§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)
This is a serious issue. The Criminal Justice Act 1991 endorses the severity with which the courts view these offences and strengthens their powers to protect the public from offenders. Courts will be able to impose on a sexual offender who poses a serious risk to the public a longer custodial sentence than would be justified solely by the seriousness of the offence. The courts will be able to order longer and more intensive supervision and treatment for sex offenders.
§ Mr. Cryer
What does the Minister say to my constituents who, following abuse by their father for many years, summoned up enough courage to give evidence in court after he attacked the 10-year-old granddaughter of the family? After they had gone through the ordeal of giving evidence, their father, who was found guilty of eight serious charges with nine being left on the file, was put on probation and allocated to a hostel not two miles from where his last victim lives and where he can be seen by the family as they pass through the town centre. Does the Minister realise that that is deeply upsetting to the family, who have been devastated by the experience? Some form of custody—whether in hospital or in prison is a moot point—is required to give peace of mind to the people who gave evidence and who displayed much courage and fortitude in so doing.
§ Mr. Patten
I entirely understand the strong feelings of the hon. Gentleman's constituents and I sympathise with them. He will appreciate that I am not aware of the details of the case. The hon. Gentleman is concerned about the placement of this convicted person in a nearby hostel, so if he will give me the details of the case I shall have it investigated by Her Majesty's inspectorate of probation.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
The Minister has shown concern about sentencing patterns, but does his concern extend beyond that to cases where the prosecution service has not been prepared to prosecute an accused person? Does not that leave others open to molestation as well?
§ Mr. Patten
The Crown prosecution service always faces the difficult task of obtaining adequate evidence to secure a conviction in court. However, it should be some consolation to the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) that in the past five years the average sentence for rape has increased by 70 per cent. The Criminal Justice Act will allow for much longer supervision of sex offenders after they are released from gaol. My opinion is that sex offending cannot be cured, but it can and should be better supervised and controlled.
§ Mr. Dickens
Does my right hon. Friend agree that many of the views that I have expressed in the House, which at times have been received with ridicule and dismay, have become law subsequently? If the Home Office really wants to stop the abuse of children and the rape of women, it must pass a law allowing the castration of the perpetrators, not for a first offence, in case there is a mistake, but for a second offence—unless people are unfit to plead. That is the way to stop it and that sanction would hardly ever have to be used because it would be the ultimate deterrent for men.
§ Mr. Patten
My hon. Friend's suggestion is not the present intention of Her Majesty's Government. We intend to reinforce the courts,as we have done in the Criminal Justice Act 1991, by sustaining their powers to sentence convicted sex offenders to life imprisonment. The reforms introduced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will mean two things: first, convicted sex offenders will, rightly, spend much longer in prison; and, secondly, they will be supervised when they are released.