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Without proper local accountability and local democratic legitimacy, the police are increasingly losing the confidence of the public. Without local accountability, there is less local legitimacy, and there is alienation between the police and the public. Again, do not take my word for it; take the word of the Government’s own Home Office adviser, Louise Casey. She recently spoke of the collapse of trust in the criminal justice system. The Government’s former respect tsar is right to be concerned about surveys that show that only one third of people still have great confidence in the police.

Conspicuously absent from the Bill are measures to allow for direct election to police authorities. Bold reform and localism have been defeated by the Sir Humphrey Appleby types. On 18 December, in the pages of The Guardian rather than in this House, the Home Secretary revealed that plans to make the police more accountable to local communities through direct elections had been abandoned owing to pressure from senior officers. Also cited were fears of local police falling under the control of political extremists or single-issue campaigners. Ten seconds of reflection show that it is nonsense to argue that we cannot have directly elected police chiefs for fear of the British National party. Surely that is an argument against electing people to run local councils—or, indeed, against elections to Parliament. People could vote for extremists, but overwhelmingly they do not.

As for the fear that a single-issue group might take control, do we mean single-issue groups such as those that want to lower crime, or groups of citizens who want a more robust approach to crime and violence where they live? I do not think that the Home Secretary really believes that those are valid reasons for not having elected police chiefs. I believe that she has bottled it because she has been lobbied by powerful vested interests—by the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Local Government Association and the Association of Police Authorities. Indeed, I believe that one of her
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predecessors as Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), said as much in an earlier question. We know that the Association of Police Authorities has used public money and part of its Home Office funding to engage a lobbyist to lobby the Home Office. Thus does the quango state use public money to lobby itself. So much for the LGA’s belief in localism.

Others suggest that policing needs to be left to the experts—the same experts, presumably, who presided over a massive hike in crime and violence, and who for years told us that high-visibility policing was a waste of resources. We all like the idea of the expert—the disinterested technocrat who can rise above the pressures of demagogic politics. The trouble is that no such person exists. If by the “expert” we mean someone who has spent their whole life and career in a particular profession, those are the last people we should put in charge of invigilating the measure.

It is precisely the demand that we should let the professionals get on with things that has brought us to the present pass. Leaving things to the experts was what we did with child protection in Haringey. In lobbying against localism, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Local Government Association and police authorities argued that directly elected police chiefs would politicise the police, yet it would be perfectly possible to have directly elected justice commissioners, for example, overseeing local police without compromising in any way local forces’ operational independence. Saying that policing would be politicised by the direct election of police authorities ignores the fact that in a democratic free society, the way in which we are policed is a matter that should be subject to democratic control. If it is not, why on earth do we talk about policing in our election manifestos?

Policing has gradually become politicised, yet our political process and system have not adapted or kept pace to allow democratic scrutiny of matters that should be decided by local people. There has been no shortage in the Chamber of Home Secretaries or Ministers talking about the need to make our criminal justice system work, or of Westminster insiders talking about the need to be tough on crime. The trouble is talk is all that it is. Without the direct election of police authorities, those we elect remain powerless to fight crime. We can fight elections with lots of talk about fighting crime, but unless we have directly elected justice commissioners, policing will remain almost entirely beyond democratic control.

Faced with yet more ritualistic promises, round about the time of an election, of more police and more action on law and order, but never seeing much change, it is no surprise that more and more voters have given up on the whole charade. Instead of real accountability, the Home Office has talked the language of localism but has applied corporatism. Crime and disorder partnerships and community panels are bogus measures that are really examples of corporatism. We need local democratic control.

Policing is already politicised. Police chiefs lobbied me in the House about identity cards, and they lobbied us about 42-day detention. The other week, at the instigation of Home Office officials, they arrested a member of the Opposition for revealing truths about immigration that the Government wanted to keep under
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wraps. The issue is not “Do we politicise policing?” but whether there is to be any democratic accountability of policing and whether the police remain under the control of the quango state. This Bill entrenches the power of the quangos.

9.12 pm

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Before turning to clause 13, may I reiterate the comments of many hon. Members who agree—in fact, everyone does so—that trafficking in human beings for any purpose is evil, and who recognise that those evil people must be stamped out and put behind bars? I commend the Government, because over the past few years, there has been greater awareness of that evil trade, of which many of us were ignorant five, six or 10 years ago. It is now very much in everyone’s mind, and the Government have tried to ensure that when traffickers are caught, tough sentences are handed out. There are two problems. First, very few of them are caught and, secondly, despite the long sentences that are handed out, most of those people walk out free halfway through as a result of automatic early release, about which I should like to speak at length another time.

The problem with clause 13 is that it appears to have been drafted in the heat of the moment, rather than after a cold, hard look at the facts. The Minister talks about trying to reduce trafficking by stemming the demand, and about the financial incentive for traffickers to bring women into this country to offer sexual services. If that is the case, and if the Government believe that by going after prostitutes’ clients they will stem that demand, they must answer the question that I have posed about child beggars. When I went to Europe and discussed trafficking with senior Europol officers a few months ago on behalf of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, they told me that, to a trafficker, a child beggar is worth more money than a female prostitute. They gave me rough figures—no one can be exact—and said that a child beggar was worth €100,000 a year to a trafficker, and a female prostitute was worth about €75,000 a year. They went on to say that, as a result, some towns in some parts of eastern Europe have practically been turned into baby factories where women produce children specifically so that they can be kidnapped, taken away to countries such as the United Kingdom and exploited as beggars and petty thieves. I am sure that the Minister will agree that that trade is equally disgusting.

Let us look at the measure logically. If we are to stem the demand for prostitution by going after prostitutes’ clients, we should also take action to stem the even greater problem of child beggars. I have asked the question before: if we are to criminalise those who go to prostitutes, should we not also criminalise those who give money to child beggars? Those people are contributing to and causing a problem exactly as the clients of prostitutes are. I put the question directly to the Leader of the House when she gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee. She wrote back a rather strange letter saying that one group of people were being philanthropic and the other were committing rape.

The first statement might be perfectly true; people who give money to child beggars are being naive, but I accept that their motives are honourable and in that sense they are being philanthropic. However, in most instances people who see prostitutes are not committing
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rape. If anyone has sex with a woman who has not given her consent—the definition under the law is perfectly clear—they can be charged as the law stands. This law is being brought in only because the men are not committing rape. The women are giving their consent; if they were not, the act of rape would be committed. I am sure that the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) will understand that. It is because the act of consent is given and those men are not committing rape that the new law has to be introduced.

Fiona Mactaggart: Surely the consent must be freely given. I cite child prostitution, an example that the hon. Gentleman used. The child involved in the case to which I referred went back to the family responsible for trafficking and exploiting her because their control over her was so enormous. The same is true of trafficked women, who give their consent to sex because of the control and exploitation over them. The consent is not given freely; it is a product of the control that the women are under.

David T.C. Davies: If consent to a sexual act is not given freely, the act of rape is committed.

Fiona Mactaggart: No prosecutions have ever been made.

David T.C. Davies: Well, the law is already there to deal with the issue, as the hon. Lady knows.

The measure would ensure the prosecution of men who have had sex with a woman who appeared to them to have given her consent freely. The hon. Lady and Ministers have failed to answer the question of what in practice is the difference between giving money to a child beggar and perpetuating child trafficking for the purposes of begging, and giving money to a prostitute and perpetuating prostitution.

The fact is that this is bad law, and talk of strict liability will not make it any better. The hon. Lady gave the example of people who sell alcohol to underage children, but obviously shopkeepers can ask for valid ID and check it out. Somebody else gave the example of people running red lights, but we all know that when we drive past traffic lights, it is our responsibility to be sure that they are green; if we do not and we run a red light, we are to blame and can be prosecuted. There is no way in which a punter going to a prostitute can find out for certain whether she has been trafficked. If sex is apparently freely given, the client has to assume that the woman has not been trafficked.

It is no good the hon. Member for Slough talking about every act of prostitution being one of sexual exploitation. That is not what the prostitutes say. As I said to her earlier, this morning I met a very articulate lady; in fact, I assumed that she was a solicitor and did not at first realise that she worked in the sex industry as well as lobbying Members of Parliament. Her take was that many women work in the industry quite freely because the money and the job are good. She tells me that most of those whom she meets are perfectly nice and decent and that most who run brothels are also that. She even described one brothel as a happy family business. I have no way of knowing how representative she is, but her union is linked to the GMB, which has more links to the hon. Lady’s party than to mine.

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What concerns me is that in going after the punters we will be going after the wrong people—it is the traffickers we should be targeting. If we start making it easy for the police to get prosecutions by going after clients, then they will go after clients and spend a lot of time trying to collate evidence about them. The clients themselves, who in many instances do report cases where they think that women are being abused, will not go to the police and certainly will not give evidence.

I would like the Government to answer these simple questions. Why have they done nothing about running a public information campaign to discourage people from giving money to child beggars and try to stop those activities? Why are they doing so little to prevent forced marriage, which is another form of trafficking whereby women are taken from one country to another to act as domestic and sexual slaves for people whom they have never even met before? While we are on the periphery of this subject, perhaps they could also explain why they have done nothing to enforce the law on female genital mutilation that they introduced in 2003, when lots of Members of Parliament made speeches saying that that disgusting practice must be stamped out. They encouraged the Metropolitan police to set up a unit to hunt down and seek out people who had perpetrated this disgusting crime, yet since then not one single person has been convicted and only one person has been investigated. I know that that is the case only because I had to make a case to the Information Commissioner to get the information out of the Metropolitan police, who did their damnedest to try to stop me from having any of it.

By all means, let the Government show their commitment—let us all show our commitment—to stamping out the evil act of human trafficking, but let us go about it in the right way. We should not criminalise men who seek prostitutes in the belief that they are perfectly willing to have sex, or criminalise prostitutes, some of whom, contrary to what the hon. Member for Slough may think, are perfectly happy with the jobs that they are doing, but go after the traffickers. We should discourage people from giving money to a woman who has obviously been coerced into sex or giving money to a child who has been taken from their home in eastern Europe, or somewhere else, and put out on to the streets of London. We should discourage people who are party to the fact that domestic slaves are brought into this country from some parts of the middle east and forced to work for little or nothing in the houses of very wealthy people from that part of the world. Those are the people the Minister should be tackling; if he did that, he would have support in all parts of the House.

9.22 pm

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), who showed his characteristic passion for the issues that concern him. As usual, I declare an interest as a solicitor practising criminal law, albeit rarely.

It has been a particular delight to be here throughout the whole debate from beginning to end—a pleasure that I did not think that I would have earlier today when I was set to take part in a Delegated Legislation Committee
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to consider a hangover from previous legislation. We have already heard about the number of criminal justice Bills—66 and counting—that we have considered in recent years. One of those measures was the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, and the Committee was to consider a draft order extending penalty notices for disorder to a number of offences—the subject of my earlier intervention on the Home Secretary. The last-minute cancellation of that Committee because of the lack of consultation highlighted a running theme of the speeches that we have heard in this debate: the Government are legislating, and over-legislating, without proper consideration of the effects. There is a preponderance of increasing legislation and a reduction in public confidence in our police and justice system.

That is a matter that we could have highlighted in the Committee. Justice is being done on the cheap away from the courts and without recognition for victims. There is a problem in our communities arising from the lack of ownership, understanding and information as regards what happens in our justice system and about priorities for policing. The Government have tried to tackle that in part 1, but wholly inadequately. An opportunity has already been missed, and we need to address that in Committee. The provisions have fallen short of what is needed: directly elected police commissioners who can bring accountability to the communities that the police serve.

In the short time that I have, I would like to draw attention to part 3, which deals with alcohol misuse. Points have been raised about its provisions throughout the debate. The Government are, in many ways, legislating to deal with their own mistakes, not least the 24-hour licensing regime. During the first year of the regime, offences increased by 22 per cent. between 3 am and 6 am, and those involving serious violent crime increased by 25 per cent. A and E admissions for alcohol-related injuries increased by 26 per cent., and there were 1 million alcohol-related attacks last year. Not only in part 3, but throughout the Bill, there are provisions to correct mistakes in previous Government legislation. A running theme throughout many speeches, however, has been the lack of enforcement of existing legislation. Since 2004, only 32 people under 18 have been prosecuted for buying or attempting to buy alcohol, and in 2006 that figure was only eight.

I wish to spend my remaining minutes dealing with part 2, which deals with prostitution, and whose provisions have caused other Members concern. We should be in no doubt that for the most part prostitution involves exploitation and preying on the most vulnerable. While my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth has met someone who is not in that category, the reality is that prostitution involves exploitation. The European average age for entry into prostitution is 14, and in this country, 75 per cent. of prostitutes enter prostitution before the age of 18. The facts about vulnerability speak for themselves. The Home Office’s own figures refer to homelessness, living in care, debt and substance abuse. All are common experiences.

David T.C. Davies rose—

Mr. Burrowes: Unfortunately, given the limited time, I must carry on.

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Those are the experiences of those entering prostitution, and research shows that many involved have suffered abuse or violence in the home. Some 85 per cent. report physical abuse and 45 per cent. report familial sexual abuse. I will refer to my own experience of prostitutes when in Haringey; I did not meet them on the streets, but in the magistrates courts. I recall going down to the cells in Highgate in the morning as a duty solicitor, and in a similar experience to that described by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), seeing those prostitutes, who were, in the true sense of the word, pathetic. When I opened the hatch of the cell, I would see a prostitute who was damaged, vulnerable and plainly exploited. When they went before the magistrates, the magistrates were often embarrassed about what to do with them, saying “What do we do with them? We saw them last week and we saw them the week before. Well, we’ll give them a token financial penalty.” And off they go, but they come back week in, week out. Some might say that prostitutes have a choice and that they have a right to earn a living. Some do, but the majority have a desperate existence.

In the remaining time that I have, I would like to talk about what needs to be done to address these issues and make the changes that we all want. First, we cannot overstate the significant influence of drugs. The pimps, no doubt, want to make many women drug dependent in order to use them in prostitution. The prostitutes will then use drugs as a means of escape, and stay in prostitution in order to feed their habit. With 95 per cent. of street-based prostitutes on class A heroin, the statistics speak for themselves. Drugs have to be tackled, including by means beyond legislation, as other hon. Members have said.

Secondly, there is the question of danger. Many have said during this debate, with a smile on their face, that prostitution is the oldest profession, implying that it is going to be with us year in, year out, and that we just have to deal with it. I am not saying that it is within the power of the state simply to brush it away, but neither am I saying that the position is static and has not changed. We must recognise that demand has increased with regard to those in most danger—those who are being trafficked.

It is estimated that some 4,000 women in this country have been trafficked, and that 81 per cent. of prostitutes now come from overseas. That inevitably opens up the issue of trafficking. On 1 August, it will be the 175th anniversary of the release of all slaves in British colonies, thanks to the work of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton and others. Now, in 2009, British men gather slaves to themselves each day—now sexual slaves—to do their bidding. We must ask ourselves whether there has been progress, and what needs to be done.

We certainly need to enforce current legislation better, because the number of convictions for trafficking is woefully low. Up to May 2008 it was at 84. Perhaps we must do better in introducing new legislation, and we must certainly examine clause 13 closely to decide whether it creates an ambiguity. Do we want to criminalise prostitution on the one hand while on the other hand saying that we wish to focus on those who are controlling it, gaining from it and trafficking? The concern is that we will not be able to deal with them properly.

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