Allow brothels and kerb crawling, MSPs urged

PROPOSALS to effectively de-criminalise prostitution in Scotland have been unveiled by an Independent MSP.

Decriminalisation would follow a New Zealand model. Groups of up to four women could sell sex without a licence. Picture: Toby Williams

Highland MSP Jean Urquhart has unveiled a consultation which effectively allows the keeping of brothels, as well as kerb crawling and soliciting.

It has been welcomed by support agencies who have said it will keep sex workers safe. They want a New Zealand-style ­approach of decriminalisation to be adopted in Scotland.

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The changes would mean small groups of up to four women selling sex could to work together from the same premises and larger premises would be licensed. They could currently be charged with­ ­brothel-keeping. The laws against soliciting and kerb crawling would also be scrapped to make life safer for sex workers.

Ms Urquhart said: “With the death of Margo MacDonald, Scotland’s sex workers lost an irreplaceable friend and ally.

“With the exception of the proposals she campaigned for, the debate about Scotland’s prostitution laws has for too long been conducted as if sex workers should be pushed out of sight.

“They have been systematically ignored while laws which expose them to violence and stigma have been preserved or extended.

“These proposals take on board not only the experience and concerns of sex workers, but also reflect a growing international consensus that what sex workers most need is safety and labour rights, not the risks which come from criminalisation.”

The measures are unlikely to be passed before the end of the current parliament next May when Ms Urquhart stands down as an MSP. But she wants to open up a wider public debate – and another MSP could take on the consultation in the next parliament.

Edinburgh previously operated a tolerance zone in Leith until it was scrapped in 2001 amid complaints from local residents. And although police had turned a blind eye to the city’s saunas effectively operating as brothels, the creation of national police force, Police Scotland, saw a crackdown launched.

In Aberdeen, a tolerance zone for prostitutes in the city’s harbour area was scrapped in 2007 when new kerb crawling laws were introduced.

SCOT-PEP, a Scottish charity which campaigns for sex workers, is behind the plans.

Co-chairwoman Nadine Stott said: “There is no reason why sex work should only be permissible if a single person works alone in their flat, for example. That law leaves sex workers vulnerable to violence and exploitation, as do the current laws on street-based sex work, which also seriously hamper sex workers’ ability to move onto other work.”

A move by Labour’s Rhoda Grant to criminalise men who pay for sex was dropped in 2003 after it failed to win cross-party support at Holyrood.

Ms Urquhart’s plans would also permit sex workers to have joint finances with their families or flatmates. Currently the partners and family of sex workers are criminalised.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Research to inform any future policy decisions on the purchase of sex will be submitted to the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament in early 2016. Once this research is available, it will allow the government and Parliament to debate the issue, informed by Scottish evidence.”