HC Deb 12 November 1998 vol 319 cc476-8
30. Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall)

If he will make it his policy not to prosecute children under 16 years for prostitution-related offences. [58035]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston)

Prostitution itself is not a criminal offence. However, a person who loiters or solicits for the purpose of prostitution does commit a criminal offence. There is strong evidence that most young people engaged in prostitution are victims of abuse and exploitation. The primary response, therefore, is to identify a form a diversionary action, which will protect young people from further harm and enable them to resume an age-appropriate life style. However, criminal sanctions against a young person who persistently and voluntarily returns to prostitution need to be retained.

Mr. Breed

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for that reply. I hope that he has had an opportunity to read the excellent report on prostitution by the Soroptimist international working party, which states that between 1989 and 1993, some 3,300 young girls were prosecuted, yet in 1993, only 49 adults were convicted for pimping. Are not we placing far more emphasis on pursuing the victims of the crime than on punishing the real criminals?

The Solicitor-General

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. The children are victims and the focus of attention should be on those who abuse and coerce them. I congratulate the police, who, in the past year, have done ground-breaking work on the matter. The Association of Chief Police Officers guidelines, which emphasise diversion, have been piloted in Wolverhampton and Northampton. The Government will prepare, for the first time, comprehensive guidelines for agencies dealing with children to divert girls and boys from a life in prostitution.

Ms Jenny Jones (Wolverhampton, South-West)

I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on his appointment as Solicitor-General and welcome him to his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. He mentioned the pilot scheme in Wolverhampton, which is developing new ways to deal with under-age prostitution, based on the premise that children under 16 who are forced into prostitution should be treated as victims of child abuse and not as criminals. How many prosecutions of adults who force children under 16 into prostitution have there been as a result of the scheme in Wolverhampton? As his constituency is only a few miles down the road from mine, will he come to Wolverhampton to see the good work that is being done?

The Solicitor-General

I thank my hon. Friend for her kind remarks. As she said, we have adjoining constituencies and I will take her up on her invitation.

The pilot in Wolverhampton last year and early this year has had a beneficial effect in that only 10 out of 66 children identified have returned to prostitution. More importantly, as my hon. Friend rightly said, the pilot has led to the prosecution of adults–18 have been charged with very serious offences, including rape, kidnap, unlawful imprisonment and attempting to pervert the course of justice. Five have already been convicted and the other cases are on-going.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Bearing in mind the fact that the Solicitor-General said that under-16-year-olds are more often victims and are extremely vulnerable in prostitution cases, what advice would he give the Government about under-16 activities in the event that the age of homosexual consent is reduced to 16?

The Solicitor-General

As the hon. Lady knows, that is a matter for a free vote. The current law covers only soliciting by girls, so we need to address the problem of prostitution by boys. She will also be aware that the Government have sexual offences under review. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will introduce proposals for reforming the law in the coming year.