Religious Intolerance and Prejudice - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:57 pm on 17th October 2018.

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Photo of Lord Morrow Lord Morrow DUP 8:57 pm, 17th October 2018

My Lords, like others, I welcome this important debate on religious intolerance and prejudice in the United Kingdom. The protection of the right of freedom of religion or belief for all must be a central challenge for us in this House. Despite the protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief being afforded greater priority in the UK than in many other parts of the world, this does not mean that individuals wishing to enjoy this right do not face challenges here. Moreover, there is reason to believe that this is becoming more, not less, of a problem.

Other noble Lords have observed that yesterday the Home Office published new figures for hate crime in England and Wales. I recognise that others have said something about these figure, but I want to repeat it. In 2017, 8,336 religious hate crime offences were recorded in England and Wales. That constitutes an increase of about 40% in comparison with the previous year. In 2017-18, where the perceived religion of the victim was recorded, 52% of offences were directed at Muslims, 12% at Jews, 5% at Christians, 5% at other, 4% at individuals with no religion, 2% at Sikhs and 1% at Hindus. Very strangely—I cannot get my head around it—21% were directed at those with an unknown religion. I suspect the Minister might be able to help me with this figure when he responds, but I confess to being somewhat baffled by it. Despite being classified as religious hate crimes, the relevant faith of those involved in 21% of cases is unknown. I find that strange and difficult to understand, and look to the Minister for help. How can one be clear that an incident should be classified as a religious hate crime if it is not possible to identify a religion?

I understand that, over recent years, police forces have been required to disaggregate hate crime data by faith. This should allow for a better understanding of the trends of hate crime perpetrated against different religious groups and ensure a more targeted approach in addressing such crimes. However, an article published in the Spectator in March 2017 casts considerable doubt on whether that is actually happening. The article reports on freedom of information requests by Hardeep Singh. The results reveal some striking problems in the recording of hate crime incidents. While in 2016 there were 1,227 recorded Islamophobic incidents, in 57 of these recorded cases the victim had never been contacted. In 86 cases the religion of the victim was unknown. Information on another 85 cases was recorded as blank. The article further indicated that the cases of 19 Hindus, 11 atheists, 39 Christians, four Sikhs, two Greek Orthodox, two Jews and two Roman Catholics were recorded as Islamophobic, rather than as hate crime targeting the relevant religions.

The report suggests that 912 of the 1,227 victims of a crime classified exclusively as anti-Muslim were Muslim. The fact that 912 religiously motivated hate crimes were directed at Muslims is very concerning, and must be condemned without reservation. I do not wish to detract from that in any way; it is a fact and cannot be denied. However, erroneously recording over 300 crimes as Islamophobic neglects the problem of other religious groups being targeted for their religion. This is an issue which urgently needs to be addressed. Ultimately, if police forces are required to disaggregate hate crime data by faith in their documents, they should be provided with extra training to enable them to do this adequately. Mindful of these circumstances and considerations, I ask the Minister: are the Government aware of the discrepancies in the recording of hate crime by faith, as highlighted by the Spectator? What investigations have been conducted by the Government, and what practical steps have been recommended, or already implemented, to address this issue?

I now turn to an issue that has not gained sufficient attention, despite constituting a significant challenge: namely, the issue of religiously motivated hate crime perpetrated against Christians through attacks on their places of worship. Attacks on Christian places of worship appear to be on the increase. I will provide some examples, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. On 12 September 2017, individuals broke into Christ Church on Infirmary Road in Londonderry, stole a decanter used in holy communion and defecated on holy scripture. On 10 September 2017, a man with a knife attacked and injured three people during a service at the New Jerusalem Apostolic Church in Aston. Throughout 2017, St John’s Church in Keynsham was subjected to several attacks; the damage was assessed at £3,000 for the repair of windows alone. In August 2017, Holy Trinity Church in Back Hamlet, Ipswich, was attacked on four separate occasions. Windows were smashed and a section of the memorial garden destroyed. In August 2017, Airdrie Clarkston Parish Church was attacked and war heroes’ graves tampered with. In August 2017, St Mary and St Nicholas Church was attacked, causing over £10,000 worth of damage. In July 2017, a food bank based at the Church of the Venerable Bede in West Road was forced to close after it was attacked. I could go on and on—the list is endless. I will not do that, but, as I said, these examples are only the tip of the iceberg, quickly identified courtesy of Google. There needs to be a much more comprehensive investigation. Have the Government obtained any data on the number of attacks on Christian places of worship by year and by region? If so, what was their conclusion and practical response to such attacks?

In coming to terms with the significance of these attacks, it is important to consider not only their effect on places of worship—that is, the damage to the building and religious items—but the adverse effects on people who attend places of worship. A significant number of attacks on Christian places of worship might have a detrimental and chilling effect on people going to such places. If these criminal activities are not adequately investigated and prosecuted, it is likely that this impunity will encourage further attacks. It is crucial that the Government and the police take seriously attacks on places of worship, irrespective of where they are, and that they deal with such cases effectively and with the same diligence as they do any other crime. Furthermore, it is imperative to scrutinise the steps that are taken to ensure that future criminal activity is prevented and that safety and security in places of worship is guaranteed.

I understand that the Home Office has been supporting places of worship and improving their security to counter the threat of hate crimes at their premises. This is a very positive initiative. I also understand that, as mentioned in Action Against Hate, the UK Government’s Plan for Tackling Hate Crime—‘Two Years On’, the Home Office’s places of worship scheme in 2019-20 will provide further funding for this initiative. Can the Minister say how many places of worship have benefited from this initiative so far and what the disaggregation is on the basis of faith? Furthermore, it would be beneficial to know how many places of worship were denied such funding under the scheme and for what reasons. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response to the points I have put to him this evening.