Thank you for writing to me on this important issue.
Sex work is a reality and will always continue to be so: no matter how much some in society wish it were otherwise. It is the role of government to work with reality, and of an MP to represent and help all of their constituents, no matter profession or background.
Like me, doubtless you read the report in the Edinburgh Evening News of the recent raids on local saunas. It seems that the police and council have turned away from the policy of harm reduction and have turned towards crackdowns on those involved in the trade. I agree with the view of the sex workers' charity SCOT-PEP that such heavy-handed action is destructive and will increase the dangers that sex workers face.
The Liberal Democrat party are against the criminalisation of sex workers and are also against the Nordic system of criminalising clients. We believe that the best way for those involved in the industry is to organise themselves, that the government has no business as to what occurs between consenting adults and that the government role is therefore reduced to preventing harm. That police in Edinburgh are using the presence of condoms as evidence is obviously very damaging to public health in general and the wellbeing of workers in particular. This represents a change in policy and is a direct result of the formation of Police Scotland by the SNP government. This has led to the policing practices of Glasgow being instigated across the country, much to the detriment of policing overall in Scotland.
As a party we are aware of the New Zealand study on sex work and support its findings. The Liberal Democrats want violence against sex workers to be treated as a hate crime. In 2011, Liberal Democrat Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone announced a 12-month national pilot scheme to protect sex workers and encourage them to report violent incidents. We want to create an atmosphere for those engaged in sex work are not threatened by either police or government bodies, and feel that they can turn to the authorities when they themselves are victims of crime and abuse, or need help and advice on health issues.
Nobody should ever be forced into sex work under any circumstances. The full and informed consent of individuals involved in sex work is paramount. We are also determined to clamp down on all other forms of exploitation and end the illegal trafficking of women into this country by organised criminal gangs. Last month, the Coalition Government passed the Modern Slavery Act 2015. This will help to strengthen our response to human trafficking and various forms of modern slavery and exploitation.
I strongly believe that the safety of sex workers should be the overriding priority of any future changes to policy in this area. We should continue to press for changes that will ultimately improve the health and wellbeing of sex workers.
I hope that I have answered your question as to both my own outlook and the party's fully but if you have further issues you would like to discuss, please do contact me.
Scottish Liberal Democrats
Edinburgh North and Leith.