Skip to main content

Disability Hate Crimes

Volume 530: debated on Thursday 23 June 2011

The Government are committed to better recording of hate crimes, and important progress has already been made. Since April, police forces have been formally collecting data on disability hate crime for the first time. We are working with key voluntary sector partners, including disabled people’s organisations such as Voice UK and RADAR, to encourage more reporting of hate crimes, and I think that that will make a significant contribution.

In the light of tragic cases such as that of Fiona Pilkington, and the publication this week of Mencap’s “Don’t Stand By” report, does the Minister agree that police forces must identify the key challenges to the tackling of disability hate crime, and must use the data that they collect to improve the fight against that appalling abuse?

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important for us to learn lessons. I welcome Mencap’s report, and was delighted to attend its launch earlier this week.

The police face a number of challenges, including not just data collection but the need to show leadership, to show that they are making the issue a priority, and to ensure that the right training is provided. I pay tribute to organisations such as Breakthrough UK in Manchester and BSafe Blackpool, with whose representatives I have discussed the issue at length.

Has the Minister discussed with the Secretary of State for Justice whether the proposal in his Bill for the duties relating to all hate crimes to be wrapped up into a general duty will enable the current focus on individual groups to be retained?

The hon. Lady has raised an important question. The first stage in the overall process involves our ensuring that we are aware of the magnitude of the problem, and it is therefore important that, since April, hate crimes have for the first time been recorded. As the hon. Lady suggests, we must ensure that we have access to a breakdown of the figures, and I will ensure that the appropriate people in the appropriate Ministry are aware of our feelings in that regard.

As you know, Mr Speaker, I had hoped to ask a supplementary question about the impact on women of charges for learning English as a second language. I am disappointed that the Secretary of State, who has overall responsibility across Government for the women and equalities agenda, has decided that how that affects women is not an issue for her. I wonder whether she is considering only Home Office matters, but in any event this is a Home Office matter.

Mencap’s “Stand By Me” report makes a clear demand for specialist policing. It reveals straightforwardly that police authorities with specialist police resources deal with disability hate crime more effectively than other authorities. Given that the Home Secretary is cutting the police force by removing 10,000 officers, what action will the Minister take to ensure that every police area has a specialist resource that is trained and able to deal with the issue?

As the hon. Lady will know, Cabinet Office guidance on parliamentary questions governs what questions are answered in this Question Time.

It is important for us to take account of individual areas in the country and the needs that may arise there. The position is different in each police authority area, and local police constables and chief police constables should be able to take account of that. However, the police alone do not provide the answer. Disabled people’s organisations have an important role to play in helping to ensure that disabled people feel that they have an opportunity to report crimes accurately, and I pay tribute to those organisations for the work that they are doing in that regard.

Until recently there has been no formal collection of data on disability hate crime. We are committed to promoting better recording of it, and from April this year forces started collecting the relevant data. When the statistics are published next summer we will have a clearer picture of local patterns and trends, which will help the police target their resources in the most effective way.

The Minister will know that following the publication of the Mencap report on Monday, there are some positive suggestions about how we can encourage further reporting of hate crime. Will she agree to have a discussion with the Association of Chief Police Officers to consider what I know from experience are very difficult issues?

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be relieved to know that we are already having such conversations with ACPO. It is very important that those discussions include disabled people and the organisations that represent them, because they have an important role to play.

I welcome the Minister’s comments on reporting, but how can we give disability organisations and disabled people themselves the confidence to report crime? What work can take place on that?

I reiterate the role that user-led organisations can have, such as the one in Blackpool, BSafe, that I visited with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). Such organisations can have a real effect by giving people the confidence to report. If they have the right systems in place—we are helping RADAR develop those systems—third-party reporting can be effective as well.

As schools already report any incidents of hatred against disabled people, will the Minister work with the Department for Education to ensure that the trends reported in schools are carried over to Home Office figures? Will the two Departments work together so that if there is a problem of hatred against disabled people in schools, the Home Office is aware of it and will work with schools to address it?

I was surprised to discover that the data have not been collected, so that trends cannot be found. I welcome the Government’s commitment to collecting those data. May I suggest, however, that the Government also consider the catalyst of the crime that is reported, particularly as a number of disabled people say that they have been spat at in the street or called scroungers because of some of the headlines that have been in the newspapers?

After 13 years of the previous Administration, it is a shame that speedier action was not taken on that. I am glad that the coalition Government have taken action so quickly.

The hon. Lady is right to say that we are dealing with the symptoms, not the causes, of the problem. That is why we are putting a great deal of effort and energy into ensuring that there are positive images of disabled people. We have a consultation at the moment on how to involve more disabled people in political life. Having disabled people at the centre of decision making will help to change people’s attitudes.