Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Norman Baker (Lewes): The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) is right to draw attention to other areas where the law might be reviewed and improved. The Government are now committed to acting on the ''Setting the Boundaries'' report, which was the subject of considerable consultation a couple of years ago: they say that they will change the law with regard to sex offences, and I welcome that.

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The Government are acting on the encryption key aspect. I think that they are doing that in the Proceeds of Crime Bill. Is that right?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): No.

Norman Baker: However, they are acting on it in a Bill.

The issue that I wish to raise does not address a matter of legislation; it is about guidance to police—which I know that the Minister is very keen on—to ensure that those who commit sexual crimes are properly pursued and prosecuted. That does not always happen, because the police too frequently rely on the victim's statement, and if the victim is a vulnerable person—such as a child, or someone with a disability—they are not always able to make such a statement. The traditional response of the police to such circumstances is that no prosecution is therefore possible. That must change, because those who indulge in sexual exploitation and abuse deliberately pick victims who will not make statements to the police. Consequently, some people are getting away with horrendous crimes. I shall not go any further, but I wanted to put that serious issue on the record. Members of the Committee who have followed a particular case in the press will understand my argument.

As for the amendment and the proposed new clauses, I am happy to say that the Minister is right that the Bill should be so amended. They are sensible and will go some way towards improving the law. We all want the law against sex offenders to be as efficient and effective as possible. I have great pleasure in saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) and I will support the proposals. Given my generous response to them, I hope that the Minister will reciprocate when it comes to the new clauses that I have tabled.

3 pm

Mr. Hawkins: I wish to supplement what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire and the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). Like my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), I have also had a difficult constituency case. I pay a genuine tribute to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes) who, before her recent well-deserved promotion to Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, dealt with these issues. I had to see her about a difficult case in which someone had committed serious sexual offences against his children, for which he had received a substantial custodial sentence. He was imprisoned elsewhere in the country but, on his release, he was proposing to move back to the area in which his victims lived, which was near my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins).

The moves outlined in the new clauses are helpful, but they reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire about the advice that we have received about the holiday period. My constituents are worried about such a gap. It has been said that the gap or holiday can be used by a

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persistent sex offender to chase children. As a result not only of my experience a barrister some years ago, but the constituency cases that I have taken up in my 10 years plus in the House, I have tried to adopt a balanced and measured approach that is based on protecting the innocent. The very tragic cases that have received so much publicity in recent years are an acid test. The test that I would apply is whether the Government's proposals will prevent tragic cases from happening, such as that of Sarah Payne? Will they have stopped killers such as Whiting?

As my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said, we have not gone all the way, but I do not criticise the Government for that because they are proceeding by stages. There is no doubt that the measures will help, but I share my hon. Friend's slight disappointment that other steps have not been taken under the Bill. We hope that the Minister will say that the Government are still keeping matters under review and may bring forward proposals in future legislation. I hope so, because in all parliamentary Sessions there will be criminal justice or other Home Office Bills to which future measures can be attached. Like many members of the Committee, I have dealt with a difficult constituency case. Some of the Government's proposals would have helped in that instance, had they been law at the time. I am not sure whether they go far enough, however, because of what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Denham: I am pleased by the warm welcome that the new clauses and amendments have received from the Committee. I can understand why members of the Committee want legislation to cover other issues relating to sex offences. However, this is the Police Reform Bill and, despite the reputation of all Home Office Bills under any Government of attracting new pieces of legislation like flypaper, there is a limit to how much can be included under the guise of a Bill that seems to be about something completely different. We have taken the earliest possible opportunity to close a particular loophole in the law.

The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire asked why, if the provision covers the whole of the UK, the power to make anticipatory orders and the ability to vary the orders are necessary. The circumstances envisaged by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) would answer that question—somebody who is not the subject of a sex offender order may be about to move to another part of the country. The police should not have to wait until he gets there before they can apply for an order.

Although orders will apply to the whole of the UK—at the moment they apply only to England and Wales—they can be specific. They may say, ''You shall not approach this particular primary school, park or swimming pool.'' It is necessary to have the ability to vary an order in another part of the country—perhaps because somebody has arrived or in anticipation of somebody arriving.

With regard to police costs, there have been well-publicised cases and we all recognise that there are costs. With the exception of unprecedented and major expenditure, the assumption has always been that the police grant that is made available to forces will

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accommodate particular costs that arise. Those may relate to the type of incidents described by the hon. Gentleman or involve a particular type of crime that comes to the fore in a certain area. It is difficult to say that we could underwrite that cost.

Hon. Members will be aware—not least my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell)—of the difficulties that arise whenever the state attempts to make or expand provision for sex offenders in any type of institution. There is always deep public resistance and a balance must be struck between the demand for provision and attempts made to expand it.

With regard to whether we are able to go further, we have reviewed the sex offender orders and we hope to deal with registration issues in a Bill on sex offenders and sex offences. That is also where we would look at issues surrounding internet grooming, on which my hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that he would like to take action. Obviously, I cannot anticipate future Queen's Speeches, so I cannot give an indication of the time scale. My colleagues who are dealing with the matter hope to publish proposals in the autumn so that people can see clearly how we hope to move ahead.

Internet child abuse falls within the remit of the new hi-tech crime unit, on which we will be spending approximately £25 million over the next three years. On the specific case involving encryption mentioned by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, powers to tackle the criminal misuse of encryption were dealt with in part by the much-maligned Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which includes many excellent features. The commencement of the relevant part of the Act awaits work currently being undertaken on a code of practice for the use of the powers.

As we all know, the Bill raises sensitive issues, including the circumstances in which it is legitimate to require people to reveal their encryption systems. Determining the circumstances in which it is not legitimate requires careful differentiation. A code of practice is being devised that will enable the relevant part of the 2000 Act to commence. My understanding is that the Act goes some way towards dealing with the issue raised by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire.

I hope that that has answered specific questions. The hon. Member for Lewes raised a wider issue relating to statements and the pursuit of such cases by the police when they are not able to take statements. I do not feel able to say any more than has previously been said by the Government, although I will talk to my colleagues to see whether it will be dealt with in the wider review of sex offender legislation. The hon. Gentleman understandably registered his concern about the issue with the Committee this afternoon.

I hope that I have touched on the points that hon. Members have raised. I am confident that the Committee will accept the new clauses.

Amendment agreed to.

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Amendments made: No. 241, in page 143, line 6, after '35' insert

    'or (Police powers for contracted-out staff)'

No. 242, in page 143, line 17, leave out

    'or accredited under section 35 or'

and insert

    'under section 35 or (Police powers for contracted-out staff) or accredited under section'

No. 260, in page 143, line 26, leave out '31(1) or 32(2)' and insert '17B, 30(1) or 31(2)'.

No. 261, in page 143, line 27, leave out from 'detention' to end of line 30.—[Mr. Denham.]

Schedule 7, as amended, agreed to.

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