§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chapman.]
§ 10.4 am
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
I begin my remarks by saying that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) regret that long-standing engagements prevent them from making the contribution that they had hoped to make to the debate and we are sorry that they are absent.
"What on Earth Are We Doing to Our Children?" is the title of a pamphlet produced by the Maranatha community that is the inspiration for today's debate. It is not an original work; it is a compendium gleaned from newspaper articles, research reports and similar factual sources about children growing up in the modern world—a world which we in Parliament help daily to shape. The pamphlet tells us that every week 2,900 children are involved in their parents' divorce. By 1996 it is projected that 50 per cent. of children in the United Kingdom will be born to couples who will not be together after the children are 16. About 750,000 British children have no contact with their fathers. Every hon. Member who takes a surgery has seen fathers who are distraught at being cut off from their children altogether. I believe that we must find better ways of remedying that injustice.
I suspect that the debate will concentrate on children in the United Kingdom, but let us not forget that beyond these shores 17 million children die each year from starvation and malnutrition. We in Britain spend more on our household pets than we spend on starving children abroad. Does that matter? If our own children are being brought up successfully and responsibly, why should we care about the rest?
Parliament has a responsibility to do what it can for all of the nation's children. However, economics bolster the moral arguments in this case. For example, it costs the taxpayer £8.5 billion to pay the benefits claimed by 1.3 million lone parents and it has been predicted that that sum will increase to £11.9 billion in five years.
In the 19th century there were two pressures on Parliament to improve the nation's drains. One was the moral outrage expressed by Members of Parliament and many others that fellow humans should live in conditions of such filth and disease. The other pressure arose out of the realisation that cholera did not recognise social class and that, if the new urban populations continued to live in such a state, their diseases would kill the rich as effectively as they killed the poor. The dereliction of our children is today's cholera and we ignore it at our peril, no matter how protected we may feel.
768 I could continue to draw on information in the pamphlet. I could show how physical injuries inflicted by children upon one another are increasing in volume and intensity as children witness more violence on television and try it out in the playground. I could cite the fact that there are more than 250 million copies of videos which feature child pornography, much of which is filmed live as real children are tortured and raped in order to provide a fat living for the film makers and increase addiction and depravity among those who buy those videos.
Perhaps I should refer to the survey which found that 3 per cent. of 15 to 16-year-olds use heroin. I remind the House that most mainlining adults are not, as we often choose to believe, instantly recognisable zombies shuffling despairingly or menacingly along the streets. They are men and women who go to work in suits and who hold down jobs until their addiction one day gets on top of them entirely. We, their neighbours, are then amazed to discover that such nice, ordinary people are drug abusers on a journey to skid row that may well have started in school.
It is not a crisis out there, or some civil war in a remote country in which we have no influence. It is a crisis here, among us and our children, yet it sometimes seems as if we exert as little influence as if it were happening in a remote country seen for a moment on our television screens.
Others will make their own points in the debate and I hope that they will include drugs, prostitution and abuse. The rest of my speech will be in two parts. First, I shall try to reflect on the reasons for our crisis and then I shall suggest some modest ideas about what might be done as a start to turn the tide.
We have to begin with ourselves. What do we value and what do we want? No previous generation of British people has ever been so rich. In 1971, a single female parent on average earnings with one child under 11 would have to work for 3,258 hours to pay for a Ford Escort. In 1994, it would have taken just over 2,100 hours. To pay for a pound of fish in 1971, she would have had to work for 37 minutes; in 1994 she would have to work for 27 minutes.
We are much richer than we were. Christ once asked the question:For what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?That is the question that we have to reflect on today.
If the result of prosperity is that a child of eight can have a portable computer in his room which gives him as much access to pornography, violence or explicit sex as the adult world can devise, and if he increasingly seeks refuge in the solitude of that room because his parents are fighting downstairs, why should anyone be surprised if he becomes, at best, introverted and withdrawn and at worst violent and ready to abuse other children or bully old people?
We are caught in a tension that we seem prepared neither to recognise nor to resolve. On one hand, even if the secondary school heads want it abolished, 70 per cent. of the population support daily worship in schools because they want morality taught to their children. On the other hand, we adults behave as if we had no right at all to guide, advise or discipline our children. I can understand that, but it is none the less a mistake. We 769 should use our experience and our mistakes to help the young and our imagination to respond sympathetically to their need for support.
Most hon. Members who have children accept that they are unlikely to enter the labour market until they are at least 22 years old. When our youngsters approach GCSEs with at least two more years of school ahead, and possibly five or six years of higher education to follow, we regard them still as children. Yet, if a poorly educated youngster leaves her abusive home to set up house with another teenager and has a baby which the boy then abandons because he cannot cope, we react to that single parent as being beyond the pale, an irresponsible burden on the public purse and the source of many of society's ills.
That 16-year-old is only a child—a child who has less support and help available to her than most children. She may be so scarred by what she has already endured that she finds it difficult to accept help, particularly from official sources. We have to change the pattern of her behaviour and our response to it. There has to be a way of using the skills, experience and capacity for love of many of our citizens to help those children and we cannot be complacent when we consider what we have done so far.
It is sometimes argued that we should return to the Victorian era. If that were to mean that Parliament became more effectively concerned with moral issues, I would agree, but other than that such nostalgia is not helpful. The world has changed and even though our values have not, their application must take account of those changes.
Impermanence is now a way of life for many people. If neither marriage nor job nor home is expected to last, if fashions in music, clothes, pets or partners change every few weeks, how can a child hope to find the certainties that it craves? How can parents who receive almost no instruction in how to perform the hardest and most important task they will ever be required to do have the confidence to set standards for their children and to stand by them?
In his Reith lecture, Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks said:our current lack of norms relating to sexuality and marriage precisely reflects the supreme importance we have given to the abstract individual, without a binding commitment either to the past or to the long-term future; open endedly free to choose or unchoose any style of life.I do not believe that when two young people get together they want their relationship to end in a year or two in bitterness and expensive anger, but we know how many do. I do not believe that parents want their children to be bullied at school, but it is reckoned that one in four now are. I do not believe that parents want their children to be exposed to endless and ever more distorted pornography, but in a study of 8,500 schools, 50 per cent. said that computer pornography had been available to their pupils, some as young as eight. I do not believe that parents want any of that, but they do not know how to reverse the tide. Neither do I, but I have some ideas of policies which might help, and I shall close my remarks with a few suggestions.
First, in regard to computerised pornography, there are differing views about the effect of pornography on adults who choose consciously to buy it, but there is a great difference between that adult choice and the freely available filth peddled through information technology to anyone of any age who has access to a portable computer.
770 I hope that the Minister will agree that communication channels which are open to everyone regardless of age or income, without supervision or support, need to be regulated. I cannot believe that parents in any country in the world are happy that child pornography and graphic scenes of sex abuse, or torture for its own sake, are available to their children, no matter how young those children may be. That surely provides a basis for international agreement on regulation and control.
§ Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester)
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, particularly during such a moving and impressive oration. I endorse everything that he has said about computer pornography and access by children, but does he agree that the matter is not confined to the dramatic dark end of the issue? There is also the problem of children being isolated in their homes, simply sitting in front of the television. The growth in the number of television sets within people's homes means that in some families children have their own television sets and the parents may watch television in a different room. They do not eat together, but they graze. That is also part of the spectrum. My hon. Friend was giving us examples from the darkest end of the spectrum, but the problem begins at the lightest end. Families can help by no longer existing in isolation in separate rooms in front of their own television sets.
§ Mr. Rowe
My hon. Friend is quite right. In my own household, my wife has always insisted that any member of the family under the roof at a meal time has to come to the meal. If they are not there they cannot do so, but if they are in the house they have to attend as meal times provide interaction between parents and children. Those sensible ideas are followed by many families, but there are a whole host of families which may not comprise the parents of the children concerned. One of them may be the mother or the father, but there may be a new partner who is awkward with the child. There may be all sorts of pressures on them not to meet together. Such lack of support is the basis of much of the trouble, and the reason for that lack is the absence of any model of how problems can be overcome.
Many young parents, be they 15 years old or 30 years old, would welcome—if only we could find a sensible way of doing this—an older mentor, lovingly prepared to give of their time and support in a host of informal ways to help a family work out the best ways of interacting. I cannot imagine that any parent would not like to know how to interact positively with his or her children. Many do not know—and we, through the statutory services, cannot teach them. That must be done in an informal, community-based family way.
We should take a more positive stand on that which Parliament has already decreed and insist that an act of worship is central to the school day, with its clear message about the difference between good and evil on which all main religions agree. Most parents from the many minority faiths now found in Britain share the Archbishop of Canterbury's view and would far rather see the Christian Church standing firm for what it believes than Christians who are so keen to accommodate other religions that they put across no message.
The Government should look again at the many voluntary youth organisations that reach out to the young and give them more support. What sense does it make for the Government constantly to cut financial support to the 771 National Association of Boys Clubs, for example, when the most common complaint of local communities is that their young have nothing worth while to do? It must be a source of hope that the Scout Association has a membership of more than 650,000 and as many as 90,000 voluntary helpers, yet it receives no money from central Government and local authority support is increasingly capricious.
§ Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way in his excellent speech. Does he agree that all the tentacles of Parliament and Government should treat children equally? Is not it a blatant anomaly that the children of widowers are treated much harder under our social security system than the children of widows?
§ Mr. Rowe
I had not understood that previously. If that is the case, it seems nonsense. One strange paradox of a generation that has come increasingly to accept equality between the sexes is that the father who, quite properly, wants to care for his children from a broken family—whether from death or divorce—has an infinitely harder time achieving that objective than does a mother. We ought to consider whether that approach is even-handed.
We should take seriously the exclusion of young people from opportunities to shape society. Each year, we extend the period for which the majority of young people remain in statu pupillari and use that as an excuse to exclude them from taking any serious responsibility. No wonder they play so little a part in politics or anything else. Football, for example, is a young man's game, played by young men, supported overwhelmingly by young people and dependent upon them. Is not it astonishing that the average age of the Football Association council's 89 members is 60, and that it does not include one member aged between 15 and 30? My researcher was told that the FA does not consider it necessary to involve young people in the decision-making process. The Lawn Tennis Association takes the same view. What a scandal. If the generation that runs the dealing floors in the City or commands troops in Bosnia is not deemed fit to play any serious part in activities that overwhelmingly concern that age group, is it surprising that members of the young generation turn to activities outside the establishment for opportunities to express themselves?
It will come as no surprise to my hon. Friend the Minister when I say that another instrument to hand, if only the Government would pick it up, is citizen service—an opportunity for any young person who wishes to offer service to his or her community in a disciplined, supervised, challenging and accredited way. My hon. Friend knows my views too well for me to elaborate on them this morning.
The time has come for the informal links between Government Departments, which proceedings on the Children Bill did much to foster, to be formalised. It is difficult for children's needs to receive the attention that would enable them to compete with adults' concerns if they are split between several Whitehall Departments and local authorities. Every special interest asks for its own Department but the magnitude of the crisis confronting children gives their cause a special claim on Ministers' attention.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again in his excellent speech. At present, 11 Government Departments deal, to a greater or 772 lesser extent, with young people or children. One effect is that when splendid organisations, many of them small, try to pursue small sums of money, they must process forms through four or five central Government Departments as well as through local authorities. That must be a nonsense.
§ Mr. Rowe
My hon. Friend supports my point admirably.
This debate is above all about our personal responsibility for our children and for their children after them. If we are to turn the tide of pornography, sex abuse, violence in and out of school, nihilism and despair, we must each accept some personal responsibility. It is not enough to watch silently as the BBC, press and other media relentlessly go further down market. The editor of one magazine said, "The easiest way to sell magazines is to stick in another piece on sex. Sex sells, and that is the bottom line." It is symptomatic of our reluctance to stick responsibility where it belongs that the founder of Maranatha has been unable to get any reply from the chairman of the BBC to a serious complaint.
One of the most destructive sounds in modern Britain is a journalist saying, "I am not concerned with the consequences. I am only after the story." If the editor of the Daily Sport or of any other journal were occasionally to ask if that which he was printing would make the world better or worse for his own children or grandchildren, we might take a major step to accepting our responsibilities to our children.
If we go on as we are—confused but quiescent—it will be our children and grandchildren who will be bullied at school, pressured to try drugs, left alone to cope with the dangers of AIDS and paying the personal cost of broken relationships and damaged children. This debate is an attempt to bring into the cockpit of the nation the sharp realities of that which we are doing to our children day in, day out—here and overseas.
§ Mrs. Diana Maddock (Christchurch)
I welcome the opportunity to speak on a subject that is potentially wide-ranging. I will address just a few of the responsibilities that Liberal Democrats and myself believe that the Government have to children. As Parliament and through Government we have a responsibility to act on behalf of all citizens and to spend their money wisely and in the general interest, while paying careful attention to the rights of all, and to lay down and enforce the rule of law equally and without prejudice. But it must be the particular responsibility of any Government to act on behalf of, and to help to protect, those who cannot help themselves. That is why the Liberal Democrats believe that our responsibilities to children are so important.
The recognition that children are especially vulnerable is shared by all parties in the House, and some of our laws reflect it. It is why homeless families with children have priority status for housing—as a result of a Bill introduced by a former Member for Isle of Wight. It is why child benefit is paid, why a higher amount of family credit is paid to those with more children, why children are exempt from health charges, and why children's clothes are still exempt from value added tax.
Despite all this, we are still failing to meet our responsibilities to huge numbers of children. According to the Family Welfare Association, 3.9 million children 773 live in poverty in the United Kingdom—that is to say, their families live on less than half the average wage. That applies to one in three of all our children.
Of particular concern to me is the fact that families with young children suffer disproportionately in the housing market. A huge number of the million households suffering from negative equity are young couples who were first-time buyers in the mid-1980s and who now want to move house to accommodate their young and growing families. They find themselves trapped because their homes are worth less than their mortgages.
How has this happened? I and many others believe that it is a result of the Government's boom-bust economics, which played fast and loose with the housing market and encouraged a growth in home ownership at an unsustainable rate. Mortgage interest relief at source—MIRAS—artificially pushed up housing prices when it was introduced and is now being cut, despite all the Government's promises to help home owners at the last election. It is being cut even for families who relied on it being there when they took out their mortgages, which they were strongly encouraged by the Government to do.
At the same time, the safety net for home owners is being removed from beneath them. More than half the households officially deemed homeless each year have dependent children. Fortunately many of them are rehoused, because we give them priority, but many children languish in expensive but cramped bed-and-breakfast and other temporary accommodation. The effects on children's health and development of eviction and repossession, and of being shifted around various types of temporary accommodation, can be dreadful. We also know that they are long lasting.
Last year I was privileged to take part in Select Committee hearings taking evidence on the United Nations Year of the Family. Many organisations told us just how detrimental moving from house to house could be for young people. If all I read is true, I fear that there is worse to come—in the shape of the Government's proposals for one-year tenancies for homeless families. It is possible that legislation on that will be introduced in the next Session of Parliament.
The importance of security and stability to a young life is hard to overstate. As we have heard today, the most important ingredient of all is a loving family. But increasingly, families are breaking up. Many years ago my parents split up, when I was 11. Perhaps for that reason I have been very careful to keep my family together for my children because I know how family break-ups can affect children.
We need to take a careful look at school curriculums to see what we can do to provide parenting classes so as to break the cycle and make people realise what it means to bring children into the world and to be a parent. I heartily agree with what the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) said about eating together as a family—that activity is probably one reason why my family has kept together so far, although this place is putting a great deal of pressure on it.
Along with a safe and stable home, a high standard of education is crucial both to the quality of life and to the future development of our children. Here, perhaps even more than in the area of housing, the Government's irresponsibility towards children is plain. Compared with 774 last year, local education authorities across the country face cuts in real terms of more than £700 million in the amount of money that the Government tell them to spend. That amounts to £50 less spent on each primary school pupil and £194 less for each secondary pupil.
It now looks as though as many as 12,000 teaching posts could be axed to allow councils to fund the teachers' pay award without going over their capping limits. It cannot be responsible behaviour when central Government starve education authorities of funds in this way.
§ Mr. Brandreth
To inject a positive note, it is possible for certain wisely led local authorities to organise their priorities in such a way as to meet the teachers' pay settlement in full without reducing the quality or quantity of education provision. Cheshire is a shining example of that.
Does the hon. Lady agree that, as well as proper funding for resources for schools—for things like school text books and books of fiction, funding for which has risen by 50 per cent. in real terms in the past 15 years—there is also a place for reading in the home? We should encourage families to read together as well as watching television together. Is the hon. Lady encouraged, as I am, by the latest public lending right figures, which show that in the past year the number of children's books borrowed from public libraries has grown? It would appear that, contrary to popular feeling, more young people are reading children's fiction borrowed from public libraries. Is that not good news?
§ Mrs. Maddock
I am pleased to hear that lending to children is on the increase, but Dorset faces cuts in funding for public libraries—indeed, I am still waiting for an answer from the responsible Minister about that. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is important to read with children. Many reading schemes in schools now involve parents in children's reading. That is another reason why nursery education is important, too.
This year's settlement for councils has not been easy, and parents, teachers and governors know the truth, whatever the Government may tell us. Local education authorities will be issuing redundancy notices to teachers and to essential support staff, carers, advisers and those employed to help children with learning difficulties. This is happening from Cumbria to Cornwall and from Barnsley to true-blue Buckinghamshire, where I understand that 122 teaching posts are to go.
These job losses will serve only to exacerbate the problems that schools already have with overcrowding. In Dorset, 44 per cent. of primary school pupils are in classes of more than 30—an increase of a quarter on two years ago. The class sizes of no fewer than 96 of the 109 local education authorities have risen since the last election. Yet in 1983, the Government's manifesto proudly boasted:
The average number of children per teacher is the lowest ever.Responsibility to our children means ensuring that they are properly equipped with a decent education for adult life, and that they get the knowledge and support that they need to realise their potential. It is irresponsible to squander that potential and talent by inflicting cuts on schools, the effects of which can never be reversed. We believe that that is being done because the Government want to scrabble together enough money to cut income tax in time for the next election. That is irresponsibility personified.
775 There is not enough time to talk about other policy areas such as health care, crime, the Child Support Agency and the environment. The responsibilities that we owe run wide—but this is a short debate and others are waiting to speak.
Before I finish I would just add that I believe that Government responsibility to our children entails three things: taking all reasonable measures to protect them from harm—
§ Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North)
Do not other political parties also share in this responsibility? Does the hon. Lady agree that suggesting that contraceptives be given out to young girls and that cannabis be legalised—as her party does—is the height of irresponsibility and is bound to damage children?
§ Mrs. Maddock
One should not always take what one reads in the press at face value. If the hon. Gentleman were to read our documents, he would understand that they do not say that we favour giving contraceptives to 11-year-old children. Our conference also wanted a royal commission to consider the serious problem of drugs. If the hon. Gentleman talked to the police, they would tell him how much crime is tied up with drugs. It is responsible to set up a royal commission to consider that.
In respect of protecting children from harm, I share the concerns of the hon. Member for Mid-Kent about computer pornography and about what happens to children when they go home from school. Today I shall be hosting an event in the House on behalf of kids' clubs and I hope that many hon. Members will come to hear how they propose to move forward.
Secondly, in making decisions, we must wherever possible consider how those decisions will affect children. We have heard today of issues affecting several different Government Departments. We have asked for a debate in Parliament about those issues and I regret that time was not made available to debate them together, so I am grateful to the hon. Member for Mid-Kent for this opportunity.
Thirdly, we must always keep the long-term view at the centre of our thinking. Most fundamentally of all, that means investing in the future rather than being tempted by the quick fix or temporary tax cut to win an election. That is the sort of responsibility that the Government should show for our children, who are, after all, our future.
§ Mr. Michael Alison (Selby)
I should like to contribute briefly to the debate by drawing attention to a responsibility to children about which I believe that the House and the Government have a significant opportunity to do something immediate, practical and worth while.
I refer to the terrible tragedy and scandal of child prostitution, which is prolific and, sadly, growing rapidly in parts of Africa and Asia but which has been powerfully nurtured and fertilised by western, and particularly British, tourist-based paedophile patronage and procurement.
The key contribution that the House and the Government can make in this realm by way of remedy or prevention is to amend our criminal law so that a sexual offence against a child under the age of 18, though committed in a jurisdiction outside the United Kingdom, could be triable 776 and punishable in the United Kingdom. The offence would, of course, have to be an offence under the law of the country in which it was committed as well as under the comparable United Kingdom criminal statutes.
The idea of prosecuting a British subject at home for an offence committed overseas might, at first sight, seem bizarre and impracticable, if not slightly sinister in its far-reaching implications. However, I am told that the principle of extra-territorial or extra-jurisdictional prosecution is not legally unprecedented or unrecognised. The war crimes trials are an obvious case in point and I believe that certain cases to do with overseas contracts and commercial activities also fall into that category.
The real problem is that of ensuring proper and sustainable evidence for a prosecution. Certainly, that aspect clearly worried my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, who was recently kind enough to meet me and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) to discuss the problem. My right hon. and learned Friend was adamant that declaratory legislation—legislation which postulated prohibitions and penalties in some area of human conduct without a realistic prospect of ever being effectively applied or operated in the courts—simply brought the law into disrepute and was counterproductive.
I understand the uselessness of merely declaratory laws, but I must ask my hon. Friend the Minister to take note of the fact that Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Norway and Sweden have all passed legislation to prosecute their nationals who commit sexual offences against children overseas and that Japan and New Zealand are following suit. In Norway, there have been three prosecutions under this novel form of legislation and, in each case, the prosecution led to a conviction. Evidence does not necessarily present insoluble problems.
I recognise the hesitation which must almost instinctively invade the minds of Home Office Ministers and officials in considering an outside initiative to extend our statute law in an uncharted, untried and, effectively, unprecedented manner, but new days call for new ways.
Genuine, bona fide tourism is one of the giant revolutionary changes in our age and our environment and constitutes a massive, worldwide form of economic activity and output. If Britain welcomes tourism so gladly and assiduously—I believe that we are the world's sixth largest tourist host country—how much more must the less developed countries of Africa and Asia welcome western tourists for their spending power and hard currency. However, a ghastly appendage and by-product—child prostitution—overwhelmingly demanded by and provided for western tourists, is appearing and increasing in the fast-growing, uniquely 20th century industry of tourism.
Lord Hylton has introduced and piloted through another place his all-party Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill. To his immense credit, he has devised a model legislative instrument, though it is probably not foolproof or flawless, to emulate the examples of our western neighbours in changing our law. He has also given us some horrifying facts and figures about the incidence and growth of child prostitution. There are estimated to be between 60,000 and 100,000 child prostitutes in the Philippines, between 15,000 and 30,000 in Sri Lanka, between 40,000 and 200,000 in Thailand and up to 100,000 in Taiwan, not to mention tens of thousands in Kenya and India.
777 There is substantial evidence that United Kingdom nationals are in the forefront of patronage of those overseas child prostitutes. In simple tourist terms, for example, the United Kingdom is the third largest source of European visitors to Thailand, where child prostitution is most rife. It is a shameful fact that the United Kingdom ranks fourth in the table of foreign nationals arrested in Asia for offences against children.
Nothing horrified me more in learning about this fearful and inhuman abuse of children than the report by Father Shay Cullen, a leading campaigner against child prostitution, of a recent incident in a city in the Philippines where a fire broke out and burned down a massage parlour that was used for child prostitution. When it was cool enough for the firefighters to search the premises, they found the body of a dead child chained to a bed.
Nothing that our Victorian forebears did to children in forcing them up chimneys as sweeps can compare with the abuse that I have described. We legislated against such Victorian malpractices; we should legislate against this uniquely contemporary abuse of children. I believe that Lord Hylton's Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill is an immediate instrument to hand and I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will give very sympathetic consideration to giving it a fair wind or perhaps introducing, in due course, Government legislation to tackle this appalling and unacceptable feature of the world scene.
§ Sir Michael Neubert (Romford)
On 25 April last year, almost a year ago to the day, I initiated a private Member's motion the theme of which was the safeguarding of the younger generation. I am therefore glad to have caught your eye, Madam Speaker, and be able to contribute to today's debate.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) on securing the opportunity for us to debate this important issue and on the very impressive speech with which he opened the debate. His broad message to the House articulated the appeal to the nation's conscience, which is the subject of the Maranatha community's pamphlet. I, too, drew on the community's information last year and was able to relate a litany of abuse as proof of the breakdown of society in this country. Today's debate takes that much further, and the very sombre speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) revealed that children are in peril and at risk everywhere in the world, not only in the United Kingdom. In the short time available to me, I can but add a few embellishments and the latest illustrations of the forces at work which are threatening children.
Children are our country's most precious asset, yet they are vulnerable to assaults from all quarters, some unexpected. They are shamelessly exploited for their growing spending power and influence on family purchasing. Their sensibilities are brutalised by the adult world into which we bring them. These forces are at work in various spheres of activity.
I mention in passing academia. In this context, I read with astonishment that the university of Dundee is to establish a chair in gender relations in education and employment. That in itself might seem mere political 778 correctness, but, by challenging the traditional role of women, and especially their role as mothers, the growing number of courses in so-called gender studies—the gender agenda—threatens the welfare of children and that threat, wherever possible, should be resisted.
It is a short step from academia to the media where opinions that threaten the welfare of children are constantly voiced. I was surprised at the weekend when I read the views of the highly acclaimed comedy actress, Miriam Margolyes. She has appeared in an outstanding television production of "Little Dorrit" and has a one-woman show on Charles Dickens. She appears in the type of production that might well be the subject of children's studies in the English classics yet speaking about the family she said:I think families are killers actually, particularly the nuclear family. There is something very off-putting to me about the state of marriage … I don't like children".Those views are extraordinary and out of place, but she is entitled to them. What concerns me is that the person holding them was the subject of a half-page profile in a major Sunday national newspaper. If such views are prevalent in our society, it is little wonder that the institution of the family, which is the greatest protection for our children, is under threat.
Channel 4 is another cause for concern. I have a love-hate relationship with it. I admire its imaginative programming, and it has a remit to offer programmes not offered by the other three terrestrial channels, but there is a constant battle to ensure that it remains within reasonable limits. Although the Independent Television Commission does its best to keep it in check, the system that it has to administer is one of complaining about programmes after they have been shown. The drawbacks of such a system are self-evident because Channel 4's programmers are determined to push back the barriers of "good taste and decency", to cite the Broadcasting Act 1990.
I give one of many examples. It was reported that Channel 4's late-night programme "Eurotrash" would show viewers how to make their own porn movies, so I have to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent that the problem is not only that children have access to pornography but that they are now being shown how to make their own pornographic film if they choose to watch late-night television. As we have heard, if they have a television set in their own room and are isolated, they will watch such programmes.
A senior Channel 4 source admitted:We are certainly pushing at the boundaries of decency. The documentary is the most outrageous piece of TV viewers will see for a long time.The blatancy of such programmes increases daily and we have little power to resist, but I call on the Government to review once again the provisions of the Broadcasting Act 1990 and see whether they can be strengthened or enforced more effectively so that pernicious influences do not corrupt our children.
I am sorry to say that children are often at risk from the Government, not by design but by chance. This week provided a pertinent illustration. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security was under pressure to allow the division of a couple's assets on divorce. Taken at face value, that might seem equitable but it is in fact a disincentive for a couple to remain together. If, as a result of family breakdown, people lose nothing, what incentive is there for them to keep the family together?
779 The Secretary of State pointed out that, even worse, such a policy would cost £300 million because of the extra tax breaks that would be available to a divorced couple over and above what would be available to a married couple. Fortunately, to his credit, my right hon. Friend resisted, and I pay tribute to him for his stalwart defence of the Child Support Agency legislation which was one of the major advances in ensuring responsibility in parenthood.
There are, however, other hazards. In a publication from the Institute of Economic Affairs, Patricia Morgan points out the consequences of the new child care allowance. She states thata single mother with two small children can work for 20 hours a week for £4 an hour and, including all state benefits to which she is entitled, will receive a net income of £163.99.A married father of two small children working for 40 hours at the same rate—and receiving all appropriate benefits—would get only £130.95 net.That is clearly a disincentive of the worst kind. If society is based on the family, we cannot allow such an anomaly to continue.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent said, there are 1.3 million lone parents bringing up children in Britain. That is a social catastrophe, not because the vast majority of those children and parents do not live happy, productive and fruitful lives, but because every child is entitled, wherever possible, to the love and attention of two parents.
We are sowing dragon's teeth—unless we support the family and give children their entitlement to a stable home background and, wherever possible, the love and attention of two parents, these injured offspring will continue to rise up and strike us down.
§ Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) on securing this brief debate. Perhaps this is the time to ask for a longer debate in the future because it is clear that there are many issues to discuss.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office is to reply. I was not sure whether a Home Office Minister would attend. His presence reminds me that, in 1971, the children's unit was transferred from the Home Office to the Department of Health. One might wonder whether that move was carried out as wisely as it should have been. In that context, I refer my hon. Friend to Dick Crossman's diaries, which describe some of the scraps that took place, give a blow-by-blow account of how the unit was moved and tell of the battle with the then Home Secretary, Jim Callaghan, as he was. The diaries state that Jim Callaghan said:You're going to win anyway, Dick. You'll get the Children's Department out of me. Why not be generous in this small thing and make a few friends.He went on to suggest how a deal could be done.
We should pay more attention to the need for more central and local co-ordination. I know that a number of Government Departments are involved. Indeed, in an intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) said that he thought that 11 Government Departments were involved. Obviously, one is aware of the involvement of not only the Department of Health and the Home Office but the Department for Education and 780 the Lord Chancellor's Department, with the family law review that is under way. I understand that three Cabinet Committees are involved in children's issues: the Ministerial Committee on Home and Social Affairs, the EDH Committee; the Ministerial Sub-Committee on Women's Issues, the EDH(W) Committee; and the Lord Chancellor's Family Law Review Committee. Perhaps we should have a Children's Committee. If we look to the future of this country, nothing is more important than how we bring up our children. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) said that children are our most precious asset. I would call for much stronger measures to co-ordinate children's issues, both centrally and locally.
In my constituency, Bolton council recently set up a children and young people joint working party, in December 1994—tragically, only a fortnight before young 12-year-old Thomas Oakes was found dying from mutilation in his home. His plight was not known to anybody. He was not on any "at-risk" register. Although we still do not know what the inquiry will come up with, clearly, lack of co-ordination between all the agencies, both formal and informal, will be part of it.
I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Minister from the Home Office in his place, as I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the police on their work in Bolton. Crime has been reduced for the fourth year running. Nationally, we have seen the biggest drop in crime in 40 years. I was shocked recently when Chief Superintendent Bartlett told me that he thought that one of the areas of greatest concern in Bolton was heroin addiction among youngsters. My hon. Friend the Minister for Mid-Kent mentioned that 3 per cent. of 15-year-olds were heroin addicts. I had no idea that the figure was as high as that nationally, and am extremely concerned that heroin addiction should be growing among youngsters in Bolton. Clearly, that is an area to which we need to pay enormous attention.
I believe that local authorities must do much more. The Government have devolved responsibility for children's issues, through the Children Act, to local authorities. Setting up a committee does not seem to me to resolve issues. Just this week, I received a letter from Mrs. Rita Lilley, the chair of Hallith Wood residents association in my constituency. If I may, I shall refer briefly to it. She says:
I feel I have to write because for the past two years things are not getting any better. I have made numerous phone calls to schools, Education, Social Services, Criminal Justice and the Police.The problem is persistent young offenders of which there are three on our estate at present. I am told that two of the youths' parents have washed their hands of them and I believe they are all in the care of social services … What the residents and I would like to know is who is responsible for these youths and what if anything is being done to try and get them back on the straight and narrow, because all I see is them roaming the streets day in and day out and frankly I am sick and tired of wasting my time and money contacting departments who don't seem to be bothered.It is atrocious that the chair of a residents association should be so despairing of being able to get a response from a council that has the devolved responsibility to deal with these issues. I would call on the council to decentralise its services as far as possible and to set up more neighbourhood units. Neighbourhood watch schemes are an excellent example of neighbourhood action and initiative from the Home Office. I think that we could have many more neighbourhood schemes, centred perhaps on schools.
781 I have just been on a visit to Switzerland, where a lot of voluntary work is done in schools on a local scale. Town halls are too large and too remote from the issues that they have to deal with. I call for much more devolution by local authorities into neighbourhoods, so that real action can take place. Indeed, we should look at the way in which central Government and local government could work more closely together.
In France, child benefit is not paid if children are truant. I have raised that question with the Prime Minister and have been told that it would be difficult to implement, but I think that it would be a very good way to draw attention to the children who are truant, and to inquire why each child is not at school, and what should be done about that. I hope that only in a few cases would the benefit be withdrawn. Perhaps if the child benefit was paid by the schools themselves it would be another source of funding for them if some parents felt that they could leave the benefit with the school in the first place.
If children are truant, it is a serious matter. I would like to see more conditionality of benefits. That occurred in the old days, before we centralised everything. We now have the most centralised system of local and central Government that we have ever had. We are losing touch with issues on a truly local scale. I commend two of the Government's initiatives—the local management of schools and, as I have mentioned, neighbourhood watch schemes—as examples of what can be done through working in a neighbourhood way. That is the way to give proper attention to children's matters.
I commend my hon. Friend on having secured the debate today and hope that we shall have many more opportunities to speak on one of the most important issues for the future of this country.
§ 11.5 am
§ Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) on raising this short but very important debate on the subject of responsibility to children, and also on his strong and compassionate speech. I was very impressed with what he had to say and the trouble to which he has gone to find the facts and figures concerning children in this country.
Internationally, the most significant move for children must have been the drawing up of the declaration of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, which, for the first time, established a universally agreed set of rights for children and, even more significantly, caused Governments to examine their legislation and priorities—or lack of them—with regard to children. It turned the spotlight on to children, and I hope that it will never again be turned off. It certainly influenced our Government to legislate to draw together our laws in support of children and led to the passing of the Children Act—a landmark in our Government's attitude towards children's rights. But it does need more than an Act to solve the problems of children. Almost 3 million children—nearly a quarter of all children in this country—live in families who are on income support. More than 4 million children in Britain live in families whose incomes are less than half the average.
It is indeed time for further action. The Government should listen and respond to the criticism of the United Nations convention report, which, earlier this year, made 782 a devastating indictment of Ministers' failures to meet the rights of Britain's children on a host of fronts, such as poverty, inequality, homelessness, health, sex education, immigration and criminal justice. The answer to that criticism by Ministers, both in this House and the other place, was to deny the need for the House to give time to debate that report. Their silence speaks volumes about their compassion.
Hon. Members from both sides of the House have taken the opportunity to speak up for children. I must especially congratulate the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), whose knowledgeable and thoughtful contribution to the debate on child tourist prostitution is one that I strongly support. He will be pleased to know that, when I went to the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in Madrid a few weeks ago, I devoted my entire speech to that disgusting practice and the need for something to be done. He will also be pleased to know that I was approached by delegates from a number of western countries, who asked what they could do, for a copy of my speech and the Bill that is currently going through the House. Delegates from countries which are doing something, such as Australia, told me that they would send me a copy of their Bill and that they would keep in touch with whatever action is taken.
I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman that it is wrong that people from this country can travel abroad and behave in a disgusting manner and then come back and feel quite comfortable that nobody here has seen what they have been doing.
I must also congratulate the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert), who made a telling contribution about the late programmes on Channel 4. Last night in Committee we debated solvent abuse and the late programmes on Channel 4. There was a strong feeling that the Minister should consider the contributions to those late-night programmes. A recent programme seemed to support even drugs for children, which is very wrong. I call on the Minister to consider whether Channel 4 is operating within the terms of the legislation.
Illegal drugs have been mentioned, but solvent abuse kills more children than illegal drugs. At the last count in 1991, 122 children died of solvent abuse—two children a week. Something can be done about that. Solvents could be labelled much more clearly. The Home Office should consider the conditions of sale of such products and the clearer labelling of products that can be bought over the counter and abused by young children.
Libraries have also been mentioned. At a school in my constituency which I visited, the children are crying out for books. When teachers came here to see me about their disputes, they told me that the children had asked them to ask me for more books. It is not that children do not want to read—they do—but the supply and quality of books in our schools is so poor that something must be done.
I have written to members of my local Labour party asking them to look for books in jumble sales that would be suitable for use in schools. Books in form libraries have been so well read and thumbed that they are worn out. That is one way in which we could get books back into schools for children to borrow and read in their spare time in schools.
Those are just a few of the issues that have been raised to which I wish to refer, but the most important of all is the support from Conservative Members for the Government to follow the lead of the Labour party and to 783 commit themselves to an independent Minister for children, not to an afterthought Minister with that responsibility in the Department of Health.
The Minister should not persist in spending time defending the Government's record having enacted the Children Act. He should look forward, listen to children and be their voice. We must all listen, but the Minister, more than most, has the power to change things.
§ Mr. Brandreth
I am slightly concerned to hear the hon. Lady moving on to what I would call a top-down approach as though that was the total answer. My experience is that the good news when it comes is from a bottom-up approach. I do not wish to anticipate the next debate, but, for example, last weekend in my constituency I met parents who were organising a rugby tour involving 120 boys and girls aged between seven and 11. They were to set out from the rugby club in Hare lane to visit Preston and Fleetwood to play rugby. That was not a Government initiative from some Minister in Whitehall; it was the result of parents in the community deciding what was needed. It was much more along the lines of the community watch approach. That may deliver something rather more effective than the top-down approach that the hon. Lady seems to be advocating.
§ Mrs. Golding
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but Governments have to show a lead. Without legislation, support and the money that has been mentioned, all the good will in the world cannot achieve what we need to achieve in order to make things right for our children.
The debate has shown the enormous concern across a wide range of issues. The Government should take the lead and administer for children. The Minister has the support of the House for much stronger action than the Government have so far taken. For the sake of our children, the Minister should use that support.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) on obtaining the debate and on an excellent speech. It was moving, well constructed and full of valid information. It was probably one of the most telling speeches that I have heard in the House for a long time. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) on his high-minded and moving speech and my hon. Friends the Members for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) and for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) on their contributions.
My hon. Friends got to the core of the debate which, as my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) has just pointed out, is the need for a bottom-up approach. Ministers sometimes kid themselves that we need only legislate, pass some great new initiative, make a speech and things will change. So much of what my hon. Friend said in his intervention is right. In many areas, what will make a difference is not great speeches by Ministers or new legislation, but a change in people's attitudes to their children.
I am also grateful to the Maranatha community for producing the booklet "What on Earth Are We Doing to OUr Children?", which addresses issues of deep concern to us all, particularly those hon. Members who have spoken this morning.
784 Children are among the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society. We have a moral duty to protect them from all forms of abuse and neglect and to nurture and nourish them physically and spiritually. Nor should we forget that our children represent the future. It is the responsibility of the older generation to ensure that the next has all possible benefits of health, education, physical security and moral well-being. Those are the points made in the conclusions of the Maranatha community's booklet.
First, I stress the Government's commitment to improving and protecting the rights and welfare of children both here and abroad. We are party to the convention on the rights of the child and support the work of the committee on the rights of the child in monitoring states' compliance with the provisions of the convention.
I had not intended to mention it, but since the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) did so, I shall refer to the review in Geneva in January. I have no comment to make on other Departments, but I have not been silent on the comments made by the United Nations on my responsibilities. I have said that the committee which carried out that investigation behaved like a kangaroo court, and treated British Government officials disgracefully. Its members asked us 48 questions in advance but did not have the decency to give our people the chance to reply to them. They then suddenly produced their conclusions without even listening to the evidence. That does not do the United Nations much of a service.
The Government also work hard in international bodies such as the United Nations General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights. We supported the adoption by the commission in 1992 of a programme of action for the prevention of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and we have urged all countries to implement the measures that it contains.
On the domestic front, we have taken action across a wide range of areas to improve the standards of health and education of our children and to safeguard their moral and physical welfare. I am confident that our commitment will be borne out by what I have to say.
I come first to the distasteful subject of pornography. Concern has been expressed that children are being exposed more and more to obscene and pornographic material and, most disturbingly, that the trade in child pornography, which by its very nature involves the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, is expanding. The Government share those concerns and took action in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to strengthen our existing controls over pornography, already regarded as among the most stringent in the world.
Britain has tough controls over child pornography, with its simple possession now attracting a possible sentence of imprisonment and the more serious offences that might be committed during the making of a film—actual sexual intercourse with a child—carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and quite right too. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act fills a gap in the law by ensuring that computer-generated pseudo-photographs of children are also caught by the relevant legislation, and it makes it clear that other indecent photographs of children stored on computer are caught by the law.
§ Mr. Thurnham
Is my hon. Friend aware that concern exists in Bolton—I have just written a letter on this to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary—about 785 the possible need for further controls on audio tapes, cassettes and compact discs? Apparently, explicit and pornographic audio material, tapes and CDs are around, and there are no controls on their sale to children.
§ Mr. Maclean
I have not seen my hon. Friend's letter, but I would be surprised if what he said is correct. We do not have to describe pornography in the law as being a tape, a CD or a microchip. The law controlling pornography is so wide that any material, irrespective of how it is stored or produced, or through what electronic medium it is covered or generated, should be caught by it. I shall happily look into my hon. Friend's point, but, as I said, I would be surprised if there is any gap in existing controls.
A new prison sentence exists for the mere possession of child pornography. That is a pretty draconian measure to have, but it marks our abhorrence of the activities of people involved in the evil trade in child pornography—including consumers who provide the market for that sort of filth.
The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act extended powers to search for and seize child pornography and obscenity offences available to the police. Child pornography and the obscenity offences have been made serious arrestable offences. That will ensure that, if the police raid the premises of a child pornographer, he will be unable to telephone his clients or other members of a paedophile ring, after the police have gone, to warn them to destroy any pictures or evidence that they have. The investigation and control of child pornography and related paedophile activity are accorded a high priority by the enforcement authorities in the UK, and the Government whole-heartedly support that policy. We believe that the steps that we have taken in the most recent Criminal Justice and Public Order Act are sensible, practical measures that, taken together, will provide the police with significant additional weapons in the fight against child pornography.
In addition to the increased powers of search, seizure and of arrest which have been provided for obscenity offences, the Government have taken steps to ensure that our legislative controls keep pace with advances in technology. We have ensured that computer transmissions are covered by the Obscene Publications Act 1959. I mentioned earlier that indecent photographs and pseudo-photographs of children stored on computer are also caught by the law.
The Government, the police and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, however, are aware of the risks posed by the growing ease of access to information super-highways. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent referred to that and to the possibility of linking into pornography on a personal computer through the worldwide Internet system. The law is adequate to deal with child pornography and obscene material generated and transmitted on computer in this country, but I accept that the global nature of such networks and their lack of regulation present particular difficulties. The Government and enforcement authorities are alert to those concerns and are working to ensure that they are as adequately and as effectively dealt with as possible, but I do not want to pretend to my hon. Friends that an easy answer exists and that we can easily plug some little loophole in the law. The problem is difficult.
786 One forum through which the development of computer pornography is being examined is the recently established inter-departmental working group on obscenity. The formation of that group reflects the Government's continuing commitment to the control of obscenity and pornography, and their determination not to become complacent in the wake of the measures already introduced.
The group will monitor developments in obscenity, with particular reference to emerging trends in computer and child pornography, and will identify any actual or potential difficulties in enforcement, or weaknesses in the relevant law, considering possible ways of overcoming them.
We must not be embarrassed or ashamed if, every year, or every other year, we must plug some gap in pornography controls. Some of our constituents may think that we pass one law and that is it. They say, "Why isn't it working? Surely, it should last for many years." We are aware that, with modern technology and worldwide telecommunications, we may have to make some changes to the law, every other year, to clamp down on such activity.
I want to deal with child prostitution and respond to the moving speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby. No one in the Chamber would dispute that child prostitution and the sexual exploitation and abuse of children is a loathsome and abhorrent activity that should be vigorously opposed. A wide range of criminal sanctions are available to deter and to punish people who use and exploit child prostitutes, and, rightly, the penalties imposed are severe.
The police accord a high priority to the enforcement of laws protecting children, and all police officers receive training on how to deal with child abuse and other sexual offences. The Government are committed to doing what they can to prevent children becoming involved in the first place in harmful activities such as prostitution. The Children Act 1989 provides a framework of powers and responsibilities designed to ensure that children receive the care and protection that they deserve. Local authority social services have a duty to investigate where they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child in their region is suffering from, or is likely to suffer, significant harm. That would include information received suggesting a child may need protection against being drawn into prostitution.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Selby was especially concerned about sex tourism. Concern has been expressed in this country about British citizens who travel abroad, to countries where child prostitution is linked to the organised tourist industry, for the purposes of sexually abusing children. It is a disgusting traffic and my right hon. Friend is right to call for the strongest possible action against those perverts. An understandable desire exists to combat that evil trade through the extension of our courts' jurisdiction over such offences committed abroad.
As my right hon. Friend said, that is the aim of Lord Hylton's Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, which received its Third Reading in another place this week. The Government have considerable sympathy with the intention behind Lord Hylton's proposal, although we have grave, practical doubts about whether the measures that it proposes would be effective in practice. My right hon. Friend knows that, and he has talked about the matter with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.
It would be difficult to bring prosecutions in this country against British tourists who have committed sexual offences abroad, and the measures would cease to be a deterrent once their ineffectiveness had been 787 demonstrated. The Bill would also fail to tackle the real problem: the tens of thousands of child prostitutes in the countries that my right hon. Friend mentioned.
The police tell us that paedophiles are among the most devious and clever of the people with whom they must deal. If such people are travelling 12,000 miles to participate in that disgusting trade, they are clever enough to spot when we have passed a totally ineffective law, especially if we brought a prosecution that failed abysmally.
§ Mr. Rowe
I hear what my hon. Friend says, and, of course, none of us wants to be party to passing a totally ineffective Act, but he said earlier that he felt that it was proper to keep returning to the House with measures to block various ways of eluding pornography legislation. It might be worth a crack at passing a law and, if it does not work, coming back to the House to strengthen it rather than doing nothing.
§ Mr. Maclean
One would want a law that was as strong as possible, but I want to mention the practical difficulties that the House must consider in taking power to try British citizens for crimes that they have committed overseas, particularly in relation to sex tourism.
If I may put the matter on a practical basis, we are all aware of cases where the police or serious crimes squad, in busting a ring of drug dealers, legitimately wire up a policeman with equipment. They may film him on the street participating in that drugs raid, and he may go into court and give evidence, yet defence lawyers are able, in some cases, to have that evidence excluded. We have grave difficulty in securing convictions in those circumstances. Even with the poorest defence lawyer, it is difficult to get any British court to convict someone when the victim does not give evidence in court, when British police officers are not witnesses, and when we do not have someone in court who has been at the scene. The best that we might be able to offer would be a video tape of someone going into a child brothel in one of those countries. I tell my hon. Friends that, much as I would love to get convictions for people who do such things, we would not have a hope of getting a conviction in a British court.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Selby mentioned countries that have taken extra-territorial jurisdiction; some have passed declaratory laws. Only Norway, we understand, has managed to bring one prosecution against three people. There was a conviction, although no oral evidence was given in court and no witnesses were called. How the Norwegian legal system could manage that I do not know; it could not happen in Britain.
I am not, of course, closing the door to the possibility of such legislation. We want to take some action to try to deal with the trade either at an international level or through other means. I merely wish to point out to the House—