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Baroness Blatch: My noble friend's point is the subject of another amendment. There is a later group of amendments which refers to those in education. I wish to cover the position of mentors who are a group of people who have particular one-to-one relationships with very vulnerable people in our schools.

Lord Elton: I draw my noble friend's attention to the fact that mentors act not only in the field of education but in other areas. However, I am grateful for that information.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I, too, have noted the tragic reports about children in care and have been horrified by what I have seen and read. That was brought into sharper focus for me because 10 years ago I purchased a house which formerly had been a care home. Over the course of 18 months my family and I turned that building back into a family house. When one buys a house one also buys its history. In the years since we have had visits from people who have come back to see the place where they were in care. They have extraordinary stories to tell, most of which are happy ones. The stories are of teachers who have devoted their lives to mending, helping and encouraging damaged young people from brutalised backgrounds who have had no love and affection at any time. For many of them the time spent in that home was the happiest in their short and unhappy lives. We have also heard darker stories of very vulnerable young people who from time to time have

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attracted the attentions of predatory staff at the home. I can think of nothing more terrifying and shattering for a young person than to be removed from a dysfunctional and brutalised home, perhaps where there has been alcohol abuse and a lack of money and opportunity, to what he or she hopes will be a sanctuary, only to be taken advantage of by the people with whom he or she has been placed in trust.

Over the past 10 years I have heard enough of such cases to make me feel very concerned about it. Therefore, we owe it to these unfortunate young people to ensure, if possible, that it never happens again. We must offer them every possible protection. I hope, therefore, that the Government will be able to accept my noble friend's amendments, which are designed to strengthen the protection that is afforded to these young people.

The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn): I am most grateful for the Committee's contributions, particularly the last one. I declare an interest as a former trustee of the NSPCC and chairman of the national commission of inquiry into the prevention of abuse against children. I also declared earlier--I should repeat it--that I had a connection with the Waterhouse inquiry. That inquiry is a continuing reproach to us all. When reading it we need to bear in mind that the law was not without effective sanction, although not on every occasion and in all circumstances. For example, the most persistent offender in Bryn Alyn was sentenced to six years' imprisonment. Norris who was at Bryn Estyn was sentenced to a long period of imprisonment. A large number of successful prosecutions were brought against men and women--mainly men--for the abuse of children in care. One must carefully bear in mind that the criminal law is there to provide serious criminal justice sanctions against those who abuse children.

On an earlier occasion I invited the Committee not to cast out the Bill because it would leave children in the continuing limbo of having no protection under the criminal law. I suggested to the Committee that the offence of abuse of trust was a gap in the law. Members took their own view and, therefore, there is still no mechanism in law, until this Bill is passed, to deal with the offences of abuse of trust. I simply recite history without reproaching anyone. We must all make our decisions, appropriate or not as they may be. Therefore, we are not talking about the sexual abuse of children which, rightly so, remains a criminal offence.

It is helpful to have in mind the Home Office consultative document about setting boundaries, to which the noble Baroness referred. The noble Baroness referred to recommendation 32. There are recommendations that there should be criminal sanctions in respect of breaches of relationship of care. They go much wider than the matters about which we are speaking today. For example, they include sexual relations between doctors and their patients and therapists and their clients.

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Perhaps I may make one plea--for the last time I hope in this context. We really must get the whole of the law of sexual offences right. The consultative period extends until March of next year. I know the noble Baroness has said that that is a long time. That is a price worth paying to get the matter right. The one thing that all of us who have anything to do with this area of child protection or criminal justice can agree on is that the law is incoherent and ineffective. It is ineffective precisely because of its incoherence.

I have spent a moment or two on that because I know the seriousness with which the Committee views these matters. This is a matter that my right honourable friend Mr Alun Michael was working on for a long time when he was in charge of these matters at the Home Office. I was working with him and the Home Secretary at that time. This is not just a response to questions raised in another place in the context of the Bill.

We tried to focus on four principles, which I hope commend themselves as principles of utility and protection. First, the younger individual should be particularly vulnerable, as a result of personal circumstance such as would be the case with a young person in care. Secondly, the younger individual should be particularly vulnerable as a result of the situation he or she is in, such as in detention or residential care. We do not need to overlook those who are in young offender institutions. We must not simply limit our minds to what Sir Ronald Waterhouse was examining. One young offender was killed recently. A young white racist cellmate killed his ethnic minority cellmate in the most appalling circumstances. We need to bear that in mind as well.

Thirdly, the older individual should be in a position of particular influence; and the relationship of trust should be particularly strong. This is true of teachers of students in full-time education. Fourthly--this is important--the younger party should not have easy access to other adults for advice or countervailing influence. That is true of course for many situations of residential care.

The fact is--this is what Sir Ronald demonstrated to our continuing shame--that many people leave residential care deeply wounded and bruised. They are fragile when they go in, and, I am sorry to say--I do not think I exaggerate--they are irremediably wounded when they come out. The noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, and I have shared the experience of visiting prisons. Neither of us is a qualified psychiatrist, but when we talk to prisoners--the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will have had the same experience--without being psychiatrists, we can tell, nine times out of 10, which one of those prisoners, now adult, was formerly a child in care.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: I am sure the noble and learned Lord will agree that having seen and read many reports, and through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board when we have been compensating the victims of those who have been abused in institutions, one is shaken by the effect that it has had on the whole of their lives. As the noble and learned Lord said, they come out badly scarred.

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6.45 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I entirely agree. That is why we need to focus with great care on what will be effective. There are many people in positions of authority who abuse younger people. I am not saying this in any contentious way, but we know--alas--that many in the Roman Catholic priesthood have recently been found guilty of quite serious abuse. I am not saying this intending to diminish any of the concerns of the noble Baroness. I was grateful for the opportunity I had to discuss these matters with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Blatch. We are trying to focus on the areas where the law can be effective, bearing in mind that this is in the overall context of the Home Office review.

I turn to the amendments. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, spoke of the first amendment speaking about "grooming". Because of Clause 3(5)(b) of the Bill the amendment will provide that preparing a person to engage in sexual activity with him at a later stage will fall within the definition of sexual activity only if the preparatory acts are themselves,

    "sexual in all the circumstances".

If the acts designed to prepare another for sexual intercourse are themselves,

    "sexual in all the circumstances",

then they already fall within the definition of the Bill as it stands. If the preparatory acts are not,

    "sexual in all the circumstances",

the drafting of the amendment will leave those offences still uncovered. Therefore, I hope I have expressed the general view that I have towards these matters. But I urge Members of the Committee, with the greatest of respect, to produce legislation that will actually work. I believe that the presently drafted Bill does that.

We then come to a different category. That is amendments to add a fifth category.

Baroness Young: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. In that last remark is he saying that the Bill, as drafted, covers Amendment No. 17 moved by my noble friend Lady Blatch?

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