Sectarianism bill revised timetable outlined

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Image caption Scottish Labour says football fans should be included in efforts to tackle sectarianism

The Scottish government has laid out a revised timetable for new anti-sectarian legislation, with a view to passing a bill by the end of the year.

The move came as Scottish Labour called for football fans to be included in efforts to tackle sectarianism.

Last week, First Minister Alex Salmond put the passage of the bill on hold for six months amid concerns it was being rushed through parliament.

Ministers had wanted it passed before the start of the football season.

The new revised timetable is subject to agreement by the Parliamentary Bureau.

Mr Salmond announced the delay to the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill during first minister's questions at Holyrood.

He told parliament more time was needed to take a range of evidence and views on the proposals, which have already passed Stage 1 of the legislative process.

Abusive behaviour

Under the new timetable, which has been discussed by the justice committee and opposition members, Stage 2 of the bill would be completed by 11 November.

Stage 3 would be completed by 30 November at the latest, with Royal Assent planned by the end of the year.

The government said this would allow for at least seven Stage 2 committee sessions after the summer recess.

A spokesperson for Legal Affairs Minister Roseanna Cunningham said: "On this issue above all, it is vital that we move forward together as a parliament and as a society.

"Now that the bill has secured overwhelming support at Stage 1, the new timetable being discussed enables substantial democratic scrutiny of the bill and the achievement of its important objectives by the end of the year."

The bill aims to stamp out abusive behaviour from football fans, whether they are watching matches in a stadium, in the pub or commenting online.

It would raise the maximum jail term from six months to five years.

The new legislation has followed several high-profile football-related incidents.

These include trouble at Rangers/Celtic games and the sending of suspected bombs to Celtic manager Neil Lennon and two other high-profile supporters of the club.

'Frozen out'

Meanwhile, the Scottish Labour Party called on the Scottish government to include football supporters' groups in its efforts to tackle sectarianism.

The party claimed fans had been "frozen out" of the Joint Action Group (JAG), which was set up by the Scottish government to try to tackle the sectarian problems which have blighted the Scottish game.

Labour said JAG included politicians, police and football chiefs but not fans.

Labour's deputy justice spokesman James Kelly MSP said: "We can't tackle sectarianism without talking to the terraces. Fans need to be fully involved in eradicating this behaviour from Scottish society.

"It's concerning to see that fans haven't been directly involved with the sectarianism action group so far and I urge ministers to meet with fans as soon as possible to ensure they are involved in developing a response to the scourge of sectarianism."

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