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The Earl of Listowel: Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, I welcome his clear acceptance of the lack of action until now and his commitment to doing something in the future. Does the Minister agree that more could be done—and soon—to spread best practice?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The noble Earl will forgive me for interrupting before my noble friend

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Lady Jay leaves the Committee. The Lord Chancellor's Department has done work in respect of mental incapacity. I cannot say when it will be published but will write to my noble friend.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: I apologise for being about to leave the Committee but the amendment has been debated for more than one hour and I have an unbreakable engagement at seven o'clock. I thought that my noble and learned friend had ignored my point and I was going to take it up with him privately. I am grateful to him for responding.

The Earl of Listowel: Can the Minister give some indication of whether there can be more action now in terms of spreading best practice? He mentioned that the CPS assesses children who sexually abuse others. My reading of Manchester was that one quarter of the children prosecuted for sexually abusing other children did not receive an assessment. The good people of Manchester working in that area took the matter into their own hands and have introduced an assessment process over the past two years, which is widespread and has been well received. While we await the Comprehensive Spending Review and for the wheels of Government to turn, what can be done to spread best practice more widely?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I hope that I did not imply for one moment that nothing happened until then. The Youth Justice Board has issued effective practice guidance on young people who sexually abuse, which has been sent to youth offending teams and others to support consistency of assessment and work. In addition, the board is currently evaluating the effectiveness of an initial assessment tool for practitioners based on multi-agency working. A number of local areas are already using that model and as it develops, the YJB will decide how best to spread good practice. That does not meet all the noble Earl's points but he is right to say, "Do not wait—do what you can."

Baroness Noakes: I thank all members of the Committee who took part in this useful debate about the way that damaged children are handled by the system. I am sure that noble Lords will continue to pursue that matter, though that is difficult in the context of the Bill.

The Minister rightly identified that consensual teenage sex was the subject of my amendment. There may be a distinction to be drawn between the age of consent that applies to sexual intercourse between children and a range of activities that parts of the Bill criminalise—including looking at dirty magazines.

I remain concerned that we are potentially criminalising certain acts. I referred on the first day of Committee to guidance for schoolchildren sponsored by the Department of Health, which teaches them about levels of intimacy—something other than full intercourse—and therefore encourages young children to experiment sexually other than by full sexual intercourse. I am sure that there are good public policy

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grounds for pursuing that approach. We have an environment in which we are encouraging children to participate in sexual activity of that nature. On the other hand, we are saying that it is potentially criminal. I will reflect on the Minister's comment that it will never be a problem in practice because such activities would never be prosecuted. I thank the noble and learned Lord for his comprehensive reply and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 65 to 68 not moved.]

Baroness Noakes moved Amendment No. 69:

    Page 6, line 14, leave out "imprisonment" and insert "detention"

The noble Baroness said: My understanding is that the word "imprisonment" is not used for custodial sentences on persons age 18 or under. The word used is "detention". The Minister's officials, in the helpful briefing that they gave me and my colleagues prior to Second Reading, agreed that was the case and said that nothing was meant by the use of "imprisonment" rather than "detention". I hope that the Minister will confirm that there is no hidden intent behind using "imprisonment". If that is the case I hope he will be able to agree that it would be less confusing for all concerned if the Bill used conventional terminology. I beg to move.

7 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The amendments would provide that children and young persons convicted of such offences should be sentenced to detention rather than imprisonment. That technical change would be a total departure from the way in which all other criminal legislation is drafted. The appropriate punishment for children and young persons aged under 18 convicted of a criminal offence is governed by the provisions of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, which applies to all criminal offences. Section 89 of that Act provides that a person shall not be sentenced to a period of imprisonment if he is under 21 at the time of sentence; and Section 92 makes provision relating to the place in which he is to be detained.

There is no reason to suppose that the provisions of that Act will not continue to operate effectively in relation to new sexual offences legislation and we do not want to include in the Bill any provisions that might be seen to cast doubt on the way in which the provisions of the Act should be applied.

We have special measures in place to ensure that children and young persons who abuse are treated fairly by the criminal justice system. Although children and young people who commit sexual offences should clearly be held responsible for their abusive behaviour, we recognise that they are likely to have considerable needs themselves—we have discussed that. Our aim is to achieve a co-ordinated approach on the part of youth justice, child welfare, education and health agencies. The lower maximum penalties for children who commit any of the child sex offences are part of that strategy.

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So, yes, I give the assurance that there is nothing sinister.

Baroness Noakes: I thank the Minister for that reply, but I shall have to read it in Hansard, because he read it so fast that I could not take in the words. I shall consult my legal adviser who suggested that I table the amendment but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 70 and 71 not moved.]

Clause 14 agreed to.

Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 72:

    After Clause 14, insert the following new clause—

Where a young person under the age of 18 has been convicted of an offence under this Part, the Court or Youth Offending Panel shall review the sentence when the young person reaches the age of 18."

The noble Baroness said: Given all that has been said about the importance of treating young children differently from adults when dealing with sexual offences, it seems only right that when young people have been convicted and sentenced, the sentence or treatment should be reviewed when they reach adulthood. We hope that some treatment will have been made available to them, in whatever situation they find themselves after conviction. It would be good—especially where such treatment has been lacking or unsatisfactory—for the court to reconsider their case when they reach 18. An assessment could then be made of how well the young person has responded to treatment, what risk he now poses to society and whether his welfare and the safety of society would be better served by changing the arrangements for his treatment or custody.

When a young person is in care, new arrangements are made for him when he turns 18. The same thing should happen to a young person serving any kind of sentence for a sexual offence. In Sweden, which I recently visited to view their arrangements for dealing with young offenders, all young people who have offended up to the age of 21 are deemed to be in the care of social services. Appropriate treatment and care is provided with humanity and professionalism. We can learn some lessons from that system.

A young person who commits an offence at 14 may well be a different person when he grows to be 18. We should have arrangements in place to take account of that. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch: I am baffled as to why there should be such sympathy for some of the cases that we are discussing. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, can even imagine the nature of the offence that could elicit from the courts a sentence of, say, seven years. It would be extremely serious. The child could be aged 15 and a half when receiving that sentence. In awarding that sentence, the judges would

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have considered the age of the child and would certainly have given a great deal of consideration to the nature of the offence.

Anyway, at about the halfway point of the sentence, it would be reviewed. For the concern of the noble Baroness for a review at 18 to be real, if the child were 13 or 14 when receiving such a sentence, the mind boggles at what sentence he would have been given still to be in prison at the age of 18. But if the child is aged 15 or so, which is much more likely, if he has committed something serious and is sentenced, the judicial system allows for proper review of sentences and, indeed, proper parole arrangements for those who can be released from prison.

In my view, it should be left to that process. There should not be any special arrangements for someone who is 14 or 15 who receives a sentence in the courts in the full knowledge of the child's age and the nature of the offence. The amendment certainly does not receive my support.

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