All 8 contributions to the Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Act 2023

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Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill

2nd reading
Friday 9th December 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Second reading
09:35
Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Two weeks ago, a group of more than 50 girls and women walked after dark from Rusthall, one of the villages in my constituency, to the centre of Tunbridge Wells. Those women, several of whom are in the Public Gallery, walked together to make a point. They felt safe together, but had they walked the same route alone at night, they would have felt afraid. Some would not have embarked on the journey at all, and many would have taken avoiding action such as getting a lift, a bus or a taxi. Some would have arranged to walk with someone else. Others would have deployed tactics all too familiar to women and girls across the country such as pretending to have a conversation on their mobile phone to signal that they were in contact with someone else. If alone, they would have been fearful of being followed or of having an offensive, suggestive or obscene comment directed at them, or of being obstructed or intimidated as they walked alone, as well as the fear of being physically assaulted.

For every woman and girl on that walk, hundreds more find that they have to engage in these routines and protections day in, day out to feel safe—and that is in Tunbridge Wells, a place with a strong community, a committed police force and less crime than in many others. When I visit schools, and especially sixth forms, confidence in using our streets, especially at night, is almost always raised by students, including by one young woman who came to see me to describe how outraged she was by the experience of being kerb-crawled by a man in a car when she was out jogging one morning. Why should a woman feel less confident on our streets than a man? The streets are theirs equally, but that is not how it is experienced.

According to the charities Our Streets Now and Plan International, who have done so much to highlight the issue and press for change, twice as many girls and women feel unsafe when alone on our streets as do boys and men. It is not just the commission of physical violence or assault that makes women feel unsafe. Deliberately distressing acts such as following a woman closely through the streets at night or directing explicit, abusive comments at women can and do contribute to that insecurity.

At the moment, there is no specific offence of public sexual harassment, yet in private settings, such as the workplace, everyone knows that sexual harassment is specifically and explicitly prohibited. Other types of harassment in public are identified in law—rightly, in my view—as being especially serious. They include harassment of someone on the grounds of their race or because they are gay. My Bill would close a loophole in the law whereby deliberately harassing another person on the grounds of their sex with the intention and effect of causing alarm or distress would be a specific criminal offence. It would, like harassment on the grounds of sexuality or race, be capable of similar penalties, should the court wish, as those other crimes.

The proposal was subject to a consultation carried out by the Home Office. I am grateful to the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), for her passionate commitment to confronting the issue and for launching the consultation before the summer. The Bill follows that consultation, and I am grateful for the assistance of the current Home Secretary, and to the Minister and her officials for their help in preparing it.

The Bill is a simple one, as private Members’ Bills should be. It is intended principally to close a loophole and bring into alignment the treatment of harassment on the grounds of sex with harassment on the basis of other protected characteristics. It follows the comments of the Law Commission to its report on hate crime laws in December 2021, which said the Government should consider

“a specific offence to tackle public sexual harassment, which would likely be more effective than adding sex or gender to hate crime laws.”

One reason not to simply add sex to the list of hate crimes is that although harassment on the grounds of race is considered to be driven by a hatred towards a person’s race, specifying hatred or hostility could leave open a legal defence that a man who deliberately harassed a woman in public was not guilty of a hate crime offence, because it could not be proved that his behaviour was motivated by actual hatred of women. The simplest way to proceed, and a subject that the Home Office consultation examined, is to add to the existing law of harassment in the Public Order Act 1986. My Bill would therefore add a new offence of intentional harassment, alarm or distress on the basis of sex to that Act of Parliament.

Under my Bill, if an act of intentional harassment, alarm or distress is carried out in a public place because of the relevant person’s sex, an offence of sex-based harassment has been committed and can be punished, as with offences on racial grounds or grounds of sexuality, at the higher tariff that applies to those crimes by dint of the Crime and Disorder Act 1988—in other words, above the limit set in the magistrates court.

It is important to make a few features of the Bill clear. First, it is not meant to—nor will it—criminalise thoughtless or clumsy words. It is sometimes the case that behaviour, although unwelcome, is not motivated by the deliberate intention to cause alarm or distress. Sometimes, men and boys—even girls and women—can say or do the wrong thing without meaning to make another person threatened or alarmed. Such behaviour is not within the scope of the Bill, neither is behaviour that would be considered reasonable by normal standards. The Bill targets people who deliberately target other people to do them harm.

Secondly, although I referred to sexual harassment, the scope of the offence includes, but does not have to entail, a motivation of sexual gratification. Just as in the workplace, the harassment of women may be based on attitudes towards women that might not be best described as linked to sexual gratification. Thirdly, the Bill is drafted to address the specific loophole in the law about harassment based on sex. That means, in principle, that it applies to women and men if they are deliberately publicly harassed based on their sex. Public sexual harassment can affect men and boys, but we should be clear that it disproportionately affects women and girls.

Some might be concerned that my Bill, if enacted, would place extra pressure on police forces to investigate and arrest those suspected of deliberately sexually harassing women in public places. We all want the police to focus on fighting crimes, but these are serious crimes that affect the lives of millions of girls and women every day, causing them to change their behaviour when they should have no reason to do so. Recent years have shown that it is important that all of us, including the police, give greater attention to the protection of women. The consequence of passing this law to make sexual harassment in public a specific offence, triable if necessary in the Crown court, will be to establish that setting out deliberately to alarm or distress a victim is a serious matter that will be dealt with seriously.

The real purpose of the Bill is to help to change the culture of society so that it becomes even more obviously unacceptable to abuse, humiliate and intimidate women and girls in public. I hope that few prosecutions under the law would ever be required, but it is important that the law is there. We have seen that this is possible. To see someone abusing someone else racially in public is now universally seen as deeply shocking and obviously wrong. In my spare time, I enjoy attending football matches, and it is not many years since it was quite common to hear racial abuse on many terraces. It would be inaccurate to say that it has been completely eradicated, but it is vastly less frequent and is taken with great seriousness not just by the authorities, but by other people present.

Too many girls and women feel unsafe when alone on our streets—twice as many as men. Two thirds of girls and women have changed their plans at some time because they have been worried about or have experienced public sexual harassment. Our streets are their streets, and they should not have to do that. The Bill, if it is supported by Parliament, would eradicate the unconscionable situation in which public sexual harassment is not a specific crime. It will make it clear that the crime is serious and it will provide sanction against those who deliberately set out to frighten women and girls on our streets. It is a tightly drawn but, as I hope the House will agree, valuable step in protecting the more than half of our population who, for too long, have had to change their ways of living their lives when the abusers should change theirs.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend is making a fantastic point. I fully support the Bill, but it still has to go through Parliament. Is he aware of the StreetSafe service, run by the police, through which any person who feels unsafe can report dark spots, lights that are out and difficult areas? Authorities can then look at and address them to make sure that we are immediately safer in our communities.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, which allows me to emphasise that although I think my Bill will be a great step forward in providing for a specific offence, many other measures are needed. That includes providing information nationally and, especially, locally. I commend the Home Office for its initiative in recent weeks to advertise in public places, encouraging people to step in when they see women and girls being abused. All of us as Members of Parliament and everyone in the community can step up and make a difference through those actions.

Those of us in the Chamber today can go a step further and make it very clear that the offence of harassing someone on the grounds of their sex in public will be taken very seriously. It will provide clarity that people will be arrested for that, and I hope that it will lead to a safer future for women and girls in this country. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.

09:47
Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
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I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) on introducing the Bill. It reflects not a recent concern, but years and generations of campaigners and women speaking out about the most basic and fundamental thing: freedom. At its heart, the Bill is about our freedom as women to lead the same lives as men in where we go and what we do.

I will start by adding to the list of organisations and campaigners that we acknowledge and recognise for their work on this issue. They include Our Streets Now, Plan International UK, Citizens UK, the Fawcett Society, Stonewall, Tell MAMA, Nottingham Women’s Centre, Dimensions, René Cassin, Refuge, Hope not Hate, Sister Supporter, the Jo Cox Foundation, the Young Women’s Trust, Safe & The City, Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham. I also pay tribute to the work done in the other place by Lord Russell and Baroness Newlove.

The right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells talked about his shock that women in Tunbridge Wells felt unsafe walking their streets. Every woman in this Chamber was not surprised by the picture that he painted. It is the culture we grow up in, and we should start by recognising and naming that culture: misogyny. This is about the sense that 51% of the population do not have the same rights and freedoms to move around and to be seen as others do.

It is fantastic that the Bill learns lessons from what we know from the police about how to recognise that and how it drives crime, and I will root my support for the Bill in that. I hope that the Government will support this move because it reflects Government consultation, and I will make suggestions about how we can further develop the Bill so that it truly is the landmark Bill that it can be. Twelve police forces out of 44 are now united with those campaigners and the people who the right hon. Member talked about in recognising that women are disproportionately subject to harassment.

I say to the hon. Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans): this is not about dark streets. This is one of the few crimes where we always challenge the victim. We query them: “What were you wearing? Where were you going? Did you have your headphones on? Were you carrying your keys? Were you sensible?” We tell young women that it is their responsibility to protect themselves, in a way that we would never do with any other crime. We hold education sessions, which we would not do for burglary. Yet somehow, when it comes to the basic freedom of women and girls to go about their daily business, we ask them to be responsible, rather than holding those who seek to abuse that freedom accountable.

I often hear—from men, I am afraid—this idea of them having had a “revelation” that safety should be an important thing. I hear some men—indeed, men in positions of serious importance—talk about how being a father of girls has opened their eyes to the need to tackle these issues. I like to call that the Jay-Z defence, because he said the same thing about having a girl while being married to Beyoncé. This kind of legislation is not just about daughters. It is about wives, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, friends, neighbours and co-workers. Women are everywhere, but we do not get to go everywhere without being frightened—without that daily experience of thinking, “What route should I take? Should I put my keys in my hand? Should I be frightened about going down this street? It’s a cold night now, so maybe I won’t go out in the dark.” It is not the dark that is the problem; it is the people. That is what we need to tackle and that is what the Bill does.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics, every single day 24,000 women in this country experience public harassment, with those from minority communities much more likely to be affected. Frankly, I will stop campaigning for misogyny to be recognised as a driver of crime when I go to a wedding and the bride gets up and says, “Well, he followed me down a dark street, demanding to touch my breasts, and I thought it was the most romantic thing I’d ever heard. I had to stop and get in his van.” It does not happen. Yet millions of women have a story like that—a story about the fear and the impact it had on their lives.

No other crime is so prevalent that it is shrugged off as a fact of life, yet the harassment of woman has been for too long. Why is that? It is because when women come forward to report, often they get asked whether they did something to generate that experience. Often, the experience women then have is that they are told—I am sorry to say that this goes for both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service—that it is too difficult to find the person or that it was perhaps a misunderstanding.

I want to be very clear in supporting the Bill: this is not about bad manners between men and women. We are talking about crimes and offences. When we started campaigning for misogyny to be recognised as part of hate crime, we were told we were somehow criminalising wolf-whistling. One of the things I find really powerful is that people have now finally recognised that any form of harassment or unwanted attention in the streets is not endearing. It enables a culture in which it is acceptable to target women. That is what we have to change.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
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I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for her excellent campaigning in this area, and I thank the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) for bringing forward the Bill in a joint, cross-party way. Does she agree that the Bill will only be successful if the enforcement of this important legislation is properly resourced?

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
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I completely agree. Indeed, one of the frustrations that many of us have had through the years has been police sources in forces that do not adopt this approach saying that it is a resourcing issue. There is no other form of crime to which we say, “Look, there’s just so much of it that we’re not going to do anything about it.”

We know how serious these crimes are. We look at the histories of offenders involved in rape or serious sexual assault and we see the escalation process; because, oddly enough, the person who starts by following women down the street does not usually stop there. Tackling that is absolutely crucial to addressing these crimes. That is why I want to pay tribute to Sue Fish. Anybody who has spoken to Sue Fish, who started off by recording misogyny as hate crime in Nottingham, knows how powerful and transformative her approach has been in Nottingham, and there are now 12 police forces taking this approach. They have recognised how it is driving crime. One crucial aspect to this issue is change to the culture within the local police. Some 80% of women do not report crimes to the police, because they do not believe that the police will take them seriously. I have been in meetings where the police have said, “Well, the women have to come forward.” They do not recognise that they are not creating an environment in which women feel they will be taken seriously.

As an MP in London, I am dealing with a dramatic loss of confidence in the police because of institutional misogyny, institutional racism and homophobia. The differences seen in the police forces that have introduced this policy are one reason why I have been such a passionate champion of it and why I have challenged my local police to pick it up too. Misogyny is at the root of many crimes against women. This is not just about public harassment; it is about changing the culture in our police forces and, indeed, as the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells said, in our society. We have normalised the harassment of women and an environment in which it is acceptable to target women, and then we blame women for not taking the joke and not thinking that it is a fair game or that it is nice that somebody is attracted to them—it is never about attraction.

The 12 police forces currently recording where a crime is motivated by a victim’s sex or where their sex is a factor in it have clearly stated the benefits of that approach, and the Bill will underpin and enhance it. One of my frustrations is that, nearly two years ago, the Government agreed that police forces should record that data, but some forces are yet to implement that policy. Therefore, all the benefits of institutional change and reporting change that we have seen in Nottingham, North Yorkshire, Devon, Somerset and Gloucestershire have not yet been rolled out across the country. Residents in those communities are clear that the policy has increased police confidence and changed the way the police deal with serious sexual assault. Oddly enough, when forces have this policy, it is not wolf-whistling that people come forward to report, but rape, kidnapping and assault. People recognise that the police will not only believe them, but treat those things as the crimes they are.

I want to be very clear that, in some ways, we should not need this Bill, because it does not criminalise anything that is not already criminal. Nothing has been more frustrating for me, as the person who secured the Law Commission review into misogyny as hate crime, than hearing people ponder whether we should make street harassment, or public harassment, an offence—it already is. The point about the Bill is the uplift, and that is why this is such a powerful moment, because we are mimicking the idea of bringing misogyny into hate crime legislation. We can argue about and debate cut-outs, where the Law Commission got to and why it has taken so long to get here, but I really welcome the fact that we are here, and I hope the Bill will be the start of something much bigger. This will be the first time that every police force has had to record this data. Therefore, every police force will have to be trained in what it is looking for and how to recognise it.

That change matters, not least for those who are affected by these things. Right now, we ask women to pick a side of their identity in order for a crime to be recognised as targeting them. Particularly with women from minority communities, we have to ask, “Is it because you’re a Muslim? Is it because you’re gay? Is it because you’re disabled?” It may be all those things, but we are asking women to fit a box, rather than recognising all those things. That is why the Bill is so powerful and why it is so important that it is about public harassment, not sexual harassment.

A couple of years ago, somebody in my local community was targeting Muslim women and pulling off their hijabs. That was not just about Islamophobia; it was also about misogyny, because this person was not targeting Muslim men. The offences in the Bill would allow us to recognise that and to see the victims for who they are, rather than asking them to fit a box. The Bill also covers men, which is important, but I note the data from the police forces that are already putting this policy into practice, which show that 80% to 90% of the victims coming forward are women. The Bill will help us to start changing the culture.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans
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I appreciate the point about data on men and women, and this is predominantly a women’s issue. However, we are also talking about culture, and men might not come forward because they perceive that no one will listen to them. This is about creating a culture where anyone who experiences this behaviour can come forward.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
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I agree that we want people to come forward, but it is also about time that we recognised—and, frankly, apologised to the women of this country for the fact—that it has taken us this long to see that they are disproportionately affected by street-based harassment and that it is curtailing their lives. I go back to my initial point: this is about our freedom. I would hope that nobody in this Chamber and nobody in the times to come will ever experience what I experienced as a woman growing up in that culture—I am middle-aged now—as I know every woman in the Chamber did. I would not wish this for the hon. Gentleman, but we have to recognise that challenge. So, absolutely, we want everyone to come forward, but it is about time women were heard on this issue, and therefore about time to recognise that women will particularly benefit from this Bill. That is a good thing, not something we have to have a qualm about.

If there is one thing I would want to encourage the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells on, it is how we can build on this legislation when, as we hope, the Government accept it. I note what he said about proving hatred, and I think there is a real challenge here. We live in a culture in which it has become so endemic to harass women that often we look at women and say, “Why are you reacting like that?” rather than saying to the other person, “Why are you doing this?”. Even worse, for several years the Met police have been running education sessions in my local community and somehow treating this as a matter of bad manners; it is as though if we talk to men nicely, they will not harass women any more. The time has come to recognise that most men do not harass women and therefore most men know that harassing behaviour is unacceptable. Where the Bill can be further improved is by learning from other parts of the law about the concept of “foreseeable” harassment incidents. So I give the right hon. Gentleman notice that if we do progress this legislation, I would like to see it learn from that concept.

What does “foreseeable” mean? It means that there would not be a defence of someone not realising that a woman would be offended when they were trying to grope her private parts, because most men do know that and it is about time we held men to account for the fact that they should know better. The concept of foreseeable harassment means that we would remove that defence of, “I did not realise that a woman would be offended if I did that.” That is particularly important when it comes to street-based harassment. In normal harassment cases there have to be several instances and a point at which the victim has said, “Stop!”, but with street-based harassment we need to tackle men who think they have a right to harass women and who should know better.

I note that the Minister said that the Government were looking at the concept of foreseeability as part of the consultation, so it would be helpful to understand from her whether that has progressed further. The one gap in the Bill relates to making sure that there is not a defence of, “I just thought she couldn’t take a joke”, because women have had to take those “jokes”—we have had to take those comments. We have had to be the ones carrying keys in our hands, not going out late at night, trying to find somebody else to travel with, and being told by that the police, “Oh, it’s about dark spots”, or, “I’ll tell you what, we’ll walk with you”. That has meant we have not had the freedom that we want for every woman of any age in this country to go where she wants, do what she wants, wear what she wants and be what she wants. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells, because this Bill and the recognition of misogyny as a driver of crime is a start of that process. We have a long way to go. I hope, like him, that in 20 years’ time “jokes” that we see on our television right now and people like Dapper Laughs will never be seen as acceptable ever again. I think this Bill can be part of that, and I look forward to seeing it go through Committee.

10:02
Sarah Dines Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Miss Sarah Dines)
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I rise with some trepidation, as this is my first debate of this sort in this role, but what a pleasure it is to do so with what I hope will be cross-Chamber and cross-party agreement on this serious issue. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for being here on a Friday to discuss this serious Bill. In particular, I thank and pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). Members who are here will have heard the real passion and conviction with which he presented his arguments in introducing the Bill. That interest has been inspired by not only his own deep-felt thoughts of what is right, but by hearing individual accounts from constituents, including women who are here today. I am grateful to him for his dedication. One thing I can say is that society is changing for the good in this space, and this Bill will make things better. Things such as intentional kerb-crawling are not going to be acceptable.

I also wish to thank the other Members who will be speaking today and the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), who has already spoken. I know that many have campaigned compassionately and passionately for a long time to introduce this legislation, and I would mention Members who are not here but who have been working hard on this issue, such as the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). Of course, we will be hearing from many other Members shortly.

I pay tribute, too, to the many charities that have worked assiduously for change, such as Plan International UK and Our Streets Now. My ministerial predecessors and I have been in receipt of many letters from hon. Members on behalf of constituents who support the campaign. I know that the efforts of Our Streets Now, in particular, are inspired by the real world experiences of its two founders and of many other young women.

Public sexual harassment is a terrible crime and, as we all know, it is far too widespread. Recent Office for National Statistics data, based on a survey carried out in January, February and March this year, found that one in two women and, indeed, one in six men felt unsafe walking alone after dark in a quiet street near their home. It is important to state that this legislation is not in any way to be construed as being anti-men, anti-women or anti-anyone. This is pro safety and pro people. It is to protect people who might be targeted because of their sex. We know that, by and large, it is women, but it is also boys and men. This is to protect us all.

I am sure that colleagues from all parts of the House will agree when I say that the ONS data contains shocking findings. Public sexual harassment is not only harmful, but totally unacceptable. Why should a woman, or a young man, have to let their friends know which route they will take home and what time they intend to arrive? Why should a woman have to hold her keys in her fist? It is the most basic responsibility of Government to keep our public places safe. Everyone should be able to walk our streets without fear of violence or harassment. Women, and of course men too, should feel confident, safe and secure when they are out and about in our cities, towns and villages.

There has been much discussion generally about non-legislative actions. These matters are, clearly, of the utmost importance and they are being treated as such by the Government. I am really proud of the many actions that we have taken. For example, we have awarded £125 million through the safer streets and safety of women at night funds to help women and girls feel safer in public places and to make the streets safer for all, whether through additional patrols, extra lighting or more CCTV. I know that the figures and sums of money that we cite seem rather abstract, so let me bring them to life with one example. From the safety of women at night fund, we funded West Yorkshire Combined Authority to launch a train safety campaign to promote access to an online link with safety information for public transport users, such as bus tracking. This means that there is no longer a need for someone unnecessarily to stand at a bus stop alone waiting for a delayed bus. That is just one of many examples of how money can help in this area, rather than just giving a nod to what ought to be.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
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Anybody who lives in London and has to wait for buses that never seem to show up would welcome that, but it is also important to say that it is not the case that, if somebody was at a bus stop that did not have any lighting, or if they went somewhere that was still dark, they are somehow culpable for these crimes. The funding that the Minister has mentioned should be about making sure that everybody is safe. Women in particular should not face any challenge that they went somewhere that was not on the list of places where there was the lighting, for example.

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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That is, of course, part of the change that we all want to see. As with most Government strategy now, we will be looking in the future at the perpetrators, not the victims. That is a move forward. Although the hon. Lady’s intervention re-echoes what she said a little earlier, I just want to remind the House that there are a number of great initiatives under way. Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth, who, as we know, is the national police lead for violence against women and girls. The Government has confirmed, with, I hope, the support of all parties in the House, that we are adding violence against women and girls to the strategic policing requirement. This is that huge shift from victims to perpetrators, which is only right.

Let me provide some other examples of where money is effectively and properly being targeted on these issues. Our safer streets tool is allowing people to pinpoint on a map places where they felt unsafe. This really helps. We all know how digital innovations can make things far easier and far more focused. More than 23,000 reports have been made using that tool. That is empirical evidence. We very much need to base our legislation on the evidence—not on window dressing or what is thought to work, but on what actually does work. This Government, with Opposition assistance, are moving in the right direction.

In addition to what we are instigating, the College of Policing and the CPS have published new guidance for officers and prosecutors on how to respond to reports of public sexual harassment. I know that Members are concerned about enforceability and getting convictions and the right evidence. We are doing that.

Finally for the moment, I ask everyone to look at the Enough campaign, which has been funded and stretched out over the past few months. This communications campaign is giving bystanders—because we are all in this together, and our focus should not just be on particular people experiencing alarm and distress—the confidence to safely intervene when they see harmful behaviour. It is empowering victims and getting to the root of the perpetrator’s behaviour. We all know that it can start young and then gain in momentum.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans
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I pay tribute to the Government for their advertising campaign and for giving the public strategies to step in, even if just as a distraction by asking for directions, for example. Breaking the behaviour is so important, and everyone in this place and across the country can try to call it out.

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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My hon. Friend is right. The campaign has cut through. We see posters and stickers everywhere, even on vape stores. Those who have a lot to do with young men and women have seen a change in the conversation, with young men in particular saying to their friends, “That’s not okay,” and women saying, “We’re not going to copy men’s banter.” We have seen progress, and the campaign is based on empirical evidence and the money is targeted. It is not about how much money we spend, but about how we spend it. I am glad to see progress in this area.

Danny Kruger Portrait Danny Kruger (Devizes) (Con)
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On offender behaviour, will my hon. Friend give some attention to the work that is being done in prisons to address perpetrators of sexual violence? The projects that support reduction in reoffending by sexual offenders are varied in their effect, and it is worth the Government paying close attention to the varied effect of those programmes. Some are better than others, but those that are good really do work and should be supported.

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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One of the joys of being a relatively new Minister is the feeling that we can have substantive change. I would welcome anyone in the Chamber coming to talk to me about issues that have concerned them for years. I say to those in the Public Gallery as well as to hon. Members that every member of society can change something in this area: you can go to school or university and you can change things.

Alongside the measures we have taken, legislation has a key part to play, and that is why we are here today. As has been well set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells and others, the Bill will provide that if someone commits an offence under existing section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986—namely, the offence of intentionally causing someone harassment, alarm or distress—and does so because of the victim’s sex, they could get a longer sentence of up to two years in prison, rather than six months. That is real change.

The Bill is deliberately not prescriptive about exactly what types of behaviour are covered. We do not want to create a tick-box approach that limits the behaviours that could be prosecuted. The explanatory notes will give Members a good idea of that. Cases will, of course, be dependent on the individual circumstances, but examples might include somebody being followed closely at night, obstructing a person’s passage down the street—otherwise known as cornering them—or making an obscene gesture at someone. The offence targets not lawful behaviour but actions clearly intended to intimidate. I know that the issues of intention and intimidation will be looked at very closely. At this stage, the right way to go, in my respectful view as a lawyer, is that there needs to be intent. The House will, of course, look at all aspects of this good Bill.

Our approach reflects our considered view that all the behaviours are covered by existing offences—though I know that others take a different view—so a wholly new offence that duplicated existing ones would not have positive consequences. We cannot just window dress things and bring in laws for the sake of it. We need to be bespoke and clever about what we are doing, and actually get results. There is a real need to provide a clear offence in law that would help to deter perpetrators and give victims the confidence to report what has happened to them. Many victims do not want the aggressor or the perpetrator just to have a slap on the wrist; they want them to have a real meaningful sentence, which will drive change.

I have mentioned intention, but it is so important. The police and the CPS will need to properly gather the evidence that they need, of course—that is the way the system works—but we are working extremely hard to improve that core part of the criminal justice process. One thing that I would like to say at this point in the debate—I know that hon. Members will say more on it—is that there are always concerns that a person could claim that they had an intention other than harassing the other person. We need to look at particular actions, such as wolf whistling. I would not for one minute say that the state needs to intervene on every piece of language used, but when intention needs to be proved we know what a wolf whistle is when it leads to nefarious motives.

This law will not, I hope, in any way say that a low-level wolf whistle gets someone two years in prison. We need to have a sense of proportion. We cannot demonise any section of society, whether it is men or women. We cannot demonise people, but we can stop perpetrators, whatever their sex is. It is disrespectful to women, and wolf whistling, as we know, extends into other behaviours. We need to look at the overall picture, and Enough’s communication focuses on exactly that.

I confirm the Government’s strong support for this excellent Bill.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans
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Will the Minister give way?

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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Very briefly, as I am on my last paragraph.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Evans
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The explanatory notes, under “Territorial extent and application”, say that the Bill extends to England and Wales, and that clause 2 will apply only to England. As the matter is devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland, I wonder whether the Minister is in conversation with the rest of the Union to work out whether a similar piece of legislation is being introduced, or is already in place, there?

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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My Department is, of course, in conversation there.

Before we get to other Members who want to add to the debate, I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells for introducing the Bill. I look forward to its swift passage through this House and the other place. It is an issue that goes to the heart of what sort of society we want to live in. The idea that in 2022 anyone should be harassed, intimidated or targeted when simply going about their everyday life is scarcely believable, but we know that it is happening, and too often. It is still, by far, too much of a reality for many people. That is why it is high time that we send an unambiguous message that we will do everything in our power to ensure that women, and indeed everyone, can walk on our streets without fear.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

10:17
Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, and apologies for the croaky voice this morning.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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It is that time of year.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham
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It is indeed. I welcome the Minister to her new role. She and I have shared time on Bill Committees, and it is good to be debating these issues again with her. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) on achieving Government support for his Bill. I very much welcome the people from his constituency who are in the Gallery, and who perhaps played a part in helping him to introduce the Bill. Seeing as they are in the Gallery, I reference a television programme called “God Rot Tunbridge Wells!”, which tells the story of Handel’s life. The honourable people in the Gallery and the right hon. Member may like to watch that programme, because they will see that I play a starring role in it. That is something to look out for.

I also pay tribute to Plan International UK for all the amazing work it has done in its “Crime Not Compliment” campaign, launched in 2020 to call on the Government to finally make public sexual harassment a crime. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) has named a large number of organisations this morning that have been working in this space, and my tribute goes out to them, as well.

That we have such behaviour in our society is bad enough, and the statistics in Plan International’s report, “Everything is Racialised on top” make for stark reading. Its work shows that, while 75% of white girls have suffered public sexual harassment, that figure rises to 82% for black, black Caribbean and black British girls, and 88% for mixed race girls. The Bill today does not go quite as far as Plan International would like. It would like a law that criminalises all forms of public sexual harassment and comprehensively closes the legal gaps surrounding this behaviour, but the Bill is a welcome first step in the right direction, and Labour is pleased to support it. That will be of no surprise to the Government, as we tabled many amendments to address sex-based harassment in public when the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 was in Committee last summer. Sadly, the Government voted those ideas down.

We were in the same position last week, with the Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) spoke. We tabled a specific amendment to the same Bill, and I am pleased that prisoners will not now be released on Fridays, when many of the services they need are closing down.

While I am glad that the Government are finally taking action on all these issues we were debating a year and a half ago, the chaos at the heart of Government means that these important reforms are still being delayed time and again. It is simply not good enough, and our constituents deserve better.

I turn to the content of the Bill. We all know that public sexual harassment can have a real and serious impact on those who experience it. It can seriously impact how safe and confident women feel in public places, and it is mostly women who are victims of this abuse at the hands of mostly male perpetrators. However, as has been mentioned, it is also important that male victims are included, and we are glad that the Bill makes such provision.

As we have already heard, sexual harassment in the streets can be a precursor to even more serious kinds of discrimination and violence against women and girls. As Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, puts it:

“As a society, the normalisation of sexual harassment in public spaces plays a huge part in creating a gendered power imbalance and ingraining derogatory attitudes and behaviours towards women. What starts in public spaces doesn’t stay there. It plays into discrimination against women in the workplace and abuse in the home. If we say street harassment doesn’t matter, we’re designating women’s bodies public property. And that has a huge knock-on impact.”

As we know, the call for evidence for the Government’s tackling violence against women and girls strategy received 180,000 responses. I wonder how many women out there would have liked to contribute, but did not know that they actually had that opportunity. I suspect that, if they all had known, it could have run into millions of people sharing their stories. However, the fact that there were 180,000 responses is testament to the extent of the problem. Those who have bravely spoken up have contributed to some distressing, although sadly not surprising, findings. One in two women and one in six men felt unsafe walking alone after dark on a quiet street near their home. Some 45% of women and 18% of men felt unsafe walking alone after dark in a busy place. One in two women aged between 16 and 34 had experienced one form of harassment in the previous 12 months, with 38% of women aged between 16 and 34 having experienced catcalls, whistles, unwanted sexual comments or jokes, and 25% of women felt they were being followed in the street.

Last year, research by UN Women UK found that only 4% of women who had suffered sexual harassment reported the crime, and only 45% believed that reporting the crime would make any difference. Among those who did not report the crime to the police were people who had been groped, followed and coerced into sexual activity. It is deeply distressing that women do not feel they can put faith in our justice system when it comes to such abuses. The figures underline the urgency of the need for concrete action from the Government beyond the provisions of this Bill, as so much more needs to be done.

I am encouraged that in this debate there is cross-party consensus that enough is enough. We need to make sure that women and girls can trust the justice system to address these harms in the knowledge that this type of behaviour will be treated with the severity it truly deserves. If we demonstrate how seriously we take such behaviour, the perpetrators on our streets will know their abuses will not be tolerated. The Opposition agree that public sex-based harassment is a crime, not a compliment.

The Minister talked about the money spent on many initiatives throughout the country, and that spend is welcome. She also referred to the fact that many young boys now recognise that the behaviour of some of their peers is far from acceptable, and I agree. It is wonderful that education in schools is perhaps now catching up and boys are getting the right message about how they should treat girls. More importantly, it is tremendously good news that some of them are prepared to stand up and defend women and young girls in their own classroom.

We need changes in the law to ensure that women and young girls can feel safe. The House needs to do so much more to ensure that they feel safer in public spaces. The Government missed golden opportunities to do so in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, but I am glad that today we can at least take another step in the right direction. We will support the Bill.

10:27
Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
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I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who has done such an incredible job to get the Bill to this point. I appreciate that it has a long way to go yet, but I welcome the cross-party support for it and the comments made by my hon. Friend the Minister.

I do not recall the first time that I spoke in this Chamber about public sexual harassment, but I vividly recall doing an interview with “Woman’s Hour” in 2019, when I was ridiculed for saying that public sexual harassment should be a specific crime. I remember the commentary on the website afterwards saying I did not know what I was talking about, and I remember the Daily Mail calling me mirthless because I did not think it was funny. The reality is that public sexual harassment is never funny: it is always scary and it dominates the lives of too many women.

There has been some focus this morning on the lives of young women, but the stark reality is that there is probably not a woman in this place who has not experienced public sexual harassment at some point. It can happen at any age to any person, and it does happen to men as well, particularly young gay men. They need our support every bit as much as women do.

I certainly remember why I first started talking about this issue: it was largely because of a coalition of really impressive women and women’s organisations—people who had come to see me and raised the issue with me. I am going to list them all, because I argue that, once we have on our side Our Streets Now, Plan International, the Girl Guides, the Soroptimists and the Women’s Institute, we have brought together a very impressive coalition of women of all ages and backgrounds who are prepared to speak up and determined to do so. When we read the statistics, they are absolutely terrifying. They show the sheer scale of the problem. When an issue dominates the Girlguiding girls’ attitude survey and dominates the experiences of young women at school, college and university, we have to reflect that it is well past time that we did something about it.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister, who will have the pleasure—I suggest—of responding to my right hon. Friend’s Bill, of taking it forward, and of seeing it eventually go on to the statute book. However, there is a long history of other committed female Ministers, many of whom, over the past few years, have sidled up to me and said, “Keep going: keep pushing at that door.”

Let me give some indication of the scale of support there has been. I remember my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), on many occasions in Westminster Hall, begging me to keep going—to keep on asking difficult questions, and to keep on ensuring that this issue remained uppermost in people’s minds—but, of course, she is not the only one. My right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) has held this brief, as have my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), who was in the Chamber earlier: she too has played a role in keeping this issue on the priority list. There is also, of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), not to mention the former Members of Parliament Amber Rudd and Sarah Newton, both of whom also held this brief at various points.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells said, back in December last year we saw the Law Commission’s review, which clearly stated that the Government should consider making public sexual harassment a specific crime, although, interestingly, at that time the commission rejected the idea of adding misogyny to the list of hate crimes. I was not particularly happy about that, but I was prepared to wear it on the grounds that we would see public sexual harassment made a crime. It was a shame that there was not enough time for the Government to do that, but I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for bringing the issue as far as this point.

I want to pay tribute to some of the brilliant women out there in the community who are working both for and alongside the police, whom I consider to be real champions in this regard. The Minister mentioned Maggie Blyth, the deputy chief constable of Hampshire constabulary—my home force—who is also the national police lead for violence against women and girls. I also pay tribute to our police and crime commissioner in Hampshire, Donna Jones. I have attended many events relating to violence against women and girls where she too has proved herself to be a real champion in sticking up for the 51% of the population who are affected by these matters. Another is Caroline Henry, whom I met the day before yesterday to talk about the issues affecting women and girls.

Let me give a specific example to show why I think the Bill is so important. I have heard successive Ministers say that such legislation is not necessary, because there is existing legislation to protect women and girls from sexual harassment. I am going to recount the story of a constituent who spoke to me about it, and my subsequent conversation with the then Minister about what had happened to that constituent. This was a 22-year-old working in the retail sector—a very glamorous job, pushing trolleys around the supermarket car park in the depths of February. I want Members to imagine her uniform: a puffer coat made of hi-viz material, a pair of leggings, heavy boots, a bobble hat, and, because this was at the height of covid, a mask. She said to me, “I hate lunchtime.” I thought that was bizarre: I thought most young people quite liked having a lunch break. She said, “I have to work from 12 pm until till 2 pm, because that is when the supermarket is busiest and I have to return all the trolleys to the front door, and I hate it.” I said, “Why? What is so difficult about lunchtime?”

I apologise for generalising, and I apologise to all those employed in the construction industry who will hate what I am going to say next. My constituent replied, “Because that is when the builders come for their lunch.” When I asked what happened when the builders came to the supermarket to get their lunch, she said, “They make comments about me, they follow me around the car park, they talk about how my bum looks, and this week one of them came up to me, put his hands on either side of my face, and told me that I was too beautiful to be pushing trolleys.” I looked at her in horror, and then I went to see the Minister at the time and said, “You’ve been telling me for months that there are crimes already being committed and that there is legislation to protect people like my constituent who tells me that she hates lunchtime and spends it pushing trolleys back to the entrance of the supermarket as quickly as she can, because that is where the security guards are—she spends her lunchtime trying to be within range of the security guards. What was the specific crime there? What legislation can we use to protect girls like her?” She looked at me and said, “I don’t know. I don’t think a crime has been committed there.” I entirely accept that we must not demonise all men and we must not demonise all builders, but that is the type of behaviour that this legislation is designed to counteract, so I welcome it wholeheartedly.

We know that 50% of young women have experienced sexual harassment in schools or colleges. We know that 37% have experienced it on public transport. I pay tribute to the amazing work done by the British Transport police, among other organisations, to highlight the unacceptability of it and the strategies and tactics that we can all use to stop being bystanders and to intervene and help women in situations where they are uncomfortable and are being harassed. We know that 33% of sexual harassment happens in public buildings and that 75%—three quarters—of all women have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lives. All of us in this Chamber know a victim of it, which also means that all of us in this Chamber know a perpetrator. It is the perpetrators who we need to identify and we need to stamp out their behaviour.

I want briefly to talk about the cultures behind public sexual harassment. My Select Committee has done and continues to do significant work on this. I remember telling a colleague that we were doing some work on the cultures that underpin male violence against women, and she looked at me and said, “You’re trying to overturn 2,000 years of male behaviour, are you?” I said, “Yes! Absolutely—that is what we have to do.” We have to put a marker down somewhere. If we are not prepared to do it now, today, in this place, then do we wait another 10, 20 or 1,000 years? Are we prepared to do that? I am certainly not. I find that it is very liberating being a woman in your 50s; you suddenly find that you are in a terrible hurry to get stuff done now. Now is today, and the Bill is that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells.

My Committee is doing some great work looking at the experience of young women in education settings, and it is harrowing. I did a roundtable with the Agenda Alliance for women and girls at risk, which includes girls who have been through the care system and girls who have experienced all sorts of horrors in their lives. Many of them told me about their experiences in pupil inclusion units; we have to be careful about the terminology we use, in terms of whether it is exclusion or inclusion. Girls in those settings are heavily outnumbered. In some instances, it is 90% boys and 10% girls. One of the girls told me that there is a poster in her education setting talking about consent, and every day, that poster is slashed and torn off the walls. She said, “How do you think that makes me feel? It makes me feel that I am not worthy. It makes me feel that I am in danger and at risk in my education setting.” She was perfectly happy to accept that it was a suboptimal education setting, and that there were many reasons why she had ended up there, but she said, “I should be valued and protected as much as the boys in that place.”

The work that the Committee is doing is fascinating, important and worth while, but it is harrowing to hear the stories and the experiences, particularly of black women working in the music industry and of how they can be sexualised, victimised and harassed because of their skin colour, their sex and the fact that they want to get on in an industry that is incredibly male-dominated and competitive. They feel that if they make a fuss, their careers will be pushed to one side.

We heard a couple of weeks ago from Fern Whelan, the ex-England footballer, about the experiences she had as a footballer. We like to think that sport is a great leveller and that everybody is equal, but the harassment that women still face in football is significant, and it continues when they move on to careers in the media after they have finished their playing careers. She told a fantastic tale of how she had made a comment and was endlessly trolled for it, with hundreds of comments basically telling her to get back into the kitchen, while her male contemporary had made the same comment and not one single person had reacted to it in any way.

While these incidents may appear to be the less serious end of harassment, it is cultural, and it is embedded in all the places that women go, where women work and the activities they want to take part in. It is crucial that we pursue the culture. I absolutely accept that it is not all men; there are some brilliant men. I think in particular back to 2020, when women were feeling empowered and emboldened to speak up about their experiences walking home, and I shared the fact that, when I leave this place at night, I do so with my flat keys in my hand and wearing a pair of trainers. I know that they are not much beloved of Madam Deputy Speaker, who would prefer none of us to wear trainers in this place, but actually as a woman it is much easier to run home in flat shoes. I suspect that few of my male colleagues have ever reflected on their footwear before trotting home across Westminster bridge.

We must tackle the cultures. We must recognise this good Bill, which my excellent colleague has brought forward, as a first step. There will be a very long way to go yet for all of us to stand up for brilliant young women like Maya and Gemma Tutton, who have been such an inspiration to me and others in this place, and ensure that this is a first step and that we continue the work.

10:41
Karen Bradley Portrait Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con)
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I have a hard act to follow in my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), who made an excellent contribution. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) on one of the many other excellent contributions as well as on securing the Bill and bringing it to this point. I know that he will take it further and get it on the statute book, because everybody in the Chamber wants to see the Bill become an Act of Parliament. He embodies what we need to do, because men are part of the solution.

Men are the problem—there is no doubt about it. We have talked about how the Bill can protect men and women, but women and girls are predominantly the victims of harassment in public, so we need men such as my right hon. Friend to stand up and say “No” and to say that they need to be part of the solution, because the many fantastic women who have campaigned on this for many years will get it finished only if men come on board, too. I congratulate him on his work so far. I know that he will succeed and that he and others in the Chamber and in this place believe that this the right approach and that men need to be part of the solution.

We should be thinking about the safety of women and girls all the time. The media get interested in it only when there are high-profile cases. Those cases are heartbreaking and, every time there is such a case, I, and I suspect every other woman in this place, think how it could have been them. They remember the time they took the short cut home and wondered why they had when they finally got behind their door because that short cut is dangerous. They remember walking home with their keys in their hand. I still do, because if my hands are in my pocket and my keys are in my hand, should someone approach me, I have got a weapon—something that allows me to counteract the strength of a physical attack from, inevitably, a much stronger man.

We have all got the bus to the next stop—one more stop than we would normally go—because that is the lighter walk home, so we feel safer. In these cold, dark nights, we will all think, “Is it the right way to go, or should I walk out of my way and take that different route home that means that I will not be home, enjoying the warmth of my home, until later than a man would?” A man will not think about that. A man will just take that short cut or take the short bus route home. A man will not have to think about it.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) talked about how this is not right. We have to start being able to just live our lives. We should not be saying to women, “Oh, just man up.” Goodness me, that is not right. We should be able to take the bus route that gets us home quickly. We should be able to walk the shortcut. We should not have to have training on how to protect ourselves. This is not what our society should be. The hon. Lady was absolutely right and I pay tribute to her campaigning. When I was the Minister in the place of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines), the hon. Lady was a thorn in my side, but quite rightly because she said many things that made a great deal of sense. It is great to see that this issue has now come to this House.

I welcome my hon. Friend to the Front Bench. She made a point that I want to gently pick her up on. She said we want to empower victims. We do not want to empower victims; we do not want victims in the first place. We do not want to be in a position where we are apologising and explaining our behaviour. It is about the perpetrators. We want people not to be perpetrators. We do not want the crime to happen in the first place, and we need to send that very clear message.

Let me compare the attitudes on this issue with attitudes on bullying in the playground. Nobody says that somebody being bullied in the playground should man up and learn how to fight back and protect themselves. No, we deal with the bullying. We take the bully and tell them that it is socially unacceptable to be a bully. I have seen the difference in my children’s education from what I received at school. They are told, “No, you can’t be a bully. If you’re a bully, we’ll take you out of the school. You will be excluded.” We deal with the perpetrators of bullying in the playground, yet in the field of violence against women and girls, we far too often look at potential victims and try to stop them from being victims. Everyone should take safety measures. We should lock our front doors when we leave and close our windows with security locks to stop us from being burgled. Of course we should take sensible measures, but we should not have to take additional measures as women just to go about our lives because we may be harassed in public, as if that is okay and acceptable.

I was the Minister with responsibility for this area way back when. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells said, I think I was the first woman in the coalition Government to manage that portfolio. I was followed by Sarah Newton, my hon. Friends the Members for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies) and now for Mid Derbyshire—sorry, Derbyshire Dales. I should know that, as she is my next-door neighbour.

It is a wonderful portfolio, but it can be the most difficult portfolio to deal with emotionally because the depravity that human beings can show to other human beings is sometimes extraordinary. The safeguarding brief is one that exposes any Minister to the depths of human behaviour, but it also shows the best sides of human behaviour. It can be the time when the champion and the hero is found—the person who will stand up and be counted. It can be the most rewarding.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), because when she was a Health Minister she took this issue seriously. It is not just a Home Office response; there has to be a response from across Government. While I am getting tributes out of the way, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) was my boss at the Home Office, she was the Home Secretary who spotted that this victim-based crime needs to be taken seriously. Victims need to be believed, and we need to stop the perpetrators before they even become perpetrators. Too often with this sort crime, we remove the victim from the setting. We take the victim to another place and it is the victim who suffers, rather than the perpetrator. It must not be that way—it must be the perpetrator who suffers. I continue in the theme of congratulating women Ministers by mentioning Amber Rudd and my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel). All those women Ministers in the Home Office have taken this issue seriously.

To conclude on this point, the Bill demonstrates what Parliament and parliamentarians want. We are showing leadership: we are saying that this is not acceptable and society needs to listen and act differently. Taking steps like this—making what appear to be very small changes to the law—can make an enormous difference.

I want to pick up on the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells made about hate crime. He is absolutely right that the more effective way to deal with the issue at this stage, as the legal framework sets out, is to make this change to harassment in public. However, it might not necessarily be the right way or everything we need to do in future, in a different framework. My right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North talked about the campaign continuing, and it does. This is not the end; it is just another step in this long journey that we are taking. But this simple Bill makes a big statement, and I say to police forces, law enforcement bodies, prosecution services and others: Parliament wants you to act in this area; Parliament wants you to take action and make sure these crimes are taken seriously. The greatest success of this Bill after it becomes an Act is that there will not be any prosecutions, because there will not need to be prosecutions, because society will have recognised that this is not acceptable and will start to behave differently.

I again pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells. He has my full support on this Bill, and I look forward to it returning to this place for Report and Third Reading, and then to the other place, and then to my right hon. Friend coming in with Royal Assent at some point in the future.

10:51
Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
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It is with great pleasure that I add my support to the Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). I congratulate him on bringing forward what is actually quite a radical measure. There is an outbreak of consensus across the House today, but we should reflect on the fact that these issues have been causing nuisance and misery for women for generations. We have had women representatives in this place for over 100 years, and it is amazing that it has taken us this long to bring forward a measure that, as the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) said, will be liberating, because we as women have all had our freedoms compromised by having to tolerate behaviour that should have been ruled unacceptable a long time ago.

I listened very carefully to my right hon. Friend’s speech, and he presented his Bill in such an articulate and factual fashion that he made it unarguable. That is a great contrast with what I heard a Prime Minister say from the Dispatch Box only this year: that we should not criminalise this as it would cause too much work for the police. That statement on its own tells us that women remain second-class citizens before the law of this country, because women are not the problem here. Women are the victims; the problem is the behaviour, and that behaviour absolutely must be tackled.

It is also great to follow three great champions of women in this place: we wheeled out the star turns today, in no small part down to my right hon. Friend, who helpfully reminded us all that this Bill was coming forward today, but it is great to see them here. I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), who has been dogged in her pursuit of Ministers on this issue. As she pointed out, only in 2019 she was vilified for making a public claim on this topic, and in that very short space of time this debate has been transformed. So this is a good day for women in Parliament.

I am pleased that the Minister said the Government support this measure. I am, however, slightly concerned by what she said about establishing intent, because the behaviours that the Bill is designed to tackle should be unacceptable in any context. Let me draw an analogy. When the Mayor of London reduced the speed limit on the Embankment to 20 mph, I got two speeding tickets because I did not know. I did not intend to break the law, but I had committed an offence because the law had changed and I was in breach of it. I had no real grounds on which to defend myself, because the behaviour was wrong. That is exactly the standard that should be brought to bear here, particularly as some of these crimes will be committed by groups of men in gangs, cajoling each other and egging each other on. Somebody may feel that they could argue, “Well, it wasn’t a problem. I didn’t intend to cause any offence. We were just having a bit of fun.” That cannot be acceptable; there can be no question of allowing any kind of loophole.

We have heard repeatedly in this House that women have to take decisions every day of the week about their safety. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North outlined, we need to bring those to life to make the whole House realise what we are talking about. She talks about wearing her trainers to walk home, and that is the kind of thing we do. I am sure I am not alone in putting my hood up to make sure that no one can see me. Even now, as a woman in her 50s, I am still making these decisions; these things do not just affect young women. However, I want to speak specifically about young women this morning, because some of the experiences they have during their teens, as they start to become noticed for being women, can cause real harm. Young girls can be traumatised by the attention they attract from men. I have said before in this place that, for young women going through puberty and through changes in their body that they are not comfortable with, it can be traumatising to have uncomfortable male attention overlaid on to that.

Let me relay a conversation I had recently on a school visit. All of us go into schools and talk about being Members of Parliament. Sometimes those visits are really good, and sometimes they are quite hard work and it takes a while to get the students going and asking questions. This visit was for International Women’s Day, when I went to speak to a group of girls who were all 13 or 14 years old. It was hard work; they were not being very forward. Then, I just chucked in, “So, how many of you in this room have been victims of street harassment?” I am not naive about this sort of stuff, but even I was shocked, because every single one of them had a story. One particular girl, bless her, was quite inspirational. She was 14 but could have passed for much older, and she told a story about how she had been followed. She had started to feel threatened, because this man was coming up quite close and he kept making suggestive comments to her.

Bless that girl, at 14 years old, she deliberately walked to where there were a lot of people in a shopping centre, turned round and hollered at him. I suspect that that was not the first time he had done that to any girl. I also suspect he will think twice about doing it again after she did that. This was a 14-year-old girl doing that. If we are expecting our teenage girls to have that degree of courage, bravado and strength, we are expecting an awful lot of them. The reality is that what should be tackled is that aggressive, entitled behaviour. What that man was doing was basically saying, “My entitlement to get enjoyment from ogling you, young girl, trumps your ability to say no.” The fact is that we have allowed our laws to continue to absolutely embed that principle in all aspects of our law. This Bill will help to change that.

The other aspect of that visit was that a male teacher was in the room, and the beauty of it was that, as each one of their girls shared their experiences, you could see the revelation for him. At the end of the meeting, he spoke quite emotionally to the girls and said, “Look, we need to do something about this in school. We need to start telling the boys how you feel when they behave like this.” I thought, “That’s great. I have done a good day’s work here,” and off I tootled. A few weeks ago, I was attending a church service and this girl up to me, grabbed hold of my arm and said, “I just wanted to thank you, because I was in that room when you came to school. I have now become the head girl and we have a project running all the way through the school and we are all talking about it.” I thought, “Fantastic,” but this is the lived experience of teenage girls up and down the country.

There is lots of criticism of the fact that there are too many cars outside schools. We have to get people on to public transport, but for girls it is like a war zone. We talk about how there is not a single women in this House who has not experienced this stuff, and public transport systems are probably one of the worst places to be. When introducing policies to achieve net zero, we need to think about some of the implications of these things. It is why things such as this Bill are so important to make everybody safe.

I am pleased that opinion is changing, and changing very rapidly. One of the reasons for that is that the terrible incident of Wayne Couzens, and the dreadful crimes that he perpetrated, forced everybody to stop in their tracks, and perhaps tell all the men in this House that it could happen to anyone. These are not crimes that are just directed at people in more deprived communities, lower-income groups or people who have been through the care system. They can, and do, happen to anyone.

I remember speaking to a ministerial colleague who told me that he had gone home and expressed his shock at what happened, only to have the revelation from his wife and sister that this was our lived experience all the time. Another colleague, after I had been on one of my regular diatribes on this subject, told me that now when he gets into the lift in Parliament with a woman he feels really uncomfortable in case he is intimidating her. I thought, “Good. We’re achieving something.” When men start to think about how their behaviour affects women, we are doing something right, so I make no apologies for making him feel uncomfortable.

The truth is that society has looked the other way for too long. We have seen these behaviours normalised, and women have been expected to just suck it up, and we have. Some women still think that it is “just bants”. Well, it is not bants; it can do harm. As I said, this is about power. This is about men using their collective accepted powers to reassert their power over women. Again, it comes as something of a shock that, for all our messages of equalities and efforts to get more women into Parliament and to create more equality of opportunity, some men still use low-level behaviours to intimidate women. They would use powers to intimidate other people as well, but women are perhaps the softest target to make inadequate men feel superior. It just is not okay to do that.

Lewd cat-calling, which covers some of the behaviours that we are talking about, can also make women feel very uncomfortable about their bodies. I return to the issue of how uncomfortable it can be for teenage girls. It is no surprise to me that so many teenage girls are exploring new gender identities at the moment, because the attention that they are receiving from men can be so unwelcome. If I think back to my time as a teenager, we did not have the amount of porn, one click away on the screen of a phone, that we do now. In those days, porn was much more restricted. Highly sexual images of women, and women’s bodies, were not as freely available.

The truth is that boys will have seen the kind of stuff that used to be on the top shelf of a newsagent before they reach their teens. It is no surprise, therefore, that a sexualised view of girls starts to materialise much quicker. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North outlined, so much of the sexually aggressive behaviour that girls experience starts in schools. There is a broader behavioural pattern here. One of the most important things about the Bill is that it will send a message to society that this behaviour is not okay—that it is wrong and harmful. As for the idea that we should worry about the volume of work that the police will have to do as a consequence of the Bill, that is not the issue. This is about sending out the message that we are not prepared to tolerate this behaviour any more.

I want to underline the point that the hon. Member for Walthamstow made about the Bill changing the culture of how women view the police in this area, because the crimes that will be escalated and reported are such things as rape and domestic violence. The message will be sent out that the criminal justice system is on the side of women. Culturally, we have to put up with things that cause us harm but which the law trivialises. Automatically, that does not put us in a good position to have respect for the institutions of the law. The fact that the police will have to record incidents will mean that they take the whole issue of gender crime more seriously.

As consequence of the Bill’s implementation, I would like to see, and I am confident that we will see, much more willingness on the part of victims and law enforcement to pursue these serious crimes. I look forward to the rape conviction rate being higher. We all share that objective, but we have never really examined how the wider aspects of the law affect women and get in the way culturally. That is also the reason why so many incidents of domestic violence go unpunished. It has been a long time since women were treated as the property of their husbands and fathers-in-law, but behaviourally, those issues have left a legacy. That means that women are not treated fairly in the criminal justice system when it comes to getting justice.

In summary, I am hugely supportive of the Bill and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells for promoting it. I am pleased that the Government support it, but we need to challenge much more on the wider issues of the law and the behaviour of all our institutions to make sure that we tackle violence against women—the fact that we call it “violence against women and girls” rather than “male violence against women and girls” epitomises the problem. We have always made it the victim’s problem, a woman’s problem, but it is not; the perpetrators are the problem. The perpetrators are men and we should send a very strong signal that some behaviours will not be tolerated and that we will do all we can to protect women and girls.

11:08
Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie (Stroud) (Con)
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I have spoken before about the serious and outrageous behaviour that girls from Stroud High School in my constituency reported to me. Those girls, in their distinctive school uniform, deal with completely unwanted public sexual harassment from men. There are random comments sometimes, and the comments are sometimes sexualised and are sometimes just really weird. I listened to their experiences. They took the initiative of creating a survey, so they went around their school—these are really smart kids—and they discovered, to their horror, that girls as young as nine had experienced public sexual harassment.

We have all experienced that and we have spoken about that in the Chamber. It ranges from being shouted at to comments by those who think they are being funny, to people being flashed at and far more serious incidents. We saw from the Everyone’s Invited campaign that this is prevalent among schoolgirls and schoolchildren. I started to investigate this, listening even more closely to my excellent colleagues and looking at the fantastic work that went on prior to my joining this House, and it became really obvious that things needed to change.

In Stroud, sadly, we have had a series of rapes and sexual assaults, which is totally devastating for the victims and their families. It has also completely rocked our community. This is a safe, beautiful Cotswolds town, which is similar to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) said about his area and the need for strong police and strong communities. We now have women who are worried about going out. We have women who are worried about going for a run during the day down our championed canal routes, because one of the attacks was in broad daylight. The Bill is not about rape—I get that—but about public sexual harassment. None the less, from speaking to the women and girls in my constituency and from listening to the experienced hon. and right hon. Members in this place, I know that, although the harassment on the streets and the trolling that is happening online daily, even hourly, to women and girls may be down to keyboard warriors being idiots, it is also fuelling physical abuse in the real world.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
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My hon. Friend is making the important and powerful point that we must never ever forget that there is, uncomfortable though we may find it, a pyramid of offending. Although not every flasher becomes a rapist, every rapist has started somewhere, and public sexual harassment can be the somewhere. Does she agree that that is one of the many reasons why we have to make sure that it is stamped out at source?

Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie
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I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. That is why I get so frustrated when people dismiss this as unnecessary, going too far, or too heavy-handed. It is a very short hop, skip and jump from someone shouting obscenities or being rude to a woman on the street to being rude in their own home, if that is their mentality. We have to make that connection and we have to keep making it strongly.

When we had those rare horrendous incidents in Stroud, the advice that was immediately given was for women. They were told, “Change your behaviour. Change your clothes.” It was exactly as the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) said. It was also, “Don’t wear your headphones. Think a little bit more about where you’re going to walk”. Where do I want to walk in a beautiful Cotswolds market town? I want to walk everywhere. I do not want my thought processes to be about whether I will get attacked on any given day.

But Stroud fought back. This is a very spirited place, very politically bouncy, as anyone who follows politics will know, and my inbox is very bouncy, too. Anybody who thought that they would get away with attacking women and girls or being rude to them on the streets in my area was very, very wrong. We have all banded together to make changes, which is why I am so much in support of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells is doing. Our voices are being reinforced, although it is not just about our voices: in all of our constituencies, we have Government support for a very important Bill.

I have led a successful campaign, which the Government have now supported, to change the law and reduce anonymous online abuse, which, as I said, is completely connected to the real world. Hundreds of people in Stroud have marched, on a number of occasions now, specifically on these issues. Our police and crime commissioner, Chris Nelson, and our police have joined those marches. That is a really important step. Our PCC has made tackling violence against women and girls a focus of his work. The hon. Member for Walthamstow was talking about police forces that were ahead of the curve; Gloucestershire is one of them and I am very proud of it for that, although the police have a lot more work to do. We held a public meeting about these issues, and even though we have been reporting hate crimes and public harassment for much longer than other forces, women were standing up saying that they still did not feel comfortable going to the police. There is an awful lot of work to do, and I know that the Gloucestershire constabulary understand that.

Two fabulous constituents, Nikki Owen and Sydney-Anne McAllister—I met Sydney quite recently—have launched a pressure group called This Ends Now. They want to change the law and the media, and they are challenging both to do better, particularly on language. Where there is a rape, it should be reported in the media as a rape, not as a sexual assault, and it should not be played down in any way, shape or form. I believe that committed women in my patch will be pleased to see what we are trying to do today.

I encourage all Members of the House to look up the work of the Holly Gazzard Trust, which was set up by a family who were devastated by the loss of their daughter. They have gone on to campaign on domestic abuse and to really change the lives of many other families, and they are front and centre in supporting and fighting for women and girls in Gloucestershire.

We also have Chrissie Lowery, who is winning awards all over the place. Following the rapes and other incidents I have mentioned, and the rise of concern among our school girls about public sexual harassment, she took up the baton and created the Safe Space campaign, which Stagecoach, the police and lots of local businesses are now on board with. After an incident in a very dark, dingy, scary tunnel, Chrissie took the initiative of getting some amazing artists together, and we painted the tunnel, which sounds very simple. My daughter and I went down, and we put butterflies on the wall of this horrendously dark tunnel; it is now a beautiful open space that people are comfortable going down during the day, and we are looking at having lighting and CCTV at night. These efforts are small acts of kindness, but they will all join up to make a difference.

Gloucestershire police have created something called the Flare app, which is being rolled out to other forces. It allows people to put in the details of places they are worried about in the Stroud district and creates a heat map, so the police know to go to specific points of concern and the council can come in and do work on things such as CCTV. It is really innovative, and we can probably do more with it, but 3,000 people have downloaded it, so it is going pretty well for a new piece of kit.

Given that my community and constituents have done so much legwork—there are more examples, but I will not go on and on—it is right that we in this place constantly review the law. Following the advice from bodies such as the Law Commission—where very learned people have spent a lot of time investigating this issue—my right hon. Friend’s Bill assists us in doing that. We are creating a new law that deals with intentionally harassing or seeking to cause alarm, which is a gap in the legislation that we have in this place, so I welcome the Bill.

However, it is right that there is a balance in what we are trying to do and in what happens should somebody be pulled up for sexual harassment, so I welcome the explanation of what will and will not result in imprisonment. The headlines and challenges that we have seen—that someone will be sent to prison because they wolf-whistled—are immediately dismissive. It is therefore right that we are clear about what the Bill does and does not do and about how we have sought to strike a balance. The test is the intention to cause distress. Where somebody is being a plonker, that is a very different test—we could deal with plonkers in other ways. This intention to cause distress is a serious test, which will hopefully lead to prosecutions in the right places and then to deterrence, so that we can start to change society and culture.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
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Does the hon. Lady also recognise the point I made earlier about adding the concept of “foreseeable”? The risk with intent is the young man who says, “I didn't realise that this would be harassment,” when everybody else would. When we look at intent, we have to be clear that it is foreseeable that some behaviour could cause distress; otherwise, we create a big loophole, and we will not make the progress we want to make.

Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie
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I heard what the hon. Lady said earlier. It is not something that I have looked at, but I understand that there are already examples in legislation and I heard the challenge to the Minister to look carefully at this. It is important. We cannot create legislation in the knowledge that people are going to get let off the hook or that they will learn how to respond when pulled up by the police. That is why we have to be clear about the balance and about what the Bill does and does not do. We have to think through a range of different examples and about the responses that will be given by the perpetrators, so that the legislation is tight.

As the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), made clear, we have to avoid demonising all men and boys. They are not all bad. They are not all plonkers. We know that men and boys are very much part of the solution. Early education in our schools is absolutely vital, but we cannot get away from the fact that the incidents are generally perpetrated by men. It is right to continue that debate and to also be really careful with our language about men and boys.

To conclude, the reality is that only 26% of those who experience public sexual harassment report the incident to the police, no matter how scared, harassed or intimidated they have been by it. We have also heard examples such as that robustly and passionately given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North of the girl in the supermarket. That was a really visual story of the nonsense that girls and women have to go through every single day when they are not asking for it or wearing anything provocative but just trying to do their job. With such examples in our minds and this happening every single day of the week, of the month, of the year, we have to make changes.

I am relieved and really grateful that the next time I am in Stroud with Stroud High School girls or with the campaign group This Ends Now and other teams, or the next time I am on a march or dealing with these issues in front of a group of people in our town hall, I will be able to point to the Government backing this Bill as yet another example of the Government wanting to protect women and girls and being prepared to create the legislation to do so and bring our laws up to date.

11:22
Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris (Newbury) (Con)
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It is almost two years since Maya and Gemma Tutton from Our Streets Now first approached me in Parliament. I pay tribute to them for their campaigning. As the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) points out, there have been many voices along the way, but those two are notable because they are among the youngest campaigners and have been among the most persistent over the past two years. This Bill is in no small part a product of their efforts.

I have asked for laws on public sexual harassment a number of times in this place and have been met with two objections, both of which are legitimate and which I want to deal with at the outset. The first is the point about wolf whistling. Are we creating a de minimis criminal offence that will result in the police going on a wild goose chase after builders who have happened to wolf whistle at somebody? Gemma Tutton was asked that question when interviewed on the “Today” programme this morning. I will return to it later in my speech, but her answer was no and that what we are talking about is “really sexual intrusive abuse”. When we mention that in any roundtable we conduct in our constituencies or when we meet women’s groups, everybody knows an example of what is being referred to. The language used in that context would be completely unacceptable to repeat in this place, but such behaviour is pervasive and serious and the purpose of the offence is to address it.

The other objection that I have encountered in the past is that it is already a criminal offence under the Public Order Act 1986. The truth is that that is true in principle, but it is not really true in practice. Very rarely do women even know that they would have a right to go to the police to report public sexual harassment if someone said something really obscene to them in the street. On the very few occasions that I have encountered somebody who has been to the police, they tell me that they have been met with a really inconsistent and imperfect response by police officers who—and I say this respectfully—sometimes do not really know that there is such an offence and are unfamiliar with what they are required to do under the Public Order Act. I think that creates two imperatives to look at this.

I was very glad to hear the Minister respond positively at the Dispatch Box. I am going to expand on why the Government need to be enthusiastic about the Bill. It is right that the Government are responding to the recommendation of the Law Commission. I know that, when the Government have developed their work on tackling violence against women and girls, they have always wanted to do so following consultations and with a proper evidence base. After the comprehensive work the Law Commission did, it is difficult to say now that that has not come forward.

It is true to say that, in the last two to three years, the Government have increasingly shown that they are willing to enter the public sphere—the public, rather than the private—in the treatment of women. An example of that is when they outlawed upskirting. We are currently discussing the Online Safety Bill and the sharing of intimate images. My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) is leading the charge on this, but the Government have made positive indications, and downblousing, another form of intrusive imagery, is likely to be included.

It was this Government a decade ago who created a distinct offence for stalking. I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not suggesting stalking is comparable to public harassment. It can be a much more serious offence, but at its inception, the first time someone acts, there is the idea of fixating on somebody and thinking about how to encroach on their public space in a way that will humiliate them, cause them fear or have a predatory impact. That offence has something in common with what we are trying to achieve today.

The purpose of this commendable private Member’s Bill from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) is in some way to draw all these strands together. I would respectfully say that it is far better that we talk in the wider language of public sexual harassment, rather than in a piecemeal way, where we deal with individual acts and offences as they arise, such as upskirting and downblousing. Even those slightly contrived expressions show that we are dealing with the issue in a piecemeal way, rather than looking at it in a more cohesive sense.

There is also an important point to be made about consistency with the law. Since 1975, there has been a prohibition on sexual harassment in the workplace and in educational settings. That was set out in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, but it now appears in section 26 of the Equality Act 2010. It is clear that the 2010 Act has informed this Bill, because I notice that some of the statutory language is replicated. It is not as if the Government are unfamiliar with the law of sexual harassment, or that it does not exist anywhere. It does and it has been borrowed a bit here.

The whole sense of sexual harassment is something that has been brought into sharp focus since #MeToo particularly. We talk about sexual harassment in the workplace, but in the last year or so, particularly in educational settings such as universities, we have talked about non-disclosure agreements. That has been a big topic, and it is another part of what we are discussing today.

Another point, which we have all been tiptoeing around a bit, is how we draw the line at reasonableness and find the minimum threshold at which it would not be appropriate to criminalise somebody’s conduct. I would respectfully say that that already exists in law. I refer the House to section 26(4) of the Equality Act, which sets out a reasonableness condition that is necessary to establish, whatever the conduct complaint in the workplace, that it meets the threshold for unlawful harassment. It is not simply enough for somebody to assert that something has happened and on proving those facts establish that a civil tort has been made out. They must meet the reasonableness threshold set out in the Act, and I see no reason why equivalent terms could not be transposed into the criminal law, because the law is already used to looking at this.

It is true to say that there is a pervasive problem about women’s safety in public places. When I did a women’s safety survey in my constituency, 85% of respondents gave me an example of somewhere in the town of Newbury where they had felt unsafe. When specifics were given, they were much analogous to the kinds of harassment this Bill seeks to proscribe. Nearly every incident that I was given detail about had occurred in Newbury and at night, and I note that there have been two sexual assaults reported to the police in Newbury alone.

I want to pick up on another point that many MPs have made. I represent a market town in Berkshire; it is a low-crime area. None the less, in the three years since I was elected, the area has seen one violent murder of a woman by her partner, for which Christopher Minards was sentenced to life at Reading Crown court last September; a rape, for which Mark Tooze was sentenced to five years at Reading Crown court last July; a former Newbury police officer given a three and a half year sentence for abusing his position by coercing vulnerable women into sexual relationships; and a number of sexual assaults. Even in a low-crime area, very serious violence against women is happening, and therefore I do not take gateway issues, which I believe public sexual harassment can be, lightly.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) said, public sexual harassment is particularly directed at younger women and girls. Like her, I did a roundtable with some schoolgirls, and the girls at Park House, a big secondary school in Newbury, told me about being particularly targeted when wearing their uniforms and the men who kerb-crawl at the end of the day or wait at certain junctions, saying obscene things out of the window. The girls definitely thought that there was a link to wearing the school uniform and felt more vulnerable when wearing it. My constituency of Newbury is far from alone in this. Plan International gave me some data when I was preparing for the debate, and it shows that 75% of girls and women aged 12 to 21 have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space.

This is a very important and helpful Bill because it creates for women a clear set of contours so that they know when their rights have been infringed. It is also helpful to the police, because the words “public order offence” are quite vague, and if there is a public sexual harassment offence and police have training on it, it will be much clearer to them what they are expected to do and how they are expected to act when it is drawn to their attention. We can probably all agree that there has never been a more important moment for the police to reinject confidence in their relationship with the public, particularly in terms of how they are prepared to deal with violence against women and girls.

I want to end by agreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price): I cannot bear the expression “tackling violence against women and girls”. I regret that we use it and that we tolerate it in the passive voice. It is male violence against women, and as lawmakers, we should call it what it is; I really feel strongly about that. Overall, this Bill is an important and valuable tool in our long battle to completely overhaul women’s safety.

11:32
Gagan Mohindra Portrait Mr Gagan Mohindra (South West Hertfordshire) (Con)
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It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris), and I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) for bringing this Bill before the House. Listening to the speeches this morning has been a real eye-opener. We have heard some powerful arguments from Members across the House for why this legislation is unfortunately still necessary.

I repeat the plea of my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes): hopefully this legislation will never have to be used. What I am hearing from across the House is that lived experience needs to be more widely shared. I became an uncle again last week to a beautiful little girl who we have nicknamed Jingles while her parents think of a more appropriate long-term name, and I want to be able to say to her and my other nieces, as well as to my sisters-in-law, my parents and all my female friends and family that we are on a journey to making sure that this is stamped out.

I was brought up in the Greater London area, and I remember walking the streets of east London and how I was intimidated back then. If I could speak to an equivalent of myself at that age now, I am pretty sure their life would be a lot easier, but that journey has not been as quick for women in this country. As a House, we recognise that, which is part of the reason we are debating this today, but there is much more that can be done. As someone who has spent a bit of time in the Home Office, I know that the Government are doing a lot on this. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) spoke about the terminology used in a particular report, and I hope that those on the Front Bench listened to that.

We need to continue to make men a bit more self-aware. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock spoke about a colleague being a bit self-conscious in the lift; that is absolutely the right type of attitude that we want to instil. We need to be conscious that when men walk down the local street or home from the tube station, we generally do not bat an eyelid in respect of our safety. When I was at university—I remember this shocking me at the time—each and every one of my female friends at the time had a story about feeling scared. If I repeated that exercise today, the likelihood is that unfortunately each person would have the same answer.

We have spoken about some stats; I would argue that a lot of those stats are probably hiding a lot of the issues. Although the stats show that 75% of females feel intimidated, I am pretty sure it is closer to 100%, but the other 25% do not yet feel confident enough to start to say, “Actually, I may have been a victim of harassment or other issues.”

We need to be more socially and culturally aware. As someone who thinks about doing the right things even when no one is watching, I know that there will have been instances when I was with a bunch of predominantly male friends, especially in my younger days, when we may have ended up with a herd mentality. We need to nip that in the bud.

I compliment British Transport police: on my commute in recent weeks and months I have seen advertising hoardings that tell people to call out bad behaviour and explain how to intervene safely and securely if they see a potential domestic violence issue on the London underground. Part of what we need to do today—I hope to take this away afterwards—is encourage further education for us all on how to nip things in the bud at an early stage. We spoke earlier about the pyramid model, and I do think that is correct. If we do not deal with bad behaviour early in someone’s trajectory, they could go on to bigger and worse offences that none of us wants to see.

I am conscious that I have probably spoken for longer than I intended, but I am grateful for being allowed to contribute.

11:36
Holly Mumby-Croft Portrait Holly Mumby-Croft (Scunthorpe) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who is very well respected in Scunthorpe because of his work on the steel industry some years ago. I thank him for that work and for bringing forward this very important private Member’s Bill. It is a pleasure to be here to speak about it. It is important that we recognise that we are having this debate during the UN’s 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. This is a matter of interest to many of my constituents and I am pleased to represent them today and to talk about this issue.

I am also here as a person who completely understands, as we all do, the fear of being inappropriately approached in public. I am here as a parent, as an aunty and as a member of our society who understands. There cannot be anyone present who has not had a friend, a sister, their mum, their aunty or somebody they know ring them up and say, “Can you just stay on the phone with me please? I have got off the bus and I think maybe there is someone behind me,” or, “I feel a little uncomfortable; will you stay on the phone with me until I get home and let you know that I’m safe?” We will all have experienced that.

As the Office for National Statistics tells us, one in two women feels unsafe walking home at night. The proportion for men is much lower, at one in six. It is no wonder that the calls for change we have heard so passionately expressed by so many colleagues today are so loud, because we all understand, instinctively and innately, that this is an issue of concern that affects our families, friends and constituents. We all understand that it is right that we address it, so I am grateful that we have the opportunity to do so today.

We have seen various petitions and many of our constituents have expressed concerns. As has been said, we have to acknowledge that legislative change alone will not address this issue in its entirety. It has to be a much wider conversation that we start with our own children, nieces and nephews and other children we spend time with, and part of the conversations we have in schools, colleges, universities and the workplace. It should be a conversation that we continue to have and revisit throughout our whole lives.

I want to recognise the work in my local area through my local police and crime commissioner, Jonathan Evison. He has opened a community safety fund that supports projects that, among other things, improve the safety of outdoor public spaces and support those most at risk of crime. I absolutely take on board the points that have been made today. We should be safe to walk anywhere at any time, whether the lighting is good or terrible, and whether it is an alleyway or a wide open space—whatever it is. It is helpful and right that we make those spaces as safe as we can by making them well-lit and by recognising areas where it is less pleasant and where we feel less safe and addressing that.

The police and crime commissioner’s strategy emphasises the collation of data and understanding some of the root causes we have heard about today. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells mentioned the thousands of years of history and some of the root causes of the behaviour that we still see. The strategy seeks to put forward some solutions to this violence that women and girls face.

We also saw the launch of the safety of women at night fund, which is specifically targeted at public spaces at night. We all know of areas in our constituencies and places where we spend time that feel safe, open and well-lit in the daytime, but which at night can be a completely different environment where we do not feel comfortable or safe spending time. I congratulate the police and crime commissioner on that work, because this is real money going to real effective projects, and we can see the results.

We also have, as was mentioned earlier, the StreetSafe project. I have spoken to young women and girls in my constituency who have told me that they know areas where they expect this kind of behaviour to take place. I have spoken to local police officers who were genuinely concerned and understood the issues. They, too, knew where some of these places were. The StreetSafe tool, which is a mapping tool that I have advertised on my Facebook and encouraged people to use, allows us to share information, build a picture and collect the data about areas where this behaviour is taking place. The police can then understand that and show that resources need to be allocated to those spaces.

In terms of the wider legal context, I am not a lawyer. I understand the arguments about existing legislation, and what that does and does not cover, and I defer to my more learned colleagues who do understand that. I am well convinced by the words of hon. and right hon. Members that this Bill is required and that we are not able to take the steps we need to take, to send the messages we need to send and to make the changes we need to make with what is available to us at the moment. I am completely convinced on that matter.

My view is that the intention of this Bill is good. It is needed, and we can see that it has cross-party support in the House today. This Bill should only ever have been rejected if the Government could show that the existing framework would put us in a position where we can tackle this issue. I am pleased to hear the Government’s response today. I want us to reach the end of this process and be able to say clearly that the law is written in the most optimal way it can be to prevent further instances of sex-based harassment on our streets. I wish my right hon. Friend the very best with this Bill as it continues its progress, and I commend him on the work he has done so far. I hope we reach the correct outcome.

11:44
Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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It is a great privilege to speak in this debate and in support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). Like many Members, I am new to this House and sitting here this morning I was starting to think that, as a new MP, sometimes we are away from home for quite a lot of time. This week has been a full week, before I go back to North Norfolk to switch on a few Christmas trees in my constituency tonight. I have sat here listening to the contributions, some of which have been extremely powerful. I think it was the one from my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) that made me suddenly think for a moment about how I would feel.

Sitting here, we begin to think about going back home to our families. I have two little girls; I have often spoken about them. Like their father, they are quite nice little dots. Isabelle and Eleanor are 11 and seven, with blonde hair. I sat here, as a father, listening to what my right hon. Friend said. I think that I speak for every father, and indeed mother, in this place when I say that if one day I had to come home and hear about one of my little girls being spoken to by a man about what she looks like, or what her bottom is like, and having had a man touch her while she was waitressing or putting trollies away in the supermarket, I would want the law to protect her. What we heard from my right hon. Friend was disgraceful, and well done to her for looking after her constituents so well. I am very honoured to support the Bill based on what was said this morning.

Turning to the Bill and some of the research that I have done, harassment in public on the grounds of race or disability is rightly treated extremely seriously. Following what I have just said, I firmly believe that to harass someone due to their sex is absolutely no different, and should incur exactly the same response. I have heard over the last three years from constituents, usually women and girls, about their own lived experiences. To hear some of those stories, just like what has been spoken about this morning, is deeply saddening, and in many cases they feel powerless to get something done about it.

I find the statistics extraordinary, with 75% of girls reportedly experiencing unwanted sexual attention in public and over 30% of girls receiving verbal harassment at least once a month. It is unthinkable, and clearly something must be done about it. We need to ensure not only that sexual harassment is punished, but that the victims know who they can report it to, and where they can receive the necessary aftercare. I find the statistic of 68% of adult women experiencing sexual harassment since the age of 15 deeply disturbing.

Florence Eshalomi Portrait Florence Eshalomi (Vauxhall) (Lab/Co-op)
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That is a really important statistic. Has the hon. Gentleman heard the term “adultification”, which sadly a number of young black girls suffer from? They are perceived as being much older than they are, and they are treated unfairly, including unwarranted sexual assault and sexual touching.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
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I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. I am not an expert in this area, and it is not something that I know a great deal about, but I have had the privilege of sitting here this morning and hearing and learning. I will certainly go away and look at her point, and I thank her for making it.

To sum up my thoughts, I will go back to my two little girls, whom I look forward to seeing later. I, like every other Member of this House, want my daughters to be able to walk home at night feeling safe. I want them to be able to feel confident that the law will protect them. I find the statistics that we have been given a sad reflection on society. We have a society that seems to tacitly tolerate so much sexual harassment, and turn a blind eye to it. For too long, women and girls have had this experience of deliberate harassment intended to raise alarm and cause concern when they are just going about their everyday lives. I entirely support the Bill, and commend it to the House.

11:50
Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), and to take part in the debate.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) on his Bill. I have the privilege of serving on his Select Committee, the Science and Technology Committee, and the Bill bears all the hallmarks of his forensic attention to detail and, indeed, fundamental decency. I also pay tribute to Safenet, Rochdale Women’s Welfare Association, Independent Choices Greater Manchester, and Superintendent Nicky Porter of Greater Manchester police, who is the VAWG lead for GMP and also my local superintendent. She does remarkable work, and I look forward to supporting her in that regard.

I was struck by something that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) said in her speech. We often talk about oppressed minorities in this place, but in this instance we are talking about an oppressed majority. She said something thoroughly depressing: “Women are everywhere, but we do not get to go everywhere without being frightened.” What an awful statement that is, and how awful it is to have to realise that that is the truth, the lived experience for the majority of people in the country. It is flabbergasting; it is horrendous.

Safety is not something we should ever be able to take for granted. Walking down the street at night, travelling to school, going to the gym—these are things that women and girls, and men and boys, should be able to do without fear. However, that is just not the case. It is not the lived reality. According to Plan International, 62% of women have avoided doing something routine because they have either experienced sexual harassment or feared it. That is a disgrace, and that is why the Bill is so important. By amending section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986, it will make public sexual harassment a sex-specific offence for the first time. Some have suggested that it might be simpler to add misogyny and misandry to the list of hate crimes. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells pointed out, we do not want to leave open a loophole enabling an abuser to simply say that the harassment was not motivated by hatred of a particular sex. While I agree that this is a good first step, I think we need to think about how, technically, we can make those offences work in law.

More important is the fact that the changes proposed in the Bill have not come out of the blue. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) that the passive term “violence against women and girls” is not an appropriate moniker, and I hope we will start to change that language, but it was the Government’s VAWG strategy that highlighted the need to take public sexual harassment more seriously. The Law Commission then suggested that more attention should be paid to legislative changes. It was therefore good to see the Home Office launch its consultation over the summer to determine how best the law can protect individuals from public sexual harassment.

I say “individuals” because it is important that to remember that this behaviour does not just affect women and girls, and that men can also experience harassment based on their sex. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), it disproportionately affects the LGBT+ community. I certainly do not wish to diminish the experience of the women who are in the Chamber today, but I myself have experienced a form of sexual harassment. I am a member of that community, and it is pervasive. Even if only one in six men fear it, I think we need to keep an eye on it.

I hope that the Bill will enable us to give more support to victims of public sexual harassment so they are able to identify instances of criminal behaviour, and to feel confident that once they have been reported, their cases will be dealt with properly. Only through greater clarity in the law can the public have confidence that intentional harassment based on sex will be dealt with swiftly and appropriately by the police.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
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The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case about the importance of being specific, and I think we need to be clear about the fact that this is not about sexual harassment alone. It is about sex-based harassment, because these behaviours are about power—the power to demean and insult somebody, with that sense of entitlement. It must be made clear that, in the case any of the victims, this does not have to involve sexual words or behaviour to be sex-based harassment under the Bill. Whether it constitutes misogyny or misandry, it is unacceptable.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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The hon. Lady makes an extremely important point, and I absolutely agree with her; these behaviours are entirely about power, and therefore a sexual element is not always necessary in order for them to permeate. I am simply speaking to the use of the language. As I said, this Bill is a good starting point. We need to have a broader conversation about how we specifically make misogyny and misandry hate crimes, but obviously the technical implementation of that will take time. We need this legislation in place now, which is why I will be actively supporting it.

We have heard some powerful speeches today. People have said, “As a father”, “As a husband”, “As an uncle”, and so on, and those are laudable reasons to give. I am not a father, which will not surprise anybody. I am not married to a woman. I have female relatives, but that is not the reason I am supporting the Bill. I am supporting it because it is morally the right thing to do. It is completely unsustainable that the majority of the people in this country live in constant fear of injury, harassment and simply not being able to go about their lives as I can.

I have the privilege of being a white middle-aged man. I live in a society that was specifically designed by people who look like me for people like me; that is fantastic, I can breeze through life and 90% of the time I will not be affected by anything. I am a member of a particular protected characteristic, but perversely the law already protects me. I can be protected on the grounds of my sexuality but not on the grounds of my sex, which is not an appropriate way for the law to operate in this day and age. So I will be supporting the Bill because it is morally the right thing to do. It is the decent thing to do and, once again, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells on having the initiative to do this, because it has been far too long.

11:56
Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne (South Cambridgeshire) (Con)
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I, too, want to start by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) on introducing this important Bill. It is humbling to speak after so many passionate speeches; there have been more than in any other debate I have been involved with, particularly from the female Members. I think in particular of the speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Newbury (Laura Farris) and for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) and for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes). We heard a lot of incredibly informed and powerful speeches.

I think it is important for me as a man also to speak about this, for two reasons. The first is that this Bill is about a problem that affects us all. As other Members have mentioned, we men have daughters, wives, mothers, sisters and we are also directly affected by this; I want all my loved ones not to have to live in fear. Secondly, it is important for men to speak about this because although this problem primarily affects women—it does affect some men as well—it is primarily and overwhelmingly men who are the perpetrators of it. The problem is not women’s behaviour. The problem is men’s behaviour and it absolutely need to change, and that is what we hope this Bill will succeed at. We also need to educate men about the importance of changing behaviour and about how a lot of what they currently do is unacceptable. Wolf-whistling is unacceptable, so is deliberately following women down streets at night and so is leering over them in the tube and making sexual comments—it is not okay. Men have to change their behaviour, and we need to educate young men, boys, children in schools that that behaviour is unacceptable.

Attitudes have changed over time. I recall as a child going past a building site where various builders cat-called, wolf-whistled out to a woman, who was clearly very distressed by it, and other people nearby found it acceptable that that was happening. It was a sort of “joke”, although clearly it was not a joke for her. Nowadays, people would find that far less acceptable, but clearly attitudes need to change far more. One clear lesson from this morning’s debate—I will not recite all the statistics that other Members have used, although I have them here—is that this is still a very widespread problem. It is far too prevalent. Clearly, it is completely unacceptable that the majority of the population live in fear and we absolutely have a duty as a Parliament to deal with it.

As the hon. Member for Walthamstow mentioned, we already have a law for this. The Public Order Act 1986 does cover harassment, not sex-based harassment, and there are penalties for it. Clearly, however, the current legal framework does not work, because this is still a problem. That is why it is clearly necessary to up the ante, have a particular sexual harassment-based crime and increase the penalties, as this Bill does. That should sent out a message to three different groups: the police, the victims, and the perpetrators. The message to the police, law enforcement agencies, courts and judges is: society and Parliament expect you to treat this with the seriousness it deserves; this is not something you can expect victims to shrug off or “man up” and deal with. Some people have talked about that.

The police and the courts have an absolute duty to clamp down on this. Increasing the penalties and having a specific law for it will make it clear to them that they need to do that. It sends a message to victims as well that it is important that they get the protection that they want.

It sends a message to victims as well that it is important that they get the protection that they want, and that there is a law out there to protect them. The law enforcement agencies, if they step up to the plate—we expect them to—will make it clear to victims that the harassment they are experiencing is not acceptable. The victim should therefore feel more empowered to come forward and report it. At the moment, few do so, because they know that it will be ignored, but the Bill will ensure that such cases are taken seriously.

The third message—this is perhaps the most important one—is to the perpetrators: that such behaviour is totally unacceptable, that they absolutely must stop doing it and that, if they do not, they could face up to two years in prison. Perpetrators should know that cases will be taken seriously, that victims will report them and that the law enforcement authorities will treat them with the seriousness that it deserves.

I am proud to speak in favour of the Bill and glad that the Government are supporting it. Again, I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells for bringing it forward.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne). I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) on bringing forward the Bill. He is taking the opportunity to raise a hugely important issue and has introduced a Bill that will better protect our constituents. We have heard some excellent and moving speeches, and with good reason, because this is an important issue that affects everyone, either as a victim or as a relative of a victim.

Having served on the Women and Equalities Committee under the excellent chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and on the Bill Committee for the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, together with regular engagement with my local police, my local domestic abuse refuge and the night-time economy, including a recent shift at the newly established night-time hub in Darlington, I am only too well aware of the need for our society to do more to protect people, and particularly women and girls. I am therefore pleased to support the Bill, which will help to put in place further measures that will improve the safety of our constituents.

The Bill is undoubtedly another good step forward. It is simply wrong that, in modern Britain, women and girls still face harassment and fear being in public alone. Victims of abuse and harassment—predominantly women and girls—have been failed time and again by the criminal justice system. We can always do more, and we must do more to prevent that from continuing.

I again commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells on bringing forward the Bill for its Second Reading. It will provide another layer of protection in our society and is a great move in the right direction. It is vital that we see it progress through its legislative journey, and I offer my services on the Bill Committee should he require them.

12:02
Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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With the leave of the House, I will make a few comments about the way in which the debate has been conducted. It has been a pleasure to respond on behalf of the Government to the excellent Bill promoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). Sitting next to me is the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), who previously held my role.

On the history of this issue, I want to give thanks not only to the parliamentarians on both sides of the House but to those who have held office and fought really hard continuously to get this moving. I must also mention the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), all the senior parliamentarians who have held ministerial posts or the Chairs of Select Committees, and everyone who has worked so hard on this. The joy of this place, and not only for those watching our proceedings at home, is that there is a learning curve. The pace of change gets faster, and this issue is one on which we can look forward to seeing real, radical change brought in by the Government, hopefully with cross-Chamber support.

Another joy of this place is that I, as a member of the 2019 intake, can look around me and see a wealth of experience, which, may I say, comes in all shapes and sizes, let alone sexes and appearances, and haircuts? It is just so wonderful that, with every election, we have a new intake in this wonderful place, which brings fresh ideas, fresh experiences and fresh ways of engaging with communities. We have heard a lot about the good work with communities.

I pay tribute to many of our police and crime commissioners who are stepping up to the plate. We have heard numerous examples from Members across the House of their own initiatives brought forward by police and crime commissioners. That is exactly what this is about: change from the police as well as change from perpetrators. I thank the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) for her hard work. She spoke about freedom; it is always wonderful when Members of all parties use that word. That is what we are here for. It is all about freedom, in contrast to many countries in the world. We are leading the world in this piece of work, and it is wonderful it is cross-party.

On the challenges moving forward, a few Members mentioned that I said I want to empower the victim. I do not say that with any exclusivity, to mean that the victim is at fault or that is the only forward. It is not mutually exclusive. The Government’s focus is on perpetrators—it is about gathering information and evidence on perpetrators with new initiatives, not least on rape and serious sexual offences and violence against women and girls. That is wonderful. It is exactly what will cut through. I apologise for having said “empowering victims”—I mean that in the context of empowering them to go to the police and expect to be taken seriously, rather than being brushed off and told that it does not really matter because it is part of being a young girl. That is the empowerment I meant, though the emphasis may not have been quite right.

I thank all those who intervened and did not make a substantive speech, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans). Some very serious points were made. In response to the forthright and useful comments made by the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), I reassure him that when he said enough is enough, that resonates with the Enough media campaign. I paid quite a harrowing visit to Charing Cross police station with the public protection unit yesterday. I heard horrendous stories, as hon. Members can imagine. Some of the senior officers were saying that enough is enough. These are words that resonate and have the power to change.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) has done a huge amount of powerful work. I thank her for the explanation that she gave of constituents and other people who have spoken to her and given evidence to her in her work over the years. She mentioned Donna Jones, the police and crime commissioner for Hampshire, whom I met just a few weeks ago. She is leading in this field. I am so pleased that women—men, too, but it seems to be mainly women—can work together to cut through this issue. It is useful, and I thank her for that. The right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) has worked closely with others in the field and was a Minister in the role that I now hold. We need trailblazers to kick us in the right direction, and I thank her for her work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) is always an impassioned speaker, and I always listen carefully to what she has to say. For MPs from the 2019 intake, such as me, it is wonderful to have depth of experience from across the House to help us. She spoke about mens rea and whether there needs to be intention to commit an offence. She made a comparison with speeding, which is a straightforward, strict liability, no-defence case. There will be further discussion. As mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells, we need to prove the defendant’s mental state. That is a well-established legal tradition over hundreds of years, and we have to be careful if we go in a totally new direction. We will look at each of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock raised.

My hon. Friend also raised, as did many Members, the need to put together better male education together for our young boys—also girls, but particularly boys—so that they do not get peer pressure towards certain behaviour when the hormones kick in and think that it is okay. The sooner we shout out that sort of behaviour, the better. As a basic comparison, it is like when we teach a child not to steal 50p from the table. It means that they are less likely to steal 50p from a shop and go on to commit fraud. In the same way, failing to call out harassment when someone is very young can lead to much more serious crime in future, as many Members said. It is important to tackle that, and education across the board is needed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) is very experienced in this field, as are all the other Members who have contributed today, and has done commendable work. It is startling to hear of such serious crimes being committed in Stroud or in Newbury; it is shocking to think that sleepy places experience crimes as serious as those anywhere else. This truly happens across the country. In my new role, sometimes eyebrows are raised and I am asked which part of the country this affects—people ask whether it happens everywhere or is geographically specific. We need a bespoke approach to dealing with certain issues in certain areas, but we need to improve on this across the board. It does not matter where we live: girls and boys must have the same rights.

We need to empower girls and boys who have suffered from sex-based harassment to go to the police. A lot has been done on this, and my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) set out the new laws and the work we have done: there is the new law on upskirting, and we are working on downblousing and online safety. This is important, innovative work, and I am very pleased to be part of a Government who are taking this issue by the neck and shaking it. I was particularly interested in the discussions my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury has had with secondary schoolchildren, especially girls. That takes us back to the need for better education across the board.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra) for his intervention. It is always touching to hear a few heartfelt words from a Member who has thought deeply about these matters; everybody has thought deeply, but that came over very well and clearly from South West Hertfordshire’s eloquent MP. He mentioned education again, too.

We cannot the forceful points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft), not on this occasion about steel, but about the equally important subject of her police and crime commissioner Jonathan Evison and the use of mapping tools. I am sure the police use those tools in other areas, not just in constituencies represented by Conservative MPs, and mapping tools that are adapted to each locality have proved very effective and a good use of money. I look forward to them being used more.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) movingly described his concerns for his daughters, but, as others have said, it is no longer just fathers and uncles who should talk about these things; everybody must speak out now. I also thank the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), who is not in the Chamber at present, for her brief intervention, and my hon. Friends the Members for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson), for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) and, last but not least, for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for their comments.

I thank all Members for their useful contributions, but finally I once again thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells for introducing this really good Bill and I look forward to it progressing.

12:12
Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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I would like to briefly respond to this excellent Second Reading debate. I thank all colleagues for coming in, and we have heard powerful contributions from all parts of the House. As the Minister said, it is particularly good not only that we have heard from the accomplished Women and Equalities Committee Chair, my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), but that a galaxy of former holders of office are represented here. I welcome the Minister stepping into her new responsibilities, and she clearly has plenty of good advisers.

I will not comment on every speech, as some Members want to get on to the business to follow, nor will I add to the long list of organisations outside this place that have been mentioned, but I do want to emphasise one that was mentioned, the Soroptimists. They are very active and important members of the Tunbridge Wells community, and they are represented in the Public Gallery, today so I emphasise my welcome to them.

It is clear from the speeches made today that there is universal recognition that public sexual harassment is an all too frequent experience that women and girls, especially, endure every day in all parts of the country. The most powerful change we can and must make is cultural—it must become as obviously unacceptable to abuse a woman on the streets of our country on the basis of her sex as it is to abuse someone on the basis of their race or sexuality—but the law can play an important role in accelerating that cultural change. As we heard, the lack of any specific crime of public sexual harassment can contribute to uncertainty on the part of victims as to whether it is worth reporting it to the police, as well as to uncertainty, I dare say, in the minds of perpetrators who might commit these crimes that this is a crime. They should be well aware of that. The Bill will make a significant step in establishing that deliberately intimidating and abusing women is a crime.

Good suggestions have been made about how the Bill might be improved and I hope that the Bill Committee will provide that opportunity. That said, I am conscious that, for a private Member’s Bill that does not have the luxury of Government time attached to it, what might be the Bill’s ideal scope and coverage has to be proportional to the opportunity that we have, which is to change the law to make public sexual harassment an offence for the first time in our history, and to do so before the summer. Future Bills, whether they are Government or private Members’ Bills, could make further reforms, and I hope that Members will have that in mind in Committee.

I want to end by thanking the Home Secretary and the Minister for their support and for the hard work of their excellent officials in advising me on the Bill’s contents. I am grateful to the Government Whips Office and its officials. In particular, my hon. Friend the Comptroller of His Majesty’s Household is very effective, and she is assisted very ably today by my equally honourable Friend, the Vice-Chamberlain of His Majesty’s Household. I also thank the superb Clerk of Private Members’ Bills in the House Service, Anne-Marie Griffiths, and the print team for its patience and responsiveness when the deadlines for printing the papers for the Bill sometimes went close to the wire. In the hope that we might make the first big step towards safety and confidence for women and girls right across the country, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Sir Gary Streeter
† Bailey, Shaun (West Bromwich West) (Con)
† Baillie, Siobhan (Stroud) (Con)
† Baker, Duncan (North Norfolk) (Con)
† Bradley, Karen (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con)
† Clark, Greg (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
† Creasy, Stella (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
† Dines, Miss Sarah (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
† Farris, Laura (Newbury) (Con)
† Harman, Ms Harriet (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab)
† Jardine, Christine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
Johnson, Dame Diana (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
Miller, Dame Maria (Basingstoke) (Con)
† Mohindra, Mr Gagan (South West Hertfordshire) (Con)
† Nokes, Caroline (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
† Phillips, Jess (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
Vaz, Valerie (Walsall South) (Lab)
Wilson, Munira (Twickenham) (LD)
Anne-Marie Griffiths, Amna Bokhari, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Wednesday 22 February 2023
[Sir Gary Streeter in the Chair]
Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill
09:25
None Portrait The Chair
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I welcome colleagues to this important Committee. I have a few preliminary reminders. Please switch electronic devices to silent. No food or drink, except for the water provided, is permitted during sittings of the Committee. Hansard colleagues would be grateful if Members emailed their excellent speaking notes to hansardnotes@parliament.uk.

Clause 1

Intentional harassment, alarm or distress on account of sex

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
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I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out “in England”.

This amendment extends the application of the offence in new section 4B of the Public Order Act 1986 so that it can be committed in Wales as well as in England.

None Portrait The Chair
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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 5, in clause 1, page 1, line 19, at end insert—

“(c) A considered that carrying out the conduct referred to in section 4A(1) was reasonable because of the relevant person’s sex (or presumed sex).”

Clause stand part.

Amendment 2, in clause 2, page 2, line 5, at end insert “, subject to subsection (1A)”.

This amendment is consequential on NC2.

Amendment 3, in clause 2, page 2, line 5, at end insert—

“(1A) An amendment made by section (Consequential amendments) has the same extent as the provision amended.”

This amendment is consequential on NC2.

Amendment 4, in clause 2, page 2, line 6, leave out “Section 1 comes” and insert

“Sections 1 and (Consequential amendments) come”.

This amendment is consequential on NC2.

Clause 2 stand part.

New clause 2—Consequential amendments

“(1) In paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Football Spectators Act 1989 (relevant offences for the purposes of Part 2), in each of paragraphs (c), (k) and (q), after ‘4A’ insert ‘, 4B’.

(2) In Schedule 8B to the Police Act 1997 (offences which are to be disclosed subject to rules), in paragraph 102, after paragraph (e) insert—

‘(ea) section 4B (intentional harassment, alarm or distress on account of sex);’.

(3) In Schedule 9 to the Elections Act 2022 (offences for the purposes of Part 5), in paragraph 35, after paragraph (e) insert—

‘(ea) section 4B (intentional harassment, alarm or distress on account of sex);’.”

This new clause consequentially amends the Football Spectators Act 1989, the Police Act 1997 and the Elections Act 2022 to include a reference in those Acts to the offence in new section 4B of the Public Order Act 1986 (intentional harassment, alarm or distress on account of sex).

New clause 3—Amendment of section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986

“(1) Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (3)(b), at end insert ‘subject to the exception in subsection (3A)’.

(3) After subsection (3), insert—

‘(3A) Where a court is considering whether an offence has been committed under this section for the purposes of section 4B, it shall not be a defence for the accused to prove that his conduct was reasonable because of the relevant person’s sex (or presumed sex).’”

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I am grateful to colleagues for agreeing to serve on the Committee. We have great experience represented, including several fellow Select Committee Chairs, but the membership also covers the whole breadth of the House; we have some of its newest Members, and it is a pleasure to have them here.

The Bill is a short and simple one, but it is historic. It creates, for the first time, a specific offence of public sexual harassment, and provides for the possibility of that being punished on conviction at the higher tariff. I will not repeat the arguments made for the Bill on Second Reading, as this is its Committee stage, but it is fair to say that on Second Reading it commanded the unanimous support of the House after a debate that showed Parliament at its best. Indeed, many members of the Committee spoke in that debate, and did so powerfully. They drew in some cases on their own personal experience, and on those of their constituents, recounting the all too frequent reality of life for many women, in particular, of enduring being followed, obstructed, shouted at and having obscene gestures made at them because of their sex. The Bill aims to make it clear that such behaviour is a serious criminal offence, and to make it as obviously unacceptable to harass someone on the grounds of sex as to do so on the grounds of race or disability, for example.

I will concentrate in my opening remarks on the amendments I have tabled. If you will allow me, Sir Gary, I will say something about the other amendments that have been selected for debate, especially those from the hon. Member for Walthamstow, once she has made her opening remarks later in the debate. I am grateful for the support of the Government, and I thank the Minister and her excellent officials in the Home Office for their help in tabling the four amendments that I have tabled and that are before the Committee. They are designed not to alter the purpose of the Bill, but to improve its working in practice.

Amendment 1, by deleting the words “in England” in clause 1, will extend the Bill’s application to Wales. The subject matter of the Bill—the Public Order Act 1986—is devolved to Wales, but the House can legislate to extend it to Wales if the Welsh Government wish and the Senedd passes a legislative consent motion to that effect. I am pleased to say that the Welsh Government wish to apply the Bill to Wales, and they will table a legislative consent motion in the Senedd in time for it to pass before Report.

I hope the Committee will agree that it makes legal sense to expand the new offence to include Wales, because the Public Order Act on which the offence is based already applies to Wales. I am grateful to officials in the Welsh Government for their alacrity in supporting the Bill. By contrast, the section 4A offence in the Public Order Act does not extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland, so it would not be practical to expand the new offence to those countries, given that the Act on which it is based does not apply there.

New clause 2 picks up on the fact that the existing section 4A offence in the Public Order Act 1986 is referred to in three other Acts of Parliament: the Football Spectators Act 1989, the Police Act 1997 and the Elections Act 2022. Without the new clause, if in future someone were convicted under the new section 4B offence of sex-based harassment, they would no longer be covered by the sanctions that those other Acts contain for convictions under section 4A of the Public Order Act. Those relate to football banning orders, the disclosure of criminal records in Scotland and disqualification from elected office, which follow currently from conviction under section 4A of the Act. Amendments 2, 3 and 4 are consequential on new clause 2, providing, for example, for commencement regulations to be the same for new clause 2 as for clause 1.

I hope that my explanation of the amendments will command the support of the Committee. I look forward to the debate that follows and to hearing the case made by Members, particularly the hon. Member for Walthamstow on her amendment 5 and new clause 3. Having expressed gratitude to Members for being here, I remind them that this is a private Member’s Bill to which limited time is attached. We have an opportunity to right a historic wrong with this legislation, and I hope that we can approach the debate in a pragmatic fashion with the common purpose of achieving the change in the law that was so clearly the House’s wish on Second Reading.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary, and to continue to work on the Bill. I thank the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells for his diligence on this legislation. Many of us feel very passionately about the issue, and we are grateful for his commitment and the work he has done to bring so many people together around what has historically been quite a difficult issue to make progress on.

I was watching my three-year-old daughter gambolling down the street the other day. “Gambolling” is the right word; she was in a party dress, half dancing and half singing, and she was joyful. She was walking down the same street that I walk down when coming home from work, with my keys in my hand, looking around, nervous about who else might be on the street. It struck me how important it is that we do not give into those who say that this is too complicated an issue to make progress on.

The honest truth about being a woman is that you learn to live in fear. You learn in our society and our culture to be half aware of what is going on around you at all times, because you know that there is danger out there. When I look at my little daughter and think about what is to come, I know why this legislation is so important. I wager that everybody who has young children in their life thinks about these issues. In particular, tackling the public harassment that women face on a daily basis is long overdue, and many of us in this place have worked on it. That is why it is so important that we take the opportunity to get this right, because they come along so rarely. New clause 3 and amendment 5, which I tabled, and new clause 1, tabled by the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North but not selected for debate as it was not in scope, all get at the same point about ensuring we take this opportunity we finally have to recognise in law the fact that misogyny is driving crimes against women and to act on it.

I was thinking about some of the euphemisms we use and the things that are part of the culture we grow up in. We become so used to the fact that women are at risk and face harassment and abuse on a daily basis that we minimise it. I remember when I was younger being very concerned about somebody I was told had “deserts disease”, because I did not understand what it meant, until somebody explained to me that they meant wandering palms. We talk about people being handsy, and we talk about “creepy”, but all these behaviours are criminal.

What this legislation does is so powerful, because it says that the criminal offences that have been so much a part of women’s daily experience of public life should be acted on. For many of us who have campaigned on the issue for years, one of the biggest frustrations has been being told that we could not act on these things, because if we did, so many people would be prosecuted that the system could not cope, so it was up to women to take the abuse and find ways of minimising it and protecting themselves, carrying their keys in their hand and making sure they were alert at all times when they were in public, rather than us stopping it. What this legislation does that is so powerful is to say, “No, actually, it is not women’s job to protect themselves; it is society’s job to stop the people doing this.” The amendments I have tabled speak to that culture and the challenge we face in getting this right.

As the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells said, this is based on public order offences. There are other pieces of harassment legislation, which I am sure many people are familiar with. I had the fortune in a previous lifetime to work on some of them, which is why, on reading the Bill, I was concerned to identify some of the challenges with using the public order offence. I hope the Minister recognises that I want us to get the legislation right. My amendment are probing amendments, but I hope that by the time we get to Report, the questions they raise can be answered by the Government, because this is not a partisan issue; I think that Members across the House recognise the point I am making.

Public order offences are based on the concept of intent—did someone intend to harass somebody? They therefore give the person who is accused of it a defence that says, “Well, I thought my behaviour was reasonable.” The concept of reasonable behaviour is contained in other pieces of harassment legislation, but in that legislation it is also defined by whether someone ought to know it was reasonable. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 refers to conduct that

“occurs in circumstances where it would appear to a reasonable person that it would amount to harassment of that person.”

In contrast, public order offences simply allow the perpetrator to define whether they thought their behaviour was reasonable. Every woman in this room will recognise the challenge that that presents, because I wager that all of them have probably experienced unwanted touching and unwanted behaviour. I pay tribute to the Clerks, who have been fantastic in working with me on how we address that challenge.

Let us put it in the simplest phrases: “Cheer up, love! I was just trying to chat you up.” “Can’t you take a joke, love?” “It’s a compliment.” “Don’t get your knickers in a twist!” We have all heard those phrases when we said to somebody, “Stop.” We have all had the experience of somebody feeling they are entitled to touch us and harass us because they think their behaviour is reasonable. These amendments speak to a simple point. Most men in this country know how to approach a woman if they find her attractive. They do not feel the need to touch her breasts or her bottom or to harass her and abuse her, but some do. If we do not close this legal loophole, a commonplace experience for women—being challenged when they speak up for themselves and say, “No, don’t touch me in this way. Don’t speak to me in this way. Don’t harass me. Don’t abuse me”—will become a legal defence, because in contrast with other pieces of harassment legislation, there is no provision that says someone ought to know their behaviour is unreasonable in the definition of intent in the Public Order Act.

My amendments will do something very simple. They will introduce the concept of “ought to know” that is contained in other pieces of harassment legislation. I hope the Minister recognises that that will help to create consistency in how we define harassment in law. More importantly, none of us wants to see those women who are brave enough to come forward under this legislation and say, “This person did this to me” be put on trial about whether they can take a joke. Nine times out of 10, that person will be a man. I recognise that the Bill does not specify gender, and that is important, but we know from the 11 police forces that are defining misogyny as a hate crime and recording the gender of victims that the victims are overwhelmingly—80% to 90%—women.

We do not want victims to be put on trial about whether their response—their statement that such behaviour was not acceptable—is reasonable, because that would bring into play the very simple concept of whether anybody else would think it is reasonable. That concept exists in other harassment legislation—not just the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, but the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. The Crown Prosecution Service guidance says:

“In determining whether the defendant ought to know that the course of conduct amounts to harassment, the question to be considered is whether a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think the course of conduct amounted to harassment of the other.”

It is important to clarify, in relation to the Bill, that in public order offences a judge can give what is called an oblique direction to a jury, so they can say: “This concept of reasonableness is not necessarily right.” That is there as a precedent, but reasonableness is not defined in every single case.

There is a risk that if we do not clarify that we want those same protections and the same questions in this Bill, that will create a legal loophole. My amendments are about that. I am sure the Minister will argue that they are not quite at the level they need to be. I completely understand that; this is a first attempt to flag the issue. If the Minister can suggest other ways to set out in law the fact that we need consistency and that we want to close the loophole, I would be very open to that, but the Bill will not do all the things we want unless we are clear that it does not matter that a person thinks it is reasonable to grab a woman by her breasts to express their sexual interest in her—most other people would not. This Bill is about those commonplace forms of public harassment—24,000 women every single day experience harassment—and it needs to be tightened up.

I hope Committee members understand where I am coming from with these amendments, and I hope they will find common cause across the House. I look forward to what the Minister has to say and to hearing how we might take the issue forward.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells, who has done an enormous amount of work to bring together a coalition of reasonable people—to use the word of the hon. Member for Walthamstow—who have sought over many years to find a way forward on this really serious issue.

We know it is a serious issue because each one of us has listened to tales from our constituents and organisations in our patches. I always highlight the incredible work of Plan International UK, Girlguiding, the Women’s Institute and Soroptimist International. I had the pleasure of speaking about this issue at the Soroptimists’ regional conference, probably at the start of last year, although I fear that it may have been 2021. I am sure they will not mind me saying this, but it was a group of mature ladies. They were very clever, very sharp and very determined to ensure that their daughters and granddaughters do not experience the same things they had, albeit some years before.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow painted a picture of her daughter. My message to the Committee is that they are all our daughters. Those of us who are blessed with daughters often cite our experiences, but it is about every woman and young girl out there who has been the victim of this sort of harassment. The tragedy is that they all have.

I will not speak to my new clause, which was deemed out of scope—you need not worry about that, Sir Gary —but I will speak to the broad theme of this Bill, which is a huge step forward. We have been looking for this progress. I know it has been considered over many years by the Home Office under successive Home Secretaries. I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), my hon. Friends the Members for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) and for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), and the Minister. I know they want to find a way forward.

I regard the Bill as the first step—this should strike fear into everyone’s heart. I will be completely candid: this is not perfect legislation. It omits some of the things that I would like to have seen included. We must keep a weather eye on what has been done to improve it when it comes back on Report and how it works in practice, because that is what really matters. It does not matter that we get the wording right in a piece of legislation if it is not any use on the ground. It is the practical implications that will make a difference to all those women out there who walk home with their keys in their hand.

We cannot shy away, and the hon. Member for Walthamstow did not shy away, from the fact that this is about women protecting themselves from male perpetrators. My Committee, the Women and Equalities Committee, is doing an enormous piece of work on misogyny and violence against women and girls. We never shy away from saying that in the vast majority of cases—of course I acknowledge that it is not every case—the behaviour is perpetrated by men, and it is cultural.

09:45
That is why this legislation is so important: because it draws a line under that culture and says, “No, this is wrong. This is not reasonable behaviour.” It is about ensuring that we focus not on the extreme end of violence against women and girls—the repeat offenders who are out on probation, or the most violent—but on the root of the offences. I say it repeatedly: not every flasher becomes a rapist, but every rapist has started somewhere.
Sexual harassment and the harassment of women in the street are part of a pyramid of offending. I really shy away from using the term “low-level offending”, because that undermines the seriousness of the impact that such an event can have on the victims, predominantly young women and girls, who will remember it for the rest of their days. That is why it is so crucial that we emphasise the wider issues. Every one of us supports the Bill and wants it to succeed, but there are wider issues around sexual harassment that I feel it still does not address. Believe me, our Committee will be watching carefully, and when we need to go further we will make that point.
I have probably said enough. My final comment is about victims, to whom the hon. Member for Walthamstow alluded. Our focus must be on intent and reasonable behaviour. We cannot have a situation in which a woman is put on trial for not getting the joke. Too many times, I have to listen to the phrase, “It’s just banter.” It is not banter; it is harassment. Let us make sure that it is recognised as such.
Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
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I will make only brief remarks. I could not agree more with the hon. Member for Walthamstow and the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North.

I was struck by what the hon. Member for Walthamstow said about her daughter being three. Before my daughter was born, a number of us at work found it immensely frustrating that we constantly had to face “banter” in the office. We were called unreasonable if we did anything about it, because it was just “reasonable banter”. We might miss the significance of the Bill and think it a small step. In a way it is, but in another way it is huge and important, because we have put it on record that such “banter” is not the reasonable thing; being offended by it is the reasonable thing. The reasonableness is with the women.

The hon. Lady’s mention of her daughter being three reminded me of the situation we faced daily in the workplace before my daughter was born. It struck me that my daughter is now 26. The workplace situation has improved, but the so-called banter continues. Those offensive statements and that harassment fall below the level of violence, but they are just as damaging because the issue is cultural. It affects women’s self-esteem, what we do and where we go in the evenings, even with our keys between our fingers. It is important to recognise today that we have to draw a cultural line, as the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North said. It is a cultural problem that we have to continue to fight daily. I hope that when the daughter of the hon. Member for Walthamstow is 26, we will have made more progress than has been made in the past 26 years.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
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People always say this, but I actually mean it: it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I express my thanks and those of the Labour party to the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells for the opportunity to have this longed-for conversation and to start to build the legislative framework.

The right hon. Member was drawn out of the legislative lottery, which is an odd quirk of this place. At the time, I noted—I mean no offence to him—that there were more people in the top 10 called Greg than women on the list. Hearts sank somewhat for some of us in the room, as they did for charities such as Plan and Girlguiding that have been working on the issue and trying to find a sponsor, so it was a relief that the right hon. Member immediately and clearly wanted to do it. I thank him for allowing us to have this conversation and move the legislation forward.

As we have heard in today’s very reasonable debate, including in the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, the Labour party stands ready and willing to work with the Government before the Bill’s final stages so that we can all agree without dividing the House. Nobody wishes to divide the House on the issue; we wish to sing with the same voice. I make that offer to the Minister.

I am not blessed with daughters, unlike others who have spoken. I am blessed with sons—I have two teenage sons. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow made an important case about what people ought to know and how they ought to be reasonable. My sons know that you don’t shout at women in the street and that you don’t find your way into their heart by touching them up in a crowded place. My sons know that, not out of any spectacular parenting on my part but because they are reasonable human beings.

When our children were young teenagers—they are basically adults now, which I do not like to admit because it makes me feel old—my husband and I were in a park in south London. A woman was jogging past us. There were two men sat on a bench: it was 4 o’clock and they were drinking cans of lager, having a perfectly nice time. The woman jogged past and they started shouting at her about her arse and her physique. She was none the wiser: she had headphones in, though not out of design on her part, I should have thought.

I did not even notice that this bad thing was happening, because I am so used to it—I am so used to this sort of thing happening. My husband turned on his heels and absolutely blazed the two men, not even for what they were doing to the woman, but for doing it in front of his sons: “Don’t teach my children that this is the way to behave. Don’t ever do that.” Obviously they gave him some lip back, but the next time they go to shout at a woman, they will look around in that moment and they will stop. It is not reasonable, and they ought to know that it is not reasonable, but it made me feel incredibly sad that because that behaviour is standard, I did not even notice it.

On the reasonableness of men, I should mention that after the Sarah Everard case, women came forward and described all the stuff they have to do to keep themselves safe. They described the keys in the hands, the headphones in, the heads down on the train—“Don’t talk to me, don’t touch me.” We all know that; we have all done it. It is important to say that the huge weight of that burden falls on young women. A school uniform is a red rag to a bull, which is terrible.

When we were all saying that we did all this stuff—thinking about how we were going to dress and how we were going to get home, tagging our friends, calling each other—my husband said to me, “If you had the time back, and you had the level of detail that you have lived your life at since you were about 10, you could make a feature-length stop-frame animation film as good as ‘Wallace and Gromit’. That is the level of detail and time that has been taken off you as an individual.” That was labour that he did not have to do, as a man.

In the arguments that my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow is putting forward, all I think we are asking for is not to make the victim do the labour. We have done enough labour and put in the work to provide security for women. As individuals, we have done the state’s work for generations. In every rape case and every sexual violence case, there is still the problem that the person doing the labour, both in the investigation and on trial, is the victim. We have an opportunity to take that labour away.

We all want to see this legislation on the statute book. Anyone who says it will mean loads of people ending up in prison has never been at a trial relating to violence against women and girls. Hope springs eternal that anyone will go to prison for anything! We have a real opportunity here, but as the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North says, we have to make sure that this legislation is the beginning and that we make it as good as possible. What we should not do is put the labour on the shoulders of the victims.

I think I have been positively manny in my response. People come back at me saying that harassment is “banter” and that boys will be boys, but I hate that idea because I think much more of men than that. I think men are capable, brilliant human beings who can make choices. When they make choices to do bad things, it is nothing to do with boys being boys. They are not base or inhuman. They can control themselves. They are cracking—I raised two of them! They are not without control over their own faculties. It is not “boys will be boys”; it is “abusers will be abusers”. That is the top and bottom of it. I thank all hon. Members, and we obviously support the Bill.

Sarah Dines Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Miss Sarah Dines)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to appear before you, Sir Gary. I confirm that the Government support the legislation, and I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells for his work on the issue.

I remind hon. Members about the effect of the Bill, as it stands. The Bill provides that if someone carries out behaviour that would fall under section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986, intentionally causing someone “harassment, alarm or distress”, and does so because of the victim’s sex, they could receive a longer sentence of up to two years.

My right hon. Friend has already set out the effect of his amendments, but I will confirm the Government’s position. New clause 2 and amendments 2 to 4 are purely consequential. They will ensure that the scope of the other statutes is unaffected by the Bill.

New clause 2 will add the new offence of sex-based harassment in public to schedule 1 to the Football Spectators Act 1989. Schedule 1 is a list of the offences that will generally cause a person to be issued with a football banning order

“unless the court considers that there are particular circumstances…which would make it unjust”.

An FBO prevents a subject from attending UK football matches and may place conditions on them on match days, for example by forbidding them from going to a particular city centre or being within a certain distance of a stadium. It can require them to report to a police station in connection with matches overseas.

Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986, the offence on which the Bill builds, is listed in schedule 1 to the Football Spectators Act 1989. As that is the currently available offence for prosecuting someone who deliberately harasses another person on account of their sex, such a person should be issued with an FBO, but in future such a person would instead be convicted under section 4B. If we do not add the new offence to schedule 1, such a person could slip through the net and escape an FBO. The amendment will prevent that consequence and help to ensure that those who engage in sex-based harassment cannot sully the beautiful game.

New clause 2 will also add section 4B to the provisions listed in schedule 8B to the Police Act 1997. The legislation is devolved in Scotland, but with the agreement of the Scottish Government we seek to make the amendment here; it is right that when a consequential change arises from a UK Bill, we should make the necessary amendment ourselves wherever possible, in the interests of not unduly troubling our colleagues in Holyrood with the effects of our legislative changes. Schedule 8B lists the offences for which a person’s conviction, even if spent, will be disclosed on a criminal record certificate, unless certain conditions apply that relate largely to a period of time having elapsed since the conviction. Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 is listed in the schedule. Adding a new public sexual harassment offence will ensure the maintenance of the Act’s existing coverage, thus ensuring continued safeguarding.

10:00
New clause 2 will further add the new offence to the list in schedule 9 to the Elections Act 2022. The offences listed are those for which a conviction would usually cause someone to be barred for five years from being nominated for, standing for or holding elected office if their offence was aggravated by hostility towards those standing for or holding elected office, or towards other parties involved in the electoral process, such as campaigners.
This is a subject with which we are all far too familiar. The abuse that we, and others we work with in upholding our democratic processes, have to experience on a daily basis is horrendous and all too often misogynistic. Ensuring that those who are convicted for it cannot stand for office is a crucial measure. By adding section 4B to the provisions listed in schedule 9, alongside the existing section 4A offence, the new clause will ensure that intentional harassment based on a victim’s sex continues to attract that censure.
Amendment 1 will ensure that the Bill applies not just to England, as it does now, but to Wales. The matter is devolved to Wales, so making this change will require the consent of the Senedd. I confirm that Welsh Ministers are content to table a legislative consent motion before the Senedd; I anticipate that it is likely to pass. Since the section 4A offence on which the new offence builds applies to England and Wales, it makes sense that the new offence should have the equivalent application. I confirm that we cannot expand the application of the Bill in the same way to Scotland and Northern Ireland, as a section 4A offence does not apply to those parts of the UK, nor do they have wholly analogous offences.
I turn to the important issues raised by the hon. Member for Walthamstow. I thank her for tabling amendment 5 and new clause 3; more generally, I pay tribute to her consistent campaigning in this field and on related issues. There have been few more doughty campaigners in this place for ensuring that women feel safe on our streets. She makes serious points; we all understand that. While I do not think at the moment that the approach is exactly right, I am pleased to confirm that the amendments will be given proper consideration. I know that we all want to move forward on this matter.
I will respond to the amendments on a technical basis, but I reassure the hon. Lady that we will look at them carefully. I respectfully suggest that the amendments would not achieve their purpose. New clause 3 provides that the defence in section 4A of the Public Order Act, necessarily inherited by the proposed new section 4B offence, cannot be used by the defendant to claim that their conduct was reasonable because of the sex or presumed sex of the person to whom it was directed.
However, a statutory defence comes into play only if the criteria for the actual offence have otherwise been met. In this case, for a prosecution to succeed, it must prove that the defendant intended to cause harassment, alarm or distress. If it cannot prove that, the prosecution will fail, and the defendant’s need to argue a specific statutory defence will not arise. This is a technical point, but if the prosecution can prove that, it seems hard to envisage a situation in which the court accepted that the defendant intended to cause harassment and was also persuaded that the defendant’s conduct was reasonable, regardless of the victim’s sex.
In other words, how can someone intend to cause another person harassment, yet say that they have acted reasonably? I said that it was very hard to envisage, but perhaps it is not impossible. Part of the value of a reasonableness test defence is that there are “never say never” scenarios that cannot be envisaged until they happen, so it is right that the defence remains available. I suggest that such scenarios do not justify new clause 3 at this stage, but we are thinking very seriously about the points that the hon. Lady made.
Similar considerations apply in relation to amendment 5, which specifies, as the hon. Lady set out, that it does not matter whether a defendant’s conduct is reasonable because of the sex or presumed sex of the person at whom it is directed. Again, it is a separate requirement of the offence that the prosecution proves that the defendant intended to cause harassment, alarm or distress. If it cannot do so, the prosecution fails, so there is no need for the second stage.
I respectfully suggest that the hon. Lady’s amendments do not work technically, but we understand what has been put forward and it will be considered very carefully. I know that my responses will raise the question why we are restricting the new offence to cases in which the defendant’s intention to cause harassment, alarm or distress must be proven. That is what I think lies behind the amendments.
Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I apologise if I was not listening correctly, but the Minister mentioned intent. I am not sure that, in simply reiterating the question from the hon. Member for Walthamstow, the Minister gave us an answer. Is she going to give us an answer about intent?

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To be able to get forward to the next step of the offence, the prosecution must always prove intent, so we would not get to the statutory defences until we have dealt with intent, and intent depends on the circumstances. I think we all know that it is all quite obvious, although I and the Government are willing to look at a better form of wording. I appreciate that my right hon. Friend feels passionately about this issue, and it is something that will be considered very carefully.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her time looking at this, because I have spent many hours doing so. I pay tribute to the Clerks, who were incredibly patient as we worked through the almost circular logic of when intent comes into this offence, partly because it is not a new offence; it is a kind of offence-plus, which is where some of the challenges about the decision on intent could be.

With the Government’s support on Report, we could learn lessons from other protections from harassment and other harassment legislation about the reasonableness test and where it comes in. I know that that would get support from the Opposition and the Minister’s colleagues, and it could clarify the point at which a defendant could claim reasonableness. That may be the way to do it, in the same way that this offence-plus also brings in the concept of discounting whether sexual gratification was part of the process. There will clearly be a point at which somebody decides whether it is a 4A or 4B offence, and that seems to be the point at which we could be clearer about the intent and whether somebody reasonable would know about it. We could put that in the Bill to give directions to judges and magistrates about how to interpret “reasonableness”, which is what I think we are all looking to get to. I hope that that is a helpful intervention to clarify where I think there is space to marry the two different types of legislation together.

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady makes very interesting points, and I know she is particularly interested in intent. It is right that we need to prove intent as part of the offence. I would question how much of a barrier this is in relation to the sorts of behaviour that the Bill is intended to address. I remind right hon. and hon. Members that the explanatory notes suggest five examples of behaviour that the Bill would cover, and I know the hon. Lady will be very aware of them. They are:

“(a) following a person (for example, deliberately walking closely behind someone as they walk home at night);

(b) making an obscene or aggressive comment towards a person;

(c) making an obscene or offensive gesture towards a person;

(d) obstructing a person making a journey; and

(e) driving or riding a vehicle slowly near to a person making a journey.”

I ask right hon. and hon. Members whether it can be plausibly claimed that a person carrying out that sort of behaviour does not actually intend to cause harassment, alarm or distress. It is not benign behaviour; it is almost as if that behaviour speaks for itself.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree, and I am sure everybody in this room would say that. I have sat in courtrooms and heard cases of people having been burned with an iron, and it has been argued that it was reasonable that that happened, so excuse us for trying to make sure that the Bill is belt and braces! We have all sat through people saying it is reasonable that a woman was strangled to death while she was having sex. It seems fanciful to the reasonable, of course, but it happens every day.

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for that intervention. Of course, there are lots of different types of offences, and the circumstances that are explained are normally—I will not say “more serious”, because all these offences are serious—higher-level punishment serious offences. The Government have worked very hard in this area with the non-death strangulation measures that have been brought forward, and we seek the Labour party’s support for those sorts of measures. To some extent I agree with the hon. Lady, and to some extent I do not. For every matter that comes before the courts, it depends on the circumstances of the case. But things do evolve, and I accept that point.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I make a little progress? Things do evolve. Perhaps some people in the 1970s would have thought that following somebody closely in a car to pay them a compliment was acceptable. We now know that it is totally unacceptable; things evolve. Quite rightly, we know that such behaviour is certainly not benign. The climate is thankfully very different now and there is much greater awareness, but there is always more to do. If it can be plausibly claimed that somebody who does that was doing it without intent, we would have to get to the reasonableness defence.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I accept entirely that things have evolved since the 1970s, but they did not evolve on their own. It took a lot of work, like that which we are trying to do today on reasonableness. If we allow the opportunity to pass, people will look back and say, “How did they let that slip through the net? Why did they not address it? Why is it still reasonable for someone to be burned with an iron, or strangled during sex, or accosted in the street? Why is that still acceptable?” Evolution in this area does not happen on its own. It takes a lot of work.

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. My question is whether it could be plausibly claimed that such behaviour is not intended. I do not doubt that some defendants will try to claim that they had no malign intent when they walked closely behind someone at night, for example—defendants will try anything—but it would not be plausible, and I do not believe it would succeed.

There may be some other types of behaviour where intention to harass is harder to prove. I am reluctant to say that they are less serious, because all public sexual harassment behaviour is serious, but we are talking about relative degrees of severity. Perhaps an example is a wolf whistle in a crowded place in broad daylight, at some distance from a victim. Let me stress immediately that such behaviour is very far from okay. It is demeaning and objectifying to the woman, and has no place in our society, but it is perhaps the type of behaviour where non-criminal responses are more appropriate. I remind hon. Members of our Enough campaign, which doubtless they have seen. An intention test can usefully differentiate behaviour where the criminal justice path is the right one from behaviour where societal interventions are more appropriate.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is being very generous in giving way. A few years ago, when I left Parliament late at night and I walked up the steps to go to the underground, a young man—I was probably old enough to be his mother—walked up behind me, and slid his arms around my neck and then slowly round my breasts. He was trying to persuade me that I wanted to go to the Red Lion pub with him. I was very clear that that was not acceptable and I was not going to go. He followed me all the way down the street and I had to be quite physical to get him off me.

In that instance, he believed his intent was to charm and seduce me. He thought that that was an acceptable way to approach somebody. The difficulty with this legislation as it is currently constructed is that he could say in court, “My behaviour was reasonable—I thought it was reasonable.” In other forms of harassment legislation, that concept of reasonableness could be tested by whether anybody else would think it reasonable, but that would not come into play here, because of this difference in how we define what harassment is in different pieces of legislation. This is not about whether we could prove intent per se; it is the gap between how we define harassment in other forms of legislation as opposed to under public order offences, because they are about the first time somebody has contact with somebody.

I know the Minister said she and the officials will look at this. I hope they will. I hope we can clarify that it is not about whether something is serious and it is not about whether someone has intent; it is specifically about this concept of who decides whether behaviour is reasonable, so someone can mount a reasonableness defence. I am sure that young man would argue until he was blue in the face that I just could not take a compliment. That was not a compliment. It was harassment. It was intimidating and it was scary, and it is exactly the sort of behaviour the Bill is designed to capture—but he would have that defence unless we close the loophole. That is what we are getting at.

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I respectfully suggest that that stark example supports my position—that it would be so obvious what he was doing, and what he intended, that the defence would very easily be wiped away. But we need to keep that defence for the one or two circumstances where it should be reasonably argued.

10:15
Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for giving way again. I wish to follow up the example of the hon. Member for Walthamstow with a very different example, which I have used previously in the Chamber.

A young woman came to speak to me. Her job was pushing trolleys around a supermarket car park. She used to shelter by the security guards for all of lunchtime. I said, “Why? Surely lunchtime is the best part of the day?” She said, “No, because that’s when the builders come.”

Now, I recognise that we are now castigating an entire category of man, and I apologise for doing so, but they would turn up in their vans and harass her while she was pushing her trolleys. This was at the height of covid. She wore a beanie hat, a mask, a thick puffer jacket, leggings and boots; and a man walked up to her, put his hands either side of her face, and said, “You are too beautiful to be doing a job like this.” Can we discuss what the intent and the reasonableness is there? That is a clear case of harassment on the grounds of sex, but it is not as stark as the case that the hon. Member for Walthamstow shared.

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that example. I personally think that it is just as stark, and that it is just as easy to knock down the defence, because the intent is so obviously there. Intent is not a fanciful legal device. It is something that is pretty obviously stated, and a jury, judge or magistrate—whoever it is—would very easily be able to knock the defence away, but I do value the point that my right hon. Friend makes. The Government have accepted that they will look at that again, and I very much enjoy hearing these interventions.

The Government’s view is that even though these amendments would have the desired effect, they would not be necessary to criminalise the type of behaviour that concerns most of us here, but I do take seriously the concerns that lie behind them and I will give them further consideration. In the meantime, I suggest that the hon. Member for Walthamstow, having probed with quite a lot of debate, and made her point very forcefully, should perhaps not press the amendments.

Moving on to substantive matters more generally—I know that I have taken up a great amount of time—I speak in support of clause 1, which creates the new offence at the heart of the Bill by inserting a new criminal offence within the Public Order Act 1986 as a new section 4B. The offence will be dependent on the behaviour that falls within section 4A of the Act—namely, that of intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress—and will provide that if someone committed behaviour under section 4A, and did so because of the victim’s sex, they could receive a longer sentence of up to two years, rather than the six months mentioned in section 4A.

The approach of building on the section 4A offence reflects the Government’s view that public sexual harassment behaviour is already covered by existing criminal offences, most commonly that section 4A offence. Had we instead sought to create a wholly new offence, that would have entailed overlap with existing ones, which would be not only unnecessary but actively harmful, as it would create confusion about the law—exactly the reverse of what we are trying to achieve here.

Karen Bradley Portrait Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. The argument is frequently put forward—as a former Home Office Minister, I have used it myself—that there will be duplication, and that that will be too much, but we need to find legislation that can be easily understood by the judiciary and interpreted properly, with proper training for police officers and others so that they can find the evidence needed. Sometimes an additional offence is not that harmful, because it will assist in getting the prosecutions that we all so desperately need. May I urge the Minister to consider that point in her deliberation about all the other points that we have discussed?

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand that point.

Section 4A makes it an offence if someone

“uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or…displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting”

if both the intention and the effect of the behaviour, or the display, are to cause another person harassment, alarm or distress. It provides that the offence

“may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the person who is harassed, alarmed or distressed is also inside that or another dwelling.”

There are two specified defences to this: first, that the defendant was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other building; and secondly—this has been the focus of some of the debate—that the defendant’s conduct was reasonable.

The section 4B offence introduced by clause 1 of the Bill will inherit and build on the provisions of section 4A. Subsections (1) and (2) of proposed new section 4B provide that the new offence will be engaged when a person commits an offence under section 4A and does so because of the sex of the person towards whom they are directing their conduct or because of the sex that the defendant presumed the other person to be.

Subsection (3) of the new offence makes two clarifying provisions. The first is that it does not matter whether there are additional motivations behind the defendant’s behaviour as well as the victim’s sex, as long as the victim’s sex was one of the motivations. The second is that the defendant’s motivation need not have been one of achieving sexual gratification; of course it could have been, but there are many other reasons why a person might decide to harass someone on account of their sex.

Subsection (4) of the new offence provides that the maximum sentence for a person found guilty of the offence would be, if they were tried in the magistrates court, a term not exceeding the general limit that the court can impose or a fine or both, or if they were tried before the Crown court, a maximum of two years’ imprisonment or a fine or both. That contrasts with the section 4A offence, for which the maximum sentence is six months. Since the maximum sentence for the new offence will be two years, which is above what the magistrates court can impose, the new offence will necessarily be capable of being tried in either the magistrates or the Crown court—triable either way, in the formal language—whereas the section 4A offence can be tried only in a magistrates court, or summary only, in the formal language.

Subsection (5) of the offence states that if a person is tried in the Crown court for the new offence under subsection (1) and is acquitted for that offence, the jury may still find them guilty of the section 4A offence. I commend the clause to the Committee. The new offence that it introduces will play a crucial role in ensuring that everyone—women in particular—can feel safe on our streets.

Clause 2 contains the standard provisions about the commencement, extent and short title of the Bill. Subsection (1) provides that the Act will extend to England and Wales. New subsection (1A) introduced by amendment 3 would place a caveat on that, to the effect that a provision introduced by the consequential amendments in new clause 2 would have the same geographical extent as the provision it amends. The practical meaning of this is that the amendment to the Police Act 1997, which relates to Scotland, would naturally extend to Scotland. The rest of the clause confirms that the provisions of the Act will come into force in line with the commencement regulations made by Ministers, as confirmed in the Act’s short title. I commend the clause to the Committee.

I thank Members for their contributions to the debate. These are long-standing issues, and I am sure we will debate them again. My Department will look very closely at whether this is the time for a sea change in the message in relation to intent and reasonableness.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the chance to respond to the debate. It has been a relatively short debate, but it has successfully highlighted, first, the strong support there is for making this historic change to the law and, secondly, the desire and intention on both sides of the Committee to ensure that we take this opportunity to get it right. The contributions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North and the hon. Members for Walthamstow, for Edinburgh West and for Birmingham, Yardley all point in that direction.

I am grateful to the Minister for her clear statement that she and her officials and colleagues in Government will reflect on the points that have been made, with a view to responding to them on Report and Third Reading. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Walthamstow for indicating that this is a probing amendment, and it has afforded us the ability to do just that.

Let us step back and reflect on where we are. Everyone agrees that we need to make this change in the law, but the hon. Member for Walthamstow and others have rightly focused on the question of intent. It is clearly a matter of common consent that a man who harasses a woman in public on the grounds of her sex should not be able to escape conviction simply by asserting that he did not intend to cause alarm or distress. That is not acceptable, and it is not the intention of the Bill.

On Second Reading the hon. Lady introduced the interesting and quite powerful concept of foreseeable harassment. We are talking about whether such conduct at the time is foreseeable. The graphic examples that Members have given fall into the category of behaviour that is clearly foreseeable as liable to cause harassment, alarm or distress, so there could not be a risk that that could be cited as a defence on the basis that the perpetrator did not intend to cause that. There are various ways of addressing that.

The hon. Lady helpfully referred to other legislation that the House has passed and, in so doing, no doubt reflected on precisely these issues. It is always beneficial to be able to draw on debates that have concluded satisfactorily, with the further advantage of maintaining consistency in the law. On the suggestion that the hon. Lady made, I am grateful for the Minister’s assurance that we will follow it up.

Karen Bradley Portrait Karen Bradley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on getting the Bill to this stage. It will be a fantastic Act of Parliament once it has passed through its final stages.

My right hon. Friend talks about other offences. It must be worth looking at how juries have interpreted other offences and whether those offences have led to successful prosecutions. If this language would help to get prosecutions—because it has been shown that that has happened in the past and lay members of a jury could understand the offence in a way that they perhaps would not understand it without that wording—it must be worth considering adding the wording to the offences.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend, a former Home Office Minister, makes a characteristically well-informed point about having the right intentions to make this an Act of Parliament that will not just sit on the statute book, but have a material effect on prosecuting perpetrators. As I said on Second Reading, we want to avoid the need for a large number of prosecutions by making it crystal clear to everyone that such behaviour is unacceptable and is a serious criminal offence. We should look at that and reflect on it.

It is fair to point out, as the Minister did, that the guidance in the explanatory notes to the Bill makes it clear that listing behaviours that are in scope establishes, in effect, that such behaviours would not be considered a justification that could overcome the question of intent and unintentionality. I will not go through the list that the Minister mentioned. One means would be to refer to other legislation. Another might be to consider the examples currently included in the explanatory notes and whether there might be a way to give them greater prominence so that prosecuting authorities, police forces and courts could take them into account. I hope that she will consider that as well.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In thinking about how to get this right, perhaps it would also be helpful to clarify that other forms of harassment legislation look for a course of conduct because they generally cover experiences in which we think somebody might have had a number of interactions with their victim. In this case, however, we are talking about the first time that people interact with people. The challenge is whether those ideas about “boys will be boys” and the clumsy attempts at trying to get somebody’s attention become even more part of the discussion about whether it was harassment.

For the magistrates who deal with these cases, it is even more important that we are clear that if somebody says, “I just thought that if I slapped her bottom, she would notice me,” that is not reasonable, because in today’s era slapping somebody’s bottom is not the best way to get their attention or express interest in them. Because we are dealing with that first form of contact, we have to match in this legislation the way in which we have talked about what is reasonable in other legislation. Otherwise, the cultural barriers that we are trying to get through will come into play even more, because they will fill the vacuum that a course of conduct would otherwise fill.

10:29
Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady makes an important point that underpins the sense of consensus in this Committee. We need to be clear—so that the courts are clear and there is no ambiguity—that intended harassment will be punished.

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris (Newbury) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One point that is getting into a little bit of a muddle is that any unwanted touching is already assault. We are talking about a different offence. The harassment provisions under section 26(4) of the Equality Act 2010 set out clearly the reasonableness test and it is applied in that sense—that is, any unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or causing them humiliation or distress. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in effect we are transplanting the civil test into the criminal law?

On the issue of intent, about which we have had a lot of discussion, surely there is not only the issue of mens rea, which is one thing, but, as in other forms of law on things like nuisance and antisocial behaviour, if the person is reckless as to whether their conduct has a certain kind of purpose or effect, that is also enough for intent. Any form of touching would already be assault: we are not into a reasonableness test because it is a different offence anyway. Putting an arm round somebody or squeezing their bottom is a different crime. If someone says something sexual to a person, it is sufficient to say that if the court says they were reckless as to whether that would cause offence, the harassment offence is going to be made out anyway. It is in common with all equivalent offences of this nature.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend brings her extensive legal learning and experience to bear on this issue and makes two important points. First, we should consider, before Report, the interactions with other aspects of the law. That is certainly important and one of the key conclusions of this Committee. Secondly, we should reflect on the fact that, even as drafted, the Bill significantly moves the dial on the ability of prosecuting authorities to secure convictions for behaviour that would constitute the proposed specific offence of public sex-based harassment.

Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie (Stroud) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am conscious that you have indulged me, Sir Gary, in giving me a second chance to speak so that I can respond briefly to the debate. I do not want to try your patience excessively, but I will of course give way to my hon. Friend.

Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury is right, but there is a huge frustration that the laws we have in place are not resulting in convictions. The examples we have been giving in relation to touching should already be an offence, but it is important that, when we interrogate this legislation with examples, we do not use examples of touching to see where we will get to with it. It is for the Home Office and all of us on the Committee to come up with the examples we can interrogate. Otherwise, we will fall foul of the ministerial team because we will always be referred to the existing legislation, even though that is a frustration for us all.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that wise and helpful steer for the work that the Committee has clearly agreed to do, with the Minister’s consent. I hope that those Members who have contributed to the debate will work together to address the points that have been made so that, when we come to Report and Third Reading, we might find a way to address them.

I thank you, Sir Gary, for your chairmanship. I put on the record my thanks to the Minister and her officials in the Home Office and to the excellent Clerks team in the House for their guidance through what is clearly an important but also very technical change to the law we are proposing. We are very grateful for that. I end by acknowledging the presence earlier of one Committee member: the Mother of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham, who is currently chairing a Committee of her own but has indicated her strong support. We are very grateful for her appearance.

On that basis, and with gratitude for the indication from the hon. Member for Walthamstow that she will not press her amendment on the basis that we can consider its implications, I commend to the Committee my new clause and my amendments.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Stella, is it correct that you are not pressing amendment 5 to a vote?

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not going to press it this time, Sir Gary, but I do want to be clear that there is an issue that needs resolution. I withdraw on the basis that something will come back on Report—

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Order. I am afraid you cannot speak again. You have made that point very firmly, and I know the Minister has heard it.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Extent, commencement and short title

Amendments made: 2, in clause 2, page 2, line 5, at end insert “, subject to subsection (1A)”.

This amendment is consequential on NC2.

Amendment 3, in clause 2, page 2, line 5, at end insert—

“(1A) An amendment made by section (Consequential amendments) has the same extent as the provision amended.”

This amendment is consequential on NC2.

Amendment 4, in clause 2, page 2, line 6, leave out “Section 1 comes” and insert

“Sections 1 and (Consequential amendments) come”.—(Greg Clark.)

This amendment is consequential on NC2.

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 2

Consequential amendments

“(1) In paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Football Spectators Act 1989 (relevant offences for the purposes of Part 2), in each of paragraphs (c), (k) and (q), after ‘4A’ insert ‘, 4B’.

(2) In Schedule 8B to the Police Act 1997 (offences which are to be disclosed subject to rules), in paragraph 102, after paragraph (e) insert—

‘(ea) section 4B (intentional harassment, alarm or distress on account of sex);’.

(3) In Schedule 9 to the Elections Act 2022 (offences for the purposes of Part 5), in paragraph 35, after paragraph (e) insert—

‘(ea) section 4B (intentional harassment, alarm or distress on account of sex);’.”—(Greg Clark.)

This new clause consequentially amends the Football Spectators Act 1989, the Police Act 1997 and the Elections Act 2022 to include a reference in those Acts to the offence in new section 4B of the Public Order Act 1986 (intentional harassment, alarm or distress on account of sex).

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

10:30
Committee rose.

Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before we get on to proceedings, I remind Members of the differences between Report and Third Reading. The scope of the debate on Report is the amendments that I have selected. The scope of the debate on Third Reading, to follow, will be the whole Bill as it stands after Report. Members may wish to consider those points before deciding at which stage or stages they want to catch my eye, to ensure that their speeches are relevant to each stage of consideration of the Bill.

New Clause 1

Guidance

“(1) The Secretary of State must issue guidance to—

(a) chief officers of police,

(b) the chief constable of the British Transport Police Force,

(c) the chief constable of the Ministry of Defence Police, and

(d) the chief constable of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary,

about the offence in section 4B of the Public Order Act 1986 (intentional harassment, alarm or distress on account of sex).

(2) The guidance must in particular include guidance about the reasonable conduct defence in section 4A(3)(b) of that Act.

(3) The Secretary of State may revise guidance issued under this section.

(4) The Secretary of State must arrange for guidance issued under this section to be published.

(5) A chief officer of police or a chief constable mentioned in subsection (1) must have regard to guidance issued under this section.”—(Greg Clark.)

This new clause requires the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the police about the new offence in section 4B of the Public Order Act 1986. It also requires that guidance to include provision about the application of the reasonable conduct defence in section 4A(3)(b) of that Act.

Brought up, and read the First time.

09:36
Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 7, after “4A(1)” insert “primarily”.

Amendment 3, page 1, line 7, leave out “because of” and insert “due to”.

Amendment 7, page 1, line 8, leave out “(or presumed sex)”.

Amendment 8, page 1, line 10, leave out ““presumed” means presumed by A;”.

Amendment 4, page 1, line 14, after “not—” insert— “(za) A is a man or a woman,”.

Amendment 5, page 1, line 16, leave out “because of” and insert “due to”.

Amendment 6, page 1, line 16, after “other” insert “subsidiary”.

Amendment 1, in clause 3, page 2, line 20, after “1” insert “, (Guidance)”.

This amendment is consequential on NC1.

Amendment 9, page 2, line 20, leave out from “on” to the end of line 21 and insert “1 August 2023”.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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In line with your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will address my new clause and the amendment in my name specifically, and I will also touch on the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope). I will not rehearse the reasons for the Bill. We have had a substantial debate on Second Reading and in Committee, and I hope it may be possible to say more on Third Reading.

New clause 1 would require the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the police about the new offence proposed in the Bill, and that guidance must include, but is not limited to, guidance on the defence of reasonable conduct that is already contained in the Public Order Act 1986.

During our debate in Committee, some Members were understandably concerned that the perpetrator of an act of deliberate harassment of a person on the grounds of their sex could escape the consequences of their actions by asserting that they thought their behaviour was reasonable. Some Members thought there was a risk that the police might be put off from taking the offence seriously, because of that potential defence. In fact, in the Public Order Act, reasonableness is not in the eye of the accused. Simply saying that behaviour that was intentionally designed to cause alarm or distress was reasonable does not provide a “get out of jail” card. Having clear guidance on this point would ensure that the matter is crystal clear to the police and all the authorities.

The proposed requirement for statutory guidance therefore provides that clarity, but it is not limited to that; the guidance can include other matters, should that prove desirable in future. The guidance would be addressed to the police, as is obvious from the terms of the new clause, but in practice its use would be wider than that, and would include the Crown Prosecution Service. That is because statutory guidance, once issued, is in practice taken by all parties to be authoritative. Indeed, there is no point in having separate guidance for the police, the CPS and any other body.

This is far from the only occasion when guidance is formally issued and addressed to one particular audience, rather than being proliferated to multiple actors. For example, statutory guidance within the Stalking Protection Act 2019 is formally issued to the police, but was drawn up in consultation with other statutory partners, including the Crown Prosecution Service. I envisage and hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that the same approach will be taken in this case, and that the CPS would be involved in drawing up the guidance to which my new clause refers.

It seems to me, reflecting on the debate we had in Committee, that an amendment that guidance must be issued and must include, inter alia, statutory requirements on the interpretation of reasonable conduct, is a pragmatic and practical way of responding to the points made in the debate. I am delighted that new clause 1 has attracted widespread support, including that of the Government, whose assistance in drafting it I grateful acknowledge.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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How long does my right hon. Friend expect it to take for this guidance to be produced? The guidance requested last year on the draft code of practice on the recording and retention of personal data for non-crime hate incidents took more than one year to produce. Does he envisage a similarly long period? To what extent does he expect the House to have a say on the content of the guidance?

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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I would be very dismayed if it took a year to draw up such guidance, and my hon. Friend gives a cautionary warning. When the Minister responds to the debate, I hope he might undertake to produce the guidance with dispatch. I said a few moments ago that it is right and appropriate that guidance is drawn up in conjunction with the CPS, which also has regard to it, and that will take some time. I hope, however, that it will be a matter of weeks rather than a large number of months. The Minister and I are experienced in office, and we know that only the Minister can give an assurance as to how long it will take, but I am delighted that my hon. Friend shares my impatience to get on with it.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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What about the ability of the House to comment on the guidance when it is produced, or during its preparation?

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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As my hon. Friend knows, guidance is issued by the Government of the day. It is not a statutory instrument, and we are not proposing that it should be. I think it would be desirable for such guidance to be shared not just with the House but in public. Guidance that is important should enjoy the confidence and wisdom of those who intend to use it.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Finally, does my right hon. Friend envisage that the guidance should first be produced in draft form, so that there is an opportunity for people to be consulted publicly on it?

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Again, that is a matter for the Minister, but I would not only be content with that but think it a desirable route to take.

On the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend, he is right to seek to ensure that legislation in this House is properly scrutinised and debated, and the points he has raised—including those he just made—are pertinent and valuable. As I hope he might expect, I have studied his amendments carefully, so let me deal with them in turn.

Amendments 3 to 5 prefer the words “due to” to “because of”. Precise language is important—he and I share that view—but I do not think that the preference on his part signifies any difference in interpretation. The expression “because of” is extensively used in existing legislation. For example, section 66(4) of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 refers to circumstances in which someone suffers loss or damage

“because of the dangerous state of the premises”

That is “because of” rather than “due to”. With perhaps more immediate relevance to our discussions, the Equality Act 2010 uses “because of” rather than “due to”. For example, paragraph 3(5) of schedule 11, on school admissions, refers to circumstances in which a school

“does not admit a person as a pupil because of the person’s sex”,

rather than “due to” it. It may well be that my hon. Friend’s use of language is more elegant than that contained in the laws already on the statute book, but I hope he will agree that there is some virtue in linguistic consistency in the law. That is the reason behind that choice of words.

09:44
My hon. Friend’s amendment 4 clarifies that it does not matter if person (A) specified in the Bill—the perpetrator of the offence in question—is a man or a woman. Although the majority of reports of public sex- based harassment have been by men towards women, the Bill applies totally equally to both sexes, and at no point does the Bill mention anyone’s sex. There is no ambiguity in the Bill on that point. If my hon. Friend is concerned that this may not be clearly understood in practice, such as by the police, it may be a candidate for inclusion in the statutory guidance to which we have already referred. As he will recall, the guidance specifies interpretation of reasonable conduct but is not limited to that. If, perhaps after taking soundings from the public, there turns out to be some ambiguity in people’s minds—if not in the Bill—there is the opportunity to address that.
Amendments 2 and 6 would introduce a concept of subsidiarity and primacy. In other words, an offence would be committed only if the sex-based harassment was the primary motivation or aspect of the behaviour, rather than one of a number of aspects. I completely understand the point my hon. Friend puts forward, but I will say two things in response. First, one of the purposes of the Bill is to bring harassment on the grounds of sex in line with the existing law as it affects other protected characteristics, such as race. To take race as an example, to be guilty of the aggravated offence of public harassment on the grounds of race does not require the racial elements to be the primary element of a torrent of abuse that one person might direct at another. Nor is public racial harassment defensible on the grounds that racist harassment was merely a secondary aspect of the behaviour in question.
Indeed, not only is there the argument of consistency, which the Bill seeks to address, but, in this case, it is right that it is framed in this way because racist abuse should not happen at all. The law should be clear on that, and that applies equally to harassment on the grounds of someone’s sex. For reasons of consistency with the established law elsewhere and, in my view, what is right, we should not introduce a special filter for primacy on the grounds of sex that does not already apply to race and other offences that already have this protection.
Amendments 7 and 6 would delete references to “(or presumed sex)”. The current treatment in the Bill is, again, drafted to be consistent with the Bill as it applies in other contexts, particularly to protected characteristics. To use the example of racial harassment again, section 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 makes it clear that an offence is racially aggravated if the offender demonstrates hostility
“based on the victim’s membership (or presumed membership)”
of a racial group. It is not always possible with 100% accuracy to determine a person’s race or sex in a public place. Indeed, Shakespeare would have been robbed of many a dramatic plotline were it otherwise. But that does not mean it should be acceptable to hurl abuse intentionally at someone who turns out not to be of the sex that was assumed, any more than it would be acceptable to scream racial abuse in public at someone who turned out not to be of the race that the perpetrator presumed them to be. Therefore, again, for reasons for consistency with the existing law and for reasons of justice, I think the drafting of the Bill has it right.
In amendment 9, my hon. Friend, as presaged in his earlier intervention, seeks to specify a commencement date of 1 August this year for the legislation to come into effect. I am very grateful to him for his impatience to get on with changing the law. He is quite right, in all seriousness, that if Parliament passes legislation, that signals the intention of Parliament that the law should change and the Government should not act as a brake on the law being changed in practice. Indeed, it would be unconscionable for the Bill to sit on the statute book uncommenced and therefore unusable to the police and courts. Those who might be watching these proceedings, or reading reports of it, will have a legitimate expectation that if the Bill passes, the law has been changed or will change shortly.
Should the Bill be approved by the House today, as all colleagues know, it would then need to go to the House of Lords, whose procedures and timings are not always clear to at least this Member of this House. If my new clause 1, requiring statutory guidance to be issued, is inserted by the House, that will, as we discussed a few moments ago, take some time, especially if we provide an opportunity to take soundings on it before it is adopted. So I fear that 1 August may be a little too specific and early to be in the Bill as the date by which commencement must be made. I do not want in any way to separate myself from my hon. Friend’s motivation—quite the reverse. Should the Bill attract the favour of the House and the other place, I hope that he will join me in pressing the Government today to commit in seriousness to commencing the legislation as soon as is practically possible. Should that commitment turn out not to be enacted in practice, I hope he will bolster my efforts in harrying the Government at every opportunity, and relentlessly—given his considerable experience, and indeed success, in that—until the legislation is commenced.
In conclusion, I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his thoughtful and apposite amendments. I hope he can tell that I have seriously considered their effects. In no case am I antipathetic to the quite reasonable questions he raises about them, but I do think they have answers in the current drafting of the Bill, with the new clause I am moving today, so I hope that at the end of the debate he will feel able not to press amendments and, should circumstances arrive, to join me in continuing a campaign for great dispatch on the part of the Government.
Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
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I rise as the person who tabled the original amendments in Committee that prefigured new clause 1, to recognise this as the best of Parliament. When we come together to write legislation we believe will make a positive and constructive difference to people, listening to each other’s concerns and recognising the positive pare that scrutiny can play in the process, it can bear fruits that we can all support. I welcome and support new clause 1 as a recognition that there was a concern and an issue with the concept of reasonableness being at the heart of public order offences. Let me clarify what I mean by that.

Let me clarify what I mean by that: this legislation is about harassment, and other forms of harassment legislation have always had within them a test that someone’s behaviour cannot be considered reasonable if general opinion would be that their behaviour was unreasonable. In layman’s terms, when it comes to the harassment that we are talking about, if someone were being followed down the street and shouted at—particularly about their sex or presumed sex—even if that person were to claim it was reasonable, a magistrate should be able to say that it was patently not. The person responsible should not be able to evade prosecution under this legislation. However, this Bill was originally based on public order offences legislation, which does not include that distinction about whether somebody ought to know that their behaviour was unreasonable.

It is very welcome that the Government have listened and agreed to put out guidance to consider that point. I hope that setting out what I believe that guidance should cover will be a helpful guide to the Government, and perhaps will answer the genuine queries from the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) about whether there can be involvement in it. For many of us, getting this issue right goes to the heart of how this legislation will deliver the effective freedom that we hope for particularly, but not exclusively, for women, as it is women who are overwhelmingly reporting the kind of incidents that we are talking about in this legislation.

One of the challenges will be the initial decision as to whether someone has committed an offence. Many of us are extremely used to the idea that the challenge is our reaction to someone’s provocation, rather than the provocation. I hope that new clause 1 will recognise that, consistent with other forms of harassment legislation, a defendant arguing that their behaviour is reasonable should not be a reason not to proceed with a charge. I want to be clear about that, because I understand why people would be concerned. No one is suggesting that the reasonableness defence should not remain; we are arguing that it should for the courts or the magistrates to decide whether the behaviour was reasonable, rather than the defendant. In setting out the guidance, I hope that the Government will give weight to the idea that the presentation of a reasonableness defence, which is quite frequent in harassment cases but not necessarily in public order offences, should not deter the CPS or the police from seeking to proceed with a prosecution. In that sense, it would be consistent with the guidance on the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 or the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

In reference to some of the amendments tabled, agree with the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) about the importance of consistency in the law. I add my support to his argument about retaining the provision on presumed sex within the Bill. The most important thing about this legislation is that it turns the lens from the behaviour of victims—women in particular, because although this legislation covers both men and women, and male and female perpetrators, women will particularly benefit from our clarifying that street-based harassment is unacceptable and is illegal already, and therefore carries a higher penalty if it is targeted in this way. Too often, the victim’s behaviour has been called into question in decisions whether to prosecute. It important that the legislation is written in such a way to turn our attention back to the perpetrator. Were we to have loopholes, whether around reasonableness or the status of the victim, we could inadvertently undermine the capacity of the police and the CPS to secure that outcome.

I recognise the attempts from the hon. Member for Christchurch to test the legislation. If he read the scrutiny of the legislation in Committee, he would appreciate that, because that is where new clause 1 has derived from. I hope he will understand that many of us feel that the changes he suggests would undermine the Bill, because it would not be as clear that our sole concern is the people who harass, intimidate and abuse other people in public because they are focused on the sex or presumed sex of the victim. The important message that we want to send by passing this legislation is that the existing crimes should not be diminished, ignored and seen as part of everyday life, and that we should address them.

That is what I wanted to say, as the person who originally drafted the amendment that has led to new clause 1. I also recognise the cross-party working to get this legislation right. I hope that those who had concerns about new clause 1 or other parts of the legislation will see the benefit of having had these discussions, and that the Bill will benefit many of our constituents as a result.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), who I know takes a great interest in this particular subject. I am delighted that she included in her remarks a reference to the fact that this legislation applies equally to men who are victims as it does to women who are victims.

10:00
When I looked at the Committee report, one of my concerns was that there was not even a mention of men and boys being victims. I therefore wanted to ensure that emphasis was given to the fact that the Bill applies to men and women equally. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) for emphasising that point and saying that, if needs be, that could be included in the guidance produced for prosecutors.
I want to emphasise the significant extent to which men are being sexually harassed. A report from Diversity Dashboard says:
“Sexual harassment in the workplace is widespread, and women suffer the most…although…a significant percentage of men are also victims of sexual harassment.”
According to the Nursing Times, many people do not report to their employer that they have been harassed and
“only 17% of sexually harassed male nurses actually report it to their employer. Overall, female nurses are more frequent subjects of sexual harassment. However sexual harassment statistics by gender tell us that men aren’t spared either.”
Indeed, 51% of the male respondents to the Nursing Times survey said they had been sexually harassed, which is a very high percentage. Diversity Dashboard goes on to say:
“Research shows that, when a man suffers a sexual assault in the workplace, a woman is a perpetrator in 76% of the cases…Additionally, it’s worrying and insensitive that such behaviour is seen as a joke when it involves male victims.”
That is why although men are overwhelmingly responsible for sexual harassment against women, we need to take into account that men are on the receiving end as well.
The reason this issue is so important at the moment is a growing belief among experts, including those in professions relating to psychiatry and psychology, about the impact of sexual politics, as it is called, on young men. Madam Deputy Speaker, you may have seen the recent article in The Spectator by Gus Carter, in which he says masculinity is now in crisis. He goes on:
“The polling company YouGov found that just 8 per cent of people have positive views of white men in their twenties, by far the lowest of any ethnicity or age group. Males are routinely presented as inherently dangerous, aggressive and animalistic, incapable of controlling their own instincts. You can see it on public transport, where government adverts announce that staring is sexual harassment. Us blokes can’t even be trusted to use our eyes properly.”
This is a very serious aspect of the debate around harassment and, as I prefer to put it, common decency, standards of behaviour and politesse. The sexualisation, in a sense, of harassment is having an adverse effect on young males. Teenage boys are being routinely disciplined by schools in circumstances in which their female counterparts are not. A female former teacher who left the profession last year is quoted in the article:
“Boys are now seen as potential perverts… There was this obsession with the victimisation of women. I thought we had been getting somewhere with sex and relationships, teaching the children to treat people with respect, but that has been totally set back.”
I will not go into all the other points that the article makes, but one that is relevant to this debate is that
“there seems to be an inability to hold two notions in our heads: that sexual assault is bad and that treating men as inherent sex pests is also bad. A reasonable worry about assault appears to have morphed into an institutional misandry. There is a lack of recognition that, as with all crimes, the proportion of perpetrators is vanishingly small. The awful behaviour of a few is leading to the mistreatment of all.”
The consequence of all this in relation to mental health issues for boys and young men, unless we are extremely careful with the language we use, will be that a situation that is already bad gets even worse. Since 2017, the NHS has found that the proportion of boys with probable mental health issues has increased by more than 50% to nearly one in five. The suicide rate for boys aged 15 to 19 has more than doubled over the past decade. The child psychologist Julie Lynn Evans has said that she thinks the pendulum has now swung too far in the other direction:
“The boys came out of lockdown into this slightly hysterical atmosphere of ‘Don’t touch, that’s inappropriate, that’s assault.’ They are being treated as guilty until proven innocent.”
The article, which I think very telling, goes on to ask what we are going to do about this. Are we going to recognise that young men aged 18 to 24 are significantly more likely to be unemployed than women in a similar age group, and that women are outperforming men in university? We have this problem of workless men living with their parents and almost being discouraged or intimidated into not going out on the street—not only not finding jobs, but not finding girlfriends and so on.
A really serious problem is developing for us, which is why I thought it important to table an amendment to put it right. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells for recognising the significance of the issue. Even—I say “even”—the hon. Member for Walthamstow seems to accept it, and I hope that when she makes remarks on the subject in future she will always emphasise that it is about not just one particular group of victims, but people in general, of both sexes.
Other amendments that I have tabled were designed to develop the debate, and I think we are having that debate. Let me deal first with the timescale and the fear that the guidance will be much delayed. I am not sure that the requirement to produce guidance is necessarily a reason that the Bill could not come into law first, with guidance to follow. The offence could still be created without being conditional on the guidance being produced first, so I do not think that an adequate reason for the Government not to accept a specific date of implementation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells generously says, “I try to keep an eye on some of these things.”
One reason why amendment 9 would put a specific date in clause 3 is that I had a similar experience with the Bill brought to this place by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) on the abuse of parking rules by rogue parking companies. I suggested that the guidance that followed from the Bill should have to be delivered within a specified period; if it was not, the legislation would not take effect. I am afraid to say that as of today—this was, I think, two years ago—the legislation has still not come into effect. My right hon. Friend was sympathetic to my amendment, but the Government persuaded him to encourage me to withdraw it, in order to protect his Bill. I cite that as an example of the problems arising when we leave it to the Government to decide when and if legislation should take effect.
Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire will, when responding to the debate, deal with the issue around prisoners. One can understand that the Government might be nervous about a consequence of the legislation being that more people may be sent to prison. Certainly, that was one of the objections of a previous Government to the suggestion that we introduce more severe penalties for people convicted of causing death by dangerous driving. The argument was that it would result in extra prison places being taken up. I hope that he will say that the number of people in prison is not relevant to the debate, because surely the law should take its course; punishment should not exclude prison if prison is merited, just because we do not have enough room in prisons. If we do not have enough room in them, we need to remove from them some of the people who are still on indeterminate sentences, which I think are pretty unjust, and/or we need to build more prisons. That is why I think it is important to put a fixed date in the Bill, and I chose, arbitrarily, 1 August 2023. Actually, it is not that arbitrary; I assumed the normal rule would apply, so I gave a date two months after Royal Assent might take place, and assumed that the Bill, all things being equal, would get through the other place before then.
I turn to my other amendments. On whether to use “because of” or “due to”, I concede that it is a “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” issue. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells for having looked at that point. On amendment 2 about primacy, proposed new section 4B(1) of the Public Order Act 1986, inserted by clause 1, says:
“A person (A) is guilty of an offence under this section if—
(a) A commits an offence under section 4A (intentional harassment, 5 alarm or distress), and
(b) A carried out the conduct referred to in section 4A(1) because of the relevant person’s sex (or presumed sex).”
I assumed that that would be the sole reason for that behaviour. Indeed, in discussing this with my right hon. Friend, I thought that that was his understanding of his Bill and no subsidiary or other reasons would be taken into account. However, I looked at the subsequent provisions and saw that proposed new section 4B(3) of the 1986 Act stated:
“For the purposes of subsection (1)(b)”—
the one to which I have just referred—
“it does not matter whether or not—
(a) A also carried out the conduct referred to…because of any other factor”.
I could not understand why “any other factor” had been introduced, because it seemed redundant and it undermined his contention that when drafting this Bill he wanted it to be clear that this was the primary, if not sole, reason for the conduct being referred to. He has used a slightly different explanation today as to why he is unhappy with my amendments and is citing various precedents from other Acts and claiming “consistency”.
10:15
I would be grateful to the Minister if he could spell out whether he accepts that “the relevant person’s sex” must be the main reason for the conduct carried out, otherwise there will not be an offence being committed under the provisions of this Bill. If he is able to spell that out, and perhaps it will be repeated in the guidance, I will go home as a relatively happy bunny. On that note, at this very moment the other place is debating the Third Reading of my Mobile Homes (Pitch Fees) Bill, which is about changing the rules from using the retail price index to using the consumer prices index. I hope that I will be able to go home a happy bunny on the basis of its getting Third Reading in the other place, and I am most grateful to Lord Udny-Lister for taking it through that House. That, however, is an aside.
My amendments 7 and 8 talk about “sex” or “presumed sex”. Let us suppose that someone is in the business of harassing people on the basis of their sex—I hope that not many people are. Let us then suppose that that person thinks that they are harassing a man but it turns out that the person they are harassing is not a man and is in fact a woman——it may be the other way round, and they may think that they are harassing a woman and it then turns out that the person is not a woman but a man. The amount of alarm or distress that will be caused to the person on the receiving end will be significantly reduced if they are not of the sex that was intended by the person who was harassing—
Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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I do not seek to quarrel with my hon. Friend. But let us consider the analogous situation in which a person with brown skin, relatively dark skin, were the subject of a humiliating torrent of racial abuse in the street but was not a member of a given racial group, I do not think that would diminish the impact and the offence intended by the person. Surely the same would apply in this case, and the person on the receiving end would feel humiliation and the perpetrator would have had exactly the same intention.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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With the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend, I think he is conflating two dissimilar situations, because the situation he is describing is already an aggravated offence and what we are talking about here are offences that are not aggravated. Indeed, this Bill has been introduced because they are not regarded as aggravated offences and thereby qualifying for greater punishment.

It is a mistake to try to equate a situation where something is already an aggravated offence with the situation described in this Bill. If a person is harassing or making remarks to somebody in the mistaken belief that they are trying to insult a woman, but it turns out that they are a man, that seems to me to be a mistake. Although that will probably still enable the person to be convicted of a public order offence, it will be a public order offence not because of their behaviour, but because of that person’s sex. It is semantics, I am prepared to concede, but that is why I introduced that amendment.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
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Before the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), was my hon. Friend saying that misgendering somebody would cause less offence to them as opposed to greater offence? To my mind, any sexual-based harassment, whether it be misgendered or correctly gendered, will still cause offence.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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I have tried to avoid—and have done so up to now—getting into the debate about the difference between sex and gender. I will not rise to my hon. Friend’s bait to try to develop arguments around that. The Bill, commendably, is specific to sex, and it leaves out gender. I will leave it at that if that is all right with my hon. Friend.

This brings me to the conclusion of my remarks. I will not say what my intentions are in relation to these amendments until I have heard from the Minister, which I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, you will think is a reasonable approach to take.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Anneliese Dodds Portrait Anneliese Dodds (Oxford East) (Lab/Co-op)
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First, let me say how pleased I am to see the Bill finally making its way through the House today. I thank all of the campaigners and people who have worked tirelessly on this issue, including, obviously, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) with all of his engagement, the civil servants who have been working with him, my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and the many other Members who have contributed to discussions on this subject for such a long time.

As we near the end of Women’s History Month 2023, I can say that the Bill is a welcome step in the right direction. I will, if I may, pull us back to the main subject at issue, which is around public sexual harassment. It does remain a major problem in our society. Plan International UK found that three quarters of girls and young women aged 12 to 21 experienced a form of sexual harassment in a public space in their lifetime. Those numbers increase for disabled women and girls, and for women and girls from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background. The impact of this harassment is shocking. Perhaps it is worth reminding the House about that as we discuss the Bill. In 2020, the Girl Guides found out that 80% of girls and young women feel unsafe when they are out on their own, increasing to 96% of young women aged 17 and 18.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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Order. Just a reminder that, at this stage, we are discussing the amendment. There will be, I am sure, a very good opportunity on Third Reading for the wider issues, but at this point we are on Report. If the hon. Lady prefers to wait to Third Reading, that is absolutely fine.

Anneliese Dodds Portrait Anneliese Dodds
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In that case, I will just say that I mentioned those points in relation to new clause 1 and the other amendments. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has set out very clearly the rationale, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, spelling out why we require guidance—we all hope that it will come speedily—but also why it is important that the legislation is consistent with other Acts in this area. I hope that the House will bear those remarks in mind when deciding how to vote.

Chris Philp Portrait The Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire (Chris Philp)
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It is a great pleasure to speak to the amendments before the House on Report. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) for his new clause 1 and amendment 1, and I am happy to confirm formally that the Government support those amendments.

As my right hon. Friend has set out, the new clause would require Ministers to publish statutory guidance for all police forces, to which those police forces would have to have regard. In particular, the guidance would need to include material about the reasonable conduct defence that has been the focus of so much discussion. There has been some concern, expressed by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and others, that a subjective interpretation of the reasonable conduct defence might be adopted by defendants in an attempt to repudiate responsibility for their actions or to avoid conviction.

It is the view of the Government that what constitutes reasonable conduct can be defined objectively with regard to their conduct, without needing to have regard to somebody’s internal thought processes. However, we agree that guidance would be valuable in order to be completely clear about that point and to remove any ambiguity, so we are happy to support new clause 1 and amendment 1 in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells.

It will of course be possible for many other people besides the police to refer to the guidance, including the Crown Prosecution Service, which we would expect to operate on the same basis as the police when prosecuting those offences. To respond to a very reasonable question from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), we want to get this done as quickly as possible. I certainly would not want or expect it to take anything like so long as a year, which he referred to in his speech in a different context; I hope it can be accomplished in a matter of months.

My hon. Friend also said that the guidance should be subject to input and scrutiny to ensure that it is constructed in a way that is proportionate and reasonable, and I am sure the hon. Member for Walthamstow would agree. I would therefore expect opportunities to be provided to interested parties to provide that comment and I will give consideration to whether we should have a formal consultation process on the guidance. We should be mindful that that would introduce additional delay, but, given that the point has been raised, we will give it thought and strike the right balance between getting the guidance done quickly, which everyone wants, and making sure that interested parties both in Parliament and outside have an opportunity to input into its construction.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells for tabling the amendments and to other hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Walthamstow and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch for offering their comments.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Would it not be normal to produce the draft guidance and then consult on it, rather than expecting the Government to come up with the perfect solution after they have received representations in general? I strongly urge my right hon. Friend to take the approach of having draft guidance first.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is occasionally possible for the Government to come up with something perfect straight away, but I accept that that does not always occur. The process that my hon. Friend just set out, where the Government might publish a draft and invite comments on it, either informally or via a formal consultation, seems to me a sensible way of arranging matters.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One of the concerns behind much of this is about consistency in the law. With other forms of harassment legislation, how reasonableness is defined is already written in. I invite the Minister to consider whether the important thing is not to come up with a whole new set of guidelines, but simply to clarify and be consistent in how we expect courts and juries to consider that concept when somebody claims, “I thought my behaviour was reasonable,” and the law says, “Well, you ought to have known,” in other forms of harassment legislation. This is not about a new piece of guidance; it is about clarifying matters so that we do not inadvertently damage the ways in which our courts can work. For example, the CPS guidance on the Serious Crime Act 2015 talks about how defendants “ought to know” about the course of conduct—again, with oblique directions that judges can give. There is plenty of guidance out there; we really just need to compile it into one document, do we not?

10:30
Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I completely agree with the hon. Lady. There is existing guidance and practice in other areas that quite rightly clarifies or confirms that the assessment of reasonableness includes what somebody ought to have known, and that inferences can be drawn from their behaviour. She is quite right to point to that existing guidance and practice, and I completely agree that we should be consistent on that. I am sure that looking at that would help to draw up the draft in a quick manner. A combination of the approaches suggested by the hon. Lady and by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will quickly lead us to the right answer and enable us to publish something—a draft—and get views on it, as my hon. Friend suggested. It sounds to me as if there is a rapid, sensible, pragmatic and consistent way forward.

Let me turn now to the amendments moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. On the topic of his good humour, I have been informed by the Government Whips—a source of unimpeachable reliability, obviously—that his Mobile Homes (Pitch Fees) Bill has successfully passed its Second Reading unopposed in the other place. I hope that that provides an early boost to his good humour. Although it does not relate directly to an amendment, I just want to respond to one important point that arose in his speech, on something that I have noticed, too: adverts on London underground tubes referring to people’s behaviour in terms of where they look. He said that those were produced by the Government. For the sake of clarity, those advertisements are in fact produced by the Mayor of London in his capacity as the head of Transport for London.

As the House has heard and would expect, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells has given the various amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch close and careful consideration, as have colleagues in the Home Office. We completely understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has tabled the amendments after a great deal of consideration, and we have taken them very seriously indeed, so I will go through them one by one.

First, amendments 2 and 6 would require the other person’s sex—the victim’s sex—to have been the principal motivation for the defendant’s behaviour. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells has set out, he has drafted the legislation in the way that he has so that we are following precedent, and, as the hon. Member for Walthamstow said a moment ago, it is best that, where possible, we are consistent in the way we legislate. If any component of the motivation for the defendant’s behaviour is concerned with the sex of the victim, that is, in itself, of great concern. It may not be the principal component in some cases—it may simply be one component or a subsidiary component—but it is serious none the less.

The aim of the House is to protect people from sex-based harassment, and it strikes me that, whether the sex-based component is the principal component or a subsidiary component, the seriousness remains. Having considered that very carefully and, of course, discussed it with the Bill’s promoter, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells, our feeling on balance is that the drafting as it was best translates the House’s intention into legislation and is consistent with the rest of the statute book.

Amendments 3 and 5 would replace the words “because of”. Once again, as my right hon. Friend has set out, those words appear in a number of other contexts, in other pieces of legislation, and although we cannot, as he said, dispute the command of the English language and elegance of expression of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, there is a great benefit to consistency with other pieces of legislation. We feel that following precedent and maintaining that consistency is a good idea.



Amendments 7 and 8 would restrict the new offence to cases in which the harassing is done because of the victim’s actual sex, rather than what the defendant presumes the victim’s sex to be. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch that getting into wider discussions about the distinction between sex and gender would probably not be helpful in the context of this debate. We are considering here a circumstance in which someone harasses someone else in the erroneous belief that that person’s gender is the opposite of what it actually is. I think that what matters is the intent to cause sex-based distress and harassment, and that even if the perpetrator, or the alleged perpetrator, was mistaken in their assumption about the sex of the victim—or the purported victim, the complainant—that does not minimise or mitigate the seriousness of the act, because the intention was there and the act was undertaken.

At this point I should say that I had meant to address at the start of my speech a question that arose while my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch was speaking. Let me deal with it now. I agree with my hon. Friend that concerns about prison capacity should not constrain what the House may do in framing new legislation. It is of course incumbent upon Parliament to legislate and set out criminal offences. The police will investigate, the Crown Prosecution Service will prosecute and the courts will, if appropriate, convict. It is then up to the Government to ensure that adequate prison capacity is available. I know that my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice is engaged in a substantial prison building programme, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch that prison capacity constraints or availability should in no way fetter the House as it considers legislation.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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The Minister is making some very good points, with only one exception: I think that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has had a good record in this general area. When it comes to the prison population, however, is it not about time that we did something about the 1,000 young people who are convicted under joint enterprise? That could open up so much capacity in our prisons.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Order. Let us stick to the amendments.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The hon. Gentleman has made an important point, and I am sure that—as you have implied, Madam Deputy Speaker—the House will have an opportunity to consider it on another occasion.

Amendment 4 would make the Bill state that the defendant can be a man or a woman. As we heard earlier from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells, the defendant could indeed be a man or a woman, and indeed the victim could be a man or a woman, because, as we have established, the Bill makes no distinction between men and women. We do not generally set out in legislation the permitted genders of potential perpetrators, or those who might be guilty. Almost every offence is capable of being committed by a man or a woman, but we do not usually need to put that on the face of a Bill, and I do not think we need to do so in this instance. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch was right to raise this issue and to seek the clarification that I am happy to provide.

Amendment 9 requires the Bill to come into force on 1 August this year. I entirely share the desire of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and the hon. Member for Walthamstow to get the Bill activated quickly. Let me be candid and say that, as a Minister, I sometimes find it frustrating that it takes longer to get things done than perhaps it ought to, so I share the sentiment expressed in the amendment. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells said earlier, there is some uncertainty about the timing of the Bill’s passage through the other place. Obviously, their lordships regulate their own business, and we cannot be certain about how they may seek to dispose of the Bill.

There is also the question about the guidance, which we have discussed already, and the suggestion that we publish a draft that people can then comment on. That will take a little time. I hope it is a few months, but I do not want to create a tripwire that we inadvertently stumble over. I suggest that we proceed, as is often the case in primary legislation, with commencement via a statutory instrument, with a firm undertaking from the Government that we will seek to do this as soon as possible. The Bill clearly commands, in principle, widespread support across the House, and for the sake of protecting women and men it is important that we get this on to the statute book, and operational and effective, as quickly as possible.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 1 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Clause 3

Extent, commencement and short title

Amendment made: 1, page 2, line 20, after “1” insert “, (Guidance)”.—(Greg Clark.)

This amendment is consequential on NC1.

Third Reading

10:41
Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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I beg to move, that the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am grateful for the debates that we have had in Committee and in the House this morning. The amendments that have been accepted reflect our substantial debate in Committee. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his amendments, which have afforded us the opportunity to clarify some important aspects of the Bill, and have some commitments made from the Dispatch Box that will be useful to us if, as I hope, the Bill continues to make progress.

We have taken some time this morning, and I am conscious that other colleagues have Bills that they are anxious to progress. If those Bills are to be properly scrutinised, that requires me to be brief. If the House decides to give the Bill its Third Reading, it will be an historic day. For the first time in our history, deliberately harassing, following, shouting degrading words or making obscene gestures at women and girls—and yes, on occasion, at men and boys—in public places, because of their sex, and with the deliberate intention to cause them alarm or distress, will be a specific offence, and a serious one at that.

The astonishing thing is that that has not been an offence until now, many years after it was made an aggravated offence to harass someone in public on grounds of their race, religion or sexuality, for example. Indeed, women—it is mostly women, although the Bill also applies to men—have had to alter the way they live their lives: to walk home using different routes; to arrange to be accompanied rather than walk alone; to have, or pretend to have, conversations on a mobile phone while walking alone; to hold keys clenched in their hands as a safeguard.

So prevalent is this that when visiting a sixth form at one of my local schools a few weeks ago, with young men and women of 17 and 18, I asked how many students in the class typically walked home with keys in their hands. Instantly, without conferring, every young woman in the class put up their hand. Not a single young man did, and they expressed some mystification that this happens at all. Such are the changes and accommodations that have, sometimes subconsciously, been made because of the potential and reality of harassment in public.

Our streets belong to women just as much as they belong to men. Women should be able to use our streets as confidently and safely as men do, free from abuse, humiliation, and physical or verbal violence. The Bill makes the specific but important step that harassing women—or men or boys, if it applies to them—in the street with the intention to degrade or terrify is not normal, natural or “just the way of the world”; it is a crime, and a serious one at that. The Bill will address that anomaly and move our legislation forward. I commend it to the House.

10:45
Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
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This Bill has been a long time in gestation. It reflects years of campaigning about a simple concept, clearly articulated by the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), and the surprise that those not affected by it feel when they realise and see it: that misogyny is driving crimes against women and girls. It is a simple statement but a clear recognition, for the first time ever in legislation, that women are being targeted simply because they are women; that young girls in our society walk holding their keys, get asked, “What were you wearing?”, are told not to get on buses at a certain time of night, and are made to feel frightened and to be wary in a way that young men are not.

I want to address head-on the point made by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) because I agree with him that we have to stand up for our young men. We have to stand up for the bulk of young men who know when they see that and who realise what is happening to their sisters, mums, friends in school, aunties and cousins, and how awful it must be that 51% of our society does not have the same freedom to go about their daily business. Those young men deserve better than the idea that somehow this kind of behaviour is inevitable and that “boys will be boys.” In passing this legislation today, we are standing up not just for men and boys, because the legislation covers men and women equally, but for that quiet majority of young and older men who recognise that this behaviour is completely unacceptable, that it is criminal and that, for too long, nothing has been done about it.

I know that the hon. Member for Christchurch is somebody who very much cares about the evidence, so let me give him the detail. Where those police forces have been taking seriously crimes that are motivated by sex or presumed sex and are recording that data, the story they tell is compelling for why the legislation matters. Twelve of the 43 police forces in England and Wales now use this policy. The crime survey for England and Wales found there were 67,000 reports of hate crime based on gender between March 2015 and 2018, and 57,000 of those were targeted at women. This police policy started in Nottinghamshire, under the leadership of Sue Fish, and it showed a clear difference. I hope all of us in this House will pay tribute to Sue Fish and the tremendous work she has done in recognising the benefits to policing of taking this approach.

In that same time period, Nottinghamshire Police received 269 reports of misogyny, 125 of which were classed as hate crime and 144 were classed as non-crime incidents. Of the 265 misogyny hate crime victims, 243 were female. The same pattern emerges in Avon and Somerset, where just over 90% of the victims were female, but men did also come forward, so we know that men will be able to use this legislation.

My point in raising this is not to say that it somehow does not matter that young men might experience sex-based harassment; it is to recognise that at the moment in our society it is women who are paying the price for our failure to understand how misogyny has driven crime against them and to recognise that in law. What the law will do is correct that imbalance. It will bring us the opportunity not just to record that data, but finally to acknowledge it in the courts. In doing so, we stand up for all those young men who do not want to see this behaviour, who do recognise that it is abuse and harassment, and who do recognise that their sisters, their mothers, their aunts, their cousins and their friends at school deserve the same freedoms to go about their daily business as they do. This Bill, and the concept of recognising, as we do with other protected characteristics, that there are those out there who perpetrate crimes because of their hatred and anger towards somebody because of their sex or their presumed sex, is about equality of emancipation.

I say to the hon. Member for Christchurch, who I will know will be as deeply concerned as I was by the reports of sexual harassment among his own police force in Dorset, that one reason why many of us campaigned for this legislation and this recognition was the evidence from police forces about just how transformative it is. Let us be very clear: we are not talking about new forms of crime. We are talking about changing a culture in which women coming forward to report crime have been told, “Well, that’s just life. We couldn’t really find this person.” Not everybody who follows a woman down a road shouting abuse, suggesting that they might want to touch them in various sorts of ways and thinking that somehow that is an appropriate way to introduce themselves to somebody, becomes a rapist or a sexual abuser. But many of those who are rapists and sexual abusers start with that sort of behaviour. The kind of data the Bill will allow us to gather helps us to detect and prevent crimes. It helps us to change the culture within policing. In this week of all weeks, we know how important that will be for the safety of everybody in our constituencies.

I share with the hon. Member for Christchurch deep concern about the role models our young men have. I look on in horror at the material Andrew Tate promoted. I look on in horror at the things that can be found online that we know our young men are consuming. But I have great faith in the young men of this country. They do not need to be cosseted or nannied. They need us to stand up for their ability to be good allies, good brothers, good fathers, good friends and good work colleagues who are not likely to behave in those ways. Those who do behave in the ways we are discussing need to feel the force of the law. The law needs to be on the side of the victims, by recognising that behaviour in the way that we do other forms of hate crime.

By passing the Bill, we are sending a powerful message to our young men that they deserve better than the caricature of “boys will be boys” and the idea that they somehow cannot help themselves. We know they can. We know it is as much about our young men and the message we send them as it is our young women and their freedoms we are fighting for in this legislation. I welcome the fact that there has been cross-party work on the Bill. I pay tribute to Citizens UK, Our Streets Now and the Fawcett Society for the work they have done to make the argument that we should not minimise harassment in public. We should recognise it, treat it equally and prosecute those who behave in those ways.

I suspect that across the House there is a common agreement about how much this debate is changing. We are all of a certain age. We remember things that were on television when we were younger that we now know are not acceptable. The hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr French) is shaking his head. I am sure afterwards we can compare notes on just how awful our ’90s fashion was. We remember things that were on television, and cultural ideas about race and ethnicity, that we would now recognise are inappropriate, and indeed that created a culture in which racial hatred and abuse was encouraged. We hope, in time, that working against targeting people on the basis of their sex or presumed sex will have the same effect: that we can challenge myths, challenge expectations and challenge behaviour. But we cannot do that if the law is not on the side of women who have not come forward to date—the 80% of women who experience street-based harassment but do not report it. The Bill will change that. It will also support young men, and it will support our society to be a better version of itself.

I hope Members will support the Bill. This is the start of a process. I hope the Minister will talk about the training that will be given to the police and the CPS to ensure that the legislation is effective. But let us have no more minimisation, no more shaking our heads and saying, “It’s just the way of the world.” Let us have no more teaching young women to be frightened, to go on self-defence courses, to travel with their friends and to carry those keys, any more than we say to young men, “Well, try not to do it again.” Let us change that culture. Let us change the law. Let us make this a society where everybody is just free to live their lives in peace. I will wager, left or right, that is an ambition we can all get behind.

10:54
Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
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I will be brief, but I could not let this legislation pass without commenting on it, particularly in the week when we saw the Casey review, to which the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) referred. That review reminds us all just how everyday an experience sexual harassment is for so many women and girls. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) for taking up this cause. In the 13 years that I have been here, we have talked a lot about these issues, and about violence against women and girls, but it has not got much beyond words and into concrete action.

There has been much resistance to the measure because of the additional pressures that it might put on the police. By resisting it, this place was sending the message to women and girls that this was their lot; it was normalising the behaviour that we are talking about. The Casey review shows that if we normalise that behaviour in society, we give a green light to it in our police services, and the police are exactly the people who should be keeping us safe.

The Bill marks a real turning point. At last, we are sending the message, “No, we will not put up with this. This is not acceptable behaviour.” It should not be acceptable that anyone experiences harassment. Nobody should think that they can get away with it. Nobody should abuse their power and make people feel uncomfortable and distressed just because they can. I am hugely grateful to my right hon. Friend for the Bill, and really grateful to the Government for embracing and supporting it. This is a rare moment of unity; we are all on the same side. I hope this marks the beginning of many more measures that give us women the opportunity to participate in society without having to put up with intimidation day in, day out.

10:56
Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson
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It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate. I once again congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) on bringing forward this important and hugely welcome Bill, which will better protect all our constituents.

As I outlined in my Second Reading speech, we have a long heritage of protective legislation brought forward by Conservative Governments; there is the Children Act 1989, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, and even my private hire and taxi legislation, or Sian’s law. We can add my right hon. Friend’s Bill to those. I also look forward to seeing very soon the draft legislation promised by the Government on banning conversion practices, which will add further to that range of protections. I appreciate that time is short, so I conclude by again congratulating him on the Bill’s Third Reading. I am happy to give it my full support.

10:57
Louie French Portrait Mr Louie French (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con)
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I will be brief, too, given the limited time available. I rise to support the Bill, which provides greater protection from sex-based harassment. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) for all his great work, and all the campaigners who have campaigned so hard on the issue.

May I please again urge the Minister to review the Metropolitan police’s tri-borough policing model? It was mentioned in Baroness Casey’s review this week, which highlighted a number of issues. I will raise one that is particularly relevant to this Bill: the review highlighted that 50% more sexual offences occur in the south-east basic command unit area, which includes my home of Bexley, than in the central north BCU, which includes the likes of Camden and Islington. However, as Baroness Casey points out, under the one-size-fits-all policing model introduced by the Mayor of London, the resourcing model is the same for both BCUs. That is not right. Alongside that, the Mayor’s disastrous ultra low emission zone plans will impact many women travelling home at night and their safety. I again urge the Minister to look into the matter of the tri-borough policing model.

10:58
Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman
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I will speak very briefly. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) on introducing the Bill. I wanted to speak in support of it as a man on the Opposition Back-Benches; we in the Opposition have some very able women who have led this campaign. I have a vested interest; I have daughters—Lucy, Madlin and Verity—and I have granddaughters: Megan, Lola, Gwen, Elodie, Rosa and Arwen. They are girls, and I want them to grow up in a world where this abuse no longer exists.

10:59
Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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I warmly welcome this Bill from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). Too many women and, even more concerningly, many girls have experienced a form of sex-based harassment in public places. The Government’s call for evidence ahead of our violence against women and girls strategy received 180,000 responses, showing the depth and breadth of feeling among British women on their safety and exposure to harassment when they are just going about their daily lives. As part of this strategy, Barnstaple in my North Devon constituency has received £348,000 of safer streets funding to tackle violence against women and girls. I know that my police and crime commissioner and local force have been tackling these crimes, which act as barriers to women and girls enjoying their local community. I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend for his work and to place on record my support for this important Bill.

11:00
Kieran Mullan Portrait Dr Kieran Mullan (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con)
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I will also speak briefly and begin by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) for securing the passage of this Bill. It has been great to hear it being warmly supported in the House today.

I rise primarily to pay tribute to a group of girls who really helped me understand this issue. Sandbach High School is not in my constituency—it is in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce)— but she kindly agreed for me to visit, because so many of my constituents go to school there. It is a girls school, and I had a session with a group of girls who put across to me how frequently this was an issue for them, even at this point in their lives, and how commonplace it was for them to experience harassment.

I also pay tribute to a charity in Crewe called Motherwell, founded by Kate Blakemore. What we have discussed today is recognising that this issue sits within a bigger picture of how we think about and treat women and girls in society. Motherwell is a women and girls charity dedicated to empowering women in all sorts of different ways, including looking at issues of their own safety. That organisation and that group of girls helped me understand this issue. I am pleased to be here today to pay tribute to them, and to my right hon. Friend, in supporting the Bill.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

00:03
Anneliese Dodds Portrait Anneliese Dodds
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I gave my thanks previously to those who have done such an excellent job in bringing the Bill to the House, so I will be brief, but I wanted to underline an incredibly important point that has been made by a number of speakers. This Bill will be positive for everyone. The evidence for that has already been set out, including by the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). When we look at the evidence about the impact of this kind of behaviour, especially on girls, I know that all of us in the House are incredibly concerned. Girlguiding UK found that a third of girls aged 17 and 18 first experienced harassment at the age of 11. It will be good for girls and women, and for boys and men, to be clear that the atrocious behaviour of a minority is truly rejected by the majority. This is therefore important legislation.

While it is good that the Bill has Government support, it is a shame that some of these important issues seem often to be relegated to private Members’ Bills. It is two years since the violence against women and girls strategy was launched, and we have not seen enough progress. We need to see more. Yes, the Bill is positive, but we need to see misogyny being made a hate crime. We need to see specialist rape courts across the country and domestic abuse specialists in every 999 room. Ultimately, we need to see a cross-Government approach. While it is absolutely right that we focus in this Bill on criminal justice and policing matters, the solution will be found more widely in our schools, hospitals and workplaces. Not delivering that solution will fail women and girls.

00:05
Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I will be extremely brief, because I know that many other Members want to bring Bills forward today, and other Members have made excellent contributions. I quickly congratulate again my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) on bringing forward this legislation. I congratulate many Members on the work they have done on this issue, particularly the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price).

It is important that this Bill is only one part of a wider piece of work to protect women and girls. Of course, this is a Government who brought forward legislation on forced marriages, stalking, upskirting and making sure that serious sexual offenders spend more of their sentence in prison. We have brought forward the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, introduced the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and legislated on female genital mutilation. There of course is a lot more work to do, and I look forward to working with colleagues in government and across the House to make further progress.

09:30
Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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With the leave of the House, I will briefly thank all those who have aided the passage of the Bill.

I start by thanking my constituents who, over the years, have shared with me their experiences and encouraged me to bring forward this legislation, supported by campaigning groups from across the country.

To turn those intentions into prospective legislation, one requires advice and support. I am grateful to officials and Ministers in the Home Office, including the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), and the current Home Secretary and her ministerial team.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines), who has seen the Bill through its previous stages, is indisposed today. I want to put on record my thanks to her and to my right hon. Friend the Minister for very ably picking up the brief today and responding during the Report stage. I am grateful to him for that.

I thank the excellent Clerks of the House. In particular, I would like to single out the Clerk responsible for private Members’ Bills, Anne-Marie Griffiths, who does a tremendous job, supported by her very able colleagues. We are grateful for the advice that she has given.

Finally, I thank the no less able Whips on both sides, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris). She has developed a reputation for sensing the mood of the House. In a House that can sometimes be a forum for contention, my hon. Friend has great skill in being able to bring us together on occasions such as this one.

Having put on record my thanks, I commend the Bill to the House.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman. Anne-Marie Griffiths was here earlier and she will be back, but we will ensure that she is aware of those kind words.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill

First Reading
15:37
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill

Second Reading
15:14
Moved by
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, for those watching, whether live or a recorded transmission at some future date, perhaps I should make two points at the outset. I am conscious that a man—that is, me—is proposing that the Bill be read a second time, and that the Minister, and indeed the noble Lord who will speak for the Opposition Front Bench, are also both men. There are in fact two good reasons for this. First, a technical reason is that nothing in the Bill limits it to women being the object of the harassment. Men can also be an object of harassment, although, on the vast and overwhelming majority of occasions, it is women who suffer from this crime. Secondly, and far more importantly, the reason why it is actually good that men are debating the Bill is that violence against women is not a matter just for women but for all of us. Therefore, I am pleased, if I can put it that way, that men in the Chamber are engaged in this debate.

I should also say for those watching that the limited number of speakers in this debate does not indicate that there is no enthusiasm in this House for this subject; on the contrary, it is exactly because there has been such broad cross-party support both here and in the other place that we have so few speakers today.

I must first thank a host of organisations and charities who have contributed to work on the Bill. In particular I mention in the parliamentary context Greg Clark MP, who introduced the Bill in the other place after his success in the ballot and who was kind enough to discuss the form of the legislation with me at the outset. It is therefore also kind of him to entrust me, if I can put it that way, with introducing Second Reading of the Bill in your Lordships’ House today. However, the Bill, like other matters the House has debated today, is a cross-party effort in the sense that it has been supported, very strongly, across all parties. In that context, it is only fair for me also to mention Stella Creasy MP, who contributed significantly to the debate on the Bill in the other place and has worked in this area on a number of matters. I am also grateful to my noble friend the Minister, the Government Front Bench and other Front Benches for their support on the Bill.

Violence against women is experienced all too often in public places and indeed in private locations as well. It has always been wrong and has always been incapable of any justification. However, it is fair to say that in the last number of years there has been an increasing groundswell of public feeling on this issue, and I both regret and welcome that increased focus. I regret it because it shows that our society still suffers from this type of behaviour all too often. However, I also welcome it because the increased focus on this issue and indeed related issues will help us all to reduce, if not rid our society of, this sort of behaviour.

This is a very short and very focused Bill. It will not solve the problem, but it will be part of the solution. It builds on existing legislation; it does not criminalise anything which is not already illegal. However, it provides a higher sentence if the crime is motivated by the sex or the perceived sex of the victim—and that is as perceived by the offender, not the victim. It entails that if someone commits an offence under the existing Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 and does so because of the victim’s sex, they can get a longer sentence: up to two years, rather than up to six months as now. It relates to behaviour in any location except where both the victim and the perpetrator are in a private dwelling.

The Bill does not specify the types of behaviour that will be covered, since that will be case dependent, but the Explanatory Notes give some likely examples. These include following a person—for example, deliberately walking closely behind someone as they walk home late at night; I should say that I have heard about that from my own daughters on occasion—making an obscene or aggressive comment towards a person; making an obscene or offensive gesture towards a person; obstructing a person making a journey; and driving or riding a vehicle slowly near a person making a journey. Importantly, there is a reasonable conduct defence, which was the subject of some discussion in the other place, and an amendment was brought in which now requires Ministers to produce statutory guidance for the police about the new offence, in particular about the reasonable conduct defence. That reasonable conduct defence is already in the legislation, in Section 4A, but there will be statutory guidance about it.

The Bill does not fill a gap in the law: there is no gap. Public sexual harassment behaviour is already covered by existing criminal offences, especially offences in the Public Order Act. So, we do not need or, I suggest, want a new offence. When I spoke from the Front Bench, I frequently said that the statute book is not there as a form of semaphore to send signals. This does not create a new offence; as I said, it creates a higher sentence for a particular form of the offence.

Section 2 is therefore important. It refers to the guidance I mentioned, which will be issued to all relevant parties by the Secretary of State and provides that the chief constable and others in the police must have regard to that guidance. I should say, in parenthesis, that I found that a little odd when I first looked at it: I thought it could be taken for granted that chief constables would have regard to guidance. I presume, therefore, that this is standard drafting, but I would not want it thought that, in any other case, if we did not say they must have regard to it, that means that they can ignore it. I shall leave that there for the moment.

I draw the House’s attention to the consequential amendments in Section 3, not because they are in any way problematic but because I feel I should, because the first of them amends the Football Spectators Act 1989, and I should probably declare my registered interest as the chair of the Football Regulatory Authority in that regard. Section 4 extends the Bill to England and Wales. Wales was bought in by an amendment in the other place. That was received with enthusiasm by the Welsh Government. I do not think I need to declare an interest there—I will just read out my name from Hansard in due course.

The critical point with the Bill is that legislation will not solve the problem. We need social and cultural change, but a legislative change can be part of the solution. I am very proud to have played a small part in getting the Bill to this stage and I very much hope that all parts of the House will be able to support it and therefore add another brick, so to speak, in the wall we are building, slowly but surely, against this type of behaviour. For those reasons, I beg to move.

15:23
Baroness Hussein-Ece Portrait Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, for introducing this very welcome Private Member’s Bill. It is long overdue. I also welcome the fact that a man is introducing it and other men are speaking to it. I certainly do not feel like the token woman in this debate; I very much welcome support from all sides of the House.

Sexual harassment in public is something that most women and girls, and some men, will experience. Unwanted attention, sexual advances and intimidating behaviour in public spaces and on public transport are a fact of life, sadly, for many women and girls. I was reflecting on this and remembering my mother telling me about numerous occasions on which she was harassed when she came to this country as a 20 year-old and about the impact that that had on her confidence and her ability to go out and about on her business independently, without having to rely on male relatives.

I personally experienced that frequently when I was at school, as many girls did. I remember that, when I was in the sixth form, that culminated, while I was coming out of the school gates with some friends, in a man exposing himself to us. In that instance, the school called the police and, thankfully, he was apprehended, but I think we are all aware that the impact of that is quite devastating for many young girls.

I have had men shout out lewd and aggressive comments and, if they are ignored, as many of us try to do, they sometimes become even more aggressive and even obscene. I have been tailgated while driving and followed. Like many women, I have learned to change my behaviour to feel safe. Just a few weeks ago on the Tube, I witnessed a couple of young men making loud and lewd comments to a young woman about her appearance, and I am sure that she got off the tube just to get away from them.

The majority of women will have their own personal experiences; that is a sad reality of life. I have two daughters, who have also been subjected to this type of behaviour from a very young age, and I have seen the impact it has had on them. So I welcome the aim of the Bill to make it unacceptable to harass someone on the grounds of sex. Importantly, it sets out for the first time that it is not simply a woman’s or a girl’s responsibility to avoid these situations—it is society’s job to stop individuals behaving like this. I agree with the noble Lord that we need cultural change; that will not happen overnight, but at least the Bill will put a building block in place that will enable some of that change. I believe that is slowly happening with the younger generation. My young son and his friends talk about how they have witnessed this and find it unacceptable, and they have intervened when they see young girls being harassed by men.

Plan International UK research found that three-quarters of girls and young women aged 12 to 21 have experienced a form of sexual harassment in a public space in their lifetimes, and the shocking figure of 62% will often avoid activities such as going out, socialising or going to the gym because they are worried about experiencing public sexual harassment.

My concern, shared by organisations that have been campaigning on these issues, is that in its current form it could fall short of delivering on its potential. I will highlight two main reasons. First, public offences are normally based on the concept of intent—whether someone intended to harass someone else—and they may well give the defence that, “I just thought my behaviour was reasonable”. The bar for proving a perpetrator’s intention is currently set too high. Will a perpetrator get away with sexual harassing people in public by claiming that it was just a joke or a compliment, or that they do not know how to take a compliment? The Bill does not explicitly define public sexual harassment, leaving such behaviour up to interpretation. We know that misogyny plays a big role but, until it is clearly defined, it will be all too easy to dismiss as mere banter.

My final point is that, in welcoming the guidance, I hope it will be widely shared with places such as schools, colleges and universities, where this is a particularly endemic problem. That will serve to ensure that women and girls feel empowered to make formal complaints and to educate boys and men on what is acceptable behaviour.

15:28
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, on introducing the Bill. I also congratulate him on taking on the chairmanship of the Football Regulatory Authority. I suspect that is something he will have to declare many times in future years.

I shall not repeat some of the figures that the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, has given, regarding the reasons why everyone is against sexual harassment and how it is so gender-based. I suspect I received some of the same briefing materials as she did.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, for the way in which he introduced this Bill by emphasising that it is not introducing a new law as such but increases a maximum sentence and reintroduces guidelines so that police can have better guidance on how these sorts of offences might be charged.

The noble Lord said that, when he was a Minister, he often said that legislating is not a form of semaphore. I take the point but, nevertheless, a form of semaphore is sometimes welcome. I have dealt with many bits of legislation, as I know the noble Lord has, in which we are trying to indicate that society’s attitudes are changing on violence towards women. A lot of legislation we have been involved with has been in the private sphere—domestic abuse and domestic violence. I know through my work as a sitting magistrate in Westminster Magistrates’ Court, where we now have dedicated domestic abuse courts, that we are seeing greater awareness of trying to manage the process through the court system because of the high dropout rate of victims of domestic abuse. That is in the private sphere, and this Bill is dealing with similar issues in the public sphere.

It is of course true that this is hugely gendered in the way it is experienced by women and girls, particularly young girls; it is something they grow up with and a persistent part of their daily lives. The noble Lord is providing a service to the House in this modest Bill, and he was right to be modest in the claims he was making for it—he is realistic in that. It is of course part of an ongoing campaign. We heard something of the nature of that ongoing campaign from the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, when she talked about the limitations, as she and the campaigners described them, of the Bill, including the level of the bar of intent, where things can be dismissed as banter. Perhaps more legislation on such definitions will come forward in future—I do not know.

Nevertheless, I welcome the Bill. I welcome a bit of semaphore from this House to say that society’s expectations of behaviour are changing and that this is being reflected in our law courts and should be reflected in the activities of the police. With that reflection on the Bill, I am happy to welcome it.

15:32
Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, before I begin, I briefly pay tribute to the late Jo Cox. I thought of Jo at the recent Lords and Commons tug of war, because it was at such an event that I last saw her alive—she was cheering on the MPs as they beat the Lords.

It is a genuine pleasure to respond to this excellent debate. This is of course an issue of enormous public interest. I declare the interest of having a teenage daughter, who today finished her GCSEs, and this is of concern to us all as children grow up into adults. Had we been in any doubt about that, the significant public and media commentary about the Bill confirms just how important this issue is for the people of this country. I hope that the profound consideration we have all given to this legislation is a demonstration to the public that we really are determined to pass laws which will change their lives for the better.

I pay tribute to a range of people for bringing us to this point. In this Chamber, I thank my noble Lord Wolfson of Tredegar for sponsoring the Bill, and the other colleagues who have given such thoughtful speeches today. In the other place, the accolades must go to my right honourable friend Greg Clark MP, who was inspired to introduce this Bill by what he heard from one of his constituents about her experiences. I consider it important that the sponsors of this Bill in both Houses have been men, so that people do not think that this is just a “women’s issue”. For the same reason, I am very pleased to be responding to the debate today.

I pay tribute to my ministerial colleagues at the Home Office, Sarah Dines and Chris Philp, who steered the legislation so ably through the Commons Chamber, and to the many other Members of that House who provided important scrutiny of the provisions. I also emphasise the role of those many organisations outside Parliament that have campaigned for this legislation. This is not top-down legislation; rather, it is a fine example of a law which has come about thanks to the efforts of civil society and to the real groundswell of public interest in this issue since some of the terrible events of recent years.

I do not think that I am exaggerating when I say that this is a landmark piece of legislation. Violence against women and girls is now at the forefront of the nation’s consciousness, which can only be a good thing. Of course, it was always at the forefront of the consciousness of women and girls, who have actually experienced it—including Members of this House, as the noble Baroness just shared with us. But it is now recognised universally as one of the most urgent priorities that we must address, and I know that that consensus is shared across the parties.

Of course, there are many forms of violence against women and girls that do greater relative harm than public sexual harassment; the terrible cases of Wayne Couzens and David Carrick are examples of that. But tackling public sexual harassment is still fundamentally important. As noble Lords here today will need no reminding, it does real harm to women and girls—the unpleasantness of the experience itself; the fear; the damage to mental health; the state of high alert when walking through the streets; the fearful anticipation of the walk home at night; and the enjoyable experiences forgone by avoiding, say, bars and clubs in the night-time economy.

With this legislation, we are sending a clear message that this behaviour is wholly unacceptable. But it is more than just a message: the legislation should give people more confidence to report crimes, and it should make the police more aware of how to respond to them. The statutory guidance added to the Bill on Report in the other place will help greatly in that regard. The legislation should make perpetrators think twice before walking closely behind someone down the street or shouting an obscene comment at them.

So far, I have talked about women and girls. To echo my noble friend Lord Wolfson, women and girls are the main victims of public sexual harassment, so the Bill will protect them in particular. But anyone can be a victim of this crime, just as anyone can be a perpetrator of it, so my message to men and boys is: this law is here to protect you too.

I will briefly remind noble Lords what the Bill does. Existing Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 provides that, if someone intentionally causes another person “harassment, alarm or distress” through the use of “threatening, abusive or insulting” words or behaviour, “disorderly” behaviour or the display of any “visible representation” that is threatening, abusive or insulting, they are committing a crime that carries a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment. That is the case unless both parties are in a private dwelling.

The Bill would create a new offence within the Public Order Act that would provide that, if someone commits an offence under Section 4A and does so because of the sex of the person to whom they intend to cause harassment, alarm or distress, they could instead receive a maximum sentence of up to two years in prison. The Bill also requires Ministers to publish guidance for the police about the new offence, to which they must have regard. This guidance must in particular cover the “reasonable conduct” defence inherited from Section 4A.

I hardly need state that legislation is not everything. The Bill is a necessary condition for putting an end to public sexual harassment, but it is not a sufficient one. We need to change the culture too, and to ensure that existing laws are enforced as well as they can be. I am proud that this Government have taken many such actions. Our StreetSafe tool, which has now been used to make around 28,000 reports, allows anyone to let the police know where they have felt unsafe.

Funding through the safer streets and safety of women at night funds has provided direct, practical protection to women and girls. For example, the police and crime commissioner for Surrey received £162,000 through round 3 of the safer streets fund to deliver a range of interventions aimed at improving the safety of women, with a focus on tackling indecent sexual exposures along Basingstoke canal. New guidance about the existing laws for the police was published 18 months ago and, for the CPS, 10 months ago. Above all there is our “Enough” communications campaign—because what is most important is changing the culture, making sure that everyone knows that it is not okay to harass, abuse or cause someone to feel fear.

I now turn my attention to some points that have been raised in this House and elsewhere. Concern has been expressed that the requirement to prove the defendant intended to cause harassment, alarm or distress will prove a barrier to prosecution. While I understand that concern, I do not share it. When the court is considering whether someone intended to cause harassment, while they will take into account what the defendant said that their motivation was, the real test will be what the objective circumstances show their likely motivation to be. I am sure that defendants will often say that they were just making a joke or paying a compliment. Defendants may say many things; they have nothing to lose. But it is what the court concludes which matters. If it is not plausible that they would be motivated by something other than the desire to cause harassment, I would not expect the court to be swayed by what the defendant says.

The need to prove intention—or mens rea, as the many legal experts in this House will know—is an element of many offences. Indeed, it is part of the existing defence of Section 4A of the Public Order Act, on which the legislation would build. Last year, there were 3,306 convictions for that offence—that is over 3,000 occasions on which it was proved, beyond reasonable doubt, that there was an intention to cause harassment, alarm or distress. I hope that provides reassurance to noble Lords that the intention test is no barrier to prosecution.

The view has also been expressed that the law should be targeted at behaviour that is sexual in nature, rather than behaviour based on the victim’s sex—that is, on their being a woman or a man. I know that some of the organisations which have campaigned most actively for a new offence would prefer an offence which refers to unwanted sexual conduct. I would argue that the sex-based rather than sexual model of the Bill provides the most capacious coverage. It is hard to think of a behaviour that is sexual in nature but not also based on the victim’s sex. It is easier to think of behaviour which is based on victim’s sex but not sexual in nature—for example, shouting negative comments at a woman about her appearance or shouting that she should be at home in the kitchen. In other words, the Bill already covers unwanted sexual conduct, whereas a Bill based purely on that concept would exclude examples of behaviour which cause harm to a woman.

I confirm that it is the view of Ministers that public sexual harassment behaviour is already covered by existing offences. This view is shared by the police and CPS. This Bill is not about filling a gap in the law but about deterring behaviour, raising awareness and encouraging victims to report. The Bill in any case covers activity that causes harassment, alarm or distress only when that is also the intention of the perpetrator. That goes beyond any reasonable free speech principles. I direct noble Lords’ attention to the examples set out in the Explanatory Notes of the behaviour which might be covered by this law—for example: deliberately walking closely behind someone as they walk at night; making an obscene or aggressive comment towards a person; and obstructing a person making a journey. A reasonable person would not regard this as free speech. Of course, Explanatory Notes are not binding on courts, but they give courts and prosecutors a clear steer. In any case, there is a defence whereby the defendant can show that their conduct was reasonable.

The point has been made on whether the police will really have the evidence they need to enforce this law. The answer is: not in every case. That is true for any law, but we should not be unduly defeatist. There may be CCTV, mobile phone footage and witnesses. Just as we saw over 3,000 convictions last year for the existing Section 4A offence, we can also expect to see effective police investigations and convictions for this new offence.

Let us say here today that there will be an end to women having to put on trainers before they go home, in case they have to run; an end to having to ask their friends to text them when they get home; an end to having to hold their keys in the hand and to their being followed and being cornered; an end to the obscenities they are forced to hear; and an end to the aggressive comments, and the start of a time when women and girls—indeed, everyone—can walk the streets without fear. This Bill alone will not achieve those ends, but it will play a key part. I encourage all noble Lords to support this important Bill before us today.

15:44
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to all who have taken part in this debate.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, said from personal experience in a very moving speech, it is the effect of this sort of behaviour that we are trying to target. It is a pernicious effect, because it is not just the immediate effect on the victim, as the noble Baroness identified; it is the effect that the victim starts to change their behaviour. Even when there is no actual harassment going on, because of the fear that there may be harassment and because of knowledge of previous occasions, people change their behaviour. Of course, they should not change their behaviour; the behaviour we should seek to change is the behaviour of the perpetrators. Ultimately, that is why this is a matter of social and cultural change, and not just a change in law. But change in law, as all speakers identified, is part of the solution, even if it is not all of the solution. I am very grateful for her support and for what she said.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, who made the important point that we have to target actions in both the private sphere and the public sphere. Over the past few years, this House and the other place have done quite a lot of work in the private sphere, and it is therefore right, as he said, that we should turn our attention now to the public sphere.

I am also very grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his comprehensive support for the Bill and for identifying the change of culture that is needed. I was going to say a couple of words on the point about intent, but my noble friend the Minister dealt with that. I add only that courts are used to dealing with questions of intent—it is an ingredient in many offences—and I would not expect it to be a problem for the courts with this offence. Indeed, it is already part of the underlying offence in Section 4A.

On public sexual harassment and what it means, it is better not to have examples in the Bill. As I said, we have some examples in the Explanatory Notes. The danger is that examples in the future Act itself can limit the application, because you could be limited to the nature of the examples. The way we normally do legislation here is to allow the courts to interpret it. We can be confident that in this area the courts will interpret these words in a sensible and natural way.

As I have said on a number of occasions, this will not solve the problem, but it is part of the solution.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 3.47 pm.

Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill

Order of Commitment discharged
Tuesday 4th July 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Act 2023 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 24 March 2023 - (24 Mar 2023)
Order of Commitment
15:20
Moved by
Baroness Hussein-Ece Portrait Baroness Hussein-Ece
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That the order of commitment be discharged.

Baroness Hussein-Ece Portrait Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD)
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My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill

Third Reading
15:37
Welsh Legislative Consent granted.
Motion
Moved by
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I assure noble Lords that the shortness of my remarks now does not reflect the importance of the Bill: this is an important, focused Bill and a valuable contribution to the fight against this blight on our society. The genesis of the Bill was a consultation announced to this House by my noble friend the Chief Whip in her previous incarnation. My right honourable friend Greg Clark MP discussed the Bill with me before he introduced it into and steered it through the other place. I am grateful to him and to my noble friend the Minister and his department, both in the other place and here. This Bill has had absolute cross-party support, and therefore I am also grateful to the Opposition Front Bench and other Front Benches. I have received support from all parts of the House and I thank the Clerk of the Parliaments and his staff.

I have benefited, as I am sure other noble Lords have, from reading material sent to me by a number of campaigning groups in this area, but what really brought home the importance of the Bill to me was an email I got out of the blue over the summer from someone I will just call Lauren. When I spoke to her, at some length, she explained to me the appalling behaviour to which she had been repeatedly subjected in a park in the part of the country in which she lives. I hope that the Bill will help her and others in her position.

It will not have escaped noble Lords that although this Bill, with the title it has, applies to men and women, women are overwhelmingly the subjects of this appalling behaviour. This Bill has been taken through both Houses by men. There is nothing wrong with that. I suggest that it is absolutely right, because violence against women and girls is not a matter only for women and girls, but for all of us.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I wholeheartedly endorse the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, has summarised the Bill which he has piloted through this House and congratulate him on it. He was right to remind us that its genesis was with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in her previous incarnation and in an earlier Bill. Nevertheless, there has been cross-party support for it, which I am happy to reiterate.

It is worth reminding ourselves that 71% of women of all ages in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public. That rises to 86% of all 18 to 24 year-old young women. I have one question which I hope the Minister can comment on when summing up the Government’s position. How will the impact of this Bill be monitored going forward? It is a very specific and quite controversial Bill, even though it has had cross-party support; the Government should see the monitoring of its impact as a proper part of its enactment, so that we can measure its benefit.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, this Bill reminds us of the very real damage caused by public sexual harassment, a terrible crime that is far too widespread. The Bill’s cross-Chamber and cross-party support has been a real indication of our shared determination to make our streets safer for everyone.

I put on record my congratulations to all those involved in the passage of this Bill. First, it is fitting that we pay tribute to its sponsors: Greg Clark MP in the other place for bringing the Bill forward and so ably championing the experience of his constituents on the issue and my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar in this Chamber for picking up the baton to see it through to Royal Assent. I also recognise my ministerial colleagues—in particular my noble friend Lord Evans for his work in responding to the Bill on behalf of the Government—and the officials who supported them in doing so. My thanks also go to all other Members of both Houses who have provided careful scrutiny of the Bill and spoken so thoughtfully and respectfully on this sensitive topic. In doing so, they have not only worked together to make it stronger but played a key part in helping to raise awareness of public sexual harassment.

As with any new criminal justice legislation, an implementation period will be necessary to ensure that all processes, systems and guidance are updated. That includes drawing up the necessary statutory guidance. We therefore cannot give a timescale now for when we expect the offence to be implemented, but we will ensure that the legislation comes into force as quickly as reasonably possible. I think that goes some way to answering the question of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, on how it will be monitored. The guidance needs to be carefully drawn up first, and then I am sure we will return to the subject.

I end on the most important thank you of them all: to those who relentlessly campaigned for this change. The Bill is a testament to the hard work and passion of the organisations and many individuals who bravely shared their experiences. I join my noble friend Lord Wolfson in saying to them that their efforts have made a real difference in the pursuit of making our streets safer for women and girls.

15:43
Bill passed.

Royal Assent

Royal Assent
Monday 18th September 2023

(9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 136-R-I Marshalled list for Report - (1 Sep 2023)
21:30
The following Acts were given Royal Assent:
Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Act,
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act,
Powers of Attorney Act,
Northern Ireland Budget (No. 2) Act,
Pensions (Extension of Automatic Enrolment) Act,
Animals (Low-Welfare Activities Abroad) Act,
Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act,
Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Act,
Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committees Act,
Firearms Act.
House adjourned at 9.31 pm.