Clause 51 - Controlling a child prostitute or

Sexual Offences Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 18th September 2003.

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Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Liberal Democrat, Romsey 10:45 am, 18th September 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 233, in

clause 51, page 27, line 8, after 'intentionally', insert 'or knowingly'.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths Labour, Bridgend

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 234, in

clause 52, page 27, line 22, after 'intentionally', insert 'or knowingly'.

Amendment No. 235, in

clause 54, page 28, line 4, after 'intentionally', insert 'or knowingly'.

Amendment No. 236, in

clause 55, page 28, line 14, after 'intentionally', insert 'or knowingly'.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Liberal Democrat, Romsey

The amendments are intended to probe clause 51 and other relevant clauses to find out whether they might be strengthened by changing the words ''intentionally controlling'' to ''intentionally or knowingly controlling''. I admit to having tabled the amendments after reading the Metropolitan police's comment that prostitution and pornography were big businesses and that, although the police had no problem in prosecuting the small guys, often, at the bigger business end of the market, particularly in prostitution, there was a human firewall between the pimp and the enterprise.

Under current legislation, the police are asked to prove three things. First, they must prove that prostitution, or the activity in question, is taking place, which is generally relatively easy to prove.

Secondly, they must prove that the principal knew about it. Thirdly, they need to prove that that person gained financially. The latter is also relatively easy to prove, with a bit of work. However, the depth of the investigation almost invariably focuses on the second point—knowledge of what was going on. The police think that at the moment, as the law stands, they have a fighting chance of proving what is going on, but they are aware of various investigations in which they would have had great difficulty proving a case using the words ''intentionally controlling'', as is proposed in the Bill.

The police cite a number of loopholes. For example, Operation Rapel described John Murray-Smith as probably the biggest brothel owner in London. He never went near the industry and took no part in running or organising things. His bank account showed that he was gaining financially, so it was relatively easy to prove that he was involved in prostitution. However, proving that he had knowledge of what was going on was protracted work for the police, requiring several months of covert operations. It was eventually established that he must have known about what was taking place over the many months during which he was investigated. The police maintain, however, that it would have been impossible to prove that he was intentionally controlling prostitution, because he set up the system to ensure that he was far removed from the business end.

There are other possible loopholes, such as the pimp who drops his girl off in a red-light district and waits at home for her to bring back the money. He may say, ''Yes, I knew she was working as a prostitute and giving me money, but she wanted to do it. It is not my intention that she did it.'' A brothel owner who advertises his premises for massage and takes a huge percentage of the earnings—

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking

I am following the hon. Lady's argument with interest. She, like the rest of us, seeks to improve the position. Is she troubled about the word ''controls'', or about the word ''intentionally''? Will she develop a bit further the proposition that the phrase ''intentionally or knowingly controls'' is wider and more likely to cope with the dilemma she mentioned earlier than the current wording?

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Liberal Democrat, Romsey

There is a problem with just using the word ''intentionally''—the police say that it would be difficult to prove intent.

It is easier to prove that someone did something ''knowingly'', particularly if money is going into their bank account as a result of certain activities. For example, a brothel owner who is ostensibly running a massage parlour could use the argument, ''Well, you know it's not my intent that they behave as prostitutes. So what if they give extras for the cash?'' In reality, he knows very well what is going on and is reaping the rewards. The amendments would establish whether the Government are happy that prosecutions can be made in such circumstances.

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism)

Adding ''knowingly'' to the provisions on the offences would add little to the mens rea and interpretation of what is in the mind of

the defendant. It is difficult to understand how someone, for example, can knowingly control, incite or cause the prostitution of another person without intentionally doing so. There is no point in adding ''knowingly'' to the clause; its meaning is encompassed by ''intentionally''.

The purpose of the offences is to tackle the exploitive aspects of the sex industry. They replace existing legislation, such as section 31 of the Sex Offences Act 1956, which deals with a woman exercising control over a prostitute. I mentioned that because the section uses ''knowingly'', not ''intentionally'', which is probably why the hon. Lady tabled the amendment. It makes sense in the context of the offence of knowingly living on the earnings of a prostitute, because someone could be living with a prostitute and conceivably not know how she is earning money. The purpose of adding ''knowingly'' in that context is to make sure that the prosecution has to prove that the defendant both knows that the woman is a prostitute and that he is living wholly or in part on her earnings. The term ''knowingly'' makes much less sense in the context of the new offences under the Bill. In any event, it is difficult to envisage what the term is intended to cover that is not covered by ''intentionally''.

Work is under way on a consultation paper examining issues relating to prostitution, the public nuisance that it causes and the organised criminality and drug abuse with which it is associated. The Home Secretary announced the paper in the summer and it is likely that it will also consider legislation associated with the difficult area of prostitution. We hope to consider those issues in great depth when undertaking such work. I mention the paper because the hon. Member for Romsey referred to prosecuting people who organise prostitution, but who distance themselves from it—the big boys, as they are described. Brothel-related activities were not considered in ''Setting the Boundaries'', because they are prostitution-related issues, and thus outside the scope of the Bill. They will therefore have to wait until we have a clearer picture of some of the complex issues surrounding that subject as a result of the review.

We resist the amendment for two reasons, the first of which is that ''knowingly'' is encompassed by ''intentionally''. Secondly, the broader issues raised by the hon. Lady about making sure that we can reach those who are controlling prostitution activity in a big way are outside the scope of the Bill, but will be part of the review that has now commenced. If that reassures the hon. Lady, I invite her to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Liberal Democrat, Romsey

I said at the beginning that the amendments were tabled to ascertain whether the concerns of the Metropolitan police were realistic. The police have to deal with such things in practice, so I was quite taken by their arguments. However, I understand the point about the wider aspects of prostitution, and that there will be further legislation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 51 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 52 ordered to stand part of the Bill.