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9.47 pm

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas : Like all the other hon. Members who have spoken on Third Reading, I am profoundly grateful to the Government for introducing this Bill, especially the clauses that will protect young people with learning difficulties. I am the mother of a daughter with a learning difficulty, who will achieve the maturity age of a six-year-old. Like many other hon. Members, I have had parents of children with learning difficulties coming to my surgeries. Some of those children have been sexually abused, some of them in care homes. Unfortunately, achieving a prosecution has always been incredibly difficult because there have always been debates about whether or not such an individual is capable of consenting to sex.

The reality is that my daughter will never be in a fit position to consent, or otherwise, to sex. In fact, it would take very little to induce her into any form of behaviour. The prospect for many parents of children with such difficulties was that they could never be exposed to society. They would never have the opportunity to live in sheltered accommodation, because if they were exposed to some sort of sexual activity, it would be almost impossible to achieve redress. There would only have been a terrible assault and no actual justice for the individual. That remains the case until we prove that this legislation works.

I was unable to speak on the Bill earlier because it covers such a highly emotive area for me and for people and parents like me. The effectiveness of the Bill will be borne out only if there are successful prosecutions, as the Minister said. It will be so if my colleagues in Mencap tell me that it is working and that those people feel that they have more rights and a greater chance of justice when acts are committed against them. It will be so if the police feel more disposed to take prosecutions

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to the Crown Prosecution Service and when the CPS is confident enough to take those cases to court. Few cases get there now.

I welcome the Bill from that personal perspective and on behalf of many parents in a position similar to my own. I thank the Home Secretary for his reassurances on anonymity. The guidelines that will soon be issued to the press will, I hope, have the desired effect. I am deeply concerned about the publication of scandalous stories and their effects on innocent people and on the juries who are expected to reach judgment.

Vera Baird: I pay the greatest of respect to what has just been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas).

I shall return the mood to one of congratulation by complimenting the Government on the excellence of the Bill. It was a true pleasure to serve on the Committee, and I congratulate the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary who has dealt so well, so amiably and so flexibly with the Bill this evening. I also compliment the advisers who have worked extremely hard, sometimes running to stand still.

Clause 1 is of particular importance. It did not end as it started and has been amended for the better. Its purpose has unflinchingly remained the same throughout. For women, it is a progressive and symbolic provision. It has taken since 1975 to find a Home Office sufficiently understanding to reverse the rule in Morgan v. the Director of Public Prosecutions. That rule said that it is a complete defence to rape for a man, whatever the woman says or does, to say that he believed that she was consenting. Because of the emphasis placed by the clause on the actions carried out by the defendant to check the complainant's state of mind, it will also be much less possible for previous sexual history to be used to say that that was what persuaded a man that a woman was, in fact, consenting.

Finally, I appeal to the Government to hold the fort on anonymity. Clause 1 brings twin changes of great benefit to women in the continued fight for sexual rights. I congratulate the Home Secretary.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With the leave of the House, I shall put together the Questions on the two motions.

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

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Family Law

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With the leave of the House, I shall put together the Questions on the two motions.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9)(European Standing Committees),

Reduced Rates of Vat

Question agreed to.




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Acute Hospitals (Working-time Directive)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Ms Bridget Prentice.]

9.54 pm

Dr. Richard Taylor (Wyre Forest): I am amazed and delighted to have been able to hear the concord and unanimity of our previous debate, which was a delight, rather than the usual arguments that go from side to side of the House. I am also delighted that I shall not have to watch the clock and that I may be able to go on for a little longer than a quarter of an hour—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. It may help the hon. Gentleman to know that I shall have to interrupt him at 10 o'clock to put the Question again.

Dr. Taylor: You are very kind, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have had that experience once before, so I shall sit down quickly when the time comes.

Unfortunately, I shall not be continuing the picture of concord, pleasure and happiness, as I am about to throw a large stone into that lovely tranquil pond. The effect on acute hospital services of the European working time directive can be likened to a time bomb. There is some warning so that people can begin to plan how to cope with it, which is why I am raising the subject. I am pleased to see the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), and hope to hear from him that the Government are taking that potential time bomb seriously and that they have some answers.

The problems are recognised by the professions, although not by the public; nor are they recognised by many MPs, given the staggering lack of attendance in the Chamber—unless that is due to my reputation for thoroughly boring oratory. I fear that if the time bomb is not defused it threatens to disrupt the Government's splendid intentions for updating the national health service and improving hospital services. I am purposely scaremongering, in the hope that I shall stimulate a response from the Minister that reassures me that my worries are somewhat in vain.

The threat from the working time directive is especially to acute services—accident and emergency departments, medical units, surgical units, acute orthopaedic units and obstetric units. The hours of junior doctors have, rightly, been cut. My first job—44 years ago—was half a mile from this place. I worked for one of the old-style consultants who expected all the castors on the beds in the ward to be pointing in the same direction. At any time of the day or night, he would summon his housemen to greet him in the hospital foyer. He expected them to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for six months at a time. Inevitably, housemen such as me cracked up halfway through, so I am wholly in favour of junior doctors being given a reasonable lifestyle.

I am delighted that over the past few years there have been progressive cuts in hours and improvements in pay. The onerous on-call rotas have been better paid. More recently, there have been limitations on hours. Those measures are essential in the interests of the health of junior doctors and of their family life. Most of all, they

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are essential in the interests of patients because of the quality of care that junior doctors can give when they are reasonably rested.

However, there are already some grumblings from some junior doctors, especially junior surgeons, that they are not receiving enough hands-on experience—the surgical term is "not enough cutting". Under the working-time directive, there will be further restrictions on the hours of junior doctors: 58 hours a week soon, progressing slowly to 48 hours. However, the killer fact, as the Secretary of State for Health acknowledged last week at a meeting of the Select Committee, is that time on call, even if one is asleep, counts as time working and has to be included in that 58—ultimately 48—hours. There will be huge penalties if trusts do not manage to get down to those levels. Obviously, the effect is that we need more doctors of all grades very rapidly. That is impossible because of the speed with which—

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]

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