Sex Offences

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 4th February 2002.

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Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield 2:30 pm, 4th February 2002

When he intends to bring forward proposals following the report on the reform of sex offence laws "Setting the Boundaries"; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Minister of State (Prisons), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Prisons)

Tackling sexual offending is a top priority for the Government. We intend to ensure that the legislative framework enables firm action to be taken against those who abuse others. We are actively considering the recommendations of the sex offences review to Government in the light of more than 700 responses received during the consultation period. We intend to legislate as soon as parliamentary time allows, and I will place a short summary of our proposals in the Libraries of both Houses as soon as possible.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

Is the Minister aware of the case in January in which the Crown Prosecution Service could not prosecute a man who had persuaded two 11-year-old girls to undress in front of him because he had not physically touched them? Do the Government intend to close that loophole in the law, and, if so, how urgently do they intend to introduce the necessary legislation?

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Minister of State (Prisons), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Prisons)

I was as surprised as many Members about that loophole in the law. We want to ensure that the offences that we introduce are coherent and that they protect vulnerable people, particularly children. I am examining the loophole to ensure that the changes that we propose are coherent. We wish to tackle all possible attempts to abuse children.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley Labour, Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush

Will my right hon. Friend examine a letter that I wrote today to the Secretary of State—I suspect that it will end up on my right hon. Friend's desk—about the difficult and serious case of an assault on a child which has gone unpunished? I suspect that the offence will slip through the net because of proposals to reform sex offences legislation. When my right hon. Friend has read my letter, perhaps he will consider the possibility of linking the issue to the concept of dangerousness, which I know the Department is examining. There are a few abusers who will not otherwise fall easily into the categories that my right hon. Friend is considering.

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Minister of State (Prisons), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Prisons)

I shall examine the case about which my hon. Friend has written. It is taking some time to come forward with our proposals because we received more than 700 detailed responses to the review. We are dealing with a complex area and we want to ensure, as far as we can, that all dangerous and violent sex offenders are covered by legislation, and that the sentencing policy that we bring forward, as a result of the Halliday review, is severe on the perpetrators of offences that we all abhor.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

I am sure that the Minister is aware of the growing scare about child sex slavery in the United Kingdom, which has been more evident recently. It shames us all that the trade should take place in Britain. The Minister will be aware also that the police tell us that the trade is due to insufficient powers to deal with the merchants of this wicked activity. Given the urgency of the problem, would the Department consider kindly a private Member's Bill that sought exclusively to deal with the issue? If help could be given with drafting and the Department gave it a fair wind to ensure that it passed speedily through the House, it would deal with a dreadful nuisance that must be tackled.

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Minister of State (Prisons), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Prisons)

Most important is that the proposals made in legislation are coherent and clear. We must bring forward a package of measures that are designed to tackle a range of issues, one of which the hon. Lady has mentioned. The awful issue to which she referred must be addressed. I want to ensure that the public understand and have confidence in the legislative framework. We must introduce the correct punishment to meet the crimes that are perpetrated. I shall always consider the appropriate vehicles through which to introduce legislation. If possible, it will be best to have a Government package of plans, which we can debate in the House. There has been an opportunity for all parties to contribute to the review, and I shall consider the hon. Lady's contribution.