HC Deb 19 January 2004 vol 416 cc1066-7
8. Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab)

If he will increase the length of sentences for those convicted of sexually abusing children. [148330]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart)

Yes; the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which comes into force in May 2004, introduces new offences of sexual activity with a child and causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity that are punishable by a maximum of 14 years' imprisonment. These will widen the scope of offending behaviour and replace existing offences, which carry maximum penalties of two and 10 years.

Mr. Barnes

I am not someone who naturally looks for longer sentences to fill up prisons, so I am conscious of earlier remarks about the national offender management service. Longer sentences are advantageous in the cases of children who have been sexually assaulted because they protect children in our communities and give more time for the treatment of offenders so that they can overcome their obsessions. Does the Minister agree that they are preferable to the publication of offenders' names and addresses, which could lead to vigilante activity?

Fiona Mactaggart

My hon. Friend is right, which is why action was taken in the Sexual Offences Act. In addition, relevant provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which comes into effect at the end of the year, will ensure that dangerous offenders—specifically sexual and violent offenders—will not be released until the Parole Board has decided that their risks are manageable in the community.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con)

Is the Minister aware of a case in Mold Crown court last week in which a man who was convicted of having unlawful sex with a 14-year-old girl was not only sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment—I make no comment on whether that sentence was the right length—but forbidden from using the internet, I hope and presume, ever again? As that was probably the first time that a judge has made such a restraining order, will she welcome it and encourage other judges to do the same in similar cases in which paedophiles or sex offenders are convicted?

Fiona Mactaggart

I welcome the judge's decision. He recognised how the internet can be used in such cases. Sentencing in an individual case is a matter for the courts and not for politicians. The judge in that case, Judge Daniel, said that it is time to re-examine the law so that harsher penalties can be handed down to men who pursue 14-year-olds. I am proud to say that that has been done and that, from May, harsher penalties will be available to the courts.