Hate Crime

– in the House of Commons at 3:37 pm on 12th March 2018.

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Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Justice) 3:37 pm, 12th March 2018

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on hate crime in light of the inflammatory letters inciting a “Punish a Muslim day” on 3 April.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Mr Speaker, as you will appreciate, the letters described in the question are part of an ongoing investigation, and as such I am not in a position to comment on them. However, the Government condemn the content of the letters as clearly abhorrent, with no place in decent society. This Government take hate crime and Islamophobia extremely seriously, and the UK has a robust legislative framework to respond to it.

Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, and equal rights define us as a society. The Government are determined to promote those values actively, working in partnership and alongside Muslim and, indeed, all faith communities to demonstrate that what we have in common is the best defence against extremists who would seek to divide us.

Our hate crime action plan, published in 2016, sets out our comprehensive approach to tackling hate crime. We have a strong legislative framework to tackle hate crime, including offences of inciting racial and religious hatred, and racial and religiously aggravated offences. The legislation provides equal protection under the law for all ethnic and religious groups. We have sources of expert advice on the nature and causes of hate crime through the anti-Muslim hatred working group and the independent advisory group on hate crime.

We have committed £2.4 million over three years to help to protect places of worship that have been the subject of or are vulnerable to a hate crime attack. We also committed a further £1 million following the terrible Finsbury Park terror attack in June last year, to help to protect places of worship and associated community centres that are vulnerable to attack on racial, religious or ideological grounds. So far, we have funded 45 mosques under both schemes. We have also funded Tell MAMA to record anti-Muslim hatred incidents and to support victims. From this year, we have made it mandatory for police forces to disaggregate religious hate crime data held by the police to reveal the true scale and nature of the problem, which we are determined to tackle.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Justice)

Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. The letter calling for an attack on Muslims on 3 April offers attackers rewards, ranging from 10 points for verbal abuse, 50 points for throwing acid and 1,000 points for bombing a mosque to 2,500 points for nuking Mecca. May I remind the House that millions of Muslims fought for us in the two world wars, including members of my family? Figures show that the number of Islamophobia hate crimes has increased by 40%, with 1,678 anti-Muslim hate crimes reported in London in the year up to January 2018. Can the Minister therefore explain why no Minister in the past eight years has made a speech on the rise of anti-Muslim hatred?

Recent surveys have shown that 50% of the British population believe that Islam is a threat to western democracy and more than 30% of young children believe that Muslims are taking over England. Given that such anti-Muslim views have gained such traction, what are the Government going to do to help to prevent the growth of such extreme views, which appear to have come from parts of the print, broadcast and social media? What concrete steps are the Government going to take to tackle this growth in hate crimes and hatred against Muslims? Will the Minister set out the amount of funding provided by the Home Office to tackle each form of bigotry?

I think every Member in this House will accept that there has been a sharp rise in the far right movement in Europe and beyond, with the USA’s President retweeting far right material. This is a really urgent situation and it needs to be urgently tackled. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response as to what concrete steps are going to be taken to deal with it.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank the hon. Lady for her urgent question. May I make it clear that this Government want to give a strong message of support to Muslim people across the UK that we are committed to their safety and security? I say to anyone who has received this letter, or a similar communication, please contact the police, where you will be treated with utmost seriousness and action will be taken.

I now move on to the points the hon. Lady made. The issue of anti-Muslim and far right extremism is of course a focus for the Government. As she knows, the Prevent strategy tackles extremism. It does not tackle Muslim extremism in and of itself; it tackles extremism, full stop. Sadly, more than a quarter of referrals in the Prevent strategy in 2015-16 concerned far right extremism. So this Government, and in particular this Prime Minister, with all the experience she brings to her position following her time in the Home Office, are focused on tackling extremism and radicalisation and how they affect any part of our community. That is precisely why we are refreshing the hate crime action plan this year.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Conservative, Broxtowe

I just want to put on the record the fact that the mayor of Broxtowe, Halimah Khaled, just happens to be a Muslim. She happens to be the first person of colour to be mayor of Broxtowe and she is its first Muslim mayor. She also happens to be a Tory. She has completed nearly one year in office, during which time she has had a warm welcome wherever she has gone in my borough, and rightly so. People are sick and tired of hate crime and Islamophobia. This is absolutely no longer to be tolerated. I commend the Minister for everything she has said in her statement, and I do believe this Government take this very seriously. We are not really talking about a hate crime here; it is actually an act of blatant incitement to terrorism. In any event, I am looking over at the co-chair of the all-party group on British Muslims, Wes Streeting. We have worked together on this, and I am sure he will agree when I say that the time has now come for a proper legal definition of Islamophobia. Does the Minister agree?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank my right hon. Friend for her impassioned plea for recognition throughout the country of the role not only of her local mayor, but of many other people in public life who happen to practise the Muslim religion as part of their way of life and who contribute so very much to our community. I put on record my thanks to her local mayor.

There are many definitions of Islamophobia, but most people tend to adhere to the one used by the Runnymede Trust. We do not accept the need for a definitive definition, but we know that Islamophobia is clearly recognised and that we have very effective monitoring of race-hate crimes. Considerable work is done on these matters by Tell MAMA and the anti-Muslim hatred working group.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I congratulate my hon. Friend Yasmin Qureshi on securing it.

The despicable sentiments behind these sickening letters has caused revulsion throughout our communities. Although we can be confident that, thanks to the tireless dedication of community leaders, charities, faith groups and civil society, such deliberate attempts to divide us will not succeed, this act will have struck fear into the heart of communities—indeed, that was the intention. It is absolutely an incitement to violence and it cannot go unpunished.

As we have heard, hate crimes are rising nationwide. In London alone, there has been a fivefold increase in attacks on Muslims in the past year. As the outgoing counter-terror chief Mark Rowley has said, the threat from the extreme right wing is significant and requires urgent attention. We have seen the murder of our colleague and friend, Jo Cox, the attack at Finsbury Park mosque, the proscription of National Action, the jailing of the leaders of Britain First, and the reports from the Anderson review, which suggested that the extreme right wing is engaged in credible attack planning, including bomb making. There is now overwhelming evidence that the threat from the extreme right is growing increasingly violent. We have to be clear that by threatening members of our diverse communities, these people are also a threat to our national security through their anti-democratic, dehumanising and murderous beliefs.

Given the overwhelming evidence, it is clear that so-called domestic extremism needs to be dealt with as a first-order threat, so will the Minister reassure us that, in line with the Anderson review recommendations, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre will start to produce national threat assessments of domestic extremism? Will she increase the role for MI5, JTAC and the counter-terrorism network in the monitoring and handling of investigations of domestic extremism? Is it not time to update the Contest strategy to reflect the growing threat from the extreme right?

More broadly, can the Minister assure us that counter-terrorism policing has the resources it needs? The Government’s funding settlement last month gave only half what the police requested for counter-terror purposes, while the police and our intelligence services are facing an unprecedented threat from terrorism in all its forms.

We all deplore these despicable letters. They are an attempt to divide us; in that, they will not succeed. We must be united as a House and as a country in bearing down on the insidious beliefs contained within these letters and be absolutely clear on how we are going to bring together the police, schools, colleges and all authorities to stand up to hate crime and terrorism in every single one of their forms. Finally, we must ensure that all of us, as elected politicians, are at all times responsible in our language and rhetoric and never seek to embolden those who hold such insidious and extremist views.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am sure that everyone in the House agrees with the hon. Lady, particularly on that last point about the importance of using language very carefully. She asked me about police resources; of course, we have increased them and, as she will know, the Home Secretary reviews those resources constantly. We ask the police whether they have the resources that they need, and the Home Secretary acts accordingly. May I undertake to write to the hon. Lady specifically on JTAC and her other queries? Finally, let me say that it is gratifying to see so many Members present, unified in condemning these dreadful letters and their sentiments and in our determination to tackle them.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Hate crime in all its forms is to be condemned, as is this letter. Another group that is affected by growing hate crime is the Jewish community, and the Community Security Trust is having to go to ever greater lengths to protect local Jewish community centres. Can we ensure that all these forms of hate crime are combated as far as possible?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Of course, any group of people who are the victims of hate crime as a result of their religious beliefs deserve our sympathy and also our action. I, like him, condemn any form of anti-Semitism. I know that the police are as focused on that form of crime as they are on any other form of religious hate crime.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I congratulate Yasmin Qureshi on securing this urgent question, and reassure her, and the rest of the House, that the Scottish National party joins in the condemnation of Islamophobia in the strongest possible terms? We believe that there is no excuse for any sort of hate crime, and we were as concerned as everyone else in this House to see the significant rise in hate crime statistics in England and Wales last year. We note that that followed a spike in hate crime figures around the time of the EU referendum, and as others have said, this is happening alongside a significant rise in right-wing extremism.

In Scotland, the police are committed to making victims, witnesses and partner agencies feel more confident in reporting hate crime, and they do so through a variety of methods, including a network of third party reporting centres. In Scotland, a senior judge has been appointed to lead an independent review into hate crime legislation, and he will be reporting to the Scottish Government later this year. What reassurance can the Minister give us that similar steps are being taken in the rest of the UK, where hate crime is rising, and in particular that similar steps are being taken to tackle the specific problem at issue here, which is Islamophobia?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her question and, indeed, for her contribution in relation to what is happening in Scotland. We very much look at how we tackle hate crime, particularly through our hate crime action plan, which was published in 2016 and will be refreshed this year. Its range of actions include: funding for security for places of worship; the disaggregation of religion-based hate crime data; taking further action in relation to education so that teachers can have sometimes difficult conversations with their students about beliefs and words; and funding programmes through the Anne Frank Trust and Streetwise. We are determined to ensure that our action in relation to hate crime is up to date and current.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

As someone who visited a Syrian refugee camp in Malatya in Turkey over the weekend, I find it a little offensive that a Labour Member has said that no Conservative Minister had ever actually condemned any kind of anti-Muslim extremism. Is the Minister aware that her equivalent at the Department for Education, my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi, publicly rebuked the President of the United States for retweeting certain comments and invited him to visit Muslim communities in the United Kingdom?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. I must say that I was not sure whether I had heard Yasmin Qureshi correctly. As I have said, the record of both the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers on the issue of tackling anti-Muslim sentiments is pretty clear. It may be that the hon. Lady can clarify her remarks at a later stage.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I do not think that the previous question represented the point that my hon. Friend Yasmin Qureshi was making. I hope that we can address this issue as a united Parliament, and not in a way that is divided. We should all stand together against this kind of vile threat and this illegal incitement to violence. Our whole Parliament, the police and our communities across the country should want to stand firm with Muslim families and Muslim communities against this kind of vile Islamophobia, because we know from history that an attack on some of us is an attack on all of us. That is why we stand firm.

What has the Home Office done since I raised last week the prevalence of National Action illegal propaganda videos on YouTube—still—and also, I discover, on Twitter and on Facebook? We know that the former counter-terror chief has warned of online radicalisation and the rise of far right extremism, and our Select Committee has heard in our inquiry about the serious issues around Islamophobia and hate crime. The Minister will know that we are allowing social media companies to collude with these far right extremists if action is not taken to take down this kind of vile illegal propaganda.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The right hon. Lady knows the work that the Home Secretary is doing with the large technology companies to improve their reaction. I think that pretty much everyone in this place—and certainly everyone outside—agrees that technology companies need to do more to remove these hateful pieces of incitement from their platforms much more quickly and working with police. I am sure that we have agreement on that.

Photo of Bill Grant Bill Grant Conservative, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that those spreading this fear and hatred, in whatever forum, should be investigated by the police and, where appropriate, dealt with severely by the courts?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Yes, of course. As I said, I must not comment on this case because it is a live police investigation. The principle is that if there is an incident of hate crime, the victim must—please—report it to the police, so that they can do all they can to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Wavertree

These letters are abhorrent and are causing immense distress across communities around the country. As my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper has indicated, this hate crime is being amplified via the internet. Social media companies are still taking too little action. I attended a round table co-ordinated by two Departments just before Christmas, but we are still to see action. I can tell the Minister about a case that went to court and a man was jailed for two years for the far right material that he put online. But that material is still online, as remains the case in many examples across the country. What action are the Government taking to ensure that we do not enflame the tensions in our communities by what is seen online?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I know that the hon. Lady has sadly been the victim of much hatred online, as have other Members. We are very clear that it is our expectation that technology companies will, in accordance with the law, remove such material as and when it is brought to their attention. We have had some progress, as the technology companies are getting better at this, but I do not for a moment pretend that we have the full response that we would like, which is to see these posts taken down as quickly as possible. That is the Home Secretary’s expectation when she meets the technology companies.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

Has a national unit been established to check on hate crime, identify the people who are dealing in it and bring them to justice?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

We take the view that hate crime is a matter for the whole community, given that it can take so many forms. It is not restricted to one’s religion; the five characteristics are set out clearly in the hate crime legislation. We ensure that the police and others are trained to spot this crime when it occurs and to deal with it seriously and, I hope, sensitively.

Photo of Rosena Allin-Khan Rosena Allin-Khan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Sport)

These letters are nothing short of a sick and cowardly attempt to divide our communities. We are proud of our communities living side by side in harmony. A clear message must be sent from across this House that we will never cower to any form of extremism and we will never allow it to threaten the very fabric of our society. May I urge the Minister to ensure that this Government do not sit idly by and let it happen? In this great time of need, allowing the propagation of such awful hatred would send the worst message of all.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I would hope that the hon. Lady has understood from my reaction that the Government are not sitting idly by. We are this year refreshing the hate crime action plan because it has to keep up to date with the new threats faced by all different types of people and communities. I can assure her that we take these allegations very seriously—as, indeed, we take very seriously the allegations of anti-Semitism, online hatred and so on that we have heard about in the Chamber today—and that the police do as well.

Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Conservative, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

The rising tide of creeping Islamophobia and anti-Jewish sentiment should concern us all. How is improving the recording of this hate crime helping us to track what is going on in our society and how we can tackle it?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Of course, increasing the amount of data helps to give us answers and helps to direct our resources in the right way. We very much hope that disaggregating the different types of hate crime that exist will help individual constabularies to work out how better to prioritise their resources to deal with them.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

The level of hate and violence against Muslims has become utterly intolerable. For years, many of our constituencies have faced the onslaught of threats from the English Defence League, Britain First and others. What action will the Minister take, first, to provide protection for the communities who feel particularly under threat on 3 April and in the run-up to 3 April and, secondly, to proscribe groups that are actively seeking to incite violence and hatred across our communities?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Again, the hon. Lady will understand that I must not comment on the investigation going on at the moment, given that it is, by definition, a live investigation. Communities that may be affected by any such communication will be uppermost in the police’s mind with regard to protection and their vulnerability. Tackling far right extremism more generally is part of a cross-Government programme that also supports victims of such behaviour. This is where the Prevent strategy, which is a safeguarding programme for people who may be vulnerable to radicalisation, has such an impact, because, sadly, a quarter of the referrals to it in 2015-16 involved far right extremism. The strategy is about trying to lead people away from the path of radicalisation, so that they do not commit these terrible acts.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

This House is at its best when it comes together to condemn evil action and we are not trying to score political points against one another. I think that we can all unite on this letter. We do not yet know who wrote it. For all we know, it is some sad individual in a bedsit playing with his computer, or perhaps it is something far more serious, but we are all right to condemn it as an incitement to violence, especially when it calls on people to throw acid in people’s faces.

May I ask the House to think of the office of Mohammad Yasin? Earlier today, there was an incident in Norman Shaw North that involved him and his staff which may or may not be connected—but we think it might be—with this letter. We must pull together to ensure that this does not happen, not only here but throughout the country.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this. I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House are with the Member of Parliament concerned and his members of staff, although I have received a note—I hope that it is accurate—saying that the package found in Norman Shaw North was not hazardous. That must be of significant relief to all those concerned. As ever, we give our sincere thanks to the police and others who went to the rescue of those members of staff when they found the package.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

It was Friday night when I started to receive reports from residents in Walthamstow that they had received one of these letters, with the fear and the terror that that caused, at the very point when I was helping other residents to report anti-Semitic graffiti that they had found in our community. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the work that Tell MAMA and the Community Security Trust are doing to support these groups? Does she agree that we have to do more than condemn these individual instances? When we see Steve Bannon come to Europe and tell people that they should be proud to be called a racist, we in this House must speak up for the communities that we represent and the power of diversity and immigration to enrich all our lives. I tell the Minister: the people in Walthamstow need and demand nothing less from this Government.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

They are getting it. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for setting out the concerns of her constituents; she has highlighted the fear that people must have felt when they received those letters. She is absolutely right to say that Tell MAMA is an organisation that is universally recognised as playing a very important role in this field. I am told that from 1 January 2015 to 31 December 2015, 2,622 anti-Muslim hate incidents were reported to Tell MAMA by victims, witnesses, third parties or the police. That shows us the scale—certainly three years ago—of these worrying incidents of hate crime that we are facing in this country. We support Tell MAMA to the tune of £1.9 million, and its work is highly valued.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. I am keen to accommodate colleagues, but I would just remind the House that there is a further urgent question after this, and then no fewer than four ministerial statements, so there is a premium on extreme brevity from Back and Front Benchers alike.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Conservative, Erewash

I, too, condemn the despicable letters that have been sent out. Following a recent incident in my constituency that I would classify as racial abuse, will my hon. Friend reassure my constituent and the whole House that that crime will be classified correctly and not just washed away and classified as a public order offence?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Any such issue will be an operational matter for my hon. Friend’s local police force, but I know that she is a good advocate for her local community and I am sure that she will be asking searching questions of the police and the police and crime commissioner to ensure that that alleged offence receives the attention it deserves.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Labour/Co-operative, Feltham and Heston

The Government are right to say that this is a hate crime that has no place in our modern society. I want to pay tribute to our communities in Hounslow, which have a track record of working together to build understanding between all our communities. Will the Minister confirm that the police will have the resources they need to work together effectively and fast across the country to track where these horrific letters are coming from, who is disseminating them and who is behind them, and will she ensure that our schools and communities have the resources they need to stop this activity in its tracks and to support those communities that will rightly feel at risk and under threat?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The hon. Lady has identified the fact that this has an impact not just on the people who receive these letters in their homes but also on the wider neighbourhood. I again ask anyone who has received any of these sorts of communications to please report them to the police. The Home Office is in constant communication with the police to ensure that they have the resources they need to tackle this.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

I join my hon. Friend the Minister in condemning these letters. In view of the similarities between anti-Muslim hate crime and the anti-Semitism that we have seen, will she reassure me that the action plan proposed by the Government will be adequate?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He has a long and established record of supporting our Jewish communities. Yes, the hate crime action plan covers all forms of hatred, as defined by the legislation, and of course, sadly, anti-Semitism forms part of that.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North

These appalling letters have to be seen in the context of the flames of prejudice being fanned in mainstream newspapers and in the comments made by mainstream politicians against their Muslim opponents, as well as by bystanders, who are just as complicit when they see prejudice, either in person or online on Facebook or other social media platforms, and instead of tackling it, they choose to look the other way. Will the Minister make a commitment to the House that the Government will not only take action on online publishers of this kind of extremism, but, in the weeks leading up to the first week of April, ensure that every mosque and Muslim community centre in the country receives a visit from their police to give them adequate security advice, to ensure that the Muslim community know that the authorities are 100% with them and on their side?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The anti-Muslim hatred working group brings together all parties from across Government and further afield to try to tackle this specific form of hate crime. One of its initial achievements was to work with the Society of Editors to tackle anti-Muslim hatred and, more recently, with the Independent Press Standards Organisation to develop training for editors and journalists to tackle the negative portrayal of Muslims in the media.

On the hon. Gentleman’s point about ensuring that mosques are visited in the run-up to the date mentioned in the letter, we will happily send letters to each chief constable to ensure they are aware of this. It is a matter for chief constables, but we expect that mosques will be protected.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow Conservative, Taunton Deane

I join my hon. Friend in condemning these letters and welcome the £2.4 million that the Government have devoted to protecting places of worship from hate crime. Can she expand on how that will work and give assurances that it will be given all the back-up it needs?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am happy to do that, and it follows on well from the previous question. The Government have committed £2.4 million over three years to help protect places of worship that have been subject to or are vulnerable to a hate crime attack. We hope that that money will help local communities to feel safe in their places of worship.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

You do not have to have taught media studies or be a Muslim to have noticed that anti-Muslim sentiment is becoming quite common in much of our tabloid printed press. As well as dealing with the online platforms that spread this kind of hatred, will the Minister also have a word with her friends in the Tory press? These things feed people like those in Britain First and the English Defence League, one of whom has even made a video calling for my head.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I hope that everyone in the House knows that, as the Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, I am of course against language that leads to the incitement of violence or hate crime. I hope that this debate has sent a clear message to the people with whom the hon. Lady is concerned.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Conservative, Corby

As one House, we all find these letters abhorrent, and our constituents will feel exactly the same. Can my hon. Friend assure the House that police forces work collaboratively to tackle such hate crime?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank my hon. Friend, who, as always, shows an interest in policing matters. We expect police forces to work collaboratively, particularly in the online field. Of course, online extremism and radicalisation know no geographical boundary, so the police are well versed, sadly, in working together to tackle this form of hatred.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth

There has been horror and revulsion at these letters in Cardiff South and Penarth, not just from the Muslim community but across the community. I am very proud of our record in standing up against hate crime across the faiths and across communities in the diverse community in which we live. Does the Minister agree that words from social media companies are now simply not enough? Does she share my deep concern that representatives of Twitter, Google and Facebook attended the Home Affairs Committee and said to me that they were not routinely searching for proscribed organisations? That is a basic thing they should be doing. What is she saying to the social media companies?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The Home Secretary is absolutely focused on the conduct of technology companies and the assistance they can give to the police both nationally and locally in taking down this abhorrent material. Sadly, this goes across the line with not just hate crime but online child sexual exploitation, terrorism and so on. A great piece of work is going on at the moment between the Home Secretary and those companies to ensure that their reactions are as speedy as the public expect.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

What these letters show more than anything is the gross ignorance, instability, bile and prejudice of the perpetrators, who hide behind the cloak of anonymity. As the Home Affairs Committee report has shown, that anonymity is even more damaging online. Is it not time not just to do more to take this material down once it has been posted but to stop it being posted in the first place and make sure that the identity of the people doing the posting has to be revealed before they have these accounts?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The Home Secretary was in California recently to discuss these matters with the online technology companies. We are looking at the issue of anonymity in terms of the internet safety strategy, because we are very clear that we want the United Kingdom to be the safest place in the world online.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Shadow Minister (Justice)

The vile, abhorrent letters received by individuals across the country, including in my constituency, are just the latest addition in a long line of Islamophobic hate crimes. Sadly, the number of such crimes has been growing for several years, encouraged by the undeniable rise of the far right and endorsed directly and indirectly by leaders and powerful figures across the globe. Muslims are often the targets of hate crimes, but the targets can just as easily be those of another religion or another race. With an increase in religious hate crime of 267% since 2011, why has the Government’s record on tackling the root causes of hate crime been so poor?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Again, reflecting on the overall tone of this urgent question, I will not rise to the bait, as it were, in that question. Frankly, I think we can all work together to call out hate crime when it happens. We have already today, sadly, heard the forms it can take, including anti-Semitism. Last week, Melanie Onn spoke about the experience of misogyny; it is not yet a hate crime, but was the cause of much debate last week. We are very clear, and I think the House has been very clear today, that these letters and their sentiments are wholly abhorrent and are to be condemned.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Conservative, Mid Worcestershire

What practical support is being provided to help the targets and victims of hate crime?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

First, we of course want victims to report their experience to the police. Sadly, the police are now aware of these events. I hope the police are trusted by the groups of people concerned, who will receive a concerned and sensitive welcome from the police when reporting these crimes. As I have said already, there is much that we are doing in the hate crime action plan, and in trying to tackle the root of radicalisation so that these awful sentiments are not expressed in the first place.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham East

With the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes and anti-Semitic hate crimes rising at such a shocking rate, these anonymous letters can really strike fear into whole communities. Is it not also the case, however, that anonymous social media is a similar problem on a daily basis? Do we not now have to confront the question of anonymity in spreading such bile? Will the Minister at least address this?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I have very much heard what the House has said. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the internet safety strategy was published last year. I will ensure that the sentiments of the House on anonymity are very much heard by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Photo of Ian Austin Ian Austin Labour, Dudley North

What makes you British is not what you look like, where your parents were from or how you worship, but the contribution that you make to our country. Nowhere has the contribution made by British Muslims been greater than in the west midlands, which is why I will be spending 3 April—it has been identified as a day of hate—visiting as many mosques and community centres across the region as possible to ensure that Muslims in the west midlands have my support and solidarity and to show them that I am on their side. I hope other Members of the House will be doing the same.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The hon. Gentleman has set out beautifully the values that bind this House and our country together. I wish him luck on his visits across his constituency to the many mosques in the west midlands.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Opposition Whip (Commons)

I welcome the funding that the Minister has promised for safeguarding mosques, but Muslims do not gather only at places of worship. What reassurance can she give the many Muslim community groups, schools and places where children gather—as well as places that are not specifically Muslim, but where there are groups of Muslims—that they will have funding for extra security, should that be needed, in Bristol West?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

As I have said, the Government have not only pledged or, indeed, spent up to £2.4 million over three years, but have funded Tell MAMA, which is a very important intelligence tool, as it were, to help the police to understand where they should best focus their resources. If there are particular areas in the hon. Lady’s constituency about which she has concerns, I ask her to ensure that her chief constable and her police and crime commissioner know, because they are be the ones who must make the operational decisions.

Photo of Paula Sherriff Paula Sherriff Shadow Minister (Mental Health and Social Care), Shadow Minister (Mental Health)

My constituents are very worried about the rise in hate crime. Is the Minister satisfied that, in light of the significant cuts, Dewsbury and, indeed, West Yorkshire and further afield have the necessary police resources to investigate and apprehend those responsible for this abhorrent crime?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

It is about how resources are spent, which is particularly pertinent to the question of West Yorkshire. I cannot recall the figure off the top of my head, but I seem to recall that West Yorkshire has several million pounds of reserves in savings. Of course, how that money is spent is a matter for the elected police and crime commissioner. I very much hope he will take up the Home Office’s funding settlement suggestion of increasing council tax to ensure more money to deal with the resourcing issue.

Photo of Tracy Brabin Tracy Brabin Shadow Minister (Education)

I have been approached by many in my constituency who are deeply concerned about these letters. As with last year’s Muslim ban, they feel unfairly targeted and under siege. Although this is an obvious opportunity to target internet companies, social media websites and so on, this was snail mail. May I press the Minister to pick up on the question asked by my hon. Friend Seema Malhotra? Will she update us on who sent these letters and what is going on to find out how to stop them? Will she reassure my constituents that once those people are apprehended, they will feel the full weight of the law?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I must not and cannot go into more detail on the specifics of the ongoing police investigation, because the hon. Lady will not want me or anyone else to inadvertently endanger any future prosecution. I can reassure her, however, that the case is being investigated very carefully and that the full force of the law is being applied.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

That anti-Semitic and Islamophobic hate crime is on the rise is well documented, but we also know that there is significant under-reporting—often by women, in my experience. Hijab-wearing Muslim women are often most vulnerable because of their visibility. On the need to reach women in communities and, as my Friend Thangam Debbonaire has said, not just in mosques, what assurances can the Minister give that the Government are doing what they can to get out into those communities the message about the need to report all incidents of hate crime?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The hon. Lady has hit on a very important point. We must all do what we can to encourage victims of hate crime—whether it is to do with race, religion, disability or gender identity—to report it. Under-reporting is a real issue and I hope that the work of organisations such as Tell MAMA will help people find the wherewithal to report such incidents to the police so that they can be dealt with.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I welcome the fact that we are all united in condemning this despicable attempt to divide our communities. Since 2016, national rhetoric and language have led to a big increase in hate crime. Will the Government lead by example and encourage everybody to tone down their national language and rhetoric?

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Labour, Cardiff Central

The Minister has referred several times to the £2.4 million of funding under the Government’s anti-hate scheme. She has also said that just 45 places of worship have received funding. Are there any plans to increase the amount of funding and the number of places of worship that will attract funding this year?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

May I write to the hon. Lady, because I confess that I am unclear as to whether applications are in tune and would not wish in any way to inadvertently answer incorrectly?

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

The best way to build belonging, tolerance and relationships is to invest in opportunities for people to come together and learn understanding. Oldham, which does that pretty well, was completely undermined by the Government snatching away the area-based grant in 2010, with no assessment made of the impact that would have on local cohesion in communities. Will the Government take seriously the need to invest at a community level in order to bring people together?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Of course we recognise the importance of bringing communities together, and there are many ways in which to do that. My constituency may enjoy being brought together in a very different way from another constituency elsewhere in the country. I am not clear about the direct impact asserted by the hon. Gentleman in relation to that project, but I will happily write to him about it.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Labour, Enfield North

May I, along with everybody else, condemn this absolutely abhorrent letter? It has been reported that since the EU referendum there has been a spike in hate crime, both in Islamophobia and in anti-Semitism, coming from the hard right and the hard left. It has also been reported by the Crown Prosecution Service that, against that increase in incidents, there was a drop by more than 1,000 in the number of prosecutions in 2016-17. What is the Minister doing with the CPS and the police to ensure that that is reversed?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The drop in referrals, recorded last year, has had an impact on the number of completed prosecutions in 2016 and 2017. The Crown Prosecution Service is working with the police at local and national level to understand the reasons for the overall fall in referrals in the past two years. The message to spread around our constituencies to people who have been a victim of hate crime is please report it, because that way we can try to do something about it.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing)

Police forces such as Greater Manchester that have long targeted hate crime, and who work hard with the CST on anti-Semitism and with the Muslim community on Islamophobia, recognise that community policing is central to challenging hate crime. Will the Minister take that message back? Community policing is about trust, and trust is fundamental. We need our community police.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Of course local policing is important, but we also have to recognise that we cannot just rely on policing alone to reach into communities and build relationships. That is why organisations such as Tell MAMA and others are such an important part of the overall picture in ensuring that when people feel they have been victims of crime they know what to do, know where to go, and feel they will be listened to and their experiences acted upon.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons)

It is clear that the whole House condemns the cowards who are sending out this letter. However, it is not just those sending this letter who are causing hate and it is not just groups like Britain First. At the end of last month, my hon. Friend Mrs Moon and I received a letter from the British National party, which included a racist poem. On the back of the letter it said that unless action was taken today

“Rebecca will be in an ethnic minority group when she grows up”

Will the Minister condemn the actions of the BNP and say there should be no place in British society for political parties that peddle such hate?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am absolutely clear that the BNP and all the other far right organisations described today have no place in our society. Frankly, their showing at the ballot box, when they dare to stand for election, shows how little truck the British public have with them.