“Street Offences Act 1959
(10) Omit section 1.”
New clause 21—Procuring sex for payment—
“(1) A person commits an offence under this section if he or she procures sexual intercourse or any other sexual act, whether for himself or herself or for another person, in return for payment.
(2) a “payment” includes—
(a) payment that is promised or given by another person;
(b) provision of non-financial benefits, including, but not limited to, drugs or alcohol.”
Government Members will be glad to know that my amendment is a probing one. I have been involved in the issue for a long time. Article 6 of the European convention requires states to take measures to “discourage demand” for trafficked people and, through the amendment, I am trying to give the Government the opportunity to take such a step. I have to say that the Government of which I was a member failed to take that step, although they moved in the right direction. I hope that history is moving my way on the subject, and that the Minister might offer us some words of comfort.
Members who were in Parliament at the time might remember the Policing and Crime Act 2009. Its section 14 was added after a clause was moved by the Government. They had told me that I was not allowed the amendment we are considering now, but they accepted that there was an issue. Section 14 therefore criminalises paying for sex with a person who is subject to exploitation or duress. I want to tell the Committee what happened as a result.
In 2010, during the first year that the offence was on the statute book, there were 49 prosecutions, and 43 of the people prosecuted were found guilty. In 2012, the most recent date for which I have figures, there were only nine prosecutions, of whom six were found guilty. That shows me that the offence is not working. I have been trying to find out from police officers why it is not working, although I had thought, “Okay, only 43 in the first year, but it’s a new offence and the police don’t know it’s there. I would have expected more, but time will tell.”
I have spoken to police officers about why the offence is not working. I do not want to disrespect them, because I am a great fan of the police, but they told me, “We can’t prove two things.” I said, “What?” They said, “We can’t prove both that he has offered payment and that she is under duress.” I said, “Well, actually, I think you can”, but that is their alibi. Combining those proofs is too hard for the average copper. Then they say, “Oh, but what we want to do is to get the person who puts her under duress.” I then looked at the number of prosecutions for people who are putting women under duress in such circumstances, but as we all know from our debates on earlier clauses, they are absolutely tiny.
We are failing to catch that element of gross sexual exploitation and of violence against women. Prostitution as it is actually practised is a form of violence against women. It is not a career choice—I have yet to meet the teenager who says, “I want to grow up to be a prostitute.” It is an example of vile exploitation of women. Prostitution is not an act of choice or of freedom. It is an act that we need to find ways of protecting young women from.
One way to protect young women is to reduce entry into prostitution through proper sex and relationships education for children. Another way is to assist exit from prostitution. Fundamentally, however, the best way, which has been proved by the countries that have done it, is to reduce demand for prostituted women. There is evidence that that works. For example, when Sweden introduced the offence that I am arguing for, its Government investigated the law’s effect and found that street prostitution halved between 1999 and 2008. There was no evidence that those women were displaced into indoor prostitution or prostitution advertised online. During that period, the number of women in street prostitution tripled in Denmark and Norway where purchasing sex was legal. I was able to talk to Detective Inspector Kajsa Wahlberg, rapporteur on human trafficking, who was the police chief officer responsible for some of the prosecutions in Sweden. Sweden has very lax legislation on telephone tapping by police authorities, so she was able to listen in extensively to conversations by people traffickers. She found that they would say to their customers at the end of the line, “Don’t bring them here to Sweden because there is no demand for them. Send them to Norway.”
It is clear that such legislation genuinely changes things, and several countries are looking at this. It does not change just the lives of women; it changes the behaviour of men. I cannot get inside men’s heads and I am never going to try, but I have always found it extraordinary that so many men believe that it is appropriate to pay for sexual services from women who are usually, but not universally, grossly exploited, not necessarily by people traffickers, but sometimes by addiction or poverty. It is obvious to any hon. Members who have been near places such as King’s Cross in the evening how degraded some of the women who are selling themselves are.
It is interesting that in Sweden, the evidence published by the Nordic Institute for Women’s Studies and Gender Research showed that the number of men who pay for sex in Sweden has fallen. A survey in 1996 found that nearly 14% of men reported buying sex. A similar survey in 2008 found that the figure had fallen to 7.9%. So legislating changes behaviour, and I think we would all like to change behaviour. It has also changed attitudes. When the law was first introduced, the majority of the Swedish population was opposed to it but, bless the legislators, they persisted with it. Three surveys have since shown that a decade after its introduction, more than 70% of the population fully support it.
The evidence is about reducing demand and criminalising the purchasers, who are the people who have agency—so often the women do not have agency and do not have much choice. If they are exploited by their own addictions via a people trafficker or someone else, they do not have a choice. The people who live in areas where street prostitution exists have very little choice about their children going to school seeing condoms, needles and so on. The people who have the choice are the purchasers. What I would like the Minister to say is that she has some sympathy for that approach.
I will not press the amendment to a vote, but we need to do more work to change public opinion, and I recommend to hon. Members the report, “Shifting the Burden”, by the all-party group on prostitution and the global sex trade. We must follow other legislatures that are following Sweden. Norway has now done the same, having realised that it was having an appalling problem with Swedish transfers. Iceland has done the same. In 2013, the French Parliament voted to criminalise the purchase and sale of sex.
In the debate about trafficking, we have heard how often the victims of trafficking are prosecuted. In my view, the same pattern happens in prostitution. The women who do not have much choice about their lives are prosecuted. It should not be them; it should be the people who create the circumstances in which those women must sell themselves. If we believe, as I do, that having to sell your sexuality is a form of modern slavery, it seems to me that the Bill is an opportunity for the Government to make it clear that they are willing to take more action to prevent the sale of human beings by themselves and by those who control them. That is what I seek to achieve with these amendments.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Slough for moving the amendment. I was a member of the all-party group on prostitution and the global sex trade, and this subject is one that Parliamentarians Against Human Trafficking has come across in its journeys across the European Union. There is controversy among the Finnish and Swedish feminist movements about this topic. It is often seen as a divide between a woman’s freedom to control her own body—some of the most strident feminists argue she can do with it what she wishes—and those on the other side of the argument who, as the all-party group recommended, want to see the transfer of the burden on to those who buy sex, rather than those who are forced to or choose to sell it, if they see themselves in that light. It is a sensitive issue in Scotland as well. One of our great campaigners, who sadly died recently—she was not in the same party as me—campaigned for safe zones in Edinburgh for women who felt they had to or chose to sell sex, whatever the case may be.
There is great controversy, but the all-party group’s report struck the correct balance. There is no way in which a man purchasing sex is in an equal relationship with the person selling it. So many stories come out of the sex trade of the abuses that align with the purchase of the sexual act: the violence, the attitudinal degradation that is put on many involved in the sex trade, even if they think they are free to sell themselves. They find themselves in dangerous and degrading situations, or potentially such, at all times.
I do not know what the Minister will say about the amendment. This is an opportune moment. I am glad my hon. Friend has taken the opportunity to put it before us. We may not agree to put it in this Bill, but hopefully we will get an indication from the Government that they will join with the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom who think it is an offence for a man to buy a woman’s body in any circumstance.
We might not agree on many issues, but on this one there is barely a sliver of paper between the hon. Member for Slough and me. I commend her excellent speech and support her proposed new clause 21. Given that the biggest single reason for trafficking into the UK is the demand for paid sex—accounting for 40% of all victims referred to the NRM in 2013, compared with 36% for labour exploitation and 11% for domestic servitude—any credible British Modern Slavery Bill must do something to address it. We must send a strong message to those men—I am sorry to say it is predominantly men—who exploit a trafficked person for sex that this is not acceptable in our society.
I am aware that some will respond by saying that paying for sex is already subject to legislation, thanks to section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, to which the hon. Lady has referred. However, as she has already said, because that involves evidence of force, it is simply ineffective. More needs to be done and the Bill provides us with an opportunity to do it. I also agree with the findings of the all-party group on prostitution and the global sex trade, which has been referred to. As is the case in Finland, this offence is difficult to enforce because of the need to prove that the person concerned is subject to force. We need to accept that it has provided no real deterrent to buying sex from those who are trafficked.
That is in sharp contrast to the experience of other countries. As has already been mentioned, in Sweden, where it is now simply an offence to buy sex, that legislation has proved easier to enforce, and there have been approximately 3,000 convictions. The message has gone out loud and clear that there is no point trafficking people to Sweden to sell sex. As we have heard, conversations between traffickers have been intercepted, in which they have said, “Don’t bother sex trafficking to Sweden.” No such conversations have been intercepted in relation to the UK since the passage of section 14 of the 2009 Act.
Some people will respond by pointing out that legislating simply to make buying sex an offence would provide a workable law for addressing the demand for trafficking for sexual exploitation, and it could also affect the demand for paid sex when the people concerned have not been trafficked. My response is, good. The evidence from countries such as Sweden and Norway on the one hand, and Finland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland on the other, shows that offences that target buying sex only from trafficked people do not work. Countries that introduced a general offence have affected the level of trafficking. We have to acknowledge that that is the only credible legal mechanism for addressing the global demand for sex trafficking. It is the only way to do something about it in this country.
Academics who have reviewed global data about prostitution and trafficking have concluded:
“countries that implement harsher laws regarding prostitution seem to get a lower prevalence of trafficking.”
In contrast, countries such as the Netherlands and Germany that have legalised prostitution now face the challenge of continued exploitation and high rates of trafficking. A retired police detective from Germany described that country as a
“centre for the sexual exploitation of young women from Eastern Europe, as well as a sphere of activity for organized crime groups from around the world.”
A chief superintendent from that country said—I grieve to read this—
“The sex buyers are looking for fresh meat. Nowadays, the average woman in prostitution in Germany is a 18-20 year old trafficked girl from Romania.”
As well as addressing demand for sex trafficking, this mechanism will address the demand for paid sex where people have not been trafficked, and I believe it will be a source of great good in addressing a number of other issues. Evidence from the Home Office and multiple academic studies demonstrates that the majority of people who sell themselves for sex are incredibly vulnerable and subject to real exploitation. They are often homeless, living in care and suffering from debt, substance abuse or violence. They have often experienced some form of coercion either through trafficking or from a partner, pimp or relative. They are very young, often having entered the sex industry well before the age of 18, and they are frequently addicted to class A drugs.
Some say that there is a minority of people who sell sex because they really want to, but, like the hon. Member for Slough, I find that difficult to accept. It must be a tiny minority. I believe that at the heart of it, there will always lie some form of oppression or abuse. In the majority of cases, even when there is no element of trafficking, real exploitation is taking place.
We as legislators have to make a decision. If the law cannot be fashioned in everyone’s best interest, we must ask whether we should prioritise fashioning it out of primary regard for a small minority who engage in that role without compulsion. Our law should embrace new clause 21 and have primary regard for the great, vulnerable majority.
I support new clause 21 and the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Slough. She said that she wants to be able to say, “They did it my way.” My reason for rising to speak is so I can say, “They did it our way,” because there should be cross-party momentum. Some say prostitution is the oldest profession, but, as far as I am concerned, it is the oldest form of exploitation and commodification of people’s bodies—predominantly women. We must not turn a blind eye and walk on the other side of the street. Prostitution, sexual exploitation and trafficking are inextricably linked.
My reason for keeping the Committee for a few minutes longer is because this issue is of particular concern in my constituency, after the recent conviction of a gang that sexually exploited more than 100 people in brothels in my area and around London. It must be tackled. We need that integrated strategy. We do not have the time to scrutinise this all in detail now, but we must show our willingness to recognise that this is a link to a strategy. As a defence solicitor, I saw at Haringey court a number of prostitutes who were victims rather than criminals and had drug problems or had been abused. We need to recognise that link.
We have been here before. The right hon. Member for Delyn will remember that, as shadow Justice Minister, I tabled and spoke to a similar amendment many years ago. That eventually led to section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 that took us a stage further but it is not, by any means, effective enough. This is an opportunity to not only show our commitment and reduce human trafficking in all its forms but to drive down demand for trafficking, including making the purchasing of sex illegal.
In its “Trafficking in Persons” report in 2014, the US State Department remarked that
“The UK government did not demonstrate efforts to reduce demand for sex or labor trafficking.”
I very much hope that, by the time it gets to the next report in 2015, we will have shown good progress.
I take very well all the points that have been made and am very supportive of the amendment, which I know is a probing one. A Bill is going through the Northern Ireland Assembly and among its provisions is one that would have a similar effect to the amendment. That is an example of something related to this area potentially being an offence in Northern Ireland, in legislation to come, but not being an offence here. I make that point not in relation to the merits or demerits of the amendment, which I fully support—I also fully support the Bill in the Assembly—but in reply to the Minister’s point.
If the Minister’s and the Government’s argument is that we should not consider such a provision in this area of law, while one is being built into the related area of law in Northern Ireland, that points to some of the anomalies and difficulties that could exist, given the Bill’s scope. Will the Minister bear that in mind?
I will not detain the Committee, as I realise that it is late. I thank the hon. Member for Slough for her amendments, which I know she feels very strongly about. Contributions to the debate have made it clear that many Members feel a great passion about the issue. However, the hon. Lady also said that this is not the place for this particular change to be made. The proposals need a much wider and more extensive debate, as well as time for the public and others to consider them.
My focus at the moment is entirely on modern slavery and ensuring that the Modern Slavery Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. That is what I spend most of my waking moments doing. I know that the words of the hon. Lady and other Committee members are on the record and have been heard and considered by people outside this room. I also note the useful point from the hon. Member for Foyle about Northern Ireland, which is perhaps a helpful example of a difference.
Clause 5 sets out the penalties related to an offence committed under clauses 1, 2 and 4. It is critical that the courts have the necessary sentencing powers to give appropriately severe sentences in such serious cases. Any person who is found guilty of an offence of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour under clause 1 or human trafficking under clause 2 can face a life sentence, which is an increase on the current maximum of 14 years. That will ensure that those who abuse and exploit others can expect to get lengthy custodial sentences to reflect the seriousness of their crimes. The clause 4 offence of committing an offence with intent to commit a human trafficking offence will carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in most cases. Where a person has committed the offence by kidnapping or false imprisonment, however, they too can face a life sentence.
Our approach to penalties for those who commit modern slavery is clear. If someone is prosecuted and convicted of a modern slavery offence, they are guilty of one of the most serious crimes on the statute book and can face life in prison as a result. Strengthening our sentencing powers for modern slavery offences will send a strong signal to those thinking of getting involved in slavery and trafficking that the UK will not tolerate any form of abuse or exploitation of others.
As I said, my focus is entirely on modern slavery and I would not wish to comment on the focus or commitments of any of my colleagues.