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Lord Marsh: My Lords, I wish to put one question to the noble Lord because I genuinely seek the answer. Is he really saying that, if an elderly couple in a flat are badly beaten up and, say, one of them is black and the other white, because the assailant is a racist as well as a thug and uses racial abuse against the one but not against the other, such a crime should attract two different sentences?

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I am saying exactly that, as the noble Lord pointed out.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, taking his Wrexham example, are not the police a group with a number of identifiable characteristics? Is not hatred of the police a well known facet, not only in Wrexham but in many other places? Is a football team or its supporters another identifiable characteristic? Almost everyone could beat up someone other than a personal enemy; almost everyone will have one or other category of person that they dislike. Where would the noble Lord stop?

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I think that I can now satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, with propriety because I intend to speak to my amendment and to reply to the amendments moved and spoken to by other noble Lords. That will give the noble Lord an opportunity—

Lord Lucas: No, my Lords, absolutely not. I want to speak to the amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, as well. The ordinary way of doing things in this House is for the Minister to move her amendment at the beginning as a part of the grouping. That would give noble Lords an opportunity to listen to her arguments and reply to them. I was in her position and I have done exactly that often enough.

I understand that the noble Baroness is not going to choose to take that course on this occasion, which I regret. Therefore I shall direct my speech now to the amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and try to imagine what the noble Baroness means in her amendment. That is difficult because I have not heard her speak. She will sound off on her amendment and we shall be given no decent opportunity to reply to it or to integrate what we have to say about the other amendments in the grouping with what she will say about hers. I find that a profoundly unsatisfactory way of dealing with a government amendment, and I am sorry that the noble Baroness is choosing this course.

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I wish to make a speech on the grouping as a whole, but the noble Baroness has chosen not to present her part in it because she has the right to respond at the end of the debate.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord has omitted to read the Companion, which states that, on Report, noble Lords may not speak after the Minister.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the Companion also states that the Minister has the right, if she so wishes, to speak to her amendment earlier. That is a right which I used myself on many occasions when I had the honour to sit in her position, or rather in the position of the noble Baroness the Lady in Waiting. The noble Baroness has the ability to do that and it would make things better for the House.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, can I make it plain that I am perfectly content to speak now so that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, can say anything he likes about my amendment? I have been patiently taking advice as regards how I can respond with propriety and I am anxious to do so. I shall now speak to my amendment—

Lord Lucas: My Lords, no. I wish to speak to the amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. If the noble Baroness now speaks in the way she wishes, I shall not have the opportunity to do so.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, it is my understanding of the rules set out in the Companion that the noble Lord may speak to all the amendments in the grouping together. The amendment which has been moved and is now before the House is the first amendment in the grouping. All the other amendments which noble Lords have agreed to include in the grouping may be spoken to or may not. My noble friend on the Front Bench has agreed to speak to her amendments within the group. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will then be able to make his speech on any or all of the amendments within the group.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I hope, with that clear exposition, that the noble Lord is at last content. I had somewhat naively believed that grouping my amendments with these would give noble Lords a little pleasure. I understand entirely that that is an aspiration which I should no longer hold.

Perhaps I may say straightaway to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, that I understand his concerns in relation to this group of amendments. I understand, too, that his amendment seeks to create a generic offence of hate crime into which members of any group could fall if they were to exhibit the characteristics which could qualify them for and merit the additional sanction or protection which the designation of a hate crime would provide.

I understand, too, that while the drafting may be flawed, it was crafted so that we could have the advantage of debating these issues properly and

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provide proper protection for those who may have a peculiar vulnerability and be subjected to hate crimes. Therefore, there is no question of disparaging the amendment because it has given us the opportunity to do what we have now enjoyed for one hour and two minutes; namely, to debate this issue. For that, I hope the noble Viscount will not be too surprised when I say that I thank him.

Perhaps I may start by saying how much I welcome the concerted effort which has been made by several Members of this House to highlight the plight of victims of hate crime. As many noble Lords have pointed out, all forms of hate crime are pernicious and the Government must keep as a priority the need to tackle such crime in whatever form it takes. Of course I hear the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, who said that the notion of hate crime is ridiculous and misleading; that it is a North American innovation which we could do without. That may be his view, but the reality is that, regrettably, hate crime is with us and, tragically, many innocent and vulnerable people are subjected to such crimes. We now have an opportunity to do something that will give better protection to those who are so subject.

I hear, too, what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, say about the failure to respond properly and comprehensively to the Select Committee report. I am told that the Select Committee report is detailed, weighty and deserving of a comprehensive response. This is now being undertaken and we are hopeful that our completed response will be available at some stage next week. That is our most realistic expectation. I unreservedly apologise that it has taken so long. I hope that when they see its contents the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will consider that it was worth the wait.

Let me now turn to the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and those of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I shall first outline some of the background to satisfy the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy—who is not in her place at the moment, but I am sure that she will return to the Chamber—to know what we have been talking about for the past little while.

We have listened very carefully to the arguments on the subject of hate crime and have concluded that there is more than enough evidence to support extending the current requirement on courts to increase sentences for racially and religiously aggravated offences to include offences aggravated by hostility towards the victim because of his or her sexual orientation or disability.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to the evidence given to the Select Committee by my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General. However, it is important to remember that what my noble and learned friend said was his own view. On page 228 at paragraph 667 he said:

    "My own view is that there are advantages in having a separate offence as a matter of principle because it enables Parliament to send a very clear and loud message that particular conduct is not going to be tolerated".

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That was my noble and learned friend's view, with which both I and the Government concur.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, so in other words the Government and Parliament are sending a loud message to the people who commit hate crimes against those who are characterised by their religion, lack of religion or racial origin, but not those who are characterised by sexual orientation or disability?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, that is not what I am saying. We believe that the government amendments state very clearly indeed that the Government feel such issues should not be tolerated.

Let me now deal with the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. He referred to the worry that many will have that comment which is adverse to others may somehow be used as the basis for aggravation and prosecution. That is not the purpose of these clauses.

Such offences are worryingly common. A survey carried out by Stonewall and published in 1996 found that 32 per cent of those surveyed had experienced homophobic violence in the past five years. That figure rose to 48 per cent of young people under the age of 18. So we are not talking about people whose feelings may be tenderly hurt or touched; we are talking about people who are suffering violence and difficulty and whose lives are being made very miserable indeed by such actions.

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