|Back to Table of Contents
|Lords Hansard Home Page
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, my name is added to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, but I am happy to support the amendments tabled by the Government. I should like to say how pleased I am that the Government have listened and responded on this difficult area.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I, too, should like to say how much I welcome Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland. We have come a long way in this discussion during the course of the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said on her previous group of amendments. It is very welcome that the phrase, "emotional well-being" is also in the Bill as well as the more practical parts of clinical and other professional advice which were added in a government amendment at an earlier stage. I welcome this group of government amendments.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I, too, welcome the amendments. But I wondered why only "emotional well-being". Is not physical well-being also important? It is not entirely covered by the others, if I may say so. Perhaps I should leave it at that.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, while I prefer the wording of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I, too, am pleased to accept the alternative tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland. On behalf of the counsellors of ChildLine, who felt themselves to be somewhat at risk from the previous position, I am immensely grateful.
However, perhaps I may add a couple of comments. I listened very carefully to what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said about paedophile charters. While I think that the Criminal Justice Bill and other measures will help close any gap, it is crucial that guidance ensures that anyone giving this kind of advice is supervised or works in an organisation where he or she is monitored. That may go some way to meeting the concerns which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, rightly puts before the House. It is extremely dangerous for peoplejust out of their own headsto give advice to young people. That is not only because it can lead to dangerous behaviour, but also because it can be inappropriate and unhelpful. Therefore, I hope that the guidance will have appropriate caveats about organisations and supervision.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, we seem to have a choice between the formulation of the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the government amendment on page 6, line 34 of the Bill. I should like to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that her amendment is essentially negative, while the government amendment is essentially positive. I prefer the positive approach.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, as I said earlier, there is a read across between these amendments and those that I lost a moment ago. The Bill, as amended, would allow those on the sex offenders register alleged to have facilitated a sexual act to use the defence of addressing the emotional well-being of or simply educating a young person. In view of the fact that someone on the sex offenders register could be involved in that kind of work, I find this group of amendments deeply distressing.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, helpfully referred to monitoring. One could include monitoring in training. However, we are talking about situations in which young people may be in one-to-one relationships well away from their parents, peers, school classrooms or youth clubs, which may lead to opportunistic activity. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will know that people take advantage of the moment at which young people display their anxieties about something. In those circumstances, the process of monitoring would be very difficult.
For the record, I should say that Mrs Gillick has been much maligned in the course of our debates on this Bill. The issue at stake for Mrs Gillick, whom I supported, related to the legal role and status of a parent of children under 16. My heart goes out to all parents who try very hard to bring up their children not to engage in under-age sex, to do the right thing, to live a healthy life and to have emotional well being, when someone comes along and legally undermines their roles as parents. That is what happened in the case of Victoria Gillick. She went to court to fight for the right of parents to be responsible and, if anything went wrong, culpable, for their own children; she lost. Perhaps some who have been active on this Bill would not be sorry about that. However, it is important to say for the record that the reason Victoria Gillick went to court was not as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, described it.
When we discussed the previous group of amendments, the Minister, rejecting my noble friend's amendments, said that we should be comforted by our confidence in the ability of the courts to decide whether a particular person has acted in the interests of protecting a child or has sought to cause and encourage the commission of an offence. However, in the same clause, the Minister presents an exclusive list of the ways in which children may be protected, rather than relying on the courts to judge whether any particular set of actions constitutes protecting or encouraging the commission of an offence against a child. By going down the route of an exclusive list, we are in considerable danger of allowing the prosecution of someone acting in the interests of the child, and therefore protecting the child, but who does not come within the list of the proposed four subjects.
The fact that we are having a Third Reading of the Bill suggests that that is likely to be the case. We have stumbled on the fourth point and have rescued it just in time; the ball has been caught just before it has hit the ground. But what about the next ball, which we have not seen coming, about which we do not know, which has not been anticipated by the professions likely to be affected by it? Why not adopt the proposal in Amendment No. 18? We will have given the courts enough examples of the kinds of issues that we have in mind. We would merely be giving them a little additional discretion, which they would be able to use to ensure that the intention and reality counted rather than whether it fell within some fairly closely-worded provisions in an exclusive list in the Act.
I very much welcome the indication given by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that she does not propose to press her amendments. I also welcome the comments made by a number of noble Lords that they are content with the Government's amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, went so far as to say that he preferred our amendments, for which I express appropriate gratitude. Had the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, not made his intervention, I should have been tempted to say no more about these amendments. However, for the record, I think I should. Compliments should be paid particularly to the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley, Lady Jay and Lady Noakes, for their stalwart pursuit of this issue. I can see that they were quite irresistible to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellorquite right, too.
It has been clear throughout the debate that competing views on these issues have been strongly and genuinely held. I believe that we all share the intention to protect children from sexual abuse but do not want to hinder the work of those who provide well-intentioned advice to children on sexual and emotional matters. I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that physical well being is included in the proposed measures. Provision is made in Clause 15(3)(b) for protecting the physical safety of the child. I hope that he is a little reassured about that matter.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, well-being could include emotional well-being. Physical well-being, of course, also includes physical safety. I believe that the provisions are sufficient to meet the concerns justly expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne.
The agony aunts should be well pleased with the way in which they have been robustly defended by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I was also very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, spoke for those who do valiant work with Childline. It is therefore important to get right the scope of the exceptions in Clauses 15 and 74, which seek to ensure that those giving such advice for one of the purposes stated should not commit an offence. I do not believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, intends them to do so.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that there is a distinction between the comments that I made when dealing with the evidential burden and the presumptions with which the courts will have to deal, which directly involve the exercise of the judicial function during a trial, and setting the framework within which we shall all need to work.
We have listened very carefully to the views expressed in the debates on this issue and have concluded that we should extend the exception to cover those who act to promote the child's emotional well being by the giving of advice. The government amendments, Amendments Nos. 19, 20, 83 and 84, do that. The limiting of that new purpose to the giving of advice would help to ensure that the exception could not be exploited by abusers. I have heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said about that. However, it is critically important that we err on the side of caution, because the consequences for children are too dire for us to make a slip.
The second protection is the requirement, already in the clauses, that the provisions should not cover those acting for the purpose of causing or encouraging the involvement of a child in a sexual offence. We are confident that that means that the clause could not be exploited by abusers. I therefore invite all noble Lords to support the Government's Amendments Nos. 19, 20, 83 and 84.
I hope and trust that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and others are pleased with their work and will therefore feel able to support the Government whole-heartedly when I come to move the related amendments.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page