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by Louise Wilson
16 December 2020
MSPs back Hate Crime Bill at stage one


MSPs back Hate Crime Bill at stage one

MSPs have agreed to the general principles of the Hate Crime Bill after its stage one debate on Tuesday.

The Scottish Government has committed to making a series of amendments to the legislation to better protect free speech and clarify what is classified as abusive behaviour.

But opposition MSPs called for further changes to be made as the bill progresses through parliament to ensure support in the final debate.

However, the Scottish Conservatives voted against it, warning even with the proposed changes the bill still goes too far in limiting free speech.

The bill will now move to stage two after MSPs backed it by 91 votes to 29.

Concluding the debate, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “I know that there are genuine concerns that aspects of the bill could have what is described by many people as a chilling effect on freedom of speech.

“We should also all bear in mind, as I am sure that we do, the chilling effect of hate crime. Ask any gay person, any lesbian, any bisexual, any person with a disability, any black or Asian person who has been racially abused, any Muslim, any Jew, any Sikh, any Christian, any Catholic or anybody who has been the victim of hate crime about the chilling effect that hate crime has had on them.”

He also said the Scottish Government would look seriously at any amendments from opposition parties and he would have an “open mind” about the proposals.

The government is expected to table amendments which strengthen the freedom of speech provisions, ensure the test of the term ‘abusive’ is objective and remove the section of the bill dealing with the possession of inflammatory materials.

But Scottish Conservative justice spokesperson Liam Kerr warned the amendments would not be enough to remove the threat to free speech.

He said: “As it is currently drafted, this bill could criminalise what other people may deem to be offensive or disrespectful. There is no way any politician with a belief in our fundamental right to freedom of speech could support this shoddy and dangerous law.

 “As we said before the parliamentary debate, mere tinkering is not enough and the SNP needs to understand that. This bill is fundamentally flawed and not fit for purpose. Such threats to freedom of speech cannot become law.”

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