Campaign: Consol lobbies MPs for sex tourism law change - Public Affairs

Campaign: Sexual Offences Bill

Client: World Vision

PR team: CCPA/in-house

Timescale: January 2003-ongoing

Budget: Part of annual retainer fee

When the Government announced a new Bill to overhaul the UK's archaic sexual offences laws, international relief and development charity World Vision (WV) saw an opportunity to close a legal loophole that allowed registered sex offenders to travel overseas for up to eight days without informing the authorities. Consolidated Communications Public Affairs was drafted in to devise a lobbying and comms plan to help WV put the issue firmly on the Government's agenda.

Objectives

To lobby the Home Office to reduce the length of foreign travel allowed for sex offenders to 72 hours. To raise awareness about the sexual exploitation of children and highlight WV's work.

Strategy and Plan

WV initially consulted the police on whether it would be viable to ban travel by sex offenders. The police claimed that an outright ban would not be workable but approved of a plan to reduce the maximum travel period to 72 hours, making it difficult for sex offenders to travel to places such as Cambodia or Thailand. WV also asked charity coalition End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking to endorse the campaign.

WV and Consolidated anticipated the Bill would start its passage in the House of Commons and briefed MPs, using a combination of real-life case studies, facts and figures. Unexpectedly, however, the Bill began in the House of Lords, so the teams identified key peers likely to speak in the debate and conducted meetings with Lords likely to be supportive of the campaign.

WV and Consolidated were then invited to put their case in person to Home Office Minister Lord Falconer, leader of the Bill team. After hearing their argument, Falconer asked Home Office civil servants to launch a separate consultation process to investigate whether the travel notice period should be reduced.

WV attended all relevant meetings to push the travel allowance down to 72 hours. They briefed MPs again and hosted a series of dinners at the political party conferences.

The arrest of former singer Gary Glitter in Cambodia during the campaign also gave WV a news hook to raise the issue of the eight-day loophole with the national press.

Measurement and Evaluation

A political audit was conducted by Consolidated in December 2003 on its target audience of MPs, peers, civil servants and members of the Bill's standing committee. Results revealed that 80 per cent of respondents had a good understanding of WV's campaign, while the remaining 20 per cent were aware of the eight-day loophole. Unprompted, around half could recall receiving a briefing from WV at some stage during the process.

After Glitter was arrested, The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror published stories backing the Bill amendment, and GMTV interviewed WV about the campaign.

Results

The Government made a public commitment to close the loophole. Home Office civil servants are currently working on the new regulations, which are due to be laid down in May.

Falconer thanked WV for its input when announcing the law change, and as a result of the campaign, WV was invited to play a leading role in a Home Office consultative committee set up to look at issues around sex tourism.

'WV gave me the information I wanted when I needed it,' says Romsey Liberal Democrat MP Sandra Gidley. 'But the campaign could also have been improved if WV had put me in touch with Lords who supported the change (in regulations).'

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