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That said, I would encourage the Government to look seriously at the wider issue of whether the direction of their policies regarding prostitution is beneficial or not. At this point, I find them to be in a total muddle. Over the past few weeks, many of us have been talking to different groups and organisations working with prostitutes. I have been struck by the enormous variation not only in opinions on the best way forward but even disagreements over the basis of the facts and figures. These arguments over evidence simply should not be necessary. We have the luxury of numerous international examples of different approaches to prostitution, from all-out criminalisation in the United States through regulation to significant decriminalisation in New Zealand. Yet Ministers' responses to this House and another place on the matter show no sign of a proper analysis of what has happened in those countries or any indication that the department has taken the arguments for decriminalisation seriously.
To return to the amendment, I agree with what its proponents would call a "wrong-headed" concern of the Government; namely, that under 18 year-olds being decriminalised could well lead to pimps and traffickers targeting them. I accept, as I said, that it is disputed by many, but everyone would agree that it is an outcome we would wish to avoid. I hope very much that the Government's actions are based on real evidence and not a wish to find a convenient reason to avoid looking at decriminalisation as a serious option.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, if there were more social workers making the sort of interventions in families that my noble friend Lady Howarth has just said are so important, this would be much easier to achieve. Similarly, if there were more social workers, there would be many more foster carers because they rely on good quality social workers to support them in managing children who are often difficult because of their histories. I urge the Minister to encourage his colleagues in the important work they are doing to reinvigorate social work. If we are to avoid having children end up on the streets, it is vital that we make a profound commitment to social work by encouraging
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Lord Brett: My Lords, we begin our debates today with Amendment 26, which addresses an extremely important issue. I will try to be brief given the length of our agenda of business and the limited time available, but it is necessary to do justice to this important issue. I shall start by saying that everyone who has spoken has echoed the Government's view on this; namely, that treating children who are loitering and soliciting for the purposes of prostitution are indeed victims of abuse. I hope to demonstrate that the Government have a holistic view, so the question that needs to be answered is that put by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth: why do these children not matter? I hope to prove that these children do matter, and that the last thing we want to do is to criminalise them. We believe that it is our responsibility to do all we can to help children who are abused through prostitution so that they recover and can rebuild their lives. However, we are of the view that decriminalisation is not the right way to achieve this. We consulted on the issue in 2004 and as a result decided to maintain this offence then. We continue to hold that view.
We are not starting with a blank sheet of paper. As the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said, we are where we are and there is a criminal offence. The fact is that this is in statute. As it stands, the offence sends a clear message that we do not think that street prostitution is acceptable. Were we to decriminalise the under-18s, it would send a very wrong message. On the one hand it would say that it is not acceptable for adults aged over 18 to be involved in street prostitution, but on the other hand, it is in some way acceptable for a child or young person to loiter or solicit for the purposes of prostitution. It is one thing not to have a criminal offence for under-18s, but it is an entirely different thing to decriminalise an offence for those aged under 18. Retaining the offence may help to deter some children from engaging in street prostitution in the first place. We do not know the measurement of that, but the statute exists. As several noble Lords have said, vulnerable young people do not just fall into prostitution. The reality is that pimps and traffickers actively target them and draw them into a life of misery and exploitation. In many cases, these young people are already coming from a life less wholesome and complete as a result of what has happened in their younger years and the position in which they found themselves.
If we were to decriminalise in the way suggested in Amendment 26, it would simply strengthen the work of pimps and traffickers. It is naïve to pretend that they would not seek to take advantage of the fact that children could not be prosecuted if they were found loitering or soliciting. We know that these are evil people and we know also that they are clever people. They might be encouraged to send children out on to the street as prostitutes knowing full well that police powers to tackle the problem had been inhibited. I am sure no one would wish that to happen, but it could be a perverse and unintended consequence of these amendments.
Children are prosecuted only in the most exceptional circumstances; in other words, as a very last resort. For example, where support from other agencies has been made available but has not been accessed or is not effective in helping a child to exit street prostitution, the intervention of the criminal justice agencies may be vital to ensure the removal of that child or young person from a situation of danger and subsequently to ensure that they are engaged with the support services-however adequate or inadequate, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, suggested, they may be. Our guidance on safeguarding children and young people from sexual exploitation was updated in June of this year and published. It has been in existence for some years-since 2004-and is very clear and effective. Why do we think that? There have been only five convictions and five cautions given to under-18s for the offence. That suggests that we are not treating these children as criminals, but in the vast majority of cases as victims. In 2007, there was one conviction and one caution. Therefore, we can demonstrate that in practice this offence is used only very rarely in relation to the under-18s because in the overwhelming majority of cases these young people are treated as victims and not as criminals.
The policy is only a small element in the guidance and one aspect of our overall approach. We have taken a number of steps to help provide earlier interventions to rescue children from street prostitution. We have established local safeguarding children's boards which are responsible for ensuring that the relevant agencies are aware of sexual exploitation in their areas and that appropriate training is made available for and given to those who either work with children or in services that affect their welfare. The boards have helped to develop strong links with the local agencies that are responsible for preventing the harm caused by the sexual exploitation of children, thereby helping to improve the level of intervention to tackle these problems at the points at which a number of noble Lords have suggested are the most effective. Practical examples can be cited, such as the Sheffield Safeguarding Children Board Sexual Exploitation Service and the Croydon Sexual Exploitation Group.
We have established strong links with important voluntary sector organisations working in the field, such as Safe and Sound Derby. In addition to the supportive and preventive work that we have helped to foster, we have been involved in significant efforts to bring to justice those who exploit children for the purpose of prostitution. These include legislative measures such as the range of new offences linked to child prostitution and exploitation which were introduced by the Sexual Offences Act 2003, as well as practical measures such as the establishment in 2006 of CEOP. It is clear from these developments that we consider the real criminals to be where they are and their victims to be in need of support.
The Government have considered fully the arguments in favour of decriminalisation and have listened carefully to the impassioned, principled and well-argued points in favour of decriminalisation made in a number of quarters. I have to say, however, that I remain unconvinced. The House has a duty not just to look at laws, but to
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I hope I have been able to show that we are adopting a holistic approach to tackling the problem of prostitution among the under 18s and that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment. If she presses the matter, I hope noble Lords will join me in the Lobby. We care deeply about vulnerable young prostitutes and those who want to support them, and this will enable us to tackle the issue in a practical and effective way.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank everyone who has spoken in the debate. I am glad to see the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, back in her place and I hope that she is feeling better.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, about the total muddle that the policy seems to have been in for much of the time. I agree with him also that there have been far too many arguments over the evidence for it to be at all clear from which quarter the Government have finally drawn their conclusions. That is very unsatisfactory. However, in this amendment, above all others, it is very clear.
The Minister has given a list of the initiatives that have commenced, but those are evidence of why the legislation that has been on the statute book for so long can finally be removed. It means that the Government are now in a better position to go back to the principle of using social services in the way that they should be used-provided that they are properly resourced, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, mentioned-and not resort to the criminal justice system.
The Minister prayed in aid the fact that very few young people have had convictions or cautions. However, if there were so few cases, the intervention services could have made a strong effort with those few children and prevented them being landed with a criminal record.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, Amendments 27, 28 and 30 to 33 all question whether the clauses dealing with prostitution should stand part of the Bill. The other evening, we had a good debate on the Government's exact position on protecting women or not protecting women. These clauses taken together make me feel extremely distressed that the Government are still going down the wrong path, although they have tabled some amendments-I am sure that the Minister will speak to them-that are a slight deviation off that path, recognising even at this stage that there might be a slightly different route to take.
Clause 16 redefines "persistently" as two times in three months. It is hard to envisage that "persistently" could be so infrequently. We have an argument with that at the outset. Under Clause 17, once a woman has been found to be in need of rehabilitation, to use the Government's words, she will have orders requiring attendance at meetings. The issue is not that people are going to meetings for rehabilitation; if they are doing so voluntarily and they get support, that is all to the good. However, if you do not attend, penalties follow and ultimately you can be detained. We do not feel that that is the right route.
I want to spend a little time on Clauses 19 and 20, which seem to us to be going in the most dangerous direction. The clauses amend the Sexual Offences Act, which already makes kerb-crawling and soliciting criminal offences, although only when the defendant acts with persistence. Clauses 19 and 20 will remove the need for the prosecution to prove persistence; a single incident will suffice. That is most definitely an effort to make prostitution into a more criminal offence. My worry is that that alone will mean that women will seek out remoter and more hidden places where there is not only less likelihood of being caught but also, of course, less likelihood of anyone hearing your cries for help should you need to make them. We feel that these two clauses are deeply disturbing.
The other evening, the Government made much of the fact that the aim of Clause 14 is to tackle demand by men. However, when you look at Clauses 19 and 20 and all the evidence of social difficulties, you see that the problems are caused by men who persistently kerb-crawl. We believe that the emphasis in these clauses on the women is yet again a move in the wrong direction.
Finally in this series of clauses, Clause 21 deals with the closure of brothels. The Government have brought forward an amendment to try to make the situation a little more reasonable, but we feel that what is proposed
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We do not believe that this, as a parcel of legislation, moves in the right direction. I know that is too late for the Government to reconsider, but I hope that they will assess the costs of the direction in which they are heading to the women and to wider society. I beg to move.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has raised some important questions with this group of amendments. However, it seems to us on these Benches that the wholesale removal of these clauses would do nothing to reduce the incidence of prostitution. Although it has been argued by the many organisations that I have met and in the briefs that I have received that prostitution will be driven underground-indeed, the noble Baroness has repeated that argument today-I simply do not believe that to be so.
Let me spend just a moment looking at the situation in which too many of these unfortunate women find themselves. It is a revolving-door scenario. Loitering with intent leads to a fine, which is paid for by a return to prostitution, usually by going back on the streets. Clauses 16 and 17 taken together will help to break that vicious circle, which is all to the good. Clause 17, for instance, is designed to help women escape from prostitution, the causes of which are many and various. Only the day before yesterday we had a long debate on trafficking. We do not know what proportion trafficked women comprise of the whole, but we know that those in the hands-on sex trade who prostitute themselves to gain extra money might well be doing so to care for their children; there are others who are unable, for whatever reason, to get a job paying the equivalent amount of wages, maybe because of a lack of education, or it may be that they are in this work through a lack of knowledge of the social security system and what it can do for them, perhaps because they are migrants.
Over recent years the administration of benefits has, rightly, become more than just divvying out money to unemployed or disabled people. I acknowledge the tremendous effort that the Department for Work and Pensions has put in and is putting in to help people to become work-ready in mainstream jobs.
I thank the Minister for government Amendments 29, 34 and 35. As he has said, the first of these ensures that any time spent in prison for breach of a rehabilitative order is kept to a minimum. The other two government amendments also make a small movement in the right direction, and I thank the Minister for them. Closing private premises is a controversial policy with the potential to cause a great number of unintended
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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in these amendments. If I am realistic, I am not expecting them to be supported across the House but I support them because, as I have said previously, I fear that all these clauses, Clause 14 and so on, are going in the wrong direction.
I worry greatly about using these sorts of methods to compel people who are being employed or employing themselves as prostitutes to go along a more sane and sensible route to earning a living. I am all for encouraging that sort of activity and training, and I would go further: I would give financial incentives so to do and backing in that sort of way. I fear that the form of compulsion in the Bill will just lead to further problems. I expect that there will also be problems with pimps-those behind those who are already on the streets.
For those reasons, should the noble Baroness wish to test the opinion of the House, I will support her. Above all, though, I hope that this might get the Government to think again. Some aspects of what they are doing might well be counterproductive. I admire what they are trying to do; I just think that they are doing it in the wrong way.
Lord Brett: My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this short debate. I particularly appreciate the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and I shall seek to answer his point first. When closure notices come into effect, there will be guidance to the police that will ensure that what he fears will not come to pass.
I turn to the amendments in this group, including the government amendments. Amendments 27 to 33 seek to remove a number of the prostitution provisions in the Bill. We believe that they are important provisions, and I will set out in each case why we think the clauses should be retained.
Amendment 27 would remove Clause 16 and, in doing so, hinder important reforms to the law in relation to street prostitution. These reforms were identified as an action point in the Government's co-ordinated prostitution strategy, which followed a large public consultation. The clause will remove the outdated and offensive term "common prostitute". Respondents to the Government's consultation paper Paying the Price, which informed the prostitution strategy, were unanimous in their support for the removal of the term from the statute, and its removal will undoubtedly be welcomed by many working with those involved in prostitution. Indeed, this element of the clause was welcomed by the UK Network of Sex Work Projects during the oral evidence sessions conducted, and is supported by the Josephine Butler Society.
I recognise immediately that this aspect of Clause 16 is not the reason behind the noble Baroness's attempts to remove the clause, but failure to implement this change would none the less be a consequence of this amendment. I see that the noble Baroness's main
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