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As regards sports coaches, it is extraordinary that we are going to take four years to put in place a very simple set of measures that was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, and supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. Something could be done very quickly. It is extraordinary that no more reassuring comment can be made at this stage.
I am also concerned, on several counts, about my Amendments Nos. 33 and 34, which have in principle and in practice been accepted by the Government. First, the noble Baroness says that the information outstanding from the Department of Health was not the only piece of information lacking. However, on Friday afternoon, her officials said that they were only waiting for the Department of Health to respond, and that the department's legal officer was not in the office that day. I understood that when the legal officer was in the department, there would be a yes-or-no answer.
That leads me to a serious point about the amendments. They have been accepted on the Floor of the House; they will be technically improved by the Government. I accept the word of the noble Baroness that the Government intend to return to the House with two amendments that seek precisely the protection which I seek for young people with guardian ad litem and supervisers to bring them within the scope of the Bill. However, there is a complete set of new Ministers at the Department of Health, and responsibilities for children are moving from that department to the Department for Education and Skills. Therefore, a whole new set of officials will be dealing with these issues. I would be most unhappy if, when the Bill returns to the House, those amendments have not been put forward in the House of Commonsin which case I will not be able to put an amendment or ask the opinion of the House, because at that stage I would not have an amendment on which to do so.
I ask the noble Baronessnot because I do not take her wordto accept my Amendments Nos. 33 and 34, knowing that they are imperfect, to be amended in the House of Commons. That would give me the mechanism to return to this matter, so that when the Bill returns to this House we can, I hope, all agree that they are acceptable and that they achieve what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, pledged to achieve. The noble Baroness echoed him today.
I have real difficulty with what the noble Baroness said about youth and community workers. If a mother sends her young children to a youth club regularlylet us say weeklyand then on a week's camp in the country, it is fanciful to imagine that there could be no relationship between that youth leader and those children. Of course there could. That mother does not send them to camp to be abused, but if the person supervising them there sexually abused that 16 or 17 year-old that would be legal. However, the Government say that there could not be a relationship because there was no regular contact, but that person has power over the young person. If you send your children away to camp, you do so in the knowledge that the people supervising them are in loco parentis and will act responsibly. If they do not, there really should be protection for the children themselves, which is of the most importance, but also some assurance to parents that they are sending their children away with the law in place to protect them. The noble Baroness completely rejected that point and I do not accept what she said about it.
In the previous vote that I called, the Government were clearly in favour of sexual offenders on a sexual register receiving a defence under the Bill. They were not prepared to consider bringing youth and community workers within the scope of the Bill, which is deeply unfortunate. However, I will not delay the House, because I know that I shall incur its wrath. I will not push the matter to the vote, but I hope I will go on record as saying that the kind of protection that I want for young people and their families is not supported by the Government in this House. I was hoping that the noble Baroness would say whether she
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I understood that I was not entitled to speak again but will do so if the House is content for me to do so. We accept the amendments only in principle, because they are incorrect. I cannot accept them so that they are passed today. We have made appropriate arrangements in relation to them. As I understand it, we need only to resolve some technical, reference and other matters and seek to add extra categories if other government departments agree. All I can indicate tonight is that we can agree to them in principle.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I had an agreement in principle. I also had an agreement in practice from the noble and learned Lord that what I had wanted would be achieved by the new amendment. I have an assurance on the record that the Government will accept the amendments in a correct form and that they will be added to the Bill in another place. I take the noble Baroness at her word, butand the noble Baroness made no reference to itthere is a new set of Ministers and a new set of officials dealing with these issues. I hope that that does not become an inhibitor on the way. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 36, 37, 66, 67 and 68. One of the recurring mysteries during consideration of the Bill is the meaning of the word "regular". In the abuse of trust offence and the offences covering care workers who look after people with mental disorders, an offence is committed only once the perpetrator has passed the test of whether his involvement with his victim was regular.
That is a bizarre restriction of the offence. I have asked at each stage of the Bill for a definition of regular, but without success. It could be that today I am going to be lucky and receive a definition.
What does regular mean? Daily, weekly, monthly, hourly? I am worried about the scope that abusers would have for mounting defences in court, on the basis not of the offence, but of whether the word "regular" has been breached.
I accept the reassurances given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, about part-time staff. I accept that they may still be caught by the offence if they are in regular contact with their victim, but what if their contact is irregular? I put a scenario to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, to which he failed to respond. What if prosecutors bring a case against a care worker who takes sexual advantage of several
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has ridiculed the amendment by saying that removing the word "regular" would prohibit a relationship between a nurse and a 17 year-old who stays for one day in her hospital. The noble and learned Lord said,
That displays a misunderstanding of the Government's own Bill. Once a patient has left the hospital, whether he stays for one day or one year, the relationship of trust has ended. If he then commences a relationship with a nurse who looked after him, no offence is committed.
I am concerned about relationships which begin during the stay. The offence is about taking advantage of a position of trust. Whether that position exists for one day or one month or longer, we should make it clear that sexual contact between the professional and his patient is not acceptable.
The noble and learned Lord said that the word excludes very brief contact in which there is no opportunity to build a relationship of trust with the victim. However, the moment that a child is handed into the care of a social worker, a position of trust is created. The child is extremely vulnerable. The social worker has enormous power and influence over the person in their charge. The creation of the offence recognises that. It fails to recognise that the brevity of the contact is irrelevant. If a person is sexually abused, or sexual advantage is taken of them, by a person who is in a position of trust over them, however cursory that time may be, it is nevertheless still an offence. Anyone in a position of trust should be subject to the offence, regardless of the length of the contact with their victims. I beg to move.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, in her response to the last group of amendments, I observed the Minister taking a sideswipe at the arguments that my noble friend Lady Blatch was likely to produce in support of these three amendments. She said that people in a position of trust build up a relationship if they regularly meet the childor words to that effect. I hope that I have not misinterpreted her. She is nodding, so she probably did say something like that.
I am prepared to go along with the Minister and accept that one-off meetings between children and people in positions of trust will not result in an unlawful sexual activity. However, what about the supply teacher? That is not regular in any sense of the word that I can establish. As my noble friend Lady Blatch knows far better than me, a supply teacher is called, often at very short notice, on an irregular basis,
Many years ago, my wife and I employed a young man who was an alcoholic. He subsequently became, while he was still suffering from that indisposition, a care worker in an Alcoholics Anonymous care home on a very irregular basis. One would like to think that few children are alcoholics, but they do exist. He had irregular contact, because of his indisposition, with those children. Those sorts of peoplethe supply teachers, the part-time social and care workerscould not possibly be covered by the word "regularly" in the Bill. My noble friend is absolutely spot on in this matter.
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