The Journal of Lynton Charles, Chancellor of the Duchy of Durham

Monday Brunch with Biggles. This is a new fortnightly invention, by which Boss Hilary and I liaise with the party proper, in the substantial form of the chairman, Charlie Clarke.

I anticipate a conversation in which we tell him about how dreadful our MPs are, and he tells us that the party in the country is even worse. Then he tries to trump us with the trade unions, at which point we remind him about Gudrun Dimwitty. Then we all fall silent, and contemplate our scrambled eggs with chives in a state of gloomy reverie.

It's our turn first. Two weeks from now it will be at party HQ, but this week we are in Boss Hilary's study, with her conference table laid with bad porcelain dug out from under some stairs, and a tepid breakfast borrowed from the Italian cafe on Great Smith Street, and brought over by the proprietor's ancient uncle, who has travelled the cold quarter-mile in just under 25 minutes.

Biggles is more or less on time. And, if weren't for his alarming habit of bouncing, he would be perfectly elephantine. Like a pachyderm, he is baggy. He has large ears. He trumpets a lot. He regards the world from a pair of surprised eyes that are ten sizes too small for him. He is bristly in surprising places. He washes himself all over by taking water into his trunk, and then splashing himself with it. At any rate, he drinks tea that way.

But, unlike an elephant, he bounces. He bounces through the door, bounces his jacket on to a hook, bounces his papers off the table, bounces my hand with his, bounces Boss Hilary's cheeks with his sandpaper lips, bounces into a chair, bounces up again, removes my briefcase from the chair and bounces down once more. His face is red, but it is I who am tired.

As Boss Hilary removes the metal covers from the congealing eggs, Biggles turns his head to me, narrows his eyes theatrically and trumpets: "7 February 1976!" I must look puzzled, because I am indeed puzzled. Is this a political quiz? What happened on 7 February 1976? Something international - a war perhaps? Something political?

"Harold Wilson announced his resignation?" I ask. Must have been around then.

"No," says Biggles, bouncing egg on to his plate. "Where were you on 7 February 1976?"

I know where I was roughly, I tell him. I was a junior lecturer at Keele University. And I was a contributing editor to Red Action, and a soon-to-be-departed cadre in the International Marxist Group. But 7 February? Biggles is pleased that I do not have total recall. He picks up some toast with his trunk and flips it into his mouth.

"I looked it up in my diary," he says, "the diary I kept throughout my term of office as president of the National Union of Students." Ah.

"And," he continues, tilting his head to one side, so that an ear swings, "on that day I travelled by the 10.12am train from Euston to Stoke-on-Trent. I arrived at Keele University at lunchtime. There was a sit-in going on in solidarity with trainee teachers. It was in the library . . ."

And now I am there. There are 22 of us left in the library, on this second day of occupation, a general meeting having voted - 55 to 43 with ten abstentions - to have a sit-in. And this is the day when Charles Clarke is due to address the student body. But when he comes to the steps of the library, one of the occupiers bars his way.

"Don't let him in!" shouts this militant. "He has come to sell us out, just as Stalinism and social democracy have always sold out the working class! Go home, Biggles! No deal with Healey! Rank and file, unite and fight!" A vote is taken, and it is decided by 12 to ten that Clarke should be excluded. And he is.

"More tea?" I ask hospitably.

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Why is the government charging more women for selling sex but turning a blind eye to buyers?

Since 2013, the number of women charged for selling sex gone up while the number of men charged for buying it has gone down.

It’s no surprise that prostitution policy is an area rarely visited by our legislators. It’s politically charged - a place where the need to prevent exploitation seemingly clashes head on with notions of liberal freedom; where there are few simple answers, a disputed evidence base, and no votes.

There’s also little evidence to suggest that MPs are different from the rest of the population - where one-in-ten men have purchased sex. It is little wonder therefore that our report on how the law should change, published in 2014, was the first major cross-party intervention on the subject in twenty years.

Some take the view that by removing all legal constraints, it will make the inherently exploitative trade of prostitution, safer. It’s not just me that questions this approach, though I accept that - equally - there’s no consensus that my preferred measure of criminalising the purchase of sex, while decriminalising the sale, would fundamentally change the scale of the problem.

Where all sides come together, however, is in the desire to see women diverted from the law courts. It is still possible for women (and it still is women; prostitution remains highly genderised) to go to prison for offences related to prostitution. Today, in 2015.

The total number of prosecutions for all prostitution offences in England and Wales has been decreasing since 2010, but not in a uniform fashion. This does not reflect a reduction in the size of the trade, or the violent nature of it.

There were once consistently more prosecutions for kerb crawling, profiting, and control of prostitution. But since 2013, there have been more prosecutions for soliciting or loitering than for profit from prostitution and kerb crawling each year.

In simple terms, offences committed by men with choice, freedom and money in their pocket are having a blind eye turned to them, while women are being targeted - and this trend is accelerating. In the law courts, and in prosecutions, it is the most vulnerable party in the transaction, who is taking the burden of criminality.

Take on-street sex buying as an example. In 2013-14 just 237 prosecutions were brought for kerb crawling, but there were 553 - more than twice as many - for loitering and soliciting.

There is a similar pattern in the 2014/15 figures: 227 charges for kerb crawling reached court, while 456 prosecutions were initiated against those who were selling sex. Just 83 prosecutions for control of prostitution, or ‘pimping’, were brought in that same year.

These are men and women on the same street. It takes a high level of liberal delusion to be convinced that prostitution is caused by a surge of women wishing to sell sex, rather than men who wish to buy it. And yet women who sell sex are the ones being targeted in our law courts, not the men that create the demand in the first place.

This situation even goes against the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) own guidance. They say:

“Prostitution is addressed as sexual exploitation within the overall CPS Violence Against Women strategy because of its gendered nature… At the same time, those who abuse and exploit those involved in prostitution should be rigorously investigated and prosecuted, and enforcement activity focused on those who create the demand for on-street sex, such as kerb crawlers.”

Why then, is this happening? For the same reason it always does - in our criminal justice system stigmatised, poor women are valued less than moneyed, professional men.

My debate in Parliament today raises these issues directly with the government ministers responsible. But to be honest, the prosecution-bias against women in the courts isn’t the problem; merely a symptom of it. This bias will only be tackled when the law reflects the inherent harm of the trade to women, rather than sending the mixed signals of today.

That’s why I welcome the work of the End Demand Alliance, composed of over 40 organisations working to end the demand that fuels sex trafficking and prostitution, advocating the adoption of the Sex Buyer Law throughout the UK.

This would criminalise paying for sex, while decriminalising its sale and providing support and exiting services for those exploited by prostitution. Regardless of these big changes in the law, I don’t see how anyone can support the current state of affairs where there are more prosecutions brought against women than men involved in prostitution.

The authorities are targeting women because they're easier to arrest and prosecute. It goes against their own guidance, common sense and natural justice.
And it needs to stop.

Gavin Shuker is MP for Luton South and chair of the All Party Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade.