§ [References are to [Bill 150] as first printed for the Commons].
§ 1 Clause 1, page 2, line 40, leave out "under the age of 16 years".
§ 2 Page 2, line 41, after "offence", insert "if that step-child is either under the age of 21 or has at any time before attaining the age of 18 lived in the same household and been treated as a child of his or her family.".
§ 3 Page 3, line 2, leave out "16" and insert "21".
§ Lord Wilson of Langside
My Lords', with the leave of the House, I beg to move that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 en bloc. The amendments amend Clause 1. The Bill, when it left your Lordships' House, inserted a new section into the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 1976. That was Section 2B. The section makes it an offence for any step-parent to have sexual relations with his or her step-child under the age of 16. The effect of the poposed amendments, with which I ask your Lordships to agree, is to constitute the offence where the step-child is under 21 or has at any time before the age of 18 lived in the same household and been treated as a child of the step-parent's family. The amendments are obviously designed to bring the Bill into line with the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees of Relationship) Act 1986.
I can appreciate and understand the concern felt about this aspect of the Bill as it originally stood. However, I should certainly have preferred the Bill as it stood. The amendments proceed, I believe, from a perhaps inadequate appreciation of the social and legal implications of this measure. I can see that without offence. Indeed, my first thought, when I originally looked at the matter, was to make the age in this context that of 21. The danger of the change is that relationships may be criminalised that should not be so treated.
As the matter now stands, the Lord Advocate will have to keep a watchful eye on the working of the Bill in this context because the offence can carry a sentence of life imprisonment. 1 shall not weary your Lordships during the dinner hour by repeating some examples that were touched upon during the debates that took place as the Bill was going through your Lordships' House—the dangers and the undesirability of criminalising certain relationships that should not be so treated. I am sure that all your Lordships can imagine human situations that should not be regarded as criminal developing in this context. I say no more, however, except to ask your Lordships to agree to the amendments.
§ Moved, That this House do agree with the Commons in the said amendments.—(Lord Wilson of Langside.)
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until eight o'clock.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 7.4 p.m. until 8 p.m.]