HC Deb 11 May 1990 vol 172 cc542-66

1A. Proceedings under section 1 shall only be brought by the person who has been caused nuisance or fear.".'.

No. 13, in page 1, line 17, leave out subsection (4).

Mr. Bennett

I want to speak mainly to amendment No. 3. I listened with interest to the Minister's last intervention. He is moving a little in our direction, but he could move a little further. If he goes back over the arguments in 1985, he will see that there was a strong argument for putting the word "persistently" into the legislation. He has not established that there is clear evidence from the police that there are many prosecutions that they would like to pursue, but have been unable to. The Minister should tell the House if there is much evidence from the police that they have been hampered by the legislation as it was framed in 1985.

My hon. Friends have said with considerable passion that the problem has not been solved as a result of the Sexual Offences Act 1985, but I have yet to be convinced that the problem will be solved if we simply make it easier to prosecute. I am not convinced that the necessary police attention is given to the problem and part of my argument on new clause 2 was that there is a question about the resources directed to the problem. I suspect that if the police were directing a large proportion of their resources as many hon. Members who have spoken this morning would like, the 1985 legislation might have worked rather better than it has. I want the Minister to deal with that issue.

The Minister has said that he will consider administrative solutions. The difficulty with that is, as he must be only too well aware, Ministers come and go and Governments come and go. If we can achieve something by administrative guidance on one occasion and if we suggest that the Crown prosecution service and the police should deal with the problem in a certain way, what will happen if in 12 months', 18 months' or two years' time it is thought that the way in which the police operate the legislation and the way in which the Crown prosecution service brings prosecutions is not having the desired effect? There will then be further pressure for those administrative guidelines to be changed. Such pressure raises considerable worries. If the Minister is really saying that we must be satisfied that we are addressing the civil liberties issues raised by the Bill by administrative means, he must convince me that that will be enshrined in some way rather than being merely open for a Minister to change at a future date.

I realise that there are major problems. There is the question of the independence of the police from Government direction and of the independence of the Crown prosecution service from the police and from the Government, although it is under some direction from the Attorney-General. I hope that the Minister will address that point.

I should especially like him to consider whether the Government would be willing to look at the matter further in the House of Lords. I do not claim to have any background, but there are a fair number of practising lawyers and people with a great deal more experience of legal matters in the House of Lords than there are here. If the Minister promises a further look at the matter in the House of Lords, I could be persuaded that we might meet the civil liberties issues. I am not sure about the position of my hon. Friends and they may want to speak for themselves.

The Minister will accept that there are fears outside, whether justified or not, that there will be an erosion of civil rights and that the main contention—that something has to be done about kerb crawling—will not be addressed by the Bill. I shall listen with considerable interest to the Minister. I hope that he will reiterate the points that he made earlier, that he will look at the Bill again in the House of Lords and try to go a little further than simply putting his assurances into administrative guidelines. I am sure that the Minister will accept that they are subject to, and can be varied as a result of, political pressure on the Minister or even a change of Minister.

Mr. Mellor

I shall deal with the points briefly, which may be for the advantage of the House. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) for appearing to be willing to move on the matter. I want to help him as far as I can, but unfortunately I cannot get myself out of one difficulty by plunging myself into another. I shall explain what I mean by that later.

The hon. Gentleman's first point concerned the word "persistently". I am sure that I will have the support of all hon. Members who have studied the matter when I say categorically that it is the requirement for persistence that has prevented the Sexual Offences Act 1985 from being effectively enforced against people who have plainly committed acts of kerb-crawling solicitation from cars. The element of persistence has made it difficult for the guilty to be convicted. I do not see that the word "persistently" should have to be relied on as a way of preventing improper prosecutions.

There can be only two bases on which an improper prosecution can take place. People may invent evidence. If a person is prepared to invent evidence about one incident, presumably he is willing to invent evidence about two. Persistence is no protection against a willingness to invent evidence, and I do not think that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish was suggesting a systematic invention of evidence: he was concerned that it should not be too easy to secure a conviction on the uncorroborated evidence of a police officer.

It is clear that the courts, whatever Parliament says, will not be prepared to convict unless they are sure about guilt. The burden of proof is not that the courts think, "He is a policeman and the other fellow is not, so on balance, I prefer his evidence," if it is one against one. The court must be satisfied. I have outlined the way in which the system works—the pressure to get the woman to appear, the clear-cut nature of the police evidence that will be necessary to obtain a conviction, and the necessity for persistence, which I suspect will remain as a matter of proof rather than as a matter of law if a prosecution is to be successful.

The hon. Gentleman is obviously worried that, if an inocent individual asked the way, he could be arrested. He could be arrested only on the basis that someone could give evidence of the words used. The offence is not stopping a car and talking to a woman; it is soliciting for the purposes of prostitution. A policeman could be 50 yards away when he sees Lil, a regular prostitute in his area, being approached by a man in a car. He might be someone who, as well as simply losing his way, is not aware who the woman is. All he might say is, "Which way to the Dog and Duck?" The policeman would have to give evidence, or get Lil to give evidence, that words of solicitation were used. The mere fact that someone stopped and had a conversation is not sufficient. That is the important point.

The element of persistence is a major handicap to the effective administration of the law. The innocent but naive traveller who has lost his way, or the person who is the victim of someone willing to invent evidence, will not be adversely affected by the changes that we want to make—but a great many guilty people will be adversely affected, as they should be.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

The Minister said earlier that, although the word "persistently" would be deleted, in practice the court would be likely to require evidence of at least one further approach. Can he explain the difference between section 1 of the 1985 Act, which this Bill seeks to amend, and section 2, which the Bill will not amend and which will continue to contain the word "persistently"?

12.30 pm
Mr. Mellor

Clause 2 is the presumption about a boy's sexual capabilities——

Mr. Bennett

I was referring to section 2 of the 1985 Act, not clause 2 of the Bill.

Mr. Mellor

Section 2 of the original Act relates to people on foot, which is a different point. It is not the nub of the problem. The Bill seeks only to deal with the particular problem of car-borne trade. It might have been possible to have altered section 2 also, but I do not think it is an argument against the Bill because we did not choose to do so.

Mr. Bennett

I am not suggesting that it is an argument against the Bill: I am merely wondering how the courts will interpret the matter when they see that the word "persistently" has been deleted from section 1 but remains in section 2. They may assume that that runs counter to the Minister's suggestion that they should look for evidence of continued approaches rather than just one approach.

Mr. Mellor

Quite honestly, I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. I practised in the courts for almost 10 years before I came to the House. Courts are used to dealing with offences that have different ingredients. That is their business.

I want to keep my eye on the main ball, which is car-borne soliciting. It is fairly straightforward. A man in a car approaches a woman and has a conversation with her. There are only three ways in which a conviction can be obtained: first, that the woman concerned gives evidence in court and is believed on her oath, as against whatever the car driver may say, that he sought to solicit her for the purpose of prostitution. Currently, even if the hon. Gentleman's wife, mother or daughter were to be grossly offended by a guy approaching her and saying, "How about 50 quid, love, for a quick one?"—[Interruption.] That is the sort of language that is used, and that is why innocent women are outraged. I am sorry if that offends my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick), but we are not dealing with polite clubroom conversations. We are dealing with earthy approaches and women are revolted and disgusted by what is said to them.

Under current practice, even if the court believes the woman, because it is an isolated incident the man cannot be convicted. That is crying out for reform. There is no reason why, if the court prefers the evidence of the woman to that of the man, there should not be a conviction.

Secondly, there could be a conversation, but the woman concerned is not prepared to give evidence. The only way in which a conviction could be secured under those circumstances would be if another individual heard the conversation, gave evidence to the court and was believed on his or her oath. The police officer would literally almost have to breathe down the necks of the participants in the conversation for his evidence to be as strong as that of the person spoken to. In the nature of things, that is not very likely.

How can a conviction be secured without someone hearing the words or the woman coming forward? I suspect that it would be possible only if either the gestures, as in the case in The Times, were clear beckoning in and the prostitute then got into the car, or if a man had approached known prostitutes on more than one occasion so that the court was convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that he could not be doing anything else. Those are the only broad categories in which a conviction could be sustained.

We do not safeguard the innocent motorist asking the way by perpetuating the persistence requirement. However, we clearly fail to give redress to a woman who is deeply shocked and offended, and willing to give evidence. She may find that, although he would be convicted if he had snatched her handbag and the courts preferred her evidence to his, he is acquitted simply because he did not go 50 yards down the road and proposition another woman—even though the court accepted that he had propositioned her in a crude and disgraceful way for sexual purposes. That is why we are all here this Friday morning. We would not adversely impact on civil liberties by removing the persistence requirement.

Several points about guidelines have been raised. I remind hon. Members that Ministers do not, and I hope never will, determine who is prosecuted in this country. I cannot pick up the phone and say to the Crown prosecution service, "Prosecute X," or, "Don't prosecute Y." I would die in the last ditch and be almost as persistent as the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish is being on the Bill to prevent that.

The CPS is accountable via the Attorney-General. He can with perfect propriety discuss the basis on which prosecution practice evolves. The great safeguard created in recent years is the separation of the practice of prosecution from investigation. It was always said that, if the police arrested people and decided to prosecute them, there was no check or balance and no opportunity to say, "He ovestepped the mark; we shall never secure a prosecution."

There are two ways of ensuring that the Act is not oppressively implemented. First, the police can offer guidelines to officers stating clearly, as at present, the need to obtain female corroboration wherever possible. I undertake that that will be examined. Secondly, the Attorney-General's guidelines can reflect the care that needs to be taken in determing whether a prosecution should proceed. That process is now wholly independent as a result of changes in recent years. A lawyer not employed by the police makes an independent decision. That is one reason why I remain convinced that it was right to make the CPS independent despite criticisms of it. Indeed, that reform was made with the assent of both sides of the House.

I shall speak to the Attorney-General and I shall write to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish on the police aspects. I assure him that I have no interest in the innocent being convicted. I want the guilty to be convicted; that is why I want the change to be made. However, I cannot issue directions myself, because that would be unconstitutional. If the hon. Gentleman is worried about a change of Minister and a different view being taken, I assure him that the police will tell officers to proceed or the CPS will proceed only after an operational decision by the chief constable, the director of the CPS or ultimately the Director of Public Prosecutions.

There is no question of interference by politicians. However, it is perfectly proper for us to raise the concerns felt by some hon. Members, and I undertake to do that. I cannot go further than that, because I would be behaving unconstitutionally if I sought to arrogate to myself powers which, thank goodness, I do not have, have never wanted and would never want anyone in my position to have, to determine the prosecution process.

The House of Lords is not in our pocket, and nor should it be. The House of Lords considers legislation and, as the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish said, the House of Lords is particularly well qualified to consider the matter because of the number of distinguished lawyers in that place. I am happy to undertake to ensure that the Minister who deals with this Bill in the Lords will raise and invite comment on issues that have troubled some hon. Members in this House. I do not find that remotely embarrassing. I undertake that Lord Ferrers or whoever acts on his behalf will state that there was concern in the House of Commons and that it would be helpful if their Lordships with legal experience could comment on the points. The Minister in the other place might say, "We don't think that there's a problem, but one or two hon. Members in the House of Commons did. What do you think?" That would be perfectly proper.

Sir William Shelton

Am I right in thinking that the: word "persistently" was introduced in the House of Lords during the course of the debate on the Sexual Offences Act 1985?

Mr. Mellor

Yes it was, but pursuant, as I recall, to one of these rather frantic Friday discussions during which it was not possible to include that word, but we undertook as a condition of allowing the Bill to proceed, that it would be introduced in another place.

I am not remotely embarrassed by this discussion. My only embarrassment comes from the thought that we might be deprived of the Bill, not that the Bill is not going to be properly scrutinised. If I could be persuaded that we had taken the wrong step here, I would be relieved, because at the end of today I do not want to feel that we have wilfully and without good reason deprived women of protection to which they are entitled by not accepting that these are straightforward, genuine and good-hearted reasons there for having confidence in the Bill.

I have done the best that I can and I have described the position as I understand it. I hope that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish will be satisfied with that. I know that he is a scrupulously diligent parliamentarian; I have spoken advisedly knowing that he will rightly hold me to account for what I have said today.

Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

I do not have a legal background, but I appreciate that if we pass legislation in this place we must get the balance right. No legislation can be foolproof.

This debate is about balance. We must balance the genuine fear that legislation might affect civil liberties against the even greater fear and distress felt by innocent women who walk the streets and are preyed on by men who disrupt their lives, causing them great suffering and leading them to be imprisoned in their own homes. We must find a way of ensuring that innocent people who drive around our streets are protected and those who are guilty of kerb crawling are punished.

Many genuine fears were expressed in Committee about civil liberties and the Minister responded to them. The Minister has responded further this morning. His suggestions about guidelines for the Crown prosecution service and monitoring conviction rates are helpful and I welcome them.

I have received many letters from people who fully support the legislation. I have also received letters from groups who are concerned about the civil liberties aspect. I am concerned about some of the things that were said in those letters. There were misapprehensions about what the Bill contained. For instance there is nothing in the Bill about electronic tagging, but one group's letter implied that prostitutes would be electronically tagged as a result of the Bill. The Bill has nothing to do with prostitution. We could talk about the problems and the reasons for prostitution for many days, but it is not something that we shall solve, and some people would not want to solve it.

12.45 pm

The Bill is concerned with finding ways to convict criminal men who drive around our streets, harass women and make everyone feel guilty about being out on the streets at night. The Sexual Offences Act 1985 has not worked. The police and the local community know that there are cars which continually kerb crawl, but the police cannot convict those people because of the word "persistently". However, as the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) pointed out, even if the word "persistently" were taken out, there would still have to be proof before someone could be convicted. That makes it easier for the criminal element. There is a great deal of criminality associated with kerb crawling. It is not just a question of the odd man driving into an area—there is also the question of pimps, although I will not deal with that now.

The Bill is about balance—about dealing with the guilty people and achieving civil liberties for innocent women walking around our streets. I understand the views of those hon. Members who have tabled the amendment regarding the word "persistently" and I hope that they will be satisfied with the responses, as we all share their concern. However, I am concerned about the other amendments in the group, which attack women. It is appalling that some of the amendments would require an accosted woman to prove in court that she has been caused fear, or apprehension of physical harm, or that she has been accosted in such a manner as to cause the woman to fear that the man may insist on sex and rape". The amendments would force women to go to court and give evidence in what is already a difficult situation for them.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Ms. Hoey

No, I will continue as I am the only woman to have spoken in this male-dominated debate.

The Bill will not be foolproof. I hope that, having listened to what the Minister has said, hon. Members will accept the checks and balances to ensure that innocent people are fairly treated are satisfactory.

Mr. Randall

I congratulate the Minister on the statesmanlike way in which he has dealt with the matter, and on his attempts to come up with a solution acceptable to all hon. Members.

There is no doubt that the Sexual Offences Act 1985—which was introduced as a modern piece of legislation, specifically designed to deal with the problem of kerb crawling—has not worked. The prime reason for its failure is that the evidential requirements were so stringent that it became impossible to bring charges and get convictions.

An article by Dr. Susan Edwards in the New Law Journal dated 25 December 1987 referred to the kerb crawling legislation as "a fiasco". That article is relevant to our debate. Dr. Edwards noted: The police see the main problem in the requirements of the Crown Prosecution Service. Officers in London…explained, 'The problem is the law…the law requires two overt acts. You can have a ten-page statement and have followed him for one and a half hours and he still can get off.' Another officer remarked, 'The law is so unworkable it has made our job very difficult. The main difficulty is this question of persistent soliciting. The evidential requirement to prove persistence is high and the law difficult to enforce.' Dr. Susan Edwards, herself a lawyer, wrote: it is clear that the standards of proof required in law and by the Crown Prosecution Service leads to a low level of police enforcement; in short, it is a fiasco. It is certainly no deterrent, nor is it reducing the number of kerb crawlers or the visibility of the problem. The current law demands such stringent evidential requirements and the amendments would make it even more difficult to implement that law.

Instead of simplifying the law and making convictions easier to obtain while preserving civil liberties, the amendments take us in the wrong direction.

A balance must be struck. The Minister's proposals on the framework and concerning discussions with the Attorney-General, who in turn might say something to the Crown prosecution service and the way in which steps will be taken to encourage a discussion on this matter in the House of Lords are consistent with ensuring that the law is workable and at the same time protects, as far as one can in the practical world, the civil liberties of innocent people on the streets.

Mr. Livingstone

The Minister has asked us to trust him that the provisions and the monitoring he has suggested will work. I am struck by how often parliament passes legislation and then, because of bad wording, or simple wilful misinterpretation, it is used for a different purpose than intended.

When I was the leader of the GLC, I represented Paddington in north Westminster. A mother came to see me because her son had been stopped five or six times a week while driving around the area, but never prosecuted. That went on for week after week; for some reason, one or two local police officers had got it in for that young man. He was harassed mercilessly every day, sometimes two or three times a day as he drove around the streets of north Westminster. He was stopped, proof of identity sought and his car inspected. He was never arrested for anything, until finally, after the harassment had gone on for several weeks, he took a swing at one of the officers. Parliament never intended that the legislation to deal with crime should be used in that way, so that, with pin prick after pin prick, one or two police officers abuse it. I accept that only one or two out of thousands of good police officers do so, but it is not good enough for the Minister to say, "trust."

To take a much wider example, nearly 20 years ago the House pushed through prevention of terrorism legislation, which the nation as a whole, like most hon. Members, felt was a measure to prevent acts of terrorism. But that is not how it has worked. As year by year has gone by, tens of thousands of people have been stopped and checked at airports, ports and points of entry, and detailed political records have been built up. Of those people who were actually detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974, only one in 100 was successfully prosecuted. The act became a measure to collect political information about the movements of Irish people between Ireland and England. No amount of wonderful commitment from the Government will convince me that they have the power to ensure how legislation is carried out.

I was the leader of the Greater London council for five years. We often passed policies and discovered to our horror either that they were not being carried out in the lower reaches of bureaucracy or that they had been carried out in a way that we did not want. The best will in the world—which is certainly what the Minister has—does not work its way down through the massive bureaucracy of the law.

The Minister also asked us to accept that there is a bias against the police in our courts. I do not believe that for one minute. I believe that the majority of magistrates, both lay and stipendary, and the majority of jurors have an overwhelming predisposition to believe the police. Anyone who has been in court arguing against the police will have come away with the impression that it was an uphill struggle. I am not surprised at that. The vast majority of people in Britain who come in contact with the police find them courteous and helpful, and most people's complaint is that there are not enough around when they want one.

Mr. Mellor

I understand that there may be a level of cynicism through which I cannot penetrate, but the hon. Gentleman should not be quite as cynical about what is said about the manner in which police operate and the prosecution process works.

Some five years ago at this Dispatch Box, I said that the police would, wherever possible, try to secure the attendance of the woman. I can only talk about the Metropolitan police, but I know that their orders include that instruction, and have done from day one. I know of no evidence to suggest that the police do not make a sincere effort in every relevant case to make women appear. For the reasons that I have given, which often have nothing to do with the integrity of the police, those women often do not appear. In order to meet objections, a statement was made by a Minister and was translated into action by the Metropolitan police. Some five years on, no one has so much breathed the suggestion that it was a 11 a lot of hot air and nothing came of it.

I urge the hon. Gentleman to believe that he has a choice—he can either accept what everyone else is saying, that there is a problem that they want to help solve, or he must be prepared to allow his cynicism about the way in which authorities operate to preclude him from allowing us to help solve the problem. I hope that he will draw back from that position. I think that we have offered a tight package to prevent abuse.

Mr. Livingstone

The Minister has perfectly analysed my policies. I am an incredibly cynical person. I start from the assumption that virtually all authority is subject to abuse, and that the state inherently infringes human liberty. In many senses my particular brand of socialism has many strands which classic neo-Liberals would identify with and like. As leader of the GLC, I felt that the bureaucracy under me was inimically opposed to human freedom. The Minister sits in what is the greatest bureaucracy in the state. I start from that assumption, and nothing has happened to me in the 20 years that I have been in various forms of public office to persuade me otherwise.

I have seen systematic abuse within bureaucracies, and I have also noticed that they tend to cover it up. So I am not persuaded of the good and impartial judgment of the courts and judiciary. Our judiciary is appalling. I know that there are rules about how rude we can be in the Chamber about judges; I do not know what they are, and I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will bring me to order if I step over the line, but there have been many appalling miscarriages of justice such as that which occurred in the case of the Birmingham six.

I cannot therefore honestly see our judicial system as the protector of the liberties of the people of England. It often infringes those liberties. The position adopted by Lord Chief Justice Lane on the Birmingham appeal amounted to a travesty of justice, and if that is the style set at the top, how can people work on the assumption that at the lower levels—of stipendiary and lay magistrates—justice will be better? I often come into contact with magistrates courts and find them overwhelmingly pro-establishment and pro-police and anti people whom they consider not to be part of the great British consensus.

1 pm

Police resources, about which the Minister spoke, are at the core of the problem. If those resources can be released for this reason, why cannot they be released on a much grander scale to provide the amount of community policing that will deter crime on the streets? As I have said, when I was a boy, the police were a regular presence on all our streets, and they deterred crime. If people know that a bobby will be passing along a street every five or 10 minutes, that dramatically curtails the incidence not only of kerb crawling but of mugging, robbery, burglary and rape.

I hope that the Minister will accept the spirit behind our amendments and, instead of pressing ahead with the original legislation, reconsider his responsibility for the Metropolitan police and ensure that they switch their resources to the sort of policing that I have described. Those resources have been increasingly absorbed within the bureaucracy of policing; more and more police analyse crime trends and are involved in all sorts of special task forces, while fewer and fewer of them are on the streets occupied in crime deterrence.

I level this charge not only against the police but against every bureaucracy. Local government, the BBC and many of our major private corporations are also guilty in this respect. Increasingly, resources are consumed by bureaucracy and administration, while less and less is spent on the delivery of services. To tackle the problem of kerb crawling, I want a major shift of police resources away from the bureaucratic structures that have developed in the Metropolitan police and on to the streets. If there is a police officer in Bedford hill every hour of every day, there will be no kerb crawlers there. The same must be done for all the streets of London; if it is, not only will we dispense with this problem but we shall remove the vast bulk of the crime that disfigures the capital.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I cannot say that I am satisfied with what the Minister has said, but I realise that there are occasions when some sort of compromise must be reached. I shall press this amendment to the vote to make it absolutely clear that I am worried about the removal of the word "persistently". I hope that, after the vote, the Bill will proceed on its way to the House of Lords, where I hope that their Lordships will finally lay to rest the fears that were legitimately expressed in the House today, in Committee and in the debates on the 1985 legislation.

What my hon. Friends do is a matter for them.

Mr. Mellor

By leave of the House. Although I was critical of one or two of the points made by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, I said at the outset that he was an experienced and capable parliamentarian. They were not weasel words. The hon. Gentleman has shown largesse of spirit by allowing himself to be satisfied, and for that he should be highly commended. I do not in any way resent what it has been necessary to do to achieve that end, because I am happy to see such safeguards erected. It reflects great credit on the hon. Gentleman to take that view. Obviously, he cannot guarantee the approach of his hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East, and we must take our chances with him. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish has made a big gesture, and we all appreciate I what he has done.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 6, Noes 33.

Question accordingly negatived.

1.15 pm
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

We now come to amendment No. 10, with which it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 11, in page 1, line 16, leave out '4' and insert '1'.

Amendment proposed: No. 10, in page 1, line 16, leave out '4' and insert '2'.—[Mr. Livingstone.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes nil, Noes 40.

Division No.204] [1.16 pm
Tellers for the Ayes:
Mr. Ken Livingstone and
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Mellor, David
Bermingham, Gerald Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Bowis, John Patnick, Irvine
Carrington, Matthew Pendry, Tom
Corbyn, Jeremy Randall, Stuart
Cox, Tom Ruddock, Joan
Dorrell, Stephen Shelton, Sir William
Durant, Tony Skinner, Dennis
Fallon, Michael Stanbrook, Ivor
Foster, Derek Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Fraser, John Summerson, Hugo
Golding, Mrs Llin Thorne, Neil
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Viggers, Peter
Heffer, Eric S. Wise, Mrs Audrey
Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall) Wood, Timothy
Janman, Tim
Lawrence, Ivan Tellers for the Noes:
Lightbown, David Mr. Graham Bright and
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Mr. James Arbuthnot.

Question accordingly negatived.

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Third time.

1.27 pm
Mr. Livingstone

Having heard the passions expressed in the debate, no one can doubt that people feel deeply on this issue. Sadly, hon. Members do not feel deeply enough for more than 45 of them to be taking part in the debate. I imagine that there will be much public speculation about which way the 610 Members who did not turn up would have voted.

It has been demonstrated that there are grave reservations about the Bill. I spoke earlier at some length about several issues which I could not develop fully because we were dealing with a series of rather restrictive amendments. We must now consider the Bill as a whole and see whether the assurances from the Minister—who is a man of integrity, although I do not agree with him—which have persuaded some of my colleagues with some reluctance that the Bill should go to the other place, are sufficient for us to give the Bill a Third Reading.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I did not hear the Minister's assurances. Will my hon. Friend let me know what they are so that I can make a decision on the Third Reading? Has the Minister made concessions which would go a long way towards satisfying the National Council for Civil Liberties? If so, I may decide to vote. Did the Minister say that he would make some real changes in the other place?

Mr. Livingstone

I should be happy to give way to the Minister if he would like to repeat those assurances in his own words. They were honest proposals, which basically hinged on instructions to the police and the Crown prosecution service about the way that the legislation should be handled. He gave a commitment to monitor its effects once it is in place. In reality, although I have the greatest respect for the Minister's integrity and intentions, I do not believe that it is possible, simply through a lofty declaration in this House, to guarantee that his assurances will be carried out at the lowest levels of the judiciary and the police force.

For five years I was the leader of the Greater London council. I had many lofty aspirations about what the council should or should not do. However, some months, or even years, later, I discovered, to my sadness, that my lofty aspirations had not percolated down to the lower levels of the bureaucracy. Some people may say that what happens in local government is not the same as what happens in Parliament. However, former legislation shows that the original intentions have not always been carried out.

It may not be the police officer who gets it wrong; it could be the highest legal officers in the land. A classic case was the 1969 legislation relating to London Transport. It gave the GLC the power to subsidise fares for whatever purpose. Yet the Court of Appeal and the judicial bench of the House of Lords—which know more about the law than anyone else—put a different interpretation on the legislation from that intended by the then Transport Minister, Barbara Castle and her opposite number, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), now the Prime Minister.

If legislation can be so misinterpreted by the highest and mightiest in the land that the will of Parliament is overturned, how can we be confident that the Minister's assurances will be translated into reality, right down to the lowest levels of police and judicial bureaucracy?

For five years I was the GLC representative for Paddington. I earlier cited the case of a mother who came to me because her son was being stopped once or twice a day, day after day, as he drove his car around the area. He was challenged, searched and asked to produce his licence. That continued for weeks. Eventually he lost his temper, took a swing at the police officer and ended up in prison. Parliament never intended that the various traffic regulations and laws should be used in that way by individual police officers. I am sure that such an officer in no way represents the average police officer in the Metropolitan police. He wanted to provoke that man so that he could be arrested. Of course, I do not know the events that had led to that.

I accept the Minister's honour and his good intentions, and I have no doubt that the legislation will be monitored. However, is it not weak that a Minister should have to stand at the Dispatch Box and say that the legislation will be monitored because he is not certain how it will be implemented? No hon. Member can stand up and say, with his hand on his heart, that if the legislation becomes law we can be sure that innocent people will not be entrapped.

Like the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir W. Shelton), I began with the idea that we could do something to help alleviate the problem, even if we could not solve it. When I was the GLC member for Stoke Newington, I introduced a traffic management scheme. I was an opposition member, but I worked in collaboration with the Tory administration under Sir Horace Cutler. I wanted to end the horror of kerb crawling in the Finsbury park area. Residents loved me for it. It was the most popular thing that I did for the people of Finsbury park. However, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), the problem simply moved over the border into his constituency. That is the flaw in the Bill. it seeks to deal with the problem by moving it on or arresting a few more people. Does anyone honestly believe that if the number of people arrested for kerb crawling increases by 100 per cent., 200 per cent. or 300 per cent. the problem of prostitution will be eradicated in our cities?

The core of the argument is that we should examine and tackle the social causes of prostitution. No amount 01 repression will stop it. In more extreme societies than ours, people can have a hand cut off for theft—yet theft continues in those countries. The only way to stop theft is to create sufficient fairness in society so that everyone has adequate wealth and does not need to steal. In some societies, adultery is punishable by death. People are stoned to death, but even that severe punishment does not stop adultery.

I am sure that the people of Bedford hill support the Bill, but even if the Bill became law in the form in which the hon. Member for Streatham has presented it, it will not stop the problems of prostitution and kerb crawling around Bedford hill, Argyle square King's Cross or Finsbury park. In Finsbury Park, kerb crawlers have learned the mechanics and devious ways of the traffic management scheme that I helped to introduce and found their way around them. If the House wants to stop the problem of prostitution, I beg it to consider the causes. I consider prostitution a problem. I should like to live in a world with no prostitution, where people have loving and fulfilling relationships and that is the whole basis of sexuality in society.

To do away with the need for prostitution, other things have to be done. During one of the Divisions I had a pleasant conversation with the hon. Member for Streatham. He took up my point about my visit to Cuba and my analysis of prostitution and kerb crawling there. He told me that he had visited Cuba three times—twice before and once after the revolution. He was amazed that what I said was true. Havana was an American brothel until the revolution. Americans descended on it and bought the women, boys and girls. It was a den of vice run by the mafia.

Sir William Shelton

The hon. Gentleman will recall that I also suggested that the Cuban solution—a Communist dictatorship—would not be acceptable to my constituents and probably not to his constituents either?

Mr. Livingstone

I was not advocating the adoption of Communism to solve the problem of prostitution. I have also been to Moscow, where prostitution is rife and large numbers of prostitutes mingle with the tourists in Red square. There is no equation between Communism and the eradication of prostitution. Other aspects of Cuban society, not necessarily related to Communism, have led to a dramatic reduction in fear among women. When I arrived in Cuba, I was told that no woman in Cuba was afraid to walk the streets at night.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I realise that the hon. Gentleman was tempted by that intervention but I am sure that he will now return to the Bill.

Mr. Livingstone

My point is that if the Bill is to tackle the problem it should contain other clauses. It should include a clause which would translate the position in Cuba to our streets by stopping the use of women's bodies to advertise merchandise. One can drive around Cuba without seeing women's naked bodies draped over cars or used to sell merchandise. If we want to tackle the problem, the Bill should include a measure to tackle the issues which create the climate in mens' minds that lead them to kerb crawl and to seek prostitutes.

The House is in agreement on one issue and it is a tragedy that it is not included in the Bill. If it were, I would have voted for the Bill. In that case, on balance, the benefits in the Bill would have been greater than the detrimental effects on civil liberties. If the Bill included another clause to give expression to the overwhelming opinion of the House——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that Third Reading debates are restricted to what the Bill contains. Hon. Members had an opportunity earlier to say that other measures should be included in the Bill. Third Reading is a comparatively restricted debate on what is actually in the Bill now.

Mr. Livingstone

In that case, I will end my flights of fantasy about what I would like to see in a perfect world.

The Bill has not been amended. It is exactly as it was when first presented. Because of that, it will have considerable authority when it reaches the House of Lords.

When their Lordships considerd the Bill which became the Sexual Offences Act 1985 they added the word "persistent". That amendment is the core of this Bill in that it seeks to remove that word. As this Bill has not been amended, their Lordships may feel that their commitment to civil liberties which led them to introduce the word "persistent" in the first place is sufficiently strong that they should override the views and wishes of this House. Therefore, they might be prepared to endorse the Bill. That would be worrying.

At the end of the day, this Bill strengthens the repressive arm of the state. It gives further powers to the forces of law and order and I believe that it will shift the balance against an individual's right to travel freely on the streets.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) entertained us in Committee by giving an extreme example of what might happen. He said that there might be a by-election in Streatham. The local Conservative association might invite many leading Conservative Members of Parliament to canvass in the area and one of them might drive into the constituency. Not knowing the area very well, he might be in the vicinity of Bedford hill and have to stop, get out and ask someone the way. If that person was a prostitute, she might not know the area very well and she might not be able to assist the Conservative Member, who would then wander off and stop the next woman on the street. By that stage, the police would have all the evidence that they need under this Bill to arrest, convict and ruin the career of that hon. Member. That is the nub of it. Our debates have been about that basic position.

What is the balance between the liberties of an innocent individual who might be caught and the obvious appalling circumstances facing people who are plagued by kerb crawling? That is not a new problem and I am afraid that the Bill will not solve it. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood, I grew up in Lambeth and I remember prostitutes being on the streets when I was 14 or 15 years old. As my friends and I wandered around the streets on our bikes we would occasionally stop and chat with the prostitutes. Even then, the police would turn up and arrest some of them and take them away. Thirty years on, the problem remains. Over that period, a whole range of new police powers have been introduced and there has been a massive extension in police numbers, but it has failed to tackle the problem.

I do not doubt the sincerity of the commitments given by the Minister of State. Nor do I have any doubt about the integrity of the hon. Member for Streatham, but I believe that his constituents will be sorely disappointed and possibly embittered if the Bill is passed and there is no real improvement. Although I am sure that a few more kerb crawlers will be arrested, the problem will still be there. There is nothing in the legislation guaranteed to solve it. In this country—and across the world—legislators have tried for thousands of years to stop the problem of prostitution, although now it is called kerb crawling. I am sure that there was a similar problem in ancient Greece and Rome.

Some people have suggested that we should legalise brothels, but the thought of Brent council running a brothel service does not fill me with confidence, and I am glad that the hon. Member for Norwood did not include that in his Bill. The solution is not yet more repressive police powers and a further erosion of individual rights. However, the Bill is in line with the tradition of the past decade: its underlying ideology, like virtually all the law and order legislation passed by this Government, will result in an extension of police and state powers and an erosion of the powers of the individual. We have seen that in legislation affecting other issues such as the right of Irish people to move freely, and the right to silence is now under threat.

I support a different tradition of British justice—the basic presumption that the individual has rights. Conservative Members seemed surprised when I said that I was basically opposed to the state, which I consider a necessary evil: like Calvin Coolidge, I believe that the least government is the best government, and that we should do the minimum and have the minimum of regulations to ensure the smooth running of society. The Bill would extend the state and regulation, and result in a reduction in the traditional liberal values that one would expect a party committed to free enterprise to apply. A party that is broadly committed to free enterprise, however, has produced an increasing number of people in favour of quite rigid social regulation.

The Bill will lead to a further erosion of the use of forensic evidence to secure convictions. That is not new, and I do not blame the hon. Member for Streatham for it. During the past few years Bill after Bill has resulted in changing police practices, and it is now increasingly unusual for a conviction to be obtained on the basis of forensic evidence—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot talk about Bill after Bill; he must restrict his remarks to this Bill.

Mr. Livingstone

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for bringing me to order.

The Bill does precisely that. It relies not on forensic evidence but on police statements, often uncorroborated. I have no doubt that 99 per cent. of our police are honest, decent citizens who do their best, often in impossible circumstances—like most hon. Members whatever their disagreements. The Bill, however, provides no safeguard agains the odd rotten apple in the barrel. What happens if something goes wrong and an innocent passer-by who stops to ask the way is arrested and convicted in some low-level court on the word of a police officer? Such people's lives could be destroyed by the ensuing press reports, which might result in the end of a marriage, the loss of a job and humiliation in the community. Those are terrible powers.

There have been many instances of the miscarriage of justice, although one of the good features of the past few years has been the increasing commitment to expose such miscarriges. The Bill increases the chance of such a miscarriage of justice. I would give anything for the Bill to give some commitment to provide proper counterbalance.

The Minister struggled to give the commitments to satisfy us. He managed to satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), but he has not satisfied me. Words spoken in this House have no force in a court of law. Ministers come and go and a commitment given by a Minister carries little weight if his successor disagrees with it. That is extremely disturbing.

If the Minister had moved amendments to give force to the commitments that he sought to give, I would have voted for them. I regret I cannot vote for the Third Reading of the Bill.

Sir William Shelton

We have heard many vague ideals and aspirations from the hon. Gentleman, some of which I support. He said that my constituents will be embittered and disappointed if the Bill goes through and does not achieve the desired result. If the Bill does not go through, not only my constituents but many other people will be embittered and disappointed because protection will not be given, not only to women who are molested on the street but to those who are prisoners in their houses because of kerb crawlers. Does the hon. Gentleman intend to talk the Bill out?

Mr. Livingstone

Yes, because I do not believe that it will provide protection for women who are prisoners in their homes because of the crime level.

Sir William Shelton

In that case, can the hon. Gentleman tell us specifically what will provide that protection other than some magic formula that he has found in Cuba and the banning of page 3 photos? Tonight people will be molested on the streets—it happened yesterday and it will happen again tomorrow. Youngsters are going home carrying empty hypodermics and girls of 15 are solicited by kerb crawlers. That is all going on right now, but all the hon. Gentleman does is talk about Cuba and banning the page 3 girls. They are airy-fairy aspirations. If the hon. Gentleman intends to talk the Bill out in the remaining minutes, can he at least suggest what he would like to see done?

Mr. Livingstone

I have already said that I believe that there should be a massive shift of police resources on to the streets. When I was leader of the GLC I argued for community policing. I examined the figures and found that we have 25,000 police in London. Given that 25 per cent. of them are needed to administer the bureaucratic machinery, even working three shifts, that still means that at any one time one could have five police officers walking the streets in every ward of London. Their presence would act as a deterrent. If we have police officers walking around Bedford hill every day it would help to solve the problem. I am not suggesting that those police officers should be stationed in Bedford hill alone, as that would move the. problem elsewhere, but there should be a massive shift in police resources. Such a shift would not require legislation. The hon. Member for Streatham is a member of the party which governs Britain and which, through the Home Secretary, has direct and immediate day to day responsibility for the Metropolitan police.

Sir William Shelton

The hon. Gentleman must he aware that the amendments that he supported would have resulted in a kerb crawlers' charter. Even if there were 100 police on every street corner they would have been powerless to arrest a girl if the area was not designated. The hon. Gentleman should pull himself together, look into his mind, and decide exactly what should be done other than what we are suggesting. If the Bill is talked out, I shall do my best to ensure that those interested in this matter are aware of what he has done.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We must stick to the rules of the House. I remind the House again that Third Reading debates are very narrow and restricted to what is in the Bill. The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) would be out of order were he to go beyond that.

Mr. Livingstone

I accept that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to respond in more detail to the hon. Member for Streatham because the Bill is bad enough already. It represents once again a massive extension of police powers and the potential risk for massive upheaval and destruction of individuals' lives if they are caught by the provision. There are many good things in the Bill. What I regret most about it is that I would like to have been able to vote for the provision which removes the nonsense that a boy under the age of 14 cannot commit rape or have sexual intercourse. It is wise to include that in the Bill. As with the debate that we had on embryo research legislation, where a completely different matter was introduced, I do not understand the direct connection between the two issues.

Although both issues are in the Bill, kerb crawling and the measures in the Bill to try to restrict it bear no relation to the Bill's other major aspect—the removal of the presumption in law that a boy under 14 cannot commit an act of sexual intercourse. We all know that that is nonsense. There have been instances of nine-year-old boys sexually molesting girls and that is something which should be stopped. That aspect should have stood on its own. If that were the only provison that the legislation contained I have no doubt that it would have been unanimously agreed to in the House. That is why I put my name to a series of amendments to remove the other part of the legislation. I want to vote for the good and wise measure that removes a ridiculous anomaly in British law.

I shall be happy to justify my actions to my constituents because they will look at the legislation in the context of other laws that have been abused. My constituents have often been subjected to the abuse of legal procedures, either in the courts or by the odd police officer who has completely misused legislation. They will see the Bill as another step in that direction and as legislation which removes their civil liberties. I should be happy to invite the hon. Member for Streatham to have a debate in my constituency about my actions because my constituents, while they would be happy and delighted to welcome the provision relating to removing the presumption in law that a boy under 14 cannot commit rape, would be extremely worried about extending existing law further to include kerb crawling. They would take the view that the Bill would not solve the problem.

If I had been persuaded, either by the hon. Member for Streatham or the Minister of State, that the Bill would solve the problem. I would have voted for it. If I had been assured that the legislation would drive kerb crawlers off the streets while protecting innocent people I would have been happy to support it. But while we have heard many good protestations of the best intentions, we have not had the firm, specific, legal amendments to make the Bill safe legislation.

Therefore, I draw attention not to the clause with which I agree relating to boys under the age of 14, but to the Bill's core which has caused dissension. I do not think that today there has been more than a passing mention of clause 2. I regret that the Bill is almost like a composite of bits and pieces and does not achieve the response that we would like, which would have been the House unanimously agreeing to clause 2. Clearly, there is not unanimity

Looking around the House, I note that for legislation which has invoked such passion among those present, it is surprising that more hon. Members have not turned up to debate it. There are about 650 hon. Members, but there has not been a vote here today which has registered the presence of more than 45. If this is such a major issue for people like me who worry about its impact on civil liberties or for people like the hon. Member for Streatham—or my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood who represents the neighbouring constituency—who are on balance more worried about kerb crawling, it is surprising that the Chamber has not been packed. On a couple of votes we came close to not being able to muster the requisite number to allow the subject to continue to be discussed. I suspect that the Bill deals with a narrow area of law and with a small part of the country where the problem of kerb crawling is admittedly an abomination. I was born and brought up close to one of these areas and I represent a constituency in Parliament where this legislation would make no more difference than did my proposal for a traffic management scheme.

I used to serve as a member of Camden council, whose town hall is adjacent to Argyll square, which is a major centre of prostitution. Nothing in the legislation would stop that. The problem there was that most of the police activity took place in the day time; in the evening there were virtually no arrests, so evening kerb crawlers were subject to little pressure from police officers even though the problem was much less oppressive and offensive during the day.

There were two types of prostitutes. Those who worked in the afternoon were not linked into the structure of pimping, whereas those who worked in the evening were and were probably linked into organised crime. Despite that, police pressure was put on in the afternoon, not the evening. If this legislation had been in operation then, a few dozen kerb crawlers might have been picked up but I doubt whether it would have been much of a deterrent. Major television programme makers turned up to film what was going on but hardened kerb crawlers were prepared to carry on driving around Argyll square even though they knew there was a risk of being filmed. Unfortunately, the subsequent documentaries blanked out the faces of the kerb crawlers.

My guess is that some men will think that the risk of exposure under this legislation is too great and will stop kerb crawling, but I imagine that they will scuttle off to some other area where they hope there will not be the same police presence, or they may find themselves linked into a network of brothels and stop kerb crawling for that reason, but I suspect that they will be a small minority. Just as the penalties for many more serious crimes do not deter the criminal I do not believe that the hardened kerb crawler, with his different perspective on life, will be dissuaded by the small risk of arrest under this Bill.

The problem is to do with the innocent person who happens to be passing by. Perhaps I am naive but I confess that I had been walking through Argyll square for 18 months before I realised that there was prostitution there. I just thought that there were a lot of young people out late on the streets. What would have happened to me if I had stopped and chatted to one of them and if I had happened to be driving? As it happens, I do not drive, so I am safe. This is one of the few Acts of Parliament that could not be used against me by this repressive Government, but they have enough others to be going on with.

My anxieties have not been assuaged by the debate. If the Minister had given form to some of his commitments that would have been fine.

There has been some disagreement between me and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) about the level of penalties. He spoke with some passion, depicting wealthy men driving through working class areas looking to pick up women with whom to have sex. He described men who could pull £100 out of their back pockets. But the study of prostitution in the King's Cross area suggests that although a small number of well-off business men drive through these areas to pick up prostitutes, most people using their services are not well off. Many of them are on low incomes and will not be dissuaded by a fine of £1,000 because they could not raise such an amount anyway.

I should like to see fines related to people's income and their ability to pay. Let us consider the case of a person who is without shame, the wealthy business man who does not give a damn about what may be said, or perhaps a newspaper proprietor who knows that his newspaper will not report it if he is caught kerb crawling. Such people will not be deterred by a fine of £1,000 because they could easily pay it. If Robert Maxwell or Rupert Murdoch were caught kerb crawling it would be no problem for them to pay a fine of £1,000.

A message to the magistrates that we want to see much more severe fines would create an intolerable burden. If people cannot pay it would lead to the seizure and distraint of their goods or may well lead to them being imprisoned. All those problems could arise. The part of the Bill about fines opens up the prospect of yet more problems and more discrimination in the field of justice.

The Bill might be more sensible if it contained a method of penalising people that would really hurt them such as, for example, a long period of community service. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwood is laughing. Perhaps he would like to intervene and share the joke with us. At one time I was the GLC member for his constituency. He was the Member of Parliament at that time and we did not have the immediate problem of kerb crawling in that area. The Bill would not have helped if there had been such a problem.

The Bill taps a vein of genuine worry, which I share, about what can be done to protect women who are harassed by people driving around an area asking for sex. If the Bill could solve that problem I would vote for it, but it will not solve it, it will make matters worse. It will not curtail the amount of kerb crawling but will lead to an increasing number of ordinary innocent people being entrapped.

Mr. Fraser

As my hon. Friend knows I share his concern about civil liberties, and I have made that clear in Committee and on Report. My hon. Friend asks whether the Bill will reduce the problem of kerb crawling. The difficulty at the moment is that for a charge of persistent soliciting to succeed it is necessary for four to six police officers to be involved in the investigation to bring forward the requisite evidence. That raises a difficulty in terms of devoting police resources to other important matters in my constituency. I accept that the police manpower that is necessary to obtain convictions is quite disproportionate to the manpower that is required to gather evidence for other types of convictions. I share my hon. Friend's doubts about civil liberties although I am more satisfied than he is about the assurances that we have been given. Needing four to six police officers to obtain a conviction is a serious difficulty and a waste of police resources. The Bill will be effective because it will mean that fewer police officers or other witnesses will be needed to obtain a conviction.

Mr. Livingstone

I share my hon. Friend's anxiety. As a Member of Parliament and a solicitor he has much experience in this field.

Existing police resources are not wisely used, although not for any wicked or venal reason. It should be possible for the Metropolitan police to release enough officers to ensure that when a charge is made it is accurate and will stand up in court. We have talked about three, four or five police officers being used to obtain a conviction. London has 26,000—or is it 28,000?—police officers. There has been a major increase in police numbers but we do not see the extra officers on the streets.

I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the study of police in Liverpool. It shows that at any one time only 3 per cent. of the police force was on patrol. The problem that the hon. Member for Norwood raises would be resolved if the Minister would say that he will direct the Metropolitan police to switch resources into providing an adequate level of community policing—policing that works with the community and carries the consensus of the community. The Greater London council argued for such policies from 1981, while I was leader. If that happened, there would be no shortage of resources to gain convictions under the present legislation.

It worries me when we respond to legislation that is not working, either because it has missed the target or because of inadequate police resources, by passing yet more legislation that introduces further constraints on civil liberty. Instead, we should make the police whom we have, and for whom we are paying, patrol the streets. It may be bad for women to be harassed by kerb crawlers, but it is much worse for them to be raped or mugged. Some 40 or 50 per cent. of women in London are frightened to leave their homes after dark. The Bill will not solve that problem. The only thing that will reassure women and get them out of their homes after dark is a regular police presence on their streets, as there used to be in London when I was a child. The Bill will not do that.

Women will not look at the Bill and say, "Oh, that's all right. It needs only one police officer to identify a man approaching someone once in the street, so that will solve the problem." However, if they had seen a massive shift in resources to community policing, they would be much happier. Such a move would require no legislation. It requires only a direction from the Home Secretary to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. Such a move would have the support of the whole House, especially those of us who have argued for too long that we need a police presence on the streets. That would deter not only kerb crawlers but muggers, rapists and—a crime with an increasing occurrence—murderers.

I share the concern of hon. Members on both sides of the House about the fact that women are frightened to leave their homes. They are frightened not just in areas subjected to kerb crawling. Because prostitutes and their clients are regularly on the streets, and this leads to frequent visits by police, even if they are not there in adequate numbers to tackle the problem—there are sufficient people around to deter other crimes. A woman is less likely to be raped, mugged or murdered in such circumstances than she is in a poorly lit, inadequately policed and unfrequented street.

Therefore, we need legislation that tackles the problems of all women. These problems do not affect only London just as the Bill does not apply only to London. Many other areas suffer from the same basic problem. My guess is that the Liverpool study, which identified only 3 per cent. of police on patrol at any one time, shows a broad pattern that is repeated elsewhere.

How will this legislation be interpreted by the judiciary? Perhaps that is a grand word for magistrates, but presumably, on appeal, somebody who has been convicted could work his way quite high up the legal tree. If I am wrong, I will give way to one of my legal friends.

Mr. Fraser

To be fair, he could not.

Mr. Livingstone

I thank my hon. Friend, but he disturbs me even more. I am not a lawyer, but as leader of the GLC I gave an awful lot of money to barristers and I spent a lot of time with them, although I never picked up the basic principles of law. I had hoped that someone convicted under the Bill, if it is enacted, would be able to appeal all the way to Lord Lane—God help him if he got Lord Lane, given his broad range of reactions. I am even more worried if there will not be a right of appeal.

Mr. Fraser

There could be an appeal to the Crown court. One could get a retrial in the Crown court, but it would not usually go further than that.

Mr. Livingstone

My hon. Friend reassures me because in my view the worst part of the legal system is its highest level. The Court of Appeal is the judicial bench of the House of Lords. It is reactionary and divorced from reality, largely I suspect because the Prime Minister has appointed them all personally and has managed to find people even more profoundly reactionary and contemp-tuous of human and civil rights than herself.

Once again, the bulk of these cases will be sorted out in the magistrates courts. That worries me as my experience of magistrates courts is not a happy one. There was a gross miscarriage of justice at my expense when a security guard smacked me in the mouth. I did not feel that the magistrates court was a safeguard. Unfortunately the Bill will mean that the problem will be dealt with in the magistrates courts and that is a tragedy. Perhaps we need a judicial system under which a wider range of experience produces a better understanding of the problems.

There is a general bias among lay magistrates and stipendary magistrates in their broad commitment to support the police. That is understandable as there should be such a commitment throughout society. The legislation puts more trust in the police and removes some of the constraints on them. Therefore it is only to be expected that magistrates would be broadly sympathetic to the police and would give them the benefit of the doubt. Juries take the same position, and all the evidence shows a well documented predisposition to give the police the benefit of the doubt when there is a conflict of evidence between a police officer and someone who is the subject of prosecution. The Bill enshrines that and takes it a stage further by removing one of the checks and safeguards that have been invaluable constraints on the abuse of the 1985 Act.

Leaving aside the non-controversial issue in that we accept that, of course, a boy under 14 can commit rape and should be subject to penalties, the core of the argument is the balance between the rights of the police and their ability to operate as they wish, and the right of an individual who might be entrapped.

I listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Streatham when he talked about the problems in his constituency. Those problems will not go away even if the Bill is passed. The Bill will simply lead to greater concern and chaos in the lives of those who are likely to be arrested by mistake.

There have been a small number of well documented cases in which people have been set up. Magistrates courts have been presented with evidence that individuals have been entrapped by the police particularly in areas where gay men collect. Not so long ago an hon. Member made the mistake of wandering into a gay bar and was prosecuted by the Metropolitan police who alleged that he pinched the bottom of a plain clothes police officer who was particularly attractive.

In cases involving sexual crime there are well documented instances of the police using entrapment and acting as provocateurs and of policemen pretending to be gay men in public houses and gay bars. When a Member of Parliament was caught in exactly the same way as the Bill would allow others to be caught, I challenged the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir Kenneth Newman, and asked him how he could justify attractive young police officers dressed in civilian clothes hanging around in gay bars waiting for someone to pinch their bottoms when kerb crawling, mugging and rape are at record levels. That was a grave misuse of police resources.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is discussing the conduct of the police and the way in which they operate. He must restrict his remarks to what is in the Bill. As he said a short while ago, the Bill is narrow and restrictive. I ask him to take his own advice as well as mine.

Mr. Livingstone

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall be as narrow and restrictive as possible.

We know that a Member of this place was entrapped in a gay bar. Another hon. Member or a member of the public, could be set up in the context of the Bill. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent people being set up. A motorist driving innocently along a street could be ensnared so as to bump up the arrest figures in the area. There tends to be a high level of misdeeds on the part of officers who are involved in alleged sexual offences. About 20 years ago, it was revealed that police officers were involved in a fraud in which they were being paid by people operating in the porn trade. In a sense, the Bill would further entrap the police in an area in which it is already difficult for them to operate. It is an area in which there are boundless opportunities for corruption. That applies equally to sexual crime and drug offences which tend to cause a breakdown of standards and some times, lamentably, examples of police corruption.

I am aware that there is much activity within the Chamber and that I am not receiving the rapt attention of all hon. Members. I am waiting for something nasty to happen after the plotting has been completed. That activity should not distract from the basic issues. Our purpose must be to balance the civil liberties of all citizens, police powers and the right of women to be able freely to walk along our streets at night without harassment.

It is unfortunate that only a minority of hon. Members were prepared to discuss the issues today. That is not the fault of those who are passionately committed to one side of the argument or the other, and who have been in the Chamber throughout our proceedings. The Bill has attracted those who are committed. Although the Bill is national in its context, it is directed specifically at only a few areas. Those who have been in their places today represent constituencies where there is a kerb-crawling problem, or constituencies that are adjacent to them, and that is how it should be. It is regrettable that an amendment which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish which would have made the problem specific——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot return to amendments on which the House has come to a decision.

Mr. Livingstone

Only local Members, as it were, are in the Chamber to discuss the Bill. None of us is present as a national Member of a national parliament. Those who are in their places have been brought here as a result of activities in local communities.

A decade ago I went down the road that the hon. Member for Streatham has taken. It involved more restrictions, more constraints and more laws. Everyone concedes that the 1985 legislation has failed, and the Bill might well fail. The commitments given by the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), suggest that the Government expect the Bill to fail. It seems that they suspect that it is flawed. Why should we need all the commitments that were given by the Minister on behalf of the Government? He told us that the Government would monitor the effects of the Bill because of the danger that things will go wrong. He said that he would give special instructions to the police and Crown prosecution service to ensure that the Bill is implemented in accordance with the wishes of the House.

This cannot be good legislation. Legislation should be drawn so tightly that it cannot be open to misinterpreta-tion. Although the hon. Member for Streatham has drawn the legislation as well as he can to tackle an almost insoluble problem—and I am certain that he has had tremendous help from Officers of the House—once we get into the area of sexual crime, it is almost impossible to draft legislation that will provide the response that we want. The Bill is flawed because it falls into that camp.

This is a short Bill, no more than one sheet of paper, yet much of it, which is uncontroversial, deals with the ability of boys under 14 years of age to have sexual intercourse—which only a fool would deny was possible. The rest of the Bill deals with the problem of kerb crawling. The Bill deals with the balance of interest between local communities that are subject to the appalling consequen-ces of kerb crawling and the rights of the individual woefully inadequately. If the Bill had been in operation for the past 20 years, it would not have stopped Bedford hill from being a centre of prostitution and kerb crawling, as it is today. Nothing in the Bill would have stopped the area of Stoke Newington that I represented—Finsbury park—from being a centre of prostitution today. I have judged the Bill on that basis. I thought about whether the Bill would give residents in my area relief from the pressures of kerb crawling, as I tried to do.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

If the previous legislation of the Greater London council and the Sexual Offences Act 1985 have both failed, why does my hon. Friend oppose another attempt to curb the problem?

Mr. Livingstone

I thought that I had made that clear at some point in the past five and a half hours. I fear that we are seeing a further erosion of the rights of the individual and I see no evidence that the Bill will work. I have put forward one proposal after another in the hours of debate today which could not only stop kerb crawling but would make a major impact on reducing prostitution. I told the House, as I repeat now to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), that the way to solve the problem is not the Bill, but by tackling the social consequences. The Bill simply increases the level of state control, and police powers and repression.

I am prepared to say that I seek to stop the Bill in the hope that that will produce better legislation to relieve the problems of the residents of Streatham and the constituents of hon. Members in areas where kerb crawling has become an intolerable problem. The Government may be unwilling to come forward with proper legislation, but I hope that they will do so. Better legislation might have the support of all hon. Members if the Bill fails at Third Reading. As we failed to carry the amendments, this is still a weak Bill.

I very much hope that the Government will find a way to bring legislation to the House on the subject of boys under the age of 14, which would be likely to complete its passage in a matter of hours. There is no dissent about those provisions in the Bill. Such a Bill would help to clear up the ridiculous legal anomaly which assumes that a 14-year-old boy cannot commit sexual intercourse. That hinders proper methods to cope with young offenders who increasingly, perhaps influenced by the television or by rather disreputable videos, mimic the behaviour that they see and sexually harass or, in the worst cases, rape young girls. It would be a tragedy if the provisions on that problem, which have the consent of the whole House, were lost simply because they have been lumped in with the wholly different legal and social problem of kerb crawling.

Having examined the Bill, I am amazed that it was ever allowed on to the agenda of the House. It covers two wholly different topics. I am surprised that there was not some rule of the House to knock it out earlier. Clearly, there is not and I still have much to learn. I hope that we can return to this part of the legislation, which has massive support in the House, at a time when it can be carried into law. I cannot support the other part of the legislation, which I believe would have a devastating impact on the lives of innocent people who would be entrapped.

The matter is of such importance that the Home Secretary should have come to the House today. Had he done so, and had he said that, although the legislation was flawed he would consider a massive shift of police resources—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday 18 May.