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Volume 229: debated on Thursday 22 July 1993

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures his Department is taking to deal with rapists.

Courts have been empowered to impose longer sentences on persons convicted of violent or sexual offences and to require that they should be supervised for longer periods when released. The Prison Service runs programmes for sex offenders aimed at tackling the roots of their behaviour and preventing reoffending.

While thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him whether he recalls that when a provision was introduced to enable the prosecution to appeal against over-lenient sentences, it was opposed by both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party? What does my hon. Friend think that the public should conclude about those who talk tough on law and order, but who shy away when they have the opportunity to turn the rhetoric into reality?

Time and again, the Opposition have voted against measures that we have introduced which have proved absolutely essential. Since we introduced those powers, the Attorney-General has referred 16 cases in which people have been sentenced for rape and 12 of those sentences were increased by the Court of Appeal. Other cases are pending.

Is the Minister aware that there is serious concern about the bail conditions given to rapists? Is he aware that in parts of Nottinghamshire cases are taking about nine or 10 months to come to court either because of the incompetence of the Crown Prosecution Service or because of a lack of funding? In that time, because of weak bail conditions, too many of those accused visit the areas in which the attack has taken place and they often abuse and harass those whom they are alleged to have raped. That is not good enough. The bail conditions must be tightened in such cases. It is the Minister's neglect in controlling the Crown Prosecution Service that is allowing such problems to occur.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman that it is the fault of the Crown Prosecution Service. I am, of course, aware of the concern about people who commit other crimes on bail, but I remind the hon. Gentleman of the provisions of the Bail Act 1976 under which bail can be refused in all cases if the court is satisfied that the person might abscond, reoffend, threaten witnesses or pervert the course of justice. That is what the law says. Judges and courts have the powers to deal effectively with anyone who appears before them and who might reoffend on bail.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the case this week in a court in my area in which Judge Starforth Hill released on bail a person who was being tried for three rapes? He gave the man bail against the advice of the police and the man now resides in southern Ireland. There is no way in which we can get him back. Is that not a travesty of justice?

My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot comment on that particular case at present. I merely repeat that the Bail Act, if it is enforced properly by the courts—we have circulars designed to draw the law to the attention of magistrates and judges—provides that if the court is satisfied that someone might abscond or reoffend, it does not need to grant bail. In each case, the decision is at the discretion of the courts and judges.