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Estelle Morris: I take my hon. Friend's point about the difficulties caused by pupil mobility and by the presence of pupils with a range of challenges in one school. She will accept—as hon. Members from Staffordshire, Leicestershire and Worcestershire know already—that local authorities in inner London receive significantly more funding than those elsewhere. The Under-Secretary with responsibility for London schools—my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg)—and I have announced the beginning of a discussion on London strategy. We want to work with local authorities and London Members to raise standards.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) and I do not disagree about mixed intakes. I do not think that they guarantee good schools. Good-quality leadership and teaching do that, and I do not believe that using Machiavellian tactics to ensure that a school's intake is mixed is a way of guaranteeing high standards. However, some schools' intakes mean that they need significant extra resources and support. We need new ways to solve old problems, and I look forward to talking about that in the next few years.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): The shortfall in education funding has had a crippling effect on schools throughout the UK. I welcome the fact that the Government have made education their No. 1 priority. My colleagues and I in the Ulster Unionist party want every child to achieve his or her full potential. I welcome the measures being taken to eradicate poor behaviour and ill discipline in schools. I publicly thank Her Majesty's Government for the extra funding that has been made available to create additional pre-school places and to improve childcare provision, which we have always supported.

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I am a former vice-principal of a secondary school that produces high achievers every year, and I am at present a trustee of my local grammar school. I have to challenge the Secretary of State's assertion that the comprehensive principle in education is right for the UK in general. I have much for which to thank Her Majesty's Government, since although I was not privileged to get the paper mill scholarship to the local grammar school in 1947, I did go to that school in 1948. I then managed to go to teacher training college between 1953 and 1957. I therefore believe that the system in Northern Ireland has kept doors open and afforded opportunities so that children can progress.

Are not the Government denying children's individual differences, rather than respecting them? Should we not encourage excellence by retaining the system that is in place in Northern Ireland, which provides the best opportunity for all our children?

Estelle Morris: That is clearly a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly. My responsibility is to make clear my principles, and the foundation of the Government's policies in respect of their responsibilities in England and elsewhere. However, I listened with interest to what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): I also congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement, on what is a tremendous and significant day for the most deprived areas in this country. However, does she agree that the real test is ensuring that specialist schools do not cream off the best teachers and the pupils who are most easiest to teach, with the result that non-specialist schools become the sink schools in our inner-city areas?

Will my right hon. Friend describe the mechanism that will put an end to the massive problem of teacher rotation? That problem—of better teachers moving on when they get the chance—particularly affects schools in inner-city areas. How will today's statement begin to stop that?

Estelle Morris: I agree with my hon. Friend about the real test with regard to specialist schools. However, those schools did not bring about a system in which some schools attract children with high prior attainment. That has always happened—there has always been a division between strong schools and weak schools. Some schools have found it easy to attract pupils while others have not. The challenge is to change that, and we see the specialist school as a means to that end. This is about trying to build a system with incentives for every school to improve.

In the city of Birmingham, where my constituency is located, many schools in the inner city have striven for specialist school status. They have a huge number of children on free school meals and who have special educational needs. I know that that is the same in my hon. Friend's constituency. Our measures act as an incentive not just for the schools serving affluent areas but for others as well. Is not the test of specialist schools that they are as open to schools that serve deprived areas as to those that do not? Secondly, it is important that we

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structure them so that, with their strengths, they lever up performance elsewhere in the school system. On those two aspects, which are fundamental to our reform, I pledge that that is the case.

On my hon. Friend's second question, if we put in more support so that teachers are free to teach and to do their job, I think that that will keep children in school. If teachers have classroom assistants, bursars, administrative assistants, laptop computers and good school leaders, the children may love it. It is the paraphernalia around teaching the kids that gets in the way. I hope that much of what we have announced today will make those schools better places to work and to teach.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Paying direct grants to schools was a very imaginative proposal by the Government, and the fact that it was built on by the Chancellor yesterday is to be welcomed. Would the Secretary of State care to go one stage further in her quest for diversity and reintroduce grant-maintained schools?

Estelle Morris: The main difference is that the previous Conservative Government paid the grants only to some schools, whereas we are paying it to all schools.


Prime Minister (Office, Role and Functions) (No. 2)

Dr. Julian Lewis presented a Bill to define the office, role and functions of the Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury; to make arrangements for his appointment; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on 19 July, and to be printed [Bill 180].

Criminal Evidence (Prohibition of Sale) (No. 2)

Dr. Julian Lewis presented a Bill to prohibit the sale of evidence gathered in criminal investigations or used during criminal proceedings: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on 19 July, and to be printed [Bill 181].

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Rape (Consent)

4.37 pm

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): I beg to move,

It is clear to anyone who has studied this subject that every year hundreds of rapists walk free from our courts. The victims are generally women, but a significant proportion of those in reported cases are men, and the conviction rate is only a tiny fraction of all rapes that occur. Only 10 per cent. of rapes are reported and, of those, 7 per cent. result in a conviction. So less than 1 per cent. of all rapists are punished for their crime. This abysmally low level of conviction means that we are failing the victims of rape.

These conviction rates and the low sentences often handed out discourage rape victims from bringing their attacker to court. Rape victims say that they felt that it was they, rather than the accused, who was on trial. Despite the progress made by the Government in the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, many rape victims are still humiliated in court, particularly when irrelevant sexual history is paraded before the court. The 1999 Act set out to address these issues. As a result, rape victims can no longer be cross-examined by the accused. Victims can be screened from the accused or give evidence on a video link, thus minimising the potential for intimidation in court by the accused.

The 1999 Act also intended to limit sexual history being brought into cases. However, as women's organisations and I warned at the time, because the defence of an honest, even if unreasonable, belief in consent was left in law, many rapists have been able to walk free. Where the defence is that the accused believed that the victim consented, if the jury accept that he might, however irrationally and crazily, have believed that there was consent, they have to acquit. That defence of honest but unreasonable belief in consent also leaves a loophole for sexual history to be brought into court, since the safeguards to protect complainants in the 1999 Act do not apply to the defence of honest belief in consent.

It is well known at the criminal Bar that if claims about a woman's previous sexual history are brought up in court, the woman is likely to be humiliated and undermined and the calibre of her evidence is damaged. Canadian research shows that the jury's belief in the guilt of the accused diminishes in proportion to such claims, even if they are made up. We are expecting research to be published here on the sexual history protections that have been provided by sections 41 to 43 of the 1999 Act, but there is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that protections have been undermined because the defence of belief in consent is run more often now to make use of the loophole.

The Government are aware that action is needed. Their sex offences review recommended a change in the law on consent in July 2000. It is abundantly clear that that is needed. The current definition of consent lets victims down. It is simply unacceptable in the 21st century that

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defence counsels can say that a woman or man shouting, "No, no, no", should be disregarded and that, in fact, that person means "Yes." No means no. For that reason, we need to write into law that in cases where the victim is saying no, if the defendant is to use the defence of belief in consent, they have to be able to tell the jury what reasonable steps they took to ensure that there was free agreement to sex.

The Bill follows the model used in Canada—the system that was introduced there a decade ago. It would amend the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976 to define consent as involving free agreement between the people involved. Understood in that way, consent places a responsibility on people, where there is any doubt, to take reasonable steps to ensure that there is free agreement. If people having sex have not freely agreed to do so, that is rape, whether it is in the marital bed of 20 years, at a wild Saturday night party, or involves a prostitute being attacked in the street.

The Bill includes a non-exhaustive list of situations where free agreement could not be made. Those include: where a person submits or is unable to resist because of force or fear of force, or because of fear of serious harm to themselves or another person; where a person was asleep, unconscious or too affected by alcohol or drugs to give free agreement; where a person did not understand the nature of the act; or, where agreement is expressed by a third party, not the victim.

Some people have suggested that changing the law will lead to more false claims. There is no evidence for that. At present, the humiliation that so many rape victims have to go through makes it likely that there are fewer false claims in rape cases than in other cases. I am not denying that there might be false claims, but everything indicates that they will be so few that that should not be seen as a separate issue from claims associated with other sorts of criminal case.

We are all brought up with prejudices around sex. To counter those prejudices, the Bill also states that the judge on each and every rape case where it is relevant must direct members of the jury that they cannot assume that the complainant did freely agree just because they did not say anything, because they did not physically resist, because they were not physically injured or because on an earlier occasion they had consented to sex with the accused or another person.

On the latter point, people assume that consensual sex on one occasion can be used to indicate consent to sex on another, but that is the rapist's charter. Whether it is a husband, a gay lover, or someone met once before on a date, the fact that there has been consensual sex once or perhaps countless times before does not mean that there has been consent on the occasion when one partner forces themselves on the other.

No one is suggesting that if a husband is accused of raping his wife the fact that they have been married for 20 years should be concealed from the jury. Beyond that

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fact, however, except in very rare cases, it is irrelevant how often or what type of sex they had. On the rare occasions when previous sexual history is relevant, the full protections of sections 41 to 43 of the 1999 Act must apply. Circumstances where sexual history might be relevant should be exceptionally rare, however. In general, the court needs to consider only the occasion on which the rape is alleged to have taken place.

It is time that we did more to protect the victims of rape. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Ms Julia Drown, Vera Baird, Julie Morgan, Joyce Quin, Judy Mallaber, Ms Oona King, Harry Cohen, Mr. Michael Clapham, Mr. Tom Cox, Margaret Moran, Ms Debra Shipley and Fiona Mactaggart.

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