More support for hate crime victims
Posted by Kate Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston, at 09:43, Fri 4 November 2011:
This week saw a heavy three days of debate in the Chamber on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders bill, before it goes on to be considered in the House of Lords.
It’s generally a terrible bill, not least because it will mean that many of those on lower incomes won’t be able to afford legal advice. People who’ve got problems with their landlord, or with their employer, or with their children’s school, will no longer be eligible for help with the costs of legal advice.
Those who’ve been injured or contracted an illness at work will no longer be able to get financial help to take legal action to get compensation from their employer. That causes particular outrage in Greater Manchester, where victims of asbestos-related illness, contracted often many years ago, will no longer get the justice they deserve.
Nor will victims of phone hacking be able to afford to take legal action unless they’re very rich. The changes the government’s bringing in would for example have prevented Milly Dowler’s family from pursuing action against News International when they learned her phone was hacked. I’m disgusted that the government is taking such a step.
So I spent a lot of time this week in the Chamber, challenging the government on its proposals. Mostly it was a dispiriting experience, not least as the LibDems took the opportunity to speak out against the government, and then mostly sat on their hands when it came to a vote. It was also deeply disappointing to watch backbench Tory MPs filibustering, so parts of the bill simply didn’t get debated at all.
But suddenly, in the middle of all this gloom, I had a startling moment of success. With the support of MPs from across the House, I’d tabled an amendment to ensure that the sentence for murder where the victim’s disability is a motivating or aggravating feature would be increased to align with that where sexuality, race or religion is involved.
I'd heard harrowing stories from families of disabled people who’d been victims murder (and often tortured), who were understandably very anxious to see the law tightened up. I was very proud to propose the amendment – and absolutely gob-smacked when the Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, responded by committing the government to bringing forward its own proposals to achieve what I was asking for when the bill reaches the House of Lords.
It’s not often an opposition MP persuades a minister to change the law, and at first I could hardly believe what I had heard. But this really was a great victory for campaigners, disabled people and their families – now I’ll be looking out for exactly what the government’s amendment says.
I was also in the Chamber for Home Secretary Theresa May’s announcement about the government’s new strategy for tackling youth violence and gangs. In truth there wasn’t that much new. What’s more, Labour MPs are very concerned that there simply won’t be enough money for the police, youth services and communities themselves to take the steps they need to take to address gang culture and violence.
The Home Secretary talked a lot about the role of communities, something we can really demonstrate we’ve been successful at here. During Trafford Week of Peace earlier this autumn, I heard from community activists and peace campaigners about how the community in Old Trafford had led the very effective efforts to tackle violence and gangs,
It’s important that we give recognition to the vital role of the community, and that solutions are driven by and have the buy-in of local people if there’s to be real change. Theresa May told me there would be a new government team set up to help with that. But I hope she’s willing to learn lessons from the success of places like Old Trafford, which is down to the fact that it’s the local community and local people who are in the driving seat.