Amendment 104E

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Report (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 12th January 2022.

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Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative 6:00 pm, 12th January 2022

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for tabling Amendments 104E and 104F, because this gives me an opportunity to speak to them as I was not available at an earlier stage.

My first point is that sex for rent is invariably immoral and abhorrent and frequently evil, so I agree with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord today and by noble Lords the last time we debated it. Unfortunately, I share the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, in Committee on 22 November last year. Like the noble Lord, I am worried about the unintended consequences. He asked:

“What about the landlady of the bed and breakfast who seduces the potential paying guest and offers him or her a free room in return?”—[Official Report, 22/11/21; col. 684.]

The problem is not so much in the drafting but in the way that the amendment works. For instance, I worry about the use of the word “provider”. Does the proposed offence catch a young, affluent male student who has a spare bed or room to offer a female student, partially or wholly in exchange for sex or an intimate relationship?

The amendments are morally correct but, looking around the corner, could they have unintended and undesirable consequences? Take a young girl whose moral compass is not yet fully stabilised, calibrated and adjusted. If these amendments had the effect desired, she would no longer be able to secure her accommodation directly by immoral means. The risk is that she would be more likely to seek an arrangement with an escort agency, which would involve numerous sexual partners rather than just one, with the obvious attendant health risks. We are of course already seeing this problem arise, and we need to do something about it.

In Committee the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, made the point that it should not be necessary for young people, particularly girls, to have to sell themselves in this way, and she was absolutely right. It is disappointing to read that the Government appear to have wimped out on planning reform, which means that developers will continue to concentrate on meeting the needs of the affluent at the expense of the poor.

What I have said does not mean that my noble friend the Minister has escaped. I am not convinced that Sections 52 and 53 were designed with this problem in mind. Because of the way that they work, the Section 54 definition of a prostitute is very wide. By the way, I think the term “prostitute” is a horrible, derogatory term when a very large proportion of them are victims of their own circumstances. I agree with noble Lords who suggest that Sections 52 and 53 do not work in the way that the Government suggest. We cannot expect many victims to stand up in court and agree that they are prostitutes, even if protected by anonymity, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby.

I see the problem with the amendments not as one of drafting but as more fundamental: the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, may have selected the wrong solution. I think he should perhaps have sought to insert a new provision into Section 75(2) of the 2003 Act, which deals with consent in rape and sexual assault cases. In egregious cases we would expect to see a gross disparity in economic power, age, socioeconomic group and possibly ethnicity, and therefore it would be obvious that there was not genuine consent. In egregious sex-for-rent cases appropriate for prosecution, that would not be difficult for a jury to determine.

I urge my noble friend the Minister to reject these amendments but to look instead very carefully at the issue of the lack of genuine consent in sex-for-rent cases.