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What steps she plans to take to provide greater support during rape cases brought by the Crown Prosecution Service for those who have been raped, in the light of the findings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission's "Map of Gaps" report.
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Local authorities identified by the "Map of Gaps" report as having no services for women victims of violence have received letters from the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission seeking their responses, and I am in the course of writing to local Members of Parliament to ask them to take an interest in the issue. Although most authorities are providing local services, the Government contributed an extra £1.1 million last year, and have committed an extra £1.6 million this year, to ensure that those services are funded. I welcome the publication of an updated Crown Prosecution Service policy for the prosecution of those who commit rape.
Is it not striking that 30 per cent. of English local authorities provide no service whatsoever, whereas in Wales and Scotland there is 100 per cent. coverage? What more can my hon. and learned Friend do to enforce the requirement for every local authority in England to provide an appropriate service and to do so quickly?
My hon. Friend has put his finger on the point—and the Conservative Member who shouted something about money has missed the point entirely. Under their local area agreements, local authorities are sent funds which most of them spend appropriately on delivering services, although some, lamentably, do not. The commission has written to authorities precisely because it wishes to establish whether there has been a breach of the duty imposed on local authorities to render gender equality to their public. If it finds that such breaches have occurred, legal action can and, I imagine, will be taken.
"The Map of Gaps" shows that there has been reasonable progress in Wales in the criminal justice and statutory system, but many women victims still feel unable to go to the police. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that there is a case for providing more voluntary sector services, and particularly women-only services, which women find it easier to go to?
I agree completely. Women-only services are key in situations where someone is feeling vulnerable and asserts that they have been attacked by a man; women find it more reassuring if they are sure that a woman will attend to them when they go for help. One slightly suspects that some of the defects that seem to be apparent in "The Map of Gaps" may arise because, although some of the services are in place, they are not solely for women so women are not using them or they are not adequate for women's needs. I strongly agree that it is key at this vulnerable time that women can be sure that they will be able to talk to women only.
Everyone in the country and the House will agree that rape is an abhorrent and disgusting crime, and that those who are found guilty of it should be named and shamed and serve their punishment, but is it really fair for a person who is found not guilty to have had their name dragged through the press while the trial takes place? Should there not be a more level playing field for those who are found innocent of this crime?
If the hon. Gentleman is advocating that there should be anonymity for all defendants in all criminal cases until conviction, that is a principle that would have to be considered by Parliament, but it has turned its face against that and believes that all defendants should be named. There is nothing special about rape cases, because allegations of murder or paedophilia, for instance, are very damaging to the individual concerned as well. Unfortunately, if we were to do what the hon. Gentleman proposes, the inference would definitely be that there is some special reason to protect male defendants in rape cases against women, and the inference would be that there are more false complaints in rape cases than in any other cases, which simply is not true. Therefore, I am afraid that I am completely against what the hon. Gentleman proposes.
No distinction is to be drawn in terms of delivery of services between victims of trafficking who have been raped and other people who have been raped, as they are, of course, all entitled to call on the support services. The hon. Gentleman is, perhaps, right about the availability of accommodation in London, but I believe that there are agreements in place between the POPPY project, which is the main supplier of accommodation, and some other women's groups to make sure that some accommodation and support is available outside London as well. That emerged as part of Operation Pentameter 2, with which the hon. Gentleman is familiar.
My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that until May 2007 the funding for women's aid groups and other groups providing support for women in Scotland was ring-fenced. The loss of that protection means that funding has been cut to those organisations. Does she agree that we should look into that because there should be core funding of those essential services?
My hon. Friend Mr. Chaytor, who asked the first question, referred to the better spread of services in Scotland, which was possible because they were funded centrally until the date my hon. Friend Ms Clark mentioned. The view is that these essentially local services should be provided locally, and I believe the Scottish Government now share that opinion. The funding is not sufficient, however, and I can assure my hon. Friend that work is going on within the Government Equalities Office and my own Department to try to work out a sustainable funding plan for those services.