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As the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt) reasonably said in the Adjournment debate, we are looking at evidence and seeing how many cases are multiple offenders, and in what particular cases that might have led to further complaints and detection, but I point out that 53%-I think that is the figure-of those accused in serious rape cases are known to the person making the accusation. They are usually ex-partners or ex-husbands. In those cases, where the person sometimes gets anonymity if they are the husband, not granting it might betray the identity of the complainant, and sometimes the person accused does not get anonymity, if they are the partner. There is a perfectly serious case to be made on both sides of the argument, and the coalition agreement has contemplated going back to anonymity. I had to
look up which way I voted the last time the question was before the House. Other hon. Members would probably have to do the same. I voted in favour of anonymity then, but we are now listening to the arguments.
Bridget Phillipson: I have worked with victims of sexual violence and know how difficult it is for women to come forward and report offences. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right that the issue is not about party politics; it is about protecting very vulnerable victims of crime. If the Government intend to press ahead with those proposals, will he outline how they intend to encourage women to report rape offences and what measures will be brought forward to drive up the conviction rate in rape cases, which remains significantly lower than it should be?
Mr Clarke: The Government are committed to providing up to 15 more rape crisis centres. I agree entirely with the hon. Lady that, obviously, nobody is questioning the long-standing decision that anonymity be given to all victims making allegations of rape. It is obviously important that everything possible be done to encourage more women who have suffered from that crime to come forward and seek the prosecution of the perpetrator.
Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab): I listened with great care to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State said about the mystery of where the policy came from, but can he enlighten the House as to why, over that weekend of negotiations between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party about the coalition agreement, the matter suddenly became a major priority when it had not been in either manifesto before? Will he also please tell us how many women were involved in those negotiations?
Mr Clarke: I was not involved in the negotiations, but the policy actually emerged from them. I remind the hon. Lady that the Liberal Democrat assembly voted in favour of the policy in 2006, but it did so against a background of considerable debate. People from all parts of this House decided to vote for anonymity in 2003, and we recently had a report from Baroness Stern, who I do not think supports anonymity but recommended that the matter be debated more extensively.
The one thing that I can say to the hon. Lady is that the idea that the proposal was a male decision to the exclusion of female sensitivity on the subject is, frankly, slightly wide of the mark. Nobody in the House denies that rape is a serious offence; nobody in the House wants to reduce the protection that is given to women who are threatened with it or experience it.
6. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the potential effect on the likelihood of rape victims coming forward of his policy to extend anonymity to defendants in rape trials. 
15. Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the likely effect of his proposal to introduce anonymity for defendants in rape cases on the number of prosecution brought in such cases. 
The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): The Government totally support the anonymity of rape victims and regard rape as a very serious crime that should be prosecuted in all cases where sufficient evidence exists. There seems to be no reason, however, why a victim should be deterred from complaining because the name of the accused will not be immediately publicised. The Government are, however, prepared to consider all arguments on that or any other aspect of the issue.
Kevin Brennan: The point is that the Justice Secretary has come before the House and talked about the proposal as if he were suggesting perhaps a Green Paper or a national debate, but it is in his programme of government, and I notice that his Front-Bench team is a Liberal-free zone. Does he feel, and will he now admit to the House, that basically he has been sold a pup?
Mr Clarke: No. I think that it is a serious issue, and, although I may not have initiated its appearance in the coalition agreement, the hon. Gentleman may gather that I am not averse to the House looking at it again. There are people who want us to do so, and we will have an opportunity, no doubt in due course, to put it to Members. I am not responsible for the whipping in the House, but I suspect that all three parties would rather prefer a fairly free vote on the issue, because I do not think that there is any consensus in any part of the House, unless I am suddenly told it is- [ Interruption. ] The Labour party is looking for new policies, I know, but I do not think that it has decided to make this issue the central plank of its much overdue reform.
We have said that we are attracted by the argument, and that we will debate it and consider all the arguments produced by Members from all parts of the House. The Prime Minister actually referred Members to the Home Affairs Committee on which he sat, which on an all-party basis recommended anonymity, at least until the time of charge, only a few years ago.
Katy Clark: I am pleased to hear that there may be a free vote on this issue and that the Secretary of State has so little personal enthusiasm for the policy. Does he agree that the main problem in rape cases is the low conviction rate and the fact that rape victims are not believed? Rather than trying to create ways to provide those accused of rape with more protection, we should be looking at ways to make sure that women feel able to come forward and that we increase the conviction rate.
Mr Clarke: I hasten to repeat that I have no responsibility or control over the whipping arrangements of any of the political parties in the House. When I was operating as a Back Bencher, I took this sort of vote very seriously. I considered it seriously in 2003 and came down in favour of voting for anonymity. It is no good trying to sweep the issue from the field, and we are not going to do that.
The conviction rate among those charged with rape is 38%, which is lower than that for some other offences, but rape is different in many ways from more straightforward crimes such as theft. In rape cases, we are essentially relying on the frame of mind of one of
the parties; something that is perfectly lawful and affectionate if the woman is consenting is a very serious criminal offence if she is not.
Juries are the best people to decide whether they believe one version or the other in what, in my very distant experience of such trials, can sometimes be difficult cases that are best left to juries. That is why I am urging that this is a serious issue, and the coalition agreement was right to raise it. We have expressed our current intention, but Members from all parties will want to listen to all the arguments on both sides and not just be driven away from considering them.
Emma Reynolds: When the black cab driver John Worboys was charged with a string of sex attacks, more than 80 women felt that they could come forward and present themselves as victims. Anonymity for rape defendants would have prevented that from happening. Surely the Justice Secretary agrees that it is important that victims should feel able to come forward, not only to seek justice for themselves, but to strengthen the case for prosecution.
Mr Clarke: That could be a good argument, and we will look at it; evidence of that is, I think, one of the things that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said we would consider. We are trying to have a look at the Worboys case, which is always cited, to see how far the response to that was caused by publicity about the name of the accused person and how far it was a result of the police investigation into the nature of the rape. We can come back to that in later debate. It is not a conclusive argument. A very large number of rape cases do not involve multiple offenders; essentially, they often involve people who are well known to each other and have a history of a consensual sexual relationship.
Jonathan Evans (Cardiff North) (Con): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is important that the appropriate counselling is available for victims coming forward? That counselling has recently been withdrawn in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan). It is now provided by volunteers. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look at ensuring that appropriate funding is put in place for that service?
Mr Clarke: I certainly will. I have already referred to our commitment to try to provide new rape crisis centres, preferably using the proceeds of crime when they are recovered from criminal offenders. I strongly agree with my hon. Friend that we are long past the stage at which a woman complaining of rape is treated as if she were complaining about a handbag robbery. There is no doubt that all these cases have to be treated with considerable sensitivity because it is very difficult for a woman to bring herself to complain and not enough do so, even in the present climate of opinion.
The Government believe that more can be done to cut reoffending by overhauling the system of rehabilitation. We are exploring how sentencing and treatment for drug use can help offenders to come off drugs once and for all. We are also exploring how we can do more with independent providers, including the voluntary sector, to reduce reoffending.
Simon Hughes: I welcome the Minister and all his colleagues to the Front Bench to consider such an important subject. May I encourage them, as they work out the plans to deal with reoffending-as has been said, it is a serious issue, which the previous Government did not address adequately-to take the advice of people such as the previous governor of Brixton prison, who were clear that, if secure housing and continuing support to deal with addictions are provided when people are released, the chance of immediate reoffending, which often starts in days, is hugely reduced?
Nick Herbert: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. We must improve the multi-agency approach to tackling reoffending. That means bringing together the police, probation, prisons and local authorities, and ensuring that they work together more effectively. The key is to get offenders off drugs and into work, and, in particular, as he says, into housing. If we can do that, we have a chance of reducing the unacceptably high reoffending rates that we currently experience.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): But how will the cuts that have just been announced to the future jobs fund, which provides employment for ex-offenders in my constituency-a third of a million pounds comes from Connexions and an equal sum from Positive Activities for Young People-contribute to reducing reoffending in Slough?
Nick Herbert: Clearly, the Opposition still have not grasped the scale of the fiscal deficit that the country faces or their responsibility for creating it. Reoffending costs the criminal justice system and wider society billions of pounds a year. If we can succeed in reducing reoffending and capture some of that money to invest in rehabilitation services through a payment-by-results model, which we proposed in our rehabilitation revolution, we have a chance of producing the rehabilitation services that the previous Government lamentably failed to provide.
As I said in reply to earlier questions, our proposals for implementing the coalition agreement commitments on sentencing and rehabilitation will be presented after
the House returns in October. Our future plans for, and the balance of expenditure between, custodial and community provision will need to be considered in the light of that, and restorative justice will feature strongly in that work, as will the work of the Justice Committee in its first report of 2009-10 on the case for justice reinvestment.
Sir Alan Beith: I thank the Under-Secretary for his kind words and congratulate him on taking office. Did he notice when he arrived at the Department that he was committed to a prison building programme, inherited from the previous Government, that cost more than £4 billion? It produced the highest incarceration rate in western Europe and pre-empted resources, which, if they were used to prevent crime, would save victims from suffering from crime in the first place.
Mr Blunt: My right hon. Friend will be glad to know that it did not entirely escape my attention. However, I draw his attention to the evidence that the then Justice Secretary gave to the Justice Committee in 2008. He pointed out that there was an opportunity to deliver the new prison places more cheaply on a revenue basis than the existing prison estate, and for them to be more fit for purpose in enabling the prison estate to address reoffending behaviour. The prison building programme per se is not, therefore, the problem but the number of offenders whom we have to sustain in custody. We need to examine the policies that drive those numbers.
Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): May I add my welcome to the Under-Secretary? I also offer my congratulations to the Justice Secretary and to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) on their 40th anniversary this week as Members of the House.
Does the Under-Secretary acknowledge that there has been a sustained fall in crime from 1995 to date, and that the increase in prison places and the fact that more serious and violent offenders are now incarcerated has contributed to that fall?
Mr Blunt: Evidence on the effects of incarceration is mixed at best. We must take the political temperature out of the debate. Outbidding each other on how robust we will be in dealing with offenders probably does potential future victims no good. We must have policies that address future offending behaviour and consider the life cycle of potential and actual offenders so that we can support them effectively.
Mr Straw: The whole House would agree that the fundamental test of an anti-crime policy is whether crime has fallen. With that in mind, will the Minister now acknowledge that crime fell consistently from 1995 and throughout the 1997 to 2010 Administration?
No, because the change in trend on crime was achieved by Michael Howard, the then Home Secretary, who delivered a robust policy that effected changes. He was the author of the change in policy, but there is a limit to continuing that process, as there must be to the
rate of growth of incarceration. In the end, we cannot lock up everybody who might be a threat to someone, because in that way, the entire population would end up in prison. There is a logical end to that process, and we will do our level best to deliver more effective policies to ensure that there are fewer victims in future.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): In 2009-10, the average number of prisoners sharing a cell designed for one was approximately 19,000, and there are more than 1,000 cases in which three prisoners are sharing a cell designed for two. That overcrowding is concentrated in male local prisons, where 47.6% of prisoners are held in overcrowded conditions.
Claire Perry: Will the Minister comment on the fact that the previous Government's mismanagement of the indeterminate public protection sentencing regime in many ways contributed to that overcrowding? That was brought to my attention by a prisoner in HMP Erlestoke in my constituency, who copied me in on a very good letter to Inside Time this month. Will the Minister tell the House what he will do to help to reform the IPP regime?
Mr Blunt: I notice that the previous Government had to reform the IPP arrangements in 2008, having introduced them in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. We inherit a very serious problem with IPP prisoners. We have 6,000 IPP prisoners, well over 2,500 of whom have exceeded their tariff point. Many cannot get on courses because our prisons are wholly overcrowded and unable to address offending behaviour. That is not a defensible position.
Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): In opposition, Conservative Members thought it was a good idea-in fact, they thought there was an extremely strong case-to build a new prison in north Wales. Is that still their view?
Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Does the Minister agree that there would be a lot less overcrowding in prisons were we to adopt the very sensible policy of sending back to secure detention in their countries of origin the 13% of our prison population who are foreign nationals?
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