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Lord Desai: My Lords, I welcome the amendments. They do not go as far as I wanted, because I still think that the whole problem of sexual history that a woman has sometimes to recount deters women from bringing cases to trial. However, I welcome the narrowing of the criteria under which sexual history can be admitted.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I also welcome the provisions as now drafted. We discussed them for a long time in Committee and on Report and Third Reading. They were modified in your Lordships' House and subsequently in the other place. It is difficult to get the wording precisely right, but I believe that it has been improved and that the changes that will be introduced by the Bill as a result are desirable.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENTS

12

Clause 41, page 30, line 7, leave out ("other than") and insert ("but excluding (except in section 40(3)(c)(i) and (5)(a))").


13

Clause 42, page 30, line 35, after ("court") insert ("(but in the absence of the jury, if there is one)").


14

Page 30, line 36, leave out ("decision to give, or refuse,") and insert ("reasons for giving, or refusing,").

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 12 to 14.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 12 to 14.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

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COMMONS AMENDMENT

15

Clause 43, page 31, line 19, leave out ("when a minor shall while that person") and insert ("shall while he").

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 15. I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 18 to 22 and 53.

Amendments Nos. 15, 18 and 19 remove tautologies in Clauses 43 and 44. Amendment No. 20 defines whom, including those resident in Scotland, the courts should recognise as having authority to offer or veto the parental waiver provided in respect of reporting restrictions in relation to the identification of young victims and witnesses of alleged offences at the pre-trial stage of criminal investigations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 are consequential to Amendment No. 20. Amendment No. 53 is consequential to Amendments Nos. 62 and 63 moved on Lords Report on 8th March 1999.

Amendments Nos. 15, 18, and 19 remove references to "a minor" in Clauses 43 and 44. They are not needed because the clauses already contain references to a person under the age of 18. Amendment No. 20 clarifies the question of parental waiver in respect of children allegedly involved as victims or witnesses. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments No. 15.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Lord Cope of Berkeley : My Lords, I wish only to say that it is somewhat a criticism of your Lordships' House, including myself, that we should have allowed the tautology corrected by the amendments to slip through. On reading the Bill, the problem is obvious and the other place is right to correct us.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENT

16

Clause 43, page 31, line 24, leave out from beginning to ("cease") in line 28.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 16, and I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 17 and 25. The amendments ensure that the reporting restrictions provided in the Bill, which bite during police investigations before a suspect is charged and which restrict identification of children who are alleged to be victims or witnesses to the commission of an offence, should only be implemented if the draft order to that effect has been approved by affirmative resolution in both Houses.

We had several discussions about these issues. The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, raised matters which I said at the time were of genuine interest and importance to the public and to those who discharge a public function by proper reporting. When the Bill was in the other place it was put to us that the media's own regulatory

26 Jul 1999 : Column 1333

arrangements to protect children could be strengthened in a way that is specific to children who might be harmed by publicity in connection with a crime and that this would be preferable to the provisions in the Bill which restrict pre-trial reporting about child witnesses and victims. For the print media at least, any change to the regulatory arrangements is a matter for the industry as a whole to consult upon. For the broadcast media it is a matter for independent regulators.

I cannot fetter the discretion of this or any other Home Secretary by making any undertakings about what might happen if such regulatory changes were made. Our objective has not changed. We were prepared to consider the possibility that it might be achieved by other means, and we made these new amendments as a result. We shall need to keep the case for implementation under regular review. Should this, or any future Home Secretary, come to the conclusion in the light of the circumstances then prevailing that the provisions in Clause 43 should be extended to child victims and witnesses, a draft order to that effect will be laid before Parliament. Obviously, a most crucial consideration in such assessments will be whether we continue to have concerns about children being damaged by the media's reports of crime and can justify those concerns.

These matters were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. It was worth having those debates, on more than one occasion if my memory serves. We have listened carefully to what has been said by those who discharge a public function, and I wish to make it clear that we shall not implement the provisions unless circumstances make it necessary in our judgment.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 16.--(Lord William of Mostyn.)

6 p.m.

Lord Windlesham: My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether the voluntary organisations concerned with the interests of the child, in particular the NSPCC, with which he has had a previous connection, have been satisfied? They made representations which were raised by myself, among others, in Committee. At the same time the Minister was in negotiation with the much more powerful representatives of the media. We have heard that the accommodation reached was acceptable to the media. Can the Minister tell us whether the Bill, as it now stands, is acceptable to the voluntary organisations?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, they were consulted. It is my best understanding that they were content on the basis which I have indicated. I do not regard the media organisations as being more powerful than the voluntary organisations. The voluntary organisations--particularly within the field of child protection--have been extremely influential; first, in the way in which we cast the Bill in general structure and in the very helpful amendments and thoughts which have been put forward.

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It is an extremely difficult balance to cast. We cannot have a free society without a free press. We cannot justify a free press which is wholly enabled and entitled, as it were, to do damage to children. That is why I believe that we have the balance about right. I repeat that--and I hope it will be a comfort to your Lordships and to the noble Lord who has asked this question--we want to keep the matter under constant review. Part of that constant review is a readiness always to listen to the voluntary organisations of the kind which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, described.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, as the Minister says, it is a difficult balancing act to frame the legislation so that it both gives the protection that we all want for vulnerable witnesses and, for that matter, vulnerable accused, while at the same time retaining a free press. That is not only in the interests of a free press, but also because, as emerged from our earlier debates, sometimes press publicity given to an offence and its immediate circumstances may enable the victim to be identified and may also assist to catch the offender.

We did not want to make it more difficult for the police to catch an offender and bring him before the courts while trying to protect the victims of or other witnesses to an offence. The balancing act has been difficult. I believe that the current wording certainly goes in the direction that we wished. As the Minister says, it provides, as it were, a sword of Damocles which will hang over the press to try to ensure that its voluntary codes achieve what we all want in terms of protection, without overstepping the mark in the other direction of making things too difficult for the police to pursue their valuable role in this.

I am not keen on legislative swords of Damocles hanging over sections of the population, whether the press or anyone else. Nevertheless, in this instance it provides a way out of an awkward drafting situation. I support the amendments.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENTS

17

Clause 43, page 31, line 32, leave out from ("to") to end of line 40 and insert--


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