HC Deb 26 July 2000 vol 354 cc698-9W
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when the sexual offences review report will be published. [132520]

Mr. Charles Clarke

[holding answer 25 July 2000]: I can confirm that the "Setting the Boundaries: reforming the law on sex offences", report of the review of sex offences, is being published today.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set out the terms of reference for the review in his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) on 25 January 1999, Official Report, columns 80–81W. The review was asked to look at the law in England and Wales and to make recommendations that will provide clear and coherent sex offences that protect the individual, particularly children and more vulnerable people from abuse and exploitation; enable abusers to be appropriately punished; and were fair and non-discriminatory in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998.

This review was open and inclusive—it involved many stakeholders directly in its Steering Group and advisory External Reference Group, and consulted with many more at a series of conferences and seminars. It has looked at the evidence from research and the experience of law reform in other countries. The review has now completed its report to Government. It has made far-reaching recommendations to strengthen the effectiveness and protection of the law for children, raised important questions about the nature of the protection that should be offered to vulnerable people, proposed codifying and clarifying the law on consent in rape and setting the law on a fair and non-discriminatory basis for men and women whether as victim or offender. It also recommends new laws for dealing with the trafficking of human beings for sexual exploitation and the use of children in sexual exploitation, as well as looking at penalties and treatment.

The issues involved are sensitive and complex ones, on which there will be differing views. It is a long time since we have had such a thorough and comprehensive set of proposals on the law of sex offences, based on careful thought and consultation. But these proposals are just that—recommendations made to Government by a broadly based review, set up to provide the framework for further debate. The review involved many people from outside the civil service from many different groups and backgrounds, as well as civil servants from a wide range of departments. Before the Government can come to a conclusion on any of them, we need further input and views on what is recommended. This is the start of a real debate on what we think the law should be and how it should be framed.

We would like views on all of the proposals in the report. The review has posed some specific questions, but we want reactions to all the recommendations. We would like to know how well they would work, whether they would add to the protection of the vulnerable, whether they would apply fairly, equitably and with justice and whether there would be any effects or consequences that have not yet been identified.

The Government particularly welcome the proposals to strengthen the law for children and vulnerable people—we have made great strides in tackling the issues of evidence for children and vulnerable people and it is time that the offences in the criminal law were revised to ensure robust and comprehensive protection for the weakest in our society. It is important to get the law right while ensuring that vulnerable people are not deterred from seeking advice from statutory authorities. We would welcome views on the proposals that relate to the protection of children and vulnerable people—what the impact and consequences of those would be. We welcome the review's clarity on the importance of the age of consent and the need to maintain it at 16.

The Government do not think it would be right to take a view on the proposals in the report until they have been scrutinised and tested in consultation. This report and its proposals are not an end but a beginning—the report provides a carefully argued framework for consideration by all those who are affected, personally or professionally, by these proposals. The report is being made widely available in summary and full form, both in hard copy and on the Home Office website. It is free and available on request, as is a supporting volume of evidence. The period for consultation is long—until March 2001—to give time for the full implications of the proposals to be considered. I look forward to an important social debate that will help the Government frame proposals for a safe just and tolerant society.

Copies of the report and summary have been placed in the Library and the Vote Office.

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