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24 April 2015, 06:00
The buying of sex should not be criminalised under new legislation aimed at tackling human trafficking, according to MSPs.
Campaigners, including churches and Christian organisations, had called for the purchase of sex to be made illegal through the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill currently making its way through Parliament.
But Holyrood's Justice Committee took evidence from groups on both sides of the argument but concluded that the legislation was not right for addressing the issue.
A committee report says 'While we note that this issue may be worthy of further review and detailed consultation, we are of the view that this Bill is not the correct vehicle for taking the matter forward.
'The criminalisation of the purchase of sex would have implications beyond the matters dealt with in this Bill.'
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has said he will meet with campaigners on both sides before the Scottish Government comes to a final position on the matter.
The committee backed the general principles of the legislation, which would create a specific offence of human trafficking for the first time as well as increase the maximum penalty for offenders to life imprisonment.
Under the proposals, prosecutors will be given guidance from the Lord Advocate setting out a presumption against prosecution in cases where trafficked people have been forced into committing crime.
Concerns have been raised that these guidelines may not be sufficient to protect victims and a statutory defence should also be made available.
The committee said the arguments for both guidelines and a statutory defence were 'persuasive', and called for Mr Matheson to consider the position further.
MSPs recommended the inclusion of a specific section in the Bill relating to child victims but said they were not persuaded about the need for a separate child trafficking offence.
Committee convener Christine Grahame said: 'Human trafficking and exploitation are serious, complex crimes which know no borders.
''We welcome the Scottish Government's efforts to tackle this illicit trade, to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators and to support the victims.
The victims of trafficking are not only those who are trafficked in to this country, it is also a real problem within and between our towns and cities.
While we very much support the aims of the Bill, we have made a number of recommendations aimed at clarifying the single offence of trafficking, strengthening the protection provided to victims and setting out more clearly what support will be available, particularly for child victims.
In addition, while the issue of criminalising the purchase of sex came up in our evidence sessions, the committee is clear that, notwithstanding the arguments around that area, this particular Bill is not an appropriate vehicle for addressing that important issue.''