HC Deb 19 April 1996 vol 275 cc969-98

Amendment made: No. 2, in page 4, line 26, at end insert— `() Any act of incitement by means of a message (however communicated) is to be treated as done in Scotland if the message is sent or received in Scotland'.—[Mr. John Marshall.]

Order for Third Reading read.

11.9 am

Mr. John Marshall

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I hope that I am reflecting the mood of the House when I say that, following our debates on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report, I detect widespread support for the Bill coupled with a feeling of regret that it may not go as far in some respects as some of my colleagues would like. One of the things that appals the whole country is the depths of depravity to which some individuals will go and the extent of the problem in certain other countries.

An article in The Times on 10 April stated that some 200,000 Nepalese children had been sold into sexual slavery in India. It stated that, in Thailand, as many as a quarter of a million children were in brothels and that, in Colombia, one third of all prostitutes were thought to be under the age of 14. One could go on and refer to countries such as Romania where many children become prostitutes at an age at which, in this country, one would hope that they enjoyed the innocence of childhood.

Those countries have a great deal to do. They must realise that the good of their children and the future of their country must come before taking a few cheap bucks from disgusting western tourists. That is the problem with which they have to deal, but we must try to help them. I do not pretend that the passage of the Bill will put an end to the disgraceful activities of British child molesters who travel abroad to pursue their disgusting activities. It will not. I suspect that, at the end of the day, there is nothing that we can do to stop some of them, but we can certainly make it more difficult for them. We can ensure that individuals in this country who seek to make a trade or a business out of encouraging other people to molest young children find it much more difficult to do so.

Those who attended the Second Reading debate will remember that I referred to a publication that was going around Hampshire. People were paying a large amount to get a guide to sexual holidays in the far east and Latin America. I was pleased to hear that, the week after the Bill received its Second Reading, the individuals who had been distributing the publication decided that it had become too hot to handle and took it out of circulation. We have done some good already.

I shall briefly remind the House of what the Bill does, clause by clause. Clause 1 makes it an offence to conspire in England and Wales to commit certain sexual offences against children abroad. Conspiracy means agreement on a course of conduct. It would certainly include arrangements between a tour operator and a client to provide travel facilities where an acknowledged purpose of the trip was the sexual abuse of children. But the clause goes much wider than that.

Many of these creatures, although they make their own arrangements for travel and accommodation, plan their trips with others of their kind. It is not unknown for a group of paedophiles to talk in the United Kingdom about what they might do when they go to, for example, Thailand, Romania, Colombia or Peru. They plan their trip, and then go abroad and engage in their disgraceful activities.

Clause 1 also sets certain conditions which must be satisfied before the conspiracy amounts to an offence under our laws. The conspiracy must lead to an act or event taking place outside the United Kingdom. That, of course, is what the Bill is all about. If the act or event contemplated takes place in this country, the conspiracy is already an offence. The act or event must be an offence in the country in which it is intended to take place. That is the so-called dual criminality test, and it is an important safeguard because we must recognise that the age of consent is different in, for example, various European Community countries.

We in Parliament rightly consider that it is our function to pass laws that apply in the territory of the United Kingdom. We would take great exception if the law-making body of another country attempted to pass laws that would apply here. If, for example, an Arab country where drink was forbidden made it an offence for someone to go to Scotland and have a glass of the local nectar, we would regard that as offensive against our laws and against that great industry. I am sure that no one agrees with that point more strongly than my right hon. Friend the Minister.

The intended act must amount to conduct that falls within the scope of the sexual offences against children set out in the schedule. The final condition is that some part of the conspiracy, but not necessarily all the conduct that constitutes the offence, must take place in England and Wales. I think that it would be better to say the United Kingdom—and long may it remain a united kingdom—because all parts of it are covered by the Bill. The hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) made the good point in Committee that the Bill emphasises the need for a United Kingdom Parliament. If we had a devolved Scottish Assembly legislating on Scottish matters, there could be different rules in England and Wales, and in Scotland. I note the way in which hon. Members intervened on that issue.

Clause 2 makes it an offence to incite another person to commit certain sexual acts against children abroad. Incitement is the act of encouraging others to do something. The amendments to which we agreed earlier have strengthened the powers in the Bill. People who use informative advertising, as they would call it, by putting messages on the Internet will now be covered by the Bill. The Bill could include advertising material in the case of tour operators. However, if two or more perverts discuss where to go to indulge in their activities, any encouragement one gives to the other may well amount to incitement.

The other clauses give the law enforcement agencies a good chance of erecting a substantial barrier against these disgusting activities. The penalties under the Bill are substantial, and for certain acts of conspiracy the penalty could amount to life imprisonment. That shows how strong and tough the legislation can be.

If we are to put a stop to those disgusting activities and children of eight, nine and 10 being sold into a life of sexual perversion at a time when they should not know anything about sex, it is up to the Governments of these countries to move. We have seen that they are willing to move strongly against the drug trade. They must move just as strongly against prostitution by young 10, 11 and 12-year-olds.

It is up to the Governments of Thailand, the Philippines and Latin America to say that they want to stop that disgusting trade and that they put the future of their children first. Those Governments must ensure that their children lead a decent life, rather than having the whole of their lives blackened by activities that take place when they are so young. They should not be affected by the disgusting perverts who travel to other countries and who engage in such disgraceful behaviour.

Some lives may be so blackened by those individuals that the children involved lead a very short life, because they may be infected. If they are not infected physically, their morale and their psyche are infected for the rest of their days. Anything that the House can do to put a stop to that trade and to penalise those wicked individuals who seek to make money out of it is to be welcomed. I commend the Bill to the House.

11.20 am
Mr. Cox

I pay the warmest tribute to the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall). Many of us regard him as a good friend, and he has done a great service to the House and to the country by presenting the Bill. We all know, whatever part of the country we represent, about the correspondence that we receive from constituents calling for tough legislation. Nothing sickens people more than the sexual exploitation of children and, especially, the behaviour of nationals from our country who travel abroad solely to engage in the abuse of young people. We also know, because the point was made by many hon. Members on Second Reading, in which countries those practices take place.

We have also had information circulated to us by highly respected organisations that have long campaigned for major changes in legislation, not only in our country but throughout the world. No organisation has been more involved than the United Nations Children's Fund. UNICEF has done superb work for many years, not only to reduce the sexual abuse of young people but to improve the general overall welfare of young people and children throughout the world.

As I said on Second Reading, I am one of the members of the House's delegation to the Council of Europe. I serve on the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee and, at the time of Second Reading, as the rapporteur I had just completed and presented the strategy for children to the Assembly of the Council of Europe. That strategy was fully supported by UNICEF and I was greatly aided by that organisation, which sent officials from the United States to work with me and other colleagues in Strasbourg on that important legislation. In view of the importance of the Bill, it is interesting that the European strategy for children had overwhelming and virtually unanimous support from every member state of the Council of Europe. That is now a large organisation embracing not only the countries of western Europe but virtually all the countries from central Europe, including the new Russia.

In Strasbourg next week, next Thursday and Friday, there will be a two-day conference—a world congress—on the sexual exploitation of children, organised by the Council of Europe and UNICEF. That is why the Bill is so important.

Lady Olga Maitland

When the hon. Gentleman goes to Strasbourg, will he raise with his colleagues the issue of extra-territorial jurisdiction? Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House how other countries are working on that issue?

Mr. Cox

The hon. Lady makes an important point. Many of the points that she has made in her interventions have been raised by many other hon. Members. I did not table any amendments to the Bill, but I sympathised very much with the feelings of other hon. Members that what was proposed did not go far enough. I will come on to the points that the hon. Lady has raised. Next Friday, I will chair the congress's session and I will certainly seek to raise her points.

The Council of Europe and UNICEF regard the conference as very important. Senior politicians from European countries will attend, as will senior officers from Interpol. UNICEF officers will attend from the United States and a senior judge of the European Court of Human Rights will attend and speak. That shows the great importance that is attached to the conference.

Many of the subjects that the hon. Member for Hendon, South has raised on Second Reading, in Committee and today are connected to the issues that we will discuss next week. The sessions of the conference will cover sexual exploitation, pornography and prostitution of, and trafficking in, children and young adults".

The Minister of State has an opportunity today to give the House some idea of the Government's involvement in the conference. I am sure that we are all pleased that the Bill is in no way a party issue. Sadly, we often destroy good private Members' Bills, irrespective of who has introduced them, because party politics come into play. Thankfully, that has not happened to the Bill so far, and I do not intend to do that today. The Bill is far too important for anyone to indulge in that kind of behaviour, but it is important that we learn what attitude the Government will take to the conference next week.

Hon. Members have spoken today about the ways in which information is now circulated. I remember the impressive speech made on Second Reading by the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), who has made one or two interventions this morning. No doubt he will speak later if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman outlined the type of information and publicity that is sent out by companies, and I was delighted to learn from the hon. Member for Hendon, South that, after comments made on Second Reading, one company decided that enough was enough and that it could not continue to operate. I hope that we will hear about more such decisions by such companies.

We have also heard about the Internet. Many of us have some idea of how it works, but the extent of the power base now being established must concern all hon. Members.

In our previous debate, the Minister fairly answered interventions and outlined the real difficulties that face Britain and other countries trying to take action, but which are restricted by current laws. I hope that this Bill is but the first of many that will help to overcome that problem.

Item 10 on today's Order Paper is the Second Reading of the Sexual Offences against Children (Registers of Offenders) Bill, to be introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Ms Anderson). I hope that there will be some progress with that Bill because it ties in closely with this Bill and the efforts of the hon. Member for Hendon, South. When I speak to those who work with young children, such as probation officers, the police and UNICEF, they say that a register would provide them with a wide base from which to operate against offenders. Although that Bill will not be reached today, I hope that, when it comes before the House in the coming weeks, it will be given a fair chance of progress.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I must remind him of the rule that Third Reading debates deal with the contents of the Bill before the House.

Mr. Cox

I fully accept your comments, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will not pursue my point. I simply wished to draw the attention of the House to the fact that we will shortly discuss another Bill that is relevant to the Bill that we are discussing.

Mr. Michael

Several times during the passage of the Bill, hon. Members have paid tribute to the work done by my hon. Friend, on our behalf, in the international arena. It is important to know what image we present on this Bill and wider. Is the United Kingdom seen as being active enough in the area in which my hon. Friend plays a leading role in debate?

Mr. Cox

My hon. Friend's question is interesting. I have already referred to the two-day conference in Strasbourg next week. That has been in the making for a long time; it was not a thought that suddenly popped into someone's mind a month ago. I have the provisional agenda for the conference, and I regret to say that it appears that no British Minister will attend.

Mr. Maclean

No Minister will attend the conference next week because it is a planning meeting for civil servants. The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope), will attend the conference proper at Stockholm in August, and he will play a leading role.

Mr. Cox

I had intended to question the Minister on that point, so I am delighted to hear his assurance that a Minister will attend the Stockholm conference. I do not want to pursue the matter at great length, but I must point out that senior Ministers from other countries will attend the conference in Strasbourg next week. I referred to the Stockholm conference on Second Reading. I shall attend as the Council of Europe representative.

Delegates' speeches, which give a clear outline of Governments' thinking on any issue, are important, but so are the informal discussions and meetings that take place. At Stockholm in August and, I hope, in Strasbourg next week, the important points raised by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) will be dealt with, not only in the papers presented by speakers but in informal discussions among colleagues from all countries.

Mr. Maclean

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He has been kind and even-handed in his remarks. He pointed out the importance of politicians attending conferences. Perhaps he will take this opportunity to put on the record a tribute to the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which picks up where politicians leave off and pursue paedophiles around the world to bring them to justice. Can he tell us, from his experience and knowledge, whether any other country in Europe has a criminal intelligence service as dedicated or as experienced as the NCIS in this activity or as good at bringing paedophiles to book?

Mr. Cox

I readily join the Minister in congratulating and appreciating the work of the NCIS. I am delighted that Britain is in the forefront of such work. However, other countries are also deeply involved. All countries need to put proper machinery into operation. That is why a senior official from Interpol will attend the conference at Strasbourg next week.

I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon, South on introducing the Bill. It deals with an issue on which much work still needs to be done—and, I am sure, will be done by hon. Members of all parties. As I have said, it is not a party issue. There is enormous support from organisations in this country. We also have the support of our fellow countries in Europe and others around the world. I hope that the Bill will become law. As has already been said, it will be the first of many further such Bills aimed at preventing the appalling abuse that, sadly, is carried out by our nationals and those of many other countries against often totally defenceless young children.

11.37 am
Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield)

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on bringing the Bill before the House.

I was tempted to make a modest contribution by what my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) said on Second Reading: You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, almost certainly agree that nearly every aspect of the sexual abuse and molestation of children is shocking, and often unimaginably shocking. It is sometimes too painful even to bear contemplation. I think of the picture of the child chained to a bed and burnt to death in a massage parlour that was incinerated, by accident or by design, in an Asian country. That is what the police found. There is an almost unimaginably horrific dimension to the abuse of children, but that is what we are dealing with. Our motivation for sitting on comfortable green Benches on a Friday, with spring approaching, in an advanced western country, is the thought of that child chained to a bed and burnt to death."—[Official Report, 2 February 1996; Vol. 270, c. 1238.]

The Bill deals with a disturbing aspect of late 20th century society—the increase in the sex trade, and in particular paedophilia, which I describe as child molesting.

Only recently, society has received a stark reminder of the behaviour of paedophiles. Although Thomas Hamilton, who was responsible for the Dunblane massacre, was not a convicted paedophile, he has been linked to a paedophile ring. Tightening the laws surrounding paedophiles is a must. Police superintendents in England and Wales want convicted paedophiles to be forced to notify the authorities when they change their name or address so that they cannot slip back into society under an assumed identity and subject other youngsters to abuse.

The House should support the Bill. It should certainly refrain from indulging in arguments about the rights of perverts. It is important that we view paedophilia and paedophiles in context, always remembering that the civil liberties of children must come before those of paedophiles. How often, to our extreme frustration and that of the general public, do judges and magistrates seem to favour the criminal, and victims feel that the punishment did not fit the crime? I very much hope that, when a paedophile is committed to prison for a life sentence, it is a life sentence.

People say to me, "He killed my daughter because he was drunk and driving his car. His sentence was to lose his licence for three years, and two years' probation." The sentence should have been 15 years in prison, because, in my book, he committed murder. Or I hear people say, "He raped my daughter, but the judge said, 'Send him on a holiday, the girl will soon get over it.'" Yes, we are now tackling the problem with longer prison sentences, but will the judges give the maximum sentence?

Why not castrate paedophiles and rapists straight away? Then the taxpayer would not have to foot the bill, and there would be more room in prisons for other offenders. In my view, convicted paedophiles should suffer the same fate as rapists.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South seeks to make it an offence to conspire to commit, or incite a person to commit, certain sexual acts with children abroad. The focus of the Bill is on stopping those who operate in the evil world of sexual exploitation of children, and limiting the opportunities of any would-be participants. As the country's lawmakers, we cannot simply turn a blind eye to the organisations which operate outside the United Kingdom, and arrange for financial benefit trips to third-world countries for men to violate children.

It is important that we as Members of Parliament send a strong signal to society that such behaviour will not be tolerated. That signal should not merely restrict the trade but end it completely.

To date, the Government have transformed the legal position in England and Wales with a series of tough new controls on videos, indecent displays, sex shops and child pornography. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary's Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which proved so controversial, introduced measures designed to tighten enforcement of the obscene publications legislation, including provisions to extend and clarify the law to cover simulated child pornography manufactured and stored on computer, ensure that improper transmissions were covered by the Obscene Publications Act 1959, and give the police new powers to arrest without warrant those who dealt in obscene material, and new powers of search and seizure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South has introduced a Bill which continues in this vein, building on successive Conservative reforms to stamp out subversive and perverse behaviour. The aim of the Bill is that the operators and organisers as well as the participants would be found liable. I believe that that is right. We should make those who promote paedophilia subject to the same tough sentences as those who practise it.

Parliament should look closely at the means available to operators to promote and attract business. I am primarily concerned with the magazines that lie on the top shelves of newsagents nationwide. The porn industry has been one of the growth industries of the past 20 years. Newsagents, both independent and high-street branches—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman of the point that I made not many minutes ago? The content of the Bill is the only proper matter for consideration on Third Reading. The hon. Gentleman is going rather wide of that.

Mr. Evans

May I point out that Ann Mayne of the Campaign Against Pornography highlighted how pornographic magazines were used by operators to promote such holidays? Access is easy; curbing it is difficult. As a country and a society, we adhere to the principles of freedom of speech, and we already have in place tough laws on obscene publications.

Sir Michael Neubert

In the context of the remarks that my hon. Friend has just made, will he with me deplore the apparent new practice of W. H. Smith of sending such magazines unsolicited to newsagents as part of a package of publications that they might sell? Is it not the role of a responsible public company to do rather better than that?

Mr. Evans

My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. It is outrageous that such public companies should send directly to newsagents, with information that they should go on the top shelf in the shop, unsolicited magazines which encourage people to do exactly what we are trying to stop them doing. I agree with my hon. Friend's point.

I have also been informed that operators promote paedophilia through coded advertisements in the personal columns of broadsheets such as The Times. That complicates the issue, because it highlights the options available to operators to contact would-be clients, and makes the introduction of specific legislation very difficult. It also clouds the issue of legally proving guilt—defined as being a party to the conspiracy.

While adverts in pornographic magazines might be ambiguous or even overt, adverts in broadsheets will be coded and covert. That presents a problem in making those who publish advertisements promoting porn rings and sex holidays for paedophiles liable in the same sense—that they are a party to the conspiracy.

If adverts are covert and coded, publishers might not be aware of the true intentions of those who place them. Nevertheless, if advertisements are deemed by a judge to be sufficiently overt, it is only right that the title involved should be found guilty as a party to the conspiracy or incitement. Punishing not only the operators but those that carry advertisements that promote paedophilia is a necessary aspect of the drive to stop people profiting from the perverse fantasies of paedophiles.

That has two further implications. First, newspapers have an added responsibility for monitoring the advertisements that they wish to carry. Secondly, it provides an incentive for the publishers of pornographic magazines, the main channel for such information, to start regulating the advertisements that fill their pages.

One unfortunate but likely consequence of the Bill's introduction will be to drive operators even further underground. However, that is not a reason for not passing it. It may make guilt harder to prove, as operators will take more measures to cover their tracks and avoid explicitly declaring the true nature of trips abroad.

One of the focuses of the Bill is avoiding the use of the testimony of minors who have been violated. The focus is on proving beyond all reasonable doubt the guilt of suspected organisers and racketeers before fellow members of their ring or customers leave the country specifically to go on a pervert or paedophile holiday. If that cannot be ascertained, it seems inevitable that the investigating officers would require the testimony of minors from foreign countries to corroborate their evidence to prove guilt beyond all reasonable doubt. That would not necessarily defeat the object of the Bill, but it could be argued that it would undermine it.

The Bill relies on dual criminality. A would-be customer's conduct on a prearranged trip would need to violate the law of the land and that of England and Wales. For instance, organisers could send a person to Thailand on the understanding that young girls would be available, and arrange for girls of 15 years and upwards.

As 15 is the legal age of consent in Thailand, but is a year lower than in England and Wales, the Bill could not bring such operators to court. If men abroad then indulged in sex with girls under 15, that would be a case for the Thai authorities. The Bill makes no provision for a trial in the UK, as the organisers claimed that only girls over 15 years of age would be available.

Whether we should make men stand trial in the UK for such crimes, as opposed to allowing them to stand trial in the country concerned, is a vexed question. If the authorities involved will co-operate, it is largely irrelevant whether the case is heard in Britain or abroad. Without co-operative counterparts, our police force would be hampered in bringing a successful prosecution to court, in this country or any other.

There is a need to forge close co-operation at many levels for successful detection of such sex rackets. That statement appeals mainly to law enforcement agencies in other countries, whose record for co-operation leaves a lot to be desired. However, an effective working relationship between the agencies of law enforcement in the United Kingdom and other countries is essential if we are to be able to prove that operators in the United Kingdom are sending people on prearranged pervert or paedophile holidays.

The Conservative party is committed to giving the police the support necessary to convict criminals. I only hope that the same can be said for Opposition Members. I know that their record on that is patchy, to say the least. They too often seem to be concerned with the civil rights of criminals.

Mr. Michael

I realise that the hon. Gentleman has a reputation for introducing controversy where none exists, but the debates on the Bill have been constructive and cross-party. His partisan approach is not necessary, especially from a supporter of a Government who have doubled crime and allowed levels of violence to continue to rocket.

Mr. Evans

I do not wish to be controversial. There should be a greater sense of certainty and severity in sentencing. The Conservative Government, and especially my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, have not forgotten that prisons should not be holiday camps. Prison regimes should be tough—so tough that criminals want to get out of prison, and not try to get back in as soon as they can.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman has rather a short memory. I said that he should deal only with the contents of the Bill on Third Reading.

Mr. Evans

On paedophiles, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary—and I agree with every word—last December said: The full force of the law must be used against the evil people who sexually exploit children for money. It is an abhorrent activity. We must do all we can to prevent it and protect children everywhere. We have looked carefully at the problem and have decided the most effective way our legal system can deal with it is to extend our laws on conspiracy and incitement. The proposals aim to catch and punish those who organise sex tours or who encourage those who travel abroad for the purpose of sexually exploiting children. These depraved people will face the same tough penalties as they would face if they had committed these offences here. We are looking for a suitable legislative opportunity to take this forward. The opportunity is here today. The House supports the Bill, and so do I.

11.54 pm
Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I want briefly to say how strongly I support the Bill and all measures to protect children the world over.

The Bill was intended as a small step in dealing with this growing trade in human misery. Since it started its passage through the House, however—because of the strength of feeling and commitment of many organisations and individuals and, indeed, the determination of hon. Members and those in another place—it has been obvious that we need to convince the Government that small steps will not do. We need larger steps.

More and more Governments are implementing legislation to catch and prosecute those perverted individuals. For example, in Thailand, which has been an area of great child prostitution and abuse of children, the Thai Government are moving in the right direction. The changes there should help and support the implementation of the Bill and should help other Governments to eradicate child prostitution.

Three years ago, the former Prime Minister of Thailand declared that the priority policy of his Government was to eliminate child sexual abuse, child prostitution and forced prostitution. That policy was reconfirmed by the present Government. Their strong, clear policy has yielded many good results.

Brothels and entertainment places that provide children under 18 years old for commercial sex have been raided, and a number of people charged. A special task force has been set up to suppress commercial sex business, child sexual abuse and prostitution. A child's rights protection division has been established within the office of the Attorney-General to help child victims and to monitor child sexual abuse cases. All those measures should help with the implementation of the Bill, and the Thai Government are introducing more legislation and employing more people to control that evil trade.

The Thai Government have introduced a penal code under which rape or molestation committed against a child who is not over 15 years of age, even with the child's consent, is statutory rape or molestation, and the perpetrator shall be separately punished for each act committed. That strengthens the law in Thailand, and enables police there to inform the Government here what is going on.

The penal code also stipulates that whoever has sexual intercourse with a girl who is not over 15 years of age, with or without her consent, shall be punished with imprisonment of four to 20 years. If the victimised girl is under 13, the sentence is imprisonment of seven to 20 years. It also stipulates that whoever commits an indecent act on a child—boy or girl—who is not over 15 years of age, with or without his or her consent, will be punished by imprisonment not exceeding 10 years.

The penal code has many other provisions. For example, if the procurer forces a girl to have sex with another, he or she is liable to be imprisoned for between 10 and 20 years. That will help bring this evil trade to an end.

I am sure that we will strongly support the Thai Government in what they are doing. Another important thing they have done is make it easier for children to give evidence. They are proceeding with video evidence and are assisting child witnesses. I think that they must have read the Piggott committee's report on the giving of evidence by children, because they are introducing many of its recommendations.

The Bill has focused the Government's attention on the need for legislation. I thank the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) for introducing it, and for doing all he has done to help rid the world of this problem.

11.59 am
Mr. Alison

I echo the words of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on taking on this prickly and, in many ways, disagreeable subject, plunging into the ramifications of the sphere with which we are dealing, nursing it through its gestation period in Committee and birth by Third Reading, and generally allowing himself to be exposed to the cold and hot winds of passion that blow from every quarter of the country and the House on him for sponsoring the Bill and seeing it safely on to the statute book.

I am sure that he and his constituents will be proud that his name will be associated—among a dazzling array of other initiatives and achievements that he has secured in the House—with this most necessary and desirable measure for the protection of people who are most vulnerable and unprotected.

One must also endorse and commend the Home Office and my right hon. Friend the Minister for his assiduousness in supporting and helping us to make the best of this measure in Committee. It is very much a sign of the Government's awareness of the strong case that could be made for the very vexed extra-territoriality argument that they have encouraged and assisted in the production of this measure, precisely because they are so anxious that everything possible should be done to help, even if they have reservations about some of the practical matters. I should be among the first to commend my right hon. Friend for the way in which he has helped us in Committee and for the positive attitude he has taken on the matter of his review of extra-territoriality.

As my right hon. Friend the Minister is so open-minded and open-hearted, and has such an open personality that he finds it impossible—none of us finds it easy—to discern the slightest hint or suggestion of duplicity or of misleading anyone, because of his fundamental attitudes on these matters, I detect that he is really not a great enthusiast, prima facie, for the idea of extra-territoriality, unlike his right hon. Friend the Minister of State in another place, for example, who is quite an enthusiast in that sphere. I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will continue to keep a thoroughly and genuinely open mind on this issue; I know that he is capable of it.

We often discover that lifeboats on liners sail round the world for many years without the canvas being stripped off them and attempts being made to launch them. That is not an argument for not having lifeboats on a liner. I very much hope and believe that, if there is even the slightest chance of the efficacy of extra-territoriality being available and applied in this sphere, the fail-safe approach will be to put the lifeboats on the liner.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), who has guided our thoughts on this Bill from the Opposition Front Bench, and who has been so constructive about the approach to extra-territoriality in Committee and again today. I very much hope that the Minister will have discerned the extremely positive approach that Opposition Front Benchers are taking to extra-territoriality, and their insistence that that issue be debated further when we come to consider the Minister's review.

I conclude by expressing my thanks and the thanks of many colleagues in both places—not least the thanks of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme—for the huge amount of helpful work, research and support that has emanated from the Coalition on Child Prostitution and Tourism. The coalition is composed of Anti-Slavery International, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, Christian Aid, the Jubilee Campaign, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Save the Children (UK) and World Vision UK. That is a powerful coalition. Anne Badger, who co-ordinated it and supplied us with so much good material, and has sent in the coalition's evidence to the review on extra-territoriality, has done a superb job.

We are greatly in the coalition's debt; it is precisely the sort of body that is being active as non-governmental organisations in overseas countries. They are likely to be well placed to provide evidence of offences committed overseas in any court cases that may, in the end, materialise here.

I conclude by commending all those who have helped us so much, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South for the initiative he has taken.

12.4 pm

Mr. Garnier

As I said earlier this morning, I feel somewhat of an interloper in the debate, since I was not on the Committee where so many constructive suggestions were made as to the progress and content of the Bill.

I echo what has been said before—not because it is customary to do so, but because it is right that I should do so—by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on his good fortune and the exemplary way in which he has brought forward the Bill for presentation.

It is one of the best Friday Bills that I have had the pleasure of reading, because it commands the support of all sides of the House, is tightly drafted and is designed for the specific aim—I have no doubt that it will achieve it—of preventing conspiracies and incitement to do unattractive and revolting acts in foreign countries that no moral person could possibly condone.

By keeping my remarks as brief as I can, I do not wish to be thought merely to be giving cursory praise to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South, who has performed a signal task. The House, the country and, as right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) has already said, his constituents, will remember that for a good many years to come.

I should like to concentrate on some aspects of the Bill, bearing in mind that this is its Third Reading, which strike me as of particular importance. In clause 1, the ingredients of the conspiracy to commit certain sexual acts outside the United Kingdom are set out.

There is a great mystique about conspiracy. It is often thought—I suspect by laymen and others—that there is something terribly magical about a conspiracy, but it is no more than an agreement between two or more persons to effect an unlawful purpose. The crime is in the agreement. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South and my right hon. Friend the Minister would agree that it is often difficult to get the evidence to prove the conspiracy, but the concept and definition of criminal conspiracy is remarkably simple.

That is just one of the reasons why I find the Bill so attractive. The definition is set out in such simple terms that every person who might be considering breaching its terms in the future will be in no doubt that that is what he is doing.

The conditions set out in the subsections to clause 1 are essential. One of the most essential, which I find so useful, is that in clause 1(3): The second condition is that that act or other event constitutes an offence under the law in force in that country or territory. To some extent, that deals with the implied suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste), who spoke with great fluency and cogency, that we were imposing some legislative colonialism on other countries. The double criminality key acquits us of that offence.

There is no need for small children, the innocent victims of such offences, to be brought, at great peril and in fear, from their own lands to this country to go through the ordeal of having to give evidence in a Crown court, because the conspiracy or the incitement will be committed here. It may be that the eventual consequences of the conspiracies and the incitements will be abroad, but because the conspiracy and therefore the crimes that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South so rightly wishes to stop takes place in this country—or at least elements of them take place in this country—there will be no need for the children to come to this country.

From my personal experience of the civil side of the law, I know that it is not always a good idea to introduce minors, those of tender age, into court because it leads to all sorts of unforeseen consequences, not only with regard to the progress of the trial but also with regard to the future lives of the children.

Mr. Alison

As a layman, I am following the trail that my right hon. and learned Friend has suddenly opened up to me—it seems to be absolutely fascinating. Is he advising us that any offence connected with or committed by a British citizen against a child in another country, such as sexual abuse, automatically implies that a conspiracy must have taken place, and that therefore the case is automatically susceptible to the provisions of the Bill? If that is the case, we have no problems about extra-territorial legislation.

Mr. Garnier

I am not sure that that is the case, because, clearly, there will be cases in which a British subject independently buys himself an airline ticket, goes to another country without conspiring with or being incited by anyone, and commits an act that would be considered a sexual offence against a minor if committed in this country. It may also be an offence to commit that act in the other country—for example, in Thailand. However, under the present law the fact that he commits the act in Thailand, is not prosecuted for it in Thailand and returns here does not make him guilty of an offence that would be brought within the terms of the Bill. If he conspires with or incites others while in England to do such things abroad, he will be caught by the Bill.

I hope that I am correct in saying that this is a limited Bill that attempts to create discrete crimes that can be dealt with positively. It fills a hole that needed to be filled. The Bill does not require under-age children to be brought to England to justify the prosecution. It seems to me a safeguard if people were worried that children would be brought back here to go through the ordeal of giving evidence in the United Kingdom courts. That is not a worry if the offences are committed under the Bill. That is of great assistance to us all.

My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet made the point that the primary responsibility for stopping this sort of misconduct does not lie only with this country. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) gave us some examples of how Thailand is doing a great deal to fulfil its responsibilities, both to its own nationals and internationally. It is tightening its laws on this subject. However, I fear that that may be an isolated example—though I hope that I am wrong.

I hope that, when the Bill gets publicity in the international press—as it surely will—it will encourage other Governments to introduce measures to clamp down on sexual misconduct with children and other vulnerable people in their own states. Hon. Members will then be able to feel that they have done a service in passing the Bill on to the statute book, and that other countries will take up the battle cry and introduce their own legislation to ensure that they play their part.

A minor point concerned me relating to clause 1(3)—the double criminality point—which ties in with the point that I made in response to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. There may be some offences that are on the statute books of another country but that are never prosecuted.

I have a fear that some defence legal teams will say that, because the offences that we find abhorrent in this country are not rigorously prosecuted in other countries, it will be contrary to public policy, and the Crown Prosecution Service should be discouraged from bringing prosecutions. They may say: if the offences are never brought to book in another country, why should we penalise a potential defendant in this country? Several hon. Members have read out the available punishments for committing serious sexual offences in this country; perhaps the courts abroad are not so willing or so ready to impose the severest penalties.

I choose a ludicrous example to make the point, but let us assume that, in a foreign country, the maximum penalty for committing unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 16 is life imprisonment, but that, on the rare occasion that an offender is brought to a court and a conviction made, the offender is given a conditional—even absolute—discharge. I trust that our courts and systems in this country will not allow that to be taken into account in deciding the merit of a policy of prosecution.

If the offence abroad is a bad thing of itself, it must be prosecuted with rigour if it is conspired towards or incited towards in this country, and we should not allow other people's—perhaps less rigorous—views on the law of penalties to affect our decision-making process.

Mrs. Golding

Other countries have had the problems with young children giving evidence that we have experienced. That is why Thailand is making proposals to enable young children to give evidence in court more easily—we have already made progress with that in this country. As other countries realise that laws can be put in force, prosecutions may increase.

Mr. Garnier

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that helpful intervention.

I have briefly discussed the conspiracy aspect of the Bill. I shall now briefly discuss clause 2—the incitement aspect. I must remind myself, if not others, that we are talking about the commission not of the substantive offences but, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) rightly reminded us, of inchoate offences—conspiracy and incitement.

Incitement is not a difficult word; it is the encouragement of others to commit a crime. It is the step before the conspiracy. The person incited may be party to the conspiracy with the person inciting. The clause, and the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South, does not mean that innocent children from abroad need to come to this country to give evidence to support the prosecution of those who commit such offences in this country.

In addition to the general thrust of the Bill, what I like about the incitement clauses and the parts thereunder—I am looking now especially at clause 3—is the need for a joining of issues, presumably on paper, before the trial begins.

Clause 3(2) provides: Subject to subsection (3), a condition in section 1(3) or 2(1)(c) is to be taken to be satisfied unless, not later than rules of court may provide, the defence serve on the prosecution a notice"— and then there is a list of things that a defence must include in the notice.

Some people may consider that that reverses the burden of proof and imposes on the defendant a burden that he would not otherwise face under our criminal law, but that interpretation would be wrong. All the clause does—it is a good example of the new policy in criminal trials, which has been in existence in civil actions for years—is bring before the judge, at the earliest possible stage, a joining of issues, so that time is not wasted in a court exploring matters that need not be explored.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South on introducing the clause, because it will sensibly reduce the time that is often wasted on making investigations to produce evidence to go into issues that will not be at issue at trial. It will save time and money, and many people prosecuted under the legislation will be entitled to legal aid—although, if they have been on expensive holidays abroad, perhaps they will not. But much public money will be saved. That issue may not have occurred to people before, but clause 3 addresses it, for which I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South.

I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Minister one question before 1 finish—I apologise for speaking for longer than I intended. Clause 3(4) states: The court, if it thinks fit, may permit the defence to require the prosecution to show that the condition is satisfied without prior service of a notice under subsection (2). I assume that that applies where the defendant has not complied with subsection (2), there has been no joining of issues on paper and the court may, of its own motion, allow a defendant to require the prosecution to show that the condition is satisfied.

What are the ground rules for allowing the court to think it fit? Perhaps either my right hon. Friend the Minister or my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South will respond to that question, if not immediately, perhaps in writing later.

I have spoken with sincere warmth about the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South, and I hope that I can, unusually, extend that warmth to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding), who was a member of the Committee and clearly did a good job—if I may say so without sounding patronising. I congratulate and thank hon. Members who have contributed to the debate today, who have helped to make this one of the best Bills that this Parliament will have passed.

12.21 pm
Mr. Jenkin

I join the many voices in the Chamber in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on introducing the Bill. I have come here this morning in response to the steady flow of representations that I have received from constituents from all walks of life and to the pressure that has been exerted by organisations mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison). I have also come in response to my own conscience on the horrors of the offences that we are discussing. It has not been a particularly enjoyable morning in the House of Commons, but, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) explained, it has perhaps been one of the most useful Friday mornings that we have spent in the House for some time, at least since the Bill's Second Reading. I congratulate the Committee on doing a good job.

I support the Bill and wish to express my constituents' support for it. But I also wish to express my constituents' anxieties about the continuing perceived shortcomings of the Bill. The amendments that we discussed earlier this morning were a further attempt to deal with the Bill's perceived shortcomings arising from the issue of extra-territoriality. The importance that people attach to the ability of British law to deal with offences in other countries should not be underestimated. The House should not underestimate the mystification that people express at the fact that the House and Parliament are unable to frame effective legislation in order to prosecute people who they believe have committed heinous offences.

Everyone in the House believes that those people have committed heinous offences, and we present ourselves as a sovereign Parliament. The public are therefore mystified as to why it is impossible to frame legislation to prosecute people for offences for which they should be prosecuted. In many countries where British citizens commit offences, systems of law and order, accountability and public administration are wanting—which is why such offences are committed there. Although there is legislation criminalising sex with minors in Thailand, for example, we know that there are few prosecutions for those offences. Constituents must be confident that Parliament is doing its job and implementing much-needed laws. I am concerned that in this Bill we are failing in that task.

I listened carefully to the explanation given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State as to why particular clauses that would apply British law to offences committed outside the United Kingdom cannot appear in the Bill. I listened also to the debate between my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough about the issue.

However, the vast majority of British people will be rather unsympathetic when faced with technical explanations—however satisfactory they may be for lawyers. It is impossible to explain to a layman why a sovereign parliament cannot decide whom it shall prosecute and for what offences, and then introduce laws to conduct that prosecution. Perhaps we need different criminal legislation in this country. It may be that our existing criminal court system and our conventions of criminal evidence, criminal prosecutions and our common law history are inadequate to the task.

Perhaps Parliament should establish a new court with special rules of evidence, special procedures and a special judge to deal with offences that are committed extra-territorially. Perhaps that system should be constructed in isolation from the common law which pervades our criminal justice system. We may have to create a different branch of law through primary legislation to deal with the problem. If the powers that be retreat into technical argument and cower behind the reasoning offered by eminent Queen's Counsels or well-advised Ministers, it creates a lingering sense of unease that we are not doing our job properly.

Mr. Garnier

My hon. Friend seems to suggest that British courts should have extra-territorial jurisdiction in this and in other matters. Would he be content for courts in other countries—I refer particularly to the European Court or something of that nature—to have similar powers here? I know that my hon. Friend is interested in such matters.

Mr. Jenkin

As we know from the Swedish experience, courts in other countries have extra-territorial jurisdiction. If British nationals who had committed offences returned to certain countries, they could be prosecuted by the courts there. The comparison with the European Court of Justice is not a serious one. Parliament has given that court jurisdiction, through primary legislation, over the domestic law of the land. I do not suggest that we should persuade Thailand to grant jurisdiction to United Kingdom courts over Thai domestic law—that would mean granting powers equivalent to that of the European Court of Justice.

As it is difficult to adapt the existing system of criminal law prosecution in this country to deal with the new types of offences that are promoted across the world by new technology and in which vast numbers of people may engage through the cheapness of long-haul international travel, we can no longer be satisfied with the system that has developed without taking account of such considerations. If Parliament does not have the power and the imagination to adapt the British legal system to the present circumstances of widespread foreign travel and high technology, we shall cease to be the relevant institution that we should be in the minds of our constituents. I should like to leave that thought with the House this morning.

The Bill is a worthwhile measure. My right hon. Friend the Minister's explanations on the limitation of extra-territoriality were well put and I shall explain them to my constituents. I shall cut out the columns of Hansard and send them to those who have lobbied me about the Bill.

Mr. Michael

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman shares the concerns that have been expressed by others, but does he accept that the length at which he is pursuing a point that has been dealt with in detail in Committee is beginning to raise the thought that perhaps Conservative Members wish to draw out the debate to avoid what will obviously be an embarrassing debate for the Conservative party on the sources of money for their general election fund, especially from abroad?

Mr. Jenkin

I shall treat that intervention with the contempt that it deserves. I was completing my remarks.

I welcome the Bill and I shall convey to my constituents the explanations that my right hon. Friend has given. However, I shall leave that thought with the House about the future scope of the legislation, as we shall be dealing not only with these offences, but with many others which, in the international world and the global village in which we now live, may require laws with extra-territorial jurisdiction so that we can prosecute people who come to Britain having committed offences abroad.

12.31 pm
Mr. Congdon

The House and the country have a good tradition dealing with the difficult issue of child abuse. I was interested to read that in 1994 there were more than 2,200 successful prosecutions in Britain for the vile practice of child abuse. That is why it is even more important for the House to give the Bill a Third Reading so that it can proceed to the other place.

It would be quite wrong to have strong laws in Britain dealing with child abuse without there being any measures to prevent those people who have been inhibited by those laws from avoiding them by going abroad to indulge in perverted practices.

In reading the debates on the Bill on Second Reading and in Committee, I was interested to learn about the scale of child prostitution, in so far as it can be measured. The figures quoted were that there are 200,000 child prostitutes in Thailand and 60,000 in the Philippines. An appalling number of children's lives are ruined by the foul and awful trade in child prostitution. That is why it was right for my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) to introduce this important Bill.

Many of my constituents have written to me on the matter and the correspondence goes back some considerable time. I must confess that about a year ago I felt that we were making good progress. The right noises were coming from Home Office Ministers and I welcomed the proposal from my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South. I thought that it was great that we were putting measures on the statute book to deal with the trade in child prostitution.

As I said earlier, I was then somewhat mortified to get a lot of letters and postcards from constituents asking, "Why is it that you as Members of Parliament are sitting back and doing nothing about this foul, vile trade?" I was surprised when my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) said that the postcards he had received had no addresses on them. It may be that people in Croydon are more literate or more open than people in Romford—I do not know—but I certainly had a fair number of letters from people who gave their names and addresses.

My right hon. Friend the Minister's response was excellent. It set out clearly the Government's views, which we all share, about this foul trade and about the need to do something about it. That is why I welcome the Bill.

I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) that the Bill does not go far enough in terms of extra-territoriality. He was absolutely right to elaborate on that point. It was a pity that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) intervened as he did. There is no doubt that people look to this House to pass legislation on crimes that they find abhorrent, and they want us to take further action. Having listened carefully this morning to the explanation of why the Bill does not go further, I understand the point.

The House has a tradition of passing legislation that is not just about bringing prosecutions, but about changing behaviour. The law that is always cited in that respect is the Race Relations Act 1976. There are other laws, some of which hon. Members have cited this morning, which make certain offences illegal. If one asks in a parliamentary question how many people have been prosecuted under that law and how many people have gone to prison, the number may be derisory. In a way, that does not matter because the important point is whether the law succeeds in changing practice—yes or no. I believe strongly that, regardless of the argument that it would be difficult to bring a prosecution against someone for committing such acts abroad, it would have been right extend the Bill in that way.

I now turn to what the Bill tries to do. In a sense, the same point about the difficulties of bringing prosecutions could be made about the Bill as it stands. I do not say this to criticise the Bill. It can be difficult to prove conspiracies and it can be difficult to provide the necessary evidence. However, I believe that the very fact of the Bill's getting on to the statute book will send a firm message to those thinking of going to countries such as Thailand to engage in perverted practices that it is just be possible that they or the people who are putting out advertisements will be prosecuted. That is likely to lead to a reduction in such offences.

I resisted intervening in the debate on amendment No. 1, which covered sending and receiving messages on the Internet. I had more doubts before I listened to the debate. I now feel that the amendment is likely to be workable. I suspect that the sending is far easier to prove than the receiving, but I presume that it would be possible for anyone, whether a policeman or someone else, to prove that a message can be received by logging on to the Internet and receiving it. It may be far easier to get proof in terms of the Internet than it would be in terms of telephone messages, which just disappear unless one has one of those infernal answering machines and even then the messages can be recorded over.

Although there may be difficulties in obtaining prosecutions under the legislation, the very fact that the House will pass the Bill will change behaviour, and we all wish to see that happen. I will continue to respond to my constituents and tell them that I am confident that the House of Commons is doing what it can to deal with that vile practice and trade.

I hope that, at a later date, Ministers—or perhaps another private Member—will feel that they can introduce an extension to the Bill along the lines that I have indicated. I am pleased to add my support to the Bill on Third Reading and I look forward to seeing it on the statute book shortly.

12.39 pm
Lady Olga Maitland

I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall). His adoption of the Bill was typical of him, because he has never ducked difficult issues. I have always known him to be a courageous man with a strong social conscience. When we became aware that the subject needed tackling, I knew that we needed someone who is not squeamish, because it takes guts to go into the seamier side of life and not quail. I also admire my hon. Friend for pulling together a committed team, because, by working as a united force and doing its own research, that team has made the Bill so workable and worth while.

I find it very difficult to accept that people can be so utterly degraded and so disgusting as even to contemplate the sexual abuse of children that we have heard about. I am appalled that such people seem to have no sense of shame and no conscience about the damage that they must be doing or have done to defenceless children, boys and girls. When young people are abused in that way, they are damaged for life. There is no turning back. Their prison sentence has started once they have been assaulted for mere sexual gratification, and they do not stand a chance.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) pointed out on Second Reading—unfortunately, I was not in the Chamber for his speech, but I read it and thought he made his point powerfully—the children involved are often orphans. They are desperate, hungry, illiterate and probably far from home and have often been duped into taking drugs to make them more malleable. The thought makes me shake with horror.

The situation is made all the worse by the fact that the people who take advantage of the children are those who have had every opportunity that the first world has to offer. They are mostly prosperous business men, professional people and people from all walks of life. They are not simple illiterates who do not know any better—they do, and that makes the Bill all the more important.

The Bill deals with the important and core point: if people do not conspire and encourage others to commit such acts, it is less likely that the offences will happen on the scale that they do. Therefore, tackling conspiracy and incitement is a vital aspect of the Bill. I regard with wry humour the bottom of the first page of the Bill which states: The Bill will have no effect on costs to businesses. My goodness, I hope it does. I hope that it runs out of business every little trade that sends people abroad to commit those acts. I hope that they all end up thoroughly bankrupt.

We must consider the scale of the sexual exploitation which has been mentioned in the House already. The 1995 Christian Aid report, entitled "An Abuse of Innocence", estimated that the numbers of children in prostitution in Thailand approached 250,000, and there are growing numbers in Colombia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, India, Vietnam and Cambodia. To my mind, there is no burning hell that is sufficient punishment for the people who prey on those children.

Earlier, hon. Members were anguishing about extra-territorial jurisdiction. We cannot duck that in the long term. When British nationals overseas act in the ways described, it is our moral responsibility to bring them to justice. If we need to bring laws into being to deal with that, we must do so.

I am disappointed that we are serving ourselves only half a loaf today, but we do so in the expectation that it will become the whole. Unless we tackle the issue with genuine energy, we will let down both ourselves and the aims of the Bill. Indeed, it would be a gross neglect of duty.

I accept that the Bill now goes a little further than intended because of the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South dealing with the means of messages being sent to or received from overseas. At least that is a step forward. However, it is simply not good enough to say that the problems of extra-territorial jurisdiction are too legally tortuous to tackle and may be beyond us—and that even if we did give the courts such jurisdiction, it would be a token gesture; in short, worthless. I do not take that view. My view is that the offences are so deeply offensive and terrible that we are under a moral obligation to do all that we can to surmount the difficulties. Somehow, we must.

I accept that my right hon. Friend the Minister is concerned about the matter. He made a moving speech on this real problem when he addressed the Michael Sieff Foundation's conference "Child Sex Tourism—The Need For An Urgent UK Response". I welcome the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has instigated a review of our policy on this matter. It is right to examine whether the arguments that underpin the territorial nature of our jurisdiction should remain valid or whether we should go further.

We must take into account the changing circumstances regarding evidence. For example, some perverts return with videos of their sick activities abroad. Surely we could convict them on that evidence alone, rather than prosecute for the lesser offence of possession of child pornography. By taking a lateral thinking approach to the problems, the review body, when it comes into being, will be able to reach a positive conclusion on how to proceed. Its time will have been well spent.

What worries me is that, meanwhile, we have a long way to go. Perhaps we should examine what other countries are doing. Twelve have now passed extra-territorial laws allowing them to prosecute nationals engaged in sex offences in other countries. Those countries are: Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the United States of America, Iceland, Denmark, Finland and Switzerland. I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) will be addressing a conference on this subject in Strasbourg next week. I hope that he will raise the whole issue of extra-territorial jurisdiction. I also hope that he will learn lessons from other countries and bring them home with him. I wonder why we cannot summon up all our resources and do the same as those other countries.

Another matter astonishes me. Surely we could seek out the, evidence overseas ourselves, perhaps through Interpol or with the help of the National Criminal Intelligence Service. My right hon. Friend the Minister referred to the NCIS paedophile unit, which is very experienced. I do not understand why it cannot be asked specifically to take on research into these offences. I understand that the unit has already chased across the world on other paedophile matters, so its experience could be brought to good account.

We could seek bilateral arrangements with the police forces of other countries to help us to investigate crimes, gather evidence and get together the forensic materials. Most of the countries that we are concerned about have laws outlawing sexual trade, even if they are rather lax about doing anything about it.

When Lord Hylton introduced his own Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill in the other place in February, he pointed out that police liaison officers had been sent from this country to overseas locations in respect of drugs offences. Why not then in relation to sexual offences? Is not a child abused every bit as serious as a drug offence? Does not a child come before drugs? Do not human beings come before drugs? I accept that drugs can have an appalling effect on human beings in other ways, but none the less we are talking about young, innocent people, and they have rights that we should put to the top of the agenda.

May I put a more positive light on the Bill? It may not be perfect. In many aspects, it leaves much to be desired, but it is better to get such a Bill on the statute book and get on with it rather than not act at all. At least it will be possible to make amendments at a later stage. That would certainly pass a clear signal that this society would no longer tolerate such behaviour.

When he launched his review of sex tourism, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary declared: the full force of the law must be used against the evil people who sexually exploit children for money. It is an abhorrent activity. We must do all we can to prevent it and protect children everywhere. The Government have always placed high value on children, and their safety and well-being, so I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will not rest until he has stiffened up the Bill much further.

Lastly, a word for the countries where the child sex trade persists. I trust that talks are taking place at the highest level between our respective Governments to work together to curb this trade. There is evidence that, while it may be forbidden, the authorities turn a blind eye. A country can be regarded as truly civilised only if it guards and protects innocent young children with the same dedication as we do here. Authorities the world over must be pressed to close down their child brothels and prosecute.

Mr. Michael

Does the hon. Lady agree that support for the 10th item on the Order Paper today, the Sexual Offences Against Children (Register of Offenders) Bill, would be a measure of the interest and civilisation of Members of the House, and that we should move forward on the Bill in order to debate not only that Bill but the Bill which seeks to regulate international contributions to the finances of the Conservative party and other Bills which are waiting their place for debate?

Lady Olga Maitland

I am disappointed by the hon. Gentleman's intervention. He brings a political dimension to an important issue, on which I thought that we shared genuine sympathy and concern.

Mr. Michael

We do, but I also share concern that the debate is being dragged out to avoid reaching the next Bill. There are some good points.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. This is becoming tedious repetition now.

Lady Olga Maitland

I shall conclude, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Everyone here today is likely to be a parent or to have close young relatives. Many of us have brought children into the world. We bring them up, we nurture them, we are aware of their gentle innocence. It is understandably revolting even to contemplate any violence against them. A twisted pervert who plans for months his vile sexual programme and goes overseas in search of it deserves the full weight of the law. A life sentence is the only penalty that I could accept. It is hard to show mercy for a man who has committed such offences.

After all, such a man has condemned one child or perhaps many children to a living death. They could end up committing suicide through desperation or dying from infections such as AIDS. Why should that man enjoy the freedom to go out and commit further offences and leave the innocent to suffer for ever? I trust that the courts will not falter in following public opinion and imposing the appropriate penalties. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South on introducing the Bill. It is vastly overdue, and all the more important for it. I wish it speedy progress to Royal Assent.

12.53 pm
Sir Michael Neubert

As a sponsor of the Bill, a supporter on Second Reading, a member of the Committee that considered it and a participant in this morning's debate on Report, probably have no need to reaffirm my detestation of that most detestable of practices, the sexual abuse of children. Now that I am on my feet, I pay tribute again to the author of the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), who has done the House and children a service by introducing it. I hope that it will shortly be given a Third Reading and pass to another place.

I rise briefly because we all recognise that no individual Member of Parliament has the resources or capacity to introduce such a measure without considerable support and research backing from organisations outside—perhaps even a Department of State. My thanks should be put on record to the Action for Children Campaign and especially to its director, Rev. Graham St. John-Willey. It has been active in the matter for six years, not just the six months since the Bill's introduction. Today marks some advance for its desire to bring this most disreputable of trades to an end, so far as we can achieve that by the Bill.

The Action for Children Campaign represents a large coalition of national organisations—principally, the National Council of Women of Great Britain. Altogether, more than 100 leading women's organisations and many others in churches, synagogues, schools, colleges, universities and youth organisations, have supported its programme. It must be gratifying for them, after all their efforts, that some of their hopes, especially in respect of sex tours, are being realised by what I hope will be the Bill's speedy passage through Parliament. I renew my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South and wish the Bill well.

12.56 pm
Mr. Michael

I again congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), who has done a service to the House and the public in bringing the Bill forward. That service has been limited by the limited nature of the Bill that was handed to him by the Government Whips Office; that has been reflected in the contributions of hon. Members on both sides of the House in Committee and on Report. Nevertheless, the Bill is an important stage in tackling this terrible problem.

The Bill is a good deal stronger because of the amendments agreed by us today than it was when it entered the House or when it came back from Committee. The amendments have made it a significant step in dealing with an international scandal and with the outrage of everybody in Britain at the actions of citizens of the United Kingdom who participate in and encourage the activities that it is intended to tackle. I am pleased that the Minister picked up the points that were made in Committee and supported the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Hendon, South today.

Tough words from the Home Secretary or from the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) are meaningless and of no value to the victims of paedophiles unless we have clear and effective law backed by action. The contributions of some Conservative Members have been weighty and serious. However, although the contributions of the hon. Members for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) and for Welwyn Hatfield and others may have been impelled by concerns expressed by their constituents, they were also impelled by the wish of the Government Whips Office to avoid discussion of the funding from abroad of the Conservative party, which is the matter that will be debated once this Bill has passed on its way.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) and for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who have pursued the issue over not weeks but years. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting made the important point that we need to know what is being done on our behalf and in our names in international debates and in terms of international action. He has played a major part in the international debate and in trying to move the issue forward.

In Committee, it was disappointing to hear the Minister of State say that he was content to leave actions abroad by British citizens to the law of those countries and the enthusiasm of the law enforcement agencies there. During those debates, he suggested that extradition and the offer of co-operation by the British Government were enough. I welcome his statement that the British Government would co-operate in the extradition of people who have been involved in such activities abroad and have been accused of them.

I also welcome the comments that the Minister of State made this morning about the activities of the National Criminal Intelligence Service. It is important to hear a Minister telling the House that he welcomes and supports activity to identify and pursue those who commit offences under the Bill and offences overseas. I believe that the Minister has responded to the quality of the debate in Committee and on Report and has increased his interest in the topic, and I welcome that.

The problem with the extradition and punishment or pursuit of offenders by third-world countries is that our citizens have economic power in the poor countries in which the most horrendous exploitation of children takes place. Fear of discouraging tourism by following through the tough action in a way that might inspire headlines in the United Kingdom can be a disincentive. Fear of that sort of response and its effect on the economy might have an impact. Therefore, a stronger voice from Ministers, saying that international action will be encouraged, is important indeed.

The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) was right to say that the Crown Prosecution Service should not be lazy or ineffective in prosecuting offenders under the Bill. I am paraphrasing what he said, but it sounded as though he shared my concern that it will take little to discourage the CPS from making proper use of the Bill. I hope that the message that goes from the House is clear and shows that, in supporting the Bill, we want it to be acted upon.

We need pressure from the Government in wider avenues of activity. I hope that support will be given to item 10 on the order paper, the Sexual Offences against Children (Registers of Offenders) Bill and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Ms Anderson) for promoting it; it has much support. If the Government Whip, cowering in a corner, shouts, "Object!", I warn him and Conservative Members that our constituents and theirs will not understand and that their constituents will not forgive an obstruction being placed in the way of that worthwhile legislation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that debate must be confined to the Bill.

Mr. Michael

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The hon. and learned Member for Harborough referred to enforcement. We need to make it easy for poor countries to take a tough line and to realise that our decision in passing this legislation is an important stage in the British Parliament's declaring its abhorrence of such activities abroad and its intention to do more to curb them.

The Government need to be proactive and to support the activities to which my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting referred. I hope that the Minister of State will take on board the suggestion that there should be some representation at the Strasbourg conference. If Ministers from other countries are attending, there seems to be no reason for us not to be represented—at least by a junior Minister. Perhaps we will send a more senior representative to the Stockholm conference in August. I am not sure whether sending an Under-Secretary of State rather than a Minister of State with the standing of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), who dealt with the Bill in Committee and on the Floor of the House, will send the right message. I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with the Bill today and in Committee. That sort of message needs to be carried to the Strasbourg conference as well.

The right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) referred to the coalition that has campaigned to end child prostitution abroad, and I join in the tribute that he paid to its work in briefing hon. Members.

The right hon. Member for Selby also referred to our support for an urgent debate after the completion of the Home Secretary's review of extra-territoriality. That review must be completed quickly. It must not merely be put into a cupboard in the Home Office but be brought to the House for a speedy debate so that we can examine it. Like the Minister, I, on behalf of the Opposition, do not want to raise unrealistic hopes, but we need to examine the results of the Home Secretary's review of the issues surrounding extra-territoriality and the options of strengthened action through the international community, perhaps by means of international agreements and legislation. We should be debating the Government's actions on extra-territoriality in the context of a determination to find the right way to take action on this abhorrent practice.

In that context, I welcome the Bill, which has the Opposition's support as a small but important first step towards obtaining adequate and tough legislation to deal with this issue.

1.5 pm

Mr. Maclean

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on his excellent handling of the Bill during its passage through the House.

United Kingdom law, of course, strictly prohibits the mistreatment of children, and those who commit offences against children in this country rightly face stiff penalties. The Government are committed to doing all they can to deter and punish those who sexually abuse children and to ensuring that, when prosecutions are brought against people who mistreat children, the criminal justice system treats child victims of crime fairly and with sensitivity.

Measures to ensure that the criminal justice process treats children fairly and with sensitivity include such provisions as allowing children to give evidence by closed circuit television, allowing video-recorded interviews of children conducted by the police or social workers to form the child's evidence-in-chief at trial, and allowing committal proceedings in cases in which children are involved to be bypassed so that they do not have to give evidence twice.

The paedophile unit of the National Criminal Intelligence Service maintains a computerised database of people actively involved in paedophilia. The unit collects, develops, analyses and disseminates information and intelligence relating to those people and works closely with police forces across the country. I must say that the unit is one of the best organisations of its type in the world. It may be the only organisation that so vigorously pursues paedophiles.

People who sexually abuse children are liable to be prosecuted for a wide range of offences. The offences include rape, unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 13, unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 16, buggery with a child under 16, indecent assault, and gross indecency with a child under 14.

The measures in the Bill are a further extension of the powers the Government have taken over the years to combat the menace that perverts pose to innocent children everywhere. The Government cannot and would not deny that, regrettably, a significant number of those perverts who travel to other lands to abuse children are British. It is right, therefore, that the Government should take the matter seriously and consider what measures they can take.

I have received many letters from people expressing their disgust that, in their view, the Government have not acted to take extra-territorial jurisdiction. Like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I share their anger at some of the despicable postcards that were sent to hon. Members on both sides of the House accusing hon. Members of not caring about or being idle in children's defence. Any organisation that sends such postcards, signed or not, should be ashamed of itself.

All hon. Members are concerned about children. No sensible Government, however, should introduce legislation unless they can be certain that it will be effective. Hon. Members on both sides of the House would be among the first to criticise the Government were the legislation to prove ineffective or counter-productive, or if it failed to work. It is because we want to ensure that legislation is workable that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has announced a review of extra-territorial jurisdiction. If we can find a way to ensure that, in the particular circumstances of sex tourism, that jurisdiction would work and could be enforced effectively, we shall, as I have said repeatedly, not be backward in coming forward with legislation to tackle the problem.

I greatly respect the views that my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) holds on this matter. The mere fact that I have set out, perhaps robustly on occasions, the practical difficulties that we would face if we were to take extra-territorial jurisdiction does not mean that I have prejudged the result of the review or, to use his words, that I am unsympathetic to or unenthusiastic about extra-territorial jurisdiction. It is not that, but I do not want the House to run away with itself on a wave of emotion and believe that it is a simple matter of waving a magic wand and producing a couple of clauses in a Bill to achieve that aim easily.

Of course the measures in the Bill are not the entire answer to the problem, but I reject the suggestion that they are just a small step along the way. Although the Bill is extremely important, only effective action by the tourist-receiving countries will make a difference on the ground and make life infinitely better for the millions of children around the world who are being abused—although abuse sounds too light a word for what happens to them.

I am encouraged by some of the steps that have been taken by the Philippines, for example, to crack down on sex tourists. I am puzzled by those who act as apologists for the inaction by tourist-receiving countries when they say that those countries cannot be seen to prosecute western tourists because of the harm that it will do to their tourist trade. Therefore they must pass the buck back to western countries to do something. Of course those countries will attract the scum of the earth if they fail to purge their sleazy child brothels. I suggest that their tourist trade might expand if families and decent people felt able to visit such places, free from the fear either of being thought a pervert or of having to consort with them. My message to those countries is, "Prosecute those scum and see your international standing rise." Soho was cleaned up by taking action there, not by exhorting people in foreign countries not to come to London.

The Bill is, as I said, another helpful weapon in the fight against the perverts. The Government have taken other positive steps. We work hard in international forums, particularly the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, to combat child prostitution. We supported the adoption in 1992 by the commission of a programme of action for the prevention of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and have urged all countries to implement the measures that it contains.

We frequently raise the question of child prostitution in contacts with authorities in countries where that is a problem. As well as being a party to the convention on the rights of the child, we support the work of the committee on the rights of the child in monitoring the compliance of states with the convention.

The Overseas Development Agency provides assistance to several non-governmental organisation projects which involve the rehabilitation of street children and the associated problems of prostitution, drug abuse and violence.

The police service provides assistance to local law enforcement officers in countries where child prostitution is a problem directly and through participation in training sessions at the Interpol standing working party on offences against minors.

The Government whole-heartedly support the valuable participation of the police service in the work of the Interpol standing working party and the contribution of those officers who are working closely with their counterparts in the developing countries. We send politicians—me or my colleagues—to talk at international forums, and important though that may be, why we play a leading role came home to me loud and clear when I hosted a reception a few months for all the paedophile officers of Interpol around the world at the national headquarters of our National Criminal Intelligence Service.

Senior police officers from around the world have made contacts and exchanged business cards. They will not be hampered by diplomacy, protocol or convention, as they now have the telephone numbers of their colleagues in the Philippines, in Tokyo, in Pretoria, in New York and in Washington. They are now liaising and co-operating fully with each other to track down paedophiles. Britain is at the forefront of that process and it is at the centre of the hub through NCIS.

Mr. Michael

Does the Minister accept that what concerns us is not whether Minister talk at conferences but that they should listen, co-operate and, above all, lend their authority to action? That is what my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and I are asking the Minister to do.

Mr. Maclean

I am slightly at a loss to know what to make of the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I have read out a list of areas in the United Nations and in Europe where Britain has been at the forefront in getting these conventions. We not only talk at the convention stage but follow it up in ratifying and getting the measures through. Every time I go to one of these conferences, the first thing I say to other countries is, "Before you start making a new convention for the world, will you please sign up to all the other conventions that you talked about five years ago and did not sign?" I can say that in relation to drugs and extradition, in particular.

Of course the British Government will be represented at the Stockholm conference and at the meeting in Strasbourg next week. Officials from my Department will be there and they will be involved in the planning and preparation stage. A Minister from the Home Office will be present at the conference in Stockholm in August. The British Government will be represented there, and I hope that conclusions will be reached.

I am making the point that the rank of the Minister is not what is essential; what is essential is the follow-up to the conference. This country has a proud record of following up the things to which it signs up and of pursuing them vigorously. We have the finest police force in the world and a team of officers dedicated to tracking down paedophiles and child abusers wherever they raise their ugly heads in the world. We shall continue to combat child prostitution through our work in international bodies and with the British police force hard on their heels.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South on introducing an excellent measure. I hope that he will understand when I say that, by sponsoring the Bill, his name will for ever more be linked with the sexual abuse of children: if his Bill is passed, as I hope and pray it will be, his name will be linked to this evil because, as a result of his efforts, another shield will have been raised to protect children from sexual abuse. My hon. Friend deserves the congratulations and thanks of hon. Members and the whole country for bringing the Bill forward and for his patience and kindness in piloting it through the House.

I also thank the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) for most of what he said, for his support of the Bill and for what he said in his concluding remarks. However, I am sorry that he introduced the bogus point of item 10 on our agenda today, which I shall not address. He knows very well from reading the White Paper produced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department that we promised a consultation document going into detail on registers of paedophiles and a sex register.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth also knows that my right hon. and learned Friend wrote to his hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Ms Anderson) yesterday to explain that it would be nonsense to proceed with precipitate legislation on a sex register which has not been thought out when we have a full consultation document coming out in relation to all aspects of this matter. It is bogus to suggest that any objection to the Bill that may occur today shows that we are not interested in the subject.

Sir Michael Neubert

Is it not even more astonishing that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) is prepared to see such legislation go through on the nod this afternoon, without any debate at all?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are beginning to stray, even though the Minister said that he would not do so.

Mr. Maclean

I would not want to stray in any circumstances. We have had a good debate this morning. However, more important than whether the House has had a good debate is the fact that we now have an excellent measure that can help to make a difference.

For all the reasons I have given, I am delighted to support the Bill on behalf of the British Government. I look forward to its speedy passage through another place and to its becoming law. I hope that the message goes out from the House today to paedophiles or perverts, wherever they ply their trade in the world, that we have another hammer against them now, and if they try putting their stuff on the Internet we have another chance to get them. Their days are numbered; the message to them is, "Stop it, and stop it now!"

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

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