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Lord Hylton moved Amendment No. 21:

Before Clause 8, insert the following new clause--

Prostitution by children and young persons

(".--(1) Section 1 of the Street Offences Act 1959 is amended in accordance with subsections (2) and (3).
(2) For subsection (1) substitute--
"(1) It shall be an offence for a woman who has attained the age of 18 to loiter or solicit in a street or public place for the purpose of prostitution."
(3) After subsection (4) insert--
"(5) An authorised person (as defined in section 31 of the Children Act 1989) may apply to the court for an order to be made under section 44 of that Act with respect to a child who loiters or solicits in a street or public place for the purposes of prostitution."
(4) In paragraph 24 of Schedule 2 to the Sexual Offences Act 1956 (penalty for offence committed under section 23 (procuration of girl under twenty-one)), for the words "Two years", in both places in which they occur, substitute "Four years".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 21 was printed last Thursday and I apologise for the fact that it appears not to have been available generally until yesterday. However, the Government and some of your Lordships have had much longer notice of it than that.

The amendment follows directly from a long sequence of work which led to legislation penalising the organisers of sex tourism overseas and giving extra-territorial jurisdiction to the British courts in cases involving sexual abuse of people under 18 in countries overseas.

For some years now there has also been concern about child prostitution in this country. The Children's Society, Barnardos, and other voluntary organisations together with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Directors of Social Services and, in particular, the Magistrates' Association have all asked for better and more consistent inter-agency co-operation plus changes in the law.

This Government claim to be a listening government, and I am glad that that is so. Therefore, I urge them to take heed of the advice from the expert groups which are most directly involved in this matter. What is the extent of the problem? In the seven years to 1996, 4,495 cautions and convictions were recorded against

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children involved in prostitution. Yet, in a similar six-year period, there were only six convictions of adults for procuring children for prostitution. It appears that those figures gravely understate the scale of the evil.

The evidence from the Children's Society's five streetwork projects in England and Wales shows that each year substantial numbers of children and young people, some of them as young as 10 or 12, run away from their families and from the care of local authorities. They seek to escape physical, emotional and sexual abuse and other acute forms of bullying. Many of those children become homeless and destitute. They have no access to social security. They may be, or may become, addicted to drugs and alcohol. Such addictions are often used by pimps as a means of control.

Voluntarily or otherwise, large numbers of children become trapped each year in prostitution. In my opinion, all those children need protection, education and rehabilitation. Above all, they need loving care from adults whom they can trust.

The purpose of the proposed clause is to try to ensure that young people under the age of 18 receive the protection they need when they are at risk or already involved in prostitution. That approach complies with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which this country ratified in 1991. Articles 3, 19, 34 and 35 of the convention are particularly relevant.

Police cautioning of such young people is not a sufficient or satisfactory approach. On the other hand, prosecution may take a considerable time and is not in itself a desirable option unless it means that the young person is quickly moved to a safe environment and is then effectively rehabilitated. Conviction may also become a bar to gaining employment.

For those reasons, the Children Act is the right framework to use. That is why subsection (3) of the amendment refers specifically to that Act in an enabling way. Sections 17, 20 and 47 of the Act already place relevant duties on the local authority. Sections 22, 24 and 31 are also likely to be helpful.

In Subsection (3) of the amendment, "an authorised person" would normally mean a local authority or an approved voluntary organisation. The purpose of subsection (2) is to continue for women over the age of 18 the offence of loitering or soliciting for prostitution. The options of cautioning or prosecution, therefore, remain open for these people. The purpose of subsection (4) is to increase the maximum penalty for acting as a pimp from two years' to four years' imprisonment, although I understand that at present such people cannot be remanded in custody. That may be a weakness which should later be addressed. The existing legislation on the subject is the Sexual Offences Act 1956, Section 23 of which refers specifically to girls under 21--hence the wording of my amendment.

Your Lordships may consider that the penalties for acting as a pimp should be still further increased. Perhaps the fines applicable should be much larger. If the amendment is agreed, I would be happy to accept further amendments imposing stronger penalties. If the Government or Members of this House can devise effective deterrent sanctions to dissuade men, other than

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pimps, from sexually abusing young people under the age of 18 and, a fortiori, under the age of 16, that could also be most helpful. Such men are indeed serious sexual offenders and yet they are seldom--almost never--prosecuted.

The amendment is the result of ad hoc drafting and I accept that it probably does not come up to the high standards usually set by government experts. Nonetheless, it addresses urgent social problems and reflects the approach of the whole Bill by seeking to prevent serious crime, especially that among and affecting children and young people. I commend the amendment to the House and trust--

Lord Renton: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord for interrupting. However, would he be so good as to explain why it is that Section 1 of the Street Offences Act 1959 needs to be altered?

Lord Hylton: My Lords, the short answer to the noble Lord's question is that that section provides for the prosecution and cautioning of girls, women, under the age of 18.

However, perhaps I may continue. I trust that the Government will reflect deeply on the issues involved and learn from the excellent preventive work of a variety of voluntary organisations. If that happens, it seems to me that Her Majesty's Government will be able to offer a better amendment, either in this House or in another place at a subsequent stage. But would a government redraft include boys as well as girls? I ask that question because a small number of boys are sometimes involved. Further, would it provide proper penalties for those who have sexual intercourse with under-aged people? It may be asked whether the amendment, if approved, would cost money. I believe that the answer to that question is yes, it would. But, in my view, it would be money well spent if we believe in social inclusion and in helping the victims of abuse. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I have but one short point to make. It is due to the fact that, 39 years ago, I had the responsibility of piloting the Street Offences Act through its Committee and Report stages in another place. I believe that that legislation has stood the test of time remarkably well. I intervened to ask the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, to explain why there was a need to replace Section 1 of the Act. I do not think that it is necessary to do so. However, that is a relatively small point in relation to his amendment as a whole which, if I may say so, should commend itself to the House.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, I support the amendment. I should like to explain to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, why this substitution is sought. The original Act creates an offence which is not age specific. We are seeking to ensure that prosecutions of young persons and children should not take place. We believe that the appropriate way of dealing with

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young people committing such acts is through welfare and the provisions of the Children Act. That is the rationale behind the amendment.

Research and Home Office figures show that there is an increase in children and young girls found on the streets, most of whom are in that situation because they have been victims of abuse in their own homes or while in care. They are profoundly damaged and often see no value in their own bodies because they have already been exploited by adults. They find this activity to be a way of making money; indeed, it is the only way that they can do so. We want to show that the proper way of proceeding in these cases is to provide assistance to such young people through welfare and not through the criminal courts by way of the criminal process. In recognition of a growing problem, we are seeking to divert from the criminal process towards welfare.

We are also seeking to increase the penalty for those who are arrested in relation to such matters where the young people involved are under age. We believe that the penalties for exploiting young women and children should be greater. One knows from experience that there are adult men who, for particular reasons, seek out girls and children. In our view, that abuse is more serious and should draw down greater penalties than those which exist at present in relation to adults. Those are the bases upon which we are proposing the amendment.

There is, of course, an issue surrounding age. It is possible that some people feel that the age of 18 may be somewhat too old, given the fact that the age of consent is 16. Certainly, the position from these Benches is that we are happy to hear what my noble friend the Minister may say in that respect. I am sure that we could be assuaged if the view were taken that particular concern exists about those under the age of 16 and that it would be problematic in relation to those over 16 but not yet fully adult as defined in the Children Act. We would like the amendment to relate to those who have not yet attained the age of 18. However, we would probably be content if the Government were at least prepared to consider the amendment in relation to girls and young women up to the age of 16 if my noble friend the Minister feels that problems could arise with regard to legal definitions as to age.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, can be persuaded on those arguments While it is right that his piece of legislation, which is almost 40 years old, has in many ways stood the test of time, it has not done so in this regard. Indeed, thinking has moved on and social problems, especially those regarding the abuse of children, have been recognised in a way that was perhaps not possible 40 years ago. We believe that the proper process is a welfare process rather than a criminal one.

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