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Standing Committee Debates
Sexual Offences Bill [Lords]

Sexual Offences Bill [Lords]

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Standing Committee B

First Sitting

Tuesday 9 September 2003


[Mr. Win Griffiths in the Chair]

Sexual Offences Bill [Lords]

9.10 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): I beg to move,


    (1) during proceedings on the Sexual Offences Bill [Lords] the Standing Committee shall, in addition to its first meeting on Tuesday 9th September at 9.10 a.m., meet—

    (a) on that day at 2.30 p.m.;

    (b) on Thursday 11th September at 9.10 a.m. and 2.30 p.m.;

    (c) on Tuesday 16th September at 9.10 a.m. and 2.30 p.m.;

    (d) on Thursday 18th September at 9.10 a.m. and 2.30 p.m.;

    (e) on Tuesday 14th October at 10.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m.; and

    (10) the proceedings shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table, and shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the second column of the Table.

    Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings
    Clauses 1, 3 to 5, 76 to 78, 2 6.55 p.m. on Tuesday 9th September
    Clauses 6 to 16, 74, 17 to 31, 65, 66, 32 to 46 6.55 p.m. on Tuesday 16th September
    Clauses 47 to 57, Schedule 1, Clauses 58 to 64, 67 to 73, Schedule 2, Clauses 75, 79 and 80 5.15 p.m. on Thursday 18th September
    Clause 81, Schedule 3, Clauses 82 to 102, Schedule 4, Clauses 103 to 136, Schedule 5, Clause 137, Schedule 6, Clauses 138 to 140, new Clauses, new Schedules and any remaining proceedings on the Bill 7 p.m. on Tuesday 14th October

It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr. Griffiths. I am sure that the Committee will make excellent progress under your guidance. I do not wish to detain it speaking to the programme motion, but it is important to acknowledge at the start of our proceedings the historical significance of what we are about to discuss. It is almost 50 years since Parliament considered a comprehensive sexual offences Bill, and even then, in 1956, the Bill was a consolidation of existing legislation, so we should not underestimate the significance of the Bill that we are about to debate.

As happened on Second Reading, I am sure that members of the Committee will search for common ground. Given the policy under discussion, it is natural that we wish to work together and, in that spirit, I give the Committee a couple of assurances. First, despite the tight deadlines that the Committee is up against, Ministers will be as open as possible and provide maximum information about amendments and so on to all members of the Committee. Secondly, I acknowledge the important work of and the contributions made by voluntary bodies and many

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organisations outside the House, including the Metropolitan police, who gave us an excellent presentation yesterday on Operation Sapphire. We appreciate the important contributions made by such organisations in helping us to think matters through.

Finally, while a clear timetable and framework are set down in the programme motion, we will be as flexible as possible. When issues are raised that require considered debate, we will do everything possible to make sure that such discussions are full and frank.

The Chairman: I remind members of the Committee that the debate on the programme motion can continue for up to 30 minutes.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Griffiths, and the Minister to the Committee. As the Under-Secretary knows, the Opposition's approach will be one of co-operation. We shall try to ensure that this important legislation goes on to the statute book in good condition. It is clear that many aspects of the Bill are common ground between all political parties, even though there may be some anxiety about its details, which we shall consider during our discussions in Committee.

As the Under-Secretary knows, Opposition parties do not much care for programme motions on the whole. However, I am reassured by his words about the flexibility that will be built into the system. We shall endeavour to ensure that we reach the end of the Bill knowing that every part of it has been scrutinised properly. I am sure that, with the Ministers' co-operation, we will achieve that aim. We are undertaking important work and I look forward to co-operating with all members of the Committee to that end.

Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole): I echo the welcome to you, Mr. Griffiths.

I too welcome the spirit of co-operation. It was almost a joy to participate in the debate on Second Reading. For the first time, I felt that hon. Members on both sides of the House were searching for the right answers for our society. With that in mind, we will play a positive role in scrutiny of the Bill. We will want to make sure that we debate those issues about which we are concerned, and that we find the right words to solve some of the problems that worry us all in view of the difficulty of striking the right balance in the Bill between protection and criminalisation. We look forward to playing a full part in the proceedings and serving under your chairmanship, Mr. Griffiths.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Griffiths.

Tribute should also be paid to the constructive approach taken to the Bill in their lordship's House by both Government and Opposition Benches. I pay particular tribute to my noble Friend Baroness Noakes. The Bill was better when it left the House of Lords than when it started there. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) in saying that we shall approach the Bill constructively.

Question put and agreed to.

The Chairman: I remind hon. Members that they must give adequate notice of amendments. I do not, as

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a general rule, intend to call starred amendments, including any that may be reached during an afternoon sitting. I also remind hon. Members to switch off their mobile phones.

Clause 1


Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 35, in

    clause 1, page 1, line 6, after 'vagina', insert 'or'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 34, in

    clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out 'or mouth'.

Mr. Grieve: The clause is arguably the most important in the Bill and would, when taken together with clauses 76 and 77, rewrite the law on rape in various ways, including in respect of the tests that should be applied when deciding whether somebody is guilty of rape.

I begin by considering what is rape—indeed, we must start with that when considering subsection (1). I do not wish to enter into detailed discussion at this stage, but I need some reassurance from the Government on their approach to the provision. My amendments, which are linked, would remove the word ''mouth''. A feature of the proposed legislation is that the definition of rape is being widened to include penetration of the mouth by the penis. We must pause for a moment before simply rubber-stamping that measure and consider whether we are doing the right thing. Having said that to the Minister, however, I do not intend to force the amendment to a vote.

The definition of rape has changed considerably in recent years. In the past, rape was vaginal penetration—and that was that. Then Parliament decided to get rid of the offence of buggery and replace that expression with rape. We barristers were a little bit surprised when Parliament did that: my experience of cases of that kind is that juries and individuals differentiated clearly between those two offences, both in the terminology they used to describe what happened and—this is the key point—how they viewed the gravity of such offences. That is ancient history and I do not wish to re-open the matter. However, it has now been decided that it is right to extend the definition of rape further to include penetration of the mouth.

My concern is practical and relates to sentencing. I have read some of the guidelines on rape cases. It is quite apparent already that, despite the merging of rape and buggery into one offence, the approach of the courts is likely to be substantially different, depending on which offence they are dealing with. I suspect that that the same will happen after we extend the definition of rape to include penetration of the mouth. I am interested to hear the views of Committee members on the following question: are we being sensible about this, or ought there to be a separate offence? I have not tried to draft a separate offence during this Committee, although that would be easy. Perhaps we should think about doing that, rather

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than just trying to roll everything into one generic description.

Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West): Is the hon. Gentleman not answering his own question? I strongly suggest that we do not revisit the old offences. Is not Parliament trying to give a message to the courts that whatever form of unlawful sexual activity takes place, it considers the gravity to be the same so there should be a similarity of sentencing? If a court wants to take a different view of the facts of any individual case, that is for the court to decide. We as a Parliament should send out the message that the courts should be under no illusion that we do not consider all these acts to have similar gravity.

Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. That may be Parliament's intention, but I have already seen some of the discussion papers that have been produced about sentencing and my impression—the Minister may be able to enlighten us further—is that, far from the judiciary treating the offences generically and as having similar gravity, guidelines will emerge suggesting that, on the contrary, certain types of penetration are more serious and should be viewed more seriously than others.

Clearly, one merit of the Bill as drafted is that adding a maximum sentence of imprisonment for life provides maximum flexibility. I do not necessarily suggest that a separate offence of penetration of the mouth should have a different sentence—although one could look at that. However, the Committee should understand that blanket statements are being made about offences of penetration being classified as equally vile and reprehensible, which of course they are, and about them having equivalent consequences. I do not believe that that is what will happen. It was because I wanted that to be highlighted that I moved this amendment. It is something that we should at least have been seen to consider before the Bill goes on to the statute book.


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