With this, we may consider the following: new clause 4 Evidence of nuisance or fear—
'An offence under section (Soliciting a woman for sexual purposes in a manner causing nuisance or fear) shall not be proved unless the person who has been caused nuisance or fear gives evidence of such.'.
New clause 7—Section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956—
'The reference in section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 to a man persistently soliciting or importuning in a public place for immoral purposes shall be taken as applying to men soliciting women as well as men soliciting men.'.
Amendment No. 33, in page 2, line 1, leave out clause 2.
Amendment No. 40, in clause 2, page 2, line 3, at end insert
'in a manner that causes offence or nuisance to others.'.
Amendment No. 41, in clause 2, page 2, line 3, at end insert—
'(1A) The person or persons to whom nuisance or offence has been caused may be required to give evidence of such nuisance or offence.'.
Amendment No. 47, in page 2, line 8, leave out clause 3.
Amendment No. 52, in clause 3, page 2, line 9, after 'purposes', insert
'in a street or public place'.
Amendment No. 58, in clause 3, page 2, line 9, leave out 'her fear' and insert
'a woman of reasonable firmness to fear for her physical wellbeing'.
Amendment No. 59, in clause 3, page 2, line 9, after 'her', insert 'extreme'.
Amendment No. 60, in clause 3, page 2, line 9, after 'fear', insert `for her safety'.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I be so bold as to congratulate you on your selection of amendments to this important, complex and socially vital Bill? I notice that the amendments that you have selected so far take us only as far as clause 4. I understand that it is your provisional selection of amendments, and I wonder whether you intend later to select amendments on subsequent clauses.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was not suggesting that you should change your selection. I was being so bold as to congratulate you on what you had done so far, but as there are many amendments, and as I am not fully aware of how you approach the matter, I wondered whether you sometimes subsequently select amendments to later clauses.
No. I carefully considered the amendments to other clauses, but I was unable to select them, for reasons that the hon. Gentleman will fully understand. I thank him for his congratulations on my selection.
We have been over the matters covered by the amendments, but I have made a major effort—to which you, Mr. Speaker, obviously responded—to make the amendments and new clauses different from those that we discussed in Committee. However, some of the principles that we debated then still stand. Our basic aim is to introduce safeguards into the Bill to reduce the dangers of wrongful conviction.
There are areas of agreement in the Bill. It is agreed that women have the right to go anywhere without fear of being harassed or molested. Many people want the Bill to achieve that objective, but the question is whether it wall do so. There is also general agreement that there is a specific problem in certain parts of the United Kingdom, primarily one or two inner city areas where kerb crawling has become a major problem for residents and people using the public highway.
The points at issue are whether the Bill is an appropriate way to tackle those problems and whether the dangers in the Bill are greater than may be apparent to some people. I shall examine some of those dangers in discussing the amendments and new clauses that have been tabled by hon. Members on both side of the House.
There have been developments since the Committee stage that add weight to my arguments. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will know that the 1361 Act was used in a recent case. He said in Committee that he did not like the idea of the rusty old blunderbuss of the 1361 Act being used. However, it was used fairly recently against a preacher who went out with the apparent intention of converting prostitutes. I am always rather worried about such actions. I am never quite sure who ends up converting who. Somerset Maughan's story "Rain" is a good example. The end result can be rather different from what the preacher anticipates in the earlier stages of the activity. Of course, society gets itself into the most appalling mess when it tries to legislate on the sexual behaviour of human beings. Many double standards become involved and we are all prone to adopt them from time to time.
In the case which I have mentioned, the preacher was bound over. The magistrates said that they accepted that he did not approach the lady concerned, who was a police officer, with any immoral intent. The chairman said:
The manner in which he approached and talked to the police woman was not only unwise but likely to cause very serious offence if the woman police officer was a resident of the area.
There lies the danger. The preacher accepted that he acted unwisely. The result of his behaviour was his appearance before the court.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's argument and my intervention may help him to develop it. I have been listening to him intently and I wish to make what is perhaps the obvious comment. The 1361 Act is unsatisfactory because of its age and because it deals with breaches of the peace. A breach of the peace does not require strict proof and a finding of guilty or not guilty. A bind over can be applied to anyone regardless of whether the individual has been convicted of an offence.
Whatever the magistrates thought about the preacher's intent—for example, whether it was an act of solicitation or ill-advised activity falling short of that—they were fully entitled under the 1361 Act to bind over. If the preacher had been charged under the Bill, and if the magistrates' state of mind had been as the hon. Gentleman has expressed it, they would have been obliged to aquit him. The Bill, very properly, requires an act of solicitation, and there does not appear to have been one on the basis of the hon. Gentleman's account. The 1361 Act has been used to fill a vacuum because of the absence of appropriate legislation. It does not offer the precision that there will be when there is a proper criminal offence on the statute book. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will find my intervention helpful.
As I have said on previous occasions, I should be concerned if we decided to continue to use the 1361 Act, or road traffic legislation, to deal with acts for which they were not intended primarily. The difficulty with the Bill as it stands is that it does not require corroborating evidence. Assuming that the reports that appeared in the newspapers about the preacher were accurate, it seems that he asked the woman if she "wanted some fun". He went on to ask how much she charged. I understand that his purpose in doing that was to ensure that she was a prostitute, but he was placing himself in real danger in adopting that approach and he would be in danger under the Bill. That approach amounts to a solicitation, and the preacher could have been found guilty under the Bill.
When we were considering the Bill in Committee, the Law Society submitted to us a set of circumstances in which a member of the society could have been picked up under the Act when he stopped to speak to one of his clients.
I shall complete the trilogy of the preacher, the lawyer and the probation officer. I was a probation officer in the King's Cross area, but I am too dated, having left the probation service in 1979, for what I am about to say to apply to me now. However, for a couple of years after 1979 I could easily have stopped and talked to prostitutes in the King's Cross area and in other areas of London. I knew them because they had been under my supervision on probation orders or because I had met them when they had appeared before the courts. I could have spent time talking to them or have offered them lifts, for example. In a way, that would have been normal behaviour, but it would not have been seen as such. The risk of conviction or of appearing before the courts would have been considerable.
The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) has tabled an amendment that seeks to prevent press publicity until a person has been found guilty. I have some sympathy with that approach, although it would be difficult to put it into practice for a number of reasons. If a preacher, lawyer or probation officer is brought before the courts, he is likely to attract the attention of the media. Unfortunately, the media give far less attention when such cases are dismissed. What starts with a headline ends up with a statement half an inch in depth that tells the newspaper's readership that the accused was not guilty after all.
A man can be made the subject of adverse publicity without having committed an offence. He may be found not guilty, but his name will have been besmirched without the protection of a jury trial. Is it not serious that a man can lose his reputation without the Magna Carta right being invoked on his behalf?
That is a powerful argument. It applies in the area that we are discussing and in others where sexual behaviour is involved. Sex and violence are especially attractive to the media, especially when an offence is alleged to have been committed. The allegation attracts widespread publicity and if the accused is found not guilty he will not be able to obtain redress. There is no protection for him, or only very little.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will pursue the argument to its logical conclusion. Is he saying that the same anonymity and protection should be given in all other summary offences, and, if not, why not?
Perhaps I have misled the hon. and learned Gentleman slightly. The amendment that suggests that that protection should be available is in the name of the hon. Member for Northampton, North and not in mine. I have some sympathy with what he is trying to achieve, but I do not think that the amendment offers the right course. That is why I shall not lend my support to the amendment directly. However, the principle that the hon. Gentleman is trying to get across deserves attention and support.
The hon. Gentleman has great experience—I do not mean that viciously—in these matters. He has taken us back to the days when he was a probation officer. He will be aware that there has been a lot of press publicity about the chief constable of, I think, Nottinghamshire, who has been employing decoy women police constables. We would all like to see the Bill succeed when it has been properly amended. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman, who no doubt has had a great deal of discussion with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who is in his place on the Government Front Bench, will tell us whether he has had any assurance from him that, in the circumstances in which the Bill has been enacted, the police will no longer feel it necessary to employ decoys. I can see in the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman was describing that it would be most embarrassing for him, as a probation officer, to go about his duties. He might see someone on the street who he wishes to help, only suddenly to find that it is police woman, who pounces on him and takes him off to the nearest police station.
In my old employment I would have known the police officers, too. I might have wanted to help them, too, in certain situations. In taking that line I could have been in trouble as well. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have not had discussions with the Minister of the sort that he has in mind. However, I am concerned about the use of decoys, and that is an issue on which we shall touch when we discuss a later group of amendments. I believe that the Minister said in Committee—I am sure that he will correct me if I am wrong—that the need for decoys should be considered carefully and that their use should he restricted.
I may assuage any fears that the House may have if I say that on 13 February I received a letter from an assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police which made it clear that it is not the force's policy to employ women police officers in plain clothes to detect prostitution offences, and it is not envisaged that they will be so used in the future.
No; it was in Nottingham, as I understand it. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) received a letter from a lady who said that she had lived in the King's Cross area for over three years. She wrote:
I have found kerb crawlers annoying at times, but I have never once been threatened by one after I made it clear that I was not doing business. A great number of men who have approached me, however, have been either asking directions (King's Cross has two mainline stations) or begging for money (King's Cross is also a poor area).
That lady makes a valid point about the type of areas in which that activity takes place. She deals with the problem in a mature and sophisticated way.
The problem is how to achieve the laudable aim of allowing women to go anywhere in the United Kingdom in the same way that a man can—without fear of being harassed or molested—and how to deal with the problem that afflicts some inner city areas such as that represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox).
I have made the point before, and it is worth making again, that with the Bill we are trying to deal with the question of how prostitutes meet their clients and the consequences of that. Many prostitutes operate in a way which does not cause offence to people because they have a regular clientele or advertise in shops and magazines. The difficulty is that we have taken this problem out of the context of the issue of prostitution. I have made it clear before that in no way can we expect or should we expect prostitution to disappear completely. It has always been around, and it always will be.
We must address outselves to the deeper aspects of the problem. What causes people anxiety is when a number of prostitutes operate from the street and, in particular, when the problem is focused on one area. There is they an associated nuisance. Some people say that the ordinary laws of nuisance should apply. They do, but we cannot always apply them when the nuisance is caused by a number of drivers stopping women. That is a series of individual nuisances rather than the nuisance of, for example, a loud party late at night in one place with one group of people continuing to make a noise.
There is a case for a package which would allow prostitutes to advertise their services more effectively, thus helping them to stay off the streets and to operate together without the risk of being charged with a brothel offence, and to give local authorities byelaw powers to deal with problems that arise in specific areas, for example, Southampton and Tooting. That would be a more effective way of dealing with the problem. It is one reason why I tabled amendment No. 79, which has not been selected. That amendment would have enabled a local authority to make a byelaw. It would not involve the national law.
There would be disadvantages in doing that. Generally we try to legislate nationally. Byelaws imply that there are different problems in different areas. We have seen a dramatic example of that. The Ministry of Defence has recently introduced byelaws in places such as Molesworth. Such action can be taken, and the advantage would be that a local authority could bring—
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall not pursue the point. I was trying to find a way to make the law less national. As I said in Committee, the Bill applies throughout the United Kingdom and yet we are dealing with a few areas which have a major problem. In doing so, we are putting about 50 million people in England and Wales at risk from the law. It was an attempt to try to find—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise, but I sincerely seek your guidance on this issue. We have 10 amendments before us which are drawn from the first four clauses. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) may have said, had you allowed him to proceed a little further, that had the Bill been framed in such a way that a local initiative could be taken and local byelaws introduced some of the amendments and clauses might not have been as necessary as they are. Given the wide range of the debate and the amendments before us, I seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman was trying to say.
I do not seek to pursue the matter. I have made the point that I was trying to limit the scope of the Bill because we all recognise that the problem is restricted to some localities. However important the matter is to those areas, we do not wish to make the law too widespread.
There is a question which I wish to put to the Minister again because he did not deal satisfactorily with the point in Committee. I said that the Scottish law, for which I have considerable respect although I do not claim it to be perfect, requires corroboration; English law does not. His answer, if I remember correctly, was that it would be too complicated and take too long to go into Scottish law, and that neither he nor I were experts in it. That may or may not be true. Corroboration is required in Scotland, and we must address ourselves to the question why it does not apply in England and Wales. It is not sufficient to say that the matter is complicated. I have a great deal of respect for the way in which the Scots handle such matters and that point deserves more careful consideration.
It is interesting to note that the Scots do not feel a need for a law of this type. That is not because they do not have a problem. Having lived in Edinburgh and Glasgow, I know that from time to time there has been a problem in some areas.
New clause 1, which I have changed since Committee as a result of discussions in Committee, would give some assurance to the House that if the Act does not work—I know that the Minister and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) are anxious about whether its intentions will succeed—it would continue in force only on a resolution of each House of Parliament. In other words, it would expire after two years unless given a positive vote again. That two years would, in my judgment and that of my hon. Friends, give us an opportunity to see whether the Bill had worked properly.
In new clause 3 and new clause 4, which are linked, I have used the phrase that a man would commit an offence if
he solicits women … for sexual purposes in a manner which causes nuisance or fear.
I have included the requirement that women caused nuisance or fear should give evidence. To use the words "which causes" implies that corroborative evidence would be necessary. It seems unlikely that a court of law would think that nuisance or fear had been caused unless the person was there to say that it had been caused. That is one of the ways of putting safeguards into the Bill, and I recommend it to the House.
Amendment No. 33 proposes that we should leave out clause 2. That was the only way in which I could deal with the difficult problem of persistence, given that we had already dealt with it to some extent in Committee. The Minister is aware—as is the hon. Member for Drake—of the curious double standards. Under clause 1 persistence is not required; one act is enough in its own right. Under clause 2, persistence is required.
To confound the problem, to be a prostitute a person has to be defined as a common prostitute. A common prostitute is a person who has been warned three times by the police before going into court. We had to deal with that rather curious set of double standards which are linked together. Therefore, we had to decide whether to seek to leave out clause 1—which we could not do, having already agreed to it in Committee—or to leave out clause 2. We are seeking to draw the attention of the House to this difficult area.
Amendments Nos. 40 and 41 are linked. In amendment No. 40 we are seeking to insert, at the end of clause 2, the words
in a manner that causes offence or nuisance to others".
Amendment No. 41 seeks to add the words:
The person or persons to whom nuisance or offence has been caused may be required to give evidence of such nuisance or offence".
Here we are trying to deal with a difficult problem to which my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting referred—that in some circumstances people would not be prepared to give evidence because of their fear of the consequences. I have tried to get round that difficult problem by suggesting that the police, if they could not get a witness to come forward, could proceed with a prosecution provided that they felt they had sufficient evidence.
It might be that the person concerned, being either embarrassed or fearful of some consequences, would not have to be called. On the other hand, the normal expectation would be that such a witness would be called. A resident in a house or the chairman or members of the committee of a residents' association could give evidence of either nuisance or fear. If there were threats involved in an area where there was organised prostitution, the police could carry on with the prosecution without the evidence of certain people. The amendments would, I think, meet the anxiety expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting, the hon. Member for Drake, and the Minister.
I do not see why we should not have the innovation—if it is an innovation—in our law that a person may be required to give evidence which would enable the court to decide whether, in the circumstances, it would be safe to convict without evidence of corroboration. The police might wish to deploy the argument in court that they could not produce evidence because people were afraid to give it. I recognise that if a woman is not a prostitute and gives evidence against a man who has been kerb-crawling, her own sexual activities might be brought out in court. The Minister and some hon. Members have drawn attention to that problem. An obvious line for the defence would be to question the woman on whether she had slept with men before, with how many men, how frequently, whether she had ever charged for it, and so on. A woman who might be having a perfectly normal sexual life could have it inquired into in court and publicised. The amendments suggest a possible way of dealing with the problem, and I hope that the Minister will consider it.
The hon. Gentleman's amendments go to the heart of the issue and deal with matters with which many people are concerned—how evidence shall be adduced, and so on. Amendment No. 41 says:
The person or persons to whom nuisance or offence has been caused may be required to give evidence".
On what basis is the decision to be made? How does the hon. Gentleman feel that a court would react if the decision had been made that such a person should not be required to give evidence? Would there be a rule of thumb that generally in those circumstances the court would not be expected to convict? It is an interesting suggestion, but I do not see how it would work.
In the first instance, the police would ask the person whether she was prepared to give evidence. She might be a resident in the area or a woman who happened to be walking down the street. If the woman said yes, there would be no problem. On the other hand, she might say no. I remind the House that the Prosecution of Offences Bill would initiate a procedure for which my party has been calling for several years—the appointment of an independent public prosecutor. That would link with this Bill in an important way.
Where a person does not give evidence, the public prosecutor then has to decide whether there is a case. It will be a matter for the judgment of the public prosecutor. That judgment will presumably be made on the basis of whether the public prosecutor thinks that there is a satisfactory case to be answered in a court of law. The public prosecutor will then say to the police, "If you cannot get your witness to come forward, what will you say when the court questions you about it?" The police will then have to say that the people concerned are fearful because of threats, or for whatever reason. The public prosecutor will then have to decide whether, on that basis, there is a case to answer. If he does not think that there is, obviously he will not prosecute. If he does, he will proceed with the case. It will then be for the court to ask the questions that one assumes the public prosecutor will have asked as to why the police have not been able to bring the witness to court. The court will decide whether an offence has been committed and whether, in the circumstances, it can safely convict in the absence of corroborative evidence. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman.
With the innovation of the independent public prosecutor. there will be a powerful addition to what is proposed in the Bill. I am not a lawyer, I have never claimed to be a lawyer, and I have never wanted to be a lawyer. However, I must not single out lawyers as though they are a minority group. I have made a good many criticisms of the legal profession from time to time. But there is concern among lawyers and others about the Bill as it stands, and I am suggesting, in my own non-legalistic way, a method of dealing with one of the major anxieties. I think that it meets some of the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting, the hon. Member for Drake and several other hon. Members on each side of the House. Therefore, I urge the Minister to give it careful consideration.
I do not have the expert knowledge to answer that, although I should have thought that the new public prosecutor system would make that unnecessary. Some guidelines might be needed in terms of the way in which the police are to operate, but I believe that many of the present problems will be solved by the independent prosecutor system because the police will no longer be both the arresting body and the prosecuting, body. The police would be the arresting body, but it would be up to the independent prosecutor to decide whether there should be a prosecution. That takes the police out of the firing line. That is one of the reasons why I have been keen on that change for so long.
Amendment No. 47 relates to the concern that we expressed in Committee about the present drafting of clause 3, which includes the words:
in a manner likely to cause … fear".
That is extremely difficult to define, especially if there is no corroboration. Another person's interpretation of what is likely to cause fear to a third party is debatable. The lady who wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said that she had been approached a
number of times but had dealt with the situation in the normal way. A watching police officer might well have concluded that the incident was likely to cause her fear and might have secured a conviction on that basis. The lady in question stated clearly that the incidents did not cause her nuisance or fear, but if she was not called to give evidence a man might be convicted on that basis. If reference is made to nuisance and fear, I believe that nuisance or fear must actually be caused, which requires corroborating evidence, although I repeat that there are anxieties about the sexual activities of witnesses being brought into the case in the way that I have described.
Amendment No. 58 seeks to tighten clause 3 by inserting a reference to
a woman of reasonable firmness".
I do not claim that those words are legalistically perfect but I believe that other legislation refers to fear or anxiety being caused to "persons" of reasonable firmness. Approaching a woman in the street and saying, "Will you have sex with me?" may cause fear to one woman, but anger, a dismissive comment or even laughter from another. A woman, or indeed a man in a similar situation, with well-developed social skills could deal easily with such an incident but another who is more timid and less able to cope with situations of that kind would be caused fear. I believe that it is dangerous to convict without making some judgment about that.
When the hon. Gentleman said that other legislation required proof that fear would be caused to persons of reasonable firmness I believe that he was thinking of the law on affray, which requires not just that fear would be likely to be caused but that fear actually was caused. That is more than the hon. Gentleman seeks on this occasion.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing that out.
I ask the Minister to consider amendments Nos. 40 and 41 especially as a means of dealing with a number of problems. As I have said, we shall continue to try to achieve the aims that the hon. Member for Drake rightly had in mind in introducing the Bill but we must also continue to express anxiety about the unintended consequences of the Bill as drafted. Subject to the views expressed by the Minister and the House today, we shall wish to vote on the amendment, although I reserve our position on that for the moment.
I intervene briefly because it is important that I, as the promoter of the Bill, should make clear at this stage my attitude to the new clauses and amendments in this group because they deal with the heart of the matter. I understand the reservations expressed by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley). Indeed, there was a sense of deja vu because we went into all this in great detail in Committee.
I should be doing the House a disservice if I did not state firmly at this stage that in my view clauses 1 to 3 as drafted meet the case as far as is humanly possible, and I am not at all inclined to accept the new clauses or amendments. I greatly fear that if we import the idea of nuisance or fear being required, especially in the case of soliciting in the street or from a vehicle, the whole effect of the Bill will be nullified. That may not be the hon. Gentleman's intention, but I believe that it will be the practical result. The Bill will be emasculated and the longed-for relief that so many women and residents seek will be snatched away. I shall explain briefly why I take that view.
To suggest that nuisance or fear must be attributed to the woman who is solicited is to misunderstand the whole nature of the problem. There is certainly evidence that many women are put in fear or feel that they have been subjected to real nuisance, but that is not the end of the problem. Indeed, it is only the beginning of the problem, which is the cumulative effect on an area and its residents of frequent soliciting by kerb crawlers. The cumulative effect constitutes the nuisance. A requirement that nuisance must be caused to a particular woman on a particular occasion makes things far more difficult and leaves aside the cumulative effect about which so much concern has been expressed.
The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who is a sponsor of the Bill, knows as I do from constituency experience that at many hours of the day and night there is a build-up of cars waltzing slowly round a few streets, rather like a permanent rush hour of men looking for women. Quarrels and arguments break out about price and the sexual acts often take place in the cars quite close to the residential area. Frequently, there are unpleasant traces of all this activity, but I shall not dwell on that aspect now. It is the whole scene and set-up that is so unpleasant and degrading for residents—men as well as women. I believe that the amendments and new clauses will weaken the effect of the Bill by imposing such a narrow requirement for proof in the courts.
New clause 3 does not require that nuisance or fear be caused to the woman who is importuned. I agree with my hon. Friend that these activities are offensive, but residents who are offended enough to give evidence that nuisance has been caused to them will be able to satisfy new clause 3, which merely states that fear or nuisance must be caused.
I am afraid that my hon. Friend still misses the point. It is not the single act that necessarily causes nuisance or fear to others in the area. It is the effect of one act of soliciting upon another, with the cars going round and round like a merry-go-round at all hours of the night and day. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris), who has taken such a close interest in the proceedings in Committee and now, has also taken the trouble to visit some of the areas which face this problem. Perhaps he could tell me how often he has been to such areas and talked to the residents where this is a genuine problem?
As I told my hon. Friend in Committee, I live near Bedford hill in Wandsworth, and I have friends there. I have no doubt of the nuisance caused there, or of the need for a new law to curb that nuisance. I have no doubt that the nuisance and offence are of a type on which either women or residents would be prepared to give evidence in court. I therefore have no doubt that a law which requires evidence of a nuisance or offence would be useful to the police and could be used to curb the nuisance in question.
If my hon. Friend is so familiar with the areas about which we are talking, I am surprised that he wants to hedge about with further restrictions the main provisions in the Bill.
Because there will be an onus of proof, it will not be easy to make a prosecution stick, and rightly so, even under the new clauses. I do not quarrel with that. If the action is to be a criminal offence, it is right and proper that evidence should be required which secures a conviction beyond all reasonable doubt. However, if we import "nuisance or fear" into the Bill, as suggested in the new clauses and amendments, we shall emasculate the Bill in a way which I find unacceptable, and which will be unacceptable to residents who for years have suffered harassment from kerb crawling, and to women who are approached.
Surely if cumulative activity in an area causes nuisance or fear, an individual action within that cumulative activity would contribute to it and, therefore, nuisance or fear would be caused. As my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) said, the police would be empowered to act under the new clause. I put it to my hon. Friend, as a Conservative and someone who does not want unnecessary laws, that in some areas, regions or docks, the activity may take place without causing nuisance or fear. If neither nuisance nor fear is caused, does she want a law to deal with people going about their business? Does she want to stop that, or is she only anxious about the nuisance or fear that is caused?
Obviously, I am anxious about the nuisance or fear caused, but clearly no prosecutions would be brought in cases where the area was deserted. I do not see the point of my hon Friend's intervention.
As I have said what my firm views are, I do not wish to detain the House. However, I repeat that residents and women in the areas affected are looking eagerly to the Bill to obtain much-needed and long-sought redress. I hope that the House will not be tempted to weaken the provisions in the way that is being suggested, although I appreciate and understand the sincerity with which the new clauses and amendments were tabled.
I wish to address my remarks in support of new clause 4. In doing so, I must make some sharp criticisms of the terms of clause 3 of the Bill, but I assure the House that I am not hostile to the objectives which the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) seeks to achieve. All hon. Members would approve of those objectives.
The hon. Lady vividly described the reactions of large groups of residents to the problem. However, we must ensure that the provisions of the Bill do not do injustice or provide the possibility of injustice being done to individuals. With all respect to the hon. Lady, good causes do not justify bad law. We must get the law right. We must remove ambiguity, and, as far as possible, the necessity for test cases in court to establish what the text means—there are difficulties about that—and the danger of innocent actions being found in law to be culpable. Moreover, we must avoid adding to police powers, which would enable police officers to harass people who do not deserve to be harassed.
All those matters are and remain our responsibility, however much we approve of the objectives of the Bill. The hon. Lady knows what great respect and regard I have for her, but she cannot make the anxiety of many people her case for justifying the wording in a Bill, which is suspect, and some of the Bill is suspect.
Clause 3 of the Bill provides:
A man commits an offence if he solicits a woman for sexual purposes in a manner likely to cause her fear.
That means in a manner likely to cause fear to a particular woman. Not all women, as with men, are alike. What strikes terror into my heart may be ridden with an easy smile by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). What terrifies one woman may be brushed off lightly by another. Some women are less easily frightened than others.
About a week ago I read an account of a lady who won a special coloured belt for achievements in one of the martial arts—kung fu. She said that she could break a man's back in four seconds. It would be much more difficult to cause her fear than a lady of gentler outlook, persuasion and habits. Therefore, a general rule about what is likely to cause women fear cannot be laid down.
If I were soliciting the group of estimable, sophisticated and formidable ladies who are honourable Members for something as innocent as a signature on an early-day motion, the only fear caused would be to me. The wording
likely to cause her fear
will not do. How can anybody but the woman know what is likely to cause her fear? How can anybody but that woman say, "I was caused to be afraid."? By what criteria other than her view and testimony can anyone conceivably know that she was afraid?
As always, the hon. Gentleman expresses his views with clarity, but on this occasion he is mistaken. The Criminal Law Revision Committee, which suggested this legislation, specifically recommended this phrase for reasons opposite to those which he has given. It said:
We have formulated the offence as one of soliciting in a manner likely to cause fear because a man's liability to criminal sanctions should not depend upon any undue susceptibility to fear on the part of the woman solicited of which he was unaware.
This is a pretty objective test to be applied by the courts.
I do not believe so. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for reminding me of what the Criminal Law Revision Committee said, but I should say two things. First, I do not treat the recommendations of that august body as tablets of stone. We are free to accept or reject its recommendations. Secondly, the sentence that she quoted does not hold water. The Committee is saying that
a manner likely to cause her fear
is a manner likely to cause fear to any woman. That is what the sentence means, and I do not believe that it can be sustained, and I shall take a moment or two to explain why it cannot be sustained.
Some women are caused fear unnecessarily; some women are paranoiacs, claustrophobes or agoraphobes. It means that we shall reduce the offence to the lowest common denominator so that it will catch anyone who approaches any woman. If one takes to its logical conclusion the sentence that the hon. Lady quoted, the assumption must be that any soliciting is likely to cause fear to some woman and, therefore, must be assumed to cause fear to this woman. In that case, it would suffice if clause 3 simply said:
A man commits an offence if he solicits a woman for sexual purposes.
I repeat that, if we take that sentence from the Criminal Law Revision Committee to its logical conclusion, any approach to a woman is likely to cause fear to some woman and, therefore, must be assumed to cause fear to that woman.
The hon. Gentleman said that the Criminal Law Revision Committee is an august and important body, but that he does not accept everything it says as though it was written on tablets of stone. He is right to make that remark. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) made one quotation from that Committee, he will probably know that, in its working paper on offences related to prostitution and allied offences in 1982, it stated:
Conduct which caused fear might and probably would have features which would allow another criminal offence to be charged.
At that stage of its thought processes, the Committee obviously believed that the way to deal with it was through other criminal offences, not in this way. If it changed its mind on that point, it could change its mind again.
I did not know that, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to it. But I have much stronger evidence than that for saying that the recommendations of the Criminal Law Revision Committee are not tablets of stone, and are not divine wisdom that no one may question and that everyone must follow blindly or slavishly. My evidence is that successive Governments have ignored many recommendations of that Committee. It is no good the hon. Lady saying that we must do this because the Criminal Law Revision Committee said that we should do it.
I take the hon. Gentleman's point that the policy on whether an act should be a criminal offence must be a matter for the House. Although we weigh the advice that we receive from the Criminal Law Revision Committee and from constituents and other groups, it is for the House to judge whether it agrees with it. However, the point being put to the hon. Gentleman is rather different. It is for us to say whether we believe that there is room in the criminal law of England for an offence that makes criminal an approach to a woman which causes her fear. The fact that the Criminal Law Revision Committee agrees with that is only one piece of evidence to weigh in the scales.
The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) is making to the hon. Gentleman—I repeat it to him—is that, as clause 3(1) is framed, a man commits an offence if he solicits a woman for sexual purposes in a manner likely to cause her fear, which creates an objective test whereby the court would be asked to consider all the circumstances and to say, "Would a reasonable man in the position of the defendant know that his approach was likely to cause fear?" It is not based on the subjective response of the woman, who may be an hysteric or a perfectly normal, firm woman. That is a lawyer's advice as to the meaning of the clause. I would not embrace the clause if it did not have that objective test. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, on that point, the learned Lord Justices of Appeal and others in the Criminal Law Revision Committee are entitled to say, "This is the way to create an objective test"?
I am grateful to the Minister for confirming my opinion of the committee, and that disposes of that part of the argument once and for all. He is saying, as I am, that we must make up our minds on the basis of our analysis of the position.
My answer to the Minister's second question is no, because I do not believe that the clause creates an objective test. With all respect to that group of learned and distinguished gentlemen, there is only one objective test of behaviour likely to cause fear to a specific woman, and that is whether the woman has been caused fear. The only person who can know whether she has been caused fear is the woman herself. How can anyone else know? Let us suppose that the Minister and I are walking along the pavement and we see a chap approaching a woman. How could he or I know whether she was afraid, contemptuous, amused or, as could conceivably happen, although probably not often, whether she was willing?
Despite the views of those learned gentlemen, there can be no objective test of whether conduct is likely to cause fear in a woman, except the fact that it has caused fear, and the only person who can know whether it caused fear is the woman herself.
I can agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point without conceding the rest of his case. The Government are not anxious to put on the statute book an arbitrary offence that depends on a subjective response, and that is why I am taking the hon. Gentleman's argument so seriously. I shall consider what he said carefully so that if, as I hope, the Bill proceeds to the other place, we can satisfy ourselves further that the objectivity we wish to achieve has been achieved.
It is highly unlikely that a charge could be brought under clause 3 without the woman involved giving evidence to the court. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that, unless a witness is sitting next to the woman on the tube train when the incident occurs, it is unlikely that anyone else can give evidence. But if the woman makes a complaint to a police officer, her stating that she has been caused fear will not be conclusive. It will be for the court to determine objectively whether what the individual said was likely to cause fear to a woman in those circumstances. We are not talking about someone travelling home late at night on the tube and saying to a woman, "Nice day, was it not?", and the woman then replying, "Get away from me, you beast; I will call the police." The mere fact that she would claim that she was put in fear would not be a ground for a conviction. The criterion would have to be whether a reasonable woman in those circumstances would have reacted in that way. I hope that that clears up the point.
From what the Minister has said, it is clear that he and I are moving towards each other and reaching a common point. I believe, with him and the hon. Member for Drake, that we should have a law that prevents men from soliciting women in a way that puts the wind up them and frightens them. There can be no question about that. I know that some women are sensitive, and perhaps mentally not quite well, and so we cannot rely only on the evidence of a woman, although that is a factor to be taken into account.
However, if there is no such evidence, there is no reliable evidence. I am not saying that we must automatically convict when a woman says that she was afraid, but we cannot convict at all unless she says that she was afraid.
As the Minister has been kind enough to give a trailer of his speech and has promised to have a hard look at what I am saying, it would be churlish of me to press the point any further. I take satisfaction from that because I know that he means it sincerely and will look at the matter. I hope that, in the course of his looking at this matter with his colleagues in the Department and the hon. Member for Drake, he will carefully consider whether they should abandon this part of the Bill so that cases depend on more than just corroborative evidence from the potential victim. That is a key matter, and that is why I support new clause 4.
These new clauses and amendments concern the fundamental nature of the framework of the Bill. If they were to be passed, they would destroy the tripartite basis of the recommendations made by the Criminal Law Revision Committee upon which this Bill is based. When it comes to disappointing lawyers on the one hand or disappointing the public on the other, I should much prefer to disappoint the lawyers if I thought that that was in the public interest. If we passed this group of new clauses and amendments, we would cause deep disappointment in certain parts of the country where people are looking to the Bill to solve a pressing social problem.
There will be disappointment in Argyle square near King's Cross. As a former Camden councillor, I was amazed to hear the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), who has some knowledge of the problem in Argyle square, suggest that there is anything other than wholehearted support from that area for the provsions of the Bill. When I was on Camden council there were frequent petitions from the residents of that area asking for something to be done. If the Bill goes through in its present form, that request will be answered.
Under the inner area programme, a great deal of public money is being poured into the central area of my constituency. However, that investment can come properly to fruition only when the environment for the residents in that area is properly protected by a Bill such as this.
The hon. and learned Gentleman misquoted me. I did not say that there was no support for this measure because there is, and I would go out of my way to say that there is a problem. However, I went out of my way to explain why new clauses 3 and 4 and amendments Nos. 40 and 41 will enable residents in cases such as Argyle square to deal with the matter.
One of the complaints not only from Argyle square in London but from Saxby street in Leicester is that lives are made hell by people going round at 2 o'clock in the morning and preventing us from getting a good night's sleep. If the police have to go round the next morning and say, "We are sorry that your lives were hell all last night. We should now like you to come along to the magistrates court, take a day or so off work, and give evidence in support of this case," people would conclude that the law was being unduly cumbersome and not protecting their interests properly.
I can give the hon. and learned Gentleman another example. He must have had cases in his surgery, as we all have, of residents who are annoyed and whose lives are made the subject of great inconvenience by noise from neighbours. They can go along to the county court or the local authority can act on their behalf in the county court. All that is required is for them to go along and give evidence on oath. However, people are most disconcerted at the prospect of being required to give evidence in court.
Not many people will be rushing forward to give evidence if the new clauses are passed. The Criminal Law Revision Committee based itself on the experience of the law before the sexual Offences Act 1959, when it was necessary to prove some annoyance. It mentioned how difficult it was to get members of the public to give evidence in such cases. Such a difficulty would be just as real today.
This may not be a conclusive point, but my hon. and learned Friend was asking the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) whether people had come to his surgery or advice bureau to complain about noise. It would be interesting to know how many people have come to my hon. and learned Friend's advice bureau to raise the issue of kerb crawling.
People come in person or in a representative capacity. I have leaders of the community, Asian leaders from the central area, where the Asian community of Leicester predominantly lives, people from the mosques and Asian leaders of varying stature coming on behalf of their communities. They tell me that their lives are being ruined by prostitution in the central areas and that their wives and children fear to go out unescorted. I have had the South Highfields residents association imploring me to go to the chief constable and have something done.
Last year, the chief constable set up two special operations as a result of which on one occasion about 20 men were arrested and on a subsequent occasion 14 men were arrested and bound over under the 1361 Act to keep the peace. This is a problem of substantial dimensions in my constituency and there is an abundance of evidence in the Leicester Mercury and the Leicester Muslim that large numbers of people, irrespective of class, creed or colour, living in the central region of Leicester, want something done. They are looking to this Bill, substantially in its present form, to alleviate this discomfort. They would be very disappointed if they thought that anything was being done to impede the Bill's passage to the statute book.
I do not wish to detain the House, but it is necessary to indicate the status of some of the lawyers who sat on the committee. Other than Lord Justice Lawton, who has had wide experience of the criminal law at all levels throughout his long life at the Bar and, more subsequently, on the Bench—
My hon. and learned Friend said that his constituents want the Bill to be passed in its present form. It is not my experience that constituents take so close an interest in politics or study the drafting of Bills in minute detail. It is not possible to say that they are so well acquainted with the form of any Bill in Committee or on Report that they are substantially in agreement with that Bill as it stands.
Would it not be fairer to say that my hon. and learned Friend's constituents want something done about kerb crawling? Would it not be fair to acknowledge that many of us want that also, but do not think that the Bill, as drafted, is quite the right way to achieve that? The Bill is capable of improvement.
It would be not this world, but somewhere else, if we found that the Bill was in a wholly perfect state. The question is whether it substantially meets the complaints of our constituents, and I believe that it does. Undue time should not be spent seeking to achieve an entirely unrealistic state of perfection. If we adopted that method of proceeding in the House, I doubt whether any piece of legislation would ever reach the statute book.
If an argument does not commend itself, it does not matter from whose mouth it comes. It does not matter how august is the company of people who put forward that view. However, it is extraordinary how well informed and how substantial was the composition of the committee that made these recommendations. It comprised not only Lord Justice Lawton but Mr. Justice McCullough, who has wide experience on the midlands circuit, two people who either are or have been stipendary magistrates in London, the Director of Public Prosecutions, an extremely well-known solicitor and—and this meets the point about clause 3—Professor Smith of Nottingham. He is the foremost exponent of the criminal law in the academic world of Britain. He habitually lectures to judicial seminars that I and other members of the judiciary have attended. He has the highest status. Like anybody else, of course, he can be wrong. But if there is on the one hand a collection of brilliant legal talent and on the other hand the coruscating intellect of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, to which I give full accord, I am bound to come down in favour of the members of the committee.
Many men underestimate the fear felt by women when faced with solicitation in the street, especially if it happens at night or if they are accompanied by children, as unfortunately sometimes happens. Their fear arises not for their personal safety but for the safety and welfare of the child. That element is encompassed in the clause as drafted, and if it were to be drawn tighter, it would fail to meet the justice of the case.
My hon. and learned Friend is patient, and this is the last time that I shall interrupt him. He spoke of the brilliance of the members of the committee and I do not dissent from that. I am sure that each and every one of them is brilliant. However, on page 40 of its interim report, the committee said:
Some of us are of the opinion that it would be undesirable for police officers to give evidence about the effect of an accused's conduct on a third party not called as a witness.
Would my hon. and learned Friend care to speculate which of the brilliant members of the committee were of that opinion?
That would not profit us one iota. I fear that my hon. Friend is falling into the trap of engaging the House in seeking to obtain a perfect Bill, when all we are anxious to do—I am sure that he agrees—is to obtain a Bill that meets the justice of the case.
Perhaps I could help my hon. and learned Friend. The committee addressed itself to that point and said in the report:
We would assume that in the case of our third new offence"—
that is the one that we are considering—
the woman would almost always have to be called as a witness.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that. My somewhat limited experience of the law—only about 25 years—has taught me that usually it is bad to confuse the substantive law with the adjectival law. Unless there are strong and compelling reasons, it is not a good method to say what will amount to proof in any given case. Cases are infinitely various. Therefore, to require corroboration or to say that a particular witness should or must be called, is a mistake in legislation. There are sometimes cases where, notwithstanding the absence of the woman, the facts are overwhelming. Although I accept my hon. Friend's point, in cases under clause 3 it would be desirable and right to call the woman. However, there may be a small residue of cases where that would not be necessary and it would impede the cause of justice for it to be required—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] For the same reason that it applies in every other branch of the law. It is a commonplace in our courts that sometimes the victim, or the person worst affected by the conduct under complaint, is not available or not called. Notwithstanding that, the jury—12 ordinary members of the public—are totally satisfied that the case has been proved. Therefore, as a general principle it is bad to confuse the substantive and the adjectival law.
I accept that. I make the point merely to demonstrate that a court, however comprised—even if it be of persons not versed in courts or in the law—and notwithstanding the absence of the victim, can still find it consistent with their duties to do justice to reach the conclusion that the offence has been proved.
This has been, and I am sure will continue to be, an interesting and at times a fascinating debate. This is the kind of Bill to which many hon. Members feel they have commitment, in that it is their duty to try to help those whom they seek to represent while safeguarding the rights of individuals who could find themselves in difficulty as a result of such legislation.
We have heard from both sides of the House of the problems in many parts of the country. I represent a constituency of which part, sadly, has for many years experienced the most appalling problems, and they remain. I shall not relate the exchanges that I have had with successive Home Office Ministers over the years that I have been a Member of Parliament in trying to help my constituents and, if possible, to rid the area of its problems.
It is no exaggeration to say that over the years I have talked to hundreds of women who have come to my advice service or attended meetings in the constituency. I have had outlined to me their experiences, many of them encountering the difficulty not once or twice but on countless occasions.
In making these comments I am trying to be scrupulously fair. From talking to my female constituents I get the clear impression that they experienced a combination of annoyance and, for a large percentage of them, an element of fear, and it is obvious that the element of fear is more acute during the late evening than it is in day time.
A women walks along a road, a car stops beside her, windows are lowered and comments are made. If that happens during the evening, the startling effects are greater than if it happens in daylight, and there are many instances of fear being occasioned to women in those circumstances.
I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) said, and this is one of the dilemmas that we face. A number of hon. Members know a lady who was once accosted in Bedford hill. She felt annoyed. She also felt that it was a joke that she should have been solicited. But it has to be said that many women in those circumstances feel an element of fear, possibly for only a few seconds, until they realise, "It is some fellow trying to pick me up."
In my constituency, there have been many threats to members of the local community who felt that they were getting nowhere, having been promised repeatedly by the Government of the day that something would be done. They decided, to their credit, that they had to make their presence felt not only against the women coming in to the area to solicit men but against those looking after them, their minders.
There is clear evidence of what has happened in my constituency following protests by local residents about the activities of prostitutes and their minders. There has been violence. There have been attacks on property. I believe that it is my duty to try to help my constituents by way of legislation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) made a very fair comment about the requirement in amendment No. 41 that a person might be required to give evidence either of nuisance or of offence being caused. We know how our courts work. We have certain standards. People charged with alleged offences should, either themselves or through their representatives, have the opportunity to cross-examine those making the allegations. But again an element of fear is involved. Women fear the kind of attack that may be made upon them in court if they decide to take matters to court because they want action. They fear that they will be subjected to a great deal of humiliation. There are some very tricky lawyers about. It may be that the woman who goes to court is required to give evidence and then to be cross-examined by the defendant's solicitor. She may be asked what she was doing in the area at the time, how she was dressed, whether she is married or living with someone, and so on.
Since the Committee stage I have spoken to several local groups in my area and at meetings attended by both men and women. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) said that normally members of the public did not take much notice of legislation. I can assure him that in my area there has been very keen interest in the Bill, especially during its Committee stage.
I did not say that the public did not take much interest in legislation. I said that they did not study minutely the drafting of legislation. Of course the hon. Gentleman is right. He knows better than I do, but I know, too, that his constituents are concerned because many of them have written to me saying, "We hear that you are obstructing this Bill"—
I hear my hon. Friend the Minister murmur, "Quite right." Thoughout the Committee stage, he was putting it about that my aim was to wreck or obstruct the Bill. That is quite wrong. My aim is to make the Bill a fairer one so that we catch those who ought to be caught and do not put in danger people who should not be in danger either of arrest or prosecution. As a result of the rumours that the Minister and others have been putting about, I have had a great many letters, some of them abusive, and even threats to put bricks through my windows in Wandsworth, where I too live.
I said in Committee and I have said publicly and privately to the Minister that the nuisance is a grave one and that it is right that we should address ourselves to it. However, the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) misunderstands me when he suggests that I believe that people do not take an interest in legislation. They do, and they have written to me saying, "Please do not obstruct the Bill, because people are persistently soliciting and we want it stopped." I have written back saying, "I agree that people are persistently soliciting, and it is persistent soliciting that I want to make an offence." They have then written to me saying, "We have not actually seen the Bill. In that case, we see what you mean and we agree with you."
I note the hon. Gentleman's comments. I hope sincerely that he does not receive any further threats of violence. They do not help anyone who is genuinely trying to come to the aid of the residents of our community who experience this difficulty.
There is a very deep fear of going to court because of the kind of attacks that could be made against women by solicitors. This problem must be looked at. It would be interesting to hear the Minister's views on amendment No. 41.
There are many other amendments to discuss. Therefore, the remainder of my comments will be brief. I hope that we shall reach the end of our discussions today because nothing would be more tragic than for the debate not to be concluded and, if there are to be votes, for those votes not to be taken today. I have witnessed over the years the activities of those who kerb crawl and pick up women in my area and I accept that some people may be looking for a particular address and may stop to ask for information. However, I do not believe that anybody who watched their activities could be in any doubt about what the overwhelming majority of them were doing. They are there for one specific reason.
I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar that we should try to deal with the 99 per cent. who are kerb crawling, but we should also try to safeguard the rights of the innocent 1 per cent. who may be caught up by the legislation. I want action, but all hon. Members who represent constituencies which suffer from this type of problem ought to be realistic enough to accept that people's rights have to he safeguarded.
Although I am aware of your earlier comments, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should welcome an assurance from the Under-Secretary that within one year, or two years at the very most, he will make a statement or there will be a short debate in which discussion can take place about how this Bill, if it becomes law, is working. That would allay the fears of many hon. Members. There ought to be an opportunity to examine how the Bill is working in practice and whether problems are being caused by it. If we then find that it is causing problems, I shall go back to my constituents and say to them that I spoke against colleagues of mine because I felt that I had a duty to do so, but that now that the Bill has been working for this period of time there are aspects of it which I can no longer support. If the Minister were able to give an assurance that there is to be a review, it would be of great help to many hon. Members.
The group of amendments that we are discussing ranges broadly over the first three clauses. It includes not just the elements of the offence but, in the case of some amendments, the penalties and the mode of trial. Therefore the debate upon this group of amendments has to be wide-ranging. I should like to go through the amendments one by one because some of them are entirely separable.
Before I do so, I think it is in order to lay my cards on the table, as I tried to do a minute or two ago in an intervention during the speech of the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). There are certain hon. Members who object to any Bill of this kind and who will wish to prevent it from becoming law. Other hon. Members believe that it should become law in substantially its present form. I believe that a Bill is necessary and that this one conies quite near to meeting our requirements. However, in two respects the drafting goes further than is necessary in order to deal with the nuisance that needs to be dealt with. Therefore I wish to improve the Bill, not to obstruct it. That was my attitude in Committee and that is my attitude today. I wish that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department would accept my word on that.
People are judged by their actions. If the Bill makes progress without too lengthy a contribution from my hon. Friend, we shall know that what he has said is right. However, it should be understood that what I said earlier was in the context of an opening speech which lasted for an hour and three quarters during the first sitting of the Committee. One is not being unduly cynical if one says that that was not entirely consistent with an attitude of friendship towards the Bill. However, I hear what my hon. Friend says. I shall be only too happy to congratulate him at the end of the afternoon on having delivered on his pledge.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. As the Minister knows, this is a private Member's Bill and I am sure that he would wish any measure that is to be enacted to be properly and fully debated. If the Government are committed to a measure such as this being placed on the statute book, it is for them to provide whatever time is needed to ensure that the matter is properly debated and the necessary amendments made.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for what he has said. May I point out to him, however, that whatever progress the Bill makes will depend partly upon him and upon my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes). If the small, almost drafting, improvements, that could be made to the Bill are accepted, I see no reason why it should not make a great deal of progress. If the amendments are not accepted, that fact will render the Bill substantially unacceptable in its present form. I look to my hon. Friend the Member for Drake and to the Minister for a sympathetic response. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) is absolutely right. If the Government are committed to the Bill and believe, as I do, that it addresses a public nuisance which requires legislation, it is for them to legislate in what I would describe as an honest way by means of a Government Bill which is taken through the House in Government time.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Drake upon her part in making sure that something is done about this problem. First, may I reply to some of the points which have been made in the debate on these amendments. The hon. Member for Tooting referred to the long history of complaints with which he has had to deal in his constituency. I wholeheartedly endorse what he said. I know it to be true for two reasons. First, I live very close to his constituency, where I have many friends, and I know the Bedford hill area. The hon. Member does not exaggerate either the scale of the problem or the depth of public resentment about it.
Secondly, I have taken an interest in legislation concerning prostitution ever since I became a Member of Parliament six years ago. I know that the hon. Member for Tooting is always in the Chamber when there is a debate on the subject, and I recall an excellent Adjournment debate of his upon it. He has been doing his best for the six years that I have been a Member of Parliament—and, I am sure, for very much longer—to bring the matter to the attention of the House. Therefore I congratulate him, even though he and I will not agree on every point relating to the drafting of the Bill.
The hon. Member referred to the real annoyance and fear that is caused to women in his constituency. It is indeed a real annoyance, and on occasions really deep fear is experienced. And it is always a nuisance. One of the purposes of many of the amendments is simply to oblige the prosecution to bring evidence of that annoyance or fear.
On the basis of my observations and the many letters that I have received I have no doubt that people would be prepared to come before the courts and give evidence of the annoyance or fear caused not just to themselves as a result of being importuned but to themselves and their families as a result of living in a neighbourhood where such importuning goes on. The hon. Gentleman said that there would be a problem about bringing women to court as witnesses because they would be afraid or embarrassed, and I acknowledge that, as I tried to do on Second Reading. But we must also acknowledge that that is sometimes advanced as an argument for not bringing a woman to court as a witness in a case of rape. In such a case the annoyance, embarrassment and fear which result from having to come before a court is very real, yet that does not persuade us that it is not right to demand that such a woman should be called as a witness.
I fully accept my hon. Friend's point about how unpleasant, obnoxious and embarrassing it could be for someone to give evidence in those circumstances, but there is the other possibility that, in an area where kerb crawling is an undoubted damnation and nuisance about which something must be done, the residents will obviously take an interest in what is happening locally. It is not beyond imagination that if the Bill is amended in the way that my hon. Friend and I would wish, and enacted, the residents would become involved in the giving of evidence and that would be far more satisfactory than having insufficient evidence.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. If it ever happened that the Bill were enacted with this amendment and the police complained that they were unable to bring charges successfully because residents would not give evidence, I have no doubt that residents associations would be formed to ensure that such evidence was available.
The hon. Gentleman has drawn a comparison with victims of rape and spoken of the difficulties of getting people to appear in court in such circumstances. He drew attention to that on Second Reading, as indeed did I and several other hon. Members. But if that is the case, would logic suggest—the Minister drew the same comparison—that we should cut out the need for victims of rape to appear in court, or would he argue, as I would strongly argue, that court procedures for the victims of rape and many other crimes should be seriously reconsidered? We may not be able to make those perfect but they are now quite monstrous in their approach to such questions.
I agree. Many laws create real problems for innocent witnesses and victims of crime. They have real problems in giving evidence. We must look carefully at ways in which we can help and protect them. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North has tabled an amendment, which I hope will be reached later, relating to publicity that is given to such trials before a conviction. No doubt he will go into that in greater detail.
My hon. Friend the Member for Drake said that the speeches that she had heard so far gave her a sense of deja vu; that we have discussed all these matters in great detail in Committee. That is true of clause 1, when we discussed things in great detail. My hon. Friend the Minister spoke for at least three quarters of an hour on that, if one includes his many interruptions to my speech. I spoke at even greater length on clause 1. To a lesser extent clause 2 was satisfactorily discussed and dealt with in Committee.
Clause 3 and the remaining clauses were scarcely discussed at all in Committee. I was 20 minutes late for the third sitting of the Committee when we were about to embark on clause 3, and in my absence the Committee went through clause 3 and the remaining clauses with virtually no discussion. Therefore, it would not be right to say that the Bill had been effectively discussed in Committee. Clause 3 has had no attention at all yet and it deserves attention on Report.
My hon. Friend the Member for Drake said that to import into the Bill an element of nuisance or fear would emasculate it because the nuisance or fear is cumulative and is caused to residents. I have already said that under many of the amendments that we are discussing there is no problem about calling residents as witnesses. Their witness would be sufficient in the terms in which the amendments are drafted. My hon. Friend spoke about what she called the cumulative effect of this kind of activity. She has a strong point, but that is always an argument about which I worry when drafting legislation. Where the complaint is that a totality of activity is the nuisance rather than any individual's contribution to it. be it on matters of morality, public nuisance, obstruction or meetings in the street, if that argument is too easily allowed and we are not careful, we shall find ourselves prosecuting people who are not guilty of anything for something to which they may wittingly or unwittingly have contributed. One must be careful about such legislation.
My hon. Friend has a point because it is the cumulative activity that worries many residents. She spoke about people making love—if that is the right expression—in parked cars. That is already an offence. It is probably gross indecency, although I do not know under which section of the 1956 Act. If she were to advance that sort of argument too strongly, she would begin to say that what is unpleasant is not simply a particular couple making love in a particular car but all kinds of amorous activity going on in an area. One would then begin to wonder whether people should be prosecuted for kissing or petting in cars because that would contribute to a general level of activity that would be unwelcome to residents. I make that point because I want to warn the House that the argument about cumulative activity is dangerous. Whereas we cannot ignore it and must not always resist it, we must be alerted to the dangers of taking it too far.
Another example would be obstructing the highway. The point that one of my hon. Friends made about that was right. There is no problem about bringing an accused person to court, not for creating the totality of a cumulative effect but for making a significant contribution to that totality. That is what we should be trying to legislate against in the Bill. There are many other cases in which the contribution made by one particular car to obstructing the highway is not great but that does not make it hard for the police to bring charges successfully on the grounds that that car and others like it were contributing to an overall obstruction.
If cumulative nuisance is the problem with which we are minded to deal—I agree that it is—it is the individual contribution of the accused towards a cumulative nuisance against which we want to legislate. We should make it clear what that contribution has to be in order for a person to be found guilty. It is the purpose of some of the amendments to make that clear
It was said that it was all very well to complain and that if cumulative nuisance was what concerned us we should limit the effect of the legislation to areas where there was a cumulative nuisance. My hon. Friend the Member for Drake was asked why the legislation should apply to isolated areas where such offences were rare. My hon. Friend said that prosecutions would not be brought unless that was a particular problem.
I do not like legislation which leaves it to the police to decide when prosecution should and should not be brought. I accept that all legislation must leave an element of discretion to the police, but the less discretion that we can leave to the police the better. Hon. Members have argued for amendments that would narrow the discretion left to the police in bringing prosecutions, and that is right. If one takes my hon. Friend's logic to its conclusion, the best way to deal with the offence would be to make it an offence to wind down the window of a car and speak to a woman and rely on the good sense of the police not to prosecute except in cases where that was clearly a public nuisance. No one would suggest that that is the way to go. We can hone down the offence more effectively than that.
I do not recognise the argument that my hon. Friend is attributing to me, but never mind, I will not waste time on that. We shall soon have an independent prosecution service and if we look to the future rather than the present, surely my hon. Friend agrees that that will deal with some of the issues that are worrying him.
I look forward to the establishment of an independent prosecution service and I hope that it will make prosecution fairer and more equitable and that there will be nationally establishable criteria. However, we should not pass broad, catch-all laws and rely on the good sense of a hoped-for national prosecution service to ensure that the laws are enforced only when we would want them to be enforced. As far as possible, the law should fit the crime that we wish to prosecute. I am suggesting ways in which that could be done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Drake quoted the conclusion of the Criminal Law Revision Committee that it envisaged that in cases brought under clause 3 the woman would almost always have to be called as a witness. I do not see why the committee took that view. Clause 3 states:
A man commits an offence if he solicits a woman for sexual purposes in a manner likely to cause her fear.
Suppose that two police officers on a tube train see a person, who is obviously drunk, lunge and paw at a woman and hear him make indecent proposals to her and, when the train stops at a station, the woman runs off in panic and cannot be traced. If both police officers say that they saw that happen, I do not see why a court would feel that the woman had to be called as a witness. There ought to be an offence of which that man is guilty, whether or not we can find the woman to be a witness.
My hon. Friend the Member for Drake expounded at length on the worthiness and legal competence of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. Although men of such brilliance may not think it likely that a case could he proved unless a woman was called as a witness, I disagree, and hon. Members are still entitled to their opinions, however much we may respect the legal competence of the Criminal Law Revision Committee and the Minister.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Spencer) and the hon. Member for Tooting expounded at length on the fact that the public want the Bill. I know that, and I want a Bill that deals with the offence. However, I do not believe that the public are acquainted with the details of the Bill and I think that if they were, many would agree with me that we need a Bill to cover the offence, but that this Bill is too broadly drafted and could be effectively honed down without—to use the language of my hon. Friend the Member for Drake—emasculating it.
May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the editorial in The Guardian on 26 February? It said:
What women walking down the street want and what the residents of red light districts want is to be free from the annoyance and harassment of prostitution and soliciting.
However, it went on:
That welcome and belated insight does not mean that any and every measure based on it should be supported. The Bill is a typically narrow law and order way of dealing with the issue of prostitution.
The implication of that editorial is that we certainly want to deal with the problem, but that we want to deal with it in the right way.
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was responding to my hon. Friend for Northampton, North and I should not have been tempted to do so.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, South mentioned noise problems and said that people might feel a sense of grievance, but might not wish to air their grievance in court. There are many areas in the ordinary intercourse between human beings where grievances are felt, but where we would not wish to take them to court. I draw from that fact the rough and ready conclusion that that is a reasonable way of distinguishing between the sort of grievance that should come within the scope of the criminal law and the sort that ought not.
If people do not feel sufficiently strongly about noise, for example, to claim in court that it is causing them annoyance, that is an argument for not necessarily prosecuting the person who has caused the noise. I draw the same conclusion, rough and ready though it may be, about soliciting.
This is a disparate group—if that is not a contradiction in terms—of amendments. New clause 4 states:
an offence … shall not be proved unless the person who has been caused nuisance or fear gives evidence of such".
That is the proposition which we have been discussing for the past hour or two. I see problems in the new clause, but I have explained the circumstances in which it would be practicable to call people to give evidence of nuisance or fear and the new clause would improve the Bill.
I do not think that fear is the emotion which we should always demand before prosecuting someone. There may be cases in which the woman will be unwilling to give evidence and there will not be residents who can be called
as witnesses, but I have some sympathy with the new clause, because it would improve the Bill and would allow the law to be prosecuted reasonably. However, it would allow people to escape occasionally and allow some offences to go unchecked. Therefore, although the new clause would improve the Bill, there are preferable ways of achieving its objective. New clause 3 says:
A man commits an offence if in a street or public place he solicits women (or the same woman) for sexual purposes in a manner which causes nuisance or fear.
That is another way of achieving the effects that new clause 4 attempts to achieve.
Not being a lawyer, I am uncertain about what is meant by a man soliciting a woman. We all know what is meant by a woman soliciting a man, but what does my hon. Friend think is meant by references to a man soliciting a woman?
There are some problems about that, although they ought to have been dealt with under existing case law, because the offence of solicitation has been part of our criminal law for many years.
It is clear that a man who says to a woman, "How about it, darling?" or wolf whistles and waves pound notes out of a car window is soliciting, but it is less clear whether he is soliciting a woman if he is approached by her and indicates that the approach is not unwelcome and starts speaking to her. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Drake or the Minister will give us advice on that.
It is clear that the purpose of the Bill is to prosecute men who importune women. I use "importune" in the sense in which it is used on a daily basis, rather than with the meaning that has come to be attached to it under section 32 of the 1956 Act, which is male importuning. The court usage of importune has cheapened the word and in court it means only "solicit". However, in the ordinary sense of our language "importune" means to cause annoyance or, more fully, to persist to the annoyance or embarrassment of another person in solicitation. If we used importune in its real sense in section 32, I should be happy. If we could draft the Bill in a way that made it clear that men who importuned would be guilty of an offence and not those who merely asked or replied to an invitation, the Bill would be greatly improved. The clauses that we are discussing represent a variety of ways of achieving that effect.
I direct myself now to new clause 7. When you think that it is an appropriate moment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that you will permit a Division on the clause. It takes an entirely different approach to the other new clauses and I should like to press it to a Division. The clause states:
The reference in section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 to a man persistently soliciting or importuning in a public place for immoral purposes shall be taken as applying to men soliciting women as well as men soliciting men.".
My purpose is to extend section 32 of the 1956 Act in the way that I have outlined. I believe that the section so expanded and clarified would render clauses 1 and 2 unnecessary. It would be a satisfactory substitute for the first two clauses.
In previous times it was unclear whether section 32 applied only to male-to-male soliciting or whether it applied also to a man soliciting a woman. There was a famous case called Crook v. Edmondson in which the prosecution argued that the phrase "for immoral purposes" could include a man wishing to attract the services of a prostitute and did not have to be a man soliciting a man. Unfortunately, the court found that section 32 was intended to cover only male-to-male soliciting. Ever since then section 32 has been used to cover only man-to-man importuning. There is no reason why it should be restricted in that way. I find the decision in Crook v. Edmondson rather eccentric and it seems that my hon. Friend the Member for Drake agrees with me. Indeed, she said so in Committee.
In its interim paper, the Criminal Law Revision Committee considered the possibility of acting in the way that I am proposing in new clause 7. It discussed the option of clarifying section 32 to make it clear that it covers man-to-woman as well as man-to-man solicitations, rather than drafting a new Bill on kerb crawling. The Committee decided that that was not the best approach. It stated that under section 32 there is a need to prove persistence. It felt that in any new legislation there should be no need to prove persistence. I believe that that view was shared by the police.
In clause 2, there is a need to prove persistence and the word "persistently" appears in it. Clause 1 covers solicitation from a motor vehicle and under that clause there is no need to prove persistence. It is the argument about persistence to which I shall turn.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State was quizzed repeatedly in Committee by my hon. Friends and me about why there should have to be persistence proved in soliciting on the pavement and not from a motor vehicle. None of us who felt that the distinction was anomalous has been persuaded by my hon. Friend's answer; indeed, we have not been able to understand it. He appears to take the view that the problem lies in the cumulative nuisance that is involved in soliciting from a motor vehicle and that it does not matter whether 10 men solicit once or five men solicit twice. He argues that in either circumstance the same nuisance will be caused and that we should be able to prosecute 10 men who solicit once as easily as five who solicit twice. He is right, but that argument applies with equal force also to soliciting on the pavement. It applies with equal force also to clause 2. It does not matter whether in an area of London or Leicester, where prostitution is common, five men solicit twice on the pavement or 10 men solicit once. It does not matter particularly whether five prostitutes are extremely persistent or whether 10 are less persistent. The result is the same because the same nuisance is caused. If we are to accept my hon. Friend's logic on clause 1, why should we not accept it on clause 2?
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State advanced another argument which still baffles me. He suggested that there was something innately offensive about soliciting from a motor vehicle. He seemed to imply that soliciting from a pavement was not quite so offensive. I disagree with him. I consider soliciting on a pavement to be more offensive than from a motor car. Why do men solicit from motor vehicles? It can be a slightly less intrusive way of trawling for what they seek to catch than walking along a pavement and importuning women. As it is less intrusive to solicit from a motor vehicle than to do so on the pavement, many men choose the anonymity of motor vehicles from which to solicit. I cannot understand my hon. Friend's logic or that of the Home Office. If pavement soliciting is not yet legal or smiled upon by the Home Office, it is apparently more genteel, less intrusive and less offensive than soliciting from motor vehicles.
As car soliciting is a much more convenient way of picking up prostitutes than soliciting on the pavement, men have turned in increasing numbers to looking for women from their cars rather than suffering the embarrassment of soliciting while walking along the pavement. Therefore, kerb crawling has become a more popular way of picking up prostitutes than walking along the pavement. In one sense, my hon. Friend is right because kerb crawling is more of a nuisance now than pavement soliciting, but that is only because men have chosen to solicit from their cars rather than from on the pavement. The reduced burden of proof under clause 1 and the increased burden under clause 2 could lead to wise men seeking legal advice and deciding in future to look for a woman on foot on the street rather than from their cars. If that happens, the unintended consequence of the Bill would be a reduction in the incidence of kerb crawling and an increase in pavement soliciting. We would return to the earlier days of the century when pavement soliciting was a greater problem than it is now.
Can my hon. Friend see into the mind of our hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and understand why it should be necessary for persistence to be proved when dealing with someone who has been looking for a woman while on foot but not while doing so from a car? I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) is concerned about the innocent suffering miscarriages of justice. Why is it necessary that persistence should be proved? It would be useful to know at this stage what it is that causes our hon. Friend to say that persistence is essential if we are to convict someone who walks on the pavement and solicits women but not if he solicits women from his car. What is the difference?
That is the point that I have been trying to make, perhaps inadequately. I do not understand what the difference is. I have tried to recount the explanation of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State but I am baffled by it and perhaps I have not given a fair recounting. It may be that my hon. Friend will be able to explain his argument. I think that he has misunderstood the revision committee's logic. The committee has never suggested that kerb crawling is more of a nuisance than pavement soliciting or that there is something uniquely offensive about soliciting from a car which does not apply to soliciting on the pavement. The committee goes for persistence and is prepared to lay down persistence because the requirement to prove persistence makes it slightly more difficult to make the charges stick and therefore reduces the possibility of mistaken accusation. That is a good reason for importing an element of persistence into section 32 and clauses 1 and 2.
Page 38 of the Criminal Law Revision Committee's interim report considers the possibility of abolishing the element of persistence in section 32 and decides that we should not abolish it because:
The requirement that the soliciting should be persistent in our view remains principally to reduce the possibility of mistaken accusation since the offence is not related to prostitutes.
That is why we need persistence in section 32, why the Home Office accepts that we need it in clause 2 and why we need it in clause 1.
New clause 7 would sweep away clauses 1 and 2 and extend section 32 of the 1956 Act so that it would cover soliciting on the pavements and from motor vehicles. The soliciting will have to be for an immoral purpose. Seeking the services of a prostitute would be found by the courts to be an immoral purpose. It would have to be persistent. Persistent does not mean persistent under English law; it means twice. We should not be laying a heavy burden upon the shoulders of the police or the prosecution. "Twice" has almost always been enough to satisfy courts of the element of persistence. Section 32 would then cover men-to-women soliciting as well as men-to-men and the public nuisances outlined by the hon. Member for Tooting, my hon. Friend the Member for Drake and others. New clause 7 would replace clauses 1 and 2.
I have listened with the greatest care to the issues that have been raised. There is no one here who would be anything but sad and disappointed if the Bill failed because of lack of time. We agree with most of the Bill's intentions. Many of us admire my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) for giving us the opportunity to discuss a difficult problem. As I understand it, most of us, and many other hon. Members who unfortunately cannot be here, accept that there is a nuisance and that genuine distress is caused to residents in many towns. I am pleased to say that in the rather quiet and more salubrious avenues of Cheltenham, which I have the honour to serve, we do not have those problems. We have other problems, of course.
It would be a disaster if we could not speedily find solutions to some of the fairly thin arguments against the Bill. I understand my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris). In trying to dispose of the nuisance, we cannot push on one side the genuine anxiety about protecting the innocent. However, the House has a responsibility to listen to residents associations and the many other groups of people who are distressed by the behaviour we are discussing and the things that happen in their locality. However, we must take care that in sweeping away that activity it does not go under the table and reappear in another form. We must protect the innocents who could be caught up in an offence. We have seen that happen with importuning, and many people have been ruined.
I cannot believe that my hon. Friend the Minister, with his renowned brilliance, could not leap up with a sensible compromise to deal with the problem and save hon. Members from the disastrous blow of losing a Bill which has much to commend it. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West agree?
I agree. If my hon. Friend the Minister will leap up and say that he will insert the word "persistently" into clause 1 or that he is prepared to contemplate doing so, my major anxieties about the Bill will melt away and I shall be able to melt away as well. I should be happy with the Bill were that improvement made. The matter rests on my hon. Friend's shoulders. If he wishes to speed the Bill's progress, he should allow the word "persistently" to be included in clause 1.
I continue as my hon. Friend plainly is not going to interrupt at this stage, although I am willing to be interrupted.
I feel that I cannot refuse that invitation. My hon. Friend is advancing, almost at as great length as he did in Committee, an argument which was shot down in Committee. I may well be able to meet some of the more reasonable points that have been made during the debate if I have the opportunity to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend is blatantly holding a pistol to my head and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) and saying that if we include the word "persistently"—flying in the face not just of the Criminal Law Revision Committee's advice and that of the Wolfenden committee that it would make a dead letter of the provision—he will let us have the Bill. What is the point of having a clause which is a dead letter? I should prefer my hon. Friend to take the responsibility for his act of blackmail and for the failure of the Bill.
I remind the House that one of the reasons why the amendment was not selected was that it was dealt with exhaustively in Committee. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) must not keep referring to it. He should come to the amendments that have been selected and say why they should be accepted or rejected.
I am discussing one of the amendments, Mr. Deputy Speaker—new clause 7. It attempts to import the word "persistently" into the offence that we are trying to proscribe. My hon. Friend the Minister is a man of great competence. I admire and respect his intellect, but occasionally he goes a little too far. That is his failing. He goes slightly over the top, and he has done so again.
I am not trying to blackmail my hon. Friend. I do not wish to blackmail anyone. I do not wish to obstruct the Bill. With my small amendment, the Bill would be good, but without it, it would be bad.
I shall have one more try. It is my hon. Friend's ego that is on trial. The amendments which have been supported by the Opposition go to a different point. They relate to whether the person who is subject to the solicitation should be brought before the court. That is a serious point. When I have the opportunity, I shall deal with it. Hon. Members have also asked whether clause 3 is appropriate, and I want to deal with that. My hon. Friend is ploughing the lonely furrow of "persistently". As you said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it was dealt with exhaustively in Committee. My hon. Friend might as well accept that he is saying that the House should pass the Bill that he wants. We are not prepared to be blackguarded in that way.
Their new clauses and amendments are frankly unacceptable. Although their reasons for tabling them are strong, there are strong arguments against them and the Minister is confident that he can dispose of them. The Minister would rather avoid discussion of my new clause because he knows that the importation of the element of persistence into clause 1 is not a wrecking amendment. It is perfectly workable and would commend itself to a great many people, including the Law Society, which wants something of exactly that nature. I hope that the Minister will deal with that point.
At the risk of assisting my hon. Friend in his filibuster, may I remind him that he has already been told that no amendment dealing with the concept of persistence has been selected, for the very good reason that we spent two sittings on it in Committee and my hon. Friend was defeated. Those who supported him in the Division have accepted that defeat and have come back with other more constructive suggestions, and I believe that in due course, given the opportunity, we shall be able to reach accommodation on them. My hon. Friend is using those other amendments in order to speak in support of an amendment that has not been selected because it was disposed of in Committee. He cannot blame me if I do not find that an attractive proposition.
I wish that the Minister would read the Amendment Paper and read the legislation. My new clause 7, to which I am now speaking, says:
The reference in section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 to a man persistently soliciting or importuning in a public place for immoral purposes shall be taken as applying to men soliciting women as well as men soliciting men.
Section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act makes it an offence for a man persistently to solicit or importune in a public place for immoral purposes. Therefore, to adopt new clause 7, to which I am speaking, is to import into the Bill the element of persistence, and I am not going out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
My hon. Friend is seeking to widen the ambit of a section in another Act. It might have been a helpful step had it been taken some years ago. However, it has now been overtaken by clauses 1 and 2 of this Bill. It is no good my hon. Friend seeking to assert that an amendment slipped into this Bill to amend another Act of Parliament has the same effect as a primary amendment to a clause of this Bill; it has not. My hon. Friend is trying to change clause 1 of this Bill, and that is not on the Amendment Paper before us. The fact that he wants to use this Bill to amend an Act of Parliament is not to the point.
That is not the effect of what I am trying to do. If we widen section 32 in the way that my new clause proposes, and if we vote against clause 1 stand part and against clause 2 stand part, we shall be replacing clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill with a widening of section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act, thus importing the element of persistence into all forms of men soliciting women, from a motor car and from the street. That is my argument, and I remain convinced that it is within order. In order to prevent an unpleasant squabble, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall try to move from my new clause 7 as quickly as I can, but I want first to say something in response to what the Minister has said.
It is less than honest—and, with the respect that I have for the Minister's intellect, I find it hard to believe that he honestly believes it—to say that importing the element of persistence into clause 1 will make the Bill a dead letter. I do not believe that, and I do not believe that the Minister can believe it. Section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act makes it an offence—
My new clause 7 has been selected. It refers to section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act and applies it to the offences with which we are now dealing. I believe that it can be so applied, and with benefit. It is already being applied in cases of men soliciting men, and it is not a dead letter. Many cases of men soliciting men are brought successfully. It has not proved impossible for the police to prove persistence; indeed, in many ways it has proved too easy for the police to do that. There is no reason why the same burden of proof should not apply in cases of men soliciting women from a motor vehicle.
My hon. Friend the Minister seems to be getting quite aggressive, hectoring and almost bullying in his attitude to amendments to the Bill. Will my hon. Friend put it to the Minister that the Law Society itself has said that "persistence" should be imported into all aspects of the Bill, including kerb crawling? It is all very well for my hon. Friend the Minister to dismiss us as mere Back Benchers and representatives of people of no account, but he has yet to dismiss the Law Society. What are his opinions on the Law Society's views?
I am sure that the Minister will deal with the Law Society's objections to the Bill, as drafted, when he speaks in due course.
I do not care in this House to throw across the Floor examples of distinguished bodies which may or may not support the argument that one is proposing. One mentions them and their evidence and then makes one's own decision on the basis of one's own judgment. That is what I am trying to do.
I turn now to amendment No. 33, on which I do not need to dwell. If the House accepts my new clause 7 it should accept amendment No. 33, because my new clause 7 will effectively replicate for men soliciting women the provisions under clause 2 which amendment No. 33 seeks to delete. Therefore, amendment No. 33 should be taken hand in hand with my new clause 7 and supported for the same reasons as my new clause 7 should be supported.
I turn briefly to amendment No. 40, which has been tabled in the names of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) and several other hon. Members. The amendment deals with clause 2 and says:
at end insert 'in a manner that causes offence or nuisance to others'.
We have dealt with the benefits and with some of the problems of importing into the Bill a requirement that it be proved that the behaviour in question was such as to cause offence or nuisance to others, or such as would be likely to cause offence or nuisance to others. As I have told the House, I think that would improve the Bill, but I do not think that it is so elegant or so fair a way of improving it as my new clause 7. That is why I think that the Minister would rather talk about the other amendments than about my new clause 7. But I shall say one thing on amendment No. 40, which is to be taken hand in hand with the other amendments on nuisance and fear.
If we were to import into the Bill a requirement that nuisance or fear be caused or shown, it would make it harder, if not impossible, for the police to use police women as decoys in entrapping people into an offence such as this and prosecuting them. It would be hard to persuade even the most hardened magistrates that a woman police constable who had specifically behaved in such a manner as to attract the attentions of a motorist could then reasonably complain that she had been caused nuisance or offence by so behaving. Obviously, she would have been doing it in the course of her duty. Nuisance or offence would not be caused, so the importation of such a requirement would curb the police in the use of women police constables as decoys.
In Committee, the Minister said something about decoys but not very much. First, he said that entrapment was unthinkable and that it was wrong to use entrapment measures. I point out to him that the police have used entrapment measures for a long time in the prosecution of the Justices of the Peace Act 1361 and are still using them. Now that he has told the Committee that it must not do so, I hope that he will also tell the police that they must not do so.
The Minister then went to to say that he was not sure that a woman police constable who might be in plain clothes and who might simply be walking up—and possibly down—a street would necessarily be taking part in entrapment in the way that we have defined it in Committee and in the way in which we were criticising it. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will expand on that as it is clear to me that any police officer—woman or man—who walks or dresses in such a way or stands in such a place as to attract the attentions of men or women seeking to solicit or importune is acting as a decoy and entrapping. I hope that my hon. Friend will make it clear that that is not the right way for the police to deal with this type of offence, which can be prosecuted far more effectively and fairly without encouraging people to break the law so that they can then be charged and prosecuted.
Amendment No. 41 seeks to achieve the same purpose as the previous amendments but in a slightly different way. It provides:
The person or persons to whom nuisance or offence has been caused may be required to give evidence of such nuisance or offence.
Amendment No. 47 seeks to leave out clause 3. The Chair in its wisdom has decided that the merits of clause 3 are to be discussed with this group, although it is a large and slightly different subject. As I know that other hon. Members will wish to speak on this, I shall be as brief as possible.
Clause 3 states:
A man commits an offence if he solicits a woman for sexual purposes in a manner likely to cause her fear.
That is very wide. We can all think of circumstances in which men behaving in that way ought to be prosecuted, but there are some circumstances in which that should not be the case. For a start, it seems strange that the clause does not specify that the offence must take place in a street or public place. That being so, it would seem possible for a woman to bring a prosecution against her husband for soliciting her for sexual purposes in a manner likely to cause her fear. The House may regard that as a welcome change in the law. It would also involve concomitant changes in the rape law. The House may believe that those changes should be made, but we should not import through the back door such a wide intrusion into the domestic scene without proper discussion. I should welcome an explanation from my hon. Friend the Minister or from my hon. Friend the promoter as to why the clause is not restricted to streets or public places when it seeks to deal with a public nuisance.
Previous legislation has shown that a public place does not include foyers of hotels, cinemas and the like. Although such places at first sight appear to be public places they have been construed in the past not to be so. That is the reason.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) has said that he wishes to be brief. I remind him that he has already been speaking for an hour.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend.
I know that I must take care not to mention section 32 of the 1956 Act, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the circumstances in which it was thought right to prosecute under that legislation were confined to offences in public places, so I cannot see why the same should not apply to my hon. Friend's Bill. I do not know the exact situation with regard to foyers of cinemas, but in general I gather that the legal definition of a public place is wider rather than narrower than the general public would suppose. For instance, I believe that it may include pubs, clubs and other places that one would not generally regard as public places. I believe that it means places to which the public have access. That is just the type of place to which prosecutions for offences of this nature should apply.
My hon. Friend is being very tolerant to me today, giving way kindly and gracefully on each occasion. The genesis of this measure came from the Criminal Law Revision Committee. As we heard at an earlier stage in the proceedings on the Bill, that committee took the view that conduct which caused fright would probably have features allowing charges to be brought for another criminal offence. To that extent, therefore, activities of the kind to which the clause relates are already covered. Does my hon. Friend agree that in those circumstances clause 3 is redundant and possibly harmful?
Clause 3 attempts to deal with a real public nuisance with which other laws already deal, but I do not believe that the existing law satisfactorily covers all the circumstances in which men may make offensive sexual propositions to women in public. In my view, that is because it is almost impossible to frame a law which would effectively isolate that type of behaviour. In other words, the existing legislation has not protected woman in the way that they would like to be protected because no legislation can do so and I fear that clause 3 may fall foul of the same problems.
I am mindful of the fact that I have spoken for too long so I will say nothing further about clause 3 and I shall not comment on amendments Nos. 58, 59 and 60, which have already been reasonably fully discussed.
My amendment No. 61 would allow a person accused under clause 3 the right to trial by jury if the accused prefers that to a summary trial in a magistrates court. Similar amendments in relation to clauses 1 and 2 have not been selected.
In the context of male-to-male importuning, the Criminal Law Revision Committee considered whether men accused of such offences should be entitled to trial by jury. On page 17 of its 16th report, it concluded:
There is no doubt, however, that a conviction for homosexual soliciting can have consequences of the utmost seriousness for a man. Most members of the public are likely to take a serious view of the offence. Partly for this reason and partly because the evidence in support of the charge is likely to be given wholly by the police special provision may have to be made to enable an accused person to retain his right to trial by jury.
I agree with the Criminal Law Revision Committee in the context of section 32 offences and I believe that exactly the same arguments apply to offences under clause 3—and, indeed, under clauses 1 and 2.
Which of us, and which of the distinguished members of the Criminal Law Revision Committee, would feel confident that our careers could survive a conviction either under section 32 or under clause 1, 2 or 3 of the Bill? Our careers would be in serious jeopardy. A conviction of that kind would spell, if not certain ruin, at least the danger of ruin for almost all professional people and, indeed, most others. Anyone enjoying a reasonable reputation in his family and neighbourhood who is successfully convicted of an offence under the Bill will find that if his life is not completely wrecked his reputation is all but destroyed.
In that context, the penalties set out in the Bill are not especially severe. We all know that the real penalty for a conviction is not the two months imprisonment or the £100 fine but the newspaper publicity and the public knowledge of the conviction. That is almost as severe a punishment as can be meted out to anyone. For that reason, it is important that in cases of this kind the accused should have the right to trial by jury. If he prefers a quick trial in a magistrates court, he should be able so to elect, but if he believes that he is innocent and wishes a jury to hear the case there is every reason to allow him that right. That is the thinking behind the last of my amendments.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that the Bill addresses itself to genuine problems. However, many hon. Members believe that action should be taken only if the Bill is amended or if certain concession are made. I shall address myself to that, and especially new clauses 3 and 4.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) who believes that the evidence of two policemen who witness an incident on a public transport vehicle should be sufficient, despite the fact that the person approached may have disappeared. Clearly one side of that argument is the anxiety to protect the interests of the individual who is being offended. The other side is that such a provision could be used as a new kind of sus law. Many of my constituents have made representations to me about that. Claims could be made by the police without evidence from another party. The hon. Gentleman stressed that that could damage professional people, but it could also damage non-professional people. Many of my constituents are relieved by the suspension of the sus provisions.
The Bill needs to be amended along the lines of new clauses 3 and 4. It is not even-handed or consistent. It is regrettable to insist that a woman who is solicited in such a way as amounts to a criminal offence under the Bill should have to give evidence in court, whereas the evidence of a police officer alone is sufficient to obtain the conviction for soliciting of a woman who has been labelled, again on police evidence alone, as a common prostitute. If a woman were to have to give evidence to secure a conviction under the Bill, it should be subject to legal, not just guideline, safeguards. The defendant should not have to give her name and address publicly and she should not be asked questions about her sexual history or lifestyle. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) made those points, and I endorse them.
The change to the Bill should not be called for without at the same time demanding that no woman should be convicted of soliciting for the purposes of prostitution—whilst such an offence continues to exist—without the evidence of the man who was allegedly solicited. The House should address itself to that inconsistency, even at this late stage, and I hope that the Minister will pay attention to it.
I wish to make some summary points about how we should strengthen the Bill if it is to proceed. I propose that "sufficient evidence" is the word of the woman accosted or concerned. Secondly, will the Minister assure the House now—it will help hon. Members to decide how to vote—that a woman should not have to give her name and address in open court for the defendant, representatives, associates or press to hear? That is an extremely important safeguard, and I trust that the Minister will concede that point when he replies. Thirdly, will he assure us that a woman will not be questioned about her sexual history or moral character? Fourthly, if the police fail to prosecute, legal aid should be available—
I accept that that is most unpleasant and distressful. However, does not the hon. Gentleman agree that evidence about a woman's background may have a significant effect on the validity of the evidence? Could not an innocent person be accused and found guilty because of the inadequacy of the evidence and because it has not been examined properly and in context?
Women in my constituency who have made representations on the matter regard it as important that questions about sexual history should not be raised. If they were, they would be unwilling to give evidence. Many women are in fear when they walk on the streets, especially in inner city areas. If we are to protect them, there should be a procedure by which they can be identified and their identity known, but not known in open court, as they could then be subject to further harassment following their appearance in court. Many hon. Members know from constituency experience that that occurs. It has certainly occurred on estates in my constituency, and the matter has been brought to my attention by the women involved.
It is important that the annoyances should be interpreted. There is a coincidence in one sense between the subjective and objective criteria in the Bill. It is not the adjectival and substantive point that has been made, but if the person involved is prepared to give the evidence—that is subjective evidence for them and objective evidence in court—it should be given.
I encourage the Minister to pay attention even at this late stage to those points. If he is prepared to concede them, he may get a more favourable response from some Labour Members.
The debate has gone on for nearly three hours and it may be convenient to the Committee if I put the Government's point of view. During the morning I have discussed the developing position with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), and I have reason to believe that what I say will be said on her behalf as well as mine.
There is a substantial element of common ground and sufficient goodwill among most hon. Members for progress on the Bill to be made. However, I cannot meet certain points because I cannot recommend a Bill which would not achieve its purposes. Those who wish to insist on a measure which will negate the measure's purpose —however much they may claim to the contrary—must take it on their heads if the consequence of their dissatisfaction is the destruction of the Bill. As Emerson once said, the more he protested his honesty, the more we counted the spoons. The more people are determined to pursue an egotistical view of what the Bill should contain, and the more they are determined that everyone should fall in line as the price of allowing the measure to be passed, the more they must take personal responsibility for the fact that the measure is not passed.
No, I shall not give way at this stage.
There is common ground between Ministers and Opposition Front Bench spokesmen, and I wish to build on that today. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), who has spoken with great clarity and sincerity at every stage of the Bill's proceedings, made it clear that two matters are common ground between us. I suspect that he was speaking for his hon. Friends when he said that, especially for the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson), who speaks for the Opposition on women's issues and who recognises, as we do, that many women are following today's proceedings with close interest. The hon. Gentleman said that women have the right to go anywhere without fear of harassment, and that there is a major problem in some parts of the country.
That is an important statement because, as I said to the Committee, when the Wolfenden committee considered the matter in 1957, it believed that the difficulties of changing the law on kerb crawling were such that it was inappropriate to do so because it was not persuaded by the evidence at the time that the problem was substantial enough to justify grappling with the difficulties. However, the committee made some far-reaching and worthwhile recommendations for change in other parts of the criminal law, which most of us present today would have accepted at the time.
The problem has developed since then. We heard an eloquent speech from the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) about the problems in his constituency which extend to the constituency of the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs). I am sorry that I must intervene in the debate before he does, but he knows why that must be so. We also heard from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Spencer), and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) was also in his place ready to speak. All of them spoke about the problems caused by kerb crawling in their constituencies.
The Criminal Law Revision Committee undertook a painstaking review of the present law and its inadequacies, advised by a much more broadly based committee of non-lawyers. I would be the first to agree, as a lawyer, that lawyers do not have the only views on this matter. Therefore, a policy advisory committee was established consisting of distinguished social workers, educationists, psychiatrists and the rest to advise on some policy areas. The Criminal Law Revision Committee said that every group but one recognised that the problem of kerb crawling was sufficiently acute in enough areas to require a change in the law. Therefore, it proposed a change in the law. However, we all recognise that when we change the criminal law—as the junior Minister responsible for criminal law, I say this openly—there must be a heavy burden of evidence in favour of that change. Every time we add an offence, we add the possibility of unreasonable prosecution and unfair conviction. The only reason for changing the law is that the problem has become so acute that we need an offence, and no other offence is available except the rusty old blunderbuss of the 1361 Act.
My hon. Friend has been jumping up and down all morning. I wish to develop the argument and, when he has heard a little more, I shall be happy to give way to him, in the hope, which I trust will not be in vain, that he is here to try to be reasonable on this issue.
The Criminal Law Revision Committee recommended three distinct offences that are reproduced in my hon. Friend's Bill. The first dealt with kerb crawling, by which we mean the solicitation of women from a motor vehicle, and provided that it is an offence if a man solicits from a motor vehicle a woman for the purposes of prostitution. The committee then addressed the problem of the solicitation of women on foot, because it recognised that, if it did not do so, the kerb crawler would simply go on foot. It recognised the distinction between the problem of solicitation from motor cars and the less acute social problem of solicitation on foot and, therefore, recommended that solicitation on foot should have an element of persistence. It was not accidental that it left the element of persistence out of clause 1, and I shall defend that position in due course in the hope that I can remain within the rules of order. We had an exhaustive debate on it in Committee.
The committee then proposed a third, more serious offence not restricted to a public place. A public place has been defined restrictively in the courts so that it does not include places that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or I as ordinary mortals, might consider to be public. The committee proposed a broader offence, punishable more severely, of a man soliciting a woman for sexual purposes in a manner likely to cause her fear.
Let me deal with what might prove to be the easier issues first. It has been no secret—I had this conversation with the hon. Member for Hammersmith at all stages of the Bill—that my hon. Friend the Member for Drake and I are least happy with clause 3. We recognise the problem that must be addressed, and we recognise the reasons why the Criminal Law Revision Committee made the recommendation that it did. The dilemma was brought into sharp focus by several hon. Members who spoke in the debate, especially by the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo), with whom I had a helpful exchange. The Criminal Law Revision Committee recommended a formulation for the offence, which it believes is objective and does not place an innocent male in danger of encountering an especially troubled female, which would lead to an unreasonable suggestion that she had been put in fear by something that he said.
A number of hon. Members at all stages of the Bill have expressed reservations as to whether the mischief met by clause 3 sufficiently outweighs the doubts about the way that it is drafted and its underlying thinking. They are worried about whether people will be exposed to the threat of being brought before courts when the case for adding this more serious and more widely cast offence has not been properly made out. Having discussed the matter with my hon. Friend the Member for Drake as a result of the opportunity offorded by the extended speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris)—the speech served a useful purpose on that count at least—I am happy to say that I would be minded to recommend the House to accept amendment No. 47, which deletes clause 3, on the basis that, as a consequence of the discussions that we have had, it would be appropriate for us to say not that we do not think that there is a problem of women being placed in fear and therefore nothing needs to be sorted out, but that we are not satisfied that the way in which that is being done in the Bill is the right way. Time is of the essence now, and rather than fall out over this and lose other parts of the Bill on which there is more widespread agreement. it may be better to lose clause 3.
I hope that this compromise, endorsed by my hon. Friend the Member for Drake, will show that we are prepared to listen to those points on which it is possible to make progress without damaging the fundamental purpose of the Bill.
Any change in the right direction is welcome. Will my hon. Friend, as well as bringing into play the evidence of those august bodies that support his argument, address the argument of the Law Society that, for kerb crawling, persistence is of the essence? Will he comment on the remark made to him by the National Association of Probation Officers which he quoted in a parliamentary answer? It was that the Bill
might lead to allegations of harassment from disadvantaged groups, and to police officers acting as agents provocateurs; that the police already had sufficient powers to deal with this nuisance, but have given little priority to it".—[Official Report, 20 March 1985; Vol. 75, c. 495.]
I do not know why my hon. Friend is not prepared to allowed me to make my speech in the usual way and have the faith in me that others have. They know that if major issues have been raised in the debate, I shall deal with them in my own time. I do not know why he seeks to interrupt me and to distort my speech with the answers to questions that he wants rather than allowing me to deal with the matter. I said that I would give way to my hon. Friend if, at the end of my remarks, I had failed to satisfy him.
My hon. Friend spoke of taking a step in the right direction, which is different from the response that I think most others will make, which is that this has swept away most of the impediments that lie in the path of the Bill getting a Third Reading. It is interesting that, from his standpoint and perspective, he should consider this as merely a step in the right direction. I am interested that it appears that the welfare of women is of so little moment to him that he can regard the removal of one third of the Bill as being merely a step in the right direction. Many people, including his constituents, may be interested to know on what basis he has reached that view.
I was not intending to provoke my hon. Friend into explaining it now. He will no doubt tell us at a later point.
I hope that I have established the good will of those who are anxious to make progress with the Bill by saying that I am persuaded that clause 3 might usefully be deleted in the absence of the clear consent to the balance that it strikes that I should want to see before we make progress. I shall now address some other difficult points.
Some matters relating to the manner in which prosecutions are likely to be brought and the way in which the police will approach the powers that we shall give them under clauses 1 and 2, if we do so, are worthy of consideration and have been raised in the debate. It is important that there should be clarity about the way in which the police will approach their powers. That is why I welcome the clear evidence from the Metropolitan police that it wishes to give signs that would enable the House to proceed with confidence. I am sure that police committees in other police forces can obtain the same clarity. Indeed, it is the wish of the Home Office that that should be done.
On the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West, not only have we told the House that we are against the use of an agent provocateur, but that finds its way into the force orders. The question of what is an agent provocateur is open to debate. I stand by what I said in Committee—that a policewoman dressed in a sexually provocative manner might constitute an agent provocateur, whereas a policewomen walking down the street soberly dressed would not. If a problem in an area causes the public to look to the police for assistance, a woman who is properly and reasonably dressed and not calling attention to herself is exercising the right of any woman. The fact that she is a policewoman does not make her an agent provocateur. The crucial safeguard against police abuse of that power is contained in clause 1.
The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) made his points with considerable lucidity and in short order. I wish to respond positively to him. I am not being trite in saying that I know that he has heavy responsibilities as a Front Bench spokesman on other matters and was therefore unable to be with us when the matter was first raised. I take seriously any charge that this is a return to the sus laws. I was proud to be a member of the Committee that abolished them. I was opposed to them because of my experience as a lawyer. Therefore, I was glad that one of the first Committees on which I served removed them. Indeed, I campaigned strongly for their abolition. I hope that that gives me a certain credibility in these matters.
The problem with the sus laws was that all that needed to be shown was that someone was behaving suspiciously. Clause 1 goes further than that. The requirement is that a man has solicited a woman for the purposes of prostitution. That act of solicitation requires a clear indication in words. Therefore, that will rarely be open to construction from distant observation. There will hardly be any places where actions would be a substitute for words. It requires clear hearing of the words used. Therefore, that will almost always require that the woman was blatantly a prostitute, got into the car and went off with the man—therefore action is the substitute for words—or it would require the woman to come forward with a complaint about the words used and for that to be established.
There is no scope for the police, on their own, to deal with that matter in the manner in which the critics of the sus laws suggest. I hope that the hon. Member for Vauxhall accepts that that is a careful distinction. I would not recommend clause 1 if I thought that in my sixth year in Parliament I was putting back into law what I was so pleased to take out in my first year. The Metropolitan police orders make it clear I imagine that other force orders do the same—that when under section 32 of the Sexual Offences Acts a man has been importuned, that man should be approached and asked to give his name and address and to attend court. If the victim refuses to give that assistance, the particulars should be noted in the officer's pocket book and stated in evidence.
If the Bill becomes law, it is crucial that precisely the same arrangements should be instituted for women alleged to be the victims of an offence under clauses 1 and 2. That would provide a number of safeguards, which meets the point made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith. He fairly pointed out that the major reform that is proceeding with all-party consent for the creation of an independent prosecution service is of great relevance to this matter. It will mean that, when the police have charged someone, the papers have to be passed to the independent prosecutor. He will have to look at those force orders and, if it is clear that an individual was solicited and that individual was not a prostitute and therefore had no good reason for saying that she would not come to court, one of the deciding factors about whether the independent prosecutor was prepared to recommend the prosecution would have to be whether he was satisfied with the good faith of the officers as demonstrated in their explanation of why the woman would not come to court.
It would be possible for the woman to be approached again at that stage and asked whether she would give a statement and attend court. It would be open to the independent prosecutor I stress the word "independent", because we are abolishing the solicitor-client relationship between the police and their solicitors—would be entitled to say that he would not allow the prosecution to go forward and that he was not satisfied with the strength of the evidence because the independent component was missing.
The matter would then have to go before the court, and again the officer would have to note in his pocket book the reason why assistance was refused. That would be brought out in court, and it would be open to the magistrates to decide for themselves whether they thought that a conviction was proper if they were not satisfied with the explanation about why the woman complainant was not present.
I hope that those are sensible safeguards. If within the parameters that I have set out there is a feeling amongst hon. Members that other steps could be taken as part of the discussions between us and the police force about what is found in force orders, that is a matter upon which we are always ready to give constructive advice and assistance. But I am not prepared to recommend any suggestion that it should be compulsory for the woman to give evidence or that a provision should be put into the statute to the effect that using such words as "nuisance or fear" had that effect.
I have said that in most cases it will be obviously right if a woman is an innocent member of the public that she will want to give evidence. But it is the clear advice of successive committees which have studied this matter that the effect of requiring someone alleged to have been annoyed to give evidence would be to enact a dead letter.
I shall not quote the Criminal Law Revision Committee's report because most hon. Members have read it and have their views about how far they are persuaded by it. But given that most hon. Members, especially those antipathetic to this measure, will favourably regard the Wolfenden report, it may be worth reminding the House what that said about this. That committee was discussing not kerb crawling but parallel offences relating to solicitation by prostitutes. However, the argument is robust against that limited change. The Wolfenden report said in paragraph 255:
The proposition that to require the person alleged to have been annoyed to give evidence would be to enact a dead letter applies to the person annoyed by the loitering of prostitutes no less than to the person annoyed by an act of importuning. It probably applies even more, since it is unlikely that a resident in a neighbourhood where annoyance is caused by the loitering of prostitutes would be prepared to go to the courts day after day to establish the fact that he was annoyed. Indeed it seems to us unreasonable that he should be required to do so.
That is what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, South said.
In paragraph 252, the Wolfenden committee said:
At the same time, like the Street Offences Committee, we recognise it as an irrefutable fact that in general persons accosted will not attend the courts to give evidence. Consequently, to enact that there should be no conviction unless the person alleged to have been annoyed gave evidence and proved personal annoyance would be to enact a dead letter.
I hope that the House will accept that we are anxious to make progress by accepting amendments where that can properly be done. But there are two amendments that would be fatal to the purposes of the Bill. The first would be to import—
Let me first finish my sentence, and then I shall give way to my hon. Friend. I have not forgotten that he wishes to intervene and, if it is part of a constructive dialogue, I shall be only too happy to assist him if I can. However, I listened to him for an hour and 10 minutes, admittedly not with a great deal of patience but with a little more than perhaps he is showing, so I hope that he will bear with me.
Showing fear or nuisance is plainly not a matter that a prostitute would be prepared to go to court to support.
The problem in the constituency of the hon. Member for Tooting is the use of the area by prostitutes on the street. Therefore, any nuisance or annoyance would have to be a nuisance or annoyance suffered by the community, which would be difficult to establish for evidential purposes. It is unlikely that an individual will be on the scene. It is more likely that people will know that this is taking place day after day and is causing women not to want to walk in that area. In those circumstances, it is unlikely that anybody will be able to come forward if the woman who is solicited is a prostitute. If, therefore, we imported into clause 1 nuisance, fear or any of these concepts, we should render the clause a dead letter in the constituency of the hon. Member for Tooting and other constituencies.
Furthermore, if a perfectly respectable woman is walking home, there may be perfectly good reasons, as Wolfenden recognised, why she would not want to go to court. Therefore, the safeguard of an independent prosecutor would prevent wrongful convictions based upon improper police evidence. I believe that that is sufficient to satisfy those who want to make progress on kerb crawling and who also want to ensure that there are safeguards to protect those who are potentially innocent.
My other point relates to the element of persistency. Mr. Deputy Speaker has already said that because the element of persistency was so fully gone over during five hours of debate in Committee, the matter is not before us formally. The reason for clauses 1 and 2 is, as the hon. Member for Tooting has made clear on a number of occasions, that the nuisance of kerb crawling is not that of somebody kerb crawling twice. It is the nuisance of many people kerb crawling once, twice or three or four times and making the area seem to be a place where kerb crawling is a predominant night-time activity. To say, therefore, that the element of persistency is needed would not address the problem. It is arbitrary. If the problem in Bedford hill were that of 50 men each night soliciting twice, it would deal with it, but if the problem were that of 100 men each night soliciting once it would not deal with it. In my view, that would be unreal.
Furthermore, if the intention of the Bill is not only to catch the kerb crawler but to send out the message that kerb crawling is now unlawful and is therefore to be deterred, we blur the deterrent if we import the element of persistency because it would lead people to believe that if they kerb-crawled only once and made a hit the first time they would not be breaking the law. The clear deterrent is not then established. My aim in promoting the Bill is not that there should be a great deal more work for the criminal courts. It is that we should send out the message that kerb crawling is now against the law. That in itself might have the impact that we require and would prevent the problem. Now I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West.
In answer to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary about persistency, I can only say that the same argument he directs towards kerb crawling under clauses 1 and the reasons why he thinks that persistency should not need to be proved under clause 1 are equally applicable to soliciting women who are walking on the pavement. In parts of Britain, this is a serious nuisance. If my hon. Friend makes it easier to prosecute the motorist rather than the pedestrian, in parts of Britain it will become a much more serious problem. The same argument about 10 women once or five women twice applies to section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, relating to male importuning. Both in that case and in his proposals under clause 2 persistency is required. There is no reason why, if persistency is required in those cases, it should not also be required under clause 1. In answer to—
Anyone who feels that should look at the report of the Committee proceedings and see some of the things that were said of my hon. Friend. Several of my hon. Friends accused him in far more robust terms than I did of wishing to talk the Bill out and he knows that.
My hon. Friend will continue to take the view that there is no difference between what happens on foot and in a motor car. The distinction is a narrow one. Perhaps he is asking me to say that the element of persistency should be removed from the offence committed on foot. My hon. Friend shakes his head. He is not asking that. He is asking that the element of persistency should be imported into the offence of solicitation from a motor vehicle.
I can only look to those hon. Members who have that problem in their constituencies and have lived with it year after year. I am thinking particularly of the hon. Member for Tooting. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that, if I were prepared to buy off my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West by importing the element of persistency into clause 1, I would bring peace and quiet to the neighbourhood of Bedford hill? I see that the hon. Gentleman is shaking his head. He thinks that I would not, because he acknowledges that the problem of kerb crawling is the totality of incidents, some of which would involve only one act of soliciting. One act of solicitation multiplied several-fold can construct the nuisance which we are here—if we are here to do anything—to avoid.
I can hear my hon. Friend. He does not need to shout. Let me finish my point.
I have discussed the matter with my hon. Friend the Member for Drake. She is clearly of the opinion, as I am, that rather than put through a Bill that purported to deal with kerb crawling but did not do so, as a result of accommodating this point of "persistently" and other matters, we would rather not have the Bill at all. It would be a fraud on the public to have clause 1, amended as my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West would wish, because it would not do the job and I am not prepared to be a party to such a fraud.
The Minister made the point a minute or two ago that the Bill's purpose was to spread the message that kerb crawling was not on. I understand that point and the points which have been made about protecting non-prostitute women from being molested and harassed. But will the Minister say something about contact between prostitutes and their clients?
That is a very real point. The hon. Lady knows that the reason we are dealing with the matter in a somewhat piecemeal way is the particular urgency of the problem of kerb crawling. As a result of the hon. Member for Tooting having an Adjournment debate earlier this year, in which he raised, in particularly vivid terms, the problem of Bedford hill, I asked the Criminal Law Revision Committee to speed up its report on kerb crawling. It did so and we are most grateful to it for that. However, the Bill does not dispose of the difficult issues concerning prostitution. They will be difficult to resolve. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will wish to play a part in doing that. My anxiety is that by waiting upon a more whole-scale reform we might not make progress in areas where it may more easily be made.
I appreciate the hon. Lady's point. The prostitute, by being in the street in a provocative way and being kerb-crawled, is almost certainly soliciting. Therefore, we do not make the position any more difficult. However, I accept that the Bill, modest as it is, does not deal with a number of points that are of concern to many hon. Members.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. My hon. Friend obviously feels that if persistence is imported into clause 1 the Bill will be weakened. But how much will it be weakened? If a man in a motor car drives down a street and opens his window not once but twice, there is a degree of persistence about that. The Bill may be weakened, but marginally. Against that, the Law Society says that the Bill as it now stands may bring about the wrongful conviction of innocent men. Would not my hon. Friend rather have a just Bill which is 90 per cent. effective than one which will bring about wrongful conviction?
My hon. Friend did not attend the Second Reading debate and did not seek to serve on the Standing Committee. He seems to have come to the Bill late, and one might reasonably wish that it had been even later. The matter raised by my hon. Friend was dealt with fully in Committee, to the satisfaction of all except my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West. The hon. Member for Hammersmith has moved on to other territory and arrangements have been made that, on balance, will probably satisfy him. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North is leaping on the bandwagon after it has left the station and is halfway to heaven knows where.
The Law Society's report was given proper weight in five hours of debate in Committee. The Law Society has not renewed its representations and, on that basis, one is entitled to assume that it is reasonably satisfied, as well it might be.
We must accept that either we are to do something about the problem and that we have reached as good an arrangement as we are likely to reach—with perhaps more to come if the Bill proceeds to another place—or, if the Bill does not make progress, that we shall not address these important issues, including those in clause 4, which raises the penalties for serious sexual offences to a more realistic level. The only person with whom that proposal does not find favour—for reasons that I find staggering—is my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North. He has tabled an amendment to delete clause 4. Everyone else finds the clause reasonable and rational.
I set out earlier the ways in which we can minimise the prospects of wrongful conviction. I shall enumerate them again, for the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North, who may have missed that section of my speech while he was busy thinking up interventions.
I said that clause 1 states a clear need for words of solicitation, to give precision to the offence, and evidence from the woman concerned will be required to ensure conviction. I set out the police rules which I believe offer safeguards and I mentioned the remit of the independent prosecution service. I also said that magistrates are not a rubber stamp in these proceedings.
I should be more than content for there to be a debate in another place about whether it would be right to allow trial by jury, although I do not believe that that would be appropriate, as we are pitching the penalties well within the range of magistrates courts, with the aim of providing a speedy summary remedy.
Of course we shall all want to know how the Bill has worked in practice. I am more than willing to accede to the request of the hon. Member for Hammersmith that within a period to be determined, whether 12, 18 or 24 months, we should place a report in the Library about how sections 1 and 2 have worked. [Interruption.] I do not know why my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North finds that funny. The hon. Member for Hammersmith does not find it funny. I am agreeing to his request.
We would be prepared to put in the Library a report on the number of arrests that have been made and whether they had led to prosecution. A discrepancy between those numbers would suggest that too many people were being arrested on grounds that were not endorsed by the independent prosecution service. The report could also show the number of prosecutions compared with the number of acquittals, which would show whether the law was being used reasonably or oppressively.
On that basis, and with the undertaking that I shall accept amendment No. 47, I hope that we may make progress.
There is considerable merit in new clause 7, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West. He sees it as an alternative to clauses 1 and 2, but I see the merit as the fact that it reverses the decision in Crook v. Edmonson which gave an unduly narrow definition of importuning under section 32. If that had been done 10 years ago it might have provided a helpful stopgap but it would not have dealt with the menace of kerb crawling. I regard new clause 7 as largely irrelevant to the stage which we have now reached. There is a willingness on both sides of the House to allow clauses 1 and 2 to become law. Having heard a number of concessionary utterances in my reply, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West will not feel that he wants to press new clause 7 to a Division or to pursue his opposition to the Bill.
The argument would not have been as great and as difficult as it is if the Bill had dealt wholly and solely with the problem of kerb crawling and had not tried to deal with the problem of prostitution which is known as the oldest profession. The difficulties that we are debating have arisen because the Bill seeks to deal with prostitution generally.
No Bill will be able to solve the so-called problem of prostitution and no Bill should attempt to do so. We are dealing with nothing less than the freedom of the individual and consenting parties. The right of a person to sell his or her services under the pressure of poverty, unemployment or any other economic circumstances is one of the freedoms of the individual.
The new clause and the amendments have been tabled to protect the innocent and to enable persons to go about their legal and legitimate activities without being caused offence by others. The act of prostitution, which is illicit sex, is not in itself a criminal act.
My constituency includes Brownswood in the Finsbury Park area, which probably has a worse kerb crawling and prostitution problem than any other area in Britain. That has been so for some years. Barriers have been put across many roads so that kerb crawlers cannot crawl, but that has not got rid of prostitution on the streets or stopped soliciting. Kerb crawlers get out of their cars and walk. The more barriers that are erected the more that kerb crawlers are pushed out of the area, but the problem of prostitution continues.
I shall refer to the evidence of the vice unit which has been operating from Stoke Newington police station. I invited the chief superintendent in charge of the unit and one of his fellow officers to attend a debate, which they did. The chief superintendent had prepared a report that drew comparisons based on the 1984 figures. He reported that there had been a 70 per cent. reduction in the number of prostitutes cautioned and a 40 per cent. reduction in the numbers arrested. In 1984, about 120 women were involved in cautions and arrests. Over 400 kerb crawlers were cautioned and 17 were convicted. A number of ponces and controllers of brothels were arrested and convicted and 10 persons were still awaiting trial for conspiring to control prostitution. The reduction in cautions and arrests has been the result of the policy of the police to keep their officers on the roads and to let them be seen—in other words, the policeman on the beat, who is being asked for almost continually. The policy is to deter by way of the presence of police officers rather than spend time in the police station processing offenders.
It is clear that the police are using existing powers to deal with problems. The Law Society says that section 5 of the Public Order Act 1936 was used to deal with the problem of threatening behaviour which arises out of soliciting and that the law of common assault has been used and can he used.
My constituents and Hackney borough council have discussed the matter. They want action taken to deal with kerb crawling but they do not want prostitutes to be victimised. The problem of prostitution has been with us for centuries and it will not be solved by this Bill. Prostitutes have put forward their experiences. They say that the police arrest women whenever they please whether the woman is working or not, possibly because police evidence only is required. No jury trial is available for offences of loitering or soliciting, and magistrates rubber-stamp police stories. They believe that the same will happen with kerb crawling in cases involving black and other, working-class, men. It is difficult to obtain legal aid because the offences of loitering and soliciting are not punishable by imprisonment. They believe that the same would apply to kerb crawling. Working-class people would therefore suffer the most.
Some prostitutes are arrested by the police whenever they are seen. They feel that men convicted of kerb crawling will be treated in the same way, and that because most red light areas are working-class, black and other working-class men will be convicted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) has left the Chamber, but in relation to police action against kerb crawlers, Wandsworth council has said:
What the police have been doing, with some measure of success, is to identify the driver who persistently cruises around the area by his car number plate and subsequently invite him to attend the local police station to 'discuss his presence in the area'.
That has had an effect upon kerb crawlers.
I am disturbed by a case on 17 May in Bristol which was brought to my attention. A person was entrapped by police action. Two policewomen in plain clothes gave evidence that a man solicited them for sexual purposes. He denied that emphatically. It became a matter of the word of one of the policewomen as to what he said against his. That case is typical of other cases where a policewoman's word is taken against that of a motorist. In that case an innocent motorist was convicted and fined £100.
The National Association of Probation Officers discussed the matter at its conference. Its members have considerable experience of the problem. The conference resolved to resist any legislation seeking to control kerb crawling by the creation of new offences within the criminal law. That resolution was carried by 445 votes to 282. We should take note of it. It shows that there is considerable opposition to action being taken against prostitutes under this so-called kerb crawling Bill.
There is anxiety about kerb crawlers in my constituency, but there is also anxiety about the prosecution and persecution of innocent people. Many black people and ethnic minorities live in and around my constituency. They remember their experiences under the sus law. They are worried. They continually complain to me about the way that they are treated by the police. There will be further aggravations. I can envisage a considerable number of problems coming my way as the police are given new powers to pick up people as a result of what is called kerb crawling.
We cannot rely on the evidence of a policeman or policewoman alone. There must be a victim who is prepared to give evidence. Without that evidence, the risks that would be taken would be far too great. The Bill would cause more problems than it would cure. Unless it is amended, it should be opposed.
May I say at the outset how sorry I am that my hon. Friend the Minister has accused me of not being concerned for the women of my constituency. I think that that was an ill-advised and somewhat stupid thing to do. I am as concerned for the problems of my constituents, women and men, as no doubt he is for his own constituents.
It was also somewhat remiss of my hon. Friend the Minister, before the debate started, to advise me that if I opposed what he, in his great wisdom, was attempting to do, he would spread my face, large and wide, across the national press. I do not believe that that is the way for a Minister to proceed, and it is totally counter-productive to what he is seeking to do.
I also say to my hon. Friend the Minister that to accuse my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) of being an egotist was a mistake. The trouble with the Minister's egotism is that he is so much of an egotist that he does not realise it.
My hon. Friend the Minister is wrong to say that, because one was not on the Committee or one did not attend the Second Reading debate, one should not take an interest in the issue at this stage. He should know the practice of this House. Not everybody is on a Committee and not everybody has the opportunity to be on it. Not everybody gets involved in an issue at every stage, nor is it right that they should do so. The Minister should recognise that.
I am full of admiration for my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) for bringing forward the Bill. It deals with a vital and important social issue, which has to be addressed. Many of us have a great problem in our city areas. No doubt my hon. Friend has in her city. Many of our citizens, women in particular, are affected adversely. They are distressed by what is going on at present. They believe, quite rightly, as I do and as does my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West, that something should be done. I hope and believe that something will be done. However, that does not mean to say that just anything should be done.
My hon. Friend's approach reminds me of the story of the Guards sergeant-major who was taking a cadet instructing a drill squad. The cadet was not very good. As the squad was disappearing across the parade ground towards the field at the edge, and ever more towards the horizon, and the cadet did not know what to do, the sergeant-major turned to the cadet and said, "Say something, boy, if only good-bye." That is the approach, to some extent, of my hon. Friend the Minister—"Let us do something." My approach is to say, "Let us do the right thing." It may take a little more time, but this is a vital fundamental social issue. It is a very complicated social issue. Anything to do with sex is highly complicated, highly emotional and highly technical. Let us not rush something through just because we happen to be here today. We owe it to our people to get it right.
I am sorry if what I am doing and saying does not fit in with the very real, true and proper purposes of my hon. Friend the Member for Drake. She has performed a signal service in bringing the issue at this stage in this place to the attention of the public. I believe that, having done so, it is right and proper that the Government should follow up her initiative and make sure that we have a proper law on the issue. As we can see from the number of amendments on the Amendment Paper, this is not an issue that should be dealt with in a Private Member's Bill. It is too fundamental, too complicated and too important for that. The time available for private Members' Bills is limited, as is the number of Members available to become involved. I hope that Government will take up this issue and produce a proper solution to the problem.
My hon. Friend praises me for introducing what he apparently regards as an item for discussion. I put it to him with all the force at my command that the Bill has been introduced with a view to action and I am deeply disappointed at the attitude that he is now taking.
I understand and respect that. My hon. Friend has been deeply involved and has worked very hard with others who wish the measure to go forward as quickly as possible. With the greatest respect, however, this is a complex, deep and important issue and we must get it right. If we get it wrong, innocent people may suffer. [Interruption.] I know that innocent people are suffering already, but other innocent people may suffer.
My hon. Friend the Minister has rightly and properly said that the Government are prepared to accept some amendments and we respect that position, but other amendments are needed to prevent innocent people from suffering. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Drake, despite all her hard work and the massive support for her measure, would not wish Conservative Members to allow a measure to go forward that would allow innocent people to suffer. I am sure that she will agree that we need the right measure and enough time to get it right.
Of course I am concerned that the innocent should not suffer, but my hon. Friend is overplaying that argument to a marked extent and ignoring the feelings of the many residents and women who, day in and day out, are the victims of this kind of practice.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is not just a complex issue but a very narrow one? The reform of the law on prostitution is a much wider issue which should have been tackled long ago. We are now awaiting the report and recommendations of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. Does my hon. Friend agree that this matter should be tackled in the context of those recommendations?
As in most—indeed, probably all—his arguments on this, my hon. Friend is right again. Governments of all persuasions have always tried to leave these matters on the back shelf. That is one of the tragedies. The Bill deals with an important side issue rather than addressing the real problem. All these aspects should be taken together, but Governments have been reluctant to do so.
Even if the Government do not go forward on the whole issue, there are several more amendments and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister wishes them to be properly debated. If we do not have time to finish the debates today, it is open to the Government to provide further time on a future occasion. If they do not wish to do that, they should take the first opportunity to address themselves to the matter in great detail so that the whole House can be involved in overcoming this aspect of the problem even if the Government do not wish to become involved in the other aspects about which my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West is rightly concerned.
There is one point that has not been answered so far. Many people rightly point out that laws already exist which can and do allow the police to deal with the problem if they find it convenient or necessary to do so. Argyll square was mentioned. I remember reading in the press about a major problem in that area near King's Cross. There was a strong police presence in the area and the problem has been, if not wholly, to some extent overcome. That implies that remedies are available. When my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West intervened—I hope that a peace will break out between us now—he said that in a submission to him the National Association of Probation Officers said that the police already had sufficient powers to deal with the nuisance, but that they had given it little priority. When my hon. Friend the Minister speaks again, I should like him to reply to that point because it has not yet been satisfactorily answered.
New clause 3, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), states:
A man commits an offence if in a street or public place he solicits women (or the same woman) for sexual purposes in a manner which causes nuisance or fear.
I do not wish to split hairs, but I am not sure of the meaning of the words "or the same woman". It may be a slip of the pen, or my understanding of his point may be inadequate. I am not a lawyer, and I should like more information about and greater understanding of part of the new clause.
A man commits an offence if he solicits a woman. At what stage does a man solicit a woman? If a man is driving down a street, a woman beckons to him, he responds, and she engages him in conversation, as a result of which a deal is struck, is he soliciting the woman? How far does the woman have to go for the man not to be soliciting, and how far does the man have to go, irrespective of what the woman is doing, for him to be soliciting the woman? That is an important question. The courts know what is meant by a woman soliciting for prostitution. That has been around for generations, and the courts know how to deal with it. I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Hammersmith would explain how he would define a man soliciting a woman if the woman is standing on the street waiting for him?
The amendment sought to achieve corroboration. My argument centred on corroboration to avoid the danger of a wrongful conviction. The words
women (or the same woman)
are taken from other parts of the Bill, and do not change the position. I am not a lawyer, but I understand that if a man said to a woman, "Will you give sex for money?", it is an offence. That proposition may be made to one woman or a series of women in the street.
I accept that but, in my innocence, I am not wholly sure what the hon. Gentleman means by a man soliciting a woman. What is the act of soliciting by a man when a woman offers him her services for money? Where does that act take place? How is it defined? We do not know.
The act becomes a criminal act under existing law when money is offered for the sexual favour. In other words, it is the point at which an offer based on money is made. If the hon. Gentleman walked up to a woman in a street and said, "I like you," that would not be an offence of soliciting. However, if he walked up to her and said, "I would like to go to bed with you and I offer you £10 to do so," he would have committed an offence.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am an innocent abroad, and I am unlikely to be involved in the circumstances that he suggested. My innocence will remain until such time as an eminent lawyer like my hon. Friend the Minister informs me what this means.
New clause 4 states:
An offence under section (Soliciting a woman for sexual purposes in a manner causing nuisance or fear) shall not be proved unless the person who has been caused nuisance or fear gives evidence of such.
That important matter has been extensively discussed today. One of the weaknesses of the Bill, for which I do not blame my hon. Friend the Member for Drake—it is a complicated issue and it was drafted at short notice—is the evidential aspect of how someone may be found guilty of this offence. I hope that the Government will introduce their own Bill, and I hope that that Bill will deal with this aspect.
May I put to my hon. Friend a point that I wished to put to my hon. Friend the Minister, but was not permitted to? My hon. Friend the Minister said that he will issue instructions to the police that, where someone is charged under this section, the woman concerned must be approached and invited to give evidence. I welcome the intention behind that assurance, but would not the practical result be that the police will quickly realise that, if the woman is a prostitute, there is not much point in bringing a charge because a prostitute will not give evidence? If the woman is a respectable and deeply offended innocent passer-by, she may not wish to give evidence. The only cases in which the police will be able to bring charges successfully is where the woman is a police constable—where a WPC is used as a decoy. Will not the practical effect of the Minister's assurance be that the police will be able to prosecute such offences only by using agents provocateurs?
If that were the case, I should be extremely unhappy. My hon. Friend will know that later amendments deal with the corroboration of evidence and what evidence should or should not be accepted in court. When we address those amendments, if my hon. Friend and I are sufficiently persuasive so that the House agrees with us, some of the problems that he mentioned could be overcome in that way.
New clause 7 was moved eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West. Persistence is one of the kernels of the issue. I put it to my hon. Friend the Minister in an intervention that the Law Society believes that, if there is no persistence in kerb crawling, the innocent are likely to suffer, will be taken to court and possibly found guilty. My hon. Friend is a lawyer and a Home Office Minister. I put it to him that, above all, he should not wish innocent people to be put through the courts and found guilty of offences that they did not commit. My hon. Friend said that the Law Society had not reinforced its evidence, but I am not aware that it has retracted the point. If the Law Society, which is made up of eminent solicitors, who are more often involved in such court cases than are barristers, believes that injustice may be done, my hon. Friend should take account of the fact.
Although I normally accept the views of the Law Society as being responsible and cogent, I thought that the arguments it put forward to deal with the Bill were extraordinarily weak, and I could not believe that they came from the Law Society.
That may be the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Drake, but my hon. Friend the Minister gave the impression that he had persuaded the Committee of that view. That was inaccurate. He later acknowledged that he had not persuaded me, and it is not clear whether he persuaded Opposition Members. I know that he did not persuade my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), also a lawyer, who argued cogently for the insertion of the word "persistently" and was never persuaded that that was an unsound argument.
I read in detail the Committee proceedings, and noted that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), for whom we have the greatest respect—he is one of the brightest of the intake in 1983 and a good lawyer—was not convinced by the case that the Minister was making on this subject, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West has said. It is important to bear that in mind. The Committee was not unanimous and some knowledgeable Members were not of one mind with my hon. Friend the Minister.
Amendment No. 33 suggests that the House might wish to delete in total clause 2. The Bill is about kerb crawling and clause 2 has been introduced to back up provisions against kerb crawling, but as well as doing that it has a radical effect on what would go on outside the motor car. It makes it an offence for a man persistently to solicit women on foot. This is a new departure. We know that it is wrong to sell milk to the general public in certain ways—one has to go through the Milk Marketing Board. We know the various laws about shops, but seldom is the consumer prosecuted for buying the goods.
Clause 2 suggests that the customer, probably for the first time in history outside drug laws, should be prosecuted for being in possession of or consuming the goods. This may be necessary—I do not know because I do not have sufficient expertise on the matter. At this stage I should prefer to see clause 2 deleted, but if my hon. Friend the Minister can give me some assurances on it, I may be prepared to change my view. It may be acceptable to have, as the Government are suggesting for dog licences, an element of devolution, so that local authorities can decide, according to the nature of the problems and the public views in their areas, how best to react. It may be that the way to deal with clause 2 is to allow that to become a byelaw in an area where the problem is so significant that this approach has to be adopted.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Home Office or the Minister were to give us some sign of their thinking as to how the prostitute should seek and meet her clients—in other words in what circumstances she was able to solicit for or find clients within the law—it would be easier for us to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Drake that the prostitute should not do this on the pavement and to the annoyance of the general public? If only we could tell prostitutes how they should carry on their trade, we would be much more within our rights in stopping them from carrying on their trade in a way that is a nuisance.
As I have said, and as has been said by the National Association of Probation Officers, the police have the powers should they wish to deal with the problem of pavement prostitutes, and that has been shown in certain parts of the country. When I was young and at Sandhurst, I understand that Soho used to be a glorious place for people to go, but along came Sir John Wolfenden and Soho was cleaned up and the pavement rules were tightened up. There were no longer prostitutes standing there, dangling their ankle chains on the pavements.
Secondly, while I agree with my hon. Friend that it would be much better to solve the problems all at once, there has been an enduring reluctance on behalf of Governments to tackle this problem face on and to deal with it in a sensible and satisfactory way. Political risks are involved that should not be underestimated.
Yes, they should try, but let us concentrate first on the real menace of kerb crawling and get a satisfactory solution to that. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree with me on that.
I should be happy to withdraw my support for amendment No. 33, which provides for the removal of clause 2, if the Minister would give us an assurance that the provision would be reintroduced in a way that would not be mandatory or nationwide but would allow local authorities, should they so wish, to introduce byelaws. Otherwise, it is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, which is not necessary.
Amendments Nos. 40 and 41 have been cogently argued by the Opposition spokesman. They are intended to ensure that the provisions should apply only where a nuisance is caused. That is a sensible way to approach matters. If someone is not harming, affecting, disturbing or disrupting anyone, the idea that that person should be taken before a court, have his reputation destroyed, be fined and, if the fine is not paid, go to prison, is a little heavy.
I am pleased that the Minister has agreed to accept amendment No. 47, so there is no need for me to say any more about it. My hon. Friend was wise to accept it.
The import of amendment No. 52, which my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West has clearly described, is known to the House. Amendments Nos. 58 to 60 apply to new clause 3. As new clause 3 is no longer, there is no need for me to say anything about them.
I should let my hon. Friend into a secret—his amendment No. 61, which he addressed so passionately, is grouped in the sixth group of amendments not the first group. Therefore, not only will I have an opportunity to address myself to that amendment when we reach it, but, if my hon. Friend has any second thoughts, he will be able to breaden the knowledge of the House on the matter.
I say again to my hon. Friend the Member for Drake that she is to be heartily congratulated on bringing up in the Bill this social problem and, in many respects, social menace that upsets and distresses so many people. I believe and hope that a measure will be enacted without delay, but I believe that it must be a Government measure.
I had not intended to intervene on this group of amendments, and I shall not detain the House for more than a few minutes. As time is passing, it appears that the amendments to which I had intended to address more lengthy remarks might not be reached. Therefore, I had better speak now.
I do not often find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), who tries to cross swords with me on many occasions. He nods; I am sure that we will continue to cross swords. I am glad that the Minister has said that he is willing to withdraw clause 3, which has caused many hon. Members a number of problems. Also, many people and organisations outside the House have been nervous about the implications of the clause.
We do not yet know whether the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) is willing to accept the removal of clause 3. I shall be interested to hear what she has to say.
I was seeking to clarify what I thought the clause meant, which was not what the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said that it meant. It was not that I was powerfully in favour of the clause. I thought that its meaning was being misinterpreted, and I was seeking to put that right.
I am grateful for that clarification.
The principal reason why I agree with some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Northampton, North is that I am still worried about some aspects of the Bill and still think that some of the drafting gives me and many other people cause for alarm.
I should prefer, as often happens—this is not to knock private Members' legislation, because I have myself been privileged in my parliamentary life to introduce such a Bill—to see the Government themselves introducing legislation. A private Member's Bill is not always the best way to make laws to cover a very complicated subject.
Despite what the Law Commissioners said, and despite the legal minds that have been brought to bear on the subject, we still need to give it considerably more thought before giving the police a lot more power than they have at present—power which they do not need to cope with this problem.
The offensive kerb crawler who is harassing non-prostitute women should be capable of being dealt with under our existing laws. I think that I reflect the views of many women when I say that it is simply that the police do not give the protection of women a particularly high priority. They do not see kerb crawling, in terms of both prostitute and non-prostitute women, as a problem to which they should pay much attention.
Having devised a Bill to give the police extra powers, Parliament will obviously encourage them to arrest people, and it may be that they will arrest people who will be severely disadvantaged by these extra powers in a way that the House does want to see.
I am very much in sympathy with women who reside in districts and who are not themselves prostitutes but are subjected to kerb crawling. Perhaps I may be allowed to recount an incident which, believe it or not, I experienced. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) will no doubt recall the story.
I was going home from the House one night, travelling on the underground rather than, as is my habit, by car. I had left Hammersmith Broadway station and was walking to my flat which is five or six minutes' walk along Hammersmith road. Believe it or not, a kerb crawler came alongside me, and I could see him out of the corner of my eye. The passenger door of the car was half open, and the driver was leaning across the front seat. I do not know what gave me the courage at that hour, well after midnight, but I walked over, held the door open and said, "Yes, what can I do for you?" Slightly startled by my approach, he replied, "I wondered if you would like to go for a drink." I said, "Oh, I see. I am a police woman, and I thought that you intended to ask the way." At that point, he was gone like a flash.
I realise that I was myself breaking the law by impersonating a police woman, and I not know that I should ever have the courage to do the same again. But it brings me to a serious aspect of this matter to which we shall come in later amendments. It is that police women can go round in plain clothes and act as agents provocateurs, in the way that several hon. Members have already described. I do not believe that it is good enough that that should happen. Those who will suffer will not be non-prostitute women but women who are prostitutes.
In considering both this Bill and future legislation, we have a duty to protect the rights of prostitutes. In this Bill we are reducing the possibility of prostitute women meeting their clients in a reasonable way. We shall make it very much more difficult for them to continue to ply their trade. The public may have views about whether that is desirable. I make no comment about that at all; it is a fact of life. We shall make it much more difficult for prostitute women to continue to ply their trade. We may drive them underground, which we may not want to do, where they may well be subjected to more violence than is the case under the present law.
My hon. Friend has made an important point. Both in Committee and on the Floor of the House perhaps the most useful point to have emerged is the need to address the problem of how the prostitute is to meet her client. If we are not careful, the Bill will result in all kinds of unintended consequences which will make matters worse. My hon. Friend is right to make that point. There is also the problem of how to deal with the effect of prostitutes meeting their clients in certain limited geographical areas of the United Kingdom. That is the problem we have been tackling, and it has caused difficulty.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I was not on the Committee, and I apologise to the House for not having attended the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill. However, during the last few weeks I have had one or two other private Members' Bills on my mind. I should have been pleased if there had been a move in the Bill towards the decriminalisation of prostitution. There is too much of a criminal element in something which ought to be looked at in a very much more rational and liberal way. We have to face the fact that the safety of women who are prostitutes is not dealt with in the Bill. It may increase their isolation. It may result in prostitutes being more vulnerable to attacks, blackmail and pimps because they are cut off from regular access to clients with whom they are now able to make contact because their clients are in cars. One needs to consider the problems which they face. Their lives should not be made more difficult. We must also consider making the lives of non-prostitute women easier because, quite rightly, they do not wish to be harassed by kerb crawlers. Women who are prostitutes may well be forced underground in order to evade the police.
Poorer men and black people who are driving cars may also feel increasingly nervous. Already they are, understandably, nervous of the police. They feel that they are subject to harassment if they stop their car for any reason. They may do so not to speak to a woman but to post a letter or to buy a packet of cigarettes. When they open the door to get out of the car, a woman may be passing, and they may be pounced upon by the police if they have these extra powers.
The hon. Lady has touched on an important point. We may view the police in slightly different ways, but one thing that I am sure we are both concerned about is the respect in which the public hold the police and vice versa. One of the problems that has arisen over the past couple of generations has been that the necessary involvement of the police in motoring offences has caused rough edges to develop between the public and the police. If this measure were enacted, as is now suggested, it is my real fear, as I think it is probably the hon. Lady's, that there will be further rough edges which will exacerbate problems in the relationship between the public and the police, which is something that I am sure we both wish to avoid.
Absolutely. I am embarrassed at being so much in agreement with the hon. Gentleman. That is something that I am worried about. As the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) pointed out, not all members of the public look at the nitty-gritty of the words, dots and commas of every Bill and Act. We all run the risk of inadvertently breaking the law. I do not know whether, if the Bill were to become law, everybody would be aware of the new offences which suddenly slid on to the statute book which might result in their being penalised when they were doing something innocently. Indeed, it might not be a good thing if they were made nervous by new offences.
The thrust of this group of amendments is that there must be proper corroboration of whatever the police suggest that people are doing before they can suggest it. I hope that even at this late stage the hon. Member for Drake will think again about the Bill and that the Government and all hon. Members will think for longer and much more closely and deeply about what we need to do in order to deal with the problem properly.
I very much want to see women more protected by society and by the authorities in society than they are. But that kind of protection must be a proper protection and it must not be confined to one particular set of women. It must take in the needs of all women in Britain, whatever their profession, wherever they live and whatever we may think of the way in which they live. They have as much right to protection from us and the House as anyone else.
I want to place on record a number of brief comments which may mirror some of the arguments that have already been put forward. I agree with the line that my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) chose to pursue on the defence of women who work as prostitutes. Inevitably, the Bill does affect them because it has chosen to look at prostitution, not simply the problem of kerb crawling, and I regret that. Unfortunately, the Bill has become snared on that issue. Good will exists in the House and the country to tackle effectively the problem of kerb crawling, but because we have complicated matters we have aroused worries and fears on all sides.
I welcome the withdrawal of clause 3. That is an important step forward which I freely acknowledge. I look forward to the Minister making clear what he means by the review process. It is important that we should know precisely what will be contained within that. Clearly, we need to be able to ascertain exactly what will happen when the Bill arrives on the statute book. If the fears that have been mentioned today prove to be justified, appropriate action should be taken.
I am particularly worried about two issues. The first, relating to the problem of persistence, the Minister has dismissed and described as an internal worry within the Conservative party between himself and the hon. Members for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) and for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris). However, the problem of persistence occupies the minds of many more than just his hon. Friends. It occupies the minds of a number of hon. Members, because it touches on points that were raised in Committee, where there was a debate which ended up with a vote, but we were not all satisfied that the right decision was taken.
The crux of the debate is the balance between the rights of my constituents who are oppressed by the unsolicited actions of kerb crawlers and the rights of constituents who are not vocalising their fears because they do not realise that they might be affected if the Bill were passed. It is important that the balance of evidence should be shifted to give protection, particularly—I do not say this aggressively—in a community such as the one that I represent where, for a host of historical and social reasons, people's attitudes towards the police have changed and the relationship between the people and the police has deteriorated.
The force of the arguments put by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) in moving the new clause holds good. I welcome the limited progress that has been made, but I hope that the Minister and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) recognise the serious worries that will continue to preoccupy many hon. Members, even though we support the concept of action on kerb crawling.
|Division No. 203]||[2.5 pm|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Golding, John|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)||Tellers for the Ayes|
|Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'bury)||Mr. Tony Marlow and|
|Steel, Rt Hon David||Mr. Matthew Parris.|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Murphy, Christopher|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Cope, John||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Dykes, Hugh||Renton, Tim|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Fraser, J. (Norwood)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Sims, Roger|
|Fry, Peter||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Grant, Sir Anthony||Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Waller, Gary|
|Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Mr. Christopher Chope and|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Mr. Derek Spencer.|