HC Deb 04 July 1996 vol 280 cc1041-3
7. Mr. Llwyd

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what response he has made to the opinion of Lord Chief Justice Taylor on the imposition of mandatory life sentences on those convicted of a serious sexual or violent offence for a second time; and if he will make a statement. [34523]

Mr. Howard

Those who repeat serious violent or sexual offences should not be released until it is safe to do so. Our proposals for an automatic life sentence will achieve that objective.

Mr. Llwyd

I thank the Home Secretary for that reply. When will he start listening to senior members of the judiciary, such as Lord Chief Justice Taylor, Lord Donaldson, Lord Justice Rose, and so on, who take the view that the imposition of a mandatory life sentence on rapists is foolish and very dangerous? It will give the rapist an incentive to kill the victim because, at the end of the day, he will get the same sentence. With respect, I would have thought that, bearing in mind the right hon. and learned Gentleman's appalling record in the courts over the past 12 months, it is high time that he started listening to the judges.

Mr. Howard

If the hon. Gentleman took that argument to its logical conclusion, he would be against all life sentences of imprisonment. I am not. I think that life sentences of imprisonment have an important part to play because they impose a risk assessment before someone who has committed a serious sexual or violent offence is released to be a danger to the public again. I am not prepared to defend a situation in which 217 offenders committed a second serious sexual or violent offence in 1994. Only 10 of them were given life sentences, which meant that they were subject to a risk assessment before they were released to be a further risk to the public. I put the protection of the public at the top of my agenda. I hope that all of us who are in positions of responsibility accept that.

Mr. Bellingham

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that one reason why his standing and credibility has gone up is that he has listened not to the judges but to the public and my constituents? Does he agree that people who are convicted of serious sexual offences should be properly monitored after their first offence and when they are released? What steps are being taken?

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. One of the proposals in the White Paper is for extended supervision of sex offenders, and that goes directly to the point that he raised. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) should pay attention to the views of police officers, as well as to those of the public. The police must deal with serious, violent and persistent criminals at the sharp end of life on our streets, day in, day out and night in, night out, and their opinion on the matter is worthy of special respect.

Mr. Spearing

Is the Home Secretary aware that the two murderers of the late Daniel Handley were second-time offenders? Is he further aware that Daniel Handley and his family were constituents of mine? Can he confirm that his Department is responsible for the national criminal intelligence service? In view of press reports and my correspondence with the Minister of State, will he say categorically whether that service did or did not play an efficient, effective and timely role in the apprehension of those two murderers?

Mr. Howard

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I had no prior notice of that question and I have not seen the whole of his correspondence with my hon. Friend the Minister of State. I am sure that she has looked into the matter, and has given him as full a response as possible.

Mr. Allason

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that extended supervision of released violent offenders is long overdue? Does he further agree that the distress and tragedy of a victim of a serious violent and sexual assault is exacerbated by the knowledge that a first offender has been released to commit an identical crime the second time around? Will he please continue to listen to the public and not to the judges?

Mr. Howard

I agree with my hon. Friend about the great distress caused to victims in these circumstances. That is one of the reasons behind my proposals for honest sentencing, and also for extended supervision of sex offenders.