Amendment 76

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords am 5:56 pm ar 23 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Bellamy:

Moved by Lord Bellamy

76: After Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—“Disclosures by victims that cannot be precluded by agreement(1) A provision in an agreement is void in so far as it purports to preclude the making of a disclosure falling within subsection (2).(2) A disclosure falls within this subsection if it is a disclosure of information that is made by a victim or a person who reasonably believes they are a victim—(a) to any person who has law enforcement functions, for the purpose of those functions being exercised in relation to relevant conduct;(b) to a qualified lawyer, for the purpose of seeking legal advice about relevant conduct;(c) to any individual who is entitled to practise a regulated profession, for the purpose of obtaining professional support in relation to relevant conduct;(d) to any individual who provides a service to support victims, for the purpose of obtaining support from that service in relation to relevant conduct;(e) to a regulator of a regulated profession for the purpose of co-operating with the regulator in relation to relevant conduct;(f) to a person who is authorised to receive information on behalf of a person mentioned in paragraph (a), (b), (c), (d) or (e) for the purpose mentioned in that paragraph;(g) to a child, parent or partner of the person making the disclosure, for the purpose of obtaining support in relation to relevant conduct.(3) But a provision in an agreement is not void by virtue of subsection (1) so far as it purports to preclude a disclosure made for the primary purpose of releasing the information into the public domain.(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend this section—(a) to add, remove or modify a description of disclosure in relation to which subsection (1) applies (“a permitted disclosure”);(b) to extend the application of subsection (1) to a provision in an agreement which purports to impose an obligation or liability in connection with a permitted disclosure.(5) But regulations under subsection (4)(a) must not make any provision which would apply subsection (1) in relation to a disclosure—(a) made by a person other than a victim or a person who reasonably believes they are a victim, or(b) that does not relate to relevant conduct.(6) In this section—“entitled to practise” , in relation to a regulated profession, is to be read in accordance with section 19(2) of the Professional Qualifications Act 2022; “law enforcement functions” means functions for the purposes of the investigation or prosecution of criminal offences or the execution of criminal penalties;“partner” : a person is a “partner” of another person if they are married to each other, in a civil partnership with each other or in an intimate personal relationship with each other which is of significant duration;“qualified lawyer” means a person who is an authorised person in relation to a reserved legal activity for the purposes of the Legal Services Act 2007; “regulated profession” and“regulator” have the same meanings as in the Professional Qualifications Act 2022 (see section 19 of that Act);“relevant conduct” means conduct by virtue of which the person making the disclosure is or reasonably believes they are a victim (see section 1(1) and (2)).”Member’s explanatory statementThis new clause, to be inserted after Clause 15, would make a provision of an agreement void if it purports to preclude a victim from making certain types of disclosure, unless the disclosure was made in order to release the information into the public domain.

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

My Lords, Amendment 76 has been tabled to clarify that victims of crime can get the support they need without fear of legal action under confidentiality clauses, also known as non-disclosure agreements or NDAs. NDAs can and do serve a valid purpose to protect commercially sensitive information and deliver a clean break where parties seek closure on an issue, but they have been misused to make victims fear repercussions if they seek access to justice or support services. Reporting a crime to the police is already protected under common law, but the legal position is not as clear as it could be. The Government wish to avoid a situation where NDAs might be used to prevent victims telling support services and close family about criminal conduct that has happened to them.

I am therefore pleased to bring forward this amendment, which makes it clear in primary legislation that confidentiality clauses cannot be legally enforced to the extent that they prevent victims reporting a crime or accessing confidential advice and much-needed support. It sets out who a victim can make disclosures to and for what purposes, which includes the police, regulatory bodies, lawyers, support services, and a victim’s partner, parent, or child. However, to protect legitimate uses of NDAs, subsection (3) of the proposed new clause makes it clear that disclosure to those permitted third parties must not be for the primary purpose of releasing information into the public domain, because we want to avoid a situation where somebody, for example, uses a lawyer to front up the disclosure of confidential information when that is not justified.

I should make clear—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Wills, who raised the question—that this provision does not conflict with the very important whistleblowing legislation in the Employment Rights Act. That Act allows workers to make a protected disclosure in certain circumstances. This new provision under Amendment 76 has no impact on those existing rights. Alongside wider regulatory efforts to clamp down on NDA misuse, we intend to further empower victims of crime to seek the support and advice they need without fear of legal action, and I commend this amendment to the House.

Government Amendment 85 is to facilitate victim impact statements to the mental health tribunal. We have carefully listened to concerns that victims have differing entitlements depending on the setting of the offender’s release. The mental health tribunal has so far not had exactly the same treatment as the Parole Board. This amendment makes provision for a victim impact statement to be made to the mental health tribunal, which may be factored into its decisions. We know that some victims want to read their statement, and this amendment will also give victims entitled to make a statement a statutory entitlement to apply to read their statement at a hearing, where one takes place. This application should normally be approved, unless there are some good reasons not to, as is the case with the Parole Board. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, the Victims’ Commissioner, for her engagement on this issue. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, also spoke to this point in Committee.

It may be convenient, although I am not completely sure it is procedurally correct, for me to signal in advance the Government’s position on Amendments 87, 88, 89 and 94 proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, which include new measures to introduce further protections for victims, governing police requests for victims’ counselling records. I extend my thanks to the noble Baroness for her dedication to this issue and her amendments, which I hope address the issue. Excessive and disproportionate requests for counselling records represent an unacceptable level of intrusion into a victim’s private life. Fearing their notes will be shared in court, some victims may decide not to seek justice, while others may decide not to receive therapeutic support. We agree that this is unacceptable, so I can confirm that the Government have heard the case made by the noble Baroness and recognise her tireless campaigning. We will therefore support those amendments when they are moved.

This leads on effectively to the next group, which we will be debating shortly, on the question of free legal advice for victims of rape. The Government’s view is that the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, will greatly reduce the need for independent advice to victims of rape or other serious sexual crimes, because they will be presented with far fewer requests—perhaps if any—for counselling notes or similar documents.

That takes me to Amendments 87A and 88A proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, which would require agreement from the victim before the police could approach a third party to request victim information. As I understand it, these are effectively modelled on new Section 44B of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which effectively deals with mobile phones and gives the victim particular rights in relation to extracting information from a victim’s device. I am very grateful indeed to the noble Baroness for tabling these amendments.

The Government’s position is that we cannot make a direct comparison between mobile phones on the one hand and counselling notes on the other, not least because counselling notes are prepared by somebody else—a third party, whose notes they are. That is basically third-party data, which in some—I hope exceptional—circumstances, the police may be entitled to request. Essentially, the Government accept and believe that the problem rightly identified by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, is now in effect covered by the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. I respectfully invite the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, not to press her amendments when we come to them. These are delicate issues; we have to make various balancing choices, and the Government believe that Amendments 87, 88, 89 and 94 effectively cover the ground and de facto ensure the protection suggested by Amendments 87A and 88A.

Before I sit down, I will also briefly deal with Amendment 158, which would extend the relevant clauses to the whole of the United Kingdom, as distinct from England and Wales. The Scottish Government are in a separate position, because Scotland is a separate legal jurisdiction. We have engaged with Northern Ireland and will work to assist it in implementing similar measures should it choose, but again that is a separate jurisdiction. Amendment 158 is not one that the Government could support.

In this group, that leaves Amendment 96 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher—forgive me for not coming to it earlier. This is about the migrant victims firewall. We remain determined that all victims and witnesses must be free to report offences without fear, but this must be balanced with the need to maintain an effective immigration system, protect our public services and safeguard the most vulnerable from exploitation. In the Government’s view, information to discharge those functions on a case-by-case basis should be allowed, having regard to all the circumstances. This information, in some instances, may help to protect and support victims and witnesses, identify whether they are vulnerable and aid their understanding of access to services and benefits.

However, we agree that more can be done to make it clearer to migrant victims what data can be shared and for what purpose. That is why we will set out a code of practice around data sharing of domestic abuse victims’ personal data for immigration purposes. This will provide guidance on circumstances in which data sharing would or would not be appropriate, and provide transparency around how any data shared will be used. We will consult on this prior to laying the code for parliamentary scrutiny and approval, hopefully this spring. The Government are also committed to introducing an immigration enforcement migrant victims protocol for migrant victims of crime, which we aim to launch later this year. The protocol will give greater transparency around how any data will be shared. I hope that the net result will be that, although we will not prevent the sharing of data in all circumstances, the rules relating to that will be much clearer and better presented in the guidance to which I have just referred.

I commend the Government’s amendments to the House, and I hope that the other amendments in this group will not, in the end, need to be moved. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Bertin Baroness Bertin Ceidwadwyr 6:00, 23 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I rise to speak to the amendments in my name: Amendments 87, 88, 89 and 94. I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy for his time and for the Government’s thought on these amendments, which, as he rightly pointed out, concern the disclosure of therapy notes. I am sure he probably questioned his life choices when he saw me and other colleagues popping into his Zoom calls quite a bit over the Easter Recess. I am absolutely delighted that he has indicated that the Government will accept these amendments. It has been a long, hard- fought campaign by a formidable team of campaigners from Rape Crisis, the Centre for Women’s Justice, the End Violence Against Women Coalition and Rights of Women. I thank the Government for listening.

I believe this will make a material difference to the confidence and well-being of victims of rape, and I hope that over time it will also help reduce the attrition rate in the justice system, which, at 62%, we can all agree is far too high. These amendments are a proportionate compromise. Again, I want to praise the Government. They thought long and hard about getting these amendments right. They do not jeopardise the right to a fair trial, which is crucial, but they correct a significant wrong when it comes to routine intrusion into victims’ therapy notes.

I will be very brief because we are on Report, but just to set the context of why these amendments are needed, when a rape victim reports the offence to the police, they are often put in the impossible position of being forced to choose between pursuing justice or seeking counselling due to the likelihood of their private records and counselling notes being accessed by the police. We know that more than one-third of rape cases had those notes accessed. Very often, victims choose not to seek counselling and those who continue with therapy ahead of a trial are often told that they must not talk about what happened to them. How ridiculous is that? You need to talk about the rape, the thing that happened to you, in order to get over it. Both scenarios leave many victims without vital support at a time when it is needed most. The reality is that the notes that counsellors take in those sessions are to inform their next session. It is not an evidence-collecting process, so very often those notes are not very useful and are often thrown out of court if they get into a courtroom situation. They are not useful, but they are incredibly damaging. Also, justice and proper support should never cancel each other out.

I am very grateful that my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy has set out the detail, so I will not repeat it in a too-drawn-out way. Essentially, the important point of this amendment is that it raises the threshold at which the police and other bodies are able to request counselling notes during an investigation. In order to request such notes, the police will have to show that they have been able to rebut the presumption that counselling records are not necessary and proportionate to a law enforcement purpose and that they consider that the counselling records are likely to be of “substantial probative value”, which is a higher threshold than “necessary and proportionate”, which we have at the moment. To ensure that this new threshold of substantial probative value is properly understood, because we know that, with 43 police forces around the country, it could easily be misunderstood or not adhered to, the Government should provide clear guidance in the code of practice, working with other relevant partners such as the CPS, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Attorney-General.

Finally, a very important part of these amendments is requiring the Secretary of State to publish a review of how these measures are working and being adhered to three years after the provisions come into force. We all know that post-legislative scrutiny of these difficult areas of law and of how the measures are working in practice is crucial. Taken together, the new threshold and the guidance will enhance the work of transformative programs such Operation Soteria and are another step in the right direction of dismantling the criminal justice system’s focus on victims’ credibility rather than the actions of the suspect.

Photo of Baroness Morgan of Cotes Baroness Morgan of Cotes Ceidwadwyr 6:15, 23 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 87A, 88A and 158, which, as the Minister has already said, discuss additional protections for victims of rape who are subject to requests for third-party material. I thank my noble friend Lady Finn, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for their support for these amendments, which I know are also supported by my noble friend Lady Newlove, the Victims’ Commissioner, and across the House as well. I am sorry that I was not able to speak to them myself in person—I am very grateful to those who did —in Committee due to a family emergency.

The Government argue that their amendment covering these issues sets out clearly in law that the police should request third-party materials only if they are necessary and proportionate to a reasonable line of inquiry. However, these amendments do no more than reinforce existing legal provisions that are already not adhered to. No additional safeguards or protections are being offered. This will do nothing to change policing culture around excessive requests because it will merely reaffirm what already exists in law rather than encouraging operational change. I listened very carefully to what the Minister had to say. Although I do not necessarily intend formally to move these amendments this evening, I am concerned to hear that the third-party material we are talking about is not going to be treated as sensitively as mobile phone data because the material we are talking about could be medical material, school information or even social services records. It may be created by a third party, but it is all sensitive data about the victim of a rape or a serious sexual assault. I think it is a mistake not to have entertained more the protections that we are talking about in these amendments.

Just last week, the Home Office published its report of a case file review of police requests for third-party material in rape cases. The findings are truly shocking, and I encourage anybody who does not believe this is an issue to read that report in full. I think we should consider the findings regarding each of the tests that the police are supposed to apply when making requests for this material. First, is it necessary? In the review of 342 third-party material requests, only 176 requests had a recorded rationale, leaving 49% of requests without an explanation for the necessity of that request. Is the request proportionate? The report found that nearly two-thirds of requests did not contain any parameters, such as a timeframe, to limit the amount of information about the victim being requested. Is the request following a reasonable line of inquiry? Nearly one-quarter of rationales given for the third-party material request were generic or not specific to the case. If the reasoning for making a third-party material request is speculative, it is unlikely to be necessary to make the request in pursuit of a line of inquiry.

We know there is a problem, but there is also a solution. As we have already heard, there is a well-developed framework within the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. That framework applies to requests for digital data held on phones, and it sets out that requests for victims’ digital data must receive the consent of victims. If consent is not received, this must not lead to the termination of the police investigation. One of the most serious aspects of this is that where the victim does not give consent, that is almost used as a reason to drop the investigation, which is devastating for the victim concerned. In that Act, there are strong safeguards offering key protections for vulnerable victims. That is what these amendments seek to do: to amend the wording in the Bill to mirror that in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act.

Anecdotal evidence from victim advocates indicates that, since that Act was introduced, they have seen fewer requests, as well as requests being more appropriate in scope, because of that framework. I do not understand why the Government will not adopt that framework for third-party material requests. It does not make any sense to have two different regimes. Often, this material is sought in tandem. It would be better for victims, and for the police, for there to be one regime.

Victims of crime should not be forced to choose between their own privacy and their right to justice. I hope the Government will look favourably on these amendments, if not now, then in the future.

I want briefly to pay tribute to the work of my noble friend Lady Bertin for Amendments 87, 88, 89 and 94. She is absolutely right that victims and survivors of sexual violence should never have to choose between seeking justice and accessing therapy and support. I thank all those across the House who have supported her in making that case, and my noble friend the Minister for listening.

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

My Lords, I am using IT in this speech—trying to get trendy, as my daughters tell me to do. My apologies, as I have sausage fingers with arthritis.

First, I would like to speak to Amendment 85. In April 2018, I published a report highlighting the discrepancies between the treatment of those victims whose perpetrator was serving a sentence in prison and those whose perpetrator had been detained under the Mental Health Act. I pressed the Government for change. Dame Vera Baird, who followed me, also took up the cudgels on behalf of this too-often overlooked group of victims. Our argument was that the grief and trauma caused by serious violence and sexual crime was no less if the perpetrator was in a hospital rather than a prison. They all deserve support. They all deserve to have their voices heard.

When I returned to the office last October, there remained unfinished business. Victims of patients detained in hospitals still could not submit a victim’s personal statement to the tribunal when discharge was being considered. Neither could they attend the hearing to present. I am therefore delighted that, on this occasion, the Government and my noble friend the Minister have listened and acted. I welcome the government amendment, which will ensure that, at long last, there will be parity of treatment for this group of victims. I again thank the Minister and his team for bringing this about. I feel sure that it will be welcomed across the House.

I support of Amendments 87A and 88A, which would, if adopted, increase protections for victims of rape who are subject to requests for third-party material. Before turning to those amendments, I thank the Government for their thoughtful consideration of amendments tabled in Committee by my noble friend Lady Bertin. These sought to provide additional protections for victims around notes of therapy, measures which I truly support. I am delighted that the Government have agreed to change the legal threshold for this material, and I hope that they may be persuaded to provide greater protections around other forms of third-party material.

I turn now to Amendments 87A and 88A. The Government argue that their own amendment to the Bill will stop demands for personal and private information from rape complainants but, as they stated in Committee, their clauses do nothing more than consolidate the current legal framework—a framework which has not been followed. How can things change? The Home Office report to which my noble friend Lady Morgan already referred found that, in almost a quarter of these cases, credibility was specifically cited as the reason for requesting third-party material. While credibility can sometimes form a reasonable line of inquiry in investigations, it is most often used in rape investigations. That is because, in rape cases, it is the victim who is being investigated to see if they are believable or credible, not the accused. In no other crime type is the credibility of the victim so scrutinised. Victims must be properly protected from these intrusive demands, as they have been by the Government’s measures in the PCSC Act, which successfully curbed the ambiguous practice of digital download from complainants’ phones—the digital strip-search, as it was known. The Government could, as it did there, introduce a new regime that empowers and protects victims, but instead they are merely reiterating the current framework and hoping that guidance will elicit change. It will not. The officers making the requests referred to in the Home Office report were operating under the existing framework —the same framework that the government clauses will consolidate in this Bill.

The Government point to the defendant’s right to a fair trial as the reason why Amendments 87A and 88A cannot be adopted. But there are other legal mechanisms available to the police and prosecution to obtain this material if the complainant does not agree to access, so the right to a fair trial is not impacted. Additionally, these amendments would provide consistency with the framework around digital material. This consistency is good for the police, and it is so good for the victims.

I urge support for Amendment 87A and 88A, which, along with the Government’s own measure on digital material, and now on notes of therapy, make a significant difference to the victims of this horrendous crime. I also support Amendments 77 and 78, which both seek to provide rape victims with legal advocacy when their right to privacy is engaged by the system. The Government have promised on numerous occasions to explore this option, but they have yet to do so in a meaningful way. It is being considered as a recommendation to the Government by the Law Commission, precisely because of the huge invasions of privacy that victims experience if they report a rape. I urge noble Lords to support these measures.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I speak to my Amendment 96. I thank those noble Lords who added their names to this amendment: the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Brinton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester.

The Government’s aim in this Bill is to improve victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system and their access to support, yet the Bill provides no protection for victims with insecure immigration status who have been the subject of serious crime. If these victims provide information for the police, the Bill as its stands allows their personal details to be passed to the immigration authorities. Amendment 96 tackles this problem. This is important because migrant victims are more vulnerable to experiencing serious crime and less likely to receive redress. In particular, we need Amendment 96 so that migrant victims are protected under the Bill from crimes such as violence against women and girls and modern slavery. The amendment is explicit that the personal data of a victim of a crime of domestic abuse, harassment, modern slavery, a sexual offence or other offences specified in regulations by the Secretary of State must not be used for any immigration control purpose without the consent of the individual.

The amendment also ensures that, before issuing any guidance under this amendment, the Secretary of State must consult the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner or other such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate. The amendment is thus well protected in statute.

Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to serious crime, including violence against women and girls and modern slavery. Abusers use their control over the victim’s immigration status and their right to live and work in the UK to threaten and trap these victims in abuse or exploitative working conditions.

We have a wealth of evidence that, for victims with insecure immigration status, the fear of data sharing between the police and immigration services constitutes one of the most severe barriers to accessing the criminal justice system. Research by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and the Step Up Migrant Women campaign found that fully 62% of migrant women had specifically been threatened about their immigration status if they reported abuse. These are not empty threats. For example, the Police Service of Northern Ireland was reporting 29 victims and witnesses of crime to the Home Office every day; that amounts to nearly 10,000 people in a year.

To date, the Government have rejected the firewall proposal. They prefer to try to combine enforcement of immigration control and the protection of victims. I, along with the organisations working in this field, do not accept the Government’s proposal as workable. The Justice Committee recommended the introduction of a complete firewall, as proposed here, and, along with the EHRC, called for the immediate end of data sharing between the police and the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes.

This is urgent. We know from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s office that all police forces in England and Wales share victims’ data with immigration enforcement staff. The absence of a firewall significantly harms not only victims of crime but the public interest, as crimes of course are not reported and therefore remain unpunished. Other countries have recognised the importance of building trust with migrants in order to solve more crimes and prevent and address serious crimes.

I did not fully understand the introductory remarks by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, but I hope that on reflection he will feel that a firewall in this field is justified and could support this amendment or introduce a similar government one in its stead.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Llafur 6:30, 23 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I offer some brief words in support of Amendment 96. Like the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, I was very disappointed with the response in Committee, which simply rehashed old arguments that I had already challenged. I have two practical questions. First, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, promised the long-awaited code of practice for parliamentary scrutiny by the spring. It may not feel very spring-like, but spring is passing and there is still no sight of it. Surely it should have been made available in time to inform our debate today. The Minister said it would hopefully be this spring, but he did not sound very sure. Can he give us a firm assurance that it will be made available this spring?

Secondly, whereas I had been told in a Written Answer that the also long-awaited protocol would be published in early 2024, all that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, could say in Committee was that it would be launched “later this year”. How much later? Why the delay?

Finally, I never received an answer to my much more fundamental question: how do the Government square their intransigent position on the firewall supported by the DAC, various parliamentary committees and all organisations on the ground with repeated ministerial assurances that domestic abuse victims/survivors must be treated as victims first and foremost, regardless of immigration status? As it stands, it is a case not of safety before status, as called for by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, but of status before safety.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I support the amendments to which the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has spoken. This was an issue that I came across only when preparing for Second Reading. I do not want to repeat her arguments, and I could not make them as well or as thoroughly as she has, but I was shocked to discover the problems that have arisen in connection with counselling and advice. I also support the firewall amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. We have been here before many times, have we not?

Last week the previous Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, speaking to the committee reviewing the Modern Slavery Act, raised the interesting position of one law enforcement sector withholding information from, or not sharing information with, another law enforcement sector. She came to her conclusion, but I did not read her as having reached it entirely easily. I reached the conclusion that there should be a firewall for the reason put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher: imbalance of power—that is what it is about—between a victim and somebody to whom material is made available for abuse. These are very vulnerable victims. I have circled words such as “later this year” and so on, which the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, mentioned. I will not repeat them, but it would be good to make some progress on this issue.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, my honourable friend Layla Moran laid an amendment about the ending of non-disclosure agreements that prevent victims disclosing information to the police or other services, including confidential support services, ensuring that they cannot be legally enforced. She has campaigned on this issue for some considerable time. She and I both thank the Minister for the progress in Amendment 76, which is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. It certainly will help some victims access the support they need, but we on these Benches regret that this is not enough to fully give victims their voice back. We still need a complete ban on the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual misconduct, harassment and bullying to ensure that no victim is ever silenced. We will campaign on this in future but appreciate the step forward that has been made in this Bill.

I have signed Amendments 87, 88, 89 and 94 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. I also thank the Minister for the meetings, his Amendment 76 and what he said in introduction—I agree with the response by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes, talked about third-party data requests, and again it was a privilege to be involved in those meetings. I thank her for her comments and her remaining concerns. She is absolutely right that it does not take us further forward enough.

Finally, I signed Amendment 96 from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on the immigration firewall. My noble friend Lady Hamwee was absolutely right: we have been here before. I was just thinking about amendments during the passage of the Illegal Migration Bill, the safety of Rwanda Bill and, I suspect, the Nationality and Borders Bill before that—yet we are not making progress. It is very unfortunate that the Government have gone backwards since the Modern Slavery Act in the protection of these particular victims. I know that across the House we will continue to push for ensuring that the loophole is closed.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, it is really a pleasure to respond to this group from these Benches, because there is real progress. It is important to record thanks to everybody who has made this progress happen. I very much welcome the clarification that the Minister has made in Amendment 76. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is quite right, though, that this is a first step. Indeed, today a useful brief was sent to me and possibly other noble Lords from the Bar Council, which makes the point that the issue of non-disclosure agreements is ripe for legislative change. The Bar Council welcomes the Government’s intention to implement legislative reform and recognises that some NDAs are abusive in nature. NDAs cannot cover criminal acts, and under existing common-law protections many are already unenforceable, but those who are asked to sign them are not always aware of the relevant legal principles. When you have the Bar Council and everybody else on your side, you know that this is an important first step.

On the Government’s amendments, I welcome Amendment 85, as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, welcomed it. I thank the Minister and his team for listening and for bringing forward this amendment, which was aired in Committee very powerfully indeed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Watkins and Lady Newlove. Then, of course, there is a suite of amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. I was very pleased to be able to support these in Committee. These Benches are absolutely in favour of them; they have the support of the whole House. I know from the very long time ago when I was a Minister how much work goes into getting to this place. I congratulate the noble Baroness and say how much we are in favour of these amendments.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, is absolutely right to be disappointed about the Government not accepting Amendments 87A and 88A. It is probably clear that we have not come to the end of this. The noble Baroness is quite right in nodding to say, “We have definitely not come to the end of this discussion about what needs to happen to support victims with requests for dealing with digital and other information, and providing the right kind of safeguards for them”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is right, and she has our Benches’ support for her amendment. If there were to be a Division on this then it would be next week. Between now and then we need to look at what the Minister has said to see if we can push him a bit further than he has gone, and then maybe we could avoid that, but the noble Baroness needs to know that she has these Benches’ support, and probably that of the Liberal Democrats, if we need to take the issue further. All in all, we have made great progress.

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

I shall answer a couple of questions and make one clarification. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, who said, “Come on now, when are the code and the protocol going to be available?” I am afraid that, at this point, I cannot advance matters further other than to say, according to my instructions, that the code will be available for parliamentary scrutiny this spring—I know that is not as precise as anyone would like—and that the protocol will be launched later this year. These matters are under the control of the Home Office, and we had a discussion earlier about the relationship between 102 Petty France and Marsham Street. That is as far as I can go at the moment, and I apologise to the noble Baroness that I cannot be more precise.

I am prepared, as always, to have a further exchange of views on Amendment 96. I am not sure we can take it much further but we are always ready to listen, since throughout the Bill we are dealing with the problem of striking a balance between effective immigration control and victim support, and unfortunately there are always trade-offs to be made.

To respond to my noble friend Lady Morgan about requests for relevant information, new Section 44A(6) requires that the request is proportionate. The authorised person must be satisfied that there is no other means of obtaining the information or, if there are such means, that they are not practicable. The decision to release the information ultimately lies with the third party, and that third party has their own obligation under the Data Protection Act and their own duties of confidentiality owed to the person concerned. Again, I respectfully suggest that, bearing in mind my noble friend Lady Bertin’s amendments, the balance between fair-trial rights and victim protection is effectively drawn in the result that we have arrived at. It is not perfect, I know, but it seems to be a practical solution to a very difficult problem.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

I hope the Minister will forgive me for interrupting him, but I want to thank him for suggesting that we might meet to discuss Amendment 96 before we come back next week. Obviously, I would be delighted to have a discussion about that.

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

I am always happy to meet, but we might not get much further.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

I just wanted to put on record that we have agreed that we will meet, and I welcome that.

Amendment 76 agreed.