Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 219 and to reinforce all the powerful arguments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. I am not a lawyer, but it seems bizarre that sex and gender have explicitly not been recognised in existing hate crime legislation. Crimes motivated by hostility to disability, transgender identity, race, religion and sexual orientation are all recognised, but not those motivated by sex and gender. Yet, in a report published in January this year by UN Women UK, 71% of the 1,000 women polled had experienced sexual harassment in a public place, rising to a staggering 97% of women under the age of 25.
This is made worse by the sad fact that there is widespread scepticism among women and girls about reporting violence and abuse to the police because they have no confidence that their claims will be acted on or even taken seriously. Violence against women and girls does not occur in a vacuum, of course. Hostility towards women and girls creates a culture in which violence and abuse is tolerated and repeated. That culture has to be changed, so a reform to legislation, which this amendment proposes and which I hope the Government will support, must be accompanied by a transformation of attitudes within the police.
I believe that there are encouraging signs that this is happening, albeit slowly. I was fortunate to attend the briefing that has been mentioned on this amendment given by the former chief superintendent of police for Nottinghamshire, Sue Fish—a pioneer of this approach —and Stuart Henderson, North Yorkshire Police’s hate crime co-ordinator, who is currently delivering this policy. It was absolutely fascinating to learn how much of a difference can be made when the leadership of the force is committed to driving a policy forward. A number of other forces are doing the same, and I commend this approach to the Metropolitan police force as it struggles to respond to the tsunami of criticism on gender-based hate crimes.
Because not all police forces have signed up, there is no consistency of reporting or approach to these crimes. That is why the amendment is necessary: to ensure that every woman and girl right across the country can feel confident that the role of misogyny in what they experience on a daily basis will at last be taken seriously and dealt with appropriately. It is also necessary because it would require police forces to record instances of motivation by hostility to the victim’s sex or gender, enabling them to monitor much more effectively the incidence of these crimes and so address and prevent them. Evaluation of this approach in Nottinghamshire showed improved victim confidence to come forward and report crimes, and benefits to the local police in their efforts to combat these crimes. It is a great tribute to Sue Fish that she persisted in pursuing the need for this change, and to Nottinghamshire Police for embracing it as pioneers.
Finally, I am aware that the Government have asked the Law Commission to look at this, and it is due to report imminently. I hope the Government will not use that as an excuse to kick this into the long grass; even if the Law Commission reports soon, too many of its reports are ignored by the Government and not implemented. In replying today, I hope the Minister will acknowledge the urgency of this issue and commit to concrete measures, as set out in the amendment, to address it speedily.