The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has been accused of ‘diluting’ her proposal to tighten the law on prostitution.
Last year she announced that anyone caught paying for sex with a woman controlled for another person’s gain would face hefty fines and a criminal record.
However, she is now proposing to replace “controlled for gain” with “subjected to force, deception or threats”.
Campaigners have expressed disappointment at the move, which is better than the current law but not as good as the original plan.
Under the current law the act of prostitution itself is not a criminal offence, but activities associated with prostitution, such as soliciting or loitering, are unlawful.
The original measure, contained in the Policing and Crime Bill, was aimed at tackling the exploitation of women by pimps and human traffickers by cutting the demand side of the sex trade.
Women’s groups say Miss Smith’s new plans do not go far enough. They have called for a complete ban on the purchase of sex.
Frances Brodrick, Director of Services at Eaves, a charity working with trafficked women, said: “In effect, this amendment reverses the significant progress made towards appropriate legislation over the past 18 months.”
“We are extremely disappointed by this backwards move”, she added.
Eaves runs the Poppy Project which is funded by the Ministry of Justice. It supports women who have been trafficked into the UK for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
Helen Atkins of the Poppy Project, speaking on BBC Radio 4′s Today Programme, said the change “narrows” the offence.
She said it does not cover the “exploitation of vulnerability” and “psychological control” which often occurs in instances of grooming women and girls into prostitution.
She warned that trafficked women are being housed in high street brothels across the country and need protection. She called for “a full blanket offence which criminalises the purchase and attempted purchase of sex”.
Nicky Adam of the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) welcomed the proposed changes but said the ECP would like to see the whole clause abolished.
She claimed that the “controlled for gain” clause was so wide that it could force women to work alone, making them more vulnerable to attack.
The Policing and Crime Bill is receiving its final consideration in the House of Commons today. It also covers proposals to tighten laws on lap-dancing clubs.