To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports of a rise in the number of homophobic attacks.
My Lords, the latest official data indicates an increase in police-recorded hate crime across all strands, including sexual orientation. The increase is mostly due to improved police recording. The latest Crime Survey for England and Wales indicates a downward trend in hate crime incidents overall over the past decade. However, any instance is one too many and the Government stand alongside all victims of this abhorrent crime.
I am sure that the Minister agrees that it is normal and natural for some people to be born gay but that it is not normal and natural to be born homophobic—that is a learned prejudice. That being the case, what more will the Government do to support schools teaching inclusive relationship education that face demonstrations outside their gates? These do nothing to help eliminate homophobic prejudice and violence.
I totally agree with the noble Lord that nobody is born with prejudice in their heart: these things are learned only from the external environment. In terms of what the Government are doing to get this message over to children, who are not themselves yet full of prejudice, the Home Office has funded multiple projects aimed at tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic hate crime. These include the Kick It Out campaign, which is a football project; the Barnardo’s project, which works with schools in East Riding—I have visited the project and it is wonderful—and Galop, which produced and distributed a series of fact sheets and carried out research to understand and tackle online homophobic, biphobic and transphobic abuse. He will also have seen some of the campaigns that we have had recently on public transport.
The Home Secretary, in his Conservative leadership campaign, pledged to put 20,000 more police officers back on the streets—a figure that is very similar to the reduction in the number of police officers since 2010. Previously the Government have sought to argue that the number of police officers does not affect the crime rate, and the Home Secretary, with his campaign pledge, has now managed the feat of going off-message on his own policy line. Does this mean that the Government now accept that the incidence of crime, including ugly homophobic attacks, is influenced by the number of police officers in post and not just by improved police recording, as the Minister has suggested, and that we are all now paying a price for the substantial cuts in police numbers since 2010?
My Lords, I do not think I have ever shied away from this issue at the Dispatch Box. In fact, I quoted my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in saying that the police had faced unprecedented demands in the last couple of years, particularly from terrorist crimes. He has now pledged over £1 billion to enable the police to recruit an additional 20,000 police officers. I do not think he has ever tried to deny that there have been unprecedented demands on the police.
These attacks are a brutal reminder of inequality, where people are stabbed, beaten and abused for showing affection. I will make an observation and then ask my question. We are in dangerous territory indeed when some politicians seeking high office talk of sacrificing LGBT rights and the Secretary of State for Education hesitates before defending and supporting head teachers on relationship and sex education guidelines. What will the Government do to address their own findings that more than two-thirds of LGBT people fear discrimination on the streets, and how will they ensure that crimes based on someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity or disability are treated equally to those based on race and faith?
I totally agree with the noble Lord’s points on inequality. While I have the opportunity, I wish Stonewall a happy 50th birthday. He is absolutely right that two-thirds of LGBT people feel they cannot express love for their partner in public; this was borne out in the survey that we carried out involving 108,000 people, the largest such survey in the world. On his point about head teachers too, I totally agree. Teachers should—and will—be able to teach children about the different types of relationships that exist in our world. As I mentioned at the Dispatch Box last week, comments in the press such as “Four year-olds are being taught about gay sex” completely misrepresent the situation.
My Lords, the law governing hate crime stems from the legislation on human rights and equalities. Conservatives have now indicated three times that they are going to scrap human rights law by 2020. In the year of Stonewall’s 30th—not 50th—birthday, does the Minister agree that this suggests that the legal protection for people in minority groups is somewhat under threat?
I apologise for saying 50 instead of 30—
It is both.
So we are both right: that is good; I was convinced it was about the same age as me—49, obviously. The noble Baroness is absolutely right. I am proud that this is such a tolerant country, a country so committed to equality. You will not find a finer example of tolerance and equality around the world than the UK.
My Lords, do the courts need any stronger powers in punishing homophobic crimes?
The Law Commission has been commissioned to look into hate crime and whether there are any gaps in the law. The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, touched on this when he spoke about equality across sentencing. The Law Commission is due to report to us next year.
My Lords, the Minister referred to the unprecedented nature of the challenges that the police face. While I do not in any way seek to underestimate those challenges, does she agree that what is unprecedented is not the challenges but the fact that the police are facing them with a severely depleted workforce?
When I referred to unprecedented challenges, I was referring to the rise we have seen in recent years of cybercrime—an incredibly challenging crime to deal with—and terrorist incidents on the streets of this country. We acknowledge the fact that the police are under strain, hence my right honourable friend the Home Secretary’s announcement.