Lord Corbett: MP who helped ensure rape victims' anonymity


Robin Corbett, who has died of lung cancer, was always a man of the people. When he was two, his family was deported from Australia because of his father's political beliefs. This inspired a fire and determination to fight injustice and fundamentalism, whatever the climate. As Labour MP for Hemel Hempstead, then Birmingham Erdington, he proved to be a combative campaigner.

Possibly his greatest achievement in parliament came in 1976, when he sponsored the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, which provided anonymity for rape victims, and for defendants until convicted. In later years Corbett would complain that the right to anonymity had been "given away", as he put it, by the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, which kept anonymity for victims but not for those accused of rape. He believed, he said, that it was "wholly wrong for men accused of rape to be identified before they are found guilty".

In 1986 he urged the prosecution of The Sun for breaching the anonymity of a rape victim in the Ealing vicarage case and the following year said that Parliament would be forced to clean up the "sewer end" of the press unless newspapers did it themselves.

With this in mind, he supported Clive Soley's Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill in 1993, and criticised the merger of Sky Television and British Satellite Broadcasting to form BSkyB, calling for an investigation by the Monopolies Commission in 1990. He also objected to Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of the newspaper Today. He had been appointed shadow broadcasting minister in 1989, and he led Labour in criticising the Tories' broadcasting bill; given power, Labour, he said, would force Murdoch to choose between Sky TV and News International.

The 1990 Calcutt Report recommended the establishment of a new Press Complaints Commission to replace the Press Council. Corbett said that an incoming Labour government would have no hesitation in moving towards statutory control if newspapers had not moved towards some form of regulation within Calcutt's suggested deadline of 18 months. The code drawn up by the press itself diluted the Calcutt recommendations, he believed.

Robin Corbett was born in Fremantle, Australia in 1933, to where his parents had emigrated. The family, though, including his older brother and twin sister, was deported back to England thanks to his father's union activity. He would later describe his bewilderment as he saw all the family's household goods being thrown on to the street, wondering why the family was being treated like criminals.

After grammar school in Smethwick he went into journalism, working on the Birmingham Mail eventually becoming deputy editor of Farmer's Weekly, then head of training at IPC Magazines. Before becoming an MP, he joined my practice of environmental and energy engineers in St Albans. Here he became engaged in educating prime-movers and the public in the emerging problems of climate change. It was a sharp learning process that he never forgot. He was forever networking and achieved much through his warmth, sense of fun, and sense of humour.

He had a great facility for networking, which he raised to an art-form when he was elected as MP for Hemel Hempstead in October 1974. But the Trotskyist hard left within the Labour Party saw to it in 1979 that although Corbett had the support of the majority of local Party members he was de-selected by back-room take-over. In the 1983 election the Hemel Hempstead-born Paul Boateng stood in his place, only to lose his deposit. Meanwhile busloads of Hemel Hempstead Party members travelled to the West Midlands to help return their man to the House of Commons; they duly did, with a majority of 261. When he left the Commons in 2001, that had increased to 12,000.

In the Commons, he was opposition spokesman on home affairs from 1979 to 1992, then for national heritage, broadcasting and press until 1995. He was a Labour Whip from 1984 until 1987 and chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee from 1999 to 2001.

Corbett served on the agriculture and communications select committees, and on various other Commons bodies, Labour groups and outside organisations; he was a board member of Rehab UK from 1996, and a sponsor of the Terrence Higgins Trust from 1987 to 1999. Ennobled in 2001 as Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, he became a popular chair of the Labour Peers Group, and was the long-serving chairman of the Friends of Cyprus and of the Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom, for which he had worked since 1981.

As chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Penal affairs,he backed a campaign in 2004 bythe Prison Reform Trust and Unlock, the National Association of Ex-Offenders, to overturn "the outdated ban" on prisoners voting in elections. He was also interested in education for prisoners and his family are to establish an annual award in his name.

Bill Holdsworth

Robin Corbett, journalist and politician: born Fremantle, Australia 22 December 1933; MP for Hemel Hempstead 1974-79, for Erdington 1983-2001; cr. Life peer 2001; married firstly (one son, one daughter), 1970 Val Hudson (one daughter); died 19 February 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Director / Operations Director

£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an incredible opportunity for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'