Victoria Atkins contributions to the Stalking Protection Act 2019


Fri 23rd November 2018 Stalking Protection Bill (Commons Chamber)
3rd reading: House of Commons
Report stage: House of Commons
28 interactions (2,895 words)
Mon 9th July 2018 Stalking Protection Bill (First sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: House of Commons
Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons
19 interactions (1,803 words)
Fri 19th January 2018 Stalking Protection Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
2 interactions (1,003 words)

Stalking Protection Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Victoria Atkins Excerpts
Friday 23rd November 2018

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Home Office
James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 10:20 a.m.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster). He said that the House probably did not want to hear more, but he does himself a disservice. I was certainly left wanting more, and I look forward to hearing him speak on other matters, possibly later today. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) for introducing this important Bill. As a child I remember being a great fan of the Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett, and the episode that scared me the most was “The Solitary Cyclist”—

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 10:20 a.m.

indicated assent.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 10:22 a.m.

The Minister clearly shares that recollection. As a child I found the concept of a lone female on a bicycle being followed at distance by someone else on a bicycle absolutely terrifying. That was a drama, and without giving a spoiler to anyone who does not know the story, the gentleman was not quite as nefarious as perhaps the lady had feared at the start, but in summarising the sense of fear produced by stalking, that story left an indelible mark.

I wish to refer to a specific constituency case regarding this Bill, but I will keep it for Third Reading when I hope to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, because it is more a point of principle. It is a matter that I have previously discussed with the Minister, and I think it may well be raised in another place, perhaps by Lord Deben or the newly ennobled Lord Garnier. The point is incredibly important to me personally and to my constituency, so I shall keep it for Third Reading.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay I welcome amendment 1 on the Ministry of Defence police and the British Transport police, and I shall focus my remarks on that. South Suffolk contains the village of Wattisham. Strictly speaking the Wattisham Army airbase is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), but many service people reside in my constituency. They live either on the base or in the nearby town of Hadleigh.

To underline the importance of that base, at the Remembrance Sunday service in Hadleigh the entire regiment and town come out, and we have a fly-past by Apache helicopters. I do not know what the probability is or what the statistics are on stalking occurring in those residential homes, either within the base or for service personnel who live in towns, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay that there is every reason to extend these powers to those officers because stalking could occur. Stalking is not confined to any part of society—it embraces all of society, including my constituents, and it affects men and women as both victims and perpetrators.

The British Transport police are often undervalued, but they perform a fantastic job protecting the transport network. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay referred to being on the tube at twenty to nine in the morning, and being uncomfortably and involuntarily close to people and their armpits—[Interruption.] I am sure you have experienced it too, Mr Speaker, and that is the nature of the tube at busy times. It can be quite unpleasant, but we grin and bear it so to speak. The point is that someone could be on that tube following, pursuing or stalking someone. I do not necessarily understand exactly when the order could be placed, and whether it would be done by the normal constabulary in respect of the person being stalked and their home address, or whether the British Transport police would have specific responsibility for doing that. I will leave that to finer legal minds than mine, but the logic of extending those powers seems straightforward, and I am happy to support the amendment.

Break in Debate

Mike Wood Portrait Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 10:35 a.m.

It is a pleasure and privilege to speak on Report. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on promoting such an important Bill. I steered a private Member’s Bill through this place in my first year as a Member, so I know the many demands that can suddenly appear in the inbox and arrive down the telephone line the moment one is draw in the ballot, as there are any number of competing calls from non-governmental organisations and campaign groups. I can think of very few issues that are more worthy to pursue than the one that my hon. Friend has chosen.

It was a particular privilege to serve on the Bill Committee with my hon. Friend and to hear some of the examples from Members on both sides of the House. The core purpose of the Bill is to fill gaps in existing legislation and to ensure that our laws keep up with the changing pattern of stalking offences and developments in our understanding of them. It is a testament to the skill with which my hon. Friend has steered the Bill that it received overwhelming support from both sides of the House and that our proceedings in Committee were so straightforward. There was strong support for both the principle and the detail. She has rightly continued to work to ensure that every t is crossed and every i is dotted so that the Bill can fulfil its potential.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) in speaking very briefly to the amendments, which will make this very good Bill even better. I think that most Members will welcome amendments 1, 2 and 6 as common-sense clarifications. We would expect most applications for protection orders to involve police forces that cover geographical areas in England and Wales, but it would clearly be undesirable to allow specific cases to fall between the gaps purely because the jurisdiction they occurred under was covered by the British Transport police or the military police. As my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) suggested, the Civil Nuclear constabulary would be a sensible addition to those bodies, should the opportunity arise at a later stage of the Bill’s passage. Those three amendments clarify that the orders are not confined purely to what we might think of as police forces, but cover all parts of our police service.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire pointed out, when one of the core provisions of the orders is notification requirements, it is very important that those notification requirements are sensible and comprehensive. It would be frankly absurd to preclude people covered by the orders from being able to notify the appropriate authorities before they changed their name or address, but the Bill as originally drafted could easily have been interpreted as saying that the sole period within which people could make notifications was during the three days immediately after the changes came into effect. In tabling her amendments, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes has provided clarification and brought forward what most Members would see as common-sense provisions. Similarly, there is further clarification on people without a home address—particularly those of no fixed abode—and clearly, it would not be fit the purpose of the Bill if orders could not apply to people in such circumstances.

I think that this is an extremely important and welcome Bill, and the amendments will make it even better. I hope to catch your eye on Third Reading, Madam Deputy Speaker, to speak about the Bill more generally.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 10:42 a.m.

May I say what a pleasure it is to support the Bill and these amendments today, Madam Deputy Speaker? The whole House thanks my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) for her incredibly hard work on the Bill, helped by her members of staff. This has been a shining example of the House of Commons at its best: we have cross-party agreement; we know the direction of travel and the destination we want to get to; and we have had constructive criticism, questions and so on to help us to improve the Bill. In that spirit, I thank all Members who have contributed on Report.

If I may, I will reflect on my hon. Friend’s comments about Lady Astor being the first female MP. I have the pleasure of representing a seat for which the second female MP stood—we always remember the firsts for landmark events, but we tend not to remember the second. Margaret Wintringham represented the seat of Louth in 1921. She was the first ever British-born female MP—the second ever female MP—and she took a slightly different approach to campaigning than I or any of my colleagues, because she took a vow of silence during the campaign, which might commend itself to some of us in future.

In that spirit, I welcome these modest refinements to the Bill. Amendments 1, 2 and 6 will expand the list of chief officers who will be able to apply for the orders to the Ministry of Defence police and the British Transport police—we have heard from colleagues about the benefits that this could have—and they will be able to initiate related proceedings in connection with the variation and renewal of an order.

I listened very carefully to the observation made by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) about the Civil Nuclear constabulary. Its role is to provide security for nuclear material and sites, and of course we recognise that that covers workplaces. I am mindful of figures that were released only yesterday by the Office for National Statistics. It compiled a bulletin of data from the national stalking helpline, which is run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. In an analysis of the calls to the helpline, which is an incredibly important facility, it looked at the types of stalking behaviours experienced by callers who reported stalking by an ex-partner or family member, so it was restricted to, as it were, intimate relationships, as opposed to stranger stalking. None the less, I note that 4% of calls reported stalking in or through the workplace, so my hon. Friend raises a very good point regarding the Civil Nuclear constabulary, and we will look into that as the Bill proceeds through another place.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 10:45 a.m.

I thank the Minister for her detailed response and agree with her proposed approach. As I said, the reason why I raised the point was because the Ministry of Defence police focuses fundamentally on securing a base, but may react to incidents on the periphery of the base. It is about the police being part of the process, but I welcome her proposal.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 10:46 a.m.

Indeed, and I note that my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) raised a more general point about service personnel. The Bill already covers acts of stalking by forces personnel against civilians, and stalking offences apply to service personnel automatically by virtue of the Armed Forces Act 2006. However, I will look into the points that he raised.

Stalking occurs across a range of contexts with devastating consequences. It is therefore essential that the orders are available to different police forces, and I am delighted that the amendments will help us to achieve that. While I am speaking to clause 1, and I have notified my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes about this—who knows, it may be that my legal skills are causing me to examine the text too carefully—I want to commit to clarifying the terminology in the clause, which moves between “defendant” and “person”. I want to make it absolutely clear for the police, those who litigate on their behalf and magistrates how the Bill should be navigated, so I will provide clarity on the use of terminology in the other place.

Before I move on to amendment 3 and 4, I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) for his speech. I will be more loquacious about his contribution to this issue on Third Reading, but I note his point about the police updating their processes to include, for example, the use of apps to help to record instances of stalking. I will explore that with the police, because it seems to be a very valid point.

I am grateful for the observations from my hon. Friends the Members for South Suffolk and for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) on police resourcing. We make an economic impact assessment of the effects of any Bill, so one has of course been conducted for this Bill. I heard what they said about the police settlement, which they will both know is coming forward in December. We have managed this year to provide a further £460 million for policing, with the help of police and crime commissioners, but it is very important that we listen regarding any further support that can be given in pressing the case for dealing with the challenges of changing crime in the 21st century. The full economic impact is a reason why we have not placed a commencement date in the Bill. That point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay, and I will deal with that at the end of my speech.

Amendments 3 and 4 will modify the notification requirements on a person subject to a stalking protection order. I am pleased that they have the approval of the House. Under the requirements as drafted, a perpetrator must notify the police of a change of name or address within three days of that change taking place. It enables the perpetrator to give such notice before the change takes effect. Amendment 5 caters for circumstances in which the subject of a stalking protection order does not have a home address, and mirrors the notification requirements relating to registered sex offenders.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay examined the issue of commencement dates. We propose to deal with that through regulations, and he will know that that is the usual way of enacting provisions in any Bill that receives Royal Assent. We have gone for the traditional or usual way of commencement because we are mindful that if the orders are to be used as effectively as all colleagues wish, there will be implications for the courts, legal aid, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Prison Service and the National Probation Service, as well as the police who will require training and who will make the applications. We want to allow a little time for that to bed in, and guidance will be issued as part of that.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 10:51 a.m.

I thank the Minister for the details that she is providing on commencement. Would she provide a rough timeline for the benefit of those following our proceedings? It makes eminent sense to give those organisations time to prepare, but I assume that we are talking about a matter of months, not years.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 10:52 a.m.

Most certainly. My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot give precise dates, but it is certainly months. We want to get this on the statute book, and put it in force as soon as possible. We have a date for consideration in the other place early in the new year, and we want the measure to be put into force as soon as possible. May I thank all hon. Members, including my hon. Friends, for their contributions to this stage of scrutiny, and commend the amendments to the House?

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Clause 4

Variations, renewals and discharges

Amendment made: 2, page 3, line 24, leave out from “police” to the end of line 27 and insert “who applied for the stalking protection order and (if different) the chief officer of police for the area in which the defendant resides, if that area is in England or Wales.”— (Dr Wollaston.)

See the explanatory statement for amendment 1.

Clause 9

Notification requirements

Amendments made: 3, page 6, line 2, leave out “within” and insert “before the end of” .

This amendment would ensure a person can give notice that they are going to use a new name before doing so.

4, page 6, line 8, leave out “within” and insert “before the end of” —(Dr Wollaston.)

This amendment would ensure a person can give notice that they are going to change their home address before doing so

Clause 10

Method of notification and related matters

Amendment made: 5, page 6, line 30, leave out “whose home address is not” and insert “who does not have a home address” .—(Dr Wollaston.)

This amendment would cater for the possibility that a person might not have a home address

Clause 14

Interpretation

Amendment made: 6, page 8, line 9, at end insert—

““chief officer of police” means—

(a) the chief constable of a police force maintained under section 2 of the Police Act 1996 (police forces in England and Wales outside London);

(b) the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis;

(c) the Commissioner of Police for the City of London;

(d) the chief constable of the British Transport Police;

(e) the chief constable of the Ministry of Defence Police;” —(Dr Wollaston.)

See the explanatory statement for amendment 1.

Third Reading

Dr Wollaston Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 10:53 a.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

May I begin by thanking the Minister and all her officials for the extraordinary amount of work that they have put into assisting with the Bill, and for everything that the Minister has done to progress the violence against women and girls agenda in the House? I also thank Daragh Quinn in my team for his work and for doing so much to co-ordinate and help with the preparation of the Bill. I also thank the many individuals and organisations outside the House that have made such a difference. I am thinking of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Paladin, the Gloucestershire Stalking Advisory Service, the National Stalking Consortium and many others, such as police and crime commissioners for Sussex, for Northumbria, and for Devon and Cornwall, as well as officers from Thames Valley police and Devon and Cornwall constabulary, I thank them for their valuable advice, and I also thank the stalking lead for the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

I would particularly like to pay tribute to colleagues and Members across the House for their work. Having listened to the characteristically thoughtful speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), I pay tribute to the work that he has done, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), on stalking, which has made an extraordinary difference.

Break in Debate

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 11:29 a.m.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There can be no excuses, based on cultural background or anything else, for the mistreatment of women in any way, whether that is stalking, forced marriage or female genital mutilation. All those things, and others, are abhorrent. No woman of any age or of any ethnic background should experience them, and categorically cultural background is no excuse; it does not make it okay.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 11:29 a.m.

Hear, hear.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 11:29 a.m.

Members on both sides of the House, and I hear agreement coming from the Government Front Bench, should all make it clear that it is totally unacceptable. There can be no excuses, and there can be no tolerance for these kinds of offences on any grounds at all. I am at one with the sentiments of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman).

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the prevalence of these offences. Indeed, there were 1,000 reported cases of stalking in London in 2017, and there may, of course, be many more that were not reported. There were a further 12,000 cases of harassment. This clearly is a wide-scale problem, and the police need to focus on it.

I am pleased to hear that the Metropolitan police—I am a London MP, so I pay particular attention to the Met—have recently set up a stalking unit, but that unit has only eight officers. Clearly, if there are 1,000 stalking offences being reported, eight officers strikes me as quite a small number. I encourage the Metropolitan police to consider increasing the size of its stalking unit, bearing in mind the scale of the problem.

This is an excellent and welcome Bill. Its provisions should in no way deter the police or the Crown Prosecution Service from pursuing prosecutions where they find evidence of criminal behaviour. This does not replace criminal sanctions; it is an additional tool that should be used at a very early stage in the pattern of behaviour.

Clause 12 provides for the Secretary of State to issue guidelines suggesting to the police how and when these powers might be exercised. It is important that the police are proactive in this area and that, when a victim comes to the police, they respond energetically and proactively. Those guidelines are important to making sure that police forces across the country actually use these powers. This worries me sometimes. We pass legislation in this Chamber on all kinds of topics, but legislation is impotent and ineffective unless it is used and implemented by the public bodies it empowers. In this example, it is critical that the police actually use this legislation when they are approached by victims, and the House should keep a close eye on it to make sure that, once this legislation becomes active, it is used by police forces across the country.

Break in Debate

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 11:50 a.m.

The hon. Gentleman is making a valid point, and I certainly hope that the online harms White Paper, which will be coming out before the end of winter, will address some of these issues, too. I understand that the White Paper is being produced jointly by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office, and I am sure this will be much debated again. The social media companies have a lot of power and a lot of responsibilities, but they have to take those responsibilities seriously.

I spoke earlier about the dangers of stranger stalking and I will not repeat those comments now. I just want to say in conclusion that this Bill sends a clear message that stalking is a crime that the Government take seriously and that all of us in Parliament take seriously. It has a devastating impact on people’s lives, and I fully support all the measures in the Bill.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 11:51 a.m.

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on successfully steering this important Bill through the House. May I also take this moment to pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and for Gloucester (Richard Graham), both of whom have done so much work over the past few years to ensure that those who are convicted of the terrible offence of stalking meet the justice they deserve? My thanks also go to Conservative colleagues, and to colleagues from across the House, many of whom speak to me quietly behind the scenes about cases that concern them and that their constituents have suffered. Those Members know who they are, and I thank each and every one of them for their help.

Stalking is a terrible crime that still affects literally millions of people and often makes their lives a misery. The title of last year’s inspection report, “Living in fear”, sums up well what it feels to be as a victim of stalking. I am proud of the actions that this Government and their predecessors have taken to reduce that fear, from the original Protection from Harassment Act 1997—we heard from the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) about the role he played in that—to introducing the specific stalking offences in 2012 and the funding we have given to the excellent national stalking helpline.

At this point, may I just thank my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) for his speech, which was public service broadcasting at its best? He made the important point that there is help available, albeit we sometimes need to search for it, and that is something that I have very much taken away with me. That helpline has helped almost 14,000 callers since 2010, as the shadow Minister said, and 94% of those callers say that they feel better about their situation immediately after making contact with that helpline. There is clearly a need, and the helpline is playing a huge role in helping victims.

Other projects are going on across the country to deliver innovative solutions to tackle this terrible crime. The Metropolitan Police Service, in partnership with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, has received more than £4 million from the police transformation fund for a multi-agency stalking interventions programme to share best practice and learning on developing interventions to tackle stalking. Northumbria has received more than £600,000 under the violence against women and girls service transformation fund for the Northumbria Building Capability project, which includes a specific project on cyber-stalking. Several projects to tackle stalking are funded through the tampon tax fund, including the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which has received money to scale up its casework support service for women who are being stalked. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North mentioned Black Country Women’s Aid, which has received more than £200,000 to pilot the first specialist support service for victims of stalking across the Black country area and to conduct research on stalking.

Mr Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 11:55 a.m.

The hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), with whom I work on other campaigns, made a brilliant public service broadcast, but one thing he missed out was saying that when people are in trouble with stalking, MPs can help. MPs and our staff are very skilled at helping—we know about stuff—so please let us not underrate the job that MPs can do.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 11:55 a.m.

I very much agree. Cross-party co-operation really can and must happen on such issues. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that Members of Parliament can do a great deal to help, and I thank him for his work on this topic.

A project called YOU Trust is another example of work to help to tackle stalking specifically. It provides a victim support service to women who experience stalking, risk assessing all cases and delivering solutions appropriate to that risk. We are working closely with the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and other partners to raise awareness of stalking and to ensure that appropriate guidance and training are in place. Colleagues have been right to express concerns about the initial response of some police forces—although not all, by any means. It is right that we focus on the training offered to the police and ensure that their conduct is examined in inspections. That is why the findings of last year’s joint inspection report are so important. They are being addressed through a national oversight group chaired by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and the action includes revising the legal guidance on stalking and harassment and delivering updated mandatory training for prosecutors. [Interruption.] Sorry—would somebody like to intervene?

Mr Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman - Hansard

rose—

Break in Debate

Mr Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 11:57 a.m.

May I apologise to the Minister? A very good friend and colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), was just passing and said, “You’re the first man to wear a roll-neck sweater in the Chamber.” It was a terrible diversion from the Minister’s good speech.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 11:57 a.m.

I do not know quite how to respond to that, so I shall move on quickly.

The 2017-18 performance data indicated that joint police and CPS work to take forward more prosecutions for stalking rather than harassment, when that is the right course, had a positive impact. I listened carefully to the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), who quite rightly made the point that stalking protection orders are in addition to the ability to prosecute, not instead of it. He asked about putting a definition of stalking into the Bill or the underlying 1997 Act. As he rightly said, there is a checklist of behaviours in that Act, but we are conscious that types of stalking behaviour can change. Indeed, in 1997, when that Act was passed, cyber-stalking was unheard of—it simply did not happen. Sadly, time has shown that nowadays it can and does happen. I hope that the list of examples helps not only my hon. Friend but practitioners on the ground to understand what can fall into the category of stalking behaviour.

I acknowledge the observations of my hon. Friends the Members for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who both referred to the breadth of practices in stalking behaviour. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay mentioned specifically conduct against people’s political and religious beliefs, which was of course a very valid point.

At this point, may I also thank the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), who is no longer in the Chamber? I look forward to joining her on Monday in this place for a day of commemoration and solidarity against those who continue to behave disgracefully towards Jewish people and to give support to the Jewish community.

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab) - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 11:59 a.m.

I just want to put it on record that there is cross-party support for this excellent Bill. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on introducing it.

The Minister mentioned behaviour. Surely one thing that we should be looking at is educating people about the behaviour that leads to stalking. Does she have any thoughts about what can be done to educate people to stop them stalking in the first place?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:01 p.m.

Very much so, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Again, I am happy to acknowledge the work, co-operation and collaboration on the Bill of Members across the House, for which I thank them. There are a number of projects, some of which I have already referred to, including in London with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, to help to intervene with perpetrators as well as to support victims. I hope that one of the most exciting aspects of the Bill is the potential for positive as well as negative requirements under the orders, such as requiring the perpetrator to seek mental health treatment if that is appropriate. I hope that the orders will bring about innovative thinking that is very specific to the person against whom the order is applied to help them to tackle their behaviour so that they do not continue to offend.

We all acknowledge that there has been a gap in the system, as was revealed in the public consultation in 2016, particularly around how to bring security to victims in the early stages of so-called stranger stalking. Early intervention is always important when tackling crime, but it is fundamentally so in the case of stalking, when apparently innocuous behaviour can often escalate into something more sinister, as hon. Members have been very good at describing today. I am delighted that this Bill will plug that gap and provide additional security to victims.

These orders will be a vital tool that the police can use to protect victims and to control the behaviour of perpetrators. As has been noted, one of their greatest virtues is their flexibility, permitting positive and negative requirements that will help to stop perpetrators from behaving as they have been. Of course, the ultimate sanction is available through criminal sanctions should people breach the terms of these orders.

Stalking can have devastating effects for women and girls; indeed, it can for men and boys as well, but we know from the evidence that the vast majority of victims are female. This measure will, I hope, be passed by the House just two days before the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which is on Sunday.

The Government are carrying out a whole raft of work on tackling violence against women and girls, not least by refreshing the VAWG strategy alongside introducing the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which I hope to bring to this House before not too long.

I must finish by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes for introducing the Bill, the officials who have advised me and who have worked so hard on the Bill, and hon. Members across the House for their help with the Bill, including those who served on the Bill Committee.

I finish by reflecting on the people whom this Bill seeks to protect: the victims of stalking and their families. My hon. Friends the Members for Totnes, for Harborough (Neil O'Brien), for Cheltenham and for Walsall North, as well as other Members, referred to families who have lost loved ones as a result of stalking. I have had the privilege of meeting Mr and Mrs Ruggles, Mr Gazzard and others during the passage of the Bill and through our work more generally on stalking and harassment in the Home Office. This Bill is for them. It is to protect their families, their friends, their work colleagues and so on, and it is about trying to ensure that the terrible, terrible cases of stalking that we have heard just a little about today do not happen in future, and that we keep the victims of stalking safe.

Dr Wollaston Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:04 p.m.

I thank the Minister, her officials and Members on both sides of the House. This debate has shown Parliament at its best. I look forward to the Bill making progress in the other place, and I thank Baroness Bertin for taking it forward.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Stalking Protection Bill (First sitting) Debate

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Department: Home Office
Legislation Page: Stalking Protection Act 2019

Stalking Protection Bill (First sitting)

(Committee Debate: House of Commons)
(Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons)
Victoria Atkins Excerpts
Monday 9th July 2018

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk - Hansard
9 Jul 2018, 4:45 p.m.

I want to reflect on how far we have come on this issue in such a short time. It is hard to think that stalking was made a criminal offence only in 2012. Prior to that, it was the stuff of almost amusement. It is only now that we, as a society, have come to realise its appalling and corrosive impact. We have made that progress because of great campaigners such as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes, who has been ably and graciously supported by the hon. Member for Rotherham.

I have one observation. This is an excellent Bill that will provide an important tool for early intervention. Critically, it allows to be placed on the individual not just a prohibition, but a requirement potentially to get some sort of treatment. We all want the stalking to stop, and sometimes the critical factor is to ensure that the individual gets treatment, be that talking therapy or whatever, to address the fixation that has got into his or her head. I hope that magistrates courts will take the opportunity that this excellent piece of legislation provides to protect victims and assist perpetrators.

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Hansard
9 Jul 2018, 4:47 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes for introducing this important issue to the House of Commons through her private Member’s Bill, and for all the hard work that she and those who assist her have put into the Bill. It has been a real pleasure to work with her and to see how she has drawn together all the charities that do so much invaluable work in this area, and how she has created cross-party consensus. I was very pleased when I saw the list of Committee members, because everyone present has worked so hard in this area.

I place on record my thanks to Mr and Mrs Ruggles, whom I met through my hon. Friend in our preparations for the Bill, and to Mr and Mrs Gazzard. I met Mr Gazzard when I visited my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, to whom I am also grateful, and we talked a lot about safeguarding and what more we can do to prevent terrible incidents of this nature. Similarly, I must thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, who did so much to increase the maximum sentence available when such crimes have been committed.

I reiterate that the Bill has the Government’s wholehearted support and that the question of stalking is of great importance to the Government. The provisions in the Bill will provide the police with a vital additional tool with which to protect victims of stalking and deter perpetrators at the earliest opportunity, but we know that there is much more to do.

I will answer a couple of sensible questions posed by the hon. Member for Rotherham about the consistency of police training and the police response to investigating stalking across the country. The Home Office continues to work with the national police lead, Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, and will deliver the updated police guidance shortly. That is being overseen by the Home Secretary, who chairs the national oversight group, which I also attend and which does a great deal of work. The hon. Lady also made a valid point about mandatory police training. Clause 12 provides for statutory guidance to the police on stalking and we are committed to working with the College of Policing to deliver refreshed training across public protection portfolios, because we understand that some forces do much better than others, and we need to bring them all up to the same high standard.

We will continue to work closely with criminal justice partners to address the findings of last year’s joint inspectorate report on the police and CPS response to stalking and harassment, including through the national oversight group. In addition, we have provided £4.1 million through the police transformation fund to the police, in partnership with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which is such an important charity in this area, for a multi-agency stalking interventions programme to share best practice and learning on the development of effective interventions for stalking. The proposed stalking protection orders will form part of this bigger picture to tackle stalking, as a vital additional tool at the disposal of our police forces. I very much pick up on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham about these orders placing positive requirements on the defendant to address their own behaviour to see whether we can break that cycle of stalking.

Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Con) Hansard
9 Jul 2018, 4:53 p.m.

In today’s digital world, we see a lot of stalking online and through social media; in fact, the very first contacts with a victim can be via that means. Can the Minister confirm that the orders established by the Bill will cover the digital spaces as well as the real-world space, as it were?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
9 Jul 2018, 4:51 p.m.

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend, who has done so much to further the cause of women and girls who are the victims of violence, for that intervention. She is absolutely right: the Bill covers the online world as well as the offline world, because we know—sadly—that nowadays obsessive perpetrators will try to reach their victims in any way they can.

However, it is important that we consider protecting women and girls, and indeed men and boys, from all forms of violence, which is why the cross-Government violence against women and girls strategy, published in 2016, sets out our ambition that no victim of abuse should be turned away from the support they need, and we have committed increased funding of £100 million to support that work.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion - Hansard

I cannot let the Minister off the hook on that one, because one of the key things that we need to be able to implement that support, and the whole raft of protections against domestic violence and other forms of violence against women and girls, is the ratification of the Istanbul convention. I know the Minister said she was going to tie that into the draft domestic abuse Bill, which of course has been put back another year, but could she give us any news on that at this point?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

Very much so; in fact, I gave evidence before the Women and Equalities Committee last week on this issue. We have the clear intention of ratifying the convention in the domestic abuse Bill. To ratify it, we need to have met the conditions. We are very nearly there—there is just an issue about extraterritorial jurisdiction in relation to a few offences—but we are going to make it happen, as it were, in the domestic abuse Bill, which will then enable us to ratify the convention. That is happening, it will happen, and I look forward to receiving the support of colleagues from all parties in ensuring that it does happen.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con) - Hansard
9 Jul 2018, 4:53 p.m.

I am particularly pleased about this Bill, which I know my hon. Friend the Minister is so enthusiastic about, and I support the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes has done on this issue. When my neighbour—my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham—and I worked on this, one of the key things that came out of it was that if we were going to send people to prison for longer for aggressive stalking, there had to be some remedial work that would make them less of a threat when they came out. I think this positive requirement of the defendant will make a real difference. Does she agree?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
9 Jul 2018, 4:54 p.m.

I do. Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for all the work that he has done in this very important area. What I like about the way in which the Bill is drafted is that it gives flexibility to the police and the courts to offer a bespoke package, as it were, to the perpetrator, so that if experts feel that a particular measure will stop the cycle of violence, then they can propose that.

I hope that over the coming years, particularly with the development of technology and so on, we might see some interesting innovation in this area. I also hope that we will see similar innovation when it comes to the domestic abuse Bill, because, of course, this Bill goes hand in hand with that one, and there is a great deal of co-ordination that we can achieve in tackling both forms of violence.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con) - Hansard
9 Jul 2018, 4:54 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes and the Minister for their great work. I believe that in the consultation a huge proportion of people simply felt that we did not have the correct legislation to deal with this stranger stalking, which is why I am very pleased that the Bill is being introduced. So many people have been affected, from celebrities to ordinary people, some for 20 years—for many years. Will the Minister give some assurances on how much evidence will need to be built up, and how quickly the great powers in the Bill can be used, after one spots a potential stalker?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
9 Jul 2018, 4:55 p.m.

Of course, stalking can present in many different ways. As we have discussed, what is key is that the police are aware and conscious of patterns of behaviour that may constitute stalking, as is helping to educate the public through the invaluable charities that we have already named and raising awareness of what may constitute stalking behaviour.

I had an interesting meeting last week with the police and crime commissioner for Sussex, who is doing a great deal of work in that county to develop police and public awareness of stalking. As education and awareness have developed, reporting of such instances has risen. We do not have not any reason to believe that there is more stalking in Sussex than anywhere else; I think it is a question of more awareness-raising meaning that people know that they should not have to put up with such behaviour and reporting it to the police. The Bill will give the police the powers they need to protect those people immediately.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk - Hansard
9 Jul 2018, 4:56 p.m.

On the practicalities, collating the evidence for one of these civil orders may be quite a laborious exercise. Gloucestershire police are a national leader on stalking issues. Can the Minister provide assurances that other police forces will be given sufficient training to ensure that they know how to present these applications in a cogent way and discharge the appropriate obligations to the person being considered for such an order?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
9 Jul 2018, 4:56 p.m.

Very much so. That is the expectation, particularly through the statutory guidance. We will very much be led by the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead, Paul Mills. Tackling stalking is his focus, so we will work with him and the College of Policing to ensure that chief constables and police officers on the beat across the country understand not only their powers but how to spot the signs of stalking and harassment.

Mr Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman - Hansard
9 Jul 2018, 4:57 p.m.

I realise that I am pushing my luck after being late coming in; I was awaiting the Prime Minister’s statement. I found during the 10 years that I chaired what became the Children, Schools and Families Committee that fine words come from Ministers on how to identify the deep-seated causes of stalking in individual personalities, but that there is a shortfall in the therapies and the people trained in delivering them. Are we conscious of that shortfall, because we need to make sure that these people are available?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
9 Jul 2018, 4:58 p.m.

This is a developing area. An early analysis of the responses to the consultation on the domestic abuse Bill shows an emphasis on perpetrator programmes. This is clearly an area for development, and I am pleased that we have granted £4.1 million to the police and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, through the police transformation fund. I very much hope that through that programme they will be able to share best practice, with a view to ensuring that the high standards we hope for and expect are met across the country.

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab) - Hansard
9 Jul 2018, 4:58 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes on her excellent Bill. Clause 12 says:

“The Secretary of State must issue guidance to chief officers of police about the exercise of their functions under this Act.”

I am concerned that the police may use interim orders as a way of extending police bail when bail limits run out. Will the Minister comment on that? Might we train the police on it?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
9 Jul 2018, 4:59 p.m.

If I understand the hon. Gentleman correctly, he is suggesting that the police may use the powers in the Bill as an alternative to police bail. Is that correct?

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous - Hansard
9 Jul 2018, 4:59 p.m.

Yes.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
9 Jul 2018, 5:01 p.m.

Of course, the statute sets the parameters of the order. It will be for the magistrates court to decide whether the police have met the thresholds in that statute. That is why I think it is important—mindful as we are of the public policy interests of having this order—that we bear in mind that the judicial system has to act with fairness to the victim and the person accused. That is why the role of the magistrates court in the orders will ensure that police have met the standards they must meet. I hope that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question.

As this debate has demonstrated, we need to look at these issues in the round and look to promote empathy with victims. Whether the victims are very famous or do not enjoy fame—fame plays no part—the fear can be intense and on a minute-by-minute basis. It is not just fear felt by the victim, but by their family members, neighbours and friends.

We need to understand and recognise patterns of behaviour, prioritise early intervention and prevention, and ensure that there is appropriate victim care and support in place. That is how we start to identify solutions for assessing risk and managing perpetrators in a targeted way, ensuring a joined-up response to violent intimate crime.

We have used our recent public consolation on our landmark draft domestic abuse Bill to explore further the legislative and non-legislative steps that Government can take to transform the response to domestic abuse across all agencies, and how these measures can equally support victims of crimes such as stalking. The 3,200 responses that we received are being analysed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes quite properly raised the point about a stalkers register. We know that convicted stalkers will already be captured on the police national computer. Where appropriate, they may also be captured on other police systems, such as the Visor system, which stores information on offenders who pose a risk of serious violent harm. We want to ensure that the existing systems work. While I am listening to colleagues on this, I want to ensure that the police are correctly using the systems we have at the moment in order to protect people before I look at new and additional systems.

The Government are committed to drawing on the expertise and experience of victims, survivors, academics, the voluntary sector, communities and professionals, to do all we can to improve the response to all forms of violence against women and girls. The same is true in relation to stalking. I hope Committee members will join me in giving their support to this Bill today, including amendment 1, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes, as it is our priority for the Bill to have a smooth passage and for stalking protection orders to be implemented as soon as possible so that the police can start using these vital tools to protect victims of stalking at the earliest possible opportunity.

Dr Wollaston Hansard
9 Jul 2018, 5:03 p.m.

I thank everybody who has taken part in the debate. We had a contribution from the hon. Member for Huddersfield, who has been talking about this issue for a very long time, and I pay tribute to him for his long-standing commitment. We also had contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, the hon. Members for Rotherham and for Enfield, Southgate, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East, and my hon. Friends the Members for Eddisbury and for Torbay. The right hon. Member for Exeter also provided vital support, as did the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree and my hon. Friends the Members for Redditch and for Harborough.

Mr Gray, thank you for your excellent chairmanship. Finally, I warmly thank the Minister for her ongoing dedication to this cause. I also thank the Home Office team, Christian Papaleontiou and Emily Stewart.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 to 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Title

Amendment made: 1, in title, line 1, leave out “protecting” and insert “orders to protect”.—(Dr Wollaston.)

This amendment would ensure that the long title of the Bill better reflects the content of the Bill, which is limited to stalking protection orders and related matters.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Stalking Protection Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Victoria Atkins Excerpts
Friday 19th January 2018

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Home Office
Ms Diane Abbott Portrait Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Jan 2018, 2:04 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on bringing forward this very important Bill. We have had a short but well-informed debate that people who are interested in this issue will read and appreciate.

As many Members have said, stalking can be an extremely serious offence that has been exacerbated by the rise in online communication. The victims are usually women who are vulnerable to the actions of resourceful and obsessive perpetrators, and there are often links with domestic violence. The crimes can be horrific. They can combine physical and online stalking, late-night phone calls, and even home invasion. Threats of rape and murder are frequent and all too often credible. I understand that in the case of the man who murdered our colleague Jo Cox, when people went to his home they saw that he had a whole room papered with pictures of Jo, so we need to remember that this type of obsessive attention not necessarily will, but can, end in physical violence.

Far too many stalking crimes go undetected. In 2015, there were just 194 convictions for stalking offences. Yet, as other Members have reminded us, the crime survey suggests that one in five women and one in 10 men will be affected by stalking in their lifetime, while the under-publicised national stalking helpline has responded to almost 14,000 calls since it was established in 2010. Clearly, the conviction rate is barely the tip of the iceberg.

I should not refrain from pointing out the failings of the criminal justice system as it stands. Often, victims are not kept informed. Case adjournments take place without notice. Charges are altered or dropped without reference to the victim. If the victim makes it to court, they can be cross-examined by their own tormentor. Many victims say that they are made to feel that they are on trial. Serious offenders can receive no more than a suspended sentence, even if convicted.

There has been reference to the Emily Maitlis case. Of course, it is important that we repeat that stalking is not just something that affects celebrities. However, I was struck by some of the things that Emily Maitlis said: the fact that it had gone on for 20 years and felt like having a serious illness; the effect it had had on her family and her children; and, above all, the fact that her stalker was able to write to her from prison and while out on licence. Although this is an excellent Bill that I hope will pass through the House, we have to consider the whole approach of the criminal justice system to this issue, and make sure that we have a comprehensive, systematic and integrated approach to the crime of stalking.

We have heard some excellent contributions, including from my hon. Friends the Members for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), but also from the hon. Members for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster).

Labour Members give wholehearted support to this Bill, which will form an important part of the toolkit to deal with the menace of stalking.

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Hansard
19 Jan 2018, 2:08 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) for bringing this most important issue to the House. It has been an absolute pleasure working with her and her staff on this Bill. Her commitment to the issue is shown not just by the quality of the Bill but the support for it across the House.

I also thank Members across the House for the very moving and, sadly, chilling experiences of stalking that they have presented on behalf of their constituents. I note in particular the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), who both mentioned Hollie Gazzard and Alice Ruggles. I have had the privilege of meeting the parents of Hollie and of Alice, who, along with the parents of Clare Bernal and of Rana Faruqui, have somehow found the wherewithal to grapple with the grief of losing their children through this awful offence, and then to set up charities to campaign on the issue. I want to express my admiration for all such parents who can find the strength to do that.

I am also very grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) and for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) for their legal insights. As always, they have used their legal experience to great effect in the Chamber.

Stalking is an issue of great importance to the Government. The Bill will provide the police with a vital additional tool to protect the victims of stalking and to deter perpetrators at the earliest opportunity. The onus will be on the police, not the victims, to bring in the orders. That is so important. I know that the hon. Members for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) are concerned about this. Importantly, the orders will have the flexibility to impose both positive and negative requirements on stalkers. I hope that will address the concerns of my hon. Friends the Members for Torbay (Kevin Foster) and for Cheltenham in that, where appropriate, the court will be able to require the stalker to have a psychiatric assessment. There is also the vital criminal penalty if the stalker dares to breach the court order, which I hope will provide the safety and comfort that I know victims so desperately need.

We know that there is so much more to do and that the Bill is not a single silver bullet. I have noted with concern the thoughts of colleagues on the report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the CPS. The report, which makes for sobering reading, sets out the scale of the improvements that need to be made. The Home Office is working closely with the CPS and the police to improve their reaction to these offences. What is more, we are going to introduce statutory guidance, alongside the Bill, to help to improve the police and the CPS’s understanding of stalking. In addition, the College of Policing will shortly publish refreshed guidance for the police on investigating stalking and harassment offences. This will all be overseen by a national oversight group chaired by the Home Secretary, whose commitment to tackling this is absolute.

I note the observation made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood). Interestingly, he brought to light the research by the West Midlands constabulary showing that there are an average of 70 to 100 incidents before victims report their suffering to the police. I will take that away and consider with officials how we can address it.

Once the police have these powers, they must use them. Through the police transformation fund, we have provided £4.1 million to the police, in partnership with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, for a multi-agency stalking interventions programme to share best practice and learning on the development of effective interventions for stalking. Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting officers from Hampshire and Gloucestershire who are doing great work on this. Again, I hope that that will address the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay about early intervention. The proposed stalking protection orders will form part of the bigger picture of tackling stalking as a vital additional tool at the disposal of our police forces.

We must not just look at stalking in isolation. As the Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, I have responsibility for protecting women and girls—and, indeed, men and boys—from all forms of violence, including stalking. The strategy to end violence against women and girls, published in 2016, sets out our ambition that no victim of abuse is turned away from the support they need. We have committed to increasing funding to £100 million to support this work. There is a great deal of overlap, sadly, between the different crime types tackled in the VAWG strategy, and we must make sure that the police, the CPS, social care professionals, health professionals and others work together to get the results needed for victims. There are key principles that must be shared, promoted and implemented when dealing with these cases. We must show empathy to victims, and an understanding and a recognition of the patterns of behaviour. We must have effective multi-agency working, we must prioritise early intervention and prevention, and we must ensure that there is appropriate victim care and support.

In conclusion, the Government are committed to drawing on the expertise and experience of victims, survivors, academics, the voluntary sector, communities and professionals to do all we can to improve the response to stalking and to VAWG generally. I must finish by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes for all her hard work on the Bill, and by thanking Members on both sides of the House for their support. I hope that our collective efforts will enable us to make positive progress with this vital Bill, and to provide victims of stalking with the support and the help they need.

Question put and agreed to.

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