violence and exploitation. By enhancing the current code of guidance so that local authorities take into account the needs of people at risk from serious violence, the Government would ensure that the needs of that vulnerable group specifically are considered by local housing authorities to protect them from further risk of violence. Amendments 50 to 62 would ensure that registered social landlords are involved and consulted in local efforts to reduce serious violence, and that there is timely co-operation between the police and local housing authorities to prevent serious violence.

Part 2 of the Bill outlines the model for multi-agency working to prevent serious violence. The horrific cases in the serious case reviews tell us that there is no effective multi-agency response to preventing serious violence that does not include housing. These amendments will ensure that registered social landlords are included in the new duty and ensure that there is timely information sharing between the police and RSLs for the purpose of preventing serious violence. By supporting effective multi-agency working between all partners, the Government can ensure that housing is considered as an essential part of a comprehensive public health approach to tackling and preventing the serious use of violence.

As I have said, there is provision in law and in practice for people fleeing domestic violence to have a route out of that violent situation, through their local authority and the definition of priority needs. There is not the same route out for those at risk of gang violence in their area, and I have seen the consequences of that. These amendments would put those at risk of serious violence on the same footing as those at risk of domestic violence. I would be grateful if the Minister could consider these amendments.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

We very much recognise the valuable contribution that local authorities and housing associations are able to make as part of local efforts to prevent and reduce serious violence. Local authorities are responsible for the delivery of a range of vital services for people and businesses in a local area, including housing and community safety. It is expected that such responsibilities will be key to the role they play in local partnership arrangements as they contribute to the development and implementation of the duty. As such, they will be best placed to provide a strategic overview of and information about housing and associated issues in the local area.

The statutory guidance for the duty makes clear that such duties are relevant and should be considered as part of the work to meet the requirements of the serious violence duty. We therefore do not consider it necessary to stipulate in legislation that such authorities must have due regard to their housing duties when meeting the requirements of the serious violence duty, as there will be a requirement for them to have due regard to the statutory guidance in any case.

Moreover, existing legislation is already designed to ensure that social housing is prioritised for those who need it most. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will continue to work with the relevant sectors to ensure that the guidance is clear and fit for purpose, in relation to this crucial point, ahead of the duty provisions coming into force. When it comes to recognising and protecting the groups of people most at risk of involvement in serious violence, we are aware that housing and risk of homelessness are factors to be borne in mind, but we remain to be persuaded that an explicit reference to registered providers of social housing within the provisions for the duty is the correct approach to take in this instance.

One of the key requirements of the serious violence duty will be for specified authorities in a local area to work together to identify the causes of serious violence and, in doing so, ascertain which groups of people are most at risk locally. Legislation already dictates that, where a local housing authority requests it, a private registered provider of social housing or registered social landlord shall co-operate to such extent as is reasonable in the circumstances in offering accommodation to people with priority under the authority’s allocation scheme. That includes lettings allocated to those in priority need and those requiring urgent rehousing as a result of violence or threats of violence. Statutory guidance on allocations was issued in 2012, and local authorities must pay due regard to it.

Furthermore, the Regulator of Social Housing’s tenancy standards make clear that private registered providers of social housing must co-operate with local authority strategic housing functions. Those who are at risk of violence should already receive support if they are in need of social housing and/or if they are at risk of homelessness. However, it is important that local authorities are able to respond according to the needs of the specific local area and of the particular person. We are concerned that the amendment, which applies only to the social housing sector and not the private rental sector, may inadvertently single out and potentially stigmatise social tenants as being associated with serious violence, which I am sure nobody wants to flow from that.

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Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
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It is unusual for housing and the Home Office to be in the same conversation, which is possibly why the Minister was using strange terminology more akin to the MHCLG.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is something that we need to try and shift over the long term and that is the point of the clauses and amendments.

I understand the Minister’s points. On new clause 28, there is a clear argument that there is provision on domestic abuse but not a provision for violence outside of the home in a similar way. Now is not the time to press the new clauses to a vote, because that comes at the end of the Bill’s time in Committee, and I am happy to leave the amendments. However, I hope the Minister will encourage housing organisations, through the process of the new duty, to be part of the conversation because they are absolutely crucial, as I have seen for myself. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is always good to look back at what has worked in the past, and I go back to the example I cited earlier of the teenage pregnancy strategy. There was a defined strategy from central Government that was overseen centrally but delivered locally, so that there was room for local flexibility according to what was needed. However, there was also a clear set of parameters within which people should be operating, and an expectation of what they should be delivering with what was actually quite a targeted approach. The Prime Minister used to receive daily data on what was happening in each local area. I am quite a fan of gathering data centrally and trying to push change as much as possible, so I agree with my hon. Friend.

Similarly, a national serious violence oversight board would be able to analyse national trends and provide real scrutiny of what is and is not working across the country. Strategies need to feed into somewhere central so that the national landscape can be understood and that good and bad practice can be shared. The Minister talked earlier about that balance between what we allow local police authorities to do and what we set nationally. That conversation about how much we control from the centre and how much we allow people to feed in locally is always happening. The change suggested by new clause 59 is for a local and national mechanism in which at least the information can be gathered and analysed, so that we can see who is doing well and who is not doing well, and then respond appropriately.

Serious violence inevitably crosses boundaries. Effective responses to child exploitation, for example, are often hampered by the fact that it is a form of abuse that takes place across the boundaries of all the different police forces and local authorities in England and Wales. That creates inevitable fragmentation.

While the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre has helped to deliver a more joined-up approach to policing of child exploitation, the same joined-up approach is not found between the police and other agencies, or between different local authority areas. It would be impossible to tackle serious violence without some form of national oversight of the strategies. Learning and best practice can be shared at a national level. We see from the findings of the serious case reviews that sharing is still not effective, resulting in the same failings occurring again and again. We do not want that to happen with the serious violence partnerships as well.

Under the previous Prime Minister there was a serious violence taskforce, which was disbanded and replaced with the National Policing Board, but the National Policing Board looks at all parts of the policing system and has a different function altogether. We need some oversight that specifically addresses serious violence. When the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Theresa May) was Prime Minister, a unit to tackle violence was set up in the Cabinet Office, but I am unsure whether it still exists. Does the Minister know? Either way, she might consider the amendments suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall and consider a kind of national co-ordination of the strategies to ensure that they are as effective as possible.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

We very much agree that voluntary and community sector organisations and local businesses are key to working with young people to tackle issues relating to serious violence and crime, and indeed to offering alternative opportunities to young people. One of the non-legislative measures that I am working on at the moment is bringing together the private and public sectors to offer opportunities by way of training, work placements and so on to young people who at the moment may believe that their life chances involve joining a gang and earning their money that way. We have to give young people a range of alternatives, so I very much agree with the motivations behind all these amendments, but particularly those that seek to involve charities and businesses.

I should point out that clause 9—“Power to authorise collaboration etc. with other persons”—is very much intended to include charitable organisations in the serious violence duty. We did not feel that it was right to put a duty on charities, but we did very much want to reference their ability to be included and involved in both the drawing up and the implementation of the strategy.

We are not persuaded that amendment 116 is necessary, because of the way it is drafted. It would potentially create significant new burdens if specified authorities were required to consult all voluntary sector organisations and businesses in the local area, as opposed to those that they considered to be most relevant to the local strategy for preventing and reducing serious violence.

I will shamelessly take this opportunity to mention, by way of example, the wonderful Louth Navigation Trust in my constituency. Wonderful charity though it is, I think it would itself accept that it is probably not able to assist in the drawing together of a serious violence duty in the way that specialist charities, such as St Giles Trust, Redthread and the other organisations that we all know and work with. will be able to do. That was a flippant example—forgive me—at 4 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon.

Turning to amendments 81 and 87, we very much agree that it is important for serious violence strategies, required by chapter 1 of part 2 of the Bill, to be kept under review to ensure that they remain relevant and address the current issues affecting local areas at the time when they are being implemented. However, we are concerned as to whether an explicit requirement for revised strategies to be prepared and implemented every two years is the correct approach to take.

The duty is a key part of our work to prevent and reduce serious violence, focusing very much on prevention and early intervention, and informed by the evidence. We have been clear that a key focus of the duty, as I have said, should be on early intervention and prevention. That is why we have included a requirement for specified authorities to identify the kinds and causes of serious violence in the local area and the work that flows from that. It is therefore clear that local strategies should include a combination of short-term as well as longer-term initiatives aimed at preventing and reducing serious violence.

The draft statutory guidance for the duty makes it clear that local partnerships should review their strategy on an annual basis. Such reviews should consider how the interventions and solutions have affected serious violence in their area—considering, for example, crime statistics, and accident and emergency data. A review may well highlight the need for a refreshed strategy, for example where new and emerging crime types are identified—there may be the emergence of a new county line in their area—but we do not expect that to be the case every time.

We know that specific initiatives and actions that focus primarily on early intervention may not have a discernible effect on serious violence levels immediately. An assessment of the effectiveness of a local strategy conducted only two years after the strategy is first prepared may not capture the potential long-term impact and, therefore, may render it ineffective and in need of revision. Perhaps there would be a fairer analysis if a little more time were permitted to enable the interventions to take hold.

We want to ensure that local area resources are directed towards delivering on the strategies that they have prepared, instead of being diverted towards the preparation of revised strategies because there is a calendar they must keep to. I am reminded of a phrase about being driven by data and not dates, and wonder whether it is appropriate here.

I believe that specified authorities in local areas will be best placed to determine the necessary frequency of revisions in their own strategies, and that the existing requirement for strategies to be kept under review will ensure that a revision will be necessary and timely, rather than simply a formality. I see a role for hon. Members in that. I hope that they will watch closely what their areas are doing under this duty, and they will be able to highlight any concerns they have about the appropriateness, timeliness and so on of strategies and their revisions.

Finally, new clause 59 would require the creation of a statutory national serious violence oversight board, to be appointed and chaired by the Secretary of State. There will need to be a system in place to monitor progress in relation to the duty. There may be a useful role for the Government to support the process, but we question whether it is necessary to include the detail of such arrangements in the Bill. We will consider non-legislative options, which will in all likelihood feature in our statutory guidance for the duty. That will ensure that specified authorities are able to have a say in the arrangements, through a public consultation, following Royal Assent, including any proposed role for central Government, before they are established.

We expect to detail any role for Government in monitoring progress and activity in relation to the requirements of the serious violence duty to be included in the version of the draft statutory guidance, to be consulted on following Royal Assent. It is worth noting that specified authorities will already be expected to monitor their own progress, through the requirement to keep their strategy under review. Police and crime commissioners and those areas where mayoral offices have responsibility for policing will also have the discretionary power to monitor the performance of the specified authorities against their shared objectives.

Furthermore, community safety partnerships have a statutory requirement to keep the implementation of their strategies under review, for the purposes of monitoring effectiveness and to make any changes to strategies where necessary or expedient, and to publish the outcomes of each review. In the light of the explanations I have given, I ask the hon. Member for Croydon Central to withdraw her amendment.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I heard what the Minister said, in particular about amendments 81 and 87. She said that she did not want to push organisations towards having to prepare revised strategies all the time. She also said that the guidance advises them to review their strategies on an annual basis. We are in the position of having both things at the same time.

I hear what she says and am reassured by the need to look at it on an annual basis. I do think the phrase “from time to time” is slightly too loose to be in the Bill. We have seen the need for both short-term and long-term planning and we need to get that balance right. A lot of the violence reduction units, within PCC areas, say they want to be able to plan and get money beyond a year. At the moment, their money is given annually, which is very prohibitive. That is worth bearing in mind.

I heard the Minister say that there will be systems in place to monitor success and that she will look at what such systems could be. I was reassured by that and hope that she will ensure they have the teeth and resources to analyse what is happening across the country. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

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Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, that is a separate point that the right hon. Gentleman is right to make. Agency workers are not invested in the organisation they work for; they do not know the area; they are more expensive and often not as effective. My point is that the significant reduction in funding for local authorities will inevitably have an impact on their ability to implement this duty. I hope that the Minister and the Home Office will push forward the argument for more funding for local authorities.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

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.

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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

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

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 91, in clause 12, page 12, line 34, at end insert—

“(5) In exercising their functions under this Chapter, specified authorities must have particular regard to reducing serious violence against women and girls, including street harassment, and reducing instances of hidden harm resulting from serious violence.”.

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Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that point, which is exactly the point I was about to make. She is completely right. This is in some senses an addition. Perhaps the Minister will say it is for local organisations and agencies to decide what to prioritise, but the reality—this is not a criticism—is that this duty was conceived at the height of concerns about street violence, violent crime and knife crime, and we may all be a little bit to blame for not focusing as well on the gendered violence and hidden violence that does not make the headlines in the same way, but is equally important. One feeds the other: if there is violence in the home, there is often more violent behaviour from children because they learn that behaviour. Gendered violence is just as important but is perhaps not as highlighted and talked about as it should be.

Women from all parts of the country, from all backgrounds, young and old, are killed every week. Last year, the number of female homicide victims in England and Wales reached its highest level since 2006, up 10% on the previous year. That is true of not only murder but all kinds of violence against women and girls. For the year ending March 2020, the crime survey for England and Wales estimated that 7.1% of adults aged 16 to 74 years had experienced sexual assault by rape or penetration. Domestic violence, already endemic across Britain, increased significantly during the covid pandemic, with 260,000 domestic abuse offences between March 2020 and June 2020 alone.

Amendment 91 would ensure that specified authorities have particular regard to reducing serious violence against women and girls, including street harassment, and reducing instances of hidden harm resulting from serious violence. I hope that the Minister will consider the amendment in the spirit in which it is presented. This would be a very useful thing for local agencies to do. It is incredibly important and is part of the wider violence picture and should therefore be included in the Bill.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

As hon. Members will be aware, tackling violence against women and girls is one of the Government’s key priorities. These abhorrent crimes have no place in our society. This Government are committed to ensuring that more perpetrators feel the force of the law and to improving our support for those who suffer at the hands of abusers.

We have taken action to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls by introducing legislation around forced marriage, female genital mutilation and the disclosing of private sexual photographs. More recently, the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021 will bolster our response to domestic abuse at every level. The Act includes placing a duty on local authorities to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation, as well as many other things. What I have said about here it does not do justice to the Act, but we recognise also that legislation is not the only answer. Local authorities and others have a role to play in tackling violence against women and girls, which is why we provide funding to support victims of such crimes.

We have refrained from including in the duty set out in the Bill a specific list of crime types that must be included in a serious violence strategy for a local area. We have also refrained from prioritising one type of victim over another. This is to allow local strategies to take account of the most prevalent forms of serious violence in the locality, and the impact on all potential victims. Forms of serious violence will vary between geographical areas and we want to enable partners to adapt and respond to new and emerging forms of serious violence as they develop and are identified. That could include domestic abuse or others forms of violence against women and girls, but the Government believe, as set out in the duty, that it should be for authorities to determine what their specific priorities should be for their area. That is consistent with the model of police and crime commissioners and mayors who have policing responsibilities for setting priorities for policing.

In making any such determinations, they must consider the maximum penalty that could be imposed for any offence involved in the violence, the impact of the violence on any victim, the prevalence of the violence in the area and the impact of the violence on the community in the area. It is anticipated that work to answer these questions would form part of the development of a strategic needs assessment and strategy. The approach of including a specific offence, as is urged in the amendment, is not consistent with the wider approach.

We are committed to going further in our efforts to tackle violence against women and girls, which is why we will be publishing a new cross-Government strategy tackling violence against women and girls, which will be followed by a complementary domestic abuse strategy. I look forward to their publication to set out our approach to tackling all forms of violence against women and girls, including street harassment.

I hope these assurances and our commitments to future work in this area mean that the hon. Lady will be content to withdraw her amendment.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hear what the Minister is saying and I applaud the work that has been done thus far on violence against women and girls, but I believe that the list in clause 12(4) that she just read out steers the whole process in the direction of serious street violence and youth violence, without a nod to the incredibly point about violence against women and girls, so I would like to test the will of the Committee on amendment 91.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I just wanted to raise a couple of concerns. We have not tabled amendments to the clauses, but I want to bring some issues that have been raised to the attention of the Committee.

Clause 14 would give the Secretary of State powers to make regulations regarding how PCCs or mayors can assist serious violence partnerships. It would allow education, prison and youth custody services to collaborate in order to prevent and reduce serious violence; it would also allow them to collaborate with SVPs. Subsection (5) places a duty on a relevant authority to collaborate with other relevant authorities for the purpose of preventing and reducing violence, if requested to do so by another relevant authority. The example provided in the explanatory notes is that

“a local young offenders’ institution may choose to collaborate with a secure children’s home located in the same area if they are experiencing similar issues with serious violence within their institutions.”

That makes sense, but we believe that there needs to be some nod in that process towards the focus on the safeguarding responsibility for children. It is important that the duty does not just become an intelligence-gathering exercise instead of a proper data-sharing exercise, so we want to ensure that people can be protected and prevented from getting involved in serious violence.

Clause 15 would impose a duty on education, prison and youth custody services to collaborate together and with SVPs when one partner organisation requests it, as long as complying with the request does not infringe on any of their existing legal duties. The explanatory notes call this a “permissive gateway” that

“would permit but would not require the sharing of information.”

The example given is that

“a clinical commissioning group could disclose management information about hospital attendances where serious violence was suspected, which could support the development of a local problem profile/strategic needs assessment.”

Again, that makes sense. However, the notes go on to say that

“any disclosure of information under this clause may be made notwithstanding any obligation of confidence or any other restriction on the disclosure of the information, save that disclosure would not be permitted if it would contravene the data protection legislation or the prohibitions on disclosure provided for in any Parts 1 to 7 or Chapter 1 of Part 9 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016.”

We have talked to organisations that are concerned that the need not to uphold any obligation of confidence or any other restriction on the disclosure of information could undermine some of the trust that children, particularly those who are vulnerable or who are being criminally exploited, have with teachers and educators. Will the Minister talk through what any other restriction on the disclosure of information means in this context, particularly when applied to an individual child in a school setting? Will she set out the key difference between the “permissive gateway” of information sharing and the multi-agency structures—for example, referrals to children’s social care—that already exist for information sharing about individual children?

Overall, there is no question but that information sharing between agencies and police forces is vital to achieving a proper understanding of serious violence, particularly involving the county lines drug network and the many vulnerable children who have been swept into it, but it is also important that the objective of information sharing is about the safeguarding of vulnerable people and children, as well as crime prevention and reduction.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I will deal straightaway with the point about information sharing, as it would seem to me that the other clauses are understood.

Clause 15 provides a new permissive information sharing gateway for specified authorities, including local policing bodies and education, prison and youth custody authorities, to disclose information to each other. Sadly, we know that information sharing between agencies is not always as full and as timely as we would like, because of concerns that they are not allowed to share information. We do not want those concerns to get in the way of preventing serious violence.

Of course, we must operate within the law, so the clause ensures that there is a legislative framework in place to enable information to be shared between all authorities exercising functions under chapter 1 of part 2 of the Bill. In doing so, the clause permits but does not mandate authorities to disclose information. I reassure the Committee that, as required by article 36(4) of the UK General Data Protection Regulation, my officials have consulted the Information Commissioner’s Office on the proposed provisions within this clause and clauses 9 and 16, and no concerns were raised.

To be clear, clause 15 does not replace existing data-sharing arrangements or existing protocols that are already working well, including those under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Through the clause we are simply ensuring that all the specified authorities—local policing bodies and education, prison and youth custody authorities—are able to share relevant information with each other for the purposes of the recipient of the information exercising their functions to prevent or reduce serious violence. Such bodies should already have arrangements in place that set out clearly the processes and the principles for sharing information and data internally. Examples of data that could be shared include hospital data on knife injuries, the number of exclusions and truancies in local schools, police recorded crime, local crime data, anonymised prison data, areas of high social services interventions and intelligence on threats such as county lines, including about the activities of serious organised crime gangs and about drugs markets.

An important element of the duty would be to establish the local problem profile, and data sharing between the duty holders would be a crucial part of that process. By virtue of this clause, the authorities I have mentioned would be able to share information freely, providing it does not contravene data protection legislation or the provisions of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. I hope that reassures the Committee.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is reassuring. I wanted to raise the point to ensure that we were all aware of that concern, which was raised to us by several organisations. I am grateful for the Minister’s response.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 13 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 14 and 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 90, in clause 16, page 16, line 14, at end insert—

“(8) A local policing body must report annually on the requests made under this section, including information on the bodies the request were made to and the use of information provided.”

This amendment would require local policing bodies to report on requests for information made to specified authorities, educational authorities, prison authorities and youth custody authorities for the purpose of assisting with its functions under section 13.

The amendment would ensure that when information was shared between partners, the local policing bodies reported back to their partners to explain how they were using the information. That would in turn help the partners better to understand the wider context to the issues raised.

The Children’s Society has pointed out that clauses 15 and 16 raise questions as to what information will be collected about individual young people and how that information may be used. It is keen that additional information sharing requirements do not result for some children in a more punitive response instead of a response that balances safeguarding and the prevention of violence escalating.

I will end my comments by asking the Minister further questions on the issue of data collection. Will the information and data collected through the duty be strictly management-level data, or case-level data? Will police forces be able to request information on specific vulnerable young people, and will policing bodies be able to request from specified authorities such as schools case-level information on children at risk of or experiencing serious violence? If so, how will the police use that information?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady asks a specific question—namely, will local policing bodies be able to request case-level information on children at risk and how will they use it? Police and crime commissioners and, in London, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, and the Common Council of the City of London, will have powers to work with the specified authorities to support multi-agency working. The specified authorities will need to co-operate with a local policing body when required to do so.

However, we will make it clear in guidance that the local policing body should consider the proportionality of additional requests and anticipated costs to specified authorities before making any such requests. That includes specific requests for data, which may be made only in order to fulfil its role of monitoring the effectiveness of local strategies. Such requests for data must relate only to the organisation that has generated it, except where functions are contracted out. Sufficient safeguards must be in place to ensure that information, including that which pertains to individuals, is disclosed in line with relevant data protection legislation.

Arrangements must also be in place to clearly set out the processes and principles for sharing information and data. Such arrangements should cover the sharing of information and data within the local partnership and with external bodies and should include the purpose of sharing the data, what is to happen to the data at relevant points, and clarity on respective roles. I hope that answers the hon. Lady’s questions.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am pleased that that will be in the guidance. I think that issues flow from things such as the gangs matrix in London. There were concerns that information that was gathered in order to support people actually ended up being used as a way of profiling people—that the data was perhaps not used in the way in which people had thought it would be. That was the basis for the amendment. Given that that will be in the guidance, however, I am reassured that the purposes for which the information should be used should be clear. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 17

Directions

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

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Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will be brief. I have three questions for the Minister, just to get a bit of clarity. The first is on clause 17, which, according to the Library briefing, gives the Secretary of State

“powers to issue directions to any SVP member, education, prison or youth custody service it thinks is failing to discharge its duties to prevent serious violence.”

It would be helpful if the Minister could provide an example of what that means. What direction will the Secretary of State be issuing? What is envisaged by that clause?

Secondly, the amendments in clause 19 require community safety partnerships to have regard to

“preventing people from becoming involved in serious violence”,

and to

“reducing incidences of serious violence”

when assessing crime and disorder in their area and formulating their strategies. It would be helpful if the Minister explained how that differs from what their strategies are doing already. Will there be a bit of an overlap of strategies there?

My final point is one that has been raised by the Local Government Association and has been drawn to my attention elsewhere. The community safety partnerships have had their funding steadily withdrawn since 2010, which has had an impact on their resources and their capacity to do things. It would be helpful if the Government could review the impact of those funding reductions on community safety partnerships—perhaps with a view to increasing that core funding—and on the ability of councils to address the range of crime issues they are expected to assist other partners in tackling.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Serious violence has a devastating impact on victims and their families, instils fear in communities and is extremely costly to society, as I have already said. I hope the Government’s intention is clear from the discussions we have had today, but it is crucial that there are consequences if some authorities are not focused on what we are trying to achieve through the duty. On the rare occasion when a specified authority or educational, prison or youth custody authority does not fulfil its requirements under the duty, thereby risking the success of the whole partnership, clause 17 provides the Secretary of State with the power to issue a direction to secure compliance.

This power does not apply to probation services provided by the Secretary of State or to publicly managed prisons, young offender institutions, secure training centres or secure colleges. For such authorities, existing mechanisms will be available to ensure they are meeting the requirements of the duty, so we are trying to get consistency across them all.

For any directions relating to a devolved Welsh authority, the Welsh Ministers must be consulted before a direction is issued. We are continuing to engage with the Welsh Government on the operation of the direction, as far as it relates to devolved Welsh authorities, and I will be writing further to Minister Hutt shortly.

I was asked for examples of when we envisage that a direction may be given. It is very much expected that these powers will be used infrequently—I hope never—but we must have this ability to ensure compliance if that situation were to arise. It is very much a matter of last resort when all other attempts to work effectively in partnership with an authority have failed. Where necessary, we must have this backstop mechanism to ensure that all relevant authorities comply with the duty and play their part in reducing and preventing serious violence.

A direction may include requiring authorities to take the necessary steps set out by the Secretary of State in order to comply with the duty. If necessary, to ensure an authority complies, a direction can be enforced by a mandatory order granted on application to the administrative court in England and Wales. We very much hope that this power will be used rarely, if at all, but if, for example, an authority refuses to provide information that it is required to provide under the Bill, it is available as a last resort when all other attempts to work effectively have failed.

Question put and agreed to.

Clauses 17 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 18 to 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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

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

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

(5 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. He touches upon one of those imponderables, in that the police are operationally independent. There is always a balancing act, for Ministers of any Government, of any colour, in persuading, cajoling, directing and working with the police to ensure that their training meets both the expectations of the public and the needs of police staff. That is why the police want to come with us on this journey, because we are working together on this. I cannot be as directional as he is perhaps suggesting.

However, the fact that we are having these debates in Parliament is significant. We plan for the board to have its inaugural meeting during the scrutiny of this Parliament, and very senior people, who take what this House says very seriously, will be around the table. Having this debate will very much help them understand their responsibilities in this regard. I note that Paul Griffiths said in giving evidence last week:

“There is a need for consistency across occupational health standards, but I think that could be achieved through the programme management rather than through legislation.”—[Official Report, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Public Bill Committee, 18 May 2021; c. 20, Q30.]

That is really what we are trying to address in clause 1.

The hon. Member for Croydon Central kindly invited me to meet Sam from the Green Ribbon Policing campaign to discuss some of these issues, and I would be delighted to do so. We are very much in listening mode as to how we can improve our plans for this clause. We have kept the wording deliberately broad to ensure that there is room within the legislation to allow the Secretary of State to consider issues of importance as they arise, and the issues that have been raised here will be included in those considerations.

We have built flexibility into the clause through paragraphs (a) to (c) of subsection (2), to be addressed if considered appropriate. We very much want to strike the right balance, by directing the substance of the report without being too prescriptive. As the aim of the covenant is to focus on issues directly relevant to members or former members of the police workforce, we will be establishing a police covenant governance structure, along with key policing stakeholders, to feed directly into the police covenant report. This structure will support us in prioritising the most relevant issues to the police year on year, and ensure that the report reflects that.

Amendment 77 seeks to place the police covenant oversight board on a statutory footing. I hope that it is apparent from what I have said already that we do intend to establish such a board, albeit on a non-statutory basis, to drive the strategic direction of the covenant, to set priorities and to monitor progress, which will feed into the Home Secretary’s annual report to Parliament. The board will comprise key representatives from across policing, but we consider it appropriate for the board to be chaired by the Minister for Policing. As part of our plans to establish the board, we will ensure that its important work feeds into the police covenant report.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister acknowledge that the reason we want to put the board on a statutory footing is that at the moment it falls to the Home Secretary to provide a report to Parliament only once a year? The power balance of who the covenant is for, who should be driving the improvements and who should be leading what is needed within the police is wrong. We believe that that balance could be put right if the Bill stated that it should be those police organisations, under an independent chair. If the Minister for Policing chairs the board, inevitably he will be marking his own homework. The whole purpose of the covenant is to enable the police to get the support they need in a way that is driven by the police for the police. It is not about the Minister deciding whether what is being done suits him.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am so pleased that the hon. Lady raises that, because the very first subsection of the Bill sets out the Secretary of State’s accountability. It is the Secretary of State who lays a report before Parliament, so they are accountable to Parliament for the contents of that report. I do not have a crystal ball, but I imagine that when the first report is laid, hon. Members from across the House will ask the Secretary of State searching questions about, for example, its observations and provisions in relation to mental health and trauma. In drafting the covenant, we have tried to keep the Secretary of State’s accountability absolutely on the face of the Bill. Just as the Secretary of State is accountable at the Dispatch Box, so too must the board be chaired by the relevant Minister, so that the flow of accountability to the Dispatch Box is there.

There are other important boards across Government that are not on a statutory footing but that assist and hold Ministers to account when it comes to how particular work is developed. The accountability point is that the Secretary of State must lay this report before Parliament, and then Parliament will hold the Secretary of State to account.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the board is not on a statutory footing, it does not much matter who is chairing it, because there is no statutory line of accountability. If it is not on the face of the Bill, it does not matter. The Minister could agree to have an independent chair of the board if it is not going to be on a statutory footing. Her argument does not follow, in that sense.

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.

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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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Sir Charles, noting that there are no amendments, I do not propose to speak to the clause, which I commend to the Committee.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
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I was proposing to say a few words.

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Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
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Thank you, Sir Charles. Clause 3 would allow police specials—volunteer police officers—to become members of the Police Federation, a proposal that we support. I wanted to say a few words because special constables play a vital role in keeping our communities safe. They have been of huge value to communities across the country, particularly through the pandemic. The special constabulary has a long and proud history and has made an immeasurable contribution to policing our communities.

Sir Robert Peel is often quoted:

“The police are the people, and the people are the police.”

That cannot be more applicable than to our special constables who volunteer to make our communities safer while working at other jobs. It is important that special constabulary officers feel valued and that their contribution is recognised. It is imperative that they have the support and opportunities to thrive and feel they have the protections they deserve for doing such an important job. I know this clause is close to the Police Federation’s heart and to that of former special John Apter, who has campaigned for police specials to join the federation.

The number of police specials has significantly declined. There were 9,126 specials in England and Wales in September 2020. That is 10,500 fewer than in 2012, a drop of more than 15%. John Apter argues that including the specials in the Police Federation will help increase numbers, as the representation that the change will bring may encourage more people to volunteer with the police. It would give specials a legal status, like that of police officers who are members of the federation. Putting the change into law will formalise that support for specials. In a survey about federation membership, 94% of respondents who were specials said that they wanted to join the Police Federation.

In Scotland, police specials are already part of the Scottish Police Federation. Scottish specials have the same legal status in the force as their regular officer counterparts. Both are appointed to office by the chief constable of Police Scotland, so there is no legal barrier to specials joining the Scottish Police Federation. The inclusion of specials in the Scottish federation has been uncontroversial, as far as I can see.

The Association of Special Constabulary Officers is supportive of specials being given greater access to the federation’s legal advice and assistance services. It says:

“As frontline volunteer police officers we are exposed to the same risks of complaints and injuries and conduct investigations, and the Federation has an unrivalled local network of capability on those issues already in place, which is required under police regulations and funded by forces. In this respect ASCO is supportive of the ongoing work.”

However, ASCO has voiced concerns about how much it will cost and the risk of specials losing their independent voice. ASCO wants to retain its role as the representative association and professional body for police specials, with the federation being the lead and expert organisation in respect of the elements of formal representation that it is funded to undertake.

The cost will be around £3 million, which is not being covered by the Home Office. If the number of specials increase, as we hope, back to 2012 levels, that would possibly rise to £6 million or £7 million. The chair, workforce lead and “citizens in policing” lead for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners have agreed in principle to fund membership for specials. They wrote to all current PCCs in June 2020, asking them to indicate their willingness to pay specials’ subscription fees. Although we support the relatively uncontroversial clause, will the Minister confirm that that £3 million cost is accurate? Does she think the cost of membership is proportionate? Is it appropriate for taxpayers to cover that amount out of the police precept, especially if the number of specials rise and the cost goes up to £6 million or £7 million?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I note the time. Our special constables make a vital contribution to keeping communities safe, through their professionalism, dedication and sacrifice, increasingly fulfilling a range of specialised and frontline roles. They often face the same risks as regular officers while on duty and have the same powers as regular officers.

Daniel Morgan: Independent Panel Report

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Sarah Jones
Monday 24th May 2021

(5 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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The right hon. Lady sets out the seriousness of the situation, and I do appreciate that, as I hope was apparent from my earlier comments, but I make the point again that I cannot commit to a publication date if the Home Office has not yet received the report. Please, give us the report and we can then publish it.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) (Lab) [V]
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Daniel Morgan Jr., Daniel Morgan’s son, lives in my constituency, and I spoke to him this morning. I met Daniel at an advice surgery back in 2019, when he came to see me to ask if I could write to the then Home Secretary about the delay to the inquiry. The then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), wrote to me in 2019. He shared the concern that the inquiry was taking a long time, as one would imagine, and said to me:

“As it fulfils this important work the Panel’s investigation is rightfully independent of Government, but the Panel must deliver its findings to Parliament and to the Morgan family as soon as possible.

I am certain that you will understand that it would be improper for a Minister to seek to influence any decisions made by the independent Panel.”

My constituent has been waiting 34 years since the death of his father to see any kind of justice, so why does this Home Secretary not agree with the former Home Secretary that it would be improper for a Minister to seek to influence any decisions made by the independent panel, and will she publish any advice from officials explaining why her powers have changed? Will she meet my constituent?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I thank the hon. Lady for bringing forward the very human aspect of this. I know that we are talking about a report and a review process, but at the heart of this has been the family. In fairness, if one looks at the written ministerial statement issued by the then Home Secretary when the review was announced, one sees that it was made clear that the family must be at the heart of the process. The review has taken eight years, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), the previous Home Secretary, set out to the hon. Lady, we could not—would not—interfere with the conduct of that review. That is why, in a way, we are in the position we are in. The panel has its report; it has, we have been told, now finalised the report; under the terms, we will receive the report and then publish it. The only caveat is in relation to national security considerations—for which, in fairness, the Home Secretary has responsibility in a whole host of regards. However, that is the only caveat, so the report will be published. We look forward to receiving it from the panel, and I hope it will give answers to the hon. Lady’s constituent and to others.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Sarah Jones
Thursday 23rd January 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for International Trade
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I thank my hon. Friend for that question and welcome all the experience and expertise that he brings to the House. All staff who work in the NHS must undertake at least level 1 safeguarding training, which includes domestic abuse. We have published an online resource for health professionals, to improve awareness of domestic violence and abuse. NHS England is developing a four-year action plan specifically on domestic abuse to raise awareness among NHS staff to ensure that they have the skills to identify and refer patients, where appropriate, and also, of course, to address the issue of NHS staff who are themselves victims.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) (Lab)
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12. What recent assessment she has made of the effect of county lines exploitation on (a) women and (b) girls. [900381]

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Minister for Women (Victoria Atkins)
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23 Jan 2020, 10:22 a.m.

County lines exploitation has a devasting impact on our communities, and we of course recognise the risks to girls and young women who are exploited by these ruthless gangs—including, often, for sexual exploitation. The National Crime Agency threat assessment published last year sets out the scale of the issue and the level of exploitation faced by women and girls, which is why we are investing £25 million to disrupt county lines gangs and put an end to this exploitation.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
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23 Jan 2020, 10:22 a.m.

We think that at least one in 10 people involved in county lines are girls, and the number is probably a lot higher than that. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has just published a report on how the police and the NCA are dealing with county lines, and it has a number of really excellent recommendations, many of them about different agencies working together. One recommendation is that by the end of the year there should be a legal definition of child criminal exploitation, so that everybody understands what it is and what they should do about it. Does the Minister agree and will she be working to that goal?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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As the chair of the all-party group on knife crime, the hon. Lady will know that the Government are working on a public health approach to tackling serious violence. We are very much looking at the workings of agencies, including the police. The hon. Lady will welcome the fact that the National County Lines Coordination Centre has conducted more than 2,500 arrests and safeguarded more than 3,000 people. Of course, that work continues. One of the many ways in which we support those who are exploited is to fund young people’s advocates in London, Manchester and the west midlands to work directly with gang-affected women and girls, particularly if they have been victims or are at risk of sexual violence.