Home Office to block Lib Dem MP's entrapment proposal

Liberal Democrat MP proves the government's apathy in protecting kids online

The Home Office has said it will block entrapment proposals tabled for inclusion in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill that would grant police new powers to crack down on Internet paedophiles.

Laws allowing police officers to "entrap" Net predators by posing as children in Internet chatrooms could be rushed through parliament in less than a month under the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, but the Home Office will veto the introduction of such entrapment amendments.

"We have no plans to introduce any immediate entrapment amendments. The Home Office will have ultimate say on what is discussed... and I would think it highly unlikely that they would table such a proposal," according to a Home Office spokesman.

The Criminal Justice and Police Bill has reached its committee stage in the House of Commons, making it possible for a minister to table an amendment granting entrapment powers to British law enforcement units in Internet paedophile cases. Proposals could be accepted for debate in the House of Commons up until two days before its report stage, but the department sponsoring the bill acts as the expert body of knowledge in the creation of statute.

"If the bill proceeds through all stages in the Commons and is passed by the Lords, it could be law as soon as March," said Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow. "I hope the government will seek to use this bill... I hope they will want to be seen taking the issue of chatrooms seriously."

Labour MP David Kidney argues the Wonderland club -- an international child pornography ring sentenced last Tuesday -- has created a lot of hype about child safety on the Internet. "The government has to make proposals that make sense... the Internet is a difficult beast to regulate," he said. "It is more a matter of amending our existing criminal law to fit new circumstances."

But Burstow contends that the principle or entrapment is already accepted in British law, citing existing legislation that allows police and trading standards officers to send a minor into a newsagents to buy cigarettes. The new Criminal Justice and Police Bill will also enable test purchases of alcohol to be made by children. "These provisions are both about entrapment," he said.

The Lib Dem MP said he plans to write to the government on behalf of children's charity Childnet International, requesting an amendment to be added to the Bill that will specifically deal with the online "grooming" of children.

However, any entrapment proposal tabled by the opposition will be thrown out, probably on the basis of its wording -- a fact that Burstow acknowledges. "It's unlikely my proposal will be accepted -- something technically deficient is usually found in an opponent's proposal," he said.

In November a similar attempt to amend legislation failed when Tory peer Baroness Blatch attempted to revise the Indecency with Children Act 1960 so that British police could use entrapment powers to catch Internet paedophiles. The proposal was voted out by the House of Lords.

Are your children in danger on the Internet? Find out with the Web of Porn Special

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Click on the TalkBack button and go to the ZDNet News forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom. And read other letters.