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We must confront the fact that forced prostitution exists only because there is a demand for it. If it was not for that demand, there would not be women languishing in forced prostitution in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the UK today. Crucially, the fact that there are women in such deplorable circumstances is not helped one bit by the fact that buying sex from someone who is subjected to force is completely legal. There is a terrible sense in which anyone who buys sex from women subjected to force can do so in good conscience, going to bed at night knowing they are a good citizen who has broken no law.
How can we celebrate, first, in 2007 the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade, passed by an Act of Parliament, and then this year, the 175th anniversary of the release of all British colonial slaves that was again the result of an Act of Parliament, saying to ourselves, "Never again", and yet take no action in relation to the sexual slavery that is in our own midst, sustained not by an evil foreign power, but by British men? This is a matter of great shame for our nation and I very much welcome the Government's attempt to use the law to make it illegal to buy sex from women subject to force, thereby combating contemporary slavery.
I am of course aware of the argument that says if you make it an offence to buy sex from someone subjected to force, you will push forced prostitution underground and women will suffer more. I do not believe, however, that this stands up to close scrutiny. If we do not make it an offence to buy sex from people subject to force, women will continue to be drawn into forced prostitution and more and more will suffer.
If, on the other hand, we do make it an offence to buy sex from women subject to force, some men will think again, mindful of the fact that the shame of being caught buying sex from someone subject to force will be considerable, and fewer women will suffer. Moreover, we must not forget what the Swedish police have told us; namely, that making buying sex an offence does not push prostitution underground in the sense of being beyond the law's protection. Pimps have to advertise to their punters and reel them in, and it is in doing this that they give themselves away and the police can move in and take action.
Then there are others who question the wisdom of Clause 15 on the grounds that strict liability infringes the civil rights of those buying sex, if they are deemed to have committed an offence regardless of whether they knew the person from whom they purchased sex was subject to force. While I do not have very much sympathy for anyone buying sex in any context, I have no desire to set unhelpful precedents in relation to strict liability generally, and am persuaded that we must take very great care before applying it. In this case, however, it seems to me that the two tests set out by Lord Reid in Sweet v Parsley, the leading judgment on the creation of strict liability offences, and elaborated on by Lord Scarman in Gammon v Attorney-General of Hong Kong, have been passed.
The first is that there is a clear public interest and public safety imperative, not least because forced prostitution is umbilically attached to organised crime in the form of drug and people trafficking, although there are numerous other reasons, such as its association
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Clause 15 is very welcome in Northern Ireland. It makes sense, while the arguments advanced against it do not hold together. Not only that, but it is supported by some 64 NGOs, many of which, like Beyond the Streets, have considerable expertise of working with women in prostitution, helping them to find routes out and a fresh start. Thus I would call on noble Lords here tonight to support Clause 15-and indeed Clause 14 -and to reject Amendments 20 to 25. Let us use this opportunity to take decisive action, making it plain, in this the 175th anniversary of the release of all British colonial slaves, that there is no room for the sexual slavery in the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.
That is the controlling element: the force. It seems to me that a person who purchases sex ought to know. If I drive a motor car that does not have a proper licence, an MOT or insurance and then say, "I did not know", the law is very clear. I have always believed that law always states public policy. If you withdraw the whole question of strict liability, it will become very difficult, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, said. Finland had in the end to decide because there was no way that they could prosecute some people who were engaging in forced sex. It is not about prostitution in general, it is of a particular kind where people are subjected to force.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, speaks with great eloquence and persuasion. There is a bit of me that says, "Yes, the accused always needs a very good defence". But if the statute clearly states what the law is, ignorance-as you and I know-cannot be a defence. You cannot say, "I didn't know", if the statute is very clear. If on a Sunday, instead of being in church, I decided to go to a car boot sale and bought a lot of goods there and was then arrested for purchasing or having stolen goods, or if I decided to sell the same goods another day, the defence would say, "This was in an open place, so it was absolutely safe", but the trader, the seller, would say, "You bought them knowing that they were in a car boot sale". If I bought an electrical good that short-circuited and ended up injuring someone, I could not say, "I was not aware, I was not so sure that the goods were not of the right quality".
It seems to me that the law of strict liability simply states a policy: that in cases where force has been used, you ought to ask, you ought to know before you purchase that sex. If people simply say that they are assuming that all prostitutes have not been subjected to trafficking, to abuse or to people behind them who say that they must engage in that activity, we are really
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For me, strict liability is a statement of policy and a statement of law, just as we have it on so many other things. On the nuancing by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, about a child, if the policy had not been stated as it was, most people would get away with it. They would say, "The child looked to me as if they were 16". My dear friends, I do not think that that is the way that we should go. As far as I am concerned, if you remove strict liability, you can forget the clause itself. It will lose its power, it will lose its definition and people will not know. I beg to say that the Government have got it right; I am not one of those who constantly supports them, as you will know, but I think that they have got the clause right. If you do your research and if you get as many letters as I do, you will know that most people are saying that trafficking has become endemic. Women are being forced into activities in which they would rather not be involved. Gang and organised crime is part of all this. Let us send out a very clear statement that in this country, if you purchase sex where the prostitute has been subjected to force, you ought to know. If you do not know, the law will state clearly what the penalties will be.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I shall be brief because many of the points that I would have made have already been made. I support the Government's position and shall speak against the amendment. Yesterday evening, I was the only Peer who went to a meeting in this House that was packed with organisations that support women caught up in the sex trade and the young women themselves. They asked me to bring their message, which is why I am speaking.
Before I do that, I shall comment on the ideas about evidence expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. Those of us who have worked in this field for many years know that there are all sorts of difficulties about evidence on numbers in the sex trade. I have been a social worker for-shall I admit it?-30-plus years and, for all those years, I have worked with women in various places. They have never been able to come forward. They would never have won a case in court. We know that many women who are raped or children who are abused never go to court because they know that they would not win their case.
We also know that there are all sorts of figures about sex trafficking. Hillary Clinton launched the State Department annual report on human trafficking this year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime produced its own assessment. It stated that more than 21,400 victims were identified in 111 countries in 2006, but the number of convictions for trafficking was just not proportionate: two out of five countries covered by the report had not recorded a single conviction. There are real issues about the evidential base on trafficking and about numbers.
I am not an expert in strict liability, but when I met the women last evening I said that there would be two arguments on the Floor of this House. One would be
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We should remind ourselves what "subject to force" means. Most of us use that phrase thinking of subject to force during the act, but it is about youngsters who have been brought into this trade by their boyfriends. Let me remind the House about numbers. The average age in Europe for entry into prostitution is 14. I have never understood why the law of strict liability stops at 13. That is something that the Government might look at. Youngsters are young until they are 18. Think of your own daughters, your nieces, the children you care for at the age of 14 or 15.
At 14, these youngsters come in, often from care. They certainly do not come, on the whole, from posh backgrounds. Those few women who do, and think that they control their own lives, are not typical of the young women, the prostitutes, whom I have met. Seventy-five per cent enter before their 18th birthday. That is child abuse. Once in the sex industry, they are pretty much lost. Ninety-five per cent become hooked on class A drugs. Getting out is almost impossible unless they are fortunate enough to be helped by one of the excellent organisations working in this field.
Being subject to force means that they will have a boyfriend whom they thought they could trust but who becomes their pimp, they find themselves caught up in organised crime to get the drugs on which they have become dependent, or they are poor and are doing it to support their children. What kind of society allows the degradation of a mother, with all the social and health issues involved, to support her children? We can do better than that.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that we need to do more about health, education and supporting the groups that can help these young women to come out of the sex trade, but last night I listened to the stories of these women, who are all hoping desperately that noble Lords will support Clause 14. It will stop providers enslaving women, or at least deter them, because even if you are a user and not the pimp you are complicit; there is no other way of looking at it. If you see some of the young women whom I have seen, there is no way in which you could not know, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop implied, that they are damaged goods. They need to get out of that damage and live a life.
I hope that noble Lords will go into the Lobby not sorry for the users but with the words in their mind of a young woman who said, "I had to say I enjoyed it, and I didn't-I had to say I chose it. It's what the Johns want to hear. As a prostitute, I existed for their
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Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, the issue that we are debating this evening is profoundly humanitarian. Prostitution is almost always seen as a female issue, but of course it is not; it is a scourge that affects both genders. I see it as a human rights issue that relates specifically to the abuse by people of people in the form of bullying and exploitation. Clause 14 is a measure to protect children, teenagers, young adults, and indeed older vulnerable adults, from being bullied, not in the playground or by gangs roaming the streets but into prostitution-a demeaning and extremely dangerous occupation. It is the responsibility of the state to protect the vulnerable. We have a long and praiseworthy history of doing just that, but the people who have been and continue to be bullied into prostitution have somehow dropped off the radar screen.
According to the Home Office, as many as 70 per cent of the women involved in prostitution were drawn into-bullied into-prostitution as children. I do not have comparable information for men, but it is probably no different. This is an horrendous statistic. Not only the underclass of society is involved; the children or grandchildren of Members of this House could also be involved.
Let me digress for just a minute. During the terrible teens, children often run away from home or school. This is not necessarily a reflection on the circumstances at home or at school; it is just a fact of life. These teenagers feel that the whole world is against them. They rebel against parental discipline because they see their friends doing it and they do it. Fortunately, most realise that it is a cold world out there and in most cases return to the warmth and comfort of the home. Others do not have a warm and comfortable home. The parents are fed up with them, and they are left on their own and just leave. We all know of cases and have read stories of such behaviour. The one thing that these children have in common is that they are very vulnerable. We all have experienced great vulnerability from time to time, but normally have the resources to cope with it. These children do not. In addition, migrants-not necessarily illegal migrants-are also vulnerable. In both cases we know only too well that pimps are on the prowl recruiting from the vulnerable, and then grooming begins.
When one drills down into the nature of prostitution in this country, one is faced with an appalling story. It is a story of which I have been utterly ignorant and I regard it as a major flaw in my work here in this House. This has come to me as such a horrid shock. Let me give you some facts: 85 per cent of women in prostitution say that they were physically abused as children; 70 per cent spent time in care; and 45 per cent
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Many have observed that trafficking women into prostitution is a modern form of slavery, on which the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, dwelt. This Parliament led the world, as we already know, in the 19th century in fighting slavery, but other countries are now ahead of us in tackling the social evil of sex trafficking. We are so often told about prostitutes who regard prostitution as a business, one where some make much money, and can shut out of their minds what they are doing. But, if the research is to be believed, they are in a very small minority. According to that research, 90 per cent of prostitutes say that they want to escape prostitution, but they do not feel able to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, says that there is no evidence of exploitation. I suggest to the noble Lord that if 90 per cent of prostitutes say that they want to escape prostitution, that is evidence of exploitation. They are, or they feel, trapped.
In this country we have great campaigns about animals in captivity and the ill treatment of animals. Where is the similar campaign for helping trapped humans? Those who are involved in prostitution face a potentially dangerous situation. More than half the prostitutes involved in one study said that they had feared for their life at least once. I cannot think of any other group of people in this country who we would permit to live in such a state of terror and abuse, and without any end in sight.
Strict liability is the most hotly debated part of Clause 14. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern is unable to be here, but he has particularly asked me to refer to his view that the new offence will be useless without the strict liability element. I am convinced that he is right.
Better minds than mine will battle with this, but I should like to make one point. If this clause remains in the Bill and becomes law, it will send a very strong signal that men must avoid any coercion of the vulnerable. I admit that I would much prefer an outright ban on prostitution, but I realise that it is neither possible nor probable now. However, by agreeing to Clause 14, we would take a mighty first step in declaring that we are a humane society, we believe in human rights, we wish to protect the vulnerable and we particularly wish to protect children from being blighted for life. We must declare that we are a caring and loving society, and then show that we are. I reject the amendments to Clause 14.
Baroness Stern: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. In a perfect world perhaps there would be no social evils. There would be no drug addiction, no violence, no alcoholism and no prostitution-maybe. But in the mean time, we have to live in a less than perfect world and deal as best we can with real life.
In real life, some women and men are engaged in prostitution. That is the way in which they make their living. We may judge or we may not judge, but this is what they do. The question that we should ask is how
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We should try to ensure that no under-age people are involved; we should ensure that no people are brought in, perhaps from foreign countries, and are working against their will; and we should try to ensure that those involved are protected from violence and the health risks that their work brings. Surely the right policy approach should be to reduce the harm and to ensure that neighbourhoods are not made unpleasant for their residents.
Surely we do not want prostitution pushed underground and women being in such fear that they dare not speak. The evidence suggests that it is often clients of prostitutes who inform the police when they suspect that someone has been trafficked. We need to ensure the availability of routes out of prostitution for that large number of people who it has been alleged seek a way out-and I am sure that a large number would like a different way of life. We need to try to ensure maintenance of good relationships with the local police, so they can get information and intelligence on criminal activity, violent customers and the crime that surrounds the work about which we are talking.
That is why these criminalising measures are opposed by, for example, the UK Network of Sex Work Projects, which goes into the real world and works with people in prostitution to help them find a way out and a different way of life. It is enormously difficult work, and many dedicated people are doing it. The measures are opposed also by the Royal College of Nursing, because they will do nothing to ensure that women are able to go to health services or approach the people who bring vans on to the street carrying doctors and nurses who work at night to offer health testing.
I assure the noble Baronesses, Lady Howarth and Lady O'Cathain, that many people who support the amendments are as concerned as they are about the girls from care who end up on the street. They are concerned about the people with learning difficulties and the vulnerable who are dragged into this work. They are concerned about the people who have been abused as children and find that this is all that life seems to offer them. They are concerned about those who are drug-addicted and need money to feed their habit. We are divided not in our concern for these people, but in how we see them best helped. There is no evidence that the law helped those people in their childhood when they were abused. The law is too blunt an instrument to deal with these sorts of social problems. I hope that the House will think carefully before rejecting the amendments.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I shall be brief. I have listened with great attention. The desires of everybody who has spoken are evident. I commend particularly the Government for the attention that they have given to this matter. It is clear that it has not been an easy part of the Bill to work through and develop in a way that could provide an effective remedy. They have listened to a great deal of what has been said.
However, like my noble friend Lady Stern, I am afraid that there are equal numbers on the other side who feel, alas, that this is not the way to solve the
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Is criminalisation going to help? That is the basic question. I remain unconvinced that the different way that we have had explained to us and which is to be applied to those who commit this offence is going to work. I am worried that not only will the whole situation continue, but we may well find that the provisions have the opposite effect.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, it is a temptation for someone who, I suspect, is speaking last before the Minister in a debate such as this to take on the arguments with which I disagree. I am going to reject that temptation, which many noble Lords will be glad of. The Government made some good progress on these clauses while the Bill passed through another place and listened to concerns about the drafting of the definition of "coercion". However, I have been both surprised and disappointed that they continue to maintain their position on strict liability, as I suspect they will do again tonight. I will, therefore, support the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in her amendments within this group to remove the strict liability aspect of the new offence, as my noble friend Lady Hanham did in Committee.
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