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Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. There are certain right hon. and hon. Members who are not serving the dignity of the House particularly well at the present time. This is a deeply serious subject. It is the subject of a half-hour Adjournment debate. I do not believe that this will be the last time that the subject is likely to be discussed in the House. At all times we
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should discuss things in a calm and reasonable manner, particularly, I suggest to the House, a subject of this nature.

Mr Blunt: I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

As the Deputy Prime Minister made clear this afternoon, our policy on defendant anonymity in rape cases is sensitive and we will consider all the options carefully before bringing proposals to Parliament. This evening's debate and the comments of the right hon. Member for Don Valley have been an early opportunity to listen to views, as promised by the Deputy Prime Minister this afternoon.

We will bring a policy to the House setting out our preferred option after we have considered each one with the care that this subject merits. In doing so, we will of course take into account potential implications for victims and for the conviction rate, as well as the reporting issues. There are sound reasons for our approach. Rape is such a serious and emotive crime that it attracts both a high degree of stigma for the defendant and a disproportionate degree of media interest. The combination of those factors distinguishes rape from other crimes. The reality is that sex in all its guises continues to fascinate the media. Reducing the level of prurient interest can only be in the interests of victims.

Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Blunt: Giving evidence as a complainant is both difficult and stressful, and there are already policies in place to try to make this easier. Anything that can be done to reduce the pressure on witnesses in these circumstances is surely something we should contemplate. Equally, defendants accused of rape and not convicted are entitled to some protection. Anybody accused of rape is likely to be subject to minute scrutiny, often raising matters detrimental to the individual's reputation that, in any other circumstances, would be regarded as trivial or irrelevant.

Caroline Flint: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is he really, seriously suggesting that the stigma associated with being accused of rape is no less than that associated with being accused of child abuse, assault, murder or wife beating? Why does rape stand out? Is it really about the fact that you just believe-[Hon. Members: "You?"] Sorry, is it really about the fact that the hon. Gentleman just believes that women who come forward to accuse someone of rape must be putting forward false allegations and are not to be believed, when the evidence shows that that occurs in a complete minority of cases?

Mr Blunt: No, and no. I should be grateful if the right hon. Lady would, as we ought to in handling such cases, try to take the temperature out of the debate and turn to evidence rather than supposition. Let me continue with my remarks.

If the defendant is acquitted, quite apart from the lingering suspicion of guilt that might remain, there might be a range of adverse material about that individual in the public domain which would otherwise have remained private and which cannot even be expunged by an acquittal. Our approach to defendants who are accused
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of rape but not convicted will be based on what is just. There are a number of possible options on the timing and scope of anonymity. On timing, it could extend from the point of the accusation until the time the defendant is charged; or to the beginning of the trial; or to the point of conviction.

Further options relate to the scope of the anonymity in so far as the offences are concerned. It could cover anonymity in rape cases, but it could go wider. There are reasons why it might also be applied to other offences. I remind the House that our coalition agreement also states that we will give anonymity to teachers accused by pupils and take other measures to protect against false accusations. The principle is linked to anonymity in rape cases, as the tragic case of Nick Drewett showed. It was the reputational damage that caused him to take his own life, and, although we recognise the difficulties in any extension to particular professions or classes of offence, anonymity for those in positions of trust could apply more widely than to sexual offences. We have not yet discounted any options.

Whatever our conclusions, I can make it absolutely clear that we have no intention of extending similar protections to rape defendants once convicted. The media will be able to report the cases of convicted defendants in the usual way. A reason in principle for bringing forward the proposals is to help to restore the balance in rape cases with the anonymity given to complainants. It has often been said that the justification for complainant anonymity does not apply to defendants, on the basis that the purpose of complainant anonymity is to encourage more complainants to come forward-a factor that does not apply to defendants.

Mr MacShane: Go on, get someone else in that job.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) is behaving disgracefully and not assisting a debate of this kind. Now he really has enough experience of this House, as a Minister and as a Back Bencher, to realise that what he is doing is out of tune with how we should conduct our business in this House. I hope that I will not hear from him again.

Mr Blunt: I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Complainant anonymity was introduced against a background of public concern about the lurid reporting of the cross-examination of complainants in rape trials. Of course, the protection from reporting provides the inducement to complainants to come forward. The underlying problem of exposure to publicity applies to defendants and complainants alike, and I want to make it clear that we have no plans to withdraw in any way the rights of complainants to anonymity. Our proposals are based on sound precedents. Defendant anonymity was the norm in rape cases for many years, and, of course, defendant anonymity continues to be the rule in all criminal proceedings in the youth court.

Let me address some of the points that the right hon. Lady made. She said this morning on the radio, in The Independent and repeated this evening that we know from the evidence that many rapists are serial offenders. I feel this to be true, but when I asked for evidence of how many rapists were serial offenders, and what proportion
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of convicted or charged rapists might fall into that category, there appeared to be insufficient data to form a reliable evidential picture.

Furthermore, in trying to acquire accurate detail on the number of times that convictions have been obtained because the identity of the defendant was known and further complainants came forward who were crucial to securing a conviction, I have again been unable to get a reliable picture or-

Fiona Mactaggart: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Blunt: Let me continue.

I have again been unable to get a reliable picture or, indeed, any firm evidence at all in the time available. I would welcome help from the right hon. Member for Don Valley, and those of her right hon. and hon. Friends who are supporting her this evening, in identifying serious analysis that can help us to discuss these issues on the basis of evidence rather than supposition.

The right hon. Lady referred this morning on the radio, in her article in The Independent and again this evening to the Worboys case. The facts of that case are that it was the police who finally identified a mode of behaviour from several different complainants, identifying 12 offences. It was that mode of behaviour which led to the charging and subsequent conviction of John Worboys on 19 counts. The police were criticised for the length of time it took them to identify Worboys, but that name would have meant no more to the complainants than it did to the police. It was the manner of the offences that led to his conviction.

Fiona Mactaggart: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Blunt: No.

Shortly before John Worboys' trial, the police appealed, with the assistance of the media, for further victims to come forward. The appeal identified 70 to 85 further complainants-to use the right hon. Lady's numbers; it is 81 according to the briefing that I have received-who recognised his modus operandi. However, none of those was central to his conviction as the police already had sufficient evidence, and had he been granted anonymity until conviction, it would still have been possible to identify those further complainants, and he would still have been convicted. So to understand the issues as perfectly as possible, if the right hon. Lady, and all those who have helped her to prepare, can identify cases where anonymity until conviction would have prevented an initial conviction being secured, I would be anxious to learn of them.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Blunt: No, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

If the right hon. Lady and others have further examples, it will come down to a question of balance. That is why we have said that we intend to reflect on the provisions carefully before we bring forward legislation.

Probably the most commonly encountered criticism is that defendant anonymity inhibits the reporting of criminal trials, but one might say the same of any anonymity for the parties to criminal proceedings, including
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complainant anonymity in rape cases and cases involving other sexual offences. The question is where the balance properly lies. We have no difficulty with full and robust reporting of defendants convicted of rape. That is entirely proper. But we believe that because the possibility of pre-emptive vilification of those accused of rape is so great, the stronger arguments are in favour of anonymity.

The related argument is sometimes made that defendants suspected of, or charged with, a wide range of offences may experience discomfort even if acquitted. For example, people working in the City-the right hon. Lady alluded to some of these points-and charged with fraud could also argue that they are likely to suffer fundamental reputational damage. That is true, but it overlooks the particular vulnerability of rape defendants to vilification to which I have already referred. It is that vulnerability, and the unique statutory anonymity for complainants, that distinguishes rape from other crimes.

Some people argue that defendant anonymity in rape cases would imply that the Government, and perhaps by extension the criminal justice system as a whole, felt that complainants were unreliable and so deter complainants from coming forward. I absolutely and robustly reject that argument, as did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister during Prime Minister's questions last week. The justification for defendant anonymity in rape cases is the stigma attached to an accusation of rape. It has nothing to do with the likelihood or otherwise of acquittal. There is no implied view in our proposals of the prevalence or otherwise of false allegations in rape cases.

In conclusion-

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Fiona Mactaggart: Will the hon. Gentleman give way before he concludes?

Mr Blunt: In conclusion, the Government want informed contributions on the basis of evidence which will help us to bring forward proposals that will command the confidence of the House. The right hon. Lady has contributed to that process today; I rather regret that one or two of her right hon. and hon. Friends have not conducted themselves in the manner that this subject merits. [ Interruption. ] I am inviting the right hon. Lady, and other right hon. and hon. Members, to contribute evidence properly and sensibly rather than simply proceed on the basis of supposition. [ Interruption. ] The right hon. Lady has contributed to that process, and I am grateful to her. The Government have the interests both of victims and of unconvicted defendants fully at heart, and the Government will proceed upon the evidence.

Mr Deputy Speaker: The Question is that this House do now adjourn- [ Interruption. ] Order. The House must not behave in this manner. This was a half-hour Adjournment debate, which was perhaps too short a time to contain all the opinions that, understandably, hon. Members have on this matter. It would be a pity, however, to ruin the reputation of the House by bawling from a sedentary position.

Question put and agreed to.

11.35 pm

House adjourned.

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