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19 Nov 2002 : Column 517—continued

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): My constituent Ian Heffron is the uncle of the Xbabes in the woods" victims and will welcome my right hon. Friend's proposals on child sex abuse very warmly. I also welcome his statement today that homosexual and heterosexual sex offences should be treated equally under the law. That is a major step forward in British legislation. However, my right hon. Friend seemed a little coy when it came to the new offence of offensive sex in public. Will he say a little more about that?

Mr. Blunkett: I do not want to say too much. We want to ensure that there is clarity, and to give an indication—however difficult that may be—of the sort of activities that will be unacceptable when carried out in places where people would expect to walk, socialise and meet freely. We are talking not about people enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun in woods distant from these parts, but about activity that would be unacceptable in St. James's park or Trafalgar square. If people understand that, we will be able to calm their fears and at the same time open up equality and provide more sense in what is a very sensitive area.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): I welcome the Home Secretary's statement, and especially those elements concerning a crackdown on the revolting trade in child prostitutes. However, I urge the right hon. Gentleman to extend the proposals to the sickening reverse traffic, whereby adult citizens from this country and other parts of the developed world go to third world countries to abuse children. Some rather frail laws are already in place on this matter, but may I urge the right hon. Gentleman to extend the scope of his proposals?

Mr. Blunkett: I think that the whole House would agree with that. We should take whatever steps are needed.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): I very much welcome my right hon. Friend's additional proposals to protect people with learning disabilities, but will he consider extending the offence of grooming to include such people? He described how children were the victims of grooming, but people with learning disabilities could be made to consent to sexual activity. People who have found children to be protected more effectively have turned to grooming those with learning disabilities, with the aim of committing sexual offences.

Mr. Blunkett: The offence of grooming would apply in the way that my hon. Friend has set out when threats and inducements were clearly shown to have been used to secure consent from a person unable to give it, and when the person making the approach had understood that incapacity. The problem is more difficult than with children—for example, the declared mental age of the

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person involved would have to be taken into account—but I do not think that it is beyond the abilities of man or woman to ensure that such a provision were enforced.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): To ensure that sex offenders do not pose as minicab drivers and rape young women, will the Home Secretary find ways to put pressure on the GLA and the Public Carriage Office to speed up the licensing of private hire vehicles in London?

Mr. Blunkett: Just for once this afternoon I am going to say that I have heard the point. The last Minister who dealt with the issue of cabs was warned that he would be lucky to get a lift anywhere, once his ministerial car had gone. However, we need to take on board the serious point underlying the question.

Margaret Moran (Luton, South): I warmly welcome the link that has been made between trafficking, prostitution and organised crime, which are blighting many areas in my constituency and need to be tackled urgently. I also welcome the new offence of grooming. Is my right hon. Friend aware that moderators of many children's chat sites are not checked by police or anyone else? Given that we know that children's websites are a honeypot for paedophiles, will he consider making such checks a statutory requirement in the future legislation?

Mr. Blunkett: I do not know whether the taskforce has concluded its discussions on that issue. I and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), who is taking this measure forward, will ensure that we examine that important area. I take this opportunity to say how much I value the support of my hon. Friend, who has guided me through this morass.

Tony Baldry (Banbury): Will the Prison Service have adequate skills and resources to provide appropriate treatment for sex offenders while in prison?

Mr. Blunkett: Yes. Increased investment is being made in that area. In the past, because people would not admit their guilt, they did not take up programmes. So far, programmes have been voluntary or based on a particular technique requiring voluntarism. I am interested in extending such programmes, because offenders who are due to come out of prison, including those who have been given indeterminate sentences, should have treatment and guidance so as to protect the public once they are released.

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): As my right hon. Friend knows, only one in 13 reported rapes end in conviction, and as a result many victims do not come forward. Does he share my hopes and expectations that the requirement on the defendant to show not just an honest belief but reasonableness will lead to many more victims coming forward and to more convictions of guilty rapists?

Mr. Blunkett: We all want to encourage those who have experienced this terrible crime and discourage

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those who are making mischief. Every right hon. and hon. Member who has spoken has tried to get the balance right, and that will be the task ahead.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): I warmly welcome the Home Secretary's statement. Given that the internet is a genuinely international piece of equipment and is, sadly, the gateway to so much child abuse these days, is he having any conversations with counterparts in the United States and Europe to see whether a more common approach can be taken and more upstream protection be built in, possibly involving discussions with manufacturers of software and hardware? Unless we start to deal internationally with the use of the internet, will we ever get to the bottom of modern child abuse?

Mr. Blunkett: I do not know what has happened, but I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. The G8 taskforce, which we are leading, is examining precisely those issues. I very much welcome those comments. This problem involves software manufacturers and servers. It is in the interests of a civilised and decent world that we should try to reach international agreements. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, there are no boundaries, and we desperately need to ensure that we protect children here and across the world.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Is it the Home Secretary's intention that DNA from convicted sex offenders should be added permanently to the police national database?

Mr. Blunkett: Currently, half the people who have committed a crime are on the DNA database. It is my

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intention that that task should be completed by the middle of next year, which will put about 3 million on the database. Those who are currently in custody should have a sample of their DNA taken, which will assist us in apprehending future offenders. I stress that, although it is critical to pick up those who commit crime, preventing crime must be the paramount requirement.



Secretary Tessa Jowell, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Straw, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Mr. Secretary Murphy, Mrs. Secretary Liddell, Ms Secretary Hewitt, Secretary Peter Hain, Mr. Stephen Timms and Dr. Kim Howells, presented a Bill to confer functions on the Office of Communications; to make provision about the regulation of the provision of electronic communications networks and services and of the use of the electro-magnetic spectrum; to make provision about the regulation of broadcasting and of the provision of television and radio services; to make provision about newspaper mergers and, in that connection, to amend the Enterprise Act 2002; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed. [Bill 6].

Mr. Speaker: We now come to the main business. The House will notice that I have imposed a nine-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, the purpose of which is to allow as many Back Benchers to speak as possible. I hope, therefore, that those on the Front Benches will take note.

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Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[Fifth Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [13 November],

Question again proposed.

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