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House of Lords Hansard
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05 July 2016
Volume 773

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the reported increase in the incidence of hate speech against immigrants following the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union, what steps they are taking to tackle xenophobia and racist extremism.

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My Lords, the Government are committed to tackling hate crime. The United Kingdom has one of the strongest legislative frameworks in the world to tackle it. In terms of recent events, we are working across government, the police, including national community tensions teams, the Crown Prosecution Service and community partners to send out a clear message. Hate crime will not be tolerated and those who commit these reprehensible acts will face the full force of the law.

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My Lords, I fear that many hate crimes have occurred against the backdrop of a campaign to which certain elements gave the stamp of racism. Did the Government make any preparations before the referendum for the rise in hate crime? Will the Minister agree that the status of EU citizens and other immigrants in this country must be assured?

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My Lords, the Government have implemented a series of educational programmes, including by the Anne Frank Trust and the Crown Prosecution Service, which have received the support of the National Union of Teachers. It is close by this afternoon, I believe. In the circumstances, we have taken steps to address this issue. In addition, a cross-government hate crime action plan is to be published imminently. This will drive forward our proposals to deal with all forms of hate crime.

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My Lords, I came to this country from India as a 19 year-old in the 1980s. At the time of the referendum, I received this tweet: “You are not British-born, so your input into the vote of the true Brits is not required and of no interest to true workers”. Last weekend, a member of our team for 16 years who is from abroad, with an English husband, went to hospital with a broken, bloodied finger and was told by somebody waiting next to her, “You are a burden on this country”. What is going on? Will the Minister and the Government acknowledge that this wretched referendum has caused this? Are the Government really doing enough to address something which I have not witnessed in any way for 30 years, but am now witnessing?

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No matter what may divide us, we are united in this country by shared values of democracy, free speech, mutual respect and opportunity. If we maintain these standards, we can drive out the criminals who would perpetrate the sort of crimes that the noble Lord has referred to.

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My Lords, if there had been no split on Europe within the Conservative Party, there would have been no Conservative Party referendum. If there had been no Conservative Party referendum, there would have been no significant rise in hate crime. Will the Government now at least do the decent thing and accept that what is happening today is because party interest was put in front of national interest? Can the Minister tell us what specific new initiatives or decisions—as opposed to discussions, messages and plans—the Government have taken since the referendum campaign to address the serious and damaging situation they have helped to create?

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With respect to the noble Lord, it is not appropriate to seek to draw a line between the referendum result and those who have taken it as an opportunity to express xenophobia and racist positions. I think it is obvious to all that the vote in the referendum can be attributed to a split in the Labour Party and not to a split in the Conservative Party.

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My Lords, there has been a fivefold increase—500%—in reported hate crime. As we know, the majority of these incidents are not reported. I have been abused online. In the last fortnight, since Brexit, members of my family and people I know, of all colours, races and religions—and of no religion or faith—have been subjected to this. Will the Minister support the initiative by a national coalition of race equality groups, including the Runnymede Trust? These groups have come together to ask for leadership and solidarity from all politicians around this House and in the other place and from the media to reject racism and hate crime and to stop pandering to intolerance. We should have zero tolerance of this kind of behaviour in this country.

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I agree with the noble Baroness that we, on all sides of this House, are ready to condemn racism and xenophobia. We have a common interest and a common outlook in so far as this is concerned. With regard to the increase in reported race hate crime, there have been significant increases in the period 2010 to 2016, but one must be careful of these statistics because much of the increase is attributed to the fact that we have introduced a better reporting system, including the reporting portal, True Vision.

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My Lords, would it not be a good idea if we all took Her Majesty the Queen’s advice and just calmed down a little?

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My Lords, it is not simply a question of the referendum campaign making xenophobia and racism respectable again; this is also the responsibility of the Minister’s right honourable friends in the other place who have consistently pandered to this in exactly the same way—for example, the right honourable Theresa May and the campaigns run by the Home Office against illegal immigrants. The Prime Minister’s intervention in the mayoral election in London, talking about extremists, was all part of the same picture. Is there not a pattern which has led to this increase in xenophobic incidents in the last few weeks?

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With respect to the noble Lord, nothing makes xenophobia and racism respectable, least of all the referendum.