Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, if the noble Baroness will allow me to intervene--I hesitate to interrupt her--will she specify a recommendation in any of the speeches tonight that a prosecution should be mounted on flimsy evidence?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I was simply referring to the references on how evidence could be collected--by using voluntary organisations, taking videos, by taking the word of a child. I shall come to the Swedish example mentioned by the noble and learned Lord in the course of debate. That type of evidence, accepted under the Swedish legal system, would not stand up in our courts.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, the evidence which I suggested would be relevant and admissible would be a video taken by the defendant himself of he himself engaged in these activities. That is perfectly admissible. It is tantamount to a confession--a rather dramatic confession. Correspondence between the defendant and other persons with the same proclivities describing how he had enjoyed himself would be tantamount to a confession and would be admissible as any other confession would be. I have suggested no easing of the obligation to prove. I have merely accepted that it would be more difficult to prove.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I have to say that I have enormous sympathy with what the noble and learned Lord says. People come through Customs, for example, with videos which show the most awful activities, but time and again the videos do not give conclusive evidence for the crime to stand up in court. For example,

21 Feb 1996 : Column 1130

the age of the child might have to be guessed from often poor, home-made videos. There are other difficulties too. I do not wish what I say to get in the way of what I believe unites the whole House in recognising the evils of these activities and doing something about them. I muse on the experience I have just had of taking a criminal procedure Bill through this place.

The noble Lord believes that we should take jurisdiction to deal in this country with those who have committed sexual offences against children abroad. That is one option. But again we have some doubt that it represents the most effective approach. The most effective approach would be for the countries in which this evil trade flourishes to close down the brothels in which young children are exploited and to bring the full force of their criminal law to bear on those who are engaged in the despicable and vile activities. That would be a very welcome response. For our part, we are very ready to help.

With regard to international drugs liaison officers, although their primary role is to deal with drugs matters and to support international co-operation in the fight against the illicit drugs trade, they can and do provide liaison and information on other areas of serious criminal activity where it does not undermine or detract from their primary role. That role may and can include organised sexual offences.

Subject to the normal rules, we are prepared to extradite our own nationals to stand trial in the country in which they are alleged to have committed offences. As noble Lords will know, some countries will not do that, but we will if we receive a request. That, of course, is important. Without a request we cannot extradict and the sad fact is that we do not receive requests. I invite noble Lords to consider the implications of that fact. If we do not receive requests, it is presumably because there is insufficient evidence to justify a prosecution or insufficient will to investigate the matter. I make no observation on which of those might be the reason, but either would make it extremely unlikely that, if we had the necessary jurisdiction, we could mount a successful prosecution here. Our police would have no power to conduct their own investigations, nor would we have any power to compel the attendance of witnesses or to ensure (through the threat of a prosecution for perjury) that evidence given by a witness abroad could be relied upon to be truthful.

There are, of course, all kinds of reasons why our jurisdiction has traditionally been territorially based. I know that noble Lords think that the objections are academic and indicate a lack of will on the part of the Government. I wish to assure the House that that is not the case. Both I and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary would be the first to act if we thought that by doing so we could make a real difference. But our fear is that by accepting the noble Lord's approach we might make matters worse. If we were to take the necessary jurisdiction to deal with the offences, there is a danger that we would, in effect, relieve the countries concerned of their obligation to act. It would be very easy for them to say then that this was a matter for us to deal with, leaving them to wipe their hands of the problem. Of course, if we could not actually enforce the

21 Feb 1996 : Column 1131

jurisdiction effectively, we would then end up with a situation in which the paedophiles and others who exploit young children could go about their despicable activities with impunity. None of us wants that to happen. That is why we have been concentrating on trying to find effective ways of dealing with the problem.

As your Lordships know, in July last year the Government announced an examination of the law of conspiracy and incitement to see whether action could be taken against acts committed in this country in preparation for the commission of a sexual offence against children abroad. The Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill, which is at present under discussion in another place, will, if it is enacted in its present form, make such preparatory behaviour unlawful. It has been widely described as an attack on sex tour operators. It should indeed catch those who make arrangements for, or who advertise tours which involve, the sexual abuse of children abroad. But it will also go wider than that. Many of those loathsome creatures travel on their own to places where they can indulge their sick pleasures. But they discuss and plan their activities with others of their kind before they go. That may well amount to conspiracy or incitement and would be caught by the provisions of that Bill. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, said how difficult even that is in our own country under our very noses. This is a positive response to the problem, but I do not pretend that it deals with the whole of the problem. It is a pragmatic approach to one aspect.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, at the risk of being tiresome, perhaps I may intervene once more. The point I was making was that the condition which is required in the Bill is one which is difficult to prove because people do not normally reduce their nefarious intentions to writing. That difficulty would not apply to the prosecutions which would follow from the noble Lord's Bill.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I have pointed out some difficulties, but we know that the police have good intelligence. That intelligence and making the activity criminal will take the whole matter one step forward. We do not pretend that it deals with the whole problem, but it is a pragmatic approach to one aspect. In the Government's view, it is more useful than a declaratory measure, which would have no practical effect.

That is not all that we are doing. We take an active part in international discussions on the issue and our police co-operate actively with their colleagues in other countries to pass on information about known paedophiles who travel abroad. Only very recently I saw senior police officers who came to the Home Office to give a presentation about the imaginative and skilful way in which they are now securing evidence using technology on the Internet, where these awful people ply their trade electronically across the world, giving each other contacts. A great deal of liaison is going on by our police forces right across the world, networking with their colleagues in other countries, to root out this evil practice.

21 Feb 1996 : Column 1132

In addition, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has recently announced a review of our position on extraterritorial jurisdiction. I have already indicated some of the reasons why we in this country generally operate on a territorial basis. There are real obstacles in the way of enforcing extraterritorial jurisdiction effectively. But as circumstances change and technology develops, it is right that we should look carefully at the assumptions which underlie our position to see whether they remain valid. The review will look carefully at the implications, both for policy and for procedure, of any change to our current position. The issues involved are complex and will require detailed consideration. I do not know what the conclusions will be, but I can assure the House that the review will be very thorough.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, gave an example of two persistent offenders whom he knew personally. I have to say that what he said was not unfamiliar to me, as someone responsible for the Probation Service and a visitor of prisons. Sadly, it is a fact that many sex offenders, both in prison and on community service programmes, rationalise this awful behaviour. It is quite extraordinary how they show little or no remorse for their actions or any concern whatever for the victims. Sometimes the victims are of their own family. It is one of those dreadful aspects of sexual offending.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to international co-operation, and I have mentioned it once. All requests for mutual legal assistance under the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990 are treated as confidential between governments. It would not, therefore, be appropriate to disclose details of any request received from overseas, other than to say that we have the facility to do that. I can confirm that under the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990 the United Kingdom authorities are able to provide a wide range of mutual legal assistance to judicial and prosecuting authorities overseas in criminal investigations and in their proceedings in respect of all criminal offences, including sexual offences committed against minors.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, also referred to police liaison officers, as I did. There are no liaison officers, either police or customs officers, with a specific role relating to sexual offences against children overseas. I have said that the primary role of our drugs liaison officers is to deal with drugs matters and to support international co-operation in the fight against the illicit drugs trade. They can and do provide liaison and information. We know that if they were present and if there were evidence to be found, they would co-operate. They would use their presence in those countries to co-operate with the other police forces in bringing evidence to bear. In addition to their work on drugs matters, drugs liaison officers reporting to the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which is very important in this area, have been specifically tasked by the director-general of the service to cover all serious and organised crime liaison. Again, depending on the nature of an offence, that can include sexual offences.

21 Feb 1996 : Column 1133

The first two British drugs liaison officers were posted overseas in 1984. Today, there is a network of over 40 liaison officers attached to diplomatic posts in 27 countries, with formal accreditation to a number of other countries.

I said that I would refer to Sweden. Last year, the Swedes successfully prosecuted one of their nationals, Mr. Bolin, for sexual offences committed against a boy in Thailand. That proves, some say, that we can do the same. But I have to say that in respect of this case that is not so. We are not confident that evidence produced in court in Sweden would have secured a conviction here under our rules of evidence.

I understand that the offender in this case was initially arrested by the authorities in Thailand but absconded. He returned to Sweden but since the Swedes do not extradite their nationals they could not send him back to Thailand. If a similar incident had occurred involving a British national, we should have been able to extradite him to stand trial in Thailand and that is certainly the approach we should prefer to take.

If we examine the evidence given by the boy, we find that he alleged he settled on the final version of his story after being threatened by a police officer in his own country who was waving a gun. That, at least, was what he said. He was looked after and prepared for his court hearing by a non-governmental organisation. Your Lordships can imagine what would happen if he had given evidence in a British court. Under cross-examination, he would have been torn apart by even a newly qualified lawyer. The court in Sweden preferred the boy's version of events to the defendant's because the defendant had admitted to assaulting the boy to an off-duty Swedish police officer posing as a fellow child molester. Again, that is a practice not accepted in our courts. The conversation was videoed clandestinely by a Danish television crew. In similar circumstances it is very unlikely that, on that evidence, produced in that way, a United Kingdom court would convict. These are practical issues which demand much closer inspection.

I recognise that the noble Lord will be disappointed by my remarks. However, I urge him to accept that the Government share his desire--indeed the desire of all noble Lords present--to put an end to this evil practice and in good faith to examine all possible ways of doing so. We are anxious, however, that any action we do take should make a real and practical difference.

As is the convention when considering Private Member's Bills in this House, this Bill will receive a Second Reading. I have no intention whatsoever of opposing it.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page