Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, the rule of law and equal rights – these principles underpin how we live our lives and how we define our society, they enable us to celebrate diversity and come together as one.
Therefore, crimes committed against people because of their identity are particularly deplorable. They have absolutely no place in our tolerant and diverse country, and they are especially corrosive – they lead to mistrust, isolation, fear and anger.
Attending last weekend’s Holocaust Memorial Day Service at St Mary in the Castle was a stark reminder of how we must never allow hate and prejudice to take root. We must do all we can to ensure that no one feels under threat because of their beliefs. I am pleased that our local commitment to this was so clearly on display at this service.
It is a priority for this Government to do all it can to create a strong and integrated society. Our Near Neighbours programme brings together people from different faiths and backgrounds in diverse areas so they can work together to improve their communities. In the last two years alone over half a million people have taken part in interfaith, social and other integration projects.
Here, in Hastings and Rye, we have organisations like the Interfaith Forum where local residents from different backgrounds promote cooperation and mutual understanding – and I have often attended their vibrant summer events. Across the country I have seen how initiatives such as this, alongside the government working with civil society, helps unite communities.
However, there is more to do. Incidents of hate crime have increased during recent years. In part, this reflects a greater encouragement of and confidence in reporting. It is vital that these crimes are recorded so we can better understand their prevalence and how to most effectively tackle the issue.
Every incident is one too many.
We are determined to stamp out hate crime, to protect those who are targeted and bring all those who perpetrate it to justice. We have made over £2m available to protect places of worship. The importance of this has been made clear by the recent horrific attack on a mosque in Quebec City. Further funding will be made available to help ensure everyone can practice their religion in safety.
This is part of the action plan I published last year to combat racial and religious hate crime. The plan also includes measures to prevent hate crime on public transport, to work with communities and the police to improve reporting, and to provide better support to victims.
In Hastings and Rye and across the UK, we welcome people from diverse backgrounds. This is especially true of the help we provide to some of the world’s most vulnerable. I am pleased that Hastings Borough Council has pledged to resettle 100 Syrian refugees before 2020 and that Rother District Council will provide safety for a further 40. This is on top of the 100 beds Hastings provides to asylum seekers.
By uniting as a society to celebrate what we have in common as well as our diversity we can put forward the best defence against those who seek to divide us, and we can be proud of our British values.