Speech in Debate on Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill 23 June 2011

We all acknowledge the significance of the debate and the importance of the issue.
I will speak first about the timing and why that matters.
The Lord Advocate said that we had a choice: we could talk to ourselves for a while, or we could just get on with it.
Even with the very limited scrutiny that the Justice Committee could give to the bill, it was able to raise important questions—not in a hostile way, and not in a way that would be difficult for the Government—that I, for one, had not thought of before.
Our process strengthens any legislation, even when we start from the point of view of supporting a bill.
I hope that, in her summing up, the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs will make it clear that she disagrees fundamentally with the approach that the Lord Advocate took when he made his comments.
After the election, the Scottish Labour Party in particular wished to acknowledge what the SNP had done in winning the election.
We said that we wanted to co-operate with the Scottish Government wherever we could, but that we reserved the right not to do so where we disagreed.
When I said that—I have said it publicly—I did not imagine that the argument that I would get into would be on sectarianism, an issue that all members of the Parliament—particularly Jack McConnell during his time as First Minister—have highlighted and on which they have demanded that action be taken.
It is a matter of huge frustration that, instead of taking the current approach, we could have built unity by working through the parliamentary process on good proposed legislation, and thereby sent out a very strong message.
The Government has made it difficult for people to build that unity.
I object in the strongest of terms to any implication that says that we do not care about sectarianism if we oppose the bill.
That is fundamentally unfair and unjust.
We want to ensure that, if the bill is enacted, the voice coming from the Parliament says that we are united in opposing the behaviour that has promoted it and that we take the matter seriously.
We do not want the law to be implemented in such a way that people can deride and disregard it.
We have lost an opportunity, at this early stage, to build such unity.
We were explicitly told by ministers, by means of an argument that I found I could accept, that the clubs wanted the legislation to be in place before the new season started.
That was a powerful argument for supporting the passage of the bill, but the clubs have in fact told us that that is simply not the case.
We must ask what the truth of the matter is.
Sadly, I am left with the feeling that the First Minister thought that it was a good idea to get the legislation in before the next season, and his ministers have been left to develop a post hoc rationalisation for doing that.

Margo MacDonald: If the First Minister and the Government were, at this late stage, to be persuaded by the arguments that the bill must be given greater scrutiny, would the Opposition find it in their hearts to applaud that step back rather than condemn it?

Johann Lamont: Absolutely. I am happy to condemn the SNP on a range of things, including its objections to the constitutional settlement but, on this issue, we can be united on getting the right legislation through.
During stages 2 and 3 we want to do what we can to make the bill as strong as possible and we will reserve our judgment on the bill until the end of that period.
John Lamont talked about Catholic schools.
In my constituency, I have Catholic and non-denominational schools of which I am immensely proud.
It is inconsistent for people to argue that children going to separate schools causes discrimination, when we know that, historically, that is not the case. Further, it certainly does not make sense for someone who advocates private education to say that those difficulties are the consequence of separating children.
Alison McInnes asked a number of questions and I would welcome the minister making a commitment to answer them in writing, because that would help us in our further consideration of the bill.
There is a place for legislation that sends signals, clarifies issues and ensures that people understand that the subject with which it deals is a problem, so we do not simply say that there is no place for this kind of legislation.
We will make a judgment on the bill after interrogating it further at stages 2 and 3.
I will ask the minister a number of questions.
We accept that there are issues around breach of the peace legislation that can weaken the possibility of securing a conviction.
I accept the role of legislation in naming the crime, which is why I support legislation on stalking and legislation that identifies trafficking and domestic abuse.
I understand why that is being done and I do not think that that, in itself, should be an objection.
We have significant concerns, however, about how the legislation will be policed in public houses.
I am not talking about a ridiculous scenario.
I am concerned about the possibility that someone who is abusive and offends people in a pub in which the television is not on will not commit a crime, while someone who does so when the television is on will commit a crime.
How will that be policed?
Who should someone complain to?
How will we train people who work in pubs to deal with that situation?
That is not a trivial point; it is important.
Related to that is the question whether someone who commits an offence was or was not going to the football, or had been going to go the football but changed their mind.
Those who do not wish this legislation to work will make hay in those areas and we must acknowledge that there are those who do not want it to work.
I am not being mischievous, but there are people who, by the very nature of their bigoted behaviour, will want to find ways of undermining people’s confidence in the legislation.
Equally, we need to know what advice the police are getting.
We are asking the police to implement legislation as it is getting royal assent.
How do we imagine that they are being trained?
What are they to be told that they have to do?
I would like reassurance on that matter.
Another area that we would like the minister to consider further concerns the question of domestic premises.
Bob Doris made the point that sectarianism does not happen only at Celtic and Rangers games, but it is also true that it does not happen only at football games. Do we imaging that the bigot leaves his bigotry at the turnstile as he heads home?
I know that, in our communities, sectarianism is the abuse of choice and that, when a football match is on, someone who has hostility to his neighbour will use their faith against them as a means of abusing them.
We would like to know whether it is possible for the bill to encompass those situations.
It is important that we do not allow the bill to be about just football.
If we had had longer to think about the matter, we might have wanted to amend the hate crime legislation in a different way in order to identify specific behaviours in our community and in the football ground.
In saying all that, I do not want to gainsay the important response to the events of last year.
I want the minister to respond in particular to the points from Tim Hopkins about why condition B in section 5(5) identifies only religious hatred and to say whether she would consider expanding that condition.
I also ask the minister to respond to the critical issue of the sunset clause.
For us, it is not a get-out clause.
We must identify now how the review would take place and who would be involved in it.
I would like the monitoring of the bill to be reported to the Parliament within six months and at regular intervals thereafter.
If we get confidence on those matters, it might be that that would give us confidence in supporting legislation that we know must be seen as a response to unacceptable behaviour that has shamed us and shamed Scotland in the way that the minister identified.