Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, perhaps I may ask him to think again about dismissing the Waterhouse report so out of hand. Although I have little knowledge about these matters, I should like to remind him that paedophilia is effectively an abnormal, especially sexual, love of young people, whereas pederasty is an unnatural connection with a boy, meaning sodomy. I believe that he is wrong to say that the one was not connected with the other in the case of the Waterhouse report. Since those were his reasons for dismissing it, I believe that he should think again.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I was following all medical opinion in making that distinction. If all medical opinion is wrong, at least I have erred in good company.

8.3 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for her very courteous and generous welcome to me in returning to the Dispatch Box. Like the noble Earl, Lord Russell, I have a good regard for this House. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out, this is the third--I almost said "canter"--stroll around this particular course and I thought it only right to continue with the work that I had started earlier. I hope that that does not meet with disapproval from your Lordships.

The noble Baroness also said--I must say that my mind was really boggling!--that we on this side (I believe that she even cast her net to include the Liberal Democrats) were obsessed with sex. I must say that, three years since the last election, you could have fooled me. I am not attributing any personal forgetfulness myself. I simply point out that the best way to ensure a full House here is to discuss for 26 days the abolition of the hereditary element, or the removal of most of it, followed only by any subject relating to sex. On each occasion that I have been here in the past two weeks, Question Time has been rather sparse. At Question Time today, just before we were about to begin our debate, the place was packed.

I believe that the noble Earl has a point. We are not obsessed with sex. We are trying to deal in a civilised way with the true distinction, which I venture to repeat, between what we may approve or disapprove of for ourselves--mainly for others when it is disapproval--and what should be the subject of criminal sanction.

11 Apr 2000 : Column 162

The second point raised by the noble Baroness was the question of Scotland. Perfectly reasonably, she wanted to know the position in Scotland and I shall give her the precise details. There was a full debate there on 19th January this year. The Motion was that:

    "The Parliament [in Edinburgh] endorses the principles of equalising the age of consent for homosexual and heterosexual activity, creating a new criminal offence of breach of trust as set out in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill to be considered by the United Kingdom Parliament in the 1998-99 parliamentary Session and to agree that the UK Parliament should consider any Bill introduced in the same terms in the current Session".

The noble Baroness also perfectly helpfully asked whether or not there was a vote. There was; the Motion was carried by 90 votes to 16. That was in Scotland.

There were then further questions which focused largely on Waterhouse. The noble Earl did not dismiss the Waterhouse report out of hand. I believe that I can say that I have as much knowledge of those particular circumstances as most in this House. I was counsel involved in one of the closely related cases and I conducted an inquiry into a children's home which had a certain degree of overlap. The point that I was about to make was two-fold: first, that no one of any political view or persuasion will feel other than horror, shame and virtual disbelief at what is contained there. However, perhaps I may point out that there were no laws to protect the children in that closed gulag. There were no laws in terms of breach of trust; none. That is not a political point; it is an accusation of reproach to all of us.

Secondly, the noble Earl is right. The vast majority of the allegations in the Waterhouse report relate to physical and sexual abuse; that is, not consensual. That is why--I believe that I took his point correctly--although the Waterhouse saga is bitterly shameful, in substantial part it does not cover the issues with which we are dealing this evening. On the earlier occasions when we discussed this Bill I asked your Lordships not to throw it out because that would mean that for a time there would be no breach of trust laws to protect vulnerable young people. Noble Lords came to a view contrary to the one that I urged upon them, and there still are no breach of trust laws to protect young people.

I move on. The noble Lord--

Baroness Young: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for giving way because this is a very important point. I believe that we are all agreed that it is a shameful episode. I do not apportion blame to anyone with regard to what happened in North Wales. However, whereas there were some cases of consensual sex, does he agree that in other cases highlighted by the report unquestionably boys were manipulated and there was not consensual sex? Does he agree that those matters should be addressed if we are addressing this whole issue?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that is precisely my point. If sex is not consensual, it remains

11 Apr 2000 : Column 163

a criminal offence, whatever the age of the victim. That is entirely the point that the noble Earl was making and the one that I ventured to reiterate.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for again giving way because, I agree with my noble friend, this is a very important point. Does the noble and learned Lord agree that it is a matter for victims to prove that they did not give consent? Does he also agree that we are talking about young people who in any case have very damaged lives and are much intimidated by the way in which they are treated? Therefore, proving that they did not give consent would be extremely difficult for them. We have an opportunity in this Bill to strengthen the protection for them.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, of course I agree with those propositions. As in all criminal charges, it is for the prosecution to prove its case. There was much physical abuse in Bryn Estyn, almost savage beyond understanding in some instances. The abuse was not simply sexual. Of course, one has to rely on the evidence of the complainant. One looks for corroboration. But many of those young men--and they were mainly young boys rather than young girls that Sir Ronald dealt with--were not consenting. They were being coerced and subjected to favours. They were given alcohol. Sometimes they were physically threatened. That is not consensual, despite the age of the victim.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that criminalising the behaviour of the victim makes it much less likely that the real predator will be able to be proceeded against and that the best way of securing protection and enforcement is by not criminalising the victim but rather the behaviour of the predator?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. That was the second aspect to which I spoke briefly in my introduction. It bears repetition and I am obliged to the noble Lord for his reminder. It will now put young men in the same position as young girls. They are not criminalised either if they are subjected to sexual intercourse at an inappropriate age.

The accusation of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, was that the Government are obsessed with equality. I can bear that with a degree of fortitude. At least it is not the same as being accused of being a freemason or a keen golfer!

There is an important point here. I find that there is a terribly sexist approach towards young boys and young girls. I raised this on the last occasion. Nobody has beaten any metaphorical drums or tubs about what I regard as the immorality of someone who is wealthy, successful, powerful, possibly in his 50s who seduces a young girl. Nobody seems to complain about that. They say, "Oh, it is just jolly old Bill". Nobody has made that point this evening. When I raised that on the last occasion, it did not meet with universal

11 Apr 2000 : Column 164

applause. Some young women of the age of 16 and one week are quite vulnerable to the sort of seduction of which I have spoken. There is no law to protect them nor, as I understand it, is there any present proposal that there should be. The idea was floated that the age might be raised to 18 for young men and young women. I do not think that I can helpfully add to the guidance given by the noble Earl about the possible consequences of that.

The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, criticised the decision of your Lordships' House sitting judicially and, in particular, the decision and speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn of Hadley, that someone might inherit a tendency because he had been living in a very long-term homosexual relationship; and that was very long term indeed--from memory, 20 years plus.

The noble Lord will remember, now that I remind him of it, that the Inheritance (Provision of Family and Dependants) Act extended rights to those who were not part of the conventional family and I think that that is as long ago as 1975. The world does change. The certainties which we all imbibed with our mother's milk do not remain constant.

We need to remember, too, that until very recently, certainly during the professional life of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and myself, which does not extend beyond the memory of man, it was a criminal offence for a husband and wife, within their marriage, to engage in sodomy, punishable by life imprisonment. That is very recent indeed.

I believe that the answer to the question of my noble friend Lady Gould about split-site education will be found, I hope to her satisfaction, in Clause 4(8).

I pay tribute, which is genuine, to the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. It really was a masterly exposition with not a word wasted and not an ounce of fat upon it. I should find it very difficult to improve on his description of the present law as unenforceable, discriminatory and insupportable.

I enjoyed the contribution of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, as always. I thought that there were two novel constitutional propositions to be found there. The first was that if the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, did not exist, it would undoubtedly be necessary to invent him. The noble Earl always looks at me because we are on such good terms and he is able to direct his acid criticisms at me. The second was his bitter criticism that it was very wicked to try to use the Parliament Act because there was no mandate. But the figures are 371 to 171, a majority of 200 on a free vote in the other place, with Conservatives voting for the Bill, including Mr Hague and Mr Portillo. This is not a plot; it is not the homosexual lobby.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page