Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)
66: Clause 15, page 17, line 3, leave out “period of three months” and insert “one week”
The Government made one positive move in the other place, when they removed the term “common prostitute” from the Street Offences Act 1959 as amended by Clause 15. I think that that was generally welcomed. However, what the Government have given with one hand, they have rather taken away with the other, because upping the incidence of persistence makes criminalisation more likely. Our amendment suggests that “persistent”, if it needs to be defined at all, should be defined only as conduct which takes place on two or more occasions within any three-month period. As “persistent” is defined in the Bill at the moment, someone could be charged within a short period of a day, several days or over a week, and up to a three-month period.
While the Bill creates a three-month deadline after which the person would have to be seen again by police officers soliciting on two or more occasions, it does not provide a meaningful deceleration of the criminal process in the context of work patterns of the majority of people involved in street sex work. Working patterns vary—we have heard in debate today of the wide variety of people involved in prostitution—yet the reality for the majority of women involved in street sex work is that the factors that lead to their entry into and continued involvement in it mean that most have to solicit regularly, often every day, hence most could still become very easily and quickly caught up in the criminal justice system under the proposed change.
As the Minister will know, we have argued for progressive decriminalisation. We feel that this change goes in the opposite direction. There is also a danger that such legislation could encourage intensive, short-term policing operations which criminalised large numbers of women.
Unsurprisingly, the Government’s proposition has no support from the Safety First Coalition, which believes that it would be a step in the wrong direction. Given that the Government’s declared intention is that the Bill should make life safer for women, I am sure that they would not want to take a step that made it more criminal and less safe. I beg to move.
I have some sympathy with the amendment. I find it deeply frustrating that the Government continue to tinker with existing legislation on prostitution rather than engage in a thorough review of the enormous number of Acts and offences around the subject. Although I support the Government’s rather weak attempts to remove some of the stigma from those seeking to find a way out of prostitution by removing the term “a common prostitute”, it is not nearly enough. The stigma of a name, while it is often an obstacle to getting a job, is only one small part of the problem. The very existence of a criminal record is a much more significant obstacle, as are the circumstances that led to prostitution in the first place.
I support the thoughts behind the noble Baroness’s amendment, and what my noble friend Lord Bridgeman said. The biggest barrier to women getting out of prostitution is their criminal record. They are stuck somewhere they do not want to be. Eighty per cent of income from street workers goes to pay their fines, so I do not see how this is in any way going to help women to get out of prostitution or make them any safer.
I also support the amendment. It makes perfect sense, really. To talk of conduct being persistent if it takes place on two or more occasions in a period of three months is clearly absurd. That is not persistent. If you replace that period of three months with one week, there is a certain logic to it. Although one might not want it to be there at all, as it were, I certainly support the amendment.
Amendment 66 seeks to amend aspects of Clause 15, notably the definition of persistence which this clause would introduce to the offence of loitering and soliciting for the purposes of prostitution under the Street Offences Act 1959.
Clause 15 would amend the offence of loitering or soliciting for the purposes of prostitution found in Section 1 of the Street Offences Act in removing the term “common prostitute”. I appreciate the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, but I believe that it is a step in the right direction. It inserts an explicit requirement to prove that a person has acted persistently. The effect of Amendment 66 would be that persistence, as several noble Lords have explained in this short debate, would be defined as two or more occasions in one week, rather than two or more occasions in three months. This would mean that people could be arrested for loitering and soliciting for the purposes of prostitution only if they were found to have done so on two or more occasions in one week. This would significantly narrow the definition that we are introducing.
We have sought police advice in developing this amendment and believe that it sets the threshold for persistence at the appropriate level. Restricting the definition to cover only those found loitering and soliciting twice within one week would narrow this offence too much and would require greater police resources to collate the necessary evidence. This would limit the power of this offence, and responses we received to our consultation, Paying the Price, suggested there was support for maintaining the offence in order to tackle the problems associated with street prostitution.
The definition of persistence as defined by Clause 15 strikes a balance which gives the police the power to take action against those who are engaged in street prostitution on a regular basis, while taking account of the fact that some may leave prostitution but return intermittently, having lapsed in their attempts to leave. Attempts to restrict this definition would affect this balance, and we believe that the definition that would result from the amendment is too narrow. On that basis, I ask her to withdraw her amendment.
Can I ask a practical question? What are the chances of the same beat officers being around twice in three months to witness this offence taking place? To make this stick, presumably the same police officer will have to see the same person meet up with same prostitute more than once in three months. Our experience of beat officers is that, however good, they do not last as long as three months, or they are on night duty, or they are away. That may be fine—it may be that there is no persistence at all and they never get prosecuted at all, and some people would be very glad about that. If you made it twice in a week, there might be some chance of consistency with people passing them on the street.
The noble Baroness makes an interesting point. I presume that it would depend on the beat patterns in different police forces in different parts of the country, from cities to rural areas. As she rightly says, it may have the result that, if beat officers are not there very often, they may not spot what would be persistent in their proposals in the amendment. The police practice is to issue cautions, and that will continue. If a prosecution is brought, the prosecutor is required to prove that the man or woman was loitering on at least two occasions. They can of course advance an explanation as to what they were doing. We see these changes that were signalled in the co-ordinated prostitution strategy as an important element to that approach. The noble Baroness’s point is a good one, but, if anything, it would assist the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, to accept the position, if it meant in reality that there was no difference between twice in three months and twice in one week.
I am slightly confused by the Minister’s comment. He mentioned at one point “maintaining” the position, whereas the Bill changes the current position. Far from maintaining it, it increases the chances of criminalisation. One of the things that worries me about this is that it will push women to work in places that are even further away from help and more underground, and where they are more vulnerable. It worries me that the Government are moving in the wrong direction. I can see that this evening the Minister is not likely to agree with me, but I should like him to dwell on whether this will make women safer. We all have in the back of our minds the women in Ipswich. If women are trying to avoid being seen by the police, which is what this would encourage, they will solicit in ever more dangerous areas. I see the Minister is slightly tempted to reply to me, so I will let him.
I will certainly take on board and look at the question of safety. That is central to what we are seeking to achieve in the Bill. Perhaps I should be clearer in what I was intimating to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. It does not have to be the same beat officers, because they issue cautions. The caution will be the evidence of whether there has been a soliciting and loitering offence twice within two months, three months or whatever. As the noble Baroness rightly says, we are not making progress on this issue. The Government see this as a central part of what we seek to do. We do not want to jeopardise the safety of sex workers and prostitutes. The intention of our endeavours is to protect them within the law and to assist them to remove themselves from an industry where many of them are exploited.
Amendment 66 withdrawn.
Clause 15 agreed.
Clause 16 : Orders requiring attendance at meetings
67: Clause 16, page 17, line 19, leave out “three” and insert “a course of”
Amendments 67 and 68 seek to probe further the requirement to attend meetings. In particular, I hope the Minister can give us some detail about what these meetings will consist of. A considerable amount of research material has been published analysing the factors that lead a woman into prostitution and keep her there. These factors are diverse and frequently of a very serious nature, including alcohol and drug addiction or an abusive family life. Prostitution often leaves a woman with long-term problems to overcome if she tries to leave the industry, including serious long-term mental or physical health problems.
It would not be easy for even a well resourced and leisurely rehabilitation system to accurately identify these factors, let alone start the long process to treat, cure and support the patient afterwards.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, raises a sensible point with her amendment about the necessity of ensuring that those coming to the end of their courses are given the information necessary to access any support network available to them. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure the Committee that passing over such information will be a priority.
However, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether he imagines that three compulsory meetings, possibly with an unwilling or disengaged patient, will really make a difference. How will the court decide which sort of meetings would be most relevant? Will there be any medical assessment or professional intervention to identify any health problems? Would such an assessment count as one of the three meetings necessary to meet the order’s requirement? And of course, as with so many such initiatives, there will be a problem with resources. I understand that the Government are planning to rely on existing NGOs and charities to provide these meetings. Will they be reimbursed by the courts for their participation? If not, does the Minister not think that these rehabilitation orders could place an unfeasible burden on the third sector?
I have many questions to ask about what level of scrutiny there will be over the quality of advice and support offered by these meetings. Will a government agency be made responsible for ensuring that the meetings are meaningful? What steps will be taken if the courts decide that the meetings were unproductive and badly targeted?
The levels of support a woman often needs to lift herself out of prostitution and establish herself in a stable and healthy life afterwards are considerable. Although we welcome the introduction of a rehabilitation order as an indication that the Government are starting to accept that criminalising prostitutes just to throw them back on to the streets does nothing to address the problem in the long term, I am very sceptical that the requirement to attend three meetings of an uncertain and unspecified nature will prove to be much more helpful.
As I said, these are probing amendments. However, I hope the Minister will be able to give us more background to the arrangements for this rehabilitation programme.
Our Amendment 68A is in this group. At this stage, before we debate clause stand part, I simply want to say that, in our view, the only sort of courses that women should be offered—“required” is too strong a word—are ones that will really help them to get out of prostitution. As the Minister will appreciate, that usually starts with improving their economic prospects. I tabled this amendment because what mostly stops these women improving their economic prospects is the fact that they may not be receiving any of the benefits to which they are entitled; the fact that they may not be aware of other employment opportunities and the training opportunities that go with them; and the fact that affordable childcare is one of the biggest reasons why many women find it difficult to take up other forms of employment. There are a number of women to whom none of those factors will apply, and, as we heard, some women will want to continue to work in the sex industry because it pays very well. Nevertheless, if the Government are serious about offering alternatives, they need to be very focused on exactly which courses are on offer. I shall leave the other main parts of my argument until the debate on clause stand part.
I support these amendments tabled by my noble friend and by the noble Baronesses, Lady Miller. Given that most women go into prostitution because of poverty, debt, domestic violence, homelessness and drugs, can the Minister say how those will be addressed in the rehabilitation courses?
These new orders will be available on conviction for loitering or soliciting for the purpose of prostitution as an alternative to a fine. They will assist the offenders to begin to address the reasons behind their involvement in prostitution and explore routes out. They will require offenders to attend three meetings with a supervisor in order to address the underlying causes of their involvement in prostitution.
Amendment 67 would replace the requirement to attend three meetings with a requirement to attend “a course of” meetings which would, therefore, be less prescriptive than in the current clause. I am aware that there have been some concerns that three meetings will not be sufficient to address the underlying causes of prostitution. We have always accepted this point and acknowledge that the process of exiting prostitution may be gradual. The aim of the three meetings is to establish initial engagement with services offering routes out of prostitution and to help trigger continued involvement in that process.
Given that the process of exiting prostitution is likely to be long in many cases, it is unlikely that one course in itself could address all the issues necessary, unless it was quite extensive. This would then make the prospect of a breach more likely and could risk setting people up to fail. We do not want to make the requirements of the orders too demanding because the offence is relatively minor and an order is the equivalent of a fine. In the light of the fact that this is a criminal penalty, it is important that there is some clarity about what the order would entail and consistency between different areas as regards the number of meetings that a person would be required to attend.
Amendment 68 would remove the provision which sets out the purpose of the order, which is to assist the offender,
“to … address the causes of the conduct constituting the offence, and … find ways to cease engaging in such conduct in the future”.
The fundamental aim of the order is to help those involved in street prostitution address the causes of their involvement and to help them to find ways to stop working as prostitutes. It is important that the legislation makes this clear to the court, and that supervisors are aware of the aim of the meetings which they will be conducting with the offender.
Amendment 68A, which we have not debated in detail and has been tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, would add to the definition of the purpose of the order. The intention of the amendment is to ensure that advice about housing, benefits, employment and affordable childcare can be part of the order. Of course, we recognise that such issues may well be addressed as part of the order and could be vital in helping someone address the causes of their involvement in prostitution. We acknowledge that a number of significant and complex issues will need to be dealt with in order to help someone start to find a route out of prostitution. That, however, is why we do not believe that it would be appropriate to specify which issues need to be addressed on the face of the Bill.
The needs of each person who is made the subject of an order will be different and complex. For this reason, it is preferable for the purposes of the order to be defined in broad terms and that specifying issues on which advice must be provided is overly prescriptive. In some cases, it may not be necessary to provide advice on childcare, for example. In other cases, there may be other issues on which advice is necessary but which are not specified in the Bill. In such cases, there is a risk that these could be neglected or not prioritised appropriately because of the need to meet the requirements of providing advice on the matters specified in statute.
Leaving prostitution will often be a gradual process, and the process of completing an order will be just the first step for many. It will be necessary for the supervisor to recognise the multiple needs of someone who is made subject to an order and to prioritise these to achieve progress. There is a risk, however, that requiring in statute the provision of advice on a range of matters in a relatively short space of time could be counterproductive and could risk overwhelming the subject of an order with a number of issues and problems that they may need to address, perhaps in a more considered and leisurely form.
I understand why the noble Baroness has tabled this amendment and we appreciate her concerns. We do not believe, however, that her amendment is necessary. Instead, we consider that the issues she raises would be more appropriately addressed in guidance rather than on the face of the Bill. I can assure her that we will deal with these issues in guidance and I hope that for the reasons I have set out, she is persuaded that that approach is preferable.
While recognising the need for flexibility, it is important to retain a clear structure to the orders in terms of the number of meetings, the purpose of the order and the criteria for appointing a supervisor. We believe that such requirements are important and will help to ensure that the orders are delivered more effectively.
I hope that a number of the points raised by the noble Viscount were covered in my response; if not, I shall happily seek to provide additional information outside the Committee. A question was asked regarding health concerns. Because there will be almost a bespoke service to the individual, which may include drug counselling and health monitoring, a number of issues will probably be raised at the first meeting.
No government agency as such will be responsible for monitoring orders. A supervisor will be appointed by, and be accountable to, the court. Of course, the supervisor will be appropriately appointed for the needs of the person on whom an order has been imposed. We will evaluate the general success of the orders once a sufficient number of cases have been brought and completed, but this endeavour is a genuine attempt to persuade people to start the route out of prostitution.
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I had intended to intervene a little earlier but the Minister had already risen to his feet. I still find this a little confusing. It is set out in the Bill that an order is made and a supervisor is appointed and so on, but is that the end of it? As I understand it, the offender can listen to what is advised and to all the things that she needs to take account of, and that is it, and a similar order or any other order may not be made on that “offence”. Is that correct?
It is, unfortunately, a truth that we hope not to experience too often. If an individual simply sees the order as an alternative to a fine, she will sit through three meetings, which have to take place within six months, without taking any regard of what is said. The situation is not much different from that of people who receive speeding fines. If you get caught for speeding, you are now offered the alternative of attending a half-day course on the dangers of speeding and on how to avoid speeding. In a sense, the intention is to rehabilitate the person guilty of the offence of speeding. Someone can go on that course and sit through it all day without taking any notice. They can then get in their car, drive at an excessive speed on the way home and perhaps get caught again. With this measure, we are hoping to bring out from prostitution people who are prepared to accept and take advantage of the help that is available, which would go beyond the three meetings. It is hoped that support for their problems would then be given within the supervisor’s organisation and beyond. I hope that that answer offers some encouragement to the noble Baronesses, Lady Hanham and Lady Miller, and that the amendment will be withdrawn.
Perhaps I may try to get my mind around this. This is not a probation order; it is an alternative to a fine. Therefore, will the defendant be told that either they will be fined or that alternatively they can choose to attend rehabilitation meetings? Will there be a choice? Are the magistrates going to tell them that they can choose one or the other? Either way, it will still be a court decision, which of course will be subject to a breach, and the breach will result in whatever the court would have done. It is important to know whether the decision is an alternative for the Bench or for the defendant. The noble Lord is right: if you are charged with drink driving, you will get time off if you decide to attend a course. However, if you breach that, it will constitute another offence. There will be a bit more to unpick on this issue, so it would be helpful for the rest of our discussion to have clarification on whether that is the situation.
My noble friend asked who was going to run these meetings. It will not be the supervisor—that will come later—but will they be run by the probation service or by organisations that are geared up to deal with advice? Who is involved in all this?
The noble Baroness asks two apposite questions. The answer is that it will be for the court to decide and therefore there will be no voluntary principle. The court will presumably make the decision on the basis that an order is more appropriate than a fine. As was said earlier, we are relying on the organisations that are already working in this area. In some areas, this is already happening on a voluntary basis without court intervention, and we see that as a way of taking this measure forward. We do not believe that the resource requirement will be that significant, but if it is, those providing the supervision, and so on, will be the first to tell us about it.
In taking the decision to apply an order in preference to a fine, the courts will not need additional resources because the supervision will be discussed with those organisations already involved in assisting people in prostitution. The court can consider anyone to be appropriate and capable of carrying out that role, and the guidance will state clearly the skills that are required. Those people will all be working with specialist projects. We have identified the voluntary sector to do this because it has the greatest experience. If we are trying to persuade people to give up prostitution, it is perhaps better to do that than through the more traditional law and order method. I hope that that answers the noble Lord’s question.
I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken to this amendment. It is clearly a very involved subject, and my noble friend Lady Hanham has raised one or two points. I noted a reference in the Minister’s speech to it appearing on the face of the Bill. We shall carefully analyse the speech in Hansard. In particular, we will want to know how much of the arrangements for the rehabilitation of prostitutes will appear as orders to the Bill. In the mean time I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 67 withdrawn.
68: Clause 16, page 17, leave out lines 22 to 25
Following the last debate, I turn to the question of the “suitable person”. Just as the Bill is largely silent on the details of the meetings, so too is it lacking in any detail on the qualifications, training or experience expected of that person. The role will be critical if the meetings are to have any effect at all. The person will not only have the responsibility to identify what meetings the defendant should attend, but will represent the best opportunity for a prostitute to develop a relationship with a network of bodies and organisations to help her out of prostitution. What scrutiny will be put in place to ensure that the suitable persons are competent? The Bill allows for a new person to be appointed if the first is unable to continue. What will be the grounds for this change? Can the prostitute request a different person?
I am also uncertain about how the person will reconcile the two aspects of his or her responsibilities. He or she will, on one hand, be expected to support the prostitute, and on the other will be expected to report any breach of the order back to the courts, knowing full well that such a report may result in a fine or worse. How can such a dual role be maintained? Does the Minister expect that suitable person, who no doubt has worked hard for many years to support these women, to be able to send them back to receive a criminal penalty? I beg to move.
I thank the noble Viscount for his apposite questions, starting with what a supervisor is, and why we have not specified it more clearly in the Bill. The supervisor will normally be based in a dedicated support project for those involved in prostitution where such a process exists in a local area. However, it is not the intention that the role of the supervisor should be defined so as to limit the project work of a dedicated support user in practice. Supervisors may be based in a women’s resource centre or drug rehabilitation organisation. We want to tailor the supervision to the needs of the person who will benefit from the order.
That flexibility increases the potential availability of the order and means that an appropriate supervisor can be identified to deliver the order in cases involving male prostitutes, transgender prostitutes or young people involved in prostitution. All the clause requires is that a supervisor appears to the court to have the appropriate qualifications or experience for helping the offender to make the best use of the meetings, to address the causes of their offending and ways to stop it.
The intention is that the court can use anyone whom it considers appropriate to carry out that role. Guidance will state clearly those who have the greatest skills. They are likely to be people already working in specialist projects. We see a lot of advantages in using existing project workers to act as supervisors, not least that they may be in continuing contact with an individual after the three meetings have ceased. The voluntary sector is identified to deliver that because it has the greatest expertise in dealing with those involved in prostitution, and all those organisations have a key-worker approach, which will be extremely important in supporting individuals with a difficult challenge. A constable or the offender can apply for the supervisor to be changed if they consider the supervisor unable to continue to act. It will ultimately be for the court to judge whether that is the case and whether to amend the order. Equally, if people move from one area to another, adjustments can be made. The idea is to be as flexible and supportive as we can. The requirement for three meetings is but a start, and we hope that many will be encouraged from the first and second meeting to continue beyond the third.
The Home Office assessment is that £180,000 a year will be allocated for this, which, if you assume that 1,000 women will be referred in a year, is only £180 per woman, which with on-costs for someone with three meetings, I suggest will result in a considerable shortfall. The costings alone call that into question. The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, raised the issue. Referral orders have been supported by some projects working with women, but they are in a dilemma. They support the idea of referral orders, but they are going to be on the receiving end of the money, which may make them less objective.
I have to say that the last opinion of the noble Baroness does not conform to my experience of people who work in the voluntary sector. Many of them, as we know, do dedicated work on salaries and income levels that many of us would find ourselves not attracted to.
We have to make an estimate; we cannot be sure that the number of orders will be as forecast, or that the number of recipients taking out more than the minimum of three meetings will be as such. Clearly, the matter will have to be reviewed. As I have said, it will be reviewed as the programme comes on stream, the orders are made, and the people subject to orders have their meetings and go on to further support.
The order will be for three meetings. That will be for the court. At the end of those three meetings, that is the end of the court's involvement. Is it then up to the organisation and the woman concerned to decide whether to continue that, so that that will be a resource issue not for the court but for someone else?
First, on cost, let me correct the position, as we may be misleading ourselves. The indication we have is not for 1,000 cases, but for 300 orders per year, which is not enormous. The proportion of people continuing from those 300 orders cannot, by definition, be more than 300. How we take it forward will be a learning experience, and the Government are determined that it will be successful, if the people subject to the order want to make it successful. I therefore do not believe that under the resource allocation at present, there is any suggestion that the programme will fail. I will happily supply a note expanding on that on numbers of cases and costs, which may help noble Lords, before Report.
I got my figures from the Home Office’s statistics of volumes. I am sure the Minister has seen them. In 2004, there were 1,235 cautions, which might well have been referred, 1,735 guilty verdicts and 1,406 fines. In the subsequent year, there were slightly fewer: cautions, 927; guilty, 1,116; fines, 804. That is substantially more than 300.
I thank the noble Baronesses for their contributions. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, asked whether we should persevere with something for such a small number. We are starting something, and after a year or two’s experience, we will know how successful it has been and how the resource fits the requirement. I have already indicated that it might be helpful if I were to write to noble Lords setting out as much information as we have on the resource and, in particular, the demand side of this so that by the time we get to Report, if I am successful in persuading the noble Viscount to withdraw the amendment, we can discuss this further.
All sides of the Committee will share the concern to get this enormously important subject of rehabilitation as right as we possibly can. I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and for his offer to write to us before Report. In the mean time, we shall read carefully the report in Hansard. I have no doubt that we shall come back to this on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 68 withdrawn.
Amendments 68A and 69 not moved.
Debate on whether Clause 16 should stand part of the Bill.
We have just heard some of the problems that these referral orders are posing. There are questions about resources and practicality, but I would like to return to the principle, because the very concept of compulsory rehabilitation for prostitutes has an extremely Victorian ring about it as far as I am concerned.
The Home Office’s assessment does not seem very clear in its answer to the very good question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, about whether this is for the defendant or for wider society. I shall briefly quote from its summary of interventions and options in its impact assessment of prostitution referral orders. It states that orders are to,
“help break the cycle of prostitution and by helping prostitutes overcome problems”.
That is very fair and a perfectly laudable aim. However, in its comments under the evidence base, it states:
“Street prostitution is of serious concern as it can involve anti-social behaviour, serious drug abuse, violence and exploitation and organised crime”.
Whether this rather Victorian attitude is intended to help with those crimes, which can be prosecuted quite separately in any case, or to help the defendant is really not clear.
If the Government are keen to assist prostitutes out of prostitution, they would no doubt like to take some advice from other bodies that have submitted evidence. The Royal College of Nursing, for example, feels that these measures are too punitive to tackle the problem and that forcing prostitutes into these programmes will not work. As it says, prostitutes in the majority of cases are driven to prostitution as an act of desperation, often to fuel a drug habit. It is easy to envisage that maintaining this addiction will lead to non-attendance at rehabilitation meetings. That absence will then lead to recall to court and the extension of a fine or prison sentence to the individual. Criminalisation will drive underground those in need of properly funded and staffed healthcare support.
The Royal College of Nursing is definite that the Government’s approach to this compulsory rehabilitation will not help at all. It has a strong body of evidence. It has worked with a large number of women and suggests that the support offered should be basic and crucial. Access to healthcare support may vary; support may be in offering sex health advice, a supply of contraceptives, needle exchange schemes and drug rehabilitation. The royal college is not at all talking in the terms in which the orders are envisaged.
It is hard to understand where the Government feel that their evidence shows that the approach that they propose in Clause 16 should work. To go back to what we said at the beginning of the Bill, Clause 16 smacks of the state’s wish to exert some sort of moral disapproval of prostitution while simultaneously recognising that it will not go away. It actually reintroduces punishment and custody by the back door. I know that the Minister will feel that Clause 16 is drafted with the best of intentions and that the Government want to help to point prostitutes in a direction in which they can make a change in their lives. In that case, however, why make it punitive if they do not attend the meetings? Why not suggest this as a voluntary measure, without the tag of criminalisation at the end?
The UK Network of Sex Work Projects has a lot of experience of what works. It says:
“The experience of member projects which operate voluntary court diversion programmes shows that compulsion is not necessary. Our members are happy to advise on such schemes and the learning from them”.
The network makes the point that a lot of this depends on adequate and sustained funding for interventions, which we have just talked about. Clearly, three visits to anything is completely unrealistic if you really want to give somebody sustained help. If someone has worked even as a volunteer around a CAB office they will know about the length of time that it takes to support somebody to turn their lives around. Such people may and probably do have multiple problems and are more likely to turn their lives around if they are voluntarily attending a series of meetings over months, even years.
The Minister will ask why, in that case, I am not more supportive of starting people off on the ladder of attending meetings. However, putting the limited resources into compulsory schemes is undermining that idea. He spoke of the good work that some of the projects are doing. However, the funding should be put into longer-term voluntary help, which would be far more likely to produce positive results. Therefore, we cannot support Clause 16 as it stands. I struggle to understand why the Government are proposing this as a practical measure.
This gives me an opportunity to ask the Government about a matter that the noble Baroness has raised, if not specifically. What else are the Government doing to help prostitutes to find work? Associated with that is again the question of resources, to which we referred in an earlier amendment, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Stern.
I was very interested to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, refer to the Victorian aspect of this compulsory rehabilitation. However, only a year ago compulsory rehabilitation was thrown out of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill by this House, so why is it being brought back when all the evidence is against it, particularly in the context of it being conducted by the criminal justice system? That is the wrong organisation to be doing it.
The Minister mentioned one of the voluntary organisations. I would like to take this opportunity to describe the work of a remarkable organisation, which I have had the great privilege of seeing work in Newcastle. The GAP Project is run by a remarkable and extremely brave young woman, Laura Seebohm. She works among these women in Newcastle, conscious of the dangers presented by the masters—if that is the right word—or the pimps who conduct them, and providing support to the women involved in prostitution. That is the aim of the project. She is trying to engage women who have traditionally avoided contact with the agencies because they mistrust them for a variety of reasons: they lack confidence in them; they fear the stigma of going to them; and they have chaotic lifestyles. Everything is against that contact, quite apart from the pressure that they are under from the people who are exploiting them.
Experience over a number of years has shown that this group of women needs specialist services across a wide range of settings, including community outreach, drop-in centres, which they can attend at times when they are able to do so, structured groups, where they feel that there is something they can engage with and get help from people consistently over time, and innovative activities that identify the skills that they have and help them to live useful and law-abiding lives. The key to all this is developing trusting relationships with staff. The results prove that, once these women become engaged with this sort of system, the demand for that support increases exponentially. They themselves are the best agents for encouraging others to come and join in as a result of what they have experienced.
The project is working in a very difficult and tough area. In fact, at one time this service was run by the probation service, but it deliberately broke away from it because the restrictions placed on the service by Whitehall through the probation service interfered with its flexibility, which is absolutely crucial. It was crucial to make certain that the services were there at all times for the women when they were able to come and use them. The door had to be open for them.
With that sort of evidence from that sort of place, it seems to me to be totally extraordinary that the Government should now be embarking on something that is not structured, not clear, not consistent and not available for people at the times when they need it. It does not seem to me to make any sense to have this organised by the very organisation, the criminal justice system, that is the one part of the structure from which these women shy away.
Therefore, I am extremely concerned at the continuing focus on criminalisation. We mentioned it with children, but it also applies to these women. I notice with some concern that the Public Bill Committee in the other place described Clause 16 as,
“the sloppiest part of the Bill”.—[Official Report, Commons, Policing and Crime Bill Committee, 10/2/09; col. 322.]
It said that it was only likely to make matters worse. If you put in place ineffective, unrealistic and compulsory rehabilitation programmes, leading to further criminalisation, you will make the project worse. We should not delude ourselves that an ad hoc court nomination of people who might be appropriate will be anything like suitable for dealing with these problems of women who have got into this situation and need to be helped out of it, as of course do their children, which is a residual part of the problem that must be addressed.
I thank noble Lords for their contribution to this debate in which a number of important points have been made. On the initial point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, it is true that this was an issue during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. In the last Session, similar provisions were contained in that Bill but they were withdrawn due to time pressures on that Bill. However, we made it clear at that time that we would seek to reintroduce them at the earliest opportunity. I take some umbrage at the suggestion that it is unco-ordinated when it is part of a strategy that we are trying to develop.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked why these orders are compulsory, which was echoed by the noble Lord. We recognise that wherever possible orders should be made with the consent of the person subject to the order. However, persistent involvement makes some elements of compulsion necessary. Let us not forget that we are talking about the alternative to a fine, which has become something of a revolving door for many prostitutes. We have heard tonight that perhaps 80 per cent of their income is being spent just to pay fines.
A co-ordinated prostitution strategy encouraging diversion from the criminal justice system into treatment through a conditional caution or a prostitution-specific diversion scheme seems to us to have value. Those involved in street prostitution, as has been very ably said by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, are often significantly socially excluded. They are disengaged from the support service. The complex issues that they face mean that their movement out of prostitution will necessarily be slow and that there may well be a number of relapses. Many will refuse help which is freely volunteered for many of the reasons that the noble Lord has enunciated. Many also exhaust the opportunities for diversion before a route out is taken.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked who we are trying to help. The answer is that we are trying to benefit the offender, but if the result is that street prostitution diminishes, a lot of people in local communities will be equally pleased to see a result that is a win-win situation for them. In our view, it is not a single, simple approach. It is part of a co-ordinated prostitution strategy, which is pledged to reform the law on street offences and to introduce a more rehabilitative element. I think that we are all agreed that three meetings will not necessarily solve any problems, but I take heart from the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. He described an obviously successful and innovative project in Newcastle. No doubt when this becomes law, it will be of great value in assisting the rehabilitation of prostitutes in an area. I think that we are seeing a situation where, if there is no compulsion on those cases where voluntary initiatives are not worked, at present all that there is is a revolving door of fines and more fines.
I should like to correct a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. She suggested that this was a way of reintroducing custody by the back door. She said that that was to go back to Victorian times. I could be cheeky and say that when she talks of Victorian times it reminds me of Liberal Governments, but I will not. It does not do so because a breach of an order cannot lead to a prison sentence, so in that sense it is not Victorian by any means. Although there has been criticism of this and other clauses, I hope that noble Lords will give the Government credit for seeking from the noblest of motives to assist in this area, but the proposal has had so much doubt cast upon it. However, I notice that the RCN criticism actually points to the requirement for many things that we agree will be in the guidance. We seek to persuade those who are subject to an order that it is in their own interest to move into the GAP project or to seek similar assistance because they will benefit from it. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will not press the Question that the clause should not stand part of the Bill.
I am sorry to intervene, but my noble friend has just produced the briefing from the English Collective of Prostitutes. The briefing looks at what happens if the order is breached and states:
“Anyone arrested for loitering or soliciting would have to attend three meetings with a supervisor”—
We have done that; it would be approved by the court. It is not an alternative to a fine, as the noble Lord said, because,
“failure to comply may result in a summons back to court and 72 hours in jail”.
I do not know where that has come from because my own experience suggests that normally someone goes back to court and is subject to the original penalty. Perhaps the noble Lord’s officials can confirm that that is not the situation.
I do not believe that is the case—I believe that what I have said is entirely correct. The 72 hours’ jail sentence is a projection of the English Collective of Prostitutes because it might be the longest period of time for someone who had to be arrested for a breach and was not related to a summons. That is a long way from the orders and a long way from not completing the three meetings. I think that it is an exaggerated view, but I am more than happy to respond to the point in writing if it is necessary to correct the information.
I hate to press the Minister on this, but perhaps he could get a little more advice. If the order is breached so that it is quite clear that the person has not turned up to even one meeting and may have no intention of doing so, what I really need to know is what happens then.
It is reported to the court and, as I understand it, the original fine can then be instigated instead of the order that has been breached—or, indeed, the person can be summoned to court. I will look into the detail of the point. However, I am concerned about the information being relayed by the English Collective of Prostitutes because while it appears to be rounded, I think that it may be incorrect on several points. I am happy to write to noble Lords to set out the position.
Failure to comply would lead to a summons. A failure to comply with the summons would mean that the court could issue a warrant for the person to appear. They can be sentenced, but not be given a custodial sentence. The order is that, first, they breach the order; secondly, they have to comply and come to court; thirdly, they ignore it and a warrant is issued for them to come back to court, but in any event they cannot be given a custodial sentence.
Clause 16 agreed.
Schedule 1 : Schedule to the Street Offences Act 1959
70: Schedule 1, page 138, line 22, after “practicable” insert “and in any event within 24 hours after the offender’s arrest”
This amendment aims to limit the time a person can be held after their arrest. Some doubt has been raised in my mind about whether this refers to the correct schedule, so perhaps I may move the amendment and then listen to the Minister’s reply. I beg to move.
As I understand it, Amendment 70 would impose an absolute limit of 24 hours on the period that the police would be allowed to detain an offender following an arrest for breach of an order served under Schedule 1. This issue was debated in another place but I note that since that debate this amendment has been recommended by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The committee expressed concerns that without amendment the provisions could result in someone being detained for a substantial period. While I appreciate the concerns raised by the committee and the noble Baroness, I am afraid that we are of the view that this amendment is not necessary.
Detention in these circumstances may be required in order to ensure that an offender, who has not only breached an order but also ignored a summons of the court, can be brought before the court to be resentenced for the initial offence of loitering or soliciting. I reiterate at this point that the options available to a court on resentencing are to impose the order again or to impose a fine; the court is not able to impose a prison sentence either for the original offence or a breach.
Previously, when the provisions of this order were proposed in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, they allowed the police to detain an offender arrested for a breach of an order for up to 72 hours—this may be where the English Collective of Prostitutes got its figure—while they awaited a court hearing. This raised some concern as the provisions passed through Parliament. We have acknowledged this and paragraph 9 will now oblige the police to bring the offender before a court “as soon as practicable”.
While I accept that the noble Baroness and possibly other noble Lords still have concerns about this wording, I want to make it clear that, contrary to the suggestion in the Joint Committee’s report, we did respond to concerns that were raised on this issue when the provisions were included in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill in the last Session. First, if a person fails to attend one or more of the appointments as required under these orders, the magistrates will be able to issue only a summons. Previously, we had allowed them to issue a summons or a warrant. It is only if the person subject to the order fails to respond to a summons that the court will be able to issue a warrant. Secondly, the police will now be able to bring that person back before any court, not only the court that issued the original order. This should make it easier for the police to ensure that the offender is brought before the court more quickly.
These changes reflect our intention that detention will only ever be used as a last resort, as we will make clear in guidance. However, we agree that, when it is necessary, our priority must be to ensure that the length of detention is as short as possible. We are confident that paragraph 9 of Schedule 1 will achieve this objective without imposing an upper limit of 24 hours, with which, in certain circumstances, the police may not be able to comply. For example, if an arrest was made on a Saturday afternoon or evening, the police would not be able to bring the offender before a court until Monday morning at the very earliest. Obviously in such circumstances it would not be possible to comply with the 24-hour time limit.
It is in the interests of the police to bring offenders before a court quickly and, even though we can foresee circumstances where it may not be feasible, we anticipate that in the overwhelming majority of cases offenders will be brought before a court within 24 hours. In those few cases where offenders are not brought before a court within 24 hours, the words “as soon as practicable” provide sufficient protection against undue periods of detention.
However, if someone is detained for breaching an order and believes that they have been detained unduly, they can make an application to the court for habeas corpus, claiming that their detention is unlawful. At this point the police will be required to prove that it had not been practicable to bring the offender before the court at an earlier stage. If the court is not satisfied with the explanation provided by the police, it will demand the immediate release of the offender.
I take seriously the concerns that have been raised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and, of course, by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. It is important to have safeguards against undue use of detention in these circumstances and that is why we have responded to concerns about the previous provisions. We believe the current provisions provide the appropriate safeguards and are necessary for the reasons I have set out. As such, I ask that the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment.
I thank the Minister for his detailed reply, which I shall read carefully. It details a useful flow chart, if you like, that will provide a road map of where we need to come back to on Report, if necessary. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 70 withdrawn.
Schedule 1 agreed.
Clause 17 agreed.
House adjourned at 9.55 pm.