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Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend is making an important point, which was raised with the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston during his opening contribution. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to show at some stage during consideration of the Bill that the current length of sentence is effectively a charter for recidivism, or a catalyst for copycat behaviour? Neither proposition has yet been demonstrated.
Mr. Gibb: My hon. Friend is right. That is not a reason for refusing the Bill a hearing in Committee, but in Committee, we must establish that existing provisions are inadequate, and that the Bill increases them only to the extent necessary to reduce counterfeiting crime.
Putting longer sentences on the statute book does not always act as a deterrent; their mere existence does not deter. They act as a deterrent only if they are imposed. I am therefore worried about the Bill's provision for an increase in penalties from two years to 10 years.
I am also worried about the strengthening of the search warrant provisions and the greater powers involving forfeiture of people's property. Those new state powers are significant, but the only reason given for them in the explanatory notes is to rationalise the law. That is insufficient reason for increasing the powers available to the state authorities so significantly.
Mr. Gibb: For a moment, I was being political. However, what I said reflects people's concern about the state sector services. The point that I was making was that all the problems in the state sector stem not from inadequate laws but from wrong priorities and wrong policy from Government, regardless of party. This is a "state versus the individual" issue.
It seems odd that we are discussing tough new 10-year sentences for copyright theft when 30,000 convicted criminals are being released from prison early, 1,300 of whom have been convicted of robbery and given sentences of only 26 months, but served only 11 months. There is also early release for people convicted of manslaughter, attempted murder, wounding, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, drug dealing, cruelty to children, sex offences and burglary. I am not making a party political point about the early release scheme, because even under the Conservative Government, the average sentence for burglary was usually much less than 18 months.
The courts are not passing tough sentences for real serious crime. My concern is that the House can introduce whatever maximum sentences we like--provision for long sentences for this kind of crime is already on the statute book--but the courts will simply not hand them down. Perhaps we ought to examine the priorities of the courts and the criminal justice system, rather than placing another string of laws on the statute book.
Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend is making an important point about the gulf that exists between what statute law provides in relation to sentencing and what the judiciary, in its robust independence, decides to do. Will he comment along similar lines about whether he believes that sufficient constables will be available to discharge the duties placed on them by the Bill? I refer to the important new powers in new section 297B(4) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 which is added by clause 2(4).
In Bromley, there are 50 fewer policemen than there were four years ago. It was suggested earlier that Bromley was a hotbed of counterfeit products. How on earth are the police going to protect the people of Bromley if fewer police are to be given more responsibilities under the Bill?
Mr. Gibb: My right hon. Friend has made a point that I was about to raise. We must assess our priorities in tackling crime. In Littlehampton, in my constituency, a 13-year-old boy received 24 stab wounds one night a few months ago. We do not have enough police to patrol the promenade in Littlehampton during the night. Yet here we are piling more duties on to the police, such as collecting fraudulent "Star Wars" videos. We need to reassess our priorities, and we must consider that issue in detail in Committee.
Here we are proposing a 10-year sentence for copyright theft, but no one would receive such a sentence for counterfeiting a Louis Vuitton handbag, in which case the statute would have zero deterrent effect. Worse, the disrepute and contempt in which our criminal law is held by the law-abiding public would be deepened, as would
Mr. Bercow: I have thought through that precise point, which is an important consideration, but in fairness to the promoter, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), does not my hon. Friend accept that--unless he proposes to truncate the independence of the judiciary by introducing mandatory sentences--the hon. Gentleman is at least entitled to argue for his Bill in Committee and to show to Members' satisfaction that it is likely to improve matters without a requirement for mandatory sentences?
We must think about the timing of the Bill. For every 100,000 members of the public, 10,111 criminal offences are committed every year. There were 129,000 recorded incidents of violent crime in 1979. The figure is 703,000 today. The British crime survey records 2.1 million instances of violent crime in 1981 and 3.2 million today. Clearly, crime is increasing hugely, so we need to ask ourselves whether it is right to divert scarce resources to deal with such property crimes.
Recorded crime clear-up rates are also down to less than 25 per cent.--only one in four crimes is cleared up. We need to consider the priorities carefully. Should we, as a nation, put ever more resources into tackling motoring offences, when we have some of the safest roads in Europe? Such a question needs to be addressed when we propose adding to the list of offences and penalties. Yes, we need to protect intellectual property, but last weekend, in Bersted in my constituency, an elderly lady of 82 was tied up for five hours by young thugs and £60,000 worth of her antique furniture was stolen.