Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

This is an improvement on the proposal put forward by the Government. I do not for one moment expect it to be regarded as perfect but it is a small advance in a

1 July 2009 : Column 242

totally age-old problem. The mechanics of exploitation seem to be more advanced than they were in the days of that Maltese gang, the name of which I cannot remember, in the 1950s, whose members were successfully prosecuted, convicted and sent to prison for very long terms. We need the ability for that to happen now because, as my noble friend said, this country is one of the most lucrative markets for trafficking. I obviously support the amendment because I have put my name to it, but that is the attitude we ought to take over the whole issue.

Lord Judd: The noble Earl has emphasised that he has put his name to the amendment and that is greatly to his credit. During my time on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, when we were taking evidence on these issues, I do not think that any of us, irrespective of party, was anything but deeply disturbed and moved by what we heard. The evidence came from dedicated voluntary organisations and others working with the victims and from some of the police who were specialising in this area. One of the things that impressed me was how deep the concern of the police carrying this responsibility became about the nature of the situation with which they were dealing and the women involved.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, on the vigour and strength with which she put her case. I thought it was very impressive.

We must never forget that these women are victims. That is what the police, to whom I just referred, kept emphasising when we were taking evidence for the Joint Committee on Human Rights: that they were dealing with victims. If they are dealing with victims of a cruel trade, it is essential to concentrate on trying to deal with the wicked criminals who conduct it.

I want to say one more thing about the issues raised by the amendment. I am afraid-I use that word advisedly-that there is a big educational task to be undertaken in this country. It is important that as many people as possible understand what is really happening, and what the implications are of the services being provided. It is nothing but helpful, therefore, to have in the Bill as much explicit information as possible about what trafficking and coercion really mean, to enable the public to understand their responsibilities if they decide to indulge in prostitution.

I congratulate my noble friends in government on having grappled with this issue and raised it in the Bill. At this stage of our deliberations, I urge them to listen carefully to the amendments, the grounds on which they are put forward and indeed the strength and conviction with which that is being done, and to see whether, before we bring the Bill to a conclusion, there is some way in which they can meet the arguments that have been deployed.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: I declare an interest as a vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Trafficking of Women and Children. I heard from the Director of Public Prosecutions on Monday-the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, may be relieved to hear this-that over the past three or four years there has been an increase in the number of prosecutions, in the number of convictions and, just recently, in heavier sentences. It looks as though the CPS is going the right way and finding more and more people to prosecute.

1 July 2009 : Column 243

I have doubts about the effectiveness of both the Government's clause and the variety of amendments that have been put forward. If there are to be amendments, I choose to support the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, but I say that there are doubts because there could be important unintended consequences.

If the Committee will bear with me, I will tell the story of a Czech girl trained by her mother to be a masseuse, a girl of the utmost propriety who was brought here in the belief that she was going to a genuine massage parlour-not the sort of parlour that we in England would understand it to be. She found herself in a brothel in Totnes in Devon. She was there for a week, a girl with no experience, and I believe that there were 12 men on the first night. One has just to think what that must have been like for an inexperienced, decent girl. On the fifth, seventh or eighth day she was taken to the local pub, where she very bravely made a huge scene. The police were called, and they looked after her. She was returned to her home in the Czech Republic and to her perfectly respectable mother.

The police take time to get evidence internationally. The way in which the questions are asked is a nightmare for the CPS and for anyone engaged in these trials; it takes months, sometimes years, for the evidence to be available to prosecute. So what did the police do? In this case, they prosecuted these people as brothel-keepers and got them convicted. Why? Because some of the men whom this girl serviced, or who were good enough not to make her do that, were so shocked by her story that they came forward and gave evidence against the brothel-keepers, who are now serving sentences of imprisonment. Would they do that if they were to become part of the criminal population for having had sex with someone who they knew, or ought to have known, had been trafficked? That is a really quite dangerous unintended consequence. If this clause goes through, amended or unamended, something will have to be done to protect those men prepared to come forward to help trafficked girls and to catch brothel-keepers. I am glad to say that the police are now going to prosecute them as traffickers, but that will be a long-drawn-out prosecution. However, I offer this example to the House as a problem about criminalising those who pay for sex.

Lord Waddington: I find myself somewhat out of step, I fear, with my noble friends, although I do not think it will cause them much loss of sleep. Clause 13 has attracted great criticism, which is hardly surprising. On the face of it, it seems strange that paying for sex may or may not be criminal, depending on circumstances which cannot be known to the payer. In reality, it would be quite impossible for the would-be payer-the customer-to ascertain whether a third person has used force, deception or threats to encourage the woman to provide sexual services. Having said that, I am not greatly attracted by Amendment 45. Surely it would be almost impossible for the prosecution to prove both that the woman had been trafficked and that the man knew, or ought to have known, that the woman had been trafficked or that her sexual services had been provided through coercion, still less that the woman was doing what she was doing in order to gain access to drugs. Not to put too fine a point on it, in my view there is not the slightest doubt that the amendment would render Clause 13 completely useless.

1 July 2009 : Column 244

I find it difficult to see how men could complain if it was simply made an offence to pay for the services of a prostitute. Some prostitution would be forced off the streets while the girls continued to work in brothels, but surely it is likely that with the threat of prosecution hanging over those seeking the services of prostitutes, demand for the services of prostitutes would fall overall, and that would mean fewer people being forced into prostitution. It could cause hardship to women down on their luck who, under no pressure from any particular person, want to offer their services, but the Government's proposal, through its deterrent effect, would also hit such women.

A complete ban on paying prostitutes for sex might save some women from themselves. After all, there is little doubt that even those not forced into prostitution tend, once in that way of life, to fall into the hands of evil people. They are often then the victims of rape; they suffer physical violence from customers and from those who have set themselves up as their protectors; and a very high proportion turn to drugs to help face the hazards of a life in which they have become trapped.

It seems obvious that if in this country demand for the services of prostitutes was reduced, there would also be a reduction in the number of women being brought from abroad to work in British brothels. Surveys suggest that a total of about 80,000 prostitutes may be working in Britain, of whom perhaps a quarter have come here as a result of the activities of traffickers. So it surely follows that a reduction in demand will help to reduce human misery.

Finally, it is sometimes said that the best way to proceed is to have official regulation of prostitution, it being asserted that if the trade were properly regulated women would be better protected. But the experience of the Netherlands and Australia suggests that it would be impossible to make regulations 100 per cent effective and we would finish up with a regulated market alongside an unregulated market.

However, all this is pretty academic. Regulation is no more on offer today than is a complete ban. What is on offer is Clause 13. Since I feel that we have to try to do something, I am tempted to vote with the Government in spite of the obvious and justified criticisms of the clause and the justified fear that to create such a strict liability offence might be an unfortunate precedent. However, I am anxious to hear what other noble Lords have to say on the matter.

4.45 pm

Lord Desai: I support Amendment 45. I apologise to the Committee. I did not take part in the Second Reading debate. We know that trafficking is bad. It deals with a supply of women who go into the sexual services business. The answer seems to be that if we reduce demand, something will automatically happen to the supply, leading to a reduction in the number of women offering sexual services and, therefore, in trafficking. I am laying all this out because there are links in the chain which do not work.

If it were a question of drugs, there would be a straightforward connection between the person demanding drugs and the person supplying them, but, here, there

1 July 2009 : Column 245

is an intermediate human being who becomes the service provider: the woman. The clause implies that almost everyone supplying sexual services is somehow forced into it by the traffickers. It is essential to understand that there are women who provide sexual services either voluntarily, because of various circumstances which I do not have time to go into, or because they are trafficked. If you confuse the two and reduce demand, you are as likely to drive away the women who are voluntarily there and you will not do much to reduce trafficking. All that will happen if the price falls is that more ruthless and efficient suppliers will drive away the voluntary, one-person or two-person providers. You might therefore be just as likely to strengthen the traffickers. These sorts of perverse effects-or unintended consequences, as the noble Baroness pointed to in another context-are well known in economics.

We should therefore be careful in believing that just because we cut demand for a service, we necessarily get rid of its supply, especially that part of the supply which is more odious. The amendment of the noble Baroness is an attempt to discriminate between those women who provide sexual services voluntarily and those who have been forced into it. It is a difficult distinction, but we should make some attempt to make it, otherwise we shall punish the women who do not deserve to be punished as having been trafficked.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, suggested that some of those who support the Government on this matter are engaged on a moral crusade, which I hope cannot be necessarily rejected outright. However, I do not think that those who, like me, start out by supporting the Government do so primarily out of a sense of moral crusade, although moral issues are raised even where money is paid for sex where there is consent on both sides. Where the law intrudes into moral issues of this kind is always a difficult issue.

However, in the background is the inexorable growth in prostitution in our country, for which the figures are alarming. Also in the background is the increased sexualisation of our culture and of children in particular at an ever younger age. The difficulty with that is not only that children are involved but that the sexualisation of our culture is very much in male terms. At the end of the day, it is very much a male view of prostitution that tends to be in the frame, in the background. There are figures for sexually transmitted diseases, for births to teenage mothers, on the level of abortion and so on. That is a difficult background, and it is understandable that the Government want to bear down on a particular aspect of prostitution, which has grown in an alarming way. As I understand it, about 80 per cent of active prostitutes in London come from abroad; not all of them are trafficked, of course, but a significant proportion are. We heard a horrific story about that from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss-and we think of the absolute trauma involved.

I approach this matter not on the basis of a moral view that I have but simply on the basis of how you protect women in our society. A key issue is how we frame the law around prostitution to give the maximum

1 July 2009 : Column 246

protection to women in our society. I suspect that there will be other aspects of this that will have to come back to this House in future. This Bill deals with a particular aspect-the issue of trafficking-because there has been a growth in that crime, and a growth in the number of young women has been instanced to us. If we are to change the law in this area, it must be kept as simple as possible, and we should not allow too many other issues to come in. Therefore, I am slightly concerned with Amendment 45, partly because of the link made with drug-taking. I am told that 95 per cent of street prostitutes do what they do to fund a drug habit, so in one sense anyone engaging a prostitute for money should know that there is likely to be a link with drugs. However, that is a separate issue from the one that the Government want to bring forth.

I say that this matter should be as simple as possible-and that will be the issue to discuss in the next set of debates on strict liability-so I shall not say any more now, other than that there are real issues of the protection of women in our society.

The Earl of Onslow: I would not like the right reverend Prelate to think that when supporting the amendment I did not take exactly the same view that he takes over reducing the damage done to trafficked women. That is exactly the point. We are all in agreement on the aim; some of us believe that the method by which the Government are attempting to get there will do more harm than good. That is why I put my name to the amendment-but I agree totally with the moral point that the right reverend Prelate makes.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: I am grateful to the noble Earl for his agreement. I think that the issue will emerge more sharply in the next debate, on the issue of strict liability. It is right for the Government to keep their parameters as narrow and focused as possible on the particular issue of the use of trafficking, because that is where there has been this alarming growth-and particularly in the abuse of young girls through the process.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I, too, apologise for intervening when I did not speak at Second Reading. However, a question has since been put to me on this part of the Bill that I have not yet heard raised in our proceedings, although the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, alluded to part of it in her remarks on this amendment when she said that she hoped that the Bill would not reduce police attempts to address traffickers and controllers of these very unfortunate women.

As I understand it, the Bill creates a new offence if a client visits a prostitute whom he knows, or should know, has been trafficked or otherwise forced into prostitution, even if in fact he may not know of her circumstances. The question is very simple: if the police are sufficiently aware of the prostitute's circumstances to arrest the client, why do they not instead arrest the traffickers or the people who have forced the girl into prostitution? Surely the police have to say to the client that they know the unfortunate girl's circumstances well enough to arrest him and that he must also know them, or he should. If the police are not in possession of the necessary facts, how can they successfully prosecute

1 July 2009 : Column 247

the client? If they are, why do they not instead arrest the traffickers or their agents in this country, or whoever coerced her in the first place and who therefore set up the circumstances in which they intend to arrest the client?

I hope noble Lords will forgive me if that is a somewhat stupid question from someone who has not followed the finer points of the Bill. I look forward to the Minister's reply in due course.

Baroness Stern: I, too, have my name on the amendment. I am very glad that, despite the number of noble Lords who have spoken and the amount of wisdom that has been expressed, there are one or two things left that I might say. A number of noble Lords who spoke at Second Reading made the point that social problems are rarely solved by law enforcement measures and that when they are it is usually only for the short term.

I will speak generally to the relevant clauses in the Bill before I come to the specific amendment to which my name is attached. Law enforcement in this case could leave the social evil untouched and make the situation worse. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who explained much better than I could have done, the basic economics of a market and how it will not respond in the way that it is expected to by people passing laws.

There is absolutely no doubt, as noble Lords have said, that many social evils are associated with prostitution, such as exploitation, trafficking, untreated health conditions, violence, the danger of assault and murder as well as the degradation of neighbourhoods by bringing in activities that are extremely unpleasant for those who have to live there. I am sure that all those who live in such neighbourhoods would like a successful solution to those problems and that all those who work in the sex industry would like to be protected from the violence and the dangers to their health.

When confronted with this range of issues, from human trafficking to problems in neighbourhoods to serious health and violence problems, one must ask how the Government came up with the big idea of reducing demand for prostitution through the criminal law. The Government's paper Tackling the Demand for Prostitution said:

"So far ... little attention has been focused on the sex buyer, the person responsible for creating the demand for prostitution markets. And it is time for that to change".

Can the Minister shed some light on why it is now time for that to change? What else was tried before it was decided that the best way of dealing with the undoubted problems was to try to tackle demand? Is there evidence, apart from the disputed information from Sweden? Are the Government convinced that they will not make the lives of many of these vulnerable people more risky and more miserable?

The Minister will be aware that at Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, who has since been given a governmental appointment, said that this was a,

1 July 2009 : Column 248

The amendment to which my name has been added attempts to improve what is basically an untenable position. I was very glad to add my name. I also support very much the approach taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and her remarks on the need for a much more thoughtful and scientifically based approach to two issues-one is human trafficking and the other is street prostitution; the two things are not the same-and an approach that can rescue those who have been trafficked while also protecting those who face the dangers of street sex work.

5 pm

Lord Blackwell: I intervene briefly simply to ask the Minister to clarify one point. It is clear listening to this debate that these are very difficult issues. I wonder whether he can clarify the intent behind subsection (2)(b) of new Section 53A. This provision states that it is irrelevant,

It seems to me that the way in which that is drafted is tantamount to saying that A, in procuring the services of a prostitute, is in almost all circumstances facing the threat of prosecution. In other words it is tantamount to making the procurement of a prostitute an illegal act, because unless anyone who does so is absolutely certain of the opposite, they face the threat of prosecution. I therefore ask the Minister to clarify whether the purpose of the clause as drafted is in effect to make prostitution in normal circumstances illegal. Or is there some other purpose or intent behind the way in which the clause has been drafted?

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I apologise that I was not able to take part in the debate on Second Reading. However, I have followed the issue for some time and I have received all the briefings that your Lordships have received.

I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. Like my noble friend Lady Stern, I was also very pleased to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said about her amendment. I was among those who on previous occasions expressed the view taken by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner-who is now rather prohibited from making any comments on this subject in view of his appointment, on which we all congratulate him. The issue that should be concentrated on more than any other is that the trafficking should be stopped much earlier, at the borders, as we have discussed in relation to other Bills. It should even be stopped on the other side, in the country from which they are trafficked. We also have to bear very much in mind that the majority of those doing the trafficking are outside this country and face absolutely no penalty as a result of what they are doing. Some time ago I visited Downview prison and was made well aware of that point by talking to the many women there who had been trafficked. I will not go into the stories but they were fairly horrendous.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page