SNP ministers have reversed plans to exempt criticism of transgender identity from Holyrood's Hate Crime Bill.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf last week tabled an amendment to the legislation which would have protected it as freedom of expression.

It said behaviour or material was not to be regarded as threatening or abusive solely on the basis that it involved or included “discussion or criticism of matters relating to transgender identity”.

Tory MSP Liam Kerr tabled a more extensive amendment protecting rejection of beliefs on transgender identity or stating "sex is an immutable biological characteristic”.

However after a backlash in the SNP, Mr Yousaf withdrew his amendment ahead of it going before Holyrood’s Justice committee on Tuesday.

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He tweeted: "Have spoken to Opposition members & we have all agreed not to move our amendments in relation to Freedom of Expression (Hate Crime). 

“By not moving, will hopefully achieve consensus on a broad FoE clause for Stage 3 that covers all characteristics, so no group feels targeted

“We all want to ensure freedom of speech, including the freedom to disagree robustly with any policy, is protected. We also agree that this is not mutually exclusive to protecting the rights of people to be free from hatred. 

“I apologise for any hurt caused - was not my intention.”

He said religious beliefs would still be protected by freedom of expression.

The Bill has been criticised by the religious groups, charities, academics, legal and policing bodies. 

Opponents say it restricts freedom on speech, including in the home.

The Justice Committee demanded changes after a receiving a record 2000 written submissions about it. 

The original Bill would have updated the characteristics protected in law from hate crimes with new offences for behaviour “likely” to stir up hatred, whether done intentionally or not.

Mr Yousaf later agreed to change that so that offences were based on intent. 

Mr Yousaf today announced a new expert working group to consider whether misogynistic behaviour should become a standalone offence under Scots law.

The taskforce will be led by the human-rights lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy and report within 12 months.

Baroness Kennedy said: “This is an important piece of work addressing the special forms of violence, transgression and abuse experienced by women which may emanate from misogyny.

"The law often fails women and the panel will consider the law’s capacity to address such crimes.”