My Lords, as noble Lords will know, I have previously introduced a Private Member’s Bill to address human trafficking on two occasions. I am very pleased that, after many debates over a good number of years, this House played such an important part in changing the law to bring in new offences on human trafficking and new mechanisms to provide support for victims. The Bill that I am bringing forward today addresses similar concerns to those Bills—that is, how to prevent harm to those who are in vulnerable situations.
I had the privilege of listening to hours of evidence on human trafficking, including as a member of the Joint Committee that examined the draft Modern Slavery Bill and as part of the all-party parliamentary inquiry, which ran from 2013 to 2014, on the laws in England and Wales on prostitution. As I said when I spoke on a similar subject on 1 December, the group published our report, Shifting the Burden, in March 2014. I encourage noble Lords to review its findings.
The inquiry reinforced for me the concerns I have had about the negative impact on individuals involved in providing sexual services and the circumstances in which they find themselves. I recognise that this does not apply to all individuals, but, as I said in December, the evidence I have seen indicates that the majority of individuals in prostitution today are victims of exploitation and violence of one form or another. I set out some of that evidence in my speech then, and I hope the House will indulge me if I repeat some of the arguments again as they are very pertinent to my Bill.
Multiple academic studies, including data compiled for the Home Office, demonstrate that the majority of people who sell sex are incredibly vulnerable and subject to real exploitation. For example, research has shown that homelessness, living in care, and debt and substance abuse are all common experiences prior to a person entering prostitution, which is sometimes reflected in the evidence received by our all-party group inquiry.
Many of those in prostitution have suffered abuse and violence in the home. Dr Max Waltman of Stockholm University notes that international studies have consistently found that,
“the majority of prostituted persons—somewhere between 55% and 90% … were subjected to sexual abuse as children”.
The 2012 study, which was carried out for the charity Eaves, interviewed 114 women in prostitution in London both on the street and indoors. Of the women interviewed, 50% said that they had experienced some form of coercion from a partner, pimp or relative, or through trafficking. The same study found that 32% of those interviewed had entered the sex industry before the age of 18. Other studies have found higher numbers than this. For example, the 2004 UK study found a figure of 52% entering before the age of 18.
Numerous studies have found that between 50% and 95% of women in street prostitution are addicted to class A drugs. Professor Roger Matthews, an expert in prostitution law and policy has written:
“Street prostitutes frequently report that they work to support not only their own habit but also that of their boyfriend, pimp or partner. In some cases, male drug users/dealers will seek out female prostitutes as ‘partners’ since they make good customers and providers”.
The Eaves study I referred to also found that drug and alcohol misuse was not restricted to those in street prostitution, with 83% of their interviewees having a current or previous problem, which in a significant number of cases had begun or increased after entering prostitution. The evidence indicates not only that most people entering prostitution are vulnerable, but that the experience of prostitution compounds that vulnerability, putting them at risk of significant physical and mental harm. A comparative study of prostitution in nine countries, with more than 850 subjects, found that 73% had been physically assaulted. Some 61% of the women surveyed in 2012 by Eaves reported experiences of violence from buyers of sexual services.
Prostitution has also been shown to have a negative impact on people’s mental health. One comparative study in Glasgow looked at the mental health of female drug users, some engaged in prostitution and others not. The study found that those involved in prostitution experience more abusive incidents as adults and more mental health problems than those who are not. The authors concluded:
“Higher rates of adulthood abuse among prostitutes may explain the greater proportion of prostitutes than non-prostitutes meeting criteria for current depressive ideas and lifetime suicide attempts”.
The Council of Europe succinctly summarised my concerns in a parliamentary assembly resolution last year:
“Prostitution is a complex issue presenting various facets that should be taken into account. It affects the health of sex workers with consequences ranging from increased exposure to sexually transmitted diseases to higher risks of drug and alcohol addiction, physical and mental traumas, depression and other mental illnesses”.
However, it is not only the statistics that persuade me that the harms of prostitution are such that it can be seen as a form of violence against women and a dehumanising practice damaging for individuals and society as a whole. It is the stories of individuals who I have met that have been the most compelling. Earlier this week I had the privilege to listen to the powerful account of a woman who had been through prostitution and who now campaigns against sexual exploitation. She said the following:
“When you are prostituted, however you arrived there, you sign a social contract that comes with the highest cost; for the small print of this contract, the terms and conditions are harsh, disturbing and unjustifiable. So it would appear to most that we stand free on the street and yet everywhere we are in chains”.
She went on to say:
“It is my firm belief that every human is entitled to live a dignified life, and prostitution is the systematic stripping of one’s human dignity and I know that because I have lived and witnessed it, and it must no longer be tolerated”.
I agree with her entirely. The dignity and value of every individual person must be our priority.
All these facts lead me to the conclusion that a reduction in the levels of prostitution is essential, and that this would positively impact not only those domestically but also individuals who might be trafficked into England and Wales in the future.
Noble Lords will remember that we have international obligations to reduce the demand for human trafficking in both Article 18 of the EU directive and Article 6 of the Council of Europe convention on this subject. Indeed, last year the European institutions advocated action to reduce demand for human trafficking and for prostitution. I am sure some noble Lords are thinking that we have covered all this in the Modern Slavery Act. That is, indeed, a fine piece of legislation but, as I said at the time, it did nothing to fundamentally address the demand for human trafficking for sexual exploitation—a very serious oversight given that, according to the NRM figures, sexual exploitation is consistently the most prevalent form of human trafficking in England and Wales.
My Bill before us today seeks to address some of that demand by preventing the advertising of prostitution. It does so by addressing an anomaly in the law on prostitution whereby it is currently illegal to organise or profit from prostitution by running a brothel or allowing premises to be used for prostitution and to cause, incite or control prostitution for gain, but it is not illegal to advertise those same services in newspapers or on the internet. As the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, said to me yesterday, we would not accept adverts for a stolen bicycle or for illegal drugs and yet many prostitution adverts contain clear indications of other offences by referring to the availability of several women and, when combined with reference to ethnicity, should at least raise suspicions of trafficking.
I am not naive enough to think that if this Bill becomes law all advertising for prostitution will cease. That is not the criterion by which we should measure its success. My goal is twofold: first, that the law will help to reduce the amount of advertising and thereby help reduce the demand for paid sex, and all the attendant suffering and exploitation that comes with it, and help us fulfil our international obligations to address the demand for paid sex; and, secondly, that it will send a very clear message that we as a society reject the culture of prostitution advertising which commodifies and dehumanises women.
It is for those reasons that I am bringing this Bill before the House. In so doing, I would like to draw the attention of your Lordships’ House to the fact that this proposal is not without powerful international advocates. The European Parliament has noted that,
“advertisements for sexual services in newspapers and social media can be means of supporting trafficking and prostitution”.
This connection was poignantly highlighted by the case of a family in Bolton jailed last month for trafficking and exploiting two women in prostitution. According to the Guardian newspaper report, the court was told that one of the traffickers,
“set up profiles for the two women on adult websites, and when clients called he and his father would tell the women what to say. The victims, aged 30 and 21, were forced to see up to five clients a day and worked ‘whenever the phone rang’”.
The proposal to ban advertising of prostitution was recommended in a 2014 resolution of the Council of Europe parliamentary assembly. That resolution, which was passed by an overwhelming majority last year, states clearly that,
“trafficking in human beings and prostitution are closely linked … legislation and policies on prostitution are indispensable anti-trafficking tools”.
The resolution calls on Council of Europe member states to,
“ban the advertising of sexual services”.
My Bill meets that call.
The Purple Teardrop Campaign, the United Kingdom organisation committed to ending human trafficking, has a petition calling on Her Majesty’s Government to ban what it terms “sex for sale” advertisements, saying:
“Many ‘sex for sale’ advertisements are placed by traffickers and so contribute to the demand for sexually exploited women and children”.
I understand that more than 36,300 people have signed the petition to date.
My Bill is short and to the point. Clause 1 makes it an offence for a person to publish or cause to be published, or distribute or cause to be distributed, an advert for prostitution. Clause 4 ensures that the offence applies to a business as well as to an individual. Clause 5 defines an advert as,
“every form of advertising or promotion, whether in a publication or by the display of notices or posters or by the means of circulars, leaflets, pamphlets or cards or other documents or by way of radio, television, internet, telephone, facsimile transmission, photography or cinematography or other like means of communication”.
Clause 2 sets out that the punishment would be a fine, the level of which would be set by the Secretary of State. Clause 3 provides a defence that the person,
“did not know and had no reason to suspect that the advertisement related to a brothel”,
This is a modest but important Bill and I urge noble Lords to give it a Second Reading. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl, not only on the Bill but on the enormous amount of hard work and campaigning he has done over many years in his efforts to combat modern slavery and the trafficking of all people, including women, into this country. I am co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery and a trustee and vice-chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation. In those capacities and personally, I very much support closing the loophole in the law and the purpose of the Bill.
As the noble Lord said, the sex industry includes many victims of sexual exploitation, including many who are trafficked to this country. I have a vivid recollection of going to a Romanian prison where I met a number of traffickers who were serving long sentences. One of them was very proud of what he had done. He ran a very big network across the whole of western Europe, mainly in Spain, but he was happy to tell us that he had brought a lot of women—from Romania, mainly, but also from Bulgaria and other eastern European countries—to the United Kingdom for the purpose of prostitution. He said, and it was quite patently untrue, that they were all very glad to be doing it. But I knew from going to Romania on several occasions that many of them were in fact victims of trafficking working in this country and other parts of western Europe.
I support any measure that will reduce the opportunity for those who are sexually exploited to be identified and to be working. But I had a very interesting email from the opposite point of view. In fairness to the people who sent it, I thought I should spend a moment or two on it. The National Ugly Mugs, or NUM, and the UK Network of Sex Work Projects, or UKNSWP, are opposing the Bill. One of their main reasons is that the impact would be the criminalisation of legally working sex workers, mainly in the escort industry. This, they say, is very unfair. They say it will give additional work to the police but they also say it is not enforceable. They say that there are benefits from advertising because it gives them the opportunity to identify and give support to sex workers. They also make the fascinating point that there is a danger that what they call responsible owners of escort advertising will be warned off and less responsible people will take over the advertising for sex workers. My example of the Romanian in the prison in Romania, working the whole of western Europe, makes me think that there are pretty irresponsible and very well-heeled workers running escort agencies—I have no doubt about that. I do not accept what those organisations have said but thought that, in fairness to them, since they have taken the trouble to email me, I ought to give your Lordships at least some of their point of view.
I very much support the Bill. I had not appreciated that advertising for sex workers was still legal. I hope the Government will listen to what the noble Lord has said and support the Bill.
I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and thank him for introducing the Bill and for his important work in this important area. I will make a couple of points about the context and about the issue that we are debating. First, there is the scale of it. I was at a lecture on Saturday where somebody explained that demand for the purchase of sex increased enormously in the 1990s with the increasing availability of online pornography. The statistics went from one in 20 men buying sex to one in 10. That is a massive increase in the market. In its briefing paper, the Institute of Economic Affairs almost celebrates that by saying that it is a business worth £4 billion a year. This is not about money or business; it is about abused and oppressed human beings. As the noble Lord, Lord McColl, says, it is part of an increasing scenario of violence against women in our society and treating women as commodities that can be bought and sold.
This very week, some of my colleagues who work with prostitutes in Derbyshire visited a prostitute who advertises her services on the internet. This week, she was visited by somebody through that advertising and horrifically assaulted. Advertising can be an avenue for people to attack and abuse very vulnerable women, with horrific consequences. Because many of the women who are drawn into this trade are vulnerable, as the noble Lord, Lord McColl, said, we have to look at being consistent with our concerns about safeguarding. We are rightly concerned to safeguard vulnerable adults and children. Many of the women drawn into this trade are vulnerable in the most terrible way. Some time ago, I met a women here in London who was trying to escape from prostitution. The advertising that her pimp organises led to her being raped 10 times a day—the advertising provided the means for that to happen. That is the kind of human cost that we are looking at.
There are some issues about whether this is practical. I remind noble Lords that in the 19th century there was a lot of debate in this House and the other place about legislation to stop women and children being exploited in factories. At the time, one of the arguments was that you would never eradicate it. Of course it never was eradicated—it still is not—and some families really suffered. The point of the legislation then, as with this modest proposal now, is about what kind of marker the state should put down to say how we value people and how we want to protect them. This would be a powerful marker in a world that is obsessed with and dominated by advertising. I would be interested if the Minister has any comment on what kind of marker the state should put down through this proposal.
Another issue is what it says about the health of society when sexual services are advertised so freely in the press and on the internet. All the research shows that the great majority of men who use the services of prostitutes are either married or in stable relationships. Think of the cost to our society of relationships that are so unstable and immature that all this is going on. The cost is enormous. Should we not be trying to go back a bit to look at what is fuelling this demand? What is happening in the upbringing of boys and young men so that, when they grow up and become older, they patronise this kind of industry?
Advertising, if it is allowed, normalises that kind of behaviour. It normalises being able to buy a woman for sex in a very unequal power relationship. There is nothing equal about it. To allow advertising normalises buying a woman for sex.
Also at the conference on Saturday, I was with a woman, a former prostitute, who talked very movingly about being drawn into a world of fantasy. People who respond to the adverts come into a world of fantasy. She said: “The tragedy was, nobody asked the right question about me. They just wanted me to play along with a fantasy world that everybody thought was fine”. Underneath, she was hurting, she was heartbroken, she was frightened, she was being abused, but nobody asked the right question. Is it mature and right to allow human beings to escape into these fantasy worlds at such terrible cost to fellow human beings?
My last point, on which the Minister may want to comment, is that a lot of this advertising is enabling organised crime to flourish. We need to look at the link between organised crime and advertising for illegal activities to take place. I hope that we will support the Bill.
My Lords, I start by saying that I totally share the horror of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and the whole House, at the ideas of violence, exploitation—I think that he had in mind living off immoral earnings—intimidation and, although he did not mention it, rape, having sexual intercourse without consent. These are real horrors. We have pretty strong laws against them with pretty strong penalties, but if the noble Lord can make out a case to strengthen the penalties or enforcement, I may well be with him. I do not think that he has made a case that the solution is to criminalise prostitution itself. I am quite certain that he has not made a case that the right way to criminalise prostitution is to do it on the back of this Bill, which is ostensibly about something else.
In my view, legislation should always be open, overt, frank and transparent. It should not be carried surreptitiously, casually on the back of some other Bill. It is very important that the whole House, the other place and the public have a chance to think through the long-term consequences of new legislation, particularly radical legislation of the kind that the noble Lord proposed in his introductory speech, which is criminalising prostitution itself. A lot of perverse consequences would flow from that. The noble Lord shakes his head, but we must be in a position to consider those consequences specifically in relation to the proposal that he has now made to the House to abolish prostitution, not the proposal in the paper that he has put forward, the Bill, which is simply to criminalise advertising for prostitution purposes. There is a lack of frankness in that approach of which I strongly disapprove.
My view about legalising or criminalising prostitution is, above all, based on a fundamental principle, which is that set out so lucidly by JS Mill 150 years ago, which I think is dear to the hearts of everybody who believes in freedom. That is that the state should not restrict the freedom of any citizen except to the extent required to protect the freedom of others. It flows directly from that that acts in private between consenting adults are no concern of the state or of the law. You violate that principle at your peril.
I recognise that virtuous and respectable people, in the interests of reforming society, as they see it, are always trying to encroach on that principle. The worst case was the introduction of the legislation in the 1880s criminalising homosexuality, which continued on our statute book for 80 years. In my view, we should never have violated that principle. I would be against it even if the pragmatic arguments ran in the other direction, but actually, I see several pragmatic arguments which run very much against the idea of criminalising prostitution. In the time I have, I will mention just three.
One is a definitional problem, whether it has to be dealt with by Parliament or by the judiciary in the courts. I fear that it does not sound very romantic or edifying to say so, but I suspect that quite a lot of relationships—far more than we like to think—have some element of material interest in them. It would be extremely difficult to decide whether the material or monetary interest was decisive in one particular case. The law would make an awful fool of itself if it specified that if you hire someone for sex for a night or a weekend, you are committing a criminal offence, but if the relationship, including the financial relationship, continued for months or years, you are not—in other words, that a crime, if continued long enough or repeated frequently enough, ceases to be a crime. That would be a novel jurisprudential notion.
Equally, the law would be pretty stupid if it ended up specifying that if you pay for sex with money—cash or specie—it is a criminal offence, but if you pay by means of a diamond brooch, it is not. The law would be held up to equal ridicule and there would be a considerable sense of injustice if you targeted the poor prostitute and perhaps the relatively poor client of the poor prostitute and left the wealthy man and the successful and wealthy courtesan to enjoy themselves without let or hindrance. That would be a mistake. So the definitional problems are real, and the noble Lord needs to address them, if he wants to take further his project of abolishing prostitution by law.
Then there is the issue of the strain on the criminal justice system and particularly the police. We know that the Government are cutting police numbers in drastic fashion, which I personally think is an utterly irresponsible policy that we and even they will ultimately regret. That aside, can you imagine what would happen if the police had responsibility for chasing up every act or alleged act of prostitution in this country? Here for once I do feel that I am not speaking alone. I should be very unamused if I was told by the police that they did not have time or resources to investigate the burglary of my house because they were launched on a much more exciting case, because Snooks was alleged to be having sex with Fifi and money might be changing hands. We want to think very carefully about that aspect as well.
Thirdly, there is the whole issue of the prohibition effects. We all know what prostitution is conceptually. The exchange of money for sex or sex for money is the confluence of two powerful forces in human nature: the desire for sex and the desire for money. If there are more powerful forces in human nature, I am not quite sure what they are, and if you try to dam the tide against them you may have some very perverse effects. The Americans did that with prohibition, but I fear that the two forces that I have just mentioned may be even more ubiquitous and powerful than the desire for alcohol. So you get the same effects; you create a whole new seam of rich potential profits for criminals involved in the intermediation which obviously would be necessary if you criminalised prostitution. It is quite easy to envisage all sorts of opportunities for criminal activity, racketeering and so forth, such as happened under prohibition.
If you prohibit by law something that has been going on for a long time and for which there is a structural demand and existing supply system—we are told that it is quite pervasive; I have not seen these websites myself but I have heard about them and I gather that there are an awful lot of them—you will force a raft of people overnight to change their habits or give up their livelihoods or become criminals. There are enormous social implications from doing that which have to be thought through. None of this has been thought through on this occasion.
Finally, there is one extraordinary anomaly—an ironic contradiction at the heart of the noble Lord’s Bill. He set out his intention essentially to defend women in this matter, and I have some sympathy with that: but he then brings forward a Bill that criminalises advertising. But advertising is always paid for by the supplier, not the customer, and the suppliers on these occasions are largely women. So the only people who would suffer criminal sanctions as a result of the Bill becoming law, if it ever did, would be the females involved in prostitution, and not the males. That seems to me an extraordinarily perverse outcome, and I hope that the noble Lord will think a little bit further about this Bill before taking it further.
The noble Lord’s Bill, as I have just said, talks about advertising—but, as I have also said, it seems not to be his real agenda. He made it clear in his own introductory remarks that what he intended to do was to abolish prostitution, and that this was just one of several legislative instruments that he has had in mind with that particular intention. I do not think that he can get away from the fact that his introductory speech was all about criminalising prostitution and that that was his preferred solution to the problems of violence and exploitation which he started off with.
The noble Lord has brought forward a Bill which is a bit of a false prospectus. If he had talked about advertising, we would all understand that we were simply limited to talking about advertising. In actual fact, every economic activity involves advertising, because every supplier has to have some way of communicating with his customers or potential customers. So you could say that if you ban advertising you ban the activity that is advertised, anyway. We did not get into any of that at all, and I think that—
Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may calm this a little. I have absolutely no intention of supporting the abolition of prostitution for a number of practical reasons. It is one of the oldest businesses in the world, and it is likely to go on regardless of what Parliament might say. I am here today, when I would much rather be at home, to support a Bill which deals exclusively with advertising. I did not really hear a word in what the noble Lord said about advertising and its evils in relation to victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation. That is my line, but the noble Lord, for some reason—and I found it very difficult to understand what he was saying—seems to think that support for the Bill is support for the abolition of prostitution. They are separate subjects in today’s debate.
When I read the Bill, I thought that it was slightly curious because, for the reasons I have just set out, if you succeed in abolishing the right to advertise, you kill the economic activity underlying it—and therefore, surreptitiously, there might be an intention to abolish prostitution, not directly by coming to the House with an explicit Bill to do that but indirectly as a result of the Bill before us.
I have to say in all honesty that the introductory speech of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, confirmed me in my suspicion that that is his long-term agenda—but we shall all have to read Hansard and make our own judgment on the matter.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for introducing this important Bill, which I fully support. I am very pleased that he has brought it to the House today. I believe that there is a very strong case for this Bill on three counts: first, it corrects the obvious anomaly in our law that it is currently illegal to organise or profit from prostitution by running a brothel or allowing premises to be used for prostitution and it is also illegal to cause, incite or control prostitution for gain, but it is perfectly legal to advertise—so there is an advert, but if you respond to the advert, you are committing a crime.
Secondly, prostitution has, as we have already heard, far-reaching negative effects on the majority of those involved in selling their bodies and on society as a whole. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, has provided a detailed overview of the evidence that explains why the Bill is necessary. I shall highlight the overwhelmingly exploitative nature of prostitution by citing three stories from south Wales that were told this year in a powerful documentary called, “Selling Sex to Survive”. The programme looked at prostitution in Newport, Cardiff and Swansea. It featured Emily. She once had a happy home, but life trauma led to a breakdown, which resulted in her turning to drugs and prostitution. She said, “Working on the streets, there’s lots of money, lots of drugs, lots of fun, lots of boys, but it’s a horrible, horrible, life”. Another woman said, “You get customers that used to pay £30 to £40 but now it’s £10 all in”. She wants to escape prostitution. Then there was brothel worker, Sorina, who earns enough money in Wales to support her family in Romania—but it comes at a big human dignity cost. She said, “In here, in this job you must be a very cold woman, without thinking, without heart, without anything”. Imagine basing your life on that: no emotion and no involvement. These stories show how awful, in most cases, it is for women in prostitution.
Thirdly, the Bill is important because it helps us fulfil our international obligations to address the demand for paid sex in relation to trafficking and prostitution generally. As the noble Lord, Lord McColl, noted, we have international obligations to reduce the demand for human trafficking under Article 18 of the EU directive and Article 6 of the Council of Europe convention on this subject.
Given both our international obligations to address demand and the fact that, according to the national referral mechanism, trafficking for sexual exploitation is the most common experience for victims of trafficking in England and Wales, it seems rather strange that the Modern Slavery Act has nothing to say about the demand for paid sex, even though it addresses the demand for other forms of trafficking through its supply chain provisions. So this Bill will help us rise to the challenge and demonstrate that we are taking our international responsibilities seriously. It will help reduce demand for paid sex and the suffering associated with prostitution.
It will also involve our society sending a clear message through its laws that it does not want to facilitate the celebration of what is an overwhelmingly exploitative practice through advertising. Enforcement will require the provision of some resources but, given the overwhelming evidence of the exploitative nature of prostitution, taking this step is necessary to challenge the exploitation of, in the main, women. Our international and moral obligations mean that we must take action.
I end with a quote from the organisation Against Violence and Abuse, which stated:
“Over 50% of women involved in prostitution in the United Kingdom have been sexually assaulted, and at least 75% have been physically assaulted at the hands of pimps and punters. Women in street prostitution are 18 times more likely to be murdered than the general population. These terrifying statistics demonstrate the need for more comprehensive legislation preventing the exploitation of women through prostitution. It is, therefore, my opinion that the very least this government should be doing is explicitly prohibiting the advertising of prostitution, as Lord McColl’s Bill so nobly argues”.
I am sure that the Minister is listening closely, as he always does, to what the House is saying today, and I hope that he will be in a position to support the Bill.
My Lords, I support the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord McColl. I believe that addressing the demand for paid sex is one of the key challenges of our society today. It is a great disappointment to me that one of the longest-standing forms of exploitation has yet to receive the same attention and focus as modern-day slavery. I speak, of course, about prostitution.
As noble Lords will be aware, I recently helped to take a Bill to address human trafficking and exploitation through the Northern Ireland Assembly. In the course of that process I engaged in extensive consultation, read a large amount of evidence and spoke to a great number of experts in this area. I spent hours talking with groups such as Women’s Aid in Belfast, which supports victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation, and Ruhama, a charity from the Republic of Ireland that supports women exiting prostitution. I visited Sweden and met police officers and anti-trafficking experts, who explained to me the principle and the practical impact of their laws banning the purchase of sex. Most importantly, I met survivors of prostitution.
If I am honest, when the idea to criminalise paying for sex was first suggested I was far from sure. However, after meeting survivors and then carefully studying the evidence, I was more than convinced. The scale of the evidence demonstrating the vulnerable position and terrible experiences of the vast majority of people involved in prostitution requires us to take action. I recognise that that is not the case for every person, but from all the evidence that I read and all the people I spoke to, the voice of the most vulnerable was the most compelling. At the end of the day, we as legislators have to make a choice when considering prostitution. Do we act out of primary regard for the vulnerable majority or the privileged minority? I am very clear that it should be the former. That is why I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Davies, that we must seek to reduce demand for prostitution.
While the noble Lord, Lord McColl, has done exactly the right thing in identifying the need to engage with demand for paid sex, the Bill does not go far enough. Rather than just focusing on advertising, a more effective way of tackling demand and attendant exploitation would be to make it an offence to purchase someone for sex. That legislative solution goes right to the root of the problem, and I am delighted to say that more and more countries are now turning to it.
Most recently, Lithuania has just changed its law, and the Republic of Ireland is currently in the process of changing its law. In Northern Ireland the decision to address the demand for paid sex through criminalising the buyer was not a decision taken lightly. The issue was debated at length, and ultimately was supported by 81 out of the 108 Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and, significantly, by Members across the political divide, both nationalists and unionists. We must make it illegal to buy sex, because that will be the most effective way to reduce demand—which is in turn the most effective way to reduce the harm of exploitation.
Evidence from interviews with those who buy sex indicates that criminal sanction would be the most effective deterrent. Moreover, independent analysis of the long-standing employment of this approach in Sweden and Norway demonstrates that banning the purchase of sex can reduce levels of prostitution and curb trafficking. The independent evaluation of the Swedish law found that street prostitution had been cut in half as a,
“direct result of the criminalisation of sex purchases”,
and there was no evidence that the decrease in on-street prostitution had led to an increase in off-street prostitution.
We must reject the tacit acceptance of prostitution in our society. That acceptance may not take the form of openly promoting commercial sex—it might even acknowledge that prostitution is a harmful practice—but if we continue to say that it “has always been with us and will never be eliminated” or seek only to make the practice of it a little less dangerous, in effect we support its continuation. The only way to reduce the harm of this ancient form of exploitation is to reduce the demand that perpetuates it.
Having explained why the noble Lord, Lord McColl, is absolutely right to propose that we address demand for the overwhelmingly exploitative practice of buying people for sex, and while suggesting that I think criminalising demand is the most effective way of doing so, I want to be very clear that I regard the proposal in the Bill to constitute a very important step in the right direction. Making it illegal to publish adverts will mean that the law no longer permits the promotion of prostitution. It will send the message that promoting exploitation is not acceptable and will reduce access to prostitution—both of which can play a role in reducing the demand that fuels the trade. I was very interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord McColl, say that the anti-slavery commissioner says that the current anomaly in the law needs addressing. That is important, and we would do well to pay attention to his concerns.
I heartily congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl, on tackling an issue which is too often pushed to the margins because it is too difficult, and I give the Bill my fullest support. I very much hope that the Government will take the overwhelmingly exploitative nature of prostitution much more seriously and recognise that this Bill provides them with an effective and timely means of doing so.
My Lords, first, like other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, on securing a Second Reading of his Bill. He raises a serious issue with his Bill before your Lordships’ House today. It proposes to make it an offence to publish, distribute or cause to be published or distributed advertisements which advertise a brothel or the services of a prostitute, and thereby deals with an anomaly, as the noble Lord himself outlined. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby is right to say that allowing advertising gives the appearance of normalising this activity, which is a front for organised crime. The noble Lord’s Bill provides a defence in cases where the publisher was not aware and had no reason to suspect that an advertisement related to a brothel or the services of a prostitute.
The consequences for communities and people from the effects of prostitution can be devastating: violence, extreme violence, and even people being murdered, as we see all too often in the media. One recalls the terrible events in Bradford. The right reverend Prelate rightly talked about the vulnerable women who are drawn into this trade and are terribly exploited. People who are trafficked and effectively become slaves are treated utterly appallingly. The noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, made reference to that, as did the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who talked about traffickers and people whom she had visited in Europe.
People involved in prostitution have serious problems with drugs and alcohol abuse, and their lives are utterly destroyed. As we have heard today, more than 50% of the people in this trade are coerced into it. I agree with the comments of my noble friend Lady Gale, who outlined the despair of women who work as prostitutes and said how important it is to develop international obligations. In addition, local communities can be destroyed by the effects of prostitution. There is important work to be done by various agencies to tackle its causes and effects. People who are abused and exploited need help and support from health, welfare and other organisations in order to exit prostitution. There needs to be a partnership approach with local authorities and non-statutory agencies to help people to find a route out.
In recent years, there has been a slight increase in the number of prosecutions of those who control prostitution. That is welcome but much more needs to be done. The noble Lord’s proposal is specific and focuses on advertising the trade. He was clear in stating that it is all about violence. The Bill—which I hope will progress further—seeks to disrupt these activities by making it an offence to advertise such services. This idea has been put forward before but no progress has been made. Certainly as far back as 2010 my right honourable friend in the other place Harriet Harman suggested a similar approach, and other colleagues and other campaigns have also called for action along similar lines.
I want to make a few general remarks about how we handle Private Members’ Bills, of which this is the third today. We will give this Bill a Second Reading and then it will be moved that it be committed to a Committee of the Whole House. Last year, I said to the Clerk of the Parliaments, “We have all these Private Members’ Bills. They are really good Bills putting forward really good ideas but they often go no further than Second Reading. Why can’t they go into Grand Committee, as other Bills do?”. I was told that it is perfectly possible for that to happen. Therefore, I ask the Minister and the government Whip to take that suggestion back to the Chief Whip for discussion. I think that we could make much more progress on these Bills if we had a sitting in the Moses Room, looking at the details in Committee. We are missing an opportunity there.
I again congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl, on putting this issue before the House today. He is seeking to disrupt the activities of the people who control the trade and deal in violence, abuse and misery. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, will give the noble Lord a positive response, as it would be good to see the Bill make further progress in your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I join all other noble Lords in paying tribute to my noble friend Lord McColl. As someone who is passionate and informed in trying to improve and reform our society, he epitomises all that is good about this House. Of course, he is the principal architect of the Modern Slavery Act, which has now come into effect. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby rightly observed, those who are trafficked are often trafficked in connection with prostitution, and therefore that legislation will be effective in tackling this problem.
Before I come to the details of the Bill, I want to set out what the Government are doing in this important area. I will then make a few comments on the practicalities of the Bill and talk about where we go from here.
First, I make it absolutely clear that we are committed to tackling the harm and exploitation that can be associated with prostitution. We believe that people who want to leave prostitution should be given every opportunity to find routes out of it. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I pay tribute to all those organisations that work in the field of prostitution helping people to find a way out of this lifestyle.
Regardless of the legal position of prostitution in the UK, the law on rape and sexual assault is clear and unequivocal. We expect every report of sexual violence and rape to be treated seriously from the time it is reported, every victim to be treated with dignity, and every investigation and prosecution to be conducted thoroughly and professionally. This is a core strand of our wider work to eradicate violence against women and girls.
We recognise that prostitution is a complex issue that can impact on individuals and communities in different ways. Local areas and police forces are in the best position to identify and respond to the issues around prostitution in their area.
We all recognise the harm and exploitation that can be associated with prostitution. I assure the House that the Government are absolutely committed to tackling those harms. We are working across government and beyond to tackle exploitation in all its forms. This vital work is underpinned by rightly ambitious strategies focused on violence against women and girls, modern slavery and child sexual abuse.
In March this year, the previous Government outlined progress in tackling violence against women and girls over the period of the last Parliament. Our commitment continues. The previous Government ring-fenced £40 million to support victims of domestic and sexual violence—£10 million per year—and this Government are continuing that funding to April next year. In addition to that £10 million, the Government have provided an uplift of £7 million for services specifically for victims of sexual violence, and an additional £13 million for domestic abuse services, including refuges. We are currently developing a refreshed version of our strategy to be published later this year. This will set out how we will meet our manifesto commitment to provide a secure future for refuges, female genital mutilation and forced marriage units, and rape crisis centres.
Noble Lords will be aware of our concerted efforts to tackle modern slavery. Indeed, many were instrumental in their support for the Modern Slavery Act, including the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the right reverend Prelate. The Bill received Royal Assent in March and brings in a range of powers and measures to prevent exploitation and support victims.
Our Modern Slavery Strategy, published in November 2014, sets out the wider non-legislative work under four headings, the first of which is to pursue the organised criminals and opportunistic individuals behind the modern slavery trade. On this point, the noble and learned Baroness spoke of the people she visited in a prison setting in Romania who were responsible for trafficking. I hope that such people would now be captured, either under the Serious Crime Act or the Modern Slavery Act. That is, of course, something that ought to be clamped down on, and the proceeds of crime which that person was benefiting from would be taken from them.
Tackling child sexual abuse and exploitation is a top priority for the Government. The Home Office is leading on a cross-government programme to deliver the commitments departments made in the Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation report and the national group action plan. That includes recognising child sexual abuse as a national threat in the strategic policing requirement.
I now turn to the specific proposals in the Bill. Noble Lords will know that existing legislation regarding prostitution is contained in a number of Acts and has developed over time. The acts of buying and selling sex are not illegal in themselves—a point that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, made very clear. However, certain exploitative activities are specific offences. These include the running or managing of brothels, for example, or controlling prostitution—the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, began with. In this context, noble Lords will be aware that it is already against the law to advertise activity that is itself illegal; for example, sex with trafficked individuals or those under the age of 18. This reflects a widely accepted emphasis on protecting the vulnerable. In terms of public nuisance, it is illegal to place advertisements relating to prostitution around public telephones.
The Bill proposed by my noble friend Lord McColl would go significantly further by prohibiting all forms of advertising for prostitution, including online. It is a proposal that deserves our attention today. I do not want to reopen the debate that took place across the Floor of the House on the wider issue of prostitution. It is clear that the issues raised in this Bill are specific but that, at the same time, they must be seen in that wider context. The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, quite rightly drew attention to his own experience from the legislation in Northern Ireland, where it is a devolved matter and where they are entitled to take such an approach. I put on record two points which are material: first, the Government will follow closely the experience in Northern Ireland as that legislation is implemented; secondly, referring to my noble friend Lord McColl’s conversation with the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, the whole point of having such a commissioner is that he is independent. I take seriously what he has said to my noble friend and will follow up on it.
Notwithstanding these contested issues, there is a practical point to make on the application and enforceability of a prohibition on advertising. Noble Lords may be aware that most advertisements for prostitution are not explicit—they are couched in euphemisms, which are difficult to disentangle from non-sexual services; for example, reputable massage services or saunas. It would also be difficult to apply the legislation to advertisements on the internet, which can be hosted overseas, as we are experiencing in other areas of legislation.
The Government’s first priority in this area is public safety. For example, the Home Office has worked with the UK Network of Sex Work Projects to support the establishment of the National Ugly Mugs scheme, to which the noble and learned Baroness referred. This is an innovative mechanism whereby people involved in prostitution can make reports and receive alerts about incidents that have been reported to the scheme. Alert information is also fed to police forces, regional intelligence units and police analysts. We are pleased that the evaluation of the scheme shows that it has been successful in increasing access to justice and protection for those involved in prostitution.
Our focus on safety applies also to legislation: when considering legislative changes, we must consider carefully whether we are confident that they support the safety of the people involved in prostitution. For example, I am aware of communications that noble Lords may have received—they have been referred to—from the UK Network of Sex Work Projects setting out its concerns, particularly about criminalising and further marginalising an already vulnerable group, thereby exposing them to potentially greater risk or harm. I would be happy to discuss with my noble friend Lord McColl and other interested Peers the evidence of the extent to which such changes to the legal, and by extension ethical, position of buying sexual services would reduce harm to those involved.
While the issues around prostitution are complex and contentious, as we have heard today, we expect every report of violence to be treated seriously. In this context, it is important to reflect on the increased reporting rates for these terrible crimes, showing that, increasingly, victims have the confidence to report and can access the support they deserve. That is to be welcomed.
I recognise that at the heart of this Bill are the noble Lord’s genuinely held concerns for the welfare of those involved in prostitution. He has made those clear in his considered presentation of his proposed Bill today. I thank him and other noble Lords for their thoughtful contributions not only to this debate but to much of the Government’s work to tackle exploitation in all its forms, whether it be modern slavery, child sexual abuse or violence against women and girls. I am proud of the progress that we are making on a cross-party basis and we will continue to consider effective approaches.
In their present form, my noble friend’s proposals would have a number of legal and practical implications— which I am happy to discuss with him—that were perhaps not intended. However, we recognise his sincerity and desire to protect from harm those who are involved in prostitution and to offer people captured and trapped in that world a way out to a better and more healthy life for them and for society as a whole.
My Lords, the noble Lord made a point about the practicalities and that is the point I made generally about the Bill going to a Grand Committee. With this and other Bills you can sit there for a day and work them out in great detail and get things moving forward. It is a missed opportunity.
My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this debate and the Minister for his kind remarks about me. However, I should like to draw attention to the amazing work that has been done by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby and the noble Lord, Lord Morrow. A big team has been at work.
It has come through clearly in this debate that advertising facilitates the exploitation in prostitution of people who are trafficked and some who are not. I shall not respond directly to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, because they do not relate to this Bill. However, I should like to address briefly one point that he raised. He suggested that my Bill will further criminalise women who are placing adverts. The Bill was drafted with the intention, courtesy of Clause 1, to address those who facilitate and publish the advertising, such as newspapers and website operators. I shall certainly look into the question further and if I receive legal advice that Clause 1 could be interpreted to apply to an individual placing an advert rather than only to the entity publishing it, I shall certainly look into bringing an amendment in Committee.
I was guided in my remarks by the phrase in the first line of the noble Lord’s substantive Bill:
“A person who publishes or causes to be published”.
It seems to me that inevitably the supplier of prostitution services would be causing to be published any advertisements that appeared on her behalf.
I shall certainly take legal advice about that and see whether we can tighten things up later on.
The Minister referred to the importance of minimising the harm of prostitution and I agree that we want to do all we can to reduce the harm experienced by people in prostitution. Indeed, that is the aim of reducing demand. By addressing the proliferation of advertising and reducing the demand it fuels, we can reduce levels of prostitution and thereby reduce the harm that is caused.
We should of course be working with the police, the courts system, the NHS and social services to try to prosecute those who commit acts of violence against people in prostitution and to help people access support to exit prostitution and build a new life for themselves. However, unless we address the demand, for each person who is assisted out of crisis, another will take their place. We need to look at the bigger picture.
I find myself in a rather difficult position because there is much I would like to respond to but we are out of time. I should like to put on record that I completely reject the suggestion that the Bill is unenforceable or that it will make life more dangerous for people in prostitution. I feel very frustrated that time does not allow me to explain why.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 4.04 pm.