Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf is being urged to make clear if the Scottish Government will change controversial new hate crime legislation before the end of Holyrood’s October break.
MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee are due to begin their scrutiny of the proposals then.
And committee convener Adam Tomkins insisted it is “really important” any changes are announced before that.
Mr Yuusaf has already acknowledged there are “legitimate concerns” – telling MSPs these will be addressed in the coming months.
But with the committee due to begin its scrutiny of the Bill at stage 1 – where the general principles of the legislation are considered – Mr Tomkins said: “From the committee’s perspective it is really important that happens, and is all upfront and transparent, open and on the record before the committee starts its stage 1 inquiry.
“We absolutely want to have a stage 1 inquiry into legislation which the Government is proposing, not into legislation which the Government used to be proposing and has now changed its mind about.”
He insisted: “We want all of that to be done and be as straightforward as possible before the committee starts work on its stage 1 inquiry which will be pretty much immediately after the October recess.”
The committee has already received some 2,000 submissions in response to its call for views on the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) – with the high level of responses leading some opponents to brand the Bill the most contentious in Holyrood’s history.
BBC Scotland, Catholic bishops, the Humanist Society of Scotland, and the Scottish Police Federation are amongst those to have raised concerns, along with Mr Bean star Rowan Atkinson and writer Val McDermid
Criticism of the Bill has centred around plans for a new offence of “stirring up hatred”, with opponents concerned that this will stifle freedom of expression.
But other organisations spoke out in favour of the proposals, with the Equality Network and Victim Support Scotland both welcoming the Bill.
Speaking about the large number of responses the committee had received, Mr Tomkins said: “It is unambiguously a good thing that the people of Scotland are engaging actively in law making with the Scottish Parliament.”
He added: “The extent to which we want to legislate to criminalise hateful expression in a liberal society that continues to adhere to the values of freedom of speech is obviously not a straightforward matter. It is a matter on which reasonable people may reasonably disagree.”
And while he said the Scottish Government’s proposals had “generated a degree of heat”, the committee convener stressed: “My attitude towards it will be to try to take down the temperature as much as possible and just shine as much light as possible on the Hate Crime Bill.”
He also insisted that MSPs on the committee would “look at all aspects of the Bill” – not just the controversial elements.
Mr Tomkins stated: “Of course the stirring up offences are the single biggest issue in terms of volume of responses and in terms of heat generated, but when the committee looks at the Bill it will be looking at the Bill in the round, it will look at the whole of the Bill.”
Picture: Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf during a debate on the Hate Crime and Public Order bill at the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh. (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA).