New Clause 1 — Enabling provision to enable the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to tackle modern day slavery

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 4th November 2014.

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Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough 4:45 pm, 4th November 2014

I rise to speak to new clauses 6 and 7 and amendment 1, which have been tabled in my name. In doing so, I want to focus on an issue that is the driver for a great deal of the exploitation and human trafficking in Britain today. Before I do that, however, I want to thank the Minister for her relatively helpful letter on the issue of domestic servitude, which is one of the matters being addressed in the Bill. I drew to her attention the case of a young woman who had been forced to use employment law in order to be paid. I remain shocked that the police did not take notice of that case or prosecute her exploiter. The reality is that domestic servitude does not, on the whole, involve big organised gangs, although they are often the ones that bring the people to the UK in the first place. It is within domestic settings that people are grotesquely abused, and unless we help those victims to help themselves, as the new clause proposed by my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson would do, we will continue to see an increase in that kind of trafficking.

The main reason that I am on my feet is that I have tabled two new clauses and an amendment on prostitution. The real experience of prostituted women—it is overwhelmingly women who are affected—is that they are the target of police action against prostitution. Most of them started as children, and they have often been groomed into prostitution by exploitative gangs, by pimps or by people who are trying to up the profits of their drug dealing.

The statistics are intensely disputed. Frankly, I believe that, on this issue, what people get out of their research is what they believed when they went into it. However, there are a number of facts that no one disputes. First, prostituted women are much more likely to be raped than other women. Something like 75% of women in street prostitution in London report having been raped. Secondly, nobody disputes the fact that prostituted women are much more likely to be murdered than other women. Some studies suggest that a prostituted woman runs a 40 times greater risk of being murdered, usually by a client, than a woman of a similar age in another profession.

Let us be clear: this is not about a choice of career. I have yet to meet the girl who wants to grow up to be a prostitute or the mother who looks forward to her daughter’s future as a prostitute. I do not believe that we should call it sex work; it is exploitation. Across the House, we should be working to reduce this form of exploitation. The national referral mechanism shows that, of all the people that it found in trafficking and modern slavery, 40% of those victims were in prostitution, as were 60% of all the women involved.

This is a serious issue and it needs to be dealt with. So how are we going to deal with it? What works? Does legalising prostitution work? Are there models that show that prostitution can be wonderfully regulated and hugely safe? People cite the decriminalised model in New Zealand, yet there are still reports of massive numbers of rapes and violence against prostituted women there. Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands and Germany, yet it is at record levels in those countries and involves grotesque exploitation. Germany has 10 times as many prostituted women as Sweden, per head of population. Clearly, that way is not working. It is striking how many countries have been convinced—as I have—that Sweden’s way is the best that has been found so far. That is what I have tried to do in my new clauses. They aim to prosecute the men who seek to purchase sex; to stop prosecuting the women who are soliciting—there are other offences on women and I hope that if these proposals get through, the other place would remove the other ways in which prostituted women are the target of policing; and to ask the Home Office to support women who want to exit prostitution.

I am involved in a charity that provides housing for formerly prostituted women who are trying to leave prostitution, and I remember a letter that we received from one of our tenants. It said, “This is the first time in my life that I have control over who comes through my front door.” Until then her life had always been run by other people; she had had to service men and had no control over her life, and that is overwhelmingly the experience of women in prostitution. I sought to change that through the change I conceded to in the Policing and Crime Act 2009, where an amendment said that women were subject to exploitation if a man sought to pay for sexual services from them and he would be committing an offence. In the first year of that being law there were 49 prosecutions—I was a bit disappointed because I did not think that was very many—with the men being found guilty in 43 cases. The following year there were 17 prosecutions, with 12 guilty verdicts, and the year after there were nine prosecutions, with six guilty verdicts. When we ask the police why that is, they say, “Oh it is really hard, because the definition of “exploitation” means it isn’t a simple offence to prosecute.” That is one reason why I tabled these provisions: we want simpler offences to prosecute, as we want to help the police to do their job.

If we take that approach, we need to talk to the Crown Prosecution Service about the advice it gives to the police on what constitutes exploitation. The CPS advice on this offence says that it is something that happens in premises: it happens in brothels. The problem is that if the police are dealing with a raid on a brothel where the exploitation that we have been talking about is going on, they want the johns to be witnesses. That is a perfectly sensible thing for the police to want to do, instead of using the strict liability offence and therefore making the men likely to be more silent.

I really believe that the Nordic model will make the difference. It has also been shown that Norway followed Sweden, Iceland followed suit and Canada has also just done so. I welcome the recent decision in Northern Ireland to introduce a similar arrangement. Other countries are following the Nordic model because it works. I am not yet convinced that we are going to pass my new clauses today. I did not push this matter to a vote in Committee, because I do not believe we should suddenly turn that small minority of men—every piece of research also says that most men do not buy sex—who think that what they are doing is perfectly legal into criminals without engaging them in knowing the changes we plan to make. I did not want to have a vote in Committee; I wanted to have a vote here.

I slightly pity the Minister, because Norman Baker was supposed to be doing this and he has run away. However, she will do it better than he would, so I am kind of relieved. I invite her to welcome the proposal made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn for a review. There is the risk in any review that it will merely reflect the prejudices of the people who have gone before. However, those of us on the inquiry set up by my hon. Friend Gavin Shuker saw how convincing those women who had been prostituted and who were trying to leave were, how hard it is to leave, and how the way in which we currently police prostitution does not assist them. It took the deaths of five women in Ipswich to change the way the police approached this matter in that city. We should change how the police approach this matter everywhere. We should see prostitution as a problem not of badly behaved women but of men who pay to own those women’s bodies. It is vile exploitation and a form of modern slavery that we should end.

I am persuaded that more Members will support new clause 22 than supported my proposed new clauses 6 and 7. I hope to persuade the Minister to support it too. All it says is: let us find convincing evidence for what we should do. I spend a lot of time arguing with people on the media who disagree with me, who say that I have got my facts wrong and who cite conflicting research. Let us invest Government money in getting the research right and in hearing the victims of this exploitation, and then decide whether we will follow all those countries which, having done that, conclude that the Nordic model is the right one. We should stop prosecuting women and start prosecuting the men who pay for them.