Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Christopher ChopeMain Page: Christopher Chope (Conservative - Christchurch)
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We have to make the law work in practice, as well as on paper. Like my right hon. Friend, I believe that because these things have been made so complex, the police are finding them difficult to implement. I am not sure that we have an investigation into that. The Minister may want to talk to us further about what she has found out from her Scottish colleagues, because I think they are looking at it in a lot of detail.
My hon. Friend will hear my thoughts on that in a few moments when I talk about my experience of estimates of the levels of revenge pornography, which were equally low. In practice, there has been much more of it. I therefore wonder how accurate the projections are.
My concern is that drawing the Bill in this way will artificially depress the number of people who come forward. The courts might think that Parliament, in its specific omission of certain groups of people who perpetrate this crime—we know they are doing it already—is artificially narrowing the number of convictions that are brought forward. I do not think that is how Parliament wants the Bill to work. Amendment 3 would make sure that it worked far more broadly and called to account all the people who are committing this crime, not just a very small section of them.
The Minister was at pains in Committee to underline that the two purposes are based “word for word”, as she said, on the Scottish Act. As we have heard, only a handful of cases have been brought under that legislation—just three a year over the past eight years. That is an extraordinarily low level in the context of the statistics that the hon. Member for Walthamstow went through. Research tells us that about one in 10 young people in this country experiences upskirting. That would mean a far higher rate than just three in Scotland or just under 30 in the UK. We need to hear from the Minister what information she has received from Scotland on why there is such a low level of conviction, and what will be done to change that.
I was interested to read the evidence of Alison Saunders of the Crown Prosecution Service. While it said that the motivations in the Bill covered the overwhelming majority of cases, it admitted that:
“It is not inconceivable that suspects will advance the defence that…they had another purpose, such as ‘high jinks’.”
That is a direct quote from her. How confident is the Minister that the CPS has a true grasp of the nature of this offence, given the data we have that implies that there are far more than just a handful of cases every year? As I said, I recall being told that there were just a handful of cases of revenge pornography—fewer than 10 every year—by the same Crown Prosecution Service. With the right legislation, which was put in place by the coalition Government, we now see more than 500 convictions a year for revenge pornography.
Adopting the Scottish model might artificially limit the number of cases that are brought forward. What will the Government do to address that? Will the Minister undertake to have a review of the way the law is working in practice, so that we are not simply having a nice debate today that has very little impact on the lived reality of people who experience this appalling invasion of their privacy and this virtual sexual assault?
Rather than requiring the police to tease out the motivation of an offender and to prove that a victim was humiliated, alarmed or distressed, amendment 3 would make upskirting of any kind a crime. It would have absolutely no impact on the ability of a court to identify the most dangerous offenders and place them on the sex offenders register. Nor would it increase the number of people who are drawn into that.
Amendment 5 directly tackles the other shortcoming in the Scottish Act by making it an offence to distribute upskirting images. Given the Government’s stated objective of copying the Scottish Act word for word, it is unclear why they have chosen to omit the pivotal amendment made to the Scottish Act in 2016 outlawing the distribution, particularly online, of upskirting images. Our existing laws on this issue are patchy at best. I am aware of the Law Commission’s long overdue inquiry into laws in the online world, but to present the Bill with an essential element missing appears to me to be at best an oversight. Will the Minister explain why she felt she should omit this element of the Bill, when it was deemed an essential change required in Scotland?
We need a broader review of the law on image distribution—I have felt that strongly since I was first approached by a constituent about revenge pornography—and I am delighted that the Law Commission is now doing work in that area, but it will take a number of years to complete. In the meantime, outlawing distribution in this Bill specifically would be a stopgap solution, with the Scottish experience as a clear legal rationale. Will the Minister speak to her Scottish counterpart to understand why the amendment was made in Scotland and perhaps even revisit this in the Lords? I am sure their lordships will also be keen to take an interest in this aspect of the Bill.
There was much talk in Committee about not wanting to unintentionally criminalise people, particularly young people, and that is absolutely right—there can be few people who see that as helpful—but rather than dwelling on the perpetrators, we also need to think about the victims and the huge damage being done, particularly to young women, who are on the receiving end of this type of sexualised assault. What message is Parliament sending to young men who are taking pictures up the skirts of their school mates for a laugh if this place excludes that from the law? What are we saying to those young women about the value we put on their right to be protected in law if we see this sort of non-consensual virtual sexual assault as a price worth paying?
I commend the hon. Member for Walthamstow for raising the issue of misogynistic hate crime. It is under active consideration by the Women and Equalities Select Committee in its current inquiry, and I would not want to prejudge that inquiry, but I will say that the scale of sex-based and gender-based crime needs to be recorded, recognised and acted upon, and it needs to be tackled much more broadly, not just in terms of upskirting. I also fully endorse her sentiments about the Law Commission, although it could be said that including that element in the Bill could be problematic in other discussions.
The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) is a tenacious campaigner, and it is to her credit that we are here today discussing the Bill, which deserves the full support of the House. As today’s debate proves, swift change does not have to come at the expense of proper scrutiny.
I want briefly to share my experiences last week in Korea, in Seoul, where upskirting has not been addressed either by society or by the law. The situation there for women and girls is truly horrific. Girls are scared to go into any sort of public toilet, whether in their school or a shopping mall, and women, when they go into public toilets, take a device with them and scan the toilet to see whether they are going to be violated in this way. I do not want us to go down that route. I want us to look at what is motivating society. Why do men seem to feel entitled literally to expose women in this way, sharing the images and seeing them as objects they can control and do whatever they want with?
We have spoken a little bit about the potential of there being only a low number of prosecutions for this crime. I see that as a good thing. What making this illegal would do is send out the clearest message to people that this is a crime and an offence and that they will have action taken against them if they carry it out.
I am incredibly pleased that relationship education is now coming into primary school for all children. A key component of that is explaining to children what is and is not acceptable and that these gender assumptions are put upon them from the very youngest age and that it is their right to challenge them and to have society challenge them on their behalf, so that they can live a full life, making the choices that they believe in and that they are able to make.
I want to reflect briefly on our society and on how we have come to this point now where we have femicide—two murders a week of women—where violence against women is commonplace and where we have this complete objectification of women without any recourse. I go right back to the very beginning when little girls are effectively told what their expectations can and should be. They are given dolls and tea sets. They are told to be complicit and they are told to be quiet. Boys are told that they will be great crusaders. They have guns and they can become world leaders. We encourage children’s expectations at the age of two or three. That then becomes amplified through social media and, specifically, through online porn.
Porn is overwhelmingly made by men for men and overwhelmingly sees the woman as an object that a man can use and abuse however they choose with no repercussion. Until we get the relationship education that shows children that this is a fantasy—in many cases, a perverse fantasy—that is what children will believe that they have to be subjected to. I am talking about boys and girls. When Members go into secondary schools, I am sure that they have young boys and girls coming up to them and asking them, “Do I have to have anal sex? Do I have to strangle my girlfriend when I have sex? Do I have to have sex with other people there?” They are genuinely anxious about this, and we are letting our children down. This legislation on upskirting is about saying, “No, this is unacceptable. It is unacceptable for you to perpetrate and it is unacceptable for it to happen to you.” It sends out a really clear message. I am incredibly grateful that the Government have introduced this Bill.
I also wish to focus on the amendments that include the distribution and the profiting from upskirting. Much of this is being done for money. In Korea, that is what is happening. People are humiliating women not just for their personal gratification, but to make money, so it would be a grave omission if that were not included.
I turn now to the substantive point that I have been trying to make: this crime is a symptom of the misogyny that we are experiencing in this country and that we are seeing escalating in this country, and it needs to be tackled in this country. I urge the Minister to carry out the review that has been proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for “Walthamshire”—[Laughter]—and to incorporate the amendments in the Bill.
The original Bill was brought forward and the rest is history in a sense. I shouted “Object” on 15 June, and the following weekend was completely wrecked for my wife and me because of what was, I think, a largely deliberate misunderstanding of my motives. I know Gina Martin did not misunderstand, because I spoke to her immediately after the debate on Friday 15 June.
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I feel the need to stand up for the members of the Committee, having been a member of it myself, and to reflect that the discussions we had in Committee about treating misogyny as a hate crime did not receive Front-Bench support. That made me, as a Back-Bench Member scrutinising the Bill, reflect on what more could be done to win that argument. It is not always a good thing to be told no.
My hon. Friend has referred to the procedures, processes and membership of Committees. I should like to remind him that the Second Reading of this Bill was done in Committee, and I had to fight slightly to be a member of that Committee. Does he agree that using these kinds of techniques has not really speeded up the delivery of the Bill up to this point and that it has created an opaqueness about the methodology that Parliament uses?
Can the hon. Gentleman perhaps confirm that he said “Object” on 15 June in order to speed up the process of the Bill?
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that we are trying to prevent the crime from being carried out by making it clear in this Bill that upskirting is a crime? It should therefore be seen as a good thing if the Bill brings down the number of cases of upskirting.
Order. I have been listening patiently and most attentively to the hon. Gentleman, who has offered the House a procedural disquisition and some remarks that touch on what might be called the theology of the Bill, which is of considerable interest to the House. He also animadverted to a number of the Bill’s explanatory notes, but if he felt able to proceed fairly promptly to the amendments, which relate specifically to guidance, purposes, aggravating factors, and notification under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, he would be beautifully in order.
Being conscious, as always, of time, I will now address my amendment 6, which would change the notification rules under clause 1(4). This provision was not in the original private Member’s Bill, but the Government rightly say that if a person is guilty of upskirting for the purpose of sexual gratification, in certain circumstances they should be put on the sex offenders register. Why should not everyone who has committed an act of voyeurism for the specific purpose of sexual gratification be put on the sex offenders register? Why should putting an offender on the sex offenders register be conditional on whether they have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment, been detained in a hospital or been made the subject of a community sentence, or whether the victim is under 18? Surely, if we want to toughen up the law and, to follow the point made by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, try to deter such activity, why do we not ensure that all cases of upskirting for sexual gratification result in being put on the sex offenders register?
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Whether or not these offenders should be on the sex offenders register is a difficult issue, because many of these offences will be committed by under-18s on under-18s; they will receive short sentences, but they will be committing offences on other children. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is right that we have this discussion now? Does he also agree that the police guidance on sexting may be very useful in working out a way forward on this difficult and sensitive matter?
It is a pleasure of sorts to follow the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope). We have disagreed on things, but I am pleased to say that I agree with him that we want to make this Bill as good as possible and, in particular, to ensure that it acts as a good deterrent so that people do not consider this vile practice.
I am immensely grateful that the Government have taken the upskirting Bill through the House so quickly. Everyone involved can be very proud of what has been achieved so far. This Bill is testament to how we can all work together constructively. We all agree that upskirting is a vile practice and has to become a specific sexual offence. We all agree that either to gain sexual gratification from upskirting or to take an image for the purposes of distress, humiliation or alarm should not be tolerated and should now be prosecuted in law. We also agree, by and large, that the worst offenders should go on the sex offenders register.
This Bill is aimed at stopping a vile offence by either deterring upskirting in the first place or through the successful prosecution of offenders. We want to ensure that everybody is protected from this crime. We are not debating those common principles today; we are debating how to bring about effective prosecutions and not allow anyone to slip through the net. The wide-ranging discussion on this Bill over the summer has led me to put my name to amendments that explore how we make this upskirting Bill as watertight and effective as possible. I believe that we can strengthen it in two ways.
First, the Bill, as drafted, makes upskirting a sexual offence only if it is done for sexual gratification or if photos are taken to humiliate, distress or alarm the victim. That means that those taking upskirting images for other purposes, for example financial gain, non-sexual enjoyment or “having a bit of a laugh”, would not be committing an offence. However, I believe that whether an offence has taken place should be determined by whether the victim has consented and whether the images were taken intentionally. The harm caused to the victim is substantial, regardless of the motivation of the perpetrator. Upskirting should be an offence regardless of the motive.
Secondly, the Bill would make the taking of the image an offence, but not necessarily the distribution of the image. Amendment 5 would make it an offence to distribute an upskirting image without consent, to which two defences would be available—to prevent or detect crime, or that the person distributing the image did not know that it was an upskirting image.
The large increase in sexually offensive images online is a real problem. Only on Monday, the Home Secretary made a speech talking about his shock at the sexual exploitation of children online, and the responsibility of online platforms. I understand that the Government intend to conduct a wide-ranging review of this problem, but it will probably be years before we can successfully tackle the issue in law. I therefore see no harm in trying to prevent the distributing of upskirting images now, even if other legislation lags behind.
I want the Bill to stop the vile practice of upskirting. It should be a successful tool for prosecution, but it should also act as a deterrent—zero tolerance, no loopholes. Since I got involved in the upskirting campaign, I have understood how distressing upskirting is to victims. I want to make sure that anybody even considering taking an upskirting image should think twice. I would also like the Bill to have a wider purpose—to inform the wider discussion around consent, online distribution of sexual images, and outdated attitudes, especially towards women. We have heard about that subject today, and I very much welcome the contribution by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). The Bill marks an important stepping stone, and I am grateful for the largely consensual debate on how we can stop upskirting for good.
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I thank the right hon. Lady for that intervention, and I stand corrected. The hon. Gentleman referred several times to the figure of 29 cases, and I sensed that he was trying to say that the estimate that 29 people a year would be affected made the Bill not very important. By referencing, as the right hon. Lady said, what is happening online, I was trying to emphasise that the Bill will potentially cover many, many more people.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful lesson in arithmetic. I can do that arithmetic, but the point I was trying to make was that he kept repeating that figure, so it seemed to me that he was trying to suggest that the Bill might not cover as many people as it purported to do.
Another man posted:
“I’ve been upskirting chicks, mostly at clubs, for almost two years. The club I go to is a great spot, real crowded, strobe lights going, loud music, so no one notices me sitting near the edge of the dance floor and if a woman in a skirt ends up by me I stick the cam under and snap.”
Legislation is needed to deal with those types of cases.
Several Back Benchers tabled amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) spoke with great passion about her new clause and street harassment, and we support her on that. The Government must urgently look into bringing forward a comprehensive Bill to deal with many issues, including anonymity for victims of revenge porn; the cross-examination of victims of abuse by defendants, as occurs in civil courts; and the distribution and sharing of images. We need a fundamental review of all hate crime and sexual legislation to ensure that victims are protected and have access to justice, so it would be very welcome if the Law Commission or another body could look into this issue, with its recommendations implemented in law as soon as possible.
I commend the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) for her tremendous work as the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, which itself does tremendous work. I hope that the Government will address the points in her cogent and pertinent amendments and take on board the matters that she raised and the issues of concern. Hopefully, as the Bill progresses through both Houses, the Government will consider those amendments.
Lastly, on the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Christchurch, I believe that in all cases judges should have discretion in deciding who should be put on a sexual register and when. That should not be a blanket proposal; it should be left to the individual judge in an individual case to decide whether somebody should be put on a sexual register, because being on the sexual offenders register has clear implications and repercussions for people.
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It is an honour to speak in this Third Reading debate. I pay tribute to the new Secretary of State for Justice—my neighbour and my roommate for many years—who has been involved in this issue for many weeks. I also pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer). We normally get a fair bit of notice when a Bill comes forward, and we argue our points in the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee. Instead of that, this has been a fast one. It is a real privilege to have taken part in this debate as a man, a father and husband, and to try to understand and get the public to understand what has been going on out there with this voyeurism and upskirting. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State and to the Minister and her colleagues for listening to the House, because the House is supposed to replicate what is going on out there in the country.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) is absolutely thrilled about the review of the general legal area. It will be a real move forward. The amendments were tabled in good faith. I am not legally trained—even though I was a Justice Minister—and I am still confused about when upskirting would be legitimate. I do not understand that, but perhaps their lordships will understand it better than I do.
At the end of the day, however, this Bill started as a private Member’s Bill that would have really struggled, no matter who was backing it. It would not have received the amendments or the debates, and we certainly would not have a Law Commission review. All that would never have happened without the time here this evening to debate the legislation and take it through.
Everybody has quite rightly paid tribute to individuals—those who have tabled amendments, served on Committees and so on—but we should be paying tribute to this House, because without the various roles in this pluralistic House the democratic process would not happen. It does not happen every day, and it is rare that we are in complete agreement. I agree with the Opposition spokeswoman on many things, but it is good that she is as happy as we are for this legislation to go to the other House. It is not yet finished and there will be quite rightly be a lot of scrutiny in the other House, which is there to scrutinise and improve, not to block, and I hope that the Bill receives Royal Assent soon. We can look at the reviews that come forward, and everyone is certainly looking forward to the Law Commission review. This is a good day for democracy and a good day for this House.