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Covid-19: Hate Crimes

Volume 677: debated on Monday 8 June 2020

What steps she is taking to help prevent hate crimes against (a) people and (b) places of worship while covid-19 lockdown measures are eased. (903007)

What steps she is taking to help prevent hate crimes against (a) people and (b) places of worship while covid-19 lockdown measures are eased. (903008)

The Home Office is committed to rooting out hate crime across our society, and we are in continued conversations and discussions with the police and partners across Government to ensure that these criminals face justice. The Government have a zero-tolerance approach to the vicious misinformation that seeks to blame any race or religion for the spread of all sorts of coronavirus rumours and misinformation. The deliberate spreading of false information in order to undermine our respect and tolerance for each other has been disgraceful, and obviously we are working across Government to stamp this out.

Last month in South Yorkshire there was a tripling in hate crime and, even more shockingly, a doubling in the amount directed at people of east or south Asian descent. Muslim communities have also been attacked and singled out over Ramadan and Eid. What engagement has the Home Secretary had with those communities at risk?

First, the figures that the hon. Lady has cited are simply shocking, disgraceful and unacceptable. That speaks to a small minority of individuals and their lack of tolerance and respect for the communities she mentions. She specifically asks me about the engagement I have had, but of course across Government, and in the Home Office as well, we are engaging with different groups and different leaders of organisations at a ministerial level, but also at an individual level. I would say to her and all colleagues that we absolutely condemn the appalling racial discrimination and the hateful way in which misinformation has been spread, but also the way in which this has been targeted against specific communities.

As we are all aware, there has been a disproportionate number of deaths of black people as a result of the coronavirus, with a number of equality organisations raising concerns about closed online groups mobilising to incite hatred and violence against communities that are becoming covid-19 scapegoats. Stop Hate UK claims that the real number of hate crimes is likely to be much higher as incidents against people and places of worship are significantly under-reported. Can the Secretary of State confirm what specific plans have been put in place proactively to address the feared increase in hate crime?

I thank the hon. Lady for her very important question and the points she has made. Any form of hate crime is of course completely unacceptable, and we expect the perpetrators of such crimes to be brought to justice. I suggest and ask that anybody who is a victim ensures that they engage with the police and has crimes reported. On the Government’s response and work across Government, obviously the Home Office and MHCLG continue to work closely with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, importantly to ensure that all police forces—we police by consent in this country—are providing assistance to communities and community organisations, and having the right kind of dialogue and support. But we are also encouraging that hate crimes—throughout this pandemic, there are no excuses for them—are reported. I and we, across police and across Government, continue to work with civil society partners. That is absolutely the right thing to do, and we will continue to do so.

As the Secretary of State has mentioned, there has been a sharp increase in online hate crime during the coronavirus lockdown. Organisations providing advice and support for victims are predicting a big surge in hate crime following the relaxation of lockdown measures, so what steps are the Government taking to introduce counter-messaging for religious, ethnic and LGBT+ groups that fear an escalation in hate attacks, and what additional funding will be given to the organisations responding to increased demand for advice and support?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and he is right to ask about the cross-Government work that we do, and the support that we give to organisations, in the Home Office, but also with MHCLG. It is clear, in particular, that we see a lot of this activity taking place online. We are absolutely making sure that we can tackle that. We have robust legislation in place to deal with cyber-attacks, internet trolls, harassment, and perpetrators of grossly offensive, menacing and obscene behaviour, and we will continue to do so. Of course, through other means, such as places of worship funds and other activities across Government, we will absolutely continue to make sure that such organisations are resourced in the right way and, importantly, that we continue such community engagement and dialogue.