I am glad to have the opportunity to open this debate. I was first concerned about the issue of the allocation of sex offenders to hostels in Peterborough in 2002, when two sex offenders were relocated to the city without prior notification to me or to other relevant authorities and without adequate planning as to where they should be accommodated. As I stated at the time in a letter to the Home Secretary, one of the offenders had 115 convictions, including a particularly serious offence, yet he had to be kept temporarily in police accommodation, as there was nowhere else to put him.
In the case of the other offender, my local paper, the Evening Telegraph, seemed to be the first to learn that he had moved into the area, through a woman who had just moved into the city from the same original area as the offender. The local police and councillors, including cabinet children's minister and Conservative councillor Yvonne Lowndes, shared my concerns and asked me to raise the issues in Parliament.
At the time, the fact that two cases had arisen in one week made it look to some as though Peterborough was a definite target for relocation. I am glad to recognise that there has been progress in some respects with the treatment of sex offenders who have served their sentences. As I was informed in a response from a Home Office Minister, there is consultation between police and the probation service—they will soon, of course, come together in the National Offender Management Service, commonly known as NOMS—in order to assess and to manage the risks posed by offenders to the community.
The setting up of multi-agency public protection panels—MAPPPs—for the management of some high-risk offenders is clearly advantageous, despite the large resources required and worries about the response of some offenders to such close attention. That was vividly and, in my view, disturbingly, portrayed in Roger Graef's recent BBC television documentary, "The Protectors", in which those in the team that was featured discussed their worries that the offender in question enjoyed and in some ways manipulated their frequent attentions. It was a most disturbing programme to watch.
Such considerations are, of course, beyond my remit today, but I recognise the complexities involved. I also understand why the general public should not be informed of the relocation of offenders to their community. However, I am still not happy that adequate steps are taken to notify relevant authorities, including councillors with particular responsibility for the area or issue, head teachers of local schools and even the police.
Before I say more, I want to put it on record that neither I nor the authorities and individuals in my constituency are displaying crude nimbyism. Ex-offenders must live somewhere, which includes Peterborough, and they have served their sentences. However, we are concerned about the use of a particular hostel in Wesleyan road, which is near a children's play area, opposite a special needs school and within easy reach of nine other primary schools.
My other concern has always been about the possible danger to other residents of hostels, especially young and vulnerable people, of close proximity to sex offenders. That is a general policy matter that needs urgent attention, and I will return to it later.
Since February, I have asked a number of written questions and also tabled early-day motion 924, which has attracted 30 signatures without any canvassing on my part. The motion drew attention to the concerns that I have described, and stated that proper notice should be given to local authorities and local MPs, as was always the case before the 2001 general election. It asserted that hostels should not be used if they are next to schools or other facilities for young people, or if they are used to house young people on remand.
As is often the case, the answers to the written questions were less than specific. One question concerned whether nine sex offenders who were recently known to be living in the Peterborough hostel had, as rumoured, been moved, and whether they would be moved back, as some feared, when the publicity following a BBC East programme had died down.
The Minister may be aware that I have again tabled nine questions attempting to unearth some facts and figures on the number of places in probation hostels and the number occupied by convicted sex offenders. What are the changes in the percentage of places in probation hostels occupied by persons on bail between 1991 and 2003? Are sex offender treatment programmes available in probation hostels, and if so, in how many? What specialist training is provided for staff working with sex offenders in hostels? What extra security measures have been introduced to hostels in which convicted sex offenders are housed? Do the Government plan to open any new probation hostels?
I am still asking questions and applying for an Adjournment debate because the more I found out about the general issues, which do not affect only Peterborough, the more concern I felt. The Minister will not be surprised to hear that I was contacted by the National Association of Probation Officers, which had noticed my questions and with which I had already been in contact over other matters. I hope to speak tomorrow in another Adjournment debate initiated by my hon. Friend Jane Griffiths.