Reports of women being drugged via drinks or needles in nightclubs and elsewhere are deeply concerning. While it is the case that it is difficult to make an assessment of the prevalence of spiking by injection at this stage, the concerns of women across the country are real and we must ensure that safety in and around nightclubs is taken seriously.
It is encouraging that this matter is finally getting the attention it deserves. The Home Affairs Select Committee has recently concluded an inquiry on spiking which found that a lack of available data on spiking has made it difficult to get a clear idea of its true extent, and a culture of viewing victims as having had 'one too many' and a lack of coordinated support from venues, police and health services has meant many incidents are going unreported. This is clearly unacceptable and I welcome that the Government (having now formally responded to the Committee's report) is taking steps, both immediate and long-term, to tackle this awful practice.
During the passage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act through Parliament, the Government amended the legislation to require the Home Secretary to prepare a report on the nature and prevalence of spiking and to set out the steps that the Government has taken or intends to take to address it. It is right that Ministers are taking a considered approach to ensure the actions taken tackle it in full and I look forward to reading the Home Secretary's report once published.
In line with the Home Affairs Committee's recommendations, the Home Office is also considering the case for a criminal offence to target spiking directly. In its response to the Committee's report, the Government confirmed it would update Parliament on whether it intends to introduce a specific criminal offence for spiking in due course and I am assured Ministers will not hesitate to legislate in this area if necessary.
In the immediate term, however, I am pleased that GHB, a drug commonly used in drink spiking, has been reclassified under the Misuse of Drugs Act as a Class B drug. Those found guilty of offences now face up to five years in prison. Furthermore, following the Government's request for the National Police Chief's Council (NPCC) to urgently review the extent and scale of the issue of spiking, the NPCC established a reporting mechanism to enable all police forces to centrally report any incidences in order to help Ministers gain a better understanding of the scale and nature of the problem. I know that the information being provided by police forces is continuously under review to ensure it is fit for purpose.
More broadly, the tackling violence against women and girls strategy will increase support for victims and survivors, increase the number of perpetrators brought to justice, and reduce the prevalence of violence against women and girls in the long-term. A number of measures in the strategy are focused on practical action to increase physical safety in public places. This includes a £5 Million ‘Safety of Women at Night’ Fund, in addition to the Safer Streets Fund, that focuses on the prevention of violence against women and girls in public spaces at night, including in the night-time economy.
These measures are being complemented by the 'Enough' campaign which features television adverts, billboards, social media and radio advertising and highlights different forms of violence against women and girls and the simple acts that anyone can take to challenge perpetrators of abuse. For too long, the responsibility of keeping safe has been placed on the shoulders of women and girls. This campaign shows that everyone can play a role in challenging abuse and making our country a safer place.
I will continue to monitor this situation very closely and will engage with Ministers to ensure that nightclubs are doing enough to ensure women can safely enjoy the night-time economy.