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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.