The crime of soliciting should be scrapped in Scotland, ministers have been told in a new report.
The group says the crime of soliciting should be scrapped
The Scottish Executive expert group on prostitution said laws banning the practice should be replaced.
It said the replacement legislation should apply equally to prostitutes and their customers.
But despite rumours, the report did not recommend the creation of prostitution "tolerance zones" in Scottish cities when it was published on Thursday.
The group recommended the creation of a new offence of publicly offensive behaviour arising from the sale or purchase of sexual service.
It said this would mean soliciting for prostitution would no longer to be a criminal offence and negate the need for formal zones where the law did not apply.
Instead, the expert group, chaired by former Strathclyde Assistant Chief Constable Sandra Hood, suggested local councils consider the need for "managed zones".
These would confine the public nuisance of the practice to a specific area and make it easier for councils to try and help women out of prostitution.
Ms Hood said: "The group's view is that the current law is unsuitable - both in terms of fairness and equity, and in terms of its capacity to contribute helpfully to the operational objectives of tackling prostitution.
"Offensive behaviour or conduct arising out of street prostitution should be criminalised, rather than street prostitution itself."
The group recommends achieving its aims through one of three of the following ways:
The proposed new offence would empower police to tackle kerb-crawling drivers whose conduct created a nuisance.
- A repeal of the existing law and its replacement with breach of the peace to deal with offensive behaviour in prostitution-related transactions
- The creation of a new offence of buying or selling sex in such a way as to cause public alarm or offence
- The retention of the concept of soliciting under the stipulation that it - and buying sex - is only an offence if fear or offence can be demonstrated.
Ms Hood added: "Central to our approach is the proposal that the law on soliciting be reviewed to ensure it does not criminalise on a moral basis and that it does not, as at present, stigmatise the person soliciting but not the person buying sexual services.
"Instead we want to replace the criminalisation of soliciting with an offence that targets offensive behaviour or conduct towards the public arising from someone either buying or selling sexual services."
Alongside the changes, the group is also calling for the executive to set out a general approach to the problem, within which local councils could find their own best ways of dealing with the issue.
And councils and other agencies would be required to draw up local plans for tackling the problem and make it easier for women to be helped out of prostitution.
The group was set up last year by the executive after MSPs rejected a bid by independent MSP Margo MacDonald to legislate for formal "tolerance zones".
Ms MacDonald welcomed the report's findings and said: "It goes further than my bill did.
"The bill arose out of a particular need in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
"What the report does is to take the best elements of what was learned from having managed zones in Aberdeen and Edinburgh and move to the next stage."
The executive's immediate response to the report was non-committal.
Deputy Justice Minister Hugh Henry said that when he set up the group he wanted its members to come up with a new approach for dealing with the world's oldest profession.
He said: "I believe they have delivered that and the executive is today issuing that report to all interested parties for consultation.
"We will be considering the group's proposals and the responses to them in detail, before announcing how we plan to address the challenges posed by increasing street prostitution in Scotland."
The report concentrates solely on street prostitution, and the group's future work will study other aspects of the problem - like trafficking, indoor prostitution and male prostitution.
The expert group studied street prostitution in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow and visited several big English cities.
About 1,400 women are involved in street prostitution in Scotland, of whom about 180 are likely to be on the streets of the four biggest cities each night.
At present, prostitution is not an offence but the 1982 Civic Government (Scotland) Act criminalises soliciting in a public place for the purpose of prostitution.