Amendment 53

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords am 4:45 pm ar 5 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Hampton:

Moved by Lord Hampton

53: Clause 12, page 10, line 20, at end insert—“(4A) Collaboration may include the co-location of services in accordance with the Child House model, as defined by the Home Office guidance entitled “Child House: local partnerships guidance”, published on 6 September 2021.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would include within the duty to collaborate the use of the Child House model, described by the Home Office guidance as “a multi-agency service model supporting children, young people and non-abusing parents, carers and family members.”

Photo of Lord Hampton Lord Hampton Crossbench

My Lords, I will speak briefly to my Amendment 53, which would insert the concept:

“Collaboration may include the co-location of services in accordance with the Child House model”.

We have heard much talk about the child house model pilot project at the Lighthouse in Camden. It is a multiagency model for children and young people who have experienced any form of sexual abuse. I urge noble Lords to visit this place; it is a shining example. It is an extraordinarily light, welcoming and unthreatening place where children and young people can go to receive medical help and counselling, but also where they can tell their story. As we have said, children tend to tell their story only once, so if we want justice from these places, this is the place to do it. It is a pilot scheme that needs to be rolled out.

At the moment the Bill seems to be in either/or mode when it talks about local authorities. The amendment would clarify that a multiagency, multiborough or multi-council format could be used as best practice for child victims when, as must happen, this model is rolled out across the country. With that, I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I shall speak to a variety of amendments. I support the amendment just moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, but I will leave it to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, to talk about it when he winds up. I will speak to my Amendments 54 and 81. I support Amendments 56 and 59 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. I will then speak to my Amendments 58, 60, 62 and 64.

Amendments 54 and 81 return to the subject of stalking. There were 1.6 million victims of stalking in the year ending 2023, so it seems strange that there is relatively little mention of stalking and stalking victims in the Bill. That is something we hope to persuade His Majesty’s Government to consider. Part of that is the importance of independent stalking advocates, which we will come to in a later group. We particularly welcome the Government’s new measures to expand Clause 15 to include guidance about a number of specialist support roles, including, we hope, independent stalking advocates. But I stress that, although what they propose is extremely welcome, it is obviously a very good idea to think about this and develop the list in close co-operation with some of the organisations and bodies closest to the front line in dealing with victims and experiences.

Stalking should certainly be included within the scope of the duty to collaborate in Clause 12. The Minister said in considering the previous group that the Government are looking carefully at the super-complaint made by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust about stalking not being dealt with effectively, but again, we know that it is being dealt with extraordinarily well in some parts of the country. So we know that there are ways of tackling it, but unfortunately that is being done in only a handful of parts of the country. If you are unfortunate enough not to live in those parts, you will have a pretty ghastly experience, like Gracie Spinks and so many other people. That is probably enough on stalking; I think the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, can be relied on to talk about that in more detail, and, very importantly, from direct personal experience, which has its own power.

The two amendments put forward by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester try to ensure that funding for victims and witness support services is sufficient to meet the needs across the country, particularly the demand for specialist domestic abuse services. While the idea of a duty to collaborate is a wonderful one, to be truly effective we judge that it would be helpful if there was a requirement on the Secretary of State to support duty-holders to meet the needs identified by providing adequate and sustainable funding. The figures are not insignificant. Women’s Aid estimates that it would cost at least £238 million per year to meet the need for community-based services across the country. We feel that the Bill is an opportunity to put in some safeguards to provide a legal framework through which sustainable community-based services and funding could be provided.

Turning to Amendment 59, some “93% of frontline workers” surveyed for Refuge’s Local Lifelines report said that

“their service was being impacted by staff shortages”, and

“64% said their service was impacted by short-term contracts”.

Therefore, the principle of multiyear funding to try to enable these services to be set up to a sustainable and effective level is extremely important. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will expand on that in a minute.

I come to the last set of amendments—Amendments 58, 60, 62 and 64—which come from working closely with Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner, and her team. There is a patchwork of provision for victims, survivors and their children when trying to access services. Community-based specialist domestic abuse services are literally life-saving and life-changing for many of these victims. Despite this, there is no duty to fund these community-based services, and in the current economic environment, you can imagine that they are not necessarily at the top of every cash-strapped local authority’s “must do” list of services to which to try to apportion diminishing funds.

Without making too much of it, this is a crisis, and in the Bill we have an opportunity to ameliorate that. We must really try to focus our minds on what is required to deliver sustainable, entrenched, well-run, effective services across the country. This Bill is a chance to try to do it right, so I hope we will take that opportunity.

Photo of The Bishop of Manchester The Bishop of Manchester Bishop

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 56 and 59 in my name; I also support the other amendments in this group. These amendments would all help to firm up the very good intentions set out in Clauses 12 and 13.

In an earlier group, I tabled an amendment to ensure that victim support services were properly signposted; it is no use a service existing if the people it is meant to serve are not able to access it. But now we come to, if anything, a more fundamental point: how do we ensure that the right services exist for victims, and in each and every part of the country?

The Bill as drafted gets much right: it requires policing bodies, integrated care boards and local authorities to collaborate in assessing the needs of victims, producing a published strategy and, indeed, revising that strategy as occasion requires—so far, so good. But, as things stand, and as the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, has indicated, that assessment and strategy could be little more than a combination of the unaffordable and the non-existent—a bit like an overambitious child’s Christmas wish list.

My two amendments seek to plug those gaps. The first simply requires the Secretary of State to ensure that the relevant authorities have the wherewithal to carry out their strategy. As the noble Lord has just reminded us, Women’s Aid estimates the funds required to provide that at £238 million per year. It does sound a lot, but not only would this funding save lives, it would make even greater savings for society.

Sustainably funding specialist support services reduces the need for survivors to use statutory services. It saves money, helping to reduce the staggering economic and social costs of domestic abuse. I have seen Home Office estimates of £78 billion a year. Economic analysis published by Women’s Aid found that every £1 invested in domestic abuse support is estimated to make at least £9 of savings to the public purse. Until recently, I was chair of a large charitable endowment fund, and I can assure noble Lords that an investment return at that level makes sound financial sense even before we account for its impact for good on the lives of victims.

My second amendment gets to the heart of how, in a local area, the commissioning bodies can ensure that a sufficient range and quality of services for victims can be provided in a sustainable way. In 2022, the domestic abuse commissioner found that fewer than half of survivors who want to access community-based services are able to. For minoritised women—those seeking support from specialist by-and-for organisations—the barriers are even greater. Some 85% of front-line workers surveyed for Refuge’s local lifeline support said that their services were impacted by insufficient funding; 76% of front-line workers said that their case load had increased in the last year. There is a real risk of services, even where they exist, collapsing under the weight of demand and the shortage of funds.

Stability is vital for the long-term sustainability of the victim support sector. Community organisations build up levels of trust over time. This allows them to support victims who have often had their ability to trust damaged very severely by the abuse and criminality they have suffered. Again, Refuge produced figures showing that some 95% of survivors it supports rely on just such community-based organisations. The problem is that those organisations are often dependent on short-term grants, and they like long-term stability.

My amendment seeks to ensure that services commissioned under this clause will be able to have sustainable funding models, allowing for long-term planning and stability, except where that is not necessary. I have seen too many charitable bodies spending half their time fighting to win the grants and support for the next year’s budget—time taken away from providing front-line services. That would make it easier for organisations to recruit and retain quality staff. It takes pretty high motivation to stay working for an organisation that constantly has only a few months of its budget left. The amendment would enable them to develop new resources and, to go back to my earlier point, to build up the levels of trust that then ensures that their work reaches those who really need it and impacts their lives for the better.

If we can establish this collaboration between statutory and community bodies, supported by government, for the well-being of victims of crime and abuse, we may be going some way to resurrect what a few years ago the then Prime Minister, now a Member of your Lordships’ House, so powerfully encouraged us to think of as the big society.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Llafur 5:00, 5 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I support the amendments in this group specifically on domestic abuse services. The Justice Committee, in its pre-legislative scrutiny report, observed:

“Additional funding is required to enable services to meet demand and allow the Victims Bill”— as it then was—

“to live up to its ambitions”.

As the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, pointed out, a mapping exercise by the domestic abuse commissioner revealed just how patchy is the support available to domestic abuse victims and survivors from community-based services because of funding difficulties. Funding, such as it is, is often short-term and insecure, which reduces services’ capacity and ability to plan, with implications for effective service provision and the recruitment and retention of staff.

The mapping exercise also underlined the importance of community-based services, which was what most victims and survivors wanted. This chimes with the experience of organisations such as Refuge and Women’s Aid. The domestic abuse commissioner found that the weaknesses due to funding difficulties were

“compounded for victims and survivors from minoritised communities who face the greatest barriers to support, with specialist ‘by and for’ organisations increasingly defunded despite being best placed to meet their needs”.

In an earlier briefing on the Bill, she pointed out that such organisations

“are particularly ill served by local commissioning, where commissioners can favour fewer larger contracts to cover their whole population, or where there is not the critical mass of individuals from a particular community in a given geographical area for commissioners to commission a bespoke service”.

She emphasises that her mapping exercise shows that by-and-for services are

“by any measure, the most effective services for victims”,—[Victims and Prisoners Bill Committee, 20/06/23; col. 7.]">Official Report, Commons, Victims and Prisoners Bill Committee, 20/06/23; col. 7.] especially those from minoritised communities.

Women’s Aid makes an important point that the distinction between specialist and generic VAWG services is recognised in Article 2 of the Istanbul convention and should be reflected in the Bill. Women’s Aid also argued that, on the basis of economic analysis conducted for it by ResPublica, the funding of specialist domestic abuse services can be seen as spending to save, given the savings it would generate elsewhere, as the right reverend Prelate underlined.

I return now to a point I raised at Second Reading on the significance of economic abuse. To the Government’s credit, this is now recognised in law. Community-based services need to be able to help victims and survivors of economic abuse, the impact of which can be devastating—even more so given the financial pressures so many families are facing. A Women’s Aid survey last year found that the cost of living crisis has hurt both specialist domestic abuse services, leaving many on their knees, and of course victims and survivors themselves. Of the women surveyed, 73% told them the charity it had either prevented them leaving or made it harder for them to flee. Some two-thirds said that abusers are now using the increase in the cost of living and concerns about financial hardship as a tool for coercive control, including to justify further restricting their access to money.

This underlines the importance of economic advocacy, both for those who have suffered economic abuse and more generally for domestic abuse victims and survivors. Surviving Economic Abuse has done so much to put the issue on the political map. It has made the case for including economic advocacy in the provision of community-based services, including by-and-for specialist services. It sees this as

“key to victim-survivors’ immediate safety as well as long-term economic independence”.

The charity warns:

“Post-separation economic abuse is the primary reason women return to an abusive partner”.

Economic instability affects the ability to access the criminal justice system and pursue a prosecution. Economic abuse, including post separation, makes rebuilding an independent life extremely challenging. The charity therefore recommends

“that the standard support offer in all domestic abuse services should include economic advocacy in partnership with money, debt, and benefits advice as well as financial services, to help victim-survivors establish … economic safety”.

Existing examples of such support show how it can help victim-survivors establish their economic safety and rebuild their financial independence.

As I have said, economic advocacy is important not just for those subject to economic abuse. The DAC’s mapping exercise found that half of victim-survivors wanting support for domestic abuse during the previous three years mentioned the need for help with money problems or debt. Of those, only 27% were able to get such support, which is almost the largest category of unmet need that the survey found. This suggests that higher priority must be given to funding economic advocacy generally; otherwise, there is a real danger that some victim-survivors will end up returning to an abusive partner because of the dire economic circumstances they face trying to establish an independent life free of abuse.

Photo of Baroness Newlove Baroness Newlove Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I wish to speak in support of Amendments 59, 60, 62, 64 and 65. When you become a victim of crime, your life is thrown into disarray in a moment, as I know only too well from bitter personal experience. Indeed, I had to become the main breadwinner as well as supporting my daughters through the most horrendous acts they had ever seen in their lives. What people need at this time is help and support so that they can attempt to pull their lives back together and to recover. The victims’ code gives all victims of crime the right to refer to support services. However, I am often told how difficult it can be to get access to these services. In fact, people do not even know they exist half the time.

In my victims’ survey, only 46% of people—less than half of the people who responded—said they were referred to victims’ services. Even if they are referred, getting that service does not prove easy, with only 43% of respondents agreeing with the statement, “It was easy to get access to victims’ services”. One victim told me that

“it took a really long time to get the support I needed at that time, as I was going through a very traumatic time and this was really impacting my mental health in such a negative way”.

I appreciate that there are, and will always be, constraints on funding, but the way victims’ services are funded contributes to the problems faced by many of these organisations. Victims’ support services are currently delivered via a complex network of statutory and non-statutory agencies, which compete with other providers for funding. There are huge regional inequalities for victims trying to access support services. Access to counselling—the most sought-after type of support—showed the biggest disparity, with 58% of victims in the north-east of England able to access counselling, compared with 37% in Wales. Demand is increasing for these services, but this increase is not being met by additional funding or capacity being allocated by the local authority.

We need long-term, sustainable funding for victims’ services. Importantly, these contracts should be for no less than three years. I feel that I am on a carousel, because I have been arguing for that since day one as Victims’ Commissioner. This would give these organisations the stability they need to be able to recruit, train, and, most importantly, maintain staff. Staff are given notices three months before this funding is even being put into accounts. Nobody in any job can absolutely go through that, when they have mortgages, children to feed and everything else. It is not acceptable.

In the victims’ funding strategy, the Ministry of Justice is committed to the principle of multiyear funding for core victim support services, and I welcome this. However, the short-term nature of contracts and the competitive tendering process really do have a damaging impact on organisations’ ability to deliver services—especially the smaller organisations, many of whom deliver by-and-for services. By-and-for services are extremely valuable in the support landscape, because these are organisations that are run and staffed by the marginalised communities they support. It is vital that victims feel supported and, more importantly, build relationships to feel they are being understood by getting support in an environment that is comfortable to them. For many, this means being supported by people who understand their culture or have similar life experiences. Again, in my recent survey, only 29% of victims told me they were able to easily find suitable services for their specific issues.

The commissioning processes fail these specialist by-and-for organisations, because the way in which they are structured favours bidders who can provide support at lower costs and have a larger reach in terms of numbers—not necessarily the best practice for victims. They can also force providers into partnerships and consortium arrangements in which by-and-for organisations are underresourced, silenced, marginalised or squeezed out. It is vital that these organisations can continue the vital work they do, and not be continually disadvantaged by short-term funding rounds. That is why I am in favour of ring-fenced funding. I know that the Government do not like ring-fencing—but a ring-fencing pot is essential for specialist by-and-for support services.

I also want the statutory guidance on the duty to collaborate to include direction to commissioners on the importance of commissioning practices that do not discriminate against smaller specialist services but encourage them to fund a range of services suitable for all victims.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Llafur 5:15, 5 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I am going to speak to my Amendment 65. I am delighted that the noble Baroness who has just spoken supports it. It was supported also by the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, who cannot be in his place today. I remind the Committee that I was a police and crime commissioner for five years and had some responsibility for victims’ services at the time. This amendment springs from a view of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, and I am very grateful for its help.

Noble Lords will have seen that the duty in relation to victim support services to collaborate and the strategic guidance under Clauses 12, 13 and 14 refers to police areas in England alone. The purpose of the amendment is to try to persuade the Government that the duty to collaborate should apply to elected policing bodies across England and Wales while, of course, respecting Welsh devolved powers.

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, which of course represents all police and crime commissioners across England and Wales, is enthusiastic and welcomes the Bill—I should say that to start with. However, it thinks that there is a problem in that, as the clause is drafted now, it could make a real difference to the effectiveness of Welsh police and crime commissioners, and more particularly to how they are perceived in both Wales and England. I want to make it clear that I am advised that the four Welsh police and crime commissioners who would be most directly affected by the amendment are all strongly in favour of it. I emphasise to the Committee that they are not all from one political party; politics does not come into this particular issue.

All noble Lords will of course appreciate that policing in Wales is a reserved power of the UK Government, so that these four Welsh police and crime commissioners operate under the same rules and regulations as their colleagues in England. Nevertheless, of course, they operate entirely within the boundaries of the principality. Therefore, to be effective they have to take fully into account the ways in which health, local government, highways, housing and their local public services are organised and delivered in Wales, notwithstanding the fact that they themselves are not under the control of the Welsh Government.

The four Welsh police and crime commissioners have expressed concerns about the Bill, hence this amendment. Their concerns are that while the Bill imposes on their English colleagues a duty to collaborate in the exercise of victim support services, it does not impose the same duty on them. The Welsh police and crime commissioners believe that this could make a significant difference to their effectiveness in this field and, more significantly, lead to a perception that they are less committed to dealing with such issues as violence against women and girls than are their English colleagues—and nothing could be further from the truth.

Equally, and this is perhaps a significant point, although Welsh police and crime commissioners engage enthusiastically at present with the partnerships set out in the Welsh legislature, they are under no statutory obligation to do so. There are impending elections, and these could change collaborative approaches without such a duty as this amendment seeks to safeguard continued partnership engagement.

It is for this reason that the amendment has been drafted. It recognises the special circumstances under which the four Welsh PCCs operate, but at the same time makes it clear that Welsh police and crime commissioners are no less determined to support victims of crime than are their English colleagues, and no less determined to collaborate with other agencies in Wales to achieve this object.

Neither I nor, with great respect to him, the noble Lord, Lord Russell, are experts in the details of the Government of Wales Act 2006, or the legislation, regulations and administrative arrangements that flow from it. If the Government, in further discussion with the Welsh Government, have concerns with the drafting of the amendment and suggestions for improving it, we would be very happy to welcome them. We are concerned here with the principle of the amendment: to ensure that the obligation that the Bill imposes on police and crime commissioners in England to collaborate in the exercise of their functions to support the victims of crime is extended to the four police and crime commissioners in Wales, whose powers are in every other way identical to those of their English colleagues. On that basis, I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I want to pick up the last point of the noble Lord, Lord Bach. The duty to collaborate is extremely important, and both his amendment and that of the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, are certainly worthy of consideration. The lighthouse model that has been referred to is extremely impressive. I have also seen, in times past, really effective local working, particularly through services for child victims. However, it would be good if this were strengthened to ensure that part of the victim’s journey, regardless of their age, was helped.

It is a convention in this House that, if we are not quite sure where to go next, we ask for reports. However, we have tabled a lot of amendments about a lot of detail because we are concerned about the practice, and this is one instance where reports actually become vital. They are vital not just to hold the Government to account in Parliament but to ensure that the Government are forced to reflect on how the systems are working, because if this continues for yet another decade, we will be going through another Bill in 10 years’ time saying the same things. A report might help focus the mind when the systems are not working.

I support the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in her comments about the provision of DA support and the real crisis times that victims face, with their lives in complete upheaval. I agree particularly with her points about economic coercive control, which is really worrying and something I have heard more and more about. I have been working with one victim for about 15 years; it took her 10 years to clear the debts that she was left with as a result of the coercive control of her partner, who completely disappeared. She is on the minimum wage, and it has been very difficult and has affected her life for that long.

I signed Amendments 54 and 81, which the noble Lord, Lord Russell, outlined in his speech, on including stalking in the list of relevant victim support services and placing a duty on the Secretary of State to assess a number of advocates, including stalking advocates. I go back to the issue we discussed in the last group: how important it is to have a victim journey number.

In the case where my colleagues and I were victims, our first barrier was finding one crime number. The man who stalked me pleaded guilty to 67 crimes and asked for another 100-and-something to be taken into account. Not all of the crimes happened to me; some of them happened to council colleagues and supporters of my party, and some happened to people who were, unfortunately, parked on the driveways of supporters of my party. Each time we rang the police, we were given a different number. As the PPC, I started a spreadsheet, and when it got to 30 I went back to the police and said, “This is impossible”. We did not know who it was—we had suspicions—but we knew that it was a very particular campaign.

At that point, about six months in or perhaps slightly more than that, we had the one funny incident of a two and a half year-experience, where, every week in the Watford Observer, there was a letter being very unpleasant about me and occasionally about my council colleagues. The letters got more vitriolic, but each was signed by somebody else. I went with a colleague to see the editor of the newspaper, and he said, “Politics is a tough old game, and you just have to accept that, if people want to write in and tell me that you are poor on this topic and not a very nice woman given what you do with your children, I will print it”. I asked him if I could read out the surnames of the people who had written in over the last few weeks: they were Freeman, Hardy, Willis, Debenham and Freebody. At that point, he realised he was being had, but we had been watching the letters go in for four months at that stage. The objective was to destroy my campaign—that is what the judge said when the man was sentenced. But that was the only funny part.

The other thing about stalkers is that, when they do not achieve what they want, their behaviour becomes more drastic; the Suzy Lamplugh Trust will tell you that this is well-known. The man then started printing completely fictitious letters about one of my council colleagues who lived just round the corner from me and literally scattering them along the road in his car. At that point, we thought we knew who he was, but we could not get the police to take it seriously. The letter said that my council colleague—who was married to his one and only wife—had deserted his previous wife and was not paying her maintenance and that his daughter was distressed; funnily enough, my colleague was up for election that year. That was a step up, and then it went a step further up during the 2005 general election, when all the poster boards were pulled down. My husband, who happened to be our poster board supremo, kept creating higher and higher stakes for the poster boards—we really made it into an artform. When one got to three times the normal height, the man scratched the car on the driveway of the house. Thereafter, it moved on to petty crime, but it was not stalking because it was petty crime against other individuals. That is why we need one crime number for this sort of thing, but also recognition that, although there is a core victim, there are other victims because of the nature of stalking.

What really freaked them out was when he started to put knives through the tyres of cars on driveways at night and spray epithets on the homes of councillors. My husband had installed 10 closed circuit cameras on the most likely places by then. The police provided one on our house, and our house was never targeted—I cannot imagine why. We were able to use that evidence, along with a picture of him where you could see that he was wearing a watch on his right arm which matched the one seen during the spray-painting. At that point—this was the worst day—the police said that a forensic psychiatrist had come in as they were worried about the behaviour, and it was clear that he was going to go for people with the knife next, and it was a 10-inch knife.

At that point, we were well over two years in. That is why, 15 years on from his sentencing, when the noble Lord, Lord Russell, spoke about knives the other day, my blood ran cold. I was remembering when the police came to our house and upped security. Stalking can be very dangerous. I was lucky; we got it taken seriously and he pleaded guilty when caught, but there are other cases.

After Second Reading, Metro covered two cases of stalking on the same day. In one, somebody fitted a GPS tracker to his former partner’s car and used it to monitor her movements. He was eventually caught watching her at a pub and was sentenced, despite no remorse in pre-sentence reports and trying to blame her for his feelings—the judge found

“victim blaming for these instances of control”— to an 18-week suspended sentence and a five-year restraining order. The other person, convicted at the same time but from a completely different part of the country, was a McDonald’s worker obsessed with a former colleague. He set up a string of social media accounts, including one under an alter ego pretending to be his girlfriend, and befriended the victim, saying, “I know what you’re going through”. He then told the police he was being stalked himself. When he finally tried to get into his victim’s home, he said that he was a police officer. At that point, he was sentenced to seven years and eight months, because he pretended to be a police officer. I do not know what it would have been without that. As to how people think about stalking, one policeman said to a victim I know very well: “You should be flattered by the attention”. That is what they are told, and often people believe it.

I will not give any other examples, but our papers are full of them every day. Not quite half of them are non-domestic. Because they are not domestic, they are unaffected by the consequences of the Domestic Abuse Act, good as it is, and its importance in resolving this. We must put stalking support services into this legislation because, if they are not there, they will not happen.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:30, 5 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, to repeat what I said earlier, I dealt with a couple of stalking cases relatively recently. Interestingly, they were both of women stalking men. It is a very difficult scenario and can get extremely complex when you are assessing behaviour over sometimes protracted lengths of time. I absolutely recognise the trauma that it inflicts on the victims.

I will open by looking through the other end of the telescope. As a magistrate, for every sentence I give, I put in place a victim surcharge. That money, which at the moment is 40% of any fine I put in place, goes into a victim and witness general fund. Can the Minister say where that money goes? Is it enough to fund all the victims’ services that we are talking about? Does it need topping up for the other victims’ services that are provided? Interestingly, when the fund was first introduced in 2007, it was set at about 10% of fines. Now it is 40%, so there has been a big increase in the amount of money going into that fund over the last few years.

In general, this group of amendments is about the funding and provision of victim support services. The theme from all noble Lords has been sustainability, predictability and consistency of funding. There are any number of organisations and charities supporting victims, sometimes on a small scale and sometimes on a large, integrated scale. I know from my experience of the Minerva project in Hammersmith in London that it is part of a wider network of support for women going through the criminal justice process, sometimes as victims and sometimes as perpetrators. There is a wide network of services, but it is uneven across the country and funded in different ways. They all aspire to sustainability of funding, as we have heard from all noble Lords, so that they can make best use of the available funding.

My noble friend Lady Lister spoke about economic coercive control in particular; I absolutely agree with the points she made. Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner, has been campaigning on this for many years. I am very glad that it is getting more recognition as an offence that should be brought to court if appropriate.

The noble Lord, Lord Russell, spoke earlier about the “child house” model. I went on that visit to the Lighthouse project with him. The general theme here is the integration of services to meet the particular needs of victims. I have some peripheral experience of that, but my most direct and relevant experience is not of victims but of young men coming out of jail under a previous funding model by the Conservative Government—the troubled families programme—funded in three boroughs in south-west London. There was an integrated approach to supporting and providing services to those young men as they came out of prison, across the CPS, housing, health and education, and more widely, so that they did not reoffend. I sat on the board for a number of years. It was very interesting that, when the money dried up, the co-operative approach dried up as well. That was very regrettable, but it taught me the lesson that the co-operative approach works best when there is a focus and an impetus through funding to make those co-operative services work effectively.

Everybody aspires to co-operative funding. Of course it is a good thing, but there needs to be either a direct instruction or a direct pot of money for people to co-operate as they should. So often, co-operation is difficult and the lack of it makes it easier for individual organisations to continue to work along their separate tramlines. I hope the Minister will say something about how to use that money imaginatively and sustainably so that co-operation across services can be embedded into victim support.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, this group of amendments brings together a very important set of issues, as we have heard. I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for their amendments on the funding and provision of victim support services, where I will start.

The right reverend Prelate’s Amendment 56 seeks to require the Secretary of State to have regard to the needs assessments identified under the duty to collaborate and use these to ensure that local commissioners effectively commission relevant support services. I hope I can be helpful in providing some reassurance on that topic. Under the duty to collaborate, local commissioners must have regard to their joint needs assessments when producing their local strategies. The strategies should include evidence of how relevant authorities have carried out the needs assessments, as well as how the assessments have informed their commissioning decisions. A ministerially led national oversight forum will be set up to scrutinise the local strategies; that is how we can join up the process. For that reason, I respectfully suggest that the amendment the right reverend Prelate has tabled is unnecessary.

The oversight forum will have the relevant insights and information and undertake appropriate scrutiny of the published strategies to assess whether and how relevant support services are commissioned in individual local areas. The insights will also be used to inform national funding decisions made through the spending review process; again, that is another element in the join-up process. That is the right approach to setting government budgets. Looking at everything in the round, the measures will achieve the objective the right reverend Prelate’s amendment also seeks to achieve.

Amendments 58, 59, 60 and 62 would require the Secretary of State to make a statement every three years, in response to the strategies published under the duty to collaborate, on support for victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and stalking. They would also require the Secretary of State to ensure that commissioners, under the duty, have sufficient multi-year funding, and the establishment of a cross-government by-and-for funding stream. The key point here is surely transparency. As I indicated a moment ago, the local strategies under the duty to collaborate will be published and will provide valuable insights into the levels of service certain victims are receiving in each local area. Therefore, additional reporting in a statement made by the Secretary of State would be largely duplicative.

I am, however, in full agreement that the funding of victim support services is crucial to enable victims of crime to cope and build resilience to move forward with their lives. That is why we have already committed to quadruple funding for victims’ services by 2024-25, up from £41 million in 2009-10. This includes funding that the Ministry of Justice provides to police and crime commissioners, specifically ring-fenced for domestic abuse and sexual violence services.

There are two additional points I can make on this. The joint needs assessments will help local areas to make the best use of existing funding through the collaborative process. This will lead, I suggest, to a more efficient use of money. Following on from that, the information that flows from it will strengthen the evidence base used to inform funding decisions made through the spending review process. The Government have responded to intelligence from local commissioners previously. For example, PCCs received a £6 million boost in funding per annum over the spending review period for community-based services supporting victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked what happens to the money that goes into the general support fund for victims. The victim surcharge provides a contribution towards MoJ-funded victim and witness support services. It does not cover the full cost of victim support services funded by the MoJ, but it makes a contribution. Income from the surcharge is then topped up from departmental budgets.

On multi-year funding, for which my noble friend Lady Newlove so powerfully advocated, the Government have already committed to it where possible and appropriate. The victims funding strategy set out an expectation for all commissioners to pass multi-year commitments on to their providers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, understandably commended by-and-for services. We know that these services play a vital role in the collective response to violence against women and girls, and that they improve outcomes for victims through the support they receive. That is why the Government have targeted funding for by-and-for services since April last year.

However, we know that not all victims’ needs are the same, and it is also right that services be commissioned at a local level based on specific needs and populations, as assessed. For that reason, we provide PCCs across England and Wales with annual grant funding to commission local services at their discretion, which can include specialist by- and-for services, based on assessment of local need. I contend that given the existing funding available, there is no need for a new cross-government by-and-for funding stream, and that government budgets and funding streams should continue to be decided through the spending review process, rather than through legislation.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Llafur 5:45, 5 Chwefror 2024

I am sorry to interrupt, and I realise that the Minister has had to take over the brief at short notice. He paints a rather positive picture whereby the Government are doing all these wonderful things. Why, therefore, is the domestic abuse commissioner so concerned about the patchy provision of services in general, particularly by-and-for services?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

That is clearly a concern, and we must listen to the domestic abuse commissioner very carefully. I have tried to set out how we have responded within existing powers and structures to improve funding across the piece. If one is not careful, there will be too much micromanagement from the centre. I always resist that, and we know that it can lead to perverse results in all sorts of contexts. I would be very happy to talk further to the noble Baroness about the domestic abuse commissioner’s concerns in this context after we finish the debate, as I am sure my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy would also be glad to do.

Moreover, as part of the joint needs assessment in the duty, commissioners will be required to have regard to the particular needs of victims with protected characteristics. This could result in the commissioning of by-and-for services.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for submitting Amendment 64, which would introduce a statutory requirement for certain commissioners and sector stakeholders to be consulted before issuing statutory guidance on the duty to collaborate. The Bill already requires the Secretary of State to consult such persons as they consider appropriate before issuing the guidance, without specifying particular bodies or roles. This is because of the wide-ranging nature of the duty and the key stakeholders involved—a list of relevant consultees could be extensive and change over time. Naturally, the department would continue to engage thoroughly with the various key stakeholders as the guidance develops. Therefore, we do not need a legislative requirement specifying who exactly that should be to enable them to do so.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

I thank the Minister very much for what he said. Does he accept that the officeholder, who is perhaps in the best position of all to guide His Majesty’s Government towards the most effective organisations with which they should be co-operating and talking, is the Victims’ Commissioner himself or herself? The Victims’ Commissioner is at the centre of an information web and, frankly, is likely to be better informed than His Majesty’s Government.

I understand the virtues of police and crime commissioners and, in principle, would agree with the Minister that micromanagement can be a very bad thing. However, if I were a victim, I would be in favour of slightly more micromanagement to make sure that, wherever I lived in England and Wales, the type of service I got was more uniform, consistent and joined up. In evidence, I cite a glossy 2022 document from the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners celebrating

“10 years of PCCs Making a Difference”.

It lays out no fewer than 39 different schemes across England and Wales that different PCCs have put in place for

“advocating for victims; developing innovative services for victims; and using multi-year funding to fund quality services”.

While that is a wonderful idea—let a thousand flowers bloom—what the system is currently sorely lacking is any comprehensive follow-up and measurement to see how effectively all those initiatives work. Do any of them still exist? Have they been developed any further? If some of them are working particularly well, is there an effective mechanism to ensure that other police and crime commissioners are taking on those best practices and applying them in their areas?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

First, I take the noble Lord’s point about the Victims’ Commissioner; I am happy to feed that into the department. Secondly, I come back to the point I made earlier about building transparency into the process. The local strategies will be published and then scrutinised by the oversight forum, which will be ministerially led, so there will be a way for the commissioning practices to be exposed to daylight at the local level. I suggest that that could reveal the kind of disparities that the noble Lord referred to; that would be very helpful, not only as regards funding but for sharing best practice. He raised a very important point, but I like to believe that we have thought about it and are addressing it.

I turn to the issue of stalking. I do not think that any of us could fail to be impressed by the horrific examples given by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I listened also with care to the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Ponsonby, on this issue. Amendment 54 seeks the inclusion of support services for victims of stalking under the duty to collaborate. Stalking—which I am the first to agree is a tremendously important and emotive issue—can already be covered by the duty. The accompanying statutory guidance will make it clear that stalking is one of a number of crime types that sits across the scope of domestic abuse, serious violence and sexual abuse, and needs should be assessed accordingly. I fully appreciate the concerns raised by stakeholders that, all too often, stalking is considered only as a form of domestic abuse, and support is provided largely on that basis. The definition of serious violence under this duty is deliberately broad to allow commissioners to determine what constitutes serious violence in their local area, which can include stalking as well, including where it is not perpetrated by an intimate partner.

It is important to retain legislative flexibility in this area so that the duty can evolve, if it needs to, just as the overarching offences of serious violence, sexual abuse and domestic abuse evolve. A prescriptive approach, as proposed by the amendment, would restrict our ability to be flexible, but we will continue to engage with commissioners and stakeholders on the guidance as it develops, and with noble Lords who are willing to lend their expertise. I am sure that my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy would be glad to do that. I can commit him in his absence to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, if they would find that helpful.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

I apologise for interrupting the Minister. I am very grateful for his response; I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, would have responded in the same way. What is happening in practice and on the ground with front-line services—in the police and the criminal justice system—does not reflect what the Minister just said at the Dispatch Box. The problem over the last few years has been trying to make that happen, which is why we believe that stalking needs to be added to the duty. Can he reassure me, in other ways, on how the actual practice will change? Therein lies the problem.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

Indeed. We come back to the earlier amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, on how one should best join up individual reports of crime, abuse or whatever else so that the police and others can obtain a rounded picture of what is going on. I fully take the point about changing practice. This is perhaps a subject for a longer discussion than today’s debate. I do not pretend to be expert on operational practices at the local level, so it would be wrong of me to chance my arm. The point is well made, and I am very happy to ensure that we have a separate discussion about it before Report.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

Can I make one additional point? The Minister just referred to allowing police and crime commissioners—and, I assume, chief constables—to decide what type of criminality should be regarded as serious or violent. One of the issues with the complexity of stalking is that, in many cases, stalking does not start from a violent position. Stalking, in many cases, can evolve, sometimes over a period of years, in a series of interactions by the predator, in such a way that, unless you know what you are dealing with, it is very hard to understand that there is a pattern developing or what type of stalking it is. We will come to the issue of training and advocates in the next group, but all the evidence produced by using the police force in Cheshire as a test case—to drive through the organisation clear understanding, training, lines of communication and technology to put this all together—has been transformative for the victims.

This is a victims’ Bill. Often, when I hear the Front Bench talking about the response to some amendments, I hear the voice of—understandably—the Government looking down on the victims. I very rarely get a sense of the Government articulating and espousing the rights of the victims themselves as they look up into the system, which they feel is failing them at the moment.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 6:00, 5 Chwefror 2024

I think we come back to the guidance on this—to get the guidance right and ensure that the focus on victims’ needs is there, and on teasing out what we mean when we refer to certain terms. Again, the process of formulating the guidance is not by any means complete. I am sure the whole debate that we have had today will be extremely helpful for officials in the work that they are doing on that front.

I am also grateful for the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for his Amendment 81, which seeks to improve the process for assessing the numbers of ISVAs, IDVAs, stalking advocates and other specialist support services in England and Wales. I reassure him that I fully recognise the importance of understanding both provision and demand so that resources are targeted, as they should be, and the right victims’ services are commissioned. I am confident, in the light of advice that I have received, that measures are already in place to appropriately assess support provision through existing reporting measures, and I believe that a central annual report risks duplicating work.

I also point to the Bill’s duty to collaborate, which will enhance transparency around what local services are being funded by requiring the relevant authorities to publish local strategies, which is the point I made a little earlier. These strategies will be informed by joint needs assessments that will assess the needs of victims of domestic abuse, sexual abuse and serious violence—which can include stalking—and consider whether and how those needs are being met. This will encourage joint local efforts to rectify data gaps, and drive evidence-informed decisions for prioritising funding to address local needs. The noble Lord suggested that too often he was hearing from the Front Bench a kind of government top-down view of life. What we have tried to emphasise through these measures is our desire to see local needs defined, and those needs—the needs assessment—being the bedrock for any service provision that commissioners decide upon. So we are encouraging, I hope, a victim-focused process.

Requiring separate reporting will, I fear, duplicate the activity that I have outlined and put an additional burden on victim support services to share information, which would inevitably take resources away from direct front-line provision for victims. However, I know that my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy is, again, open to considering what could be included in the supporting guidance for the duty to help ensure better understanding of provision.

I hope that what I have set out demonstrates that we already have the necessary mechanisms for assessing need and provision for victim services. So I hope that the noble Lord and, indeed, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester will not feel compelled to move their amendments on this topic when they are reached.

Amendment 53 from the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, would include the “child house” model in the duty to collaborate. I listened very carefully to what he had to say about that. It is right that we continue to innovate and trial different ways to support victims, such as the “child house” model, exemplified in areas such as Camden through the pilot programme. The duty to collaborate aims to create a strategic and co-ordinated approach to commissioning services, ensuring that victims—including, notably, children—receive the necessary support. I assure the noble Lord that the services which the “child house” model co-ordinates will already be caught by the duty to collaborate where they provide support to child victims of domestic abuse, sexual abuse and serious violence. Moreover, the statutory guidance for the duty will suggest that local commissioners refer to Child House: Local Partnerships Guidance when considering how good commissioning practices can help address the needs of children. I hope that is helpful, because I do not think that we should be specifying operational models in primary legislation. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw that amendment.

Turning finally to Amendment 65 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, I am grateful to him for raising the issue which it covers. The amendment would ensure that the duty to collaborate will apply to elected policing bodies across England and Wales, while respecting Welsh devolved powers. There is already similar legislation in Wales under the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, which I will refer to as the 2015 Act. The 2015 Act places a duty on Welsh local authorities and local health boards to jointly prepare, publish and, from time to time, review a local strategy setting out how they will help improve local arrangements and support for victims of these crime types.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, is right to state that elected policing bodies in Wales are not required to collaborate in this duty, but the statutory guidance states clearly that Welsh local authorities and health boards must invite PCCs to participate in their activities under the Act. Engagement between the Welsh Government and Welsh PCCs has shown that Welsh PCCs are active partners in the delivery of the Welsh Government’s 2015 Act strategy through the blueprint, which is the shared governance structure to support delivery of the strategy, and also through regional boards. As a result of ongoing engagement and collaboration with the Welsh Government, we have come to the collectively agreed position that we do not currently consider a duty on Welsh PCCs to be necessary, per the intention of the noble Lord’s amendment.

There is a subsidiary point on the drafting of the amendment, but I do not need to go into that, unless the noble Lord would like me to. However, I reassure him, because this is a significant issue, that we will continue to work with the Welsh Government on the implementation of the duty to collaborate and any interactions between this duty and that under the 2015 Act. On the basis of the points I have made, I hope the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to move the amendment when it is reached.

Photo of Lord Hampton Lord Hampton Crossbench

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in this extraordinarily wide-ranging debate, which seemed to come down to three strands. The first was collaboration and how local services, the police—any groups—can work together better. Secondly, we had powerful discussions again about stalking and how we can make that work much more efficient so that these ridiculous repetitions cannot go on; the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, gave some extraordinarily good examples and a very amusing one I will take away. The third was how on earth it will all be funded, with some eye-watering numbers being talked about. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, asked the very interesting question about where the victims’ fund goes.

I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, is drinking a soothing hot lemon and honey somewhere, perhaps taking two aspirin and lying down, but I thank the noble Earl the Minister for another very collaborative series of answers, with lots of words of reassurance on the needs assessment, the forum being set up for national funding assessments, the duty to collaborate, talk of transparency—which is always good—and of exposing to daylight, about stalking being tremendously important, and what statutory guidance will make clear. A lot of points were made and I am afraid my pencil got worn down to the nub trying to write down the different funding strands pouring in that will be used, so I cannot get too technical on that.

There was talk of more efficient use of money and full agreement on funding victim support—quadrupling the funding of that. The victims’ surcharge is being topped up and multiyear funding is happening—the Government are committed to that—although the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has concerns there as well. This genuinely sounds great, but partly we need to make the money work not harder but smarter, which I think is what we are all trying to do here. The proof is inevitably what will come out of the oven at the end of it all. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment 53.

Amendment 53 withdrawn.

Amendment 54 not moved.

Clause 12 agreed.

Clause 13: Strategy for collaboration in exercise of victim support functions

Amendments 55 to 59 not moved.

Clause 13 agreed.

Clause 14: Guidance on collaboration in exercise of victim support functions

Amendments 60 to 64 not moved.

Clause 14 agreed.

Amendment 65 not moved.

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

Amendment 66 not moved.