Child Abuse Offences (Sentencing) — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 13th March 2017.

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Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North 4:30 pm, 13th March 2017

The hon. Gentleman raises a valid concern. I am keen to hear from the Minister what the Government’s view is. It may be a matter to take up with the Law Officers and the Solicitor General, who I know takes up unduly lenient sentences on behalf of the Government. We must consider how to increase understanding of the severity of the crime and the ability to appeal unduly lenient sentences if appropriate.

We must remember that every indecent image of a child means a child suffering sexual abuse. We cannot allow police funding restraints to leave our children at risk. I call on our Government to ensure that our police forces and judicial system are adequately funded to deal with the influx of cases from Operation Hydrant. That is not to say that we do not need to focus on rehabilitation as well, but it is hard to ascertain how we can offer the rehabilitative services that Chief Constable Bailey is asking for when our current attempts at rehabilitation are chronically underfunded. There is only one place where paedophiles can receive treatment on the NHS in England: the Portman clinic in north London. Due to funding cuts, the clinic can now treat only paedophiles who have committed offences, which signals a massive lack of commitment to well-funded rehabilitative services.

In the charity sector, StopSO provides counselling to both non-offenders and offenders and believes that it can help paedophiles to manage their feelings towards children so as not to offend. However, to ensure that it can continue to offer services, StopSO charges £40 to £120 an hour, which obviously leaves thousands of people without access. Given that 500,000 people are currently looking at indecent images of children, we need a system that considers rehabilitation as a core part of prison life. At the same time, we also need to look further into the future and fund more services that can assist paedophiles before they offend. If we do not have a system that provides adequate rehabilitative services while the Government try to imprison fewer people, we run the risk of paedophiles falling through the cracks. Surely that would only perpetuate the idea that there will be no consequences for abusers and potential abusers watching child sexual abuse. We cannot allow that to happen.

The April’s law petition calls for increased sentencing for those caught with indecent images of children. The independent Sentencing Council is responsible for issuing guidelines to the courts, and updated guidelines on sexual offences have been in force since 2014. Although Parliament could legislate to increase the maximum terms, I argue that the existing Sentencing Council is the best body to determine the duration of sentences. However, I welcome the Minister’s views on whether the Government are likely to legislate further in this area, not least in light of the concerns about the criminal justice system’s inability to cope with the current volume of offenders and the concerns about unduly lenient sentences mentioned by Gareth Johnson. I would be grateful if the Minister provided some feedback on that issue.

Before I conclude, I will touch briefly on another campaign that I know April’s family support. My hon. Friend Conor McGinn is seeking to pass the Unlawful Killing (Recovery of Remains) Bill, also known as Helen’s law, which would ensure that murderers are ineligible for parole if they do not reveal the location of their victims’ remains. That is particularly relevant as Mark Bridger has never revealed to the police how he disposed of April’s body. Coral Jones has said:

“As her mum I would love to know where she is, the rest of her, and family and friends, we would all love to know. No mum or family would want their child’s remains somewhere else. They would like to put them all to rest.”

Families who are already living through absolute hell are denied even the slightest amount of closure if they are not able to properly bury their loved ones. I urge Members across the House to support my hon. Friend’s Bill to ensure that murderers who refuse to reveal the location of their victims’ remains are not allowed to walk free.

I conclude by commending the family of April Jones for being so proactive in trying to stop what has happened to their daughter and sister from happening to anyone else. Through the efforts of the Jones family and their vast number of supporters, this petition has allowed us this valuable time in Parliament to discuss how we can keep our children safe. For that, I would like to thank them.

I am pleased to have been able to highlight the commendable work of the Internet Watch Foundation and call for the UK to remain outward-looking and ready to support international efforts to combat child sexual abuse, especially regarding indecent images. I also strongly urge the Government to review the funding received by the police and the wider criminal justice system to properly deal with those who produce or access indecent images of children and who are involved with wider child sexual abuse. They must ensure that that funding is adequate to deal with the current influx of cases.

I hope that this debate will highlight to Members across the House the fact that we cannot afford to become complacent about indecent images of children, because April’s case shows just how significant a risk those who access such images can pose to our children and our society.