Brothels could be licensed in overhaul of sex trade laws

Brothels could be licensed and soliciting decriminalised under Home Office plans to overhaul the laws on prostitution for the first time in 50 years. Ministers will "consider all the available options, no matter how radical" in an attempt to tackle the involvement of organised crime and drugs in the sex trade.

The full scope of the review, which is expected early in the New Year, is still being decided but minimising the public nuisance caused by prostitution will be a priority.

Courts in England and Wales are also being handed new powers from tomorrow to remove indefinitely the driving licences of those who have used their vehicles to commit crime, including kerb-crawling, or behave anti-socially, such as boy-racers. The proposals to overhaul the law on prostitution follow a Green Paper acknowledging that current legislation was chaotic and penalised sex workers as much as pimps.

A Home Office spokesman said: "We think the time is right for sensible debate on the issues arising from prostitution, which are numerous and complex. We want to do a thorough job as this is the first discussion of these issues for over 50 years."

Prostitution itself is legal but public manifestations of prostitution are illegal. More than 35 offences govern the trade, and some, such as "living off immoral earnings", date back more than five decades. The last full-scale review of the issue was in 1954, when the Wolfenden Committee produced recommendations for reform of homosexual and prostitution offences.

There has been growing pressure from senior police officers and some councils, such as Birmingham, to legalise "zones of toleration". But an experimental scheme in Edinburgh was recently abandoned. Hazel Blears, the Home Office minister, said the new powers for courts to withdraw driving licences were well overdue. She said: "Kerb-crawling and the anti-social use of cars can blight local communities, causing misery and distress to people. These new measures will help put a stop to boy-racers driving recklessly in... housing estates, and kerb-crawlers harassing and intimidating women."