HL Deb 07 June 1985 vol 464 cc970-91

1.13 p.m.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. I warmly welcome the chance to place before your Lordships a Bill to which I attach a great deal of importance, and which I hope will commend itself to the House. It is a Bill which, in my view, deals in a plain and straightforward way with activities which must have appropriate sanctions under the criminal law if that law is properly to protect society and to reflect its concerns. It deals with activities in which women are the victims and to that extent I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to introduce this Bill myself—not from a particularly strident feminist platform, and not from a high-minded sense of moral outrage but, as I hope to explain to the House, because common sense and equity call for what I hope this Bill provides.

The Bill makes "kerb crawling" an offence and also creates an offence of persistently soliciting women for prostitution. I shall be asking your Lordships to remove a third offence—that of soliciting women for sexual purposes in a manner likely to cause fear—following undertakings given in another place. The Bill also increases two maximum penalties for serious sexual offences against women and girls.

Before I trace these proposals in a little more detail, I should like first to express my personal gratitude to the Criminal Law Revision Committee—chaired by Lord Justice Lawton—and to the Policy Advisory Committee on Sexual Offences—chaired by Sir George Waller—for their tremendously thoughtful, sensible and constructive proposals on how to deal with these problems which are the whole basis of this Bill. Their 15th Report, Sexual Offences published in April, and their 16th Report, Prostitution in the Street, published in August, contain among others, recommendations implemented by this Bill. It is clear that the new offences proposed deal with a widely perceived and experienced nuisance, and that the penalty increases will be thought fair and right; I wish to make it plain that it is to the Criminal Law Revision Committee that the principal credit is due for the merits of this Bill.

Perhaps I may now turn to the specific provisions. Clause 1 makes it an offence for a man in a street or public place to solicit a woman for prostitution either from a motor vehicle or having just left one. The House will not need me to emphasise that this is in a way the core of the Bill, in that it deals directly with "kerb crawling", the scale of which has in recent years brought enormous problems to various localities around the country, as Members of the other place representing those constituencies particularly afflicted know only too well.

What then is the problem? And what is the proper response? The line taken by the Criminal Law Revision Committee, and which I share wholeheartedly, is not one of high-minded moral outrage, as I have said. I am not about to make pronouncements about vice or degradation, or to clamour for prostitution to be outlawed. That is one view of the prostitution business, and it is of course a respectable view, but it is not the basis of the controls we are considering today. Noble Lords will know that I have in my time shown interest and concern for the prostitutes themselves, and that I should not wish the law to penalise them further in any direct way.

But kerb crawling is a menace and, in some areas, an intolerable nuisance and residents can and should expect the law to address intolerable public nuisances. For many years, the prostitute plying her trade in the street has been controlled by law. The approach in this Bill is simply this: If the prostitute is penalised in respect of her activities in the street, on the ground that her activities amount to a nuisance from which passers-by have a right to be protected, surely it is right also to penalise the client when his activities, too, amount to a nuisance affecting the women who live in an area and who pass through it. The "punters"—and I believe that that is the correct term—congest inner city streets; they offend women who are not prostitutes by mistaken approaches. The police in some areas have been valiant in their attempts to control these men, but they have at their disposal only archaic laws which do not specifically address the problem that they are urged to solve—a problem which I regret to say, is increasing.

There is evidence to suggest that not just individual women, but groups of residents in afflicted areas are sufficiently frightened or upset by the use of their streets, doorways and front gardens for sexual arrangements and services, to behave as if a virtual curfew had been imposed upon them; ordinary people will not go out or let their children, particularly teenage daughters, out after dark. Noble Lords may wish to expand on particular problems in particular areas, for I wish only to state the general principle. The clients of this business should not congest traffic and cause distress to residents by kerb crawling; the law controls the nuisance caused by plying a prostitute's trade in a street or public place; it should also control in the same way those who cause a nuisance in seeking their services, and that is what Clause 1 does.

The obvious question in relation to Clause 2, to which I now turn, is how and why it is distinct from Clause 1. Why are there two separate offences? This is where I am particularly glad to offer common sense as the rationale of this Bill; it cannot be claimed so confidently for all legislation. The Criminal Law Revision Committee were concerned at the obvious and pressing nuisance of kerb crawling—that is, in the main, the use of a car to trail prostitutes and pick them up. Clause 1 addresed that mischief. But there is no point in legislating in such a way as to simply push the clients out of their cars onto the street.

Clause 2 makes it an offence for a man in a street or public place persistently to solicit women for prostitution. The House will appreciate the importance of the element of persistence here and will know that the issue was carefully addressed—and I went to listen to the discussion there—in another place. Other committees have looked in the past at how such offences might be framed and have been unable to make firm recommendations. Clause 2, I believe, achieves the right effect, and I hope that noble Lords will agree. We are not dealing with the passer-by who asks a woman an innocent question. We are not dealing with a spontaneous, isolated, and sometimes welcome comment or invitation from a man to a woman in the street. We are not even dealing with a punter who makes a discreet arrangement with a prostitute. Clause 2, like Clause 1, concentrates on the public nuisance. Kerb crawlers are public nuisances and so are men who persistently approach women in the street for prostitution; and the first two provisions of the Bill seek to control these activities.

The Marquess of Tweeddale

My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will allow me to intervene. Clause 2 already exists, I believe, in substance in the 1956 Act. What is the purpose of repeating it here?

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, I shall leave the details to the Minister, but surely it is better to have the provision in an Act which will be used, I hope, and so it will not be necessary to look up another Act. I think it is much easier to have the provisions all in one Act.

I shall not take up the time of the House in discussing Clause 3. It addresses a related but distinct social evil—frightening sexual behaviour—but since it has been thought undesirable in another place, I shall, with some regret, I must admit, seek to delete the clause at a future stage of our consideration of this Bill. I remain of the view that frightening sexual behaviour by men towards women should receive serious attention from those of us who are able to influence the framing of the criminal law. But I also understand that in so far as Clause 3 is concerned, the offence may be directed well beyond the prostitute's client and it may well be better to proceed more cautiously—I think it is perhaps better in this case—in this delicate area in regard to what is acceptable behaviour between men and women and what is not. Accordingly, as I have said, this Bill will be simpler and shorter by one clause. I imagine that on that ground alone the change is likely to be welcomed.

Finally, the Bill effects increases in the penalties for two sexual offences. Clause 4 increases the maximum penalty for attempted rape from seven years' to life imprisonment and brings the penalty for indecent assault on a female into line with that for indecent assault on a male by increasing it to 10 years' maximum. Both these penalty increases are, I believe, sensible and logical. Maximum penalties for attempts at other non-sexual offences were brought into line with the penalties for the full offence by the Criminal Attempts Act 1981. Attempted rape was not brought into line, as the Criminal Law Revision Committee was reviewing that whole area. In the outcome the committee concluded that there was no reason for treating these matters any differently from others. Accordingly, attempted rape, which can be as vicious and emotionally damaging as the completed offence, will, under this Bill, be punishable by a maximum term of life imprisonment.

The case for an increase in the indecent assault penalty is even clearer. At present indecent assault on a male is punishable by a maximum of' 10 years' imprisonment, that on a girl under 13 by five years, and on a female of 13 years or over by two years. We can be talking, in the worst cases, about horrifying sexual abuse of children where the courts, in passing a maximum sentence, are at present constrained to making a sentencing distinction according to whether the child is a little boy or a little girl. This is unjust and dangerous—and not only in regard to children. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary in another place mentioned a particular case in which a two-year sentence for an indecent assault on a woman was clearly insufficient to protect society. Subsequent events in the form of a horrifying sexual assault and murder bore this out, but the court at the time of sentencing for the indecent asault had no option above two years, despite, I believe, evidence before it that the offender was likely to be a continuing risk to the public for years to come. Maximum sentences are not of course the "tariff" for the ordinary case; they are to give the courts powers to deal adequately with the worst possible cases, and I hope your Lordships will agree that this is what Clause 4 provides.

I hope that I have not delayed the House too long, but I wished to explain both what I see as the overall theme of this Bill, and its particular provisions. It falls into two natural divisions, dealing first with the "punters" in the street, who are a nuisance, and, secondly, with the maximum penalties for sexual offences. But it holds together as a measure providing for the more equitable treatment of men and women, whether as client and prostitute or as possible victims of an indecent assault, and as a measure implementing some of the recommendations of the Criminal Law Revision Committee's carefully considered review of the whole of this area of the law. I believe that the Bill provides workable proposals to tackle real mischiefs. Woodrow Wilson said that the law that will work is merely the summing up in legislative form of the moral judgment that the community has already reached". If that is right then I am confident that this Bill should work very well indeed, and I look forward with great interest to the response to its proposals which we shall hear later in the debate today.

I should like to thank the noble Lords—and in particular the noble and learned Lord—who have come today to take part in this debate. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Vickers.)

1.27 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, from these Benches but purely in a personal capacity, since this is a Private Member's Bill, perhaps I may pay my respects first of all to the honourable Member for Plymouth, Miss Janet Fookes, who fought the battle for this Bill with some valour in another place and who has a worthy colleague, if I may say so, in the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, who has just, with equal valour and clarity, moved the Second Reading of this Bill in your Lordships' House. Let me make it perfectly clear from the very start that it would be a peculiar person who spoke in favour of kerb crawling and who did not want to abolish that nuisance from the streets of our urban areas, where it has become a very great nuisance indeed. It would also be a peculiar person who felt that in regard to the offences where the penalties have been increased, that was not a very sensible measure having regard, again, to the criminal activities that have taken place in this very lamentable area of our criminal law.

Having said that, I think your Lordships would understand very well, bearing in mind the responsibility that Parliament has, that one goes very warily before increasing the criminal law by the addition of a statute that makes a criminal offence what was not a criminal offence previously. It is our tradition in Parliament to walk very carefully along that road. My mind goes back to two relevant matters here, particularly in connection with Clause 1 of this Bill. My first recollection is of 30 years ago almost to the day, when I started to sit as a member of the Wolfenden Committee. Your Lordships may remember that that committee was asked to deal with the law relating to prostitution and homosexual offences. Very naturally, we regarded it as within our remit to look at this matter of kerb crawling. With your Lordships' leave, I am going to read the paragraph of our report which dealt with kerb crawling, and which is so headed. I am quoting from paragraph 267: Our attention has been drawn to what we are informed is an increasingly prevalent form of solicitation by men of women, commonly described as 'kerb crawling'. The form this takes is that a motorist, driving slowly, and overtaking women pedestrians, halts by them with the intention of inviting them into his car. This is undoubtedly a serious nuisance to many well-behaved women, and it does not appear that, from the point of view of prosecuting those who are responsible for it, it fits conveniently into any existing category of offence except at the point where a specific invitation is addressed to an individual. To meet the problem it would be necessary to frame an offence the essential ingredient of which would be driving a motor-car for the purposes of immoral solicitation. Whilst we appreciate the reality of the problem, and we consider that it should be kept under review, the difficulties of proof would be considerable, and the possibility of a very daunting charge being levelled at an innocent motorist must also be borne in mind. We do not feel able to make any positive recommendation.". That is the end of the quotation from the Wolfenden Report, and I can give personal evidence to your Lordships that we considered this matter with the utmost care and that this paragraph was drawn up after having duly studied and considered the whole matter of kerb crawling and how and if it should be made a criminal offence.

I said that I had two recollections, my Lords. The other recollection I have is of a debate in your Lordships' House in 1981 when, by a very considerable vote, Section 4 of the Vagrancy Act of 1824 was repealed. Indeed, it was described to your Lordships in many ways but I remember that the adjective most often used was "discredited". It was called the "discredited section 4". It was the decision of Parliament that that section which dealt with the offence commonly known as "sus"—the suspected person—was discredited because that charge could be brought on the evidence of a single police officer, and somebody could be brought before our criminal courts, and the whole thing was completely unsatisfactory, because there was no requirement for corroborative evidence of any kind.

Those two recollections are very much in my mind when I look at an offence which is now to be added to our criminal law if this Bill is passed in its present form, and which has as its constituent elements first the soliciting of the woman by the man; secondly, for the purposes of prostitution; and, thirdly, from a motor vehicle. Private prosecutions can be brought and dealt with in a summary court—it is a summary offence only—without any corroboration at all. In another place when this was being discussed, if I may paraphrase the Minister's reply, it was that, "One should not really be concerned with the necessary ingredient of corroboration because that is the sort of evidence the court will be looking at and it will be for the court to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to convict."

I cannot help thinking that any one of your Lordships present in this Chamber may find himself, if we are not careful in the way we legislate, in the position of being an accused person in a magistrates' court for this offence. I think it will be little consolation to any one of us, to any member of our family or to any friend that the court decides there is not sufficient evidence to convict. Reputations can be killed in a moment by things of that kind. "No smoke without fire" is an expression that is very often used, and public reputations can be shattered by a charge of this kind, publicised in the press perfectly properly and then possibly, weeks later, in a couple of lines in a local newspaper there appear the words: "The charge was dismissed".

I say that we have to be very careful, and I therefore regret that at the present moment this offence (which the noble Baroness correctly described as being the central point of this Bill) is there in its broad words, its clear words, and its frightening words, without the insertion of any requirement of persistence—although that is in Clause 2—and without any call for the necessity of confirmatory corroboratory evidence.

It is upon that basis that I expressed my personal fears before this Bill goes into a final form. I have no intention of opposing the Second Reading of the Bill, but I would say to your Lordships that when this Bill—if your Lordships give it a Second Reading—goes through its further stages, we must be extremely careful when adding this further criminal offence to see that innocent people are not brought before our courts only to be discharged.

To give just a quick example to your Lordships—and I pass on speedily to my final point—can one imagine, if it is not a Member of your Lordships' House, a tourist driving his car in this country, as many of us do when we go abroad, and stopping at a kerbside and inquiring of a perfectly respectable lady: "Am I in Chelsea or am I in Bow?" No, my Lords, let me put it another way. The question is: "Am I in Chelsea?" I shall leave the question there. And the lady shakes her head and walks on. One can imagine a very vigorous, energetic, ambitous police officer—or it could be a member of some vigilante movement in the locality—saying, "Ah, I saw that! A car went slowly. It drew up by the kerb. The driver spoke to the woman. She looked to me to be a little indignant as she waggled her head and said, 'No'. I have no doubt of the reason why." That is again an example that we must have in mind when considering this legislation.

Perhaps I may say just a few words in conclusion. This has nothing to do with any criticism of the noble Baroness, for indeed I would prefer to praise her today and do it very sincerely rather than criticise anything she has done and said. But I regret—and this is a personal view which I put very humbly to the House—this continous programme of Private Member's Bills dealing with criminal matters, and important criminal matters.

This should be a Government responsibility, and the Government should not shelter behind a Member of whichever House it be and either support with fervour or not support with so much fervour or oppose the measure. We had this, as your Lordships will remember, on the very important legislation dealing with video films, and very important criminal offences were created by that Bill. From these Benches, I supported the Bill with all the fervour I could because I knew it was necessary. But it was so necessary that the Government should have brought that Bill forward. I say the same in regard to Bills which only carry out in part the recommendations of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. The Government ought to look at all those recommendations and see which are fitting for the Government to incorporate in a Bill which then comes before Parliament in the proper way.

1.42 p.m.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, perhaps I may add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, for the clear and lucid way in which she has introduced this Bill. I think few of us would argue but that there are a limited number of areas in this country where kerb crawling has become a pestilential nuisance. That there should be an attempt to use the criminal law to stop it is something I think very few of us would wish to argue about.

I have been concerned on many occasions—I hasten to say professionally—with cases in which one has sought to use the existing law to deal with this problem. May I say at once it usually arises under the insulting behaviour—breach of the peace provisions of the common law. The invariable pattern of evidence is that the woman solicited never comes into the witness box. If she is a prostitute, she does not come because she does not want to and because no doubt she has better things to do than spend her time at the police court. If she is a respectable woman, there are very few respectable ladies who would wish to come forward and say was mistaken for a prostitute". I have certainly never come across a case where the lady who was approached has gone into the witness box. In those circumstances, the evidence is invariably the evidence of the police officers.

It is against that background that one has to look at the offence that is now proposed to be created under Clause 1, and compare it with the one under Clause 2. Under Clause 2 a man commits an offence if he persistently solicits women; in other words, he has to do it on more than one occasion. Under Clause 1, he commits an offence having got out of a motor car, or from a motor car, if he does it to one woman. I confess I find it illogical. I find it difficult to see why, because the man has got out of a motor car, he should commit an offence with the first woman, whereas if he happens to have arrived on a bus he cannot commit the offence until he has approached more than one woman. I add this: it is the evidential matter which worries me on Clause 1. In effect, it is inviting the courts to convict where one police officer says, "I saw a man get out of his car and speak to a woman". There is the temptation for a police officer to gild the lily just a little, and to say, as one has heard police officers say so often in cases of this nature, "I did not hear what was said, but the woman looked annoyed". The temptations are such that they ought not, I think, to be put in the way of a police officer.

One method of dealing with this matter would be the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, that there ought to be a requirement for corroboration. I should like to consider that. I am not sure that I would not much prefer, as an alternative way of dealing with this matter, that the element of persistence which is set out in Clause 2 should be included in Clause 1, and it should therefore be made an offence for a person to solicit, provided he does it on more than one occasion, whether or not he has got out of a motor car.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I only interrupt the noble Lord to agree with him. It is indeed the suggestion that I myself made. I entirely agree with that.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, I am grateful. If that is so, and that does appear in due course to be acceptable to your Lordships' House, it will in fact be possible to combine Clauses 1 and 2 and simply have one clause dealing with persistent soliciting, whether from a motor vehicle or otherwise. It would, incidentally, have the very happy result of getting rid of what I think is the ugliest sentence I have even seen in an Act proposed in your Lordships' House, where, in lines 10 and 11, the sentence reads: in a street or public place while in the immediate vicinity of a motor vehicle that he has just got out of or off". That is a sentence which I think we could well do without.

May I add this? Of course, if we then combine Clauses 1 and 2 and we make it an offence persistently to solicit, whether from a motor vehicle or otherwise, perhaps the point of the noble Marquess on the Cross-Benches does require an answer from the Government, because Section 32 of the 1956 Sexual Offences Act specifically makes it an offence for a man persistently to solicit or importune in a public place for immoral purposes. Before we add to the statute book we would obviously want to know, with some clarity, just in what way we are, in fact, improving upon the existing law.

There is only one other observation that I would make at this stage. It might be said to be a Committee point, but I think it is a matter that ought to be raised at this stage so that the Home Office, in particular, can reflect upon it. It arises out of a letter which reached me this morning and, having gone through it with as much care as I can, it seems to me to be well founded. It is that Clause 4 of the Bill in subsection (3) increases the penalty for indecent assault from either two or five years in certain circumstances to 10 years. It is said in the Explanatory Memorandum—which I know is not part of the legislation—that that gives effect to recmmendations of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. I think maybe that is not entirely accurate. I say that for this reason—and I do not expect an immediate answer to this—that offences of indecent assault vary enormously. There are offences of indecent assault carried out against a girl or woman without her consent. In that case of course they can be very serious. The Criminal Law Revision Committee recommended that the maximum sentence should be increased to 10 years, and that is what the provision in this Bill does.

But there are other offences of indecent assault where in fact the girl is under the age of 16 and consents to the act of indecency. A normal piece of petting between teenagers, for example, still constitutes an indecent assault, because under the law a girl under the age of 16 is presumed to be incapable of giving her consent. The Criminal Law Revision Committee's report, which I looked at this morning, appears to indicate that in that sort of case, where a girl has in fact given her consent and there is a piece of comparatively innocent petting, or necking, going on between two teenagers, the existing penalties are more than adequate and ought not to be increased to the 10-year maximum which is apparently proposed now under this Bill. I raise that matter so that the Home Office, in particular, might have a chance to examine whether, inadvertently, they have not followed the recommendations of the report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee to their logical conclusions. Subject to those observations, may I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, that we should give this Bill a Second Reading today but that we should take the Committee stage very seriously indeed.

1.50 p.m.

Lord Denning

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, for introducing this Bill in this House. I should also like to express the gratitude which we ought to express to the Criminal Law Revision Committee for its report. The chairman was Lord Justice Lawton, one of the most knowledgeable, experienced and chief exponents of the criminal law in our time. He was supported by Lord Justice Waller, who is almost equally experienced and has such good sense. It was a very strong committee.

Having paid that tribute to the committee, I should like to go back 30 years—to just about the time when I joined this House—as my noble friend Lord Mishcon did. My noble friend was on the Wolfenden Committee. I considered its report and took part in the discussions in this House. Many of us were in favour of making kerb crawling an offence then, because there is no reason for distinguishing between the sexes in this matter. If there were no clients, there would be no prostitutes. The man is just as guilty as the woman, and there should not be this distinction between the sexes in this matter. Prostitution is not a criminal offence, and neither is immorality. It is just the question of public nuisance which is a criminal offence. That must be stressed throughout, because the Act of 1959 was the Street Offences Act, and I am not sure that this ought not to be called the Street Offences Act of 1985, as that is what we are dealing with here. We are dealing with public nuisances in our streets and public places.

The Criminal Law Revision Committee gave an illustration of this nuisance in its report and stated: What may have been a quiet street or square becomes frequented, often until the early hours of the morning, by prostitutes looking for clients and clients looking for prostitutes". Squabbling may ensue, violence may ensue, and so on. It is that nuisance in public places which this Bill is aimed to prevent. The committee described what happened in an area in South London which was frequented by prostitutes and their clients. There were 345 residents questioned, and 222, or two-thirds, said that they had been accosted by kerb crawlers, once or occasionally, and in 73 cases it happened often. That is the nuisance which this Bill is designed to prevent.

It seems to me that we must remember this difference. It is not soliciting for immoral purposes. It is not sufficient that a man stops his car and invites a lady to go with him, perhaps on a sexual escapade. We are talking about soliciting for the purpose of prostitution, putting men and women together on that footing—and that has not been referred to at all.

I wondered what the words, "for the purposes of prostitution" meant. They are in Clause 5, which reads in subsection (1): References in this Act to a man soliciting a woman for the purpose of prostitution are references to his soliciting her for the purpose of obtaining her services as a prostitute". So it is not just a question of soliciting any lady who is walking along a street. The man has to solicit her for the purpose of obtaining her services as a prostitute, paying her money for her services. Those words, "for the purpose of prostitution", are very important in seeing the scope of this Bill.

I now come to the question of the difficulty of proof, which the Wolfenden Committee mentioned. Has the Criminal Law Revision Committee surmounted that problem? I can well understand the anxiety of my noble friends about the question of proof. Ought there not to be corroboration and the like? Your Lordships must remember that a woman will hardly ever be prepared to give evidence herself. The ordinary respectable woman will not wish to go into the witness box and will not go there. In the old days, we used to have a policeman going into the witness box when a woman was charged with soliciting a man. If the policeman said that the man looked annoyed, that was sufficient proof. But all that has gone.

In this case the committee pointed out the sort of evidence that has to be available, and it stated: When keeping observation in an area frequented by prostitutes, police officers are likely to know who are, and who are not, prostitutes. When magistrates hear evidence that a man was seen driving slowly along a street and stopping and speaking to a known prostitute who then got into his motor car which he drove away, they should have no difficulty in inferring that he was soliciting for the purposes of prostitution". The thought of the Criminal Law Revision Committee is that it is not the woman who has to prosecute; it is the police who are keeping overvation. The police will see whether a man is soliciting a known prostitute. What is he after? If the woman gets into the car and goes off with him, then he has achieved his purpose. The committee goes on to state that the man may be refused and may then go and accost another woman. That is sufficient. It seems to me that the committee is recommending that we should rely on proper police evidence of a nuisance being committed and of a man soliciting for the purpose of obtaining a woman's services as a prostitute. That seems to me to be what the Criminal Law Revision Committee is recommending.

I support the recommendation about the motor car, which appears as paragraph (a) of Clause 1(1). That is real kerb crawling. But the next paragraph is not about the motor car: it is about the person who jumps off a bus, who goes on foot and who then solicits a woman for the purpose of prostitution. There, one single act is not enough. The committee states that there ought at least to be persistence when it is on foot. That is what the paragraph is directed towards, and not towards soliciting from a motor car. So there are those two elements. I agree that it has to be properly proved. We must not have men brought before the courts wrongly. I think that the judges would say, "We will not hold it sufficient unless there is real evidence which is sometimes corroborated".

I am a little anxious about Clause 3, which refers to fear. In a way, one would like to have women protected if they are accosted in such a way as to be likely to cause fear. Clause 3 states: (1) A man commits an offence if he solicits a woman for sexual purposes in a manner likely to cause her fear". She may not be able to give evidence herself; and is it not wrong that a man should solicit a woman for sexual purposes so as to put her in fear? I am afraid that there is a good deal of opposition to Clause 3, but the Criminal Law Revision Committee recommended the provision and I go a great deal by its recommendation, so well backed as it is.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords. I hope the noble and learned Lord will realise that I would never interrupt a speech of his unless I thought I was helping him. He may not know that there was an undertaking that Clause 3 should not form part of the Bill, and the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, so announced.

Lord Denning

My Lords. I thank the noble Lord. Clause 3 has been dropped. Omitting Clause 3, I should have thought that the clauses to increase punishment are well to be desired.

I would end simply by saying this. I hope that your Lordships will do all you can to implement the good recommendations of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon: the creation of new criminal offences is of the first importance in our society, and when a committee like this has made its recommendations it should be the Government who make their decision whether or not to create a new criminal offence. Although the Government have not done so in this case—the noble Baroness has done it—I would hope that the Government would at least endorse those main recommendations. I support the Second Reading.

2.1 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I was hesitant about intervening in this debate, following as I do so many distinguished noble and learned Lords; but I felt that I ought to do so in view of the many suggestions that have been made to the effect that parts of the Bill, if implemented, would inevitably impinge upon the freedom of the individual.

This Bill, so ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, for whom I have always had the greatest respect, is undoubtedly well-meaning, unlike some recent pieces of legislation one could think of; but good intentions do not automatically guarantee that every part of a given Bill is either necessary or desirable. Just under two years ago, in the summer of 1983, I put down a Question for Written Answer asking how many new offences for which individuals could be fined or sent to prison or both had been created since 3rd May 1979, when the present Administration came to power, and how many offences had been repealed. The Answer was that a staggering 291 new offences had been created and that none had been repealed.

From these thought-provoking statistics one could deduce that by now, at a conservative estimate, at least 400 new offences have been created since May 1979. Set against this, all we have is a liberalisation, and a highly qualified liberalisation at that, of the laws governing the sale of spectacles and other optical appliances. I suppose it is just possible—if it is, it is sad to contemplate—that over the last few years the British people have become so intractable and unruly that the creation of all these new offences has been genuinely necessary. However, as far as this Bill is concerned, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, who is to reply for the Government, whether it is true, as reported in a recent issue of the Spectator, that the Howard league for Penal Reform has reported a 20 per cent. drop in sexual offences over the last 10 years.

The increased penalties for existing offences covered in Clause 4 are one thing, but is it really necessary—here I echo the noble Lord. Lord Mishcon—to create a new offence of kerb crawling? Is it really true that existing laws, including common law, if properly enforced, are inadequate? Until my noble and learned friend Lord Denning spoke, I had been under the impression that Clause 3 had rather a lot to be said for it because it lacked ambiguity and the offences were fairly easy to pinpoint and define; but he has pointed out its defects. As the clause has now been dropped, any further discussion of it is academic.

Clauses 1 and 2 are more difficult. The honourable Member for Derbyshire, West, pointed out recently in The Times that the existing laws on soliciting allow women to solicit men unless the women are known prostitutes, and men to solicit men unless such soliciting is persistent. He might have gone on to say that, in addition, that group of women for whose benefit the ratepayers of Greater London, Camden, Islington and elsewhere are nowadays frequently called upon to stump up sums of money, are allowed if they so choose to solicit other women with impunity, whether intermittently or persistently. So we have anomalies.

To anomalies must be added imprecision and grey areas. How many paces from his parked car or motorcycle—presumably the vehicle which is the creation of Sir Clive Sinclair is excluded—must a solicitor (using that word in a strictly non-legal sense) advance before he can safely make a proposition to a woman? Is it 20 yards or 50 yards? I think that we (using the word "we" to define the public at large, it goes without saying) ought to be told!

More seriously, I think there is a genuine danger, all the more real in view of the absence of the right to trial by jury, of innocent men—here again I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said—who have simply lost their way and stop to ask a woman for directions, being convicted. For this reason I cannot help feeling that the word "persistent", or better still perhaps the words "persistent or insulting", could with advantage be added to Clause 1(1), as suggested in another place by the honourable Member for Derbyshire, West.

I welcome unreservedly the substantial increase in penalty in Clause 4 for indecent assault upon a woman, thereby removing a ridiculous and quite inexcusable anomaly, although in parenthesis one might question whether the Private Member's Bill is the appropriate vehicle for imposing such a steep increase in penalty, however justified that increase may be. I have my doubts, however, about Clause 4(2), which provides for life imprisonment for attempted rape. It is probably true that a maximum of seven years' imprisonment is too low, but is not life imprisonment going too far in the other direction? No doubt it is best to leave consideration of that matter until Committee stage.

To sum up, while some clauses and subsections can be welcomed without reservation, one very much feels that other clauses and subsections need the closest examination and scrutiny in Committee. It would be a pity to add to the 400-plus new offences created since 1979 if we can avoid doing so by more effective use of the law as it stands at present.

The Marquess of Tweeddale

My Lords, I am even more reluctant to intervene than was my noble friend Lord Monson, particularly as my name is not on the list of speakers. I should just like to say that I support practically everything that my noble friend has said, and to raise one other point.

There is something a little sexist about the way the Bill is worded. I refer to Clause 1(1), which states: It is an offence for a man to solicit a woman"— and I need go no further than that. It is surely possible for a man to solicit a man for the same purpose. Surely this point should be taken into consideration in Committee at any rate.

2.9 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, perhaps I may first congratulate my noble friend Lady Vickers on introducing this Bill and on doing it so lucidly and with such feeling this afternoon. It comes to us unamended, as my noble friend has described, happily revived from an untimely death in another place. The area of sexual offences and prostitution is not an easy one to tackle—as listening to this debate has certainly taught me—but my noble friend has displayed a keen understanding of the problems which exist in this area and the delicacies surrounding them.

I should like, if I may, to pick up some of the points raised in today's debate and to look also at the particular issue of the element of persistence, which was extensively debated in another place and which has also concerned your Lordships this afternoon. But first I should like to say that the Government welcome this measure most warmly, and we pledge our full support to it.

I should also like to say at this point, in amplification of what was said in an intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, was speaking, that we take the same view as my honourable friend in another place about the understanding he imparted that Clause 3 would not form part of the Bill. Like my noble friend, we do not reject in principle the Criminal Law Revision Committee's view that frightening sexual behaviour should be sanctioned by the criminal law. Personally, I consider that the arguments in favour of protecting women in this way are very telling indeed. But we must recognise that the principle aim of my noble friend's Bill is to control the plying of the prostitution business in the streets and to effect sensible penalty increases for more serious sexual offences. The Clause 3 offence goes wider, since it is by no means only the clients of prostitutes who might face charges under it. In that sense it may be removed quite neatly for further consideration elsewhere, without damage to this Bill's main objectives.

I remember that when my noble friend Lord Mansfield was piloting a Private Member's Bill through your Lordships' House a few years ago he described that particular Bill, like other Private Members' Bills, as "a tender plant". Despite the general welcome given to the Bill now before us, I believe that it, too, falls into that category. The clear and moderate objectives of its major clauses deserve enactment, and to that extent I think the plant needs nurturing and the small amount of pruning to which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, drew attention will give it more chance of flourishing.

Perhaps this is a convenient point at which to add my personal thanks to those of others to the Criminal Law Revision Committee not only for the speed and efficiency with which they produced the sixteenth report, but for all their hard and constructive work since they started looking into questions concerning sexual offences some 10 years ago. As your Lordships will know, the Criminal Law Revision Committee's report on the remainder of the law relating to prostitution should be completed later this year, and we look forward to it with interest.

We all agree, I think, that kerb crawling is not the be-all and end-all of the prostitution business, but it is self-contained and therefore suitable for a modest measure such as this because it addresses only the nuisance caused by the "punter" in the street.

The fact that the Bill is a modest one does not devalue its importance or the gravity of the issues which may be related to kerb crawling. The alarm and distress experienced by young girls—perhaps coming from school, even—who are followed and propositioned by men in slow-moving cars really has to be tackled.

Indeed, I believe that the whole argument of "victimless crime" in this context is a hollow one. Of course, a client may proposition a prostitute from a car. A deal is made to which both parties consent and in that sense there is no victim. However, as I have said, other women trailed by punters in cars can be very distressed indeed. Residents whose areas are infested by the prostitution trade outside and around their homes are distressed; and finally, those women who never go to particular areas after dark for fear of being solicited as prostitutes are, in a real sense, victims of the scale of the nuisance.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Minister forgive me for intervening only so that we have clarification? The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, was, I think—he will correct me if I am wrong—taking it for granted that the only evidence that would be required, and indeed the only time a charge would be brought under this clause, would be if a policeman were to say, "That woman who was approached by that man in that motor car was a prostitute and I knew her as such." Is the Minister saying that the ambit of this clause goes far wider than that and that it includes perfectly respectable women who are approached from a car? If that is so, my example is a pertinent one. If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, is right and it always has to be a prostitute known as such to the officer then the example I gave is wrong; but the Minister would also be wrong.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, what I am trying to do in the last few paragraphs of my speech is describe the nature of the nuisance, which is a point I believe was highlighted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, that this was a nuisance. On the example of whether or not a policeman could believe someone to be guilty only if the woman was a known prostitute, I think I shall cover that point later when winding up on some of the points that were made. What I will now say is that it is in some places a very real nuisance and that is why it was thought prudent to bring forward this legislation in line with the Criminal Law Revision Committee's recommendations.

I have dwelt on the point because I thought it might he helpful to tackle at an early stage what appears at first sight to be a criticism of substance. Similarly, it is right to explain now our position on the element of persistence which is in the Clause 2 offence and not in Clause 1. It is a distinction to which my noble friend has already drawn attention and which occupied the main consideration of the Bill in another place. The question is: is it more morally reprehensible to solicit a prostitute from a car than otherwise, and does the "one-off" solicitation offence not risk unfair prosecutions? In our view, the answer is, no. As we have said, the standpoint on the Bill is not one of moral outrage. The car makes no difference to the morality in question, but nor does the Bill, as drafted, risk unfair prosecutions under Clause 1. I shall expand a little more on these points.

The overwhelming nuisance which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, stressed of which the Criminal Law Revision Committee had evidence in making its recommendations was that of kerb crawling: that is—loosely described—the use of a car to cruise around looking for a prostitute to pick up. Hundreds of men do it and it has led to an intolerable nuisance in certain areas and to fear and distress among other women. The Bill seeks to stop the mischief by making kerb crawling illegal. Naturally, the use of cars, in itself, could not constitute the offence. Therefore, in order to eliminate precisely that risk to the innocent motorist, which some fear, the offence should lie in the clear act of solicitation of a prostitute linked in some way to the use of a car. The Clause 2 offence to which the noble Marquess, Lord Tweeddale—

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, did the Minister say "solicitation of a prostitute", or did he, in fact, not mean solicitation of a woman? There is a big difference.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I said "solicitation of a prostitute". If I should have said something else I am sure that I will be able to correct it in a moment. However, I think I am right in saying that I should have said "solicitation of a prostitute".

The Clause 2 offence is, as it were, a back-up to make it clear that those clients cannot simply take to the streets without risk of prosecution when their soliciting becomes a nuisance. The noble Marquess, Lord Tweeddale, earlier in the debate asked my noble friend Lady Vickers why it is necessary to have Clause 2 if the case is already met by the 1956 Act. The case of Crook v. Edmondson is authority to the effect that the offence under Section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 is confined to men who persistently solicit other men for sexual purposes. Clause 2 penalises men who solicit women. If the noble Marquess looks at page 30 of the 16th Report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee he will see at paragraph 3.32, which I could read out but which I am sure he has with him, an expansion of what I have just said. It quotes the Crook v. Edmondson 1966 case.

The Marquess of Tweeddale

My Lords, I do not have it with me but I shall look it up later on. However, I looked at the 1956 Act, and I do not remember seeing any reference to men there at all—or am I missing the point?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, if the noble Marquess would like to listen to this it may make him more aware of the situation. I shall quote the paragraph: Section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, which derives from Section 1(1)(b) of the Vagrancy Act 1898, makes it an offence 'for a man persistently to solicit or importune in a public place for immoral purposes'. The interpretation of this provision has caused difficulty. It is commonly believed that the original purpose of the provision was to penalise the prostitute's pimp who touted for clients, but it has recently been contended that 'possibly the sole, and certainly the main, aim of the provision was to deal with soliciting of females'. Nevertheless, it appears that the provision, quite soon, was used mainly against homosexual soliciting, and in Crook v. Edmondson [1966] 2 Q.B. 81 the Divisional Court held that it does not apply to the man who accosts women for sexual intercourse".

The Marquess of Tweeddale

So we are talking about men in public lavatories essentially, my Lords. I take it that that is how it has been interpreted.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, it is a little difficult for me to intervene when we are both on our feet together. That is why I hesitate. Whether it applies particularly to public lavatories I am not entirely clear. What I am trying to explain is that, because the provision was being used in a way in which perhaps it was not originally intended, the 1966 case indicated that it was following a different pattern from that which was intended earlier. That is why it is necessary to have a fall-back position in Clause 2 of the Bill.

I think I had better clear up one point that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, raised. Clause 1 applies whether or not the woman solicited is a prostitute. Where she is a prostitute, Clause 1 will in practice have to work on police evidence. Where she is not a prostitute there may be cases where she would be willing to come forward to give evidence against the man, but even here police evidence may well be required because not all respectable women will be willing to come forward to give evidence.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that clarification. I only want to emphasise that, as the Government understand the position and as they are advised, it is an offence under Clause 1 of the Bill, whatever be the definition of the words "for the purpose of prostitution", if somebody driving a car by the kerbside approaches a woman whom he thinks is a prostitute but in fact is not: or if somebody approaches a prostitute and she is a prostitute; or, indeed, if somebody approaches a woman not knowing whether she is a prostitute but hoping that he can turn her into one. All those offences, presumably, as the Minister is saying, are covered by Clause 1. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, will appreciate, that is not quite what the Criminal Law Revision Committee had in mind.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, yes; I note the noble Lord's interpretation. That is as it stands and follows the explanation which I gave.

Perhaps I may make one further point of clarification for the noble Marquess. Section 32 of the 1956 Act, which he particularly asked about, is confined to men soliciting men. I hope that makes the answer plain for him.

I should like to revert to what I was trying to explain before I digressed on to the particular point raised by the noble Marquess, Lord Tweeddale. At present, discreet contact between client and prostitute involving no trailing by car has not, from the evidence that the CLRC took, reached the proportions of a nuisance per se. For that reason, among others, it has been thought right to invoke the criminal law only when the man makes a nuisance of himself by persistent soliciting.

I think we all agree that the critical distinction between the clauses is whether or not there is an element of persistence. There can be no question of simply adding an element of persistence to Clause 1 (as, for example, the Law Society suggested) because that would render Clause 1 otiose. One would simply rely on Clause 2 to deal with persistent soliciting in a car or out of it. Frankly, our view, and that of the Criminal Law Revision Committee, is that this will not deal with kerb crawling, and if that is right we should be knowingly rendering the Bill ineffective from the start, in relation to the principal nuisance at which it is aimed, if only the persistent kerb crawler were to be caught by this measure.

If Clause 1 was missing, there would be no clear and explicit offence of kerb crawling—which we believe in itself will deter much of this activity. No person could be charged with an offence where a girl might have been much frightened by a kerb crawler and was prepared so to testify. Punters would cruise more slowly and for a longer time around those areas already suffering so much from this plague, in order to ensure that the first girl they solicit is obliging, and all in all those who have looked to us for a sensible and pragmatic remedy would be utterly disappointed. All this would be in the face of advice from a committee who have taken evidence on the subject for many years and who were fully alive to the issue of persistence in either clause.

At this point I should like to return to a point which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, raised in amplification. It is an important point to have right. I am not legally trained and I get into a tangle with it myself. However, the point that I made to the noble Lord about Clause 1 was that it applied whether or not the woman solicited was a prostitute. I said that where she is a prostitute, Clause 1 will in practice have to work on police evidence and that where she is not a prostitute there may be cases where she would be willing to come forward herself to give evidence against the man.

I should like to study the interpretation which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, put upon what I had said, in amplifying what he had said earlier to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. I think I may find that he did not interpret it quite in the way that I had hoped he might. Clause 1 is exactly what the Criminal Law Revision Committee had in mind. It is to cover soliciting for prostitution of any woman, whether or not a prostitute. If the noble Lord refers to page 18, recommendation 6 of their 16th report, he may find that helpful. However, I shoud like to study the noble Lord's remarks. I may have to clear this matter up by way of correspondence if I have put a wrong interpretation on what he said. That particular page and recommendation is, I believe, the pertinent one to study.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister. This is the last time that I shall intervene. I shall not argue the point further. However, I believe that it would be a matter of grave concern to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, to hear the observations that have been made. His speech, as I understood it, was directed to a different interpretation to that given by the noble Lord the Minister.

Lord Glenarthur

In that case, my Lords, it is best, I think, that we move on and that I should take up the matter perhaps in another forum to make sure that we are all on the same lines. I believe that the interpretation that I placed upon it is correct. If it is wrong and that of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is correct, we can sort it out in due course.

I apologise to your Lordships for explaining the detail at quite the length that has been necessary. I do so partly in an honourable attempt to meet concern expressed by one or two Members in another place that the issue should be fully ventilated in your Lordships' House, and partly—although I am not sure that this will necessarily be totally possible—to avoid arguments at a later stage of the bill which start from misunderstandings. It is important to take every step to remove misunderstandings before we start.

Clause 1 creates the principal offence of kerb crawling and forbids it. Clause 2 backs up that in relation to what I call the persistent pedestrian punter. In both cases, the innocent are protected by the clarity of the offence as one of solicitation for the purpose of prostitution. If the prosecution cannot prove that, there is no case and, particularly with the advent of the new independent crime prosecution service, we can be confident that few problems will arise.

The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, raised the point about Clause 4 of the Bill and the increase in penalties. The point that he makes has been considered by the Home Office. I can give him a quotation from a letter which reveals just that. The Criminal Law Revision Committee is content that the Bill accords with the spirit of its recommendation in the 15th report. The letter was addressed to a Mr. Reekie in Brussels. The paragraph that I shall read states: You may be interested to know that the point you raise", on this particular issue, has already been considered by the Committee. They are unanimously of the opinion that the worst cases of indecent assault on a female should be punishable with 10 years' imprisonment and they have given their unanimous approval to Clause 4(3) of the Bill. This in no way prejudices their recommendation that acts which are offences only by virtue of Section 14(2) or 15(2) of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 should be treated under a separate heading in any general legislation to reform the law on sexual offences". I hope that that answers the query of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, as to whether or not this point has been taken account of.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for that observation, which answers the point that I raised. It still means, although it is of no great consequence, that the original comment in the Explanatory Memorandum is not entirely accurate. However, if the Criminal Law Revision Committee has subsequently reviewed the matter and indicated as it has to the Home Office, that meets the point that I raised.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. The noble Marquess, Lord Tweeddale, raised a point about what he considered to be the sexist nature of the Bill. The Criminal Law Revision Committee took the view that the law already deals adequately with men who solicit men under Section 32, which we considered earlier. That is the reason for the scope of Clauses 1 and 2 being confined to men who solicit women. Therefore, I do not think that the charge that it is sexist stands.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, raised a question on the Howard League's Report on Unlawful Sex. In addition, he referred to the matter of new offences; he quoted 291 as having been given in an answer that had come forward over recent years. He said that none had been repealed. On the particular point about the Howard League, we have looked at this report with interest. I do not wish to quarrel with their interpretation—and it is their interpretation—of the criminal statistics. Other people could come to different interpretations. Even if we are fortunate in that sexual offences are not increasing, this cannot inhibit us from giving the courts adequate powers to deal with the worst cases where they occur.

The Criminal Law Revision Committee and the Government certainly endorse the general principle that attempts at criminal offences should be punished in the worst cases by the same maxima as the substantive offence—and that is already enacted in the Criminal Attempts Act 1981—and that sexual offences are no different from others in this. But we awaited the CLRC's conclusions before producing proposals for legislation. The fact is that here we are dealing with a very real menace. Many people think so, and that is why if something is not caught by the law in any other way, there is a very good case, on advice—and we have the advice in the form of the committee's report—for dealing with it.

I have already spoken for quite long enough and have amplified a number of points. Finally, what of the Government's plans for a full-scale reform of sexual offences and offences relating to prostitution, a point in which I believe your Lordships will be interested? We are studying with great interest and care the CLRC's major report on sexual offences, and we look forward to the completion of their review of offences relating to prostitution. Naturally our commitment to legislation will depend upon the conclusions we reach. There is no doubt, however, that this area of the law must be sensible and comprehensive, and that the courts must have adequate powers to deal with sexual abuse or exploitation. With those principles in mind we shall look at recommendations for reform of the law against competing priorities, as any sensible Government must, and as I believe your Lordships' House would want us to do.

I am conscious of the fact that, in the interests of time, I have not dealt with risk to innocent men and with corroboration. I know that the noble Lord. Lord Mishcon, raised these points particularly and, if your Lordships will bear with me for just two minutes, I should like to go into them and explain them as shortly as I can.

So far as the first is concerned, the element', of the offence will have to be met. That is, a man will have to solicit a woman for the purpose of prostitution in order to give grounds for a charge. As I understand it, a passing remark, a friendly chat or question will not of itself ordinarily suffice. As regards the need for corroboration, under our laws the reliable evidence of a single witness, whether or not a police officer, can be sufficient for a conviction if the court finds it conclusive. We have, however, undertaken to pass on to police forces, for this offence as for others, our clear position against the use of entrapment techniques. The Metropolitan Police have indicated that they do not plan to use women police constables to enforce laws controlling prostitution. In addition, we have undertaken to monitor the working of the Act with particular attention to the acquittal rates. I shall study the noble Lord's points. It may be necessary for me to write to him.

This limited Bill seeks to constrain in one narrow area those who have become a considerable scourge to the innocent bystander. It is in the hands of an extremely wise and respected member of your Lordships' House. In her piloting of the Bill she has the Government's full support, and I wish her well with it.

2.40 p.m.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, I should just like to say thank you very much to all noble Lords. With all these learned people present, surely we should be able to get this Bill through on time. I am very grateful to them for giving up their time.

Since 1959 I have taken an interest in this question of prostitution and at that time fought against the Government of the day in order to get some changes in the Act. I hope that somewhere the word "offending", which was taken out of that Act. will be included in the Bill. The police had to ask the woman whether she was offended. Regrettably, that was taken out. I do not know whether we can get it put in the Bill again. It would be useful.

I should also like to pay a tribute to Miss Janet Fookes the honourable Member for Plymouth Drake. She was chairman of the Select Committee to which I took a number of prostitutes, and we gave evidence there some time ago. I have, shall I say, tried to help both sides. They held meetings in my flat. At one time I had some of them stay with me in the country so that we could get down to basic principles. This is not against prostitutes. There would be no prostitutes on the streets if it were not for men, and so I think they have my sympathy.

I should like to thank the Minister for his helpful answers. I have contacted the Whips' Office. If, as I hope, we get a Second Reading, perhaps we can have discussions in the dinner hour. I do not want to keep noble Lords late night after night and so for the moment I have booked the dinner hour. I hope that this will be convenient to noble Lords.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, perhaps I may rise before the noble Baroness sits down. I am not competent to speak on behalf of the usual channels, and I doubt whether the usual channels are available further to inform us this afternoon. However, having regard to the important and quite lengthy debate which has taken place on this Friday afternoon, raising many points which must be looked at carefully in Committee—I express merely a personal point of view and I should like to hear the views of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, on this—it might not be most appropriate to deal with this Bill in the dinner hour. Having said that, I must not discuss the matter further.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, I am pleased to hear what the noble Lord has to say. I shall see the usual channels about this. If your Lordships are so keen to speak on this Bill perhaps you will give me your views later if you would not like this arrangement, and I can tell the usual channels when we should like to consider the Bill. I wish to thank everybody who has come along today. I hope that we shall have a successful Committee stage.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at seventeen minutes before three o'clock.