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"There is little or no evidence that the use of section 44 has the potential to prevent an act of terrorism as compared with other statutory powers of stop and search."
Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I must say that I cannot join in the collective hurrah about the removal of powers that the House, not the European Court, should be in charge of. These powers were used successfully on 10,000 occasions last year in Northern Ireland to prevent and disrupt dissident terrorists. The year before that, only 3,000 stop-and-search measures were taken under reasonable suspicion, which is much more difficult to prove and identifies a suspect who may be traced by the police when they do not want him to be identified while they are pursuing him. What measures will now be put in place to ensure that the citizens of Northern Ireland are protected fully, completely and properly from the dissident republican threat?
Mrs May: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising those issues. Obviously, I recognise the concern that he has raised in relation to the exercise of these powers in Northern Ireland and of the revised powers that I have announced today. The PSNI has a number of other powers available to it, and I referred to a couple of them in the response that I gave earlier to the shadow Home Secretary. The PSNI will still be able to use existing legislation to conduct targeted and intelligence-led stop and searches, to protect its officers and the communities that it serves, but I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with more detail about the powers that will continue to be available to the PSNI.
Mr Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): May I welcome the Home Secretary's statement and express some surprise at the shadow Home Secretary's attempt to defend the practice that has been ruled illegal? I remind the House that, in 1949, the United Kingdom was the architect of the Council of Europe and the European convention on human rights. Members who represent us at the Council of Europe have been embarrassed over the past few years by some of the previous Government's actions on human rights. Therefore, in any review of anti-terrorism legislation, will we be cognisant of our obligations under the European convention?
I am happy to give that commitment to my hon. Friend, and I thank him for his excellent service on the Council of Europe, which he has undertaken over a number of years. Just as the point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), we are cognisant in our work to
review counter-terrorism legislation of the need to redress the balance between ensuring that our police have the powers necessary to protect the public and protecting our ancient civil liberties.
Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I welcome the right hon. Lady's statement today. She will know that I raised these matters in a series of parliamentary questions after the original judgment was issued. What those parliamentary questions elicited was widespread variation in how the powers had been applied. What steps will she take now to hold those chief constables to account for the way in which they abused the powers that were available to them, thus bringing the whole use of the powers into contempt by members of the public?
Mrs May: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As he says, this has indeed been a matter of concern to him for some time. He is right to say that the use of the powers has been variable among forces and over time. It is, of course, within the Secretary of State's remit to ensure that they are used partly through the authorisations, which must be confirmed by the Secretary of State within 48 hours of the appropriate level of police putting those authorisations in place. Of course, we will revert to this issue in the counter-terrorism legislation review, and we will consider that matter at that time.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): If the coalition is obsessed with defending civil liberties, I am proud of that fact. Is the Home Secretary satisfied that the balance between civil liberties and safeguarding our security is adequately redressed with these changes to section 44; or does she believe that further changes may be required to section 44 after the counter-terrorism legislation review?
Mrs May: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. The whole point of making the statement today is to ensure that an interim position is available to the police, so that they have operational guidance and clarity about the powers that they can exercise, but precisely because I feel that we need to take a wider look at section 44 and to look at it in the context of other counter-terrorism legislation, we will continue to consider it within the review. I cannot say at this stage whether any further changes will be introduced, but that would be done in the wider context of the review of all counter-terrorism legislation.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP):
I welcome the Home Secretary's statement today. The European Court judgment was clear; the previous Government's attempt to appeal against it has failed; and she has acted properly in the decision that she has announced today. Does the earlier draft of the Home Secretary's statement that has gone into circulation and that referred to Northern Ireland, particularly to the approach to the parades season, in any way corroborate the suspicion that these powers have been used as a matter of convenience by the police on matters that are not directly a situation where terrorism is suspected? [ Interruption. ] A draft has gone into circulation somehow that made reference to Northern Ireland and the approach to the marching season. I do not know whether the Home Secretary is aware of that,
but certainly I and others received that draft. That feeds the suspicion that the power has been used more generally. Does she agree that section 44 was a misjudgment in legislation which has led in some cases to a misapplication of law enforcement?
Mrs May: I am concerned about the point that the hon. Gentleman has made, although I thank him for his comments on the statement. I assure him that the statement that I have made is the one that was drafted and that I saw this morning in the Home Office before I came to the Chamber. I am concerned if he has seen an alternative version, and I will look into that matter. I am very conscious of the possible impact in Northern Ireland. That is precisely why the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I have been discussing this issue over a number of days, and he has been consulting in Northern Ireland on the statement's impact. I believe that the PSNI had been exercising its powers under the legislation in relation to necessity and reasonable suspicion, and it can continue to do so as a result of the statement that I have made today. As I indicated in an earlier response, other powers will still be available to the PSNI.
Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that the police can continue to use existing stop-and-search powers to combat drug dealers and those carrying knives and guns, and that counter-terrorism legislation ought never to be used for those purposes?
Mrs May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, which enables me to be clear that the other stop-and-search powers are not affected by the statement. The statement relates to the Terrorism Act 2000, particularly section 44, although other sections are part of the change. I am changing the guidance on section 44, but other stop-and-search powers are still available to police.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I accept that the Home Secretary has acted speedily in view of the Court's decision. Will the interim guidelines be published? Although I accept her point about civil liberties, is she confident that police officers will not now go in fear of disciplinary action as they attempt to exercise reasonable suspicion in their efforts to protect the rest of us?
Mrs May: On the hon. Gentleman's last point, I am confident that that will not be the case. The purpose of the statement today, as he recognises, is to give clarity at as early a stage as possible to police officers on how they are to operate the guidelines. The guidelines will be published, including in the Hansard report of my statement.
Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): The Home Secretary should realise that the new guidelines will be very welcome in Kent, where we have had to deal with a number of criticisms of the use of stop-and-search, particular with respect to the climate camp at Kingsnorth. Does she agree that although senior police officers should be consulted on such matters, it is essential that national policy guidance should be determined by her, as the Minister accountable to Parliament, and not the Association of Chief Police Officers?
Mrs May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. His observation of the difficulty arising from the exercise and use of those powers in Kent shows precisely why there has been fairly widespread concern about them. He is entirely right, which is why I have come to Parliament today to make this statement. The decision on the guidance that is issued to police forces is one that I have taken as Home Secretary.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Last December, I was subject to section 44- [ Interruption. ] Fortunately, I was sent away and everything was fine, but nevertheless I felt that my liberties as a citizen had been infringed on, and a sense of grievance, albeit a small one, against the authorities. [Interruption.] My great problem with what the previous Government did is this: if we believe in liberal democracy, we must also hold out strongly for its values. We weaken those values at great cost. Does the Secretary of State agree?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. The shadow Police Minister, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), mutters from a sedentary position, "It was random," but that is the whole point of the European Court judgment. There needs to be a degree of suspicion if the police are to stop and search somebody. On the rest of my hon. Friend's question, it is important for us to defend our civil liberties. I believe that that is the task of everybody in the House, and I
am only sorry that the previous Government chose to infringe those civil liberties in some of their legislative decisions.
Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, to be safe, we must keep the whole country on side and ensure that no group feels persecuted or victimised, and that today's announcement is a welcome step in the right direction?
Mrs May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an extremely valid point. It is in a sense an extension of the one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon)-notably, one difficulty was that parts of the community felt that the way in which the stop-and-search powers were used was disproportionate. The concerns were such that they began to bring into disrepute the police's ability to keep us safe at the same time as we, as a Parliament, maintained our civil liberties.
Mrs May: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for ensuring that he keeps us up to the mark on our commitments on police bureaucracy. It is certainly not my intention that there should be any increase in police paperwork as a result of the changes.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I draw your attention to what appears to be a major defect in our procedures in the House? Our sister Parliaments in Canada and the Netherlands-countries that have made similar sacrifices to our country in blood and treasure in Afghanistan-have debated and voted on the deployment of troops to that country. Of course, our deployment took place in 2001, before the precedent was set, prior to the Iraq war, for a vote in the House before troops are deployed. At this turning point in our involvement in Afghanistan-the welcome announcement of our withdrawal of our soldiers from north Helmand and the announcement of a possible exit date-would it not be appropriate that we debate and actually vote to decide whether we want to continue to send our soldiers to Afghanistan?
Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is ingenious, but he knows very well that he is seeking to inveigle me into making what is essentially a political pronouncement, and I must not do that. He has made his point very clearly. How such matters are addressed is a matter for the House. In an earlier incarnation, I had views and expressed them on this matter; in my present role, I do not have views, and therefore will not express them. However, he has expressed his views very clearly, and I have a feeling that he might want to apprise his constituents of the fact of what he said.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Numerous media reports today and yesterday have suggested that the Government intend to change the date for digital radio switchover, and that they will announce that in a speech being made this afternoon by the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey). Have Ministers given any indication that they intend to pay Members of this House the courtesy of informing them of this significant change in policy, which will affect millions of people and businesses in Britain, or is this the latest example of the new Government treating Parliament with complete contempt?
Mr Speaker: Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that I have certainly received no indication from a member of the Government that he or she intends to make a statement on this matter. The point of order that he raises will have been heard very clearly by those on the Treasury Bench. It is a matter into which I am very happy to inquire. The right hon. Gentleman, who is always keenly abreast of events, will know that I have made my views very clear about the requirement for policy statements by Ministers to be made first to this House and not-I repeat not, for the benefit of those listening on the Treasury Bench; if I could attract the attention of the Minister for Immigration, I should be grateful-outside this House.
Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab):
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In business questions, the Leader of the House frequently directed hon. Members to seek debates in Westminster Hall, so is it in order to ask you to investigate the apparent reluctance of a large
group of Departments to answer Adjournment debates there? The same group of only nine Departments that answered debates this week are answering next week, and in the week beginning 26 July. The other larger group of 15 Departments, including the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Education, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Treasury, are answering for only one week in four-the week beginning 19 July. Can Members seeking a debate with Ministers from one of those 15 Departments be told just why those Ministers are becoming less and less accountable to the House?
Mr Speaker: I say to the hon. Lady, first, that there was-I believe that I am right in saying-at one time a system of alternation, whereby one set of Departments would answer debates in Westminster Hall one week and the other would answer in the subsequent week. Strictly speaking, it is a matter for the Government to decide how to respond to issues, but in so far as the hon. Lady is airing a concern that issues which Members wish to raise are not being responded to, I am happy to look into it. I shall revert to her when I have further and better particulars.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have been advised by the Table Office, which has otherwise been incredibly helpful to me in every respect, that I am not permitted to use the word "democratic" in the title of an early-day motion. Given that we are in possibly the greatest Parliament in the world and one of the oldest democracies, do you agree that it is unusual that I should not be allowed to use that word? Would you review the rules so that that word may be allowed its rightful place in this House?
Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is a new Member, although I have known him a long time, so I am sure that he will not be offended if I say that, on the whole, matters of this kind-that appertain to the Table Office and the staff of the House-should not really be raised in the form of a point of order. The hon. Gentleman is certainly entitled to appeal to me, but it is the sort of matter best dealt with not on the Floor of the House.
However, the hon. Gentleman has raised the point and, having had no previous knowledge of what he intended to say, I would respond thus. He pleads the case for being allowed to use the word "democratic" in the title of an early-day motion, but it all depends on the detail-therein lies the devil. I do not know what title he had in mind, but ordinarily the title of an early-day motion, in order to be acceptable to the Table Office, is supposed to be strictly factual. It is not supposed to be argumentative or disputatious. If an hon. Member is unhappy with the advice from the Table Office, he or she can write to me and I will consider the matter.
I hope that that is a helpful answer-it is certainly a comprehensive one-but if the hon. Gentleman has a proposal for a general change to the House's procedures on these matters, his request should be directed to the Procedure Committee.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab):
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During business questions, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) raised
the issue that IPSA's byzantine procedures may have constituted a breach of parliamentary privilege. My concern is similar. It is that IPSA is markedly failing to pay in any reasonable time the duly accredited invoices presented to my office by those small and medium enterprises that provide services to me and to those small community organisations and charities that furnish me with a room. It may well be that their only recourse is to attempt to bring bailiffs into this House to remove objects from our offices to meet their outstanding payments. Would that constitute a breach of parliamentary privilege? Those small and medium enterprises must have some avenue by which they may receive what is duly theirs.
Mr Speaker: I have just been advised that page 167 of "Erskine May" applies in this context, and I feel sure that the full details of that are well familiar to the hon. Lady. She conjures up a lurid spectacle that will concern many hon. Members, and she does so on the basis of experience, and that is respected. She will be aware that all sorts of discussions take place between Members of Parliament and representatives of IPSA, and that is perfectly proper. However, I am sorry to have to tell her that as things stand it is clear that matters of privilege cannot be addressed by being raised on the Floor of the House in this way. If she wishes to write to me with an argument about a potential breach of privilege, it is open to her to do so. I shall look in my mailbag.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is my maiden point of order to you, so I hope that you will be gentle if I get the wrong approach. Have you any further information about the encampment in Parliament square? On Saturday some guests attending a function in the House went to see the statue of Winston Churchill. They were from abroad and thought that the encampment was a summer fete. They were approached by people from the camp who asked them for money and when it was not forthcoming they were subjected to racist abuse. They could not call the police because the camp is on an island and they did not know that the police could cross the very busy road. Do we know when the camp is to be removed? I have read in the newspapers that the Mayor of London had taken out an injunction but that it had been appealed against. It would be helpful if Members knew what progress had been made.
Mr Speaker: I am very sorry to learn of the experiences that the right hon. Gentleman describes. The short answer to his question is that the issue has been the subject of legal argument. Until that argument is fully resolved, I should be very cautious in what I say. I am keen, as I know others-including the Mayor of London-are keen, that this issue should be resolved satisfactorily in the interests of the public, including visitors to our country, as quickly as possible.
Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This must be a day for maiden points of order. We have just heard from the Home Secretary about the importance of the Government's responsibility to protect the public. Can I ask you, therefore, whether it is acceptable for the Leader of the House deliberately to ignore the question that I put to him during business questions on the safety of children and looped blind cords? The response by the Leader of the House will be seen by families who have lost children in that manner as grossly unacceptable. Is such a practice appropriate?
Mr Speaker: There is no procedural impropriety concerned. I can almost smell the hon. Gentleman's anger on behalf of his constituents, but he is seeking to continue the debate. Indeed, many Members might conclude that he has already successfully done so.
Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You are of course the servant of the House of Commons and it could be argued that you should not make any statements without the authority of the House. However, in a rare exception, I ask whether you feel that you could raise your voice about the act of outright barbarism proposed by the Iranian Government. A 43-year-old woman is to be stoned to death. Her son has pleaded for clemency. Her offence is alleged adultery. I know that it is rare to ask the Speaker of the House of Commons to raise his voice, but a number of leading figures in the international community have done so already. We have been discussing civil liberties in our country, but let us imagine a person being stoned to death for an offence that she denies in any case. It is so primitive, so evil. In the circumstances, I wonder whether you could make a rare exception and, as the Speaker, raise your voice in protest.
Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has served in this House, at this mid-point in his career, for 35 years, if memory serves me correctly, and he knows the real limitations on what the Speaker can say. My concern is that, although the issue that he has raised is a matter of real concern and humanity, it is almost certainly not a point of order. I feel strongly about the protection of civil liberties and human rights, and I take the gravest exception to their abuse.
The hon. Gentleman describes a truly horrific matter. I do not wish to treat anything that he says with levity-and I mean that-but he mentioned how several leading members of the international community had already condemned this prospect. I therefore seek to extricate myself from any difficulty by saying that whatever else the hon. Gentleman thinks of me, I am sure that he would not promote me to the level of a leading member of the international community. He has put his concerns on the record, and I have tried to be as helpful as I can. I hope that we in this House are in favour of human rights, not of their grotesque abuse.
That this House has considered the matter of defendant anonymity.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this subject for a second time. On this occasion, I am a little less inhibited by time pressure, but I am conscious of the number of people seeking to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I will not delay the House too much. Since I last addressed the House, in the 7 June Adjournment debate, the Government have reviewed the arguments more fully and our thinking has advanced, and I look forward to the opportunity to explain where matters now stand. I also look forward to dispelling some common myths and misconceptions about our policy.
I emphasise again that the question of anonymity for rape defendants is wholly consistent with our fundamental commitment to supporting victims of crime. Violence against women, girls and vulnerable people is totally unacceptable, whatever the context or circumstances. We know that victims of sexual violence often find it very difficult to report a rape to the police, and of course for those who have felt able to come forward, going through the criminal justice process can be an incredibly difficult and painful experience. Our focus is on the rights and welfare of the victim, and we are committed to ensuring that every victim of rape has access to appropriate support. In particular, we are looking at putting funding for rape crisis services on a more sustainable basis and at establishing new rape crisis centres where there are gaps in provision.
The Government Equalities Office is currently carrying out a consultation on a strategic action plan, including Government action on working with a more sustainable violence-against-women voluntary sector, based on cash, commissioning and capacity building. It closes on 23 July. The action plan suggests a capacity-building project to be carried out in partnership with the relevant umbrella bodies, to support their ability to represent Members and work together to influence the Government. The Home Secretary will be chairing a meeting of Ministers across government later this month to discuss how we tackle violence against women more widely.
We will not conflate myths and stereotypes about false allegations with our detailed work on the proposals for defendant anonymity. This debate is not about doubting victims' reports or repeating uninformed arguments about false allegations. Baroness Stern has stated in her independent and impressive review that this is an area on which we need further research, and the Government are looking into this. I want to make it clear that Baroness Stern's review of the evidence found that only a very few rape allegations are false:
"It is not possible to establish an exact figure and the research that is available gives a wide range of suggested percentages. Some research suggests that a figure of eight to ten per cent of reported rapes could well be false reports. However, those we spoke to in the system felt that there were very few."
Mr Blunt: I will give way to the right hon. Lady, but I would like to get through the bulk of my remarks, and make clear the Government's position and the explanation for it. I will then be happy to take further interventions. At this stage, however, I am happy to give way to her.
Caroline Flint: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has just put it on the record that, based on the available evidence, there is little evidence of a high rate of false allegations. In that context, will he speak to his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who did not help the debate when he said, having been questioned about falsely accused rape defendants:
"We know that a lot of people are falsely accused"?-[ Official Report, 9 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 328.]
Mr Blunt: I think that the right hon. Lady will appreciate what I am about to put on the record regarding the detail of evidence in this area. I am sure that the House will be pleased to hear that the Government will make a full response to Baroness Stern's recommendations in due course. I want to make it clear that the issue of false allegations is not one of the reasons for considering changes to our policy on rape defendants. It would be were there strong evidence that a significantly greater number of false allegations are associated with rape than with other offences, but the Government do not believe that to be the case.
On that question, I remind the House again, as I did in the earlier Adjournment debate, that there are in fact two anonymity commitments in our coalition agreement. One relates to rape, the other-referring to no particular offence-to teachers. The House will wish to note that there is a specific reference in our coalition agreement to protecting teachers from false allegations, but no such linkage over rape complainants. It is therefore important that we distinguish between these two commitments. The criminal justice Departments will therefore need to carry out further work in conjunction with the Department for Education before we are in a position to provide a clear statement of how we intend to proceed on the teacher aspect.
The remainder of my remarks, therefore, are addressed to the issue that has caused the most controversy and interest in the House-the issue around rape defendants. However, we will listen carefully to any contributions today on teacher anonymity, which will help to inform our discussions with other Departments.
Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman clarify in more detail the proposals on teacher anonymity? Is he suggesting anonymity in respect of abuse, sexual abuse or rape, or have the Government not yet clarified in their own mind in precisely what circumstances teachers will be granted anonymity? Furthermore, will it extend to teaching assistants and other staff in schools, such as caretakers?
Mr Blunt: I am surprised by that intervention because the Government made their position clear yesterday in a written ministerial statement by the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb). It bears repeating:
"Finally, we will give teachers the strongest possible protection from false accusations. We will give anonymity to teachers facing accusations from pupils. This Government want to put an end to rumours and malicious gossip about innocent teachers which can ruin careers and even lives."-[ Official Report, 7 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 12WS.]
As I said, we will now hold discussions with the Department for Education, the Home Office and the Law Officers about how to proceed. Right now, however, I do not want to say anything further about that, as I have a significant amount to report to the House on the Government's position on rape defendants. I want to focus on that now.
We are committed to supporting victims and improving the investigation and prosecution of rape. It will be useful to the House if I share our best understanding of what happens to rape complaints made to the police. In 2008, 13,093 complaints of rape were made to the police. Based on a Metropolitan police survey in 2007, we would expect that one third of these were no-crimed and that 30% of this third-about 10% overall-were false allegations, which I believe to be reasonably consistent with false allegations around other offences. That is why the number of false allegations is not part of the reason for changing our position on this issue. Police identified 80% of suspects, and 73% of these were arrested, but only 44% of those arrests resulted in a charge by the Crown Prosecution Service, perhaps due to withdrawal of evidence by the victim, which could be caused by fear of reprisals, the court process or the lack of emotional strength to continue.
What we know about case disposals in 2008 is as follows. Some 2,395 cases were proceeded with at a magistrates court, of which 1,822 were sent to the Crown court, with 24% of cases not proceeded with for various reasons, including the charges being dropped, although in some cases the defendant will have been convicted of other offences at the magistrates court. Of the 1,822 cases that proceeded to the Crown court, 24 were not tried for a variety of reasons. However, 1,798 men went on trial accused of rape in 2008, 51% of whom were convicted of rape, with 77% convicted either of rape or another offence. Of those who went on trial, 406 pleaded guilty and 1,392 pleaded not guilty. Of those pleading not guilty, 36% were convicted of rape, while 885 of those pleading not guilty were acquitted of rape or attempted rape. I estimate from the information made available to me that about half those will have been convicted of another offence, but it is not yet possible to be precise about that from the data examination that I have been able to undertake before today's debate.
We need to empower police officers to improve rape investigations. We are all aware, as the recent Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation into Kirk Reid has again demonstrated, of the terrible consequences that investigative failures can have. To demonstrate our commitment to improving the criminal justice response to rape, the Home Office will continue to fund the rape support programme this year, providing additional targeted support to forces to improve their approach and practice
on rape investigation. We will also consider carefully how we can support agencies' joint work on sharing intelligence and good practice.
The anonymity debate has been characterised by a number of myths and misconceptions, which have unfortunately served to obscure rather than clarify matters. For example, it is alleged that anonymity for defendants would deter victims in general from coming forward. One can easily understand the argument that depriving complainants of anonymity would indeed have that effect. Their cross-examination about painful personal matters would be exposed to the public gaze, which is bound to have a deterrent effect on the willingness of others to come forward. Parliament has long recognised that reality. However, it is difficult to understand how the anonymity of a defendant could possibly have such an effect. There is an argument that reducing publicity around rape investigations and trial should make it easier for complainants. That would be an effect of protecting the defendant's identity. The strength of that effect before and during any trial will be a matter of judgment.
Maria Eagle: Does the hon. Gentleman understand that one of the reasons why people fear that introducing anonymity for defendants just in rape cases will deter reporting by victims is that he would be singling out that one crime for such treatment? Extending anonymity to defendants in all cases might not have the same impact, but by singling out one particular offence, the hon. Gentleman is in danger of sending a clear signal to victims that they will not be believed.
Mr Blunt: I understand that that is one of the counter-arguments, but in the end it comes down to a matter of judgment and balance among a number of competing arguments. I am quite happy to concede that the argument that the hon. Lady has set out has some weight, but other arguments have to be weighed in the balance too. Let me therefore put those arguments before the House.
To turn to our proposals, we have now had the opportunity to consider both the arguments and the background in further detail. The last time the subject was debated at any length in Parliament was during the passage of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Reference to those debates is highly instructive, and I would like, if I may, to dwell for a while on that subject. Anonymity for defendants was first raised in another place not by a Government or Opposition Member, but by a Cross Bencher, Lord Ackner, the late former Law Lord, who had tabled an amendment to the Bill. Lord Ackner's view was as follows:
"For 12 years this anonymity"-
"was enjoyed. I have heard nothing to suggest that during those 12 years there were occasions when it worked to the disadvantage of justice. I have not limited my request to pre-trial because pre-trial is only part of the issue."-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 2 June 2003; Vol. 648, c. 1095.]
Their lordships narrowly accepted Lord Ackner's amendment, so that when the Bill passed to this House it contained provision for defendant anonymity. The then Government decided to resist that in its entirety. In Committee, the Opposition tabled alternative, probing amendments that would have granted anonymity either all the way to conviction or, as the case may be, up to
the point of charge. Only the latter amendment was pressed to a Division. A similar Opposition amendment was tabled on Report and was also pressed to a Division. Interestingly, the Government of the day indicated that they accepted the desirability of pre-charge anonymity in principle, but preferred a non-legislative solution. Some scepticism was expressed by a number of speakers in both Houses about whether the non-legislative approach was realistic. However, there was also some support for the suggestion that a non-legislative solution would be ideal.
When the Bill returned to the other place for consideration of this House's amendments, Lord Ackner moved an amendment similar to his earlier one, but on that occasion it was defeated. However, the coalition partners joined together to support a narrower amendment, tabled by Lord Thomas of Gresford, that would have provided statutory anonymity at the pre-charge stage. That amendment was duly passed. When the Bill returned once again to this House, the then Government maintained their previous position and the Lords amendment was again deleted from the Bill. The matter was once again pressed to a vote. That was followed by yet another round of debate in the other place. Ultimately, no further Opposition amendments were pressed, for fear that the whole Bill would fall as a result.
In the latter stages of the Bill, Ministers indicated that discussions had been held with the Association of Chief Police Officers and with the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission. As a result of the latter discussions, the press was looking at its code of conduct, to see how it could be strengthened to ensure that those suspected of offences-but not yet charged with them-were not named in the media. The burning question prompted by this saga is: what happened next? The answer is that the Press Complaints Commission issued a note in 2004 that specifically addressed the reporting of people accused of crime by reference to the relevant sections of the editors' code of conduct.
It appears to be widely assumed that there is a self-regulation scheme in place that clearly prohibits the reporting of anybody accused of a crime but not yet charged with it. On close examination, however, the 2004 interpretative note does not provide complete reassurance. Nowhere does it contain an outright general prohibition on the reporting of pre-charge allegations. In fact, in the main, no mention is made of the distinction between pre and post-charge reporting at all. For that reason, anybody affronted-for example, by the reporting of an allegation that was not followed by charge-and who wanted to complain to the PCC about the matter might well find that they had no grounds to do so under the interpretative note or code.
A further point, which soon became apparent from the exhaustive examination of the issue undertaken in this House and another place during the passage of the 2003 Act, is that both the then Government and the then Opposition parties settled on a position of agreement-in principle at least-to non-reporting up to the point of charge and normal reporting procedures thereafter.
Much has been made in the past of the importance of open justice and the free reporting of criminal trials as key elements of maintaining public confidence in the
criminal justice system. We support that view. There is, however, another important reason of principle for distinguishing between the reporting of trials and the reporting of allegations before the point of charge. In the case of the latter, we are dealing with allegations that have not been subject to a full range of investigation.
When there is an allegation before the point of charge, there may have been some degree of investigation into the allegation, but there will have been no formal assertion on the part of the state that anybody has a case to answer. Those points provide grounds to inhibit reporting that are not present at the trial stage. Therefore, having carefully reviewed the extensive background, having taken account of the fact that nobody should be appearing in a criminal trial unless the prosecuting authorities have assessed all the available evidence including any exculpatory unused material, and prosecutors having applied the other provisions of the code for Crown prosecutors and decided to bring criminal charges, the Government are minded to strengthen anonymity up to the point of charge. This is consistent with the findings of the Home Affairs Select Committee-on which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister served-in 2003, and also with the reply that he gave to the Leader of the Opposition at Prime Minister's questions last month.
Ms Bagshawe: Will my hon. Friend expand on this a little? Does he understand the concern that is felt on both sides of the House that, by singling out rape in this way, he is sending out a negative signal about women and about those who accuse men of rape?
Mr Blunt: I do understand that, but we also have to take into account the arguments that sit on the other side of the equation. We are dealing with the environment in which these allegations are handled by the media. This is the position that the Government think strikes the right balance. It happens to be the position that was thought to strike the right balance by the previous Government and by the previous Opposition, when the matter was considered in 2003. It is also the position that was thought to strike the right balance by the Home Affairs Select Committee when it considered the matter in 2003. Therefore, unsurprisingly, this is the conclusion that the Government have come to.
Meg Munn: I am extremely puzzled by what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He has set out a very defensible position on why someone's name should not be in the public domain before they are charged, but why is that desirable only in relation to rape and not to any other offence? Surely the same should apply to anyone who felt that they had been wrongly accused of theft or burglary or any other offence.
Mr Blunt: The strongest argument is around the balance of harms. The complainant in a rape trial has anonymity, and everyone who has considered this issue in the past has come to a balanced judgment that it is therefore appropriate to give the defendant a degree of anonymity. Because of the way in which rape is reported, these will have been the considerations that have guided previous Governments and Oppositions, and previous parliamentarians, in their consideration of this issue.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): The Minister has correctly described the views of the Select Committee, of which the Prime Minister was a member, in 2003. I was not serving on the Committee at that stage. He has set out the Government's views very clearly today. Does this proposal exclude the possibility of the further research into false allegations that the Stern inquiry suggested? Is he dismissing the idea of further research altogether?
In taking our position forward, we will examine the question of section 44 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, which I understand has never been implemented. That section grants anonymity at the pre-charge stage to persons under 18 years old who are involved in criminal investigations, including suspects. It already provides a statutory equivalent for children and young persons to the measures that we have in mind for adults, and as such is linked to the present debate.
Now, for the benefit of the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and other hon. Members, I should add a final note on the question of research. As hon. Members will be aware, the director of analytical services in the Ministry of Justice has been asked to produce an independent assessment of the current research and statistics on defendant anonymity in rape cases. We are aiming to publish this report before the summer recess, in the week commencing 26 July. It will cover all the available research and statistics on the subject and is intended to inform the debate.
Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): Will the Minister clarify whether the published research-which will be immensely helpful-will include an analysis of media coverage, including, for example, statistics on coverage suggesting that the victim was in some way to blame? Or is media coverage to be excluded from the analysis?
Mr Blunt: I will direct the attention of the director to the hon. Lady's remarks, to see whether it is possible to achieve that objective. If we were able to come to intelligent conclusions that would assist the debate, I am sure that that would be useful. We shall have to see whether this will be possible; we will examine the matter and try.
Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD):
I am glad that the Government are listening and proceeding slowly, but there are other wide-ranging issues that I hope are also under consideration. Can the Minister tell us whether anonymity is being considered in the context of all sexual offences, as one category-
[ Interruption. ] I am asking the Minister. Is it also being considered in the context of all offences of violence, which is the other big category? Having single solutions for single types of offence, however important the offence is, would be the wrong way to go. Looking at this in the broader context is the right way to proceed.
Mr Blunt: The Government have come to a view on where we want to strengthen the position, and it is around the offence of rape. There are arguments about whether this should apply more widely, and we have given careful consideration to them. Setting aside the issue of teachers-that is seen as discrete and should be carried forward separately-it is the Government's view that we should limit this to the particular offence of rape.
Our current thinking is that the available evidence does not absolutely dispose of some of the questions that have arisen in relation to anonymity, even at the pre-charge stage. There is an important outstanding question of the extent to which anonymity might frustrate further police inquiries into an offence. We are looking at what further research might be required to fill in any gaps. This will enable us to take a view on any exceptions that it might be necessary to build into a general anonymity rule.
Finally, I would like to explain how we intend to take matters forward over the summer. I want to stress that we have been treating this issue as a priority, and we will continue to do so. We recognise that the subject is of considerable interest to many people inside and outside the House, and in another place. In the circumstances, it would be undesirable to allow it to slip.
Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): It is important to put on record that the previous Government's position was not the position that the Minister has described-namely, that rape defendants should have additional separate protection in terms of anonymity. I also want to ask him to say a little more about this issue, as it concerns the House greatly. It would be helpful if he could give us a further explanation of why the Government think that rape defendants should be treated differently from every other kind of defendant.
Mr Blunt: I think I have already answered that question-[Hon. Members: "No, you haven't!"] I am quite happy to accept that I might not have answered it to the satisfaction of the right hon. Lady and other Opposition Members.
Our aim is to set out our detailed position at an early date. We envisage making a further announcement in the autumn, as soon as possible after the summer recess. In the meantime, we will continue to investigate those areas that still require further thought. I have already discussed the read-across to our commitment regarding teachers, and the scope of the provisions will clearly form a central element of that further work. Over the same period, we also intend to investigate the extent to which research might be required to fill in any gaps. The one area I have highlighted is whether anonymity might frustrate investigations. On the face of it, that is the most that is required, but we will reflect carefully. We will also use the intervening period between now and the autumn to engage the media, which has a key
interest in the subject. I know the media would like to be consulted at the earliest available opportunity, and we will take steps to ensure that this happens. In these days of multiple media, we recognise the wisdom of discussing our proposals with broadcasters, as well as with the more traditional paper-based news industries, and we will do that.
We will also have discussions with other relevant organisations. At this time, we have not decided exactly who is relevant for this purpose, but I am aware that the Association of Chief Police Officers has been mentioned a number a times in connection with this subject, and we will certainly take note of its views in developing our scheme further. We will speak to specialist voluntary sector organisations, the education sector and the children's work force with a view to gaining a better idea of the detailed impact on suspects and victims, and we will work up practical options for implementation.
We see no case, however, for a formal consultation-[Hon. Members: "What?"]. The detailed arguments in this area are already well known, and we are not convinced that a formal consultation exercise would add value. It is capable of obscuring the real issues, and would certainly delay matters considerably. That cannot be in anybody's interests.
Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab): I begin by welcoming both the Under-Secretaries of State for Justice to their ministerial places to discuss this extremely important matter, in which there is much interest on all sides of the House and outside it. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), made an interesting speech, and I intend to take up some of the points he raised, but let me say that we do not disagree in this respect-rape is a heinous crime that wrecks lives and causes many victims unending suffering.
Rape is a more prevalent crime than is often imagined in the public consciousness. I have here some figures derived from official statistics. Every week, up to 2,000 women are raped, up to 10,000 are sexually assaulted, and between 75% and 95% of rapes are not reported to the police-these are figures taken from the joint inspection of the Crown Prosecution Service and Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. More than a third of all rapes recorded by the police are committed against children under the age of 16. As I think the Minister recognised at the beginning of his remarks, all that shows that this is a matter of huge import, not only to Government and Opposition Members but to all our constituents-and particularly, I might say, to women. Although men are subjected to rape-about 7% of victims are male-it is overwhelmingly women who are the victims of this particular offence. I do not intend to ignore the fact that it is not only women who are involved in this type of offence, but, as I say, it is overwhelmingly women who are affected.
Looking back at the history of this crime over many decades, it is clear that there has been agonised and sometimes passionate debate-in this House and in the wider society-about how best to deal with rape, how best to make sure that perpetrators are brought to justice and how best to assure women and others that they can be protected by our society's statutory authorities from being subjected to this crime.
Despite the terrible figures, there is some cause for optimism. Following a great focus on improvements, the last decade or so has seen some forward movement, and a great deal of effort has been put in by partners, statutory and otherwise, across the criminal justice system who have done good work to bring together their input to focus on the key question and to tackle low levels of reporting and low levels of conviction. Labour Members accept, as we did when we were in government, that more needs to be done. We can say that reports to the police have doubled in the last 10 years, which is a good thing. We can say that there has been a 50% increase in the level of convictions-and the Minister's figures implied that, although he did not put it in that way. From charge to conviction, about 58% more have been convicted of rape or other sexual offences.
Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend accept that there are cases where someone is accused of rape, as a result of which other victims come forward and the person accused of rape can be convicted as a result of that, although he would not have been convicted if the others had not come forward? In other words, the first accusation might not have been completely conclusive, so the anonymity of defendants can lead to more rapists and more rapes.
Maria Eagle: I accept what my hon. Friend says. There is no doubt that rape can be a serial offence. Perpetrators of rape often do not stop at one offence; they continue their offending behaviour, so anything that deters victims or those who have been attacked from coming forward might have the unfortunate effect of making it more difficult to catch serial attackers at an early stage. It has been recognised for decades that gaining convictions is hard. The Minister read out the figures on attrition rates, to use that shorthand. Those figures show how hard it is to convict the guilty, so anything that makes it harder or deters people from coming forward or anything that makes it more likely that they will not believed when they do come forward can only be bad for the impact on conviction rates.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that there has been an improvement in approaches to rape, but is not the underlying factor that informs-in my view, informs absolutely-what the Government are proposing the view that rape is an "avoidable" crime? It is assumed, for example, that if the woman had worn a longer skirt or drunk rather less or had not placed herself in situations that the external eye regards as dangerous, the rape could have been avoided. Would not the according of anonymity to an alleged perpetrator of rape simply reinforce that total fallacy, which it is so difficult to change?
I agree with my hon. Friend that there are many myths about rape. It is one of the few crimes for which victims are frequently blamed, if not by the
statutory authorities, at least by society or certain elements of society or by those investigating the crime. One crucial thing we as a society must do if we want to convict more rapists is tackle all the causes of failure. We have to encourage those who have been raped to report in greater numbers, and we have to ensure that the support is there to enable them to go through the ordeal of trial and investigations, which can carry on for too long, often for many months. We must also provide aftercare and support for the victims. Anything that detracts from that will not help us as a society to deal with this heinous crime, and a consequence will be that more victims and more families will be affected. We should remember that it is often not just the victim herself who is affected by the crime and its aftermath but the children. We also need to bear in mind the fact that many children are themselves victims.
Simon Hughes: I agree that the idea is not to put people off, but to encourage them to come forward when a criminal justice process is being gone through. Does the hon. Lady agree that, as the police say, it is often not the name or physical identity or picture of the suspect that brings people forward but the knowledge of the method of operation? I speak as the MP of John Worboys, who operated as a cab driver. The knowledge that the offender was a cab driver was enough to encourage others to come forward. It could be knowledge that the person committing the offence usually climbs through a window at 1 o'clock in the morning. The point is that is often the operation, not the identity, that is important.
Maria Eagle: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that revealing the modus operandi can bring women forward. Often, women do not want to report, and only when it is reported in the media or elsewhere that the person is committing the offence against other women do they have the courage to come forward. Anything that inhibits that process can damage efforts to catch serial rapists and to ensure that justice is done and seen to be done.
Geraint Davies: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way twice to me. Is she aware of cases in which, in response to individual children coming forward to say that they had been abused by a man running a teenage football team and by teachers, other members of the football team and the class concerned came forward with evidence of a multiplicity of abuse, leading to convictions? If defendants are given anonymity in rape cases, and if teachers are given anonymity in cases of sexual abuse, it will lead to more rapes, and it will lead to more rapists, including teachers, being free.
Maria Eagle: I fear that my hon. Friend is correct. In a meeting of the all-party group on domestic and sexual violence yesterday, I listened to Chief Constable Dave Whatton, the Association of Chief Police Officers lead on rape, give examples from his force of the phenomenon to which my hon. Friend refers. For example, when allegations were published about a particular teacher, further victims came forward, enabling a conviction that might not otherwise have happened. Another similar example from his force concerned a vicar. We need to be careful to balance the potential advantages and disadvantages of the approach that the Government now say that they will take.
Meg Munn: The Minister made a great deal of the issue of balance, but vulnerable victims are often abused by someone in a position of power, who gets themselves into that position in order to carry out abuse. The weight of difficulty for victims is so enormous that equating their situation with that of a defendant is completely erroneous.
"we will extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants".
However, since its publication, all kinds of outrage, consternation and surprise have been caused, for two reasons. First, many people, including me, believe that the policy will not help to bring rapists to justice, but will do the opposite. I do not think anyone in the House would disagree about the need to bring more rapists to justice.
This country has a system of open justice, which is extremely valuable and an important part of our justice system. It should be changed only with great thought and for very good reasons. As anyone who has practised the law would be keen to set out, one can be accused of many crimes that can have an extremely deleterious effect on one's reputation, on one's standing in society, and on one's capacity to hold down a job, hold a family together and live a normal life, whether or not one is found guilty. Rape is certainly among such crimes, but so are murder, downloading child pornography, stealing when one is in a position of trust and many others. What surprises me about the proposal is that rape, rather than all sexual offences, is singled out for such treatment.
The coalition agreement set out the matter clearly. The proposal will not help to bring rapists to justice, and the apparently clear and succinct policy was in neither of the coalition parties' manifestos. Therefore, it went from not even being important enough to mention when seeking votes from the public and a mandate from the electorate, to being such a major priority for the Government that it merited a specific mention in the coalition programme for government. Why was that? Nobody has told us. I am extremely grateful that we have this debate, which enables us to explore the matter in more detail. Where did the policy come from? Who suggested it? Who thought it was a good, or even workable, idea? Who, if anyone, was consulted about it?
How did it go from being unmentioned at the election, by either the Conservative party or the Liberal Democrats, to being a top priority over the weekend of the coalition negotiations?
The Minister tried to explain the proposal in a little more detail, but I fear that he has only added to the enormous confusion. Many Opposition Members have raised the matter with a variety of Ministers ever since the coalition programme for government was published. The acting leader of the Labour party, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), raised it at the first Prime Minister's Question Time of this Parliament. To say that the Government have responded with confusion and inconsistency is an understatement. It is not solely that Ministers from different parties say different things, but that the inconsistency and confusion, hardly helped by the Minister's statement today, are much more widespread. To an interested observed such as me, it looks like the Government do not have a clue what their policy is, because they have not taken any steps to work it out yet.
Caroline Flint: Much has been made of the report by the former Home Affairs Committee, and of the current Prime Minister being present when it took evidence. On 23 April 2003, however, when it took evidence on false allegations, he was not present. People must therefore be careful about laying claim to such knowledge and information.
Maria Eagle: I was not aware of that, but my right hon. Friend has put a lot of effort into dealing with the issue, and has raised it most consistently and effectively from the beginning of this Parliament.
It is important to clarify precisely what the Government's policy is. According to the Minister's statement today, the policy is to extend anonymity to defendants in rape cases up to charge. However, that has not been entirely evident from what Ministers have said. We have had answers from the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Justice Secretary, the Leader of the House, the Attorney-General, the Minister for Equalities and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Reigate, which have all been different in substance and tone. When pressed, the Prime Minister said that he was in favour of extending anonymity only to charge. The Deputy Prime Minister, when pressed, retreated into immediate and wholesale abandonment of the policy, suggesting that the Government had merely "proposed the idea", as if he were running an academic seminar rather than a legislative programme. He added:
"If our idea does not withstand sincere scrutiny, we will of course be prepared to change it."-[ Official Report, 10 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 50.]
"it could go wider. There are reasons why it might also be applied to other offences."-[ Official Report, 7 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 155.]
"a perpetrator would only be named if convicted."
Meanwhile, the Justice Secretary, who appeared to be fed up with being asked the same question more than once, said in exasperation that it was all the Liberal Democrats' fault anyway because it was their policy. The deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats had better get used to being blamed for everything by his so-called partners in Government. The Justice Secretary went on to say that it was not going to happen quickly, although that is not what we have been told by his Under-Secretary of State in the House today.
The Justice Secretary said that he favoured a free vote, or a "fairly free vote", as he put it. I must remember to ask the Opposition Chief Whip exactly what a fairly free vote is-or perhaps I should ask the Government Chief Whip.
Compounding an already complicated and confusing picture, a number of Ministers, including the Under-Secretary of State today, have said that they will "bring forward options" or are "attracted by the arguments". They have said, "We will debate it", or have called for evidence. Perhaps I am missing something about the new politics that we are told we now have, but I had always thought that Governments did those things before deciding on policy, not afterwards. This Government appear to be indulging in prejudice-based rather than evidence-based policy-making.
Mr Blunt: The hon. Lady certainly ought to give way at this point, having been part of a Government who indulged in policy-based evidence-making rather than evidence-based policy-making. She is entitled to her fun, but she should recognise that what I have said today is clearly consistent with the coalition's programme. The coalition has listened to the contributions that have been made, including the questions to my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister and the debate led by her right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary. We have reached a view on the appropriateness of the scope, and how the law should be applied. We are also still asking for evidence relating to the issue that was raised earlier. The hon. Lady will have to get used to the fact that ours is a Government who will actually listen, and take account of evidence that is promoted.
Maria Eagle: That was a very long intervention, but I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will be as good as his word, and will listen. I hope that his travelling on the issue has not been completed. He has obviously changed his mind: until recently, he was saying that he wanted anonymity up to conviction, and that it "could go wider" in respect of other offences. Even after his speech, it is still not entirely clear to us precisely where the Government are. The Justice Secretary made it plain that this was not a priority, that it would be kicked into the long grass, and that when it did come up there would be a "fairly free vote". That is not what we have been told today.
To reach a conclusion without any consultation-to decide the policy first and consult afterwards, when the effectiveness of the policy and the likelihood of its success are such an issue-is not a sensible way of proceeding.
I shall leave aside the difficult task of pinpointing precisely what the policy is. The position has changed today, but it is still not absolutely clear. What is absolutely clear is that no one was consulted. There seem to be no ideas and no evidence about the impact of what I believe to be a retrograde and deeply troubling policy. The Ministry of Justice has confirmed in written answers that no written evidence was considered before the policy was presented. Ministers have met no victims' organisations, rape crisis organisations or members of the judiciary.
Given that the Under-Secretary said today that there would be no consultation, it is clear that Ministers do not intend to meet and properly consider the views of those who know most about the issue and have most to say about it. That is a disgrace. Only now, after the policy has been decided, are Ministers analysing options and implications and asking for evidence, and they keep changing their minds about exactly what the policy is. Only now, after the policy has been decided, are they asking MOJ statisticians to pull together the existing evidence base. Should not the Under-Secretary have done all that before? Of course he should.
I hope that I can help a little. I believe, and the Opposition believe, that it is not in the public interest to abandon the principle of open justice when it comes to such serious offences as rape. Singling out rape as an offence for which, uniquely, the defendant is granted a right to anonymity clearly suggests that false accusations are widespread, and that victims should be disbelieved by the criminal justice system, by investigators and by juries. That will deter people from reporting rape, which the Under-Secretary says he does not wish to do.
In fact, people accused of sexual crimes should not be treated any differently from other defendants. If the Under-Secretary singles out rape from all other sexual offences, let alone offences of violence, he will send a clear signal that there is a reason for his action. That will impinge on victims' capacity to come forward and the likelihood that they will do so, which will in turn impinge on the conviction rate.
The argument that there should be anonymity for defendants because there is anonymity for complainants is a false one. There is a public interest in bringing rapists to justice. A victim is a witness to a crime, not simply another party to a family law case or a civil case in which some kind of equivalence might be seen between parties. Rape is often a serial crime, and it is often only after many crimes that a perpetrator is brought to court. Previous victims often come forward at that point. That can be essential to the securing of a conviction, but the Under-Secretary's policy is likely to make it less efficacious.
Many organisations have contacted Members about the proposed policy, including Rights of Women. It has endorsed a statement signed by 50 leading women's and human rights organisations, including many rape crisis
centres and organisations that deal with victims of rape. It believes that giving suspects anonymity, whether until charge or until conviction, will hamper police investigations, enable serial offenders to evade detection-thus placing more women at risk of sexual violence-reinforce erroneous and harmful myths about the prevalence of false reports of rape, thereby deterring women from reporting it, and send a clear message to women that they are not to be believed. It calls on the Government to drop their proposals on anonymity, and instead to focus their energy where it is needed by concentrating on securing sustainable services for survivors of sexual violence and improving the investigation and prosecution of rape.
"The proposal to extend anonymity in rape cases beyond victims would require primary legislation. ACPO has yet to see the detail of the proposals but would welcome being part of the formal consultation process."
"The welfare of rape victims needs to remain a priority. Our main concern would be in regard to the impact any changes on anonymity would have on victims, in particular on their confidence to come forward and report rape."
It seems to me that the entire focus of the Under-Secretary and the Government on the issue of anonymity for defendants in rape cases rests on the level of false reports, although the Under-Secretary said that it did not. I think that one of the strongest arguments advanced by Members on the Government Benches who favour the proposal is the idea that there is a lot of false reporting. The last Home Office research on that was in 2005 and it suggested that the true figure was closer to 3% than the 8% to 10% that has been stated. However, false reporting is obviously a concern for those who are falsely accused, and it must be tackled. There is no disagreement between us on that. The question is whether the best way to tackle this is to allow anonymity for anybody who might be accused of any kind of offence, including all the people who are guilty. We argue that that would lead to less reporting and less ability to convict the guilty.
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to draw a distinction between acquittal and false allegation? Rape is a difficult crime to prosecute and juries will sometimes not convict, and that is right, but that does not mean that the complainant lied.
Maria Eagle: That is right; my hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. There are very few examples of malicious reporting. When the public talk about false reporting, they are often really referring to malicious reporting, which we all agree is a perversion of the course of justice, and can be, and is, charged as such where it is discovered.
We must make it clear that in the current context anonymity in effect means reporting restrictions. What we are talking about, therefore, is not an objective
descent of anonymity on to a named individual, but inhibiting our free press from reporting matters of public interest. I had a word with the Newspaper Society about what it thinks about that.
Michael Ellis: The hon. Lady is very generous. There are already episodes in our criminal justice system where names are withheld. Her former Government enacted terrorist offences legislation that allowed the names of defendants to be withheld, and for "A", "B" or "C", for instance, to be used instead. There are also thousands of youth trials every year in which the names of young people are withheld, and that has been the case for decades. This step would not be unique, therefore.
Maria Eagle: We do not, however, say in respect of any crime that there should be a generalised anonymity for defendants. Particularly for the crime under discussion, that is what would lead to the deleterious side effects I have been outlining. Having looked into this matter, I do not think the downsides of granting anonymity just in respect of rape could possibly justify the impact on the very few instances of malicious reporting that it seems there are-we do not know the precise number.
The Newspaper Society says that the law should remain unchanged; the victims of alleged sexual offences are protected against identification during their lifetimes, but even those restrictions can be waived or lifted by the court in specific circumstances. It thinks the Government's proposals are potentially far-reaching, and that that is fuelled by an imprecision in how they are set out. It thinks they could prevent the release, exchange, dissemination and publication of material, and that they could prevent investigation and reporting, including in respect of accuracy and legal checks, despite the real public interest in that being done. It also thinks they could fuel rumour and malicious gossip that is not just confined to the actual subject of the allegations, rather than prevent or curb that. It said, too, that the written statement on teacher anonymity was very imprecise, and that it is against it because of its imprecision and the potential impact on the capacity of a free press to do its job.
Meg Munn: I wanted to raise the following matter with the Minister, but he would not give way to me. I am unclear as to whether we are talking about anonymity for any accusation, such as a teacher being suspended in a disciplinary situation, or only for any criminal matters, such as rape.
I agree that some imprecision remains, and we would have many questions about the Government's intentions. One can understand, of course, that teachers who are maliciously accused of things have a terrible time. There is absolutely no doubt about that, but if the suggestion is that we revert to not believing children when they make allegations of abuse, that is a very dangerous and retrograde step. For too many years in the past, before we took safeguarding children quite as seriously as we now do in our society-and I hope we
will continue to do so-children who made allegations were frequently disbelieved, with the result that abuse, including sometimes serious sexual abuse, continued for years. That destroyed lives, and we left vulnerable children completely unable to be protected because of the then attitudes about whether to believe what they said. Any signal-and this Government have given a number of them-that we are reverting to that practice is extremely retrograde.
I do not believe that getting rid of the rigour of the barring and vetting scheme, which arose out of the Bichard report into the Soham murders, sends a good signal about safeguarding children. I do not believe that abandoning ContactPoint sends a good signal about the intention to safeguard children. I do not believe we should add in anonymity in all circumstances for teachers against any allegation made, and perhaps for a wider range of school staff, because why stop at teachers? Why not school caretakers as well, and dinner ladies, teaching assistants, or any other number of staff in schools? I do not believe that sending that signal can possibly help us safeguard children in this country. It is a retrograde step. I do not believe we have seen any real evidence, thought or policy development that has led to those specific nine words and the other paragraph about teacher anonymity in the coalition agreement.
I believe the Government are undertaking a calamitous and retrograde march backwards into the past. Given the range of views that there clearly is among Ministers, I believe there is still time for the Government to think about this, and to do better than they are proposing. I believe they should think again about consultation, as this kind of policy should be properly consulted upon. The experts out there in our society dealing with these situations every day, whether in schools or in our criminal justice system, deserve and need to be asked by this Government what they think the impact of these policy suggestions would be.
Given that the Minister's boss, the Secretary of State for Justice, clearly signalled to the House that this policy is not on the list for early legislation, and given that he clearly signalled that he intended his party to have a fairly free vote when it was brought before the House, the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), should say to the House in winding up, "We will consult. We will take this away. We will think again. We will have evidence-based policy making, not prejudice-based policy making." I urge him to do so.
Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I cannot hope to match the rhetoric of the new Members who have spoken before me with such great passion in their maiden speeches. I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate. I am not quite the last of the new intake of Members to get off the mark, although the list of those who have not done so is gradually diminishing. May I also congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on the excellent and fair way in which you have presided over this Chamber?
I wish to start my maiden speech by paying tribute to my predecessor, Paul Clark, who was elected to this House in 1997, when he overturned a 16,000-plus Conservative majority. Paul was a local boy, who grew up in Gillingham and cared passionately about Gillingham and Rainham. He served on the Back Benches of this House, as well as on the Front Benches as a Transport Minister. I wish him well in whatever the future holds for him.
It is a great privilege and honour to represent Gillingham and Rainham, which has been my home since I was six- years-old; I attended Richmond infant school, Napier primary school, Fort Luton high school for boys and then the Chatham grammar school for girls sixth form-yes, I did say Chatham grammar school for girls. Being the only boy in a class of 20 girls has its challenges, but I must say that it was an excellent experience. In all, I was very fortunate to have some dedicated teachers throughout my education, who inspired me to be the first in my family to go to university. I was able to read law at the university of Wales in Aberystwyth, which led me to qualify as a barrister, and this firmly instilled in me the values of fighting for justice, both as a defence and prosecuting advocate.
Gillingham and Rainham is a great constituency. Even in 55BC, when conquering Britain and passing through the area, Julius Caesar paid tribute to the men of Kent as the most civilised-I agree with him entirely. The towns, which have strong naval and military ties, are home to the Royal Engineers and are steeped in history. Both General Gordon and Lord Kitchener have links with the Royal School of Military Engineering. Currently, the Royal Engineers have two regiments serving in Afghanistan, and our constituency is very proud of the brave and courageous men and women who are there on active service. Many Victoria crosses, from both world wars, have been awarded to those with connections to Gillingham and Rainham, notably Major James McCudden from the first world war and Lieutenant Eugene Esmonde, of the Naval Air Service, from the second world war.
Although 400 years of naval heritage presence has now gone, it is still a matter of pride that Lord Nelson joined his first ship in the very dockyard where his famous flagship Victory was built. All that makes me very proud to represent Gillingham and Rainham, but there is also an international link, because Will Adams, who travelled to Japan in 1598, was the first British sailor to travel to Japan-he was also from Gillingham.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that Gillingham is home to a great football team, the Gills, although I have to say that watching the Gills is a bit like living life on the edge-one just never knows what is going to happen next. This is often reported in the excellent local newspapers, the Medway Messenger, Medway News, and Your Medway.
Gillingham and Rainham are part of the Medway unitary authority, an efficient, well-run Conservative council, which for the past 10 years has been very effectively led by Councillor Rodney Chambers and its chief executive, Neil Davies. I am very much looking forward to 2012 and the Queen's jubilee, when I hope that Medway will rightly be given city status.
As a former barrister who both prosecuted and defended in criminal cases at all levels and who passionately believes in obtaining justice for the victims of crime, I
am delighted to make my maiden speech in this debate on something that has rightly for many years now concerned this House, namely bringing to justice those who commit sexual offences, which are some of the most serious crimes on the statute book. In so doing, we must take care when addressing and balancing the competing interests of the victim against the rights of a defendant, who stands accused and is innocent until proven guilty.
One of the foremost issues that needs to be urgently considered is the low conviction rate in such cases, upon which considerable work has been done by successive Governments. However in so doing, we may have unwittingly crossed the line while balancing that issue against not only the right of the defendant to a fair trial, but, more controversially, the thorny question as to whether there should be a right-and if so, to what extent it should apply-in relation to the protection of the identity of defendants accused of and charged with sexual offences of all categories of such serious crimes.
In particular, recent experience has demonstrated that there are, unfortunately, occasions when defendants have, often for myriad complex reasons, been unjustly and falsely accused of sexual crimes. Extreme suffering is caused to victims as well as to those falsely accused in these cases, thus it is necessary to address these questions and face the challenges that they present head on. The low conviction rate in cases involving sexual offences is thought by many who practise in this field to be often due to the length of time between the commission of the offence and the date of trial. This not only leads to injustice in relation to memory recall, but causes considerable additional suffering to the victim while they await resolution of the same.
Some European jurisdictions have sought to address these issues by designating certain courts as exclusive rape and domestic violence courts, solely concerned with the hearing of such cases. Those courts are specifically designed to hear video evidence, the staff are sympathetically trained and the courts are victim-friendly-for example, they ensure that the risk of accused and accuser unwittingly meeting is reduced to a minimum. As a result, cases are heard within a very short time of allegations being made, evidence is fresh and the statistics demonstrate that conviction rates have risen.
The needs of true victims in allegations of sexual offences are always in the forefront of our minds when we legislate in this House, just as they are uppermost in the minds of those on whom we rely to dispense justice fairly on a daily basis in our courts: the judiciary of England and Wales. Our judiciary have been admired for generations and used as a model in many evolving democracies. We are justly proud of their work and it is time that we acknowledged our faith in them by restoring to the courts some of the important discretion that had traditionally always been entrusted to them by this House, but that has, unfortunately, been eroded by the previous Government in many areas, for example, in sentencing policy.
The effect on those falsely accused of serious sexual offences by the publication of their names and the revelation of their identities in the media can have long-term and far-reaching disastrous unintended consequences. In April, a taxi driver who worked for a firm in my constituency was cleared of rape at Maidstone Crown court. The story had been reported on the front
page of the Medway Messenger , the largest circulating local newspaper in the area. It was only on the day of the trial-months later-with the defendant waiting in anguish, that the two supposed victims admitted that they had made up and falsely invented the serious allegation in order to avoid having to pay a taxi fare. They were later jailed for two years. The consequences for the wrongly accused defendant have been nothing short of disastrous as a result of the publication of his identity in the media. The concept of "mud sticks" is alive and kicking. He and others like him in the future deserve some measure of protection, as I believe we still have a system of justice in this country, of which we are justly proud, in which the accused is innocent until proved guilty on conviction by his peers. If safeguards are required to reinforce that in sexual offences cases until conviction, in order to balance these competing interests, they should be put in place as a matter of urgency.
I immediately acknowledge the arguments in favour of the publication of the identities of those accused of serious sexual offences, such as that might encourage others to come forward. However, that approach does fly in the face of the presumption of innocence and presumes that anyone accused has done this before. We should examine the statistics carefully in trying to balance these crucial and diametrically opposed interests. Neither should be sacrificed in the interests of the other without the most careful consideration.
Section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 has served us well in relation to the publication of the name, address or any other particulars calculated to lead to the identification of any child or young person who is involved in criminal proceedings, including those on sexual offences. A court has complete discretion to hear anybody in support of or in opposition to an application pursuant to the section and consideration should be given to the extension of it automatically to include all those accused of serious sexual offences, allowing a judge to lift such a restriction in appropriate cases until conviction. A restriction until charge does not go far enough, as the test for charging is a "reasonable prospect of conviction" and thus far lower than the standard required for conviction by a jury.
In other words, we should trust our judiciary to maintain the balance in any case, having carefully considered the competing arguments. We must also do everything we can to bring to justice those who commit such serious crimes.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab):
It is an enormous pleasure for me to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), which I thought was excellent. I first met the hon. Gentleman on his first day on the House and I did what every old Member does to every young Member-no, not that! I asked him when he was going to give his maiden speech, and I kept asking him week after week. He said that he was going to save it for a really important debate and he was right to do so. He spoke with great eloquence and enormous passion about his constituency. He cleverly named all three local newspapers, the leader and deputy leader of his council and his local football
team, and he becomes, of course, the most famous graduate of Chatham grammar school for girls. That kind of story is almost new Labour.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make a huge contribution to this House. We on the Opposition Benches and, I am sure, Members on his side look forward to his eloquence in future debates. I wish him well in what I am sure will be a long parliamentary career. He was right to mention Paul Clark. Paul-or Mr Clark, or whatever we call former Members of the House-had a very small majority. We would have been delighted if Paul had won again, but the hon. Gentleman has turned the majority into five figures. We wish Paul Clark well in his career; he was a very popular Member and was admired and liked on both sides of the House.
This debate, like all debates in the House, is very important. I am speaking only because the Home Affairs Committee has been mentioned on numerous occasions. The Prime Minister has mentioned the deliberations of the Select Committee in 2003, when he was a member, and Members on both sides of the House have referred to that, so I felt it appropriate to inform the House of what the Select Committee decided when it conducted an investigation into this important matter seven years ago.
The Prime Minister was a member of the Committee at that stage, but I did not know until my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) mentioned it in her intervention that he was not present when the evidence was taken. However, as a former member, she will know that it is not vital to be there when evidence is taken so long as one is part of deliberations on the proceedings. I say that in the presence of one new member of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood). We look forward to the Government's tabling the order to set up the Select Committee so that we can meet and start to discuss these matters-I know that the Minister is no longer a Whip, so he has no control over these matters. This is certainly one of the issues that we will want to consider.
The hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham came up with the crucial point that was perhaps missing from the Minister's speech. Why is it necessary to extend anonymity just for those who have been accused of rape up until the time of charge? That is what the Select Committee said and I will read verbatim from our recommendations in the course of my speech. It is necessary for those cases in which people feel that they are falsely accused and turn out to be falsely accused, and the huge level of publicity that occurs as a result of such cases. In a sense, we should include the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport and the shadow Minister in these discussions, because what concerns Members of this House who are worried about the issue is the fact that people can make false accusations and as a result whole lives can be destroyed-not just the lives of the people who have been falsely accused but those of their families, too.
As the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), said in what I thought was the finest speech that she has given in this House on any subject, these are important issues that need to be discussed and explored properly. That is why I think that the Government should pause, having stated their position clearly, as the Minister has. There is a
need to pause, because this decision has implications not just for rape cases but for the whole criminal justice system.
I would probably be described as a conservative with a small c, because I believe passionately that those who are falsely accused are also victims. I do not mean those who are acquitted because there is not sufficient evidence, but those who are maliciously-I think that this point was made-falsely accused of rape or any other crime or misdemeanour. It is a terrible thing to be falsely accused when those accusations are not put to the relevant person and they are not given a chance properly to respond. Unfortunately, that is how the criminal justice system works at the moment.
We need to think very carefully before we make any extension. I am not saying that the Government have not made their case, because, as I shall show when I read out the Select Committee's recommendations, it is entirely in accordance with what the Committee recommended in 2003. My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley, who has read the transcripts will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that the decision was unanimous. Given the personalities who have sat on the Home Affairs Committee in the past 10 years, including our most distinguished former member, the Prime Minister, it is quite difficult to get unanimity, especially on issues of this kind, so we should not dismiss absolutely what the Committee said in 2003. Indeed, we should use it as the basis for a period of wider consultation.
Mr Blunt: Perhaps I should be clear about the consultative process. We will not be having a period of formal consultation with all that that entails, but we will have a process whereby people will be able to contribute and listen. When we put out our research analysis, there will be another opportunity for that. If we need to go down the statutory route, there will not, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, be an immediate opportunity to do so.
Keith Vaz: That is most helpful. I am not sure whether the Minister has given us a timetable for the consultation period, but perhaps his colleague, the other Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), will do so when he winds up. The Minister has given a timetable for the independent study into research that he is conducting, although I am not sure how independent that research will be if it is done by a director at the Ministry of Justice. If it is to be called an independent inquiry, it might be appropriate for it to be done by a former High Court judge or a serving judge rather than a civil servant-not that I cast any aspersions on the officials in my former Department, who were all fine people. They have all the minutes from previous Ministers' meetings, so we must never cast aspersions on our former civil servants. The inquiry probably will not be as independent as one would hope, and I hope that the Minister will reconsider that issue.
I am with the Minister, however, regarding the fact that someone will be looking at the research that has been conducted or that will be conducted in the next few weeks. That is what the Stern inquiry suggested-proper, appropriate research into the false allegations issue-and that will be helpful.
Geraint Davies: Does my right hon. Friend feel that there is an equivalence between the sort of case being discussed, in which someone is accused and found innocent, and someone being raped? We seem to be making out that there is some sort of equivalence, but surely there is not.
Keith Vaz: No, there is not an equivalence-that takes the debate in the wrong way, and we need to be careful and temperate in the language that we use. There is no equivalence, but we should not forget those who are falsely and maliciously accused but have not committed an offence of that kind. The newspapers revel in reporting allegations about offences of a sexual nature because it titillates the editorial writers in our tabloid papers. We should not forget how awful it is for someone to have a malicious rumour spread against them, but that is in no way equivalent to the rape of a man a woman, which is a terrible crime. I think that all hon. Members in the House agree on that.
"On balance, we are persuaded by the arguments in favour of extending anonymity to the accused. Although there are valid concerns about the implications for the free reporting of criminal proceedings, we believe that sex crimes do fall 'within an entirely different order' to most other crimes. In our view, the stigma that attaches to sexual offences-particularly those involving children-is enormous and the accusation alone can be devastating. If the accused is never charged, there is no possibility of the individual being publicly vindicated by an acquittal."
"We therefore recommend that the reporting restriction, which currently preserves the anonymity of complainants of sexual offences, be extended to persons accused of those offences. We suggest, however, that the anonymity of the accused be protected only for a limited period between allegation and charge. In our view, this strikes an appropriate balance between the need to protect potentially innocent suspects from damaging publicity and the wider public interest in retaining free and full reporting of criminal proceedings."
From what the Minister said today, I gather that is what the Government are suggesting. Even though I was not chairing the Committee at the time, it would be totally churlish for me to say that the Select Committee got it wrong.
Keith Vaz: The hon. Lady is absolutely right, which is why I would be keen for the Committee to revisit the issue. I shall try to make a deal on the Floor of the House with the Minister, if he is open to deals. As a former Whip, I am sure he is used to such things. A member of the Select Committee is in the Chamber. The Committee has not yet met although it will do so for the first time next week if the Government table the motion that sets us up-I cannot think why the Government have not yet set up the Select Committees.
Will the Government please give us the opportunity to examine defendant anonymity again, in the light of what was said in 2003, in the light of their proposals
and in the light of the fact that there will not be the all singing and dancing consultation that my hon. Friend the shadow Minister wanted? Will the Government give us the opportunity to look at the evidence that civil servants at the Ministry of Justice are preparing? Let us deliberate so that we can come back to the House, perhaps this year-if the Committee agrees; I am not trying to get the Committee to do anything, because it is a Committee decision-with a firm set of proposals that the whole House can discuss, rather than rushing things through. That would allow the whole House to deliberate and would enable us to look at what we said in the past in the light of the evidence of the past seven years.
Others will come to the House in future and say that if we extend anonymity for a particular offence, we must look at the whole criminal justice system and extend it for other offences. There is a powerful argument for doing that, so that such matters are kept before the courts, and not decided by the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. Sometimes, newspapers trash people's reputations in a way that no court proceedings could do-I am not speaking personally of course.
Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. I compliment the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) on his speech. I shall come back to the content, but I largely agree with what he said and would like to add to his arguments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) ticked all the maiden speech boxes, and I congratulate him on that-except for his bigging up of Gillingham. Gillingham regularly play Millwall, and Millwall often win, so he cannot expect my support for the Gills, although as I go to many games I shall look out for him and entertain him willingly if he comes to any games at The Den.
The hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) made a comprehensive speech, on which I compliment her. Like the right hon. Member for Leicester East, she covered the ground well. She combined passion with warnings that we must proceed carefully, as I shall seek to do in my few remarks.
The Government are to be congratulated on having brought the matter to debate early in the Parliament, and I thank my the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt),on doing so. He and his colleagues said they would do it and they have. It is right that the Government are trying to ensure that the voices of Parliament and those who communicate with us are heard, without having to hold a formal, national 12-month or two-year consultation. We can have proper processes of deliberation, and my understanding is that we have plenty of time, because the proposal is not in this year's legislative programme. It was not in the Queen's Speech, so we have at least a year to see where we want to go.
I have one more deliberative point. There may be a case for relevant Select Committees to meet jointly to look at this matter, because clearly there is a home affairs issue and a justice issue. I hope that when the Committees are set up, the two Committees might think of doing the work together, instead of doing two separate bits of work. That would be the logical thing to do.
I say very clearly that before I entered the House-now a long time ago-I was a practising barrister and both defended and prosecuted in serious sexual offences cases, including rape cases. That work, my work as a youth worker and my work as an MP-which has included dealing with some of the most horrendous cases of rape of people who have come to see me themselves, or of their daughters-have made me absolutely clear about the need to get the law right, and to ensure above all we achieve the first objective: the perpetrators of these most horrendous of crimes are brought to justice. There have been too many failings in the criminal justice system as a result of which that objective has not been achieved.
I have had to nurse several families through the fact that the criminal justice system has failed and let them down-sometimes with traumatic consequences for the individual, who as an adult has not been able to carry on trusting the system or other people. The hon. Member for Garston and Halewood was right to say that very nearly all the people concerned are women-more than 90%-but occasionally there are men too, and we should not forget that such things could happen to anyone.
Meg Munn: The hon. Gentleman is making a very thoughtful speech. Does he agree that when there are repeat offences it is important that people are brought to justice early, because that in itself becomes a protective measure for potential future victims?
Simon Hughes: I absolutely agree with that. I was very critical, publicly and in the House, of the fact that it took so long for Ian Huntley to be brought to justice for the Soham murders, given that although he had not been convicted before, he was on the radar of the police in Lincolnshire, I think, and on Humberside, before he moved to Cambridgeshire. I was also very critical of the fact that John Worboys, who lived in my constituency, was not brought to court until he had committed at least 70 offences. I think that the police have gradually learned the lesson and are improving their system, as the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), who has relevant ministerial experience, knows, but it took a lot of work to get the police to change their attitude and to take these issues much more seriously all the time. There have been many cases relating to offences in my constituency and elsewhere-in the latest one, a man who was a serial offender was arrested in relation to offences in south-west London-where the pattern of serial offending was such that clearly there could and should have been earlier intervention; the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) is quite right.
Without repeating what others have said, let me quickly remind hon. Members of how we got to this point. In 1976, we legislated to give anonymity to complainants in rape cases. That was extended to other sex offences in 1992. In 1976 we legislated to give anonymity to defendants in rape cases for the period until 1988, when the law was then changed. After a
period of just under 12 years, the law went back to where it was before, and where it remains. Since then, despite the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which was a major piece of legislation, we have not changed the law in this area. The same year, the Home Affairs Committee came up with its recommendation that we should change the law, but we have not done so, and it was against that background that my party-it is not a secret-had a long debate specifically on rape at the 2006 Liberal Democrat conference, because of the concern about the low number of convictions. That was what precipitated the debate, and I want to share its conclusion because, yes, the source of this policy is indeed my party's deliberation.
We noted that the rate of conviction is only about 5%-a figure that we have often heard and that is much lower than that in many other places in Europe. Reported rape is rising every year, but successful prosecutions are not rising; indeed, they are falling. The number of rapists who are given a caution and freed almost doubled in the previous decade. The health-related costs of rape are phenomenal, let alone the other social costs. The Sentencing Guidelines Council allowed the perpetrators of rape to avoid jail if they showed remorse-not something that I would ever countenance. Amnesty International produced a worldwide report that challenged the perception-this point was made by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson)-about self-induced offences and said that it was far from the truth in most cases. Clearly, such offences are as far from any other from being self-induced.
We also flagged up the tainting of those who were accused and then acquitted. I want to step back for a second. I am sure that colleagues on both sides of the House know that the people who are most vilified in prison and those in the community who are viewed with most suspicion are those accused and either convicted or not convicted of the most serious sexual offences-more so than other offences of violence, apart from the most horrible ones, such as child murder or domestic violence and the rest.
Kate Green: I accept that the vilification of sex offenders inside and outside our prisons is a factor of which we must be mindful, but it is important that we have more information on different experiences of sexual offence. The vilification of sexual offenders who have committed offences against, for example, children is quite different in my experience from how the media and the public respond to sexual offences against women-particularly, for example, young women who have been drinking or who are known to their attackers.
Simon Hughes: I accept entirely what the hon. Lady says. She is right, which is why we need to proceed with caution. These areas are both sensitive and ones in which there is still prejudice and misinformation, and it is very important to distinguish between different categories of offence and activity.
We did not debate the whole issue of anonymity in the criminal justice system, nor other ranges of offence, but we concluded that a whole raft of changes should be made, only one of which was the proposal for anonymity. We suggested making more progress with special prosecutors for rape cases and an expansion in the number of sexual assault referral centres. Rape
victims should be examined only by properly qualified forensic specialists who are trained in examining rape victims. A national rape helpline should be established. Special awareness training and education should be given to police officers and health and social care professionals to support male victims of rape. We opposed the Sentencing Guidelines Council's proposals to allow the avoidance of jail for the perpetrators of rape if they show remorse.
We requested that the Home Office commission a new study of why there is such a low conviction rate in England and Wales. We suggested a public information campaign to close the gap between the perception and the reality of rape. Only lastly did we suggest a change in the law-agreed after debate, discussion and a vote by a majority-to prohibit the media from identifying anyone directly or indirectly about whom a complaint of rape has been made, and until such time as they have been convicted.
It was therefore not surprising that the Government have looked at the issue, even though I accept that it was in neither the Liberal Democrat nor the Conservative manifesto. The public did not, therefore, become engaged on the matter in the election campaign. I am not defending the fact that the proposals are in the coalition agreement, but saying clearly that I am sure that if the outcome of this deliberation and the response to the Government's policy proposal, which came from the Liberal Democrats, is a consensus in the House and around the country not to proceed, both parties are open to persuasion along that line.
I want us to go deliberatively, because there is a strong case for changing the law, but it is not a cut-and-dried, open-and-shut case. I hope that the rest of the debate is much less partisan than the beginning of it, because this is not a party political issue- [ Interruption. ] It is absolutely not a party political issue. People outside would not understand if we took partisan positions, and I absolutely encourage the Government to think like the Lord Chancellor, who was right that a non-whipped vote would be entirely appropriate. I am in favour of many more such votes on such matters, which are not proprietarily the view of one ideological group or the next.
I want to address succinctly two wider issues that have been touched on. We must deal with the objective of maximising the number of people brought to justice for both rape and other serious sexual offences, but we must also achieve the second objective of avoiding the harmful stigma of such allegations, which can often lead to suicide, attempted suicide and the like, for which there is evidence. There are therefore two big criminal justice issues for our country-this is an England and Wales issue. We need first to decide whether open justice-the principle that the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood said should be our starting point, as it should-should be circumscribed at all. At the moment,
we have done that for complainants in certain offences, but should we circumscribe open justice at all in relation to defendants? We could either do that for the category that I would call sexual offences against other people, by which I mean violent sexual assaults, which are not all rapes, or we could propose anonymity for other types of assault. I do not believe that there would be a case for inclusion for any other violent offences, and I am also not persuaded that child pornography or other such offences should be included. However, there may be a case for anonymity in cases involving sexual offences-of any type-against another.
The second question is on the limitation of the period of anonymity. Should we have a very limited period of anonymity, for example, up until charge, a longer period, which could last to the beginning of the trial, or the longest period, which would be up to the end of the trial and conviction?
I should like us to look very carefully and deliberatively at those two sets of options. Are we talking only about rape or about a wider set of sexual, serious, violent offences? Should anonymity last only for the period between arrest and charge or for longer? My hon. Friend the Minister and the Government want to listen to the voices and hear about the research. I hope that the House can do its duty properly and ensure that we come to the right conclusion. That will need a bit of time, but let us please not be overly partisan about it.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) hopes that this will be a non-partisan debate. The speeches that we have listened to this afternoon have been non-partisan in a party political sense. However, in relation to the policy that his Government are presenting, there is a marked lack of evidence that the proposed change is necessary, or that it would bring about any kind of improvement in convictions for rape, which, if I understood him, was at the centre of his argument.
The hon. Gentleman also hoped that given the amount of time the Government are affording to the debate, decisions would come about by consensus in the House and the country. How can there possibly be any consensus in the country if his Government do not enter into the widest, deepest and most detailed consultation? The question remains: why have his Government selected the offence of rape? Why should alleged perpetrators of rape alone, among alleged perpetrators of other crimes of violence, be afforded anonymity? Answer has come there none.
As we heard in the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), the implications of that proposal are wider if we go down that road. She touched on the issue of affording anonymity to teachers, and the hon. Gentleman's Government have again come up with no detail of the alleged offence that a teacher might have committed. She gave the graphic example-and we all know about this-of children who had been abused not only by teachers, but by members of their family or other people in authority, and the automatic response of society at the time had been to disbelieve the children, with the result that the abuse continued in an ever wider
circle. I refer to the past, but from contemporary reports we know that this still goes on. The scandal of what has happened in the Catholic Church continues to reverberate. The central essential there was the idea that secrecy was all, and so the imbalance of power between the abused and the abuser was reinforced. That is my fear about this proposal and the selection of rape as the only violent act that is afforded this kind of anonymity.
In his opening remarks, the Minister said-forgive me for paraphrasing, but I cannot remember his exact words-that it is now an accepted absolute that acts of violence against women are anathema, and that everybody in this country, this House, the criminal justice system and the police service are automatically appalled by acts of violence against women and, as a result, are immediately on the front foot, exercising all their abilities, talents and resources to track down whomsoever commits such heinous acts. We all know that that is absolute fantasy. We are witnessing at the moment one of the largest manhunts that this country has ever seen to try to track down a man who, it is alleged, has murdered one individual and shot at and injured two others. He boasted before he left prison of what he planned to do. I have no doubt that prison officials were very busy, but I am equally sure that it went into that little pocket-although it is getting bigger and bigger in my view-of something called "a domestic" in the criminal justice and police system. All it needed was for those officials in the prison to take the threats seriously, to ring the alleged perpetrator's local police station so that the police there could take those threats seriously themselves, and perhaps the largest manhunt in British history would never have needed to take place.
There is still, as I said in an earlier intervention, a prevailing view in this country that incidents of rape, for example, are the fault of the victim- [ Interruption. ] Members opposite may groan and moan, but it is not so long ago- I remember it distinctly-that a judge who summed up in a rape case advised the victim of the rape that she should perhaps have worn a longer skirt. I am sure that that would never happen now, but I think that people still have similar thought processes.
Anna Soubry: We all agree that there should be more argument based on evidence. Where is the hon. Lady's evidence for the assertion that people still have those views of those who make complaints of rape?
Glenda Jackson: I am sorry, but I did not catch the end of the hon. Lady's question. I will give her direct evidence of a constituency case of mine, in which a woman had been systematically abused by her partner. The law acted and an injunction was laid, meaning that the perpetrator of the offences was not allowed within a certain distance of their home. What happened? His brothers took over. It is a fantasy to think that everyone in this country regards acts of violence against women as totally beyond the pale. Let us take honour killings, for instance. Does she seriously think that people who are genuinely opposed to acts of violence against women would enter into an honour killing?
Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): Does the hon. Lady not accept that there is a huge danger, in this debate and any consultation process, of this becoming a battle of the sexes and a gender issue, when clearly it is not? Defendant anonymity and surrounding issues are about trying to impose fairness for all in the criminal justice system.
Glenda Jackson: With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, the evidence presented in the Chamber-obviously he is not the only person on the Conservative Benches obsessed with evidence-based decisions-shows that rape is exercised almost exclusively against women, so there is a gender base.
Anna Soubry: Some 40% of all rape complainants are either male or children, and of the 60% who are aged over 16 and female, we do not know-we do not have the statistics-how many made a complaint about something that happened to them when they were children. It is unfortunate that we do not have those statistics after 13 years of a Labour Government.
Glenda Jackson: We have already established that, as far as children are concerned, we are all in absolute agreement. That is why the question has been asked: why has an alleged rapist been afforded the privilege of anonymity, but someone who, for example, has been downloading child pornography has not? It has not been explained to me why rape is the act being afforded this particular privilege. I would argue that, if the Government go down this road, they will deeply undermine the concept of the unacceptability of rape and general acts of violence against women. Far too often, we hear of cases in which, for example, a woman has laid before the police the serious threats she is facing daily from an ex-partner. We then read that the police did absolutely nothing about it. We know of terrible incidents-one cannot say it is more terrible than when children are killed-in which such women and their children have then been killed by those partners. I have already given the example of honour killings.
In a recent, highly publicised case of the most heinous crimes, every report began not with "Three women were murdered", but with "Three prostitutes were murdered". I return to what I believe is still a central issue here, and a reason I am so opposed to the Government's proposal: there is still the belief that attacks on women are engendered by the women themselves.
It is no use the hon. Lady shaking her head. We both know of incidents in which people have not reported an incident of rape because they were drunk at the time, and they know that they would be castigated for it. Equally she knows that when women do come forward claiming to have been raped, the initial response in quite a wide circle is that they are making it up, which is why we have to be exceedingly careful about going down this road of putting rape in this special category that other violent crimes are not granted. If the Government were arguing that all violent and violent sexual crimes should be afforded anonymity, and if there were sufficiently wide consultation on the proposal-not just in the House, but in the country at large-I would be prepared to consider the Government's central argument, which is that a false accusation can damage an individual's life, their family's life, and, in some instances, their professional life. However, I entirely agree with the point that if we go down that road, we will be undermining one of the basic concepts of our criminal justice system, which is that accusation and argument in criminal cases should take place in public. I would be extremely chary of moving away from that
position, but what the Government are proposing and their lack of commitment to wide consultation cause me grave concern.
My hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, made a salient point when she raised the issue of freedom of the press. That is another issue that we must consider deeply before we make any changes. However, I return to the point that I made slightly earlier, and which reinforces my contention that we are still insufficiently adamant or active and that insufficient resources are put into tackling the broader issue of acts of violence against women. I gave the example of the recent incident where three women were brutally murdered and every single news outlet began its report of the event with the words, "Three prostitutes".
I also think that Dr Shipman would perhaps not have got away with his mass murder if his victims had been young women, as opposed to middle-aged or elderly women, because there would undoubtedly have been a desire on the part of the press-well, perhaps "desire" is an extreme word-to present the case as though these particular acts against women had a sexual undertone. In my view there is still this prevailing attitude-it might not be directly acknowledged, but it permeates so many aspects of the criminal justice system and law enforcement-when it comes to acts of violence against women, for the immediate reaction is to say, "We have to be careful about this."
Hon. Members will know the argument about malicious accusation, but I have seen too many constituency cases and too many women and their children who have been brutalised because not enough people have taken what has been said to them sufficiently seriously, often ignoring the evidence before their eyes. The hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) made a salient point in his maiden speech when he talked about the different approaches to such crimes in Europe, where there are special courts that are properly financed, with support for victims. That is a lesson that we should be learning in this country far more quickly than we are. I absolutely admit that we have made strides in that direction, but we need to make bigger strides and more of them.
In the past few weeks I have listened to, and had the opportunity to contribute in, some excellent debates about foreign affairs, international development and the nation's finances, but I have waited to make my maiden speech in a home affairs debate. Home affairs is often not seen as a glamorous policy area. It is often overlooked and undervalued, but it is a policy area that affects everybody, all the time. We tend to notice home affairs only when things are not working properly; and let me assure the House that after 13 years of the previous Government, people in Cannock Chase have been noticing it more and more. Uncontrolled immigration, police filling in forms rather than being out on the streets, an explosion in knife crime, burglars being given more rights than the owners of the homes that they are breaking into, and a general culture of petty lawlessness
and lack of responsibility have all combined to make local people feel less safe and less secure. If we are to do anything with our time in office, I sincerely hope that we will restore a sense of confidence and pride in our communities that brings with it a sense of order and security.
Let me turn first to Cannock Chase and its predecessors. Traditionally a bell-wether seat, Cannock Chase has a long history. Cannock-or Chenet, as it was called then-was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086, and is thought to mean "hillock". Over the years, it has been home to kings and to coal miners. In the reign of Henry VIII, the oak-filled forest of Cannock Chase was frequented by the king and the gentry for hunting. Then came the industrial revolution and it became the petrol station of the country, with coal from its mines fuelling the factories and the nation's industries. In 1958, the Chase-the largest surviving area of lowland heath in the midlands-was designated an area of outstanding natural beauty because of its beautiful landscape, its wildlife and its history. The Chase is still home to some 800 wild fallow deer, which are descended from the original herd introduced in Norman times for hunting purposes.
Let us fast-forward to 2010. The Chase is now famous for its mountain biking trails and its musical concerts. Since 2006, the forest has been used as an open-air music venue, hosting stars such as Jools Holland and Status Quo. In fact, I was there just two weeks ago when I took my mum and my girlfriend to see Simply Red. The constituency comprises three main towns: Cannock, Hednesford and Rugeley. Each has its own character, history and traditions. Increasingly, however, each also has its own problems. Our challenge in Cannock Chase is to restore those towns to their former glory, with shops opening rather than closing, people moving to them rather than from them, and businesses and families thriving and staying. I very much hope to be a catalyst in that regeneration.
Cannock Chase is fortunate to have been served by hard-working and dedicated Members of Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr Howarth)-never shy about coming forward, and always first to defend the nation's interests-began his political career there in 1983, eventually rising to become Margaret Thatcher's Parliamentary Private Secretary. Although he now finds himself representing the people of Aldershot, he is still remembered fondly by many of the constituents I spoke to during the election campaign. It is a great pleasure to see him continuing to serve the nation in his new Front-Bench role.
More recently, the seat was in the capable hands of my predecessor, Dr Tony Wright, from 1992 until his retirement in 2010. Dr Wright was well respected on both sides of the House. He was independent minded and not afraid to stand up and criticise his own Government when he felt it right to do so. He also had a keen interest in the political process, and his most significant contribution to the House was his chairmanship of the Wright Committee. In the light of the expenses scandal, the country and the Commons cried out for real and lasting reform, and, in a calm and measured way, Tony Wright and his Committee delivered this. The recommendations in his report, which are now being implemented in full
by the coalition Government, have ensured that the role and relevance of Parliament as an institution have increased, as have those of Back Benchers. In my view, he was simply one of the best parliamentarians of recent times. It is therefore no wonder that he never got to serve as a Secretary of State-only the Labour party could ignore such talent, and put its spin above his substance. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!] I am sure that the House will join me in wishing him a happy and healthy retirement.
I should also like to make a brief mention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Mr McLoughlin), the Government Chief Whip, known in a former life as Cannock Chase District Councillor McLoughlin. He is a former miner at Littleton colliery, and Cannock is very proud to call him one of its own.
Cannock Chase is sometimes called the forgotten part of the west midlands. Often dismissed as a former mining town, it was ignored by the Conservatives for too long as a no-hoper, and taken for granted by Labour. People locally told me that they felt let down by Labour. One day, when I was campaigning with my great friend, ally and supporter, my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant)-who was key to my success in the election-an elderly lady came up to me and said, "Young man, there's only one thing worse than being let down, and that is being taken for granted." As a Conservative representing a former mining seat, I will not and cannot ever take my constituents' votes for granted.
Before coming back to home affairs, I want briefly to mention my family. I do not come from an especially political family, but my great-grandmother was one of the first ever female councillors in Birmingham-admittedly for the Labour party-in the early 1950s. She fought one parliamentary election and eight municipal ones, and my mother and my grandmother still live in the Moseley and King's Heath wards that she stood for on three occasions before finally being elected in Longbridge. A successful café owner, in 1950, when the House of Commons kitchens were reported in the national press as running at a loss, she publicly offered to supervise the catering right here, to pay £1,000 for the privilege of doing so and still make a profit. History does not record why her offer was never taken up-[Hon. Members: "Shame."] I have with me the newspaper article that reported this incident.
My parents both ran small businesses in manufacturing and public relations and instilled in me those small-business values of hard work and self-reliance-values that many in this country would do well to follow. Because of their hard work and success, they were able to send me to the best secondary independent school in Birmingham, King Edward's in Edgbaston. At the time, more than a third of the school comprised pupils with some form of an assisted place, which engendered an incredible atmosphere of competitive learning. I very much hope that during my time in this House, the education debates will return to the subject of selection by ability, whereby the brightest pupils are taught with their peers in exactly the same way as the best young sportsmen are intensively coached in academies to become the stars and Olympians of tomorrow.
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