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Lord Campbell of Alloway: I apologise to my noble friend. I am intervening only because the Committee should not, quite innocently, be misled. I took the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, and of my noble friend Lord McColl. Having read the Exeter story, I said, "What about it?" They said that the dire risk of infection is precisely the same. I shall not go into details, but I gather that it is. I hope that my noble friend will forgive me for intervening.
Baroness Noakes: I am grateful to my noble friend for that information. As I understand it, schoolchildren are being taught that oral sex is permissible as a lesser order than full sex in order to restrict the risk of pregnancy. The issue of sexually transmitted diseases may be part of it, but the drive to reduce teenage pregnancies is the major issue.
Earl Russell: When the noble Baroness says that it is for the purposes of restricting the risk of pregnancy, is she not making very clear the distinction between the purposes of health education and those of the criminal law?
Baroness Noakes: I am grateful for that thought. On the one hand, the Government are saying one thing in relation to health education and the teaching of attitudes towards certain sexual behaviours, and, on the other, enshrining a different approach to different kinds of sexual behaviours in law. That may cause a conflict because, in due course, these children will grow up and, potentially, commit these offences not understanding the differences, or they may find themselves on juries not understanding the distinctions that have been made.
These are very important points in relation to the workability of the Bill. It is an issue that will be raised in amendments to several clauses. It is most important that we produce a Bill that is workable in practice. The concern I raise is that if society evolves an attitude towards oral sex which is different to the one that exists in the way in which the offences are framed in the Bill,
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: I had not intended to speak in the debate. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, mentioned one way of perhaps being able to stop oral sex being forced upon one; she suggested that we all have teeth we can clench. But we have to think very carefully about the circumstances in which rape takes place and the feelings of the person being raped, whether it is a vaginal, anal or oral rape. Victims are undoubtedly traumatised; they are in great fear and, very often, in great danger. Unless someone actually bit off the man's penis, which I have no doubt would incapacitate him, I suggest that it would be a very dangerous thing to do. It would enrage whoever was perpetrating the crime and, I fear, make matters much worse for the victim.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, asked about the need for change. In 1990, the recorded crime statistics show that there were 3,391 complaints of rape, with a conviction rate of 25 per cent. That may not seem particularly high, but that was the figure in 1990. The figures for 2001-02 show that complaints of rape increased to 9,008. Those complaints have not been withdrawn but have been pursued. But by now the conviction rate is 7 per cent, not 25 per cent. It is clear that the framework of the law needs to be adjusted and improved.
For those of us who say and will continue to say throughout these proceedings that the Government should trust the judge and trust the jury to do their job, they can do their job only if the framework is right. Our main criticism of the Government's proposals is not that they are attempting to change thingswe think that the framework has to be changedbut that their mechanisms are wrong and confusing, and will lead to fewer convictions rather than more.
On the specific amendment, the Committee will see when we reach Amendment No. 8 that we have attempted, in dealing with labels, to move away to a degree from the bare charge of rapewhich, in itself, is a disincentive to convictionand have included the phrase,
I had not intended to speak on this amendment, but this is a lead-in to what I propose to say on Amendments Nos. 8 and 10. There has to be an improvement, but we want the legislation to be effective, so that the guilty are punished and the innocent are not wrongly convicted.
Lord Lucas: I am at all times reluctant to agree with the Liberal Party, but I find myself entirely at one with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on that point. It is not only in the streets of south London that the difference between oral sex and full sex is understood; it is also understood at the very highest levelsindeed, in the office of the President of the United States, as noble Lords will remember.
It seems ridiculous to try and expand a crime to include all sorts of other things which are not the same. It is possible to do things that are nastier and worse than rape. I would include genital mutilation as such a crime, but it is not rape just because it is horrible and sexual. It is much better to keep these things in separate pots, to address the jury in a language they understand, to make the crime just as serious and deal with the perpetrator just as seriously, but to keep the English straight.
The Earl of Listowel: I wish to clarify one point that has arisen on several occasions. It is my understanding that penetration through the anus gives rise to a higher risk of transfer of HIV/AIDS than through the vagina or the mouth. I may be incorrect; if there are medical practitioners here, perhaps they can correct me. It is important to be clear on that point.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I support the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, with regard to looking at the issue from the position of the victims. I am quite prepared to be called silly after what I say. However, having spent most of my life dealing largely with child sexual abuse as well as other forms of abuse, I feel I can speak from the victims' point of view. Although I have not been a victim myself, for which I am grateful, I can see that there may be great value in specifying these issues. I have spent time in court too and think that if the offences are absolutely clear we have a much better opportunity of getting convictions than if there is any obscurity. I have talked to many young women who have lost their case on a technical point, so clarity is essential.
It is also essential for us to understand the trauma and pain of young women and children who have experienced penetration in the mouth by the penis. Many men know that that is one way of making sure that victims do not show certain signs. Thankfully, DNA is taking us further, but many men believe that if
We have to have a real understanding of this matter, not a person-in-the-street understanding. We all have a view about what we read in the newspapers and may feel that some young men have been treated worse for a bit of roughness they should have got away with. Many young women who have suffered describe the trauma that it leaves them with for the rest of their life. They cannot make relationships, their marriages break down and they have difficulty with their children. When making these decisions, we must bear them clearly in mind.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Members of the Committee have indicated that the amendment would remove non-consensual penile penetration of the mouth from the rape offence as it presently stands in Clause 1. Under existing legislation, forced oral sex is charged as an indecent assault. According to the evidence submitted to the sexual offences review by victims and victim support groups, forced penile penetration of the mouth is a very serious form of assault that can be as horrible, as demeaning and as traumatising as other forms of forced penile penetration and is as psychologically harmful as vaginal and anal rape, if not more so in some cases. It is not unusual for women and children who have been violated in this way to develop long-term difficulties in eating and drinking. They may also have difficulty in visiting the dentist and a whole range of psychological trauma on which the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, has only touched.
If that is so, there are three options open to us. First, we include oral penetration within the definition of rape. What are the reasons given against that? The reason given almost exclusively by lawyers is that ordinary people do not understand rape to mean oral penetration. I say with the greatest respect that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, gave the answer to that. As regards proceedings, if the judge gives a direction as to what is meant, just as there was no difficulty in relation to anal intercourse, there would be no difficulty in that regard in relation to oral penetration of the sort described. Therefore, I do not think that there is force in the argument that juries would not convict in that respect.
Secondly, I refer to the argument that what we are discussing is too far away from the common man's understanding of what the word "rape" means. The purpose of the redefinition of "sexual offences" is that they should reflect victims' experiences. If after listening to what victims have said the view is reached that what they have suffered is just as serious as rape, just as anal intercourse has been appropriately described as rape, so too can oral penetration be so described.
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