Prostitution Tolerance Zones (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

– in the Scottish Parliament at 10:48 am on 27 February 2003.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 10:48, 27 February 2003

The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3939, in the name of Margo MacDonald, on the Prostitution Tolerance Zones (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 10:53, 27 February 2003

It is with great pleasure that I invite Parliament's approval for the principles of the Prostitution Tolerance Zones (Scotland) Bill.

Members will be pleased to hear that the bill is a short one and has only eight sections. It is an enabling measure, which would empower a local authority, if it so decided, to designate an area forming part of the authority's area as a prostitution tolerance zone. By that, I mean a zone

"within which loitering, soliciting or importuning by prostitutes is not an offence under section 46(1) of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982".

The bill seeks to exercise a duty of care towards prostitutes and to minimise annoyance, inconvenience and embarrassment to the general community. It does not seek to condone or promote prostitution; instead, it seeks to minimise the criminality that is associated with prostitution and to enable health and social services to be delivered more easily to a group of very vulnerable people.

I introduce the bill because for some years now I have been associated with the Scottish prostitutes education project—or SCOT-PEP—which is the voluntary organisation in Edinburgh that supports prostitutes. I was asked by officers in Lothian and Borders police to convene a steering group to investigate how best to build on the successful tolerance, or non-harassment, zone that had operated in Edinburgh for the best part of 20 years. The steering group became necessary after the area around Coburg Street in Leith, which had been the original tolerance zone, was redeveloped and residents complained of nuisance and embarrassment caused by the women who solicited there.

After discussions with SCOT-PEP, which represented the prostitutes, the police moved the zone to a strictly defined part of Salamander Street in Leith. As members will see from the evidence that was submitted to the Local Government Committee, such a solution might have proved possible if the police had had enough time to consult local people in the area before a very unfortunate spate of mass media reporting made any calm assessment of the matter well nigh impossible. The Salamander Street tolerance zone was discontinued on 30 November 2001 and a new solution was sought, which is how the steering group came about. In fact, I should point out that the group has greatly influenced the production of the bill.

Therefore, as members will appreciate, the bill is not ideologically based. Instead, it is a pragmatic, workable and legal way of managing the problems that can arise from street prostitution and of exercising a duty of care to prostitutes and the wider community. I dare to suggest that such a duty will be needed for as long as there are street prostitutes. In their evidence to the Local Government Committee, even the bill's opponents conceded that street prostitution is likely to remain a part of life in Scotland's four big cities for the foreseeable future.

At this stage, I should assure members that we are talking only about the four big cities. To the best of my knowledge, no other area has street prostitutes. There might well be women who work indoors as prostitutes elsewhere, but the problems and challenges that are presented by street prostitution are to be found only in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow. I will explain the differences among the cities later.

Because street prostitution in those cities is a fact of life, even though we might not wish that to be so, local councils, health authorities, community drugs action workers and the police in Aberdeen and Edinburgh have indicated their support for the bill's intentions and principles. Both cities have operated acknowledged informal tolerance zones. Moreover, having heard evidence on Glasgow's red-light area, the Local Government Committee has concluded that it, too, is a tolerance zone by any other name.

Because the pattern of prostitution is different in those three cities, the bill itself is non-prescriptive. However, Dundee is something else. I can say that because Kate Maclean is not here this morning. Dundee has a very small number of women who work as prostitutes and who are known to the police. That system works, and if it ain't broke, I would not be so presumptuous as to say that it should be mended. However, representatives of Tayside police attended meetings of the steering group, contributed to our discussions and did not raise any objections to the bill's principles.

Grampian police and Lothian and Borders police noted that the benefits of operating a non-harassment policy within an agreed area include the very low levels of criminality within such a zone. Attacks on women are much less frequent and underage women are not tolerated either by the women who work there as prostitutes or by the police who patrol the area. Pimps, managers or other exploitative people who live off the women's earnings are also not tolerated. Some people who enjoy dancing on the head of a pin would say that there are no such things as pimps in Scotland. I have used the word "pimp" to describe someone who lives off the earnings of a woman who works as a prostitute. Such people certainly exist.

Grampian and Lothian and Borders police officers cited the intelligence gained by the police as the most effective way of preventing or minimising alcohol and drugs offences and other crime. Obviously, as the law stands, soliciting is a crime. However, no other crime is tolerated within the zones that have been, or are, non-harassment zones.

One of the most urgent reasons for reinstating an agreed tolerance zone in Edinburgh centres on police officers' concern that, without knowing where prostitutes are working at any given time, they are finding it more difficult to prevent developments that are worrying municipal authorities all over Europe, including—as some members might know—those in English cities.

The new Mafias from eastern Europe and Albania are trafficking women from there and from elsewhere. Some of those women were discovered in Glasgow, not in its de facto street tolerance zone but working indoors, where it is much more difficult for them to be noticed by regular policing and the intelligence that builds up, as I described a few minutes ago.

Police in Edinburgh are concerned that, with the tolerance zone suspended, trafficked women might be working as street prostitutes. That would be an entirely new development and one that we should fear and attempt to meet as quickly as possible.

The ending of the tolerance zone has made it easier for drug dealers to infiltrate prostitution. During the time in which the Coburg Street zone was operational, it was estimated that about 20 per cent of the street prostitutes in Edinburgh were injecting drugs. In the 15 months since the zone was suspended, that percentage has grown to more than 50 per cent.

Aberdeen and Glasgow adopted their sensitive or tolerant policing policies later than Edinburgh, which might go some way to explaining why there should be such a difference between the 90 per cent plus drug injectors among prostitutes in Aberdeen and Glasgow and the much lower percentage in Edinburgh. To take members back almost 20 years—I can do that because I was there—when heavy drugs such as heroin first came on to the streets in Edinburgh, there was a fear that the HIV virus—and the hepatitis virus before that—could be spread through the prostitution route via drug dealers and drug trafficking. The drug scene gave rise to the management of prostitution. That did not happen until a few years later in Glasgow, which might explain some of the differences between the cities.

When the bill reaches stage 2, I want to lodge an amendment to include in the list of persons to be consulted under section 2(4) community councils and drugs action groups. I want to do that before a tolerance zone has been established, even when the zone has been triggered by the local authority.

The bill makes provision in section 2 for voluntary and statutory agencies to consult residents, business people and prostitutes. There must be a partnership to effect the bill's provisions in order to maximise the benefits to public health, security and good order in the entire community.

Members will note that health boards are listed. The director of public health of Lothian NHS Board gave evidence to the Local Government Committee in support of the bill because of the perceived benefits to public health in a tolerance zone. The zone makes it easier to deliver preventative measures such as condoms or medical examinations for sexually transmitted infections. In support of that, during the time that the tolerance zone was operational in Leith, there was not a single recorded case of the HIV virus being transmitted via a prostitute. That is a record that no one else can lay claim to, certainly not among the people whom I have consulted when introducing the bill.

If there are measurable benefits from having a tolerance zone policy—even an informal one—why do we need legislation? The Local Government Committee recommends that Aberdeen, Edinburgh and presumably Glasgow—as it has a de facto zone—could apply the well-being provision of the new Local Government in Scotland Act 2003 and install whichever facilities those cities think necessary in a suitable area to deliver health services, support to get out of prostitution and security to prostitutes. Soliciting would remain a criminal offence. At this stage, I say that those are precisely the services that are being delivered via SCOT-PEP in Edinburgh. Aberdeen would like to replicate the delivery of those services to its street prostitutes. Aberdeen would deliver the services via Drugs Action.

Under the scheme suggested by the Local Government Committee, soliciting would remain a criminal offence. I might have been tempted to accept that but, unfortunately, I have had legal advice from local authority solicitors and others who doubt that councils would have the necessary legal basis to instigate that informal style of tolerance zone. Local councillors in Edinburgh have told me that they are not confident that they could proceed on that basis after the breakdown of the previous policy and the ensuing publicity. Perhaps the convener of the Local Government Committee or the Executive could help to allay councillors' fears about that matter and I sincerely hope that they will be able to do so.

For a successful tolerance zone policy, there must be compliance from prostitutes, such as there was in Edinburgh, even when the tolerance zone was relocated. The women knew that if they observed the code of conduct agreed by SCOT-PEP and the police, they would not be prosecuted for soliciting. There was a strong argument for them to operate inside the zone and to respect business hours of opening and so on.

The suggestion from the Local Government Committee is that soliciting should remain a criminal offence. As evidence to the Local Government Committee has shown, there can be different views among procurators fiscal and police as to how rigorously the law against soliciting should be enforced, which might not induce an easy system of partnership among the relevant agencies. In time-honoured tradition, I have got my retaliation in first.

Finally, I record my thanks to the men who did such a professional job of producing the bill—Neil Brailsford and Kenneth Campbell from the Faculty of Advocates. I am also greatly obliged to the Parliament's draftsperson who gave advice, dotted the i's and crossed the t's, and to the Parliament's non-Executive bills unit. The clerks to the Local Government Committee, its committee members and the distinguished members of the superb Subordinate Legislation Committee are all to be thanked for their consideration and help with the bill. I also thank my advisers and SCOT-PEP, the researchers in my office who put up with me and all those who took part in the consultation and gave evidence to the committees. Thanks to their efforts, I am now able to ask Parliament to agree to the general principles of the bill.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Prostitution Tolerance Zones (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 11:06, 27 February 2003

I start by thanking the clerks to the Local Government Committee and the Scottish Parliament information centre for the considerable efforts that they have made with regard to the bill.

Let us be clear about one thing: prostitution is not a career choice, nor is it a service that women provide for men. Prostitution is an abuse of women. The effect of the proposed legislation will be to allow local authorities to manage and legalise an activity associated with the abuse of women. The Scottish National Party will oppose the bill.

The Prostitution Tolerance Zones (Scotland) Bill is essentially a bill of two parts. The first part allows local authorities to set up and manage facilities in a particular designated area and to provide, for example, closed-circuit television, cleansing and other services. The other part of the bill seeks to decriminalise soliciting in the designated area.

As Margo MacDonald has rightly said, hers is an enabling bill. No local authority is obliged to set up such zones and, of the 32 Scottish local authorities, 31 are either opposed to the bill or have not responded to it.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Some 133 organisations and agencies were approached in the consultation process and only Glasgow City Council and South Ayrshire Council objected to the bill. The others either did not object to the bill or supported it.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

I repeat what I have just said: of the 32 local authorities in Scotland that the bill seeks to enable to set up tolerance zones, 31 either are opposed to the bill or have not responded to it. Glasgow City Council is opposed to the bill and the City of Edinburgh Council is in favour of it. Dundee Council did not respond and Aberdeen City Council has taken no decision on the matter.

During the evidence sessions, I asked repeatedly—I have not yet had a satisfactory answer—why the bill is needed, if there have been two informal tolerance zones in Edinburgh during past years and a tolerance zone currently operates in Aberdeen. What more can be done though the bill that present legislation does not allow? The answer is simple: nothing. Aberdeen City Council, which has an informal zone, recognises that

"From a purely practical point of view, if the bill were not passed, that would not make too much difference in Aberdeen because the arrangements that we have do not rely on the bill."—[Official Report, Local Government Committee, 7 January 2003; c 3790.]

Therefore, Aberdeen, which already has an informal tolerance zone, does not believe that the passing of the bill will allow it to do anything more than it does at present.

Current local authority powers and the additional power of well-being that is included in the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003 give sufficient powers to local authorities to designate an area and to provide the infrastructure and other services designed to protect the health and safety of prostitutes and the communities in which they operate. The problem exists in Edinburgh—this is a problem only in Edinburgh—not because there is no tolerance zones act, but because there is no public agreement about where a tolerance zone should be located.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

The member will recall that as part of the evidence given to the Local Government Committee, the deputy leader of Glasgow City Council admitted that the city's tolerance zone arrangements were likely to break down, exactly as they had in Edinburgh, and that there would be a problem in relocating the women. How does she envisage that could be done without any legal basis?

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

Certainly, every local authority must look at its own arrangements. I am confident that Glasgow will manage the situation. This is a problem purely for Edinburgh. It is not a matter for legislation; it is a matter of location. If the Salamander Street tolerance zone were still in operation, we would not be seeing this bill today. Public opinion forced the closure of that zone and, even if the bill were enacted, it would not allow for a zone to be set up if the public did not wish it to be there.

I am concerned that the general public have not been fully consulted on the bill. Prostitutes and pimps travel to existing zones from elsewhere in Scotland and England. We have heard some evidence of nuisance in the surrounding community to do with condoms being dumped, but most of us in the Local Government Committee would agree that the community view has not been put to us. It is a matter for procurators fiscal and policing policy whether they prosecute for soliciting. It is they who make the judgment in the public interest whether to prosecute—just as they did when an informal tolerance zone operated in Edinburgh. Although that approach is not perfect, it is more pragmatic, and preferable to decriminalising an activity in one area while retaining the legislation everywhere else. As the submission from the Scottish Police Federation made clear, the Government should challenge the notion that prostitution is acceptable and inevitable rather than provide for its decriminalisation in defined geographical areas.

The debate that we should be having is not about tolerance zones but about prostitution. That is why I fully support the Local Government Committee's recommendation that further investigation is needed by way of a ministerial committee. Prostitution may be the oldest profession in the world, but in Scotland it deserves a considered response. The bill has been useful in that it has highlighted an issue that many would prefer remained hidden. However, the bill is neither needed nor practicable, and it should be opposed.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative 11:13, 27 February 2003

A very full consultation took place on this matter. Senior police officers were consulted, as were major local authorities, health boards, social work groups, drug addiction teams, and the Deputy Minister for Finance and Local Government. Various responses came in; of particular interest were those from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, but there were also observations from drug and HIV groups, churches and even the Scottish Young Fabians.

The deputy minister, Peter Peacock, responded to Trish Godman, who initiated the consideration as convener of the Local Government Committee. His letter stated:

"Your specific question was about whether the power could be used to provide community safety infrastructure to enhance the safety of prostitutes operating in an area, even thought it could be seen as action in support of illegal activities. The power could not be used in a way that was promoting illegal activity so a council acting in a way that was encouraging soliciting or importuning for the purposes of prostitution in a particular area would be acting outwith the power to advance well-being, and would also be acting in an unlawful and possibly criminal manner."

I am not a lawyer, but I get the impression that there are blurred, grey areas regarding the legality—

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

Does John Young accept that the power of well-being will not allow local authorities to decriminalise soliciting, but that it will allow local authorities to work with other people, organisations and agencies? The power of well-being will give local authorities the right to provide infrastructure such as CCTV and for the servicing of such zones, because it is for the betterment of sections of their communities.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative

I accept a large part of what Tricia Marwick has said, but I still think that responses from the Crown Office and others show that there are legal grey areas.

The point was made that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, and that is probably true. Most of us have great sorrow for women who are driven into prostitution. It must be one of the most dangerous activities to pursue, as they just do not know what they are coming up against. The cardinal thing is that prostitution will probably be with us as far as we can look into the future. It was here in the past and it will be here in the future. Margo MacDonald is trying to propose something that would perhaps make it safer for women, but there were problems in Salamander Street and Coburg Street, where residents were concerned about the area deteriorating. If they owned their own houses, they were concerned that the values of those houses might go down.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

As I have already conceded, there was obviously great concern among business people and residents who own property in Salamander Street. However, after the zone had been operational and after there had been a level of consultation and information supplied to people, the number of complaints to the police dropped drastically. What we have now in Leith is a much greater level of hazard for the security of the prostitutes, and also annoyance to residents. Because there is no tolerance zone, the police cannot operate in the way in which they operated before, which minimised the level of associated criminality and annoyance.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative

I thank Margo MacDonald for that information.

There is a point that I feel I should make, which may be relevant in some ways but may not be relevant in others. Some years ago, Glasgow City Council had a visit from an Australian woman who was an international expert in the field of prostitution. She said that prostitution, of course, existed in Melbourne and that there was harassment from the authorities. The people who owned the brothels in Melbourne then tried to go respectable, and indeed they formed a company, which they floated on the Melbourne stock exchange. It became so lucrative that women—and, sadly, children also—are now being flown in from south-east Asia for such ventures, and the Russian Mafia appears to have moved in. I am not suggesting that that could happen here, but who knows? In Melbourne, they did not think that it could happen there, and there are major problems.

I still have a problem with the unlawful and possible criminal activity that can take place. In some ways, one could argue in favour of tolerance zones, but what worries me is that the clients often take the women elsewhere by car. They may take them to some isolated site on the outskirts of the city, and those poor women are not only abused but may also be violently attacked or even murdered.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative

I do not know how it works, but perhaps Margo MacDonald will be able to answer my question.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative

Margo MacDonald may well have spoken to a number of the women. Does she find that those women themselves are happy about that arrangement? Are they concerned about being uplifted by a client and taken elsewhere?

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I am glad that that point has arisen, because there seems to be some misunderstanding as to the details of how prostitution operates, particularly in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The tolerance zones were, in effect, what was described at the Local Government Committee as pick-up zones. That was where clients engaged with prostitutes. They then went to another part of Glasgow, usually the lanes, which I think are well known to former Councillor Anderson, in a professional capacity, of course. In Edinburgh, they usually go in cars.

I am sorry. I should have said former Councillor Young, not Anderson. I was thinking about someone else whom we both know.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I think that we had better change the subject and move on.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

We are going to. It is an interesting subject, but we can go into it later.

What happens is that—

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

It is indeed, but I was giving information that is pertinent to the debate, Presiding Officer, and crave your indulgence.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

You should give that information quickly, please.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

The police have intelligence about who uses such zones and know whether women are there. Women can look out for one another. SCOT-PEP had an ugly-mug system. If a client abused somebody, a record of that was kept by SCOT-PEP and shared with the police, so there was a much greater flow of information as to what happened in prostitution. That is why women like to work in tolerance zones.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I will give you one more minute, Mr Young. You should not take any more interventions.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative

That was probably the longest intervention in the Parliament so far.

I am not the only former Glasgow councillor in the chamber—indeed, Trish Godman was a prominent Glasgow councillor. One cannot equate Glasgow to places such as Edinburgh, as Glasgow city centre's geography is entirely different. Prostitutes can operate at the end of each lane. I believe that there was an idea whereby a prostitute would operate at one end of a lane to try to keep an eye on her colleague who was at the other end—that was their only safety.

It is difficult—almost impossible—to establish tolerance zones in a city such as Glasgow. I am not an expert on prostitution or prostitutes—I must say that, as it might sound as though I wander around the streets of Glasgow like Gladstone or his father used to do in the streets of Leith. However, there are too many unanswered questions. I appreciate what Margo MacDonald is trying to do, but I think that we would end up in a legal quagmire or nightmare.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 11:21, 27 February 2003

The topic that is being debated is not easy. The Liberal Democrats do not believe that the issue should be a party-political one. Individual MSPs should consider all the evidence and reach their own conclusions.

The Local Government Committee took a considerable amount of evidence at stage 1, as our report shows. We took evidence from many people, there were long evidence sessions and we took a long time to deliberate on the careful wording of our report.

I have considerable sympathy for the case that Margo MacDonald has put in support of the bill. No one should be in any doubt about her commitment to promoting the welfare of women who find themselves trapped in street prostitution, or her genuine belief that the bill provides a real route for dealing with some of the many issues that surround street prostitution.

We considered carefully all the evidence that was presented to the Local Government Committee. Strong views were expressed both by those who were in favour of the bill and by those who were against it. Those who were in favour of the bill saw it as a pragmatic approach to a real and existing problem that would allow the effective targeting of services to a very vulnerable group. Those who opposed the bill did so from a principled standpoint and said that if the bill were passed, it would constitute a legitimisation of prostitution. I echo what Margo MacDonald said and what the committee said in its report—that was not her intention in the bill.

I have no doubt that street prostitutes are victims rather than criminals. Routes into prostitution include sexual and physical abuse, poverty and drugs. Almost all street prostitutes have a drugs habit and are involved in prostitution to fund that habit or that of a male partner, which Margo MacDonald mentioned. Routes out of prostitution must involve dealing with those fundamental causes. It would be preferable to prevent women from going into prostitution in the first place, but the bill deals with how best to support women who are in prostitution to get out.

There are health and safety benefits not only for prostitutes, but for the wider community in having clearly defined zones in which street prostitutes can operate. The evidence from Edinburgh is compelling—particularly the worrying rise in violence against prostitutes since the loss of the non-harassment zones. It is clear that there are benefits in being able to target services at women who work in defined geographical areas rather than attempting to provide services to women who may be scattered over a wide area and are difficult to identify. The safety of women cannot be guaranteed—particularly as the sexual acts will be conducted elsewhere—but there is no doubt that the provision of adequate lighting and CCTV, sensitive policing and mutual support help to improve the security of women who are involved in prostitution. Voluntary groups and health services can target their services more effectively, from the provision of condoms, needle exchanges and health clinics to services such as drugs counselling and routes out of prostitution programmes. The police can develop effective liaison with prostitutes, which helps to combat problems with pimps, drug dealers and under-age girls and helps to identify possibly violent clients. Councils can also target cleansing services to deal with the inevitable debris that results from street prostitution, which has benefits for the wider community.

One reason for the bill is the concern that local authorities that attempt to assume a duty of care towards prostitutes by installing or providing safety features such as CCTV or other services could lay themselves open to accusations of aiding and abetting an illegal activity. The Local Government Committee considered that matter carefully, along with whether local authorities already have sufficient powers to provide services in specific areas where there is street prostitution, particularly in the context of the new power of well-being.

The key paragraph of the Local Government Committee's report is paragraph 90. The committee concluded:

"Whilst the power to advance well being cannot be used to create Prostitution Tolerance Zones as proposed under the Bill, the Committee considers that existing powers available to local authorities and the additional powers available under the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003, are sufficient to enable local authorities to provide infrastructure and services designed to protect the health and safety of prostitutes and the general public whether generally or within defined areas. Policies regarding arrest or prosecution within a defined area would be matters for the police and the prosecuting authorities."

That is the crucial paragraph in the report and is the reason why I do not believe that the bill is necessary to achieve its aims. Powers are available to local authorities to work in partnership with health services and the police to develop the best solutions for their areas. Indeed, the additional powers under the community planning provisions might provide even more powers to develop such solutions.

One of the committee's particular concerns was the variation in prosecution policies throughout Scotland. The committee took the firm view that fining prostitutes for soliciting and jailing them for non-payment of fines was not the way forward or in the public interest. Indeed, as most prostitutes are in prostitution to fund a drugs habit, fining a prostitute is more likely to lead them to increase rather than reduce their activity to allow them to pay the fine and finance their drugs habit. We believe that a more appropriate route would be to consider using drugs courts and drug testing and treatment orders, for example.

For those reasons, the committee concluded that we should not support the general principles of the bill, although we recognised that the existing legislative framework is far from satisfactory. That is why we have urged the Scottish Executive to establish a cross-party working group with a ministerial chair to examine issues surrounding prostitution in Scotland, including the effects of drug abuse, and to recommend appropriate primary and secondary intervention measures. I hope that the minister will respond positively to our suggestions.

I commend our recommendations to the Parliament and urge members to reject the general principles of the bill.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

We now reach the open part of the debate. As Trish Godman is the convener of the Local Government Committee, I will allow her a little extra time.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 11:27, 27 February 2003

I, too, thank members of the Local Government Committee for all their hard work on the report, and the committee's staff. I am keen for the Official Report to record the fact that the committee has every sympathy with the bill's aims and Margo MacDonald's motivations and intentions—I want to make that clear.

The committee had to address the duty of care towards and the safety of prostitutes, and whether tolerance zones would or should be part of that duty of care. We considered the reasons why women become prostitutes. There is no doubt that we are talking about a very vulnerable group of women. Most have suffered emotional, physical or sexual abuse—indeed, some have suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Many have children who are in care. They find it difficult to establish routines, particularly those who have a drugs habit—I will speak about them later. Some of them are in a vicious circle, because, as Iain Smith said, they have to pay fines, so they solicit to pay them or to feed a drugs habit.

What is to be done? Some people genuinely believe that tolerance zones make it safer for prostitutes to work and for statutory services to deliver the necessary support systems—that was a clear position. Other people do not believe that tolerance zones are necessary. To say that we heard conflicting evidence is to put things mildly. There was conflicting evidence from parts of Scotland and England. Some people said that tolerance zones would be safer for women, but others said that they would not, as violence takes place outwith zones. Zones are for soliciting, but the business takes place elsewhere.

There is a gender imbalance in respect of offences. Soliciting is an offence, but kerb crawling is not. Should we consider making kerb crawling an offence? There was conflicting evidence on that. Some evidence suggested that if kerb crawling became an offence, it would become less safe for the prostitute, because she would not have time to assess who is in the car, whether she knows them and whether it is someone with whom she would not want to do the business.

We have evidence from a project in Middlesborough, which supported the arrest of kerb crawlers. However, in its evidence, it agreed that the initial impetus of the campaign would be lost if it did not continue to receive serious media support—that is, after people have been arrested and prosecuted, their names, addresses and car numbers should be prominently placed in the local press. We need further investigation of the matter because there is an imbalance.

We were surprised and extremely concerned by the percentage of the women who are intravenous drug users. Of 1,200 prostitutes in Glasgow, 97 per cent are drug users. As I said, women who are fined for soliciting go on the streets again to pay the fine or—as Iain Smith said—to feed a partner's habit or their own. The question that I asked and which Iain Smith mentioned is: should we send prostitutes to the drugs courts instead, or to the kind of time-out centre that they have in Glasgow? That would be one way of ensuring that the drugs issue, which is the big issue, is dealt with right at the beginning. However, that is a question for another day.

We had to consider routes out of prostitution. That was the most important part of our deliberations. There is no doubt that it is easier for statutory agencies to deliver work to a prostitute when there is a defined area. However, services should be geared towards individuals and not necessarily to a geographical area. The Deputy Minister for Justice stated:

"such work is not dependent on legalities".—[Official Report, Local Government Committee, 21 January 2003; c 3860.]

Agencies must work together, wherever the prostitutes are.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I have great sympathy with the idea of women being treated as individuals and services being geared to their individual needs, but the business of prostitution is not the same as a nine-to-five job. Women go in and out of prostitution. In some periods of their life they act as prostitutes, and in others they do not. Therefore, location is central to the delivery of services.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I accept that there is an argument that it is easier for services to be delivered in that way, but that does not mean that it cannot be done in other ways. We did it with young kids in respect of drugs. We went to where they were and brought in other young kids who talked to them. There are ways of providing services, although they might take more time.

My feeling is that we must take a huge step back. I was impressed by some of the examples that we were told about, including projects that go into schools. I have to say that young boys of 12 who were asked, "Why do you think women are prostitutes?" responded, "Because they like sex," or, "Because they want to buy a new frock." That threw me right back to the zero tolerance campaigns that we had for Women's Aid, when boys of the same age said that it was all right for a man to slap a woman if their tea was not ready or if she was not doing what she was told. We have changed those attitudes—not as much as I would like, but we have changed them—and we must also change attitudes to prostitution.

We aim to stop women entering prostitution but, as John Young said, it is the oldest profession in the world. We will not change that, but we have to give the women a choice.

This may sound strange, as I am recommending that we do not agree to the general principles of the bill, but Margo MacDonald has to be thanked for bringing this serious problem, with all its attendant difficulties, before the Parliament.

I do not agree to the general principles of the bill, but the Local Government Committee will leave a legacy report, and I will ensure that the matter is central to it, and that we have a working group with a minister in the chair. We will ask the incoming Executive to pursue that.

Much more needs to be done, and it needs to be done thoroughly. These women deserve no less.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 11:34, 27 February 2003

Margo MacDonald is to be congratulated on having the courage to bring a matter of this type to the chamber. She has done so with some well-thought-out and reasoned arguments.

The whole question of prostitution and its management raises a number of practical and moral issues. We should not be judgmental about those who seek to make a living out of prostitution. Some have made a life choice, but most are victims. As Trish Godman said, many are drug abusers. They should attract our sympathy rather than our criticism. As a Glasgow justice, I frequently had to deal with cases of prostitution, and I have to agree with the committee report that the existing system of dealing with prostitutes is an exercise in futility. What is the point of fining them when the only way that they can get the money is to go out on the streets and commit further offences? That is why I am strongly of the view that the cases should be taken to the drugs courts to enable the women to get the assistance that they need. Unfortunately, when I made that proposal in an amendment to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill last week there was rather less than unanimous support for my idea.

My main concern about Margo MacDonald's bill is not about legality or morality; it is about practicality. The obvious problem, which all members who have spoken so far have identified, is where the tolerance zones would be situated. That issue is clearly problematical. The fact is that nobody wants to have a tolerance zone in the area in which they live or in which they conduct business. It must be recognised—and this is evidenced in Salamander Street

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I agree that no one wants to have a prostitution tolerance zone in their street, and the bill seeks to ensure that that would not happen. However, the committee received evidence from Annie Rhodes, who owns commercial premises in Salamander Yards, who said that if the zone were operational in the way in which it would have been operational had there been time to put the plans into operation in Edinburgh, there would be no great hazard to businesses in some areas.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I accept that. There is clearly evidence to justify that.

One of the problems in respect of commercial areas that arose in Glasgow, where there was a quasi-tolerance zone, was that women leaving premises where shift working took place—in particular, call centres—late in the evening were approached. They understandably found that offensive. The obvious solution is to take tolerance zones out to industrial estates, away from everybody, but evidence suggests that the women would not find that acceptable.

In Glasgow, there have been six murders of prostitutes in recent times.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

The figure is eight. I stand corrected. As Assistant Chief Constable McLean said in his evidence, much of the violence perpetrated against prostitutes takes place outwith tolerance zones. The remains of two of the prostitutes were found a long way from the pick-up point.

Those are some of the difficulties. What happens, for example, when the nature of an area changes? That is what happened in Leith, where a former dockland area became gentrified and private dwellings were built. What was acceptable at one stage was no longer acceptable.

It must be recognised that the issue is difficult. The Local Government Committee has made a genuine effort to deal with it as sympathetically and constructively as possible. I accept that there is no easy answer. Prostitution is the oldest profession, and much as we all wish that it did not exist, sadly it will almost certainly always exist. I accept that we must seek a way of managing it, but I honestly do not think that the bill is the tool that we need to do so.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 11:39, 27 February 2003

I declare my membership of the Routes Out of Prostitution social inclusion partnership in Glasgow, which aims to support women in finding routes out of prostitution.

I commend Margo MacDonald for introducing the member's bill. Her approach has been very thorough. It is a brave proposal and I think that, so far, we have had a mature debate. I must also commend the Local Government Committee for its excellent work. Iain Smith pointed us to paragraph 90 of the committee's report. I think that the proposal in that paragraph is an ingenious way forward.

I represent an area in Glasgow city centre that is often referred to as the drag. In my role as an MSP, I regularly discuss the problems of managing prostitution activity, which include women who go missing from the zone and complaints from local businesses and residents. That is a very active part of my duties as an MSP.

Police in Glasgow must also be commended, because they take seriously the protection of those vulnerable women. As we have discovered, the area is to all intents and purposes a tolerance zone. The police managed the problem for 20 years before any Parliament got round to discussing the problems involved.

It is important to note that we are talking about street prostitution activity, which is not to be confused with indoor brothels and so on.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

Does Pauline McNeill agree that prostitution takes place not only in the area that she represents? Glasgow green is currently experiencing the phenomenon of daytime prostitution, which is causing considerable offence to young girls coming home from school, men collecting their children and others. Does she agree that such changes are some of the most worrying elements of the new situation?

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Dr Simpson is correct; the problem is far more serious in Glasgow green than it is in my constituency.

The police have raised with me concerns that the new luxury development that is planned for the zone in my constituency will inevitably lead to the break-up of the zone and will increase the difficulties that they have in managing the problem.

Women leaving work in Glasgow are already being approached by men asking whether they are available for business. An uproar is being caused, and it is right that the Parliament should discuss what might be a solution.

We must start with an understanding that women enter prostitution because they are desperate. They have poor health and many of their children are already under supervision orders. Women are harmed by this activity. They face danger, are exploited by men and their lives are at risk. The issue is partly one of violence. The Glasgow stick men are so called because they carry sticks as offensive weapons.

A tolerance zone, official or otherwise, would provide only a measure of protection in relation to soliciting. As others have said, the place where the private sex act takes place is where the women are likely to be harmed. The fundamental issue is that a tolerance zone will not protect women from that harm. Eight prostitutes have been murdered in eight years—we know that the activity is not safe. Although street prostitution in Glasgow is not organised in the way in which it is organised in London, the London police have already warned us that Glasgow could become a focus for human trafficking and organised crime.

This is probably the most complex issue that Parliament has dealt with, and we know that it will not go away. As I have said, there is a view among the experts that we should take account of the impact on tolerance zones if human trafficking or organised crime were to become more prevalent.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

The only activity that would be legal in the zone that is currently illegal outwith the zone would be soliciting. Therefore, the trafficking of people and any breach of the peace would be treated in exactly the same way as they are now: they would be criminal offences.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I understand that, but I also think that there would be more activity if there were an official tolerance zone. I am only asking people to think about what might lie ahead.

Tricia Marwick is right about the precedent that would be set by allowing local authorities to decide that something is a crime in one area but not in another. That has to be thought through because I cannot think of another example where that would be the case.

What is the solution? First and foremost, there is a drug problem in Glasgow. It is a mystery to me why prostitution has not been tackled as a drug addiction problem. Bill Aitken is right to point out that drugs courts are one way forward and I would like to hear from the minister whether he thinks that we should use that route.

The Routes Out of Prostitution social inclusion partnership is important. It has the hardest job of any SIP, but it is beginning to make progress. I do not underestimate how difficult its job is.

Issues of rehabilitation and unemployment are important. We know about the cycle in which unemployed people get caught up when they are unable to find jobs whose salary matches the benefits that they get. That is also a problem for women involved in prostitution. The Routes Out of Prostitution social inclusion partnership is trying to tackle that. A woman must be given a viable alternative to prostitution in the form of employment that matches her previous financial circumstances.

We know that there is gender discrimination in the law. What we do about that is important. Women cannot be targeted while men are not.

We all recognise that prostitution is harmful to women. We have achieved a lot in today's debate. I thank Margo MacDonald and the committee for their work and urge the Parliament to think about the issue further and not simply to ignore the problem.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 11:45, 27 February 2003

In a perfect world we would be debating not the Prostitution Tolerance Zones (Scotland) Bill but an eradication of prostitution bill. However, I do not live in a perfect world; I live in Edinburgh.

When I consider the issue, I mostly think about the concerns that have been raised by our local police. The tolerance zone in the city became established during the 1980s as a reaction to the city's problems with HIV and drug addiction. Since then, the debate has evolved. We accept that one size does not fit all and that we must consider the issues that relate to particular locations.

I am sympathetic to Margo MacDonald's bill and appreciate the tremendous work that she has done to make it an effective piece of enabling legislation. It would allow councils to take forward plans for zones in their areas that would have to be consulted on in the widest possible way.

The local police have told me that, since the end of the tolerance zone, street prostitutes have drifted to areas as far away as Lothian Road and Bruntsfield links. I was driving home from East Lothian the other evening and saw prostitutes in four locations in Leith. The impact on the wider community is greater than it was when there was a tolerance zone.

The local police have also told me that they are concerned that they have less control over the situation and that their intelligence regarding associated criminal activities has been considerably reduced. They say that much of the good work that has been done in the past 20 years is being eroded quickly. They are also concerned about the possibility of trafficking and believe that some of the prostitutes have come from eastern Europe. A further concern that the police expressed in that regard is that some women might start to arrive via the African route, with all the problems that that could bring in relation to HIV.

I have listened to my colleagues and agree that the issue is difficult. It might come down simply to a balance between pragmatism and principle, and this might be one of the occasions on which we have to be pragmatic. We have to listen to what our police tell us—I make no apology for listening to my local police—and to what our health service tells us.

As Bill Aitken and others have said, these women have to be supported. We are more likely to be able to support them if we establish a geographic area in which they can be accepted, dealt with, treated and provided with services that will help with sexually transmitted diseases and drug abuse. I stress that sexually transmitted diseases do not stop at the edges of a tolerance zone but go home to the living rooms of Morningside and the bedrooms of Cramond, as do the problems of drug abuse. Those problems affect every one of us.

Sometimes, we have to be brave. We should say that we agree with much of what is contained in the committee's report and applaud the work that the committee has done. We should also say that we support what the committee has to say about the need to examine the wider issues. However, we must also say that in Edinburgh, we need action right now. Therefore, I will support Margo MacDonald at this stage. I will also support the committee's call for a ministerial commission, because we have to move towards a situation in which we can debate an eradication of prostitution bill in the chamber. The wider issues have to be examined in that context.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

Does Margaret Smith accept that, even if the bill were passed, locating a tolerance zone in Edinburgh would still be a problem? The problem is location, not legislation.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

I do not know whether Tricia Marwick heard what I said at the beginning of my remarks. I said that the bill is an enabling bill, which would require councils to consult fully not only local communities but the different services that are available in those communities. If the bill were to impose a tolerance zone on anybody, I would be opposed to it. However, we have a problem that I can see with my own eyes is spreading throughout Edinburgh, part of which I represent.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I am not unsympathetic to Margaret Smith's argument, but she has not addressed the harm done to the women and the fact that that harm is generally done where the private sex act takes place, which is outwith the tolerance zone. Does that not concern her?

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

There will have to be a combination of CCTV and controlled policing, for example. However, because of what has happened since the ending of the tolerance zone, the local Edinburgh police tell us that they have less control over what is going on in the prostitution industry and over the criminal acts that go on round it than they had when the zone existed. SCOT-PEP, which has worked on the tolerance zone, also tells us that there have been five times as many assaults on sex-trade street workers in Edinburgh since the zone was ended than when it existed.

I have a certain amount of sympathy for the point that Pauline McNeill raised, but on the evidence that I have been given, I have to accept that a zone is safer for women. They can look out for one another; the wee kids up an alley off Bread Street about whom I have been told will not have that extra level of protection.

Photo of Susan Deacon Susan Deacon Labour 11:51, 27 February 2003

I congratulate Margo MacDonald on introducing the bill and putting the issue so firmly on the Parliament's agenda. I also thank the Local Government Committee for the work that it has done to develop the debate.

Members have spoken honestly and openly about the dilemmas that we have all had when dealing with the issue, whether in committee work or as local MSPs. There is no question but that there are very different but equally deeply held views on the issue or that there is conflicting evidence.

All that any of us can do in reaching a view is look to our own experiences, and although I do not tend to sit on fences, I have struggled to know what to do on the bill. From my experience in my constituency, I am in no doubt that, since the ending of the tolerance zone in Coburg Street and the subsequent failed attempt to set up a tolerance zone in Salamander Street, the situation has worsened for local residents and for the women themselves. Margaret Smith has spoken eloquently about the information that many of us have heard from local police and other agencies.

One of the consequences of the ending of the informal zone has been that prostitutes have dispersed to many parts of Edinburgh. Many have moved into the Leith links area, most of which is in my constituency. Residents in that area have experienced many problems as a result. As well as the general discomfort caused by soliciting and kerb-crawling taking place close to residents' homes, there have been a number of confrontations—largely, I am pleased to say, verbal—between residents and prostitutes and, indeed, pimps. The strength of feeling on the issue in the Leith links area is palpable. It is demonstrated most clearly by the local community's decision to establish nightly patrols, which are due to start within the next couple of weeks.

Like other members, I have spent a great deal of time on the issue with residents, representatives of prostitutes in the area and the police, and I am struck by the problem's complexity and apparent intractability. Street prostitution is a reality, and, as the Local Government Committee's report states, it is the

"manifestation of deeply rooted, interlinked and complex social, psychological and medical problems with a range of causes and effects."

Given all that, we will not resolve the issue through one bill or in this debate.

I also note that the committee

"acknowledges the challenges facing local authorities and police forces in Scotland in balancing the needs of women in prostitution with those of the wider community and considers that shared objectives and multi-agency working are imperative to enable these challenges to be faced."

We can all agree with that, but we know how difficult it is to do.

I am struck that the local residents who have been affected by the issue in my constituency are not simply anti-prostitute. They are realistic about the fact that street prostitution takes place and are generally sympathetic to the needs of the women, whose health and well-being they are keen to see properly protected. Nonetheless, they do not want their street, homes and families to be exposed to the realities of street prostitution daily. Only yesterday, I spoke to a local resident who was somewhat confused and perplexed when he was approached at 10 o'clock in the morning on his way to buy a newspaper by a man who said "Where are the prostitutes, then? They're here, aren't they?" Everybody is grappling with the issue. I have detected willingness from people from all quarters to come together and try to make progress. I note, as Margaret Smith did, the efforts that Lothian and Borders police have made to implement practical measures. However, more could be done on a multi-agency basis, and I use this opportunity to appeal directly to Lothian and Borders police, Lothian NHS Board and the City of Edinburgh Council to step up their efforts to work together to address the issues that we face in Edinburgh, which have particular characteristics that need to be addressed in ways that suit the area.

Whatever the outcome of the vote, I hope that the Executive will implement actively and enthusiastically in the next parliamentary session the expert group that the committee proposed. I hope that, through that group, we will be able to address some of the apparent inequities in the law. Many of us are concerned that the law appears to focus more on the women who supply the service than on the men who demand it, and the women are criminalised more than the men are.

I know that deep issues are involved. My time is up, so I cannot begin to address them, but I hope that the Parliament will, and I congratulate those who have started to do so.

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour 11:57, 27 February 2003

Prostitution has been with us for a long time, but that is not to say that we should not acknowledge and tackle some of the underlying causes that lead women to enter prostitution. Those causes are, as Trish Godman eloquently said, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, together with poverty and drugs. Drugs in particular, as many have said, are driving the current increase in prostitution.

Margo MacDonald's bill has much to recommend it and I have great sympathy with many of the issues that she raises. However, but I do not support the bill in its current form. Given the evidence that it received, the Local Government Committee has come to the correct view, which is that we should take a longer and wider look at the issue in the form of a ministerial review, which would allow an examination of the different factors and an update of the legislative underpinnings.

Several witnesses from Aberdeen, which operates a tolerance zone, gave evidence to the committee. Aberdeen is a seaport, and there has always been some prostitution associated with the harbour. The current tolerance zone is within the traditional red-light area. It has grown out of what was already there, which would continue to be there under any circumstances. Moreover, the zone is in an entirely industrial and commercial area.

During the 1970s and 1980s, prostitution in Aberdeen grew due to the oil industry. As I recently heard from Grampian police, it attracted women from England—from one or two cities in particular. That route now acts as a conduit for drugs, which can be sold on the street in Aberdeen for four times the price for which they can be sold down south.

During the 1990s, the drugs problem in Aberdeen escalated. That is what drives the number of women who are involved in street prostitution in Aberdeen. Almost all of them support a drug habit or support somebody else who also has a drug habit. It has been suggested to me that as many women in Aberdeen as in Edinburgh—a city twice the size—are involved in street prostitution.

It has been recognised that the establishment of the tolerance zone in Aberdeen has had some beneficial effects. It undoubtedly allows the police to build better relationships with the women involved in the sex trade. By helping the police to maintain public order, it also allows better relationships to be built with businesses in the area.

I argue that Aberdeen urgently requires the development of further links between various agencies, in particular between Aberdeen Drugs Action, which is the voluntary sector group that provides most of the needle exchange and other drug-related services, those involved in health promotion and the police.

Some outreach work is already taking place, but Grampian police's main objective is to get a drop-in centre set up in the harbour area, as that would support further action. That proposal is supported by other agencies, too. Work is progressing, and I hope that the drop-in centre will open later this year. The establishment of such a centre could start to provide better routes out of prostitution, especially by addressing the drugs problem.

Drug treatment and testing orders have recently been introduced in Aberdeen, and they are really effective. When I asked whether they could be applied to women involved in prostitution in Aberdeen, I got negative replies. Nevertheless, I would like the minister to consider how a drugs court could operate in relation to the women who come into contact with the criminal justice system, as it could provide an alternative route for women involved in prostitution. At present, they go to the district court where they are fined, which does not address the underlying drugs problem.

We require straight alternatives to existing sanctions under the criminal justice system, which perhaps does not assist and support the women in the most appropriate way. Such alternatives could include non-custodial sentences, in which the establishment of the drop-in centre could have a role.

In order to make progress on services and work in this area, we do not absolutely require legislation on tolerance zones—certainly not in Aberdeen. However, it would be useful to consider tolerance zones in the wider context of a ministerial review. I look forward to that and to the many issues associated with prostitution being addressed effectively.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 12:02, 27 February 2003

This has been an excellent debate. Members have been wrestling with their consciences and with the problems involved. This is a personal matter, and I think that people should vote in a personal capacity. I would greatly regret it if any party—as seems to have been indicated—were to have a party line on the issue.

The Local Government Committee has produced a very good report. Although I happen to disagree with one or two points in it, it is a fair and serious attempt to address what is obviously a difficult issue.

I support the bill, because it gives councils the opportunity to put in place tolerance zones if they so wish. The local community and the council have to agree with the police in working out how the zones would operate, so the bill involves a local democratic measure.

It has been argued that this is a matter not of legislation but of location. However, if the legislation does not exist, it is not possible to do anything, even if a location is found. If the legislation exists and a location can be found, something may be done; if a location is not found, nothing will be done. That is fairly straightforward and democratic—I thought that that is what we were here for.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Donald Gorrie said that if the legislation does not exist, it is not possible to do anything, but there is an unofficial tolerance zone in Glasgow despite the absence of legislation.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

There seem to be indications that that zone could unravel at some stage in the future. If a zone already exists, it would better to legislate rather than to keep it operating unofficially.

The Local Government Committee called for a working party to be set up and I hope that the minister will agree that one should be established. It would be disappointing if the minister proposes not to implement that important recommendation, whether or not Margo MacDonald's bill is passed.

We have to tackle kerb-crawling and the male contribution to prostitution. I have always felt unhappy with the current situation. Perhaps we should be dealing with kerb-crawling—I do not know. Morally, it is just as bad for men to go to prostitutes as it is for prostitutes to offer the service, but we are still in the Victorian position of dealing with the women but not with the men.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour

Will Donald Gorrie comment on Iain Smith's remarks that we might use community planning and the power of well-being to make a start on tackling the issue? Is there anything wrong with that proposal?

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

What is wrong with that is the innate caution of local government officials and, especially, of their lawyers. If there is any doubt as to whether a power exists, they will not use it. It is much better to make such powers specific. With all due respect, I think that that is a false argument.

It is also a false argument to say that the violence takes place outside the tolerance zone. As Margo MacDonald has repeatedly said, and as the evidence has shown, the intelligence that is gathered from the tolerance zone and the co-operation of the prostitutes—who have a very effective network—help to identify people who are violent. That violence takes place outwith the areas concerned is not a strong argument.

It is a question of local choice. A little while ago, we passed a bill—now the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001—under which councils could, if they wished, introduce congestion charging. Whether or not they do so it is up to them, but they have the option. Likewise, under the Prostitution Tolerance Zones (Scotland) Bill, councils could have the option of setting up tolerance zones. It would help in many cases and authorities should have the chance to introduce zones if the local communities concerned agree.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 12:06, 27 February 2003

Susan Deacon was absolutely right to talk about the intractability of the problem. The most contentious aspect of the bill is the location of the zones. Should they be placed in industrial or business areas, for example? The reason behind the zones' creation could be contradicted, as such areas are often isolated or scarcely policed, and it is possible that the threat of danger to the prostitutes could be increased if zones were located in those areas.

The creation of tolerance zones in residential areas could give rise to many objections from local residents. The zones might make children and young people in those areas witness actions that people would rather they did not see. The possible increase in kerb-crawling might intimidate women residents, and the large amount of debris left behind, including syringes, presents obvious health hazards. Zones in residential areas could lead to conflict between the public and the police, with the public becoming tired or irritated by the police's non-action. Edinburgh's unofficial tolerance zone, which was in operation for 20 years in the Coburg Street area of Leith, was eventually ended because of complaints from residents following the considerable renovation of that area.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

As Donald Gorrie said, the measures enabled under the bill would be a matter for local democracy. No local democratically elected council would place a tolerance zone in a residential area. As regards the cleansing of business areas, that is part and parcel of the policy. It is not just a question of geographical location; a set of services would be delivered in partnership inside designated areas.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

I applaud Margo MacDonald's courage but, if I may say so, she speaks entirely for herself. When I put the point to Deputy Chief Constable Tom Wood at the Justice 1 Committee, he agreed that it would be virtually impossible to re-establish in the same location the tolerance zone that has now been removed if there were strong objections from residents. That presents a real problem in the choice of location for a tolerance zone in Edinburgh. It is indisputable that the police evidence to the Justice 1 Committee was strongly divided on the issue.

We believe in a zero-tolerance approach to crime and we take an extremely hard line against underage prostitution and the criminal exploitation of children. We also believe that there should be high health standards for the women concerned. In that regard, we want to choose the option that is the least objectionable to the community as a whole—and the community as a whole is entitled to have its view taken into account.

We do not want legislation in this area to be rushed through. The Justice 1 Committee was able to dedicate only one evidence-taking session to the bill, which in our view was not sufficient. Prostitution in Scotland requires further study, with particular attention given to the high level of drug dependency among the women concerned. In an e-mail to me, Jan Macleod of the Women's Support Project (Glasgow) urged a full review of prostitution in Scotland. Like her, I believe that the whole issue, including the health, law-and-order and practical implications, must be properly addressed. That does not mean that consideration should be given only to possible tolerance areas.

Margo MacDonald had the courage to raise one aspect of the issue, but I remind her that as great a person as Prime Minister Gladstone was confronted with the reality that no easy cure can be found on the issue. In my view, her case for prostitution tolerance zones, as stated in the bill, remains unproven.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 12:11, 27 February 2003

I thank the clerks and committee members for their work and, although I will not support the bill, I also thank Margo MacDonald for raising the subject and for giving us the opportunity to debate it.

My colleagues Tricia Marwick and Iain Smith mentioned the legal and practical powers that local authorities now have and those that they have always had. They rightly pointed out that legislation on the matter is not required and I support that stance. If we consider honestly and carefully what has been said, we will find that the bill is really about the management of prostitution. We must ask whether we want to manage prostitution or help women to get out of it—that is the crux of the matter.

Various facts have been mentioned, including that 95 per cent of prostitutes are drug abusers, that most prostitutes have a history of abuse and, as Trish Godman eloquently said, that most of them do not enter prostitution through choice. We must remember that.

In Trish Godman's excellent speech, she explained the difficulties that the Local Government Committee had in discussing and reaching a decision on the bill. I think that we reached the right and proper decision, which is to have further debate on the matter. I hope that the Deputy Minister for Justice will say whether he intends to set up a working party.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

I am curious about something Sandra White said and I ask her to clarify it. Why cannot we manage prostitution and at the same time help women to get out of it?

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

Prostitution can be managed to the extent that we can have outreach workers, and prostitutes can get to health centres and so forth. Some members, including Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, Donald Gorrie and others, made strong points about areas with residential properties. Prostitution can be managed for the benefit of the women's health, but not for the benefit of such areas.

I greatly object to some things that Donald Gorrie, in particular, said. He said that it is not an argument to say that the violence occurs outwith the tolerance zone, and I would like to challenge him on that. That is the crux of the whole argument. What is the point of having a tolerance zone, which Margo MacDonald recently said was part of a "duty of care" to prostitutes? That is part of what the bill is supposed to be about. How can that be a duty of care to prostitutes when violence happens outwith the tolerance zone?

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I am sorry. I do not have much time, but I may take up the issue with Mr Gorrie privately after the debate.

I would like to return to what Trish Godman and Bill Aitken said regarding the drugs courts. We must look very carefully at that. Trish Godman also mentioned that legislation must be implemented to deal with the user, or as I call them the abuser or buyer, of those services. We must consider introducing criminal legislation so that the men involved are brought to justice. That will mean that the women get justice. It is wrong that the woman and not the man is always seen as the criminal.

Concentrating on the zones, Margo MacDonald said that they are not pick-up points. They are, and I have already mentioned that the violence happens outwith those zones. That is why I cannot possibly support the bill. However, we must look at that point carefully.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton and a few members mentioned residential areas. However, they never mentioned the fact that women are being abused. Residents may complain that their area is being used as a tolerance zone. However, are those women supposed to be shipped out to an industrial area? How will they get there? There is absolutely no sense in that proposal. Those people are basically saying that the tolerance zones are an annoyance. Margo MacDonald said that the bill aims to minimise annoyance and embarrassment to the public. What about the annoyance, embarrassment and violence that the women suffer? That is what we should be looking at. I cannot support the bill for those reasons.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour 12:15, 27 February 2003

This is a welcome opportunity to discuss a complex, often controversial, but socially very important issue, which affects many individuals and, as we have heard today, many communities. It is a problem that, all too often, we try to forget about despite the length of time that it has been with us.

In introducing the bill, Margo MacDonald has enabled us—through the excellent work of the Local Government Committee and her own excellent work—to give wider and more detailed consideration to the way in which we should tackle the problem. We have heard legitimate concerns about the women who are involved in prostitution and about the need to offer them routes out of it. We have heard legitimate concerns about the violence that they may face and their drug habits. We have also heard concerns about residents in certain communities. All those concerns are worthy of careful consideration.

We have also heard, in the work of the committee and again today, that there are clear differences of opinion within the Parliament and outwith it, not just among different groups, but concerning the different experiences in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The committee heard that those who were involved with the tolerance zone that existed in Edinburgh would welcome the measures in the bill and see them as the way forward. However, a number of contributors to the committee's work and several members today, including Pauline McNeill, mentioned the need for support services to help the women who are involved. Those services must be at the heart of anything that we do.

We know that Glasgow has a different opinion and does not favour a tolerance zone. However, Glasgow has a long record of well-structured support to help people out of prostitution. Pauline McNeill mentioned one of the organisations that does that, which is funded by the Executive. We must give careful consideration to all the different opinions. As I said to the committee, we should not make hasty decisions. Although the committee has done a commendable job and has spent a lot of time on the bill, there are still many questions to be answered and issues to be addressed. The committee recognises that, and that fact has been acknowledged again in the debate.

As members have said, we do not want women to be forced into prostitution to earn a living or, in some cases, to feed a drug habit. That point has been made consistently in what members have said.

The Executive's view was that it would wait to see the committee's report. We have done that. We welcome the general thrust of that report and agree with the committee's recommendation to reject the call for immediate legislation to enable the setting up of tolerance zones. We think that that is the right conclusion in the present circumstances. The issues are not clear, and it would be premature to rush to legislation on the subject.

We understand the arguments that have been presented by Margo MacDonald and others who are in favour of tolerance zones. However, it is clear that there is, as yet, no consensus as to whether tolerance zones would improve or worsen the overall safety of the women who are involved in prostitution or of the communities in which they operate. Another key goal for public policy should be the provision of more effective support to help women out of prostitution. At the moment, however, there is no evidence to suggest that tolerance zones would assist in that.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I refer the minister to SCOT-PEP's experience of successfully operating a pre-employment training scheme to help women out of prostitution.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

There is evidence of good work in both Edinburgh and Glasgow in helping women out of prostitution. However, there is no evidence yet that tolerance zones would assist that process. The Local Government Committee recommended that an expert group should be set up. Members will recall that in recent years several high-profile groups, including the ministerial working group on women offending, examined prostitution but were unable to agree on a way forward. Nevertheless, we agree with the committee that an expert group would be a sensible way forward. We think that such a group, which would be taken out of the political framework, would be able to do objective, expert analysis and investigation, and could help to inform views. I think that it could present a productive set of proposals to the Parliament and to the Administration.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

In case the minister is not going to mention it, there has been much discussion about the power of well-being and whether we or local authorities could use that power in relation to prostitutes. If the minister thinks that local authorities could not use that power, can he give an undertaking today that he will revisit the issue to ascertain whether changes could be made that would allow local authorities to use the power of well-being?

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

The Deputy Minister for Finance and Public Services in his reply to the Local Government Committee articulated some of the concerns about how the power of well-being would and could be used. The power of well-being cannot be used for illegal activities, but it can be used to promote the well-being of different groups in different areas within local communities. The power of well-being is flexible, but there must be constraints on how it operates.

I return to the question of the proposed expert group. I propose that, given the expertise that Margo MacDonald assembled through her work and brought to the debate, she should be invited to participate in the work of the expert group, to consider issues such as health, social justice, poverty and re-offending. However, I make it clear that, given the time constraints, it would be difficult for this Parliament to move forward on the expert group proposal. The next Parliament and the next Administration would have to take that forward. However, an expert group that was supported by and involved Margo MacDonald would be of considerable benefit.

I will quickly address the issue of the drugs courts. As I said to the Local Government Committee, there is nothing to prevent women from being referred to drugs courts. It is obvious that there are concerns in some quarters about the fact that that is not happening. We will consider that further.

Margo MacDonald has done an excellent job in helping to bring the issue of prostitution tolerance zones to the attention both of the public and of the Parliament. She and the Local Government Committee must be commended for their work. I hope that the rejection of the Prostitution Tolerance Zones (Scotland) Bill as premature and the creation of an expert group will help to ensure that in the coming period we will be able to have a reasoned, sensible and sensitive discussion on a difficult problem. I thank Margo MacDonald for enabling us to look forward to doing that.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 12:19, 27 February 2003

In winding up the debate on the Prostitution Tolerance Zones (Scotland) Bill, I thank all the members who have taken part. I not only enjoyed the contributions, but learned from them, which surprises me because I had thought that I had heard it all. I should also mention absent friends of the bill who, for various reasons, are not present. Tommy Sheridan, Mary Scanlon and Kate Maclean indicated to me that they would have taken part in the debate if they had been able to be present.

I turn to the points that members made during the debate. Tricia Marwick said that legislation was not needed. I wonder whether I can draw her attention to a letter that was sent to Councillor Donald Anderson, who is the leader of the City of Edinburgh Council. He has been advised by the council's solicitors that, although the power to advance well-being that is provided for in the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003

"is indeed a quite deliberately worded ... provision, it is still nonetheless a statutory provision which, like other statutory provisions, is exposed to judicial challenge."

Given that the council's solicitor immediately raised a doubt about that provision, which, as an enabling measure, depends on the council acting in what it considers to be the best interests of its constituents, the likelihood is that the council would choose not to act.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

We heard the minister say that, under the power to advance well-being, local authorities have the duty to put in place services that will help individuals or groups of people within their communities. The provision of infrastructure and facilities for a tolerance zone could therefore be covered by that power. If it is not covered, I am sure that the Parliament will introduce legislation to make that clearer. In my view, and in that of the committee and the minister, that power could be used. However, the power to advance well-being cannot tackle soliciting. That is absolutely the right thing.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Let me reiterate the views of the solicitor to the City of Edinburgh Council. He continues by saying that any such zone could be subject to a potential challenge by local residents. Such a challenge could be based

"on it being legally unreasonable for the local authority to connive at breach of the criminal law and/or to be action which was not expressly sanctioned by statute and involved a contravention of the rights of local residents to their right to respect of private and family life in the terms of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights."

I prefer to go with the expert opinion. I also prefer to go with my own knowledge of the situation in Edinburgh when we come to the difficult business of finding a location for the tolerance zone that my proposed policy would enable. I have never said that setting up such a zone would be easy but it would be possible if the will was there.

John Young said that we would enter a legal quagmire if we adopted bill. However, as he knows, the Local Government Committee said that the present law is unsatisfactory. We need to weigh the balance of evidence by weighing the benefits that may be gained from this imperfect measure against the detrimental effects of continuing with the current, imperfect law.

Iain Smith said that, for him, paragraph 90 of the Local Government Committee's report was the most important paragraph. I welcomed his speech, which I found interesting, but I disagree with him. The most important paragraph in the committee's report is paragraph 92, which states:

"the new power to advance well being, for provision of support services to prostitutes, should be monitored and kept under review by the Executive."

Of course, I agree with that point. The paragraph continues:

"Should experience or changing circumstances show, in due course, that the powers available to local authorities are not adequate, it would be a matter for the Executive of the day to decide whether it was necessary to bring forward further legislation."

The committee already admits that its idea is not watertight, so let me try to persuade members of my case. Now, I hear the convener saying that she has never claimed that the current law is perfect. I do not claim that my solution is perfect either, but I do not believe that the one position contradicts the other.

Trish Godman's speech was excellent. Indeed, I must thank her for the care and attention that she and her committee gave to the issue. In her speech, she stressed the need to change attitudes. I could not agree more, but changing attitudes takes time. As we heard from Margaret Smith, we may not have time, given what is happening in Edinburgh just now. I appreciate that the situation may be different in other cities, but the bill is an enabling measure that would allow each city to adopt a pragmatic policy of management to suit the conditions that exist now. Local authorities would not be precluded from adopting a longer-term strategy for dealing with prostitution, which is what the committee favoured.

Bill Aitken asked what the police would do about drug users. He said that drug usage drives prostitution. He is right that it drives prostitution in many instances and drug use is most certainly allied to the growth of underage prostitution in Glasgow. As I pointed out, in Edinburgh—even with the deterioration over the past 15 months, since there has not been a tolerance zone—only 50 per cent of the prostitutes are estimated to be intravenous drug users. What are the police to do with them? Are they to be treated differently from other prostitutes?

I turn briefly to the differences in the record as regards violence and the number of murders committed. I certainly do not want to do a head count. In Edinburgh, which had the tolerance zone, there have been two murders in the past 12 years, both of which were solved and the culprits found and charged within 48 hours because, the police assure me, of the intelligence that had been built up. In Glasgow, there have been eight murders, but none has ever been solved and no one has ever been brought to court for them.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

We are very tight for time, I am afraid.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I am very tight for time and I have already given way to the member. I will come back to one of the other issues that she mentioned.

I stress that the Routes Out of Prostitution approach described by Pauline McNeill is not at variance with the tolerance zone that was operated in Edinburgh, because SCOT-PEP played the same sort of role in helping women come out of prostitution and supporting them while they were in it. The police in Edinburgh have also said that they think that the preferable way of policing involves having a tolerance zone.

I took everything that Margaret Smith said very seriously, because, like her and Susan Deacon, I represent Edinburgh and I am concerned that we must deal with the matter urgently.

Elaine Thomson suggested that the drugs courts might be used as a method of disposal. Yes, but that is not the whole answer—certainly not in Edinburgh.

Donald Gorrie reminded us that this is a matter of local democracy—I could not agree more. However, he also said that he regretted the fact that there appeared to be some whipping in at least one party in the chamber. I regret that also, but that might be because the SNP's policy was to decriminalise prostitution per se, which this bill does not seek to do. If the SNP has changed its policy I would be glad to hear about it.

I feel that there was a lack of understanding in what Lord James Douglas-Hamilton said—I hope that he does not mind my saying that—but I will talk to him afterwards and explain how the services and location are indivisible. It is unfortunate that I do not have time to go into that just now.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I welcome and greatly appreciate what the minister said and the intention to properly investigate the whole situation, particularly as it affects street prostitutes and residents affected by their activities. The situation has assumed urgency in Edinburgh. I wonder whether it would be possible, should the bill not pass at stage 1—there is just a chance of that—to institute a pilot scheme, perhaps in Edinburgh, to test the propositions in the bill so that any review would have the fullest possible information available to it. I believe that any review could proceed alongside implementation of the Prostitution Tolerance Zones (Scotland) Bill. The bill could be amended in any way that the Parliament wanted to amend it at stage 2. For example, the bill could be a renewable piece of legislation that is up for approval every year.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

The longer-term process of eliminating prostitution is not compromised by a duty of care to prostitutes and the pragmatic management of the social and health problems associated with prostitution.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I remind members that Pat Cox, the President of the European Parliament, will address members in the chamber at 1.45 pm today. Clerks and staff should be in their seats by 1.30 pm.

Meeting suspended until 14:30.

On resuming—

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 2:30, 27 February 2003

Before we begin question time this afternoon, I invite members to give a very warm welcome to two distinguished European politicians who are with us in the gallery today: the president of the European Parliament, Pat Cox; and the Netherlands member of the European Commission, Frits Bolkestein. [ Applause. ]