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Clause 25, page 21, line 28, leave out ("of, or association with members of,") and insert ("(or presumed membership) of").

The Lord Advocate (Lord Hardie): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 9. In speaking to this amendment I shall, with the leave of the House, speak also to Amendments Nos. 10 to 13, 82 and 83.

These amendments relate to racially aggravated offences in the Bill. Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 11 relate to Clause 25, which is the provision affecting England and Wales. Amendments Nos. 12, 13, 82 and 83 relate to Clauses 30 and 88, which are the equivalent provisions for Scotland. All these amendments are designed to clarify the test of what amounts to "racially aggravated" for the purpose of these offences.

I am sure that no one would wish a perpetrator of racist attacks to be let off the hook because of the attacker's ignorance about the victims' racial group: for example, because the attacker thought that his victim was Pakistani and the victim was from Bangladesh. These amendments will put that issue beyond doubt. They make clear that, regardless of which racial group the perpetrator believes the victim to belong to, an offence will be "racially aggravated" if racial hostility or motivation is proved.

The Government are aware of the concerns of some noble Lords and religious groups as to whether these offences will cover an attack made, for example, on a Moslem. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has met Moslem community leaders to discuss this issue. We believe that in practice most cases which may appear to have a religious element will also have a racial element. We do not believe that when the perpetrators of these offences attack Moslems they do so because of hostility towards the tenets of Islam. They do so because of racist hostility towards the victim and towards the ethnic minority groups that are associated with the Moslem faith in this country.

The test of what amounts to "racially aggravated" for the purposes of these offences requires that the racial hostility is wholly or partly a motivating factor. It follows that if part of the hostility is racist, then the offence is covered by these provisions, even if there is

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also a religious hostility. This amendment is designed to make that absolutely clear. The religious element is immaterial where racism forms even a part of the motivation of the offence. We believe that this provision will cover the vast majority of cases which involve the Moslem community. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 9.--(Lord Hardie.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.



Clause 25, page 21, line 32, at end insert--

("( ) In subsection (1)(a) above--
"membership", in relation to a racial group, includes association with members of that group;
"presumed" means presumed by the offender.").

Page 21, line 32, at end insert--

("( ) It is immaterial for the purposes of paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1) above whether or not the offender's hostility is also based, to any extent, on--
(a) the fact or presumption that any person or group of persons belongs to any religious group; or
(b) any other factor not mentioned in that paragraph.").

Clause 30, page 24, line 35, leave out ("of, or association with members of,") and insert ("(or presumed membership) of").


Page 24, line 40, at end insert--

("(2A) In subsection (2)(a) above--
"membership", in relation to a racial group, includes association with members of that group;
"presumed" means presumed by the offender.
(2B) It is immaterial for the purposes of paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (2) above whether or not the offender's malice and ill-will is also based, to any extent, on--
(a) the fact or presumption that any person or group of persons belongs to any religious group; or
(b) any other factor not mentioned in that paragraph.").

Lord Hardie: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 10 to 13.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 10 to 13.--(Lord Hardie.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Carter: My Lords, as I suspect that the next group of amendments will attract a modicum of interest, it may be for the convenience of the House if we do not break for dinner until the group is completed. When we have finished debating the group in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, we shall then break for dinner, when we shall deal with the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it may also be helpful if I indicate that the noble Lords, Lord Rowallan and Lord Elton, have courteously informed me that they wish their amendments to be decoupled from that standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young.

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After Clause 32, insert the following new clause--

Reduction in age at which certain sexual acts are lawful

(".--(1) In subsections (1A) and (1C) of section 12 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 (buggery), for the word "eighteen" there shall be substituted the word "sixteen".
(2) In subsections (1) and (6) of section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 (amendment of law relating to homosexual acts in private), for the word "eighteen" there shall be substituted the word "sixteen".
(3) In section 13 of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 (homosexual offences)--
(a) in subsections (1) and (5)(c), for the word "eighteen"; and
(b) in subsection (8), for the word "18",
there shall be substituted the word "sixteen".
(4) In paragraphs (1) and (5) of Article 3 of the Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982 (homosexual acts in private), for the word "18" there shall be substituted the word "17".").


That this House do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 14.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Young: My Lords, I beg to move that this House do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 14. At the same time I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 98, 107, 108, 140 and 237.

The issue before the House is not party-political. Noble Lords from all parts of the House have been good enough to indicate support for me, for which I am extremely grateful. Many would have signed this amendment had that been allowed. Nor is this some religious Right-Wing plot, as has been suggested to me. I speak as an Anglican. However, I know that I have the support of Roman Catholics and members of the Welsh nonconformist Church. I was very grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, indicated his support for me. I have been approached twice by the secretary-general of the Moslem Council of Great Britain, representing 600 mosques, to say that the council is entirely in support of this proposal. And of course there are many others who have no religious convictions at all who also support what I am doing.

I think we all greatly welcome the firm statement from the most reverend Primate of all England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, that he cannot support the reduction in the age of consent to 16 and the fact that he set that out so clearly in his article in this morning's Times.

There are two issues before the House today. The first is a constitutional issue, the other an issue of substance. Your Lordships will recall that the Crime and Disorder Bill began in this House. It then went to the House of Commons, but not until Third Reading was this amendment to lower the age of consent introduced. It makes an important social change, and one that is contentious, though not on party-political lines. Interestingly, the amendment that preceded it, again at the last possible opportunity, was on football

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hooliganism, which is of quite a different character and is an issue on which there is wide agreement that something needs to be done.

The amendment before us today was tabled in another place on 11th June and debated on 22nd June. It was debated for only three hours. Whether or not it is true, as one Labour Member of Parliament told me, that the debate was deliberately fixed by Mr. Mandelson to coincide with the World Cup and in particular the England versus Argentina match, I cannot say. But what is undoubtedly true is that the amendment was never considered either in Committee or on Report in either House of Parliament. So there has been no opportunity at all for detailed consideration of this change in the law and of the issues involved.

So rushed has this whole business been that the Long Title of the Bill had to be amended in order to make it possible for this amendment to be tabled at all. Many would think that the amendment has nothing to do with the main purposes of the Crime and Disorder Bill. I regret to say that that has come from a Government who tell us regularly that they are committed to transparency and openness.

What is the consequence of all this? Noble Lords will be aware that two amendments to the Commons amendment are tabled for debate in this House this evening. That suggests that the amendment as it stands, even if one supported the principle of lowering the age to 16, is not satisfactory.

Secondly, a very important amendment was moved in another place by Mr. Joe Ashton. Perhaps I may remind the House of what his amendment said. The amendment proposed that instead of "sixteen" there should be inserted:

    "sixteen years (except when one party is in a position of authority, influence or trust in relation to the other, in which case both parties must have attained the age of eighteen years)".--[Official Report, Commons, 22/6/98; col. 755.]

That amendment in the other place was lost by only 40 votes. That seems to show that very many of those Members of Parliament who voted to lower the age of consent to 16 were concerned as to the consequences for vulnerable boys and girls who were being looked after away from home. The figures quoted by Mr. Ashton were taken from the Utting Report, published last November, which indicated that there are some 200,000 children living away from their parents. It sets out those groups which are probably most vulnerable and most at risk, including those in children's homes and foster care, and of course particularly in penal institutions and remand homes, as well as children in schools, and hospitals, and disabled children.

Replying to the debate, the Home Office Minister, Mr. Alun Michael, had this to say, particularly on the amendment proposed by Mr. Joe Ashton:

    "It is particularly important to protect those who are vulnerable, and those who are in care ... Even before [Mr. Ashton] tabled his amendments, we had acknowledged the need for changes in the law ... Our priority is to protect the vulnerable and to reinforce the duty of professional care. We are looking carefully at what needs to be done but we must get it right. I have discussed the issue with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Employment and for Health, and we have made it a matter of

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    priority. We have set up an interdepartmental working group to identify the additional safeguards needed to prevent those who are unsuitable to do so from working with children. That group will also identify the measures necessary to protect 16 and 17-year-olds who may be vulnerable to abuse by those in positions of trust".--[Official Report, Commons, 22/6/98; col. 787.]

That statement has been reinforced by a very helpful letter sent to me by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for which I am most grateful. I was also most grateful for the discussion we had some two weeks ago. Perhaps I may quote from his letter:

    "I very much share your concerns on the issue of protection for this vulnerable age group, both boys and girls. This is something the Government take extremely seriously. You may be aware of the new interdepartmental working group".

The letter goes on to say:

    "It will be looking at the problem of abuse of trust, which has been the focus of much concern in the debate over lowering the age of consent and also more widely at safeguards to prevent unsuitable people from working with children. It holds its first meeting on 30th July and has been tasked to report by the end of the year".

Not only do we have the amendment proposed by Mr. Joe Ashton, we also have the response by Government Ministers.

I do not doubt for one moment the sincerity of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, or of the Government Minsters who have spoken on this matter and their concern for this group of young people. What I do find extraordinary is that the Government have accepted an amendment, passed by the House of Commons, to lower the age of consent to 16 and have at the same time immediately recognised that it is seriously flawed and that it is necessary to set up a working party to deal with those young people most at risk. I ask myself, as a simple person: how can they allow this provision to go forward on to the statute book in this unsatisfactory state?

Perhaps I may look at what it seems to me would be the timetable of the interdepartmental committee. The committee will report at the end of the year, in December, presumably. Its report must then be considered. Legislation will have to follow, no doubt not in the next session of Parliament but in the one after. That means that for at least two years those vulnerable young people--those are not my words but the Government's words--will be at risk. I look to those who intend to vote today to lower the age of consent to 16. They will be voting for a piece of legislation which, on the admission of all those who have studied it closely, is flawed.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that I recognise that the Crime and Disorder Bill is a very important Bill for the Government. I recognise, too, that it has a great deal of cross-party support. I say to him in all sincerity that no one hopes more than I do that it will be successful in dealing with juvenile crime. I believe I speak for everyone in the House on that matter. But we are not talking about the whole Bill; we are talking about one amendment tacked on to the end of it, which the Government admit contains a serious flaw.

I should therefore like to suggest to the Government that they should take the amendment back and bring forward their own Bill to reduce the age of consent to 16 in the next session of Parliament, or whenever they

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feel it to be appropriate; or, if they prefer not to do that, that they should invite a Member to sponsor it and allow it government time. That would have the advantage that it would deal with the problems which are to be resolved by the interdepartmental working party. It would therefore give everyone an opportunity to look in detail at the consequences of this piece of legislation, because we should have a Bill before us which would have a Committee and a Report stage. I profoundly believe that that would be the best way forward. It would give us an opportunity to get the legislation in the right form and a form which--I hesitate to say this in the presence of so many Law Lords--would perhaps be more easily interpreted and workable.

I turn now to the issue of substance. The fact is that the public at large do not want the age of consent lowered to 16. Polls show that over 70 per cent. of the population are against it. I have been deluged with letters. In my entire public life I never before remember having to spend over an hour each day simply opening letters, 98 per cent. of which support my view. They come from teachers and from doctors. I have even had letters from homosexuals supporting my view. But mostly they come from parents. It would not be an exaggeration to say that parents are very worried about this matter, to the extent that some are quite fearful about what is happening. One of the most tragic letters I have received was from a father whose young son went off to America, contracted AIDS and died in unpleasant circumstances, including going blind.

I believe that this is the thin end of the wedge. I know that many homosexual organisations say that they are not in favour of lowering the age of consent to 14, but some are. It will lead to a demand for gay and lesbian marriages and for the right for such couples to adopt children.

I understand that the Government are already considering repealing Clause 28, which prevents local authorities promoting homosexuality in schools. As it is, we see the most dreadful leaflets being distributed outside school gates. Parents are very concerned about this. I speak as a mother and a grandmother; we are family people. Parents mind very much indeed the prospect of their children being taught about homosexuality. They do not think that it is something which should be taught in schools. If we really have regard for public opinion, that is something we must take into account.

It is said that this whole issue is one of equality. I do not myself believe that there is a moral equivalence between heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Furthermore, I think that boys and girls are not equal in emotional development. I believe it is a very doubtful argument to bring equality into this issue at all. In many respects it simply does not apply; we are not talking about equal things.

If we did want equality, in an ideal world, I would be quite consistent and say that we should raise the age of consent for girls to 18. We are not in that world, so it does not work as a proposition, but I would not wish it to be thought that I am in any sense being inconsistent.

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There are many things I could say to your Lordships today, but I shall conclude now. I have put down this Motion to disagree with the Commons amendment because I believe that it is wrong in principle. I have been reinforced in that view by the letters I have had and by people stopping me wherever I go and saying: "You are standing for something. You must stand up for what people think and for what good parents want for their children".

The amendment as it stands is, in my opinion, flawed. It would at this stage be quite wrong for your Lordships' House--even for anyone who believes in lowering the age of consent--to vote for what is bad legislation. It is clearly not wanted by the public at large, who are fearful about what is happening to society. We know perfectly well that homosexual practices carry great health risks to young people.

I hope tonight that the overwhelming majority of your Lordships will support me in the Division Lobbies. We shall be exercising our constitutional right to ask the other place to think again on this matter. There is much to think about.

Moved, That this House do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 14.--(Baroness Young.)

7 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, perhaps I may declare an interest at the outset. I am the mother of two young teenagers. In my work as a criminal barrister I have encountered more sexually abused children of both sexes than I care to contemplate. I strongly support the Commons amendment and disagree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, puts forward.

Those who oppose the change of law say that the present law is necessary to protect young people. But I believe that it does precisely the opposite. Homosexual activity involving teenagers is a fact of life. There is no law which can stop consensual acts carried out in private. Even if every policeman in the land were put on the task, accompanied by torchlight vigilantes led by the noble Baroness and her supporters, that could not be done; it could not be policed or prevented.

The effect of the criminalisation of these acts for those who are male, homosexual and aged between 16 and 18 is to drive them to secrecy within the homosexual community; to isolate them; to cut them off from seeking advice, guidance and help from family and friends, from doctors and, on occasions when sexual attentions are or have become unwelcome, to cut them off from the protection of the police and the authorities. All sexual activity is a health hazard. Young people need to be encouraged, not discouraged, from seeking information and help when they need it. The present law effectively puts a section of the community--young, gay men--beyond the pale and, far from protecting them, it denies them the protection which the rest of us enjoy.

Within a short distance of this Chamber, tonight and every night for those who care to look, the failure of our present law to protect the young from sexual

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exploitation can be seen in the numbers of very young prostitutes of both sexes for sale on our streets. The law has done little to help them.

The reality is this. Regardless of the law, homosexual experimentation between young men has always taken place and always will. Those who fall in love or fancy that they have done so, whatever their sex, will express their love as they feel right and not necessarily as the law permits. The present law does not prevent them from doing it or protect them; instead, it makes them into criminals.

The view I have just expressed is shared by the majority of the organisations who are most directly concerned with the young--the NSPCC, the British Medical Association, the National Association of Probation Officers, Barnardo's and Save the Children to name but a few. When all the evidence suggests that sexual orientation is fixed in both sexes by the age of 16, what an extraordinary law we have which says to young people, "You are sufficiently mature to take a sexual partner of one sex, but not of the other".

I understand the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness for the vulnerable. As a parent, of course I understand them and feel them myself. For that reason I am pleased that the Government are exploring ways to prevent unwelcome sexual attentions which are equally offensive, whether the victim is a man, a woman, a boy or a girl and, indeed, protection for those in positions of trust. If the law needs to be strengthened, that must be done. But that is a separate matter from the matter we are discussing tonight.

A new generation today has a very different attitude towards homosexuality from ours or that of our parents. It is no longer a subject which cannot be spoken of openly. It is no longer seen as a matter of choice any more than being right or left-handed is a matter of choice. A cold shower, a good beating or a spell of hard labour in Reading Gaol are no longer seen as the answer. This modest change in the law does no more than give effect to reality, common sense, equality and tolerance. "Tolerance" does not mean permitting things of which one approves; it means accepting the right of others to choose to do things of which one disapproves.

To those who have been saying, as they have in the past few weeks, that the Commons amendment would send the wrong message or signal from this Parliament, I ask this question: who do they believe will listen to that message? I doubt that a single young person will either embark on or postpone sexual activity as a result of this debate or its outcome. Nor, I am bound to say, do I believe that predatory older men, bent on seducing their juniors will be changing their invitation from the traditional, "Come and see my etchings" to "Come and read my copy of the Crime and Disorder Act".

We are talking to one another in this House, but outside the world has already moved on. And so should the law. We claim to have equality before the law; we do not have it. This amendment merely brings it a small step nearer.

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