Page last updated at 12:24 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

Sex law supported despite worries

Woman holding her head
Ministers aim to define rape more clearly under the bill

Holyrood's justice committee has expressed concern at plans to criminalise girls having sex under the age of 16.

Boys aged 13 to 15 who engage in consensual sex with girls of the same age can be prosecuted - but it is rare.

Holyrood's justice committee said it had "difficulty" with proposals to treat young teenage girls the same way.

But MSPs still gave initial backing to the Sexual Offences Bill, which will bring in a range of measures.

The legislation, which still needs the approval of the full parliament before becoming law, also aims to define rape more clearly and include the offence of "date rape".

We are keen to consider with the parliament any ways in which the legislation can be improved
Scottish Government spokesman

The cross-party committee agreed with the principles of the bill and strongly supported keeping the age of consent at 16.

But convener Bill Aitken, Tory MSP for Glasgow, said more clarification from the government was needed.

He added: "We have a difficulty with the proposal that the law should criminalise underage girls who run the risk of becoming pregnant, with all the legal implications that might follow.

"These matters are of course for the discretion of the lord advocate but we generally favour a welfare approach though the Children's Hearing System for all cases of underage consensual sexual activity."

The committee also supported the creation of a new statutory offence of rape with an object.

Ministers agreed to carefully consider the recommendations of the committee, which has taken evidence from a range of groups on the legislation.

"We should recognise that all those organisations were contributing and share our aim of seeking the most effective law for Scotland as a community," said a Scottish Government spokesman.

"We are keen to consider with the parliament any ways in which the legislation can be improved and to ensure the bill produces what we all want - a modern, effective legal framework for sexual offences in Scotland."

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