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Mr. Blunkett: Invariably, I hope; inevitably, never. We are beholden to this House and to the electorate. I fear that my hon. Friend, flattering though his remarks are, misses the point that there is no chance that the House will constantly return to these issues through criminal justice and sentencing legislation. That is why the Sentencing Guidelines Council makes good sense in terms of its light touch vis-à-vis Parliament and its broader touch in terms of reflecting and responding to changing circumstances and needs. I hope that it will work effectively.

2.15 pm

Let me be clear. We cannot keep returning to sentencing policy: there is not sufficient parliamentary time to do so, even if we wished it. There has not been a bidding war. That is partly because of the measured approach of the shadow Home Secretary and of the Liberal Democrat spokesman—although I do not always agree with him—and partly because of our willingness to try to address the broader issues. We have reached agreement with the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor on a general framework, which experienced a slight hiccup at the turn of the year, but is back on stream again. If we can get that right without hyping the heat, rather than the light, so much the better.

We are asking the House to agree to a mandatory five-year sentence in relation to firearms. We have discussed that matter in the House on several occasions, and hon. Members are very familiar with it. I merely want to report to the House that the amnesty that we held in April succeeded much more effectively in achieving the handing in of weaponry than we had expected. More than 40,000 weapons have been handed in, compared with 23,000 in the post-Dunblane period, as well as almost 1 million rounds of ammunition. I commend all those who took part in supporting and working for that: the young people who worked with us; radio stations and the press; the people who organised the youth concert; and the police. It has been a remarkable success that bodes well for the future.

As well as the new five-year minimum sentence, we are raising the penalty for smuggling from seven years to 10 years to bring it into line with legislation that we have already introduced, including the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.

Mr. Grieve: I am interested to see the proposals on firearms, which, as hon. Members will hear in a moment, we support. I would be fascinated to learn, however, why the decision was taken to confine the mandatory sentence to prohibited firearms, because that is quite contrary to what the Prime Minister has said on about seven occasions during Prime Minister's questions.

Mr. Blunkett: It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman should have hit upon that, so let me share, in the quiet

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confidence of this Chamber, the fact that the very same question passed my lips a short while ago. I said, "Look,"—as the Prime Minister would say—"this is something that we need to address." The logic of being able cleanly and clearly to deal with what is prohibited is self-evident. The question of whether we should broaden prohibition to other areas is one that this House and the wider public should debate more thoroughly before we return to it. It is an interesting question. I am tickled by the fact that the hon. Gentleman has also been reflecting on it, and I look forward to him and his hon. Friends providing me with the solution that I did not have time to come up with.

Today, Parliament lays down a principle and a framework, provides discretion, but within specific bounds, and demonstrates that democracy can respond to the needs of the public and the wishes of the people. We can also ensure that the signals are clear and that we get the benchmarks right. In my view, that strengthens liberty, freedom and democracy. Above all, it strengthens confidence in justice. If we have clarity, consistency and confidence, we also have a better debate about the way in which we deal with the underlying issues of prevention and bring other forces of social policy to bear so that we have a safer, more sustained and desirable community in which to live.

Mr. Grieve: I thank the Home Secretary for his explanation of these important provisions. I do not criticise the manner in which he did that, but it is profoundly unsatisfactory to have one debate on three such distinct and important topics. As always, the devil lies in the detail of the proposals, and the amount of time available for hon. Members to do them justice is inadequate. The Opposition will not try to divide the House on any of the principles or the policies that the Home Secretary is introducing. However, I know from my reservations about some aspects that they will require detailed scrutiny, which can now be done only in another place. I deeply regret that, because the House will thereby abdicate its responsibility for the matter.

Mr. Allen: I compliment the hon. Gentleman on his conduct and that of his party in Committee, where our proceedings were extremely constructive. However, the shadow Leader of the House and shadow Chief Whip have cried wolf day after day about programme motions. When an issue of substance arises—I concede that the hon. Gentleman has a point about the amount of time that should be devoted to the new clauses—several hon. Members who might otherwise be sympathetic are not, because of the way in which some of his colleagues clown around on programming.

Mr. Grieve: As the hon. Gentleman knows, when the Bill went into Committee, we said that we intended to try to make programming work. I do not want to go over ancient history, but the measure's progress in Committee showed that programming could be made to work, because we got 90 per cent. of the way there. However, we did not cover 10 per cent., and some

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aspects of the Bill were not properly scrutinised in Committee. I can recall several examples of important aspects that were not considered.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I have given hon. Members some leeway, but I hope that we shall now discuss the new clauses and amendments, not the programme motion.

Mr. Grieve: Indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker. Clearly, Report affords the Government an opportunity to table further amendments. However, the Government amendments are massive, and the time for their consideration is insufficient.

I want to consider the Government's proposals for guidelines on sentencing for murder. First, I welcome the principle behind them. Indeed, the support of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) has been cited publicly and he has advocated the principle on several occasions. We believe that Parliament should have a role in setting sentencing guidelines. We go further than doing that only for murder. As hon. Members know, we have tabled amendments in the next batch that would provide for parliamentary input—not decision making—into sentencing guidelines more generally. The principle is therefore welcome. The Home Secretary's decision to be of like mind with my right hon. Friend is reassuring.

Secondly, new schedule 2, which deals with a whole-life order, appears to have been properly drafted to respond to public anxiety on the topic. The criteria that the Government have set—

appear clearly set out. There is also the possibility of making an exception if necessary. The guidelines therefore strike us as sensible. If that were the scope of the Home Secretary's intentions, he would have our wholehearted support.

However, greater problems arise because of the attempt to lay down guidelines on other categories of murder, depending on their seriousness. Again, I have no objection to the principle, but when Lord Falconer explained what was going to happen at a meeting after sending us some detail in advance, for which we were grateful, we were startled by the Government's proposed method of achieving it.

The "Starting points" in new schedule 2 give the impression that the Government have sought to find a median point in taking 30 years for some serious categories of murder, and 15 years as a minimum term for other categories. It has already been said that sentences of 30 years are at the top end of the tariff for the worst sorts of murder. I have no doubt that statistics would show that, and it would be interesting if the Government and the Home Secretary could provide them. I acknowledge that the Home Secretary said that a tariff sentence of 35 years had been awarded. I believe that longer sentences have been given in one or two exceptional cases: for example, the Home Secretary has imposed a sentence of 50 years, to which I shall revert shortly.

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The proposals are remarkable, because in future the Home Secretary intends cases that have attracted 35 or 50-year tariffs to fall squarely within the parameters of the whole-life order. He nods. Given that we shall include more convicted murderers in the remit of whole-life orders because of the appalling nature of their offences—I do not disagree with that—a sentence of 30 years for those who fall outside that classification is at the top of the tariff, not a median point that the judge can increase or reduce. The same applies to the minimum term of 15 years. The Home Secretary may correct me, but many people who commit murder do not serve 15 years in prison or anything approaching that. He made a comment that may have been a bit of a giveaway when he said that in the past few weeks people in the Home Office had been running around trying to ascertain the effects of past tariff fixing on prison population numbers.

The rapidity with which the proposals have been put together shines through them.I always worry about material that is put together extremely rapidly, because it often does not bear close scrutiny, and above all tends to prove unworkable when implemented.

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