2.43 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): These debates on criminal justice matters always resemble a lawyers’ dinner party; it is all very fascinating, but I am not sure that most of my constituents will be entirely impressed with the conclusions drawn from a lawyers’ dinner party. Once again, we have a cosy consensus in this place, and that usually precedes a disaster in public policy. There was the exchange rate mechanism, which all the parties fell over themselves to agree with, and which was, of course, an unmitigated disaster; and the Child Support Agency, which all parties thought was absolutely marvellous, but which, again, ended up a complete disaster. Today, all three parties are falling over themselves to agree on the merits of sending ever fewer people to prison. Once again, we face consensus, which is a disaster.

I am sometimes misunderstood, so I should say at the start that I think the Secretary of State for Justice is a great man. He would be a greater man, however, if he

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was in charge of a different Department. That should not be misconstrued as my lobbying for him to become the Minister for Europe, by the way, but I do think his talents would be better used in another Department.

We have had a sterile debate on this issue for far too long. I believe that the first duty of any Government is to protect the public. There has been a long-running debate in which people are characterised as belonging to one of two separate camps: the camp that believes in prison, and the camp that believes in rehabilitation. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) seemed to reinforce that view towards the end of his speech, and it is a false division. I believe in sending people to prison; I also believe in rehabilitating people while they are in prison, and I do not see why a difference should be seen between the two. We must have a more sensible and nuanced debate.

There are two myths about the criminal justice system—first, that we send far too many people to prison; secondly, that prison does not work—and I want to try expose them both. The liberal elite are always conditioning us to believe that we send too many people to prison, but according to figures provided by the House of Commons Library, for every 1,000 crimes recorded in the UK, we send 17 people to prison. That compares with 29 in Ireland and 31 in Spain—in fact, virtually every other country in the European Union sends more people to prison for every 1,000 crimes committed than we do. Of course, in America they send more than 200 people to prison for every 1,000 crimes committed. People may mock, but they have a crime rate that is less than half the UK’s.

I got the House of Commons Library to produce an interesting piece of evidence showing the prison population per 1,000 crimes committed, and the crime rate, in 45 different countries around the world. Obviously, there was not an exact correlation, but it was striking how close it was. The countries with the highest prison population also had the lowest crime rate. That really should not come as a great shock to people, because to be perfectly honest, most of the public would think it blindingly obvious that the more criminals we send to prison, the fewer we have on the streets committing crimes. It is blindingly obvious to everybody—apart, it seems, from the cosy consensus of the three major parties in this country.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made the case again today that crime goes up when we have an economic recession and down when we have a boom. I asked the Library to test that theory, too, and it produced a graph showing the crime rate, prison population and gross domestic product in this country since the war. There is a striking, remarkably close correlation between the prison population and the crime rate: as the former goes up, the latter tends to go down. There is absolutely no correlation whatsoever between GDP and the crime rate, so that is an absolute myth. It might seem logical to think that such a comparison exists, but all the evidence from the Library shows absolutely no link whatsoever.

I would argue not that there are too many people in prison but too few. Of course, under the previous Government and the end of custody licence scheme, 81,578 prisoners were released early, including 16,000 violent offenders, 1,234 of whom went on to commit 1,624 new offences—including at least three murders—

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during the time when they would normally have been locked up. That is 1,624 unnecessary victims of crime as a result of having fewer criminals behind bars.

A district judge told me about a bizarre situation that arose. On a Saturday morning, he sentenced somebody to six weeks in prison for theft. Three days later, on the Tuesday morning, the very same person came before him, having already committed another crime, despite having been sentenced to six weeks in prison just three days earlier. I asked how on earth that was possible. The judge explained that only half such a sentence is served, which automatically brought the sentence of six weeks—or 42 days—down to 21 days. Everybody was being released 16 days early, so that brought it down to five days. The individual in question had spent five days on remand before his trial, so, despite having been sentenced to six weeks in prison, he was let straight out. What an absolutely farcical situation. It is an utter farce and then we wonder why nobody in this country has any confidence in the criminal justice system.

The Government’s policy is also based on a premise which we heard again from the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith)—the idea, which we are encouraged to believe, that it is so easy to be sent to prison in this country. A myth has built up that someone can commit a minor offence and will be mopped up by the police, marched straight to the courts and, without a by-your-leave, sent to prison. If only that were the case. I would love to live in such circumstances, but it is far from the case. In the real world, people commit crime after crime and go to the magistrates court where they are given community sentence after community sentence until, eventually, a magistrate or district judge gets bored and finally says, “I have no other option, I have sent you on every possible programme going and I now have to send you to prison.” That is what happens in this country despite what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Sir Alan Beith: I suggest that the hon. Gentleman has a look at the evidence given by two ex-offenders who appeared before the Justice Committee during our probation inquiry, who both told us separately that their community sentences were extremely demanding, that they were fed up with them and that they had committed further crimes to get into prison, where they got three square meals a day and had much less to do.

Philip Davies: They must have had to commit an awful lot of crimes to get themselves into prison, because it is very difficult to get sent to prison in this country.

Let me emphasise the point. In 2009, according to the Ministry of Justice, 2,980 burglars and 4,677 violent offenders with 15 or more previous convictions were still not sent to prison. Today, the Secretary of State was saying that if someone commits a burglary they should expect to go to prison. In one year, however, 2,980 burglars with 15 or more previous convictions still were not sent to prison, which seems rather to defy the message that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed is trying to give.

Paul Maynard: Does my hon. Friend share my concern that there are prisons, secure children’s homes and independent institutions where people, on their release, knock on the door begging to be taken back in? Those

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settings were the only place in which they received the care and support that they needed to be a meaningful member of the local community on their release. Does he share my concern?

Philip Davies: I share many of my hon. Friend’s concerns and I am certainly concerned that many people are anxious to get back into custody. There are an awful lot of reasons for that, one of which he has given. Some might argue that another reason why people are so keen to get back into prison is that their quality of life in prison is far better than their quality of life outside prison. When 4,070 prisoners enjoy the luxury of Sky TV in their cells—not even in a communal area—we know that something is fundamentally wrong with our criminal justice system.

Anna Soubry: Could it not be that the quality of their life outside prison is so utterly miserable that even life behind bars is preferable to the dreadful life that they live in the community?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have this wretched organisation, HM inspectorate of prisons, the members of which come down from their nine-bedroom mansions in Oxfordshire, go around the prisons and say, “Oh, it’s jolly awful in here, isn’t it? Absolutely terrible.” If those same people came from the same crime-ridden estates that people in prison tend to come from, they would probably say, “It’s jolly nice in here.” There is rather a big disconnect between the backgrounds of the people in prison and of these do-gooders, the prison inspectors.

Paul Maynard: As one of those do-gooders—I realise that that might be a matter of concern to my hon. Friend—may I ask whether he has any proposals on how we could improve local authority accommodation for young people, for example, to ensure that the communities where they live are safer for them than a secure custodial setting? What positive proposals does he have in addition to his House of Commons research?

Philip Davies: My positive proposal appears to have escaped my hon. Friend. I think I am right in saying that he is a member of the new 301 group, which I thought referred to the number of seats we had to win at the next election; I did not realise it was the target for the number of people we should have in prison, which seems to be the approach advocated. What about the quality of life of many law-abiding people in this country? We talk about the rights of criminals, but what about speaking up for the law-abiding people who think that their quality of life would be improved if more people were sent to prison in the first place? Not only are all those people not being sent to prison, but we still have a system in which someone who goes to court with 100 previous convictions behind them is still more likely not to be sent to prison than to be sent to prison. How on earth can we have a criminal justice system in which that is the case?

Mr Buckland: I yield to no one in my admiration for my hon. Friend’s force of argument, but I query that last statistic. I have been looking at a sentencing survey that was conducted in relation to the Crown court for the six months from October 2010 to spring 2011, which says that 78% of offenders with 10 or more

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previous convictions were going straight into custody. That may not be the 100% he would like but it is a pretty hefty statistic by any reckoning, is it not?

Philip Davies: I think my hon. Friend is very good friends with Ministry of Justice Front Benchers and I suggest that he ask them some parliamentary questions, because those are the answers they have given. To be as helpful as possible, I will furnish him with the parliamentary answer that shows that people with 100 previous convictions behind them are still more likely not to be sent to prison than to be sent to prison. He might wish to take this up with his hon. Friends on the Front Bench.

I was shocked to receive a parliamentary answer showing the number of people who were given cautions for indictable offences, which are the most serious category of criminal offence and include murder, wounding with intent, abducting children and arson. That answer showed that 22 rapists, 24 people convicted of arson and 140 people convicted of unlawful intercourse with a girl under 16 have been given a caution. Bearing in mind the fact that cautions are given on admission of guilt, how on earth can we have a situation in which those people are not being sent to prison and are merely handed a caution? The Government are completely out of step with public opinion, particularly those highlighted in the Populus poll conducted by Lord Ashcroft, which showed that 80% of the public said that sentencing was too soft and that 70% called for life imprisonment to be made much harder.

There is this wrong idea that community sentences are far more effective at reducing reoffending and are also cheaper, but I want to point out that a Home Office survey found that the number of crimes committed per offender in the year before they were sent to prison averaged out at 140—or 257 for those on drugs. The typical cost calculated for those crimes was £2,000 each, which works out at £280,000 a year, in comparison with an estimated cost of £38,000 for a prison place, so perhaps we ought to think about what is most cost-effective.

In 2008, offenders who had completed a community sentence went on to commit a further 250,000 crimes in the 21 months following their sentence, 1,500 of which were serious offences including murder, rape and robbery. As I mentioned to the Secretary of State earlier this week, in 2008-09 some 6,600 people whom the probation service deemed to be high risk or very high risk were serving community sentences.

Then there is the myth that prison does not work. The reoffending rates for people serving short-term sentences is higher than any of us would like, but I have been to lots of prisons in the past 12 months, probably about a dozen—I even visited one in Denmark to see what they do there—and I argue that prison does work. It could probably work better but it does work. As I made clear in my earlier intervention, the longer people spend in prison, the less likely they are to reoffend. If prison itself was the problem, the longer people stayed there the more likely they would be to reoffend, but the opposite is true. I have given the figures: for people who spend less than 12 months in prison, the reoffending rate is 61%; for those spending 12 months to two years in prison it is 36%; for those spending two to four years in prison it is 28%; and for those spending four years or more in prison it is 17.6%.

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Professor Ken Pease has used Home Office statistics to show that 13,892 offences resulting in conviction could have been prevented if offenders serving short sentences had been kept in prison for an extra month. That suggests an argument for sending people to prison for longer, rather than for not sending them to prison at all. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State complained, rightly, about the previous Government’s early-release programme that let people out of prison 16 days early, but the solution should not be not sending them to prison at all, which is what he seems to be advocating now.

When people are in prison we must try to rehabilitate them, but I do not understand why rehabilitation has to occur in the community. I have been arguing about this for quite a while with my Front-Bench colleagues. I should like a system modelled on the TBS programme that has been operating in Holland for many years. It treats prisoners with a personality disorder, of whom there are a large number in our prisons, and has achieved low reoffending rates. People are treated in prison, which is much easier because they do not have so many distractions—they cannot go off and do other things. In prison, they can be given proper targeted support, which is much harder when they are out of prison.

I very much support the Secretary of State’s promoting a stronger work ethic in prison. When I go round prisons, I am appalled by the lack of work ethic. Many prisoners are from families that have never worked; they are often the third generation who have never worked. Surely, one of the things we can do for them in prison is to get them into a proper disciplined routine so that they get up at a certain time in the morning and carry out tasks that get them into a work ethic. My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to do that.

A study by Frances Simon in 1999 followed 178 prisoners until five months after their release. She found that 75% of those who had not sought regular work reoffended compared with only 28% of those who were actively looking for work and 15% of those in regular employment. That shows that even the discipline of going out and looking for a job can make a big difference to reoffending rates. Prison has to be the prime place where some of those people are given the discipline of a work ethic.

I think the Government are making a huge mistake about indeterminate sentences for public protection. Earlier today, my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) cast doubt on Ministry of Justice figures, but I trust my hon. Friends on the Front Bench. According to those figures, by the end of the 2010 calendar year, 206 people serving indeterminate sentences had been released from prison. Of those, only 11 had reoffended—a rate of about 5%, from my quick calculation. The criminal justice system as a whole would give its right arm for a reoffending rate of 5%.

If the Government are so obsessed with reoffending—the Secretary of State has said that he is—why on earth do they want to give up the part of the criminal justice system that probably has the lowest reoffending rate? It goes to show that the Secretary of State is not really preoccupied with the reoffending rate; he is preoccupied with reducing the number of people he sends to prison. That cannot be the right course of action and it is certainly not something that my constituents want.

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Mr Kenneth Clarke: I am sorry to intervene just after my hon. Friend and I were warmly agreeing on the need to get a working environment in prisons. I can tell him that I had an excellent meeting this morning at the CBI, with leading figures from British business and the Prison Service, and we are making progress. On that we are totally agreed. With great respect, the figures my hon. Friend uses for IPPs are, unlike some of his other statistics, not very reliable. A tiny number of people have been released from IPPs, so to make a comparison between the very small sample he cites and the very large numbers he was using earlier is ever so slightly misleading. Most people imprisoned under IPPs have not been released and do not know when they will be released. There is an enormous backlog of cases for the Parole Board, which is wondering what to do with them.

Philip Davies: The figures my right hon. and learned Friend dismissed are the ones supplied by his Department. All I can do is give the figures as they are. They indicate that of the 206 people who have been released having served an IPP sentence, only 11 have reoffended. It is up to hon. Members to draw their own conclusion from those figures. The principle that we should not release people from prison until it is safe to do so strikes me and my constituents as a rather good one to have in the criminal justice system. His suggestion that we should release people from prison regardless of whether it is safe to do so seems rather bizarre.

Paul Maynard: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Philip Davies: If my hon. Friend does not mind, I will make some progress, because many other Members wish to speak and I want to draw my remarks to a close.

My final point is on the automatic release of offenders halfway through their sentence, which is one of the shameful things the previous Government sneaked through in the last Parliament. Prisoners are now not just eligible for release halfway through their sentence; they are automatically released. I think that that is a terrible situation. When I visited Denmark, whose criminal justice system is always seen as very liberal, I found that they do not have that system. They have the system we used to have, whereby prisoners became eligible for release halfway through their sentence. In fact, 30% of their prisoners were refused parole altogether and served the full sentence handed down by the courts, and they think that that is one of the major reasons why they had such low reoffending rates. I urge the Secretary of State not to have a system where we automatically release prisoners willy-nilly halfway through their sentence and irrespective of their behaviour in prison or their risk of reoffending. We should make proper judgments about people’s fitness for release before we agree to release them. I think that we can learn from Denmark in that regard.

Esther McVey (Wirral West) (Con): Having worked with and represented many victims of crime and their families, I know that what they find most upsetting and offensive is when a sentence that they feel is just or suitable for the perpetrator of a crime is halved, which they say is an extra insult. In the case of a family I represent, the halving of a sentence is a double blow on top of the murder of their child.

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Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She does a great deal of work representing victims charities, such as Families Fighting for Justice, and should be commended for it.

With regard to transparency in sentencing, it cannot be transparent for people to be handed down a particular sentence when we know that in reality they will serve only half of it. I believe that honesty in sentencing should be introduced and that if someone is sentenced to 10 years in prison they should serve it. If I go down to my local pub and ask someone, “Did you hear that someone got 10 years in prison?”, the first thing they are likely to say is, “Well, they’ll be out in five minutes, and it’s a waste of time anyway.” That is one of the main reasons why people have so little confidence in the criminal justice system.

The primary role of the criminal justice system should be to achieve justice, not to find the cheapest alternative to sentencing or reduce the number of prisoners because prisons are reaching capacity. The Government’s job is to provide the right number of prison places for the people the courts deem it right to send to prison, not to introduce Bills designed to reduce the number of people being sent to prison in order not to exceed capacity. If the number of school children in this country increases, we do not say, “Well, this is the number of school places, so tough; everyone else can go to the local phone box to be educated.” No, we build more schools to provide school places, and the same should apply to prisons. If more criminals need locking up, we should build more prisons. The public need to feel protected, the perpetrators need to know that they will be punished properly and the victims of crime need to feel that justice has been done, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) made clear.

I fear that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is taking our party and this country in the wrong direction. Notwithstanding his excellent idea about work ethic in prisons, I believe that his sentencing policy is in danger of single-handedly losing the party its hard-won reputation as the party of law and order. More importantly, it is in danger of creating more unnecessary victims of crime.

3.9 pm

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). I do not agree with every word he said, but he made some pertinent and correct points about honesty in sentencing. Perhaps I may add a further scenario to his list. I worked for the Courts Service, where I found that, for example, somebody could appear before magistrates on a Friday and receive seven days’ imprisonment for a fine default. However, as the sentence was automatically halved, and as the weekend counted in their favour and they could not be released during that time, the prison van would throw them out before they even got to prison. A person can be sentenced to seven days’ imprisonment and not spend a minute inside, and it is such dishonesty that, as my hon. Friend pointed out, angers many members of the public.

We all want consistency in sentencing, but we must recognise that we will never completely achieve that because it is impossible. No two offences are identical and there will always be differences in approach. As

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long as courts have discretion, there will be variation in how they deal with similar matters. If we remove that discretion, however, injustices will inevitably occur.

Members of the public view similar offences in differing ways, and we should not be surprised that often the judiciary will do the same. We want our judiciary to mirror the public, and just as the public have differing opinions about different types of offences, such variation can be reflected in our court houses. We need some consistency of approach, some basic similarities in decision making, and guidelines to help ensure that courts treat similar aggravating and mitigating circumstances comparably. We should never, however, be tempted to adopt a system that lacks discretion, flexibility, or the freedom to differentiate.

We need a degree of certainty, but not an over-prescriptive approach that removes a court’s discretion. For example, a defendant who has entered a guilty plea can expect to receive a reduction in their sentence of about one third. The court, however, should be free to increase or reduce that discount, as it deems appropriate.

In the magistrates courts, the principle of local justice administered locally has served us extremely well for centuries. Some offences are frowned on more in one area than in another, and local justices of the peace are best positioned to clamp down on an offence that is prevalent in a particular area. Although that system inevitably leads to an imbalanced approach across the country, in such instances a variable approach can be a positive thing.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley pointed out, justice must always be the primary goal in the judicial system. If we were to replace judges, magistrates and jurors with computers, we would have a more consistent approach—there is no doubt about that—but we would also have less justice. Whenever people deal with cases, there will inevitably be discrepancies in how they view the facts placed before them.

About 20 Acts of Parliament have changed sentencing practice over the past decade, and it is perhaps not surprising that our system is often confusing and unnecessarily complex. Perhaps an overarching approach is needed, not a series of ad hoc measures to amend the current system.

The system need not be unduly complicated. Sentences are normally straightforward, but the processes behind them are often baffling and confusing, and can lack the transparency that this debate is trying to find. The maxim that justice must be done and be seen to be done is as necessary now as it has ever been. Yet nowhere can the term “six months”, for instance, have so little correlation to that actual period as in a court of law. I have spent more than 20 years working in the criminal justice system, and I have lost count of the number of times I have seen defendants turn to their advocate as soon as they are given a term of imprisonment and ask, “How long is that? How long does that actually mean for me? I have been told it is 10 years, but how long does that mean?” Sentences should be closer to the term specified, and there should be far more transparency and honesty in sentencing. It undermines the courts, the police and victims if the sentence that a prisoner serves bears no relation to the term that he has been given in court.

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There are so many early release schemes that I know of no lawyer who can accurately tell a defendant how long a sentence will equate to in actual time served. It is simply too complicated. When a formula is needed to work out how much of a sentence a prisoner will actually serve, we know that there is something wrong with our system. That is precisely what happens now. The discipline departments in prisons have to apply a formula to a sentence to work out what somebody’s earliest possible release date is. That highlights the problem in our current system.

Sentences are one thing, but there are many other things for the courts to consider. There is no merit in having an inconsistent approach to the enforcement of court orders. We should not have one criterion for enforcing community sentences in the midlands and another for the south, and fine defaulters should not be treated differently in one part of the country from another. Prison overcrowding in one area should not mean an earlier release for prisoners there than for those in other areas. However, for general sentences, we should allow some differences. We have to allow local courts to have a certain amount of flexibility. The message should go out from this House that this debate is not about controlling the courts but about delivering fairness for all. We should not micro-manage the courts but allow clarity to flourish more. Minimum sentences for gun possession have worked, not just because of the certainty and deterrence that they have provided but because courts retain an element of discretion.

In short, we need to get the right balance, and in doing so we need to strive for a court system that allows certainty in sentences, flexibility in process and fairness in outcomes to prevail.

3.17 pm

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson). I agreed with many of the points that he so ably made based on his experience. It is easy to joke about the profusion of lawyers taking part in debates such as this, but in reality many of us stopped practising only within the past two years, before we came to this place. We therefore bring with us an abundance of experience and knowledge, especially those of us who were at the criminal Bar and both prosecuted and defended, which gave us an insight into cases from both perspectives. That is a great feature of the criminal Bar and, I hope Members will concur, adds to our ability to bring real experience and hopefully insight to this important debate.

I shall put my cards on the table. I practised at the criminal Bar for some 16 years until my election, and I am very proud of that. I should perhaps not put this too strongly, but it was one of the most rewarding and enjoyable jobs I have ever done, for all manner of reasons. As a member of the criminal Bar I defended far more than I prosecuted.

I should like to put it on record that I find it most peculiar that the Labour party, certainly in my constituency, seems to think it should criticise me for standing up in the House and talking about the law, particularly the criminal law. Often, I speak in defence of not only my own profession but solicitors, who are suffering in a way they have never suffered before due to the reduction in

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legal aid. I find it perverse that the Labour party attacks people such as me in those circumstances. It professes to be the party of the poor, the repressed, the deprived and some of the most needy in our society, but it is those very people whom so many at the criminal Bar and solicitors have represented for a long time, often with very little reward.

When I joined the criminal Bar, somebody said to me, “You are going to be a social worker wearing a wig.” Those of us who have been at the Bar or worked as solicitors and who have defended criminals will know from experience how often we go beyond the fee—and it is not a very great fee. We know how often we have given a fiver or £10 to clients who have no money in their pockets so that they can get home when they find themselves in the fortunate position—my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) will despair at this point—of not going into custody when they thought they might receive a prison sentence.

I once gave a client £10 so that he could catch the train back to Worksop. This perhaps shows my naivety. I took him to Nottingham railway station and assumed he would spend the money I had given him on his ticket. In fact, he went off and bought a large amount of heroin and was arrested by the police. Hon. Members can imagine my reaction when I found out what he had done with the money.

I digress from the subject of the debate, but I want to make the point that the criminal justice system could not operate without the Bar and solicitors who often go that extra mile, often at their own expense, to ensure that it works properly. I fully understand and appreciate that the legacy we have inherited means we have no option than to reduce the amount that goes into the legal aid pot, which means that members of the criminal Bar are seeing a reduction in their fees—that is in the context of having had no genuine increase since 1997. I know the Government can do nothing about that at the moment, but when the time comes we must ensure that those who do legal aid work are properly remunerated. It could be said that I have diverged from the subject of the debate, but I wanted to make that point.

Consistency in sentencing can be truly achieved only when the following occurs. It starts at the beginning. To achieve consistency in sentencing, we must ensure from the outset that there is a proper and full investigation of the allegation. That means that witness statements must be properly taken and that all relevant evidence must be properly gathered. A constituent who has come to me has quite properly complained following an assault allegation—she was the victim. She suffered cuts that required stitching to her face and a broken jaw, but the police did not collect her medical records despite the fact that she had signed the right form. She has now been told that the police are going to make the charge “common assault”. On the basis that what she told me is true, it is clear that the charge should be either for wounding or for a section 20 offence, or perhaps for an even greater offence. It was not a common assault, and it is clear that the police did not do a proper job in their investigation and in ensuring that all relevant evidence was available, which is important not just for the progression of the case, but so that the sentencing judge can pass the right sentence. In order to do that, we need to ensure that there is a full and proper investigation from the

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outset and that the right charge is reached. We also need to ensure that witness statements are properly taken, which includes, if appropriate, a victim impact statement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford said that the previous Administration were overly prescriptive and mandatory—a long-standing complaint of many of us about their conduct of the criminal justice system. I do not want police officers to go out with a checklist of all the things they must do when they take a witness statement. I want them to be properly trained to be able to rely on their own plain common sense. I do not want them to be overly prescriptive and certainly not stereotypical.

In his statement the other day, the Secretary of State talked about the changes we intend to make to the compensation scheme. This might be difficult to understand, but he quite properly mentioned the fact that not all victims of crime look at the crime in the same way. I have been burgled more times than I care to remember; in some instances, that did not have a particularly upsetting effect on me, and I would be the first to say that, but on one occasion it upset me greatly because my grandmother’s engagement ring was stolen. I do not know the value of the ring, and it does not really matter; what mattered to me was my sentimental attachment to that piece of jewellery. On another occasion when my home was broken into, I found it distressing that somebody had been through items of a very personal nature in my study. On another occasion, nothing much was particularly disturbed, so the trauma, or the effect, was not as great. However, we cannot say everybody will be the same, because, as we all know, crimes come in all different shapes and sizes, and they affect each and every one of us differently.

Sir Alan Beith: Did the hon. Lady welcome, as we on the Select Committee did, the fact that the Sentencing Council was prepared to treat burglary as an offence against the person, as well as against property?

Anna Soubry: Absolutely. If I may say so, there was so much I agreed with in the right hon. Gentleman’s speech. From my short time on the Select Committee, I know he brings a huge weight of experience and plain, good common sense to his chairing of the Committee. I absolutely agree with what he says.

To be frank, I would never stand up and say we definitely want to keep the Sentencing Council. I know some of us disagree about this, but I always thought the Court of Appeal was a good place to determine the issues we are discussing, and I could see no good reason why that should not continue. However, we are where we are.

What we do know—this has already been mentioned—is that the sentencing judge will look at the aggravating and mitigating features in relation to every offence. It is therefore important that when the police go out and take witness statements, they make sure everything that should be in them is in them so the judge can pass the right sentence. If items of great sentimental value are stolen in dwelling-house burglaries, for example, that is an aggravating feature.

The same is true of trashing or ransacking the property, and of inducing fear in a particularly vulnerable person. One of the burglaries I suffered was at night-time, and my children were of an age where they were very frightened. They thought—this is common among children

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who have the misfortune to have their homes burgled at night—that the person would come back, and they were in fear of that. Such things must be in the witness statements so the judge can pass the right sentence. That will give us the consistency we want.

One of the things that is extremely annoying for somebody who has been the victim of a car crime is the fact that they lose their no claims bonus. There is also the huge inconvenience caused by the fact that their car has a broken window and that they will not be able to use it because it has to go off to the garage. Again, those are important aggravating features.

In offences of violence, there can be an assessment of the physical scarring that might remain, and of the pain and suffering the victim might have been caused, but their mental anguish must also be set out in detail so that the proper sentence can be passed.

I would go further and say that when police officers go out to get statements from witnesses, they should include in them the effect of a particular crime on the witness. The classic example is somebody who witnesses a fight in the street, which might be a particularly violent and unpleasant incident. That will have an effect on the witness, and if it does, it should be in the witness statement.

At the heart of good, consistent and transparent sentencing is an overriding and underlying belief in the fact that we should trust our judges. I say that with absolute certainty in one respect: if I had not come to this place, I would undoubtedly never have been made a judge. I am not, therefore, making these comments to curry favour with any judge. Hon. Members may not find this surprising, but the reason I would not have become a judge is that I fell out with so many judges.

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend never fell out with me.

Anna Soubry: The Solicitor-General makes an unfortunate intervention, because I did indeed have the great pleasure of appearing in front of him—I was going to reference him slightly later—and we certainly did not fall out. No doubt, though, some of his brother and sister judges would say that that was because I appeared in front of him only twice, and that had I done so several times, perhaps the outcome would have been different.

One of the problems that occurred under the previous Administration was that they began not to trust judges enough, which was a terrible mistake. My attitude is this: I would give the judges the powers that they need and then leave them to exercise their discretion. At the end of the day, most judges come to the bench after many years in practice—usually in the discipline in which they sit in judgment. I said that I was going to mention the Solicitor-General, and I know that he has sat as a recorder in the criminal division, even though that was not his area of practice. I am not trying to curry favour with him, but the fact is that many recorders do not come from the criminal Bar and did not work as criminal solicitors but nevertheless have the great ability and skills required to act in just as brilliant a way as any other judge who was at the Bar for 15 or 20 years. [Interruption.] I am glad to see him nodding in approval.

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The point is that with few exceptions our judges are outstanding, having practised at the highest level and coming to the position after years of experience on the basis that they have the ability to exercise good and wise judgment. That is why, with few exceptions, I trust them, and those of us who have practised know that if a judge makes a mistake, the case can be referred to the Court of Appeal.

Our judges have training, and I give full credit to the previous Government for something that I noticed at the criminal Bar: a huge shift in judges’ attitude towards what we call domestic violence—an unfortunate term, because it is normally violence against women by somebody with whom they are either in a relationship or have been in a relationship. Undoubtedly, when I returned to the Bar about 18 or 19 years ago, some senior members of the Bar and judges just saw domestic violence as a bit of a domestic scuffle and not something to be dealt with or viewed as seriously as it is now. I give full credit to the work undertaken by the previous Government in that respect. I certainly saw a sea change among the judiciary, which was no longer going to tolerate any man even slapping his partner or previous partner. I saw that on a regular basis in the Crown courts in which I had the great pleasure to appear, and I give the previous Government full credit for that. That should give us confidence that our judges are properly trained and are more than able to pass the right sentences, as long as we trust them and enable them to use their discretion.

That, of course, was one of the great failings of IPPs. These sentences, introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to deal with defendants deemed to be dangerous, sounded like, and were, a very good idea. What could be more sensible than providing that a paedophile who had sexually assaulted a child and who had done the same thing previously would not only be sentenced for the outrage that they had committed against a child but that there would be a report on him—invariably it was a “him” as opposed to a “her”—specifically looking at whether he would pose a danger even after completing the determinate part of his sentence? If the report revealed that he had delusions and fantasies of a particularly vile and alarming nature, it was thought only right and proper that he be in custody, in prison, not just for the offence that he had committed but for the protection of the public—in this case, children—at large, because he posed a clear and obvious danger to those children.

In theory, therefore, the idea was wonderful. Many of us approved and agreed with the theory; however, I do not think that the legislation was ever properly looked at—I fear I am criticising both sides of the House for that. Indeed, we talked about the idea in robing rooms at the criminal Bar, and as we thought about it more, and then as it was rolled out, we could see its profound shortcomings. Because it was overly prescriptive, judges effectively had no discretion, so people were sent to prison—quite properly, because they had committed a serious offence—but then found themselves in custody with no time limit on their sentences and no idea when they might be released, on the basis that they were supposedly dangerous. However, that was often because the judge had no alternative but to making that finding, when the offender was clearly not dangerous in the terms that they have should been, as the sort of offender that I have described. Not only did those in custody not know when they were going to be released, but there

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were no courses and no proper treatment available for them. None of the things that should have been done to drill down into their offending were done, so people were literally—and still are—languishing in prison. With great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, I find it perverse that Opposition Front Benchers should agree with that aspect. For a party that has always prided itself on the liberty of the individual and the rights of the prisoner, it is absolutely wrong to support a system that has people languishing in prison, year after year, without the treatment that they need.

Mr Slaughter: I am pleased to agree with the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) when, on occasion, he is right, but I do not exactly follow the hon. Lady’s argument. Is she saying that she objects to IPPs in principle or only to how they are working? If it is the former, we have a disagreement; if it is that IPPs have not worked perfectly, I would say that we made omissions in that respect. I advise her to have a look at the Government’s response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights report on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill yesterday—which dealt with the point in detail—where the Government assert that they have resolved most of the problems with the administration of IPPs. If that is the case—and if she supports her own Government—why is she not now supporting them?

Anna Soubry: I am grateful for the information, and I will go away and look at it, but IPPs have just not worked. The legislation was flawed. Indeed, it was so flawed that after its introduction in 2003 there was a huge growth in the prison population. What did the then Government do? Did they take an honest approach and revisit their legislation, or did they take a different, simplistic approach and say, “Goodness me! There are too many people in prison. How can we bring the numbers down?”? They effectively amended the 2003 Act with fresh legislation in 2008, which made the situation even more perverse and wrong. What the then Government introduced in 2008 was a system whereby a finding of dangerousness could not be reached for someone who would not have got four years for their offence. Let me set out what that meant. I know of a case, which I worked on myself, where the trigger offence that had brought the offender—a man who was clearly a paedophile—before the sentencing judge did not warrant more than nine months to one year. I will not bore hon. Members with the details, but the judge was able to the look at the various reports on that man, which clearly showed that he was a danger to children, and he rightly decided on an IPP. However, after the Government changed the law in 2008, somebody like that man would now serve four and a half to six months, when that is exactly the sort of person who should be behind bars for a very long time.

Philip Davies: I have some sympathy with the idea that people should not be languishing in prison, not doing anything for years and years and not knowing when they might be released. However, surely my hon. Friend would agree that it is far better to say to somebody, “You will be released only after you have done something to address your offending behaviour,” to give them an incentive to do so, as an IPP does, than just saying, “You’ll be released after a certain period halfway through your sentence, irrespective of whether you’ve done anything to address your offending behaviour or not.”

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Anna Soubry: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and agree with him in this sense. It is not right for people for stay in prison without courses or the assistance that they need to address their offending, so that they can be released when they are no longer a danger. That is absolutely right. The problem is that those courses were certainly not provided by the previous Administration. As for release halfway through a sentence, I am very much with my hon. Friend on that for a number of reasons that other hon. Members have already discussed. I would like us to reach a situation whereby the judge can make it absolutely clear when sentencing how long somebody will spend in prison, which might involve changing the wording. If a judge says, “I am passing a sentence of two years; you will serve only one,” it immediately undermines confidence, particularly that of the victim, in the criminal justice system.

I accept the difficulties that we have with the budget, but I would like us to be in a position in which a person is given a sentence and serves that sentence. Perhaps the parole board might see fit to release them early if they make remarkable progress while serving their sentence, as happens with community sentences. In those cases, if someone is making good progress, the probation officer can go back to the court and ask for the sentence to be shortened. The person can then be released from the sentence, because the job has been done. I would like to see that happening. The present situation is a hangover from the previous Administration. Judges have been told, “You’ve got to say this. You must say that. This is the formula.” It is all too prescriptive. I want to see greater consistency and greater transparency; we need to trust our judges.

I hope that I have made it clear that I support the Government’s reforms, including the abolition of the IPP, and the new system that we want to introduce. I also want to make this point on transparency. I will be absolutely frank: I have always been deeply cynical about the introduction of television cameras into courts. However, I have been persuaded otherwise by the Stephen Lawrence trial, as it is called. The judge had allowed members of the press to tweet from the press gallery in the court, and that allowed people to be informed in a very positive way. I have also been surprised by the number of my constituents who have gone to the trouble to read not only the sentencing remarks in full but a further interlocutory matter that the judge had dealt with in relation to the evidence. Reading that material from beginning to end had a profound effect on the way in which they have perceived the case and on their understanding of the sentences.

On the basis that any televising would cover sentencing only, and that it would involve all the remarks, not just the edited highlights—with great respect to the popular press, that practice has, as the Lord Chancellor has said, led to much disenchantment with the system—I have come to the conclusion that it would be right to have cameras in court. It would be good for transparency, and I agree with the Lord Chancellor when he says that it would restore trust in the system.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), who is no longer in his place, talked about early intervention. Under this Government, we are bringing together different strands from various Departments, including the Department of Health, the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice,

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to look at this matter. We finally have a Government who are being tough on crime and particularly tough on the causes of crime.

3.43 pm

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): It is a real pleasure and privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), for whose work at the Bar I have great respect. I was a barrister for eight years. I prosecuted and defended at all levels, and I appeared at courts with my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) in our younger days. Having practised at all levels, including magistrates courts, Crown courts and the Court of Appeal, I want to stress that in any civilised society, there must be a right to a fair trial. That right is at the very heart our constitutional law, as set out in “Hood Phillips”. Related to that right is the issue of the competence of our judges. Having appeared before them at all levels, I can say that our judges—be they magistrates, district judges, Crown court judges, Court of Appeal judges or Supreme Court judges—are of the finest calibre. That supports the argument about consistency and transparency in sentencing.

Linked to that is the argument about checks and balances in our legal system. For example, I appeared at Maidstone Crown court many years ago representing a young defendant who was charged with six counts of supplying class A drugs, which one would have thought would get an automatic custodial sentence. However, taking account of the overall circumstances—the defendant was only 18, had been kicked out of home, had no job and no resources—it was decided that he got into supplying drugs as a runner in order to live day by day. In those exceptional circumstances, the Crown court judge ordered a community penalty and that he receive rehabilitation so that the young man could get somewhere in life rather than be stuck in a system in which he would go inside and come out as a hardened criminal. In that example, the checks and balances were clearly there. Within 90 days, the Attorney-General referred the case to the Court of Appeal, which then accepted the decision of the Crown court judge. It acknowledged that it was right and proper for the judge to show discretion in that case.

As I say, all the circumstances have to be looked at. As my hon. Friends the Members for Dartford and for Broxtowe rightly said, there is a sense in which not every case is a straitjacket. It comes down to having confidence in, and trusting, our judges. I made that point in my maiden speech, referring to the ability and the competence of our judges and the fact that they have to be trusted. Linked to that, I would say that rather than referring matters to the European Courts, they should be left to our Supreme Court and its judges—some of the highest calibre judges I have ever encountered.

Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con): Will my hon. Friend comment on cases where the judges might have got something wrong and what routes of recompense there are in those circumstances? I speak as chairman of the all-party group on retail and business crime. I hear a number of instances from independent retailers where judges have given questionable summaries, so these

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retailers are unsure whether the justice system works in their favour. Let me cite one quick example, where a judge said that because the perpetrator of the crime stole scratch cards rather than real money, a reduced sentence was appropriate. The shop was particularly upset by the judgment but had no way of securing recompense by getting the sentence increased or getting justice from the system.

Rehman Chishti: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point, which I was going to come on to later, but will address now. When it comes to a court decision or sentence that people feel is not right, there are checks and balances. As I said, the Attorney-General can refer the matter to the Court of Appeal if the sentence appears unduly lenient. In the example my hon. Friend mentioned, it is right and proper to have the victim impact statement at the outset. The incident might seem trivial in some people’s eyes, but not to the retailer in this case for whom the circumstances were very important. We must ensure that the gravity of the circumstances is properly taken into account.

We have discussed checks and balances from the prosecution angle. Here, I would say there are provisions in statute—the Criminal Justice Act 2003—where the previous Government got it right in respect of checks and balances. This deals with the prosecutor’s right to appeal a case through a terminatory ruling to the Court of Appeal. I was involved in one of those cases. In the case of R and R at Harrow Crown court, a Crown court judge felt that gloves with lead in the middle of them did not constitute an offensive weapon—the same as knuckle-dusters—accepting that they were used to drive a Harley-Davidson. It was argued that these could not be offensive weapons per se and that there was no intent to cause injury. In that case, it was right and proper to use section 58(2)(b) of the 2003 Act to refer the matter to the Court of Appeal. The judge’s decision was overturned.

That brings me back to the point about consistency in judges’ decisions and the importance of having checks and balances—for example, at the Crown court where the Attorney-General can apply them to unduly lenient sentences. On the other hand, if a sentence is manifestly excessive, that, too, can be referred to the Court of Appeal. I would say that the system works well for both sides, ensuring consistency in sentencing from judges who, in my view, are some of the finest in the world and who have exhibited consistency in the cases that I have been involved in.

Linked to that issue are arguments about the Sentencing Council, which the Lord Chancellor and other Members mentioned. The composition of the Sentencing Council is the important point for me. We have referred to senior judges on it and we have mentioned people from Victim Support. It is entirely right and proper to have sentencing guidelines where there is experience at all levels.

The other point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford was the need to ensure that there is consistency throughout the country. One member of the Sentencing Council, the hon. Mr Justice Globe, has practised on the northern circuit, while another, also an eminent member of the judiciary, has practised on the midlands circuit. There is a member from the Probation Service, and a member, Professor Julian Roberts, who is a leading academic. The integrity of this independent

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body is maintained when its members, including judges, convene from different parts of the country to ensure that the guidance that it issues reflects the views of its entire membership.

As I said to the Lord Chancellor, it is right for us to have a sentencing guidelines council. The fact remains, however, that these are only guidelines. At the time of the riots in August, I made clear my view that the firm sentencing of the judges was entirely appropriate, because those tragic events were not ordinary incidents. The Sentencing Council is there to set guidelines in relation to day-to-day offences, but I believe that judges are right to depart from such guidelines when they must deal with serious and extraordinary events.

We all remember the rhetoric of 1997: “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.” Ten years down the line, when half the total number of offenders were reoffending within a year, we looked for the key factor in terms of the causes of crime. I think that it was nonsense for the then Leader of the Opposition—subsequently Prime Minister in the Labour Government —to use the words “tough on the causes of crime”, given that events such as the London riots are often linked to causes such as the breakdown of the family and failure to provide the right support. The riots happened because society did not get it right and the Labour Government did not get it right. We know that alcohol is one of the key factors in crime, but the causes of crime were not dealt with in that regard. Instead, 24-hour alcohol licences were given out, which exacerbated the problem further.

I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) about the automatic release of prisoners halfway through their sentences. Earlier this year, I submitted a written question asking how many instances of bad behaviour there had been in 2010. I was told that there had been 11,500. Did those who had been responsible for that bad behaviour have to stay in prison for longer? The answer was no: they came straight out. That is clearly reminiscent of the last Government, who got it completely wrong. I suggest to the Solicitor-General that we should seek to ensure that if people are released halfway through their sentences, good behaviour should be taken into account. Indeed, that point is often raised by a great many judges.

When I mentioned early release to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), his argument was, “It was only a few days here and a few days there.” It is good that he has accepted that early release went on, but it was completely unacceptable for 80,000 people to be released from prison early under the last Government, for a number of reasons. A victim has plucked up the courage to go to court. The police have done their part, obtaining statements and tracking down the person responsible. There is either CCTV evidence or circumstantial evidence. There is a prosecutor who has prepared a brief, and there is a judge who has done his job and has passed sentence. That sentence is then undermined if someone is released early, or released early on curfew. In that respect, the last Government completely undermined our criminal justice system and people’s confidence in it.

I strongly agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe. I strongly support what the Government are doing in not just looking at custody arrangements. Of course one has to consider

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custody when an offence is so serious that that is warranted, but it is crucial to look at underlying causes, and at skills and education. A lot of the people whom we are talking about cannot read and write, so it is no surprise that they go inside, come back out, commit a crime, and go back inside. We have to ensure that they have skills, so that when they come out, they can contribute to society; that is right and proper.

Linked to that is the issue of ensuring that people work while they are inside. I very much welcome the Lord Chancellor’s proposal that there be an offer of 35 hours’ work in prison; that is right and proper. The money that people earn in prison should go to the victim, so that when a judge makes an order for compensation at the outset of the sentence, the money is paid. That is better than saying to the victim, “I’m really sorry; the defendant is going into custody, and he has no money.” That is completely and utterly unfair to the victim. Under this proposal, the judge can give a sentence of custody plus compensation paid for through work carried out inside.

I very much welcome the reforms relating to knife crime and gangs—things by which all our constituencies have been affected, albeit at different levels; there might be more or less of them in different parts of the country. The Government are sending a clear message that knife crime will not be tolerated by introducing an automatic prison sentence for adults who use knives, or threaten to do so, and so endanger people’s lives. That is right and proper; it is what the public want, and I very much want the Government to introduce that.

I welcome the Government’s push towards ending the practice of releasing dangerous sexual and violent offenders halfway through their sentence without a Parole Board hearing. It is absolutely right and proper to protect the public—we have to do that—by ensuring that there is a Parole Board hearing and approval, so that we can be sure that the offender is no longer a danger to the public.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) has a detailed, lengthy argument to make; when I was at the Bar, I was taught that brevity is a virtue, not a vice, and I shall apply that principle. I have nothing more to say, other than that I very much support the Government’s proposed reforms to improve our criminal justice system and ensure consistency and transparency in our legal system.

3.56 pm

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), who, although a fellow member of my chambers, is a far more distinguished barrister than I have ever been. He speaks with great authority. However, I do not wish to declare that legal interest, particularly; I want to declare as an interest the fact that I have been a victim, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry). I have been burgled four times, twice in London and twice in Lincolnshire, and it has never been other than a completely traumatic, devastating experience. I apologise if that somewhat warps my judgment when it comes to burglars, but there it is. My experiences are similar to those of no fewer than 745,000 of my fellow citizens who, in 2010, were burgled and had their lives traumatised.

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On the last occasion on which I was burgled, the burglars stripped some lead off the roof; fair enough, but they then came inside and stole the hot-water tank, without bothering to turn off the water—why should they? That would have been a kind gesture. The result was that the house was completely flooded. Everything was ruined, and my experience is not unusual nowadays. I do not accept the argument of the liberal elite—if I may use the sort of language used by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies)—that there are nice burglaries and bad burglaries; all domestic burglaries are absolutely horrible, and the public are completely fed up with them.

The deterrent is simply not great enough. In 2010, there was a statistically significant increase of 14% in domestic burglaries, so it is not surprising that 60% of adults feel that crime has gone up since last year. We heard earlier that the public do not necessarily understand what is really going on, and that they read the popular press, but I trust the public. When there are 745,000 burglaries, they start to worry, and they feel under threat in their homes. That ruins their lives. Vulnerable, older, and poorer people feel that even more strongly. They cannot live in gated communities.

I suppose that the police tried their best when I was burgled, but there was no evidence that there was any follow-up, or that they were taking intelligence. They seemed to be overwhelmed. All they said to me is, “You have to have a burglar alarm fitted and fit more locks.” However, the poor simply cannot afford this. It is the poor and the old who suffer. Judges and we in this House have a duty to defend our people from being victimised in this way.

Philip Davies: I agree with everything my hon. Friend is saying. Is it not all the more terrible that 10% of all crimes and 20% of all burglaries are committed by people on bail? Given that, should not the Government be doing something to tighten up the bail rules, instead of making it harder for courts to remand people in custody?

Mr Leigh: I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not want to weary the House with too many figures, because then I will be accused of quoting statistics, which do not give the whole story. However, these figures are alarming and it is up to the Government to reply to them. As I have said, 48% of all burglars do not receive an immediate custodial sentence. Some 37% of burglars of private dwelling houses—the worst form of violation of our fellow citizens’ rights—do not receive a custodial sentence. Approximately 87% of custodial sentences for domestic burglary are for less than three years. In 2010, only 16% of those convicted of burglary were sentenced to more than 18 months in prison. In other words, only 16% were sent to prison, and a lot of them were out within nine months. We know that a house that has been burgled has a 20% chance of being burgled at least once more within a year.

Apart from the trauma and the violation of people’s rights and privacy, burglary costs insurers a staggering £370 million per annum. Members should not believe all those insurance adverts in which the kind insurance company comes in the next day and mends everything—that

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does not happen. As I and our fellow citizens know, it is hard going every inch of the way with these insurance companies.

What about the clear-up rate? The British crime survey shows that approximately 659,000 domestic burglaries were committed in 2009-10. Given that only 9,670 such offenders were convicted, the clear-up rate was a mere 1.4%. So, not only are many of the punishments derisory—someone who is convicted, if indeed they are convicted, will not go to prison for very long—but the clear-up rate is incredibly low and the police are obviously struggling to deal with the problem. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said—the point he made bears repeating—according to Ministry of Justice figures for a particular year, 2,980 burglars with 15 previous convictions were not sent to prison. I hope the Minister will reply to that point when he sums up the debate.

We had an argument earlier about current sentencing guidelines. I quoted various figures to the Secretary of State during interventions, saying that only 48% of burglars go to prison, and he said, “I’m sorry, but my position is absolutely clear: I believe that if you burgle a private dwelling house, you should go to prison.” The purpose of my speaking in this debate is to try, in my own small way, to convince the Secretary of State, the judges and the whole system that there is a widespread and strong belief and understanding among our fellow citizens that someone who breaks into and steals from a private dwelling house will go to prison, and I want to drive that message home. However, I was told that sentencing guidelines—my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe spoke with great authority on this issue—suggest a community sentence for first-time offenders. They may have been convicted for the first time, but how many burglaries have they actually committed? We have no idea. We are talking about a community sentence—no prison sentence at all.

Currently, for a category 3, lesser harm or lower culpability domestic burglary—I do not accept this language, which is that of the Sentencing Council—the sentencing starting point is a high-level community order. Our fellow citizens will be astonished to hear that somebody can commit a domestic burglary and get a high-level community order. The suggested range goes from a low-level community order to a mere 26 weeks' imprisonment, which, as we all know, is nothing like 26 weeks' imprisonment. On top of that, criminals receive a guilty plea discount. I am sorry to have to say that we are simply not doing enough to grip this.

The Solicitor-General rose

Mr Leigh: I shall give way in a moment, and I hope that the Minister will reply to this point. There are far too many domestic burglaries and people do not feel safe in their homes. The punishments are not sufficient and neither is the clear-up rate, and that has a major effect on the quality of life in this country.

The Solicitor-General: On my hon. Friend’s point about category 3 burglaries, is he suggesting that public policy should not allow any differentiation between domestic burglaries? For example, if in broad daylight the burglar puts his hand through an open window, steals a paperweight from the windowsill and walks off, should that be treated in the same way as a night-time

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domestic burglary in which an elderly couple are traumatised and frightened or—as happened in his case—the house is trashed? Is he saying that there should be just one category, burglary, and that the sentence should be prison full stop?

Mr Leigh: Of course I am not saying that and of course judges should have some discretion. There is a range of burglaries. It is not for me to lay down the law and to say that there should be a minimum sentence or what it should be. I want to drive home the point that there should be a general understanding among the law-abiding public that their homes will be protected, as there should be a general understanding among them and among the criminal classes of what will happen if someone commits any kind of domestic burglary. I do not accept the language, by the way. We have heard descriptions of burglaries before in which somebody puts their hand through a window and takes a paperweight, and we have to ask how many people are going around taking paperweights—I do not know. The language suggests that it does not really matter very much, but it does matter and it is important.

Of course, there must be differentiation, but my point is very important: I want a general understanding of what will happen if a person violates someone’s privacy and causes them trauma. I suspect that a lot of the time what is being stolen is not just a paperweight but something that is very personal and precious. It goes back to what my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe said about her grandmother’s wedding ring. It might not be worth much, but the experience was traumatising. I want to drive home the point that if someone goes into somebody’s private house and takes something, they should end up in prison.

The Solicitor-General rose

Mr Leigh: I shall give way to the Minister and, if he gives me that reassurance, I shall sit down immediately.

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend has sat down already, so that is all right. I am trying to extract clarity from him. I want him to make the best case he can, but unless he speaks clearly it is difficult to respond in a way that does his argument justice. That was why I asked him the question and he has provided me with an answer.

Mr Leigh: I thank the Minister. We are at idem and I hope that the Government will now make an announcement in accordance with what I have been arguing for the past 10 minutes or so.

I want to drive home the point that it is the poor and vulnerable who suffer. A family with a household income of less than £10,000 is more than twice as likely to be burgled as one with a household income of £40,000 to £50,000. As a House of Commons, we are right to have this debate today and to raise this issue. I understand that the Government will make an announcement this afternoon on spent convictions—I have been told by the media that that will happen, but I do not know whether that is right. At the end of this debate and over the next few weeks and months, I want to elicit a response from the Government that shows that they are seized of the problem and are prepared to put sufficient resources

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into clearing up domestic burglaries through the policing system and to encourage the courts to take seriously the crime of burglary, of all crimes, because that is one thing that our fellow citizens want more than anything else.

4.9 pm

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): I must apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) for not being a lawyer but daring to participate in this debate. I hope he will forgive me. I must also apologise for not living in Oxfordshire or in a nine-bedroom mansion. I live in a two-bedroom ex-council flat; I hope that does not exclude me from this debate.

I represent the fourth most deprived Conservative-held seat in the country, and I hope that allows me to participate in the debate because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) has just pointed out, it is the poor who suffer most as a consequence of crime.

I should like to question some of the comforting nostrums that have been floating around the Chamber. Those who have read their New Statesman this morning might call it “reassurance” politics—saying things to make ourselves, rather than those we seek to represent, feel better. That is my primary concern. Language is crucial in this debate. We have to be judicious and proportionate in everything we say, but I sometimes fear that is rather difficult.

I also believe that victims have to have a crucial role in this process, not because I believe, as I fear some do, that victims will automatically demand the harshest judgment possible—far from it. We can all swap polling and survey evidence, but I want to highlight a survey I saw from 2009, which said that only 11% of the victims questioned felt that sending more offenders to prison would “do most” to reduce crime. That is not to say that people should not go to prison or that prison should not be unpleasant, but it does indicate that the comforting nostrum that all victims are slavering for the chance to see those who have caused them harm swing high simply is not the case.

I commend the Government for publishing more local, transparent data on sentencing. That is vital to improving not just transparency but public confidence in the system. I firmly believe that a transparent and consistent sentencing policy will be possible only if we start to reduce the prison population. Unlike some hon. Members here today, I do not believe we should seek to turn this nation into a gulag with as many people as possible crammed in.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): My hon. Friend and I heard the interesting and often entertaining speech of our hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who mentioned the Netherlands. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) agree that if the Netherlands can close eight prisons because they do not have enough prisoners to fill them, and if their apparent crime rate and their apparent imprisonment rate are half of ours, on a population basis, we have a lot to learn from those who agree that we need to cut crime, cut the number of victims and cut the number of people in prison as well?

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Paul Maynard: I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. I have always believed there should be a strong correlation between the amount of crime being committed and the number of people being sent to prison. If one is going in one direction, I fail to understand why the other is not going in the same direction, but it is not. There are now twice as many people in prison as when Michael Howard announced that “prison works”. I therefore believe that for certain categories of prisoner it is essential to look at alternatives to custody that are robust without being harsh and that have lower reoffending rates. Indeed, the Lord Chancellor pointed out that that was one of the crucial indicators he had placed at the heart of the Ministry of Justice’s work. In my view, that means we should start to focus not only on how many people reoffend after longer sentences but at what we mean by a short sentence and what is an appropriate sentence.

I might just about agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley that sentences of less than 12 months are almost decorative. People at the young offender institutions I have visited say that the most they can do is fix people’s teeth in that time, if they are lucky. Perhaps the shortest sentence should be 12 months, but that does not absolve us from trying to confront what we do in the community. I do not support the idea that anyone who is found guilty should be sent to prison, no matter what their crime. That simply is not the way to go. Within the youth justice system, there has been a 30% fall in the number of children in custodial settings without any increase in youth crime. That is an important example to which we should hold true. It is possible to reduce incarceration levels while keeping crime levels low. Once again, the two are not connected. Indeed, the Government have been able to cancel plans to build a new young offender institution at Glen Parva, thereby creating savings for the taxpayer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley was rather dismissive of my participation in the 301 project. I hope he is not similarly dismissive of our participation in “No Turning Back”; indeed, perhaps he is a fellow member. I hope he shares my concern for effective financial management and good stewardship of taxpayers’ money. One of my key concerns about the approach to criminal justice that he advocates is that it pays no attention to the cost to the public purse.

I make no apology for that consideration. Only yesterday, we spent time agonising over the Welfare Reform Bill and the deeply difficult cuts that we are having to make that will affect some very vulnerable people. Those are difficult decisions, which we do not take with any great pleasure. If we give that level of scrutiny to our welfare system, I strongly believe that it is incumbent on us to look with equal forensic attention at how much we are spending on our prison and criminal justice systems.

Philip Davies: I asked the Ministry of Justice what was the highest number of crimes that somebody had committed while still not being sent to prison—the number of previous convictions. The answer was 578. Somebody with 578 previous convictions was not sent to prison. That was 300 for shoplifting, 131 for drunk and disorderly behaviour, 79 for public disorder, 18 for breach of bail, 14 for criminal damage, nine for assault, eight for robbery, four for possessing an offensive weapon, one for actual bodily harm and 14 others. Does my hon. Friend agree that that person should still not have been sent to prison?

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Paul Maynard: When I see my hon. Friend flicking through sheets of paper, I can always guarantee that a demon statistic is on its way to disprove the point being made by a hapless Back Bencher. Such is my lot.

The average cost of a year in prison is £45,000. Effective, intensive community sentences can cost as little as £5,000. I stress the word “effective”, because I accept that much of our community sentencing is not very good at all. It does not do what it is supposed to do and is regarded as a joke, but there are intensive alternatives that have been shown to work. That is where we should focus our attention, not just on banging up everyone who has ever looked at us askance. Indeed, in a world governed by my hon. Friend, I might fear for my own liberty. It would be deeply concerning to end up in the Shipley gulag.

If I understand the complex legal world correctly, a community order can comprise 12 different elements. Some of them are relatively familiar: for example, curfews and unpaid work, which make up slightly over 30% of many community orders. What concerns me is that the more technical, specialist and difficult aspects make up less than 1% of the orders that are issued. The mental health treatment requirement is used in less than 1% of community orders, yet 40% of the offenders we are discussing have been judged as having a mental health need. There are numerous problems with that component. A high threshold is set, which requires a psychiatric report that can often result in a wait of up to 16 weeks. That may deter many magistrates from imposing an order. It also requires the psychiatrist to offer a specific course of treatment, which may not be easy to arrange, thus again deterring a magistrate from employing the order.

What worries me more than anything else is that magistrates might not fully understand the range of disposals they can use. All too often people in the criminal justice system tell me that if only they had known about this or that type of order they could have given the offender a more appropriate sentence. If I have one incy-wincy, teeny-weeny criticism of the Government, it is that cuts in training for magistrates might make it harder for them to be aware of what is available in their local area.

There are particularly good models in existence, such as the North Liverpool community court where judges remain actively involved in the offender’s future post-sentence. They can see whether the sentence they impose actually represents punishment of the offender and solves their many problems.

I must also refer, as many Members have, to restorative justice, or youth conferencing as we have seen it in Northern Ireland. It demonstrates that there is innovation out there that can deliver better reoffending figures than a custodial setting. I want the Government to follow up their work on the intensive alternative to custody pilot that was run in Manchester. They published an excellent analysis of the pilot in July 2011, but it made it clear that it was very difficult to come up with robust reoffending figures for those who had gone through the system. As those of us who participate in these debates know, winning public confidence requires robust data showing that new, innovative methods of disposal actually work. It is difficult to provide robust figures for the intensive alternative to custody.

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We need to understand reoffending rates far better, because these models can offer much greater cost-effectiveness. As I said earlier, we cannot look only at the criminal justice and public spending elements as if we are just warehousing criminals for two years or so for public protection, because they will just emerge ready to reoffend, and that will not provide the satisfaction—I use the word in precise terms—that a victim deserves.

Despite the fall in child custody, one in 10 prisoners are still in the 18 to 20 age group. Admittedly, this has spiked because of the riots, quite correctly in my view. However, the independent panel that looked into the riots identified the lack of support for young people moving from the youth justice system to the adult justice system as a contributory factor to the occurrence of the riots, which is worth bearing in mind. The Barrow Cadbury Trust found that almost half of those in the 18 to 20 age group were in local authority residential care and 40% had suffered some sort of domestic violence. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has stated in a Centre for Social Justice report that

“increasing penalties for offenders will do little to stop the next generation of prisoners and unlock the cycle of deprivation which so many young people are trapped in, unless it is accompanied by an attempt to tackle the underlying drivers of crime.”

That is why I am concerned that any model that focuses simply on imprisonment and increasing the number of prisoners will not solve the wider problem we face.

We all age physically at different speeds, but we also age emotionally at different speeds. The human brain is not mature until the mid-20s—I suspect that for certain Members it might be much older, but I do not dare to speculate. It is worth looking at the model used in Germany, where those in the 18 to 21 age group are assessed for maturity. If the individual has a communication delay or learning disabilities, for example, there is the option that they will be disposed of through the youth justice process. That has been shown to work well in solving individual problems.

It is also important that our political rhetoric in the Chamber, on both sides, is mature when we discuss criminal justice. The Prison Reform Trust—I declare an interest as a trustee—recently published a report examining the reasons for the decline in child imprisonment. It found that politicians had played no role in that at all. Indeed, the best it could say about us was that we did not impede the process. I welcome the fact that the Government and others are now rejecting the easy, knee-jerk options. The Mayor’s strategy on youth crime, for example, was notably mature and robust in how it sought to tackle the issue. Similarly, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill has made great strides in the right direction, although I am sure that we would want to see some of them move more quickly. I commend the Sentencing Council for the judicious work it has done so far, and I congratulate the Opposition, empty though their Benches are, on having done the right thing in setting it up.

In conclusion, transparency and consistency in sentencing can be achieved only by clarity of purpose, and by an iron will not to use sentencing policy to demonstrate other supposed political virtues. We do not need to be harsh to be tough, and we must never forget that victims

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are humans and have needs. To be a victim of crime is more than a financial event; it is a deeply upsetting and emotional experience.

Equally, we must never forget that perpetrators of crime are also human beings. Often, they are perpetrators not because they are evil—and I do believe in evil, and that there are evil people who should be in prison—but because the state has failed them at multiple stages of their life, almost from birth, in residential care homes, education and many other settings. Those people are on the conveyor belt to crime because we in this House have failed them time and again. To put such people in prison and merely wash our hands of them is not a solution to the state’s failure to care for the most vulnerable in society.

4.25 pm

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I rise with an enormous amount of insecurity because I am talking to so many learned friends on a subject about which I know so little—I feel a little like a woolly mammoth staggering into a law library. My speech is really a series of hints followed by guesses, with perhaps some questions about the relationship of the Sentencing Council to our constitution.

It strikes me that there is a danger with the Sentencing Council that I would love to hear the Government address. It seems—if I may use portentous language—to be a threat to the liberty of Englishmen. I say that deliberately because it does not, of course, apply to Scotland, and I would not presume to speak for Wales. The Sentencing Council is a threat to the liberty of Englishmen because despite its best intentions—we have heard wonderful stuff about predictability, transparency, consistency and public trust—it is attempting to step on sacred ground. It is going where the state and administrators should not go; it is trying to cross the threshold of the courtroom door.

We in Parliament are connected to many things that are to do with the law. We create the law, and we define crimes and the factors relevant to them. We can even state the maximum sentence—or, in exceptional circumstances the minimum sentence—for a particular crime. We should not, however, become involved—and I fear that the Sentencing Council is involved—with the exact processes and factors that operate within the courtroom itself, and in particular with the independence and power of the jury and the judge.

We have heard a certain amount about the independence of the judge, but the most important point concerns the jury, which has a direct interest in knowing the connection between its verdict and the judgment reached. It is difficult for it to see that connection, however, in the current world of the Sentencing Council, which is an astonishingly opaque universe that might appeal to a management consultant or to a Taylorist soap factory. For example, in the case of grievous bodily harm, the Sentencing Council attempts to define nine aggravating factors, three statutory aggravating factors and 25 additional factors, and then to churn the whole thing through a sausage factory of nine different steps until a judgment is produced through that complex algorithm. How is the jury expected to understand the consequences of its verdict on such a judgment?

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Purists may say that such things are none of the jury’s concern, and that the jury does not need to know the sentence as its concern is merely with the verdict. However, that has never been true in English common law, which from the beginning has contained the notion of pious perjury—in other words, the jury’s ability not only to determine the verdict, but to have an influence on the sentence. That was important, of course, when the death penalty attached to basic crimes, and it is still important today when we consider issues such as assisted suicide. It is a very important part of our liberty that the jury retains the discretion to affect the decision.

The second set of problems with which we are dealing concerns the independence of the judge. The jury is the preservation of our liberty, but the judge also has two important hands that are manacled by the Sentencing Council. The first is his ability to reach a decision based on the complexity of an individual case. The algorithms produced by the Sentencing Council—the lists of nine or 25 factors—are simply, in its own words, “non-exhaustive” lists of the factors that a judge is supposed to take into account. He is supposed to recognise the individuality of the crime, and the nature and history of the criminal. Those are the things for which we employ a judge—the things that a human is better able to provide than a machine or some checklist produced by the Sentencing Council.

The deeper, bigger problem is that the judge is not simply involved in a forensic investigation. It is not simply a question of fact or the analysis of evidence; at its deepest level, it is a question of morality and philosophy. When the judge determines a sentence, he is supposed to take on board not simply the crime and the history of the criminal but all the issues that we have heard about today—deterrence, public protection and justice in its broadest sense. They are not instrumental or factual questions but normative questions of morality and philosophy. Those things cannot be outsourced to a Sentencing Council that wishes us to tick boxes.

The defence of the Sentencing Council—that the guidelines are not mandatory—is of course deeply disingenuous. It is only under the most exceptional circumstances that judges can depart from them. Let us therefore remember that the reason why we have for so long protected the independence of the jury and the judge in English common law from exactly that type of administrative state interference is that we are English, not French. Such interference is a very Napoleonic approach, implying that the administrative state, with its astonishing mathematical formulae and algorithms, can generate the appropriate sentence within the hallowed space of the courtroom.

We must fight against that, because from the very foundation of our jury system, the basic principle of English common law has pushed against the idea of learned experts with their technocratic micro-management and instead recognised, since the early mediaeval period, the importance of even semi-literate jurors. The qualities that we look for in justice are not those of mathematical precision and science but those of common sense, human relationships, understanding and fellow feeling. In the judge, we look not simply for his learned nature, but for his compassion, philosophical insight and morality.

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I conclude with a small reference to Blackstone. However convenient the new methods of trial may at first appear—indeed, all arbitrary methods are convenient at their first appearance—let it be remembered that the delays and minor inconveniences in the forms of our justice are the price that a free nation pays for its liberty in more substantial matters.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Following remarks today by the United States Defence Secretary Leon Panetta that US forces in Afghanistan will step back from their lead combat role by the end of 2013, Downing street appears to have announced a similar policy for British troops at its press briefing this morning. Surely that should have been first announced to Parliament. Has Mr Speaker been approached by the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence or even the Prime Minister’s office saying that the Government wish to make a statement to Parliament either today or, at the very latest, on Monday?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Thank you, Mr Spellar, for forward notice of that point of order. I have not received any information that the Prime Minister or any other Minister intends to make a statement today. Should that change, Members will be notified in the usual way.

4.34 pm

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart)—he is a most learned friend—who gave a great philosophical and moral insight into sentencing decisions and the factors involved.

This debate is long overdue and a range of views have been aired. I welcome the debate partly because it gives me an opportunity to commend the Government’s approach to their victims strategy. I have had the privilege of engaging with the Ministry of Justice on its “Victims Matter” policy, including through a ten-minute rule Bill I sponsored at the end of last year.

There is a degree of consensus in the House this afternoon that far more needs to be done to support victims in light of the consistency and transparency of sentencing, and, importantly, to rebalance the criminal justice system, so that there is not a disproportionate focus on the offender and so that due consideration is given to the victims of crime. It is obvious that the Government’s focus and what they have done are welcome and good steps in the right direction. Naturally, some of the Government’s proposals will need careful consideration. I hope Ministers and officials engage constructively with Victim Support and other organisations to ensure that victims services are improved and enhanced.

As has been said, sentencing is a part of the justice system in which victims are forgotten, yet sentencing is important to them. Victims of crime want offenders to face the consequences of their actions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) has said, there is balance. Offenders must take on the full consequences of their action through punishment, and we must ensure that sentences reflect the crime that has been committed while providing the offender with an appropriate degree of punishment and rehabilitation.

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That is partly why victims of crime, and certainly those I have met through my constituency work and those I have engaged with through wider dialogue through, for example, the all-party parliamentary group feel frustrated, angry and disfranchised, which is a good word to use in respect of victims in the justice system. They feel that they are ignored and that the emphasis is placed far too much on the offender. Sadly, there are far too many examples of that. There has been much commentary this afternoon on the media reporting of cases, but I want to mention one case reported earlier this month. Josephine and Douglas Manwaring wrote a victim impact assessment to call for the criminal who brutally murdered their daughter 20 years ago to rot in prison. The case was harrowing, but the bureaucrats involved tried to censor their views from the Parole Board considering the murderer’s release. Those actions were totally unacceptable, and I trust that the Justice Secretary took robust action to ensure that those bureaucrats do not take it upon themselves to suppress victims in future. Victims must have a voice.

In another well documented case in Essex, victims of crime were completely circumvented and ignored in the sentencing of a prolific offender, Bradley Wernham. He was eventually apprehended after committing more than 600 offences, but when his case came to court, the victims were not given the chance to have a say. Instead, officials and the court refused to lock him up, and he went on to reoffend. The court decided not only to give him a community sentence, but to give him the usual benefits that come with it. It became a social experiment. Many of my constituents described his treatment as bribing him not to reoffend. Needless to say, the experiment backfired, and dozens of crimes later, he was eventually put behind bars. I emphasise that throughout the process, victims had no voice in the decisions and were never engaged.

The Justice Secretary and the wider Ministry of Justice team will share my concerns about such situations. Although the new reforms will take time to be effective, it is important that the Ministry reiterates to the courts, and to all those involved in the justice system, that victims must have a voice. They must be put first, especially in sentencing.

I want the Government to go further in keeping the public safe when persistent offenders are sentenced. In 2010, 651 offenders received between five and nine community sentences, while 10 offenders received between 10 and 14 community sentences. Those 661 offenders were given more than five chances to rehabilitate, but they still pursued a life of crime. In 2009, offenders subject to community orders committed more than 18,000 serious violent and sexual offences, including 172 sexual offences against children. Those figures are truly astonishing. They demonstrate that far too many criminals are being allowed to remain in the community, where they are reoffending and causing misery for their victims, when they should be locked behind bars to keep the public safe.

It is not just offenders on community orders who are continuing their criminal ways. Figures from 2009—again, Labour was in power—show that 21,000 criminals reoffended within one month of receiving a caution or an out-of-court disposal. I appreciate that there are strains on our prisons and that the previous Government left behind an appalling legacy, which this Government

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are seriously attempting to deal with, but when people are reoffending at such prolific rates, our courts must be empowered to imprison the most dangerous and persistent offenders. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill gives some reassurance that that can happen. In particular, I welcome the policy to remove some prisoners’ automatic right to be released after serving just half their sentence in prison. However, I urge the Justice Secretary to be firm with the judiciary over the protection of the public.

Some really shocking examples have come to my attention of criminals being let out early only to reoffend. I have a string of examples, and we have heard others today. The point, however, is that public protection should always come first. We have heard that our prisons are straining at full capacity and that we must do more on rehabilitation, and I completely support that, because the cost of reoffending has been far too high. Colleagues on both sides of the House recognise that the system is completely unsustainable, given the figures for reoffending, the cost to the public purse and the cost of the prison system and the criminal justice system. More has to be done to make sure that resources are targeted appropriately in prisons to prevent reoffending.

We have had plenty of figures, including Ministry of Justice figures—I hope they are reliable figures—indicating that a good degree of taxpayers’ money is being spent on prisoner education. That is, of course, welcome, but we should spend that money in a targeted way to ensure that we can turn around offenders’ lives. The rehabilitation revolution and the proposals in “Breaking the Cycle” are absolutely targeted at doing that.

I firmly believe that prison has a role to play as a strong deterrent. We must ensure that our prisons work and that they do what it says on the tin. The Government’s focus on reoffending and breaking the cycle of reoffending is absolutely key. We must make sure that resources are targeted in the right way to deal with the previous Government’s dreadful legacy in the criminal justice system. We must do what needs to be done, protect the public and start turning around the lives of many of these persistent reoffenders.

4.44 pm

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The sentencing process will always be imperfect and flawed because it comes at the end of a process that starts with a crime being committed, a wrong being done, resulting in damage, death or injury, and whatever the sentencing process contributes, that wrong can never be put entirely right: the family of the victim of somebody who has caused death by dangerous driving, sitting in court, will never be able to recover what they have lost; the partner and children of a householder murdered in the course of a burglary will never be able to recover what they have lost; the victims of a household burglary, examples of which we have heard today, will never be able to recover what they have lost.

It is wholly wrong, therefore, for legislators, judges or anyone else involved in the process to claim too much of the sentencing process or suggest that it can right the social ills of our country. It can never do that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border

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(Rory Stewart) reminded us, its function is more limited but still important, bearing in mind the duty of the state and the Government to protect the public. That is one of the functions of sentencing. The others are to punish offenders; where appropriate, to offer the hope of rehabilitation to offenders; to reduce reoffending; and to deter others. Those are the functions of sentencing, and we lose sight of them at our peril.

To be fair to the previous Government, they enshrined those principles in law, through the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which was perhaps one of the few wise decisions that they took. It seemed to me, and many others involved at the heart of the system, that many of the previous Government’s decisions were based on precious little evidence or analysis. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) as she explained, as she always does, the case for victims of crime. As someone who was part of the system, as a lawyer and part-time judge, I know that it is easy to overlook victims in the process, because it is the state taking action against the individual, with the victim a mere player—a witness, if you like.

Those old nostrums no longer stand the test of time, which is why there is much merit in what my hon. Friend said about the voice of victims. Hence, I am a passionate supporter of restorative justice. Having seen the limitations of the court system and understood the lack of control that victims feel, I see in restorative justice a chance for those victims to regain control of the situation. Only a few months ago, I heard from the victim of a double rape, who told me and a rapt audience of about 100 people in my constituency about the first time she gained control of the situation. Having been brutally raped, she gave evidence in a trial that resulted in a successful conviction, but—understandably, perhaps—she was told at the end of the trial, “Thank you, you were a brilliant witness. That’s all.”

It might have been all for the criminal justice system, but it was not all for her, because she had to live with the consequences of what had happened—her job over, her family broken up, her life changed utterly. She said that when she met the perpetrator of the rape in prison, for the first time she had control over events. She felt that she was in the driving seat, that she was dictating the process and that she, although never being able to obtain full closure, was for the first time able to explain to the perpetrator of this dreadful crime the effect it had had on her. That is why I believe in restorative justice, and why I am delighted that the Government are committed to rolling out and enhancing this aspect of our system.

The Sentencing Council has come in for a degree of criticism today, and rightly so. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border reminded us, most eloquently, that to reduce sentencing to a desiccated calculating exercise would be wholly wrong. Judges have to bring with them that element of humanity that is part of the human condition. When you sit in judgment on your fellow man or woman, Mr Deputy Speaker, you have to look them in the eye and judge them as one human being over another. Anyone who tries to rationalise that or limit those decisions to mere rationality does the system a disservice; indeed, they put it in danger. That is why we must never reduce sentencing to mere algorithmic

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calculation. However, that is the danger of the formulae that have been used in a number of guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council.

I enjoyed challenging Lord Justice Leveson about such matters when I described the new assault guidelines as the judicial equivalent of that game show “The Krypton Factor”—you may remember it, Mr Deputy Speaker, from some years ago—where hapless contestants had to crawl through an assault course and be challenged in a range of activities that seemed to baffle them and the presenter. My challenge was rebuffed, but I renew it in the Chamber today, because I firmly believe that the danger of guidelines is that because departing from them without proper explanation is a ground for appeal, they effectively fetter the discretion of sentencers. I have no problem whatever with trying to achieve a consistency of approach; and, to be fair to the right hon. Lord Justice Leveson, he agrees with that. He would be horrified if he thought that the courts system was somehow being reduced to mere arithmetic and calculation. However, the danger remains that with an over-emphasis on the guidelines—let us not forget that the court must, not “may”, have regard to the guidelines—we become over-prescriptive in sentencing.

Rory Stewart: Just to expand on that point, does my hon. Friend agree that, as the US Supreme Court found in the case of Booker and Fanfan, the distinction between mandatory sentencing guidelines and purely advisory guidelines is misleading and dangerous? As he is implying, what appear to be simply suggestions operate in practice as mandatory sentences.

Mr Buckland: That is absolutely right. We are often told that guidelines are not tramlines, but my worry is that as we develop the system, that will increasingly become the case, which is a matter of legitimate concern to us all. My hon. Friend rightly reminded us earlier about the historic role of the jury. In fact, it is interesting to remind oneself that in addressing juries, counsel will be enjoined not to talk to them about the likely sentence that may be passed on the offender, because that is to trespass not only on the function of the judge, but on the function of the jury. My hon. Friend is quite right to introduce into the debate that element of realism, common sense and public experience that juries bring to the court system. That is why they are there, why the system works and why we as parliamentarians support it, and vigorously so.

Having criticised some of the Sentencing Council’s functions, let me commend its research work. One of the better things that it has done is to start the process of looking at the decisions that are made in our Crown courts up and down the land, and to commission research on the attitude of the general public to sentencing. There are two reports in particular that I think the House would be interested to hear about, one of which I referred to in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). The report commissioned by the Sentencing Council and published in May last year by Ipsos MORI conducted a survey of just under 1,000 members of the public and interviewed offenders and victims of crime. Perhaps inevitably—but for the first time based on empirical evidence—the report quite rightly pointed out a number of key things, including that the public perceive the system as being

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too lenient, but that some of their concerns are allayed once they have a greater knowledge of the workings of the sentencing system. The points that have been made about greater transparency and awareness, and about the televising of proceedings, are all founded on the research that has been carried out. It is plain and simple: if we give the public a greater understanding of the system, they will give the system greater support.

I was fascinated by the public’s view on the reduction of a sentence in return for a guilty plea. They feel that we, the lawyers, are getting it back to front. They would understand and appreciate the system better if, instead of reducing sentences and giving people credit for pleading guilty, the court were to give longer sentences to those who plead not guilty and string the process out, only to be convicted at the end of a trial. They do not like the notion that offenders are somehow being rewarded for having admitted their guilt. That was a fascinating insight that we, as legislators, should bear in mind. Indeed, the Sentencing Council should also take it into account when it reviews the system of credit being given for a guilty plea.

Anna Soubry: Does my hon. Friend agree that the public perhaps do not understand that the courts give credit for a guilty plea because it spares the cost, and the trauma to the witnesses and victims, of a trial? Furthermore, if someone has admitted to having committed a crime, they stand a much better chance of being rehabilitated and helped, so that they will not go on to commit more offences.

Mr Buckland: My hon. Friend is right. The report found that there was an appreciation of the economic and emotional benefits of early guilty pleas. However, the public preferred the argument that guilty pleas spare the victims trauma; they were somewhat resistant to the economic, pounds, shillings and pence argument. That is quite understandable, given that members of the public view sentencing and the other criminal justice procedures with the utmost seriousness. To them, public protection through the criminal justice system is second only to military matters such as the defence of the realm—my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) has arrived in the Chamber at just the right moment—and is a matter of the utmost seriousness.

Other work has been commissioned by the Sentencing Council, and it has caused a bit of angst among judges, because they have to fill in forms after every sentence—[ Interruption. ] I hear involuntary groans in the Chamber at that. For the first time, the courts in England and Wales are being asked to provide a wealth of evidence about what factors and influences are taken into account when those decisions are made. The first report was published in October 2011, and it covers the six-month period from October 2010 to the end of March 2011. The results bear close scrutiny.

The survey covered many hundreds of cases. When studying previous convictions, it found that 78% of offenders with 10 or more previous convictions taken into account by the court were sent to immediate custody. That is a significant and reassuring statistic. It also found that 59% of offenders with one to three previous convictions were also sent to immediate custody, and that 49% of offenders had no previous convictions taken into account when their sentence was determined.

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Those facts need to be stated. For the first time, there is an emerging body of evidence to show what influences judges and what is going on in our Crown courts.

On the subject of discount for guilty pleas, the survey found that 69% of those who pleaded guilty received a full discount; 12% received a discount of between 20% and 32%; 8% received a discount of between 11% and 20%; and 8% received a much lower discount. That shows, in my view, that judges are using their discretion within the guilty plea discount system and are not formulaically applying the guidelines as laid down by what I think was the Sentencing Advisory Council in a previous incarnation of the Sentencing Council. We have started to create a body of evidence, although we still have a long way to go in working out what decisions are made.

I finish where I started. This is a human system, and it will always be an imperfect system, but if we rob of the system of its humanity, we are doing a disservice to our fellow citizens.

5 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I am grateful to be called to address the House on this important subject. I am minded of the observation of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) that this debate might become a bit like a lawyer’s dinner. I have never been to a lawyer’s dinner because I am not a lawyer, so there will be no comments from me about the law. However, I think it is important to raise the issue of what people perceive to be going on in our systems.

Oddly enough, one of the first things I did when I became the Member of Parliament for Stroud was to campaign to save the magistrates court—and we successfully managed exactly that. I had to go to see what I was saving, and that was my first trip to a court. I do not expect to go to court in any capacity other than as an Member of Parliament showing interest. That magistrates court showed me just how detailed the thinking of the magistrates is when they decide how to deal with the people coming before them. I was impressed by the quality of advice they sought and by the advice they were able to give themselves. I was also impressed that young children regularly came to the court, as organised by Gloucestershire magistrates, to make them more familiar with the court and court processes.

That brings me to the first point I want to ram home. We need to understand that there are a large number of cases, that the public cannot know everything about any of them and that the public will certainly not have a proper grasp of the nature of the deliberations throughout a case. The Secretary of State for Justice quite properly acknowledged that point in his opening speech.

That leads us on to problems with the media and their gung-ho approach to sentencing, which can effectively mislead the public—not necessarily deliberately, but because they are sometimes so enthusiastic about making a general point. That does not help the debate. It is therefore important to recognise that the media can be damaging in this as in many other areas when they come out with relatively simplistic explanations of the circumstances they describe.

That is not to say that we should not encourage transparency. We certainly should do so, because the more we know about things, the better, particularly

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given the number of cases and the number of people who end up with custodial sentences. Information is important in the debate about sentencing and encourages people who are interested in the subject to talk about the issues in more concrete terms, with facts at their disposal. Transparency is absolutely necessary.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I have been listening to the debate in my office when I had the time. I have been on a RAF parliamentary scheme, but I wanted to come to the Chamber to make a simple point about transparency. In June 1986, I gave evidence at a trial in Belfast after the murder of 17 people. Five people were found guilty and were given life sentences. A few years later, I was informed that they had all been released. One of the things that I found upsetting was the fact that it was never explained why those people were released so early although they had killed so many. I think that the public would appreciate it if transparency operated in instances such as that. They would like to be told,“ These people have been released for the following reason, and that was the judgment of the court.” I appreciate that judges are very clever people and that they have sight of all the facts, but it would be nice if it could occasionally be explained why someone has been released early. I am sorry; that was a long intervention.

Neil Carmichael: I thank my hon. Friend. What he has said reaffirms my view that transparency is important. I do not doubt that the Secretary of State listened to that carefully as well.

The rule of law is essential to us as libertarians, as politicians, and as a country with common law at its core, and it is important to bear in mind that the separation of powers makes the rule of law work well if we respect that separation of powers. It is vital for us to recognise the independence of judges, to understand that—as the Secretary of State said—they are there to make judgments, and to understand that they are likely to be the best people to talk about a case because it is they who are judging it and know all about it. I think that politicians are heading into dangerous territory if they become too prescriptive about the way in which they think judges should be sentencing.

I also think it dangerous—this point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland)—to think in terms of a sort of toolkit that forces certain decisions to be made because of what we think is happening in a relatively abstract way. It is important to make the distinction between specific cases and setting rules, which is what we are talking about, and to respect the fact that the separation of powers is core to our way of proceeding.

Why do we give out sentences? Surely one of the most obvious purposes of sentences is to ensure that people stop misbehaving, and that is what we need to talk about in this debate. Several Members have referred to the number of individuals who are reoffending, and it is true—I have checked the facts myself—that 57% of short-term jail sentences result in reoffending within 12 months. That is completely unacceptable: it is not what we are doing the job for. We need to understand why there is so much reoffending. I think that many aspects of the problem are connected with the way in

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which prison operates. For instance, a number of my constituents have encouraged me to think about the standard of literacy in our prisons, and quite right too. Far too many people who end up in prison, especially the young, cannot read or write properly.

Mr Buckland: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for spelling out the appalling problems of reoffending in statistical terms. Does it surprise him to learn that 70% of young offenders in detention have some form of speech, language or communication disorder?

Neil Carmichael: No, it does not, because I was told that a few weeks ago. I think that the “toe by toe” approach in our prisons is an important way of lowering that figure. I urge the Ministry of Justice and the Secretary of State to think carefully about how we can improve literacy in our prisons so that those leaving prison can have a better chance of participating in society and employment.

Of course, the same applies to drugs: there are just too many people in prison taking drugs, too many people going to prison with drug habits, and too many leaving with a drug habit, which is completely unacceptable. It is important that we tackle that in a rigorous way.

A lot of people have talked about restorative justice. It is a great way of dealing with the victim relationship, and we should promote it. In my constituency of Stroud, a huge number of people want to support restorative justice, and there is a small campaign to promote it. I do not think that many of the campaigners know that it was introduced by Michael Howard, latterly of this House. It was persisted with by the previous Government and by this Government—and quite right, too.

Obviously, for a wide range of crimes, custodial sentences matter and are important; we have gone through all the figures in the past two or three hours. I do not think that many Members on either side of the House would dispute that crimes involving knives, and burglary, should attract custodial sentences. However, there are clear grounds for thinking about community sentences as well. I have taken the Secretary of State for Justice to my constituency and shown him an excellent scheme operated by REACH Gloucestershire, which is busy reconstructing a pathway along a very long canal. That is working, and people know it works. I have talked to people on the scheme; it is hard work, and they recognise that they do not want to do the same again. It is good for them to be given a job of work, and a form of punishment that makes them think carefully about how they operate in society.

Such community sentences are to be encouraged, but let me state clearly that there should be custodial sentences where appropriate. There should also be consistency; my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) emphasised its importance. However, that has to be matched up with the role of the judge, and his responsibility for making judgments. I come back to the central point that we cannot be too prescriptive. We should not go down the populist route of saying, “Hang ’em and flog ’em”; we should instead take responsible decisions to make sure that our judiciary, sentencing process and prisons operate in a way that is consistent with our values as a democratic nation, with our objectives of making sure that we deal with crime and stop reoffending, and with our fundamental belief in the rule of law.

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5.13 pm

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): It is a real honour and a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), who gave a powerful speech.

I hesitated to rise to speak on a subject on which I know so little—a fact of which I am particularly conscious in the light of the extraordinarily powerful remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry); she talked about my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, who will wind up for the Government, and his appointment as a criminal recorder even though he had no knowledge of criminal law. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) thought that my hon. and learned Friend did so well that he subsequently gave me the same honour.

When my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor opened the debate for the Government, he referred to the critical importance of the independence of the judiciary, and precisely what it has delivered, in proper sentencing, proper trials in the criminal courts, and public confidence in the criminal justice system.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), who opened the debate for the Opposition. He, too, recognised the quality of this country’s judiciary and what it has meant for the United Kingdom and our citizens in the delivery of proper justice. However, such judicial independence inevitably means that from time to time we in this House, as we are entitled to do, have to consider the sentences handed down, because our constituents rightly raise concerns about them, just as they raise many other concerns about the criminal justice system and other matters.

When the House discusses sentencing, certain tensions manifest themselves as a result of the doctrine of the separation of powers that is rightly in place in this, as in all democratic countries. There are the public expectations—or perceptions, at least—of the sentences that courts hand down, fuelled from time to time, as a number of Members have said, by journalists picking up on sentences that appear not to reflect the severity of the crimes of which a jury has found a defendant guilty. Those public expectations need to be recognised and met, and it is the function of this House and the Government in part to do that in setting the guidelines and framework within which the sentencing operation must take place.

However, in tension with that is the role of the judges. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor rightly recognised that it is a judge in a criminal court who hears the entirety of the evidence against a defendant when presiding over a trial, and such a judge is therefore best placed to determine the appropriate sentence to pass on someone convicted of a crime by a jury of his peers. My right hon. and learned Friend did say, however, that in all such cases the judge will oversee the entire case, but that is not always so. In many instances, a conviction is obtained by the Crown and the case is adjourned for sentencing; indeed, that is the usual practice. As a result, the sentencing judge often has to be re-educated about the precise circumstances in which the offence took place, in order that an appropriate sentence can be imposed. I encourage my right hon. and learned Friend—as I would encourage any Minister—to consider whether it is appropriate in most cases, if not all, to reserve

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sentencing to the judge who actually heard all the evidence. That would engender better respect for, and greater public confidence in, sentencing.

Anna Soubry: It is very rare that the judge who conducted the trial in a given case does then not make sure that they pass sentence, for precisely the reasons that my hon. and learned Friend has identified. However, my hon. and learned Friend makes the powerful point that, if at all possible, it would be much better if they retained sentence, even where pleas have been taken by judges, which is usually because they have read the papers the night before. Actually, it just makes things a lot simpler and easier all round, which must be to the benefit of justice and is much more cost-efficient.

Stephen Phillips: My hon. Friend makes an important point about cost-effectiveness. If a different judge has to sentence, the papers have to be read and more work is done in court, thereby taking up court time, while the case is explained by the advocates for the Crown before the plea in mitigation is taken. Then, there is generally a further adjournment—certainly when I sentence, and no doubt when my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) sentences—when the judge retires to consider precisely what he is going to do. All of that could be avoided.

In my experience as a recorder—a role I continue to carry out for a few weeks a year—sentencing lists often include trials where there has been a conviction, and the case is not always reserved to the judge who heard the evidence. In my view, it certainly should be, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and his Front-Bench colleagues will look at that issue.

The first tension for the House when it considers such matters, therefore, is that between public expectation or perception on the one hand and the necessity for judges who hear cases to deal with sentences and impose them appropriately on the other. There is another tension, however, between the discretion of the judiciary to impose the appropriate sentence and the expectations of the public that sentences will reflect the gravity of the crime. That, of course, is a tension that manifests itself most clearly in the discretion afforded to judges in passing the sentences they impose for which they are criticised, from time to time, both in this House and in the press.

Let me echo some of the comments of other Members about the wisdom of this House second-guessing the judiciary in sentencing exercises. If we are to stand behind the independence of the judiciary, as I know my right hon. and learned Friend and other Ministers do, and to insist that the judiciary are responsible for sentencing and not the court of public opinion—as we have seen from time to time—we must be robust and stand up and say here that which is right. That which is right is that there must always remain a certain element of discretion in the sentencing exercise, notwithstanding the frameworks that this House establishes, within which the exercise itself must take place, and the guidance laid down by the Sentencing Council.

The debate therefore takes place in the context of those tensions. Any Member who thought that the tensions were unreal and that the public did not have such perceptions or, indeed, criticise judges from time to time, will find when they return to their offices

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and read their e-mails an e-mail from our frequent correspondent—by which I mean that of all Members of the House—who goes by the name of UK Patriot. Many Members might delete his e-mails, but I read them. He has sent us all an e-mail today about the “Big Ben bomb gang” who are, he says, apparently out in six years. He says:

“The fact that this has happened is outrageous!”

He tells us that they appear to have been treated by the courts as though

“they were naughty boys owning up to scrumping apples.”

He goes on in the same vein.

There is a common public perception that the judiciary are not imposing proper sentences. It is therefore important, in the terms of the motion today, that we consider both consistency and transparency and that the Government push that agenda as they carry forward their work on sentencing and consider reform of the criminal justice system.

I openly acknowledge that the advent of the Sentencing Council, formerly the Sentencing Guidelines Council, has ensured greater consistency in sentencing. Like the hon. Member for Hammersmith, I am pleased that the Government have not decided that, because of the current financial crisis—we will not touch today on who is responsible for that, although the hon. Gentleman knows my views—this body should be abolished.

Mr Buckland: I think that my hon. and learned Friend is grappling with the same issue as regards the Sentencing Council as many of us have in recent months. Does he think that there is a case for the Court of Appeal doing the job of the council with an additional resource function to carry out the research that I referred to in my speech?

Stephen Phillips: This is a rare area in which I might disagree with my hon. Friend. Before the Sentencing Guidelines Council was established, as my hon. Friend will know and as the House heard in the Front-Bench speeches, the Court of Appeal used to issue guidance in the form of judgments in particular cases on how judges should proceed in sentencing. That was worth while, and, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State made clear in his speech, the Court of Appeal retains that role. We saw it, as an intervention revealed earlier in the debate, in the riots last year. The Court of Appeal, essentially, was able to establish that as a matter of English law the context in which otherwise minor offences had taken place required much stiffer sentences to be imposed than would otherwise have been required either by previous guidance from the Court of Appeal or by guidance from the Sentencing Guidelines Council.

I can agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon to the extent that it does seem important that the Court of Appeal should retain that overarching ability to exercise its right to indicate to lower court judges what would be an appropriate sentence in particular circumstances. What the Court of Appeal never had and still does not have the opportunity to do is consult more widely, whereas the Sentencing Guidelines Council did have that opportunity, as does the Sentencing Council, which consults much more widely than the Court of

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Appeal ever could in a criminal case. In any case in which the Court of Appeal was handing down guidelines, it would receive submissions only from the parties to the case—and perhaps from the Attorney-General; I know not—but it would not be able to consult extensively with the public as the Sentencing Council can and does. If we are to encourage public confidence in the sentencing regime, it is very important that the public are consulted.

The only respect in which I might criticise the Sentencing Council—perhaps I am going slightly off the topic here—is in relation to its consultations on mandatory or discretionary guidelines on sentencing, which are not well publicised or well known. The representations it receives usually come from the Criminal Bar Association, other specialist associations and those who are particularly interested in the criminal justice system.

The Solicitor-General: Is there not another point to bear in mind? The Court of Appeal’s criminal division can look only at past cases and must have cases brought to its attention either singly or in groups in order to introduce thematic judgments on particular areas of criminal activity. The Sentencing Council, however, can proactively look at burglary, sexual assault and other areas of crime and give forward, rather than retrospective, guidance.

Stephen Phillips: My hon. and learned Friend makes an excellent point, as usual, which I had not thought of. No doubt that is why he is the Solicitor-General and I am two Benches behind him. He is absolutely right and I entirely agree with him.

I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon only inasmuch as although I think the Court of Appeal should indeed retain the overarching ability to indicate to lower court judges the framework within which sentencing must take place, I also consider the existence of the Sentencing Council to be important for the reasons I have indicated. The council’s guidelines ensure a large measure of consistency between sentences that are handed down for similar, if not identical, crimes across the entirety of England and Wales. For that reason, although I understand that there is a cost implication with the maintenance of that body and that it can be described, as it always is, as a quango—indeed, some would say it is a quango we should dispense with—it is a body that should continue to exist if we are to encourage confidence in the sentencing regime in England and Wales.

I hesitate, particularly given the time, to say very much about the hon. Member for Hammersmith’s spirited defence from the Front Bench of the sentencing regime and the way in which sentencing was treated by the previous Government, but it is right to point out that a large number of criminal justice Acts were passed under the previous Administration. If he were to go, as I recommend he should—perhaps he already has—and talk to those who had to use that legislation and were bound by it in their sentencing exercises, he would find a universal, or near-universal, level of criticism, particularly regarding the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Many of the measures that the previous Government introduced, such as custody plus, which was the example given by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon, were never brought into being or had to be changed in subsequent Acts. The difficulty with the previous Government’s

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approach was that it sought to micro-manage the judiciary and to remove large elements of discretion so that the sentences that were passed did not necessarily reflect the offences of which the accused had been convicted or for which a guilty plea had been entered. Sentencing became, to a large extent, a tick-box exercise, which as the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, at least by implication, and as other Members acknowledged, is a most unsatisfactory way of proceeding. I listened to the spirited defence from the Opposition Front Bench, although I sought not to intervene, but I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the approach the Government are taking in their reforms is the right one and I commend it to the House, as indeed I commend the motion.

5.30 pm

Mr Slaughter: With leave of the House, I shall make a few comments about the debate. It was a good, intelligent debate—even enjoyable. That may say something about what lawyers find enjoyable, but it cannot often be said about five hours on a Thursday afternoon.

We began with contributions from not one, but two Select Committee Chairs. One may simply hear the bits one wants to hear in speeches and filter out the rest, but in the words of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), who sadly has had to leave for another engagement, I heard echoes of what I thought I was saying in my opening speech about the importance of evidence-based and explicable sentencing decisions. As he said, sentencers should see the effects of their sentences—what does and does not work. He also mentioned the importance of early intervention and the work of the youth offending teams.

The right hon. Gentleman’s words were reflected in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who chairs the Home Affairs Committee. His was a reasoned voice for early intervention and for rehabilitation.

Then we moved on to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). I worry that I may find myself agreeing with him too often. I am not sure that I should lock up all the people he would lock up; in that case, as the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) said, quite a few people on the Opposition Benches and even one or two on the Government side might find themselves locked up at some stage. However, when the hon. Member for Shipley talks about the release of violent offenders who are still a danger to the public, about taking away the discretionary powers of magistrates and judges to remand or about the now abandoned policy of 50% discounts for guilty pleas, I think the Opposition are with him.

Philip Davies: As getting the hon. Gentleman to agree with me is already a red-letter day for me, I shall push my luck. In the last Parliament, his Government introduced a system whereby people who were tagged could have that time knocked off their prison sentence, in the same way as remand in prison would be. Will he repent of that measure and agree that the time people are on a tag should not count towards time knocked off a prison sentence?

Mr Slaughter: For this afternoon, it would be above my pay grade to start making policy on the hoof. I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman on that point. I am always keen to keep him happy, as is the Lord Chancellor.