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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 December 2006, 21:18 GMT
Target prostitute users - Harman
Harriet Harman
Ms Harman proposes criminalising men who pay for sex
Ministers should look at prosecuting men who pay for sex, constitutional affairs ministers Harriet Harman says.

While kerb crawling and procuring a prostitute for sex are illegal, paying for sex is not currently an offence.

Ms Harman, Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham, said the murders of five prostitutes in Ipswich showed more should be done to end vice in the UK.

It would be better to target the men who paid for sex rather than criminalising women, she said.

"I think we should be saying we don't want this sort of organised crime in this country, " she said.

She suggested the UK look at the case of Sweden, "where they support young women who have drug problems and who are vulnerable for other reasons, but they actually have a criminal offence of buying sex - they make prostitution illegal, by taking on the issue of the punters rather than the young women."

Small brothels plan

Ms Harman's call comes as the government has been accused of dragging its feet over legislation that would protect prostitutes from attack.

Former home office minister Fiona Mactaggart has urged ministers to carry out a plan to legalise small brothels.

The idea was included in January's prostitution strategy for England, but it has yet to be implemented.

Police at the site where the bodies were found on Tuesday
Five prostitutes have been killed in or around Ipswich

Ms Mactaggart told BBC News the murder of five women in Suffolk showed the need for urgent changes in the law to protect prostitutes.

"What we have a responsibility to do as a government is to make sure that women who are involved in prostitution are safe and one of the ways of doing that is making sure that where two women are working together from a flat they don't face a 14 year sentence," she said.

"It has not been an urgent policy for this government.

"This terrible series of murders has pushed it up everyone's agenda and made us realise that we need to have a policy which helps to reduce the extent of street prostitution, yes, but at the same time, make sure that the women who are involved, who are selling themselves - who have very chaotic lives - are safe."

Licensed zones

Under the Home Office plan, two prostitutes and a receptionist or maid could work together legally in brothels.

The strategy also includes tougher laws for men who buy sex.

It would mean more kerb-crawlers could lose their driving licences, while prostitutes would get help over drugs and housing.

But ministers ditched plans for licensed red-light zones, arguing they could send out the wrong message.

Announcing the policy in January, Ms Mactaggart said such zones only shifted the problem to other areas.

'Watered-down'

But a former adviser to ex-home secretary David Blunkett has claimed the plans were dropped over fears of negative media coverage.

Writing in The Observer, Katharine Raymond, said the Home Office's original policy document, which included tolerance zones, was blocked by Number 10, which she said was "terrified of a hostile media response".

The idea only surfaced because then home secretary, David Blunkett, wanted a "grown-up" debate on the issue.

What followed, under his successor, Charles Clarke, was a "watered-down series of proposals" which had still not been implemented.

She said the Ipswich murders highlighted the double standards of politicians and senior police officers, who she said did not want to risk their careers by backing reforms.


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