Sentencing Policy

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th November 1986.

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Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo , South Suffolk 12:00 am, 20th November 1986

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent representations he has received about sentencing policy.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

We receive many letters about sentencing from Members of Parliament, the public and interested organisations.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo , South Suffolk

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great public concern about the apparent leniency of many sentences passed on criminals convicted of violent offences such as child abuse, rape and other forms of assault? Will he ensure that in future the sentences passed not only allay public concern but give the public the protection that they deserve?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

The job of Parliament is to ensure that maximum sentences are adequate. That is why we gave full support to the Sexual Offences Act introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes). It is also important to make it clear that those convicted of serious offences should serve long sentences. I have made it clear that a criminal serving a life sentence for the sexual or sadistic murder of a child may expect to serve at least 20 years and that those sentenced to more than five years for sexual abuse of a child will not normally get parole. Where sentences appear to be wayward on the side of leniency, we are proposing in our Criminal Justice Bill to enable the Attorney-General to refer to the Court of Appeal any Crown court case which appears to raise public issues of this kind.

Photo of Mrs Renée Short Mrs Renée Short , Wolverhampton North East

Will the Home Secretary examine sentencing policy as it affects pregnant women? Does he recall the recent case of a woman in labour who was left locked in a cell in Holloway for 16 hours without proper medical care and then had to wait an hour and a half for a taxi to take her to hospital, where a caesarean section was performed but the baby died, strangled by the cord? How does he intend to ensure that that never happens again?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I am familiar with that case and do not criticise the hon. Lady for raising it. Any accusations of negligence will have to be carefully examined to ensure that if there was any shortcoming on the part of the prison service or prison medical staff it will not recur.

Photo of Mr Anthony Grant Mr Anthony Grant , Cambridge South West

In view of the increasing public concern about sentencing, has it occurred to my right hon. Friend — with the greatest respect to his distinguished and learned junior Ministers — that the rareified sanctuary of the Bar should not perhaps be the sole training ground for Her Majesty's judges?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

That is a very explosive suggestion. I will ensure that my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor is acquainted with it.

Photo of Mr Norman Atkinson Mr Norman Atkinson , Tottenham

The House appreciates the Home Secretary's concern about lenient sentencing and the fact that he has called for reports, but will he also call for reports on the imposition of savage sentences on young people for political purposes? Does he recall the instances at the Old Bailey in recent weeks of young boys of 18 and 19 being sentenced to seven and eight years' imprisonment for throwing stones during incidents in my constituency? Will he try to discourage judges from reacting to press reports and pressure for long sentences to be used as a deterrent for political purposes?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

No, Sir. It would be quite improper and quite wrong for me to take that advice.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Hind Mr Kenneth Hind , West Lancashire

With regard to sentencing policy, will my right hon. Friend resist the temptation to introduce any statute of limitations in relation to people being tried for offences that were committed a long time in the past? In particular, will he reassure the House, and especially the people of Lancashire, that, should there be evidence to suggest that Miss Myra Hindley is involved in two further murders, she will not escape the consequences of her dastardly acts?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

Immunity from prosecution is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, but I understand that in this case he has decided not to grant any such immunity.

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett Opposition Whip (Commons)

Given that we have more people in prison and a higher level of crime than most other countries in Europe, is the Home Secretary trying to suggest that the sentencing policy is succeeding?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I am trying to suggest that there is an overwhelming case, supported by public opinion in all parts of the country, for the proposition that people who commit severe offences should receive appropriately severe sentences. I also believe—the hon. Member knows this, as I have always made the point—that those considering cases at the lower end of the scale should understand the great importance of the wide range of non-custodial alternatives available to them.