§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Waddington)
With permission Mr. Speaker I should like to make a statement about the Government's proposals for criminal justice—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We cannot hear the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. May I ask hon. Members who are not remaining for this important statement to leave the Chamber quietly?
§ Mr. Waddington
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer).
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Government's proposals for criminal justice legislation, which we are publishing today in the White Paper "Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public".
In preparing these proposals for a coherent legislative framework for sentencing, our aim has been to ensure that offenders are punished according to the seriousness of their crimes and receive their just deserts, and to see that the public are properly protected. Really serious crime, especially serious violent crime, has to be followed by really severe punishment, and I am sure the House would agree that the right punishment for serious violent crime is a long prison sentence. But we know that prison can all too often reinforce criminal habits, and many more people convicted of less serious offences could be punished in the community, where they could repay their victims and do tough and demanding work for the community.
It is therefore important that the judges, before passing a custodial sentence, should satisfy themselves that no other course is right, and it is important that realistic options for punishment in the community should be available, with those options presented clearly to the courts. We therefore propose, first, that the Crown court should have a new power to impose a longer sentence on a persistent violent offender than would be justified solely by the seriousness of the immediate offence, in order to protect the public from serious harm from him. But the distinction between violent crime and property crime should be more clearly marked by changes: in the maximum penalty for theft, from 10 to seven years; and in the maximum for non-domestic burglary, from 14 years to 10 years. The maximum for burglary from a person's home, quite rightly, would remain at 14 years.
We propose, secondly, that new legislation should require a court to consider whether the offence is so serious that only a custodial sentence is justified. For all but serious offences the court would be required to give reasons for passing a custodial sentence and, before doing so, would have to consider a probation report setting out options for punishment in the community.
We further propose to increase the courts' powers to impose community penalties. There would be a new power to combine community service and probation. Community service ensures that the offender makes reparation to the community through unpaid work. Probation gives offenders an opportunity to sort out their problems and to lead a law-abiding life in future. We do not think that one should exclude the other. The courts would also, and additionally if appropriate, be enabled to 762 make curfew orders, with monitoring, to keep offenders at home and away from their criminal associates at particular times of the day.
We plan new national standards for the most important aspects of the probation service's work, including preparing reports for the courts and running probation centres. We shall shortly publish consultation documents about some of these standards and about the future organisation of the probation service. We believe that the probation service should make more use of voluntary organisations and of the private sector to carry out its increased responsibilities effectively. The probation service will, however, keep its central role in supervising offenders and ensuring that court orders are carried out.
Many offences can be dealt with adequately by financial penalties. The priority should be offenders paying compensation to their victims, but fines could be used effectivly for more offences if they were assessed in units according to the seriousness of the offence and then converted into money according to an offender's means.
We believe that custody should be reserved for the most serious offenders. We can justify spending well over £1,000 per month in housing, feeding and clothing a criminal, and we can justify depriving an offender of the opportunity to maintain his family, compensate his victim, or make reparation to society, only when the offence is so grave that there is no realistic alternative to imprisonment. But when imprisonment is the right and proper sentence, it is essential that the sentence served should be more closely related to the sentence passed, and we are going to introduce new parole arrangements based largely on the recommendations of the committee set up to review parole arrangements in England and Wales, and chaired by my noble Friend Lord Carlisle of Bucklow. The Government are most grateful to my noble Friend and his committee for their really valuable work.
These would be the effects of the changes. First, remission, which at present reduces most sentences by a third and which is in addition to any parole granted, would be abolished. All prisoners would serve at least half their sentence in custody whereas at present most can be released after one third.
Secondly, those serving up to but not including four years' imprisonment would have to serve half their sentence, followed, except in the case of sentences under a year, by a period on licence under supervision.
Thirdly, those serving from four up to, but not including, seven years would serve at least half their sentence and would then be eligible for release on a selective basis until they have served two thirds of their sentence. The decision on this would be delegated to the Parole Board. When released they would be under supervision until three quarters of their sentence has expired.
Fourthly, those serving seven years or more would be subject to release on a selective basis after half their sentence, but the final decision will rest not with the Parole Board but with the Secretary of State.
The decision whether or not to release a person on parole would be clearly based upon the risk to the public of that person committing a further serious offence. We intend to take new powers to give policy directions to the Parole Board so that we can lay down these criteria. This would make for far greater consistency in the decisions to release, the conditions of the parole licence and the arrangements for supervising prisoners after release.
763 If a released prisoner is convicted of a further imprisonable offence before the end of his sentence, the court would be able to return him to custody to serve out the remainder of that first sentence, in addition to any sentence it gives for the new offence.
There are important proposals in the White Paper about young offenders. The juvenile court would become a youth court and would deal with offenders aged 17 as well as those aged 16 and under. We intend to increase the powers of the courts to make parents take greater responsibility for the offences committed by their children under 16. In particular, we intend to require parents to attend in all cases when their children are brought before the court on a criminal charge, and we are going to make it possible for the magistrates to take into consideration the means of a parent in deciding on the appropriate fine.
The Government firmly believe that in all we do we should have at the forefront of our minds the victims of crime. It is time to spell out what victims are entitled to expect and the help available to them, and to consider what more needs to be done. We shall therefore on 22 February, European Victims day, publish our victims charter. But the proposals I have outlined today should make sure that criminals are properly punished.
These proposals point to the most fundamental and far-reaching changes for at least half a century in the way we punish offenders in this country. They are part of our wider policies on crime, with the greater emphasis we have given to crime prevention and more help and support for victims. They offer just deserts to the offender and reassurance to the law-abiding citizen.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
May I begin by offering our strong support for the principles on which the White Paper is based? The only critical question that we have to ask about those principles is, why has it taken the Government so long to accept them?
May I assure the Home Secretary that we agree that it is right to draw a sharp distinction in sentencing policy between violent and sexually related crimes on the one hand and less serious crimes against property on the other? It is clearly right that those who commit violent and sexually related crimes should serve substantial prison sentences. It is equally right that less serious offenders should, whenever possible, be punished within the community.
Paragraphs 2.7 and 3.2 of the White Paper give a devastating account of the real effect of prison on first and trivial offenders. No one who reads them can doubt the wisdom of placing a greater emphasis on alternatives to custodial sentences, not least because prison is often more likely to promote a life of crime than to prevent it.
I offer the Home Secretary our support for a number of his specific proposals: reduction in some maximum sentences, relation of fines to ability to pay, requiring courts to consider the probation service's report before awarding a custodial sentence and then give reasons for insisting upon prison. We also support the abolition of partly suspended sentences and bringing 17-year-olds into juvenile courts.
Our specific questions and our areas of disagreement concern not the Home Secretary's objectives but the way in which he hopes to achieve them; not the principles, but the best way of putting the principles into practice.
The White Paper rightly talks about the need for more consistent sentencing, and implies that it could be achieved 764 under existing arrangements. Why is the Home Secretary so sanguine about that prospect? There are still intolerable discrepancies between sentencing in different courts, sentencing of men and women, and sentencing of black and Asian British and other citizens.
For some time, the Government have been urging the judiciary to make more use of non-custodial sentencing, but very often the judiciary has not responded. Without taking further steps to ensure greater consistency, how can the Home Secretary be sure that his hopes will be realised? Why has he set his face against a sentencing council, which virtually all those who share his aim regard as necessary if his aim is to be fulfilled? Will he think again about the necessity and desirability of introducing such a council?
Is the Home Secretary confident that his proposals for combined sentencing will not produce a result exactly opposite to that which he intends? Is there not a risk that some courts will immediately apply simultaneously probation and community orders and, if the orders are broken or the offence is repeated, immediately impose a prison sentence?
We welcome the Carlisle report proposal to make probation automatic for prison sentences of less than four years, but what assessment have the Government made of the effect on the number of men and women serving custodial sentences if the Carlisle report is immediately implemented? If parole is awarded only when half the sentence has been served, will not the prison population rise by about 4,000? It would be absurd if the first effect of this White Paper was an actual increase in the prison population.
Can the Home Secretary explain the decision to alter the procedure for young offenders? We welcome the decision to allow 17-year-olds to appear before juvenile courts, but why is the Home Secretary proposing to alter the punishment available for 16-year-olds when there has been so much success in dealing with this age group in recent years?
The Home Secretary referred to the future statement he is to make about support for victims. Can he assure us that, when that statement is made, it will, as an absolute minimum, replace the rights to compensation which were removed or reduced by the Criminal Justice Act 1988? Will he also reconsider the change that he recently made in the threshold for those entitled to claim compensation for violent crime? Those changes removed the right to compensation from something like 10,000 people a year. Since he is to make the announcement on European Victims day, can we take it for granted that the Government will recognise the European convention on compensation for victims of violent crimes?
The White Paper makes very many references to the probation service and its importance to the Home Secretary's plans. Can we be promised that nothing that the Government do—of course, I refer to privatisation and loss of status—will undermine the service's morale?
Finally, I reiterate our support for the White Paper principles. The Government's task is now to achieve their stated aims of reducing both crime and the prison population from their present record levels. The real test of the White Paper is the determination and courage with which the Government put its principles into practice.
§ Mr. Waddington
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his generous support for the proposals. It is a little churlish to complain about the proposals only 765 just having been brought forward because, during the past few years, a number of Criminal Justice Bills have passed through the House and paved the way for this measure. I mention in particular the 1983 Act and the 1988 Act. The community service orders are already in place and are being most successfully operated by the probation service.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for emphasising the need for us to make a bigger distinction between violent crime and property crimes. I took the trouble to read the Opposition's so-called "White Paper" on this issue. There is a great distinction between the approach suggested by the Opposition and the Government's approach.
We are determined to make the sentence served far closer to the sentence passed by making everyone serve 50 per cent. of his or her sentence in custody. The Opposition have shrunk from that most important conclusion which would give added protection to the public, and are determined to stick to a policy which would release into the community even violent criminals after they had served only a third of their sentence.
The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right: we must aim for more consistency in sentencing. However, he was less than just to the judiciary when he said that they had not responded to the calls which had come from this place for changes in sentencing practices. Far from it being the case, as was misstated by the right hon. Gentleman, that the prison population is at record levels, it has fallen by 2,500 in the past 12 months, not least because judges have responded to calls to send fewer young people to prison.
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say about a sentencing council. There is no need for a new elaborate and formal structure which would interfere with judicial discretion. We certainly do not want to take action which might result in mandatory sentences which would mean far longer sentences and more people in prison than now. There is a danger of being forced towards a more rigid system.
The object we wish to achieve—a more coherent sentencing practice—can be achieved in four ways: first, by the new requirements which we shall place on courts so that they must give reasons for choosing a custodial sentence rather than punishment in the community, show that they are satisfied that only a custodial sentence is justified and consider options for punishment in the community before sending anyone to prison. Secondly, new maximum penalties laid down by the House send out signals to the judiciary that we believe that a greater distinction should be made between property crimes and crimes of violence.
Thirdly, at present the Court of Appeal gives guidance on sentencing, and there is every reason to suppose that it will use that power more frequently to achieve the result which this House undoubtedly wants. Fourthly, not long ago, the House gave the Attorney-General a new power to refer over-levient sentences to the Court of Appeal; that power was opposed by Opposition Members. However, it is clearly a most useful power, which is now being used effectively and playing a big part in achieving coherent sentencing practice. On top of all that, the Judicial Studies Board plays an even more active role with its training arrangements and the operations it carries out to disseminate good sentencing practice.
766 I take the point that the right hon. Gentleman made about the danger of magistrates and judges combining too often different forms of non-custodial sentences. We need to spell out the relevant and appropriate importance of one form of non-custodial sentence as compared to another.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me for an estimate of the effect of the proposals. I must refer him to chapter 9 of the White Paper. We point there to what would happen if one made a series of assumptions. Nobody can make a firm estimate of the precise consequences of each part of the package, but we can look to the future with confidence, and there is every reason to believe that this measure will have a downward effect on the prison population.
I should say, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question about young offenders, that, by setting up youth courts, which will deal with 17-year-olds as well as 16-year-olds, we have to face the fact that such courts will be dealing with young people at different levels of maturity. Therefore, it is essential that the youth courts should have flexibility in sentencing powers. They should be able to impose, for example, community service orders on a 17-year-old or on a 16-year-old, a supervision order on a 16-year-old, or a probation order on a 16-year-old, if he is as mature as a 17-year-old co-defendant. We want more flexibility to be available to magistrates in the youth courts because they have to deal with 17 and 16-year-olds.
I heard what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. We still have the most generous system of criminal injuries compensation in the whole of the western world, and I assure him that we shall proceed to ratification of the European convention on compensation for victims of violent crimes.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman was right to mention the morale of the probation service. I have been immensely impressed with the way in which the service has responded to the new challenges which it has had to face in recent years. The way in which it has operated community service orders should command the admiration of all of us. It knows that we are talking not of a slimmed-down, but of an expanded, probation service because of the new challenges that we have to face. Not only are there more community service orders for it to administer, but the new licensing provisions will mean more supervision of offenders released from periods in custody.
§ Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
Would my right hon. and learned Friend agree that his White Paper proposals today are among the most radical and most practical to emerge for nearly 50 years, not least because he defines a proper use for the sentence of imprisonment? Secondly, he makes parents properly accountable for the wrongdoing of their offspring and thirdly, he proposes that hooligans will at last be dealt with in an accountable way, which the public would want.
§ Mr. Waddington
I shall be very brief.
I agree with what my hon. Friend has said about hooligans, and I do not think that we can over-estimate the importance of the new provision for curfew orders, which will be very relevant to the problem. I think that the proposals are both radical and practical. As for parental responsibility, the new powers for the courts to fine 767 children according to the means of their parents and to bind over parents, including those who refuse to be bound over, will also be extremely important.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
Much in the White Paper will command a widespread welcome. It makes a clear attempt to distinguish between serious crimes and less serious crimes which are unsuitable for custodial treatment, and that marks a major step forward in penal policy.
Is the Home Secretary aware, however, that many people will have doubts about the efficacy of the measures that he is proposing? For that reason, and because the Court of Appeal guidelines have in the past proved such an ineffective way of bringing about consistency in sentencing—and reducing sentences that are extraordinarily long in comparison with those in other countries—we ask the Home Secretary not to set his mind firmly against the idea of a sentencing council and sentencing guidelines if his current proposals do not prove adequate.
§ Mr. Waddington
I doubt whether a new body would be able to achieve more than the present system. My understanding is that a sentencing council would merely lay down, as it were, guidelines on the appropriate sentences for particular categories of offence. There would always be cases in which an individual judge would have to deal with an individual offender in his individual circumstances. I think that the way I have set out the position—pointing out the various weapons already at our disposal to achieve consistency in sentencing—is very potent. Undoubtedly the Judicial Studies Board will make more and more use of its power to disseminate good sentencing practice.
I am grateful for the general welcome that the hon. Gentleman has given the proposals. Let me point out that we are not fighting against the tide but going with it, in the sense that we are pushing matters along a little faster than they might have moved otherwise. Credit must be given to the judges: the figures for sentencing practice, particularly involving young offenders, show that it has been changing, and that is one of the reasons for the fall in the prison population.
§ Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest)
My right hon. and learned Friend and his ministerial team deserve the congratulations of the whole House for the welcome initiatives contained in the White Paper, coming, as they do, hard on the heels of the Government's success—a success that is unique in recent decades—in bringing down the recorded crime totals in Britain.
Bearing in mind that, until recently, the peak age of offenders in Britain was still 15 for both sexes, may I give a particular welcome to the proposals concerning parental responsibility? Surely there can be no more powerful weapon to reduce criminality in society than linking rights with responsibilities once and for all.
§ Mr. Waddington
My hon. Friend is entirely right. Parents, after all, are a child's first teachers, and have the first opportunity to inculcate an understanding of the difference between right and wrong, respect for the property of others and all the other values that are so important.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations. Let me make a full confession, however. I did not wake up one morning with a brilliant idea in my head; I went into 768 the Home Office to find that a great deal of work had already been done, and nothing has been more pleasant than being able to get down to the job of finalising proposals on which so much work had been done before I arrived on the scene.
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I warmly welcome the Home Secretary's intention to give proper treatment to those found guilty of violent crime, and hope that those found guilty of violent rape will receive the toughest treatment of all. Will he, however, give more consideration to the victims of violence, especially when he comes to make his announcement about the victims charter? Will he in particular make improvements to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which has proved pathetically inadequate to its task?
§ Mr. Waddington
I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that the threshold of payments under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board recently went up, but the increase was more or less in line with inflation. As I said earlier, it is the most generous system of criminal injuries compensation in the western world. Recently, its power has been extended. The right hon. Gentleman may have read that in certain cases it can now make awards of compensation to people who have suffered shock and to women who decide to have children after a rape attack, so we are constantly extending the remedies it can afford to the victims of crime. I am very grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman said about violent offenders, and I hope that he wholeheartedly supports our plans to bring the sentence served closer to the sentence passed.
§ Dame Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)
May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on a remarkably good package of measures? Will he expand on how the system of fining according to means will work—a reform that was advocated by the Select Committee on Expenditure in the late 1970s but turned down flat by the then Labour Government?
§ Mr. Waddington
The starting point should always be the seriousness of the offence. Then an appropriate number of units are allocated for a certain offence, and double that number of units for a more serious offence. The units are then translated into money terms according to the weekly income of the person before the court.
§ Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)
Could I refer the Home Secretary to paragraph 8 of the White Paper which deals with young offenders? I particularly welcome paragraph 8.23 which gives positive support for pioneering schemes. I have in mind the West Yorkshire probation service scheme, which has a bail information service. The Home Secretary will know that Armley prison in my constituency is most overcrowded and that, in the past two years, there have been five suicides among youngsters on remand there. Will the Minister assure me, the people of Leeds and the prison governor who has expressed such an intention, that the introduction of the White Paper will bring closer the day when the remand wing at Armley is phased out and practical support given to positive alternatives for young people in remand?
§ Mr. Waddington
What we want to achieve is fewer people being kept in criminal institutions when on remand. The best way to do that is to have more bail hostels and bail information schemes, so that the officer of the Crown 769 prosecution service knows what arrangements are available for the accused person and can therefore persuade the magistrate that it is not necessary to keep somebody in custody. I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said about the scheme in his part of the world, which incidentally is funded, at least in part, by the Home Office.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
I did not hear my right hon. and learned Friend say that the Government would pay the whole cost of the new measures. Bearing in mind that the Government pay the whole cost of people in prison, how much of the cost of the scheme does my right hon. and learned Friend expect to fall on the community charge payer in terms of the supervision of the new system of punishment and the production of the necessary reports to the courts?
§ Mr. Waddington
The criminal justice system is to a very large extent funded by central Government, and there will be no difference there. I do not think that I can help my hon. Friend as to the precise percentage, but the lion's share is and will continue to be paid by central Government. I am informed that 80 per cent. is paid by central Government.
§ Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)
Does not the Home Secretary agree that, for his reforms to be properly implemented, there has to be harmony between the various elements of the criminal justice service? Has he had a chance to see the evidence of the Director of Public Prosecutions to the Select Committee on Home Affairs last week, in which he said that police officers of all ranks were failing to co-operate with the Crown prosecution service? Does he not agree that that is a disgraceful state of affairs, and what proposals does he have to solve that difficult problem?
§ Mr. Waddington
That is not a matter for me, and it certainly is not covered by the statement. The hon. Gentleman raises an important matter, and I shall study the evidence that was given to the Select Committee.
§ Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Gilbertian notion that the punishment should fit the crime is widely held by the general public, and that his statement on getting tough with violent sexual offenders will be popular? Does he further agree that the public want a charter on hooliganism and yobbish petty criminal behaviour by teenagers? Does the White Paper include any of the measures recommended by Lord Justice Taylor to deal with football hooligans?
§ Mr. Waddington
I mentioned curfew orders, which could be monitored by electronic tagging. One must remember that tagging is merely a means of enforcing an order. All hon. Members would agree that a curfew order has merit in itself. If it can be more effectively monitored and enforced by electronic tagging, so much the better. It certainly is relevant to the problem of hooliganism.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
If the Home Secretary is anxious to avoid the use of custody for non-violent offences, will he immediately stop the widespread and growing practice of his Department of using administrative detention powers for immigrants?
§ Mr. Waddington
I do not agree with a word that the hon. Gentleman has said. His comments have nothing to do with the subject that we are discussing. We are talking about punishment for criminal offences; we are not dealing with the difficult problem of what to do if somebody arrives on these shores without entitlement to be here. Nor are we dealing with the difficult problem of what happens if somebody is picked up in a community who is not supposed to be here but must be kept in custody until his removal.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
In joining almost every other hon. Member in congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend on his proposals, may I commend him especially for rejecting the idea of putting fetters on judicial discretion in sentencing? The trial judge is in the best position to determine the appropriate sentence, according to the circumstances of the case and the character and past experience of the individual. It would be undesirable if we were gradually to fetter that discretion and so produce a system of mandatory sentences.
§ Mr. Waddington
My hon. Friend is entirely right. No two offences are alike, so there must be judicial discretion. That does not mean that one should not aim for more consistency in sentencing practice.
§ Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)
Government policy on law and order has relied heavily on political stunts and gestures, of which the short, sharp shock shambles was an obvious example. I hope that the Government have learnt the lessons of that political gesture.
When will the Government recognise the effectiveness and success of the traditional role of the probation service—I stress "the traditional role"—and properly resource it to allow it to expand? It is important that the Government should recognise that there is a clear correlation between their policies, which directly encourage greed and selfishness, and the record levels of crime that they have created.
§ Mr. Waddington
There is certainly nothing gimmicky about these proposals. All informed commentators will echo the statement made by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook that these are important reforms.
I do not understand what the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) means by "the traditional role of the probation service." Its traditional role is to act as officers of the court. There is no doubt that it has responded most magnificently in recent years to the challenges that it has faced as a result of the expansion of community service orders. I give it all credit for that.
It is cheeky for a Labour Member to talk about a rise in the crime rate. Labour Members have never been over-generous in their support for the forces of law and order. Two Labour authorities have fought tooth and nail against crime prevention and neighbourhood watch. That shows the irresponsibility of Labour local authorities.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the police will greatly welcome his decision to crack down on serious crime and that they regard this sensible and balanced White Paper as most appropriate to the times in which we live? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it will no longer be possible for a member of the public to say of a convicted, violent criminal that he will be out of prison in a couple of years or so, as a result of the decision that he has 771 announced today to abolish remission? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the police and my constituents will be pleased by his announcement that any criminal serving seven years or more will complete half his sentence at the very least and will be set free only as a result of his decision, rather than that of the Parole Board?
§ Mr. Waddington
I agree with my hon. Friend. The abolition of remission and the adoption of the Carlisle proposals are immensely important. We have added to the Carlisle proposals in one respect. In the case of sentences of seven years or more, even when there is a recommendation from the Parole Board, if the Secretary of State thinks that there would be danger to the community if the person were released, he will have the power not to release him.
§ Mr. Corbyn
The Home Secretary must be aware that, in recent years, there has been deep concern about the safety of the evidence that led to the conviction of the Guildford Four. New evidence was submitted to him concerning the Birmingham Six and many have deep concern about the evidence against and prosecution of those who were imprisoned following the death of PC Blakelock in Broadwater Farm. In those circumstances, what consideration has he given, or is he prepared to give, towards establishing a new form of appeal procedure so that new evidence could be examined by judicial procedure rather than by a private committee of civil servants within the Home Office?
§ Mr. Waddington
The matters that the hon. Gentleman raises are of great importance, but they have nothing to do with the White Paper, which is concerned with sentencing policy. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the matters that he has raised are within the remit of Lord Justice May.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that my constituents will be very pleased that he is putting the accent on the victims, rather than the perpetrators of crime? Will he also accept our thanks for differentiating between crime outside, in the community, and crime inside somebody's home? Will he pay tribute to the neighbourhood watch schemes—there are 100 in my constituency alone—which are flourishing and preventing such crime?
§ Mr. Waddington
The Home Office has done a great deal of work in recent years to push along crime prevention. It has done marvellous work in bringing on stream the "safer cities" initiative and in encouraging neighbourhood watch, and I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said about that. In our proposals, we are careful to differentiate between domestic and non-domestic burglaries, as people would expect.
§ Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)
The Secretary of State will be well aware that the Achilles heel of his proposals is the judiciary, which has a considerable capacity to undermine any good intentions. He may have set his mind against a sentencing council, but has he thought about requiring each group of judges on a geographical basis to say why they refuse to use non-custodial sentences, what gaps there are and why they continue to use custodial sentences when they use non-custodial sentences elsewhere?
§ Mr. Waddington
A sentencing council would not get over the difficulty that the hon. Gentleman identifies. A 772 sentencing council could establish good sentencing practice, but certain judges would still decide to sentence in a way that did not appear to correspond with that practice. One must have some mechanism to correct such errors and that mechanism already exists because a defendant can appeal to the Court of Appeal if he considers that the sentence is too tough and the Attorney-General can take to the Court of Appeal a case in which he considers that the sentence has been too lenient.
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)
Has my right hon. and learned Friend included, in the excellent White Paper, any reference to the sentencing of those involved in drink-driving cases? Is he aware of the very tragic case of my constituent, Martin Allsop, who was run down by a drunken driver on a zebra crossing and killed? When the case came to the Crown court, the driver was found guilty of careless driving, fined £250 and banned from driving for two years. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that that was not worthwhile or honourable British justice? Is there anything in the White Paper which will give hope to my constituents that proper justice will be applied in such cases?
§ Mr. Waddington
I can assure my hon. Friend that there is nothing in the White Paper to dissuade, let alone prevent, sentences for dealing severely with cases of drunk driving.
§ Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)
I welcome the statement by the Home Secretary that the punishment will now fit the crime and that compensation will be paid to victims of offences, but I stress that this is much too late because, like the case cited by the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), a constituent of mine has suffered a severe disability because of an accident and she will not receive the assistance that is now being put before the House by the Home Secretary.
Will bail hostels be purpose-built rather than converted chapels or churches, which could be misinterpreted? Will the Home Secretary take note of the seriousness of these issues?
§ Mr. Waddington
I understand that in fact it is for the local probation committees to decide on the design of the bail hostels. I do not think that it is really for the Home Office, but I will bear in mind the points that are made by the hon. Gentleman. Of course it is always the case when worthwhile reforms are introduced that those who have suffered misfortunes beforehand are not going to be able to benefit from them, but I am quite sure that the hon. Gentleman's constituent will feel that we are now correcting what he apparently conceives is an injustice.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. There is great pressure of time on the subsequent debate on agriculture, and I shall have to ask for a 10-minute limit on speeches. I will call hon. Members until half-past four, which will give Back-Bench Members exactly the same length of time that the Front Bench spokesmen took, but I would ask for brief questions, please.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that community penalties will be tough on the lager lout and on the hooligan? Can we be assured that they will he put to work 773 to do something useful for the community, perhaps for the first time in their lives, such as picking up litter and clearing up the results of vandalism and the eyesores that we have it in our communities. Can we be reassured that they will actually be put to work?
§ Mr. Waddington
We shall lay down national guidelines for community service so that there is consistency. I can assure my hon. Friend that we have in mind that community service should be tough and demanding.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that among the many important matters touched upon in his excellent statement today, the one that has given the most concern to many members of the public in the past is that, when people are let out of prison early, for whatever apparently good reason, they then proceed to reoffend in the very near future? Is he aware that the proposals that he announced today to deal with that matter will be warmly welcomed, and will he tell the House a little bit more about how that would work?
§ Mr. Waddington
The general theme of the White Paper is just deserts and that a person is sentenced for the instant offence before the court. A persistent violent offender is one of the exceptions, and in such cases the court should be able to consider not only what is appropriate for the instant offence but what is necessary to add on to that appropriate penalty for the instant offence in order to protect the community within the overall maximum laid down by Parliament.
§ Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)
I warmly welcome and congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the statement that he has made to the House today, in particular the part which affects the responsibilities of parents for their under-age children. In view of this reinforced responsibility, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be logical for parents to be given the right to at least be informed if their under-age children are prescribed contraceptive drugs or devices or have abortions performed upon them?
§ Mr. Waddington
That question raises wide issues, which I should be glad to answer on another occasion, but it does not have a great deal to do with sentencing policy.
§ Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)
My right hon. and learned Friend will know that most people in Britain will be relieved that prisoners will stay in prison for the sentence that was thought appropriate when they were sent down by the courts, and that is a welcome move, but will he also take note of the wide welcome for the new youth courts, for which credit should be given, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) for his work over many months, which will ensure that parental responsibility comes back into our judicial system? Will he consider whether parents should carry out community service?
§ Mr. Waddington
I would not advocate that, but I do advocate that, as at present, parents can be made to pay the fines which it is thought appropriate to impose on their children. It is high time that courts had the power to impose much more realistic fines so as to bring home to 774 parents the true gravity of the offence, and I am all for exercising persuasion on parents to see whether we can obtain their attendance at some of the sessions when their children are taking part in community service orders.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)
In reassuring the House that it is his intention that community service should be a rigorous rather than a soft alternative to imprisonment, will my right hon. and learned Friend also consider making community service available to youth courts for application to those under 16 as well as those above? May we hope to see a Bill incorporating all that in the next Session of Parliament?
§ Mr. Waddington
I think that I am right in saying that, for those under 16, the attendance centre is available, and there is no reason why attendance there should not involve a tough regime. I am not entirely convinced by my hon. Friend's argument, but I am prepared to study it.
§ Mr. Chris Butler (Warrington, South)
Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that nothing in his proposals today will alter the present severe restrictions on parole for drug traffickers?
§ Mr. Waddington
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. A serious drug trafficking offence merits a sentence well over seven years, in which case parole could not be granted except by the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)
Will my right hon. and learned Friend say a little more about his proposal to use volunteers in the wider probation service? He will know from his professional experience, as do I, that, unfortunately, many criminal children come from feckless or criminal parents, or both, and they will never accept responsibility for their children's actions. In those circumstances, would it not be a good idea if the child were assigned to a sensible volunteer, on a one-to-one basis, to guide that child into adulthood, failing which the child would have to be put into care?
§ Mr. Waddington
We shall be publishing a Green Paper on the probation service in the near future, and that may answer some of my hon. Friend's questions. I have already made it plain that probation officers are highly skilled people who give advice to and prepare reports for the court and there is a strong case for their advising on the appropriate type of punishment. However, voluntary organisations such as the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders should be used to carry out individual programmes. After all, it is unnecessary for the probation service to run hostels. It is far better that voluntary organisations should do so.
§ Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there will be trepidation among Conservative voters when they learn that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) supports his proposals, but that, when they read paragraphs 3.12 and 3.13 of the White Paper and realise that it is the Government's intention that those who are convicted of sexual offences, violent offences and offences involving the burglary of dwelling houses will receive longer prison sentences than before, they will be reassured, and I am sure that they will support my right hon. and learned Friend's twin-track policy?
§ Mr. Waddington
In this mood of bonhomie, I do not want to say anything nasty about the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, so I shall content myself with saying that I agree with my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)
My right hon. and learned Friend will he aware of the substantial support for his proposals to make parents responsible for young offenders. Will he challenge those who think otherwise to say who is responsible for young offenders if not the parents who brought them into the world?
§ Mr. Waddington
I shall certainly issue that challenge. It is somewhat surprising that, in its so-called "White Paper", the Labour party said nothing about parental responsibility.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me if I do not make the bonhomie total on this occasion. We in the Labour party welcome all converts, and much of the White Paper shows a conversion on the part of the Conservatives to many of the policies that we have been advocating, after they have been getting their policies wrong for 10 years.
The result of their policies has been an increasing crime rate—60 per cent. up in 10 years—overfull prisons and a criminal justice system that is seen not to be working. That is why they are introducing policies that we have been advocating for a long time.
There are objectives in the Government's proposals with which we agree, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said. But we must point out that the results of research into the sentencing policies applied throughout the country in different courts, from magistrates courts to Crown courts, show that something must be clone to achieve uniformity in sentencing policy if justice is to be seen to be equal throughout the country. That leads us to believe that yet again there will have to he a Government backtrack or U-turn in this matter.
Any Home Secretary, when introducing a document such as this, must be aware that rehabilitating offenders in the community is a tough job. The right hon. and learned 776 Gentleman paid tribute to the probation service and the social services. He was right to do that, because those services carry much of the load that goes with the responsibility of caring for and rehabilitating the offender.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman must also be aware that the work of those in the probation service and the social services must be undertaken against the background of other policies that the Conservatives have introduced in the last 10 years. Providing the right type of help to the offender and released prisoner is extremely difficult in the atmosphere and environment of the social security and benefit changes that have occurred during that time.
Great changes have been made in the policies of the Department of Health from the point of view of care in the community. Many people who are today in prison and who are coming into the criminal justice system should not be there. It is happening because of a misconceived care in the community policy adopted by the Conservatives over the years.
§ Mr. Waddington
I could not agree with the final remarks of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), and, in any event, that matter has little to do with sentencing policy.
He began by congratulating the Government on introducing policies which, he said, Labour had been advocating. He has it slightly wrong. Labour is not advocating what we are proposing. Labour is still soft on the issue of parole and is still saying that violent offenders should be released on parole after serving only one third of their sentences. Therefore, I shall not be put in the same bracket as the Labour party, with which I am in fundamental disagreement on that important point.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield went on to talk about sentencing uniformity. Nobody is after that, because sentencing uniformity is unattainable. We are concerned with more consistency of sentencing practice, and I spelled out how that could be achieved by the weapons already at our disposal.
I pay tribute to the probation service. I have done so already, and I do so again.