Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Charlie Elphicke.)
I want to make it clear that this Adjournment debate is not about people who voted to leave. Many good people voted to leave, as they believed we will be better off out of the European Union. Today’s debate is about the rhetoric and images used by some in the leave campaign.
Growing up as the child of Pakistani immigrants in the 1970s, I frequently received abuse such as “Go back to your country” or “You smell of curry.” Often, the words I heard were, “Go back home.” The words stung because they implied that I did not truly belong in this country. Growing up, this taunt haunted many of my generation and others as well. Words such as “Paki” and signs on doors saying, “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs” still haunt many of us.
If we fast-forward to 2016, it feels like nothing has changed. I still receive abuse, and it is not just racially motivated. I have frequently been subjected to rape and death threats online—often I am told I should be sent to Saudi Arabia to be raped and lynched—but I will not be frightened off, despite the fact that I am one of those MPs who regularly hold drop-in surgeries in my constituency and I have no idea who will come to see me. These people will not prevent me from carrying on connecting with my constituents and giving them the best service I can.
I have been contacted by my constituent Leroy Vickers, who describes four very serious incidents of racially aggravated offences. He says that in the past two days he has witnessed a man on a bus telling a passenger, “Get off the bus, Paki”, witnessed racially aggravated abuse in a takeaway, and heard a man of Jamaican descent say that for the first time since he was about five or six he is hearing the N word used regularly. What does my hon. Friend say to that?
That is also the experience of so many of the constituents and other people who have written to me. That is why I am very grateful that I managed to get this Adjournment debate.
We have had words such as, “Go home, Polish vermin”, posted through the letterboxes of Polish residents in Cambridgeshire; heard of young Muslim school girls being cornered and intimidated, with people saying, “Get out, we voted leave” and “I can even give you a suitcase”; and seen signs in Newcastle urging the Government, “Stop immigration and start repatriation”, with words such as “This is England, we are white, get out of my country”.
My hon. Friend is making some strong, powerful and deeply disturbing points. Does she agree, though, that it is not just in the context of the referendum that we have seen hate crime increasing? I saw this horror in last year’s general election. In just one street in my constituency, somebody told me that that they would not vote Labour because all we did was support the N word, another person pointed to a black woman in the street and told her she should go home, another told me that gay people should be killed and sent to hell, there was a race hate attack in a fish and chip shop at the end of the road, and somebody said that we needed to stand up against the Jews. That was all in one street. Does she agree that this has been going on for some time? It has been a problem in the referendum, but it has been coming for a while.
I absolutely agree. Later in my speech I will deal with fact that this has been going on for some time.
Since last week, I have been inundated with emails, tweets and messages detailing hundreds of horrific incidents that have taken place. I understand that since last Friday, True Vision, the Government website to combat hate crime, has recorded a fivefold increase in reports to the police from the public, with 331 incidents since the day the referendum was held. The weekly average used to be 63 reports. In my own region, Greater Manchester, there has been a 50% increase in the number of hate crimes reported in the past week. There has been a very famous incident on YouTube showing an American professor who was abused by people.
May I wish my hon. Friend a very happy birthday? She is obviously a very dedicated Member of this House to be spending this evening here with us discussing these events rather than celebrating her birthday.
May I also say how much I agree with what my hon. Friend has said? I have just received a letter from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner telling me that the number of hate crimes in London has gone up from 20 a day to 60—a huge increase. Does she agree that it is very important that there is consistency among all the police forces—in Lancashire, in the Met—in dealing with this problem?
I absolutely agree. We need consistency throughout the country in how these cases are dealt with. I thank my right hon. Friend for remembering my birthday.
Many here will know or remember that on 15 February 1971 Enoch Powell stood up to speak at Carshalton and Barnstead Young Conservatives club in Surrey. It was three years since he had made his incendiary “rivers of blood” speech, and now he was returning to the subject of immigration. Mass immigration, Powell claimed, led to the native British seeing their towns
“changed, their native places turned into foreign lands, and themselves displaced as if by a systematic colonisation.”
Three members of the shadow Cabinet threatened to resign unless Mr Powell was sacked. Mr Heath dismissed him.
I, like many other Members, was horrified by the return of such language during the recent referendum. I felt revulsion—I am sure many others did too—on seeing the image of Mr Farage proudly unveiling his “breaking point” poster, featuring Syrian refugees, a week before the referendum. It was the visual equivalent of the “rivers of blood” speech. The poster shows a crowd flowing towards us—face after face, an apparently unending human tide. The nearest faces are in sharp focus, the furthest a blur of strangers. Even though they are human beings, they seem to be aliens.
Nigel Farage and the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) frequently made false claims that immigration, not austerity, is the reason that health, social care and schools are under pressure, fostering the myth that immigrants drain our resources rather than enhance them.
That is scaremongering in its most extreme and vile form. The leave campaign played on people’s genuine fears about poverty, unemployment and deprivation, especially in areas facing generational unemployment that have long been neglected for the past 20 to 30 years. Immigration is not the cause of social inequality, and such scaremongering does not and will not address the root causes of the problems faced by so many. It is successive Governments who have failed to deal with the issue of social and economic inequality. The gap between the rich and the poor is now even bigger, and five families in the United Kingdom own some 20% of the UK’s wealth. The issues that need to be addressed—such as eradicating poverty and providing equal opportunities—are not being tackled. Immigrants are accused of being the cause of all that and they are used as a natural target—that is what Vote Leave campaigners campaigned on.
As one of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave, I totally and wholeheartedly condemn the attacks. Immigrants who come to my constituency of Strangford get employment and jobs, and they get married and buy houses. I acknowledge the valuable contribution they make. Whatever hate crimes have been carried out, they have not been carried out in my name or in those of the 17.4 million people who voted leave.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is why I said when I started my speech that this is not about leaving or about people who voted to leave; as I said, many of them had very good reasons for doing so. I am talking about some of the people who led the campaign.
Mr Powell foresaw an unchecked inflow of black immigrants creating civil war. The UKIP poster told us absolutely the same thing about the people headed our way, it claimed, “across borderless Europe”. The tide of faces sums up exactly the same image as the swarms and rivers and hordes of otherness and racial difference that Powell spoke against in 1968 and that so many others—the National Front and the British National party among them—have tried to evoke over the years. I do not think that the creators of the UKIP poster would be insulted by that Enoch Powell comparison. They assume that we all share their unease with racial diversity. It was no wonder that the poster was reported to the police for inciting racial hatred.
The referendum was one of the ugliest political campaigns that I have witnessed in my life. Leave campaigners could have talked about the need for reform, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, economic considerations and a whole host of other things. Instead, they chose to make the debate about the mythical “other”—the immigrant who is stealing our jobs and resources and taking our homes. They seemed to cry, “If only we could close the door, then Britain will be great again and all our problems will be gone.” I am afraid to say that the tone taken on immigration by some of the leave campaigners has made racism socially acceptable again.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate and agree with all the points she has raised. I am sure she agrees with me that these actions against EU nationals, including the Polish people in my constituency who are having letters put through their letterboxes telling them to go home, are deeply deplorable and should be condemned.
I absolutely condemn the vitriolic abuse that the Polish community has received over the years. I would add to that that a lot of European nationals in this country are now very concerned about their status and their citizenship rights. I will ask the Minister to ensure that the Government deal with this issue fairly urgently to bring reassurance to a lot of EU nationals living in the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) claimed that Brexit would stop “uncontrolled immigration”, suggesting images of hordes of people rushing to our shores. During a televised EU debate, a member of the audience asked Mr Farage to explain how he would reduce racial tensions in the light of such rhetoric. Not only did he ignore her question, but later her Twitter timeline was filled with horrific abuse from his supporters. We must acknowledge that the abusers now feel more confident in making these claims because of Mr Farage’s frequent racist comments and claims that he can restore Britain’s place in the world.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again; she is being incredibly generous. She made a point about Twitter. Does she agree that social media companies and internet providers have a great deal of responsibility here? It is not easy enough to report or deal with hate crime, of all sorts, and the internet is currently filled with abuse, whether it is anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-gay or anti-women. Many Members of this Chamber have experienced that abuse in recent days, from the left and from the right, and the companies that are involved need to take a much firmer hand.
I absolutely agree. It is so difficult to make a complaint. I am one of those people who can relate, on a personal level, the amount of abuse that I have received. When I tried to contact the organisations concerned, I got nowhere. It is important that we think about how we can regulate that and ensure that social media companies deal with these issues responsibly and monitor the posts that are being put on their sites. It seems that most of them completely fail to do that.
There have been constant calls that we are claiming our country back. After the Brexit campaign won, the first comment from Mr Farage was, “We have got our country back”, suggesting that it had been under the control of somebody else. These are the types of irresponsible comments that feed into people not liking immigrants—the “other”. Sadly, some senior politicians who perhaps should know better did the same, including the Prime Minister, when he talked last year about the “swarm” of migrants in Europe, and they have failed, time and time again, to stop the spread of such anti-immigrant feeling.
It seems that confusion is being deliberately stoked on the definition of a refugee versus somebody exercising their right, or their former right, to freedom of movement across Europe, and other categories of non-European migration. In general, this leads to a sense that there is a lack of education about what migration actually is.
I absolutely agree with that. Very disturbingly, one of the arguments used by some leave campaigners was that the refugees who are fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria will come here as terrorists, and that, if we were to leave the European Union, they would not be able to come and somehow we would become safe. That feeds into the “anti-other”, or anti-immigrant, sentiment, and that is irresponsible.
Sadly, as of now, not a single prominent leave campaigner has uttered any condemnation of the rise of racial hatred or, better still, called for unity to heal the deeply dangerous divisions that have been created. Does the Minister agree that we now need a cross-party coalition to make sure that future campaigns on such issues are conducted according to some sort of code of conduct that ensures that we never again allow our political language to become so irresponsible?
The media have not exactly played a good role in this, either. We must consider the media and journalists who portray such politicians as colourful eccentric characters, whose outrageous comments are seen for their entertainment value and as being honest. How many times have we heard, “This person is saying it how people are saying it, and is not pretending to be something else—he is giving honest views”? That serves to legitimise their point of view.
We have heard about famous journalists who have continued with that kind of behaviour. Politicians here in the United Kingdom and in the US who encourage what I call “othering” quickly become big box office hits, especially if they are able to talk, not just unchallenged but endorsed by journalists, in a way that suggests that all Muslims are rapists, or that immigrants are sucking the NHS dry or are stealing our jobs while living on benefits. Imagine the effect on someone in an economically or socially vulnerable situation who is told on a daily basis that they are in that plight because of these immigrants who have taken everything. It is not surprising that some of those people think that the immigrants are to blame. That is why I talked about the need to eradicate poverty and provide good jobs, decent housing, education, schools and hospitals. That is so important. Can we really be surprised at some of the rhetoric and the things people have been saying when that kind of thing is perpetuated by our media?
The free hand of the print and online media to distort facts and blame entire groups of people for the troubles of our country, with almost no fear of contradiction, plays an important part in the spread of hatred, and is worrying. Certain parts of the media are complicit in the rise of bigotry and the consequent discrimination. Here, I touch on what my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) referred to. It is not that suddenly one day everyone decided to become abusive. There has been a consistent level of immigrant bashing over a number of years. There was a time in this country when the Irish were bashed. Then it was the Afro-Caribbean community, then the Muslims. Now it seems like everyone is hated. That is very worrying.
This is a great country to live and work in. I am very passionate about my country, which is why I think it is so important that everyone, including all politicians across the United Kingdom get together and say, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) did, “Not in our name.” This is not what we are as a country. We are a tolerant and liberal country. I have travelled and worked in other countries, and as far as I am concerned this is the best country to live in in the world. When I see this kind of thing happening, it really disheartens me. I know that others feel the same.
Let me give as an example some of the front-page scare stories from the Daily Express, the Daily Mail and The Sun. Recently, a Daily Mail cartoon compared immigrants to vermin and conflated them with gun-wielding terrorists. Who can forget the well-known shock tactic journalist who referred to desperate and scared refugees as “cockroaches”? It is amazing that the newspapers and journalists who make an enormous amount of money from those kinds of things are able to say them again and again and get away with it completely. In fact, the journalists are paid even more by the radio stations, television companies and media to carry on peddling their hate. When did journalists forget that with freedom of speech comes responsibility? Does the Minister agree that it is now more pressing than ever that we proceed with the next stage of the Leveson inquiry, so that the press act responsibly in their treatment of minorities? A free press is great—we want that, and we want the press to cover stories, responsibilities, wrongdoing and investigative journalism, and to tell us what is going on, but some sections of our media seem to have a completely different agenda of their own.
We have a proud tradition of welcoming people from around the world, and our diversity makes us stronger. We are grateful to all those who have chosen and continue to live and work in this nation. Members of the House must pledge to stand together and unite against hatred and intolerance in our communities. We will not, and should not have to tolerate hate crime again.
My hon. Friend is making important points about the responsibilities of different agencies. The Minister may have heard about the incident in Coventry, where my constituent, the Coventry and Warwickshire radio presenter Trish Adudu, was racially abused in the street last week. Trish said that an individual shouted at her and another Coventry resident, and said vile things, including the N word, which I have never used and cannot bring myself to use even when describing this incident tonight. She was told: “Get out of here. Go back home. Haven’t you heard the result of the vote?” Trish was visibly distressed when she reiterated that on the radio and on TV. Does my hon. Friend—and hopefully the Minister—agree that there is no place for such sickening and deplorable behaviour? We must work together to put a stop to it, bringing in all those agencies and working cross-party. Robust action must be taken—
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.
We have processes in place to report hate crime, and swift action can be taken, as was demonstrated by Greater Manchester Police following the incident of hate on a tram towards an American lecturer. Importantly, many who voted to leave the EU did so as a protest vote to voice concerns against the Government and austerity measures, and the vast majority do not endorse any racist rhetoric. Many who voted to leave felt that they were doing the right thing for the economy, and they fell for the lies being peddled as promises, such as £350 million a week for funding the NHS. However, Brexit has legitimised and normalised racism. We must ensure that all incidents are reported and prosecuted, and we must hold the media and leaders—including political leaders—to account when hatred is propagated. We must act against social inequality, and provide and protect jobs, wages, workers’ rights, good schools and hospitals. In essence, social and economic equality often leads people to view the “other” through the prism of dislike, hatred or suspicion. Only together can we work to tackle that problem, and ensure that future generations can hope for a safe future in this country and regard it as their home.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi). She is a passionate advocate on behalf of the downtrodden and all those whose rights need to be exercised in this country. She had a long career outside this House as an international barrister and she has shown a passionate commitment to the cause of justice in this House, serving on the Justice Committee, the Home Affairs Committee and now the Foreign Affairs Committee. She has reminded us all of the huge contribution that has been made by the migrant community to our country.
I have to declare an interest as a first generation migrant. I arrived here from Aden in Yemen at the age of nine. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) is also my sister and we do not normally sit together in this House. We try to sit apart. Some people mistake her for my daughter—nobody thinks I am her father, which is a good thing. We are sitting together in solidarity today, because we think this is a really important issue and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East is right to raise it. We came to this country and we can remember the speech made in 1968 by Enoch Powell, which cast a shadow over a whole generation.
The good thing about this place is that when we have discussed race issues, no matter what happened in the referendum campaign and the words my hon. Friend quoted, there is an all-party consensus about the contribution of the migrant community and the diversity of Britain. As I said to the Prime Minister last week, he has constructed the most diverse Government in the history of the Conservative party, with more women and more ethnic minorities sitting in the Cabinet and the Government. Labour did the same thing when we were in office.
How do we translate the huge achievements of the migrant community and get everyone, including the media, to understand that they are a force for good? It means talking them up, but it also means that when the chips are down we defend them, support them and stand up for them. I was so pleased to hear what the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said. I have been to his constituency and I know his commitment to different communities. Northern Ireland has different issues, but he has always supported all his constituents equally, as we all do. How do we, as parliamentarians, translate that contribution and get that message across to the public? That is the problem we face.
The problem is very stark. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East, today I received a letter from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. The figures in that letter are shocking: an increase from 20 to 60 hate crime incidents every single day. The number of hate crime incidents between the day after the referendum, 24 June, and Tuesday 28 June was 232 in the Metropolitan police area alone. We do not know the figures for the rest of the country. A lot of people do not want to report these crimes: as with any crimes, including crimes against women, people do not want to report them. The figures represent the number of reported incidents only. I would imagine that the number of hate crime incidents is even greater.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a real issue around reporting such crimes, in particular in schools? Young children do not really understand what it means when another child says, “You’ve got to go home now,” and how that can be reported and linked in with police officers within the school context.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and as the former leader of a council she will know the importance of starting at a very young age. That is the impressionable age and that is where we need to begin the dialogue. That is where we need to show these positive images. We all represent constituencies with ethnic minority communities. It is important that that exposure happens at a very early stage.
The referendum polarised opinions. I, of course, voted for remain. I say of course, because under the previous Labour Government I was a Minister for Europe. There were many Ministers for Europe under the Governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. One of my jobs, when I was appointed by Tony Blair, was to go to the eastern European countries and prepare them for enlargement. His first words to me were, “Get closer to them than the French and the Germans.” I did and I travelled a lot: I made 54 visits in two years. I went to eastern Europe, having never visited before, and it was a revelation. We should say in the House how pleased we are with the contribution that eastern European communities have made to our country. People are surprised to hear that the figure is 3 million. I do not think that one can tell, because these are the hardest-working communities, they contribute in each and every constituency, and they make the lives of our citizens better.
I was shocked to hear not just about the incidents recounted by hon. Members or about the crimes committed but about how social attitudes have changed because of the referendum. It has changed not just the political make-up of our country—with so many party leaders resigning within days of the referendum—but attitudes. That is why last Sunday, with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), I went to Ealing Broadway—not Leicester but Ealing Broadway, Ealing being the centre of the Polish community in London—and sat through a Polish mass at the Church of Our Lady Mother of the Church. It was the first Polish mass I had been to since I was Minister for Europe and I went to a mass in Piekary Slaskie in Poland.
At the end of the mass, I was asked to address the congregation, and I reminded them of the great affection we all felt for the contribution made by the Polish and other communities that have come here as a result of enlargement. When I went outside, an elderly Polish gentleman came up to me and said, “I have to tell you what happened the day after the referendum. I go to an elderly persons’ lunch club. When I went in, I was told by the person who runs it that, because of the referendum vote, I was not allowed to have lunch with the other people.” If I had not heard this myself, I would not have believed it. I represent probably the most multi-racial constituency of anyone sitting here, and I have never heard such a thing from members of the British Asian community. Yet here was I, in the middle of Ealing, hearing this from an elderly Polish gentleman who had lived all his life in this country—Polish migration began at the time of the second world war.
What starts with a social attitude or a speech, whether at school—as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West)—or among the general migrant community, ends up with a hate crime and violence. That is what we need to guard against.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned school. I heard a horrific story the other day from a headteacher about two seven-year-old boys who had always been best friends. On the Monday after the referendum, one of them said to the other, whose parents were Polish but who had been born here, “You’re going home. You won’t be in this country any more”. That cannot be right, surely.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. It cannot be right for a seven-year-old to say such things, but it is because of prevailing attitudes either in the local area or, most probably, in the home of that child. That is exactly what my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East was saying, and that is why her debate, held so quickly after the referendum, is so important. It is not about whether someone voted to stay in or come out—it is the settled view of the British people that we should come out—but about the attitudes that remain, the speeches made and the quotes she gave. These points have to be regretted.
I am sorry that I missed yesterday’s urgent question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). It is really important that the Government settle the issue of whether EU migrants can stay here. It is not an issue for the Conservative party’s leadership campaign—it cannot be talked about in hustings; it has to be told to the House. I believe that the Prime Minister is an honest, honourable, fair and diligent person, and I believe that if he came to that Dispatch Box tomorrow and was asked this question, he would come out with a settled view and tell us that they can stay—that they should not be, as we heard yesterday, bargaining counters. I am sure he would say that we will allow the 1.2 million Britons to stay in the EU and that we will keep the 3 million. Of course, the numbers will not stack up in any case. The need to clarify is what causes people to be concerned, which is why it is important that we clarify these matters as soon as possible.
My right hon. Friend is making some strong points. Before he finishes, I want to agree with his point about Polish people in this country. I have Polish relatives, many of whom live in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi). I am horrified at some of the abuse that has been directed at the Polish community. Given what I said before about the impact of social media and the internet as a common theme running through everything I have seen in the last few years—whether it be this type of hate crime, hate crime directed at LGBT people, extremism, radicalisation for terrorism or the sectarianism we saw in the Scottish referendum that was also played out online—what does my right hon. Friend feel that social media and internet companies need to do?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the responsibility on social media and internet companies is massive. I cannot understand why companies that make millions of pounds cannot have dedicated teams to take down this hate immediately. Why should it be left for people to block those who write these racist comments? We have to be sitting and looking at our iPhones every single minute of the day to know what people are saying about us. I block a lot of people: I have some friends, but also some enemies on the internet. The fact is that those companies should be doing this, and if they do not do it, Parliament should legislate.
Let me conclude. The Select Committee decided unanimously on Wednesday to have an inquiry into hate crimes and violence. We heard the words of the Minister last week at the Dispatch Box, and I welcome what she said. I also welcome her personal commitment to this issue. I have been in the House for 29 years, and I know the difference between a Minister who comes to the Dispatch Box and just says what is in the brief and a Minister who comes to it but believes passionately that something must be done. The Minister does believe in this issue passionately. She believes in zero tolerance for racism and anti-Semitism; she wants to put in place an action plan to which we can all adhere; she wants consistency. That is what we all want.
The Minister will find this House united in support of what the Government propose, because there can never be any doubt that we stand united in support of all the communities who have come to this country since we have been in the European Union and the diaspora community that has settled here for many years, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South—my sister—and me. This is our country. I know this phrase has been used a lot, especially by Conservative leadership candidates, but I love this country, too, and I do not want anyone to say of us collectively that we tolerate racism, anti-Semitism or hate. We stand united to defeat them.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) on securing today’s debate and I wish her a happy birthday. I hope she will have some remaining time this evening to enjoy it.
Hate crime of any kind, directed against any community, race or religion has absolutely no place in our society. I reiterate my message from last week: this Government are utterly committed to tackling hate crime, and we will provide extra funding to do so. We will also take steps to boost reporting of hate crime and support victims, issue new Crown Prosecution Service guidance to prosecutors on racially aggravated crime, provide a new fund for protective security measures at potentially vulnerable institutions and offer additional funding to community organisations so that they can tackle hate crime.
I do not propose to repeat the many points discussed last week. Instead, I shall reflect on the comments made today and answer the questions put to me. It is worth repeating, however, that the scenes and behaviour we have seen in recent days, including offensive graffiti and abuse hurled at people because they are members of ethnic minorities or because of their nationality, are despicable and shameful. The examples cited today across the House show that this is a real problem affecting our constituents up and down the country, including in my own constituency of Staffordshire, Moorlands. I know of comments and abuse that have been directed at Polish friends in my constituency —people who have lived and worked there, who have contributed to our communities, and whom we value and want to protect. We must stand together against such hate crime, and ensure that it is stamped out.
The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) gave the House some statistics. Let me now give some statistics from True Vision, the police online reporting portal, and from the letter to which he referred. Between 23 and 29 June, 331 reports of hate incidents were made to True Vision. When compared to the weekly average of 63 reports in 2016, that shows a 525% increase. However, although those figures undoubtedly seem shocking, I urge people to be cautious about drawing conclusions from them, because they represent a snapshot of reports rather than definite statistics. We should bear in mind that the extensive media coverage of hate crime will have increased awareness of True Vision, and may have encouraged increased reporting—which we welcome. We should also bear in mind that some of the reports may relate to non-criminal hate incidents, and that some may be duplicated. As I have said, I urge caution because this is an early snapshot, but we nevertheless take it very seriously.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to figures included in a letter from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, which showed that there had been 599 incidents of race hate crime between 24 June and 2 July in the Metropolitan police area. As he said, that is an average of 67 per day. However, it is worth noting that the average daily number before 24 June was 44 per day, and that the number of reports normally varies between 25 and 50 per day. We are seeing an increase in reporting of hate crime, which I greatly welcome, but when we have definitive figures, we will need to establish whether it is an underlying increase in prevalence or an increase in reporting. We need to know how the figures break down.
Much of the reporting of hate incidents has been through social media, including reports of xenophobic abuse of eastern Europeans in the United Kingdom, as well as attacks against members of the Muslim community. However, we have also seen messages of support and friendship on social media. The hon. Member for Bolton South East referred to an incident on a tram in Manchester. I am sure that the whole House will join me in commending those we have seen stand up for what is right, upholding the shared values that bring us together as a country.
When we debated this matter last week, the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) asked us to ensure that the hate crime action plan did not include the words “tolerate” and “tolerance”, and he was right to do so. We cannot “tolerate” incidents such as these, because they are not acceptable. We cannot say, “You received 40 messages of hate on Twitter today, so if you receive 50 tomorrow that is worse, but if you receive only 30, that is OK.” We cannot tolerate any such crimes. We must make it clear that they will not be tolerated, that they need to be reported, and that the police must take them seriously.
The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) made a couple of interventions about social media and online messages, and I agree with much of what he said. What is illegal offline is illegal online. We have seen some prosecutions for online hatred, but there is no doubt that more needs to be done. We have been talking to social media companies, and I am pleased to say that the European Commission and IT companies recently announced a code of conduct on illegal online hate speech. We must now work with those companies to ensure that hateful content online is removed and perpetrators are brought to justice, but we must also recognise the scale of the challenge. Facebook receives 4 billion posts a day—4 billion pieces of content are uploaded on to it each day, globally. The task is therefore very difficult. More responsibility must be taken by the social media companies, and I am pressing them on exactly that matter. However, we must also recognise that this is something that we must change in society as a whole.
The hon. Member for Bolton South East talked about hate speech in the media, and again there is no place for hate speech anywhere in society. Freedom of speech is a vital cornerstone of our society, but everybody must remember they have responsibilities not to spread hatred or fear. Anyone using freedom of speech as an excuse to break the law should face the full force of the law.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Charlie Elphicke.)
The hon. Lady asked about Leveson, too, and I note all the points she makes. The press have a responsibility, but she will know there are still some outstanding cases, and we do need to complete them before we can move on.
The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth talked about how this is not a new kind of incident, and probably all of us experienced this through the general election campaign. Some of my posters were defaced and I received the most vile abuse. I have young children. This is why I am not on Twitter any more—because, frankly, they do not need to have that coming into our kitchen on a Sunday morning over breakfast; it is just not necessary.
The point is that this is not new. I went to the launch of the latest Tell MAMA report last week. It shows a 326% increase in 2015—compared with 2014—in street-based anti-Muslim incidents reported directly to Tell MAMA, including verbal abuse in the street and women’s veils being pulled away, with 437 incidents reported to Tell MAMA. The report also finds that 45% of online hate crime perpetrators are supportive of the far right.
This brings me to the work we are doing on our counter-extremism strategy. There has been some confusion about its aims. It is important to set this in context. Extremism is the public supporting and promotion of ideology that can lead to crimes. Those crimes might be terrorist activity or violence against women and girls. The public promotion of FGM, while not in itself a crime, might lead to somebody carrying out FGM, a violent crime against women and girls that we simply do not tolerate. It can lead to division in society and hate crime. That is why the Government are working on that strategy with communities and others. We need to make sure as a society that we are clear about how we tackle those ideologies, be they far right, Islamist or promoting violence against women and girls. Those are the kinds of ideologies we cannot tolerate in this society and that is what we are working on in our counter-extremism strategy.
I want to reassure the House that there is currently no police intelligence to suggest any significant public order risks following the referendum result. There has been a variety of spontaneous demonstrations both in support of and against the referendum result. To date, those have caused only minor disruption and have remained largely peaceful. Police forces are remaining vigilant around any tensions and potential for disorder, and will plan accordingly.
The right hon. Member for Leicester East, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, referred to the hate crime action plan. This is a follow-up to the hate crime action plan we had in the last Parliament, and we are making progress: we are seeing more reporting and investigating and prosecuting of hate crime, but there is still a lot more to do. That is why we will publish a new hate crime action plan, which will cover all forms of hate crime, including xenophobic attacks. It is a plan we developed across Government and with communities and society, including schools, to make sure that point is included and encouraged in schools from a very early age, so that it is clear that such behaviour is not acceptable.
The hon. Member for Bolton South East talked about working across Government. I am looking at the best way for us to come together to make this point. I look forward to working with her, the Select Committee and others to show a united front in this House and in the leadership of this House on this issue.
Citizens of other EU countries no doubt have concerns, but I reiterate the point that the Prime Minister made last week: we are a full member of the European Union today and we will continue to be a full member until two years after article 50 is invoked. During that period, there will be absolutely no change to the status of EU nationals.
The Minister has faithfully reported what the Prime Minister said, but three senior members of the Government who are contestants for the leadership of this country have decided to say that EU citizens can stay. Why does the Home Secretary not agree with them? This issue is not about the Conservative party leadership; it is about the rights of citizens in this country.
I understand the point the right hon. Gentleman makes, but he will be aware that the Home Secretary is the Home Secretary, whether she is a leadership contender or not.
The reality is that we have to get into a negotiation and to understand what the position is. We are all entering uncharted territory. This is the first time that any country has voted to leave the European Union. It is the first time that any country has been in this situation. We have to be clear about what the future looks like, and that involves grown-up negotiations not just for those EU nationals who are in this country, but for UK nationals who are overseas. I want to ensure that we get the very best deal for Britain, and that includes the EU nationals who are here and the UK nationals who are living in the European Union.
The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), I and others are making is that it is this uncertainty that leads to prejudice; it is this uncertainty that leads to one seven-year-old boy saying to another, “You’ve got to leave.” That is why we need to be certain.
I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think that is what leads to it. It is about a lack of understanding and we need to work very carefully to make it clear that such comments are not acceptable from a seven-year-old boy or anybody else.
We are in uncharted territory. We need to go into the negotiation clear-headed about how we will get the best deal for Britain. To suggest that that is using people as bargaining chips is irresponsible, because everything that we negotiate in the deal will have an impact on people—on people living in this country and on people living overseas. We need to get the very best deal for this country. We need to ensure that it is the best deal for trade and for our citizens, including EU citizens who are living in this country. I want to be clear that it will be a priority to get that status cleared up as soon as possible, so that we can all learn how to live in the new world of the United Kingdom being outside the European Union as soon as possible.
The Government are clear that hate crime of any kind must be taken very seriously indeed. Our country is thriving, liberal and modern precisely because of the rich co-existence of people of different backgrounds, faiths and ethnicities. That rich co-existence is something we must treasure and strive to protect. We must work together to protect that diversity, defeat hate crime and uphold the values that underpin the British way of life. We must ensure that all those who seek to spread hatred and division in our communities are dealt with robustly by the police and the courts.
Question put and agreed to.