We are determined to increase the number of rape cases reaching court, which is why we are working closely with the Attorney General and the Deputy Prime Minister to implement the rape review action plan, published in June. Progress includes publishing the first scorecard on cases, in order to understand where the system is failing to deliver; piloting a new approach to investigations through Operation Soteria; and launching a victims’ Bill consultation.
Two fifths of police forces actually lack specialist rape units, despite clear evidence showing that they are important to achieving successful case outcomes. Warwickshire shut its RASSO—rape and serious sexual offences—unit in 2014 and its domestic abuse unit last year, yet it has the worst conviction rate. Next week, I am going to hold a summit on violence against women and girls. I want to know from the Minister: why do the Government oppose Labour’s calls for RASSO units to be restored to all police forces? Can she explain whether there is any correlation between the conviction rates achieved, with Warwickshire’s being the worst in the country, and the loss of such units?
It is obviously not the case that we are opposing measures to improve rape prosecutions. That is why we are funding five police forces to pilot this new approach to rape investigations, and we have committed to expand this through 14 police areas. Moreover, we are providing comprehensive funding to independent sexual and domestic abuse advisers to help bring these atrocious cases to court.
I spent Friday morning with a young 20-year-old rape victim who is now in her fifth year awaiting a trial. I then spent the afternoon with a young woman who has been groomed and sexually exploited for a decade. She told me that on occasion she has been forced to have sex with up to 50 men a day. The police cannot guarantee her safety, in her complex case of organised crime, so she has come forward and withdrawn numerous times. Both the accused rapist in the first case and the many, multiple gang members involved in the second are walking free, able to abuse, groom and rape as many women and children as they like.
These cases are not rare; they are not unusual. Operation Soteria has already made it very clear to Ministers that there is a real need for more specialism and priority within police forces, so the Minister saying that she is going to pilot it in 14 more areas and find out the exact same thing is not going to be enough. There is a need for specialism, and a need for it now, so why are the Government not backing Labour’s calls to ensure that every police force area has a RASSO unit? Will she answer that?
All of us speak to and work with victims of horrendous crimes. Ministers are constantly engaged in that kind of work. That is why we are putting more funding into the police to enable them to tackle these hideous crimes. The hon. Lady has referred to a number of specific cases. She has not been clear which police areas or local authorities are involved, but we are very happy to work with her on these specific cases. To be clear, let me say that funding for these important specialisms has been increased, and we are increasing funding to the police to the tune of £15.9 billion.
The two points made by Labour Members were very powerful and have had a huge impact on the House, and I thank them for making them.
I simply rise to say that there also needs to be a very careful balance, because, from time to time, people are accused of rape when they are innocent. I do not want to see the pendulum swing from one extreme to another and injustice being done in another way.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising such an important issue. These and many other issues are captured in the rape review. Every Member of this House will be concerned about the level of rape prosecutions, which is why the Government are working across Departments to improve the system overall, and it is absolutely right that we do so.
The Minister will know that, in 2015, in her report on rape investigations and prosecutions in London, Dame Elish Angiolini recommended that the specialist RASSO police officers should investigate rape cases. We heard much evidence to back that up in the inquiry that the Home Affairs Committee has just concluded. I have a question for the Safeguarding Minister, who appeared before the Committee in December. At the time she could not tell us how many police officers were RASSO trained, or, indeed, how many of the new recruits to the police had been RASSO trained. Is she able to do so today?
I congratulate the right hon. Lady on her election to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. I look forward to responding to her in due course. She raises an important issue. It is important to say that specialist training is taking place through Operation Soteria and a number of other avenues. I am very happy come back to her or to write to her with those figures.