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I want to make two brief points in conclusion. The first is about the provisions on extreme pornography and prostitution. The abolition of the term “common prostitute” is certainly welcome. However, I wonder why we are revisiting the Sexual Offences Act 2003 so soon. The Lord Chancellor said that times have changed since 10 years ago; yes, they have, but they have not
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changed as much since four years ago. It seems odd that we are revisiting an issue that we thought had been dealt with by a definitive Act, following careful scrutiny. I shall carefully consider what the Lord Chancellor says on the subject, but it strikes me as odd that, having established a consolidating measure, which was carefully argued through the House, we are revisiting it so soon.

We all want to stamp out homophobic hate crime. The degree to which we can support any amendment will depend on the terms in which it is put, but I hope that there will be no doubt that the Liberal Democrat Members will support a workable solution—one that does not compromise people who are simply professing faith or expressing themselves in ways that we may not agree with, but are nevertheless not intended to incite crime.

In conclusion, we wish to support some measures in the Bill; there are some about which we will argue strongly in Committee and no doubt return to on Report. I welcome the attitude expressed by the Lord Chancellor in some respects; there are issues on which he is prepared to listen, and he has already made a concession on one important element of the Bill. We will seek to amend that which is wrong. We will apply reasoned arguments and try to restrain the authoritarian instincts of the Government in the interests of justice and the protection of the public. Those are the paramount considerations. We do not intend to vote against the Bill this evening, and we will listen carefully to what the Minister says about the programme and carry-over motions.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind right hon. and hon. Members of Mr. Speaker’s time limit of 10 minutes on Back-Bench speeches. In view of the time factor, Members may wish to restrict their contributions even further.

7.36 pm

David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion) (Lab/Co-op): I shall be brief, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wish to confine my remarks to clauses 64 to 66 in part 6, which deal with extreme pornographic material.

Jane Longhurst, my constituent, was a respected and dedicated teacher at a school for children with learning difficulties in my constituency. It happens to be the last school where I taught before I retired from teaching, but we did not work there at the same time. Obviously, Jane’s murder caused concern throughout the whole community. During the trial of Graham Coutts, there was horror at the revelations about how she had died and the circumstances surrounding her death. Everyone was shocked.

I believe that it is because of the determination of Jane’s mother, Liz Longhurst, and other members of her family and the responsiveness of Ministers of this Government that those clauses are before us tonight. I welcome that. Liz Longhurst decided that her daughter’s death should not go unmarked and that the extreme pornographic images that had fuelled the fantasies of the man who was twice tried for Jane
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Longhurst’s murder—the family had to go through the horror of a trial twice—had to be dealt with. She launched a campaign, which, I am glad to say, received the backing of Amnesty International as part of its campaign against violence against women.

The campaign, aspects of which I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) will want to discuss if he has the opportunity, received the backing of local newspapers. I must pay tribute to The Argus newspaper, published in my constituency, and particularly to Phil Mills, who was its chief crime reporter, although sadly no longer.

The campaign led to a 50,000-signature petition calling for action being presented in the House. There has been determination on the part of Mrs. Longhurst—the fact that we are discussing the issue is a tribute to her—and on the part of many of the predecessors of those on the Government Front Bench. I pay particular tribute to the former Home Secretaries, my right hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) and for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) for the sympathetic way in which they listened to the case for legislation that we put to them. I also pay tribute to other Ministers who have dealt with the matter—in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins) and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker).

We were determined that something should be done to tackle the pernicious trade in violent internet pornography. I welcome the way in which the Government have responded to the campaign. The provisions before us tonight do not go as far as many of us want, but they tackle an important aspect of the issue: the possession of those awful images. In doing so, they fulfil one of the requirements that the Lord Chancellor said in his opening remarks is an underlying principle of the Bill: to make sure that the law keeps pace not only with changing patterns of crime, but with technology and the way in which it affects patterns of crime. I wish we had proposals before us tonight to tackle at source the internet sites that purvey this material. However, that needs a degree of international co-operation which, sadly, despite the determination of Ministers, we have not yet been able to achieve—in the same way as we have achieved international co-operation to tackle child pornography. That is a further stage of the campaign.

The provisions do tackle possession. I ask the House to consider the comments of Jim Gamble, the chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and, at the time he made the comments, the lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers in this area of criminality. He said:

The provisions start to address the issue of how the internet can be used to supplement this area of criminality and build on the fundamentals of obscene publications legislation.

Martin Salter: Will my hon. Friend also pay tribute to the Reading Evening Post for its support of the Longhurst campaign? More importantly, does he recognise that the campaign achieved the support of 180 MPs, who signed early-day motion 583 on the murder of Jane Longhurst and internet sites promoting
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necrophilia? We are talking about some of the most obscene and disturbing material, including internet sites such as Necrobabes, Death by Asphyxia, and Hanging Bitches. Does he agree that the provisions will not make a new offence of anything that is not already illegal? We are talking about material that is already illegal under obscene publications legislation. It is merely the possession of the images that will become a new criminal offence.

David Lepper: I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention and agree with the points that he makes. I also welcome the commitment of Members on the Opposition Front Bench to support at least this part of the Bill, if not other aspects of it. Building on what my hon. Friend said, the explanatory notes that are available to us all make it clear that the intention of these clauses is not to restrict makers of narrative films or documentaries, or artists. The provisions are quite specific about the need to prove in court—and, I believe, to have the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions to take the matter to court—that the intention of those involved is very different from that of people producing works of fiction in a more mainstream way.

I welcome the fact that the Government have responded to the strong demand from the family of Jane Longhurst and all the organisations that have supported Jane’s family. None of us can really know the anguish that Mrs. Longhurst and other members of her family have been through over the four years since her daughter’s death. However, we have before us tonight legislation that, in some small way, when eventually passed, will be a memorial to a dedicated teacher and a wonderful daughter.

7.44 pm

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): At the conclusion of his remarks, the Secretary of State suggested that the Opposition should at least not resist the Second Reading of the Bill and indicated that there may be some co-operation, particularly in Committee. I have certainly heard that before and I ask the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) to think about that. In the past, I have put forward a considerable number of amendments and new clauses, and even a private Member’s Bill—only to have them rejected out of hand and then see the provisions return months, or even years later, sometimes with almost identical wording, under the Government’s banner. With that in mind, perhaps the Minister of State will consider a couple of suggestions this evening. I am bringing them forward now, so that they can be considered as the Committee stage moves forward.

I am referring in particular to part 6 of the Bill. The thinking behind the provisions on extreme pornographic images is echoed in the legislation dealing with paedophiles, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (David Lepper) mentioned. There is clear evidence that paedophiles use literature, drawings, pseudo-photographs, photographs, films, videos, websites and digital material to stimulate their activities and generate interest among others.

Clause 68 is an ideal platform to deal with a new problem that reflects the changes in thinking and movements in the digital world. Again, this follows on from what
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the hon. Gentleman said. Computer-generated imaging is a software system that is used by clothes manufacturers to produce a figure that they will clothe and use legitimately. Paedophiles use it to produce images of children having sex with children or adults having sex with children, and use that material for stimulation. That is well known by the Home Office. I have asked the present Home Secretary and the previous Home Secretary for action on the matter, and it has been promised. The internet taskforce is looking at the issue. It would be quite simple to make a small and subtle change to the clause to introduce a suitable provision. I ask the Secretary of State for Justice and his Ministers to look at the matter positively and to use this opportunity to deal with the issue, thus keeping ahead of the changes in digital imaging.

The second issue that I want to raise—the encryption of images—is being looked at by the internet taskforce and has been looked at over a number of years by Home Office Ministers. The images used by paedophiles, and the individuals covered by the provisions that are being proposed, can be encrypted. Nowadays, if one has an operating system such as the new Vista professional, it is easy to ensure that images are encrypted when one turns one’s computer off and it is impossible for law enforcement officers to access those images. There are a large number of reasons, which I will not rehearse—because I have mentioned them before—for getting access to the images. Quite apart from catching the criminals themselves, in the case of paedophiles it is important to find the children, because they need help.

In addition, 128 bit and 256 bit encryption has been available for some time, free, on the internet. It is quite simple to use. Individuals with any intelligence can use it to prevent access to images. There are plenty of cases—the Home Office will know of them—in which things are well known by the police force. I am thinking in particular of an Australian individual who was deported by the police. As he headed into terminal 3 at Heathrow for his Qantas flight back to Australia, he had something in the region of 32,000 images—disgusting paedophile images—that the police could not get to because of encryption.

In the past, the answer has been the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Seven years after that Act was passed, provisions in part 3, which dealt with this aspect, came into force in secondary legislation. The difficulty is that the maximum sentence is two years. The sort of sentences that a paedophile hiding such material could expect if there was access to the material is anything up to 15 years, as well as being put on the sex offenders register. The paedophile is unlikely to produce the code, as required under part III of RIPA, because he will only get two years for not doing so—and as my Front-Bench colleagues might point out, he would actually serve only one—and will not go on the sex offenders list, so he will hold his hands up to that crime, but not to the other one.

During the consultation on part III of RIPA, I was able to help some of the Ministers’ officials in our discussions with the people concerned from the City on the implementation of part III. In that consultation, with my encouragement, the Government suggested that consideration be given to increasing that two years to a maximum of 10 years. That 10-year maximum related to legislative penalties for other paedophile
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activities. Nothing has happened. We have an opportunity to reflect on that, to consider the consultation, and to use the Bill to act on the issue and possibly increase the maximum sentence to 10 years, because there are related clauses in it. I ask the Government to use this opportunity, and to use the Committee stage to discuss the issue. I hope to put forward amendments and new clauses proposing that change. As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion suggested, the Government could use this opportunity to get ahead of, or at least to keep up with, the way in which digital imaging has moved forward.

7.51 pm

Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome this ambitious, wide-ranging Bill, which consolidates the progress that has been made in the past 10 years. It is a progressive piece of legislation. It is disappointing that the official Opposition did not engage with it more seriously, particularly as the Lord Chancellor has responded positively to some of the questions asked about the detail of the Bill.

When it comes to implementing the Bill, the challenge for the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office is to give people working in all parts of the criminal justice system clarity about what is expected of them. In recent years, even when legislation has been clear, there have been far too many mixed messages. Guidance and the detailed implementation of specific measures have been less clear than Ministers intended. The courts sometimes seem confused about how it all fits together, and as the Bill is about clarity, consolidation and progress, this is an ideal opportunity to set matters right. I make that point because the criminal justice system is highly complex, and the devil is in the detail, as my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor has always been fond of pointing out.

I want to refer to several specific provisions in my role as critical friend. First, I want to discuss the Bill’s overall purpose. As the Library’s excellent note on the Bill points out, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 clearly set out the overall purpose of the youth justice system. The Act says:

Clause 9 of the Bill clarifies the approach that the court should use in sentencing, and I welcome that, provided that the courts do not confuse the issue by separating their responsibilities in sentencing from the overarching statement of purpose set for the whole criminal justice system, of which they are a part. My point is that the courts seem well able to forget what they are for. That is an important point, because the more that young offenders offend, the more that they damage their victims, the community as a whole, themselves, their peer group and their family, so we must not lose that focus.

Secondly, on the sentencing of young people, the proposal to combine 15 different requirements in a single youth rehabilitation order is welcome. Having so
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many different orders became confusing for young people, parents and the public. There are challenges: first, we need to know what is working and what is not, so each specific use of the 15 categories needs to be accurately recorded on each occasion. When an order is made, if it incorporates, say, three of the requirements, each should be recorded in the statistics, and the outcomes should be monitored. The Prison Reform Trust expressed concern that a generic community sentence could reduce the hierarchy of disposals available to the court. There are two ways of dealing with that genuine fear. The first is to make it clear that the order will be used on several occasions with a persistent offender, but with different choices being made from the menu on each occasion. The second is to get rid of the idea of a hierarchy of disposals altogether, because it is a lazy way of sentencing. It means that a court could fail to use the appropriate disposal, which might end a criminal career, because the offender is too high up the tariff, or not high enough on it. Either one is madness; what counts is getting it right in each case.

As a magistrate and as a youth worker who worked with young offenders before entering the House, I particularly welcome the addition of the activity requirement. Engaging the young person’s mind in new interests and challenges is frequently successful, especially when it is applied at the same time as interventions that address the offending behaviour and its causes, as the new style of order will do. It is not a soft option; it is an essential, tough element in ensuring a comprehensive approach to diverting young people from crime. I also welcome the introduction of youth conditional cautions and the Government’s intention to do more to embed restorative approaches in the system.

Thirdly, on antisocial behaviour orders, clause 108 creates a statutory requirement to review after one year an ASBO placed on a young person aged under 17. That is good, but I remind Ministers that when I introduced the ASBO in 1998 I assured the House that the Government intended it primarily as an order for adults, and that it would be used only exceptionally on young persons. The whole point of the ASBO is to prevent further offending. To take the message of the ASBO to heart, offenders have to appreciate what they have to lose, and teenagers often have no sense of risk. It has worked well and has been successful when properly used, but it is less successful with the younger age group, so I urge Ministers to implement the clause, but to change the guidance so that the ASBO is used as designed and intended.

The ASBO is an effective measure of deterrence and prevention. It deals with the reality. It is a movie film, rather than the snapshot that the courts normally deal with. It prevents what it forbids—a test that most laws fail, as Gibbon pointed out in “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. Someone who obeys its requirements has no criminal record and no punishment, and is deterred from a life of crime, but it comes into disrepute when used in inappropriate circumstances with those who are too young to understand what it means, or the risk that they run if they breach it.

My fourth point is on the protection of NHS staff. I welcome the clause on that subject. Our front-line staff in the NHS deserve protection. However, looking
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outside the legislation, I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to consider the success of the approach to violence reduction adopted in Cardiff. It is 10 years since my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor came with me to meet Professor Jonathan Shepherd in the accident and emergency unit in Cardiff, and saw what was being done to identify the cases of violence that were draining NHS resources. It was discovered that many incidents were unreported. A clinical analysis of the experience in the NHS showed that targeted action could reduce both alcohol-related violence and domestic violence. The result is that Cardiff is now the safest city in its cohort of cities. The public is safer and the waste of NHS resources on avoidable, expensive treatment has been reduced. That lesson should be applied elsewhere.

Fifthly, I want to deal with clause 12 on indeterminate sentences. The Bill will result in a different sentence for the offender who is given an indeterminate sentence. The Prison Reform Trust comments that in an increasingly risk-averse culture, that could become the default setting. It has a point, especially as the courts, rather than having a clear focus on getting it right, often appear more at ease following a pattern of sentencing. There is no quick fix on that issue. The point of an indeterminate sentence is to manage risk and prevent danger, so one cannot determine matters entirely at the point of sentence. We need to look at the clause with care. We do not need tougher or softer sentencing; we need better targeted sentencing, combined with an effective system of managing the risks, and we need to give those in the system the confidence to address the risks effectively.

Sixthly, on sharing data, I am pleased that clause 75 provides custodial penalties for those who knowingly and recklessly disclose personal data, but will the Minister stress clearly that this must not be used as an excuse for failing to disclose information when it is appropriate—for example, in order to prevent and reduce crime, as set out in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998? “If in doubt, don’t disclose” is still the default setting for too many data controllers and lawyers, whereas the right response is always to balance the requirement of data protection against the public interest in disclosure and to make a responsible judgment.

There are many other points in the Bill on which I would love to comment, but I am conscious that many of my hon. Friends wish to speak. I will therefore simply say that this is a good piece of legislation that has my support, and I am delighted that the Government have sought to cover so many important issues within the context of the Bill.

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