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19 Jan 2009 : Column 521

Our changes mean that we need the police to be more professional and effective than ever, especially at the top and in their leadership. I am pleased that the Bill will reinforce their ability to develop talent from every background by strengthening the independence and status of the senior appointments panel for chief officers. It is clear that accountability is crucial in building the public's trust and confidence. That is why we propose to place a new duty on police authorities to have regard to the public’s views in the exercise of all their functions. We are also giving a strengthened inspectorate the power to assess how well the public's views are being reflected during the new inspections of police authorities.

I want to go further, and to introduce the direct election of some members of police authorities. However, events late last year convinced me that there are still legitimate questions about how to achieve that without the risk of politicising the police. It is vital to protect the police’s operational independence, as I have made abundantly clear to the House on many occasions. We remain convinced of the merits of direct election as part of a responsive and fully accountable police service, but in the light of last year's events, and having listened closely to all the views on the issue, I believe that it is right to do more work in this area before pressing ahead. In the meantime, with the proposed changes to the role of the inspectorate and the measures that we have taken since the policing Green Paper, I believe that we have a robust system in place that we can build on for the future.

Alcohol-related violent crime is down by one third since 1997, and perceptions of the extent of antisocial behaviour have fallen significantly over the past five years, but we know that antisocial behaviour and other lower level crime can have a corrosive effect on our communities, so we will take further action in the Bill to prevent crime and disorder from taking root.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I welcome the overall reduction in crime to which my right hon. Friend referred. Does she agree that there is an issue with young people and alcohol-related crime, and will she be setting out proposals in the Bill that particularly target such crime?

Jacqui Smith: Yes, we will. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that despite the welcome news that fewer young people are drinking, the figures suggest that those who do are drinking more heavily, so we must remain proactive on initiatives such as the £4 million, “Know your Limits” campaign, which has already had a major impact, generating 92 per cent. awareness among the target audience.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): The Home Secretary is being generous in giving way again. Under clause 26 the

will increase from £500 to £2,500. How relevant is that, given that since the offence has been in force no one, but no one has been fined more than £250, and the majority of fines have been well under £100? Because of the guidelines imposed by the Government, the maximum
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fine or anything like it cannot be imposed on any occasion, so why bother? Is it just a silly headline?

Jacqui Smith: Let me say in response to the hon. Gentleman that not only are more and more people applying for designated public protection orders, but, as he will know from his legal experience, increasing the maximum fine sends an important signal through the system, notwithstanding whether the previous maximum has ever been given, as do the many other provisions in the Bill that demonstrate the seriousness with which the Government take the problem.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): I am at one with my right hon. Friend in wanting to stamp out excessive and irresponsible drinking, which is fuelling too much crime in our society. However, may I ask her to be cautious in seeking a power to impose a new code of practice on pubs and to ensure that she does not put another nail in the coffin of well-run and orderly public houses, which are already so financially fragile at the present time?

Jacqui Smith: I will come on to explain precisely how we intend to do that, which I hope will reassure my hon. Friend.

With our partners in the police and local government, we have also been doing more to enforce existing laws governing the sale of alcohol.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I would be grateful if the Home Secretary could clarify whether the offences in the Bill will lead to the extension of penalty notices for disorder, given that the Delegated Legislation Committee that was due to sit today at this time to consider other offences, relating to the possession of cannabis, making off without payment and taxi touting, had to be cancelled because the Justice Secretary had not consulted the Mayor about the implications for taxi touting and other offences. Is that not an indication that under this Government we have soft justice, justice on the cheap and justice on the quiet?

Jacqui Smith: No, it is a sign of the fact that, having received representations—not just from the Mayor, but from Rape Crisis and others—the Secretary of State for Justice acted quickly to ensure that it was possible not only to remove the provisions dealing with taxi touting, but to safeguard, as I hope hon. Members will see later this week, the provisions dealing with fixed penalty notices for cannabis possession.

Mr. Malins: Will the Home Secretary give way?

Jacqui Smith: No, I will make a bit of progress, because other hon. Members are limited in their ability to make contributions today.

Alongside the enforcement action that we are taking, the drinks industry has a key role to play in combating the misuse of alcohol. Many responsible people in the sector have been wholly supportive of our efforts to protect the public, but there have been too many cases where the industry’s voluntary code has not worked. An independent review recently highlighted premises promoting
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“all you can drink” offers and “free drinks for women” nights. Frankly, that is an invitation to binge drinking, and it is not good enough.

As a result, we will draw up a revised code of practice governing the sale of alcohol. Some of the conditions will be mandatory for all licensed premises; others can be used at the discretion of licensing authorities to target premises in areas experiencing problems.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab) rose—

Jacqui Smith: We are still consulting on the fine detail, but perhaps I can assure my hon. Friend that it is obvious that we need to ban irresponsible promotions. However, the vast majority of those who operate responsibly will not be troubled by the changes. We need to ensure that we have the right powers in place to tackle the irresponsible minority, but without creating difficulties for responsible premises, whether on-licence or off-licence.

Mr. Grogan: Would it be possible to give a commitment to publish the mandatory code for alcohol retailers before the Committee stage, so that it can be sensibly discussed? I am encouraged by some of the words that my right hon. Friend has used, but does she recognise that if the code is too onerous—the regulatory impact assessment suggested that for a well-run community pub that causes no problems to anyone the code could cost £1,100 a year—there is a danger that, as has been mentioned, the rate of pub closures could rapidly increase?

Jacqui Smith: I cannot promise my hon. Friend that we will do that before the Committee stage, but while the Bill is passing through both Houses we will ensure that the consultation that we have committed to undertake on the detail of the code is placed before hon. Members and others, so that they can consider it alongside what is effectively just an enabling power that we are putting forward in the legislation.

Keith Vaz: I have noted the Home Secretary’s answer to the chairman of the all-party group on beer, my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), but the problem is not the pubs; it is the supermarkets. Why are the Government letting the supermarkets off the hook? It is their provision of cheap alcohol that allows people to get tanked up before they go out on a Saturday evening. There is no code to control that provision, which is why we have a problem. It is the loss leaders in the supermarkets that are really causing the problem.

Jacqui Smith: No. As I think I have discussed with my right hon. Friend before, the conditions in the code will apply to irresponsibility equally, whether in the on-trade or the off-trade. The code will catch irresponsible promotions wherever they are happening. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), our existing tough penalties for retailers who sell to under-age drinkers will be further strengthened in the Bill, and we are bolstering the police’s powers to tackle young people caught drinking.

Mr. Malins: Will the Secretary of State give way on that very point?

Jacqui Smith: Okay.

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Mr. Malins: The Home Secretary is very generous. She talks about the Government’s determination and success in enforcing the existing law. She will know that, under section 147A of the Licensing Act 2003, it is already an offence to sell alcohol to children on three consecutive occasions. Will she tell me roughly how many prosecutions a year take place for this offence?

Jacqui Smith: Now I regret giving way to the hon. Gentleman, because I do not know the answer to that question. However, I am sure that the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing will provide it in his summing up.

The public want to see a fair system of justice. The seizure of criminal assets is one of our most powerful tools in fighting crime, and it delivers many other benefits as well. It deprives criminals of capital, reduces the incentives for criminal activity, and eases the harm caused by crime. Just as importantly, it promotes confidence in the criminal justice system and lets the public see that the criminals are not getting away with their crimes. To date, more than £500 million worth of assets have been recovered since the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 came into force in 2003, including £136 million in 2007-08 alone. That is a good achievement, but, as I said when we launched our anti-drugs strategy last year, we want to do more. That is why the Bill includes new powers to seize goods on arrest, which will be particularly useful in ensuring that criminals cannot get rid of their assets before the courts can get to them. At the same time, it will send a powerful message to criminals that they will not be able to get away with their crimes and flaunt their illegally gained wealth.

The mark of any civilised society is how it protects the most vulnerable, so I am pleased that the Government passed a major milestone in December when we ratified the Council of Europe convention against human trafficking. This strengthened the UK’s ability to catch the criminals who exploit victims of trafficking, and underlined the Government’s long-term commitment to tackling this horrific crime. In too many cases, the trafficking is directly linked to the demand for prostitution in this country. It has been clear to me for some time that tackling the demand side of the equation is one of the best ways we have of fighting back against the misery of prostitution and human exploitation.

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Unions such as the GMB are working with women in the sex trade, and they are concerned that the measures could result in the further criminalisation of women, rather than of the men who are using those women. Will my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that she is talking to, and will continue to talk to, trade unions such as the GMB, to ensure that the victims—the women who are seeking protection from harassment, theft, bullying and intimidation—are protected, and that they will not be further criminalised?

Jacqui Smith: It is precisely to achieve a shift from the criminalisation of, and focus on, women involved in prostitution and the sex trade to a focus on those whose demand creates the prostitution in the first place that, last year, we undertook the review into how to tackle demand. That review concluded that effective enforcement needs to extend beyond those who organise sexual
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exploitation; it also has to impact on those who contribute to the demand by paying for sex in the first place. Through this Bill, I intend to introduce a new offence of paying for sex with a prostitute who is controlled for gain, and I believe that that will be a major step forward.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): I welcome the fact that the Government signed and ratified the convention on trafficking, which provides support for women identified as trafficked. To what extent does the Home Secretary think that driving prostitution further underground and criminalising almost all men who use prostitutes will aid in the ability of those prostitutes to be found and rescued and of the traffickers to be prosecuted? Does not driving it underground make that more difficult?

Jacqui Smith: No, I do not believe that focusing and turning the legal spotlight on to men who choose to pay to have sex with women who have been exploited and have made no free choice will drive prostitution underground. In fact, I think that policy will protect women and put an onus on those whose demand actually creates the exploitation in the first place— [Interruption.] However, I also recognise that such measures have to be part of a co-ordinated approach that not only tackles the demand, but provides a way out for those who want to escape the misery of prostitution. For that reason, the Bill also introduces a new rehabilitation order for prostitutes convicted of loitering or soliciting as an alternative to a fine. In conjunction with other agencies, that will help us shift away from a system that punishes women towards a more supportive framework that helps people who end up in prostitution.

Several hon. Members rose

Jacqui Smith: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon).

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend, but why have the Government almost totally ignored the experiences of New Zealand?

Jacqui Smith: In putting together the tackling demand review, we actually spent quite a lot of time looking at international experience, as well as at the, I have to say, conflicting views of those involved in lobbying on this issue in the UK. I believe that the range of policies brought forward as a result of that review are the most effective way to protect both women and communities blighted by prostitution.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): I would like some clarification of clause 13. Is the Home Secretary actually trying to drive prostitutes off the streets and stamp out the business of running brothels? Is she against any form of prostitution? Is she going to close sauna and massage parlours? I am not saying that I disagree with her; I just want to know the aims behind clause 13. If it is about trafficking, it may not succeed; if it is about prostitution, it is another business altogether. What is the Home Secretary’s aim in clause 13?

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Jacqui Smith: I am opposed to exploitation, whether it stems from trafficking or elsewhere. I am opposed to the fact that there are women in this country who do not make a free choice to engage in prostitution and are being controlled, exploited and in some cases effectively enslaved. We are proposing the new measures in order to take action against that. I know that the hon. Gentleman has an important and good record on campaigning against trafficking. I think that the provisions will help us to identify and limit it, because without the demand for prostitution, often fed by trafficking, we have more chance of tackling the actual trafficking itself, to which I know the hon. Gentleman is seriously committed.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that what she proposes is further to criminalise sex workers unless they participate in compulsory rehabilitation on pain of imprisonment. What evidence is there that such compulsory rehabilitation actually works? Should we not concentrate on providing excellent programmes that people who want to leave prostitution can engage in? Furthermore, how does criminalising men help keep sex workers safe? Why does the Home Secretary not listen to the evidence put forward by the Safety First coalition—a wide umbrella of organisations campaigning to keep sex workers safe. It was set up after the terrible murders in Ipswich, so why does she not listen to its evidence on these issues?

Jacqui Smith: On the first point, as my hon. Friend will see if she looks at how the provisions on rehabilitation orders are drafted, it is obvious that they are put forward as an alternative to a fine or other sentence when a woman has been brought before the courts. It is an alternative to criminalising, and not further criminalising women in the way my hon. Friend suggests. On the second point, we listened to many different people who represented or purported to represent sex workers and others affected by prostitution during the tackling demand review. There is no consensus about the right way forward, but I am pretty clear that without a demand for prostitution, particularly the sort of prostitution that involves exploited or trafficked women, there would be less of it. That, I think, is what all of us across the House want to see.

At the same time as taking those provisions forward, I will also give the police greater powers to tackle the kerb crawlers who blight neighbourhoods and create the demand for street prostitution. Whether it is kerb crawlers or lap-dancing clubs, we all need to listen and respond on behalf of the law-abiding majority. We need communities to be fully engaged and feel that their views are being heard, so that they can have real confidence in the criminal justice system. In the case of lap-dancing clubs, I think we need to do more to make sure that happens. The number of lap-dancing clubs in towns and cities across the UK has doubled since 2004 and in many areas the public are fed up with having no say in where these clubs open. That is why I propose to reclassify lap-dancing clubs as sex encounter venues to give local people a far louder voice in determining whether and where those clubs can be set up.

Let me move on to another issue that affects vulnerable people in our society. We are always examining how to strengthen the robust system that we have in place for
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managing sex offenders. As such, this Bill includes further measures to curb the ability of child sex offenders to harm children either here in the UK or abroad. The Bill reforms the provisions on foreign travel orders, increasing their duration and automatically removing passports from individuals subject to a blanket foreign travel order. At the same time, we will tighten up the rules around sexual offences protection orders so that, for example, the police can restrict the activities of offenders from other jurisdictions as soon as they arrive back in the UK.

We live in a great country that enjoys a robust, fair and effective criminal justice system. Britain is not broken, even if, given their proposed cuts, Tory credibility on fighting crime is. We are extremely effective at tackling crime while protecting the innocent and vulnerable, but we cannot be complacent, which is why this Bill is so important. I believe that its provisions will improve the public’s ability to determine how they are policed, while also improving the capacity and effectiveness of the law enforcement agencies that protect us all. It brings together the right powers to offer confidence to communities and to protect the most vulnerable, while delivering the tools we need to fight against crime and disorder. This Bill links the international fight against crime to the fight at national, regional and local level. It is a Bill to build stronger, safer and more confident communities; I commend it to the House.

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