We are committed to tackling hate crime in any form. Forgive me, Mr Speaker, may I apply for this question to be grouped with Questions 5 and 7? The numbering has changed.
As I was saying, Mr Speaker, the cross-Government hate crime action plan, published in July 2016, focuses on the reduction of hate crime, the increasing of reporting, and ensuring that all criminal justice partners deliver the appropriate outcomes for victims.
I realise that, as a distinguished lawyer, the hon. and learned Gentleman’s speciality is words—preferably a large number of them—rather than numbers.
Like many others in the Chamber, I was very concerned about the spike in the number of racial and religiously aggravated offences after the referendum. Will my hon. and learned Friend please tell the House whether that trend has continued in recent months?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. I think we were all concerned about the spike that clearly occurred after the referendum. The total number of racial and religiously aggravated offences reported in July this year was 41% higher than in the previous year, but I am happy to report that the number of such reported offences has now declined and is at similar levels to before the referendum.
Will my hon. and learned Friend look carefully at the law relating to abusive and offensive online posts? Often when I look at the remarks that are made, particularly when someone has died, I find it quite incredible that newspapers host them, and I think these cowards should have their names and addresses printed along with the offensive posts.
My hon. Friend raises a proper point of increasing concern. I assure him that anonymity—perceived or real—is not an escape route for perpetrators. The use of false online profiles and websites still means that people are traceable, and they can and will be pursued, just like the appalling individual who, only this week, was convicted of offences arising from a racist campaign against the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger).
I am grateful for my hon. and learned Friend’s answer. Can he say more specifically what the Government are doing to tackle hate crime against those with learning disabilities and autism?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an issue that has been of consistent importance to me since my appointment to this office. I am glad to note that there has been a rise of 44% in the number of prosecutions for disability hate crime generally in the last year. When it comes to learning disabilities and autism, I am a strong supporter of local advocacy groups, which will often be the first port of call when a complaint is made by people with an impairment. The evidence shows that where the police work with these groups, more people with a learning difficulty will come forward, and I want to see this good practice spread much further.
But given that on the ground in north Wales the number of prosecutions generally is falling, how can we ensure that public perceptions are reflected in prosecuting policy so that more individuals who commit crime get taken to court and dealt with by magistrates, who tell me that their courts are empty?
I am following the position very carefully in all parts of England and Wales. The hon. Gentleman is right that there are some areas, such as his, where there has not been the rise in prosecutions that we have seen in others. We have to further encourage consistency. The training that has been rolled out in recent months to all the CPS areas needs to bed in. With that approach, I think we will see a rise across the board not just in the prosecution of these offences, but in the confidence of victims to come forward.
Does the Solicitor General agree that prosecution of hate crimes is helped when the victim is supported enough to give evidence, and that more training must be provided by the teams that deal with hate crime UK-wide to ensure that all possible support is afforded to victims and their families?
The hon. Gentleman knows from his experience in Northern Ireland that the Leonard Cheshire Disability organisation has an excellent scheme in place to support victims. This echoes the point that I made earlier about the need for such best practice to be spread to give better support.
I am sure the Solicitor General would agree that regional variations in conviction rates for disability hate crime are unacceptable. Will he set out how such convictions will be dealt with, so that they will not depend on where a person lives?
The hon. Gentleman is right to reiterate the points that have been made. I assure him that the training that is being provided applies to all CPS regions; it is being done on a national basis. That means that in whatever part of the country it is, there should be the same awareness and understanding about the sensitivities that apply to disability hate crime, and of the need to stop looking at people with disabilities through the prism of credibility; rather, we need to look at the person beyond the disability, understanding that their voice has to be heard.