Skip to main content

Spiking Incidents: Prevention – [Esther McVey in the Chair] | Westminster Hall debates

And indeed there are other male Members here. I am getting myself into trouble before I have even started.

This is an important issue, and we have said that men are affected by it. Yesterday, I was reading in the Evening Standard about people being drugged in a club and having vast amounts of money stolen from them, so spiking is also used as a means to steal, but it still largely affects women. Stamp Out Spiking says that four out of five victims are women.

This crime has historically been dismissed, although it has been around for years. As has been said, it is often seen as the fault of the victim for going out, having too much fun and drinking too much. The stigma that attaches to that means that lots of people do not come forward. Spiking happens because of criminals. It is a violent act with damaging physical and mental health consequences. Women and men should be able to go about their business and enjoy their nights out without fear. It is pernicious and a route to further criminality, be it acquisitive crime, robbery, sexual assault or, in some cases, rape.

We need leadership on this issue. The hon. Member for Gloucester, the Home Affairs Committee and Members on both sides of the House are calling on the Government to act, and move further faster. Just shy of 5,000 cases were reported in the 12 months to September 2022, but as has been said, there is massive under-reporting; many people do not come forward. As the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee said, the majority of people who came forward in her Committee’s consultation did not report anything to the police. That lack of confidence in authorities—that pessimism that nothing will be done—is a real problem, so I ask the Minister, following on from the Select Committee’s recommendations, what more work the Government can do to improve the reporting of spiking, and to support victims in coming forward.

The lack of a specific offence is obviously the main topic that we have been talking about. Last year, Labour added to calls for the Government to introduce a specific offence of spiking and intent to spike. We tabled an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill calling for urgent action, and a review of the prevalence of spiking and the criminal justice system’s response to it. The Government sadly did not agree to it.

The Government could commit today to referring spiking sentencing to the Sentencing Council. Analysis of how many prosecutions occur is very difficult because we do not have all the figures, but there were only 36 prosecutions and 20 convictions over 2020 for what is called “other miscellaneous sexual offences”, of which spiking is one category. In the 10 years to 2020, there were only 286 convictions under that offence. Only three people were prosecuted under section 23 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 in 2020, and there were only 104 section 24 offences of administering poison with intent to injure or annoy. There is a wide range of offences that spiking can fall under. It is complicated. As the hon. Member for Gloucester argues, we should call a spade a spade and introduce a specific offence for spiking.

There is good work being done across the country on this. I went to the west midlands and walked about Birmingham with PCC Simon Foster, who is doing some really good work. West Midlands police have a system in which they attend all allegations, and triage victims in Birmingham safe space areas, which are staffed by security and medics throughout the night. Drugs screening is prioritised, and urine samples are taken within 72 hours. The speed with which those drugs leave our bodies makes evidence gathering far harder, but the police react with a speed that keeps up with that.

In Northumbria, Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness has placed dedicated officers on patrol in Newcastle’s bustling night-time economy, which I enjoyed when I was at Durham University. They are there to protect individuals and target those who commit offences. We have talked about the Ask Angela scheme in places such as Leeds; more than 650 night-time economy providers have signed up to those scheme, through which those who feel unsafe, vulnerable or threatened can seek help discretely by approaching staff and asking for Angela.

While spiking is a horrid and invasive crime, it is just one of the threats to women engaging with the night-time economy. All too often, bouncers throw out young women, or young people, because they are too drunk, with little care for their safety, when in reality they are under the influence of something that was slipped into their drink. Even when they are leaving because they have had too much to drink, they are still vulnerable and need support. There is some really good work around the country that I would like the Government to look at rolling out. For example, if someone leaves a nightclub in Birmingham, there are lots of phone numbers that the bouncers and others can use to get someone from St John’s Ambulance to come and make sure that person gets home safely. That is simple but really effective.

There is a great epidemic of violence against women and girls in this country. Spiking, as a violent act, in many cases is based on misogyny and lack of respect. When done with a needle, it involves a weapon, too. The Labour party has repeatedly pushed the Government to go further, faster, on violence against women and girls. Labour has produced a comprehensive violence against women and girls White Paper, setting out our vision of a Britain that is safe for women and girls. We have consistently called for VAWG to be part of the strategic policing requirement that has been promised by the Government but not delivered. Police forces are not yet required to tackle crimes against women as a priority. That is unforgiveable, and yet another example of a Tory Government refusing to take concrete action to protect women.

Following on from the Select Committee recommendations, what work are the Government doing to improve reporting of spiking? Will the Minister accept the arguments for making spiking a specific offence? Will he go further on violence against women more broadly, not least by making it a specific strategic requirement?

Yesterday, I was in a youth centre in Croydon, and as always there were a range of leaflets there. I picked one up, and it said, “Keep an eye on your drink. You won’t know your drink has been spiked until it is too late, so be careful.” It can no longer be solely the duty of our women and girls to keep themselves safe. After years of neglect in this area, the Government must step up and take action.