- The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan):
The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-4286, in the name of Patrick Harvie, on the Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Bill.
- Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green):
In the stage 1 debate, I remarked that the bill was small but perfectly formed, and so was its proposer. Now that we come to stage 3, we see that it is so perfectly formed that no member saw fit to find any way at all of improving it during its parliamentary process, and therefore we have a stage 3 debate without amendments. I am glad and grateful that we have got to this stage with cross-party consensus. The bill is a small but nonetheless necessary step.
I am also extraordinarily grateful that we have got to stage 3 on such a quiet news day in politics to maximise the coverage of the bill, which addresses an important issue. Unlike the shenanigans in politics that captivate and engage most of us who are involved in the political bubble, hate crimes reach down into every community and affect real lives daily in a deeply harmful way. Although the bill is one small step in the right direction, we should be glad that we can take it.
I thank the many people who have enabled us to reach this stage. Obviously, I thank the Government for helping me to produce the bill and for supporting it all the way along. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and his colleagues in the Government helped to put the work together and bring us to where we are. Members in other political parties supported the bill at the proposal stage and at stage 1, and I hope that they will do so again at stage 3. Many other people have been involved, including the Justice Committee and its clerks and those who gave evidence to the committee.
Also, many organisations took part in the expert working group on hate crime, which the previous Administration initiated and which will reach its conclusion in legislation that will enact the group's key recommendations. Those organisations, and many individuals who have experienced various forms of hate crime over the years, have been willing to speak out in the Parliament and the media. People do not always feel safe or supported when they do that, but their doing so has enhanced the scrutiny and understanding of the issue in Parliament. I thank everyone who has helped the bill to reach this stage.
When I was growing up in Dumbarton, it was pretty much accepted that homophobic language was just playground banter and par for the course. It was unexpected even to challenge it, and to do so was to take a risk with personal safety. That was in what was supposed to be the protective and safe environment of a school. The situation has changed to an extent, but the issue has not gone away in schools or in the rest of society. The kind of behaviour that might wrongly be dismissed as mere playground banter can, in fact, involve deeply harmful criminal offences and bullying. Many people experience such behaviour and the harm that comes with it throughout their lives.
Later in my life, as a youth worker with a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth group, I became aware of the wide range of experiences of the young people with whom I worked. Some of them had a safe, supported and inclusive experience, not just in their education but in their wider life as they went into the workplace and in their communities. Others could not have had a more difficult and distressing experience. Some young people still have such experiences.
As well as prejudice in relation to the LGBT community, the bill covers prejudice in relation to disability. I have less personal experience of such prejudice, although I have been a worker for an HIV agency. HIV status is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and therefore is also covered by the bill. Many people who experience crimes that are motivated by prejudice or hatred with regard to HIV status are marked for life.
The bill will not wave the problem away, resolve it overnight or solve every aspect of it. However, it is a necessary part of the overall picture and it is consistent with other Government action to address hate crime. The benefit from the bill will not simply be that we pass the appropriate sentences. I repeat that they will be appropriate sentences. The bill is not, as some would have it, only about tougher sentences; it is about getting the right sentence. For many lower-level offences, we are talking about non-custodial sentences, which we want to be carried out in the right setting and in a way that challenges the motivation that caused the crime in the first place and the prejudice that underlies the offence. For higher-tariff offences, the additional threat that is posed to society might warrant a longer custodial sentence, but being tough is not the objective—the objective is to be appropriate. We want to challenge behaviour and prevent the crimes from reoccurring.
As well as introducing more appropriate sentences, the bill will develop the data. At present, members can ask parliamentary questions of ministers about the number of offences that are aggravated by prejudice on the grounds of race or religion, but we cannot consider a robust and reliable data set about the additional kinds of hate crime. We will be able to do that in future with the enactment of the bill and as courts put it into practice. We will have that information, which will help to inform efforts to prevent hate crimes from happening in the first place.
The bill will send a clear signal. I am never one for saying that sending a signal should be the primary motivation of legislation, but in this case that can be done as well as achieving the primary objectives of the legislation. We will be saying clearly that hate crime on the ground of prejudice in relation to sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability is as unacceptable in society as racist crime or crime motivated by prejudice on religious grounds. This Parliament should be proud that it is going to unite—I hope—in sending that clear message this evening.
I recognise that the bill is not a silver bullet; it is one part of a programme of action, many aspects of which are being developed by Government in relation to the forms of equality in the bill.
I have great pleasure in ensuring that this small but necessary step is taken by moving,
That the Parliament agrees that the Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Bill be passed.
- The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Kenny MacAskill):
I am pleased to welcome the final parliamentary stage of Patrick Harvie's Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Bill. I pay personal tribute to him; members' bills are few in this Parliament, they do not come easy and it must have been difficult for him and those who have supported him. The Government is delighted to have been able to give its support, but I pay tribute to his and his colleagues' perseverance. Although it might be a small step, it is a significant one that we should welcome.
The bill will create statutory aggravations for crimes motivated by hostility and ill-will towards victims based on their sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability. We promised in our manifesto to carry out the recommendation of the working group on hate crime and introduce such aggravations. We were therefore happy to have the opportunity to support Patrick Harvie's bill and to co-operate with him to take the work forward.
Throughout the process I have been especially encouraged by the level of support for the introduction of the aggravations contained in the bill, both in the Parliament and externally. I have been grateful for the support provided to us from organisations with a shared interest in the legislation. I am also grateful to the Equal Opportunities Committee and the Justice Committee for their careful and thorough scrutiny of the bill.
Hate crime, put simply, is an offence motivated by an offender's hatred of a core element of someone's identity. There is no place for that in a modern Scotland; it is as entirely unacceptable as it is entirely unreasonable. The provisions in the bill will improve the way in which we deal with hate crime. If a crime has been committed and it can be shown that the motivation was hostility and ill-will based on the victim's sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability, the sentence should reflect that.
The bill requires the courts to consider the aggravation at the point of sentence, as indeed is the case for other statutory aggravations that the Parliament has put in place. One such example came up in relation to questions raised by Bill Butler at question time. The bill provides an opportunity for the sentence to reflect both the serious nature of the offence and its motivation.
The bill does not create any new offences. Hate crime can range from harassment to property damage to violence and, in some tragic and extreme cases, even to murder. The aggravations can therefore apply to any crime or offence no matter how serious or trivial. The provisions in the bill will help to ensure that there are appropriate and consistent reporting and prosecution policies from the various agencies in the criminal justice system in Scotland. They will send a clear message that prejudice towards and hatred of social groups as a motive for committing a crime is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. They will allow us to monitor the extent of those types of crimes in Scotland and tailor our approaches to tackling them.
The bill will ensure that an aggravation must be acknowledged and taken into account at the point of sentence. It will be clear to the offender and the broader public, at the point of sentence, just how seriously the aggravated nature of an offence is viewed by both the sentencer and wider society. The impact of that on the sentence will obviously remain a matter for the discretion of the judge or sheriff who is presiding, because they are dealing with the particular individual and instance, but the existence of the aggravation will require to be recorded at all stages in the criminal justice system.
It is the role of Government and Parliament to put law on these aggravations in place. It will, of course, be for the police, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and other criminal justice services to ensure that the law is made full use of.
We believe that this type of crime is substantially underreported in Scotland, which is rather tragic. The bill will not simply ensure that the law recognises how we wish such crime to be seen, but transmit a message to all those who might be victims that we are taking it seriously.
We hope that the existence of the aggravations in statute will encourage more victims of hate crime to come forward. We want people to be secure in the knowledge that what has happened to them will be taken seriously and will be dealt with effectively. Equally, we want offenders to realise that their actions are entirely unacceptable and that they will face stern consequences for them. We believe that the bill will help to make that possible.
The bill is not focused on the identity or situation of the victim of a hate crime or the perceived or actual vulnerability of any victim; its sole focus is the prejudiced motivation of an offender.
The policy intention behind the bill is to provide criminal justice agencies with an additional means of tackling crime motivated by prejudice. That is why I am pleased to confirm that the Government supports Patrick Harvie's bill. I urge members to do likewise in order to help create a Scotland in which diversity is respected and can be celebrated and tolerated by all.
- Richard Baker (North East Scotland) (Lab):
We are taking an important step today towards ensuring that homophobia and other forms of discrimination have no place in Scotland. Legislating for these aggravations will send out a clear message that we will not tolerate the victimisation of groups who should be valued in our society. The bill will also be an asset to our courts in dealing effectively with the perpetrators of these crimes.
I pay particular tribute to all those who have worked so hard to ensure that the bill is passed today: the Justice Committee and its clerks, who have worked with ministers and civil servants; all the external groups who have presented such thoughtful and well-researched evidence; and, of course, Patrick Harvie, who has done so well in forging a strong evidence base for proceeding with the bill and, just as important, a broad coalition of support for it, if not complete unanimity. I know that that has taken perseverance and tenacity on his part and that the bill has followed the work of the sentencing commission and the deliberations of the working group on hate crime. I believe that the process of the bill has better enabled consensus. We have had the kind of cross-party dialogue and engagement that is too often missing around legislative proposals, for which Patrick Harvie deserves great credit.
In Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom the need to redouble our efforts to tackle crimes of discrimination is clear. In Westminster, the response has been to make new provisions in law to deal with such offences.
The Scottish Government's criminal justice statistics show that in 2006-07, eight homicides in Scotland were recorded as having a homophobic motivation. The British gay crime survey of 2008 showed that one in five lesbian and gay people had experienced a homophobic hate crime or incident in the past three years. Those are truly shocking statistics.
Of course, the bill is not just about LGBT people, important though that aspect of it is. It is also absolutely right that it addresses the problem that people with disabilities are more likely to be victims of hate crimes. The briefing that we have had from the Royal National Institute for Deaf People referred to a survey of its members, which found that 14 per cent of respondents in Scotland said that they had been a victim of physical or verbal assault because of their deafness.
The bill is also about encouraging more people to report these kinds of crimes, which, as Patrick Harvie said, too often go unreported. Tim Hopkins of the Equality Network gave persuasive evidence to the Justice Committee on how the introduction of the legislation will encourage greater reporting of these crimes. That has been the experience following the introduction of other aggravated offences legislation.
Good proposals were made in the Justice Committee's stage 1 report, as was the case in evidence, to ensure that we get the most from the bill. The committee urged the Scottish Government to work with criminal justice partners to ensure that disposals can—across the country, where practicable—include elements that aim to address attitudes that lead to hate crime.
I welcome the suggestion in the committee's report, echoed by the Law Society of Scotland, that in order to ensure that we monitor effectively the use of the legislation, crime codes should be assigned to aggravations. If a code were assigned not only to the offence, but the aggravation, it would be easier to monitor use and establish the rate of successful prosecutions. It is right to highlight the need for appropriate training. Such training will ensure that police and prosecutors influence the legislative provisions.
We want the legislation to be as effective as it can be. We all want to live in a society that does all that it can to tackle hate crimes, to ensure that they are reported and that our justice system deals properly with offenders. Doing that protects people in our society who are among the most vulnerable or who are perceived to be so.
Labour welcomes the bill. We will support it at decision time.
- Bill Aitken (Glasgow) (Con):
I, too, begin by congratulating the sponsor of the bill, Patrick Harvie, for bringing things to a successful conclusion in the chamber today. He lobbied unmercifully—indeed, he was becoming a nuisance—but, at the end of the day, he has got the bill through. I congratulate him on achieving that. I understand and possibly share his frustration that activities elsewhere are detracting from the publicity that he deserves to receive today.
The bill is an exemplar of how legislation should and can be dealt with. From the outset, the unanimity of view on the Justice Committee was that the bill had a degree of merit in it. We sought to examine it and kick it about a little bit. In the circumstances, we have ended up with appropriate legislation.
Throughout the passage of the bill, I was extremely impressed by the quality of evidence that the Justice Committee heard and which individual members received. The witnesses who appeared before the committee represented their case in a measured, reasoned and reasonable manner. That enabled the committee—and then the Parliament—to consider the matter in a way that meant that the bill deserved to succeed. Those who gave evidence did so not in a vengeful or irate manner but in a measured and reasonable way. They did not seek vengeance; they simply wanted to right a wrong. I hope that the passage of the bill later this afternoon will do that to an extent.
The issue of reporting was, of course, raised. The evidence throughout was clear on the matter: many victims of this sort of crime—particularly where threats of violence are made or actual violence occurs—are reluctant to report it. An important spin-off of the legislation will be that that inhibition is lost. That will be no bad thing.
The Justice Committee recognised that the issue is not about sentencing. That said, I make it clear that acts of violence against a person because of their sexual orientation—or, in particular, their disability, where someone is not in a position to defend themselves—must be viewed seriously indeed. Where such assaults are serious, custody is clearly the only option that is available to the courts in many instances. It is important that the various social work and community justice authorities make available the appropriate disposals that allow the justice system to deal with issues at the lesser end of the scale.
One thing that we fail to do under so many legislative headings is to review the effect of legislation once it has been in operation for a time. We have to get a much tighter handle on the way in which we view the impact of legislation four or five years down the road. I certainly hope that that will happen in this case.
There is no need for me to detain the chamber for long. We have all reached measured agreement on measured legislation. Conservative members are content that it should proceed.
- Robert Brown (Glasgow) (LD):
As the cabinet secretary indicated, relatively few members' bills survive all hurdles to pass into law. Like other members who have spoken, I begin by congratulating Patrick Harvie on his success on this occasion. I am sure that he will not mind if I say that it is based partly on the previous work of Jim Wallace, who, as Minister for Justice, established the working group on hate crime, which was responsible for a body of related work, and on the work of the present Government, which supported the bill. I agree with Bill Aitken's comments on the quality of the witnesses from whom the Justice Committee heard.
Against that background, I am glad to offer the Liberal Democrats' support for the bill, which was a commitment in our 2007 manifesto. We must take the bill in context—as Patrick Harvie said, it is a small step towards supporting and developing a more tolerant and inclusive society. However, he was right to say that the bill will affect real lives on a daily basis—that is the context that must always be remembered.
In recent years, there has been much progress, both legislatively and in cultural terms, in tackling and reducing discrimination and making hate crimes unacceptable. As might be expected, attitudes change more readily among young people, who tend to be significantly more outward looking than previous generations. However, whatever one's age or background, in 21st century Scotland it should be unacceptable for people to face discrimination, abuse or outright violence because of who they are—their actual or perceived sexual orientation, disability, race or religion.
Members of the Justice Committee, which examined the bill at stage 1, had to be convinced that the aggravation that already exists in common law needed to be supplemented by a formal statutory aggravation. Our conclusion was that that would be useful, because it would direct more effective recording of the extent of the problem, allow the situation to be monitored and, perhaps, allow sentencing disposals that involve an increased tariff for serious crimes and begin to tackle at its heart the cause of the offending, which is based—as such things often are—on ignorance, ingrained attitudes and social alienation. The bill's sponsors made it clear that they were open to that approach; Patrick Harvie has done so again today, with his reference to appropriate sentences.
I return to the nature of the challenges. There have been various studies of the extent of the abuse that is suffered by various groups, not least disabled people. In some ways, there is an additional conceptual problem in the case of disabled people, as many people find it difficult to accept that anyone would deliberately target a disabled person. However, it is clear that fear of violence, abuse or nastiness is a severe inhibition for many disabled people, as well as for many LGBT people. In effect, it is an extra, unnecessary disablement.
The RNID has pointed out that 60 per cent of crimes go unreported. The percentage is probably higher among deaf people and disabled people who face additional hassles, such as the need for an interpreter to report and obtain action on their complaint. One of the virtues of the bill is that it will contribute, along with other measures, to a situation in which LGBT and disabled people will feel more confident about reporting crime and that their complaints will be taken seriously. The RNID's suggestion that a code of practice be introduced to support implementation of the bill may have value. Inclusion Scotland highlighted the need for suitable, rigorous training for the police and prosecution authorities.
In short, there are three core reasons for the bill. First, it serves as a marker of society's view that hate crimes are unacceptable and illegal. Secondly, it is an important stimulus for better recording of the extent of the problem, as part of recorded crime. Thirdly, it is one of a number of measures to encourage victims to report crimes.
On the day before the European elections, it is worth saying that the existence and work of the European institutions and the example of other European countries have been important drivers of liberal reform in areas such as this and of the entrenchment of individual rights at the heart of the European project. I ask the chamber to support the passage of the bill, which will mark a small but significant step in favour of the civil liberties of a number of people in our society.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman):
We move to the open debate, in which time is very tight. Members will have four minutes.
- Bill Kidd (Glasgow) (SNP):
I am very pleased that we have reached this stage of the bill, at which, as Patrick Harvie said, there is unanimity across the chamber. He deserves real credit for introducing the bill, the purpose of which is to enable the consideration of crimes aggravated by prejudice against sexual orientation, transgender status or disability in the same way as racially motivated attacks are now considered.
As the disability reporter to the Equal Opportunities Committee, I am particularly pleased that disablism has been included. Disablism is not a word in common parlance, but it means the abuse of, or discrimination against, disabled people arising from a belief that they are inferior to others, less than human in some cases, or of no value to society. Sadly, we must recognise that there are people in our society who will abuse anyone who they deem to be different or who they view as an easy target.
With an estimated 800,000 disabled people in Scotland, and approximately 500,000 LGBT citizens, it is our duty to provide in law safe and strong communities where no one faces the fear of crime or intolerance born from the cowardice or ignorance of others. Discrimination on the ground of disability was legislated against only with the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, 20 years after the outlawing of racial and gender discrimination. That gap was a serious lapse in equalities legislation, which we should have learned from. It is time for us to bring aggravations by prejudice against disability or sexual orientation or status fully into line.
The 2004 research by the Disability Rights Commission and Capability Scotland found that 47 per cent of disabled people in Scotland reported experiencing hate crime. A third had to avoid certain places, and a quarter had moved home as a result of an attack. Disabled people are four times more likely to be violently assaulted than non-disabled people. Visually impaired people are four times more likely to be assaulted or attacked than their sighted neighbours. People with mental health issues are 11 times more likely to be victimised, and 90 per cent of adults with a learning disability report being bullied.
All of that says more about the perpetrator than about the abused. Let us put the abuser and the bully in full sight of the public gaze, name their crime and have it taken into account when sentencing is carried out so that, as Patrick Harvie said, the sentence will be appropriate.
Most, if not all of us will have had constituents come to us with cases of discrimination due to disability. In the worst cases, that will include fears for their physical safety.
After today's vote, I will be proud to say that we in the Scottish Parliament, the Parliament for all the people of Scotland, are specifically targeting those people who carry out disgusting antisocial behaviour towards people simply because of their disability or sexual orientation. Let us vote to pass the bill and, in doing so, let us oppose discrimination in Scottish society and help to improve the lives of so many of our fellow citizens.
- Bill Butler (Glasgow Anniesland) (Lab):
I support the motion in the name of our colleague, Patrick Harvie, and I congratulate Mr Harvie on introducing this progressive legislation. As colleagues will be aware, the aim of the bill is
"to create new statutory aggravations to protect victims of crime who are targeted as a result of hatred of their actual or presumed sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability."
As members will also be aware,
"Similar statutory aggravations already exist to protect individuals and groups targeted on racial or religious grounds."
Those of us who served during previous sessions of the Parliament will recall—as Mr Robert Brown did—that a former colleague, Donald Gorrie, moved an amendment to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill in 2002 to make provision for the statutory aggravation of an offence as a result of religious prejudice. Mr Gorrie's amendment was agreed to, and it became section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, as was referred to at question time by the cabinet secretary. That was a good reform.
Although Robin Harper's amendment to that bill was not accepted by the then Minister for Justice, Jim Wallace, an amendment whose objective was similar to that of the bill that is under discussion today led to the setting up of the working group on hate crime in June 2003, the first recommendation of which forms the general thrust of Mr Harvie's bill. I am genuinely pleased that we have arrived at a point where Parliament will unanimously agree to the bill at 5 o'clock.
The Cabinet Secretary for Justice was correct when he said in a reply to a parliamentary question from Mr Harvie:
"No one in Scotland should be targeted or victimised because of their sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability. Our clear aim is to prevent and deter crime but where crime does happen … it will not be tolerated."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 15 January 2008; S3W-8323.]
Scottish Labour whole-heartedly supports that vision of a tolerant, inclusive, equal Scotland.
In the short time that I have, I will talk about issues that arise in the context of the bill. First, I will talk about the benefits of the bill—if it is enacted, as I am sure that it will be—to all the groups that it will cover. It will mean that the hate crime laws that offer protection to ethnic minorities and religious groups are extended to the LGBT community and to people who are disabled. It will mean that an approach that has proved successful in tackling racist and sectarian hate crime will be naturally extended. The approach to dealing with such offences has not only proved useful in individual cases but focused police attention on the problem. There is no reason to think that the approach will be any less successful in supporting and protecting the LGBT community and people who are disabled. The increased focus will mean that there will be appropriate recording of offences, which we all hope will lead to greater confidence in the criminal justice system among those sections of society.
As the Justice Committee said in its stage 1 report, at paragraph 93:
"The Committee recognises that under the common law the recording of offences committed against victims who are targeted as a result of hatred of their actual or presumed sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability is not sufficiently robust."
That is why the committee was correct when it went on to welcome
"the provisions in the Bill that will ensure the accurate recording of aggravated offences from the initial reporting of an offence through to prosecution, conviction and eventual sentence."
The problem is significant. The Scottish Association for Mental Health said in its submission to the committee at stage 1:
"A survey in 2004 found that 47% of disabled people had experienced hate crime because of their disability, with 31% of those reporting that they suffered verbal abuse, intimidation or physical attacks at least once a month."
If an effect of the bill is to focus police attention on the problem, that will be a welcome advance.
Scottish Labour agrees with the committee that the bill is good. We will support it at decision time. It provides for focused reform, which will help the Parliament in its drive to create a modern, inclusive and tolerant Scotland—a Scotland of equals.
- Nigel Don (North East Scotland) (SNP):
I echo members' comments and I applaud Patrick Harvie's determination. I would not go so far as to say that he made a nuisance of himself—he did not.
- Patrick Harvie:
- Nigel Don:
Mr Harvie pushed the bill through, which is a significant achievement and should be applauded.
I do not want to repeat what members have said, but I will talk about the consequences of the legislation that we are about to produce. Police forces in general will have to consider the processes for reporting crimes. They will have to pick up on matters that they were not required to consider in the past. The evidence that the Justice Committee received contained the message that the police need to be a little more open to the difficulties that people—particularly if they are disabled—face in reporting crime. The police need to ensure that they take the matter seriously and find the right processes.
I was concerned to read in the briefing from the RNID that there is evidence that disabled people are not regarded as reliable witnesses. That might or might not be true, but the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service should at least consider the issue.
Members of the Justice Committee realised early in the process that nothing in the bill should be necessary, because at common law such aggravations can be and no doubt sometimes are taken into account. However, the problem is that the aggravations might not be taken into account and are not necessarily reported. The huge benefit of the bill, apart from its ability to send a message, is that it will provide boxes to be ticked. We do not normally regard ticking boxes as a good thing, but in this context it will be a good thing, because it will force the police and the prosecution service to consider prejudice.
However, it seems to me that there is unfinished business, because, in the process of interrogating the issue, we had to consider, as did the Equal Opportunities Committee, prejudice regarding gender and age. The Justice Committee decided that it would not progress with those areas. I do not wish to reopen that issue at this point, but given that women are far and away the most likely victims of domestic abuse and that men are, by and large, the victims of homicide, we must reflect that there is unfinished business on the agenda.
Our legal system will not be right or complete until the possibility of prejudice against someone because of their gender or because they are above a certain age—I do not even know what that age might be—is covered in the same way as the issues in the bill are covered, as far as reporting and possible prosecution are concerned. I accept that prejudices regarding gender and age are on a different level, but it seems to me that the bill is incomplete. At some stage, we ought to come back to it and try to complete it.
- Michael McMahon (Hamilton North and Bellshill) (Lab):
I congratulate Patrick Harvie on securing the safe passage of his bill. As the convener of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on disability, I have been made very aware of the view of organisations that take forward issues on behalf of disabled people—like those who take forward issues for the LGBT community—that the bill is of huge significance to them.
With the passing of the bill, we will send a clear message to Scotland that hate crime, no matter what form it takes, is unacceptable. However, let us not forget that, although they have always existed, hate crimes of any sort have never really been acceptable in Scotland, either to the majority in society or in Scots law. The bill will introduce no new offence or sentencing measures, but it will bring greater and welcome consistency to the handling, recording and sentencing of hate crime. That is why I support it.
Unfortunately, as with our attempts to legislate away race hate and sectarianism, nothing in the bill says to me that our society will be freer from hate crime just because we pass the bill. Perhaps I see the situation as a glass that is half empty rather than a glass that is half full, as my colleague Bill Butler sees it. That is because, although our police have had numerous additional powers given to them by the Parliament on a range of issues, such as sectarianism and antisocial behaviour, there is little evidence that the police and our courts are using those powers in proportion to the occurrence of the crimes that they exist to tackle.
For example, a few months ago, I witnessed two inebriated men outside Central station in Glasgow singing "The Famine Song" at the top of their voices. Two police officers were asked by a few people to do something about the racist chanting that they were being subjected to, only to find that the officers were not really interested in tackling the incident. I can therefore only hope that the police will reflect on that, given the decision that is likely to be taken today to pass the bill. There is no point in having the law if our law officers do not act on it.
As I said, all disability organisations welcome the bill, with Inclusion Scotland calling on us to ensure in particular that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the police are equipped to recognise hate crime against disabled people for what it is. I hope that we can achieve that, but if the police's recognition of anti-Irish racism is anything to go by, I have my doubts.
The bill was introduced as a recommendation of the "Working Group on Hate Crime Report", which also recommended doing 13 different things in addition to the bill. I therefore hope that all the other recommendations can be acted on as quickly as the call to have legislation enacted was. Again, though, I have my doubts about that.
In 2004, Capability Scotland conducted a survey that showed that nearly 50 per cent of disabled people had experienced some sort of hate crime in their lives. I was horrified to learn that some disabled people indicated that they accepted hate crime as part of their daily life because of their impairment. That situation is utterly unacceptable and I am pleased that the Parliament has sought to address it, but we should not let people believe that the bill will be an end to the matter. We must continue to address this serious problem in the future, because, as important as the bill is, it is not a panacea. I do not believe that Patrick Harvie believes it to be that; he said that the bill was not a silver bullet.
The bill should be the starting point of the Parliament driving forward an agenda to address the concerns of the LGBT community and disabled people, and all those minorities who are affected by hate crime, which has not been acceptable and will not be acceptable. We must all encourage the agencies involved to drive forward an agenda that will ensure that hate crime, where it exists, will not be acceptable and will be dealt with, and that Scotland will become a better society because it is the will of the Parliament that it should be so. For that reason, I support the bill.
- Bill Wilson (West of Scotland) (SNP):
In some ways, it is difficult to imagine why we are here and why any of this is necessary. For a normal, sane, balanced human being—I see members looking round wondering who that might be—or for anyone resembling such a being, it is truly difficult to comprehend why someone might threaten or attack others merely because they are, or are imagined to be, a little different.
Nonetheless, as we all know, such attacks occur. In 2000, a Mencap survey found that nearly nine out of 10 respondents had been bullied in the past year. In 2007, the mental health charity Mind reported that individuals with mental health issues were 11 times more likely to be victimised. Who here has not read reports of attacks or abuse directed against individuals who are, or were thought to be, members of the LGBT community?
Some social groups are proportionately more frequently victims of harassment and crime. Surely such groups need extra protection. Would we not discriminate against such groups if we failed to give them the protection that they so desperately need? Let us also not forget that hate crimes can be particularly psychologically damaging, because they attack the victim's core identity.
Hate crimes are highly divisive. Failure vigorously to condemn such crimes can leave the affected groups feeling isolated from society. Such isolation harms not just the victimised group, but all of society. How true ring John Donne's words:
"No man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main".
Why do we need the bill? Some social groups are proportionately more often victims of harassment and crime, but evidence suggests that victims in those groups are also less likely to report the crime that has been committed against them. Hate crimes can be—indeed, are—intentionally distressing for their victims and past experience or fear can lead many victims to believe that there is no point in reporting them. Adding a specific offence of aggravation will make it clear to victims that such crimes are viewed seriously, that their suffering is taken seriously and that they will be listened to.
Yes, it is possible under common law for motivation to be an aggravating factor, but such aggravations under common law are not recorded. Statistically, we do not know how often such offences occur. An important point is that, because such offences are not recorded in criminal records, repeat offenders cannot be identified. Adding an aggravated offence will not stop common-law aggravations being used in other cases and will not reduce the protection that is offered to any other social group, but it will ensure that two groups obtain the extra protection that they need.
The importance of good statistical records should not be underestimated. Are certain social groups more likely to commit hate crimes? Are hate crimes concentrated geographically? Are campaigns against hate crime having any effect? Statistical data are vital. Without such data, any effort to reduce this most pernicious of crimes will be, at best, haphazard.
Hate crime is debilitating. One cannot run or hide from hate crime—people are who they are—so, in an intolerant society, people have no escape from bigotry and the permanent feeling of being threatened. People do not choose to be disabled. They do not choose to be gay or transgender. That is what they are. They cannot change that. If they are to be true to themselves, they cannot hide that and nor should they have to. In a civilised society, individuals should be accepted as they are. In a society cursed with intolerance, anyone who is a member of a group that is held in disdain has no escape but must live in fear or hide.
We need the bill. We need the bill to make it clear that, in our Scotland, the "our" means all, regardless of physical or mental ability and regardless of sexual orientation. We need to make it clear that all who live in our country are part of the family of Scots and that, in Scotland, we accept your right to be yourself.
- David Whitton (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (Lab):
On this rare occasion, it is a pleasure to follow Mr Bill Wilson in the debate. Like others, I congratulate Patrick Harvie on getting the bill to this stage.
Others are obviously more knowledgeable on the topic than I am, because they have been more closely involved with the proposals during both the current and previous parliamentary sessions. Therefore, I will concentrate my remarks on the measures in the bill that will require the courts to recognise hate crime that is carried out against people simply because they are disabled. I am grateful to Mr Kidd for his definition of "disabilism", which was a new word for me as well.
I confess that I had not intended to speak in today's debate, but, while listening to the preview of the debate in this morning's edition of "Good Morning Scotland", I heard one blind lady describe how she was accosted in the street and how frightening that had been for her. She was attacked simply because she is blind and, therefore, vulnerable. I am sure that all members would deplore attacks of that kind. I am positive that they would similarly deplore crimes that are carried out against people because of their sexual orientation or transgender identity. As others have said, the bill is not about special treatment for people in those categories; it is about addressing the motivation behind the crime. The introduction of a statutory aggravation will make it possible for a specific crime, such as a crime against a disabled person, to be identified as a hate crime and to be recorded properly.
I believe that Labour has a strong track record of combating discrimination on the grounds of disability and sexual orientation. Although I was not an MSP at the time, I was special adviser to Donald Dewar when Scotland repealed section 28 and section 2A. Indeed, I still carry the scars from handling a lot of the press coverage at the time, much of which amounted to red-top tabloid frenzy. It is to the credit of the first Scottish Government that it did not allow itself to be swayed by a despicable campaign, with the result that Scotland led the way in repealing those sections.
More recently, the Parliament united behind my colleague Jackie Baillie's Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill, which will ensure that disabled people have better access to the parking spaces that can make such a difference to their mobility by assisting them to do the day-to-day activities that able-bodied people take for granted.
It is always useful to look back through consultation when one is preparing a speech, and I would like to quote what Capability Scotland said about the prevalence of attacks against people with disabilities. It commented:
"We have long been involved in the call for measures to tackle hate crime against disabled people".
Both Bill Kidd and my colleague Bill Butler spoke about the survey on the experience of disabled people who had been the victims of crime. I see no need to repeat what they said, but I cannot agree more with their view that such crime is unacceptable in 21st century Scottish society. What concerned me more was that the research showed that most disabled people were not confident that they could get help to stop the attacks. The cabinet secretary said that he hopes that more victims of assault will come forward as a result of the passing of the bill—so do I. The bill has resulted in another of those rare occasions on which I agree with Kenny MacAskill on something.
- Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD):
The member mentioned the repeal of section 2A. Does he accept that it is extremely important that we develop better education from a very early age so that people know that such behaviour against LGBT people and disabled people is quite unacceptable?
- David Whitton:
That is exactly what the repeal of section 2A sought to do, and I whole-heartedly agree with that view.
Norman Dunning, the chief executive of Enable, made the point that although the common law might be adequate, the contents of the bill are necessary to ensure that the issue of aggravated crime is brought to the fore. He believes that the bill represents a step forward in common law and I agree with him. Indeed, I venture to suggest that the whole Parliament agrees with him.
As I said, Labour has a strong record on tackling discrimination, but so does this Parliament—it is a dividend of devolution. As the cabinet secretary pointed out, the bill will establish no new offences or sentencing measures, but it will bring consistency to the handling and recording of hate crimes and the sentencing of those who commit them, and will send a clear message that, in Scotland, our courts will recognise hate crime against people on the grounds of disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity and will deal with offenders accordingly.
- Stewart Maxwell (West of Scotland) (SNP):
Like other members, I congratulate all those who have been involved in getting us to this stage, especially Patrick Harvie. As someone who has experience of trying to get a member's bill through Parliament, I understand how difficult that can be. The bill has been a long time coming, given that it is many years since Patrick Harvie's colleague Robin Harper tried to amend the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. Like other members, I am certainly glad that we are finally here.
Other members have mentioned the problem of the lack of statistical data. When I did my research for the debate, I found it almost impossible to find solid information. Surveys and reports have been carried out, which I will refer to, but there is no solid statistical data. One of the benefits of the bill will be that we will get better statistical data.
I hope that another achievement of the bill will be that we will see an increase in confidence when it comes to the reporting of crime towards LGBT people and disabled people. One of the most important issues is that people in that position lack the confidence to report such incidents to the police, and I hope that the bill will help to change that situation. I also hope that it will help to bring about cultural change and a change in the general public's attitudes to such crimes, even if, as has been said, it is not a silver bullet.
Other members have mentioned various statistics, but the figures are worth repeating. Disabled people are more likely to be the victims of hate crime. In the 2004 survey by the Disability Rights Commission and Capability Scotland, 47 per cent of respondents had been attacked or frightened by someone because of their impairment; one in five had suffered an attack at least once a week; and of those who had been attacked, 35 per cent were physically assaulted, 15 per cent were spat at and 18 per cent had something stolen. There must be a problem in our society if people feel that such behaviour is acceptable.
However, a more recent report by the charity Scope in collaboration with the magazine "Disability Now" and the United Kingdom's Disabled People's Council found that disabled people are four times more likely to be violently assaulted than non-disabled people and almost twice as likely to be burgled, and visually impaired people are four times more likely to be verbally and physically abused than sighted people.
As Minister for Communities and Sport, I was responsible for equalities. In various discussions that I had, I found a clear and urgent demand for this legislation and widespread support for it from a range of groups. Something that sticks in my mind was a visit to the Dumfries LGBT youth group, who explained in very strong terms the problems that they faced, particularly in living in a rural community, and the differences between their position and the position of those in more urban communities. One problem was isolation; those in the group felt that living in such communities created added pressures and difficulties for young lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. Of course the sole purpose of legislation should not be to send out a message, but I hope that an important part of this legislation will be the message that it sends to all communities in Scotland that it is unacceptable to hold certain attitudes and behave violently or aggressively towards LGBT people.
I will now do something unforgivable, for which I must apologise: I will quote myself. My plea in mitigation is that the document that I want to quote from is the Scottish Government's response to recommendations of the LGBT hearts and minds agenda group. It says:
"Changing attitudes will be good not only for LGBT people but for all the people of Scotland. … We recognise the prejudice and discrimination that LGBT people have faced historically. And while there have been significant strides in law and policy over the last 30 years, we know discrimination still exists".
That sums up the attitude of the Government and my attitude when I was minister. I whole-heartedly and 100 per cent support the bill.
- Angela Constance (Livingston) (SNP):
Because of the short time available and given my previous life as a mental health officer, I want, like some other members, to focus on disability hate crime. However, I make clear my support for the eradication of all forms of hate crime.
As others have said, the bill is not an end in itself but another crucial step on a journey and—unusually for me—I echo Bill Aitken's call for a review of the impact of the legislation.
Any crime that is committed because the victim is a member of a minority group deserves to be treated as an aggravated crime, because it is an assault not only on the person but on their identity. Like Bill Kidd and Bill Butler, I realise that in many ways the bill is playing catch-up and creating a level playing field for disabled and LGBT people. As statutory aggravations already exist for other forms of hate crime, it is incumbent on us to level the playing field for other excluded groups.
At this point, I thank Leonard Cheshire Disability for its particularly illuminating briefing. There are 800,000 disabled people in Scotland, 59 per cent of whom are women—I am advised that that is because we live longer than our male counterparts. However, as every study makes clear, a disabled person is five to 10 times more likely to experience hate crime than a non-disabled person is. We have already heard the statistics that show that those with mental health issues are 11 times more likely to be victimised and that 90 per cent of people with a learning disability report experiences of being bullied. What is absolutely clear is the persistent and repetitive nature of the offences against and harassment of disabled people.
In the past, there has been some confusion about what has been considered, treated and responded to as antisocial behaviour when offences should have been prosecuted as hate crimes. It is interesting to note that the perpetrators of hate crimes against disabled people are often strangers. They often participate in groups and the crimes are often committed in public places, although there is some differentiation between rural and urban areas. In rural areas, the crime against the disabled person is more likely to occur in a domestic setting. Like Michael McMahon, I think that we need to be alarmed and concerned at the number of disabled people who accept harassment as part and parcel of their impairment. Leonard Cheshire Disability eloquently talks about the need to prevent attacks on disabled people by shining a light into a dark corner of our society. By passing the bill, we will ensure that hate crime will not be shielded from the public view.
There is some information on the prevalence of the attacks on and the offences that are committed against disabled people, but I believe that it only scratches the surface. The bill is vital in uncovering the hidden world of hate crime that, unfortunately, exists in our society.
- Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD):
I am delighted to speak in this afternoon's debate. I pay tribute to the tenacious and determined way in which Patrick Harvie has brought the bill to Parliament. Robert Brown was right to acknowledge the work that was done by the previous Administration. It is also right that we acknowledge the work that has been done and the support that has been given to the bill by the current Government. It is heartening to members of the LGBT and disabled communities in Scotland to hear of the degree of support that the bill will receive in our Parliament this afternoon.
Bill Wilson was right to say that it is unbelievable and shocking that we need to have this type of legislation. Yes, we have the common law—the issue was considered carefully by the Justice Committee and the Equal Opportunities Committee, and I pay tribute to them for the thorough work that they did, as always, on the bill—but there are reasons why we need the bill. We have heard about the need to ensure that there is proper monitoring and recording of these types of crime. It is not about a hierarchy of rights; it is about acknowledging that the groups of individuals who are covered by the bill—LGBT people and disabled people with physical or mental health issues—are more likely to be the victims of crime and, crucially, are less likely to come forward and report it. If the bill does nothing else, if it encourages people in those communities who are victims of crime to come forward, it will have been worth while.
In passing, I pay tribute to the work that has been done by police forces throughout Scotland. I am aware of the work that has been done over the years by Lothian and Borders Police with the LGBT community to increase the recording of hate crimes. Police forces throughout Scotland are taking forward that work, and I believe that the bill will assist them in doing that.
The bill focuses on the motivation of somebody who thinks that it is okay to give somebody a doing or to assault somebody because they happen to be disabled or gay, or because they perceive them to be gay. As I said to Mr Whitton, the attitude starts very early in somebody's life that it is okay to assault or verbally assault somebody because they are perceived to be different, whether because of their race, their religion, their colour, their sexual orientation or their disability. That is why education is important. Over the years, I have been extremely concerned by some of the reports that Stonewall and others have produced about, for example, the amount of homophobic bullying that goes on in schools and the fact that some teachers, even now, do not feel able to challenge that or comfortable doing so. However, those sorts of things have to be challenged early on.
Today, we are sending a strong message that the Scottish Parliament believes in and will do everything in its power to deliver a society that tackles discrimination in all its forms, whether it is based on sexual orientation, disability, race or religion. I am pleased to support the bill.
- John Lamont (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con):
Like other members, I congratulate Patrick Harvie on bringing this bill to stage 3. Mr Harvie, along with others, has long campaigned for the creation of new statutory aggravations to protect those who are the victims of a crime because of their actual or presumed sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability.
Patrick Harvie lodged the final proposal for the bill in November 2007, which means that he has had to show a great deal of patience and dedication in getting the bill to this stage. Hopefully, he will feel some satisfaction when the bill is passed this afternoon.
Our passing of the bill will send a clear message to those who carry out criminal action that is rooted in the hatred of another human because of who they are perceived to be that we will not tolerate such behaviour. One of the most striking features of hate crime is its ability to affect not only an individual but an entire community of people who find themselves turned into victims because of another's intolerance. A culture of fear is created in a community—a fear because a part of someone's identity that is beyond their control is hated by another. Behaviour of that sort is unacceptable.
We already have statutory aggravations for offences that are motivated out of prejudice of some kind. The offence of racial hatred was created in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 at Westminster, and the offence of religious prejudice was created in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, which my colleague David McLetchie talked about eloquently during the stage 1 debate on this bill.
As Robert Brown and others have said, the flexibility of the common law allows aggravating factors to be taken into account. Why, then, do we need to create statutory aggravations for sexual orientation, transgender identity and disability?
The first reason is that, although the common law exists, it is not being enforced. Evidence that was presented to the Justice Committee demonstrated that, although the law was available to deal with aggravations, it was very rarely used, and few people who were subjected to hate crimes had experienced its use. The creation of aggravated offences sends out a clear message that society will not tolerate such an expression of hatred. Hatred itself is not criminal. We cannot police people's thoughts, and we should not limit freedom of expression, but we can target and highlight criminal conduct that is motivated by such hatred. The legislation will give specific recognition to victims who are targeted as a result of hatred of their actual or presumed disability, transgender identity or sexual orientation. It will also bring our law into line with that of the rest of the United Kingdom.
As Patrick Harvie stated, the bill will also ensure the accurate recording of aggravated offences of the types that are mentioned in the bill. Until now, that has not been particularly robust, as those offences have been recorded as breaches of the peace or assaults. We cannot deal with a problem effectively until we know its full extent. The recording of this kind of information will give those who deal with crime far more insight into the motivation behind the crimes and will place them in a more powerful position to tackle them.
Attitudes may be constrained by laws and sometimes led by them but, ultimately, it is only by fostering a shared feeling of responsibility that we can promote a tolerant society where people are considerate towards others and their feelings, and where they exercise judgment in what they say and do. However, as Michael McMahon pointed out, we should not believe that laws are a panacea. We will never outlaw hate, any more than we can outlaw anger, but we can set a careful framework to outlaw hatred that does harm, while protecting fundamental liberties.
We are happy to confirm that we will be supporting the bill tonight.
- Paul Martin (Glasgow Springburn) (Lab):
Patrick Harvie and I have disagreed with each other on many issues in the chamber, from identity cards and DNA retention to ways of tackling antisocial behaviour. However, I am delighted to say that, on this occasion, we whole-heartedly agree with each other. I commend Patrick Harvie and the organisations that have ably supported him during the passage of the bill and have provided us with useful information, such as the Equality Network and Stonewall, for the work that they have done.
There have been a number of thoughtful and powerful speeches in the debate, and it is clear that there is cross-party support for the bill at stage 3. I will touch on a number of the themes that have been raised today and at stages 1 and 2.
As John Lamont mentioned, the common-law system allows courts to take account of aggravating factors in determining sentences. It is important that we recognise and respect that but, as I said during the stage 1 debate, it is also important that we represent the views of those who contributed to the evidence sessions. Witnesses told us that the common law cannot send out a clear message that such hate crimes are unacceptable in Scotland, and it was generally felt that establishing an offence of statutory aggravation would address many of the motivations behind such crimes.
I am disappointed that the bill does not contain any provisions for mandatory sentences. As Patrick Harvie will be aware, I have raised that point on a number of occasions in a constructive manner. I made the point, which Margaret Smith and Bill Kidd also touched on, that there are some individuals who, as a result of their social profile—as I would refer to it—will not respond to anything other than a robust mandatory sentence. It is important that the bill offers an opportunity to send out messages.
Like others, I welcome the fact that we are clearly moving in the right direction. It is important that training is put in place in the various organisations that will play a key role in implementing the legislation. That point has been made on many occasions in the chamber.
Michael McMahon gave an example that highlighted clearly the importance of reporting such incidents, which Nigel Don also touched on. Sometimes our authorities do not get it right in dealing with members of the public, and particularly with disabled groups, as the RNID points out. That is not a poor reflection on our police officers, and I do not wish to suggest that it is, but, as members of the Scottish Parliament, we should ensure that, as well as recognising when an authorities gets it right, when an authority does not get it right we take action on behalf of our constituents and communities to ensure that the law is robustly enforced.
I have mentioned a number of examples that members have given during this short debate, and I believe—to pick up on Michael McMahon's point—that it is important that we ensure that the law is robustly enforced. The bill will have no effect unless we do that, but it is clearly a step in the right direction and I congratulate Patrick Harvie on bringing the bill to stage 3.
- Kenny MacAskill:
Members have been remarkably united today—and rightly so, because the bill is about doing what is right. There have been excellent speeches by members on all sides of the chamber, and it is recognised that it is appropriate that we pass the bill. Equally, it is clear that the bill alone will not be the solution, because we have to change attitudes, and ensure that the law is implemented.
The bill is about doing what is right for our people, irrespective of whether they have disabilities, and whatever sexual orientation they may choose. They have been victims of low-level antisocial behaviour on some occasions, and serious assaults that have resulted in tragic murders on other occasions. Each individual has a personal tale.
There are areas not far from the Parliament where what was euphemistically known as queer bashing used to take place, and I remember such instances from my 20 years as a defence agent in these cities. It involved premeditated attempts by individuals to perpetrate serious assaults on people simply because they did not like the sexual orientation of those people, and that is unacceptable. The people responsible for those assaults were punished, but it is appropriate that we not only recognise the gravity of such crimes but record them so that people do not feel that they have to shy away and make changes. We must encourage people to report such crimes. Margaret Smith is correct to say that the police have come a long way, but it is clear that all of us, including police officers and our broader society, still have a distance to travel.
Many people were perhaps sceptical about how disabled people have been affected, but I was at an event in Kilmarnock this week at which an old lady aged 79 complained about instances of antisocial behaviour including the throwing of stones, which is clearly an assault, at her middle-aged daughter, who suffers from learning disabilities. That was clearly distressing not just for the daughter, as the recipient of that bile and anger, but for her elderly mother, who has looked after her throughout her life and is clearly worried about what will happen to her daughter when she passes away. It is important that we make it clear that such behaviour is unacceptable in 21st century Scotland.
I say to Richard Baker that the Government recognises the need to assign codes to aggravations in order to track them. The Crown Office, which is responsible for the matter, has assured us that it assigns codes to aggravations and that it will therefore be possible to record and track crimes. That will help us to determine the extent of the problem that we face and to continue the good work, whether in law enforcement or in education, to change the culture in Scotland.
Bill Aitken asked whether the bill will be reviewed in four or five years' time. Irrespective of who the Cabinet Secretary for Justice is at the time or the nature of the Administration, the Crown Office tracking means that we will be able to track the impact of the bill year by year and begin to gather evidence on the extent of the types of hate crime that it covers. Whether that is done by the Justice Committee, the Parliament or the Government, we will be able to consider, to review and to act accordingly.
As Patrick Harvie said at the beginning, the bill is not simply about recording how opposed we are to hate crimes and ensuring that society recognises their gravity. It is also about tracking and recognising the extent of the problem, and that might mean that further changes are required. To some extent, the bill simply builds on a journey that we are making as a society, and one that was initiated by previous Executives—Robert Brown and others mentioned the establishment of the working group on hate crime. The bill represents a further small, but significant, step.
In the year of homecoming, when we seek to celebrate Scottish identity, both for those who have stayed here in Scotland and for those who have travelled far and wide, it is appropriate to remember that we are all Jock Tamson's bairns and state that, as a Government, a Parliament and a country, we will not tolerate hatred or the perpetration of low-level or serious assaults against any individual, and certainly not on racial or religious grounds. Equally, in 21st century Scotland, we will not tolerate, condone or allow to go unchallenged assaults that occur because of someone's sexual orientation or disability.
The bill might represent a small step, but it is a great credit to Patrick Harvie and those who assist him. It is an appropriate step towards making Scotland all that it can be and making the law fit for purpose by reflecting all our communities in the 21st century.
- Patrick Harvie:
I thank all members who contributed to the debate at stage 3 of the bill. The debate was shortish but, of all members in the chamber, perhaps Robin Harper would most agree with me that, as the bill has been seven years in the making since his first proposal, it is not a problem for the final stage to be concluded as rapidly as possible.
Bill Butler and Robert Brown mentioned some of the historical steps that have been taken, including the proposals from Donald Gorrie and those from my colleague Robin Harper. Robert Brown argued that we are building on previous work, and I am happy to endorse his comments. Indeed, the measure was the key recommendation of the working group that was established as a result of the early proposals, which reported five years ago.
Robert Brown also mentioned the changing attitudes to equality and the progress that has been made in society. I agree with what he said about that as well, but I point out that it did not happen by magic or because people wished for it. It happened because many people way outside the political bubble worked hard and took risks for it, and also experienced risks in their lives. That is what makes progress happen—people working for it, not wishing for it.
David Whitton also gave a bit of an historical perspective from his point of view. He says that he bears the scars of the section 28 debate. I might once have felt that I bore one or two of those as well myself, but I felt that we won that argument in the end not only in the Parliament but outside it because the repeal was the right thing. Sometimes—at least for my community—what does not kill you makes you stronger. Here we stand.
Some technical issues have been raised on the bill. Paul Martin talked about mandatory sentences. I had hoped that he would—and still hope that he will—accept that they are not the right mechanism for the bill, which will cover offences ranging from low-level vandalism or threatening behaviour right up to extremely serious assaults and murder. It may be wrong to attach mandatory sentences to such a broad range of offences.
Several members mentioned the flexibility of the common law. We are clear that the common law has flexibility but that that flexibility is not currently exercised sufficiently to address the problem.
Nigel Don mentioned the scope of the bill. I accept that we are not proposing a new mechanism. The mechanism already exists, but its present scope is narrow, as it covers only race and religion. There has been an argument about whether the bill should extend to prejudice on age and gender, but both committees recognised that the people who work in the fields of age and gender and who support those who experience, as well as other offences, the domestic violence that Nigel Don outlined do not feel that an aggravation is the right mechanism for those offences. That is not to say that the issue should not be addressed. Many actions are required from government at all levels to do that, but introducing an aggravation is perhaps not the right one.
I will draw out an issue that was raised by a number of members who focused on disability in their speeches. I do not have time to mention everybody, but Bill Kidd, Kenny MacAskill, Richard Baker, Angela Constance and others mentioned it. We need to recognise the reality of disablism as Bill Kidd defined it, but it is also important not to confuse hate crime on grounds of prejudice against disabled people with vulnerability. They are separate issues. Many disabled people are additionally vulnerable to particular offences, but that is a different phenomenon from hate crime, which specifically concerns the motivation of a crime by prejudice. Vulnerability is a different issue; the bill is intended to address hate crime. When we make arguments on vulnerability, we must be careful not to imply that disabled people should accept being, or expect to be, vulnerable to such offences.
Michael McMahon expressed concern that existing powers are not being sufficiently used. I agree with much of what he said, but how much clearer does that make it that we cannot rely on the common law and that the aggravation is right? However, he is correct that a much wider range of measures is needed to overcome prejudice, including challenging the perception of some of moral disorder in relation to sexual orientation. What an angry response there would be if disabled people were accused of being in some way morally inferior in the way that people are in relation to their sexual orientation in some situations. I endorse Bill Wilson's vision of our society accepting all of us on our own terms. All members, I think, want to work towards that.
Before I sit down, it would be wrong of me not to mention Bill Aitken's suggestion that, during the process, I made something of a nuisance of myself. I have mulled over a few possible responses to that comment. All I will say is that the celebration of the passage of the bill will be happening shortly in the Regent Bar. Members are welcome to come and hear my many responses to Bill Aitken's suggestion, some of which I will rehearse repeatedly during the evening.