The latest year for which information is available is 1975. In that year, 60 per cent. of men committed for trial at the Crown courts on a charge of rape were granted bail by the magistrates' court on committal.
Does the Minister think that bail is given too easily? Is he aware that in more than 50 per cent. of rape cases the rapist is known to his victim and that in many cases where the accused is released on bail pressure is brought to bear on the victim to withdraw the accusation?
Bail is not granted too easily. Indeed, a criticism which has been made—and it is one that I share—is that bail has been withheld in far too many cases in the past, thus putting an unnecessary strain on prison resources. The fact that there are now more complaints about rape offences means that people are less easily deterred from making complaints. The Act which was recently passed concerning anonymity for the complainant will help in that direction.
Has my hon. Friend seen the first report of the Rape Crisis Centre which was published today and which comments on this matter? I take my hon. Friend's point about access to bail in these cases, but will he look at the suggestion that, because of the instances in which the defendant is known to the complainant, bail should be accompanied by an order covering non-molestation?
Decisions on bail and the conditions imposed are matters for magistrates. I have frequently said that we do not interfere with the discretion of the courts in making these decisions. I shall, however, study the report to which my hon. Friend has referred.
I accept the point that the Minister has made about the working of the Bail Act, but does he agree that in these cases, apart from considering the particular criteria laid down in the Act, the magistrates' courts should take account of the feelings of a woman who has been raped? If bail is granted, she knows that her assailant is at large. Will the Minister give guidance on this aspect?