Policing and Crime Bill
Second Reading 19 Jan 2009
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Before I start, may I welcome the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) to his new position on the Front Bench? He has very thoughtful and decent shoes to fill—those of the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve)— but I am sure that he will do a very good job. [ Interruption. ] I will not say it about the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley).
This Bill builds on a determined commitment by this Government to protect the public through investment and reform in our police service by building strong and secure communities where we support the law-abiding majority and protect the vulnerable while punishing those who do not play by the rules—making sure that justice is not only done but seen to be done. To date, we have made good progress. Since 1997, crime is down by nearly 40 per cent.; burglary and car crime has more than halved; we have invested more than £1 billion to establish neighbourhood policing across England and Wales; there are almost 14,500 more officers in the police force, alongside police community support officers and backed by more civilian staff and a major increase in funding; and the likelihood of being a victim of crime is now lower than at any time in more than 25 years.
That is a tremendous record that stands as a testament to the achievements of this Government working in close collaboration with our many partners across the police, the courts, local government and the voluntary sector, as well as our most important partners—local people willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with the police in tackling crime and antisocial behaviour in their communities.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Could the Home Secretary confirm that someone’s chances of being a victim of a violent crime such as a stabbing are significantly higher now than they were last year or 10 years ago, when her Government took office?
Jacqui Smith: No, I am not willing to accept that. What is more, and I am sure that we will get the chance to explore this in greater detail when I come before the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the actions of the police and their partners, particularly in those areas where knife crime has been the most significant crime issue, should be commended for the difference that they have made, especially in recent months.
Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Would my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to acknowledge the benefits that have come from the initiative to reduce violent crime in Cardiff, which was led by a medic who worked very closely with the police, taking a clinical approach to reducing crime? Is that not an example of the value of the crime reduction partnerships, and of the sort of benefit that has quietly been reaped in recent years? Does she agree that we should see such examples in every part of the country?
Jacqui Smith: My right hon. Friend makes an important point about a project in which he has taken a personal interest. I am sure that he will be interested to know that through the tackling knives action programme, the project is being extended into the 10 areas that we are working with. The link between accident and emergency departments and the local police is being extended so that they can work together to tackle, and reduce, the amount of knife crime. We are determined to build on that solid foundation, and the measures in the Bill will enable us to do that by increasing the effectiveness of the police and by enhancing local accountability in order to build even greater public confidence in the police force. Those measures will underpin our ability to tackle thugs and criminals at local, national and international level, and reinforce our powers to protect some of the most vulnerable in our society.
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): In the past, attempts have been made to engage the community through the use of neighbourhood panels, but sometimes the police reject the involvement of local residents associations. I have one such very strong association in my area, Spring Park residents association, which has been denied representation on that panel. Would the new legislation make it easier for strong residents associations to be represented on those important neighbourhood panels, which, in turn, support the police?
Jacqui Smith: I obviously do not know the details of the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman describes, but it is my view, as I shall explain later in my speech, that local people need a strong say in policing, particularly at the neighbourhood level. We need to find more ways of involving them, rather than cutting them off from the process.
The significant investments made by this Government have undoubtedly helped the police to make this country a great deal safer. By 2010-11, the police grant will show an increase of £3.7 billion on 1997 levels, and it is fair to say that the force has never been so well supported in terms of personnel and equipment.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I suggest to my right hon. Friend that the Government’s manifold success in tackling crime has been built rather more on the efforts of a well-funded police force than on successive pieces of criminal justice legislation, which wend their way endlessly through this Chamber. Could she say a little more to the House about why we need another police and justice Bill? It will be about the 46th Bill in the lifetime of this Parliament—[Hon. Members: “66!”] Somebody says from a sedentary position that it is the 66th. That does seem an awful lot.
Jacqui Smith: I am sure that my hon. Friend will be interested to know that during the 11 years of this Government, we have, on average, passed less Home Office legislation than was passed in the equivalent period under the previous Conservative Government. However, I will go on to explain to my hon. Friend why what we are proposing in the Bill will make a difference to the people whom he represents and why it is important.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): I generally welcome the Bill, and I will support it. Following the point just made, does the right hon. Lady accept that we must build on existing legislation? On the abuse of alcohol, she will be aware of the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997, and the requirement of that Act for the police to involve parents. Will she make sure that this Bill does nothing to take away the requirement on the police to involve parents and communities when trying to tackle under-age drinking on our streets?
Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. In the tiered approach that we propose for tackling under-age drinking, we have made more specific provision that parents should be involved, and at an early stage.
To return to police reform, even with the great strides that we have made there is still scope to do more. The policing Green Paper set out a radical programme of reform designed to make the police service more efficient, visible and accountable to the public whom it serves. We are already seeing the benefits of those changes. For example, all 43 police forces in England and Wales signed up to the policing pledge, setting out the minimum standards that people can expect from their police service. It represents a major milestone in engaging communities and helping local people to set the right policing priorities for their area. Monthly meetings and local crime maps are already helping local people to influence local action, which is a crucial step in generating greater confidence across communities and creating a more responsive police service.
Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I am sorry to interrupt the Home Secretary’s paean of self-congratulatory humbug. Perhaps she would like to explain to my constituents why, since 2004, she and her predecessors have consistently failed properly to fund local police authorities such as Cambridgeshire to deal with the impact of EU migration, which has had a massive and demonstrable impact on crime and policing in our area. Despite promises from the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, who is sitting next to her, we are still not properly funded and we are still in the bottom five funded authorities in the country.
Jacqui Smith: Some of the congratulations that I offered were to the police themselves. As the hon. Gentleman argues for greater funding for Cambridgeshire police authority, he might like to ponder the impact of his Front-Bench team’s proposed £160 million of cuts to the Home Office budget from this May—the equivalent of 3,500 police officers across the country. Opposition Members would be better off charging their Front Benchers with ensuring that they continue even our level of support for police authorities such as Cambridgeshire before they start pleading for more.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): What steps is the Home Secretary taking to ensure that her Department passes on the good practice of some police authorities, such as what the Select Committee on Home Affairs saw on a visit to Staffordshire? The authority there had reduced greatly the amount of paperwork involved in processing particular crimes. It is important to pass that good practice on to other police authorities and, even though all the authorities are different, to try to get some standardisation of good practice in the police force.
Jacqui Smith: I am sure that my right hon. Friend will therefore be pleased to know that I said just before Christmas that the sort of scheme that he saw in Staffordshire should be available throughout the country, in the same way that good practice in the use of hand-held computer devices and the scrapping of the stop and account form are now available across the country. That is driving good practice and efficiency among police forces. Of course, we have also stripped away national crime targets for the police, leaving just a single target for each force to satisfy—increasing public confidence. That is crucial, because reinforcing confidence in a fair criminal justice system is the key to maintaining the support and active involvement of the public in our fight against crime and disorder.
Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments about public engagement, and I thank her for making Luton one of the new neighbourhood crime and justice pioneer areas. In that context, will she ensure that the police use new technologies to engage with communities as well as evening meetings? Mums do not do evening meetings, so we need to use BlackBerries, as Bedfordshire police does, and online consultations to ensure that the public really can engage. How would the Opposition’s proposal to cut 30 police from the Bedfordshire constabulary help with all that?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend has a very good record of challenging both the Government and the police force to use new technology in the most effective way possible. If police forces are to drive up confidence in the way in which we now expect, they will need to find new ways to communicate and engage with the public, as she identifies. I agree that not only confidence in the police force but the confidence of the police force would be reduced if cuts to police numbers such as those proposed by the Opposition were inflicted on police forces across the country.
The new performance management regime will not only give the police greater freedom in deciding how to go about bolstering public confidence, but as my hon. Friend pointed out, it will give each force a real incentive to be more innovative in how they tackle crime and communicate with local people. It will also inspire professional discretion on the front line, of the nature of the Staffordshire pilot that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) referred to.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): The Home Secretary referred to improving and enhancing police accountability. As a Member of Parliament for this capital city, I wonder how we can ensure that the democratic mandate of the Mayor of London’s role can be enhanced in terms of police accountability. Will she give the Mayor the power to appoint and dismiss the Metropolitan Police Commissioner?
Jacqui Smith: I know that the Mayor has called for that, not least in his briefing for this debate, although I wonder whether the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling)—it would be interesting to hear from him on that today—agrees with the Mayor that responsibility for the appointment of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who has a national responsibility for counter-terrorism, should be taken out of the hands of the Home Secretary and put into those of the Mayor of London.
Our changes mean that we need the police to be more professional and effective than ever, especially at the top and in their leadership. I am pleased that the Bill will reinforce their ability to develop talent from every background by strengthening the independence and status of the Senior Appointments Panel for chief officers. It is clear that accountability is crucial in building the public’s trust and confidence. That is why we propose to place a new duty on police authorities to have regard to the public’s views in the exercise of all their functions. We are also giving a strengthened inspectorate the power to assess how well the public’s views are being reflected during the new inspections of police authorities.
I want to go further, and to introduce the direct election of some members of police authorities. However, events late last year convinced me that there are still legitimate questions about how to achieve that without the risk of politicising the police. It is vital to protect the police’s operational independence, as I have made abundantly clear to the House on many occasions. We remain convinced of the merits of direct election as part of a responsive and fully accountable police service, but in the light of last year’s events, and having listened closely to all the views on the issue, I believe that it is right to do more work in this area before pressing ahead. In the meantime, with the proposed changes to the role of the inspectorate and the measures that we have taken since the policing Green Paper, I believe that we have a robust system in place that we can build on for the future.
Alcohol-related violent crime is down by one third since 1997, and perceptions of the extent of antisocial behaviour have fallen significantly over the past five years, but we know that antisocial behaviour and other lower level crime can have a corrosive effect on our communities, so we will take further action in the Bill to prevent crime and disorder from taking root.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I welcome the overall reduction in crime to which my right hon. Friend referred. Does she agree that there is an issue with young people and alcohol-related crime, and will she be setting out proposals in the Bill that particularly target such crime?
Jacqui Smith: Yes, we will. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that despite the welcome news that fewer young people are drinking, the figures suggest that those who do are drinking more heavily, so we must remain proactive on initiatives such as the £4 million, “Know your Limits” campaign, which has already had a major impact, generating 92 per cent. awareness among the target audience.
Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): The Home Secretary is being generous. Under clause 26 the
“penalty for offence of consuming alcohol in a designated public place”
will increase from £500 to £2,500. How relevant is that, given that since the offence has been in force no one, but no one has been fined more than £250, and the majority of fines have been well under £100? Because of the guidelines imposed by the Government, the maximum fine or anything like it cannot be imposed on any occasion, so why bother? Is it just a silly headline?
Jacqui Smith: Let me say in response to the hon. Gentleman that not only are more and more people applying for designated public protection orders, but, as he will know from his legal experience, increasing the maximum fine sends an important signal through the system, notwithstanding whether the previous maximum has ever been given, as do the many other provisions in the Bill that demonstrate the seriousness with which the Government take the problem.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): I am at one with my right hon. Friend in wanting to stamp out excessive and irresponsible drinking, which is fuelling too much crime in our society. However, may I ask her to be cautious in seeking a power to impose a new code of practice on pubs and to ensure that she does not put another nail in the coffin of well run and orderly public houses, which are already so financially fragile at the present time?
Jacqui Smith: I will come on to explain precisely how we intend to do that, which I hope will reassure my hon. Friend.
With our partners in the police and local government, we have also been doing more to enforce existing laws governing the sale of alcohol.
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I would be grateful if the Home Secretary could clarify whether the offences in the Bill will lead to the extension of penalty notices for disorder, given that the Delegated Legislation Committee that was due to sit today at this time to consider other offences, relating to the possession of cannabis, making off without payment and taxi touting, had to be cancelled because the Justice Secretary had not consulted the Mayor about the implications for taxi touting and other offences. Is that not an indication that under this Government we have soft justice, justice on the cheap and justice on the quiet?
Jacqui Smith: No, it is a sign of the fact that, having received representations—not just from the Mayor, but from Rape Crisis and others—the Secretary of State for Justice acted quickly to ensure that it was possible not only to remove the provisions dealing with taxi touting, but to safeguard, as I hope hon. Members will see later this week, the provisions dealing with fixed penalty notices for cannabis possession.
Mr. Malins: Will the Home Secretary give way?
Jacqui Smith: No, I will make a bit of progress, because other hon. Members are limited in their ability to make contributions today.
Alongside the enforcement action that we are taking, the drinks industry has a key role to play in combating the misuse of alcohol. Many responsible people in the sector have been wholly supportive of our efforts to protect the public, but there have been too many cases where the industry’s voluntary code has not worked. An independent review recently highlighted premises promoting “all you can drink” offers and “free drinks for women” nights. Frankly, that is an invitation to binge drinking, and it is not good enough.
As a result, we will draw up a revised code of practice governing the sale of alcohol. Some of the conditions will be mandatory for all licensed premises; others can be used at the discretion of licensing authorities to target premises in areas experiencing problems.
Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab) rose—
Jacqui Smith: We are still consulting on the fine detail, but perhaps I can assure my hon. Friend that it is obvious that we need to ban irresponsible promotions. However, the vast majority of those who operate responsibly will not be troubled by the changes. We need to ensure that we have the right powers in place to tackle the irresponsible minority, but without creating difficulties for responsible premises, whether on-licence or off-licence.
Mr. Grogan: Would it be possible to give a commitment to publish the mandatory code for alcohol retailers before the Committee stage, so that it can be sensibly discussed? I am encouraged by some of the words that my right hon. Friend has used, but does she recognise that if the code is too onerous—the regulatory impact assessment suggested that for a well run community pub that causes no problems to anyone the code could cost £1,100 a year—there is a danger that, as has been mentioned, the rate of pub closures could rapidly increase?
Jacqui Smith: I cannot promise my hon. Friend that we will do that before the Committee stage, but while the Bill is passing through both Houses we will ensure that the consultation that we have committed to undertake on the detail of the code is placed before hon. Members and others, so that they can consider it alongside what is effectively just an enabling power that we are putting forward in the legislation.
Keith Vaz: I have noted the Home Secretary’s answer to the chairman of the all-party group on beer, my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), but the problem is not the pubs; it is the supermarkets. Why are the Government letting the supermarkets off the hook? It is their provision of cheap alcohol that allows people to get tanked up before they go out on a Saturday evening. There is no code to control that provision, which is why we have a problem. It is the loss leaders in the supermarkets that are really causing the problem.
Jacqui Smith: No. As I think I have discussed with my right hon. Friend before, the conditions in the code will apply to irresponsibility equally, whether in the on-trade or the off-trade. The code will catch irresponsible promotions wherever they are happening. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), our existing tough penalties for retailers who sell to under-age drinkers will be further strengthened in the Bill, and we are bolstering the police’s powers to tackle young people caught drinking.
Mr. Malins: Will the Secretary of State give way on that very point?
Jacqui Smith: Okay.
Mr. Malins: The Home Secretary is very generous. She talks about the Government’s determination and success in enforcing the existing law. She will know that, under section 147A of the Licensing Act 2003, it is already an offence to sell alcohol to children on three consecutive occasions. Will she tell me roughly how many prosecutions a year take place for this offence?
Jacqui Smith: Now I regret giving way to the hon. Gentleman, because I do not know the answer to that question. However, I am sure that the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing will provide it in his summing up.
The public want to see a fair system of justice. The seizure of criminal assets is one of our most powerful tools in fighting crime, and it delivers many other benefits as well. It deprives criminals of capital, reduces the incentives for criminal activity, and eases the harm caused by crime. Just as importantly, it promotes confidence in the criminal justice system and lets the public see that the criminals are not getting away with their crimes. To date, more than £500 million worth of assets have been recovered since the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 came into force in 2003, including £136 million in 2007-08 alone. That is a good achievement, but, as I said when we launched our anti-drugs strategy last year, we want to do more. That is why the Bill includes new powers to seize goods on arrest, which will be particularly useful in ensuring that criminals cannot get rid of their assets before the courts can get to them. At the same time, it will send a powerful message to criminals that they will not be able to get away with their crimes and flaunt their illegally gained wealth.
The mark of any civilised society is how it protects the most vulnerable, so I am pleased that the Government passed a major milestone in December when we ratified the Council of Europe convention against human trafficking. This strengthened the UK’s ability to catch the criminals who exploit victims of trafficking, and underlined the Government’s long-term commitment to tackle this horrific crime. In too many cases, the trafficking is directly linked to the demand for prostitution in this country. It has been clear to me for some time that tackling the demand side of the equation is one of the best ways we have of fighting back against the misery of prostitution and human exploitation.
Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Unions such as the GMB are working with women in the sex trade, and they are concerned that the measures could result in the further criminalisation of women, rather than of the men who are using those women. Will my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that she is talking to, and will continue to talk to, trade unions such as the GMB, to ensure that the victims—the women who are seeking protection from harassment, theft, bullying and intimidation—are protected, and that they will not be further criminalised?
Jacqui Smith: It is precisely to achieve a shift from the criminalisation of, and focus on, women involved in prostitution and the sex trade to a focus on those whose demand creates the prostitution in the first place that, last year, we undertook the review into how to tackle demand. That review concluded that effective enforcement needs to extend beyond those who organise sexual exploitation; it also has to impact on those who contribute to the demand by paying for sex in the first place. Through this Bill, I intend to introduce a new offence of paying for sex with a prostitute who is controlled for gain, and I believe that that will be a major step forward.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): I welcome the fact that the Government signed and ratified the convention on trafficking, which provides support for women identified as trafficked. To what extent does the Home Secretary think that driving prostitution further underground and criminalising almost all men who use prostitutes will aid in the ability of those prostitutes to be found and rescued and of the traffickers to be prosecuted? Does not driving it underground make that more difficult?
Jacqui Smith: No, I do not believe that focusing and turning the legal spotlight on to men who choose to pay to have sex with women who have been exploited and have made no free choice will drive prostitution underground. In fact, I think that policy will protect women and put an onus on those whose demand actually creates the exploitation in the first place— [Interruption.] However, I also recognise that such measures have to be part of a co-ordinated approach that not only tackles the demand, but provides a way out for those who want to escape the misery of prostitution. For that reason, the Bill also introduces a new rehabilitation order for prostitutes convicted of loitering or soliciting as an alternative to a fine. In conjunction with other agencies, that will help us shift away from a system that punishes women towards a more supportive framework that helps people who end up in prostitution.
Several hon. Members rose —
Jacqui Smith: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon).
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend, but why have the Government almost totally ignored the experiences of New Zealand?
Jacqui Smith: In putting together the tackling demand review, we actually spent quite a lot of time looking at international experience, as well as at the, I have to say, conflicting views of those involved in lobbying on this issue in the UK. I believe that the range of policies brought forward as a result of that review are the most effective way to protect both women and communities blighted by prostitution.
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): I would like some clarification of clause 13. Is the Home Secretary actually trying to drive prostitutes off the streets and stamp out the business of running brothels? Is she against any form of prostitution? Is she going to close sauna and massage parlours? I am not saying that I disagree with her; I just want to know the aims behind clause 13. If it is about trafficking, it may not succeed; if it is about prostitution, it is another business altogether. What is the Home Secretary’s aim in clause 13?
Jacqui Smith: I am opposed to exploitation, whether it stems from trafficking or elsewhere. I am opposed to the fact that there are women in this country who do not make a free choice to engage in prostitution and are being controlled, exploited and in some cases effectively enslaved. We are proposing the new measures in order to take action against that. I know that the hon. Gentleman has an important and good record on campaigning against trafficking. I think that the provisions will help us to identify and limit it, because without the demand for the prostitution, often fed by trafficking, we have more chance of tackling the actual trafficking itself, to which I know the hon. Gentleman is seriously committed.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does she agree that what she proposes is further to criminalise sex workers unless they participate in compulsory rehabilitation on pain of imprisonment. What evidence is there that such compulsory rehabilitation actually works? Should we not concentrate on providing excellent programmes that people who want to leave prostitution can engage in? Furthermore, how does criminalising men help keep sex workers safe? Why does the Home Secretary not listen to the evidence put forward by the Safety First coalition—a wide umbrella of organisations campaigning to keep sex workers safe. It was set up after the terrible murders in Ipswich, so why does she not listen to its evidence on these issues?
Jacqui Smith: On the first point, as my hon. Friend will see if she looks at how the provisions on rehabilitation orders are drafted, it is obvious that they are put forward as an alternative to a fine or other sentence when a woman has been brought before the courts. It is an alternative to criminalising, not further criminalising women in the way my hon. Friend suggests. On the second point, we listened to many different people who represented or purported to represent sex workers and others affected by prostitution during the tackling demand review. There is no consensus about the right way forward, but I am pretty clear that without a demand for prostitution, particularly the sort of prostitution that involves exploited or trafficked women, there would be less of it. That, I think, is what all of us across the House want to see.
At the same time as taking those provisions forward, I will also give the police greater powers to tackle the kerb crawlers who blight neighbourhoods and create the demand for street prostitution. Whether it is kerb crawlers or lap-dancing clubs, we all need to listen and respond on behalf of the law-abiding majority. We need communities to be fully engaged and feel that their views are being heard, so that they can have real confidence in the criminal justice system. In the case of lap-dancing clubs, I think we need to do more to make sure that happens. The number of lap-dancing clubs in towns and cities across the UK has doubled since 2004 and in many areas the public are fed up with having no say in where these clubs open. That is why I propose to reclassify lap-dancing clubs as sex encounter venues to give local people a far louder voice in determining whether and where those clubs can be set up.
Let me move on to another issue that affects vulnerable people in our society. We are always examining how to strengthen the robust system that we have in place for managing sex offenders. As such, this Bill includes further measures to curb the ability of child sex offenders to harm children either here in the UK or abroad. The Bill reforms the provisions on foreign travel orders, increasing their duration and automatically removing passports from individuals subject to a blanket foreign travel order. At the same time, we will tighten up the rules around sexual offences protection orders so that, for example, the police can restrict the activities of offenders from other jurisdictions as soon as they arrive back in the UK.
We live in a great country that enjoys a robust, fair and effective criminal justice system. Britain is not broken, even if, given their proposed cuts, Tory credibility on fighting crime is. We are extremely effective at tackling crime while protecting the innocent and vulnerable, but we cannot be complacent, which is why this Bill is so important. I believe that its provisions will improve the public’s ability to determine how they are policed, while also improving the capacity and effectiveness of the law enforcement agencies that protect us all. It brings together the right powers to offer confidence to communities and to protect the most vulnerable, while delivering the tools we need to fight against crime and disorder. This Bill links the international fight against crime to the fight at national, regional and local level. It is a Bill to build stronger, safer and more confident communities; I commend it to the House.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): I begin by thanking the Home Secretary for her kind words; I look forward to debating with her extensively in the months ahead. For all her attempts, however, to sound enthusiastic, the Policing and Crime Bill before us smacks of a Government who are tired and exhausted. It is a rag-tag collection of measures, scrambled together by a Home Secretary and ministerial team bereft of ideas.
After a whip-round across the Cabinet table, the main sensible proposals have, in reality, been generously contributed by the Opposition. We were, of course, promised tough new measures by a Government desperate to create the illusion of action—and the result is this “Do something—do anything!” Bill. Before this Government can expect to be taken seriously on law enforcement, they must be honest about the problems they face. We will not get anywhere in tackling the scourge of knives, guns and drugs on our streets as long as Ministers persist in fiddling the figures, the most recent example being the Home Secretary’s release of skewed knife crime statistics in December—slammed as “premature, irregular and selective” by the head of the Statistics Authority.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman has spoken of the need for the Government—and, indeed, the Opposition—to be frank, honest and accurate in their projections. Does he accept my own figures? Being a sad accountant, I was dabbling with a spreadsheet yesterday evening. When I fed in the Conservatives’ planned restriction of real growth in the Home Office budget to 1 per cent., it produced a £160 million reduction in the policing budget, which is the equivalent of 3,555 police officers, with 56 in Leicestershire and five in my constituency. Is that—
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. As the hon. Gentleman knows, interventions must be brief.
Chris Grayling: I am not sure that I would want to employ the hon. Gentleman as my accountant. Let me point out to him that he is part of an Administration who managed to spend £150 million on management consultants in the Home Office two years ago, and whose Chancellor of the Exchequer stood at the Dispatch Box about three weeks ago and said he did not believe that there were not efficiencies to be made in Government. I will take no lectures from the hon. Gentleman about the need for all of us, in these difficult times, to draw in the horns of the public sector when our constituents—people around the country—are having to do the same.
The Conservatives have pledged to make crime statistics totally independent. Ministers and special advisers will no longer receive advance warning, and the public will be given the whole truth. Why will the Home Secretary not agree today to give up control and privileged access, and end the politicisation of crime statistics that has done so much to corrode public confidence? That would make a difference. Perhaps the Home Secretary would like to tell us now that she is willing to do it. I see that she cannot be persuaded to change her mind, but does she now at least accept the formal leaked information from the head of the Home Office, Sir David Normington, to Ministers that
“levels of the most serious violence are higher than they were ten years ago”?
The stark reality is that violent crime has risen by 80 per cent. under this Government. Gun violence has soared almost fourfold and fatal stabbings are up by a third—figures that mask the untold human suffering inflicted on victims and their families up and down the country. It is against that background that the Bill must be judged, but it contains nothing that will rectify those tragic failings. Even the measures that we can welcome are irrelevant to what is required to make our streets safer and restore public confidence. As I shall make clear later, in the area of increasing police accountability and co-operation with the public, the Government have lost their way entirely.
Let me begin by responding to the main sections of the Bill. We can certainly welcome the appointment of Sir Ronnie Flanagan as chair of the senior appointments panel, but will the Home Secretary commit herself to listening to his advice? In February last year, Sir Ronnie gave a candid assessment of 10 years of failed policy, which, in his words, had left the police subject to “perverse incentives”, “a slave to doctrine”, and “straitjacketed by process”. The Home Secretary has completely failed to deliver on her promises to reduce the stifling effects of Whitehall micro-management, and the Bill does nothing to reduce the burden of bureaucracy that leaves officers with just 14 per cent. of their time to spend on patrol.
The principle of an appointments panel is sensible, but it is strange that it gives the Association of Chief Police Officers a statutory position in advising on appointments when the status of ACPO itself remains undefined. Is it an external reference group for Home Office Ministers, or a professional association protecting senior officers’ interests? Is it a national policing agency, or is it a pressure group arguing for greater police powers?
During the initial outcry over the handling of the arrest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), the chairman of ACPO saw its role as pontificating on the rights of the police to override the rights of parliamentarians to do their job and to determine what constitutes national security, which I found very odd indeed. Unless ACPO’s status is sorted out, we shall have some doubts over whether it should have this role on a statutory basis. I hope that Ministers will be able to provide more information about that in Committee, and that we shall have more opportunities to debate it then.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on his excellent promotion. Does he agree that there is every danger that the panel will become very expensive and extremely bureaucratic?
Chris Grayling: I share my hon. Friend’s concerns. It will be for Ministers to demonstrate in Committee that that will not be the case. The panel needs to be lean, mean and effective, rather than representing yet more substantial bureaucracy in the public sector.
We welcome the Government’s acceptance of our call for local authorities to be given greater licensing powers over lap-dancing clubs, although, as I shall explain later, on its own it will do little to protect the most vulnerable victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.
Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I hope the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that it was a 10-minute Bill introduced by a Labour Member that proposed that change in the legislation in the first instance. I do not recall Conservative Front Benchers supporting me at the time.
Chris Grayling: I am sorry that the hon. Lady has not been listening to the comments of my hon. Friends on the Conservative Front Bench, but I am glad that there is agreement in all parts of the House on the need for change in an area that affects a number of other areas of government. It affects my former brief, for instance: jobs in such clubs were being advertised through local jobcentres. We need to do all we can to ensure that exploitation does not take place, and to give local communities the right to say when or where something should or should not happen.
We welcome stronger powers to crack down on binge drinking. A million people were victims of alcohol-related violence last year, with accident and emergency admissions related to alcohol up by a quarter since 2004. No one can deny the evidence from the police, local authorities and hospitals that the Government’s reckless policy of allowing 24-hour drinking has inflicted misery on innocent law-abiding citizens across Britain, not least the professionals who work in front-line services.
Keith Vaz: I warmly congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment as the new shadow Home Secretary. I know that he was appointed only a few hours ago, but has he had an opportunity to read the Select Committee’s report “Policing in the 21st Century”? I am sure his hon. Friends have read it. The Committee’s members unanimously suggested that we consider the idea of a floor price for alcohol sold by supermarkets. The hon. Gentleman is right: given that alcohol-related crime accounts for almost 50 per cent. of crime as a whole, surely we should consider a more radical approach to try to control the easy availability of alcohol from supermarkets.
Chris Grayling: I share the right hon. Gentleman’s concern, and I look forward to reading his report. He will not be surprised to learn that I have not yet had time to do so. My colleagues, including the shadow Chancellor, have argued for legislative measures to stop sales of under-priced alcohol. I have seen one or two examples which I found positively horrifying. In Liverpool, for example, I encountered a firm that would actually deliver alcohol to a park. There are real issues related to the sale of alcohol, particularly to people who are under age, and they need to be addressed.
What is open to doubt is whether any of the new powers that are being proposed will ever be enforced. As my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) pointed out, the Bill proposes an increase in the fine for refusing to stop drinking in a public place from £500 to £2,500, but between 2004 and 2006 not a single person received a fine of more than £250, and 98 per cent. of people were fined less than £100. The suspicion is that this is yet another case of all talk, no action from these Ministers, this Home Secretary and this Government.
The Bill introduces a smattering of conditions that local authorities can apply when granting new licences to sell alcohol—itself an admission of the failure of the Government’s extended licensing regime—although they are nothing like the power that the Home Secretary will give councils over lap-dancing clubs. Why will the Home Secretary not finally call time on the Government’s disastrous policy of allowing 24-hour drinking, and give councils proper powers and discretion over late-night sales of alcohol?
Ms Keeble: I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said about the need to support measures to tackle binge drinking. Will he commit his Front-Bench colleagues to supporting tough measures for the mandatory code—for example, to ensure that supermarkets stop pepper-potting drink throughout their branches and clamp down on in-store advertising and promotion of alcohol, as well as dealing with issues related to labelling and pricing?
Chris Grayling: I am delighted that the hon. Lady is keen to find out what our policies are for the future, because we hope to form a Government in the next 18 months. As I have said, we regard the issue as being worthy of concern. My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), the shadow Chancellor, has set out measures to toughen the rules for supermarkets, and I will be considering other options with him. The Conservatives are committed to tackling the scourge of excessive consumption of alcohol which affects so many of our city centres, so many of our communities and, as the hon. Lady will know, so many inner-city areas. The blight of alcohol addiction in many of our most deprived communities is a real barrier to helping young people, in particular, make more of their lives, and we must address that.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent appointment. Does he acknowledge that the problem here is not necessarily the amounts of alcohol being drunk, worrying though those are, but the way in which those amounts are being drunk, in that there is a mentality among people in this country, and in particular among too many young people, that to enjoy themselves they have to binge-drink and get absolutely plastered in the process, in contrast to some continental countries where the population actually drink more per head, but people drink more responsibly? Does my hon. Friend also agree that no amount of legislation—of excessive legislation—will necessarily affect that British mentality, and that what we need is a change in people’s thinking and in how young people, in particular, are educated to live and grow up with alcohol, rather than to abuse it?
Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and it is a sign of the failure of this Government’s policies that so little progress has been made over so many years despite so much legislation being brought on to the statute book. It is a sign that the Government must focus not simply on passing Bills through this House, but on getting the job done out there, and must recognise that often when they micro-manage—or interfere or misjudge their powers—matters are made even worse.
In addition, clause 30 seeks to give the police enhanced powers to give young people a direction to leave an area where there is a risk of an alcohol-related disturbance. It will now extend to children over 10, rather than those over 16. This raises serious issues to do with children being placed at risk by being made to leave an area with which they are familiar when one would have expected the police to take a younger child home or into protective custody if there was a serious enough problem to move them out of the area in the first place. We will wish to look at this in detail. Do we really want the police to be moving on 10-year-olds, rather than addressing the problem and getting them home to their families? We will want to hear more about the Government’s thinking on this in debate in Committee, and we will need a bit of persuading that the approach in this part of the Bill is the right one.
Then we have the now annual exhortation by the Home Secretary to seize the assets of the Mr. Bigs of the criminal underworld. The intention is laudable, but it does not always work, as the Home Secretary knows. In its short life, the Assets Recovery Agency recovered a mere one third of its running costs in criminal assets, and the record of the Serious Organised Crime Agency has been little better; it has missed most of its targets. Yet again, this Government are proposing to introduce yet more law, which can never compensate for basic failures of law enforcement. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that some of this law has a draconian quality that must be questionable. The distinction between restraint of assets on arrest and seizure for confiscation after conviction is being blurred, and the level of judicial oversight reduced. It is unclear why this is being done, and it raises serious issues of fairness and interference with property rights without due process of law.
Mr. Steen: I congratulate my hon. Friend on taking up his new post; we are delighted to see him in it. On the traffickers recovery programme, I do not know whether he knows that at present when traffickers are found, money can be confiscated from them, but it goes to the Treasury and is lost in that black hole. Does he agree that it would be a far better idea, and that this should have been in the Bill, that when traffickers’ ill-gotten gains are taken away from them, that money should go to the victims? At present, the National Criminal Justice Board gives money, but it is Treasury money, so victims are not getting it from the traffickers.
Chris Grayling: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations. I understand exactly where he is coming from, but the trouble is that under this Government the Treasury has so little cash that I suspect that persuading it to deal with this matter very differently may be a struggle.
Nowhere in the Government’s proposals is the evidence of failure more striking than in their approach to tackling human trafficking. That is a mere fig leaf for action. No one in this House should be under any illusion as to the scale of the barbaric trade pouring into Britain. Police upper estimates of the number of vulnerable women and girls trafficked into Britain for sexual exploitation have soared in recent years, from 4,000 to 18,000. The scale of the growth in this problem dwarfs the Government’s efforts to contain it, yet instead of freeing up more police to tackle human trafficking, they are downsizing the specialist unit at the Met, and instead of their driving prosecutions of those profiting from this modern form of slavery, convictions have slumped by two thirds since 2006. That is the reality behind the Government’s rhetoric.
The Home Secretary’s answer is a swathe of new criminal offences aimed at reducing the demand for prostitution. Should we take it from this change of focus, and from the failure to enforce existing laws against those who exploit vulnerable women, that the Home Secretary has now just given up trying to prosecute the criminal gangs involved? Does the Home Secretary agree with the Leader of the House that there is no evidence of any increase in people paying for sex?
We will scrutinise the new strict liability offences closely and carefully to ensure that they do not create scope for abuse or injustice. The much greater risk, however, is that they will lie dormant on the statute book, along with so much of this Government’s legislation produced over the last 11 years, because, as Commander Allan Gibson of the Metropolitan police’s human trafficking unit has made very clear, these proposals will be “very difficult to enforce”.
Mr. Malins: I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on taking up his new post. On clause 13, does he not agree that it is very silly indeed to have a measure whereby a man commits an offence if he uses the services of a prostitute whose activities are controlled in any way, notwithstanding the fact that first, the man did not know, secondly, he had no reason to know and thirdly, upon inquiry he was told that there was no such control? What is the man expected to do? There is no defence; is that not bad law?
Chris Grayling: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s comments as well. One question is: why would we have any confidence that the women concerned would own up to being in some way controlled? That would make it much more difficult to enforce this law.
Lynne Jones: Does that not also mean that men who discover that a woman is trafficked or controlled will be less likely to report it, if this is criminalised?
Chris Grayling: The hon. Lady makes a very good point.
There are many things missing from this Bill that we would have welcomed, and, indeed, which we have called for for some time: measures to cut red tape, slash targets and consolidate excess audit; measures to address the sweltering burden of bureaucracy that police officers strain under day in, day out; proposals to revise the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 so that police do not spend hours filling out forms so that they can stake out the house of a known burglar; a strengthening of the powers of stop and search to deal with spikes in gun, knife or drug crime in hot spots; returning charging discretion to the police for summary offences to free up 1 million police hours; reversing the health and safety rules so that the risk to the public is made the top priority; and changing the rules so that police and prosecutors support members of the public who intervene in good faith to uphold the law. However, the most salient omission consists of the proposals for directly elected crime and policing representatives set out in the Green Paper published last July. It is something of a climbdown to go from a Green Paper to a first clause that cannot be more than 10 lines long; that is a dramatic climbdown by this Government.
The Home Secretary had promised this proposed legislation
“to strengthen the democratic link with the public”.
She even went so far as to hail “a new deal” of
“greater freedom for the police, matched by greater power for the public.”—[ Official Report, 17 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 435.]
That was a nice slogan that got good press, but then it was dropped. Nothing better sums up this Government’s obsession with spin over substance—with headlines over delivery—than their failure to keep their promises to cut police paperwork and give back control over policing to local communities.
Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment as shadow Home Secretary. If he were Home Secretary, would he press ahead, in the face of opposition from the Association of Police Authorities, the Local Government Association and his own party, even if he felt that consulting further and listening to people further would be a more sensible and rational way of approaching the issue of sensitive and proper accountability for the police?
Chris Grayling: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind comments. He will know from his own constituency experience how frustrated many of the people we represent are, and that they feel that they do not have a say in the policing of their communities. We think it is time to change that, and to go ahead with strengthening the accountability of the police to their local communities. We thought that the Government agreed with us—we thought that there was a cross-party consensus on this—but that has now disappeared, which is a matter for regret.
The battle lines are now drawn and the electorate have a clear choice. There will be no new deal for either the police or the public under this Government, who cannot beat their addiction to micro-managing the police, and will not introduce real local accountability. This Government do not trust the police or the public. The alternative is a Conservative Government who will release our police forces from the suffocating grip of Whitehall, get officers back on the streets in large numbers and give local people the say they want over policing in our communities.
Several hon. Members rose —
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I must remind the House that a 10-minute limit applies to speeches by Back Benchers, and operates from now.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on his maiden speech as shadow Home Secretary and on his promotion to one of the most important jobs in opposition. He has not previously been involved in home affairs issues, but I have learned two things about him since his appointment: first, that he was born on 1 April 1962; and secondly, that in 1987 he co-authored a book entitled “Just Another Star?” We will know at the end of 18 months whether it was an autobiography, as we will be able to judge his performances over the next few months.
I welcome this Bill, which is important because it puts into action many of the pledges that the Home Secretary and other Ministers have spoken about over the past few months. It rightly builds on the success of the Flanagan report, and it contains elements of the reforms that I know the Home Secretary has been keen to put into effect. I shall support the Bill on Second Reading, but I wish to raise a number of concerns that I hope the Home Secretary and other Ministers will take on board. I hope that we will be able to strengthen the Bill when it comes out of Committee and back to the House on Third Reading.
My first concern relates to the clauses on alcohol. Both the shadow Home Secretary and the Home Secretary spoke passionately about their desire to ensure that the Government did more to control the amount of alcohol that is finding its way into our city centres and is directly related to crimes being committed in them; 45 per cent of crimes of violence in this country are alcohol-related. Alcohol is 69 per cent. more affordable than it was 15 years ago and it cost the criminal justice system £1.5 billion last year, so it is important that we get to grips with this country’s readily available supply of alcohol. We do not want to stop people drinking. I have to declare my interest: I do not drink alcohol. However, I know that other Members of this House occasionally do. I make no attempt to stop people drinking, and neither do members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, who produced a unanimous report on this issue. We are talking about drinking in moderation and for social reasons, rather than drinking that results in what we sadly see in many of our towns and city centres: complete disorder, which occupies so much of the time of our excellent police force.
The Home Secretary has started to grapple with the problem. We do not pretend for one moment that she is going to solve it overnight, but she is right to have introduced a tougher code in this legislation. I pressed her, as I have done in the past and shall continue to do, on the issue of the floor price of alcohol in supermarkets. The evidence given to the Committee’s inquiry into policing clearly showed that the readily available alcohol in supermarkets is resulting in young people, in particular, having access to alcohol. This alcohol is so cheap; the latest figures—this is not an advert for ASDA—show that ASDA’s Smartprice beer is being offered at 52p a litre, whereas one can buy Evian water there for 93.3p a litre. It is wrong that alcohol should be cheaper than water.
Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): I endorse my right hon. Friend’s sentiments. Is he aware that alcohol is 69 per cent. cheaper than it was in 1980? Does he agree that we need to do what we have done in Luton—engage with young people in our schools and academies, drawing up a toolkit so that young people can help to be part of the solution, and not just the problem?
Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend, who is a distinguished member of the Select Committee, is absolutely right. This is also about engagement; it is not just about compulsion. I hope that such engagement will be part of the process that the Government introduce in this Bill.
The second issue that I wish to discuss is the accountability of our police forces. Our Government, right at the last moment, withdrew their proposals for elected members of police committees, and I understood perfectly well why they did so. There was a risk of extremist minority groups taking over police committees on the basis of single-issue activities, and that would have destabilised the way in which the committees operate. The Government were right not to proceed with those proposals, but it is important that members of the public are made more aware of what police committees do. I can name a number of members of my local police committees, but sadly the only ones who I can recall are those who are elected representatives themselves—councillors nominated from the various political groups. It is important that members of local police committees go out to the local communities, hold meetings and engage with the public, so that people understand exactly what they do. I say that because although those bodies control budgets of several million pounds, people still do not know precisely what they do.
Ms Keeble: Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the many police officers and police community support officers who are directly accountable to their local communities through the operation of safer community teams and through direct day-to-day contact, whereby they take up people’s local concerns and respond to the priorities of their communities?
Keith Vaz: I am happy to join my hon. Friend in praising the work not only of the police in Northampton—I am sure that she was keen to mention Northampton—but of the police in other parts of the country where local police officers are able to engage with communities. People sometimes do not know the names of chief inspectors and superintendents, but they certainly know the bobby on the beat and they have enormous respect for what that individual police officer does, even though they may be unaware of the strategies or the vision behind what is happening locally on policing.
Finally, I wish to tackle the other point that causes me concern. I hope that the Home Secretary will re-examine her proposals in clause 13, in part 2 of the Bill, on sex offences. I understand why the Government have decided to take this course of action on sex offences. The Select Committee has just concluded its inquiry into the very serious problem of human trafficking. In this House today there is a world authority on the issues associated with human trafficking; we are very lucky to have the expertise of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), who has campaigned on these issues for many years. I am not convinced that the best course of action is to prosecute in the proposed way men who go into situations where they wish to buy sex from prostitutes; such men are going to be expected to ask whether the woman concerned has been trafficked, and even if they get an incorrect answer, as is highly likely, given the situation that these poor women are in, they will then be prosecuted.
The police’s own evidence to the Select Committee —[Interruption.] The Home Secretary is shaking her head, but the fact is that the police have said that they were not properly consulted on this issue. I know that she is keen, at all times, to consult them on issues that affect them, but they were not consulted on this issue and they feel that this proposal is not enforceable. The sentiment is right. The Home Secretary feels that she needs to do something and she is right to try to tackle the menace of human trafficking, but it is not possible to do so in the way she proposes, because too many technical difficulties are involved.
David T.C. Davies rose—
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab) rose—
Keith Vaz: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman for a few seconds, because he is on the Select Committee.
David T.C. Davies: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if we are to pursue a policy of killing the demand, as it were, we need to look not only at sex workers but at those who control child beggars, drug abusers and drug pushers, all of whom use trafficking as a means to increase their disgusting businesses?
Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is very difficult. Ministers have used the phrase, “Let us tackle the demand for sex.” We cannot just say to people, “Do not have sex” or “Do not have sex in these circumstances.” Governments should not be involved, in my view, in making such statements. The Government should be saying unequivocally that human trafficking is wrong and that the exploitation of women in particular is wrong. As the Home Secretary correctly said, we should be seeking a package of measures. However, I fear that she will get mired in this difficulty because of the technical problems that lawyers will create in such circumstances. I am not saying that she has not had the best legal advice around, because I am sure that as Home Secretary she will have access to the top lawyers in the country, but there will be difficulties with her proposal and I hope that she will reconsider it.
Mr. Steen: May I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs for his generous comments? I want to let him know that on a police raid in which I have been involved— [ Interruption. ] He is not losing
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any minutes—[Hon. Members: “He is.”] No, he is not, because the button is pressed. In the police raid in which I was involved, the problem was that the punters were foreign and the girls were foreign and neither of them could communicate by way of language. The idea of a trafficking offence that has no defence is just not a runner.
Keith Vaz: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. I do lose minutes, by the way, as that was the third intervention, and so I am sorry but I cannot let my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) intervene. I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said; he has been on more of those raids and has visited more brothels than I have, for legitimate parliamentary reasons, I should say.
There is much in Flanagan and in the Green Paper, and the Select Committee produced a very large report on policing in the 21st century, so I hope that this will not be the last such debate. I take the point that there has been too much legislation, but much more work needs to be done on reforming the police, cutting red tape and all the other issues that the Home Secretary spoke about. I will forgive her if she comes back later in the year with another Bill on this issue if she deals with all the other points that have been made about what our Select Committee talked about.
Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I am always delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). He gave some wise words of advice to the Home Secretary, which I hope that she heeds. I shall turn to that aspect of the Bill later in my speech. I also want to congratulate the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on his inaugural outing and on his appointment to an important role in the House, joining the somewhat select gathering of those who tend to come to the House for Home Office business.
The Bill is a hotch-potch, as is commonly recognised, but it hides a clear hole. It is a hotch-potch because it contains legal ingredients on matters that are barely related, which have been thrown together with no thought as to freshness, let alone a recipe. We have measures on police reform, force collaboration, prostitution, aviation security, alcohol-fuelled disorder, asset seizures and extradition. This is the 66th criminal justice Bill since 1997, and it should be becoming abundantly clear that quantity does not make up for a lack of quality. I want first in my remarks to deal with the central void in the Bill, namely police reform. I shall then deal with some of the bitty aspects and I shall finally turn to the reforms of the prostitution laws, which would not only be controversial, but in my view—I agree with the right hon. Member for Leicester, East—a serious mistake.
The largest disappointment of all is the fact that the Bill hides a hole because the fundamental direction of travel on which the Government had embarked in their Green Paper, which the Liberal Democrats welcomed, has been ditched. Localism has gone; it has disappeared; it has vanished like a Cheshire cat. Yet there is no alternative set of proposals and no alternative vision of the world.
I assume that the Government still intend to abandon the extensive national targets, as the Home Secretary appeared to imply earlier, that they built up following the introduction of the Police Reform Act 2002, but if so, who is to exercise the powers that the Home Secretary has exercised until now? If it is the existing police authorities who will do so, then we are merely back to the position as it was before 2002. The duty that the Bill will introduce is negligible in its difference from the duty in the Police Act 1996. In short, we are now back to the police governance arrangements as they were when the Home Office decided that they did not work.
Let me remind the House that those arrangements did not work in terms of efficiency because there had been a long-term decline in detection rates for recorded crime, even though detection is the most crucial part of an effective deterrent against crime. That is important. One could introduce sharia law in this country and it would have no effect on crime whatsoever if the chances of getting caught remained extremely low. On a broad definition of crime, including business crime, only one in 100 crimes ends with a conviction in court—99 do not.
National targets are a blunt instrument with many unexpected and counter-productive effects, but they have introduced some new focus on efficiency, effectiveness and outcomes. What will now take their place? The answer in the Green Paper was right: local accountability. Local accountability involves two crucial elements that are now lacking. The first would be a proper local debate about priorities, which would allow local police forces to use their police authority as a genuine sounding board on popular opinion. It would also allow the abandonment of targets that were inevitably nonsense in some parts of the country, such as targets for cuts in the types of crime that were already negligible in some force areas. The second crucial element would be a local drive to greater efficiency. The fact that police authorities should be accountable to voters would drive police forces to compare their own working methods with best practice and to improve. That matters because the variations in police performance are just as significant as the common factors. If the average detection rate were improved so that it came closer to that of the top 10 per cent. of forces in this country, nearly 400,000 more crimes would be detected each year. That would be a real deterrent, as we know from the Home Office’s research against crime.
Even for serious offences such as violence, detection rates vary widely, from 36 per cent. at their lowest in London to 67 per cent. at their highest, yet those offences should surely be a high priority everywhere.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): My hon. Friend makes an important point about detection being a huge deterrent against crime. The Green Paper includes a hint that the funding formula should be met in full, which would mean the end of the funding floor and the rural policing grant. That would be a huge impediment for detection in areas that depend on those funds. The Dyfed-Powys police say that it would cut their budget by about £8.6 million.
Chris Huhne: My hon. Friend makes an important point about his local police force, which is, by the way, an extremely good police force in terms of its detection rates. It is very effective. In view of the model of local accountability that we Liberal Democrats are talking about, it is extremely important that there should be an established, understood formula for funding that takes into account need across the country and that is not subject to the sort of vagaries that we have sadly seen as both the Treasury and the Home Office have chopped and changed on such issues as police community support officers and the 101 number.
The Government’s former answer to the problem was the same as ours: more local democracy holding police forces to account. I welcome the Home Secretary’s implication earlier that she has not entirely given up on that vision, but I hope that it is not just a smokescreen for retreat, as was the case with the provisions in the Counter-Terrorism Bill, when although she said that she was not changing her mind the reality was that the policy had changed fundamentally. I do not know what the Government’s answer in this Bill actually is. It cannot be Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, because however admirable its work is, it has not managed to reduce the disparities, despite many long years of trying; nor, for the same reasons, can it be the National Police Improvement Agency. We are left with a Polo policing reform—a policy with a hole in the middle. We are left with a vacuum, a void and intellectual vacuity.
Rob Marris: I note the argument the hon. Gentleman is making and I wonder whether he could elucidate how far his party would take the localism policy. For example, do he and his party want the 43 police forces in England and Wales to be funded wholly by a local income tax? I think that that used to be his party’s policy. What proportion of funds should be raised locally? Can he say a little more about the funding of the police in his conception?
Chris Huhne: As the hon. Gentleman may know, local funding for the police has been steadily increasing as the amount of central Government grant is cut. There has to be an adequate amount of central Government grant to ensure that different needs are met across the country. That is a key matter and he is right to draw attention to it. [ Interruption. ] The answer to the question clearly is to make sure that there is a settled system, that each police authority is happy with the outcome and that there are no changes from year to year. Local funding would then pick up the remainder. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that our policy is to move towards local income tax, which would be preferable to the precept on council tax.
We can but speculate on the reasons for the Government’s dramatic U-turn. Perhaps the Home Secretary realised that her plans for elected police authorities were fatally flawed. Such bodies would have been deeply unrepresentative and would have encouraged confrontational politics, because for the first time since 1997 the Government planned a new body elected under the first-past-the-post system. The Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Greater London assembly, the London Mayor and the European Parliament all use proportional or preference systems. In a force area, each borough that was a crime and disorder reduction partnership would elect one person as if it was a Westminster constituency.
The result is clear, as we know from an analysis of the Green Paper proposals made by the Electoral Reform Society. Based on the 2007 local election results, it showed that the Conservatives would win two thirds of the seats on police authorities outside London with just 38 per cent. of the popular vote. The proposals would also have wiped out Labour representation in the south of England.
The answer is not to ditch direct elections entirely, because the fundamental intellectual argument is correct, but for police authorities to be elected by a system of fair votes that ensures a proper ethnic and gender balance through the natural operation of a party’s self-interest. In force areas with substantial ethnic minorities, such as London, Greater Manchester, Liverpool, West Yorkshire and the West Midlands, either the Green Paper system or, even worse, the Tory system of single elected commissioners for each force area would provide substantial parts of the population with little or no representation. We know that first past the post is biased against women and ethnic minorities, because the parties want to put up white, middle-class men in suits who are held to alienate the fewest voters—just look at us in the Chamber. The result of the proposals would be an alienation of many from the police that could ultimately prove dangerous—insensitive use of stop and search by the police was largely responsible for the Brixton riots.
What of police reform has been left? Not much, I fear. The general requirement to take account of local views is a sop and it certainly cannot be enforced, as suggested, by the inspectorate. There are sensible provisions for collaboration between police forces and authorities, but we are not happy that the Home Secretary has the power to give directions from the centre in that matter. Nor are we happy that there is no duty to collaborate where it would be beneficial to the local communities involved. That would be a much more sensible way of proceeding than attempting to ensure that the Home Office was on every case.
There is further centralisation and potential bureaucratisation in the proposals for a police senior appointments panel. The Home Secretary has the power to appoint both the chair and members, and to instruct the panel to carry out additional functions. The Association of Chief Police Officers has raised serious concerns, saying that it is
“concerned at the unrelenting drift of policy and legislation towards weakening their status as office holders.”
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 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 are we fully using the powers to cut alcohol sales to young people. I listened to what 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.
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
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:
“Further, offences of strict liability—which may be appropriate in regulatory or environmental law—are not appropriate in these circumstances. Effectively, these provisions will criminalise the use of any prostitute other than one who is self-employed. This may deter men from using prostitutes who are not working alone. This is counter-productive in relation to their safety.”
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:
“Part 2 will essentially lead to further criminalising of prostitutes and will place them in increased danger”.
Liberty’s submission says:
“What ‘controlled for gain’ means is also very broad, encompassing any activity controlled…in the expectation of gain for anyone. Presumably this would cover the owner of a brothel.”
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
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:
“The offence as currently drafted risks convictions which may well be seen as unfair by reasonable people. Such convictions would bring the criminal law into disrepute, particularly given the stigma which would result.”
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 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.
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 ensuring that prosecution and 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 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’s 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?”
Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Gentleman makes a point that I was just coming to—the point that it is unfair if a man does not know the woman’s status. Of course, women in such circumstances may very likely lie. However, we accept exactly the same kind of strict liability offence for shopkeepers who unwittingly sell alcohol to under-age drinkers. In fact, in the Bill there is a proposal, welcomed in all parts of the House, to toughen up that offence. The reason that that is a strict liability offence is that the harm caused by under-age drinking is sufficiently great for us to expect the shopkeeper to take responsibility even when a child lies. In my view, the same is true when human beings are put up for sale by people who control their lives to profit from the sale of their bodies. In those circumstances, this should be a strict liability offence, because the human rights at issue are not those of a man who seeks to gratify himself through the use of a woman’s body, but the right of a woman to decide for herself to what use her body should be put.
The law before us does not prevent a man from purchasing sexual services from a woman who is willing, and only does so for a woman who is under the control of someone else. Both the United Nations declarations dealing with violence against women and international human rights legislation explicitly include violence related to exploitation and forced prostitution.
Lynne Jones: Will my hon. Friend give way?
Fiona Mactaggart: No, I do not have enough time.
States have a positive obligation to tackle prostitution, trafficking and sexual violence. Fulfilling those positive obligations may require legislative action such as the new offence, but it also involves non-legal measures such as the development of safe exit strategies for women who wish to leave prostitution. In his summing up, I hope that the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing can assure us that such measures will accompany the law, or at least be included in the forthcoming sexual violence strategy.
The Government have not gone as far as I have argued they should in following the Swedish model. I feared that their alternative would fail, because it echoes too closely the approach of Finland which, until recently, had not mounted any prosecutions. Now, however, Finland is beginning to use its law. I have been to countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands to look at their approach. I have spoken to prostitute women and police in both countries, I have talked to politicians and support workers in New Zealand and Australia, and I have concluded that the legalisation of prostitution has, in every case, increased, rather than reduced, exploitation.
The human rights approach is the basis of law in more and more countries. Even Amsterdam, with its infamous windows, has rowed back, because of the criminality and violence that such widespread sexual exploitation has brought in its wake. Norway has recently followed Sweden’s lead. Those measures to tackle demand are effective in reducing the number of trafficked women in Sweden, which is why Norway has followed its example. Norway is the smaller country, but it had many more trafficked women than Sweden.
The present burden of law enforcement in terms of prostitution is going in the wrong direction, as it rests with the woman. She has, since 1824, been labelled a common prostitute, and risked regular fines or probation for soliciting. Generally, those fines are paid by her servicing more men. The Bill seeks to shift the burden: it drops the label, “common prostitute”, ends fines and substitutes meetings as the sentence for soliciting, which is required to be persistent. The purpose of those provisions is to address the causes of the street prostitution and to find ways of addressing them in the future. It is therefore not just a meeting with the same old probation officer—a meeting with a citizens advice bureau or a drugs counsellor to help women deal with debts or addiction could fit the requirements of the law.
The courts receive no new powers of imprisonment, despite the claims of those who say that they do. However, as in all sentences, the courts have a power to issue a warrant for those who do not comply with court orders, and if a woman fails to answer a warrant, the police can detain her to ensure that she attends court. That happens to prostituted women who fail to adhere to probation orders under the present offence, so the Bill provides no greater power of detention than exists at present. It is right to ensure that the burden of enforcement lands on those who have most control and choice in their actions. Different groups of people are involved, including those who pay for sex and those who control vulnerable women, often coercing or conning them into prostitution and making large sums from their work. Often, those people are not included within the ambit of the current law. The people who live in communities affected by prostitution have no choice about whether they take their children to school past condoms and drug litter. Until now, prostituted women have borne the brunt of law enforcement in a manner that is counter-productive, especially as powerful studies consistently show that most prostituted women start to work as prostitutes when they are children. They were groomed to work as prostitutes under the age of 16, they want to leave prostitution, they are likely to be addicted to class A drugs, and they overwhelmingly demonstrate symptoms comparable to those for post-traumatic stress disorder. This is not just any job—this is a job that destroys women.
The English Collective of Prostitutes and representatives of the sex industry have implied that the designation, “controlled for gain”, could mean that someone who pays for sex with a woman who has a landlord, an accountant or a maid could fall foul of the Bill, but they are wrong. The courts have already defined “controlled for gain” quite narrowly, as I informed the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne). In that case, the trial judge ordered the jury that in order to prove that the appellant had controlled the complainant the Crown had to prove that
“he exercised control over her activities, in the sense that she was acting under compulsion exercised over her activities by the defendant. The Crown do not have to prove that on every occasion she acted under compulsion; they must prove that over the whole period the defendant was exercising control over her activities”.
The judgment was upheld by the Court of Appeal.
Sex workers, as they are called by many people—I do not like to think of it as a job, as it is so exploitative—are often vulnerable young women with disturbed backgrounds, who have never known a stable relationship or respect from others and are therefore prey to pimps. It is all too easy for such a person to fall under the influence of a dominant male, who exploits that vulnerability for financial gain. Exploitation of prostitution for financial gain is the broad mischief at which clause 13 is aimed, whether or not it involves the intimidation or trafficking of the prostitute or prostitutes concerned. I urge the Home Secretary to keep that offence sufficiently broad to protect all women, not just those who are trafficked from overseas but those who are terrorised by their pimps and controllers.
There are ways in which the Bill could be improved. I still believe that the Swedish approach would be better, but the legislation is an important step in the right direction. I am struck that opposition to the measure is going along the lines of “It’s too hard to enforce”, and is coming precisely from those quarters who, when I offered a simple-to-enforce solution in which all purchases of sexual services would be outlawed, made equally powerful arguments that that was not the way to go. Let us be clear: those who oppose the measure have exposed themselves as people who are more concerned about the right of men to purchase women’s bodies than about protecting those women from the exploitation inherent in every single occasion of purchasing and of prostitution.
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): I was going to say that it is a pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), but I am not quite sure that it is. However, it is certainly appropriate—
Tim Loughton: An experience.
Mr. Steen: Yes, it is certainly an experience. No one can doubt her passion, her conviction and her sincerity. However, they may question the prudence of the approach that she has expressed so strongly and strenuously this evening.
In an intervention, I mentioned that I had the privilege of accompanying the police on a raid on a sauna parlour in Hackney. I shall describe it, because I want to explain why clause 13 is difficult and problematic to enforce. As one enters the parlour, one sees a cashier, to whom one pays cash for the use of the sauna premises. Beyond the cashier was a large room with deck chairs dotted around it. At one end, some women—appropriately dressed—were sitting in the chairs, and there were a number of punters. Most in the room were of Asian origin, and as far as I could find out from the conversations that I tried to have with them, few of the women or punters spoke English.
If clause 13 was in place, how would the police have proceeded? As it was, the police questioned the women; two who were thought to have been trafficked were taken to the station. Would the women have been better protected, and if so how, if clause 13 had been in operation? The police would first have to have asked the men whether they were paying for sex. If the men had understood the question, they would probably have answered that they were paying for the sauna. The question for the women would have been, “Are you controlled?” I imagine a lengthy discussion facilitated by interpreters who would be funded by the taxpayer, and it would be difficult to discover whether any of the women had been trafficked. That shows how difficult or impossible it would be for the police to enforce the provision.
The better approach is through specific police raids, such as Operations Pentameter 1 and 2. Pentameter 2 involved visits to 822 premises; 157 were massage parlours and saunas, and 558 were residential properties. What was found? Some 167 victims of human trafficking were identified. They had not been driven underground. They were not asked questions that would incriminate anybody, but they were found to have been trafficked. Some 528 criminals were arrested and 6,400 police intelligence reports were gathered. More than £500,000 in cash was recovered; it should have been given to the victims of trafficking, but it was not. Some 13 of the victims were children, and the youngest was just 14. If clause 13 replaces the Pentameter operations, the victims of trafficking will not be found, because most are found during police raids; otherwise, they are found because the punters report them to the police.
I shall give an example. Two weeks before Christmas in my constituency—in Paignton, just a mile outside south Devon—a girl was found to have been trafficked from the Czech Republic. She had thought that she was going to a gymnasium, but ended up in a brothel. She escaped into a neighbouring club, where somebody called the police. She was helped back to the Czech Republic, and prosecutions are pending.
Fiona Mactaggart: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Steen: One moment, if I may.
The police tried to find the punters by advertising in the local newspapers. Six punters prepared to give evidence came forward. They would not have come forward if it had been a criminal offence for them to have had sex with that girl. That is an important point, on which I will not expand.
My approach is also confirmed by the Professional Association for Family Courts and Probation Staff, which has said:
“It is difficult to see how the measure can be policed. In order to obtain a conviction evidence will have to be gathered and it seems fairly essential that the prostitute herself would be required to make a statement. This is likely to incriminate herself and also affect her livelihood. The vast majority of prostitutes, it could be argued, are involved in some sort of control; whether this is a pimp or a manager, a receptionist or owner of a brothel.”
Is the plan to drive brothels out of business or underground, and is clause 13 simply a device to achieve the elimination of brothels, saunas and the like in the belief that they can be brushed out of society by an Act of Parliament? If so, it is nonsense. Prostitution has been here as long as the world has, and unlike King Canute we cannot stop the sea, whether we pass that clause or not. The association goes on:
“It is also unclear what evidence would have to be produced by the police and Crown Prosecution Service to prove that an individual should have known that the woman was controlled for gain.”
There is total legal uncertainty. Then there is the recent evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee, to whose Chairman I pay tribute. The Met Detective Chief Superintendent Nigel Mawer said that one of the biggest problems that the police were encountering was the identification of trafficked victims, as many do not declare that they are victims and police officers are untrained to spot them. How, then, will the punter on the street recognise one? In the same evidence sitting, Police Commander Alan Gibson said that
“it is very difficult to identify the difference between women who are involuntarily in prostitution and those that are voluntarily in prostitution because you cannot rely on what they tell you.”
It stands to reason that a trafficked victim might not confess to her would-be customer that she is trafficked; she might fear the repercussions and not say anything.
My view is that clause 13 of the Bill needs considerable amendment if it is to be effective. The Government could have closed the existing loopholes in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 by making an offence of trafficking babies, infants and children, who cannot speak for themselves. The 2004 legislation needs strengthening. The Bill’s provisions on the proceeds of crime and recovery of expenses should have enabled the proceeds from traffickers to fund support programmes for the trafficked victims; at the moment the taxpayer, through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, picks up the tab.
Unfortunately, clause 13 is a bold and radical provision that has not been thought through well enough. It is a start, but it will not work as we might wish. We all wish to see less human trafficking, which is now the third largest criminal industry after arms dealing and drug trafficking. But it will not be addressed until we recognise that it is born of poverty and economic desperation. Most victims are desperately seeking a new life and are tricked into being trafficked.
Dr. Evan Harris: I concur absolutely with the hon. Gentleman. Does he agree that the allegation from the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart)—that those of us who oppose the legislation do so for the wrong reasons—is incorrect? We recognise that prostitution in western societies will not be obliterated and that the key thing is harm reduction. Driving prostitution further away from the police would mean that vulnerable people would be driven further away from the police and support services. We should invest in outreach work, not push such people further from help.
Mr. Steen: I agree. I believe that the punter’s role is crucial to finding trafficked victims. If we make the punter a criminal, we will not get the information and we will find that trafficked women will be harder and harder to find. If the police cannot get to trafficked women through raids because the brothels are not there, the whole thing will be impossible to manage. That is why, in the end, I oppose clause 13, although I understand the sentiments that have been expressed.
Fiona Mactaggart: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Steen: I will not.
Following pressure from our all-party group on trafficking of women and children, our Government have been more proactive on trafficking than those of other European countries. However, we would still benefit from a trafficking rapporteur, a position that exists in Holland, from far better intelligence links with other European police forces and from better trained border and immigration officials. Human trafficking is the new slavery. The old slavery never disappeared; we should realise that the scale of new slavery continues to grow, with more people trafficked each year than ever were involved in the old slave trade 200 years ago. I give way to the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart).
Fiona Mactaggart: At last! I am sorry, but I am slightly disconcerted. The hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in trafficking. Does he accept that when I was a Home Office Minister, I did not make a particular offence of having sex with a trafficked woman because I had been persuaded that punters provided evidence about the trafficking of women? Since then, however, I have asked police in almost every force how many trafficked women they have found because of reports from punters. I have not been able to find any compelling reports that trafficked women have been rescued as a result of a punter’s report to the police.
Mr. Steen: I have given the example of what happened in Paignton just before Christmas when the punters came forward to give evidence. I am sure that we could build on that if the arrangements were different and punters were not seen as criminals.
Everybody says that there is a tremendous number of trafficked women in Britain, but we have no idea of the figures. The human trafficking centre in Sheffield, which was set up by this Government—I pay tribute to them for that—spends nearly £2 million a year, but we ain’t got the numbers. We do not know how many people are involved. It is pure guesswork and sensationalism when people talk about 4,000 to 6,000—the figure is probably in the hundreds, not the thousands. Whether it is hundreds or thousands, it is still too many, but the question is how to deal with those cases, which involve the poorest girls from the poorest countries of the world who have been duped and tricked.
When those girls come into Britain, they are under the control of somebody. How do we get to that person? The best way is the approach taken by the police through Pentameter 1 and Pentameter 2, operations which have been extremely successful. Every police force in Britain has joined with other forces to outlaw human trafficking, but we cannot get the traffickers, and we should be concentrating on finding them. We have rightly tended to concentrate on the victims—the girls—and now on the punters, but we should be doing far more about the traffickers by making the situation much more penal and difficult for them to operate in. It is no good just doing it in Britain—it must be a European initiative whereby all the countries join forces. Britain and Holland, among others, are way ahead on this. I pay great tribute to the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, who is in his place, for taking that initiative forward, but I do not want him to go down the wrong track and end up making trafficking a far more difficult thing to unearth, with more women being pushed underground and not helped as we would like them to be.
Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I welcome the Bill, particularly the measures to give local communities more say over the establishment of lap-dancing clubs in their area. I am truly pleased that the Government have listened to the campaign organised by Object, the Fawcett Society and many MPs, and that they have responded so helpfully to my ten-minute Bill on this subject. I have a particular debt of gratitude to Philip Kolvin, the solicitor who has been advising Object on finding a way forward through legislation.
The key measure that I will talk about is clause 25. It is not without its problems, but I want to concentrate on what is good about it. As many Members will be aware, lap-dancing clubs are currently licensed solely under the Licensing Act 2003, and share the same licence as cafés and karaoke bars. Clause 25 will reform this by allowing local authorities to license lap-dancing clubs in the same way as sex shops and sex cinemas via the adoption of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. Clause 25 creates a third category of establishment—a sex encounter venue, defined as a venue where live visual performances for the purpose of sexual stimulation are provided for the direct or indirect financial gain of the operator.
The critical aspect of the Bill, therefore, is that local authorities are now allowed to reclassify lap-dancing clubs as sex encounter venues. The Local Government Association is backing the measure, as it will allow councils to impose conditions on lap dancing venues when granting licences or to refuse licences altogether. As we know, the current categorisation has been wholly inadequate, and means that local councils could refuse a licence only by arguing that one or more of the licensing objectives under the 2003 Act would be breached. That is possible, but has proved very difficult in practice.
Many of us arguing for a change in legislation did so on the basis of getting the law changed so that local people would have a much greater say over whether to have a lap-dancing club in their area. The reforms contained in the Bill will allow authorities that choose to license lap-dancing clubs or similar as sex encounter venues to be able to consider important factors such as gender equality, the character of a locality and whether a lap-dancing club is appropriate for a local area. The reform will also give local authorities control over the total number of venues licensed in their area and empower local people by allowing a greater number to raise objections on wider grounds. In addition to the LGA supporting these reforms, we should note that the National Organisation of Residents Associations also supports them, as does a wide coalition of councillors and community and women’s groups, including Rape Crisis England and Wales.
The Lap Dancing Association acknowledges that the current legislation does not allow community concerns to be taken into account when granting a licence but supports only voluntary measures to address the problems or argues that they can be addressed by reforming planning legislation. I would argue that that is not the answer either. As we know, the current legislation does not allow for sufficient consideration of wider community objectives such as tourism, regeneration policies or changes to the character of the area, or for the views of women who have to walk past such venues to be taken into account. The vital point is that those issues are unlikely to be addressed through the planning system, even if it were reformed.
The solution contained in the Bill—to create a third type of sex establishment, a sex encounter venue, to exist alongside sex cinemas and sex shops—is the only sensible way forward. As I said, the definition of a sex encounter venue is one where nude entertainment is provided before a live audience for the direct or indirect financial gain of the organiser or entertainer. The nude entertainment must be of a nature that, ignoring financial gain, must reasonably be assumed to be provided solely or principally for the purpose of sexually stimulating any member of the audience. That is an important definition, because it should rule out nudity as part of a dramatic performance being covered by the reforms.
Some other issues and concerns have been raised by the Lap Dancing Association. I think that they can all be refuted quite easily, although I do not have time to go into them all now. Its first, and major, criticism of the Bill is that lap dancing is entertainment, not a sex encounter. I would argue instead, as have others, that the fundamental nature of the transaction is that a man pays a woman to take her clothes off and place her sexual organs near his face. The notion that this is not part of the commercial sex industry is not seriously sustainable. The LDA also argues that councils have sufficient powers to impose restrictions on premises’ licences. We know from the operation of the 2003 Act to date that those powers are impossible to operate in practice. The LDA’s third major objection to changing the legislation is that the industry will go underground, but that could be an argument against regulating anything. If it does, it will be the duty of the enforcement authorities to prosecute. In any case, that is an argument for more, not less, regulation.
It would appear to most sensible people that bringing lap dancing into the same category as sex cinemas and sex shops and licensing them is a sensible response to the recent proliferation of such venues, enabling authorities to exercise greater control if they wish to. However, before everyone thinks that we are home and dry, I should like to outline two problems with the proposed reforms and ask the Public Bill Committee to consider them further. The first and most significant problem is that premises holding lap dancing events less often than once month will be exempt from the reforms.
As it stands, the Bill exempts from the reforms premises hosting lap dancing for less than once a month, but a large number of venues in the UK hold monthly lap-dancing nights and would fall under this category. Lap-dancing clubs and agencies cater specifically for that sub-market, which is likely to grow if the loophole remains, especially given the current economic climate of falling alcohol revenues in the licensed trade. Residents with objections to a venue hosting lap-dancing nights less than once a month in their area will still find themselves objecting under the limited grounds of the Licensing Act 2003. The second problem is that the reforms are not mandatory.
I want to thank the Minister for taking the issue seriously. He will know that my interest in this area arose because of a proposal to have a lap-dancing venue in a totally inappropriate location in Durham. Residents there are very much behind the legislation, but they stress that it is important for the loophole to be tightened so that it is not possible for those operating lap-dancing clubs to use temporary events notices as a way round the legislation. This is a serious issue and I hope that it will be addressed by amendments in Committee so that we get an important piece of legislation that gives local communities a greater voice. On the question of whether the provisions should be mandatory, we need to be careful that we do not have a postcode lottery, where some communities get more say over lap-dancing clubs in their area while others do not, because their local authority has not taken the legislation on board.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods), who I thought made a very thoughtful speech.
This is the 26th major crime Bill introduced by this Government, but we still have a police force that is weighed down by bureaucracy and excessive paperwork. The overall level of crime has come down slightly, but we all know that knife crime is up sharply, and that violent crime is up by nearly 80 per cent. This is a skeleton Bill in many respects, and a great deal of legislation will flow from it in the form of statutory instruments—an arrangement that always worries me.
On policing, we know that 14 per cent. of all officers’ time is spent on patrol, whereas 20 per cent. is spent on paperwork. According to the No. 10 strategy unit, it takes 11 and a half hours for a police officer to process an arrest, and the Flanagan report was rightly critical of the burden of bureaucracy facing our police forces throughout the country. One of my regrets is that the Bill singularly fails to get a grip on that problem. Why have the Government not gone further on the Flanagan report? Surely this is a wasted opportunity.
I mentioned the senior appointments panel in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). Clause 2 places the panel on a statutory footing, and I ask the Minister why. Will that not create extra cost, and will it not be yet another bureaucratic body? Why, for example, will the panel members and the panel chairman be paid? Surely it will be far better to find volunteers to do such work, particularly when the budget is under so much pressure. I hope that that point will be looked at carefully in Committee. I have every confidence that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) will get a grip on the matter, because it is important.
A number of right hon. and hon. Members have spoken about the provisions in the Bill that deal with prostitution. As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) said a moment ago, Her Majesty’s Government are right to try to protect vulnerable children from exploitation. They are right to try to tackle the exploitation and trafficking taking place. I believe that the level of trafficking is quite appalling, but I have concerns about the creation of a strict liability offence. I am concerned about the removal of intent—or, as we lawyers call it, the mens rea. There is a chance of unintended consequences, and the provisions are riddled with anomalies. When there are prosecutions, they will be a lawyer’s dream.
I take on board the points made by the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), and I thought the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), who is not now in his place, made a number of excellent points on this subject. I endorse what the Bar Council recently said when it pointed out that the offence as currently drafted risks convictions that may be seen as unfair by reasonable people. Such convictions would bring the criminal law into disrepute, particularly given the stigma that would result. I urge the Minister to look at that matter again.
The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) made an impassioned and impressive speech, and I can tell her that that those of us who are picking one or two holes in these provisions do not in any way want to be soft on child trafficking. We do not in any way want to stand up for the people who feel they have to, in unfortunate circumstances, go and use prostitutes. We are concerned, however, about bringing in credible law that will stand the test of being put through the courts.
I believe that the under-18s involved are the real victims. They need practical help and support, and should not be criminalised. I agree with the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who talked about harm reduction. The Bill does not abolish the power to prosecute a child over 10 for offences under section 57 of the Street Offences Act 1959, although it does amend that legislation. It is a big mistake that it does not abolish the power to prosecute those children. I have received briefings from a number of eminent organisations, including one from the YWCA, which makes it clear that
“The numbers of children aged under 18 who have been prosecuted under s. 57 are extremely low but the fact that the offence remains is potentially very damaging. In particular we are concerned that fear of prosecution deters young women from seeking help when they need it most.”
Similar comments were made by Barnardo’s and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice. An overwhelming number of briefings and conclusions have been put to right hon. and hon. Members, saying that the Government have missed an opportunity. Furthermore, I think that the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing said in response to a debate on the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill last year that the Government would consider this matter further. I am disappointed that the Bill today does not address this point. I hope that the Minister will tell us why it does not, and give us some assurance that the Government will look at the matter again.
The provisions in the Bill dealing with extradition worry me, because again we have a wasted opportunity. The Extradition Act 2003 made various amendments to the law as it then stood and implemented in this country the European arrest warrant, which removed the requirement of dual criminality for certain offences. A UK court had always had to determine that a prima facie case had been made, but it is now enough if a European arrest warrant is issued by an EU country in respect of a listed offence.
My concern is that such offences are so broad that many are meaningless. Some are described as “computer-related crime”, or “swindling”. We recently had a extradition case between Poland and Lithuania involving a young adult who was charged with piglet rustling. That type of case brings extradition into ill repute. The Government should take a long hard look at the European arrest warrant, and use the Bill as an opportunity to tighten it up and improve the situation. The Government seem to be peddling the presumption that all EU countries have the same fair and equal systems of justice. That is a dangerous assumption, because it manifestly is not the case. We are in danger of a serious backlash on the European arrest warrant unless the Bill is used to do something about it.
In the case of non-EU countries, we all know that the Home Secretary, by way of Order in Council, can remove the need for specified countries to produce prima facie evidence to support a request for extradition. We know about the arrangement with the United States through the case of the NatWest or Enron three, but similar Orders in Council have been used to bring in such procedures in the case of countries such as Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia and Turkey. That concerns me a great deal. The key point in the case of America—I assume that it is the same for the other countries—is that there is not genuine reciprocity. If we are to make changes to our law and put the liberties of UK citizens at risk, there has to be full reciprocity.
Mr. Burrowes: On reciprocity, may I draw my hon. Friend’s attention again to the case of my constituent Gary McKinnon, who is subject to extradition on the basis that he hacked into American computers? In court tomorrow, he will challenge the Home Secretary’s decision to extradite him. Does my hon. Friend not agree that Gary McKinnon is a prime example, and perhaps a better example than the NatWest three, of a victim of laws that do not demand proper reciprocity? He has admitted guilt and is asking to be prosecuted by the courts in this country.
Mr. Bellingham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, not least because he has given me some injury time for my speech. I could not agree more about Gary McKinnon. The offence that he committed is very serious in America, but not so serious here for a variety of reasons. If we were trying to secure an extradition from America of someone who had committed a similar offence, a prima facie case would have to be made in the American court by the extraditing country. In this case, no such requirement exists.
I am very concerned also about the Raoul Weil case. Very few people in this country will have heard about it. He is a 49-year-old Swiss national who lives and works in Switzerland, and he ran the global wealth management arm of UBS in Zurich and was also based in London for a time. He was involved in putting together a number of products for high net worth individuals, which were basically aimed at reducing their tax liability, and he fell foul of the US Internal Revenue Service. He was in charge of a private bank at the time of the alleged offences, so last November the Americans charged him with conspiracy to defraud the US through tax evasion. If convicted, he faces a long period in jail and a huge fine. He is considered a fugitive because he has not flown to the States to get himself arrested.
What is so worrying about that case is that although UBS has clearly upset the Americans, no one has charged Weil with doing anything to hurt his homeland or contravening any EU or Swiss law. The logic of the case is that any employee in any non-American tax jurisdiction is vulnerable unless they comply not just with their own laws but with American law. I hope that the relevant part of the Bill will be reconsidered carefully, and that protection will be given to people such as Raoul Weil, Gary McKinnon and the Enron three. Let us hope that this fag-end Bill will be examined in Committee and really improved.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I wish to focus on part 3 of the Bill, which is about alcohol. I very much welcome the proposals, but I would like the action to go further and include some of the measures that were in my ten-minute Bill on alcohol pricing and promotions. In particular, my concerns are about the impact of alcohol on young people. I welcome the fact that the proposed measures are directed particularly at drinking among young people.
We all know the general figures about alcohol consumption, but among the young the figures are getting very much worse. By the age of 13, more young people are drinking than not, and by the age of 15 one third are drinking once or more a week. Among those aged from 11 to 15 who drink regularly, the average weekly alcohol consumption has risen from 5.3 units in 1990 to 11.4 units in 2006. Those figures are provided by the Royal College of Nursing and shows a high level of alcohol consumption among very young children—well over the Government limits for adults. The issue is not just the amount that young people are drinking; it is also where they are drinking it. Research shows that one third of 15-year-olds drink, and that one third of those do so in public places. All the provisions about drinking alcohol in public places are therefore particularly important when it comes to young people.
I was grateful to the National Association of Head Teachers for supporting my ten-minute Bill. It was concerned about the impact of drinking with regard to young people missing school, turning up late or turning up with hangovers. The Police Federation was supportive because of the obvious links between drinking and crime, which are particularly bad in the case of young people. One third of all deaths caused by alcohol are from injuries suffered when people are drunk, and that is most common among 16 to 24-year-olds. Young people are more likely than others to be involved in alcohol-related crime, and are the most likely people to be injured or killed as a result.
We know from the British Medical Association, which also supported my Bill, about the serious consequences of the increase in drinking for the physical and mental health of young people. Over Christmas in Northamptonshire, there was a very welcome reduction in the number of people arrested for drink-driving; the number of arrests fell from 112 to 98. However, among 17 to 24-year-olds the figures did not go down. In fact, the county police said that while young drivers formed 10 per cent. of all drivers, they formed 35 per cent. of those arrested for drink-driving. It seems that we need to consider specific measures to deal with the particular problems associated with young people and alcohol. On that basis, the relevant measures in the Bill are particularly important, even though they might seem draconian and even though people might ask why we should adopt them rather than others.
There are to be increased penalties for selling alcohol, which chimes with the public’s concern not just about the symptoms of children’s drinking but about trying to cut it off at source. People are concerned about the fact that however much one might try, there is still a pattern of young people drinking at home before they go out or drinking in parks, perhaps because they cannot get into on-licences. They are certainly drinking alcohol obtained from off-licences.
The “three strikes and you’re out” rule, too, is important in the context of young people drinking in public places. Of course, there will need to be some care in its management and interpretation, for example in deciding whether a park is a public place. The police will need to give some thought to how they manage it, but we must bear in mind the fact that in Northampton town centre, for example, there is a ban on drinking in public. The police use such measures on a voluntary basis, and there is a possibility of making them available nationally and in an organised way.
One matter that I ask the Government to consider really carefully is the mandatory code. I very much welcome it, but it will need to be tough and it will need substantial measures to deal with the real problems that arise from alcohol sales. Why are there to be only nine conditions? Why cannot the appropriate number of conditions emerge from the consultation? Of course, the code will depend on secondary legislation, but will it cover labelling and the number of units in a drink, advertising, promotions, and the stocking and location of shelves in supermarkets, so that shelves stocking alcohol are clearly signed and located in particular places? Otherwise, as people walk around shops where the primary purpose is to sell food they become increasingly aware of alcohol on the shelves and piled up on the floor next to the till. That particularly applies before a bank holiday or when there is a big sports match on TV. Will there be provision in the mandatory code to deal with some of the price cuts and discounting that are so incredibly damaging?
I believe strongly that there is a real need for much tougher action to deal with the problem of alcohol sales, particularly to younger people. The Sheffield research showed clearly the link between price and availability, and consumption. It made the case strongly for minimum pricing of alcohol. As I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), the research shows that a 40p minimum price would cut binge drinking, would not affect responsible drinkers, and would reduce hospital admissions by 41,000 a year and crime by 16,000 a year. Minimum pricing is strongly supported by many groups that are concerned with the matter, and by the on-licence trade because it would provide more of a level playing field between the on-licence and off-licence trade.
Will the Minister talk to his colleagues and consider whether tax concessions on white cider could be changed in the next Budget cycle? The tax regime for cider and perry pricing was designed to encourage small producers and fruit growers, not to subsidise some of the most pernicious forms of alcohol that are sold in the shops. Anyone who has seen White Lightning piled up on the bottom shelves of supermarkets knows that its price way undercuts that of other drinks. The duty on a pint of cider, whatever its strength, is only 16p, but it is between 35p and 59p on beer, depending on its alcoholic strength. There is no logic or rationale for such a price differential.
My concerns about binge drinking are rooted in my constituents’ experiences. One constituent’s son was killed after a happy hour promotion, and people who live near a park in Moulton Leys have had their lives made a misery by young people who gather there, and whose behaviour deteriorates when they are given drink. I welcome the proposals, but I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to give them greater consideration and to be tougher.
Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): As always, I begin by declaring an interest as a Crown court recorder and a district judge sitting all over London and the south-east. I hope that my hon. Friends agree that one of this Labour Government’s greatest failures over the past 12 years has been their crime and law and order policy I have witnessed anecdotally in court—we all know it to be true—a huge increase in murders, gun crime, knife crime, and crimes of violence generally. That increase has been horrific, and has brought great distress and upset to many right-thinking members of society. The real problem, which we never seem to get to grips with, is the Government’s failure to ensure that our existing law is properly enforced by police on the streets and by the courts. Failure to enforce existing law is an accusation to which the Government must plead guilty.
Another problem is detection rates. It is usually said that a criminal’s greatest fear is being caught, not whether the maximum sentence is three years or six years, or whether the Daily Mail had a decent headline last week about this or that. Being caught is the greatest fear, and detection rates under this Government have fallen dramatically.
I asked a parliamentary question about burglaries in Surrey in the past few years to find out about detection rates. Do you know what the answer was, Madam Deputy Speaker? One in 10 is successfully detected. To put that in another way, nine out of 10 burglars know that they will get away scot-free. No wonder crime is on the increase.
Here is a little point. I wonder whether the Minister knows about a problem in the courts with the police whereby many assaults that amount to actual bodily harm—they are serious crimes, which can go to the Crown court and carry several years’ imprisonment—are charged by the Crown Prosecution Service as common assault under section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. Why? First, because it is simpler; secondly, because common assault cannot go to the Crown court; and thirdly, because it is more likely that there will be a guilty plea and the matter can be dealt with quickly. The result is that many crimes are not being charged as the serious crimes that they are.
What about tonight’s speeches? The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) made a passionate speech, and I respect her for what she said. She talked about violence to prostitutes, and of course everyone in this House of Commons hates that. She talked about pimping, and of course we are against that. She also talked about traffickers. My goodness, I wish that more of them were brought before the courts so that they could receive the condign sentences. She talked about common prostitutes. In the courts in which I sit, I have seen those pathetic individuals, and my sympathies and those of many of my hon. Friends for them is no less than the hon. Lady’s. I see ruined bodies and ruined young women, and class A drug addicts. Some may have pimps and some may not, but they are ruined. Do I believe that clause 13 of the Bill will sort out their lives? No, I do not. What is needed to sort out their lives is the ability to get a life away from the drugs that have ruined them over so many years. The very fact that I believe that clause 13 will be bad law does not mean that I fail to share some of the hon. Lady’s views. I do share them in terms of the horror at much of what goes on in society at the moment.
I also share the views expressed so ably by my hon. Friends the Members for Totnes (Mr. Steen) and for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), who said that clause 13 will be bad law. It will be bad law. Let us see what it says. It says that a person commits an offence if he
“makes or promises payment for the sexual services of a prostitute”
and any of the prostitute’s
“activities relating to the provision of those services are intentionally controlled for gain by a third”
party. Here is the rub.
“The following are irrelevant”—
whether the person buying the services
“is, or ought to be, aware that any of”
“activities are controlled for gain.”
That is irrelevant under the clause, and I believe that that is wrong. I really believe that that should not be an offence of strict liability like crossing a traffic light or breaking a speed limit. There must be a mental element, and it would be very bad law, difficult to enforce and wrong if the Bill were passed in its present state.
Fiona Mactaggart: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that were there a mental element, as he requests, the proper charge against a man who pays for sexual services would be rape, because there is no way that the woman would have consented to the act?
Mr. Malins: That is an unreal comment. I am referring to a situation in which there is no defence whatever for going to a prostitute, whether it is a women going to a male gigolo—prostitution works with both men and women—or a man going to a women prostitute. It seems to be wrong in principle that there is simply no defence available if those women are controlled in their activities.
The next part of clause 13 says that it is
“irrelevant…where in the world the sexual services are to be provided”.
That means, unless I am mistaken, that a person who arranges for sexual services in a foreign country from somebody who may or may not be controlled may be guilty of an offence if that person is controlled, even if the act is to take place abroad. How odd it would be and what bad law it would be if a person in this country were convicted of an offence in this country in relation to something that had not yet happened—but which he had arranged—in a country where such activity is entirely legal.
I need hardly draw to your attention, Madam Deputy Speaker—in fact, I think I may have to draw this to your attention, because you will not know about it—that in certain countries there are state-run brothels. Indeed, some brothels are organised by the state or a municipal authority. Presumably those organisers have, strictly speaking, some form of control, through rent or a levy on the takings of the person concerned. It seems ridiculous that a person may go to an official brothel abroad or to a country where prostitution is entirely lawful and find himself or herself guilty of a crime in this country. That is wrong and the Bill will need amendment.
I will tell you one thing, Madam Deputy Speaker: for all the Minister’s talk about consulting widely on the provision, I can tell him that those to whom I have spoken, in the police and throughout the judiciary, think that clause 13 as drafted will be bad law. They think that there will be a huge problem with evidential matters. Let us imagine someone pleading not guilty at Camberwell Green magistrates court to going to a prostitute in Taiwan who was controlled. I am trying not to be flippant, but let us imagine the problems in calling evidence, not only from abroad if the prostitute was abroad, but in the UK. There will be huge evidential problems. My forecast is that in the first year of the provisions being on the statute book, there will be few if any prosecutions, and all this at a time when the plight of prostitutes in this country is dire, because of other matters, such as pimping and drugs, to which we should give much more attention.
Enough of that. What of other matters, Madam Deputy Speaker? What of clause 26? This touches on my earlier point about law that is not enforced—law that is ridiculous. Let us look at clause 26 for a moment. It increases the penalty for consuming alcohol in a designated public place from level 2 to level 4—that is, from something like £500 to £2,500. All that the Home Secretary could say to me earlier was that the proposal sends out a message. But what on earth is the use of that, when in the past few years nobody has been fined more than £250? Does the Minister know that under the fines system, which, by the Government’s own strictures, now means that fines have to be within certain confines relating to the defendant’s means, it will be practically impossible to fine anybody more than £100 for that offence, because they are all on benefits or low incomes? The proposal is absolute nonsense—yet again, a flagship headline that will get the Government overnight popularity.
Clause 29 creates the offence of persistently possessing alcohol in a public place three times in 12 consecutive months. Why three times? It is ridiculous. Why not twice? Why not once? Why not four times? The Government get worse. Under the Licensing Act 2003, it is an offence to sell alcohol within three months to children on three occasions. Wow! Look what is happening now: “We’re going to change it to selling on two separate occasions. This is the flagship!” Is the Minister serious? Does he think that there have been a lot of prosecutions for selling three times? Is it not an offence to sell alcohol to children once? What is the magic about two?
What on earth is going on? The answer is not a lot. We are blessed with Home Office Ministers who, frankly, thrive on the oxygen of a good headline and who pass more and more laws, each of them meaningless and not enforced, and with a Government who gloss over the truth of what is happening on the streets. Until we get a Government who enforce the existing law, our crime and disorder problems will continue to escalate.
Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): I welcome the Bill, particularly the measures that relate to the licensing of lap dancing and those that tackle alcohol-fuelled crime.
I have been working on the issue of licensing lap-dancing clubs over the past two and a half years or so. Constituents first contacted me when the Picture House nightclub in my constituency applied to be a lap-dancing club. It would have been the second lap-dancing club in the town, within a matter of yards of the first. Despite strong and convincing objections, the licence was granted. That brought home to me just how large the loophole in the legislation is and how little the quality of life and the views of my constituents counted.
The current four licensing objectives are insufficient and do not reflect the concerns that a community might have, including about the character and quality of life in an area and how residents, local businesses, workers and shoppers may be affected. Such things cannot be considered under the present system. It was unacceptable that someone could object to their neighbour building a porch or a conservatory, but not to a lap-dancing club next door or more than 100 yd from their home.
I became involved in the Object Fawcett campaign, which built up a coalition of MPs, peers, academics, councillors, residents and grass-roots support throughout the country. I was a co-sponsor of a ten-minute Bill dealing with the issue and tabled an early-day motion that received 119 signatories. I welcome the fact that the Tory party now officially supports the measures, albeit late to the fight and after a great deal of adverse publicity arising from the offer of a voucher to the Rocket lap-dancing club, during the party conference in Birmingham. I am told that the Tory shadow Chancellor—he still is the shadow Chancellor, isn’t he?—is fond of saying that the Tories will make a difference. Well, they certainly did in Birmingham, because takings rocketed during their conference week in Brum.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friends the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell) for picking up the issue and for listening to my constituents.
I welcome clause 25(4), which will allow local authorities to set a limit on the number of sex establishments of a particular type in an area. Interestingly, I have received correspondence on that point from women in the business who are concerned about the ease with which establishments could open. The opening of too many establishments could affect the little control that those women have over what they have to do for their money. Quite simply, if a woman in the club down the road was allowing punters to touch her, other women might have to do the same or possibly more to keep their punters.
It became clear to me through speaking to current and ex-lap dancers that, more often than not, it is they who are being exploited. The majority put up with working conditions that no union would allow and little or no employment rights. For a pitch—that is, for the privilege of dancing for gentlemen—they have to pay anything from £50 up to £250. Those women pay for drinks and costumes, and they are encouraged to pump their gentlemen for expensive cocktails and champagne. The women do not get to keep their earnings and many cannot join a union.
I am glad that Ministers were not convinced by the arguments of the chairman of the Lap Dancing Association, Mr. Simon Warr, who claimed to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport that lap dancing is “not sexually stimulating” and that clubs provide hospitality rather than sexual services. Bizarrely, and for the first time in my life, I agree with Peter Stringfellow, who told the same Committee:
“of course it is sexually stimulating”.
However, I did not agree with his further comment:
“so is a disco, so is a young girl flashing away with her…knickers showing.”
Of course lap dancing has some form of sex. Given Mr. Stringfellow’s well reported support of the Conservative party, I wonder whether he represents its more erudite wing.
Along with my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods), I am concerned about the exemption in proposed new paragraph 2A(3)(b) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, in clause 25(3), for premises holding lap-dancing events less than once a month. Temporary event notices cannot be opposed by a local council and are automatically granted. Residents therefore find themselves without even the limited means of objecting under the Licensing Act 2003. I believe that that contradicts the main aim underpinning the proposed reforms, which is to empower local communities as fully as possible. I argue that exemptions should be amended, to avoid creating further loopholes.
I am the chair of the all-party group on alcohol misuse, and I am particularly concerned about the proposals on alcohol. The Bill contains an enabling power for a statutory code of practice on the supply of alcohol, allowing the Secretary of State to prescribe mandatory conditions for all licensed premises without conditions. I support the measure, because the aim of encouraging the more responsible sale of alcohol is important. My concern, which is shared by Alcohol Concern, is that there is no centrally held register of licensees. That means that individuals who have had their licence revoked may apply for a new one in another local authority area, which cannot easily access information about the applicant’s former conduct. It seems sensible to introduce a centrally held register of licensees, and I urge the Minister to consider that proposal.
I broadly welcome the measures on the new offence of persistently possessing alcohol in a public place, about which my constituents and the local police are concerned. However, we need to be aware that simply putting more young people into the criminal justice system is not always the most productive way of addressing the problem of alcohol misuse. In addition to the new powers, we need to focus on more early intervention for people of all ages. Schemes such as the Home Office-approved one in Dudley borough, run by Aquarius, deserve more investment. The scheme aims to reduce alcohol-related reoffending by changing people’s behaviour, and it is a proven success. A recent evaluation showed that, among the people who had attended, overall reoffending in Dudley was down by 49 per cent., and alcohol-related reoffending was down by 12 per cent. The scheme is also accessing people at an earlier stage in their drinking, including younger people, binge drinkers and perpetrators of domestic violence, none of whom would normally contact an alcohol service. Such schemes make a huge difference across the borough, and we should do more to support them across the country.
In addition, although I support the extension of the power to issue a direction to leave, we must be wary of fast-tracking young people into the criminal justice system. More investment is required in outreach youth workers and in positive intervention by the services. I hope that my own Tory-controlled Dudley council will take note of that, as it is currently cutting youth services. Young people should first be offered a programme of support if they are found to be persistently drinking to excess in public and need to change their behaviour. A welfare and social response should surely precede any punitive one for the 10-to-15 age group.
Before I conclude, I should like to say a few words in general support of the Bill, particularly in the light of my experience with the West Midlands police force through the police parliamentary scheme. I worked alongside many officers across all departments of the force, and obtained a warts-and-all view of the work that those men and women do for us, day in and day out. I came away with a renewed respect for the job that they do in the most difficult circumstances, often with provocation from members of the public that even a mild-mannered lady such as myself found it hard to rise above. I know that the falling crime rate—now at its lowest in the west midlands for 18 years—is due to the dedication of those police officers and to the continued assistance of new powers to enable them to do their jobs effectively and professionally. I am sure that many of the measures in the Bill will add to their effectiveness.
I support the Bill and I am grateful that my many concerns and those of my constituents have been acted on, but I would really welcome clarification and assurance on the issues that still concern me. They include lap dancing, temporary licences, the registration of alcohol licensees, and the safety and support of young problem drinkers.
Mr. Dai Davies (Blaenau Gwent) (Ind): I am sure that all hon. Members have the utmost respect for our police forces. They do a fantastic job, and it is certainly not a job that I would like to do. Policing is now probably at the top of the agenda in our constituency offices, alongside health, education, climate change and transport. It is one of the most important issues for our constituents. The police force offers a service to the community, and I believe that it should be funded according to need. I guess that we have all received a number of lobbies from police authorities, and they show that there is a breakdown somewhere between the Government and the police authorities. We have heard tonight that a lot of money has been put into the police forces, but that is not the way that the representatives of the police authorities who come to talk to me about funding see it.
One subject that has been prevalent in tonight’s debate is the need to include the community in decision making. One measure that has been introduced in our area is the PACT—police and community together—meeting, but the problem is that there is a huge difference between consultation and action. Unless the people at those meetings see action, they will walk away. Including the public is one thing, but if they are then alienated, they will leave the process alone. If we are encouraging the public to come along to such meetings, we should consider giving them a budget of their own to spend on the issues in the community that worry them. I guess that those issues are primarily the same for all of us. They include antisocial behaviour and traffic problems—nothing that is particularly high on the agenda in terms of serious crime, but in our communities such issues are very important. To that end, there needs to be a review of the antisocial behaviour order system. It is certainly not working in our area. The persistent offenders—the usual suspects—are still there.
Police community support officers provide a uniformed presence on the streets. That is a good idea, but I still believe that if we asked our constituents whether they would prefer four community support officers or two of our own police officers, they would rather have the full-blown police officers.
We have heard tonight that more than 3,000 new laws have been introduced. I am sure that they were introduced with all the right intentions, but what is the point if we cannot enforce them? We would be better off with fewer laws and better enforcement.
On a number of occasions, the police have talked to me about their relationship with the Crown Prosecution Service. In certain circumstances, the police want to bring charges and the CPS decides otherwise, and there seems to be a definite breakdown between the two organisations.
There has been a loss of values in our communities, a loss of respect for the police, and in some cases even a loss of respect for life. We need to bring back that respect.
Another problem that we have heard about tonight relates to statistics, and to the number of crimes that those in our communities see as crimes, especially in relation to antisocial behaviour. Such crimes are often not recorded as crimes. People in my community have now started to ask for log numbers. If the police refuse to list an incident as a crime, at least people will have something to refer to if they have a log number. That, too, needs to be looked into.
We have spoken many times about the lack of discipline in young people. Thank goodness that applies only to a minority, but it is a significant minority none the less. In that context, we have also spoken tonight about alcohol abuse. I recently met representatives of the Royal College of Nursing, who complained bitterly about the number of assaults on nurses that are now taking place, primarily because of alcohol abuse. I am sure that teachers and police officers would make the same point.
To put barriers in the way of obtaining alcohol is one thing—I understand why that is happening and I support some of the measures involved—but we are not asking why children and young people under the age of 16 find the need to drink. What are their reasons? Most of the reasons relate to inactivity and boredom: they have nothing to do. The problem is that our local authorities are now having to cut their budgets, which are being tightened all the time, and the provisions that are being taken away from our communities tend to be the ones that the young people want to keep, including the youth clubs and leisure facilities that provide them with something to do. Unless that is looked at, the problem of inactivity among our young people is going to get worse.
If we as politicians sat in a room with police, teachers and people in our communities, I am sure that we could identify the problem families. They tend to be the same ones time and again. Those problem families need 24/7 attention. With a lack of social workers and youth workers alongside the police, those problems are not going to go away.
The police authorities do a fantastic job. We speak about electing people to them, but that is already happening through local authority representation. Perhaps that is something that needs to be reviewed and strengthened, but the local authority certainly has a presence, and most of it comes from people who have been elected by their communities. If there is a problem there, let us look at it.
I honestly believe that the problem in my community has been worsened over the years by the removal of local police stations. At one time, each small community had its own police station somewhere in the vicinity. We also had police houses on estates. When problems broke out in those estates, the complaint we always got was, “You don’t have to live with it; it is not in your back yard.” When we had police houses and police stations in those areas, the police were part of the community; they lived it, and contact between the community and the police was that much stronger.
David T.C. Davies: The hon. Gentleman makes a number of excellent points, with which I thoroughly agree, although he may not necessarily welcome my saying so. Does he agree that it was not simply a matter of police living in the community in police houses, as there was also a stronger sense of morality, particularly in those valley communities that he and I love so well? There was a strong sense of morality, but for many reasons, sadly, it is disappearing.
Mr. Dai Davies: I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman. The influence of parents and grandparents has significantly weakened over the past 25 or 30 years. I recently spoke to a head teacher who told me that the problem with our communities now is that we have children having children. There is no influence around to teach that moral aspect of our society; it is a very important point.
Finally, I want to touch on the issue of “perceived crime”. Whenever we speak to the police about problems in our areas, they say, “Oh, yes, but it is only perceived; you only think you have a problem.” Well, when Mrs. Davies or Mrs. Jones in my constituency—they are 80 years of age—have stones thrown at their window, they are not simply perceiving it; they are feeling it and worrying about it. In some respects, they are terrified to leave their homes. We need to take that much more seriously, not simply brush it under the carpet.
The relationship between the police and our communities is vital to us all. This Bill is a start, but many parts of it need to be strengthened and looked at in greater depth. I look forward to Third Reading.
Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush) (Lab): I generally welcome the Bill and commend much of it, including parts 2 and 3. It is perhaps a shame that Opposition Members have spoken against the clauses on prostitution and, indeed, some of the clauses relating to the control of binge drinking and alcohol abuse. Like my hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) and for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho), I am going to concentrate in the brief time I have available on the proposals relating to lap dancing in clause 25, as the number of such clubs has mushroomed in recent years and caused difficulties for a great number of hon. Members in their constituencies.
The reclassification of lap-dancing or pole-dancing clubs as sex encounter venues is a very welcome step. Since the Licensing Act 2003, the number of such clubs is estimated to have doubled approximately to about 300. It is fair to say that that was an unintended consequence of the legislation, which effectively disenfranchised local communities and made it extremely difficult for licences to be withheld from those establishments.
That was brought home to me very keenly towards the end of last year in respect of an application for such a club in the west Kensington area—an area that I represented for about 20 years as a councillor and hope, following boundary changes at the next election, to represent again as an MP. It is an issue that has affected many areas in London and, indeed, outside it. In this case, a notorious establishment called the Fox tavern was bought by a company rather luridly called Passion Nights, which had no previous experience of running such places. It sought to open it as a lap-dancing club for up to 600 people with a large number of private booths and other insalubrious trappings that go along with such institutions. Needless to say, like many of these establishments, it was to be located in a densely populated residential area, with all that one expects to go with it in the way of schools, community facilities and so forth. It does not take much imagination to realise that that club would entirely change the character of that area. Despite that rather obvious fact, the experience of a number of my hon. Friends elsewhere has shown how difficult it is under existing legislation to challenge such licences. In those circumstances, one must try to prove a hypothesis: one must try to prove that something will happen for which there is clearly no current evidence, because the establishment is not currently there, and the criteria for refusal of licences are extremely narrow and not directed at the nuisances that residents usually expect such establishments to cause.
Fortunately, things have gone reasonably well thus far in this case, but that is entirely due to the fact that within 10 days of its becoming common knowledge that the application was being submitted, more than 25 per cent. of all residents in the catchment area had signed petitions and presented the local authority with over 1,000 objections to the club’s opening. Owing to the quality of those submissions and the organisation involved—I know that a great deal of organisation was involved, because I gave evidence at the licensing hearing—the authority refused the application. It was one of very few applications that were refused.
However, the matter does not end there. Next month there will be an appeal in the magistrates court, and I strongly suspect that even if the residents win again, the matter will proceed to the High Court, because the people who have the estimated £2 million needed to develop such a project have deep enough pockets to exceed, in the legal process, whatever the residents can come up with.
The clause is good news. I say that not only because of my own reading of it, but because organisations such as Object and the Fawcett Society—which have campaigned nationally on the subject—generally welcome it, and believe that it will do the trick when it comes to new licences. Some of my hon. Friends have already mentioned the caveats, so I will not go over the ground again. There is, however, an opportunity for temporary or occasional licences.
Two matters concern me particularly, given my own experience. First, I want to know how transitional provisions will be dealt with. We understand that they will be dealt with by means of a statutory instrument, but it would be helpful if—perhaps not today, but certainly in Committee—the Minister could give some indication of how the Government expect existing licences, and the process of renewal and challenge of those licences, to be dealt with. Given the mushrooming of facilities of this kind over the last five years, the problem clearly does not relate only to new licences dating from the time of enactment.
The second issue, which I think has already been covered by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham, is the issue of choice. There is an adopted rather than a mandatory provision here. Indeed, it is a double adopted provision, because it constitutes an amendment to schedule 3 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. There will be a “postcode lottery” effect. There will, I suspect, be displacement between authorities, some being less robust and some being more robust, and there is likely to be a substantial delay while authorities take advice and decide whether to adopt the new legislation. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to look at that issue again, and to consider particularly the matter of transitional provision. Notwithstanding that caveat, however, the legislation is very welcome.
I did not intend to say anything particularly partisan, but I am afraid that the door was opened by the newly appointed shadow Home Secretary, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). Perhaps it was his enthusiasm for his new job that gave him the temerity to claim credit for the Conservative party for coming up with these ideas. That, I think, is simply churlish. I think that credit should be given where it is due. The Conservative party’s record on this issue is actually very bad, whether we view it at national or at local level.
Because she is a very modest person, my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge did not mention the fact that she and my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham had conducted a co-ordinated campaign, including an early-day motion which, when I last saw it, had attracted 119 signatures in the last Session. Four were from Conservative Members. That is how much the Conservative party cared at that stage. Conservative Members’ support in debates raising the issue, and their support for the 10-minute Bill, were singularly lacking. I am glad to note that residents’ pressure has belatedly brought them to the table to support this recommendation, but I think it would be rather better for them to give credit to the people who have pursued the agenda over the last two to three years than to try, in a rather tawdry way, to claim the credit now.
Last year the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), wrote to all local authorities asking whether they had any concerns. My Conservative council wrote back, saying that the current restrictions
“appear to be working well and are therefore not a problem”.
There is a degree of complacency in that statement. My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge made a good point, even though it was jeered by Opposition Members. There are lurid examples of Conservatives and their organisations not simply not opposing institutions of this kind, but giving support to them in a rather childish and schoolboyish way.
I hope that the Conservative party has learned its lesson on this matter. I hope this provision will be toughened, and that it will not be subjected to the same sort of parsimonious comments that we have heard so far about the rest of the Bill. On that basis, I hope that the Bill will make progress and that the specific provision on lap-dancing clubs will be strengthened.
Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): I wish to speak first on part 1 of the Bill, but only briefly because I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Carswell) will do it justice when he is called to speak.
The Government have missed a huge opportunity to be bold and to go the full way by having elected police commissioners. Instead, they have proposed the direct election of some members of police authorities, which is a cop-out. I am unsure precisely how that will work in practice, but people will elect members to various police authorities, and that will generate no interest or excitement. I cannot see in my mind people pouring out of their homes to go to the polling booths to vote for members of a locally elected police authority, because it will not be accountable. It is the police commissioner who would have been accountable. Such accountability would have been an exciting development. It would have been great if people could have gone to the polls to vote not only for their MPs and local councillors, but for the police commissioner as well. Let us imagine that after such a vote crime had gone up in their area, they were unhappy with what had been happening on their streets and there was no visible policing; if, when the next election came around, they could point the finger at somebody and say, “That’s your fault”, they would go back into the polling booths to vote again in droves. Imagine the other advantages such as the prudence that would be applied to police budgets, and also in relation to how the budgets would be spent and the priorities adopted by the police commissioner—which I am sure would have mirrored those requested by the local residents.
That is what people want. Every area has different policing needs; every community knows what it wants in terms of policing. There was a chance to offer people the opportunity to vote for somebody who was visibly accountable and responsible for keeping their streets safe. It is a great shame that the Government have missed out on that huge opportunity—they have ducked out of it.
Turning to part 2 of the Bill, I wish to speak particularly about clauses 16 and 17. Clause 16 addresses orders under the Street Offences Act 1959 to do with
“loitering or soliciting for purposes of prostitution”.
In effect, a court will order that prostitutes attend three meetings. This is a prime example of making bad law. Let me read out a passage:
“The purpose of an order under subsection (2A) is to assist the offender…to—
(a) address the causes of the conduct constituting the offence, and
(b) find ways to cease engaging in such conduct in the future.”
A named person is to carry that process out with the offender. I never thought I would stand up in this Chamber and find myself agreeing with the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris)—in fact, it is bizarre that I am doing so, and I will need to sit down for a minute or so after my speech to get over it. We have had prostitution since biblical times. One would think that after 2,000 years we would know how to accommodate such a profession within a civilised society. It is not possible to outlaw prostitution. It will not be possible by having three meetings with a prostitute to get them to change their mind about being involved in that career. It is not a matter of career choice; boys and girls do not say when asked in school what they want to do when they grow up, “I would like to be a prostitute.” It is probably the only job where death is an unintended consequence.
David T.C. Davies: I hesitate to say this, but I met a prostitute in the House of Commons this morning and she surprised me by saying that many women did enjoy this work, found it quite well paid and actively chose to do it. That was a surprise to me, but it came straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were.
Mrs. Dorries: I stand corrected, and I am sure that what my hon. Friend says is the case at certain levels. The people with whom I am concerned in respect of this Bill are those who are controlled, those who are exposed and those who end up in prostitution via a route of need. Such people might need to feed a drug habit, the need might result from a dire financial circumstance, they may have been pimped or they may be under the control of another. My hon. Friend is talking about people who have made an active choice to go into prostitution; they actively manage their own affairs very well, given that they have considered their choice and are intelligent enough to have been able to make that choice. I do not detract from that, but the Bill was another great opportunity to have provided access to health care services, a route away from danger and harm for prostitutes and a way of controlling prostitution that would have benefited the prostitutes themselves and society as a whole.
Instead, these provisions will mean that if a prostitute does not attend the three meetings with the named person, they will be fined or put in prison. Thus, a group of people whose job puts them in danger and criminalises them will be further criminalised by the Bill. This is bad law and it is a wasted opportunity. Prostitutes need better sexual health advice: they need to know about needle exchange programmes; about where they can get a constant supply of safe condoms; about how to protect themselves; and about how to operate in a way that will protect them and their families—including their children—who also have health needs. The Bill has done nothing to address that; these two clauses will further criminalise prostitutes and further expose a group of people who are already in danger.
I suppose that I should declare an interest by saying that I was a member of the Royal College of Nursing in my former life. The RCN has said:
“The health issues experienced by sex workers have an impact over the long term for themselves and their children. The RCN has concerns that the measures promoted in Clause 16 and 17 of this Bill will not help men and women out of prostitution and fear that the measures in the Bill could actually lead to greater detention of some of the most vulnerable, stigmatised and marginalised people in society.”
So it is not only me and my Conservative colleagues who feel that these are bad clauses, because the RCN does too. The Government are quick to cite the RCN when it supports what they are trying to do, so I hope that they will take its criticisms on board too.
The Government could have formalised what happens in a voluntary way at the moment; they could have formalised outreach services to help prostitutes and worked with the voluntary sector, which tries to get out on to the streets to work with prostitutes. The Bill could have provided a framework to assist those voluntary organisations in providing the access to health care and the assistance that prostitutes need, but it failed.
Clause 20 deals with closure orders. Nobody likes brothels to operate in residential areas or areas that contain schools, playgroups or children, and I know that sensitivities are involved, but I also know that all that will happen when a brothel is closed is that the prostitutes will be driven out on to the streets, where they will present a greater danger to themselves. They will not stop being prostitutes—they will not cease to work, to earn their income or to do what they are doing. They will just be driven out on to the streets. I fail to see the usefulness of closing down a brothel for three months and I fail to see what the provision aims to do. I hope that the Minister will be able to elaborate on what the Government hope to achieve. The Government might be trying to cease the business in a given area, but they will not succeed because brothels will just open up again a few months later. Again, all the Government are doing is exposing prostitutes to greater danger and greater health risks.
As was said before, no safety will be offered to such prostitutes—prostitutes will not be in a group, but will be out on their own on the streets. We know what happened in Ipswich; we know what has happened over and over again to prostitutes who are on the streets on their own. I would have though that the Government would have tried to stop that.
I believe that society needs to be protected from those things that its members do not want to happen in their residential areas. I am not saying that brothels should be allowed to exist wherever or whenever, but that prostitution exists and will always exist in a civilised society. We are not going to do anything with the Bill that will stop that. I support moving the emphasis towards the demand side of prostitution and the fact that when someone is buying sex, they will be committing an offence, but why should that happen only when the person is buying sex with somebody who is trafficked? All the arguments have been made on that subject, so I shall not reiterate them, but the best argument came from my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). He said the girls quite often do not speak English and the purchasers quite often do not speak English. How on earth will the clause work?
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries), who always speaks good practical sense. That sense contrasted somewhat with the speech made by the Home Secretary in opening today’s debate, in which she oozed complacency. The fact that the Bill is the 66th piece of police and justice legislation that we have had under this Government just shows how they confuse quantity with quality. As so many hon. Members have already said, we need to make existing laws work properly as they were intended to, and to make them work better, before we introduce yet more laws and regulations that, as we have just heard, might prove completely unworkable.
I shall make a few brief and probably disjointed comments on various aspects of the Bill that are not to do with prostitution—the subject that has exercised most hon. Members’ minds this evening.
The selling of alcohol to children is a big problem, as we would all agree. It is particularly a problem in deprived areas. Some of the statistics have already been mentioned. A survey that appeared in The Lancet showed that 29 per cent. of disadvantaged children say that they drink to get drunk, 52 per cent. say that they get alcohol from the local shops and 42 per cent. start drinking before they are 13. Another survey produced last year by Liverpool John Moores university said that poor children were 45 per cent. more likely to be violent after drinking than children in affluent areas. The problem is very serious. I welcome measures that will genuinely tackle that problem, but, as I mentioned earlier, legislation and regulations alone will not solve every perceived social problem, and a large part of this problem is social.
The fact that the Government are making new penalties when the existing penalties have not even been used in the extreme, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), just shows that laws are not being allowed to work. I went out a little while ago on a test purchasing exercise with the local police. We went to pubs with two police cadets aged 15 and 16. One certainly did not look anything like 18, and the other was marginal. Four out of the five premises that we visited served those girls. In most cases they were served by the licensee himself or herself, not by some rookie 18-year-old barman. That is still happening, and it is happening because powers are not being used to ensure that those places are properly investigated and because the penalties are not sufficiently tough when people get caught. That is what we need to work on.
I am not just complaining about the amounts of alcohol being drunk, worrying though those amounts are, but about the fact that we have a mentality in this country that says that people have to go out and get completely bladdered, and to binge drink, for it to be worth doing and effective. We have to change that mentality. The Government have not helped by the fact that they have cut education programmes on drinking, on which they should have put more emphasis. We need to get people to respect alcohol, not to grow up abusing it.
The subject of mosquitoes is linked to alcohol and young people; it is not mentioned in the Bill, and it should be. For the benefit of those who do not know, I should explain that mosquitoes are high-pitched devices that can be heard only by children and young people, mostly under the age of 25. The devices are deeply insidious and discriminatory, and are produced by Compound Security Systems, a company whose managing director I met a little while ago. They have a range of 15 m and are attached to buildings, usually shops, to deter young people from congregating in an area. That is the wrong way to tackle the forms of antisocial behaviour that may or may not occur when young people congregate in groups.
The device is highly discriminatory because it affects only young people. I tried it on a work experience student from one of the local schools who was working in my office. When the device was switched on, we could hear nothing, but that poor chap went berserk because it is very powerful. It is also dangerous; it has been shown that it can have adverse effects on people suffering from tinnitus or autism.
What if we had invented a device that could be detected only by elderly people, or that affected only people with hearing aids or who used Zimmer frames? That would be terribly discriminatory and we would not stand for it, yet completely unregulated and unlicensed devices are available that can be targeted at young people, who in many cases are simply trying to get together to socialise.
David T.C. Davies: Does my hon. Friend welcome the approach copied from the continent that has been adopted in some London underground stations? Instead of a mosquito, classical music is played, which seems to have a similar effect on young people. Even if it does not encourage them to go away, at least they are getting some culture.
Tim Loughton: That idea is much less insidious than a high-pitched noise.
I still take issue over the fact that the device is discriminatory, because it is not just young people who commit antisocial offences. Furthermore, young people who happen to be sleeping in the proximity of one of those things can be kept awake. Will the Minister consider whether there should be some form of regulation for such devices? At present, they are available, through the company I mentioned and certain foreign companies, only to police authorities and local authorities. I am glad that my police authority in Sussex has stopped using them, as have many other authorities, but I gather that we are soon likely to be flooded with much cheaper devices from China, which will be available in DIY shops for any householder to put up in the vicinity of their house. That is deeply worrying.
My next point is about how we deal with young people and the media perceptions of them; 70 per cent. of media stories about young people are negative, dealing mostly with antisocial behaviour and crime. The Bill says little that is positive about young people. Clause 1 is about the duty of police authorities in relation to public accountability, and inserts in the Police Act 1996 the provision that police authorities when discharging their functions must have regard to the views of the public concerning policing. How will that affect children and young people?
Whenever we go to public meetings organised by the police, the usual suspects are there, and they usually get up and say, “It’s all down to young people running riot in my community.” Under the Bill, the police must have particular regard to the policing priorities that come up in such consultation exercises, so can the Minister reassure me by telling me which provisions will take account of the feelings and wishes of children and young people? They are equally entitled to decent policing. They form 20 per cent. of the population and, as we have seen from the Government’s youth crime action plan, suffer a high instance of being victims of crime. How will the proposals in the Bill reflect and protect the particular requirements of children and young people?
There are provisions on the selling and procuring of alcohol for young people, but I want to make a couple of other quick points. The first is about gangs. We all know that we have a problem with gangs—often in our inner cities—who have access to knives, guns and drugs. I am glad that the Government have taken a number of measures, within those 66 pieces of legislation, to increase the penalties and clamp down on that, but what I hear in our inner cities is that those gangs are using younger children to act as the carriers of guns, knives and drugs. They are recruiting those younger children, who are known as soldiers. Courts are more lenient with younger children, so the gangs recruit them to do their dirty work. Many people might appreciate it if inciting a child to commit a crime resulted in a stiffer penalty than undertaking the crime itself. That is another thought that the Minister might consider. Again, too many people are cleverly getting round the law, and we need to close off all those possibilities for people to flout the law.
The Minister would expect me to make one last point about cannabis cafés. One clause deals with closure orders for brothels, and we should have easier ways to put closure orders on cannabis cafés. I have waxed lyrical about the cannabis café in my constituency, which is still functioning, but a trial is pending, so I will not go into my constituency case in detail. However, when a premises is masquerading as a café, offering office space, when it has a reinforced roof, concrete-filled tyres in rows to reinforce its perimeter, razor wire around the premises, concrete bollards and height gantries to restrict vehicle entry, when it has no planning permission for a change of use, when it has had no health and safety inspections and no disability access requirements, and is not paying business rates, should that place be in business? Yet it is flouting the law, sticking two fingers up at the law and causing people in a residential area mayhem and misery. How on earth can a business that claims to be an innocent café or renter of office space justify needing such fortifications to go about its business?
The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): The hon. Gentleman has raised that case on a number of occasions. So that I do not lose this in my response, I want to say now that I think that I have just written to him to say that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell) will meet him in the hope of discussing a way forward with regard to the problem that he has had with that café. That problem has troubled me, as well as him. I hope that that is helpful.
Tim Loughton: I am grateful to the Minister; he has given me a bit of injury time, so that I can finish my story. He has been responsive to these problems, but that place has been going for more than 18 months, and it continues to get round the law. We all know that that is ridiculous. We all know that criminal activity is going on there. We all know that such places have been raided countless times by the police, using heavy equipment. We all know that they have constantly burning stoves, where incriminating substances are quickly inserted if there is any raid.
If we can come up with closure orders for brothels—they will be difficult to enforce, but the Bill attempts to find a way to do that—surely, we need to consider how to enforce closure orders for other unsavoury premises that are wreaking havoc and misery in residential communities, whether in my constituency or others, and can apparently get round the law and all the health and safety requirements that any hon. Member who hoped to set up a business would have to comply with. I ask whether the Bill could be a vehicle for the Minister to produce such legislation. I appreciate that I have a meeting with his colleague to try to further that, but my constituents’ patience is certainly being exercised to the full. If any crumb of comfort can come from this legislation, there will be dancing in the streets of Lancing in my constituency. I hope very much that the Minister will take that on board.
Mr. Douglas Carswell (Harwich) (Con): I am deeply disappointed that the Bill does not contain measures that would genuinely give local people a say over policing where they live. Clause 1 will impose a statutory requirement for police authorities to take into account the public’s views on crime and policing. That is a far cry from having directly elected police authorities—an idea that Ministers were toying with. Let us imagine that Parliament had a statutory requirement to take into account the views of the electorate instead of holding elections to decide who sits here. That is the difference between what the Green Paper promised and what is in the Bill.
It is difficult to see how clause 1 will lead to much change. It certainly does not enable local people to hold a single individual to account for how effectively, or otherwise, their community is policed. Rather than empower local people, clause 2 does the precise opposite. Instead of the people deciding who runs the police, the decision will be left to yet another quango—the police senior appointments panel, whose members will be appointed centrally by the Home Secretary. It is not merely that the Bill is not localist; it is centralising.
Clauses 10 to 12 further diminish the local discretion of local police forces. Rather than allow locally accountable police forces freedom to run their affairs, the Bill extends the power of Home Office officials to micro-manage local police practice and procedure. The system of police accountability that we have today is a product of the tripartite system established under the Police Act 1964, and of its steady erosion under Governments of both parties in the years since. Police authorities, which are supposed to represent and supervise the police, have become weak, ineffectual and subject to the whim of Home Office target setters.
Far from being vehicles for democratic scrutiny, local police authorities are all too often anonymous quangos made up of local worthies. Few people know that their police authority even exists, let alone who sits on it. The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), seemed to imply that that was somehow a shortcoming of the people. In fact, it shows what is inevitable when police authorities are appointed rather than elected.
Far from holding chief constables to account, police authority members all too often see it as their job to support their chief constable when there are attacks on his or her performance. Chief constables certainly do not seem to regard police authorities as bodies that exist to set their agendas or priorities. Do not take my word for it; take the word of former chief constable Andy Hayman, writing in The Times:
“When I was a chief constable, I regularly called my police authority chairman to appraise him of sensitive operations. He would occasionally seek clarification but the last thing I expected was for him to question…whether the operation was appropriate.”
Thus to some chief constables, even to be questioned by the people’s representatives is objectionable. Police authorities are a great forum in which to have tea and biscuits with the chief constable; they are not the forum for setting out, in no uncertain terms, what the local community expects of their police. I use the term “their police” deliberately, because as Robert Peel understood,
“The police are the public and the public are the police”.
Without proper local accountability and local democratic legitimacy, the police are increasingly losing the confidence of the public. Without local accountability, there is less local legitimacy, and there is alienation between the police and the public. Again, do not take my word for it; take the word of the Government’s own Home Office adviser, Louise Casey. She recently spoke of the collapse of trust in the criminal justice system. The Government’s former respect tsar is right to be concerned about surveys that show that only one third of people still have great confidence in the police.
Conspicuously absent from the Bill are measures to allow for direct election to police authorities. Bold reform and localism have been defeated by the Sir Humphrey Appleby types. On 18 December, in the pages of The Guardian rather than in this House, the Home Secretary revealed that plans to make the police more accountable to local communities through direct elections had been abandoned owing to pressure from senior officers. Also cited were fears of local police falling under the control of political extremists or single-issue campaigners. Ten seconds of reflection show that it is nonsense to argue that we cannot have directly elected police chiefs for fear of the British National party. Surely that is an argument against electing people to run local councils—or, indeed, against elections to Parliament. People could vote for extremists, but overwhelmingly they do not.
As for the fear that a single-issue group might take control, do we mean single-issue groups such as those that want to lower crime, or groups of citizens who want a more robust approach to crime and violence where they live? I do not think that the Home Secretary really believes that those are valid reasons for not having elected police chiefs. I believe that she has bottled it because she has been lobbied by powerful vested interests—by the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Local Government Association and the Association of Police Authorities. Indeed, I believe that one of her predecessors as Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), said as much in an earlier question. We know that the Association of Police Authorities has used public money and part of its Home Office funding to engage a lobbyist to lobby the Home Office. Thus does the quango state use public money to lobby itself. So much for the LGA’s belief in localism.
Others suggest that policing needs to be left to the experts—the same experts, presumably, who presided over a massive hike in crime and violence, and who for years told us that high-visibility policing was a waste of resources. We all like the idea of the expert—the disinterested technocrat who can rise above the pressures of demagogic politics. The trouble is that no such person exists. If by the “expert” we mean someone who has spent their whole life and career in a particular profession, those are the last people we should put in charge of invigilating the measure.
It is precisely the demand that we should let the professionals get on with things that has brought us to the present pass. Leaving things to the experts was what we did with child protection in Haringey. In lobbying against localism, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Local Government Association and police authorities argued that directly elected police chiefs would politicise the police, yet it would be perfectly possible to have directly elected justice commissioners, for example, overseeing local police without compromising in any way local forces’ operational independence. Saying that policing would be politicised by the direct election of police authorities ignores the fact that in a democratic free society, the way in which we are policed is a matter that should be subject to democratic control. If it is not, why on earth do we talk about policing in our election manifestos?
Policing has gradually become politicised, yet our political process and system has not adapted or kept pace to allow democratic scrutiny of matters that should be decided by local people. There has been no shortage in the Chamber of Home Secretaries or Ministers talking about the need to make our criminal justice system work, or of Westminster insiders talking about the need to be tough on crime. The trouble is, talk is all that it is. Without the direct election of police authorities, those whom we elect remain powerless to fight crime. We can fight elections with lots of talk about fighting crime, but unless we have directly elected justice commissioners, policing will remain almost entirely beyond democratic control.
Faced with yet more ritualistic promises, round about the time of an election, of more police and more action on law and order, but never seeing much change, it is no surprise that more and more voters have given up on the whole charade. Instead of real accountability, the Home Office has talked the language of localism but has applied corporatism. Crime and disorder partnerships and community panels are bogus measures that are really examples of corporatism. We need local democratic control.
Policing is already politicised. Police chiefs lobbied me in the House about identity cards, and they lobbied us about 42-day detention. The other week, at the instigation of Home Office officials, they arrested a member of the Opposition for revealing truths about immigration that the Government wanted to keep under wraps. The issue is not “Do we politicise policing?” but whether there is to be any democratic accountability of policing and whether the police remain under the control of the quango state. This Bill entrenches the power of the quangos.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Before turning to clause 13, may I reiterate the comments of many hon. Members who agree—in fact, everyone does so—that trafficking in human beings for any purpose is evil, and who recognise that those evil people must be stamped out and put behind bars? I commend the Government, because over the past few years, there has been greater awareness of that evil trade, of which many of us were ignorant five, six or 10 years ago. It is now very much in everyone’s mind, and the Government have tried to ensure that when traffickers are caught, tough sentences are handed out. There are two problems. First, very few of them are caught and, secondly, despite the long sentences that are handed out, most of those people walk out free halfway through as a result of automatic early release, about which I should like to speak at length another time.
The problem with clause 13 is that it appears to have been drafted in the heat of the moment, rather than after a cold, hard look at the facts. The Minister talks about trying to reduce trafficking by stemming the demand, and about the financial incentive for traffickers to bring women into this country to offer sexual services. If that is the case, and if the Government believe that by going after prostitutes’ clients they will stem that demand, they must answer the question that I have posed about child beggars. When I went to Europe and discussed trafficking with senior Europol officers a few months ago on behalf of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, they told me that, to a trafficker, a child beggar is worth more money than a female prostitute. They gave me rough figures—no one can be exact—and said that a child beggar was worth €100,000 a year to a trafficker, and a female prostitute was worth about €75,000 a year. They went on to say that, as a result, some towns in some parts of eastern Europe have practically been turned into baby factories where women produce children specifically so that they can be kidnapped, taken away to countries such as the United Kingdom and exploited as beggars and petty thieves. I am sure that the Minister will agree that that trade is equally disgusting.
Let us look at the measure logically. If we are to stem the demand for prostitution by going after prostitutes’ clients, we should also take action to stem the even greater problem of child beggars. I have asked the question before: if we are to criminalise those who go to prostitutes, should we not also criminalise those who give money to child beggars? Those people are contributing to and causing a problem exactly as the clients of prostitutes are. I put the question directly to the Leader of the House when she gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee. She wrote back a rather strange letter saying that one group of people were being philanthropic and the other was committing rape.
The first statement might be perfectly true; people who give money to child beggars are being naive, but I accept that their motives are honourable and in that sense they are being philanthropic. However, in most instances people who see prostitutes are not committing rape. If anyone has sex with a woman who has not given her consent—the definition under the law is perfectly clear—they can be charged as the law stands. This law is being brought in only because the men are not committing rape. The women are giving their consent; if they were not, the act of rape would be committed. I am sure that the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) will understand that. It is because the act of consent is given and those men are not committing rape that the new law has to be introduced.
Fiona Mactaggart: Surely the consent must be freely given. I cite child prostitution, an example that the hon. Gentleman used. The child involved in the case to which I referred went back to the family responsible for trafficking and exploiting her because their control over her was so enormous. The same is true of trafficked women, who give their consent to sex because of the control and exploitation over them. The consent is not given freely; it is a product of the control that the women are under.
David T.C. Davies: If consent to a sexual act is not given freely, the act of rape is committed.
Fiona Mactaggart: No prosecutions have ever been made.
David T.C. Davies: Well, the law is already there to deal with the issue, as the hon. Lady knows.
The measure would ensure the prosecution of men who have had sex with a woman who appeared to them to have given her consent freely. The hon. Lady and Ministers have failed to answer the question of what in practice is the difference between giving money to a child beggar and perpetuating child trafficking for the purposes of begging, and giving money to a prostitute and perpetuating prostitution.
The fact is that this is bad law, and talk of strict liability will not make it any better. The hon. Lady gave the example of people who sell alcohol to underage children, but obviously shopkeepers can ask for valid ID and check it out. Somebody else gave the example of people running red lights, but we all know that when we drive past traffic lights, it is our responsibility to be sure that they are green; if we do not and we run a red light, we are to blame and can be prosecuted. There is no way in which a punter going to a prostitute can find out for certain whether she has been trafficked. If sex is apparently freely given, the client has to assume that the woman has not been trafficked.
It is no good the hon. Member for Slough talking about every act of prostitution being one of sexual exploitation. That is not what the prostitutes say. As I said to her earlier, this morning I met a very articulate lady; in fact, I assumed that she was a solicitor and did not at first realise that she worked in the sex industry as well as lobbying Members of Parliament. Her take was that many women work in the industry quite freely because the money and the job are good. She tells me that most of those whom she meets are perfectly nice and decent and that most who run brothels are also that. She even described one brothel as a happy family business. I have no way of knowing how representative she is, but her union is linked to the GMB, which has more links to the hon. Lady’s party than to mine.
What concerns me is that in going after the punters we will be going after the wrong people—it is the traffickers whom we should be targeting. If we start making it easy for the police to get prosecutions by going after clients, then they will go after clients and spend a lot of time trying to collate evidence about them. The clients themselves, who in many instances do report cases where they think that women are being abused, will not go to the police and certainly will not give evidence.
I would like the Government to answer these simple questions. Why have they done nothing about running a public information campaign to discourage people from giving money to child beggars and try to stop those activities? Why are they doing so little to prevent forced marriage, which is another form of trafficking whereby women are taken from one country to another to act as domestic and sexual slaves for people whom they have never even met before? While we are on the periphery of this subject, perhaps they could also explain why they have done nothing to enforce the law on female genital mutilation that they introduced in 2003, when lots of Members of Parliament made speeches saying that that disgusting practice must be stamped out. They encouraged the Metropolitan police to set up a unit to hunt down and seek out people who had perpetrated this disgusting crime, yet since then not one single person has been convicted and only one person has been investigated. I know that that is the case only because I had to make a case to the Information Commissioner to get the information out of the Metropolitan police, who did their damnedest to try to stop me from having any of it.
By all means, let the Government show their commitment—let us all show our commitment—to stamping out the evil act of human trafficking, but let us go about it in the right way. We should not criminalise men who seek prostitutes in the belief that they are perfectly willing to have sex, or criminalise prostitutes, some of whom, contrary to what the hon. Member for Slough may think, are perfectly happy with the jobs that they are doing, but go after the traffickers. We should discourage people from giving money to a woman who has obviously been coerced into sex or giving money to a child who has been taken from their home in eastern Europe, or somewhere else, and put out on to the streets of London. We should discourage people who are party to the fact that domestic slaves are brought into this country from some parts of the middle east and forced to work for little or nothing in the houses of very wealthy people from that part of the world. Those are the people whom the Minister should be tackling; if he did that, he would have support in all parts of the House.
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), who showed his characteristic passion for the issues that concern him. As usual, I declare an interest as a solicitor practising criminal law, albeit rarely.
It has been a particular delight to be here throughout the whole debate from beginning to end—a pleasure that I did not think that I would have earlier today when I was set to take part in a Delegated Legislation Committee to consider a hangover from previous legislation. We have already heard about the number of criminal justice Bills—66 and counting—that we have considered in recent years. One of those measures was the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, and the Committee was to consider a draft order extending penalty notices for disorder to a number of offences—the subject of my earlier intervention on the Home Secretary. The last-minute cancellation of that Committee because of the lack of consultation highlighted a running theme of the speeches that we have heard in this debate: the Government are legislating, and over-legislating, without proper consideration of the effects. There is a preponderance of increasing legislation and a reduction in public confidence in our police and justice system.
That is a matter that we could have highlighted in the Committee. Justice is being done on the cheap away from the courts and without recognition for victims. There is a problem in our communities arising from the lack of ownership, understanding and information as regards what happens in our justice system and about priorities for policing. The Government have tried to tackle that in part 1, but wholly inadequately. An opportunity has already been missed, and we need to address that in Committee. The provisions have fallen short of what is needed: directly elected police commissioners who can bring accountability to the communities that the police serve.
In the short time that I have, I would like to draw attention to part 3, which deals with alcohol misuse. Points have been raised about its provisions throughout the debate. The Government are, in many ways, legislating to deal with their own mistakes, not least the 24-hour licensing regime. During the first year of the regime, offences increased by 22 per cent. between 3 am and 6 am, and those involving serious violent crime increased by 25 per cent. A and E admissions for alcohol-related injuries increased by 26 per cent., and there were 1 million alcohol-related attacks last year. Not only in part 3, but throughout the Bill, there are provisions to correct mistakes in previous Government legislation. A running theme throughout many speeches, however, has been the lack of enforcement of existing legislation. Since 2004, only 32 people under 18 have been prosecuted for buying or attempting to buy alcohol, and in 2006 that figure was only eight.
I wish to spend my remaining minutes dealing with part 2, which deals with prostitution, and whose provisions have caused other Members concern. We should be in no doubt that for the most part prostitution involves exploitation and preying on the most vulnerable. While my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth has met someone who is not in that category, the reality is that prostitution involves exploitation. The European average age for entry into prostitution is 14, and in this country, 75 per cent. of prostitutes enter prostitution before the age of 18. The facts about vulnerability speak for themselves. The Home Office’s own figures refer to homelessness, living in care, debt and substance abuse. All are common experiences.
David T.C. Davies rose—
Mr. Burrowes: Unfortunately, given the limited time, I must carry on.
Those are the experiences of those entering prostitution, and research shows that many involved have suffered abuse or violence in the home. Some 85 per cent. report physical abuse and 45 per cent. report familial sexual abuse. I will refer to my own experience of prostitutes when in Haringey; I did not meet them on the streets, but in the magistrates courts. I recall going down to the cells in Highgate in the morning as a duty solicitor, and in a similar experience to that described by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), seeing those prostitutes, who were, in the true sense of the word, pathetic. When I opened the hatch of the cell, I would see a prostitute who was damaged, vulnerable and plainly exploited. When they went before the magistrates, the magistrates were often embarrassed about what to do with them, saying “What do we do with them? We saw them last week and we saw them the week before. Well, we’ll give them a token financial penalty.” And off they go, but they come back week in, week out.
Some might say that prostitutes have a choice and that they have a right to earn a living. Some do, but the majority have a desperate existence. In the remaining time that I have, I would like to talk about what needs to be done to address these issues and make the changes that we all want. First, we cannot overstate the significant influence of drugs. The pimps, no doubt, want to make many women drug dependent in order to use them in prostitution. The prostitutes will then use drugs as a means of escape, and stay in prostitution in order to feed their habit. With 95 per cent. of street-based prostitutes on class A heroin, the statistics speak for themselves. Drugs have to be tackled, including by means beyond legislation, as other hon. Members have said.
Secondly, there is the question of danger. Many have said during this debate, with a smile on their face, that prostitution is the oldest profession, implying that it is going to be with us year in, year out, and that we just have to deal with it. I am not saying that it is within the power of the state simply to brush it away, but neither am I saying that the position is static and has not changed. We must recognise that demand has increased with regard to those in most danger—those who are being trafficked.
It is estimated that some 4,000 women in this country have been trafficked, and that 81 per cent. of prostitutes now come from overseas. That inevitably opens up the issue of trafficking. On 1 August, it will be the 175th anniversary of the release of all slaves in British colonies, thanks to the work of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton and others. Now, in 2009, British men gather slaves to themselves each day—now sexual slaves—to do their bidding. We must ask ourselves whether there has been progress, and what needs to be done.
We certainly need to enforce current legislation better, because the number of convictions for trafficking is woefully low. Up to May 2008 it was at 84. Perhaps we must do better in introducing new legislation, and we must certainly examine clause 13 closely to decide whether it creates an ambiguity. Do we want to criminalise prostitution on the one hand while on the other hand saying that we wish to focus on those who are controlling it, gaining from it and trafficking? The concern is that we will not be able to deal with them properly.
We also need to examine clauses 16 and 17 carefully. They resurrect issues that the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing and I debated during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, in relation to the practicality of rehabilitation orders. Will they really lead to people giving up prostitution, given the concerns about family breakdown, child abuse, domestic violence and debt? Will the three meetings, to take place within six months, really produce the desired result? Will there be compliance, rather than women being criminalised further with the prospect of imprisonment for breaches of an order? Will there be the resources that we all believe are needed to help people exit prostitution and to provide rehabilitation for them? Countries such as Norway and Sweden have those resources, but they do not exist in this country.
There are good intentions behind the Bill in some ways, but in many other ways it creates solutions to problems caused by the Government’s own legislative failures. It is the symptom of a tired Government and the embers of a fading and dying Government.
Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): The Bill is a smorgasbord of measures that are sometimes worthy but not always well thought through. It is not the radical reform of our law and order system that the police, and the public whom they serve, need. The first 16 minutes of the Home Secretary’s speech—I counted the minutes—were about measures, many real, many imagined, that are not even in the Bill.
The police do a difficult and often dangerous job on our behalf, and the Bill does not give them the additional tools that they need to do their job. The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, agreed with me about that, saying that he hoped for a second Bill later this year to deliver some serious police reform. Members of the Home Secretary’s own party say that, and they are right.
The Home Secretary gives us lectures about her criminal record—sorry, her crime record—that are, frankly, complacent. Violent crime is up by almost 80 per cent. under Labour, with 1.099 million violent crimes recorded in 2007-08 compared with just over 615,000 offences in 1998-99. Those are Home Office figures, shown in table 2.4 of its report “Crime in England and Wales 2007/08” of 17 July 2008, so we do not want any argument about the fact that the crime figures are up. Robbery is up by 27 per cent. under Labour and criminal damage by 18 per cent., and just over one in four crimes were detected by the police in 2007-08.
Why is all that coming about? It is partly to do with the fact that despite five red tape reviews under this Government we still have the unacceptable position that patrol officers spend less than 20 per cent. of their time on the beat. That is not good enough. That was one among many points that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) made.
Much reference has been made in the debate to the reform of the police senior appointments panel in part 1. It is necessary to reform that panel, to secure a higher quality of senior officers for appointment. It is totally unacceptable that there was only one candidate for the vacancy of chief constable of Lincolnshire. The same was true recently of Thames Valley police. As Conservative Members have pointed out, nothing in the relevant clauses will ensure that there is a better, higher-quality calibre of police.
Clauses 7 and 8 will make it easier for officers to tackle crimes that occur in areas where a collaboration agreement is in force. However, why does the Bill not tackle the real problem and reform the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 to do away with the ridiculous requirement for an officer to fill in a form if he wants to surveille the house of a known, persistent burglar? The measure should do that.
It is clear from part 1 that Ministers have it in mind to ensure more collaboration to deliver, for example, better level 2 protective services. We agree about that. However, will the Home Secretary and her Ministers mandate collaboration? If they have a plan for that, they should tell the House today.
As we have heard, the Home Secretary bottled it when it came to introducing some form of elected representation to hold the police to account. She kicked the idea into the long grass, giving it to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). Heaven knows when we will hear the results. The Cabinet Office’s Casey review found in an independent survey that 68 per cent. of people agree or strongly agree that a person or persons should be elected by local people to hold the police to account on behalf of the community. As recently as November, the Home Secretary said that she was committed to
“introducing a stronger link between those responsible for delivering policing and the public they serve.”
Perhaps the Minister can tell us in his winding-up speech why the Government suddenly changed their mind and dropped their plans for improving police accountability.
A solitary clause is intended to improve accountability. It will add a statutory requirement to the Police Act 1996 for police authorities to take account of
“the views of people in the authority’s area”.
Perhaps the Minister will explain how that significantly changes police authorities’ current responsibilities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Carswell) said in a powerful and typically trenchant speech, the Conservatives’ solution, which the Minister would do well to adopt, is to replace the police authority with a police commissioner, who is directly elected by voters in a police force area every four years. A safeguard would be provided in a power of recall—a trigger whereby an elected commissioner who went off the rails before the four-year term ended could be recalled and the election rerun. We have also devised other safeguards.
In another typically trenchant contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries) made it clear that the public want something simple from the Bill: a commissioner to whom they can complain if policing is going wrong and a mechanism to kick that commissioner out of office in the case of underperformance. What could be simpler? It is a tragedy that part 1 contains nothing comparable to that.
Part 2 drew many contributions about the sex industry and sex offences. To avoid doubt, let me say that we welcome making lap-dancing clubs subject to local licensing along the lines that the provisions set out.
Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): My hon. Friend may not know that a lap-dancing club opened in Braintree, which—as he knows—is a genteel market town. Does he honestly believe that clause 25 will grant sufficient powers to stop lap-dancing clubs from opening in towns such as Braintree?
Mr. Ruffley: I believe that the intention is to deliver that result and we will explore the matter in detail to ensure that the wording achieves that effect.
There were many powerful contributions about part 2, and it will be incumbent on the Committee to study carefully the points that arose. The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) made an impassioned and well informed speech about enforcement. She believed that there would be no difficultly about enforcing clause 13. On the other hand, contributions from Conservative Members, such as that from my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), raised technical questions about the way in which enforcement would work.
What we do know, however, is that organisations tasked with helping vulnerable and trafficked women believe that there is a risk that some of the clauses, if they are not drafted properly and do not work satisfactorily, will drive sex workers further underground. We have to test those propositions in Committee. We also know what the head of the Metropolitan police’s human trafficking unit said of the new offence:
“I think that it is going to be…difficult to enforce”
in practice, but let us see how we can make it work. Outside bodies, including the UK Network of Sex Work Projects, also believe that the measures relating to the closure of brothels might restrict the ability of outreach organisations that work with sex workers to deliver them help and support. Issues of such huge importance will be tested in Committee, but the debate that we have had on the Floor of the House today has been extremely worth while in teasing some of them out.
However, there is a case for tougher border protection and control—there can be no substitute for that—to stop trafficking from happening in the first place. The Government have been insufficiently proactive in tackling human trafficking. After a delay of nine months in signing the European convention on action against trafficking, Home Office figures show that in 2007 there were only 17 convictions for trafficking for sexual exploitation. Would it not have been better to have clauses in the Bill to do what the Conservative Opposition have argued for long and hard for the past six to 12 months, which is to introduce a national border police to stop illegal weapons from coming to this country and to stop the illegal, disgusting and pernicious trafficking of human beings? That is what the Bill should contain. Sadly, it does not contain any such measures.
I am grateful for the contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes). They made important points about how, despite the vast amount of legislation that we have seen to deal with alcohol-related offences in particular, it is clear that more offences and higher fines are not the way to tackle alcohol misuse and binge drinking, and all the attendant consequences. What we need, but what the Bill does not deliver, are measures to free up the police’s time, in order to get them out of the station and back on the streets, so that they can deliver more effective policing of licensed premises and off-licences, get young people off the street and crack down on antisocial behaviour.
The Government had a huge opportunity in this Bill to propose serious measures to free up officers, so that they could get back on the street, and to give local people genuine power and a say over the kind of policing that they want in their communities. This Bill only shows a Government out of ideas. They will have to be out of office if serious law and order reform is ever to begin in this country.
The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I thank all the hon. Members, on both the Opposition and the Government Benches, who have contributed to what has been an exceptionally important and interesting debate, with particular reference to some of the difficult issues that we all want to address, especially those relating to sexual offending and sexual offences.
The Bill is a wide-ranging piece of legislation that covers much ground, including measures to improve the public’s ability to have a voice in how they are policed, while also improving the framework for increasing the capacity and effectiveness of that policing. The Bill brings together the necessary powers and changes to empower people and their communities to improve the fight against the low-level crime and disorder affecting our local communities, particularly where the misuse of alcohol and the vice trade are involved, and to protect the most vulnerable in our communities, such as women and children. The Bill also links the international to the neighbourhood in the fight against crime, in particular by improving our tools to recover criminal assets. Most of all, it is a practical Bill, with practical applications, that will help us to build stronger, safer and more confident communities.
I join my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and other hon. Members in welcoming the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) to his new position, and we look forward to the contribution that he will no doubt make to our discussions on the Bill. It was interesting to hear other Conservative Members, including the hon. Members for Harwich (Mr. Carswell) and for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries), criticising the Government about local accountability and waxing lyrical about their own particular version of accountability, which, as those on the Conservative Front Bench no doubt know, would involve abolishing police authorities. That is a move that is extremely unpopular with local Conservative party members throughout the country.
We have introduced these measures because we were concerned about politicisation and about single-issue candidates being elected to those positions, but what is the response— [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Harwich tries to barrack me, and I am quite happy for him to do that, but perhaps he should listen to what the shadow Minister for policing, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), has said on this matter. When asked on “The World at One” about local accountability and about how this democratic scenario that the Conservatives believe to be important would work, he said that we should give power to local people, and let them vote for a police commissioner. He also said that in this country we do not go around saying that we cannot directly elect a mayor just because the British National party might get into power, and that we can re-run elections with the power of recall anyway. In other words, there would be an election for a police commissioner, and, if the Conservatives did not get the result that they wanted, they would re-run it. What sort of lunacy and idiocy is that? What sort of democracy is it, in which an election is held for a police commissioner and, if people do not like the result, they hold another one?
James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): It is a safeguard.
Mr. Coaker: It is called a safeguard—well, we will see what it is called, but I do not believe that that is the kind of democracy that the hon. Member for Harwich was talking about. So let us have a debate about accountability, and let us have a debate about how we can more properly ensure that the police are representative of their communities and take into account what they say. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has introduced sensible, proportionate proposals that will place on police authorities a duty to take the views of local people into account, and that will place on Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary a responsibility to inspect those police authorities to see whether they have done so.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) made an excellent point about police authorities having to ensure not only that they consult the people whom we might expect them to consult but that young people also have a voice in this regard. He was also right to say that, when HMIC inspects the police authorities, it should consider whether that consultation has been achieved. The hon. Gentleman has made an important point, and we should consider the matter.
It was also stated that we were doing nothing to reduce red tape and cut bureaucracy in a whole range of areas, but we are actually reducing the number of targets in policing. Alongside the Bill, there is a range of measures on crime mapping, on the single confidence target, and on reducing bureaucracy. All of this is happening alongside the policing pledge, and it is happening irrespective of what is in the Bill, because we do not need a Bill to achieve those things. Alongside the Bill, real reform and real changes are taking place.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, made some important points about alcohol. There is no doubt that many of us enjoy alcohol and find that it adds to our evening out. There is also no doubt, however, that alcohol causes considerable problems and a considerable amount of violence in our society. That is why the Government are looking to see what more they can do, particularly with respect to young people. That is also why we are introducing new offences to tackle some of the problems that young people have with alcohol—a new offence of persistent possession of alcohol in a public place; a new offence that will enable the police, if necessary, to direct young people between the ages of 10 to 15 to leave an establishment; and new measures to allow us to take tougher action against retailers who persistently sell alcohol to young people.
Keith Vaz: I am sorry to return to the theme that I explored with the Home Secretary earlier. What the Government are doing to deal with retailers is absolutely right, but the fact remains that supermarkets provide alcohol very cheaply. As a result of their promotions, young people are going in and buying alcohol. It may well be that the supermarkets are complying with the code, but the availability of cheap alcohol is the real problem. What are we going to do about that?
Mr. Coaker: I was about to mention to my right hon. Friend that the Bill also contains an enabling power that allows us to establish a mandatory code for the sale of alcohol, which will tackle the problem of irresponsible promotions. It will deal not only with the on-trade, but with the off-trade, and it might well enable us to tackle some of my right hon. Friend’s concerns about promotions in supermarkets, which are often linked to price. As I say, the Bill will help us to tackle some of the alcohol abuse that we see around us.
Ms Keeble: Will the Minister conduct an extensive consultation so that the public and the different organisations that feel very strongly about this matter can comment on and contribute to the code?
Mr. Coaker: I can tell my hon. Friend, who made an earlier contribution to the debate, that we intend to conduct extensive consultation on what should be included in the conditions—not only those in a mandatory national set of conditions, but those that local authorities will be able to choose.
Alongside the debate on accountability, policing and alcohol, we had an impassioned debate about sexual offending and the new strict liability offence in respect of prostitution. Let me first commend my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart): whether or not Members agree with her—some will not—many will have recognised the power of her speech. I thought that she made an excellent speech, which made an enormous contribution to our debate, as I hope those who disagreed with it would also accept.
Just over a year ago, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary asked me to conduct a six-month review into the whole demand side of prostitution. In connection with that, I visited Sweden, where I saw legislation at work that makes paying for sex a criminal offence, full stop. I heard the evidence from that country relating to the concern—it was raised in another context by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne)—that the legislation had driven prostitution underground. That was a real worry, as was the applicability of the same law to this country.
We also went to Amsterdam. I say to hon. Members in all sincerity that if they think that the legalisation of prostitution is the answer to tackling the exploitation that we see, they should go there and see the trafficking that takes place alongside legalised brothels; they should see the serious and organised crime that takes place alongside legal brothels; and they should also see the exploitation. The idea that legalisation or decriminalisation somehow provides a magic wand that ends exploitation and abuse or stops trafficking is simply not the case. I brought that evidence back from Amsterdam.
We were left, therefore, with a public policy conundrum. To be fair to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, I note that Opposition Front Benchers have not expressed outright opposition to the measure, but have merely said that they wish to examine the arguments for it. I am pleased about that, because this is a serious public policy debate.
For too long, the onus of dealing with prostitution has been placed entirely on the woman. Prostitution has been regarded as a female problem that women ought to sort out for themselves, and the responsibility of men has been neglected or, indeed, ignored. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary asked me to look into what responsibility men have in this regard. What we are trying to do, through the strict liability offence, is make clear that those who purchase sex have a responsibility to consider—not always, but generally—the position of the women from whom they are purchasing it. That means that men will no longer be able to act with impunity, with total disregard for the position of the women from whom they are buying sex.
Let me issue a challenge. There are those who say that this is a step too far, or that this is an offence for which people cannot be prosecuted. What measures would they introduce to impose on men a responsibility that they have ignored for centuries? Very little is said about that.
Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): Can the Minister explain why, having examined the policies of a number of countries, the Government alighted on that of Finland, where no successful prosecution has been made in the two to two and a half years since the policy was introduced?
Mr. Coaker: We think that that policy offers us the best way of encouraging men to accept the responsibility that they should exercise when deciding whether to purchase sex.
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) and for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho), and other Members on both sides of the House, on their work in tackling the issue of lap dancing. There is no doubt that amending the Acts under which lap-dancing clubs are licensed will give local communities more of a say in where such clubs can and should be positioned.
I will consider the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter) about temporary licensing and some of the other “postcode” issues, and will try to establish whether we need to take any action.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds raised the issue of collaboration. As he will know, the Bill contains a power—it is not secret—to make collaboration mandatory if it is considered necessary and in the best interests of policing. The mergers debate has gone away, but the debate on the reason for it—the need for greater collaboration between police forces to enable them to tackle serious and organised crime—has not gone away. The hon. Gentleman accused us of running out of ideas, but the Bill seeks to address some of the collaboration issues that must be addressed if we are to tackle some of the serious and organised crimes that are being committed in our country.
The Bill contains other important and valuable measures relating to airport policing, sex offenders and the proceeds of crime, and I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.