Home Affairs Correspondent
New laws to punish organisers of foreign child-sex trips were announced by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, yesterday.
Those who are found to have conspired or incited anyone to commit rape or to have sex with a girl under 13 abroad, could be sentenced to life. Conspiracy to commit an indecent assault on a boy would attract a maximum 10-year penalty, and with a child under 14, two years.
But Mr Howard was immediately attacked for being "tardy" and only tackling the tip of the iceberg. Children's groups concerned at the spread of the child-sex industry throughout the world said most of the paedophiles who travelled abroad for sex went alone and would not be caught by the legislation.
David Ould, spokesman for an alliance of groups including Anti-Slavery International, Save the Children and the NSPCC, said: "This certainly does not go far enough. Unfortunately, for many people it will give the impression that the Government is doing something concrete and they can relax. We do think the UK Government has been tardy, and this is a very little response."
He said they would continue to press the Government to bring in laws which would enable prosecutions in Britain against individuals who abuse and exploit children abroad - laws that have already been introduced in several EU countries, Australia and the US.
But Mr Howard is known to have had serious misgivings about the feasibility introducing extra-territorial jurisdiction, because of problems with evidence-gathering and bringing witnesses from developing world countries to give evidence in British courts.
He said the Government was now looking for a "suitable legislative opportunity" to put the plans into law.