A LABOUR MSP is to press ahead with controversial plans to criminalise prostitution in Scotland after a move to effectively “fast-track” new legislation through parliament was blocked yesterday.
• Members turned down the fast-track approach in a vote taken in private
Holyrood’s justice committee ruled that a 12-week consultation on the measures, which would make it an offence for someone to purchase sex from another adult, must be carried out by Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant.
The proposals are aimed at killing off demand, but have met with concern from support groups that the move could drive vulnerable women away from seeking vital services.
Ms Grant said the decision was “merely procedural” and pledged to carry on with the Bill last night.
“I look forward to hearing the responses to the further consultation on these proposals,” she said.
“Overwhelmingly, the feedback that I have received to date makes clear that reducing the demand for prostitution can be achieved by making the purchasing of sex illegal.
“I look forward to the parliament considering more consultation feedback in the coming months and a full debate on my proposals that will protect Scottish women.”
Although practices like running brothels and kerb crawling are illegal in Scotland, the act of paying another person for sex remains within the law.
An earlier attempt to pass similar legislation ran out of time in the last parliament. But it had been widely consulted on and Ms Grant told the justice committee there was no need to repeat this process with her Bill.
But the plans have a “narrower” approach than the last Bill which also sought to outlaw promoting or facilitating sexual services. The committee turned down the fast-track approach in a vote taken in private.
“We consider that a fresh consultation would provide another opportunity to ascertain the opinion of those individuals most likely to be directly affected by the criminalisation of the purchase of sex,” committee convenor Christine Grahame said in a written statement afterwards.
The Bill won support from organisations like Zero Tolerance, which believes it will be instrumental in driving down demand without criminalising the sex workers themselves.
However, concerns have emerged in recent days that it could increase women’s vulnerability to physical attacks.
George Lewis, co-chair of Edinburgh-based support group ScotPEP, said the abolition of a “tolerance zone” for prostitution in Leith removed a “safe working area” for women and led to a tenfold rise in reported attacks.
“It’s that kind of situation that we fear,” he said.