Parliamentary debate, 4 July 2018

On 4 July 2018 the front-bench spokespeople for the Labour Party and Scottish National Party backed calls on the Government to tackle demand for commercial sexual exploitation by criminalising paying for sex and decriminalising selling sex. Recognising prostitution as a form of violence against women, the party representatives urged the Government to act during a Westminster Hall debate called by Sarah Champion MP.

> Read the transcript of the debate.



Carolyn Harris MP, Shadow Minister for Woman & Equalities and Home Affairs
“[The] sex buyer law on prostitution decriminalises all those who are prostituted. It provides support services to help people exit prostitution, and it makes buying people for sex a criminal offence, in order to reduce the demand that drives sex trafficking. It makes it clear that buying people for sex is abhorrent and wrong, and it sanctions discouraging people from doing it.”

Angela Crawley MP, Scottish National Party Spokesperson for Equalities
“As we have heard, prostitution is a form of gendered violence. It is both a cause and a consequence of sexual inequality. It is interesting that the debate has so far focused not purely on tackling commercial sexual exploitation, but particularly on demand. …the demand from sex buyers fuels sex trafficking and organised crime. Without the demand from sex buyers, there would be no need for a supply. We are therefore looking at tackling the root cause of that form of sexual inequality, rather than a symptom.”

Sarah Champion MP
“I am here today with two clear messages for the Minister. First, there is a sexual abuse scandal happening right now on her watch. It is enabled by prostitution advertising websites and driven predominantly by heterosexual men who pay for sex. Secondly, there is a solution: making paying for sex a crime to help stem demand and then helping the women exploited in the sex trade to exit it, by removing penalties for soliciting and providing them with properly resourced support services. The Government and the officials who advise them cannot claim that they did not know what was going on or were not aware of the scale of the problem. To end the exploitation, we have to end the demand.​”

Jess Phillips MP
“I ask the Minister to reflect on the fact that in the main Chamber today Members are considering a Government Bill to stop the sale of part of an animal from other countries. They are legislating to reduce demand for ivory. They are acting, by means of a Bill. At exactly the same moment, there are women face down being abused in this country, who have been trafficked from somewhere else or exploited here. Ivory is an important subject for me, but it is not as important as the girls in my kids’ class, and it never will be, so I ask the Government to act and not to keep kicking the matter into review after review. We can act for elephants; we should act for women.”

Fiona Bruce MP
“Prostitution and the commercial sex industry are intrinsically linked with modem slavery. As we have heard, the market for commercial sex operates as a pull for traffickers and organised crime groups.”

Gavin Shuker MP
“The United Nations, which is having to confront sexual abuse and exploitation within its own ranks, has published a “Glossary on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse” for anyone who is not clear what that means. It states: “‘Sexual exploitation’ is a broad term, which includes a number of acts…including ‘transactional sex’”. Transactional sex is defined as: “The exchange of money, employment, goods or services for sex”. Offering someone money—or drugs, food or a place to stay—in exchange for them performing sex acts is abusive and exploitative. It is never acceptable.”

Ronnie Cowan MP
“Most sex buyers are male, and that group pays predominantly for sexual access to the bodies of women. Therefore it is important that young men should be raised not to see women as a commodity to be bought and sold. If we do not deal with that, women will, as has happened in other countries, be trafficked and sold into a deeply exploitative trade, to supply the demand.”

Jim Shannon MP
“We changed the law in Northern Ireland because we needed a law that would enable us to tackle the demand for commercial sexual exploitation more effectively. The Northern Ireland Assembly overwhelmingly supported the provision by 81 votes to 10, with the four largest ​parties in the Assembly—the Democratic Unionist party, Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Ulster Unionist party—in support. Both Unionists and nationalists supported the legislation. …Taking action to tackle the demand for commercial sexual exploitation is the first step, and I encourage the Minister to follow the actions of those in Northern Ireland. That is the way forward.”