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MSPs back hate crime bill at Stage 1

Religious Liberty
15 December 2020
HF 8

The Scottish Government’s controversial hate crime bill passed Stage 1 by 91 votes to 29 after MSPs voted in favour of the general principles of the bill. It now moves to further scrutiny at Stage 2.

The legislation has been highly controversial with critics raising a series of concerns about free speech.

The Justice Committee published its Stage 1 report last week on the bill and urged the Cabinet Secretary to go further and make further amendments.

In response, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf made a number of last-minute concessions to try and ensure the bill passed.

This included removing entirely the ‘inflammatory material’ section of the bill and strengthening free speech protections.

The debate itself is worth reading, with some notable contributions from across the Chamber. The legislation moves to Stage 2 in the New Year where further amendments are expected.

Bill passes Stage 1 but fur­ther changes expected

Opening the debate, Mr Yousaf called on MSPs from across the chamber to pass the legislation and he pointed to the changes he'd already accepted to the bill as evidence of his willingness to listen.

Justice Committee Convenor Adam Tomkins said in his view, the changes still did not go far enough.

We do need to go further to ensure the Bill achieves its objectives without interfering with our fundamental rights
Adam Tomkins MSP

Scottish Labour's James Kelly said:

In getting legislation through Parliament, aside from the parliamentary process, there are two areas that need to be considered. First, does the legislation have public support? Secondly, does it provide legal clarity? When the Justice Committee ran its consultation, there were a vast number of responses that raised concerns. It takes a great deal to get the Police Federation of Scotland, the Catholic Church and the Law Society of Scotland on the same page, criticising the bill. The bill as published failed to get public support.
James Kelly MSP

Tory MSP Liam Kerr also said he wanted further concessions from the Scottish Government:

This Bill is the most controversial in the history of devolution. But the Cabinet Secretary’s response has not reflected the avalanche of opposition this Bill has faced.

“Genuine hate crime must always be punished but this law goes too far, our fundamental right to freedom of speech remains under threat.”
Liam Kerr MSP

Speaking on behalf of Scottish Labour, Rhoda Grant MSP said the party had 'real concerns' about the way the Bill had been drafted. She too called for further changes, arguing the Cabinet Secretary:

"must go further to meet the concerns expressed about this Bill”.
Rhoda Grant MSP

Closing the debate, Mr Yousaf said the Scottish Government would continue to be open minded towards amendments at Stage 2.

Some wel­come changes, but MSPs are right to call for more changes

There's no denying the Scottish Government have moved when it comes to the hate crime bill. Since it was first published, there's been a whole series of changes. For example, Mr Yousaf removed the section which would have criminalised someone for carrying 'inflammatory material'. Some had warned this could be applied to the bible. Mr Yousaf also said specific provisions related to theatrical performances would be removed.

However, serious concerns remain. For example, there is no dwelling defence in the bill. This means people could be found guilty of breaking the criminal law for expressing views or showing material in their own homes. Lingering concerns remain in relation to the new offence of stirring up hatred, easily the most contentious part of the bill. More could also be done to improve free speech protections.

The hate crime bill will move to Stage 2 in the new year. It will be a fresh opportunity to push for further changes to safeguard free speech.

Find out more

You can read a summary of our submission to the Justice Committee on the hate crime bill.

Below you'll find a podcast with our CARE for Scotland Director Stuart Weir and James Mildred on the hate crime bill.

CARE for Scotland's Stuart Weir and James Mildred discuss the hate crime bill

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