The start of a debate on disability hate crime in the House Yesterday, which mentions the Disability Hate Crime Network and Katharine Quarmby’s survey. It also points out my aims on 3rd party reporting.
This is the full debate as recorded. Its a long read, but an important one.
CPS and Disability Hate Crime
I beg to move,
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he agree that improving the understanding of disability hate crime among prosecutors is an essential step in giving more victims the confidence they need to come forward, as we have seen in other areas?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I will touch on that point a little later.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some disabled people need particular support in reporting hate crime and will he join me in paying tribute to Disability Equality North West, which serves both our constituencies and is based just across the river in Preston in my constituency?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. So many voluntary organisations, charities, local government and other agencies do really good work in this area and it would be helpful to have examples of good practice that we can feed into a national database.
It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Bone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) on securing the debate. It is timely because, as he will know, the CPS is currently consulting on its policy for prosecuting disability hate crime. I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General will ensure that the Hansard record of this debate is forwarded to the CPS as input to the consultation, so that it can hear the views of hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber and from all parts of the United Kingdom.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that awareness by a victim that they are actually the subject of a hate crime is very important, because in some of these cases the criminal is not a stranger? Does he also agree that campaigns—such as the one by the Lancashire police and crime commissioner, “Say No To Hate”—which raise awareness, are good for everyone because victims have more awareness that they have actually been subject to a hate crime?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I will say more later about disability hate crime, particularly against people with learning disabilities. In that respect, raising awareness of what is a hate crime, whether someone has been a victim of it and what they should do as a result is particularly important, and I join my hon. Friend in commending the efforts of her law enforcement bodies locally.
May I say what a joy it is to follow the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper)? We recall his energies as the Minister for Disabled People and thank him for the good work he put in. It is good to see him here contributing to the debate in a different capacity. It was also a pleasure to hear the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) set the scene so well. This subject is close to my heart and to his, and to the hearts of all who are participating in today’s debate.
The hon. Gentleman, my friend from my neighbouring constituency, is making a compelling case. Does he agree that the Government could demonstrate their commitment to tackling hate crime by publishing a response to the Law Commission’s 2014 consultation paper, which considered extending existing offences? We would like to hear from the Solicitor General on that.
I thank the hon. Lady, who is a friend as well, for her intervention. She has outlined the issue clearly, and I hope that the Minister responds to her point.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I thank the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) for securing the debate. This is one of those special debates where it is easy to find broad consensus, which we should always cherish when we find it.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. It is also a great privilege to speak opposite the Solicitor General for the first time. As a fellow Welsh lawyer, I look forward to speaking opposite him and to our future debates.
I tried hard not to be tempted, but the hon. Gentleman has pushed me too far. I take his point, but the former Chancellor made it clear which people he was talking about. The Government made it clear that people who can work should work. He was not attacking people who cannot work, and I do not think that anyone honestly thought that he was. The Government have been clear that we support people who cannot work, but that we expect those who can work to do so, and not to live off others. That is the point that the former Chancellor was making, and it is a reasonable view that I think would be shared by people across the country.
All I can say is that it is a shame that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not go on to make that distinction when he made those comments on the “Today” programme, which I was careful to quote precisely and not to paraphrase. I am afraid that such comments, in isolation, can have the effect that I mentioned.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) on securing the debate; I am profoundly grateful to him. He and others who have taken part will know that the issue of disability hate crime has been close to my heart not just as Solicitor General but as a Back-Bench Member of Parliament, and indeed as a parent, for a number of years.
I agree entirely with the point that the Solicitor General is making. Nevertheless, does he accept that there can be situations in which vulnerable people are taken advantage of by confidence tricksters? We should focus on that as well.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point. I welcome him warmly to his position and congratulate him on attaining it. It is a pleasure to work with him. He is quite right to talk about “mate crime”. Perhaps such examples highlight one of the deficiencies and inadequacies of using a phrase such as “hate crime” to describe the full panoply of crimes committed against people with disabilities. Mate crime is an insidious way in which perpetrators gain the confidence of often isolated and sometimes rather lonely people, perhaps with a learning disability such as autism, or another disability, and, using the trust they have built up, proceed to abuse it, very often in the form of financial crime, such as fraud, or worse—violence and sexual crime are also covered by the definition of mate crime. That is worse than confidence tricksters; it is an abuse of trust. In my mind, that makes the crime even more serious.
I indicated in my contribution that the figure for prosecutions was down in the past year, and asked whether that was because the police were not giving the issue the focus and priority that they should. If the Minister can answer that now, that would be good, but if not I am happy to wait for a response. Is disability hate crime a priority for the police?
I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance he seeks. On as many of the questions he asked as possible, I shall outline the measures that are being taken. The mandated package of training—to which I think he referred in a question to me in the main Chamber some months ago—has been delivered through a classroom-based approach, as opposed to using the internet. That is very important. It was a mandated package, so it had to be delivered to all prosecutors, and it was delivered between September last year and January this year. In particular, it incorporated the victim’s perspective and provided support on identifying evidence of hostility in order to obtain those important recorded sentencing uplifts.
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Solicitor General’s 20-minute speech, but Members will be aware that it is now a courtesy to allow the mover of the motion to wind up the debate.
I am very grateful to you, Mr Bone, for that clarification. I will conclude by saying that for far too long people with disabilities have accepted being treated as second-class citizens. That is why I commend the work of the CPS in tackling the scourge of hate crime and I again thank the hon. Member for Bootle for raising this important issue.
I appreciate the comments of everyone who has participated today; it is an important debate to get out into the open. It is crucial that we push on with this matter and ensure that once an action plan is down on paper— however good or bad those proposals might be—it is put into action; hence my comments to the Minister in relation to some of the points that I raised.