MPs back paedophile blacklist Bill

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The Independent Online
THE CREATION of a national blacklist of paedophile suspects moved a step closer yesterday when a backbench Bill cleared the House of Commons.

The Protection of Children Bill, sponsored by Debra Shipley, Labour MP for Stourbridge, was given a third reading without a vote and now goes to the Lords.

Under the Bill, anyone convicted or suspected of physical or sexual child abuse will have their names placed on a central register kept by the Depart- ment of Health and the Department for Education and Employment.

Anyone on the list would be barred for life from working with children, and all childcare organisations would be forced to check the list before recruiting staff. Individuals would have a right of appeal against inclusion.

Some Tories expressed grave doubts about the Bill's civil liberties implications, particularly its power to include those only suspected of having committed abuse.

Philip Hammond, shadow health minister, said that while he welcomed the Bill's main proposals, his party was concerned about its implications for civil rights. Mr Hammond said the Health Secretary, Frank Dobson, should "provide certain basic information to enable us to assess the working of the Act" 12 months after its introduction.

"I have not asked the Secretary of State to provide annual reports, but simply to do so on a one-off basis so that we can review the working of the Act over its first year or so of operation," said Mr Hammond. However, John Hutton, a junior health minister, refused to accept an amendment requiring annual progress reports to Parliament. He promised ministers would look at how best to provide regular information to Parliament on the operation of the new statutory list. "We do intend to be as open as possible about the new arrangements," he said. "But we have no doubt at all that these provisions are necessary and that the necessary resources will be made available to ensure that these new provisions will work."

Apart from civil liberties reservations, the Bill has Government and cross-party backing and stands a good chance of becoming law later this year.

In the third reading debate, Ms Shipley said: "We cannot guarantee that no child will ever again suffer abuse, but the Bill will substantially enhance the level of protection."

She told the House the protection of children had been balanced against the reasonable rights of people facing the possibility of a lifetime ban from working with youngsters.

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