To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they propose to take to deal with the recent increase in hate crimes and community tensions reported by the National Police Chiefs Council.
My Lords, we have one of the strongest legislative frameworks in the world to tackle hate crime. We are also working across government and with the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and, importantly, community partners to provide reassurance and to send out a very clear message to anyone: hate crime will not be tolerated and that we will take action against those who promote hatred.
My Lords, this year is the 50th anniversary of the Race Relations Act and the Government are still talking about action plans to tackle what that Act failed to do then, and what we are still failing to do now. Will the Government’s proposed action plan curtail the widespread use of the internet to spread racial abuse and discord? Is the Minister aware that the current training for police officers has been judged to bear little resemblance to working on the front line? May I pass to the Minister evidence I have of a race-hate statement on the internet, coming from a named person in a named town in Lancashire? When my informant passed all the information to the Lancashire Constabulary, it said it could not deal with it until it had been reported to the Metropolitan Police. Presumably, the Met would then pass it back to Lancashire. Will the Government stamp out this bureaucratic and buck-passing behaviour by the police, when the crisis calls for resolute action?
On the final point, if the noble Baroness shares that evidence with me, we will of course follow it up. As I have already indicated, the hate crime action plan is imminent; it has cross-government approval and will be looking to tackle some of the very issues the noble Baroness has highlighted. I would also highlight a few of the steps the Government have already taken. From this Dispatch Box I have previously spoken about both race and religious hate crime, which we have seen increase over recent years. From 1 April this year, for example, every police force across the country is now required to record race and religious hate crime for what it is, by category. The important thing, which I know as someone who has been subjected to this crime both on the internet and elsewhere, is that we communicate. We need to have the confidence of communities, so that they know they can report hate crime. As the noble Baroness has highlighted, the most important area is follow-up action.
My Lords, why does the Minister believe there has been a recent increase in these crimes? Is it anything to do with the recent referendum, or is it for some other reason? What will the Government do now to address the problems that have been created over the last few months?
The noble Lord raises an important point. We have seen even in recent history that, regrettably, there were some who used the referendum result to invoke and incite hatred against different communities. I myself visited the Polish centre in west London. Thankfully, these remain sporadic attacks. We have also seen a rise in attacks on particular communities; particular BME communities have been targeted. Recently I met religious faith leaders as well. We talked about reassurance and the importance of reporting religious hate crime, race hate crime or any kind of hate crime, and then following it up practically. This is an evolving area. It is unfortunate that there are many in society who suffer this from the few who seek to make an issue of race, religion or any other issue. We need to stamp it out and send a clear message in that respect.
My Lords, it is easy enough to focus on the statistics that clearly show that race and other hate crimes have been on the increase over the past few years. What we are not focusing on is the increase in prejudice and the way we have been feeding it in recent years and even before that. If you analyse all the national newspaper coverage of political statements that are made almost every day, you will see what we have been feeding young people daily: a diet of xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiments, which has created not only the responses we see on social media but what is happening on our streets. What are we doing to educate current and future generations so that we can create cohesive and peaceful communities? What encouragement will be given to politicians and leading influential figures in our society to stop using their cleverness to conceal the xenophobic and other nasty messages that are part of what they are saying?
The noble Lord speaks from experience and I appreciate his expertise in this area. We have talked of education before, and it is important that that forms a central, core part of what we teach in our schools and colleges. At the same time, we need to recognise that co-operation between communities needs to be heightened. Finally—this applies not just to this subject—we still have to exert positive optimism about our country. We remain one of the most successful, multicultural, multifaith societies, in which people are proud of their identity, regardless of cultural, community or religious background. We must all stand up—politicians, the press, and anyone involved with this—to ensure that wherever we find xenophobic hate, we stamp it out.
My Lords, I concur absolutely with the noble Lord’s final statement; nevertheless, we have seen a 500% increase in reported hate and race crime, and many more incidents are not reported. What is being done, for example, in schools where people from eastern European, Muslim and Jewish backgrounds are being targeted? What support is being given to schools to make sure that this is reported and dealt with, so that schools get the support they need to tackle this terrible iniquity in our society?
The noble Baroness is right to raise the issue of reported hate crime, and we have all seen such incidents reported since the EU referendum. Thankfully, over the last week or two there has been a slight decrease compared to the initial response, but even so, she raises an important point. We are working with schools in partnership, and most recently we are exploring ways in which the police can base themselves in community centres to build reassurance that such crimes should be reported. The police are working hand in hand with schools and local communities to ensure that all hate crime is reported.
My Lords, much of what has happened in schools is of course not hate crime, because the children involved are under the age of criminal responsibility. A number of anecdotes have been relayed to me, largely from members of my family who are teachers, about increases in racial abuse among very young schoolchildren. Are the Government keeping a record so that we know statistically whether there has been an increase in racial abuse among children who are still of junior school age?
I will need to follow up that specific point with colleagues in the Department for Education, but I agree with the noble Baroness. I have three children of my own, and I know of the kinds of comments that are sometimes made. Children are far too innocent to know that comments are being made which may not be race hate crime—she is quite right on that—but which have undertones of racism or religious prejudice. On training and education, it is important that we consider not just the children, but that teachers are also well equipped to deal with such issues in schools.