Controversial Hate Crime Bill vote delayed after fiery Holyrood debate

A furious debate over proposed hate crime legislation had MSPs at loggerheads for more than four hours over freedom of speech provisions and whether sex should be added to ensure women were protected under the law.

Humza Yousaf's controversial Hate Crime Bill has been passed by the Scottish Parliament.
Humza Yousaf's controversial Hate Crime Bill has been passed by the Scottish Parliament.

Amendments which would have added the protected characteristic of sex to the legislation, alongside age, disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity, failed to be passed despite a series of concerns raised by female MSPs about the lack of protection for women in the Bill.

Holyrood did agree to strengthen freedom of speech protections in the Bill by adding a reference to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which "allows for the expression of information or ideas that offend, shock or disturb”

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Previously the freedom of expression protection in the Bill only allowed for discussion or criticism, unless it was in regards to religion, where it also allows for antipathy and insult.

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Eleventh-hour bid to stop controversial Hate Crime Bill

However the length and fury of the debate saw the final vote on the Bill postponed for 24 hours, with some amendments still to be discussed.

The Hate Crime Bill, piloted through the Scottish Parliament by Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, has provoked much criticism and concern since it was first proposed.

After alterations by Mr Yousaf, including the addition of a reasonable person defence, it reached its final stage in Holyrood today, but still faced a huge number of potential amendments.

One, brought by Scottish Labour’s Johann Lamont to state in the law that “woman” means a female of any age and “man” means a male of any age, was defeated, as was a move by the MSP to remove cross-dressers from the Bill, who are protected under a transgender identity clause.

As a result, she said the Bill now afforded greater protection to a group of people who did something as a hobby in their leisure time, and referring to Mr Yousaf’s new working group on misogyny, said it would take “more than a working group to undo the damage done here today by not including women in the bill.”

However Mr Yousaf said cross-dressers experienced hate crime and took exception to the idea women were not included in the Bill as women who fell into the other categories would be covered. Ms Lamont retorted “the one thing they all have in common is they are women.”

Scottish Green MSP John Finnie, who voted against including sex as a protected characteristic, also backed keeping cross-dressers in the Bill and said removing them would take away protections that had been in place for ten years, and added: “If one person is made vulnerable that is one person too many.”

Conservative amendments to introduce a “dwelling place defence” also fell.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr, said the Bill had been "a shambles from the start”.

He added: “For too long, the SNP were in denial about its glaring flaws even in the face of widespread opposition. Under pressure from the Scottish Conservatives, they u-turned on some of the worst parts. We made Humza Yousaf back down – but he didn’t go far enough.

“We remain opposed to the SNP’s Hate Crime Bill because it is a serious threat to freedom of speech. In particular, it risks what people can say in their own home, at their own dinner table. That is an unacceptable and outrageous overstepping of the mark.

“We agree that hate crime should be tackled forcefully but threatening our fundamental right to free speech is too heavy a price to pay.

“The SNP got this bill so badly wrong from the outset that, despite being forced to overhaul it several times, it remains seriously flawed on a fundamental point of principle.”

The debate became particularly heated – and at times personal – when Scottish Labour’s Elaine Smith, as well as Ms Lamont, clashed with Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie.

Talking of a “chilling effect” they believed the legislation would have on women’s rights campaigners who wanted to raise concerns they had about proposed expansion of transgender rights, they pointed to a tweet of Mr Harvie’s after speeches they had made celebrating International Women’s Day in Holyrood last week.

Mr Harvie said, in response to a tweet where Ms Lamont’s speech was accused of “vicious transphobia”, “I'm sorry to say we can expect more of that when it comes to Stage 3 of the Hate Crime Bill”.

Mr Harvie, in his speech, also said that he found Ms Lamont’s amendments “troubling” and that “some members have sought tacitly to have this Bill endorse behaviour that is prejudiced even if not in scope of offence.” He said that amendments were “incompatible” with the Gender Recognition Act.

An enraged Ms Smith challenged him to find any “transphobia” in her speech and added: “I cannot believe this is what women are facing in 21st century Scotland. It is shocking. I am personally conscious to sex-based rights will immediately attract accusation of being hateful.”

Ms Lamont said Mr Harvie’s comments proved her point that even in placing her amendments she was being accused of hate.

Scottish Conservative Adam Tomkins, whose amendment on the ECHR was passed, said it was impossible to “offer guarantees” in the legislation. “I don't think you can. You can offer clarity. I have tried to guard against vagueness and over-breadth”, but he admitted that he was “deeply troubled” by Mr Harvie’s remark.

"There should be nothing troubling about an amendment that sets out what speech is lawful on transgender identity,” he said.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said that he believed the breadth and depth of the freedom of speech protections ensured the Bill was robust and the threshold for being charged with a hate crime was high.

He also stressed that he had listened to the views of a number of women’s organisations who did not believe sex should be added to the legislation.

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