Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


The Deputy Chairman of Committees: I apologise for interrupting the Minister but Amendment No. 343A has been wrongly marshalled. It should follow Amendment No. 345. I apologise to the Committee. I thought that I had it right but did not. We move to Amendment No. 343.

Baroness Noakes moved Amendment No. 343:


The noble Baroness said: At the risk of generating more schoolboy humour in Private Eye, this is a probing amendment.

19 May 2003 : Column 556

The report Setting the Boundaries recommended that the offence be drafted in terms of exposure of the penis. Little evidence was found of female exposure in public and it was felt that the existing Public Order Act offence was sufficient. Will the Minister say whether there is any reason, other than an excessive dose of political correctness, for the formulation of Clause 70 in a gender neutral way?

If the clause remains as drafted, will the Minister say precisely what constitutes "genitals" for the purposes of the Bill? According to my dictionary, "genitals" means the reproductive organs of men—especially the external organs. That is straightforward, which is why the amendment would replace "genitals" with "penis". Existing law is admirably clear, although it uses the rather quaint term "person". I invite the Minister to say what parts of the female body the Government intend to treat as being within Clause 70.

I hope that the noble and learned Lord will specifically refer to female breasts. In Clause 71, breasts are specified separately from genitals—which tends to suggest that the draftsman believed that the latter does not include the former. When researching the matter at home using my husband's university textbooks—which I concede have been around a day or two—I found that the mammary glands, or breasts in common parlance, were classified as reproductive organs—and they are clearly external.

We will eventually reach government amendments to eliminate recklessness, which would overcome many of the problems with the clause if breasts were technically within it. There may still be an issue over whether exposure could cause alarm or distress. It is not absolutely clear that a woman breast feeding or sunbathing topless in public—thereby exposing her breasts—would be beyond the scope of the clause. Those activities are not universally approved of and if breasts are included, will it be necessary for a woman first to ensure that no one is within sight whom she knows might be alarmed or distressed? I emphasise that I am seeking clarity. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch: I know that my noble friend is trying to elicit clarification from the Government but if the amendment were accepted, it would prevent the offence being used against females who expose themselves. While that is uncommon, as my noble friend said, it is not unheard of. The amendment would unduly limit the law. It would be saying that the man and woman who paraded naked together in public could not be convicted of the same offence. Given that the Government are anxious that the Bill should be non-discriminatory, it would be strange to accept an amendment that discriminates between men and women.

The primary concern should be the protection of the public. A child may be as distressed by the sight of a naked woman in public as by a naked man. That child deserves to be protected. If Members of the Committee do not think that happens, there was a case in my area recently of a woman who deliberately exposed herself

19 May 2003 : Column 557

in a large picture window overlooking a boys' playing field. That case was considered locally but offence was certainly given.

Restricting the offence to one particular part of the male anatomy leaves out the rest of the external male genitalia. There may be a technical issue about what is reproductive and what is not. Is it possible that a male flasher who is sufficiently careful could conceal part of his genitalia while exposing another part—thereby providing himself with a technical defence to a Clause 70 prosecution?

That might sound absurd, but we must remember that there are people out there for whom exposing themselves is an obsession. They spend time devising ways of exposing themselves and they present a menace to the public. If we are properly to address the problem and to improve on the current law against "exposing the person", which suffers from the same defect as this amendment, we must not legislate in ways that can be evaded.

This is a serious problem that must be tackled in a serious way. Indecent exposure or flashing in public is a serious public nuisance which causes great distress and alarm. The victims are often young women and children. It also appears to be frequent. Almost daily one hears of such cases. It does not take long to find examples. A trawl of local newspaper stories since the Bill was introduced on 28th January turned up over 50 reported cases of flashing in England and Wales.

On the very day the Bill was introduced a man indecently exposed himself to a 10 year-old girl on a train. It was reported in the Sheffield Star on 5th February, which stated:


    "The 10-year-old remains scared to venture from her house . . . after a man flashed at her as she sat with her mum".

The article talks of the girl's continuing terror, which has resulted in time off school. We can have a schoolboy giggle about these matters, but for some people the experience is extremely distressing.

Indecent exposure ranges from the flasher waiting in park and woodlands to those who expose themselves in busy town centres. For example, on 2nd April a shopper indecently exposed himself to checkout girls while paying for groceries at a supermarket in Swindon. Last month, a young woman was flashed at while sitting in a Burger King in Walthamstow. These are all traceable examples. Another woman was indecently exposed to by a young man as she travelled on a bus to Kingston at 9.50 in the morning.

Such examples are the tip of the iceberg. They emphasise that there is a problem that the new law must address. We need to look at ways of strengthening the provision, not weakening it. I know that my noble friend Lady Noakes is looking for clarification from the Government about how it will work in practice. My only plea is that if a woman is guilty of this offence, she should be as guilty as a man would be because she causes equal distress.

19 May 2003 : Column 558

7 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I seek clarification from the Minister. I always thought that the penis was part of the genitalia. If I am wrong, I stand corrected, but I thought that was the ordinary understanding of the matter. What on earth is the amendment about?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I appreciate that indecent exposure is characterised in people's minds as the flasher, commonly thought to be a male preserve. It is not beyond the bounds of the imagination to conceive of a situation where exposure of the female genitalia could be employed to alarm or distress someone. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, gave an example of the effect that might have on a young child. We do not think it right to make the provision apply only to men; therefore we do not think the amendment takes the right approach.

Female genitals do not refer to breasts, but to the external female genitalia. Male genitalia will include the penis, but it will also go beyond that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, mentioned. I believe that that answers all the questions raised.

Baroness Noakes: I thank the noble and learned Lord for that extremely brief reply. He asserted that the definition did not include breasts, but I do not think that that is absolutely clear. I shall take the matter away and, in the interests of progressing this evening, beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lyell): Before we come to Amendment No. 343A I have to advise the Committee that it was marshalled in the wrong place. I shall be calling it, but the next amendment we come to is Amendment No. 344.

Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 344:


    Page 32, line 1, at end insert "for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification"

The noble Baroness said: My concern in this part of the Bill has always been to protect naturists going about their perfectly harmless business and to prevent their falling foul of over-zealous police officers and magistrates. In that respect I greatly welcome government Amendments Nos. 343A and 348A. My amendment should also protect naturists from mischievous members of the public who might seek to use Clause 70 as a defence against accusations of voyeurism.

I do not practise naturism but I can certainly imagine its attractions. The human body is nothing to be ashamed of, and we must ensure that we are not over-prescriptive in what we allow people to do, either in private or in the company of other consenting, like-minded people. Exposing our skin to the sun and air is something we all like to do to a greater or lesser extent, especially when the sun shines and we are on a beach. It is estimated that there are about 1 million naturists in Britain. They enjoy swimming, walking, sports and

19 May 2003 : Column 559

gardening while returning to the way they were born, unencumbered by clothing. In other parts of Europe there are many millions more.

There has been considerable concern among the naturist community about Clause 70. I am delighted that the Government have responded to it. Unless the Bill is amended, naturists run the risk of having their names added to the sex offenders' register and facing up to a two-year sentence. As one of them put it in a letter to me:


    "There needs to be a clear distinction between those who enjoy nude recreation, which is harmless, and that which is unsuitable in any public place, even a beach on a hot day".

My amendment is simple and consistent with the wording in other parts of the Bill. The words,


    "for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification",

appear elsewhere where there is a need to clarify that an offence is committed only when this caveat applies. Amendment No. 346 is not quite as clear. Adding the words, "the exposure is sexual," does not indicate the intention or mens rea of the person committing the exposure. Using those words in the Bill, an innocent activity could be interpreted by others as being sexual when it is not. I therefore prefer my own wording or that of the Minister to that proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page