Chinese and East Asian Communities: Racism during Covid-19

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:09 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 5:09 pm, 13th October 2020

I commit to doing as the hon. Lady asked. It is important that we remain committed to, and steadfast in standing up for anyone who finds themselves a victim of hate crime or of any hate, because, sadly, our Chinese and East Asian communities are not alone in that experience. We know that bigots are only too happy to spread hatred against Jewish and Muslim communities and others if it suits them.

This Government have a zero-tolerance approach to those who commit such acts. The perpetrators of hate crimes in relation to covid-19 are being punished. The Crown Prosecution Service has prosecuted a number of people for crimes involving racist abuse on the basis of perceived Chinese ethnicity. We will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with people of Chinese and East Asian heritage, and this Government have shown that time and again, supporting not only those who have made these islands their home, but people who visit for tourism or access to our world-class education system, which we spoke about this afternoon. Also, our generous offer to those from Hong Kong eligible to come to make a new life here stands as testament to our solidarity. Although the level of hate crime towards people of Chinese and East Asian heritage appears to have reduced since earlier this year, the Government have no interest in showing complacency.

We will continue to ensure that victims are supported wherever possible and to bring people who carry out hateful attacks to justice. We already have one of the strongest legislative frameworks in the world to protect communities from hostility, violence and bigotry and to deal with the perpetrators of hate crime. We will strengthen that framework through measures set out in our online harms White Paper and bring forward world-leading legislation to make the UK the safest place to be online.

We intend to establish in law a new duty of care on companies towards their users, which will be overseen by the independent regulator, and we will not stop there. We have asked the Law Commission to undertake a full review of the coverage and approach of hate crime legislative provisions. It has opened a public consultation and will report to Ministers early next year.

We will also consult on our hate crime action plan. It has guided our work over the past four years and has been well regarded, but now is the time to consider whether we can be even more ambitious. We will consult widely in the coming months to ensure that we build an effective new approach, which will benefit from the input of many of our diverse communities. I look forward to the Chinese and East Asian communities playing their part.

I want to pick up on a point made by Bambos Charalambous about the police. He highlighted the annual statistics that were reported today. One of the elements that shows progress in this area is that we are seeing more of an understanding from the police of what hate crime is and the ability to categorise it, so that it is being better reported. I hope that we will continue to see that work in the statistics, but I totally agree with the comments that have been made: while we are seeing progress in this space, we need to continue with the work to make sure that the complexities are understood and articulated in the reporting, and that when individuals feel they want to report to the police, they are comfortable in doing that. I was pleased to hear that 87% of the Chinese community surveyed trusted their local police, in comparison with the national average of, I believe, just over 76%.

On spending to work with our communities, we have committed to spend through the faith, race and hate crime grant scheme, which enables local groups to bid for grants for work, including with schools and young people. That is a £1.5 million pot. We also have the integrated communities action plan, with more than 70 commitments within that plan, and we are working towards completing them.

Comments have been made about members of my party. I am not here to speak for individuals, and I am unaware of some of the details. One thing I am very comfortable to say is that the party I represent stands against any form of racism. I am very proud to be part of a party that holds that position, whether people agree or not. In my role as a Minister in MHCLG, I will do all I can to make sure that all communities in our country have equality and feel parity through the work we are doing. It is something that I have had experience of in other roles as a Minister in this Government over the past two years. I am looking forward to working with colleagues as we progress the action plans as we move through covid.

This week being National Hate Crime Awareness Week, it is a moment to reflect on the challenges that confront us and reaffirm our commitment to tackling hatred. I believe that today’s debate has been an important part of that, and we should all stand together to condemn hatred and bigotry in all forms, and focus instead on what ties bind us together. I end by thanking everyone for their contributions to today’s debate, and look forward to further conversations with colleagues as we progress some of the work I have outlined this afternoon.