HC Deb 18 December 1986 vol 107 cc643-4W
36. Mr. Maclean

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the action being taken by his Department to prevent child abuse and to improve the likehood of prosecutions where child abuse has taken place.

62. Mr. Watts

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what initiatives have been taken by his Department to combat child abuse.

Mr. Hurd

A "Stranger Danger" campaign has been in operation for some years. It aims to increase the awareness of children, parents and teachers; to get across an easily understood set of simple rules for children to follow; and to alert parents and teachers to the need to ensure children know and follow these rules. The national standing conference on crime prevention agreed last month to set up a working group to review existing publicity and publications on child molestation and abuse and to make recommendations on the most appropriate messages, presentation and audience for future publicity on this subject. The group has asked to complete its work by next November.

A Home Office-led review is examining the disclosure of criminal backgrounds of those seeking to work with children. As a result new arrangements have been introduced for checks on newly recruited staff and volunteers in the education, social and probation services with substantial access to children, registered child minders and foster and adoptive parents and adults in their households. We are preparing circulars on children in long-term care in the National Health Service and on staff in independent schools. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment) Order 1986 ensures that all those seeking or holding positions which give access to children may be required to declare convictions which are spent under the Act, and may be excluded or dismissed on account of such convictions.

I have requested the Inspectorate of Constabulary to gather information about arrangements which police forces make in child abuse cases. On the basis of this information, and in consultation with chief officers, I will consider the need to issue a circular to the police later next year on the investigation of such offences and the treatment of victims.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 made a spouse a competent and compellable witness against a person accused of a sexual offence or an offence of violence against a boy or girl aged under 16. That Act also permits a jury to treat an unjustified refusal to provide an intimate sample as evidence corroborating, for example, the unsworn testimony of a child victim of a sexual assault. We gave full support to the Sexual Offences Act 1985, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), which increased the penalty for indecent assault on a woman or a girl to 10 years. If enacted, clause 21 of the Criminal Justice Bill will permit a child witness in the case of a sexual offence or offence of violence to give evidence before the Crown court via a live video link.

Those sentenced to life imprisonment for the sexual or sadistic murder of children must normally expect to remain in custody for at least 20 years; and those sentenced to more than five years for physical or sexual abuse of children will be granted parole only when release under supervision for a few months before the end of a sentence is likely to reduce the long-term risk of re-offending or in circumstances which are genuinely exceptional.