New Clause 6

Offender Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:15 pm ar 23 Ionawr 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Release on licence: polygraph condition

‘(1) This section applies where a person serving a relevant custodial sentence in respect of a relevant sexual offence is released on licence by the Secretary of State under any enactment.

(2) This section does not apply if at the time of his release on licence he is aged under 18.

(3) The Secretary of State may include a polygraph condition in the person’s licence.

(4) “Relevant custodial sentence” means—

(a) a sentence of imprisonment for a term of twelve months or more (including such a sentence imposed under section 227 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c.44)).

(b) a sentence of detention in a young offender institution for a term of twelve months or more,

(c) a sentence of detention under section 90 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 (c.6),

(d) a sentence of detention under section 91 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 for a period of twelve months or more,

(e) a sentence of custody for life under section 93 or 94 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, or

(f) a sentence of detention under section 226 or 228 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

(5) “Relevant sexual offence” means—

(a) an offence specified in Part 2 of Schedule 15 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (specified sexual offences),

(b) an offence specified in paragraphs 1 to 21 of Schedule 16 to that Act (offences under the law of Scotland), or

(c) an offence specified in Part 2 of Schedule 17 to that Act (offences under the law of Northern Ireland).’.—[Mr. Gerrard.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Llafur, Walthamstow

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Ceidwadwyr, Hexham

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 7—Polygraph condition—

‘(1) For the purposes of section [Release on license: polygraph condition] a polygraph condition is a condition which requires the released person to participate in polygraph sessions conducted with a view to—

(a) monitoring his compliance with the other conditions of his licence;

(b) improving the way in which he is managed during his release on licence.

(2) A polygraph session is a session during which a person (a “polygraph operator”)—

(a) administers one or more polygraph examinations to the released person, and

(b) interviews the released person in preparation for, or otherwise in connection with, the administration of the examination or examinations.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), a polygraph examination is a procedure in which—

(a) the polygraph operator administering the examination questions the released person,

(b) the questions and the released person’s answers are recorded, and

(c) the released person’s physiological reactions while being questioned are measured and recorded by means of equipment of a type approved by the Secretary of State.

(4) A requirement to participate in polygraph sessions operates to require the released person—

(a) to participate in polygraph sessions at such times as may be specified in instructions given by an officer of a local probation board, and

(b) while participating in a polygraph session, to comply with instructions given to him by the polygraph operator.

(5) The Secretary of State may from time to time issue guidance as regards the giving of instructions under subsection (4)(a).

(6) The Secretary of State may make rules as to the conduct of polygraph sessions.

(7) The rules, may in particular, require polygraph operators to be persons who satisfy such requirements as to qualifications, experience and other matters as are specified in the rules.’.

New clause 8—Amendment on the Criminal Justice Act 2003

‘In section 250(4) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c.44) (licence conditions for prisoners serving sentences of imprisonment of twelve months or more etc), in paragraph (b)(I) after “Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000” insert “or section [Release on licence: polygraph condition] of the Offender Management Act 2007 (c.).”.’.

New clause 9—Evidence from polygraph sessions—

‘(1) This section applies if a person participates in a polygraph session pursuant to the requirements of a polygraph condition.

(2) Evidence of the matters falling within subsection (3) may not be used—

(a) in any criminal proceedings in which the person is a defendant;

(b) in any proceedings on an appeal from such criminal proceedings.

(3) The matters are—

(a) any statement made by the person while participating in the polygraph session;

(b) the person’s physiological reactions while being questioned in the course of a polygraph examination administered to him during the polygraph session.

(4) In this section—

“defendant”, in relation to criminal proceedings, means a person charged with an offence in those proceedings;

“polygraph condition”, “polygraph examination” and “polygraph session” have the same meaning as in section [Release on licence: polygraphic conditions].’.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Llafur, Walthamstow

The new clauses deal with the supervision of people convicted of sex offences, especially those involving children. The Home Office has been conducting a review of how it deals with children sex offenders and as part of that there has been a lot of discussion, over the past year or two, about whether there should be more disclosure. I know that the Minister went to the US to examine what is known as Megan’s law as one way of trying to protect children. In this country, however, most of the organisations involved in child protection, including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Barnardo’s, are not in favour of going down that road and are much more in favour of examining other ways to ensure that child sex offenders are properly supervised and do not become a danger to children again. The new clauses are directly relevant to that process.

A pilot project has been run. The new clauses appeared, more or less as they are now, in a Bill that was published by the Government in the 2004-05 parliamentary Session. That Bill began in the House of Lords, but it never completed its passage because of the 2005 general election, which meant, of course, that all the Bills at that time fell. When I examine the current Bill, I do not understand why the new clauses, which were in the Bill that was introduced before the 2005 general election, have disappeared, particularly when a pilot project has been run, using polygraph tests and involving 347 sex offenders who were monitored between September 2003 and September 2005.

Those tests were used to assess the offenders’ compliance with their licence conditions, whether they were behaving suspiciously and whether they were adhering to treatment plans and programmes. It seems that the findings of that pilot project were quite positive. In quite a significant number of cases, the offenders made some disclosures during the polygraph tests that were relevant to their behaviour, supervision or treatment that allowed case managers to make adjustments to their supervision or, in cases where it appeared that there might be an immediate risk, to take some action. It also appears that the probation staff who were involved in managing the pilot and acting as case managers during it found that the information that was gained from the polygraph tests was helpful in assessing and managing risks. It therefore seems right to examine those measures and to determine whether they should be inserted into the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will explain why it was felt appropriate to include them in the Bill that was introduced before the 2005 general election—presumably on the basis that the pilot project had appeared to work reasonably well—and not include them in the present Bill.

Organisations such as Barnardo’s, which has run a number of projects to help children who have been sexually abused or assaulted and their families, support the new clauses and think that they are a much better way of getting better supervision of child sex offenders who are released on license than going down the road of wide disclosure. There is evidence from the US that that process of disclosure does not work particularly well. Not as many child sex offenders in the US stay in touch with supervision as do here. There is also a quite serious risk in disclosure—one that is not often pointed out. Although there are obviously some extremely  unpleasant cases where children are sexually assaulted by strangers, often the greatest risk of sexual assault and abuse of a child comes from a relative or someone else who is already known to the child or their family. That risk must be borne in mind, because the disclosure of the identities of offenders could lead, in some cases at least, to the victim also being easily identified. The route suggested in the new clauses is worth considering as a better way of getting supervision, particularly of child sex offenders who are out on licence, than some of the suggestions that have been made.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman rightly touches on the important and sensitive issue of how best we can protect children from sex offenders. I, too, was struck by the briefing materials produced by a number of children’s charities stating their thinking on that point and on how to ensure that the offenders who might put children at risk are properly monitored, scrutinised and assessed on a continuing basis so that potential threats are examined. The hon. Gentleman’s new clauses reflect language that appeared previously in a Bill that did not find its way on to the statute book. It is well worth asking how the Government’s thinking has moved on since that then and what it currently is. I know that the Minister takes a particular interest in the matter.

The Home Office has received information on the pilot study on the use of polygraph information, and I note that Professor Don Grubin’s studyconcluded that 94 per cent. of probation staff involved found the information gained helpful. However, that is only a pilot study, and the information and results appear to be recent. Further debate, analysis and review will therefore be required to assess their import and the likely impact of a wider roll-out of any such scheme. I certainly welcome the debate that the new clauses offer, and I shall listen with great interest to how the Government intend to proceed how they believe children and other vulnerable members of our community can best be protected.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow for raising the issue, and I also thank the hon. Member for Hornchurch. There is genuine concern about how to respond to the challenge of sexual abuse in our communities. Meeting that challenge is not easy, but the Government give a high priority to the protection of the public and particularly the safeguarding of children. The Home Secretary, who used to be a spokesman on children for the Labour party many years ago, is close to the issue today—more of that later when we discuss the review.

We have taken action in a range of Departments, and we intend to continue and expand on that work so that it has a real impact on reducing sexual violence in all its forms. In particular, we have taken firm action on sex offenders. Our starting point is that serious child sex offenders should remain in custody for as long as they present a risk to the public. That was why we introduced the indeterminate public protection sentence, which will result in indefinite detention unless the risk has been reduced. We have taken further measures to strengthen both sentencing and offender management.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow said, on 19 June last year the Home Secretary commissioned a review of the management of childsex offenders. Its principal aim is to enhance child protection by focusing on two linked objectives: strengthening sex offender management and empowering people through increased public awareness.

The four elements of the review include the multi-agency public protection arrangements, which are unique to the UK in bringing together the responsible authorities in dealing with the management of sex offenders in the MAPPA categories. I am very grateful for the amount of work done by MAPPA officers across the country. The review is looking at the consistency of the MAPPA across the existing 42 areas and at getting the right level of buy-in to ensure that the MAPPA work successfully. Unfortunately, we have seen the arrangements not working recently and serious offences taking place.

The second element of the review is treatment, and making sure that we do everything that can bedone regarding treatment of sex offenders, where appropriate or possible. A great many issues, some of which are highly emotive, will be looked at. For instance, what goes on in Denmark in terms of chemical castration and associated issues will cause highly emotive discussions on treatment.

The third element is approved premises, and whatwe will do about our 104 approved premises. Are suitable arrangements in place for dealing with the management of sex offenders? We talked previously about the issue of resettlement. The fourth element is disclosure, which my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow said was more controversial, although I think all the issues are controversial, and what we should do about it. He is right that in the majority of child sex offender cases—more than 80 per cent.—the perpetrator is known to the victim, either as a member of the family or a closely associated responsible adult. However, 20 per cent. of cases involve predators who operate in a particular way, usually getting alongside a vulnerable single mother, after which the grooming takes place. The review will focus on what information the individual mother should be able to access.

Information is already available through current legislation. Responsible authorities that hold information can give it to relevant bodies, whether they are schools, local authorities or whoever. The review will focus on where individual responsibilities lie. I went to America to look at Megan’s law, and I am on the record as saying that it would be highly inappropriate for the UK, for lots of reasons. People on the sex offenders register automatically going on to a website is clearly not what is required. Unfortunately, an individual on the sex offenders register was murdered by someone who got access to the register. We are talking here about the most difficult offenders, however, and I was interested in what happened when the child exploitation and online protection centre, under the leadership of Jim Gamble, put on its website people who were not complying with the requirements.  Five people were put on the website and three of them have been caught and arrested, because they appeared there.

Disclosure and what we do with information are difficult issues to deal with. I am going back to the States in a couple of weeks’ time to finalise our response. I think that my hon. Friend is right about the variety of stakeholders involved in the consultation who have been looking at all the issues. Polygraph testing, which I will come to in a second, is a key element, but it is not better than some other approaches, but should be considered alongside them. Disclosure should be appropriate and accessible two ways, and there should be penalties for improper use of the information.

Again, the process is not party political. I know that hon. Members from all parties will be interested with what we come up with. We will discuss further what we all want to see: the right solution to meet our requirements. The overriding issue has to be education and making sure that parents know how to safeguard their children from difficult situations.

My hon. Friend talked about the role that technology will have in helping to protect the public, including satellite tracking and the use of polygraphs with sex offenders. The report will be out shortly, but as he said, a major pilot study of polygraph testing was conducted by the probation service between September 2003 and September 2005, the results of which were published in December 2006. Almost 350 sex offenders agreed to take polygraph tests as part of their supervision and treatment process. They were asked about adherence to licence conditions and their response to risk factors that were particular to each individual. The importance of the polygraph examination was not in whether it detected deception, although it did in many cases, but in achieving the disclosure of new information by offenders before and after the examination.

Using their knowledge of a case from probation records, and after discussion with probation officers, the examiners concluded that new disclosures that were relevant to treatment and supervision were made in79 per cent. of first examinations and 78 per cent. of retests, regardless of whether the test was passed, failed or inconclusive. Nearly 30 per cent. of such disclosures took place in the post-test interview, when offenders were challenged with the results. Probation staff overwhelmingly found those results helpful in the risk management of offenders. We wish to listen to those views and give all possible support to those who have the difficult job of managing sex offenders in the community.

As the hon. Member for Hornchurch said, there are a number of problems with the research, which limits the usefulness of the findings. Offenders were self-selecting. On average, 43 per cent. of those eligible volunteered for testing; we need to be concerned about those who did not. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow is aware that to make polygraph testing mandatory, we require legislation. The Government introduced clauses to that effect in the 2005 Bill, with which this new clause appears to have a remarkable similarity. The Government are sympathetic to the new clause, but we require time to consider the category of sex offender for which the polygraph test would best be  used. The new clause uses the previous criteria of those sex offenders who are on release from a prison sentence of 12 months or longer. That may well be the preferred option, but we need to consider whether it should be widened to test all high-risk sex offenders regardless of supervision status, for example.

We must also consider how to pilot mandatory testing. In the earlier Bill, the Government made a commitment to pilot in a number of regions before bringing back before the House the question of extension of polygraph examinations to other areas. The new clause makes no reference to such a commitment. We believe that if we are to take forward the use of polygraph tests, we should do so cautiously, learning from small-scale implementation. That will give us the opportunity to assess any problems of process and to be clearer about the expected benefits.

Mandatory testing will be a new requirement for the management of sex offenders and will require clear procedural guidance from the Secretary of State. We will also seek to set guidance on the qualifications needed to conduct polygraph examinations and the form that examinations take. In assessing the risk of serious child sex offenders, we do not envisage using the type of examination that takes place in popular light entertainment programmes.

We consider all the issues as matters of urgency. We are sympathetic to the new clause and we will carefully consider it before Report. With that assurance, I hope that my hon. Friend will be satisfied that we want to achieve a suitable solution. I am sure that the review that we will undertake will meet the requirements of all hon. Members. On that basis, I hope that he will withdraw the motion. We will return to the matter when we are able to do so.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Llafur, Walthamstow 12:30, 23 Ionawr 2007

I thank my hon. Friend for his positive reply; it was more positive than the replies that I usually get in Committee. I understand the points that he made. The pilot scheme was self-selecting, so there are questions as to how it would work if it were mandatory. I also take his point about the definitions that would be needed. If we were to go down the road of mandatory testing, the sensible approach would be to do so gradually with the introduction of pilots. I accept that the new clauses do not allow for that, but I thank him for his positive reply. Hopefully we will be able to return to the matter on Report and get some changes to the Bill along the lines suggested. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.


That the memorandum already reported to the House be appended to the proceedings of the Committee.—[Mr. Sutcliffe.]

Question proposed, That the Chairman do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I want to thank you, Mr. Atkinson, and your co-Chairman, Mr. Bayley, for the efficient way in which you have handled our deliberations. I also thank the Clerks, the Hansard reporters, the police and the other people connected with the smooth running of our Committee. The Bill is important, and it has caused some controversy and will continue to be discussed in its remaining stages.

I wish to put on record my thanks to the spokespeople of the Opposition parties, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough and the hon. Members for Hornchurch, for Cheadle and for Ceredigion, for their constructive involvement. There are many issues that we must reflect on and return to. The Committee has been good-natured and has dealt with the issues in great detail.

I thank my hon. Friends for their involvement, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, who has expressed concerns that are shared by many Labour Members. I also thank Opposition Members for their active involvement, the usual channels for their sterling performance in ensuring that we meet our requirements and the Home Office officials who have supported the Committee. I have learned a lot about people’s concerns about the details of the Bill.

I thank the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling, whom I nearly forgot. He is known in the Home Office as Mr. Big, for many reasons, but particularly because of his performance last week in dealing with serious crime issues. I look forward to the progress of the Bill through its remaining stages and I thank you for your involvement, Mr. Atkinson.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I join the Minister in expressing our thanks for the work of all those who have made the Committee stage as smooth as it has been—you, Mr. Atkinson, your co-Chairman, Mr. Bayley, the Clerks and Hansard staff and the police who have kept an eye on our proceedings.

The Minister kindly said that we have been constructive. There may come a time when we shall become deconstructive, and I assure him that the Bill remains controversial. It got its Second Reading thanks to the official Opposition, so we hold him on probation and we shall be looking for constant reports. We expect his targets to be met and we expect him to return, having made his reflections, with an improved Bill on Report. As I said on Second Reading, the support that we gave then, which he seemed pretty reluctant to accept—he was almost content to let the Bill fall—was conditional. Those conditions have yet to be met, so the Bill is by no means safe, but then very little in the Home Office is.

Photo of Mark Hunter Mark Hunter Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I concur with the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Harborough and the Minister. I thank you, Mr. Atkinson, and your co-Chairman, Mr. Bayley, for the way in which you have presided over proceedings, and all the supporting officials, including the policemen.

I thank the Minister for his approach to the Committee. He has indicated that he is prepared to take on board concerns and respond to them appropriately, and all our concerns have had a decent airing. There remain a number of significant areas of disagreement on which we look forward to resuming battle on Report. For the time being, I thank the Minister and his team for the way in which he has allowed the debate to progress.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee) 12:45, 23 Ionawr 2007

I have not sought to intervene in the Committee until now; as a former Home Office Minister I thought that it would be best to leave the new teams on both sides of the room to conduct proceedings.

I seek clarification that the Minister will be adhering to an important convention that used to operate in the Home Office when I was a Minister there from 1993 to 1997. We introduced a record number of Criminal Justice Bills—a fat lot of good it did us—and Ministers always wished to thank our civil servants and the Members and advisers who had helped us. We used to have a drinks party at the end. It was an all-party drinks party, because we did not wish to be accused of favouring the Conservative party. I am sure that the Minister will wish to take advice from his advisers on  the matter, and when the Bill receives Royal Assent I am sure he will wish to pay tribute to the Chairmen, the Hansard writers, his excellent civil servants and lawyers and both members of the Committee who have contributed and those who have sat in silence. That is an important convention that ought to be continued.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am always interested in drinks parties for a lot of reasons, and I am happy to consider that convention as long as the cost of it is shared equally by the two Ministers responsible.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Ceidwadwyr, Hexham

I look forward to getting my invitation.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose at thirteen minutes to One o’clock.