Clause 70 - Voyeurism: interpretation

Sexual Offences Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 18th September 2003.

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Amendments made: No. 97, in

clause 70, page 34, line 2, leave out subsection (1).

No. 98, in

clause 70, page 34, line 3, at beginning insert

'For the purposes of section 69,'.—[Paul Goggins.]

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

I beg to move amendment No. 240, in

clause 70, page 34, line 3, after

'structure', insert 'or enclosed space'.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

My concern, which is, perhaps, the reverse of that expressed in the previous debate, is about the definitions clause on voyeurism. Clause 70(2) says:

''A person is doing a private act if the person is in a structure''.

What is a structure? The Under-Secretary may be able to help us on that. When I read the word structure, giving it its ordinary meaning, I associate it with something that has a wall and a roof. I am concerned that this definition appears to sanction or allow voyeurism in circumstances in which privacy was provided by an enclosed space, and the voyeur, for whatever reason, decided to intrude on that enclosed space by, for example, making a hole in a partition or wall. To make the position clear we should include the words ''enclosed space'', which I would take to mean a garden, if it were surrounded by a high wall and could not be overlooked. The words ''enclosed space'' must be read in conjunction with what comes after them—

''in the circumstances, would reasonably be expected to provide privacy''.

Obviously, a garden wall surrounded by tower blocks could not reasonably be expected to provide privacy; however, a garden could be expected to do so if it were not overlooked, and if the only way that one could overlook it was by getting a tall ladder and climbing up it in order to peer in. We should think about extending the protection to that setting.

That point—to come back to our earlier debate—has relevance to naturists, who may wish to congregate in an area that is not a structure as I would interpret it. We should consider extending the protection to those doing private acts in enclosed spaces if, in the circumstances, the spaces could be reasonably expected to provide privacy. That is an extension of the definition of ''structure'' that would be proper.

The Under-Secretary may try to reassure me that ''structure'' would encompass an enclosed area but, using my ordinary understand of English, I do not think that it does; I think that a structure denotes something that has walls and a roof, although I accept that one might use the definition of a ruined structure that was roofless. The hon. Gentleman may be able to help me. I would like to provide the maximum protection to people in areas that they can reasonably consider private. Obviously, if a garden is surrounded by a fence that can be looked over by anyone who looks around, those in it should not have that protection.

However, considering the surrounding circumstances reasonably, if anyone wishing to peer in has to carry out what I would describe as a pretty abnormal activity, such as getting on a ladder, there should be a possibility of extending that definition. I accept, however, that if a structure requires a roof, there is the difficulty of people flying over by helicopter and things of that sort, and that might present a problem. However, before we agree to this laudable clause, I hope that we will take an opportunity to see whether the definition could sensibly be extended.

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

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting question about how tightly we have defined ''structure''. We have intended ''structure'' to include

''a tent, vehicle or vessel or other temporary or movable structure''

as well as the more obvious places that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, including a house and a cubicle. That is because we want to restrict criminality for that offence to those who go to considerable lengths to spy on others who are engaged in private acts, rather than people who, to return to the point made by the hon. Member for Woking, just stumble across people while they are out and about.

The problem with the amendment is what ''enclosed space'' would mean. The amendment offers no definition of what that might be. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will illuminate.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

I rather hoped that the clause was self-defining because of the useful words that follow. The clause would read an ''enclosed space which, in the circumstances, would reasonably be expected to provide privacy''.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

I hear the hon. and learned Lady say ''a place'', and that was an alternative that I thought about. However, that worried me, because it raises the question of people saying, ''Well, it's a completely open area, but I never expected someone to come

across me.'' I am going to Scotland this weekend. If, when I am in the moors, I stumble at 1,100 m on a couple making love, I rather hope that I will not be regarded as a voyeur, because I suppose that they might reasonably have said that they reasonably expected the place to provide privacy and had not envisaged that I would turn up. That is why the idea of enclosure seemed reasonable to me.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office 4:15 pm, 18th September 2003

The word ''enclosure'' is interesting, because it gives one the impression of a confined and defined space, but a football stadium could be described as an enclosed space—which would be an interesting definition in relation to this clause—as could a fenced-off field. We need a definition that is workable for the offence.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

Does not the caveat that follows—

''reasonably be expected to provide privacy''—

in fact provide that definition? A football stadium may be an enclosed space but, unless all the doors have been locked and bolted and everyone else excluded, no one could possibly say that it could reasonably be expected to provide privacy, and nor could a field that is surrounded merely by a low hedge or an open fence. On the other hand, if there was a walled garden with a door into it rather than a grille and that was not overlooked by any buildings or a natural feature that someone could stand on to peer in, it would be a voyeuristic activity to get a ladder and climb up in order to watch people engaging in private acts.

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

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. [Interruption.]

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. Would the gentleman leave the Committee Room, please?

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

The Government's view is simply that the amendment would make the definition too wide. We want to remove possible areas of doubt. I have given the hon. Gentleman a couple of examples of where there could be doubt—although my examples might have been a bit extreme. There may be an area of confusion, and we do not want that to be the case. We do not want to describe someone's private home or those very confined spaces with which we are familiar: we want to extend the definition slightly, but we do not want to make it so broad that there would become considerable doubt in relation to it.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

I can see the problem that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield outlines, and I share his concern. Someone who accidentally stumbles over a person committing a private act will not be guilty of the offence as defined in clause 69(1), where they must have the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification as they observe the private act. If someone did that by accident, they would not have done it for that purpose.

I am concerned about the women's pond on Hampstead heath. It is fenced off and behind trees, but it is not in any sort of structure. Women frequently sunbathe and bathe naked there, and it is intended that only women should be present. That would not be covered by this definition of structure.

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

Notwithstanding the importance of providing a clear definition in relation to enclosed space, in keeping with the spirit of co-operation that has been a mark of our discussions over recent days we will reflect further on whether we might define this a little more broadly—not so broadly that it includes the football stadium, but so that it addresses some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

I urge my hon. Friend not to go down the road that I think that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) has advocated, because the example that has been offered would not count as a private act in the context of the clause.

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

That is the dilemma that we face. How tightly or broadly do we define this? We want to err on the side of tightness because otherwise there would be too much confusion. However, I want to reflect on whether we have defined this a tad too tightly.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for agreeing to think about this. The amendment was not meant to be particularly controversial: I was trying to ensure that the intention—which I fully understand—behind these clauses was met. The Under-Secretary has confirmed that ''a structure'' must have a roof and that it must be enclosed on all sides. I wonder whether the scope should be widened, because people are entitled to protection from voyeurs in other settings. The hon. and learned Lady referred to Hampstead heath. There are many other historic locations where traditionally it was permissible—even in Victorian times—for people to take off their clothes in single-sex company. Screens were provided, which could not reasonably be looked through unless someone made a determined attempt to do so. If it can be provided, there should be a measure of protection for such people, too.

While I appreciate the Under-Secretary's anxiety, I am much more comfortable with the fact that my proposal would not lead to the mischief that he is worried about. Indeed, given the other issues that are involved, I am even half persuaded by what the hon. and learned Lady said about the use of ''place''. However, I still want to think more carefully about that. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for agreeing to think through the matter further. Clearly, we have a common purpose in what we want to achieve, but words matter in such a setting. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 99, in

clause 70, page 34, line 10, leave out subsection (3).

No. 100, in

clause 70, page 34, leave out line 13.—[Paul Goggins.]

Clause 70, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 71 ordered to stand part of the Bill.