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Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills), who spoke passionately and wisely about the care of vulnerable people and held the attention of the whole House.

In the past two years alone, the police cautioned 807 people for taking or possessing indecent photographs of children—the majority of the cautions were issued for taking indecent photographs. Given the nature of paedophiles and their tendency to reoffend, it is a fair assumption that some, if not many, of those 807 people went on to commit further offences, and a   caution, rather than a public trial, helps them to do so.
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We all know that those offences destroy the lives of our innocent young children. I put it to the House that if only one of those offenders, whom my constituents and, I guess, your constituents, Mr. Deputy Speaker, consider to be perverts—they have admitted the offence—goes on to reoffend, the use of the caution for paedophile activity is wrong and should be stopped. Cautions should be used only where, first, the offence, which must be admitted in full by the criminal, has only minor consequences for either individuals or society at large, and, secondly, offenders are unlikely to reoffend after they have been pulled up by the caution. It is as plain as the nose on my face that neither of those tests is met in the case of paedophile activity—I can see my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) nodding about how plain the nose on my face is. Instead of leaving it to the decision of an individual police officer, we should stop the use of cautions for paedophile activity in all but truly exceptional cases, and then only on the advice of the chief constable.

Once paedophiles are caught, they should be put through the courts, which would ensure that the public are aware of their proclivities. That would give us a better chance of defending our innocent children by keeping on eye on those offenders.

Mr. Andrew Turner : Does my hon. Friend recall that when the subject was debated in this place, the argument was advanced that it is sometimes easier to secure a confession, and therefore to impose a caution, than it is to secure a conviction? It is therefore sometimes possible to pin down someone as an offender by offering a caution, when they might escape conviction before the courts.

Bob Spink: I recall that debate, and that is the only half-decent argument against taking such people to a full trial, but the offence and its consequences are so serious that I believe that a trial is essential in almost all cases. I am surprised that the use of cautions for that offence has increased almost tenfold over the past three years.

Today, I have tabled new clause 1 to the Police and Justice Bill, which is titled, "Protection of children: prohibition of police and conditional cautions". I hope that it ensures that paedophiles get the justice they deserve and that our children get the protection they deserve. I hope that hon. Members support my new clause, which will allow us further to debate the issue and let individual police officers know that this House takes the matter very seriously.

Mr. Heath: I shall make two brief observations. First, people who are issued with cautions are entered on to the sex offenders register, which is an important factor. Secondly, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me that not nearly enough resources were applied to Operation Ore in order to pick up the large number of suspected cases of paedophilia that emerged from it. If the resources had been put in, I am sure that a more effective policing job could have been done.

Bob Spink: The hon. Gentleman, who is speaking for the Liberal Democrats today, makes an excellent point.
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We all value our children, and that view should not stop or be varied in the case of the unborn child. Changing technology—in particular, 4D imaging technology—has drawn greater attention to the true and horrendous consequences of the abortion of a child at 24 weeks. That has raised public and political awareness of the issue of the timing of abortions, which came to a head last year in the general election campaign, when all three party leaders made a formal pledge that this House should readdress the legislation on the timing of abortion. Since then, the Prime Minister has failed to deliver on his pledge—he is the only one of those three party leaders who is still in office. I hope that all three parties honour what their party leaders said to the public.

The Leader of the House of Commons wrote to the Science and Technology Committee on 13 March in the following terms:

The Leader of the House did not recommend the formation of a committee to examine the matter.

I hope that the Government will listen carefully to the public view and the changing awareness of the consequences of abortion at 24 weeks and will enable, even if it is through a private Member's Bill, the issue to be debated again at the latest in the next Session of Parliament. I accept that it is a matter of conscience and is not a matter for direct Government legislation, but it needs a push, and I hope that the Prime Minister will provide it—he is an honourable man, so I am sure he will.

I will be surprised if my hon. Friends do not address the issue of police force mergers. The vast majority of people in Essex adamantly oppose the ending of the Essex constabulary. Objectors in Essex include the county council, the 12 district or borough councils and 15 of the 17 Essex Members of Parliament, some of whom are on these Benches with me today. There is clearly an overwhelming majority among those who have been democratically elected to represent the people against the merger of Essex police.

The people of Essex are equally overwhelmingly opposed to this ill-considered merger. The Home Secretary has not made the case for the merger. He has shown by his decision last week that he is failing, and the Government are failing, to listen to the people. We as Conservatives found out in 1997 what happens when the Government fail to listen to the people. I hope that he will change his mind. I also hope that he can explain the inconsistency with Hampshire and Kent, which are highly comparable with the Essex police force in terms of size, operation and nature but have been allowed to remain a stand-alone force while Essex is being merged. Policing in the UK is by the consent of the people. As Lord Hanningfield said in his letter of 20 March,

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This ill-considered proposal would lead to higher costs and higher council tax; dangerous centralisation of police control in future, or at least the risk of that; loss of local understanding and responsiveness; and loss of local control. The Home Secretary must know that Conservative Members will continue to fight him on this. I thank Lord Hanningfield and Essex county councillors for leading us in this worthy battle.

Overdevelopment is a major problem, particularly in the south-east. The public are deeply concerned about the fact that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is trying to concrete over our green spaces, as well as brownfield sites, without providing the necessary infrastructure to support such increased development. The chief constable of Essex has stated that that overdevelopment, if not checked, could add up to 30 per cent. to crime over the next five to seven years. This is being driven by the ODPM and is giving a terrible headache to local councillors on planning committees who are doing their best to fight off the demand for ever more houses and the destruction of our green spaces. As the Basildon Evening Echo editorial sagely said,

Overdevelopment is a particular problem for Castle Point. It threatens our green land and quality of life and will make much worse the already unacceptable congestion and further overburden our infrastructure.

There is an additional problem—not a new one, sadly—in Castle Point: the widespread and justified concern about a lack of transparency in planning. The public have lost confidence as a result of that. A company called Hickfort is seeking to develop 400 acres of our green belt in Castle Point. I do not want to be unfair to Hickfort and will not say today anything that I would not repeat outside this Chamber. However, there seems to have been an attempt to mislead, to some extent, landowners and the public on its proposals. I must thank the Yellow Advertiser and the Evening Echo for their coverage of this. For instance, the Evening Echo's front page is starkly headlined, "Land Grab". Hickfort seems to have made exaggerated claims of support and advice by the ODPM, Thames Gateway and the head of Castle Point borough council. Its letter of 12 December last year states:

I have written to Hickfort but have had no reply. I have written to all those bodies, each of which denies ever having made such a recommendation. Indeed, they would not do so, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My investigations on behalf of deeply concerned residents show that Hickfort's letter to residents is untrue. Moreover, Hickfort has refused to engage with me in any way whatsoever, not even to answer the various letters that I have sent over recent months so that I can protect the interests of my constituents. That creates a lack of transparency, which must give rise to concern in local people's minds. My own position as a Member of Parliament continues to be threatened by vested interests, which I believe are driven by these issues. Several national newspapers and the Press Association
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have contacted me this week about that threat to my position. I can only quote my letter to all residents last week:

the people—

That will remain the case.

1.25 pm

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