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Hate Crimes

Volume 836: debated on Wednesday 21 February 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of any increase in the number incidents of race and faith-based hate crimes, and whether they intend to introduce a new hate crime action plan.

My Lords, hate crimes recorded by the police decreased by 5% last year. This reflects the crime survey statistics, which show a decline in hate crime reported over the last 15 years. Since 7 October, British Jews and Muslims have reported incidents in increased numbers. This is unacceptable, and we continue to work closely with communities. We are not intending to publish a hate crime strategy. We remain committed to cutting crime and protecting all communities.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response, but, as she said, hate crime has spiked very recently, and we know that hate crimes are chronically underreported in the UK and that many victims feel disempowered by existing reporting services. In the Government’s last hate crime action plan of 2016, they pledged to increase the reporting of hate crimes and encourage more people from under- reported groups to come forward. What is happening about that? Can the Minister tell the House whether this work has been reviewed in the last eight years and whether reporting and prosecutions have indeed improved? Will the Government introduce a comprehensive strategy to ensure vulnerable groups feel protected and supported in law?

My Lords, we have seen an increase in reporting and recording of hate crime over the last decade or so. There has been a small decrease in the last year, but, overall, that is partly reflective of the fact that we have put additional efforts into encouraging people to come forward. That includes through supporting charities such as the Community Security Trust but also Tell MAMA, which we fund, which is an organisation that focuses on anti-Muslim hatred and provides a different route by which people can report crimes and incidents and then get the appropriate support.

My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of interests, which discloses that I am president of Westminster Synagogue. This Saturday, we had 20 policemen and four vans to protect us as a demonstration went past Knightsbridge. Does my noble friend agree that these demonstrations, with anti-Semitic slogans and rhetoric calling for genocide against the State of Israel, need to be controlled and curtailed so that British Jews can once again feel safe and secure in the streets of London?

My Lords, I think my noble friend’s experience bears out the statistics that we saw announced by the Community Security Trust last week, showing the highest number of reported anti-Semitic incidents on record in 2023, with the majority of these being reported from 7 October. There is no place on British streets for demonstrations, convoys or flag-waving that glorify terrorism or harass the Jewish community, and we will work closely with the police, who we urge to step up patrols and use all available powers to enforce the law.

My Lords, the current practice of giving government funding to more vocal communities to collect figures to show that they are more hated than others is a waste of that funding. Does the Minister agree that a better approach would be to tackle the underlying ignorance on which prejudice thrives by stressing, in the teaching of RE in schools and elsewhere, the large number of important ethical commonalities between different faiths to show that the superficial differences are very insignificant?

My Lords, the Government committed to break down the recording of hate crime first by religion and then more recently by race. That provides us with an important insight into the experiences of different communities, which can be quite different across the country. Where I agree with the noble Lord is that part of the solution to some of these issues is focusing on where we have more in common than what divides us. We should emphasise that, particularly in our schools.

My Lords, this is an extremely difficult time, in which we hear profoundly disturbing reports of the rise in race and faith-based hate crimes. Tomorrow, the board of the UK’s Inter Faith Network will meet to confirm its closure following the withdrawal of funding by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. This comes at a time when we urgently need to promote interfaith dialogue and the expansion of religious literacy in schools, as has been mentioned, and elsewhere. What assessment have His Majesty’s Government made of the impact of the closure of the Inter Faith Network, and what will replace it?

My Lords, the Government fund a number of organisations to work in the space. On the Inter Faith Network specifically, the Secretary of State decided to withdraw the offer of funding for this year due to the appointment of a member of the Muslim Council of Britain to the board of trustees of the IFN. Successive Governments have had a long-standing policy of non-engagement with the MCB. Therefore, the appointment of an MCB member to the core governance structure of a government-funded organisation informed that decision.

My Lords, following the previous question, would it not be helpful if the leadership of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities made a joint statement about how abhorrent racial hatred really is?

I know of many efforts across the country, locally and nationally, to bring leaders of different faiths together and make statements of unity. That is something the Government continue to support.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mann, issued a report on anti-Semitism not long ago which made very useful recommendations, including teaching about anti-Semitism and Jewish history in school. Would that not be a far better approach than focusing entirely on Holocaust education, which places everything in the past, far away, nothing to do with us today?

My Lords, one of the most recent announcements from the Government in this area is indeed additional funding through the Department for Education to schools to increase education around this area. That is something the DfE is taking forward.

My Lords, when the Government look at their hate crime strategy, how much of it do they think they can achieve in a top-down way from central government, and how much can they achieve in working with local community organisations, so that it is a bottom-up approach to tackling hate crimes?

My noble friend is absolutely right that working at a local level is key to giving people more confidence in reporting, but it is also really important in thinking about solutions to these issues. One of the things that my department has been doing, in particular since 7 October, is regular engagement with local authorities to understand what is going on in their area, examples of best practice we can help share, and any particular issues that they are aware of that we can provide more support on.

My Lords, news reports this week of a baby’s passport application being returned from the Home Office to its parents with its birthplace, Israel, scribbled out and the application torn, and a statue of Amy Winehouse being defaced with a Palestinian flag sticker placed over her Star of David, are more evidence of the increase in anti-Semitic incidents reported by the CST. The Government’s downgrading of recording of non-crime hate incidents limits the police’s ability to monitor and prevent escalation within communities. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government will support Labour’s plan to reinstate full collection details for all hate incidents?

My Lords, I have not had the same feedback as the noble Baroness. As I say, it was this Government that brought in the disaggregation of hate crimes by different religions to help provide insight into the experience of different communities. We provide ongoing support and funding to the CST in its work, and we have regular engagement with the police to understand what the picture is in local areas. I will look at the issue the noble Baroness raises, and also understand from the feedback and conversations we have what impact that has.

My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge that there are real problems in terms of legislating against hate as a crime, because it can be used to silence opposition? One of our fellow Peers has recently been accused of, and in fact punished for, bigotry, when bad-faith activists wilfully labelled a tweet against Islamists—that is Hamas—as Islamophobic. Conversely, while I consider that the virulent rhetoric and abuse directed at Zionism is often—usually—thinly disguised anti-Semitism, the same legitimate criticism of Israel is being curtailed. Should we avoid using the law, and instead argue back and condemn loudly?

My Lords, we have both systems in place. We fully support lawful freedom of speech; it generates rigorous debate and is incredibly important to our society. But it is not an absolute right, and does not include the right to harass others or incite them to violence or terrorism. It is possible to both have in place laws against hate crime while protecting and respecting freedom of speech. Sometimes the implementation of that is a carefully balanced judgment, and that is something we all need to take care with.