Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 21 March 2024.

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Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

6. To ask the First Minister what resources the Scottish Government will be providing to Police Scotland for the investigation of complaints made under the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021. (S6F-02959)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

We have worked with justice partners, including Police Scotland, to ensure that the legislation is effectively implemented when it commences, next month. The Scottish Police Authority’s budget for 2024-25 delivers record police funding of £1.55 billion, which is an increase of £92.7 million when compared with the current financial year.

It is for the SPA and the chief constable to allocate that budget according to their priorities and needs, and that should absolutely include the investigation of complaints that are made under the act. As I have said previously, I am aware that some commentary on the act is not accurate or reflective of the measures in the act, which was passed by a majority of this Parliament.

The act does not stop freedom of expression, but it makes unlawful the intention of stirring up hatred against a person or community for particular characteristics, as the law already does for race.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

The First Minister has reiterated several times that the act, which comes into force on 1 April, must deliver what Parliament intended and that people must not be criminalised for expressing their opinions. I agree. Some organisations are still concerned that the legislation will be used maliciously to silence legitimate opinion. It would be helpful for the Scottish Government to engage with those groups.

Does the First Minister agree that how the act is interpreted by the police and how the police are trained on it are key and that resources for that are crucial? Does the First Minister understand my concerns that the police are not properly resourced and, crucially, not properly and adequately trained to implement the act as it was intended? We agree that the act could risk criminalising innocent people and further stretching police resources. I ask the First Minister to make the act work and to make sure that there are full resources to ensure that what Parliament intended is delivered.

The First Minister:

I know that Pauline McNeill takes the issue of tackling hatred very seriously. Over the years, she and I have worked on that issue in its many different guises. I will try to give some assurance to Pauline McNeill and to those on whose behalf she is raising concerns.

I make the point that I made to Douglas Ross—there are multiple freedom of expression safeguards in the law. There is an explicit freedom of expression safeguard in the legislation and there is a reasonable person defence. The legislation also has to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, with article 10 being particularly important in this context. Therefore, there is already a triple lock of safeguards.

On how the police enforce the act, I will try to give Pauline McNeill some assurances. Since 1986—for virtually my whole life—police officers have been effectively policing and enforcing the law on crime in relation to the stirring up of hatred based on race. The threshold for the new offences is higher than the threshold for the racial stirring-up offence. The police have been doing that since 1986 with virtually zero controversy, so I have every confidence that they will be able to do so for the new offences that are being brought into law in a matter of weeks.

On resourcing, I reiterate the points that I have already made. We are providing record funding for Police Scotland in relation to next year’s budget. On training, I refer to the points that have already been made by Police Scotland in the public domain. I have every confidence in its ability to train officers for the act when it comes into force.

I am very pleased that the act will be coming into force because I believe that it will give people the necessary protections at a time when hate crime is far too pervasive and prominent in our society and when hate being peddled by some with impunity—

The First Minister:

—in our society.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

The First Minister will be aware that the Police Scotland hate crime website explicitly stereotypes young working-class men from constituencies like mine and his as being the most likely to commit a hate crime. Does he agree that publicly demonising that disadvantaged group, which is already heavily impacted by negative interactions with the criminal justice system—[

Interruption

.]—and disproportionately damaged by addiction and other challenges, will neither assist those individuals—[

Interruption

.]—nor aid efforts by many community groups and others—

The Presiding Officer:

Let us hear Mr McKee.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

— in my constituency who work to create opportunities for them?

The First Minister:

I am not sure why the Conservatives were shouting down Mr McKee when he was asking his question. It is a legitimate point that, when any marketing or awareness campaigns are done, it is exceptionally important that there is no stigmatisation of any communities whatsoever. Let us stick to the evidence and the facts about who are the victims and, indeed, the perpetrators of hate crime, but let us do that in a way that does not stigmatise a community and certainly in a way that does not pit communities against each other.

The entire point of the 2021 act—and, indeed, the point of most or all of our endeavours in Parliament to tackle hate crime—is to ensure a more cohesive society, as opposed to one that pits one community against another. I agree with Ivan McKee that we should focus on tackling stigma wherever it exists in our society.

He is also right to highlight the many organisations and agencies that are providing opportunities to our young people—

The First Minister:

— such as the work of Skills Development Scotland, national training and apprenticeship programmes and the many others that are supporting our young people during these challenging times.

The Presiding Officer:

In the time that we have available for constituency and general supplementary questions, I call Liam Kerr first.