Clause 11 - Causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity

Sexual Offences Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:30 pm ar 11 Medi 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I shall be brief. Clause 11 introduces the offence of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity and covers any situation in which an adult intentionally causes or incites a child under 16 to engage in any form of sexual activity, whether or not that is penetrative. That will not only cover cases where an adult makes a child engage in sexual activity—such as sexual intercourse—with them, but those where an adult makes the child engage in such activity with a third party, whether or not that party is a willing participant or another victim. The offence

will also cover cases where the adult makes the child carry out a sexual act, such as masturbation or stripping, for the sexual gratification of the adult. That closes a gap in the law that was identified last year, when an estate agent caused two young girls to strip in his office and, regrettably, there was no offence with which he could be charged. The offence can also be charged when the adult incites the child to take part in sexual activity, even when the activity itself does not take place—such as when, thankfully, a parent intervenes.

The prosecution shall be required to prove that the child is under 16. In cases when the defendant claims to have believed that the child was 16 or over, the prosecution will have to prove either that he did not hold such a belief or that it was not reasonably held. The provision concerning mistaken belief in age will not, however, apply when the child is under 13.

It is important to emphasise that we have no wish to interfere in the rights of an individual to engage in consensual sexual relationships within a lawful marriage. It is therefore the case that a defendant will not be guilty of the offence when he is lawfully married to the person under 16 and they are engaging in consensual sexual activity. The defence will not be available when the married person causes his or her child spouse to engage in sexual activity with another person. That marriage defence will, of course, apply only in relation to marriages that are contracted in another country where the legal age of marriage is below 16.

We take the firm view that it is the responsibility of every adult to have due regard to the criminal law and to place the well-being of a child above his own desires. The law should deal severely with any adult who knowingly causes or incites any child who has not reached the age of consent to engage in sexual activity. The protection of children should be at the heart of our legislation. The offence will send a clear message that any adult who causes a child under 16 to engage in sexual activity is committing an unlawful act and can expect to be punished.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Ceidwadwyr, Beaconsfield

I welcome the clause although, as the Minister will be aware from my comments about clause 10, I wish to know whether the matter should be an ''either way'' offence, too. I appreciate that the act is different from sexual activity with a child, but we must face up to the fact that it will run across a spectrum of seriousness—from the 18-and-a-half-year-old who encourages his 15-year-old friend to have sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend to serious paedophile cases. Do we want that 18-and-a-half-year-old to be dealt with only in the Crown court? The Minister might like to consider that question.

I had intended to reserve my comments on the marriage exception until we discussed clause 16, which covers such a provision under clauses 10 to 15. I want to put down the benchmark that I have serious worries about the marriage exception provision. Many members of the public will regard it as deeply offensive. Why is it necessary? I need to hear a clear justification.

I appreciate that we have no power to prevent people from marrying at much younger ages abroad than in this country, but I do not understand why that fact should compel us to accept behaviour in this country that would otherwise be regarded as criminal. If people were living in this country, having contracted the marriage abroad, I cannot for the life of me understand why they, exceptionally, should not comply with our laws, even if that might involve their not having sexual intercourse or sexual relations while they are here until one of the partners is aged 16 or over.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I simply want to echo what my hon. Friend said. After listening to the Minister, I have grave worries. It sounds as though the protection that we would be affording children under 16 in this country would not necessarily apply to those in a legal marriage who have come from outside the country. I speak entirely as a layman, but the message will have to be relayed clearly outside so that people can understand why there is a difference under the legislation.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I understand why Opposition Members are responding to marriage exceptions. I felt that it was important to advance that argument, because it relates to clause 11 and other clauses. However, with the forbearance of the Opposition, perhaps we may leave discussion of the marriage exceptions until a little later in our business.

I shall not comment on the scenarios proposed by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, but I offer him the same assurance that I offered his hon. Friend the Member for Woking on the previous amendment. I accept the argument. If it applied there, it would also apply here.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.