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Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill (Clauses 3, 5, 6, 15, 21, 49, 90 and 117 and new clauses amending section 74 of the Finance Act 2003) reported, without amendment, to lie upon the Table.


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

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Question agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I propose to put together the Questions on motions 4, 5 and 6.

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

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Consumer Protection

Northern Ireland

Question agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I propose to put together the Questions on motions 7 and 8.



(a) notwithstanding paragraph (2)(c) of Standing Order No. 14 (Arrangement of public business) opposition business may be proceeded with, for three hours or until four o’clock whichever is the later, and shall then lapse if not previously disposed of;

(b) notwithstanding Standing Order No. 20 (Time for taking private business) the Private Business set down by the Chairman of Ways and Means shall be entered upon at the conclusion of opposition business (whether before, at or after four o’clock), and may then be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours, after which the Speaker shall interrupt the business; and

(c) the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any message from the Lords has been received and any Committee to draw up Reasons which has been appointed at that sitting has reported; and(2) at the sitting on Thursday 8th May, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until he has notified the Royal Assent to Acts agreed upon by both Houses.

That, at the sitting on Tuesday 13th May, the Motion in the name of Simon Hughes relating to Changes in Immigration Rules (House of Commons Paper No. 321) may be proceeded with as if Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Community documents) was applied to it.— [Alison Seabeck.]


Post Office Closures

10.38 pm

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I rise to present a petition of no fewer than 1,725 signatures of the constituents of Romford, who are appalled at the prospect that the Gobions Avenue post office is to be closed under the current review of sub-post offices. As the Member of Parliament for Romford, I urge the Government to consider this petition, because the Gobions Avenue post office covers a large area of north Romford, including Collier Row, Chase Cross, Rise Park and Havering-atte-Bower. The people of that community will be adversely affected if the post office closes. I would like to thank Councillor Sandra Binion,
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Councillor Geoff Stearns and the campaign co-ordinator, Billy Taylor, and I would like to present the petition as follows:


10.39 pm

Andrew Rosindell: I rise again to present a petition to save a second post office within the London borough of Havering—the Hylands post office, which serves the community of Hornchurch and parts of the Romford constituency. The petition has been signed by no fewer than 2,580 local residents of both the Romford and Hornchurch constituencies. The Hylands post office serves a wide area. Many elderly people live in the community and they will be badly affected if local services provided by the post office are closed under the current review. I would like to put on record my thanks to local councillor and mayor of the London borough of Havering, Councillor Georgina Galpin, who has been active in the campaign, and to the campaign co-ordinator, Mr. Osman Dervish. The petition states:


10.41 pm

Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): I have two petitions to present on the same subject of post office closures. The first is signed by
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2,595 of my constituents in Shepherd’s Bush and it is about the proposed closure of four adjacent branches in the area. The petition

and asks the House of Commons to urge

That is put very reasonably, given the significant number of post offices proposed for closure—four branches in just one small area of my constituency.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[The Petition of the people of Shepherd's Bush and Hammersmith,

Declares that we cannot afford to lose four Post Office branches.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to ask Post Office Limited to reconsider their plans to close so many branches in our area

And the Petitioners remain, etc. ]


My second petition is signed by nearly 1,400 people living in the Acton part of my constituency. It reads as follows:

What both those petitions have in common is the very reasonable terms in which they are put, asking for adequate facilities to be provided in both parts of my constituency. Given how those petitions are put and the number of signatures on them, I hope that even this close to the decision of Post Office Ltd—expected as early as next week—my constituents’ complaints will be listened to.


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Rape Victim Support

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

10.43 pm

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this Adjournment debate on support for the victims of rape. Quite understandably, society is not comfortable talking about rape, which is a truly horrendous crime against the individual. Rape is a violent assault committed by the strong against the weak. It is brutal subjugation. Throughout history, rape has been used as a weapon of war and humiliation. I am honoured and privileged to have the chance to discuss it tonight in this important Chamber.

I would like to start with one statistic. Women in this country have a greater chance of being raped or having a violent sexual assault committed against them than they do of contracting breast cancer. Rape is an all too common occurrence in our society.

The consequences of rape are truly horrendous. Women who have been raped often see their families destroyed. They end up getting divorced—women leaving their husbands, or their husbands leaving them—as they struggle to come to terms with the ordeal they experienced or as their husbands cannot face the fact that they were unable to protect and defend their wives. Many women who are raped end up self-harming, and have higher rates of addiction and depression and other mental illnesses. The consequences are long lasting and traumatic and all too often result in women taking their own lives. It is estimated that the cost to society of each rape is £73,000. I do not want to reduce this debate to monetary matters, but that is a huge sum.

The statistics for rape are shocking. It is estimated that 90 per cent. of rapes are never reported to the police. Of the 10 per cent. that are reported, 80 per cent. never make it to court. Of those that make it to court, only one in four end up in a conviction. What do these numbers mean? They mean that in only one in 200 rape cases does the perpetrator end up being convicted of committing the crime. This is almost a crime without consequence for perpetrators, and we in this place must change that.

Of course, one of the concerns often thrown up is that false allegations are made, but academic research proves that false allegations in rape are no more prevalent than in any other assault or crime against the individual. Too often now, women come up against barristers who say that they gave consent. In the issue of rape, the woman is not only the victim but the witness. That is a peculiarity of this crime.

Why do so few women come forward to report rapes? First, there is the shame. Many women do not feel able to talk to their husbands or the people they love. Many women do not feel able to talk to their GP, so they suffer in silence. The reporting process is undoubtedly an ordeal. In the immediate aftermath of a rape, many women are subject to a forensic examination by a male doctor because no female doctor is present. As one woman told me:

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We in this place must make sure that female doctors are on hand to conduct forensic examinations.

The woman is then subjected to police questioning. I do not want this debate to turn into an attack on the police; they do a very difficult job, and every police officer whom I know wants to increase rape conviction rates. They have to ask hard, searching questions, because they know what will happen to the woman once she gets to court. Many women find that process humiliating and difficult to handle emotionally, however.

Women face value judgments when reporting rape. Their lifestyles are called into question. They might be asked whether they are mentally ill now or have ever suffered from a mental illness, or how many sexual partners they have had, or whether they are a substance abuser or have ever been a substance abuser. They might be asked how many children they have had with different husbands or partners, or whether they are a prostitute or have been involved in the sex industry. All those questions are designed to undermine the legitimacy of the victim, who is also treated as the witness.

In the few cases that reach court, the Crown Prosecution Service prosecutor often receives the papers only on the day the case is due to be heard. The CPS works extremely hard, but because it is overworked, the prosecutor receives the paper then, whereas the defence lawyer has had months to prepare his case. That case revolves around destroying the credibility of the victim, who is also the witness—it is quite simply character assassination.

We in this House desperately need to increase the number of convictions for rape, because one in 200 is not good enough. Things have gone backwards since 1975, when there were seven convictions in every 200 cases, although that was still a pathetic figure. I know that everyone in this House and every decent person wants the conviction rate to increase.

Women who have been raped need emotional support and they need people to talk to, which is why I am so concerned about what is happening to this country’s rape crisis centres. Since 1984, their number has fallen from 68 to 38. Many counties, such as Lincolnshire, are not served by a single rape crisis centre; indeed, Lincolnshire’s nearest centre is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), which is in Cambridgeshire. At this point, I would like to pay tribute to the Lincolnshire Echo, which has been campaigning on this issue.

Of the existing 38 rape crisis centres, eight face an uncertain future, as they have not secured funding for this financial year. The centres face other problems too. Volunteers who want to be working with women now spend most of their time chasing the money that they need to fund their rape crisis centre’s operations. The centres need £80,000 a year to provide a basic service, although all of us in this House believe that they should receive a lot more. Volunteers are spending their time filling in forms, rather than working with clients.

Again, I do not want my next point to be party political. Money has traditionally come from local authorities, but over the past few years more and more of the money that they receive has been ring-fenced for specific projects, so much less discretionary money is available to fund these important services. Let us remember
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that rape crisis centres take calls from general practitioners’ surgeries, community mental health teams, school counsellors, the Samaritans, the probation service and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. All those organisations have their own funding problems, but they are all funded to far higher levels than rape crisis centres. I would argue that if such organisations use rape crisis centres, they should make a larger contribution towards their funding.

Who do rape crisis centres help and support? They support the victims of rape—many women who were raped years beforehand suddenly find the courage or the will to go to a centre—and the victims of child abuse, who may have been abused decades before. The centres provide a hugely valuable and important service, which allows women to rediscover their self-confidence and build their future with their family.

I shall wind up, because I would like to bring in my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough, but I should say that I am deeply concerned that waiting lists for rape crisis centres—for a one-on-one discussion with a counsellor—can be as long as three months. The lists are closed in many parts of the country, and people simply cannot get on one, which seems both amazing and wrong.

I am delighted that the Government have recognised the problems and put in place £1 million of additional emergency funding. I know that the Leader of the House, who is also the Minister for Women and Equality, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), has championed the cause, along with the New Statesman and Members on both sides of the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing). As a civilised society, we need to ensure that the victims of this awful, invasive crime get the support that they need to put their lives back on track.

A couple of people said to me, “Gosh, Charles, why are you talking about rape? You’re a man and it’s not really a subject for men, is it?” Well, I am a father, a son and a husband. I can only imagine what it is like for the family of a woman who has been raped. I hope that it never happens to my wife, my daughter or my mother. I hope that it never happens to any family member of anyone here tonight, but if it does, please God let us have the services in place to ensure that it is an ordeal that they can come through.

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