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Crime: Religiously Motivated Crime

Volume 771: debated on Thursday 21 April 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the level of religiously motivated crime and violence in the United Kingdom in the light of the murder of Asad Shah.

My Lords, first, I believe that I speak for us all in your Lordships’ House in saying that we share the shock at the appalling death of Mr Shah. Our prayers and thoughts go out to his family and the wider community at this most difficult time. There were 3,254 religious hate crimes recorded in England and Wales last year, representing an increase of 43%. We are clear that hatred against people because of their religion has no place in our society or country. We will do everything we can to stop those who promote hatred and intolerance in our communities.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for his Answer and express our condolences to his own community at this sad time. Over the last 18 months Tell MAMA, an anti-Islamophobia organisation, has reported an increased amount of anti-Ahmadiyya hate crime on the internet. Flyers were allegedly found in a south London mosque stating that Ahmadis should face death if they refuse to convert to so-called mainstream Islam. Will my noble friend please outline what action Her Majesty’s Government are taking to identify and shut down social media and other internet sites that incite and glorify violence towards the Ahmadis, which is in fact a crime here in the United Kingdom?

My Lords, let me be absolutely clear that the Government—and, I believe, all in this House and beyond—share the sentiment that people are free to live their lives free from interference and attack simply because of who they are or their religious beliefs. My noble friend is quite right to point out the increased attacks that we have seen on the internet, not just on the Ahmadi Muslim community but on other communities as well. The Government are taking steps on this and my colleague at the Home Office, my noble friend Lady Shields, is leading on internet safety and security. We are building alliances not just with the communities in the United Kingdom but beyond to ensure that wherever we find hate, whatever its cause and whoever the perpetrator and victim, we send a clear message: such hate will not be tolerated.

My Lords, I associate these Benches with the Minister’s remarks about the tragic death of Asad Shah. Religiously motivated sectarian violence has been prevalent in Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom for many years. The tragic death of Asad Shah is another example, albeit involving a different religion. What training is being given to police officers, and what advice is being given to victims, to help them differentiate between race-hate crime and religiously motivated hate crime?

The noble Lord is quite right to raise the growing and worrying tide of sectarian differences within different communities and the rising tide of hate crime. In that regard, I am pleased to tell the House that as of 1 April this year, as the noble Lord may well be aware, for the first time all police forces across England and Wales specifically record religious hate crime by religion and not just in its general sense. That is an important step forward.

In Scotland, as the noble Lord will know, there are devolved powers, but we are working very closely with the Scottish Government. Indeed, I will shortly visit Scotland—both Edinburgh and Glasgow—to discuss the issue of the growing tide of religious hate.

My Lords, how do the Government react to the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s recent finding that only 8.6% of tip-offs to the Prevent programme have come from the Muslim community? How do they plan to encourage very much more collaboration from our Muslim friends and their leaders in exposing potential extremists?

First, let me put on record that every religious community, including the Muslim community, was appalled by the events we saw in Scotland. This is exactly what is required: for the whole country, no matter what your religion or if you are of no faith, to come together to condemn and then unify against extremism in all its ugly guises. I assure the noble Lord that we are speaking extensively to all faith communities, including Muslim communities. There are initiatives such as the Prime Minister’s direct community round tables, on which the Home Secretary is leading. I am talking directly to all faith communities. Most recently I have met other and wider Muslim organisations, including the Bradford Council for Mosques, and earlier this week the Lancashire Council of Mosques and the Bolton Council of Mosques, to discuss the rising tide not just of the challenges we are facing but of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred as well.

My Lords, I disclose my interest as a patron of the Woolf Institute for interfaith relations. Does the Minister agree that an important antidote to race hate is education and that we should support all means of educating the public at large in the way that faiths can interrelate?

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the Prime Minister in the House of Commons yesterday was getting dangerously close to encouraging race hatred by making allegations against Mr Sadiq Khan, the Labour candidate for Mayor of London, concerning his association with somebody who had been visiting Tooting to work for the Conservative Party and recruit members to it?

Let me put on record and make absolutely clear that at no time did the Prime Minister or any other member of the Conservative Party allege that the right honourable Member for Tooting is an extremist. We need to ensure in the current climate that we take a very responsible view on all the circumstances and the environment in which we find ourselves—and, more importantly, build and strengthen the partnerships that we are investing in. I pay tribute to all across the House who are doing just that, to ensure that wherever we find bigotry and hatred, be it based on race, religion or any other cause, we unify against it and build and strengthen our partnerships across the UK to face up to it.

My Lords, while echoing everything that my noble friend has just said, may I ask him to make it abundantly plain, in the wake of the question of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, that there is an enormous difference between race hatred and hate crime and freedom of speech? Many of us are extremely concerned by the erosion of freedom of speech, particularly in our universities.

One of the things that I would say to my noble friend is that the Government’s view, particularly in my Home Office brief of countering extremism, is that we must ensure that we face up to hate and bigotry but, at the same time, protect the very freedoms that we battle so hard to achieve, which include the freedom of expression and belief.