Clause 88 - Method of notification and related matters

Sexual Offences Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 14th October 2003.

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Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Conservative, Mole Valley 12:00 pm, 14th October 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 108, in

clause 88, page 44, line 26, at end insert—

'( ) Where a person notifies an address in accordance with the provisions of this Act the police shall have the power to visit the offender to ascertain that the details are correct and to enable them to produce, or assist them in the production of, a risk assessment.

'( ) Where subsection (5) applies it shall be the duty of the person subject to the notification requirements to cooperate with the police attending those premises.'.

The aim of the registration is to enable the police to protect us. They have a duty to visit sex offenders, to check that the details on the registration are correct, and to conduct a risk assessment—it is irrelevant whether they do that themselves or an agency does it, so long as it is done.

Paedophiles—and especially predatory paedophiles—are devious and persistent. In many cases, they believe that what they are doing is normal, and that what we, the rest of the population, are doing is wrong. Anyone who saw the first two programmes of the BBC 3 series that ran six months to a year ago would be aware that not only are they devious but they can be extremely aggressive. The Metropolitan police have assessed the success and fulfilment of their monitoring procedures, and they were rather relieved to find that they had about a 90 per cent. success rate. However, the remaining 10 per cent. appears to consist of aggressive people who are determined to buck the system. The police are concerned: they do not believe they have the power to visit sex offenders at home to ensure that the details are correct or conduct a risk assessment. The amendment would give them that power and would require those on the list to co-operate fully with the police.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

Once again, I place on record my appreciation of the work that the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) has done on the taskforce on child protection on the internet. I thank him for his rigorous work and general interest in the subject. I understand the spirit in which he tabled the amendment.

The amendment would give the police the power to visit a relevant offender at his notified address to ascertain whether the details provided to them were correct, and to produce a risk assessment. We have given serious consideration to the subject, which was raised during the review of the Sex Offenders Act 1997. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the review concluded that such a power was not necessary, and I continue to agree with that conclusion. However, I hope that I can say one or two things that will offer him some reassurance.

First, in clause 86, we are introducing a new requirement for offenders to go to their local police station annually to confirm their notified details. Failure to make that annual notification is a criminal offence, in the investigation of which the police may, of course, under existing powers, visit the offender's home. If an offender does not make that annual visit to restate their details, that failure could become the subject of a criminal investigation, and the police would have the power to enter that offender's home.

Secondly, in new clauses 15 and 16, we are proposing to provide a new power that will enable the information notified by registered sex offenders to

be regularly checked against information held by other Government agencies. That will involve cross-referencing with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, for example. Any discrepancies noticed in that process will be passed to the local police for further investigation.

Thirdly, the police already have a general power to apply for a search warrant when investigating whether a crime has been committed. That would include a breach of the registration requirements. There are already a number of circumstances in which police may enter an offender's home.

The review of the Sex Offenders Act 1997 noted that nearly all registered offenders co-operate with the police when home visits are made. The review concluded that a specific power of entry was not justified and that there were other, less intrusive, means of confirming that an individual was living at a stated address. I hope that that helps to reassure the hon. Gentleman.

On the second issue of assisting the police with risk assessments, we have already put in place the arrangements that were referred to earlier—the multi-agency public protection arrangements, or MAPPA. All registered sex offenders are subject to these arrangements, and higher-risk offenders will be subject to consideration by a multi-agency panel that will look in detail at the risk they pose. Sex offenders leaving prison or beginning a community sentence are already required to attend appointments with a probation officer at which a wide-ranging risk assessment, covering all aspects of their offending behaviour and lifestyle, is carried out.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about the frustration that police officers may feel in carrying out their important duties in relation to the management of sex offenders if they feel that a particular sex offender is not co-operating. However, MAPPA and other arrangements are in place to help support them in the work that they do. The point has come up several times that we have to guard against providing powers that seem attractive on the surface, but would mean that the police could question any sex offender at any time. We must ensure that the public protection systems and processes are in place, but we must leave an opportunity for people to rebuild their lives in a way that is constructive and free from the kind of sexual harm that they have caused in the past. Once again, the question is one of balance.

I hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman that we are taking his concerns into account. We feel that the relevant powers and processes will give us the level of protection that he requires. I hope that in that spirit he will consider withdrawing his amendment.

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Conservative, Mole Valley

I shall go away and look at the points that the Under-Secretary made. However, I should like to make an additional point. We are out of step with much of the rest of the western world, although it is fortunate that we are out of step with one part of it—I refer to the United States. Megan's

law would cripple the efforts we are making to turn attention to sex offenders, especially paedophiles.

From the information that I have picked up, particularly from the American forces dealing with paedophiles, I have found that there is often casual calling in just to check the computers and talk to them. Those forces are able to do that because they have the power to walk in. That is much cheaper and easier than setting up a huge committee to consider sex offenders and go through the bureaucratic rigmarole, and so on. That activity picks up some surprising cases and it is preventive. The police here cannot do that and, even in spite of what the Under-Secretary said, they will not be able to do it. I would like him to think carefully about that and test it with those who have to implement the legislation, and have the duty to produce the safety that we are requiring.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 88 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 89 ordered to stand part of the Bill.