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Norman Baker: On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I am happy to express full support for the Government's proposals. We also supported the amendments made in Committee. The provisions are sensible and they will close one or two of the loopholes that all of us recognise need to be closed.

Like the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), I am aware of at least one relevant case. After becoming the subject of an order, an offender in a Welsh force's area moved to Scotland. The relevant Scottish force was informed of the order, the man's behaviour was monitored, and I understand that risky behaviour was observed. An additional order had to be sought because the prohibitions of the first order were not legally binding in Scotland. That is not satisfactory. The loophole must be closed, the Government are right to close it, and they have our full support.

I welcome too the heightened commitment from Ministers to deal with sex offences generally—a small straw in the wind, but welcome none the less. The Home Secretary personally answered a question about rape at Home Office questions, which did not go unnoticed. He has also said that he intends to introduce legislation to update sex offences legislation, which is overdue. I am therefore pleased with the Government's response in this regard, both this afternoon and more generally.

5.45 pm

Mr. Hogg: I am afraid that I do not share the enthusiasm that some hon. Members have expressed for the amendments. When I look back at section 20 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, I am struck by its draconian nature. One must therefore ask oneself whether one should extend it even further.

Under section 20(2)(b) of that Act, the power to make an order is exercised on a standard of proof less than that required under the criminal code. Under section 21(7)(a), the order can be made indefinitely. Under section 20(5), the prohibitions imposed

Someone who satisfies the criteria—I accept that they have to have been a sex offender in the past—can have an indefinite prohibition imposed on them on a standard of evidence that falls far short of that required in the criminal courts. The order may require them to desist

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from a particular occupation, living in a particular place or pursuing certain conduct—all on a standard of proof below that used in the criminal courts and for an indefinite period.

We are extending that provision, and I view that process with considerable suspicion. I am a little surprised, as clause 20 is a Scottish clause, that we have not had the privilege of hearing from a Scotland Office Minister. As other matters refer to Northern Ireland, I am a little surprised that we have not had the privilege of hearing from Ministers from the Northern Ireland Office, but so be it—those are small points. At the end of the day, we are extending draconian powers, and we need to be jolly careful about doing so.

Lady Hermon: I am sorry that we have not had input from a Minister from the Northern Ireland Office, but I hope that the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) will grant me the courtesy of accepting that as someone who represents a Northern Ireland constituency, my views may carry just as much weight as those of a Minister from that Department.

We in Northern Ireland are particularly in favour of the extension of the orders, as our position has become increasingly difficult—when sex offenders moved into an area, we could not impose interim sex offender orders. A number of my constituents are exceedingly concerned about that problem, so I wish to compliment the Minister, rather than criticise him, on introducing the new clauses. However, I should be grateful for clarification of two matters. First, new clause 4(2) will change the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 so that it reads,

meaning a sex offender—

Will the Minister clarify what is meant by a person who

Does that extend to people coming form the Republic of Ireland, as well as the rest of the United Kingdom?

Secondly, the Minister will know that under section 21 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, a chief constable in England and Wales

before a sex offender order is made. In Northern Ireland, we do not have a similar procedure. The Chief Constable has no obligation to consult a local authority. Bearing in mind the impact of the Patten report and reform of policing in Northern Ireland—the central element of which is to bring policing closer to the community—was any consideration given to consultation with the new district policing partnerships which will mirror district council areas in Northern Ireland, or was the matter overlooked when the new clauses were tabled?

Annabelle Ewing (Perth): I, too, place on record my regret that no Scotland Office Minister has seen fit to be present during the debate on these clauses, which will of course apply to Scotland. Perhaps that is symptomatic of their somewhat cavalier attitude to the treatment of Scots law matters in this Parliament.

On behalf of the Scottish national party, I welcome the closing of loopholes in the sex offender order system and in the enforceability of such orders throughout the United Kingdom. I hope that that will help to ensure public confidence in the way in which we deal with sex offenders.

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Reference has been made to the debate in the Scots Parliament on 27 June this year on the Sewel motion passing jurisdiction on this matter to Westminster. During that debate, my SNP colleagues raised some concerns, motivated by the need to proceed as urgently as possible. At that time, it was not clear whether the Bill would complete its legislative passage through this place before the House rose for the summer recess. During the debate in the Scots Parliament, we in the SNP were arguing for the passage by the Scots Parliament of emergency legislation to ensure that this vital matter was dealt with urgently. Of course, the Scots Parliament retains jurisdiction over criminal justice matters and on several occasions has passed emergency legislation in the criminal justice field.

During that debate—I mention this on the off-chance that the legislative completion of the Bill does not proceed in the way it appears to be heading—my SNP colleagues sought a guarantee from the Scottish Executive Minister that, if the passage of the Bill in Westminster was delayed for any reason, the issue of sex offender orders would be brought back to the Scots Parliament when it reconvenes at the beginning of September after its shorter summer recess, to ensure that emergency legislation would be forthcoming.

We support the principles of the new clauses and the consequential amendments. I hope that the introduction into Scots law of such important new provisions will not be delayed simply because they have been tagged on to Westminster legislation which, for the most part, has no application in Scotland.

Mr. Denham: I shall deal with the points in turn. I am grateful for the general welcome that has been given to the new clauses and amendments. I can confirm to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) that it is the Government's intention to respond in the autumn to the conclusions of the consultations on the "Setting the Boundaries" report on sex offences generally. In due course, we will look for legislative slots to take forward our proposals in that regard. As we discussed in Committee, we have used the Bill to introduce necessary and urgent measures, but this is by no means the end of the issues that need to be addressed. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance.

I welcome the support from the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). He is right to notice the commitment of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to these issues.

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said that the powers were draconian; they are. They are powerful measures, which the House has judged necessary to protect our children from people who have a record of sexual offences and who may be displaying behaviour—for example, hanging round children's swimming baths or playgrounds—from which the public wish to be protected, and the public do not understand why there is no preventive measure. The House and other Parliaments having decided to introduce such measures, it is appropriate that we make sure that they work as effectively and flexibly as possible.

The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) asked about a couple of points. Yes, the power can potentially be used against a convicted sex offender from abroad. It could obviously also be used in circumstances where somebody convicted in this country had travelled

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abroad and was coming back. Precisely because situations have arisen where police have become aware that a convicted offender is moving to their area, whether from within the country or from abroad, the power is necessary. Somebody may, for example, be relocated or housed upon release through a registered social landlord. It may become quite widely known that that person is moving to a particular area, but at present the police cannot act until the person has taken up residence in the area. Clearly, that has been a matter for public concern.

On the comments of the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing), let us hope that because of the utmost reasonableness of the Government and our accommodating approach to the Report stage, any questions of legislative delay need not entertain us.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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