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Mr. Garnier: As the Home Secretary accepted a moment ago, if the provisions take effect, one of the consequences will be a growth in the already high prison population. Can he assure us that, if it does grow, there will be sufficient prison places to house the increased number for long periods?

Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I can. Not only am I taking steps to increase availability this year by 960 prison places, but I am mindful that we will have to change the nature of prison accommodation to accommodate the relatively small increase in the number of people spending longer in jail. I shall speak tomorrow at the Prison Officers Association conference, which will obviously be one of the experiences of my life. I shall acknowledge that the proposal is a challenge for the Prison Service and prison officers, and that we need to help them with that. At the other end of the scale, I have joined the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor in seeking ways of reducing the prison population, including ideas proposed in the Bill—one of them, custody minus, is mine—and to try to help with rehabilitation and the avoidance of reoffending, not least for first-time offenders. If we can get that right, we will be able to reduce the prison population by dealing with those who should not be in prison and can be quickly rehabilitated and provide reparation, while getting tough with those who should stay in prison a lot longer and threaten life and limb when they come out.

For instance, two years ago, when I became Home Secretary, I did my best to prevent a multiple rapist from being released into the community without compulsory supervision. That was not required at the time, but the Bill puts that right. Within three months, he had abducted and raped a young student—as it happens, the crime was committed in my city—in highly predictable circumstances. The man should never have been allowed out in the first place. If he had not been released, a young woman's life would not have been ruined.

We see such issues day in, day out, and I appreciate that we have not addressed them by waving such cases in the air. As I said, we should address them calmly. I am not seeking headlines. Indeed, in the past few months, I have been the one who has taken on at least two of the tabloid newspapers in a way that has got me some very adverse headlines, but I am interested in responding to the needs of the public, which is a very different matter.

On new clause 39 and causing death by dangerous driving, careless driving while under the influence of drink and the way in which people take life, we are responding to what some judges want. In my locality, a judge recently gave a sentence of more than the 10 years specified. Of course, it was revised on appeal because he had exceeded the sentence that was available to him in respect of a most horrendous case in which a person who had killed somebody in such circumstances carried on drinking. We need to say to people that we will not wait for anyone else to do something about the issue, but allow judges discretion to do something about it themselves.

Mr. Denis Murphy (Wansbeck): I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. I welcome the new clause, but will he consider introducing a new offence of aggravated

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death caused by dangerous driving that carries a life sentence? He is aware of the case in my constituency involving the tragic death of young Rebecca Sawyer, who was killed by a criminal motorist who had 89 previous convictions, one of which was for causing death by dangerous driving. Does he agree that the public need to be protected from these very dangerous individuals?

Mr. Blunkett: Yes. Where people are sentenced on only one count—I shall refer to this issue on Third Reading—but other major counts should be dealt with at the same time, we will pick up the Law Commission report in taking that forward. In helpfulness to the House, I point out now that I shall seek the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Select Committee on Home Affairs before introducing such a measure in the House of Lords in order to fast-track the Law Commission recommendations and deal with a terrible anomaly whereby people do not get the sentence required, but a specimen sentence resulting from the length and complexity involved in dealing with a multiplicity of issues. Of course, where somebody has been sentenced previously—this relates to what I describe a parquet flooring effect, rather than building a wall—we also need to take that into account, so that previous convictions can be dealt with in the sentence as well as the judgment.

I accept, however, that that will not wholly deal with the case on which my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Murphy) has been campaigning. I commend him and many of his colleagues from the north-east for highlighting what tragically appears to be a cluster of cases in that region demonstrating that we have not yet got things right. I have agreed with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport that we should undertake a full review of road traffic offences, including the question whether we should introduce manslaughter.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): As a patron of RoadPeace, may I praise and welcome the new clause? As part of the review that will be conducted, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the issues are considered from the point of view of the victims' families? From their point of view, death in violent circumstances means just that, irrespective of the nature of the weapon used. That is the absurdity that road traffic victims' families do not understand—the comparison between an accidental shooting with a shotgun and being mowed down with a tonne of steel.

Mr. Blunkett: Let me deal with the principal point. It is very important that the voices of victims and their families should be heard. There have been the most terrible occasions on which families have been unable to come to terms with what has happened for the rest of their lives and believe that they have not been listened to and that their voices go unheeded. We need to find ways of addressing that.

Mr. Trimble: There is a very serious problem in Northern Ireland with regard to so-called joyriding, which has caused a significant number of fatalities, with all the suffering for families that flows from that. A couple of months ago, a group of bereaved parents of persons who have been killed as a result of joyriding

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lobbied this House and met a wide range of Members from both sides of the House. A serious problem needs to be addressed as regards the law in Northern Ireland. If the welcome changes in the Bill go on to the statute book leaving out Northern Ireland, that will send a wholly wrong message to the public in Northern Ireland, as well as to the judiciary, who need a wake-up call on this issue.

Mr. Blunkett: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for reinforcing the wider point. I take up the cry from the heart that was echoed by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) yesterday evening, when she described the importance of recognising the issues in Northern Ireland and addressing them as quickly as possible.

Lady Hermon (North Down): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Blunkett: How could I not give way to the hon. Lady, who is not only charming, but assiduous, and continues to make an important contribution?

Lady Hermon: The Home Secretary has just turned the colour of my face quite scarlet, but I appreciate his warm comments. They are, of course, reciprocated—I hold him in the highest regard.

As always, I listened carefully to what the Home Secretary said in the course of his speech. A few moments ago, he put emphasis on consistency in sentencing throughout the United Kingdom, which is absolutely fundamental. He also remarked—I hope that I remember correctly—that the death of a police officer warrants the very clear signal that it warrants a life sentence. Speaking as someone who comes from Northern Ireland, where 302 members of the police service have died as a result of 30 years of vicious terrorism, it behoves the Home Secretary to send a very clear message to serving members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland that their lives are worth every bit as much as the life of a police officer in Manchester, London, or anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Blunkett: My original remarks had the benefit of accuracy and veracity, whatever the sedentary and ungallant comments of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) may have suggested. I agree entirely with the hon. Lady that the life of a police officer in Northern Ireland deserves, and has, the same importance as that of a police officer on the British mainland.

Mr. Allen: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and compliment him on encouraging a very positive debate.

To return to the broader picture, the new clause refers to dangerous driving and death by driving. That set of sentences will be abstracted from the Sentencing Guidelines Council that will be newly created. My right hon. Friend says that it is up to Parliament to decide on certain matters, but we all know that in reality the Home Secretary will put them to the House of Commons and invariably get his way. We all look to my right hon. Friend with affection and trust, but future Governments and Home Secretaries may introduce other categories of

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offences that can be taken away from the Sentencing Guidelines Council and put to the House. Does he fear that if that happens, we could get into a bidding war between various factions in the House. If someone says, "Five years for burglary", someone else will say, "Do I hear six, seven or eight?" Perhaps this is not the best, most measured way in which to decide on sentencing guidelines.


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