Sexual Offences Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting question about how tightly we have defined ''structure''. We have intended ''structure'' to include

    ''a tent, vehicle or vessel or other temporary or movable structure''

as well as the more obvious places that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, including a house and a cubicle. That is because we want to restrict criminality for that offence to those who go to considerable lengths to spy on others who are engaged in private acts, rather than people who, to return to the point made by the hon. Member for Woking, just stumble across people while they are out and about.

The problem with the amendment is what ''enclosed space'' would mean. The amendment offers no definition of what that might be. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will illuminate.

Mr. Grieve: I rather hoped that the clause was self-defining because of the useful words that follow. The clause would read an ''enclosed space which, in the circumstances, would reasonably be expected to provide privacy''.

Vera Baird (Redcar): A place.

Mr. Grieve: I hear the hon. and learned Lady say ''a place'', and that was an alternative that I thought about. However, that worried me, because it raises the question of people saying, ''Well, it's a completely open area, but I never expected someone to come

Column Number: 307

across me.'' I am going to Scotland this weekend. If, when I am in the moors, I stumble at 1,100 m on a couple making love, I rather hope that I will not be regarded as a voyeur, because I suppose that they might reasonably have said that they reasonably expected the place to provide privacy and had not envisaged that I would turn up. That is why the idea of enclosure seemed reasonable to me.

Paul Goggins: The word ''enclosure'' is interesting, because it gives one the impression of a confined and defined space, but a football stadium could be described as an enclosed space—which would be an interesting definition in relation to this clause—as could a fenced-off field. We need a definition that is workable for the offence.

4.15 pm

Mr. Grieve: Does not the caveat that follows—

    ''reasonably be expected to provide privacy''—

in fact provide that definition? A football stadium may be an enclosed space but, unless all the doors have been locked and bolted and everyone else excluded, no one could possibly say that it could reasonably be expected to provide privacy, and nor could a field that is surrounded merely by a low hedge or an open fence. On the other hand, if there was a walled garden with a door into it rather than a grille and that was not overlooked by any buildings or a natural feature that someone could stand on to peer in, it would be a voyeuristic activity to get a ladder and climb up in order to watch people engaging in private acts.

Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. [Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. Would the gentleman leave the Committee Room, please?

Paul Goggins: The Government's view is simply that the amendment would make the definition too wide. We want to remove possible areas of doubt. I have given the hon. Gentleman a couple of examples of where there could be doubt—although my examples might have been a bit extreme. There may be an area of confusion, and we do not want that to be the case. We do not want to describe someone's private home or those very confined spaces with which we are familiar: we want to extend the definition slightly, but we do not want to make it so broad that there would become considerable doubt in relation to it.

Vera Baird: I can see the problem that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield outlines, and I share his concern. Someone who accidentally stumbles over a person committing a private act will not be guilty of the offence as defined in clause 69(1), where they must have the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification as they observe the private act. If someone did that by accident, they would not have done it for that purpose.

I am concerned about the women's pond on Hampstead heath. It is fenced off and behind trees, but it is not in any sort of structure. Women frequently sunbathe and bathe naked there, and it is intended that only women should be present. That would not be covered by this definition of structure.

Column Number: 308

Paul Goggins: Notwithstanding the importance of providing a clear definition in relation to enclosed space, in keeping with the spirit of co-operation that has been a mark of our discussions over recent days we will reflect further on whether we might define this a little more broadly—not so broadly that it includes the football stadium, but so that it addresses some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield.

Mr. Bryant: I urge my hon. Friend not to go down the road that I think that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) has advocated, because the example that has been offered would not count as a private act in the context of the clause.

Paul Goggins: That is the dilemma that we face. How tightly or broadly do we define this? We want to err on the side of tightness because otherwise there would be too much confusion. However, I want to reflect on whether we have defined this a tad too tightly.

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for agreeing to think about this. The amendment was not meant to be particularly controversial: I was trying to ensure that the intention—which I fully understand—behind these clauses was met. The Under-Secretary has confirmed that ''a structure'' must have a roof and that it must be enclosed on all sides. I wonder whether the scope should be widened, because people are entitled to protection from voyeurs in other settings. The hon. and learned Lady referred to Hampstead heath. There are many other historic locations where traditionally it was permissible—even in Victorian times—for people to take off their clothes in single-sex company. Screens were provided, which could not reasonably be looked through unless someone made a determined attempt to do so. If it can be provided, there should be a measure of protection for such people, too.

While I appreciate the Under-Secretary's anxiety, I am much more comfortable with the fact that my proposal would not lead to the mischief that he is worried about. Indeed, given the other issues that are involved, I am even half persuaded by what the hon. and learned Lady said about the use of ''place''. However, I still want to think more carefully about that. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for agreeing to think through the matter further. Clearly, we have a common purpose in what we want to achieve, but words matter in such a setting. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 99, in

    clause 70, page 34, line 10, leave out subsection (3).

No. 100, in

    clause 70, page 34, leave out line 13.—[Paul Goggins.]

Clause 70, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 71 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Column Number: 309

Clause 72

Sexual penetration of a corpse

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Randall: I know that sometimes members of the Committee wish that I would not speak, and I must say that, on this occasion, I wish that I did not have to speak. I shall not take long.

The Under-Secretary and other members of the Committee may have read in the newspapers sometime around Easter about an incident at Hillingdon hospital when a body of an elderly Muslim lady was discovered to be wrapped in bacon. Obviously, that caused much distress. Subsequent investigation by the police revealed incidence of a much wider abuse of people in that mortuary, which had been happening for many years. Photographs were seized as, I believe, were body parts. I think that the matter is still going through the courts, so I shall not comment on individual cases.

I discovered that there is no protection for dead bodies, as such. It was difficult for the CPS to come up with a crime that had been committed. I appreciate that I am providing a good opportunity for you to slap me down, Mr. Gale, as some offences were not of a sexual nature and I appreciate that the Bill is perhaps not the appropriate vehicle under which to discuss them. However, there is a serious problem. As we can imagine, the offence that was committed against the body to which I have referred caused as much distress to the relatives as sexual penetration of a corpse would cause.

Some matters that were seized may have been of a sexual nature. I note that the clause deals only with penetration of a corpse, and I do not think that mention of photographs or images being an offence is mentioned elsewhere in the Bill. I can understand the legalistic problems involved, because a dead body does not have rights. It does not belong to anyone.

Even within the confines of the clause, consideration must be given to those who work in a mortuary and have responsibility. We accept that such a job is not pleasant, but those people have responsibility and are placed in a position of trust. We must bear in mind the problems caused if that trust were abused. One of the problems in my constituency and the surrounding area was that lots of people had dead loved ones who had been in that mortuary for a short time. They are worried that something might have happened to their loved ones while in the mortuary.

Can the Under-Secretary and the Home Office consider such a matter to see whether relevant provisions may be included in the Bill? It is something that not only my constituents and I, but the CPS and the police, would like examined.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman described something that was clearly distressing and offensive. However, I, not being a parliamentary draftsman, am not entirely certain whether it actually falls within the purposes of the Bill. The Under-

Column Number: 310

Secretary may construe under connected purposes that it does, in which case he is welcome to reply.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 18 September 2003