The British government wants to make it illegal to pay for sex and is considering a plan to “name and shame” men who visit prostitutes.
The sex trade is already heavily restricted in Britain, unlike in many of its European neighbors where prostitution and solicitation are tolerated in some form. Denmark has decriminalized the business.
But Britain wants to go its own way, marking another foray into human foibles by government.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the son of a Presbyterian minister, has already backed a series of sin taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, called for tougher drug laws and scrapped plans for Britain's first Las Vegas-style casino.
Officials say there is also a need for a crackdown on prostitution.
“Basically, if it means fewer people are able to go out and pay for sex I think that would be a good thing,” Home Secretary Jacqui Smith told The Guardian newspaper over the weekend, ahead of the government's announcement of the plan's details today.
Any changes will have to be approved by Parliament, where Brown's Labour Party has a 63-seat majority. Debate is expected next month.
The proposal would make paying for sex illegal and carry additional penalties for men who have sex with women forced into prostitution, the Home Office said. But it declined to give details on fines and other penalties before the formal announcement.
Men who frequent prostitutes could also be identified publicly, as they are in the London borough of Lambeth, where police send letters to the homes of drivers whose vehicles are caught on closed-circuit television picking up streetwalkers.
In addition, the plan could allow rape charges against men who knowingly paid for sex with a woman forced to work as a prostitute.
Under current laws in England and Wales, it is illegal to loiter and sell sex in public. Keeping a brothel is unlawful, but a lone woman selling sex inside is not. Similarly, paying for sex is legal. But solicitation in public is not.
Some 80,000 prostitutes are estimated to be working in Britain, the same as during the Victorian Age — an era when a raft of laws were enacted in a vain effort to curb the flourishing sex trade.