§ 5. Dame Jill Knight
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to seek to alter the law on evidence in cases of cruelty to, or murder of, children.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Michael Jack)
My right hon. and learned Friend recognises and shares the concern that has been expressed following a recent case. He has no plans to change the law on evidence, but he will wish to give early and careful consideration to what the Royal Commission on criminal justice has to say on the matter when its report is available in a few months' time.
§ Dame Jill Knight
There is widespread public concern about the baby Griffin case in which two people who were known to have battered, burnt and killed that child walked scot-free from the courts. Is my hon. Friend aware that that is just the latest in a long list of such cases? What has he to say to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which has been calling for a change in the law to end the injustice and provide more deterrents against such wicked acts?
§ Mr. Jack
I share the concern of my hon. Friend, who has quite properly brought the issue to the attention of the House. I am aware of what the NSPCC has had to say and have studied its evidence to the royal commission. The Home Office has asked the NSPCC to send us the results of its research, which we shall study most carefully. In its evidence it said that it wanted to draw attention to the issue, but it does not have a prescriptive solution to the problems outlined by my hon. Friend.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Will the Minister take careful note not only of the evidence of the NSPCC but of other medical and social caucuses? I think that he will agree that it is frightening that children who are killed appear to have no rights. No one wishes to take away someone else's legitimate rights, but the child victim must be first and foremost in our minds at all times.
§ Mr. Jack
The thesis of the hon. Lady's question is entirely right. However, when dealing with criminal justice 1100 issues, we must focus on matters of evidence, which is the central point of the case. She may have seen reports in the newspapers discusing the opinions of the Crown prosecution service on the subject. It carefully detailed its views and centred on the issue of evidence. The royal commission will be the place where all the arguments come together.
§ Mr. Bowis
Has my hon. Friend seen the exposé in the Evening Standard of the cruelty to, and exploitation of, children and young people by a villainous character? While they are vulnerable through unemployment, he seeks to send them out to raise money that goes straight into his pockets. Will my hon. Friend ensure that the law is adequate to meet such problems and, if necessary, have it changed quickly? Will he also ensure that the police are undertaking a full and swift investigation into the perpetrator of that crime?
§ Mr. Jack
My hon. Friend is right to draw the attention of the House to that newspaper report, which I found most disturbing. He will be aware that child cruelty matters can be handled under the terms of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. I shall certainly look carefully at his words and ensure that the law is adequately framed to deal with the matter.