Committee (2nd Day)
Policing and Crime Bill
Baroness Stern (Crossbench)
I, too, have my name on the amendment. I am very glad that, despite the number of noble Lords who have spoken and the amount of wisdom that has been expressed, there are one or two things left that I might say. A number of noble Lords who spoke at Second Reading made the point that social problems are rarely solved by law enforcement measures and that when they are it is usually only for the short term.
I will speak generally to the relevant clauses in the Bill before I come to the specific amendment to which my name is attached. Law enforcement in this case could leave the social evil untouched and make the situation worse. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who explained much better than I could have done, the basic economics of a market and how it will not respond in the way that it is expected to by people passing laws.
There is absolutely no doubt, as noble Lords have said, that many social evils are associated with prostitution, such as exploitation, trafficking, untreated health conditions, violence, the danger of assault and murder as well as the degradation of neighbourhoods by bringing in activities that are extremely unpleasant for those who have to live there. I am sure that all those who live in such neighbourhoods would like a successful solution to those problems and that all those who work in the sex industry would like to be protected from the violence and the dangers to their health.
When confronted with this range of issues, from human trafficking to problems in neighbourhoods to serious health and violence problems, one must ask how the Government came up with the big idea of reducing demand for prostitution through the criminal law. The Government's paper Tackling the Demand for Prostitution said:
"So far ... little attention has been focused on the sex buyer, the person responsible for creating the demand for prostitution markets. And it is time for that to change".
Can the Minister shed some light on why it is now time for that to change? What else was tried before it was decided that the best way of dealing with the undoubted problems was to try to tackle demand? Is there evidence, apart from the disputed information from Sweden? Are the Government convinced that they will not make the lives of many of these vulnerable people more risky and more miserable?
The Minister will be aware that at Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, who has since been given a governmental appointment, said that this was a,
"wholly misguided attempt to criminalise the clients of prostitutes ... Many commentators and academics, as well as police officers, take the view, and I agree with them, that criminalising clients drives prostitution underground and increases the dangers that women sex workers face".—[Hansard, 3/6/09; col. 273.]
The amendment to which my name has been added attempts to improve what is basically an untenable position. I was very glad to add my name. I also support very much the approach taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and her remarks on the need for a much more thoughtful and scientifically based approach to two issues—one is human trafficking and the other is street prostitution; the two things are not the same—and an approach that can rescue those who have been trafficked while also protecting those who face the dangers of street sex work.