|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
". Schedule (Amendments of the Sex Offenders Act 1997) (which amends the Sex Offenders Act 1997 in respect of persons who are subject to the notification requirements of that Act to make provision, in particular, for--
(a) altering the requirements,
(b) increasing penalties,
(c) enabling courts to make restraining orders, and
(d) improving the information held about such persons),
is to have effect."
Mr. Boateng: Amendment No. 102 provides new statutory duties to assess and manage risk and to consult and inform victims, whereas these provisions form the second part of the measures to be known as Sarah's law. The provisions in this part tighten existing protections and create new protections against sexual and violent offenders. They tighten part I of the Sex Offenders Act 1997.
A number of other measures strengthen the protection afforded to victims by, for example, allowing the court at the time of sentencing to restrain an offender from certain actions, such as contacting the victim. They also provide for the Secretary of State to regulate the flow of information about the discharge of registrable offenders between and from institutions that detain them. That will help to ensure that accurate, updated information is available to the authorities about where such offenders are.
This important package of measures should be seen alongside and as an integrated part of a whole that includes the other measures that we debated at the commencement of our deliberations today. I commend them to the House.
Mr. Hawkins: I recognise that the Government have tried seriously to address the important issues on sex offenders. We acknowledge that the Government have tried to incorporate in the Bill some important extra powers and to tighten further--as the Minister put it--the 1997 Act to recognise the appalling crimes that have been committed in recent times.
We repeat our earlier point. We hope that the Government do not regard this as a completed task. We said that the Government will need to keep under review the problem of internet-related sex crimes. We hope that the Minister will confirm that those matters will be kept constantly under review. We believe that there might have to be further legislation to address some of the points that were made by my noble Friends. I hope that the Minister will confirm that in the spirit of seriousness with which all parties have taken these crucial issues tonight, as they did in the other place.
Mr. Simon Hughes: We, too, made it clear from the outset that we hoped that there would be a consensus among the parties to amend the legislation at the first opportunity. In the summer, I said that, having reflected on the events surrounding the tragic death of Sarah Payne and the newspaper campaigns that followed, the Bill offered opportunities to make some improvements.
Some of us took the view from the beginning that the Sunday newspapers, such as the News of the World, were wrong to propose such a remedy, and we were proved right. It resulted in victimisation and inaccurate identification of people, who were confused with possible sex offenders. People tried to be judge and jury. That was an unsatisfactory and unhelpful approach. It was noticeable that the newspaper was unable to carry on the campaign because, as we predicted, it did not secure the co-operation of individuals.
It was important, however, for the public to learn three things. First, wherever they lived--in London, Portsmouth or elsewhere--they could discover what the local police policy was on dealing with people who were on the register. Would the police regularly record their presence? Would there be a regular check, and, if so, how regular would it be? The public are entitled to know, in their communities, what the police policy is. They are also entitled to know what the probation service policy is, because they are entitled to a sense of security. They are entitled to challenge the authorities--to challenge the way in which the authorities deal with people who are in the community, but are clearly a potential risk.
Mr. Hawkins: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most significant developments to emerge while these issues were being discussed was an incident in south Wales, where a mob of ignorant and prejudiced people confused the terms "paediatrician" and "paedophile" and made an appalling attack on someone who was actually an extremely well-qualified medical specialist? Does that not demonstrate the dangers of mob rule, which, sadly, has been fuelled by some of the less reputable parts of the media?
Mr. Hughes: Of course I agree. The summer produced frightening scenes in many of our communities. People were encouraged by rumour and innuendo to believe that they could deal satisfactorily in their own communities with people who, in many instances, were not offenders, although they might have shared a surname or a first name with an offender, or might have resembled someone who had appeared in a newspaper.
We learned a clear lesson: that it is for Parliament and public authorities to respond to public concerns. In the context of the proposed Sarah's law, we should note that Megan's law was not very successful in the United States. It would have been a bad idea to import it to the English legal system.
Mr. Bercow: The hon. Gentleman is making some powerful points. Does he agree--further to what my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) said--that one of the most depressing and alarming features of the summer's public demonstrations was the sight, on our television screens, of children who had obviously been exhorted so to do holding placards urging, for example, the imposition of capital punishment for sex offenders? Was that not utterly wrong, and should not the House deplore it?
Mr. Hughes: Yes. Children were being used. We condemn the putting of children in the front line in other countries to make a case for adults standing behind them. It is exactly that sort of manipulation of children that I join the hon. Gentleman in condemning.
I have a question for the Minister about a matter that we suggested could be included in the Bill, but which does not feature in the Lords amendments. I know that there are difficulties in this regard. Lords amendment No. 154, which proposes a new schedule to the Sex Offenders Act 1997, contains a section dealing with people who give notice of their intention to leave or return to the country. That is obviously proper: if people are leaving the country we need to know that they are leaving, and if they are returning we need to know that too.
There is, however, a category of people who are not caught by the law: people who commit offences abroad--they might be British citizens--but who then return to this country. I know that there are difficulties with ensuring that we know about all those people, but reciprocity of civil and criminal judgments is now common practice and there is much more collaboration between countries. It is increasingly possible for the police, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, Interpol and others to be aware of people's movements, particularly if they have been subject to an order in another state. I shall give an example.
In the United States, the reporting requirements and obligations on a convicted sex offender to remain on the register are the same as in this country or even tougher and there is no reason why we should not be told when a person leaves American jurisdiction to come to ours so that the remaining processes can be dealt with satisfactorily. However, it is no consolation to people in any constituency in the United Kingdom to know that there is a general system for ensuring that those who have committed sex offences are known and are being monitored, but that some will slip through the net.
What progress have the Minister and his colleagues made in working out the legislation that we clearly need to plug a loophole that has been used and is a worry to a considerable number of the people of this country?