HL Deb 21 February 1996 vol 569 cc1118-36

7.20 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The subject matter of the Bill is an issue that will not go away. We had opportunities to debate it in 1994 and 1995 and I make no apologies for returning to it again this year. The phenomenon of child prostitution, abuse and exploitation is, alas, worldwide. It ranges from Brazil, via such unlikely countries as Croatia and Romania to the Far East. There can be no doubt that our own citizens and residents are as deeply involved as those of other countries.

Since last summer, in one small part of the Philippines, 11 foreigners have been arrested for molesting and abusing children. Seven came from a variety of countries and four from Britain. Of the latter, one will be extradited to this country to answer earlier and more serious charges here while the remaining three will be tried locally. In December four Britons were under arrest for similar offences elsewhere in south east Asia. I am sorry to say that successful prosecutions do not happen often enough and may well receive little publicity in this country thereby failing to deter. That is a theme to which I shall return.

Tourists and businessmen are highly mobile. There may hardly be time to arrest them when they have committed an offence. Even if they are held, bribery may secure their release. That is understandable where officials and police are underpaid, overworked and undertrained. Witnesses may also be unwilling to come forward unless they can have effective protection and encouragement. However, I am glad to say that the governments of the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam have all passed, or at least drafted, stricter legislation outlawing child prostitution and increasing the penalties for adults caught abusing children. I have corresponded with some overseas embassies here in London. They are generally supportive of measures, including legislation by this Parliament, to protect children.

At international level bodies such as UNICEF and the International Labour Office are well aware of the needs and are doing their best to help. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which we have ratified, places a duty in Article 34 on all states: To prevent the exploitative use of children in prostitution".

In view of our responsibility under that convention I wish to ask Her Majesty's Government what use they have made of the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990 in respect of sexual offences against children and young people.

Police liaison officers have been sent from this country to overseas locations in respect of drug offences. Am I right that so far none has been sent in respect of sexual offences? If so, why is that? Is not child abuse every bit as serious as drug abuse? Twelve countries which send tourists and others abroad recently took extra territorial jurisdiction in order to carry out their duties under the United Nations convention already mentioned. Why, I wonder, have Her Majesty's Government been so reluctant and discouraging, bearing in mind that several of those countries are also common law jurisdictions? Can the objections on grounds and difficulties in proof really be sustained in view of technological improvements in transmitting evidence—for example, video satellite links—and in view of the proliferation that has occurred in recent years overseas of human rights lawyers and non-governmental organisations dealing specifically with children?

After 18 months of prodding, various Early Day Motions in another place and sundry meetings with Ministers, Her Majesty's Government have at last produced the Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill, which has been introduced in another place by the honourable gentleman, Mr. John Marshall. That Bill takes up the aiding, abetting, counselling or procurement provision contained in line 7 of my Bill and expands it into some seven clauses and one schedule. I am of course grateful for small mercies, especially when they come from the Home Office. The Bill that I mentioned is intended to be helpful whatever arguments there may be about its drafting. However, I must point out that it deals only with a very small part of the total problem. The Bill as it stands will catch travel agents, tour promoters and paedophile rings and others in this country who promote or facilitate the commission of sexual offences against minors in other countries.

Already the great majority of reputable travel agents here belonging to the Association of British Travel Agents have taken an honourable stand against so-called "sex tourism" and have refused to have anything to do with it. That Bill therefore does not give our courts extra territorial jurisdiction. The conspiracy and incitement which would be caught by that Bill have to be committed in this country. That Bill will not catch those who abuse children in other countries and return here without having been prosecuted.

I understand that there is ample evidence to show that most British residents who go abroad to abuse children do so singly and not on organised visits. No doubt many take advantage of opportunities as they happen to present themselves. I conclude therefore that the Government-inspired Bill does not deal as fully with our responsibilities as we should.

We are faced with a strange paradox. Pornographic material is imported into this country year by year. Large quantities are confiscated and destroyed. Importing such material is an offence. Possession in this country of grossly indecent photographs is also an offence but British residents who can be identified on film in the act of abusing a child in a third country cannot be prosecuted in our courts. My Bill would remedy that absurd situation.

I accept that it is normally much better for British paedophiles to be prosecuted in the countries in which they commit their offences. If necessary they should be extradited from the United Kingdom to stand trial. In the nature of things, however, not all such offenders will be charged overseas and we do not have comprehensive extradition treaties with all the other countries. That is why we need a reserve power for our own courts. The power will probably not be used frequently but even one or two cases a year would have a powerful deterrent effect. Potential offenders would know that even if they escaped scot free while overseas, retribution could come after they return here. It should be as risky and as dangerous to molest children overseas as it is already to do so at home.

I believe that we should fulfil our international obligations in an exemplary way. Twelve countries, including some with a common law tradition, have already taken extra territorial jurisdiction. We should hesitate no longer. Today is Ash Wednesday. What day could be more appropriate to make us heed the injunction contained in Psalm 82: Rescue the weak and the needy, save them from the clutches of the wicked."?

I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Hylton.)

7.30 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Hylton, who is reintroducing this Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill into your Lordships' House, and I congratulate him on his perseverance.

It seems to me that the Bill tackles one of the more distasteful topics that this House is ever likely to debate. I find it hard to understand how any adult would abuse the trust of a child and commit sexual offences against him or her. The horror seems magnified when we realise that adults are travelling thousands of miles to take advantage of poor children in poor countries of the world for their own perverted sexual satisfaction.

I am reminded of the words of the Lord Jesus when he spoke of the consequences for anyone who might cause wrong to a little child. In Matthew 18, verse 6, he said that, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea".

Those are weighty words. People committing these offences will ultimately have to face up to their creator.

I am conscious, however, that some find it difficult to listen to Christians who are concerned on this issue. They point to the sad series of cases where priests, ministers and Church leaders have abused their position in order sexually to exploit children. There are examples of such people travelling abroad to abuse children. There are examples of paedophile priests waiting for extradition to Britain for alleged offences committed against children. Such cases grieve me and bring great dishonour not only to the Church but to the name of Christ. I accept that we Christians have much to do to set our own house in order.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, so lucidly observed, Article 34 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child called for all appropriate legislative measures to he taken to stop child sexual abuse and to protect children in all countries. In August 1996, the Swedish Government will host the first world congress against the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The UK, along with all UN member states, has been invited to attend that congress and sign up to a plan of action currently being drafted by the former United Nations special rapporteur. The plan of action calls on tourist-sending countries, of which, of course, we are one, to introduce legal measures to enable them to prosecute their own citizens who travel abroad to exploit children sexually. The current situation is that individuals who travel abroad to commit those horrendous acts cannot be prosecuted in the United Kingdom because our jurisdiction does not cover those acts committed abroad. This Bill, which was also introduced in the last parliamentary session, would extend the United Kingdom's jurisdiction.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, 12 other countries have recently introduced this legislation; namely, Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, USA, Iceland, Denmark, Finland and Switzerland. It seems difficult to conjure up a reason why we cannot introduce similar legislation if all those other countries apparently can.

It seems to me that a Bill such as that before us today can be made to work and that it gives a crucial signal to those engaging in sex tourism that there is no escape from their crime. If they are not prosecuted in other countries, at least they will be prosecuted in Britain.

I hope that the Bill receives a Second Reading. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, well in his crucial task in pushing the issue forward and seeking to protect underprivileged and vulnerable children of the world.

7.34 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Chester

My Lords, last year the Church of England Bishops, in line with other Churches, published a policy on child abuse. The guiding principle behind that was the special status which children have in the Kingdom of God, with the need to he respected as individuals and to be protected in their vulnerability. As the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, reminded us, our Lord himself warned that those who exploit or abuse children merit profound condemnation. Of course, the children who are the subject of this Bill are no less special because they live thousands of miles away. The principle is universal.

In 1995, Christian Aid, which is the official aid agency of the British and Irish Churches, published a report, An Abuse of Innocence. That estimated the numbers of children in prostitution in Thailand at approaching a quarter of a million. It warned also of the rapid growth in Colombia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, India, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Children become prostitutes for a variety of reasons, nearly all of them connected with the poverty of their families. But the relationship between poverty and prostitution is not simple and mechanical. Some children, hungering for secure relationships, are betrayed. Where tourism has developed, many are attracted to the easy money from foreign clients. A significant number are simply coerced—physically prevented from leaving the house in which they are forced to work. That is a form of slavery and children may be drugged or beaten to make them acquiescent.

Those children can be helped in two ways. The first is to foster development in their countries which will enable their families to have more secure incomes, more reliable crop yields, better healthcare and so on. That is long-term and beyond the scope of this debate. But in the House this evening we have an opportunity to affect the demand for such services from children by passing legislation to deter citizens of this country from abusing children overseas. I am told also that, in the Philippines and Sri Lanka, Britons form the second or third largest group of people deported for abusing children.

I can well understand that the Government are concerned that evidence brought against people should be secure. We know from our own situation how difficult it is to judge allegations of child abuse. But in 1991 we passed the War Crimes Act, which not only allows prosecution for crimes committed overseas but depends on evidence still being sound after 50 years. As we have already been reminded in this debate, other countries with legal systems similar to ours have not been as reluctant as have the British Government to try to overcome the difficulties posed by legislation such as that proposed in the Bill before us today.

In August 1996, as we have also been reminded, the United Nations member governments are invited to a world congress against the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Everybody will be invited to sign a plan of action and declaration. As I understand it, the draft includes a recommendation on extra-territorial legislation for tourist-sending countries as argued for by UNICEF, the Council of Europe and the UN Commission on Human Rights. I hope that our Government will be there and will sign willingly. I should prefer it if that were done with the Bill before us today passed into law.

The debate about the extent to which legislation changes behaviour or reflects changing behaviour will go on. I believe that we are required to do as much as we can to prevent that pernicious, evil, sick and human-demeaning exploitation of children. I am clear that merely to prosecute sex tour operators is not an adequate response. We need to halt people in their tracks by the probability, not the possibility, of prosecution. The Church is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for this Bill and hopes that it will succeed.

7.38 p.m.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, I have six points which I can make in as many minutes. The first is that legally the noble Lord's Bill is well-founded. It is perfectly open in English law to extend the reach of our laws in suitable cases as we have done in relation to other crimes such as murder, piracy and slavery. The view which I have just expressed is my view; it is also the view expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, in the debate last year on 15th March at col. 900 of Hansard.

Secondly, we are apparently fourth in the league table of nationalities travelling abroad for sex. Ahead of us are the USA, Germany and Australia. Those three countries have passed legislation comparable to what is proposed here. In addition Belgium, France, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Finland have also passed such legislation.

My third point relates to the ability to obtain a conviction having regard to problems with evidence. Our rules with regard to proof are, I believe, in the process of being made a good deal easier. There are suggestions in regard to the hearsay rule of evidence, and I have little doubt that there will be a tendency in the future to facilitate proof. I said on the previous occasion we discussed this matter that in a world of technological improvement with videos and the like there should often be opportunities to establish what I accept prima facie is not an easy situation. I was therefore interested to learn that there have been successful prosecutions. There was one in particular in Norway where the proof consisted of videos taken by the criminal himself of his activities with some small child which were designed to provide pornographic stimulus to him and to his friends and others to whom the video was circulated. In addition there was correspondence between him and his fellow paedophiles describing the activities in which he involved himself. Therefore proof is available, difficult though it may be to obtain.

The fourth point I wish to make is that the passing of this type of legislation will provide a valuable deterrent. As is the case with some airlines, specific warnings on certain matters can be given to passengers. In the case of this Bill those warnings would no doubt be directed to citizens of, or those resident in, the United Kingdom, and would contain an indication that a recent Act had been passed which put them at risk of incurring severe penalties if they committed sexual offences with children abroad. That would instil fear among quite a high proportion of those engaged in this sort of activity. I have little doubt that it would act as a significant deterrent.

Fifthly, by passing such legislation we should be making a declaration of our abhorrence of this vile trade—as it has been described—and it would be proof that our abhorrence involved more than making pious exhortations. My sixth and final point—I still have one minute in which to speak—is the following. What have Her Majesty's Government to lose by enacting such a law? It carries with it no commitment and no vast expenditure. It means that where evidence is obtainable something should be done to implement the legislation that has been passed. It does not involve stationing policemen all round the world; there are non-governmental organisations whose assistance can no doubt be obtained. For all those six reasons I suggest that there is no valid reason for resisting the Bill and that there are at least six good reasons for supporting it.

7.44 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, we on these Benches wholeheartedly support the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. I spoke on the previous occasion that the noble Lord introduced a Bill of this nature in the House. The noble Baroness who is to reply to the debate this evening replied to the debate on that occasion too. She understandably and rightly condemned the activities that are addressed in the Bill—in the same terms that I would use—as being deplorable and repugnant. The noble Baroness also said she thought that some of the statistics we bandied about on that occasion were exaggerated or false. However, I do not think that will be said tonight. Since the noble Lord proposed the previous Bill, the gravity of the situation has become much clearer as regards citizens of this country indulging in activities of this kind when travelling abroad.

I feel strongly about this matter as in the 1970s I travelled to Hong Kong on a business trip. On the return journey I had arranged to meet a former school friend who had been working for some time for a French pharmaceutical company in Bangkok. We arranged to meet before I returned to England. My friend felt strongly about these sexual activities involving children which were taking place in Thailand. He sought to shock me by describing, and indeed showing me, evidence of these activities. I was deeply moved by that and for many years I have felt that this activity has been allowed to continue largely ignored by the public at large.

I have recounted stories which have been greeted with incredulity. But now, thanks to the noble Lord and his Bill and the publicity it has received, more people are aware of what is happening. What makes matters even worse is that I know two persistent offenders who have committed offences with under age girls abroad. Both of those people appear to be respectable and pleasant people. They excuse and justify their activities on the grounds that, such is the economic state of the countries in which they pursue their activities, they are performing a service. That is the kind of mentality that we are dealing with. Those are educated and sophisticated people. We are not talking about grotesque people with distorted natures who save up to go on these trips. We are talking about ordinary people who are able to pursue their desire for sexual gratification with young children abroad because the latter are readily available.

It is welcome that this Bill which seeks to outlaw sexual tourism, or organised sexual tours, has the Government's blessing and, hopefully, will become law. However, that is not enough. I am no lawyer but it seems to me that there are difficulties in establishing what is an organised tour in this respect. To my knowledge people who seek this sexual gratification do not go on organised tours, although they obviously exist as otherwise we would not be discussing them. I believe that these people travel as individuals, either on business trips or on other occasions. We are tardy in acknowledging the situation. As the noble and learned Lord has just told us, we are fourth in the table of countries whose citizens commit offences in this area. I did not realise that. If I understood the noble and learned Lord correctly, he said that the three countries with a worse record of offences In this area have already taken steps to make this activity illegal when committed outside the normal jurisdiction of their courts.

One of the peculiarities of this kind of deplorable activity is that photographs are often taken, together with other evidence of such activities, for which, unfortunately, there is a market. That is enormously distressing because that information is published and distributed to others, who may well be encouraged to follow the same deplorable path.

I follow the noble and learned Lord in asking what is to be lost by the Government pursuing the line taken by other countries to make it difficult for people to pursue these activities. It must be a deterrent, certainly for the people I described. It may not be a deterrent to certain classes of people, but certainly it would be a deterrent to those people who seek to justify their behaviour on economic grounds. I suggest that they would certainly desist if a deterrent of this kind were in place.

I feel very strongly about the matter and will be extremely disappointed and upset if the noble Baroness, who I know feels strongly about the deplorable nature of these activities, has to voice the same objections as she did last time. It would be a disgrace for this country at this stage not to assist and follow the example of other countries which are themselves trying to put their house in order. I believe that the Philippines is considering introducing the death penalty for offences against Linder-age children. In Thailand also a great deal has been done, with slender resources and despite the difficulties of implementing their own laws.

We cannot be an example because others have preceded us, but surely we should follow without delay the example that has been set. Otherwise, what will the rest of the world think of us?

7.51 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, the Government should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for giving them another opportunity to end their isolation. Every noble Lord who has contributed to the debate—and the speakers embrace a wide range of experience and expertise—has argued in favour of the Bill.

The matter has already generated a share of history comparable with some of the crusades of earlier years. It has been some years since the attention of the western world was drawn to the need for legislation of this kind by the organisation known as End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT). As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, reminded us, in 1989 a horrified world included in the Convention on the Rights of the Child three articles dealing with the need to protect children.

In 1991 the United Nations Human Rights Commission appointed a special rapporteur, Professor Muntharbhorn, who recommended that states should extend their criminal jurisdiction to such acts committed abroad by their nationals. He further suggested that they might put police personnel in countries where there was known to be a threat to children, as already mentioned in the debate. In 1992 the United Nations adopted a programme of action to combat sexual exploitation of children and specifically included legislative measures to combat sex tourism both in the countries where the tourists go and in those from which they come. UNICEF has specifically supported that initiative. In 1991 the Council of Europe recommended to member states that they should adopt extra-territorial jurisdiction over these offences.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, spoke of growing public awareness of the matter in this country. Some years ago Anti-Slavery International, CAFOD, Christian Aid, the Jubilee Campaign and the United Kingdom section of the Save the Children Fund formed a Coalition on Child Prostitution which has been in correspondence with the Home Office. There have been campaigns by the Josephine Butler Society and the Action for Children Campaign, together with the National Council of Women and the World Federation of Methodist Women. The right reverend Prelate spoke of the initiative last year by the Church of England bishops. In addition, governments, particularly those enumerated by the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, have introduced extra-territorial legislation in precisely the way suggested in the Bill. Some of your Lordships referred to the gathering next year in Sweden where these matters will be discussed.

In this Parliament I raised a proposal at the Committee stage of the Bill which became the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 on 14th June 1994 and again at the Report stage on 11 th July 1994. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, introduced a Private Member's Bill to the same effect on 15th March 1995. Mr. Michael Alison has presented a Bill in very similar terms in another place. Twice Home Office Ministers have received delegations, in which I participated, and there have been at least two Early Day Motions in another place attracting some 300 signatures, which is almost unheard of.

All that effort has produced at least some meeting of minds if not of wills. The Government do not deny that there is a need to protect children from this foul trade. In another place, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, the Government are giving support to a Private Member's Bill introduced by Mr. John Marshall which would facilitate the prosecution of sex tour operators for criminal conspiracy or incitement. If that Bill reaches the statute book it will offer some protection for children. However, I fear that it will not address all the problems, for two reasons already mentioned. I speak with some experience on these matters.

First, it will not be easy to prove that there has been an agreed course of conduct in this country to promote the offences abroad, which is one of the conditions in the Bill. Those who operate tours for this purpose do not spell it out in plain English in their brochures. It is done in code, by winks and nods. Those who organise the tours will tell juries that they had no knowledge of what their clients proposed to do when they arrived at their destination.

Secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, the Bill will not deal with cases where paedophiles do not join tours organised for that purpose. As a number of noble Lords have said, many of them make their own way to the place where they intend to commit their offences. Therefore, that Bill, however desirable, will not remove the need for the Bill before your Lordships today. However, at least the Government do not deny the need to protect children in the countries which have been mentioned. Those of us who support the principle of the noble Lord's Bill have never denied that it is better, where possible, that offences should be prosecuted in the country where they take place and that where there are extradition arrangements in place—and there are not extradition arrangements with all the countries concerned—the best course would be to make use of them. The problem is that in many such countries too many officials are prepared to descend to corruption. Even those accused of offences and who are within their jurisdiction have been allowed to go. We know of a number of such cases.

That is not an allegation which I make from my own knowledge. It is an allegation which has rather greater authority. It is said by the governments of some of the countries which are being discussed. In Thailand, for example, senior politicians will tell you that justice is often defeated by corruption and that they would welcome it if the British Parliament were to introduce the principle of this Bill.

In our debates in 1994 the Government used two arguments. First, they suggested that to give extra-territorial jurisdiction to the courts in this country would remove the incentive for the governments in countries where the offences are committed to deal with them themselves or to apply for extradition. That argument has disappeared. Apparently even the Government now accept that the authorities in Thailand and the Philippines wish they could deal with the offences themselves.

Secondly, the Government said that they did not believe it would prove possible to mount successful prosecutions in this country because the evidence would not be available. That objection has been answered, I would have thought conclusively, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner.

We said two things in answer. First, it would be possible at no extravagant cost to station government officials in the countries concerned, as recommended by Professor Muntharbhorn. That is a practice which this country already employs, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, to obtain evidence of conspiracies to import controlled drugs into the United Kingdom, and it is one which Sweden uses for the very purpose we are discussing tonight.

Secondly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, on that occasion pointed out that there are non-governmental organisations with considerable expertise in this field which already have a presence in the cities concerned and could make the evidence available. Father Shay Cullen, who carries out such commendable work among children in the Philippines, has assured me personally that many of the children would be prepared to give evidence and that he could arrange for their interview and their attendance here.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, referred to the case of Bolin in Sweden where there was a successful prosecution based partially on the evidence of the child. I have had an opportunity of studying the relevant parts of that transcript in the English translation. I have been able to read what I consider is sufficient for the purpose of forming a judgment. Of course there are differences between the procedures in the Swedish courts and those in our own courts. Some of the evidence would not have been admitted in the courts here in the same form. But I am satisfied that the gist of the evidence could have been placed before a court in England—and I assume that the same would be true in Scotland—and a jury might well have convicted. That argument is no longer tenable. If the Government resist this Bill, the problem lies not in maintaining a successful prosecution but in the lack of a political will.

The Home Office does not give up easily. On the last occasion when the Home Secretary himself was good enough to receive a delegation the argument had shifted again. The principal argument now apparently is that in this country we do not favour extra-territorial jurisdiction. We have adequate extradition arrangements and we do not like making exceptions to that rule for particular situations.

So we are back to what was said in the course of the 1994 debates which, not having been challenged since, we thought it unnecessary to repeat. I am fortified by finding myself in respectful agreement with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. The taking of extra-territorial jurisdiction over offences committed by United Kingdom nationals is not new in cases where it would address a real need. Parliament did so in 1861. Section 9 of the Offences against the Person Act of that year, which is still on the statute book, provides that homicide committed by a British subject abroad may be tried in the courts of this country. Offences relating to slavery have been triable here extraterritorially since 1873. Section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 makes torture committed by a British subject abroad triable here.

I share the puzzlement of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. What have they to lose? I do not believe that Ministers or officials in the Home Office are more enamoured of this foul trade than your Lordships, Members of another place, organisations I have mentioned, or the people of this country. What is holding them back? The Act which put an end to the slave trade was bitterly contested. But, of course, there were many who had a financial interest in resisting it. I know of no similar financial interest here. I believe that one day people will be equally incredulous that this proposal was resisted, but they will have to devote many a PhD thesis to divining the reason. I hope this evening that the noble Baroness will be able not to resolve our puzzlement but to say that it no longer remains a viable question.

8.5 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, of his similar Bill in the last Session of Parliament did much to raise the profile of the evils of child prostitution and the sexual exploitation and the abuse of children abroad. I have no difficulty, indeed no hesitation whatever, in aligning myself personally with the views expressed this evening on the subject. As a result of the noble Lord's efforts, the issue: received widespread publicity and brought these problems to the attention of many who might otherwise 'have been unaware of them. The universal reaction of Members of this House, of the other place, and of the public was one of disgust and condemnation. The Government share that disgust and, as I said, I personally deeply regret that British nationals are involved in this evil and pernicious trade.

We are all agreed that effective action needs to be taken to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, we are riot all agreed on what the most effective action might be. In passing, I muse on this. As the Minister in this House I have just taken through the House the Criminal Procedures and Investigations Bill. Efforts were made, remade and redoubled again and again to ensure that the defendant was treated fairly and justly in allowing every opportunity for appeal and challenge. I have to say that, on the basis of what I have heard tonight, if the flimsy proof of evidence that has been almost advocated in the course of the debate were part of our criminal procedure and were we to treat one category of defendant differently from all other categories of defendant I should have had a very difficult time—even more difficult than the experience I have just described—taking that Bill through the House.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, if the noble Baroness will allow me to intervene—I hesitate to interrupt her—will she specify a recommendation in any of the speeches tonight that a prosecution should be mounted on flimsy evidence?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I was simply referring to the references on how evidence could be collected—by using voluntary organisations, taking videos, by taking the word of a child. I shall come to the Swedish example mentioned by the noble and learned Lord in the course of debate. That type of evidence, accepted under the Swedish legal system, would not stand up in our courts.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, the evidence which I suggested would be relevant and admissible would be a video taken by the defendant himself of he himself engaged in these activities. That is perfectly admissible. It is tantamount to a confession—a rather dramatic confession. Correspondence between the defendant and other persons with the same proclivities describing how he had enjoyed himself would be tantamount to a confession and would be admissible as any other confession would be. I have suggested no easing of the obligation to prove. I have merely accepted that it would be more difficult to prove.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I have to say that I have enormous sympathy with what the noble and learned Lord says. People come through Customs, for example, with videos which show the most awful activities, but time and again the videos do not give conclusive evidence for the crime to stand up in court. For example, the age of the child might have to be guessed from often poor, home-made videos. There are other difficulties too. I do not wish what I say to get in the way of what I believe unites the whole House in recognising the evils of these activities and doing something about them. I muse on the experience I have just had of taking a criminal procedure Bill through this place.

The noble Lord believes that we should take jurisdiction to deal in this country with those who have committed sexual offences against children abroad. That is one option. But again we have some doubt that it represents the most effective approach. The most effective approach would be for the countries in which this evil trade flourishes to close down the brothels in which young children are exploited and to bring the full force of their criminal law to bear on those who are engaged in the despicable and vile activities. That would be a very welcome response. For our part, we are very ready to help.

With regard to international drugs liaison officers, although their primary role is to deal with drugs matters and to support international co-operation in the fight against the illicit drugs trade, they can and do provide liaison and information on other areas of serious criminal activity where it does not undermine or detract from their primary role. That role may and can include organised sexual offences.

Subject to the normal rules, we are prepared to extradite our own nationals to stand trial in the country in which they are alleged to have committed offences. As noble Lords will know, some countries will not do that, but we will if we receive a request. That, of course, is important. Without a request we cannot extradict and the sad fact is that we do not receive requests. I invite noble Lords to consider the implications of that fact. If we do not receive requests, it is presumably because there is insufficient evidence to justify a prosecution or insufficient will to investigate the matter. I make no observation on which of those might be the reason, but either would make it extremely unlikely that, if we had the necessary jurisdiction, we could mount a successful prosecution here. Our police would have no power to conduct their own investigations, nor would we have any power to compel the attendance of witnesses or to ensure (through the threat of a prosecution for perjury) that evidence given by a witness abroad could be relied upon to be truthful.

There are, of course, all kinds of reasons why our jurisdiction has traditionally been territorially based. I know that noble Lords think that the objections are academic and indicate a lack of will on the part of the Government. I wish to assure the House that that is not the case. Both I and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary would be the first to act if we thought that by doing so we could make a real difference. But our fear is that by accepting the noble Lord's approach we might make matters worse. If we were to take the necessary jurisdiction to deal with the offences, there is a danger that we would, in effect, relieve the countries concerned of their obligation to act. It would be very easy for them to say then that this was a matter for us to deal with, leaving them to wipe their hands of the problem. Of course, if we could not actually enforce the jurisdiction effectively, we would then end up with a situation in which the paedophiles and others who exploit young children could go about their despicable activities with impunity. None of us wants that to happen. That is why we have been concentrating on trying to find effective ways of dealing with the problem.

As your Lordships know, in July last year the Government announced an examination of the law of conspiracy and incitement to see whether action could be taken against acts committed in this country in preparation for the commission of a sexual offence against children abroad. The Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill, which is at present under discussion in another place, will, if it is enacted in its present form, make such preparatory behaviour unlawful. It has been widely described as an attack on sex tour operators. It should indeed catch those who make arrangements for, or who advertise tours which involve, the sexual abuse of children abroad. But it will also go wider than that. Many of those loathsome creatures travel on their own to places where they can indulge their sick pleasures. But they discuss and plan their activities with others of their kind before they go. That may well amount to conspiracy or incitement and would be caught by the provisions of that Bill. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, said how difficult even that is in our own country under our very noses. This is a positive response to the problem, but I do not pretend that it deals with the whole of the problem. It is a pragmatic approach to one aspect.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, at the risk of being tiresome, perhaps I may intervene once more. The point I was making was that the condition which is required in the Bill is one which is difficult to prove because people do not normally reduce their nefarious intentions to writing. That difficulty would not apply to the prosecutions which would follow from the noble Lord's Bill.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I have pointed out some difficulties, but we know that the police have good intelligence. That intelligence and making the activity criminal will take the whole matter one step forward. We do not pretend that it deals with the whole problem, but it is a pragmatic approach to one aspect. In the Government's view, it is more useful than a declaratory measure, which would have no practical effect.

That is not all that we are doing. We take an active part in international discussions on the issue and our police co-operate actively with their colleagues in other countries to pass on information about known paedophiles who travel abroad. Only very recently I saw senior police officers who came to the Home Office to give a presentation about the imaginative and skilful way in which they are now securing evidence using technology on the Internet, where these awful people ply their trade electronically across the world, giving each other contacts. A great deal of liaison is going on by our police forces right across the world, networking with their colleagues in other countries, to root out this evil practice.

In addition, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has recently announced a review of our position on extraterritorial jurisdiction. I have already indicated some of the reasons why we in this country generally operate on a territorial basis. There are real obstacles in the way of enforcing extraterritorial jurisdiction effectively. But as circumstances change and technology develops, it is right that we should look carefully at the assumptions which underlie our position to see whether they remain valid. The review will look carefully at the implications, both for policy and for procedure, of any change to our current position. The issues involved are complex and will require detailed consideration. I do not know what the conclusions will be, but I can assure the House that the review will be very thorough.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, gave an example of two persistent offenders whom he knew personally. I have to say that what he said was not unfamiliar to me, as someone responsible for the Probation Service and a visitor of prisons. Sadly, it is a fact that many sex offenders, both in prison and on community service programmes, rationalise this awful behaviour. It is quite extraordinary how they show little or no remorse for their actions or any concern whatever for the victims. Sometimes the victims are of their own family. It is one of those dreadful aspects of sexual offending.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to international co-operation, and I have mentioned it once. All requests for mutual legal assistance under the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990 are treated as confidential between governments. It would not, therefore, be appropriate to disclose details of any request received from overseas, other than to say that we have the facility to do that. I can confirm that under the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990 the United Kingdom authorities are able to provide a wide range of mutual legal assistance to judicial and prosecuting authorities overseas in criminal investigations and in their proceedings in respect of all criminal offences, including sexual offences committed against minors.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, also referred to police liaison officers, as I did. There are no liaison officers,' either police or customs officers, with a specific role relating to sexual offences against children overseas. I have said that the primary role of our drugs liaison officers is to deal with drugs matters and to support international co-operation in the fight against the illicit drugs trade. They can and do provide liaison and information. We know that if they were present and if there were evidence to be found, they would co-operate. They would use their presence in those countries to co-operate with the other police forces in bringing evidence to bear. In addition to their work on drugs matters, drugs liaison officers reporting to the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which is very important in this area, have been specifically tasked by the director-general of the service to cover all serious and organised crime liaison. Again, depending on the nature of an offence, that can include sexual offences.

The first two British drugs liaison officers were posted overseas in 1984. Today, there is a network of over 40 liaison officers attached to diplomatic posts in: 27 countries, with formal accreditation to a number of other countries.

I said that I would refer to Sweden. Last year, the Swedes successfully prosecuted one of their nationals, Mr. Bolin, for sexual offences committed against a boy in Thailand. That proves, some say, that we can do the same. But I have to say that in respect of this case that is not so. We are not confident that evidence produced in court in Sweden would have secured a conviction here under our rules of evidence.

I understand that the offender in this case was initially arrested by the authorities in Thailand but absconded. He returned to Sweden but since the Swedes do not extradite their nationals they could not send him back to Thailand. If a similar incident had occurred involving a British national, we should have been able to extradite him to stand trial in Thailand and that is certainly the approach we should prefer to take.

If we examine the evidence given by the boy, we find hat he alleged he settled on the final version of his story after being threatened by a police officer in his own country who was waving a gun. That, at least, was what he said. He was looked after and prepared for his court hearing by a non-governmental organisation. Your Lordships can imagine what would happen if he had given evidence in a British court. Under cross-examination, he would have been torn apart by even a newly qualified lawyer. The court in Sweden preferred the boy's version of events to the defendant's because the defendant had admitted to assaulting the boy o an off-duty Swedish police officer posing as a fellow child molester. Again, that is a practice not accepted in our courts. The conversation was videoed clandestinely by a Danish television crew. In similar circumstances it is very unlikely that, on that evidence, produced in that way, a United Kingdom court would convict. These are practical issues which demand much closer inspection.

I recognise that the noble Lord will be disappointed by my remarks. However, I urge him to accept that the Government share his desire—indeed the desire of all noble Lords present—to put an end to this evil practice and in good faith to examine all possible ways of doing so. We are anxious, however, that any action we do take should make a real and practical difference.

As is the convention when considering Private Member's Bills in this House, this Bill will receive a Second Reading. I have no intention whatsoever of opposing it.

Lord Thurlow

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, like other noble Lords I was very glad indeed to hear about the review being set in hand. Will she be good enough to ensure that the views of the other countries that have legislation—including for instance, New Zealand, with whose legal system I am familiar—on the central problem of evidence will be taken fully into account in the review?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord absolutely that assurance. It is important that we watch very closely what is happening in other countries. It is also important that whatever arrangements we make for defendants or innocent people defending themselves in this country they should not apply to one category of people and not another. There has to be a level playing field for all those defending their innocence and those trying to prosecute a case and secure conviction. I assure the noble Lord that the review will be very thorough. Both within the review and outside it we are very anxious to watch closely what is happening and to liaise closely with our colleagues in other countries.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, can she help me on two matters? She expressed on behalf of the Government an anxiety that if the Bill was enacted it might make matters worse since it might mean that countries that should be, and might well be thinking of being, more vigorous in their prosecutions would relax. I wonder whether she has found that in the 12 countries that have adopted similar legislation that tendency has arisen. I should like to know whether she has any evidence to support her thesis. It is significant that 12 other countries have adopted such legislation.

The second point relates to evidence. On the last occasion, on 15th March (col. 991) the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, asked whether the noble Baroness would inquire from Father Cullen, to whom he had already made reference, whether, as he understood the position, he could arrange that witnesses would be forthcoming to this country if his assistance was called upon. The noble Baroness gave an assurance that she would take the matter up in order to further the debate. I wonder whether there has been any activity on that front.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, on the first point, it is a view that if we undertake to take it upon ourselves to secure convictions for these kinds of activities when the primary duty for doing so is that of another country that country will simply leave it to us to do. Given how difficult it would be in practice for us, so many miles away, to secure all the proof of evidence that is required in our courts, we have taken the view that it would be better to see proper court cases secured in those countries where the activities take place, and to do all we can to co-operate. I accept that the noble and learned Lord is right to challenge me. It is but a view. I hope that I presented it in that way.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, I apologise again for interrupting. The question that the noble and learned Lord addressed to the noble Baroness was: has that been the experience of the 12 countries that have already enacted this legislation?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I was just coming to the particular point about the other countries. I have absolutely no evidence. We know that they have not been very successful in securing convictions, and having examined cases in which convictions have been secured, and the way in which they were secured, in our view they would not be secured in this country given the operation of our criminal justice system. That does not mean that we should not continue to examine ways in which we can be more co-operative in allowing the conviction to be secured in another country, or in doing what we can. Perhaps after examining the whole territorial jurisdiction issue we may take a different view.

As to the point concerning Father Cullen, I referred the matter to my department. I am ashamed to say that I cannot give the noble and learned Lord a specific answer as to the outcome. However, I shall make absolutely certain that he receives an answer from me in the not-too-distant future.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all Members of the House who spoke in this short debate. Last year, it was extremely encouraging to receive virtually unanimous support. I was a little anxious to know how things would go this time. I am delighted that noble Lords were so positive in support of my modest Bill.

The noble Baroness will not be surprised to learn that I found the general tenor of her reply rather disappointing. The only small crumb of comfort she seemed able to provide was the review that she announced. I hope that it will not be an occasion for yet further delay. I am sure it is important to consult with other countries. However, we do want action, and we want it quickly. Having said that, once again I thank all who have spoken. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.