Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has been told further changes are required to the Scottish Government’s controversial Hate Crime Bill, with Tories insisting the proposals still place freedom of speech “under threat”.
The Conservatives and Labour urged Mr Yousaf to go further in making changes to the legislation, but MSPs at Holyrood approved the general principles of the Bill by 91 votes to 29 with one abstention on Tuesday.
The Justice Secretary – who has already announced several changes to the proposals after widespread criticism – told MSPs he would continue to have an “open mind” to future changes.
Holyrood’s Justice Committee has already said the legislation should only be approved if additional amendments are made.
Mr Yousaf promised further changes after the committee’s report, but convener Adam Tomkins said these did not go far enough.
“We do need to go further to ensure the Bill achieves its objectives without interfering with our fundamental rights,” he said.
Fellow Tory MSP Liam Kerr also demanded further concessions from the Government.
He told Holyrood: “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.”
On Monday Mr Yousaf pledged there would be a strengthening of the protection for freedom of expression in the legislation.
But these are “arguably not sufficient”, Mr Kerr insisted.
Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said her party had “real concerns” about the way the Bill had been drafted.
She argued that the Justice Secretary “must go further to meet the concerns expressed about this Bill”.
Proposals for offences of “stirring up hatred” in the legislation have attracted a slew of criticism, with concerns raised that they could stifle freedom of expression.
Mr Yousaf has already pledged to introduce changes to the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill to strengthen protections for freedom of expression.
However he said: “Stirring up hatred against a group of people is abhorrent and the law must have the tools to address it when and where it occurs.”
He also stressed the need to tackle hate crime, saying “hatred has an insidious and corrosive effect and impact on society”.
“Two-thirds of all recorded hate crimes in Scotland relate to race. In 2019-20, there were over 3,000 charges relating to racial hate crime. That’s eight times a day, every day, someone is targeted because of their race – and these are only the cases that are recorded.
“Sadly, there is no denying the prevalence of racial hate crime offending in Scotland.”
Mr Yousaf said the Scottish Government had already shown “great willingness to compromise” as he pledged: “I will continue to have an open mind on amendments.”
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe