Previous SectionIndexHome Page

4 Dec 2002 : Column 926—continued

Mr. Blunkett: We agree wholeheartedly about positive action in relation to rehabilitation and the avoidance of reoffending. Yesterday, we were dealing with a revised report and recommendations on the relationship between drug addiction and the criminal justice system. That is part of the preventive process, as are the signals that the measure will send out on the sentencing of recidivists.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about resources. Yes, measures are being taken in respect of the probation service. There has been enormous investment—a 50 per cent. increase—as well as the new spending since 1998. The national probation service was established and commenced a year ago last April. In our first Parliament, there was a 20 per cent. increase in prison places and 2,300 extra places were agreed in the Budget last April. Extra money has been agreed for an additional 750 places next year, so there will be more than 3,000 extra places. As part of next year's spending increase, we have just agreed that there will be £275 million for the Prison Service for improvements and extra places. There will be £70 million for the probation service.

Of course, we face a challenge. In the long term, some measures will increase pressure on both services. The custody minus proposals, which are close to my heart because I invented them, will, I hope, provide a clear signal to people not to reoffend because if they do, they will immediately go to prison. People will also have an opportunity to redeem themselves because under the proposals they will not be sent to prison immediately for a first offence or for an offence that should be dealt with in the community.

We should all agree about that because, as I have said before, we should send people to prison only as a last resort. The proposals will help to put the sense back into sentences.

Mr. Bercow: Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Blunkett: In a moment.

I want to deal with a misunderstanding. The words Xmixed message" have replaced Xspin" and Xcommand and centralisation" as the latest mantra and are

4 Dec 2002 : Column 927

supposed to be opposite to centralised diktat—the predetermined spin on the pager. Recently, I have met judges who cannot understand the difference between a clear message that violent, dangerous sex offenders will be sent down for longer, supervised more intensively for longer, and that for the most heinous offences life will mean life, and the fact that for first time, lesser offences we shall try to redeem the situation immediately by giving people intensive supervision in community sentences, as well as making reparation to victims.

David Winnick rose—

Mr. Blunkett: I shall give way first to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and then to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Bercow: Given that schedule 20 provides for an increase in penalties for drug-related offences, will the Home Secretary confirm whether he stands by his statement to the House in July of this year that cannabis will be reclassified from a class B drug to a class C drug by July of next year? In the process of confirming that, what would he say to Roger Howard, the chief executive of DrugScope, who says that, far from saving police time and producing a more logical drugs policy, the law that the right hon. Gentleman proposes will, in fact, make things more severe and confused than they were previously?

Mr. Blunkett: No, I do not accept that aspect of what DrugScope has said because the residual powers of arrest remain to avoid public order disturbance, to avoid young people being enticed into drug taking and to avoid people trying to evade being picked up as dealers by pretending that they are merely users.

Guidance will be provided through the chief constables to make the position absolutely clear at the beginning of next year, in good time for the new measure to take effect, in the same way as we would expect to do with other class C illegal drugs if they were being used in a way that made nonsense of the law and a monkey of the police. Some people are prepared to do that, and we do not want to stand by and let them do it.

David Winnick: Public anxiety is arising from the decision of the courts that they, not the Home Secretary, can decide whether someone who has been sentenced to life imprisonment should be released. I am sure that he thoroughly agrees that there are those who have been convicted who should never be released under any circumstances, so is there any way in which he can assure the public—not all these cases are high profile by any means—that those who should not be released under any circumstances will not be?

Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I agree. That is why there is the new role for Parliament in lesser offences through the establishment of the sentencing guidelines council. I hope that the influence of Parliament will be expressed through the Select Committee on Home Affairs. We are talking about the Lord Chancellor, in consultation with the Home Secretary, determining the exact avenue.

4 Dec 2002 : Column 928

I am recommending that the Select Committee on Home Affairs should have a role for the first time in response to the Anderson judgment to set up a framework, determined by Parliament, in which principles will be laid down. Judges will use discretion within that framework and those principles, which will ensure that life means life when we say it does and that the most heinous crimes are dealt with properly.

As the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) will know from her time in the Home Office—I think that we agree on this—it is not always the high-profile cases where tariffs are set. I rarely speak about these matters, but let me say very clearly that I have dealt with cases where my staff have wept when reading on to cassette for me what has been done to children and other human beings by the scum of the earth who should never leave prison. If we get that right, the public might have greater faith in us—they rely on us—and in the judicial system to protect them and to use what all the rest of us would call decent common sense. That is not vindictiveness; we are laying down for the first time ever the particular objectives of sentencing.

We talk about punishment, protection, reducing crime, reparations and, of course, rehabilitation, so we are laying down new guidance on why we are doing things. Through the sentencing guidelines council and Parliament's new influence we are laying down the new the ways in which we are trying to make sense of sentencing. In the framework and principles, we are laying down how to deal with cases and principles, as with the Anderson judgement. Of course, we have a new range of sentences: the intermittent sentence, which will help at the lower end, and the indeterminate sentence, which will help at the upper end, with intensive supervision and with the requirement that people should not be released at the upper end unless it is safe to do so.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): I am not clear. Is the Home Secretary signalling that the Government's legislative solution to the problem posed by the Anderson judgment will be entered as amendments to the Bill, or will it be in separate legislation?

Mr. Blunkett: The right hon. Gentleman rightly pulls me up. I should have said—I was responding to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) at the time—that we will bring forward amendments to the Bill and seek to give the official Opposition as much notice as possible of the detail. I have asked for that to be done as quickly as possible. Clearly, I will inform the Committee of that, and I will be happy to hear views in response. Clearly, on this occasion, we are all dealing as quickly as we can—it is not a failure of desire—with the consequences of that judgment. I have clearance to make sure that we can do that in this Bill. People will want that, not least because we want those who would otherwise seek to have their tariff readjusted to know that that will not happen outside the parameters of the new legislation. Their appeal will not be heard therefore until the legislation, in whatever form the House agrees it, has been passed. It will be judged within the new framework and the new guidance. I hope that that helps the House to understand the process by which we intend to proceed.

4 Dec 2002 : Column 929

I think that I have spoken for too long.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I am encouraged by what the Home Secretary said about prison being the last resort and the need for further use of constructive community penalties. Does he share the view of Professor Rod Morgan that there is a danger that the lower courts are using community penalties far too often when a fine would suffice?

Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I do agree with that. The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), has taken decisive steps, and I very much welcome what she has done. We really need to make sure that we collect the fines when they are levied. When we say that there is a punishment, people must know that it happens. That is true of a number of issues dealt with in the Bill. The House will be unanimous in its views on the punishment fitting the crime, punishment being applied and commitment to enforcement. The court system, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Home Office are committed to making enforcement work. Nothing is more likely to undermine confidence in the service as a whole and to send the wrong signal, particularly to young people creating mayhem on our streets and our estates, than the belief that there is no enforcement behind the law that we claim exists to put our streets in order, to ensure stability and security and to give confidence to our citizenry. We are all in favour of that. What we seek to do in the Bill—it is a partial step, as legislation alone will not make it work—is to provide the tools to those inside the service and throughout the court system, including the police, to ensure that people can at last have confidence that when we say it, we mean it, and, when we mean it, someone will do something about it.

Next Section

IndexHome Page