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The noble Baroness said: This amendment is consequential on Amendment No. 18. My noble friend Lady Blatch and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, carefully pressed the whole case relating to allegations about full-time teachers. This consequential amendment covers part-time teachers, who would be equally involved. As my noble friend has agreed to withdraw her amendment for further consideration I shall not press the matter at this time of night. Once again, the particular case of teachers is a real one. We believe that since 1991 there have been well over 1,000 allegations made against teachers. There have been few convictions. But for many people, their lives and those of their families have been ruined, together with their relationships with neighbours and friends. Not only is that issue damaging to them, but--if I may take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart--it actually makes recruitment to the teaching profession more difficult.
From what I have read of his remarks, I believe that the right honourable Mr David Blunkett, the Secretary of State, is sympathetic to this case. I am at a loss to understand why the Government cannot draft their own amendment to meet the case of teachers, and in this case part-time teachers, who are affected by it. All the other cases referred to are of course serious. I am not in any way writing those down. The one professional group who could possibly be subject to these allegations--we know from the number of cases that have been brought forward--are teachers. Both for the sake of individual teachers and for the teaching profession as a whole, this matter needs to be looked at. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be able to say that this is something that the Government can take away and redraft to meet what I genuinely believe is a real case. I beg to move.
Lord Northbourne: In the context of what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has just said, it occurred to me that those who accept the considerable responsibility of a post which puts them in a position of trust in relation to a child could reasonably expect to have some proper protection. It may be that it is in that context that some degree of confidentiality for
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I set out the Government's position fairly plainly. I regret to say that I do not think this amendment will be workable. I have not gone at any great length into the question of Article 10--the function of a free press in a free society.
The noble Baroness is quite right. It is undoubtedly true that my right honourable friend Mr Blunkett has had extensive consultations with the teaching unions. I repeat my own personal sympathy, although that does not take matters further forward. As I have said, both my parents were school teachers throughout the whole of their professional lives.
I take the point made by the noble Baroness. The difficulty is that we begin with teachers, but the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne--who has also had discussions, from which we have all benefited--then extends it to others. I sympathise with the point that is made. I simply question whether one will ever be able to draft a law to cover this issue. One simply adds to the category of anomalies. I am always willing to think about things, but I would not want the noble Baroness to think that there is a likely happy outcome for her concerns.
Baroness Young: We had this discussion privately last week. What I find disappointing is that the noble and learned Lord, together with his advisers, feels that he cannot bring forward an amendment to meet this difficulty. I would guess that there is no one in the Chamber who does not have sympathy for the situation in which these people find themselves. Many members of my family have taught. I have a daughter who teaches full-time in a maintained school so I am very conscious of the kinds of situation which arise. I believe profoundly in the importance of teachers and in getting high quality people to go into teaching. But I can assure the House that a great many able graduates would not consider going into teaching. They do not quite laugh at the prospect, but, apart from anything else, why should they take this kind of risk?
It gives me no pleasure to say that, because it is such a serious situation. I shall, of course, withdraw the amendment but I very much hope that the noble and learned Lord, perhaps in conjunction with his colleagues in the DfEE, who must be very concerned about the effect on the teaching profession, will consider the matter carefully. I know that it is not easy--lots of the most difficult problems are not easy to solve--but that does not quite exonerate us from trying to do so. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My understanding of the position--I should be grateful for the agreement of the Attorney-General when he comes to reply--is that we have voted to retain 18 as the age below which buggery will be a criminal offence, but we have accepted those clauses of the Bill which provide that other sexual activity, if I may use a general phrase, is a crime only when committed against a person of 16. The Government have then gone on in Clause 3 to say that, despite that decision to lower the age of consent to 16, in certain circumstances, where there is a person in a position of trust, it shall still be an offence for that person to engage himself in any other sexual activity or to have intercourse with a person who is under his care at that time. Clause 4 then sets out the meanings of the phrase "position of trust" and proposes the four classes which the Government recommend should be covered by that new offence.
In an earlier discussion I referred to the cases we faced on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. While I accept that almost by their very nature the offences we are considering are offences where the abuse is a criminal act and therefore would remain a criminal act because they are done without consent, I am sure the Attorney-General would agree that the issue of consent is not necessarily an easy one to decide. What happens in many of these cases is not a question of physical coercion to impose the will of an older man on a younger child. It is first of all befriending a vulnerable child, particularly in a home where he is perhaps lonely and isolated. The older man is the member of staff to whom the child goes. From there the child starts being invited into the member of staff's room in the evening. Then perhaps "small favours", to use a phrase used by the Attorney-General at Second Reading--I read with great care what he said about these cases--are offered to the child. Small presents are given. Slowly, the child is moved into a situation in which he becomes involved in sexual acts with that individual without ever clearly either consenting or refusing to give consent.
In the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board it was easy to determine, on the balance of proof, that that consent had been suborned and was not real consent and therefore the act remained a crime of violence for which the victim could be compensated. But when it comes to prosecuting the individual in the courts and proving beyond reasonable doubt that the act he committed was carried out without the consent of the individual on whom it was imposed, it may be considerably more difficult to meet that burden of proof and achieve a result. I can understand why the Government have felt it necessary, in so far as any matter which is non-consensual is already a crime, to bring in provisions to cover where a person in a position of trust who acts in a sexual way towards an individual could himself, by that act, be committing an
The Attorney-General earlier explained very clearly why the Government felt it right to set out in Clause 4 the four classes of people who fall into such positions of trust. I do not disagree in any way with the arguments that he advanced. As he said, the gravamen was the fact that such children were being used or abused by those in whose care the courts had ordered them to be detained.
The purpose of all the amendments to Clause 4 is to ask whether we have covered adequately those groups of people in positions of trust whose influence on the individual may be such that they should also be put at the same risk of infringing the criminal law, should they involve themselves in sexual activity with that individual. Perhaps I may take, for example, Amendment No. 24, to which I have added my name. Over my years serving on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, experience taught me that, sadly, a proportion of abuse was concerned with the family situation. The amendment seeks to examine the position of the step-parent or half-sibling of the individual being abused. They are in a position of trust as regards that individual and thus, certainly in my experience, from time to time they will abuse that trust in a situation where it can be difficult to say whether they were committing an offence because they were achieving something that was non-consensual, but who have persuaded their step-child or half-sibling to involve themselves in acts to which otherwise they would not have agreed, had they had been freely able to consent. I believe that a recent Home Office publication examines whether abuse in the family is an area which should also require protection under the position of trust provisions.
Moving on quickly through the other amendments to the clause, I notice that Amendment No. 26 deals with members of a church or a religious organisation. Sadly, we all know that, over recent months, considerable publicity has been given to certain cases where a tiny minority of individuals have involved themselves with abuse of those in their care through a religious organisation. The amendment asks should they, too, be covered by the position of trust? Equally, should social care workers be covered by the position of trust? The final amendments ask whether a social services inspector of services should also be covered by the position of trust.
The general point I wish to make--to which I invite the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General to reply--is this. Recognising the need for an offence of breaking a position of trust, is he sure that the Government have adequately covered the groups to which that offence should apply; or should they at least look again at the groups proposed by the Opposition? None of the groups can be voted on individually today because the paving amendment was defeated, but the Opposition may or may not wish to return to them at a later stage.
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