AN INFLUENTIAL group of MSPs’ failure to recommend changing forthcoming legislation so that it criminalises buying sex was last night condemned by those campaigning for a crackdown on prostitution and human trafficking.
Campaigners wanting to criminalise the purchase of sex were dismayed that their concerns have not been acted on in a new report by Holyrood’s justice committee.
“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”Christine Grahame
A committee report recommended that buying sex should not be criminalised under the forthcoming Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill going through parliament.
Campaigners, including churches and Christian organisations, had called for the purchase of sex to be made illegal through the proposed legislation.
The committee took evidence from groups on both sides but concluded that the legislation was not right for addressing the issue. Its report said: “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.”
The Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said she was disappointed that the committee had not recommended criminalising buying sex – an issue she has campaigned for.
Ms Grant said: “I don’t agree with their stance. The committee seems to have reached its conclusion without taking any evidence. This is a missed opportunity. In fact, it is worse than that. In Northern Ireland they are going ahead with this sort of legislation and in the Irish Republic they are looking at it. We know that a lot of organised crime in terms of drugs and trafficking comes through Ireland and there is a danger we will be seen as a soft touch.”
In the past sex workers have disagreed with Ms Grant, arguing that criminalising buying sex would create a black market which serves as a financial incentive for traffickers. They have also said it would make sex workers less likely to report a potential trafficking victim.
Justice secretary Michael Matheson has said he will meet campaigners on both sides before the Scottish Government makes a final decision.
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.