02 June 2005

S2M-2771 Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 2 June 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

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Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2771, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, that the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill be passed.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): We have trod a relatively long and very twisty road to get to this stage. Passing the bill will increase protection for children. A number of issues remain unresolved, but that is not to say that those issues were capable of being resolved in the bill or in legislation at all.

If I take issue with anything that the minister said, I do so about one thing only and as a matter of emphasis. The minister said that the bill will help professionals to protect children. That is excellent and, of course, I support it. However, we must consider in what other ways we can protect children and what other people have to be involved in that.

One thing that is outside the legislative framework but to which we have to turn our minds as politicians is helping children to protect children from sexual exploitation. When the high-tech crime unit came to show us some of the things that happen in the world of the internet, even those of us who spent an entire career in computers found that there were gaping holes in our knowledge, understanding and experience; I saw things of which I had not previously been aware in any way, shape or form. The development of new technologies, particularly in various areas of communication, is extremely rapid. Given that we are probably not the users of the technologies that create the greatest risks for children, the only way in which we can improve substantially the protection of children is to help children protect children, because they understand the technologies. I hope that the Executive will not feel that the job is done when, at 5.30 or thereabouts, we pass the bill. There is more to do.

Another area of challenge to which we have to turn our minds is that which always occurs in relation to offending of a sexual nature: we have to raise our game on detection, prosecution, incarceration, treatment and rehabilitation. We know that we see but a tiny portion of the offending that goes on in sexual matters and that, of that tiny portion, we successfully prosecute only a tiny portion. It is suggested that less than 5 per cent of rapes end up in a conviction. I had to say "suggested", because I do not think that we can put our hands on our hearts and say that we have an absolutely reliable figure; we can rely only on the fact that we do not fully know.

The same will be true in relation to many of the offences that we have created under the bill that concern the inappropriate sexual behaviours that we seek to address. Therefore, the high-tech crime unit within the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency, which is a useful start, needs to have more resources and more ability to help the wider police force and the community to detect and respond to sexual offending that involves technology. We have to consider further ways in which we can resource and respond to matters in that regard.

As a child, because I was fortunate to have it brought to my attention by my parents, I was aware of the risks of paedophilia. I suspect, however, that that was extremely unusual. Further, I also had a pretty good idea who the paedophiles who had not gone into the criminal justice system were in the town in which I was brought up. That knowledge and information was protection for me. We must not be afraid to ensure that children are informed about challenging social and sexual matters. We must not shy from that.

I have received a wee note from Youthlink, which says that it remains a little bit concerned about an issue relating to the risk of sexual harm orders. It points out that, although Disclosure Scotland might be aware of RSHOs, that does not mean that people will be placed on the disqualified list, which means that issues remain regarding whether the person will be adequately known about. It might be possible for the minister to address that matter.

I am happy to support the bill.


Stewart Stevenson
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