28 November 2023
Criminal Justice Bill

Home Secretary James Cleverly opens the debate on the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Cleverly)

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

Victims of crime must have justice, and lawbreakers must face the consequences of their actions. This Criminal Justice Bill will give the police the powers they need to crack down on criminals and ensure that those who pose the biggest threat to the public are imprisoned for longer. It will give the public greater trust in the police and more confidence that the system works for them. We have always faced criminal threats, but those threats mutate and evolve, so we have to stay ahead of them by updating our technological capability and also updating our laws.

We are building on strong foundations. Compared with the year ending spring 2010, as measured by the crime survey of England and Wales, domestic burglary is down 57%, vehicle-related theft is down 39% and violent crime is down by 52%. Police-recorded homicide is down by 15% and the number of under-25 NHS admissions for assault by a sharp object is down by 26% in the year ending June 2023, compared with the year ending December 2019.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)

I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. It is so good to see him in the Chamber now. Could he tell us what the percentage increase has been in knife crime since 2015?

James Cleverly 

I do not have the figures to hand, but the—

Yvette Cooper 


James Cleverly 

The right hon. Lady has made an intervention. Let me make some progress now—[Interruption.] If she had the answer, she could have just stood up and said it rather than making this rather performative intervention. I will make some progress.

We have also taken the fight to the county lines drug gangs and to antisocial behaviour. Of course, these successes are not the Government’s alone, but we have enabled and supported that success with record funding for police; record numbers of police officers in England and Wales; expanding the powers to stop and search; and expanding the powers to tackle disruptive protests. Of course, we have also cut red tape, which means that more of those police officers are out on the beat fighting crime. We are building over 20,000 more prison places and ensuring that offenders face the toughest possible punishment for their crimes.

We will never rest, and we will go further still. This Bill will support the Government’s zero-tolerance approach to crime by giving the police, the courts and the other criminal justice agencies the powers they need to make our neighbourhoods even safer still.

Illegal drugs and knife crime bring chaos and misery to individuals. They destroy families and ruin neighbourhoods. Knife crime is a scourge in many of our cities and, during my time on the London Assembly and as a Member of this House, I have seen for myself the devastation it can bring to families.

Any family can be affected by drug misuse. I send a message to so-called casual users of recreational drugs that their actions underpin a vicious trade that has a profound and negative human cost. That is why we are giving the police more powers to seize and destroy bladed articles and to drug test more suspects upon arrest.

The Bill increases the maximum penalty for selling dangerous weapons to under-18s and creates a new criminal offence of possessing a bladed article with intent to cause harm. It will enable the police to seize, retain and destroy knives held in private when officers are lawfully on private property and have reasonable grounds to suspect the item or items will likely be used in violent crime.

The police will also be able to test individuals in police detention for specified class B and class C drugs, just as they can already test for specified class A drugs. This will mean that the police can direct more suspects using illegal drugs into treatment, which will help to reduce drug use, support recovery and, of course, cut crime. Those who refuse a drug test, or who fail to attend or stay for the duration of a directed drug assessment, may be committing a further offence.

Tony Lloyd (Rochdale) (Lab)

Although drug testing makes sense, it is also important that we have drug and alcohol treatment facilities, which are still very patchy across the country. Will the Home Secretary comment on what can be done to improve that patchiness?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. Of course, this Bill focuses on the crime and criminal justice part of the equation, but he is right that treatment is important. That is why I am very proud that this Government have invested an extra £600 million in the very thing he raises, because we realise that, as well as having robust criminal justice action, we need those treatment facilities.

A tough but humane approach to illegal drugs is the only plausible way forward. The House knows that being a victim of any kind of crime is deeply distressing. No crime should be screened out by the police solely because they perceive it to be minor. In August, the police committed to following all reasonable lines of inquiry for all crime types. That is a hugely welcome development, and it is my job to give police forces every possible support in that endeavour.

The Bill confers additional targeted powers on the police to enter premises without a warrant to seize stolen goods such as mobile phones where they have reasonable grounds to believe that there are particular items of stolen property on the premises. GPS location tracking technology, for example, could provide such grounds. This gives the police an opportunity to address a particularly prevalent crime type. The Bill also gives the police greater access to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s driver records in order to identify criminals.

Public confidence in policing is, of course, vital, but it is also vital that officers have confidence in each other and that police leaders can root out those who are unfit to wear the uniform. We want to ensure that we never again see the culture of defensiveness and self-interest that, sadly, we saw in the aftermath of the terrible incident at Hillsborough and following the killing of Daniel Morgan. The Bill therefore introduces a duty of candour in policing. This follows Bishop James Jones’s report, which shone a light on the experience of the incredibly brave families of the Hillsborough victims. Those families have been through a lengthy and terrible ordeal.

Florence Eshalomi (Vauxhall) (Lab/Co-op)

I welcome the Home Secretary to his position. He rightly says that a new proposal is being brought forward on police misconduct, but he also mentions public confidence. Would the public not have more confidence in the police if any officer who failed their vetting was automatically dismissed?

James Cleverly 

We are taking action to ensure that police officers, both at the start of their career and through their career, are held to appropriately high standards. On that particular issue, this is something we are taking forward. It is part, but not the totality, of what needs to be done, which is why we are outlining a number of things in the Bill.

Through the Bill, we will give chief constables the right to appeal the outcome or findings of a misconduct panel to the police appeals tribunal. Chief constables are responsible for upholding standards in their force, so it is right that they have a statutory route to challenge decisions that they consider unreasonable.

A person is not safe unless they are safe everywhere: in their home, at work, in public places and, of course, online. The Bill builds on the intimate image sharing offences in the Online Safety Act 2023 by introducing new offences addressing the taking or recording of intimate images or films without consent, as well as addressing the installing of equipment to enable the commission of the taking-or-recording offence. This means we now have a comprehensive and coherent package of offences that is effective in tackling intimate image abuse, which is a truly horrible crime that can have a lasting negative effect on victims.

Dame Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con)

I thank my right hon. Friend and his colleagues for their fantastic work in implementing the Law Commission’s review in this area. It really is a testament to the Government that they have done that. However, some victims of intimate image abuse face another issue, because their images are still legally online and have not been taken down by some website providers. Will my right hon. Friend encourage one of his Ministers to meet me to talk about this further, and about possibly addressing it in this Bill?

James Cleverly 

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s intervention. I am more than happy to ensure that her point is discussed with the Department, so that we can see what we can do to incorporate what she hopes to achieve either in this Bill or in guidance to the internet service providers and online platforms.

The Bill also fulfils the Government’s commitment made during the passage of the Online Safety Act to broaden the offence of encouraging or assisting serious self-harm to cover all means, not just communications, by which serious self-harm may be encouraged or assisted. That could include, but is not limited to, direct assistance such as giving someone a blade with which to seriously harm themselves. This broader offence will give full effect to the recommendations of the Law Commission’s 2021 “Modernising Communications Offences” report.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)

I welcome the Home Secretary to his post. Not only is he the Home Secretary, but he is an old friend of mine, and I hope he stays longer in this post than he has in the others. Having had a tragedy close to my family of a young woman taking her own life, may I ask that we remove from social media these aids to and promotion of suicide, and things showing people how to conduct it?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. Sadly, far too many people have, like him, experienced the implications of this kind of content online, and I take his point very seriously. We will look at both legislative and non-legislative measures to make sure that we genuinely do everything we can to remove content that encourages sometimes very vulnerable people into a dark place.

The Bill creates a new statutory aggravating factor for murders that are connected to the end of a relationship or the victim’s intention to end a relationship. Killing in that context is the final controlling act of an abusive partner, and its seriousness will now be recognised in law. The Bill also adds the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour to the list of offences that require automatic management of offenders under the statutory multi-agency public protection arrangements.

We recognise that antisocial behaviour does so much to blight people’s lives and undermine the pride and confidence that they rightly have in their local communities. At its worst, antisocial behaviour can drastically lower the quality of life for whole neighbourhoods. The Government’s antisocial behaviour action plan, published in March, sets out a strong approach to working with local agencies so that antisocial behaviour is treated with the seriousness and urgency it deserves. The Bill enhances that with a range of new measures, including enabling the police to make public spaces protection orders and registered social housing providers to issue premises closure notices; lowering the minimum age of a person who may be issued with a community protection notice from 16 to 10; and increasing the maximum amount of a fixed penalty notice from £100 to £500 for breaches of a public spaces protection order or community protection notice.

Every public service should be accountable to the public, and we are strengthening the accountability of community safety partnerships and improving the way in which they work with police and crime commissioners to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour. For example, PCCs will be given the power to make recommendations on the activity of community safety partnerships, which in turn will be duty-bound to consider those recommendations. That proposal follows feedback from various sources that the powers available to the police, local authorities and other agencies could be used more consistently. We need every part of the system to work together as one well-oiled machine.

Nuisance begging and rough sleeping can, of course, be a form of antisocial behaviour. The former may be very intimidating and the latter may also cause damage, disruption and harassment to the public.

Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)

The Home Secretary will be aware of the campaign across the House to scrap the Vagrancy Act 1824, which does not come into force until all these clauses come in—so I am very pleased to see them. Looking at the detail, we see that it forms a third of the Bill—it is enormous. Does he share my concern that by replacing the Vagrancy Act with a measure of this level and strength, we are not treating homelessness with the compassion that we said we wanted, and we are creating a rod for our own back, which we just do not need?

James Cleverly 

We have committed to scrapping the 1824 Act, and nobody should or will be criminalised simply for having nowhere to live. That is why we are repealing the outdated 1824 Act. However, we need to make sure that things such as nuisance begging are addressed, because the British public have told us that they feel these actions are intimidating—I am sure that Members from across the House hear that in our advice surgeries and will have had people tell them that—and it is right that we respond to their concerns. The hon. Lady makes the point, implied in her question, that people end up rough sleeping for a wide variety of reasons, including, sometimes, because they are themselves the victims of abuse or they have medical conditions, be they physical or mental. That is why last year we published our “Ending rough sleeping for good” strategy, and we have made an unprecedented £2 billion commitment over three years to accelerate the efforts to address homelessness at source.

Layla Moran 

I thank the Home Secretary for giving way again; I will not test his patience too much more. However, I should point out that we have been working on this since 2018, when I started this campaign. I have met countless Ministers over the years and not once did nuisance rough sleeping come up as the issue. Nuisance begging did, and there is a debate to be had on that and I would happily have it. All I ask is: will he consider meeting me and others from both sides of the House who have taken a keen interest in this issue for a very long time so that we can put across our concerns about what is in this Bill to replace the 1824 Act? I say that because this looks like Vagrancy Act 2.0 on steroids.

James Cleverly 

We have presented a Bill and the House has the opportunity to debate it. So rather than having conversations in private, the legislative process—the process of debate—is designed for Members from across the House to inject their ideas, thoughts and suggestions into the legislation. That is literally what the passage of a Bill is designed to do.

Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)

I wish to share my concerns, which are those the hon. Lady has mentioned. The Bill introduces a wide definition of “nuisance rough sleeping” that is incredibly concerning to me, because it will criminalise people who are rough sleeping. In practice, it will result in worse criminalisation of people sleeping rough than under the draconian Vagrancy Act. Will the Home Secretary and Government Members give any assurance and clarity about the intentions?

James Cleverly 

The Bill makes it clear that any actions that will be taken will be in response to a continuing refusal to abide by the moving-on powers that the Bill provides, so I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s assessment of how this will play out in practice. However, as I say, this is the Second Reading of the Bill and there will be opportunity through its passage for ideas, thoughts, concerns and potential improvements to be put forward. I encourage her and the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) to put forward their ideas, because we recognise that this is an important issue. We want to get it right, but we are responding to specific concerns that have been raised.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)

The Home Secretary is right to say that the Vagrancy Act, as it comes to its bicentenary, is ripe for renewal and change, and there is an interesting debate to be had. He is right to identify that it is a problem for many of our constituents. The other problem, which he knows I will be talking about later, is the offence of spiking. I was listening keenly to what he said and no doubt he will touch on that in a moment or two.

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the need to update a number of provisions, including the Vagrancy Act 1824. I know he feels strongly about that and, through the passage of the Bill, I am more than happy to listen to his contributions about other opportunities to update and modernise legacy legislation, which has served us well but for a very, very long time, to ensure that it is relevant for the modern world, not the Victorian—or sometimes Georgian—era when the provisions were originally drafted.

Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)

These matters raise the issue of proportionality, and I am sympathetic to the Government’s position, but does my right hon. Friend accept that a number of other areas in the Bill, most of which is very good, will need careful examination? For example, the power to enable entrance to premises without a warrant will need to be supported by the evidence base. Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that we need to move with some care on the practicalities of transfer to foreign prisons? Although that may be useful to have in the toolbox, when it has been used abroad the evidence is very mixed as to how long and significant a difference it can make. As the Bill progresses through the House, will he engage with the Justice Committee and others on the evidence that we have received on those issues?

James Cleverly 

My long-standing hon. Friend makes a number of points. Of course we want to ensure the Bill works. When the Bill is enacted, we want to ensure it improves the lives of people who might be victims of crime and helps to avoid that victimisation, but we also want to ensure that appropriate checks and balances are in place. I feel confident that those are in place, but it is the duty of those on the Treasury Bench to ensure that all Members of the House share that confidence.

Sir Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con)

In that spirit, on the basis that this is Second Reading and there are opportunities for this otherwise good Bill to be improved, will my right hon. Friend take on board the important points about ensuring that we get right the extension of the identification principle on corporate criminal liability? We made big progress in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 and the Government are now following through on their intention, but I want to ensure we get the wording absolutely right.

Secondly, I note with enthusiasm the presence in the schedule of restricted cost provisions relating to restraint orders for the proceeds of crime. We have long said that uncapped costs are a deterrent to making robust applications. Will he consider extending those principles to other areas of activity, so that we can see more applications being made without the fear of being clobbered by costs?

James Cleverly 

My right hon. and learned Friend makes some important and useful points based on his extensive experience. Of course, we listen very carefully to the contributions that have been made. With the indulgence of the House, I want to make progress so that Back Bench Members have time for debate.

We need to understand that crime is a business—a big business. Serious organised criminals are relentless, adaptable and resourceful. That is why we are banning articles that are used to commit serious crime, including templates for 3D printed firearms components, pill presses, and vehicle concealment and signal jammers that are used in modern vehicle theft. In banning the supply, adaptation, manufacture and import of those articles, as well as their possession, we will target the corrupt individuals who profit from supplying those articles to those involved in serious criminality while keeping just enough distance from the offences being carried out to avoid facing the inevitable consequences of their actions.

We are also strengthening the operation of the serious crime prevention orders. It is absolutely right to make it easier for the police and other law enforcement agencies to place restrictions on offenders or suspect offenders and stop them from participating in further crime. Fraud is now the most prevalent form of crime. It costs this country billions of pounds annually and is a terrible personal violation. I have no doubt that every Member of the House will know constituents who have suffered from that type of crime.

The Criminal Justice Bill contains several new measures to tackle fraudsters and the perpetrators of other serious crimes. We are prohibiting the possession and supply of SIM farms that have no legitimate purpose. Law enforcement agencies will have extended powers to suspend domain names and IP addresses used for fraudulent purposes or other serious crimes. We are also reforming the powers used to strip convicted criminals of the proceeds of crime. A new scheme will see the Government work with the financial sector to use the money in accounts suspended on suspicion of crime to fund projects tackling economic crime.

Going beyond economic crime, we are further expanding the identification principle, so that companies can be held criminally responsible when a senior manager in that company commits a crime.

Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)

While fraud accounts for 40% of recorded crime at the moment, only 1% of police resources are used to deal with it. What are the Home Secretary’s thoughts on that?

James Cleverly 

By the nature of this crime type, specialism in investigation is inevitable. Ultimately, the training and deployment of the resources of the police and other crime fighting agencies will naturally need to reflect that. It is not quite as simple as mapping the proportion of crime to the proportion of police officers, but implicit in the right hon. Lady’s question is the fact that we need to upskill investigators so that they can focus on those crime types. We are putting the legislative measures in place, the funding is in place, the increase in police numbers is in place and we are happy to work with PCCs and chief constables to ensure that those resources are deployed in the most effective way.

Sir Robert Neill 

Will my right hon. Friend give way a final time?

James Cleverly 


Sir Robert Neill 

It may save the House hearing from me at some length later.

I welcome the measures on fraud, because they follow on from the Justice Committee’s report last year that highlighted the gaps in our ways of dealing with it. Will the Home Secretary look carefully at how we reform the identification principle? There remains a concern that the exemptions that were placed on the size of businesses in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 may have the perverse effect of allowing many fraudsters to split their businesses up into smaller units that fall below the threshold in that Act. Glencore, for example, had only 50 employees but was still one of the biggest frauds that did massive harm. Can we take the opportunity to look at that issue?

James Cleverly 

Once again, my hon. Friend makes a good point. We are always willing to listen to suggestions from colleagues around the House that will strengthen the ability to close loopholes, so that sinister but clever and adaptable individuals do not find a way of navigating through the legislation, so I take his ideas on board. I do not have much of my speech left, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure you would encourage me to move quickly, and I beg the indulgence of the House to do so.

There has been a concerning increase in the number of serious offenders refusing to attend their sentencing. It is a further insult to the victims and the families; as we have seen, it causes a huge amount of upset. That is why we are giving judges express statutory powers to order offenders convicted of an offence punishable with a life sentence to attend their sentencing hearings. That measure will apply to all offenders convicted of any offence that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Adult offenders who refuse to do so, without reasonable excuse, will face punishment with an additional custodial sentence of up to 24 months. The legislation will also make it clear that judges in the Crown court may direct the production of any adult offender, and that the custody officers can use reasonable force to ensure that they are produced.

Sir Robert Buckland 

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

James Cleverly 

I am sorry, but I promised Madam Deputy Speaker that I would be winding up.

Last year, the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse published its final report. It revealed the terrible extent to which children have been betrayed over decades not only by rapists and abusers but sadly, in too many instances, by those who should have been there to protect them. We must honour the courage of those who have spoken out by doing things differently. Everything possible must be done to prevent these crimes. When they do occur, they should be met with heavy punishment. The Bill introduces a new statutory aggravating factor to capture offenders who demonstrate grooming behaviours in connection with specified sexual offences against children and young people, or whose offences have been facilitated by grooming by others.

The grooming itself need not be sexual; it may be undertaken by any offender or a third party and committed against the victim of the underlying offence or a third party. The Government will also bring forward amendments to the Bill to restrict the ability of registered sex offenders to change their names in certain circumstances. Following consideration of the responses to our consultation, which closes on 30 November, we also plan to bring forward amendments to provide for a legal duty to report child sexual abuse.

Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)

I am incredibly grateful to the Home Secretary for bringing forward legislation on sexual offenders changing their name by deed poll, but we could not find it anywhere in the Bill, so is there any reason why there is a lag?

James Cleverly 

It is because we will have to bring it through as an amendment, but I can assure the hon. Lady that we are committed to making this work. [Interruption.] It is a Government amendment. [Interruption.] I disapprove of theft in all circumstances except for when someone brings forward a truly good idea.

Let me return now to the duty to report child sexual abuse. Walking by or turning a blind eye should never, and must never, be an option. The Bill enables polygraph testing to be extended to more serious sexual and terrorism-linked offences, including for convicted murderers who are assessed as posing a risk of sexual offending on release. It also ensures that those serving multiple sentences alongside a sentence for a sex offence can be tested for the whole of their licence period. The measure further applies to individuals convicted of non-terrorism offences who would have been determined by the court to have a terrorism connection if the option had been available at the time of the sentencing.

The Government have a programme to build 20,000 new prison places. It is the biggest prison building programme since the Victorian era. Prison demand is likely to increase over the medium term, as we continue to empower police forces and the courts to drive down crime and punish offenders.

In order temporarily to increase prison capacity, the Bill will introduce domestic powers to transfer prisoners to rented prison spaces overseas subject to future agreements with other countries. Norway and Belgium have successfully rented prison places from the Netherlands in the past. The Bill will also extend the remit of His Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons to include any rental prison places abroad.

The Criminal Justice Bill will give the police greater powers, the public greater confidence, and the courts greater ability to punish offenders and protect the law-abiding majority, and I invite the whole House to get behind it.