HUMZA Yousaf has insisted the Conservatives need to get "their own house in order" before criticising the Hate Crime Act due to come in at the start of next month.

As Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross claimed the new law would cause innocent people to be prosecuted and impact on free speech, Yousaf fierecly defended the legislation and criticised the Tories for "creating the conditions for hatred and division to thrive".

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act will come into force on April 1 and criminalises threatening or abusive behaviour which is intended to stir up hatred against someone who possesses, or appears to possess, certain characteristics.

They are age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics sometimes known as being intersex.

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The First Minister reeled off several ways in which he believed the Tories had stirred up hatred over the years as he hammered home how important it was to "unite in opposing hatred in all its forms".

Yousaf said: "Far from working hard to tackle hatred, they’re [the Conservatives] a party who have actively created conditions for hate and division to thrive in our society.

"The Conservatives are the party of go home vans, the party of the hostile environment, the party of Windrush, the party whose leader Boris Johnson called Muslim women bank robbers, they are a party that indulges in Islamophobic smears from Suella Braverman to Lee Anderson.

"So instead of fighting against this bill wouldn’t it be better if the Conservatives got their own house in order?"

Stirring up racial hatred by using threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour was already illegal under the Public Order Act 1986 and that remains the case under the new legislation.

The new law also provides for stiffer sentences for offenders convicted of crimes deemed to be "aggravated by prejudice" — in other words if they demonstrate malice or ill-will towards their victim based on the protected characteristics, with the addition of a category for race, colour, nationality or ethnicity.

Ross frequently quoted the Scottish Police Federation which has said the act is a "recipe for disaster".

He questioned if a two-hour long online training course was enough for officers to understand the "complex" law and claimed "criminals will be let off while innocent people will be prosecuted".

Ross called it "another bad SNP law" he insisted would "descend into chaos". 

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But Yousaf recommended Ross "stick to the facts" as he defended the act stressing the threshold for criminal liability is "incredibly high".

The FM said: "Stirring up offence in relation to racial hatred has existed since 1986 with virtually zero controversy whatsoever, so I have absolute faith in Police Scotland's ability to police and enforce this act in a way that is appropriate.

"Police are very well attuned, adept and have ability to deal with vexatious complaints right across the legal framework in which they operate.

"The liability for criminal threshold is incredibly high."

Yousaf then quoted legal expert and former Tory MSP Adam Tomkins who wrote in the Herald that "offensive speech is not criminalised by this legislation".

Tomkins said misgendering people or asserting that biological sex is a reality are “not and never can be a hate crime” under the new law.

Elsewhere at FMQs, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar questioned the First Minister on a report by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health which stated more than 10,000 children are awaiting NHS care, with 50% waiting longer than the required 12 weeks.

Sarwar insisted the problem predated the pandemic as he outlined the case of a mother who has been told her child will have to wait three years for treatment for tonsillitis, forcing her to borrow money to be treated privately.

Yousaf said the findings of the report are being taken "extremely seriously" and will be examined in detail.

He added he was happy to look at the case Sarwar outlined, describing the wait as "horrifically long".