|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I do not need to say very much because I agree almost entirely with what was said by the Minister and by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), a position that usually embarrasses me but to which I am happy to admit on this occasion. Although, of course, I acknowledge the motivation and sincerity of the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn) and his friends in bringing the Bill to the House, I take the view, as those who attend regularly on Fridays will knowunfortunately, I do not see many of them in the Chamber todaythat we must be even more careful with private Members' Bills than with Government Bills. That is simply because private Members' Bills often represent the dreams of this or that group and the proper aspirations of good-minded people, but are not necessarily very well thought through. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's Bill is an example of that, and that we would be foolish to rush into supporting it, especially given that the Government have indicated that they are seriously considering the matter in a much broader context.
I will seek to divide the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if only to test the amount of support that the Bill really has. I come here every Friday for private Members' BillsI am that sort of personand often listen to colleagues whom I have never seen before, and will probably never see again, arguing for a Bill that they think the most important thing that we can consider. They always say, as the hon. Gentleman did today, "There is huge support for this Bill inside and outside the House, and it has cross-party support from all these Members who have sponsored it." Then I look around, ever optimistic, to see where they are. All we ask them to do, as Members of Parliament elected to legislate, is to turn up on one Friday of the year to show physically their support for a Bill. That is not an awful lot to ask. Today we will see just how much support there is for this Bill in the very real sense of how many Members are here to demonstrate in the Lobby that they believe that it should proceed further.
I have expressed my reservations in a couple of interventions and need not rehearse them at this stageI am anxious that my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), who has the next debate, should have an opportunity to get it started after we have our little Divisionbut I have a couple more points to make.
Sadly, the Bill is excessively narrowly focused on the private sector, and some people could think it almost vindictive. In picking out only directors of private companies, it appears to ignore other potential areas of difficulty. That was alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry and other hon. Members. If we are to proceed along this track, I would much prefer to look more broadly at the parallel responsibilities in the public sector, where, after all, a very large number of people work, often in very hazardous conditions. We should also pause to consider whether legislation of this kind should focus so narrowly on directors alone. I believe that responsibility for health and safety rests at
4 Mar 2005 : Column 1242
every level in every organisation, large and small, and that we should head in that direction instead of merely singling out directors.
The Minister was too modest, as always, to quote herself to the House, so I shall do it for her. The Work and Pensions Committee has frequently been mentioned, and I want to put on the record what she told it in evidence last May, which very much reflects my view:
"The evidence . . . has shown that directors are giving leadership and direction, that increasingly companies are directing health and safety at board level, and that better guidance to companies is what is needed rather than legislation or further regulation. Des Browne was advised by the Commission"
This may sound odd coming from meit will look all right if it is quoted in context, but pretty peculiar if notbut I believe that Government legislation has a better chance of being more carefully examined, more carefully structured and having resulted from broader consultation and consideration than is necessarily possible for private Members' Bills. For that reason, I come here when private Members' Bills are considered to try to make sure that we look more carefully at them than we able to do for Government Bills. All in all, I am content with what the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry have said, but nervous about the Bill and the way in which it seeks to take us. I shall therefore seek to divide the House in order to assess the real support for the Bill.
I start by thanking the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins) and his considerable team of officials, who will be seen filing in at any moment. Perhaps it is some credit to me that I have managed to take those who normally occupy about a quarter of a floor of the Home Office from their desks, especially at lunchtime.
The second reason to thank the Minister is that the long title would have to be adjusted if the Bill proceeded to Committee, as he pointed out. The long title refers to section 67 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, which has been repealed. That section, which previously made provision for the risk assessment of sexual and violent offenders, is repealed by the Criminal Justice Act 2003, with effect from April 2004. There is now a matching provision, involving a slightly broader range of organisations, in section 325 of the 2003 Act.
The majority of offenders comply with the registration requirements in terms of notifying police of their address (97 per cent.). There are however no real means of confirming that they physically reside at the address given, or assessing whether they are involved in offender behaviour without using extremely intrusive and resource intensive methods. A visit to the address at a reasonable time will allow us to perform some of the functions already incumbent on us through existing legislation.
In the main this will not affect those offenders who recognise the risk that they pose or have posed to the public. It will however provide us with legislative support to manage those that currently pose a risk and do not wish to stop."
It is worth pointing out that this is a fairly grim subjectindeed, I have yet to come across a subject that has cleared the House quite so quickly. When court cases involving such events are reported in the papers, one can watch people reading turn the page quickly, because the issue is unpleasant and the criminals are not particularly delectable individuals. So I need to explain my thinking and background.
One of the advantages of being a Back Bencher is that one can go on various schemes. I went on the police and parliamentary scheme with the Met police. Much of what I saw was intellectually testing and fascinating. I spent one day, however, with the Met's paedophile unit.
4 Mar 2005 : Column 1244
At that stage the gentleman in charge was Detective Chief Inspector Dave Marshall, who was followed by Detective Chief Inspector Matt Sarti, with whom I have worked since, as well as their equivalents in some other police forces, particularly Surrey police.
I was shocked at what I saw. The public have no understanding of the individuals with whom policemen and women are dealing or of what they do to children. I am not talking about a few individuals. The police conservatively estimated that there were 230,000 active paedophiles in this country two or three years ago. One only has to look at the information on news broadcasts today to recognise that that is probably an underestimate. Even at that level, however, it is equivalent to one paedophile for every street in this country.
The other staggering statistic that I picked up from the police and the research that I have done is that 10 to 20 per cent. of those individuals are women. According to one or two other sources, the proportion is perhaps even higher than that. Rose West is an obvious example, but there are many others.
It was with that in mind that I decided to try to help the police to do the job that we expect of them. I am not alone in that. A Conservative Government started the activity, which has been followed up by other Governments. There has been considerable co-operation, and a few hon. Members on both sides of the House keep pushing the issue so that we can give the police the opportunity to carry out their task.
We need to understand the background of the individuals involved. Apart from the monstrous depravity of their crimes, one of the fascinating and horrifying things about paedophilesthose who commit sexual offences against childrenis that not only do they frequently have a single-minded drive to have sex with children, but they have a number of other characteristics, which in some ways is helpful to the police. First, they have a need to collect data and memorabilia associated with their activities. In the early days, that would have been photographs on a box Brownie or some old 8 mm films. They keep clothes, especially of their victims, and recordsperhaps written or verbal on tapesof their grooming activities. Many of them collect vast amounts of literature, some of which is inexplicable until we listen and talk to them. For example, many collect Mothercare catalogues.
The video age came along, so they joined that. With great glee, they swap, spread and record their physical activities on videos. Latterly, with the digital age, they have moved into photographs stored on computers, including digital storage in the form of CD-ROMs, DVDs and storage pens. Even more worrying is the recent trend to use the internet to store remotely.
Any of those listening to the news today would have picked up concerns about the internet in particular. It is a fantastic instrument, and I would be lost without it, but equally, it is utilised by paedophiles, partly for their own stimulation, partly for stimulating others, partly to reassure themselves that they are not alone, and partly to stimulate their feeling that what they are doing is right and the rest of us are wrong.
It is a regular occurrence for them to sell photographs and information over the internet. Everyone is increasingly aware of that. By sale, I do not necessarily
4 Mar 2005 : Column 1245
mean a financial transaction, but an exchange of photographs. For them to join a gang or ring that is circulating photographs, frequently the requirement is to provide a new as yet unseen photograph, which means yet another child abused to provide that. One of the advantages from the police point of view is that some of those activities leave traces that can now be detected on computers. Data, either actual or otherwise, is available even if it is encrypted. That gives the police the opportunity to follow those individuals.
The second characteristic is that those monsters are not what many people think of as standard monsters. They are not old men in dirty macs. Many of them are extremely intelligent, and highly adept at grooming children, if not adults. Many of them, as part of their grooming of children, will keep toys, comics and sweets attractive to children. Those are significant details sitting in their homes for the police, if only they could get in.
Nowadays, much of the grooming takes place on the internet. When the police managed to get access, after conviction, to the computer of an individual who has recently been convicted and who I understand is now in jail, he was discovered to have been simultaneously grooming 58 British children with the ultimate intention of sexually abusing them.
The third characteristic worth mentioning is that almost without exception, paedophiles are the most adept liars. A senior defence barrister, whom I will not name, who was part of the team defending Rose West and has defended a number of paedophiles, said to meI was surprised how vehemently upset she wasthat paedophiles were the most untrustworthy, two-faced, lying, slippery individuals that she had ever had to deal with. She said that they made the worst fraudster whom she has ever had to defend look comparatively straight. That surprised me, because she was supposed to be on their sideat least in court.
The previous Conservative Government and this Government, aided and abetted by a number of Members on both sides of the House, have over the past few years greatly strengthened the law on sentencing paedophiles. Part 1 of the Sex Offenders Act 1997 imposed a requirement for convicted sexual offenders to notify the police of their names and addresses and any change of details, to ensure that the information on the sexual offenders list on the national computer was up to date.
The Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 amended the law in relation to sexual offenders by placing a duty on chief officers of police and probation officers to establish arrangements for assessing and managing the risks posed by sexual and violent offenders. That is key to what I am asking for today. When this subject comes up in the consideration of various Bills in Committee, there is very close agreement between the Opposition and the Government; there are fine points around the edges, and I guess that I am pushing one of those, but it was the Government's intention, as well as that of just about everybody else in the House, that there be an effective and consistent public protection arrangement in every police and probation area, following national guidance but implemented locally, to suit local conditions and needs. I have certainly found that arrangements throughout the country have varied. The problems that I am trying
4 Mar 2005 : Column 1246
to address apply more to the Met than they do to, say, Surrey police, although they tell me that the difficulties that I am trying to address are beginning to arise there, too.
Linked to the police and the probation service are a number of statutory and voluntary agents that have a role to play. The Conservative Government recognised that many of the offenders, particularly predatory paedophiles, had a long history that clearly indicated their propensity to reoffend. That meant that if society, represented by the courts, was prepared to allow those individuals to be released, placing them on the sexual offenders list and putting on the police a duty to risk-assess would in effect be an extension of the original sentence.
The annual requirement that offenders should confirm the details with the police and that the police should be able to check from prints and take photographs at all notifications is important, but at the moment, that is done in person at the police station by the individual on the list. It is left to the police to check. The statement from ACPO that I mentioned says that some 97 per cent. of those on the list co-operatebut they co-operate to the limited degree required, which if they are difficult, does not allow for the police to risk-assess. That 97 per cent. is a proportion of the whole sex offenders list, and of course, not all the offenders on that list are paedophiles.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|