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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
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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
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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

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.

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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.

7.18 pm

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
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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:

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:

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

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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 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 now give way to the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart).

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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 are 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.

7.32 pm

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.

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