Clause 22

– in a Public Bill Committee at 5:45 pm on 10th February 2009.

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Foreign travel orders: grounds

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I rise to pose just one question on the grounds for foreign travel orders. The clause amends any reference to children under the age of 16 in sections 115 and 116 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to “under 18”. The effect is to raise the age at which a child or young person has to be at risk in order for a foreign travel order to be made, and it alters the criteria determining which offenders qualify for a foreign travel order to include those who have committed sex offences against children under 18, rather than offences merely against children under 16, which is the existing law.

I have just one question, because foreign travel orders in principle are a good idea. The vile and disgusting offence of paedophilia is something on which the full force of the law must bear down in any and all possible ways, but I have a query on a point of information. The  current powers, which the clause seeks to amend, relate to the age of the children, under 16, but on how many occasions have such foreign orders been made under the 2003 Act? I rise not to be critical of the clause, but merely to secure a better understanding of how rigorously the existing law, which is remarkably similar to the clause, has been enforced. If we had a number from the Minister, it would give us some perspective on how law enforcers are going about the vital business of cracking down on and discouraging paedophile offenders. My view is that the clause is necessary, but is the existing law, which it seeks to improve, being utilised to its full force?

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

I can answer the hon. Gentleman’s point directly: foreign travel orders were granted between 2005-05 and 2007-08 in six cases. That may not appear to be a huge number, but those cases, in themselves and in the message that they send out, are nevertheless important. They must be seen in terms of orders in general. If we take sexual offences prevention orders and notification orders together with foreign travel orders, we are talking about 975 in 2005-06 and more than 1,500 in 2007-08. If the hon. Gentleman says that there is still a great deal of work to be done on the matter, I agree, but I also pay tribute to those who work tirelessly not just to bring these offenders to justice and to disrupt their activities, but to ensure that we have the legislation in place, because, as he knows, it is a vile business and some people find the most vile ways of going about that business. Almost as we change legislation, they look for ways to get around it, so I take his point, which he made very well, but the clause is an important step in the right direction, not least because it comes with the support of the police and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the provision ensures that the maximum age of a child who must be at risk in order for a foreign travel order to be made will rise from 16 to 18. It alters the criteria for determining which offenders can qualify for such an order to include those who have committed specified sexual offences against children under 18, not just under 16. It is supported by ACPO and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and will further strengthen our already robust system. It sends out a strong message that, no matter where people go in the world, we must protect children and enable them to enjoy their childhoods without fear of sexual violence.

Question put and agreed to

Clause 22 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 23 and 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.