Orders of the Day — Sex Offenders Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:39 pm on 27th January 1997.

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Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney 4:39 pm, 27th January 1997

I should like to develop my argument. I shall not take a long time.

As the Minister so eloquently said, the problem with paedophilia is that so deep-seated is the paedophile's predilection that he is likely to think that society is wrong.

How many of us remember trying to outlaw the Paedophile Information Exchange some years ago? In countries such as the Netherlands, these people are still allowed to move about freely, which has caused the problems that have emerged in Belgium. Allowing them to spread and proliferate suddenly brings a dreadful day of reckoning. Anyone who has seen the national outpouring of grief and concern that followed the discovery of the activities of the paedophile ring in Belgium will know that we must not allow our country to deteriorate to that extent.

Against that background, I should like to make one detailed point. Because of the difficulties of getting children to give evidence on oath and obtaining convictions based on the uncorroborated evidence of a child—even though the Government have been able to make significant changes to prevent the evidential burden from being heavily against the child, some of them during my time at the Home Office—no more than 5 or 10 per cent. of paedophile cases come to the attention of the courts. Few experts would disagree with that—my right hon. Friend the Minister will have access to more experts than I do. When cases come to court, we should not create artificial barriers to prevent the full weight of the Bill from being brought to bear on paedophiles while they are likely to remain active.

I mentioned in an intervention that may have gone on too long the important point—at least, I think that it is an important point, and I hope that I can persuade others to agree with me—that it is profoundly unlikely that a person just dabbles in paedophilia. Once a paedophile, always a paedophile, is a much more certain saying than once a burglar, always a burglar, or even once a rapist, always a rapist.

I appreciate that there is a tendency not to go too far, and to offer a few concessions to those who oppose a measure. I understand why the barriers at 10 years and six or seven years have been introduced, but where is the opposition to the measure? I do not see it.

I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is involved in the Home Secretary's discretion on life sentence prisoners, but when he considers dreadful child sex murders and looks at the previous convictions, he will realise that rarely does the tendency come out of the blue—there is normally a sign. It is rarely an equally serious matter, but lurking somewhere in the past is the clear evidence that the person in question has that particular intent.

We are being asked to legislate on the basis that judges—almost as fragile a breed as politicians, as likely to get things wrong as right—pass the right sentence. My experience does not suggest that that is invariably—or even very often—the case.

I know from reading more than 1,000 life sentence prisoner cases when I was at the Home Office, many of which involved the sexual or sadistic murder of children, that the difference between a nasty sexual assault and murder is not great. A child protests at the indignities that it suffers. The clumsiness and crudeness of the attempts to suppress that child's resistance will often make the difference between an offence that can be written off as indecent assault, punishable by a few months' imprisonment, and a murder, punishable by life imprisonment.