HC Deb 17 May 1985 vol 79 cc660-82

  1. '(1) A person shall not be convicted of any offence under sections 1, 2 and 3 solely on the evidence of a police constable or police constables.
  2. (2) Any officer exercising a power of arrest in respect of sections, 1, 2 and 3 shall be in uniform.'.—[Ms. Richardson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

With this motion it will be convenient to consider the following:

New clause 9—Requirement of evidence— 'It shall be a requirement that no case shall be proven under sections 1 to 3 of this Act on the basis of police evidence alone. '.

New clause 10—Police officers to wear uniforms— 'Any officer exercising a power of arrest in respect of sections 1, 2 and 3 shall be in uniform.'.

Amendment No. 74, in clause 5, page 2, line 34, at end insert— '(3) For the purposes of sections 1, 2 and 3 of this Act "woman" shall not include a constable acting in the course of her duty.'.

Ms. Richardson

The new clause brings together the subject matter of new clauses 9 and 10.

Again I find myself in the rather uncomfortable position of being at one with the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), whose views normally I find somewhat different from my own.

By means of new clause 11, I am anxious to ensure that no one will be trapped. If there is the possibility of a conviction purely on the evidence of a police constable, without corroboration, difficulties may be caused to people who are quite innocent, who are not kerb crawlers and who simply stop to ask the way or to greet a friend, for example.

I feel even more strongly that it is the public's right to be protected in the sense that anyone stopped by a police officer should recognise that person as being a police officer. Police officers not in uniform could be argued to be acting as agents provocateurs. They could be trawling round looking for someone to arrest. I am not suggesting that the police make a habit of doing that, but we have heard from time to time of a policeman thinking that he has not enough cases for the evening and that it would help his record if he stopped a few more people.

Like other hon. Members, I was glad when a few minutes ago the Minister acknowledged that there were doubts in people's minds about the effect of certain provisions of the Bill on civil liberties and that he hoped that some of these matters would be debated in the other place. I do not intend to press my new clause, but I believe that it brings out some of these difficulties.

During our consideration of a Criminal Justice Bill some years ago, I recall that I was successful in moving an amendment designed to ensure that police constables should be in uniform. I was pleased that that principle was seen to be correct. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says about it. I accept that there are some occasions when— perhaps some jobs in which—it is necessary for police constables to be in plain clothes. However, I do not believe that such duties include police officers being on the look-out for kerb crawlers or for people harassing others in the street. My impression is that plain-clothes police officers tend to be used more in the criminal element of detective work, when there may be a case for them being out of uniform.

We had a similar argument when discussing the old sus laws. There was even more danger there, because plain-clothes police officers could stop people under that law, which most of us regarded as reprehensible. A few organisations outside the House are worried by some of the aspects of the Bill, some of which we explored last Friday. For example, the National Association of Probation Officers has reservations about the Bill, and I think that the use of plain-clothes police officers may be one of them.

I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

11.30 am
Mr. Mellor

I thank the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) for what she said about my earlier speech. I should make it clear, when saying that we would monitor the use of the powers of arrest, that there is of course no power of arrest under the clause as it stands. It is exercised if the general arrest conditions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act are met; otherwise, proceedings are by summons. But we can monitor the issue of summonses, whether proceedings are taken and so on, so that does not reduce the effect of the undertaking that I gave but makes it clearer. What I said earlier might have led people to think that I was asserting that there was a power of arrest specifically in the clause, which there is not.

The point about agents provocateurs has exercised the House several times during the past 12 to 18 months. It has been before the House in the context of the male importuning offence and now arises on this offence. I wish to restate the Government's position. We deprecate and deplore the use of agents provocateurs. Beyond that, we aim to ensure in our discussions with police forces throughout the country that their orders carry into effect the extent of public concern that would arise if agent provocateur tactics were employed. On previous occasions, I have read police force orders to the House, and the Metropolitan police force orders were changed recently to give effect to the will of the House and of others that entrapment techniques should not be employed.

I have also made it clear that we attach importance to the necessity, when the Bill becomes law, for an extension of the Metropolitan police and other police force orders to include the need to obtain, whenever possible, an independent witness to give evidence before the courts.

During our last debate I reminded the House of the existence of the rule that every effort should be made to get a complainant to give evidence. Where that was unsuccessful, the name and address of the complainant should be noted, as should the reason why that person was not prepared to co-operate. That would be a safeguard because those matters could be fully explored at the trial.

On clauses 1 and 2, it is extremely unlikely that a prosecution could be brought successfully without the co-operation of the complainant. Clause 1 requires that there should be an act of solicitation, which means that in almost every case the actual words used would have to be given in evidence before the court. Someone who was merely asking for directions would not be liable to be convicted, because the words used could not possibly bear the interpretation of being an act of solicitation.

If women who were not prostitutes were walking down the street on their way home and were accosted, for the most part they would come to court and give evidence. It would be difficult to imagine a prosecution succeeding if they did not. That is eminently right and proper. The only case where that might happen is where the person propositioned was a prostitute. The likelihood then is that the prostitute would be unwilling to go to court, for the obvious reason that she was not in the least offended by the approach. The case would depend on whether there was other evidence relating to the act of solicitation that made clear beyond peradventure that an act of solicitation had taken place.

The Criminal Law Revision Committee considered that point and acknowledged that that evidence might come about if, for instance, a known prostitute, having been approached by someone in a car, got into the car and drove off with that person. That would constitute a prima facie case. Of course, more than one interpretation could be put on that and the matter would have to be explored in court. It would be an isolated case, and for the most part there would need to be an awareness of what was said. It is unlikely that an individual who was not the person propositioned would be close enough to hear the words. Therefore, safeguards are built in.

If we are aware that in many cases the individual will not come to give evidence because the person accosted is a prostitute, other ways must be found to enable the law to take its course. It might be that plain-clothes officers keep observation. Otherwise, where known prostitutes congregate in a community, it is hard to envisage how else the law could be enforced.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Obviously there would be times when the police felt that action must be taken because the problem was getting out of control. My hon. Friend suggested that there would be an element of surveillance. What would prevent someone who is known to a prostitute—perhaps a relative or a friend—from driving up to her, picking her up and taking her away? If that happening is under surveillance, is it not more than likely that that person — who was not soliciting her or picking her up for so-called immoral purposes—would be charged? How can my hon. Friend prevent that?

Mr. Mellor

I have sought to tell the House candidly of the grey area that always exists on the fringes of any offence. I am sure that it is unlikely that any prosecution could be mounted unless the actual words used were clearly heard by the complainant or by some other person prepared to give evidence.

If someone drives up to a known prostitute and the prostitute gets in the car, that would be a basis for further police inquiries. Presumably the individual would not be arrested on the spot unless the general arrest conditions were met. Almost certainly the number of the car would be taken and further police inquiries would ensue. A decision whether to prosecute would be taken on the basis of the answers given by the person involved. If he gave an explanation consistent with innocence and a link was established, it is unlikely that a prosecution would be brought.

As my hon. Friend will know from his vast experience in these matters—[Laughter.] I am sorry, my words did not have an edge to them. I was trying to be kind to my hon. Friend, but perhaps I should not as it always leads to difficulties in the long run. I meant that my hon. Friend has experience of criminal law matters. He knows that whenever a criminal sanction is attached to any particular act there are bound to be difficult grey areas. No one can absolutely guarantee that the law will not be used in a particular way. One has to strike a balance of convenience. Given the extent of the problem in many parts of Britain, the balance of convenience must mean that one has a clear anti-kerb crawling law and that one tries to take account as much as possible of the potential for difficulties, even though they can never be entirely solved.

I do not think that it would be appropriate to send the message to Tooting, Leicester, south Hampshire, north Plymouth or parts of London that, because we are worried about the unusual events which were set out in the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), we shall not give any respite to communities which have become the haunt of prostitutes—places like Bedford hill—and where the gravest distress is caused to the public. A balance must be struck. It was a balance that led the Wolfenden committee in 1977, as I candidly admitted to the House, to say that there was not sufficient evidence to show that a kerb crawling offence should be created. This led the Criminal Law Revision Committee to say that, of all the people who had written to the committee and to its policy advisory committee, only one group sought to argue against a kerb crawling law. Our point is that the balance of convenience has shifted.

Mr. Marlow

I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree with me that a law is needed to minimise the risk of innocent people being not only prosecuted but found guilty. This is a particularly sensitive area. If innocent people are prosecuted, many other people will think that they are guilty, whether or not they are. A person's reputation can be severely damaged. It is even more important in this area than in many other parts of the criminal law to ensure that people who should not be charged are not so charged. My hon. Friend says that these circumstances may be rare — nevertheless, those circumstances might arise and individuals might be apprehended by the police and might protest that their role was one of those that I have described.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and the Law Society have expressed their misgivings on the question of persistence. If a person is picking up his sister or relative, he will stop once. If a person is looking for a prostitute, he might stop twice. If there is persistence, it is probably fair to assume that he is soliciting a woman. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State wants a deterrent. Surely, if a person speaks to two women in this way and is therefore liable to be arrested for persistence, that is a sufficient deterrent. What does my hon. Friend intend doing when the matter is considered in another place?

Mr. Mellor

I said earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West, whom I congratulated on the handsome way in which he has conducted himself in the House this morning—a congratulation which I am longing for the opportunity to extend to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North — that we shall arrange for a debate in the other place on persistency. I acknowledge that there is an issue, but I remain firmly of the view that, balancing one set of important issues against another, the Criminal Law Revision Committee was correct to assert that, if we really want to do something about kerb crawling, there must be a clear and unequivocal offence.

I do not believe that the somewhat fanciful suggestions by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North in the context of the general way in which people look at these aspects — his reference to a prostitute's brother being arrested for soliciting her because he was taking her home after a hard evening's work—amounts to a reason why we should not introduce this law. I made it clear to my hon. Friend that, in normal circumstances, where the facts gave rise to a suggestion that an offence had been committed but the actual words could not be heard, arrest would not take place. There is no power of arrest attached to this. An arrest would take place only if the general arrest conditions stated in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 were involved.

I imagine that, normally, the car number having been taken, the individual would be interviewed. If he were a relative of the prostitute, it is unlikely that any police officer in his right mind would want to summons him. If the explanation were inconsistent with the evidence, a prosecution might well be mounted.

The Prosecution of Offences Bill, on which we have all worked so constructively, has received all-party support to a most gratifying degree. Under that legislation, a police officer might wish to bring a prosecution. Whether or not the prosecution came about and there was any publicity about the case—I appreciate the sensitivity of publicity —would depend on the objective decision of a lawyer who would have no interest in pursuing the case. He would not be someone whose amour propre was affected by whether or not there was a case.

11.45 am

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North is talking about an isolated incident. The matter was fully covered in Committee. There was a division of view, as there always is on issues that lie near the borderline. I have acknowledged that it would be more than proper for the matter to be reopened in another place. I shall remain of the view, as the Criminal Law Revision Committee did after seven years' study of the matter, that the word "persistently" would gravely damage the legislation to the point of making clause 1 a dead letter.

I shall obviously, since we must all abide by the views of others in a democratic Parliament, examine the decision. If the other place takes a different view, I shall look at it. My noble Friend who speaks for the Government in the other place will tender the same advice as I do. I shall use my best endeavours to ensure that there is good participation in that debate and that some of the distinguished lawyers there give us the benefit of their opinion. We shall then at least know—whether or not we are on the winning or losing side of the argument—that, in a matter which occupied five hours in Committee, had considerable debate on the Floor of the House and was considered in the other place, we had done the best we could against a background of recognising, as the Criminal Law Revision Committee did, and I think the public do, that the time has come for us to take the plunge and to have an offence of this type. Whenever we change the law we have to take a certain amount of downside risk. Usually there is a compelling reason for not changing the law, unless there are good reasons for doing so. My case is that there are clear reasons for doing so.

Mr. Ernie Roberts (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

A person may get out of his car and walk a short distance to ask someone a question. How far can such a person move from his car to avoid being charged with kerb crawling?

Mr. Mellor

This would be a matter of fact and common sense in each case. No period is delimited, but the person would have to be in fairly close proximity. To fall within the provisions of clause 1, the person would have to have just got out of the car. No doubt the parameters will be more tightly set by case law. It is unlikely that a person who had travelled a substantial distance would fall within the provisions of clause 1; he would be more likely to fall within the provisions of clause 2. This will, of course, be a matter for the judge to determine.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

There seem to be two circumstances. The first is where a man solicits a prostitute, or she solicits him. In that circumstance, the prostitute will not give evidence. If there is to be any prosecution at all, it will be on the uncorroborated evidence of a police officer. The second circumstance is where a person solicits an innocent woman. It seems to me, from my experience of south London—I have lived within a few miles of Bedford hill for most of my life and I know the problem there—that it is highly unlikely that an innocent woman will wish to give evidence in court. There is a very good reason. If the case is rejected, that may reflect badly on the woman. Once again, one is driven back to prosecutions made on the uncorroborated evidence of a police officer. That officer would have to be in plain clothes, because no one is his right mind would ever proposition a woman for prostitution when he is standing next to a uniformed police officer. In both cases, one is driven back to prosecuting on the uncorroborated evidence of a police officer. There are, of course, associated difficulties where the evidence on whether solicitation took place is pretty flimsy.

Mr. Mellor

I partly accept what the hon. Member says, but there are several points on which I differ from him. Although I have used the argument in this House in rejecting any suggestion that the Bill should require that there should always be a third party to give evidence, because I accept that some women will not want to give evidence—everybody who has considered this area of the law has always so concluded—for the most part I believe that women who are not prostitutes will want to play a part in cleaning up their area. I was left in no doubt that that is the feeling of many women in the Bedford hill area. It is unlikely, except in the clearest circumstances, that the evidence would be compelling unless the complainantt were prepared to give evidence in a case where the complainant is an ordinary member of the public.

I am as sensitive as the hon. Gentleman to the issue that we are discussing, because I have had similar experiences in dealing with the criminal law and in the criminal courts. The safeguard is in the requirement in clause 1 that there must be an act of solicitation. Words have to be used that are not capable of any other construction than that they are words of solicitation.

The merit of the Bill as drafted is that it sends out the clear message that kerb crawling is against the law. I do not approach the matter on the basis that there should be thousands of prosecutions throughout the country—no one has any wish for that—but there is at present a very grey area in the law, apart from the use of the rusty old blunderbuss of the Justices of the Peace Act 1361. People go kerb crawling because they do not clearly and unequivocally know that it is against the law. Some of them are then arrested and some are not; it is an arbitrary process.

To be fair to everyone, in the opinion of the Criminal Law Revision Committee—endorsed by my hon. Friend the Member for Drake and myself and, I believe, by a majority of the Members of this House — Parliament should send out a clear message that kerb crawling is illegal. That would have a deterrent effect.

It is important to recognise the danger points of one's own case. I have always candidly recognised, throughout the passage of the Bill, that, where the person solicited is a prostitute, she will not be prepared to give evidence. I have given the example that was given by the Criminal Law Revision Committee, and I have embellished it for the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North. I have mentioned the circumstances in which actions falling short of clear evidence being given of the actual words used could lead to a prosecution. I have also pointed out how unlikely it would be that someone who had a good reason for driving off with a prostitute would be brought before the court. It must be a matter for judgment.

I return to the interesting question of the use of the police, on which I was embarked when—

Mr. Marlow

Will the Minister give way so that I may clarify a point?

Mr. Mellor

I know that my hon. Friend wants to clarify a point. He can do it when I have clarified the point raised by the hon. Member for Norwood.

Mr. Marlow


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister has made it amply clear that he is not giving way at the moment.

Mr. Mellor

I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment, when I have dealt with the intervention from the hon. Member for Norwood.

The use of uniformed policemen and the existence of a clear law will in many areas be perfectly sufficient to stop the problem. I think that that will almost certainly be the way that most police forces will tackle the problem. It is the way that the Metropolitan police intend to tackle it. A clear assurance was given in a letter that I read in Committee. The Metropolitan police said that they would not use women in plain clothes as decoys in the circumstances that we are discussing.

Where the problem of kerb crawling is so persistent that the presence of uniformed policemen is necessary, doing nothing else but that sort of duty, so that the whole balance of the force in distorted, there may well be a case for plain clothes observation. I have made it clear—and force orders have made it clear—that anything which amounts to the use of an agent provocateur would not be tolerated. A woman provocatively dressed would plainly be outside that rule. However, it is equally clear that if in certain circumstances a woman, dressed normally and behaving unprovocatively, exercises her right to walk down a street as a policewoman and is doing nothing different from what the residents of the streets around would be doing when walking home from work or for some social pursuit, that does not fall within the definition of agent provocateur and is not an incitement to anyone to commit the offence.

As I have already made clear, there will be circumstances in which police officers alone will give evidence. If there is a complainant, the police will have to give evidence as to why the person accosted has not come to court to give evidence. That is already provided for in force orders relating to male importuning, and similar provision will also be made for the offence of kerb crawling.

I should have thought that for the most part it would be difficult for prosecutions to proceed without the co-operation of the woman concerned. In those circumstances where prosecutions take place, I am not prepared to say that in any but the small minority of cases we cannot have faith in the police to do their work properly. I recognise that there is always a problem in relation to police powers.

I am reluctant to advise Parliament to take a view that is based on the assumption that the uncorroborated evidence of police officers cannot be satisfactory. We have a well-motivated police force. As the hon. Member for Norwood knows from his work in Brixton, every effort is being made to ensure that there are in the police men of the greatest integrity. I think that they can be trusted to enforce the law on kerb crawling. The alternative of not having a law has become unthinkable, given the scale of the problem.

Mr. Marlow

This is the last point that I want to raise this morning. If my hon. Friend can satisfy me on it, I shall be grateful. Can my hon. Friend say that he will cause an amendment to be tabled in the other place? Obviously, he will listen to the arguments, but will the Government request their supporters, irrespective of the arguments, to support the clause as it stands, or is it possible that the Government's position will change, and that pressure will then not be applied to Government supporters?

Mr. Mellor

I remind my hon. Friend that this is a private Member's Bill and that there will be no Whip in the Lords, any more than there is here. I am not prepared to change my advice concerning the use of the word "persistently". There is a genuine argument about it. I have ventilated my side of it with as much vigour as I am able to bring to bear on the argument, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West has consistently —I would even say, persistently—put forward his view. I dare say that there will be advocates of both positions in the other place.

I have said that my desire is for a genuine free discussion to take place in the other place. I feel confident that it will. My noble Friend who represents the Home Office in the other place—assuming that he agrees with me, as perhaps he will—will make a speech and will, I imagine, offer exactly the same advice as I have offered. It will then be for the other place to determine whether it accepts that advice.

Mr. Ernie Roberts

Is the Minister expecting a policeman or woman to decide on a person's intent? If so, it is getting very close to the old sus law, which has been a great aggravation in my area, where a police officer, seeing someone do something or say something, draws the inference that it is against the law. Frequently in such cases the police can be wrong. For example, I have often tried the handle of someone else's car, thinking that it was mine, only to find that it was not mine but one like it. Similarly, a person asking a passer-by a normal question may well look rather suspicious. A policeman or woman may draw the inference that a kerb crawling or soliciting offence is being committed. It would be placing a considerable responsibility on policemen or women if they had to decide on the intent of a person. It would be particularly difficult where the complainant was not prepared to give evidence, or did not feel sufficiently aggrieved to wish to give evidence.

12 noon

Mr. Mellor

I come before the House with clean hands on the subject of the sus law. I disliked it when I was a member of the Bar, and when I was elected to the House I wanted it to be changed. I am proud of the fact that I was a member of the Committee that removed it from the laws of England. I spoke out in favour of doing so. I repeat what I said to the House last week, that I am not in the business of putting back into the law in my sixth year in this place something that I was pleased to take out in my first year here.

However, a clear distinction can be drawn between this offence and the sus law. The reason why the sus law was so disliked by me and many others was that it dealt with a generalised suspicion falling short of anything that could be called an actual offence. Therefore, almost inevitably, while it purported to be objective, it lent itself to a subjective definition. As such, it became increasingly unpopular. I believe that it should have been removed from the laws of England a good long while before it was.

This offence is different. It requires an established act —a solicitation—to take place. It is unlikely that a successful prosecution can be brought without evidence that is clear and acceptable to the courts being given of the actual words used, except in clear circumstances when a known prostitute has got into a car with somebody, and there is no explanation for that other than the purposes of prostitution.

Therefore, there is little scope for mischief-making here. I have already referred to the force orders which require, in the case of importuning, and in this case if the Bill is passed, that a complainant must be asked whether she will co-operate. If she says no, her name and address must be taken so that they can be made available to the defence if a prosecution is brought. The reason for her not wanting to co-operate must be set forth in a way that can be cross-examined upon.

If the woman says, "I was not in the least put out by this," and she is an ordinary constituent, not a prostitute, I cannot think that any police officer would want to make an issue out of it. Even if a police officer were over-zealous enough and minded to do so, I ask the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Roberts) to accept that one of the reasons why we are making a lot of parliamentary time and resources available for the independent prosecution system is that, under these new arrangements, which will be in place soon, such a case cannot be brought before a court unless an independent lawyer, accountable to the Director of Public Prosecutions, is prepared to look at the evidence and say that it is a proper basis on which the case can be brought before the courts.

It will no longer be a matter for the police to determine whether a prosecution is brought; it will be a matter for the lawyer. I hope the hon. Gentleman will conclude that the margin for abuse in the circumstances that I have laid down is much narrower than under the old sus law, which he and I jointly are glad is no longer part of our criminal law.

This has been a helpful debate. I am glad to have had the opportunity to make my position known, as clearly as possible, on important points about enforcement. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) for saying that she would be content to withdraw her new clause. I hope that what I have said will make her feel that that is appropriate.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

I do not wish to delay the House, as I support my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes). However, I should like to refer to the new clause.

Until 18 months ago, I would have agreed with the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson). When the Nottinghamshire experiment began, I was concerned because police ladies were acting as decoys and being used to bring forward offences and charges for kerb crawling. Since then, Leicestershire constabulary has embarked on a similar campaign. As it is in my city of Leicester, I went to see the chief constable and expressed great concern. The WPCs in Leicestershire are attractive ladies, and I was particularly concerned that in some way innocent people might be tempted down the wrong road.

I met the chief constable, Alan Goodson, and discussed the matter with the head of the CID. The operations carried out by Leicestershire constabulary reassured me to a great extent. I do not wish to give away too many of the operations, but suffice it to say that there was photographing of the ladies and continual supervision in the areas in Leicester known to have a red light district. Successful convictions have resulted. There was a purge against kerb crawling in the city of Leicester, because we had so many worries. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Spencer) confirmed in his speech last week, the people of Leicester were very worried.

Many successful convictions were recorded. It is interesting to note that the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) mentioned the risk to innocent people. I understand that in the majority of cases those who were successfully charged and convicted had a history of having committed this offence. That should reassure the hon. Member for Barking. Of course, I share the concern about entrapment and the agents provocateurs, but one must ask oneself what those people were doing in the area in the first place. In both Argyll square and the Highfields area of the city of Leicester, one-way systems and the blocking of streets are being introduced to stop people from going into that area, except those who are visiting relations and so on. Therefore, I am confident that the police operations will not lead to concern. However, there will be cases when a WPC out of uniform will give evidence because the proposition was made direct to her.

We want to end street prostitution. I support the Bill. I feel certain that the police rules, standing orders and force orders for supervision and surveillance of any street crimes and offences will be strictly adhered to. I have every confidence in the police. Therefore, I cannot support the new clause.

Ms. Richardson

As I said at the beginning of the debate, I shall not press the new clause to a Division. However, the remarks by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) caused me concern. He described precisely what I was trying to avoid. He said with some triumph that the operation that he has just described has been extremely successful in trapping kerb crawlers by the use of agents provocateurs. I have a great feeling of unease about that. It may have resulted in prosecutions of kerb crawlers who were up to no good, but that approach is nasty. I should not want to be associated, in withdrawing the new clause, with anything that went along those lines. I was reassured by what the Minister said, but I hope that the police force does not follow the experiment in Leicestershire. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Parris

I beg to move amendment No. 27, in page 1, line 12, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

  1. '(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—
  2. 671
  3. (a) on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding 3 on the standard scale (as defined in section 75 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982); and
  4. (b) on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding the maximum applicable to summary conviction under this section.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments:

No. 28, in page 1, line 13, leave out 'summary conviction' and insert 'conviction on indictment'.

No. 29, in page 1, line 13, leave out '3', and insert '1'.

No. 30, in page 1, line 13, leave out '3' and insert '2'.

No. 31, in page 1, line 15, at end insert— '(3) No person shall be proceeded against under this section unless and until they have received three or more formal cautions for soliciting a women for the purposes of prostitution.'.

No. 42, in clase 2, page 2, line 4, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

'(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—

  1. (a) on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale (as defined in section 75 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982); and
  2. (b) on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding the maximum applicable to summary conviction under this section.'.

No. 43, in clause 2, page 2, line 5, leave out 'summary conviction' and insert 'on conviction on indictment'.

No. 44, in clause 2, page 2, line 5, leave out '3' and insert '1'.

No. 45, in clause 2, page 2, line 5, leave out '3' and insert '2'.

No. 46, in clause 2, page 2, line 7, at end add—

'(3) No person shall be proceeded against under this section unless and until they have received three or more formal cautions for soliciting a woman for the purposes of prostitution.'.

No. 61, in clause 3, page 2, line 10, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

'(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—

  1. (a) on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale (as defined in section 75 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982); and
  2. (b) on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding the maximum applicable to summary conviction under this section.'.

No. 62, in clause 3, page 2, line 11, leave out 'summary conviction' and insert 'conviction on indictment'.

No. 63, in clause 3, page 2, line 11, leave out '5' and insert '3'.

No. 64, in clause 3, page 2, line 11, leave out '5' and insert '4'.

Mr. Parris

I have not responded until now to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister earlier, but in the light of what he has said I am happy for the issue of persistence to be considered with an open mind in another place. I think that that is probably the right way to proceed.

Amendment No. 61, which I do not intend to press to a Division, seeks to make trial by jury available to defendants who prefer it to a summary hearing in a magistrates court, although a magistrates court hearing will be available for those who prefer it.

In considering street offences generally, the Criminal Law Revision Committee considered that, although the sentence for male importuning was light enough to bring the offence into the category normally triable by summary hearing only, the possible ruin of the defendant's career if convicted justified allowing recourse to trial by jury if the accused so wished. I believe that the same argument applies in this case.

I believe that the penalties for all these offences are relatively light, not because the offences are not regarded as serious but because it is well understood on all sides that the simple fact of a conviction and the surrounding publicity is the real punishment. Because the true punishment—the wrecking of a person's reputation and career—is so severe, and because comments made from car windows to women on the street are so liable to misinterpretation that there is always the possibility of a mistake, it is important to bear in mind that there will be many prosecutions which ought not to result in conviction.

For those reasons, I believe that defendants should be able to opt for trial by jury if they wish. I do not think that it is the mood of the House to press the matter to a Division and I do not know how my hon. Friend the Minister will respond, but I believe that the matter should be put on record and, I hope, reconsidered in another place.

Mr. Mellor

My hon. Friend is quite right to raise this genuinely important point, which has exercised my mind as well as that of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. One is pulled in two directions on this. First, one recognises the difficulties that a conviction for such an offence would pose for certain categories of people. Equally, however, one recognises that the aim of the Bill is not to provide draconian penalties but to set the penalties at a relatively modest financial level, on the basis that the aim of the legislation is more to deter and to provide the opportunity for convictions to be entered in proper cases rather than thinking in terms of imprisonment or the like.

12.15 pm

There are precedents for allowing trial by jury in cases which do not attract a sentence of imprisonment. Being interested in the matter, I asked for the precedents to be dug out, and they are very few and far between. I also have to bear in mind the not unworthy consideration-if I do not the Lord Chancellor will see to it that I do —of the enormous and increasing pressure on Crown court time. Relying on memory for the statistics, I believe that in the past 12 months alone Crown court business has increased by about 15 per cent., so careful thought must always be given before adding to that.

The amendment raises a genuine issue which may well arise appropriately in another place. On balance, I believe that it is appropriate for these offences to remain as suggested in the Bill, especially now that new clause 3, which was perhaps the gravest problem in this regard, has disappeared. Nevertheless, I should certainly not be unhappy for the matter to be considered in another place. My hon. Friend has raised a genuine issue, which has been a matter of some consideration on my part. Although he has said that he is content not to pursue the matter, it was well worth raising and may properly be rescusitated if the other place is minded to do so.

Mr. Parris

In the light of what my hon. Friend the Minister has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The next amendment is No. 65, in page 2, line 15, leave out clause 4.

Mr. Parris

Not moved.

Mr. John Fraser


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. Gentleman wish to raise a point of order?

Mr. Fraser

My point relates to leaving out clause 4, Sir.

I refer to the substituion of a number of life sentences and 10-year sentences for existing two-year sentences. First, the law relating to young boys and the law relating to young girls is inconsistent, in that the penalty for indecency with a young boy is 10 years but with a young girl only two years. Parliament clearly needs to remove that inconsistency, and I understand the reason for that.

In discussing the substitution of life sentences, I should make it absolutely clear that I no way seek to diminish the importance of heavy sentencing for interference with another person's person. Nevertheless, one must be very careful about the introduction of life sentences, for two reasons.

First, a life sentence is extremely heavy and carries even worse penalties than a fixed sentence from the point of view of possible release, remission, parole and so on —all of which are far more in the hands of the Home Office than they are in the context of a big sentence. There is an element of discretion which is not present in relation to fixed penalties.

Secondly, if one imposes a life sentence—the same sentence as for murder, the most serious crime of all—the effect may sometimes diminish the importance attaching to a life sentence if in practice it is not intended that a life sentence should actually be served.

That being so, we should not pass a clause introducing life sentences without the most cogent reason for introducing the concept of life rather than imposing an extremely heavy fixed sentence of, say, 40 years. Personally, I should have gone for a very long fixed sentence rather than life imprisonment. I hope that the Minister will respond to that very point, as I believe that it is extremely important.

Mr. Mellor

I appreciate why the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) has raised this issue. The Criminal Law Revision Committee has recommended that we should change the penalties and I believe that there is a cogent reason for doing so.

The hon. Gentleman has not challenged the proposed penalties for indecent assault. It has been recognised for some time that the offence of indecent assault can reflect a serious sexual problem on the part of the offender. Representations have been made by High Court judges when the issue has arisen in tragic circumstances. The fact that the offender has not been able to carry the offence further is often due to the way in which circumstances developed and not to any lack of intent on his part. It is felt that the maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment does not enable the court to pass a sufficiently lengthy sentence in cases where it is plain that the offender is likely to return to offending when released.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), the promoter of the Bill, referred in necessarily veiled terms—none of us would want to refer to such matters too openly—to a tragic case in the west country in which an individual had exhibited a sexual problem and had been sentenced to two years' imprisonment—the maximum penalty—following a conviction for indecent assault. Within a few months of being released he committed the most horrific murder—I have read about 1,000 files in my time at the Home Office dealing with life sentence matters—of a respectable middle-aged woman who was taking a cliffside walk.

The High Court judge who tried that case properly drew the facts to the attention of the Home Secretary and observed that the murder would not have taken place if the court that dealt with the indecent assault had had the power to impose a longer sentence. It follows that a person who is sentenced to a longer sentence will have longer in which to get out of that period of his life. Although we know that quite lengthy sentences for sex offences can lead to recidivism, there is a healthy body of opinion behind the proposition that two years' imprisonment is too short a sentence in some instances.

Mr. John Fraser

indicated assent.

Mr. Mellor

I note that the hon. Gentleman is good enough to indicate assent.

There are difficulties surrounding the offence of attempted rape. I deal with life sentence matters within the Home Office, and I am aware of all the arguments that the hon. Gentleman has advanced. The life sentence is the most severe penalty known to the criminal courts. It offers no inevitable prospect of release, but we know that in most cases of murder or non-murder offences the individual is released. He will be released on licence, which makes him subject to recall if certain circumstances arise. A life sentence is an extremely severe penalty.

It has become widely recognised that a life sentence will often be appropriate for two sorts of non-homicide offences. The first such offence is arson where there is evidence of persistence and the second is rape. I have read the facts in multiple rape cases, and it is true that they are often committed by those who have served a determinate sentence and where it was clearly in the judge's mind that the only possibility of providing protection for the public was to sentence the offender to indeterminate life. That sentence is usually accompanied—rightly, in my view—by the indication that the offender will be released when it is safe for that to happen. That moment may well come, and, if and when it does, the offender should be released. We have a sophisticated system of internal and external assessment which enables the Parole Board regularly to consider cases and to make recommendations. Sophisticated analyses must be undertaken to assess risk when the case of a rape offender is under consideration. I look for come support to the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson).

It is in accordance with the public mood against rape that the life sentence should be available for rapists. It should not be passed on the generality of rapists. but it should be reserved for especially serious rapes, including multiple rapes. I could list a number of cases committed over the past 10 years in which men have committed a series of horrifying rapes, or in which someone has served two or three separate sentences for rape or other sexual offences and has shown that that conduct has become a way of life and that only a life sentence will suffice. It is plain that a life sentence would not be appropriate in the generality of cases.

If someone is convicted of attempted rape, the individual concerned has to have the intention to commit the full act. The fact that he does not succeed—again I look to the hon. Member for Barking for support — might be due not to any lack of intent but to circumstances beyond his control. For example, the man might be interrupted or the woman might be strong enough to beat him off. Women will react differently when attacked. Some women think, quite rightly, that the best way to ensure that no serious violence is occasioned is to submit. Others will fight back bravely, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.

It seems to the Criminal Law Revision Committee and to me that if a hardened sex offender, perhaps with previous convictions for rape, makes a serious attack on a woman which, through no intention of his, becomes only an attempt, it is an anomaly that the judge should not be able to pass a sentence of life imprisonment for the protection of the public. The hon. Member for Norwood is a criminal lawyer and he will know that the difference between the full offence of rape and an attempt may be only narrow.

We have thought long and hard before advocating increased penalties, but we believe that it is an appropriate step to take. I hope that my explanation has been helpful and that the hon. Gentleman recognises that there is some force behind the argument.

Mr. John Fraser

I thank the Minister for his explanation. Such a major change in the law should not be allowed to pass lightly. I accept the Minister's explanation and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment, which was moved for the purpose of discussion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

12.17 pm
Mr. Chope

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) will be delighted when she learns of what has taken place this morning.

Mr. Parris

And surprised.

Mr. Chope

Indeed, my hon. Friend may be surprised. I know that, like many other supporters of the Bill, she was extremely disappointed last week when it became apparent that we would not be able on that occasion to complete all the Bill's stages.

I have had to deal with kerb crawling as a representative of the Wandsworth authority and as a Southampton constituency Member. I can say with great confidence that when the Bill is enacted it will improve the quality of life for many people throughout the country. Those who will benefit especially are those in inner city areas, where improvements in the quality of life are all-important.

Concerns 'have been expressed about the Bill, especially about civil liberties. The Criminal Law Revision Committee considered the issues and came to finely balanced conclusions on how to deal with what is clearly a nuisance in a way that would not mean that innocent people were brought before the courts. The committee strove to ensure that the innocent would not be harassed. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the committee for the way in which it produced its report.

Shortly after the 1983 general election I wrote to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on this issue. He said that the Government did not feel able to legislate at that stage as they were awaiting the report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. I met him and expressed my concern that the committee's report should be expedited. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) raised the issue in an Adjournment debate. I have been pressing the Minister to expedite the report. He succeeded in persuading the members of the committee to bring forward their report rather sooner than they otherwise would have done. It is a great tribute to the committee that it has shown such flexibility. I am sure that it will be surprised when it learns that its proposals are being debated now during the course of considering whether the Bill should receive its Third Reading, when so often the proposals of those concerned with the criminal law take many years to reach the statute book.

We are in the happy position of being about to give the Bill its Third Reading. My hon. Friend the Member for Drake decided that of all the issues that she might have taken up on being lucky in the ballot, she would take up this one, and many of her constituents, like many of mine, are grateful to her for having done that.

We should not have reached this stage but for the great support of the Minister, whose guidance and good counsel have helped enormously. Although I was not a member of the Standing Committee, I am aware of the careful way in which the various amendments were examined, and the way in which the Bill has been drafted has contributed to its success.

The measure covers a relatively narrow issue, and my hon. Friend is to be congratulated on having restricted it in this way. Had she introduced a Bill, as a private Member's measure, more extensive in scope, it would have encountered considerable difficulties, because there are sharply differing views among hon. Members on both sides of the House about how to deal with the general question of prostitution.

There has been much discussion during the passage of the Bill about whether the element of persistence should be incorporated in clause 1. I shall not add to what the Minister said on that, save to comment that that issue has been carefully considered by the Criminal Law Revision Committee, and I am confident that whatever the final outcome when the subject is considered in another place the balance of legal opinion will prevail, and that that will result in the measure being in the best possible form.

I appreciate that people are concerned about the need to incorporate a provision relating to persistence, but I believe that such a requirement would result in the law being less effective. One of the great benefits that will flow from this legislation is that we shall not need to use the law relating to breach of the peace to deal with this nuisance. That law has been used in some cities—it has not been used in Southampton, although there has been pressure on the police to use it—but it is wrong that old statutes and the common law should be used and extended in a way that nobody ever intended. It is better that such issues are dealt with specifically.

I do not believe that if the element of persistence had been incorporated in clause 1 it would have dealt effectively with the nuisance caused by kerb crawlers. I am pleased, therefore, that the agruments on that issue, which I accept have been serious—I do not doubt the sincerity of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris)—have not prevented the Bill from reaching this stage.

It would have been a great pity if, on that issue, the Bill had failed to reach the statute book, because it is clearly difficult for my hon. Friend the Minister, when so much legislation is being brought in by his Department, to guarantee that such issues will be taken up by the Government in Government time. Nevertheless, we are grateful to the Department and to my hon. Friend for providing the advice and back-up that have helped the Bill reach its present stage.

Earlier this week, in proposing a new clause to another Bill, some might say that I was rather carried away. I spoke for over 40 minutes. I do not wish to speak for 40 minutes on this Third Reading, because the arguments have been deployed on previous occasions.

I am very pleased, and a little surprised, to find myself associated with the Third Reading of the Bill after a relatively short time in the House. The Bill covers a subject about which I was specifically asked before the general election, and I was questioned about it in detail during the election campaign. I have received a large number of letters and representations on the subject since the general election. It is one of the few subjects on which there is unanimity on the Southampton city council. Both the Labour and Conservative groups on the city council support the proposals in the Bill. There was, consequently, great disappointment in Southampton last Friday when it seemed that the Bill might not proceed further. Having read a London local newspaper, I know that there was also great disappointment in Wandsworth, especially among those living in the vicinity of Bedford hill. I hope that as much publicity will be given to the Third Reading of the Bill today as to the disappointing failure of the Bill to reach its Third Reading last week.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Drake is not here for the closing stages of the Bill. I am sure, however, that I speak for her when I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Minister and his officials and advisers in steering such a careful course. I pay tribute, too, to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West for the very fair way in which he has approached the issue today. He has a serious concern about the Bill and has ventilated it at length. His readiness now to allow the matter to he dealt with in another place reflects well upon his integrity. I am sure that other supporters of the Bill will appreciate that as much as I do.

The Bill will improve the quality of life for a significant number of people in our inner cities, and I commend it to the House.

12.38 pm
Ms. Richardson

I will not detain the House for more than a minute or two. At one point in his speech, I thought that the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) was going to beat his own record.

I still have considerable reservations about the Bill, but the debates of last week and today have provided some reassurance that the doubts expressed about the Bill may be dealt with elsewhere. I refer, for example, to the Minister's assurance concerning clause 3 and to his assurance that there would be opportunities to monitor how the legislation worked. Such assurances are better than nothing. Today, he has said that he will try to ensure —as we should all try to do—that there is an extended and exploratory debate in the other place on the question of persistence. Such a debate would be very helpful.

I still believe that there are sufficient police powers to cope with the offence of kerb crawling as we want it coped with. I am still not sure that the Bill is necessary, and I hope only that it will not result in innocent men or women being caught up in a piece of obviously well-intentioned legislation—I have no doubt about the good intentions—that may give the police extra powers of which they could take advantage to disadvantage already disadvantaged groups in our society.

12.40 pm
Mr. Parris

Although the debate has at times been ill-tempered —not so much today as last week—it has achieved a great deal. It has persuaded hon. Members on both sides of the House to look hard at legislation that was in danger of being enacted without proper scrutiny. It has also resulted in the dropping of a quarter of the Bill—clause 3 — and has persuaded my hon. Friend the Minister to give some helpful undertakings about policing and review. The debate has also persuaded him to see that there is a proper and fair debate on the question of persistence in the other place.

That debate on persistence will be important. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) put the argument more fairly than some have done for not requiring an element of persistence. He said that the argument for not requiring such an element was that it would make it more difficult for the police to do their job. Of course it would do that. Any requirement that evidence be produced makes it more difficult for them to do their job. The question is whether we would, by importing an element of persistence into clause 1, make it impossible for the police to do their job. Having looked at section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act and the prosecution of female prostitutes legislation, I am quite satisfied that, even with an element of persistence, it is perfectly possible for the police to do their job effectively. I hope that the other place will reach the same conclusion.

The major problem with the law on sexual offences in this country is, perhaps, its piecemeal nature. Some of it is derived from common law and case law and some of it is statute law that has been enacted over the centuries. It is piecemeal, inconsistent and anomalous. It is also difficult, complicated and quite hard for the public to understand. In part, I believe our law on sexual offences is too permissive; an example of that is the case of men accosting women for sexual purposes. However, in other areas our law on sexual offences is not permissive enough. There is a great need to have a general review of the law on sexual offences.

The law on prostitution generally needs to be tackled. We in this country are not quite prepared to go as far as to make prostitution illegal. Indeed, it would be impractical and wrong to do so. We are not quite prepared to acknowledge that prostitution has always existed and always will exist. At the same time, we are not quite prepared either to say how it should be carried on. On every occasion we are eager, sometimes in statute, to say how it should not be carried on. That causes great difficulties, inconsistencies and anomalies in the law on prostitution.

The Bill adds to those inconsistencies and anomalies because it is one more prohibitive measure that is directed towards a trade that needs, if not regulating, reforming in a general review of the law on prostitution. We await the Criminal Law Revision Committee's recommendations.

It is clear that the House is not minded to pursue such a general review. I do not expect Government legislation reforming the law of prostitution generally in this Parliament or the next. We must each decide whether it is right to hold the general public to hostage in areas where kerb crawling is a serious problem. We must decide whether it is right to tell people that we shall not give them a law on kerb crawling until the Government and the public are prepared for an overall review of prostitution. I do not think that it is right to hold communities to hostage in that way.

It is imperfect, it is piecemeal,; but, with reluctance, I think that we should give the Bill a Third Reading.

12.46 pm
Mr. Ernie Roberts

I am still opposed to the Bill because it does not deal specifically with kerb crawling. It deals with the offence of persistently soliciting women for prostitution and other sexual purposes. Such a Bill cannot possibly deal with the problem of prostitution, but it could have dealt specifically with kerb crawling if some amendments had been accepted.

I oppose the Bill on four grounds. First, it restricts individual freedom. Secondly, it will lead to innocent men and women being prosecuted. Thirdly, many other serious offences and crimes need the attention of the police. Fourthly, the Bill gives special powers to the police which could easily be abused.

12.47 pm
Mr. John Fraser

I speak entirely in a personal capacity in this subject. I took the trouble to consult my local authority and women's groups in the Labour party about the Bill. The unanimous conclusion was that the Bill was unacceptable because it risks infringing civil liberties. I explained earlier how that might unintentionally happen.

I remain sceptical about arrangements under which prosecutions might take place as a result of uncorroborated police evidence. My concern is to protect civil liberties and to try to ensure that the reputation of the police is protected. I do not wish their reputation to be sullied because of the way in which they prosecute and have to operate the law. The sus law not only caused injustices but it did a grave disservice to the police. I think that this legislation will have a similar effect.

I do not deny the problem of the innocent person being accosted, annoyed and frightened by people who kerb-crawl with a view to making contact with a prostitute. The problem has afflicted south London for many years. The widespread view is that that activity must be stopped, but I fear that the way that we are going about tackling the problem will create as many problems as it cures.

The Bill not only protects an innocent woman, but for the first time makes it an offence for a man to solicit a prostitute. That is not the harm to which the Bill addresses itself. Although the Minister said that solicitation would normally be by words, I can think of many cases where soliciting has been implied by conduct—for example, a woman sitting in a window.

Prostitution is not illegal. What is illegal is conducting a brothel or disorderly house, or soliciting. It sometimes takes courage to say such things, but I echo the words of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) that the law of prostitution and the way in which it is conducted needs to be re-examined. The Bill will not put an end to kerb crawling and prostitutes being on the streets. Those prostitutes are often young, have often had an extremely unhappy childhood, are subject to gross exploitation and their lives ofen end early because of involvement in drugs, violence and other matters.

I do not want to see that situation continue. Nevertheless, prostitution will continue and the Bill will not stop people soliciting on the streets. The Government, or somebody, must look again at the law of prostitution and the way in which prostitution is conducted. If there were a less offensive way of prostitutes making contact with their customers, removing exploitation and so on, that would remove prostitution from the streets, which is what the supporters of the Bill really want.

Therefore, we would be making a mistake to think that the Bill will cure the problem. It may even create problems. As the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West said, we need a long-term look at the way in which prostitution is conducted in order to remove the evils of which people have complained in these debates. Prostitution must be conducted in a more civilised way, because it simply will not go away.

12.51 pm
Mr. Mellor

I am glad of today's demonstration that there is life after death. Most hon. Members were deeply troubled that this important Bill appeared to have had its life terminated last week. It is an extremely happy situation that, because other business has not taken up a great deal of time today, it has had further time on the Floor of the House, and the intervening days have given time for reflection, thus enabling the Bill to make progress. I hope that it will be given its Third Reading and that it can say, as did Mark Twain when reading his own obituary: The report of my death was an exaggeration. The Bill will do an enormous amount of good. I think that that will be the view of the overwhelming majority of hon. Members, despite the fact that those praising the Bill have been slightly under-represented in today's debate. It will certainly be the view of the overwhelming majority of people in Britain, particularly those who live in urban areas, increasingly troubled, as many urban areas have been in recent years, by the problem of kerb crawling.

In my contributions to the debate, I have sought to hold firm to two matters — first, to ensure that the House, having made up its mind to do something about kerb crawling, did something effective about kerb crawling; secondly, that the House, when passing a law that creates a new criminal offence, should do so having regard to the problems that creating a new criminal offence inevitably brings in train and that appropriate safeguards should be offered to ensure that the innocent are not caught up. I believe that that has been done.

The House owes an enormous debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes). My one sadness about what has otherwise been a joyous morning for many of us is that she is not here to enjoy this moment of triumph. She was unavoidably engaged in important matters elsewhere. Nevertheless, the decision to take up the matter was hers, she piloted the Bill through the House with great skill and I know that all hon. Members will join me in thanking her for her efforts.

A clear message now goes out from the House that kerb crawling is unlawful. That is very important, because it will have a deterrent effect, which is what we want. Those living in parts of the inner urban areas that have been taken over at night by kerb crawlers will now know that any such activity is contrary to the law. I believe that the number of people involved in kerb crawling will fall dramatically as a consequence. A combination of this clear law with proper policing by uniformed police officers should act as a substantial deterrent.

Where someone commits the offence — actually drives and solicits—the way in which the law is framed carries the clear safeguard that any reasonable person would want, because an act of solicitation is required.

It was necessary to make male solicitation an offence whether the person solicited was an innocent woman or a prostitute. I say that because the nuisance of kerb crawling applies at a number of different levels. It is not just a nuisance but a humiliation for a woman walking home to be solicited in this way. It is perfectly proper that she should be protected. In the view of many, that protection is long overdue.

But it goes further than that. Even if the woman concerned is a prostitute, it is quite incorrect to say that no nuisance or annoyance is caused and that no harm is done. The harm is done to an area which becomes known as a red light area in which women cannot safely go out at night unless they are to be accosted. The pleasure of living in an area and the amenities of an area are removed if it becomes a place of resort for prostitutes and their clients. That is why a message has to go out that kerb crawling is unlawful. It is because of the detriment not just to individuals but to whole areas.

The hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) made a number of comments demonstrating her scepticism about some parts of the Bill. However, I thank her and some of her hon. Friends who, although they are opposed to the Bill, do not intend to block its Third Reading. That is very fair, and I have endeavoured to meet fairness with fairness by making significant and important concessions.

No one must allow the Bill to leave the House under the impression that it is in any sense ill thought out. If careful thought can lead to a careful, proper Bill, no Bill will have left the House more carefully thought out and with a better chance of making effective law than this one.

The Criminal Law Revision Committee took seven years to conclude its deliberations on this issue. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) said that we should clarify the law on prostitution. The Criminal Law Revision Committee is still looking at that, and we hope to have its report by the end of the year.

We should not underestimate the skill and care which the Criminal Law Revision Committee brought to its task, nor the distinction of its members and the balance of its membership. It has a most distinguished team of judges serving on it, including Lord Justice Lawton, the doyen of criminal lawyers on the bench; another lord justice of appeal; two High court judges, one of them now a lord justice of appeal; four circuit judges, one of them a woman; a stipendary magistrate, herself a woman; the Director of Public Prosecutions, which must be of significance for those who are troubled about safeguards; Mr. Michael Hill, QC, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association and a distinguished defence lawyer; Sir David Napley, whose experience in the criminal law is extensive and who for the most part has been a defence lawyer, so any aspect of unfairness to the defence would not be lost there; and Professor Smith, perhaps our foremost academic criminal lawyer. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West, who said that he would have liked a better, Home Office Bill, that, honest to goodness, this is the best Bill that those considerable minds—the most distinguished team of criminal lawyers that we could assemble—could bring forward.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said today. I hope that he will take some comfort from the fact that really and truly there could be no better Bill to deal with the problem of kerb crawling.

Recognising that the problems are not only legal but social, a policy advisory committee was established to advise the Criminal Law Revision Committee. It consisted of a much broader range of people than lawyers—such as assistant chief probation officers, a journalist, a consultant psychiatrist, a headmistress, a social worker, a lecturer in sociology and Lady Serota, the former local government Ombudsman. They advised the Criminal Law Revision Committee on the social aspects of what we know to be a complex problem.

Therefore, we are left with a Bill that sends out a clear and unequivocal message that kerb crawling is contrary to law. That will act as a deterrent. I believe that those who have looked to this House for relief from kerb crawling will find it in this Bill. I welcome it and I very much hope that the House will give it a Third Reading.

It is a triumph for my hon. Friend the Member for Drake that it has been possible to resuscitate the measure. I believe that it will be a triumph for the House to pass it into law. Assuredly, it is a reform that is much needed and much desired in many parts of the country.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.