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Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that there is no general principle of law which requires the victim to give evidence in a prosecution case? That is evidenced, clearly, by the fact that if there were, we would never secure a conviction for murder.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree with the proposition advanced by my noble friend. It is not necessary as a matter of law for a victim to make a complaint before a prosecution can be brought. However, in a case which is not murder or manslaughter, the reality in many cases is that if the victim does not make a complaint, that may well give rise in practice to difficulty in obtaining a conviction.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, does not the noble and learned Lord agree that in the case of the 12 year-old girl, the police said that they were powerless to act? Are we accepting in that case that if they were powerless to act, the case of a child under the age of 12 who is abused cannot be investigated unless the child gives evidence? Does not the noble and learned Lord agree that the police have a duty to protect not only parents but children too?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the police certainly have a duty to protect children and they would be the first to accept that. As regards their powers, as the Director of Public Prosecutions made clear subsequently, the need for the victim to complain or give evidence is not a legal requirement. However, the police and the prosecuting authorities must analyse the evidence objectively in such cases. They must decide in a particular case whether the absence of evidence from the complainant will lead to a reduced chance of conviction. If they come to that conclusionthat is a matter for themthey should not bring the prosecution because it would be damaging for everyone involved.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that while law is clearly important, individual personal values are far more so? If he accepts that kind of thinking, will the Government, with the whole of their power, encourage education on abstinence from sex before marriage?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, it is absolutely clear that individual values are vitally important in this area. The role of education in relation to instilling values that we all regard as acceptable is absolutely vital.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I could not agree more with the right reverend Prelate's preliminary remark; namely, that the law cannot make us good and that individual values, education and instilling in children and adults alike the right values are incredibly important. I also thoroughly endorse what he said about the importance of education. We have made it clear that education in relation to the issues that we are discussing is a priority for the Department for Education and Skills.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that as long ago as 1984 the Criminal Law Revision Committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Justice Lawton, published its recommendations on sexual offences? Chapter 5 of that report was concerned solely with intercourse with young girls. In paragraph 5.10 we recommendedI was a member of that committeethe abolition of the young man's defence. Perhaps the Minister will agree that it may be time for the Government to look again at the recommendations in that report.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I was aware of that report. The noble and learned Lord will also be aware of the document published last year by the Home Office, entitled Setting the Boundaries, which takes up a number of ideas in the 1984 report. As I said, we hope to bring forward legislation at the earliest possible opportunity.
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the answer to the Question of my noble friend Lady Young is not a matter of changing the law but of evidence? Since it is an offence to have intercourse with a girl under 16, whether or not she consents, if there is other evidence that the man has had intercourse with her, a prosecution can take place whether or not the girl is willing to give evidence. To that extent, her willingness to give evidence is, to some degree, irrelevant.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, in the case to which the noble Baroness referred there was an issue about evidence. Plainly, there is an offence of unlawful sexual intercourse between a man and a woman under 16. The law already exists in relation to that. I accept the point made by the noble Lord, but I do not accept that the law is necessarily perfect in relation to that. Setting the Boundaries indicates the way in which the law can be changed in order to provide better protection. As I say, legislation will be brought forward at the first possible opportunity.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord tell uspursuant to his original reply to my noble friend Lady Young in which he said that this matter was a top priority for the Governmentwhat matters of policy are not top priorities now?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that an apology is owed to the parents of this girl? She supplied evidence to the police but they still said that without a complaint from the girl they were powerless to act.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment takes us back to the statutory dispute procedures where the Secretary of State is given a considerable amount of flexibility to change, alter, add, take away and reduce the procedures. He can modify them. He can amend them in the light of experience, in the light of caseload and indeed in the light of anything else. The amendment proposes that as a result of the power which the Secretary of State, has the statutory procedures should not become worse. It suggests that the modifications should not be less favourable to employees.
When this issue and clause were debated in Committee, I was unwise enough to say that the provisions in the statutory procedures were so bad that they could not be any worse. I have thought about that and that was clearly wrong. They could certainly be better. There could be something in the statutory procedures to say that one had to have an effective investigation before the employer took any decision. We would not be against that. There could be something in the statutory procedureswe hope that in time the Government might see that this is a good ideaabout the suspension alternative. There could be something in the statutory procedures about taking into account the reasonableness of the decision. Indeed, we would not mindin fact we would welcome itif the Government decided to abolish the modified procedures which have never been fully explained.
Nevertheless, it could be worse. It could be much worse. I do not say that the Government intend to make the situation much worse. I do not say that the Government intend to make it worse. I say that the power in the regulations would enable them to do certain things. For example, the exemptions which we hope to see might be taken away. There might be no exemptions. The modified procedures could be extended to cover other issues that we presume that they would not cover now. The 28 days delay could rise to 35 days. More steps could be added to restrict the access to the tribunals.
When we raised these questions in Committee my noble friend Lord McIntosh began by reassuring us, but he said that our amendment at that time created several practical difficulties. He said that our amendment,
What he did not deny, as far as I can tellI am asking whoever answers for the Government to deny it todaywas that the Government may move in the direction that we seek to deny them and make the procedures worse.
Of course, I should like the Government to accept our amendment, but if they will not I should like them to say that they have no intention of moving in the direction that our amendment would preclude. I beg to move.
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