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Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 108:


(" . For section 1 of the Indecency with Children Act 1960 (indecent conduct towards young child), there shall be substituted--
"Indecent conduct towards children.
1.--(1) In this section, except where otherwise stated, "child" means a person under the age of sixteen years.
(2) Any person who--
(a) knowingly commits an act of gross indecency with or towards a child, or who incites a child to commit such an act with that person, or with another;
(b) travels with the intent of committing any act of gross indecency with or towards a child;
(c) knowingly employs, uses, persuades, induces, entices or coerces a child to engage in, or to assist any other person to engage in, an act of gross indecency with or towards any child; or
(d) transports a child with the intent that that child engage in an act of gross indecency,
is guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or to a fine, or to both.
(3) Any person who--
(a) abducts, detains or otherwise restricts the liberty of a child for the purpose of sexually exploiting that child; or

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(b) organises or knowingly facilitates such abduction, detention or restriction,
is guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 15 years, or to a fine, or to both.
(4) Any parent, guardian or other person having for the time being custody or control of a child who knowingly permits that child to engage in, or to assist any other person to engage in, sexual activity, or who knowingly permits the sexual exploitation of that child, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or to a fine, or to both.
(5) References in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to the offences mentioned in the first Schedule to that Act shall include offences under this section.
(6) Offences under this section shall be deemed to be offences against the person for the purpose of section 3 of the Visiting Forces Act 1952 (which restricts the trial by the United Kingdom courts of offenders connected with visiting forces).".").

The noble Baroness said: Any person who knowingly commits an act of gross indecency towards a child, travels with the intent of committing an act of gross indecency towards a child, knowingly employs, uses, persuades, induces, entices or coerces a child for the purposes of sexual activity or even abducts a child for sex should be punished severely. I stand at the Dispatch Box with the memory of Sarah Payne and too many other children who have suffered in this way. The time really has come to resort to legislation to make the punishment fit this crime. I beg to move.

Lord Bach: I do not want to repeat myself, but the Government have sympathy with the intention behind the amendment, in particular the extension of the offence to protect children up to the age of 16. However, we do not think that this is an effective way of increasing child protection. The law in this area is complex and confusing. Further piecemeal changes to the law on sexual offences and penalties should on the whole be avoided. That is why we are considering the comprehensive review of sex offences, resulting in the recommendations contained in Setting the Boundaries. That reported in the summer and the report is out to consultation. I am advised that it was set up under the present Government. Perhaps it does not matter. There is no party political point to be made here. There certainly should not be, anyway.

It is important that the structure of offences is looked at in the round to ensure effective and comprehensive protection. We oppose the amendment because it would increase the complexity and confusion of the present law. This needs to be thought through clearly in the light of the needs of today's world. The amendment seeks to introduce a whole range of new offences under the guise of one amendment. Many of these raise complex issues which need much more careful consideration. Some add to and some duplicate existing law. Others are quite new. I do not want to give many examples. One is the effect of including the word "knowingly". Is that a requirement attached to the age of the child or is it "knowingly" in relation to the acts? That is the kind of issue we need to make clear.

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Other points of detail could be challenged, but I do not intend to go into them now. I share the objective of wanting increased protection for children from sex offenders. We do not think that the amendment would achieve that. Indeed, it demonstrates why a wholesale review was needed, not a piecemeal approach. I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch: I am sorry the noble Lord feels like that. Perhaps I may address the word "knowingly". The amendment refers to a person who "knowingly"--in other words, not unwittingly--commits an act of gross indecency or unwittingly abducts a child. We know that these things are going on. We know that children are abducted. I am happy to say that some of them find their way back home, but many others do not--like little Sarah Payne. Something should be done.

The noble Lord referred to the sexual offences review. A sexual offences review was taking place at the Home Office before the election. It is just possible that that was wound up and a new remit was drafted. I agree with the noble Lord that this subject should never be a party political issue. We should concern ourselves with getting the legislation right.

I am sorry that nothing can be done at the moment to update the law to deal with a person who commits some of the actions set out in subsection (2)(a), (b),(c) and (d). I do not think people realise what an awful experience abduction is for the child and how frightening it can be. We should find a way of dealing with someone who transports a child away with the intention of indecently abusing the child.

I hear what the Minister says. I found his answer more disappointing than the previous one. Nevertheless, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Seccombe moved Amendment No. 109:

    Before Clause 37, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) In the Protection of Children Act 1978--
(a) in subsection (3) of section 2 (evidence); and
(b) in subsection (6) of section 7 (interpretation),
for the word "16" there shall be substituted the word "18".
(2) In the Protection of Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1978--
(a) in paragraph (2) of Article 2 (interpretation); and
(c) in paragraph (1) of Article 7 (evidence),
for the word "sixteen" there shall be substituted the word "eighteen".").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment concerns the age of a child in proceedings relating to indecent photographs of children. The rise of public concern about the sexual exploitation of children has been on the increase over the past few years. One of the ways in which children are exploited is through being sexually abused. The record of such abuse may be captured on film, video or computers to be watched repeatedly and distributed around the world. Like the noble Lord,

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Lord Northbourne, I too remember the exhibition shown just off Westminster Hall. I had to leave before I completed my tour of the exhibition because I found some of the material so disturbing that it still haunts me.

Such early experience of sexual activity often leaves deep emotional scars on a child which can damage future relationships. Furthermore, the child must live with the permanent knowledge that pictures of the abuse are still circulating.

There would be few who would defend child pornography, but disagreements arise over what we mean when we refer to a "child" for the purposes of legislation as well as at what age children should slip out of the net of protection offered to them by the law. Currently, the Protection of Children Act 1978, the law that makes it an offence to produce or distribute an indecent photograph of a child, defines a child as someone under the age of 16. This same definition is automatically applied to the legislation that makes possession of child pornography an offence; namely, Section 160 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The same definition also applies in Northern Ireland. Yet for the purposes of the Bill, Clause 25 states that,

    "an individual commits an offence against a child if ... he commits any offence",

listed in Schedule 4. Clause 37 of the Bill defines a child as,

    "a person under the age of 18".

The offence of producing and distributing child pornography is already included in Schedule 4 and Amendment No. 82 would add possession of child pornography to the list of offences. This amendment proposes that the same definition of a child should be applied to the offences related to child pornography.

The Government have recognised that children remain vulnerable and in need of protection up to the age of 18. In the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, children up to the age of 18 are protected from those in a position to abuse their trust. Children up to 18 years old should be protected from those who wish to take indecent photographs of them. This protection would be in line with that conferred by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines a child as someone under the age of 18. Article 34 of the convention refers in particular to child pornography and says that,

    "State parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse",


    "the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials".

In part because of the increase in child pornography on the Internet earlier this year, the United Nations issued a new optional protocol to the children's convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. These offences are described as of a "grave nature" and governments are urged to take firm action to protect children. Can the Minister tell the Committee what is the Government's view of the new protocol and whether they will sign it?

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Voting in favour of this amendment would bring our legislation into line with Article 34 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, increase protection for teenagers and signal our continuing commitment to taking firm action against child pornography.

I hope that the Minister will have sympathy with this amendment. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Lord Monson: The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, will know that I very often support her and her noble friend Lady Blatch on Home Office matters. But I am afraid that I cannot do so on this occasion.

For decades, if not centuries, 16 and 17 year-olds have been deemed legally capable of consenting to most forms of sexual activity. There is one particular form of sexual practice which is not only capable of being psychologically damaging but is also undoubtedly physically dangerous which is the exception to this rule, and where the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is indeed germane. We may return to this point before long.

But, taking indecent photographs with the consent of the subject--conceivably the enthusiastic consent of the subject--hardly comes into that category. The amendment does not confine itself to photographs taken for commercial reasons. It could catch two 17 year-olds who took photographs of their activities by remote control for their own amusement.

Secondly, paedophiles--against whom most of these amendments are aimed--are not interested in boys and girls as old as 16 or 17. Finally, there is a practical objection, given that few people carry their passports around with them at all times. Whereas it is usually possible to distinguish between a 14 year-old and a 16 year-old, it can be far more difficult to distinguish between a 16 year-old and an 18 year-old. Many people of 16 or 17 look two, three or even four years older than their true age.

For all those reasons, I believe that the amendment, although well intended, is misconceived.

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