On 16th November 2016 the House of Lords considered the Government’s Policing and Crime Bill in Committee. The Bishop of Bristol co-sponsored an amendment to the Bill about the abduction of vulnerable children, which was moved in his absence by Labour’s Lord Kennedy. The amendment was withdrawn after the debate.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark [extract]: My Lords, young people aged 16 and 17 are still children although they are legally able to consent to sexual activity, get married and undertake a number of other matters and be deemed responsible for their behaviour. Amendment 220, in the name of my noble friend Lord Rosser and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, seeks to put a new clause in the Bill to create a new offence of the abduction of a vulnerable child. Most 16 and 17 year-olds are not well protected, with a tiny minority subject to the protection of the Children Act or in police protection. Children of this age can get themselves into all sorts of problems and can be targeted by adults who seek to exploit their vulnerability. The amendment seeks to create a specific offence.
The criteria for being considered vulnerable are set out in subsection (2) of the new clause and cover a range of circumstances defined in the Children Act 1989 and Housing Act 1996. These criteria potentially encompass a wide range of individuals and raise concerns that they would have very wide effect. For example, as drafted, the offence would cover all disabled young people of that age. The children it extends to are often in need of services such as housing and education but are not necessarily in need of special protection, as opposed to others of that age.
The Government completely share the objective of the noble Lord and the noble Baroness of ensuring that young people are protected from sexual exploitation and other abuse. That is why, in March last year, we introduced new civil orders to protect the vulnerable and disrupt offending at the earliest opportunity. We believe that providing the right powers to the police is the way forward. Our priority is to prevent offending, so making better use of these orders is a more precisely targeted response than creating a new criminal offence.
As noble Lords will be aware, a similar new clause was tabled in the House of Commons and there have been amendments to previous Bills on this issue. We remain unpersuaded that the proposed new abduction offence is the way forward. Young people aged 16 and 17 are generally deemed capable of living independently of their parents and of exercising their free will, notably on sexual matters. As noble Lords have said, we therefore need to achieve the right balance between additional protection for young people in this age group and recognition of relevant rights and responsibilities. Creating a new offence would raise difficult issues about where we draw the line, and it would not help young people who are older than this age group but are also very vulnerable.
That is why we believe that sexual risk orders provide appropriate powers for the police. I do not have the figures or any information on how the child abduction warning list is working; it might be in my pack. I apologise—I am getting quite tired at this stage of the day. I will write to the noble Baroness. The preventive civil orders are relatively new and we will therefore keep under review whether they fully address the kind of predatory behaviour to which the amendment refers.