HC Deb 04 July 1986 vol 100 cc1348-58 1.24 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 40, leave out 'under the age of 16 years'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 2, in page 2, line 41, after 'offence', insert 'if that step-child is either under the age of 21 or has at any time before attaining the age of 18 lived in the same household and been treated as a child of his or her family.'. No. 3, in page 3, line 2, leave out '16' and insert '21'.

Mr. Walker

In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) and I voted against the Bill as it stands. That is the reason for the amendments. Due to some confusion, which I have not yet managed to unravel, or a misunderstanding, my name was not printed as a supporter of the amendment along with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling.

This is not a simple matter. To a non-lawyer, it seems to be complex and legal. The Bill, which has not been amended, may improve one area of Scots law. I do not think that anyone would argue with that. However, if the amendments are not accepted, it will bring about what some non-lawyers may believe to be a legal and moral conflict, which in the end will be likely to create greater social and moral problems. This conflict would be created by problems arising from this Bill and the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees of Relationship) Act 1986.

If one takes the view that marriage is more than just a legal matter—that it is ordained for the procreation of children, as the marriage service says—how can it be right for our law to allow an act that could result in the procreation of children, but not allow that act to take place within the institution of marriage? That is an impossible position.

I am sympathetic to what the Bill is trying to do, but I find it impossible to support a law that would allow an individual to sleep with his stepdaughter over the age of 16 provided that the stepdaughter gives her consent. She would probably become pregnant in the circumstances that one envisages, but, provided that she gives her consent, it is all right for her to become pregnant and have a child. As the law stands, and if the Bill is passed unamended, she will be the mother of a child, the father of which cannot, in law, become her husband. Surely that is nonsense. It is wrong to ask Parliament to put such a measure into legislation unamended. That is why these amendments are so important.

I recognise, as I am sure that everyone else recognises, that many reforms are required to put right the anomalies in Scottish law. However, is it right for us to write into law that it is in order for a stepfather to sleep with his stepdaughter and produce children, but not legally right for him to marry the 16-year-old, or older, girl? If so, we are saying that fornication and adultery are preferable to marriage.

One-parent families are a growing public concern. No one doubts that this matter is causing concern for those involved in social work and activity, those concerned with the churches and anyone who cares deeply about our society. If the Bill is anamended, it will make a positive contribution towards the creation of more one-parent families. The House cannot approve of that.

More important—and it is to this issue that we must turn our attention—are the children who are likely to result from such a relationship. Does anyone really believe that children conceived in this way would not at least have a real prospect of becoming what is known as problem children—another concern for our modern society? The important aspect is what it does to the children, but another aspect is the attendant cost for the public purse and taxpayer if the situation were to get worse.

Does anyone believe that bastards conceived between a stepfather and a stepdaughter aged 16, 17 or 18 can hope to be anything other than, at best, a curiosity to other children and other members of the community where they live? We all know that children can be very cruel, and often that makes life extremely difficult for sensitive youngsters. We have a duty and responsibility to them to think about the children who may be conceived as a result of the provisions of the Bill. At best, they will be a curiosity to other children and other members of the community in which they live. At school they will be abused and given, I have no doubt, hideous and horrendous names. Does anyone seriously believe that this is a recipe for a happy and stable home life? Does anyone seriously believe that the legal prevention of marriage between father and mother can make any kind of contribution to a stable home life for either the mother or the child.

It is difficult for those of us who have a good home life and who enjoyed a good home life as children to envisage anything like this. If a stepfather finds, after his stepdaughter's mother dies, that his stepdaughter is attractive, although she does not find him attractive, does anybody believe that considerable pressure will not be exerted on the child? I do not have the slightest doubt that incest is committed. I do not know how frequently it is committed and I do not know how large the problem is, but it is reasonable to envisage circumstances in which, because of the conditions in the home, the stepdaughter has to comply with the invitation or the order —depending upon how one views it—to get into bed with the stepfather.

I understand that it is extremely difficult to prove whether or not consent was given, demanded or accepted and that the circumstances become terribly fraught and difficult. However, our duty is to examine the areas of possibility, to find out which of them are likely to be areas of probability and then to reach a decision. Recently a Bill was introduced to prohibit marriage under the age of 21. If this Bill is passed, we shall be saying that provided the 16-year-old stepdaughter has agreed, this is acceptable in law. That would create a huge anomaly. If a stepfather forces a child against her will to get into bed and have intercourse with him, another member of the family has to provide evidence that that has happened. Somebody else is needed to clype—in other words, to tell.

We have to reach a decision against that background. All this happens within the family home, where there is the real danger of abuse. We are considering legislation that is designed to deal with such abuse. As I said earlier, I am not a lawyer; I am not qualified to deal with complex and difficult legal matters. However, I know that it would be extremely difficult for me to accept that it is all right to have intercourse and to produce children but it is not all right for those children to be given a legal father.

I believe that these amendments are essential. If it were to be left unamended, the Bill would he an affront to the Christian beliefs of the people of Scotland. Does anyone seriously believe that they can defend the Bill unamended? Could anyone attend church in Scotland on a Sunday and defend a position where marriage between a stepfather and stepdaughter is prevented—

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Bill in its unamended form is substantially the product of a Bill put forward by the Scottish Law Commission, which invited comments from various authorities, including the churches? Only one of the many denominations raised any objection to the Bill. The others welcomed it.

Mr. Walker

I do not argue with that, but the hon. Gentleman must agree that that was before the Act prohibiting such marriage reached the statute book. It is the relationship between and the difficulties and anomalies that arise from those two Acts that present the problems.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

The hon. Gentleman has the privilege to be the constituency Member of Parliament for my parents. I have considerable sympathy with his point. Can he explain the specific wording of amendment No. 2 which, because of the word "or" in line 2, appears to do rather more than the purpose he has outlined? It could mean that a stepchild of any age—even above 21—who had lived in the same household while under the age of 18 could be caught by the provisions. Will he address himself to that minor but important point?

Mr. Walker

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. The object of the word "or" is to prevent someone saying, "But she is no longer living with us." It is well known in Scotland that one of the most common lines of defence when going before the courts is to say, "I didna ken", to which the judge might reply, "Well, you ken noo." If the hon. Gentleman's parents have the good fortune to live in the beautiful part of the world that I represent, they will well understand that.

I want to know how anybody could go to church on a Sunday and defend a position where marriage between a stepfather and his stepdaughter is prevented by law, although it is perfectly in order — if the Bill is unamended—for them to live together, sleep together and produce children. That question must be answered. I know that I would find it impossible— as, no doubt, would any hon. Member—to persuade the elders of the kirk that somehow that was acceptable.

I do not pretend that we are dealing with a simple matter. We are not. But that is no excuse for putting into law another anomaly, especially one which, in my judgment as a non-lawyer, in practical terms could have an horrendous impact on the children produced from such a liaison. We must think about the road along which we are travelling and where we are going. Those who support: the Bill and reject the amendments will be saying that fornication and adultery are preferable to marriage. In the old days, the minister would stand up in the pulpit and point out the sinners. That practice has long since passed.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bow and Poplar)

There are too many of them now.

Mr. Walker

I accept that. Who can throw stones? Probably nobody can today. I am concerned about the children who can be produced from such a liaison. Although the minister can no longer stand up in the kirk and point to the sinners, we should not think that the congregation do not look around and comment. We can all imagine them asking, "Have you heard?" The children will be born out of wedlock, but we are saying that that is preferable to their being born in wedlock. That must be unacceptable for anybody who supports the Christian teachings and values of the Scottish Church.

The Scots will not take kindly to being lectured on fine points of law. Many, especially those who go to church, will point to God's law. That law will be in conflict with the Bill if the amendment is not made.

Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)

I have two apologies to make. The first is that this is the first time that I have had the temerity to speak in a debate on Scottish law. 1 have to confess that I do not understand Scottish law, although I have heard many hon. and learned Members say on other issues that Scottish law is in many respects simpler than English law. That may not be true here, however. There is, I suppose, good and less good on both sides of the border.

My second apology is that I am not terribly clear of my stance on the amendments. I think that I support the general thrust of the Bill, which seems to be to bring Scottish law into line with English law concerning a stepfather having a relationship with his stepdaughter over the age of 16. I understand that the Bill would make that not an incestuous relationship.

I did not quite follow what the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) was saying about marriage. I am aware that the two are tied up in that there can be issue from a relationship such as we are discussing. He went on at some length about the problems of such children. We are all concerned with them, but the debate is more narrow and concerns only whether a relationship between a stepfather and a stepdaughter over 16 is incestuous. I understand that the amendment would increase the age from 16 to 21. I have mixed feelings about that. I have been forced to be interested because of the increasing and, in many ways, welcome discussion about incest, which until fairly recently has been swept under the carpet. We should all welcome the fact that now both men and women are beginning to discuss these problems, which are particularly difficult for the girl or young woman involved in what amounts to violence against her by a member of her family. I am talking about the normal incestuous relationships about which we hear. It is time that the House, not necessarily this afternoon but on some other occasion, debated the difficulties that face girls and young women who are forced into this type of relationship.

1.45 pm

My ambivalence about the amendments arises from my belief that basically young women at the age of 16 should be able to decide on their own relationships. Generally, I would be unwilling to increase the age limit to 21 except in respect of incestuous relationships between a stepfather and stepdaughter. That must be considered in a different light.

I am sure that hon. Members will have had cases to deal with. I have had several. I do not know whether it is that women feel more able to talk about incest to a woman Member than to a male Member, however sympathetic and receptive he is. Many women of all ages have told me of the pressures on them from their fathers, stepfathers or, in some cases, their elder brothers to develop a relationship. It can start at an early age when the young girl does not know what is happening, is frightened, and knows that something is wrong but does not know what. She is threatened by her father, stepfather or the boyfriend of her mother who may say to her, "You must not say anything about this because your mother would be very angry and it would hurt her." Some of those women have told me that, despite that, they have a curious attachment to that person because of the secret between them. They do not like it. Indeed, they are often ashamed and worried about it. My ambivalence about the amendments arises I am worried whether 16 is the age at which a young woman with such a history of pressure, in this case from her stepfather, can make up her mind whether she has a proper relationship which she wishes to perpetuate into marriage with that man.

At some stage we should clarify the matter in a much better way. A year ago I read a piece in The Sunday Times about the complex legal barriers to marriage. It is time that we faced that and, perhaps, the Bill will lead to our facing it. Certainly it is wrong that a stepfather and stepdaughter, at whatever age, with a genuine relationship, should not be able to get married, if that relationship is properly established. Marriage-enabling legislation is usually considered in the House of Lords. I remember reading about a 62-year-old widower who was allowed to marry his 58-year-old stepdaughter through such legislation. Those people would not be included in the categories covered by this Bill. It is wrong for such cases to be decided at personal expense, because they can be very costly.

The Bill originates because sex between a stepfather and stepdaughter is prohibited by the Incest Act 1567. I am sorry that I am not more of an expert in the subject, but I was interested to hear that the roots of that Act are to be found in the book of Leviticus which describes a husband and wife as being "of one flesh".

It is interesting that we still have on the statute book legislation based on a doctrine which is obviously out of line with English law. In this case I think that English law is best. It seems that the doctrine dates back 2,000 years.

I support the thrust of the Bill, but I have to say something which is not often said in the House of Commons—I honestly do not know what to do about the amendment. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) can help me.

Mr. Chris Smith

I am afraid that I cannot help my hon. Friend in her dilemma. The Scottish Law Revision Committee recommended the amendments which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) is proposing. However, the Criminal Law Revision Committee for England and Wales, after initial hesitation and considerable thought, recommended that we should go further than the Scottish Law Revision Committee and adopt the argument presented by the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). There is a clear difference between the two law committees. The issues are difficult and sensitive. Arguments exist on both sides. The difficulty has been considered in great detail.

Ms. Richardson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right to say that two different conclusions were reached. That gives me strength to say that I still do not know the answer. If they cannot agree, who am I to decide?

If I have to take a view, on balance I think that I am in favour, marginally, of increasing the age to 21, on the ground that incest is such a difficult subject. But I am open to argument. Incest can begin with such violence—that is what worries me—and at such an early age. If such a relationship has gone on for a long time I wonder whether at 16 a young woman—however much she might feel that she is consenting, and no matter what affinity she has with her stepfather—has had a chance to discover her own feelings. However, that applies to marriage rather than to making the relationship incestuous.

We are not suggesting, as the hon. Member for Tayside, North seems to suggest, that everyone over the age of 16 who is affected in this way should marry. We are debating whether the law should say that with young women over the age of 16 the act is incestuous. I think that I am talking myself into remaining where I was on the age of 16.

I apologise for my rather confused remarks, but I am pleased that we have had a brief opportunity to discuss the Bill. I hope that it will lead to a more leisurely and better attended debate — perhaps a thoughtful and philosophical discussion—about incest, on which there has been much research by many bodies.

It is time that the House faced up to the fact that there is considerable violence against young women and children by members of their own families, whether step-relatives or otherwise. I suspect that almost every family knows someone who has suffered. We ought not to sweep the issue under the carpet. We must see whether we can help children and, I hope, their parents.

Mr. Bill Walker

I hope that the hon. Lady is not suggesting that anything that I said was condoning incest or suggesting that the subject should be swept under the carpet. I find it so horrendous and horrible that I want all aspects of it properly and fully debated.

I keep coming back not to the father, but to the mother and the child, because they are the important people and we must give them adequate consideration and protection. That is the purpose of the amendments.

Ms. Richardson

In a sense, the hon. Gentleman is saying that extending the age to 21 would give a young woman more protection. However, the Bill says only that with young people under the age of 16 an act should be regarded as incestuous and that if they are over the age of 16 there will not be an incestuous act. I cannot see how extending the age to 21 would help the young women.

Would not it be better for the children about whom the hon. Gentleman was talking not to know that they were born of an incestuous relationship? Perhaps I am not making myself clear. If so, it is too late for me to apologise now. This is a confusing issue in a confusing Bill. Even our wonderful Library, while perhaps not finding the Bill confusing, found it difficult to follow. I hope that in the not too distant future we shall have a wider discussion of the problem.

Mr. Wallace

My name appears on the amendments for a procedural reason. The Public Bill Office and those advising me on the Bill did not expect that we would have an opportunity to debate it and, so that it could be deemed to be unopposed and, therefore, agreed to, I added my name to the amendments.

These are not wrecking amendments. The Bill could live with them, but I should strongly prefer them not to be accepted.

Let me try to put the amendments into context and perhaps clarify matters for the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson). The present law on incest in Scotland is based on the Act of the Scottish Parliament in 1567, which, in turn, is based on the 18th chapter of the book of Leviticus in determining the persons between whom sexual relations would be deemed to be incestuous and criminal.

Mr. Mikardo

I know nothing about Scottish law, but I know the book of Leviticus and the passage to which the hon. Gentleman refers contains no reference to a stepfather.

Mr. Wallace

With due respect to the hon. Gentleman, whose knowledge of Leviticus I do not dispute, over the years the Scottish courts have deemed that the step relationship is covered by one of the verses of Leviticus. I regret not having come armed with the Bible and, more particularly, for the purpose of the Act, the 1562 Geneva translation. My point is that the chapter includes relationships, both affinity and blood, and the substantial thrust of the Bill is to decriminalise relationships by affinity.

2 pm

The related offences which are referred to in the Bill's title give protection to certain categories of persons who are not related by blood—stepchildren under the age of 16 and children under the age of 16 for whom an adult is in some position of trust. Some parts of the criminal law already give protection, but the Bill extends the sanctions that can be imposed if, for example, there is a breach of that trust. Indeed, if a case is brought on indictment in the High Court, it allows a sentence up to life imprisonment. One should be under no illusion about the seriousness which Parliament, and, indeed, society, attach to such offences.

The age of 16 was arrived at by the Scottish Law Commission after much deliberation. I, too, gave considerable thought to whether it should be 18 or 21. Indeed, it was only after I had discussed the matter at considerable length with the Scottish Law Commission that I accepted that 16 was the appropriate age.

I was guided by the fact that we are dealing with consensual intercourse between two people. If it were not consensual, it would be rape, for which there are the full penalties and rigours of the criminal law. For a child with a step-parent it may be difficult to prove consent, but that applies below the age of 16 as well as above. In fact, one might say that above the age of 16 it is a lot easier to prove because the person concerned is more likely to be forthcoming or to go to the police if he or she— it is more likely to be she—is subjected to undue pressure.

Mr. Bill Walker

I think that the hon. Gentleman will accept that the age of 16-plus is still extremely difficult in the circumstances that can exist surrounding this horrendous situation. I have a 16-year-old daughter at home and I can imagine situations in which she would find it extremely difficult to speak out in any forms against her father who in no way behaves in the manner that we are talking about. A person of 16 is still a child. We must recognise that the circumstances of the domestic home impinge on the ability of the child who is the victim to say anything because that child may end up out on the street.

Mr. Wallace

I never sought to minimise the difficulties. Under the age of 16 it is even more difficult for the child to speak out.

A woman in her thirties may marry but soon separate from a man in his twenties and the man could fall in love with that woman's 17-year-old daughter. That relationship would be caught by the Bill and it would be a criminal offence if this amendment were to be accepted. They are not related by blood. Parties may have parted and after many years the stepfather and his stepdaughter may meet. If the stepdaughter had lived in the house and been treated as a member of the family, even if when they subsequently met he was 39 and she was 35, that would still be criminal and subject to life imprisonment.

Mr. Bill Walker

We are more likely to be dealing with a child who lives at home passing the age of 16 and who is exposed to this problem than with the delightful, romantic but theoretical proposition that the hon. Gentleman has outlined. I believe that we should deal with what is likely to happen.

Mr. Wallace

I was merely pointing out what the consequences of the hon. Gentleman's amendment might be. We are giving protection to the child of a step relationship. However, if the parties have not married, a girl in a similar position, who might be subject to similar pressures, could well find that she does not have that protection. Therefore, there are arguments to be made on the ground of consistency.

As I have pointed out, only one denominational church, one of the free Presbyterian churches, has expressed any objection. It has been said that that was before the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees of Relationship) Bill was passed. But that suggests that the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) has not given much thought to his proposals. That Act makes the situation less anomolous than it would have been at the time when the church did not raise any objections. Then there was no provision for a marriage between a step-parent and a stepchild. Now there is, subject to certain conditions. However, the hon. Gentleman has sent me a note saying that if I reject the amendments, he will talk out the Bill on Third Reading. I do not want that to happen, because if this Bill is lost after the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees of Relationship) Bill has been enacted, it would be perfectly legal for parties to marry, but it would be criminal for them to have sexual relations with each other. Undoubtedly, that is what the hon. Gentleman would achieve. Interestingly enough, however he would not protect adopted children.

At present, it is believed that the law of incest does not apply to adopted children. This Bill covers that. Perhaps the hon. Member for Tayside, North would like to appear in church on Sunday to tell his congregation why he wanted to stop a Bill that would protect adopted children. At present, the law does not protect illigitimate children either. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to tell his congregation why he did not want to protect them.

Mr. Bill Walker

I shall always be happy to stand up in church, or anywhere else, and say that I have not supported legislation that I deem to be so flawed and faulty that I cannot accept it. That is really what we are talking about.

Mr. Wallace

I think that I have made my point. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reconsider whether he wishes to press the amendment, or whether it might be better to withdraw it. Some highly anomalous cases might come up, and people may find themselves facing criminal sanctions although the vast majority of people would not think that any criminality attached to their behaviour.

Two married people may indulge in an adulterous relationship. They are not free to marry, but the law does not make their relationship criminal. I do not support or encourage the sort of relationships to which the hon. Gentleman referred; nor does the Bill. The Bill means that they would not be deemed criminal relationships. The hon. Gentleman used the example of a child of a relationship not having protection. I accept that, but that could happen now. Today the parties could also find themselves in prison. What would happen to the child then? We are not giving our moral approbation. After all, adultery is not morally approved by society, but for many years we have not thought fit to make it a criminal offence.

If the amendment is passed, at least we shall have the satisfaction of knowing that, under the law in Scotland, the Lord Advocate's consent is needed for every prosecution. I am sure that he will have the good sense, if anomalies arise, not to consent to prosecution.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart)

The House will have listened with interest to the debate between my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). I should like to make it clear — I do not think that those hon. Members dispute this—that we all have a clear interest in ensuring that the Bill is passed with, or without, the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North. Under the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees of Relationship) Act 1986 there are a number of relationship in which marriage can now take place but where marriage partners would be commiting incest if they consummated the marriage.

The Government remain neutral on the Bill's details. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North told the House, the effect of the amendment would be to prohibit intercourse with a stepchild under 21 or for all time if the stepchild before attaining the age of 18 had lived in the same household as the accused and had been treated as a child of the family. This matches exactly the conditions laid down for marriage in the 1986 Act.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland put forward strong reasons why the amendments should not be accepted. He said that they were at odds with the existing law on the age of consent and created a serious criminal offence in circumstances where it seems inappropriate to invoke the criminal law—for example, where a man has intercourse by consent with an adult woman of, say, 20 with whom he has never lived in family but who happens to be the daughter of his wife or former wife. The hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that prosecution would remain a matter for the Lord Advocate.

I hope that I have fairly summarised the arguments. The Government are neutral on the details of the Bill I hope that it will pass through all of its stages this afternoon.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 32, in page 12, line 41, after 'offence', insert if that step-child is either under the age of 21 or has at any time before attaining the age of 18 lived in the same household and been treated as a child of his or her family.'. No. 3, in page 3, line 2, leave out '16' and insert '21'. —[Mr. Wallace.]

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—[Mr. Wallace.]

2.12 pm
Mr. Allan Stewart

I should like to take this opportunity to speak more generally about the Bill, which has been put forward by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). He discussed its background during the previous debate on the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). As the hon. Gentleman rightly emphasised, the Bill follows a report of the Scottish Law Commission. He is to be congratulated on putting forward this legislation. As the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) said, it is a complex Bill.

The Bill deals with a matter of importance which can arouse fairly strong feelings. The House will have listened with considerable sympathy to my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North who referred to the reservations expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) and himself in Committee. Hon. Members were concerned about the difference between the marriage and the incest legislation and about the pressure which could be brought to bear on a stepchild over 16.

I think that it is fair to report that my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling expressed a worry in Committee that the Bill would allow intercourse between step-relations who, in terms of the marriage legislation, would not be able to marry. He pointed out that if intercourse led to conception it would prevent the father of the child in that union marrying the mother.

Should the Bill fail to secure a Third Reading we shall be faced with a situation where, if and when the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees of Relationship) Act 1986 is commenced, persons in a step-relationship marrying under that Act will, if they consummate the marriage, be committing incest.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland on bringing forward the Bill and I commend it to the House.

2.15 pm
Mr. Wallace

I thank the Minister for his kind words. It is only fair to say that the real hard work in regard to the Bill was put in by the Scottish Law Commission in terms of the consultative document it initially sent out, which was the product of a considerable amount of work. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) said in the previous debate, this is a serious subject that evokes emotions and has sociological aspects. In the Scottish Law Commission's work on this some of those aspects were looked at. The Scottish Law Commission certainly drew on the work that has been done by many sources in dealing with the serious problem of incest.

We are grateful to the Scottish Law Commission and I am grateful to the officials in the Scottish Home and Health Department. Although the Government were neutral in the matter the Scottish Home and Health Department was obviously concerned that if legislation was going through it should be in a good and proper form and it assisted me in that aim.

In some respects it is rather sad that, if the Bill proceeds to get the Royal Assent, the previous Act will cease to exist. I do not think that we will ever again pass legislation that says: quhatsumever persoun or personis they be that abusis thair body with sic personis in degre as Goddis word hes expreslie forbidden … as is contenit in the xviii Cheptour of Leviticus salbe puniest … Draftsmen these days seem to have a more simple and colourful way of putting things forward. It is certainly simpler than the previous Act. If the Bill becomes an Act I believe that it will improve the position of criminal law in Scotland and I commend the Third Reading to the House.

Mr. Bill Walker

I congratulate the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) on seeing the good sense of accepting the amendments. Like him, I cannot pretend that everything is as we would have wished but it is an improvement on the present position. I believe that, with the passage of time, the amendments will be seen to have been of considerable value.

This will not be the end of the debate on this delicate, important and often distressing and disturbing matter. I am confident that we shall return to it again at a later stage because some aspects still need to be tidied up. I was never opposed to what the hon. Gentleman or the Scottish Law Commission were attempting to achieve but I believe that they were exposing individuals unnecessarily to a situation that ought not to happen. That was why I tabled the amendment.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

Back to