HC Deb 24 April 1986 vol 96 cc410-1
7. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he now intends to introduce legislation to reform the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976 as it relates to the anonymity of those accused of rape.

Mr. Mellor

We have this matter under consideration. There is a strong case for removing the accused person's right to anonymity, but a final decision has not yet been reached.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Although I welcome my hon. Friend's answer, does he agree that as the Act now stands suspected rapists, alone of any criminals, enjoy anonymity? It is inequitable that anonymity, which should rightly be given to the victim, should also be given to a suspected person, especially when there is a danger of that suspected person committing other rapes, since he has not been arrested.

Mr. Mellor

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Ashley

The Minister may be aware that I brought in the original Bill to help rape victims, and I sympathise with the Government's view. I wonder whether the best way to approach this matter is to preserve anonymity for men accused of rape, because it is such an appalling crime, but to identify men accused of it when they have committed another crime. Would that not be the best solution?

Mr. Mellor

It is a halfway house. It is true that rape is a grave crime, but so, too, are murder, attempted murder, buggery, and assaults on young children, all of which lead to the identification of the defendant. The right hon. Gentleman will have read what the Criminal Law Revision Committee said about the provisions for the anonymity of defendants and its detailed criticisms. We must bear in mind the committee's findings as well as the right hon. Gentleman's comments when considering this matter.

Sir Peter Hordern

When will my hon. Friend announce his decision? Will he give us an assurance that it will be made in a much shorter time than the decision about dog licences?

Mr. Mellor

I have responsibility for a number of interesting matters but, happily, dog licences are not among them. I know what my hon. Friend means and I can assure him that a decision will be made in such a fashion that, if it is favourable to remove anonymity, that could be included in the Criminal Justice Bill next Session.

Mr. Corbett

Given that there is no centrally held evidence that the anonymity provisions of this Act—which started life as my private Member's Bill—have in any way inhibited police inquiries, will the Minister at least undertake to consult widely on any plans to remove the anonymity provision for the accused man? Is the Minister prepared to advance the time at which the complainant woman gets the protection of anonymity to when that complaint is made?

Mr. Mellor

I know that the hon. Gentleman has previous convictions on this subject—[Laughter.]—and I shall want to have a word with him about that in due course. I take his point about the anonymity of the victim. Recent events in Ealing have revealed to us how unsatisfactory it is that anonymity for the victim comes into play only at the point when an arrest is made, although we saw in that case that the damage can be done before then. I shall want to look into that matter and to have a word with the hon. Gentleman about it.