» Monday, June 19, 2006

Sarah’s Law

Asked if anything had changed from when Jack Straw had ruled out the law to today, the PMOS said that the important and difficult thing in this area was as both the Home Secretary and Gerry Sutcliffe had made clear, was to get the balance right, between on the one hand, protecting the public and giving them as much information as possible, and on the other, ensuring that we did not have viliglantism. That was the balance that had to be struck. What was important, therefore, was that Gerry Sutcliffe went to the United States, and looked at how they did things there. We were not planning immediately to import US laws, but we did need to consider, and it was right to do so, how these operate, and look at the differences, and what had been successful there.

Put that nothing had changed, the PMOS said what had changed was that we were actively and proactively looking at how we could give more information to the public, and that was the right thing to do. The Home Secretary had made it clear that his view was that "I start from the position that information should no longer remain the exclusive reserve of officialdom". The switch could be seen, but nobody underestimated the difficulties.

Put that nothing had changed in terms of what was happening out in the country, the PMOS said that he disagreed. The Home Secretary had identified 11 centres where he now said there should be no-one with paedophile convictions. That was a change.

Put that was it the case that the Government had not changed its mind, only the headline, the PMOS said he was no longer shocked or surprised by such cynicism. The PMOS underlined that the Home Secretary had said that no child sex offender should reside in accommodation near schools. This was something practical and different. We now had a body of experience in the US which was worth studying, and therefore, before people’s cynicism kicked in, it was right that we gave Gerry Sutcliffe the time to go there and see what lessons, if any, we could learn.

Asked what had led Ministers to believe that there should either be a) a change of policies or b) what had changed in terms of knowledge or experience to lead the Government to examine a law change that they had previously rejected, the PMOS replied that everybody understood the genuine difficulties in this area, so it should not be reduced down to ping pong. There was genuine concern in communities about these kinds of issues, and it was right and proper that the Home Secretary took account of those genuine concerns. Where there was a body of experience, as there was in the US in dealing with the release of controlled information, then that was worth studying. Finally, yes, there was, and remained, persistent pressure to publish this sort of information. Therefore, it was sensible for the Government to take a fresh look at this to see if there was a way of balancing the conflicting needs and demands, and to take account of the experience that had been acquired as well. What was clear was that this was an issue of public concern, which was not going to go away. That did not mean, therefore, that there was an easy answer, as there was not one, but what the response of the Government did was where there was an issue of genuine concern, it was constantly looked at to see if there was a way of trying to balance the conflicting issues, and that was what we were doing.

Asked when were Ministers made aware that some paedophiles lived near schools, and when was the Prime Minister told, the PMOS said that he was not going to get into processology. The important point was that the Home Secretary had made his announcement, and we were now doing something about it.

Briefing took place at 9:00 | Search for related news

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