MSPs decide to keep prostitution legal

A BID to introduce sweeping new laws criminalising all aspects of prostitution has been defeated in the Scottish Parliament.

Labour MSP Trish Godman's amendment would have made it an offence to engage in, advertise or facilitate paid-for sexual activity, whether it was on the streets or indoors.

In particular, she wanted to send out a strong message to men who buy sex from women, some of whom have been forced into the industry. Ms Godman said: "As I speak, men are buying sex from prostitutes, men are raping women who are trafficked, they have no fear, they will never get caught because it is not an offence.

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"We need to send a strong message that buying sex is not harmless or acceptable, that it should be regarded in Scotland as an abuse and an exploitation which will not tolerated.

"I would argue that we owe it to all women who are victimised by prostitution to do what we can now."

At present, kerb crawling is illegal in Scotland but prostitution is not, and prostitutes are arrested only if they are suspected of causing a breach of the peace.

The Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland, prostitutes' support agency Scotpep and Independent MSP Margo MacDonald had all warned that the amendment could drive prostitution out of the relative safety of flats and saunas and on to back streets, putting women at greater risk.

Community safety minister Fergus Ewing, who attended the justice committee meeting, said: "The government is concerned about making substantial changes to the law in this difficult, complex and sensitive area without proper consideration and consultation, with all the issues involved.

"Rushing through a major change to the law of prostitution through amendments, without any proper consultation and with very limited time for consideration, is a bad idea."

Ruth Morgan Thomas, of Scotpep, said the amendment would have sought to criminalise an estimated 5,000 women working in the sex industry in Scotland.

She also said that a law against "facilitating" the purchase of sex would potentially lead to receptionists, hotel porters and even taxi drivers being charged and convicted.

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The amendment was also criticised for being added to the already wide-ranging Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill, and without having had specific consultation on the ramifications of a change in legislation on prostitution.

In particular, there was consensus on the need for more information on people trafficking.

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC is to lead an Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry into human trafficking in Scotland this summer, with a particular focus on sexual exploitation.

The inquiry plans to take evidence from victims of abuse, experts, police and other agencies whose responsibility it is to tackle trafficking.

Ms MacDonald said: "If the intention of this committee and this parliament is to outlaw paid-for sex between consenting adults, then you'll have to tackle that, and it will need much more information than we've got this morning."