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Baroness Blatch: I ask the noble Lord the Chief Whip whether that means that we go to the end, even if that is four, five or six o'clock tomorrow morning?

Lord Grocott: At the end of the day, I am in the hands of the usual channels. The most recent group of amendments took an hour. This is an art, not a science and I am just as anxious to finish as anyone in this building. I am sure that the staff who serve us so well are even more anxious than many of us here, but it depends on the progress that we make.

The Bill is a Lords starter, as has been rightly pointed out. We need to deliver it to the Commons. As we all know, there is a balance between the two Houses, with a changeover about half way through the Session when we get their Bills and they get ours. I repeat, and I make no apology for doing so, that four days in Committee was not a ridiculous, Scrooge-like assumption. In fact, if we were to keep going for another couple of hours we would have had five days in Committee. No one could plan a legislative programme on the basis of 27 minutes per group of amendments—I make no criticism of any individual Member of the Committee in saying that, I am simply reporting to the Committee the arithmetic. I am merely plying my humble trade of trying to fit a quart into a pint pot as far as the balance between the 10 o'clock finish and Grand Committee is concerned.

[Amendment No. 405 not moved.]

Baroness Thornton moved Amendment No. 406:


19 May 2003 : Column 626


"( ) For the avoidance of doubt, in relation to offences specified in sections 10 to 13, it is not necessary for A to be in any kind of physical proximity to B and the offences can be committed by or through any kind of real or virtual communications device."

The noble Baroness said: The amendment is an additional interpretation clause. It seeks merely to make plain that offences against children specified in Clauses 10 to 13 can be committed virtually—over the Internet. In other words, the person does not have to be in the same room as the child or in any way physically proximate. To those with an understanding of the Internet and how sex offenders use it, this may seem obvious, but for those who may have to interpret the Bill, it may be worth spelling out.

Clause 10 concerns causing a child to engage in sexual activity. Clause 11 concerns inciting a child to engage in sexual activity. Clause 12 is about actually engaging in sexual activity and Clause 13 is about causing a child to watch sexual acts. I beg to move.

11.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: I thank the noble Baroness for bringing yet another issue to the attention of the House. This is an absolutely marvellous amendment and it is workable. Facilities such as the Internet have marvellous applications but, sadly, there are those who misuse them. That is what the amendment is about. A person who causes a child to engage in sexual activity by giving instructions via some kind of Internet chat-room should be held to be committing an offence under Clause 10. A person who corresponds with a child by e-mail and gains a sexual thrill out of inciting them to engage in sexual activity should be capable of being convicted under Clause 11. We must also ensure that Clause 12 would catch those who use web cameras to broadcast footage of themselves engaging in sexual activity. I could say more on the amendment. In light of what has just been said, I merely say that it is important that the noble Baroness is supported.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The amendment commences with the words, "for the avoidance of doubt" and it is obvious from that that the noble Baroness recognises that the offences in Clauses 10, 11 and 13 in practice cover the areas that are causing her concern.

Clause 10 covers any situation in which an adult intentionally causes a child to engage in any form of sexual activity. Clause 11 makes it an offence for an adult to incite a child to engage in sexual activity and Clause 13 makes it an offence to cause a child to watch a third person engage in a sexual act. In none of those offences is there a requirement that the adult and child must be in the physical presence of each other. The offence in Clause 13 specifically covers live or recorded material and both real and virtual images.

Clause 12 is somewhat different because it requires that the adult intentionally engages in sexual activity in the presence of a child. The offence will cover only the situation in which the defendant and the child are physically together in the same place. It follows that where an adult engages in a sexual act during a web-cam

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exchange, for example, such behaviour would not be caught by the offences in Clauses 12 and 13. For that reason, we must give the matter further thought. I am grateful to my noble friend for bringing it to my attention. The scope of the amendment means that I cannot accept it as it is, but it merits further consideration and I shall return to it, if I may, on Report.

Baroness Thornton: I thank the Minister and the noble Baroness for their support. We look forward to seeing a much better drafted amendment in due course. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 406A:


    Page 37, line 31, at end insert—


"( ) References to the male gender incorporate (where humanly possible) the female gender, and vice versa, and no inference is to be drawn from the language used in this Act that a person of a particular gender is unable or unlikely to do a particular act."

The noble Lord said: We are all used to the idea that within legislation the male gender embraces the female. However, in this regard we are dealing with many words and phrases that have a gender-specific meaning. In these days, that gender specificity may be difficult to determine because women may have penises and men may have vaginas as a result of surgical intervention. We are dealing with a complicated area. I want to restate this well known principle, because I feel that there is an implication in the way in which some of the offences, particularly the child offences, are written that the relevant offence is committed by men. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord knows that a substantial proportion of the female prison population is in prison because of child abuse. We should be careful of the wider effects of legislation and make it absolutely clear that there is nothing in the Bill that presupposes that a person of one sex or the other is more likely to commit a particular offence. Nor should we phrase the offences in any way that suggests that men, not women, commit those offences. I beg to move.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I agree entirely with the sentiment behind the amendment but do not believe that it is necessary to agree to it because Section 6 of the Interpretation Act 1978, which applies to this Bill, has the same effect as the amendment. I agree with what the noble Lord says but the amendment is unnecessary.

Lord Lucas: I am grateful for that confirmation. It took one minute. Let us keep that up. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 81 agreed to.

Clause 82 [Persons becoming subject to notification requirements]:

Lord Astor of Hever moved Amendment No. 407:


    Page 37, line 36, at beginning insert "Subject to subsection (1A),"

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The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 407, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 408 and 431. I support Amendment No. 430 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. It embodies the same underlying principle as ours.

The amendments tackle the contentious area of whether those aged under 18 who are found guilty of a sexual offence should be put on the sex offenders register; and if so, for how long. Should all children be automatically subject to the notification requirements of the register irrespective of age and the circumstances of their offence? On what basis have the Government decided that it would be appropriate for children, who are registered, to be required to do so for half the period of an adult offender?

In some cases, say where a 16-year old is charged with having sex with his 14-year old consenting girlfriend, it is highly questionable whether he should be put on the register. The register is intended to protect the public from those sexual offenders who present a threat and who must be kept track of. That does not apply to all children who commit a sexual offence, particularly where it was ostensibly consensual.

In many cases those children will not be a potential threat if left at large and without requirement to register. The sex offenders register carries the stigma of paedophilia. It would be highly traumatic for every child who committed a sexual offence to be obliged to register.

We are not saying that all children should be free from the requirement to register. There may be persistent sexual abusers in the 16 to 18 age group who will be a threat to the public and who should be required to register. Guidance is needed to ensure that prosecutions take place only where appropriate.

The same rationale lies behind Amendments Nos. 408 and 431 which make sure that the police and courts have discretion as to whether sexual offenders under 18 should register and, if so, for what length of time. On the latter issue, a boy of seventeen-and-a-half might be guilty of raping a number of women. Why should he automatically get only half the length of time on the register as someone aged eighteen-and-a-half who commits the same crime?

I would welcome some clarity from the Minister on the basis of the decision to require all child sex offenders to register. I believe on balance that it is not proportionate. The detrimental effect on a 15-year old sexual offender required to register might, in many cases, outweigh the protection to society which any notification requirement would be designed to provide. I beg to move.


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