HL Deb 08 November 2000 vol 618 cc1539-59

(" . After section 1 of the Indecency with Children Act 1960 (indecent conduct towards young child), there shall be inserted—

"Use of electronic communication to incite acts of gross indecency with children.

1A.—(1) In this section, except where otherwise stated, "child" means a person under the age of sixteen years.

(2) Any person who uses electronic communication for the purposes of—

  1. (a) engaging in an act of gross indecency with a person he knows or has reason to believe is a child;
  2. (b) inciting a person he knows or has reason to believe is a child to meet with him with the intent of engaging in an act of gross indecency; or
  3. (c) soliciting a person he knows or has reason to believe is a child to engage in any act that would constitute an offence under section 1 or under section 2(a) or 2(b),
is guilty of an offence and shall be liable—
  1. (i) on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or to a fine, or to both; or
  2. (ii) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both.

(3) References in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to the offences mentioned in the first Schedule to that Act shall include offences under this section.

(4) Offences under this section shall be deemed to be offences against the person for the purpose of section 3 of the Visiting Forces Act 1952 (which restricts the trial by the United Kingdom courts of offenders connected with visiting forces).

(5) In this section, "electronic communication" has the meaning given by section 15 of the Electronic Communications Act 2000."").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I hope that the noble and learned Lord will not take it amiss that, although I am deeply grateful for all that has been done so far with regard to this Bill, I remain concerned about the use of new technology for the purposes of procuring the sexual services of young children.

Amendment No. 33 is coupled with Amendment No. 34. In essence, the Government have said consistently that we do not need Amendment No. 33 because the issue is already covered by existing legislation. They say that the language in the amendment is flawed. My response to that is that I do not believe that existing legislation is adequate and that I have consistently sought to improve the language. Indeed, I have included further improvements in the version being considered today.

In my experience, the substantive issue with which this amendment deals is the on-line enticement of children by adults, usually referred to as "paedophiles"—however, that is not a legislative term—in order to exploit children in on-line conversations, in sending them degrading e-mails or pornographic pictures and, ultimately, to commit sexual offences with those children off-line.

I accept that the existing law is adequate to deal with the off-line element of the sexual offences. Indeed, I have referred previously to a case on 24th October in which a man called Patrick Green was sentenced to five years' imprisonment for sexual offences with a girl whom he met via the Internet. It was the off-line element of his ghastly crime that was responsible for his conviction. However, my contention is that, with the advent of the Internet and other electronic communications systems, the potential for adults to exploit children has increased. The way that they can groom, manipulate and lure children is of a different nature to the off-line process, and that is not covered by existing law.

The evidence which I gave on Report showed that the police were not using the Indecency with Children Act 1960, which the Government claimed they could use in recent cases involving on-line exploitation. That even applies to children under the age of 14. Moreover, I should be intrigued to know how a paedophile acting alone could be charged with the offence in the 1960 Act of conspiracy to indecently assault a child. Surely conspiracy requires more than one person.

The noble and learned Lord also quoted in defence of the Government's line the paper by the sub-group of the Internet Crime Forum. I know that that group has been meeting for over a year and I am disappointed by its lack of urgency in looking at the issue. Moreover, while its interim paper, which the noble and learned Lord has been kind enough to send to me, contains useful advice and suggestions, there is no evidence that it has considered at any length the question of legislation and the need for new offences. In fact, there is a cursory dismissal of the need for legislation. The group says that present off-line legislation can be interpreted to on-line activities. However, the police and the judiciary do not appear to take that view. In any event, action in a court could be challenged as the existing legislation has not been drafted with on-line technology in mind.

I note that in the United States there is an offence of enticement of children by adults. They have much more experience there of cases where the Internet has been used by adults to contact innocent children with a view to grooming them for sexual purposes. I want to mention one example. A 22 year-old and Second Air Force lieutenant was arrested on Friday 13th October this year by the Colorado Internet Crimes Against Children task force when he contacted an undercover officer, who posed as a 13 year-old girl, in the parking lot of a local shopping centre. He had arranged a meeting via the Internet with someone he believed to be a 13 year-old girl. The purpose of the meeting was to go to the man's residence in Colorado Springs and to have various types of sexual contact with the girl, who was actually an undercover police detective from Colorado Springs police department.

The man had first initiated contact via the Internet two days before the meeting. He was booked into the E1 Paso county gaol on charges of enticement of a child and of criminally attempting to sexually assault a child. If that kind of contact had been initiated in the United Kingdom, I believe that he could not have been charged. Perhaps an "Internet crimes against children task force" would be an interesting idea here.

I have no reason to believe that the United Kingdom will not see a major growth in such cases. Surely the Government recognise that it is important to be prepared. Part of that preparation is having an adequate awareness programme to educate and warn parents and children who use the Internet. The charity, Childline International, has made an excellent start on that with its website. It efforts are being made on the equivalent of a shoestring. We should all be indebted to it for that work.

In this House we must consider whether awareness efforts need to be backed by changes to legislation. My contention is that they do. Perhaps I may briefly summarise how this amendment differs from that which I brought forward on Report.

First, I have changed the definition of "electronic communication" and used that which recently became law in the Electronic Communications Act 2000. That is the Government's own definition so I hope that they will accept it. For the benefit of those noble Lords who do not have the Act to hand, the definition is: 'Electronic communication' means a communication transmitted (whether from one person to another, from one device to another or from a person to a device or vice versa) … by means of a telecommunication system (within the meaning of the Telecommunications Act 1984); or … by other means but while in an electronic form".

Secondly, I have dropped the concept of sexually explicit discussion with a child. The Minister persuaded me to accept that it did raise problems of how to exclude genuine on-line counselling by reputable organisations.

Thirdly, I have included a new offence of inciting a child or a person believed to be a child to arrange to meet for the purposes of engaging in an act of gross indecency. This would catch the kind of circumstances where Patrick Green spent months persuading a girl from Cumbria to meet him. No off-line sexual offence took place, but his intent was clear. The only charge brought in that case of abduction was not pressed in court.

I feel so strongly that it is better that we catch and charge people before they commit sexual offences off-line rather than waiting until they do abuse a child. I hope that the Minister will agree to this amendment, which calls urgently for legislation.

My Amendment No. 34, which has been previously discussed, broadens the spectrum of acts of abuse and threats of abuse and raises the penalty for such acts. The amendment seeks to protect boys as well as girls, and would cover all sexually explicit conduct, not just sexual intercourse, as is the case under the Sexual Offences Act 1956. The amendment updates the law regarding sex and age in order to include the protection of all children and, again, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for helping in that respect.

In particular, I have added preparatory offences—for example, inciting a child to commit gross indecency, and restricting a child's liberty, which would include abduction. It will also allow for interventions by the police which should result in minimising the opportunity to commit real, physical harm on a child.

Importantly, my amendment also includes a subsection to punish parents and guardians who betray a sacred trust by sexually abusing their own children.

Proposals such as those contained in this amendment work in the United States, so why not here? The purpose of my amendment is to allow for the arrest of paedophiles for preparatory offences—those actions which lead to the most awful sexual violation of children. Intervention before physical harm is committed is the aim of my amendment.

There is no doubt that these actions of incitement, abduction and paving the way for sexual activity against a child should be considered as a crime in itself. After all, it is a crime, for example, to be caught going equipped to steal, thus allowing the police to arrest a would-be thief or burglar.

Considerable damage can be done to a child subject to any of the activities described in my amendment. Waiting for committees to report, for departments to consider and for room in the legislative programme is like waiting for Godot. The well-being and protection of our children is just too precious for us not to accept the amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, again, I do not think that there is any difference between the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the Government on what we seek to bring about. Perhaps I should set out the principal stand that we adopt.

Our view is that all objectionable behaviour of the sort generally described by the noble Baroness, which is directed to the vulnerable—namely, children—should be capable of being caught by effective criminal sanctions. In a deep sense, it is not really relevant whether that is done on the Internet or by more conventional means. It seems to us that the law should meet the mischief effectively, comprehensively and coherently, whatever the mechanism or device which is used.

The first part of the first new clause—and I will spend a little longer than on the earlier matters, if I may, without trespassing on your Lordships' patience—is directed at using an electronic communication for the purpose of engaging in an act of gross indecency. That is to catch, if I understand it right, a person who uses the Internet to get himself in a position where he is able to commit an act of gross indecency with or towards a child.

If the use made of the Internet contains material which is sufficiently explicit as to the person's intentions, that behaviour is already caught by the incitement provisions of Section 1 of the Indecency with Children Act 1960.

The noble Baroness is right, of course, that more than single mind is required to prove conspiracy, but incitement is not in that category. If the material is not explicit but is used to arrange a meeting, the second part of the proposed amendment—inciting a child to a meeting with the intention of engaging in an act of gross indecency—would come into play.

Depending on the available evidence, that activity might well be caught by the provisions of the Child Abduction Act 1984 or, indeed, by an attempted incitement to one of the offences under the Sexual Offences Act 1956. We need to bear in mind that Section 2 of the 1984 Act already makes it an offence for someone other than a parent or some others, without reasonable excuse, to take or detain a child under 16 so as to remove that child from, or keep him out of the control of, any person entitled to have lawful control of the child. A person is regarded as "taking a child" if he causes or is one of the causes of, or induces the child to accompany him or any other person, or causes the child to be taken. There is no requirement for physical removal of the child.

So there are offences of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring, or conspiracy to commit the offences covering much, if not all, of the behaviour dealt with in the noble Baroness's amendment. There are offences of attempted incitement under the 1956 Act.

One of the cautionary pieces of advice which was well given to us by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice was to try to achieve coherence in the criminal law. We are not simply waiting for things to happen. As the noble Baroness knows, the first volume of Setting the Boundaries, on reforming the law on sexual offences, was published in July of this year, as was the second volume of supporting evidence. That is out for consultation at the moment. Those are very difficult, intricate parts of the law and if one has confused law reformed piecemeal, very often the perverse consequence is that the law is not able to be deployed appropriately in those areas.

The consultation period will come to an end in March next year. I suggest, with great respect, that we should really try to reform the law on sexual offences in a comprehensive way, to introduce uniformity and clarity into this difficult area of the criminal law.

The third part of the amendment—soliciting a child to an act of gross indecency—is covered by the incitement provisions of the existing Section 1 offence. The noble Baroness has already recited what is being done at the moment. I am grateful for her acknowledgement of the interim report of the sub-group. Our position is that we want children to be protected, but we want a comprehensive, workable framework for the criminal law.

The Association of Chief Police Officers, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the National Crime Squad, and Customs and Excise have already prepared their high-tech crime strategy in response to the emerging threat posed by high-tech crime. The Home Secretary approved £337,000 for the National Criminal Intelligence Service to prepare the ground—I agree with the point the noble Baroness made—for developing a national unit to tackle computer crime, which includes the offences committed by paedophiles to which she referred. I do not believe that there is a gap in the law which is capable of being filled, or ought to be filled, on a piecemeal basis.

The second proposed new clause relates to indecency with children. Of course we want to protect children by means of the criminal law. The amendment I moved and which your Lordships agreed extends the protection of children by raising the age from under 14 to under 16. The first part of the second new clause would have no greater effect than the new clause I proposed. One part of the amendment dealt with potential parental liability. Indeed the penalty proposed is up to 10 years' imprisonment in circumstances where, Any parent, guardian or other person having for the time being custody or control of a child who knowingly permits that child to engage in, or to assist any other person to engage in, sexual activity". That means that if a parent with a 15 year-old who is going out with another 15 year-old, knows that they may kiss each other or engage in sexual touching, that parent is liable to be charged with a criminal offence with a sanction of up to 10 years' imprisonment.

This is not a drafting point; it is a point of substance. I take it as an illustration of the dangers that there are, for good motive and from a good heart, in trying to reform an area of law which is exceptionally difficult. People are regularly prosecuted to conviction in the courts in the United Kingdom. There are offences, of course, to protect children against abduction. I do not believe—this is really a conceptual difference between the noble Baroness and myself—that qualitatively or conceptually there is any difference between the Internet or any other form of human activity that is designed or is capable of damaging children.

So I sympathise with the motives of the noble Baroness in putting forward these amendments. But the gap that she believes exists does not in fact exist. The powers are there for investigation and prosecution and a number of her illustrations on past occasions resulted in successful convictions.

I have spent a little time on this. It is an important matter. I urge the House to reform this difficult area in a measured, careful, thoughtful way. The consultation period has not yet run. A good deal of the difficulty in our criminal law has arisen because of piecemeal attempts in the past which have developed and been determined by specific illustrations which outrage us all but which are not always a good guide to proportionate, appropriate reform.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, as always, I am grateful for the sensitive way in which the noble and learned Lord dealt with both my amendments. I was disappointed at the way in which he described new subsection (4) in the second amendment. I regard sexual exploitation of an under-age child—we are not talking of 16, 17 or 18 year-olds; we are talking about children under 16—as wrong. Complicit activity between a parent and children in this way is unacceptable and I regard subsection (4) as an important part of the amendment.

Whatever we say, the police do not believe that they have enough powers to intervene on the ground. We said this at the last stage and know it still to be true. They want powers to intervene before a crime is committed against a child. Noble Lords will have to forgive me. I am coloured by my own experience as a Minister at the Home Office and the total failure I experienced in trying to obtain a description of corrupting and depraving materials; that is, materials which were being illicitly sent through the post to unsuspecting recipients. I failed miserably because there is a natural resistance in the Home Office to draft legislation of this kind. It is something about which I feel extremely strongly and I must test the opinion of the House.

3.35 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 33) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 104; Not-Contents, 185.

Division No. 1
Aberdare, L. Elliott of Morpeth.L.
Alton of Liverpool, L. Elton, L.
Ampthill, L. Ferrers, E.
Anelay of St Johns, B. Fookes, B.
Ashcroft, L. Freeman, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Gardner of Parkes, B.
Attlee, E. Geddes, L.
Belstead, L. Glenarthur, L.
Blaker, L. Glentoran, L.
Blatch, B. Gray of Contin, L.
Boardman, L. Hanham, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Hayhoe, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Henley, L. [Teller]
Burnham, L. [Teller] Higgins, L.
Buscombe, B. Howe, E.
Byford, B. Hunt of Wirral, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Jopling, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Kingsland, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Kirkham, L.
Carr of Hadley, L Knight of Collingtree, B.
Chadlington, L. Laird, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Lamont of Lerwick, L.
Cockfield, L. Lane of Horsell, L.
Cooke of Islandreagh, L. Luke, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. Lyell, L.
Cranborne, V. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L
Crathorne, L. Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Crickhowell, L. Miller of Hendon, B.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Dean of Harptree, L. Monro of Langholm, L.
Denham, L. Montrose, D.
Dixon-Smith, L. Moore of Lower Marsh, L.
Dundee, E. Moore of Wolvercote, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Elles, B. Moynihan, L.
Noakes, B. Ryder of Wensum, L.
Northbrook, L. Saatchi, L.
Northesk, E. Seccombe, B.
Norton of Louth, L. Sharples, B.
O'Cathain, B. Shaw of Northstead, L
Oppenheim-Barnes, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Park of Monmouth, B. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Parkinson, L. Strathclyde, L.
Pearson of Rannoch, L. Swinfen, L.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Plummer of St. Marylebone, L. Trefgarne, L.
Rawlings, B. Vivian, L.
Rawlinson of Ewell, L. Waddington, L.
Reay, L. Wilcox, B.
Renton, L. Wilson of Tillyorn, L.
Rogan, L. Wolfson, L.
Rotherwick, L. Young, B.
Ackner, L. Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Acton, L. Filkin, L.
Addington, L. Fitt, L.
Ahmed, L. Gale, B.
Alderdice, L. Geraint, L.
Alli, L. Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Amos, B. Gladwin of Clee, L.
Andrews, B. Goldsmith, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Goodhart, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Goudie, B.
Avebury, L. Gould of Potternewton, B.
Bach, L. Grabiner, L.
Barnett, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Greaves, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Gregson, L.
Berkeley, L. Grenfell, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L. Hardy of Wath, L.
Blackstone, B. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Blease, L. Harris of Richmond, B.
Bledisloe, V. Harrison, L.
Blood, B. Haskel, L.
Borrie, L. Hayman, B.
Bragg, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Brennan, L. Howells of St. Davids, B.
Brett, L. Howie of Troon, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Hoyle, L.
Brookman, L. Hughes of Woodside, L
Bruce of Donington, L. Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Burlison, L. Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord Chancellor)
Carter, L. [Teller]
Castle of Blackburn, B. Islwyn, L.
Chalfont, L. Janner of Braunstone, L.
Christopher, L. Jay of Paddington, B. (Lord Privy Seal)
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Jeger, B.
Clement-Jones, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Kennedy of The Shaws, B.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. King of West Bromwich, L.
Craig of Radley, L. Layard, L.
Crawley, B. Lea of Crondall, L.
Darcy de Knayth, B. Lipsey, L.
David, B. Lockwood, B.
Davies of Oldham, L. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
Desai, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]
Dholakia, L.
Dixon, L. McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
Donoughue, L. MacKenzie of Culkein, I.
Dubs, L. Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L
Elder, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Evans of Parkside, L. Maddock, B.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L. Mallalieu, B.
Ezra, L. Mar and Kellie, E.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Falkland, V. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Methuen, L.
Mishcon, L. Smith of Clifton, L.
Morgan, L. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Morris of Castle Morris, L. Smith of Leigh, L.
Newby, L. Stallard, L.
Nicholson of Winterbourne, B. Steel of Aikwood, L.
Nicol, B. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Northover, B. Stone of Blackheath, L.
Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L. Strange, B.
Orme, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Parekh, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Patel of Blackburn, L. Tenby, V.
Paul, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Phillips of Sudbury, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Plant of Highfield, L. Thornton, B.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. Tomlinson, L.
Puttnam, L. Tordoff, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B. Turnberg, L.
Rea, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Rendell of Babergh, B. Uddin, B.
Rennard, L. Wakefield, Bp.
Richardson of Calow, B. Walmsley, B.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L. Walpole, L.
Roll of Ipsden, L. Warner, L.
Roper, L. Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Russell, E. Watson of Richmond, L.
Sainsbury of Turville, L. Weatherill, L.
St. John of Bletso, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Sandberg, L. Whitaker, B.
Scotland of Asthal, B. Whitty, L.
Serota, B. Wigoder, L.
Sewel, L. Wilkins, B.
Sharman, L, Williams of Crosby, B.
Sharp of Guildford, B. Williams of Elvel, L.
Shepherd, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Sheppard of Liverpool, L. Williamson of Horton, L.
Shore of Stepney, L. Winston, L.
Shutt of Greetland, L. Woolmer of Leeds, L.
Simon, V. Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

3.46 p.m.

[Amendment No. 34 not moved.]

Clause 43 [Exclusion orders]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 35: Clause 43, page 26, leave out lines 15 to 27.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 35 and speak to Amendments Nos. 36 to 38. However, I shall first allow the noble and learned Lord to speak because it is possible that he may have something welcome to say.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, yes. The amendment relates to the subject of the report of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon. He raised questions which a number of your Lordships thought required serious consideration, not least on the previous occasion. Although the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, did not then speak, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, the noble Lords, Lord Carlisle and Lord Dholakia, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, raised the issue.

The Government are prepared to accept the amendments for the reasons deployed on previous occasions—not in their entirety but in their principle thrust. However, I must make it plain that we looked to flexibility to amend the maximum length of exclusion orders and conditions in case a year was shown to be insufficient.

The amendments would require primary legislation and therefore, so that your Lordships are not misled, we propose in another place to extend the maximum duration of both an exclusion order and an exclusion condition of a community order to two years. That gives the court the power which I think your Lordships thought was more appropriate than executive decision, even by affirmative procedure on secondary legislation.

Secondly, the amendments take away the power of the Secretary of State to add to the list of those areas of the offender's private life with which exclusion and curfew should not conflict or interfere. The list may be required to be added to. It was not one of the concerns of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee but in another place we shall seek to reinstate those powers which do not go to the principled point.

In short, therefore, I hope that I have pleased all noble Lords.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord most warmly for that concession. He has done exactly what I hoped he would do: he has conceded the point of principle, which was the one point that concerned us. It is entirely satisfactory to these Benches.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene briefly as I am the only current member of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee present in your Lordships' House. I can however see a former member present. The committee feel most strongly about this issue. It is an issue of principle that the power of sentencing should not be capable of being increased by delegated legislation, particularly where it interferes with the liberty of the subject, even if it is not concerned with an actual sentence of imprisonment. We greatly welcome the Government's position.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, on behalf of the whole House I thank the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee for its service to the House. Noble Lords on all Benches benefit from the committee's preparatory work before they consider the details of Bills. I am sure that the whole House also wishes to join me in thanking the noble and learned Lord for his work in bringing us to this point.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 46 [Community sentences: drug abstinence requirements]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 36: Clause 46, page 28, leave out lines 1 to 9.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 47 [Community sentences: curfew requirements]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 37: Clause 47, page 31, leave out lines 8 to 17.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 48 [Community sentences: exclusion requirements]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 38: Clause 48, page 32, leave out lines 13 to 22.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 52 [Regulation of community orders]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendments Nos. 39 to 41:

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 60 [Supervision of young offenders after release]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 42: Clause 60, page 44, line 6, after ("local") insert ("probation").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 61 [Release on licence etc: drug testing requirements]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 43: Clause 61, page 44, line 45, after ("local") insert ("probation").

On Quest ion, amendment agreed to.

Clause 64 [Arrangements for assessing etc. risks posed by certain offenders]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 44: Clause 64, page 45, line 32, after ("local") insert ("probation").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 66 [Duties of local boards in connection with victims of certain offences]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendments Nos. 45 to 53:

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 69 [Failure to secure regular attendance at school: increase in penalty]:

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 54: Clause 69, page 49, line 34, at end insert— ("( ) This section shall apply only in cases where the failure to attend school is with the knowledge and consent of the parent or other adult responsible for securing the child's attendance at school.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, Amendment No. 54 in my name and that of my noble friend is concerned with Clause 69 which increases the penalties on parents whose children play truant from school. I no longer seek to delete the clause: I do not believe that it would be proper to do so at this stage. The amendment makes a qualification to the clause. It bites only on a parent whose child fails to attend school, with the knowledge and consent of the parent or other adult responsible for securing the child's attendance at school".

The point was made very well by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, at the previous stage that it is perfectly possible for a child to go off to school, even to go through the school gates and register, and then fail to attend for the remainder of day. Following the previous stage of the Bill, I reported what had happened to our departmental office and was told of another case which was on all fours with the one referred to by the noble Baroness. It seems unreasonable that this should constitute an offence liable to a fine of £2,500. Does the Minister have anything to say on that point? I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I believe that the issue of culpability is a very real one. An effective policy to get young people off the streets and back into school is something that we all support. I am aware from previous debates that both the Liberal Democrat Benches and our Benches support the Government on all the practical measures they have introduced to encourage the police to visit young people who hang around shopping centres and play areas and to do what they can to get them back into school, and to encourage the community to engage in that process. However, I believe that this amendment goes to the heart of the question of culpability.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I suspect that, not for the first time today, we are moving towards consensus on this issue. I am grateful to the noble Earl for tabling this amendment which I believe is a helpful way forward. I should set out again what we intend to do with this provision so that there is no misunderstanding. At Report stage the noble Earl expressed concern that our proposal would result in innocent parents being taken to court for the actions of children over whom they had no control. The amendment which has been tabled means that the offence applies only to cases where truancy has occurred with the knowledge and consent of the parents.

I assure the noble Earl that the object of our proposal is not to punish parents who are doing everything possible to ensure that their children are in school. Before a case comes to court there will be months of effort by the local education authority to resolve the matter. Efforts will be made to try to get the child back into school. The issue of non-attendance at school will be discussed extensively with the child concerned, his or her parents and the school involved. Magistrates will expect to see evidence of these discussions when a case comes to court. I am sure that magistrates will expect the local education authority to show that it has done everything possible to help the parents to get the child into school.

If a parent makes every effort but the child refuses to co-operate in attending school, the local education authority has a number of options open to it. These may involve the use of an alternative education placement for a child other than at school, for example, in a pupil referral unit run by the LEA where the child will receive specialist help and support to re-engage him or her in education. For older children, the option of a place at a further education college could be considered. Alternatively, the child could be offered work experience in the last few years or months of compulsory education alongside the basic curriculum.

Parenting orders can also be used to help parents. They are designed to help and support parents or guardians in addressing their child's anti-social and offending behaviour. Parenting orders were extremely successful in the pilot areas and were rolled out nationally on 1st June 2000. Those orders have achieved a success rate of 91 per cent in terms of completion. Most importantly, if parents are not able to get the child into school despite their best efforts, the local education authority can apply for an education supervision order which makes the local education authority responsible for educating the child. That is an important option. If a parent is genuinely unable to secure the education of a child at school, the local authority can step in.

At Report stage the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, quoted the case of a child who had been off school for three months although his parents believed that he had been attending every day. The noble Earl repeated that example. Clearly, it is unacceptable for a school to wait that long to find out what has happened to a child. If the noble Earl and the noble Baroness give me further details of those cases I shall follow them up to see what more can be done. But it remains the case that in that situation a parent must accept some responsibility. Did the parents not ask the child about his or her progress at school? Were they not surprised when the child failed to bring home homework or talk about his or her experiences at school? All of those matters are very important. As a parent I ensure that I discuss my children's schooling with them each and every day, and we expect that of most reasonable parents. It is all very well for parents to protest their innocence but it is astounding that a child can be absent from school for a three-month period without the parents realising that something is amiss. Both schools and parents are responsible.

Having heard the arguments and acknowledged the points that have been made, I am willing to accept the creation of a new and additional aggravated offence with a maximum penalty at level four and/or three months' imprisonment. That would leave the current offence under Section 444 unchanged. But the new and additional offence would require proof of parental knowledge of truancy. Failure to appear in court to answer a summons for this aggravated offence would allow the issue of a warrant to secure attendance at court. The clear advantage is that the higher penalty would be linked to the most serious cases only.

Therefore, we do not oppose the amendment today. However, we should like the opportunity, if the noble Earl is prepared to offer it, to discuss the wording of the amendment with the draftsman and, if necessary, table revised wording in another place at Commons consideration of Lords amendments. There is nothing between us on the principle. We are now very much of one view that the objective is to reduce truancy and there is value in adopting the course outlined by the Government. We all want to improve the future prospects of our children. We recognise the importance of ensuring that there is compliance in this area and that the courts are perhaps used in a more sensitive and appropriate way so that parents are brought into the court arena. We can achieve the objective of driving down truancy rates by using the law in a more sensible and intelligent manner.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, before the noble Earl, Lord Russell, winds up on the amendment, I should like to say that we have arrived at a very agreeable pass. I thank the Minister for the work that he clearly has done in the back room.

4 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the Minister for what he has done. We are approaching compromise at a rapid speed. I found his reply extremely helpful. I shall not pretend that I agreed with every word of it, but this seems entirely the wrong time to take up the few words that I did not agree with.

Perhaps I may just clarify one point before we leave the matter. Is it the intention to end up with an aggravated offence of failing to attend school with the knowledge of the parents or with the knowledge and consent of the parents? There is a material difference. I should be glad to know what is in the Government's mind.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, we want to reflect carefully on the weight of those two words. It is for that reason that we want to take the matter away. We would very much like to have the opportunity of having further discussions with the noble Earl about the precise formulation of the wording because clearly it will have a material effect.

Earl Russell

My Lords, that is exactly what I understood the position to be. It is a good, honest and sensible answer. I thank the Minister for it very warmly. I beg to move.

Noble Lords


Earl Russell

My Lords, it was my understanding that the Minister needs the amendment in order to have an opportunity to consider further the issue in another place.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I can confirm that that is the situation.

Ear Russell

My Lords, I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 75 [General interpretation]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 55: Clause 75, page 51, line 3, after ("local") insert ("probation").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 77 [Commencement]:

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 56: Clause 77, page 51, line 18, at end insert— ("( ) No day may be appointed for the commencement of sections 40 to 42 until the results of the review of the sentencing framework of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 can be taken into account.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, at all stages during the passage of the Bill we have tried to persuade the Government that the change to the names of the orders should not be promulgated until the review of the sentencing framework has been completed. In view of the conciliatory tones that have been adopted so often today I hope that we can persuade the Government that this should be the case here. It is clear that there are disagreements about the new names of the orders. It is clear also that the review of the sentencing framework may introduce different forms of orders. It could be extremely confusing to change the names of the orders at this stage and then change them again as a result of the sentencing framework review. Therefore, I ask once more that this matter be delayed until the sentencing framework review has been completed. I beg to move.

Lord Bach

My Lords, when the amendment appeared on Report I described it as ingenious. I do not know whether one can be ingenious twice. But if one can be, the noble Baroness has succeeded. However, she has not succeeded in persuading us that this is the right course to take.

The effect of the amendment would be to prevent the commencement of Clauses 40 to 42, which rename community orders, until the review of the sentencing framework in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 is completed and its results taken into account. That is something that is some way off.

We believe that it is right to change these names as soon as convenient. We do not see sufficient reason to await the results of the sentencing review. We strongly feel that changing the names of these orders will make them better understood by the general public. That is critical. These are public courts that give out public sentences. We believe that the public do not really understand what a probation order is, what a community service order is and particularly what a combination order is. If the public were asked what a combination order is, most people would quite understandably throw up their hands and say, "I have not the faintest idea what a combination order is". That is why we believe that the sooner the public are better informed, the sooner they will better understand what it is that the courts are doing when they pass these significant and important orders against convicted persons. We believe that the change of name should come in sooner rather than later; in fact, as soon as possible.

The review that the noble Baroness refers to in her amendment is a broad review which will not report yet. The consequences of the report will not be implemented for an even longer time. Perhaps I may briefly remind the House what is the point of the review: what principles should guide sentencing decisions; what types of disposal should be made available to the courts; the costs of different disposals; what changes therefore need to be made to the current sentencing framework; and the likely impact of any recommendations in terms of costs and the effects on the prison population. These are among the various issues that this important review will need to comment on. Its comments will need to be considered and either acted on or not acted on. We believe there is some urgency in changing these names. Although we understand exactly what the noble Baroness seeks to do in her amendment, we do not think it is an appropriate amendment to pass. We ask the House not to accept it.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, I have had a good innings on the amendment. At the end of the day, I am sorry that I have not won. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 78 [Extent]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 57: Clause 78, page 52, line 3, at end insert— ("( ) Section (Extension of corresponding Northern Ireland offence: conduct towards 14 to 16 year olds) extends to Northern Ireland only.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Local boards]:

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 58 to 61:

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 62: Schedule 1, page 54, line 20, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on Report I undertook to reflect upon strongly held views in the House that all boards would require a secretary and a treasurer. I prayed in aid of my position Gwent Probation Service. On reflection, we believe that it would be desirable in all circumstances that a board appoints either a secretary or a treasurer. I promised at the time that I would give the matter fair consideration. That is why we have tabled Amendment No. 62. It is in identical text to the amendment persuasively moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on Report. I am more than content with its minor alteration but its major impact. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am overwhelmed. I thank the Minister. It is an important but small amendment. There will be legal and financial obligations on all these boards, however small or large. Whether it is a part-time person or a contracted-out service, it is essential to have a secretary and treasurer. I am grateful for what the noble Lord has done.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I do not think there is anything needed in reply. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has made the points most effectively.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 63 to 84:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these amendments and Amendments Nos. 85 to 147 have already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Amendments of the Sex Offenders Act 1997]:

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 85 and 86:

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 7 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 87 to 147:

("Restoration to list.

4C.—(1) If it appears to a chief officer of police or a director of social services of a local authority that the conditions set out in subsection (2) below are satisfied in the case of an individual, the chief officer or (as the case may be) the director may apply to the High Court for anorder under this section to be made in respect of the individual.

(2) The conditions are that—

  1. (a) the individual is no longer included in the list kept by the Secretary of State under section I above, and
  2. (b) the individual has acted in such a way (whether before or after he ceased to be included in the list) as to give reasonable cause to believe that an order under this section is necessary to protect children in general, or any children in particular, from serious harm from him.

(3) An application under this section may be made at any time after the individual ceased to be included in the list.

(4) If the High Court is satisfied that the conditions set out in subsection (2) above are satisfied, it must order the restoration of the individual's inclusion in the list; otherwise it must dismiss the application.

(5) Where an order is made under this section, section 4B above has effect with the following modifications—

  1. (a) in subsection (3), the reference to the individual being a child when he was included in the list is to he read as a reference to his being a child when the order under this section was made,
  2. (b) subsections (3)(a) and (4)(a) are to have effect as if at the end there were inserted "beginning with the making of the order under section 4C below",
  3. (c) in subsection (5)(a), the reference to the individual's circumstances changing since he was included in the list is to be read as a reference to his circumstances changing since the order under this section was made.

(6) For the purposes of this section an individual is no longer included in the list if a direction under section 4A(3) above has been given in respect of him and his inclusion in the list is not restored by virtue of an order under this section.

(7) In this section "local authority" has the same meaning as in the Education Act 1996."").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

I congratulate all of those who have taken part in the deliberations on the Bill. Although we had a number of Divisions during the early part of Report stage last week where obviously we did not agree, for the most part there was consensus among us and a degree of commitment to improve the criminal justice system so that important strides can be made in combating crime and protecting the public. I am particularly pleased with those elements of "Sarah's Law" that have been put in place. I pay tribute to all Members of the House who played a part in ensuring that we focused on that. In particular, for child protection reasons, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Brennan and Lord Hylton, for their contributions and for being persuasive about tackling sex tourism. That was a most useful debate.

There remains a fundamental divide of principle and purpose over one aspect of the Bill—we shall no doubt return to that—but the arguments have been honourably made and honourably fought. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, although he is not in his place, to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for the forceful way in which they put their arguments.

This is an important Bill. It has been constructively approached. There have been valuable discussions. We have forged some useful amendments between us that breach the political divide because we all share the common objective of securing effective and well-intentioned legislation which works in practice. For all of those reasons, and many more, I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, this is the House at its best—doing its job, revising legislation. It has strengthened the Bill. The Bill returns to another place in a better form. I hope that we do not see too many of the amendments back in this place. I thank the Minister, noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches, noble Lords on the Cross Benches and my colleagues behind me who worked assiduously and took the whole matter very seriously indeed. I wish the Bill well as it returns to another place.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I thank the Minister and his colleagues, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, for their considerable help in trying to improve the Bill. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for the way she has handled some of the issues. The Bill is very much better as it returns to the other place. I noted the Minister's earlier comment that there are certain principles which the Government are not prepared to accept. I hope that the Government will take careful note of what your Lordships' House had to say about some of those matters. There are certain principles in the Bill, particularly regarding the central employment of chief officers of probation, which they seem to favour and we do not. The noble Lord can take it from us that when those issues come up again there will be opposition from this side of the House.

I thank the Minister for giving us the opportunity to meet him and his staff to discuss some of the issues that were of concern. Much of the Bill has been improved as a result of the private discussion that has taken place. I thank the noble Lord and wish him success.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.