HC Deb 15 March 1999 vol 327 cc700-1
11. Ms Jenny Jones (Wolverhampton, South-West)

What plans he has to review the law on kerb crawling. 174587]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng)

We intend to make kerb crawling an arrestable offence when a suitable legislative opportunity arises. In addition, we set up in January a review to consider the present law on sex offences and to recommend clear and coherent offences that will protect the individual, particularly children and the more vulnerable, from abuse and exploitation. This will include offences of abuse and exploitation associated with prostitution. While kerb crawling will not be central to this exercise, the review will certainly have to take that offence, and views expressed about it, into account.

Ms Jones

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he believe that the power of arrest for kerb crawling should be extended to the police? Does he propose to introduce legislation and, if so, is it likely to be in the lifetime of this Parliament?

Mr. Boateng

I am absolutely committed—as are the whole of the Government—to ensuring that kerb crawling becomes an arrestable offence, and we seek to utilise the first suitable legislative opportunity to achieve that objective. I have met officers from Nottingham and from Wolverhampton to discuss the outcome of the piloting of the Association of Chief Police Officers guidelines on child prostitution in my hon. Friend's constituency. That scheme is teaching us some very important lessons about how best to deal with this menace, and particularly how to get at the pimps who continue to ply this evil trade.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

How many of the prostitutes who provide services are under the age of consent? To what extent is the Minister implementing measures to ensure that the lessons learned in Wolverhampton and the west midlands are extended to the rest of the country?

Mr. Boateng

We are taking all possible steps, with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the various child protection societies, to ensure that the lessons learned in Wolverhampton and Nottingham are recognised throughout the country. Those pilot projects show that a high proportion of young people who come to the attention of the police and social services are below the age of consent—some children as young as 11 are put on to the streets by their pimps and subjected to appalling sexual abuse by kerb crawlers. That is what it is: sexual abuse. It is not just another form of prostitution, but the sexual abuse of children. We will look to the review of sexual offences to ensure that the punishment fits the crime in this instance—which it does not always do.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

is the Minister aware of the great concern about this matter in my constituency, expressed by, among others, the Amhurst Park action group—a long-standing activist organisation that has campaigned on this issue and met with the Home Secretary to discuss it? Those bodies will be pleased to hear that the Government intend to introduce legislation in this area. Does the Minister appreciate my concern that the legislation, which is supported by not just community groups but the Metropolitan police, should not be long in coming?

Mr. Boateng

My hon. Friend has been in the forefront of the campaign on this issue. Indeed, if my memory serves me well, it was the first issue that she discussed with me soon after my appointment as Minister of State. I have not forgotten that discussion—one seldom does in the case of my hon. Friend—and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has met the Amhurst Park residents association to make progress on that matter.