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Earl Russell: It might, but it might also, among those who are attracted by the idea of danger, turn the man on. I am not convinced that on balance it makes any great difference. When people are sufficiently determined in this area they are not often deterred by punishment, especially if they think that detection is unlikely. In the case of buggery, I do not see by what means it could be detected. One wonders whether it might be detected by means of CCTV, but I cannot believe that the framers of the amendment contemplate anything so drastic, particularly as there are considerable risks in what might happen to the film thereafter. If it is not to be detected that way, we are left with the point made with great power by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham; namely, how can we know? If we cannot know, we cannot enforce the law. I am against making laws which cannot be enforced.

I know how the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will reply to that. She will say, more or less, that the purpose of the law as she intends it is to send a signal. I do not approve of that method of legislating. I do not think that the law is a form of sermon. As soon as you pass a law for no other purpose than to send a signal, knowing you cannot enforce it, you are giving the signal that the law can be disobeyed with impunity. As one who respects the law, I do not like giving the signal that the law can be disobeyed with impunity.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, talks about the protection of children. That is a common objective. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith. I also

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care about the protection of children, but I want to protect them from the fear and guilt of knowing that they risk punishment and disgrace for being what they are when they cannot be other than they are. That is not what I think the law should be for. I shall support the Bill and oppose the amendment.

Lord Boardman: Before the noble Earl sits down, is there not the possibility of the criminal law being applied where an older man, say, 30 years old, seduces a 16 year-old and causes that 16 year-old damage of which he ultimately complains?

Earl Russell: If the act was not consensual, there can be a complaint. Otherwise--I speak as one whose parents met when one of them was 65 and the other was 19--if the noble Lord's philosophy had been followed, I might not be here now and I should regret that!

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: As I am a signatory to the--

Lord Ackner: So am I.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I give way to the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Ackner: I have an abiding recollection of an observation made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor during the debate on the then House of Lords Bill. It was in relation to what was known as the Weatherill amendment. He said,

    "I must be brutally frank".

It never occurred to me why he should be brutally frank. With the majority he had in the House of Commons he could have been delicately frank with just the same degree of success.

When the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, had the courage as a layman to speak in regard to the anal intercourse versus vaginal intercourse debate, there was almost a sense of embarrassment in the House on the basis, I think, that we were dealing with an issue of discrimination and therefore we did not need to go in to all the irrelevant, sordid details.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Young, as she has produced an amendment which gets away entirely from the question of discrimination. Therefore the kind of attitude I mentioned cannot be adopted by the House. We are not haunted--as we were--by the spectre of the European courts, nor by the pleasure of hearing a tutorial on the subject from the noble Lord, Lord Lester. This is a situation where there is no question of discrimination. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl, on doing what is essential where one is dealing with questions of health; namely, setting out the situation as a doctor so that the issue of embarrassment does not arise.

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My next point has not been mentioned. Strangely enough, there is a letter in today's Daily Telegraph, signed by a number of doctors, and headed "dangers of unnatural sex". The letter states, among other things,

    "The Government's commitment to reducing the age of consent introduces vulnerable teenagers to a lifestyle strongly linked to premature death. It causes physical damage to the anus and spreads infections such as hepatitis and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV. Men who practise anal sex and then have sex with women give them very severe pelvic infections with resulting infertility or chronic ill health".

We have at last reached the position in this House where it is accepted that homosexuality in relation to this kind of activity--which some regard as a perverted activity--involves the young, and anyone else who takes part in it, in considerably greater risk. In those circumstances the Government are legislating in a manner which it is agreed may well increase the prospect of disease or ill health among those whom it is our principal duty to safeguard--the very young. In that situation, the onus on the Government must be particularly high. They must justify why it is necessary to reduce the age from 18 to 16 in regard to this activity. What is the principle involved to justify that? It is not discrimination; that has gone out of the window. What remains? Is it the difficulty in policing the activities between 18 or 16 year-olds and those older? But that applies to every situation where one has the age of consent. On that argument, one would abolish restrictions on age altogether.

What other explanation or suggestion is made? Is it that safe sex is an answer to this particular risk. But it is not. That has been made clear by the medical experts. I quote from an article published about a year ago by Dr Jeffrey Satinover. He says that,

    "comparable tears in the vagina are not only less frequent because of the relative toughness of the vaginal lining, but the environment of the vagina is vastly cleaner than that of the rectum. Indeed, we are designed with a nearly impenetrable barrier between the bloodstream and the extraordinarily toxic and infectious contents of the bowel. Anal intercourse creates a breach in this barrier for the receptive partner, whether or not the insertive partner is wearing a condom".

The suggestion is that the ultra tough condom will suit the bill. Everyone knows that the ultra tough condom will not be worn. No condom is often the case because, as has been said, some people delight in taking the risk.

In all the circumstances, I cannot see how this heavy onus can be discharged. That seems to be the right test. The Government are about to embark upon something which can seriously and significantly prejudice the health of the young. In those circumstances, what is their justification? The answer is: none that we have heard here.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: As a signatory to the amendment, perhaps I should explain some of my reasons for signing it. I believe, as does the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, that this measure

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equalises the position. We have to bear that very much in mind. I also signed the amendment because I believed that it was a reasonable compromise between opposing points of view. I believe that it was a compromise which would be welcomed on all sides of the Committee; and from all sides of the argument. However, that does not appear to have been the case today. That is a matter for regret.

My noble friend Lord Alli said that the amendments were designed to wreck the Bill. That is wholly untrue. The amendments do not wreck the Bill. I believe that the amendments do what amendments should do: they improve the Bill. In no sense do they wreck the Bill; and in no sense can they wreck the Bill. The Bill will stand as the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill with the amendments in the same way as it would without them. So they are not wrecking amendments.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, also said that the public view is not behind the amendments. Where on earth has the noble Earl taken his opinions from?

Viscount Simon: Students.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: From students, yes. That is a very good intervention. All the letters I have received are in favour of the amendments and have urged me to support the amendments. I did not need to be urged because I was going to do so anyway. But the total number of letters and representations that I have received support the amendment.

Like the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, the noble Earl asked how the amendments will be enforced and said that they are unenforceable; that there will have to be video cameras in the bedrooms. If that is true at 18 and 17 years, it is just as true at 16. So the noble Earl is saying that we should abolish all legislation for any age. Is that not the outcome of the argument? I shall give way in my time.

Viscount Bledisloe: Does the noble Lord recognise that if a man of 20 is in a bedroom with a boy of 17, it raises a strong presumption (probably from the state of the bed) that they have been indulging in sexual activity. If all sexual activity is illegal, there you are. But if some form of sexual activity is legal, and one particular form is illegal, without prying cameras how on earth does anyone know what has gone on in that bedroom?

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