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Monday, 14 August, 2000, 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK
'Paedophile blitz: no rush'
inside a prison
William Hague called for mandatory life sentences
The government will not be rushed into introducing an instant crackdown on child sex offenders, the prime minister's office says.

Downing Street's caution came despite ministers' appearing to reach a consensus with the opposition at the weekend over taking new measures.

It is important that we get this right, even if that takes time, rather than rush into anything and act in a knee-jerk way

Downing Street spokesman
Tory leader William Hague called for a series of tougher penalties, including the extension of the use of life terms for repeat offenders.

His proposals followed public anger over paedophiles living in the community in the wake of the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne.

Mr Hague also said paedophiles should be restricted from living near their victims and should be under tighter supervision, including electronic tagging.

And he suggested Britons convicted of sex crimes abroad be made to sign the offenders' register on their return.

Two reviews

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott welcomed Mr Hague's call for cross-party consensus, but said Labour was already doing much of what Mr Hague was proposing.

"If you can get a consensus between political parties in the review of the child offenders' register at the present time it is very welcome," he said on Sunday.

Sarah Payne
The debate was sparked by the murder of Sarah Payne
But on Monday, officials acknowledged that new legislation may be unlikely before the next general election.

The government has already launched two separate reviews affecting the law on sex offenders.

In June, it set up a working party to review the operation of the sex offenders' register.

The group is expected to make recommendations in December, with a public consultation beginning early next year.

And another public consultation is already under way, on a general review of the sexual offences laws.

This includes proposals for an extension of life sentences by expanding the definition of rape and redefining the most serious sexual assaults. Results of this are due out in March.

'Sensible suggestions'

The Downing Street spokesman insisted that it was essential that the government got any new measures right.

"It is important that we get this right, even if that takes time, rather than rush into anything and act in a knee-jerk way," he said.

He went on: "We have done a lot since 1997 to tighten up this area. What I think Mr Hague was doing was implicitly welcoming that."

He said the government would support any sensible suggestions for reform of the law which could command the backing of the police and expert agencies.

Tories' offer

A Home Office spokeswoman could not comment on reports that the government is set to promise automatic life sentences for paedophiles.

She said: "We're still in the middle of the review process and any proposals that arise out of it will be considered."

Shadow Chancellor Michael Portillo urged the government to introduce amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, currently going through Parliament, to enact at least some of Mr Hague's suggestions.

He said the Tories would be prepared to hold discussions with ministers with a view to securing cross-party agreement on the best way to proceed.

"It is clear that many people in this country feel that the law is not doing enough," he said.

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See also:

13 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Hague: Life terms for paedophiles
12 Aug 00 | UK Politics
No paedophile list access
26 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Blueprint for sex law reforms
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