Draft Sex Offenders (Notice Requirements) (Foreign Travel) Regulations 2001

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Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend's point about travelling in the European Union is true, as was the point about the Irish area made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury. Many countries have highly variable requirements in terms of checks and documentation for entering and leaving the country. My point is, because we do not have a system that can track people as they travel, and are unlikely to have one in future, how far can we go towards a situation that aims for that?

I mentioned the review of the Sex Offenders Act 1997, and we have worked with the campaign to end child prostitution and sex tourism, known as ECPAT UK. We must establish a network of common approaches between different countries and jurisdictions, possibly through international, legally binding agreements, but also through bilateral legally binding agreements. That will take us forward, whereas establishing a common citizenship and common sex offenders register that is internationally recognisable may not.

Dr. Julian Lewis: I fully appreciate what the Minister says about its not being possible to deal in legislation with the most determined would-be offenders, but the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury was that a person who has gone abroad can say that he changed his intention to stay while there, without being a very ``determined'' offender. Anyone could go through such a formality, just as anyone—I do not want to get into a touchy area here—can enter this country and say the magic words ``I claim political asylum'' and immediately receive certain rights. One does not have to be clever or knowledgeable to use such tactics.

Mr. Clarke: That is a fair point, but I think that the hon. Member for Aylesbury was rightly careful with his wording. He used the phrase ``with good reason''—in other words that a person intended to be in a place for seven days. The word ``intend'' has a clear and well-developed legal meaning and his point was that if the intention changed, there must be good reason. If it were done duplicitously, for reasons such as the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) suggested, that would be a different state of affairs compared with that of a person who was on a business trip and had further meetings arranged. There would be a good reason for such a situation.

As I said in my opening remarks, we must tackle the serious and dedicated sex offender through the other means at our disposal, including the conditions that courts put on licences when people are sentenced after being found guilty of particular offences, and prohibitions on post-prison release licences. When the police learned that somebody on the register was to travel abroad, they could apply for a sex offender order if they felt that there was a serious risk to be challenged. However, to be frank, the regulations will not solve the problem of a person who is determined to abuse the system. That is a narrow category of 14,000-odd people who have a determined offending role. The regulation will inhibit those who do not fall in that category from being likely to commit unacceptable and criminal acts while abroad. It will also enable the police to keep track of people who are on the register.

The register is fairly new in its development, and it is a tribute to the police, and especially the recently retired chief constable of Gloucestershire, that the register has been built up as effectively as it has. We must ensure that the register is as strong and robust as possible, and the regulations do that. That is the fundamental reason why the eight-day period was chosen.

I assure the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst that I shall again discuss with the police what administrative arrangements could be used and whether the period could be shortened. However, even if the period were reduced to one day, that would not deal with the matters that he raised about a determined person who seeks to evade the system. We must get the balance right, but I shall examine the matter in the spirit in which he raised it.

I conclude by commending the regulations on the fundamental basis that they make the operation of the register tighter and more effective, so that it offers more protection. Those who worry that the register does not provide the security that society needs to deal with the serious committed sex offender are correct to do so. The other measures that we have discussed are the way to move towards such ends, and the Committee must bear that in mind when considering whether to support the regulations.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Sex Offenders (Notice Requirements) (Foreign Travel) Regulations 2001.

        Committee rose at three minutes past Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Malins, Mr. Humfrey (Chairman)
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Clelland, Mr.
Corbyn, Mr.
Flynn, Mr.
Forth, Mr.
Gapes, Mr.
Humble, Mrs.
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Lidington, Mr.
Russell, Mr. Bob
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.
Vis, Dr.

 
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Prepared 30 April 2001