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Lord Williams of Mostyn: That is precisely the illustration I gave. I said that my 17 year-old daughter is in a class and another 17 year-old is the complainant. I say that I have a moral right, if not a legally assertable right, to know. I would find if extremely surprising if any parent in this Committee took a different view.

However, I did not fully deal with the noble Lord's point. As soon as the noble Lord identified his test, the answer offers itself; namely, there is no answer which can accommodate his question. I remember the Lord Chief Justice of the time mentioned my next example. I refer to the bank manager who is accused of indecent exposure in a small community; the priest who is accused of theft; and the person who sells poppies who has been in the Royal British Legion and attended the Cenotaph service for the past 40 years. They are also destroyed by such charges.

Lord Elton: Surely then the answer suggests itself; namely, that there are certain charges which should be treated in this way regardless of whom they are made against.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: No, because the charge of theft--the noble Lord referred to certain charges and I shall try to dissect that--against someone who has committed 25 previous thefts and has been imprisoned is in a completely different qualitative category from the allegation of theft against the poppy seller who has been a devoted servant of the Royal British Legion and has attended the Cenotaph service for 40 years. Those cases are utterly different. The charge in the latter case may well be destructive of that man's life. In the former case, the person concerned hardly cares tuppence because they have, as we say in the trade, "form as long as your leg". One cannot legislate in this way. This is an unpalatable response but if one wants to have a society in which justice is public, I do not think that a remedy will be forthcoming, and certainly not in this piecemeal way. I repeat my question; the allegation of rape would be publishable, but not the allegation under the measure we are discussing. That is not a trivial or drafting question as there are difficult questions involved here. If I knew the answer to them, I should be as happy as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to hear my response.

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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I appreciate the difficulties posed for my noble and learned friend which are as considerable as those for the rest of us. Those of us who have supported the amendment are perhaps in greater difficulty.

However, the people we are discussing are in a special position and, indeed, they are in a special position in the Bill because of what they are and what they do. Therefore if they are being put in a special position, and if they are being put in a worse position than anyone else, they are entitled to greater protection than anyone else. Is that not so?

My noble and learned friend talks about the family of the girl or boy who has been sexually assaulted being entitled to know and the general public--the parents of children who go to the school--being allowed to know. However, the boy or girl who makes the allegation is protected for all time. He or she will never be named. So there is no equity there. That is why I am concerned that we should try to find some balancing factor.

My noble and learned friend raised the point that when a teacher is alleged to have committed an offence, it will be difficult not to name him perhaps because he admits the offence. But if he admits the offence it is no longer an allegation; so that argument will not wash. I know that the Minister will have difficulty in accepting the amendment but we are all apprised of the enormous problems that the situation is causing. I implore my noble and learned friend to consider the issue very seriously indeed. I urge him to take the matter away to his department and perhaps to the Law Commission, asking it to undertake an urgent job on trying to protect people who are in a position of responsibility in relation to children and young persons. The matter is urgent. The public are getting very worried about what is happening. They are concerned about unfairness. I know that my noble and learned friend feels the same as we do. I ask him, therefore, to try to do something as a Government even if he will not accept the amendment; and I appreciate his difficulties.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: They are not difficulties that I have. They are difficulties which arise from the unworkable nature of the amendment. That is quite different.

First, in my illustration I did not say that the general public had a right to know. I repeat what I said. If I were the father of a 17 year-old child and another girl had complained about the teacher I would wish to know about the allegation; and I think that I would be entitled to know about that.

Secondly, my noble friend Lord Stoddart said that those people have been put in a less favoured category in the Bill. That is not so because the provision refers only to teachers. It does not refer to supervisory people in children's homes. A lesson might be learned from the Waterhouse report: that when the allegations were made they should have been published. That is the other side of that particular penny. I understand what my noble friend says about the Law Commission

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considering the matter. A number of us know that a lot of thought has been given to the issue of anonymity for complainants in sexual offences and different conclusions have been arrived at in relation to anonymity for defendants in sexual matters. If anyone present today, or who reads these debates, is able to produce a workable formula, which I doubt, no one would be happier than me.

Baroness Blatch: I am interested that the noble and learned Lord hinges much of his opposition on the fact that the amendment covers only teachers and not care workers and others. If that is the argument, I should have a good deal of respect for it. My guess is that the noble and learned Lord is against our amendment on principle and that these reasons are being used for not accepting the amendment.

The noble and learned Lord cannot get away from the fact that there is a specific issue for teachers in schools. One knows from the statistics that it is teachers who are maliciously or vexatiously accused of sexually or physically abusing a child. We are not referring to poppy sellers who are wrongly accused of having their hands in the till. The amendment empathises with the teachers in this plight and sympathises with them. I should be interested to know where the noble and learned Lord stands on the principle. If he says that there should be reference to all staff in schools, we shall attend to that point on Report. We shall even broaden the provision to care workers or make it a blanket provision until charges are preferred.

As regards teachers admitting the allegation, I know of a personal example. My children were at a school where the head teacher was convicted of abusing children. The moment he was approached he admitted it. The charges were preferred within 24 hours and that was the end of it.

Perhaps the noble and learned Lord will also remember that a teacher is automatically suspended. We do not interfere with that. The teacher would be suspended. There is no doubt that in the noble and learned Lord's example of being a parent of a 17 year-old girl, he would know. But what about the media? Is the noble and learned Lord sympathetic to the notion that the media do not have the information; that parents should be barred from going to the media--newspapers and local radio? It is that kind of publicity which does for the teacher who has been maliciously accused of sexual abuse of a child.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: All these questions demonstrate the impossibility of making the amendment work. I gave the illustration of theft by the poppy seller because the noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked: should there not be some protection for those whose lives may be devastated by the mere bringing of the allegation? It seems to me that he was entitled to a response which I gave. I dealt with the question of the teacher because the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said that teachers were disadvantaged by the Bill. I have pointed out accurately that they are not uniquely disadvantaged.

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The noble Baroness says that a teacher would be suspended and that I as a parent would know. I would know of the suspension; I would not know the charge. The suggestion that if an allegation is admitted it becomes no longer an allegation is unknown to any system of jurisprudence which I recognise.

Baroness Blatch: We have heard enough to know that there are difficulties with the amendment. I wish to reflect on what the noble and learned Lord said and to bring back the amendment on Report. I believe that there is a real issue here.

My only regret--it is a serious one--is that there was not more empathy for the teachers and the plight they have. It is a very real issue for them. The Government have not responded with empathy to them in that plight. I regret that. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Carter: I beg to move that the Committee stage be now adjourned and that we return at 8.45 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.58 to 8.45 p.m.]

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 19:

    Page 3, line 31, at end insert--

("(6) No proceedings shall be instituted except by or with the consent of--
(a) in England and Wales, the Director of Public Prosecutions;
(b) in Scotland, the Lord Advocate; or
(c) in Northern Ireland, the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland,
against any person for an offence under this section if the person was at the time of the commission under the age of twenty-one.").

The noble Lord said: The noble Earl, Lord Russell said at dinner that I had drawn the short straw in the timing of my amendment. How right he was.

Most of the amendments to Clauses 3 and 4, with the exception of Amendment No. 18, which we debated before the dinner break, are designed to plug loopholes inadvertently left by the Government. This amendment is rather different, going slightly in the opposite direction. It is designed to provide a safeguard against the well known law of unintended consequences, which could otherwise lead to draconian action against the undeserving, or at least the not very deserving.

Vulnerable young people must be protected from sexual exploitation by people in authority who are vastly senior to them in age and perhaps in other respects and who are accordingly difficult for the young people concerned to rebuff. On the other hand, throughout human history all over the world, young people of roughly similar age, intelligence and interests have fallen for one another in unexpected circumstances. The fact that the slightly older party

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may be technically in a position of trust is almost irrelevant to the romance--or to the affair, if one wants to be slightly more cynical.

Consider a 19 year-old nurse who is caught kissing a 16 or 17 year-old patient who may look 20 or more, or a 20 year-old carpentry teacher caught embracing a 17 year-old pupil. Surely none of us wants them to be sent to prison for two years, or even brought to court to face a fine. The Bill makes even the mildest sexual contact illegal.

Different considerations apply should the younger party have a mental age of 10, for example. In that case, a prosecution might well be appropriate. Nothing in the amendment would prevent that after careful consideration at the highest level. The amendment is designed to protect young people of a similar age who happen to hit it off with one another.

I hope that the Government and the Committee will accept this modest safeguard against unmerited, unnecessary and undesirable prosecutions. I beg to move.

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