But the move - an urgent review of the law to see if they can be prosecuted for conspiracy or incitement - falls short of demands that the paedophile tourists themselves should face trial. Campaigners say Michael Howard's proposals would only catch operators and those embarking on tours where it could be proved that the aim was to have sex with children. It would not affect the vast majority of paedophiles, who make their own way, mainly to the Far East.
Mr Howard was under pressure to act after 10 other Western countries, including Australia, Germany and the US, introduced legal curbs on their own citizens to tackle child prostitution - now recognised as a major problem involving the abuse and exploitation of hundreds of thousands of children. The pressure intensified with the introduction by Lord Hylton of a Private Member's Bill, which seeks to change jurisdiction to allow offences committed abroad to be tried in Britain.
But Mr Howard said that despite its "admirable aim", Lord Hylton's Bill, was flawed and ineffective. Ministers believe it is unworkable because of problems obtaining evidence and witnesses in the countries where the offences are committed.
"We are however urgently examining the scope of the law in each of the United Kingdom jurisdictions to see what steps could be taken to deal with those who in this country, conspire or incite others to commit offences abroad," said Mr How-ard. "This would enable us to deal with those who organise sex tours or who encourage others to travel abroad for the purpose of sexually exploiting children."
The move was criticised by the Labour MP Glenda Jackson, who said: "It is an excuse that is totally unacceptable as similar laws are already in existence in France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Australia and the US."
Referring to the case of a Swedish man jailed last month for having sex with a 13-year-old boy in Thailand, Ms Jackson said: "It proves that if the will is there it is possible for governments to take the necessary action to help protect children internationally from the terrible abuse of criminal adults. Indeed, British courts already have extra-territorial jurisdiction in cases of murder and treason, so the process and structure for pursuing international co-operation is already in place." Anne Badger, of the Coalition on Child Prostitution in Tourism, said: "We welcome it as a step in the right direction, but it does not go nearly far enough."
Lawyers were also dismissive. Anthony Scrivener QC said:"It would be much more sensible to stay in step with other Western countries and adopt similar legislation to prosecute paedophiles."
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