Page last updated at 19:34 GMT, Monday, 12 March 2012

Peers approve Protection of Freedoms Bill

Peers have passed the Protection of Freedoms Bill; legislation which curtails the use of CCTV and makes changes to the DNA database and criminal records checks.

During the third reading debate on 12 March 2012, the government agreed to look again at its plans to make stalking a criminal offence after Labour voiced concerns that they did not go far enough.

Home Office minister Lord Henley had tabled amendments to the bill creating a new offence of stalking and a more serious offence of "stalking involving fear of violence".

The changes followed Prime Minister David Cameron's pledge to make stalking a criminal offence in England and Wales.

But opposition leader Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, while welcoming the move, warned of "deficiencies" in the government's amendments.

She claimed they perpetuated the distinction between "low level" stalking and more serious offences.

Lady Royall said she was concerned that prosecutors unable to prove "fear of violence" would opt to try stalkers under the lesser offence of stalking, subject to a maximum prison sentence of six months.

Lord Henley said peers, campaigners and MPs were all in agreement that "tough action" had to be taken against stalkers.

But he accepted that the "fear of violence" concept "may not fully cover the trauma suffered by victims in the more serious cases of stalking".

"Such victims may not always be in fear of physical violence but they nonetheless suffer serious psychological harm and we need to include this concept in our new offence," he told peers.

The minister promised to bring forward further amendments to make this clear when the bill returns to the Commons later in the month.

'Truly terrifying experience'

Liberal Democrat Baroness Brinton, a victim of stalking several years ago, welcomed the government's initiative and the plan to make further changes.

She said campaigners and families of victims were initially overjoyed that the "scourge of stalking" was to be recognised as the "horrible crime it is".

Conservative Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, agreed, telling peers of his "truly terrifying experience" of being stalked by a woman who rang him "at all hours of the day and night".

"I'm very pleased the government has moved on this because I believe it to be a serious social problem."

Lady Royall said that while she was still concerned about the wording of the changes, she would withdraw Labour's amendments pending the outcome of discussions with the government.

The bill will now return to the House of Commons, where MPs will debate changes made by peers.

The government suffered one defeat during report stage in the Lords, when peers voted in support of Conservative peer Lord Marlesford's amendment to place constraints on authorities which have powers to enter people's homes.

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