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Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, we believe that when one has many new offences and new ways of describing other offences, monitoring the success of the new Act is highly desirable. We would be interested to hear the Minister's proposals. To have a review laid before Parliament may or may not be the best way, but we would like to be assured that the operation of the Act and its effectiveness will be reviewed in some way that is transparent and public.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the Bill is a major piece of legislation. It provides the first comprehensive reform of the law on sexual offences since 1976. Everybody agrees that we need to keep a very close eye on the operation of the new offences following the commencement of the Act. Everybody agrees that we need to monitor the Act's effect over a period of time. We do not believe that it is wise before even the Bill has become law to try to second-guess the best way of evaluating its impact. Commissioning particular types of research, setting up a review team or other ways of monitoring how the Act is working could turn out to be the best.
I do not wish to commit the Government to an indefinite annual review with such narrow terms of reference as defined in the amendmentalthough many of the items specified in the amendment would be among matters that would need to be looked at. That, however, may not be the best way of either performing the review or making it public. I accept that there should be monitoring and regular reviews and that their results should be made public. I hope that in the light of my comments the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I am disappointed that he will not accept an annual review. We all agree that monitoring is important. The Government will obviously keep the matter under review, and in the light of that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we had a sensible discussion of the matter in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, said that it was all very well to try to deal with the ancient and, I find, entirely unacceptable practice of referring to a woman who is up in court for the first time as a "common prostitute" but the amendment that I wished to make would amend the underlying offence, which the Government would find unacceptable.
I studied the Bill in detail and found such an amendment to the underlying offence entirely acceptable. So, I press the Government again to consider whether we cannot rid ourselves of the archaic unfairness that a woman who has merely been cautioned on a couple of occasions by a police officer should be held up to insult and ridicule in court. It is two thirds of the way to a conviction, without any evidence having been offered against the womanor, indeed, the man, as the offences are now to be gender neutral. We should do away with it.
I would accept as an answer a little further encouragement on the review to which the noble and learned Lord referred in an earlier answer. He did not put a timescale on it. The noble and learned Lord will know that, since the first days of this Government, I have asked them to reply to my questions and letters by e-mail. He will also be aware that on no occasion during the passage of the Bill has he sent copies of any of his answers or letters to me by e-mail. That is a long time. I understand that it requires careful consideration, but I hope that the noble and learned Lord can give us some comfort that the review will be with us within a reasonable timescale. It is a subject that we should be able to tackle directly and in the round, and I should like to see us doing that. I beg to move.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I want to reinforce the point that my noble friend made about the more effective use of electronic mail. In the recent break, I tried to find out the noble and learned Lord's e-mail address. Unlike the rest of us mere mortals, he does not have an address such as firstname.lastname@example.org, as
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I tried to put my name to the amendment, so I am not sure why it does not appear. I support it very much. Although we are not carrying out a thorough review of the laws on prostitution, we have been promised that it will come eventually. As this Bill re-enacts bits of the Street Offences Act 1959, this might be an opportunity to do some small thing, at least.
Charities that support and work with prostitutes have campaigned for 80 years to get the terminology removed. It is derogatory and judgmental, particularly if we bear it in mind that some of the women who find themselves in that situation in court and so addressed as a "common prostitute" are, in fact, victims. They may well have been trafficked or put onto illegal and addictive drugs by the pimps who control them. In most people's judgment, they are the victims, and it seems wrong to use such a derogatory and judgmental term when describing them. If this is an opportunity to remove it from the law, I hope that the Minister will take it.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, existing case law suggests that the term "common prostitute" refers only to a female prostitute. The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, would remove that term and replace it with the word "person". I fully understand his reasons. The term "common prostitute" is, he says, archaic and derogatory.
Although the effect of the amendment would be fine with respect to gender neutrality, removing the term "common prostitute" would have other problematic effects. The word "common" in the expression "common prostitute" is important and is well established in case law. It means that the person must be a habitual prostitute, rather than a person who engages in prostitution on a one-off occasion. The offence is not designed to capture the latter category.
Accepting the amendment would open up issues that are central to the law on prostitution, which is outside the scope of the sex offences review, whereas the amendments in Schedule 1 will have a more limited effect, ensuring that the law applies equally to men and women. It is for those reasons that I must resist the amendment.
I must pick up the point about electronic communications. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, managed to communicate with me at my e-mail address at the Home Office. I hope that it will not be regarded as a personal remark if I say that the e-mail
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot. I have dealt with it on two occasionsin Committee and again now. I have indicated our commitment to it, but I am not in a position now to give a timetable.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I know that I shall not win this one but I shall keep at it, as indeed I shall keep at the issue of electronic mail. It would be a very small step for the Minister to get himself an address on the parliamentary system. It could be set to forward to his ministerial address or to his ministerial PA. It would make matters a great deal easier for us because the addresses are all programmed into our machines and we could find the noble and learned Lord with the greatest of ease.
I appeal to him also to make some progress in the cause of our great electronic government 2005which we have been promised for a very long time by this Governmentand to making it a matter of course that those of us with e-mail addresses on the parliamentary system are corresponded with by e-mail or at least copied on e-mail. It would make all our lives a great deal easier. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.