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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The amendment would make explicit that the offence of,

covers offenders who think they are communicating with a child under 16 when in fact the "child" is an undercover police officer who has assumed the identity of the child—for example, in an Internet chat room. I sympathise with the intention of the noble Baroness that the police should be able to carry out the kind of sting operations that she suggests. However, that situation is already covered in law and the amendment is not necessary.

The situation covered by the amendment would constitute an attempt to meet a child following sexual grooming. Section 1(2) of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 makes clear that a person may be guilty of attempting to commit an offence even though the facts are such that the commission of the offence is impossible—for example, because the person with whom the person is communicating is a policeman. Section 1(3) of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 makes clear that, in assessing whether the person has the relevant intention, it is assumed that the facts are as he believed them to be—that is, that the person to whom he was talking was a child rather than, as was in fact the case, an undercover policeman.

So in this case the defendant would be deemed to have the intention to meet a child under 16 and to commit a sex offence because that would have been his intention if the facts had been as he believed them to be. The maximum penalty for an attempted offence, which it would be in the sting hypothetically proposed by the noble Baroness, is the same as for the substantive offence. So the law already provides for the kind of situation to which the noble Baroness

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rightly drew the Committee's attention. On the basis of the reassurance I have given her, I hope that she will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful for that reply. As always, like many other people, I shall need to read it very carefully. I welcome the noble and learned Lord's reply if he is saying—and I have no reason to doubt it—that the activity I have described of the police trying to catch these people is covered in law. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 87 and 88 not moved.]

9.45 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 89:

    Page 7, line 17, leave out sub-paragraphs (ii) to (iv) and insert—

"(ia) an offence within any of paragraphs 53 to 67 of Schedule 2, or"

The noble Lord said: This group of amendments deals with technical amendments to those elements of the Bill which are to extend to Northern Ireland. None will make any difference in policy terms as to how the provisions will apply in that jurisdiction. The intended effect, where offences are to extend, is to ensure similar provision and to make the necessary adjustments to the law of Northern Ireland. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No.90:

    Page 7, line 25, leave out from "within" to end of line 27 and insert "sub-paragraph (i) or (ia) but would be an offence within sub-paragraph (i) if done in England and Wales."

The noble Lord said: Government Amendments Nos. 90, 92 and 94 to Clause 17 of the Bill are to change the definition of a relevant offence if the offence is committed outside England, Wales or Northern Ireland. The criminal law in England and Wales and Northern Ireland is different. Sometimes particular behaviour is an offence in Northern Ireland but not in England and Wales, and vice versa.

As currently drafted, the effect of Clause 17(2)(b)(v) is that a person could intend to commit an act abroad or in Scotland and if that act is an offence in Northern Ireland, but not in England and Wales, he could still be prosecuted for it in England and Wales. This is not an effect that we had intended.

As a consequence of Amendment No. 90, a person will be able to be prosecuted in England and Wales for an offence committed abroad or in Scotland only if it is an offence in England and Wales. Amendments Nos. 92 and 94 produce the same result for Northern Ireland. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Noakes moved Amendment No. 91:

    Page 7, line 28, leave out subsection (3).

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The noble Baroness said: I rise to move Amendment No. 91 which seeks to delete subsection (3) of Clause 17. This is a probing amendment about the application of the Bill to Northern Ireland. We have reached the first substantive part of the application of the Bill to Northern Ireland, which is why the amendment is targeted at the subsection.

The Minister will be aware that many differences still exist in the law applying to Northern Ireland and as it applies in England and Wales. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, made that point just a moment ago. In due course we shall come to the achievement of gender neutrality specifically for the abolition of homosexual-specific offences.

In a Written Answer, the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House has informed me that consideration is being given to addressing issues concerning offences that target only homosexual activity in Northern Ireland. If the Minister could say anything further about that, it would be most helpful.

The amendment seeks to remove the higher age of consent of 17 in Northern Ireland from the particular offence of sexual grooming, but the main issue underlying the amendment is the broader canvas of differences between the laws in Northern Ireland and those in England and Wales. In his Written Answer, the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House also stated that any changes in Northern Ireland must await a review and consultation. However, we believe that the law should be the same unless good reason can be demonstrated for different treatment. Furthermore, if the Bill is ultimately effective in terms of improving the operation of the law covering rape—although, as the Minister knows, on the basis of our Committee discussions to date, that is an open issue—why should not Northern Ireland benefit from that?

I hope that the Minister will be able to say when we can expect the review in Northern Ireland to take place and thus within what kind of time-scale we can expect the people of Northern Ireland to benefit from the changes that are being proposed in this Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Hylton: Would it not be better to leave matters of this kind until they have been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I think that the noble Baroness is entitled to an answer to her question as regards the position in relation to Northern Ireland. There is no question of having to wait in that regard.

The law on sexual offences in Northern Ireland differs from that in England and Wales and was not included in the review that underpins the changes we are making in this Bill. The wholesale reform of the law in Northern Ireland does not form part of the Bill. Northern Ireland is conducting its own review of sexual offences. That review has already begun and a consultation paper will be published in the near future.

However, we are taking the opportunity in this Bill to make some changes to the law in Northern Ireland. We are extending a relatively small number of the offences

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set out in Part 1. We are also ensuring that the reforms set out in Part 2 of the Bill on the registration of sex offenders continue to extend to Northern Ireland without there being any question of such offenders being able to view Northern Ireland as some kind of safe haven.

We are also keen to remove as soon as possible the inequalities from the law on sexual offences in Northern Ireland between the heterosexual and homosexual population. We are currently examining what remedial amendments we can effect in advance of the substantive reform represented by the review, specifically to deal with certain inequalities which have been identified. We are considering the issues carefully, together with the police and the Department of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland.

We have also sought parliamentary approval in the draft of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 to make some changes in the law on sexual offences in Northern Ireland in order to be compliant with certain obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

I have not dealt specifically with the amendment because I have regarded it as a legitimate pivot on which to discuss the Northern Ireland position overall.

Lord Skelmersdale: Before my noble friend decides what to do with the amendment—and I am sure she will withdraw it—let me say that in my limited and out-of-date experience of Northern Ireland, I would be very surprised if the result of the consultation to which the noble and learned Lord has referred were a general wish to reduce the age of consent in Northern Ireland from 17 to 16. After all, it is by far the most Catholic part of the United Kingdom and follows to a great extent, although not totally, the attitudes in the Irish Republic.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Bill does not purport to change the age of consent in Northern Ireland. I would be extraordinarily unwise to venture a guess as to what public opinion might be in Northern Ireland.

Baroness Noakes: My noble friend has predicted that I shall withdraw the amendment. It is a probing amendment, as I informed the Minister's officials. I thank the Minister for that reply. I might have wished for some more specificity as to when, but I must be grateful for what I have. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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