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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with great wisdom and knowledge in this area. He touches on part of the weakness in the current system. It is for that reason that we have given careful consideration to the guidance. In its new form, it will stress the need to pursue with the utmost severity pimps in particular and others who exploit children in prostitution. The guidance has been carefully drawn up in consultation with the police and the CPS, who fully support that approach. Our new guidance, Working together to safeguard children, published in January, makes it clear that local protocols should be developed under the child prostitution guidance to protect children in prostitution, and that that should be entirely consistent with area child protection committee procedures for safeguarding children. We should also pay tribute to the important work undertaken in this field by the NSPCC and particularly by Barnardo's, with its "streets and lanes project", which is now beginning to divert young children, particularly young girls, away from prostitution.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware of recent media reports concerning the enormous influx of prostitutes from the former Soviet Union, some of whom will be very young? If so, what are the Government doing to prevent that happening in the future?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we are aware of those kinds of problems. Immigration officials and the police service are taking careful account of them in their counter-measures. It is an international problem.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister further on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, about those who organise prostitution rings, which involve boys as well as girls. The Minister has mentioned guidance. However, is there a strategy whereby a police unit, for instance, could get at those who organise the rings and are at the heart of the trouble?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to say that a firmer attack is needed on prostitution rings, pimps and others who organise the commercialisation of sex in that way. That is referred to in the guidance and will form part of the national plan which will be rolled out in the summer. We have set ourselves firmly in support of that approach. It must be integrated: it must involve the law enforcement agencies, local authorities--in terms of both education and social services--and the independent and voluntary sector. Together, they need to work harder to tackle the problems so that we can drive these people out, particularly from inner-city areas.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, what are the penalties for pimping children under 17? Is the Minister aware that the age of those involved in prostitution is becoming lower and lower, and that there are children of 12 and 13 involved in prostitution to feed their drug habits?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General tells me that he believes the answer to the first question is seven years. As to the second important point, the statistics and information that I have reviewed in preparation for this Question suggest that there is a problem among young girls. We are well aware of that. The statistics are encouraging in the sense that they do not suggest that the problem is getting worse. However, we should be mindful of the fact that statistics can be interpreted in various ways. We must ensure effective and robust local strategies involving all the agencies in order to tackle the problem in the localities. That is the best way forward.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, has it not always been a reality throughout history that, unfortunately, many young people will drift into prostitution through economic necessity, actual or perceived? Child poverty is a big problem in this country and the Government are rightly addressing it. Where does that come in their action plan to tackle child poverty?
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, our embassies are required to fly the Union flag--in fact, it is the diplomatic flag, which is the Union flag with the Royal Arms in the centre surrounded by a green garland--on all working days during office hours. High Commissions fly the normal Union flag, similarly on working days during office hours. Only on rare occasions, when local circumstances require it, do posts depart from that practice.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that comprehensive and entirely satisfactory reply. Is she aware of a recent broadcast report of the flag not flying over the embassy in Brussels and the embassy, when asked for an explanation, allegedly producing a number of fanciful excuses or reasons, including one to the effect that it would offend our European partners? Will the noble Baroness confirm that that was a routine piece of media trouble-making having no basis whatever?
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: Yes, my Lords. What is reported by newspapers as having been said or not said by unidentified sources is notoriously unreliable. The point about the Union flag not being flown outside the embassy in Brussels is true. The position of the flagpole meant that it was difficult, if not impossible, to see any flag being flown. The embassy is now flying the flag in accordance with the rules. The embassy was already flying the flag on nominated flag days, but not on other days because it was not easily seen. We are now taking action to ensure that the flag can be visible on all working days.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I am not aware of instances of the British flag being flown upside down. If that happened anywhere by accident--I would be very surprised, given the expertise of the Diplomatic Service in our embassies abroad--I am sure that it would be corrected.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there are more ways to fly the British flag than to haul one up a flagpole? Is it not more constructive to pay tribute to the work of our embassy and High Commission staff around the world in promoting our country, sometimes in situations of great personal danger?
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for that question. I agree that Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service works hard at home and abroad to further British political and economic interests, frequently in difficult and dangerous circumstances. I am sure that the whole House would wish to express gratitude and admiration to the professionalism and dedication of the Diplomatic Service.
Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I understood my noble friend to be referring to residencies other than embassies, such as other bureaucratic buildings in Brussels, which tend to fly our flag upside down. Does the Minister agree that our embassies in such locations should take on the job of ensuring that our flag is flown the right way up?
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I shall take away this point. I am sure that our embassies will examine the matter. I would have thought that, when noticed, attention would be drawn to any such incident.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that there are some practical reasons involved? I was in Guinea following the French withdrawal. All the street names had been removed. I arrived by lorry just before nightfall and the only way I could identify the British embassy was to look for the flag, which fortunately was flying. While there are practical reasons, I heartily endorse the noble Lord's comment about the immense courage and value of the service.
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