Previous Section Index Home Page

That is rubbish, and it is offensive—there is no doubt about that—but criminalising it would create major problems. It is far better to debate. I do not believe that people who hear pastors go out and commit violent criminal offences. I think that it is often thugs, and people who grow up believing that gay people should not have full rights, who commit those offences. I believe that we can find a compromise that will protect the ability of some religious organisations—and we are by no means talking about the majority of Christians, for example—to spout words that I think are horrible nonsense, but that should not be criminalised.

Finally, on the issue of extreme pornography in part 6 of the Bill, as Liberty says in its briefing,

Liberty goes on to say that it is vital that

It is concerned


8 Oct 2007 : Column 123

Ministers have not provided an evidence base for some of the material that will be covered by the measure. Despite the eloquent testimony that Members have given about an individual case, if we do not have evidence that the material causes harm, it is right that the House should subject the proposals to close scrutiny. We must ask why, for example, the Obscene Publications Act definition is not being used, and why another definition, which, it is argued, is broader, is being used. I can see no reference to compatibility with the Human Rights Act 1998 in the Government’s explanatory memorandum, either; that will need to be tested. I would be grateful if, in his response, the Minister set out the evidence that justifies the measure. I understand that time is limited, so I shall leave my remarks there.

9.32 pm

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): In the brief time that I have, I will focus on one aspect of the legislation: the proposals to tackle on-street prostitution in clauses 71 to 73. I will start by putting the matter into a local context. Parts of my constituency and the neighbouring constituency of Bristol, West, have been blighted for many years by highly visible on-street prostitution. I have seen it while out on patrol with the vice squad, when out on the beat with local police officers, and on numerous other occasions when I have been out and about in the constituency.

I have seen one woman, who is well known to the local police, walking down the street in broad daylight with her skirt hitched up around her waist, effectively naked from the waist down—and this on one of the busiest main roads in Bristol. I have heard from a local resident who has had prostitutes tapping on his car window as he pulls into his drive, and on one occasion, even jumping into the passenger seat. He is terrified that the police will one day accuse him of kerb-crawling. Local residents complain of finding sex and drug-related debris, such as dirty needles, used condoms and contaminated foil, in areas where they walk their dogs, or where children play. There are two primary schools, May Park and Millpond, where young children coming out of the school gates in the middle of the afternoon have been confronted by prostitutes touting for business. What does a parent say to children in such a situation? I wholeheartedly support the underlying premise of the Government’s strategy for prostitution—that we should challenge the view that street prostitution is inevitable and here to stay.

Some people argue that it is not the state’s role to interfere in how women choose to live their lives. They argue that women engaged in such work are exercising free choice, or are somehow in control of their actions, but I would ask them to speak to the woman whom I met the other day, who told me about the 14-year-old who works the street outside her front door. The child is regularly picked up by the police, taken into care, and just as regularly returns to the streets. Or they could talk to the woman whom I watched the vice squad apprehend last year. She was caught more or less in the act with a client, only half-hidden from the view of the street. She had just come out of prison. She told the police that she had kicked her heroin and crack habits, she was being tested regularly at her hostel accommodation,
8 Oct 2007 : Column 124
and she was keeping to her curfew. She was trying to get back her young children, who had been taken into care. And yet there she was, back out on the streets, within days of her release, entering into what any reasonable person would see as a totally sordid, totally soul-destroying sexual transaction with a complete stranger.

Those people should also look at the figures in the regulatory impact assessment, which show that 85 per cent. of those involved in prostitution report having been physically abused by family members, and that 45 per cent. report being sexually abused by a relative. They also show that 75 per cent. of women were under 18 when they were originally coerced into prostitution, and 70 per cent. have spent time in care. As many as 95 per cent. use prostitution to support their own, and often a partner’s, drug use.

That is why I support the proposal in the Bill to introduce compulsory rehabilitative orders, with mandatory counselling, and the possibility of remanding people in prison for up to three days if they fail to comply with the court orders. I accept that there are concerns about this approach. The Prison Reform Trust, for example, has said that the provision

However, it is precisely because these people have such chaotic lives and are, in so many cases, not ready, able or willing to help themselves, that we have to be more determined in our approach. The alternative would be to allow them to descend into a downwards spiral, until possibly—just possibly—they decide of their own accord that they have reached rock bottom and need to pull themselves out of it. Of course, far too many women reach rock bottom and simply stay there.

My local vice squad believes that there will have to be penalties if the new system is to work. Like virtually everyone else who responded to the “Paying the Price” consultation, it believes that the current system of fines just encourages street workers to go back to work to pay them off. So the vast majority of those apprehended for on-street prostitution in Bristol—around 83 per cent. of them—simply receive cautions. Of the few who do appear before the courts, some may be referred to drugs agencies, but there is no deterrent for those who choose not to attend rehabilitation programmes. The new proposals would introduce such a deterrent and could provide the incentive needed.

I could go on to talk about the need for sufficient support structures—

Lynne Jones: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Kerry McCarthy: No, I am about to come to an end.

I could go on to talk about the need for sufficient support structures within the voluntary sector, or about increased funding for drugs projects—as I have said in this place several times, Bristol is woefully underfunded in comparison to other cities—but I know that at least one other speaker on this side has been waiting a long time to speak, so I shall conclude on that remark.

9.37 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I will be brief. Members might recall that when I was the Minister in the Home Office responsible for prostitution strategy, I
8 Oct 2007 : Column 125
was labelled “Madam Minister” for wanting a brothel on every street corner, after I had suggested that two women working together in a flat should not be prosecuted for running a brothel. I am disappointed that that proposal is not in the Bill, and I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that in his summing up. Will he tell me whether legislation would be required to achieve that?

Since then, the same media have also accused me of being a priggish, power-crazed, interfering, feminist ideologue. This was because I argued on an issue that was raised during those debates. I was asked why the Government did not prosecute for rape men who paid for sex with trafficked women. The answer was that the way to discover trafficking and to prosecute the traffickers was often through the men who were those women’s clients. At that point, it seemed right not to prosecute them because the women would be safer if we did not do so.

However, I began to think that there must be a better way of doing this, so I looked up which countries in the world were better at reducing the incidence of trafficking. It became clear that about 800,000 people are trafficked across borders every year—four fifths of them women—usually for sex. It is estimated that 80 per cent. of the women in London’s brothels are from overseas. So where is trafficking being reduced? There is clear evidence on this. A European study suggests that Sweden, which criminalises men who pay for sex, has massively reduced the incidence of trafficking. Between 400 and 600 women were trafficked into Sweden in 2003, compared with Denmark, where the number was between 2,000 and 4,000.

Police officials confirm that this is the case. Kajsa Wahlberg, a detective inspector in the Swedish national criminal police, eavesdropping on telephone calls between traffickers, noted that they complained that Sweden was a bad market, and that buyers were afraid of getting caught. They said that they had to have an apartment, and that they had to move the women around. That police officer said that unlike brothels in Oslo or Copenhagen, where there might be 50 women in each, there were usually just two or three women in the brothels broken up in Sweden. Clearly, Sweden managed to drive down the incidence of trafficking by criminalising payment for sex.

My view is that the Bill does not go far enough. On the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, I strongly urge the Minister to end today’s modern slavery, which is women enslaved into providing sexual services. If we in Britain followed the Swedish model, we would, just by that act alone, reduce the trafficking and the enforced sexual slavery of women and make our society a better one for everyone to live in.

9.40 pm

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): This has been a crowded debate, albeit one that we started late. If I may say so without being thought impolite, it is a tribute to the good behaviour of Members who restricted themselves to the allotted 10 minutes or less that as many as 19 hon. Members have been able to speak. I am the 20th Member to contribute to the debate.

8 Oct 2007 : Column 126

I begin by inviting the Minister to clarify the mess on the Order Paper whereby the programme motion suggests that Committee proceedings will come to an end on 30 October. That might be welcome to many, but it would not do much good for the scrutiny process. I have some fairly strong reservations about this House’s scrutiny proceedings in any event, but to close down scrutiny of this Bill on 30 October would be an error. I dare say that the Minister and the Government can sort out that mess. If they attempt to do so, we will endeavour to co-operate. Where we will not co-operate is in respect of the carry-over motion. We disapprove of a Bill of this importance and complexity being carried over. It should have been introduced at the beginning, not the end, of a parliamentary Session and it should have been granted the full rigour of a decent period of scrutiny unencumbered by a break and a new Session of Parliament.

This is not only the umpteenth Bill from this Department or its predecessor, but it is wholly typical of Government legislation in this field—and perhaps in others—that we are presented with a Bill that has 84 pages of text relating to the main clauses and about 150 pages of schedules. If you want to understand what the Bill is really about, Mr. Speaker, I suggest that you read the schedules first and then perhaps look into some of the clauses at leisure. That way, you will make more sense of the Bill.

If I may say so, the Bill is rather like a plum duff: there is an awful lot of duff and one or two plums. We will support the picking out of the plums, but we are very unhappy with the duff—and there is plenty of it. When presented with a delicious-looking pudding by his wife, Winston Churchill said that the pudding “has no theme”. This Bill has no theme: it is muddled and confused. As the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael) suggested, even though he was able to give it his support, it is a Bill that could do with rather greater concentration on what it is intended to do.

Alun Michael: Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Garnier: I will in a moment, but I have quite a lot to say in a short period of time, and I was not criticising him, but the Bill.

Alun Michael: I have been misquoted.

Mr. Garnier: Well, we can deal with that in a minute or doubtless the right hon. Gentleman can write to the newspapers to get it sorted out— [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman has been absent, no doubt doing very important campaigning work on behalf of his benighted party over the last day or two.

Alun Michael: Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Garnier: No. I have already said that I will come back to him. He has had plenty of time over the last 20 years to make his mark in the House.

I want to welcome and congratulate our two maiden speakers, the hon. Members for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) and for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Sharma). Both
8 Oct 2007 : Column 127
Members represent entirely different constituencies—one in the north and one in west London—but both bring with them, if I may say so, the enthusiasm and keenness of new Members, which is very proper, and the proper pride that they have, both in their election and in the constitutional duty, which they have taken on, to represent their equally interesting but diverse constituencies.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield properly mentioned his predecessor—a man who was quite familiar to many of us in the House, although it is probably fair to say that in the short time that the hon. Gentleman has been a Member of the House his attendance has perhaps been a little better than that of his predecessor. None the less, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution this evening and look forward to further contributions. The only omission to which I can point in his Baedeker’s tour is his failure to mention Sedgefield race course, which is well known to a number of us. I perhaps ought to tell him that the going for his party will get pretty sticky over the winter, as I hope he will come to appreciate.

The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall claimed that his constituency is the home of Ealing comedy. We have learned, since the coming into the House of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound), that the home of Ealing comedy is perhaps in that constituency, rather than the other. None the less, it was a pleasure to hear the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall speak this evening, and also to hear the proper praise and regard that he showed for his predecessor, the late Piara Khabra, who was well liked and is greatly missed.

That said, may I, as quickly as I can, concentrate on a number of points that have been raised by the many speakers this evening? The former Home Secretary, now Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, who has returned like the proverbial quadruped to this feast, entertained us with a discussion so diffuse and so wide ranging that he had to get down to the letter M, according to my note taking, before he completed his trawl through the Bill.

It would be of great assistance to the law-making conduct of the House, and to Parliament as a whole, if, when we had a criminal justice Bill, it dealt with criminal justice, and when we had an immigration Bill, it dealt with immigration, and that neither incidentally dealt with all sorts of other things. Worthy aims though the other provisions seek to hit, the current process leads to rather complicated, and therefore less popularly understandable, Bills. [Interruption.]

Anyway, the fact that the Secretary of State, who like all good trainee barristers is mumbling to his leader, “He should shut up,” will not prevent me from continuing to speak, because a great deal more needs to be said about this appalling Bill. As I say, there are 13 separate subjects which the right hon. Gentleman attempted to cover. It is hardly surprising that my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) was able to fillet what the right hon. Gentleman had to say, digest the good bits and spit out the bad. We shall continue that process in Committee.

The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), my constituency neighbour and the new
8 Oct 2007 : Column 128
Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, mentioned violent offender orders, now colloquially called VOOs, as well as immigration, sentencing and miscarriages of justice—several discrete areas that belong to the Bill and which will need a great deal of attention. I trust that he, in due course—if not in Committee, then certainly on Report—will apply his mind to improving the Bill because, my goodness, it certainly needs it.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who helped us with the procedural aspects of the Bill, also went on to agree with the Conservative party on the need for honesty in sentencing, to have concerns about VOOs and to welcome one of the plums, if that is what it is, in this plum duff—the advance of the criminal law to protect NHS workers in hospitals. It may be that we shall see an amendment tabled to protect those working in GP surgeries. That point was raised by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard).

The hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (David Lepper) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) mentioned similar but distinct issues. I must gently persuade the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown that he was wrong to criticise my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs for not mentioning homophobic crime—he did do so, and said that we would, as we always do, consider the matter with great care. The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown talked about the issue generally, and we will look carefully at whatever amendment the Government bring forward before we reach a conclusion on the matter.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) and several other Labour Members—I hope that they will forgive me if I do not mention them by name—mentioned the problems of internet pornography. My hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) has been a long-standing champion of the need to improve the protection of children in particular from sex offences. [Interruption.] Yes, there are 51 minutes in the hour, and there are probably a few more.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) mentioned the shaky foundations of the Bill, and listed a catalogue of issues that needed to be dealt with before it could properly become law. My hon. Friends the Members for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone), for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne) and for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) each briefly but powerfully mentioned a host of issues demonstrating that the Bill needs huge improvement. Other hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), possibly the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen), and the hon. Members for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy) mentioned their concerns about the issue of prostitution. We agree with the Government that the expression “common prostitute” is inappropriate, ugly and wrong. We should be considering why those women are in prostitution—they are largely victims of drug abuse. I look forward to trying to persuade the Government, even in their last and rather sticky weeks or months of government, to improve the Bill in a way that renders it coherent and publicly acceptable.

Next Section Index Home Page