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Hate Crime: Homophobic and Misogynistic Attacks

Volume 798: debated on Tuesday 11 June 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether current statute is a sufficient deterrent in preventing homophobic and misogynistic attacks.

My Lords, crimes motivated by hatred are particularly abhorrent. The Government have asked the Law Commission to review the adequacy and parity of protection offered by the law relating to hate crime. This review covers existing protected characteristics, including sexual orientation, and whether other strands, including gender, should be added.

My Lords, it is appalling to think that if you are gay or a woman, getting on a bus or walking down a street puts you at risk of abuse and physical attack for no reason other than you being who you are. I know that the Minister will condemn these attacks. But will she also speak to the Home Secretary and the Minister for Policing to ensure that they are talking to the Met Commissioner, chief constables and police and crime commissioners in England and Wales so that there is no doubt that these criminal acts will not be tolerated in 2019, that firm action will always be taken and that, where necessary, the law will be strengthened?

The noble Lord is absolutely right that I join him in wholeheartedly condemning the attacks in London and Southampton. Perhaps the London one was the most surprising of all, given London’s diversity and its generally tolerant and liberal approach; it is being widely reported as both homophobic and misogynistic. There may be other factors but that is for the court to determine. The noble Lord will know that the hate crime action plan sets out our plans to tackle all forms of hate crime. We refreshed it last year; in addition, our VAWG refresh, which was issued in March, includes sexual harassment. We are committed to conducting a study of sexual harassment.

My Lords, racially and religiously aggravated offences carry a maximum penalty that is one step higher on the sentencing ladder than the same offences if motivated by homophobia, transphobia or disability hatred. The Conservative Party, in both its 2015 and 2017 manifestos, said that it was going to review this. Why are the Government presiding over a situation where homophobic, transphobic and disability hate crime are treated as being less serious than race or religious hate crime?

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that I do not think they are in any way less serious. However, I acknowledge the concerns over the parity of different strands of hate crime within existing legislation. That is precisely why we asked the Law Commission to conduct a full review of hate crime legislation and where there might be gaps. I know that it will consult widely later this year and make recommendations to government on this next year.

My Lords, as I have already pointed out to the Minister, one of the gaps in hate crime legislation is the fact that misogyny is still not a hate crime. As she said, this was a hate crime of sexual orientation but also of misogyny. Will the Government just get on their feet and make misogyny a hate crime?

As I explained to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, the Law Commission is looking into where there are gaps and consulting widely on this. When a review is done, it is always good to ensure that you have enough material from consultation and that wider views are taken into account when reviewing any sort of line of legislation. The commission will report back next year.

My Lords, why can the Government not get the sentences equal before the Law Commission reports? That could be done in any of the other legislation that comes through.

The noble and learned Baroness is quite right. Sentencing can be uplifted for a number of different strands of hate crime and aggravating factors can enable that sentencing uplift.

My Lords, I am sure that Members of your Lordships’ House would expect these Benches to join in the outrage at these attacks. We do so fully, condemning them on behalf of the Church of England and of other churches and faith communities. The Minister will know—and I admit—that the churches and other faith communities have their own debates over sexual relationships and practices, including same-sex ones. However, does she know that the Church of England has developed a set of pastoral principles aimed at eradicating the seeds of prejudice, fear and ignorance? Does she also know that that builds on the initiative of our four-year programme in schools, stopping the seeds of hate that she described germinating at a very early age?

I acknowledge the work done by the Church of England in this area. I thank the right reverend Prelate for reminding me of the pastoral principles. The Church of England has been quite effective in its support for our trans community by actively dispelling some of the prejudices towards its members. He is right that the seeds are sown at a very young age. Relationship education is, therefore, very important to dispel those notions early on.

My Lords, I cannot be the only Member of your Lordships’ House who thinks that Section 28 poured pure poison into the lifeblood of this country. Will the Minister join me and express from the Dispatch Box her support for Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, the head teacher of Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham, who has bravely resisted a homophobic—what would one call it?

A homophobic mob is protesting against some teaching in the school. As I understand it, these children are being taught about relationships; that some children have two mummies and some have two daddies. That is all it is, and if people do not like it, that is the way the modern world is.

I was alluding to that very thing when I answered the right reverend Prelate. The noble Baroness is absolutely right and I am glad that she raised this. I have the utmost admiration and every sympathy for Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, who has had to face abuse. Children of four years of age are not taught about gay sex. They are taught about relationships and that relationships can look different in different households. That is what breeds the tolerance which I was addressing in my answer to the right reverend Prelate.