This is a probing amendment to discover the Government’s latest thinking on sentencing policy, which is a mystery to most people given how many interpretations we have had of their views on the subject in recent days. At the moment, the offences that will be created could land someone who is tried in the High Court with a period of imprisonment of up to two years, a fine, or both, and someone who is tried in the lower courts with a period of imprisonment of 51 weeks or less, a fine, or both. Subsection (3) reminds us that as yet we have not seen the implementation of the much heralded and now much discussed Criminal Justice Act 2003, which is meant to change the sentencing system and will reduce the sentence to half of what it would otherwise be.
If my amendment is passed, and subsection (3) and the parallel provision in clause 10 are removed, there will be a straightforward statement in the Bill that people can be sentenced to prison for two years in the higher courts and for up to 51 weeks in the lower courts, or be fined. I want the Minister to say whether passing the provisions into law will create a potential for imprisonment that will mean what it says. Out there, the great British public appear to believe—I always have great sympathy with their view—that when a judge says, “Mr. Heald, you will go to prison for six months,” Mr. Heald goes to prison for six months, not that he goes to prison for three months and spends the other half somewhere else.
What will be the implication of a sentence of imprisonment passed under the Bill? How long will the person serve as a maximum sentence and how long will they serve as a minimum sentence?
The hon. Gentleman makes some interesting points, but I fear that we are in danger of straying into the territory of my colleagues in the Home Office, and I do not want to go there.
I want to bring the focus back to the offences in the Bill and explain the transitional provisions that relate to the 2003 Act.
The current position is that magistrates courts have the power on summary conviction to impose a maximum sentence of six months. Once sections 281(4) and 281(5) of the 2003 Act are commenced, that maximum sentencing power on summary conviction will be increased to 51 weeks. Under the new arrangement, which is called custody plus, the court will decide the total length of the sentence, which must be no longer than 51 weeks.
The sentence can be split between a custodial period and a licence period. The custodial period must be between two and 13 weeks, and the licence period must be at least six months and is subject to conditions, which the sentencing court sets. If the offender breaches the licence conditions, they will be recalled to custody for part or all of the remaining supervision period.
Removing the transitional provisions would give magistrates courts a power that would be inconsistent with their existing powers and for which the magistracy will not have the advantage of preparatory measures for custody plus when it is implemented. It would be much better initially to make the sentencing powers consistent with existing powers and then to have a smooth transition to the new arrangements. Otherwise, the courts might find themselves using one system for some offences and another system for others. That is why we prefer the arrangement set out in the Bill. I hope that that the reassures the hon. Gentleman enough to allow him to withdraw the amendment.
I would love to be able to share that information, but unfortunately I cannot. However, I shall do my best to find out.