MSPs Debate Human Trafficking Bill

12 May 2015, 07:08 | Updated: 12 May 2015, 07:09

Legislation to tackle human trafficking and better protect its victims will be debated by MSPs.

The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill was brought forward by the Scottish Government to strengthen existing criminal law against the practice and enhance the status of and support for victims.

Holyrood will debate 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.

Some campaigners have also called for the buying of sex to be criminalised as part of the legislation.

Churches and Christian organisations have said the Bill offers a ''golden opportunity'' to make the purchase of sex illegal in a bid to reduce exploitation.

But others such as Amnesty argue that conflating human trafficking and prostitution within one piece of legislation will not do justice to either issue.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said earlier this year that he would meet campaigners on both sides before the Scottish Government comes to a final position on the matter.

The Bills' general principles already have the backing of the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee.

But after taking evidence from a range of groups and organisations, the committee concluded the legislation was not the right vehicle for addressing the issue of criminalising the buying of sex.