Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)



  80. I appreciate that.
  (Mr Weatherill) I am not sure to what extent the Government's statistical machine will have caught things yet but we can check and see what statistical information, if any, is available.
  (Mr Stevenson) We can give you statistics on racially aggravated offences. For example, in the last statistics published there were 21,750 racially aggravated offences recorded by the police in 1990-2000.

  81. So racially aggravated offences are on the increase?
  (Mr Stevenson) It is hard to tell because they were only introduced in 1998. I do not think we have quite established a base line for how many there are. There was certainly a significant under reporting of those offences prior to the introduction of those offences.
  (Mr Weatherill) But as you can hear there are very substantial numbers of those offences being reported.

  82. If we found that these aggravated offences were on the increase then presumably they would be the result of incitement by other people. You do not get people committing racially or religiously aggravated offences unless someone has instigated them to do that. Although you cannot produce any examples of religious incitement there would be indirect evidence of the existent of religious incitement if we knew about religiously aggravated offences.
  (Mr Stevenson) I think it would be extremely difficult to make a direct link between incitement and racially aggravated offences. The reason for that is because racially aggravated offences are quite broadly defined, there are nine of them and they cover a range of material. They involve not only aggravation but motivation, hostility towards a racial group in connection with a basic offence. I think it would be quite difficult to draw a direct link between incitement and the racially aggravated offences figures.

  Lord Avebury: I think it would be useful for the Committee to have that information.


  83. I think perhaps one of the ways that you could help us on this is on the sentencing side because that after all was the genesis of introducing this new form of aggravation, so where the maximum penalties were rather low for a non-aggravated offence they were increased in 1998 for the racially aggravated offences.
  (Mr Weatherill) Indeed.

  84. It is the parallel with that that we are now concerned with. I do not know whether there is any information at all about courts having felt that they were unable to impose severe penalties on particular occasions because there was no such thing as religiously aggravated offences.
  (Mr Weatherill) We can have a look at that for you.

  85. I think that is partly what Lord Avebury was trying to achieve. Could I go on then. We have got a number of questions that we have really covered already about the other parts of the United Kingdom and you told us, for instance, what offences there are in Scotland. Is there anything to be learned from the operation of the 1987 Public Order (Northern Ireland) legislation that we could usefully take on board?
  (Mr Weatherill) The experience in Northern Ireland has been that the new offences have not been very much used but they have been used. There is nothing in the Northern Ireland experience which would lead Government to pause in believing that the same approach should be adopted in England and Wales.

  86. I think there is one thing I missed out on question 14. We all now know about e-mails and we did ask about electronically devised aggravations. Would you be able to identify anything of that sort, a modern version of stirring things up?
  (Mr Stevenson) The 1986 Act was certainly never designed with e-mails and the Internet in mind but it does actually cover quite usefully, because it refers to text and signs and images, both electronic mail and Internet web pages. The principle that the Government follows is what is illegal off-line should be illegal on-line provided it falls within the United Kingdom's jurisdiction.

  87. We are still, I think, looking for examples.
  (Mr Stevenson) Electronic mail would be difficult because it could be private communications. We may be able to direct you towards some web pages which had they been posted in the United Kingdom could be considered possibly illegal under the provisions of Lord Avebury's Bill but which are not illegal because they are not in our jurisdiction.

  88. I think there are websites that have caused concern, are there not?
  (Mr Stevenson) Yes.

Lord Avebury

  89. Do you have contact with the Internet Watch Foundation which I understand monitors possible criminal offences committed on the web although they appear to concentrate most of their energy on child pornography?
  (Mr Stevenson) We do have contact with the Internet Watch Foundation. Although their priority is child pornography they do have a remit to cover racially inflammatory material and they do report complaints from their hotline to the Home Office and to the police.

  90. Would they be helpful, do you think?
  (Mr Stevenson) We can certainly let you see what has been directed to us from the Internet Watch Foundation. Again, some of those cases are forwarded to the police for investigation and some of them do not fall within the UK's jurisdiction but we can certainly add that to the information that you would like.


  91. I want to try and meet my deadline, so if we could move on. We have already touched upon Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention. Am I right in thinking that the qualifications to Articles 9 and 10 will be sufficient to allow legislation along the sort of lines that we are talking about but not to infringe people's rights under that Convention?
  (Mr Weatherill) So the Government believes and the Anti-terrorism Bill was so certified to that effect when it was introduced.

  92. That was the basis of the certifications, was it?
  (Mr Weatherill) Yes.

  93. I think Lady Perry might be interested in the qualifications because those are really the safeguard and the degree of flexibility that an individual government—
  (Mr Weatherill) The qualifications under Article 10 of the Convention?

  94. Particularly 10 but 9 has got a qualification too, I understand.
  (Mr Weatherill) Indeed, 9 and 10, they are both relevant.

  95. In question 19, and I dare say you are going to tell us you have not got any examples, we were led to believe that some religious incitement to hatred had been used in order to disguise what was in fact incitement to racial hatred which would otherwise have been criminal. Does that make any sense at all?
  (Mr Weatherill) Yes, we believe that the position is exactly that. Perhaps in the light of the comments you made earlier we can have a look and see if there is some material we could specifically give you in support of that assertion.

  96. That is a valid point, is it?
  (Mr Weatherill) Absolutely.

  97. Lastly, you touched on this already, I do not think that the discrimination area is likely to give rise to criminal offences, which we take to be your terms of reference, but can you give us a little bit more information about progress in implementing the European Community Directive on Ageism—
  (Mr Weatherill) It is the full range of equalities, yes.

  98. Religious discrimination and something else.
  (Mr Weatherill) Sexuality.

  99. Gender.
  (Mr Weatherill) Gender and sexuality, sexual orientation.

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