|Sexual Offences Bill [Lords]
Mr. Grieve: I reassure the Minister that I do not intend to press the amendment to the vote. I raised the matter because I think that it is serious. Although the Minister has answered my queries in part, I confess that I remain slightly unpersuaded on the issue. There were some interesting contributions, and the hon. Member for Wirral, West raised an interesting point.
It is the case that there may be circumstances where someone has an apparent lawful reason to carry out penetration, but is doing it for a wholly unnecessary purpose to get sexual gratification. Of course it is
Column Number: 050possible for someone to get sexual gratification from their professional activities while fulfilling a lawful purpose. That is something against which no legislation is going to be possible.
However, the problem could be dealt with by removing the word ''sexual'' and putting in the words ''lawful authority'' or ''reasonable excuse''. There is a number of words in the jargon of legislation that I can think of which make it quite clear that carrying out an act such as an intimate strip search would be permissible, if one had lawful authority. A reasonable excuse may be, for instance, if one were dealing with an unconscious patient and one considered that an examination had to be carried out forthwith.
It is quite possible to draft something without including the sexual element. My feeling is that the word has crept in partly because it is the Sexual Offences Bill, and partly because it is a generic description that applies to a number of different offences—in some cases absolutely properly. In the example I gave earlier in relation to clause 4, it is vital that the sexual element is a factor that should be determined by the jury.
I question the necessity of the term in clause 3. It seems that we are seeking to highlight in this offence Parliament's abhorrence and prohibition of the penetration of a person's anus or vagina without consent with an object or part of a body. The question of motive from the victim's point of view is unlikely to make very much difference, although I accept that there may be factors that can be taken into account in sentencing.
I do not wish to turn a serious topic into something comic, but I remember watching the ''Carry On'' films as a boy and I seem to remember that ''Carry On Nurse'' ends with a penetration by a daffodil—that would be unlikely to merit life imprisonment, even though it would clearly be an offence under clause 3. The courts would have to make a judgment. The reason why we have the penalty of life imprisonment is that we regard penetration as a potentially serious matter, not that such a case is of necessity going to attract life imprisonment or, for that matter, many years in prison. It will all depend on the facts.
Is it necessary for the jury to be satisfied about a sexual element? If it is, we will find that every barrister and prosecuting counsel in slightly odd cases will put down two counts on the indictment: one will be assault by penetration, resulting in life imprisonment; and the other, unless there are serious injuries, will be ABH. Why make a rod with which to beat our own back, when we are trying to spell out clearly that something is not only prohibited but regarded as a potentially serious offence?
Mr. Bryant: I am, as a Welsh MP, rather hesitant to stand up on the issue of daffodils.
The hon. Gentleman said that people might draw sexual gratification from any line of work, and that we cannot pass a law to prevent that. However, those people who for their work regularly have to insert things into other people's bodies should be presumed
Column Number: 051to have a different set of criteria guaranteeing their probity.
Mr. Grieve: I entirely agree. The point that I was trying to make is that something might be lawfully done, but in that particular context still give somebody some sexual gratification. We can only condemn those who do things that are unnecessary, wrong or unlawful and, as I said earlier, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. I want to prevent a jury from having to answer a question that might, in the context of what they are being asked to deal with, be unnecessary.
Beverley Hughes: I realise that the hon. Gentleman is trying to bring his remarks to an end, so I shall briefly intercede. I am perfectly happy to go back and to make absolutely sure with officials that we need do nothing further on the clause. I shall bring any information back to the Committee.
Mr. Grieve: I am most grateful to the Minister. That is as much as I could possibly have asked for. It may well turn out that there are good, cogent reasons why we should stick to this formula. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Grieve: There was one other matter that was raised by Liberty but on which I did not draft an amendment. The organisation made the valid point that there appears to be a potential duplication between assault by penetration and rape. As worded, the fact that assault by penetration does not specifically exclude penetration with the penis might mean that it could be argued that a person who commits rape is also committing assault by penetration. Is that what the Government intended? If the Government wanted to spell it out clearly, it would be necessary to reword clause 3(1), which says that person A commits an offence if
Beverley Hughes: Where it is clear that the penis is the object with which somebody has been penetrated, a person will always be charged with rape. The two clauses were drafted as they were—clause 3 in particular—because there may be circumstances where it is not clear with what the victim was penetrated. If somebody is blindfolded, for example, there may be a reasonable assumption or a view about what happened, but it will not be clear. It is therefore important to retain the wording of the clauses to allow for that eventuality.
Hon. Members will know that non-consensual penetration of the vagina or anus with anything other than the penis is currently charged as indecent assault, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. From the important, although fairly brief, discussion of the clause it is clear that all Committee members regard forceful penetration with another body part or object as extremely serious offending behaviour, which can inflict as much, if not more, pain and physical damage on a victim as penile
Column Number: 052penetration and is likely to result in similar psychological trauma.
Clearly, the law must recognise that penetrative offences are serious. That is why we created the new offence of sexual assault by penetration. We believe that the maximum penalty for that offence should be life imprisonment—the same as for rape. The new offence will provide better redress for those who are subjected to such appalling offending behaviour. I hope that it will enable the correct targeting of more offending behaviour against children and adults and that it will be underpinned by a maximum sentence that properly reflects the gravity of the offence that is committed.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 4 and 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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