HC Deb 03 March 1977 vol 927 cc588-9
3. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what changes, if any, he proposes to the law governing the age of consent.

Mr. John

We have no present proposal to do so. The law relating to the age of consent is being considered by the Criminal Law Revision Committee and the Policy Advisory Committee in the context of a wider review of the law relating to sexual offences.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Is the Minister of State aware that recent flippant comments from judges appear to have brought the age of consent into question, and is he aware also that 3,500 girls under 16 had abortions carried out on them last year? Will he ask the judiciary to stick to the letter of the law?

Mr. John

In this country the judiciary is independent, and I am sure that if Ministers started to interfere with the judges in the exercise of their discretion the hon. Gentleman, among others, would be the first to shout.

Mr. Lipton

In view of conflicting judicial decisions, which seem to make the age of consent a movable feast, could we have a little more certitude in this branch of the law and a little less beatitude?

Mr. John

I am not sure whether the age of consent is a feast, but the age is 16 under the Sexual Offences Act 1956. It is neither movable nor is it to be moved.

Mr. Alison

But has the Minister of State, as representative of the public, noted the concern expressed by many members of the public at the apparently indulgent attitude taken by some High Court judges towards statutory sexual offences against children, and does he share that concern?

Mr. John

As a member of the public, I have, of course, noted what judges have said, but as a Minister all I say is that the judges, within the discretion given to them by Parliament, have a right to express themselves. Although I have opinions as a private Member, I am answering on this occasion not as a private Member but as a Minister.