Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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2nd reading
Friday 9th December 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Act 2023 Read Hansard Text Watch Debate

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Act 2023 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

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.

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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.

Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee stage
Wednesday 22nd February 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Act 2023 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 22 February 2023 - (22 Feb 2023)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Act 2023 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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)
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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.

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Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
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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
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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
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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
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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.

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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
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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.

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)
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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.

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Anneliese Dodds Portrait Anneliese Dodds
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

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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.

Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill

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This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

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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.