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Paedophile Crime

6. Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): What recent initiatives he has taken to reduce the incidence of paedophile crime; and if he will make a statement. [112577]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): The Government attach great importance to protecting children from sex offenders. We are introducing legislation this Session to create a comprehensive scheme to prevent unsuitable people, including sex offenders, from gaining access to children through working with them. We are establishing a criminal records bureau. We are also investing in the Prison Service sex offender treatment programmes. Sex offender orders and extended sentences for sexual and violent offenders are now available to the courts. In police

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terms, we are focusing on the international paedophile networks through the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which will be helped by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill that is now being considered by the House. The Association of Chief Police Officers has established a register of sex offenders, which contains more than 10,000 names.

Mr. O'Brien: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and for the efforts being made by him and his colleagues to ensure that no danger is posed by sex offenders.I realise that the Sex Offenders Act 1997 is a valuable tool for the police in tracking sex offenders. In the Horbury community in my constituency recently, there was great concern about the fact that a registered paedophile had been seen around schools and with children due to assemble. It seems that further regulations are needed, or instructions to the police with regard to the tracking of sex offenders. Another problem involving young offenders--10, 11 and 12-year-olds who offend against small children--needs to be examined by the Department. Will my hon. Friend take note of the concerns that I express on behalf of my constituents, who are troubled by the presence of sex offenders in the community?

Mr. Clarke: I note the points that my hon. Friend makes. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the police, who, under the Sex Offenders Act 1997, have achieved through the police national computer almost 97 per cent. compliance by those required to register. That is a tribute to police work on this type of crime. My hon. Friend suggests an initiative to track sex offenders; that technique is used and can be further developed.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Did the Minister see the exhibition of literature sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) that was on display in Committee Room 18 on Thursday last week? If he has not seen that exhibition, may I commend it to him? The production of such literature for influencing children at school--presumably after the abolition of section 28--constitutes in itself a sexual offence against children.

Mr. Clarke: I did not see the exhibition in Committee Room 18 to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Much work is being done through the education service and schools throughout the country to make children aware of the dangers that they may experience. In the context of the section 28 debate, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has issued substantial and strong guidelines to help schools to guide their children effectively.

Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East): Will the Minister join me in congratulating the police, the probation service and the Prison Service in Nottingham on the undoubted success of the special unit at Nottingham prison, where two of the most notorious paedophiles have been housed for six months without incident or any risk to children in the area?

Mr. Clarke: I am happy to congratulate the police, especially the Nottinghamshire police. The Prison Service has made a major effort to improve our ability to

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rehabilitate and deal with some of the most persistent offenders. I am sure that the House would want to congratulate Nottingham prison on its work.

Intelligence Services

7. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): If he will make a statement on the procedure for supervising the activities of the intelligence services. [112578]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): The Security Service Act 1989 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994 provide that the security and intelligence agencies are under the Secretary of State's authority. The head of each agency controls its operations. The Acts also establish tribunals.

The 1994 Act established the Intelligence and Security Committee, which comprises hon. Members and Members of the other place. It examines the expenditure, administration and policy of the agencies. It reports annually to the Prime Minister, who lays a copy of the report, excluding matters that may prejudice the discharge of the agencies' functions, before Parliament.

Sir Teddy Taylor: Will the Home Secretary re-examine the case of Mr. Peter Bleach, who is currently in prison in India? He has argued in detail that he is in prison because of unfair treatment, and inaccurate information that the intelligence service provided to the court. If it is not possible for the Home Secretary to re-examine the case, will he at least make representations to the Government of India to ask them to review their legislation to enable Mr. Bleach to serve his penalty in the United Kingdom? That facility is available in many other countries.

Mr. Straw: On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I am happy to meet him to discuss the case, but any question of an appeal, and the admissibility of evidence in the case, has to be a matter for the appeal courts in India. Neither I nor any other Minister have any locus in the case.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, there is an agreement between the United Kingdom and India to secure the mutual repatriation of prisoners who are sentenced in those countries. However, its implementation is being held up by the absence of legislation to effect it in India. I am happy to make representations to the Indian Government to secure its early implementation.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Will the Home Secretary reflect on the fact that, uniquely among western democratic countries, we have the least parliamentary oversight of our security services? Not only is that an embarrassment to us as a democratic country: it flies in the face of our human rights obligations. Former presidents of the National Union of Students might be content with current arrangements, but some of us are not. Our security services have no accountability in this place. They are out

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of control and it is time that the Government--a Labour Government--applied themselves to remedying that wrong.

Mr. Straw: I do not accept the assumption behind my hon. Friend's question that our agencies are subject to less parliamentary oversight than those of any other European country.

Mr. Mackinlay: There is none.

Mr. Straw: There is considerable oversight by parliamentarians. If my hon. Friend is making the nice point that the Intelligence and Security Committee is not appointed by the House, I accept that. However, any hon. Member who has appeared before the Committee knows that it is composed entirely of parliamentarians and that it does its job thoroughly and effectively. It is one of many ways in which the agencies are under control and accountable to the House.

Dr. Julian Lewis: Does the Home Secretary agree that no intelligence service can operate effectively if its former employees break their lifelong obligation of confidentiality? Given that the Government are pursuing relentlessly the egomaniac ex-officer of MI5, David Shayler, will the right hon. Gentleman at least acknowledge that some of the criticisms that the Labour party made of the previous Conservative Government when they pursued the egomaniac ex-officer Peter Wright were less than justified?

Mr. Straw: The House will excuse me if I do not quite follow the hon. Gentleman down the path that he invites me to take, except to say that I confirm that there is a lifelong obligation expected of staff, and I am glad to have the support of both sides of the House for the fact that that obligation should properly be enforced.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): As a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, may I say to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, andto my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock(Mr. Mackinlay), that there is accountability to Parliament through the Committee, and that its members are diligent in the way in which we carry out our duties? However, my hon. Friend has a case. I agree with him that the Committee should be a Committee of Parliament.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for confirming the reality of the accountability from, as it were, the other side of the table. I am sure that he will confirm also that Secretaries of State, heads of the agencies and many others who are examined by the Committee on which he sits are subject, as they should be, to extremely thorough scrutiny, and that in due course a report is made to the House.

It is in the nature of the business of the agencies that whether the Committee is or is not a Select Committee, its reports would have to be extremely carefully edited and that operational details could not be made public. I understand the case that is made for the Committee to be a Select Committee, but I do not think that it would or could operate in a significantly or substantively different

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way in that form. As my hon. Friend will know from the report which was published recently, we keep this matter under review.

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