Change of Name by Registered Sex Offenders

– in the House of Commons at 10:37 am on 2 March 2023.

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[Relevant document: e-petition 300705, Revoke the right of registered sex offenders to change their name by deed poll.]

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Before I call Sarah Champion, I just remind all Members that they should not refer to any cases that are active before the courts. They can of course discuss the principles of the issue, without referring to specific cases.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee 11:33, 2 March 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the change of name by registered sex offenders.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to lead this debate. I thank all the Members who have supported this campaign. I particularly thank the survivors, many of whom are here today, for their tireless work to try to close this loophole and make sure no one else suffers as they have been forced to.

This debate is specific: it is about registered sex offenders changing their name without the knowledge of the police, leading to many offenders going missing, securing a Disclosure and Barring Service check under the new name and then reoffending. Unless this loophole is closed, it makes a nonsense of the schemes the public rely on to detect offenders. For example, the sex offenders register, the child sex offenders disclosure system, the domestic violence disclosure scheme and the Disclosure and Barring Service all rely on having the correct name.

I first found out about this dangerous loophole through the incredible campaigning work of the Safeguarding Alliance three years ago. Its findings and the impact this has had on survivors are truly chilling. I have repeatedly raised the issue with the Home Office and Justice Ministers, as well as the Master of Rolls, who oversees the enrolled deed poll, yet still no tangible change has taken place.

Currently, under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, all registered sex offenders are legally required to notify the police of any change in their personal details, including a change of name and address.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I commend the hon. Lady for bringing this forward. I think every one of us in this House supports her in everything she does, and we greatly admire her tenacity and courage on these issues. Unfortunately, I cannot stay for the debate as I have other engagements, but does she agree that the fact that, from a period in 2019 to June 2022, there were 11,536 prosecutions of sex offenders for failing to notify the police of a change in their personal information, such as their name, shows the scale of the issue and demonstrates that we must legislate to protect our vulnerable as a matter of urgency? I know that is what she wants and it is certainly what I want as well.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I thank my hon. Friend, who is as tenacious as I am in trying to challenge these gross abuses of the system. The figures he quotes are Safeguarding Alliance figures that it got as a result of freedom of information requests, but they are only for some police forces, so the scale of the issue is much greater than even that shocking figure.

If a registered sex offender wants to change their name, they must tell the police within three days, or they could face up to five years in prison. But these notification requirements leave the onus entirely on the offender to self-report changes in their personal information. If the sex offender breaches these requirements, and therefore faces prison, they must first be caught.

Data that I and others have collated shows that the scale of this issue is breathtaking. The Home Office confirmed, in responses to my written parliamentary questions, that over 16,000 offenders were charged with a breach of their notification requirements between 2015 and 2020. A Safeguarding Alliance FOI request to the Crown Prosecution Service found that over 11,500 registered sex offenders were prosecuted for failure to notify changes of information between 2019 and 2022. Those breaches are likely to have been for name changes or other such changes. It is clear that offenders are changing their names and not disclosing their new name to the police, but the exact scale of the problem remains impossible to capture. It is important to emphasise that these are only the cases we know about: many more offenders could have breached their notification requirements without the police’s knowledge. Offenders are also required to visit a police station to comply with notification requirements, but only once a year.

Evidently, thousands are getting caught when they breach their requirements, but it appears that many are not. An FOI request by the Safeguarding Alliance to police forces confirmed that at least 913 registered sex offenders have gone missing between 2017 and 2020. However, only 17 of the 45 police forces responded to the request, indicating that that figure is only the tip of the iceberg.

New data secured by the BBC demonstrates the same ongoing pattern, allowing offenders to slip through the cracks. Over 700 registered sex offenders have gone missing in the last three years. It is highly likely that they breached their notification requirements without getting caught, making them an active risk to the public. Again, only 31 of 45 police forces responded to that request.

Many offenders are following the rules. At least 1,400 registered sex offenders have notified police forces of name changes in the past three years, with 21 of the 45 police forces able to provide that data. However, the number of cases where notification requirements are not being obeyed far outweighs those where they are. We cannot rely on a system that depends on registered offenders self-reporting changes in their information. If we do not urgently improve the system, we will have to accept that hundreds more offenders will continue to disappear from the system meant to safeguard us.

When I first learned about this breach, I spoke to my local police chief. He was genuinely stunned. We was unaware of the loophole and asked how he was meant to find someone when they no longer knew who they were looking for. If we are going to protect children and vulnerable people, and prevent further abuse, we must be able to keep track of those who are already known to be a safeguarding risk. Unless we address the failure in the current system, police will continue to be unaware of a name change and the sex offenders register will not be up to date with the new names, therefore considerably reducing its effectiveness.

It is vital we remember not only the danger posed to society by sex offenders changing their names, but the devastating impact it has on their previous victims. Della Wright is an ambassador for the Safeguarding Alliance and a survivor of child sexual abuse. Della has spoken so bravely to tell her story in support of so many other victims who have been impacted by this serious safeguarding loophole. I pay huge credit to her, as her tenacious campaigning is what has brought this issue to public attention.

When Della was a child, a man came to live in her home, becoming one of her primary carers and repeatedly sexually abusing her. Years later, when Della reported the abuse, her abuser was already known to the police and he had committed further sexual offences against many more victims. Della was made aware that he had changed his name; he had changed it at least five times, enabling him to relocate under the radar and evade justice. When Della’s case was finally brought to court, he again changed his name, this time in between being charged and appearing in court for the plea hearing. That slowed down the whole process as new court papers needed to be submitted in the new name.

The additional distress to Della made a complete mockery of the justice system, but sadly Della’s case is far from unique. The Safeguarding Alliance is working with dozens of survivors—a number of them are here today—who have discovered their abuser has changed their name. Many say their perpetrators change their name before charging, meaning their birth name remains unmaligned. Perhaps most chilling for me is that, with a new name, they can apply for a new passport and driving licence, which means they can apply for a clean DBS check in that new name.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Labour, Bradford South

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. Does she agree that, in addition to ensuring that registered sex offenders have markers on their files at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and His Majesty’s Passport Office, the DBS should require all applicants to produce a birth certificate to better verify their identity?

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I support my hon. Friend’s recommendation. Anything we can do to try to close this loophole I support, because the scale of it and the fact that the systems we have in place are not working mean that we need—Minister, we need—urgent attention and urgent reforms.

BBC research found that more than 2,000 criminal record checks carried out by the DBS in the past three years flagged that the applicants had cautions or convictions, and that they had supplied incorrect or missed out personal details, such as their past names. Those figures are shocking. It is a relief that the DBS found so many of those cases but, if even a few slip through the gaps in the system, the consequences are devastating.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady and I hope my name was added in support of this debate. It is breathtaking. I raised the issue over six years ago when we had the case of Ben Lewis, who changed his name after being convicted and put on the sex offenders register. He then turned up in Spain, working with children. It was only found out about accidentally, I think through the Australian police. The Home Office acknowledged that this was a problem and said it was taking it on board. There are 67,000 sex offenders on the register in this country and 16,000 have changed their names. This is not just a tip of the iceberg—it is deliberately being used as a cover for their identity and potential future criminal activity. Does she agree that, frankly, other than in exceptional circumstances, people on the sex offenders register should not be allowed to change their name while they are on the sex offenders register and that, secondly, there is absolutely no reason that somebody in prison should be able to change their name while they are serving a prison sentence? It is not necessary and it is clearly for ulterior motives that cannot be good.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

My personal position is that when someone carries out such heinous crimes, some of their liberties will be taken away. We need the Minister to look very closely at what those liberties are, particularly when there is an incredibly apparent safeguarding risk from names being changed, as the hon. Member outlined. I will come to Ben Lewis, because his case outlines a number of flaws in the system.

Let me say to the Minister that our systems are not joined up. People are actively looking for those weaknesses and exploiting them. I urge her to do all she can to close them as quickly as possible.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

The hon. Lady is being very generous. My constituents, and those of the hon. Lady and of all Members, want legislation to give safety to mothers and children. We do not see that at the moment, as she has reinforced to the Minister. Does she feel that this debate should be the start of a campaign to change legislation to protect those who are under threat?

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I completely agree. So many MPs are here, even though on Thursdays we are usually in our constituencies, because they have changed their diaries to show their support and solidarity. I hope that the Minister recognises that.

Registered sex offenders are supposed to inform the police if they go abroad but, again, that does not always happen. Let me turn to the example of Ben Lewis. He was a registered sex offender who changed his name, moved to Spain and obtained a clean DBS check under his new name. He then worked in British schools in Madrid until he was arrested for further offences. I am in touch with the mother of one of the children he abused, and I thank her for all her campaigning to raise awareness of this safeguarding failure, but it should not have happened. Action to stop it happening is long overdue.

Almost two years ago, with cross-party support, I tabled a new clause to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which required the Government to conduct a review into registered sex offenders changing their names. The review has been completed, but Ministers say that it is an internal document and that the findings will not be published. The Home Office also asked former chief constable Mick Creedon to carry out an independent review into the management of sex offenders in the community. One assumes that it should have covered this issue—we do not know the terms—but, again, we have no information on its findings.

This is clearly a matter of acute public interest. More than 37,000 people signed a petition calling for action more than two years ago. Public money is being spent, but we have seen no outcomes. We need transparency to know that Ministers are working to provide solutions to these issues. I would be grateful if the Minister updated us on those reviews.

What can be done to address the loophole? There are simple, immediate changes that could take place to address some of the safeguarding failures. The College of Policing guidance states that police can take pre-emptive action where an offender is likely to change their identity or leave the country. Those actions include requesting the Passport Office and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to put an electronic marker on the offender’s file to alert the officer in charge if an application should be made. As I said, a driver’s licence or passport is required for a DBS check, so that would also prevent registered sex offenders acquiring a clean DBS check if applied to all registered sex offenders’ files. However, the guidance states:

“To avoid unnecessary or high volumes of requests to these agencies, enquiries should be limited” to where, apparently, a specific risk factor applies. That means that it is not being applied to all sex offenders, though I would say that all registered sex offenders are a risk.

I believe that this electronic tagging must be mandatory for all registered sex offenders. I accept that that would only retrospectively alert the police to a name change, but at least it would enable them to act and to keep track of an offender’s identity once a breach occurs, so it would be better than what we have already. It would not pick up on cases in which offenders have already changed their name, so I will do everything I can to work with the Minister and find a solution where offenders have already carried out that change.

In response to BBC FOI requests, neither the Passport Office nor the DVLA was able to provide detailed answers about how often they actually use these measures. The deed poll records team at the Royal Courts of Justice said that

“we simply enrol the change of name applications completed by the applicants.”

That is a very passive position to take. They did say that they would

“check for particular change of name for specific year when a Data Protection Act request had been received”.

Again, that requires police or Ministers to proactively ask for that information, which a sex offender can just change without any restraint. I understand that there may be sensitive information linked to such requests, but parliamentarians and the public must be assured that systems are being used effectively.

I appreciate that electronically flagging every registered sex offender’s file requires additional resources, but surely preventing the risk of more offences would be worth the costs. To be clear, when sex offenders are no longer on the register, such a requirement would not be necessary, in my opinion. However, the current system is being exploited by hundreds of sex offenders, and action needs to be taken now.

I am not asking for a ban on all registered sex offenders changing their name. We must take a nuanced approach, and in any case how would we monitor the scheme if the responsibility were left to them? Circumstances differ, and we must allow police the operational independence to make decisions as to whether offenders should be able to change their name. However, where such decisions are made, victims and survivors must be informed, safeguarding must be prioritised and the systems must be joined up so that registered offenders can be tracked regardless of the name they use.

Photo of Lucy Allan Lucy Allan Conservative, Telford 11:52, 2 March 2023

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this very important debate. I am so grateful to Sarah Champion for the work she has done for victims and survivors. While Under-Secretaries may come and go, it is so reassuring to see the hon. Lady in her place, constantly standing up for victims and survivors.

I want to tell the story of my constituent Joanna. Joanna is an amazing young woman. She is bright, she is brave and she is beautiful. Joanna is a student paramedic and has just started a family. She has her whole life ahead of her. Joanna wants her story to be told, because for too long there was silence. It is by speaking out that we secure justice for victims and survivors such as Joanna, and we must listen to their voices.

For much of her young life, Joanna was a victim of serious sexual abuse. She was the victim of a manipulative, depraved man called Clive Bundy. The scale and nature of the abuse is beyond comprehension; it was discovered when the police identified sexual images online. Clive Bundy was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

After serving only seven years, Clive Bundy is up for parole. This child sex offender is no longer Clive Bundy. This person has changed their name by deed poll, and this person has changed their gender identity. Under the law, Clive Bundy no longer exists. Clive Bundy has chosen the name of Claire Fox. Under section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, we cannot say even that this is so. Joanna’s fear is that this new identity erases Clive Bundy, erases the terrible harm that he did, erases Joanna’s experience. She fears that the world can refuse to acknowledge that Clive Bundy and his terrible crimes ever even existed—that we can just pretend that the trauma she still suffers, the trauma Clive Bundy caused her and others, did not happen, because he does not exist.

What is certain is that Claire Fox will be afforded enhanced rights of privacy that should never, ever be afforded to a serious child sex offender. I believe in redemption, I believe in rehabilitation, but that does not and cannot mean that we rewrite the past. It does not mean that these truly horrific crimes simply never happened. Joanna wants the names of Clive Bundy and Claire Fox to be linked on official records because Clive Bundy and Claire Fox are the same person. The law requires us all to pretend that that is not so: the law requires us to pretend that a convicted serial child sex offender, Clive Bundy, no longer exists. The impact on Joanna is deeply distressing. She speaks of her past coming back to haunt her, of the constant fear, of always looking over her shoulder, and of her anxiety that her new life and her young family could be under threat and that she is, in her words,

“once again that young abused scared little girl—that no one protected.”

We are told this is a loophole in the Disclosure and Barring Service which can perhaps be fixed, but I am going to call it what it is. This is a grotesque injustice to victims—victims whom we failed and victims whom we will fail again if we allow the law to pretend that the crimes of sexual offenders like Clive Bundy can be expunged by deed poll and never referred to again.

The question of whether Claire Fox is a continuing threat to society is a matter for the Parole Board, and this is an issue that I will be pursuing with the relevant Minister through separate avenues, but today’s debate is about whether sex offenders can erase their identities. The rights of victims and the vulnerable matter more than the rights of serial child sex offenders. We all know that that is the case. I therefore ask the Minister to be brave enough to say that it is the case, and to have the courage to stand up and change the law for Joanna, and for Della, and for all those victims who will come after them if we do not act.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee) 11:57, 2 March 2023

I actually want to raise the point that has just been raised by Lucy Allan. The debate is clearly centred on the law and practice in England and Wales, but similar problems exist in Scotland, and Disclosure Scotland operates the same model.

Let me preface my speech by saying that in a previous life I worked for many years as a specialist sex crimes prosecutor with the national sex crimes unit in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland. I am therefore acutely aware of the importance of the effect of the prosecution of sex crimes, particularly for the protection of women and girls but also for the protection of children and some men. I am also very aware of the importance of safeguarding and of the way in which those who wish to abuse their power by sexually abusing women and children will seek out loopholes and opportunities to find new victims. Today I want to focus on the safe- guarding loophole created by the ability to change identity in a more fundamental way, by simultaneously changing both name and gender.

I should say that I have been assisted in the writing of my speech and my understanding of this issue by Dr Kate Coleman of the organisation Keep Prisons Single Sex, which campaigns for prisons in the United Kingdom to be single-sex but also campaigns for data on offending to be recorded by sex registered at birth through the criminal justice system.

The Disclosure and Barring Service plays a vital and unique role in safeguarding. By processing criminal record checks for individuals who have applied to work in roles where safeguarding considerations apply, it allows organisations access to key information that will assist them in making safer recruiting decisions. The ability of a DBS check to play this role in safe- guarding rests entirely on the relevance, completeness and accuracy of the information returned and displayed on the DBS certificate.

In December 2003, as everyone will recall, Ian Huntley was convicted of the terrible murders of two little girls, Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells. Huntley had been employed as a caretaker at a local college at the time of committing the murders, a position that facilitated his access to children. That is what people who want to abuse children do: they seek out positions in which they will have access to children. Although he had previously come into contact with the police on many occasions over alleged sexual offences, that information had not been disclosed to his employer during the vetting check carried out at the time of his appointment.

It is no exaggeration to say that the murders of those two little girls, and the subsequent discovery that Huntley could and should have been prevented from taking up the role of caretaker, had a profound effect throughout the United Kingdom. The Bichard report, published in 2004 following an independent inquiry, concluded that there had been extensive omissions and failures in the vetting process.

Significantly, Huntley had been able to change his name by deed poll to Ian Nixon. The criminal record check he underwent had been carried out against only his new identity. By presenting a new identity, he had successfully severed the link with his existing police record, meaning that the records held against the name Ian Huntley were not disclosed.

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire

I apologise for being late, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would have liked to contribute to this debate, but the ticket machine broke and I missed my train. I apologise for coming into the Chamber just to make an intervention. This is such an important debate, and I pay tribute to Sarah Champion for securing it and for her work.

As Joanna Cherry has just said, the ability for people to apply for a DBS check to work with children after changing their name by deed poll entirely defeats the object of the sex offenders register. Does she agree that the requirement for sex offenders to notify the authorities themselves is entirely unfit for purpose and that there needs to be a much more robust and centralised mechanism through which sex offenders can apply to change their name?

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

I could not agree more.

The hon. Lady reminds me that, at the outset of my speech, I should have congratulated Sarah Champion who, as always, is completely across the subject. She often raises important issues, both in this House and in the public domain, that others have not dared to raise. I pay tribute to her for that.

I am talking about the Huntley case because it is disgraceful that, 18 years later, safeguarding loopholes remain whereby applicants can submit identity documents for DBS checks that display a new identity, despite the efforts of various hon. Members. At least the Government have acknowledged the safeguarding loophole whereby registered sex offenders are able to change their name by deed poll, but I am afraid that the ability to change identity in a more fundamental way, about which the hon. Member for Telford spoke so powerfully, by simultaneously changing one’s name and one’s gender, remains unaddressed.

In our public life, across the United Kingdom, self-identification has become a de facto right without legislation. Any individual can easily, and for any reason, change their name and gender on documents commonly used to establish identity via a process of self-declaration. That includes documents such as passports and driving licences, which can be presented for the purposes of a DBS check and show the individual’s new name and acquired gender instead of, and as opposed to, their sex.

The DBS grants enhanced privacy rights to individuals who change their gender when changing their identity. Those are exceptional rights that are granted only to individuals in that group. The result is that identity verification is compromised, meaning that there is no guarantee that the information returned during the check and displayed on the certificate will be accurate or complete. Those exceptional privacy rights also allow an applicant who has changed gender to request that all their previous names are withheld from the DBS certificate that is issued. That right to conceal previous identities is not given to anyone else; disclosing previous identities is a key component of safeguarding, and DBS certificates issued to all other individuals display all other names the applicant has used.

No doubt there were good reasons for the privacy requirements set out in section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act. I hasten to add that I am completely in favour of equal rights for trans people, but I am not in favour of a system that allows sex offenders to exploit the principle of self-declaration to evade the safeguarding process. Applicants who change their gender are also permitted to conceal their sex, and the DBS certificate issued will display their acquired gender instead. That right is not granted to any other individual; the importance of sex to safeguarding means that for all other applicants, their sex is always displayed on the DBS certificate. These are all serious risks to safeguarding that compromise the validity and reliability of the DBS regime.

This is a particular problem as we roll out digital identities, including for DBS checks, because there is a risk that the existing loopholes will be perpetuated in the digital realm. In the drive for convenience and ease of use, digital identities risk creating a new safeguarding loophole. In-person identity verification acts as a safe- guarding protection in and of itself, yet digital identities can be shared remotely, meaning that that important step is removed. The current operation of the DBS regime means that identity verification is compromised and organisations requesting DBS checks cannot have confidence in the information that is disclosed.

There are steps we could take to close the loopholes: the mandatory use of national insurance numbers for DBS checks and identity changes; having DBS certificates that display the sex registered at birth; and having DBS certificates that display other names used for all applicants, including those who have changed gender as part of changing identity. We are talking about rules of safeguarding that apply to people who have been convicted of sex offences, so all of this should be a no-brainer. In order to be effective, the rules of safeguarding must apply equally to everyone.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I am pleased that the hon. and learned Lady has raised this issue. It is extraordinary that more than 20 years on from what happened at Soham, we are still addressing here today the issues that came up then. It seems absolutely a no-brainer, as she puts it, that for people who have committed heinous crimes and whose sex offending history shows that they still pose a potential to harm children, the full identity should be available to those who need to see the DBS checks as they are taking them into employment. I think there is a degree of agreement on that. The change of gender qualifications, which I fully understand and which are necessary, should not apply to sex offenders. A full change of name history must be automatically linked at the DBS, and a change of name must be automatically linked to a DBS check, to make sure that all that information is available in respect of those people who pose a risk to vulnerable children.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He correctly encapsulates what it is that I am asking for: in order to be effective, the rules of safeguarding must apply equally to everyone and there must not be loopholes or get-outs. Whenever the members of one group are excused from the normal requirements of safeguarding, a loophole is created that is ripe for exploitation.

I wish to make one final point. I am sure that we will hear that abusing the process and failing to disclose previous names is an offence, but that is just not good enough. A minor matter of administrative fraud such as making a false declaration is nothing in comparison to the significant risk posed by sex offenders abusing this system, which is really ripped open by the loopholes that I have described. It is high time that the safeguarding loopholes, which result in a situation where people—sex offenders—can change their identity, are addressed.

Photo of Mark Fletcher Mark Fletcher Conservative, Bolsover 12:10, 2 March 2023

In anticipation of the speech of Jess Phillips, I should say that I think we are all slightly baffled as to why we are here. This is a ludicrous loophole and we know that it is a problem. We have found out, to a certain extent, the scale of the problem, although there are still questions about that. The fact that there is a problem and that it should be solved is agreed, I think, by Members on both sides of the House, although I wait to hear from the Home Office on that front. It is very clear that we should be solving it. I did a local media interview yesterday, because I had a ten-minute rule Bill on the same subject, and the local BBC reporter, who was trying their very best to be devil’s advocate and to be impartial, reached the point of saying, “Are you banging your head against the wall? This seems an absolute no-brainer.” I feel that Joanna Cherry strayed into that territory.

I shall go back to where I intended to start, which is to thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting the debate. I also thank Sarah Champion not just for securing the debate, but for all the work she has done on the issue. As she knows, I am a latecomer to the matter: I have ended up in this world because of some constituency casework. However, having spent the past two months or so looking into it, I cannot say that I am any the wiser as to why it has not been solved. Undoubtedly, there are some complications. She and I have a small and minor disagreement about how to solve the matter, and I will touch on that.

I should also say thank you to the staff of the Safeguarding Alliance, as I did yesterday, who have provided so much data, so much leadership and so much coherence, and who, I fear, have been banging their heads against the wall a lot more than I have in recent times. It is a great credit to them that so many MPs are in the Chamber today. Many of my Conservative colleagues are in Windsor for an away day. Some lucky Whips and others have drawn the duty of avoiding that, and it was probably wise of them to volunteer to do so.

I do not wish to draw on any of the details that I covered in yesterday’s ten-minute rule Bill, when I set out the problem, as the hon. Member for Rotherham did today, and the sheer horrendousness of this situation. It feels as though we are prioritising the rights of sexual offenders over the rights of the general public and over the rights of people who need to know whether the people working in their schools are safe, whether the people working in their care homes are safe, whether their partner has a past or whether someone who is interacting with their child is safe.

Yesterday, I drew on the Ian Huntley situation and the Bichard inquiry, to which the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West referred only seconds ago. That happened in 2004, and yet here we are in the same situation, still talking about the need to prevent sex offenders from changing their name. It is worth noting that the Disclosure and Barring Service that we now use came about as a result of Ian Huntley’s horrendous actions. Indeed, the Bichard inquiry led to the creation of the DBS system, and it is that very system that is being undermined by the ability of offenders to change their name and to escape recognition, thereby creating a blind spot for the authorities.

The hon. and learned Lady and I have a small disagreement over what needs to be done. I am not necessarily sure whether either of us would object to the other’s solution being accepted; it is the problem that needs solving. None the less, it is worth stating to the Minister, in advance of her speech, that I am pretty solutions-agnostic. The fact that there is a problem and that it needs solving is beyond dispute, but how we get to solving that problem is crucial. I think it is worth acknowledging that there are complications to what we are trying to do. Undoubtedly, they are what Home Office and Ministry of Justice officials will use to try to prevent any progress, so I shall put those complications on the record now, so that we can consider them together.

First, we have long and established common law rights in this country to change our name. That is well established in law. My perspective is that a person surrenders certain rights when they are charged and found guilty of an offence by the state. That is my opinion; it is not necessarily the opinion of this House, because we have not voted specifically on this issue. However, as I said yesterday, we have prevented prisoners from exercising their voting rights, which is a clear comparison.

It is worth noting that changing our name through the unenrolled process could not be easier if we tried. Effectively, the wording is:

“I [old name] of [your address] have given up my name [old name] and have adopted for all purposes the name [new name].”

I could leave this Chamber being called John Bercow if someone would kindly countersign my form. It is that simple. I use that example perhaps facetiously. I certainly do not wish to bring Mr Bercow back into this Chamber in any way, shape or form, but it is worth considering that that is the unenrolled process.

There is a slightly different system if someone wants to take the legal route. I changed my name when I was seven years old. My original name is Mark Hannington, which is my dad’s name. I changed it because my mum remarried. It is relatively common and, indeed, incredibly easy to change one’s name. I know that we are talking about a very extreme situation here, because we have to go through those who have committed an offence, are on the sex offenders register, and then wish to change their identity, and then may get a new document and then may get a DBS check. It is a flow chart that has to be followed through. We should consider the processes involved, but it is, none the less, an incredibly easy thing to do.

Yesterday, the Home Office released a statement in response, in part, to the BBC’s latest research, on which the hon. Lady has already touched, about our incredibly “robust” response. I found myself laughing about that in more than one local media interview. I find that very difficult to defend, because it is not a robust response. It might look tough on paper and Home Office officials might have persuaded themselves that this is actually a robust system, but the sheer scale of those breaching the system is huge, and that is before we even get on to the ones that we do not know about. I give great credit to the hon. Member for Rotherham for being so polite when she touched on that particular section; I will not be as polite when I come to her amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Bill in, I think, 2021. Our robust system is no such thing.

One thing we have not touched on is this: what is the sex offenders register? We have 43 different police forces in this country. They each have a version of the sex offenders register, which is usually highly localised. It is, in effect, a document or an Excel spreadsheet of some variety that sits with that force. The super-important national system that captures all offenders and is easy to refer to is no such thing, as I was horrified to discover from my discussions with the Safeguarding Alliance. It is part of the system and it sounds official—it sounds good—but it is not the robust and safeguard-friendly system that we would like to see.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who has used every tool that the House provides to fight this campaign and I am grateful to him for doing that in such a cross-party way. On the specifics of the national database, there is HOLMES 2—the Home Office large major enquiry system—but it requires the officer to input the details. It does not flag, so it means that they have to know that someone has changed their name to know that they need to look for them, and the once-a-year check gives someone a lot of scope to go around in their different identity. It is madness. The public believe that the systems are there; they are not there.

Photo of Mark Fletcher Mark Fletcher Conservative, Bolsover

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I hope that the cameramen who cover the Chamber had the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley in shot, because her facial expressions said almost everything that I would want to say about that, but I am not necessarily sure that I can.

It is undoubtedly true that there are complications around name changes. The simplest of those is that someone on the sex offenders register may get married, which may provide a complication or a barrier—again, I refer to my previous statements about giving up certain rights. Complications have also been alluded to with regard to changing gender, on which we have heard two excellent speeches, so I will not touch on that further.

Another complication, however, which falls outside what I suggested in my ten-minute rule Bill yesterday, and which I think was vaguely alluded to earlier, is the growing trend for someone to change their name when they are charged with an offence—not necessarily when they have been found guilty, but during the process before they go to court. Someone charged with an offence will therefore go through the court under their new identity—we often see cases in the newspapers of someone “also known as”—then once they have been found guilty, assuming that they are in this instance, and come out the other side, they change their name back to what they were originally known as.

That situation is a bit more complicated. If my ten-minute rule Bill had a flaw—it probably had more than one—it is that it did not capture that. Hon. Members have already alluded to two documents that we keep with us throughout our lives, however: our birth certificate and our national insurance number. They do not change, so if we want our system to be robust, the answer lies in those two bits of information.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

My hon. Friend raises some concerns about where exceptions can be made. We can do that, because as it stands the right for someone to change their name, which is an important right, is not completely unqualified. There are six criteria according to which someone cannot change their name—for example, if it promotes criminal activity; if it promotes racial, sexual or religious intolerance; or if it ridicules people or businesses. I recall that some years ago, a disgruntled customer changed his name to “Halifax building society are complete bastards” or something to that effect—I may be doing Halifax an injustice. Another criterion is if someone is intending to commit fraud, usually by conferring a title or honour on themselves. The situation that he refers to is effectively an attempt to commit fraud, so we need only extend the existing criteria to capture many of those people anyway. It is not a big deal—it is easily done; it is a no-brainer—so let us just get on with it.

Photo of Mark Fletcher Mark Fletcher Conservative, Bolsover

My hon. Friend, as always, brilliantly makes an incredibly eloquent point. I imagine that the Minister is scribbling down that suggestion, so I look forward to seeing it in the victims Bill alongside every other sensible recommendation that has come from hon. Members today.

I put some of those complications on the record simply because I acknowledge that this is not a perfect scenario. The issue is an absolute head-banger, however: some 20 years on from a horrific set of crimes in which it was identified, we still have not done anything.

I return to the proposed amendment of the hon. Member for Rotherham to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. I have read her speech in Committee, in which she eloquently told Della’s story. She tabled a sensible amendment, which was miniscule in the grand scheme of things, to ask for a report into the scale of the problem. One thing that I struggle with is that we do not know how widespread the problem is. We could change the law today to prevent it happening in future, but unfortunately we have had years in which it has been operational and not necessarily allowed, but happening.

I am relying on second-hand testimony, but it was easy to read that the Minister at the time said, “We will happily do the report, so please don’t move your amendment.” It is perfectly reasonable for the Minister to do that, but it is unacceptable for the Department not to release said report and to use many different reasons not to publish it. It is a tremendous slap in the face for the work of the hon. Lady, and for those who are sitting in the Gallery and are victims of the problem. I cannot fathom how that has been allowed.

We are dealing with a situation where we know there is a problem, but we do not know the scale of it. Until that report is released, I do not think that any of us will feel satisfied. It may be that that report is quite damning and that the scale is quite bad, or it may be the opposite. Either way, we as lawmakers have been co-operative and constructive with the Government Front-Bench team as far as I have seen—again, I thank the hon. Lady for being generous to me—so I cannot work out why we have not seen that report. I urge the Minister to give thought to that.

I conclude by saying that, simply, I am banging my head against the wall because we need to take action on this issue. I came to it because of constituency casework, and as we have heard, several other MPs have had similar casework. This problem needs to be fixed. The rights of sex offenders and the right of someone to change their name do not trump safeguarding in this country. I urge the Government to think long and hard about any forthcoming opportunities to amend the statute book and to ensure that, legally and operationally, this problem is not allowed to continue.

Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 12:28, 2 March 2023

I congratulate and pay tribute to my hon. Friend Sarah Champion, who has done and said so much on this issue. When it comes to the protection of the most vulnerable and those who often feel that they do not have a voice, she has stood up and elevated their voices in this place and beyond. I also thank my many constituents who have contacted me about this important subject.

Sex offenders are a scourge on our society. They commit the most heinous crimes and the ripple effects of their actions on the victim, their family and their friends cannot be overstated—both in the immediate aftermath of the crime and long into the future. Anyone can fall victim to sex offences, but the victims are often women, girls and young boys.

Della Wright’s story is testimony to the fact that we in this place, to date, have failed to close the loopholes that make it all too easy for sex offenders to mask their identity and avoid detection. In turn, that allows them to go on reoffending, targeting the most vulnerable, and destroying lives.

This has gone on for far too long, and enough really is enough. Current legislation has effectively been rendered redundant, owing to the duty being on the individual sex offender to notify the authorities within three days of changing their name. In thousands of instances, it is apparent that those individuals are not doing the right thing and notifying the police. Why are we shocked? We should not be. And, while we remain shocked, the consequences are being played out every single day in our communities.

Thanks to the extensive work of organisations such as the Safeguarding Alliance, the picture could not be clearer. As lawmakers, we have absolute clarity on what needs to be done, and the Home Office must not drag its feet any longer. Due to the name-change loophole, the sex offenders register, the child sex offender disclosure scheme, the domestic violence disclosure scheme and the Disclosure and Barring Service are effectively rudderless.

Through its work, the Safeguarding Alliance has exposed the scale of this epidemic, which we in this place, and Government, must act on. Every day that we in this place fail to act, we are betraying the bravery and tenacity of survivors such as Della Wright and those whose voices we are yet to hear. Quite frankly, that should shame us all.

To the Home Office, and to the Minister today, I say this: publish the internal review and get legislation on the Floor of the House, because the most vulnerable in our society—the victims—deserve nothing less.

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Conservative, Mole Valley 12:31, 2 March 2023

I must congratulate Sarah Champion and my hon. Friend Mark Fletcher for putting the case extremely well yesterday and today. I was also fascinated by what Joanna Cherry had to say based on her experience—and for people dealing with these individuals, it is some experience.

I will not repeat the exercise of describing the problem, or come up with any sort of solutions, but the United Kingdom has probably led the way on legislation dealing with the protection of children. We started that with a proactive approach—rather than a reactive one—which I think is the right way to do it. If it is possible, we get the offender before the offender has got the child. That is the thinking, in a way, behind what we are talking about today.

I went on a parliamentary police course with the Metropolitan police in the early 2000s, which included a session with the Met police paedophile unit. Most people read about cases on the front pages—or some other page—but they do not really know; they do not really have a feel of what it was like. That session with the unit was an enormous shock to me—an absolutely mind-boggling shock. It is unbelievable what some people will do to children.

I asked the then DCI Bob McLachlan, who was head of the unit—a relatively small one, which was a fraction of what it is now—a stupid question. I asked him if he could give me a wild guess about how many active paedophiles there were in England. This was 20 years ago, before the internet really got hold of it, and he said that there were enough active paedophiles in this country to have one for every street. He also said that 20% of them were female. Half of that 20% were females working with males, but the other 10% were females working without males. That has since changed—not the percentages, necessarily, but the numbers—because of the internet.

The biggest basic ground-level step, along the lines of protecting children proactively, was the 2003 anti-grooming legislation. It was a big step; we were the first country to do it, and it has been mimicked across the world.

I know a senior barrister who has worked on a considerable number of high-profile child-protection cases, both as a prosecutor and defender. She said to me, after a glass of wine, that these individuals are the slipperiest, most devious liars she has ever met. It must be expected that what is colloquially known as the “sex offenders list”—there is no actual list that we can look at, but that is the way that the papers put it—means that these individuals will try to get around the system.

They take jobs because the job is secondary to the primary thing they want to do, which is to abuse children. Many have tried to change addresses, and we had to change the law several times to overcome that difficulty. Many of them have got around, for a while, the attempts by the police or probation officers to inspect, but we changed that loophole.

Today, we are looking at another loophole that we can change. If the Minister, for whatever reason, is not going to take forward the ten-minute rule Bill, he can do what happened before we brought in the legislation on grooming. He can put together a small team to look at the problem and come forward, quickly, with legislation that is acceptable to the Department, and to us, to close that loophole. That is what David Blunkett did.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

My hon. Friend was one of the first Members to speak to me about the risks that paedophiles, in particular, present to society. Does he agree that the biggest flaw in the legislation around changing names by deed poll is that it is entirely based on the honour and honesty of the sex offender to give the correct details to the current scheme? That is the loophole that we have to close.

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Conservative, Mole Valley

I completely agree. Putting honesty and these individuals together is an almighty clash; they do not match.

David Blunkett set up a small team in the Home Office to look at the child protection legislation in 2003, and he asked me to join that small team, along with a man called DCI Dave Marshall. As we were starting to look at this, there was a terrible case in which an individual in London had rung a telephone number advertised in Texas. He asked, when the phone was answered, if they could provide him with a five-year-old child for sex. The Texan said, “Come on over; sure we can.” The individual said, “I can’t come over. Can you give me the number of somebody in London?” The Texan cop—because it was a sting—said, “Yes,” and gave the number of the Met police paedophile unit, fortunately.

When the individual rang there, the unit said, “Yes, we’ll provide you with a five-year-old child,” and, of course, when he knocked on the door, expecting a five-year-old child, he got a 6-foot-something police officer, who arrested him. But, the big problem was that they did not know for sure what legislation could be used to prosecute the individual, because he had not seen a child, had not touched a child, and so on. That is where we went back and came up with the grooming legislation.

There is now an opportunity for a loophole, and the paedophiles will constantly look for loopholes, but a loophole can be changed. I hope that, if the ten-minute rule Bill is not acceptable, the Minister will set up a small team of competent people, with both sides of the House represented, as well as police, officials and lawyers, to come up with something quickly to shut down the loophole, because it will be abused. I suspect that—as I have found when dealing with this type of legislation—the people who will avidly read the Hansard report of the debate will be paedophiles, and that some who had not thought of changing their names will now think of doing so and of using and abusing the loophole. Our children are too precious; we have to look after them. I want my grandchildren to be safe.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 12:40, 2 March 2023

I congratulate Sarah Champion on securing this important debate—I supported her application—and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. There is cross-party support for tackling this issue. Although I might repeat some of the things that have been said, I want to add my voice to this important debate and support the victims of the terrible crimes that are committed because of a legal loophole, which we in Parliament can fix.

The stories of crimes committed by sex offenders who have changed their names should be a wake-up call for us all. The current name-change process is very poorly regulated and not fit for purpose. Although it is a crime for a sex offender to change their name without notifying the police, the onus to do so lies solely with the offender. As we have already heard, thinking that those guys are going to be honourable and honest is just a mistake. We should not let them get away with it. That creates a legal loophole that makes the reporting system unreliable, meaning that a sex offender can obtain a new legal document to hide their identity and evade justice. The loopholes are used deliberately by sex offenders to continue committing their crimes. That must stop.

I commend Della Wright for her courageous campaigning to close the loophole. It undercuts so much of the progress that we have made in tackling sex offences if perpetrators can just wipe out their past. It renders the sex offenders register, the domestic violence disclosure scheme and DBS checks totally ineffective. Sex offenders should not elude the authorities.

One sex offender changed his name after his release from prison following convictions for sexual assaults against children. His background went undetected despite two encounters with Lincolnshire police and one with social services, and he went on to brutally strip and murder 13-year-old Sandy Hadfield. What a terrible tragedy. Another registered sex offender was able to change his name by deed poll. He moved to Spain, became a teacher and worked as a live-in au pair, despite being barred from working with children. He was arrested only after the school found hidden cameras in its toilets. Where were the checks?

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on prevention of childhood trauma, I am aware of the lifelong consequences faced by children who have experienced sexual abuse. Many children carry their traumatic experiences into later life. I want to acknowledge the people sitting in the Public Gallery who have faced those terrible traumas. Those who experience childhood trauma are twice as likely to develop depression and three times as likely to develop anxiety disorders. Again, we must commend all survivors of childhood trauma for the courage and strength with which they continue to live their lives. It is a stain on our country that one in six children has been sexually abused. We need to protect children, and closing the loophole will make it harder for dangerous sex offenders to repeat their crimes.

Ultimately, there is an issue in the wider criminal justice system. Charges were brought in only 4% of recorded rape cases last year. It is highly likely that people who have committed such a crime are walking among us without our knowing. Five women in six do not report their rape to the police. Given that so many survivors of sexual and domestic violence are denied justice, is it any surprise that reporting rates continue to be so low? If we want to encourage women to come forward, they need to be sure that violent and abusive perpetrators are brought and will continue to be brought to justice. It is horrifying to think that even if a woman gets her rapist convicted, they may still escape the consequences and go on to commit a horrific crime after changing their name.

Enabling sex offenders to change their names means that they can lie about their past. The Safeguarding Alliance reports that offenders have used name changes to hide their backgrounds from their new partners and children. I cannot imagine the fear of learning that your partner is not who you thought they were. The lack of a joined-up approach to tackling name changes means that key details of an offender’s past can be missed. There should be a national centralised sex offenders register maintained by the Home Office to ensure an interlinked and joined-up approach is taken to sex offender management. We must place responsibility for name changes on the relevant authorities to ensure that offenders are not able to slip under the radar.

I, too, welcome the Safeguarding Alliance’s proposal of a tagging system for sex offenders’ passports and driving licences, which would stop offenders using official documents to escape justice. Sex offenders should not be able to use new names to secure DBS checks that allow them to work with children and vulnerable people. As we have heard, they do that deliberately, using a job to get to children, young people and, indeed, women, to commit their heinous crimes. There must be a system in which their crimes are flagged when they are applying for employment.

We must take our obligations to victims seriously. We cannot say that we have delivered justice for survivors if the perpetrators are left to secretly carry on their crimes. Abuse never leaves its victims, so sex offenders should never be able to walk away from their crimes in a way that leaves them free to commit new appalling crimes.

Photo of Tonia Antoniazzi Tonia Antoniazzi Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Opposition Whip (Commons) 12:46, 2 March 2023

My huge thanks go to my hon. Friend Sarah Champion for bringing this important subject to the Chamber and to national prominence—her role in this has been extraordinary. I also thank women such as Della who have waived their anonymity to expose the serious failures in the DBS system, and to ensure that the law is changed to keep people safe.

As colleagues will no doubt have seen in their constituencies, most people’s reaction to hearing about this loophole is one of utter disbelief—disbelief that simple changes, such as the deed poll asking if the applicant has a criminal record, have not been made; disbelief that a system that so many of them have encountered—anywhere from their children’s school to local sports clubs—features such a fundamental flaw; and disbelief that, despite years of warning from campaigners, the name change loophole still exists and is treated as an administrative headache, not a serious risk.

I take this opportunity to highlight a concern that Lucy Allan and Joanna Cherry have already mentioned. Good intentions have not been balanced with the risk of leaving another avenue to be exploited and that is so dangerous. The DBS grants enhanced privacy rights to individuals who change their gender when changing their identity. Those are exceptional rights that are granted only to individuals from that group. The result is that identity verification is compromised, meaning that there is no guarantee that the information returned during the check and displayed on the certificate will be accurate or complete.

Those exceptional privacy rights also allow an applicant who has changed gender to request that all their previous names are withheld from the DBS certificate that is issued. That right to conceal previous identities is not given to anyone else: disclosing previous identities is a key component of safeguarding, and DBS certificates issued to all other individuals display all other names that the applicant has used.

Applicants who change their gender are also permitted to conceal their sex, and the DBS certificate issued will display their acquired gender instead. That right is not granted to any other individual: the importance of sex to safeguarding means that the sex of all other applicants is always displayed. There cannot be any exceptions in safeguarding. For the system to work, it must apply the same standards to everyone. Sadly, it is simply naive to think that loopholes in the system will not be exploited.

The system relies on the honesty of sex offenders to ensure that it functions as it should, but as Sir Paul Beresford said, they are not to be trusted; they are not honest. Data obtained by the BBC from police forces highlights just how flawed this approach is. Between 2019 and 2021, more than 5,500 offences were committed by sex offenders of failing to comply with notification requirements: offences such as not telling the police they were living in a household with a child. The Disclosure and Barring Service found that 2,190 applicants for checks had criminal records and had supplied incorrect or missed out personal details such as past names or aliases. A total of 6,740 prosecutions began over the past three financial years for offences by sex offenders of breaches of a sexual harm prevention order or interim order. The system is broken and we must fix it. We have plenty of damning evidence as to why we should.

After being released from prison only three years into his six-year sentence for indecent assault, following a string of sexual assault convictions against children, Timothy Cuffy changed his name to Timothy Barnett. His new name allowed him to hide his criminal past, including from his new partner and three children. As Timothy Barnett, he answered the door to 13-year-old Sandy Hadfield, who knocked looking for her friend. After giving her vodka, he lured her to a quiet area of the woods, where he attempted to have sex with her before slitting her throat. Owing to his name change, his background went undetected, even after two encounters with Lincolnshire police and one encounter with social services. A system that means a convicted child sex offender is not identified, despite encounters with the police and social services, is one that is fundamentally broken and that led to the most tragic of outcomes in that case.

Sex offenders are not just changing their name post trial to hide their convictions; they are also changing their name at trial, or just before, to protect their name on their birth certificate. That has been highlighted in the high-profile case of Department for International Development worker Peter Davis, who became James Robert Harris before trial, allowing him to keep all records of his birth name clean should he decide to use it again.

This loophole gives sex offenders and abusers, many of whom rely on their ability to manipulate in order to carry out their crimes, an opportunity to hide their criminal history and pass the very checks that are meant to keep the most vulnerable safe. This loophole renders not only the DBS redundant but the domestic violence disclosure scheme, the sex offenders register and the child sex offender disclosure scheme. It seems absurd that we are discussing this 20 years on from the Bichard inquiry, which identified that the ability of serial predator Ian Huntley to change his name by deed poll to Ian Nixon, successfully severing the link with his existing police records, meant that no alarms were raised, and he was employed as a school caretaker. That this loophole still exists, allowing—indeed, enabling—serial predators to create new identities, is a scandal.

We are in this place to be legislators. We are in this place to make decisions and to ask the questions, “What if?” and “How?” We have to safeguard the most vulnerable people in society from these bad actors in all legislation. I pay tribute to everybody in the Gallery today and my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham for her outstanding work on this issue.

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Scottish National Party, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock 12:53, 2 March 2023

Thank you, and good afternoon, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate and thank Sarah Champion for securing this important debate and making excellent points on the scale and seriousness of this problem. I thank Lucy Allan for sharing the horrific case of her constituent, Joanna; my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry for highlighting the serious safeguarding issues; and the hon. Members for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher), for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker), for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) and for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for their important and eloquent contributions.

I speak in support of the motion. The fact that someone convicted of a sexual offence may change their name by deed poll to conceal their previous offending history without committing an offence shows that there is an extremely obvious and serious loophole in current legislation. The introduction of new legislation would serve as a strong deterrent to those minded to change their name by deed poll and would provide additional protection for communities, in particular women and girls, who are most likely to be subject to these serious offences.

This is an important issue for all our constituents. Some 37,400 people across the United Kingdom, including 151 people in my constituency of Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, recently signed a petition to Parliament to revoke the right of registered sex offenders to change their name by deed poll.

Registered sex offenders are currently managed by the police and multi-agency public protection arrangements in all police force areas. Tough checks and a range of legislative measures are available to the police to manage known sex offenders living in the community. However, information received from the Safeguarding Alliance through a freedom of information request revealed that, between 2017 and 2020, at least 913 sex offenders were missing. Those freedom of information figures relate only to those who have notified or have been caught for failure to notify. The figures do not account for the many more registered sex offenders who may be living and working with children and vulnerable adults using a new name and identity. Every one of those registered sex offenders who is missing has the potential to reoffend, and every effort must be made to trace them as a matter of urgency before they have the opportunity to commit further serious sexual offences.

Only 17 police services out of 43 in England and Wales have replied to that extremely important freedom of information request from the Safeguarding Alliance. The limited information available suggests that the total number of registered sex offenders who are missing is likely to be at least several thousand more. It is very concerning and unacceptable that the Safeguarding Alliance only received replies from 17 police services. The failure to respond by 26 police services should be brought to the attention of His Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services. If we do not know the extent of the problem, we cannot legislate for it.

In the controversial Soham murders case more than 20 years ago, the killer Ian Huntley changed his name by deed poll to apply for a school janitor post, but Humberside police failed to check his record fully. I do not intend to repeat what has been said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West and others about the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham. However, the greatest risk to the public is those convicted of serious sexual offences and placed on the sex offenders register who simply change their name without going through the formalities of changing their name by deed poll.

One extreme example of that is Peter Tobin, a Scottish serial killer with convictions for the serious sexual assault and rape of two 14-year-old girls in England, for which he was sentenced in 1994 to 14 years in prison. He was released in 2004. In 2006, using the false name of Pat McLaughlin, Tobin obtained work as a church handyman in Glasgow, where he murdered 23-year-old Polish student Angelika Kluk and buried her body under the floor of the church. During the subsequent investigation into Tobin’s past, he was convicted of murdering two further young women. He has also been linked to several unsolved disappearances, the murder of several women and young girls and numerous serious sexual assaults throughout the country.

The important point I wish to make is that Tobin is known to have used at least 40 different names and stayed at numerous addresses. He avoided complying with the conditions of notifying Police Scotland and other police services throughout the country when he changed his name and address, which he was required to do, having been placed on the sex offenders register following his conviction in 1994. This illustrates the dangers of sex offenders changing their name by deed poll or otherwise to conceal their true identity, as they pose a significant risk to the public. The tracing, identification and prosecution of these individuals must remain an absolute priority for police services across the country.

In conclusion, I fully understand that there will be circumstances in which an individual previously convicted of sex offences wishes to change their name legally by deed poll with the genuine hope of a fresh start and a new identity. However, if a change in legislation were to prevent just one person from being the subject of a serious sexual assault or worse, it would be totally justified as another measure to keep people safe, particularly women and girls. Such a measure may be controversial—it may be criticised as excessive by some, and considered by others to be a restriction or reduction of their human rights. However, this loophole is a serious flaw in the current legislation; the legislation is not fit for purpose at this time, and must be changed. The duty of this House and all of us in it is to protect people and keep them safe. I therefore offer my full support to closing the loophole, and to any subsequent Bill to prevent registered sex offenders from changing their name by deed poll.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office) 1:00, 2 March 2023

I, like everybody else, rise to give huge and enormous credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham. I will not say her name, because protocol does not allow it, but there is an element of nominative determinism about her name in these instances. She truly is a great Champion, alongside the Safeguarding Alliance, and has once again ensured that Della’s name rings out in this place. I love to hear from my hon. Friend at all times, both inside this Chamber and outside of it, but I would like not to have to hear from her again on this issue—no offence to her. Let today be the end of these demands.

If we were to do one of those fancy word clouds based on today’s debate, I feel that “no-brainer” is the word that would pop out biggest. It seems absolutely phenomenal that after 20 years, we are still in this position. To talk through some of today’s contributions, Lucy Allan told us about the very important case of Joanna in which her perpetrator, Clive Bundy, changed his name. Joanna Cherry and my hon. Friend Tonia Antoniazzi talked about a very serious potential safeguarding loophole in certain cases, where it is not just a name change consideration—where there is an advanced level of secrecy with regard to the DBS. Again, going back to the word cloud of this debate, another phrase would be “safeguarding has to come first”. There is nothing else; there is no other priority.

Following on from the Scottish National party Front Bencher, Allan Dorans, I could not agree more that the line here is the safeguarding of children and vulnerable people. That is the line; that is the most important thing; that is the starting point, not the end point. It should be the primary concern, and we must do everything we possibly can to ensure that that is the case. The fact that Ian Huntley’s name was able to ring out across this Chamber so many times today is a harsh reminder of how many years this has been in train.

This Chamber has a long tradition of the constituency of Bolsover being represented in a plain-speaking fashion, should we say; one that does not mince words. Today, that fine tradition was honoured by Mark Fletcher—I look forward to his contributions at the first King’s Speech. His brave and certain questioning of the Government’s speed, some of the responses they have given, and how robust they claim the law is was refreshing to hear; long may that plain speaking continue. In the hon. Gentleman’s speech, he said that it seems unbelievable that the rights of a perpetrator often trump the rights of a victim. I am here to tell this Chamber and the world that that is true in almost all cases, whether of rape or of domestic abuse, just by the very fact that a perpetrator has legal counsel and support. A victim of a crime is merely evidence in a case—that is it. That is what it feels like to be a victim; certainly for children, it is a very hollow feeling when they are asked to give evidence and take part in these cases for years and years.

Let me give an example. Last night, I went to an event around the case of Joanna Simpson, a woman murdered—sorry, unlawfully killed—whose perpetrator was found guilty of manslaughter, regardless of the fact that he had prepared a grave for her months before. He is due to be released after 13 years of incarceration for her unlawful killing. He knows exactly where her family live, but they are not allowed to know where he will be released to, not even on a regional basis. That is the case for people who suffer sexual crimes: they have absolutely no right to know anything. It is just a fundamental flaw.

Photo of Mark Fletcher Mark Fletcher Conservative, Bolsover

I referred earlier to a piece of constituency casework that relates very much to that point. The constituents who have inspired me to be involved in this conversation are desperate for the clarity of knowing the new name of the offender involved, but they are unable to get it. The answers from His Majesty’s Prison Service are hilarious, and I cannot fathom why this is acceptable. I have written to the Minister for clarification on whether HMPS is upholding the regulations correctly, but I support the point that the hon. Lady is making— I entirely agree with her.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

It seems baffling. I think that if we were to go and speak to anybody on the Clapham omnibus—if we were to go outside and speak to any member of the public—they would not believe that that is the case in most circumstances. They would be absolutely horrified.

My hon. Friend Paula Barker called on Home Office Front Benchers to publish the documents, something that we have heard again and again in this House. It is not acceptable that, although my hon. Friend Sarah Champion, our great champion, has forced those documents and that assessment and review to exist, Members in this place cannot see them. I join in those calls from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree.

I pay particular tribute to Sir Paul Beresford, because he has been trying to tackle this issue in this place since, I think, the year I was born. [Hon. Members: “Ouch!”] I realise that that sounds like a terribly backhanded compliment, but it is not intended that way at all—when he was citing some of those cases, I was thinking, “I was five then.” He has announced his departure from this place, and he will undoubtedly be remembered for championing the rights of children during his time in this House, specifically those who have suffered from sexual offences. The fact that the legislation on paedophilia that we are all familiar with did not necessarily exist all those years ago, but now exists, is in no small part down to the hon. Gentleman’s work in this place. He is absolutely right to point out that these offenders are manipulative: in the case of Joanna Simpson, which I highlighted, the reason why a manslaughter charge was given rather than a murder charge was the adjustment disorder caused by a divorce—that was the manipulation used. It is terribly hard to adjust to divorce, and almost everybody in the country who has to do that ends up murdering somebody— I don’t think.

There is that level of manipulation, and how our state agencies in fact back that manipulation up. There is an opportunity today, by supporting this motion, to stop some of that manipulation and to stand in its way. Wera Hobhouse reminded us why this issue matters, its importance, the lifelong trauma suffered by the victims of these crimes and how we should never forget that. There are victims here today, and many of their names have rung out. If only all the victims, such as Sandy, who was mentioned by my hon. Friend Tonia Antoniazzi, could be here today to listen to this debate. It is not okay that things have taken this long.

I will finish up my remarks. Like the hon. Member for Bolsover, I also changed my name. I did it online. I went online and I changed my name, and a woman called Angela in my office just signed it—that was it. That was what it took. I paid £36. It is probably more now, as inflation has gone up since then. It took absolutely no effort whatever to change my name. It was considerably easier than getting a driving licence or applying for other things. It was very easy for me to change my name with no effort and no check whatever, so I know how easy the process is. We have to make sure that this easy liberty —I am not saying it should not be easy for me, although I was stunned by how easy it was—which I may very well be entitled to, is used with caution, if at all, in the case of those on the sex offenders register. It should certainly never ever be able to be used without the proper processes and systems that flag things up.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

I, too, have changed my name—to make it shorter, to be honest; my name was too difficult. Does the hon. Member agree that we would be happy to go through a more complicated process if that would protect and safeguard young people?

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I agree. I would have been more than happy to undertake a much more robust process to change my name from the good Northern Irish name of Trainor to Phillips. It would have been no bother to me if it had taken a lot more effort. Many other things in life take a lot more effort when they should not.

Photo of Mark Fletcher Mark Fletcher Conservative, Bolsover

I am sorry for interrupting the hon. Member again, and I am grateful to her for taking a second intervention. There is an advantage in some cases for the ease of changing a name, particularly through the unenrolled process, which is for domestic abuse victims. I neglected to mention it, and I am glad that the opportunity has arisen. In some cases there is advantage in not doing the enrolled process, and in the ease with which it happens, and we do not want to affect that. I am sure she would agree on that point.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I do agree with the hon. Member on that, and it throws up another anomaly in the system. I have worked with many domestic abuse victims, who have tried desperately to not be able to be found, yet, our state systems, whether that be our family court system or our criminal court system, are willy-nilly giving out details of people against their safeguarding and their request. Once again, it feels like the onus is on the victim to protect themselves and we, as a state, are protecting the perpetrator. The balance is off.

I want to ask the Government directly what action the Home Office is taking to identify the hundreds—if not thousands; as has been identified, we expect it to be far more—who have gone missing. What assessment have the Government done of reoffending in that group? Funnily enough, I asked about reoffending rates and assessments that the Home Office was doing in cases of court delays, where people accused of sexual offences against children or adults are waiting years and years. I wanted to understand what measures were being put in place to ensure that reoffending was not happening in cases waiting for three or four years to get to court. That came across my desk because of a multiple child abuse case, where the victims had been waiting five years for their court date, and it was then put off for another year. They will be adults, incidentally, when they sit in the court room. It was found that the perpetrator in that case was living with children. The House might not be surprised to hear that he had not notified anybody.

I asked the Home Office what assessment was being done of reoffending in this space and I also asked the Ministry of Justice. I did get an answer: they are not doing an assessment of that reoffending. I find that harrowing. Where is the independent review looking into this issue and the management of sex offenders, which was, as we have all said, commissioned a year ago?

I will close my remarks by saying that if we want to know about the offender management that exists in this country, let alone whether it is robust, we need only read any of what HMICFRS—all those letters; we changed it to a ridiculously long name—has written about probation and police forces in this country and the level of reoffending in the groups we are talking about today. We should be under no illusion: safeguarding is not being achieved.

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 1:15, 2 March 2023

I start by thanking Sarah Champion for her work on this important issue and for securing the debate. I welcome those in the Public Gallery and those listening at home, and I thank the Safeguarding Alliance for all its work. To each and every person who has been sexually abused, be they male, female, young, old, children or adults, I say that the Government do take it seriously.

I reassure Members that we recognise their concerns. It was amusing to hear my hon. Friend Lucy Allan say that junior Ministers come and go. Of course she is right—we do—but in the short time I am here, I want to make sure that I make a difference on this issue. I have some experience in this field from a job I held previously, and what is salient for me is looking into the eyes of somebody who has been abused, or those of their mother, brother, relative or friend. It is horrendous. These crimes are heinous, and the Government must do more to crack down on those who perpetrate them.

As safeguarding Minister, I reassure the House that I am committed to ensuring that we have the most robust system possible for managing registered sex offenders. While a lot of criticism is made of the system for good reason, it is salient that we are still considered, as my hon. Friend Sir Paul Beresford said, to be one of the most stringent countries in the world for the management of sexual offenders, not least because of the sterling work that people in this House have done. But it is not enough, and more has to be done.

It may assist the House if I set out some of the general background in this area. I know that some here will have heard this before, but for those listening at home and for the record, I will turn to the specific concerns regarding registered sex offenders and name changes. Members will be aware that registered sex offenders are required to notify the police of certain personal details. This system is often referred to as the sex offenders register and it applies automatically to those offenders who receive a conviction or caution for a sexual offence. They are required to provide their local police station with a record of, among other things, their name, address, date of birth, bank details and national insurance number, and that must be done annually and, importantly, whenever their details change. That means that registered sex offenders are legally required to inform the police if they change their name. Offenders who are subject to notification requirements are also required to notify the police of all travel outside the United Kingdom. Breach of the notification requirements, including failure to provide notification of a name change, is a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in prison.

We know that some individuals pose a risk beyond that which can be properly managed by a straightforward notification requirement. We also know that there are individuals who come to the police’s attention and pose a risk, but who have not been convicted of an offence. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 reformed the civil orders available to the police on application to the court to manage those risks. It introduced sexual harm prevention orders, which can be applied to anyone convicted or cautioned for a sexual or violent offence; and sexual risk orders, which can be applied to any individual who poses a risk of sexual harm, even if they have never been convicted. Those orders have been deliberately designed to be as flexible as possible so that they can be tailored to the specific risk an individual poses. They can be used to impose any restriction the court considers necessary to protect the public from sexual harm, which can include restrictions on the ability of the individual who is subject to the order to change their name—something that should be used more frequently, in my view. For both orders, breach is a criminal offence punishable by a maximum of five years’ imprisonment.

Moving on to recent changes, registered sex offenders have committed some of the most abhorrent crimes and we must ensure that our approach mitigates the risk of their seeking to exploit weaknesses in the system. Following proposals from the National Police Chiefs’ Council based on feedback from operational policing on how things can be improved, which the police always have an eye to, we have made changes to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. It is now the case that through both SHPOs and SROs, the courts can impose positive obligations as well as restrictions, including requiring an offender to engage in a behavioural change programme. That is totally new and it has helped in some cases. None of these things will be a panacea, but they do assist. The court must also apply the lower civil standard of proof—namely, the balance of probabilities—which will lead to an increase in such orders being made.

The Secretary of State has a new power to prepare a list of countries deemed to be at high risk of child sex abuse by UK nationals or residents. That list has to be considered by applicants and the courts when applying for or making an order for the purpose of protecting children outside the UK from the risk of sexual harm.

In addition, to ensure that the police, His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and others have the right systems in place to share information on registered sex offenders and other dangerous individuals, the Home Office and Ministry of Justice are investing in a new multi-agency public protection system—MAPPS. The new system will enable more effective and automated information sharing, which will, in turn, improve the risk management of all offenders managed under multi-agency public protection arrangements.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I believe that many Members are aware of the legislation and restrictions that are being outlined. Does the Minister believe that they are robust enough when a sex offender chooses to ignore them?

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Lady raises a good point. I never believe that any system designed to protect children and adults—be they men or women, boys or girls— is ever robust enough. There is always a way for a deceptive, calculating perpetrator to get round it. It is not enough for a Government to say, “We’ve done something, which is great.” The Government have to be conscious not to just park that on the side, but to constantly look to the next reform. I hope we can work together to achieve that spirit. To give more context, it is planned that MAPPS will replace the violent and sex offender register—ViSOR—next year.

I turn to the issue of name changes, and some of the good and interesting points raised by Members. I recognise and understand the concerns hon. Members have raised, and I reassure them that this Government and I take these issues seriously. Public protection is and will remain our utmost, foremost priority. I have already outlined the legislative measures that we have put in place, but there is, of course, more that can be done.

There are safeguards built in at an operational level, such as through His Majesty’s Passport Office, which has a watchlist to provide some protection for the public in the passport issuing process. That includes supporting the police in managing offenders of concern, including registered sex offenders, and to prevent those who pose a high risk of harm from obtaining a passport in a new name without the police first being consulted. We also have arrangements in place for the police to notify the Passport Office and other relevant bodies of individuals who pose a risk to the public to ensure that we properly control name changes in those cases.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I notice that the Minister mentioned “high risk of harm”, which is often up for debate in these issues. Does she agree that all sex offenders pose a high risk of harm?

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Indeed, all domestic abuse and sex offenders are high risk, which is why, of course, domestic abuse has now been included in the police strategic issues.

As I have set out, we do have safeguards built in. It is important that operational decisions are made in a way that ensures resources are deployed where they will be most effective in mitigating risk. As hon. Members will appreciate, I cannot go into detail about some of the intricacies in this field as, of course, we do not want to give people extra ideas—there are operational sensitivities. As with any matters related to public protection, we must always remain vigilant and front-footed to ensure our approach is as effective as possible.

The issue of name changes has been discussed by the hon. Member for Rotherham and others. The Government have listened to those concerns, as have I, and I am undertaking work to see what more can be done. We know that there is the internal review.

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Opposition Whip (Commons)

As has been said, disclosing previous identities is a key component of safeguarding. What can be done under the sensitive applications route to prevent sex offenders who change their identity from exercising their right to have previous names withheld from a DBS certificate?

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful for that intervention. This is an area that I am particularly interested in, as it poses a conflict of competing interests: that of the person who has had a serious offence perpetrated against them, and that of someone who wants to move on in their life for perhaps bona fide—not necessarily nefarious—reasons. There are competing legal interests that need careful thought, and I am looking into that.

Photo of Lucy Allan Lucy Allan Conservative, Telford

I thank the Minister for her response. Will she please work closely with the victims Minister, my right hon. Friend Edward Argar, who is sitting next to her today? He is somebody of great integrity who commands respect across the House. With the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice working together, I know that this problem can be solved. Will the Minister please confirm that?

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

If I may say so, I have been afforded the utmost professionalism and courtesy by colleagues in the Ministry of Justice. It has been very helpful. We are working on this matter together; we were discussing it just yesterday.

Photo of Mark Fletcher Mark Fletcher Conservative, Bolsover

I thank the Minister for accepting the intervention. I admit that she is on a slightly sticky wicket today. I know that she personally cares passionately about the issues we are discussing. We have mentioned the robust system and not wanting to give people ideas. However, I return to the amendment tabled by Sarah Champion to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 and the review that was meant to be published. Will the Minister commit to at least some of us in this House being able to see that review? We will still not know the scale of the problem until we have seen that. I would welcome the Minister’s commitment to letting at least some of us see it.

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The review is now complete and I am carefully considering the findings. There are some immediate actions that can be taken, including work to ensure that law enforcement partners are fully utilising and monitoring the tools, information and resources available, such as those provided by the Passport Office. As hon. Members will understand, some of it is very sensitive. However, I am currently considering it with the Home Secretary.

In addition to the internal review, there is lots of work being done. The former Home Secretary appointed Mick Creedon, a former chief constable of Derbyshire constabulary, to undertake an independent review into sex offender management more generally.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will make a little more progress before giving way.

Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the Minister for giving way; she has been very generous with her time. As legislators in this place, we have a privileged position in representing our constituents, and we are subject to the highest scrutiny and security. Will the Minister therefore agree that the review should be shared in full with every Member of the House?

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I very much believe in open transparency, but there must always be checks when things are so sensitive that it would not be of assistance.

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I want to make a bit of progress, but I am very happy to talk about it. I have given way a few times, but I would be interested in taking up any further discussions outside the Chamber.

Serious issues have been raised in relation to name changes and changes of gender. An individual who is transgender and has a criminal history is subject to the same monitoring, rules and checks as any other offender. That is the case regardless of whether they have a gender recognition certificate. A change of name resulting from a change of gender does not relieve the registered sex offender from their notification requirements. Regardless of the route used, everyone applying for a DBS for a criminal record certificate must follow the same identity validation process to demonstrate their current identity. This includes the requirement to provide at least one document previously issued by the Government in the current identity, or consent to providing fingerprints. The DBS sensitive applications route allows transgender applicants, including those who self-identify, to provide their full previous identity information to the DBS, while not disclosing that to a prospective employer or having it printed on their DBS certificate.

There is more to do in this area. I am very interested in this area, with the competing rights of such individuals and those who need protection, and I am looking at this. For applications via this route, the DBS additionally seeks to see a name change deed poll or a separate signed self-declaration to formally record the link between the current name and the identity that is to be protected. An application will also be checked against both male and female genders within the system.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

The Minister is absolutely right that there are conflicting rights here, but when rights conflict we have to carry out a weighing exercise, and we are talking about sex offenders here—people with a proven track record of abusing children and vulnerable people—so there is really no competition in that situation.

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am delighted to agree with the hon. and learned Lady, and that is part of my balancing exercise. Sometimes there is lazy government, where the Government think something is sorted out, we have granted a right or a legal right, and we do not need to do any more. However, we do need to look at how things change, at new legislative changes and at the competition between rights, and I am thoroughly interested in that point.

That is why, for example, a blanket ban—I know the hon. Member for Rotherham is not suggesting that today, although it was suggested yesterday—is perhaps a distinction without too much of a difference, because we all want the same thing. A blanket ban preventing sexual offenders from changing their name is at risk of a court finding it to be discriminatory, unreasonable or disproportionate by focusing on all past offending regardless of the level of danger posed by the individual to the public and ignoring their rights.

What is often cited is that there are good and proper reasons for offenders to change their name. It is often cited that there are implications under the Equality Act 2010 or the Gender Recognition Act 2004, and perhaps more importantly, the European convention on human rights, in relation to the right to a private life. This is where we get into the legal complexity of why successive Governments do not always grapple with that problem. I am determined to have a go at it, with the assistance of everybody in this Chamber.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

The Minister is being very generous in taking another intervention. The argument that preventing sex offenders from taking advantage of a process of self-identification of gender to hide their identity somehow breaches the European convention on human rights was put forward in the vexed debate over self-identification in Scotland, and I can tell her that it was widely rubbished by many legal commentators. Will she look into it more carefully, rather than just taking at face value what many of us think is the baseless assertion that such a measure would breach human rights?

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I was not putting these points forward as my views; I was saying that they are often cited as an issue. What we need is a thorough overhaul and to look at how, within a lawful existing framework, we can move forward. I am delighted to say that this is an area I am working on, but the hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right that more needs to be done. The present system, while one of the most robust regimes—if not the most robust regime—in the world, is in my view not quite going far enough, and we need to look at it again. We need to protect members of our society, and as the safeguarding Minister, I take that job very seriously.

In closing, I would like to thank hon. Members for the important points they made during their speeches. I hope I have provided some reassurance that we do have tools that assist in managing the risk of sex offenders, but I do accept and concede that there is always more work to be done. I look up at the Public Gallery as I say that, and I thank those who are there for coming to listen to this.

None the less, the Government can never be complacent. Along with the good things we do, we need to do more. I am shortly to meet the national policing lead for the management of sexual and violent offenders, Chief Constable Michelle Skeer, who has national policing responsibility for sex offender management. I want to look more at what ideas she has and what ideas we can all have together across Government, and indeed across the Opposition, to assist.

As I have made clear, public protection and safety is our No. 1 priority, and we are committed to ensuring that the police and other agencies have more and better tools to assist them to more effectively manage registered sex offenders. In a nutshell, a lot has been done, but there is more to do. We need more joined-up systems, and I am going to try to do my little bit in my short time to address these issues.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee 1:35, 2 March 2023

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thank the Minister for her encouraging words and I really look forward to working with her to close this gaping loophole. I also thank every Member who has spoken today, and all those who could not be here but are very supportive of this. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us to have this debate. This is not a political issue, but a cross-party safeguarding issue, and I thank everybody for entering the debate on those terms.

The problem we have is that we are currently reliant on registered sex offenders doing the right thing and telling the police if they are going to be changing their name, for good reasons or nefarious ones. That system is being breached again and again. With the data we can get, which is very incomplete, we know that approximately 200 registered sex offenders are going missing a year and that 2,000 are being prosecuted for breaches of their requirements. So we know that is a problem. How big does the problem need to be before the Government close this loophole? The first step towards that is publishing the report that the Government have done: both the internal report—I understand the sensitivities, but we can have it in redacted form—and the report that is currently being done, and may have been completed, by Mick Creedon. We need to know the reality of this problem, rather than just having to rely on the incredibly brave survivors to tell us what is really happening on the ground.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the change of name by registered sex offenders.