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Clause 3 - Assault by penetration

Part of Sexual Offences Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 9th September 2003.

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Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism) 3:00 pm, 9th September 2003

I agree with my hon. Friend but the argument being advanced is not that we should not consider the sexual nature. If I understand the points made by Opposition Members, their argument arises from a concern that it might be possible to propose a defence that a particular action of that kind was not sexual, did not therefore come within the scope of the Bill, and may become liable to a charge under other, non-sexual, legislation, which might attract a lower penalty.

On that point, I want to reassure my hon. Friend. Where a defendant penetrates a vagina or anus with a bottle, for example, it is very likely the court will find that to have been a sexual act—even in the unlikely event that the defence might be based on the fact that the defendant intended only to cause serious harm and that they had no sexual purpose. That is a judgment that the court will make.

The concern of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) may be that, in the Bill, the offence of assault by penetration carries a maximum life penalty, whereas some other offences of assault—for instance, assault occasioning actual bodily harm—carry maximum penalties of five years. The maximum penalty for the offence of common assault is six months imprisonment. I understand the concern that, if a situation arose where the extent to which a particular incident was not sexual was successfully argued, it would attract one of the charges with a much lower penalty. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the offence of grievous bodily harm with intent, which could be charged in relation to a serious non-sexual penetrative offence—if such a set of circumstances existed—is also life imprisonment. There is a maximum penalty for a non-sexual offence that might involve penetration comparable to that for the offence laid out in the Bill.