The former Tory cabinet minister Caroline Spelman has called for the UK to consider criminalising the purchase of sex and urged more male politicians to enter a public debate about the reform of prostitution laws.
Spelman, who as environment secretary from 2010 to 2012 was one of David Cameron’s few senior female ministers, said she supported the Nordic model, named after the system in Sweden, Iceland and Norway, which makes it a crime to buy, but not sell, sexual services.
Speaking to the Guardian, the MP said it was important for more men to make their views clear about the issue, which provokes strong feelings on both sides of the debate.
Many sex workers’ groups argue that making the buying of sex illegal could push trade underground and make the lives of prostitutes more dangerous. However, Spelman said: “I think the Nordic law is the right direction, but we need cross-party support for it. It’s very important men come out and say what they think as well because it’s very emotive.”
She said she was shocked by estimates that thousands of prostitutes in the UK had been trafficked and believed such sexual exploitation would have to be addressed through reducing demand.
Figures from the Association of Chief Police Officers, reproduced by the House of Commons library, suggest 17,000 of the estimated 30,000 women involved in off-street prostitution in England and Wales are immigrants, of whom 2,600 are deemed to have been trafficked and a further 9,200 are viewed as vulnerable.
There are laws against kerb-crawling, soliciting and running brothels in England and Wales. However, selling sex is legal behind closed doors and buying sex is allowed unless a third party is controlling the prostitute for gain with “exploitative conduct of a kind likely to induce or encourage” provision of sexual services.
Demands for Britain to look again at changing prostitution laws come as France is passing legislation to emulate the Nordic model and the law is under review in Northern Ireland, Ireland, Finland and Canada. Last month, the European parliament passed a non-binding resolution in favour of criminalising the purchase of sex, putting pressure on member states to re-evaluate their policies.