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Dr. Cable: I welcome those latter comments, but I sense that the Minister does not realise that there is a
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very real emergency. Given that there is that very real emergency, why do the Government—and also the Conservatives—insist on this absurd monastic vow of silence that means never even talking about interest rates? There are millions of people out there worrying about their homes and their businesses, and clamouring for a deep cut in interest rates to prevent this recession from turning into a deep slump.

Ms Harman: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s assertion about the Government’s unpreparedness. The Government worked for a number of weeks to ensure that we could take action to stabilise the banking system, and that is what was announced to the House on Monday. The purpose was to ensure that money was lent to small businesses so that they could continue to flourish and play the part that they play in the economy, and continue to employ people.

I do not really know what the hon. Gentleman is talking about in relation to interest rates. There was an interest rate cut last week, and it was co-ordinated with other central banks across Europe and in America.

Q2. [226780] Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): Many of my constituents are very grateful for the decisive action taken by the United Kingdom Government following the collapse of the Icelandic banks, but what will the Government do for the charities that have funds in Icelandic banks? Will they protect those funds? My constituents depend very much on the charities that protect the most vulnerable in our society, and need their support in these difficult times.

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I think that all hon. Members are concerned about charities and the effect on them of the collapse of the Icelandic financial services industry. Small charities will get the same protection as individuals; they will get 100 per cent. protection for their deposits. We are taking steps to protect larger charities by freezing the assets of the Icelandic banks and by lending £100 million while the unfreezing of those assets is sorted out. Treasury officials have been sent to Reykjavik to try to ensure that the situation is resolved, and the Minister for the Cabinet Office has met the leaders of the charitable sector. He has issued a written statement, and he will keep the House updated.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Given the bail-out of depositors in Icelandic banks, will the Government now compensate Equitable Life policyholders?

Ms Harman: The action we have taken in relation to the financial services system has not just been to protect individuals, important though that is, but also to ensure that there is not a whole-scale loss of confidence in the entire banking system. We have been concerned to address not only individual loss, but systemic failure.

Q3. [226781] Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend must be aware that the biggest concern among families, pensioners and businesses is how they will pay their fuel bills. I wonder what we can do, and what good offices my right hon. and learned Friend can employ, to ensure that we sit the greedy energy companies down, with their immoral
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profits and obscene earnings, and bring prices down to ensure that families can pay their bills this Christmas. We have taken measures for the longer term, but what can we do to help them in the short term?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is right that we need action not only by the Government—and we are taking that action—but by the energy companies. He is also right that increased fuel bills hit hardest those who can least afford it. We are taking action. As he knows, we have increased the winter fuel allowance for pensioners, and we have also set up a home insulation package. We expect the falling oil prices to feed through into gas and electricity prices. While the Government will play their part, we know that the eyes of everyone in the House, as well as those of the Government, will be on the energy companies to make sure they play their part too.

Q4. [226782] Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Just as the Chancellor changed the regulatory framework for the banks when he came into office, which contributed to this crisis, the Government’s regulatory oversight of Equitable Life has been seen as partly responsible for the circumstances that many constituents of all hon. Members find themselves in. What are the Government going to do about Equitable Life?

Ms Harman: It is quite wrong for the hon. Gentleman to say that the Government must take responsibility for a financial banking system crisis whose origins clearly were global and whose impact has also been global. On regulation of the financial industry, the hon. Gentleman might remember that there were seven regulators before we set up the Financial Services Authority, and it was very important as part of improving regulation to bring them all into that one regulatory body.

Q5. [226783] Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton) (Lab): Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the 2009 European interparliamentary space conference will be held in this Parliament next autumn? Will she support this unique opportunity to showcase Britain’s high-growth, hi-tech space industry, and, crucially, in terms of next month’s European Space Agency meeting, will she express support for the UK Government’s stance on the efforts of the UK space industry to tackle the climate change agenda and the reduction of poverty in Africa?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The space industry is important. It is in the forefront of science and scientific jobs, and I wish it success with its conference—and perhaps I may express the hope that the summit will boldly go where no summit has previously gone.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Many of my constituents at Bradford & Bingley and other local businesses face a very uncertain future. Given that the Prime Minister egged on the housing bubble and the economic bubble by claiming that he had personally ended boom and bust, and given that it was his tripartite system of regulation that failed so spectacularly, will the Government take any responsibility for the economic problems that my constituents are facing?

Ms Harman: I do not accept that the economic crisis that has currently hit this country is the responsibility of the 1 million extra home owners in this country. I do not accept that for a moment. The hon. Gentleman
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should recognise that the economic circumstances that face this country, although they are national in their impact, are global in their origin.

Q6. [226784] Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, the minimum wage rose to £5.73 on 1 October. How many people will benefit throughout the United Kingdom from that increase, which is another great achievement by this Labour Government? Is she aware that on the day of the vote on that, the Scottish National party did not turn up?

Ms Harman: I welcome my hon. Friend’s drawing the attention of the House to the national minimum wage increase this month. I understand that something like 90,000 people in Scotland will see their pay go up as a result of the rise. The minimum wage is important for Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the whole of England, and we have no intention of letting it wither away. When it comes to difficult economic times, those on low incomes will get help, and I think we can expect those on the highest incomes to show restraint.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): We are undoubtedly facing uncertain times right across the United Kingdom. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with me, my colleagues and many people in Northern Ireland that we face an additional problem? Under the devolutionary arrangement that we currently have, many Departments have packages in place that will help people through the problems that we will face over the winter and in the next year, but they are being blocked from using them because of the activities of Sinn Fein.

Ms Harman: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland reminds me that the Executive need to meet and devolution of policing needs to take place. The Secretary of State is a member of the National Economic Council, and therefore the question of the economic impact on Northern Ireland is very much in the Government’s mind.

Q7. [226785] Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Can my right hon. and learned Friend give an assurance that the money that has been invested in the banks will not be at the expense of investment in public services? People such as pensioners, parents with children in schools, patients of the NHS and public sector workers will be concerned that the money that we have invested to rescue the country from the excesses of the masters of the universe must not come at the expense of those services. Can she give that assurance?

Ms Harman: I can give that assurance. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have said that it is important that we carry on with crucial public investment, and the uprating of benefits and pensions will happen in the normal way.

Q8. [226786] Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): When we hear that Northern Rock has passed just one tenth of last week’s interest rate cuts on to its mortgage holders, does the Leader of the House not feel that we need more assurance that the billions that have been spent on the bank bail-out will trickle down to where
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they are needed—small businesses that want to borrow at affordable rates and people who are worried about the roof over their head?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the whole point of this Government action. It is not for its own sake but actually for the results that it will achieve. We are determined, and indeed agreements have been entered into, that credit will start flowing again to small businesses and to the housing market, in order that we can stabilise the economy and see it through this difficult time.

Q9. [226787] Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): I concur with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) in an earlier question. With electricity prices reported to be four times higher in the United Kingdom than in France, and with the impact that that has on UK businesses and particularly on energy-intensive users, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one way to bring prices down is to increase capacity? The best way to do that is to extend the lives of existing generators, including safe nuclear power generators. Will she urge her Cabinet colleagues to do that, to ease the burden on British business?

Ms Harman: Obviously, we need to ease the burden on British business in the way that my hon. Friend describes, as well as to assist businesses with energy
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conservation and to step forward with the programme for investment in renewables.

Q10. [226788] Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): The right hon. and learned lady had the honesty to admit during her campaign for the deputy leadership of the Labour party that the Government had made a mistake over the war in Iraq. Does she think that the public are owed a similar apology over the failures in policy and weakness in regulation that have contributed to the current economic crisis?

Ms Harman: What we owe to the people in Iraq, to the other countries alongside which our soldiers are working and to our armed forces is to work to ensure that we have stability and peace in Iraq, so that Iraq can take over its own security and policing as soon as possible and our troops can then come home.

Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): Whatever outrageous fortunes the global economy may blow our way, will my right hon. and learned Friend commit herself again to this Government’s aim of eradicating child poverty by 2020 and confirm that that commitment will not be violated?

Ms Harman: We remain absolutely committed to eradicating child poverty, and we hope that both sides of the House will support not only that commitment, but the measures necessary to achieve that aim.

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Rape (Defences)

12.32 pm

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): I beg to move,

I think of this as my rape and sleepwalking Bill, because it deals with what has become a loophole in rape law. My Bill says that it shall not be a defence for a defendant accused of an offence of rape to claim that he was sleepwalking or suffering from non-insane automatism or other similar condition when the offence was alleged to have taken place.

This matter came to my attention during a Select Committee on Work and Pensions visit to Australia to obtain evidence for our excellent carers report. During the stopover at Hong Kong airport, I was reading in an Australian newspaper of an ongoing court case where the defendant, Leonard Spencer, was claiming as a defence for rape that he had been sleepwalking. I thought, no chance! To my amazement, on the journey back I saw a report in The Australian on 16 May that he had been acquitted on those grounds and that it was the first time in an Australian court that “sex-sleep” had succeeded as part of a defence.

The article said:

From then on, the sexsomnia angle was played strongly through the trial. The article continued:

I was then astonished to see not only that the defence had been used internationally—the 2005 judgment of a Canadian man, Jan Luedecke, is one sexsomniac acquittal—but that the cases of two British men were also referred to. The first was that of London man James Bilton in 2005, and the second was from 2007, when RAF mechanic Kenneth Ecott was acquitted of raping a 15-year-old girl despite admitting to having committed the act. Some experts now think that those cases have set a precedent in the law.

I sought a House of Commons Library briefing on the subject, and it brought my attention to several other cases. In 1994, Robert Burnett, a prison officer from Newcastle upon Tyne, was found not guilty of attempted rape after the court accepted that he was sleepwalking at the time. In 2006, Terry Hind, a gay race trainer—I am not sure what that is—committed a sexual assault on another man in Scotland when sleepwalking and the
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jury gave the verdict of “not proven”, which is part of the Scottish law. In 2006, Christopher Davies initially denied and then admitted sexually assaulting a woman, but was found not guilty because he was sleepwalking at the time. In 2007, David Pooley, a former RAF corporal, was found not guilty of rape after he successfully proved that he was suffering an episode of parasomnia, which can include sleepwalking.

The law provides defences of insanity and non-insane automatism. The distinction between the two is crucial. According to English criminal law, the former requires a disease of the mind and is decided on the balance of probabilities. When it results in a not guilty criminal verdict, other powers can be invoked, such as the provisions under the Mental Health Act 2007. In the cases of non-insane automatism, the onus is on the prosecution to exclude it beyond reasonable doubt, or the result is an outright acquittal. My Library briefing says:

As I have said, automania is increasingly being used as a defence in rape cases in the UK, Canada and Australia, and defendants are being acquitted. There must now be serious doubt that the Crown Prosecution Service would bring such a case to court if it thought that that defence would be used, as it has become extremely difficult to get a conviction.

Just 6 per cent. of rape cases result in a conviction and such loopholes make a conviction even harder to obtain. That is a harsh injustice to the victims of rape and treats that serious crime as though it is of little consequence in the legal system. I think that the loophole has widened following recent cases. My briefing said:

There was one case of extreme violence back in 1991—the case of Burgess. The expert medical opinion presented evidence that sleepwalking was a mental abnormality and could deem the defendant legally insane. The judge accepted that, but the series of more recent cases to which I have referred have overridden that decision as far as rape is concerned. Rape is obviously not deemed to be serious enough. My Library briefing says that English law lacks a satisfactory method of dealing with defendants who, although lacking fault, pose a potential threat to the public, and the court will have a sentencing discretion including absolute discharge, guardianship and supervision only if a disease of the mind is established.

The law in this area is a case of political correctness gone mad. I think that it defies common sense. Sleepwalking is not a reasonable excuse for rape that should lead to acquittal. Dr. Cosmo Hallstrom, a fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has said:

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