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Baroness Blatch: My second example refers to where there have been many communications of a non-sexual nature. The relationship between the person sending the e-mails and the young child receiving them lulls that person into a sense of false security. The final e-mail is sexual in nature, and they meet. On the back of all that grooming, which on the face of it was non-sexual in nature, there could not be a conviction because there has to be another e-mail of a sexual nature. The person creating over a period a friendship with the person, followed by one very short e-mail about meeting for a sexual encounter, would not be convicted because there would not have been two e-mails of a sexual nature.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I misunderstood the noble Baroness's point. It appears that the attack was on the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and not on the Government's position. That is fine. I thank the noble Baroness.

Baroness Noakes: I had realised that my noble friend's attack was aimed at me; indeed, that is something that I have become quite used to this evening.

I thank the Minister for his reply and for explaining his position on the concerns raised. I can paraphrase the concerns that he expressed and those mentioned by my noble friend Lady Blatch by saying that it is difficult to convict paedophiles. I approached my amendments from a slightly different direction by pointing out that one element of this offence involves potentially innocent activity. Most communications with children are innocent communications, which could themselves bring this offence into effect.

I am not perhaps concerned that innocent people would be prosecuted and convicted. I have always been concerned about innocent people having false accusations made against them. Through ignorance, we know that quite frightening reactions often occur in communities whenever people suspect that a paedophile is in their midst. That is the nature of my concern.

The clause is not about sexual grooming; it is about going to meet someone with an intent to commit an offence. There is a fig-leaf of grooming at the beginning of the clause, followed by the reference to two communications. That is the part of the provision

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about which I am most concerned. However, I shall not press the amendment this evening. I should like to consider the matter further. I remain concerned about the potential effect on innocent people. I put that alongside the difficulties as regards convicting paedophiles, who we really want to convict under this legislation. I thank the Minister for his response, and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 84 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Before I call the next amendment, perhaps I may take to heart the point made earlier by the noble Baroness. If Amendment No. 85 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 86 by reason of pre-emption.

Lord Astor of Hever moved Amendment No. 85:


    Page 7, line 9, leave out paragraphs (c) and (d) and insert ", and


(c) subsection (1B) applies"

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 88. These amendments would extend the new grooming offence outlined in Clause 17 to include adults with a mental disorder or a learning disability.

Our amendments focus on a different aspect of the new offence and one that I feel has been neglected by those who have been lobbying for the new offence to be introduced. The Bill clearly sets aside two groups who could be classified as "vulnerable"—those who cannot readily consent to sexual activity and for whom sexual abuse may be a very traumatic experience, and one that they have problems reporting or admitting. For these reasons, sexual offences committed against children and those with a mental disorder or learning disability are dealt with separately in the Bill.

Like children, the Bill admits that vulnerable adults with a mental disorder or a learning disability need special protection against sexual abuse. Their trust can be won easily. They may have a confused sense of what is wrong and what is right in sexual terms. I believe that not including them in the Bill, along with the under-16s, would be tantamount to a huge loophole in the legislation. They may have unrestricted access to computers and telephones, just like children. We know that they are often specifically targeted by sexual offenders.

I should be grateful if the Minister could outline the reasons for not including vulnerable adults under those who can be victims of the offence in Clause 17. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch: Much as I welcome my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever to the Dispatch Box on this occasion in order to give my noble friend Lady Noakes a respite from having worked all day, I am sorry that I have been deprived of the opportunity to say to her how much I welcome these two amendments. I have been a bit of a thorn in her side for most of the day. It would have given me great pleasure to have said that to her.

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Most of us can think of individuals who, although over 16 years in age, have a much younger mental age or could have a serious mental condition. It is right that the welcome new protection of Clause 17 should be extended to them. My noble friend Lord Astor made the point extremely well.

The Bill contains offences to protect people with mental disorders from unwelcome sexual advances and from abuse by care workers. These provisions, in some way, mirror the protections for children. It does therefore seem odd that the grooming offence in Clause 17 does not also apply to them in the same way as it applies to minors. Certainly, such people can be very prone to being led by sex abusers. They can be very trusting. We must protect that trust in every way. I believe that trust is very special in young people with this kind of disability. Including them within the protection of this offence can only be extremely welcome. I hope that the Minister will take the amendment seriously.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I, too, support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever. It would be a great pity if we lost the opportunity to include vulnerable adults in Clause 17. They have exactly the same problems as children. I shall not go through the list again because the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, gave all those examples. To leave this issue to later in the Bill would be a pity because, particularly in schools and in special schools, young people, including young people with learning disabilities, are being encouraged to learn how to use computers. Using computers gives them greater confidence and they are often able to use those skills to enhance their quality of life, which otherwise would be even less. That puts them into the same category as others who are vulnerable because they have that access. Therefore, it would be a pity to lose this opportunity.

Lord Skelmersdale: Obviously there is a lacuna in the Bill and I support my noble friend.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: This is difficult. In relation to those young adults who do not have the capacity to consent, one can see fairly easily a comparability with children. We should consider that carefully. For those who have a capacity to consent, it is much harder to decide whether it is the right course to treat them as being similar to children or people who do not have the capacity to consent. In effect, what one is saying is that even though the right of those people who have the capacity to consent is recognised—albeit with some form of mental impairment—nevertheless they are entitled to especial protection and they should not be able to make the kinds of judgments that the rest of us are entitled to make.

My current inclination is to think that those without the capacity to consent might well need this protection. But because of our profound concern not to prevent people who do have the capacity to consent to be able to court and be courted in the way that other adults

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are, I am not sure that it would be right to extend this protection to those who do have the capacity to consent.

We shall certainly consider this amendment. We shall particularly focus on those without the capacity to consent because that is where the particular focus should be.

Baroness Walmsley: I have considerable sympathy with this amendment. However, we take the point that the Minister made about capacity to consent. We wonder if, at the next stage, this could be brought back with a slight change in the last line with words to the effect that B is suffering from a mental disorder which means that they do not have the capacity to consent. In that case, I think that we should be willing to support the amendment. But, as it stands, it has the flaw highlighted by the Minister.

Lord Astor of Hever: I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Blatch, my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale and the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, for their support. I also take on board what the Minister said. We shall obviously reconsider this issue, particularly in the light of the observations made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 86:


    Page 7, line 9, after "16" insert "or is a police officer acting in the course of his duties, who, in communications with A, has consistently represented himself as being under 16"

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 86 seeks to investigate the question of whether the police are prevented by the wording of Clause 17 from entrapping paedophiles.

The offence requires that, "B is under 16". Clause 17 covers the situation where there is a specific potential victim who is aged under 16. A mother might discover that her 14 year-old daughter has fixed up a meeting with a stranger over the Internet. She contacts the police. When the paedophile arrives for the meeting with B, he is met by police officers, who then arrest him. A Clause 17 offence has been committed because the paedophile is intending to meet B, and B is under 16. The fact that B will not be there for the meeting is irrelevant.

The problem arises if a police officer acts on his own initiative where there is no threat to a particular victim. If a policeman goes online and pretends to be under 16 in order to entrap a paedophile, the offence will not be made out because the officer is B, and B is not under 16.

Entrapment can be a necessary law enforcement measure, particularly in cases such as these. The police may be aware of an adult trawling teenage websites and engaging in suggestive communications with children, and they may see evidence in a chat room of attempts to arrange meetings, but they may not be able

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to track down the offender because he conceals his identity by using computers in public libraries, which cannot be linked to a particular individual.

Clearly the police should be able to conduct a sting operation to catch the offender. They should be able to engage him in correspondence and wait for him to arrange a meeting, where they can then identify and arrest him. They should be able to do this without having to involve a child in the process, otherwise they will have to leave this unidentified individual until he commits a sexual offence and hope that they catch him then.

It would be most unsatisfactory if the wording of Clause 17 prevented entrapment. I shall be most interested to hear what the Minister has to say about this. I hope that history will not repeat itself whereby I make a reasonable point now which in four or five years' time will be incorporated in a future Bill. It is particularly difficult to gain a conviction—or even to gain the identity—of someone who is up to no good with young people. If the result of entrapment is a conviction, it will have been an honourable task and another shot in the armoury for the police to track down these awful people. I beg to move.


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