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Protection Of Prostitutes

Volume 963: debated on Tuesday 6 March 1979

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3.32 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and the Street Offences Act 1959; to provide for the better protection of prostitutes from exploitation and victimisation; and for connected purposes.
In seeking leave to present a Bill for the protection of prostitutes, I am aware that it will not be a popular issue in the House in a general election year, but I am convinced that it is a reforming issue that the House should no longer overlook. The Bill seeks to amend the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and the Street Offences Act 1959 and to provide for prostitutes better protection from exploitation and victimisation.

The present laws, which are over 20 years old, have not attacked prostitution; they have merely been an invitation to treat all prostitute women unjustly. They have attacked their civil liberties and lost them many human rights. I do not hide the fact that I believe that all prostitution laws must be abolished, but the amendments are an attempt at this stage to put injustices right quickly and to jog the memory of the House about the bad legislation that was introduced in the post-Wolfenden era. The amendments should also ensure that the law applies equally to men and women.

Prostitution has grown since the 1959 Act. With the best intentions, and wishing to deter prostitution, Parliament at that time introduced this appalling legislation, which has prevented women, once convicted, from getting away from prostitution. It has given a woman the stigma "common prostitute" for the rest of her life, and forced her back on to the streets to pay the ever-increasing fines. The amendment will abolish prison sentences. Women should not be imprisoned for soliciting. That view is supported by probation officers, lawyers, social workers and even the Police Federation.

The Bill will establish one simple offence to cover all persistent street nuisances, not only soliciting, and evidence from the person or persons annoyed will be an absolute requirement. The offence will include kerb-crawling, persistent salesmen, drunks and members of religious sects who attempt to sell people records on the street. I emphasise that it is only the peculiar sexual hypocrisy of the British that would single out prostitution or soliciting as an offence.

The Street Offences Act 1959, which deals with soliciting, was a mistake. It is wrong that a woman can be in danger of a prison sentence without a shred of evidence being produced in court that anyone has been affronted by her actions. Moreover, the present laws ensure that the incompetent prostitute, the working-class girl, is the one who gets into trouble. Successful and competent prostitutes operate within the law; it is the immature, inexperienced, ageing or socially inadequate women who are the victims. These women, during a period of police observation, do not succeed in picking up a man, and they are arrested. That is usually followed by a caution or charge, fines and returning to the game to pay them.

It is a totally unjust system that a woman can be twice cautioned on the evidence of a single police officer. On a third occasion, still on the evidence of a single and often the same police officer, she can be charged with loitering with intent for the purposes of prostitution. If she pleads not guilty before the court, the same police officer reads out the evidence of his two cautions. Before any offence has been proved, a person innocent in the eyes of the law can be labelled as a common prostitute. There will be provision in the Bill to abolish the term "common prostitute".

The Sexual Offences Act 1956 will be amended to delete that part which classifies more than two women living together as a brothel. That law has forced prostitutes into the hands of organised crime, making them totally dependent upon ponces and pimps and part of a terrifying mafia. They must be able to live together to protect one another. The sooner that that happens, the better for the women concerned.

Finally, I emphasise that prostitutes and prostitution are not a menace. I have spoken with many eminent psychiatrists who say that it is accepted in their profession that prostitutes have great therapeutic value in society. In this country the Reichian school of psychiatrists uses sex therapy. Many psychiatrists accept that prostitutes are the oldest therapists in the world and are practitioners of professional therapy. Indeed, they help people deprived of sex to sort out their problems. Prostitutes deal primarily with all the sexual things that have gone wrong.

The first people to whom men go when they have sexual inadequacies and problems are prostitutes. Therefore, to some people in society there is great respectability in and acceptance of prostitution and its social and therapeutic value. It is time that the degradation, the harassment, imprisonment and fining of these women was stopped.

To sum up, this short amending Bill to existing Acts seeks to abolish prison sentences for soliciting, establish one offence to cover all persistent street nuisances with evidence from the persons annoyed, abolish the term "common prostitute" and delete that part of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 which classifies more than two women living together as "a brothel". I hope that the Bill will have the support of the House.

3.41 p.m.

I rise to oppose the bringing in of this Bill. I do so because I believe in the sanctity of our womenfolk. I believe that that view is widely shared in all parts of the House. I do not believe that any person or party is in a sole position to claim that he or it alone stands for this belief. In all parts of this House and in all sections of the community there is concern that the standards that have made this nation and protected its womenfolk in the past are in serious jeopardy.

There is an awareness that in the wake of what has been called "the permissive society" there has been a moral delinquency which has affected every part of our society.

I make it clear that no one in this House has any right to point a finger of judgment or condemnation—

I am well aware that the founder of Christianity himself, when confronted with a woman who had lost her virtue, said:

" He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."
Today in this House I want to stand for the protection of all womenfolk—

Having run the risk of being an Ulster politician for the past 10 years, I think that I shall survive even the threats of the womenfolk on the other side of this House.

The person who has been caught up in prostitution through exploitation, victimisation, or by her own choice, has lost the greatest thing in life—the purpose for which she came into the world. She has lost her goal. All of us here today remember our own mothers, and thank God for them. We all remember the sanctity of the family and the joy and peace which flows from family life. We must also remember that the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Colquhoun), who asked leave to introduce the Bill, made it clear that her objective in the end was to abolish all laws on this matter. This is only the beginning of a

Division No. 83]


[3.47 p.m.

Abse, LeoGow, Ian (Eastbourne)Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Aitken, JonathanGraham, TedNewens, Stanley
Allaun, FrankGrant, George (Morpeth)Newton, Tony
Ashton, JoeGrimond, Rt Hon J.Noble, Mike
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Grocott, BruceOgden, Eric
Bates, AlfHayman, Mrs HeleneOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodHeffer, Eric S.Pardoe, John
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)Parker, John
Bidwell, SydneyHoyle, Doug (Nelson)Parry, Robert
Blenkinsop, ArthurHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Pavitt, Laurie
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Hughes, Roy (Newport)Penhaligon, David
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Perry, Ernest
Carmichael, NeilIrving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)Rathbone, Tim
Carter-Jones, LewisJeger, Mrs LenaReid, George
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Richardson, Miss Jo
Cockcroft, JohnJohnson, Walter (Derby S)Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Colquhoun, Ms MaureenKerr, RussellRoderick, Caerwyn
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Kilroy-Silk, RobertRooker, J. W.
Cormack, PatrickKing, Tom (Bridgwater)Royle, Sir Anthony
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Kinnock, NeilSt. John-Stevas, Norman
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)Lamond, JamesSandelson, Neville
Dalyell, TamLangford-Holt, Sir JohnSedgemore, Brian
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)Latham, Arthur (Paddington)Selby, Harry
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Lawrence, IvanShaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Dormand, J. D.Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Drayson, BurnabyLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Silvester, Fred
Dykes, HughLitterick, TomSkinner, Dennis
Ellis, John (Brig & Scun)Loyden, EddieSpeed, Keith
English, MichaelMcDonald, Dr OonaghStallard, A. W.
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)McGuire, Michael (Ince)Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Evans, John (Newton)MacKay, Andrew (Stechford)Stott, Roger
Fairgrieve, RussellMadden, MaxStrauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.Magee, BryanTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Flannery, MartinMallalieu, J. P. W.Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Maynard, Miss JoanThomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMeyer, Sir AnthonyThomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Tilley, John
Freud, ClementMitchell, Austin (Grimsby)Tinn, James
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Morris, Rt Hon Charles R.Tuck, Raphael
Garrett, John (Norwich S)Morris, Michael (Northampton S)Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Morton, GeorgeWatkinson, John

scheme to undermine what lies at the very heart of the moral fabric of our society.

If this Bill is bought into the House it will be a sad reflection on our nation. It will be a green light to many people—[ Interruption] Of course those who are laughing now know the colour of prostitution, but I must plead ignorance.

There is one phrase from the Bible that I want to leave with the House today. It is that "Her ways are the ways of death." I believe that the exploiters and the exploited, the victims and those who make them so, those who pay and those who are paid, will find one day the eternal wisdom of the eternal Book. I call upon all hon. Members to vote out this proposal today.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and Nomination of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 130, Noes 50.

Weetch, KenWilson, William (Coventry SE)TELLERS FOR THF AYES
White, Frank R. (Bury)Wise, Mrs AudreyMr. George Rodgers and
Whitehead, PhillipWrigglesworth, IanMr. Stan Thorne.
Wigley, DafyddYoung, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)


Alison, MichaelHunter, AdamRodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Belth, A. J.Jessel, TobyRoss, William (Londonderry)
Benyon, W.Kilfedder, JamesSainsbury, Tim
Burden, F. A.McCusker, H.Sims, Roger
Cant, R. B.Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Mather, CarolStoddart, David
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Mills, PeterStokes, John
Coleman, DonaldMoate, RogerTaylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Cope, JohnMolloy, WilliamTebbit, Norman
Dean, Paul (N Somerset)Molyneaux, JamesTemple-Morris, Peter
Dempsey, JamesMudd, DavidWaddington, David
Evans, loan (Aberdare)Neubert, MichaelWainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Farr, JohnPage, Richard (Workington)Wells, John
Fisher, Sir NigelPattie, GeoffreyWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Gray, HamishPercival, Ian
Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Powell, Rt Hon J. EnochTELLERS FOR THE NOES
Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)Rifkind, MalcolmRev. Ian Paisley and
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Ms Maureen Colquhoun, Mr. Ian Mikardo, Miss Jo Richardson, Mr. Martin Flannery, Mr. Christopher Price, Mr. John Garrett, Mr. Sydney Bidwell, Mr. Arthur Latham, Mr. Tom Litterick, Miss Joan Lestor, Mr. Stan Thorne, and Mr. George Rodgers.


Ms Maureen Colquhoun accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and the Street Offences Act 1959; to provide for the better protection of prostitutes from exploitation and victimisation; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 18 May and to be printed. [Bill 100.]