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Mr. Simon Hughes: I understand the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's argument and I do not want to associate myself with the arguments deployed against it by the previous Conservative Government. However, what would he say to my older brother--this is a real example--who was living in Herefordshire and given a job by Barclays International, for which he worked, which required him to go abroad for an uncertain period? He is married to a woman working for the British services in Cyprus. He always intended to come home and did so as soon as he was able. He retained as many links with, and interests in, the British political process as was possible during his time abroad, which was fewer than 10 years but more than none. Surely he should have been allowed to continue to take part in decisions affecting the country in which he had paid taxes, in which he continued to have a financial interest and to which he has returned to pay taxes and contribute fully.

Mr. Kaufman: The franchise in this country is based purely and simply on residential qualification. We have debated this in our consideration of amendmentsmoved by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire. I am sorry about the misfortune that might afflict the hon. Gentleman's brother, but when he

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comes back, he can resume his vote. It is as simple as that. I do not see why anybody living for whatever reason in Kuwait, Nepal or Peru should be able to decide who governs the country in which they are not present at the time of a general election. Before this Bill there were all sorts of problems for those living in this country. There were problems with qualifying for a postal vote or a proxy vote. Hard decisions may be made, but the decision is much harder on a man living in Stanley grove who misses his vote because he falls ill after the closure of the postal vote than it is for the hon. Gentleman's brother, nice though I am sure he is.

Mr. Fabricant: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kaufman: I will proceed for a little longer. I am waiting to see how the Government intend to handle the timing. I am an obedient and subservient Back Bencher. If the Government continue the debate, I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. If they do not, I will be caught short in my prime and will have to resume on another day.

My position on this is unequivocal and of long standing. Moreover, this fancy franchise is a flop. On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who has sensibly made himself scarce, fantasised about a possible 3 million overseas voters. When the Conservative Government introduced the legislation in 1984, they forecast 800 overseas voters per constituency. That would have meant more than 500,000 people. The figure for this year is not 3 million or 500,000 but 13,677. That is an average of 21 overseas voters per constituency. The highest number of overseas votes in 1991 was 34,454, or 0.08 per cent. of the electorate. In 1990 it was 1,836. That figure was so small that the statistics counted it as 0.00 per cent. of the electorate.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Kaufman: If I am to give way to my hon. Friend, which I am happy to do, I must give way first to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant).

Mr. Fabricant: The right hon. Gentleman is ever gracious. I want to refer to the question raised by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). Surely, when someone is paying United Kingdom tax, as the hon. Gentleman described, and lives abroad--

It being Ten o'clock, The Chairman left the Chair to report progress and ask leave to sit again.

To report progress and ask leave to sit again.--[Mr. Mike Hall.]

Committee report progress; to sit again tomorrow.

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DELEGATED LEGISLATION

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Legal Aid and Advice


Question agreed to.

PETITIONS

Shout

10.1 pm

Mrs. Marion Roe (Broxbourne): I wish to present a petition sponsored by Shout, which is an initiative of Big Take, a registered charity raising both awareness and funds to support specific projects aimed at providing education and training for children on the fringes of society. [Interruption.] The petition is signed by 134--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. I remind the House that good manners are expected; the hon. Lady is presenting a petition to the House.

Mrs. Roe: The petition is signed by 134 of my constituents, and states:


To lie upon the Table.

Farington (Pharmacy)

10.2 pm

Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble): I present this petition on behalf of residents of the village of Farington, in my constituency, who are seeking a pharmacy within the village. The petition, which has more than 1,500 signatures, states:


To lie upon the Table.

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15 Dec 1999 : Column 371

Child Sex Attacks

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Mike Hall.]

10.3 pm

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): The Minister will know that, on 28 October 1999, I tabled a written question to the Home Secretary asking him if he would list by police authority area the number of women medical examiners available for examinations involving child victims of sex attacks, and whether, in all areas, child victims or their families are able to choose whether the child is examined by a female doctor.

The background to tabling the question was not simply a passing interest, but one of the most disturbing experiences that I have had as a Member of Parliament. A young mother came to see me at one of my advice surgeries and described the horrific circumstances in which it became apparent that her daughter had been the victim of rape and sexual attack since the age of six. The abuse had continued for more than five years before it became known and part of a police investigation and subsequent prosecution.

The details of the case are not really relevant to this Adjournment debate, but what troubled me was that, in the course of explaining what had happened, the mother took me through the exchanges with police; the very constructive and supportive help provided in the early stages of working through the traumas; and the explanation that, in a prosecution, it would be easier if her daughter could undergo a forensic medical examination, so that the evidence of the sexual attack could stand as the principal basis of the trial.

The mother talked the matter through with her daughter, who agreed to go through the process to minimise the inevitable trauma of having to give evidence in the trial. The real shock came when they discovered that the forensic medical examiner was a man, despite the fact that they had both asked for--and expected--a woman. Their shock was compounded by the fact that, when they asked whether they could have a female forensic medical examiner, they were told, "No." They were given that answer because there were no female examiners in Nottinghamshire.

I confess that I was shocked by the case. I do not consider myself to be particularly naive or sheltered, but I was unprepared for those statements, which showed how limited are the rights of the child in our judicial system as we approach the end of the 20th century. I was also unprepared as a father, brother, and partner--as close as a man can get to understanding how traumatic it is for a girl to be sexually attacked and abused--for the realisation that we still require girls to be medically examined by someone of the same gender as the person responsible for the attack.

I was slightly surprised at the response to my parliamentary question. The Minister will recall that, in his reply of 3 November, he said:


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I was as surprised by the answer as by the statements that the Nottinghamshire police gave the family.

I could not understand why the Home Secretary was not in a position to provide me with that information on a national basis. I could not understand why Parliament cannot say how many areas of the country leave parents and child victims of sex assaults in a similar position, with no right to exercise a choice about the gender of the person who conducts the forensic medical examination. I also could not understand why it was not a priority for the Home Secretary to say not only that he did not know, but that it was unacceptable for him not to know and that he would find out.

In the absence of such an answer, the only way to proceed was to follow up the matter myself. I wrote to chief constables to ask about the provision in each police authority area. I asked them to detail the number of forensic medical examiners available to female or child victims of sex attacks and how many national health service general practitioners or paediatricians were in training with the police to provide the targeted examination service for women and children where they request it.

The replies that I received to my letter have also given me cause for concern. Some of the chief constables and their police forces have been extremely helpful, and I praise those who came back to me with full replies. Replies have been received from police forces in west Yorkshire, Cheshire, Kent, Cleveland, Surrey, Derbyshire, Merseyside, Avon and Somerset, Staffordshire, south Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. All gave full replies to my questions, but I suspect that one reason they were willing to do so was that, in each of those areas, positive and specific provision was available to women and children who were the victims of sex attacks. In those areas, anyone who requested to be examined by a female forensic medical examiner would have the right to be so examined.

A number of the other police forces that replied simply said that that was a matter into which the Association of Chief Police Officers was looking. Their response would not come to me direct but would go through ACPO. I pay tribute to ACPO's responsiveness and to those involved in the compilation of the inquiry. However, the information that has come back to me is somewhat patchy.

The national picture is as follows: some 18 per cent. of forensic medical examiners--sometimes referred to as police surgeons--are women. That is, by any standards, a fairly poor measure of the important role that must be fulfilled for child and women victims of sex attacks. However, the replies that came directly to me showed the better part of the picture. In many of the police authorities that replied, more than 18 per cent. of medical examiners were women.

Forces that did not have specific female provision did not bother to reply to me. Sadly, my own police authority in Nottinghamshire is included among that number--to date, it has provided me with no explanation about the absence of female forensic examiners in my county.

I am also uncertain whether, as a result of the ACPO survey, the Minister can come up with the more detailed information that I still do not have. I am appalled that the House and the Government do not regard the need to do something about the situation--and, at the very least, to know what is happening--as being of paramount importance.

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I had helpful, if saddening, discussions with members of the women's centre in Nottingham, who provided phenomenal support for the family. The saddening aspect of those conversations was that they considered this problem almost a matter of course, and had had to live with and struggle against the problem for many years, with little or no public attention given to the plight of victims of sex attacks. They said that they regard this as the second of three rapes: the first rape is committed by the assailant; the second happens during the medical examination within the police investigation system; and the third is committed by the court.

I pay tribute to the Government for taking considerable steps to improve and protect victims of sex attacks in the way in which court proceedings are conducted. I understand that that has to be balanced against the conflicting rights of the accused, but I cannot for the life of me see what we have to balance in the medical investigation process within the police investigation against the demand that we recognise and respect the rights of the child. There are no contradictory pulls. It is simply a matter that baffles me as much as it offends me.

When I asked for explanations of why this should be so, the first and almost absurd reason given was that women did not like that sort of work. I am sure that there is not a single hon. Member who is not aware that a large number of women work in the health service as GPs or paediatricians in hospitals. There cannot be a shortage of qualified women doctors capable of doing forensic examinations.

On further inquiry, the position became a little clearer. The reply that I received from ACPO about the shortage of female doctors available was:


I understand the importance of the fact that competence extends through to the prosecution process, but the real obstacle seems to be that women GPs who offer their services specifically for women and child victims of sex attacks are asked whether they are willing to undertake all other aspects of forensic examinations, such as those on bodies pulled out of ditches, found in canals or dragged out of car accidents, or in cases relating to the full range of responsibilities of the police.

It does not surprise me that those who specialise in paediatric care say that that is not what they are offering. They are offering their expertise in relation to children, their vulnerability and their right to be examined by someone who understands their plight, not necessarily someone who has competence across the board. The reason why we are in the current national predicament is partly of our own making. There is a dispute between the Home Office and the police forces about how forensic medical examiners are to be paid retainer fees. There is also a conflict in police culture about whether it is appropriate to allow women to offer a specific service rather than sign up to the full range of services that the police require.

At the end of the 20th century, a civilised society that has signed up to the European convention on the rights of the child and stands at the edge of a decade in which it is

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supposed to be a signatory to the international decade for the culture of peace for children, ought to have a different benchmark for the adequacy of our policies and procedures.

I have three specific requests to make to the Minister. First, will he complete and publish the national database of police returns on the number of female medical examiners in each police authority who are made available to respond to requests from women and children victims of sex attacks? Secondly, will he go back and look at the current ministerial guidelines, not to add a further recommendation about best practice but to define a non-negotiable statutory obligation for every police force in the land? It must be every child's right to request and to expect examination by a female doctor, should that be the child's choice.

Finally, during the Minister's negotiations with police forces, will he consider the introduction of measures to guarantee flexibility and training? We need to ensure that there is no distinction between those GPs who are retained and those who are not, and to acknowledge the importance of defining the obligation to provide special services to meet the needs of women and children victims of sex attacks.

We can never turn the clock back on the sex attacks that have taken place, but we ask the House and the Government to take this small step: to guarantee that we will listen to children's pleas not to repeat or compound the nightmare that they have lived through by requiring them to undergo medical examination by a doctor who is not of the gender of their choosing.


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