|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Gould of Potternewton: I shall not attempt to reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, except to say that all of us who support the Bill, and who are considering it in great detail, are looking to the care, protection and support of children. It must be clearly understood that that is our aim. That is why we are working so hard on the Bill.
I should also say to the noble Baroness that all that Amendment No. 74 seeks to do is to create the situation that already exists. Rather than believing that the amendment is an insult, the organisations concerned asked for it to be tabled to enable them to continue the valuable work they currently do to help and protect young children. I do not believe that they will feel even a little insulted by the amendment; rather the reverse.
I declare an interest, again, as president of the FPA. Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I welcome the amendment. The Minister has listened to the concerns of the organisations that provide contraceptive and sexual health advice and education to young people and has introduced this statutory provision. It was very clear that neither the Gillick case nor the Fraser guidelines were sufficient to provide those organisations with the protection and support they needed to be able to continue their important work.
I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that there is an urgent and continuing need for realistic education to reduce teenage pregnancy and to avoid the spread of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases among young teens. Not to have the organisations doing this work would ensure that all those problems occur in excess. We are trying to prevent that happening. I am sure that the noble Baroness would not wish that to happen.
My understanding of Amendment No. 74 is that it is designed to protect adults who seek to arrange or facilitate something for children who they know will engage in underage sex and who might otherwise be guilty of an offence. It gives them protection against prosecution in two ways. First, although they know that sex is likely to occur, they do not intend to take any action to cause or encourage that sex; and, secondly, the purpose of their actions is to protect children from sexually transmitted diseases, to ensure their physical safety or to prevent them from becoming pregnant.
I make these points because, while the first defence is fine, the second is a little narrow. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, made the point about a child's emotional health and wellbeing. There is nothing in the list of provisions which covers that issue. We all know that when young people come to these organisations for help, they have problems with large emotional and social components. The organisations need to be able to deal with those problems and one worries that the clause is not wide enough to enable them to help the physical and emotional health of the child.
I do not understand whether the words "arranges" and "facilitates" cover also the giving of advice and information as suggested in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, Amendment No. 78. It has been suggested to me that the words do not cover talking to a child and that it may be possible for a litigious group or parent to use the omission to sue a well-intentioned adult who had simply talked to a child about that child's problems in regard to underage sexual relationships but had not given him or her any other advice. Do the words
Lord Skelmersdale: We cannot all wax as lyrical as my noble friend Lady Blatch but we can alland have done so throughout the daycondemn paedophilia. To say that the government amendmentor, to an extent, the amendment of my noble friend Lady Noakesis a licence to promote paedophilia is not how I and the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, have read the amendment.
As regards sex education, I am not sure whether the Government's amendment covers the issue of teachers in a classroom. The amendment of my noble friend Lady Noakes mentions it, as does the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. Proposed new sub-section (1A)(a) may cover the point but I should like to see it made much more obvious in the amendment. If the noble and learned Lord will consider adding something to the amendment to deal with the issue of properly constituted sex education by teachers, we would all go home very happily indeed.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I should like to ask a simple question. As currently set out, will the amendment cover Childline volunteers? I declare an interest as the former chief executive of Childline. Volunteers answer numerous questions about sex and sex education put to them by young people. Indeed, a high percentage of the work of Childline is devoted to responding to young people with such concerns.
The Lord Bishop of Guildford: I, too, wish to put a question to the Minister. Having put the first part of the new subsection into an international context, does the second part apply to those working for international aid and development agencies in other parts of the world? Will it affect workers from agencies based in this country who may be working with child prostitutes, offering education to children with HIV/AIDS or working with street children? Will the clause extend by implication, through the changes already made, to aid and development agencies and their workers?
Baroness Walmsley: Perhaps I may reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that she is not alone in speaking up for children. I believe that all noble Lords in the Chamber are speaking up for children.
I would not want to provide a paedophile's charter, but I believe that any child's best defence against paedophiles is a good quality sex education. If children understand the issues surrounding sex, if they are confident in themselves and in their own understanding and develop a good relationship with their parents or professional advisers about these matters, they are much more likely to be able to come forward and speak to a responsible adult, should they be approached by someone with harm in mind. Knowledge is a child's best defence and that is why good quality sex education is so vitally important, and the people who offer that education need to be protected.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I shall deal with the questions that have been raised. First, I turn to the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, about sex education. Where a person provides sex education to a group, we do not consider that he would normally commit an offence of aiding and abetting child sex. That is because to aid and abet, which is what the provisions seek to deal with, a person needs to have a certain amount of knowledge about the offence that is to be committed. While that may arise where, for example, a child tells his doctor that he is planning to have sex with his under-age girlfriend and asks for contraception, it is difficult to see how it could arise in the context of group education.
If, however, the teacher gives one-to-one advice to a pupil about sex matters, then it is possible that he would commit an offence of aiding and abetting. If so, the exception would apply to him if he had given advice in regard to one of the three permitted purposes and did not intend to cause or encourage under-age sex, but not otherwise. So he would be protected if the one-to-one advice concerned how to prevent pregnancy, but not if it concerned how to have enjoyable sex. That seems to be the correct place to draw the line.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked whether physical safety is too limited; what of emotional and psychiatric needs. She asked me whether I would consider that. My noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton mentioned the same point. I shall think about it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was kind enough to describe these measures as "well-intentioned". She also said that she was the only person in the Chamber who was speaking up for child protection. In my own case, I do not agree with that. Like all noble Lords in the Chamber, we are seeking to deal as best we can with child protection. It may be, therefore, that certain noble Lords who have been deeply involved in child protection matters during their lives may not have been that impressed by the noble Baroness in her comment that they were not concerned about child protection.
Baroness Blatch: I think that I have said on a number of occasions during our debates today that I believe that, in that sense, all noble Lords are very concerned about children. However, I said that it was rather depressing to note that I would probably end up
I do not refer to all those bona fide teachers and so forth who are doing a good job in ways that have been described and praised by many noble Lords, but once such a defence is enshrined in law, then many people will regard this as a serious loophole. It will provide a way of allowing them to seek all the unpleasant gratification they want from their activities, but they will have to hand a defence that has been put on the statute book by the Government themselves.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page