The Dutch Justice minister, Winnie Sorgdrager, who was tabling a decriminalisation Bill yesterday, said the decision was a mature response to a phenomenon which is here to stay. "The existence of prostitution is a fact which must also be accepted by the government. This demands a realistic approach to the problem."
Ms Sorgdrager hopes the change in the law will for the first time allow police and law enforcement agencies to regulate the sex industry and weed out the East European drug and organised crime rings who are thought to be controlling much of Holland's prostitution.
The Netherlands has for years adopted a policy of tolerance towards brothels. However, much though this might surprise tourists to Amsterdam's red-light area, brothels are still officially illegal. Under the Bill, which is expected to win majority backing in the Dutch parliament despite opposition from right-wing and Christian parties, brothels will become part of the mainstream taxpaying economy.
Brothel keepers will have to apply for permits to run their businesses from local councils and will be subject to close scrutiny.
Keeping a register of brothels will allow the authorities to keep a rigorous check on the identity of the 30,000 or so individuals working as prostitutes, half of whom are believed to be illegal immigrants. Penalties for illegal prostitution and child pornography rackets will be toughened under the new law.
European Commission officials who co-ordinate justice links between the member states are sceptical of the plans. "This is a peculiarly Dutch solution, and definitely not one which will be followed by other governments," commented one senior official.