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Volume 407: debated on Wednesday 18 June 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many arrests there have been on the grounds of prostitution in the last five years in (a) England and Wales, (b) the West Midlands and (c) Coventry. [119052]

Information on the number of persons arrested for prostitution offences is not collected centrally within England and Wales.Information relating to Northern Ireland is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Matters related to Scotland are for the Scottish Executive.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what strategy is in place to reduce the number of (a) young people and (b) women at risk of (i) sexual exploitation and (ii) prostitution in England and Wales; and what studies he has made of other EU states' strategies for the reduction of prostitution and the protection of (A) young people and (B) women from such exploitation. [119053]

The Government are taking a range of measures to address the involvement of young people and adult women involved in prostitution.The Sexual Offences Bill, currently before Parliament, will strengthen the legal framework for tackling the commercial sexual exploitation of adults and children and trafficking for this purpose, both within the United Kingdom and internationally. The provisions covering children will protect them up to the age of 18 and cover buying sexual services from a child, recruitment, control in prostitution or pornography, causing, inciting, arranging or facilitating child prostitution or pornography. The maximum penalties will range from seven years to life imprisonment depending on the age of the child and the activity involved.The offences in the Bill will help fulfil the requirements of European Union Framework Decisions on Combating Trafficking of Human Beings and the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Child Pornography, which the United Kingdom were actively involved in negotiating.In May 2000, the Government published "Safeguarding Children Involved in Prostitution". This guidance is aimed at all agencies that come into contact with children involved in, or at risk of becoming involved in, prostitution. It sets out a multi-agency approach, based on local protocols. It is issued pursuant to the Government's child protection guidance "Working Together to Safeguard Children".In September 2001, the Government published the "National Plan for Safeguarding Children from Commercial Sexual Exploitation", in preparation for the Second World Congress on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Yokohama, Japan in December 2001. The plan forms an important part of the Government's drive to improve safeguards for children. It focuses on those children who are induced or coerced into unlawful sexual activities for the commercial advantage of others. It explains what the Government, the devolved administrations and partner agencies are doing and are planning to do, looking at both UK-based and international sexual exploitation of children.In addition, the Home Office recently funded 11 prostitution initiatives as part of the "What Works: Tackling Prostitution" scheme, funded by the Crime Reduction Programme. These projects seek to develop and inform us of successful strategies for dealing with and managing the nuisance caused by the activities of prostitutes, the behaviour of those involved in the exploitation of others and ways of supporting those involved in prostitution who wish to exit the trade. Reports will be available later this year.

With respect to children at risk of being drawn into prostitution or other commercial sexual exploitation, an assessment of the child's individual needs will be undertaken in accordance with the "Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (2000)". This assessment should be followed by consideration of how best to address the identified needs of the child and the development of a care plan.

For individual children already in prostitution, assistance and support should be provided by local statutory services in response to identified needs, whether directly or through specialist agencies. Child victims of commercial sexual exploitation are likely to be in need of welfare services and, in many cases, protection under the Children Act 1989. Social services have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of these children following an assessment of their circumstances.

Where there is a risk to the life of a child or a likelihood of serious harm, an agency with statutory child protection powers, such as the police or councils with social services responsibilities, should act quickly to secure the immediate safety of the child. In some cases, it may be necessary to ensure either that the child remains in, or is removed to, a safe place. Under s.20 of the Children Act 1989, a local authority may provide accommodation for any child within its area if it considers that this would safeguard or promote the child's welfare.

The Government are extremely concerned about the Mafia-style criminality associated with the exploitation of girls and women, the links between prostitution and drug dependency, and the way in which prostitution can blight local communities. There is a great deal of work to be done to establish how best to break the links between the sex trade and organised crime, to help those who are exploited to leave prostitution, and to support local communities to develop effective neighbourhood regeneration schemes. This is a complex area. As announced in 'Protecting the Public', published in November 2002 [Cm 5668] we are examining the scope for a review of the issues surrounding prostitution and the exploitation, organised criminality and class A drug abuse associated with it.