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Can the Minister assure the House that there is close consultation with those other countries which have reached a different conclusion from that which Ministers are apparently saying that this Government have reached?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I can give the noble Lord an absolute assurance on that point. We are watching very carefully what is happening. We shall take any lessons to be learned from what, in the interests of all the concerns expressed tonight, we hope will be successful prosecutions. Where that takes place we shall watch what happens. As I said, there was one successful conviction but it was on the basis of the kind of evidence that would not be admissible in a United Kingdom court.
We shall continue to combat child prostitution through our work in international bodies and our contacts with the authorities in countries where it is a problem. But we believe that if the police overseas catch a British tourist who has abused local children it is best for them to detain him and prosecute him in their own courts. To assist in such action, we would provide considerable practical assistance to the authorities abroad under the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990, including the taking of witness statements from witnesses who may have returned to this country.
If the police do not catch the paedophile while he is in the country concerned, but only find out about him after he has returned to Britain, we are prepared to extradite him to stand trial in the place where he is alleged to have offended, subject to the usual safeguards. This is where our position differs significantly from several of those countries which have taken a wide criminal jurisdiction over their nationals when they are abroad. Such countries will not extradite their own nationals to foreign countries, and do not rely to the same extent as we do on oral testimony from witnesses who may have returned to this country.
In our view, extradition is the better and more workable option. As I said, our police and our courts have no powers in foreign countries. The victim and any witnesses who are all likely to be in the foreign country concerned cannot be compelled to appear before our courts. In addition, if we were to extend our jurisdiction as proposed, the requirement for dual criminality, and hence the need to prove the age of the child, contrasts unfavourably with the position in extradition proceedings. With extradition it is only necessary to establish that the offender would, if the allegation were true, be guilty of the equivalent offence carrying at least a 12 months' prison sentence here.
We are continuing to examine the scope for improving preventative measures. Representatives from the paedophile unit, based within the National Criminal Intelligence Service in London, are promoting international co-operation within the framework of Interpol.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. At the risk of being tiresome, perhaps I may ask one further question. The noble Baroness repeated what was said on a previous occasion, that the witnesses would not be forthcoming in this country. Father Cullen is absolutely clear that they would. Will she at least arrange for one of her officials to interview him and pursue that further?
In conclusion, the Government do not favour extending our courts' jurisdiction in the manner proposed in this Bill because we do not think that the measures would work in practice without the co-operation of the foreign authorities. If the indifference or corruption of those authorities prevents prosecutions from being brought in the local courts, it is hardly likely, as I said, that they would assist in enabling us to bring prosecutions here. Nor do we believe that laws which cannot be enforced effectively would have any deterrent effect on paedophiles in this country. That view has, so far, been borne out by experience. Lack of adequate evidence has proved to be a major obstacle in bringing cases to court in other western countries which have taken jurisdiction in this way. I hope that those noble Lords who have expressed concern will accept that however distasteful and loathsome these activities areand that they are so is not in doubtthe issue of natural justice is absolutely central to our judicial system. Therefore, the quality of evidence is necessary to underpin any possible prosecution.
The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, claimed that the exploitation of children which takes place is attributable solely to western tourists. As I said, that is not the case because my understanding is that it is so widespread in some of these countries that even the tourism figures do
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I wonder whether it is just a problem of understanding words. The noble Baroness used the words "western tourists" but another problem is Japanese tourists. I understand from what the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said that Japan is considering legislation of this sort. Perhaps that is the reason for the difference in the figures.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I do not argue with the point made by the noble Lord. I am simply saying that many noble Lords have mentioned the trafficking by western tourists in the child sex industry. I am simply making the point that it was not solely attributable to western tourism. It is a dreadful, loathsome problem in those countries. We are saying that they need to tackle it in any case, irrespective of western tourism.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, referred to voluntary organisations collecting evidence. We have said that we will consider the experience of other countries to see whether they are able to mount successful prosecutions on that basis. But well-meaning volunteers are not necessarily tried and trusted investigators with an understanding of the criminal law. It is therefore questionable whether the material which they might produce would stand up to examination or be admissible in our courts.
Of the countries which we know to have adopted extra-territorial jurisdiction over these sorts of offences, three have instigated proceedings; namely, Germany, Norway and Sweden. Three men were prosecuted in Germany for alleged offences against children in Thailand, but all three prosecutions failed due to a lack of sufficient evidence provided by the Thai authorities. Three men were convicted in Norway in 1990 for sexually abusing children in Thailand and the Philippines. Our courts require oral evidence and the cross-examination of witnesses. As I said earlier, I understand that the only witnesses who appeared in the Norwegian case were Norwegian medical practitioners and social workers. No affidavits were required to support the allegations, no proof of the boys' ages was provided and there was no requirement to show that the acts involved constituted offences under Thai or Filipino law. That would present a very real problem here under the United Kingdom judicial system.
The Swedish case continues and involves an allegation that a Swedish man abused a boy in Thailand. The case relies on videos of interviews with the victim and it is not clear whether he will attend the trial and be cross-examined, which would, as I said, be required for a trial in this country. We are awaiting the outcome of the proceedings with interest.
We are also carefully monitoring the position in Australia which passed its Crimes (Child Sex Tourism) (Amendment) Act 1994 in July of last year. I have noted the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that the number of arrests has risen, but we are not aware of any prosecutions as yet under this new piece of legislation. Again, we shall monitor that closely.
As I said, we shall keep in close touch with other administrations, discuss with them the problems which they may be encountering and in the light of their experience, consider whether our law is adequate. In the meantime, the Government believe that the most effective way of combating child prostitution and sex tourism is for the authorities in the tourist receiving countries to address the issue robustly and with conviction. We shall continue to support their efforts to tackle the problem, including providing practical assistance should they wish to bring prosecutions against British tourists caught abusing children.
Although I have set out in some detail the difficulties of passing this Bill into law, nevertheless the Government will follow the convention of this House by not opposing the Second Reading. However, I wish to record that I am personally deeply sympathetic.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank most warmly all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. It seems to me that the mover of a Private Member's Bill could hardly have expected such unanimous support from all sides of the House, including my noble and learned friends on the Cross Benches and others learned in the law. I am greatly encouraged. I am encouraged too by the numerous letters of support I have received from individuals throughout England and from the very high level of media interest.
I am grateful also to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for what she said about her personal sympathies and for being kind enough to say that she had been moved by the debate. I hope very much that she will read every word of it because some points may strike her, on reflection, with perhaps more force than they have yet.
The noble Baroness talked about the difficulties of mounting effective prosecutions in this country. I agree that there will have to be named individuals, and I expect that witnesses will have to be brought to Britain to take part in court proceedings. Several noble Lords have mentioned that that can be done and that it is possible to arrange, particularly through non-governmental organisations. I suggest that the passage of legislation in the United Kingdom will be an incentive to foreign governments to take much more determined and effective action in their own countries. The Australian experience is most relevant in that respectand likely to become more so.
What we are asking for in the Bill is a default power where local governments and local courts have failed to act. I suggest that the good name of Britain has been brought into disrepute by a minority of child molesters and rapists. That is of widespread concern and, on those and many other grounds, I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
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