HC Deb 21 April 1988 vol 131 cc978-9
7. Mr. Anthony Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department by what percentage the average sentence for crimes of violence increased between 1980 and 1987.

Mr. Hurd

Between 1980 and 1986 Crown court sentences increased by 12 per cent. for offences of violence committed by men over 21. Within that, sentences for robbery increased by 21 per cent. and for rape by 27 per cent. The Criminal Justice Bill, as my hon. Friend knows, will give the Attorney-General power to refer over-lenient sentences for serious offences to the Court of Appeal, which will be able, for the first time, to increase the sentence.

Mr. Coombs

I welcome those figures and the provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill to allow the prosecution the right of appeal over over-lenient, sentences. However, earlier this year in my constituency, totally unprovoked, two young men so badly beat up a cyclist that he suffered a broken rib and lost the use of a kidney. Is there not a strong case, given the fact that these people were fined only £200, for mandatory prison sentences for those who commit acts of violence that mean that people's health is permanently impaired?

Mr. Hurd

If the House had to start calculating minimum sentences, of imprisonment or otherwise, for particular offences, we would have to take into account the greatest conceivable number of mitigating circumstances, such as where the provocation had been greatest. If we once had to go down that road, we would establish minima that were so low that our constituents would wonder what was going on. It must be sensible to establish a maximum, and to increase the maximum where that seems necessary, and then, within that, to let the court get on with assessing, as best it can, the right sentence for the particular case, but with the proviso, which is important, as my hon. Friend has recognised, in the Criminal Justice Bill that the Attorney-General should be able to refer to the Court of Appeal cases involving violence where he thinks that the decision of the court has been over-lenient.

Mr. Duffy

Is the Home Secretary aware that south Yorkshire's crime rate continues to hit new peaks, not only in violence, but in sex attacks, burglaries and robberies? The chief constable, in his latest report to his county authority, claimed an improvement in an already creditable detection rate, but the general assessment is of a need for more equipment and manpower, which his 1987 approvals did not even begin to match.

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Member's question is a symptom of the extraordinary turnround in the attitude of some, although not all, Labour Members to the expansion of the police forces. We have been consistent in favouring and putting into practice a steady expansion of the police forces. For the current year I have an allocation agreed under the expansion programme for 500 extra police officers. Before long we shall announce that allocation for this year, and also before long we shall have to consider the further development of the right kind of manpower levels for the police forces of England and Wales after the present expansion programme is ended.

Mr. Lawrence

Would there not be many fewer crimes of violence if violent men had to fear the penalty of death?

Mr. Hurd

That is a matter to which my hon. and learned Friend will be able to return when we deal with the new clause which I expect to be tabled for the Report stage on the Criminal Justice Bill.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Are not the majority of over-lenient sentences for crimes of violence passed by lay magistrates? Should this not be met by much better training in sentencing policy and practice for lay magistrates?

Mr. Hurd

I am not sure that I agree with that. We are fortunate not only in the dedication of our lay magistrates but in their increasing skill and professionalism.

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