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by Kirsteen Paterson
11 March 2024
Scottish Government delayed prostitution law change to avoid row with Greens, Ash Regan claims

Ash Regan MSP | Alamy

Scottish Government delayed prostitution law change to avoid row with Greens, Ash Regan claims

The Scottish Government pushed back prostitution law reforms to avoid a clash with the Scottish Greens, Ash Regan has claimed.

In a wide-ranging interview with Holyrood, Regan - who was community safety minister when the Bute House Agreement was signed - said the SNP-led administration deferred sex trade law changes.

Regan brought in plans to reform legislation at the same time as new restrictions to firework sales. While tougher rules around the purchase of fireworks are now in place, no changes to the law on the purchase of sex have been introduced. 

Regan, who defected from the SNP to Alba last year, claims she found "resistance" to this while in office despite the Scottish Government's stance that prostitution is a form of violence against women.

She said: "I began to think that especially after 2021, which was when the Bute House Agreement was signed. I managed to get the prostitution reform onto the slate, I had it at one point as early as year three, but then it kept slipping and I would look again, and it would be on year four or year five."

She went on: "I began to think that I was not going to be able to progress it because this was not something that the Green Party would sign up to."

The "legal status and regulation of selling sex" is listed among the explicit exclusions to the Bute House Agreement.

In the party's 2021 election manifesto, the Scottish Greens vowed to “fight for the decriminalisation of sex work to ensure sex workers are legally protected from exploitation, trafficking and violence and have improved access to support and healthcare".

Regan, who is set to introduce a members' bill aimed at criminalising the purchase of sex, said: "If you look in detail at what the SNP-Green coalition government has pursued, it’s the areas where there is more policy alignment.

"The fireworks bill became law, and the prostitution law didn’t get to that point, which is a source of professional regret."

The comments come after Justice Secretary Angela Constance announced a public inquiry into the police handling of the Emma Caldwell murder investigation in 2005.

Iain Packer was last month found guilty of murder, rape and other sexual offences against Emma and more than 20 other women and was sentenced to 36 years in prison. Packer is expected to appeal against his conviction.

He was found guilty of murder, rape and other sexual offences against Emma and more than 20 other women and was sentenced to 36 years imprisonment. Packer has made an intimation of intention to appeal both his conviction and the length of his sentence.

In a response to Regan's claims, the Scottish Government said that its recent strategy to challenge male demand for prostitution includes steps to "help women safely exit commercial sexual exploitation", such as a pilot programme for a new national hub to improve access to support for those with experience of prostitution. A spokesperson said: "Lessons learned from the strategy will help inform any future legislative considerations, including whether to criminalise the purchase of sex."

Maggie Chapman, Scottish Greens spokesperson for justice, equality and human rights, said: "The approach supported by Ash Regan is opposed by sex worker rights groups, human rights organisations and the World Health Organisation. And for good reason. Human Rights Watch points out that its implementation in other countries has led to spikes in murder, police abuse, exclusion from social services and sexual violence towards sex workers.

"Our approach must be aimed at minimising the harm, marginalisation and exploitation that sex workers face every day. The evidence is clear that Ash's approach not only fails to do that, but does the opposite."

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