Parliamentary debate on Safety First Clause 72

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmhansrd/cm071008/debtext/71008-0020.htm
“young people who are being drawn into a lifestyle characterised by disease, degradation, death and denial.”

A site called Gay Conspiracy links homosexuality with paedophilia, which is a dreadful, ignorant libel on a significant section of our community. Some reggae groups have published lyrics urging the torture and murder of lesbians and gay men. Some record companies and artists have undertaken not to perform such material in future, but others have not and no legal action has yet been taken to prevent the sale of such material in Britain. The offence of incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexuality would rightly render such content liable to prosecution. Of course, the dear old British National party has also made homophobia a political campaign and promulgated the specious link between homosexuality and paedophilia.

Hate crime is a rising issue. In many London boroughs, the Metropolitan police report an increase in homophobic hate crime and the trend is rising throughout the country. In my city of Brighton and Hove, the figures for homophobic crime reported to the Sussex police show an increase from 135 in 2005-06 to 184 in 2006-07. That is just one city. The majority of those cases were assaults, followed by public order and harassment offences.

In Brighton, we are fortunate to have a police anti-victimisation unit. One of the sergeants who works there said:

“As always the figures themselves tell an incomplete story. We believe that there is still a degree of under-reporting particularly amongst those who are victims of homophobic crime.”

The Home Office estimates that as much as 90 per cent. of homophobic hate crime goes unreported.

Most of the House would agree that the case for action has been firmly established. If the Lord Chancellor wants any help with drafting, I can offer him a ready-drafted complete new clause for the Bill, but I am sure that he is already on the case.
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I conclude by repeating my gratitude to my right hon. Friend for promising action, and that gratitude will be mirrored, especially in my constituency of Brighton, Kemptown, by a large section of the community. I am proud of what the Government are proposing. I am proud of all that my Government have done in the field of equalities over the past 10 years.

9.11 pm

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): I shall endeavour to be brief as I know that other Members want to speak. I have a few observations about the Bill.

I am all for building more prisons in the short term, but we have to make sure that in the long term people go to prison only once whenever possible, and that while they are in prison they receive the support they need, through education or addiction programmes, to become productive members of society. Prison should not be a revolving door and I hope that the Bill gives us the opportunity to improve the Prison Service to ensure that people are given a chance once they leave prison.

My second point is about youth offending. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) said, we must engender parental responsibility. The first time a youngster smashes down a bus shelter, the parents should pay a fine. The second time, they should pay a fine and pay for repair of the bus shelter and the third time, they should appear in court alongside their child to face a magistrate or a judge. Unfortunately, only when we start to hit parents in the pocket will they start to take responsibility for their children. Society has a role in raising young people, but no role is greater than that played by their parents.

My third point relates to antisocial behaviour and alcohol. Most assaults against NHS staff—certainly in accident and emergency departments—are committed by people who are drunk. Most assaults in society are committed by people who are drunk. As a taxpayer, I am fed up with my taxes having to pay for the police to manage the people who commit such crimes. It is about time that we looked to the alcohol industry to pay a levy—a proper contribution—towards the policing of our streets and, if need be, the policing of our hospitals. Football teams pay for policing on match days, so the alcohol and pub industry should put their hand in their pocket to fund crime prevention on our streets and in our hospitals.

I agree that citizenship should be earned; it is a great privilege to be a citizen of this country. If people come to this country and earn citizenship over 10 years that is a good thing, but if having earned citizenship they commit heinous and hideous crimes, there should be the possibility of revoking it. We may have to deport people to places with a less humane outlook than ours.

My last point relates to the possession of extreme pornographic material. I, too, am concerned about what comes over the internet; there is some horrible, nasty and unpleasant stuff. Clauses 64 to 67 are not as good as they could be—there is potential for contradiction, such as in the case of a film called “Hostel Part II”, which I have not seen but has been reported on by a number of people I trust. From beginning to end it depicts obscene, misogynistic acts of brutality against women—an hour and a half of
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brutality—yet that film has been passed by the British Board of Film Classification for public release to people aged 18 and over.

I understand that, although the Bill will not make that film illegal, it could make it illegal for someone to take stills from that film, because they could be deemed to have a purely pornographic nature. If it were deemed that stills from a film such as “Hostel Part II” were of a pornographic and unacceptably violent nature, it seems madness that that film should be allowed on general release. I hope that, as the Bill is considered in Committee, we will look at those concerns to ensure that that part of the Bill is as watertight as it can be.

I have spoken for four minutes, and I shall shut up and sit down.

9.15 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I will concentrate on clause 72 and be as quick as I possibly can.

Earlier this year, I hosted a meeting of a coalition of organisations called Safety First, which is looking at issues that surround prostitution, particularly the plight of prostitutes and their families. The organisations include the National Association of Probation Officers, the Royal College of Nursing, the Sex Worker Project, the Multiple Choice Rehabilitation Centre, the Zacchaeus Trust, various religious leaders, the English Collective of Prostitutes, the GMB branch of sex workers and two brave individuals, Pauline Campbell—the mother of Sarah, who lost her life in Styal prison—and Toni Cole, the former prostitute who brought the first private prosecution for rape in this country.

The coalition came together in the aftermath of the five young women who were murdered in Ipswich. The response of the community and people of Ipswich was not to blame the women themselves, but to do all that they possibly could to ensure the safety of such women in the future. The coalition pointed to the criminalisation of consenting sex as a major cause of risk to safety that prevents women from seeking assistance and protection and exiting prostitution. Why? Because criminalisation pushes prostitution underground. It makes women more vulnerable to attack and less accessible to support. Many felt strongly that, by focusing on remedies in the criminal law, we avoid the underlying issues and causes of women entering prostitution and the need to provide real support to allow them to exit it.

The coalition fears that clause 72 will criminalise prostitution once again, and thousands of women face the risk of imprisonment as a result. The Secretary of State did not take us through clause 72 when he introduced the Bill, but the clause will introduce the compulsory rehabilitation order and promotes it as an alternative to a fine. Anyone who is arrested for loitering or soliciting will be forced to attend three meetings with a supervisor approved by the court

“to promote…rehabilitation by assisting the offender…to address the causes of”

their involvement in prostitution and to find ways to end that involvement. Failure to attend any of those sessions will result in a further summons and a possible 72 hours’ imprisonment. Magistrates will have powers
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to make subsequent orders. So women could be forced on to a treadmill of orders, failure to attend, further orders and imprisonment, and round and round they go again.

There is deep scepticism about the implications and effectiveness of these new orders. Within the criminal justice sector, NAPO has said that they will be unworkable and that they will turn the law back 25 years, to when imprisonment was the norm for prostitution. In the 1980s and ’90s, the fines were increased, so that those who were unable to pay eventually went to prison. We found that, even then, 11,000 women were found guilty and put at risk of detention. In 2003, as a result of a lot of campaigning against such draconian measures for prostitution, on average, about 3,500 prostitutes were brought before the courts.

NAPO’s view is that, if the Bill goes through, we could return to a situation where up to 11,000 and more women are detained and imprisoned, when our prisons are overflowing. Magistrates will use these powers as an alternative to fines and will find them increasingly attractive. I shall briefly quote Harry Fletcher from NAPO, who said:

“Thousands of prostitutes will be criminalised and face three days needlessly in jail at a time when the system is in meltdown.”

Such a proposal is practically almost irrelevant.

John Furniss of the Multiple Choice Rehabilitation Centre said:

“Three meetings is window dressing and meaningless. People will miss meetings due to their drug use.”

As we know, 93 per cent. of prostitutes have a drug dependency, according to Home Office figures. The proposal could be dangerously counter-productive. Siobhan Kilkenny from the Sex Worker Project says:

“Criminalising these people in whatever way it is dressed up will make the most vulnerable and invisible more vulnerable and more invisible and allow tragedies like the Ipswich murders to happen again.”

Further stigmatisation will force people underground and make them more vulnerable to violence and rape; in the past 10 years, 60 women prostitutes have been murdered.

There are alternatives. We are taking the wrong approach; we should be taking the approach recommended by the Home Office itself: moving away from traditional enforcement under police crackdowns, and shifting prostitution from being a policing problem to a welfare issue. In those reports, we have said that we need to understand why women go into prostitution and why it is that, as a result of drug dependency, unemployment, housing problems and poverty, they are forced into that role.

We need to create and invest in an effective response, which was set out in the Home Office reports of 2004 and 2006: early intervention, multi-agency working training professionals, outreach workers, one-to-one support, fast-tracking into drugs programmes that are crucial to stabilisation, fast-tracking into emergency accommodation, advice and assistance and specialised support for victims of domestic violence.

All those matters are ready to hand, but they require investment of resources, and I regret that there have been cuts in the drugs programmes in recent years. We need to move forward into a caring, welfare approach,
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rather than a criminal process. We need to look at the resources. On that basis, when the Bill comes back on Report, I will seek to remove clause 72 and insert clauses that realistically tackle the problem and measures that provide the alternative resources to invest in the solutions that are needed and that the Home Office itself has recognised.

9.21 pm

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): I support much of the Bill, but I want to raise two separate matters. I shall be brief, because of the time available. First, I should like to mention sex. Clause 64(6)(b) mentions an image of an act

“which appears to result…in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals”.

I agree with virtually all the clause, and I understand the motivation behind Liz Longhurst’s campaign, but my problem is with the phrase “appears to”. That will catch all sorts of things that it should not. I have several examples, but time precludes me from raising them. The Government should consider that sub-paragraph, which could be problematic for the future.

Secondly, I want to raise the much more important issue of children. In the Bill and the notes on it, there are some 15 new conditions and requirements on youth rehabilitation orders—plus another one: the Secretary of State can do what he likes and set another condition on youngsters “by order”. A lot of the conditions are okay in themselves, but the approach is unbalanced. For example, a youth offender team manager stated:

“During the seven years that YOTs have been established, apart from limited finance to establish ISSPs, there has been no additional funding made available to enhance the quality of work with those already in the system. This is despite a 26 per cent. increase nationally in youth court business over the past four years.”

Rod Morgan, the former chair of the Youth Justice Board, says:

“We are criminalising more and more children and young people—an increase of 26 per cent. between 2002 and 2006—in a period when all the evidence suggests that the incidence of youth offending fell.”

In June, I received a letter from the Howard League for Penal Reform that stated:

“In statistics published by the Council of Europe in 2005, England and Wales was found to have jailed 2,274 children”—

the figure has gone up since then—

“compared to 1,456 in Germany, 628 in France, 73 children in the Netherlands and nine in Norway.

The profligate use of prison for children, the infliction of pain and injury to control children behind closed doors, child deaths in custody, lack of physical exercise and the use of segregation blocks that might be said to resemble modern day dungeons, are all ways in which the treatment of children in custody amounts to child abuse and in some cases may actually be criminal…In 2002, when considering the last report of the UK government, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that the government had to

‘establish a system of juvenile justice that fully integrates into its legislation, policies and practice the provisions and principles of the Convention’, including by raising the minimum age for criminal responsibility, ensuring ‘that no child can be tried as an adult irrespective of the circumstances or gravity of his/her offence’, ensuring ‘that detention of children is used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time and that children are separated from adults in detention’”.
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That just has not happened. What we have is a cluttering of the system with relatively minor cases, too many prosecutions instead of pre-court settlements, and insufficient discretion—for example, for the police to deal with matters in situ, or for youth offender teams, or for courts to filter out cases where children’s welfare needs are readily apparent and should take priority. Cases such as those involving mental health or family neglect should be diverted away from the court system. Instead, we have adult Crown courts used for children, detention alongside adults, some sentences that are worse for children than for adults for the same offence, and restraint to such an extent that in a recent 18-month period there were more than 2,000 injuries to children in custody. The Howard League for Penal Reform says that, since January 2002, six children have died in custody. That amounts to degrading punishments, and detention not as a last resort, as it should be.

The age of criminal responsibility is the lowest in Europe: 10 in England and Wales and eight in Scotland. A 10-year-old is presumed to be as criminally responsible as a fully mature adult. The Government insist that they will not revisit the age of criminal responsibility, but I strongly believe that there should be a proper review. There should, at least, be a layered response to children who commit offences. The welfare of the child should take precedent over being punitive and the child’s continued development still needs to be nurtured, whatever the punishment. Rod Morgan argues that some changes for the better can be made administratively, but we have yet to see them and the Bill is an unbalanced approach to dealing with child offenders. Again, the Government should think again.

9.26 pm

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): I would like to associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who spoke on the laws relating to prostitution. It is certainly true that, given all the reviews that have taken place, it is necessary for the Government to do something more about harm reduction and less about criminalisation. Only in that way will we be able better to protect the women involved in prostitution. In particular, it is essential that we crack down on the really serious and unacceptable side of the sex industry: the trafficking of women, their exploitation, the prostitution of children, which is an unacceptable evil, and the exploitative pimping that goes on. Those things should be concentrated on.

In that respect, it is extremely disappointing that in the Home Secretary’s recent announcement about reflection periods for victims of trafficking for sexual purposes there is still no plan or proposal by the Government to provide residency permits. Such permits have been provided in other countries, where they have had a significant impact, as the Joint Committee on Human Rights found in its inquiry into the matter. That inquiry included a trip to Italy, where such permits have been provided. There have been multiple prosecutions of the evil traffickers who are involved in the exploitation of women, simply because women are able to come forward—because they will get protection.

I would also like to associate myself with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner), who has a long tradition of
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campaigning on matters to do with equality on the grounds of sexual orientation. He is not entirely right that the Government’s record on this matter has been uniformly good, because they started off very badly and slowly. However, recently their performance has picked up a lot, particularly with regard to the goods and services provisions, including those in Northern Ireland, which the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) was involved in and which were pretty tough—in fact, the judicial review found that they were a little too strong in certain areas.

I feel—I speak as the president of Liberal Democrats for lesbian and gay equality—that there is a real problem with homophobic hate crime and it is right that there should be an offence of incitement to homophobic hatred. The only question that remains for me, and I suspect for colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches, is how that is balanced against free speech. It is regrettable that we did not have this offence before the offence of incitement to religious hatred, since I think that the incidence is greater. The best ways to tackle homophobic hatred are through proper, balanced sex and relationships education in the national curriculum that makes it clear that one cannot and should not stigmatise lesbian and gay people, and by tackling homophobic bullying far more assertively.

As the Lord Chancellor himself accepted, there will have to be a debate on the wording of any offence, in order to ensure that people with whom I disagree, often coming from a religious perspective, do not find that their words are criminalised. The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown, mentioned Christian Voice, which speaks about

“young people who are being drawn into a lifestyle characterised by disease, degradation, death and denial.”

That is rubbish, and it is offensive—there is no doubt about that—but criminalising it would create major problems. It is far better to debate. I do not believe that people who hear pastors go out and commit violent criminal offences. I think that it is often thugs, and people who grow up believing that gay people should not have full rights, who commit those offences. I believe that we can find a compromise that will protect the ability of some religious organisations—and we are by no means talking about the majority of Christians, for example—to spout words that I think are horrible nonsense, but that should not be criminalised.

Finally, on the issue of extreme pornography in part 6 of the Bill, as Liberty says in its briefing,

“Extreme caution should be exercised when new criminal laws are imposed with the intention of imposing a subjective opinion on what is morally acceptable…the state should be required to provide justifications for legal restrictions on pornography, and to demonstrate that a proposed measure does not go further than is necessary.”

Liberty goes on to say that it is vital that

“legitimate and undamaging behaviour is not unintentionally criminalised by carelessly drafted, over-broad criminal offences.”

It is concerned

“about the breadth of the proposed new offence”,

which

“might criminalise people who cause no harm to others and who possess pornographic material involving consensual participants.”
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Ministers have not provided an evidence base for some of the material that will be covered by the measure. Despite the eloquent testimony that Members have given about an individual case, if we do not have evidence that the material causes harm, it is right that the House should subject the proposals to close scrutiny. We must ask why, for example, the Obscene Publications Act definition is not being used, and why another definition, which, it is argued, is broader, is being used. I can see no reference to compatibility with the Human Rights Act 1998 in the Government’s explanatory memorandum, either; that will need to be tested. I would be grateful if, in his response, the Minister set out the evidence that justifies the measure. I understand that time is limited, so I shall leave my remarks there.