Committee demands substantial changes to prostitution bill

09/01/2007

Substantial changes must be made to the Prostitution (Public Places) ( Scotland ) Bill before it can be recommended to Parliament, according to a report published today.

View the committee report.

The Local Government and Transport Committee supports the intention of the bill - to tackle the impact of street prostitution in terms of the alarm, offence and nuisance it causes to communities. However, the report states the committee’s concerns over the bill as drafted and has demanded a series of amendments.

These include:

Kerb crawling

The committee considers that the bill as drafted would criminalise both soliciting and loitering for the purposes of prostitution where it would be likely to cause alarm, offence or nuisance, but the loitering offence would not be committed by someone in a private car. The committee views this as unacceptable and that, unless amended, it calls into question the whole point of the bill.

Enforceability

The committee considers that it will be very challenging to successfully achieve prosecutions of the purchasers of sex for the offences of loitering and soliciting. Such prosecutions may need to rely on purchasers incriminating themselves in some way, and the committee wonders how often such self-incrimination will realistically take place.

Management zones

Concern was raised that, in the past, ‘management zones’ or ‘tolerance zones’ have been established in cities in spite of the Executive’s stated position that it does not support them. Any new law should be applied consistently across Scotland .

Level of fines

Purchasers and sellers of sex are likely to have different economic circumstances and applying the same fine regime to both would, in practice, have a disproportionate impact on sellers. The committee urges Ministers to consider a tougher sentencing regime for purchasers.

Bristow Muldoon, Convener of the Local Government and Transport Committee, said :

"The committee’s view is that, if the bill is not amended, it will fail to address the problems faced by communities affected by prostitution.

"We recognise and welcome that the Executive’s position on a number of key issues appears to be shifting.

"The committee is prepared to give Ministers the benefit of the considerable doubts which have been expressed to us about the workability of this bill. However, it expects real progress to be made by Ministers in turning their developing thinking into real commitments before the Parliament debates and votes on the general principles of the bill.”

Deputy Minister for Finance and Public Service Reform, George Lyon MSP, twice gave evidence to the committee and has since written to indicate his developing thinking in relation to the bill. He is considering the possibility of:

  • amending the bill to keep the existing law in place for sellers and apply the new offences only to purchasers of sex,
  • introducing a more punitive package of penalties for purchasers,
  • the possibility of introducing an offence to criminalise ‘loitering in a private car’, and
  • ensuring that any new offences would apply throughout Scotland.

BACKGROUND NOTES

The Stage 1 Report can be accessed from the Parliament website at www.scottish.parliament.uk

The Prostitution (Public Places) (Scotland) Bill was introduced by Ministers on 15 September 2006.

The bill proposed to make it an offence for an individual to solicit or loiter in a relevant place with the intention of buying or selling sexual services in such a manner or in such circumstances as a reasonable person would consider it likely to cause alarm, offence or nuisance.

The bill provides that it is not necessary for any member of the public to be caused actual nuisance, offence or alarm. This would allow police officers to provide evidence that the circumstances of a particular case were such that alarm, offence or nuisance would have been caused to a reasonable person.

The Local Government and Transport Committee received responses from 22 organisations and individuals and held five meetings to hear evidence from a variety of witnesses. The responses gathered highlighted a number of major problems for which the committee seeks amendments.

Members of the Local Government and Transport Committee are : Convener – Bristow Muldoon, Deputy Convener – Fergus Ewing, Dr Sylvia Jackson, Paul Martin, Michael McMahon, David McLetchie, Mike Rumbles, Tommy Sheridan and Maureen Watt.

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