The Law Commission published its comprehensive review of hate crime laws on 7 December. Recognising the complex issues that the Law Commission has identified, the Government will carefully consider those recommendations and provide a further response as quickly as possible.
Women and girls in Dulwich and West Norwood and across the country are desperate to see action on the sexual harassment they experience daily on our streets and in public spaces. The suggestion from the Prime Minister that these offences should simply be prosecuted under existing laws demonstrates that he is as out of touch with the public mood on this issue as he is on everything else. The Law Commission recommended that the Government undertake a review of the need for a specific offence of public sexual harassment. Will the Minister confirm that the review will be undertaken swiftly, so that new legislation can be brought forward without further delay?
I can reassure the hon. Lady and the whole House that the Prime Minister takes all forms of sexual harassment against women and girls extremely seriously. That is why we are focusing on the Law Commission’s recommendations, which involve a number of complex issues, as she will understand. If there are gaps in the specific laws that tackle this appalling crime, the Government will act.
To follow up on the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), a kite was flown in The Telegraph saying that the Government were absolutely going to put in place a public sexual harassment law, as has been called for, as has been suggested by the Law Commission and as was talked about in the violence against women and girls strategy that was published six months ago. Now the Minister is standing in front of us and saying, “We are still looking at it.” Was what the Home Office official told The Telegraph right, or is what the Minister is saying right? The Government committed to this law six months ago, so when can we expect it?
I am happy to put on record the official position, regardless of what has or has not been reported in The Telegraph, which unfortunately I have not read. We are responding to the Law Commission’s review as quickly as possible, as I already said to the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood.
Our Streets Now, Plan UK and a variety of organisations from Girlguiding to the Soroptimists all agree with the Law Commission that hate crimes would best be prosecuted as a specific law. Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that she will look for a legislative vehicle to make that possible quickly?
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this issue again and for representing the views of many across the country. She should be in no doubt that we take these horrific crimes seriously, and that is why we published the violence against women and girls strategy, which sets out a number of measures to keep women and girls safe. We are working at pace to work through the complex issues identified by our legal friends so that we are in a position to bring forward a response swiftly.
With regard to the wider strategy on tackling hate crime, Home Office statistics show that there are about 124,000 hate crime incidents. Under the category religion, there was a real rise in Islamophobia and antisemitism. What will the Government do in their strategy to address those two real issues concerning our society?
I thank my hon. Friend very much for making representations on the important issue of the persecution of religious faiths in this country. The Government take these issues extremely seriously, and that is why we will publish a refreshed hate crime strategy. We are also investing in a number of measures to keep communities safe, wherever they may worship. Freedom of worship in this country is a vital principle that we all believe in.