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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 March, 2004, 17:44 GMT
Red light zones debate goes on
Prostitute
The idea of prostitution tolerance zones will be discussed by MSPs
The Scottish Executive has said it still has an open mind on whether to allow local authorities to set up prostitution tolerance zones.

Deputy Justice Minister Hugh Henry told a committee of MSPs that the expert group he set up to look into the issue will report in the autumn.

He will decide then if legislation is the best way of dealing with the problem of street prostitution.

He was speaking to Holyrood's local government and transport committee.

Mr Henry urged members of the committee to vote down a bill introduced by Independent MSP Margo MacDonald.

He told the committee: "While I applaud Margo MacDonald's commitment and determination, the view of the executive is that consideration of the bill is premature ahead of the deliberations of the working group.

"We would urge the committee to oppose it, not because we have a view one way or the other on the principles, but because we believe that the timing of the bill is not the best way to go."

Mr Henry also said he was worried that the passing of the bill could lead to the unintended legalisation of prostitution.

But Ms MacDonald, a list MSP for the Lothians, said her bill would be "a sticking plaster on a wound that is there and currently bleeding."

Swedish evidence

The chair of the working group set up by the executive to look at the issue of prostitution and how it is dealt with in other countries is former senior police officer Sandra Hood.

In her written submission to the committee, Ms Hood said the group had already spoken to the police, local councils, neighbourhood groups and prostitution support groups.

The challenge for councils would be in identifying a suitable geographical area where in effect soliciting would be decriminalised
Margo MacDonald MSP

The group has also heard evidence from Sweden, where vice laws penalise men who buy sex rather than the women who offer their services.

The Prostitution Tolerance Zones (Scotland) Bill was launched by Ms MacDonald last September.

The bill is almost identical to the original one which was overwhelmingly rejected by MSPs before last year's Holyrood elections.

If her second attempt is successful it would give local councils the power to designate tolerance zones within which soliciting by prostitutes would not be an offence.

The bill would also allow people to appeal to ministers against the establishment of a tolerance zone and for the police to apply to have a zone suspended or modified.

Second chance

An unofficial tolerance zone operated in Leith, Edinburgh, until 2001 and Ms MacDonald has said she re-introduced her bill following a rise in attacks on prostitutes since its demise.

She said: "The bill would offer councils and voluntary organisations a legal basis from which to more effectively manage street prostitution, minimising violence and minimising or eliminating the nuisance to people unconnected with prostitution, like residents or other people going about their business.

"The challenge for councils would be in identifying a suitable geographical area where in effect soliciting would be decriminalised."


SEE ALSO:
Council considers vice clampdown
13 Nov 03  |  Scotland
Backing for Swedish vice law
07 Oct 03  |  Scotland
Prostitution under scrutiny
26 Aug 03  |  Scotland
Red light bill thrown out
27 Feb 03  |  Scotland
Prostitution law change urged
13 Feb 03  |  Scotland


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