Clause 13 - Causing a child to watch a sexual act

Sexual Offences Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 11th September 2003.

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Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office 3:45 pm, 11th September 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 45, in

clause 13, page 5, line 19, leave out 'a photograph or pseudo-photograph' and insert 'an image'.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths Labour, Bridgend

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 47, 51, 59, 69, 85, 92, 100 and 102.

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

Some of the amendments will have a particular resonance for those Committee members who attended the presentation by the Metropolitan police yesterday. Amendments Nos. 45, 51, 59, 69 and 85 will ensure that any individual who shows a child or a person with a mental disorder or learning disability a cartoon, drawing or any other image of a person, whether real or imaginary, engaging in a sexual act is

committing an offence. That extends the offence in clause 13, causing a child to watch a sexual act, which previously only included causing a child to look at sexual activity depicted in photographs or pseudo-photographs. The amendments were tabled in response to concerns raised by the police that paedophiles often show media other than photographs depicting sexual activity to children for their own sexual gratification. For example, they might show tracings of such photographs, cartoons or other kinds of drawings.

The other amendments make similar changes to the offences corresponding to the behaviour described in clause 13, namely those offences in clauses 21, 35, 39 and 43 concerning abuse of trust and the protection of adults with mental disorders. Amendment No. 47 ensures that the marriage defence in clause 16—again, I emphasise that we will debate that at greater length later—uses the same term as the offences in clauses 10 to 14, to which it applies. Amendment No. 102 provides the definition of ''image'' on which the amendments rely. It includes moving or still images, however produced, and three-dimensional images. In the context of those offences, it will also cover images of imaginary people engaging in sexual activity, such as images created by computer graphics and cartoons.

Amendment No. 92 makes a minor consequential drafting amendment to the interpretation clause, clause 53, relating to child prostitution and pornography. Amendment No. 100 makes a minor consequential drafting amendment to clause 70, relating to the voyeurism offence under clause 69. Those amendments will assist the police in dealing with offenders who show such material, particularly to children, for their own sexual pleasure. Such behaviour may lead to a reduction of a child's natural barriers against engaging in sexual activity and forms a well recognised part of the process of grooming a child for abuse. We believe it right to extend that protection to vulnerable adults who may also be subject to abuse of that kind.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

I welcome the amendments. I recall visiting Scotland Yard about a year ago, prior to the briefing available yesterday to members of the Committee. I went there in the course of my then new job as criminal justice spokesman to discuss the issue of internet pornography. It was brought home to me that there was a serious difficulty in that although there was clearly a deep anxiety about photographs taken of children that clearly involved abuse, there was a volume of extremely unpleasant material that was simply generated by computer, but which still had the same capacity to corrupt, particularly when aimed at the young. The Minister has taken on board the views of the police, and has incorporated them into the clause, so that showing such material will be a criminal offence.

It is striking that the Minister has decided that the provisions should be extended to vulnerable adults, and I welcome that. Perhaps it is dangerous to say so, but I suspect that all Committee members agree that that is a sensible course of action. However, it raises profound issues about child pornography. Such material is regarded as tending to deprave and

corrupt children and vulnerable adults, so it is noteworthy that we allow adults to be exposed to it to their heart's content, as long as the material is generated either by sexual activities between adults or—this is equally interesting—it involves visual images that may show sex between adults and children that are not photographs.

I am sure that the Minister is aware of that difficult issue, which worries the police but strays deeply into areas of civil liberties. I am quite satisfied that, in doing what he has done, the Minister is on the right side of the line. However, I cannot ignore the fact that my visit to Scotland Yard brought home to me that we have been somewhat complacent in our attitude to the large amount of material that does not fall foul of the law at present, but which is in fact extremely unpleasant and which can be used, as the Minister accepts, for even more unpleasant purposes.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 13, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.