Previous SectionIndexHome Page


3. Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): What plans he has to propose reforms to the law on rape; and if he will make a statement. [64747]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): We all accept that rape is a particularly heinous crime. The legislative framework must enable us to take firm action wherever and whenever we can. We intend to publish our proposals for strengthening legislation on sex offences and sex offenders in the autumn, and to legislate as soon after that as parliamentary time allows.

A working group has been formed with representatives from the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the court service, in response to the joint report published on 8 April on the investigation and prosecution of rape. We recognise that there is a great deal more to do and I am very pleased that the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General are giving us their full support in dealing with the present very low prosecution and conviction rates.

Mr. Clapham: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and am pleased to hear that a working party has been set up. However, as he is aware, only between 2 and 5 per cent. of rape cases result in a conviction. Research shows that as many as 80 per cent. of people who suffer this crime do not report it to the police. That is not good enough. Just last week I spoke to staff at the Rape Crisis offices in Barnsley and in Yorkshire, and was told that three factors really worry them—cross-examination procedures; the use of past histories to denigrate the character of the victim and make it appear that she encouraged the rape; and the increase in the date rape

8 Jul 2002 : Column 594

drug. Will my right hon. Friend consider referring these matters to the Sentencing Advisory Panel with a view to making progress and ensuring protection for rape victims?

Mr. Blunkett: The figure for reported rapes resulting in conviction to which my hon. Friend referred is 7 per cent. The number of those taken to court is staggering: in 1977, 68 per cent. of defendants were found guilty; by 2000, the figure had dropped to 29 per cent. There are clearly serious issues: first, encouraging people to report; secondly, the way that they are handled; and, importantly, finding the right balance for both the male and female involved.

My hon. Friend's question was partly dealt with by the Sentencing Advisory Panel when, earlier this year, it came down firmly on avoiding differentials between one type of rape and another, and we accept the panel's judgment. The proposed sentencing guidelines council will assist us in taking a broader look at both crime and sentences so that, we hope, we can get things right.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Does the Home Secretary accept that recent high profile cases have made it clear that both the alleged victim and the person accused should remain anonymous throughout a trial, otherwise there is dreadful adverse publicity for people who are often found innocent? That cannot be right.

Mr. Blunkett: It would be a great mistake if we made a judgment on the back of one case. In the case of Mr. Hann, we should be prepared to think a little during the summer and, when we make our proposals on the revision of sex offences, we should do so in the light of all the evidence. I do not think that there is disagreement about the fact that victims should remain anonymous; the real issue for all of us is whether, in the transparent society where the media expect us to be honest and open about what is taking place in relation to criminality, it would be acceptable for a particular type of perpetrator to remain anonymous when that was not the case for others. In the light of the campaign for a free society, I shall be interested to hear from Opposition spokesmen whether they feel that is the case.

Vera Baird (Redcar): The cross-departmental inquiry reporting on the thematic investigation into rape was announced in April and it was said that it would report at the end of June or the beginning of July. Can my right hon. Friend give any indication of when there will be a report as to how the three relevant departments intend to take forward the recommendations made by the inspectors? Can he tell us what input the Lord Chancellor's Department had in that cross-departmental inquiry, given that the report was highly critical of the judiciary, especially its excessive readiness to include previous sexual history?

Mr. Blunkett: My hon. and learned Friend is right: the report announcing the inquiry was published on 8 April. The action plan has been completed and we will shortly be able to publish it. I am convinced of the commitment of the Lord Chancellor and his Ministers to join the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General and me in ensuring that we get this right. Given that the Lord

8 Jul 2002 : Column 595

Chancellor, the Attorney-General and I are males, we should keep the lack of understanding of many men strongly in mind when addressing this critical issue.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Does the Home Secretary agree that the most tragic and awful rapes are those affecting children, and that we need to reconsider the operation of the court process, since it delivers an even lower conviction rate for those accused of those even more terrible offences? May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that there should be more training for judges and, in particular, that they should be discouraged from allowing defence barristers to bully and confuse already extremely frightened children and from using points of order to get the case deferred from day to day and hour to hour in order to break down a frightened and demoralised child?

Mr. Blunkett: The hon. Gentleman and I are in entire agreement: we should and will address the need to avoid the adversarial judicial system being applied to juveniles, and I look forward to all-party support.

Acceptable Behaviour Contracts

4. Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of acceptable behaviour contracts. [64748]

The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham): We believe that acceptable behaviour contracts have proved extremely useful in preventing or restraining antisocial behaviour before formal legal sanctions are taken. We have commissioned a survey of schemes in England and Wales, while conducting a thorough evaluation of the original scheme in Islington. We would certainly want to encourage the wider use of acceptable behaviour contracts.

Ms Coffey: I thank the Minister for that reply. The youth offending team in Stockport has been very active in drawing up such contracts, particularly with youth offenders whose criminal activities are accompanied by threats and intimidation. Thirty of those contracts have been signed already, and only five have been breached. I believe that they are very effective because, on one hand, the breaches have serious consequences and, on the other, a lot of positive help is given in dealing with underlying problems such as drug or alcohol abuse, or indeed school attendance problems. Will the Minister join me in congratulating those in the youth offending team in Stockport on the very good work that they are doing? Has he any plans to apply that approach to the probation service's work with adult offenders?

Mr. Denham: We are happy to congratulate those in the youth offending team in Stockport on their work. People tackling antisocial behaviour in many parts of the country are certainly using acceptable behaviour contracts in a way that makes it very clear what behaviour is required and what action—possibly eviction from a tenancy, or a formal antisocial behaviour order—will follow if the contracts are breached. They are very effective. Acceptable behaviour contracts can certainly be used with adults, and that is being pioneered in several

8 Jul 2002 : Column 596

parts of the country. In the right circumstances, they can be as effective with that group as they can be with young offenders.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): Does not the welcome use of acceptable behaviour contracts simply underline the complete failure of the bureaucratic antisocial behaviour orders, which the Government also pioneered? When will the Government get a grip on the rising tide of petty vandalism and aggressive behaviour in our neighbourhoods and parishes and introduce more local solutions such as those contracts?

Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. Antisocial behaviour orders have been used with great effectiveness. They are particularly effective where they are used alongside acceptable behaviour contracts. The Police Reform Bill, which is currently before the House—in fact, we shall discuss it on Report tomorrow—contains a series of measures to make antisocial behaviour orders more widely and flexibly available and to enable courts to introduce interim antisocial behaviour orders so that they can be used quickly. I certainly hope that Opposition Members will do nothing else tomorrow or in another place to delay those measures being placed on to the statute book as quickly as possible, but I fear that that is their intention.

Animal Experiments

5. Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North): If he will introduce stronger controls on animal experiments. [64749]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): Our existing controls, under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and various regulations passed since then, are widely regarded as the most rigorous in the world, and we currently have no plans to change them.

Mr. Watts: The Minister will be aware that many people are opposed to any animal experiments, but the majority believe that they should be carried out provided that they are strictly controlled. Will he assure me that the introduction of genetically modified animal technology will not increase the number of experiments carried out?

Mr. Ainsworth: I cannot give my hon. Friend that assurance, but I am sure that he will be aware that there are various pressures on both sides of the equation. On one hand, the use of robotics in testing chemicals is removing the need for animal experimentation in many cases, but, on the other, he is absolutely right to suggest that the potential of some genetic procedures to develop cures for illnesses such as cystic fibrosis, cancer or Alzheimer's puts a great deal of pressure on the medical establishment. There may well be a growth in experimentation as a result of those opportunities, and I am sure that my hon. Friend and many other hon. Members would not want that development to be slowed down.

Tony Baldry (Banbury): Is it not also important to underline the fact that doctors and scientists do not carry out scientific procedures on animals gratuitously and for fun? They do so because it is for the benefit of both

8 Jul 2002 : Column 597

veterinary and medical science. Many years ago, my father was research secretary of the British Tuberculosis Association. A cure would not have been found for killers such as TB if researchers had not been able to carry out scientific procedures on animals.

Mr. Ainsworth: Every establishment, every procedure and every individual who is involved in animal experimentation must be licensed under our current procedures. I would hate to think that anyone was prepared to carry out unnecessary testing on animals. I am sure that that is not the case, but we need to be ever-vigilant. We need to make absolutely sure that the procedures that we have in place are rigorously enforced if we are to maintain the necessary confidence in such work. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman also understands that there are very strong feelings about that work.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Did Home Office Ministers welcome as enthusiastically as I did the implied statement by the Government when an award was given of a CBE to Dr. Brian Cass of Huntingdon Life Sciences, which renders such important service to medical advance in this country?

Mr. Ainsworth: Some of the procedures that are carried out at Huntingdon Life Sciences, at other companies and at our universities the length and breadth of the country are absolutely vital to the development of medicines that will ultimately be in the interests of humanity. We should never be slow in coming forward and saying so, and in recognising some of the truly magnificent work that is done in this area. I agree with my hon. Friend.

Norman Baker (Lewes): Does the Minister share my concern that the number of animal experiments in this country—to return to an earlier point—has remained virtually unchanged since the Government came to power five years ago? We have not even properly sorted out cosmetics testing yet. Is it not time that we tried to eliminate duplicated experiments, of which there are many; that we tried to promote alternatives such as computer modelling and cell culture; and that we eliminated those experiments that are unethical, such as those that are still being carried out to test tobacco smoke?

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman and I have many dealings together in the portfolios that we share on behalf of our two parties. If he has any evidence of unnecessary duplication of animal testing, he should bring it forward. It is no good making allegations in the House without bringing forward specifics. If he can do so, we should examine the matter and do what we can to eliminate it. We are doing our very best in the areas of publication and data sharing to make absolutely certain that unnecessary duplication does not take place. No evidence has been presented to me that suggests that it is taking place in the UK. If the hon. Gentleman has such evidence, he should bring it to my attention.

8 Jul 2002 : Column 598

Next Section

IndexHome Page