HC Deb 28 June 1971 vol 820 cc25-7
33. Mr. Abse

asked the Attorney-General whether he will refer to the Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution for encouraging the commission of unlawful intercourse with a girl under the age of 16 years contrary to Section 28 of the Sexual Offences Act, 1956, the case of a child of 12 years of age, who recently underwent an abortion and who, on the initiative of the aborting doctor and with the consent of the parents, has been prescribed contraceptive pills, details of whom have been supplied to him.

35. Mr. Lipton

asked the Attorney-General if, in considering whether to refer certain matters relating to the pregnancy of a 12-year-old child, details of whom are in his possession, to the Director of Public Prosecutions, he will bear in mind the availability of welfare and medical organisations with experience of dealing with such cases.

The Attorney-General

No details have been supplied to me about this matter, and my present knowledge of the facts is limited to Press reports. I do not consider that the prescription of a contraceptive pill to a girl under the age of 16, or the consent of her parents to the prescription, of itself necessarily constitutes any criminal offence. However, I shall ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to have inquiries made as to the precise circumstances in which the pill was prescribed in this case.

Mr. Abse

I thank the Attorney-General for taking that action, but would he bear in mind the considerable public concern which will occur if the law proves to be inadequate or ineffective and that it is possible for an aborting doctor and a consenting parent, without breaking the law, to give pills to a child of 12? If the Attorney-General finds that no action can be taken, would he discuss the matter with the Secretary of State for the Social Services so that the present Review Committee on Abortion could have its terms—absurdly restricted as they now are—extended so that the issue of the age of consent could be taken into account, among many other matters?

The Attorney-General

I will certainly take these matters into account but, first, I should like to hear of the information supplied to the Director of Public Prosecutions in this particular case.

Mr. Lipton

Is the Attorney-General aware that most people would think that he would do well to reject the uttterly vindictive idea of a criminal prosecution in the unfortunate circumstances of this case because it would serve no useful purpose? Is not the general problem of teenage abortions one which cannot be solved by the criminal law? Would not further prosecutions in this kind of case benefit only solicitors and their professional clients and not be in the interests of the community as a whole?

The Attorney-General

That is a point of view which I understand the hon. Gentleman has put forward. My duty is to consider whether, in the circumstances of this particular case, there is any evidence of a criminal offence.

Mr. Emery

Would my right hon. and learned Friend consider the problem of the doctor in this type of case, who may have to act on the advice of the parents against the definite wish of, perhaps, a 15-year-old minor who might wish to keep the child and is ordered to have it aborted by her parents? This is a major problem which is now arising because of the new law. Will the Attorney-General undertake to look at the whole range of concern which arises with this problem?

The Attorney-General

I appreciate the concern. I want to make it clear to the House that a doctor could only be charged with a common law offence of inciting—if the circumstances of it amounted to that—a girl to aid and abet a person to have unlawful sexual intercourse with her. Section 28 deals with persons who "cause or encourage", and that refers to the parent or guardian. In replying to my hon. Friend, I want to make it clear that I am not saying that there are circumstances in this particular case which lead to that conclusion, because I do not know of them as yet.

36. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Attorney-General how many alleged offences under Section 28 of the Sexual Offences Act, 1956, were referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions during the last year, or nearest convenient period; what were the ages of the girls against whom the offences were alleged to have been committed; in how many of these cases prosecution followed; and with what result.

The Attorney-General

Not all cases involving this offence need be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions, but since 1st June, 1970, two such cases have been referred to him. The first of these related to a girl aged 12, and a sentence of two years' imprisonment was imposed. The other case is still pending.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is it not true that very few such prosecutions are launched? Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied with the present state of the law, particularly having regard to the earlier Question that he has answered? Regarding that, would he do what he was asked to do and consult his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services about the inquiry into the Abortion Act?

The Attorney-General

The Question which my hon. Friend has asked is directed towards the Director of Public Prosecutions, and I have got only his figures, which are for two cases. I do not know of the results of cases throughout the country. These matters with regard to changes of criminal law on these new issues will be borne in mind not only by the Secretary of State for Social Services but also by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department.