HC Deb 16 July 1987 vol 119 cc1263-4
2. Mr. Hind

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received seeking powers to grant jurisdiction to the Court of Appeal to increase sentences; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hurd

I have not received any representations so far this Session, but, as I said during the debate on the Loyal Address, the Government are considering how to strengthen clause 38, as it now is, of the Criminal Justice Bill.

Mr. Hind

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is a great deal of disquiet among the general public about the fact that convicted criminals receiving unnecessarily lenient sentences are benefiting from a miscarriage of justice in the courts? Will he look carefully at the advice being given by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, and also by Lord Denning? Their recommendation is to allow the prosecution to have the right of appeal and also to give the Court of Appeal the right to increase sentences that it regards as being manifestly lenient. That would settle many of the public feelings of disquiet.

Mr. Hurd

I have read Lord Lane's speech and discussed it with him. I bear in mind the points that my hon. Friend made when the previous Bill was before the House, and the points that were made in another place. We are taking all those into account and considering, as I made clear in my speech on the Loyal Address, how to strengthen clause 38 of the present Bill.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

Does my right hon. Friend agree that most people in Britain would say that it is eminently fair that if somebody can appeal against a sentence that appears to be harsh, the prosecution should equally be allowed to appeal against an over-lenient sentence?

Mr. Hurd

Yes, I think that many people would regard that as fair. It is quite a revolution in what the prosecution in this country has traditionally been about. I have never regarded this as a matter of principle. I think that there have been substantial practical difficulties about putting this new responsibiity on the Crown Prosecution Service within months of its birth. We have discussed this point in the House. I ask my hon. Friend to be patient and to wait and see how we strengthen clause 38 to meet the kind of considerations and anxieties that he has expressed.

Ms. Clare Short

Does the Home Secretary agree that as the British prison system is dreadfully overcrowded with large numbers of prisoners who have never been convicted of any offence of violence of any kind, the way to solve the problem is not overwhelmingly to increase light sentences for serious offences, but to reduce sentences for many of the most trivial offences? Will he tell the House what action he proposes to take about that?

Mr. Hurd

I do not think that the hon. Lady is correct, because she poses one problem in dismissing another. The problem of public anxiety to which my hon. Friends have been drawing attention is very real. The actual level of sentencing for crimes such as rape and robbery has been steadily increasing, but public confidence in the system is shaped by the occasional sentence that appears to be wayward in a lenient direction. I do not think that there is an enormous number of such sentences, but perhaps they attract disproportionate publicity. However, there is no doubt about the shock to confidence in the system when they occur.

Mr. Lawrence

Will my right hon. Friend take account of the substantial strength of feeling in the legal profession against giving the Court of Appeal the right to increase sentences? That strength of feeling arises not only because of the resource implications, but because of the alterations in the principles which have traditionally always been applied in our law to stop an accused person being subjected to double jeopardy.

Mr. Hurd

As I said earlier, and as my hon. and learned Friend's intervention again illustrates, this would amount to a considerable revolution in what the prosecution in this country has always been about. I ask my hon. and learned Friend and other hon. Members to wait a little. I hope that when we come forward with our proposal on this matter he will find it reasonable.

Mr. Hattersley

The Home Secretary referred to sentences that were wayward in the direction of leniency. Does he regard the provisions of the Criminal Justice Bill as being appropriate for sentencing for insider dealing on the stock exchange?

Mr. Hurd

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman back to his old pastures. I hope that our dealings across the Floor of the House will be reasonable and constructive. The right hon. Gentleman has imported a question from his last portfolio, which is a little unfair. He will be aware that it is only under this Government that insider dealing has been made an offence.