Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : I wish to present a petition signed by Mr. Paul Wilkinson, president of Bradford university students union, and more than 1,000 people in Bradford, including a large number of students. They state in their petition
that any proposals to introduce the payment by students of tuition fees and student loans, whether partially or fully, will further limit access to higher education.
The petitioners know that the Education (Student Loans) Bill, which passed through the House in the early hours of this morning, is a friendless orphan. No one wishes to adopt the Government's child and the Secretary of State for Education and Science appears exceptionally embarrassed when accused of the paternity--
Wherefore your Petitioners Pray that your Honourable House do reject any proposals to introduce the payment by students of tuition fees or student loans
and look forward to being able to see the end of this scheme at an early stage.
To lie upon the Table.
Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor) : I beg leave to present a petition on behalf of and collected by the Powys pre-school playgroup association. The petition contains 1,380 signatures of the people of Powys who demonstrate their concern at the Children Act 1989 which involves the payment of annual inspection or registration fees by playgroups. These fees are described as nominal, but nevertheless threaten the existence of playgroups as they cannot be afforded in remote rural areas, such as Powys, where the numbers of children in playgroups are small and incomes are low.
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House will exempt such groups from this charge.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c. To lie upon the Table.
Sexual Offences Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
The Bill has two main purposes. The first is to make life more difficult for kerb crawlers, and I shall explain how I propose that should be done. The second is to remove the present legal presumption that boys under 14 are incapable of sexual intercourse. For some time the Home Office has been concerned about the matter and I am glad to be able to include it in my Bill. I should like to thank the Home Office and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for their help and co-operation.
In an Adjournment speech last year I said :
"Over the past few years, a plague--a pollution--has struck a part of my constituency. Certain streets have become red light areas. At night, they swarm with prostitutes. I accept that that is not unique to Streatham, although it is unique to the residents there."--[ Official Report, 12 January 1989 ; Vol. 144 c. 1092.]
The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who is present, is also worried about the matter. I am glad that he managed to return from Belgium yesterday. I know he was there because I have been unable to pair with him for the past two days.
The problem is a plague and a pollution, but in a recent survey in the press that asked the public to list in order of importance the crimes that most trouble them, prostitution and kerb crawling came low on that list. I understand that because that crime and nuisance affects only small areas, but if one questioned the residents in those areas they would put that problem top of their list. People not affected by the problem have no conception of the distress caused. For those living in the affected areas it is a plague and a horror. Their wives or daughters are solicited as they return from the bus stop. Life is most unpleasant for them.
Last year a traffic count was taken in a quiet, tree-lined residential road in my constituency. Between 5 pm and 6 pm, rush hour, 12 cars passed along the street, but between midnight and 1 am, 124 cars were clocked going along it. Imagine trying to sleep, especially in the summer with the windows open. Constituents and friends have told me that in the summer they must move from their main bedrooms in the front of the house to one of the bedrooms in the back, or they must keep their bedroom windows closed.
Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South) : The Sexual Offences Act 1985 was introduced to deal with problems just as great as those described by my hon. Friend. As it appears that problems remain as bad as they were, has that Act had no effect?
Sir William Shelton : My hon. Friend has put his finger on it. When I was fortunate to win a high place in the ballot for private members' Bills I decided to introduce this Bill because of that failure.
A local resident has described the problem in the following terms :
"The noise is endless as the cars screech around the roads, viewing the prostitutes as they stand on the corners. The noise
Column 563of the prostitutes screaming among themselves or at their clients. The pimps and their cars ; the harassment of residents as they walk down their own streets."
It is intolerable that that should happen.
I was contacted by a constituent who was deeply distressed when his small son wandered in one morning, having popped outside to look around, carrying an empty hypodermic syringe that he had picked up behind the bushes of his garden. If that boy had pricked himself with the syringe the family would have been deeply worried because there is a high incidence of hepatitis B among prostitutes and even some cases of AIDS.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross) : As one who normally lives in the quiet countryside of Scotland, but who must live in London during the week, I persistently have difficulty sleeping because of motor cars. Whether they are after prostitutes or not makes no difference to my disturbance. Why should the ordinary citizen living in a town be capable of distinguishing between a motor car that is kerb crawling and a motor car that is not? To make an improper suggestion, of whatever form, to someone who is not a prostitute, even, "Go to hell", or, "I don't like the look of your face", is an offence known to the law of Scotland. Is it not known to the common law of England?
Sir William Shelton : I reassure my hon. and learned Friend that the Bill does not apply to Scotland, but to England and Wales. It does not relate to the tranquility of Scotland. I accept that all traffic is a nuisance, but the average motorist does not leave empty hypodermic syringes in one's garden.
Various things have been done in Streatham recently to rid the area of the problem. In April 1988 a vice squad was formed and, possibly because of my Adjournment debate, the squad now has its own van rather than having to rely upon the general purpose police van. In 1987, 239 prostitutes were prosecuted ; in 1988 the figure rose to 803. However, in 1988 only 180 kerb crawlers were summonsed under the Sexual Offences Act 1985--it is not an arrestable offence. The police, as in other areas, send letters to people seen circling around. Any kerb crawlers who happen to read this debate should note that they may find a surprising letter on the breakfast table one morning. Yet still the kerb crawlers come back.
I have great praise for the police, but the vice squad consists of only six officers. I was surprised to learn that in Wandsworth, next door to my constituency, where the problem is less acute there are 12 officers in the vice squad. I intend to raise this with my right hon. Friend the Minister and with the helpful deputy assistant commissioner, Mr. Metcalfe, whom I shall meet in a few weeks' time. A traffic management scheme was eventually introduced by Lambeth council it took three years to introduce it. Although it is a nuisance to residents to drive round and round to reach the main road, it has helped and the traffic flow has been reduced in some areas. Is it not absurd, however, that money must be spent and residents incommoded as roads are blocked off just to stop the problem? I am also told by the police that a new kerb crawling route has developed on the other side of the High road. Although the traffic management scheme is good, it does not represent a solution as kerb crawlers still come
Column 564back. Hon. Members must accept that this is a grave problem and that something must be done to solve it. The House has a responsibility towards our citizens.
Mr. David Martin : Does my hon. Friend believe that reducing the requirements of the law by repealing the words "persistently" and "in such a manner or in such circumstances as to be likely to cause annoyance to the woman (or any of the women) solicited, or nuisance to other persons in the neighbourhood"
is sufficient to make a significant difference to the law?
The House will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) also won a high place in the ballot in 1985 and introduced the Sexual Offences Act 1985, which was earlier known as the "Kerb Crawlers Bill". It was the first time that kerb crawling was made a criminal offence. The Bill's intention was to make it an offence to solicit a woman from a motor vehicle or in the immediate vicinity of the motor vehicle belonging to the man soliciting a woman. However, in Committee in the other place, the Bill suffered some amendments, one of which was the inclusion of the word "persistently", which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir Nicholas Fairbairn) mentioned. It became an offence for which one could be summonsed for a kerb crawler persistently to solicit a woman or more than one woman. A man had to solicit "persistently", or it was not an offence.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : I appreciate that the Bill does not apply to Scotland, but I should like an answer to the question that I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) at the time of her Bill. Surely to go up to a woman who is not a prostitute and to proposition her is an offence in common law. It is an assault. To go up to a woman who is a prostitute and to proposition her is not, I presume, an offence in English common law. Why should it be an offence to do so from a motor car when it is not while standing on the pavement? If it is not an offence under English common law to go up to an ordinary woman and proposition her, there is something odd about the common law in England.
Sir William Shelton : I am coming to that point in a moment. It is indeed an offence in England and, no doubt, in Wales for a man on foot to solicit a woman persistently. The difference, as I shall explain to my hon. and learned Friend, is that the soliciting from a motor car should not have to be persistent, because a motor car is a nuisance at 1 am if it is driving round and round, especially when the driver honks its horn and flashes its lights and people shout to and from it. That nuisance element does not exist when a man is walking along the street, except that he creates a nuisance to the women whom he persistently solicits.
The inclusion of the word "persistently" for kerb crawlers has made the 1985 Act almost ineffective in summonsing and stopping kerb crawlers. Under the present law, the police can stop a kerb crawler after he has solicited a woman. He can say, "Yes, I am a kerb crawler and I did solicit that woman, but I did not annoy her, I created no nuisance and I solicited her only once". The police would be unable to do anything about that under the present law. Both the police and the Crown
Column 565prosecution service say that the present kerb crawling offence cannot readily be enforced. The reason is that, theoretically, two separate approaches by the kerb crawler, either to the same woman or to two different women, are required to establish persistence. However, It is likely in practice that a prosecution will succeed only if three or four approaches have been noted by the police. In acute areas, such as in my constituency, it is unusual for more than one approach to be needed. The House must accept that it is difficult for the police successfully to follow a motorist undetected while he makes several approaches.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : The 1985 Act says "persistently" or so as to "cause annoyance" or "nuisance". One approach which causes annoyance or nuisance does not require persistence. My hon. Friend has not understood the words of the Act. Under the Act, if a person goes up to a woman and causes her annoyance or nuisance, he has committed an offence whether he does so once or more than once.
Sir William Shelton : If my hon. and learned Friend, whose interest in the Act I appreciate, reads Hansard tomorrow, he will understand that I said that if a kerb crawler is stopped by the police and says, "Yes, I am a kerb crawler ; I solicited this woman only once and I did not cause her nuisance nor annoyance", he cannot be arrested. I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend will agree that I am right.
Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : The real problem in Streatham--we share a common boundary--is not whether offence is given to prostitutes or to other women walking along the street but that the offence and nuisance is caused to people who live there. Whether there is nuisance for the contracting parties is not the point. The problems are the condoms, the noise and the hypodermic syringes. That is the nub of the matter and we want to get rid of those problems.
Sir William Shelton : The hon. Gentleman is right and that is what I have been saying. It is the presence of the motor car that makes the kerb crawler distinct from the pedestrian. That is why I want to take the word "persistently" out of the legislation on kerb crawlers.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross mentioned the woman who is not a prostitute. Great nuisance can be involved for her. As I said, wives and daughters are solicited. The woman who is not a prostitute is usually very reluctant to come forward and would usually have difficulty identifying the driver. Unless the police are to hand, the offence goes unreported and the kerb crawler goes unpunished.
As a result of the wretched word "persistently", the police have had to fall back on showing that kerb crawlers, under another section of the 1985 Act, are causing a nuisance to others in the neighbourhood by soliciting.
In Streatham, the police had to ask residents to note the number plates of cars that circled round. Those were reported to the police, on a special telephone number and the police would note down the registration numbers. When a particular driver stopped to solicit a woman, even if only once, the police could secure a conviction on the ground that he was causing a nuisance to the neighbourhood in pursuit of soliciting. What a way for people to spend the evening! They had to sit in their
Column 566homes, peering through the windows and noting down car number plates as cars passed. That is nonsense. However, they secured prosecutions and I congratulate them.
There was a recent case in Nottingham where the police, from a vantage point, noted the number plates of cars going round and round. When a car stopped for the driver to solicit a prostitute, the driver was summonsed. The police there secured some convictions in that way, but it is an uncertain way to secure convictions and it is enormously time-consuming for the police.
The consequence of the flaw in the 1985 Act is that in 1988, just under 10,000 women--9,183--were prosecuted for soliciting, with 8,829 convictions. In the same year, there were 578 prosecutions for kerb crawling and 521 convictions. There is clearly an imbalance between the number of prosecutions of women offenders and men offenders. The Act is not doing what it was meant to do--redress the imbalance created by the fact that the prostitute was criminalised while the client got off scot-free. I am quoting from an article in The Independent of 9 February.
"in a street or public place while in the vicinity of a motor vehicle cause annoyance to the woman or nuisance to other persons in the neighbourhood."
The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) pointed out that that is the gravamen of the nuisance. The words that my hon. Friend would remove already constitute an offence under the 1985 Act--the very offence of which he complains : nuisance to the residents.
Sir William Shelton : I am grateful for my hon. and learned Friend's help in this matter, but perhaps he has not followed what I was saying. Because the police could not arrest kerb crawlers for soliciting, they had to fall back on a cumbersome procedure which entailed dozens of residents sitting up until 2 am noting down number plates. I cannot believe that even my hon. and learned Friend would think that a good way in which to implement the law, when it can be perfectly satisfactorily implemented by arresting kerb
crawlers--without getting hundreds of residents to ring up the police to complain of nuisance at 1 o'clock in the morning. This is only common sense.
Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West) : Does my hon. Friend agree that the legalistic hair-splitting of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) has merely demonstrated the need to simplify this offence?
Sir William Shelton : I entirely agree. My hon. and learned Friend raised more or less the same objections on Second Reading of the 1985 Act, but I quite understand his seriousness and his purpose. As I was saying, the Act does not redress the imbalance which leads to the criminalising of the prostitute yet lets the client off scot-free. I understand that prostitutes do not have to solicit persistently : they can be charged after just one solicitation. So the word "persistently" applies not to the prostitute but to the kerb crawler, which is why about 8,000 or 9,000 prostitutes were prosecuted in 1988, but fewer than 600 kerb crawlers were. That is unfair.
Clause 1 would amend the 1985 Act to remove the word "persistently" as it applies to prostitutes. My hon. Friend the Member for Drake has written me a letter apologising
Column 567that she cannot be here today because of urgent engagements in her constituency. She has asked me to tell the House that she is delighted with the terms of the Bill. It has her full support and she regrets the watering down of her original proposals in Committee.
Mr. Fraser : I support the change in the law because I know of the problem in Streatham. But there is sometimes a difficulty. When these cases are brought in the magistrates court the prostitutes are never called as witnesses. The only witnesses are police officers. The problem is how to deal with a case brought against a person who may vehemently protest his innocence of having, as a police officer may say, propositioned a prostitute on one occasion--but there is no proof that the woman was a prostitute. She is not called as a witness, yet the man's entire reputation can be destroyed. That has happened to judges in Nottingham and London, and it is one difficulty inherent in striking the right balance.
Sir William Shelton : I entirely agree. I hope to persuade the House on this matter when I come to it in more detail later. But in motoring offences, it is also the word of the police against that of the driver. If prostitutes could be present in court, they would be ; but I cannot believe that they would turn up and give evidence in court. In any case they would probably deny that the man being charged had been soliciting.
Mr. David Martin : There may be a similarity with driving offences, but this offence is much more serious for a man's reputation. It would certainly be taken more seriously by newspapers than if a man were charged merely with a motoring offence.
The change suggested in my Bill and in the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Drake is exactly that recommended by the Criminal Law Revision Committee in its 16th report, published in 1984. I think that the House would recognise the eminence of those who served on the committee. Paragraph 40 states :
"We now recommend that it should be an offence for a man to use a motor vehicle in a street or public place for the purpose of soliciting a woman for prostitution. The object of the offence is to stop the man who goes out in a vehicle to look for a prostitute." Nowhere does the report mention the word "persistently". Straightforward solicitation is the offence.
I have read the Official Report of the proceedings on the 1985 Act and I appreciate the anxieties expressed about the proposals to remove "persistently". They were expressed in 1985 and have been expressed again since. Some hon. Members may have received a letter from the Campaign Against Kerb Crawling Legislation, which claims that such legislation infringes civil rights. The letter was sent to me by a QC, and the campaign is apparently made up of anti-rape, black and civil rights organisations, and of probation officers, solicitors and trade unionists. I believe that it was started by the prostitutes collective.
I dismiss the suggestion that my Bill in any way infringes civil rights. In so far as they are involved, they are
Column 568rights of my constituents to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of their homes from evening to dawn--rights that they are being denied now.
It might be argued that if a single offence rendered a kerb crawler liable to prosecution it might be easy for the police to frame someone, but if they wanted to do that, they could do so under the present law, claiming that they had seen a person solicit twice. I do not believe, in any case, that the police would ever do anything like that. I hear my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross laughing. Perhaps he thinks that the police frame people. As I said, if they wanted to do that they could do it under the present legislation just as well as under my Bill.
It might also be suggested that the police could act as agents provocateurs. However, that would be in direct contravention of the police standing orders. If the police wanted to do that, again they could do so under the present legislation just as easily as under the legislation that I propose. I dismiss that argument, too. Hon. Members have also raised the objection that the provisions would make it easier for the police to make a mistake because they might summons someone who merely stopped to ask the way. It is not impossible that someone might stop twice to ask the way, in which case that person could be prosecuted under the present legislation. I take this objection seriously because it is the nub of the argument. I have discussed the matter with the police and with the Home Office. When I pressed the police on this point, they told me that kerb crawlers are easily recognisable. They flash lights, sound horns, chat to prostitutes and open their car doors. The police usually do not stop them until the girl gets into the car. They are absolutely sure that they would give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who claimed that he had stopped to ask the way. In any case, if someone stopped to ask the way and the police came up and said, "Look here, sir, what are you doing", that person would say, "Well, I am going to such and such a place". There is no reason why the police could not go to that place to determine whether he was expected.
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West) : I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. As legislators, should we not ensure that there is no opportunity for error, mistake or misjudgment by the police by framing the legislation in such a way that the courts can always ensure that somebody will not be convicted wrongly? Is that not what we should be doing, rather than relying on the discretion of the police?
Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham) : Although my hon. Friend has just said that he wishes to continue his speech, does he agree that it is relevant not merely that the police might or might not give a suspected person the benefit of the doubt but, more importantly, that a court would do so? A court has a duty to acquit unless it is satisfied about the guilt of the accused person beyond all reasonable doubt. The sort of case to which my hon. Friend and other hon. Members have alluded in the past few minutes would bring that consideration into play. does my hon. Friend agree that that is the answer?
Column 569Sir William Shelton : Yes, exactly. My hon. Friend has pre-empted me. I was just about to say that.
When the Sexual Offences Act 1985 was discussed, the Crown prosecution service was not in existence. However, we now have an independent Crown prosecution service which would never--or which would be extremely loth to- -summons and prosecute a person about whom there was any doubt. The fact that the Crown prosecution service was not in being in 1985 was one reason given by those who spoke in the various committees as to why the word "persistently" should be included.
As the Crown prosecution service now exists, I ask the House to remember, as my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) said, that the prosecution must show beyond all reasonable doubt that a man was soliciting for the purpose of prostitution. Therefore, it is not a matter of police discretion. That is merely the initial barrier. Two other barriers must be passed. The first is the independent Crown prosecution service and the other is the court itself where, I repeat, the man has to be shown to be soliciting for purposes of prostitution beyond all reasonable doubt. That reassures me completely and I very much hope that it will reassure the House.
Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate) : The debate is interesting, but many of the interventions could be made in Committee. We are discussing the broad principle of a proposed Bill. The points that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) rightly made should properly be dealt with by amendments in Committee. They should not be discussed in the detail that we are getting into in this Second Reading debate. I hope that my hon. Friend will resist too many further interventions on points that are Committee rather than Second Reading points.
Sir William Shelton : I concur with my hon. Friend. If the Bill is fortunate enough to get into Committee, I have no doubt that we shall spend a considerable amount of time arguing these points. I do not exclude the possibility of finding a better solution, but the inclusion of the words "persistently soliciting" are not a better solution to the problem.
Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South) : I am grateful for being found irresistible. I appreciate the thrust of the Bill and admire and support what my hon. Friend wishes to do. However, has he ever been to a magistrates court to see a prosecution under the 1985 Act? Has he seen policemen giving evidence where there has been a denial of the offence? Perhaps if my hon. Friend had done so, he would not be quite so sanguine about the two hurdles that he has described as foolproof.
Sir William Shelton : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Yes, I have been to a magistrates court and seen prostitutes being charged, but I have not seen kerb crawlers being charged. I entirely accept my hon. Friend's point. I shall follow his advice and see whether I can do that. The only problem is that under the present law very few kerb crawlers are charged, so one might have to wait a considerable time before one found such a case.
To sum up on this important point, it was a credit to the House and the other place that they adopted such a cautious approach in 1985, when the Crown prosecution service was not in being, and when, for the first time, kerb crawling was made a criminal offence. I hope that
Column 570everyone, whatever their views, will accept that the present Act has not worked as intended. I feel strongly that the offence that was originally proposed by the Criminal Law Revision Committee is the best solution because, as I said, we now have the Crown prosecution service and because a great deal of distress is being caused to law-abiding citizens. If we want the police to deal with the problem, they must be given the power to do so. Therefore, I urge that this problem be rectified.
I must hurry along because I have taken rather a long time so far. Clause 1(3) would make life more difficult for kerb crawlers by proposing an increase in the maximum fine from the present £400 to £1,000. I recommend that increase because the average fine imposed on convicted kerb crawlers in my part of the world is about £100, although it has now increased slightly. If we have a maximum fine of £1,000, I hope that the average will increase to £300 or £400. I very much hope that we shall move to the excellent system recommended by the Home Office and adopt unit cost fines, of which hon. Members will be aware. Under the system of unit cost fines, I should like a rich man to be fined the £1,000 if the court thought that correct.
Sir William Shelton : I now turn quickly to a few other matters. First, I am extremely worried about the pimps who swarm around in Streatham. If there are any real villains here, they are probably the pimps. When the press reported that my Bill included provision for action to be taken against pimps, I received some very strange phone calls from people saying that pimps should be allowed to ply their lawful trade in an orderly manner and challenging my proposal to discriminate against them.
Under the Sexual Offences Act 1956, a man can be prosecuted only if knowingly he lives
"wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution or exercises control, direction or influence."
That legislation probably successfully controls the situation in respect of brothels, but where a pimp drives a girl somewhere in the evening, picks her up at dawn, and takes the money from her, it is difficult to secure a conviction.
One police force in the midlands is securing convictions, but it is having to put one or two officers on to a single suspect for days to establish whether he has other sources of income, how long he spends in the girl's company, and so on. Police in my part of the world do not have sufficient manpower to do that. Even if an officer sees a girl giving a man money, and challenges him, the girl can say that the man is her banker and will be returning the money to her the next day. There have been remarkably few prosecutions of pimps. In 1988, only 75 of them were found guilty in the whole country.
The Home Office should consider framing some form of law that will make it easier to prosecute pimps. In an Adjournment debate in January, my right hon. Friend the Minister helpfully suggested that it might be possible to
Column 571create the offence of receiving immoral earnings in the pursuit of immoral earnings, and perhaps that aspect can be examined in the context of some future Bill. It requires great thought and care, which is why I did not feel it appropriate to cover it in this Bill. However, if the Home Office can incorporate in future legislation a provision for the prosecution of the pimps who run the girls who are the object of kerb crawlers, I would welcome it.
I considered including as another purpose of the Bill giving magistrates the power to endorse the driving licence of a convicted kerb crawler, which would have a salutary effect. I have been persuaded that such a measure would not be appropriate because that penalty is reserved for serious driving offences. However, I understand that someone who drives a getaway car, even if he obeys every aspect of the law while doing so, can have his licence withdrawn. It is not like saying that if one is caught pick- pocketing, one's television licence should be taken away, as such a penalty would be irrelevant. But the use of a car in kerb crawling enters the realm of a driving offence. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will cover that matter when he winds up.
The prostitutes themselves are victims, although not so much as the residents of the areas that they infest. The average fine for a prostitute in south London used to be £35, but it is now about £75. The police inform me that a prostitute can make as much as £600 per night.