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Crime and Prostitution (Leeds)

12.30 pm

Mr. Fabian Hamilton (Leeds, North-East): I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for allowing this debate, especially given that I failed to catch his eye in last Tuesday's debate on the Queen's Speech. I hope to show what is really happening on the ground in the fight against crime. I want to get away from the hype, headlines and cartoons, such as that in The Guardian today, which depicts a "political football" commentator saying:

When local police forces are asked to establish their policing priorities, and they, in turn, ask the local population on what their policing plans should concentrate, prostitution rarely appears at the top of the list. That is because prostitution affects only the women involved, their families and--when it occurs in a residential area such as Potternewton in my constituency--local residents.

One of the biggest problems that my constituents face is the constant stream of vehicles carrying kerb crawlers and visitors to houses that are, in effect, brothels--usually houses in multiple occupation, interspersed with family homes in which children and young people live. Those families are trying to live a decent, ordinary life, but they are constantly plagued by the noise, detritus and disruption that are caused not only by the women who ply their trade, but by vehicles, pimps and drug dealers who make their deals in nearby phone boxes. People whom I meet regularly have formed an effective residents and communities association to fight the scourge. Although they live in a pleasant, albeit poor area of the city--in streets such as the Avenues, the Hiltons and the Roundhays--they have to put up with the problem day in, day out. They cannot get a decent night's sleep because of the goings-on around them. An 11-year-old girl was recently accosted on her way home from school by someone who was looking for sex from a prostitute; thankfully, she was released unharmed.

There are many ways in which to begin to deal with the problem. We can try to remove the immediate trade--the kerb crawlers themselves. Last year, we in Leeds established an effective trial scheme--the kerb crawlers rehabilitation programme, administered by Leeds Metropolitan university. Of the 81 men who attended the programme throughout the year, only one was known to reoffend. The scheme, which ended last December, was a partnership that was largely funded by the police and other agencies such as the health authority. That is one way to tackle the problem. Instead of being referred to court and named and shamed--as the police and press put it--first-time offenders were sent on the programme at a cost of about £120--a sum similar to the fine that they might have received had they been convicted. Attendance is voluntary: during a full day's programme, the men learn about prostitution's effect on and the pressures experienced by prostitutes themselves, local residents, and the families of those caught kerb crawling.

That is one measure that we can use to try to deter kerb crawling, but I am delighted to see an alternative measure, to make kerb crawling an arrestable criminal offence, included in the new criminal justice and police

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Bill that will be presented to the House next year. Once the Bill becomes law, it will have a salutary affect on kerb crawlers, who will be easier to catch and convict. The kerb crawlers' rehabilitation programme was effective, but it closed last year, mainly because West Yorkshire police thought that they should not continue to fund it, believing that savings were made by the Crown Prosecution Service, not by them. Some in West Yorkshire police feel that kerb crawlers who are caught should be referred to the courts, to be named and shamed and convicted. As we have said, that will be easier once new legislation is enacted.

The Home Office and the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), helpfully put together a crime reduction fund specifically for programmes to fight prostitution. A group got together in Leeds to put in a bid together for that funding: it included Leeds city council, West Yorkshire police and an organisation called CROP--the Coalition for the Removal of Pimping. Unfortunately, I recently learned that the Leeds bid was unsuccessful. I am deeply unhappy with the role that Leeds city council played in that. I hope that lessons will be learned, and that next time, should further funding become available, Home Office officials will work together with different agencies to form a true partnership bid. We must ensure that the next bid is successful, so that we can re-establish the kerb crawlers rehabilitation programme. I must thank the Yorkshire Evening Post for highlighting the effectiveness of the programme and pressing for its re-establishment; I hope that it will continue to support the programme.

A woman called Irene Ivison was key to CROP. She had a daughter, Fiona, who, after three weeks working as a prostitute, was murdered at the age of 17. She had come under the influence of a pimp at the age of 14. Irene made it her life's mission to stop pimps, who often get away--literally--with murder. Irene set up CROP and was heavily involved in Rotherham's successful bid for crime reduction funding. I am delighted that Risky Business has received funding. The organisation tries to assist the families of prostitutes and to help prostitutes to get away from prostitution and leave the trade. Tragically, Irene died prematurely last month. We all mourn her.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his visit to Leeds in April. As the Minister will know, I have been pressing the Home Office and raising the issue wherever I can. The Home Secretary agreed to come to my constituency in April to see and hear for himself some of the problems that residents face day in, day out, and he listened to the Potternewton community action group for nearly an hour. I am also grateful to the Minister of State present today, who came to my constituency last month, primarily to speak to the community action and support against crime annual general meeting, where he was well received. At his request, he also met residents from the Potternewton community action group. We had a fruitful discussion, and I was pleased by his interest. CASAC is trying to fight crime in the Chapeltown and Harehills area, and it does so successfully. In no small measure, that is due to the work of Travis Johnson, who set up CASAC and is its current chairman.

Today's debate is also about crime. Recently, we have heard a great deal about the police--their numbers, their impact on crime and other issues that are currently

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in the headlines. During the debate on the Queen's Speech my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that the number of police is, of course, important in trying to fight crime, but that so too is the way in which the police use their resources. I shall draw the House's attention to some examples of how police in the city of Leeds have used their resources both more and less effectively.

In the Chapeltown division of West Yorkshire police, Chief Superintendent Frank Farmer has been enormously successful in solving a series of shootings and murders that took place in Chapeltown, north Leeds and east Leeds during the first six months of this year. Through good intelligence and concerted policing, every one of the perpetrators is either dead--shot, not by the police, but by one another--or behind bars. That is a 100 per cent. clear-up rate for some 20 shootings, all drug related; and the associated drug dealing has also been largely cleared up through the efforts of the Chapeltown police. I thank Chief Superintendent Farmer for concentrating so hard on something that disturbed every resident of the area, not only those who live in my constituency.

More trivial incidents cause disturbance. A few weeks ago, Steve and Wendy Jones-Blackett, two residents of Chapel Allerton, a district centre in my constituency, visited my advice surgery to tell me about a gang of youths, perhaps the product of yob culture, who were robbing shopkeepers and sometimes holding them up at knifepoint. Again, thanks to effective and swift action by Chapeltown police, and to the use of anti-social behaviour orders, that scourge has now been ended.

I contrast that with the situation on the Queenshills in the Moortown area of my constituency, which is policed by another division of West Yorkshire police. A spate of crimes there has involved my office and other premises, including the newsagents, where Mr. Singh was held up at gunpoint this weekend. Earlier in the week, the hairdresser's premises were burgled and the door kicked in. Luckily, however, video cameras had been temporarily installed and video footage was taken; I hope that the police will follow up that evidence. Earlier still, an office was burgled: because it had been burgled once before, the police had installed a temporary direct-line digital alarm, and at 2 am, when the office was burgled for the second time, the police arrived swiftly. Unfortunately, they forgot to turn their sirens off, thus warning the criminals inside the building and allowing them to escape. It might have been easier if the police had telephoned to say that they were on their way.

Other areas of my constituency have suffered the effects of crime. One small example is that of Moortown Methodist church on Alderton crescent in the north of my constituency. The minister there, Richard Bryant, telephoned the police a few months ago, after youths had been found throwing stones at the church and houses in the locality. The police said that they were unable to attend because they could not find the church in the telephone book and so did not know the address. When Mr. Bryant told them the address, they said that Alderton crescent was not on their map and that they could not help. That is one example of poor-quality policing. However, I know that the point has been made and that it has been taken up by the divisional commander.

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In the fight against crime, partnership is everything. It is vital. As we know from trying to fight prostitution in Leeds, all the agencies, including the police, must fight the scourge of crime together. The Government have made an extremely good start with some of the initiatives that I have mentioned, including anti-social behaviour orders and the crime and police Bill, which I know will help in the fight against various aspects of crime. There is certainly no question of complacency. Communities must fight together. Headline grabbing is not a solution: what counts is the work on the ground, as CASAC has shown.

Supporting communities and the police in their fight against crime is part of the answer, but no one has the whole solution. It is clear that attacking the causes of poverty, deprivation and unemployment are also an important part of the solution, and the Government have made an effective start on that. Being tough on crime and its causes will finally bring a real reduction in crime. The Government are going the right way about the problem and they deserve our full support.

12.44 pm

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey): I am grateful for this opportunity to make a short contribution to the important debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton). He graphically described the problems within his constituency and the increasing frustration felt by his constituents about the capacity of the police to address them. Communities throughout West Yorkshire, including my constituency, face to varying degrees the problems that he has raised.

West Yorkshire police force has a good record of efficiency. It has continued to maintain downward pressure on overall crime figures and has an especially good record on crimes such as burglary and car crime. This year brought good news about funding: the force's budget uplift has been an above-inflation 4.6 per cent. and extra money has been allocated to begin the process of recruiting 300 officers. The force has also been successful in bids for £2.5 million from the reducing burglary initiative and £500,000 for the distraction burglary initiative, about which I have personal interest in lobbying the Minister. A little time ago, it was feared that the cost of a new police radio system would fall wholly or partly on West Yorkshire police authority, but those fears were assuaged when the Home Office announced an extra £500 million to fund the project.

Despite those improvements, my colleagues and I have become increasingly concerned about the possible impact on West Yorkshire police authority of the proposed increased contributions that it may have to make towards the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service--increases for NCS of 32 per cent. and for NCIS of 108 per cent. That would result in an additional levy of £3.2 million on the police authority, which represents a real-terms increase of £2.9 million above the settlement figure for West Yorkshire police. That is the equivalent of more than 100 officers.

The marked gains that the police authority has made on the swings may therefore be lost on the roundabouts of increased funding contributions to NCS and NCIS. West Yorkshire Members are convinced that the

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Minister and his colleagues will want to avoid that, having given the area the boost that it desperately needed to address the problems described so graphically by my hon. Friend. Will the Minister assure us that increased contributions to those two national squads will be made from central funds, or set at a level at which they will not impact so profoundly on our force's ability to boost officer numbers and tackle the issues raised in the debate?

12.48 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke ): I begin by welcoming the opportunity to debate an important and difficult subject. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton) on securing the debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) on his contribution.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East said, I had the opportunity to visit his constituency, Potternewton in particular, to discuss the issues with some of the people involved. I am well aware of the nuisance and misery that prostitution can cause and the serious risks that it can pose. I am especially concerned about children being drawn into prostitution. We should all recognise that those people are victims, not offenders, and approach the question from that viewpoint.

The issue was the subject of a major guidance document produced by the Government earlier this year as part of the working together initiative, which was widely welcomed by the agencies involved. I have great sympathy with people in Leeds who are affected by the activities of prostitutes, kerb crawlers and pimps. The Government are strongly committed to tackling the crime and disorder associated with prostitution. The police and criminal justice Bill will contain provisions to make kerb crawling an arrestable offence, which would assist police in tackling the anti-social behaviour of kerb crawlers and improve the environment for residents and visitors. We believe that a combination of legislative change and other interventions is the best way forward.

I shall say a little about the funding that the Government are making available from the crime reduction programme, then discuss briefly some recent research and reports, and finally note the areas in which the Government are introducing legislation. I should like to take this opportunity to pay a personal tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East, who has been campaigning on the issue of prostitution for many months. He has taken it up with me and with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, arguing strongly and forcefully that prostitution needs special Government attention, as it has not received sufficient attention in the past. It is a tribute to his work that we now have a fund from the crime reduction programme, the details of which I shall announce today.

There has been very little research to determine what strategies are effective to combat prostitution. The purpose of the schemes that we are announcing today is to find out what works to reduce some of the general crime and disorder associated with such activity. It is a coincidence that we are announcing the results for the

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bids for these projects on the same day as the debate. Some excellent bids are to be funded. The basis of the bids is partnership between the various local agencies to tackle the nuisance and crime associated with prostitution, as well to tackle long-term aims such as providing exit routes from prostitution. We are addressing a number of issues specifically to deal with kerb crawling and soliciting, noise and harassment, discarded needles and condoms, thefts and muggings, drug-related offences, violence to women by pimps and so-called clients and extremely serious offences such as rape and the sexual exploitation of children. Projects that will receive up to £100,000 each are being approved in Bournemouth, Bristol, Huddersfield, Hull, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Nottingham, Rotherham, Sheffield and Stoke. Each project offers a series of ideas on how to deal with the whole range of problems.

The money will be used as seed funding to develop models of good practice to be used by other multi-agency partnerships in the future. As I said on the phone to my hon. Friend yesterday, I regret that it has not been possible to fund the Leeds bid in the current round. In the eyes of those experts looking at the project, there was insufficient partnership between all the relevant agencies to enable the bid to be funded. As my hon. Friend said in his speech and to me yesterday, he is strongly committed to ensuring that those partnerships are built and developed.

I am confident that, although the money that is being announced today is used as seed funding, it will develop models of good practice to be used by other multi-agency partnerships in future. They could well include Leeds, if a bid is made that builds on the foundation of partnership. I regret that Leeds could not be one of the pilots announced today, especially given the important role that my hon. Friend has played in pressing the case, but the professional assessment was that partnership should be at the core of our approach. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey mentioned the 15 crime reduction projects worth slightly more than £4 million that are currently being funded in Leeds. They deal with burglary, targeted policing, violence against women, neighbourhood wardens and a variety of different schemes of that type. It is not a question of Leeds being left out of our approach on crime reduction: it is just that the city's bid did not meet the criteria that we had set out.

We are looking at the funding of the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service. I have had friendly, frank and fraternal discussions with both the chief constable and the chairman of the West Yorkshire police authority on these matters. No doubt, we shall reach a solution that is welcomed and applauded by all--except, perhaps, my Conservative opponents, who usually oppose anything that is agreed on any grounds of good sense.

In addition to the overall crime reduction partnership approach, which has led to a unique departure in the funding of bids to try to attack the evil of prostitution, the Government have decided that a change in the law is necessary. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East said, the Bill to be considered in this Session will include the power to arrest kerb crawlers. We intend to take action to allow the police greater powers in tackling that menace, and the Bill will make kerb crawling an arrestable offence, which will make a real

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difference to all the areas of the country in which prostitution is a problem, including that represented by my hon. Friend.

Last week, we also announced plans to make an offence of and to ban the advertising in telephone boxes of sexual services. Cards advertising such services are a nuisance and often advertise trafficked women or the sexual services of children, constituting the marketing end of a vile trade. We are keen to crack down on the problem and we will legislate as soon as parliamentary time is available to do so. The advertising of sexual services is a particularly severe problem in London, Brighton and the south-east, but it is a problem in all our major conurbations. It is another important element on which legislative change is needed.

Through our research, we have forcefully addressed other aspects of this appalling trade. Pimping is a crime and tackling it effectively is a key element in dealing with the evils associated with prostitution. Domination and bullying by the pimp can lead to many consequent and damaging crimes. Some of the successful projects that I have mentioned have picked up that theme. Our research report "For Love or Money: Pimps and the management of sex work" found that young people were at greatest risk of being pimped and suffering violence from pimps. I commend the report to hon. Members interested in studying the relationship between pimping and prostitution, as it is useful and fills gaps in our knowledge. We hope that our research work and the practical action that we are funding will make more effective action possible.

In July, we published "Setting the Boundaries", the report of our sex offences review, which recognised the need for effective legislation to deal with those who exploit others for the purposes of prostitution. That report has gone out to consultation. It is an important and profound report, which recommends the creation of new offences to deal with the sexual exploitation of children and adults. It is apparent from our research and the report that there are significant holes and loopholes in our legislation. Prostitution is only one aspect of sexual exploitation, albeit an important one. The

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Government are awaiting responses to the report's conclusions before adopting a firm view, but the report proposes that separate offences should cover the exploitation of children and adults to set an unambiguous standard that states absolutely that sexual exploitation is wrong and outside the law. It may seem trivial or absurd to say that, but the current law is not sufficiently clear and needs to be made clearer.

Many solutions to the difficult problems under discussion will be practical, rather than based in the law. Solutions such as the provision of advice and support to sex workers who wish to exit prostitution are important in tackling problems in the long term. Helping people to leave prostitution is important: it involves breaking the power of pimps and establishing real alternatives for the young women who have ended up in a situation in which their lives, if they are not careful, will slide away into uselessness and despair. It is our job to do what we can to address the problem much more coherently. Many interventions funded by the crime reduction programme will help us to understand which methods are effective in assisting sex workers to find alternative ways of living.

I am delighted that crime and prostitution are now being debated more openly. I warmly commend my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East on his campaigning work and on securing this debate to allow the issue to be debated much more widely. It has often been dealt with under cover and must be brought out into the open. People need to discuss the issues in far greater depth.

The Government are working with all parties in the House--there are no differences of political opinion on the matter. We are determined to tackle the nuisance of prostitution to ensure that communities are not blighted by the resulting crime and disorder. We are also determined to help those trapped in prostitution to find a way out. The projects that we are funding and other initiatives should make a difference. I hope that the proposed legal changes will win support and that we make a fundamental difference to an appalling situation.

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