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Lord Monkswell: In rising to support my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey on what I am sure we all recognise is a rewriting of the Bill, I should like to make a few brief comments. First, we must thank my noble friend for the concise way in which he explained the impact of his amendments. They take forward the resolution of the problem which society faces, but I am sure that we all recognise that this does not completely resolve the problem. It is readily understood that at some stage there will need to be a criminal sanction mechanism for dealing with some of the stalking activities that take place.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, asked what happens if the person being molested does not know the identity of the molester. That is obviously an area where the police will need powers to make inquiries and to investigate what should be a criminal offence. We all recognise that we are not talking about that today, but that is something that will need to be done and I hope that the Government are actively pursing that problem.

The amendments address the most significant objections that were raised on Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, raised the prospect of somebody being "lifted" on the street on the basis of a complaint by an individual almost out of the blue. That caused a number of people some concern. I am sure that it was never the intention of the framers of the Bill that the provisions should work in that way, but that concern was raised and it has now effectively been addressed. My understanding is that instead of someone who is being molested going to a police officer and saying, "Arrest that man because he is molesting me", that person has to go to a solicitor and go through the legal process of going to court and seeking an order.

I am pleased that in his amendments my noble friend Lord McIntosh has seen fit to include what I would describe as "latest practice" in terms of the mechanisms which are enshrined in the Family Law Bill. That is a sensible way of going about things. Obviously, there will be that boundary, particularly where one reading of a case may suggest that it was a domestic situation but where, because there is no clear relationship between the two people concerned which can be picked up by the provisions of the Family Law Bill, there will be a grey area which these provisions address.

The concept of molestation rather than stalking fits better with our understanding of the English language. The word "stalking", for those of us who grew up a few years ago, has a different meaning from the one sometimes ascribed to it in relation to this subject and "molestation" is probably a better description.

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The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, mentioned the latest case, which appeared on the front page of the Evening Standard today. It is worth pointing out that in that case there was evidence of criminal damage and that was the basis on which the police could act. We all recognise that there will be situations which need to be addressed which do not raise the problem of criminal damage and we need a mechanism for dealing with that area.

4 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I did not want to rake over all the ground of my Second Reading speech. There are other aspects of law which can be used for people who feel that they are being stalked. However, there was no point in going over that ground again at this stage.

Lord Monkswell: I recognise the point being made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. Indeed, there is general recognition that certain aspects of anti-social behaviour can affect individuals significantly yet there is no redress either through the criminal or the civil legal systems. That is what the Bill and the campaign seek to address. The Bill allows for the protection of individual members of our society who are being molested in a way that causes them great distress, but yet is not recognised by either the criminal or civil legal systems, and enables them to resolve those problems.

I hope that we do not go on for too long today because it is late in the afternoon. I make two final points. First, I hope that the Government recognise that my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey has done a sterling service both to Parliament and the country in bringing forward this Bill and these amendments. Secondly, I sincerely hope that the Government will feel able to welcome the amendments and will give us some intelligence as to how soon they may be able to bring forward the necessary legal changes to institute the criminal sanctions needed to deal with the problem.

The Earl of Courtown: My noble friend the Minister made clear on Second Reading that the Government fully share the concern which has led the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to bring forward his Bill. Stalking can be a terrible scourge on the lives of its victims and the Government are determined to see that decisive action is taken to deal with it. But it is important that the remedies adopted should be the right ones, and should deal as comprehensively as possible with the phenomenon of stalking in all its forms, without at the same time unwittingly catching legitimate activities which ought not to be the subject of legal sanction.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, eloquently explained the purposes of his amendments. I am sure the whole Committee is grateful to him for the efforts he has made to render his Bill an effective measure for dealing with this problem. He proposes, as he explained, to remove all vestiges of the previous criminal offence, and rests his whole response to the problem on a civil "non-molestation" order. He explained that his proposals are closely modelled on those in the Family Law Bill.

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I am also glad to hear that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has been of such assistance to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and I am sure that the whole House will be grateful for the wisdom that he has been able to bring to bear in this difficult area. I understand that it is his view that, although some manifestations of stalking may be successfully dealt with by the civil law approach advocated by the noble Lord, there will be serious manifestations of the problem which may come up. He has made it clear that the Government's view is that this is an area in which a period for consultation is necessary before legislation is brought forward and that this should include consideration of ways of dealing with other manifestations of the problem.

The noble Lord has clearly striven hard to find the right solution, and I hope the Committee will not feel that I am being churlish when I say that, in the Government's view, the Bill is not the complete answer.

There are broadly two reasons for that. In the first place, we remain convinced that there must be criminal sanctions, as well as a civil remedy. It is true that we had very considerable reservations about the terms of the criminal offences contained in the Bill as introduced. That would clearly have gone far too wide, and would have caught perfectly legitimate activities. It is also true, as my noble friend the Minister emphasised on Second Reading, that we attach great importance to seeing that any new criminal and civil remedies fit properly with each other. That remains vital, in our view. But of the fact that we need criminal offences the Government are in no doubt whatsoever.

On its own, a civil remedy, however carefully constructed, simply would not meet all the instances in which the law may need to intervene. We must have a vehicle to hand for the victim to seek help right at the start. There must be an immediate basis upon which the police can become involved, which, in the absence of a clear criminal offence, would be difficult. Equally importantly, there needs to be a means of dealing with the anonymous stalker, as noble Lords have said--the stalker whose identity is not known to the victim. Usually the victim will know the stalker, because a relationship of some kind will have existed between them, even if they have simply been work colleagues. But that will not always be the case. It would not be an adequate response to the problem for the victim to have to wait until the stalker had identified himself in some way, before she could go to court for an order preventing further molestation. And it cannot be right, even where a civil order is subsequently made, that the initial act of persecution and intimidation should remain unpunished. There may well be instances of stalking where the nature of the acts perpetrated demands a criminal penalty on grounds of retribution and deterrence. I understand that the honourable Lady who introduced an equivalent Bill in another place expressed the very strong view that a civil remedy on its own would not be a sufficient response, and I respectfully agree with her.

I said that there were two reasons why the Government remain unhappy with the noble Lord's Bill as he proposes to amend it. The second, equally important, consideration is that there must be an opportunity for all concerned with this problem to

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express their views on the possible solutions, before we move to set them in legislative stone. This is a difficult problem, and there are no easy solutions. It is perhaps significant that, when the honourable Lady's Bill was first introduced in another place, two of the organisations which have been campaigning on this issue took radically different views about the acceptability of the solutions offered.

We need proper consultation on the options, and that is what the Government have declared they will do. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has undertaken to come forward with comprehensive proposals for addressing the problem of stalking, and I understand that he hopes to do so very shortly. That will give an opportunity for all concerned to express their views on the solutions on offer, which will, as I have implied, entail a combination of criminal and civil remedies. The distinction, and the links, between them are vital, which is why we cannot proceed with one element of the package without considering the other.

It would be quite wrong to suggest that the Government are dragging their feet on this matter. We are determined to make rapid progress, and to do so in the most effective way possible. We should not underestimate the extent of the problem we have to solve, however. Some commentators have instanced the fact that some other countries have legislated against stalking, as a sign that ready-made solutions may already be to hand. I wish it were so simple. The fact is that, although some other countries do indeed have laws specifically to deal with this issue, the content of those laws deals, for the most part, with behaviour which is already a criminal offence within our own law. Either that, or they are cast in terms which would, if translated as they stand into English law, make it difficult in practice to prove commission of the offence. We want to do better than that, and to find provisions which will really fill the gaps that have been exposed in the present law. The attempts by other countries are interesting, but they do not get us very far.

I have spoken at some length on these amendments, because what I have said here reflects the Government's view on the whole package proposed by the noble Lord. We respect what he is attempting to do, and we shall want to reflect in our consultation document on his proposals and the comments made in the course of this debate. We cannot support legislation at this stage. But we are determined to tackle the problem, and to do so quickly.

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