Orders of the Day — Crime (Sentences) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4 November 1996.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I have selected the amendment that stands in the name of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown).

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:30, 4 November 1996

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The key provisions of the Bill were set out in the White Paper "Protecting the Public", which I published earlier this year. They are designed to improve the protection of the public against serious, dangerous and persistent offenders, and to increase public confidence in the sentencing process. They are important and radical measures that target, in particular, violent offenders, sex offenders, drug traffickers and domestic burglars.

The proposals in the Bill address real problems in our criminal justice system. They will introduce the biggest step change in our criminal justice system this century. They will make a vital contribution to the fight against crime. Victims and the public are firmly at the top of the agenda, as they should be.

We have consulted widely on the key provisions of the Bill. They have been welcomed by the public, and have the support of the police. Serious offenders cause harm, misery and distress to tens of thousands of victims every year. It is the duty of Government to do all that they can to protect the public from such offenders. It is the duty of Government to do all that they can to ensure that offenders will be properly punished. Those who persistently offend should know with certainty that they will face a stiff penalty if they offend again. The main provisions in the Bill will help the Government to fulfil that duty.

The public also have a right to know that the prison sentence that is passed by the court is the sentence that will actually be served by the offender. Under the present early release arrangements, that is far from the case. Under the present arrangements, a majority of prisoners are released after serving only half their sentence. The public, and victims, neither understand nor approve of that. The provisions in the Crime (Sentences) Bill will bring greater transparency to the sentencing process. They will ensure that the prison sentence passed by the courts matches much more closely the term that is served by the prisoner.

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson , Wantage

In respect of that so-called honesty in sentencing, will my right hon. and learned Friend explain to the House what has happened to cause the abandonment of a policy that the Government adopted, after careful review, only five years ago?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

If my hon. Friend looks back to the Criminal Justice Act 1991, he will find that it was a step in the right direction. It significantly increased the proportion of the sentence passed by the court that is actually served by prisoners. It increased it from a third to a half: the proportion of a third having originated in the Criminal Justice Act 1967, which was passed when the Labour party was in office.

If my hon. Friend goes back over the history of the matter, he will realise that the 1991 Act was a step in the right direction. We are building on that, and are now providing a greater consistency between the sentence passed by the court and the sentence served.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way. I fully support everything that he is trying to do and I am sure that he will be successful.

I point out that, as yet, there is no effective or adequate deterrent for a large group of miscreants, many of whom are young. I advise my right hon. and learned Friend that I shall seek to bring forward an amendment to make corporal punishment available to the courts. We know very well that the Opposition—that make—believe party of law and order-are unlikely to want to debate the issue. However, it is quite proper that those people and the problems that they cause should be debated on the Conservative Benches, if not by Labour Members.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am afraid that I cannot follow my hon. Friend down that route. It may be correct to debate the matter, but I am told—it was before my time—that the sentence was not used long before it ceased to exist in 1948 because it was generally considered to have little effect.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Let us be clear. The Secretary of State will recall that, when the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) raised the issue in a similar debate, the right hon. and learned Gentleman made it categorically clear that he opposed the reintroduction of flogging or birching by courts. Will he confirm that view?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thought I had. In case there is any doubt, I certainly do confirm it.

Part I of the Bill introduces mandatory prison sentences for certain serious offenders. Clause 1 requires the courts to impose a life sentence on anyone aged 18 or above who is convicted for a second time of a serious violent or sexual crime such as attempted murder, manslaughter, rape or serious wounding. Those offenders should only be released if, and only if, it is safe to do so. The automatic life sentence will ensure that that is the case.

The courts will determine at the point of sentence the minimum term of imprisonment that must be served for purposes of retribution and deterrence, but release will not automatically follow the completion of that term. It will depend upon a satisfactory risk assessment by the Parole Board. If the Parole Board considers that the offender represents a risk to the public, he or she will be kept in prison—if necessary, indefinitely. Those released will be on life licence and subject to recall at any time.

The need for that provision has been questioned, but the case for it is overwhelming. In 1994, 217 offenders were convicted of a serious violent or sexual offence, having been previously convicted of at least one similar offence. Of those 217, only 10 received a life sentence. The others had to be released at the end of their determinate sentences, even if everyone involved knew that they were likely to offend again. That is a completely unacceptable state of affairs and I am determined to remedy it.

Photo of Sir Peter Lloyd Sir Peter Lloyd , Fareham

How many of those cases did my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General appeal against?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall supply my right hon. Friend with that answer in due course. The difficulty is that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General had to take decisions against the existing background and guidance of sentencing practice as set out by the Court of Appeal. The thrust of my proposals is that existing practice in relation to serious violent or sexual offenders does not meet the case in terms of protecting the public, for the reasons that I have explained.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

Pursuing the point made by the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) a step further, can the Home Secretary name a single case upon which the Court of Appeal failed to act in an appropriate manner following a reference by the Attorney-General?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. and learned Gentleman misses the point. In every case where someone has committed two serious offences of that kind, he should not be released until there has been an assessment of risk. It will still be for the court to assess how long he should serve for retribution and deterrence. If the risk assessment is met satisfactorily at the end of that period, the person concerned will be released. If it is not, he will remain in custody. That is how it should be, for the greater protection of the public.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Uxbridge

Will my right hon. and learned Friend inform the House whether any of the 217 offenders who were released at the end of their determinate sentences committed further murder or rape offences?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

A number did. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office will provide the exact number when he winds up the debate.

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson , Wantage

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way again. I shall not trouble him again, but this is a convenient moment to make my point. His proposals will effectively abolish the distinction between a sentence for murder and a sentence for a second-time offence in the relevant categories. Is not there a risk that that will give an incentive to someone committing such an offence for the second time to commit murder?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not think that that would be the consequence. My hon. Friend is not entirely right; there will still be distinctions in procedures between the mandatory life sentence for any single act of murder and a life sentence for a second serious sexual or violent offence. Life imprisonment is already the maximum sentence for several offences. If my hon. Friend's argument was right—I have explained several times in detail why I do not believe it to be right—it would apply to all offences with statutory provision for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The argument has been rejected by the House in a number of contexts on several occasions.

Under clauses 2 and 3, the courts will be required to impose minimum prison sentences on anyone aged 18 or above who is convicted for a third time of trafficking in class A drugs or of domestic burglary. A sample of domestic burglars convicted in the Crown court in 1993 and 1994 showed that the average prison sentence for a first-time offender was 16.2 months. After three or more convictions, it was 18.9 months. After seven or more convictions, it was barely higher, at 19.4 months. Some 28 per cent. of offenders with seven or more convictions were not sent to prison. On hard drugs, a recent sample showed that the average sentence for a third conviction for trafficking in class A drugs was just over four years.

We need to change the terms of trade against such career criminals. The Bill provides for a minimum prison sentence of seven years for drug trafficking and of three years for burglary. The courts will have discretion to allow a small discount of up to 20 per cent. off the mandatory minimum sentences for offenders who are ready to admit their guilt and offer a timely guilty plea. The court will be able to set the mandatory sentences aside only if it considers that there are exceptional circumstances. The judge must then explain those exceptional circumstances in open court. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will be able to refer cases to the Court of Appeal if he thinks it appropriate.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson , Delyn

The Home Secretary has acknowledged that his proposals will result in a large increase in the prison population, with an associated increase in costs. Why does he think that that is a better way to deter crime than putting the money into crime prevention?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not believe that those are alternatives. We take crime prevention extremely seriously. The police take it seriously and spend a good deal of the £6 billion a year that we provide on crime prevention. In addition, £240 million is spent on crime prevention from other Government budgets. I accept that it is important to take crime prevention seriously, but serious, persistent and dangerous offenders need to be in custody so that the public can be adequately protected from their activities. That is the reasoning behind the measures in the Bill.

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping), but then I must make some progress.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping , Sherwood

The Home Secretary has just reminded the House that clauses 1, 2 and 3 refer to "exceptional circumstances". Will he give the House some examples of what he has in mind?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

There could be a number of such exceptional circumstances. I shall give the hon. Gentleman one example.

Sometimes, someone appearing before a court gives the police exceptional help, which enables them to bring a number of other serious criminals to justice. That is an important factor, which I would regard as an exceptional circumstance justifying the passing of a sentence shorter than the minimum mandatory length. The proposals have been widely welcomed by the public and the police; they are important measures. My aim is to bring them into force at the earliest opportunity.

Part II reforms the arrangements for the early release of prisoners. Our aim is greater honesty and transparency in sentencing. The term of imprisonment served by the offender should closely match the sentence passed by the court. At present it does not.

The present arrangements were introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and they were a move in the right direction. They increased the time that the prisoner must serve from a third to a half, but that does not go far enough. The public are rightly outraged when they learn that a burglar sentenced to one year is out of prison in six months or that a rapist sentenced to eight years is out in four. The new early-release arrangements will ensure that the term of imprisonment imposed by the court matches much more closely the term actually served. They will also ensure that any release before the end of the sentence will have to be earned, not awarded automatically.

Photo of Mr Gary Waller Mr Gary Waller , Keighley

As I understand the position, sentences may be rather shorter than they have been in the past because we shall have honest sentencing. However, is it not a fact that until now, the Parole Board has been able to consider, when assessing a prisoner's suitability for release, factors such as his medical and psychiatric condition, the possible risk to victims or potential victims, his insight into his offending behaviour and its effect on victims, and the realism of his resettlement plans? None of those factors, but only the narrow factor of his behaviour inside prison, will be able to be considered in future. Some of the most violent and most dangerous prisoners behave very well in prison, but could be a danger to the public. In reality, will not the proposals increase rather than lessen the danger to the public?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend leaves out of account the new supervision arrangements in the Bill. At the moment, paradoxically, for the reasons given by my hon. Friend, those who are the greatest risk to the public get the least supervision when they leave prison. The proposals will significantly increase the amount of supervision that the most dangerous prisoners receive. The present parole and automatic early release arrangements—

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I assume that the Home Secretary is referring to those who are given indeterminate sentences. Will he confirm that for the majority of prisoners, who are not affected by the provisions for repeat burglary or drug dealing, under his proposals there will be less time under supervision than under the current arrangements?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

One cannot make an overall comparison because the time under supervision will vary, to some extent, from case to case. However, my point to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) is valid, in that because of the very factors referred to by my hon. Friend, the most dangerous offenders—those who pose the greatest risk to the public—get the shortest period of supervision when they leave prison under the present arrangements. We shall provide alternative supervision arrangements, as I am about to explain, which will, in most cases, increase the amount of supervision that serious and dangerous criminals receive.

Under the Bill, on release from prison, all prisoners sentenced to 12 months or more, including those who serve their full term, will be subject to a period of post-release supervision equivalent to 15 per cent. of their sentence, and not fewer than three months. The more serious the offence and the longer the prison sentence, the longer the period of supervision. If the offender breaches the conditions of supervision or reoffends, he or she will be liable to a further term of imprisonment.

In the case of sex offenders, the period of post-release supervision will be extended unless the court considers that the exceptional circumstances of the case do not warrant it. Under the Bill, anyone released from prison after serving a sentence for a sexual offence, whatever the length of that sentence, will be subject to a supervision period of 12 months or 50 per cent. of the sentence, whichever is the greater, unless there are exceptional circumstances. The courts may direct a longer period of supervision, up to a maximum of 10 years, if they consider that that is necessary to prevent further offending by the offender and to secure his or her rehabilitation.

Conditions of supervision may include a requirement not to communicate with the victim, not to reside at a particular address, not to contact a named individual and not to work with children. Offenders who breach their conditions of supervision will be liable to a further period of imprisonment up to the outstanding period of supervision.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson , Swansea East

How does the Home Secretary reconcile what he has just said—that in most cases the Bill will provide more rather than less supervision—with his claim that it will be cost neutral for the probation service?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We have to take into account the overall provision. The Bill would place some extra burdens on the probation service, but it would remove others. I said, not that the Bill would provide longer supervision, but that there would be longer periods of supervision for the most dangerous offenders who pose the greatest risk to the public. The most important factor is the protection of the public.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

Will the Home Secretary confirm in a straightforward answer that, if the Bill becomes law, most prisoners serving discretionary sentences—not sex offenders—such as those serving a three-year sentence imposed now, will serve less time in prison if they behave themselves there as a result of the combined effects of clauses 9 and 21, and that they will receive less supervision than before? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman has read his Bill and taken legal advice on its meaning, he can reach no other conclusion.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

That does not necessarily follow, but no doubt it will be examined carefully in Committee when we consider the precise terms of clause 21.

The risk presented by sex offenders varies considerably, but it is clear that, in many cases, sex offending escalates to more serious offences and, once a pattern of sex offending is established, the risk of reoffending persists over many years. The public deserve protection from such offenders. Long periods of post-release supervision can help to provide that protection, as well as the opportunity for offenders to deal with their offending behaviour through participation in treatment programmes.

The proposal for extended periods of supervision of sex offenders was set out in the consultation paper "Sentencing and Supervision of Sex Offenders", which I published earlier this year. It received overwhelming support, and the Bill will give effect to it.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Let me return to the point that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). If it is true that the Bill will result in less supervision, surely the public should know that. Why did the Home Secretary say that it was a matter for hon. Members to debate in Committee? We should know now whether that is the case. Will he tell us what the position is? Will the Bill lead to a reduction in sentences and, in certain cases, a reduction of supervision? Will the Home Secretary answer yes or no?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thought that I had made the position perfectly clear. The Bill will lead to a reduction of supervision in some cases, particularly for offenders who pose least risk to the public. The paradox of the present arrangement is that those who pose least risk to the public get parole and have a longer period of supervision than they will have under the Bill. However, those prisoners, by definition, pose least risk to the public. Those who pose most risk to the public will have a longer period of supervision and that is exactly as it should be.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

May we clarify matters and confirm that among those who pose least risk to the public, according to the Home Secretary, are robbers, burglars and first-time rapists?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We are discussing only those who gain parole at the earliest possible opportunity under the present arrangements. The criteria for granting parole were accurately described by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley in his earlier intervention. Those who get parole at the earliest possible opportunity are those who, by definition, pose the least risk to the public. Under the Bill, they would get less supervision. The other side of the coin is that those who are most dangerous to the public and who pose the greatest risk would get longer periods of supervision under the Bill. That is what any rational person—and Opposition Members do not appear to come into that category—would expect.

Photo of Mr Donald Thompson Mr Donald Thompson , Calder Valley

Are we not seeing what we have been seeing for the past 15 years? Despite Opposition Members' protestations that they want to be tougher and do more against criminals, once the legislation is in front of them, we get silly, clever, half-baked lawyers' points.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If one asked any member of the public who ought to get the longer period of supervision on release from prison, those who are the greatest risk to the public or those who are the least risk, one would get the answer that those who are the greatest risk to the public ought to have the longer period of supervision. That is not what happens now, but it will as a result of the Bill.

Part II includes important new provisions concerning the crediting of remand time against sentence. Those provisions are intended to simplify the law—which again originates from the Criminal Justice Act 1967—which has proved very difficult for the courts to interpret and the Prison Service to apply.

In August, the divisional court upheld my view that periods spent on remand by those serving consecutive sentences should count once, and once only, towards the prisoner's sentence. It has also considered the issue of remand time in relation to concurrent sentences on four separate occasions over the past 15 years. The court has upheld the practice of the Prison Service on each occasion, but the complexities of the 1967 Act continue to give rise to difficulties, and another case is currently before the court.

Clause 7 is intended to put matters beyond doubt. It gives effect to proposals that were set out in the White Paper "Protecting the Public", which was published in March. Under clause 7, the court will specify when passing sentence exactly how much remand time should count towards the sentence. For the first time, it will also be open to the court to decide not to count remand time in full—for example, to take account of time wasting by the defendant. The Bill includes power for rules to be made setting out the principles to be followed by the court in relation to consecutive or concurrent terms of imprisonment. Those provisions are designed to simplify that difficult and complex area of law.

Part II also makes provision in relation to the release of certain life sentence prisoners. It introduces new arrangements for the release of offenders serving a sentence of detention during Her Majesty's pleasure, which is the mandatory sentence for young people who are convicted of murder. The Bill provides for the Parole Board, rather than the holder of my office, to determine when those detained during Her Majesty's pleasure are safe to be released once the tariff has been served. The power to set the tariff in such cases remains with the Secretary of State. The provision does not affect the arrangements for adults convicted of murder.

The provisions in part III are designed in particular to increase the range of sentencing options that are open to the courts in respect of certain kinds of offender: fine defaulters, persistent petty offenders and mentally disordered offenders. For the first time, the courts will be able to impose a community service order or a curfew order, enforced by electronic monitoring, as a penalty for fine default. The number of people in prison for not paying a fine has fallen by around 60 per cent. in the past year, but more can be done. In our view, the courts should have available to them a range of options for enforcement of fines and punishment for default, and the Bill provides for that.

In future, the courts will have to consider the use of a community service order or a curfew order before imprisoning for fine default. The sanction of imprisonment will be retained for those who are neither prepared to pay their fine nor comply with a community penalty. The new powers will ensure that a custodial sentence is not imposed where other sanctions can be used. The powers will be introduced by way of pilot projects in the first instance, with a view to full implementation as soon as it is practicable to do so.

The Bill allows the courts to use community service orders and curfew orders for persistent petty offenders. Under present legislation, such offenders will usually be fined. The courts have few other options available to them. If, however, an offender already has outstanding fines, a further fine may serve little purpose. The courts need a wider range of powers to deal with such offenders. The Bill provides for that.

The Bill also provides for the abolition of the requirement for an offender to consent to the imposition of those community sentences that require it. That will end the current impression that offenders can dictate to the courts what kind of punishment they receive, simply by withholding the necessary consent to certain community sentences.

Part III of the Bill also makes new provisions in respect of mentally disordered offenders. In particular, it gives the courts the power when passing a prison sentence to attach a direction of immediate admission to hospital. Existing arrangements for the sentencing of disordered offenders require the courts to choose between punishment and treatment. The court may impose a hospital order instead of a prison sentence. In the great majority of cases, that is appropriate, but it means that the offender will be discharged as soon as his or her treatment is completed, regardless of how serious the offence was.

If a prison sentence is imposed instead, the court has no guarantee that the offender will receive treatment. The new hospital direction provides that guarantee. It will help the courts to deal more effectively with some of the most difficult cases that come before them. Those may be cases in which the court cannot be sure that treating the disorder will reduce the danger of reoffending, either because the disorder may prove to be untreatable or because the offending may not have been caused by the disorder. Such cases are small in number, but they are among the most difficult before the courts. Initially, the hospital direction will be made available for offenders suffering from psychopathic disorders, but our aim is to make it available, by way of an order-making power in the Bill, for all mentally disordered offenders.

Finally, the Bill provides for new arrangements for the transfer of prisoners and for supervision within the United Kingdom and the islands and for the repatriation of prisoners to the UK. Such arrangements already exist, but the provisions in the Bill provide for a more effective and clearer system.

Those are the main provisions of the Bill before the House today, but I should inform hon. Members that I propose to table amendments in Committee to give effect to three other important proposals which are, like those I have already described, intended to strengthen and improve the criminal justice system.

First, I propose to extend the range of penalties available to the courts, by allowing them to make wider use of disqualification from driving as a punishment for offending or fine default. At present, that penalty is limited to driving offences or serious offences that involve the use of a car. In future, the penalty will be available for any offence.

Secondly, I propose to make curfew orders, with electronic monitoring, available for juveniles below the age of 16. At present, the courts may only impose a requirement for young persons in that age group to stay indoors during the hours of darkness, and the courts may do so only as a requirement of a supervision order and without electronic monitoring. The new powers will allow the courts to impose a curfew at any time of day, backed by electronic monitoring. Those powers clearly have a role in keeping young offenders off the streets or away from particular places and out of trouble. I want the Bill to provide for that.

Thirdly, I propose to remove the restriction on the naming of juvenile offenders. Those who offend, whatever their age, should be made to face up to the consequences of their behaviour. Local communities have a right to know who the offenders are. In future there will be no automatic restriction on the naming of any juvenile offender. The youth court, as well as the Crown court, will be able to decide whether the name of the young person should be made public.

The proposals in the Bill are clear and consistent. They are the proposals that I first set out in detail seven months ago. The president of the Police Superintendents Association said that it is in "the national interest" that the proposals become law as quickly as possible, yet the Opposition have steadfastly refused to support them. They started by trying to ridicule the proposals. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) called them a farce and the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said that they were daft.

So farcical and daft were the proposals that they produced a frenzy of subterranean activity from the Opposition. That culminated in the publication of Labour's alternative proposals, five months later, which gave us a clear idea of what a Labour crime Bill would look like. The truth is that it would not be worthy of the name. There would be no honesty in sentencing; automatic early release from prison would continue; there would be no stiff minimum sentences set down by Parliament for professional house burglars; and there would be no minimum sentences for dealers in hard drugs. The Opposition like to pretend that they support automatic life sentences for second-time serious offenders, but the truth is that there are fundamental differences between our proposals and theirs. Labour's proposals leave out repeat violent offenders altogether. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has said: Offences of a sexual nature should be distinguished from other violent offences". As far as Labour is concerned, the public do not need greater protection from repeat armed robbers and the like.

Let me give one example of why we need automatic life sentences for those convicted of a second sexual or violent offence. In 1978, in the central criminal court, a man was convicted of robbery using an imitation firearm. He had stolen £3,000 from two elderly ladies and was given an eight-year sentence, which was lowered to four years on appeal. Within a few weeks of his release in 1979, he committed another armed robbery. His accomplice murdered an elderly lady, while he pistol-whipped her husband. He received six years for manslaughter, armed robbery, wounding with intent and aggravated burglary. On his release in 1983, he committed a spate of armed robberies. Convicted on eight counts, he received a 12-year sentence. Given home leave at the end of his sentence, he failed to return to prison and committed a series of armed robberies. In 1992, at St. Albans Crown court, he received 14 years for his crimes.

Under our proposals, that man would have got life automatically after his second conviction. He could have been kept in prison, his dreadful crimes could have been prevented and the public could have been protected. Under Labour, there would be no such protection, no extra safeguards against violent criminals and no measures to deal with a man convicted of armed robbery, who, on his release from prison at the end of his sentence, went on to rape. That is the reality behind Labour's slogans on crime.

Opposition Members are fond of saying that Labour has become the party of law and order. However, they fail to understand that one becomes the party of law and order not simply by calling one's party that, but by supporting tough law and order measures. That means voting for those measures in the Lobby, in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading, both here and in another place. That is something that the Labour party—new or old—has consistently failed to do.

When he was shadow Home Secretary, the Leader of the Opposition dismissed my 27-point plan as a "gimmick", and refused to support the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. He voted against reforming the right to silence, claiming that Any reasonable person could see that that approach is open to potential injustice."—[Official Report, 11 January 1994; Vol. 235, c. 43.] Recent Home Office research has shown that the number of suspects refusing to answer police questions has almost halved since we reformed the right to silence. Under Labour, that change would be reversed and hardened criminals would be able once again to stay silent, secure in the knowledge that their silence would remain a secret.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Perhaps he will tell us when Labour changed its mind. When did he decide to abandon the policy of the Leader of the Opposition?

The provisions in the Bill, and those that I intend to add to it, are important and radical measures. They will improve the protection of the public, help to deter offenders, give the courts a wider range of powers to deal effectively with offenders who come before them and bring greater honesty and transparency to the sentencing process. They have been widely welcomed by the public and have the support of the police, and they deserve support from members of all parties in the House. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 4:08, 4 November 1996

As the whole country now knows, the Government's record on law and order is the worst of any Government since the war and is worse than that of any other major western country. Since 1979, recorded crime has doubled, and the number of people convicted or cautioned for those crimes has fallen. Under the Conservatives, there is much more crime and many more criminals getting away with it.

The Secretary of State often claims that his overriding concern is the safety of the public, so why do people today feel so unsafe? Why—as last Friday's poll in The Times showed—have law and order and crime and punishment now become the issues of greatest concern to the British public—more even than the state of the economy or the crisis in the health service? The reason for that record level of public anxiety about crime is that the British people have lost confidence in the Government's ability to fulfil the first duty of any Government: to protect the safety and security of their citizens.

A significant part of the Bill is concerned with crimes of a serious sexual or violent nature, with drug dealers and with the scourge of domestic burglary. Let us examine what has happened to those crimes and to the victims of those crimes over the past 17 years.

In each case, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of crimes committed, and an absolute fall in the number of people convicted of them. The number of rapes recorded has increased fourfold since 1980, yet the proportion resulting in a conviction has fallen so much that a rapist now has four times the chance of getting away with his crime that he had when Labour left office.

Crimes of violence have shot up. For every one street robbery—[Interruption.] I am glad that Conservative Members think that that is funny. I am telling the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) that the proportion of people convicted of rape has dropped from 37 per cent. of the number of recorded rapes in 1980 to 9 per cent. in 1994, and he thinks that it is funny.

For every street robbery that took place when Labour was in office, five take place today. The Home Secretary likes to boast about how everything has improved in the past few years, but he should remember that, in the five short years between 1989 and 1994, the number of violent crimes recorded went up by a quarter, but the number of convictions for those crimes fell by a third.

The police, Customs and Excise and the other agencies involved continue to do an excellent job in drug seizures and the arrest of drug traffickers, but the prospects must appear extremely depressing to them. The number of those known to be addicted to hard drugs has more than trebled since 1987.

Even if no violence is perpetrated during the course of a burglary, victims and their families feel violated; the anxiety and strain can last for years. Two or three decades ago, burglary was something that generally happened to someone else; today, it is a commonplace experience, and the poorest people are most likely to be the victims. The number of recorded burglaries has increased by 121 per cent., while those who commit the crime have three times the chance of getting away with it under the Tories than they did under Labour.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about the proportion of criminals escaping conviction, why do he and his party consistently vote against every measure, such as the reform of the right to silence, that we introduce to increase the proportion of criminals being convicted?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I shall come in a moment to the Home Secretary's record of voting for measures that he is now opposed to, but what he says is in any case quite untrue—one can never take his statements seriously.

Since 1979, there have been 33 criminal justice measures—we are now dealing with the 34th—and we supported 23; we voted on reasoned amendments on Second Reading for four; and we opposed five. On the right to silence, the Home Secretary knows that the argument was not about whether the so-called right to silence was applied, but about how that was to be done, and that we resolutely supported the royal commission's recommendations.

Behind the Government's appalling record, in which five robberies take place today for every one under Labour, there is a human story: the story of people who, in the past 17 years, have had to change the way they live in order to cope with the epidemic of crime and disorder. Primary age children are no longer left out of sight, and rarely go to school by themselves. The elderly refuse to answer their door after 7 or so in the evening. Nearly half our women are frightened even to walk down the street in their neighbourhood at night.

There can be no better evidence of the failure of the Government's policies on crime than the need for yet another criminal justice Bill. If the Conservative party had met its promise on law and order, Bills such as this would not be necessary. After all, this is the 34th criminal justice Bill since 1979, each one made with the promise that it was a lasting solution to the problem of lawlessness and would turn the tide on crime. Each Bill came with a boast by its sponsoring Minister that he had found the final answer to crime.

As I pointed out in the debate on the Loyal Address last Monday, no coherent strategy has underpinned any of those Bills. No sooner is one put into effect than we have another to overturn it. Six months ago, the Home Secretary told readers of The Sun that the present sentencing system was a "farce" and a "mockery". He was right about that, but he foolishly failed to acknowledge that he is responsible for the farce and mockery. He agreed it in Cabinet and voted for it in the House; it is only five years old.

All the propositions to which the Home Secretary now takes such exception are in the 1991 Act: the current system of parole; almost total judicial discretion; no fixed minimum sentences. They are all contained in the 1991 Act, for which the Secretary of State voted. As a leading Member of the Cabinet, then as now, he voted for that Act on the basis that it would last.

The then Home Office Minister, the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), did not understate the Government's view of the historic importance of the 1991 measure. He said; The Bill marks a watershed in the future of the criminal justice system by this radical and reforming government of the past 11 years and it will see us through into the 1990s and the next century". The next century? A significant part of the 1991 Act did not even last two years. Now a large part of what was left of the 1991 Act is to be ditched by the Home Secretary, with no apology and no shame. Is it any wonder that the public no longer trust a Government whose senior members can no longer trust themselves to make good judgments and stick to them?

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

The hon. Gentleman said how concerned he is—and I am sure he is, as we all are—about women who feel unsafe in their neighbourhoods and about elderly people who are frightened of opening their doors at night. They are fearful because of a lot of mindless thugs. hooligans, bullies and vandals who set upon them. There is no deterrent for such behaviour at present. I will be seeking to table an amendment to discuss and perhaps bring forward corporal punishment. Why does he oppose that?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Because it will not work. Everyone with any sense, including the Secretary of State, knows it cannot possibly work. The hon. Gentleman should examine the history of flogging and birching. It was abandoned in 1948 by all-party agreement because it palpably did not work. If he wants to do something about the epidemic of youth crime, he should support our proposals for a root-and-branch reform of the youth justice system.

I was reminding the House of what the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon said about the importance of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. However, we should not have been surprised by the inadequacy of the Home Secretary's political skills and administrative judgment. As Minister for Local Government, he said that the Bill that introduced the poll tax was as important in its own way as the great Reform Bills of the nineteenth century".[Laughter.]I am glad that he can see the joke. Why trust him now when he came out with that rubbish then?

I was indebted to the 1991 edition of the Conservative campaign guide for the ringing words of the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon about the historic importance of the 1991 Act in taking us through into the next century. Other gems are to be found in that great document.

The right hon.Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) will remember page 498, as he authorised its publication. In 1991, Labour was concerned, as it still is, about the lack of consistency and progression in sentencing. We proposed machinery to deal with that, but we were voted down by the Government. Why? According to the guide, because Labour's proposals would have denied the courts the discretion they need if they are to deal adequately with the wide variety of criminal acts that come before them". The guide stated that that illustrates Labour's traditional mistrust of the judiciary and provides Labour with an institution to shackle them to a rigid penal system". Let me examine in detail the "farce and mockery" of the present sentencing system and the Secretary of State's proposals for putting right the gross errors of the present system, for which he was responsible.

First is consistency. We are fortunate that our lay magistrates and professional judges are people of the highest integrity and dedication. They seek to apply the classical principles of sentencing set out by Lord Justice Lawton in the leading authority of Regina v. Sargeant. He said that those principles were of retribution, deterrence, prevention and rehabilitation and that, while the courts do not have to reflect public opinion, on the other hand, courts must not disregard it". Despite that, the public believe that too often courts impose sentences that fail to match the gravity of the crimes committed.

There is an explanation for the widening gap between the reality of sentencing and the public perception of it; it is to be found in the huge variations in sentencing practice between different courts for similar offences. That lack of consistency is reinforced by the absence of any clear system to ensure consistency between courts and progression as offenders reoffend, or to ensure that magistrates and judges are kept properly informed of the outcome of the sentences they impose.

Magistrates courts deal with 19 out of 20 criminal cases, and about one in 13 of those convicted of an indictable offence in such a court receive immediate prison sentences, but the chance of such a sentence being issued in any one court varies by a factor of ten. At one end is Staffordshire Moorlands court, where one in six defendants before the court for an indictable offence end up with a prison sentence—at the other is Maidenhead in Berkshire, where the chance is not one in six but one in 66.

When such figures were put to the Secretary of State during an interview in "Constabulary" magazine, he justified such variations by defending the judicial discretion of local magistrates, saying Our justice is local justice and there will be variation from place to place". I want justice to be locally tailored, which is one reason why we are convinced of the need to have locally accountable Crown prosecutors in place of the present, monolithic nationalised system; but those huge variations in local sentencing practice are based not on any explicit local sentencing policies but on the chance of who sits on the bench, and on local habit.

Although the variation in sentencing practice in otherwise similar Crown courts is narrower than that for magistrates courts, it is none the less marked. Among level 3 courts, for example, which deal with bulk crimes like burglary, a defendant at Hereford Crown court has almost twice as much chance of receiving an immediate prison sentence as a defendant at Woolwich Crown court.

One of the main criticisms made of the 1991 legislation by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was that it failed to deal with unacceptable discrepancies in sentencing.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

Will the hon. Gentleman accept from me, as the honorary recorder of the city of Hereford, that the justice meted out there is of the highest quality?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I am glad to know that. Defying the Liberals' reputation for softness on crime—I hope that this comes as no embarrassment to the hon. and learned Gentleman—he is party to a court that has the toughest record of any level 3 Crown court in the country. Sixty seven per cent. of the defendants receive an immediate custodial sentence, compared with 38 per cent. of those who appear at Woolwich Crown court. Is the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) a recorder in Woolwich?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

He may well go to Woolwich too, as I shall explain—the reputation of the hon. and learned Gentleman goes before him.

One of the main criticisms of the 1991 Bill levelled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook was that it failed to deal with "unacceptable discrepancies" in sentencing. Our proposal for machinery to achieve consistency was rejected out of hand by the Government on the now laughable grounds that it would produce the dead hand of conformity"—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 7 February 1991; c. 721.] and end up like the experience in the United States."—[Official Report, 20 November 1990; Vol. 181, c. 232.] The Government have failed, however, to acknowledge the scale of the problem of inconsistency in sentencing, which has done so much to damage public confidence in the sentencing process.

I do not believe that the Court of Appeal is beyond criticism, either. It could and should have been far more pro-active in issuing detailed sentencing guidance, as the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), when he was Home Secretary, expected it to do in his White Paper. The court has done so for some offences, notably rape, but not for many others. Professor Andrew Ashworth of King's College London has commented that most of the Court of Appeal's decisions on domestic burglary are a veritable wasteland in terms of guidance. The lack of consistency between courts is also compounded by a lack of progression or severity in sentencing as persistent offenders come before the courts again and again. Indeed, nowhere has there been a greater switchback in policy than here. The 1991 Act actually prohibited courts from taking account of previous convictions. The then Home Secretary, David Waddington, now Lord Waddington, justified that prohibition on these bizarre grounds: If an offender has already been punished for a previous offence it seems unfair and unjust to punish him twice over by increasing the penalty for a subsequent offence".—[Official Report, 20 November 1990; Vol. 181, c. 141.] In February this year, the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), gave me parliamentary answers to questions relating to custodial sentences which I found astonishing—so much so that I had the statisticians of the House of Commons Library check them for special factors, although they could find none.

The figures showed that, for domestic burglars given custodial sentences, the term of imprisonment stayed the same at 15 months whether for a first, second or third conviction; whereas for class A drug dealers, the average sentence length for those sentenced to imprisonment on a third conviction was, at 30 months, two months less than for those sentenced on a first conviction.

Remarkably, the Bill does almost nothing to address the problems of consistency, and will impact on progression only on a third conviction of domestic burglars and drugs dealers. In practice, the proposals will have little if any impact on consistency between courts in respect of those subject to automatic life sentences, because the minimum period for retribution and deterrence—the tariff—will continue to be set by the trial judge.

The need for consistency and progression applies to all offences and at every point in the offender's criminal career. Our answer to those problems is that the Court of Appeal should be given a clear statutory duty to lay down detailed sentencing guidelines for all the main categories of offence, and to prescribe those without having to await the chance of a specific appeal.

The Secretary of State's traditional reaction to any proposal that is not his own is to dismiss it—even if, later, he has to adopt it. Thus has he scoffed and sneered at our proposals for sentencing guidelines. In doing so, he is scoffing and sneering not only at us, but at his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. In the White Paper entitled "Crime and Punishment", we find that the Scottish Secretary has signally failed to adopt the Home Secretary's proposals on repeat burglars, and has instead adopted our proposals. In paragraph 8.19 of that White Paper, sentencing guidelines are given pride of place. In our view, those are needed south of the border as well, and we shall pursue that matter in Committee.

As I have made clear repeatedly, there is no issue between us and the Government on the Bill's overall aims of achieving clarity in sentencing, securing better public safety and ensuring tough sentences for repeat burglars and drug dealers. Other proposals in the Bill also have our support, including alternatives to prison for fine defaulters, changes in arrangements for juveniles detained at Her Majesty's pleasure, and calculations of remand time. We also want to see improvements in the provision for mentally ill offenders. For those reasons, we shall, as I made clear last week, ensure that the Bill gets its Second Reading. We shall aim to improve it in Committee.

There is an issue between us, however, over the methods which the Secretary of State has chosen to adopt. First, let us consider so-called honesty in sentencing. Lord Taylor, when he was Lord Chief Justice, referred to the current sentencing system as a "charade". Last week, I said that the system amounted to a "benign deception" of the public.

It is the victims or their relatives who suffer most. An offender who is given a sentence of four years will typically serve only two years. With time spent on remand, he may be out after a year. Our answer to this is simple: tell the truth about each sentence. A four-year sentence would properly be called a two-to-four-year sentence. In addition, in every case, the trial judge should state the earliest release date, to take account of time spent on remand. That calculation of the earliest release date will be made much easier by the sensible clarification of the law in clause 7. But, sadly, as we heard during the speech of the Secretary of State, his approach is far from simple.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

He has not read the Bill.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

That is absolutely true, and as he tread water while sinking fast it became patently obvious that he had not read key sections of the Bill.

The White Paper published by the Secretary of State stated that the sentence passed by the court should mean what it says". To achieve that, however, the right hon. and learned Gentleman proposes to throw out the baby out with the bathwater, and then turn the bath upside down.

Parole for prisoners serving fixed terms will be abolished. Good behaviour will earn six days a month off, up to 20 per cent. of the sentence, while those sentenced to 12 months or more will be supervised by the probation service for a period equivalent to 15 per cent. of their original sentence. That is hardly simple.

I have yet to hear any convincing answer from the Secretary of State to the damning criticism of the method he proposes from his own former Minister with responsibility for prisons, the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd). He said last week that those proposals will not achieve greater honesty in sentencing, and ending parole will leave the public less well protected".—[Official Report, 28 October 1996; Vol. 284, c. 365.] Let us take one example of a prisoner sentenced to three years. Assuming good behaviour, under the current system he would be released after 18 months; supervised for a further nine months; and at risk of serving the remaining nine months of his sentence if he then reoffended. The Secretary of State is emphatic, and so are the terms of clause 21, that none of the changes should affect the actual length of time that someone serves in prison. Under his arrangement, however, someone currently sentenced to three years, who would get out after 18 months with good behaviour, would have to be sentenced to 22½. months in order to earn his 20 per cent. discount, which meant he also got out after 18 months. My hon. Friends can see that the system is extremely simple, as the Secretary of State has said.

Under the Secretary of State's proposal, the prisoner will only be under supervision, and at risk of return to prison, for a further three and a half months. Under the current system, that prisoner, once he had got out after 18 months, would be subject to supervision for nine months and would be at risk of going back into prison for a further nine months. Under the Secretary of State's proposed system, a prisoner would come out after 18 months and be subject only for a further three and a half months to supervision and remain at risk of being returned to prison. Where is the sense in that?

As the Secretary of State trod water and tried to read the Bill as he spoke on it, he tried to argue that reduction in supervision would affect only those who pose the least danger to the public. I note that the right hon. and learned Gentleman nods his head, so at last we have a clear admission about who it is he believes do not pose a danger to the public.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Yes—the people who are committing knife crimes on the underground, about which the Evening Standard has written today. That list will also include robbers and domestic burglars. According to the Secretary of State, all those people pose the least danger to the public. [Interruption.] That is what he has said, and those are the people who will be affected by the provisions. Those people pose a danger to the public, and they deserve the supervision provided by the current system.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman is being preposterous. First, all those in the categories that he has identified would, if they are repeat offenders, be covered by the minimum mandatory sentence which we propose and which he opposes.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, all of them if they are repeat offenders.

As for supervision, I repeat what I said earlier: anyone with a grain of common sense would want to secure that those who pose the greatest risk to the public, and who do not get parole under the present system, would be subject to the maximum supervision, while those who pose the least risk to the public should be subject to less supervision. That is exactly what the Bill provides.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I notice that, through all that bluster, although the Secretary of State described my comments as preposterous, he did not describe them as wrong, because they are right.

The Secretary of State knows that the system that he is about to establish will produce circumstances that put the public at greater risk from burglars and robbers. It is no good his talking about the arrangements for third-time repeat burglars and robbers: we know how those will impact on the situation. With regard to first-time or second-time burglars and robbers, his proposals for supervision and for arrangements for putting those people at risk of imprisonment if they reoffend are much more lenient than the current arrangements.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that what the Home Secretary has just said—to the effect that, under the Bill, repeat muggers would have to serve mandatory sentences—is just not right? The only robbers who are covered by repeat sentences under the Bill are those who, at some time during the commission of the offence, had in their possession a firearm or imitation firearm. 'That does not deal with knifepoint robberies or handbag snatching from old ladies. Can the hon. Gentleman think why the Home Secretary has seen fit to tell the House a version of the Bill that is not in the Bill?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman has a high regard for my powers of perception, but the one thing that I cannot do, for which I apologise, is to explain to him why the Home Secretary says something that is patently untrue.

The Evening Standard today writes about the epidemic of knifepoint robberies on trains. Such offenders would have less supervision and an increased chance of reoffending without any risk of being returned to prison than under the current arrangements.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

If the people referred to on the front page of the Evening Standard today committed a serious wounding with their knife—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"]—they would clearly be covered by my proposals for an automatic life sentence for those who commit serious violent offences. They would not be covered by any Opposition proposal, because the Opposition have no such proposal. One must consider the detail of the offences that people in those categories have committed.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The Secretary of State is right about one thing: we must certainly consider the detail. I would advise him to study the detail a little more before he stands up and makes a fool of himself again.

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson , Wantage

Before the debate turns into a Dutch auction, may I say that I find it extraordinary that there are more people serving life imprisonment in Britain than in the rest of the European Union? If the hon. Gentleman were Home Secretary, would that number rise or fall?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman. I shall do my best to give a serious answer to a serious question: there is no way that a Secretary of State could answer that question, because the number of people convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment is a function, first, of the police in catching and apprehending criminals, and, secondly of the courts. Where the courts pass such sentences, the House must ensure that adequate prison accommodation is available.

A remarkable feature of the proposals from the Secretary of State is that they are so complicated that, even if they are passed, they cannot come into force for three years, whereas under our proposals, honesty in sentencing could be achieved as soon as the Bill becomes law, without the safety of the public being compromised.

As I also made clear last week, the public must be protected from people such as repeat rapists. It is unsafe to set a release date for such people at the time they are sentenced. Instead, it is entirely correct that a judgment about their release date should be made by the Parole Board after the tariff has been served, and then only when the board judges that release is likely to be safe. This proposal has our positive support, for those convicted of rape or of serious sexual offences, or cases involving homicide attempts or solicitation.

I am concerned that the list of offences in clause 2(5) may be too broad—in particular, with the inclusion of section 18 wounding. The law relating to section 18 is wholly unsatisfactory, as the Law Commission has repeatedly pointed out; and the range of conduct covered by this section is extremely wide.

The Secretary of State got terribly excited about this reservation of mine last week, as if the fact that I might have a genuine doubt about one of his propositions was proof at last that I was soft on crime. Before he chides me now for daring to have a doubt, I could equally well ask him why he chose to draw the line in his way—why he chose, for instance, not to include robbery with a knife in the list of "trigger" offences. The line must certainly be drawn somewhere, but I see no reason why we should not have a serious adult discussion about where to draw it.

Before the right hon. Member for Fareham leaves the Chamber, I should like to point out that, in last week's debate, he expressed support for a greater use of determinate sentences, but added that they were being called life sentences to sound fiercer—although the greater honesty that is much spoken of these days would demand another name. I agree that there would be nothing fixed about these sentences; nor, save in a tiny minority of cases, will the prisoner be in gaol for the whole of his natural life. Would it not therefore be more honest to tell the public the truth: that these are indeterminate, reviewable sentences, with a fixed minimum set by the trial judge, not Parliament, and a reviewable release date thereafter to be determined by the Parole Board?

Let me now deal with the proposals in respect of domestic burglars and drug dealers. In 1991, the hon. and learned Member for Burton, Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, gave the House the benefit of his considered view on automatic fixed minimum sentences: I do not like minimum sentences … Speeches calling for minimum sentences have always been resisted over the years. Governments have resisted the idea of going down this slippery slope because if one case is allowed as an exception it becomes difficult to refuse other cases".—[Official Report, 20 February 1991: Vol. 186, c. 311–12.] Now the Secretary of State and the Government are sliding down the slippery slope at breakneck speed. Last week, the Secretary of State told the House that it was completely untrue that his original sentencing proposals had been ditched. As ever, he protests too much. I have with me two documents—one, the Crime (Sentences) Bill; the other, the speech that the Secretary of State made to the Conservative party conference in October 1995.

In his 1995 speech, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's answer was simple: there would be stiff minimum sentences for burglars and drug dealers who offended again and again. There was not a word about exceptions; indeed, the word "exceptions" appeared nowhere in the speech. Even the background notes attached to the press copies of the speech were emphatic—offenders over 18 who had already been convicted of three such offences would face a stiff minimum sentence. There were no ifs or buts about it.

That was when the Secretary of State was at the top of the slippery slope. Then the Treasury, the judges and his more fair-minded colleagues started to push. The fact that completely fixed minimum sentences could lead to guilty criminals walking free from court started to dawn on him, so by April the Secretary of State had passed the sign on the slope marked "genuine, very special, occasional, quite unforeseeable circumstances".

Today, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is even further down the slope. All the qualifications have now gone. Under the Bill, the courts are to have wide discretion, related to the offender as well as to the offence, not to apply the fixed minimum if a court is of the opinion that there are exceptional circumstances in favour of not doing so. And there will be a 20 per cent. discount for a timely guilty plea. That is a world away from the Secretary of State's 1995 conference speech.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson , Swansea East

My hon. Friend will probably recall the 1990 White Paper which proceeded the 1991 Act, in which the Government said: The courts have shown great skill in the way they sentence exceptional cases". Would my hon. Friend like to speculate on what has happened between then and now to explain why the Government have lost faith in the courts?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The Government have panicked about their appalling record on law and order, and are desperately trying to regain public support. But their every move loses them more public support.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

As the hon. Gentleman is making entirely unfounded allegations about changes of position, may I ask him about his announcement a few moments ago that his indeterminate sentence would apply to offences of attempted murder? That is not to be found in any of his documents or previous statements, which have been confined to sexual offences. When did the hon. Gentleman decide to make this U-turn? Could he perhaps refer us to any of his earlier documents that included attempted murder?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I told the Secretary of State just now that he ought to apply himself to the detail before standing up again. I am afraid that he did not take my advice, and he is wrong again. I shall turn up the reference for him as soon as I sit down; I made exactly this point in the speech on the Loyal Address last month.

Listening to the breathless tones of the Secretary of State, one could be forgiven for thinking that all the measures in the Bill would start to operate as soon as they became law. But the Secretary of State did not bargain for other members of the Cabinet. If I may let my hon. Friends into a secret, the Home Secretary may not be popular with the public, but that is as nothing compared with the hostility that he now arouses among his Cabinet colleagues, who these days spend more time briefing against him than they do even against the Prime Minister. Most of all, he cannot convince his predecessor, now the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

So the proposal in the Bill designed for the biggest headline will not operate this year, next year or the year after. Indeed, no third-time persistent burglar could in practice receive a so-called fixed minimum sentence under the Bill until the dying days of the next Parliament, in the year 2001. No wonder, as the public learn the truth about this Secretary of State and his policies, that confidence in both of them is falling to record lows.

Although the Bill contains some improvements, it does not begin to measure up to the problems faced by the British public after 17 years of Conservative rule. There are no proposals to deal with the most glaring faults of the current system: the gap between crime and convictions, the desperately needed reform of the Crown Prosecution Service, the desperate need to put in place fundamental reforms of the youth justice system. The Secretary of State seems blind to the fact that almost all the 55,000 adult prisoners began their lives of crime as juveniles. Almost alone, he and the Minister of State defend the current system of youth justice, although, as our paper published in June shows, that so-called system is wasteful, ineffective and replete with delay.

There is nothing, moreover, in the legislative programme to harness local communities and their representatives to fight crime in partnership with the police, and there is no strategy to deal with the plague of disorder on our streets which so undermines people's quality of life. No wonder even those on the right hon. and learned Gentleman's side are deserting him. The right hon. and learned Member for Putney has accused him of losing the plot—of having been outflanked by Labour on law and order.

The Secretary of State has been abandoned by the public, by the professionals, by the victims—and now, even by the police. The Times of last Thursday carried the headline "Police jeer Minister as he defends Howard's law and order record". The article went on to say that the Minister of State was jeered and booed by police officers as he tried to defend the law and order record of the Home Secretary. "Tried but failed"—a fitting epitaph for a failing Secretary of State.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney 4:48, 4 November 1996

I am amazed, although I have listened to him before, that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) should think that that kind of speech will impress the House, his constituents or anyone else's. It was highly politicised. Our constituents do not think about crime, criminals or criminal justice in those terms, but he set those issues in a certain political context, from which lessons may be drawn.

The Bill, and measures contemplated on firearms, knives, stalking and perhaps other issues, are sometimes portrayed in the press as though they were stages in a desperate race for votes—the assumption being that the public believe that every potential weapon should be outlawed, that every offender should be sent to prison, that the only good sentence is a long sentence and that it is the job of a politician to come as close to that ideal as possible.

If that is the race set by the media and some sections of opinion, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will not and cannot enter such a race in such crude terms. In any such race with the Labour party, he would suffer under an inescapable handicap. What he proposes must be workable. He is the Home Secretary; he carries the responsibility. The hon. Member for Blackburn is irresponsible.

That was not always so on the Labour Benches. The Labour party used to contain a tradition of liberal thinking on penal matters. In my time, I occasionally found that tradition extremely irritating. Earlier, when the Attorney-General answered questions, we were reminded of the Labour party's record in resisting the Conservative Government when we proposed the prosecution's right of appeal against lenient sentences. I believed that the Labour party was wrong about that and several other measures in my time, but we recognised that as part of a consistent tradition.

All that has been thrown to the winds by the hon. Member for Blackburn. His stand is now entirely wayward and unpredictable. He tries to pretend to the public that he is the terror of the criminal classes. I am waiting for him to tell us before too long that, after much thought and careful research, and probably nowadays a little prayer, he has found the answer to prison overcrowding—to hang offenders outside the prison gate. Nothing that the hon. Gentleman did would surprise us now.

Actually, common sense—and, I believe, the latest opinion research—suggests that there is not much profit for any of us in treating those matters as a race for votes. It must be right and in the public interest for the House and the other place to consider the proposals for a major criminal justice Bill on their merits.

The operation of our criminal justice system is not in the hands of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary alone or of the Government. Under our British system, it is in the hands of a variety of people—chief constables, the Crown Prosecution Service, judges, magistrates, prison governors, probation officers and others. Under the British system, none of them is a creature of the Government. The House has given them all separate responsibilities and a degree of autonomy. Criminal justice measures will not work unless those people work them. That means that they must be listened to—I emphasise that—although their voice is not decisive. In the end, Parliament must decide.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, and any Home Secretary, has the right and duty to propose changes in the light of experience—experience of what reduces crime and what does not. It is nonsense to suppose that there is a final answer, and that an incoming Home Secretary, or any Home Secretary, will be for ever content with the criminal justice system. As long as there is crime, and as long as there is fear and anxiety about it, he must constantly seek ways to improve matters. What at one time appeared workable and adequate may no longer be so. What at one time appeared impracticable, not workable, may become so. It is wrong for the hon. Member for Blackburn to make purely partisan points as though, at any one time, anyone could claim that the position is final.

However, Parliament needs to consider carefully what will work in the long term. Let us face it; at present, the House is not very good at legislating, for various reasons. The quality of legislation coming out of Whitehall is low. The number of Government amendments—I am not talking about the policy changes that my right hon. and learned Friend mentioned, but the number of corrective Government amendments—is high. The House is not very, good at improving legislation during its passage—anyone who has sat in a Standing Committee as a Minister or as a Back Bencher knows why.

The Bill should, therefore, be carefully examined, and my right hon. and learned Friend has undertaken that it will be. Two questions, both of which have been mentioned, arise for examination in Committee. I welcome the fact that there is phrasing about discretion given to the courts to set aside the new mandatory life and minimum sentences in genuinely exceptional cases. The hon. Member for Blackburn characteristically mocked that provision, but it is a sensible, commonsense provision. It does not negate the principles that my right hon. and learned Friend spoke about in the autumn of 1995. Nevertheless it is important to get the phrasing right and to ensure that it is, in the practitioners' view, an adequate way of remedying those proposals to prevent possible injustice. Proper phrasing of that provision, which occurs three times in the Bill, is important.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) mentioned honesty of sentencing. There is strong pressure on judges to make sentences longer, and my right hon. and learned Friend would acknowledge that, today, he somewhat added to that pressure in some of the things that he said, yet under the heading of honesty in sentencing, so that his proposals work without placing an even greater burden on prisons, he is requiring the nominal sentences pronounced in court to be shortened so that they are closer to the realities that he is producing under the heading of honesty in sentencing.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend really believe that judges have got that message? It is only fair that it should be repeated; otherwise, that expectation will be proved fallible because of the strong pressure on the judiciary to introduce longer sentences.

The Prison Service is the hidden public service. I have worked closely with several Prime Ministers, but I have never known a Prime Minister to visit a prison. I may be wrong, but I do not believe that they have. The Princess Royal visits prisons; I do not know of another member of her family who does.

Yet any criminal justice policy rests on prison for serious offenders and, understandably, my right hon. and learned Friend, for reasons that he explained, proposes to place greater weight on them. Not many right hon. or hon. Members have taken a consistent interest in prisons. I am afraid that I have not. My right hon. Friends the Members for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) and for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) do, and the prisons Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), certainly does. She and others have been stalwart in their work to keep prisons secure and, as I once said, to ensure that they are decent but austere.

I am delighted that slopping out has ended. I am delighted with the progress that my right hon. and learned Friend reported this afternoon in keeping fine defaulters out of prison; he proposes to take that further. All that and much else is good news.

Much has been written about the purpose of prison; I cannot go into all that now. One purpose is to punish—Conservative Members have no problem about that. Another is to deter, although that depends, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) said, on the likelihood of detection. The higher the likelihood of detection, the greater the deterrence of a prison sentence. I shall dwell for a second on the third purpose of prison—to incapacitate the criminal.

If we lock up more burglars for longer, they are not capable of burgling while behind bars, so our streets and homes are safer while they are there. That is a significant short-term gain. When their sentences expire, more burglars will enter prison as they are sentenced, under the new arrangements, for longer, but more burglars will leave prison. There will be an increased flow of released offenders on to our streets. Will those people go straight, or return to crime?

In the medium term—not in the short term—whether prison works depends not only on the length of the sentence, but on what happens in the prison. Exaggerated hopes about that have been associated with Lord Longford, but there is a realistic ambition at the centre of any criminal justice proposals. The Director General of the Prison Service, Mr. Tilt, has made an admirable start with his responsibilities. He recently made a fine speech to the Howard League for Penal Reform. He strongly rejected as simply untrue the implication that all prisoners are nasty, evil, vengeful, unrepentant". He went on to say that the purpose of the prison service should be to provide as much assistance as possible to get them settled back into the community, thereby providing additional protection for the public. I underline the phrase additional protection for the public". We are not talking about what might be called progressive waffle. The case for training, probation, work and education in prison is the case for the future protection of the public, and that case is directly relevant to the Bill.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson , Swansea East

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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

No, I am coming to a close, and I know that many hon. Members want to speak.

If that case is neglected because of financial difficulties due to the needs of new prisons, and if the finances available are swallowed up, it is possible that our prisons will turn out more accomplished criminals, and that the purpose of the Bill will, in the medium and long term, be frustrated.

My right hon. and learned Friend has often emphasised the importance of the victim—as others did before him, but he has played a great part in that—and that is entirely right. I have never understood why the victim is thought to have benefited when we make a mess of treating the offender. The victim of the past offence does not benefit, and offences may be committed in the future as a result.

Earlier this year, there were alarming reports of cuts in the prison education programme. It was said that 60 per cent. of prison governors were planning cuts from 0 per cent. to 83 per cent. I have talked to my right hon. and learned Friend. He kindly saw me about this matter: he was fully seized of the problem and had some reassuring comments. Some figures were issued in September. Could we have tonight, or as soon as possible hereafter, up-to-date figures on the quantity and quality of education, the strength of probation staff in prisons and the time that prisoners spend locked in their cells?

My right hon. and learned Friend, on behalf of the Government, is entitled to introduce the proposals, because this is not a subject on which anyone can at any time rest content that everything has been done. Parliament is obliged to scrutinise the proposals with care, but please let us not forget the prison system on which they put greater weight. If the foundation of that part of the system were to collapse or disintegrate, that would disgrace our society, and we could add to the dangers facing the public while we claim to reduce them. One of the main aims of policy should be to support my right hon. and learned Friend, the Home Office and the Prison Service in maintaining and advancing prison standards.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson , Swansea East 5:02, 4 November 1996

We have just heard a reasoned and reasonable speech from the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd). I could not help musing that it was the voice of a different age of Toryism. It was the voice of someone who listens to the Howard League for Penal Reform, and who accepts that the classic aims of sentencing include something called rehabilitation.

I see no mention of rehabilitation in the Bill, which is only about banging up the criminal. That may make the pulse of Tory conference delegates run faster, but it provides no long-termism, in the sense implied by the right hon. Member for Witney. Potential victims may benefit if prisoners are helped to adjust to life outside; for example by examining their relationships with their families. We will fail in many cases, but at least the effort should be made.

My first reflection is that sentencing policy and prisons should be discussed in a reasoned and civilised way. The right hon. Gentleman made a magnificent speech in that respect, but that is a world away from the proposals of the Home Secretary, whom he assayed to support. The lesson for the House is that we should not seek to discuss sentencing policy as we approach a general election, because it has the tang of conference rhetoric about it, and because of the absolutes that result from that. That is one of my fundamental objections to the Bill, and to the rhetoric being used in other areas, in which the right hon. Gentleman had a distinguished role and which we cannot discuss rationally at present.

The newspapers at the weekend referred to the Government's proposals and their consultative document on changes in industrial relations law. That area of policy should also be discussed coolly in terms of its likely effects, following consultation between the relevant social partners, as I believe they are now called, yet the Government are producing a consultation paper designed for the headlines as part of an election campaign. The consultation proposals have been repudiated by the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress. They were not designed to bring greater peace to industrial relations.

I fear that the consultation paper on changes in employment law, and these proposals following the White Paper published earlier this year, can be seen only in the context of a general election. That is perhaps the first lesson that we should learn. Please, no debates on sentencing during an election campaign.

There is much confusion about the changes that have occurred since the more civilised time when the right hon. Gentleman was in charge of home affairs and then of foreign affairs. We have had the 1990 White Paper and the Criminal Justice Act 1991. In the summer, I accused the Home Secretary of being the Pol Pot of British politics. He wants us to return to year zero. He wants us to ignore the fact that the Government have a record: they have massive form, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) showed so well in his speech.

Our constituents are worried about the doubling of crime since 1979. The Government want to forget about that. They want to forget the philosophy of the 1990 White Paper and the 1991 Act. We are having to restart. As my hon. Friend said, even though the Minister who introduced the 1990 White Paper talked about preparing the foundations for the next century, today the Home Secretary said that the Bill is the greatest "step change" in criminal sentencing policy this century, and that these are giant steps. I believe that this particular giant step will last an even shorter time than the giant step that was fanfared in the 1990 White Paper.

There is clearly a fundamental change. Rarely have a Home Secretary's proposals been so rubbished by a former Lord Chief Justice as they were on 23 May, in the other place, when Lord Taylor of Gosforth said: Turning to the White Paper, I venture to suggest that never in the history of our criminal law have such far-reaching proposals been put forward on the strength of such flimsy and dubious evidence. The shallow and untested figures in the White Paper do not describe fairly the problems the Government seek to address. Still less do they justify the radical solutions it proposes."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 May 1996; Vol. 572, c. 1025.] The Home Secretary tried to find a platform of research on which to base his proposals. He used three research studies that he claimed supported his deterrence arguments. One was a study by the professor of jurisprudence at Sheffield university in a book written in 1980. That pillar was totally demolished when the learned professor said: What he"— the Home Secretary— said was a complete misrepresentation of what I had written in my book. What he said I had actually supported I had not supported in any way in my book. For their second pillar of research—and the second leg of the tripod upon which the Home Secretary relied—the Government turned to Ros Burnett, head of the probation studies unit at the centre for criminological research, Oxford university. That author also disputed the Home Secretary's use of her findings. The research was founded on a very flimsy basis. Therefore, one must ask: what has gone wrong with the practice over time?

The Government certainly have form. They should seek to avoid the arrogance of power and look at the mistakes that have been revealed by experience and practice since the 1991 Act and—as the right hon. Member for Witney said—learn from them. The Government should not try to follow irrelevant foreign precedents and they should not seek to devalue the judges and imply a lack of trust in our judiciary.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons)

Did the hon. Gentleman notice that the Home Secretary referred three times to the views of senior police officers in his speech, but conspicuous by their absence were the views of the judiciary, the Law Society, the Bar Council and the probation service?

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson , Swansea East

It does no good wholly to reject the views of so many practitioners. They could explain the realities of sentencing policy better than those who make eloquent speeches to party conferences. I urge the Home Secretary to read and re-read—in a certain spirit of humility—the speech by the former Lord Chief Justice in the May debate in the other place. Even at this late stage, he must consider whether he might be mistaken.

My second reflection concerns the political background to the Bill. As I have said, it clearly results in short-termism regarding the human costs and ignores the rehabilitation aim. It also ignores the likely effect on the probation service and fails to examine the financial costs. For example, the Government assume in their costings that the deterrent effects of mandatory sentencing will reduce the requirement for prison places by 20 per cent. That assumption is repudiated by Lord Windlesham, a former chairman of the Parole Board, who said that the bulk of crimes, even at that grave level, are committed on the spur of the moment, on impulse or under the influence of drugs or alcohol".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 May 1996; Vol. 572, c. 1029.] The Government's estimates must be viewed with considerable caution.

My third reflection is that the proposals regarding mandatory minimum sentences are flawed. They are likely to cause considerable injustice in practice. I shall take as an example domestic burglaries and the proposal of a three-year minimum sentence, without early release or parole, for three domestic burglary offences. A further offence of domestic burglary would automatically incur at least another three-year sentence.

In my practice—I confess that it is a little while ago—I represented professional country house cat burglars and the village idiots, to whom things seem to happen, who break into people's houses. The notorious country house burglar may have at least a dozen offences which can be dealt with at one hearing and, for the purposes of the Bill, would represent one offence. The village idiot who puts his hand through an open window and steals a milk bottle also has one strike under the proposals. On a second occasion, he might blunder drunkenly into the private quarters of a public house and steal—

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Vale of Glamorgan

Would not that situation be covered by the provision that three strikes would apply at final sentencing unless there are exceptional circumstances?

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson , Swansea East

The hon. Gentleman, with his usual perspicacity, has anticipated my remarks about exceptional circumstances.

I shall continue my example of the village idiot to whom things happen. On a third occasion—perhaps five years later—he may again blunder into the private quarters of a public house and steal an ashtray. That is the third strike for the purposes of the Bill. After that period of juvenile turbulence, he may many, settle down and have children. Some 20 years later, he may enter a public house, get drunk and commit the same sort of offence, at which time—whatever his circumstances, whatever time has elapsed, whatever his family or job circumstances and whatever the effect on him and his life—he must be imprisoned for three years.

The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) asked about exceptional circumstances. The judiciary faces a problem in that regard. If it acts restrictively in terms of exceptional circumstances, the proposal will have no real effect, but if it interprets exceptional circumstances in a liberal manner, the hon. Gentleman—and no doubt members of the public—will accuse it of driving a coach and horses through the intention of the legislation. The judiciary cannot win either way.

The Government have not helped the situation. In the White Paper, they talk about "genuine exceptional circumstances", but in the explanatory and financial memorandum in respect of clause 16 they refer to "wholly exceptional circumstances". What is the difference between"exceptional circumstances","wholly exceptional circumstances", "genuine exceptional circumstances" and "occasional, quite unforeseeable circumstances"? The judiciary needs some clear guidance.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the use of the phrase "exceptional circumstances" in relation to suspended sentences has caused maximum confusion, inconsistent decisions by judges up and down the country and led judges to fail to pass suspended sentences when they would otherwise have done so?

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson , Swansea East

Yes, and that is the case with similar phrases in respect of breathalysers and other matters. Contrary to the Home Secretary's claims, there is no clarity and honesty in sentencing in these proposals.

The Home Secretary ignores one fundamental point: he is removing judicial discretion. That will not work, and it will create injustice in many cases. Contrary to his claims, it will reduce public confidence in the whole judicial system. The Government have provided no clear explanation for their volte face since the 1991 Act. The Bill is flimsily researched and relies on foreign examples that are neither good nor relevant.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn argued so persuasively, there are a number of other and more effective ways of dealing with an acknowledged problem. It is clear that the legislation will fail. If the House were to adjudicate in a dispute between the Home Secretary and his few supporters and the distinguished people working in the judicial field—including the former Lord Chief Justice—on whose judgment would we rely? I think that the question answers itself. If I were in an American courtroom drama, I would say, "I rest my case."

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley 5:19, 4 November 1996

The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) has a deep knowledge of the criminal mentality, drawn from his previous experience. I shall comment later on his interesting speech.

The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) commented on my time as the chairman of the Conservative party. I did not expect that to be referred to. He referred to the Conservative campaign guide, which I published—it is a good source book for British politics—and said that I was to be held responsible for everything in it.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

The poetry is better.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

Yes, the poetry is also good. If my successors as Conservative party chairman are to be held responsible for everything appearing in the Conservative campaign guide, it will be a target-rich area for the Opposition for some time.

The hon. Member for Blackburn chided my successors and predecessors as Home Secretary for bringing in so many changes to the criminal justice system—34 changes since 1979, I think he said. Such changes are natural. It is highly unlikely that any criminal justice system will be perfect at any given moment. It is not in tablets of stone and should be subject to constant review and modification, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd) said.

The Home Secretary has been criticised for many things, but he is certainly entitled to bring in such proposals as he thinks will be effective. The prime responsibility of the Home Secretary is the integrity and effectiveness of the criminal justice system. Introducing such a Bill is a reassertion of his responsibility to the House and to the public—a responsibility which the judges do not share.

The first three clauses of the Bill introduce mandatory sentences. It is argued that the proposals will deter criminals. All hon. Members agree that we must have effective measures to deter violent and dangerous criminals. We also all agree that convicted violent and dangerous criminals should spend a greater time in gaol.

Sentencing will play a part in the motivation of a habitual criminal, but the probability of detection and arrest are likely to be more compelling when he decides whether to commit a crime. The evidence from America, where mandatory sentences have been more widely used, is, at best, not proven. Some say that such sentences are ineffective and potentially dangerous. It was pointed out earlier that, if a rapist or someone engaged in a violent crime knows that he will get life because the sanction of a mandatory life sentence has been extended to a second rape or violent crime, he might decide to kill his victim, who is likely to be the main witness against him. What is there to lose? There is also some evidence—although I do not put so much credence on this argument—that some juries have been reluctant to bring in a guilty verdict when the mandatory life sentence is inevitable.

I understand the Government's desire to give a clear signal that such criminality should be stopped and that the public should be protected, but the provisions, particularly those relating to clause 1, must be carefully monitored to ensure that they do not have an unwanted and unpredicted perverse effect.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

What evidence is there from any area of criminal law that offenders will take tougher action if there is the suggestion that a tougher sentence will be imposed? When we increased the sentence for going equipped with a gun to commit crime, I spoke against the proposal on the basis that, as there was no difference between life imprisonment for killing and life imprisonment for carrying a gun and committing armed robbery, there would be a temptation to kill. I was wrong. There has been no known case of killing to avoid capture. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has pointed out time and again, there is a difference between the life sentence for someone who murders and a life sentence for possession of a gun. What is the evidence?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

I was the Home Secretary who introduced the measure to which my hon. and learned Friend refers. I remember him arguing against it. He cannot be sure that there will not be such a case in the future just because there has not yet been one. It could happen. I accept that there is a difference between a mandatory life sentence and a discretionary life sentence for a series of offences. I am about to deal with discretion, which is highly relevant to clauses 1 to 3. In view of his previous comments on various measures, I may take my hon. and learned Friend with me on this.

I was glad to see the provision in the first three clauses that mandatory sentences need not be imposed if there are "exceptional circumstances". The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) has said in the past that such a provision can be variable. However, I am glad that the Home Secretary has made that provision, because it allows judges to exercise some discretion, which is important. The clauses would be unacceptable without that discretion.

When, as Home Secretary, I administered the system of mandatory sentences for life prisoners, I found the matter to be a good deal more complicated than the simple assertion that life should mean life. I remember one case in which a criminal was convicted of a murder and received a mandatory life sentence. The judge wrote to me asking for the shortest sentence possible that lay within my discretion in setting the tariff because there was considerable provocation, including abuse over a number of years and that the prisoner should therefore not serve a long prison term. In effect, the judge was saying that a mandatory sentence was not appropriate. I suspect that there will be many such cases and judges will exercise the discretion allowed under clauses 1 to 3, as they should.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney said hat, as debate on the Bill proceeds in the House and in the other place, the definition of exceptional circumstances will become a little clearer. One example was given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary in reply to an intervention this afternoon.

The three clauses mark a considerable departure from past practice. Their effect should be monitored carefully. It would be appropriate for the Home Secretary to issue a report each year on sentencing under the three clauses. The cases can be itemised and the success or failure of the policy can be measured in relation to what happens to the offenders who have been so sentenced. The report should be a public document made available to the House.

On remission and the policy of honesty in sentencing, it is clear from the White Paper and the Bill that there will be a greater connection between the sentence announced by the judge and the time served by the prisoner. That is welcome. When I was Home Secretary I started to make some improvements on that. Under the system existing at that time, prisoners served only one third of their sentences. We increased that to 50 per cent.—more for certain cases.

Under the new proposals, less remission will be earned as a result of good conduct—the Home Secretary said that about 20 per cent. of the sentence could be earned in that way. The White Paper said: The Government does not expect these proposals to result in a general increase in the period of time offenders serve in prison: the courts will he expected to take into account, when passing sentence, the abolition of parole and the changes in early release arrangements. As has been made clear today, someone who was sentenced under the current arrangements to 10 years and served six years would, under the new arrangements, be sentenced to eight years and serve the same six years. Those figures are approximate.

It is not only implied, it is made clear in clause 21 that the Bill will result in judges being expected to give shorter sentences. I suppose that that is a sort of honesty in sentencing.

I warmly welcome clause 30, which will ensure that fine defaulters and people who dodge paying their television licence will not spend a week, 10 days or a fortnight in prison; this reform is long overdue. Four years ago, there was an attempt to deal with fine defaulters, but it was abandoned a little too early. Clause 30 is another way in which to deal with the problem and I strongly support the Home Secretary in what he seeks to do. Such people should not be in prison. My right hon. and learned Friend suggests community service and compulsory attendance at an attendance centre instead.

I warmly support that proposal, but it is a very expensive policy indeed. My right hon. and learned Friend cautiously says that there will be trial projects. He is wise to say that because to have effective community service, which is not an easy way out—people should not be able to say, "I'm out of it and I do not have to worry very much"—one needs to have the administration, organisation and follow-up to chase people whose whole job in life is evasion of one sort of another. It is art expensive system, but an effective one. It is clear, however, that as in the policy of honesty in sentencing, the Treasury's hand can be clearly detected in this part of the Bill.

I also warmly support the extension of supervision of sex offenders after they have been released. Again, that reform is overdue and is very welcome.

One of the problems of our prisons, to come to that subject as my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney did, is that they are now full; they are much fuller than they were when I and my right hon. Friend had responsibility for the Prison Service. It is interesting that in the period 1993–95, the proportion of those in gaol for violent crimes fell although there was a 20 per cent. increase in the prison population. That shows that many more people are going to prison for much less serious crimes and are staying there for a longer time.

That point leads me very much to support the points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney. The Prison Service is one of the most difficult services to run. It is even more difficult to run when it is virtually bursting at the seams, as it is at the moment. I believe that the Woolf report, produced during my time as Home Secretary, is the best report on the management and conduct of prisons since the war. I was able to secure from the Treasury considerable sums to implement the recommendations of that report, including the ending of slopping out. Prisons should be austere places, but there should be no purpose to humiliate prisoners by such practices.

The Woolf report also recommended positive regimes. If one goes to prisons—I probably visited more prisons than any of my predecessors—what strikes one is that most of the prisoners are totally inadequate people. They are failures in life and failures in crime. Our prisons are full not of professional criminals but of professional prisoners who go back again, again and again. What characterises prisoners more than anything else is that they are ignorant and badly educated, many of them are virtually illiterate and hardly any of them have any skills or training which they can apply when they are released.

When we are examining sentencing policy or debating prison policy in the House, it is important to remember that about 99.8 per cent. of prisoners today will one day be released. They will come back to our towns, our streets, our communities and our constituencies. We must try to ensure that when they do that, they will not immediately take up another life of crime and commit more criminal acts.

One way in which to help such people is to give them the skills to allow them to acquire even the humblest job. I very much hope that that side of prison management will not be neglected. I know that it will not be neglected totally, but I also know only too well that there are priorities in the Home Office budget. I believe that there should be greater emphasis on what we can do to try to make prisoners more effective when they are eventually released.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery 5:33, 4 November 1996

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House declines to give the Crime (Sentences) Bill a Second Reading, because it fails to establish a system of sentencing which adequately protects the public and ensures the rehabilitation of offenders and the alleviation of crime; fails to address the decline in conviction rates and will undermine the securing of convictions in certain cases; will require the building of 12 new prisons which will divert funding from essential law and order services including policing and crime prevention; undermines the doctrine of the separation of powers and fetters the proper role of judicial discretion; will damage the process of parole leading to a greater risk to the public; fails to seek long term reductions in youth crime as a primary aim of policy; and fails to seek restorative justice and the incorporation of victims into the justice system. We have just been treated to a wise and perceptive speech from the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker). I can assure him that that speech, his excellent recent anthology of poetry and his writings on his favourite author, G. K. Chesterton, are far more appealing and shed far more light on the world than his campaign guide which we are all prepared quietly to forget.

From the right hon. Members for Mole Valley and for Witney (Mr. Hurd), both of whom are distinguished former Home Secretaries—perhaps at one time they were senior prefects of the present Home Secretary—we heard interesting and subtle reports. To distil the assessment of the Home Secretary by the right hon. Member for Witney into one word, it might be "trying". For the right hon. Member for Mole Valley, in two words, it would probably be "very trying".

The right hon. Member for Witney was, of course, right to say—I share this view—that we should not reduce the criminal justice system, this important aspect of home affairs which concerns how we deal with crime, to electoral slogans. We should be having an intelligent debate not just in the House, but in the country. In that intelligent debate, there should be three aims. First, we should try to ensure that there is less crime. Secondly, when crime takes place, we should try to ensure that it is better detected. Thirdly, when it is detected, we should try to ensure, for the reasons given so eloquently by the right hon. Member for Mole Valley, that the punishment which is rightly given to those who commit crime is effective.

The effectiveness of punishment is not to be measured, save in the most serious cases, by its length. The effectiveness of punishment is to be measured by how that prisoner behaves—I speak of the 98.8 per cent. of prisoners who are released. I refer to the time when the prisoner ceases to be a prisoner and when he comes back to the community in which he lives. It is to be measured in the results of that imprisonment and in the extent to which the prisoner is able to lead the life of an honest and decent citizen.

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Vale of Glamorgan

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

I will give way in due course.

The Refreshment Department has, on the ground floor, one very popular item which is often bought by visitors whom we take around the House. It is smooth, it has striped bars on it—the bars, incidentally dissolve in the mouth—it rattles noisily in the tin—

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

As the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) says, it is House of Commons humbug. I must tell the Home Secretary that the Bill contains—this is the only thing that marks it out from other criminal justice proposals—more political humbug than any other proposal in the past 80 years.

We all recall that the Home Secretary has the advantage of being a son of the great south Wales town of Llanelli. As he wriggled when questions were put to him during his speech, I began to wonder why he did not have a great career as a centre three quarter, wriggling his way through the opposition for the great rugby team from that town.

When one examines the provisions of the Bill and considers what was presented as, or purported to be, the Home Secretary's explanation of them, it becomes clear that he does not understand what is in his own Bill. Let us start with the real effect of the sentencing provisions. Clause 21 is absolutely clear. It refers specifically to section 33 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. It says that, if the Bill is enacted, the judge will pass a sentence which will be, in the case of a sentence of under four years, the sentence that would have been passed before the Bill less one half.

When a three-year sentence would have been passed today, under the Bill, the judge will be obliged to pass a sentence of 18 months. We know not what the public perception will be when sentences are halved. Although I subscribe to honesty in sentencing, this is not the way to achieve it. I much prefer the 18 months to three years option suggested by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw).

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The position is even more complicated. Under the Bill, a trial judge who previously would have passed a sentence of three years to ensure that, with good behaviour, a prisoner would serve 18 months, would have to pass a sentence of twenty-two and a half months on the basis that, with good behaviour, the prisoner would earn a 20 per cent. discount and thus would serve 18 months. I bow to the hon. and learned Gentleman's superior knowledge in such matters, but that example illustrates the complexity of the issue.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

According to my reading of the Bill, which I have been advised is correct, the position is worse, because the judge will have to pass a sentence that allows for both the full discount currently available.

The sentence has already been reduced from three years to 18 months. Under clause 9, an 18-month sentence will have nine assessment periods of two months each of which will impose considerable bureaucracy on the prison service. If the prisoner keeps his nose clean and does the washing-up when he is told and scrubs the floors with a little more energy, he will earn 12 extra days off in each of those assessment periods. That means that he will get 108 extra days off, or about three and a half months.

Under the Bill—if it is passed—a person who today would be sentenced to three years and would serve 18 months will be sentenced to 18 months and will serve less than 15 months. That comes from a Home Secretary who says, "Prison works and so does honesty in sentencing. We are going to be tough with crime."

Perhaps the Home Secretary will tell us how he justifies making a substantial reduction in the sentences that he, as a Conservative Home Secretary, would recommend for offences of robbery, burglary, assault, theft and a whole panoply of other crimes, including indecent assault. The Home Secretary cannot get away with saying that it is a Committee point, although he tried to do so a little earlier. It is not: it is a point of principle that arises from the Bill and that he has never been brave enough to reveal to the British public, although he should have done so.

My hon. Friends and I can only vote against a Bill that does the disservice to the British public of reducing the severity with which ordinary offences are addressed—not by the courts, as the courts do not want those changes, but by the Government.

Not only is the Home Secretary reducing sentences, but he is reducing supervision and demolishing the parole system. Today I received a copy of the press release that was issued by the Parole Board on the publication of its most recent annual report. It was a matter of total surprise to me that the chairman of the Parole Board made sure that it arrived today. He has helpfully reminded me, as I remind the House, that during 1995–96 over 95 per cent. of parolees completed their licence periods without reoffending;since the parole scheme began in 1968, less than 10 per cent. of parolees have been reconvicted during the first six months after release, compared to 30 per cent. of nonparolees—i.e. at one-third the rate;since 1968 35 per cent. of parolees have been reconvicted two years after release, compared to 55–60 per cent. of nonparolees. Not only is the Home Secretary reducing sentences, but he is also doing away with an effective system of parole that protects the public—as those statistics show—and includes clear and well-understood provisions for the recall to prison of people who are in breach of their parole.

Where parole is not involved, clause 12 provides that offenders sentenced to 12 months or more would be supervised on release for a period representing 15 per cent. of a sentence, subject to a minimum of three months. That would greatly reduce periods of supervision on release. For example, under current arrangements an offender released from a three-year sentence after 18 months is then supervised for nine months followed by a further nine-month period at risk of serving the remainder of the sentence if he reoffends.

What does the Home Secretary propose to do to that useful period of extended supervision? Under the Bill, if the same offender was sentenced to three years—which he would not be, of course—and then earned the full discount, he would be supervised on release for five and a half months, followed by an at-risk period of less than two months. The net effect would be that the supervision period was more than halved. Therefore, the Government would have halved the protection of the public.

Furthermore, the categories of offences covered by clause 1 are bizarre. The Government have decided that it is a political or ministerial decision as to what constitutes a particularly serious offence. The Home Secretary is guilty of the fundamental and constitutionally unacceptable error of interfering in the discretion of judges and attacking the very root of the separation of powers that is and has been so important to the smooth functioning of our society throughout modern times. How on earth can the Home Secretary justify saying that a robbery with an imitation firearm that is not used—by definition it cannot be, although it can be extremely frightening—is a qualifying offence for a life sentence, or a two-and-out totting up life sentence? However, a robbery at knifepoint, which is equally terrifying, does not qualify for such a sentence. Where did they get their categories?

How on earth can the Home Secretary justify categorising every offence of manslaughter in the same way? Perhaps he has forgotten his early days at the Bar, before he became a distinguished planning silk when, rumour has it, he would occasionally penetrate the portals of Ealing magistrates court and the odd Crown court. The right hon. and learned Gentleman nods in agreement. Let me remind him that some manslaughter offences—and they are common—occur as a result of a disagreement—often in or outside a public house—and one blow which, had it not resulted in death, might not have given rise to a prosecution, or at worst would have attracted a charge of common assault. Such an offence would be categorised as manslaughter because it resulted in death. The sentences for those offences are quite short—usually less than three years. As far as I know, the Government have never criticised such sentences. Such offences come as near to a criminal accident as it is possible to imagine. The Home Secretary is saying that that is in the same category as an offence of manslaughter committed by someone who stabs his victim 40 or 50 times in a rage at a time when he happens, temporarily, because of his innate characteristics which make him dangerous, to be suffering from diminished responsibility as defined by the law. Such categorisation is bizarre.

The Home Secretary really should talk to someone sensible like the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, or Lord Taylor, the much-admired former Lord Chief Justice, or even Lady Thatcher's guru, the former Lord Justice Lawton, who, incidentally, does not have a reputation of being a softie. Given the experience of those of us who appeared before him, he certainly was not a softie. The Home Secretary should ask the opinion of those informed people. He should not substitute his own prejudice for their opinion. The Bill, and especially the provisions to which I have referred, are founded on the substitution of prejudice for informed opinion.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely missing the point. The provisions will become relevant only if the manslaughter is the second serious violent or sexual offence or was the first offence and the offender commits a further serious sexual or violent offence. Furthermore, the judge will have the ability when sentencing to fix the tariff for the automatic life sentence. The tariff can be as low or as high as the judge thinks appropriate. If at the end of that period the offender satisfies the risk assessment, he will be released. The purpose of the provisions is to ensure that the public are protected because no one will be released until there has been an assessment of whether they still pose a risk to the public.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

That is honest sentencing? It is intellectual pyrotechnics. The right hon. and learned Gentleman really should sit down not with his own Front-Bench team but with some of the specialist commentators who have written about such items, such as David Thomas QC or, as I have said, Lord Bingham or Lord Taylor, so that he understands the consequences of what he is doing and the fact that he is introducing bizarre and inconsistent categories that will give rise to injustice.

I say to the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney), who tried to intervene earlier—I shall give way to him when I have finished this sentence if he wants me to—that his point about exceptional circumstances in the example of the village idiot who commits three burglaries carries no weight whatever, for there is nothing exceptional about the village idiot who commits three burglaries. There are no exceptional circumstances in that example. The Court of Appeal will interpret the law as we in this House lay it down to be. Faithful to its constitutional duty, the Court of Appeal will not pretend that exceptional circumstances exist where they do not.

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Vale of Glamorgan

The point on which I wanted to question the hon. and learned Gentleman is somewhat lost in the mists of time. I wanted to ask him why he believes that the significance of a long sentence lies only with the likelihood or otherwise of reoffending after the prisoner is released. Surely an equally valid reasoning for sentencing someone for a long time is to stop them reoffending while they are kept inside.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

That shows that village idiots do not only commit burglaries. I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been for the past 20 years or so. He is a solicitor and I presume that he has read all the research—much of it from the Home Office and of very high quality—on the subject of deterrence, which I apprehend him to be talking about.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

It is absolutely clear from all the research that has been done—including that from the Parole Board—that deterrence operates in certain cases, but usually only on people who commit crime who otherwise would not do so: the person in whom a crime is an aberration rather than a habit.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

The hon. Gentleman scoffs from a sedentary position in his usual asinine way, but he ought to look at the research before doing so.

Furthermore, what will be the effect of the provisions? As—I think—one hon. Member has already said, there will be a greater risk of murder taking place because if somebody faces a life sentence, they will simply, if they are ruthless, do away with the evidence of what they are doing. There will be a reduction in guilty pleas because, if they can avoid it, people will not run the risk of being convicted—not for the second time but the first time—of a qualifying offence under clauses 1, 2 and 3.

There will be increased plea bargaining in order to try to reduce the level of offence at which conviction takes place. It is well known, as the Court of Appeal has said repeatedly, that plea bargaining has many dangers.

There will be more acquittals and perverse verdicts. Juries will be more reluctant to convict once they know that the offence will qualify, as a first offence, for a possible future two-and-out sentence. Even more to the point, they will be extremely reluctant to convict for the second time if the evidence is doubtful even to a scintilla and if they are told—no one can stop them being told—that there is a previous conviction for a similar offence. That is because in circumstances that they may wrongly perceive to be unjust—juries have their own perceptions and they have been very different from the Government's from time to time—they will be reluctant to convict someone of a crime carrying a life sentence.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

If the hon. and learned Gentleman can restrain himself for a second, I shall finish the point. There will also, in my view, be an increased reluctance on the part of witnesses to give evidence. Witnesses sometimes are not half as vengeful as Governments or newspapers, which egg Governments on. For example, there will undoubtedly be an increased reluctance on the part of daughters to give evidence against their fathers, uncles or grandfathers—which is difficult enough to manage in court at the best of times—if they know the consequences that are likely to arise from it.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

I shall ask the hon. and learned Gentleman the same question as I asked my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker). What evidence has he that juries will be more reluctant to convict a repeat rapist, a repeat seriously violent offender, a third-time burglar or a third-time drug trafficker?

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

I can tell the hon. and learned Gentleman what the evidence is. He should ask those who had to conduct capital cases before the abolition of capital punishment.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

That is about hanging.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

If the hon. and learned Gentleman will listen, I shall continue. Of course there is a difference between hanging and a life sentence; that is self-evident. Senior judges who practised at that time are of the view, and I bow to it, that juries will be more reluctant to convict if they think that the consequences may be disproportionate to the evidence that they have heard. That is the point.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Has not the hon. and learned Gentleman overlooked the fact that in the vast majority of cases juries will be completely ignorant of the fact that a previous offence—or offences—has been committed which will bring the provisions into account?

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

I am afraid that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not been to the criminal courts for a very long time, or so it would appear. Has not he overlooked the fact that defence advocates will make very sure that juries know of the risk in an appropriate case?

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

It is not poppycock. The Home Secretary scoffs. I do not know when he last conducted a case of any seriousness in a criminal court, but I can tell him from practical experience that juries react far less strongly than many imagine to a defendant's record being introduced and, in many cases, defence counsel will not hesitate—and no one can stop them—to introduce the record for exactly the reasons that I have given. I emphasise, in any event, that juries will be reluctant to convict even for a first time in, for example, a manslaughter case when they know that that might mean that the defendant faces two and out in the future. The Home Secretary should have regard to that.

The Government have failed the country in the criminal justice system. Before the 1992 election, they promised a large number of additional police officers. After the 1992 election, they reduced the number of police officers.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

The Home Secretary shakes his head, but I am stating statistical fact based on parliamentary written answers given by his Department to me this year. The Government have failed to recognise the cost-effectiveness of police officers. If we had another 3,000 to 5,000 police officers, they would be cost-effective. If all that a police officer achieves is to prevent the equivalent of one person spending a year in gaol, he has paid his salary for a year. The Government have failed to recognise those simple facts. [Interruption.] My party has made it clear that we want more policemen and if the Minister of State wishes to contradict that, let him contradict it now. He stays in his place.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. I do not expect sedentary interventions, and certainly not from Members on the Front Bench.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hooligans are on the Government Front Bench tonight.

Furthermore, the Government have failed to attack the problem of youth crime. All they have done is to make gestures.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

The hon. and learned Gentleman asked me to contradict him and I will. The Liberal party policy paper "Tackling Crime Together" says: Putting more police officers on the beat will, likewise, have little effect in reducing levels of crime.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

If the right hon. Gentleman considers the policy passed by our party conference this year, he will see our commitment to thousands of extra police. He should be honest enough to look at our most recent statements of policy and not at consultation documents issued at an earlier date.

Furthermore, the Government have decided to do something which is fundamental and, in my view, unheard of. They will remove from judges a discretion which is properly theirs. Apparently, the Government have listened to some police officers—although not all, because police officers are not unanimous about their proposals, However, as has been said, the Government have failed to listen to probation officers, judges, solicitors, barristers or to prison officers. The Government are withdrawing probation officers from the prisons, which will become less efficacious places, and they have left us with a sorry political act in the Bill. We shall oppose that sorry political act tonight.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke , City of London and Westminster South 6:03, 4 November 1996

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) is not fighting the next election, and I do not know whether we shall have the pleasure and privilege of hearing him speak again in the Chamber. I hope that we shall. This is an important Bill and an important debate and he has made a considerable contribution to it, not only in his speech but by tabling an amendment on which the debate can be conducted.

I shall be brief because voices much more learned than mine are waiting to speak. I have already had the privilege of hearing distinguished speeches from two former holders of the office of Home Secretary, and I look forward to hearing my right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd). My constituency has a legal dimension as it contains the central criminal court, the law courts, two of the inns of court and the Law Society. I am not representing the judges tonight and I should say especially that I have not discussed the matter with my brother, who is himself a judge and who likewise declines to sit on applications for judicial review in cases in which I have been, in any way, part of the preceding controversy.

I come to the Bill without expert knowledge, but I must acknowledge a whiff of agnosticism. I realise why the Home Office and the judiciary approach such matters differently—my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) mentioned the reason—but, as a Tory, I am uneasy when any Government and the judiciary are at variance. Therefore, I approach legislation that comes out of such an impasse with at least a tinge of scepticism. Cases that I might have raised—and I came to the House anned with examples—have been raised by others and I shall not simply rehearse and reiterate them.

I put to the House, as one who was once a Customs and Excise Minister, the case of the drug dealer who helps to roll up the whole of the team. That example was raised in an intervention by the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping), and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said that it would be considered an exceptionality. When my right hon. Friend the Minister of State winds up, I hope that he will feel able to give us other examples of exceptionality, because I was encouraged to hear that the case of the drug dealer would be considered in that way.

It would also be helpful if my right hon. Friend the Minister of State explained specifically the faults, as the Government see them, of the proposition advanced by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) for staged sentences. At first blush, such sentences appear to be transparent and not a million miles away from the briefing by the Law Society, which reached some of us today, in advance of the debate. I share too the query posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), in which he balanced the effect on the judges of not being trusted by the letter of the Bill with their being invited to reduce the prison population. I shall leave aside the question whether the current rising prison population is a function of reasonable judicial severity, rather than softness, but the coded messages may be wrongly read and the prison population may rise.

I have a couple of other case histories to enter into the filter of the Bill. The first is that of an inadequate youngster on drugs, perhaps around the age of 21, who acquires drugs and shares the cost of them by securing repayment from his friends. If such circumstances arose, I wonder whether the sentences proposed in the Bill would serve as a deterrent to a drug addict who was acknowledged to be inadequate. Secondly, grievous bodily harm with intent is not uncommon in a domestic context. A husband convicted in such circumstances and thereafter facing life imprisonment would be potentially liable to blackmail by his wife. Would the family be prepared to give evidence if life imprisonment were the consequence?

I repeat that I am agnostic about the Bill. I am entirely prepared for my right hon. Friends to prove my apprehensions unfounded, but I have quoted before in the House the observation of Sam Rayburn, the great Texan Speaker of the House of Representatives, that the three wisest words in the English language are "wait a minute". It would be churlish of me, in my present state of knowledge, to withhold my vote from my right hon. and learned Friend on Second Reading, but I shall vote with reservations. I have hinted at those reservations and I hope that they can be overcome.

I realise that by speaking in the debate I make myself liable to be sentenced to sit on the Standing Committee. Given my views. I am a genuine volunteer to sit on it. To my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait), from the Whips Office—this is the first opportunity that I have had to congratulate her on her pathfinding progress—I can say that I served as a trusty on the Standing Committee on the Housing Act 1996 in the previous Session, and I am happy to call my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) as a character witness to my behaviour on that Committee.

At this moment in the Parliament, we have a particular responsibility to handle legislation responsibly. It may be that the former Home Secretaries who have spoken in the debate are also candidates to serve on the Committee but, on past form, that may not be the case. As the late Damon Runyon suggested, the race is not always to the fastest, nor the battle to the swiftest, but that is the way to bet. I have never served in the Home Office, and my offer to serve on the Standing Committee is as a man on a bus in my fairly legal constituency, headed south towards Clapham.

Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig , Islwyn 6:09, 4 November 1996

I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate. I have an interest to declare, in that I am one of the parliamentary advisers to the Police Federation. Although I do not intend to refer to policing matters this evening, it is only right that the House should be aware of that fact.

The Government have laid before us their latest crime Bill, and have said all along that their intention is to protect the public. That, of course, is the right intention. Everyone expects criminals to be punished for their actions. However, I am not convinced that the Bill will achieve the objective, and the measures contained in it represent a radical change in sentencing practice. Indeed, they could be said to challenge the very premise on which our justice system is based—that punishment should fit the crime. That premise has meant that judges and juries have used discretion when pronouncing their sentences, and have been able to take account of the whole gamut of human experience and emotion when sentencing criminals.

There are many levels of guilt in society. A report by the Home Affairs Select Committee, "Murder: The Mandatory Life Sentence", published in December 1995, stated: All those who gave evidence to the Committee accepted that the crime of murder covered acts of a wide range of heinousness. A cold-blooded act of terrorism is far removed from an act of mercy killing, and such differences in the levels of blame exist not only with murder. The professional drug dealer, with his international network of contacts and aliases, is a world apart from the pathetic heroin addict, pushing to a few people down the pub to fund his habit. One is driven by greed, the other by physical addiction. Yet under the Bill, both will receive the minimum sentence of seven years—there will be no discretion.

We need to be certain that we are doing the best thing to protect the public by removing discretion. Some would argue that the offences covered by the Bill—murder, manslaughter, rape and so on—are the worst kind, and that whoever commits them in whatever circumstances should receive the maximum penalty. However, we must consider the long-term effects of minimum sentences.

If we introduce minimum sentences as a result of pre-election party political wrangling, we shall do ourselves and the country a great wrong and open the door to minimum sentences for all offences. When that happens—as it will, if we start down this path—we shall be only one step away from the American system of plea bargaining, under which the defence and prosecution haggle like customer and market trader over a pre-packaged sentence that disregards the individual's personal circumstances.

It is not only the theory behind the Bill that is flawed. I am concerned also about the practical consequences of its implementation. What effect will it have on the courts? The Home Secretary appears to have modified his proposals to include an incentive to plead guilty, yet the problem is still there. Faced with the prospect of pleading guilty and receiving a life sentence, or pleading not guilty in the hope of walking away free on some intricacy of law or minor detail, criminals will plead not guilty.

In a speech at King's college, London, on 6 March 1996, the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor, said: Minimum sentences are incompatible with an existing and important strand in our criminal law. The courts have long followed a policy of discounting sentences for timely pleas of guilty … Defendants who know they will receive a mandatory sentence of lengthy imprisonment, and even more so, a mandatory life sentence, are not likely to plead guilty". It also concerns me, as it did Helena Kennedy QC, who had a letter published in The Times on 12 March, that rapists facing automatic life sentences will have no incentive to plead guilty. They will contest the most clear-cut cases, subjecting their victims to further humiliation and trauma". Several women in the past few months have undergone traumatic trials in which defendants have represented themselves. We should be moving towards a justice system that provides greater protection for victims of rape, not one that encourages rapists to plead not guilty.

There is a danger that the courts will be clogged up by a string of not guilty pleas. The situation has been made worse by the inclusion of the words "exceptional circumstances" in the Bill. What are those exceptional circumstances? The Home Secretary could give but one example this afternoon. How broad are they in scope? Why is there no schedule to the Bill that gives examples of such circumstances? I fear that lawyers will baffle juries by arguing that, although their client may be guilty, he or she is guilty in "exceptional circumstances". Again, the processes of the courts will be slowed.

The House must ask itself what effect the provisions will have on offenders, as has been alluded to by a number of hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker). If a second offence of rape, grievous bodily harm with intent or armed robbery carries the same minimum sentence as the crime of murder, some criminals might be inclined to murder their victim. By doing so, they leave no witnesses. They can dispose of the body and think that they are more likely to get away with it.

The House must also ask what effect the measures will have on the prisons and the Prison Service. Our prison system is groaning under the weight of the current population, which has grown by more than 10,000 since January 1994. Only last week, Richard Tilt, the head of the Prison Service, suggested that "timeshare" prisons might be worth introducing, with prisoners working during the week and serving time at weekends. Are the public now to be protected only on high days arid holidays? The measures in the Bill will increase the prison population by about 11,000, and I have seen and heard nothing that reassures me that the prison system will be able to cope with that increase.

There will be new prisons, we are told. But when, arid who will fund them? Will the private finance initiative magic wand be waved to produce prisons overnight? I hope that, in winding up the debate, the Minister of State can assure the House that investors have been approached and are willing to build the prisons, because I know of no such company. A further concern is that the prisons are to be "privately staffed". To whom will the staff be accountable? Will it be the Government? Or the shareholders and managers of Prisons Inc? The question of accountability is extremely serious.

My final concern is similar to that which Lord Taylor had about the original White Paper, which he said was based on "flimsy and dubious evidence". I agree that there are many vague areas in the Bill. For example, the explanatory and financial memorandum states: The proposals in Part III on community sentences for fine defaulters … will be the subject of local pilot projects, which will provide a basis for assessing the cost effectiveness of the proposals". The Home Secretary is usually keen on consultation, yet it seems that he now wants to legislate for the proposals and then carry out the pilot projects.

Where is the research to back the assumptions made in the Bill? The assumption that longer prison sentences are a deterrent to crime is far from the mark. It is the fear of detection, not the length of sentence, that will deter criminals who plan their crimes. The length of sentence is not considered by most criminals, who are opportunistic and impulsive, rather than calculating.

Findings published in November's Criminal Law Review undermined the Government's assertion that the Bill would provide greater protection for the public. The main finding of the study by Professor Hood is that nine out of 10 high-risk prisoners convicted of a violent or sexual offence would not be covered by the proposed automatic indeterminate life sentences.

Such radical proposals should be based on lengthy and thorough research. We have not completed Second Reading, yet the Home Secretary has already announced that he proposes to make amendments in Committee. Measures such as this should be given detailed consideration by a law reform body; they should not be born of party political point scoring. The Bill is flawed both in concept and in detail. We must consider carefully its far-reaching consequences for our justice system before we allow it to become law.

Our criminal justice system must have the strength and integrity to outlive the Home Secretary, any Government and any pre-election banter. It is time that we stopped crying law and order and started putting some of our laws in order.

Photo of Sir Peter Lloyd Sir Peter Lloyd , Fareham 6:20, 4 November 1996

The Bill is intended to provide better protection for the public, and nobody disagrees with that objective, although I share many of the concerns that have been expressed this afternoon by hon. Members of all parties; indeed, I have expressed many of them myself in earlier debates. The hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) made some extremely good points. I entirely agree with what he said about the length of sentence and its deterrent effect, or lack of it.

Before expressing my reservations about the Bill, I should like to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait), in her capacity as a Whip, that I am well and truly paired this evening and that I welcome her to her pathfinding place on the Treasury Bench.

The Bill, unlike myself and the hon. Member for Islwyn, assumes that longer sentences are especially effective deterrents and that criminals are calculators who examine the tariff before acting; common sense and bitter experience contradict that convenient assumption. Criminals rarely weigh the consequences of anything. That is especially true of persistent offenders who have been through it all before, some many times, and against whom the measures of the Bill are particularly directed.

The fact that offenders do not consider consequences is their problem, but it is also ours, because what can change their way of life is not length of sentence but what happens to them in prison and, just as importantly, how well they are supervised on release. Those points were made extremely well by my right hon. Friends the Members for Witney (Mr. Hurd) and for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker).

Some of my hon. Friends usually jump up at this point and say that it is plain that prison works, because the prison population has risen and reported crime has fallen. Crime statistics are a notorious quagmire into which some of the most seductive arguments can sink without trace, but one of the few clear facts is that reported crime figures began to fall not when the prison population had been increasing but immediately before it reached its lowest level for years, at the end of 1992. The figures have continued to drop, while the prison population has risen steeply; but now, with prisons overflowing, reported crime has apparently begun to rise again.

Perhaps prison has played a part in the falls in reported crime, which I hope will soon resume. As the Home Secretary says, prisoners inside are not outside committing crimes, but I suspect that prison is less important than improved policing methods and crime prevention initiatives, such as closed circuit television, for which he deserves great credit. He made it clear in the White Paper that he was targeting repeat offenders, and did not want an increase in sentences generally. He hoped and expected that the courts would cut the sentences handed down, so that those not subject to the mandatory sentences would serve no longer than they would have done under present arrangements.

Unlike the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), I doubt whether the judges will oblige the Home Secretary. They know that, under the new arrangements, most offenders will not be considered at risk or be supervised as well as they are at present. They will feel the need to restore appropriate differentials between sentences. They will find it difficult to cut every three-year sentence to 18 months or so, in the face of public expectation that the new law means longer inside and taunts from the media and others that they have gone even softer. I have a great respect for judges, but I doubt whether they will remember exactly what sentence they would have imposed before the law was changed.

The prison population will thus get even larger, pre-empting huge extra resources that could be better spent on crime prevention, better policing and more effective programmes in existing prisons. As well as being, at great cost, a not particularly effective deterrent, mandatory sentences will undoubtedly cause injustice. The Government were right when they rejected the idea, on those very grounds, in their 1990 White Paper.

There is no justice in giving the same mandatory sentence to a hardened drug trafficker who extracts a fat living from the misery of others and to a teenage addict who again sells some of his supply to a fellow addict; seven years in prison may be too short for the former, but it is the wrong sentence for the latter.

The Bill allows for a lower sentence in "exceptional circumstances", and we have had some debate on that today, but I am certain that that will be insufficient, and that discretion needs to be widened to allow a judge to give a lower sentence when justice and the public interest require it. That need not mean driving a coach and horses, as referred to by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), through the Bill, although it might make a substantial aperture. There is no reason why judges should not have guidelines or a menu of minimum sentences, and be obliged to give reasons in court whenever they depart from them.

I do not believe that mandatory sentences will make the public safer, but, like other hon. Members, I am sure that the abolition of parole will make them less secure. It is true that 35 per cent. of parolees are reconvicted within two years, but that compares with 55 per cent. of non-parolees. Parole is a qualified success, which, in its present form, dates only from 1992, and it should surely be developed and refined rather than dispensed with.

A system of time off for good behaviour, run by the prison authority, is not a satisfactory substitute. Many of the most evil villains are model prisoners, because they want to get through their sentence as comfortably as possible and resume their criminal career. It is often the immature but redeemable who give the trouble.

The possibility of parole is not merely an incentive to good behaviour; it is the Parole Board's job to look behind the good behaviour and assess motivation and intention. The possibility of parole causes many prisoners to plan seriously for their release and to take steps to prepare themselves—something that they would not otherwise have done, and for the want of which they would be more likely to reoffend.

It is curious that the Bill would get rid of parole but still require the Parole Board to make sensitive and difficult judgments about when to release second-time violent offenders who, under the provisions in the Bill, would serve life. It is a pity that it is called life, as I said in an earlier debate, because the tariff recommended by the judge will almost certainly be the same as or less than the determinate prison sentence that he would pass under the present law.

Such sentences should he called what they are—open sentences—and they should he available for first-time violent offenders, too. I do not understand why prisoners convicted of serious violent offences should be released when they are clearly still dangerous. The merit of open sentences in such cases is that prisoners know that their release ultimately depends on them. They then have the most powerful incentive to develop the self-discipline and attitudes that will keep them from offending again.

I am sure that mandatory sentences are being over-promoted by the Bill because the Home Secretary is very conscious of the need to reassure the public about the Government's firmness in fighting crime, which I understand because he is right in his general concern. In doing so, he has, alas, made his policy less flexible than it should be, and it will thus be less effective and less just.

With this Bill, we will make the same sort of mistakes as we made in 1991, when we introduced unit fines. They worked quite well in the majority of cases, but in some they produced such ludicrous outcomes—and only a few instances are necessary for this to happen—that the scheme lost public respect and had to be abandoned. Much more seriously, there will be similar fallout from mandatory sentences, with a similar result.

The Criminal Justice Act 1991 also restricted judicial discretion and severely curtailed judges' ability to take previous offences into account. That also worked quite well most of the time, but, inevitably, in some cases it got heavily in the way of proper justice, and that clause was hurriedly and humiliatingly repealed, too. I hope that we will have the sense to row back sufficiently in Committee to avoid another such humiliating reverse, for if we do not improve the Bill, the subsequent Act will produce the hard, unjust cases that the public will rightly find unacceptable.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:31, 4 November 1996

It is a great privilege to follow such an informed, interesting and important speech from someone who knows a thing or two about what we are discussing.

I listened carefully to the Home Secretary, who prayed in aid at least three times the support of senior police officers for the Bill. Conspicuous by its absence was any reference to the opinion of the judiciary, the Law Society, the Bar Council or the probation service. I assume that the police officer support was not unqualified, bearing it in mind that the Home Secretary was heartily booed at a recent conference.

I have listened carefully to all the speeches, and I 'was especially struck by that of the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), who was firm in rejecting mandatory sentencing, as incorporated in clauses 1, 2 and 3. It was a powerful and persuasive speech by a former Home Secretary, who quoted from experience in other jurisdictions.

The Bill has as its core notion a version of the American "three strikes and you're out" laws that have so delighted the right wing in the United States. It is unfortunate, if understandable, that such matters should be brought to the Floor on the eve of a general election, because that acknowledges that the Government consider them vote winners.

I have no doubt that the public are heartily sick of crimes of violence, of burglary, and of people who sell drugs and trade in misery and death. That we should seek to address such problems is appropriate and desirable, notwithstanding the timing to which I referred. However, my concern is not with the principles that lie behind the Bill, which are laudable, but rather the chosen responses to those very real problems.

Let us consider the two-strikes law in respect of crimes of violence and rape. The previous and present Lord Chief Justices and several other members of the judiciary have expressed grave misgivings about applying mandatory life sentences in that area of law. They are highly qualified, articulate members of the judiciary, who are charged with dealing with and sentencing people on a daily basis. Before their appointments, they were proficient legal practitioners. Why is their expert opinion being brushed aside by the Home Secretary? Why cannot the Home Office listen to those who know about such matters?

The Home Secretary has taken legal advice many times in the past 18 months and has ended up on the wrong side of eight or nine far-reaching judicial decisions in the UK and European courts. Does the fact that he is not prepared to listen to expert advice result from the string of duff advice that he has recently received and followed? Perhaps that accounts for his deafness.

The views of the judiciary are made all the more potent by the fact that it would be the last body in the land to interfere with the legislature. Lawyers, perhaps more than anyone else, are acutely aware of the constitutional issues involved in so doing.

One difficulty with the Bill is that it creates a constitutional problem, because, under the division of powers, the legislature and judiciary must be separate and independent. That is a basic tenet of constitutional law, which is centuries old. It has been much written about by academics such as Professor Dicey. The protection of the people and the courts from undue political interference is a fundamental safeguard for society. Every despotism starts by trying to control the courts and lawyers. We seek to fetter the discretion of the judiciary at our peril.

Let us take the horrible offence of rape. We all agree that that is always a serious offence, but to impose mandatory life sentences on second offenders ignores the fact that, as with every sort of offence, there can be aggravating features such as physical or emotional injury, the use of a weapon, or cases where the offender was in a position of trust or entered the victim's home. Those and many other circumstances, if proven, make the offence an aggravated one deserving of a heavier penalty.

Under the Bill, that will not be possible, because, on second conviction, all defendants would be sentenced to life imprisonment. That is illogical and, I believe, unworkable. It is yet worse; as the Lord Chief Justice said, if a defendant knows that he is facing life imprisonment, he may feel that his best recourse is to kill the victim. That was mentioned eloquently by the hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) and others.

The problem is real. Even if rapists are inhuman, as I believe they must be to commit the offence, like many other classes of offender they carry out a form of risk assessment. Common sense dictates that, when a criminal embarks on the commission of an offence, the chance of detection will probably be the most important factor in his mind; but the likely penalty will also be a factor. Academics in the field confirm that, and concur that the many members of the judiciary who have advanced that fear are correct that, far from protecting the victims of that disgusting offence, such penalties may even further imperil them.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

Will the hon. Gentleman quote his sources for saying that experts agree with that? It seems to fly in the face of all the research that I have read about what is in the minds of rapists when they commit their horrible offences.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons)

I have followed the arguments in the press on the subject. I refer the Minister of State to what Lord Justice Taylor was quoted as saying in a lengthy article in The Times, in September, I think. He certainly put that view. If I remember rightly, he quoted authority in that article. I will endeavour to find it and send the right hon. Gentleman a copy.

Although there should be consistency, which is why the Court of Appeal issued sentencing guidelines for a host of offences including rape, there can never be uniformity, simply because the circumstances of offences vary, defendants vary, the effects of the crimes vary, and so forth. It is a rigid approach of that nature that has brought the Child Support Agency into disrepute. So, try as one might, unless one is dealing with offences of absolute liability, there will be variations.

Why have the Government not learnt from the CSA experience and the farcical and patently unjust unit fines system, under which people throwing litter can be fined £1,200 if they are high earners, while those committing far more serious offences might be fined a nominal £50? Has that debacle not registered with the Home Office?

I acknowledge that violent crime is on the increase and that we urgently need to take steps. Indeed, recorded sexual offences increased by 9 per cent. from 1989 to 1994, but convictions fell by more than 40 per cent. The Bill will not deal with that problem.

If the two-strikes element becomes law, the defendant will surely be tempted to plead not guilty and face a trial as, in any event, his sentence would be life and he would doubtless feel that convincing a jury of his innocence was worth a try. That has been the result in other jurisdictions. My source is California, where there has been a huge increase in jury trials together with the attendant delay and cost as the system tries to assimilate the increase. In addition, there has been a stark increase in the number of people held in prison on remand. Those two factors are almost an inevitable consequence, and I ask the Home Office to think again.

Although I appreciate that appeals should always be available to defendants on civil libertarian grounds, I view clause 4 with considerable trepidation. Inevitably, there will be a vast backlog in appeals from those who might not readily accept legal advice and those who would try their luck, as it were, although I dare to suggest that they should not try their luck in the Court of Appeal with any sanguinity. We will create further backlogs, delay and cost. That is almost as inevitable as night following day.

Several hon. Members have spoken about prisons eloquently and with great experience. The subject deserves more, but I will restrict myself to a few remarks, as other hon. Members want to speak.

In the British Isles, the imprisonment rate is higher per capita than in any other European state, although evidence suggests that crime rates in other states are broadly similar. It is the approach to penal policy that is different.

Two years ago, the Home Secretary announced—via the then chief executive of the Prison Service—that a further five or six prisons had to be built in the next few years. After the ignominious end of Mr. Derek Lewis's career, largely because of political interference from the Home Secretary, that figure had to be drastically reviewed. The Home Office now advises us that the prison population—already a European record—is set to rise by 12,000 by 2011. The Home Office says that that underlines the need for 11 or 12 new prisons.

Mr. Richard Tilt, Director General of the Prison Service, was quoted in mid-September as saying that, if the incidence of imprisonment continued to increase at the present rate, we would need one new prison per week—an extreme view, perhaps, but it comes from a person who does know, or should know, what he is talking about.

I do not know whether the Government are thinking of transforming these ideas into a sort of prison-building centre of excellence, but there is certainly a lot of building work ahead. The big question is how much better off society will be as a result. Let us not forget that the prison budget is being cut by around 15 per cent.

I share the view expressed by several right hon. and hon. Members about the need to train prisoners. They should be given education and shown an alternative to a life of crime. If we do not do so, prisons are likely to become colleges of crime, where an inmate will do nothing but improve his criminal acumen or skills. Training is of vital importance generally, but of paramount importance with regard to young offenders.

Whatever the future for this unfortunate Bill, resources for prisons need to be secured and extended. I fear that the colossal prison building programme under consideration will mean that resources will be spread yet more thinly. That may well result in prisons being reduced to inhumane places, risking the security and safety of prison officers and, ultimately, of the public at large.

By profession I am a criminal lawyer, and I have visited several prisons frequently. Believe me, there is nothing more disconcerting or frightening than an overcrowded prison where there is nothing to do other than stare at the walls. Rehabilitation must be one of the ingredients of any civilised penal policy, so that the convicted prisoner comes out of the institution better qualified to take a meaningful place in society. Anything less will increase crime and worsen the already serious situation.

I am pleased by the Bill's reference to fine defaulters, and I welcome the fact that the Government have recognised the problem and are going to deal with it. I also welcome the Government's recognition of the need to deal severely with drug traffickers. Those creatures live off the misery and suffering of others. They are a disgusting band of people, who need to know where they stand. Society rightly demands that they taste stern justice. I regret that that is not likely to be the way they are treated.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons)

I will come to that—I saw that question coming.

The Court of Appeal carefully lays down guidelines for sentencing. A far better approach would be clearer recognition of the fact that drug trafficking is at the upper end of the sentencing tariff. I endorse what the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who spoke for the Opposition, said about the Court of Appeal. It is an excellent idea, and I commend it to the Government. The potential risks and problems of the two and three strikes also seem to be relevant here.

I am interested that the Bill makes a definite attempt to subvert the independence of the judiciary and that it deprives judges—

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

How does the hon. Gentleman square his last point, about telling the Court of Appeal to give drug traffickers sentences at the higher end of the scale, with his passionate plea—illustrated with excerpts from Dicey's "Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution"—for separate powers and the principle of not interfering with the judiciary?

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons)

It is not for Parliament to tell the Court of Appeal what to do, but a body could be set up including the Court of Appeal and given a brief to ensure that adequate sentences were passed. The whole point is that it is not for Parliament to decide—there would be a separate, free-standing body, not subject to interference from Parliament, that would advise on sentencing.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Minister may laugh, but I think that mine is a perfectly reasonable suggestion, and I hope that it will be developed in the months and years to come.

It is interesting that the Government appear to want to deprive courts of their discretion, yet, on 3 November 1994, in answer to a written question about minimum sentences for selling class A drugs, the then Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), replied: None. The courts should be left to determine appropriate sentences in individual cases."—[Official Report, 3 November 1994; Vol. 248, c. 1334.] I shall not use the hackneyed term "U-turn"—I have heard enough of that nonsense—but it astonishing that the views of the Home Office should be so different less than two years later. Perhaps the Home Secretary is not aware of the fact that judges frequently attend sentencing seminars nowadays. As a body, they are more in tune with today's society than they might have been, say, 10 years ago.

I repeat my representations about burglary. As one who was burgled last year, I should perhaps wring my hands with glee at the prospect envisaged in clause 3, but I do not. I do not do so, for reasons that have already been outlined—there is a minimal form of burglary of which the legal definition is "entering a property for an illegal purpose". That purpose need not be theft—a minimally illegal purpose will suffice. The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) made that point.

I note the exceptional circumstances incorporated in each clause, but if those words are to accommodate some of my concerns and if they represent an attempt to reinvest judges with their all-important discretion, I have to ask what is the purpose of all this. That brings me back to where I started: the Bill is a sad, transparent piece of political posturing, and everybody should regard it as such.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Uxbridge 6:52, 4 November 1996

At the outset of my remarks, I must declare that I am a parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales. However, I do not propose to make any comments on the federation's behalf; I want to reflect the concerns of my constituents in Uxbridge about crime and punishment.

I say to the hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), who shares with me the honour of being an adviser to the Police Federation, that private prisons are accountable. They are paid for the work they do through the Home Office and, consequently, that expenditure is subject to scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee which has the power to follow public money wherever it is spent. I thought that it might be useful to mention that.

I have some hesitation in following the distinguished right hon. and hon. Members who have already participated in the debate, such as the former Home Secretaries, my right hon. Friends the Members for Witney (Mr. Hurd) and for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker). I have listened with great care to the lawyers who have spoken about the difficult matters being debated today. I am not a lawyer and I want—if I can—to speak from the point of view of the man in Uxbridge High street.

It is beyond doubt that there is public dissatisfaction about what appears to the man in the street to be inconsistencies in sentencing in recent years. I know that responsibility for sentencing rests with the judiciary. My comments are, therefore, made with all due respect to the judges, who have such a difficult task to perform. They do so with the benefit of guidelines issued by the Court of Appeal; however, that court has been wary of giving the impression that its decisions are to be regarded as absolutely authoritative and has often stressed that each case depends on its own facts.

I was interested in the comments on sentencing made by the former Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning, in an article in the Daily Mail on 8 March this year. He said: It is absurd that a sentence of—on the face of it—three years imprisonment really means less than 18 months. It detracts from the authority of the court when everyone knows that a long sentence does not mean what it appears to mean. That feeling is shared by the public, who are deeply worried about violent crimes, sexual crimes and domestic burglaries. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is right to try to address those issues and, if necessary, to introduce new ways of dealing with them, even if that means changing from the policy of four or five years ago.

Magistrates, who also do a fine job, receive sentencing guidance from the justices' clerks who serve in their courts. They, too, have the same difficult task as judges in dealing with dangerous criminals.

In the past few years while I have been in the House, several changes have been made to the law, notably those in the Criminal Justice Act 1991. That Act incorporated significant changes to the approach to be taken by the courts when sentencing offenders, one aspect of which was that there was to be greater use of community-based sentences that would restrict the offender's liberty without the need to resort to a custodial sentence. In fact, the 1991 Act, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 1993, provided that, with the exception of the penalty for murder, the court would not be able to pass a custodial sentence unless, first, it was of the opinion that the offence or combination of offences was so serious that only a custodial sentence would be justified and, secondly, when the offence was a violent or sexual offence and a custodial sentence was necessary to protect the public from serious harm.

What, then, has changed since the passage of the 1991 Act and the amending Act of 1993, which set out the criteria to be used by the courts when determining the length of custodial sentences imposed for offences other than those, such as murder, for which the sentence is fixed by law? The answer is that the public have become deeply concerned about repeat offences—those committed by individuals who have been released from prison and who have offended again—sometimes involving the tragic loss of life of the victim. There have been a number of high-profile cases in which murderers have killed again following release after serving a determinate sentence passed at the original trial by a judge who must have taken account of all the circumstances in the case.

This afternoon, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary told us that, in 1994, of 217 offenders who were convicted, only 10 received a life sentence. Several of those 217 have murdered again. I look forward to hearing from my right hon. Friend the Minister of State how many of those 217 committed another murder or further serious offences such as rape. Such tragic cases, some of them involving the murder of innocent children following violent sexual assault, have been given considerable coverage in the press and on television. Such cases, and those involving women who have lost their lives following rape in the most harrowing of circumstances—and following great suffering—have angered the public and led to calls for changes in the law and greater transparency in sentencing.

There have been calls for such individuals not to be given their liberty, to prevent them from offending again. That issue is the crux of the Bill. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary must balance the law as it stands now with those undoubted tragedies and try to produce changes that will prevent such cases from occurring in the future.

I am quite sure that the judges who presided in the 217 cases to which I have referred had regard to the particular circumstances of each case when they passed a determinate sentence. The House and others must, nevertheless, face the fact that each of those offenders was able to offend again when he was released into the community having completed his custodial sentence. Under the proposals in the Bill, had those offenders who had committed violent and sexual offences been sentenced to life imprisonment, they would not have been released into the community until the Parole Board agreed to it on the basis of expert advice that they no longer constituted a danger to the public.

In short, the proposals mean that a significant number of victims would be alive and well today, and living with their families. They would not have suffered their terrible injuries or the traumatic effects of assault if the law prevented dangerous individuals from being released again into society on the basis of expert advice to the Parole Board. I invite the House to recollect some of the cases that each and every one of us has seen reported either on television or in the press. I invite it to recollect the terrible tragedy and shock inflicted on the families of the victims. I invite it to consider whether there is something that we can do to change current practice to ensure that certain people are not at liberty to offend again.

Clause 1 states that courts will be required to impose a life sentence on a person aged 18 or more who is convicted of a serious offence and who has committed another serious offence in any part of the United Kingdom, although not necessarily the same offence as that on which he was subsequently convicted. As a result, if the Bill becomes law, offenders who are sentenced will be required to serve discretionary rather than mandatory life sentences.

I was interested by what my right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) said about terminology. He suggested that such sentences should perhaps be known as open sentences; they could be described as indeterminate sentences. At least they would have the desired effect. If the description is right, it might not have the disastrous effect, suggested by some hon. Members, of offenders deciding to murder rather than risk the possibility of such a sentence.

The procedure governing the tariff is also very important. It is intended that that procedure and decisions on release in such cases will be the same as those which currently apply to discretionary life sentences. That means that the trial judge will specify the tariff to be served for retribution and deterrence. At the end, the Parole Board will determine whether it is safe to release an offender, and Ministers of the Crown will play no part in the process. I believe that that meets the anxiety expressed by a number of judges and Peers, who are concerned about ministerial involvement.

I ask the House: what, then, is wrong with that procedure? What is wrong with arriving at a situation in which a substantial proportion of the 217 individuals whom I mentioned would not be allowed into society to offend again until expert advice counselled that it was safe for them to be released? We must consider those questions in our debate tonight.

We all know that domestic burglars have visited their misery on our constituents in increasing numbers in the past few years. In some parts of the country, happily, the incidence of burglary has decreased—thanks to the terrific efforts of the police to target that type of offender. My constituents ask me how it is that someone who has burgled again and again can receive what appears to be a comparatively light sentence. There is a lot to be said for the public having a clear idea of the custodial sentences for someone who engages in repeat burglary. That lack of knowledge must be tackled if the confidence of the public is to be retained.

How many burglars will go to prison for three years when the Bill becomes law? It is difficult to be precise, but if we consider the studies that have been carried out into the age of offenders and the frequency with which they offend, we might get some idea. The age of criminals is not known until they are caught, so the only regular relevant information is based on the age of those who are found guilty by the courts or cautioned by the police. Those figures may not be representative of all burglars, and the age distribution of those who are not caught may differ from those who are.

Of the 45,800 individuals found guilty or cautioned for burglary in England and Wales in 1995, 3,800, or 8 per cent., were between the ages of 10 and 13; 13,900, or 30 per cent., were between the ages of 14 and 17; 9"200, or 20 per cent., were aged between 18 and 20; and 18,900, or 41 per cent., were aged 21 or more. If the Bill becomes law, 28,100 burglars over the age of 18 will be at risk of receiving a mandatory three-year custodial sentence if they are convicted of two other domestic burglaries. However, 39 per cent. of all those convicted or cautioned for burglary in 1995 were below the age of 18, and would therefore not be subject to the mandatory sentence. We must bear that in mind when we debate the matter.

I welcome the curfew order, accompanied by electronic monitoring, to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred. I also welcome the proposal to name offenders under the age of 18, which would have the desirable effect of making their names known in the community in which they have committed their offences. I also agree with those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have referred to the need for rehabilitation. That has a vital role to play in ensuring that people do not offend again and again after serving their custodial sentences.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) spoke about mandatory sentences for those engaged in the business of destroying the health and the lives of the people of this country, many of whom are young. Many of my constituents would agree that it is about time that we had a seven-year mandatory sentence. The courts have discretion not to impose the mandatory sentences, but they must state their reasons.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and my right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham referred to the trade in drugs by young people, some of whom are inadequate and find that that is the only way in which they can earn enough money to live on. Many of those young people trade in class A drugs—heroin, for example—which, if taken by other young people, can ruin their lives permanently. We must give the courts a powerful sentence to deter those who organise the trafficking in drugs, and we must deter those who too easily and casually sell on their drugs to classmates and other young people at dance halls and elsewhere. Once they do so, those youngsters are hooked, their lives start to go down the slippery slope and they are ruined and damaged. People who have faced that terrible problem in their own families will recognise that stern deterrent action is necessary.

I welcome the extension of the Attorney-General's powers to refer to the Court of Appeal sentences that he considers to be unduly lenient and failures by the court to impose life sentences as required by clause 1 or the minimum sentences required by clauses 2 and 3. The power exercised by the Attorney-General to challenge what he believes to be lenient sentences has, in general, been successful, worked well and gained public confidence. It is right that that should be extended by the Bill.

I will support the Bill tonight. It may well be improved in Committee, and the Home Secretary has stated his intention of tabling amendments to improve and extend its provisions. I rest with the simple proposition that the people of the United Kingdom expect Parliament to take action to deal with the changing circumstances faced by all of us as citizens, which result in people being murdered, raped and having to suffer the consequences of the distribution of class A drugs. There is no automatic or easy solution, but my right hon. and learned Friend and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State have tackled a difficult situation with courage. The Bill should receive a Second Reading and be given careful consideration throughout its passage through the House.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping , Sherwood 7:12, 4 November 1996

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate and to follow so many important speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House. We have heard distinguished comments from former Home Secretaries and a former Minister with responsibility for prisons. I noted their words of caution.

I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Sir M. Shersby) and the right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke). I am in the same club: I have no particular expertise on the matter but readily recognise the views that they expressed.

I know from Sherwood and from Nottinghamshire that many ordinary people are worried to death about what they perceive to be a relentless increase in crime. In Nottinghamshire crime has risen by 108 per cent. over the past 17 years. During that period the number of uniformed police officers available for duty has risen by just 2.8 per cent.

We had a debate earlier about the effectiveness and value of the police. The fear of crime is sometimes more disabling than the crime itself. That fear, especially among women and the elderly, can be alleviated by the presence of the bobby on the beat. I hope that whatever else may be the result of the Bill and its financial consequences, more money can be made available to put the bobby back on the beat to offer that reassurance.

The incidence of various categories of serious crime has risen in Nottinghamshire over the past decade. The number of cases of attempted murder, conspiracy to murder and incitement to murder stood at 14 in 1985. In 1995 that figure had increased to 106—an increase of about 700 per cent. The number of rapes committed in Nottinghamshire has risen from 33 in 1985 to 122 in 1995—an increase of almost 400 per cent. Drug trafficking offences have gone from 90 in 1985 to 380 in 1995—an increase of more than 400 per cent.

The Home Secretary's prescription is to advocate and impose severe sentences. His argument is that severe sentences act as a deterrent: "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time." I am not convinced that that is the total answer. A deterrent has a part to play, but there is more evidence that an increased chance of getting caught is linked to a fall in crime. People are deterred not by the sentence that they may face some time in the future, but by the sure knowledge that they will be apprehended.

It grieves me enormously that out of every 50 crimes committed in Nottinghamshire and throughout the country, only one ends in a conviction before the court. That is a criminals charter: a 2 per cent. chance of being convicted. We must do better than that. Before ensuring that people are punished, we must ensure that they are caught.

Alongside the desire to apprehend offenders, other programmes must be put in place. Deterrents and prisons have their place, but so do other measures, such as crime prevention. Local authorities, the police and voluntary organisations should work more closely together to tackle crime. We should work hard on young offenders. It is important to intervene quickly and positively when young people begin to get into trouble, to nip the offending in the bud and get them through the court system as quickly as possible. The juvenile justice system is fractured and needs radical overhaul.

We must tackle drugs. The Bill contains provisions for that, but there are other ways of approaching the problem. I was delighted that the Prime Minister came to Nottinghamshire last Friday to learn about a project called DARE, which is run by Nottinghamshire constabulary in association with Nottinghamshire county council and others. The project works with young people at school from an early age to tackle the pernicious effects of drugs. This is what the Prime Minister said: I think that DARE is wonderful. Drugs are very dangerous and people are often led to believe that some soft drugs are not too bad—most people started on something soft. It is important that we learn about drugs and are all able to say no. He concluded by saying that the project had an important message to give.

So as well as sentencing people who traffic in drugs we need to put in resources lower down the scale. We need to ensure that projects such as DARE, which runs as a pilot scheme in Nottinghamshire, are set up across the country.

I wish to highlight a number of aspects of the Bill. I was interested to note that the Home Secretary spent so much time talking about sexual offences against children, as did the hon. Member for Uxbridge. In this respect the proposals in the Bill are useful and far reaching. Such offenders should go to prison for a long time; more importantly, they should come out on licence subject to proper supervision. The Bill must not stand alone, however. It must operate alongside the Police Bill and any forthcoming legislation on paedophiles. The Bill, with its emphasis on punishment, deterrence and supervised licence, is not enough in itself.

It can be difficult to gain a conviction in a case involving sexual offences against children, because the latter often have to give evidence against the perpetrator, who is often related to them—a father, an uncle or someone else in the family. I hope that the Pigot committee report, which advocates better protection for children giving evidence in court, will be implemented soon.

I also support the excellent work of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It does a great deal of work towards the prevention of such crimes and the rehabilitation of offenders. The NSPCC could perhaps become involved in after-care and monitoring and in persuading people to avoid these terrible offences. That being so, we must ensure that bodies like the NSPCC are properly resourced to do the job.

This is a very costly Bill. In Committee and. I suspect, in Cabinet tomorrow when spending plans come under scrutiny, comparisons between the expenditure involved in this Bill and other spending priorities will have to be made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) mentioned rape, an offence which also features in the Bill. Like him, I am extremely concerned about the harrowing experiences undergone recently by victims of rape in the witness box. There has been talk of early legislation to improve matters. It is quite wrong, once a victim has been through such a wicked ordeal, to subject that victim to cross-examination by the alleged perpetrator for hours and sometimes even days.

My fear is that because the Bill imposes a life sentence for second offenders of this type, more victims will be subjected to such cross-examination. Perhaps we should pause to think about that rather carefully.

Clauses 1 to 3 impose fixed sentences for certain serious violent and sexual offences and for burglaries, all of them on people above 18. I want to press Ministers on this point. Perhaps we should allow an element of discretion when it comes to young people who committed their first offence when under the age of 18. Someone who committed a serious offence at 10 or 11 might then be punished, do his time and make amends—only to reoffend as an adult. As the Bill stands, he would then be given an automatic minimum sentence. Perhaps some sort of discount should be introduced to reflect the fact that the earlier offence was committed by someone who was under age.

At a number of points in clauses 1 to 3, the Bill includes the phrase: unless the court is of the opinion that there are exceptional circumstances which justify its not doing so. I pressed the Home Secretary earlier about that. He offered the example of exceptional circumstances applying when the person in the dock had co-operated with the police in such a way as to lead to the conviction of others. Like other hon. Members, I believe that there is a strong case for giving the courts some discretion, and I hope that the use of "exceptional circumstances" will be explored further. The difficulty of course is that the more they are allowed, the more the tariff becomes inoperable.

Is it right, for instance, that a small-time drug addict who shares drugs with his colleagues and friends should automatically be given a seven-year sentence, alongside a drug baron who directs a big trafficking operation? Equity is at stake here.

Another positive feature of the Bill is that it permits fine defaulters to serve community sentences instead of prison sentences. Such people could get a great deal out of doing supervised work in the community. I hope that this will resolve the problem of people being sent to prison for not paying fines for not having television licences. In 1994 there were 730 such people in prison, of whom 243 were women. It is estimated for 1995 that the figures were again 730 and about 230 respectively. Some of those women live in stricken circumstances with young children. It is crazy to lock them up for nine or 10 days—the current mean—for not paying the licence fee. I am therefore delighted by the change proposed in the Bill. It is of course a matter for magistrates courts to deal with, but I know that many magistrates strongly believe that a change was overdue.

What effect will the Bill have on the Prison Service? The service is in significant difficulty. It is confronted with a 13 per cent. budget cut. Some prison governors are running down the use of their prison education departments, and the support available for probation services in prisons is declining. Meanwhile, the number of people in prison is increasing. In 1993, there were 40,000 people; last week, reportedly, there were 57,000. Richard Tilt, Director-General of the Prison Service, suggests that the trend of increase might be 1,000 people per month. He is already talking about time shares and weekend prisons.

The Bill will have far-reaching consequences for the Prison Service—consequences perceived only dimly at the moment. The Bill's financial memorandum says so. The Home Office suggests that there will be 11,000 extra prisoners during a 12-year period as the Bill's effects work through. That alone will create a need for 12 additional prisons, at a cost said to be between £375 million and £435 million—of course, that is the Home Office's assessment of the cost.

I read in detail the White Paper that preceded the Bill, entitled "Protecting the Public", and noted in it a claim that the Bill's deterrent effect would reduce the need for prison places by 20 per cent. I am not convinced that the Bill will have such a strong deterrent effect, and I am anxious about the reduction in remission that is contained in the Bill. The Bill's financial consequences might in fact be far more serious than the financial projections suggest.

I am worried about the consequences of courts reflecting in their sentencing pattern the openness and transparency proposed in the Bill, and that a three-year sentence will in effect become an 18-month sentence. That may be the effect of the present arrangements, but when the public realise it, courts and judges will be strongly criticised in the light of current opinion. It will be very difficult for judges to explain to the public that prison sentences will be cut in half.

I am therefore sceptical that the Bill's effects will match the projections in the financial memorandum. envisage even more overcrowded prisons, with even greater potential for riots. Most worryingly, I envisage prisons becoming dysfunctional places. People need to be deterred and to be punished, but people also need rehabilitation, and I am extremely concerned that prisons will be unable to perform any of their rehabilitative roles.

Prison building has local effects as well as national ones. A prison is now being built in my constituency. The Lowdham Grange borstal has been knocked to the ground and a new Lowdham Grange category B prison is being built. There is good local understanding of the need for that prison; because there has been a prison establishment on the site before, people have been able to tolerate it. The tradition is there.

I hope that the Home Office will confirm tonight what the Prison Service told me informally—that the new prison will retain the name Her Majesty's prison, Lowdham Grange. There is some anxiety that a new name will be given. Overwhelmingly, people in that part of Nottinghamshire want to stick with the tradition and with the name.

Although there is understanding about the need for the prison, I am afraid that there is no understanding of some of the consequences. The new owners and their agents have been careful about access to the prison. A scheme was proposed that would stop traffic problems for people who live on Old Epperstone road. I was delighted with the scheme, as were local people. We are amazed that Nottinghamshire county council has unilaterally prevented that scheme from proceeding. The only crumb of comfort is that we now have an assurance from the county council that, if the council's traffic scheme does not work, new additional alternative remedial measures will be taken. I say this in the context of a Bill that argues for 12 extra prisons.

The people of Lowdham, of Nottinghamshire and of the entire country are worried about crime. They believe that something needs to be done. It is important that we tread this path carefully and thoughtfully, and that our work is well researched before we start.

It has been claimed that the Bill is open and transparent. We need to ensure that it can be that, so I hope that we devote time and attention to the Bill and do not rush it for political motives before the general election. This country's strong tradition of balancing the will of Parliament with the need to respect the rights of the courts is the cornerstone of what we stand for. The Bill risks destroying that cornerstone. I hope that the Ministers who have listened to the debate will heed the voices of caution and proceed carefully.

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Vale of Glamorgan 7:37, 4 November 1996

I support the Bill and congratulate the Home Secretary on pressing on with the Government's crusade to deter and prevent crime.

There are two ways of deterring rational criminals from committing crime. The first is to improve detection and conviction rates. The Government have come to grips with that problem by increasing the number of police officers by 16,000 since 1979, and by increasing the number of civilians working at police stations by 16,000. The Government have also announced plans to fund an extra 3,000 police officers.

Police use of improved equipment—including better use of information technology and use of closed circuit television—is likely to improve detection and conviction rates, but it will not be fully effective in deterring rational criminals unless criminals, once convicted, receive a punishment to match the crime. Home Office statistics show that prison operates as an effective deterrent against re-offending for many offenders. Critics of imprisonment sing the praises of community service, but prison has better results, despite the fact that prison comes higher up the sentencing tariff list.

Most prison inmates would greatly prefer to be at liberty, so those inmates who are rational are likely to try to avoid being sent back to prison. Unfortunately, many offenders become persistent offenders and end up with a long list of custodial sentences. There are professional burglars who know that, if they are careful and lucky, they can get away with dozens of burglaries and reap substantial ill-gotten gains before they are caught. When they are eventually caught, they know that, as the law stands, their third conviction is unlikely to result in a custodial sentence that is much longer than their first. I, therefore, strongly welcome the Bill's "third strike and you're out" approach. A three-year minimum sentence for burglars with two or more convictions for similar offences seems eminently reasonable.

I am also delighted that traffickers in hard drugs will face a minimum of seven years' imprisonment. Drug barons who make vast profits out of human misery and loss of life should face the death penalty for a repeat conviction. The evil perpetrated by those people transcends in seriousness many offences of murder, as the supplying of drugs on a large scale may result indirectly in many deaths. I should be grateful if the Minister would tell us, when he replies to the debate, whether the Government are willing to allow a free vote on an amendment to that effect.

I welcome the requirement to impose a life sentence on repeat serious or sexual offenders, unless there are exceptional circumstances that justify not doing so. Of course, however long prison sentences are, irrational criminals will always reoffend after attaining their liberty. Nothing will deter them. Some of the do-gooders on the Opposition Benches would probably say that we might as well let them off or let them out early. But that misses the point. For as long as persistent criminals are kept in prison, they are largely prevented from reoffending. Whether it costs £20,000, £30,000 or £50,000 per annum to keep a dangerous, wicked person under lock and key, while potential aggressors are kept off our streets, potential victims will be saved the trauma of being raped, knifed, shot or burgled.

I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said on the concept of minimum sentencing. He seemed to oppose the concept, claiming that discretion should be left entirely to judges, and citing, with apparent approval, an earlier speech on this subject by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence). He said that the Home Secretary had started down a slippery slope by introducing minimum sentencing. He went on to make the extraordinary and illogical claim that the Home Secretary had speeded up his progress down the slippery slope by including in clauses 1, 2 and 3 a proviso that the new, longer minimum sentences should not be imposed if that were justified by exceptional circumstances. With respect, the hon. Member for Blackburn cannot have it both ways. Either he is for judicial discretion in those clauses, or he is not.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman should not misrepresent my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who did not say that determinate sentences should be left to individual judges. He said that it should be up to the Court of Appeal to give guidelines. The hon. Gentleman should correct that point before he continues.

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Vale of Glamorgan

I am grateful for that attempt at clarification. I understood it to be an obvious discrepancy in the hon. Member for Blackburn's speech.

I can see nothing wrong, in principle, with minimum sentences. They are not new. When a mandatory minimum 12-month driving ban was first introduced for people who drink and drive, the only objectors were drunken drivers. I am confident that the public will have little sympathy with persistent serious offenders who are sent to gaol for longer than they had expected.

The Bill introduces the new principle of honest and transparent sentencing. which I am sure the public will welcome. The hon. Members for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) quite reasonably said that the views of legal practitioners should be taken into account in framing legislation. I remember my days as an articled clerk accompanying counsel down the steps at the Crown court to see clients in the cells just after they had been sentenced to a term of imprisonment. Counsel would explain that the apparent sentence was not as bad as it seemed, and would then tell the defendant how long he would have to serve. Most defendants, especially the experienced ones, showed by their demeanour that they had already done the simple sum for themselves. The present gulf between theoretical and actual sentences, although narrower than it used to be, brings the law into disrepute. The public have a right to expect that the headline sentence that appears in the papers bears a close relation to the period actually served.

The Bill rightly preserves a significant incentive for prisoners to behave well throughout their sentences, including any period spent in custody on remand, so that they may be released at the earliest possible date. The hon. Member for Swansea, East expressed concern that persistent burglars who had committed trivial offences, such as taking a milk bottle through an open window, might end up serving a three-year minimum sentence. I cannot believe for a moment that the judge's discretion under exceptional circumstances would not be used to prevent such an offender from having to spend three years inside.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) said that the efficacy of a long sentence should be judged on the extent to which the prisoner reoffends after release. That is one way of measuring the success of a prison sentence. However, another measure is the number of offences that the offender is prevented from committing while he is inside.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery criticised clause 21 for allegedly obliging judges to halve nominal sentences to achieve the same net result. With respect, it is plainly necessary for judges to take into account the effect of the Bill so as to achieve the desired net result. The alternative would be for many sentences to be almost doubled. That is not the intention behind the honesty in sentencing provisions. Despite his long experience of the law, the hon. and learned Gentleman seems to fail to understand that part of the Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) was sceptical about the value of long sentences. I accept that long sentences are not necessarily an effective deterrent. However, I believe that tough sentencing has an impact. I recently visited Singapore, where $500 fines are imposed for dropping litter, and where drug barons receive the death penalty. I did not see much litter, and I suspect that drug barons operate covertly.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy said that we should listen more closely to the experts. By that he meant solicitors like himself, banisters like the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, and judges, many of whom understandably have high self-esteem and think that they should have total discretion in sentencing. I have been talking to some real experts, such as the police, who deal with crime every day. I have also been talking to some other real experts: my constituents in the Vale of Glamorgan, who, despite recent improvements, face a totally unacceptable level of violent crime and burglaries. Almost every week I hold two surgeries in different parts of the vale, and the story I hear is the same. The public applaud the Home Secretary's efforts, but urge me to urge him to do more.

The police also seem to be on our side, whatever Opposition Members may say. In a press release on 6 March 1996, the national president of the Police Superintendents Association, Chief Superintendent Brian Mackenzie, said: Police officers throughout this country are fed up to the back teeth with apologists for criminal activities finding excuses not to severely punish hardened professional criminals … it would help public confidence if prisoners were required to serve the full sentences which were handed out … We have had 30 years of feather bedding wrongdoing. However, since the pendulum started to swing back two years ago we have seen a continuing reduction in reported crime … We totally support the Home Secretary in what he is proposing. In a similar vein, the chief constable of Hampshire, Mr. John Hoddinnott, said: the public are justifiably concerned by offences like burglary, which are particularly distressing to victims. Those who persistently commit such offences must expect the courts to hand down a lengthy custodial sentence". Finally, on Radio 5 on 12 October 1995, the President of the Police Federation, Mr. Fred Broughton, said: The sentencing issue is going to be controversial, there are going to be those people that say, 'does it really work, would it make an impact?' I'll tell you what it will do. It will give confidence to victims and witnesses that have seen people committing very serious offences come out of prison early and then re-offend". I welcome the Bill's provisions for the extended supervision of sex offenders. There was a sad case in my constituency involving a young mentally handicapped girl who was seriously sexually assaulted. Her assailant was originally charged with rape but, due to lack of evidence—which may have been occasioned, in part, by the young girl's mental problems—the charge was reduced and the assailant was convicted and served a prison term for sexual assault.

In due course, the assailant was released early from prison. He returned home and was unexpectedly seen leering across the garden fence at the young girl—his next-door neighbour—whom he had been convicted of assaulting. I believe that it is imperative for the Government to take the action necessary to ensure that, when people are found guilty of that kind of offence, they cannot live close to those whom they have attacked after they have completed their prison sentence.

The Bill correctly places great emphasis on the need for tough sentences for persistent serious offenders. I welcome its useful range of remedies for fine defaulters. The legislation also includes measures designed to help to deal with young offenders who must be deterred and prevented from becoming professional criminals. I particularly welcome the new option allowing the courts to label young offenders in order to protect the public.

Last year there was a spate of quite serious burglaries, ram raids and the like in the little town of Llantwit Major in my constituency. Two young offenders were eventually apprehended for the crimes and sent to an institution in England. The crime rate in Llantwit Major plummeted immediately and I think that it would have assisted traders and other crime victims if the names of those young criminals had been publicised. We are not talking about young innocents who, through labelling, may be turned into criminals; we are talking about youths with a string of previous convictions. They were as addicted to crime as their much older counterparts.

I believe that one very helpful measure is missing from the Bill. I would like to see a declaratory statement to the effect that, in exercising its sentencing discretion, the judiciary should regard the interests of victims as paramount. It is a well-established principle of family law that the interests of the children of the family are paramount in divorce proceedings. The most important people associated with crime are not the criminals, the social workers, the court ushers, judges, magistrates, banisters, solicitors or those who work for the Crown Prosecution Service, but the victims. We must put their interests first in terms of deterrence, retribution and prevention.

I believe that such an amendment to the Bill would assist the interpretation of sentencing powers and reassure the public, who are the potential victims of crime, that the Government put their interests first.

Photo of John Hutton John Hutton , Barrow and Furness 7:54, 4 November 1996

It is true to say that the Crime (Sentences) Bill, which we are debating this evening, is designed, at least in part, to provoke an argument with the Opposition. However, thanks to several impressive contributions by Conservative Members, today's debate has served only to expose the extent of existing reservations and disagreements on the Conservative side regarding the direction of the Government's criminal justice policy.

We must put any debate on law and order in Britain today into its proper context. The facts are clear: crime has more than doubled since 1979. Convictions and cautions have fallen and criminals are three times more likely to get away with their crimes today than in 1980. In simple terms, there is more crime today and more people are getting away with it. The international comparisons are not very flattering to the Government: crime has risen faster in Britain than in any comparable country over the same period.

The figures for Cumbria in that period are also fairly depressing. Recorded crime in Cumbria has increased by 109 per cent. since 1979. Recorded incidents of violent crime in Cumbria are up by 205 per cent., and by 7.7 per cent. this year alone. According to the British crime survey—which provides a better and more accurate record of crime in the United Kingdom—in the northern region, one adult in 20 was a victim of wounding, common assault, robbery or a snatch theft at least once in 1995.

If we strip away the Home Secretary's party conference rhetoric, any reasonable person is likely to conclude that the Government have failed to respond effectively to the rise in crime in our society. The self-proclaimed party of law and order has failed spectacularly to deliver the goods. At least the Government's response has been predictable, if not effective. A serious debate about the measures that might help in the fight against crime has been replaced by mood music which is designed to grab a few quick headlines in the tabloids. As we approach the next election, we are confronted with a Government—desperate for any measure that might restore their fortunes—who are cynically preparing to make changes to the criminal justice system on the basis of the Home Secretary's latest whim.

The Government are obviously prepared to perform spectacular U-turns on provisions that lie at the Bill's heart. Clauses 1 to 3, dealing with minimum sentences, and part II of the Bill, dealing with parole, are the most obvious examples of the U-turn stampede.

The Government's social and economic policies undermine their law and order agenda. Social disintegration and the marginalisation of the poor, which have become the characteristics of Conservative economic and social policy, create the conditions in which crime can thrive. Everyone knows that—even the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville), has conceded that point.

That is not an excuse or a justification for criminal behaviour: people must always take full personal responsibility for their actions. However, I wonder how much of the additional expenditure on law and order might have proved unnecessary if we had devoted more attention to the causes of crime and to crime prevention. Such a policy might not have attracted the headlines that the Home Secretary craves in the Daily Mail and the other Tory tabloids, but it might have made a greater impact in the fight against crime than the measures that he has outlined today.

The national debate about crime must be informed once more by serious criminological research and analysis. We must look at the evidence in the cold light of day and consider why crime has risen, what measures would make matters worse and should be avoided, and how Government can help. I believe that such a debate should focus on improving the workings of our youth justice system—about which the Bill says nothing—and provide greater consistency in sentencing between different courts.

Hon. Members may have seen a report in yesterday's Observer describing a leaked Audit Commission report on Britain's youth justice system. I have no reason to believe that the report is inaccurate and, according to the Observer, it paints a pretty grim picture of Britain's youth courts. It condemns the youth justice system for expense, delays and its failure to monitor systematically the impact of its sentencing policies on young offenders. It shows a lack of co-ordination between public agencies in dealing with juvenile delinquency". Tell us something that we did not already know about the youth justice system.

The provisions in clauses 1 to 3 have clearly undergone substantial evolution since they were first canvassed by the Home Secretary last year. One of the main concerns about his original proposals was the threat to judicial independence and the possibility of rough justice being handed out by the courts.

The new proposals in clauses 1 to 3 have introduced a major new element of discretion into the sentencing arrangements by allowing the courts to impose a lesser sentence if there are "exceptional circumstances". That will obviously result in the Court of Appeal being heavily involved in determining what "exceptional circumstances" are. Its interpretation will have an enormous influence on the impact of the new provisions. The Government's attempt to limit judicial involvement in fixing sentences for repeat offenders has thus gone into retreat.

I should have liked some reference in the Bill to reviewable sentences, as proposed by the Butler committee in 1975. Under such proposals, release would take place only after a finding that the offender no longer posed a risk to the public. I welcome the fact that those given a mandatory life sentence under clause 1 will have such an assessment, but reviewable sentences have much wider potential applications. They could be applied to all child sex offenders, on first conviction or subsequently. Such sentences would have the additional merit of corresponding more closely with the Government's stated intention of introducing more honesty into sentencing practice.

I am also concerned that the list of serious offences in clause 1(5) includes only two serious sex offences. Why did the Government choose to list only those two serious sex crimes? What about offences under sections 6 and 12 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956? Both sections detail serious sex crimes involving young children. I fully appreciate that a line has to be drawn and new offences have to be characterised, but I should be grateful for an explanation.

I welcome the provisions on the supervision of sex offenders, but I have two reservations. First, unless I am mistaken, the list mentioned by the Home Secretary this afternoon detailing restrictions that might be imposed on convicted sex offenders does not appear in the Bill. I assume that the Home Secretary was referring to his powers under clause 12(5) to make regulations on the supervision of any type of offender. It is a shame that draft regulations have not been published to correspond with the publication of the Bill. We could then have a better-informed debate on what the Home Secretary has in mind for the supervision of sex offenders. I am disappointed that the Bill includes no specific reference to the restrictions and controls that could be imposed on sex offenders. I think that that omission is a mistake.

Secondly, I am concerned about the extended powers under clause 16 to impose extensive post-release supervision orders on convicted sex offenders. Clause 16(1)(a) refers simply to someone convicted of a sexual offence. I am sure that that will be sufficiently comprehensive in most cases, but I am concerned that it will not always be comprehensive enough. Why should not those powers to impose a more extensive post-release supervision order extend to someone convicted of child abduction? It may be that such an offender did not get any further than abducting the child because the child was rescued before any more serious offence was committed. Would such an offender be considered a sexual offender for the purposes of the clause? My understanding is that he would not. The Bill is at fault there.

I should like to emphasise the comments of the Parole Board about the importance of prisoners being under effective supervision once they have been released. As many hon. Members have made clear, clause 12 might well result in prisoners being under supervision for considerably less time than at present. That would not be a sensible or desirable change. Considering the rhetoric surrounding the introduction of the Bill, our constituents would find such a measure extraordinary.

In its comments published on 15 October on the Government's White Paper, the Parole Board said: In general, therefore, under the proposed arrangements most prisoners will be under supervision for considerably less time than at present. But the White Paper is almost entirely silent on what supervision will mean. If it is to be at least as effective for long term prisoners as it is at present, the existing system which relies upon detailed risk assessments must not be dismantled. Unfortunately, the provisions in the White Paper are now contained in the Bill, which is as silent as the White Paper was on what supervision orders will mean in practice.

More significantly, the Parole Board goes on to say: We believe that the 'honesty in sentencing' proposals will lead to an abandonment of that rehabilitation process, replacing a system which is effective in dealing with the release of dangerous and persistent criminals with one which will be worse in almost every respect. This will result in poorer rather than better protection for the public. The Board strongly believes that the Government will be making a serious, and potentially dangerous, mistake if it does not reconsider this part of its White Paper proposals. Unfortunately, the Government did not reconsider that part of the White Paper proposals. They are in the Bill. I hope that we shall have some detailed answers in Committee to the serious criticisms that the Parole Board has made.

Many hon. Members have referred to the impact of the proposals on the prison population and the prison estate. I do not want to repeat all the arguments that have been made, but there is a real concern that the Government's proposals will lead to an impossible burden on the prison service. The Select Committee on Home Affairs, which is currently investigating the prison service, heard evidence last week from the Prison Governors Association that the service will be in a very difficult situation next year, notwithstanding the coming into force of these proposals in the medium term.

It is imperative that the quality of the prison service is maintained. We have to do something constructive with those who come into our prisons. There is no point and no value for the taxpayer or for society in recycling an endless stream of prisoners through prison gates, many for the second, third or fourth time. They will come back again, costing us a huge amount and providing no substantive protection. Any proposals which might hit at the rehabilitation and education programmes of the prison service would be a huge mistake. There are concerns—some have been expressed by hon. Members and others by people outside the House—that that is already happening under the twin pressures of more prisoners coming in and the continuing squeeze on prison budgets, which are facing a 13 per cent. cut this year.

In essence, this is a Bill that must be and needs to be improved in Committee so that the public can be offered greater protection from dangerous criminals and so that the courts will be allowed to develop better sentencing policies. However, the Bill has all the appearance of being a last-gasp effort by a Government who, everyone knows, have simply run out of excuses to explain away the record increase in crime during their period in office. They have run out of excuses and very soon, they will be run out of office as well.

Photo of Mr William Powell Mr William Powell , Corby 8:09, 4 November 1996

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has brought before the House a valuable measure which deserves discussion and which, with the exception of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate feels deserves further discussion. I certainly support that line.

Before I came to the House, I practised every day for 15 years in the criminal courts, mostly in London. I had close experience, therefore, of many people who were given prison sentences. I used to visit prisons on a basis that was far too regular for my own good, so I had a continuing knowledge of what was taking place in the criminal courts.

When I came here, I did not, unlike some hon. Members, wish to devote my time solely to criminal justice issues, although I could have done. I have, therefore, become a little more detached than would have been the case if I had continued with my daily practice, but I hope that I have not forgotten those past days or unlearned the lessons that were a part of my daily experience.

Above all, I learned that there were few things more inimical to our system of democracy than punishing the innocent. As conviction necessarily involves punishment, it is vital that our system of criminal justice ensures that we do not make it too easy to convict people and that a high standard and quality of proof is provided before conviction takes place.

Once people have been convicted, the public are entitled to expect that the courts will reflect the seriousness that the public feel about the activities that are carried out by criminals. When I was born and in the years after world war two, the Lord Chief Justice was Lord Goddard. He commanded respect throughout the country. Ordinary people felt that as long as he was Lord Chief Justice, he and the judges whom he led would conduct the criminal justice system in a way that met with their approval and approbation. In the 40 years or so since Lord Goddard retired as Lord Chief Justice, there has, I regret to say, been a striking collapse of public confidence in the ability of the criminal justice system to reflect people's wishes.

Another principle that I learned, which is of the most profound importance, is that the criminal law exists to protect the poor, the weak, the inadequate and those who may lack courage. They are the people whom we remembered last week on the feast of All Souls Day. Ordinary people are entitled to expect with confidence that the criminal law will protect them, by ensuring that those who commit crimes are caught, convicted and properly punished.

I take the view that most criminals get caught, but I believe that they do not get caught for all the offences that they commit. We have to provide a mechanism that will ensure that those who commit crimes are convicted of all their crimes and not merely for one or a small number of their crimes. An Opposition Member referred not long ago to the fact that professional burglars may feel that they can get away with their burglaries time and again before they are convicted. When they are subsequently convicted, they are not convicted for their earlier crimes.

When I started practising in the criminal courts, there was a thriving industry of "defences taking into consideration". That is no longer the case. We must provide a mechanism whereby those who are convicted of crime will assist the authorities in uncovering all their past criminal activities, as far as is possible.

One of the principles that we might adopt from the American system—it is much derided, but it has many more strengths than our superior English lawyers are often prepared to concede—is that in American jurisdictions, if the judge trying the case feels that the person before him is a professional criminal, that is, a persistent criminal who is earning his or her living substantially out of crime, he may sentence that person to an impossibly long term of imprisonment. However, there is a review a year or so later.

Somebody may be sent to prison for 99 years—nobody imagines that that person will serve 99 years—as a holding sentence. A year later, that person will be brought back before the court and the court will then inquire into what assistance that person has given to the prosecuting authorities in the detection of other crimes in which he has been involved. He may have given information about other people who have been involved in the same crimes, or he may have helped in the recovery of property. He may have given information leading to the arrest and conviction of other persons. If that person has disgorged all that he knows, the judge may vary the sentence from 99 years to a much more sensible period. That system avoids the distasteful practice of plea bargaining, which has grown too much in this country, albeit covertly.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

I have listened to the hon. Gentleman with great interest. Is he advocating that we should induce a prisoner with a savage sentence to lie, cheat and admit to things that he has not done? Is he advocating that we should do all the things that are wrong in our law? That led, for example, to a false clear-up rate by the Kent police. Surely the hon. Gentleman cannot be advocating that.

Photo of Mr William Powell Mr William Powell , Corby

It is clear from what I have said that if a convicted person proposed to give the police such assistance, they would be able to advise the trial judge that that was what had happened and perhaps the 99-year sentence would be doubled as a consequence. However, we must provide some mechanism whereby those who have already been convicted of crime and who have been involved in serious crime time and again come forward to the courts and provide as much information as they can. I am not talking about false information, as the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) fears. The courts can easily reflect such co-operation or lack of co-operation in their handling of people. There should be some benefit for those who assist in the process that I have described and such a benefit does not exist to a satisfactory extent at present.

In the present day, there is a lack of fear of the criminal justice system among professional villains. In the days of Lord Goddard, there was respect and fear of what would happen if one came before Her Majesty's judges. Only the other day, the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph, the local newspaper that covers the eastern part of Northamptonshire, including my constituency, produced the best article it has written in my years as a Member of Parliament.

On 9 October 1996, the headline was, "Why didn't they lock me up?" The story continued: A teenage thief admitted today that prison is the only thing which will stop his life of crime.In an amazingly frank interview the 17-year-old said: 'I'm looking for a job but it's easier to go out and steal. Prisons are the only thing which could stop me.'The teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, confessed to: committing his first offence at 13, breaking into hundreds of cars in four years, selling stolen radios to buy cannabis.He said: 'I don't want to do this for the rest of my life—but it's easy money.' That person had no fear.

Just before Christmas, at the Middlesex Guildhall—just the other side of Parliament square—a convicted burglar was brought before Judge Clarkson. It was the judge's last case. The defendant was 6 ft 8 in tall. He was a professional burglar who had been convicted several times. On that occasion, the jury convicted him of a series of burglaries in the Finchley area of London, during which he had undoubtedly humiliated the victims of his crime. Given his size, many people felt terrorised by him. He was advised by his counsel, absolutely correctly, that the likely sentence would be eight years—a serious sentence for burglary. He was sent to prison for 27 years; he fainted in the dock when he heard the sentence. Many of our constituents would welcome it if more prisoners fainted in the dock when they heard their sentences.

I am referring to professional criminals. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) said that too many people in prison are not professional criminals, but professional prisoners. Those are not the people I have in mind. I am referring to serious, professional, ruthless criminals who most of our constituents feel are getting away with their crimes.

Unfortunately, whether we like it or not—and I do not like it—increasing numbers of our constituents no longer trust those who operate the criminal justice system to deliver penalties that are appropriate to the crime. By changing direction, the Bill starts a process whereby we hope that it will be possible to impose even tougher sentences and, at the same time, weed out prisoners who ought not to be in prison and for whom nothing worth while is achieved by their being in prison.

I refer not merely to those who fail to pay their television licence fees, but to the professional prisoners mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley, who are sent to prison time and again. They become used to prison life and even begin to depend on it. They are frequently illiterate, always untrained and have nothing to offer the world except the possibility of another crime, which, as much as anything else, is designed to get them back to prison life.

I should not wish to fill our prisons with 75,000. 100,000 or 200,000 people. I should prefer it if fewer than 5,000 people were in prison; those in prison should be the professional villains who wreak such appalling havoc on the lives of many people.

I approve of minimum sentences. No one has had any trouble with the idea of maximum sentences, so I do not understand why there should be such a difficulty with minimum sentences. However, I wish that the judiciary had taken advantage of the increased powers that we gave them. Time and again I have voted to increase the powers of sentencing available to the courts, only to find that they are not being used. As far as I am aware, Judge Clarkson in the Finchley case that I mentioned was the only judge ever to have used the powers of enhancing sentences that we have given for such cases as I have described.

Experts in the field have lost touch with our constituents—the all souls, as I described them—the poor, the defenceless and the weak who look to the police and the courts, presided over by magistrates or judges, to ensure that those who commit serious crimes receive serious punishments.

When I talk about deterrent sentences, I do not mean tough sentences whereby somebody says, "That was tough," and it is quickly forgotten, but sentences that crackle round the community for years to come. In 1958 there were race riots in Notting Hill. Mr. Justice Salmon sent those convicted to prison for four years, and 10 years later when I started at the Bar, people in the Temple and in prisons were still talking about the deterrent sentences imposed on those Notting Hill race rioters in 1958.

When I started at the Bar, there was an outbreak of vandalism of telephone kiosks in Birmingham. Judge Argyle, the then recorder of Birmingham, sent everyone who was convicted of vandalism to prison. The vandalism stopped in Birmingham, but not elsewhere. People in Birmingham talked in pubs, clubs and their homes about the prison sentences that inevitably followed such crimes.

Deterrent sentences should crackle round the community. They should not be forgotten, but should be remembered for years. As so much crime is international, they should be remembered abroad, too.

Certain crimes are limited in number, but important and serious, and all our constituents find them objectionable and repulsive. They require deterrent sentences. Those involved in the production and distribution of child pornography should be imprisoned for a long time. People who are involved in sexual offences against young children or kidnapping should be imprisoned, not for an indeterminate life sentence, but for a minimum of perhaps 60 years. Above all, those who are responsible for the mass importation of drugs into Britain, sometimes involving millions of pounds, should be imprisoned.

The other day, when I was driving home I heard on the news that the Old Bailey had heard its most serious case ever involving heroin importation. The sentence imposed on the main defendant was 14 years. The case was reported briefly on the news and then forgotten.

I wish it to be known abroad that those who bring vast quantities of heroin into Britain will be pursued to the ends of the earth, that all their assets will be stripped from them when they are convicted and that they should expect to spend at least 60 years in a British gaol if they are convicted in Britain. The message should go out from the House and the country that certain people are absolutely unwelcome. We should protect our people as they expect to be protected and as they expect the judges to protect them—by sending those who smuggle heroin worth £5 million or £50 million to prison not for 14 years, but for the whole of their effective lives. Those sentences would crackle round the community exactly as deterrent sentences should.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson , Delyn 8:29, 4 November 1996

I shall not follow the line of thought of the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell.)—[HON. MEMBERS: "Line of thought?"] Perhaps I am being generous. His speech certainly provoked a response that is worthy of discussion in Committee.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

Does my hon. Friend accept that it shows that the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) has been out of the trade, as it were, for some 15 years? The standard sentence set down by the Court of Appeal for serious drug smuggling of class A drugs is more than 20 years, not 14. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman ought to come up to date before he speaks in the House.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson , Delyn

I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. I know that he tried to intervene on the hon. Member for Corby.

I speak as one of the hon. Members in this debate who is not a lawyer and, alongside the bunch of professionals. I join several of my select colleagues in putting forward views on the Bill. I speak as someone who has been a Member of Parliament for four and a half years and who has witnessed the effects of crime on many of my constituents. I reject the charge levelled by many Conservative Members that the Labour party and the Opposition are soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime. We are trying to put forward some very positive ideas about how to tackle crime. I reject the overall suggestion that any discussion of the nature of the Bill means that I and my hon. Friends are soft on crime.

I have certain reservations about the Bill's impact on the performance of the Prison Service and the prisoners detained by it. I have some questions about the use of resources in the long term for the prevention and detection of crime. I have—I hope—some genuine thoughts on whether the Bill's overall aims will be effective, and whether it will produce a policy that is fair and equitable and seen to be so. I believe that it may have some detrimental effects.

The Bill is certainly a major measure. I strongly agree with the thoughtful remarks of the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), a former Prisons Minister. The Bill will certainly increase the prison population. According to its explanatory notes, its likely impact will be the creation of an extra 1,000 gaol spaces over the next few years, the building and completion of 12 new prisons and the expenditure of between £375 million and £435 million a year in additional running costs for the prison system—when there are already a record 57,000 prisoners in gaol. The Bill's main impact will not be felt for some 10 to 12 years, when the gaol sentences and increased numbers will have filtered through.

Although prison is certainly important and, in many ways, a deterrent, prevention, detection and conviction rates are just as important as final sentences in preventing crime, as many of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping), have pointed out. Since 1979, 22 new prisons have been built, and an additional 11,635 prisoners have been subjected to terms of imprisonment, yet throughout the same period crime has doubled.

The preventive nature of sentencing has not necessarily had an impact on the number of prisoners who are now detained at Her Majesty's pleasure. Sentencing represents just one approach. The pressures of detection, prevention, numbers of police officers and a more long-term strategy will have a more important and beneficial effect on reducing crime than, as I shall try to explain later, harsher and often more unfair sentences.

In a very helpful brief that arrived today, the Law Society has supported such a view. It said: We consider that criminals are more deterred by fear of being caught than by the punishment that they may receive. For this reason, we do not believe that longer sentences necessarily act as an effective means of crime prevention. Surely crime prevention is what this House should be about.

Since 1979, north Wales has seen a 77 per cent. increase in the number of crimes: last year, 41,645 crimes were committed in the North Wales police area. That is a tremendous increase, at a time when the number of prisons has doubled and the number of prisoners has risen. That figure does not take into account the number of crimes that were not reported.

Between 1980 and 1994, however, convictions have fallen. There was an increase in crime of between 79 per cent. and 80 per cent. in that period, yet there was a 10.3 per cent. fall in the number of convictions. As a number of my hon. Friends have said, only one in 50 crimes results in conviction. That is not satisfactory, yet the Bill will not address it. Conviction and policing are the best prevention and deterrent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) made a number of positive suggestions in the debate on the Queen's Speech last week as an alternative to sentencing that would help crime prevention. Closed circuit television would certainly help. Resources that will be put into the building and managing of new prisons could be directed at crime prevention. As a number of my hon. Friends have said, the physical presence of police officers on the streets is a greater deterrent than the fear of conviction.

The 100,000 illegal guns, the banning of combat knives, my hon. Friend's helpful suggestions on youth orders, investment in crime prevention, truancy and improvement in recreational facilities are at least as important in preventing crime as the harsh sentencing policy which the Bill will introduce. I should like greater emphasis on those issues and some consideration in Committee of whether the Government's proposals are the best way forward and whether some of the resources being pumped into the inevitable consequences of that harsher prison system would better be spent on key prevention measures.

I would welcome—and shall try to elicit—a response from the Minister on the operation of the policy. A number of clauses will result, as has been said, in greater prison numbers. What research has been undertaken into the proposals' impact on the future prison system and the prevention of crime in the first place? We have an example in evaluation of the American experience.

In Committee, there should be detailed discussion on delays in cases coming to court. What has happened in America with plea bargaining? Has it increased and resulted in a reduced sentence for some individuals? What has happened to the number of petty criminals who have been imprisoned as a result of proposals similar to those before us? What has happened to a whole range of issues concerning evaluation of the—admittedly—harsher American regime? Such questions need to be considered and more work needs to be done on evaluating the impact of harsher sentencing proposals on the present and future prison populations and the prevention of crime, which should be the main concern of the House.

I am also concerned about the impact, effectiveness and fairness of some of the proposals on our wider communities, such as those in clause 1, which imposes a mandatory life sentence for a second serious sexual offence. I simply ask whether the Minister can guarantee that such proposals will ensure that more serious crimes will not be committed as a result.

Rape is a foul and vicious crime. It is an affront to women, and a crime that deserves severe and harsh punishment. No one will decry that, but I remain unconvinced—I would be willing to be convinced in Committee—of the merits of a term of life for a second serious sexual offence. The person who committed such an offence might be tempted to murder the victim. If the penalty remains the same, I fear for the individual on the receiving end of the crime.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

If the hon. Gentleman needs convincing that life is appropriate in those circumstances, how does he justify the fact that life is currently one of the sentencing options for someone who commits the crime of rape?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson , Delyn

I accept what the Minister says, but the difference is that life would be mandatory on a second offence in the example I have given, so an individual might feel that he might as well commit murder as rape is he felt that the survival of the victim would result in a conviction. I have no answer to that fear, but I am willing to discuss it in Committee. That issue has been raised by other hon. Members, and it needs to be addressed before we accept the clause.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

Does my hon. Friend agree, contrary to the Minister's glib approach. that rape is rape is rape, that there are many different types of rape? For example, there is statutory rape on a child, in which, say, the boy is 15 and the girl is 12. That would constitute one strike. There is boy friend on girl friend date rape, which is not as serious as that committed by the man who leaps out of the bushes.

There are so many different types of rape, and perhaps there are two solutions. One might be to redefine the crime of rape, as the Canadians have done, into various degrees of rape; secondly, perhaps only the most serious type should attract a mandatory life sentence for the second offence.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson , Delyn

I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. He highlights again the complexities of the issue, which the Committee will need to discuss. My main contention remains the same; I am concerned about the safety of victims of that appalling crime.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) mentioned clause 3, which deals with burglary. Burglary is a horrible crime. It violates individuals and causes great distress and a range of social problems, but a mandatory sentence may cause some difficulties. That was amply outlined by my hon. Friend, who made an assessment of the impact on the criminal. It is possible that an individual who had committed three minor offences, distressing though they might have been, would receive a relatively severe, mandatory three-year sentence. In addition to taking that person out of circulation for three years, such a sentence might make him into a more hardened, long-term criminal who was a greater danger to society at the end of that sentence. That was one reason why Ministers rejected mandatory sentences for a number of offences in 1991.

I am also worried about the effect that mandatory sentences might have in increasing violent crime. If individuals have two offences under their belt and face possible detection—despite the fact that detection rates are low and criminals easily get away with many crimes—for a third crime, they may increasingly resort to carrying weapons and other harmful instruments. That could lead to an increase in violent crime. Those issues should be explored before we rush headlong down the road of the easy solution of harsh sentences for headline-grabbing effect.

We must also consider the likely increase in the gaol population, and we must evaluate the stresses and the likely result of additional prisoners in gaols. Those issues will all add to the long-term problem of crime which the Bill is meant to address.

I welcome one aspect of the Bill—the proposals for non-custodial sentences for those individuals who are convicted for non-payment of fines. I raised several years ago the case of some constituents who had gone to gaol for non-payment of television licence fees, largely through poverty rather than criminal intent. The proposals in the Bill will certainly be a great help in reducing the gaol population for such offences, and, constructively, will provide a way to keep families together. Children will be able to have their mothers with them rather than face the disruption that a gaol sentence brings for what remains the minor, although still important, crime of non-payment of television licence fines.

A number of issues need to be examined and the Bill should go to Committee for discussion. I am disappointed that the Government have introduced it in this form, because the proposals strike me as more about pre-election posturing than positive ways to reduce crime. No Opposition Member wants to see criminals getting away with crimes or crime increasing. We want effective measures to be taken to reduce crime and provide security for our constituents. [Interruption.] The hooligan element on the Conservative Benches is providing a great example to the public through the comments of the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale).

A thoughtful approach can be taken to reducing crime. The Labour party has that thoughtful approach, and we will exercise it in Committee. I hope that the Bill will be a better Bill, after having been studied in Committee, than it is at the moment.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton 8:46, 4 November 1996

The Bill, although perhaps not perfect, does more than any other Bill in recent years to respond to the reasonable desire of the citizen for better protection against crime and criminals, and it warrants the support of all Members of the House who represent those citizens.

The Home Secretary has been beset by attacks from all sides—from the Labour party, Liberal Democrats, penal reformers, judges, the Bar, the Law Society, academics and a section of the public that wants every criminal to be imprisoned for life, or shot, or worse. We have a brave and courageous Home Secretary who is holding fast, with this Bill, to the conviction that much more can be done to protect society; that prison works to protect society; that there is room for tougher sentences and more honesty in sentencing; and that we need to support the police, who are crying out for our support. He is right, and we all know it.

Why is my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary right and his critics wrong? I shall endeavour to show how his critics are wrong, and I shall begin with three obvious points.

First, not all judges are opposed to the provisions in the Bill, and neither are all practitioners, all academics or all penal reformers. A sizable number of them—and I have spoken with them—support the proposals. Secondly, not all the opposition to the proposals is reasonable. I took part in the programme called "Kilroy" last week and I was howled at, when I said that we were toughening the law, by those of the public who wondered why we were not proposing even tougher sentences; why first offenders were not to be sentenced to life imprisonment for rape or serious violence; why three years for burglary was not the first sentence to be imposed on burglars; and why seven years was not the first sentence to be imposed for drug offences.

In my opinion, those attacks on me were not always reasonable. When such sentences would be reasonable, in the circumstances of a particular case, the courts have the power to impose them already.

Thirdly, many of the perceived ills of our system—this was clear from the television programme in which I took part—are not the fault of the Government. The judiciary is independent and cannot be interfered with or told what to do by the Government, save where Parliament lays down minimum or maximum sentences. If the maximum sentence is greater and the sentence imposed inadequate, the blame must unfortunately lie with the judiciary and not the Government.

Let me deal with as many of the Opposition's unmerited criticisms as I can in the limited period available. The credibility of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) must be somewhat diminished as we recall how his party's view has changed in reaction to the proposals. His decision not to vote on the Bill clashes with his first reaction to the proposals, which he attacked in a press release as a bizarre mixture of complacency and desperation". He then dismissed them on "Today" as ill-thought through and ill-considered". One of his henchmen, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), was authorised to dismiss the proposals as "daft", while his deputy, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), described them as "a farce".

The concept of minimum sentences was attacked in a Labour policy document, "Honesty, consistency and progression in sentences", as was the scrapping of automatic early release from prison. When one knows that such opposition to fundamental principles has changed so much, one can hardly have overwhelming confidence in the hon. Member for Blackburn's judgment.

Nor can one have confidence when we recall that, as we approach a general election, the Labour party has voted against virtually every measure to toughen our approach to criminals—

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

—or has at least failed to support them. The hon. Gentleman cannot deny that. Labour has failed year after year to support the prevention of terrorism legislation, stronger stop and search powers for the police, limitations on bail and higher maximum sentences.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael , Cardiff South and Penarth

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to respond to the debate, and he can then deny that he has failed to support the tough measures that we introduced. [Interruption.] It is on the record—he cannot deny it. His words are clear in Hansard. He can deal with that matter when he comes to the Dispatch Box.

Higher maximum sentences for the worst child offences were opposed by Labour, as were secure training orders for persistent 12 to 14-year-old offenders and the taking of intimate DNA samples from suspects. Labour has decided to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime as we move nearer to a general election, as it knows from the opinion polls that that is what the public expect from their representatives.

In the light of these responses, let us study what the hon. Member for Blackburn has stated today. He said that we made mistakes in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1991 on unit fines and taking into account previous convictions, and we did. Some of us warned against the latter, but the Government did correct those mistakes in subsequent legislation.

In addition, not all the 1991 Act was bad. Most was good and remains on the statute book. We recognised error and corrected it. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd) wisely observed, we always aim for the best, and our proposals must change in the light of experience. My own views have certainly changed on the need for minimum sentences in the light of judicial failure to lay down minimum guidelines. But to use that as a reason for not endorsing the Bill is as irrelevant as it is ridiculous.

The hon. Member for Blackburn said that the Bill does not deal with muggers and knife robbers—a point made also by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile)—and he is right. The Bill could have been even tougher on the imposition of minimum sentences, but we are under enough attack for making the Bill as tough as it is. Do the Opposition want youngsters who gang up and assault people in the streets to be at risk of life imprisonment? Very well—let them table amendments to that effect as the Bill progresses.

Perhaps they are right, but the Bill does not stop judges giving harsher sentences in appropriate cases—judges can give life to muggers now. They can give more than three years to three-time offending burglars or more than seven years for three-time drug traffickers. This Bill does not restrict judges' freedom to pass longer sentences: it only restricts their freedom in some circumstances to pass shorter sentences.

The hon. Member for Blackburn scoffed at the length of time it will take to introduce these measures. He is right to deplore the delay, but wrong to scoff. If it were possible to put the measures in place immediately, we would do so. But new prisons will have to be built, and it is not possible to proceed more quickly, much as we would all wish to do so. That is not a fair criticism. His other attacks were not credible, and the House and the country will have little difficulty in dismissing them.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) was high in eloquence and arrogance and low in humility and respect for others, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney), who did not share his opinions. His confident assertions were shown to be suspect, and his claim that his party wanted more policemen was shown to clash not with a consultation document, but with a recent policy statement that there was no point in having more police officers.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that those not subject to minimum sentences will be released earlier than at present, but it is by no means clear that that can be read into clause 21 of the Bill or the abolition of the relevant provisions in earlier Acts. Even if he were right, that is not the intention of the Bill and it can be remedied as it is improved during its passage through Parliament. He knows that very well.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery says that all manslaughter cases are not the same, and that it is an injustice to say that two will result in life sentences. But he chooses to ignore the fact that a different tariff will be set for "accidental crimes", and that exceptional circumstances can avoid the imposition of the mandatory sentence. He falls into the trap of assuming that, because there are occasional bizarre cases, that Is a reason for not dealing with the generality of cases. If we never dealt with the generality for fear of the exceptional, we would never pass any laws to protect the public. Such a philosophy is totally ridiculous.

The final arrogance of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery was to assert with confidence that jurors will be unlikely to convict anyone in manslaughter cases if they know that a later manslaughter would result in a life sentence being imposed. What evidence does he have of that? That is absolute rubbish. He asserted with confidence that no jury would convict on a second manslaughter offence if they knew of a first offence for fear that the defendant would receive life imprisonment. What evidence has he of that? In how many cases would a defence barrister put his client's previous conviction for manslaughter to the jury, making it more certain that the defence of accident or wrong identity would be disbelieved? It is nonsense, and I am surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman has not recognised that. That is not my judgment, and I have been practising at the criminal Bar at least as long as he has.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department pointed out that it is any event to give the sentence of life imprisonment—

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

Because other hon. Members want to speak. The hon. Gentleman has not been here from the start of the debate, unlike some of my hon. Friends. He will forgive me if I carry on. [Interruption.] Hon. Members will not throw me from my speech, because they know I am talking sense. The fact that they are trying to distract me from talking sense shows how pitifully poor their argument must be.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has pointed out, the approach of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery is attempting to give the sentence of life imprisonment a more dreadful aspect than it bears, for its purpose is to limit the risk of release. The inevitable result would not be that life imprisonment meant life, much as some might wish that to be so. It see no merit in the hon. and learned Gentleman's criticisms, so I think that we can dispense with them.

What then of the criticisms of some judges? The provisions to introduce more honesty—not complete honesty—into sentencing has the judges' support. As Lord Denning said; It is absurd that a sentence of three years' imprisonment really means less than 18 months. It detracts from the authority of the court when everyone knows that a long sentence does not mean what it appears to mean. The former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor of Gosforth, said: I believe public confidence in the system is eroded when convicted criminals are seen to walk free from prison after serving less than half their sentences, however good their behaviour may have been in the interim. We are doing something about that, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is to be congratulated.

The judges were, and perhaps still are, sensitive about the fact that limiting their discretion is part of the purpose of the Bill; as a recorder, I understand that, but the judges are surely over-reacting. Some said at first that minimum sentences were not known in our system, until the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, pointed out that. if Parliament can prescribe a maximum sentence, as it does, there is no constitutional reason why it should not prescribe minimum sentences—and it has done so, with considerable effect, for murder and for drink-driving.

I would rather that we did not have to introduce minimum sentences, as has often been pointed out—my quotation from five years ago keeps coming up—but, if the judges have not considered over those five years that a minimum sentence of three years' imprisonment for a professional burglar or seven years for a professional class A drug trafficker is appropriate, they cannot complain if Parliament decides to do something about inadequate sentences.

If only 10 out of 217 people convicted in 1994 for second-time rape or serious violent offences received the life imprisonment that the judges were capable of imposing; if judges give seven-times burglars 19 and a half months' imprisonment and do not sentence a third of them to prison at all; and if they give inadequate sentences to seven-times drug traffickers, they can hardly complain when we toughen the sentencing requirements.

It would have been better if the Lord Chief Justice and the appeal judges had laid down minimum guidelines; but they could not do it, they did not do it, and it is for us, the elected representatives of the people, to do it if the judges fail. That is what the people whom we represent want and have a right to expect.

What of the criticisms of academics, probation officers and others? I hope that I will be forgiven for lumping them together and dealing quite briefly with many of the attacks.

It has been said that there will be an increase in the need for prison spaces at a time of existing pressure on the system; of course that is so, but my right hon. and learned Friend has made it clear that, if we have been able to build 22 new prisons over the past decade and a half, we can do the same again over the next decade, in time to ensure that the provisions of the Bill can be put into effect.

It has been said that effective sentences will double; they will not. Guidelines—or, if necessary, legislation—can ensure that the courts take account of the abolition of parole when sentencing.

It has been said that the Bill does not create honest sentencing, because there will still be 16 to 20 per cent. reductions for good behaviour. As I have said before, that is more honest sentencing than reducing the sentence by a half or even by a third.

It has been said that there will be anomalies, and there will be, but that is no reason not to do what needs to be done to reduce anomalies and their bad effects.

It has been said that there will remain a wide range of sex offences that are not punishable by life imprisonment, that is right, but the Bill extends the provisions for dealing more effectively with treatment and supervision in prison, via the Prison Service, and out of prison, via the Probation Service, and there are further plans to deal more adequately with such offenders. Those plans are long overdue, but the problems are being addressed, and we should be complimented, not attacked, for that.

It has been said that minimum sentences never work; but minimum sentences that appear in judicial guidelines work, so why should not statutory provisions work?

It has been said that prison does not work, but clearly it does if it removes the worst offenders from circulation. I can say from my experience as a barrister for 34 years that what offenders fear most is imprisonment. They will do anything to get out of it; they will plead not guilty to get out of it. From my recent experience of talking to offenders who might be affected by "three strikes and you're out" in Texas and California, the life sentence is feared. It works with them, and it and would work with many other offenders.

If it is said, as both Government and Opposition Members have said, that prison does not work because it has done little to reform offenders, I say only that 50 per cent. of those imprisoned do not reoffend within two years, which is no worse a record than that of community sentences. I agree that more, perhaps far more, should be done to make reform a more effective part of prison life.

If one considers the criticisms objectively, it is not reasonable to conclude that they have such force as to make the Bill unacceptable. Many have no basis in fact; others are merely opinion based on little evidence; others have a scintilla of merit but can be met by improving the Bill and by further legislation. The little that cannot be so addressed is not sufficient to justify destroying measures that have, by every opinion poll going, the overwhelming support of the public; of the police, to judge from statement after statement of senior and junior officers; and, I suspect, of the overwhelming majority of the House.

The Government have taken a raft of measures to be tougher on criminals and the causes of crime. They have helped to reduce crime by 10 per cent.—the largest reduction sustained in our history. The Home Secretary should be congratulated on his successes in dealing with crime and the Government deserve the House's support for the Bill.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring , Bury St Edmunds 9:06, 4 November 1996

One thing that has escaped the attention of the House is that the drop in crime in the past three years is the largest in the industrialised world. I want to tell my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary that the Bill comes at the end of a step-by-step approach by him to tackling crime and its underlying causes realistically. Its object and underlying thrust is to target career criminals—dangerous and professional criminals—and to provide sentences appropriate to act as a deterrent. Enough is enough is the message that emanates from the Bill.

Over the past few years, I have watched the Home Secretary's initiative working in my rural area. The introduction of the parish constable scheme, of liaison officers in parishes and in rural towns, of closed circuit television, and the encouragement of community action schemes all build up to give support to communities in fighting crime. I welcome the Bill and the support that my right hon. and learned Friend has given at grass-roots level to tackling the incidence of drug abuse and to the attempts of communities to fight against it.

The real issue is the profound sense of disappointment in communities as they watch what goes on in the courts and the criminal justice system. There is a clear public perception of sentencing that goes well beyond saloon bar comment. It is shared by magistrates and the police, to many of whom I have spoken. In my constituency this summer, there were unacceptable scenes of yob activity. I welcome the fact that in Committee we will have the opportunity to ensure that yobs can be named in public and shamed by their communities.

People do not only feel anecdotally that sentencing is inappropriate. In 1994, the average sentence passed on burglars with seven or more convictions was slightly more than 19 months; a quarter received no custodial sentence at all. When a first-time offender receives 16 months on average for burglary, it is utterly illogical for someone who commits seven additional burglaries to receive a custodial sentence that is only two or three months longer. People's instincts are borne out by the facts.

There has been a lot of talk about challenging the role of the judiciary. Of course, the independence of the judiciary is sacrosanct, but Parliament sets the laws and the framework within which the judiciary operates. Parliament must protect the interests of the victim, not the well-being of the offender. The protection of the citizen is at the heart of the Bill, implicitly and explicitly.

All of us who have suffered burglaries know of the horror of being burgled. That is particularly so for elderly people. So much criminal activity is undertaken by a small group of people. It is correct for the law to concentrate on tackling those individuals and ensuring that they spend an appropriate length of time in prison.

Drug trafficking is the greatest social evil of our generation. All the attempts to deal with it more liberally in, for example, Zurich and the Netherlands, have failed. We have to send drug traffickers a clear message that we will not tolerate what is going on. That is happening in conjunction with the Government's overall education, rehabilitation and enforcement scheme, under "Tackling Drugs Together".

I shall be brief as time is running out and my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) wants to speak. As has been said, the Attorney-General already has the power to appeal against lenient sentences, which is helpful and the power can no doubt be strengthened. The real need, however, and the underlying core of the Bill, is to protect the public from the release of a vicious individual when it is clear that he or she remains a potential danger to our society. Nothing enrages the public more. They want honesty in sentencing and that is precisely what they are going to get.

I welcome the introduction of the clauses dealing with mentally disordered offenders. It is a grey area—especially the problem of people who are released from psychiatric institutions and those who are sometimes sent directly into the criminal justice system—and it has not been dealt with satisfactorily. I am glad that the Bill will try to deal with that problem as well.

The criminal justice system must be all-embracing and must do a number of things. It must prevent crime—through CCTV, neighbourhood watch and raising awareness—it must provide the police with appropriate powers to tackle crime, particularly organised crime, and it must ensure that the guilty are convicted and the innocent set free, but it must also ensure a sentencing policy that reflects the severity of the crime, that is not a lottery and that protects the public. That is what the Bill is all about and it has my wholehearted support.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham 9:12, 4 November 1996

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) warmly for curtailing an enormously interesting speech.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) referred to public opinion. I have sent out 69,000 survey forms in my constituency—one to each constituent—and have received 13,000 replies. I have managed to put only about half of them on my computer so far. I can confirm that there is certainly more worry about law and order than about any other issue in my constituency.

When we are discussing justice or the courts, I see no reason why we should forget that we live in a democracy. Magistrates are supposed to represent the people. Judges sometimes refer to public policy and they certainly accept that concept. The people see the purpose of criminal law and the courts as not only justice, but the protection of their safety. People are worried by criminal conduct and expect not only the courts but the Government and Parliament to act. I have no hesitation, therefore, in supporting this excellent Bill which will provide honesty in sentencing, which is important, but whose central purpose is to provide mandatory sentences for second violent crimes, such as manslaughter, armed robbery, rape, intercourse with girls under 13 and so forth. I want the Bill to be amended so that the seven years for a second offence of drug trafficking, as currently in the Bill—which is not enough because trafficking in drugs ruins so many lives—becomes instead a life sentence too.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds, like many other right hon. and hon. Members, referred to the independence of the judiciary. I have tremendous respect for judges—I always have had. I come from a legal family, but I am not a lawyer myself. It is a prime duty of Parliament to uphold the authority of the courts. I regard judges in general as intelligent, wise and public-spirited people. However, when they and others speak of judges' independence in sentencing, they do not always mention that that independence is already inhibited in a way that is seldom publicly mentioned, but which I am convinced is none the less real.

If you talk to judges, Mr. Deputy Speaker—perhaps when you meet them socially—and discuss their work in any depth, it does not take long to discover that they greatly dislike their decisions being reversed by a higher court on appeal, whether that is reversal of a verdict or reversal of a sentence, upwards or downwards. That feeling is general. It never lies far below the surface. It is not in any way discreditable. It is, in fact, completely understandable because a reversal of a judge's decision implies that, in the eyes of the higher court, the judge got it wrong.

That is, in a sense, one facet of British professionalism, which is, on the whole, a good influence—it not only maintains qualifications and technical skills, but standards of performance. However, British professionalism has a downside and that is true of all the learned professions, whether lawyers—including judges—doctors, accountants or any other profession. They seem to care more about the good opinion of their brother or sister professionals than they care about what the general public think of them. Doctors care about what other doctors think of them; vicars care about what other vicars think of them; accountants care about what other accountants think of them; lawyers care about what other lawyers think of them; and judges certainly care a great deal about what other judges think of them. That feeling stems partly from the British guild tradition of the middle ages; it is shared by judges and it is one of the reasons why they dislike their decisions being reversed.

When sentencing, judges have regard to tariffs—if that is the right word. I have seen the books that they use which contain examples of adding three months for this, or subtracting six months for that and I believe that broad compliance by judges with those variables will tend to diminish the chances of a reversal by a higher court on appeal. That must result in a substantial propensity of judges to comply with and rely on that type of guidance when sentencing, which not only constrains their real independence, but gives rise to a body of sentencing conventions and practice that tends to crystallise and from which the courts will not want to depart.

As a result, when Parliament and public want stiffer sentences to deter crime, we cannot look to the courts because the judges themselves have a built-in tendency to maintain the current sentencing fashion. Such an objective can only be brought about by statute. We are in such a situation now and that is why we need the Bill, which I warmly support.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael , Cardiff South and Penarth 9:19, 4 November 1996

We have heard it all now—the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) had to send out a questionnaire to his constituents to discover what the Opposition have known for years: ordinary members of the public are desperately worried about crime after 17 years of Conservative rule.

The Home Secretary must have realised how deep his problems have become when he listened to several of his right hon. Friends, people who had held office as Home Secretary or Minister of State at the Home Office, damning him with faint praise. The first four expressed serious reservations while supporting parts of the Bill. We, too, wish to support parts of it and, in Committee, to increase its effectiveness. We also support its general direction in terms of tackling the problems of sentencing.

The Secretary of State must have been even more worried when he realised that just two voices were raised in unqualified praise of his approach to law and order. The first was that of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney)—the man who wants to increase the gun culture instead of tackle it, and introduce to Britain the gun culture of the wild west. The second was that of the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), whose speech was absurd, inaccurate and misleading. He swung wildly between the idiosyncratic and the sycophantic.

Given that the hon. and learned Gentleman would not wish to mislead the House, I can only sympathise with him for suffering acute amnesia. He should know—as he would if he reminded himself by looking at the record— that we have consistently sought to improve law and order, to tackle the real problems of the criminal justice system and to be tough on crime and the causes of crime. The hon. and learned Gentleman's denial of that makes his speech tonight one of the most absurd that I have heard in the House for a long time.

The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan believes everything that the Home Secretary says and everything that his right hon. and learned Friend promises. The hon. Gentleman said that the Government have increased police numbers. They have increased in his constituency and mine since transparency forced the Welsh Office and the Home Office to stop playing silly games. At the general election, however, the Home Office promised an increase of 1,000. On 31 March 1992, the total number in all ranks was 125,570. By 31 March 1996, the figure stood at 124,821. To help with the arithmetic, that means the total number of police has gone down by 749 during that period.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring , Bury St Edmunds

The Opposition's great devotion to law and order does not seem to accord with the actions of Labour local authorities, which are familiar to us—for example, the action of local education authorities that have denied the police access to schools to talk about various serious issues.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael , Cardiff South and Penarth

I dare say that the hon. Gentleman wants to enter a competition for the absurd with the hon. and learned Member for Burton. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and I have spent a great deal of time travelling up and down the country, and we see the seriousness with which local authorities are trying to tackle the problems of crime, to prevent crime and to reduce it. They have asked for help from the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. If they gave more help, local authorities that want to tackle such problems would be in a far better position to do so.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton said that the Home Secretary is right to realise when he is wrong. What is extraordinary is the speed with which the Home Secretary is now having to perform U-turns. We have seen it happen in the past couple of weeks, but today it reached new heights. The Bill was published a little over a week ago, but this afternoon the right hon. and learned Gentleman announced three major changes to what was supposed to be the flagship of the legislative programme.

The new penalties are to include the disqualification of drivers. It is a privilege to be a driver, and it will be interesting to examine the detail of that amendment. The Home Secretary spoke of a curfew on young offenders. It will be interesting to see how he deals with the practicalities and targeting of that measure. The third change was the removal of the restriction on the naming of young offenders. There are circumstances in which that is appropriate. We await the measure with interest.

If the Home Secretary is honest and sincere, and intends those changes as constructive proposals rather than as part of his pre-election games, I ask him to let us have his wording now so that we have time to study it in detail, instead of having to table amendments at the last minute when we are in Committee, as usually happens. He and his colleagues know that, when we are given a chance to debate such matters seriously, we do our best to be constructive. The Minister of State knows that we worked positively with the Government on amendments to the Security Service Bill earlier this year. That was a good example of how both sides should deal with legislation.

That is how this Bill should be approached. If the Home Secretary is serious he will give us ample notice of the amendments that he proposes. We will respond as helpfully as we can to his suggestions.

No one could accuse the hon. and learned Member for Burton of being reasonable if they heard the petulant way in which he challenged and questioned prison governors when they appeared before the Home Affairs Committee last week. His words and the exchanges were available to those who listen to proceedings on the Committee Corridor. Perhaps it would be salutary for the hon. and learned Gentleman to listen to the arrogant way in which he controlled that debate and approached the evidence given to the Committee.

The hon. and learned Gentleman ridiculed my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn and went on to support my hon. Friend's proposals for minimum guidelines. It is interesting to see where support for constructive suggestions comes from. The hon. and learned Gentleman seems not to know that, for serious offences involving class A drugs, the penalties start at eight years for the first offence.

The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan claims to support victims, yet the Home Secretary whom he supports has slashed the budget for compensating the victims of serious violent crime by £700 million over the next five years.

With the exception of the speeches made by the Home Secretary, the hon. and learned Member for Burton and the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan, this has been a serious and constructive debate on both sides of the House, not least on the part of the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker). I agree that his successors as chairmen of the Conservative party have provided a target-rich area, but his successors as Home Secretary have been even more disastrous. He was right to say that both sides of the House want to deter re-offending and to impose long sentences on the most serious and violent offenders.

The Labour party has been pursuing consistency since before the right hon. Member for Mole Valley left office. Since my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn became the shadow Home Secretary, he has made a singularly valuable and consistent contribution to thinking on these issues. That is why it has been a particular pleasure to work with him. I only wish that the Home Secretary would read with care my hon. Friend's contributions, because they have been constructive.

The right hon. Member for Mole Valley is wrong, I believe, to argue against firm sentences for rape on the ground that offenders might then commit murder. There is little evidence for that. We had similar arguments when it was suggested that higher penalties for carrying a gun might encourage offenders to use the gun. The hon. and learned Member for Burton had the grace to admit that he was wrong when he argued that case, which we contested strongly when we debated the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

I remind the House and the hon. and learned—and forgetful—Member for Burton that the 1994 Act lacked any recommendations or measures to tackle violence, knives, guns, drugs or drug-related crime, or provision for the police to stop and search suspects in the street—until Labour tabled proposals on each of those issues. That is why I found it both absurd and insulting that the hon. and learned Gentleman should offer us a list of criticisms of the Labour party. We can stand with pride on our record—as long as the record is looked at in Hansard, not in briefings from Conservative central office.

We took the view that we need to diminish the culture of violence and to tackle the carrying of guns and knives because, if carried, they are likely to be used with tragic consequences. If they are not carried, they cannot be used. At the time, we also made recommendations about advertising and mail order sales. I mention that because it is rather frustrating to find the press and media talking about politicians jumping on the bandwagon. The Opposition have been tackling these issues for a number of years. Some people may be open to criticism for coming late to them, but the Leader of the Opposition, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, other hon. Members who served on the Committee that looked at the 1994 Bill and I certainly cannot be accused in those terms.

The right hon. Member for Mole Valley also pointed out that some sentences will be shorter as a result of clause 21. He emphasised the need for effective community sentences—I share his concern about that. The word "community" often means that a Minister is about to try to do something on the cheap. I speak with some feeling here with my background as a youth and community worker. Removing training requirements from probation officers when they are dealing with ever more dangerous and disturbed offenders is neither good for them nor good for the general public. I certainly agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the value of community service in changing attitudes, and I agreed with his damning and alarming exposure of the fact that the number of people in gaol for violent crimes has fallen while violent crime has actually doubled in England and Wales and trebled in Kent, part of which is represented by the Home Secretary.

The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd) knows in his heart that it is to the Home Secretary that he should apply his description of "wayward and unpredictable". The shadow Home Secretary, by contrast, has consistently pursued clear objectives—to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Indeed, my hon. Friend has gone further and come up with proposals. He has listened to people with expertise in and experience of the criminal justice system; he has also listened to members of the public and members of the parliamentary Labour party. The home affairs committee of the parliamentary Labour party has unanimously called for the approach that we are adopting to the Bill.

The right hon. Member for Witney also called for respect for probation officers, judges and others in the criminal justice system. Given that he is a former Home Secretary, his criticism of the low quality of legislation emanating from Whitehall was devastating. In fairness I might add that the Home Secretary and other Ministers must be responsible for the legislation they bring before the House.

It is possible to bring about sensible improvements when legislation is constructively examined in Committee; we stand ready to do that. We want honesty, consistency and progression in sentencing policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn has published constructive proposals, and we shall engage with the Government in Committee to improve this Bill as it proceeds through the House.

The right hon. Member for Witney also asked whether what happens in prison may matter as much as the length of sentence. I hope that Ministers will consider that point carefully. The protection of the public after prisoners are released is just as important as the sentences they are given before entering prison. We should take seriously the possibility that, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, prisoners will leave prison more accomplished offenders. We all remember the short, sharp shock that resulted in offenders emerging fitter and better able to run away from police. We need to learn from history; if we do not, we shall be condemned to repeat its mistakes.

The right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) made a thoughtful and entertaining contribution, with a whiff of agnosticism.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) raised the problems of "not guilty" pleas in the courts. I remind the Minister that my hon. Friend asked him to tell the House the precise meaning of "exceptional circumstances" and to clarify the likely effect of that provision.

The right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) predicted greater injustice and expressed doubts about cutting three-year sentences. Some of those doubts relate to the effect on prison populations. He drew attention to muddles in the Bill, which the Home Secretary must tackle.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Sir M. Shersby) rightly criticised the fact that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn said at the start of the debate, the mandatory sentences in the Bill are not mandatory sentences in the sense that the Home Secretary tried to tell the Conservative party conference they would be. I commend to the hon. Member for Uxbridge the excellent paper "Fairness and Consistency in Sentencing" published by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, because the hon. Member appeared to support the Labour view set out in that document.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said that there are reasoned ways of tackling sentencing policy in prisons, and that the Home Secretary's speech was informed by conference rhetoric and desperation in the run-up to the election. It is also informed by the Government's failure to protect the public and the Home Secretary's complicity in that failure.

I agree with the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) that we are letting offenders get away with it, in a criminals charter. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. LIwyd) made a similar point when he argued that detection was the greatest deterrent.

That does not mean that we should reduce or disregard issues of punishment and sentencing, but a Government under whom the proportion of offences that end in a punishment has reduced so dramatically have no right to lecture the Opposition. Only one crime in 50 is now punished by a court. A Conservative Government whose predecessor promised more police officers in the run-up to the most recent general election and who have delivered a cut in police numbers—on the Home Secretary's own figures—and been criticised for it by the chairman of the Police Federation, need to pause before piling criticism on Labour. As I said, Labour continues to be ready to be constructive in its approach to the Bill—as it has been in its approach to previous legislation—because we want to pass effective legislation that will tackle the problems of crime.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), in a thoughtful speech, made several powerful and valid points. The Bill is so narrow that we do not share his view that it would be appropriate to vote against it, but several of his arguments need to be considered carefully in Committee. He was right to highlight many inconsistencies in sentencing that will arise from the Bill if it is not amended in Committee, not least the uncertainty in clause 21 about whether a sentence currently of four years will end up at 22 and a half months or 18 months. The Minister needs to clarify that. There is a lack of clarity, and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn genuinely searched for clarity between them. The Minister has heard the questions; it is time for him to give some answers.

The Home Secretary has introduced another piece of legislation. It takes some steps toward progression and levels of sentencing that address the needs that we have highlighted. We stand ready to debate the detail of the Bill in Committee. It would be helpful if the Minister, in his reply, would tell us whether the three amendments proposed this afternoon are the last amendments, or whether there will be some more in Committee, and a few more on Report. Will there be fresh attempts to regain the high ground, and further desperate attempts by the Home Secretary and his colleagues to find a way to restore their critically damaged reputation for running the criminal justice system so ineffectively? It is time for us to have some answers from the Government, and I look forward to the detailed debate in Committee.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office) 9:40, 4 November 1996

We hear that diatribe from the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) every time he speaks in or winds up a debate in the House. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) pointed out, he would have had slightly more authority if he had not been totally contradicted by his abysmal record. We have heard more fine words from the hon. Gentleman tonight, but he has a record of doing the opposite. It is Labour saying one thing and doing another. How can we take seriously anything that the hon. Gentleman says now?

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

I shall develop my point, and then I shall happily give way to the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth claims to be worried about the risk to the public from our sentencing proposals, and about the dangers of prisoners offending when they are released. But his voting record shows that he voted to ensure that prisoners' liability to recall ended at the three-quarter point of their sentence, and that they could not be recalled to prison for breach of parole conditions on offences committed in the last quarter of their sentence. He thought that that was an unfair liability to impose on prisoners. He was not concerned about the risk to the public then. That was not a central office brief; it was recorded in Hansard, at column 369 of Standing Committee A dealing with the Criminal Justice Bill.

The Labour party claims to be concerned about the injury done to children by paedophiles and others. But when we increased the penalty for cruelty to children from two years to 10, Labour Members voted against it. They say one thing and do another. That is recorded in Hansard, Criminal Justice Act 1988, 18 January 1988, column 766.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on reading out the Conservative central office brief, which, as usual, has been sent to us. It states at the beginning: Saying One Thing, Doing Another. I thought that that was the text that the Secretary of State now follows.

What the right hon. Gentleman has just claimed is completely untrue. He should refer again to the record. We supported the proposal in the 1988 Act to increase the penalty for cruelty to children to 10 years.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

Then they voted against the Act. Labour Members claim that they will improve the Bill in Committee, and they take credit for what they say are improvements that they thought of, invented or drove through. They then either vote against the measure or sit on their hands on Second Reading and vote against it on Report. That is the hypocrisy of the Labour party's position.

We have heard Labour Members talk about parental responsibility, but when we changed the law to compel parents to attend court with their children the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth argued passionately against it and voted against it. He said: Holding parents responsible for controlling their children's behaviour and punishing them financially will only make matters worse."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 24 January 1991; c. 453.] If that is referred to in the central office brief, it has come from me, because this is my research.

Recently, we saw the latest Labour party hypocrisy on knives. If it is concerned about people carrying knives, why did its spokesman, the leader of the Labour party in the other place, argue against the essential power of stop and search contained in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which the police require to deal with the problem? He said: The clause goes well beyond the powers which the police ought to have and need to have in a democratic … society.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 May 1994; Vol. 555, c. 611.] The Labour party's present search for a definition to deal with knives that are responsible for a small amount of crime is merely a smokescreen to cover it's shame at trying to deny the police the power to search all those who may carry any sort of knife to commit crimes. Again, the Labour party says one thing in the House of Commons, but does another in the other place when it thinks that no one is looking.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman had enough time to prattle on, and he is eating into my time.

Labour Members may try to con the public into thinking that they do not oppose the Bill, but we shall watch them carefully in Committee and in the other place to ensure that they do not try their usual trick of undermining the Bill through amendments that dilute its essential principles.

I turn now to the speech by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). He was all over the place. The hon. Gentleman's U-turn today, like the one we saw on Monday, was quite extraordinary. The Labour party initially criticised my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals as farcical, daft and unnecessary. It then rushed out its document entitled, "Honesty. Consistency and Progression in Sentencing", in which it argues: Offences of a sexual nature should be distinguished from other violent offences, since serious sexual assaults always reflect severe problems with personal relationships, and lead to great concern about the offender's propensity for further offending. That is what the Opposition said in March 1996. However, last Monday the hon. Gentleman made the first of his two U-turns. He said that he had no difficulty at all with offences of serious violence that result in homicide or with sexual offences. The hon. Gentleman made a back-of-the-fag-packet calculation and added sexual offences and homicide.

This afternoon the hon. Gentleman said that a second offence of attempted murder should attract an indeterminate reviewable sentence—another U-turn on the Floor of the House. That is quite inadequate: it is not good enough for the hon. Gentleman to tack on offences such as that on the spur of the moment when he is under pressure. He failed to deal with those who use knives intentionally to cause serious injury, despite his pretence earlier today that he was concerned about that problem. His extension does not cover those who commit armed robbery. The Opposition's policy cannot be based on back-of-the-fag-packet calculations whenever the hon. Gentleman is under pressure in the House.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

On the issue of consistency, I return the Minister to a question of knives—a current issue of great concern. Can he explain why on 20 June 1988 he voted against any control on the sale of knives to those aged under 16? Why did he take eight years to change his mind?

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

I will provide an explanation if the hon. Gentleman will explain why he and the Leader of the Opposition did not vote for the measure either. The hon. Member for Blackburn espouses control of knives as a great Labour cause, but he did not vote for controls. The Labour party went on to try to restrict the stop and search powers that we proposed to enable the police to search not only those individuals who may carry an oddly defined combat knife, but any criminals who carry any sorts of knives, including those commonly used to commit violent offences.

My right hon. Friends the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd) and for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) made constructive contributions to the debate. I welcome their considered support for the Bill and the great depth of experience that they bring to bear on the issue. We share the ambition of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney to have as much training and education in prisons as possible. That is also the view of the director general. The Prison Service seeks to preserve a balance, in difficult circumstances, between maintaining security and offering inmates constructive regimes.

The director general attaches great importance to the preservation of offending behaviour programmes and he hopes to meet his key performance indicators of 1,300 prisoners completing accredited programmes by the end of this financial year. We are very close to meeting a demanding active constructive core days target of 26.5 hours a week of purposeful activity per prisoner. We shall not lose sight of those objectives.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley was worried that juries might not convict on the third offence. However, it is highly unlikely that a jury would know whether a person has one previous conviction, or even two. I draw his attention to the fact that, when a second-time violent or sexual offender gets an automatic life sentence, the judge and not the Home Secretary will set the tariff.

I turn to the speech by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). He certainly addressed the House with great pomposity, but he did not make a great contribution. He reminded me of his hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) when he used the same great dignity to extol the virtues of the Liberals' policy on when piglets should be weaned and taken away from their mother. I remember that from when I was a junior Minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The policy was every bit as preposterous as what we heard from the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery tonight.

Our intention was described in the White Paper. It has been repeated many times by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and me on television, in the press and on the wireless. There is no intention in the honesty in sentencing proposals to decrease or increase the length of a sentence. The intention is clear: we want sentences to remain about the same as at present. We disagree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery's interpretation of clause 21, but I am happy to look at it and make our intention clear.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery asked us to believe that the Liberals will be voting against the Bill because they think that it will result in shorter sentences and they cannot bring themselves to back such a measure. What a preposterous suggestion. When have the Liberals ever said that they would vote for Bills only if they increased sentences? That is not their view. The Liberal party view is best explained by the comment of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland when he was their home affairs spokesman: If I had my way, there would be far fewer people in custody."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 20 January 1994; c. 71.] I think that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery shares that view. He does not like our proposals because he is afraid that they may lead to burglars, drug dealers and violent offenders spending longer in custody. That goes against his principles. At least if he comes clean he will be honest to his principles, unlike the Labour party.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery attacked us on the ground that the House has no constitutional right to determine sentences for serious offences. I believe that the House has the right to decide which classes of offence will qualify. There have been disagreements today, which will no doubt continue, on where the line should be drawn. Some hon. Members think that we may have included too many qualifying offences. The hon. Member for Blackburn was worried about section 18 wounding being too widely drawn. Some of his Back-Bench colleagues were worried that it may be too narrow. There is a genuine debate on that. We believe that we have made the right judgment.

Let us make it clear that Parliament has the right and duty to determine which penalties should attach to which offences. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery argued against that. He was scraping the bottom of the barrel, looking for excuses to oppose the Bill. It is preposterous to claim that witnesses will not give evidence or that defence lawyers will, en masse, start telling juries, "You had better not convict my client because he has been done for rape already and he has a previous conviction for murder, so please do not convict him on this occasion because he will get a heavier sentence."

My right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) was interested in the staged sentence proposals and what the Labour party called the reviewable indeterminate sentence. The main difficulty with that is that it does not include the life licence proposal. The excellent requirement of the life sentence is that when the person has served the tariff, a judgment is made on whether he is safe to be released. If the judgment is that he is safe for release, he still stays on life licence and is liable to recall at any time should he breach his conditions, be perceived to be a danger to the public or offend. That is the main difference between that policy and what I understand to be the Labour party's policy on the reviewable indeterminate sentence.

I welcome the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney). He made an excellent speech and I congratulate him on the views that he expressed. He will welcome the action that we are taking for victims in the victims charter.

The authority of the hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) in the matter was demonstrated by his assertion that he knew of no company that would ever want to build private prisons. If that is the measure of his knowledge on these matters, the Police Federation is not getting very good value for money. Two prisons are under construction by private consortiums now. The hon. Gentleman is way wrong on that point.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), in a very thoughtful speech, made some points at which, I assure him, I will look carefully. He and I may place a different emphasis on the effects of the Bill. My right hon. Friend is worried that it may have some negative effects. I look forward to debating with him, perhaps in another forum, in more depth and with more time, his views on the matter. I believe that there is sufficient flexibility in the proposals to prevent the injustices that my right hon. Friend fears will take place.

My right hon. Friend asked me how many of the 217 sex or violent offenders who were reconvicted have committed another offence. Many of them are still in prison. Nineteen of those who were sent to prison had three or more convictions. That shows that we are right to take the action that we propose on sex offenders because many of them will be multiple offenders.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Uxbridge

How many of the 217 offenders to whom my right hon. Friend has just referred have murdered again, raped again or committed another serious offence?

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

I do not have those figures to hand. I can say that 19 of those who were sentenced had been convicted of three or more offences.

Time and again, the rhetoric of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth is ruined by his record, as it was tonight. I am not talking only about his and the Labour party's disgraceful votes, again and again, against the Prevention of Terrorism Act. I am also talking about his votes against other legislation that punishes criminals and protects victims. He voted against life sentences for those who take a gun to commit a crime. The House should contrast the Labour party's voting record on criminals with guns with its blatant and cynical opportunism on firearms issues now.

The word "victim" trips easily off the hon. Gentleman's tongue, yet how many more victims would there be if my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General did not have the right to appeal against lenient sentences? That vital power has been used many times with the result that some of our most dangerous criminals have spent more time behind bars. Labour does not believe in keeping criminals behind bars and Labour and the hon. Gentleman voted against that power.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

That is not just my belief; it is the hon. Gentleman's own words. When we increased the requirement for prisoners to serve a half rather than a third of their sentence before getting parole, the hon. Gentleman said that Opposition Members have been increasingly concerned about the effect of the decision to change the parole release date to one half of the sentence because it will probably mean an increase in the prison population as prisoners will serve longer sentences … In the Labour party, we are worried because we do not believe that the Bill provides effective sentencing reforms which would ensure the reduction in the length of sentences".—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 15 January 1991; c. 343–44.] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman wanted criminals to do longer community sentences instead. That is not the case either. He argued that community sentences should be cut from a maximum of 240 hours to 120 hours. Tonight, he said that he believed in community sentences, but in Committee he said that the greater the sentence, the less opportunity there was for good will and motivation to emerge. There we have it. The hon. Gentleman does not like criminals serving their sentence in prison and he does not want them to serve it in the community either. Unless the hon. Gentleman believes in giving criminals a good flogging—we heard earlier that he does not—it is clear to us that the Labour party is soft on criminals. That is the Labour party's record and the record of the hon. Gentleman as well—and a pretty sordid one it is.

Time and again, Labour argues for measures that are soft on crime and criminals. How can Labour be tough on crime if it votes against tough measures for those who carry guns to commit a crime? How can Labour be tough on criminals if it votes against closing one of the criminal's greatest loopholes, the right of silence? As we have heard, because of our legislation, there has been a 50 per cent. reduction in the number of criminals remaining silent. Yet Labour voted against it.

How can Labour Members be tough on crime if they do not even have the guts to vote for criminals serving up to 240 hours on community service? Labour would never introduce a Bill with the tough measures of the Crime (Sentences) Bill.

Labour's record is of opposing everything that gives criminals their just deserts. With an eye on the opinion polls, they realise that it would be bad for their image to be caught voting against the Bill. That is why they will try to dilute it in Committee. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the Bill. It will allow us to protect more innocent victims of crime and send a strong signal to the worst criminals in society that if they persist with their evil deeds, they will be severely punished.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 25, Noes 165.

Division No. 5][10 pm
Alton, DavidJohnston, Sir Russell
Ashdown, PaddyJones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Beith, A JKennedy, Charles (Ross C & S)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Llwyd, Elfyn
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Maddock, Mrs Diana
Carlile, Alex (Montgomery)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Chidgey, DavidMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Corbyn, JeremyNicholson, Miss Emma (W Devon)
Davies, Chris (Littleborough)Rendel, David
Harvey, NickSkinner, Dennis
Steel, Sir DavidWigley, Dafydd
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)Tellers for the Ayes:
Thurnham, PeterMr. Archy Kirkwood and Mr. Don Foster.
Wallace, James
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Harris, David
Alexander, RichardHawkins, Nick
Amess, DavidHeald, Oliver
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Hendry, Charles
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Heseltine, Michael
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Hill, Sir James (Southampton Test)
Baker, Kenneth (Mole V)Hogg, Douglas (Grantham)
Bates, MichaelHoward, Michael
Batiste, SpencerHowell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Bellingham, HenryHughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Beresford, Sir PaulHunt, David (Wirral W)
Biffen, JohnHunter, Andrew
Body, Sir RichardHurd, Douglas
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Jenkin, Bernard (Colchester N)
Bowis, JohnJessel, Toby
Boyson, Sir RhodesJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Brandreth, GylesJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Brazier, JulianJones, Robert B (W Herts)
Brooke, PeterKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Brown, Michael (Brigg Cl'thorpes)Kirkhope, Timothy
Browning, Mrs AngelaKnapman, Roger
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Burns, SimonKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Linc'n)Kynoch, George
Carrington, MatthewLait, Mrs Jacqui
Carttiss, MichaelLawrence, Sir Ivan
Chapman, Sir SydneyLegg, Barry
Clappison, JamesLester, Sir Jim (Broxtowe)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochf'd)Lidington, David
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyLilley, Peter
Coe, SebastianLord, Michael
Colvin, MichaelLuff, Peter
Congdon, DavidLyell, Sir Nicholas
Conway, DerekMacKay, Andrew
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F)Maclean, David
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)McLoughlin, Patrick
Cope, Sir JohnMajor, John
Cran, JamesMalone, Gerald
Currie, Mrs EdwinaMarlow, Tony
Davies, Quentin (Stamf'd)Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Devlin, TimMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesMates, Michael
Dover, DenMawhinney, Dr Brian
Duncan, AlanMerchant, Piers
Dunn, BobMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Dykes, HughMonro, Sir Hector
Elletson, HaroldMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)Neubert, Sir Michael
Evans, Nigel (Ribble V)Newton, Tony
Fabricant, MichaelNicholls, Patrick
Fenner, Dame PeggyNicholson, David (Taunton)
Fishburn, DudleyOnslow, Sir Cranley
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Oppenheim, Phillip
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)Patnick, Sir Irvine
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)Patten, John
Freeman, RogerPickles, Eric
French, DouglasPorter, David (Waveney)
Gale, RogerPowell, William (Corby)
Gallie, PhilRichards, Rod
Gardiner, Sir GeorgeRiddick, Graham
Gill, ChristopherRoberts, Sir Wyn
Gillan, Mrs CherylRobertson, Raymond S (Ab'd'n S)
Goodlad, AlastairSackville, Tom
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesShephard, Mrs Gillian
Gorst, Sir JohnShersby, Sir Michael
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Skeet, Sir Trevor
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Speed, Sir Keith
Hampson, Dr KeithSpencer, Sir Derek
Spink, Dr RobertWard, John
Spring, RichardWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Stephen, MichaelWatts, John
Stem, MichaelWhitney, Ray
Streeter, GaryWhittingdale, John
Sumberg, DavidWiddecombe, Miss Ann
Sweeney, WalterWiggin, Sir Jerry
Taylor John M (Solihull)Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesf'ld)
Thomason, RoyWolfson, Mark
Thompson, Sir Donald (Calder V)Wood, Timothy
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)Young, Sir George
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Tracey, RichardTellers for the Noes:
Twinn, Dr IanMr. Bowen Wells and Mr. Richard Ottaway.
Viggers, Peter

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 60 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading):—

The House divided: Ayes 149, Noes 23.

Division No. 6][10.12 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Freeman, Roger
Alexander, RichardFrench, Douglas
Amess, DavidGale, Roger
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Gallie, Phil
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Gardiner, Sir George
Bates, MichaelGill, Christopher
Batiste, SpencerGillan, Mrs Cheryl
Bellingham, HenryGoodlad, Alastair
Beresford, Sir PaulGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Biffen, JohnGorst, Sir John
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bowis, JohnGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Boyson, Sir RhodesGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Brandreth, GylesHampson, Dr Keith
Brazier, JulianHarris, David
Brooke, PeterHawkins, Nick
Browning, Mrs AngelaHeald, Oliver
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Hendry, Charles
Burns, SimonHeseltine, Michael
Carrington, MatthewHill, Sir James (Southampton Test)
Carttiss, MichaelHogg, Douglas (Grantham)
Chapman, Sir SydneyHoward, Michael
Clappison, JamesHowell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyHughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Coe, SebastianHunt, David (Wirral W)
Colvin, MichaelHurd, Douglas
Congdon, DavidJenkin, Bernard (Colchester N)
Conway, DerekJessel, Toby
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F)Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Cope, Sir JohnJones, Robert B (W Herts)
Cran, JamesKirkhope, Timothy
Currie, Mrs EdwinaKnapman, Roger
Davies, Quentin (Stamf'd)Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Devlin, TimKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesKynoch, George
Dover, DenLait, Mrs Jacqui
Duncan, AlanLawrence, Sr Ivan
Dunn, BobLegg, Barry
Dykes, HughLidington, David
Elletson, HaroldLilley, Peter
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)Lord, Michael
Evans, Nigel (Ribble V)Luff, Peter
Fabricant, MichaelLyell, Sir Nicholas
Fishburn, DudleyMacKay, Andrew
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Maclean, David
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)McLoughlin, Patrick
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)Malone, Gerald
Marlow, TonySpring, Richard
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)Stephen, Michael
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Streeter, Gary
Mates, MichaelSumberg, David
Mawhinney, Dr BrianSweeney, Walter
Merchant, PiersTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Thomason, Roy
Monro, Sir HectorThompson, Sir Donald (Calder V)
Montgomery, Sir FergusThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Neubert, Sir MichaelTownend, John (Bridlington)
Newton, TonyTracey, Richard
Nicholls, PatrickTwinn, Dr Ian
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Viggers, Peter
Oppenheim, PhillipWard, John
Patnick, Sir IrvineWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Patten, JohnWatts, John
Pickles, EricWhitney, Ray
Porter, David (Waveney)Whittingdale, John
Powell, William (Corby)Widdecombe, Miss Ann
Richards, RodWiggin, Sir Jerry
Riddick, GrahamWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Roberts, Sir WynWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesf'ld)
Robertson, Raymond S (Ab'd'n S)Wolfson, Mark
Sackville, TomWood, Timothy
Shersby, Sir MichaelYoung, Sir George
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Speed, Sir KeithTellers for the Ayes:
Spencer, Sir DerekMr. Bowen Wells and Mr. Richard Ottaway.
Spink, Dr Robert
Alton, DavidMaddock, Mrs Diana
Ashdown, PaddyMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Beith, A JNicholson, Miss Emma (W Devon)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Rendel, David
Carlile, Alex (Montgomery)Sedgemore, Brian
Chidgey, DavidSteel, Sir David
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Corbyn, JeremyThurnham, Peter
Davies, Chris (Littleborough)Wallace, James
Harvey, NickWigley, Dafydd
Johnston, Sir Russell
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Tellers for the Noes:
Kennedy, Charles (Ross C & S)Mr. Archy Kirkwood and Mr. Don Foster.
Llwyd, Elfyn

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).