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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
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”,
“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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?