Annotated reply from the Home Office to OutRage!’s letter to the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, following the bombing of the ‘Admiral Duncan’ pub.
Queen Anne’s Gate,
London SW1H 9AT.
23rd June, 1999.
Thank you for your letter of 3 May following the Soho bombing. I apologise for the delay in sending this reply and thank you for your patience.
As you know the Government has good relations with representatives from the gay and lesbian community.
This is presumably intended as a reply to point 4, demanding broader consultation with the L/G/B/T community, not just with Stonewall to the exclusion of all other organisations and interest groups.
With regard to your specific points:
Dealing with violence and harassment
First, let me say that the Government wants to stop attacks and harassment upon lesbians and gay men. The Government believes that everyone is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their lives without fear of harassment or violent crime. The Government considers such behaviour to be totally unacceptable whether the motivation for the attack is because of the victim’s perceived sexual orientation or for any other reason.
The Government’s view is that the law must be able to offer everyone in society the best possible protection from violence, whatever the motivation of the aggressor. There are many groups in society, which for one reason or another are particularly victimised and it is important that the law protects them all.
I have set out the relevant law below. However, the way in which the law is implemented is also important. When considering a custodial sentence, judges are already required to take into account all available information about the circumstances of the offence, including any aggravating factors, which can include the motivation of the perpetrator in committing the offence.
While the Government does not accept the need for specific legislative measures to deal with homophobic attacks, and is determined to deal with the problem of homophobic crime. [sic]
This is a reply to point 1, demanding tougher sentences for violence and harassment against lesbians and gay men, in precisely the same way that Tony Blair proposed (after the Soho bomb) for racially motivated attacks. OutRage! cannot see any difference between hatred fuelled by racial prejudice and hatred fuelled by prejudice based on differing sexuality.
For example we have been working with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to develop guidelines for police forces in dealing with incidents involving the lesbian and gay community and in order to ensure that they are policed in a fair and equitable manner. The guidelines include a definition of what should be regarded as a homophobic incident: “any incident which appears either to the victim or to any other person including the reporting or investigating officer to be motivated by homophobia”.
Increasingly, the police are working with the gay and lesbian community to deal with this problem – not only on a local, individual basis but also through liaison with the National Advisory Group on Policing the Lesbian and Gay Communities. The group includes lesbians and gay men who have experience of working with the police, together with police officers who work in this area. The National Advisory Group has worked with ACPO in developing the guidelines mentioned above.
The Government considers that there are particular problems associated with racial violence and harassment that justify specific legislation. Racially motivated crime harms not only the victim but the wider community as well, and has implications for public order more generally. The trust and understanding built up between communities can be eroded by the climate of fear and anxiety that follows such incidents. This is why the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced new racially aggravated offences. The aim is to protect everyone from the consequences of racial crime and we would not wish to dilute the message that this Act sends to the victims of racial violence and harassment.
The criminal law already contains a wide range of powers to deal with violent behaviour or harassment. The main non-fatal violent offences include:
- assault which attracts a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and or a fine of £ 5,000;
- assault occasioning actual bodily harm (section 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861) and malicious wounding (section 20 of the 1861 Act) with a maximum five years’ imprisonment;
- wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm under section 18 of the 1861 Act which attracts a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Where an attack results in death the offender may be charged with murder, for which the only sentence is life imprisonment, or with manslaughter where the maximum penalty is also life imprisonment. There is also a range of powers under the Public Order Act 1986 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to deal with non-violent offences.
Sex education is rarely taught in isolation, but is normally part of broader programmes of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE). In this way there is an opportunity for teachers to address children’s spiritual, moral and cultural development to complement what they are learning about sex and relationships, and thereby better prepare them for adult life. PSHE can provide the vital building blocks from which young people can develop the self-respect and emotional well-being to help form and maintain worthwhile and fulfilling relationships. It promotes respect for the diversity of and differences between people. The Government is committed to raising the profile and status of PSHE and set up a National Advisory Group to develop a coherent framework, building on good practice and spreading it to all schools. The recommendations from the Advisory Group were fed into the review of the National Curriculum as carried out by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. The Advisory Group’s report is due to be published shortly.
This relates to the final part of point 3, on the provision of balanced sex education for all age groups.
The Pink Paper carried a report on 25-June-1999, (page 7), stating that “Officials in Brazil’s Department of Health are advising government ministers that sex education should start as young as four, to prevent the spread of HIV later in life … [and] unwanted pregnancies”, and that the proposal was overwhelmingly endorsed by a conference of teachers and education officials.
An item on BBC Ceefax, (28-June-1999, page 120), quoted U.K. Government Minister Clare Short as advising the United Nations in the context of AIDS prevention that we should start telling children what they need to know. — However, that message is not reflected by the current reply from the Home Office.
The Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett, recently announced his proposals for the review of the National Curriculwm which include a non-statutory framework for PSHE in both primary and secondary schools. In addition to PSHE, the Secretary of State’s proposals also include a new foundation subject for citizenship in secondary schools. A key element of the knowledge and understanding young people are expected to gain through citizenship education is the diversity of national, regional, religious and ethnic identities within the United Kingdom and the need for mutual respect and understanding. Provision for citizenship and PSHE will complement one another and help pupils to make sense of the world in which they live.
This relates to the first two parts of point 3, on promoting integration and eradicating bullying. Notably, the citizenship education makes no explicit mention of diversity of sexuality.
The effect that bullying can have both on the emotional well-being and educational achievement of children cannot be underestimated. We are concerned that all schools should treat the issue of bullying seriously and take steps to combat it promptly and firmly whenever and wherever it occurs. This is reflected in new legislation. The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 includes a section requiring headteachers, from September at the latest, to determine measures which encourage good behaviour and respect for others by pupils, and, in particular, to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils.
A school’s headteacher is already responsible for securing discipline on a day-to-day basis subject to any general principles laid down in writing by the school governors. Also, a headteacher has a duty to determine measures that encourage good behaviour and respect for others on the part of pupils.
When parents find that their child is being bullied, they should not hesitate to complain. Leaflets are available from the Department for Education and Employment.
There is no mention of point 2, viz. repeal of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act.
Complaint of Malicious arrest by lan Farmer: The procedures for dealing with complaints against the police are laid down under Part IV of the Police Act 1996. The Act makes the police and the Police Complaints Authority responsible for the investigation of complaints and there is no authority for Ministers to intervene in the process.
The Government are concerned to build public confidence in the police complaints system. The Home Affairs Select Committee made some important recommendations in its report last year on the police disciplinary and complaints procedures to increase the independence and openness of the process.
We have accepted the Select Committee’s recommendation to conduct detailed feasibility studies into arrangements for a fully independent complaints investigation process. This work will be completed by April 2000. We will consider in the light of that research whether legislation should be brought forward to establish a new independent complaints investigation body.
This relates to point 5(2). Sorry, Ian, the Home Secretary cannot help you: or not until any legislation which may be recommended next year has worked its way through the parliamentary process.
Police action in light of the nail bombings: All Metropolitan Police divisions throughout London were tasked with identifying vulnerable communities and focusing police activity, including high visibility policing to reassure and protect potentially vulnerable communities. As a consequence, Gay and Lesbian groups were identified as potentially vulnerable and Stonewall, Galop and other Gay and Lesbian businesses were contacted. This was followed by a letter from the police which was issued on 27 April and the Pink Paper led with a warning in its edition dated 30 April and circulated on 29 April. All the premises in Wardour Street and Old Compton Street, including the Admiral Duncan pub, were visited by two Crime Prevention Officers on 28 April.
The Metropolitan Police responded very positively to the threat to the safety of all people in London, talking to a wide range of community organisations and many businesses in a major crime prevention effort. That effort has rightly won widespread praise. The police in their turn have thanked the public for their support and vigilance, and have emphasised the importance of partnership.
This refers to point 5(3): but without even alluding to the OutRage! suggestion of a high-profile public announcement in the national media.
The events of recent weeks have shown that when communities and the police work together towards one aim success can be achieved. The new Task Group which has been established by the police to provide reassurance to all members of the public affected by hate in all its forms by seeking to prevent, deter and disrupt the criminal activities of violent extremists, will continue with this alliance.
Point 5(1) on homophobia within the police force is not addressed by this reply.
I hope this is helpful. Once again apologies for the delay in sending you this reply.