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Brexit: Hate Crimes

Volume 778: debated on Thursday 19 January 2017

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of concerns raised by the Chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, what assessment has been made of the likelihood of increased hate crimes against non-UK EU nationals living in the UK, following the publication of the Supreme Court’s decision on Article 50 and the capacity of relevant authorities to deal with the consequences of any such crimes.

My Lords, we are working very closely with the police and community organisations to monitor any changes in hate crime levels. One of the first things that the Home Secretary did in July last year was to publish a comprehensive new hate crime action plan to drive forward work to tackle hate crime. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have both said on numerous occasions that there is no place in the UK for hate crime.

My Lords, I am not sure that that fully addresses my Question. All of us want to maintain good relations with our EU neighbours as we move forward on Brexit. We do not want another spike in hate crime, as we saw following the referendum, or the attacks on judges following the court decision. This week the Prime Minister said that,

“every stray word and every hyped up media report is going to make it harder for us to get the right deal for Britain”.

Did the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, not get the memo? Can the noble Baroness confirm whether the Prime Minister has conveyed the Government’s concern to those sections of the media to which she alluded, as we all agree that such histrionic reports can only damage the interests and the reputation of the UK?

The noble Baroness makes a very valid point in terms of the spike in hate crimes that we saw last year following the referendum on our membership of the EU. Some of the spikes in hate crime that we saw were quite unexpected, particularly as regards the Polish community. I know that the Home Secretary is today meeting consular staff from all the EU embassies. After the referendum last year and the spike in hate crime, we engaged very quickly with the ambassadors, and they now have a single point of contact. The noble Baroness is mouthing “media” to me across the Dispatch Box and I will get to that. The point she makes is very important: we all have a duty to behave in a responsible way. However, it is through society being not just tolerant but welcoming of the various communities who live in our country that we will make progress, and the media are part and parcel of that.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on emphasising how important it is that we all behave in a responsible way. But can she think of a single precedent of when Ministers have been asked to answer a hypothetical Question in connection with a hypothetical outcome? Is it not extraordinary that it is in order to ask a Question of this nature?

It is hypothetical but I hope I can reassure my noble friend that the Government are prepared and have learned the lessons from some of the events we have seen in the last year. Again, to go back to the noble Baroness’s Question, some of the language has been quite inflammatory, both in the media and from some members of the community following the EU referendum. I think that both as a society and as a Government, we are prepared, and we are engaged consistently and constantly with representatives of the various communities across the country.

My Lords, the latest crime figures show an increase of about 200 hate crimes a week in 2015-16 compared with the previous year. There has been a 40% increase in hate crime since 2013-14. This is not a spike but a trend and police action is simply addressing the symptoms. What assessment have the Government made of the causes of these increases and do they believe, as we do, that the increase in populism and nationalism is behind these significant and worrying increases?

I will get to the point about pre-referendum, because in fact the numbers of hate crimes reported are now down to pre-referendum levels. The reasons behind some of the hate crime were many and varied. The Polish community, for probably the first time in its history in this country, experienced in Hammersmith an unprecedented attack, and the Polish centre in Hammersmith was one of the first centres to benefit from the community demonstration project funding. As I say, the reasons that motivate people to provoke hatred against other people are many and varied, and it is generally based on certain characteristics of those people and those communities, and it has gone down to pre-referendum levels since then.

My Lords, on 24 June we were all shocked by the level of responses of hate demonstrated by the recorded and reported incidents. I declare an interest in my work as chair of Kick It Out, where we monitor—and have done for the last 23 years—hate incidents that are at the lower level of everyday abuse. There is nothing new about the level of hatred that exists within our society. We have to tackle the issue of prejudice, which we are not doing sufficiently. To blame Brexit as a cause of what we saw on 24 June and since is delusional. Quite frankly, in the context of racial abuse, you cannot blame the levels of homophobic abuse and abuse of disabled people that we are witnessing specifically on Brexit. How are we taking action to effectively tackle prejudice, which is what feeds bigotry and hatred?

The noble Lord raises a very important point, which is that it was not Brexit per se that was the cause of this hatred but Brexit was used as an occasion to promote prejudice and hatred. The Government have done many things since 2010 to try to tackle this. I mentioned the hate crime action plan that the Home Secretary produced upon becoming Home Secretary. We have made changes to legislation that offer further protection for transgender and disabled people, and those have led to the first convictions for the offence of stirring up hatred on grounds of sexual orientation. We have also improved the police recording of hate crime. Forces now capture data on all five of the monitored hate crime strands. We have also recently launched a funding scheme to help protect places of worship from hate crime and to tackle hate crime at a local level.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that drawing the line between hate crime and the protection of free speech is one of the most difficult jobs that the police service has to do? In the event of difficulties following this judgment, will she ask the Home Secretary to support police action, perhaps slightly more quickly than the Lord Chancellor did on the last occasion?

I agree with the noble Lord that there is a distinction. How the police operate is of course up to the police, but we certainly support them.

Is the Minister satisfied with the level of punishment of perpetrators of hate crime and with the provision for education of such people? Is it not clear that, unless and until those guilty of hate crime are taught a lesson in both senses of the term, they are likely to continue with their poisonous attitude?

I am satisfied with the level of punishment. The noble Lord raises a point that was mentioned in previous Questions today—that is, education. We engage the Anne Frank Trust in going into schools, which is an incredibly important initiative. It is essential not to forget what happened in the past. We always say that it will never happen again but it does, and for children to have at the forefront of their minds man’s inhumanity to man in the past helps us in the future.