London: A cross-party group of British MPs led by Indian-origin lawmaker Keith Vaz has called on the UK government to decriminalise sex work and prostitution, first time in decades that Parliament has considered the "polarising" subject.
The House of Commons' Home Affairs Select Committee (HAC), which is chaired by longest serving Indian-origin MP Vaz, had conducted a review into the practice and released its interim report last week.
"This is the first time that Parliament has considered the issue of prostitution in decades. It is a polarising subject with strong views on all sides," Vaz said in a statement.
"As a first step, there has been universal agreement that elements of the present law are unsatisfactory. Treating soliciting as a criminal offence is having an adverse effect, and it is wrong that sex workers, who are predominantly women, should be penalised and stigmatised in this way. The criminalisation of sex workers should therefore end," he said.
The HAC said the UK Home Office should immediately change existing legislation so that soliciting is no longer an offence and brothel-keeping laws allow sex workers to share premises, without losing the ability to prosecute those who use brothels to control or exploit sex workers.
The committee called for "zero tolerance" of organized criminal exploitation of sex workers and demanded legislation to delete previous convictions and cautions for prostitution from the record of sex workers, as these records make it much more difficult for people to move out of prostitution into other forms of work if they wish to.
"The committee will evaluate a number of the alternative models as this inquiry continues, including the sex-buyers law as operated in Sweden, the full decriminalised model used in Denmark, and the legalised model used in Germany and the Netherlands," Vaz said.
The interim report released on July 1 will be followed by final recommendations based on a study of the various models.
Britain has around 70,000 prostitutes who make an average of 2,000 pounds (USD 2,653 or Rs 1.7 lakh) a week, according to the report's estimates.
Sex workers in Britain charged an average of 78 pounds (USD 103 or Rs 6,925) for services and had around 25 clients per week.
Under present UK law, it is not illegal for consenting adults to buy and sell sex but soliciting it is not permitted.