HC Deb 10 March 1994 vol 239 cc384-5
3. Mr. Nicholls

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received that for particular categories of murder a life sentence should mean life.

Mr. Maclean

I have received a number of representations to that effect. Under the present arrangements, those convicted of the worst sorts of murder will normally serve a minimum of 20 years in prison. Some will serve longer and some may never be released. A life sentence is a sentence for life, because those released are released on licence and can be recalled to prison at any time.

Mr. Nicholls

Does my hon. Friend agree that although the public overwhelmingly want the restoration of capital punishment, it is now abundantly clear that Parliament will always deny them that? If Parliament is not to be brought into disrepute, must not we come up with something that matches the gravity of those aspirations? Will my right hon. and hon. Friends at least consider the proposition that, for those who commit the most serious forms of murder, that of police officers and prison officers, life sentences should really mean life until death?

Mr. Maclean

We have those powers already, and for some people that is exactly what life will mean. The option is not limited to those who kill police and prison officers. No one who receives a mandatory life sentence should expect that to mean eight, 10 or 12 years. The sentence served could be very long indeed. For the most heinous killers, it will be a minimum of 20 years and some will probably never be released.

Mr. Trimble

The Minister referred to his policy that the murderers of policemen and prison officers should serve at least 20 years in prison. Why does not that policy apply throughout the United Kingdom?

Mr. Maclean

That is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I think that the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) would object if Home Office Ministers sought to impose policies on Northern Ireland without the consideration of the members of the Government responsible for policy there.

Mr. Sweeney

Does my hon. Friend accept that the fact that people serving life sentences for murder emerge from custody after 12 years, and that people serving sentences for offences such as burglary also come out long before they have served the nominal sentence imposed, brings the law into disrepute and makes people more likely to offend?

Mr. Maclean

I am sorry to disagree with my hon. Friend. Of course, there are systems of parole whereby some people may be released before they have served their full sentence, but it is wrong for my hon. Friend to suggest that in all cases of murder the offender will serve about 12 years. The advantage of the mandatory life sentence for murder, with discretionary release at the end, is that it can cover a great many gradations of murder. Some people will serve shorter sentences, but I repeat that some people who are sentenced for murder may never be released.