A specific offence should be created banning sex in public toilets, an influential MPs’ committee has said.
Such activity – commonly known as “cottaging” and practised by some gay men – is currently covered by laws on buggery and gross indecency, but these are being repealed in the Sexual Offences Bill currently going through Parliament.
The House of Lords last month voted to amend the Bill to make cottaging an offence, but the Home Office has rejected the proposal on the grounds that the problem can be dealt with under the existing law against outraging public decency.
The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee said the confusion should be cleared up by spelling out explicitly that all sexual activity in public toilets is an offence.
In a report on the Bill – due to be debated in the Commons next Tuesday – the committee proposed an amendment to the separate Public Order Act, stating that its prohibition of “threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour” includes cottaging.
“There is much concern and disagreement as to whether this Bill will legalise sexual activity in public toilets,” the committee said.
“We recommend that sexual activity in public toilets should be a criminal offence and suggest that this could be dealt with by an amendment to section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which makes it clear that ‘insulting’ behaviour includes sexual behaviour.
“This would dispense of the need to prove specific sexual acts and also has the advantage of empowering the police to give a warning before making an arrest.”
The committee backed proposals in the Bill to make grooming a child for sexual abuse an offence. It welcomed changes which will mean that naturism will not be criminalised by the Bill’s measures to clamp down on flashers.
The committee also recommended that suspects in sex cases should be granted the protection of anonymity until a charge has actually been brought.