Amendment 2

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords am 6:45 pm ar 16 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Russell of Liverpool:

Moved by Lord Russell of Liverpool

2: Clause 1, page 1, line 14, at end insert “, including the death by homicide of a British national outside the United Kingdom”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would provide bereaved victims of homicide abroad with the same support given to victims of homicide within the UK in recognition of the distress they experience and which is exacerbated by having to deal with the criminal justice systems of foreign jurisdictions.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, in speaking to Amendment 2, I shall speak also to other amendments in the group.

Amendment 2 deals with the victims of a homicide that has taken place outside the United Kingdom. I am very glad to see the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, behind me, as this amendment was in her name in Committee and, but for a slip of the pen, she would be the person standing here speaking, rather than me. However, because we wanted to get this amendment down, it has my name on it, so she will speak in due course about this, very knowledgeably indeed.

In essence, this amendment seeks to ensure that victims of homicide outside the United Kingdom are guaranteed to receive adequate support and are provided for adequately in the victims’ code. At the moment, no single UK agency has an overarching view of the end-to-end experience of victims of homicide abroad. Families fall through the gaps between the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Ministry of Justice, the jurisdiction of the crime and our own police. I am aware that the Government are likely to argue that expanding the remit of the code will bring cost and place greater pressure on services, but we would suggest that the cost is relatively minimal. We are looking at between 60 and 80 cases in total per annum, and the number of cases has been going down year on year. That is less than 0.01% of the total number of victims in the UK.

There is a precedent for giving victims of crime abroad access to criminal injuries compensation. Since 2015, if a victim is killed by a terrorist, the family has a legal right to claim compensation. We can see no apparent rationale for differentiating between victims of terrorism and other victims of homicide. To those bereaved families, murder is murder.

We feel strongly that the FCDO must be included as an agency with accountability under the code. The joint memorandum between the Foreign Office, the MoJ and the police, which is currently a document that does not have legal status, must be incorporated within the code. That is what this amendment seeks to achieve.

Three successive and very distinguished Victims’ Commissioners have all been very strongly in favour of this amendment, and remain so. I am talking about the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, who unfortunately cannot be with us today, as well as Dame Vera Baird and the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. If three Victims’ Commissioners, who, in total, have been arguing the case for this for the past 16 or 17 years, are still arguing for it and still feel passionately that it is something that needs to be addressed, that has a certain force. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say at the Dispatch Box.

By mistake, we put down Amendment 3 and Amendment 6, which the Public Bill Office discovered this morning were identical—better late than never. I will speak to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, on anti-social behaviour and trying to ensure that victims of persistent anti-social behaviour are recognised as victims and provided with their own victims’ code rights. The evidence is that anti-social behaviour is quite frequently, in relative terms, trivialised by criminal justice agencies. We have had evidence from a great many different people about the devastating impact that that can have. Time and again, we also hear that victims are told that they have to put up with it: “If you can’t take the heat, why don’t you think about moving house?” That is not an adequate way of telling a somewhat traumatised victim of anti-social behaviour that that is the best that can be done for them. Effectively, it means that they have to help themselves.

This amendment would ensure that a victim who meets the anti-social behaviour case review threshold is referred to victim support services and receives the help they need. I know the Minister is well aware of the scale of the problem and that work is being done at the moment to try to achieve a resolution, but I commend this amendment as part of the debate to try to move this forward and see whether we can get something done. Again, I look forward to his comments on this.

I will speak briefly to Amendment 8 on child criminal exploitation, as others will cover it. Creating a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation would create a degree of understanding across agencies and professions that at the moment is not clear. If you asked a variety of people what child criminal exploitation was, you would get slightly different answers. In the interests of children, we feel that that is simply wrong. We need complete clarity on what it is and how it should be dealt with, and that is not the case at the moment. There is some way to go to make this happen. I look forward to hearing the contributions of others to this debate, but for now I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I am most grateful for the way that my noble friend Lord Russell introduced these amendments. I will speak to Amendment 2, which I tabled in Committee. I am also grateful to the Minister for having arranged a meeting for me, the noble Baronesses, Lady Newlove and Lady Brinton, and others with officials from his department, and for the positive conversation that took place.

I remind the House that there is more than one murder a week abroad, involving different countries, languages and legal systems, and very different circumstances. The report from the All-Party Group on Deaths Abroad, Consular Services and Assistance showed that there is a lack of consistency in contact and communication with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. It highlights that there are protocols but that these inconsistencies seem to override them. There are particular inconsistencies about reporting a death and methods of communication. Staff rotation in the FCDO means that people are sometimes repeating their story time and again, which results in secondary victimisation, as they are retraumatised by having to repeat the same story to different people. In some countries, legal processes are very rapid and there are huge language barriers. Sometimes people have been given a list of lawyers with no details about their ability to speak English or even their specialisation, and have found themselves referred to a legal team who do not know much about homicide. In one case I came across, they knew about conveyancing property, which was completely inappropriate.

After all that, there is a real problem with repatriation of the body, which can be very expensive. Some people have had to resort to crowdfunding because there is no assistance. The other problem that families face when they come back to this country is that, if there have been difficulties with the body or it has been disposed of abroad somehow, they then have to prove that the death has happened and the veracity of whatever processes went on.

I am most grateful to the charity Murdered Abroad for an extensive briefing, which I will not go through because this is Report. It is very keen to work with the FCDO. It has a great deal of experience and could be involved in training and drawing up clear protocols. It could provide the resource, which would not be expensed to the FCDO; in fact, it would probably be cost-effective because it would avoid duplication of work that is going on. It could ensure good communication skills and the language and translation that need to occur. One problem with having a small team in the FCDO is that staff change and move on and collective memory, which is really important, is lost.

I am grateful to the Minister for communicating that he does not intend to accept this amendment, but I hope that in reply he will take forward that officials need clear protocols, with good education, liaison and learning from experience, rather than simply to be responding to cases as they come in from all over the world to embassies or consulates. Sometimes they come to somebody quite junior who happens to be on duty that day. The whole thing could be better streamlined and support should be given when they come back to this country.

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

My Lords, I have put my name to Amendment 2 and would have liked to put my name to Amendment 8. I do not need to say much about Amendment 2 because it has been extremely well explained by the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. I support everything they have said.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has not yet spoken to Amendment 8, but a very good example of this, and of slavery, is children who are called “county lines”. We regularly get situations around the country of children, largely in housing estates and often from families with very little money, who become carriers of drugs. Because the cities and big towns are inundated with drugs, they carry them, for money, to small towns and villages. Only relatively recently has the National Crime Agency appreciated that these are children who are exploited and, very often, victims of modern slavery, rather than children who are committing offences and to be put before the magistrates’ court, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, will understand very well. Of course, county lines is not the only situation in which children are exploited. This is a worthy point to make and I very much support it.

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

My Lords, I thank all noble colleagues and friends around the House who have spoken about such an important area: victims murdered abroad. I also thank my noble and learned friend the Minister and his officials for meeting me and other Peers, as was highlighted, to discuss this amendment and how we might find a way forward. I am grateful to the officials who have worked with my office to see whether there is scope for compromise.

As has already been said, to lose a loved one to homicide is truly devastating, and I stand here because I know that only too well. When the death happens in the UK, the system wraps itself around you, and you are guided through what can feel like a surreal process of inquests, court hearings and meetings with the police, barristers and support workers. However, when that death happens in another country, as is the case for just 60 to 80 families a year, why is it that the experience is very different, when these are UK citizens? They are suddenly confronted with an alien legal system, a different language and logistical problems, such as finding out how to get the body returned or what is happening with the police investigation—all at a time when they are trying to support each other while grieving and not having a clue where to go next.

They will also discover that here in the UK—the country they call home, where they have lived all their life and where they pay their taxes—they are not formally recognised as a victim of crime and the victims’ code does not apply to them. They may have a family liaison officer, a coroner’s inquest and access to the national Homicide Service. If the perpetrator is repatriated, the victim’s family will be offered access to the victim contact scheme. That sounds well, but they do not fall within the victims’ code; they have no statutory entitlements.

Instead, they are reliant on discretionary support. A family liaison officer may be allocated to them, but only at the discretion of the chief constable of that force. Access to the national Homicide Service is at the discretion of the Justice Secretary. Access to financial assistance appears to be at the discretion of caseworkers. Any support that they receive from the victim contact scheme is entirely discretionary; it is not set out anywhere in law. Neither will they have a code of practice that they can refer to. The agencies that work with these victims—the police, the FCDO and the MoJ—have a memorandum of understanding, on which I worked alongside those agencies, but that document is for officials to use and is not intended for victims.

Clearly, the UK victims’ code cannot apply to a foreign jurisdiction. I recognise that, as do the victims’ families. I am calling for the discretionary support offered by UK agencies here at home to fall within the remit of the UK victims’ code. I want to see these families—whom I have sat with and listened to for many years—move from discretion to statutory entitlements, all clearly set out in a legal document with which compliance is a legal requirement. Where agencies fail to comply, there should be clear lines of accountability. As has been said, the costs of such a move are miniscule but the impact on the families would be huge. For the first time, they would be part of the British justice system, which is where they belong.

To close, I will leave your Lordships with this thought. I know that the Minister, whom I admire greatly, will tell the House that this amendment would create a precedent. However, in 2015, following the Sousse terrorist attack on UK holidaymakers on a beach in Tunisia, the Government, directed by the Prime Minister, set up a cross-government task force, of which I was a member, to co-ordinate support for the victims and their families. It achieved a great deal in a short space of time. It even established a compensation scheme for them. It showed me that, where there is a political will, we can move mountains. Today, I am not asking noble Lords to move mountains; I am asking them to show the political will to bring these families, who find themselves in exactly the same situation as the Sousse families, in from the cold and give them the legal entitlements they rightly deserve.

Photo of The Bishop of Manchester The Bishop of Manchester Bishop 7:00, 16 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I will speak very briefly to Amendments 5 and 8, to which I have added my name. One of the things that has changed hugely over my adult lifetime is an understanding of just how lifelong traumatising events that take place in childhood are. For that reason, we need to be very clear and careful when working with children.

In the current legislation, there are the things on the statute book that refer, in different places, to child criminal exploitation, but the definitions given there are not consistent. In the previous debate, the Minister very wisely spoke about the need to have materials that are clearly understandable by children, but we need to be equally clear about when a child falls under the terms of this Bill as somebody who ought to receive support because they are a victim of child criminal exploitation. At the moment, the conflicting definitions in other bits of legislation do not give us that clearly enough. Therefore, I urge your Lordships to support the amendments, which will give us a clear definition that will help to support children. Even if just one or two children fall through the net as a result of not having a clear definition, their lives would be scarred worse than they would be otherwise—and for ever.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I have Amendment 7 in this group and have also signed Amendments 3 to 5 and 8. I will refer to Amendment 7 and then briefly cover the others.

My Amendment 7 is similar to the one I tabled in Committee. I thank the Minister for arranging for Restitute CIC, which is championing the amendment, and me to have a meeting with his officials, and for his recent letter to me. I am disappointed that the Government are not going further by producing their own amendment, but I hope that there will be recognition soon that family members who relive the experience of their loved ones, as they help them to recover, may actually be victims themselves. Many have had mental health support themselves and have had to give up work. Often, other family relationships have been fractured, and the lives of all involved have been completely and utterly changed. I am disappointed by the lack of progress and feel that this is something that will keep coming back to bother Ministers as more Bills come down the line in the criminal justice area.

We have heard some very moving contributions on Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, on homicide abroad; a similar amendment was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in Committee. I also thank the Minister for his extremely helpful meeting. We really need to support this amendment because the sort of service that the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, described, which was set up specifically for one particular tragedy, is absolutely vital. We heard from officials that, in theory, the arrangements are in place through co-ordinators to make sure that those links are made. But in practice, without formal guidance for every single department that victims will come to, there are far too many holes and victims’ families are absolutely not getting the help that they need. I hope that the Minister will consider that in future.

On Amendments 5 and 8 on child criminal exploitation, I remind your Lordships’ House that Home Office data from 2023 sets out that more than 7,000 referrals relating to children have been made to the national referral mechanism, the framework for identifying potential victims of modern slavery and criminal exploitation. That was an increase of 45% since 2011. The most common reason for referral was criminal exploitation. However, the problem is that the lack of a legal definition means that there is no effective data collection across the UK; there is a patchwork of data, which includes just the tip of the iceberg. A statutory definition of CCE is essential in ensuring a consistent understanding of and response to child criminal exploitation across the country by all agencies and sectors. Crucially, the experts think that will help to identify exploited children more quickly.

I turn now to anti-social behaviour. We have not heard yet from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, but the very moving speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, in Committee set out the reality of the devastating consequences of repeated and escalating anti-social behaviour. I will not repeat what has already been said today in your Lordships’ House, but we on these Benches will support the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, if he wishes to test the opinion of the House.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I will first address Amendment 2, which was so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Russell. I picked up from the debate on Amendment 2 the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, about the lack of appropriateness of existing protocols and how they have been designed for a specific situation, whereas in fact murders abroad happen in a huge variety of situations, for all the reasons that she outlined. I think what the noble Baroness was really asking the Minister was that he undertakes to encourage the Foreign Office and other affected government departments to better devise protocols to deal with these situations. I think that was the meat of the argument we heard regarding Amendment 2.

Amendment 3, which is in my name and which has also been spoken to by other signatories to it, is the anti-social behaviour amendment. I too remember the very poignant speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, in Committee. Again, I know that the Minister is sympathetic to this, but there needs to be a step change on the Government’s behalf in acknowledging the cumulative effect of anti-social behaviour, both criminal and non-criminal, and how this can be cumulatively assessed to make sure that the appropriate services are utilised for the victims of anti-social behaviour.

There was a particular question which I did not get an answer to, about the use of callouts by the police of non-criminal anti-social behaviours and whether those callouts, which are recorded by the police, can be used in prosecutions to try to build a picture when assessing a particular case which is brought to court. I made the point to the Minister that this approach is used in domestic abuse cases, as well as in family law cases, as I regularly see. I just say to the Minister that this could be used, first, to increase the likelihood of getting convictions but also to demonstrate that the country and the police are taking this behaviour very seriously, doing something and putting in specific measures to try to crack down on anti-social behaviour—and I have to say that I will seek the opinion of the House on Amendment 3 in due course.

Amendments 5 and 8 deal with child criminal exploitation; Amendment 8 is the definition of child criminal exploitation. A number of noble Lords made the point about the variability of definitions in different parts of government. The particular example I have here is that there is a working definition in the Home Office, in the Working Together guidance, a separate definition in the national referral mechanism, and there are other definitions in other parts of government. The point which a number of noble Lords and the right reverend Prelate have made is that, if there is a single definition, it will make the working response more effective. In addition, there is the point which the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, made, which is that it will make data collection more effective as well.

In a sense, we do not really know the scale of this problem. I have heard a lot of rhetoric on this, and I have used a bit of it myself over the years. However, we do not really have a sense of the scale of it. Just to go back to the point that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, made about the victims of modern slavery and county lines and all the rest of it, in the last few years we have seen the total overwhelming of the national referral mechanism as so many of our young people are referred into that assessment mechanism before the charges are either dropped or brought to court. Certainly, my experience as a youth magistrate is that it has added to a huge delay in bringing cases to court, which is very unfortunate but nevertheless gives an indication of the scale of the problem. Again, I will be seeking the opinion of the House on Amendment 5 and the consequential Amendment 8, as I think it is something where we can make a very specific change in the Bill that will greatly enhance our understanding of the problem itself and, I hope, enhance our ability to address this problem.

In conclusion, on Amendment 7 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, she said that family members may well be victims themselves. I listened to what she said and I understand that the Minister will acknowledge the issue but not concede on it. However, I agree with her that this issue may well come back. I understand that it is difficult to try to quantify this, so in a sense I am sympathetic to the Minister and to the noble Baroness—but there we go. However, as far as this group is concerned, in due course I will be testing the opinion of the House.

Photo of Baroness Newlove Baroness Newlove Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 7:15, 16 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, apologies; I have a migraine and I think the medication has messed with my head. I meant to talk also to Amendments 3 and 6.

Although, again, I appreciate all the informal meetings and the meetings with my office, I still wish to make a point about the impact of anti-social behaviour. It is generally accepted that victims of persistent anti-social behaviour can suffer enormous anguish and harm. Indeed, that is the rhetoric that we hear, but people really do not grasp and do not see what is underneath. I say this because I have met many victims who are unable, sadly, to live in their own home: parents who tell me their teenage children have had to leave the family home sooner than otherwise to escape distress, and grandparents who are no longer able to look after grandchildren in their own home as they fear for their well-being. This is first hand from the very people who suffer on a daily basis. The intolerable strain this behaviour can have on personal relationships, the adverse effect it can have on children’s behaviour in school, the terrible difficulties for adults coping with this stress while holding down employment—all this is due to the trauma caused by persistent anti-social behaviour.

One of the recurring messages I hear from these victims is that they feel they are going through this nightmare entirely alone. All too often, police officers, housing officers and local government officials who are dealing with their complaints fail to recognise the level of harm being caused. In many cases, these officials even fail to acknowledge that the victims are being wronged. Some police officers are all too quick to tell the victim that it must be six of one and half a dozen of the other, no doubt in an attempt to avoid investigating the complaints. Let me tell noble Lords that that statement can have a devastating effect on the victim.

Yet, as was acknowledged by the Minister and officials when we met last week, the vast majority of these victims are victims of crime. As such, under the victims’ code, they are entitled to receive support from victims’ services. Yet I know that all too often, victims are not advised of this, nor is any referral made. Why not? Because the police do not want to tackle the issue through criminal action against the perpetrators. A victim’s entitlement to support does not depend on a decision by a police officer on what action, if any, they plan to take against the perpetrators. Once the action of the perpetrator reaches the criminal threshold, the victims’ code entitlements are automatically activated.

The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Russell, seeks to plug this gap. I recognise that there are many other ways in which we can achieve this objective. It is hugely reassuring that this amendment has prompted a discussion between Ministers and officials in the MoJ and the Home Office. I look forward to hearing my noble friend the Minister’s response to these discussions and hope that the measures which he sets out today provide reassurance, not only to this House but to the many victims of anti-social behaviour across this country, who have suffered alone and are sitting in silence as we speak about this behaviour today.

Photo of Lord Bellamy Lord Bellamy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this part of the debate, where we are discussing extending the definition of “victim” and providing mechanisms for dealing with four different areas: anti-social behaviour; child criminal exploitation; victims abroad; and carers of victims of serious sexual and violent crime. I thank noble Lords for their thanks and reciprocate to everyone in the House, on all sides, who has collaborated with the Government generally on trying to move this Bill forward.

It is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, that the Government lack sympathy for the various points that have been made—quite the contrary. For various reasons, some technical, some substantive, the Government do not feel that the statutory amendments in this group are the right way to go in changing the statute, as distinct from other means of addressing the issue.

I will deal first with anti-social behaviour, and pick up some of the most moving remarks that the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, has just made, The Government have listened very carefully to these concerns. The impact of persistent anti-social behaviour, and the need to deal with it, is very firmly on the Government’s radar. However, the first point to make is that which the noble Baroness has just made: almost all cases of persistent anti-social behaviour of the kind that are causing real damage are already criminal conduct. In a most moving letter to me of 4 April, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, made exactly the same point, saying that this is already a crime, and so people are already entitled to the protection and services available under the code. The question is how we do this in practice. How do we join the dots, if I may put it like that, and overcome the widespread fallacy that because the police have not done anything one is no longer a victim? The police not having done anything does not mean that victim services should not be available. That is the practical problem that we are facing.

At the moment, the Government are not persuaded that this amendment would solve the practical problem. It has one significant disadvantage—possibly an inadvertent disadvantage—in that it would extend the code to non-criminal behaviour that falls within the context of anti-social behaviour. With cases of loud music and so forth, which really is a nuisance, such lesser kinds of anti-social behaviour would benefit from the victims’ code. In the Government’s view, that is not a good or desirable result, because it would mean extending victim services, which are already very stretched, away from the really serious problems and difficulties that victims are facing to lower levels of anti-social behaviour. That is perhaps an unintended consequence but not one that the Government particularly want to encourage via this amendment. Therefore, the amendment is too widely drawn.

To step back, rather than going down the route of this amendment the Government propose, in line with other improvements to the code in other areas, to update the anti-social guidance where necessary to ensure that, when a crime is identified, victims are informed of their entitlements under the victims’ code. The Government’s intention is to explore and consult on how best to make clear in the new victims’ code that its entitlements apply to persistent anti-social behaviour where the criminal threshold is met and that police are required to refer people to support services regardless of whether there is sufficient evidence to charge or whether they are going to pursue any particular action. If we get the code right on this point, it will help victims and service providers to recognise that failing to refer these victims to support services could be a breach of the new duty—which we will discuss in the next group—to act in accordance with the code.

On top of that, the code’s compliance mechanisms, at Clauses 6 to 11, will shine a light where non-compliance issues are found to be systemic. That will enable robust additional tools and steps to be brought to bear when agencies fall short. As we will explain in the next session, the Victims’ Commissioner will play a very central role in overseeing this new code, and be consulted on all its aspects and on ensuring that we join the dots and that this problem finally is tackled.

In addition, the Criminal Justice Bill, currently making its way through the other place, particularly in Clause 81, addresses some of the existing concerns and processes to tackle, among other things, persistent anti-social behaviour, including promoting awareness of the review process and setting out more consistently what local policing bodies have to do, so that victims can expect a more consistent service.

Rather than going down one particular way of dealing with this problem, which is the subject in the amendment, and which may have unintended and too wide consequences, the Government’s position is to tackle this through the code. We will continue, of course, to engage with the Victims’ Commissioner and seek her views on our work in this area. She is particularly well placed to help the code, the Government, the local police forces and so forth develop proper mechanisms for joining up these dots.

There are parts of the country where this is working quite well, so let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Because of the way in which the assessments will be made, and because of the oversight that is envisaged in the structure of the Bill, there will be ways of bringing the less well-performing police forces and local services up to the level of those that do it properly. That will ensure that victims know how to access these services.

Let us not forget that there is a wider anti-social behaviour action plan, which goes hand in hand with this. There has been £160 million of new funding to tackle anti-social behaviour. With these various routes and approaches, and determination to tackle the area, that is the Government’s position. We respectfully suggest that it is a more positive, sensible, broadly based and effective way of doing it than this amendment, well-intentioned though it is. That is the Government’s position on anti-social behaviour.

On child criminal exploitation, the first and obvious point to make is that there is again no doubt that a child who has been criminally exploited in the way that we are discussing is already a victim under the Bill and is already covered by the definition of a victim, because they will have suffered harm as a direct result of criminal conduct or will have seen, heard or otherwise directly experienced the effects of criminal conduct. That is made absolutely clear in, among other things, the Home Office guidance on the subject, which was published in October 2023. I should say to noble Lords that a great deal of guidance on all this area was updated at the end of last year, which may not have entirely crossed everybody’s radar. The Home Office guidance says that

“individuals who have been groomed and exploited into criminal activity have not freely chosen to be involved, cannot consent to being exploited and so should be seen as victims first and foremost”.

That is the Home Office position, and it is the Government’s position: these children are already victims. Indeed, adults who have engaged with children in these circumstances are committing offences—probably under the Serious Crime Act, the Misuse of Drugs Act or the Modern Slavery Act. So the position of child criminal exploitation is fully recognised as a real problem and children should be recognised as victims.

Beyond that, there is already extensive government guidance explaining child criminal exploitation for front-line practitioners working with children, including in Keeping Children Safe in Education 2023, published by the DfE, which is directed to schools and colleges, and Working Together to Safeguard Children 2023, which is directed to local authorities and the police and was last updated in December 2023. So, again, it is the Government’s position that these amendments, although put forward entirely genuinely, do not change what is already there, as the question of what constitutes child criminal exploitation should already be firmly in the heads of those working as front-line practitioners with the detailed guidance. In the Government’s view, simply putting the proposed definition in the Bill would not be a particularly effective way to change practice or lead to more consistent identification of victims or be more responsive.

I am not at all sure that the proposed amendment would much help with collecting data. There is no separate offence of child criminal exploitation; the data is collected under the particular offences, whether that be misuse of drugs or modern slavery or whatever, rather than under a separate heading of “child criminal exploitation”, so I am not sure that, at this stage of our reflections, the data point necessarily takes one much further.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 7:30, 16 Ebrill 2024

I was trying to make the point that the noble and learned Lord has started to make: there are lots of different agencies involved, and they do not collect the same, consistent data. Something on the face of the Bill would ensure that the data was consistent and would help everybody.

Photo of Lord Bellamy Lord Bellamy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

Again, that is going a little bit further than either the amendment or the Bill as it stands, because the collecting of data in this area is a very complicated task, and we know that collecting data in general is quite tricky. What I am saying is that I am not entirely convinced at the moment by the argument put forward by the noble Baroness. In all respects, the Government consider that the amendment would not really take things further. Extending the definition of a victim is unnecessary because the issue is already covered.

I should say a word about the county lines problem. A full county lines programme has been in operation now for some years. The figures I have are that we have had 16,000 arrests and 9,000 safeguarding referrals. The Government are working very hard on dealing with the county lines problem, and there is special support through the county lines programme for children involved in that. It is clearly a difficult area, but it is not that nobody is tackling it. Would the amendment take the issue forward particularly in the county lines situation? I respectfully suggest that that is doubtful. So that is the Government’s position on child criminal exploitation.

On homicides of British nationals abroad, again the Government are entirely sympathetic to the various points that have been made. On a point of detail, since we are talking about what the victims’ code should cover, if the perpetrator of the murder is another British national, then that can be an offence triable in this country and it would trigger the application of the victims’ code. But most of these cases will be where the perpetrator is not a British national, and it seems reasonably clear that, where the offence or murder or homicide is in Ecuador or Peru or South Africa or wherever it is, large parts of the victims’ code by their nature will not be applicable. The various rights to information, the various rights about prosecution decisions and the right to make a personal statement would all, by the nature of the situation, not apply. From a quick look at the victims’ code, rights 1 to 3 and 6 to 11, for example, just would not apply. I think that leaves, essentially, right 4, which is the right to victims services. At the moment, the support available is provided by the Homicide Service, which in the United Kingdom is provided by Victim Support, a most excellent organisation, to which the Foreign Office can refer victims.

So there is already, by proxy, support for victims of homicide abroad, but I think that the complaint is that it is not sufficient. Hearing that complaint, the Government, as we develop the new victims’ code, will review the information provided for bereaved families of victims of homicide abroad so we can be clear what the entitlements of families are. The NPCC, the FCDO and the MoJ have committed to working together to explore separate guidance, to be referenced within the code, specifying the roles and responsibilities of each department and their services. That would act as a public commitment on how they will work together to support bereaved families and, I think, provide the consistent protocol—to use the words that were being used some moments ago—to assist families in this very difficult position.

Finally, in relation to the amendment regarding carers—

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. In the plan he has just outlined of the three departments working together, does he envisage establishing a checklist that FCDO staff in every embassy and consulate will have that will mean they will prospectively know about interpreters and appropriate lawyers who could be pulled in, in the event of there being a homicide in that jurisdiction, so that some of the problems that have arisen to date would be avoided by each consulate and embassy being adequately prepared? Will the education behind that become mandatory guidance, so we would know that, in practice, a clear system had been set up? I would be grateful if he clarified that, because simply the three departments working together here might not influence what happens on the ground elsewhere, learning from the experience of other places.

Photo of Lord Bellamy Lord Bellamy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, I do not think I can, at the Dispatch Box this evening, commit the Government to proposing such a checklist in that detail, because the details will have to be worked out. However, the Government hear what the noble Baroness says and it is an obvious matter to consider. That is as far as I can go this evening.

Finally, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will forgive me if I take the question of carers a little bit shortly. The central problem with the amendment is the extension of the code and the rather blurred boundaries that might lead to quite a lot of extra resource demands, extra entitlements and so forth, so the Government are not persuaded that we should go as far as that. However, this point is correctly raised as a social and quasi-legal issue, and I can commit that the Government are already working with the Children’s Commissioner specifically on children’s needs and looking afresh at the needs of vulnerable adults ahead of public consultation on the code. I can commit to considering the experience and needs of parents and carers as they support particular victims through the criminal justice system. As to whether that requires further provision, I can commit to carefully considering how the accompanying statutory guidance might best set out how criminal justice bodies can effectively engage with the very important group that the noble Baroness identifies, who are so key to the support of their loved one, the direct victim, but I think that is as far as I can go on this group.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for summing up so comprehensively —in fact, going over the new Report stage time limit, for which I am grateful. The issues we are talking about, in particular murder abroad, anti-social behaviour and the definition of child criminal exploitation, are long standing and not new; they come back again and again. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, said, in a situation such as in 2015, after the incident in Tunisia, the Government decided that they were going to do something about it, got their act together in short order and demonstrated what is possible if they really put their mind to something. In a sense, that is what we are challenging the Government to do, in separate ways, on each of these issues.

On anti-social behaviour, the Minister talked about joining the dots and getting the code right. He admitted that it is not as joined up as it should be. The problem that I think many of us have with the way the Government are responding to some of these issues is that they keep returning to saying what different agencies and individuals should be doing, but they seem very afraid to say what they must be doing. The common theme in all these areas is that we are challenging the Government. Indeed, what are a Government elected to do—albeit not by noble Lords, because we are not allowed to vote—if not to make things happen? That is really what we are looking for. In the case of anti-social behaviour, if the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, decides to test the opinion of the House I would fully endorse that.

On child criminal exploitation, the updated guidance is fine. The key, as ever, is consistency, and at the moment there is a lack of consistency. The Minister said, and I am quoting, that it should be “in the heads” of front-line practitioners. The fact is that it is not in their heads in the same way for all the key front-line practitioners. That is the complexity. The challenge for the Government is to try to get a degree of consistency in the way child criminal exploitation is understood and dealt with, which is clearly not the case at the moment, so there is more to be done.

I thank my noble friend Lady Finlay very much for what she said about homicides abroad. I take the point about what happens if the perpetrator is not a UK national but, again, if the Government really wanted to put their mind to this, I am sure they could find a way. We are talking about such a small group—60 to 80 individuals per annum. It is not beyond the wit of man, let alone a Government, to focus and try to find a way of ameliorating a situation that has been festering for years and really does need to be dealt with. We also have more to do on carers.

I reiterate that the challenge for the Government is that we are looking for guidance from them as to what must be happening, not simply what should be happening. That has been the case for the last 15 years, and what should be happening is not happening in so many areas. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.