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In recent weeks, Trish Godman’s latest attempt to bring in legislation to criminalise the clients and other people involved in the periphery of the P4P arena came to an end as the bill fell with the dissolution of the latest session of the Scottish Parliament.
This seems an apt time to look at what has happened and to think about two questions,
1. Following the consultation, what can we learn from the summary of responses document that has been published, and
2. Given the timeline, was this bill always doomed to fall?, if so, what was gained from introducing it?, and what might happen next?
The responses themselves are worthy of a more detailed study, so in this article I am looking at the process and the overall responses.
Before I begin, I would like to state my appreciation of all those, pressure groups, organisations and individuals, who have put their time and effort, often unpaid, into campaigning against the bill, and encouraging others to do so. Without these groups and individuals putting their heads above the parapets and being prepared to stand up for what they believe in, we would be in a far worse place.
Firstly, let’s turn to the summary of consultation responses document, issued on 16th March, 2011, just over a month after the consultation period ended. 122 people responded in total, but the first interesting fact to note can be found in the second paragraph of the document
It was also issued to 146 organisations and individuals with an interest in the issue. Recipients were encouraged to bring the consultation to the attention of anyone else they thought might have an interest in the subject matter.
This seems strange to me, sending the consultation document to specifically 146 groups, and then only making it available to everyone else by putting it on the Scottish Parliament website. Was this an attempt to try and distort the consultation process, by making sure that as many people as possible who might support the proposals were encouraged to write in? Difficult to tell, since it is not clear who these magical 146 organisations and individuals were. A request made to the Scottish Parliament drew a blank, they were not given this information, and since the dissolution of the parliament, there is no easy way to contact Trish herself to ask. I have my own suspicions about the make up of the 146, and it won’t come as much of a surprise that I think that it was a pretty partisan list.
However, as only 78 of the 122 that responded were in favour, it would seem that not all of those contacted directly responded.
It is also worthy of note that 20 of the responses were from ‘anti-violence against women organisations’. This, and the phrases quoted out in the summary document seems to highlight a distinct theme, that prostitution = violence against women, and that all prostitution is the same, no-one can enter the profession willingly and of their own volition.
That argument puts me in mind of this very similar one;
Such logical fallacies as this are often used by campaigners, in the hope that if it is said enough times, with enough conviction, people will accept it, without spotting that it is complete nonsense.
The discussion on whether prostitution equals violence against women, is outside the scope of my article and best left to those that know this particular subject much better than I.
I am also intrigued by the use of statistics in the summary document. All the way through the document, the number of people supporting one view or another is quoted in percentage terms, such as 64%, and to give them their due, they do include the actual number of responses that makes up that figure afterwards. I suspect however, that when these figures are quoted in the media, the % figure will remain, and that the absolute number will be lost, after all, 64% in favour sounds so much better than 78 responses.
122 responses is not a lot, compared with the population of Scotland (roughly 5.2 million) and we should be really careful about how these percentages are used down the line, and be prepared to challenge how truly representative these 122 responses are of the whole Scottish population. Just think, if 40 or 50 more escorts, clients or other likeminded people had sent in a email or letter to say they opposed the bill, the statistics would be in our favour, and I wonder how that document would have then been written.
This debate is not a numbers exercise, but people like Trish Godman will use every biased, unrepresentative and distorted figure at her disposal to try and get her views put across in the best possible light.
Let me turn now to the second question I posed at the start, was this bill doomed to fail? and if so, why was it introduced?
This bill came about following a failed attempt to get similar legislation enacted with the auspices of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill, which became law on 6th August 2010. Trish Godman’s proposed amendments were rejected, and so she obviously decided to try and bring in the controls via a so called Members Bill.
The consultation document that she wrote was published and open for responses from 24th November 2010 to 18th February 2011. This means that it was open for at least the minimum 12 weeks consultation period, but only just, and interesting to note that this consultation period included the Christmas and New Year periods, when many people would be taking time off, but the consultation period was not really extended to take this into account.
This is probably due to the fact that they needed time to review and publish a “Final Proposal” based on the responses received prior to the dissolution of the 3rd Session of the Scottish Parliament on 22nd March 2011. The final proposal was lodged on 16th March 2011, with 36 MSPs subsequently formally supporting the bill before it fell at dissolution, which is greater than the minimum of 18 needed to allow a Member’s Bill to be introduced.
So, what is this ‘Final Proposal’. Well, strange as it may seem, it doesn’t actually have to be what most of us would call a “proposal” at all. The guidance on Member’s Bills, on the Scottish Parliament’s website states that;
The final proposal
3.7 The next formal step is the member lodging a final proposal for the Bill with NEBU. If the member lodged a consultation document, the earliest point at which this can be done is at the end of the consultation period. If the member instead lodged a statement of reasons, the first point at which the final proposal can be lodged is any time after the committee has decided that it is satisfied with the statement, or (if the committee does not come to a view within one month of the draft proposal being lodged) the end of that month
3.8 If the member chose to lodge a consultation document, the final proposal must be lodged with a summary of consultation responses (including any conclusions the member draws from those responses), together with copies of those responses. If the member instead lodged a statement of reasons, it is the statement (or a revised version of it) that must be lodged with the final proposal.
Now, I read this and assumed that as well as the summary of consultation responses, there must have been a ‘final proposal’ lodged as well, but when queried with the Scottish Parliament the following response was given;
The final proposal for a bill is not a document with detailed information about the contents of the proposed legislation. It is essentially a notice and may simply reiterate the wording of the draft proposal for the bill, as is the case with Trish Godman’s final proposal for the Criminalisation of the Purchase and Sale of Sex (Scotland) Bill.
They did also go onto say that;
..staff in the Non-Executive Bills Unit (NEBU) have said that they do not think that any work had been undertaken on the drafting of a bill by Trish Godman before the Parliament was dissolved. As Trish Godman is not standing for re-election, her proposal will have to be taken forward by another MSP or by the incoming Government, if they choose to do so
The question then arises, what might happen next? Well, I asked a couple of questions about what happens to Member’s Bills when they fall at dissolution, and how they can be resurrected, and this was the answer I received;
All parliamentary business is suspended during dissolution and any bills that had not been passed before the Parliament was dissolved fell at dissolution. Similarly, any proposals for bills that had not been introduced also fell. Bills and proposals that fell at dissolution will not automatically be re-introduced in the next session of Parliament. If an MSP wishes to re-introduce a Member’s bill that was in progress at dissolution or pursue a proposal for a bill that had not been introduced, they will have to start again from the beginning of the process i.e. lodge with the Non Executive Bills Unit (NEBU) a draft proposal for a bill. (The proposal process for Members’ bills is outlined in a flow chart at the following link: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/bills/pdfs/FlowchartWebversion.pdf.)
If an MSP does not wish to run a consultation (perhaps because a consultation has recently been conducted for the same or a similar proposal for a bill), they must make a statement explaining why they believe a consultation is unnecessary and the relevant committee will decide whether the explanation is satisfactory.
With regard to your second question, as all Members’ bill proposals will have to start from the beginning of the process in the next session of Parliament, any MSP can take up any bill or proposal that was in progress when the Parliament was dissolved at the end of Session 3.
It would seem therefore, that any MSP being elected at this coming election can pretty much pick up Trish Godman’s proposal and take it forward again. Now, since a consultation exercise has already been carried out, it would also seem that they can try and skip that stage of the process next time around and merely make a statement explaining that they don’t need to do another one and requesting that the bill is pushed forward.
This might allow a new bill to be brought into Parliament early in the new session, quickly, and perhaps before anyone realises what is happening, since no new consultation is required (or no doubt it will be argued that way) and the opportunity for people outwith parliament to criticise will be very limited indeed.
Was this all part of a plan once the original attempt to amend the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill was defeated? After all, given the time available, a Member’s Bill was never going to get very far forward given the dissolution of parliament was so close, so did Trish Godman introduce this consultation just because she was stepping down? or was it timed to fail, making sure the consultation ended and the final proposal published just days before it fell, so it could be brought back to life at the start of the 4th session while no-one is looking? Time will no doubt tell.
Trish Godman herself is obviously keen for it to continue, given this quote from her, reported in ‘The Glaswegian” on 10th March 2010 when she was presented with a petition organised by Glasgow Community and Safety Services;
“This show of support is vital in progressing my proposals to the next stage.”
No doubt she will have identified one or two MSPs that are likely to be elected on May 4th who will be keen to take up the baton and try again, it’s not clear at the moment who they might be, but I’m sure there is at least one out there.
We will all need to be on the ball in the next few weeks, to see what happens, to monitor what the new MSPs are doing, and make sure that we get involved in the process if this unwelcome and dangerous piece of legislation is resurrected like some Frankenstein’s Monster.