Page last updated at 12:11 GMT, Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Ministers consider sex law change

Young couple
MSPs want to avoid criminalising activities such as kissing

Ministers are to consider making it illegal for teenagers under the age of 16 to have oral sex as part of a shake-up of laws on sexual offences.

The Sexual Offences Bill will make it an offence for girls aged 13-15 to have sex. Boys can already be prosecuted.

But MSPs on the justice committee expressed concern that oral sex was not covered by the legislation.

The government said it would consider the issue, while trying to avoid making activities such as kissing illegal.

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

It also sets out the law on underage sex, stipulating that it applies to girls as well as boys.

'Wrong message'

A report by the Holyrood committee said the failure to include oral sex could send out a wrong message that society considered such activities to be "acceptable and risk free."

It urged ministers to reconsider the issue, stating that the government had not provided "sufficient justification for treating oral sex differently".

But the MSPs also stressed that in reconsidering the matter the "government must ensure that normal teenage consensual activities such as kissing are not made criminal".

Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill said the committee's concerns would be considered.

In a letter to the committee convener Bill Aitken, Mr MacAskill said the government had drafted the legislation so it would ensure that "consensual sexual intercourse between 13 to 15-year-olds would continue to be unlawful".

And he explained this was because this behaviour "carries the greatest risk of adverse consequences, including sexually transmitted infection and unintended pregnancy".

Mr MacAskill added: "However, we note the committee's recommendation, and the concerns of a number of those who have given evidence on the bill.

"We will therefore consider this issue (including avoiding criminalising activities such as kissing) before bring forward amendments at stage two."

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