§ Amendment proposed: No. 116, in page 5, line 34, leave out '9' and insert '10'.—[Mrs. Brooke.]
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 40, Noes 278.626
|Division No. 349]||[8:57 pm|
|Allan, Richard||Llwyd, Elfyn|
|Barrett, John||Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)|
|Brake, Tom (Carshalton)|
|Breed, Colin||Oaten, Mark (Winchester)|
|Brooke, Mrs Annette L.||Öpik, Lembit|
|Burnett, John||Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)|
|Cable, Dr. Vincent||Rendel, David|
|Calton, Mrs. Patsy||Robertson, Angus (Moray)|
|Dawson, Hilton||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|Doughty, Sue||Sanders, Adrian|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Gidley, Sandra||Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)|
|Tonge, Dr. Jenny|
|Green, Matthew (Ludlow)||Webb, Steve (Northavon)|
|Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)||Weir, Michael|
|Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)|
|Harvey, Nick||Williams, Roger (Brecon)|
|Hogg, rh Douglas||Willis, Phil|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Wishart, Pete|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)|
|Keetch, Paul||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Lamb, Norman||Mr. Andrew Stunell and|
|Laws, David (Yeovil)||Mr. David Heath|
|Adams, Irene (Paisley N)||Burnham, Andy|
|Ainger, Nick||Byers, rh Stephen|
|Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)||Cairns, David|
|Allen, Graham||Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)||Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)|
|Bailey, Adrian||Caplin, Ivor|
|Baird, Vera||Casale, Roger|
|Barron, rh Kevin||Caton, Martin|
|Bayley, Hugh||Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)|
|Beard, Nigel||Challen, Colin|
|Beckett, rh Margaret||Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)|
|Bell, Stuart||Chaytor, David|
|Benn, rh Hilary||Clapham, Michael|
|Bennett, Andrew||Clark, Paul (Gillingham)|
|Benton, Joe (Bootle)||Clarke, rh Charles (Norwich S)|
|Berry, Roger||Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)|
|Blackman, Liz||Clelland, David|
|Blunkett, rh David||Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)|
|Borrow, David||Coaker, Vernon|
|Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)||Coffey, Ms Ann|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Coleman, Iain|
|Brennan, Kevin||Colman, Tony|
|Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)||Connarty, Michael|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)|
|Browne, Desmond||Cousins, Jim|
|Bryant, Chris||Crausby, David|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Cruddas, Jon|
|Cryer, John (Hornchurch)||Johnson, Alan (Hull W)|
|Cummings, John||Jones, Helen (Warrington N)|
|Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)||Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)|
|Cunningham, Tony (Workington)||Jones, Kevan (N Durham)|
|Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)|
|Darling, rh Alistair||Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)|
|Davey, Edward (Kingston)||Kaufman, rh Gerald|
|David, Wayne||Keen, Alan (Feltham)|
|Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)||Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)|
|Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)||Khabra, Piara S.|
|Dean, Mrs Janet||Kidney, David|
|Denham, rh John||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Dhanda, Parmjit||King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)|
|Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)||Knight, Jim (S Dorset)|
|Dobson, rh Frank||Kumar, Dr. Ashok|
|Donohoe, Brian H.||Ladyman, Dr. Stephen|
|Doran, Frank||Lawrence, Mrs Jackie|
|Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)||Laxton, Bob (Derby N)|
|Drew, David (Stroud)||Lazarowicz, Mark|
|Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)||Lepper, David|
|Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)||Leslie, Christopher|
|Edwards, Huw||Levitt, Torn (High Peak)|
|Efford, Clive||Lewis, Terry (Worsley)|
|Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)||Love, Andrew|
|Farrelly, Paul||Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)|
|Fisher, Mark||Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)|
|Fitzpatrick, Jim||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Flint, Caroline||McCabe, Stephen|
|Flynn, Paul (Newport W)||McDonagh, Siobhain|
|Follett, Barbara||MacDonald, Calum|
|Foster, Michael (Worcester)||MacDougall, John|
|Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)||McIsaac, Shona|
|Foulkes, rh George||McKenna, Rosemary|
|Francis, Dr. Hywel||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)||McNulty, Tony|
|Gardiner, Barry||MacShane, Denis|
|Gerrard, Neil||Mactaggart, Fiona|
|Gibson, Dr. Ian||McWalter, Tony|
|Goggins, Paul||McWilliam, John|
|Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Hain, rh Peter||Mandelson, rh Peter|
|Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)||Mann, John (Bassetlaw)|
|Hall, Patrick (Bedford)||Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)|
|Hamilton, David (Midlothian)||Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)|
|Hanson, David||Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston)|
|Harman, rh Ms Harriet|
|Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)||Martlew, Eric|
|Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)||Meale, Alan (Mansfield)|
|Michael, rh Alun|
|Healey, John||Miliband, David|
|Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)||Moffatt, Laura|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||Mole, Chris|
|Hendrick, Mark||Moran, Margaret|
|Hepburn, Stephen||Morley, Elliot|
|Heppell, John||Mountford, Kali|
|Hermon, Lady||Mudie, George|
|Hesford, Stephen||Munn, Ms Meg|
|Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Hill, Keith (Streatham)||Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)|
|Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)||Naysmith, Dr. Doug|
|Hope, Phil (Corby)||Organ, Diana|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)|
|Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)||Owen, Albert|
|Howells, Dr. Kim||Palmer, Dr. Nick|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Picking, Anne|
|Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)||Pickthall, Colin|
|Pike, Peter (Burnley)|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Plaskitt, James|
|Humble, Mrs Joan||Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)|
|Hurst, Alan (Braintree)||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)|
|Iddon, Dr. Brian|
|Illsley, Eric||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Ingram, rh Adam||Primarolo, rh Dawn|
|Irranca-Davies, Huw||Prosser, Gwyn|
|Purchase, Ken||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|Purnell, James||Stringer, Graham|
|Quin, rh Joyce||Stuart, Ms Gisela|
|Quinn, Lawrie||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)||Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Reed, Andy (Loughborough)||Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)|
|Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill)||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)|
|Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)||Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)|
|Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)||Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)|
|Touhig, Don (Islwyn)|
|Roche, Mrs Barbara||Trickett, Jon|
|Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Roy, Frank (Motherwell)||Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)|
|Ruddock, Joan||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)|
|Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)||Vis, Dr. Rudi|
|Salter, Martin||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Savidge, Malcolm||Ward, Claire|
|Sawford, Phil||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Watts, David|
|Shaw, Jonathan||White, Brian|
|Sheridan, Jim||Whitehead, Dr. Alan|
|Short, rh Clare||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Simon, Siôn (B'ham Erdington)||Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)|
|Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)||Williams, Betty (Conwy)|
|Singh, Marsha||Winnick, David|
|Skinner, Dennis||Wood, Mike (Batley)|
|Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)||Woodward, Shaun|
|Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)||Worthington, Tony|
|Smith, John (Glamorgan)||Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Soley, Clive||Wright, David (Telford)|
|Wright, Tony (Cannock)|
|Spellar, rh John||Wyatt, Derek|
|Starkey, Dr. Phyllis||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Stevenson, George||Mr. Fraser Kemp and|
|Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)||Charlotte Atkins|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ It being after Nine o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of proceedings to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [15 July].
§ Remaining Government amendments agreed to.
§ Order for Third Reading read.9.10 pm
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I am in a unique position this evening because, thanks to the work of hon. Members from all parties, Members of the House of Lords and many outside organisations, we not only have a better Bill but one that is built on consensus. I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, who has done a good job tonight, and two former Home Office Ministers who helped with the Bill—the Secretaries of State for Constitutional Affairs and for International Development. As hon. Members can see, people get promotion by being involved with the Bill. Above all, I thank my good friend, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins)—I almost called him Sir Paul—for his work in Committee. In all seriousness, we are grateful for the 627 work of Committee members, the way in which the Opposition have responded and the spirit of consensus that developed from Second Reading onwards. That is an exemplar for Parliament as a whole, and embodies the way in which the Chamber and politics generally should operate.
It was with trepidation that we drew up the Bill, and dealt with the balance between offenders and offences. For the past 50 years, from 1956 onwards, people have been reluctant to change the law or engage vigorously with difficult issues because of the dangers of taking them out of context. This Parliament has engaged with those issues, and one Committee member even described the measure as a "model Bill". We owe everyone from all parts of the House who has led and participated in debate on the Bill a deep debt of gratitude. I am more of a politician than a parliamentarian, but I think that it has been is an example of Parliament at its best.
The tone that was adopted when the Bill was introduced, and continued in Committee and on Report, showed that we wanted to deal with some of the most difficult problems as well as issues that required sensitive handling in their presentation to the public. On Second Reading, we reflected on comments made in the House of Lords, some amusing, some which made us grimace, and some things that we would rather forget. However, in the House and in Committee those issues have been dealt with in a way that has led to consensus, and I am grateful to everybody for that. Of course, different points of view have been expressed. I am not often outdone by Parliament on the sentences that should be imposed on people who commit crime, but on the issue of grooming we accepted the additional penalty that the Committee and the House suggested. We have been able to close loopholes that were drawn to our attention by the media, making it an offence, for example, to undress a child without the interference that would previously have warranted immediate action and a court case.
We have had genuine differences, which have arisen again today, on issues such as anonymity, where for once it was not the Government who wanted to legislate; I know that we in the Home Office sometimes go for legislation first and think of other solutions afterwards.
§ Mr. Blunkett
This is not the former Liberal Democrat spokesman's swansong. I could not miss the voice, the manner or the heckling. Nevertheless, his contribution is welcome because he has seen the Bill through with us.
On anonymity, I hope that the Association of Chief Police Officers and the media, as well as the way in which we can toughen the guidance, will make a difference. I am certain that, if they do not make a difference, the attitude that has emerged in this House and the House of Lords will ensure that further steps are taken. That is both a clarification and a warning to those who have engaged with the issue.
Implementation will be vital. As was mentioned on Second Reading and in the statement on domestic violence, unless action is forthcoming from good words, there is no point in our spending time deliberating in Committee and in the House. The inter-ministerial 628 group on sexual offenders and the taskforce on child protection on the internet are crucial in carrying forward Members' work and ensuring that we have solutions that work.
As I said, modernising the law on sexual offences has been a bed of nails for a very long time. We needed to modernise the law in the 21st century not simply because of equality or fairness, or simply because it was right to do so, but because it was essential to get the law right to tackle acts that all of us would agree are heinous crimes. It was therefore important to ensure that we were not engaged in a past agenda concerning private behaviour and how people live their lives—an agenda that occupied people in the 20th century for far too long. As someone who is known in Labour circles as a bit of an authoritarian, it has been a particular pleasure and pride for me to be the Home Secretary who has introduced this legislation in 2003. I do not want to be compared with Richard Nixon, but it took him to recognise the Republic of China, so there is hope for me in the future—although not, it must be said, in recording people's phone calls.
§ Mr. Blunkett
You've got the tapes; you've got the message.
Finally, I thank the non-governmental organisations that have campaigned, advised and, on occasion, supported us. The venture has been collaborative and a genuine model for how we should proceed. It has been an example of how Parliament can make a difference. It is a great pity that because of consensus rather than controversy, very little of what has occurred will be recorded in the news media tomorrow morning.
§ Mr. Grieve
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for his words and the spirit in which the legislation has been introduced. The subject is not easy—I certainly did not find it so, and I am sure that that is true of all those who served in Committee. There was a common determination that we should not approach the Bill in a partisan way, and I hope and believe that we have created legislation that will stand the test of time.
A great deal of credit goes to the Government. When the Bill started out in the House of Lords, there may well have been a temptation, particularly when the key areas relating to rape were placed under scrutiny, for the Government to cease the consensual approach and feel that they were being threatened. It is greatly to the Home Secretary's credit that he listened carefully to what was being said and accepted amendments that I believe have in no way detracted from what he was trying to achieve in changing the law in relation to rape, but have provided essential safeguards that will guarantee that a fair trial can take place. The Government are to be commended for what they have done in that respect.
When we have approached the Bill here, it has been noteworthy that, because of the good work in another place, many areas of the Bill have gone through, I hope not on the nod—I hope that we have always scrutinised it sufficiently—but at any rate with no dispute whatever.
629 On those matters where there have been anxieties, one has only to look at the number of amendments tabled by the Government on Report to acknowledge that they have taken on board most, if not all, of the anxieties that have been expressed. In every respect, the Bill leaves the House in a better state than that in which it arrived, although it had already arrived in a good state because of the Government's attitude from the outset.
I thank—I echo what the Home Secretary said—the non-governmental organisations. I also thank the police, who have provided us throughout the Bill with much support and assistance in difficult areas, particularly many of those dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford). I thank him for organising some briefings that we received during the Bill's passage. I also thank the Government Whip exceptionally in respect of this Bill, and those who have whipped for the Opposition. We have succeeded in scrutinising in every aspect in Committee a Bill that was timetabled. I am sorry that we did not quite achieve it on Report but I do not blame the Government for that. Indeed, it would be churlish to blame Liberal Democrat Front Benchers. The blame certainly lies elsewhere.
The Bill is modernising and it is now gender neutral, and I am delighted about that. I am also delighted that it will clearly provide greater safeguards for children, which has been a great anxiety in the House. I hope very much that those work. I am pleased by the modernisation of some areas of law, which while understandable were archaic. I greatly welcome the Government's last-minute decision to accept that the marriage exception was irrelevant in the 21st century. While it may have been appropriate 100 years ago, it ceases to be so when we are living in a. much more diverse society where there have to be ground rules about the way people behave.
I do not want to take up more of: he House's time. It has been a pleasure and, indeed, a privilege to participate in the passage of the Bill. As for anonymity, the one outstanding matter, I am grateful to the Home Secretary for what he said. It is an area of deep anxiety. I hope that he can accept in that spirit the reason why we have kept on raising it, even though II accept that the Bill will not stand or fall by that particular clause. I hope that the Government can come away with constructive proposals by negotiation with the media, but if they cannot it is a matter that we will have to tackle, because otherwise the administration of justice will become very difficult.
I do not want to end on an unhappy note. The good note that I can end on is that I think that we have done—I hope that we have done—a good job. I thank all those who have participated in the Bill for making that possible.
§ Ms Munn
It is difficult to overstate the importance of the Bill. As has been said, this is an incredibly complex area. Legislating on it is not easy. Indeed, the more we look into it and examine the situation, the harder it is to come up with proposals that will work. Offences of this nature change over time. In particular, the introduction of such things as the internet have made such matters very complex.
630 To be subjected to a sexual offence is devastating. It is not to overstate the case to say that, for many people, it can scar their whole lives, but that is not to take away from the people who come through that experience and, rightly, describe themselves as survivors. Many of those people have suffered for many years the frustration of seeing inadequate justice in place to deal with those offences. Their families and those who work in that sector, as I did for a number of years, have felt that our justice system was not up to dealing with such offences. Equally, it is important that future offending is prevented and the Bill, commendably, seeks to do that as well. I am encouraged by the seriousness about the offences and the lengths to which the Bill goes to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable in our society.
The Bill seeks to offer protection not just to children but to adults with learning disabilities and mental disorders, and it recognises that part of the devastation that people experience when subject to such offences is the betrayal of trust. How can vulnerable adults and their families and children and their parents who have been subject to such an offence ever feel that they can trust people who are placed in positions of responsibility?
The Bill sends out a clear message to society in general as to what is acceptable and unacceptable and, beyond that, it takes seriously the fact that this is not just a question of what happens in our country and tackles so-called "sex tourism." The Bill states that what is not acceptable for children in our country should not be acceptable for children in other countries.
There are relatively few people in the Chamber, but we should not underestimate the importance of the Bill to many people. There will be people out there watching this on television and looking at what has been said. Following previous debates on this subject, I have received phone calls and letters from people throughout the country saying how important it has been to have these matters debated.
The Government have done a good job in tackling the issue and should be congratulated on that, as should Members on both sides of the House. It is a complex area, and the Bill needs to be implemented and monitored. It is only through the process of implementation that we will learn whether the clauses we have agreed will achieve the aims that everybody wants to see achieved. In monitoring that, we will come to understand whether we need further legislation to tackle these serious offences.
§ Simon Hughes
I am pleased to have the opportunity of seeing the Bill through. The Home Secretary knows that there are two other Bills that we have to see through together before my current Home Office work load is passed on entirely to my colleagues.
It is a great pleasure to welcome a Bill that, as the Home Secretary said, had been sitting around as an idea. Some of us had been lobbying for a reform of this area of the law for a long time, and I pay tribute to the Government for bringing the Bill through a proper consultative process, a good review body that came up with a set of sensible suggestions and then a consultative Government paper. Like the reform of coroners, a subject that has also been sitting on the shelves of the 631 Home Office for a long time, this matter needed the attention of Ministers, who have produced what is substantially a very good Bill.
I pay unequivocal tribute to the Home Secretary and his Ministers for the way in which they have made sure that the Bill got on to the statute book. His colleagues past and present have co-operated with my colleagues and me, and with others, to make sure that we get the best possible agreement in all areas of the Bill. I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), to the Solicitor-General and to now-elevated colleagues who have gone before. As the Home Secretary said, we all hope that being on Home Office duty provides us with a launching platform for greater things. There may even be those on the Conservative Front Bench with the same hope, although they are not all here tonight to express it.
§ Simon Hughes
They are well represented by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), although his elder and better is no doubt not far away.
I add tributes to four of my party colleagues in particular. My hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) and for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) have borne the brunt of the effort in this place and have done their job extremely well, while my colleagues Baroness Walmsley and Lord Thomas of Gresford did the same in the other place. This was a Bill where one had to be pretty committed to do the work, and the work was done by my colleagues to their credit and to the benefit of the Bill. They worked well with colleagues from all parties. I add a tribute to Lord Alli, who tabled significant amendments that were supported across the House. Like many of my colleagues, he sought to improve some areas that were technically very difficult, and about which there had been much controversy. As a result we have produced a much better Bill, but not without considerable effort.
Finally in my thank you list, as well as thanking many voluntary bodies and the police in general, I pay particular tribute to the Metropolitan police, who briefed colleagues in all parts of the House effectively, competently and supportively.
This was none of my doing, but I appreciate the fact that, apart from the last three groups of amendments on Report, everything was dealt with within agreed times. That is certainly the best way to approach such legislation. We should not be passing laws relating to criminal offences without having time to debate them and ensure that we get them right.
I shall now single out the substantive issues. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) said, this Bill is hugely important outside this place. We have reformed the law on rape significantly and for the better. The struggles that the House of Lords went through to try to get that right are important. There was a moment when it looked as if it would be possible to convict someone of that most serious offence without their having understood what they were doing. At one stage in the Lords, there was the possibility that a defendant in a rape trial would no longer be able to argue that he believed that the alleged victim was consenting. That has 632 been changed in a way that does not, I believe, prejudice the victim, but does ensure that the person accused is given a fair trial. That is a hugely important factor in dealing with this most serious offence.
Various other areas of the law were improved in the House of Lords, with the result that on a whole set of issues the prosecution was indeed required to establish the burden of proof, which had not been clear at the beginning. Another small but important issue was raised in the Lords, and the Government agreed that people who give advice, such as the agony aunts of this world, should not be criminalised for the advice that they give.
It was also important to state in law that people who abuse positions of trust should be prosecuted, and minors are now much better protected, whether from grooming, from people abusing positions of trust or from other people in the family. I agree with the Minister that that protection also applies within the marriage relationship. We cannot allow young people to be abused and exploited as was possible under the previous law.
There are other tricky areas, which are difficult to deal with, and which I am aware sometimes raise a laugh outside among the public. We did not get it right in the beginning, and people who walk round their homes with no clothes on, without doing anything else, could have been prosecuted just for that. The Government understood that the law needed to be drafted properly so that people who chose to do that did not unwittingly find themselves in court. Likewise, people who cause no offence and have no ill motive can be without clothes in parts of the country where that is permitted—such as on beaches in Dorset, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) explained, or elsewhere.
We may not have perfectly right the difficult subject of sex in public places. The Minister knows my views: we argued that that activity should be dealt with within a public order context rather than in sexual offences legislation. None the less, the Liberal Democrats, like all the other parties, are clear that it is important to understand that public conveniences are just that, and must not be abused by people in a way that prevents the public from using them as conveniences. I hope that message has come out loud and clear from all parts of the House.
Finally, I hope that it will be noted that we have also tidied up a few little things that would otherwise have been wrong and anomalous. For example, people who have committed offences that are no longer offences will not remain on the sex offenders register. Such matters are important. Their implications may be limited, but they are hugely important for the individuals involved.
I draw two messages from the Bill. One is that young people are now better protected by the law from people within their family, from other people whom they know, and from outsiders who seek to abuse them. Secondly, where that happens, we need to make sure that the police have the resources they need to follow up offences that will be on the statute book in the next few days. If we are to ensure, as we should, that those who groom young people into prospective crime are caught, we need to ensure that all the police authorities have the facilities and numbers to follow matters through.
633 As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) said, this is good legislation—not perfect, but significantly better than before—that is fair to men and women and to different types of relationship. But the proof of the pudding will come when we discover whether it is used wisely and understood clearly, and whether those with the authority to implement it are given the resources to do so. We wish the Bill well, and I am pleased that my colleagues in particular have been able to contribute to improving substantially what is very important legislation.
§ Mr. Bryant
Indeed. I, too, would like to congratulate the Home Office on being courageously bold in a quiet way, and on achieving what is, by all accounts, important legislation that will probably have a more direct effect on people's lives than much other legislation, even though it will barely be reported in tomorrow's newspapers and other media. This has been a good process. The initial consultation did, indeed, set the boundaries, and Ministers' response to probing amendments in Committee was entirely helpful. Making sex and sexuality, which are so often profoundly divisive issues in society, matters of open consensus in the House is a remarkable achievement; if only we could provide the same advice to the Anglican Church.
This is an excellent Bill primarily because of the added protection that it gives to children. Many of my constituents have been very concerned in recent years about the seeming increase in the number of child abuse stories. They will be pleased to learn that we are moving with the times and providing stronger protection, at a time when people are able to travel more around the world. One of my constituents is a very close family relative of two young children who were abducted and murdered some 15 years ago. Still nobody has been convicted of those murders, and I know that my constituent passionately wants the double jeopardy rule to be reformed as the Government would like it to be. My constituent does not understand why the House of Lords still has not finished with the Criminal Justice Bill, and looks forward to its completing its legislative passage.
I should also like to congratulate the Home Secretary as a gay man, because one of the most extraordinary aspects of this Bill is that it is probably changing more laws on homosexuality than on many of the other issues facing us. We barely talked about that issue in Committee because there is general consensus on it, but it took some courage to introduce many of the amendments. Ironically, the law on homosexuality in this country has probably been more illiberal and discriminatory in the past 150 years than it has in the past 1,000. Indeed, every time a Bill has been introduced to try to improve matters in the past 50 years, we have tended to take two steps forward and one step back. Many people will be profoundly happy to see the end of 634 the offences of solicitation, of gross indecency, of procuring others to commit homosexual acts, and of assault with intent to commit buggery.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) has referred to the Government's recent decision to include section 93 and schedule 4, which provide for those convicted of now abolished homosexual offences to come off the sex offenders register. That is good for those individuals because it allows them to get on with the rest of their lives. Equally importantly, it is good for the register, because people can now have absolute confidence that those on it are included for a very good reason.
Many congratulations, then, and further congratulations to the Home Secretary on the amendment tabled in the other place to the Criminal Justice Bill, which will make homophobic hate crimes illegal in the same way as racial hate crimes. That is a movement entirely in the right direction and should be welcomed.
I believe that this is a fine Bill. For once, we have not moved two steps forward and one step back. This is a resolute step forward and, as the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said earlier, it is a Bill that will stand the test of time.
§ Dr. Evan Harris
This is indeed important legislation and I share the pleasure of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant). I am pleased to see the abolition of existing discriminatory offences, particularly gross indecency and buggery, which were especially important in terms of their scope and the number of people whose lives were blighted by the threat of blackmail and shame for what were consenting offences. The changes made in that area of law are more important than other legal changes in respect of rights for gays and, more widely, for gays and lesbians.
The Government can rightly take pride in taking action, because it was not an easy process. It was clear from the outset that it would take a good deal of departmental time to have a review, a consultation and a White Paper and then a contentious Bill that would be difficult to whip, particularly in the other place. Gaining consensus in the House of Lords was particularly difficult.
I take particular pleasure in knowing that when the idea of having a review, which later became "Setting the Boundaries", was first mooted from the Dispatch Box in February 1999, it was partly in response to a new clause that I had proposed to the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill 1998—a Bill that was later blocked in the House of Lords and had to be pushed through under the Parliament Act. The amendment dealt with the privacy provision, which meant that even a consensual homosexual act could never be lawful if more than two people were present. A review was proposed in response to my new clause and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government for initiating it. I also thank the people who served on that review, which set out for the first time the need for gender-neutral and sexuality-neutral legislation.
I share the joy of the hon. Member for Rhondda at seeing both clause 93 and schedule 4 enacted. It is all the more laudable that the Government acted in that 635 respect—they can again take great pride—because it was not the Government's initial position that something needed to be done in this area. In the Committee considering the Bill to which 1 referred, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), then a Home Office Minister, said to me:It is important that we get one thing crystal clear. I suggested that the hon. Gentleman was being cavalier in his apparent disregard of the public expenditure implications of the course that he is proposing. Is he seriously suggesting that police time should be spent going through the charge sheets of individuals who have pleaded guilty, been convicted or been cautioned for the offences in question, in order to determine into which of the three categories"—consensual, non—consensual, private—they fall, and so whether his new clause will bite? Does he consider that to be a justifiable use of police time?"—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 11 February 1999; c. 148.]The Government have certainly now accepted that it is an appropriate use of Home Office time for that work to be done. We have had to wait a long time for those measures, which should have been introduced earlier.
In respect of the one substantive amendment—amendment No. 195—that was not agreed, I hope that there will be an informal time limit on the Home Office's determination of this matter. Even a month taken to act in respect of something that has always been consensual and should never have been registrable is a month too long.
It was a little churlish of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) to argue that 45 minutes for debating the issue of sex in public lavatories was too much, particularly when he himself made several pertinent interventions in that debate. As I said, singling out public lavatories for a lower standard of complaint, a lower standard of proof and a lower number of available defences than for sex in parks, commons, heaths and other areas is a questionable path down which to go. That is my only negative point about the Bill.
Finally, it is important to note that the Government have only just started to deal with some issues, particularly trafficking and the exploitation of people—mainly women, and often, sadly, children—as sex workers. I am glad that, following the evaluation of pilot schemes, cross-European and international work, the Government have recognised that there is clearly more to do. On the question of prostitution, I am delighted that the Government have had the courage to initiate a review in that area also and I hope that it leads to legislation—
§ Mr. Deputy Speake (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that on Third Reading he should be talking about what is in the Bill, and not speculating about the future. Other hon. Members are waiting to speak on the Bill.
§ Mr. Dawson
It was a privilege to serve on the Committee on this historic Bill. It is a fine Bill that will offer protection to many vulnerable people in this country and abroad for many years to come. It was a very positive experience being part of a Committee that had a genuine debate, with sincere and committed people on both sides doing their level best to try to improve the legislation.
636 Huge challenges lie ahead. We have improved the law on prostitution, on the protection of children who have been sexually abused, on young people who are themselves abusers and on trafficking. It is now essential that we improve the resources for, and availability of, treatment and support for offenders to ensure that the legal protection that we have put in place makes a real difference to people's lives. I have great hopes for further legislation that may stem from this Bill. We have laid down important structures in the Bill, including provision on the inability of young people under the age of 13 to consent to sexual relations. That will have profound implications for the age of criminal responsibility in the future.
The biggest challenge that will arise from the Bill will be faced not only by the Home Office, the Government and Ministers, but by all of us. The most important way in which we can protect children who are sexually abused in our society is by ensuring that we have a nationwide network of treatment centres for adult abusers. That heinous behaviour can and must be addressed properly, and it is a challenge for all of us whether we are prepared to accept such centres, whose fundamental role is to protect children, in the heart of our constituencies. These are huge issues for all communities. Sexual abuse is rife in our society and we must ensure that children are much better protected by putting such a network in place.
§ Mrs. Curtis-Thomas
Like all the other hon. Members who have spoken on Third Reading, I am profoundly grateful to the Government for introducing this Bill, especially the clauses that will protect young people with learning difficulties. I am the mother of a daughter with a learning difficulty, who will achieve the maturity age of a six-year-old. Like many other hon. Members, I have had parents of children with learning difficulties coming to my surgeries. Some of those children have been sexually abused, some of them in care homes. Unfortunately, achieving a prosecution has always been incredibly difficult because there have always been debates about whether or not such an individual is capable of consenting to sex.
The reality is that my daughter will never be in a fit position to consent, or otherwise, to sex. In fact, it would take very little to induce her into any form of behaviour. The prospect for many parents of children with such difficulties was that they could never be exposed to society. They would never have the opportunity to live in sheltered accommodation, because if they were exposed to some sort of sexual activity, it would be almost impossible to achieve redress. There would only have been a terribly assault and no actual justice for the individual. That remains the case until we prove that this legislation works.
I was unable to speak on the Bill earlier because it covers such a highly emotive area for me and for people and parents like me. The effectiveness of the Bill will be borne out only if there are successful prosecutions, as the Minister said. It will be so if my colleagues in Mencap tell me that it is working and that those people feel that they have more rights and a greater chance of justice when acts are committed against them. It will be so if the police feel more disposed to take prosecutions 637 to the Crown Prosecution Service and when the CPS is confident enough to take those cases to court. Few cases get there now.
I welcome the Bill from that personal perspective and on behalf of many parents in a pos tion similar to my own. I thank the Home Secretary for his reassurances on anonymity. The guidelines that will soon be issued to the press will, I hope, have the desired effect. I am deeply concerned about the publication of scandalous stories and their effects on innocent people and on the juries who are expected to reach judgment.
§ Vera Baird
I pay the greatest of respect to what has just been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas).
I shall return the mood to one of congratulation by complimenting the Government on tile excellence of the Bill. It was a true pleasure to serve on the Committee, and I congratulate the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary who has dealt so well, so amiably and so flexibly with the Bill this evening. I also compliment the advisers who have worked extremely hard, sometimes running to stand still.
Clause 1 is of particular importance. It did not end as it started and has been amended for the better. Its purpose has unflinchingly remained the same throughout. For women, it is a progressive and symbolic provision. It has taken since 1975 to find a Home Office sufficiently understanding to reverse the rule in Morgan v. the Director of Public Prosecutions. That rule said that it is a complete defence to rape for a man, whatever the woman says or does, to say that he believed that she was consenting. Because of the emphasis placed by the clause on the actions carried out by the defendant to check the complainant's state of mind, it will also be much less possible for previous sexual history to be used to say that that was what persuaded a man that a woman was, in fact, consenting.
Finally, I appeal to the Government to hold the fort on anonymity. Clause 1 brings twin changes of great benefit to women in the continued fight for sexual rights. I congratulate the Home Secretary.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.