Sexual Offences Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Lady anticipates my response. The amendment does not need to be included in the Bill. I absolutely agree that what matters is putting legislation into practice. We cannot simply legislate and assume that everything will happen in the way we intend. We must consider

Column Number: 378

everything closely. I therefore fully support the spirit of monitoring contained in this amendment and others. We all recognise that we focused too much on our own words, and insufficiently on what was happening out there.

With that in mind, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will lead a ministerial committee to consider the ongoing implementation of all the measures in the Bill. We shall not simply legislate and then move on to another piece of Home Office legislation, although I am sure that there will be more legislation. We will stick with this issue. That ministerial group will undoubtedly give out information on how things are working and receive suggestions from hon. Members about what is going on in their area and reflecting how things are working in practice. The Select Committee on Home Affairs will be able to call on my hon. Friends to report on what is going on, and my hon. Friend the Under Secretary will be prepared to appear before it to give information. Hon. Members can ask parliamentary questions, and they will be told numbers straight off because they will have been collected.

We therefore agree with the spirit of the amendment. Any new creature such as this needs to be looked at in practice, but we do not need the requirement of the amendment in the Bill.

Mrs. Brooke: I thank the Solicitor-General for her commitment. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 121, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 122 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 123

RSHOs: variations, renewals and discharges

Amendment made: No. 126, in

    clause 123, page 65, line 17, leave out '5' and insert '2'.—[The Solicitor-General.]

Clause 123, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 124 to 129 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 130

Offences with thresholds

Amendments made: No. 322, in

    clause 130, page 68, line 35, at end insert

    '(a ''sentencing condition'').

    ( ) Where an offence is listed if either a sentencing condition or a condition of another description is met, this section applies only to the offence as listed subject to the sentencing condition.'.

No. 323, in

    clause 130, page 68, line 37, leave out 'such an offence' and insert

    'an offence to which this section applies'.

No. 324, in

    clause 130, page 68, line 40, before 'condition' insert 'sentencing'.

No. 325, in

Column Number: 379

    clause 130, page 69, line 15, leave out from 'a' to 'this' and insert 'sentencing condition,'.—[The Solicitor-General]

Clause 130, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 131

Part 2: General interpretation

Amendment made: No. 326, in

    clause 131, page 70, leave out lines 11 and 12.—[The Solicitor-General.]

Clause 131, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 132 and 133 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 134

Part 2: Northern Ireland

The Solicitor-General: I beg to move amendment No. 327, in

    clause 134, page 73, line 36, at end insert—

    '(11) An Order in Council under section 85 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c.47) (provision dealing with certain reserved matters) which contains a statement that it is made only for purposes corresponding to those of Schedule (Procedure for ending notification requirements for abolished homosexual offences) to this Act—

    (a) shall not be subject to subsections (3) to (9) of that section (affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament), but

    (b) shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

    (12) In relation to any time when section 1 of the Northern Ireland Act 2000 (c.1) is in force (suspension of devolved government in Northern Ireland)—

    (a) the reference in subsection (11) above to section 85 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c.47) shall be read as a reference to paragraph 1 of the Schedule to the Northern Ireland Act 2000 (c.1) (legislation by Order in Council during suspension), and

    (b) the reference in subsection (11)(a) above to subsections (3) to (9) of that section shall be read as a reference to paragraph 2 of that Schedule.'.

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

Government new clause 14.

Government new schedule 1.

The Solicitor-General: The amendment, the new clause and the new schedule deliver on a commitment made by Lord Falconer and Baroness Scotland following points made by Lord Thomas of Gresford and Baroness Walmsley, which were that the substantive law has changed, yet some people will still be subject to the requirement for notification and on the register for matters that are no longer offences. Do we want people still to be on the register when the action that they were convicted of that led to them being on the register is not something that we regard as criminal activity any more? I am referring to consensual sexual intercourse between adult males. We do not want them to be on the register because we no longer regard that activity as a criminal offence.

We need to have a procedure for removing people from the notification requirement in line with the substantive law. However, that is not as easy as looking through the computer database and striking

Column Number: 380

them off. In some cases, it was not necessary to distinguish between consensual and non-consensual activity. We do not want non-consensual activity not to be required to be continued to be notified, so we have had to consider matters on a case-by-case basis. The new schedule, the new clause and the amendment will set up a procedure. The Home Office will write to everyone and say that a new procedure has been set up. It will be proactive to that extent. If people want to stop being subject to the registration requirements and consider that they come within the provision, they can apply to the Home Secretary.

The Home Secretary will then cause inquiries to be made into whether or not the activity was non-consensual and whether it is no longer a criminal offence. He will then decide whether such people can stop being on the register. They will have a right of appeal against his decision. I have not explained matters in enormous detail. The application can be appealed to the High Court, but not thereafter. However, the aim of the provision is clear. The High Court would not be able to hear all evidence. We must bear it in mind that the issues involved will be delicate and we would not want to create a situation whereby people who had been engaged in sexual activity as the victim had to go through all the information. Such matters would be carried out in writing.

The idea is to respond to the concern of Lord Thomas and Baroness Walmsley to deliver on the promises made by Lord Falconer and Baroness Scotland and set up a workable and sensible procedure, which is up to date with the substantive law.

Mrs. Brooke: I welcome the Minister's words. My colleagues in the House of Lords will be pleased with the proposals that have been brought forward. The procedure sounds complicated and I do not wish to make any comments on it at this stage. However, I am sure that it will be considered carefully.

The Solicitor-General made the point well about the difficulty in distinguishing between consensual and non-consensual sex. I was convinced by the argument, but I was a little dismayed about some of the procedures people will have to go through. I thank the Government for their response.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): I should like to mention the new clauses briefly. I raised this matter on Second Reading, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General will be aware. I am pleased with what has been done. Under the provision, there will not be huge numbers of cases dealt with. It will apply to a relatively small number of people who no longer need to be on the register because they are not a danger. The whole point of the register is to ensure that someone who is a danger, or will put other people at risk, is kept on it.

On reading the new schedule, I did not think that the procedure was so complicated. I understand why it is necessary for there to be such a procedure—it is for precisely the reasons my right hon. and learned Friend gave in introducing the debate. We cannot simply assume that someone should be removed. We must

Column Number: 381

ensure that we do not remove somebody from the register if they were put on it for a non-consensual act.

I was pleased by what my right hon. and learned Friend said about being proactive, so that people will be informed about removing themselves from the register and making an application. That is a positive part of dealing with such things. I thank her for what she said and for responding to the concerns that were raised in the House of Lords, and by me and other hon. Members on Second Reading.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): Like my hon. Friend, I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General on the proposals in the new clauses. I should like to ask a couple of brief questions.

First, I presume that there are no recent convictions leading to sentences that people are still serving and that there is nobody still in the pipeline, as it were, who needs to be cleared out. Secondly, it is theoretically possible that at the end of the process the identity of somebody who is being taken off the register might inadvertently become public knowledge. There would be a new injustice if a local newspaper or community suddenly became aware that somebody had been taken off the register. Although that may be good for that person, there may be a kind of no-smoke-without-fire situation and the individual may find themselves subject to suspicions in the local community. Perhaps the Solicitor-General could comment on the process relating to keeping such matters confidential, especially towards the final stages.

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 14 October 2003