Christopher Chope contributions to the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019

Wed 5th September 2018 Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill (Commons Chamber)
3rd reading: House of Commons
Report stage: House of Commons
29 interactions (2,649 words)

Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 5th September 2018

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Ministry of Justice
Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
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5 Sep 2018, 6:14 p.m.

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.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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5 Sep 2018, 6:15 p.m.

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend, particularly for the generous comments with which she began her remarks.

As a consequence of this being a Government Bill rather than a private Member’s Bill, my right hon. Friend will have seen its financial implications. The financial implications set out in the explanatory notes are on the basis that there will be 29 prosecutions a year—that is all. Is she surprised at all the hoo-hah about this, and that the Government are expecting only 29 prosecutions a year?

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
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5 Sep 2018, 6:16 p.m.

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.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
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5 Sep 2018, 6:21 p.m.

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.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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5 Sep 2018, 6:28 p.m.

May I say how much I welcome this debate? I am grateful to the Government for taking forward this measure as a Government Bill rather than relying on the private Members’ procedure. I am also very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, for her generous comments about the importance of being able properly to scrutinise in a sober fashion the very serious issues that are contained in this Bill and indeed the wider debate, which has been developed by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). In answer to her point on that, I say bring on the Law Commission. As a member of the Home Affairs Committee, I think that it is very important that we should try to keep abreast of new developments. Hate crime is one of those vile activities that we need to legislate against, but we need to do it in a really good way. The best way to do that is, as she suggests, by getting the Law Commission on board because it has the expertise to help us in this House.

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.

Break in Debate

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
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5 Sep 2018, 6:34 p.m.

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.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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5 Sep 2018, 6:34 p.m.

I have nothing but praise for the hon. Lady. Fortunately, the Opposition Whips, who are represented on the Selection Committee, obviously did not think it was necessary to allow the Bill to proceed without any amendment. It is worth putting on record that, during that Committee debate, the official Opposition spokesman said:

“The Opposition support the Bill completely, and will not propose any amendments.”––[Official Report, Second Reading Committee, 2 July 2018; c. 17.]

At that stage, the Opposition were blindly supporting the Bill, rather than being prepared to examine exactly how it might be improved.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
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5 Sep 2018, 6:34 p.m.

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?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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5 Sep 2018, 6:34 p.m.

It has certainly done the latter. It is quite a long time since a Second Reading Committee was set up to consider a piece of legislation, but in terms of making faster progress, there is no doubt that we are much further on than we would have been if this had remained a private Member’s Bill. Some of the other Bills that had already had their Second Reading have yet to come out of Committee and reach their Report stage. So those are some of the advantages of having a Government Bill. Another advantage is that when the Bill goes into Committee, the Committee has the opportunity to take evidence. My right hon. Friend gave potent evidence to the Committee, as did other witnesses. That would not have been possible if the Bill had stayed a private Member’s Bill.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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5 Sep 2018, 6:34 p.m.

Can the hon. Gentleman perhaps confirm that he said “Object” on 15 June in order to speed up the process of the Bill?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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5 Sep 2018, 6:34 p.m.

My purpose in saying “Object” was that I wanted the Bill to be scrutinised, and full marks to the Government—I do not always give them full marks—for recognising that this was a Bill that could be properly scrutinised only if it became a Government Bill. So did I achieve my objective? Yes, I did. I am pleased that the Government have done this. I am sure that the hon. Lady, having seen the strength of some of the amendments and new clauses, will reflect on the fact that if the Bill had been left as a private Member’s Bill for her to steer through, she would have been under pressure from the Government throughout. They would have told her not to accept any amendments, and that if she did, the Government would prevent the Bill from making progress. The Bill would have been vulnerable as a private Member’s Bill—that is particularly true when a Bill reaches the other place.

Mr Speaker, I know that I am going to be told that I am straying from the amendments that I am seeking to address, and I apologise if I am doing that. I am hoping to establish support for amendment 1, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, to ensure that the Bill delivers what it says on the tin. The Minister said that she was going to outlaw upskirting, and judging by the correspondence that I have had, most people assumed that that was what was going to be delivered. But then when one looks at the detail of the Bill’s financial implications, one works out that the Government are banking on it costing only £230,000 a year to a prosecute all these offences. When one divides that by £8,000, which is the cost of each case, one comes up with a figure of 29 prosecutions a year. If the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) had gone out into the street in her constituency and said, “I’m bringing forward this really important piece of legislation that will result in 29 prosecutions a year,” I am unsure whether people would have thought that it was as significant as it was being portrayed.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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5 Sep 2018, 6:40 p.m.

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.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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5 Sep 2018, 6:43 p.m.

I agree with the potential deterrent role that legislation can have, but I would use a different analogy. There is a general law against driving without due care and attention, but due to the incidence of and public concern about people driving while using mobile phones, which was and is, strictly speaking, an offence under the law against driving without due care and attention, Parliament decided to introduce a specific offence, effectively replacing the previous one. The hon. Lady will know that, sadly, that specific offence has not actually had the deterrent effect for which many people had hoped, and that large numbers of people are still offending.

Taking that analogy and looking at the specific offence contained within the Bill, amendments to which we are seeking to discuss, if the general common law under which a lot of upskirting activity is prosecuted at the moment is replaced with a specific statutory law, prosecutions will come under the specific law, rather than under the general common law, which, as Lord Pannick has said, is vague and ambiguous in many respects. If the consequence of the Bill is that all offences of upskirting are then brought within its ambit and prosecuted on that basis, that will be great and I am all in favour of it.

However, if we are going to do that, we should not constrain those offences by saying that they can be proved only if a motive is also proved. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke asked, why is not the mere fact that somebody takes a photograph without the consent of the “victim” an offence in itself? Why do we have to limit the offence in the way that this Bill does?

Mr Speaker
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5 Sep 2018, 6:44 p.m.

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.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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5 Sep 2018, 6:45 p.m.

I am most grateful to you, as ever, Mr Speaker, for your guidance on such matters. Turning specifically to my right hon. Friend’s amendment 1, it would remove from the Bill any requirement to prove a motive. It seems to me that the activity itself should be criminal and should not need to have a motive ascribed to it. As soon as a motive has to be established, it makes it much more difficult for the prosecuting authorities. It makes it so easy for members of Her Majesty’s constabulary to say, “Well, there was no motive.” Why do we need a motive in respect of an offence that outrages public decency? No one has written to me saying that they think upskirting is a reasonable activity in which to participate. I very much hope the Government will accept amendment 1, tabled by my right hon. Friend.

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?

Break in Debate

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
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5 Sep 2018, 6:49 p.m.

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?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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5 Sep 2018, 6:50 p.m.

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that it is very important that we should have this discussion, as this issue is complicated, and I agree with her suggestion. That is another argument in favour of having a proper, sober debate on this issue, without getting too much emotional involvement in it.

Finally, if the Government are reluctant to accept the amendments put forward today and reluctant to extend the scope of the Bill so that it embraces more than 29 potential prosecutions every year, I hope that when the Bill reaches the other place their lordships will look at this legislation and say, “We want to make sure it actually delivers what it says it is going to deliver.” It certainly does not do that at the moment, and it will not unless it is amended. One final consequence of this being a Government Bill is that when it goes to their lordships’ place nobody will be deterred from tabling amendments on the basis that if they do so, there will not be time to consider those amendments in private Members’ Bill time in the House of Commons and therefore the Bill will be killed. That argument will not run in the House of Lords in relation to a Government Bill, which this is. That is another reason why it is a very good idea that it is a Government Bill. I am very enthusiastic about amendment 1, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, and obviously equally enthusiastic about my own.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
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5 Sep 2018, 6:52 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi
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5 Sep 2018, 7:23 p.m.

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.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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5 Sep 2018, 7:24 p.m.

If the hon. Lady needs a reference for the figure—I am surprised if she does—it is contained in the explanatory notes. Paragraphs 29 to 31, which concern the financial implications of the Bill, make it clear that the cost per prosecution is £8,000, and that the total cost to the Exchequer of the legislation will be £230,000 a year. If we divide one into the other, we get the figure of 29.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi
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5 Sep 2018, 7:25 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Mike Penning Portrait Sir Mike Penning
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5 Sep 2018, 7:58 p.m.

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.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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5 Sep 2018, 8:04 p.m.

I say “Hear, hear” to what my right hon. Friend has just said. This is a good day for democracy. I pay tribute to the Minister for the understanding that she has demonstrated throughout the course of this debate and for her kind personal remarks about my motivation, which has been so misunderstood—deliberately by some and in ignorance by others.

Owing to the shortage of time on Report, the Minister was unable to take my intervention when she was responding to my amendment 6. However, I know that on Third Reading we discuss the content of the Bill, rather than rejected amendments, so I want to look at the part of the Bill that my amendment was intended to address.

My hon. and learned Friend slightly misrepresented what I was proposing, because, far from wanting to weaken the Bill, I was suggesting that, as presently drafted, clause 1(4) will not ensure that sufficient numbers of people who are guilty of voyeurism with the motivation of sexual gratification actually reach the sex offenders register. The Bill is currently drafted in such a way that someone can be guilty of voyeurism for the purposes of sexual gratification, but they will not go on the sex offenders register if they are under 18 unless they have been sentenced to a term of at least 12 months’ imprisonment, which is extremely unlikely and de minimis.

The more important aspect is that the Bill as currently drafted means that someone will not go on the sex offenders register even if they have committed an offence of upskirting with the motivation of sexual gratification unless the victim was under 18 or the offender has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment or detained in a hospital or made the subject of a community sentence of at least 12 months. The offence of voyeurism with the intent of sexual gratification should be linked directly with the sex offenders register, and I do not understand why the Government have been unwilling to tighten that up in the way that some of us would have wished. I hope that that will be considered in the other place.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), I hope that the other place will also look carefully at the restrictions that are currently in proposed new section 67A(1)(b) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which is found in clause 1(2) and relates to the necessity of proving a purpose in order to establish guilt. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister talked about mens rea—I am not sure whether, in due course, we will get on to “womens rea”—and I would like her to explain how it is that, under the current common law offence of outraging public decency, for which she says this Bill is filling a geographical gap, there is no requirement for mens rea. That common law offence is on the statute book, so if there is no requirement for mens rea in relation to that offence, why are we saying that the geographical gap in the law can be filled only by legislation that includes a requirement of mens rea and a requirement to prove the motive of sexual gratification in particular, and other motives besides?

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke asked, which instances of voyeurism that are currently subject to the common law, and that can be prosecuted under the common law offence, will not be covered by this Bill in the geographical location that is not covered by the offence of outraging public decency? It does not seem to me that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister has addressed that conundrum, and in the absence of its having been dealt with in this House, I hope it will be dealt with in the other place.

My hon. and learned Friend has offered a review of the legislation after two years, which is obviously better than nothing, but with the greatest of respect, the best thing for her and her Department to do is to review the Bill between now and when it is debated in the other place—that will hopefully be a lot sooner than two years—so that we can try to get some consistency. As a leading counsel, she will know that, where a statutory offence is introduced, it trumps a common law offence as a matter of principle. Surely the Government’s motivation is to simplify the law in this area and to ensure that all offences of upskirting are dealt with under the Bill, rather than under the common law. It would help to spell that out, not least for the benefit of police officers and the prosecuting authorities.

If that is the intention—I drew an analogy earlier with the offence of using a mobile phone while driving compared with the offence of driving without due care and attention—there is a lot to be said for having the specific offence in the Bill cover all instances of upskirting. If and when the Minister addresses the issue, perhaps she will come up with an answer to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke of what offences of upskirting she believes should not be subject to any criminal sanction. That is our challenge to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister.

In all the correspondence I have received, people feel that all upskirting offences should be subject to the criminal law and criminal sanctions, irrespective of motive. If there are to be offences that are not subject to criminal sanctions, we need to spell them out squarely and fairly, which has not been done so far.

I welcome the scrutiny the Bill has received so far, the way in which the Minister has accepted the spirit of new clause 1 and her willingness to look again at other issues, and I am happy to support Third Reading. But I hope that when, eventually, the Bill returns to this House, the Government will accept amendments made in the other place that make it even better.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.