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Rape Prosecutions

Volume 530: debated on Thursday 23 June 2011

6. What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues on steps to increase the rate of prosecution for rape. (61542)

Rape prosecution is regularly discussed at ministerial level through the inter-ministerial group on violence against women. It is completely unacceptable that so many women and men are victims of this abhorrent crime. We have taken action to support rape victims and improve prosecutions by training specialist rape prosecutors in all areas, providing £1.72 million of funding a year for independent sexual violence advisers who support victims through the criminal justice system, and putting funding for rape support centres on a stable footing.

Around 5,000 people each year are arrested on suspicion of rape and not charged. Some have gone on to commit further offences and been convicted as a result of being on the DNA database. The Prime Minister was not able to answer this question yesterday, so perhaps the Minister will today. Why does she think it is right to get rid of the DNA of those arrested for but not charged with rape?

Mainly because they are innocent. The Government start from the principle that someone who is arrested for, or charged with, a criminal offence but not subsequently convicted is innocent. Unlike the last Government, we will not hold the DNA of 1 million innocent people indefinitely. While they were busy filling the database with the DNA of innocent people, they absolutely failed to collect the DNA of the guilty, who were liable and had been convicted, and who might very well offend again.

My hon. Friend has written that nine out of 10 rapes go unreported, and that 38% of serious sexual assault victims tell no one about their experience. Reported rape is just the tip of the iceberg. I know that we are putting £10.5 million into rape centres, but what can we do to encourage victims to walk through their doors in the first place?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She is quite right that reported rape is the tip of the iceberg. The funding—stable funding, unlike under the previous Government—to support rape centres right across the country is one thing we can do. We are also filling in the gaps: we will have centres in Hereford, Trafford, Devon and Dorset this year, and more work is being done to identify other areas so that coverage goes right across the country. The police have a job to do too, in the work that they do to send out a message loud—

Order. I am trying to help the House and to facilitate Back Benchers, but we must have short questions and short answers.

I am sorry that the Home Secretary chose not to answer that question, because it was raised in Prime Minister’s questions and it is a serious issue. The answer from the Minister for Equalities to my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) was deeply unsatisfactory. She is keeping on the database the DNA of people who have been charged but not convicted. However, she is refusing to keep the DNA of those who are arrested but not charged. In those 5,000 cases, the police have decided that there is enough evidence to pass a case to the Crown Prosecution Service, but the CPS has decided not to charge.

We know that, for a series of reasons, rape is notoriously difficult to charge and convict, and we know that there is evidence among those 5,000 cases of people who have committed serious offences and who will go on to offend again. Under the Minister’s rules, the DNA of John Warboys would not have been kept. Will the Minister now think again and do something serious to increase rape prosecutions?

What the right hon. Lady has said is not accurate. When someone is arrested, there are circumstances under which the DNA can be retained. I shall run through those very briefly. DNA can be retained if the victim of the alleged offence is under 18; if the victim of the alleged offence is a vulnerable adult; if the victim of the alleged offence is in a close relationship with the subject; and, to answer her point precisely, if the police consider that retention is necessary to safeguard the public.