Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime, Prejudice and Community Cohesion

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 13 June 2017.

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Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

The next item is a statement by Angela Constance on the independent advisory group on hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of the statement, and I will allow about 20 minutes for that.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

There is absolutely no excuse for hate crime and prejudice. The Scottish Government is committed to tackling it wherever it happens, whenever it happens and whomever it happens to.

An attack on one is an attack against us all, and recent events have emphasised the importance of unity in the face of those who would seek to divide us. The terrorist atrocities in Manchester and London serve to remind us not just of the terrible dangers of hatred and intolerance, but of the hugely inspiring way in which whole communities can rally round to demonstrate unity, to support each other and to stand up to hatred.

At the parliamentary debate on hate crime last November, I said that I would bring forward a full response to the recommendations of Duncan Morrow’s advisory group on hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion. I am pleased to update Parliament that we have, today, published a plan of action to implement the advisory group’s recommendations. I would like to take this opportunity to express again my thanks to Dr Morrow and the group for their good work.

The advisory group’s work has built on a long-standing commitment in Scotland to the issues. This Parliament has a long history of championing equality and of standing united against hatred, and the Scottish Government is actively working to build one Scotland in which diversity is celebrated and everyone has the opportunity to flourish.

We know that inclusive and cohesive communities that embrace diversity provide a better quality of life for everyone. Communities thrive when they feel a shared sense of belonging, when they learn and grow together, and when they feel able to live their lives in peace. However, cohesion is weakened when the things that push us apart come to the fore: isolation and loneliness, poverty and inequality, and intolerance and prejudice. Those are the issues that need to be tackled if we are to remain united. We have therefore worked tirelessly to promote equality and tackle discrimination, and I think that Scotland is in a relatively good place. We know that social attitudes have changed for the better, and equality is very much at the forefront of how we do our business.

However, it is absolutely vital that we are not complacent. Last week’s hate crime statistics show that we still have work to do. A minority of the population still think that it is acceptable to be prejudiced, and we know that people continue to experience hate crime and discrimination. That experience is all too real for too many people.

Unity is hindered by the toxic language that we sometimes hear and read about migration, Islam and refugees, which serves only to divide communities, condone prejudice and encourage hatred and abuse. Some people have used recent events to target the Muslim community. That is completely unacceptable: it cannot be allowed to stand and should always be challenged.

Scotland is in a strong position, but as Duncan Morrow’s group has rightly recognised, there remains much more to be done. In reading the group’s report, I was struck by the experiences of people who suffer intolerance and discrimination, which can sometimes be lost in wider debates about policy and legislation. It is vital that we put that lived experience at the heart of our approach as we seek to tackle the issues, so we will look afresh at our approach in order to ensure that we are hearing the range of voices and views in communities, and to ensure that those communities are actively participating in shaping our approach.

The advisory group’s recommendations are wide ranging, so breadth and depth are required in the approach to implementation. Important though the matter is, dealing with it is not the sole responsibility of the justice system; rather, it requires a truly cross-Government endeavour in which the communities, education, transport and justice portfolios work together to tackle the issues. That is why I am announcing today that we are establishing a multi-agency delivery group, which will have ministerial oversight, to ensure that the advisory group’s recommendations are progressed. In particular, the delivery group will carefully consider the barriers to reporting hate crime and how to remove them. It will also consider how we can better support work to build community cohesion within communities and community planning partnerships, so we will invite the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to join the group as a key partner.

We are also setting up an advisory panel on community cohesion to ensure that our work is always informed by the best expert advice. We need to ensure that our approach is informed by the best evidence, so we are working closely with Police Scotland to produce more detailed statistics on hate crime. We are also updating our national outcome on having strong, resilient and supportive communities, and we will seek to improve how we measure that.

We will continue to work very closely with our justice agencies, which provide front-line support to victims, tackle perpetrators and engage with communities to raise awareness and provide reassurance. That work will include consideration of what more we can do to tackle online abuse. There is, of course, no magic bullet that will solve the problem, but social media companies certainly have a role in removing unacceptable content and in ensuring that their users have a safe experience. We must also ensure that we tackle the underlying behaviours and attitudes that drive people to act that way in the first place.

Ensuring that police and prosecutors have the right tools to tackle hate crime is vital, so the Scottish Government has commissioned Lord Bracadale to conduct an independent review of hate crime legislation. That builds on the recommendation in Duncan Morrow’s report that we should consider whether the existing criminal law provides sufficient protections for people who may be at risk of hate crime, including in relation to their gender, age or refugee or asylum status. Lord Bracadale will make recommendations to ministers in early 2018, and we will consider them very carefully. Lord Bracadale plans to engage widely in developing his recommendations, and I look forward to meeting him later this month. I am sure that other members from across the chamber will seek to engage with the review as it proceeds.

It is also important to look beyond the justice system to ensure that our broader services are responsive to hate crime. We will therefore agree, with public transport operators, a hate crime charter that will provide common standards and consistent processes for dealing with hate crime on public transport. We will develop our understanding of hate crime in the workplace, and we will work with the Scottish Trades Union Congress and other organisations to take steps to address it.

Important as having strong services and quick responses to hate crime are, we know that they are not enough on their own. Awareness of hate crime needs to increase. In November last year I announced that we would run a public awareness campaign on hate crime in 2017. It aims to raise awareness, to help people to understand the impact of their actions and to increase wider societal understanding. It will build on previous campaigns, such as the campaign on standing up to hate crime that we ran in 2014. We plan to run this year’s campaign in conjunction with hate crime awareness week later this year.

All those steps are important, but we need also to tackle the prejudicial attitudes that cause hate crime. That is the fundamental route to preventing it from happening in the first place. Later this month, I will be announcing funding, through the equality budget, to promote equality and cohesion across Scotland. We will continue to support interfaith dialogue, and we are formally adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism. We will ensure that the advisory group’s recommendations are locked into our work to promote race equality and the rights of disabled people.

There are simple things that we can all do as members of our communities. This weekend sees the great get together, inspired by Jo Cox, which will see communities and neighbourhoods come together to celebrate what binds them, and I will be attending Edinburgh pride to stand shoulder to shoulder with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community in Scotland. I am sure that members throughout the chamber have similar plans, and I very much encourage everyone to get involved in some shape or form. The great get together is a fantastic initiative, so let us put our differences aside and celebrate all that we have in common.

Our response to the advisory group outlines what I consider to be an ambitious yet practical range of steps that will continue our work to build one Scotland with many cultures, where everyone has the opportunity to flourish and everyone can live in peace. I know that Parliament is united on the fact that hate crime and prejudice are unacceptable. Let us also unite around the continuing need to show leadership, remain vigilant and drive real change in the months and years ahead, as we look at practical action that makes a real difference to people’s lives.

The Presiding Officer:

I urge those who wish to ask a question to press their request-to-speak button if they have not already done so. I call Adam Tomkins.

Photo of Adam Tomkins Adam Tomkins Conservative

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s statement and the action that the Government is taking on hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion. Ministers have our full support and I associate myself and the Scottish Conservatives with the cabinet secretary’s comments on Manchester, London and the remarkable resilience of communities across the United Kingdom.

In 2015, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities published a report called “What’s Changed About Being Jewish in Scotland?” I will read two quick quotations from that report.

“For the first time in 62 years I did not attend high holiday services this year due to my security concerns.”

“I’m scared to tell people at work that I’m Jewish—I talk about going to church instead”.

Figures that were released last week show that, since that 2015 report, both offensive conduct towards Jews and offensive communication about Jews have increased in Scotland. What, specifically, is the Scottish Government doing to address the on-going rise of anti-Semitism in Scotland?

The cabinet secretary mentioned the multi-agency delivery group, but she did not offer much detail. When will it be established? Who will chair it? How many members will it have? What will its remit be? What specifics about those matters can the cabinet secretary share with us today?

The cabinet secretary talked of a renewed public awareness campaign building on the stand up to hate crime campaign in 2014. Was that campaign successful? How was it evaluated? What assessment of that campaign has the Scottish Government undertaken to ensure that, this time, public resources are targeted as effectively as possible? This is too important an issue for us to get it wrong.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I appreciate Mr Tomkins’s verbalisation of support for the action that we have taken in response to the range of recommendations that Duncan Morrow and his group have made.

I received a copy of the report that SCoJeC prepared in 2015 and I am very familiar with its content; indeed, I am very familiar with SCoJeC, which is an organisation that I have met on more than a few occasions across various portfolios. Charges for hate crime against Jews or Judaism are indeed up by 28 per cent. That is an increase from 18 to 23 charges. The figures remain very low; nonetheless, I accept that we must not be complacent and that there may well be underreporting. Underreporting is raised as an issue time and time again in relation to other hate crime, disability-related hate crime being another example. The interfaith work is particularly important in that regard, as is work done through our equality budget.

The multi-agency delivery group will have ministerial oversight. I will chair it, but that will not exclude the involvement of other ministers. Indeed, it has to be a cross-Government endeavour. Others who have been invited to participate include COSLA, the police and the Crown Office, which, although independent, has an important role to play, and there will be other groups and organisations that we will want to include.

I want the group to be up and running this year. The focus is on delivery, on practicalities and on how we can have an impact on the front line. My thinking has been informed by the way in which the equally safe joint strategic board operates with regard to delivery and the progress that we have managed to make on the ground with services for violence against women and girls.

Hate crime campaigns need to be evaluated. Along with Dr Morrow’s report, our previous experiences with the one Scotland campaign and the stand up to hate crime campaign in 2014 led us to the view that, as well as increasing awareness of hate crime, we need to increase awareness of its impact and that there is a role for increasing offenders’ insight into the impact of their behaviour. Even a low incidence of antisocial behaviour has a grinding impact on individuals day in, day out, and it increases social isolation and the risk of hatred.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

We welcome the statement and the priority that has been given to tackling hate crime and prejudice, and, in particular, the reference to the education service tackling prejudice and transphobic, homophobic and disability hate crime. We also welcome the particular reference to refugees and asylum seekers.

It is a difficult time for many communities around the country. I was struck by a quote from Duncan Morrow, who said that the alienation of minority groups “can lead ... to radicalisation”. What is the Government doing to respond to that point? Will the Government feed in anything at all to the much-discredited prevent strategy?

It would be wrong for us to be complacent. The cabinet secretary said in her statement that

“social attitudes have changed for the better”,

but I want an assurance from her that the Scottish Government will not found on that assumption about today’s world. On Sunday, I and many other members stood united against terrorism with the Muslim community. It is certainly not a complacent community and it is very vigilant.

Religiously aggravated offences have increased and we need to understand in some detail the nature of crimes that are committed because of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia—indeed, all offences that are committed on the ground of faith. When will more detailed figures be available so that we can all have a more detailed analysis of the issue?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I am grateful again for the tone and tenor of the member’s question. She is right to highlight the importance of education. She will be aware that counterterrorism is reserved, but many aspects of the prevent strategy are devolved. Although we have a justice service, a police service, a security service and a counterterrorism response to extremism, my statement today is about how we help communities to respond to extremism, how we help to bring people together and how we help to break down barriers and enable people to work, live and grow together. In many ways, that is the essence of Duncan Morrow’s work.

We have to be committed to that work with our communities in times of stability and calm, but also in times of adversity. We need to be committed in the long term to our efforts to address poverty and inequality, and to eradicate prejudice, discrimination and social isolation.

With regard to the member’s other comments, it is imperative that we ensure that no community is scapegoated for the actions of a mindless minority. Although we have not seen an increase in community tension following the tragic events in London and Manchester, it is vital that we are focused on that issue.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

Last week, a gentleman who is a citizen of the European Union came into my regional office in Dumfries because he had been on the receiving end of extreme verbal abuse at work and had been quite affected by it.

Can the cabinet secretary confirm that the further action outlined will reassure EU citizens who are living in the south of Scotland that tackling hate crime is an extremely important priority for the Scottish Government?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Emma Harper raises an important issue. Behind the statistics lie the personal testimony and experience of individuals. She touches on something that I did not address when I responded to Pauline McNeill. We always need to get behind the headline statistics.

For example, religiously aggravated offences have indeed increased, although there has been a decrease in the number of charges for hate crime committed against the Muslim community. However, we need to be hypervigilant around underreporting and emphasise the need to engage with our communities and the organisations that represent them. In addition, there can be absolutely no scapegoating.

As I said in response to an earlier question, although, unlike south of the border, we saw no spike in hate crime following the EU referendum, we must not be complacent. I am sure that Emma Harper is interested to know, given her constituent’s experience of verbal abuse at work, that we are taking action and working with employers and the STUC to improve equality and community cohesion. We are also taking that work into new spheres such as the workplace.

It is important that members continue to raise the individual experiences of constituents because that gives the Government and others the opportunity to reiterate that EU nationals remain welcome in this country and that any abuse is unacceptable and must always be reported.

The Presiding Officer:

We have a number of questions and I hope to get through them all.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s statement. The advisory group’s report highlights concerns that

“data collection and disaggregation appears to be inconsistent” and that

Police Scotland data is mixed in terms of usefulness, in particular because it has not been available at local level since the creation of Police Scotland.”

The report also states that “continuous delays” are being experienced in establishing a vulnerable persons database, which is

“an obvious barrier to producing good police data”.

Will the cabinet secretary confirm what the Scottish Government is doing about the wider issue of data collection and say when the vulnerable persons database will be established?

The cabinet secretary highlighted the role of social media companies in removing unacceptable content and ensuring that their users have a safe experience. Will she elaborate on any discussions that she or the Government have had with social media companies and, where such issues concern reserved matters, the discussions that she has had with the United Kingdom Government?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I hope to reassure the member. The justice analytical services division is working on a broader range of information with respect to victims, offenders and the circumstances in which offending has occurred. Through a variety of means, including the multidisciplinary group, that will inform policy and our actions.

I will ask the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to respond directly to the member on the vulnerable persons database and local data. She is right to point out that we need to look at a variety of data. We should not forget what the Scottish social attitudes survey tells us about the progress that we are making and where we still have work to do. There is also the survey work that the Scottish Refugee Council has done.

Lord Bracadale’s work will touch on online abuse. We all have a responsibility to raise awareness of the risks and to promote safety online. We will continue to work with the UK Government and others on that. There are specific prevent duties on Scottish specified authorities in relation to their information technology solutions and filters, and there is no doubt that there is more to do.

I understand that Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft have made a commitment to work together to remove offensive material. It is important that, as a Government, we continue to pressure companies to make progress, but we must also recognise the work that we need to do in communities.

The Presiding Officer:

I remind members to keep questions and answers as succinct as possible.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

What more will the Scottish Government do to reduce and tackle disability hate crime?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I hope that it goes without saying that we are absolutely committed to tackling hate crime in all its forms, including disability hate crime. We believe that disability hate crime remains underreported and we will continue to work with disabled people’s organisations to encourage reporting of that crime.

We will continue to progress that work through our planned awareness-raising campaign and the establishment of the multi-agency delivery group. It is important that the work that other ministers are doing locks into the work that we are doing to tackle disability hate crime, and particularly the work that the Minister for Social Security has done in pulling together the disability delivery plan.

Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of her statement. I agree that tackling hate crime in all its forms must be a priority and I welcome her announcement of funding through the equality budget to promote equality and cohesion across Scotland. However, I am disappointed that she has failed to refer to the recent Scottish Police Authority figures, which highlight a concerning rise of 34.5 per cent between 2015-16 and 2016-17 in hate crime that targets transgender people.

The Presiding Officer:

Briefly please, Ms Fee.

Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

There has undoubtedly been progress in improving the knowledge of police officers about the specific hate crime that is suffered by members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, and Police Scotland worked with the Equality Network to provide 91 police officers with bespoke LGBTI training. What plans does the cabinet secretary have to work with the Equality Network and Police Scotland to widen access to LGBTI training for police officers in order to help to eradicate that particularly insidious type of hate crime and to promote a more socially inclusive and cohesive society?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I advise Mary Fee that I am informed that work has already been undertaken with Police Scotland on specific training for police officers about LGBTI issues. Police officers also have a role in providing training, particularly to people who work in third-party reporting centres. Training is a live issue that will have to be continually revisited.

The member is right to point to the increase in hate crime against the transgender community. The number of reported crimes went up from 30 in the previous year to 40. I think that we would all accept that there is underreporting and that we have to continue in our endeavours with the Equality Network and Police Scotland to encourage reporting, even of low-level incidents, at all times. It is really important that people report all abuse in all its forms to show that it will not be tolerated in any shape or fashion.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of her statement and assure her of the Scottish Green Party’s support for the initiatives that she outlined. Anti-Semitism has been touched on, and the rise of the far right has clearly played a part in that unacceptable and heinous crime. On the redefinition of anti-Semitism, will the cabinet secretary outline the deficiencies of the previous definition, say whether she also has plans to redefine Islamophobia and give her response to concerns that the definition of anti-Semitism could be abused to stop legitimate criticism of the apartheid state of Israel?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I reassure Mr Finnie that we engage with all communities without fear or favour, whether it is the Jewish or the Muslim community. If the Muslim community approached the Government about reshaping definitions that have a practical impact on how it is supported on the ground, there would be an open door for that.

We looked at the definition of anti-Semitism very carefully. We spoke to a range of stakeholders and were persuaded coolly and calmly of the merits of the definition.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

I, too, thank the cabinet secretary for giving us advance sight of her statement. Does she agree that tackling hate crime must start from an early age and that there is a need to ensure that LGBTI pupils at every school have sufficient protection and enjoy a culture of openness and acceptance that is fostered by teaching staff, particularly given that the time for inclusive education campaign informs us that nine out of 10 LGBTI pupils have suffered homophobia, biphobia or transphobia? Does she recognise that, as a hangover from the days of section 2A and as a result of some aspects of religious doctrine, an anxiety still exists in some schools—particularly faith-based schools—about what aspects of sexuality may be discussed in school?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

It is of course the Government’s job and duty to provide as much clarity and certainty on such matters as possible. Mr Cole-Hamilton might be interested to note that the LGBTI inclusive education working group met for the first time on 9 May and is due to meet again on 20 June. The Deputy First Minister has also committed to meeting universities, the General Teaching Council for Scotland and local authorities before the summer recess to do a content analysis of equality issues in initial teacher education.

The points that the Deputy First Minister has touched on about equality training for guidance staff, all teaching staff and the children’s workforce as a whole are well made. He is well engaged on equality issues that relate to continuing professional development for teaching staff as well as to personal, social and emotional education—he has engaged closely with the Education and Skills Committee’s inquiry on that.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

The cabinet secretary mentioned Jo Cox, who was a victim of hate crime. I think that the cabinet secretary said that she was going to attend an event this weekend. Does the Government have any other involvement in the great get together events?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Yes. Several ministers recently met Brendan Cox to hear about the work of the Jo Cox Foundation, and I know that the Presiding Officer and other parliamentarians, including party leaders, met Mr Cox and members of the foundation. As I said, I will attend the Edinburgh pride event at the weekend. The First Minister will host an intergenerational women’s event at Glasgow Women’s Library on Saturday, and the Minister for Social Security will host an event on Friday for disabled people in Glasgow, which has been arranged through the Glasgow Disability Alliance. I encourage everybody to get out and support the great get together this weekend.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

Will the cabinet secretary give an assurance that the work of the Bracadale review in relation to the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 will not be used to hinder parliamentary scrutiny of the member’s bill that I am pursuing to repeal that act?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

It is not for ministers to hinder parliamentary scrutiny of any piece of proposed legislation, including the member’s bill. The Bracadale review includes the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 because that is a key piece of hate crime legislation. Lord Bracadale is committed to accessibility in the conduct of the review, and there will be opportunities for members to remain apprised of the work and to engage with it. The Government will wait and see what members’ response is not just to Lord Bracadale’s review but to Mr Kelly's member’s bill.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s statement on LGBTI equality. Does she agree that that is important not just in Scotland but across the UK?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Yes. According to the rainbow index for 2016, which is published by ILGA-Europe, Scotland is one of the most progressive countries on LGBTI equality. However, we cannot be complacent. It is unacceptable that, as we have seen in the hate crime statistics, homophobic incidents have increased by 5 per cent, and I think that they increased by 10 per cent in the previous year. Crimes against the LGBTI community are the second most common form of hate crime, although we have progressive policies and legislation in place. We need to continue to work closely with national LGBTI organisations.

It is important to advance and promote equality outwith Scotland. That is why the Government allows civil partners from elsewhere who want to get married in Scotland to do so, and it is why my party wants to ensure that same-sex couples have equal pension rights. It is also why we believe that the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office should appoint a special envoy to promote rights and to help alleviate the discrimination and persecution that the LGBTI community faces throughout the world.