Clause 15 - Guidance about independent domestic violence and sexual violence advisors

Victims and Prisoners Bill – in the House of Commons am 10:54 am ar 24 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss:

Lords amendment 35, and Government amendments (b) and (c).

Lords amendment 46, and Government amendment (a).

Lords amendment 32, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendment (a) in lieu.

Lords amendment 33, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 47, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 54, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendment (a) in lieu.

Lords amendments 98 and 99, Government motions to disagree, and Government amendment (a) in lieu.

Lords amendment 106, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.

Lords amendments 1 to 31, 34, 36 to 45, 48 to 53, 55 to 97, 100 to 105, and 107 to 143.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

It is a privilege to open this debate and bring the Victims and Prisoners Bill back to this House, slightly larger and more robust—a description that I fear, after nine years in this place, could apply to my physique too. A series of amendments were made in the other place that we believe strengthen the intentions behind the Bill.

At the outset, I express my gratitude to the shadow Minister, Kevin Brennan, and to the usual channels for their work in a very short timeframe to ensure that we are able to proceed with the Bill today. It is a pleasure to serve opposite the shadow Minister. He knows not only the huge respect but the fondness I have for him. Notwithstanding the six weeks of to and fro that I suspect we may have during the election, I want to put it on the record that I genuinely wish him very well for the future.

On Report in the House of Lords, we strengthened measures on victims to make it clear that compliance with the code is not optional and to bolster measures to hold agencies to account for its delivery. We also introduced measures to give a stronger voice to victims of offenders whose conditional release is considered by the mental health tribunal, to make it clear that victims who have signed non-disclosure agreements can make disclosures to much-needed support services without fear of legal action, and to raise the threshold for the disclosure of counselling notes for victims so that they can now only be disclosed where they are of substantial probative value.

We also tabled an amendment in the other place yesterday to create a new ground within article 17 of the UK general data protection regulation specifically for the victims of stalking and harassment to request deletion of personal data related to false allegations. The amendment will help protect victims from further distress caused by the retention of such data. I put on the record my gratitude and tribute to Stella Creasy for raising the issue and campaigning on it, and to my friend the noble Baroness Morgan of Cotes for pursuing it in the other place.

I turn to Lords amendments to part 3 of the Bill relating to infected blood. I am grateful, and I know this country will be grateful, to Dame Diana Johnson for her tireless campaigning in seeking to expose and tackle this national scandal and ensure that those who have been victims of it receive the support and compensation they deserve.

The Lords amendments do three crucial things. They impose a duty on the Government to establish a UK-wide infected blood compensation scheme within three months of Royal Assent; they establish a new arm’s length body named the Infected Blood Compensation Authority to deliver the compensation scheme; and they impose a duty on the Government to make interim payments of £100,000 to the estates of deceased infected people where previous interim payments have not been made.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I am grateful to the Minister for all the work that he has done on the amendments, but could I ask him about the final group who have received not a penny—the parents who lost children and the children who lost parents? The Government have announced an additional £210,000 for those who were infected, to be paid within 90 days. There is no timescale for payments to people who have not received anything yet. Can he help the House understand when the payments will be made?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, and I know that Chris Stephens has raised similar questions previously. I know that the right hon. Lady and others are in correspondence with my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Cabinet Office.

The questions raised are complex and detailed. My understanding is that Robert Francis will be spending June having those conversations with communities and with victims and families, so that he can work out the detail of the answers to those questions from the basis of what those families and communities want to see, rather than a Minister or anyone else pre-empting that. One of the key lessons that I and, I hope, the Government and this House have taken from the work the right hon. Lady has done is the need to listen to those affected, and that is what Sir Robert will be doing. I do not want to pre-empt that from the Dispatch Box.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I suspect that the right hon. Lady will want to enlarge on the point in her speech, but of course I will let her come back now.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I am grateful. I just gently point out to the Minister that Sir Brian Langstaff told the Government in April 2023—over a year ago—to get on and make these payments. I have to say that work could have been undertaken in that period to get to the point where payments could be made quickly, and it is very regrettable that that has not happened.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I entirely note, and the House and country will have heard, the points made by the right hon. Lady. She participated in the statement by the Prime Minister and the subsequent statement by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, which set out the work that he has undertaken at pace to make things move forward. What we see in this Bill is a hugely important step forward, and I look forward to Robert Francis working at pace to ensure that the views of those affected are genuinely reflected in the detailed answers to the questions that the right hon. Lady has posed.

The Government amendments demonstrate our absolute commitment to delivering long-overdue justice to the victims. Too many people, whether they are infected or affected, have seen their life chances taken away, watched loved ones die needlessly, and endured the most terrible stigma, none of which should ever have happened. I can only hope that, with the inquiry’s report published and with our firm commitment to compensate those touched by the scandal, the infected blood community know that their cries for justice have finally been heard. As I have said, a lot of that is a tribute to the right hon. Lady’s work.

The Government have also tabled amendments to make reforms to provisions on those serving imprisonment and detention sentences for public protection. We will be further reducing the qualifying period to two years for those who were convicted when aged under 18. We will also allow the Secretary of State to have discretion to decide that recall should have no effect on the two-year automatic licence determination period, as well as requiring that an annual report be laid before Parliament on the support for those serving these sentences. I am grateful to Members of both Houses for the constructive way in which they have engaged with the Bill, and I am delighted that we will be able to complete its passage ahead of Prorogation.

I will set out the detail of the motions that we are bringing forward today in response to those outstanding issues. In respect of Lords amendment 35, we are seeking to amend the measure on the issuing of guidance about victim support roles in clause 18. Victim support roles operate across different settings, some of which are devolved. The Senedd did not grant legislative consent for this measure as previously drafted. I am therefore tabling an amendment so that the duty to issue guidance applies to England and reserved matters in Wales only. I have consequently removed the requirement to consult Welsh Ministers on any guidance issues. I am grateful for the constructive discussions that have taken place in relation to the important principles that sit behind this clause, which aim to improve the consistency of support services provided to victims. I am confident that we can continue to work together so that victims have that consistency across both countries.

Lords amendment 46 is a technical amendment to move the clause on child victims of domestic abuse to the right part of the Bill.

We have accepted the principle of Lords amendment 32, which will place a duty on relevant authorities to co-operate with the Victims’ Commissioner when requested. We heard the strength of feeling that a response to the Victims’ Commissioner, as they do their important work, should not be seen as a favour. Instead, there should be clear and open co-operation as an integral part of enabling the independent scrutiny that victims deserve.

The Government’s amendment makes a few minor changes. First, it extends required co-operation further than to simply assist the commissioner in monitoring compliance with the victims code. Instead, it requires co-operation in relation to any of the Victims’ Commissioner functions, which include promoting the interests of victims and witnesses. Secondly, it adds important safeguards to make clear that any co-operation must be not only practical but appropriate. This protects against potential interference with activities that are rightly independent, such as the exercise of prosecutorial discretion. Thirdly, it future-proofs the clause by putting this duty on the agencies that deliver services under the victims code, rather than including a specific list of bodies, which may become out of date.

Lords amendment 33 seeks to require training to be provided to those with obligations under the victims code. Of course, agencies should and do have training in place to deliver the legislative duty to act in accordance with the code, but that training must be tailored to the specific function that each person is discharging, and agencies are best placed to do that. We consider that in placing an additional burden on the Secretary of State to implement a strategy for training, this amendment would be costly and inefficient. It would not be proper for an amendment from the Lords to place financial burdens on public authorities. We also consider that the more effective approach, as has been committed by the Government in the other place, is to include a requirement for agencies to report on the adequacy of their co-training as part of evidence in delivery of code entitlements. This gives us a route to identify and address ineffective training if it has led to non-compliance with the code.

Lords amendment 47 seeks to establish an immigration firewall and prevent the police from sharing with immigration enforcement data relating to immigration status. We disagree with this amendment because it would be inappropriate to impose a blanket restriction on the use of personal data in the circumstances to which the amendment relates. It would not prevent the perpetrator from informing immigration enforcement about the victim’s immigration status and would impact on the ability to investigate crimes and support victims.

Lords amendment 54 seeks to place a statutory duty of candour on all public authorities, public servants and officials after a major incident has been declared in writing by the Secretary of State. The Government share the desire to see an end to unacceptable institutional defensiveness, but we cannot accept the amendment in the current form, because it would not sit neatly on top of the existing frameworks; it is not well suited to replace what already exists for major incidents and beyond; it does not take into account the nuances of different professions in the spheres of the public sector; and it could entail significant legal uncertainty.

This is a complex area, so we believe that it would be unwise to rush forward with an amendment, but we have tabled an amendment in lieu to require a statutory review to determine whether additional duties of transparency and candour should be imposed on public authorities and public servants in relation to major incidents. The review will need to be completed by the end of the calendar year, and following its completion, a report will be laid before the Government. It will be for whichever Government are elected in six weeks’ time to determine what to do with that.

We are also bringing forward an amendment in lieu of Lords amendments 98 and 99. The Government amendment will ensure that those convicted of controlling or coercive behaviour who are sentenced to at least 12 months’ imprisonment will be automatically subject to management under multi-agency public protection arrangements, or MAPPA. That will ensure that we effectively manage and target the most dangerous domestic abuse offenders.

A previous amendment was tabled in the other place to add domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators to those who qualify for automatic MAPPA management. Although there is a legal definition of domestic abuse, a specific domestic abuse crime does not exist, with the exception of controlling or coercive behaviour. Therefore, although well intentioned, the amendment would still have required criminal justice agencies to decide case by case whether a defendant was eligible for MAPPA management. Consequently, the amendment would have not achieved the intention of reducing or eliminating any scope for local discretion.

There are already provisions in place requiring offenders on licence to live only at an address approved by probation. Further, all offenders released on licence are subject to standard conditions for the duration of their sentence. There are numerous additional licence conditions that can be imposed to address specific risk factors. Licence conditions allow for information on perpetrators to be collected and used to manage risk. The amendment would therefore have little impact on public safety but would result in significant resourcing pressure for police forces.

Offenders who perpetrate other forms of domestic abuse, such as threats to kill, actual and grievous bodily harm, attempted strangulation, putting people in fear of violence, and stalking, including stalking that involves fear of violence, serious alarm or distress, are already automatically managed under MAPPA if sentenced to 12 months’ custody or more. Adding the additional offence of controlling and coercive behaviour will ensure that the most harmful domestic abuse offenders will be automatically covered by the arrangements. The changes will mean that those offenders will automatically be managed in the same way as those convicted of sexual, violent and terrorist offences. That is crucial, as controlling or coercive behaviour is a known risk factor for domestic homicide. Treating those offenders in the same way as the most violent offenders is critical to improve the safety of domestic abuse victims.

Lords amendment 106 would permit the Secretary of State to re-release recalled IPP—imprisonment for public protection—prisoners, and mirrors the power of the Secretary of State to re-release recalled offenders serving determinate sentences. That is now referred to as risk-assessed recall review, or RARR. That is an executive power and it will be for the Secretary of State to decide if or when to use it. The amendment also enables the Secretary of State to impose licence conditions on a recalled IPP offender’s licence if the Secretary of State uses the power to release them on licence. We agree that that is the right approach, but we have tabled Government amendment (a) in lieu to make that change, together with further measures relating to release that come under the scope of the clause.

Government amendment (b) in lieu extends the eligibility of the home detention curfew scheme to offenders serving sentences of four years or over. The original aim of the scheme was to help suitable lower-risk offenders who have been in custody to reintegrate in society in a controlled manner. As sentences have become longer, it is important to revisit whether eligibility for HDC continues to allow all those who may be suitable, and whose rehabilitation may benefit from the scheme, to be considered as originally intended. That means looking again at whether offenders who were excluded solely due to sentence length or old curfew breaches, rather than due to any assessment of risk, should be considered in the usual way for HDC. Since HDC was introduced, sentences have grown longer, and they should no longer be the sole determinant of whether someone is eligible to be considered for HDC. A four-year sentence length or an old curfew breach are very blunt measures of whether an offender is lower risk or suitable for HDC.

The amendment increases the number of offenders eligible for HDC, but does not extend the range of offences that make an offender eligible for it. All sexual offenders and serious violent offenders are excluded from the scheme, as are those subject to Parole Board release. Those convicted of offences that are often associated with domestic abuse, such as stalking and harassment, are also excluded, as are many other people, including category A prisoners. There is also a robust risk assessment to ensure that offenders are released only if there is a plan in place to manage them safely in the community. In every case, that includes a curfew backed up by electronic monitoring. Finally, Lords amendment 46 is a technical amendment to move the location of the clause headed “Child victims of domestic abuse” to the right part of the Bill.

I would like to take this opportunity to put on record my gratitude to the Clerks, the shadow Minister and all my officials who have worked on this important piece of legislation: Nikki Jones, Katie Morris, Donna Bromyard, Elizabeth Bates, Isla Scott, Emily Halliday, Claire Anderson, Tomos MacDonald, Anna Webb—there are a few more, Madam Deputy Speaker—Alex Brown, Gaby Perrot, Liam Walsh, Aodhbha Bassani, Jess Cowan, Michael Rimer, the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel drafters, Joel and Camilla, and my amazing private secretaries, Ben Street and Amelia Prusinski. They have done an amazing job on this legislation.

As I have said to the House, this Bill has the central objective of ensuring that victims are treated as participants in the justice process, rather than bystanders. The Bill delivers significant, positive changes by strengthening victims’ rights and the role of the Victims’ Commissioner, providing protections for victims, and creating an independent public advocate—I pay tribute to Maria Eagle and my right hon. Friend Mrs May for their work on that. The Bill creates an arm’s length body to finally move things forward in respect of compensation for infected blood scandal victims, has measures for reforming the parole system, and brings forward reforms relating to IPP prisoners. The Bill has been a long time in the making; getting it into law will be a major step forward in strengthening the voice in our criminal justice system of victims of crime and of major incidents.

This is my last time at this Dispatch Box in this Parliament, and my last time speaking in this Chamber as the Member of Parliament for Charnwood, because the seat that I have been proud to represent for nine years is being abolished in the boundary changes, although I hope to be returned as the Member for the new Melton and Syston constituency in the general election. May I take the opportunity to thank all colleagues? I particularly thank my constituents in Charnwood and my fantastic staff, Steph Bradshaw and Fred Seaman, who do so much for my constituents, day in, day out. With that, I commend these measures to the House.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Victims and Sentencing)

This is the last time that I intend to speak from the Dispatch Box in any Parliament. Actually, I have one more statutory instrument to do, so that may not be quite true.

Madam Deputy Speaker, thank you very much for calling me to speak. I thank you for your service to this House in many different capacities over the entirety of my parliamentary career. I hope it does not cause offence in any other quarters if I say that you are my favourite Deputy Speaker, and I am sure that others share that opinion. That is in no way casting aspersions on the quality of your colleagues, but we have known each other and been friends for many years. I wish you good fortune in whatever you do after you leave this place.

I extend equal thanks to Edward Argar for the way he conducts himself as a Government Minister. The way that he deals with colleagues from across the House—with shadow Ministers, Back Benchers and others—is exemplary. He is a class act in that regard, and a model of what many of us should aspire to. I have been a Minister, and I know what a difficult job it is, and what a difference it makes to have a Minister in a Department who takes Parliament, and what Members of Parliament say, seriously; does their best to accommodate opinions and measures suggested by other Members of Parliament; and does not think that the Government have a monopoly on wisdom, or on measures when they bring a Bill to this House. The Minister is prepared to engage in debate and consider amendments, and I thank him for the way in which he conducts himself in this place.

As she is in her place, I will mention Nickie Aiken. Some Members may be aware that many years ago she was a pupil at Radyr Comprehensive School when I was a teacher there, so I did not think that she would leave the House before me.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Victims and Sentencing)

Indeed. I was obviously a lousy teacher, as she ended up a Conservative Member of Parliament, but I wish her well in the future as she leaves this place. I also send my well wishes to the Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Robert Neill, who is a friend from across the House, and who conducts himself in a manner that we can all aspire to.

As we stand here at this critical point, we are reminded of how significant the Bill is. I am pleased that the Government have come to their senses and given the British public the opportunity to go to the polls and have their say on who will run the country, but that should not come at the expense of victims. That is why we welcome the discussions, held through the usual channels, that allowed us to arrive at what we have today.

We will support the measures outlined by the Minister. Victims have waited for over eight years, and eight Justice Secretaries, for legislation addressing the failures and injustices that they face. Supporting victims is a priority for Labour. In the spirit of bringing forward the overdue changes to our criminal justice system and beginning the work of trying to restore public confidence in it, we are pleased to support the Bill. We have strived to be collaborative throughout, and I think the Minister has acknowledged that. We recognise the Government’s willingness to negotiate in the final hours of this Parliament.

I take this opportunity to acknowledge the exemplary efforts of my predecessors, who did most of the heavy lifting on the Bill before I took on this role: my constituency neighbour and hon. Friend Anna McMorrin, and my hon. Friend Ellie Reeves. I also extend my thanks to the Minister for the cordial and constructive approach he has taken throughout the Bill’s progress.

The Labour party is resolute in its commitment to putting victims back at the heart of the criminal justice system, and we recognise the importance of not only listening to them, but going further and delivering robust support to them, empowering them and enhancing their rights. On the duty to collaborate with the Victims’ Commissioner, it is heartening to know that the hard work conducted in opposition does sometimes get recognised and is used for the benefit of the public. The success of Lords amendment 32, which introduces a duty to collaborate with the Victims’ Commissioner, is a perfect example of the effort exerted by the Opposition paying off.

Labour has been clear that it is imperative that we strengthen the powers of the Victims’ Commissioner. Although we sought to go further than we have been able to while in opposition, we recognise that the new duty on justice agencies to co-operate with the holder of the commissioner role is a useful start. We remain committed to recognising the significance of the Victims’ Commissioner and the desperate need for that office to be strengthened. It is long past time for the system to be truly accountable for the needs of victims not being met, so we are glad that we are taking this step towards having a fully empowered Victims’ Commissioner. We have listened to the calls of previous commissioners and victim support services and will continue to do so. We are firmly committed to further strengthening to commissioner’s powers, should we have the privilege of sitting on the Treasury Benches in a few weeks’ time.

On part 2 of the Bill and the provisions concerning the victims of major incidents, we were pleased to see, through Lords amendment 54, that our colleagues in the other place understood the importance of the introduction of a duty of candour for public bodies. I thank my colleagues in the other place for their hard work, and particularly Lord Ponsonby, our Front-Bench representative, for his evidently persuasive contribution when moving the amendment. I welcome the statutory review that the Minister announced, which is provided for in the Government amendments.

Labour is committed to introducing a statutory duty of candour. It is as simple as that. And we are absolutely committed to ensuring that public authorities and officials co-operate with official investigations in the wake of public disasters, as they should if they are to act in the public interest. In the wake of several high-profile and devastating miscarriages of justice, this is more important than ever. Only then can we ensure that we end evasive and obstructive practices following state-related deaths.

Although, to date, we have been dealing with a Government who have dragged their feet a bit on this issue—I hope the Minister does not mind my saying that—we have at last had the opportunity to secure agreement in the Bill, and it now remains only to finalise the all-important last details of how that duty of candour will work in practice. Labour will work on that from our earliest days in government. If we win the election, we will make this change.

On the infected blood scandal, it would be remiss not to refer to my constituent Sue Sparkes, who visited the House this week. She was at first, it could be described as, elated by Sir Brian Langstaff’s report, but she then described to me how she became deflated as the Government made their statements to the House regarding compensation.

I am in complete agreement with my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson, whom I worked with on this issue for many years, long before I took my current role. She is absolutely right in what she said. I remember both she and I a year ago from the Back Benches calling on the Government to get on with the design and payment of these compensation payments to the victims. I, too, am very sad that that work has not been done in the meantime, it would appear.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration) 11:15, 24 Mai 2024

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way with his typical generosity. Does he agree that it is now important to move quickly? The Cabinet Office needs to meet and engage with the infected and affected community to make sure the compensation payments are right, and to ensure that the community is represented on the compensation authority board.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Victims and Sentencing)

The hon. Gentleman is right, as he often is. I completely endorse his remarks. I thank him for the £50 he will pay to charity after losing a bet with me that there would be a referendum on Scottish independence by the end of this Parliament. I put that on record, not because I do not trust him but because I said that I would send him the name of the charity after today’s debate. He is a man of honour and a man of his word, so I know he will pay up.

On a serious point, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution on this important issue. His background in the trade union movement means that he will always be thoughtful about the essential job of helping the weak against the strong, which is what we are trying to do in this place.

I should also pay proper tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North. A few months ago, her amendment to hold the Government’s feet to the fire on this issue caused them to suffer possibly their only defeat in this House during this Parliament, which is quite an achievement.

To echo Sir Brian Langstaff, we must tackle the lack of “openness, transparency and candour” that has left victims suffering for decades. We welcome the movement towards this important milestone, and we look forward to seeing victims get the financial redress they deserve sooner rather than later.

I should say that Les, the husband of my constituent Sue Sparkes, died in 1990 as a result of receiving infected blood.

There has been a lot of discussion and work, involving colleagues from all parties, to recognise the considerable concern surrounding sentences of imprisonment for public protection. IPPs are and were a stain on our nation’s criminal justice system, and we have acknowledged our role in the past. It is right that IPP sentences were abolished, and we share the concerns that lie behind many of the proposals suggested by colleagues, both here and in the other place, in relation to these sentences and prisoners.

We have continually sought to work on this issue constructively and on a cross-party basis, wherever possible, which is why we are pleased to support multiple Government concessions on this matter, including Lords amendments 103 and 107, agreeing to a new annual report and provisions for those sentenced to detention for public protection. I pay tribute to our colleague Lord Blunkett, who has done a great deal of work, perhaps to underdo some of the things he might have been responsible for many years ago.

Progress for those remaining on IPP sentences and on licence in the community is pivotal. We want to ensure that any solutions proposed are robust and assessed with public safety properly in mind, as the Minister rightly said. In government, Labour will work at pace to make progress and will consult widely to ensure that our actions for those on IPP sentences are effective, in their interest and based on the evidence in front of us.

On the MAPPA issues in the Bill, we are glad to have agreed on an overdue and important change in the arrangements in place to protect victims and the public from the terrible blight on our society that is domestic abuse. When the Bill passes, offenders sentenced to more than 12 months for the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour will now be automatically included in the multi-agency regime that exists for violent and sexual offenders. That follows strong support in the other place for more rigorous safeguards in such cases, where too often we see women in particular left to face repeating and escalating patterns of abuse within the relationships where they should be most safe. Labour has big ambitions in government to tackle violence against women and girls in particular—far beyond the commitments in the Bill—but we are nevertheless proud to have put this marker down and to support this measure.

Labour’s commitment to reforming the criminal justice system to ensure that victims are more than just bit players is unwavering. We are pleased to have supported and helped to improve the Bill. Our essential additions, from empowering the Victims’ Commissioner to introducing a duty of candour for public bodies, have highlighted our commitment to the rightful place of victims at the centre of the justice process.

We welcome the Government’s movements in the right direction on pivotal issues such as IPPs and on the Infected Blood Compensation Authority, notwithstanding the remarks I made about the slowness of movement to get compensation out to victims. I thank the Minister for his openness in accepting some of these changes. I look forward to the Bill’s conclusion—very shortly, I hope—and hope that the Act will be a step towards a new era of transparency and advocacy for all victims of crime.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

Madam Deputy Speaker, as we leave the House together, may I start by wishing you the very best for the future? I remember, as a keen young Opposition spokesman, being your shadow when you were Local Government Minister, and I could never have had a more charming or skilful opposite number. I learned a lot from that.

I see sitting behind me two of my oldest friends in politics: my hon. Friends the Members for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken). We have been around the block—literally—in various local government campaigns in London over many years. It is a certain irony that we have all decided to depart at the same time; that will probably be cause for a good lunch at some point. I have not forgotten that I owe the Minister one as well.

I pay tribute to the Minister for his approach. I totally agree with the shadow Minister, to whom I am also grateful—he has been a good friend in relation to this and to issues about the performing arts and music, which we have both championed in this place—as well as the SNP spokesman.

The Minister has been exemplary in his approach. We are fortunate in the team of Ministers that we currently have at the Ministry of Justice, including him and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor—although he is not here today, his name is on the amendments—who is a quite exceptional lawyer, a quite exceptional Lord Chancellor, a star in this Chamber and somebody whose integrity and commitment to the legal system will be long recognised.

These are improvements to the Bill—I am glad about that. May I also thank the Ministry of Justice officials? I have dealt with many of them over the years. I am sorry that they have had to put up with some of the things that the Justice Committee has lobbed at them over that time, but there has always been a great, constructive spirit. In that context, I particularly welcome the fact that the Government have taken on board a number of the Select Committee’s recommendations in relation to our pre-legislative scrutiny of what was then simply the Victims Bill and became the Victims and Prisoners Bill, as well as some, although not all, of our recommendations in relation to IPP prisoners; more on that in a moment.

The scrutiny of the Victims Bill was particularly led by Maria Eagle, who served as my deputy on the Committee before she was rightly recalled to the Opposition Front Bench. I thank her too for the support she gave me on the Committee and the particular work she did for her constituents and for a better and fairer approach for victims in these cases. I also congratulate Dame Diana Johnson, whom I first met when we were both elected to the London Assembly in 2000, for the exceptional work she has done in relation to infected blood. We can work cross-party on these matters and she has performed a great service.

In relation to some of the remaining parts of the Bill, I am glad the Government have moved on the matters set out here. The co-operation with the commissioner is good news and I think we all know that the duty of candour is valuable and to be welcomed; perhaps it could go further, but let us accept it is a step in the right direction.

The use of public protection and powers in relation to the recall of prisoners and the extension of home curfew are sensible measures. Home curfew is important. I will say it yet again, because I may not have another chance to do so: we need to be more intelligent as a society in the way we use imprisonment, which is expensive, and the way we use it at the moment is not always effective. Alternative tools in the sentencing box, including the use of home detention curfews, enable us to get a better approach to balancing punishment, which is legitimate, with rehabilitation, which is what we have to aim for if we are to reduce reoffending. If we want to reduce the number of victims of crime, we want to reduce reoffending. Home detention curfews and other measures are a valuable step towards doing that. They are by no means the whole answer, but any advance is to be welcomed.

I regret that in the wash-up we do not have the Sentencing Bill, because that would have taken many more valuable steps towards a more balanced and rational approach to sentencing policy. I hope whoever is in government after the general election will return to the issues in the Sentencing Bill, not least because many of them had cross-party support.

The campaign on IPP prisoners has attracted massive cross-party support both here and in the other House. Our Committee took compelling evidence on it, and in particular I want to thank those who championed it in the other place, including my good friend Lord Moylan, and Lord Blunkett. I wish the Government had gone further and introduced the resentencing exercise proposal put forward powerfully by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the former Lord Chief Justice; I still think there is merit in that.

I would like to end by paying tribute to someone who, sadly, cannot hear the words because yesterday I was at Middle Temple for the memorial service to the late Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, one of the most exceptional men I have ever met. He was an exceptional lawyer, one of the last of the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary—the Law Lords—and one of the first of the Supreme Court. At an age when many would be putting their feet up, he was regularly in the House of Lords until a month before he died. He regularly championed the case of IPP prisoners, and coined the phrase

“stain on our criminal justice system”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 September 2017;
Vol. 783, c. 2074.]

Those were Simon’s words. He will be pleased, up wherever he is, to have heard the words from the Minister that there will be movement, but I hope that one day we will return to the Simon Brown memorial amendment, the resentencing exercise amendment. That exceptional person, who inspired me and many others, and his family will deserve that, because if it is possible to be both a lawyer and public figure and a great human being, Simon Brown epitomised that, and that is something we can perhaps all learn from.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration)

It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Robert Neill, and I wish him all the best for the future and thank him for the work he did as Committee Chair. One of his memorable moments in the last few months was to chair the Committee sitting in which I and my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry were pushing the issue of the Horizon postmasters in Scotland and what that meant for us. That was a very intelligent session, with many legal experts, and he chaired it in an exemplary way that allowed the debate to continue. I have always found him to be one of the more interesting Members of the House, when it comes to discussing such matters, and very fair. I wish him all the best.

I also wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, all the best for the future. Like Kevin Brennan, I am going to name you as my favourite Deputy Speaker. You always used to tease me that I have a glint in my eye before I am ready to speak in the Chamber, and I would always be coy when you suggested I was going to be speaking next. I genuinely give you my good wishes, and thank you for all the kindness you have shown me as an individual and all the encouragement you give all hon. Members of the House in carrying out our duties, both to our constituents and here in the Chamber.

What an amazing week it has been. It was suggested that this Bill might not make the wash-up. If that had been the case, there would have been an almighty furore from the infected and affected community. I think pressure was applied by Members in this House, Members in the other place, and indeed the campaigners, to ensure that we got the Bill over the line. I am going to confine my observations to the amendments relating to the infected blood compensation scheme and setting up the Infected Blood Compensation Authority, which I welcome. I also welcome, as I did earlier in the week, the excellent appointment of Sir Robert Francis as head of the authority and of the compensation board.

Like many other Members, I am here to fulfil a constituent commitment, in particular to Cathy Young and her two daughters, Nicola and Lisa. It was one of my first constituency cases: Cathy Young came to see me at Darnley community centre. I had known a bit about the issue—in Scotland we had the Penrose inquiry, which was untidy to say the least—but I got more and more interested, and more and more passionate, because it was a clear injustice. As the hon. Member for Cardiff West suggested, I am a great believer that when it is time for an election, you do not shy away from it, but I do think that some of the events of the past couple of days have been a pity.

On Monday, when my constituent Cathy Young was down here in London, along with her daughters, I think some people in the Government knew that the general election was going to be called two days later. I do not believe that the Paymaster General did, but when he was on his feet delivering a statement about what the compensation scheme would look like, I believe that some people in the Government knew that the election was going to be called the very next day. We are in an unfortunate position, in that there are now a lot of questions that need answered and clarified before Parliament is dissolved. I am going to raise some of them in my speech, because we do seem to be in a bit of flux, which is a pity. I am going to take this opportunity on behalf of my constituents and the infected blood community, who have taken Members of this House to their hearts, as we have taken them to our hearts.

First, according to the scheme and the discussions that have taken place with the Cabinet Office, it looks as though the parents of a deceased infected child will receive the same amount as those of a living infected child. That does not seem right to me, and I think it needs to be clarified. There is also no mention of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease infection among all this paperwork.

A lot of clarity is needed on the confusion between what is a widow’s payment and what is an estate payment. The expectation appears to be that widows will distribute the money paid as an estate payment, but unfortunately that might be difficult, given the sad reality of life that some families do not speak to each other, for all sorts of reasons. It is suggested that widows would receive £16,000, which seems to be less than they receive at present. The Government are also suggesting that the support scheme payments will end, which is leaving a lot of people distressed and very worried about losing those monthly payments. We need clarity and more discussion with the infected and affected blood community to ease some of those concerns.

We also need clarity about individual heads of loss for the infected, because, frankly, we all seem to be in the dark. The uplift for psychological effects has also been omitted. Will that be covered by the injury impact award? At the moment that is not clear, so that is something else that we would want to discuss. There needs to be a discussion about what psychological support services there should be going forward, because this has been a difficult and emotional week for many people. Lastly—this is very important—if people accept the interim payment of £210,000, does that mean they are accepting all the compensation values that are currently on the UK Government website?

It seems to me that we need a lot of clarity and a lot more discussion. I welcome the fact that the authority has been set up and that this place has forced the Government to move on the issue. This has been the House at its best—just as many Conservative Members voted for the amendment tabled by my good friend Dame Diana Johnson as did Members in other parts of the House. This is a collective, cross-party attempt to address this injustice. I hope that those questions will be answered, either in writing or in discussions with the infected and affected blood community, because we are all here to make sure that they get the justice they so richly deserve. Any further delays will mean justice denied.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

It is a real pleasure to follow my friend Chris Stephens. I want to say a big personal thank you to him for all his excellent work over the years on the issue of infected blood, and for the important role he has played in the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood, to get to where we are this week.

I also want to comment on the remarks of the Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Robert Neill. I am very sad that he is leaving the House. I have looked up to him as an excellent role model for how to chair a Select Committee with grace and charm, but also with steel. He has not shied away from the effective scrutiny that is so vital to the functioning of this House through the Select Committee system. I wish him all the very best for what he goes on to do next.

As we are talking about Select Committees, I wonder whether I could also pay tribute to the members of the Home Affairs Committee, some of whom might not return to this House. I wish them all the very best for all the work they have done as Select Committee members. I also pay tribute to the work of the Clerks and the staff of the Home Affairs Committee over the past two and a half years that I have had the great honour and privilege of chairing it. In particular, I want to mention Jo Dodd, our current Clerk, David Weir, who was our previous Clerk, and Mariam Keating, the second Clerk, who stepped up when we needed her to during an interregnum between our first Clerks. I thank all of them.

The remarks that I want to make about the Lords amendments are very much in the spirit of what has been said about the infected blood scandal. As the hon. Member for Glasgow South West said, what a week this has been. We started on Monday with the report from Sir Brian Langstaff, which followed six years of evidence heard by the independent public inquiry, which was absolutely damning about the role played by doctors, the NHS and the state, and a vindication of all those who have campaigned over the decades. Finally, we have the truth.

There were a lot of ghosts in that room in Westminster Central Hall. A lot of people who should have been there were not. I want to pay tribute to someone I got to know, Nick Sainsbury, who lived just outside Hull and had been a pupil at Treloar’s boarding school. He was a haemophiliac and had been infected with hepatitis C and HIV as a young boy. He spent his life campaigning to try to find out what had happened and to get justice. Very sadly, he died last year, before the final report was published and before he could see the start of justice for those who have been infected and affected.

I also want to pay tribute to my constituent Glenn Wilkinson, who started all this off for me back in 2010, at a time very similar to this. A general election had just been called and I was holding my final surgery as an MP, and he came to see me—although I have since learnt that he was so disillusioned with everything that he almost did not come to see me. I said, “If I am re-elected in the next Parliament, I will try to help you.” That is what started my 14-year journey, working with Glenn and so many others on this campaign.

Finally, I want to say a big thank you to Caroline Wheeler, the political editor of The Sunday Times, who has relentlessly used her position as a journalist to shine a light on this issue. She has written a book, and throughout all of this she has been making sure that politicians cannot forget what happened and cannot forget this search for justice.

Let me now turn to the Lords amendments. I thank Members of the other place, and the Ministers and shadow Ministers, for all the work they have done, but I want to remind the House how we ended up with this section of the Bill. On 4 December last year this House defeated the Government, with 246 votes to 242. Why did that happen? It happened because in April 2023 Sir Brian Langstaff had produced his second interim report, in which he said that in all conscience he could not wait to tell the Government that they needed to start to pay compensation. He said that

“wrongs were done on individual, collective and systemic levels”, and that people were dying. We know that currently people are dying at a rate of one person every three and a half days. Parliament defeated the Government—and I am very proud of this Parliament for doing that—because the Government were not doing what they should have done. Parliament made them act and put this provision into the Bill. That is what started the whole process, and it is important to note that it was cross-party.

Do I need to curtail my remarks, Madam Deputy Speaker?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means) 11:45, 24 Mai 2024

I am conscious of the fact that the debate must finish at 12.51.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I absolutely agree with everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West has said about the questions that still need to be answered. One point that I want to raise concerns Sir Robert Francis and the engagement that will take place in the next few weeks. Legal representation is needed so that people can engage fully with that process and ensure that they are feeding in the issues about tariffs, which have caused a great deal of concern and worry. We also need to get on with providing psychological services in England. We have them in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but we now need them in England, and I hope the Minister will take that message back. The other key issue is that of support payments.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

I want to associate myself with everything that has been said about infected blood. I also want to call to the attention of this House the cross-party working on Lords amendment 45, particularly by Baroness Morgan, Baroness Finn, Baroness Brinton, Baroness Thornton, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Russell, to protect victims of malicious harassment.

I thank the Minister and his team; he knows that this has been an issue that many of us have been vexed about because we have been victims of it ourselves. He has been patient, and he recognised that we could not simply say, “This won’t happen again,” and that we needed to put something into law. In that sense, I pay tribute to all the lawyers and experts on stalking who have assisted us, and we cannot let the Bill go through this place without acknowledging the work of the victims’ commissioner for London, Claire Waxman, who is sat in the Gallery this afternoon and who has tirelessly fought for victims legislation.

I have a few questions about Lords amendment 45— I would not be taking part in the debate if I did not. The amendment is about stopping harassment. At the moment, even if somebody who makes malicious complaints is convicted, it is not clear to many data controllers that because the records have been created by a process of malice, they should be deleted. As a consequence, victims find themselves being pursued based on those records, and the amendment would give people a direct right to request a deletion.

The Minister will know there is a concern that some of the exemptions could be broad. Will he commit to giving clarity on when those exemptions cannot be used for malicious complaints, as was done in the other House, and to giving protection to victims who are targeted in this way? Many of us in the public realm will be targeted; we have an election coming up, and we know that this will happen. Many of us want to face public scrutiny, but our families should not have to pay for the price for it, which is what so often happens with these records. Could the Minister commit to providing formal guidance?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I am afraid the Minister will not have time to sum up, but I am sure that he will be in touch if there is anything he wishes to add.

One hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Order, 23 May).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83F), That the amendment be made.

Government amendment (a) made to Lords amendment 35.

The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).

Government amendments (b) and (c) made to Lords amendment 35.

Lords amendment 35, as amended, agreed to.

Government amendment (a) made to Lords amendment 46.

Lords amendment 46, as amended, agreed to.

Lords amendment 32 disagreed to.

Government amendment (a) made in lieu of Lords amendment 32.

Lords amendments 33, 47 and 54 disagreed to.

Government amendment (a) made in lieu of Lords amendment 54.

Lord amendments 98 and 99 disagreed to.

Government amendment (a) made in lieu of Lords amendments 98 and 99.

Lords amendment 106 disagreed to.

Government amendments (a) and (b) made in lieu of Lords amendment 106.

Lords amendments 1 to 31, 34, 36 to 45, 48 to 53, 55 to 97, 100 to 105 and 107 to 143 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 44, 56 to 60, 63, 64 and 142.

Ordered, That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing with their amendments 33 and 47;

That Edward Argar, Scott Mann, Aaron Bell, Paul Holmes, Chris Elmore, Andrew Western and Chris Stephens be members of the Committee;

That Edward Argar be the Chair of the Committee;

That three be the quorum of the Committee.

That the Committee do withdraw immediately.— (Joy Morrissey.)

Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.