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Lord Williams of Mostyn: Perhaps I may disabuse the Committee of any false apprehension. It is utterly incorrect to say that very small children in a home lack the protection of the criminal law. Nothing could be further from the truth and I regard it as not responsible to make that suggestion.
This is a free vote and we all vote according to our conscience. I am entitled to my view as much as any other Member of the Committee. My view has been made perfectly plain. On the previous occasion when we debated this matter, I said that Mr Hague and Mr Portillo, in an act of rare moral and political courage, supported that. I know that Mr Blair does, and I believe that Mr Charles Kennedy does also.
In the meantime, it was said that those young people are left without protection. I repeat what I said on Second Reading when the Bill was thrown out: if the whole Bill is thrown out, those young people will remain without protection. I said that; it is shown in Hansard. No one was sufficiently persuaded by my argument to vote accordingly.
It is said that this protection was brought about and made necessary only by the introduction of this Bill. I disagree profoundly. I believe, and I hope that Members of the Committee will agree with me, that young girls also require protection. Without this protection of trust legislation which we have put before this Parliament, there would have been no protection for young girls over the age of 16 in care homes, in places of custodial detention or in any other circumstances which are set out. Those are the unfortunate facts to which I am afraid I must refer.
Baroness Blatch: Perhaps I may also make it clear that we are not opposing Clause 4 as it stands. We are saying that we wish to add to, improve and strengthen it. We are certainly not arguing against anything that is in Clause 4. The protection for girls was brought in by the amendments which we moved earlier in the day and which were voted in by this Committee.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: That is not the point that I am making. I am saying that the assertion that has been made that the protection of girls was made necessary by the introduction of this Bill with equalisation of consent is simply factually and historically wrong. The noble Baroness says that that is not true. I find that offensive. If she has a point to make, I shall sit down. However, it is true.
Baroness Blatch: I do have a point to make. The effect of passing the Bill unamended was to lower the age of buggery against girls for the first time to the age of 16. That meant that they went unprotected and the amendments moved today have remedied that.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: Was it not also the fact that girls of 16, whether in custodial institutions, in schools or in positions of trust, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, were wholly without the protection of the criminal law? I believe that that is true. I believe that what the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said bears a good deal of thought.
The fact is--I have mentioned this on earlier occasions; therefore, the noble Lord will forgive me if I am brief--that until this law is passed, young girls of 16 have very little protection. I agree that older people prey on them. I have mentioned previously custodial circumstances, positions of trust, and the wealthy man with lots of money, well able to gull a young girl of 16 in one week. I have not heard much about the protection of young girls in those circumstances except from the noble Lord. I believe that the logic of his position--
The Lord Bishop of Winchester: Are we not in danger of losing the focus on Clause 4 in the discussion which has just taken flight? Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether we can return to the particular points on Clause 4 on which, at this time of night, I believe we should be working.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: Yes. However, when I do not deal with the various points, many of which I readily agree are not relevant to Clause 4, the Government are then accused of not taking them seriously. Therefore, I am trying to draw a middle path. However, I repeat that at present there is no protection whatever in our law for girls of 16 who are in positions of trust.
The consequence of some of the amendments will be an infringement of the freedom of the press. Some Members of the Committee will say that that is justified. I am simply reminding the Committee that that is what it means. Article 10 does exist. We claim to live in a free society. Without a free press, we cannot have a free society. If Members of the Committee want to infringe the freedom of the press, all well and good. I am simply reminding the Committee that that is the consequence of some of these amendments.
I turn now to the contributions made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, and the right reverend Prelate, because they overlap in some ways. Amendment No. 24 deals with familial relationships. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is quite right to say that if one looks at what the Home Office has said, there is a good deal there for us all to reflect on.
There was then the question of religion. I believe that that was referred to by the right reverend Prelate and, certainly by the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, in Amendment No. 26. One must bear in mind, of course, that some areas of religion, like church schools or children's homes, will be covered by the new offence.
At the moment, the amendment will not deal with the one mischief without encompassing the other activity. These amendments are not easy to draw up at all. I believe that the general cast of the Bill is right. There is no point in rehearsing the arguments, of course, on the first approach which the majority of the Committee supported.
I believe that one must be extremely careful and look at some examples. I take the phrase "preying on younger people" or "using the opportunity of taking advantage of younger people". What about a 17 year-old girl who is an employee working for an employer who is 18½ or the 16 or 17 year-old girl who is working in a coffee bar and the manager happens to be 18½? One could say that that is abusive and he is in a position of authority. I rather doubt it in today's world, I really do, and perhaps even in the world of 30 years ago, for which I shall have to ask my noble friend Lord Bach for his comments.
These are extremely difficult, subtle relationships. We can blunder in and achieve the wrong conclusion. I am grateful--he will know that I mean this sincerely--for the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, that we should have our debate, about which everyone is deeply engaged, although people have different views. I shall not repeat what I said about social care workers and social services inspectors, if the noble Lord will forgive me, because I dealt with that a little earlier. I appreciate that he wanted to put the full spectrum.
I believe that the suggestion was good and that it was helpful to the Committee. I have a feeling that in the end there will be a gulf between people's views. If possible, we must try to reconcile that gulf, but if people come to different conclusions the Committee must decide for itself or the House will decide on Report.
Baroness Blatch: Can the Minister comment on part-time as well as full-time teachers and on the 20,000 mentors who will be working one-to-one with young people in schools?
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