AN attempt to criminalise people who buy sex from prostitutes was today rejected by a Holyrood committee.
Labour MSP Trish Godman had tried to win support for the proposed offence, which she argued would send a strong message and reform an “unequal” law which focuses on women. But the Justice Committee voted against the measure, which was backed only by Labour politicians, saying the issues had not been thoroughly investigated.
In her plea to the committee, 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. “We need to send a strong message that buying sex is not harmless or acceptable, 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.”
Ms Godman rejected concerns that her amendment would push prostitution “indoors”, saying that if men can find it, police and welfare services can as well. Tory, SNP and Liberal Democrat committee members said they recognised the importance of the amendment but said it should not be added late to the wider overhaul of the Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill, currently at its second stage of parliamentary scrutiny.
Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing, who was also at today’s committee session, said experts had warned the proposed law could make the problem worse. He added: “The Government is concerned about making substantial changes to the law in this difficult, complex and sensitive area, without proper consideration, consultation, with all the issues involved.
“Rushing through a major change to the law of prostitution through stage-two amendments, without any proper consultation and with very limited time for consideration, is a bad idea.” Mr Ewing said 93 submissions had been made to Parliament about the prostitution laws, compared with an earlier 90 for the entire Bill. Independent MSP Margo MacDonald – who lodged her own amendments but opposed Ms Godman – told the committee that not all women are forced into prostitution and called for a separate investigation into any law changes.
She 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.” Ms Godman’s amendment was defeated by five votes to three.