Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

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Clause 72

Orders to promote rehabilitation
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 8—Paying for sexual service s—
‘(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—
(a) he intentionally obtains for himself the sexual services of another person (B), and
(b) before obtaining those services, he has made or promised payment for those services to B or a third person, or knows that another person has made or promised such a payment.
(2) In this section “payment” means any financial advantage, including the discharge of an obligation to pay or the provision of goods or services (including sexual services) gratuitously or at a discount.
(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both.’.
New clause 22—Orders to promote rehabilitation of persons paying for the sexual services of a prostitute
‘(1) The Street Offences Act 1959 (c. 57) is amended as follows.
(2) After section 1A (inserted by section 72 of this Act) insert—
“1B Orders to promote rehabilitation of persons paying for the sexual services of a prostitute who has been trafficked
(1) This subsection applies to any person who has paid for the sexual services of a prostitute who has been trafficked.
(2) The court may make an order under this subsection requiring a person to whom subsection (1) applies to attend three meetings with the person for the time being specified in the order (“the supervisor”) or with such other person as the supervisor may direct.
(3) The purpose of any order under subsection (2) is to promote the person’s rehabilitation by assisting him, through attendance at those meetings, to—
(a) address the causes of his conduct, and
(b) find ways to cease engaging in such conduct in the future.
(4) Section 1A applies where a court proposes to make an order under subsection (2) as if the person subject to the order were the offender.”’.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I shall speak to new clause 8, which would make it an offence under criminal law for a person intentionally to obtain for himself and pay for the sexual services of another person. I tabled the amendment because I have been impressed by the representations that I have received from CARE—Christian Action Research and Education —which is a well-established mainstream Christian charity that provides resources and help with matters of public policy and practical caring initiatives to those in need. In particular, I am grateful to Daniel Boucher and Rachel Davies who have researched the matter in great detail.
I should declare my interest as a member of the all-party parliamentary group on trafficking of women and children. CARE is a member of the Stop the Traffik coalition, which works in conjunction with an organisation called Chaste—Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking Across Europe. Both CARE and I believe that prostitution must be severely reduced, both because of the harm it does to men and women, and in order to tackle the growing problem of illegal trafficking of women and children into the UK. In his introductory comments to the last Government consultation on prostitution policy in England and Wales, the then Home Secretary said:
“Prostitution can have devastating consequences for the individuals involved and for the wider community. It involves the abuse of children and the serious exploitation of adults — many of whom are trafficked into and around the UK for this purpose.”
The new clause is designed to tackle the demand for prostitution. There is a growing body of support across the country for such a measure. With your permission, Sir Nicholas, I would like to quote in support of the new clause several letters that I have received from leading organisations in the field. Rosslyn Okumu, development manager for the National Christian Alliance on Prostitution, writes:
Josephine Wakeling writes from Stratford:
“I am involved with the National Christian Alliance on Prostitution, and also with the Josephine Butler Society. I have been working on the streets with women involved in prostitution for 12 years... It is our Government’s duty to protect the vulnerable through law, and that at all costs should ensure that those abusing vulnerability from a place of power will be held to account. I would encourage any legislation which criminalised the demand side”
—as the new clause would—
“as it is the purchasers of commercial sex who remain hidden and fuel this exploitation of women.”
Dave Bagley from Boltan Urban Outreach, writes to tell me:
“During the course of my job, I witness on an almost daily basis, the devastation and abuse caused to sex workers by men who constantly manipulate them in seeking to have their desires fulfilled. We desperately need a justice system in Britain which recognises just how little autonomy so many sex workers have. We need a Bill which criminalises the actions of the perpetrators of this sexual abuse, rather than the women who are caught in an endless cycle of poverty, isolation and despair.”
In his letter, Bill Gallagher, the operations manager at Door of Hope, states:
“We are a Christian Charity who provide outreach and support services to street sex workers. Thank you for proposing the new clause 8 (NC8) which if your colleagues accept will afford significant protection to the vulnerable and exploited women we work with. Thank you for your work.”
Anne Dannerolle from the Hull Lighthouse Project writes:
“I am a trustee and volunteer with the Hull Lighthouse Project and I have been working on the streets with women in prostitution for 12 years. I have been following the progress of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, and I would like to thank you for tabling New Clause 8... In 12 years, I have met nearly 400 women on the streets of Hull, and in all that time not a single women has said to me that she wants to be working in prostitution.”
Mrs. Valerie Gore of the Josephine Butler Society was kind enough to write to me to say:
“we are delighted that Parliament is at last discussing possibilities. Thank you for tabling this amendment and taking this important step.”
To tackle the demand for prostitution, the House needs to take into account some very impressive evidence from people who are working day to day with sex workers. At present, prostitution itself is not illegal in the United Kingdom. However, offering prostitution services on the street, loitering or soliciting are illegal under the Street Offences Act 1959, the Sexual Offences Act 1985 and the Sexual Offences Act 2003, as is seeking the services of someone involved in prostitution on the street, known as kerb crawling, under the 1985 Act. Pimping and brothel managing are also against the law under the Sexual Offences Act 1956. Therefore, supply of and demand for prostitution on the street is illegal, but the demand for prostitution off-street is not illegal. That is what my new clause would seek to do.
A significant number of people involved in prostitution in the UK have been trafficked from other countries to meet growing UK demand. According to some expert sources, most forms of prostitution can be thought of as amounting to trafficking. The UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children—that must be one of the longest titles of any UN official—made the following observation:
“For the most part, prostitution as actually practiced in the world usually does satisfy the elements of trafficking. It is rare that one finds a case in which the path to prostitution and/or a person’s experience with prostitution does not involve, at the very least, an abuse of power and/or an abuse of vulnerability. Power and vulnerability in this context must be understood to include disparities based on gender, race, ethnicity and poverty.”
Prostitution is based on an imbalance of power between those who are bought and those who buy. Buying can be done legally in this country. Given that the vast majority of people in prostitution are women, this commodification of women’s bodies serves to deepen gender inequality in our society. The imbalance of power is also seen along racial lines, as many individuals in prostitution are from ethnic or disempowered minorities or, indeed, increasingly from other countries. The Bill is surely a chance for the UK Government to continue to uphold the principles of racial and gender equality as an essential component of human rights.
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CARE supports the Government’s welcome campaign, launched in May, to tackle demand for street prostitution by taking tough action on kerb crawling. I, too, commend Her Majesty’s Government for that. However, the law needs to go further than the current offence of kerb crawling, because that has not prevented a doubling in the number of men who have reported purchasing sex in recent years. That is specifically why the new clause, which calls for the demand side of prostitution to be tackled more widely, is needed.
Making all purchases of prostitution services liable to prosecution would be beneficial. It would provide a far more comprehensive basis on which to engage with the demand for commercial sex, which drives the whole industry. By so doing, it would make the law better able to engage with the sad fact that the number of men purchasing sex in the UK has doubled in the 10 years between 1990 and 2000—the latest figures available to me.
Reducing the market for prostitution services overall should in turn reduce the number of women—it is generally women—who are trafficked into the UK for sex. Most trafficked women are set to work not on-street, but offering off-street prostitution services—in other words, in brothels—which are entirely beyond the reach of current demand provisions. It is thought that as many as 81 per cent. of women working in brothels in the UK come from overseas. London and the UK are among the main drivers of the international trafficking market. The new clause would send out a strong signal from Her Majesty’s Government that it is not acceptable to encourage the commodification of the human body and that buying sexual services both degrades and exploits. It would help to build a more humane society by challenging a foundation of the distortion of the way in which men view women and vice versa.
Much attention has been given to the Swedish model of prostitution law. Sweden introduced a law to penalise the purchasers of sex in 1999, and Norway has recently decided to introduce a similar law. Evidence suggests that street prostitution halved after the law was introduced. It certainly makes Sweden far less attractive to pimps and brothel owners and, as a result, has reduced the demand for trafficking. The Swedish Government reported that Sweden now has far less trafficking than neighbouring countries. A European Union study of countries published in 2005 suggests that the number of trafficked people per 100,000 of the population was lower in Sweden than in any other country covered by the study, apart from the Czech Republic.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I am not sure that those figures on Sweden are universally accepted. Evidence from official sources in Sweden shows that the amount of street solicitation in Sweden has not declined at all and that internet advertising for sexual services has increased.
Mr. Hollobone: I would welcome any evidence that the hon. Gentleman can produce to that effect. The situation is unclear, but powerful evidence on my side shows that the demand for prostitution has been tackled by the change in the law in Sweden and, in particular, that Sweden is now a far less attractive destination for internationally trafficked women than more open countries, such as the UK.
I believe that, if new clause 8 were passed, it would put in place in this country a rigorous legislative framework that would reduce the levels of prostitution and thus trafficking. The opportunity to reform prostitution law does not come along that often, and I suggest that this is a very good opportunity to do that.
I shall try to anticipate and answer some of the criticisms of the new clause. It may be said that it is a na├»ve clause, and that there is no way that it will stop the world’s oldest profession. However, I am not suggesting that implementing new clause 8 would shut down demand for prostitution services; that would clearly be a ridiculous claim. However, if new clause 8 were to become law, it would make an important contribution to tackling demand; it would make life far more difficult for pimps; and it would send out an important signal that buying sex is not acceptable.
Another criticism might be that, although some people are forced into prostitution against their will, not all are—that some people choose to be prostitutes, and that new clause 8 would make it harder for clients to approach them. However, the evidence is that 95 per cent. of street prostitutes are class A drug users who sell themselves to feed their habit. We know that a significant and growing proportion of prostitutes are also trafficked individuals. If Her Majesty’s Government were to focus on those who are prostitutes because they genuinely want to be, we would be talking about a small but sometimes quite articulate minority of sex workers.
Another criticism is that new clause 8 just targets men—what about women? First, new clause 8 does not just target men; it targets the source of demand, which, although usually male, is not always male. Secondly, the clause does not repeal the current soliciting provisions that make it illegal for women to solicit in the street. It does not provide a pure Swedish approach, because in Sweden supply is decriminalised and demand is criminalised. It is true that, in the broader context of legislation, new clause 8 would mean that the law would tackle demand both on-street and off-street, while tackling supply only on-street, but I believe that this would be a sensible place to start.
In the bicentenary year of the abolition of slavery, our country has an opportunity to tackle this most horrendous type of modern slavery. William Wilberforce, in this House, set our country on a very proud and distinguished course to tackle the slave trade. In 2007, Her Majesty’s Government has a wonderful opportunity to build on that work done in this place 200 years ago, and to set in place appropriate legislation that would make it illegal for someone to obtain sexual services and pay for them. I believe that that would secure a dramatic reduction in prostitution and be extremely helpful in reducing the growing problem of internationally trafficked people.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): I have sympathy with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary who has this matter in his brief, because views on prostitution are starkly different, and actually incompatible, so it is difficult to determine the best course of action. He has to set aside the fact that he will not please everybody in his approach. One of those points of view was put by the hon. Member for Kettering, and he was right to call prostitution the oldest profession. I want to say more about the Swedish model in my speech, but the criminalisation of prostitution has a long history of failure. It is persistent; it continues, and there is supply and demand. The law has not been successful in the main about when it is right to prosecute and when it is right to criminalise it.
I tabled new clause 22, which is a suggested way forward. I was trying to apply a lighter touch and create a bit of parity, so that whatever measures the Government have proposed in relation to women should apply to men as well, and I know that that issue is a theme. Although it is a light touch that men should also receive rehabilitation, that purpose is owing when we are talking about trafficked women, as specified in the amendment, so that the men have an education about trafficked women and the surrounding issues. Trafficking is a new factor that should be taken into account.
At an earlier sitting the Minister said that he favoured the proposal that if a man is with a trafficked woman, that should be regarded as rape and it should be punished as rape. I think that that is excessive, and during the course of my speech I will discuss some further points on that and why it is not feasible. The issue of trafficked women is not that clear. It is a stereotype that trafficked women are all forced and I suspect that actually a minority of trafficked women are forced. That is still bad and must be dealt with, but I suspect that a lot of trafficked women are prepared to do it for economic reasons.
Mr. Coaker: The point that I always make is that where somebody has sex with a trafficked woman, knowing that they are trafficked and that there is no consent, they should be charged with rape.
Harry Cohen: I appreciate that and it is an important distinction.
David Howarth: I would like to put it to the hon. Gentleman and the Minister that there is a clear possibility of an offence being committed under section 4 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which is causing another person to take part in sexual activities. So even if it is not rape, there is a crime on the books that might be adapted to those circumstances.
Harry Cohen: The issue of consent is important, and that was a point well made.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying, although I do not like it. He said that it would be a crime only if consent was not given. If a person does not have sex with a gentleman, and because they do not have sex with that gentleman their pimp is going to beat them, they might actually consent to sex, so we have to be very careful.
Harry Cohen: That is not consent, and I do not think that the law would in any way recognise that as being a matter of consent. The difficulty in this circumstance, for the men, is identifying who is trafficked and who is not, and whether they have genuinely given their consent. The amendment would put the onus upon the men in that situation.
I hesitate to say this—the phrase has been used by the Prime Minister in another context—but one of the implications of the amendment would be “British jobs for British workers”. It also has the implication of raising the price, which would be a discouragement to prostitution, if that is one of our aims. Those are some of the aspects behind the amendment.
The long-standing argument about prostitution is: criminalise or liberalise? I do not believe that criminalisation works. Even if the aim is to get at the men, it invariably ends up with the most vulnerable women suffering the most, which does not work. I favour liberalisation in that traditional argument.
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Mr. Hollobone: I am not sure that there is a straight choice. In countries that have legalised prostitution, such as parts of Australia, there has been a growth in the number of illegal brothels. With prostitution, legal or illegal, there are many criminal gangs involved in the trafficking of women. I am afraid that we are not faced with the straight choice that the hon. Gentleman suggests we have.
Harry Cohen: We certainly want to take out the criminal gangs associated with prostitution. However, the whole history of prohibition, especially during the early part of the last century when it was to do with alcohol, was that criminal gangs grew exponentially with illegality. We should learn that lesson. However, the traditional argument is one thing, but the new element, which is very relevant, is trafficking and that must be addressed. Those issues are half addressed already through what is basically a tough immigration policy, particularly with regard to the deportation of women.
I want to bring one issue to attention, and I hope that the Minister will be able to answer me. Last Friday, the Deputy Leader of the Labour party spoke on “The Daily Politics” programme. She was asked whether, if trafficked women ask for help, they would be sent home, and whether she could give an assurance that we will protect these women and keep them here. The Deputy Leader asked “The women?”, to which the answer was “Yes”, and she replied “Absolutely, yes. Definitely”. However, I do not think that that is the Home Office’s policy, and it is something that needs clarification.
It is an important point, because if we try to help trafficked women, encourage them to come forward and report their situation, will they then be punished by being deported? We must have clarification. I am not convinced that her answer was correct.
The Deputy Leader was also asked about how we treat trafficked women, and I would like to draw the Committee’s attention to Amnesty International’s recent press release “Sex Trafficking: Better support needed for victims of sex trafficking in new crackdown”. It says:
“Amnesty welcomes the Government's renewed commitment to clamp down on trafficking as this sends a clear message that this vicious trade in women will not be tolerated. However it has to ensure that the victims who are discovered are given the appropriate care and support to help them recover from their dreadful ordeal. Unfortunately the original Operation Pentameter did not go far enough to achieve this. Amnesty International is concerned that there remains a severe lack of funding to provide adequate care for victims of trafficking. For example, there are currently only 35 beds available for victims through the government-funded London-based support and accommodation service, the Poppy Project. Although an extra 10 outsourced spaces have been funded during the course of Pentameter 2 this is insufficient.”
It claims that current capacity is,
“bulging at the seams and has only got the capacity to take on eight more women.”
It adds that the Government have signed the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings, but they have yet to ratify the treaty, and the appropriate measures for that are not in place.
Mr. Walker: I shall try again. If someone is a victim of trafficking, can they give legitimate consent for sex? If they are a victim, it suggests that they have been brought here against their will, they have been told that they must perform sex acts otherwise they will not get their passports back and so forth. Can there ever be consent in those circumstances?
Harry Cohen: If someone is a victim, no. But if someone is not a victim, they can give consent, and they could still be trafficked. That is where the definition of what trafficked means is far too broad at the moment, and full of confusion, and there is a stereotype associated with it. Some women will come for economic purposes and effectively do give their consent. However, they could still fall under the broad generic term of trafficking. That is why we need a more sophisticated argument about what that is.
Very briefly, my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who supports the CARE proposals and the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Kettering, made a proposal when she was at the Home Office that two or more women could practise and work from shared accommodation, which would be safer for them. That proposal has been dropped by the Government, and I do not know why. I do not think that it should have been dropped. Again, will the Minister clarify the Government’s position on that?
The Swedish model, which has been put before the Committee, has been analysed by researcher Petra Ostergren. I will raise a couple of points that she makes, mainly from the point of view of the sex workers themselves. Hon. Members can take what she says or leave it. Of the sex workers, who do not like the law, she states:
“They feel discriminated against, endangered by the very laws that seek to protect them, and they feel under severe emotional stress as a result of the laws.”
She then states:
“Most of the women I have spoken to wish to be able to work together with others. This is to ensure safety and to support each other.”
She says that at some point even if a few men get fined,
“the majority will continue buying sexual services as usual.”
She states that it will be harder for the sex workers to assess the clients.
“The clients are more stressed and scared and negotiation outdoors must be done in a more rapid manner. The likelihood of ending up with a dangerous client is thereby greater...Sexworkers are now more apprehensive about seeking help from the police when they have had problems with an abusive customer.”
She states that
“previous informal networks amongst the sexworkers have weakened. The result is that they are no longer able to warn each other about dangerous clients or give each other the same support.”
She goes on to state:
“Sexworkers say that contrary to the official belief, they are not the victims of their customers, but victims of the state...They also strongly discourage other countries from adopting similar legislation...They wish that prostitution in Sweden would be legalized (or at least decriminalized), that there would be unions and organizations for sexworkers, that the stigma around them would be lifted.”
A working group on the purchase of sexual services makes the point in a report that prostitutes’ reliance on pimps has increased as a result of prostitution being driven underground by that law. It states:
“Dependence on pimps has increased because someone is needed in the background to arrange transport and new flats so that the women’s activity is more difficult to discover and so that it will not attract the attention of the police.”
A final point on the Swedish model comes from Don Kulick, the professor of anthropology at New York university and Stockholm. He states:
“The impact of the law on sex workers has been of secondary concern to promoters of the new policy, dogma and international reputation being more important...Foreign sex workers were immediately deported and therefore would not report violence”.
“These clauses attempt to offer help and support to women within a criminal justice framework, and the Symposium would question whether this is the most appropriate means of offering such help and whether a more robust system of public health provision, accessed flexibly but voluntarily, might not be a more appropriate way forward. This could avoid the stigmatisation and criminalisation involved in court processes and open the way to providing a more balanced social response.”
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): May I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the multi-agency approach taken by the police in Northamptonshire with their Swan project. The police work closely with sex workers to protect their safety. They provide them with health care; they help with family issues and also to find alternative means of livelihood, which is the best way in which to get them out of prostitution.
Harry Cohen: I agree absolutely. That is where the emphasis of the Government’s policy should lie, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making the point. The symposium met as recently as July this year. Lots of people with expertise attended it from all walks of life. To underpin the debate, it advocated the following principles:
“reducing the use of criminal law against women selling sex, specifically prostitution-related law...moving away from the concept of prostitution as a nuisance activity and allowing space for other ways of seeing prostitution....exploring the use of non-criminal law to strengthen protection rights...adopting a rights based framework as a means of promoting inclusion...recognising that women make complex choices and that they weigh up the positives as well as the negatives from being involved in prostitution and in movement across national borders...accepting that the voices of diverse women in prostitution should be integral in determining the way forward...rejecting the concept of ‘child prostitute’ and making an explicit acknowledgement that what such terms refer to are children and young people being abused and sexually exploited...taking a different approach to ‘at risk’ young people that does not categorise them as either innocent victims (‘deserving) or active delinquents (‘undeserving’) and that is able to recognise their coping strategies—of which prostitution may be one—but is also clear that all children and young people exploited through prostitution deserve care and protection...understanding that purchasing sex is a more normalised activity than is generally acknowledged and is not restricted to a deviant minority of men.”
Mr. Coaker: I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend. He has referred to the demand side, too, so while he is talking about young people, it is important to say that, under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, we criminalised or made it illegal to purchase sex for under-18s. We went some way towards meeting his concerns. It is important to put that point on the record.
Harry Cohen: I strongly support that, but the issues raised at the symposium are worth the Government picking up on and making part of the Bill. If we are considering the Swedish model, we should analyse the results of the New Zealand model, which has an element of decriminalisation.
I come now to a report from the Safety First coalition, whose members reviewed the situation after the murders in Ipswich. They met people, and the question “What can be done to protect the women?” was high on the agenda. It said that there needed to be a
“rapid response to reports of rape and other violence”
“resources and services to help women, who want to leave prostitution”,
but that
“the criminalisation of consenting sex”
just pushed prostitution underground, making women vulnerable to attack. The coalition comprised members of the Church, nurses, doctors, probation officers, drug reformers, residents in red light areas, sex workers, members of sex work projects and many others.
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Safety First stressed that going underground increased the risk of violence to the women involved. Yesterday, I met representatives from Women Against Rape and the English Collective of Prostitutes and I shall put points they made to the Committee. They were saying that the Government’s approach seems to be that of increased criminalisation. They talked about the sentence for brothel keeping, which has gone up from six months to seven years. They referred to the case of a female brothel keeper who went to pick up a woman from the airport and who was charged under the trafficking offence; there was apparently no need to prove force or coercion in that case and she was sent to prison as a result. They also said that the number of women in prison has doubled over the last decade and that charges around prostitution are a factor in that. In addition, they pointed out that the fines have rocketed—£500 for a first offence, then £1000—and many of the poorest prostitutes simply cannot pay that; they end up in a cycle and go to prison.
The Government talk about rehabilitation—at the start of the debate, the Minister talked about rehabilitation instead of prosecution, which was interesting. That is the right approach, but the clause does not offer a realistic programme of rehabilitation—of getting women off drugs. By the way, I think that the idea that all the women are druggies is a stereotype; many do not do drugs. Again, some of them are involved in prostitution for economic reasons. There is a danger in working from such stereotypes.
We should also hear from the police about what they are doing in this area. At one of our evidence-taking sessions, I asked the police representative whether they could distinguish between trafficked and non-trafficked women; the answer was no, they could not. I understand that the police have put a lot of resources into the matter and they say that they have found about 80 women who have been trafficked. Can we have some analysis of what they found and what the implications are, before we legislate? We should at least know something of what the police are saying and discuss it.
I know that the measure is attractive to some of my colleagues, particularly among my female colleagues. They say that it is right to punish the men. As I said, my new clause ought to introduce an element of parity, so I am taking that point on board, but I wonder where we are going on this. My mind went back to when I was a councillor and the case of a fellow councillor, who was a smashing man. His wife, whom he loved dearly, died and he was absolutely shattered for quite a while. I recall him telling me that, in his loneliness, he had visited a prostitute. I am certainly not judgmental and I wonder why we are being judgmental if it is a normal arrangement like that. Why should a man in that position be punished?
In a way, I can answer my own question, because the new element is trafficking, coercion and such like. However, in the normal run of things, even if the woman has come from abroad, if she is not coerced and engages in prostitution for economic reasons with her own consent, I do not think that it is right for us to shape law that punishes men in similar circumstances to that man.
I have a briefing from Rev. Andrew Dotchin, who is a founder member of the Safety First coalition in Ipswich and who is critical of the Government’s approach. He writes:
“The strategy, far from providing a solution, is in fact sowing the seeds for further abuse and even murder of women... Under the new strategy if women continue to work on the streets they will eventually become subject to the inappropriate use of ASBOs, and the consequence of this will be the further criminalisation of women leading to their imprisonment and in many cases the taking of their children into care. Some of Ipswich’s young victims lost hope when their children were taken into care... Compelling people to undergo rehabilitation only serves to institutionalise those being rehabilitated and has very little chance of providing the happy ending towards which proponents of the strategy aspire.”
He then argues for,
“a consistent approach built around the protection and welfare of the person leading to their ultimate reintegration into society.”
I do not want to go on too long, this is my final point. Earlier in the Committee we had representations from the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust about bailiffs. It has obtained a legal opinion on the clause, and I would like to read it to the Committee:
“Taken as a whole, the proposals in the clauses and the accompanying schedule are incredibly vague given the serious nature of the problem, complexity of the issues and major infringements of civil liberties—effectively a person may be locked up for 72 hours or longer on remand for failure to attend a meeting without a reasonable excuse. The Bill does not even seek to create regulation-making powers. Although the use of regulations to create criminal and quasi-criminal sanctions is scarcely acceptable, such regulations at least might have provided some crucial details as to how such a scheme would work, given the civil aspects of the measures and skeleton nature of the provisions. Breaching an order will not be a criminal offence in itself, but a person may be subject to the same sanctions as would apply to the crime itself and potentially treated more harshly. It must be asked how the aims of rehabilitation are to be achieved by pushing a person further in the criminal justice system.
It is possible to foresee these provisions being a bureaucratic and administrative nightmare occasioned by uncertainties over procedure and differences in approach between supervisors”.
Whether those supervisors will be properly trained is questioned. The opinion continues:
“As noted above, there must be obvious concerns about the qualifications of the supervisor and their ability to act in such a role as well as the way in which the objectives of the Bill are to be achieved.
Disturbingly, there is no express requirement or duty in the Bill on anyone implementing the orders to take into consideration the impact on family life and anyone who resides with the offender, for example the children of the offender. As a result there may be implications under article 8 of the European convention on human rights... As the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust has repeatedly stated, a warrant system in the magistrates’ court can easily fail to provide protection of vulnerable persons and their dependents.”
These are difficult and complex issues. If we are going to make legislation that will be on the statue book for some years and criminalise a number of people, we must take all the issues into account. Perhaps it would have been better to look at the law on prostitution as an individual subject, even in an individual Bill, rather than as a few clauses in a complex Bill. I fear that we might be making a mistake with the clauses as drafted, which could have repercussions in the future.
Mr. Walker: I am finding common cause with the sisterhood on the Labour Benches to whom the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead referred. Like them, I am concerned about human trafficking and particularly the trafficking of women.
Undoubtedly, some women in eastern Europe make a conscious decision to travel to the UK to pursue a career in prostitution, but I imagine that many women from poor backgrounds and with low educational attainment are rounded up by ruthless businessmen who deal in human misery. They are told that a better life is waiting for them in England, but they are not told what price they will have to pay to pursue that better life when they get to England. On arrival in this country, I understand that many of them are taken to brothels, where their passports are removed and the grim realities of their career choice are explained to them; the consequences to them if they do not pursue that career are made clear.
That is why I am concerned about consent, which seems a low hurdle to jump. As Ministers will be aware and as we are all aware, 94 per cent. of women who take a rape allegation to court fail to secure a conviction. Those 94 per cent. are told, “You weren’t raped, after all. You have made a mistake.” I am sure that many of them are told that they somehow consented to the sexual activity. I am sure that a few—
The Chairman: Order. May I suggest that the hon. Gentleman direct his remarks to prostitution, not rape? The clause is not about rape, it is specifically about prostitution.
Mr. Walker: I shall be guided by you, Sir Nicholas. I am trying to ascertain the details of consent. A woman who has been trafficked into the UK may have her passport removed and be threatened with terrible consequences unless she works hard and earns a certain amount of money in a certain period to buy her passport back. She is a prostitute, and a customer—a punter, as they are called—comes and sees her and offers to buy sex from her. She consents and says, “Yes, I will have sex with you.” That gentleman has sex with her and believes that he has secured consent, but in my mind that is not consent, because she knows full well what will happen if she does not say yes. That is why we must be careful about the word “consent.”
If that brothel is raided by the police a few months later and the girls there are found to be being prostituted and working under the most appalling conditions, and a book of clients is discovered, will those clients be subject to criminal prosecution? Will their argument that the ladies consented be upheld in a court of law? They may have felt that they got consent at the time, but it was actually only perceived, not real, consent.
David Howarth: I am not sure what is the answer to the question whether the police will proceed, but it is clear to most lawyers that the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises is covered by section 75(1) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which established a presumption against consent if the complainant was unlawfully detained at the time of the act and the accused was not. The hon. Gentleman is making perfectly good sense, but I am not entirely clear about what change he wishes to bring about.
Mr. Walker: The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said that people would not be prosecuted for having sex with a prostitute—a trafficked woman from overseas—if consent was secured. However, what we regard as consent is questionable and may not be all that it seems.
I hope that when we prosecute men for visiting prostitutes who turn out to have been trafficked, we do not allow them to hide behind ignorance by saying that they thought they had received consent to a sexual act. In the eyes of the law, ignorance is no defence. I would like to plant in the brains of men who visit prostitutes that they had better be damned sure that the woman whom they are visiting is a prostitute by absolute, 100 per cent. choice, because if that lady turns out to have been trafficked and there under any form of duress, they will face not a small fine but a significant term in prison. Ultimately, they may well have committed rape.
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Mr. Heath: We have already had a long and complex debate in which various points of view have been eloquently expressed. As the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead said, this is a complex issue and there is no convenient black and white area, unless one takes a rather simplistic and naive view. I do not accuse the hon. Member for Kettering of that, because he defended himself against it from the start. However, unless one takes the view that one can eradicate prostitution from a society, something that has been attempted for thousands of years without success as far as I know in any society, no amount of criminalisation or prohibition will prevent the activity from happening.
There is also the view, which is perfectly proper and in accord with much legislative teaching, that prostitution is a sin—an inherently bad activity that should be frowned upon and made more difficult by society and its legal system. Again, our legal system has not traditionally taken that position; it has traditionally not criminalised prostitution and it is not illegal to be a prostitute. It is illegal to do several things that are accessory to the activity of being a prostitute, such as soliciting in the street, advertising, and running a disorderly house—a brothel—as it was once called. The view is perfectly proper and respectable, but it is not consonant with the way in which the British legal system has approached the issue hitherto.
There has rightly been much debate about trafficked people, and we need to reconsider the issue. I am strongly of the view that we need not only to ratify the European convention on human trafficking, but to put our law into a position in which it can be ratified. I listened carefully to the Under-Secretary yesterday, but I am still none the wiser about exactly what the Government intend to do to bring our law into compliance with the treaty obligations that we have signed by virtue of that convention. If the legislation before us is not the vehicle for doing so, it is hard to see a more appropriate statutory vehicle for ensuring that we can ratify the treaty. We need changes to our immigration rules and the right to remain. Those issues may be difficult for the Government for all sorts of reasons, but they need to grasp them and deal with them in short order if we are to deal effectively with trafficking.
I have some sympathy with those who say not only that knowingly using a person who has been trafficked for sexual purposes, as a prostitute, can be construed as an offence under present legislation but that we need to consider wider applications of appropriate offences. To me, it is a straight matter of accessory if the person involved knows the situation. I stress to the hon. Member for Broxbourne that reasonable knowledge is part of the equation. We cannot prosecute people at will simply because they have been to a person who turns out to have been trafficked for sexual purposes. There must be a reasonable belief that the person was not capable of giving consent, as set out in the Sexual Offences Act, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge quoted.
The same applies to a British citizen who is not a trafficked person, but is literally coerced into being a prostitute by the threat or reality of violence against them by the person controlling them. That, too, is already a clear offence on the part of the pimp or whoever, but if we can ensure that it is better prosecuted, understood and dealt with in our legal system, we should do so.
We then move into areas that are not, strictly speaking, coercion, but where there is a strong imperative that leads a person to enter into prostitution. The key example is drugs. This is the one point on which I disagree significantly with the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead, who asserted that drugs were not often a driver. From my policing experience, I must say that they are the major motor for a lot of people who fall outside the other categories that we have discussed, or even for those who are in them. If we can successfully get people off highly addictive drugs, the need to fund their drug-taking activities, or simply get the next fix from their pimp if that is they way they find themselves operating, is removed, and much of the imperative to commit the high-value, acquisitive crime of prostitution disappears.
Harry Cohen: I do not think that the difference between us is stark. I do think that drugs are a key factor for many women on the streets, for example, but when considering the law on prostitution we should not consider that as the sole stereotype. What about the prostitutes from the home counties who commute to London, do a day’s work and go back out? They are not necessarily drug addicts.
Mr. Heath: I entirely accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I agree that we should not employ stereotypes, but it worried me slightly that he dismissed the drugs argument, whereas I think that it is a major factor.
The last driver that makes people wish to work as prostitutes is economic. That covers a wide range of people, from those who simply cannot subsist without an additional or main source of income and find themselves driven into prostitution as a consequence, perhaps but not necessarily to pay for a drug habit, to those at the other end of the scale who see it as an effective way of earning rather a lot of money. It would be hard to argue that such people had been coerced in any way; they see it as an attractive career option in which they wish to engage.
A wide range of issues push people into prostitution. That is why it is important to deal with the real mischief and ills of the system, which are principally to do with children, trafficking and violence. In a different way, the problems are about the availability of drugs and the ability to rehabilitate those on drugs. It would be unhelpful to generalise and say, “It is bad that this sort of thing happens and we want it to stop.” I do not think that that would be an effective solution.
There are other problems with street prostitution with respect to people’s behaviour, either when they are soliciting, or when their pimps are soliciting and advertising their activities, or on the part of clients. We should be aware of that behaviour. Legislation to deal with curb crawling and soliciting is in place, but it is not particularly effective. The legislation demands a great deal of police time and activity, sometimes in ways that move the police officer close to the role of agent provocateur—they might arrange for inappropriate behaviour to take place to make an arrest. We should be firmer on such behaviour because it causes the most offence to the general public. More generalised rules on harassment and a more vigorous prosecution of harassment cases would be entirely appropriate.
We should deal with another ill—the risk presented to prostitutes. If we need an illustration of that, we need look no further than the incidents in Ipswich to which the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead referred. We should be aware that prostitutes take high and sometimes lethal risks. They certainly risk becoming victims of violent behaviour, rape, and assault and battery. If we arrange our legal system to isolate prostitutes from support—the support could be mutual or institutional—we will increase the risks of such crimes. We need to have great regard to that. The more we remove the activity from view, the more we put people’s physical safety and, indeed, their lives, at risk. It is currently visible to an extent, and people are not afraid to go to the authorities, which are accountable, to report their suspicions or actual incidents of alleged criminality.
David Howarth: Another point on the same lines that my hon. Friend might wish to consider arises from the Kulick study, which the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead mentioned—it is also mentioned in Belinda Brooks-Gordon’s book “The Price of Sex: Prostitution, Policy and Society”—namely that in Sweden, one of the effects of criminalising the customer was a drop in price. Because the price dropped, prostitutes had to take more clients, and were consequently more exposed to the risks that my hon. Friend described.
Mr. Heath: There are a lot of question marks against the experience of Sweden, and I do not think that we should take at face value any initial results. We need to take care to look at every consequence of Swedish policy decisions and, indeed, as has been said, at other arrangements and their effectiveness.
I return finally to clause 72, which will introduce compulsory rehabilitation sessions. I am all for rehabilitation—it is an essential part of the provisions. I take “rehabilitation” to mean more than some sort of reverse coercion; I take it to mean genuine support to deal with the issues that women face—it is usually women—including their economic situation or drug addiction. I find it hard to reconcile what the Government are saying here with the reduction in the number of drug treatment centres around the country. We should be very worried about that, because this is a significant part of the proposals.
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I question whether compulsory rehabilitation under the model that the Government propose will have the effect that they desire. This is not a criticism of Ministers’ intentions, but a concern about the outcome. I fear that it will result in the exact opposite of what the Government want. First, it runs the risk of criminalising a large number of prostitutes. Many will be unable or unwilling to meet the terms of rehabilitation orders, for economic or other reasons, and will find themselves in jail as a consequence. That is the way in which we used to deal with prostitution, and it was ineffective then, yet we are, apparently, to revisit it. That point was made expressly by Harry Fletcher, the assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, who said:
“These new measures will turn the clock back by 25 years. Thousands of prostitutes face the prospect of being jailed for up to 72 hours if they fail to obey new court orders set out in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill...Prostitutes are unlikely to attend compulsory meetings when they know that there is no alternative source of employment or income. It is highly unlikely that three sessions with a trained counsellor will persuade any prostitutes to give up their work.”
He concluded that there will be a high breach rate and that a large number of people will be criminalised—a situation that we thought we had turned away from some time ago.
There are other questions about the effectiveness of the measures, particularly regarding who the counsellors and supervisors will be, what basic training they will have, what regulation will cover their operations and what sort of services they will offer. Will they be able to mandate other services to provide support that is diagnosed as being required? I return to drug rehabilitation; if that is a key component, as it often is, will other providers of supervision or support be leapfrogged in order to provide those services? If not, will there be long waiting lists for rehabilitation? That would also result in the breach of orders and mass criminalisation.
This policy is not mature and has not been properly thought through. I return to the point that the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead made: this is a huge, complicated and serious issue, and the measures are not a sensible addendum to this complex Bill, which has many disparate parts. The policy is well-meaning, but its likely consequences are difficult to discern. I find it difficult to accept that it will have the beneficial effect that Ministers hope for, and I fear that it will have a damaging effect.
I must say to the hon. Member for Kettering that I do not believe that criminalising demand is the right way forward. I respect his reasons for proposing his new clause, but I am not convinced that it would work. Indeed, it would attack the reasons for concern that I have identified and which I am anxious we should properly address if we are to ensure that vulnerable people are protected from harm.
Mr. Burrowes: We have had a wide-ranging debate, given that we are dealing with a standard clause. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering on the considered way in which he dealt with this serious issue. I endorse his commendation of CARE and Chaste, and the reference that the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead made to the POPPY project, which plays a key role with other organisations that my hon. Friend mentioned in seeking to deal with the sharp end of the problem—trafficking—and to find accommodation and support for those vulnerable members of our community who are preyed upon in the area of prostitution. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne for the passion that he brought to the debate. We must focus on the seriousness of the issue and deal with the principles and practice of the clause.
On practice, I invite the Minister to clarify the problem that the Government are addressing. Is it that as many as 80,000 individuals are involved in prostitution in the UK? Is the purpose of the clause to reduce that number as a whole, or is that restricted to delivering an overall reduction in the number involved in street-based prostitution? Is the aim limited to street-based prostitution, or is there a general desire to reduce the number of people involved in prostitution generally? Is there a focus on the 70 per cent. who start in prostitution as children or young teenagers, and where in the clause do the Government seek to tackle that? Is the provision focused on those 95 per cent. involved in street-based prostitution who use class A drugs? Where do the Government seek rehabilitation orders for those with underlying concerns about family, physical abuse, domestic violence, debt, family breakdown, and so on, which are often underlying causes, and significant factors, that go hand in hand with drug abuse?
The principles must also be clarified. Where do the Government stand on the principles of prostitution? Those principles were outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering and, to some extent, by the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead. Where do human rights principles stand in relation to prostitution, and where do the Government stand on the principle, which we all seek to uphold, that in general the human body should not be a source of financial gain? That principle is generally upheld in British society, but it seems to be thought of differently in relation to prostitution. Surely the principle that the sale of human bodies and their parts is degrading and incompatible with human dignity should inform the debate in this area, as in other areas, when we are concerned about the purchase of one person’s body by another for sexual pleasure.
Another issue of principle relates to gender equality. Is that not also a relevant principle in prostitution, when that is built inherently on an imbalance of power? I seek to distinguish myself from the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome. He spoke about vulnerability, which we all coalesce around. However, any suggestion that this is an attractive option is at the margin of the debate. We should deal with the situation, in terms of statistics and principles, as an issue—
Mr. Walker: Does my hon. Friend accept that most men who visit prostitutes, for whatever reason, are in the main taking advantage of very damaged people?
Mr. Burrowes: Yes. By the very nature of the situation, when a man goes into a brothel or seeks the trade of a street prostitute, there is an imbalance of power between the bought and the buyer. Given that the vast majority of prostitutes are women, we are concerned about the principle of the commoditisation of women’s bodies. That principle must underline our debate, and it is of concern to this and other societies when gender inequality is deepened. That imbalance of power can be seen in not only gender, but race. The individuals who are involved in prostitution are predominantly from ethnic and disempowered minorities, or from other countries. Indeed, 81 per cent. of prostitutes are now coming from overseas. Tied in with that, inevitably, is a greater risk of people being trafficked in the circumstances about which we are all concerned. When the Government tell us, as they often do, that they are upholding the principles of race and gender equality, and human rights, those principles must inform the debate, and clause 72 must deal with those issues properly.
We have all been talking about the protection of the vulnerable, and that must properly inform our approach to prostitution. We have heard the statistics, so I will not repeat them, but when we consider the large number of people who come from those vulnerable communities, it is important that the Government do not create incentives for the exploitation of vulnerable individuals in our society.
David Howarth: I am following what the hon. Gentleman is saying very carefully. He talks about the creation of incentives by the Government. I would like to hear his view of a case that I have come across, which is that of failed asylum seekers who, because of the Government’s policy of effectively putting such asylum seekers into a state of destitution, are caused to go into prostitution. Does he think that the Government are doing what he claims that society in general should not do?
Mr. Burrowes: I appreciate your leave in permitting a wide-ranging debate, Sir Nicholas. I will not go into the areas of asylum and immigration policy at this stage, although there will be an opportunity later in the Bill to deal with immigration to a certain extent. However, there is a concern about statistics showing that it is those who have come from overseas, whether they are asylum seekers or others, who are, more often than not, the street and off-street prostitutes. They are prone to vulnerability, as the hon. Gentleman suggests. We therefore need to take the issue seriously.
I want to focus on the issue of kerb crawling. The Government have, under existing legislation, tried to criminalise supply and demand regarding street prostitution. We must accept that the law is inadequate in practice. I think of my experience, as a duty solicitor, of going to Haringey magistrates court in the morning and visiting the cells, which more often than not are filled up with street prostitutes. When one opens the hatch, there is someone in the corner who is probably withdrawing from class A drugs and in a state of half-life—damaged, vulnerable and exploited. They come before magistrates who, in a state of embarrassment, look at how they can possibly not do anything and come up with a token financial penalty. The prostitute then goes on their way and comes back the next week, month or year. I concede that the Government are seeking to deal with that by way of a rehabilitation order. I shall shortly address that in more detail.
The other side of the equation is the demand side, which is addressed by prosecution on the basis of public nuisance and the problems caused in the community. That seems to be the focus of attack in relation to criminalisation. We therefore get the ludicrous situation that I have seen in court when the driver who has stopped says in his defence that he was simply asking for directions, which is treated with short shrift by the magistrates—they have heard it all before.
Once the defence advocate has been unable to get any further in relation to soliciting, the case moves on to the other aspect, which is where it stands or falls, of whether the kerb crawling was causing a nuisance. While one can argue that an area has been downgraded so much that it would not be a nuisance to have prostitutes loitering on the street corner, the local magistrates give that short shrift when they still care passionately about that area, however much it might have gone downhill in recent years. The issue of nuisance is the area for enforcement and prosecution. That does not match the issues that have arisen in today’s debate, when we have examined the whole question of exploitation, trafficking and vulnerable people. There seems to be a mismatch in terms of current law and practice that clause 72 does not properly address.
Although the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead might suggest that there are many involved in this industry who are not deficient or deviant, this is not a benign matter. While it may not be the top of your list of television programmes to watch when you get home, Sir Nicholas, “The Secret Diary of a Call Girl” is nevertheless worth looking at. I hasten to add that the programme is on mainstream television. I understand that it is very popular and that it features Billie Piper and others—[ Interruption. ] I am trying to give a reason for watching it. In many ways, the programme portrays a glamorous side to the whole industry. As we have heard, that is not supported by the statistics, or the experiences of those who come before the courts and who are open to vulnerability and exploitation. Abuse, coercion and lack of choice are very real problems that the Government must address.
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Looking at the Government’s approach, and particularly at clause 72 and the orders to promote rehabilitation for prostitutes, we must ask whether we have the resources to match the Government’s desire to rehabilitate street prostitutes and divert them away from their trade. The Government are focusing on drug addiction, which is certainly a key factor in street prostitution. However, where are the resources to deal with that in terms of rehabilitation?
There are 115 residential rehabilitation services in England with 2,441 beds. However, for women and single parents with children—which will be the case for many street prostitutes—there are just nine services that provide 143 beds. The provision is sparse, poor and reliant on the third sector, which often does not receive the funding assistance required.
Government measures to address the treatment of drug addicts predominantly involve providing a substitute drug. Some £110 million is spent on substitute prescriptions, predominantly for methadone, even though we know that that might not, indeed often does not, lead to recovery from addiction—it might lead to a hundred or so of those people a year moving towards full recovery from addiction. Nevertheless, one has to question whether the rehabilitation order will provide the true drug rehabilitation leading to recovery that is required.
If there were resources to match the rehabilitation order that could provide three meetings and encourage rehabilitation by way of methadone prescriptions, there would still be concern that people—predominantly women—would effectively be left to a half-life of addiction to methadone, which is more addictive than heroin and leads to great problems. The difficulty is whether the orders will deal with the heart of the problem, which is not just addiction, but child abuse, family breakdown, domestic violence and debt.
There is a reference in the clause to a “supervisor”. However, there appears to be no information about the person who will perform the role of supervisor, other than a broad test of suitability for the role. I invite the Minister to provide details of who the supervisor is intended to be, and whether there needs to be more specific information and guidance in the Bill. In proposed section 1(2A) of the Street Offences Act 1959, reference is made to “the supervisor” or,
“such other person as the supervisor may direct.”
It is unclear who that person is, or whether it is the supervisor or the courts that will determine the suitability to act.
The other question for the Minister is who will supervise and regulate the supervisors. There does not seem to be much in the Bill that deals with the suitability of a person to act as a supervisor. Finally, there are references in the provision to three meetings. What is the magic focus of that number of meetings? Why are three meetings prescribed for the rehabilitation order? Why not more? Why must they take place within a six-month period? The reality is that the Government are seeking to deal with the situation by way of trying to divert street prostitutes away from their trade and to deal with those who are addicted to drugs.
I know from many clients in such a predicament that they are chaotic. They have limited ability to keep appointments, and it is fair to say that their ability to attend three meetings in six months might be limited. The result of that—no doubt we will be able to debate the sanction in more detail under schedule 14—will be enforcement and detention for up to 72 hours. We must ask whether the Government are realistic in their approach on the rehabilitation order.
I move briefly on to new clauses 8 and 22. Both, in many ways, have the honourable intention of wanting to focus on trafficking, but they come at that from different angles. I welcome very much the context set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering, which is the concern that more than 4,000 women are coming into the UK as a result of trafficking. We need to address the issue of demand. Should we be restricted to the issue of kerb crawling, or should we look more seriously at how to reduce the number of women going into prostitution per se, as opposed to just street prostitution?
It is welcome that we can use the debate to focus on the criminality of the pimp, the brothel owner, and those who traffic women. We need to look at ways in which they can be exited from the industry, rather than taking the limited and perhaps unrealistic approach of seeking just to rehabilitate street prostitutes.
The concern raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering was very well put. There have been references to the Swedish model. However, it must be made clear—we can debate different countries’ examples at length—that despite the positive approach of Sweden, it appears from studies that it is subject to less trafficking than its neighbouring countries. An EU study of countries published in 2005 suggested that the number of people trafficked per 100,000 of population was lower in Sweden than in any other country in the study, except the Czech Republic.
David Howarth: The problem with such studies is that they do not take into account the problems of reporting. When prostitution is made illegal from the client’s point of view, the flow of witnesses in trafficking cases may well decline, so that comparison might not show what the hon. Gentleman thinks that it does.
Mr. Burrowes: The concern about the clause and our whole approach to the debate about prostitution is one of “out of sight, out of mind”. People think that we can deal with the street prostitutes who are seen to be causing a nuisance in our communities, but that we are not quite sure about how to deal with those who are out of mind, so we do not. The debate initiated by new clause 8 is very helpful because it brings to the fore the women who are trafficked, who are often out of sight yet are already covertly exploited. We need to look at ways, whether through legislation or otherwise, in which we can try to bring them to light.
As honourable as the intentions behind the new clause are, my concern is how we could reconcile it with the current offence of loitering or soliciting. How could the police use their discretion to criminalise the demand but not the supply? That issue needs further consideration.
In new clause 22, it is accepted that there is a proper focus on the prostitute who is being trafficked. It states that
“any person who has paid for the sexual services of a prostitute who has been trafficked”
could be required to attend three meetings. Looking at the details, however, what would be addressed at those meetings, and what measures would be put in place to ensure that a person ceased to engage in such conduct? I am not sure how realistic and practical those aims would be.
Away from legislation, I suggest that there is a great need for a cultural change. We need to follow the Swedish approach in relation to their campaigning and how they have sought, through a very effective public awareness campaign, to challenge men’s attitudes. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne made a similar point when he talked about men’s attitudes towards purchasing sex.
Mr. Walker: Does my hon. Friend accept that no solution to prostitution will be perfect and answer all questions? However, there is no harm in public life in aspiring to make things better.
Mr. Burrowes: Absolutely. Without wanting to range too widely, we have the Olympics coming up in which concern has been expressed by the POPPY project and Chaste about the potential problems of prostitution and trafficked women. We should take the excellent opportunity of the Olympics, when people are looking at this country and at London in particular, to take the lead in an awareness campaign in relation to this whole area of prostitution.
I would like the Government to ensure that proper referral systems are in place. There are now statistics on trafficked women within the criminal justice system, but we need to go further and have a proactive approach in terms of referrals at police stations, council buildings and other areas. We need to know the extent of the problem, and to ensure that adequate support mechanisms are in place for victims, including the safe houses that Chaste and POPPY seek to provide. I understand that those specifications would enable the Government finally to ratify the convention. I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about those particular details.
I welcome the debate, especially the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.
Mr. Coaker: We have had an extremely interesting and wide-ranging debate, as it needs to be, ranging from the issue of prostitution to the interaction between that and the whole area of trafficking, which, in my view, has changed the nature of the debate. What we were talking about before mainly concerned street-based prostitution with some off-street brothels. Street prostitution has now expanded to include the involvement of women from overseas in off-street work. That has raised real concerns, which were first brought to my attention many years ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North. She will not remember this, but almost 10 years ago, she discussed her concerns about what was going on in some of the massage parlours and brothels in Northampton. To be honest, some of today’s debate has really been about trafficking, which we would not have debated a few years ago. We would not have expected to be in the House of Commons in 2007 talking about modern day slavery. Effectively, we are talking about not just women who are chained, but women who are deceived. The important point that the hon. Member for Broxbourne made was that people can be deceived. Frankly, many of the people who are trafficked have been deceived, rather than locked up, chained and brought over here.
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Important as all the other issues are—of course they are important—the issue of trafficking has produced a new sense of urgency and, frankly, it has challenged some opinions that we might have.
I agree with the point that sometimes some of these issues are difficult to wave a magic wand at, to solve overnight, and to change in a way that we would all want them to change by tomorrow morning. However, that should not deter us from the fact that we can make a difference—and do make a difference. While there might be a clash of opinion in debate, we should always seek to change public policy in a way that will benefit people, not only in our constituencies but throughout the country. To a very great extent, all the contributions that have been made by members of the Committee have done that.
In both my opening remarks and in the more formal part of my speech, I shall seek to address many of the points raised by hon. Members.
Mr. Hollobone rose—
Mr. Coaker: I will ask the hon. Gentleman if he would not mind being patient, because I will seek to address his points at the end of my remarks. I hope he will forgive me; I have not forgotten him and I will get to his points later. Indeed, what I will say then will also address some of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, particularly the points about trafficking and what is being done to combat it. I shall make some general comments, but I will also make some specific points.
I would like to address the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead. I do not agree with all his points, but the fact that he challenges all of us to think about whether these provisions are right is an important aspect of what we are doing.
I would just like to say that we do not want people to go to prison for this offence. That is why we have introduced this new measure, in particular, and it is one reason why we are introducing the new rehabilitation order.
On the issue of trafficked women and its interaction with immigration, which my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead raised, we are moving towards a position where, if somebody is identified as a victim of trafficking, they will not be subject to immigration rules. That is the point that we want to reach. There is an awful lot tied up with reaching that point, because part of the process is ensuring that—the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate raised this issue—we set up a national referral mechanism so that people can be referred to a central point where we know that they will be identified in a credible and authentic way as victims of trafficking.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead was not suggesting this, but we cannot have a situation whereby people just say that they are trafficked. There must be a process of identification. That process must be fair and we must assume that, once people have been through it, they are victims. We do not want to see victims of trafficking being subject to immigration rules. We are working on that process, and it is all part of our working towards a position in which we can ratify the Council of Europe convention.
The Government will ratify that convention—there is absolutely no doubt about that—and that will be supported by everybody in our Parliament. The debatable point is this: do we ratify the convention prior to knowing that all the processes and procedures are in place, such as the national referral mechanism that we need, or do we put those procedures in place in order to ratify the convention? We want to complete the process of ratification as quickly as possible. Some people say that if we were to ratify, we would put those procedures in place more quickly. There is no difference between all of us in trying to achieve the process of ratification.
Hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead, will know that the strategy that we have on trafficking involves, first, preventing it happening to begin with. There is a huge amount of work going on in source countries to try to raise awareness of the problem. Secondly, we aim to enforce the law in this country. Indeed, we have changed the law. It was said on the Floor of the House yesterday that there have been 67 prosecutions under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. We want more to take place. We need to develop our work—this is where the Government accept that we need to do more—on the protection of victims and the assistance given to them. There is no question about that; we have accepted it and we are developing our work.
I defer to the barristers, lawyers and solicitors present—in the sense of the law, anyway—but I strongly believe that when somebody knowingly has sex with a trafficked woman and there is no consent, that is rape. I thought that the hon. Member for Cambridge—he will intervene if I get this wrong—made the point well that freely given consent is the key. Somebody can be frightened of violence and fearful of what may happen to them, and the court might choose to regard that as suggesting that consent was not freely given.
The issues are complex. A general point was made about rape, which is difficult prosecuting territory, as I understand it from people who prosecute it and want to raise the number of people prosecuted. The situation is no doubt similar when prosecuting people in the sphere of prostitution. We all need to understand that more people should be prosecuted. That is what we want, and we need to work together to understand how it can happen. I take the point that we need to examine further section 4 of the 2003 Act, which the hon. Member for Cambridge mentioned, to see whether we can use it to develop our work. I shall do that.
Mr. Heath: Have there been any prosecutions of “respectable” newspapers and magazines for advertisements that can be construed as relating to procuring the services of trafficked persons—the sort of thing that was illustrated in the intervention in the House yesterday? Many of us feel that some newspapers and magazines are happy to preach from a moral standpoint while taking revenue from the proceeds of trafficked women.
Mr. Coaker: The answer to that is no. As far as I aware, there have been no such prosecutions, as there is not a specific offence on that matter. To reiterate the point that I made yesterday in the House, I have met the Leader of the House and the Solicitor-General about this. I cannot remember all the other people who were present, but the Newspaper Society and the Advertising Association were represented. We talked to them about that very issue, and we shall return to see whether they have done some of the things that they said they would do and whether they are applying the guidance and codes of practice that are in place.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that we certainly need to consider the matter. There is no specific offence at the moment, but the matter is of concern not only to him, but to all members of the Committee. Frankly, some of the adverts that appear in newspapers should concern us all. My recollection is that one of the raids that took place under Pentameter 1 was done as a result of intelligence gleaned from adverts. That backs up the hon. Gentleman’s point that there is an issue of concern to consider. We have gone down the voluntary route and are talking to various people to see what more can be done, but we need to keep the matter under review.
Mr. Walker: Like the Minister, I think that this has been an excellent debate. We have discussed the issues without personal rancour, which is a refreshing thing to do in the House of Commons.
I am a little concerned about the fact that somebody must “knowingly” have had sex with a trafficked woman. Someone going to a brothel populated by eastern Europeans might or might not know whether those people were trafficked, but there is a chance that they were. If someone puts himself in that position, he should make absolutely sure that they are not trafficked. If he does not know, he should not be there, because he would face prosecution if he was caught.
Mr. Coaker: As a non-lawyer, I do not think that people can be prosecuted on the basis of chance: intent has to be proved.
Mr. Burrowes: Legislation has sought to move, or at least limit, the occasions relating to intent when dealing with sexual intercourse with a minor. Someone’s defence may once have been that they did not know that the other person was under age, but the Government, through legislation, have sought to make it an offence for someone to have sex with a minor, regardless of whether they knew that that person was a minor, and their saying so may not afford them a defence. I invite Ministers to reflect on whether there could be a similar situation in respect of someone who enters a brothel and has sexual intercourse with a trafficked person, not knowing that that person was trafficked.
Mr. Coaker: I will reflect on that. However, with respect to rape, there needs to be no consent and no reasonable belief in consent. [Interruption.] I get there in the end. I will buy a wig at some point. Consent is important and we will need to consider it in respect of some of my later points, if hon. Members will be patient.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead mentioned changing the definition of a brothel. We consulted on that, but there was huge opposition to changing the rules to make them refer to two or more people. There was big opposition to such change, from the public and the police, and so on. We are reflecting on that and will perhaps be looking to consult again. That has not been forgotten; it is just that there was no consensus about trying to move forward on it.
I agree with the important point that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North made about multi-agency working and people coming together. That is necessary and something that we need to do.
In respect of the rehabilitation orders, which the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome mentioned, the only current option is a fine. Although the hon. Gentleman was not saying so, it is important for there to be the option of a fine or a rehabilitation order. We have been consulting on that measure since 2004. The hon. Gentleman will know that among its supporters were the Association of Chief Police Officers, the National Christian Alliance on Prostitution, the Magistrates’ Association, the Justices’ Clerks’ Society and the Local Government Association. A considerable number of people supported it.
The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate will know that we have concentrated on street prostitution in the new strategy that we introduced 18 months or so ago. Obviously, our broader strategy is trying to deal with prevention and under-18s, and so on. However, there is particular emphasis, as a result of the consultation, on tackling kerb crawling and the nuisance that was being caused and trying to support women out of prostitution. We would like to see more support and development of services in local areas. That will be an important area of work for local authorities and will be part of their local area agreements.
The clause would amend the Street Offences Act 1959 to introduce a new penalty for those convicted of loitering or soliciting for the purpose of prostitution. The Government published a co-ordinated strategy on prostitution in January 2006, which recognises that women and men involved in street prostitution are in need of support to help them develop routes out and envisages that every opportunity will be taken to signpost those involved towards dedicated services. Wherever possible, that should be done voluntarily, but where persistent involvement makes some coercion necessary, the strategy encourages diversion from the criminal justice system into treatment, through a conditional caution or a prostitution-specific court diversion scheme.
Those involved in street prostitution are often significantly socially excluded and disengaged from support services, often as a result of drug addiction. The complex issues that they face and their chaotic lives mean that routes out of prostitution will necessarily be slow and may involve a number of relapses. Many will refuse help that is freely volunteered and may exhaust the opportunities available for diversion from the criminal justice system before a route out is taken.
Mr. Hollobone: What is the Home Office’s official view on the reasons why prostitutes are prostitutes? There is a difference of opinion between those of us who think that most prostitutes are drug dependent, and the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead who believes that a lot of people are prostitutes for economic reasons.
12.45 pm
Mr. Coaker: Our view is that the majority of people based in street prostitution have a drug addiction problem. The issue is much more complex in respect of off-street prostitution. I am generalising. I am not saying that drug addition applies to everyone on the street.
The strategy acknowledges that the law on loitering or soliciting requires reform for it to be fit for purpose. The offence of loitering or soliciting, which is currently punishable by way of a fine, is frequently described as a revolving door, so we wanted to introduce an alternative to a fine, such as the rehabilitative penalty. The new orders will not be highly prescriptive, nor will the requirements be particularly onerous, given the low-level nature of the offence. However, they will require offenders to attend three sessions with a supervisor in order to begin to deal with the reasons behind their involvement in prostitution.
The clause does not specify who can or should perform the role of supervisor, only that they should seem to the court to have the necessary qualifications or experience to help the offender make best use of the meetings to address the causes of their offending and find ways in which to stop it. In practice, we expect that role to be performed by someone based in a dedicated support project and already working with those involved in prostitution, but there could be others. Although the courts will have the discretion as to whom is considered appropriate and capable of carrying out the role, guidance will say very clearly that those with the most relevant skills will already be working in specialist projects. That partly answers the question of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate. There are numerous advantages in using existing project workers to act as supervisors, not least the fact that many might continue to be in contact with the individual long after the order has been completed.
As the hon. Member for Kettering will know, the Government undertook a comprehensive review of the legal framework in relation to prostitution as part of the paying the price consultation in 2004. That review specifically considered the merits of introducing an offence to criminalise those who pay for, or offer to pay for, sex along the lines of the new clause and the approach adopted in Sweden.
The results of that consultation contributed to the development of the current co-ordinated prostitution strategy, which was widely welcomed by stakeholders as being a positive and constructive way forward. It is being rolled out at a national and local level. Although the strategy rejected the option of introducing a specific offence of paying for sex, it supported the principles of the Swedish model, focusing on the areas of prostitution where exploitation and violence are commonplace, and where the existence of a sex trade is a nuisance for local communities.
We are clear that, where street sex markets exist, enforcement activity should be directed at those creating the demand for prostitution—the kerb crawlers and punters on foot. We already have offences that enable the police to deal effectively with anyone buying or attempting to buy sex from someone on the street, and believe that robust enforcement and awareness-raising can and does have an impact on attitudes and behaviour.
As for off-street prostitution, the strategy states that the demand for commercial sex from under-18s or individuals trafficked to this country is completely unacceptable. We have specific offences that cover paying for the sexual services of a child. It is illegal. Rape remains the appropriate offence with which to prosecute those who pay for sex with an individual who does not consent.
New clause 22 would introduce a rehabilitative order similar to those under clause 72. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead will concede that I have dealt with some of the matters that have been raised. While we have criminal offences covering kerb crawling, paying for the sexual services of a child and arranging or facilitating trafficking for sexual exploitation, paying for the sexual services of a prostitute who has been trafficked is not a specific criminal offence, although that is something that we are considering. It would therefore be unfeasible to introduce a rehabilitative order for that behaviour.
I come now to the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate and others. We have some concerns about a generic offence that criminalises paying for sex, as adopted in Sweden. Most notably, to pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Cambridge and his hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome, we have concerns about the impact that such a move might have on those involved in selling sex and their vulnerability to exploitation and violence.
I recognise that there is considerable support for us to do more to tackle the demand for prostitution and trafficking. I would not wish to rule out possible changes for the future. We need to look more closely at the experience of other jurisdictions, such as Sweden, that adopt alternative approaches to see how we might strengthen our approach to tackling demand in England and Wales.
Therefore, I intend to visit Sweden—and the Netherlands, incidentally—early next year. Ministerial colleagues will be coming with me. We will find out more about how the new offence is working—I think that that was the point made by Liberal Democrat Members—gather evidence and see the impact that the change of policy has had on those involved in prostitution. That will be part of a longer term piece of work to consider what more we can do to tackle the demand for prostitution and trafficking. We expect it to take about six months.
Let me now deal with some of the comments raised by hon. Members on both sides. We intend to look at the demand and at other aspects related to prostitution. That will start with the visit that I will make with ministerial colleagues early in the new year. In particular, we want to try to gather evidence so that we can answer some of the points about whether the measure has made a difference, driven the problem underground, sent it into other countries or whatever else. The research is limited and the research that has been received is mixed. We need to clarify what is going on.
Until then, our message is clear. Sex with a person who does not consent, whether an individual has paid for it or not, is rape. That remains the appropriate offence with which to prosecute in such circumstances. We also have offences in place to tackle the specific problems of street prostitution, paying for sex with under-18s and trafficking. I ask hon. Members to support clause 72, and hope that given what I have said hon. Members will not press their new clauses at the appropriate time.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 72 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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