Clause 26 - Sections 18 to 21: sexual relationships which pre-date position of trust

Sexual Offences Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 16th September 2003.

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Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Liberal Democrat, Romsey 3:45 pm, 16th September 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 188, in

clause 26, page 13, line 29, at end insert

'and that the relationship commenced before the defendant was aware that he would be in a position of trust.'.

I tabled the amendment to clarify what would happen in certain situations. It occurred to me that someone who was keen to have a relationship with a person could quite easily make sure that they were in employment that would facilitate meeting that individual and prolonging a relationship. The first part of the relationship may have been conducted under some sort of duress. I fully admit that that is a slightly obtuse point.

What protections are in place to ensure that the defendant who is accused of abusing the position of trust; or rather how easy will it be to make the defence that he did not know that the position of trust would—I apologise, I am tying myself in knots. I knew

precisely what I meant when I drafted the amendment. [Laughter.] It has been a long haul since then. The point is that we do not want people manoeuvring themselves into positions proactively. We are learning that people are very cunning. I drafted the amendment after the briefing from the paedophile unit, when I assumed that everyone was out to do terrible things, and that everything in the world was a conspiracy, and it occurred to me that the clause might have a loophole.

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

When the hon. Lady was arguing forcefully and persuasively earlier, she failed to persuade me. Now that she is at her most obtuse, to use her word, she has come up with an argument that has some merit, although she may not believe it. [Laughter.] The amendment was probably drafted in haste following the presentation, and clearly there are some difficulties with its present form. I would want to take a further look at it.

The point is that abuse of trust offences are based on the principle that the person can use that position of trust to manipulate a young person into a sexual relationship. If the sexual relationship is entered into before the relationship of trust exists, the fact that the defendant knows that he will be in a position of trust in relation to the child at some point in future is irrelevant. However, there is an argument that, where the child is also aware that a relationship of trust will arise between them, that might influence their choice over the sexual activity. A practical example, which is always worth citing, is where the child knows that the person concerned will be their personal tutor at school for the whole of the next academic year. That could put the child in an extremely awkward position and influence their decision to agree to have a sexual relationship. I recognise that the amendment was tabled from a genuine concern to get the matter right, to protect people and to ensure that people are not exploited and that vulnerability is protected. I urge the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment but I shall give further consideration to the matter, so that we get the drafting of the legislation as near perfect as possible.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Liberal Democrat, Romsey

The Under-Secretary is quite right to say that the amendment was drafted in a hurry. I am happy to withdraw it, reassured that I occasionally have flashes of something with which he can find sympathy. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.