HC Deb 14 May 1970 vol 801 cc1440-2
26. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will now take steps to strengthen the powers of the criminal courts in respect of sentence.

Mr. Callaghan

This matter is kept under review, particularly in the light of any recommendations made by the various advisory bodies considering different aspects of the powers of the courts. Recent Statutes have increased the maximum penalty which the courts may impose for a number of offences.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Is not the Home Secretary disturbed by the recent comments by the Lord Chief Justice, vividly corroborated as they have been in one respect by the observations of the convicted double murderer in the Adamson case? If he is not disturbed about this matter, is he aware that he is the only person in the country who is not?

Mr. Callaghan

What the right hon. Gentleman is putting in his supplementary question has nothing to do with the original Question, because the powers of the courts in all these matters have been amply demonstrated as they were in the recent decision taken by the judge who tried the case to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. As for the other comments of the Lord Chief Justice, I do not see that it is seemly for him and me to have a disagreement. On the other hand, in relation to a national police force, his observations clearly did not meet with any support at all. As for his other proposals, I was able to demonstrate that he and I were in agreement as on almost every occasion.

Mr. Fernyhough

But would not the Home Secretary agree that, if longer sentences are to be imposed, it will be necessary to spend much more money on new prisons than we are spending at present?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, Sir, it will. There is a big modernisation programme going on at present. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has already told us that one of his election slogans will be, "Build more prisons". I am not sure that will mean that he will get more of them.

Mr. Carlisle

Surely the Home Secretary takes seriously the comments of the Lord Chief Justice about the iniquity of any form of mandatory sentencing. Will he consider reviewing the matter of mandatory powers so far as they affect the suspending of sentences in magistrates' courts?

Mr. Callaghan

The hon. Gentleman well knows that the matter of mandatory sentences has already been referred to the Criminal Law Revision Committee. This problem will be considered by that committee and I have no doubt its report will be presented in due course. As for the general observations of the Lord Chief Justice, I have no desire to disagree with him when I think he is right.

Mr. Ogden

Does the Home Secretary agree that the powers of magistrates are already very great if they wish to use them, but, as the majority of magistrates and judges are Conservatives, why should they complain to this Government for not using the powers which the Government have given them?

Mr. Callaghan

I ought not to comment on the last part of the question. It is true that the Theft Act, 1968, substantially modernises the law on theft and increases some penalties. The Firearms Act, 1968, created new offences and heavy penalties for unlawful carrying of firearms, and increased the maximum penalties for many existing firearms offences. There are many other examples I could give. If the hon. Gentleman is in earnest on this matter, he should direct his mind not to the inadequacy of the powers which exist, but to the use that is made of them.

Mr. Hogg

Will the right hon. Gentleman repudiate even more categorically the statement which came from the back benches behind him about the political character of the judiciary, both the lay judiciary, which is very carefully selected so as not to exhibit this characteristic, and the professional judiciary, of which I can say from my own knowledge that it is wholly false?


The House is aware of the basis of selection of the magistracy and of the higher judiciary. There is nothing that I can say which will add to or detract from the qualifications of those who serve on the bench.

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