HC Deb 15 December 1988 vol 143 cc1067-8
2. Mr. Anthony Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he proposes to take any action to increase the penalties available to the courts for the offence of cruelty to children.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)

The maximum penalty for cruelty to children has already been increased from two to 10 years' imprisonment. The Criminal Justice Act 1988 provides this higher penalty for offences committed since 29 September 1988.

Mr. Coombs

I welcome the measure, especially in view of recently reported appalling cases of child cruelty. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a strong case, as put forward by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, for intensifying prison treatment of people convicted of offences against children, to ensure that such offences do not occur when they leave prison?

Mr. Patten

I agree with my hon. Friend. He will be interested to learn that much of that work already goes on at Her Majesty's prison Grendon Underwood.

Mr. Loyden

What action does the Minister intend to take against the Secretary of State for Social Security for the crimes committed against the children of this country by freezing child benefit for two years in succession?

Mr. Patten

None, Sir.

Mr. Wilshire

Is my hon. Friend willing to reconsider the matter? Will he consider drawing a distinction between child cruelty within families, when deterrence is not necessarily the most significant factor, and individuals and organisations who systematically and deliberately organise child abuse? Will he take stronger action against groups such as the Children of God and practitioners of Satanism for whom the most severe punishment is not necessarily adequate?

Mr. Patten

I know about my hon. Friend's strong feelings about these issues. The Criminal Justice Act 1988 tightens the law in favour of children in several ways, not only that which I have already described but, for example, by making the possession of indecent photographs a criminal offence. It also introduces other provisions such as an appeal by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General against allegedly over-lenient sentences. It represents a formidable package which has received an all-party welcome.

Mr. Randall

Does the Minister agree that there is a need for more varied penalties for cruelty to children? What does he think of the NSPCC's recent suggestion that a child should not be punished for the evil that a parent might have done to it? Does he agree that there is a case for removing child abusers, rather than innocent children, from the home?

Mr. Patten

No one wants any child to be punished in any way because of the faults of anyone else.

Mr. Hind

In the light of the recent case referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), when will my hon. Friend bring into operation those clauses in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 dealing with child pornography and allowing children to give evidence by way of video link?

Mr. Patten

We have already introduced a provision concerning the possession of indecent photographs. That has been an offence since 28 September this year. On 5 January 1989 we shall give powers to the courts to receive video evidence by children.

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