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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the President of the Anti-Slavery Society for reminding me of that. Possibly the only way in which we can deal with offences of this kind is by bringing them under United Kingdom jurisdiction. There are precedents for doing that and there is no reason in principle or in legal practice why we should not take action of the sort proposed in the Bill. Again, I do not believe that the Government will wish to disagree with that aspect of the Bill.
The fourth matter on which I believe we shall all agreeI know that the Government will agreeis that the first choice must be for prosecution to take place in the country where the offence occurred. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, made that point. It is not suggested that, because the Bill would make prosecution in this country possible, prosecution here is preferable. Of course, from the point of view of seeing that the nauseating trade is reduced and abolished in those countries, it is better for the prosecution to take place where the offence is committed. It is also better because the chance of conviction will be greater in another country. I shall come on to the issue of the chance of conviction later; that is an area where there may be disagreement. But the issue of whether the first choice should be prosecution in the country of the offence is an issue on which I agree with what the Government have said in previous debates and I believe that all noble Lords who have taken part tonight share the same view.
Perhaps I can say a word about previous debates. When my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell moved an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill on this matter last year, I did not speak in support of it. There were two reasons why I did not speak. The first was because he made the case so much better than I could ever have made it that I felt I could add nothing of significance. Secondly, we were in the Committee stage of the Bill, where there were other matters with which we had to deal, and I did not want to prolong the proceedings unnecessarily. But, as he knows, I supported him in the Division Lobby and he will know now, if he did not before, that I supported him in principle, though in silence, when the matter was raised at that time.
Let me turn to the issues where there may be disagreement between the Government and other noble Lords who have spoken. The first is whether prosecution in the country where the offence takes place is likely to be satisfactory. There are understandable and perhaps less understandable reasons why that may not be the case. The understandable reasons are that prostitution is an important economic factor in a large number of countries and it would be enormously difficult for it to be eradicated immediately.
The more reprehensible reason would be, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and indeed as evidenced by the submission from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, that in many countries there is corruption. It is possible to bribe the police force. It is possible for other countries to wish to brush the matter aside and not to take action for fear of damaging one part of their tourist trade. The conclusion that we must reach I hope the Government will agreeis that prosecution in the countries of origin is not enough to deal with the problem of these offences.
The second issue on which there may be disagreement concerns the chances of success of prosecution in this country; whether there will be effective enforcement. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, gave evidence, and other noble Lords repeated it, of successful prosecutions at least in Norway and in progress in other countries. If it can be done in other countries then surely we must at least try. But, even if the number of successful prosecutions is small as a result of the passage of this Bill, surely the deterrent effect on those who go to those other countries of the fact that there have been some prosecutions and that there is a risk of prosecution, must be of some value in reducing the number of offences.
No one is trying to create a new offence with the object of putting a large number of people in prison in this country. What the noble Lord is trying to do in this Bill is to reduce the occurrence of the offence by showing not only that it is unacceptable in this country but that it is illegal in this country and that there are risks involved in committing it. I am comforted and confirmed in that view by the legal brains of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, and my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell.
There has been so much common ground and unanimity in this debate. Is it not possible that on this occasion the Government might modify their previous opposition and allow the Bill to proceed with their encouragement?
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, I have been greatly moved by this debate; in particular, by the way in which it was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. Child prostitution and the sexual exploitation and abuse of children are loathsome activities wherever they occur.
The Government work hard in international bodies, such as the United Nations General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights, to combat child prostitution and we frequently raise the question of child prostitution in contacts with the authorities in countries
However, the Government are concerned that the measures proposed by the Bill would not be effective in practice. We believe that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to bring prosecutions in this country against British tourists who have committed sexual offences abroad and the measures would cease to be a deterrent once their ineffectiveness had been demonstrated. Most importantly, it would fail to tackle the real problem; that of child prostitution.
Concern has been expressed about countries where child prostitution is linked to the organised tourist industry. By these countries' own estimates, tourism from western countries accounts for only 10 per cent. of child prostitution. While that in no way excuses the conduct of western tourists, it demonstrates that if the sexual abuse and exploitation of children through prostitution is to be eradicated, there is the strongest possible case for the authorities in the countries where child prostitution is a problem to tackle the issue themselves.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I have no competence to doubt that. My information is that overall tourism from western countries accounts for 10 per cent. of child prostitution. Child prostitution is widespread in those countries and is carried on by people in those countries. I am not competent to do anything other than note what the noble and learned Lord just said.
At government level there are signs of a willingness to do something. The difficulty lies in translating general statements about the wickedness of child prostitution into practical action to eliminate the problem. Entrenched interests and the sheer scale of the sex industry in the countries concerned combine to hinder successful investigation and prosecution.
Many would argue that it is precisely because of these allegations that it would be better for our own courts to have jurisdiction. But that argument does not take account of how any system of extended jurisdiction would work in practice. If offences by British nationals in these countries were to be prosecuted in the United Kingdom, a very high level of co-operation would be needed from the foreign authorities.
Our police cannot simply arrest every British tourist returning to this country. Investigations could start only if there were a specific complaint against the individual concerned, most likely passed on by the authorities of
A prosecution could be launched here only if the Crown Prosecution Service's criteriathat prosecution would be in the public interest and that there was a reasonable prospect of convictionhad been met. It would be necessary to show that the alleged offence was a criminal act both in the foreign country and in the United Kingdom and to have evidence to prove the age of the child involved.
The age of consent for sexual acts varies widely between different countries. Even within the European Community, some countries have ages of consent much lower than ours. Of course, the noble Lord's Bill makes allowance for this by requiring "double criminality", but it would be a complicating factor in attempting to try someone here for what we would consider the sexual abuse of an under-age child abroad. In many cases, it would be impossible to establish that an offence had been committed in the foreign country, especially given the absence of satisfactory records of birth in many countries where child prostitution is a major problem.
The victim, and any witnesses, are likely to be resident in the foreign country concerned. They may not speak English and could not be compelled to come to the United Kingdom to give evidence. The Government therefore believe that it is highly unlikely that a prosecution could be mounted here.
It is because of the mainly oral tradition of our courts that the assumption of extra-territorial jurisdiction presents problems for us. We know, however, that some other countries have taken such jurisdiction and we are monitoring closely the situation in those countries to see whether there are any lessons for us. The information we have received to date supports the view that it would be very difficult to mount a prosecution, let alone a successful one. Of the countries which have adopted the kind of extra-territorial jurisdiction proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, we understand that only Norway has been able to obtain sufficient evidence to mount a successful prosecution. Though convictions were obtained in that one case, it was in the absence of both victims and witnesses. As I said, our criminal courts rely substantially on the oral testimony of witnesses who are present in court to be cross-examined and they are not usually able to try cases simply on the basis of written depositions. In particular, witness statements taken abroad are of very limited value in our criminal trials and in many cases are not even admissible as evidence.
Until the problem of child prostitution is addressed seriously by the authorities in the countries concerned, we do not believe that extra-territorial jurisdiction has a real contribution to make to the eradication of the trade, even when British tourists are contributing to the problem. Moreover, the Government do not believe that taking such measures would have a deterrent effect on paedophiles in this country; if the law cannot be enforced effectively, it will not serve as a deterrent to those who have no compunction about evading it.
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