HL Deb 02 February 2004 vol 656 cc437-9

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they will set up their review of the law on prostitution; and what will be its terms of reference.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, a scoping exercise for the review is well under way, examining issues arising from prostitution, to establish what measures need to be included in a national strategy for prostitution in order to reduce exploitation, protect communities, and address the links with serious crime, particularly the illegal use of class A drugs. The scoping exercise is looking at both street-based and off-street prostitution, and we hope to be ready to publish a paper for public consultation later this year.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that welcome reply, particularly for the news that the review team will be up and running very shortly. He may be aware that I spent last Thursday with the street offences and juvenile protection unit of the Metropolitan Police on patrol in Brixton. Is he aware that those officers, whom I cannot praise highly enough for their caring and compassionate approach to the people they were dealing with, will particularly welcome his commitment to examine the question of drug dependency, for that factor is driving the great majority of street prostitutes into that way of life? Will my noble friend assure me that the review will be sufficiently wide ranging to take into account how other countries are tackling the problem of prostitution and look particularly at some measures of decriminalisation?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, we are grateful for the important insights that my noble friend brings to the subject from his close attention to the way in which the Metropolitan Police works in the field. We are well aware of the link between prostitution and the use of drugs. That issue will covered by the review, as will the way in which other jurisdictions deal with the persistent problem of prostitution. We will look at all aspects of the issue and the potential for legalisation will be one of the aspects examined in the review.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, given that the Home Office is leading the review and given that two of the major issues are sexually transmitted diseases and drug addiction, how will the Home Office work with the Department of Health in conducting the review? Will the Minister comment on the suggestion that some young women are forced into prostitution in order to pay their university tuition fees?

Noble Lords


Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, there is absolutely no evidence to support the noble Baroness's latter point. Obviously, in conducting a review of prostitution, the Government will seek to work holistically and across all departments with an interest in the issue. The Department of Health is one of the most important of them.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, what dealings have the Government had with the English Collective of Prostitutes? My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes and I both had dealings with it when we were representing this country on the United Nations Status of Women Commission. Has the noble Lord ever heard of the English Collective of Prostitutes?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Amos reminds me that when were in the employment of Camden borough council, we both had quite a lot to do with the English Collective of Prostitutes. I am not aware of its exact status among our current contacts, but no doubt it will make its views volubly known during the review.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, the latest Home Office figures, published in 2001, confirm that children continue to be prosecuted under the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and the Street Offences Act 1959. Will the review consider the position of children abused by prostitution and is it still the Government's intention that children should no longer be criminalised in that way?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, it is true that the sex offences legislation is used in regard to young people, but I think that the number of prosecutions is relatively small. I am sure that the reasons for those prosecutions that do take place are carefully considered. That issue will obviously be covered in the review and will need to be addressed very carefully.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the trafficking of women, particularly from eastern European countries, for the purposes of prostitution? That seems to be more lucrative now than trafficking in drugs. Will the review take into account those who exploit women for such purposes?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the review will of course have to cover that issue. The issues of trafficking in women and trafficking in drugs are closely linked. That is clearly an area on which policy will have to focus. The Metropolitan Police estimates that approximately 1,400 women are trafficked annually. It believes that some 70 per cent of women who work in off-street sex markets in London are foreign nationals. We recognise the problem. It may well be larger than that, but we are not sure. The review will obviously focus on the problem.

The Lord Bishop of Southwell

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is important to consult other faith communities within society, particularly in areas such as my own in the east Midlands? Does he recognise how strategic that is for good community relationships?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am confident that we will want to be in touch with all faith communities on the issue. No doubt they will have important insights to offer and help greatly with the review.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the whole matter was addressed in a report that the Government received in April 2000 and that, last October, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said that the scoping was under way? What is the reason for the still-further delay in tackling such an important issue?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the Government have had a busy legislative agenda, as the noble Lord is well aware. All things have to take their place. We have not sought to ignore the issue. We have brought forward legislation to reform the law on sexual offences. We said at that time that we would review our position on prostitution. That is exactly what we intend to do and we have been congratulated in your Lordships' House today on doing so.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, will the review take into account the pros and cons of licensed brothels?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am happy to confirm to the noble and learned Lord that the review will do exactly that.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in New South Wales, Australia, a prostitute who was infected with HIV flatly refused to give up her job, although she was described as a walking timebomb, and was imprisoned in order to keep her—or the community—safe? What is the position concerning health checks in this country? Is there a formal procedure or is it just a matter of individual choice?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, in the end, that must be a matter of individual choice. When prostitutes are caught up, as it were, in the law, there is an opportunity to make advice and more assistance available to them. A number of projects do exactly that. The housing trust project is one such example. But it is a personal tragedy for those involved and a great problem with regard to public health. It is in our interests to do as much as we can to ensure that women in the sex industry have proper health checks.

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