§ Order for Second Reading read.9.37 am
§ Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The overriding purpose of the Bill is to afford far greater protection to women and girls than they currently have in the very delicate and difficult field of sexual offences. There are, I hope, other benefits, but that is the one about which I am most concerned. A secondary purpose is that I hope that it will make men and women more equal before the law than they are under the current laws.
I will first sketch in the background. That leads me to the first three clauses of the Bill. Hon. Members who have read it will note that, although it is not technically divided into two parts, effectively it is. I start with my own city of Plymouth. Sailors home from the sea have known for years of a street called Union street. I shall not dwell upon the activities that take place there, but they are well known. Around that street there is a series of perfectly respectable residential streets—it is not a huge area—where the residents have been increasingly plagued in the past few years by the activities of prostitutes on the street, with their pimps and ponces in the background, though not always so much in the background, and by the development of the menace of what is usually called kerb crawling.
I am sure that I need not describe in great detail what that involves. A man on the hunt for a prostitute instead of going on foot will take his car and circle slowly round and round an area looking for likely women, stopping and having something of a bargaining session with them; if that proves fruitful, off they will go. From the point of view of ordinary women who live in that area or who have to pass through it on their way to work, it can be an extremely embarrassing and unpleasant experience to be accosted if they have no wish to be "on the game", as the saying goes.
That is becoming more and more intolerable, because it brings secondary nuisances into play. Quarrels arise where a prostitute and a man do not agree on a price, car doors bang and there are traffic problems when people queue up. Sadly, that happens not just in Plymouth. As far as I can tell— and I have had a great deal of evidence now in the preparation of the Bill— in every major city and town in Britain there is a small area, or sometimes a larger one, where the residents are made unhappy and where, on occasion, women are afraid to go out on their own.
A good example of that was shown on a television programme last night called "Out of Court". A gentleman living in the Tooting area waged almost a one-man campaign, supported by neighbours. He made it plain that his wife and daughter did not like to go out on their own unless accompanied by a male member of the family. For a time at least, that enterprising gentleman kept a bucket of water at the front door because some prostitutes were, on occasion, not only passing by in order to advertise their wares but were performing the deed in his front garden.
1244 It is intolerable in a civilised society that there should be no-go areas for respectable citizens. [Interruption.] Does my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) wish to intervene? I hear sedentary mutterings behind me. If not, I shall continue.
So we have an ever-increasing problem. I can do no better than encapsulate it in the words of the lady who wrote to me and to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and who lives in an area such as I have described. She says:For years now I have been unable to walk out of my flat without being accosted by men in cars. They wink at me, flash their lights, ride alongside of me, speak to me and even offer to up the price … Irrespective of what I am wearing these men, both English and foreign and some of them obviously well educated, see me as a street walker. I can be carrying shopping from Sainsburys, dirty washing to the launderette, riding my bicycle, walking the dog round the square, and worst thing of all is that I cannot go out into the street and look for a cab. I have to phone for one thus paying more money. When I alight from a boyfriend's car immediately outside my own front door, a passing car will assume that I have just left a client so waits for me.She adds:The time of day is of no consequence either. I can be dashing to Sainsburys at 5 pm on Saturday, going to work at 8.30 am and coming home at 6 pm. Need I say more?That effectively sums up one woman's view.
The community action groups to which I have spoken endorse that wholeheartedly. The co-ordinator for the Balham action group has told me that, since he undertook that unofficial post, he has been inundated with phone calls, and calls from women who have complained to him about the unpleasantness that they have suffered. Approaches are often accompanied by extremely unpleasant language and swearing.
Let us be under no illusion as to the difficulties. The bulk of cars has caused one group in Birmingham to tell me that it sees more cars during the later evening than during the rush hour. We have a real problem and one which can almost cause nervous complaints in people who feel particularly susceptible and sensitive.
What is so extraordinary is that there is no proper law to deal with this undoubted public nuisance. We thought for a while that there was—
§ Miss Fookes
I hear a little noise from my hon. and learned Friend. I should say that the Bill applies to England and Wales only. We all know that Scotland is different.
What can we do? We thought at one time that the Sexual Offences Act 1956 covered the offence of a man importuning for immoral purposes. Ten years later, in 1966, in a case called Crook v. Edmondson, it was established that the Act did not apply to a man soliciting from a woman for sexual purposes. I find that interpretation of the law extraordinary — quirky to say the least. But since that case law was established, it cannot be relief upon. In the case of residents—the pressure is usually from residents—the police have sought to take action under other Acts, dredging up no less than an Act of 1361, the Justices of the Peace Act. That is bending the law somewhat, because it is intended for breaches of the peace and for binding over to be of good behaviour. Although there may be occasions when that is appropriate, it is unsatisfactory that there is no modern law to deal with a modern form of an old offence.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
If a man approaches a woman in the street and asks her whether she dyes her hair, that would be a breach of the peace. If he asks her to sleep with him, that would certainly be a breach of the peace. What is wrong with the common law?
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Mellor)
There is no proper penalty.
§ Miss Fookes
My hon. Friend says that there is no proper penalty, but if one considers that a particular offence is unpleasant and unwelcome, it should be dealt with by a modern Act specifically aimed at it, not by relying upon some generality. Clearly, the police have found it difficult to move in such circumstances and they would have the interest in prosecuting. For those reasons, we need a modern law to help us.
That is also the view of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. This seems to be an appropriate moment to express my gratitude to that committee, and particularly to the chairman and Sir George Waller who have been kind enough to discuss with me the work that they have undertaken over several years. It gives me much greater confidence in proposing the three new offences, about which I shall talk in a moment, to know that those are recommendations from that distinguished body.
The committee took wide soundings from all sorts of groups, not only from the legal profession, but from the National Council of Women of Great Britain, the Mothers Union and the English Collective of Prostitutes. I do not think that it left anybody out who might have possible views upon the matter.
The committee modified its view from one stage to another and it has now recommended three new offences which form the first three clauses of the Bill. The first makes it an offence for a man in the street or public place to solicit a woman for the purposes of prostitution whether from a motor vehicle or after having just got out of a motor vehicle. We have tried to make the interpretation of a motor vehicle as wide as possible, so that it does not matter whether a man arrives by car, motor-cycle, van or any other vehicle, providing it is, to use the words of the Road Traffic Act 1972, "adapted for use" in a public place.
A problem arises also if a man accosts a woman for the purpose of prostitution while he is not in a car or other vehicle. Obviously, it would be foolish if, in seeking to deal with kerb crawling, we left out that possibility. There would be a temptation for men to abandon their cars and go on foot, and the cure would be worse than the disease. For that reason, the second offence occurs when a man accosts a woman while in a street or public place.
The third offence is more serious than the first two. The Bill makes it an offence for a man to accost a woman for sexual purposes in a manner likely to cause her fear. Let us suppose that a woman is travelling on the underground in London during the evening. She finds that people have got out at other stations and that she is virtually on her own in the carriage, except for a man who proceeds to make passes at her and make sexual suggestions and innuendoes in such a way as to cause her real apprehension and fear.
There are other examples where a woman might be in that position while in a place where, I hasten to add, she has every right as a citizen to be. I do not accept for a moment the suggestion, "A respectable woman would not be in that place at that time of night." A woman should 1246 be able to travel and go anywhere without fear of molestation or of being made afraid. Hon. Members will note that the legislation is phrased so as to make the test one of reasonableness, so that a woman who was particularly nervous would not be covered. The test would be whether an ordinary man, or in this case woman, was in circumstances reasonably likely to cause and induce fear.
I suggest—this is also the recommendation of the Criminal Law Revision Committee—that the first two offences should carry fines at level 3 on the standard scale which currently stands at a maximum of £400. The third offence, which I regard as more serious, will carry a maximum fine of £2,000—the highest level fine in a magistrates court. All the offences will be triable summarily. Hon. Members will notice that in no case do I suggest that imprisonment is suitable. Those who know my work in penal affairs will be aware that I regard prison as a place to be used only for violent cases. I believe that, at all costs, one should try to keep people out of prison, so it would be very much out of keeping if I suggested that these three criminal offences should be penalised other than by the imposition of fines.
That is, however, not the case in the second part of the Bill. I recommend increased penalties in cases of attempted rape and indecent assault. Attempted rape can be practically as serious as the offence itself. It may well be, for example, that a woman is on the point of being raped by a man who threatens her life by holding a knife to her in the most horrible circumstances and, by the grace of God, some interruption prevents that offence from being committed. The courts would regard that as extremely serious and, for that reason, I believe that it is important that that offence should carry the same maximum penalty as rape itself—life imprisonment.
That penalty is very much in keeping with the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 which provides that the penalty, at its greatest, should be the same for the attempt as for the actual offence. That measure was left out of the Act, so that the Criminal Law Revision Committee could examine the matter. The committee made that recommendation, and it is therefore included in clause 4.
I shall now consider the other case where I strongly believe there should be increased penalties. At the moment, the legislation dealing with cases of indecent assault is in two stages. If a man assaults a girl under the age of 13, the penalty is five years imprisonment. If a man assaults a girl above that age, the penalty is only two years imprisonment.
Let us consider what indecent assault can involve. It is not a pleasant subject, but it is such a wide-ranging offence that some commentators have suggested that there should be two offences. Under present law, there is only one offence. The offence can range from relatively harmless bottom pinching and groping—another unpleasant term —to actions which, for the woman concerned, are as bad as, if not worse than, rape. It is possible for a man to force a bottle inside a woman's body. It is possible to commit with her an act of buggery—an ugly term for an ugly deed. I suggest that many women would find that to be more painful physically and psychologically than a straightforward case of unlawful sexual intercourse.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
Surely in England sodomy is a major crime in its own right, whether committed on a man or woman, and whatever the person's age.
§ Miss Fookes
Yes; but I am saying that the penalties are not sufficiently strong. That is why I suggest in the Bill that the penalty should be increased to 10 years' imprisonment. That has the merit of bringing the penalty into line with the penalty imposed for an indecent attack by one man upon another. It is quite ludicrous to treat the two differently.
As an example, I shall quote a letter from a juror in a case heard in the Manchester Crown court by Judge Prestt. The press cutting accompanying the letter stated:Judge Prestt said:'If a man indecently assaults another man the maximum sentence can be one of five years. But the maximum sentence if he assaults a woman is two years.'He added: 'It has been said many times before but I repeat here that the maximum sentence for offences of indecent assault on a woman are wholly inadequate.'The juror stated:the defendant had been found guilty of a prolonged and serious sexual assault against a young woman. I and my fellow jurors at the case were shocked at this blatant example of sexual discrimination, which the judge, the Recorder of Manchester, quite rightly highlighted.The juror went on to say that since the case she had done her best to bring this to the attention of the authorities. She said that she was extremely pleased about the possible effect of my Sexual Offences Bill.
In 1981, there was a dreadful case of murder in the county of Devon from which I come. In that case a woman holidaymaker had temporarily separated from her family to have a country walk along the coast. She never reached her destination, because she was appallingly sexually assaulted by the man who, to stifle her cries, murdered her. It was revealed that the man had a string of convictions showing what can be described only as an increasing pattern of violence. He had started with indecent exposure and had gone on to indecent assault. He had seriously assaulted a young woman of 18, for which offence he could be given only the maximum sentence of two years' imprisonment. The dreadful murder took place only 13 weeks after his release from prison. That was indecent assault followed by murder.
If society could have broken into that pattern of crime with the imposition of a far more serious sentence for the indecent assault, which was proved, that woman holidaymaker might still be alive today.
§ Mr. Mellor
My hon. Friend and I have discussed the case to which she has referred. She knows that it was one of the earliest files which I read on coming to the Home Office. I was so distressed by the account given by the trial judge of that case that I felt immediately that it was necessary to change the relevant penalties. That has been the view of an increasing number of judges and it has led to the recommendation of the Criminal Law Revision Committee.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Devon case demonstrates that, in sentencing for sexual offences, there are two elements that the judge has to take into account? The first element is the gravity of the offence under consideration and the second is the potential of the individual concerned to commit further acts of sexual violence of a sort that require the sentence to reflect the public danger of the man being released early. When the charge is indecent assault, the maximum sentence is two years' imprisonment, whatever the man's potential to commit further sexual offences. With normal remission, the man will leave prison in a comparatively short time, 1248 with the consequences of which we are aware. Anyone who argues against increased penalties for indecent assault of the sort that my hon. Friend proposes must deal with that grave consequence.
§ Miss Fookes
My hon. Friend underlines cogently the argument that I was advancing and I am glad that we are in agreement.
I have referred to all the clauses, apart from those on interpretation and extent.
The Bill deals with some serious matters of public nuisance and violence of the most worrying sort. I do not pretend for an instant that this is a comprehensive Bill that is intended to deal with the entire range of sexual offences and prostitution. It would be tempting to try to do so, for I would like everything to be neat and tidy and in one Act. However, it is obviously beyond the powers of a private Member so to do. We all know the delicate nature of a private Member's Bill and the hurdles that it has to clear. I have deliberately chosen to reduce the scope of what I wish to do, to take in the public nuisance of offences in the street and to deal with two particular inadequacies in the present penalties provided by the law.
I should be delighted if my hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State were to tell us today that the Government are minded in due course to introduce a Bill to deal with a far wider range of matters. I recognise that it is not possible to stop prostitution and we must take a clear view of where we should be moving in that respect, but I am clear about the need to take the steps that are set out in the Bill. I am not impressed by those who would urge me not to introduce the three new offences because they are worried about the actions of the police. I hope that those who are offended directly will be prepared to give evidence themselves and will not choose to rely on agent provocateur actions on the part of the police. I felt so strongly about this that I discussed the matter with the coordinator of a residents' group. He told me that he thought it likely that at least some of those so offended would be prepared to give evidence. I am not looking for prosecutions for all, but some salutary examples would go far in creating a deterrent effect.
§ Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)
I agree with my hon. Friend about the need to introduce the woman witness rather than to prosecute on the basis of police evidence. It would be possible to write that into the Bill in Committee. Would my hon. Friend look favourably upon that?
§ Miss Fookes
Like many Ministers, I would not wish to commit myself off the cuff. I should be most willing, however, to consider that possibility. I would need to ensure that any recommendation on those lines was in keeping with other processes in the law. Off the cuff, I am not aware whether my hon. Friend's proposal would infringe them. I would need to be careful before giving a commitment. However, I would be happy to consider my hon. Friend's proposal, as I know that it covers a matter which concerns some of my hon. Friends and, no doubt, some Labour Members.
In conclusion, I offer the Bill as a modest but, I hope, an effective proposition that will go far to deal with the nuisances and the violent crimes which I have outlined. It is in that spirit that I commend it to the House.
§ 10.7 am
§ Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)
I warmly welcome the Bill and offer my sincerest congratulations to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) on introducing it. She will be giving great hope to women throughout the country who have undoubtedly, as she has said, suffered from the actions of kerb crawlers. She will be giving great hope also to communities such as the one which I represent, where local residents have had to suffer year after year the abuses, threats and noise that arise when an area becomes the haunt of kerb crawlers.
Over the years that I have been a Member of this place I have asked literally hundreds of questions on this issue. I have met Home Office Ministers and I have initiated debates in which I have explained what has happened and is still happening in the part of my constituency that suffers from kerb crawlers and prostitution. Home Office Ministers of successive Governments—indeed, I had a debate on this problem some years ago with the present Home Secretary — have said that we must wait for action. We have been told that the Home Office is fully aware of the problems and the suffering that communities have to face, but we must await the introduction of more modern legislation.
Sadly, the years passed and the local people in my constituency never really believed that anything would happen to start to deal with their problem, which starts in the early afternoon and continues until the early hours of the following morning. Motorists are to be seen driving around for hour after hour looking for prostitutes. As the hon. Member for Drake said, any woman who walks along the streets of some areas — areas which have been invaded by kerb crawlers—will be seen as a potential prostitute. They can be young school girls or elderly ladies who are pensioners. They can be walking home from school or going home from work. I have even been contacted by women to tell me that they have been stopped by motorists when taking their young children out. They have been seen as potential prostitutes. One can understand their disgust. The problem became so bad that residents set up a protest group to try to frighten off both kerb crawlers and prostitutes. Sadly, they were subjected to threats, and their windows were broken by the minders of some of the girls concerned.
The problem became even worse and the Wandsworth police, with whom I have worked on the problem for many years, are fully aware of the nuisance caused. I give them credit for what they have tried to do, but their problem has always been insufficient manpower to allocate enough officers to the areas involved and the lack of modern legislation under which to take action.
The problem exists not just in my constituency but in a large number of areas throughout the country. A few months ago I had an Adjournment debate on this subject, which was answered by the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State who is to reply today, and I cited a large number of areas which suffer from this problem. Communities throughout the country have called for action, but, due to the lack of modern legislation, many police forces are reluctant to take action. In the city of Nottingham, however, the problem became so bad that the police were forced by public pressure to take action under a law going back several centuries. As a result, offenders began to appear in court.
1250 I have always believed that any meaningful attempt to tackle the problem requires modern legislation. Neither I nor residents in my area have sought simply to move the problem from one area to another, so that residents now suffering can heave a sigh of relief while residents in an adjoining area start to suffer. I am sure that no hon. Member wants that. That is why it is essential to bring in modern legislation.
Some people have said that, although such a proposal sounds very attractive, there are dangers involved. It is suggested that a person coming into an area which he does not know and genuinely looking for an address may stop someone to ask the way. That has happened to many of us. When I went to north London yesterday with a colleague, I stopped someone to ask for directions. Surely common sense is enough to deal with that aspect. We know that kerb crawlers operate in certain fairly restricted areas. If the local police see someone driving round and round such an area and stopping only to talk to women, common sense should suggest what he is doing. If, when challenged, he claims to be genuinely looking for an address, why should he stop only women? In my view, the person who is genuinely asking for directions has nothing to fear from the proposals. Moreover, I believe that the realistic fines and the consequent publicity will act as a deterrent to the people who, sadly, infest many constituencies and cause problems.
I hope that magistrates will take serious note of the legislation when it becomes law. Magistrates in my area have not always been as helpful as they could be. Representations have undoubtedly been made to them by senior police officers, as often occurs in relation to matters dealt with by magistrates courts, but the help to which we are entitled has not always been forthcoming. I hope that when the Bill becomes law magistrates will pay careful attention to the new provisions and the penalties available.
The Bill is based on the report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. At long last we have the opportunity to put modern legislation on the statute book, and I greatly welcome that. I hope, too, that there will be no further instances of women police officers pretending to be prostitutes in areas where kerb crawling is a problem. A press report last month carried the following headline:Girl Cop's Vice Trap Clean-Up".It reads as follows:Pretty policewoman Jenny Wood went undercover as a 'vice-girl' to clean up one of Britain's most sedate seaside resorts … Bournemouth.The sex trap worked. Kerb-crawlers looking for a good time chatted up the attractive decoy and were promptly arrested.Police forces in areas in which kerb crawling is a problem should have enough evidence to act without using methods of that kind, and it is quite wrong that they should employ such methods.
When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was a Minister of State at the Home Office, I put down a series of questions on that issue, as it is not confined to Bournemouth, but he offered no help at all. There was not even any statement of concern. Whatever the question, he merely replied that the way in which police forces were used was not his responsibility.
§ Mr. Parris
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's dislike of the use of policemen or policewomen as decoys, but even under the Bill I do not see how the police will be able to watch what is going on and stop people if they cannot do so in plain clothes.
§ Mr. Cox
The use of plain clothes police for observation purposes is quite different from the practice that I have described, which should be a matter of great concern to the House.
I took the point made by the hon. Member for Drake towards the end of her speech. This is a neat and tidy Bill designed to deal with a specific problem. However, on 14 May last year we had a long debate which demonstrated great concern among hon. Members on both sides of the House. The debate was about the actions of police officers with regard to homosexuals and their activities in clubs. I shall not make more difficulties for the Minister by asking him whether some relevant provision could be included in the Bill. However, eight months after that debate we are entitled to be told when the Home Office intends to amend the existing law. Many hon. Members are very concerned about the activities of certain police officers. I cannot believe that police officers who go to certain clubs dressed in a certain way do so only for purposes of observation. We are entitled to know what the Home Office is doing on that matter.
We have already been reminded that prostitution has existed for a long time. I am sure that none of us thinks that we will be able to stop it. However, there are today differing types of prostitution. There is the call-girl system, when the girl operates from her flat. There are the nightclub hostesses who, as part of their job, pick up men and make arrangements with them. If we want to rid our streets of kerb crawlers, we must also consider whether it is time for a change in the law to allow women to advertise their services as prostitutes.
That is very different from licensing brothels. Advertisements in many newspapers leave one in no doubt about the services that are being advertised. It is time that the House and the Home Office — the responsible Department—agreed that if we want action against kerb crawlers we must be realistic and admit that there are people who use the services of prostitutes and consider whether the time is right to give prostitutes an opportunity to advertise their profession.
In recent years there has undoubtedly been a huge growth in prostitution in this country. On 22 November 1984 I received from the Home Office figures for the number of women charged. The figures were for the number of women appearing at the south-western magistrates court in Battersea. In 1982, 203 women were charged with offences relating to prostitution. In 1983 the figure was 476. That is an enormous increase. I suggest that the figures throughout the country are probably similar. I should like to know what surveys are being carried out by the Home Office to try to ascertain the reasons for the increase.
There may be some women who like that life, but I am certain that the vast majority do not. The Borough News is a well respected Wandsworth paper in which the Minister and myself are often mentioned. I hasten to add that we are generally mentioned with approval, as local Members of Parliament. In last week's edition there was a report headed:Prostitution 'for sake of children'".The report referred to a local woman appearing at Marlborough street magistrates court. She said thatshe walks the streets for the sake of her children. 'I'm not in the business because I like it … I have two children and I do it on odd occasions to make money … I gained qualifications, but you just can't get a job in Yorkshire.'1252 The woman had previously lived in Yorkshire.
We are entitled to be told whether any studies are being done by the Home Office to try to find out the reasons for the growth in prostitution. This is in no way a political debate. There is wide support for the Bill. But what must be of great concern for us all is the increasing number of youngsters who are turning to prostitution.
I am sure that some other hon. Members saw the television programme entitled "Rent Boys". It was a programme about young boys in Birmingham who were openly soliciting on the streets. They were 14, 15, and 16 years old. It was a sickening programme. I received 30 or 40 letters from constituents who had watched it. Did the Home Office take note of the programme? Has there been any liaison with the Birmingham police to find out what action is being taken in the wake of that programme?
Last December my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) introduced a debate on the proposed changes to the DHSS board and lodging provisions. There is a housing association in Wandsworth, Threshold, which I expect also operates in the Minister's Putney constituency. Threshold has been in touch with me to express concern about the proposed changes to the board and lodging payments made to young people.
During the December debate I read out a letter sent to me by a youngster who was out of work and who was sleeping on local park benches. He had no job, no home and no money. While I wish to see action taken against kerb crawlers, I also want action to stop boys and girls going into prostitution. I hope that the Minister, like the experts who work with young people and who are acquainted with the sad problems caused by unemployment, realises how hard it is for such young people to survive.
This week, no doubt in common with other hon. Members, I received a letter from Shelter commenting on the Government's proposals. According to Shelter, those proposals may mean major cuts in benefit for many people living in board and lodging accommodation. Shelter believes that many could be made homeless, and that young people are especially at risk. I believe that this discussion should be set in a wider context. We should not only be tackling the problem that we know to exist in many areas, but should be doing all that we can to stop young people becoming involved in prostitution.
I am not making a political point, but some of the Government's proposals will put enormous temptations before some youngsters. It is easy to say that they should not fall into temptation, but if they do not know where they will sleep tonight, or whether they will have any money in their pockets tomorrow, temptation is enormously difficult to resist, even for normally rational people. I hope that the Government will conduct a survey and support organisations such as Threshold, which works in my area, Shelter and the Campaign for the Homeless and Rootless, all of which work with young people.
The Bill is long overdue and will therefore be warmly welcomed by many people throughout the country. I hope that both Houses will give it overwhelming support. Discussions that I have had with right hon. and hon. Members show that there is support on both sides of the House. When the Bill becomes law, the hon. Lady will be entitled to the thanks of thousands of people. I shall be the first to salute her efforts. I hope that we are starting, and 1253 that in a few months we shall see the conclusion of, something that will make life much more pleasant for many of our constituents.
§ Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham)
I congratulate my hon. and dear Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) on her success in the ballot and pay great tribute to her courage in deciding to tackle this thorny and delicate issue.
I am grateful for this opportunity to express my full support for the principle of the Bill, although I must voice a few misgivings and a little disquiet at some of the Bill's substance. My hon. Friend has enormous experience of these matters as she has had to live with them in her constituency. In my salubrious constituency of Cheltenham and in the leafy lanes of Gloucestershire, we are perhaps somewhat closeted from these unpleasant and harsh realities of the urban world of London, Plymouth, Birmingham and other major cities. It would seem that the affliction of kerb crawling, like many other modern social problems, is restricted to a few areas of the country.
I am happy to support the principles of the Bill, although it is a sad indictment of society and a reflection of the recent worsening of the problem that the House should have to debate the matter at all. Clause 4 is in some respects one of the most important. The increase in attempted rape and rape is horrendous, as my hon. Friend said. She has suggested that the deterrents should commend themselves to both sides of the House. The Bill is timely and vital as it deals with the escalating problem of kerb crawling, which the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) has described, even if it is prevalent in only a few areas. It aims to deter men who, through indiscretion and a lack of respect for women, cause a nuisance. There is sufficient evidence to record that kerb crawling induces much fear among women who are not involved and who have no wish to be accosted in the street while going about their ordinary business.
The House has a duty to afford protection to the individual citizen but, when considering kerb crawling, I urge my hon. Friend to recognise the difficulties that legislation of this type might incur and to acknowledge that, irrespective of whether kerb crawling is an offence, the problem will not go away. To use a common phrase, it is the oldest profession in the world. We must achieve a fine balancing act between protecting people who object to such behaviour—I imagine that that includes the vast majority of the nation—and the innocent passer-by who, through no fault of his own, might, as a result of greater suspicion and vigilance by the police, be assumed to be committing an offence when he is not.
There are already numerous laws that give the police considerable powers to control our streets. For the problem of kerb crawling there is legislation going as far back as 1361, as my hon. Friend said. I accepted her contention that that is entirely unsatisfactory. The definitions in the Bill such as, "likely to cause fear" in clause 3 and, "persistently to solicit" in clause 2 are broad, possibly open to distortion and quite likely to bring the law into disrepute if too many errors are made by the police in then-anxiety to put the Bill into practice. It should be essential for the case to be proven for the woman who has been offended against to appear in court in connection with the 1254 crime. Although I support fully all that has been said, we must ensure that the Bill does not become a blackmailers' charter.
I urge my hon. Friend and the Government to consider the implications that might flow from the enactment of the Bill. I hope that, in Committee, there will be an opportunity to build in some form of protection for the innocent and to ensure that men and women alike are protected. There have been several cases of men suffering gravely from injustices as a result of existing laws. This might be an opportunity to correct that. It is right that, as long as female prostitutes can be charged for soliciting, male kerb crawlers should also be charged, as the offences are almost identical. Moreover, we live in an age of sexual equality. Although I support the intention behind the Bill, I urge that some thought be given to alternative arrangements as a result of kerb crawling being suppressed, because eradication of the problem is utterly unrealistic. I cannot emphasise too strongly the need for safeguards of the innocent.
My hon. Friend produced powerful oratory to explain to the House an unpleasant subject that is often driven under the table or swept under the carpet. There is no doubt that I and the Opposition would find it extremely difficult not to take on board this sensitive and difficult problem. I am happy to give my hon. Friend all my support.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)
I welcome the aim of the Bill, which is to give welcome protection to women who suffer harassment and fear on the streets. Therefore, I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) on introducing the Bill. The House knows of her commitment to penal reform and that she would not lightly seek the creation of new offences or harder penalties unless she believed that such a move was both merited and necessary.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) referred to the problem in his constituency. The Bedford hill area covers his constituency and part of mine. Since I first came to the House in 1979, I too have received a continuing stream of complaints about kerb-crawling men from women in the area. Some of the complaints are extremely bitter. I was once told by a mother that her schoolgirl daughter aged 14 was afraid to walk home from school in the afternoons because she was being harassed and hassled by kerb crawlers. I have received millions of complaints about what it is like to walk home on dark afternoons and evenings and to be subjected to such intimidation.
On several occasions I have approached the police about the problem. Wandsworth council is also aware of the problem and is now contriving a complicated traffic scheme to make it more difficult for kerb crawlers to pursue their activities. Obviously, it is more sensible to give the police the powers they need to tackle the problem than to contrive a complicated, costly and illogical traffic scheme to reduce kerb crawling.
I understand that the matter is difficult for the police to deal with. Although some people, including the National Association of Probation Officers, with whom I have been closely associated for many years, believe that the present laws are adequate, I cannot agree. Neither the laws nor the penalties are adequate. It is undesirable that, to tackle a fairly recent problem—recent in terms of the age of the 1255 legislation that they are being forced to use—the police should contort powers given to them many years ago. It is undesirable to use in that way powers which were intended for a different purpose. It is therefore right that Parliament should say, "Here is a problem. Let us devise a means by which to tackle it."
Although I am not a lawyer, I understand that some existing powers, such as those for behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace, are inadequate. I was told, for instance, that even if a woman who had been subjected to fear and humiliation by a kerb crawler was able to get the registration number of the motor car, it would be useless the following day because by then, if a breach of the peace had not been demonstrably committed, the motorist could not be brought to court. My knowledge of the law may not be sufficient to develop that point in detail, but from what the police and others have said it is clear that existing laws are inadequate.
Although I agreed with almost every point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting, he may not be quite right in his assertion that the incidence of prostitution is increasing. It is true that in the local courts the number of offences connected with prostitution has increased, but that may be partly because of his pressure on the police to take more action, and partly because police activities in the King's Cross area may have forced some prostitutes to move to his constituency and mine.
§ Mr. Mellor
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman made that point. Most hon. Members are only too happy to take the credit for what they achieve. I was startled when the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) made that point, because if anyone is responsible for an increase in police activities, he is. That has led to more people being brought to court. The hon. Gentleman should congratulate himself on that, rather than say that prostitution has doubled, as I do not believe that there is any basis for believing that it has.
§ Mr. Dubs
During the past years, I have only rarely agreed with the Minister. On this occasion I am happy to say that I fully agree with him. All credit is due to my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting.
Although I fully support the principle and aim of the Bill, I have reservations about its details, some of which have already been discussed by hon. Members. The Bill represents an extension of police powers. Providing that there are the necessary safeguards, there may be nothing wrong in that, but I am not satisfied that there are. I am worried that, under clauses 1, 2 and 3, innocent people could be caught. They may not be looking for prostitutes or kerb crawling, but the police may stop them for reasons of their own. I am not suggesting that the police will do that on a large scale, but we must take note of any further powers that we give the police.
Without adequate safeguards, civil liberties could be eroded, which is not the intention of the hon. Member for Drake. Other hon. Members have mentioned the possibility that the police may use agents provocateurs or decoys to catch kerb-crawling motorists. I am also worried that, as the Bill stands, it will be sufficient to bring a kerb-crawling motorist to court on the evidence of police officers only. That is not enough. I do not like the creation of an offence in which there may not be a victim. Although I fully understand why women and girls who have been 1256 subjected to kerb crawling have a natural reluctance to appear in court, it is undesirable that a person should be brought before a court on the evidence of a police officer only. I know that that happens with other offences, but many hon. Members are also worried about that. In court, a female victim should give evidence that she has been subjected to fear, harassment and humiliation through the activities of such a motorist. Therefore, I am unhappy about the way in which the Bill is drawn in that respect.
I now turn to some general points. The law on prostitution is both muddled and hypocritical. Some people regard prostitution as an offence, but I understand that it is not. However, there are many offences connected with it, such as soliciting, running a brothel and living on immoral earnings. Therefore, we should say clearly what we seek to do when we introduce a further measure in this area. I concede that in so far as the law on prostitution is muddled and hypocritical, this Bill is an honest and genuine attempt to make it less so. That is another reason for welcoming it. It is not necessary today to discuss the law on prostitution, nor would it be appropriate, but there may be an opportunity before too long for the House to do so.
We must consider the Bill in the wider context of the values of society. I support anything that is done to lessen the activities of kerb-crawling motorists. However, I must say that in recent years there has been a proliferation of girlie magazines and soft porn on sale freely. Such publications only add to the degradation of women and to the way in which young people are liable to devalue women and to see them as lesser people and as sex objects. If we allow such publications to be sold, it is understandable that some men have an attitude towards women that borders on the contemptuous. I do not like that.
I do not advocate the wholesale censorship of such magazines, because I appreciate that it would be far too difficult. However, at least some of the men who go kerb-crawling do so as a consequence of values in our society which all too often allow women to be degraded in print. It is a widespread and sad problem. Although I cannot suggest how those matters should be tackled—it would not be appropriate to do so this morning—I wish to throw that argument into the discussion because it is relevant to the problem. Having said that, I agree that it does not excuse the activities of kerb-crawlng men, although it may help us to understand the attitudes of some of them.
I am pleased that we are on our way to lessening the extent to which women and girls are subjected to fear, humiliation and degradation on our streets. For the sake of women everywhere, and especially those in my area, I welcome the Bill. I hope that it will be amended in Committee and that some of the reservations expressed by me and other hon. Members will be taken into account. I hope that it will leave the Committee somewhat improved, but in any case I welcome its aims and wish it success.
§ Mr. Richard Ottaway (Nottingham, North)
I join hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) on choosing such an important topic for her private Member's Bill. I am pleased that she has adopted many of the recommendations of the report on prostitution in the street published by the Criminal Law Revision Committee last 1257 August. I share her concern. The city of Nottingham has been plagued by kerb crawlers for many years. The worst area is Hyson green, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Knowles). I have been asked by my hon. Friend, who regrettably is unable to be here today, to inform the House that he gives his unqualified support to the Bill.
Nottingham has suffered greatly from the features associated with prostitution, such as kerb crawling and the harassment of women, and I have received many letters of complaint from constituents. The matter came to a head in 1983 when the headmistress of Nottingham high school for girls complained of harassment of her pupils. No respectable woman between the ages of 16 and 65 could walk from one end of Hyson green to the other without blushing. As a result, the Nottinghamshire police, at the end of 1983 and into 1984, mounted a successful campaign in Nottingham to try to clean up the area.
However, the need for new legislation became obvious when kerb-crawling offenders could only be prosecuted under the ancient Justices of the Peace Act 1361, a piece of legislation that is more than 600 years old. The only powers available to the police under the Act were that offenders could be bound over to keep the peace. Previous legislation such as the Street Offences Act 1959 did for a short time rid the streets of the nuisance caused by prostitutes plying their trade. But the nature of the trade made it likely that the nuisance would start again. Prostitutes can be stopped from plying their trade in an area only if it is kept under observation by the police and arrests are made when offences have been committed.
So effective was the campaign in Nottingham that over a few months the problem dwindled. Indeed, so effective was the clampdown that any self-respecting Member of Parliament would rather risk a speeding fine while driving through the area than to dawdle through and be suspected of kerb crawling. Regrettably, however, the advent of the miners' strike in March 1984 meant that forces had to be deployed in maintaining the peace elsewhere, and the campaign had to stop. It is interesting to note that since the police have been absent the problem has returned.
One or two hon. Members have expressed concern that the police may be used to induce the crime of kerb crawling. I share their concern, but when my hon. Friend the Member for Drake comes to consider the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) and others I hope that she will bear in mind the fact that in this case a crime has been committed before an approach is made and, as such, the police officer cannot be accused of inducing the crime.
Even in Nottingham, where the police have been most vigilant in dealing with the problem, the streets are not free of prostitutes. If one way for prostitutes to find clients is denied or made difficult by the law, they will look for another way. If they cannot solicit in the streets in one area, they move to another and their clients follow them. The resources of the police in terms of officers and money make it impracticable for constant observation to be kept everywhere all the time. The more widely such an area is known, the more it will attract prostitutes and clients, and the more nuisance they will create.
It is the nuisance that is the problem, and it is the nuisance that the Bill will go a long way to solving. Kerb crawling seems to have become one of the worst nuisances. A survey in a residential area of 345 women showed that 222 had been accosted by kerb crawlers— 1258 30 once, 119 occasionally and 73 often. Those who live and work in such areas expect the law to protect them and their children from the nuisances which occur, and so it should. Some parts of towns and cities are almost no-go areas for women, who are harassed and embarrassed by the unwelcome attentions of men searching for prostitutes by kerb crawling.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Drake said, the Criminal Law Revision Committee recommended that it should be an offence for a man to use a motor vehicle in a street or public place for the purpose of soliciting a woman for prostitution. I was pleased to discover that the Bill not only does that, but makes it an offence for a man to solicit women, or the same woman, persistently in a street or public place, and makes it an offence for a man to solicit a woman for sexual purposes where she is likely to be put in fear.
The persistence clause is essential. The policy advisory sub-committee of the Criminal Law Revision Committee agreed that soliciting by a woman for prostitution would have to be persistent to constitute an offence, although that is perhaps already covered in the criminal law. With regard to men, the working party on vagrancy and street offences noted that it was important to act when a woman was accosted by a man in a public place, although it has always been unclear whether the present law penalises the man who persistently solicits a woman or women in a public place for sexual purposes. This legislation clarifies the position.
Penalties are important, and I am pleased that the Bill has extended those suggested by the Criminal Law Revision Committee and has taken in its proposal that the offences should be triable in a magistrates court. The offences and penalties will make it much easier for the police to prosecute, and the Nottinghamshire constabulary welcomes the Bill. As we have seen in Nottingham, the publicity afforded to men tried for such offences will be an even greater deterrent than the prospect of fines. The last thing a man who harasses women will want is his family and neighbours reading about it in the local press.
Although the major problem is that faced by women, it must not be forgotten that noise, quarrelling and sometimes violence, to say nothing of the build-up of cars crawling along, all have a deteriorating effect on the environment.
It is interesting to note that several so-called civil liberties groups oppose the Bill for some peculiar reason. As the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) said, the National Association of Probation Officers at its annual meeting in 1984 passed a resolution to resist any legislation seeking to control kerb crawling by the creation of new offences in the criminal law. In my constituency, the National Council for Civil Liberties criticised the Nottingham city vice squad's action against kerb crawlers. That shows how uncertain the civil liberties lobby has become, and I have no hesitation in rejecting its absurd points and in giving my full backing to the Bill, which will help to alleviate a fast-growing and intolerable problem that has infested our cities.
§ 11 am
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) on introducing the Bill 1259 and on the way in which she presented it to the House. She is taking on a difficult issue and is dealing with it in her usual courageous way.
Working with her on the all-party penal policy group, I often find myself in agreement with her. However, on this occasion she is swimming against the tide in her party. That is a pity, but she is making an impressive struggle and I admire her efforts.
While the Opposition will not oppose the Bill today, I must express some anxieties. I am sure that the hon. Lady will take them on board for consideration in Committee, for she will agree that in this, as in many other parts of the criminal law, it is easy to set out with one intention, only to find one's efforts resulting in some unintended consequences.
Hon. Members will have such dangers in mind, many examples of which appear in the criminal law. The suspended sentence was perhaps the best example of an unintended consequence of legislation; it was designed to reduce the prison population, but in fact helped to increase it. It is important, therefore, for the House to be wary when handling issues such as this.
It is clear that a problem exists over kerb crawling and the harassment of women. People of all political persuasions agree that women should be given some protection from such harassment, and I agree, but Parliament must tread warily when dealing with aspects of sexual behaviour. Sexual behaviour, perhaps more than any other type of behaviour, leads to judgments by society involving double standards, which unfortunately usually redound to the disadvantage of women.
The expectations imposed on women in relation to their sexual behaviour are different from those that men accept for themselves. That has led to the belief that women get treated less equally in society, and there is substantial evidence for that belief.
The hon. Member for Drake dealt effectively with the difficult problem of dealing with sexual behaviour in society generally. This is a subject about which society does not like to talk and would rather brush it under the carpet. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) pointed out that it was easier to ignore the inconsistencies and double standards, or not to talk about them, simply because they were regarded as nasty, dirty or unpleasant. Some of society's worst hang-ups arise from the need to talk about sexual behaviour, and that applies whether the subject is discussed privately or in public.
Those who oppose the Bill should remember the important point that the hon. Member for Drake made about the right of women to go anywhere that a man can go at any time. We cast our minds back to the sad case of a woman who was raped when hitch-hiking and of whom the comment was made in court that it was a risk that she had to accept if she wanted to hitch-hike.
I have hitch-hiked many times. I regard it as a legitimate activity, and if it is legitimate for me, it should be legitimate for everyone. That should apply regardless of sexual identity. The hon. Lady was on strong ground in making that point, and anybody with anxieties about the Bill should bear it in mind.
The harassment of women is not new and I suspect that it will not quickly disappear. It is clear, however, that in 1260 modern times women are more willing to do something about it — to organise and press for change — and I welcome that.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham described prostitution as the oldest profession in history. He is probably right, but I suggest that it is closely followed by the professions of politics, journalism and law, and I cannot help but feel that the one begat the other three. One day when I give up my present profession I might attempt to elaborate that theory in more detail.
§ Mr. Irving
The hon. Gentleman, having associated such distinguished professional people with prostitution, might care to remind the House of the relationship. I have never found it.
§ Mr. Soley
It boils down, in great simplicity, to the fact that behaviour of this type disturbs society, that society tries to impose laws to deal with it, that the laws are debated by politicians and that journalists love stories about this type of subject.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) dealt with the attitude of the press to this and similar issues and the newspaper extract that he read showed how badly the press can handle the subject of sex and violence. I get angry about it. Only the other day I was asked to make a statement, and it was clear that I was expected to express shock, horror, disgust and anger about sexually-motivated violent offences.
The press, local and national, should adopt a more responsible attitude when dealing with the problems of sex and violence in society. They handle them badly. They use the subject in a way that plays up to the prejudices of the lowest common denominator. I fear that they use the whole issue as a means of selling newspapers, rather than as an important part of society, and in turn, as I said, society tends to adopt double standards and duck the difficult issues involved. I should be happier if newspapers recognised their responsibility and responded more effectively than they do at present.
Whether or not prostitution is the oldest profession in any market based economy — and, let us face it, all economies are market based to some extent—women have the option of selling their bodies as a marketable commodity, and we should never underestimate the importance of economics in prostitution. I shall elaborate on that because I have spent many years dealing with the issues involved when prostitutes have come before the courts.
Many attempts have been made to understand prostitution and soliciting in psychiatric and sociological terms. I am not opposed to dealing with the matter in that way, and there are psychological and sociological explanations for that type of behaviour. As I say, nobody should underestimate the economic aspects of it. Indeed, in times of slump I would expect the number of people involved in soliciting to increase.
The Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) were right to say that the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting pushed up the number of police recorded incidents in that area. I have no doubt that that was the case. Nevertheless, I should be greatly surprised if a dramatic increase in the amount of soliciting did not occur in slump conditions.
A saying originated from an excellent article in New Society many years ago. It was that human beings were not 1261 just chained infantile savages of psychoanalytic theory, nor brighter than average rats of learning theory, but that they were beings who responded to their social and economic environment. We must remember that that response is constantly changing because they themselves change the environment in which they live.
The important point there is that increasingly we find that women who fall on difficult economic times—for example, to meet household bills for rent, electricity and gas, especially when they are in danger of being cut off—go on to the streets to earn money to pay those bills. I have many cases that I could quote to the House of such problems.
The issue becomes particularly difficult because, if one wants to deal with the problem of prostitution, it is no good simply pushing it off the streets. It will not go away, as the hon. Member for Cheltenham said, and we have to recognise that an economic factor is involved. In a number of cases to which I could refer, when we have resolved the economic problems, the need to go out soliciting has ended. A clear economic link, as well as other factors, may be involved in individual cases.
The second part of this matter is something that is not always understood, which is that prostitution is not an offence. Soliciting is an offence, and this highlights the problem which the hon. Member for Drake has taken on board in the Bill. Given that prostitution is not an offence, it is important to recognise that the problem is the consequence of soliciting. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting vividly described these consequences, which have affected his constituency, and the problem is particularly acute when it focuses on one area so that the problems for the local community increase. I have in mind the problems of car doors slamming, of threats, of women walking home at night being accosted and the fear that people have for their children, whether rational or irrational. All those problems arise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting talked about decriminalisation, and that is an important factor. I should like the Government to concentrate on dealing with the problem of the presentation on the streets. In doing so we would deal with many of the problems about which the hon. Member for Drake is rightly concerned.
I gave evidence to the Criminal Law Revision Committee and I tried to urge it to look at this problem. I have always been troubled by our tendency to try to expand the imprint of the law. Whenever we are faced with a social problem, somehow or other we think that the answer lies in the criminal law being extended. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Ottaway) criticised the civil liberties groups and the National Association of Probation Officers, but I would have taken his criticisms a little better if he had given reasons for saying why they were wrong. It troubles me that he gave no reasons, because he is falling into the trap of saying that this is unpopular, therefore he does not like it and it must be banned, and civil liberties do not enter the matter. Civil liberties do come into the matter, because they are important, and to get the balance right is difficult. To dismiss them as being of no consequence is to insult not only the groups involved but the House.
§ Mr. Ottaway
The criticism of the National Council for Civil Liberties was made without any foundation, as 1262 was consequently recognised when the local section of the NCCL openly disagreed with the national council. There are two sides to this matter.
§ Mr. Soley
I recognise that there are two sides to the problem. I was asking the hon. Gentleman, when attacking such a group, at least to give reasons for doing so. The fact that there was disagreement between the groups does not trouble me. However, if we are to criticise the civil liberties lobby, we should give our reasons for doing so. Recently, it has been too easy simply to criticise the civil liberties argument. As I have said on a number of other occasions, and recently in a journal, this country has allowed its civil liberties base to be dangerously eroded. That is why I do not like that style of argument. Although this is a personal point to the hon. Member for Nottingham, North, I am not saying that he is ignorant of the problem. However, if he wants to pursue the argument, he must at least give the House reasons.
We need eventually to work out a solution to this problem by allowing prostitution to take place in a way that does not impinge on other people, and the decriminalising argument is a strong one, although I know that there are difficulties to it. When I gave evidence to the committee, I was aware that there were some weaknesses in my argument. If we decriminalise, it allows women, either individually or in groups, to work from premises, which means that they do not come into conflict with the law by advertising or soliciting. However, this does not answer one of the problems—that of a woman doing it as a short-term economic expedient.
For example, around the King's Cross are a there was recently an outbreak of soliciting. There were a number of women coming down from Birmingham on the train to King's Cross and soliciting in that area as it was comparatively easy to earn enough in one night to pay the fare home, and have some money left over to meet emergency household bills. If someone is soliciting for emergency economic reasons—to pay the rent or gas or electricity bills—she is not likely, unless she has the contacts, to set herself up in accommodation. Such women are likely to be working away from the home base because they do not want to be embarrassed by publicity in the local press. They do not want their partner or husband and children to know about it. The economic aspect spills over and affects some of the solutions to the problems.
I put it to the committee that it should have considered giving local authorities greater powers in defined ways. In the early hours of this morning, the Committee on the Local Government Bill was busy abolishing some of the powers of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. Instead of doing that, we should be considering ways in which to extend the powers of local authorities to deal with the particular problems in their areas. I should be prepared to consider sympathetically some of the experiments that have been tried successfully in other areas where premises are licensed.
At this stage I should not be convinced by an argument for Government-sponsored licensed premises, although there may be a case for them. It would be useful to recognise that in certain areas that is a possible solution, but that it might be better for the local authority to decide whether to use that solution in its area. After all, that is the body most affected by this problem. Some local authorities in the south of England have considered this 1263 solution. It is interesting that it is being considered on cross-party lines. It is not predominantly a Labour solution; if anything, it is being considered more by Conservative local authorities.
Another matter that concerns me in the Bill has been raised on a number of occasions, and I hope that the hon. Member for Drake will take this on board, because it is vital. It is the victimless crime argument. It is profoundly dangerous, and one of the weakest parts of the law, that the person is brought before the court on the evidence of a police officer, without an independent witness to confirm what is alleged. This brings the law into disrepute. Time and again I have seen prostitutes in magistrates courts saying that the case had been set up. Whether or not it was, the argument is weak when nobody is prepared to say who it was who complained about the behaviour.
When I gave evidence to the Criminal Law Revision Committee, it was put to me that it would be embarrassing for a man in a public position who had to walk between groups of prostitutes soliciting in the streets to make a complaint and appear before the court. My argument is that that person, male or female, must be prepared to go before a court, or must be prepared to cope with what might be an embarrassing and difficult social circumstance, but not one in which he or she can hide from the consequences of his or her own behaviour.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I have heard some astonishing things about the law of England this morning, but is the hon. Gentleman saying that in England a person can be convicted on the say-so of a policeman, without witnesses giving evidence on oath?
§ Mr. Soley
Yes. I have great respect for the Scottish law, having lived in Scotland for many years, and it has much to teach the English law. However, the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) must know that a prostitute can be convicted in such a way. This is the first time that I have taught a lawyer the law. A prostitute can be brought before a court for soliciting, without a witness confirming her behaviour. That has always troubled me deeply, as it has the hon. Member for Drake.
One of the clauses refers to "persistent" soliciting. The Criminal Law Revision Committee has considered the matter carefully, and it is dangerous to allow conviction without a witness. If a big police presence is in an area, people might be caught in a dragnet operation and the danger is that the problem will simply be transferred to another area. I understand that that is what happened at Nottingham and King's Cross.
There is a major problem, and the hon. Lady should be careful because she could achieve the opposite of what she has set out to achieve. We should reduce the impact of the law in certain areas and to recognise that we must step back a little and not come down too heavily on people. The hon. Lady does not propose that prison should be used as a sentence in this respect, but many people are sent to prison for the non-payment of fines. That is another worry expressed outside the House. It is extremely important that a complaint should have been made.
I emphasise the danger of trying to deal with social problems by extending the imprint of the law. Perhaps the fear of this being another sus law is exaggerated, but that danger is feared by many people. We must watch that 1264 carefully if the Bill becomes an Act. I am sure that the hon. Lady would be the first to agree that that should not happen. We shall have to monitor the matter carefully and ensure that it does not have the undesirable side effects that some people fear.
I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that the police will not use agents provocateurs. I am thinking about kerb crawling, male homosexuality, with which the Bill does not deal, and soliciting for male prostitutes. Incredible double standards are sometimes applied. The whole ball game is reversed. Male prostitutes are often in a worse position than female prostitutes. Entrapment is a danger. The Home Office must give clear guidance about acceptable methods of policing, because the police could easily come into disrepute. There is no advantage in the agent provocateur approach to trap either female or male prostitutes. That is profoundly dangerous and undesirable. It damages the image of the police, and we should not encourage it.
The question of attempted rape is dealt with at the end of the Bill. Rape and attempted rape are violent offences. The problem is that we have not recognised them as such and have tended to regard them as something in between. Rape and attempted rape are sexual offences, but they are acts of violence.
About three years ago a useful book was published, under the auspices of the Howard League, on the concept of dangerousness. It had some interesting things to say about how society should deal with dangerous offenders. It dealt with the dangers of double standards in penal policy. It talked about dangerous individuals and dangerous organisations which can seriously pollute the environment or risk people's lives, by avoiding safety legislation, for instance. The book also said that it was difficult to predict with certainty who would and who would not repeat an offence. Predictions by probation officers, psychiatrists, psychologists and sociologists are no better and no worse than the average insurance actuary's assessment. That does not surprise me, because our knowledge of human behaviour is very limited.
The hon. Member for Drake proposes life sentences. That allows flexibility, and I prefer that to increasing the number of years of a sentence. I agree that prison should be used for those who are dangerous and violent. Over the years we have constantly upped the pyramid of sentencing. I believe that for offences which do not involve violence or the threat of it sentences are often too long.
The deterrent factor does not make sense in terms of a sentence of five or 10 years. The average person who thinks about the consequences of his offence will not think, "I am worried about five years, but I do not like the sound of 10 years." People do not think like that. They assess the chances of being caught, and if the sentence and the public embarrassment are sufficient, they will be deterred. Research backs up that argument.
In about 70 per cent. of cases involving violence, including sexual offences such as rape and attempted rape, alcohol plays a part. Alcohol is a major factor and we ignore that at our peril.
We should attempt to reduce the maximum lengths of sentences. I agree with what the Dutch Government are doing. They have similar problems to ours and their maximum sentence is about 12 years, but the life sentence remains. The life sentence allows flexibility.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
In my experience, which may be modest in criminal matters, the only effect of the number of years imprisonment announced in court is that the accused will gasp if the sentence is longer than he expected and not gasp if it is shorter.
§ Mr. Soley
I shall not comment on that. We must recognise that rape and attempted rape are violent offences. Rape is not some minor offence. I welcome a number of the moves made by the police, but we need to go further in terms of our handling of rape cases. This point has recently been taken on board and progress is being made.
This is an important matter. I hope that the hon. Member for Drake will give careful consideration to a number of the points that have been made about the Bill. The victimless of this crime is the point that is most important to me. I hope that the Bill will have the effect that the hon. Lady intends it to have.
§ Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)
First, I apologise to the House for the fact that if I am to be in Bakewell, where I must be, by 5.30 this evening, I may have to leave the House before the end of the debate.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley). I know that he has studied these matters in great depth and in a most thoughtful way for many years. He has given evidence to the Criminal Law Revision Committee. This morning the hon. Gentleman has said much of what I planned to say but some of it will, I believe, bear repetition.
May I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) upon her good fortune in being selected to present her private Member's Bill. She gave me the very greatest assistance when, together with other hon. Friends, I successfully attempted to remove the custodial sentence from the crime of prostitution. My hon. Friend was an enormous source of support at that time, so I know that in the best sense of the word she is liberal and that the Bill is presented with the highest of motives. Nevertheless, I have grave misgivings about the Bill, with which I shall deal in a little more detail in a minute or two.
First, it is worth saying that for many thousands of years women have been prepared to sell their bodies and that men have been prepared to pay for them. It is most unlikely that this or any other legislation will banish the trade. As in any other area of the market, prohibitive legislation can sometimes suppress and can always distort. It is most likely that, if this legislation is successful, it will succeed in distorting the market. In other words, it will cause prostitution to take place in ways and in places other than those where it takes place now. However, it is unlikely to banish prostitution. Indeed, that is not the purpose of my hon. Friend's Bill.
When the Criminal Law Revision Committee looked into this matter it made very much the same point:However much the public may disapprove of the prostitute, the law, we think, must always remember the human nature of prostitutes. They have to have somewhere to live and if they are not to outrage decency by following their trade in public they must have somewhere to carry it on.The problem about the Bill is that it makes it more difficult for a prostitute to carry on her trade on the street without making it any easier for her to carry on her trade elsewhere.
1266 In its provisional recommendations, the Criminal Law Revision Committee made some helpful proposals which unfortunately have not been incorporated into this measure and upon which the Government do not envisage legislation. One of the committee's proposals was that, whereas at present if two people operate as prostitutes from single premises that will be defined as a brothel, two women, no more, might be able to operate from single premises and this would not be defined as a brothel. The nature of a prostitute's work is inherently dangerous. The committee explained that there would be security in two women working together. There would also he mutual assistance in the care and raising of children. If, in the way suggested by the Criminal Law Revision Committee, we could make it easier for prostitutes to work off the streets and if, as the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) suggested, we allowed prostitutes to advertise in a limited way, we should be more justified in cracking clown in a more draconian manner upon the kind of prostitution that takes place on the streets.
My misgiving about my hon. Friend's Bill is that it simply extracts from the proposals of the Criminal Law Revision Committee one of what might be called the illiberal suggestions without adding to it the counter-balancing liberal suggestions that the committee was also able to put forward. My hon. Friend suggested that it would be impossible for a private Member to enact through private Member's legislation a comprehensive Bill dealing with prostitution generally. I am afraid that she is absolutely right. Unfortunately, when one goes to Ministers and asks what are the prospects for a comprehensive Bill from the Government, they reply that this kind of legislation is better enacted my means of private Member's legislation and that unless a private Member is prepared to introduce such a Bill it is unlikely that the Government will find time for such legislation.
§ Mr. Mellor
I decided that it would be courteous to my colleagues not to intervene until all hon. Members had made their speeches, but it may be that that will deprive my hon. Friend of the pleasure of hearing what I have to say, since he will be on his way to Bakewell. Therefore, may I make the point to him that, if the ladies of Bakewell were unable to walk down Bakewell high street in the evening without being accosted from cars by gentlemen who believed that Bakewell was the red light district of Derbyshire and who therefore had come there from all over the county, I do not believe that my hon. Friend would be saying that we should wait for a general reform of the law of prostitution.
As long ago as 1976, the Home Office under the then Government, for reasons that I do not criticise, laid on one side proposals to deal specifically with the problem of kerb crawling in order to enable it to have a major investigation of the law relating to sexual offences. The recommendations relating to the law on prostitution were published only in August 1984. My hon. Friend and other hon. Members who have spoken in the debate had very clear views about what that law should be, but they would not necessarily be views that would commend themselves to every hon. Member—nor, indeed, to every group that is capable of whipping up a hum in the community about what this Government should or should not do.
Therefore, we are faced with a simple choice: either we support action to deal with a very serious problem in some areas, for which at present there is no legal redress, or we 1267 wait tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow for generalised reform. My hon. Friend can look at this problem with the cool logic that I in particular enjoy, because this problem is removed from his doorstep, but it is not removed from the doorstep of the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). And his doorstep is not too far away from mine. That is why we made the judgment that we have.
§ Mr. Parris
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A general revision of the law on prostitution could not possibly be effected through private Member's legislation. It must be effected by Government. It may take a little while until Government can bring that about. I await his assurance — and I shall be glad to sit down for a moment if my hon. Friend is able to give it to me—that the Government envisage a general review of the law on prostitution, as outlined in the recommendations of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. Does my hon. Friend wish to interrupt me?
§ Mr. Mellor
I am always happy to interrupt my hon. Friend. We have interrupted each other many times over the last few years. The Criminal Law Revision Committee has considered the matter and published its report. That report is being studied by the Government. The question whether it is appropriate to legislate upon it in the short, medium or long term must depend upon the response to it and upon whether or not there is a general feeling in the House and elsewhere that the proposals would be an appropriate step forward. Given that it took some nine years for those proposals to emerge—I do not criticise that, because it is an extremely difficult area—I do not believe that we shall be able to reach a view upon this matter in the short term.
If, as I have already pointed out, all hon. Members could be guaranteed to take the view that my hon. Friend takes on these matters, my life would be a good deal easier, but my hon. Friend, as an intellectually honest and rigorous person, knows full well that he represents only one wing of the argument and that there are others who would have something to say if I were to announce that the Government will legislate immediately in precisely the form that my hon. Friend would wish.
§ Mr. Parris
With respect, I do not agree with my hon. Friend. It did take nine years for these proposals to be formulated, but it took only nine weeks for my hon. Friend's Bill to be formulated and I believe that she will have no trouble in getting it through the House. I think, too, that my hon. Friend and his right hon. and learned Friend would have no trouble in getting a Bill through the House if it were based upon the overall proposals of the Criminal Law Revision Committee for reform of the law on prostitution. It may take my hon. Friend a few months to do that. If I was confident that he planned to do that in a few months, or if I was confident that he planned to do it in a few years, I should be happier about my hon. Friend's Bill. I believe—I am going to stick my neck out on this—that my hon. Friend and his right hon. and learned Friend have no intention of introducing into this Parliament legislation based upon the recommendations of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. That explains some of my misgivings about proceeding only upon some of the more illiberal proposals of the committee.
I do not intend to oppose the Bill; I think that I support it, especially in the light of assurances given—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. The Minister may be seeking to catch my eye later. I hope that he will bear in mind that he can answer some of the points then.
§ Mr. Mellor
I bear in mind that my hon. Friend told me that he probably would not be here at that point.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The House cannot have a debate within a debate on the assumption that an hon. Member will leave the House.
§ Mr. Mellor
My hon. Friend has given way to me and I shall be brief. I shall seek not to interrupt again, but the point about future changes in the law of prostitution is important.
I have been rightly reminded that I should have said earlier that, as a result of a request that I made to the committee, it expedited its consideration of prostitution in the street and published its report in August 1984. It has not concluded its consideration and published its final report on the remaining aspects of prostitution. Therefore, it comes a little hard that we should be criticised for not taking action on it.
Whether action should be taken depends on the response to the document. When it should be taken depends on the difficult consideration of the priorities of the Home Office. As my hon. Friend well knows, any number of points are floating around on which we have given commitments to legislate, such as animal experiments and criminal justice. It will be a little hard to push those on one side because of this matter.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am seeking to protect not the hon. Gentleman, but other hon. Members are waiting to take part in the debate and those others have Bills which they hope will be brought before the House.
§ Mr. Parris
I find it flattering that a Minister is on the Front Bench and listening to what I say, which is not always the case.
I do not believe that the Government have any plans to legislate on this matter and I shall be surprised if there were legislation before the next general election. I rather doubt whether there will be legislation after it.
It is worth looking at the history of the Criminal Law Revision Committee's consideration of the matter. Hon. Members have implied that the Committee's recommendations were unanimous and wholehearted that it was perfectly content with them, if not enthusiastic. That is not a correct reading of the minds or deliberations of the committee's members. From the working paper which was published in 1982, I got the impression that the committee members were doubtful about the efficacy of legislation on kerb crawling and had serious misgivings about whether such legislation would be effective.
Paragraph 3.43 on page 33 of the report says:We all agree that the kinds of conduct to which the Policy Advisory Committee"—that is a sort of cat's paw for the Home Secretary—have referred are socially undesirable and should be brought within the ambit of the criminal law if it is possible to do so without creating offences which are so difficult to prove that they are seldom, if ever, charged, or putting members of the public to the inconvenience or embarrassment of giving evidence, or extending the law too widely, or allowing police officers to give evidence about other people's reaction to a situation.1269 The members of the committee, rather significantly, go on to say:Each of the suggested offences seems to have one or more of these elements. The police, for example, would be unlikely to obtain any evidence in a case in which a man accosted a prostitute for the purposes of prostitution.They conclude:Anyway, some of us are of the opinion that it would be undesirable for police officers to give evidence about the effect of an accused's conduct on a third party not called as a witness.
I gained the impression from those remarks that the committee members had been asked to frame proposals for legislation on kerb craw ling and that they were in serious doubt as to whether effective proposals, which were not undesirable from the point of view of police powers, could be so framed.
I also got the impression that the Policy Advisory Committee sent them back to their books and told them to jolly well come up with proposals of one kind or another, and they jolly well have. But I do not get the impression from what they say that they are entirely happy about those proposals. I am willing to be interrupted or corrected, but perhaps it had better not be my hon. Friend the Minister.
It would be most useful at this stage to go through some of the proposals in the Bill. If the House feels that I am making points that are better made in Committee, I can only say in my defence that as presently drafted the Bill is not workable and should not go into Committee at all. The Bill could be greatly improved in Committee, and if it is it will deserve a Second and a Third Reading. Therefore, the points that I am making are not just technical or Committee points, but serious points about the mainspring of the Bill—its efficacy.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
Can my hon. Friend confirm or refute the allegation by my hon. Friend the Minister that in England there is no penalty for breach of the peace?
§ Mr. Parris
I would never refute anything said by a Minister. If that is what my hon. Friend says, it must be true. That is unsatisfactory. Perhaps we should be looking at the general law on breach of the peace rather than piecemeal legislation on sexual offences.
Clause 1 says:It is an offence for a man to solicit a woman for the purpose of prostitution if he does so—
this is the point with which I want to deal at the moment—
- (a) from a motor vehicle while it is in a street or public place; or"—
That will have to go. I do not know what
- "(b) in a street or public place while in the immediate vicinity of a motor vehicle that he has just got out of or off."in the immediate vicinity of a motor vehiclemeans. Is it 20, 50 or 100 yd? Case law will soon establish that, and people will make sure that they are at least that distance away from their motor vehicle before they solicit.
What does havingjust got out of or offa motor vehicle mean? Should one count to 10 before soliciting, or to 20 or 30? Again, case law will establish that and people will take care that they have not just got out of or off a vehicle and that they are not in the vicinity of it. The Bill would be stronger for the simple excision of that subsection.
Paragraph (a) deals with soliciting a womanfrom a motor vehicle while it is in a street or a public place".That brings with it serious problems of evidence. From whom shall we obtain the evidence that the solicitation took place? We shall not obtain it from a prostitute; that 1270 is fairly clear. Shall we be able to obtain the evidence from an innocent woman who has been solicited in the mistaken belief that she is a prostitute? I hope, like other hon. Members, that we could, but the Criminal Law Revision Committee felt doubtful about the chances of persuading many women to come before the courts and complain that they had been accosted from a motor vehicle. I am no barrister, but they are not under-represented in this Chamber. If they turn their minds to how as defence counsel they might conduct the cross-examination of such a witness, they would see why women would soon be rather unwilling to volunteer to give evidence in such cases. I am not sure that it will be easy to persuade innocent women to give evidence and I know that it will not be possible to persuade prostitutes to give evidence.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I am as terrified, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of interrupting my hon. Friend too frequently as the prospective witness is terrified. If the Government successfully introduce into England the sanity of a system of prosecution which is not engineered by police according to the legislative programme, will that prosecution system still have the same fantasy—this idea was introduced to me this morning; I did not know of it previously—of policemen acting as witnesses and telling us what the evidence of someone who has not been called would have been if he had been called?
§ Mr. Parris
I need not respond at this stage, because my hon. and learned Friend has outlined the underlying theme of my misgivings about the Bill as drafted.
How will we obtain evidence that someone has solicited from a car? I know that we will not obtain the evidence from the prostitute and I think that we will not obtain it from the innocent woman. The evidence could be obtained in two ways. First, decoys or agents provocateurs could be used, and that would be the easiest way of obtaining the evidence. A plain-clothes policewoman who has been solicited will have no doubt in her mind about what happened and will not show vagueness in her evidence. It will therefore be easy to persuade the court that solicitation has taken place.
There are many reasons why we do not want policewomen to be used as decoys. The Criminal Law Revision Committee believes that the practice is widespread in the United States, but the committee would not like the practice ever to become widespread in Britain. No one wants policewomen to be used as decoys in that way, but I believe that it is perhaps the only straightforward way of obtaining evidence about a person soliciting from a motor vehicle.
The second way of obtaining evidence was touched on by the hon. Member for Tooting. I agreed with much of his speech. He said that the police could observe either when in plain clothes or from a position from which they could not be seen. Observation could be kept in an area known to be frequented by prostitutes and kerb crawlers. The police could watch kerb crawlers stop and solicit a prostitute. The police evidence would be that the woman was a known prostitute, that the car had been seen to be kerb crawling and that it was an area in which this type of solicitation occurred.
I believe that many hon. Members while travelling in a town they do not know have stopped and asked directions from a woman. I usually ask women because men generally do not know where places are. Women always 1271 give good directions. I have no doubt that at some stage I have asked directions of a woman who was a prostitute. That is likely to happen. It may well be that, under this legislation, a policeman will be in the area observing. He will tell the court that he had been in an area known for being frequented by prostitutes, that the woman involved was a common prostitute and that the accused slowed down, leaned out of the car window and said something to the woman. The policeman would have to say that "something" had been said because he was not close enough to overhear. Only a policewoman acting as decoy would be able to hear what was said. Obviously, the communication would cease immediately if a uniformed policeman got too close.
There is a genuine possibility that mistakes will be made. Even if we take a robust view about the likelihood of this happening, those accused under this clause will always have the defence that they were travelling slowly around the block looking for a cigarette machine that was full or for someone to give directions. Although one may be inclined not to believe that argument, it is difficult to state beyond all reasonable doubt that it is not a good defence. It will be difficult to enforce this clause, unless decoys are used.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I believe that another type of evidence is infinitely more likely to be used, particularly with this extraordinary practice of using second-hand evidence given through the mouths of policemen. That other type of evidence is completely false evidence. A complaint may be made about kerb crawling in a certain area, so the problem is cleared up. How is that done? False evidence is given against half a dozen people and that evidence is reported in the press.
§ Mr. Parris
That point was best made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, who said that false evidence may or may not be given. No one will ever know whether the evidence was false. There will never be enough ways of checking the veracity of the evidence. Rather than say that I believe that the police will often falsify evidence, I shall restrict myself to saying that many people will often believe that the police will falsify evidence. I do not believe that it is wise, through legislation of this type. to encourage that belief.
A woman prosecuted for soliciting must previously have been formally cautioned three times. Under this legislation, a man does not need to have kerb-crawled previously. There is no necessity to prove persistence. The man need solicit only one prostitute and he will be prosecuted. The purpose of the legislation is to restore symmetry, but I believe that this measure shows an asymmetry in dealing with the sexes.
I have said that it will be difficult to get innocent women to give evidence. The police will be able to make their evidence stick only in an area prostitutes are known to frequent and only when dealing with a known prostitute. Unfortunately, that form of nuisance is not the form that my hon. Friend the Member for Drake seeks to redress. If a man wants a prostitute, the kerb crawling will occur quickly, at no inconvenience to other members of the public. The real inconvenience arises — I believe this offends every hon. Member — when a man accosts someone who is not a prostitute. The evidence will stick only in the case of a man who has got it right.
§ Miss Fookes
I suggest to my hon. Friend that one of the difficulties for residents is the accumulating number of cars that kerb-crawl. That in itself provides a nuisance, whether or not the transaction between a prostitute and a man occurs quickly. My hon. Friend has overlooked that point.
§ Mr. Parris
I have not overlooked that issue, but I believe that it is a less important nuisance than that caused by the enormous offence of importuning a woman who does not want to be importuned. A traffic nuisance is caused, but I hope that there are already sufficient traffic laws to deal with it.
The evidential burden for the prosecution which is imposed by clause 2 is greater than that imposed by clause 1. I believe that it would be safer for a man to solicit on the street than to solicit from a car. A man need solicit only once from a car and he can be caught. The effect of the legislation—I am sure this was not the intention of my hon. Friend the Member for Drake, although it may unwittingly turn out this way — will be to drive men from their cars on to the street. It is not clear whether men accosting women on the street are a lesser public nuisance than men who solicit from their cars.
§ Mr. Parris
The legislation certainly covers the street.
On first reading of the Bill, my advice to any man wishing to solicit a prostitute is to get out of his car immediately. If he stays in his car, the police will face a lesser evidential burden. Clause 2(1) states:A man commits an offence if in a street or public place he persistently solicits women (or the same woman) for the purpose of prostitution.Other hon. Members have asked: what is persistence in this case? In the case of male importuning, which is not a happy precedent, persistence has usually been interpreted by the courts as soliciting twice or more frequently. In that case, we are not generally dealing with prostitutes. We are dealing with men trying to pick each other up, but not in return for money. For that reason, much more asking and refusing occurs.
The man who approaches a woman for the purpose of engaging her in prostitution probably approaches only one woman. As long as he has the money, the solicitation will probably cease. There may be a protracted period of haggling and negotiation, but it is a matter for lawyers and not for me whether, it having been decided that the woman will sell herself to the man, the subsequent negotiation about where and what price is a solicitation. I do not think it is. A man may spend some time in conversation with a woman and may cause quite a nuisance by doing so, but I would not call that persistent soliciting. If the Bill is enacted, this part of it will have to be explored by the courts. It is all rather uncertain.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
Will my hon. Friend make a distinction which seems never to be made in the House? Homosexuality, whether between women or men, is a pathological distortion whereas heterosexuality is not.
§ Mr. Parris
For the first time so far, I do not agree with my hon. and learned Friend. He has raised an issue that forms part of another debate and I shall return to the Bill. I think that it will be safer for both of us if I do.
There is an evidential burden on the police or prosecution in a case where a man is said persistently to 1273 have solicited on the street. If the woman is a prostitute, I would think that there is no possibility of her giving evidence. If she is an innocent woman and not a prostitute, I suggest that her fear of being subjected to a certain form of cross-examination will cause her not to give evidence. I realise that many of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members hope that such a woman will be prepared to give evidence.
Let us consider the sort of cross-examination that an innocent woman is likely to he subjected to by counsel for the defence. It is likely pretty quickly to dissuade innocent women from making complaints and subjecting themselves to the ordeal by fire that they may well have to suffer if they choose to appear in court as witnesses. That leaves us again with the need to rely upon police evidence.
The police would have to be close before they could know that what was happening was a solicitation. There are many reasons for causing men to approach women in the street that are not solicitations. If a court is to believe on the evidence of the police officer alone that a solicitation has taken place, the officer will have to give quite detailed evidence. He or she will have to have heard what was said between the two parties. How will the officer be able to get sufficiently close to enable him or her to give that evidence, unless, again, we are talking about women police constables acting as decoys? I fear greatly that we are in danger of enacting legislation which can be enforced effectively by the police only if they act as decoys or agents provocateurs.
I have a good deal of sympathy for the police in this instance. The House dislikes the use of decoys and agents provocateurs. I dislike the practice intensely. However, if we introduce legislation that cannot be enforced in any other way, we shall be putting the police in a rather difficult position. The evidential burden will be a difficult one to sustain. There are genuine possibilities of mistake. Men may often ask women things in the street and if the encounters are observed from a distance they may appear to be solicitations, but in many instances they will not be. If a uniformed police officer observes a solicitation at a short distance from where it is taking place, the solicitation will stop. If a plain clothes officer observes a solicitation from a short distance, that will come pretty near to the officer acting as a decoy or agent provocateur.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
Let us say that a prostitute is stopped by a kerb crawler and he declines to pay the price that she demands. Why should she not go immediately to the police and, as an act of spite, tell them that the man is guilty of kerb crawling?
§ Mr. Parris
That may happen in theory, but there is an enormous natural reluctance on the part of prostitutes ever to go to the police about any issue. I may be wrong about that; it is something that I would not know very much about.
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)
By the definition of the hypothetical situation that has been posed, the man in question had kerb-crawled. I accept that the thrust of the Bill is not to prevent the association of prostitutes with clients but to protect the innocent from the unwanted attention of kerb crawlers. However, we are talking about the sort of person who is prepared potentially to solicit those in our society who are not prostitutes.
§ Mr. Parris
I should need to give more thought to what the hon. Gentleman has said before commenting upon it. He may be right.
Clause 3 states:A man commits an offence if he solicits a woman for sexual purposes in a manner likely to cause her fear.The first question that arises in my mind concerns the area in which the clause applies. Will this provision apply anywhere? Will it apply to husband and wife? Will it apply at a discotheque, a party, a pub, a club or a bar? It is always wrong to solicit women in a manner which may cause them fear, but I can think of private circumstances in which it would not be appropriate for the criminal law to be introduced. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Drake does not envisage two people on a couch and at some stage one reaching for the telephone and calling the police.
I think that we shall be able to put things right in Committee. I rather doubt whether my hon. Friend means that the offence should extend beyond the streets and other public places, as well as the public transport network to which she has referred when dealing with other offences.
Clause 3 contains the phrasein a manner likely to cause her fear.Why is that? The Criminal Law Revision Committee deals with this on page 14, section 47, of its report:We have formulated the offence as one of soliciting in a manner likely to cause fear because a man's liability to criminal sanctions should not depend upon any undue susceptibility to fear on the part of the woman solicited of which he was unaware.I find that rather disingenuous. If it is desired to protect a man from the sort of woman who thinks that she has been solicited and is caused fear, although it was unreasonable for her to think so, it is possible to frame the offence in such a way as to make it clear that the man's behaviour had to be threatening, and, secondly, that the woman had to have been caused actual fear.
In those circumstances, the evidential burden would require the woman to be brought before the court to give evidence that fear had been caused. If the court decided that, though she had been caused fear, the was unreasonable to be afraid in the circumstances, the first of the two burdens would not have been satisfied. That is the burden that the man's behaviour had to be threatening. If it is said that his behaviour was not threatening, although the woman had been caused fear, he would be found not guilty.
I am afraid that the phrasein a manner likely to cause her fearhas been used so that we can rely upon police evidence. The police will be able to say that the way in which the man was acting was likely to cause the woman fear. If we are not obliged to call the woman as a witness to tell the court whether she was caused fear, police evidence alone, as the clause is drafted, will be sufficient. I am worried about the creation of an offence which can be proved entirely by police evidence.
How could we call the woman to give evidence of the offence? Would an innocent woman who had been caused fear by a sexual solicitation be willing to come before the courts to give evidence? In a few circumstances she might be prepared to do so, but in most she would not.
Let us imagine that Mrs. Carter complained to the police that a man had behaved in a threateningly sexually suggestive way before her and had caused her fear. Let us imagine also that the man is prosecuted and the man's defence counsel calls Mrs. Carter to give evidence. He 1275 may well ask her how she was dressed, whether she thought that she was dressed nicely on the evening in question, what she was doing on her own in a tube train carriage at that time of night, where she had been, where she was going, the name of her husband and whether her husband was away at the time.
It would be quite easy to make the woman look ridiculous and to suggest that she, by her behaviour, had in some way invited the solicitation. It would be easy for a skilled defence counsel to create that impression. I doubt very much whether the majority of women involved in such cases would be prepared to subject themselves to that form of cross-examination.
If the innocent woman will not come forward to give evidence and to subject herself to cross-examination, we will have to rely on police evidence. The easiest way of getting the necessary evidence will be to employ decoys. The details that will need to be given about the solicitation will be considerable.
If the court has to be persuaded that it was a solicitation and one likely to cause fear, that cannot easily be observed from 50 or 100 yards. It will be necessary to have heard the words spoken and seen the expressions on the faces of the people concerned. A policeman in uniform will never get that close and even a plain-clothes policeman is unlikely to be able to do so. Thus, the easiest and perhaps the only way to bring a charge will be through the use of police decoys. With great respect, it is all very well for the hon. Member for Tooting to say that he strongly opposes the use of decoys, but the legislation that he supports will be difficult to enforce in any other way. I, too, am acutely aware of that danger in the Bill as drafted.
Why do we need a special offence to deal with fear caused by sexual advances? The Minister has said that existing legislation on breaches of the peace is insufficient and he is undoubtedly right, but can we not re-examine the whole law on threatening behaviour and the causing of fear and reform it in such a way that anyone using threatening behaviour or causing fear by whatever means will be committing a criminal offence? One would then need simply to prove to the judge and jury that fear had been caused. For example, a black man on the underground may be caused fear if everyone else is white and those white people make racist remarks to him. Equally, a working miner may be caused fear if all the others present are strikers and they make remarks about scabs.
The essential element that makes the behaviour wrong is not the sexual motive but the fact that it causes fear. It has been made very clear, of course, that women on their own are susceptible to being caused fear by anything with a sexual content and that the merest hint may be sufficient to cause fear, but it is not beyond the wit of a court to take that into account and to understand that, although the suggestion was slight, its nature made it liable to cause fear. I do not see why there should be a special offence related to fear caused by sexual offences. We need a general offence relating to the causing of fear as such. If such an offence does not already exist, we should adapt the existing law to provide it.
I am not a lawyer, but I believe that these are to be summary offences and that defendants will not therefore be able to opt for trial by jury. I appreciate the reason why one does not want trial by jury in every case, but the reputation of a defendant may be very much at stake. With 1276 reference to male importuning, paragraph 3.38 of the Criminal Law Revision Committee report took the view that that offence should continue to carry the right to a trial by jury becausesome of our number believe that there should continue to be a right to a jury because of the serious consequences that may follow from a conviction for an offence of this character.If that is true of those charged with homosexual offences, it is surely equally true of a married man accused of kerb crawling or putting a woman in fear, so there is a strong case for the right to a trial by jury.
In response to my earlier intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Drake was reluctant to promise that the Bill could be changed to make it impossible for a prosecution to succeed on the basis of police evidence alone, although she suggested that she was sympathetic and that the matter could be examined in Committee. I believe that she was worried that such a provision would involve a legal novelty which for general reasons of precedent would be undesirable.
There are two ways in which such a provision could be written into the legislation. First, one could make a special rule of evidence attaching to this legislation to the effect that in any prosecution evidence must be given by the woman to whom offence or annoyance was caused. There is an objection to that on grounds of precedent, because it is not usual to frame offences with special rules of evidence attached to them. Moreover, a police officer has the common law right to give evidence about the extent to which he or she was solicited or embarrassed. Specifically to debar the police and to allow evidence only from members of the public in this respect would create a worrying precedent in the eyes of the Home Office lawyers.
A second and better way to achieve the same end would be to provide that annoyance—embarrassment, fear or whatever is decided—must actually be caused, rather than merely that the behaviour in question is liable to cause it. In all three cases—kerb crawling, soliciting on the pavement or putting a woman in fear—the annoyance or fear should be proved to have been caused as well as the behaviour being such as to cause it. Two tests then have to be satisfied. First, was the member of the public unduly susceptible or was the behaviour of the accused actually likely to produce fear? Secondly, was fear actually caused? If the legislation were framed in that way, I do not think that the offence could be proved without calling the innocent importunee as a witness. If that change were made, I think that the law would be entirely fair, but it might also be unworkable. For the reasons that I have given, I believe that it will be extremely difficult ever to persuade members of the public to give evidence.
I believe, therefore, that the Bill can be changed in such a way that it will not be offensive in terms of the burden of proof but I am worried that such a change might render the legislation less effective. At present, its effectiveness depends on giving undue weight to police evidence. I do not believe that we should create further legislation of that kind. We already have enough trouble with section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act in relation to male importuning and juries are increasingly reluctant to convict on the basis of police evidence in those cases. I believe that it would be a mistake to replicate those problems in new legislation of a similar type.
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)
I warmly welcome the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes). As we have heard from Members in all parts of the House, kerb crawling causes not just aggravation but genuine fear, apprehension and anxiety to many people, especially women, in inner city areas such as my own. It is clear that the hon. Lady has addressed herself to a genuine and serious problem.
Since the passing of the Street Offences Act 1959, prostitution in Manchester has moved out into the suburb of Whalley Range, with the consequent imposition of the attentions of kerb crawlers on innocent people. The object of the Bill is not to control prostitution as such, but to deal with the problems associated with kerb crawling. For that reason I warmly welcome the hon. Lady's initiative, although, like other hon. Members, I wish to express certain reservations.
I have some sympathy for the earlier remarks of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris). He spoke of the need for a more general view of prostitution in society, bearing in mind the recommendations of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. So far the remarks of the Minister have been somewhat disappointing, and I look forward to his concluding speech.
Society accepts that prostitution itself is not illegal, but we also accept that prostitution and associated matters can cause problems. It is the problems associated with prostitution that we wish to regulate, in the interests of members of the community not directly involved in prostitution. Within that context, as I think the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West would agree, I am sure that we can go a considerable way towards alleviating the problem of kerb crawling.
I should have welcomed a stronger line on Government policy from the Minister. The issue is difficult and controversial, but that is no reason for failing to take action. We will never achieve a consensus on difficult problems, which clearly divide people on emotive as well as intellectual grounds.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) may not agree with all that I say. However, I agree with his view that even if we reform both the legal structure and our social attitudes towards prostitution— allowing, for example, some form of advertising, or allowing locations to be established which prostitutes could use without automatically breaking the law—there would still be the problem of prostitutes being driven on to the streets for economic reasons, and therefore the problem of kerb crawling would remain.
The comments of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West were somewhat absolutist. I have considerable sympathy for his call for a broad revision of the law, but to prove that kerb crawling in isolation is a difficult problem is not enough. I agreed with the hon. Gentleman's comments about the difficulty of maintaining a balance between the rights of the accused and the rights of those upon whom the unwanted attentions of the kerb crawlers are forced.
I find nothing especially objectionable in the criminalisation of the kerb crawler. Criminalisation per se is simply a recognition of the lack of symmetry in the current law. Soliciting is a criminal offence, but seeking out prostitutes is not. The two acts should perhaps be brought into line. Being found guilty of kerb crawling— 1278 being branded as a kerb crawler — would have tremendous implications for the person concerned. Clearly, therefore, the test that we establish must be acceptable and sufficient, given the strength of the public opprobium that would fall upon anyone found guilty of such an offence.
I share the views of those hon. Members who have suggested that the idea of victimless crime is not satisfactory. We should stipulate that those affected must be able and willing to substantiate the charge. I accept that that would cause real problems. Such a stipulation would mean that in many cases it would be impossible to sustain a charge, without trying to bend the rules of evidence, against someone who was guilty of the crime. That is the price that we would have to pay for protecting the innocent; for protecting those who might, for instance, be subject to blackmail.
I recognise the difficulties outlined by the hon Member for Derbyshire, West. However, the problems connected with kerb crawling would be akin to some extent to those involved in trials for rape. The pressures put upon the main witness would be similar to those suffered by the main witness in a rape case. There would be the same unhappy and perhaps even malicious attempts to blacken the character of the witness. That is a problem that I do not take lightly. It is at no small cost that we insist that a woman should stand up in the witness box and talk about being solicited by a kerb crawler. However, we accept the necessity for that in the case of rape because rape is, by any stretch of the imagination, a very serious charge. To be found guilty of kerb crawling would also be a serious matter, and we must therefore accept that the test of evidence should be sufficiently strong and that the complainant should have to appear in court.
There is some strength of feeling on that issue even among those who warmly applaud the intentions of the hon. Member for Drake. I applaud the Bill on behalf of my constituents, and especially the women in the area of my constituency where the problem is at its worst. For too long people have felt that Parliament was not prepared to grasp the nettle. In bringing the Bill forward the hon. Lady is addressing a real problem. With the reservations that I have expressed, I wish the Bill all speed.
§ Mr. Christopher Chope (Southampton, Itchen)
I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate. When I was the leader of Wandsworth borough council, I was very familiar with the problems at Bedford hill, so vividly described by the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). However, the problems in Southampton are probably even more acute. I am therefore delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) has been successful in the ballot. I thank her for the good turn that she has done my constituents by choosing this subject for her Bill.
It is also fair to thank my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for his success in persuading the Criminal Law Revision Committee to publish its report on prostitution on the streets sooner than was originally intended.
Having heard the eloquent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris), I hope that he will think it worth his while to come to see the problem on the ground in Southampton. A real problem exists, and we, as legislators, must try to solve it.
§ Mr. Parris
I live no more than three quarters of a mile from the area in Wandsworth which the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned. I shall not give the name of the street, as I do not want to give it any extra publicity. I fully understand the problems and do not underestimate them.
§ Mr. Chope
I am interested to learn that my hon. Friend has knowledge of these matters. I am therefore all the more disappointed that his speech was so negative. I had hoped that there would be unanimity on the intentions behind the Bill.
I regret that we are embarking on piecemeal legislation. Kerb crawling is a serious problem in Southampton and causes public nuisance. The same is true of the practice of using good residential accommodation as a prostitute's shop. In the windows of such houses are illuminated red signs which are offensive to passers-by and lower the tone of an otherwise pleasant neighbourhood. In one part of my constituency there are about 30 houses which are used solely for prostitution. Hanging outside them are signs saying, "Model", "Nude Model" and "Young Model". I have yet to see a sign that says, "Used Model", but no doubt that time will come. It is a pity that the Bill does not meet the mischief that I have described.
An owner-occupier can find that the house next door is sold and turned into a prostitute's shop. If it were turned into a greengrocer's shop, or a take-away shop, he could get help from the local planning authority, but Southampton city council takes the view that a change of use to a prostitute's shop is not covered by planning legislation, so enforcement proceedings are not possible.
I understand that the Bill cannot go too wide in order to ensure that it reaches the statute book with the least possible difficulty, but I envisage an increasing number of houses being bought and converted into prostitutes' shops after it has been enacted. Such properties are not brothels, because the courts have held that two or more women must practice prostitution in one premise for it to be a brothel. It is not an offence for a landlord to let premises to a prostitute.
To describe the extent of the problem, I should like to quote from a letter. Unfortunately, it was sent anonymously, but it sets the problem out clearly. It reads:My son bought a house and spent a great deal of money on it, only to have a prostitute move in next door to him. The man who bought the house obviously bought it for prostitution. Men called there during the day and night with CB aerials on their cars. Constant noisy knocking on the door, noisy car doors banging, wild noisy parties going on until 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning, video shows to youths, but worst of all her pimps and gangsters were the biggest nuisance. After my son complained he was constantly followed by these men. CBs are a nuisance with these men and girls. My son was threatened and had unpleasant things done about their home. My poor grandchildren wondered what it was all about. The people moved out the other side. I have begged my son to move for his wife and children's sake. How can he cope with six pimps?The writer then appeals to me as her local Member of Parliament to try to change the law.
An excellent housing association operates in the part of Southampton to which I have referred and in which there is much urban renewal, but the association receives letters from tenants such as this:My reason for wanting to move out of my present accommodation. I have had men ringing my door bell in the early hours of the morning.That is another problem that is not addressed by the Bill.
1280 A resident complained to me of being threatened because he parks his car outside a house where one of the model signs hangs. He has been threatened because his car obscures the advertisement from passers-by and therefore interferes with business. He would desperately like to sell his house, but its value has declined because of the activities that I have described.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
In any of these cases, have the people complained to the police and have prosecutions been brought, because it is perfectly obvious that common law criminal offences were committed?
§ Mr. Chope
Almost invariably complaints are made to the police, but I am told by the police that it is difficult to produce enough evidence to secure conviction. The police in Southampton say that one of their biggest disappointments is that, even when they successfully prosecute the people who are behind the vice business, the fines are derisory and the sentences of imprisonment, if there are any, are for only a few months. Such sentences do not reflect the gravity of the offences.
That brings me to the issue of the deterrent effect of prison sentences for soliciting. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Drake and other hon. Members who have said that they welcomed the decision to remove imprisonment as a penalty for those who solicit as prostitutes. The Criminal Law Revision Committee report provides telling evidence on page 6. It states that in 1983 there were about 10,000 convictions for loitering and soliciting. The committee expects the figure to be even higher for 1984. I do not know whether it was, possibly because of the impact of the miners' strike. Before the penalty of imprisonment was removed, the figure for the years 1975 to 1981 was always between 3,000 and 4,200. Therefore, there have been at least twice as many convictions for loitering or soliciting since the penalty of imprisonment was removed.
The figures for Southampton reflect the national picture. In 1984 there were 143 charges for soliciting and 74 cautions. In 1978 there were only 17 charges and 29 cautions. In 1982, the last year before the penalty of imprisonment was removed, there were 39 charges and 54 cautions.
§ Mr. Parris
Is my hon. Friend aware that there was a similar increase in prosecutions for male importuning, but that the imprisonment penalty remains available to the courts?
§ Mr. Chope
I cannot comment on that point, but I hear and note what my hon. Friend says.
My submission is that the removal of the penalty of imprisonment for soliciting by prostitutes has resulted in an increase in the practice. That is supported in a letter that I received from the chief constable of Hampshire, dated 16 December 1983. He said:We shall continue to police the area closely with a view to the reduction of prostitution there. It has to be recognised, however, that substantial relief for those who are offended and inconvenienced must await the revision of section 71 of the 1982 Criminal Justice Act.I hope, therefore, that the Government will reconsider the wisdom of removing the penalty of imprisonment.
Southampton county council has written to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary about that and asked for the reinstatement of the sanction of imprisonment. There is overwhelming evidence that that 1281 would help to solve the problem to a great extent. Even if the Home Secretary is not prepared to reintroduce that penalty, I hope that he will use the opportunity presented by today's debate to advise magistrates that average fines, which are between £25 and £100, are derisory for the offence of soliciting. Even penalties imposed for living off immoral earnings seem low. Substantial imprisonment should be the norm when the vice barons are eventually brought before the courts.
The local newspaper. the Southern Evening Echo, this week produced an informative and excellent piece of journalism. From talking to prostitutes it found that, on average, each prostitute working during the day could have seven clients, at £10 a time. That is £70 a day, leaving aside income that can be earned in the evenings and at night. Obviously, when prostitutes are prosecuted, a fine of £50 or so is little more than a licence fee. I hope, therefore, that the Government will have second thoughts about penalties.
I have little doubt that the Bill when passed into law will ameliorate the problem of street prostitution, but I do not believe that it will solve it. The wise punter, as he is called, will abandon his car, go on foot, and wait to be solicited rather than do the soliciting. It is clear from clause 2 that it will be necessary to prove that someone has persistently solicited on foot before he can be brought before the courts. For the person who leaves his car in another area, walks for five or 10 minutes and sees the call girls standing on the corners, one transaction will not result in his being brought before the courts. The police find it almost impossible to prosecute most call girls because, to use their words, they can be recognised at a distance of 100 yards and do not get anywhere near seeing what happens when the offence is committed. Paragraph 44 of the report by the Criminal Law Revision Committee states that it would not be appropriate to convict men for only one act of soliciting on the footway.
As a result of the pressure that will be created by the Bill, more prostitutes will be forced into taking accommodation and erecting advertising signs outside. I have little doubt that the Bill will deter kerb crawlers in cars, but I am a little worried about having sufficient safeguards for the innocent. None of us should forget, in the emotion of the moment, the need to protect the innocent from mistaken charges. In this area, wrongful conviction is not the mischief; the mere charging, being brought before the courts, and having one's name and address published in the local newspaper could ruin many a career or marriage. Much public humiliation can be caused just by a charge being made. We must be sure that the legislation contains adequate safeguards for the innocent.
I am thinking especially of the calculating prostitute who summons a passing motorist, who is then arrested by a policeman. The prostitute will not stay to say, "I will give evidence on your behalf," and the policeman will not know whether the transaction was initiated by the motorist or by the prostitute. That could lead to innocent people being brought before the courts.
The police support the view that prostitutes are calculating and cunning people. Inspector Openshawe of Southampton said recently:The men cruise around looking for the model signs, but are bread and butter for the girls who stand on the street corners.What happens is that those who are not lucky enough to have a residential base from which to operate their 1282 business try to intercept passing motorists who are looking for the model signs. That officer believes that stopping kerb crawling will put part-time prostitutes out of business, but will not solve the basic problem.
The Criminal Law Revision Committee believes, in relation to clause 1, that it should be necessary for the victim—the woman who is solicited by the man—to give evidence in court. I can see the practical reasons for that. Any legislation in this area must balance the public nuisance against the need to ensure that charges are brought clearly.
Anything would be better than the situation that has existed recently in Nottingham, where policewomen have been posing as prostitutes and trapping men. who have later appeared before the courts for alleged breaches of the peace. That type of entrapment is unsatisfactory and I hope that it will not be considered a necessary ingredient in the enforcement of this Bill.
Points of criticism about the Bill are best made in Committee and I shall not voice them now. I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West about clause 1(1)(b) and I, too, wonder whether it will improve matters. Its drafting leaves much to be desired. I am reminded of a pop song entitled, "Get off of my cloud". The provision could, perhaps, be better expressed.
Clause 3, by being drawn so widely as to include solicitingin a manner likely to cause her fearin a public and private place, is going unnecessarily far. The Bill is designed to deal with a public nuisance. It would be unfortunate to extend the law as it relates to indecent assault in the way suggested, and the implications of the clause do not appear to have been fully considered.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
If my hon. Friend asked a girl, "Will you sleep with me'?", does he think that those words would be covered by that provision?
§ Mr. Chope
I look forward to my hon. and learned Friend asking that question when he speaks in the debate.
The Southern Evening Echo this week concluded that the saddest irony about trying to improve the position of the area in Southampton with which I am concerned is that virtually all its problems have been increased by well-intentioned efforts to solve them.
I support the Bill, because it is well intentioned, and in the earnest hope that it will help to reduce the public nuisance with which it is intended to deal. However, I urge the Government not to be slow to introduce their own legislation to deal with the problem of advertising and the use of residential accommodation by prostitutes if the expected result of this legislation is that the girls simply go off the streets and place advertisements in otherwise pleasant neighbourhoods.
I hope that the Bill will receive support from hon. Members on both sides, because its shortcomings, which are few, can be remedied in Committee.
§ Mr. Ernie Roberts (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
I, too, compliment the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) on having introduced the Bill as a result of her name being selected in the ballot. I had my name drawn in the ballot and was immediately 1283 solicited by Wandsworth borough council to introduce a Bill on kerb crawling and prostitution. The council wrote me a lengthy letter in which it said:The police do what they can to try and reduce the nuisance and…they have each month for some considerable time been prosecuting up to 60 to 70 women for soliciting for prostitution. It is generally accepted, however, that as a long-term solution this action is not the answer and that to really have any measure of success the drivers of the cars who are looking for prostitutes must be dissuaded from doing so.The House already knows this, but I wish to draw attention to the fact that people selling their bodies is not the only kind of prostitution with which society is plagued. People sell both their brains and their principles, often for immoral purposes, and sometimes that can do more harm to society than prostitution does.
The Bill tries to deal with the problem of kerb crawling and prostitution, a problem that is prevalent in my constituency. I have had many meetings with residents for over a number of years about the problems in the Brownswood, Finsbury park and Manor house areas. We have taken action to try to prevent the problem, but that action has caused a great nuisance. We have put gates across the roads to stop kerb crawling. We do it to one road, which stops the kerb crawling there, but then there is a demand from the next road, and so it goes on. We continually push the kerb crawling out, but we do not get rid of it. Therefore, the problem has not been reduced.
Mothers and young women have complained to me about the insulting attitudes of motorists driving along soliciting them in the areas that I have mentioned. Every day, and particularly at night, these women go about with the ever-present fear of attack. I know that the chief of police for Stoke Newington and a colleague of his are here listening to the debate because of the seriousness of the problem in that part of London.
Recently, there has been a heavy police presence in the areas that I have mentioned, resulting in many more prosecutions, but the problem still exists. Only last night, a deputation of young women came to see me and urged me to speak out on the problem of kerb crawling and soliciting by motorists. I am in favour of some legislation to deal with the problem, but I know that many of the women who are involved in prostitution are driven on to the streets to get money because of unemployment and poverty. When unemployment increases, as it has done, prostitution increases. It is no coincidence that we are discussing this problem at a time of mass unemployment. I ask the Government to look at this aspect of the problem and take steps to alleviate unemployment, which drives women on to the streets to get a living.
Some dangers are inherent in the Bill. I have certain doubts about the Bill, and the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) has already set out some of those doubts, although I do not agree with all that he said when he was endeavouring to pick holes in the Bill. I do not want the innocent to suffer as a result of the Bill becoming law, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Drake does not either.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act also affects my constituency. Altogether, in various parts of Britain and Ireland 6,000 people have been picked up under the provisions of that Act. Only 2.5 per cent. of the cases resulted in prosecution. That means that almost 98 per 1284 cent. of the people who were picked were not charged. We must not rest on police evidence alone. There must be a victim and corroborative evidence to sustain a conviction.
The Stoke Newington police and Labour Members representing the London area will understand why I do not want the Bill to result in another sus operation. Sufficient aggravation has already been caused in Hackney by people being picked up under the sus law. However, action must be taken to stop kerb crawling which causes so much aggravation and fear among women in my constituency.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)
As a Scotsman whose constituents will not be affected by the Bill, I advance with caution and modesty into the chilly waters of the law of England, but with more bravery and courage having heard some of the abominable contradictions in the law of natural justice which I could not believe were characteristics of the law of England until they were confirmed by so honourable a source as the Minister himself.
My remarks about the Bill will perhaps be strident, but I pay tribute to the motive of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), to her crusade and to the civilised way in which she has always treated matters criminal.
I find it extraordinary that the common law of England is such that the charge of breach of the peace at common law is not punishable by sentence other than some adulatory absurdity like, "Be good for all time coming."
I am a lawyer. The difference between the law of Scotland and that of England is that we act on principle and the law of England acts on precedent—a bad precedent and a worse principle. As a lawyer I have always taken the view that the grandeur of the common law and particularly of the criminal common law is that it is adaptable to any occasion or incidence and any rise or fall of an irritance which gives threat to the safety of the public.
A good example of that is the fact that in Scotland we have no difficulty in adapting the common law of assault to the current evil of glue sniffing, whereas in England it has to be made a statutory offence. I foresee that that will give great joy to those instructed for the defence and have little effect on those instructed for the prosecution. I do not wish to be too pessimistic about that. Any criminal offence which we attempt to enshrine in statute is infinitely more likely to be defeated in its operation than any common law offence.
I speak not only from ignorance of the law of England but from compulsory ignorance of the law of England. Although a Frenchman, a Dutchman, a Belgian, a Greek and shortly a Spaniard and a Portuguese who do not speak a word of English can appear in the courts of England, I cannot. As a Scotsman I am forbidden and banished from the audience of England's courts. It is an astonishing proposition. Nevertheless, it is true. Therefore, my compulsory ignorance of the law of England has today received a number of shocks which I am sure would have shocked the civilised mind of the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), a former Home Secretary, who has joined us.
I did not know that it was not possible under the law of England to punish the offence of breach of the peace. Under the law of Scotland, a breach of the peace can go from the most trivial to the most serious matter, although 1285 it would probably be charged as something more serious, and under the common law the sentence could be anything from nothing to life imprisonment Similarly, the matters we are considering today could be charged as assault or malicious mischief. If one goes up to a woman and pesters her, and it is held that one did, and if the concept of criminal intention, which we call mens rea, is established, one would be guilty of the offence, under the law of Scotland, of a breach of the peace, or of malicious mischief or of assault. For instance, if one went up to a woman in the street and said, "By the way, ducksie, do you ever wash?" that would be a criminal offence under the common law—far less than, "By the ducksie, will you sleep with me?"
I find it astonishing that the common law of England cannot deal with this form of assault—because it is an assault. One does not have to hit somebody, or make to hit somebody. Just to put one's tongue out at somebody is an assault under the law. If it is not an assault under the law of England, perhaps the Minister, who is qualified to do so, will tell me. I should have thought that any assault—kerb crawling or asking somebody who is not a prostitute to sleep with you is certainly an assault—was covered by the ordinary law of England and accordingly could be punished by the law of England. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris), in a most cogent, intelligent and well-argued speech that was remarkable for somebody who protested that he was not a lawyer, correctly pointed out the difficulties of every section of this complicated statute which attempts to smother the irritation, however major it may be in some places, of kerb crawling. It seems to me to be a very dangerous precedent. Fortunately, we do not have kerb crawling in Perthshire. Frequently we do not even have kerbs, far less kerb crawlers.
The point which my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West attempted to make, although he drew back, frank though he was, from the absolute truthfulness of saying so, is that in this country we are schizophrenic about prostitution. I have never been there, but I assume there is no kerb crawling in Bangkok. There is certainly no kerb crawling in Amsterdam, or even canal crawling. That is because they are not dishonest about prostitution. We in this country half pretend that it is wrong and half pretend that it is acceptable. For fear of the women's righteousness, of society, or of something of that kind, no Government dare to say, "If it is going to exist, and it will exist, let us try to civilise it."
The Minister gave abstruse and lengthy reasons about how long it would take to read the report. I presume that the Government cannot read a report which took me less than an hour. Why will it take the Government months or years to read it? The reason is not that, but that we fear the moral backlash, if there is to be prostitution, of trying to make it something which is not a nuisance to others. That is the nub of the truth. I notice that my hon. Friend the Minister has risen neither to confirm nor to deny it, so I take it that he has confirmed it by his silence.
§ Mr. Mellor
I was trying to behave myself in the interest of keeping Mr. Deputy Speaker happy. It is not a very good legal principle, and not one that the law of 1286 Scotland embraces, that silence implies any condition. But the moment is shortly to arrive when, if I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall reply to the debate and I shall deal with that point then.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I know that my hon. Friend finds it difficult to behave and I am glad that he is trying to do so for a change. I am glad that your authority, Mr. Deputy Speaker, has invoked that departure from his natural deliquency. While it may not be a good legal principle, it is perfectly obvious to me as a lawyer that that is the correct inference from his silence, and not that he was terrified that the headmaster would scold him again.
There is a legal principle of the presumption of innocence but in one way it is an extraordinary principle. Indeed, the right to silence is as odd. One says, "I presume that you are innocent and therefore I am charging you with the murder of your mother. I shall stick you in the dock with armed policemen"—truncheoned policemen in Scotland-"on either side of you to demonstrate that I presume that you did not do it". The presumption of innocence, which is a fiction of the law, is meant to apply to the jury only, not to anyone else. That is why the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Roberts) was right to say that a charge gives rise in the public mind to a presumption of guilt, regardless of the eventual verdict.
Equally, the right to silence, which is what the Minister raised, is an oddity. The reason for the right to silence, in England as well as in Scotland, is, to put it briefly, that until the 1890s the accused was not allowed to give evidence. Therefore, he was advised that, since anything that he said could not be corrected, denied, altered or explained, he would be sensible to say nothing lest it be misunderstood.
The classic example is of F. E. Smith, defending a woman who had been charged with infanticide, who was said by a witness to have said to the police, "How can I kill my baby?" That was important evidence for the prosecution until F. E. Smith said, "Are you sure that she did not say, 'How can I kill my baby?'?" Those were the same words with a different interpretation; indeed, the opposite.
The reason for the right of silence was forgotten about after the statutes in Scotland and England in 1889 and 1891. It is an oddity of the law and a madness that a person is told, "We believe that you are the person who murdered Mrs. Snooks. We believe that you are the one person who is able to tell us everything about it and you are the one person who we say need not tell us anything about it." The right of silence is not a protection when the accused is allowed to give evidence, but was a necessary protection before he was permitted to do so.
Therefore, I do not accept the concept from a lawyer that silence is indicative of guilt. Indeed, the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act, which I had the honour of introducing into Scotland in 1980, provides that if a person does not put forward a defence at the time of his initial examination which he puts forward thereafter, there can be an inference that the defence is flawed. In other words, silence does have an inference. I should have thought that that was a sensible provision of the law.
Being limited in intention, the Bill would be infinitely more likely to aggravate the general problem which concerns my hon. Friend the Member for Drake. I shall not repeat the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for 1287 Derbyshire, West, except to say that I believe it is extremely unlikely that one could persuade an innocent woman to come forward to say that she had been mistaken for a prostitute. It would also be extremely unlikely for a prostitute to come forward saying that she had been rightly thought to be a prostitute.
This brings me back to the concept that I did not know existed in the laws of any civilised land. In Scotland, there is a rule of evidence which states that hearsay evidence is inadmissible. Many of us mishear, misinterpret, misrecollect or misunderstand what another person said or what that person had in mind when he said it. Tests have been conducted, including on television, to examine this aspect. One could ask a Minister on one end of the Front Bench to pass the message, "The parcel will be here by Christmas." By the time the message reaches the Minister at the other end of the Front Bench the message is probably, "I wonder if you want turkeys to listen to." People misinterpret and alter evidence, although not deliberately. That is why their evidence is disallowed.
I am bound to say, as a lawyer and jurisprudent, that I am horrified that in England two policemen can tell the court what someone would have said if he had been called to give evidence. I trust that that provision will be removed from the law of England. I hope it is not proposed to convict a kerb crawler on the basis of a policeman's evidence that a woman told him that the man was kerb crawling. The policeman does not even need to meet that woman. The policeman can simply say, "Mrs. White came up to me and told me that so-and-so kerb-crawled." That seems to be a good way for a policeman to get rid of a public nuisance. He may say, "I shall tell you what we shall do. We shall do him for kerb crawling on our say-so."
If that is the law of England, I trust that the Government, in their new legislation to introduce the independent prosecution system which we enjoy in Scotland, will include a clause to remove that offensive provision. That evidence is not even hearsay; it is soothsay. It is mystery evidence. I was horrified to learn that the Bill will enable a person to be convicted of an offence and cause the greatest possible harm on the say-so of witnesses who are not "witnesses" in the proper sense of the word.
The meticulousness of the language is another issue that concerns me. According to clause 3, it is an offence for a man to solicit a woman for the purpose of prostitution. It is not, however, an offence for a woman to solicit a man. It is an offence if a man solicits from a motor vehicle in a street or public place. Complicated though that is, it is possibly comprehensible. Clause 1(1)(b) refers to a man soliciting'while in the immediate vicinity of a motor vehicle that he has just got out of or off.I do not know of many people who get off motor vehicles, but I suppose that one gets off a bus. So that is fair enough: if I get out of my motor vehicle and go up to speak to a prostitute I commit a criminal offence.
That is extraordinary. I have no particular desire to get out of my motor car to speak to a prostitute because that is not a habit or recreation that is particularly attractive to me. Oddly enough, if a man goes up to a girl whom he believes is anxious for someone to sleep with her and asks whether she is willing to sleep with him, he is committing a criminal offence if he has just got out of a motor car.
1288 However, it is not a criminal offence if the individual has not got out of his motor car. It is all right if he has just dropped in by parachute, come out of a drain or walked out of his house. That is all right, but he will be branded a naughty boy if he has just got out of his motor car. My goodness me, that is a naughty thing to do! That is the absurdity of the Bill. I wish to make it clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Drake that I am mocking statute law as a whole and not her. It is almost impossible to make criminal offences, especially trivial ones of the sort with which we are dealing, sensible in statute.
Clause 3 leads me to thank god that I am not English. The clause makes it an offence if a man solicits a woman for sexual purposesin a manner likely to cause her fear.I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Drake that I have always been attracted to her. I have never actually dared ask her whether she would go to to bed with me, but after the introduction of the Bill I must ask myself how I am to put it so that it does not cause her fear.
When I was the Solicitor-General for Scotland in the palace of Holyrood house, I was in charge of events, as historically the Solicitor-General for Scotland is, and in attendance on the Prime Minister who was a guest of the Lord High Commissioner of the Church of Scotland, who stands in for the Queen. The Solicitor-General for Scotland has to be there in his shadow because a previous Lord High Commissioner tried to close down the Church of Scotland. I can see good reason to close down the Church of England, but that is another matter.
A gentleman who for reasons of chivalry I shall not mention but who occupied grand office and who had taken grandly of wine and allowed veritas to overcome him went up to the Prime Minister and in words which I shall not use told her that he had always fancied her, to which the Prime Minister replied, "Quite right. You have very good taste, but I just don't think you would make it at the moment." Would that have been an offence under clause 3? The answer is that it would. Therefore, I regard clause 3 as obnoxious in any possible character. It makes every advance of a man towards a woman a potential criminal offence. For example, let us suppose that a man marries a girl and on the night of their honeymoon says, "What about going up to the bedroom?" If she shrinks back and asks, "What do you mean?", the result would be an offence under clause 3.
Similarly, to make it an offence under clause 2 persistently to solicit a woman or womenfor the purposes of prostitutionhas the ring of schizophrenia. Apparently, we are allowed to have prostitutes, but we are not allowed to ask them if they would be willing to act as prostitutes. Therefore, I find clause 2 to embody a most extraordinary concept.
I hope that I shall not pass through the thin legal skin on evidential matters of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department in referring to his silence. Am I right to understand that a crime of sodomy or buggery committed with a woman or a girl is not an offence known to the law of England? If it is an offence known to the law of England, why cannot it be charged as such? Why must it be dealt with as a charge of indecent assault? In Scotland, there is a range of common law sexual offences including indecent assault, lewd and libidinous practices, attempted rape and many others. I do not believe that it can be proved that if a man were to have anal intercourse with a girl of 13 he would 1289 not be charged with serious assault and sodomy. If that is the law in England, the Bill does nothing to relieve it. If it is not, I find it impossible to conceive what the law of England is.
I strongly oppose fixed penalties, except perhaps for parking offences and the like, or terminal penalties. If the Poisons Act, say, provides a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment, is the judge to conclude that if the case involves half a poison the offence merits seven years? It is a bad principle and in my experience has no effect on offenders. When the judge says, "I therefore sentence you to…", hesitates, coughs and finally comes out with the number of years, the defendant may get a shock, but that is the end of the matter.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Drake believes that people who commit minor sexual offences will be deterred by terrible penalties, I remind her of the Straffen case in England. Instead of being hanged for raping little children, the defendant was found insane and sent to Broadmoor. He then escaped and thereafter was declared sane on the basis that within 20 minutes of getting out he raped the first little child that he found. There was not much deterrent effect on him and I doubt whether there would be on anyone else.
I object strongly to the idea that so-called attempted rape should suddenly become liable to a sentence of life imprisonment. In Scotland, a sentence of up to life imprisonment is possible for any common law offence. If that is what the English want, they have only to reform their law in that way. A case has come into my hands just this week. I shall not go into details as it is sub judice and I have yet to defend the unfortunate gentleman concerned. It concerns a prostitute who had slept regularly over the years with a citizen whose respectability would allow him to sit in the civil servants box or even in your Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That man, without a smut on his reputation, has been charged with attempted rape by a woman with whom he has slept on and off for years. I believe that all criminal offences should be judged and sentenced on the facts and not on the basis of imaginary concepts framed in statute.
For all those reasons, although I applaud the purpose of my hon. Friend the Member for Drake, I believe that the method that she has chosen is so deficient as to be not just inequitable but positively bad.
§ Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)
One of the challenges facing Members who wish to speak on subjects of this nature is that when one arrives one has a clear idea of what one wishes to say, but after more than three hours of debate one's views may have changed. Hon. Members on both sides have expressed their views on the Bill and I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) on introducing it. English and Welsh Members have had the benefit of the views of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) on Scottish law, although one cannot but wonder how a Scottish debating Chamber would receive an Englishman or a Welshman telling it how things are done in England and Wales. However, at least we can exchange ideas.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I take my precedent from the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), who never stops telling us what should happen outside Ireland.
§ Mr. King
Prostitution has been called the oldest profession in the world. In a college debate in which I took part many years ago, somebody suggested that salesmanship deserved that title, and someone else suggested marketing, because the prostitute, as well as selling herself, has to define her client and the place where she intends to carry on her trade. However, prostitution is certainly among the oldest professions. It is a cause for serious concern in many inner cities, especially in London and Southampton. In Southampton, a ferry port, the phenomenon is perhaps best described, not as kerb crawling but as roll-on-roll-off.
In Birmingham, kerb crawling has reached epidemic proportions and we cannot wait much longer for legislation to control it. I have here a letter from the St. Paul's Community Project in Balsall Heath, which is one of the worst afflicted areas. The letter was sent to Wandsworth borough council in reply to the council's request for details of prostitution and kerb crawling in Birmingham. According to the letter,The number of kerb-crawlers in the areais now very much greater than it has been.Our calculations suggest that some 900 per day circulate our area.Every day, some 900 cars circulate in an area half a mile square, driven by gentlemen looking for prostitutes. The letter continues:Kerb-crawlers accost residents, young and old, as they seem to feel that any female in the area is connected to the industry. The industry has become so visible and blatant that residents are now moving out and it is difficult to attract newcomers. The economy as well as the confidence of the area has become affected. In the last 5 years the City, with Government help, has spent over £20 million in an attempt to re-vitalise our inner area of Birmingham. Most now concede that this money has been wasted because the 'red-light' public image of our area has countered its effect. So long as the image remains, residents feel, the area cannot be rejuvenated.There is a very real concern.
Birmingham is seeking to become the convention capital of Europe. The projected convention centre, built on inner city slum clearance land, plans to employ some 2,000 or 3,000 people and to offer conference facilities to 10,000 delegates at a time. Convention centres usually attract the social problems that we do not happen to like. In Las Vegas, for instance, prostitution takes a very different form from that which it takes in our cities. I believe that the prostitutes, or hookers, are licensed.
The fact that we are trying to outlaw certain actions by citizens who seek the comforts offered by prostitutes should not cloud the fact that there is still a need within society for such a service. If Birmingham is to become a convention centre—as I hope it will—certain social obligations will arise, and we may well need to reconsider our attitude to the whole question of prostitution. Should it be legalised? Should we—as has been suggested—set up brothels run by the city or by the council? There is no point in simply shifting the problem so that a different aspect of it comes to the fore. The prostitute is a versatile woman. History shows that as one door is shut she will find another one that will open, because the demand remains. That demand will remain, whatever law is introduced.
The Bill refers to men only because it is considered that men are the prime culprits of kerb crawling. We understand kerb crawling to be driving down roads slowly while looking for ladies to solicit. I have some experience 1291 of kerb crawling in America, because I went for a nighttime walk with my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) to look at the red-light district of Washington. There, kerb crawlers do not kerb crawl, but pull up at a halt sign, where the girls congregate. They have to stop to negotiate the crossroads. I wonder whether that will be legitimate after the Bill has been enacted.
It might be possible that if we take men out of cars wt shall put women back in them. There might be a reversal of roles, with men walking the streets and women soliciting from cars. Prostitutes are resourceful and will do all that they can to maintain their rather dubious standard of living. The car is the vital ingredient, as it affords the opportunity of sexual liaison without the need for entering a hotel or flat. The interiors of cars are now much bigger than they used to be and they tend to have reclining seats. It does not take much imagination to understand why they are so useful in this trade.
I also wonder about the Bill's definition of a motor car. We understand the car to be a four-wheeled vehicle, but a new beast has recently been introduced—Sir Clive Sinclair's C5 runabout. It is not a motor car, but it can kerb crawl. Indeed, that is about all that it can do. Is it possible that someone in a Sinclair battery car will not be covered by the Bill and will therefore be able to solicit from the doubtful comfort of his motorised bath-chair? Although many clients wish to remain anonymous, I understand that it is possible to buy necessary accessories to make oneself just that in a little Sinclair car.
The Bill deals with prostitution and soliciting in a car and in the street, but why does it not simply say that it is illegal for men to solicit for prostitutes in a street? It matters little whether they are on foot or in a car. We must also qualify what is meant by "persistent soliciting". It is an offence to solicit once from a car, but presumably it is permissible to solicit more than once when on foot. It is difficult to define who is doing the soliciting. It is often the prostitute who will ask, "Would you like to do a little bit of business?" That could be defined in several ways.
Clause 3 deals with soliciting causing fear. Fear must depend upon the emotional experience of the woman concerned. Ladies respond differently to actions by men. A man might make a physical action and scare one woman witless, while another woman might just smile. There are also enormous problems associated with sorting out how and where an offence was committed.
I welcome the Bill because it goes a long way towards dealing with the horrible problems that are experienced daily in Birmingham. I am sure that the citizens of Birmingham welcome anything that outlaws this odious activity. Nevertheless, the Bill must be examined carefully so that some of the dangers inherent in it are reduced to a minimum.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Mellor)
I am glad that I was able to listen to the whole debate before making my contribution from the standpoint of the Home Office. My first and pleasant duty is to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) first on her good fortune in drawing such a high place in the ballot 1292 —one can go through a lengthy political career without achieving a place—and secondly on introducing a Bill of considerable importance to English criminal law.
The Bill makes two useful provisions. It changes the criminal law so that it might better deal with the problem of public nuisance caused by kerb crawling and the grosser forms of sexual approach to women. Secondly, it upgrades the penalties for two criminal offences, on which the general view of the judiciary and others has been that the present range of penalties is set too low. My hon. Friend fully justified both those points in her excellent speech.
I am glad to see that the Bill appears to be welcomed by all those who spoke in this interesting and lively, though perhaps not uniformly well-informed, debate.
First, I shall draw attention to what seems to be the most serious practical matter that we must address, that is, the matters dealt with in clauses 1 to 3 rather than the matters about increasing penalties, to which I shall return later. We face a serious practical problem. Many urban areas that are otherwise perfectly pleasant residential areas are being turned into extremely unpleasant places for people to live a normal family life because of a decision by prostitutes, probably only a few at the outset, but whose numbers increase, to ply their trade on the streets, and a corresponding decision by men seeking the services of prostitutes to descend on that area at all hours of the day and night in motor vehicles or on foot.
That problem has been attested to by hon. Members from several of our major cities, including hon. Members from London and Birmingham. I enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr.King). My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) knows the problem only too well because he was previously the leader of Wandsworth council. That borough has been represented in the debate by the hon. Members for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) and for Tooting (Mr. Cox), and now by me. There is an especially acute problem in the Bedford hill area there. The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd), who is a sponsor of the Bill, also made an effective speech.
As an hon. Member who represents an inner city area, I know that it is being made extremely difficult for people to live a civilised life in some areas of our cities because of sexual harassment. That is unacceptable. Parliament has a duty to find some form of redress, subject to all the usual safeguards and appropriate rules of our criminal law, which is much more distinguished and better thought out than ever appeared in the travesty of a speech from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). He appears to have disappeared at the moment that he led us to believe he was greatly anticipating—my opportunity to comment on his points, in so far as some of them merit it.
We know of the problem, for example, in Bedford hill from just one piece of evidence submitted to the Home Office. A questionnaire was sent out to the residents of Bedford hill, 345 of whom responded. Their answers give an idea of what it must be like to live there. Incidentally, Bedford hill is not a rundown or ramshackle area—not that the problem would be acceptable there, if it were—but a pleasant residential area, and the people living there value their amenities.
The questionnaire asked:Have you or any member of your family ever been accosted by a kerb crawler?1293 The answers were:once, 30; often, 73; occasionally, 119; never, 113. Two thirds of the people asked had been accosted, or said that members of their families had been accosted, by a kerb crawler. The extent of their anger will be seen readily from the response to another question:Do you think it should be against the law for a man to accost a woman from a car for sexual purposes?In that case, 315 said yes and 21 said no.
Whatever hon. Members had disagreed about today, they cannot disagree that the present law of England is inadequate to deal with the problem. Therefore, do we take our courage in both hands and introduce the best law that we can to deal with the problem, or do we back away from the problem, saying that to take action would be unjust and unfair and that we should not do anything until we have tackled all legislation relating to sexual offences? That is the practical balance that Parliament must strike. The answer may be different according to the strength of evidence on either side.
That is why it was perfectly acceptable for the Wolfenden committee, when it considered the matter nearly 30 years ago, to recognise that, even then, there was a problem with kerb crawling. However, having considered the matter and concluded that it was not of the first importance at that time, the committee summed up the position by saying:Whilst we appreciate the reality of the problem, and we consider that it should be kept under review, the difficulties of proof would be considerable, and the possibility of a very damaging charge being levelled at an innocent motorist must also he borne in mind. We do not feel able to make any positive recommendation.
That view was acceptable in 1957, and it is clear that some still hold that view. However, on the evidence that I have, as a Home Office Minister and as a Member of Parliament in a borough with an especially acute problem —although happily not in my constituency—I no longer believe it can be argued that the balance of convenience has not tilted irrevocably in favour of change. That has happened gradually. The first blow that necessitated a new examination of the legislation was the decision in 1966 that a provision which until then had been used to try to deal with the problem was not applicable to soliciting for heterosexual intercourse, because that was not an immoral purpose under the Act.
The Labour Government in the mid-1970s set up an interdepartmental working group to consider the problem. It reported in 1976 and said that a new offence should be created to control kerb crawling and related behaviour on lines similar to those in my hon. Friend's Bill. Then questions were asked about the whole area of sexual offences and prostitution, and the then Home Secretary—I was delighted to see the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, West (Mr. Rees) briefly in the Chamber today—believed that, at that stage, the case for making changes in that area was not sufficiently compelling as to undermine the importance, if it were possible, of obtaining more wholesale changes in the legislation on sexual offences. He did so on reasonable grounds, and I do not criticise him. He invited the Criminal Law Revision Committee to consider the problem.
The committee did so with great care. It divided its consideration into sexual offences other than prostitution, on which it published a working paper in October 1980 and a report in April 1984, and offences relating to prostitution, on which it published a working paper in 1294 December 1982. In an act of kindness, for which I am grateful, and in response to an Adjournment debate initiated by the hon. Member for Tooting, the committee agreed to bring forward the publication of its final report so that the House could consider the problem of kerb crawling. Its report on prostitution offences committed in the street was published in August 1984, and we await its final report on other prostitution offences.
The committee took its time, not because it is not a hard-working body of men and women—the membership of the committee belies that suggestion—but because of the inherent difficulties of the matter. All criminal law is difficult, because it deals with human liberty, the maintenance of an orderly society and the balance between the two.
Sexual offences raise such particular problems that inevitably they must be among the most difficult to deal with, and that is why another far-sighted decision was taken which I, having inherited the decision rather than having created it, can warmly praise without appearing to be reflecting credit on myself.
Because of the social judgment which also needed to be made—they were not simply judgments for lawyers—a policy advisory committee was set up. drawing on the expertise of a number of professions, including psychiatrists, teachers and journalists, under the chairmanship of Lord Justice Waller, to advise the main Criminal Law Revision Committee on some of the social implications of any changes that the committee might suggest. I should have thought that that was a careful and considered way of dealing with the matter. It has led us to the point that we are at today.
§ Mr. Parris
Does my hon. Friend think that the Criminal Law Revision Committee is happy about its proposals?
§ Mr. Mellor
I have every reason to believe that the committee is unanimous. At one point in his speech my hon. Friend rather misled himself—though I admired the careful research that he had done—by looking only at the working party report and not at the later report. Indeed, the recommendations that have gone into clauses 1 to 3 were unanimous, not just on the part of the Criminal Law Revision Committee, but on the part of the policy advisory committee.
If by "happy" my hon. Friend is asking whether the members of the committee were dancing in the streets on the night that they made their recommendations, I would not care to say, but, in so far as they believed that their proposals represented the best view that they could take in trying to deal with the problem in a civilised, sensible and, above all, effective way, I believe that the answer is yes.
Much professional thought has gone into the production of the Bill and I am sure that we should all want to change our view if we thought for a moment that the Criminal Law Revision Committee was not content with the measure. The purpose of that committee is to make recommendations which we then hope Parliament will, on the whole, accept, and it is for Parliament and no other body to determine what should come within the law.
I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) to recognise—he did not appear to do so with the clarity that one might have hoped for in his speech, which was, as usual, lucid and well considered—that perhaps he underestimates the significant point 1295 that, in bringing forward her proposals, my hon. Friend the Member for Drake has followed to the letter the recommendations of the Criminal Law Revision Committee.
No one has a conclusive view to which we must all make obeisance, and I do not make my remarks in that light. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West, in an unholy alliance with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross, might allow a degree of modesty to enter into their judgment on this matter. They might then conclude that it is an issue worthy of some hesitation and that they should not pronounce in too determined a way the view that they have formed on what one imagines has been a more limited consideration of the legal problems that have arisen than that given to them by the Criminal Law Revision Committee. They might accept that their view on the law may not be better than that of the committee when dealing with such a technical matter. Even more important, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West might agree that there are not necessarily easier ways of dealing with the issue.
Perhaps I should remind the House of the composition of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. Who would say of its chairman, Lord Justice Lawton, that there is a more distinguished lawyer in Britain? There were also Lord Justice Waller, Mr. Justice Lloyd—now Lord Justice Lloyd—Mr. Justice McCullough and Dr. Andrew Ashworth. Its membership included Professor Smith—one of the authors of "Criminal Law"—the foremost criminal lawyer in Britain with the arguable exception of Professor Glanville Williams.
The committee's membership included a whole range of circuit judges, stipendiary magistrates and the Director of Public Prosecutions, backed up by a policy advisory committee consisting of the Dean of King's college, London, a consultant psychiatrist, the assistant chief probation officer of inner London and a range of people with the social insights able to back up the necessary technical legal advice for which we look to the Criminal Law Revision Committee. That is the best that we can do after nearly a decade of studying the problem.
We have a choice. We have to ask ourselves whether Parliament needs to take action or whether the problems involved in taking action are so acute that we have to say to the people of Bedford hill, Southampton and Plymouth, "Sorry, it is too difficult to do something." If we say that we shall do something, we should not too readily think that these distinguished people have wasted a decade and are taking us down the wrong road. In the end, it will not help us if we say that we want the Bill, but we do not like any of its clauses. If this is to be an effective measure, we have to be sure that the details are right. I do not want to anticipate what I shall say in Committee, but there are points of detail that we would throw over at our peril.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way because, as I have informed his Parliamentary Private Secretary, I have to get a train, so I shall not be able to hear all of his contribution. My hon. Friend may think that this principle is a good one, but I think that the worst possible way to establish a point is to say that the reason why it is good is that it has been established by experts. The more experts that arrive at a decision, the 1296 more suspicious I am of it. However, if one were to go up to a woman or a man in an English street and ask them an offensive question, whether it is, "Give me some money" or "Give me your body", is it the Minister's view that at present that is not an offence known to the law of England? If it is an offence known to the law of England, why do we need the Bill?
§ Mr. Mellor
My hon. and learned Friend may have a vested interest in dismissing the contribution of experts, but whether or not he thinks the law of England is materially, substantially or wholly inferior to the law of Scotland, it has been around for a number of centuries, and some of those most distinguished in it have lent us their advice for the purpose of drawing up the Bill. I dare say that Lord Justice Lawton and others will be disappointed that the Bill does not happen to commend itself to my hon. and learned Friend, but the gaps in English law that it seeks to address are well established through a number of judgments in our English courts, and, as far as we are concerned, that is the territory over which one has to operate.
I am not here to assert my views as a lawyer, so I shall resist the temptation to do other than say that the question that we are addressing today is whether there is a legal remedy at present for the offence of kerb crawling and some of the associated offences with particularly distressing and blatant sexual harassment of women. I shall make use of my limited time to address the questions put to me by a number of hon. Members who have been interested in this matter for a number of years. The answer to the question, on the authority of the Criminal Law Revision Committee and successive courts that have considered the matter, is no, and it is that problem that the Bill is seeking to address.
Quite rightly, a number of points have been made about the way in which the Bill might be applied if clauses 1 to 3 become law. The first point is about evidence. It is a basic rule of English law that it is for the court to determine whether evidence is probative, but if it is, the evidence of one man is enough to grant a conviction if he can give evidence sufficiently persuasive of the material points that make up the offence. It would be a grave step if we were to say that a police officer would not be suitable to give evidence that of itself was probative and persuasive to a court, but would have to have corroborative evidence from a private citizen. That would not be a helpful development, and I would counsel the House against it.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross has somewhat garbled the point about police evidence. There is no question of a police officer being able to give hearsay evidence, and English criminal law is quite as rigorous on that as is Scottish criminal law. However, if an officer, by reason of his observations, is able to give the court persuasive evidence that he is satisfied that the offence has been made out and he is not altered in his opinion by any other evidence, it is acceptable in this offence—as in any other offence, with a limited range of exceptions—that that evidence should carry the day if the court believes it, accepts it and thinks that the witness concerned has spoken the truth.
Of course, it is desirable for a member of the public who has been upset by an alleged criminal act to give evidence in court. If hon. Members had not insisted upon 1297 that, I should have argued the case myself. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving), who made a wise speech, as always, was right to ask about that.
Police force orders relating to importuning state:Persons importuned who are not members of the police force should be asked to give their names and addresses and every effort should be made to persuade them to attend the court. If they refuse to do so a note should be made of the fact that the request was made.
If the Bill is passed, force orders will have to be extended to cover the enlarged territory of the Bill's provisions. I hope that every effort will he made in all proper cases, but we should not underestimate the difficulty of getting women to give evidence. Certainly a prostitute will have no incentive to give evidence. Some women who are not prostitutes might also be reluctant, particularly in view of the criminal infrastructure involved in running the rackets.
The worst thing that we can do is to think that we are closing a gap in the law, and instead festoon the Christmas tree with so many baubles that the Bill does not do the job that we want it to do.
I appreciate the many problems relating to ensuring that innocent people are not drawn in, and the problems of entrapment.
§ Mr. Soley
Persuading a witness to go to court is important. If there is no attempt to change the Bill in that direction in Committee, support for it will be more qualified. Not only should there be an attempt to get the witness to court, but the Bill should recognise that if a person is not willing to go to court the case should be regarded as dubious, particularly if it depends purely on police evidence. Even housing officials are reluctant to take action against a person who rents a house unless someone is willing to go to court and complain about behaviour. The law relating to prostitution is wide open to criticism in that respect.
§ Mr. Mellor
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is right. The evidence of a police officer is probative in almost every crime in the criminal calendar if his evidence is believed. But we shall cover this ground in Committee, and I shall welcome the opportunity to deal with the matter. I have taken advice, and I shall have even better advice for the Committee. If my advice changes, I shall inform hon. Members. If we require that unless the complainant gives evidence the charge cannot succeed, the measure's efficacy will be gravely undermined, and I doubt whether it will control the nuisance that it seeks to redress. We shall have this out in Committee.
The suggestion is that even if a court is convinced that a police officer is telling the truth when giving evidence which covers all the material points of an offence it should not accept that evidence but should require something more. That is a serious suggestion. It might just be a refined way of putting forward a basic anti-police prejudice to which I, as a Home Office Minister, will not give credence.
§ Mr. Mellor
The hon. Gentleman is wrong in thinking that he can avoid the charge that it is anti-police, even though I accept that he does not intend it to be anti-police, by turning the police into second class witnesses.
§ Mr. Mellor
Oh, yes, that is what the hon. Gentleman is doing. He is saying that if a man is not in uniform and is not a police officer that is all right but that if he is a police officer it is not enough. I can think of no conceivable basis upon which to differentiate this particular area of the criminal law from any other. Knowing of the trouble that his constituents in Bedford hill face, it is the interests of the constitutents of the hon. Member for Tooting that I am so anxious to try to protect. In many of these cases, it is not the woman who is suffering the nuisance. The prostitute is perfectly happy to be accosted.
§ Mr. Mellor
I know that the hon. Gentleman is not talking about prostitutes, but to some extent we are talking about prostitutes. The menace that the hon. Member for Tooting laid before me so eloquently—indeed so eloquently that I am wholly persuaded and now advance the case, if anything, with as much enthusiasm as does he—is that if a gang of prostitutes descends upon a residential area and the prostitutes are then accosted from cars, one cannot say that it is just the prostitutes who are causing the nuisance and that if the prostitutes are not prepared to go before the courts no nuisance has been created and there can be no conviction. It is the rest of the people, who sometimes have to suffer acts of prostitution in their own front gardens, who are offended. Therefore, in order to stop men going there like flies round a honey pot, one has to do something to make the honey a little less attractive. Therefore, one should make those men liable to be arrested and convicted of an offence which, as has rightly been pointed out, would carry considerable problems for them, far above and beyond any penalty that could be imposed by the courts. If one insists upon the woman giving evidence there is no way in which this can be an effective measure, and half of the problems of Bedford hill will not he dealt with. I look to the hon. Member for Hammersmith for support during the Committee stage, and I hope that I shall get it.
§ Mr. Soley
The argument is not about "the woman". If I said "the woman" it was an error, and I apologise for it. The point is that we need corroborative evidence. Before the housing department of a local authority will evict a family for being a nuisance, it requires other people to go to court to say that they have experienced a nuisance and to say what that nuisance is. In addition to the police officer, somebody who lives in the street and who has been troubled by the nuisance must be prepared to go and say what the problem is. It is not just the prostitute about whom we are talking.
§ Mr. Mellor
The hon. Gentleman is plucking a particular point out of the civil law and saying that it should apply to the criminal law. I am saying to the hon. Gentleman that on this occasion, although he is well informed on many other matters, he may be misleading himself. If he is saying that an adjoining resident would give evidence about general nuisance, I should have thought that that would be prejudicial to the defendant. If 1299 he was not giving evidence about a specific incident but said that a great deal of nuisance was being caused, this could only be thought to be prejudicial to the individual who was being charged. If a great deal of nuisance was taking place, it would be said that he was just one of those who was affected. We shall have to leave this matter until the Committee stage. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think long and hard before trying to persuade the House to attach such a provision to the Bill. After nearly 30 years we are doing something about the problem. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not attempt to attach provisions that would mean that the misery of Bedford hill will not be removed.
I was slightly puzzled by one of the references to the agent provocateur. There have been one or two debates on the subject during the past 12 months. I tried to make clear on those occasions—and upon another occasion my hon. Friend the Minister of State attempted to do the same—the view that the Government take about the agent provocateur. Plainly there should be no entrapment in this or in any other offence. Plainly in relation to the necessary observation duties strict rules have to be applied. When this matter was last raised on 29 October—I shall remind the House of it because it is relevant—I quoted from the Metropolitan police orders:'Officers selected for these duties—plain clothes duties—'must be briefed by a senior officer to ensure that they avoid behaviour which could give rise to legitimate accusations that they had acted as agents provocateurs. The term agent provocateur was defined by the Royal Commission on Police Powers in 1928 as a person who entices another to commit an express breach of the law which he would not otherwise have committed and then proceeds to inform against him in respect of such an offence'.I went on to say,In general, no one should be arrested solely on account of behaviour towards police officers, although if the offence is particularly flagrant, arrest may be necessary."—[Official Report, 29 October 1984; Vol. 65, c. 1118–19.]I hope that those remarks, which clearly state our view on agents provocateurs, are of assistance to those who have rightly raised the point today.
My only additional comment is that if a lot of police women dressed up in provocative clothes and waved at motor vehicles in the street, and a poor driver stopped, it would plainly be wrong for him then to be charged with an offence under this section, even though this is one of the difficulties with which we must contend—the defence of agent provocateur is not known to English law.
If, in an area—say in Bedford hill—where it is well known that prostitution and kerb crawling take place, a woman, perfectly normally dressed, should walk down a road as if she were any other woman going home to her family, and if she did nothing to draw attention to herself beyond doing what has been commended—a woman exercising the rights of any citizen to walk along a road—the fact that that woman was a police officer, trying to deal with the problem of kerb crawling, would not make her an agent provocateur. Before people condemn that practice, they must ask themselves whether we want the law to be effective and enforced and whether we want hope to be finally given to areas like Bedford hill. If so, we should pass a law that not only says that it addresses the problem, but one that does.
1300 Clauses 1 and 2 address the problem of the man who solicits a woman for the purposes of prostitution, both in his motor vehicle and, if he chooses to evade the law by leaving his motor vehicle, when he is walking down the street. I notice what was said about clause 1(1)(b). I can understand some of the points that were made about the somewhat inelegant expression there and we shall see what we can do about it, but it may be that it is inelegant for a good reason.
I appreciate that when we come to clause 3 we are dealing with a different and more difficult area. Clause 3 deals with the grosser forms of sexual harassment of women, falling short of anything that would be criminal. One does not have to talk to many women who travel around London or some of our other great cities who have been alone on a tube train at night, in a railway carriage, walking down a street, or in some other situation, to find those who have been subjected to something that goes far beyond the natural inclination of a man to talk to a pretty girl and which becomes a gross form of sexual harassment of a kind about which there is a real issue as to whether it should be made criminal. That may happen in a cinema and a range of other places off the street. We must consider whether we want such an offence, and if so, do we want it to be as widely drawn as it presently is.
I shall reserve my detailed comments to Committee, but I hope that it will be borne in mind that in arriving at its conclusion on that the Criminal Law Revision Committee did so only after a great deal of heart-searching and careful advice from the Policy Advisory Committee. In the end, it was unanimously recommended because the committee believed that the points that were being made from a wide range of women's groups to the Policy Advisory Committee could not and should not be ignored.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Drake will be able to enlist more lady Members to contribute in our debates before too many men jump in with hobnail boots and start laughing about the manner in which clause 3 is phrased. We know that every' day women are being faced with such problems that are bitterly resented, and that they were delighted when they heard that the Criminal Law Revision Committee was taking note of their concerns and that the Government were taking that up.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West criticised the phrasemanner likely to cause her fear".If members of the committee had been here, that would have been one of the occasions—there would have been a number during his speech—when they would have liked to box his ears soundly. He suggested that the committee did that simply to facilitate the police giving evidence and the need not to call a complainant. That is far from the case. The measure imports an element of objectivity into the approach so that the question of whether a criminal offence is committed does not depend upon the particular and possibly idiosyncratic reaction of the propositioned woman.
I make my final point because I know that sporting gentlemen are assembling for their debate, and I want to leave Members some time to consider lighter matters. I attach a great deal of importance to clause 4. I do not believe it should be overlooked, even though it has not drawn the controversy—except by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross—that clauses 1 to 3 have drawn.
1301 We attach a great deal of importance to increasing the penalties for attempted rape. There is no logical reason — especially after the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 which equated the penalty for attempts generally with the penalty for the completed offence—why attempted rape should be excluded from increased penalties, especially since the attempt, from the point of view of the offender, may he a more serious offence than the concluded act. In an attempt, the man must always have the intention to conclude the offence. That is not, of course, true in the case of the offence of murder, where an intention to cause grievous bodily harm suffices. In the case of attempted murder, there must be an intention to kill.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Drake made only too clear, the fact that the man does not complete the act he intends to carry out is often wholly fortuitous. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) that the life sentence exists to protect the public. Indeed, often it exists to protect the offender from himself, and that is why life sentences are passed. A number of life sentences for rape are passed every year. I believe it is right for the court to have that power in dealing with attempted rape.
Many members of the judiciary have long recognised that a penalty of only two years for indecent assault is no longer justified. I can do no better than remind the House of what was said in the tragic case in 1982 where a respectable women was murdered by a young man only 13 weeks after he, with a history of sexual misbehaviour, was released from prison after serving a two-year sentence for indecent assault. There seems little doubt that, if the court had had the power to sentence him for a longer period, it would have done so on the basis of the unacceptable threat he posed, and would pose in the foreseeable future, to the public.
The consequence of a two-year maximum term —rather than a longer term—being available was that the man was released and the life of an innocent woman was taken. As that man is in prison facing what I imagine will be one of the longest sentences—unless the assessment of his propensity to commit these offences diminishes over the years — one wonders whether the court did him a favour by trying him for an offence that merited only a two-year term. There are occasions when age brings greater maturation and when one can be more confident about a person's ability to cope with sexual stress.
I hope that, by increasing the penalty to 10 years, we shall deal with the problem caused by the low penalties for indecent assault. That does not, of course, mean that every offence of indecent assault will merit imprisonment for longer than the existing maximum, but the legislation will enable the judge, when he is concerned not just at the gravity of the offence but at the threat the man's behaviour might pose in the future, to pass an appropriate sentence.
This has been a long debate. I hope that, in speaking as I have and in finding myself with many other points that could usefully have been made, I have not outstayed my welcome. I wanted to justify my strongly held view that this is an important and worthwhile Bill which deserves to be supported by the House and which, I hope, will receive a unanimous Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of Bills).