Prostitution (Public Places) (Scotland) Bill

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:15 pm on 28th February 2007.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 3:15 pm, 28th February 2007

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5629, in the name of Tom McCabe, that Parliament agrees that the Prostitution (Public Places) (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 3:27 pm, 28th February 2007

The Prostitution (Public Places) (Scotland) Bill is an important bill that will address an imbalance in the current law on street prostitution. At present, only people who sell sex in public places can be prosecuted for soliciting or loitering. There is no equivalent statutory offence for the people who are at the root of the problem—the kerb-crawlers. [ Interruption. ]

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Order. I ask members who are leaving the chamber to do so quietly.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I am sure that members will agree that it cannot be right that the law criminalises sellers while remaining silent on the purchasers who exploit them and who cause disruption and alarm to our communities. That is why, in 2003, we made a partnership commitment to make kerb crawling a criminal offence in Scotland. The bill will deliver on that commitment. For the first time, we will have specific offences that will bring to bear the full force of the law in tackling kerb crawling.

During the bill's passage, we have worked closely with the Local Government and Transport Committee—I thank its members for their thorough scrutiny of the bill and their detailed stage 1 report. We acknowledged the committee's concerns about the bill as introduced and, in order to address them, we worked with it to amend it at stage 2. Our amendments have strengthened the bill by increasing the maximum penalty that will be available to the courts; by applying the offence to purchasers only; by removing the requirement for the behaviour to be likely to cause alarm, offence or nuisance; and by strengthening the loitering offence.

The bill will provide Scotland with the toughest legislation in the United Kingdom on tackling kerb-crawlers. It will send an unequivocal message to those who purchase sex on our streets that their behaviour will no longer be tolerated. We believe that it will act as a deterrent to those who seek to do so.

The criminal law has an important role in tackling street prostitution, but everyone—not least the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland and the expert group on prostitution—agrees that the criminal law on its own cannot address this complex problem. It requires a holistic approach that addresses all aspects of the problem. It is for that reason that we also, when we introduced the bill, issued draft guidance for local authorities and their community planning partners—including health boards, police forces and local community and voluntary groups—to help them to tackle street prostitution. The guidance identifies five essential components for any local strategy: challenging demand; preventing vulnerable individuals from becoming involved; reducing the harm that is experienced by those who are involved; assisting them to leave; and protecting communities from the nuisance and disturbance that are associated with street prostitution.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Can the minister give a little more detail about the announcement this afternoon of the additional £1 million? Can he say in what financial year it will be available and give some detail about how it will be spent and who will receive the funding?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

If the member waits, I will come to that as I go through my speech.

I am aware that there has been some concern about whether the resources are in place to enable local authorities and their partners to implement the strategy that is outlined in the guidance. I indicated at stage 2 that both Mr McCabe and I would be willing to reflect on those concerns.

Local authorities and health boards are funded to meet the social, educational and health needs of all people—including those who are vulnerable through prostitution. However, the bill provides a fresh impetus to address street prostitution. That is why we will provide an additional £1 million to help fund work to challenge demand, to prevent exploitation and to assist people to leave prostitution.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I appreciate the Executive's intention, but how does the minister think the third objective that he outlined will be achieved unless direct contact can be made with people who are selling sex?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

Clearly, as the member is well aware, it is important that services are available to those who are involved in prostitution. Indeed, much work goes on in all our major cities to ensure that services are available to them. On a visit to Glasgow during the passage of the bill, I saw for myself the good work that goes on there. The police and the local authority work with colleagues from the health service to ensure that such services are available to individuals who are involved in prostitution and who wish to find support and a route out of prostitution. The extra money that we have made available today will help to strengthen that work and ensure that better services are available to the victims of prostitution and that they have access to better services to assist them in trying to find a route out of prostitution. I am sure that that is what all of us want.

In conclusion, the bill will not, on its own, eradicate street prostitution, but it is an important step forward in changing attitudes and challenging demand by giving the police new powers to tackle kerb crawling on Scotland's streets. It will bring, for the first time, the purchasers within the full force of the law.

I urge members around the chamber to vote for the bill at decision time.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Prostitution (Public Places) (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 3:34 pm, 28th February 2007

The bill will end the double standard whereby a prostitute can be charged with a criminal offence but the man who purchases sex cannot. We all welcome that. I am particularly pleased that the Executive changed tack significantly during the passage of the bill, in a way that I recommended on numerous occasions—on 3 October, 31 October and 7 November 2006, to be precise.

In the bill as introduced, section 1(1) provided that men who buy sex would commit an offence only if their activity was

"likely to cause alarm, offence or nuisance".

During stage 1 I argued that the nuisance test should not be included and that there is a strong moral case for making the purchase of sex a criminal offence in itself. The Executive changed tack on that, which I welcome.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

Does the member acknowledge that the bill as introduced created an offence of kerb crawling, whereby men driving in their cars could be prosecuted and convicted of soliciting, which is the same as the offence of kerb crawling in England and Wales? The approach in England and Wales has secured 800 prosecutions. We have strengthened the bill by providing that people who loiter in vehicles can be prosecuted if there is evidence that they were in the area for the purpose of soliciting, so we have gone way beyond the approach in England and Wales. The bill as introduced created an offence of kerb crawling, but we have strengthened it—I hope Mr Ewing accepts that.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Under the provisions on kerb crawling in the bill as introduced, it would have been a defence that the person was driving in a car, whereas a person in a bus could commit an offence of kerb crawling. That was nonsense, as all members of the Local Government and Transport Committee pointed out. I am pleased that the nonsense has been removed from the bill and that the nuisance test has gone.

However, I am slightly concerned that the Executive did not act on the advice of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, which was mentioned in the committee's stage 1 report. ACPOS was concerned that there is no definition of "loiter" in the bill—there is no definition of "solicit", either. We hope that the absence of such definitions will not pose a problem, but it remains to be seen whether it will do.

Sanctions such as disqualification from driving and, in some cases, forfeiture of the vehicle, are necessary. Police and community witnesses agreed with me on that, so I am disappointed that other parties in Parliament did not support the Scottish National Party's amendment on the matter during the stage 3 debate this afternoon. The Conservatives like to pontificate about being tough on crime, but when they had an opportunity to be just that, they shied away, for the technical reason that they do not want to interfere with the powers of the imperial Parliament in Westminster and because they have accepted a half-baked assurance from officials about the possibility of legislation in the future. That is not good enough for the people from whom we heard evidence. The minister has given no clear position about when such sanctions will be introduced, if at all.

In evidence, we heard that only four out of 383 kerb-crawlers who were arrested in Hampshire reoffended, so there is welcome evidence that the rigorous enforcement of a strong regime can significantly reduce kerb crawling.

During stage 1, my colleague Maureen Watt asked the minister why the bill would not apply to saunas and brothels. The bill will tackle only part of the problem. We were told that we should not postpone an attempt to deal with street prostitution. That is correct and I welcome the fact that the bill addresses street prostitution to some extent. However, I hope that we will tackle the wider issue of prostitution in saunas and brothels.

The SNP is pleased to have played an important part in persuading the Executive to change tack significantly. It could be argued that the bill is the first one that has been passed by the Scottish Parliament in eight years that is not politically correct. That might be so, but it is right that we seek to protect women from the violence from dangerous men and drug dealers to which they are exposed daily and it is right that we will make the purchase of sex by men a crime in this country.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 3:40 pm, 28th February 2007

I was interested in Mr Ewing's remarks about our imperial Parliament, as he called it. I simply point out that the present emperor is Scottish, that the next emperor, albeit for a short time, is likely to be Scottish and that the institution is held in such regard by Mr Ewing's party leader that he deserted this establishment to spend more time in it—and long may he remain there.

I agree with Mr Ewing that the bill at stage 3, which I trust we will approve at decision time, is immeasurably superior to the bill that saw the light of day at stage 1. In two important respects, it has been recast fundamentally. First, we will now retain the existing law on the sellers of sex in section 46 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. That is the correct decision, because, as was apparent from the evidence that the police and others gave to the committee, the proposal in the bill at stage 1 would have weakened the existing law and made it more difficult to secure convictions. Secondly, the bill now contains a more effective provision to tackle kerb crawling. As Mr Lyon described, we have extended the bill to cover loitering in a car and not simply soliciting from a car. Those changes should be welcomed. The minister's and the Scottish Executive's willingness to work with the committee, in light of the evidence, to modify the bill is commendable. We can be proud of the fact that, for the first time in Scotland, we will criminalise the behaviour of those who seek to buy sex on our streets.

In the interventions that Ms MacDonald has made during our discussions today, she has expressed the concern that women who are engaged in street prostitution will be driven underground. However, if women are driven underground, that will in a sense be testimony to the effectiveness of the measure, albeit the limited measure, that we are discussing. If the police enforce the law and prosecutions are carried out properly, the bill gives us the prospect of ridding the communities who gave evidence to the committee of the plague of street prostitution.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Will the member be of the same opinion as to the validity of driving street prostitution underground if women are killed and more women are beaten up and violently attacked?

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I certainly do not want that to happen. We await the information that may come, for example, from the case involving the horrific murders in Ipswich, about the extent to which tolerance or management zones provide opportunities for men with assault and murder on their minds to pick up women in that environment. Women who are picked up in a management zone and then driven furth of the zone by their client are not particularly safe. That seems to be what occurred in Ipswich and what has occurred in other places. The sexual act is not necessarily conducted within the safe environment of such zones, which the member thinks should exist.

If we can achieve the limited objective of the bill, we will have achieved the worthy objective of helping communities that are plagued by prostitution. It is perfectly correct for Margo MacDonald and others to refer to the wider issue of how we create routes out of prostitution for women who are involved in it. We should move on to tackle that, but that issue should not deflect us from considering the achievement of the bill in tackling one specific aspect of the problem.

I welcome the minister's announcement of additional funding for work to tackle prostitution. Mr Lyon ended up conducting the bill in its passage through the Parliament because of the pressure of work on the justice committees. In commending the bill to members, I point out that there is a great deal of merit in ensuring that, in such situations, a finance minister steps into the breach to conduct the passage of a bill, as that is one way of ensuring that additional funding is made available for issues of concern.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour 3:45 pm, 28th February 2007

In my speech at stage 1, I indicated to Parliament that I believed that the bill as initially drafted had major problems, many of which were highlighted in the Local Government and Transport Committee's stage 1 report, for which Mr Ewing wants to take credit. Although Mr Rumbles was not fully convinced of the case for there being a higher penalty for the purchaser, the committee agreed unanimously on the vast majority of the recommendations.

I also welcomed the commitments that had been given, in writing by the deputy minister, George Lyon, and in the debate by the minister, Tom McCabe, that many of the committee's concerns would be addressed in amendments at stage 2. In my view, that duly happened. The amendments that the Executive introduced were widely welcomed by committee members and were agreed to. Furthermore, I pointed out that the bill is not a comprehensive attempt at addressing all the problems associated with prostitution. After the election, Parliament should give more consideration to a range of issues associated with prostitution, and in particular to two issues: how we best support women in exiting prostitution; and what more can be done to change attitudes among men who become involved in buying sexual services.

Where the bill can have a positive effect is that, for the first time in Scotland, kerb crawling for the purposes of soliciting for prostitution will be criminalised. Until now, the law applied only to the person selling sexual services in the street—usually a woman. It is only right from the point of view of equity that men should be brought within the remit of the law. The police will be able to use that new provision in supporting communities affected by prostitution, and hopefully it will act as a deterrent to men in the first place. The original wording, which exempted someone loitering for the purposes of soliciting for prostitution if they did so while in a private car has gone—that is welcome, as it was a bizarre concept.

The penalties available to the courts have been increased, which is welcome in relation to the purchaser of sexual services. A higher penalty may act as a deterrent to men, in particular, becoming involved in those activities. Hopefully, it will reduce demand. The wider penalties of seizing licences or vehicles should be available to the courts. I welcome the minister's indication that he has been in discussions with the United Kingdom Government over that. Mr Ewing was trying to grandstand with his amendment today. If it had been passed, the whole bill would have been incompatible with the Scotland Act 1998 and could have been struck down. I welcome the minister's response to Mr Ewing.

Diversionary services and support services, including drug rehabilitation, are important. The minister's announcement of additional resources in that regard is welcome. I encourage the Executive to work with the major city authorities to support those services that have a record of success in enabling and supporting women to exit prostitution. The bill is not a comprehensive attempt to resolve all the problems associated with prostitution, but it provides a potential means of protecting communities from the nuisance and alarm caused by street prostitution. By introducing new offences aimed at the person purchasing or seeking to purchase sexual services, the bill removes the inequality whereby men were not criminalised while women were. I support the passage of the bill.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 3:49 pm, 28th February 2007

The bill should be quietly voted down. The Executive admits that the bill in front of us is radically different from the one bearing the same name, introduced last year and based on the report produced by the expert group convened by Sandra Hood. The group produced a balanced, sensible approach to the management of street prostitution. It was even-handed in exercising a duty of care towards vulnerable sex workers and towards the general community, particularly those people whose privacy or sense of well-being and security is adversely affected by the behaviour of either the buyers or the sellers of sex. I put that on record because that was the original intention—certainly, my original intention—but as I have only two minutes, I must answer some of the points that have been made.

The Hood group report also advised that the Executive should require councils to produce a local plan to ensure that support and services were accessible for street sex workers, including advice and help to exit prostitution. That would have allowed the councils in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee, in partnership with the police, health authorities, voluntary organisations representing sex workers, drugs services and residents to produce a local plan to manage prostitution according to the different situations in our four big cities.

David McLetchie said that that would simply institutionalise prostitution. I think not. We had a tolerance zone, as it was called, in Edinburgh for almost 20 years and it did not institutionalise prostitution. We can point to statistics that show that the number of prostitutes working on the streets in Edinburgh fell during the period of the tolerance zone. The same cannot be done in Glasgow, where Routes Out is quoted as providing instances of best practice. Yesterday, my office tried to obtain up-to-date statistics from Routes Out on how many women had exited prostitution using the money that had already been made available by a previous minister. As always, we were given no figures at all.

Therefore, although I welcome the proposed funding, I am concerned about how the money that is going to be spent on helping vulnerable women will be apportioned and how the services will be delivered. I ask the minister to take into account what Ewan Aitken, the leader of the City of Edinburgh Council, said this week. He said that it is better to manage prostitution in a humane and sensible way, trying to moderate the harm that is done by it, than to adopt the sort of measures that are proposed in the bill.

I am convinced that we will put the safety of the women in jeopardy by driving prostitution underground. The examples in England show that violence has risen in areas where strict kerb-crawling measures have been introduced. It is not that I oppose measures against kerb crawling, but the bill does not meet the needs as regards how kerb crawling is affected by changes such as those that are proposed. I ask members not to pass further bad legislation today, but to vote against the bill.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour 3:52 pm, 28th February 2007

I understand Margo MacDonald's passion and commitment, but I disagree profoundly with her analysis of and perspective on the issue.

When I first became an MSP in 1999, one of the central issues in the inner east end of Glasgow was the emotional issue of how the community around Glasgow green, the Gallowgate and the Calton area had to deal with street prostitution not just at night time, but even during the daytime. In visiting the community, an Executive minister at that time encountered the same problem that people in the area encounter day in, day out at 11 o'clock in the morning. That is the reality that those neighbourhoods face. Individuals taking their children to primary schools and nurseries encounter that problem. Clearly, the Parliament had to listen to their concerns.

There are many complex debates around the issue of street prostitution and any form of sexual services. The debates on those topics will take place over the next period. Centrally, the bill is a welcome development. The powerful evidence that was provided by local residents shifted the perspective of the members of the Local Government and Transport Committee, and I commend the committee members for listening to the evidence from the Calton for All group, in particular. Most neighbourhood surveys in my constituency focus on other issues; however, street prostitution was central to their experience in three ways. First, there has been a sexualisation of the neighbourhood, especially in the evenings. Secondly, that has led to young women and children encountering predatory men in the area. Thirdly, because of the high incidence in that part of Glasgow, over the years, of hostels and various other dependent venues, a culture and climate has been created in which street prostitution has been able to occur.

The bill recommends a way forward, although I recognise that the concerns that have been expressed by Margo MacDonald still need to be addressed. I also welcome the additional resources that the Executive has committed to providing pathways out of prostitution. Even if one or two women benefit from that, it is money well spent. On behalf of my constituents in the east end of Glasgow, I acknowledge the influence that the bill will have in ensuring that Calton for All genuinely means that, and that everybody can make a positive contribution to their community. I welcome the support that the Parliament will give to that community through the legislation.

Photo of Frances Curran Frances Curran SSP 3:55 pm, 28th February 2007

The amended bill is a vast improvement on its original form and is moving in the right direction.

Society's attitude to prostitution and the definition of it that we now have—which is that it is a form of violence against women—is where we were 20 years ago on the issue of domestic violence. When I was growing up in the east end of Glasgow 20 years ago, domestic violence was prevalent and there was a view in society that it was a private matter that was nothing to do with anyone else and that it was something that a couple had to sort out in their marriage. Now, 20 years later, as a result of the zero tolerance campaigns and the activism of women's groups, there is a widespread acceptance that men who are violent against women should be criminalised. That is a massive change and those of us who have been involved in the women's movement need to mark that success. We are not at the end of the road yet—indeed, we have a long way to go—but there has been a welcome change in people's attitudes. Now we need to start the debate on prostitution and find the legislation that will ensure a similar change in people's attitudes.

Although I will support the bill, I think that it started in the wrong place. I agree with Margo MacDonald that, if prostitution is happening in someone's street, that is a problem. However, the bill completely ignores the harm and offence caused to women. The definition of prostitution that the expert panel arrived at is one of the best things that we can work on in that regard.

I also welcome that, in today's proceedings, there was—with the exception of Tommy Sheridan's amendment—a lot less focus on the behaviour and the lives of women and a much greater emphasis on the behaviour of men who abuse women through prostitution. That is a sign of progress. I am not sure that, even in the stage 1 debate, we had reached that consensus—perhaps it is not a consensus, but it is where we are at now. I would like the Executive to return to that issue.

The bill does not go far enough. Sweden has a zero tolerance approach. I remember the BBC news programme that showed condoms on tissue, lined up and ready to go to the police for analysis that would help with prosecutions. That is zero tolerance.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 3:57 pm, 28th February 2007

I welcome the opportunity to explain why I cannot support the bill.

Before voting on the bill, members need to ask themselves some key questions. Is the bill likely to reduce the ability of women involved in prostitution to access services such as drug counselling, sexual health services and those providing routes out of prostitution? Is the bill likely to increase the exploitation of women, the number of underage prostitutes or the trafficking of women for prostitution? Is the bill likely to increase the risk to street prostitutes of being seriously injured or killed by their clients? If, like me, members think that the answer to those questions is yes, they should not support the bill.

The bill is not likely to reduce the number of women who are involved in prostitution but it is likely to change the way in which they operate. I was a member of the Local Government Committee, in the first session of the Parliament, when it considered Margo MacDonald's first member's bill on prostitution tolerance zones and I was a member of the Local Government and Transport Committee, in the second session of the Parliament, when it considered her second member's bill on the subject. I pay tribute to the work that she did to raise awareness of this difficult issue. I was struck by the evidence that I heard during our consideration of those bills. Many women who are involved in street prostitution are the victims of violence or abuse and are still in abusive or exploitative relationships. Further, as somebody said, the funding of drugs habits—those of their partners as well as their own—was a major reason for women being on the streets. It was also clear that the practice of arresting women, fining them and, effectively, forcing them back on to the streets in order to raise the money to pay the fines makes no sense. That will not be changed by this legislation.

I recognise that, while the informal tolerance zone operated in Edinburgh—and also, in reality, in Glasgow—those women were offered greater access to health and social services and were able to protect themselves and help each other look out for the dangerous clients who they knew posed risks to them and keep an eye on things such as underage prostitution. However, those things were lost when the zone was lost.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. As the policy memorandum says, this bill started out with the aim of protecting communities from

"the nuisance, alarm or offence arising from street prostitution-related activities in or near public places" and of redressing the balance between the purchaser and the seller.

Unfortunately, as amended at stage 2, the bill goes well beyond that policy intention and into the area of moral condemnation. I do not dispute that, at present, the balance is wrong. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it is on the purchaser—the man—that the law should normally focus.

However, the bill retains section 46 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.

We should be primarily concerned with the issue of the causing of nuisance, alarm or offence rather than the issue of soliciting or loitering.

The expert group on prostitution that was set up by the Executive stated in its report that criminalising soliciting, of itself, does not contribute to protecting vulnerable people or addressing community concerns. We should bear that in mind and reject the bill, which goes down the wrong road.

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green 4:00 pm, 28th February 2007

This is now a little bill with a very big title.

I join in the tributes paid to the expert group and its work to examine how we can provide genuine solutions to the damage that street prostitution causes to those involved and the harm to the communities affected by it.

How does the bill propose to deal with that concern? We heard David McLetchie and Bristow Muldoon talk of the bill as tackling a public order and nuisance problem. I do not deny that that nuisance is a huge problem for the communities that face it, but the bill is capable of another interpretation—one that Margo MacDonald, among others, has argued. That interpretation is that it is okay for someone to buy sex as long as they do not cause a nuisance by doing so—it is okay to buy sex by mobile phone, over the internet or in a sauna.

The bill considers only the nuisance that buying sex causes, and I agree with Iain Smith and Margo MacDonald that that is the wrong approach to dealing with prostitution. Iain Smith is right to note that section 46 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 will be retained.

I am afraid that the bill is a quick legislative fix. The idea seems to be that we have to do something about street prostitution and that, if we pass the bill, we will have been seen to do something. However, the bill will take nothing forward. Legislation should focus on the harm and exploitation that surrounds prostitution, but the bill will not do that. Indeed, as we have heard, it is liable to exacerbate the problem by driving prostitution further underground.

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green

I do not have enough time.

Although the bill may deal with red light districts, will it deal with or simply move street prostitution? It will make it more difficult for groups such as SCOT-PEP to offer advice, help and support and to deal with the minister's welcome £1 million funding.

The Greens cannot support such a flawed bill and will again abstain. I urge others to do the same.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 4:02 pm, 28th February 2007

I had always thought that kerb crawling was already a statutory offence in Scotland. It is not, but the bill will close the gap in our legislation. Until now, kerb crawling has been tackled by the police under the wide-ranging breach of the peace rules. It has not been a statutory offence, so it is right that the bill corrects the situation. It is also right that the sellers and purchasers of sex on the street will both commit a criminal offence.

Let me turn to the contributions to this afternoon's debate. I listened with great interest to Fergus Ewing, and if we all listened with such interest, we might think that he had single-handedly changed the bill and the mind of the Scottish Executive and that there were no other committee members at all. I think that I am correct in saying that, apart from perhaps Margo MacDonald, Fergus Ewing had more amendments rejected than anyone else. Great influence there, Fergus.

Those amendments included the draconian proposals to increase the penalties facing offenders. Bristow Muldoon commented earlier about my contribution to that part of the debate. I felt that the Executive was right when it initially proposed a fine of £500 for the offence. That is a significant sum of money to anyone and would be appropriate. The committee decided, and the Executive agreed, to raise the fine to £1,000, but that is still a significant sum in anybody's book. No one can tell me that £500 or £1,000 is not a significant fine.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Does the member agree with Fergus Ewing that the purchase of sex should be a crime? I quote exactly.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat


Bristow Muldoon said that Fergus Ewing was trying to grandstand, which I thought was unfair. He was not trying to grandstand, he was grandstanding.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Yes—grandstand again, Fergus.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I am curious about whether Mr Rumbles will explain why it is wrong for a man to purchase sex on the street, but right for him to do so in a sauna.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I do not think that we want to ban the purchase of sex, per se, across the country in all circumstances.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

We have already done that for 16 and 17-year-olds.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

If Stewart Stevenson will listen—

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

It is clear that the bill is about street prostitution. Read the bill.

Margo MacDonald, Iain Smith and Mark Ballard oppose the bill because they prefer an entirely different approach. That is fair enough. Margo MacDonald has consistently raised management zones, which are not within the bill's scope. She said that the bill would be bad legislation, but I disagree: it will be good legislation that puts the situation right.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 4:05 pm, 28th February 2007

The bill is vastly different from the version that was introduced. As a result of the work of the Local Government and Transport Committee, on which I congratulate it, we will have practical and pragmatic legislation. However, I agree with the comment by Bristow Muldoon, for example, that the Parliament must return to the major problem of prostitution and to what happens after the bill is passed.



Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I hear yesses across the chamber. Some time must be spent on the issue eventually.

It was interesting that the minister made an announcement about routes out but, as was said later, he gave no details or statistics, of which it is important for the Parliament to have sight. I very much welcome the money that he is providing. The bill may deal with kerb crawling and street prostitution, but we still have the problem of the people who are involved in the trade. Their safety and health and why they are involved are issues. Much of that is down to drug addiction. I welcome any moves that will get people out of drug addiction in whatever form, whatever the reason they have become involved in or been forced into it.

It was also interesting that the minister is in contact with Westminster. I look forward to hearing what we will have from Westminster on licences and motor vehicles.

Fergus Ewing talked about the imperial Parliament. That term is always hilarious, because I thought that we in Scotland were not conquered and were not a defeated nation. Perhaps that is his version of what we will be if people vote for the SNP. If that happens, Scotland will certainly become defeated. However, Fergus Ewing is right to talk about ending the double standard. It was staggering that he took the credit again, but I acknowledge that he lodged many amendments that were agreed to.

David McLetchie talked about the changes to the bill and said that the provisions must be more effective. The measure is limited, but if it is enforced, it will rid communities of the nuisance that they suffer, about which Frank McAveety talked. I have received complaints from different parts of the north-east from people who were innocently going about their daily business and trying to go home when they were followed along streets and pestered, because it was assumed that anything with a skirt on in the area was definitely a prostitute. That situation is ridiculous.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

In which areas did that occur? Aberdeen has a management zone. People know it well and know its perimeters well. I am interested in whether people are being accosted in other areas.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

Such areas exist in Aberdeen city and in Dundee. I will not go into the details of the individuals who complained.

The Hood group—the expert group—did a good job and the Parliament must re-examine some issues that arise from its work.

It is fair to say that not every member is for the bill. Iain Smith is concerned that the trade will be driven underground and that the bill will not remove people from prostitution. I have some sympathy with that view and with Mark Ballard's views, but we must start somewhere. The bill is about protecting communities. Addressing the issues that Iain Smith, Mark Ballard and Margo MacDonald have raised is a separate matter. We will support the bill at decision time.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party 4:09 pm, 28th February 2007

We need to remember that the bill has been introduced from the perspective of helping communities that are blighted by those who loiter on the street or kerb crawl in a vehicle. The Scottish Parliament information centre briefing stated:

"The aim of the Bill is to make it an offence to cause 'alarm, offence or nuisance' through soliciting or loitering to sell or buy sexual services. The purpose of the Bill is to deal with the negative consequences of street prostitution for communities."

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

Let me get started.

As others have said, although the bill was introduced by the Executive, it has ended up as a committee bill. Initially, the bill did not do what it was intended to do, and only as a result of significant amendments and recommendations by the Local Government and Transport Committee has it got to the stage where it will help communities such as those in Calton and Leith.

Leslie Brown, a community safety strategist from Aberdeen City Council, said in evidence to the Local Government and Transport Committee:

"Unless we witness the sea change that Fergus Ewing talked about and make a quantum leap to the criminalisation of the purchase of sex, so that we can tackle demand, we must be realistic about the situation on the ground."—[Official Report, Local Government and Transport Committee, 31 October 2006; c 4182.]

The bill is the start of that sea change.

I echo what Fergus Ewing said: my huge disappointment about the bill is that it is not broader and more encompassing, and it does not cover sex parlours, international sex trafficking and, more pressingly, the abuse of women by their so-called partners, who are better known as pimps. The harrowing story of a young woman who moved to Aberdeen from Elgin drug-free and met a drug dealer who befriended her, offered her accommodation and, having hooked her on drugs, put her on the streets shows just what the situation can be like. The story was told as a result of said man being found murdered in his house. That area of crime is hugely underreported, not only by sellers of sex but by purchasers who experience theft and violence at the hands of the sex workers' minders. In my view, the minders exploit women as much as if not more than the purchasers.

I hope that the bill is seen only as an important first step that shows a sea change in attitudes, as Frances Curran and others have said. There should be more legislation in this area.

David McLetchie is quite wrong about management zones: they work because women look out for other women. It is important that more women come forward and use the management zones.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I am a little confused by Maureen Watt's speech. In committee and in this debate, she said that she was in favour of management zones or tolerance zones—whatever one calls them—but she has just said that she wants all exchanging of money for sex to be made illegal. She cannot take both positions, surely.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

I can take both positions. I said that we cannot just tackle street prostitution; we have to see the problem in the round and tackle other violence against women. Mike Rumbles might not see the purchasing of sex as violence against women, but I do.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Will the member explain what the purchasing of sex entails? Does money always have to change hands? Would jewellery suffice? How about a nice night out at the casino followed by a few drinks? Would that do? How are we to make that illegal? How stupid!

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

By passing the bill, we will send out a strong signal that we in Scotland do not tolerate the use of women by others as sex objects. The bill is an important first step.

I am glad that the minister has promised extra funding. I hope that it will reach out to more women and perhaps even provide safe houses for women who are experiencing sexual exploitation by their partners, including drug-addict partners. I hope that the bill will be passed.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour 4:15 pm, 28th February 2007

The passing of the Prostitution (Public Places) (Scotland) Bill is significant for a number of reasons. As a number of members have said, the interaction between the Local Government and Transport Committee and the Executive showed the Parliament working at its best. We should be pleased about that, quite apart from the effect that the bill will have. I take the opportunity to say a sincere thank you to the members of the committee for their thoughtful and constructive contributions, for the helpful amendments that they lodged and for the help that they gave the Executive in shaping the bill in the best possible way.

I was disappointed by Fergus Ewing's contribution today. No matter what we discuss in the Parliament, the SNP always tries to bring in a constitutional reference. Today, we heard the implication that Westminster is somehow dragging its feet and that we did not know how it would react to our request for an order in council. Prostitution is an important matter. Sometimes, we need to concentrate on the subject that is before us without trying to score ancillary points.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

No. Fergus Ewing said enough earlier, so I will not give way to him.

The bill is significant because, for the first time, it will criminalise kerb crawling, which has blighted our communities, has scared women and has rightly been regarded as obnoxious and offensive. We want the bill to send to women in Scotland the powerful message that their voice can make a difference and that, if they encounter kerb crawling, they now have a remedy. The bill sends to communities the powerful message that they now have more power and that one more thing has been done to make them more cohesive. The bill also sends a significant message to men, which is, "If you engage in kerb crawling, you will be criminalised and stigmatised. Your vehicle could be seized and, before long, you might be disqualified from driving." The bill is not a moral crusade against prostitutes. Street prostitution is an abuse of those who are forced into it through coercion, poverty or drug addiction. Legitimate concerns were raised at stage 1 about the services that can redirect women to a more dignified and fulfilling life. That is why Mr Lyon announced additional funding of £1 million, which will be directed to the services that help women who are involved in prostitution. I was disappointed by Mr Sheridan's response. The funding is a genuine attempt to respond to the legitimate concerns that were expressed as the bill went through Parliament.

Some members asked how the money will be spent. We will spend it after receiving the best advice from those who are experienced in helping women who are involved in the tragedy of prostitution. We will ensure that the money is spent in the best way and for the right reasons, not just for the sake of making an announcement during the passing of a bill.

Photo of Susan Deacon Susan Deacon Labour

I welcome the resources that have been announced today, but with reference to a number of colleagues' comments, will the minister assure us that, given the particular focus of those resources, the Executive will continue to address the far wider range of services and support that are also required? Will he assure us that the Executive—depending on its complexion, obviously—will continue to address the wider range of issues that are associated with prostitution?

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

I am more than happy to give those assurances.

Prostitution is, of course, an incredibly complex issue, and it would be wrong to think that we could now simply leave it, because the bill is only a first step. We will return to the issue, as it requires serious consideration by the Parliament. Women are involved in this extremely damaging and dangerous activity for complex reasons, and it is important that the Parliament does all that it can to understand those reasons and react appropriately.

I ask members to endorse the bill in order to send a strong and unequivocal message to those who attempt to purchase sex on our streets that kerb crawling will no longer be tolerated in a modern Scotland. The bill will help people to see the relevance of a Scottish Parliament, because it demonstrates that we listen and act on community concerns. Again, I urge members to support the bill.