MPs back prostitution ban

There is all-party support for criminalising men who buy sex, a former Europe minister said last night.

Harriet Harman, women’s minister and Labour’s deputy leader, re-opened the prostitution debate yesterday by backing a total ban on prostitution, which she argued would reduce the demand for trafficked women.

Former government minister Denis MacShane said last night a cross-party group of MPs supported changing the law to make it illegal to buy sex, bringing the UK in line with the Swedish model.

The Labour MP told Newsnight: “The actual proposal is not Harriet Harman’s, it is a group of MPs’. It is [an] all-party support issue, to say that councils, communities, police chiefs can say ‘we don’t want this in our area’.”

Ms Harman argued a ban on buying sex could help reduce the demand for sex workers, helping to reverse rising levels of human trafficking.

The Home Office decided against making paying for sex a specific offence in 2004 but Ms Harman yesterday indicated ministers are looking again at the issue.

Appearing on the Today programme she said: “Do we think it’s right in the 21st century that women should be in a sex trade or do we think it’s exploitation and should be banned? Just because something has always gone on, it doesn’t mean you just wring your hands and say there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Specifically, Ms Harman said a ban on prostitution would reduce demand for sex workers and in her “personal view” it should be taken as the government’s next step.

She explained: “Unless you tackle the demand side of human trafficking, which is fuelling this trade, we will not be able to protect women from it.

“The. question is can we really stop this trade when we’ve still got a lawful sex trade going on?”

Mr MacShane concurred with her views, arguing that present initiatives are failing to address human trafficking, which he described as an “extraordinarily new international crime.”

He said: “I looked and I looked at how you could handle the supply side of it, and we find maybe 30 criminal investigations a year may appear in courts because of the trafficking of these women.

“I just came to the conclusion that if you don’t deal with the demand side, this incredible, insatiate demand in Britain to have young women coming in from abroad to pleasure men for money, something needs to be done.”

Home Office ministers Vernon Coaker and Barbara Follett are set to visit Sweden to assess the impact of a ban on prostitution.

The home secretary confirmed this will form part of a short-term review of the laws surrounding sex work.

Jacqui Smith said yesterday: “We recognise that there is considerable support for us to do more to tackle the demand for prostitution and to prevent the trafficking of people for sexual exploitation.”

The Green party’s candidate for mayor of London, Sian Berry, warned against total prohibition, however, arguing there was “no evidence” the Swedish ban had done anything to help trafficked women.

Rather, Ms Berry warned, the Swedish police are now finding men are less likely to come forward and report suspected abuse because they have been criminalised.

As an immediate measure, the Newspaper Society will next month produce new guidelines on adverts offering sex services, advising publishers to consult with police over concerning ads.

Ms Harman said she was hopeful the guidance would stop the ads, which campaigners warn often feature trafficked women.

MEN Media, owned by the Guardian Media Group, has already decided it will not run any adverts for personal services.