MSPs back criminalising hate speech at the dinner table

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HATE speech in the home is set to be criminalised after a Tory attempt to stop it failed at Holyrood.

Critics fear it could lead to over-heated dinner table conversations being investigated by the police under the Scottish Government’s new Hate Crimes Bill.

However MSPs on the justice committee agreed with Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf that there should be no exemption for hateful speech and conduct just because it was in a private dwelling.

He said the law often dealt with events in the home would mean someone who urged people in their house to attack a synagogue, but then did not take part, could not be punished for inciting the crime.

If followed Tory MSP Liam Kerr tabling an amendment to the Bill meaning it would not be a crime to stir up hatred if “words or behaviour are used by a person inside a private dwelling and are not heard or seen except by other persons in that or another dwelling”.

It would exempt threatening or abusive behaviour against people based on their race, colour, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity.

Arguing there ought to be public element to such offences, Mr Kerr said the Bill could see children questioned by the police if they revealed parents’ conversations.

He said: “Allowing prosecution for stirring up over private conversations in your own home is a violation of privacy.

“If you had a guest in the family home who took objection to something you said, the only other witnesses might be your spouse or your children. 

“Without a dwelling defence this Bill could lead to the ridiculous scenario where parents are censoring themselves in theory own homes because they’re anxious their children might repeat something they said out of context.

“The idea we are going to empower the police to question children over what their parents said at the dinner table is anathema to our democratic values.”

But Mr Yousaf said Mr Kerr was making an “entirely artificial distinction” that failed to address the potential harm it could do, and would “create and obvious glaring omission in the law”.

Green MSP John Finnie said some of Mr Kerr’s “hyperbole is bordering on nonsense”

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said she had some empathy with Mr Kerr’s aim but threatening and abusive could “not be defensible because it took place in a private dwelling”.

Only Tory committee convener Adam Tomkins supported the amendment, and it was defeated at Stage 2 of the Bill by seven votes to two.

Mr Kerr said afterwards: “We will never agree with everyone. But people have a fundamental right to their opinions and they surely must have a right to express them in their own home.

“It cannot be the job of the police to investigate private, ideological disputes and to use the criminal law to set the parameters of acceptable opinion.

 “We are extremely disappointed at the decision taken by the committee and would strongly encourage other parties to think long and hard about this Orwellian proposition.”
 

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