Government loses Lords vote on banning sex in public toilets

The Government was defeated in the House of Lords last night as peers demanded a ban on sex in public lavatories - with jail sentences of up to two years.

Ministers, who argued that existing legislation was strong enough to outlaw "cottaging", were defeated by 133 to 95 votes, a majority of 38.

The Government's plans to outlaw sex in public places were dropped in April. It faced ridicule after the former Home Office minister Hilary Benn said the definition of a public place depended on whether a cubicle door was open.

The Government has decided to rely instead on the existing common law offence of "outraging public decency".

But Tory peers led an onslaught on the Government's plans during the report stage of the Sexual Offences Bill.

Baroness Noakes, an Opposition spokesman, said that "cottaging" should be made a criminal offence.

"We think this is what decent people in our country want. They want public lavatories they can use and, more importantly, their children can use without worrying what else might be happening."

She said for public decency to be outraged, the act must be capable of being seen by two or more members of the public. That would not cover hearing a sex act in the next cubicle. Baroness Trumpington, a former Tory minister, said: "Sex in public toilets is a blight on many communities."

But Lord Falconer of Thoroton, a Home Office minister, said the Tory plans would require the fitting of cameras in public conveniences.

A Home Office spokesman said: "We feel the common law is flexible, enabling it to adapt to changing circumstances and standards of behaviour." Public order offences could be used to combat "unacceptable sexual behaviour" in lavatories. The Government would try to reverse the defeat when the Bill returns to the Commons.

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