Minister under fire over sauna condom ban claims

The new sauna policy has caused controversy. Picture: Toby Williams
The new sauna policy has caused controversy. Picture: Toby Williams
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JUSTICE Secretary Kenny MacAskill has come under pressure over alleged police ­attempts to force a condom ban on city saunas.

Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald raised the issue during questions in the Scottish Parliament and asked what the Scottish Government’s position was, given its support for campaigns promoting safe sex.

Margo MacDonald. Picture: TSPL

Margo MacDonald. Picture: TSPL

Last week, police chiefs asked councillors in Edinburgh to impose a condition on any ­licences granted to saunas insisting there should be no “items of a sexual nature” on the premises.

HIV group the Terrence Higgins Trust and sex worker organisation Scot-Pep savaged the proposal, warning that taking away condoms would not stop people having sex, risking increased rates of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

But the council’s licensing sub-committee ignored the police’s proposed condition.

Ms MacDonald was so alarmed by the apparent police stance that she quizzed Mr ­MacAskill on it in parliament.

He replied that representations by the police on the granting of public entertainment licences were operational matters which the Scottish Government would not intervene in.

Ms MacDonald told MSPs: “I’m a bit puzzled since the Scottish Government promotes the safer sex message. It would seem a very odd contradiction to have saunas not allowed to have any ­condoms.

“I wonder where that sort of policy is made. Is that an operational matter, or is it overridden by the government’s greater task of promoting safer sex and lower transmission of infectious diseases, which we know are on the rise.”

Mr MacAskill said Police Scotland insisted its recommendation was misrepresented and it was not proposing to ban condoms.

He read a police statement, which said: “At no point do the recommendations make reference to the banning of condoms. Police Scotland absolutely supports proper measures to protect sexual health.”

Mr MacAskill added: “The Scottish Government is in favour of a harm reduction approach to sexual health. Evidence does suggest that banning items such as condoms can have a detrimental effect on public health, so I think Ms MacDonald is right that if that position were taken it would be contrary to the government’s intention, but that is not the position of Police Scotland.”

Afterwards, Ms MacDonald said Mr MacAskill had “attempted to insult my ­intelligence”.

She said: “Either the police had forgotten, which was very remiss of them, or they knew exactly what they were doing in not excluding condoms from the banned articles.

“I’m watching this like a hawk because the very last thing we want is a return of the HIV infection or hepatitis B.”

Yesterday, the News revealed two Thai prostitutes were operating from a flat just yards from West End police station, unknown to officers, fuelling concerns about increased risks of attacks on sex workers and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.