AMENDMENTS aimed at protecting freedom of expression have been added to the controversial Hate Crime Bill.

The final debate on the bill, which was due last night, was eventually scrapped due to the length of time taken to vote on these amendments. The Presiding Officer said the final decision on the bill would be held today instead.

Opponents of the bill – which would create a new offence of stirring up hatred as well as consolidating a number of existing pieces of legislation – said it would have a chilling effect on free speech.

Recognising the concerns around expression, both Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf and Justice Committee convener Adam Tomkins proposed amendments to the legislation which were both unanimously backed by MSPs.

One of the most controversial issues has been the bill’s failure to include sex as a protected characteristic, which has led to campaigners on the issue such as Joanna Cherry MP being attacked as transphobic, a charge she vigorously denies.

Moving an amendment that sex should be a protected characteristic, Johann Lamont MSP said: “I am here to speak up for my constituents, for women with whom I have worked for many years, who understand the scale of hatred and violence faced by women and have no well-funded lobbying groups to press the case to Government on their behalf.

“On this bill, the truth is that the key lobbyist to whom the Scottish Government has responded at every turn, who have not stood with women, who have not argued for women to be included in this legislation, have done so at the expense of the public purse.

“They have argued against women being in this legislation without actually speaking to the women who fund their organisation through their taxes.”

The National: SNP MSP Joan McAlpine declared that she would be voting against the government whipSNP MSP Joan McAlpine declared that she would be voting against the government whip

The former Scottish Labour leader added: “I want to include sex as an aggregator and to define sex in itself in terms of the Equality Act. These are simple proposals. They were supported by Lord Bracadale, who described the omission of sex as a lost opportunity. They are supported by many, many women and the men who stand with them.

“It is at heart a very simple proposition – if this bill sends a message about the unacceptability of hate crime, and offers protection to potential victims, as it should, you might reasonably expect that the group which suffers most of the consequences of hatred, women, might be included.

“Hatred of women is so commonplace that it may barely be remarked upon. A customary glance at the news any day of the week you will see it not lurking but clear and brutal.”

SNP MSP Joan McAlpine declared that she would be voting against the government whip, stating: “I became convinced that the scale of the sexist violence that women experience at male hands, including the two women a week in the UK killed by men, means that it would be bizarre to exclude them from at least part one of the bill.

“The thing that finally turned me to this position was the Government’s decision to expand the definition of transgender identity to include cross-dressers who are not trans identified. That is not the definition of trans gender reassignment in the Equality Act, and it will seem bizarre to many people that men who enjoy cross-dressing are protected from hate crime but women are not.”

In reply, Yousaf pointed to the working group chaired by “lifelong feminist” Baroness Helena Kennedy which he had asked to look at the gaps in law to examine whether there needs to be a standalone offence of misogyny.

He said: “I think as legislators we are at our best when we asked experts like Baroness Kennedy to look at these issue in great detail.”

Lamont’s amendment was defeated by 68 votes to 53.