HC Deb 09 July 2002 vol 388 cc782-7

  1. '(1) The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c. 37) shall be amended as follows.
  2. (2) In section 20(1) (application for a sex offender order in Scotland) for "in the area of his police force" there shall be substituted "who he believes is in, or is intending to come to, the area of his police force".
  3. (3) In section 20(2) (conditions to be fulfilled), for "the public" there shall be substituted "the public in the United Kingdom, or any particular members of that public".
  4. (4) In section 20(3) (court to which application must be made)—
    1. (a) after "application to" there shall be inserted "—
    2. (a) ";
    3. (b) at the end there shall be inserted "; or
    4. (b) the sheriff whose sheriffdom includes any part of the area of the applicant's police force.".
  5. (5) In section 20(5) (prohibitions which may be imposed), for "the public" there shall be substituted "the public in the United Kingdom, or any particular members of that public,".
  6. (6) In section 21(7) (time limit, variation and revocation of order)—
    1. (a) in paragraph (b), after "revoked" there shall be inserted "(in the case of a sex offender order, by the appropriate court for that order)";
    2. (b) in paragraph (b)(i), after "the order" there shall be inserted " or, in the case of a sex offender order, any other relevant chief constable".
  7. (7) After that subsection there shall be inserted—
    1. "(7A) In subsection (7) above—
    2. 'the appropriate court' means—
      1. (a) the sheriff who made the sex offender order; or
      2. (b) the sheriff whose sheriffdom includes any part of the area of the applicant's police force or of the police force of any other relevant chief constable;
    3. 'relevant chief constable' means a chief constable who believes that the accused is in, or is intending to come to, the area of his police force."
  8. (8) After subsection (7A) (inserted by subsection (7)) there shall be inserted—
    1. "(7B) Where a sheriff makes a sex offender order in relation to a person who is already subject to such an order (whether made by that court or another), the earlier order is discharged by the making of the subsequent one."
  9. (9) Subsections (5) to (7) apply in relation to applications and orders under section 20 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c. 37), whether made before or after the coming into force of this section.'.—[Mr. Denham.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Denham

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government new clause —Sex offender orders made in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Government new clause 4—Sex offender orders: Northern Ireland.

Government new clause 5—Interim orders for sex offenders: Northern Ireland.

Government new clause 6—Sex offender orders made in England and Wales or Scotland.

Government amendments Nos. 48, 50, 60 and 61.

Mr. Denham

In Committee we introduced amendments to sex offender orders made in England and Wales to bring more flexibility to the application process, to introduce interim orders and to extend the jurisdiction of sex offender orders to the UK as a whole. The five new clauses in this group provide parallel provisions for sex offender orders made in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Scottish Parliament passed a Sewel motion on the 27 June allowing the UK Parliament to legislate on its behalf.

New clauses 2 and 4 make three changes to the application process. First, when police forces know that an offender intends to come to their area, they will be able to apply for an order prior to the offender's arrival. Secondly, police forces will be able to make an application to any court in their police area, rather than only to a court in the area in which some of the risky behaviour took place. Thirdly, police forces will be able to vary orders at courts in their own police area without having to go back to the original court that made the order. That is not necessary in Northern Ireland because there, there is no limitation on which court may hear a variation. New clauses 2 and 4 also make it possible for the prohibitions in Northern Ireland and Scottish orders to extend to the UK as a whole by amplifying the definition of "the public" to the public in the United Kingdom, or any particular members of that public". New clause 5 introduces interim sex offender orders in Northern Ireland, allowing police forces immediately to put into place preventive measures whenever necessary. Interim orders will have the same effect as full orders. Interim sex offender orders already exist in Scotland. New clauses 3 and 6 make breach of an order, whichever jurisdiction created it, an offence in Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. The other amendments are consequential.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

The Opposition are pleased that a Sewel motion was passed by the Scottish Parliament enabling the new provisions to be introduced in line with the Government's proposals in Committee. We agreed with the Government's action in Committee, but it is fair to say that although we welcome the Government's having taken the opportunity to use the Bill to expand the operation of sex offender orders and make them more flexible, the Government might need to do more. From discussions with Ministers, I know that the Government recognise the need to keep the issue under review; that, too, is welcome.

I pay a personal tribute to another Home Office Minister, the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, who assisted me on an especially difficult constituency case that is relevant to the new clauses. In that case, a person who had committed serious offences was about to try to move from one part of the UK to another part of the UK. The Minister was extremely helpful. There is no doubt that the provisions relating to England and Wales that the Government introduced in Committee, and the new clauses and consequential amendments that introduce those provisions to Scotland and Northern Ireland, will help the police.

None the less, we ask the Minister to repeat on the record the assurance that the Government have not closed their mind to making further changes if it transpires that there are other loopholes. The case with which I dealt, and the not dissimilar cases with which my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) have dealt, have exposed potential difficulties in the law as it stands.

We all want there to be a really effective set of provisions in statute to control dangerous sex offenders and prevent their committing further offences. After the tragic Sarah Payne case, we are all especially conscious of the need for the law to be very tough and not to allow any loopholes to remain. Having said that, I welcome the Government's action, but ask the Minister to reassure us that if we propose further changes, the Government will consider our proposals seriously.

Norman Baker

On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I am happy to express full support for the Government's proposals. We also supported the amendments made in Committee. The provisions are sensible and they will close one or two of the loopholes that all of us recognise need to be closed.

Like the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), I am aware of at least one relevant case. After becoming the subject of an order, an offender in a Welsh force's area moved to Scotland. The relevant Scottish force was informed of the order, the man's behaviour was monitored, and I understand that risky behaviour was observed. An additional order had to be sought because the prohibitions of the first order were not legally binding in Scotland. That is not satisfactory. The loophole must be closed, the Government are right to close it, and they have our full support.

I welcome too the heightened commitment from Ministers to deal with sex offences generally—a small straw in the wind, but welcome none the less. The Home Secretary personally answered a question about rape at Home Office questions, which did not go unnoticed. He has also said that he intends to introduce legislation to update sex offences legislation, which is overdue. I am therefore pleased with the Government's response in this regard, both this afternoon and more generally.

5.45 pm
Mr. Hogg

I am afraid that I do not share the enthusiasm that some hon. Members have expressed for the amendments. When I look back at section 20 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, I am struck by its draconian nature. One must therefore ask oneself whether one should extend it even further.

Under section 20(2)(b) of that Act, the power to make an order is exercised on a standard of proof less than that required under the criminal code. Under section 21(7)(a), the order can be made indefinitely. Under section 20(5), the prohibitions imposed are those necessary to protect the public from serious harm from the person in respect of whom the order is made. Someone who satisfies the criteria—I accept that they have to have been a sex offender in the past—can have an indefinite prohibition imposed on them on a standard of evidence that falls far short of that required in the criminal courts. The order may require them to desist from a particular occupation, living in a particular place or pursuing certain conduct—all on a standard of proof below that used in the criminal courts and for an indefinite period.

We are extending that provision, and I view that process with considerable suspicion. I am a little surprised, as clause 20 is a Scottish clause, that we have not had the privilege of hearing from a Scotland Office Minister. As other matters refer to Northern Ireland, I am a little surprised that we have not had the privilege of hearing from Ministers from the Northern Ireland Office, but so be it—those are small points. At the end of the day, we are extending draconian powers, and we need to be jolly careful about doing so.

Lady Hermon

I am sorry that we have not had input from a Minister from the Northern Ireland Office, but I hope that the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) will grant me the courtesy of accepting that as someone who represents a Northern Ireland constituency, my views may carry just as much weight as those of a Minister from that Department.

We in Northern Ireland are particularly in favour of the extension of the orders, as our position has become increasingly difficult—when sex offenders moved into an area, we could not impose interim sex offender orders. A number of my constituents are exceedingly concerned about that problem, so I wish to compliment the Minister, rather than criticise him, on introducing the new clauses. However, I should be grateful for clarification of two matters. First, new clause 4(2) will change the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 so that it reads,

If it appears to the Chief Constable that the following conditions are fulfilled with respect to…any person"— meaning a sex offender— who he believes is in, or is intending to come to, Northern Ireland Will the Minister clarify what is meant by a person who intends to come to…Northern Ireland"? Does that extend to people coming form the Republic of Ireland, as well as the rest of the United Kingdom?

Secondly, the Minister will know that under section 21 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, a chief constable in England and Wales shall consult the local authority before a sex offender order is made. In Northern Ireland, we do not have a similar procedure. The Chief Constable has no obligation to consult a local authority. Bearing in mind the impact of the Patten report and reform of policing in Northern Ireland—the central element of which is to bring policing closer to the community—was any consideration given to consultation with the new district policing partnerships which will mirror district council areas in Northern Ireland, or was the matter overlooked when the new clauses were tabled?

Annabelle Ewing (Perth)

I, too, place on record my regret that no Scotland Office Minister has seen fit to be present during the debate on these clauses, which will of course apply to Scotland. Perhaps that is symptomatic of their somewhat cavalier attitude to the treatment of Scots law matters in this Parliament.

On behalf of the Scottish national party, I welcome the closing of loopholes in the sex offender order system and in the enforceability of such orders throughout the United Kingdom. I hope that that will help to ensure public confidence in the way in which we deal with sex offenders.

Reference has been made to the debate in the Scots Parliament on 27 June this year on the Sewel motion passing jurisdiction on this matter to Westminster. During that debate, my SNP colleagues raised some concerns, motivated by the need to proceed as urgently as possible. At that time, it was not clear whether the Bill would complete its legislative passage through this place before the House rose for the summer recess. During the debate in the Scots Parliament, we in the SNP were arguing for the passage by the Scots Parliament of emergency legislation to ensure that this vital matter was dealt with urgently. Of course, the Scots Parliament retains jurisdiction over criminal justice matters and on several occasions has passed emergency legislation in the criminal justice field.

During that debate—I mention this on the off-chance that the legislative completion of the Bill does not proceed in the way it appears to be heading—my SNP colleagues sought a guarantee from the Scottish Executive Minister that, if the passage of the Bill in Westminster was delayed for any reason, the issue of sex offender orders would be brought back to the Scots Parliament when it reconvenes at the beginning of September after its shorter summer recess, to ensure that emergency legislation would be forthcoming.

We support the principles of the new clauses and the consequential amendments. I hope that the introduction into Scots law of such important new provisions will not be delayed simply because they have been tagged on to Westminster legislation which, for the most part, has no application in Scotland.

Mr. Denham

I shall deal with the points in turn. I am grateful for the general welcome that has been given to the new clauses and amendments. I can confirm to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) that it is the Government's intention to respond in the autumn to the conclusions of the consultations on the "Setting the Boundaries" report on sex offences generally. In due course, we will look for legislative slots to take forward our proposals in that regard. As we discussed in Committee, we have used the Bill to introduce necessary and urgent measures, but this is by no means the end of the issues that need to be addressed. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance.

I welcome the support from the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). He is right to notice the commitment of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to these issues.

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said that the powers were draconian; they are. They are powerful measures, which the House has judged necessary to protect our children from people who have a record of sexual offences and who may be displaying behaviour—for example, hanging round children's swimming baths or playgrounds—from which the public wish to be protected, and the public do not understand why there is no preventive measure. The House and other Parliaments having decided to introduce such measures, it is appropriate that we make sure that they work as effectively and flexibly as possible.

The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) asked about a couple of points. Yes, the power can potentially be used against a convicted sex offender from abroad. It could obviously also be used in circumstances where somebody convicted in this country had travelled abroad and was coming back. Precisely because situations have arisen where police have become aware that a convicted offender is moving to their area, whether from within the country or from abroad, the power is necessary. Somebody may, for example, be relocated or housed upon release through a registered social landlord. It may become quite widely known that that person is moving to a particular area, but at present the police cannot act until the person has taken up residence in the area. Clearly, that has been a matter for public concern.

On the comments of the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing), let us hope that because of the utmost reasonableness of the Government and our accommodating approach to the Report stage, any questions of legislative delay need not entertain us.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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