Motion A

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Commons Amendments and Reasons – in the House of Lords am 3:00 pm ar 24 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Bellamy Lord Bellamy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 3:00, 24 Mai 2024

My Lords, with the leave of the House, in moving Motion A I will speak also to Motions B to H.

It is a privilege to bring the Victims and Prisoners Bill back to this House from the other place, whence it has returned in relatively good shape. I am grateful to Members of both Houses for the constructive way in which they have engaged with the Bill, especially on this last stage of its passage. I again thank all the officials at the Ministry of Justice for their hard work on the Bill. The other place has made some amendments, which I will consider in turn. I hope they will not be controversial. I will take them in what seems to me to be a logical order, which is not necessarily the alphabetical order in which they now stand in the Motions.

Lords Amendment 33, which is the subject of Motion B, seeks to require training to be provided to those with obligations under the victims’ code. Of course, agencies should, and do, have training in place to deliver the legislative duty to act in accordance with the code, but that training must be tailored to the specific function that each person is discharging, and agencies are best placed to do that. As it would place an additional burden on the Secretary of State to implement a strategy of training, we consider this amendment would be costly and inefficient. It would not be proper for an amendment from the Lords to place financial burdens on public authorities.

We also consider that the more effective approach, as has been committed by the Government in the other place, is to include a requirement for agencies to report on the adequacy of their code training as part of evidencing delivery of code entitlements. This gives us a route to identify and address ineffective training if it has led to non-compliance with the code. For those reasons, the Government do not support the original Lords Amendment 33.

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

Leaving those two amendments aside, the Government have today brought forward a number of other amendments in lieu. I turn to Amendment 32, which is the subject of Motion A and concerns the duty to co-operate with the Victims’ Commissioner. We have accepted the principle of the amendment put forward, which would place a duty on relevant authorities to co-operate with the Victims’ Commissioner when requested. Again, I am pleased to see my noble friend Lady Newlove in her place today. We hear the strength of feeling that a response to the Victims’ Commissioner as they do their important work should not be seen as a favour and that there should be clear, open co-operation as an integral part of enabling the independent scrutiny that victims deserve.

The Government’s Amendment 32A makes a few minor changes to Amendment 32. First, it extends co-operation further than simply assisting the commissioner in monitoring compliance with the victims’ code. Instead, it requires co-operation in relation to any of the Victims’ Commissioner’s functions, including promoting the interests of victims and witnesses. Secondly, it adds important safeguards to make it clear that any co-operation must be not only practical but appropriate. This protects against, for example, potential interference with activities that are rightly independent, such as when exercising prosecutorial discretion. Thirdly, it future-proofs the clause by putting this duty on the agencies that deliver services under the victims’ code, rather than including a specific list of bodies that may become out of date over time.

I turn now to Lords Amendment 35, which is the subject of Motion C. This amendment disapplies Clause 18 in relation to devolved matters in Wales. Only yesterday, I think, I explained the devolution position as regards Wales. We are seeking to amend the measures that relate to the issuing of guidance about victim support roles, which now form Clause 18. Victim support roles operate across different settings, some of which are devolved. The Senedd did not grant legislative consent for this measure as previously drafted. I am therefore putting forward an amendment so that the duty to issue guidance applies to England and reserved matters in Wales only, and have consequently removed the requirement to consult with Welsh Ministers on “any” guidance issued. I am grateful for the constructive discussions that have taken place in relation to the important principles that sit behind this clause, which aims to improve the consistency of support services provided to victims, and am confident that we can continue to work together so that victims have this consistency across England and Wales wherever possible.

I now come to Motion F, which concerns the amendment on the duty of candour. Lords Amendment 54 seeks to place a statutory duty of candour on all public authorities, public servants and officials after a major incident has been declared in writing by the Secretary of State. The Government entirely share the desire to see an end to unacceptable institutional defensiveness, dissembling or what can perhaps be described as an economical approach to the truth. However, we are unable to accept the amendment in its current form as it would not sit neatly on top of the existing frameworks; it is ill suited to replace what already exists, both in the context of major incidents and beyond; it fails to take into account the nuances of different professions in the spheres of the public sector; and it would entail significant legal uncertainty. The area is complex, and we believe that it would be unwise to rush forward with this amendment for these reasons.

Therefore, we have tabled Amendment 54A to require a statutory review to determine whether additional duties of transparency and candour should be imposed on public authorities and public servants in relation to major incidents. This review will need to be completed by the end of the calendar year, and, following the completion of this review, a report will need to be laid before Parliament.

I come to Motion G, which concerns the MAPPA amendments. In effect, government Amendment 99A replies to Lords Amendments 98 and 99, which relate to MAPPA. Amendment 99A would ensure that those convicted of controlling or coercive behaviour who are sentenced to at least 12 months’ imprisonment will be automatically subject to management under the MAPPA arrangements, thereby ensuring that we are effectively managing and targeting the most dangerous domestic abuse offenders.

The previous amendment to the Bill was tabled in the other place to add domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators to those who qualify for automatic MAPPA management. While there is a legal definition of domestic abuse, a domestic abuse crime does not exist with the exception of controlling or coercive behaviour. Therefore, although well intentioned, this amendment would still have required criminal justice agencies to decide on a case-by-case basis whether an offender is eligible for MAPPA management and consequently would not quite have achieved the intention to reduce or eliminate any scope for local discretion.

There are already provisions in place that require offenders on licence to live only at an address approved by probation. All offenders released on licence are further subject to standard conditions, and there are numerous additional licence conditions that can be imposed to address specific risk factors. Those conditions also allow for information to be collected and used to manage the risk. The previous amendment would have added little to public safety but could result in a significant pressure on resources.

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

I come, therefore, to Motion H, which I think is the last Motion before the House, which is the home detention curfew amendment. For someone in my position, this is procedurally somewhat difficult to follow, because it involves the Government disagreeing with their own amendment, Amendment 106, in order to reintroduce it with an addition. Amendment 106A is exactly the same as Amendment 106, but Amendment 106B, which is the important amendment, extends the eligibility of the home detention curfew scheme to offenders serving four years or more.

The original aim of the home detention curfew scheme was to help suitable lower-risk offenders who had been in custody to reintegrate into society in a controlled manner. As sentences become longer, it is important that we revisit whether eligibility for HDC continues to allow all those who may be suitable and would benefit from the scheme to be considered, as originally intended. That means looking again at whether offenders who are excluded solely because of sentence length or old curfew breaches, rather than any assessment of risk, should be able to be considered for HDC. Since HDC was introduced, sentences have grown longer and should no longer be the sole determination of whether someone is eligible to be considered for HDC. A four-year sentence length for old curfew breach is not a useful measure of whether an offender is lower-risk and suitable for HDC.

While this amendment increases the number of offenders eligible for HDC, it does not extend the range of offences that make an offender eligible for HDC. All sexual offenders and serious violent offenders are excluded from the scheme, as are those subject to Parole Board release. Those convicted of offences often associated with domestic abuse, such as stalking or harassment, are also excluded. So are many other people, including category A prisoners. There is also a robust risk assessment to ensure that offenders are released only if there is a plan to manage them safely in the community. In every case, that includes a curfew backed up with electronic monitoring.

I think I have covered Motions A to H, and I beg to move.