Legalising brothels?

Lord Norton

Baroness Trumpington

One advantage of the House of Lords is that it is possible for members to raise issues that may be delicate, and others may not wished to be raised, but which deserve consideration.  Sometimes they are raised from somewhat unxpected sources. 

On Monday, Health Minister, Earl Howe, was answering a question from Lord Fowler on how to tackle HIV and AIDS.  One issue raised was that of testing.  The formidable Baroness Trumpington then got to her feet to put a supplementary:

“Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, following on from the previous speaker, perhaps my question is appropriate. The Minister knows my interest in this subject but would not the legitimisation of brothels be a great help, with regular health checks therein?

Earl Howe: My noble friend makes a serious point. This is not a subject on which I or, as far as I know, the Government have a fixed view, but I will ensure that her question is fed into our deliberations on the sexual health framework document.”

Legalising, or legitimising, brothels raises all sorts of questions, both ethical and practical, but it is an issue that deserves to be discussed.

21 comments for “Legalising brothels?

  1. Gareth Howell
    07/09/2011 at 7:30 pm

    It may be that those diseases are not mainly communicated by brothels, or as they are known, massage parlours, but by the girls who work the streets, (in the case of heterosexual transmission). How much interaction there is between the two, I would not hazard to guess.

    Self-policing by the parlour managers/owners themselves is surely a matter of current practice? I’m no expert on either kind of woman, the last time I noticed a brothel being in Cherbourg a few months ago.

    There must be men who seek out women to whom they may specially pay a fee, for such services, but promiscuous homosexual contact is a far more likely way of contracting any of the many now fatal diseases to which AIDs sufferers are now vulnerable.

    Having the same partner for life is the answer to most people’s concerns about the disease.

  2. jake____
    07/09/2011 at 8:14 pm

    It is said to be the oldest trade in the world – and therefore prohibiting it won’t make it go away (although I believe that prostitution in this country is legal but soliciting it etc. is a crime?).

    You have to ask, what is the benefit or disadvantage of keeping it in the shadows. I believe that a legally regulated scheme could be able to reduce sexually transmitted diseases (, allow better treatment and protections for women and help reduce the Human rights abuses of women trafficked to this country… It would also help those women to seek services such as drug abuse or mental health to get ‘out the game’ and give police more time to seek out and dismantle illicit brothels. On top of that you could raise revenue from a legitimate service.

    However, as a vice, you have to be very careful to not greatly expand its reach. Regulation will allow the government to dictate where, when and how a brothel would operate e.g. not on any dodgy corner that it can now, away from schools etc. whilst still discouraging use. So, would strict regulation be the best method to obtain harm reduction needed in the sex industry? The government should conduct objective studies on countries with different schemes, such as Holland or certain states in the USA or Australia to see what does and doesn’t work. Only with evidence can rational progress be made..

  3. tory boy
    07/09/2011 at 9:11 pm

    As LN will know I am a big fan of Baroness Trumpington i was glad to see her back in the house after the break, this is an issue which she has perused for a while. LN out of interest how would you have voted for the Waddington amendment on equality yesterday? I supported it.

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      08/09/2011 at 8:46 am

      tory boy: You mean how did I vote? I was in the House and took part in the division. I voted against.

  4. MilesJSD
    07/09/2011 at 10:07 pm

    I see two major ‘killers’ in the sex-industry.

    The first is the carrying out, and carrying on, of sexual activity without first ensuring that good educational levels of sex knowledge and practical-technique, as well as of hygiene and life-budgeting, are being progressively reached, by each partner.

    But herein a-propos brothels, where the bigger-national-need is for human development effectivisation, and possibly for legalisation of activities and premises, it should be made mandatory that much ‘sex-skill’ should have already been reached, and registered, by the professionals on the supply side of the sex-industry.

    Up-front that would be the individual prostitute, gigolo, toy-boy, escort, host, hostess, and so forth;
    and behind them the pimps. brothel-owners or landlords, and the greater National Educational, Adult Social Services, and Government authorities, should all be required to complete training and education to respectively appropriate and efficient levels.

    99% of heterosexual women prostitutes, engaged by men, have no holisticly-healthy emotional, psychological, and educational skills, very little practical technique, and are further impeded by flawed maturational development qua both individual human development (for the 75% Lifeplace) and economic skills (for one or more of the 25% Workplaces).

    Some of the same appears to be true, but less so, of ‘girlfiend’ and ‘wife’ sex;
    but much sexual technique-ing, and indeed democratic-citizenship-enabling, is generic;
    so the same knowledge and practical know-how curriculum, syllabus, courses, and video guidances should be usable by all.

    The second ‘killer’, more than one “Value for Money”, could follow shortly.


  5. maude elwes
    08/09/2011 at 10:25 am

    The ludicrousness of this debate is the pretence that the UK doesn’t already have a thriving sex industry, as well as brothels, called by another name.

    Yes, it should be legalised under rules that must be adhered to. And will government pay for those rules to be enforced stringently? I have my doubts. There is the old chestnut of can we afford it?

    The pros are, regular health checks mandatory with the places closed if they are not scrupulously upheld. Women not being followed by nuisances looking for sexual activity. People living in a neighborhood where men cruise constantly in their search is horrendous. The ‘girls’ strolling in miniskirts and no knickers is a hard one to cover with the kids. The safety factor, less women likely to be attacked by madmen that pray on them because they feel they deserve such treatment. And so on.

    The down side, where are these places going to be set up? If lap dancing joints are anything to go by, not at all good news for the family. Pimps and their ilk hanging around the place and those wanting to rob the women as they leave. Homosexual bars heavily frequented can be unsettling to neighborhoods who feel threatened by overt sexual street activity. Study San Francisco and what happens there. And it will not stop sex trafficking of women from poor countries. It very well may exacerbate it.

    Setting up these places creates a flight of the family and the working middle classes. Equivalent to the ghost town effect. Many American cities who have used this kind of business to keep the poor in work have found they end up with derelict areas and dilapidated buildings creating danger zones. Detroit is one.

    Nevada should be able to give you a few tips on Cat Houses, they have the experience of years at it.

    And lastly, is this the kind of environment and productivity you want to promote in our country. Another ‘follow the yankee’ factor. Is that how low thinking has become in the Commons and the Lords, that they are at their wits end to offer a solution to the manufacturing flight other than prostitution for our people? Which is mainly aimed at the young. It certainly isn’t for the middle aged is it? Unless you are considering helping out the types who are akin to the husband of Jacquie Smith. And no need to site Stringfellow.

    This is a return to the Victorian thinking, where young girls worked in the so called opera houses and were, in effect, child geisha’s, available for rich licentious married men. Didn’t stop them getting syphilis did it?

    You will be taking us down the Hong Kong route. A third world environment for a people who struggled for centuries to get out of that cauldron.

  6. Twm O'r Nant
    08/09/2011 at 4:35 pm

    However, as a vice, you have to be very careful to not greatly expand its reach

    Like the pub trade in the 80s/90s.

    Where are we now?

    • jake____
      08/09/2011 at 11:15 pm

      That’s what happens when politicians get in bed with industry.. not something I advocate!

      Safeguards (for other areas too) are possible – at least I’m holding out hope..

  7. MilesJSD
    08/09/2011 at 5:15 pm


    You imply that you think
    “The UK already has a thriving ‘sex industry’, and has brothels by other names” (Gareth reminds us of the whitewashed shingle “massage parlour”, for instance).

    Yet you see ‘legalisation of brothels (by-whatever-other-name)’ as “taking us down the Hong Kong route”…into a veritable Third World totally undesirable cauldron;
    i.e. you see legalisation as destroying the UK’s “already thriving sex-industry”.

    If Britain’s “sex-industry”
    (a term clean and clear-enough in Economic and Legal- Morality use, also sweet with the Academia sector)
    is so successful, what alternative do you put forward for (perhaps) both maintaining it successful and further improving upon that existing success ?

    (If you have understood my comments, then God forbid legalisation should remain or be re-cycled like Hong Kong, as lax as legislation for smoking which still rakes into the government’s coffers huge amounts of taxes, without either building the Health of smokers or positivising the Morals & Mmind-functions of the tobacco-industry’s manufactureres, distributors, and Governmental Workers,

  8. MilesJSD
    08/09/2011 at 5:28 pm

    The second is that prostitutes and brothels charge like wounded bulls; and a man has been lucky if his first, or indeed any later, woman was at all positively and positivisingly experienced i.e. able, confident, willing, cooperative, and educationally leaderful;

    and that requires much more attention than does how clean and safe her prophylactic standards are.

    • maude elwes
      08/09/2011 at 6:17 pm


      Yes, I do seem to be playing two strings at once, but, you see, if you legalise it, it changes the attitude from one of shouldn’t to should. It becomes a regular job and acceptance of the mental state that goes with it.

      If you believe it is going to remove street prostitution and all that goes with that, you are wrong. As you say, these places cost a fortune. And your average guy is not going to be able to afford it, or, want to be taken to the cleaners by those who feed off this kind of environment.

      Additionally, women/men who use this as a way to fund their lifestyle, whether that be simply to eat, or those who have a drug fetish, as well as the rest who just simply do not want to be regulated, will not comply. They won’t be or allow themselves to be, listed on a police file, pay taxes or have to turn up to a clinic when it doesn’t suit them, and so on, so will not join into this legalisation. Men who feed off these women will not want to have their earnings checked and have to part with a percentage.

      Turning up on time at a given place of work and being committed to do so, is not the name of the game. So, the continuation of what we already have will be the result, with an added sense of legality. That means it will spread uncontrolled into places you cannot imagine.

      Now for the women who are not considered pretyy enough to be part of the in house club. Do you think they are going to jack the job in? No…

      Some things to think about.

  9. Croft
    09/09/2011 at 1:32 pm

    From memory there used to be a law in the Victorian age allowing prostitutes to be examined for STDs. It is I understand a requirement in a number of western countries today and various US states.

    • Senex
      11/09/2011 at 7:51 pm

      Croft, perhaps you refer to the Contagious Diseases Acts repealed in 1886. What’s notable is that enlisted men could not marry (cannon fodder leaving too many widows that would turn to prostitution) and that up to a third had some form of venereal disease. Napoleon’s advancing army during its ‘German’ campaign had up to 75% of its enlisted men with the French itch making whole towns empty without a shot being fired.

      The gender link says “These acts became a feminist cause because they permitted the police to detain and inspect any woman suspected of venereal infection, and, it was claimed, innocent women found themselves forced to undergo humiliating inspections.”

      That is any women suspected of being a prostitute. One problem that prostitutes are having now is men using Viagra. They are statistically at a higher risk of transmitting STD or STI because of increased promiscuity.

      Ref: Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864, 1866, and 1869

  10. MilesJSD
    09/09/2011 at 4:30 pm

    To “become a regular job” ( legalised)
    the “sex industry” needs to conform to both generic individual-human-development and sexual-performance standards:
    that must be one of the central new outcomes set for sex practices, as well as in legislation(s) thereto.

    (1) Actually I said that these people and places “charge like wounded bulls” –
    as you rightly say, “a fortune”;
    but that is out of proportion to “Value(s) for Money”;
    and most of them, both business and own-home wise, “cost” comparitively little, in bottom-line upkeep and council-tax.
    Neglectfully so perverted and addictive has adult-sex become, and so “non-competitive” have the Human Educational, Religious, Social, and Governance sectors become, that the sex-industry does not need to run expensive advertising, nor employ numerous office nor cleaning staffs, either.

    (2) Let us agree, that “your average guy” has not been perverted and addicted by the traditionally super-inflated and porn-centred “sex industry”; and therefore will need (both want and insist upon; and maybe soon have a human-right to) not simply affordable prices, but higher skilled and commendable performances; as well as medically-professional hygiene and prophylaxis.

    (189 words; please to be concluded)

  11. MilesJSD
    09/09/2011 at 8:03 pm


    Maude Elwes’s remaining four paragraphs of concerns should be alleviated by the new legislation, which should require not only qualification and registration of all stakeholders in the industry, but all non-brothel prostitutes (“street-girls” as well as “lonely wife, only while her consenting husband is away at sea for six months, offers company to a genuinely lonely and healthy-living man “) to become certificated and be photographed as electronic-card carriers.

    Many trades insist on this; so become a card-carrying qualified and registered member, and you bet the great majority of men having tried out the qualified & registered “sex-surrogate”*
    as distinct from unqualified “workers” (‘street-prostitutes’- and as you say “those who simply do not want to be regulated”)
    will frequent even the ugliest-looking, because the men have come to be “now” experiencing positivising and happily further-educational, even “out-of-this-world” skilled-performances.

    New little scenario:
    If you don’t show your card when asked, then you’d risk being told “get lost” or worse still being ‘run-in’
    (look, a woman caught piddling down a street drain gets ‘run in’; (- for God’s Sake !) – “urinating in public”: even when no public is watching she could be run-in for “urinating in a public place”;

    so why not ‘run-in’ any sex-industrialiste on the make outside of the (new) Law, risking transmission of Diseases, making overcharges that might boomerang as murder, and concealing ‘sweat-shop’ types of slavery under Quacks and Pimps, namely under the unqualified, unregistered, and “beyond the law” ?

    * (preferable term to “prostitute”)

  12. Gareth Howell
    09/09/2011 at 8:45 pm

    If you ever mentioned the name of the worst disease of all, you were considered to be an accessory after the fact of a crime, since the disease was notifiable, and still is.

    Was there not also an attempt to make AIDS/Hiv
    “Notifiable” in the late 1980s? Was it successful?
    Not in the same way?

  13. Twm O'r Nant
    09/09/2011 at 8:46 pm

    If you ever mentioned the name of the worst disease of all, you were considered to be an accessory after the fact of a crime, since the disease was notifiable, and still is.

    Was there not also an attempt to make AIDS/Hiv
    “Notifiable” in the late 1980s? Was it successful?
    Not in the same way?

  14. MilesJSD
    09/09/2011 at 9:08 pm

    For a continuation of factors, in this wide and deep Sexual Competence and Fulfilment Matter, surrounding and pervading the “Legalise Brothels” issue, please visit .

  15. Dave H
    11/09/2011 at 9:29 pm

    Of course, the easy way to ‘fix’ the problem is to legalise it, tax it and make those who work in the industry subject to health and safety regulations. Imagine having to fill in a risk assessment (probably several pages, in triplicate) for each customer. I’m sure there are some European regulations that would be applicable too, just to make the paperwork even more onerous.

    Never ban something when you can just bury it in paperwork and tie it up in red tape.

  16. Lord Norton
    Lord Norton
    17/09/2011 at 9:42 am

    Thanks for the comments. There is clearly a serious issue here. As maude elwes notes, this is something that exists – there is a sex industry and brothels. The question is, what do we do about it as a matter of public policy? Proscribe it and, in practice, largely ignore it, or do we seek to change public policy and go down the route of some other countries? I am not sure what the answer is, but the first step is to discuss the matter seriously (which may mean raising it in the Lords) and to try to come up with some evidence-based policy.

    02/03/2012 at 4:36 pm

    Sorry for my late reply to this somewhat ancient thread. A great deal of the problem concerning brothels lies not only in their banning (by Parliament in the same 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act that outlawed sodomy), but in Parliament’s failure to define a brothel and the consequent interpretation of the word by the judiciary. In one judge’s words, “two women being lewd with a man would constitute a brothel,” and it is evident from case law that no prostitution is necessary (ie no money need change hands) and that the ‘two women’ need not even be present at the same time.
    Indeed, the definition is so extraordinarily broad that I would venture to suggest that, in our built environment, brothels are probably the rule rather than the exception, and that if we are to comply with it, we had best find a new island to live on, for how many of us can state definitively the two women have never been lewd with a man in our own homes through all their histories? And we are therefore all guilty if we own or manage our homes (for it is ownership or management that is the offence).

    Addressing the specific subject of STI prevention, the very notion seems to me totally incompatable with living on the same rock as the Home Office, which is very keen discourage condom use by emphasising the presence of condoms whenever it has a contested brothel or street soliciting case.

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