§ 3. Mr. Evennett
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Office what consideration is being given to further changes to the criminal sentences available to the courts.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)
The Government are determined to ensure that the courts have available an effective range of measures to deal with offenders who appear before them. I will not hesitate to add to or increase the level of those penalties if the need arises.
§ Mr. Evennett
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. Does he agree that custodial sentences are essential to protect the public from those citizens who want to destroy or disrupt society? Will he condemn those, including members of the Labour party, who wish to leave the courts powerless to deal with persistent juvenile offenders, who are a growing problem within our society? Will he reinforce his commitment to the secure training units at which such juveniles could be locked up and kept off society's streets and out of the way so that ordinary members of the public can go about their business in peace and security?
§ Mr. Howard
The answer to all my hon. Friend's questions is yes. We are determined to take action to ensure that, in particular, those juvenile offenders who persistently flout the law and cause great offence to people who witness and suffer from their behaviour are subject to a period of detention. I certainly intend to pursue the objectives that were set out by my predecessor.
§ Mr. Blair
First, I welcome the new Home Secretary to his position and hope, at least for the sake of the continuity, that he will stay a little longer than his predecessors, though not for too long. Does he agree that one major cause of concern about sentencing is the disparity in the types of sentence given for similar types of offence? That was highlighted again this week by the so-called vigilante cases, some of which were treated relatively leniently and others, such as the Norfolk case, with considerable severity. What proposals will the Home Secretary consider to introduce greater consistency in sentencing so that sentences are handed down by the courts on the basis of established principles of justice and not as a lottery?
§ Mr. Howard
First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome and I look forward to facing him across the Dispatch Box for a long period, so long as he remains on the Opposition Bench and I and my hon. Friends remain on the Government Bench.
We wish to see greater consistency in sentencing. As the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, however, cases that appear before the courts involve an infinite range of circumstances, which have to be taken into account. In recent months the hon. Gentleman has taken it upon himself to parade as a guardian of law and order, but the trouble is that he himself has a large number of previous offences to be taken into account. The hon. Gentleman offended by voting against the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Public Order Act 1986, the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Criminal Justice Act 1991. He has offended by voting against the prevention of terrorism Act on each and every occasion that it has come 433 before the House. The hon. Gentleman has no credentials to appear in the guise of a guardian of law and order, and we will make sure that the country does not forget that.
§ Mr. Thurnham
I begin by most warmly congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend on his well-deserved appointment. Will he recognise the value of the right of appeal against lenient sentences? Is it not a disgrace that Labour Members failed to admit their mistake in opposing that measure?
§ Mr. Howard
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his good wishes, and I entirely agree with the point that he made. In the teeth of opposition from the Labour party and other parties, we introduced the provisions that now enable the Attorney-General to refer lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has still not admitted that he and his party were wrong to oppose that measure.