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Of course, police reform needs to encompass more than getting governance right. We need extra police on the streets, paid for by scrapping the identity card scheme. We would restore faith in the crime figures by taking them away from the Home Office and putting them under the direct supervision of the Office for National Statistics. We would publish not just crime figures but detection figures at local level.

Mr. Blunkett: May I follow the hon. Gentleman’s logic on the abolition of the ID card scheme to spend money on the police? Can he explain briefly how reducing the amount raised from the passport charge—to take account of the fact that there would no longer be a clean database and the additional charge associated with the passport would thus no longer be needed—would allow the service to raise the same money for spending on the police from a different source?

Chris Huhne: I am grateful to the former Home Secretary for his intervention. We have set out clearly the savings that would result from scrapping the ID
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card scheme, and at the last election they were audited by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, among others. I merely point out that when I was involved in another role—as shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury—I asked every Department how many of its top five IT schemes had overrun and failed to deliver on time. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that across government, with the exception of three schemes, none was delivered on time or on budget, so as our calculations for the ID card scheme were based on the Government’s published figures, I fear there will be a considerable undershoot in what is, after all, a serious and substantial IT scheme, which makes the others look like small beer.

Mr. Blunkett: Can we clarify the difference between income and expenditure? I am talking about income raised for spending; if the income is reduced, there can be no expenditure.

Chris Huhne: The right hon. Gentleman is right; if we apply substantial charges to people they will resent it, which is presumably one of the reasons why his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is back-pedalling like crazy on the ID scheme, and the only people to whom it is being rolled out ahead of the election are those such as foreign nationals who will not have a vote. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for pointing out that the cost will be borne not only by the public sector.

Mr. Blunkett rose—

Chris Huhne: I am not giving way a third time. I need to make some progress.

We would urgently review the police contract—of recent Home Secretaries, the right hon. Gentleman may have come closest to doing that. Lifetime employment for 30 years, a single point of entry—especially when trying to deal with white collar crime such as fraud—and pay linked to seniority rather than performance may not really be appropriate if we want to make sure that the organisation is fit and effective in dealing with the extremely important tasks it faces, especially in present circumstances, when all the evidence suggests an increase in acquisitive crime at a time when there are substantial constraints on budgets, as none of us needs reminding. It is therefore particularly important to look at efficiency. Unlike the Conservatives and Labour, we would respect pay awards from the independent police arbitration tribunal and allow officers to progress within, not just between, the ranks.

Let me now turn away from police reform to some of the other provisions. There is no clearer example of why more legislation is no substitute for enforcing properly the existing law than alcohol-fuelled disorder. That is a real matter of much concern to many people, as I know from my constituents in Eastleigh. The Bill has more proposals for powers—for example, to remove young people to their homes or other places of safety, even if they have not committed an offence—yet there is abundant evidence that we are not using the powers already on the statute book. For example, in a parliamentary answer last month, the Home Secretary confirmed that no police service or local authority has yet issued a notice of proposal to designate an alcohol disorder zone; nor
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are we fully using the powers to cut alcohol sales to young people. I listened to what right hon. and hon. Members have said about supermarket promotions and pricing, but, frankly, we have a lot of tools to deal with that very directly. I am afraid that the truth is that there is little evidence that behaviour is very sensitive to pricing, unless we are talking about a very substantial change in price.

Keith Vaz: Of course, one must be cautious in this area, but the fact is that the availability of cheap alcohol at supermarkets and the promotions that the Home Secretary and other hon. Members have spoken of today lead to people, especially young people, buying cheap alcohol from supermarkets. That does not apply to pubs, for example, where alcohol is more expensive. Surely, it is important that we take a stand and ensure that that availability of cheap alcohol is brought to an end.

Chris Huhne: I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman that we need to take a stand on the issue or that progress needs to be made on pricing, but there is an excessive stress on pricing. From simply looking at the evidence on the sensitivity of demand to price and taking into account my background—I plead guilty—as an economist, I caution against over-emphasising that aspect of dealing with the problem.

Ms Keeble: Will the hon. Gentleman concede that Alcohol Concern—quoting research, I think, by Sheffield university—found that a minimum unit price of 40p would reduce hospital admissions by 41,000 a year and crime by 16,000 incidents a year? The Liberal Democrats have supported Alcohol Concern and should know about its figures.

Chris Huhne: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. As I said, I do not deny that that is part of the solution, but I merely point out that we must not stress that it is overwhelmingly the answer. I would stress, for example, that we need to do much more in using the existing powers. A recent survey found that 40 per cent. of retail outlets were selling to under-age drinkers and that only 854 prosecutions were brought last year. Frankly, that is a drop in the ocean, by comparison with the many thousands of retail outlets across the country. At some stage, it will surely be revealed to the Home Office and its Ministers that enforcement matters more than new clauses from the parliamentary draftsman—a point with which I hope the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) agrees, because he made it at the beginning of the debate. Paper powers matter less than police action.

Rob Marris: The hon. Gentleman comes up against the very problem that he delineated before: the balance between localism and centralism. On the one hand, as he said in the early part of his speech, he wants more localism, more local control and so on; on the other hand, five minutes later, he decries the fact that no alcohol disorder zones have been put in place—something that is decided by local people. He decries the lack of use of such powers, understandably, but that is what local forces have decided to do, or not to do. There is a contradiction in his position between localism and centralism, which we all have; it is very difficult.

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Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman has long experience of accusing me of contradiction in many different contexts, but I cannot conceivably concede the point to him, for the very simple reason that such powers are on the statute book and local authorities are not using them. Introducing similar powers is, frankly, as the Home Secretary conceded in an interesting little aside, intended to send a message. If she wants to send a message, she could either write it on a piece of paper and send it in the post—there is still the Royal Mail, just about, while the Government allow—or send out a press release. Frankly, detaining the House with legislation that merely piles on powers similar to those that already exist and are not being used comes very close to an offence of wasting Parliament’s time.

Part 4 will amend the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The new powers will allow the police and others to search for and seize property before someone has been charged. No judicial oversight will be applied to that new power. It is enough for the person to have been arrested but not charged and for criminal proceedings to be ongoing. Frankly, I should like that to be tested in Committee; on the face of it, it does not seem to be right.

Part 5 seeks to amend the Extradition Act 2003, yet it leaves untouched the most controversial aspect of our extradition arrangements: the imbalance between the United Kingdom and the United States, whereby a mere statement is adequate for the American authorities, while prima facie evidence is required for ours.

Mr. Burrowes: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, although the proposals in part 5 seek to improve the situation in some ways, they will not provide a remedy for my constituent, Gary Mackinnon, who will go to court tomorrow to seek to challenge the Government’s decision? He is a victim of that imbalance and faces extradition, even after a recent diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome.

Chris Huhne: I agree, and I am sympathetic to the case of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. The Gary Mackinnon case is emblematic of precisely what I have been talking about. There is also a missed opportunity to amend the application of the European Union arrest warrant, to make it clear that we in this country will not entertain offences that involve freedom of speech, such as the recent case of Dr. Toben.

In part 7, the provisions on criminal record checks are unexceptionable, although we have some continuing concerns about unequal employer access to enhanced disclosure, despite the existence of the Independent Safeguarding Authority. There are other minor provisions that relate to border security, although they might have found a better home in the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill.

I move on finally to the most objectionable part of the proposals: part 2, which deals with sexual offences and sex establishments. I entirely agree with the term used by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East on the issue. We are considering a problem that deserves far more attention from us and the Government than it is getting at the moment. I am pleased that the Government have proceeded with real commitment from Ministers to the signing of the trafficking convention, but I do not think that the Home Secretary’s proposals in the Bill
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will work, and I fear that they will be counter-productive. The most controversial clauses are precisely on the prostitution laws. We entirely agree with the objective, but the proposed reforms will not achieve the desired outcome. They will drive sex workers underground, into less safety, more isolation and a greater risk of disease. We will seek amendments.

Fiona Mactaggart: Will the hon. Gentleman explain why a provision that criminalises paying for sex with a woman who is not willing but is under the control of another human being—she is effectively enslaved—will in some way push willing prostitutes underground?

Chris Huhne: Yes, I will come to that precisely in the next section of my speech, and the hon. Lady should intervene if she does not get an answer.

The Bill does not go as far as to outlaw paying for prostitution, as is the case in Sweden. That might have been a more intellectually coherent and honest approach. The Government are not brave enough to do that. Instead, the Home Secretary has apparently adopted the Finnish-style middle way of criminalising the client of a prostitute controlled for gain by others, whether those others be traffickers, pimps or perhaps even brothel owners. That is controversial because it is a strict liability offence, so it will not be a defence to argue that the client did their best to discover the true circumstances of the prostitute.

The legal consequences of that are important. First of all, no client in Finland has been convicted of sex with an exploited or trafficked woman since June 2006. That is certainly not because the trade has gone away; it is because none of the women say that they are trafficked or exploited at the time, and juries are understandably reluctant to convict if the client says that he was misled. Many experts in Finland do not support those laws, and the unintended consequence has been a booming internet prostitution industry.

I hope that the Home Secretary reads the submissions that she has received from interested parties, because she has stirred up something of a hornet’s nest. This is the submission from Justice:

As the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) knows, it is often the fact that women are working together that provides them with some reassurance that they will be able to defend themselves against particularly aggressive rapists, and other unfortunates who try to acquire their services.

The Royal College of Nursing says:

Liberty’s submission says:

Fiona Mactaggart: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the reason why there have been no convictions in Finland is that there have been no prosecutions, except
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in the past two months? He suggests that “controlled for gain” is difficult to define, but it is clearly defined in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which has worked well. The definition was decided on by the Court of Appeal in R. v. Massey.

Chris Huhne: I am not sure that the matter is as clear-cut as the hon. Lady suggests. I am here as an economist; I am not a lawyer, and I make no claim to special legal expertise, but I certainly listen to the submissions that I get from people who are much more legally expert than I. People who do not have an axe to grind, and who share the extremely worthy objectives of both the Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for Leicester, East—and, I am sure, many other Members, including me—have real problems with what is proposed in the Bill for fear that it will not work.

Let me add a point made by the Bar Council on the strict liability offence:

It might have added that unfair law is also difficult to enforce. The police do not like it—for example, Andy Hayman says that he thinks that the matter will be extremely difficult—and juries will not convict under it. That is a tremendous problem.

The right way to protect vulnerable sex workers is to regulate the sex industry so that brothels are places of safety. Existing laws on obstruction and nuisance need to be applied more effectively. If someone has been trafficked or exploited, surely the correct response is to use far more extensive laws than those proposed in the Bill. The strict liability offence is generally really only a way of reducing demand.

Mr. Malins: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. He talks about the reluctance of juries to convict in Finland, but he will note that the maximum penalty in the provision in question is a fine, so there is no right to jury trial. In this country, there is not a chance of a jury looking into such a case.

Chris Huhne: I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I am grateful for that clarification.

In sum, this is a rag-tag Bill that leaves out the central provisions that were originally meant to be its purpose, so there is no vision of how local accountability will be made real. It is merely a set of provisions that takes us back to the failed model of the past. It is a vote from an exhausted members of the Government Bench for better yesterdays. It therefore teeters perilously close to the offence of wasting this House’s time.

True, there are some unexceptionable provisions, such as those on force collaboration, but even there the dead hand of Whitehall reaches out with powers of direction. Where there are new ideas in the Bill, such as those on prostitution, they are more likely to do harm than to reduce it. In most cases, the proposals are beyond amendment, although we as Liberal Democrats and therefore optimists will do our best to amend them in Committee. The Bill as a whole is stuffed with a mixture of the pernicious, the vexatious and the supernumerary, and we regret it.

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7.5 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I wish to speak mainly about the part of the Bill dealing with prostitution. The harm that prostitution does is mostly to the women who are for sale. Our duty as parliamentarians committed to human rights is to protect them, because the murders in Ipswich of Gemma Adams, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell, Annette Nicholls and Tania Nicol in 2006 were not as exceptional as we would wish. Prostituted women are, according to the British Medical Journal, 40 times more likely than other women to die a violent death. We need to reduce the exploitation and violence involved in prostitution. The Bill helps to do that by specifically interdicting actions such as pimping and trafficking, in which someone controls another human being for gain, and by ensuring that men who pay the prostitutes who are so controlled offend if, even inadvertently, they contribute to such exploitation.

David T.C. Davies: Is the hon. Lady aware that Europol believes that trafficking children for begging is an even bigger problem than the trafficking of sex workers, and can she explain why the Government have done nothing—not even organise a public information campaign—to discourage people from giving money to child beggars? People who give them money create exactly the same incentive for trafficking as men who visit sex workers do.

Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Gentleman is probably not aware that a child beggar in my constituency was at the centre of one of the very few successful prosecutions in this country of trafficking for begging. I am acutely aware of the issue, and I have had excellent support from the police and the Home Office in securing that prosecution and in ensuring future further action. We are not talking about an either/or issue. We need to protect the human rights of exploited woman and exploited children, and I hope that we do.

I have previously argued that the Government should adopt the approach taken by Sweden, which prohibits the purchase, rather than the sale, of any sexual service, but my blandishments have been resisted. Tonight, we are looking at a much narrower proposal. The only form of payment for sex that is outlawed in the Bill is cases in which the woman is controlled by another person for gain. I do not believe that there is a single Member in the House today who would endorse payment for sex with a woman who is offering that service only because she is under the control of another person—her pimp, her trafficker, or the person maintaining her addiction.

Mr. Malins: Of course nobody would endorse a man doing such a thing, but does the hon. Lady think that he ought to have a defence if he knew not of the woman’s position, and could not be expected to know of it—if he had made inquiries and was told, “There’s no problem?”

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