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The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill): The noble Lord has spoken to Amendment No. 11 for over two minutes. Therefore I must ask him to move it as other noble Lords may wish to reply to him.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: I am obliged. I thought I had said that I wished to withdraw Amendment No. 11. The mistake was mine. I apologise to the Deputy Chairman and I apologise to your Lordships. We can all make mistakes. I beg to move
Baroness Noakes: I am grateful to my noble friend for saying that he will not move Amendment No. 11. We debated the matter yesterday, when I said that I could not support the creation of the lesser offence of oral penetration, although we accept that it is capable of being formulated in a different way from that in the Bill. My noble friend did not speak to the other amendments in the group, Amendments Nos. 42 and 43. For the avoidance of doubt, I see no reason for those amendments which exclude oral penetration from the offence of causing a person to engage in sexual activity.
The noble Lord said: Under this amendment I am concerned with looking at the scope of offences in the Bill. I am interested to know where this fits in: a person using not an object that he manipulates or a part of his own body but a living animal. The noble Lord may have a better spam filter than I have on my House of Lords e-mails, but perhaps he does not look at them. If he looked at the unsolicited e-mails that I receive he would realise that there is a great deal of activity taking place between young women and animals. The suggestion in some e-mails is that the women do not take part entirely willingly. The Romans were similarly inclined, as doubtless the noble and learned Lord knows.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The offence of assault by penetration is designed to cover cases where one person intentionally penetrates the vagina or anus of another person with a part of his body or another object without that person's consent. It will cover cases where a person forcibly inserts his hands or fist into a woman's vagina or a bottle or a knife into a man's anus. That is extremely serious offending behaviour that can inflict as much, if not more, pain and physical damage on a victim as penile penetration and is likely to result in similar psychological trauma. No one would disagree with the seriousness of such an offence and the penalty that is provided for there would be life imprisonment.
I believe that the noble Lord refers to what happens when a human uses an animal to penetrate, without the consent of the person involved, somebody else's body. Clause 72(2) deals with the situation in which a person commits an offence if he,
Lord Campbell of Alloway: The noble Lord raised the point as to how this would fit with the amendment to which I referred. After the word "anus" there would be the words "or mouth". That would constitute the specific offence. I do not think it would be affected by my noble friend's amendment. I am afraid that I am not very good with e-mails. My computer is out of action at the momentI have a new box and cannot work it. So I am not able to comment or deal with that situation.
Lord Lucas: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for promising to write to me. I hope that this matter is not something that most noble Lords come across. As we rarely have the opportunity to talk about such subjects, it seems right to ensure that any possible imperfections in the wording are covered, however difficult it may be to talk about them. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 are a replay of the actions of yesterday on Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 to leave out Clause 1(3). We had a long debate yesterday and we are to have a definitive debate on Report. With the leave of the Committee I shall say no more about the matter today.
The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 21 and Amendment No. 33, which are grouped, are probing amendments about offences against children. I have not gone through the Bill and tabled the consequential amendments that may be appropriate, because I want first to test the Government's views and the opinion of the Committee about the level of sentences provided for in Clauses 4 and 6.
I accept that the levels of sentencing within the Bill have a certain coherence about them, but I am surprised by those levels. In the case of offences against children, we must consider the comparative sentences for other activities that may be equally damaging to children.
Clause 4 provides for a sentence for penetration of up to life. I understand that life is also the sentence for murder. My view is that murder might reasonably be regarded as a more serious offence. Clause 6 provides for sexual touching a maximum sentence of 14 years. I am advised that the maximum sentence for violence against children is 10 years.
It is right to ask the Minister to give the Committee the Government's reasons for those seemingly high maximum sentences. Your Lordships may well ask why it matters what are the maximum sentences, because the court will apply the right level of sentence. There are three reasons. First, good and decent men working in the caring professionscaring for children as professionals or volunteersare already seriously concerned about the risks to their families, careers and liberty of false accusations of sexual abuse. The long sentences proposed cannot but exacerbate that problem.
The third reason is that those who have worked with families that have often for generation after generation been sad and inadequate know that such families' problems are complex. It is perhaps not surprising that the main bar to disclosure by a child is its fear of the terrible effect that that will have on the family. The family often represents the only security and love that that child has ever known, however inadequate and perverted it may be.
This is not the time to discuss what society ought to be doing about those problems, but I suggest that dramatic increases in sentences for familial child abuse will not solve them and may even make them worse. I should like to hear the Minister's explanation of the Government's reasons for setting those sentences so high. I beg to move.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: I support my noble friend's amendment, for more or less the reasons that I mentioned a few minutes ago. Very young girls can fall in love and, if they have had no proper upbringing and have no idea of restraint, they may throw themselves at the object of their affections to such a degree that they make it difficult for himespecially if the child appears to be considerably older than she really is. A judge should have considerable discretion as to whether to imprison at all. There are occasions when it is not the chap's fault, it is the child's fault.
Lord Skelmersdale: That is all very well, but the clause covers a potential assaulter of any age, who may well be a serial assaulter, in which case a very high penalty is indeed appropriate. As I understand it, imprisonment for life is a maximum and therefore an appropriate sentence could be given for the particular offence, once it is proven.
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