HC Deb 01 March 1999 vol 326 cc754-76

'.—(1) In section 12 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956

  1. (a) in subsection (1), after the words "subsection (1 A)" there shall be inserted the words "or (1AA)";
  2. (b) in subsection (1A), after the word "circumstances" there shall be inserted the word "first"; and
  3. (c) after that subsection there shall be inserted the following subsection—

"(1AA) The other circumstances so referred to are that the person is uner the age of sixteen and the other person has attained that age."

(2) In section 13 of that Act (indecency between men)—

  1. (a) after the words "another man", in the first place where they occur, there shall be inserted the words "otherwise than in the circumstances described below"; and
  2. (b) at the end there shall be inserted the following paragraph—

"The circumstances referred to above are that the man is under the age of sixteen and the other man has attained that age."

(3) In subsection (1) of section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 1967

  1. (a) the words from "a homosexual act" to the end shall become paragraph (a); and
  2. (b) after that paragraph there shall be inserted the words "and
    1. (b) a homosexual act by any person shall not be an offence if he is under the age of sixteen years and the other party has attained that age."

(4) In section 13 of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995, after subsection (8) there shall be inserted the following subsection—

"(8A) A person under the age of sixteen years does not commit an offence under subsection (5)(a) or (c) above if he commits or is party to the commission of a homosexual act with a person who has attained that age."

(5) In paragraph (1) of Article 3 of the Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982—

  1. (a) the words from "a homosexual act" to the end shall become sub—paragraph (a); and
  2. (b) after that sub—paragraph there shall be inserted the words "and
    1. (b) a homosexual act by any person shall not be an offence if he is under the age of seventeen years and the other party has attained that age.".'—[Mr. Boateng.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.20 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: new clause 2—Defence against charges under Sexual Offences Act 1956— '( ) Where a person ("A") is charged with an offence under section 12 or 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 with another person ("B"), it shall be a defence for A to prove that, at the time of the activity, he did not know, and could not reasonably have been expected to know, that B was under 16.'. New clause 3—Defence against charges of homosexual activity (Northern Ireland)'( ) In Article 3 of the Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982 (homosexual acts in private), at the end there shall be inserted— ( ) A man (A) is not guilty of an offence of doing a homosexual act with another man (B) where B is under the age of 17, if A is under the age of 25 and has not previously been charged with a like offence, and he believes B to be of the age of 17 or over and has reasonable cause for the belief.".'. Government amendment No. 9.

Mr. Boateng

The new clause will have the effect that, in England and Wales, it will not be an offence for a person under 16 to engage in buggery or for a male under 16 to commit an act of gross indecency with a male aged 16 or over or be a party to, or procure the commission of, an act of gross indecency with a male aged 16 or over.

The new clause does not affect the liability of a person over the age of 16 who engages in such activities with a person under 16. Our whole purpose is to ensure that such people are liable in the criminal law.

Both parties will also continue to remain liable in the criminal law if they are both under the age of 16. To do otherwise would be to negate the age of consent entirely, and that clearly would not be acceptable. Furthermore, it might allow a 15-year-old to escape any liability for engaging in predatory activity with a younger child, which would clearly be an undesirable consequence.

Similar changes are also made to the law in Scotland and Northern Ireland to decriminalise a male under the age of consent—that is 16 in Scotland and 17 in Northern Ireland—who engages in homosexual activities with someone over that age.

An amendment to provide for the decriminalisation of the younger partner was moved in Committee of the whole House by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), supported by a number of hon. Members, and received widespread support. We undertook to consider the principle behind that amendment, with which we had great sympathy, and to table an acceptable and technically competent amendment that met the will of the Committee if we were satisfied that the change could properly be made in the Bill. That is what we have done through the new clause.

That has also entailed a minor change to the long title of the Bill to cover the circumstances in which behaviour is not criminal, not merely the age.

We were unable to accept the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon because it referred to no proceedings being taken against a person under the age of consent who engages in buggery or homosexual acts with a person over the age of consent. Our new clause makes it clear that no offence is committed in the first place because the problem does not relate only to instituting criminal proceedings, as I know the hon. Gentleman now recognises. The measure is necessary in the interests of protecting children. That issue united both sides of the Standing Committee, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), who speaks for the Opposition, for the constructive approach that he adopted to the amendment.

We undertook to consult those who are engaged, day to day, in the protection and support of children. They include the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Children's Society and NCH Action for Children, all of which have made it clear that they support the measure. That will be of concern to hon. Members on all sides of the House.

At present, in the case of buggery and male homosexual acts where the older partner is above the age of consent, the law criminalises the younger partner—both boys and girls. Not only does that mean that, in most cases, young homosexual males are treated in a way that young heterosexuals are not, but, most importantly, it does nothing to protect children. It allows adults to threaten what may be naive young boys and girls with the prospect of being brought into the criminal justice system if they complain to another adult about the activities in which they have been involved. That may serve to encourage and facilitate predatory conduct by older men. The Standing Committee was concerned to discourage such conduct and there was universal agreement on the matter.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

I recognise the rationale behind the new clause, but, so that we can take a view on its likely practical significance, will the Minister tell us how many boys under the age of 16 were prosecuted for buggery in 1998?

Mr. Boateng

I shall write to the hon. Gentleman in due course about the number of young men under the age of 16 prosecuted for buggery in 1998. If he remains in his place for the duration of the debate, although he has not always graced the Opposition Benches on previous occasions, I will—

Mr. Bercow

I am always in the Chamber.

Mr. Boateng

I know that the hon. Gentleman is an assiduous attender of the House, but he has not always been present during previous debates on the Bill. If he remains in his place for some time longer, I promise him that, before the end of today's proceedings, I will let him have the figure.

I suspect that the number of prosecutions, if any, is small, but our concern is to make sure that the measure does not tell against the interest of young people, who might be dissuaded from bringing action against older predatory males for fear of prosecution. As we know, in these matters, fear of prosecution, as much as any actual prosecution, tells on the minds of the young people involved. That concerned the hon. Member for Hertsmere, me and other members of the Committee.

The new clause would stop the continued use of the criminal law as a means of coercion to be used against those whom we in this House wish to protect the most—young children. That is something that we all take very seriously indeed. We have made it clear, however, that other attempts to deal with the undoubted anomalies and inconsistencies in sexual offences legislation, including the way that the criminal law treats heterosexual and homosexual activity, must wait for the review of sexual offences and penalties.

I understand the thinking of the hon. Members for Oxford, West and Abingdon and for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), and the hard work that they have put in, but I fear that their amendments are likely to fall foul of our concern that the review that we have instituted should be in a position to take an overview and to tackle the undoubted anomalies and inconsistencies in the course of its work.

Making further ad hoc changes to the law on sexual offences and penalties through the Bill would only add to the inconsistencies in the law. However, we believe that the case for decriminalising the younger partner is so overwhelming that there are no good reasons against doing so now. The other issues raised during the consideration of the Bill about the inconsistencies in the law on sexual offences require a view to be taken of the law as a whole, if we are ever to achieve a rational basis for our law in this area. The new clause does not require that, and it can be adopted without creating any new inconsistencies.

It might be helpful at this stage to deal with the Government's response to new clauses 2 and 3, which stand in the name of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, among others. He will take the House through the effect of his new clauses but, for us, they raise important questions of principle. They concern the defence of reasonable belief on the part of the person committing an offence against a person under the age of consent and go far beyond the changes that we propose in the Bill. The issues raised affect heterosexual offences and homosexual offences.

Our approach to the age of consent has been for Parliament to decide on the simple, straightforward issue of the equalisation of the age of consent. With one exception—the decriminalisation of the younger partner—we have made it clear that other attempts to deal with the undoubted anomalies and inconsistencies in the sexual offences legislation, including the way that the criminal law treats heterosexual and homosexual activity, must wait for the review of sexual offences and penalties. That will disappoint the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, but I hope that he understands that we are at least disappointing him consistently.

Making further ad hoc changes to the law on sexual offences and penalties through the Bill would only add to the inconsistencies in the law. We therefore do not intend to go down that road. The main focus of the sexual offences review will to be ensure that the law provides the best possible protection for children and more effective punishment of abusers. It is however necessary to consider the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises as part of that process, and the review will do so.

4.30 pm

We have also made it clear that the review must ensure that the law is fair and non-discriminatory, in accordance with the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act 1998. The Northern Ireland Office is working alongside the Home Office on the review of sexual offences and will respond to its recommendations in due course. As the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon will appreciate, the new clause raises a number of technical issues. I do not intend to go into them at this stage but, if he would like me to deal with them later, I should be only too happy to do so.

We cannot accept the new clauses, which are properly matters to be considered by the review and go far beyond the purposes of the Bill. The policy on such offences needs careful examination in the light of the need to protect children. We have serious concerns that, as they stand, either of those defences might make prosecuting sexual offences substantially more difficult—and we are not having that.

A similar defence to that contained in new clause 3 for Northern Ireland was proposed by hon. Members in Committee. It would have provided a defence for those under 25 in relation to a first charge for such an offence. We consulted a number of children's charities about that, and they believe that even such a limited measure would have serious implications for child protection. We are simply not prepared to accept that. That argument applies even more to a broad defence along the lines of new clause 2, which makes the proposition even more unacceptable to us. The matter will, however, be examined in the course of the review.

I hope that, in the light of that assurance, the hon. Gentleman will not press his two new clauses. On that basis, I commend Government new clause 4 and amendment No. 9.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

I wish to make two matters clear. First and most importantly, these issues will be the subject of a free vote, if there is a vote, and any views that I express are personal—my colleagues may take a different view. Secondly, if it is convenient, I should like to deal with the amendments and new clauses in this group together.

I welcome Government new clause 4. I listened carefully to the Minister's speech. He adopted many of the points that we made when the matter first came before the House. There is merit in the approach taken in the new clause, as that will serve to protect the younger party, which should be the law's main priority in this area. Thus, there will be a defence for the under-age person where the other party is over age. That is clearly in the interests of bringing the older party to justice. Removing the disincentive to the younger party to report the offence should help to bring older people who enter into inappropriate sexual relationships to justice.

I agree with the form in which the new clause is tabled. When the original amendment was before us, we observed that it would merely have prevented proceedings from being brought, whereas the new clause clarifies that no offence will be committed. That brings the law into line with the existing law on under-age sex with a heterosexual girl. I therefore welcome the new clause, which reflects the arguments that we made earlier in our proceedings.

New clause 2 is important and requires careful consideration. Indeed, it was considered carefully in Committee. It will make available a defence in cases where an older person is charged with an offence under section 12 or 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956. It is sometimes referred to as a statutory defence or a defence of mistake of age.

It is important to note that a defence of mistake of age is available in the case of unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 16. That is, in some ways, the equivalent heterosexual offence. That defence is sometimes called the young man's defence.

If a charge is made relating to under-age sex with a girl under the age of consent, it is a defence for a person under 24 who has not previously been charged with a similar offence if he believed the girl to be 16 or over and had reasonable cause for the belief. That has long been available as a defence in England and Wales for offences of unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl—it goes back many years.

It is worth noting that a similar defence is available in Scotland in the case of both heterosexual and homosexual acts. I listened with interest to the Minister's comments about new clause 3, which would create a defence in the case of offences in Northern Ireland. He referred to consultations that had taken place and said that, in the interests of protecting children, we should not accept the new clause, but it would create an almost identical—if not identical—defence to the one that currently applies in Scotland.

That is an interesting point. I think that the only difference would be that the age of consent would be slightly higher in Northern Ireland—the age of consent being 17, whereas in Scotland it is 16; otherwise, the defence would be the same in Northern Ireland as in Scotland.

In Scotland, in the case of both under-age heterosexual sex and under-age homosexual sex, there is a defence if the defendant has not previously been charged with such an offence, is under 24 and had reasonable cause to believe that the other party was over the age of consent. After thinking carefully about it and reflecting on the debates in Committee, I find it hard to see why the same defence should not be available for people aged under 24 in respect of homosexual acts in England and Wales as is available already in Scotland and, in the case of heterosexual sex, in England and Wales.

Age is important. Different considerations apply where people are older. Someone who is in his late 20s, 30s or 40s should not be able to avail himself of such a defence—as he cannot now do in the case of heterosexual sex—but, where young people are in the same general age bracket, we have to think of the interests of justice and ask: do we want to bring within the ambit of the criminal law a young person who had homosexual relations with an under-age person when he genuinely believed that the under-aged person was over the age of consent and had reasonable grounds for such a belief? Do we really want such a young person to be guilty of a criminal offence, as the law now stands, and to face a possible maximum sentence of life imprisonment?

It is important and salient that the availability of that defence be strictly limited.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

Is my hon. Friend erecting a new maxim—that the law for heterosexual offences should generally be the same as that for homosexual offences?

Mr. Clappison

No, I am not erecting a new maxim and was carefully trying not to do so. I was trying to act in the interests of justice and fairness all round, but without necessarily erecting such a principle.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

On the question of justice and fairness, given the enthusiasm that my hon. Friend has expressed for new clause 4, would it not be proper that an offender under new clause 4 should be reasonably—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. [Interruption.] My apologies. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was outwith the scope of the new clause. He may carry on.

Mr. Swayne

If one of the partners to an act under the terms of new clause 4 claimed as a defence that he thought the other was over 17, would not that defence be perfectly reasonable?

Mr. Clappison

The defendant would have to establish the ingredients of the defence.

Others may disagree with my view, but this is not a legal novelty. As I have said, in heterosexual cases, it has been available as a defence since 1922, and I believe a form of it was introduced in 1885—so it may be a case of returning to Victorian values. As I have said on other occasions when we have debated the Bill, I am now speaking on the basis of my personal view, nor do I seek to equalise the law in every respect. I shall not be presenting a checklist of ways in which the law should be made identical; I am trying to establish a way of acting fairly and in the interests of justice in individual cases.

It should be borne in mind that the availability of the defence is strictly limited by age, and that the onus is on the defendant to establish that he believed that the other party was over the age of consent and had reasonable grounds for that belief. If defendants are still to be given the chance of trial by jury—I hope that they will, in these and in other cases—it will be for an English court and an English jury to use their good sense in deciding the matter.

A defendant will not escape liability by saying that he thought the other party was over the age of consent; he will also have to establish that he had reasonable grounds for that belief, and establish it to the satisfaction of the court.

I believe that the defence that is available in heterosexual cases in England and Wales, and in both heterosexual and homosexual cases in Scotland, should be available in cases such as this in England and Wales. That would be in the interests of justice and fairness all round. I have already commented on new clause 3; new clause 2, however, goes wider than the existing defence for heterosexual sex in a number of important respects.

I note that the new clause refers to knowledge of someone's age, rather than belief, as the basis for a defence. The availability of such a defence is not restricted to those who have previously been charged with similar offences, as in the case of heterosexual sex; and, more important, it is not restricted to those under 24. That is a big difference, in my view: I regard age as an important consideration.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon)

The hon. Gentleman may be about to deal with this. He is aware from discussions that we have had outside the Chamber that it is extremely unlikely that new clause 2 would have been selected if it had been tabled in exactly the same form as the form in which it was tabled in Committee—which was right, because we do not want to repeat those arguments now. The principle is the same, however, and the new clause is phrased in exactly the same way as the statutory defence available in the case of an abuse of trust which can be found in clause 2. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was about to make that point, but I should have liked him to do so at the outset. I should like to see an amendment providing for a statutory defence directly comparable with the defence that exists for heterosexuals.

Mr. Clappison

I shall, in fact, deal with that point now. By reason of the distinctions that I am making, I am not minded to support new clause 2, which the hon. Gentleman tabled. I do not consider it satisfactory. Much of the blame for that, however, arises from the attempt to use the defence supplied by the Government, about which I shall say more shortly. As the hon. Gentleman has said, the defence in new clause 2 bears a striking similarity to the breach-of-trust defence involving 16 and 17-year-olds in clause 2(2)(a). It may well be—as the hon. Gentleman has perhaps conceded—that those who tabled new clause 2 were trying to avoid inconsistency between the defence provided in their amendments and that provided in the Bill. The defence provided in the Bill is surprising, to say the least. It is also not the only example in the Bill of bad drafting and bad judgment.

4.45 pm

The defence provided in clause 2(2)(a) deals with people in a position of trust. Those who are in a position of trust include those who look after, and are regularly involved in caring for, a younger person. However, unlike those whose sexual activities arise out of other social contexts, surely those who are in a position of trust and are regularly involved in caring for a younger person could reasonably be expected to have some knowledge of the other party's age, and to know whether the other party was under 18.

In breaches of trust involving 16 and 17-year-olds, the Government's proposed defence of mistake of age is not limited by age. A man of 42 and a young man of 18 could therefore rely equally on the defence. The Government's proposed defence is therefore very strange.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

Does my hon. Friend have a view on the activity of television producers who, in their programmes, advocate sexual intercourse with people under 15? A week or so go, a programme was broadcast in which that act was not only physically demonstrated, but advocated and then glorified. Does he think that the programme's producer should be subject to such provisions on prosecution?

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Those who produce and broadcast programmes should be aware of their wider responsibilities. The general scenario that she described was thoroughly unattractive. One would think that responsible broadcasters would seek to avoid such scenarios, and not to give in to the temptation of sensationalism.

It really will not do for the Minister to say, in reply to new clauses 2 and 3, "We can't possibly consider the amendments. We don't want to go beyond changing the law on consent and taking the younger party out of liability, as we are doing in new clause 4. We want to confine ourselves to those issues, and leave everything else to the review." Ministers cannot say that when they themselves are creating a new form of defence in the Bill.

The defence that the Government are proposing in the Bill is vastly inferior to the long-established defence of mistaken belief, which is available already in the Sexual Offences Act. The Government have made a grave mistake in offering their form of defence, which will widen considerably the current one. The Bill will certainly make the defence of mistaken belief available to much older men—in their 30s, 40s or 50s—whereas the current one is already, rightly, limited to young men under 24, who are therefore in the same general age bracket as the younger person concerned.

The Government are making a mistake in proposing their defence. Moreover, those who tabled new clause 2 may have been attempting to use the Government's proposed defence in their new clause—the passage of which would be a mistake and should be avoided.

In my personal view, in the interests of justice and fairness—bearing in mind the state of the law in England and in Scotland, and in cases involving heterosexual and homosexual sex—a similar form of the defence available in cases involving heterosexual sex should be made available in those involving homosexual sex. However, it should be made available only without watering-down the very strict requirements that must be established—specifically of age and of the person concerned not having been charged previously with the same offence—and with the strict necessity of establishing reasonable belief. I believe that that form of defence is satisfactory and is in the interests of justice, unlike the form of defence proposed by the Government for cases of abuse of trust involving 16 and 17-year-olds.

Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble)

I referred on Second Reading to the criminalisation of young gay men under the age of consent. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) and I tabled an amendment on that in Committee. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for having thought about the issue and introduced a new clause on it.

I welcome the new clause, but, as my hon. Friend has said, it still leaves many anomalies. I recognise that they cannot all be dealt with in the Bill, but I should like some clarification on the speed with which the review will take place and how quickly some of the issues can be dealt with. Some relevant issues are raised in other amendments that we shall come to. The speed with which they are dealt with by the review will have a bearing on how I vote this afternoon.

Dr. Harris

I share the pleasure of the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) that the Government have accepted the principle of the amendment that we tabled in Committee and brought it forward in legally watertight terms that they can support with all their might on a free vote.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) has urged me to be gracious in victory. It is against my nature in my early career in this place to be gracious and it appears to be against the nature of the Liberal Democrats in Parliament to be victorious. This is not a party political issue, but I pay tribute to the Minister for his willingness to take it on.

The Minister emphasised the need to protect younger people. I hope that the new clause is also motivated by the desire to end discrimination against gay people—in this case those under 16. From the late 19th century, there has been no equivalent offence of unlawful sexual intercourse for girls under 16 and they cannot even be charged through the Tyrell case law with aiding and abetting. The Minister did not mention the fact that the new clause gets rid of discrimination against homosexuals in criminal law, but I hope that that was part of the reason why the Government brought it forward. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) referred obliquely to that, while claiming credit—which is in some part due—for supporting the proposal that the hon. Member for South Ribble and I made in Committee.

The new clause has other significant implications that have not yet been mentioned. Today was the first time that I have understood—let alone seen the point of—an intervention by the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), who pointed out with the perspicacity that only he can muster that, if there were a statutory defence, two 16-year-olds could argue that each thought that the other was over 16, resulting in both of them getting off the charge, because the new clause decriminalises the younger party involved in an act with an older party. For reasons that the Minister made clear in Committee—probably in response to another point by the hon. Member for New Forest, West—it does not decriminalise behaviour between two people under 16, because that would effectively lower the age of consent for homosexual acts below 16. We can be clear that new clause 4 does not lower the age of consent in those cases. As there is no such statutory defence in reverse, the hon. Member for New Forest, West can be reassured, in his terms, that that defence does not exist and that, in certain circumstances, there will be the continued prosecution of consensual offences where, because of the Government's attitude to new clause 2, a genuine mistake has been made as to age in a matter involving an older man and a male under 16.

Although the proposal makes progress, the law in this area is still not the same for heterosexuals and homosexuals. I believe that the law should be made identical, as far as anatomy allows, because we are considering the equality of people's interests. I know that views have been expressed by independent bodies that there should be equal consideration before the law, and I will refer to that in a moment.

New clause 4 has another significant implication, to which the Minister drew attention—there will no longer be a deterrent for males under 16 to report age of consent offences. Members on both sides of the House will recognise how important it is that, where clearly exploitative offences have taken place, there should be no deterrent for the victim, such as that, person's criminalisation, to prevent him—as it does not prevent her, in cases involving women—from bringing those offences to the attention of the authorities.

If there is not the same defence in law for young male heterosexuals and homosexuals—as proposed by new clause 2, and by its predecessor amendment—significant dangers will be created by the Government's correct action in new clause 4. It is important to recognise that the Government, in proposing new clause 4, have gone beyond merely bringing forward the decision on the age of consent on a free vote, to which they were committed by the settlement made following the Sutherland case at the European Court of Human Rights.

The Minister will be aware that the Commission, in its early judgment, made it clear that the criminalisation of under-16-year-olds could mean that the Government find themselves outside the European convention on human rights because the offence that criminalises the person under 16 is also that which makes him a victim.

The Government are going no further than they are forced to do by the European convention on human rights, by the Sutherland judgment. In their terminology—they say that the measure is designed for the protection of the young, but not that it equalises what is currently discriminatory—the Government are being less than fulsome in their commitment to ending discrimination wherever it exists. The Government's attitude to new clause 2 shows that they have drawn a line—the Minister has consistently disappointed me in this regard—and said that they will go no further than they are forced to by the European convention on human rights.

When the hon. Member for Hertsmere can argue as he just has—from the Conservative Front Bench, although not for the Conservatives because the issue will be decided on a free vote—one must ask what is stopping the Government making the change now, subject to the review. As the hon. Gentleman made clear—and as I made clear earlier—the Government have made provision for a statutory defence in clauses 2 to 4, dealing with the abuse of trust and the creation of that new offence.

In Committee, we understood that sentencing provisions and other provisions relating to the new offence concerning abuse of trust would be considered in the review, along with everything else. Merely stating that such a review is to be conducted does not mean that the Government could not propose legislation on matters touched on by new clause 2. In terms of new clause 2, I wish to thank its supporters from all parties—particularly the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones), who, at short notice, had the matter drawn to her attention and signed early-day motion 319, along with many other hon. Members who support the principle contained in it.

The original new clause in all its glory, which we discussed in Committee, had the age limit and the "two strikes and you're out" provision, making it applicable only to people not previously charged with a like offence, and was almost entirely identical to the current provisions for heterosexuals. Although we had a free vote, that new clause was defeated in Committee by a phalanx of Government Back Benchers voting against a move to end discrimination. I do not believe that there was good reason for that, and that is why I was keen to table more new clauses that could, in principle, be voted on.

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I wonder whether Labour Members believe that there should be a vote, even though we may lose it, as the hon. Member for Hertsmere has said that, because the new clause is not the original one that we discussed in Committee, he may not support it. The Bill will be considered by the other place, and the Lords will have an opportunity to say that there should be equality in the statutory defence.

The Government's undertaking to take the matter to a review is insufficient to make me drop the campaign for equality. New clause 4 creates dangers of blackmail and of differential prosecution, conviction and imprisonment for young gay men as against heterosexuals. There is a danger of blackmail for homosexuals, whether for consensual sex above the age of consent or for sex below that age—it will now be 16—which is, rightly, in itself a criminal offence unless there is a defence that is acceptable to the court.

We know from the history of homosexuality and its interaction with the criminal law in this country that there has been much discrimination and blackmail and that lives have been ruined but, at present, a protection exists for young gay men against mischievous or malicious reporting of consensual sex, entrapment and blackmail, because mischievous or malicious persons, who may be young persons acting at the behest of older persons, are constrained from going to the law when they have misled an older person about their age and engaged in sexual activity because they would be committing an offence and be liable to prosecution. Such activity need not be buggery, as gross indecency covers a range of activities that in heterosexual settings are often not thought to be especially sexual but that the police have brought prosecutions on because a policeman considered them grossly indecent between two men.

The Government are right to remove that offence, but the field is being left open for pimps to use the young people whom they exploit to entrap older people, not necessarily to the point of prosecution, but to the point of blackmail. People may swear that they are above 16 or 18. Indeed, by entering certain clubs or bars they imply that they are over 18 or 21, so they have already misled the proprietors and staff. The proprietor is liable, and therefore must deem anyone in the premises to be above the legal drinking age. There is no defence for the older person in that circumstance of being misled or entrapped, and there is no defence against blackmail.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

The hon. Gentleman makes some thoughtful points about the dangers of blackmail. I put it to him that a countervailing aspect of new clause 2 is that, by decriminalising the offence for the younger party, the hon. Gentleman removes the ability of the younger man to say to the older man, who is urging him into a homosexual relationship, "I mustn't do that, because it is against the law." Is the hon. Gentleman concerned about that aspect?

Dr. Harris

That is a separate point from the one that I wished to make, and the hon. Gentleman might care to ask the Minister to comment. I reiterate that I support new clause 2, because I tabled an amendment along similar lines in Committee. It is of paramount importance to protect the young from any question of committing an offence. Criminalising the victim as a way of preventing him from being victimised is a unique concept, if not in the hon. Gentleman's mind then certainly in British law. The European Commission of Human Rights pointed out that the criminalisation of the young person is inappropriate, whether it is in order to try to deter a criminal from victimising that younger person or because the act in question is viewed as an abomination, which is the origin of the law.

Without new clause 2, homosexuals would not have a defence that they were misled about the age of the younger person, but heterosexuals would. Young females do not generally blackmail their older partners in cases in which they have reasonable cause to believe that the older person is above the age of consent and can prove that to a jury. The hon. Member for Hertsmere believes that the age of consent will soon be equal—although he does not support equalisation himself—and he called for more prosecutions. He drew attention to what he believed was a fall in the number of prosecutions for age of consent offences and said that he believed that that was related to the lowering of the age of consent for homosexuals in 1994. There is no evidence to support that conclusion but, fortunately, there have been few prosecutions for consenting sex with a person aged under 16 if it does not involve explicit abuse or exploitation. The Minister said that he was sympathetic to the argument that there had been too few prosecutions. If we are to have more prosecutions, but no statutory defence is available to the hundreds of young gay men who might be brought before the courts after a clampdown and more raids on gay venues—where people pretend to be above the age of 16, and 18—the Bill will mean that many more gay men are prosecuted than heterosexual men. By definition, there will also be more convictions because, once the facts about the ages and the act are established, homosexuals will have no defence, except in Scotland. Therefore, new clause 2 should be welcomed, because it will protect young people and end discrimination. If it is not included in the Bill, we will see increased and discriminatory prosecution, conviction and imprisonment of young gay men compared to young heterosexual men.

If it is acceptable for heterosexuals to have that defence, and acceptable for homosexuals in Scotland—the Government seem to think it acceptable to allow a broader defence in cases of abuse of trust, in circumstances in which it could be argued that the defence should be narrower—why cannot the Minister accept new clause 2? It is not too late, because the Bill could be amended in the other place to give protection, until the review reports, to homosexuals, as exists for heterosexuals, who have been misled about the age of their partners. That would offer protection against blackmail. The onus is on the Government to show why they will not accept such a change to the Bill. Whenever the Government are pressed on a matter that they feel may have some validity but about which they consider that it would not be politically expedient to pronounce, they set up a review without a commitment to legislation. They say that any suggestions for legislation should go into that review. The problem with the review is that the outcome is out of the Government's control; if legislation is introduced, it may be under a different Government with a different view. The general case is that putting a matter to review is not an excuse not to legislate, especially when the discrimination involved has existed for more than 100 years.

The review is welcome. It was announced during consideration of the Crime and Disorder Bill, in response to my suggestions and those from hon. Members of all parties, when an amendment was tabled to tackle the discriminatory privacy provision. At the Dispatch Box, the Minister's predecessor, now the Secretary of State for Wales, said that a review would be needed to deal with all the issues.

However, there is no timetable for when the review must report to the Government, nor for when the Government will introduce legislation. We have heard that the review will take a year, and that it will involve the widest possible consultation, which is envisaged to last at least a year. Even if the Government last the maximum five years, we will then be running up to the next general election.

Therefore, I think that the Minister will concede that he envisages no chance of legislation before the next election. I do not doubt the review's ability to come up with non-discriminatory measures, but I have set out why I believe that the Government will not introduce legislation where there is a clear danger that it will worsen the problem of blackmail.

My second concern about the review is that the Minister does not accept that there is gross discrimination in the existing law. I have listened attentively to his contributions, both on the Floor and in Committee. He has said that there are undoubted anomalies and inconsistencies in the law, and that they relate to the area between heterosexuals and homosexuals. However, he has not said that there is discrimination in the law, other than in one small area. Yet that discrimination exists, in sentencing, statutory defence, and other matters.

Will the review be independent? The review of the abuse of trust provisions contained an interesting paragraph. As I recall, it stated that the review group was minded not to include a particular group in the provisions, but that, after discussions with Ministers, it was recommending that group's inclusion. To me, that seems to mean that Ministers told the Home Office review group that they must recommend that inclusion in the provisions, which I believe had to do with educational institutions.

If this current review group is similar, what is to prevent Ministers from saying that it is not independent in terms of what it can produce? The Government will not want it to make recommendations that they do not find politically expedient. There are no votes in the reform of sexual offences law, and certainly not in measures to eradicate discrimination. That is in part why the words of the hon. Member for Hertsmere were so welcome.

My final concern about the review, as an excuse for not legislating on this matter, is that there is nothing to stop the Minister putting any of the provisions in the Bill forward for consideration. He has said already that sentencing provisions—discussed in Committee and to be discussed again today—and other matters will be subject to the review, even though there has already been a wide review of sexual offences and measures covering registers of sexual offenders for legislation that has been introduced to date.

There is nothing to stop the Minister accepting an amendment such as new clause 2—or the similar but better-worded amendment that I tabled in Committee, with such changes as the Minister considers appropriate—and then putting in into the review. When he responds to the debate, he cannot rely on the review to excuse him from the need to act against the discrimination that exists in the law, or against the danger of blackmail, which is present already and which would be made worse by the provisions of new clause 4. If a suitable case can be found, the European Court of Human Rights will find—yet again—against a United Kingdom Government. I should like the Government to be proactive on homosexual rights and in seeking an end to discrimination, without waiting for the European Court of Human Rights to force action.

5.15 pm

It is vital that the Government should accept that the current law is discriminatory. They made a manifesto commitment to tackle unjustified discrimination wherever it existed. It clearly exists in the criminal law relating to homosexuals. The Government must accept that the law is already discriminatory, and must allow the review fully to end discrimination through its recommendations, without any interference from Ministers. I hope that the Minister will give me that assurance today.

The Minister wants a climate in which there is less tolerance of age-of-consent offences—a wish that is widely shared in the House. However, until there is equality in terms of statutory defences, then a tightening of the law and an increase in prosecutions will mean differential prosecution, conviction and imprisonment of homosexuals. We would be back to where we were before 1967. I commend new clause 2 to the House, and I urge the Minister to respond positively to my points, and to give a commitment that we will not go down the path towards blackmail and discrimination.

Mr. Swayne

I acknowledge that the Minister believes that there are overwhelming reasons why we should accept new clause 4. However, I suspect, as I have suspected for some time, that I live on a different planet from the Minister. I believe that there are overwhelming reasons why new clause 4 should be rejected.

First, it provides every incentive for the active homosexual under the age of 16 to ensure that he avoids any difficulty over the age of consent by selecting as his partner someone who is over 16. It is a monstrous absurdity that someone under 16 should not commit an offence by having consenting sexual relations with another homosexual who is over 16, while someone who selects as his partner someone more equal in age should indeed commit that offence. That offends against any concept of justice.

I am not reassured, as the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) suggested that I should be, about the age of consent. The age of consent is being abolished by the Bill. There is no age of consent for the young man under 16 so long as he acquires partners who are over 16.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

Has the hon. Gentleman had any experience of young girls of 15 who go out to seek older partners? They are in exactly the same situation under the current law regarding unlawful sexual intercourse.

Mr. Swayne

I shall answer that point. It is my estimate that it is in the nature of women to seek older men. It has always been the case in sexual relationships that younger women tend to marry and to seek older men. The answer I should make to both the hon. Members for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) and for Oxford, West and Abingdon is that the two matters are not at all the same thing. There should be no equality between a normal sexual relationship and an unnatural sexual relationship.

The argument that we should accept new clauses 4, 2 and 3 because they provide an equality between the law applying to heterosexual and homosexual relationships is, as far as I am concerned, an argument for rejecting the new clauses. It is important to maintain within the law a proper discrimination between the two.

Dr. Harris

Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is in difficulties. His pronouncement on the sexual preferences of young girls is interesting and I give way to his, perhaps, superior knowledge—he may have researched it. If he thinks that the distinction is one based on unnatural acts, would he criminalise 15-year-old girls if, as part of unlawful sexual intercourse, they engaged in buggery? Perhaps he would. Therefore, he would not restrict the provision to boys—[Interruption] I think that the Minister says that I am encouraging him—but wants to expand it. He is in a weak position.

Mr. Swayne

I will not go down that road because it strikes me as being out of order. I have not researched such matters. My comment was merely an observation of life. That issue is not relevant to the debate, but equality before the law is. The two situations should not be treated equally.

On the blackmailer's charter, I have here a copy of The Pink Paper dated 19 February, which quotes the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon. It states: He told Pink Paper: 'A young man who wanted to get the better of, say, a teacher or social worker could engage in a sexual act in the knowledge that he is immune from prosecution … Then there would be nothing to stop him reporting it to the police.' I do not know what sort of circles the hon. Gentleman mixes in, but it is absurd to think that teachers and social workers would be game for such a device. We have not descended to that level yet, thankfully. The principle of the point is sound. New clause 4 would provide every incentive for opportunities for blackmail. Consequently, the simple remedy is to reject it.

The Chairman of Ways and Means was wise in his selection of amendments and, in particular, in grouping new clause 4 with new clauses 2 and 3. Those clauses taken together show the absurdity and enormity of the Bill. In new clause 4, we are expected to accept that a young man under the age of 16 having consensual homosexual relations with someone over the age of 16 has the defence that he was under age. The person over that age would have no defence on the ground that he did not know his partner's age. It would give rise to the equally absurd situation that a young man who stands to be prosecuted under the age of 16—namely, the consenting partner of another young man under 16—has no defence on the ground that he did not know that his partner was under 16. He cannot say that he suspected that his partner was over 16 and therefore he would not have committed an offence.

If a defence should be provided—as under new clauses 2 and 3—to the unfortunate who finds that, although he suspected his partner to be over 16, he is not, equally, such a defence should be provided to the under 16-year-old who thought that he was in bed with another under 16-year-old. The mere relation of those facts underlines the absurdity and the unnatural nature of the new clauses. Consequently, I urge the House to reject them.

Mr. Allan

Again, there will be a free vote on this issue on the Liberal Democrat Benches, although the majority of Liberal Democrats support the general thrust of the Bill, which will increase protection for young people in some circumstances by decriminalising them.

As I told the Minister, I have an interest in the review of sexual offences, both in respect of the issues that we are discussing and others. Perhaps he could answer some specific questions. First, has he an idea of the timetable that the Government have in mind for introducing legislation? I understand that there are no commitments, but an idea might be helpful. Secondly, will he categorically confirm that statutory defences in age-of-consent offences will be considered in the review? Thirdly, is the Government's approach, if not on the philosophical ground of equality at least on the rational ground of justice, to seek to equalise statute offences? Can he see any reason why the statutory defences should not be the same across the range of offences, irrespective of sexuality? Some response to those points would help me and my colleagues.

Dr. Julian Lewis

I am disappointed that, in the course of his lengthy remarks, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) did not find time to address the point that I put to him. I shall take his advice to heart because I am an open-minded chap and can occasionally even learn something from a Liberal Democrat. I urge the Minister to address that point. Does he accept that these provisions would take away from a young man under the age of 16 who wished to protect himself from the approaches of a persuasive older homosexual male the ability to say, "No, I must not do this because it is illegal"? Would that not diminish the protection of boys under 16?

Dr. Harris

To wind up, I want to respond to the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). His logic calls for the criminalisation of 14 and 15-year-old girls because criminalising them would make them more able to resist advances. A civilised criminal justice system should not work that way. We should not criminalise victims to add to their protection.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order: I thought that the hon. Gentleman was intervening on the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). He cannot wind up on a new clause that is not before the House.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) made an important point, but one that must be seen in the balance. He argues that a young person under the age of 16 will be deprived of a means of resisting a predatory male if that young person cannot say that he will be subject to the criminal law. However, there is a powerful argument that, if the young person is subject to the criminal law, he will not go to the authorities. A balance has to be struck, and, while I understand my hon. Friend, I am not in favour of exposing the young person to the full rigour of the criminal law for the reason that I gave. On the broader question, I am against the Bill. That said, we have it in front of us and are in the business of trying to make it as good as possible. I hope that he will pardon me if I disagree with him on that point.

5.30 pm
Mr. Boateng

We have had a good debate in which the issues have been given the airing that one would expect bearing in mind the way in which these proceedings have been conducted both on the Floor and upstairs.

In response to the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), let me say that I have been through the same sort of exercise as the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). A balance must be struck. We believe that children and young people are better protected if they are freed from the fear of prosecution if they come forward, having been the victim of a predatory male. It is for the House to determine on a free vote its attitude to the new clause.

I listened at considerable length—as did the whole House, perforce—to the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris). I fear he misunderstands the basis on which new clause 4 has been tabled and the distinction between the nature of new clause 4 and that of new clauses 2 and 3. New clause 4 has been tabled as a Government measure designed better to further and protect the interests of children; it is not designed to promote equality before the law. I hope that I have made it abundantly clear to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that the issue of equality before the law is limited in respect of the Bill. We introduced the Bill to achieve equality before the law in relation to the age of consent, and the age of consent alone.

There are a range of other matters on which right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have a view. That view will be rooted in their consciences, and their approach to the personal and delicate issues relating to sexual relations. People arrive at different views, depending on their approach, and we are not prescriptive as to what that view should be. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon has a clear view that he has expressed throughout proceedings on the Bill, and every amendment and new clause that he has tabled, whether in Committee or on the Floor of the House, is designed to promote that view.

We as a Government are absolutely committed both to the equalisation of the age of consent and to giving the House an opportunity to determine that matter. I have made my personal view well known, as has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary: we support the equalisation of the age of consent and do so on the basis of equality before the law, a principle to which I adhere. However, we do not approach the Bill on any basis other than the commitment to the achievement of two separate objectives: the vote on the equalisation of the age of consent, and the measure that we introduce for consideration by the House dealing with the entirely separate issue of abuse of trust.

In respect of the latter measure, I have to tell the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) that there is a crucial difference between the defence for abuse of trust and the defence for homosexual acts and buggery. In relation to abuse of trust, the older individual is expected to know the age of the person who lies in his trust. In exceptional circumstances, he might not know the age of that individual—for example, if he were a teacher in a further education college which taught students of a broad age range, and he had had no contact with the student hitherto, it is conceivable that he might not know the age of that student.

Mr. Clappison


Mr. Boateng

Let me finish the point. It is our view that, in those circumstances and whatever the age of the older party—older age does not necessarily bring with it a knowledge of the age of the younger party—it would be wrong for him not to have that defence available. He has to make use of that defence and to bring himself within it, but we think it right that the defence should be available to such individuals, regardless of their age, that, in certain circumstances, the older individual would not be expected to know the age of the younger. That is the distinction, so I do not accept that we have got ourselves into the sort of difficulty that the hon. Gentleman describes—

Mr. Clappison

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Boateng

No, the hon. Gentleman has made his point and I intend to wind up the debate.

Dr. Julian Lewis

I am enjoying it.

Mr. Boateng

I am glad. I have not finished yet, so the hon. Gentleman may enjoy it some more.

In those circumstances, I do not believe that we have misdirected ourselves in relation to that defence. As to new clauses 2 and 3—which the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon urged us to accept—there is no limit to those under 25 for the first charge in England and Wales. It is a general defence, and the provisions are very wide and would make prosecution substantially more difficult. That is why we are unable to accept it. The hon. Member for Hertsmere found new clause 3 acceptable in the context of Northern Ireland. That is a matter for him, and hon. Members will make up their own minds. The reasons that we have given for opposing new clauses 2 and 3 stand.

The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon urged upon us the point about equality. The review will take account of several factors, including that issue. We have deliberately constructed a review process that is about expertise and a range of experiences and views—some of which are disparate. We have done that because we do not wish to circumscribe the basis upon which the review body approaches its task. It will perform its task within the year and produce proposals. It is right that those proposals should be subject to wide debate and discussion—we make absolutely no apology for that.

The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon has latched on to the notion that this is somehow an attempt by the Government to kick the issue into the long grass. That could not be further from the truth. Does he seriously expect us to conduct a rational debate about sexual offences issues—involving deeply personal and sensitive topics, including matters of conscience—without allowing proper, open consultation? That would be quite wrong, and we do not intend to go down that path. I am unable to give the hon. Gentleman, or the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), any assurances about the outcome, save to say that we have made it clear that the review must take into account the need to comply with the European convention on human rights and our treaty obligations thereunder. That will inform the outcome of the review's deliberations, the wider debate and, in due course, the House.

Dr. Harris


Mr. Boateng

I will not give way: the hon. Gentleman has had more than enough time to explore his points. [HON. MEMBERS: "Far too much."] The hon. Gentleman has added enormously to the gaiety of nations, but I do not intend to allow him any more time to speak on this issue.

As for the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), there must be something in the water. I struggled with his contribution, but I was not persuaded by it. There will be a free vote in the House on this matter, and I hope that hon. Members will agree to new clause 4 and oppose new clauses 2 and 3. In light of my remarks, I hope that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon will not push the matter to a vote.

Dr. Harris


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Is the Minister giving way?

Mr. Boateng

I have finished.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 274, Noes 64.

Division No. 78] [5.39 pm
Allan, Richard Caplin, Ivor
Allen, Graham Casale, Roger
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Caton, Martin
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Cawsey, Ian
Ashton, Joe Chisholm, Malcolm
Atherton, Ms Candy Clappison, James
Atkins, Charlotte Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Baker, Norman Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Ballard, Jackie Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Banks, Tony Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Barnes, Harry Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Barron, Kevin Coaker, Vernon
Bayley, Hugh Coffey, Ms Ann
Beard, Nigel Cohen, Harry
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Coleman, Iain
Begg, Miss Anne Colman, Tony
Beith, Rt Hon A J Cooper, Yvette
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Corbett, Robin
Bennett, Andrew F Corbyn, Jeremy
Benton, Joe Corston, Ms Jean
Berry, Roger Cousins, Jim
Best, Harold Cox, Tom
Betts, Clive Crausby, David
Blears, Ms Hazel Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Boateng, Paul Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Borrow, David Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Cunningham, Ms Roseanna (Perth)
Brake, Tom
Brinton, Mrs Helen Curry, Rt Hon David
Buck, Ms Karen Dafis, Cynog
Burstow, Paul Dalyell, Tam
Butler, Mrs Christine Darvill, Keith
Caborn, Richard Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Canavan, Dennis Dean, Mrs Janet
Dismore, Andrew Levitt, Tom
Donohoe, Brian H Linton, Martin
Doran, Frank Livingstone, Ken
Dowd, Jim Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Lock, David
Ennis, Jeff Love, Andrew
Etherington, Bill McAllion, John
Ewing, Mrs Margaret McAvoy, Thomas
Fatchett, Rt Hon Derek McCabe, Steve
Fearn, Ronnie McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Fisher, Mark McDonagh, Siobhain
Fitzpatrick, Jim McDonnell, John
Follett, Barbara McGuire, Mrs Anne
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) McIsaac, Shona
Foulkes, George Mackinlay, Andrew
Fyfe, Maria McLeish, Henry
Galloway, George McNulty, Tony
Gapes, Mike MacShane, Denis
Gardiner, Barry Mactaggart, Fiona
George, Bruce (Walsall S) McWalter, Tony
Gerrard, Neil McWilliam, John
Gibson, Dr Ian Mahon, Mrs Alice
Godman, Dr Norman A Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Godsiff, Roger Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Goggins, Paul Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Golding, Mrs Llin Maxton, John
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Meale, Alan
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Grogan, John Miller, Andrew
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Moffatt, Laura
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hanson, David Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Harris, Dr Evan Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Mountford, Kali
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Mullin, Chris
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hepburn, Stephen Oaten, Mark
Heppell, John O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Hill, Keith Olner, Bill
Hodge, Ms Margaret O'Neill, Martin
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Pearson, Ian
Hoon, Geoffrey Pendry, Tom
Hope, Phil Perham, Ms Linda
Hopkins, Kelvin Pickthall, Colin
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Pike, Peter L
Howells, Dr Kim Plaskitt, James
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Pond, Chris
Humble, Mrs Joan Pope, Greg
Hurst, Alan Pound, Stephen
Hutton, John Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Illsley, Eric Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Primarolo, Dawn
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Prosser, Gwyn
Jamieson, David Purchase, Ken
Jenkins, Brian Quinn, Lawrie
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Rendel, David
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Rogers, Allan
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Rooker, Jeff
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Rooney, Terry
Keeble, Ms Sally Ross, Emie (Dundee W)
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Rowlands, Ted
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Roy, Frank
Kelly, Ms Ruth Ruane, Chris
Kidney, David Ruddock, Joan
Kilfoyle, Peter Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Kumar, Dr Ashok Ryan, Ms Joan
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Salter, Martin
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Sanders, Adrian
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Savidge, Malcolm
Laxton, Bob Sawford, Phil
Leslie, Christopher Sedgemore, Brian
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Timms, Stephen
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Tipping, Paddy
Singh, Marsha Touhig, Don
Skinner, Dennis Trickett, Jon
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Truswell, Paul
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Tyler, Paul
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Vis, Dr Rudi
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns) Walley, Ms Joan
Southworth, Ms Helen Wareing, Robert N
Spellar, John Watts, David
Squire, Ms Rachel White, Brian
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Whitehead, Dr Alan
Steinberg, Gerry Wicks, Malcolm
Stevenson, George Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stoate, Dr Howard Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Willis, Phil
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Wills, Michael
Stringer, Graham Winnick, David
Stuart, Ms Gisela Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Sutcliffe, Gerry Wood, Mike
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Woolas, Phil
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Temple-Morris, Peter Tellers for the Ayes: Mr. Kevin Hughes and Mr. Robert Ainsworth.
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Lidington, David
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Bercow, John Loughton, Tim
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Brazier, Julian Maclean, Rt Hon David
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) McLoughlin, Patrick
Butterfill, John Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Cann, Jamie Moss, Malcolm
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Page, Richard
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Pollard, Kerry
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Powell, Sir Raymond
Randall, John
Cormack, Sir Patrick Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Cran, James Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Rogers, Allan
Day, Stephen Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Evans, Nigel Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Faber, David Spicer, Sir Michael
Flight, Howard Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Syms, Robert
Fraser, Christopher Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Garnier, Edward Tredinnick, David
Gill, Christopher Trend, Michael
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Viggers, Peter
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Waterson, Nigel
Greenway, John Whitney, Sir Raymond
Grieve, Dominic Wilkinson, John
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Hammond, Philip Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Hawkins, Nick Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Desmond Swayne and Dr. Julian Lewis.
Lansley, Andrew
Letwin, Oliver

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your advice about access to the Palace of Westminster, given the new arrangements with the Bridge street underpass. When the Division was called, I was in my office in Norman Shaw North, as were many other hon. Members. We sought to get here in plenty of time for the Division. We tried to cross the road by the traffic lights, which is the quickest route. I understand that, traditionally, we are supposed to be allowed to access the Palace "without let or hindrance", but we had to wait a considerable time for the lights to change. Had we accessed the Palace elsewhere, that old-fashioned courtesy would have been extended to us. I should be grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you would look into the matter not only on my behalf, but on behalf of other hon. Members whose offices are far afield.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I shall instruct the authorities of the House to look into the matter, before another Division is called.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It really is difficult to cross Bridge street if one does not catch the lights. It is all right for certain hon. Members to say that there is no problem, but it is purely a matter of coincidence and the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) is quite right.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Hon. Members should have access from other parts of the parliamentary estate to get to Divisions unimpeded. The matter will be looked into. It may be worth noting that I used my discretion and allowed an extra minute before the Doors were closed because it was the first Division of the evening.

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