HC Deb 02 February 1996 vol 270 cc1225-67

Order for Second Reading read.

9.34 am
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

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

I am delighted to have this opportunity to present a Bill that will make it an offence in this country to conspire to or to incite a person to commit certain sexual offences abroad against children.

In the 20th century, there has been a revolution in overseas travel, which was once the preserve of the privileged few, but which is now enjoyed by virtually everyone. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert), who was one of those who helped to encourage people to go abroad on relatively inexpensive holidays. The advent of the package tour industry has enabled many millions of people to visit far-off lands and to enjoy the cuisine and culture of other countries.

In the 1930s, Bob Boothby once took his lady friend to Portugal because he thought that no one would see him there. Today, he would have to go somewhat further afield. In the 1950s, when I lived in Glasgow, people would go to the Isle of Arran for their holiday; today they go to the beautiful island of Cyprus. In the 1950s they went to Cornwall; today, they go to Corfu.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

People still come to Cornwall.

Mr. Marshall

As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, some still go to Cornwall, but many others go to Corfu. Whereas in the 1950s people went to Brighton, today their horizons have been widened to Benidorm. For most people, that has been liberating, and for many countries international tourism has been an engine of economic growth. Countries such as Spain, Cyprus and Greece are blessed with fantastic weather and scenery and have prosperèd as a result of the growth in tourism.

The growth in international travel has not, however, been an unmitigated blessing. We have all seen the lager louts who are the most unfortunate ambassadors for this country and one of our least attractive exports. Other people use this new-found freedom to travel for far darker purposes. Paedophiles, or child molesters as they ought to be called, go to countries where child prostitution is rife in order sexually to abuse young children. We should be aware of the scale of the problem in some countries.

A radio programme last night reported that there are 200,000 child prostitutes in Thailand, that young girls there will sell their virginity for £35 and some boys become prostitutes at the age of 10. I am told that there are 60,000 child prostitutes in the Philippines.

I should like to thank a number of people who have helped me by writing to me about this particular problem. I also thank The News in Portsmouth for sending me extracts from a publication circulating in that part of the country and from which I shall read one or two paragraphs: If you want more information on Thailand and the hot spots of Bangkok, FXS Farang offers a classic underground paperback on where to go, how much to pay, and what to avoid in Bangkok and Pattaya. For a fee, Scope International Ltd. will get you a copy of the paperback Bangkok Back Streets and a year's subscription to their newsletter. That is just one example of the sort of publication circulating in the United Kingdom but which one should seek to avoid.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)


Mr. Marshall

I shall give way to my hon. Friend. For some years I was a constituent of his, and I know how well he represents all his constituents.

Mr. Greenway

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those kind remarks; they are much appreciated. I congratulate him on presenting this very important Bill. Does he envisage any basic way in which would-be molesters of children and those with evil intent towards them who travel to Thailand and similar places could be cut off from the information that he has just described? Although that could be very difficult, should not an attempt be made? Does he intend to address the problem?

Mr. Marshall

That is precisely what my Bill seeks to do. Once the Bill has become law, it will be an offence to publish such information because it will be regarded as inciting individuals to go to such countries and take part in such forms of activity. Indeed, the offence will be punishable by a substantial period of imprisonment.

Mr. Greenway

My query relates directly to the subtlety of some of the advertisements. The problem is one of definition. Does my hon. Friend think that his Bill succeeds in defining matters? I am not sure that it will get at the more subtle advertisements, where — ultimately—the problems lie.

Mr. Marshall

The publication that I was sent had no subtlety about it at all. Not even a one-eyed Albanian, as the late Robert Maxwell once said, would have difficulty understanding it. [Interruption.] I have nothing against one-eyed or two-eyed Albanians, and I should add that sexual tourism is not a problem in Albania.

In describing a hotel, the publication suggests establishing a rapport with the night staff or manager. See how tolerant they feel that week. They have seen it all before, so if you want to entertain 30 teenagers a night tell them. The advertisement says that it is An inexpensive British run hotel … you can meet some like-minded dirty old men in the bar on the sixth floor. It is clear what is meant in that description.

Referring to somewhere in the Philippines, the publication says: There's no other resort like it on this planet, set among the pure white sands … with lazy palm trees meeting the blue sea, you will find a whole village devoted to the pleasures of total unadulterated sexual excess. I do not think that anyone could say that that was a mealy-mouthed turn of phrase.

In Brazil, a city is described in terms of the age of the street prostitutes. The publication says: Some of them have not even reached puberty. It is described by someone who has a passion for these very, very young women and has studied them for several years. It is all very clear what is being suggested in such publications. Such people ought to be prosecuted and certainly they would be under my Bill.

Last year, an article in The Sunday Times quoted from a newsletter that referred to exciting adult playgrounds of the Far East. It said: If you have the odd Pounds 100 each to spend or can spare Pounds 500 for a brief interlude with a hostess you may have an enjoyable evening. The company, Thai Adventures, was obviously advertising very explicit sexual holidays, and such firms would certainly be caught within the remit of my Bill.

One cannot find words sufficient to describe the contempt felt by us all for the disgusting, degrading behaviour of some individuals. Unfortunately, some of the perverts who visit other countries for such holidays are British. I was appalled yesterday to discover that those who take part in acts against young children have no sense of shame.

At a conference organised by Elizabeth Sieff, which the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), also attended later in the afternoon, I heard a policeman describe someone who had gone to Thailand, indulged in acts of sodomy against a 12-year-old boy and returned to this country with a video of everything that he had been doing. One would have thought that instead of having a sense of pride in what he had done, he would have had such a sense of shame that he would never want to look at it on video. Yet that man was willing to do so; it is quite disgusting behaviour.

Mr. David Ashby (North-West Leicestershire)

Will not companies simply move their operations to countries where it is legal to advertise, such as Belgium, Holland or France? Are not we really considering an issue that requires more of an international agreement? Should we not be looking beyond ourselves to something wider?

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

It is not legal in France.

Mr. Marshall

As my hon. Friend said, it is not legal in France to advertise such holidays. We can pass a Bill in the House to ensure that such operators do not advertise in Britain. We want to ensure that no one in the United Kingdom incites others to take part in those so-called holidays. We do not need to try to establish a European Union directive on the issue.

Mr. Ashby

Why not?

Mr. Marshall

Frankly, why should we wait for 15 European countries to agree on such an issue when we can get on with it here without the delay in Brussels?

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

My hon. Friend is right to say that we can pass a measure here; indeed, we should. We should then widen the forum, perhaps taking it to the Council of Europe, which goes beyond the European Union and is interested in such human rights issues.

Mr. Marshall

I am sure that we shall hear from the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who has been a rapporteur at the Council of Europe, which of course has representatives from more countries than the European Union.

The House must take action to make it more difficult for paedophiles and child molesters to travel abroad and ply their profession.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

It is important for us to be clear about what is being done and what is not being done. Am I right in thinking that the advertising and incitement of the sort of activities that the hon. Gentleman cited would be open to prosecution if his Bill were passed, but that nothing could be done in respect of the individual whom he described, unless there was an act of organisation or incitement? In other words, the Bill would not catch the individual whom he described.

Mr. Marshall

Hon. Members are adept at anticipating and asking me about what I am going to say in five or 10 minutes' time, which makes it much more difficult for a speech to have a theme. The Bill makes it more difficult for individuals to find out about such holidays and also makes it a crime for rings of paedophiles to discuss the issue and consider going to, say, Brazil. I am told by legal experts that such behaviour would be an offence under the Bill.

I think that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) is concerned about the concept of extra-territoriality. As he knows, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said yesterday that the Government are looking again at the matter and have set up an inquiry. I shall be talking about the concept in some detail, because I think that there are two different issues—first, what we do with those who return with a video, and secondly, whether one can try to produce witnesses from, say, Thailand in United Kingdom courts.

Mr. Michael

I was just trying to be clear. The hon. Gentleman described a particular incident that every hon. Member finds distasteful. Yet if there were no organisation or incitement in this country, the behaviour would not be caught by the Bill because of the problem of extra-territoriality to which he referred. The problem is that inquiries have been promised in the past and little progress seems to have been made.

Mr. Marshall

We have to accept—I shall deal with the matter in greater detail shortly—that the Bolin case, the Swedish case, would not have resulted in a successful prosecution in the United Kingdom. Under this country's laws, it is possible for anyone to be extradited to a country such as Thailand. Yesterday, I talked to the dean of the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland—the head of the Scottish Bar. He confirmed that the British Government would be willing to extradite individuals to any of the countries concerned.

I remind the House that the tests that apply to extradition are less strong than the tests that apply when the prosecution seeks to convict. An individual can be extradited from this country if there is a prima facie case to suggest guilt. If an individual is found guilty of a crime, the jury has to be satisfied beyond any reasonable doubt. In the Bolin case—the Swedish case—no British jury would have convicted the person concerned because of the way in which the evidence was collated and the way in which the witness was trained by a non-governmental organisation. The Government are right to say—

Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

Many lawyers think that the person concerned would have been convicted in this country. It is a matter of legal opinion and until we test it, we shall not know the answer.

Mr. Marshall

Of course it is a question of legal opinion and lawyers, as the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Ashby) will confirm, make money by giving conflicting opinions. Every lawyer will say that one has a good case; that is the only way in which lawyers can survive.

As the House is interested in the Swedish case, I shall refer to it briefly. We have to remember the way in which the evidence was collated. The victim was threatened by a police officer with a gun. He was looked after and prepared for the court hearing by a non-governmental organisation. Under those conditions, any rookie lawyer would have had the evidence ruled inadmissible in a British court.

Bolin admitted molesting the boy to an undercover Swedish police officer, who arranged for the conversation to be recorded by a Danish television producer. I suspect that that would have been regarded as entrapment. We should remember that someone accused of murder recently was found not guilty on the basis that the evidence could not be counted because an undercover police lady had trapped him into making a confession. When we remember that and when we remember the circumstances in which the boy's evidence was collated in the Bolin case, we have to come to the conclusion that we would not have got a conviction in a British court.

I point out to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) that the only reason why the Swedes prosecuted the case was that under Swedish law, the man could not be extradited to Thailand. Under British law, he could have been extradited. One of the problems in comparing our system with that in Sweden, France or Germany is that those countries do not allow their citizens to be extradited to Thailand, the Philippines or other countries. We are on a different plane.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

My hon. Friend is right to suggest that anyone who is suspected of such a crime could be extradited to Thailand. Is he convinced, however, that the Thai authorities are enthusiastic to prosecute people in those circumstances? Is he sure that they are robust in terms of wishing to stamp out these activities?

Mr. Marshall

The Thai authorities are becoming more robust. Last year, they passed a law that introduced a maximum penalty of 10 years for an act of under-age sex—

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Marshall

Can I just finish this sentence? I have given way frequently; I have been very generous.

Only this week, I spoke to someone from Thailand who told me that an individual had been sentenced to 50 years' imprisonment because he had been found guilty of five acts of under-age sex. I believe that there is some evidence that the Thai authorities have become slightly more robust. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) is right. The problem can be eradicated only if the authorities in the countries concerned decide that they will close down the brothels, that they will prosecute and that the police will become honest.

At the end of the day, if the local authorities in Thailand and the Philippines will not do those things, extra-territoriality is irrelevant because the evidence will not be collated. We cannot expect the Metropolitan police to go to Bangkok to collate the evidence. It must be collated by the local police. If they do not show enthusiasm to do that, it is pure gesture politics to alter our law to make extra-territoriality possible. The law enforcement agencies in Thailand would need to show enthusiasm for enforcing their law to stop this disgusting trade.

Mr. Anderson

The hon. Gentleman cites extradition as a possibly significant factor. How many examples have there been of British citizens being extradited to countries where that trade takes place?

Mr. Marshall

That underlines the point that I was trying to make. Extradition can take place only at the request of another country. If the countries concerned want to enforce their laws, they may seek to extradite British citizens. If they do not want to enforce their laws, there is nothing that the British Government can do. We cannot extradite citizens unless the countries concerned produce the evidence and it is up to them to do so. I very much hope that they will.

Mr. Michael

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if the authorities in those countries do not want to protect their children, it does not matter what British citizens do abroad? Surely that is not what the hon. Gentleman intends to say.

Mr. Marshall

I do not think that I said that. I was trying to say that the problem of enforcing the law was the responsibility of the authorities in Thailand, the Philippines and Brazil. We must try to persuade them to protect their children.

What we can do in the House is to ensure that it is far more difficult for British citizens to indulge in those activities by making it an offence to incite people to go on those holidays, an offence to organise those holidays and an offence for rings of paedophiles to encourage others to go on those holidays. We can do that with no difficulty. What we cannot do in the House is to force the Government of Thailand to enforce their own laws.

What we can also do—I am glad that the Government are doing this and I shall refer to it again later—is to consider the use of videos. People come back to this country carrying self-incriminating videos. Having listened to what the police said yesterday and having listened to what others have said, I believe that a video should be sufficient evidence to charge people in the United Kingdom. Such people would be damned by their own video in their own luggage. At the moment, people can be charged only for having a pornographic video. Having listened to what various organisations have said, I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State has announced an inquiry. I hope that the issue will be regarded with great urgency by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville). The inquiry is important and could lead to a number of convictions.

Mr. Ashby

If there is a video of someone committing a pornographic offence with an under-age child, that is evidence. If the person is identifiable on the video, why cannot he be prosecuted?

Mr. Marshall

Unlike my hon. Friend, I am not a lawyer. As I understand it from the lawyers, one cannot be prosecuted in the United Kingdom as a result of a video that shows one having under-age sex outside the United Kingdom—[Interruption.] I am glad that I am making myself clear even to lawyers. I am glad that a layman can educate a lawyer on the law.

Mr. Ashby

If the Bill becomes an Act, that will be evidence. It will be usable.

Mr. Donald Anderson

Of what?

Mr. Ashby

If there is a conspiracy.

Mr. Marshall

I do not know whether that would necessarily be evidence of a conspiracy under the Bill, but it is the sort of matter that the Home Office inquiry will consider.

The Under-Secretary has been most patient—as patient as I have been with all the interruptions—in listening to the argument put forward by several of my hon. Friends, but perhaps it might be advantageous to the House if I were now allowed to start describing the Bill, rather than dealing with more interruptions, which seem slightly repetitious.

Clause 1 makes it an offence to conspire in England or Wales to commit certain sexual offences abroad. Conspiracy means agreement on a course of conduct. It would certainly include an arrangement between a tour operator and a client to provide travel facilities where an acknowledged purpose of the trip was the sexual abuse of children.

However, the matter goes wider than that. Many of those creatures, although they make their own arrangements for travel and accommodation, none the less plan their trips with others of their kind. Such activity could amount to conspiracy and fall within the scope of the Bill.

The act or event must be an offence in the country where it was intended to take place—the so-called dual criminality test, which is an important safeguard. We in Parliament rightly consider that it is our function to pass laws that apply in the territory of the United Kingdom. We would take great exception if the law-making body of another country attempted to pass laws that would apply here. Equally, therefore, we must not attempt to export our laws overseas. The dual criminality test avoids that trap.

The conspiracy and incitement provisions would mean that travel companies could not organise holidays, and it would become illegal to publish booklets telling people about particular centres and hotels, and for rings of paedophiles to conspire together to suggest to others where they might go for their holidays.

Other clauses apply the Bill's provisions to other parts of the United Kingdom. For example, clause 4 applies them to Northern Ireland, and clause 5 introduces the schedule, which sets out the conduct in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that is covered by the Bill.

Clause 6 contains the Scottish provisions, which are framed slightly differently from those that apply in other United Kingdom jurisdictions, because of the differences in Scots law. Several offences caught by the Bill are in Scotland common law rather than statutory offences. However, the effect of the Bill is essentially the same in Scotland, England and Wales, and Northern Ireland. Clause 7 makes the necessary provisions for commencement and extent.

The offences under the Bill are those of conspiracy and incitement, and the maximum penalties for those are the same as for the substantive offences being planned or encouraged. Thus conspiracy to rape would carry a maximum life sentence, as would conspiracy to commit intercourse with a girl under 13.

We have already discussed the concept of extra-territoriality. At this stage I intended to refer to the Bolin case, which has already been mentioned. There is a strong feeling that any rookie barrister would have succeeded in securing non-conviction in a British court, because of the way in which the evidence was collated and the witness trained by the non-governmental organisation, and the entrapment.

We should normally rely on prosecutions in the country where the offence is committed. As I said, there is the power to extradite, and we can extradite individuals where there is a prima facie case, whereas someone can be found guilty in the courts only if a case is proved beyond reasonable doubt. I am told that we can even extradite people to other countries with which there is no treaty.

We must recognise that the scale of punishment is also important. I was told the other day of someone being sentenced to 50 years' imprisonment in Thailand. I can think of no greater deterrent than being told that one will have to spend 50 years in the Bangkok nick. If any criminal were asked, "Where would you prefer to be imprisoned, Bangkok or Ford open prison?" most criminals would say that they would prefer the luxurious conditions in some British prisons to the anything but luxurious conditions in Bangkok.

At the conference organised by the Sieff foundation, I was impressed by the arguments of the police and others that individuals should be capable of being convicted on the basis of the videos that they brought back to the United Kingdom. A story was told at the conference about a man who committed an act of sodomy with a 12-year-old boy and brought back the video. When he was stopped at Heathrow, he could be charged only with possession of a pornographic video. That is not enough.

When the Government consider the matter, that issue should be closely examined. It is insufficient to charge such people with that offence. They should be damned by their own video evidence. That is the view of the police, and I understand that the Association of British Travel Agents would also like the Government to take that line, so that firms could put little leaflets in their brochures telling people that if they go to Thailand and misbehave, there is a risk of their being prosecuted in the United Kingdom. I welcome the Home Secretary's decision to review that idea.

I do not claim that the Bill would solve the problem. It must be solved in the countries themselves. Their Governments must recognise that it is a problem, and that it is their children who are being defiled, who at the age of 10 enter on a life of prostitution from which there will be no escape. They must put the good of their children and the moral health of their countries before the revenue from tourism. Indeed, their tourist revenue could increase if they got rid of that foul trade, so that people could say with pride that they had been to Thailand, whereas now a single person who has been on holiday to Thailand may prefer to keep it a dark secret, rather than advertise the fact to most Of his friends.

Those countries must close the brothels on the back streets and ensure that their police are no longer the best police that money can buy, but become honest policemen, because corrupt policemen are the friends of the paedophiles.

The Bill will not eradicate sex tourism, but it will make a valuable contribution to the battle against that evil trade—a trade that every Member of the House must condemn. I commend the Bill to the House.

10.7 am

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on his initiative with the Bill, on his diligence in researching the background material, and on the fact that he has not tried to oversell the scope of what is a rather limited Bill. I am glad to join him as a sponsor of it, but I suspect that, as he has implied, he is realistic about its rather small reach in terms of what will happen in practice.

That is partly a reflection not on the hon. Gentleman, but on the weakness of the private Member's Bill procedure. Such Bills make progress only if they have the full blessing of the Government, and this is as far as the Government would allow. On that understanding, I shall fully support the Bill. It has been introduced in the context of public anger—anger that deserves an effective response.

I was glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman attended the conference yesterday promoted by the Sieff foundation, where I understand there was considerable embarrassment, as Britain is the only country with no extra-territorial jurisdiction or legislation on this matter in place. There was also a strong feeling among the delegates that the Government should consider the problem more seriously than they have yet done.

I shall pose three questions—what is the mischief aimed at by the Bill? Will it be effective? What further types of legislative and other measures are likely to prove to be necessary? First, in respect of the mischief, it is clear that all decent people must feel a deep revulsion and abhorrence at the exploitation of defenceless children—mostly in the third world—for sexual gratification by perverts principally from the developed countries of the west. We must press for action to end such exploitation and punish those responsible.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the trade is easier nowadays thanks to the ease and cheapness of international travel, and to the communications that can link together perverts from around the world. In my judgment, our campaign is in some ways equivalent to the crusade in past centuries against the slave trade. There must be a special place in hell reserved for those who are so ready to take away the innocence of young children for sexual gratification.

The aim of the legislation is surely to protect potential victims by facilitating the detection, prosecution and punishment of those who perpetrate such offences. There is currently a wide gap between the law and what the public believe to be necessary. The law will be brought increasingly into disrepute so long as it manifestly fails to respond adequately—or at all—to public perceptions of, and anger at, child molesters, either in this country or abroad.

Secondly, how effective is the Bill likely to be? At one level, it must be an advance on the current position, even if it is to a large extent declaratory and not a giant step towards tackling the problem. We have in law many examples of areas where the Government and public opinion have, by legislation, shown themselves to be against certain practices, even if people know realistically that such legislation can mainly be a signal and cannot tackle the whole problem. It is one thing to introduce race relations legislation, but another to solve the problems. In a different context, when we began to introduce insider dealing legislation in the early 1980s, we knew that it only signalled a certain opposition, and was unlikely to be effective in preventing the practice, for obvious reasons.

In the context of extra-territoriality, one thinks of war crimes legislation. While that is not perhaps the best example, we had a healthy and clear knowledge of the problem, but felt that, because of people's deep moral revulsion, it was proper to go ahead, even if the measure was mainly declaratory.

The fear of publicity and exposure may in itself act as a deterrent to those tempted to indulge in such vile practices. The scale of organised tourism for child sex is uncertain, and there are no reliable statistics. I understand that child care workers believe that single freelance travellers are more prevalent than organised criminal groups in this country. Thus, the scale of organised child sex tourism may be relatively small, and therefore "agreements" and "incitement" caught by this Bill may be of relatively little significance. People rely on information in magazines or obtained through the Internet, but such limited organised child sex tourism as may exist may change its focus as a result of the Bill, further to avoid "agreements" caught by this Bill in the United Kingdom.

In one sense, the Home Secretary has promised much. I noticed the ringing declaration in the Home Office's press release of 8 December, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman said: The full force of the law must be used against the evil people who sexually exploit children for money. It is an abhorrent activity. We must do all we can to prevent it and protect children everywhere. If this were a rather more partisan debate, perhaps I would say that—to coin a phrase—he says one thing and does another. He talks tough, but wields a feather.

Some of my best friends are lawyers, but we must recognise that lawyers and Home Office officials are of a special breed and can always find 1,001 ways to say that things will not work in practice. As a result, I forecast that there will be a very wide gulf between the public's expectations of this Bill and the reality of it, though I welcome the minor change. Actual "agreements" in the United Kingdom may be few, but they may be reduced further or avoided as a result of the Bill.

The Crown Prosecution Service will have to be satisfied on the usual test—that there is a reasonable prospect of success—and the prosecutor will have to show to the satisfaction of a jury that the intention of the operator was to organise sex abroad with children. Thus, one can anticipate the defence. "Yes, I was organising individuals to go to Thailand for the purposes of sex, but it was for sex with adults. How was I to know that one or two individuals who happened to go on this trip that I organised were rather more interested in sex with children?" Yet the jury will have to be convinced that the tour was for child sex tourism and not sex tourism generally. Even if the CPS is satisfied, the outcome of any trial may crucially depend on the judge's exercise of discretion on matters such as admissibility. Clearly there are some major hurdles to be overcome.

Finally, having looked at the mischief and the purpose of the Bill and at its likely effectiveness in practice, I shall deal with what more needs to he done. As has been said, this is an international problem which depends for its solution on international co-operation. We must examine what other countries are doing. While I heard what the hon. Gentleman said about the Swedish example, an individual was certainly prosecuted successfully in that country.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

On that very point, as my hon. Friend and other hon. Members know, I serve on the Council of Europe. Is he aware that nine member states within the Council have legislation to deal with those very issues?

Mr. Anderson

It may be argued in response to my hon. Friend that those countries in the Council of Europe may work on a Roman law basis and not on our common law basis. Their rules of evidence may be different. I suggest to the Minister that he looks at the case of Australia. Australia is within the common law tradition and has rules of evidence very similar to our own, and it recently enacted extra-territorial legislation in this matter.

We need to monitor more carefully what is being done elsewhere. I note the concession that the Government made yesterday in announcing that they would review the experience of other countries. I understand that a similar suggestion was made in July last year. The fact that the Government's announcement was made only yesterday surely prompts the question, "Why so late?" I am sure that it has nothing to do with the fact that this debate was to be held today.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Tom Sackville)

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was addressing a conference on the topic yesterday, so it was, a suitable moment make the announcement.

Mr. Anderson

Yes, there was a conference yesterday, but when the Home Secretary issued a press notice in July, it was said that he would draw up a consultative document. Concern has been expressed by many hon. Members about the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) has campaigned vigorously on the matter for years. I merely suggest that to have left the announcement until yesterday gave the impression of a certain reluctance.

Mr. Michael

Does it occur to my hon. Friend that if the announcement last July had been followed through, yesterday's announcement could have been the outcome of five months of consideration and investigation rather than the beginning of it?

Mr. Anderson

I welcome the change proposed in the Bill, but there can surely be no answer on the part of the Government to the charge that such a belated concession gives the impression to the House of a reluctance and a lack of commitment at a time of intense public concern on the matter. What other construction can be put on such a belated announcement?

We need to examine carefully ways of intensifying international police co-operation through Europol, Interpol and various bilateral contacts between our police force and others such as the Thai force. I was glad to learn that Interpol and the National Criminal Intelligence Service held a conference on the subject in mid-November, which was the sixth meeting of the standing working party on offences against minors.

We must also consider the possibility of increased intergovernmental co-operation. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) plays a distinguished role in the Council of Europe. Perhaps the geographical extent of its membership makes that body more relevant than the European Union to this problem. What initiatives, if any, are the Government seeking to promote within the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe? What progress is being made towards co-operation in the mutual obtaining of witness statements, which has been part of the problem cited by the Government?

We need to ask what current legal procedures and rules act as barriers to successful prosecutions. However hallowed by tradition those procedures might be, we must ask whether they are still necessary. I concede that the law on corroboration by minors has improved substantially recently, following the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. It is also much less traumatic now for children to give evidence in court. We should also explore the possibility of witnesses appearing on television or by satellite.

That has already occurred with some success in major fraud trials. If there is a problem with young children in Thailand giving evidence, why not adopt the same procedures, including cross-examination, as appropriate?

I predict that public opinion will not be satisfied by the results of the Bill and that the Government will have to consider further steps. They may have to do so as a result of amendments moved either in Committee or in another place, as I believe some have threatened to do. There will be further international pressure on the Government, as the conference which was held yesterday showed. I understand that a meeting is to be held in Sweden in August of the world congress on commercial exploitation of children. Do the Government propose to be present at that conference? If so, at what level are they to be represented? Will they seek to defend the Bill as an adequate response to national and international concern?

I give one cheer to the Bill. It is a small first step, but the public will properly demand more.

10.24 am
Mr. Michael Alison (Selby)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) who, like me, is a sponsor of the Bill. He speaks with the authority and clarity of a lawyer. I am only sad—or am I glad, I am not certain—that he paddled on the edge of introducing a note of controversy when he questioned the extent to which my hon. Friend the Minister and his senior colleagues expedited the changes that we seek in the Bill. It is reasonable to remind the hon. Gentleman that when large and important changes are in prospect—say, the modernisation of the Labour party—they need to be made with some hesitancy, deliberation and caution. Reflection on the changes has been slow and careful. I entirely share the hon. Gentleman's aspiration to utter two cheers, rather than one, for the Bill. I am certainly moving in the direction of seeking to obtain two cheers for it.

I must turn the spotlight on my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), whom I congratulate on his success in winning this important place in the ballot. I must talk to him some time about his choice of numbers. His success may have a wider application. I should be interested to hear how he happened to pick that particular number. Perhaps we can talk about that some time—or perhaps he will keep it secret, but he was successful.

Mr. John Marshall

I am surprised that the Second Church Estates Commissioner wants to know which numbers to select for a Saturday evening.

Mr. Alison

It is purely for disinterested advice to my constituents, as my hon. Friend will appreciate.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend on his discrimination in selecting this vital and timely topic and making the protection of the world's most vulnerable children his priority. Unlike the hon. Member for Swansea, East, I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and his colleagues on the important role that they have played in the Bill. The Bill derives in part from the initiative which Raymond Hylton, Lord Hylton, took in another place last year to secure the passage of his Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, which was designed to extend the jurisdiction of United Kingdom courts to sexual offences against children committed overseas.

Regrettably, the Government could not see their way to supporting Lord Hylton's initiative—I shall say a few words about that later—but they have made the effort, in the light of discussions on Lord Hylton's Bill, to do something on this sensitive and critical matter. I warmly commend them for that.

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, almost certainly agree that nearly every aspect of the sexual abuse and molestation of children is shocking, and often unimaginably shocking. It is sometimes too painful even to bear contemplation. I think of the picture of the child chained to a bed and burnt to death in a massage parlour that was incinerated, by accident or by design, in an Asian country. That is what the police found. There is an almost unimaginably horrific dimension to the abuse of children, but that is what we are dealing with. Our motivation for sitting on comfortable green Benches on a Friday, with spring approaching, in an advanced western country, is the thought of that child chained to a bed and burnt to death.

If there is one feature of the phenomenon that is more shocking than others, it is the deliberate and calculated practice of relatively well-to-do adults—mostly men, it must be said—from wealthy first-world countries such as Germany, Britain and the United States, arranging to travel abroad to some of the poorer countries of Africa and Asia for the purposes of sexual exploitation of those poor and deprived children. Boys and girls, often orphaned, wander around the streets in capital cities. If their families are still alive, they may be separated from their poor rural family roots. The children are usually illiterate, sometimes drugged for purposes of compliance, sometimes completely enslaved like the child chained to the bed whom I mentioned earlier, sometimes suicidal at such an early age and always abused and damaged—sometimes irrevocably.

One of the most obscene features of sex tourism is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South said, the use of self-photography. With movie and video cameras, adults film themselves molesting, abusing and assaulting children and then sell the product in paedophile and generally pornographic circles to finance the cost of their trips. That is an unacceptable perversion.

I want to remind colleagues of a striking fact about the saleability of pornographic material. A circular sent out by some Australians landed on my desk. It points out that, in Australia, the sale of X-rated video cassettes is one of the largest trades and is flourishing. The circular states: The sex industry's mailing list is the second biggest mailing list in the country, ahead of American Express and Readers Digest. There is a gigantic market for the material. We must not overlook that, because using video cameras to exploit children is immediately profitable to tourists of the sort that the Bill is designed to stop.

The sexual abuse of children requires organisation and communication. One cannot just go to Thailand, or the Philippines or Sri Lanka and pick up the product, so to speak, as one might pick up a bus or hail a taxi in the streets of London. There is a documented correlation between organised tourism from the richer first-world countries and the growth of child abuse and child prostitution in the less developed world.

I make no apology for quoting from a very useful publication called "An abuse of innocence", which has probably been circulated to many colleagues, produced by the charity Christian Aid. It gives some idea of the scale of child prostitution: It is difficult to assess how many children work as prostitutes in the developing world. It is believed some 200,000 Nepali girls have been sold into sexual slavery in Indian brothels. It is a serious problem in Brazil. Probably 60,000 children work as prostitutes in the Philippine sex industry, and perhaps as many as 200,000 in Thailand. These countries are ones in which child prostitution is established. In others, it is new but growing fast. In Colombia, for example, the number of child prostitutes in the capital has increased fivefold in the past seven years; one third of all prostitutes are now under 14 years old and one in twenty is under 10. In some countries, many child prostitutes are boys. This is true in Sri Lanka, where up to 10,000 children aged between six and fourteen are enslaved in brothels and another 5,000 aged between 10 and 18 years old work more independently. The problem is recognised to exist in countries across the southern hemisphere—including Kenya, Goa in India, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam and Cambodia. Against the background of the astonishing dimension and spread of that fearful phenomenon, one must also remember the huge increase in tourism. The Christian Aid document states: International travel has vastly increased since the end of the Second World War. Tourism is expected to be the world's largest business by the year 2000. That is worth repeating. Tourism, the subject that concerns us today, is expected to be the world's largest business by the millennium. The document continues: Though most journeys take place between the OECD states, developing countries have also experienced huge increases in traffic. Between 1950 and 1993 journeys to the Americas increased 14 times, to Africa 34 times, and to East Asia and the Pacific 360 times. That is where the huge growth is.

One element of the growth of tourism from the west and the growth of child prostitution needs underlining. The document states: Tourists expect to fulfil their fantasies of pleasure. Far from home, detached from normal social constraints, they may fulfil these desires in ways that are exploitative or abusive. Sex tourism is an extreme example of this process Everybody who goes on a foreign tour is stimulated by the brochures showing beautiful photographs and enticing scenarios of fabulous waving palms on silver beaches, and expects to fulfil their fantasies of pleasure.

There is no doubt that inhibitions are diminished when one travels overseas, particularly to countries very far away. The very loss of inhibition about paedophile activities, which may be a feature of overseas travel — exploiting children overseas—will have a result at home. Not only might such people bring back a video recording of their activities, but they might be less inhibited, so children in the home country might he exposed to the hazards. There is a direct correlation between what happens overseas, where inhibitions are loosened, and what happens on returning home.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East mentioned a matter that was referred to him by a charitable organisation with which he has had some contact. He said that many of the worst offenders travel as individuals, not on package tours. In the past week, we have all been sent a brochure by a reputable trade association connected with overseas travel and tourism. I shall not name the publication because I do not want to cause an innocent publisher any embarrassment or trouble. I skimmed through the list of references to Thailand. About a dozen tour operators included that country in their literature, and I found the following allusions in that perfectly innocent publication:

  • "Individually tailored itineraries produced",
  • "Totally flexible, tailor-made, itineraries",
  • "Specialists in soft adventure in Asia",
  • "60 per cent. of people travelling alone",
  • "Ideal for single travellers",
  • "Tailor-made tours for independent travellers",
  • "Unique holiday ideas"
in the Far East.
  • "Soft adventure tour modules",
  • "Intimate knowledge of destinations".
In themselves, I am sure that those are perfectly innocent phrases—or are they? I do not know.

The argument of the hon. Member for Swansea, East about the single traveller in Asia is reinforced by the sort of phenomenon that is now widely available to all sorts of people. Can the Bill do anything to break the fearful correlation between a thoroughly desirable and benign development—the massive increase in the capacity and scope of citizens all over the world to travel beyond their own countries—and the parasitic abuse of tourism, which is focused on children and battens on to an acceptable international industry? I believe that we can do something about it.

I am grateful to Ann Badger and the Coalition on Child Prostitution and Tourism as, I think, is the hon. Member for Swansea, East. She commissioned and sent us some refreshing legal opinions from, for example, the distinguished counsel Muireann O Briain QC, who states: Conspiracy is not necessarily difficult to prove. The crime consists of an agreement between two or more persons to effect an unlawful purpose. The crime is in the agreement; it is irrelevant whether the agreement is ever put into effect. Incitement precedes a conspiracy; it is the encouragement of others to commit a crime. A person incites another to commit a crime; when that other agrees, there is a conspiracy. A tour operator might incite someone by his advertising or promotion to commit acts of sexual abuse against children. He could be prosecuted for that crime. In quoting that I am half looking at my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Ashby), who is an expert in this field. Much of the drafting of the Bill seemed gobbledegook to me, but I assume that my hon. Friend will help us in this matter.

It will be interesting to discover whether the sort of hints and trailers that I quoted from reputable tour operators might mean that they, accidentally or deliberately, have strayed into an area in which they can be prosecuted. It might he necessary for tour operators deliberately to disassociate themselves in their advertising from any link or contact with that fearful and illicit trade—in other words, to use failsafe advertising. That may well be one of the beneficial effects of the Bill.

As the hon. Member for Swansea, East suggested, we want to be able to raise a second cheer and, in my view, we can do so only when we have a power of extra-territorial prosecution. I am glad that the Government are not closing their mind entirely to that and that they are investigating it. Because tourism is a growing industry, a large number of countries are reluctant to prosecute tourists in their own country and would rather kick them out. If they do not jump bail, they encourage them to get away. That does not mean, however, that they would not produce evidence to prove that there had been sexual offences against their children if the people they kicked out were prosecuted in their country of origin. It does not follow that, because a country is reluctant to prosecute child sex offenders, it would not be prepared to co-operate with the home jurisdiction, by producing evidence to secure prosecution. One might find that those countries would be more prepared to do so than to use the extradition processes and have unsavoury court cases in their own jurisdiction involving precisely that broad range of clientele—overseas visitors—whom they want to encourage to come to their countries.

We have to go down the road that the hon. Member for Swansea, East suggested in pursuit of the second cheer. In giving my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South my first cheer, I very much look forward to being able to give the second cheer in due course.

10.48 am
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison). With regard to his argument about prosecution, he and the House will know that on so many issues concerning the overall welfare of youngsters, other countries which, sadly, suffer, from the kind of problems that we are discussing look to countries such as ours to set standards, strengthen legislation and give them the confidence to take action in the knowledge that they will be supported. That is an important point.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on introducing this important Bill, which I am sure will have wide support. The two early-day motions on the subject show the wide range of hon. Members of different parties who support it.

As a member of the British parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe, I have for the past year been rapporteur in the production of a report on a "European Strategy for Children". Many organisations involved with the welfare of children have been supportive of the work of our committee, which has met in several European countries. On 19 December 1995 Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, wrote to me from its New York headquarters saying, Thank for sharing with me a copy of the report on a 'European Strategy for Children'. I commend you and your colleagues at the Council for undertaking this farsighted initiative for the future of children. The report was discussed at the Council of Europe assembly meeting in Strasbourg on 24 January and overwhelmingly approved by member states. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said, the Council of Europe now has 38 member states and includes countries which are not in the European Union such as Iceland and Turkey.

Our "European Strategy for Children" highlights the problem of sexual offences against children. We have heard a great deal about Thailand in this context. The right hon. Member for Selby also mentioned other countries which, sadly, suffer from this continuing problem. The evidence that he gave from press releases and travel brochures clearly shows what is happening. As rapporteur in charge of a report on the abuse and neglect of children which the Council of Europe has agreed should be presented, I have spoken with our legal advisers in Strasbourg and we shall meet in Paris on 5 and 6 March for the first preliminary presentati on of the report. The Council of Europe supports the Bill brought forward by the hon. Member for Hendon, South and we look to the Government also to support the measure. As I said in my intervention to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East, nine Council of Europe members already have legislation of the kind that the hon. Member for Hendon, South is seeking to introduce.

We all know of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. Article 34 deals with "Sexual exploitation" and the unofficial summary of its main provisions states: The State shall protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse, including prostitution and involvement in pornography. Powerful organisations and conventions such as the Council of Europe and the United Nations convention on the rights of the child support the Bill.

With other hon. Members, I serve on the executive of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Its conference this year will be in Malaysia in August. Our secretary, Andrew Pearson, has invited us to submit items for the agenda. I have suggested that we discuss child prostitution and sex tourism for the reason suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East when he mentioned the laws in Australia. Sadly, several Commonwealth countries have this terrible problem. It therefore is right that the subject should be discussed at Commonwealth level and the views of Commonwealth countries about how to work together explained and discussed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East mentioned the conference in Stockholm on 27 to 31 August this year. I congratulate the Swedish Government on making all the arrangements. They are working closely with UNICEF and an organisation called End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism. That conference will have a worldwide attendance and I expect to be the Council of Europe delegate to it. As my hon. Friend said, we are looking for a senior Government Minister to attend that conference. Ministers will not be able to say that they were not, aware it. I have given the dates. I and the Council of Europe expect Britain to be represented by a Minister who will be able to do more than say that he is listening with interest and will come forward with clear ideas about what to do—backed, I hope, by the measure now before the House.

The agenda for the conference includes consideration of developing policies worldwide to combat the growing problem of child sexual exploitation, and we know that it will be attended by representatives of Governments, law enforcement agencies and health professionals as well as representatives from the tourist industry and the media. The right hon. Member for Selby made some valuable comments about the power of travel brochures and how enticing and exciting they can be. We should not lose sight of the fact that television can be equally exciting, as people in the comfort of their own homes can be enticed to visit other parts of the world. I hope that we shall be represented by a senior Minister at that conference.

I shall not go into great detail about the Bill because I believe in the intentions of the hon. Member for Hendon, South. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East is a barrister and as a result of his professional background he has asked certain questions. He is perfectly entitled to do so and no doubt Conservative Members from the same professional background will ask such questions. Those of us who have been in the House for a while, however, know that the right place for such questions and discussions is in Standing Committee. If the Bill encounters any difficulties, I hope that the Government will support the hon. Member for Hendon, South.

Those of us who have been here for a while have sat on many Committees and we have seen Conservative Members, speaking for the Government, argue that they basically support certain legislation, but that it is too complex and therefore they cannot go along with it. I shall not repeat what has already been said about yesterday's statement, but those of us who hope to be members of the Standing Committee on the Bill hope that it and the hon. Member for Hendon, South will receive total support from the Government. I accept that certain amendments may be necessary, but they should be tabled for discussion in Committee.

The Bill is designed to overcome the problems faced by youngsters in foreign countries who are abused by British nationals, but we should not close our eyes to what is happening in our own country. Yesterday's edition of the Yorkshire Post contained an article headed, "Little Girl Lost". The paper reported: Children as young as 11 are turning to prostitution to pay for their drug habit, says West Yorkshire's Chief Constable Keith Hellawell. Vile offences against children are taking place in foreign countries, but such offences are also committed here. The article states: On a freezing street corner in Leeds last night, Wendy was doing business. At the age of 12 she was selling sex to feed a drugs habit which has already been part of her life for more than two years ߪ Her boyfriend—she insists he's that rather than her pimp—drives her to the areas in Leeds and Bradford where she does business. He also supplies most of her drugs. 'I don't do it every night,' she says, 'may be just a couple of nights a week depending on how much money I need.' That article was not describing Thailand, Kenya or Sri Lanka, but the United Kingdom in February 1996, where a young girl of 12 years is selling her body on the streets. The Bill addresses a specific issue, but I ask the Minister, please, not to forget the tragic problems which exist in many parts of our own country.

Kerb crawling is a problem in my constituency, although I do not suggest for one moment that the prostitutes in my area are as young as 12 years of age. I have great confidence in the local police and I know that they would take immediate action if they found such a girl. Even if it is not happening in my constituency, however, it is happening elsewhere. We should not forget that fact, and we need to do something about it.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon, South and I support his intentions. As I have said, the Council of Europe also offers him its total support. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East and I, with other hon. Members on the executive committee of the commonwealth Parliamentary Association, hope that the important issue addressed in the Bill will be on the agenda at the CPA conference in August in Malaysia.

I also beg the Minister to heed what my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East and I have said—no doubt honourable Conservative colleagues will repeat it—about the need to ensure that a senior Minister attends the conference in Sweden in August.

11.5 am

Mr. David Ashby (North-West Leicestershire)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on his Bill and I agree with its purpose. Attempts to deal with a conspiracy to commit offences abroad and incitement to commit such offences are, however, fraught with legal difficulties. I was involved in the leading case on conspiracy to commit offences abroad—Attorney-General's reference No. 2 of 1988, or 1987. From my experience, such cases are a legal minefield. I am therefore happy to give the Bill one cheer rather than two.

There is no point in hon. Members making high-flown speeches about morals abroad and how we should influence behaviour abroad. We must be pragmatic. I do not believe that we achieve anything by trying to persuade other countries to do certain things or to behave in certain ways. It is far better to consider what we can achieve here and to legislate to achieve that. That may be limited, but I offer three cheers for one cheer rather than giving the two or three cheers called for by my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison).

We must remember, as judges have said time and again, that the courts are not courts of morals but courts of law. One must look to the law, which reveals that the Bill is fraught with many problems, not least about sentencing.

When the House dealt with the age of consent—on that occasion in homosexual cases—I always maintained that the age of consent should be the same for both sexes, because that is so in most countries abroad. I have always felt that one of the inherent difficulties in legislating is the difference in the age of consent in every country. One can go round Europe, not least within the boundaries of the Council of Europe, and find differing ages of consent. It is much lower in some countries than in the United Kingdom. After all, it is just few hundred years since our kings married child brides of 13 and 14.

The recent case in Turkey where a young British 13-year-old has married also reveals the problems involved in attempting to legislate. The Turkish authorities have said that that marriage is illegal, but I believe that it might be legal in the religious sense rather than in the civil sense. I believe that the age of consent for marriage in Turkey is 15. It is 16 in the United Kingdom, as noted in the Bill.

Imagine what would happen to Turkish people or those of Turkish extraction, who are now British citizens, who got on a coach to Turkey to celebrate the wedding of one of their 15-year-old daughters—a love match in Turkey. According to the Bill, they would be guilty of conspiring to commit an offence abroad, because clause 1(2)(b) covers the happening of some other event, intended to take place in a country or territory outside the United Kingdom. That may well—

Mr. John Marshall

Clause 1(3) says: The second condition is that that act or any other event constitutes an offence under the law in force in that country or territory", so it could not, under the Bill, be an offence to persuade a person to go to Turkey in the conditions that my hon. Friend described.

Mr. Ashby

I take that point.

I was coming to the issue of sentencing, which becomes difficult. Will judges be persuaded to sentence according to the law in this country or the law in the country where the offence will be committed? If under-age sex attracts a six-month or one-year penalty in the country where it happens, will the judge sentence according to the penalty in that country or the penalty in this? I understand that the Bill prescribes that the sentence abroad will be the penalty in this country, but that creates an injustice because the foreign country may enforce its laws very vigorously.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

Surely—it is clearly expressed in the Bill—the sentence would apply to the offence contained in the Bill, to the offence of conspiracy, not to the sexual act that took place in another country.

Mr. Ashby

Conspiracy is an agreement to commit an illegal act or an illegal agreement to commit an act, but the judge must consider the substantive act when sentencing on conspiracy. If he judges a case about a conspiracy to commit an illegal sexual act, he will consider the sexual act to decide what sentence will apply for that act.

Judges will have to consider sentences in the country where the offence is committed, which may be a country that vigorously enforces the substantive law, and whose view is different. I think not so much of third-world countries such as Thailand and the Philippines as of European countries where there is a marked difference in attitudes towards sexual offences and the penalties that are prescribed for certain offences—places such as the Spanish peninsula and Italy, which are quite vigorous. That is a difficulty.

The Bill should be limited in scope, because we do not have a great duty in this country to prosecute and protect citizens of other countries. We must rely on those countries to protect their citizens.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned Wendy, a child prostitute. If a French group of paedophiles arranged to visit this country to meet Wendy and Wendy's friends in Yorkshire, what attitude would this country take to a prosecution of those people? I imagine that the newspapers would be angry that the case was being prosecuted in France, and would call on our police to prosecute the French visitors for the substantive offence of under-age sex with Wendy and other people, rather than the other way round. A nationalist uproar would be created because the case was being decided in France, not in this country. I imagine that certain newspapers, mostly tabloids, would take that view.

Although one finds the whole area of under-age sex abhorrent and distasteful, I wonder whether we should present ourselves as people who will police the world in respect of under-age sex with children. I wonder whether we should instead rely more on those countries to protect and police themselves. In any case, there is wide scope for an international agreement on that.

I think of child pornography. I think of computer pornography, which is now international, and which is spread on the Internet. We have created the offence of computer pornography, but much of that comes from abroad, down the telephone line. We could have a great deal more agreement about that.

We could have a great deal more agreement about what constitutes under-age sex and what is the age of consent. I envisage couples—even young couples—travelling from one European country to another, going from legality to illegality to legality to illegality. One must consider that in the international sense.

We are discussing an offence of a conspiracy in this country, and the people who prosecute must be careful to confine themselves to conspiracy in this country. I dislike the idea of sending squads of police officers throughout the world to countries such as Thailand and the Philippines where under-age sex is prevalent, to gather evidence to prosecute people in this country. That is not how I envisage the role of our police force.

That would be an expensive process. I am sure that the police would be delighted to visit those countries and would enjoy being sent to investigate, but it is not a good idea to send our police abroad to pursue such investigations. It is far better that we persuade those countries to bring prosecutions of our nationals in their country for the substantive offence rather than for conspiracy. We should help those countries to prosecute, and perhaps teach them if necessary.

The Bill will be far more useful in connection with charges of incitement to commit offences, and acts of conspiracy in this country that make it clear what the purpose is. The publications that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South described would give rise to those offences. I recognise the difficulties with video tape, but a video tape might be part of the evidence of conspiracy. If a video tape showed several people committing offences against known children, it would be admissible evidence.

It is far more important, however, that we turn our attention to similar publications and the incitement that they engender—advertising that one sees and that one understands is prevalent—and seek convictions for that offence, instead of sending our police officers abroad to collect evidence of substantive offences abroad. That is a dangerous area.

I realise that the Home Office pays increasing attention to offences of conspiracy to commit offences abroad. It is a dangerous area. I am not sure that it is a good idea to go too much into that aspect, which is limited and has evidential difficulties.

The nature of the offence and the fact that it is abhorred throughout the world makes it an exception. We should be looking for more treaties and international agreement in respect of such offences. That is the way forward as much as the Bill, which would have a restricted use in practice. I do not believe that it would result in many prosecutions—certainly not successful ones.

11.20 am
Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I also wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on introducing the Bill, which is a step in the right direction. I shall not start cheering until it has passed through the House, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

I shall speak first in the words of a young child, who said: I was put in a room. I asked myself why they did that. After a while a man entered the room. He asked me if I do not like men. I said no and if he didn't get out of the room I would shout for help. But he said that even if I shout no one will help me because he has already paid for me. He succeeded in raping me … feeling helpless I could do nothing but cry. That is the face of modern sex tourism; those words were spoken by a 15-year-old girl who thought that she had obtained a babysitting job.

As the world grows smaller and as the risks at home become greater, sex perverts, many from developed countries, travel abroad to find poverty-stricken children who will have sex for money. They rely on the poverty of the countries that they visit, the vulnerability of the children whom they want for sex and the ability to return home after their holiday without the fear of a law that will lead to their prosecution.

But the tide is turning against child sex tourists. The countries that tend to be the receiving countries for such men and women are beginning to tackle the problem. Some of the main sending countries have taken steps to implement laws that would allow prosecutions to take place when the perverts return home.

Every year it is estimated that 1 million children worldwide are lured, forced, sold or tricked into prostitution. Children make their way to the cities in a variety of ways, all of which arise from poverty. Some children are turned adrift by their families, who cannot afford to keep them. Some children are sold by their families to people who simply deal in children. Some children are handed over with an assurance that they will be adopted into a better life. Some children are orphaned; many are tricked into believing that they are to be given employment in respectable jobs. Some children are even kidnapped. Some children are sold into slavery in the surrounding industries, and attractive ones are taken to child brothels where they stay until they die of disease or simply exhaustion. The brothels do not exist to satisfy local need, but are there as tourist attractions. Paedophiles from wealthy countries come to spend holidays in the brothels.

The exploitation of children, both boys and girls, is growing in all countries where poverty is rife. Efforts are being made to stop it; in many places, organisations have been set up. Many groups are committed to stamping out that vile crime. As a collective group, they call themselves End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism, or ECPAT. That group has joined with other organisations such as Christian Aid, the Jubilee campaign and the Save the Children Fund to form a coalition against child prostitution and child tourism.

The group knows that the sickening tourist trade needs to be tackled at its source and that the place to campaign is not India, the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, Bangkok, Sri Lanka, Romania, Brazil or Argentina—to name but a few of the many countries where the abuse takes place—but the affluent countries that are the source of that foul tourist trade.

I do not want to leave hon. Members with the impression that the countries where the abuse takes place are indifferent, as that would be far from the truth. But while poverty exists on such a scale, it is hard to wipe out such corruption. One of my parliamentary colleagues, my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), told me that his daughter was staying in a hotel in India when she discovered that a German business man was bringing very young girls to his room. She had no doubt that she was witnessing the sexual exploitation of children. She made such a fuss with the hotel manager and created such a row that the German man was thrown out of the hotel. She returned to Britain determined to do something to combat such exploitation. Brave individuals can help; Governments could and should do more.

Many Governments have acted by legislating to allow the prosecution of their citizens on their return to their home countries after their sexual activities abroad. Sweden, Germany, France, Australia, Belgium, Norway, Switzerland, New Zealand, Iceland, Denmark, Finland and the United States of America have legislated to give their domestic courts jurisdiction to prosecute residents and nationals for sexual offences abroad. Britain has not yet done so. The Bill will help to flush out that evil trade, but it does not go far enough—it deals with prosecuting the organisers, not the individual perpetrators.

The law involves the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable; it sets the boundaries. We should never say that it will be too difficult to enforce the law, so we will allow the unacceptable to merge with the acceptable. That is what the Government are doing in saying that, in this country, we will not prosecute sex perverts for abuses that they have committed against children abroad. I do not want to wait for the Government to spend months on an inquiry.

Many hon. Members have signed early-day motions calling on the Government to take action. Many other countries have accepted the reality of their responsibilities—perhaps they have looked at the United Nations convention on the rights of the child and decided that such evil men should have nowhere to hide.

The Government should not leave it to hon. Members to try to amend the Bill at a later stage, but should do it themselves. They should not allow the perverts to return to this country thinking that they will never have to look over their shoulder in fear. Children have such small voices—do not leave them alone to cry in the dark.

11.27 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Tom Sackville)

The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) movingly put the case for controlling this evil trade. There is no difference between us about how we feel about the subject, but the problem is whether we can find effective legal ways to deal with it.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on the Bill; he has been in close contact with us over its preparation. The Bill involves paedophilia, one of the most disturbing and distasteful aberrations of the human mind. It is much more widespread—not just abroad, but here in this country—than many people realise.

I am afraid that for the six offences under which people can be prosecuted for the abuse of children, there were 2,272 convictions in 1994 in this country. Three of the offences carry a maximum sentence of life—as has been said, that is the substantive offence which the penalties in the Bill would match if a person were convicted of incitement or conspiracy.

It is a sad fact that the problem may be getting worse, here as well as overseas. It has been said that foreign travel has made it much easier for people to exploit children in poor countries and for people from the west, using their economic muscle, to corrupt families and children in those countries. Jet travel becomes ever cheaper and more available, and that has made the problem worse.

I am afraid that the availability of so much pornography on the Internet, a phenomenon that has arisen and come into serious use in the past couple of years, will exacerbate the problem because people who have such sexual tastes encourage each other. They talk to each other about what they wish to do to children, and they distribute literature to each other, usually covertly. Increasingly, such material is getting on to the Internet and is being distributed under all sorts of codes so that the sources can be disguised. That will undoubtedly encourage more people with such tendencies to wish to carry out their fantasies on children. They will want to go to countries where opportunities to do that are available because corrupt people in those countries make them available.

We are lucky that child prostitution on the scale that we have heard about in the debate is not a feature of Britain. I hope that it will never become so. However, it is available in different countries such as Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. A case has been noted in Cambodia and there are cases in other countries, especially those in south-east Asia. There are child prostitutes in many parts of the third world and, with sex tourism, the trade could spread to other parts of the world. We should all unite in trying to find an effective way to control it.

There has been much debate here, at yesterday's conference and in other places over the past few months about whether extra-territoriality should become part of our law—whether jurisdiction should be extended to cover crimes that are committed overseas specifically to catch people who engage in these filthy habits. A number of arguments, some of which have been heard in this morning's debate, have been advanced for extending jurisdiction. The first and most general argument is that we all deplore sexual abuse and the exploitation of children and that everything possible should be done to prevent or deter people from engaging in it. It has also been said that failure to extend jurisdiction means that child abusers from this country will commit offences overseas for which they cannot be prosecuted here and will go free. That is a powerful argument.

It has been said that reliance on extradition is unsatisfactory because the countries concerned may not request it or may not have sufficient political will to carry it out. Another argument is that we already take extra-territorial jurisdiction over a number of offences and that there are precedents. It should not be forgotten that, before taking the route that led to the War Crimes Act 1991, two distinguished lawyers, one of them a former Director of Public Prosecutions for England, were sent abroad to collect and assess the quality of evidence that could be found so as to come to a decision about whether a reasonable prosecution could be mounted.

Mr. Donald Anderson

In the War Crimes Act, the age of the evidence rather than its relevance was the point.

Mr. Sackville

Not entirely. The availability of evidence that would be admissible in this country was clearly a key factor.

When those two distinguished lawyers returned here, they presented a report to the Home Secretary and others and it was decided that it would be worth amending the law because prosecutions could be brought. We must be very clear that there is adequate probability that the quality of the evidence that is needed in British courts, which is different or perhaps of a higher quality than is required in many other countries, would be available. I shall deal with that later.

It has also been said in support of extending jurisdiction that abusers often return home with a video of themselves committing an act and that that might provide evidence. That is certainly a strong argument, although defence lawyers would want to ask questions about the provenance of the video. It could not be seen as absolute evidence, although we should consider it in the review of extra-territorial jurisdiction that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has announced. The other strong argument is that other countries have taken extra-territorial jurisdiction and that we should do the same to declare and prove our abhorrence of these practices.

The case against extra-territorial jurisdiction is principally that criminal jurisdiction in England and Wales is traditionally territorially based. That is to say, there is an assumption that for any conduct to constitute an offence under English law, it must to some degree be connected to the territory of England and Wales. The strength of that argument is its simplicity. We take the view that crimes are best investigated in the country in which they are committed by the relevant prosecuting authorities. Subject to certain conditions, we are willing to extradite our nationals to stand trial abroad and we have extradition agreements with many countries.

Of the European Union states, only Britain and Italy are completely free in extraditing nationals but France and Germany, for example, never do that. Where agreements do not exist, ad hoc arrangements may be made in certain circumstances. We take the view that one sovereign state should not interfere in the internal affairs of another.

Mr. Michael

How many examples can the Minister give of extraditions under that head?

Mr. Sackville

I am not aware of anyone who has been extradited for this offence. There is a lack of will at present in many countries, and that must be taken into account.

Although other countries have adopted extra-territorial jurisdiction, the number of prosecutions based on the principle is small. We know of only two successful extra-territorial prosecutions for child sex offences. Therefore, the practical value may be limited. Later in my speech, I shall mention some of those cases.

If extra-territorial jurisdiction were to be adopted, we could use it only in cases of dual criminality, that is to say, in cases where the behaviour constituted an offence here and under the laws of the country in which the offence occurred. The disadvantage is that there are wide variations in the law between different states. For example, the age of consent varies widely, even among European countries. Although an act of sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old child is illegal in the United Kingdom, it is not an unlawful act in Spain, under Spanish law.

Although there is legislation in the United Kingdom to allow prosecutions to be brought extra-territorially in specific circumstances, in practice that is seldom done. Precise figures for the number of successful prosecutions have not been compiled, but anecdotal evidence suggests that there has been only one in the past three years.

We also cannot disregard the considerable practical difficulties that are involved in mounting prosecutions in the United Kingdom of offences committed within another state's territory, which would be likely to render extra-territorial legislation unenforceable. Our police have no authority to gather evidence abroad. Contrary to the prevailing system elsewhere in Europe, in which written evidence can be admissible, our courts have a long tradition of oral evidence and cross-examination. However, there is no power to compel witnesses from abroad to attend court in this country.

There are doubts as to whether extra-territorial jurisdiction would be of assistance in bringing to justice British nationals who commit offences against children in other countries. Therefore, we feel—subject to the current review—that our efforts should be concentrated on assisting foreign authorities as much as possible. Later in my speech, I shall give some details of the actions that we are taking to give such assistance.

Some of the cases that have taken place have already been mentioned. Some countries have taken extra-territoriality, including Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. However, I must say that the number of successful prosecutions that we are aware of is fairly limited. Germany, for example, passed legislation such as this in July 1993. Proceedings were instigated against three German men, again in relation to alleged offences against children in Thailand, but all three prosecutions failed due to a lack of evidence.

In Norway, three men were convicted in 1990 for sexual offences against children in Thailand and the Philippines. They were sentenced to 18 months', eight months' and six months' imprisonment respectively. They had been found guilty of sexually abusing 13-year-old boys in the Philippines, and two of them had also been found guilty of the same offence while on holiday in Thailand. Apparently, the boys were local prostitutes.

In those cases, films and videos which showed scenes of the offences taking place were confiscated and used in evidence. As well as the videos, the prosecution produced letters that the defendants had written to each other which mentioned the acts that were committed against the boys. No proof of the boys' ages was required or provided, and there was no requirement to show that the acts that were involved constituted offences under the law of Thailand or of the Philippines.' An expert witness from Norway, who was a medical practitioner, gave an estimate of the boys' ages after viewing the videos. No affidavits were required to support the allegations, and no witnesses were called from the Philippines or from Thailand.

It is therefore unlikely that the evidence which was produced in that case would have been adequate to secure a conviction were a similar case to be brought in the United Kingdom—of course assuming that we had the necessary jurisdiction.

The Bolin case from Sweden has been mentioned by hon. Members several times. While not wanting in any way to minimise the desire to pursue such individuals, I must say that we are not confident, having carefully examined the Bolin case, that the evidence that was produced in court would have secured a conviction in the United Kingdom under our rules of evidence. I understand that the offender in that case was initially arrested by the authorities in Thailand but absconded. He returned to Sweden. However, because the Swedes do not extradite their nationals, they could not send him back to Thailand. Had a similar incident occurred involving a British national, we would have been able to extradite him to stand trial in Thailand; we would certainly prefer to take that approach.

In that case, the boy alleged that he had settled on the final version of his story after being threatened in Thailand. That was at least what he said. He was looked after, and prepared for his court hearing by, a non-governmental organisation. One must again consider, as has already been mentioned, what would have happened in a British court had he given evidence under cross-examination. Any defence lawyer would have had no difficulty in casting aspersions on the quality of that evidence.

In the Bolin case, the Swedish court preferred the boy's version to that of the defendant because the defendant had admitted to an off-duty police officer who was posing as a fellow child molester that he had molested the boy. The conversation was clandestinely videoed by a Danish television crew. On that evidence, it is unlikely that a court in the United Kingdom could convict.

Mr. Michael

From my experience as a journalist and as a magistrate, I counsel a little care in relation to depending too much on the case summary, however accurate, whether the case is tried in the United Kingdom or abroad. There is often considerable misrepresentation, of which those who have sat through a case will be aware. Is not the Minister resting his case entirely on one particular incident, in which his criticisms of the prosecution may be entirely justifiable, to say that there should be no possibility of a prosecution even if there was good evidence in this country?

Mr. Sackville

I am to trying demonstrate the difficulties that could easily occur. As to the hon. Gentleman's first point, my comments were not based on press reports. Officials in my Department had access to the transcript of the case and have gone into some detail about it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not think that anything that I have said is pure hearsay.

There are clearly problems with rules of evidence. There is a problem in some countries that have granted extra-territoriality because the concept of best available evidence is allowed. In some cases, judges can decide what weight to give evidence. In our system, that evidence would be absolutely inadmissible. So there are some absolute differences between the way in which our legal system and those of some other countries work. However, a video of a person committing such an act would appear to constitute admissible evidence. In the coming review on extending jurisdiction, that is something that we shall carefully examine, as the hon. Gentleman asked us to do.

I do not want the House to think that we are in any way not taking a positive stance. We shall carefully examine the pros and cons of extending jurisdiction, and we are taking steps internationally, which I hope will be helpful. We work hard in the various international bodies, particularly in the United Nations General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights, to combat child prostitution. We supported the adoption by the commission in 1992 of a programme of action for the prevention of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and have urged all countries to implement the measures contained in it. We frequently raise the question of child prostitution in contacts with the authorities in countries where it is a major concern, including Thailand.

Our own Overseas Development Administration provides assistance to a number of non-governmental projects which involve the rehabilitation of street children and deal with the associated problems of prostitution, drug abuse and violence. The link between drugs and prostitution, including child prostitution, is clear, and has been mentioned today.

Although the United Kingdom police have no powers to pursue child abusers abroad, I should point out that the police service provides assistance to local law enforcement officers directly and through participation in training sessions at the Interpol standing working party on offences against minors. The National Criminal Intelligence Service—NCIS—is able, through Interpol, to provide every assistance to police in countries receiving sex tourists to help to identify Britons among them.

The hon. Members for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and for Tooting (Mr. Cox) referred to the world conference in Sweden. We are, of course, well aware of the proposals and have been invited to participate in it, as have our EU partners and others. However, we have first to consider the extent to which such a conference will be successful, and we need to be very clear what its aims are. We have asked for more information, as have other countries. Once we have received it, we shall decide about representation, but neither hon. Gentlemen should be in any doubt that we are aware of that important conference.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South said, despite all the various arguments about the best way to proceed—whether to try to encourage extradition or to go for extra-territoriality—in the end, neither can solve the problem. The problem can be solved only in the countries involved and only if their Governments decide that they do not wish this activity to take place in their jurisdiction. We shall continue to urge all those countries to accept their responsibilities, foremost among which must be the protection of their children from abuse. The issue will continue to be a running sore until they do so.

As has been suggested, unless the situation improves, people who go on holiday to such countries will be under suspicion of being involved in one of these activities in question. It can only be to the disadvantage of those countries, their tourist trade and, indeed, their international reputation if they do not take action.

I hope that the House is aware of the Government's concern and of our determination to ensure that we take any steps we can to limit this vile trade. I believe that the Bill will be a very useful first step down that road.

11.51 am
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

The Minister's response has been extremely disappointing. It appears that we are going to continue to trail behind other countries, including the United States, many of our European partners, Australia and New Zealand. Do we have to wait for them to iron out all the difficulties instead of joining in a multinational initiative to stamp out this trade in degradation and misery?

Members of the public and hon. Members want to hear Ministers coming up with solutions to problems rather than seeking to justify apathy. The Minister confessed that there has not been a single extradition, which makes the offer to extradite pretty lightweight as a means of tackling the problem. Indeed, it is almost meaningless since the countries concerned fear the disastrous effect on the fragile economy of their legitimate tourist industry from any intervention by powerful western countries in respect of those people who participate in sex tourism.

Mr. John Marshall

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there has not been a single extradition because there has not been a single request for one? No one in any of the countries involved has produced any evidence on which to prosecute British citizens, so whether or not we had extra-territoriality would have been irrelevant because no case would have been made.

Mr. Michael

The hon. Gentleman was clearly so keen to frame his intervention that he did not listen to my final sentence. I said that the economic impact on such countries was likely to be disastrous. They fear the impact of any prosecution or any request for the extradition of people from powerful western countries. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recognises that problem.

The existence of pornography and titillation via the Internet is not a reason to despair but a threat which should galvanise us into stronger action to tackle the problem. The Minister is also wrong to suggest that the question of prosecuting acts abroad is a relatively new problem. He made it sound as though the issue had come up only yesterday.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) rightly referred to the prosecution of war crimes. If the quality of evidence available abroad is the real obstacle to action, as the Minister seemed to suggest, why did the Government not send people abroad last summer or two years ago to examine that element of the case? Or is the argument merely designed to act as a further obstacle in later discussions? The issue did not arise when we debated the activities abroad of people involved in drug trafficking, and so on, which hon. Members have wanted to tackle and, indeed, have legislated on in the past couple of years.

In referring to the War Crimes Act 1991, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East was right to point out that the House decided that something must be done through domestic legislation to recognise the need to allow the prosecution of some of the most horrendous crimes of our century, especially those involving bestial activity during the holocaust. It was intended to show our moral revulsion and express our shame at the actions of fellow human beings. It was also, however, specifically to allow prosecution in this country of acts that were committed abroad.

I agree that there is a difficulty in obtaining convictions. There would, however, also be a difficulty in obtaining prosecutions, although that is in some cases a general problem in the operation of the Crown Prosecution Service. That wider issue also needs to be tackled. We cannot start to tackle the problems at all, however, until we accept that British citizens abroad not only should not exploit and abuse children, but should not be able to use their financial power and influence as British citizens to exploit and abuse children. The right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) was also right to suggest that activities undertaken by British citizens abroad impact on the danger to children in our own society.

The Minister said that he does not want us to think that the Government are doing nothing, but the answer given yesterday to his hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) was not especially reassuring. The hon. Member for Ealing, North asked the Secretary of State whether he would extend the jurisdiction of the courts to enable them to deal with offences committed by United Kingdom nationals outside the territory of the United Kingdom. The question was understood by everybody to refer to the Bill before us today. It is merely a matter of convenience, of course, that the answer was given yesterday.

The Home Secretary stressed the general principle that the jurisdiction of the courts throughout the United Kingdom is territorially based, and said that he believed: There are long-standing arguments of principle and of practicality which support this approach. The answer went on to suggest the little germ that has been spun by the Home Office press machine into being some sort of action or undertaking. The words, however, are very clear: It is right, however, that we should from time to time examine whether those arguments remain valid in the light of changing circumstances. The Home Secretary said that he had established an inter-departmental review to look at the implications of change. That is not exactly a tough or vigorous promise to take action—and neither is the promise of a review, which is expected to take five months to complete. That sounds very much like another delay in responding to hon. Members' very specific concerns.

I began by responding to the Minister's speech because I was surprised and disappointed at his response. I want to place it on record, however, that I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on his success in obtaining the opportunity to introduce a Bill and on his sense of priorities in trying to tackle the abuse of children abroad by UK citizens. Anybody who heard the powerful speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) will have been galvanised into wanting immediate action. The Bill is a small step in the right direction, towards allowing the prosecution of those who organise and profit from such a distasteful trade.

I thought that the Government would help and that we would have a shelf Bill, but if this is a shelf Bill drafted by the Home Office, it is one of the most inelegant to come from a Government Department in a long time. It seems almost to have been phrased so as to make it difficult, if not impossible, to amend it so that the issues aired in this debate could come within its scope. That is extremely disappointing.

Last week, we debated a private Member's Bill dealing with offensive weapons. Today, we are discussing sex tourism. Those are issues that the Home Secretary should have used his initiative to tackle rather than using the praiseworthy initiatives of hon. Members through private Members' Bills.

Despite the general impression of movement, the Home Office in its press release yesterday went out of its way to spell out the difficulties in legislating. Yet as long ago as last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and other hon. Friends expressed concern about the fact that the Government were not taking the initiative. They made a number of suggestions, including the suggestion that the Home Secretary should introduce legislation to facilitate prosecution in the United Kingdom of UK citizens who commit sexual offences against children overseas.

Many months have passed since the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), replied to the letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, and we need to inject a sense of urgency. I am disappointed at the Minister's response today and I call on him to argue the case to the Home Secretary that there is a need for a sense of urgency and for a promise that he will not wait five months for the outcome of another inquiry. The Home Office should get stuck in and make the Bill the vehicle for creating much tougher legislation and for tackling the real issues.

Mr. Sackville

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he supports the extension of jurisdiction to crimes committed overseas? Is that his position?

Mr. Michael

In respect of sex tourism and the abuse of children, yes it is, and I hope that the Minister will express his support for that position even if it takes him some time to produce the mechanism to implement it. I am happy to give him an opportunity to give that reassurance to the House. Hon. Members of all parties and the public want action to be taken.

Last year, the Minister of State expressed the Government's determination to protect children from all forms of abuse. He said: The sexual exploitation of children is particularly abhorrent, no matter where it occurs". That element of the Minister's statement goes straight to the heart of the matter. He then claimed that our own laws in this area are among the most stringent in the world. But they are not sufficiently stringent in relation to the activities of British citizens abroad, even though the Minister recognised that those activities were abhorrent wherever they occurred.

We referred earlier to the videos carried back by sex tourists. The House can imagine the possibility of a successful prosecution so long as there is legislation for such prosecutions to take place. If the door is closed against the possibility of prosecution, nothing can happen. That should not be the approach adopted by the House.

It is clear that the Government are uneasy about creating the power to prosecute in such cases. We should recognise, however, as a number of hon. Members have mentioned, that Britain has obligations under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, which we ratified in 1991. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) especially referred to that in his speech.

The Minister rested a great deal of his case on the effectiveness of the law in regard to prosecutions. Prosecutions fail all the time, but the result is not that the law is abandoned—the House is asked to look for ways to strengthen the law and make it more effective. A successful law is one that leads to no prosecutions because it is obeyed.

The failure to prosecute abroad people such as football hooligans has also led to concern in this country because the problems come back to this country when the individuals involved return.

Those are the issues to which we must pay attention. I do not accept that it would necessarily involve British police wandering the streets of third-world countries at great expense to the taxpayer, as was suggested earlier. Non-governmental organisations have shown a will to help the prosecuting authorities in this country if prosecution were possible.

Australia has the same sort of common law tradition and, I believe, shares the attitude to extradition that the Minister described as ours, yet that country has decided to pass legislation to try to tackle the problem.

We must instil the fear of being caught and prosecuted, to clean up the activities of British citizens abroad and to protect vulnerable children abroad. I hope that as the hon. Member for Hendon, South takes the Bill through the House, the Minister will help him to make it a more powerful piece of legislation which more closely meets the wishes both of members of the public and of Members of Parliament to tackle the activities of British citizens abroad.

The United Nations convention on the rights of the child makes specific reference to bilateral and multinational measures. That is right and important, but the passage also involves an undertaking to take all appropriate … measures to prevent the abduction of, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form. Let us demonstrate a cross-party determination to produce an Act which lives up to that responsibility.

12.6 pm

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

I do not want to detain the House for long. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on promoting the Bill, and on introducing it to us as he did. He gave a sound and sensible explanation of its limited intentions, recognising the difficulties, especially those involving extra-territoriality. Indeed, he relied to some extent on the fact that we have an extradition treaty with Thailand. The Under-Secretary of State, on behalf of the Home Office, also placed considerable weight on that treaty.

That concerns me somewhat as I was a member of an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation to Thailand and Indonesia in 1989 and our experience at that time was that the Thai authorities, far from wanting to discourage such activity, simply turned a Nelson eye to the whole procedure. We had a busy week. We went to East Timor, the Cambodian refugee camps and the River Kwai, and we met countless politicians and generals. But it was held that our education about Thailand would not be complete without a visit to the district of Patpong. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) seems to find that somewhat amusing, as we all did; it is indeed an appropriate name for that district.

We were told that we should view some of the clubs, and that is what we did. In that rather unsavoury seedy area of Bangkok we were greeted by all sorts of touts offering all sorts of services, but principally trying to sell the clubs by which they were employed. At one club the first thing that met our eye was what I can describe only as a balletic coupling by two young people, with a large audience enjoying the spectacle. From then on, it was downhill all the way.

The second club looked more like something out of Hieronymus Bosch. We were assailed on all sides by very young hostesses who made it entirely clear that all sorts of services were available. There is always comfort and strength in numbers; we were a party of eight of nine people and we all behaved perfectly, but it was clear that all those activities in that substantial district of Bangkok must have been known to the authorities, who were turning a blind eye to them. I do not for one moment believe that the Thai authorities would wish to promote sex tourism in their country, but they were certainly doing very little to discourage it. I am therefore somewhat sceptical of the robustness of Thai efforts to extradite from this country anyone who might be held to have committed any sort of crime against children in that area of Bangkok.

If I have some concern about the Bill, it is in so far as it could impinge on legitimate tourist traffic to the countries concerned. The Bill is rightly aimed at fringe organisations which are offering a particularly unpleasant service and a particularly unpleasant type of tourism, but my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South will have to be careful in drawing up the boundaries between prosecuting those companies which promote sex tourism and those which are part of the legitimate tourist industry.

I am concerned that both my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South and my hon. Friend the Minister place such a great weight on the extradition treaty, given that no one has, been extradited thus far. I do not expect a flood of extradition orders to send British citizens to Bangkok to be tried for offences against children—more's the pity. Only when the countries involved clean up what is happening in their own countries will that vile and unpleasant trade come to an end.

12.11 pm
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

Behind this Bill lie hundreds of thousands of sad and tragic cases of children who have lost their childhood, who have been assaulted and abused, who are kept in confined conditions, who descend into an evil world of crime, drugs, disease and often death and who may survive to adulthood, but will carry with them for the rest of their lives mental and physical scars.

I very much welcome the Bill, the aim of which is to address some of the problems connected with this matter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the work that he and his colleagues did last year and on bringing up recommendations for action before Christmas. I should like to see further action than just that encompassed in the Bill, but I do not want to say or do anything that will stand between this excellent Bill and its enactment. For that reason, I wish it a healthy and successful passage into law.

The Bill will try to deal with a severe problem—paedophile sex tourism. I believe that the Bill will drive substantial inroads into destroying that industry in this country, as it should be destroyed. Above all, the Bill provides a mechanism whereby successful prosecutions can be achieved. My hon. Friend the Minister has rightly outlined the practical differences in terms of evidence and achieving prosecutions that could be encountered by other approaches.

One of the most unacceptable features of the paedophile sex trade is the fact that, while serious offences exist in this country, which carry heavy penalties for those who break the law, there is at present no law against the same people carrying out the same offences abroad. The Bill will help address that, and that is very much to be welcomed.

It is a matter of great sadness that the UK is one of the countries responsible for large numbers of citizens going abroad to exploit children. We are in the top four—as far as statistics can carry relevance in this area—with the United States, Australia and Germany. That is greatly to be condemned and it urges action upon us.

The problem worldwide is indeed severe. I do not want to delay the House by quoting the figures, but on totting them up, one quickly approaches 1 million children who are in one way or another connected with that vile trade. The countries that have been referred to as having a severe problem are probably the tip of the iceberg. In other countries in Latin America and Africa, the same problem, or all the potential for it, exists. I am worried that, although the Bill will deal with many of the severe problems, there is a risk that it will have the effect of shifting the trade elsewhere.

For example, the requirement in the Bill that the acts must be illegal in the country in which they take place may result in the trade moving to those countries in which those acts are not illegal. As the House has been told, age limits for certain sexual acts vary greatly across the world. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) and my hon. Friend the Minister will continue to look closely at the possibility of extending offences so that they apply extra-territorially and of including either now or at a later stage an extension of those offences that it will catch. Several severe offences are included in the schedule, but we should consider also including crimes related to the production of pornography abroad and perhaps even some offences against adults. If this Bill is not the right forum for that, I hope that the issue will be considered separately.

As my hon. Friend the Minister rightly said, there are precedents for extra-territorial offences in English law. While they may not be common under our system, there is no principled reason why they should not he examined as a possibility. As he said, other countries have introduced similar laws. While my hon. Friend the Minister is right to say that at present there are not many examples of successful prosecutions, that has to be set against the time scale. Most of these laws have been introduced only recently. Indeed, some have been introduced only in the past 12 to 18 months. Therefore, it is necessary to consider the matter in detail and to monitor it as time moves on and other cases are brought and there are perhaps further successful prosecutions.

While my hon. Friend the Minister is right to say that it may be difficult to gather adequate evidence and for it to be presented and properly tested in the British courts, and while I would never wish to see our standards of evidence and of justice diminished, it may well prove in the light of experience to be easier to pursue such cases than expected. Even if that turns out not to be the case, there is an argument for having on the statute book a strong law, even if it is rarely applied, because it acts as a deterrent and a clear sign that this society condemns those activities. When there is not a law and there has been no attempt to put one on the statute book, that might salve the consciences of those who are probably inhibited mostly by their guilt and who communicate with others who have similar tastes principally to overcome that guilt. That is an important factor that must be borne in mind.

I welcome the Bill. I wish it a hasty and successful passage. I hope that it is effective in dealing with this terrible problem across the world. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South and my hon. Friend the Minister will continue to monitor the issue, in the hope of introducing further legislation, if and when the need arises.

12.18 pm
Sir Michael Neubert (Romford)

At the end of this month, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you and I will have served as Members of this House for 22 years. In all that time, I have never once been successful in the ballot for private Members' Bills. To have a reasonable chance of advancing legislation, one needs to come out in the top 20 in that ballot. Not once has my name appeared. So I wish immediately to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on his good fortune in securing a high place in this year's programme of private Members' Bills, and to wish him success with his Bill. My welcome is whole-hearted, unlike that of at least one other sponsor of the Bill, who gave it only half-hearted and lukewarm support.

The Bill is an excellent example of what a private Member's Bill should be. It meets a current and perceived need, it is specific and practical in its purpose and it has attracted a consensus of support which should ensure its passage to the statute book. I think the Bill will serve the country and the cause of children well.

Although I have not had the opportunity to introduce legislation on this matter, I was able to offer a debate to the House in April 1994 on safeguarding the younger generation. One issue that arose in that debate was the sexual exploitation of children by tourists, which also arose in a similar debate in April 1995, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) contributed. We are making progress and we are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South for using his opportunity to advance the cause of children. Children have their champions in the House, as has been evident. I wish to mention at least one other champion—my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), who cannot be here today, but who plays a prominent part in the campaign.

Shakespeare lamented man's inhumanity to man, but today we are discussing man's inhumanity to children. There is nothing new about that activity. I remember reading a novel by Lawrence Durrell about child prostitution in Alexandria. What is new is the access that we now have to all parts of the world and to other countries and cultures, which makes such activities easier to pursue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South mentioned my past involvement in the travel industry and it is true that from 1960 onwards I helped to open up the world to travel by organising inclusive air holidays throughout the world. On balance, travel has been a benefit. It has enriched people's lives, given them new insights, and made them more tolerant of others. The difference it has made is quite staggering. Back in 1960, only 5 million people in this country had been abroad at all. Two or three holidays a year are now usual and almost regarded as people's birthright. People think nothing of travelling abroad, and people now travel widely.

One consequence of wider travel is that, once people are abroad, the social sanctions, the constraints, the taboos and the stigmas no longer apply. That is why we see lager-lout behaviour, for example, when people go abroad to support their clubs in international football competitions. That is also true in the sexual sphere as well. I remember that Frankie Howerd once made an amusing point about cruising—once the ship was out of port, the barriers were down. When people go abroad, they take advantage of the fact that they are away from the constraints of their colleagues and relatives, who know them, and they can engage in behaviour and activities that would be quite unacceptable here. In the case of the sexual exploitation of children, that is particularly perverse and distasteful.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South has scored on one point in the Bill, which has not been recognised. One especially odious aspect of what we have been discussing this morning is the commercial exploitation by third parties of this activity. It is bad enough for individuals to go abroad and engage in the exploitation of under-age children, but I think that it is one degree worse for others to take commercial advantage of that in this country. They are detached from the acts, but they benefit financially. To the extent that the Bill will tackle those whose business lies in arranging such tours, it is an innovation that should be welcomed—limited though it may be.

On the question of implementation, some of this morning's comments have been jejune—I think that that is the right word—because they have failed to recognise the great difficulties of this sphere of action. The Government have rightly outlined those difficulties and have made haste slowly. For reasons that I will develop, their action is entirely reasonable.

I am glad to say that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Ashby), as a barrister, was able to point out some of the problems. When we are merely one country among many, it is naive to suggest that we can take effective. action to stem the flow of tourists abroad and stop the practice of prostitution in other countries. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby said, if a country has 60,000 child prostitutes, does any hon. Member imagine that that level of activity is sustained solely by foreign tourists or by Britons going abroad on holiday? Of course it is not. It is a deeply endemic problem for the country involved, which will have its own priorities that it must tackle. The idea that such countries will devote a high priority to the extradition of British nationals, to pursue cases against them for one act of child prostitution, is neither rational nor reasonable. We must keep these things in perspective.

The United Nations has sought protection for children, but not from one country as to another. We are not going to have a Gulf war on sexual exploitation, with a coalition of nations going into Thailand to stamp out child prostitution. The UN is calling for the basic human right of protecting children, but principally by countries within their own borders, and not by one country interfering in the affairs of another, however disreputable and despicable the activities of that country's nationals might be when they go on holiday abroad.

As a result, there have been regrettable divisions between the campaigning organisations that have been putting pressure on hon. Members and the Government to take action. I have been very impressed by the activities of the Action for Children Campaign, whose director is the Reverend Graham St. John Willey, who raised many signatures for an early-day motion, to which I was persuaded to add mine—not immediately because, as we know, early-day motions now proliferate to such an extent that we have several thousand a Session and no one takes any account of them. That motion attracted much support—from more than half the Members in the House—and unquestionably played its part in bringing the shameful activity of sexual offences against children to the top of our agenda this morning and to that of other counsels in government and elsewhere.

Another organisation, the Coalition on Child Prostitution and Tourism, has many worthy and eminent charities among its membership, which are not being entirely reasonable, but reflect some of the views that have been expressed this morning. That organisation arranged for one of my constituents to send me a printed card—no doubt other hon. Members have also received such cards—that states: Britain is one of the few western nations that still refuses to prosecute its subjects who commit sexual offences against children around the world. I am disgusted at the Government's opposition to passing a law that will allow prosecution of these people. That begs a considerable number of questions. In view of all the difficulties that the Minister rightly outlined at the Dispatch Box, it is not right to take that view of the Government. Cases have failed in the courts and it would be irresponsible of us, as legislators, to suggest that an ineffective law is better than no law. The British public would be the first to complain about the costs of aborted cases, as when the Serious Fraud Office has failed to convict people whom it has charged with major offences. I see that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) is in his seat. He would be the first to criticise the waste of public money. Similarly, police costs are not inconsiderable.

One of the difficulties has been illustrated by the references to the War Crimes Act 1991, an analogy to which we should turn our attention because there are similarities. It deals with what are now seen—though they were not necessarily so regarded at the time—as anti-social, criminal offences committed in another country by people who are now citizens of the United Kingdom.

Those of us who supported the War Crimes Act did so with extreme reluctance. I was hesitant about embarking on a course of action that would rely on 50-year-old evidence from elderly people whose recollection of events would be unsound. None the less, like a majority of hon. Members, I decided to support the Bill on the principle that if a crime has been committed, no matter what the lapse of time, it must be pursued and prosecuted. However, I have no confidence in that Act as an effective means of judgment and punishment of those responsible for the dreadful deeds of the holocaust. It is on the statute book, but we have not had a single conviction. I doubt whether we shall. I would long hesitate before I supported a Bill such as that urged on us by the Opposition that would be as likely to be ineffective in practice, despite all the theory.

The speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) demonstrated the difference between being in government and being in opposition. In opposition, one can beat the air with outrage and urge all sorts of action on the Government. In government, Ministers have a responsibility to assess matters coolly from all points of view and particularly from that of the public interest. They must consider cost, feasibility and the reputation of the law and come to a decision. The Minister, rightly, is moving slowly and his review will, I hope, produce further evidence. Little evidence has been put before us this morning to persuade us to take the more radical action urged by those who are impatient, especially by those outside the House.

I shall close with a point made by the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), which I had also intended to make. To get such matters into perspective, we have look at our own back yard and observe the mote in our own eye. To talk about child prostitution as though it were a phenomenon encountered only abroad on holiday is not to see what is tragically happening in our country. I, too, saw articles about the revelations of the chief constable of West Yorkshire, Keith Hellawell, earlier this week. He said: on current trends up to 70 per cent. of teenagers could be involved in drug taking by the year 2005. Of the effect that that was having on young people who sell themselves for drugs, he said: There are prostitutes in Bradford, 11, 12, and 13-year-olds, who are crackheads. We can't lock them up; all we can do is take them back to their care homes, where they have a bath and are back prostituting for crack later. Those children are in our care. Even they are not protected against exploitation by those who engage in sexual activity, even though they are under age. That can happen in our country, only a couple of hundred miles away. We are not doing anything effective about that, but we are seeking to achieve protection for thousands of young people worldwide.

We must keep such matters in a proper perspective. Declaratory legislation is not of much value; it is just an empty gesture. We can all state that we deplore certain activities, but in government we must be effective. I agree with my hon. Friend the Minister that we should explore all the possibilities and take our time to produce the evidence.

We are all under some obligation to ensure that the climate in which people can consider going abroad for certain activities is conducive to that wish. I am afraid that certain companies operating in my former sphere of interest, the travel industry, such as Club 18–30, unashamedly promote their holidays as an opportunity for sex with strangers. That is all that company is aiming at and it has run a distasteful series of advertisements for its current season's holidays. It is only a relatively short step from an 18-year-old going abroad for sex with strangers to going abroad to have sex with under-age children. We must be more strict and reintroduce some of the old stigmas and taboos to make such practices seem less attractive and less acceptable than apparently they are in today's modern world. If we can play any part in achieving that in the long term, that will help, too.

For now, I renew my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South and I welcome his initiative. I hope that his Bill will secure a speedy passage.

12.35 pm
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

I am in total agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert). His realistic approach to the Bill is entirely sensible.

I felt that earlier in the debate some confusion crept in in the encounter between my hon. Friends the Members for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) and for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Ashby), which essentially focused on the legitimacy of the jurisdiction contained in the Bill. The Bill has got it right. I must take to task slightly the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding), who made an impassioned and moving plea to address some of the ghastly things that go on in other countries. I urge her to appreciate that no one on the Conservative Benches is in anything but total agreement with her, and we share her reaction to what goes on in other countries. We are all against child prostitution, wherever it happens.

As my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire said, we make law in the House and the courts must be courts of law, not courts of morals. Whatever we put into law and whatever we legislate for must be founded in sensible legal principle that our courts are able properly to enforce.

The real issue over which we slightly disagree with other hon. Members is how far the jurisdiction of the English courts should be allowed to stretch. Can the long arm of the law go from here to Bangkok, or should it stop at the boundaries of our country? There is a severe danger of which the House should be deeply wary in saying that we have the right to legislate for behaviour in other countries.

In prisons in Bangkok, there are British citizens who have been prosecuted for murder or drug peddling in Thailand. Quite rightly, the offence that took place in that country should be prosecuted and tried there. If we were to say that English justice could stretch that far, be it for child prostitution, murder or peddling of drugs, we would create a situation in which one country was subject to two laws. That would be profoundly confusing and difficult for us to administer. It would mean sending British policemen to other countries to apply our law in their territories. If one messed about with the fundamental principle of justice—that it should be confined in one nation—severe problems would emerge.

The Bill says that the offence can be prosecuted if it can be defined as one that is rooted in Britain. The Bill has properly been drafted to say that if the offence is advertising, and recruiting people for, child prostitution in this country to practise it in another country, it can be prosecuted in this country.

If, however, we regard the offence as taking place in another country, and believe that the jurisdiction of the British courts can apply to it, we step into extremely dangerous territory. We must be clear in our mind about the judicial principles in which the Bill is rooted. It is essential to understand those principles.

12.39 pm
Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I apologise to the House for not being in the Chamber earlier in the debate—I was slaying other dragons in other parts of the building.

More than a year ago, my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) and I met the Home Secretary to try to persuade him that the evils of international child pornography were so great that we should bend every sinew, as a Government, to help stop it. He was rightly worried about our abilities to do so at that time, and my right hon. Friend and I left the meeting with no great optimism that legislation would ever reach the statute book.

When I first came to this place about 22 years ago—with you, Madam Deputy Speaker—I felt strongly, as a lawyer, that we should not introduce any legisla0tion in this place that was likely to be unenforceable. I believed that that was not the function of Parliament or of our courts, that it was a waste of time and that we should always be constrained in the limits of our ambitions.

My opinion has changed and qualified over the years. I have learnt that there is a value in laws that are declaratory of seriously wrong behaviour, which we do not expect of our citizens.

I have not completely gone over to the opinion that we should have declaratory laws, but I have moved in that direction because I realise that some people feel that there is nothing wrong in doing something against which no law exists in this country. I am, therefore, prepared to accept a law that is predominantly declaratory, provided that in some circumstances it may have a practical and enforceable effect.

There is merit in the warning sounded by my hon. Friends the Members for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) and for Romford (Sir M. Neubert), both of whom made interesting and significant speeches, but in my opinion, this place has a function in passing laws in such circumstances as these.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on his determination and dedication to this cause and so many other causes, in the pursuing of which he is a distinguished representative of, at least, the Conservative party in this place. I also wish to encourage my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, who have shown interest and expressed concern that we should advance this matter as far as we sensibly and reasonably can.

There has been a change in the climate in the Home Office, or at least among politicians in the Home Office, since my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby and I first spoke to the Home Secretary about those matters. I welcome that very much, because the evil of the exploitation of children is one of the most sickening and horrifying modern manifestations of social behaviour. It is one of the modern horrors of the world and we must all co-operate to do what we can to stop it.

People say that there are doubts about extra-territorial legislation—there have been doubts, and one reason why I have changed my view is that those doubts have been, to a substantial extent, diminished. We have introduced extra-territorial legislation in the world of finance. We had some agonising debates about whether we could do anything about California imposing double taxation. There are various subjects on which we originally said that we could do nothing, but found that we could do something. Equally, we found that we could do something under the war crimes legislation that the House passed with an overwhelming majority. A prosecution is currently under way—the matter is sub judice, so I shall say no more about it.

Mr. Couchman

Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I cannot give way. My hon. Friend has already spoken and I am under time constraints.

There are examples of extra-territoriality and it remains to be seen whether they are enforceable. Certainly, the stand that we took in the House over extra-territorial financial relationships with America may have modified the financial laws that were being laid down in the United States. If we co-operate with the laws of foreign countries, we may also see some positive results. That is surely the key to the change in the world in recent times.

We have all become more international and our legal systems have had to become more international. Yesterday, in a question to the Leader of the House, I deplored the fact that the Government had meekly agreed to an extension of five years for the right of individual references to the European Court of Human Rights. I strongly object to the fact that we have done so without referring the matter to Parliament for discussion, because it is important. But I do not argue from that basis that we have no obligations to link ourselves into European or international laws as part of the new process of the open world. We shall deal with the appalling child pornography, as shown by the exploitation of children as set out in the Bill, only if we co-operate and give our legal support to countries that are trying to deal with the problem.

I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South and to encourage the Government to do what they can to support this Bill, to make it effective in practice and to remove as many barriers as possible to the law's enforcement. We should be thinking positively and constructively and we should show the Government's concern for the care and welfare of children, wherever they are in the world. I hope that the Government will be emboldened, not just by my speech, but by the Bill introduced so admirably by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South.

12.48 pm
Mr. John Marshall

We have had an interesting debate comprising 10 Back-Bench speeches. As three of them were made by lawyers, the House may be surprised that the debate is shortly to come to a conclusion.

Everyone is agreed that the sickening trade in young bodies is offensive. We all want to do our best to bring it to an end. I am sure that the Minister will have heard speeches from both sides of the House commending the Government on their initiative in proposing a further inquiry into extra-territorial legislation, particularly in respect of videos. Clearly, the main action has to come from the Thai, Philippine and other such authorities, but the Bill will help to tackle the sickening trade. The fact that young children can lose their innocence at the age of 10 or 11 must offend every decent Member of the House and all our constituents.

I hope that the Bill receives its Second Reading and that it will have a positive but not too prolonged period in Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).

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