Clause 84 - Notification requirements: initial notification

Sexual Offences Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:30 am ar 14 Hydref 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Ceidwadwyr, Beaconsfield 11:30, 14 Hydref 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 218, in

clause 84, page 41, line 18, leave out '3 days' and insert '24 hours'.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Ceidwadwyr, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 373, in

clause 85, page 42, line 21, leave out '3 days' and insert '24 hours'.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Ceidwadwyr, Beaconsfield

I hope that it will not be considered churlish for me to speak to the amendments, and I emphasise that they are probing amendments. In many respects, I have every reason to be delighted with what the Government have done under the clause because, as the Under-Secretary will be aware, I—and others—have been pressing for a reduction in the notification period of three days, and that is exactly what the Government have given us. Nevertheless, before we rubber-stamp the provisions, I thought it might be worth carefully considering whether we have got the period right. I suggest we do that by asking: if we are thinking of giving so short a period as three days, should we not make it even shorter, and give a period of 24 hours?

The problem that exercised me long before the Bill came before Parliament was that there is no doubt that people can do an awful lot in short periods. We live in a country where travel is easy. A person can go anywhere they like in the United Kingdom in three days, and will have time to do quite a lot once they are there. It is not just a question of the time taken for travel; it is the time taken to move around. We know that in many cases, especially those of predatory paedophiles, life on the move is an absolute hallmark of the person's existence. One problem experienced in the past is that of keeping track of a person. I simply raise the question with the Minister. Obviously, one has to have a period in which registration can take place, and it will be three days too long. Should we require registration within, say, 24 hours?

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Ceidwadwyr, Mole Valley

I should like to support my hon. Friend on this point. He may not be aware that the Metropolitan police Thames branch are keeping an eye on a group of paedophiles who use canal boats. At the moment, they move back every 13 and a half days so that they cover the registration. They could very easily do so in three days. If we bring the time down to 24 hours, it would be exceptionally difficult for them.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Ceidwadwyr, Beaconsfield

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is precisely the point that I had in mind. One does not wish to impose conditions that are impossible to meet, so that people are criminalised unnecessarily for breaches. Nevertheless, 24 hours is a full day, and most police stations—well, some of them; not all of them, unfortunately—are open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. It should be possible for someone to find a police station at which to register. If we are really concerned about keeping a close check on the whereabouts of individuals, clearly the shorter the reporting time allowed, the more information will be available.

As my hon. Friend rightly says, we must face up to the fact that the peripatetic lifestyle suits many paedophiles for a variety of reasons, some of which are utterly nefarious. I should like to stimulate some debate but I should also be interested to hear from the Under-Secretary why the Government have decided to come down to a period of three days, and whether they have considered a shorter period. If they feel that there are serious problems with the shorter period, perhaps that could be explained. Having decided to shorten the period, it is pointless to leave a further loophole that might be exploited.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I acknowledge the generosity of the hon. Gentleman's remarks and the spirit in which he moves the amendment. We must take account of balance and practicality. My strong view is that to reduce the period to 24 hours would be a step too far. I hope that I can reassure the Committee with some remarks about how I came to that conclusion.

The most serious offenders are already required to report to their supervising probation officer within 24 hours of their release from prison. In some cases they may also be required to live at an approved hostel. A failure to comply with either of those conditions could result in an offender's immediate return to prison. The most serious offenders are already known to the authorities within 24 hours. If they fail to comply with those requirements, immediate action can be taken.

Committee members will have spotted that under clause 94 we intend to provide a power to make regulations governing the disclosure of information about registered sex offenders who are transferred between, or released from, institutions. Those regulations will ensure that the police are informed when a relevant offender is to be released from prison, hospital, or military detention. There are more powers to ensure the swift delivery of information on the most serious offenders.

Although I have made some reassuring comments, I am concerned that if we set a 24-hour period, there is a real risk that people may fail to meet the requirement,

despite the best of intentions. For example, an offender may be in full-time employment and may have considerable difficulties in arranging to give notification within 24 hours.

I heard what the hon. Gentleman said about police stations. Nevertheless, not every police station, whether it is open or not open, is designated for the purpose of the notification process. A person has to go to a designated police station, which may perhaps, in more remote—rural—areas, be a considerable way off. There are some practical difficulties.

There is also the question of what three days means, although the hon. Gentleman did not raise it—I did. When does a three-day period begin and end? I should like to reassure him. If a conviction were made, for example, at 4 o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon, the three-day period would begin on the midnight prior to it. In that example an offender would have to provide the information by midnight on Thursday. The period would never extend beyond three days. Indeed, it may sometimes be a little less than three days.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Ceidwadwyr, Woking

It occurs to me that there may be a gap between conviction and sentence. I am not sure which is relevant.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The hon. Gentleman is as helpful as ever. If the sentence were passed at 4 o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon, the information would have to be provided within that period. I offer further reassurance that the period could not stray beyond three days—if anything it would be slightly less. I hope that the Committee feels able to support the Government.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Ceidwadwyr, North Thanet

Does the Minister wish to speak again? I am trying to be as flexible as possible.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

You are being very helpful, Mr. Gale, as are other hon. Members. It would be helpful for the Committee to know that it is sentence where there is threshold; otherwise it applies on conviction.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Ceidwadwyr, Beaconsfield

I hope that I understand that last comment correctly. Doubtless, if I have not, the Under-Secretary will be passed another note and the matter will be clarified after the sitting.

I appreciate the Minister's point about the potential practical difficulties. We do not want to get into a situation where innocent breaches constantly occur because people have a genuine difficulty.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will closely review this provision over the coming months when it starts to operate to see how it is working; if it is felt that there are still loopholes, we may have to come back to it.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Ceidwadwyr, Woking 11:45, 14 Hydref 2003

I may be wrong about this, but it occurs to me that it is entirely possible for somebody to be convicted on 12 March and then to come back to court a month later and be given an absolute discharge. Does my hon. Friend agree that that person is not required to register after the conviction, but only after the sentence? I want that to be clear.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Ceidwadwyr, Beaconsfield

That was my understanding of how this operated. I should not see the private notes that are

passed to Ministers, but I notice that the words ''clause 132'' seem to feature, so we might have an opportunity to consider this question when we get to that part of the Bill.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I confirm that there will be a further opportunity to consider this question under a later clause.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Ceidwadwyr, Beaconsfield

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for that. I shall leave the matter until then, so that he has an opportunity to be better briefed, and I to better comprehend this part of the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Ceidwadwyr, Woking

I beg to move amendment No. 249, in

clause 84, page 42, line 2, after 'date', insert 'or earlier.'

The clause requires that the name is provided for the relevant date, and that where one or more names are used on that date, each of the names is provided. The amendment is intended merely to probe. Those of us who appear in court a great deal find that frequently a dozen names that have been used over a period of 10 or 15 years appear on the antecedents and history of the defendant. I want to make sure that all such names may be required to be disclosed, because it is common in court to find somebody using the name Joe Bloggs on the date of the offence, with eight previous aliases having been used over many years. Such knowledge might be helpful.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I do not know how many names one person can gather in a lifetime, but I am sure that some people can gather lots of them. If we were to agree to the amendment, every name that had ever been used by an offender would have to be disclosed. That is unnecessary. It is necessary that the real name, any name that may have been used at the time of the offence and any name that may be in use at present be disclosed, but it is unnecessary to delve back into distant history, before the offence was committed. for a name that has no relevance at present or at the time of the offence. If we know the names at the time of the offence and at present, that covers enough situations to give us the certainty and security that we seek.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Ceidwadwyr, Woking

I merely wanted to highlight a possible difficulty. The Under-Secretary has taken my point on board and, as always, he has dealt with it helpfully. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 84 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 85 ordered to stand part of the Bill.