(1 year, 6 months ago)Read Full debate
To underline my hon. Friend’s point, does not the fact that 50% of women in prostitution in the UK are estimated to have started being paid for sex acts before they were 18 years old expose more than anything the vulnerability of people in this trade and how the almost rosy image that is sometimes given to it is very far away from the reality of what faces them?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the debate. I have watched documentaries about the situation around Europe, and whether we are dealing with sex trafficking or the slave trade, for want of a better term, because women are forced into a form of slavery, things break down at the point of prosecuting men, whether they are just an individual using a prostitute or somebody running a gang. That is where the weakness is, and the law has to be strengthened to start to tackle that. Does my hon. Friend agree?
I congratulate the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) on securing the debate, and the hon. Gentleman on all the work he does with the all-party group. He mentioned consent. There is a parallel issue of choice. Sometimes it is said that there is a choice. Does he agree that there is more to the question of choice than initially meets the eye, and that “choice” is often driven by poverty, addiction or abuse?
I congratulate my hon. Friend—a fellow Co-operative Member—on the excellent case he is making on this terrible problem of exploitation in our society. Does he agree with me—I am looking at this particularly in terms of a Co-operative analysis of the economy—that many of the issues are driven by the insecure environments in which women find themselves? What we are talking about is the result of, in particular, poverty, addiction and coercion, but also of insecure work, zero-hours contracts and poor wages. All those things contribute to in-work poverty and are the reasons why women find themselves in those situations.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his speech. I am using this intervention to say that I have been advised that it would be inappropriate for me to speak today, given certain things that are happening in west Yorkshire. He knows that I have been campaigning on this issue for a very long time. This is my opportunity to say that I am here absolutely supporting him.
If hon. Members wish to remove their jackets—including the Clerk and the Hansard Reporters—they are entitled to do so, because of the rudimentary cooling system that we have today. I will, unusually, call Sarah Champion from the same side, because I know that she has been very significant in getting this motion to the House.
Break in Debate
It is a team of respected academics in the field, and it would not be right for me as a Minister to point them in the direction of their research. I am sure they will be looking at the example the hon. Gentleman mentions, as they will look at other examples across Europe. It is something I can look at, too.
Before I descend into the details, I add that I am pleased that colleagues have talked about the role that education has in tackling demand. Colleagues will know that I spend a lot of time talking about that when it comes to how some crimes are perpetuated against women and girls. Relationships education is absolutely key. The hon. Member for Rotherham mentioned the Secretary of State for Education. My understanding is that while some schools will be in a position to provide this education very quickly because they have the teachers and skill sets available, other schools are not quite at that place. We are trying to help them get to that place so that the policy is consistent and high-quality across the country.
The acts of buying and selling sex are not in themselves illegal in England and Wales, but many activities that can be associated with prostitution are offences, and we have heard about them today. When those offences were designed, the basis of them was to protect vulnerable people involved in prostitution. They relate to activities such as controlling prostitution and buying sex from someone who has been a victim of trafficking. We are aware of the different legislative approaches taken elsewhere, including the Nordic model and the regulated decriminalised approach in Germany and the Netherlands. We are seeking unequivocal evidence as to whether any one approach is better than others at tackling harm and exploitation. That must remain our priority.
That is a perfectly fair and proper question. It is a question that I will have to answer when we have the independent research, which we will be able to analyse the results of. I understand why colleagues are anxious to act immediately, but I have to act on the basis of academic research and evidence.