Sir Mike Penning welcomes Bill to tackle upskirting

5th September 2018

Sir Mike Penning speaks in debates on the Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill and welcomes the Bill to tackle upskirting. He calls for the Bill to be tightened to ensure it is workable and to include the distribution of upskirting photos for financial gain and welcomes the Government's commitment to a Law Commission review into mysogyny and hate crime.

It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and I congratulate her on the tireless work she has done. I also congratulate Gina Martin, who is a brilliant campaigner: I wish she was with me campaigning on issues in my constituency.

I was not here on the Friday when the private Member’s Bill was objected to, but I was conscious of it when the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) said that not all noes are bad. There was a no, and it means that we are here today. The Bill before us is not perfect, and I shall say more about that, but the reason the Bill has been expedited and we have the amendments is because of what happened then. While my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) was vilified and attacked in some parts of the press, I think that in his heart of hearts what he wanted—he has objected to many Bills over the years—is scrutiny and for the Government to come forward with their arguments for and against, rather than being squeezed by the technical procedures of Friday sittings.

As a former Minister, I know that the Minister will be under pressure not to accept amendments. I have sat on the Treasury Bench on many occasions and read the notes and briefings. I often got in trouble because I would say, “No, common sense needs to prevail here, because some of these amendments are right.” In my opinion, some of the amendments to the Bill are right, and if Ministers do not accept them—or give a very good explanation of how they will address the points made—the House should divide on them. The country is looking to us to give a lead on this important legislation.

One reason we do not have very many prosecutions for the offences that already cover upskirting—the hon. Member for Walthamstow mentioned some of them in her contribution—is that the police and the CPS do not have the confidence that that is what this place intended. I know that because I was a Justice Minister with responsibility for policing and victims, and I have had that put to me. The judges in the appeal courts say all the time, “What is the intent? If Parliament had intended that, it would have put it on the face of the Bill.” There are things missing from the face of the Bill that I will now address.

I agree with the hon. Member for Walthamstow that new clause 1, to which she is the main signatory, further expands the provision, but the Law Commission is where this needs to be done. I hope that, when the Minister stands up, common sense will prevail, that we do not need to divide and that the Law Commission can look at the wider aspect of this hate crime, which is what this is.

 7.00 pm

As the father of two gorgeous young ladies, who have grown up into wonderful women, I would be distraught if anybody attempted to take photographs under their skirts. I know what they would feel. I know what my wife would feel if it happened to her or to the children. To me, it is a complete no-brainer that this House has had to catch up—very slowly—with technology and mobile phones. The peeping Tom who was around in the old days is now on the end of a mobile phone on the tube, at work or in the lift. That is what they are: peeping Toms. This voyeurism is an offence, so I do not understand why all upskirting is not an offence on the face of this Bill. It is not possible to accidentally upskirt a lady, as was mentioned earlier. How on earth can someone accidentally take such a photo? Does anyone in this House know how that could possibly happen? Again, it is a no-brainer. The whole act of upskirting should be an offence.

I also cannot understand why the Bill does not include the offence of distribution for cash. Distributing such images to other people is abhorrent and horrible. Why is that not an offence on the face of the Bill? To address amendment 6, why are people convicted of these offences in a court in this country not put on the sex offenders register? I accept some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) regarding young people. It is really for the courts to decide what happens if the perpetrator is under 18. But if someone is over 18 and has been convicted of this abhorrent, horrible offence that they cannot do by accident —they either do it for money or for their own sexual gratification—they should be on the sex offenders register in order to protect the people whom we were sent here to protect.

The Government have done the right thing by coming forward and expediting the Bill to this position, but it would be a crying shame if we missed the opportunity to send out a message that this House and this Government understand how abhorrent this offence is—if people do it, they will be convicted in a court; if they are found guilty, they should go on the sex offenders register. There can be no argument that the person did it by mistake, that it was just a joke or anything like that. It is not a joke to the lady that it has happened to—my daughter, my wife, my constituent.
 
We should accept the amendments. I think that we can probably agree regarding new clause 1, if the Law Commission and the Government can commit to a review. As a former Justice Minister, I am slightly apprehensive because lots of things get referred and never come back; the long grass in the Justice Department is very deep at times. But I think we can take the Minister at her word, if she agrees to the Law Commission review.
 
I would really like the Minister to accept the amendments as they are, as they will not cost the Government huge amounts of money. By the Government’s own estimates, a tiny number of people will be prosecuted. I think that those estimates are wrong and that there will be lots more prosecutions if the police and the Crown Prosecution Service have the guidance from this House to protect our constituents and our families.

Hansard

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It is an honour to speak in this Third Reading debate. I pay tribute to the new Secretary of State for Justice—my neighbour and my roommate for many years—who has been involved in this issue for many weeks. I also pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer). We normally get a fair bit of notice when a Bill comes forward, and we argue our points in the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee. Instead of that, this has been a fast one. It is a real privilege to have taken part in this debate as a man, a father and husband, and to try to understand and get the public to understand what has been going on out there with this voyeurism and upskirting. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State and to the Minister and her colleagues for listening to the House, because the House is supposed to replicate what is going on out there in the country.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) is absolutely thrilled about the review of the general legal area. It will be a real move forward. The amendments were tabled in good faith. I am not legally trained—even though I was a Justice Minister—and I am still confused about when upskirting would be legitimate. I do not understand that, but perhaps their lordships will understand it better than I do.

At the end of the day, however, this Bill started as a private Member’s Bill that would have really struggled, no matter who was backing it. It would not have received the amendments or the debates, and we certainly would not have a Law Commission review. All that would never have happened without the time here this evening to debate the legislation and take it through.

Everybody has quite rightly paid tribute to individuals—those who have tabled amendments, served on Committees and so on—but we should be paying tribute to this House, because without the various roles in this pluralistic House the democratic process would not happen. It does not happen every day, and it is rare that we are in complete agreement. I agree with the Opposition spokeswoman on many things, but it is good that she is as happy as we are for this legislation to go to the other House. It is not yet finished and there will be quite rightly be a lot of scrutiny in the other House, which is there to scrutinise and improve, not to block, and I hope that the Bill receives Royal Assent soon. We can look at the reviews that come forward, and everyone is certainly looking forward to the Law Commission review. This is a good day for democracy and a good day for this House.

Hansard

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