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Hate Crime

Volume 789: debated on Tuesday 13 March 2018


My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat an Answer to an Urgent Question given by Victoria Atkins in the other place yesterday.

“As you will appreciate, the letters described in the Question are part of an ongoing investigation, and as such I am not in a position to comment on them. However, the Government condemn the content of these letters as clearly abhorrent, with no place in decent society. The Government take hate crime and Islamophobia extremely seriously, and the UK has a robust legislative framework to respond to it.

Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law and equal rights define us as a society. The Government are determined to promote these values actively, working in partnership with and alongside Muslim and indeed all faith communities to demonstrate that what we have in common is the best defence against extremists who would seek to divide us.

Our hate crime action plan, published in 2016, sets out our comprehensive approach to tackling hate crime. We have a strong legislative framework to tackle hate crime, including offences of inciting racial and religious hatred, and racial and religiously aggravated offences. The legislation provides equal protection under the law for all ethnic and religious groups. We have sources of expert advice on the nature and causes of hate crime through the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group and the Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime.

We have committed £2.4 million over three years to help protect places of worship that have been subject to, or are vulnerable to, a hate crime attack. We also committed a further £1 million, following the terrible Finsbury Park terror attack in June last year, to help protect places of worship and associated community centres that are vulnerable to attack on racial, religious or ideological grounds. So far we have funded 45 mosques under both schemes.

We have also funded Tell MAMA to record anti-Muslim hatred incidents and to support victims. From this year, we have made it mandatory for police forces to disaggregate religious hate crime data held by the police to reveal the true scale and nature of the problem, which we are determined to tackle”.

My Lords, these disgusting letters have, quite righty, caused revulsion in our communities and been condemned. I pay tribute to community and faith leaders, charities and others for what they have done. They and others will not let us be divided. Domestic extremism needs to be dealt with. Can the noble Lord reassure us that the Anderson review recommendations to the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre will start to produce the threat assessments for domestic extremism? Can he reassure the House that the police have the resources they need? He will of course be aware that the police got less than half of what they asked for to deal with terrorism.

On the first question, of course we want to take those recommendations forward, and perhaps I could write in more detail to the noble Lord on that. On the question of police resources, I am aware of the exchanges that took place in the other place yesterday. After speaking to all forces in England and Wales, the Government have provided a comprehensive funding settlement that will increase total investment in the police system by around £450 million in 2018-19. Overall public investment in policing will grow from £11.9 billion in 2015-16 to around £13 billion in 2018-19. We believe that the settlement enables police and crime commissioners to increase their direct funding by up to £270 million. It is then up to chief constables to decide how best to deploy officers in their force to effectively serve and engage their communities and to build trust and confidence. The Government have made it absolutely clear that this is one of the priorities that police forces must engage in as they deploy those resources.

My Lords, these letters are right-wing terrorism and incitement to terrorism. They are the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in pursuit of political aims, and we should call it terrorism. Taking up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about police resources, in the other place the Minister was asked whether the police had sufficient resources to deal with these incidents. The Minister replied:

“Of course, we have increased them …We ask the police whether they have the resources that they need, and the Home Secretary acts accordingly”.

In this House last week, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, said:

“The police told us last year the number of additional police officers needed to do their job. We feel that in the budget they can attain this year they will have those police numbers—and more—to do the job that they do”.—[Official Report, 8/3/18; col. 1249.]

However, the Police Chiefs’ Council, in response to the most recent budget settlement, said:

“While the extra funding to tackle terrorism is welcomed, counterterrorism policing is considering tough choices as their settlement equates to a less than 2% increase on current spending at a time when demand has grown by 30%”.

Can the Minister say how these statements can be reconciled?

My Lords, the noble Lord has been a policeman and is now a politician. He will know that the figures to which he has referred can be looked at from two dimensions. The police have their own perception. The Government have the one that I just set out: that there has been a real-terms increase in resources available to the police. On top of the resources that we are putting into the police, it is also important to put on the record that we are taking forward our plans for tackling hate crime. There are a number of other initiatives that we have taken in order to tackle far and extreme right-wing activism, for example. There is the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group and its achievements. We have also funded Tell MAMA, which I mentioned a few moments ago, with £1.9 million. We are putting £1.2 million into Remembering Srebrenica and we are putting £2.4 million over three years into the security of all faith establishments, including mosques. There are a number of other initiatives, including £900,000 to support community projects, so on top of the resources for the police—and we can disagree about what perspective is put on those—there are other initiatives that we are taking to tackle hate crime.

My Lords, it gives me no comfort or pleasure to say this, but for the sake of completeness I would like to put on record some details of the letter that has now been received by households across the United Kingdom, including those of some Members of Parliament. This is a letter that gives out points for punishing a Muslim. A few examples are: points for verbally abusing a Muslim, pulling the headscarf off a Muslim woman, throwing acid in the face of a Muslim, beating up a Muslim, torturing a Muslim with electrocution, butchering a Muslim with a knife—and it goes on. This needed to be put on record to describe what is happening in 2018.

I received a long message from a friend. At the end of it, she said:

“I urge you, Sayeeda, please do not go out on 3 April. It is Punish a Muslim day”.

I will, along with many other Muslims, be going out on 3 April because we will not be intimidated in this way. The facets of hate crime—children being bullied in playgrounds, women being assaulted on our streets, the media destroying reputations, the low-level and the high levels of Islamophobia that are now prevalent in our society—add up to what I call in my book the Seven Sins of Islamophobia, showing the way in which even the respectable now rationalise bigotry.

Will the Minister urge the Prime Minister to go further on this issue? I am delighted that the initiatives that he referred to—the cross-government Working Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred, Tell MAMA, Remembering Srebrenica—are all initiatives that I spearheaded in government, and which I am grateful are still being run by the Government. At what point, however, are we going to step this up and face down the awful scourge of Islamophobia—which, unfortunately, is increasing year by year?

I applaud the courageous words of my noble friend and her statement that she will not be intimidated. She will know better than I do that many of the Muslim community are being intimidated by this leaflet when it arrives; they do not know where it came from or how the sender got their address. That is why there is a serious police investigation to find the source of the leaflets, and I urge anybody who receives one to report it and, as my noble friend suggested, to contact Tell MAMA.

The Government condemn the content of these letters. As I said in the Statement, it is abhorrent and has no place in a decent society. I know that the Prime Minister, who as Home Secretary took a number of initiatives in partnership with my noble friend, will want to reflect on the exchanges in the other place yesterday and today to see whether we can build on some of the other initiatives that my noble friend referred to and whether there is further action that we can take in order to counter hate crime in this country today.

My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord for his response and pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for all the work that she did. This is deeply tragic and upsetting, and it is clear that it is part of a larger campaign to vilify, divide and terrorise Muslim communities in this country. It is something that we must never give in to. I certainly will not be bowed by threats. I have had death threats purely because I come from Muslim heritage; I was told on social media that my head would be chopped off and put on a spike outside Parliament, and the police were involved. But I will not give in, and I am sure that many people will not. However, there are very vulnerable people in our community.

I say also that the media have to take responsibility for the constant drip-drip of vilification in their headlines and the finger-pointing at Muslims generally that we have seen gradually reaching fever pitch in this country. Programmes give time to peddlers of hate crimes. There are lurid headlines and finger-pointing, which I mentioned. Indeed, the Minister had to correct a Member of this House and point out that the sort of language that we are hearing from politicians has no place in this society.

I have one question. The Government mentioned the Prevent strategy. Do the people who take part in it have the expertise to deal with far-right extremism of this kind? We know that the strategy deals with Islamophobia, but do they have that kind of experience? How confident is he?

The hate crime action plan that I referred to a moment ago is going to be refreshed this year, and we will take on board the points that she and other noble Lords have made. I will make one final point: yesterday there was a Commonwealth service in Westminster Abbey, where all faiths were represented and a script from every religion was read out. That is the sort of country that we are and should remain, and we should put the issues that the noble Baroness and others have referred to in the perspective of this broader picture.

My Lords, on behalf of these Benches and, I am sure, on behalf of the Church, I want to say that any attack on a person or community on the basis of their faith or their race is abhorrent and has no place in a decent, civilised society. As a Christian leader I stand in solidarity with my Muslim friends and with all those in and outside this building who have been directly affected or are fearful and anxious. In the light of the Government’s forthcoming integration strategy, will the Minister please comment on what practical action the Government intend to take to strengthen the relationships at grass-roots level, where it matters so much, between Muslim and other religious communities and to reassure us that the necessary resources will be committed to make that meaningful?

The Muslim community will be reassured by the words of solidarity that the right reverend Prelate has just outlined. On the question of the integration strategy, if there were to be a Statement on the strategy in the very near future, it would be made by my noble friend sitting next to me—and he will have taken on board the requests as to what should be in its contents.