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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST HOSTED BY ANNE MACKENZIE INTERVIEW
PAUL BOETENG AUGUST 6th, 2000

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

ANNE MACKENZIE
So the News of the World and the parents of Sarah Payne say they're confident that their campaign for a change in the law on paedophiles will be successful, especially since the police and probation service now appear to have signed up to a form of Sarah's law. But should a national newspaper be able to influence government policy like this. I'm joined now by the Home Office Minister Paul Boateng, good morning to you.

PAUL BOATENG
Good morning.

ANNE MACKENZIE
It seems the News of the World is setting your policy.

PAUL BOATENG
No. A government's concern has to be the protection and welfare of children and the maintenance of public order. The News of the World's approach to this issue in naming and shaming threatened both. We initiated in June of this year a review of the Sex Offenders Register in order to strengthen it, in order to still further protect children. Year on year, since this government came into power we have increased the protection for children, we intend to continue doing so and the NSPCC, the National Association of Probation Officers, the chief probation officers, the chief officers of police, all of them have a role in that process and we shall continue to strengthen the law.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But there is confusion over what exactly you mean by that.

PAUL BOATENG
By strengthening the law? I can tell you exactly what we mean by it ¿

ANNE MACKENZIE
Well no - well whether or not ¿

PAUL BOATENG
What we mean is - what we mean is making sure, for instance, that registered sex offenders notify their presence and address to the police, in good time, so that we can ensure that there are proper protective measures around those people.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But what are ¿

PAUL BOATENG
What we can - what we can also do is to make sure, if I may say so, that the courts use the powers that we have given them in terms of sentencing - there's a whole range of things we are going to do, and I have already put in motion to do.

ANNE MACKENZIE
What about Sarah's law? What about the suggestion of access, that the public should have access and be told if paedophiles are in the vicinity or are likely to be working with children. We just want the whole thing set out ¿

PAUL BOATENG
I know, and what we've made absolutely clear is that this is a law enforcement matter and the police and probation service have to be at the heart of determining who is or who is not given relevant information. What we also know, however, is that there is a serious debate to be had about the nature of the information that is given. That when it comes to names and addresses, that's a matter that can only be disclosed by the police and the probation service, working together - as they are at the moment, doing sterling work in multi-agency panels on the ground - so better to protect children and the public.

ANNE MACKENZIE
So - so just to clarify - there is no question that this government would consider opening the register to public view, as it were, as in the idea of Megan's law, that people should be told if a paedophile or sex offender is moving into their area. You are not going to do that.

PAUL BOATENG
We've made it absolutely clear that whilst we are concerned always to better protect children and to strengthen existing arrangements, look at what the law can do in order to maximise public confidence in those arrangements, decisions about whether or not people are told names and addresses are not matters for newspapers, not matters for ministers, they are matters for the police and the probation service working together. And we owe them a debt of gratitude for the work that they are already doing to protect children.

ANNE MACKENZIE
So you are not going to introduce Sarah's law, are you?

PAUL BOATENG
We have made it absolutely crystal clear that the best way of protecting children, the best way of protecting the public is by making sure that we strengthen, continually, the measures that are designed to do just that. The best way of doing that is putting the police and the probation service at the heart of those arrangements.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But you are not ¿

PAUL BOATENG
¿ that means that uncontrolled access isn't part of the picture. Controlled access, support for the multi-agency arrangements already on the ground, strengthening the law, looking at, at sentences, looking at the issue of how we can hold indefinitely, with reviews, those people who have severe personality disorders, who are dangerous and who threaten children. All of those things are things we are going to do. That is the best way, that's the best way to honour and enshrine the memory of Sarah. And I have to tell you that the law will be strengthened, the law is constantly being strengthened ¿

ANNE MACKENZIE
Fair enough.

PAUL BOATENG
We're not complacent. And that's the best way to honour Sarah's memory.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But you must realise that people - many of the people who signed up to this Sarah's law campaign are going to be extremely confused about what all this means.

PAUL BOATENG
No I don't think they are actually.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Controlled - controlled access.

PAUL BOATENG
Those aren't my words, those are the words of the News of the World.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Yeah well, controlled access ¿

PAUL BOATENG
I can tell you what we're doing and what we're going to go on doing, giving the police and the probation service the power ¿ to protect children.

ANNE MACKENZIE
¿ you have made that point - but controlled access, to an extent, is what we already have.

PAUL BOATENG
Quite so.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Very much controlled access.

PAUL BOATENG
Quite so.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Now the impression that you gave on Friday was ¿

PAUL BOATENG
No.

ANNE MACKENZIE
¿ you were going to listen to the ¿

PAUL BOATENG
We are listening.

ANNE MACKENZIE
¿ to the campaign for Sarah's law.

PAUL BOATENG
We are listening.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But how are you listening if you are saying that you are actually not going to give the kind of access that people have signed up to and ¿

PAUL BOATENG
Well what the NSPCC and the police and the probation service have asked us to do, when they sat alongside the News of the World on Friday, is to review how we can better control access to information, how we can better protect children ¿

ANNE MACKENZIE
Well how about ¿

PAUL BOATENG
¿ and win, and win public confidence in that.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Well can I ask you ¿

PAUL BOATENG
We began that process, Anne - this is a very serious and complex issue, it isn't open to simple one liners - we began that process in June. We shall continue that process ¿

ANNE MACKENZIE
But what ¿

PAUL BOATENG
I look forward to the contribution that Sarah's parents, the NSPCC, ACPO ¿

ANNE MACKENZIE
But this is the whole point ¿

PAUL BOATENG
¿ the Association of Chief Probation Officers, can make to that debate.

ANNE MACKENZIE
¿ that 300,000 people who signed up for this, and Sarah's parents, want something different, would you say you're going to deliver it?

PAUL BOATENG
No.

ANNE MACKENZIE
That is quite clear after what you've said this morning.

PAUL BOATENG
What they want - what they want, and what we want, is better to protect children. What we're going to do - listening to them, involving chief police officers, involving the chief probation officers, involving the national association for the protection of, of children, and other voluntary children's organisations working in the field, listening to the victims and their families, like Sarah's parents - is to strengthen the law. That is what we are going to do, and that is the best memory, that's the best way in which we can, we can respect and enshrine the memory of Sarah, and all the other little Sarah's who have gone the same way. There is a serious problem, we are determined to address it, we are addressing it year on year ¿ and we're going to continue to do so.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Has the News of the World campaign changed your thinking in any way?

PAUL BOATENG
What the News of the World's campaign has done - and it is very valuable - is to have brought the national association for the protection and prevention of cruelty to children, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Chief Probation Officers, all together, around a table with a concerned public behind them to help strengthen the law.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But -

PAUL BOATENG
We welcome that, we welcome that involvement and we intend to build on it.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But after all this, I'm still not clear how that has changed your thinking.

PAUL BOATENG
I'll tell you how, I'll tell you, I'll tell you - it hasn't changed our thinking in the sense that we weren't doing it before, what it has done is to strengthen, still further, our resolve, and the resolve that has to be there on the part of the public and all the agencies, better to protect children. That's what we're, that's what we're on about. It isn't about responding to campaigns, it isn't, it isn't about the process of, of publicity, it isn't about anything other than children. It's a complicated and difficult and complex issue. There has to be a great deal of thought and care given to how we as a society respond to it. That's what we are going to do. ¿ And if people are engaged in that process through the News of the World's campaign, so be it, because we all have to be engaged in it. It isn't something that we can leave to the police, leave to the probation officers, leave to government, it's something that we all have to be involved in, something we all have to have confidence in.

ANNE MACKENZIE
In a nutshell, you must be aware that there is a public mood to get the kind of information about paedophiles living in the vicinity into the public arena. Now you've made it clear that that is not what you're going to do, that that's fair enough, but the News of the World has said that if you don't deliver the kind of thing that they want, they're going to start naming and shaming ¿

PAUL BOATENG
¿ very carefully, very carefully to what Vivienne said, and what she was calling for was controlled access.

ANNE MACKENZIE
So you're saying they've backed down too?

PAUL BOATENG
It's not, I'm not going to get involved with arguments with newspapers - I'm a government minister, my job is to protect children and to maintain public order. We began a process in June of reviewing the Sex Offenders Register. Every year since this government came into power we have taken action so better to protect children. We shall continue to do so, the law will be strengthened and that is the best way to respect Sarah's memory and the memory of all the other victims of these wicked and evil people, and that's what we intend to do. The law will be strengthened, the debate has been and remains an important one ¿and the government is going to be an active participant in it.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Paul ¿ Paul Boateng, thank you very much indeed for joining us this morning.

PAUL BOATENG
My pleasure.

ENDS

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