HC Deb 19 June 1996 vol 279 cc883-937
Madam Speaker

I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. I have also had to limit all Back-Bench speeches to 10 minutes.

3.50 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)

I beg to move, That this House supports the proposals set out in the White Paper `Protecting the Public' to introduce automatic life sentences for serious violent and sex offenders; mandatory minimum prison sentences for persistent house burglars and drug dealers; and to introduce greater honesty into the sentencing process. The first duty of any Government is to maintain law and order, to ensure that their citizens can walk the streets in safety and sleep safely in their homes. I shall refer this afternoon to a coherent series of policies which add up to a central theme that gives the White Paper its title, "Protecting the Public". This is the objective that I have put at the top of my list of priorities since I became Home Secretary over three years ago. It is a continuing programme, building on real achievements.

This week alone has seen the announcement of new funding for local projects to tackle crime, the opening of the new crime prevention college at Easingwold, new proposals for dealing with sex offenders, and a White Paper published today on the future development of the criminal record system. If we maintain this impetus, real progress can be made.

Recorded crime in England and Wales has fallen for three consecutive years since 1993. Over this short period there has been a reduction of nearly 500,000 recorded crimes—the biggest fall since records began. We cannot be certain of continuing that trend with every set of figures, but it is a massive reduction that reflects great credit on the police, who lead the world in the use of new technology such as closed circuit television to deter and detect crime.

The White Paper records progress in our strategy. Partnership is developing. Only last Friday I saw an excellent example of partnership working in Plymouth, where the police and local people have developed a concept of community policing. Each ward has its own team of police officers who liaise regularly with community representatives.

We have given the police the powers and resources that they need to fight crime. We have increased spending on policing by 100 per cent. in real terms since 1978–79, to £7 billion. The figures for 1996 will show an increase of 16,000 police officers since 1979. There are now 17,000 more civilians to support the police, and there will be funding to allow the recruitment of 5,000 additional police officers over the next three years.

We have not hesitated to provide additional powers—not just the new public order powers in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, but new powers for the police in relation to bail, such as the power to attach conditions to police bail and the power to arrest defendants who breach bail.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

Chapter 9 of the White Paper to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers concerns fairness in sentencing policy.

I recently wrote to the Home Secretary about the murder of one of my constituents, Wayne Margrave, who was run down and killed. The car driver also severely injured a young lady who was caring for my constituent. The man responsible was sentenced to four years, but if this document is implemented he will be out in two. When I asked that the matter be referred to the Court of Appeal, no assistance was forthcoming from the Government. In the context of fair sentencing, will the Minister give that case serious consideration?

Mr. Howard

I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's constituents who are victims of that dreadful crime, but he needs to put the case with a degree of accuracy. He will know that there could not have been a conviction of murder in that case, because, if the conviction had been of murder, the sentence would have been life imprisonment and not four years' imprisonment. He has written a letter about the case. The case was considered by the courts. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the White Paper that we are debating today proposes a new approach to offences of serious violence. I hope that he will give voice to the concern that he has expressed by supporting the proposals in the White Paper.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East)

The Home Secretary, in his opening remarks, has painted a picture of a beautiful land in which crime levels are decreasing all the time. That situation is not recognisable to most people who live in our towns and cities. What is he doing about the astronomical rate of vehicle crime and the appalling recovery rate of stolen vehicles? We have had nothing but complacency from his Department in this regard.

Mr. Howard

I am most interested in the example that the hon. Gentleman cited. Vehicle crime is one of the categories of crime that has shown one of the biggest reductions in recent years. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) on the Labour Front Bench has just laughed. If he thinks that people do not report the fact that their car has been stolen, he is living in cloud cuckoo land. The recorded figures show that there were more than 80,000 fewer instances of vehicle theft over the past two years. That is a genuine figure. Everyone reports the fact that their car has been stolen. Labour Members refuse to accept the facts and they refuse to accept the figures that are self-evidently correct.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

I have been the subject of three offences in the past four years. The first instance was a theft that occurred in the House of Commons, but no action was taken; the second instance involved someone attempting to interfere with my credit card, which I reported to the police in south London, but no action was taken; and on the third occasion someone broke into my vehicle. What did I do on that occasion? Nothing—it is a waste of time. Millions of people throughout the country agree with me. The figures are fraudulent, they mean nothing and the public know the truth.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman has manifestly failed to deal with the precise point that I made: no one fails to report the fact that their car has been stolen. Over the past two years, there have been more than 80,000 fewer recorded instances of vehicle theft. That is a clear demonstration that we are making progress in the fight against crime. Of course we have not eliminated crime and of course, alas, hon. Members and others will still be the victims of crime. I am addressing—in the White Paper that we are debating today and in the other steps that we are taking to fight crime—the Government's strategy to make further progress in the fight against crime because it needs to be made.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

Does the Home Secretary agree with me that one of the reasons—perhaps a significant reason—for the decline in reported crime is that there are currently 1 million fewer young men aged under 25 than there were 20 years ago? Most crime is committed by young men under the age of 25.

Mr. Howard

No, I do not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. The Government have looked at the extent to which demographic changes of that kind might have contributed to the fall in recorded crime over the past three years. Any effect that that might have had is small when compared with the more than 8 per cent. reduction in crime that we have seen over the past three years. I am happy to write to the hon. and learned Gentleman with the precise figures.

I must now make some progress. Before that series of ill-timed and ill-considered interventions, I referred to the additional powers that we have given to the police. In addition to those extra powers, the police should soon have the new powers of arrest relating to knife carrying provided by the legislation introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), which is currently passing through Parliament with Government support.

However, I believe that the public need greater protection from serious, dangerous and persistent offenders. That is what the radical new proposals set out in the White Paper are designed to achieve. The proposals are targeted at rapists, persistent burglars, dealers in hard drugs and other criminals who time and again commit offences that are of particular concern to the public.

The sentencing measures are part of a wider package. Earlier this week, I announced proposals for better ways of safeguarding the public—especially children—against sex offenders. Today I am publishing a White Paper, "On the Record", which sets out our proposals for new arrangements for accessing criminal records in England and Wales. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will bring forward similar proposals for Scotland.

The police currently carry out more than a million checks each year, of which 600,000 are for child protection purposes. Extending access to checks under the current arrangements would mean not only increasing the burden of work on the police but taking valuable resources away from core policing activities. We therefore propose to establish a criminal records agency which will relieve the police of much of that work. The agency will be self-financing on the basis of fees paid for checks. Individuals will be responsible for meeting the cost of any check undertaken of them, and charges will be kept as low as possible.

In future there will be three different types of checks. The first will be in a new criminal conviction certificate which will be available only to the individuals concerned.

It will show any convictions that are held at a national level and are not "spent" under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

The second is a "full" check. It will be available for those who are in occupations that are exceptions to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, such as doctors and teachers. Both the individual and the employer will receive information as a result of that check. The information disclosed will include those convictions that are "spent" under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and any cautions that are recorded at a national level. Employers who wish those checks to be undertaken will be required to register with the agency and to agree to abide by a code of practice that will ensure that proper procedures are followed in handling criminal record information. We shall consult about the contents of the code of practice.

The third type of check is an "enhanced" check. It will be available only to those who work on a regular, unsupervised basis with children under the age of 18 and to those who apply for gaming, betting and lottery licences. In addition to a "full" check, it will include a check of local police records for minor convictions, cautions and any relevant non-conviction information about the applicant. We have given particular thought to the issue and we have decided that, on balance, it is right to continue to provide non-conviction information. However, we have recognised the need to have clear guidance about both the information and the circumstances in which it can be disclosed.

The latter provision will cover information that can be fully substantiated by the police and will be released only on the authority of a senior police officer. It will be given to the individual as well as to the employer and the employer must decide its relevance to the post in question. The only time that an individual will not be told about any information that is released to an employer is when it might prejudice a current police investigation.

The White Paper proposals place no new requirement upon any employer to seek a criminal record check, and checks will be mandatory only when there is an existing statutory requirement—for example, in cases of licensing. I believe that the proposals will play a valuable role in our strategy of protecting the public from crime.

Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport)

The Home Secretary referred to provisions for employers. Has he considered the case of voluntary organisations which do not employ their volunteers who often work in very sensitive areas with young children and other vulnerable groups? Will he extend the access provision to such organisations so that they may check on their volunteers?

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention, and there is a strong case for extending the checks in the way that she suggests. Before I leave that point, I should add that the proposals in the White Paper that we have published today have been warmly welcomed by the police. I have just received a press release issued by the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, which welcomes the measures and says that they may even deter criminals who will be aware that they will not be able to hide their criminal activities from potential employers and is therefore another measure which puts victims first put and underpins the commitment to protecting the public. [Interruption.] I note that the views of the association are apparently a subject for ribaldry for Opposition Back Benchers.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

I welcome the enormous and good work that my right hon. and learned Friend is doing and I also welcome the fact that non-conviction information will be carried for certain individuals and organisations who look after children. What right of appeal will there be for an organisation that is refused information by a senior police officer if it feels that that information is crucial, although it does not involve convictions, for an applicant who may be employed to look after children in its care?

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. The question of appeal is mentioned in the White Paper and the details of that important matter are set out there.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

Before the Secretary of State leaves the subject of criminal records, will he confirm that the White Paper contains no proposals to implement the Home Affairs Select Committee's unanimous recommendation for the proper regulation of the private security industry, and that the effect is to create a huge, gaping loophole in the arrangements? The proposals, as I read them, may allow private security employers to weed out the crooks who work for private security firms, but they will do nothing to weed out the crooks who own and operate some of those private security firms.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Select Committee's proposals on the private security industry are still under consideration. The measures set out in White Paper today will be of considerable assistance and relevance in the context of that industry, and not merely in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman. The proposals will enable firms that are not involved in the industry, but which employ people for security purposes, to carry out checks, and that will be a considerable safeguard. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that.

I turn now to our sentencing proposals. They are under three main headings. The first is "Honesty in sentencing". The public are outraged when someone sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment is released after four or five years or when someone sentenced to seven days' imprisonment is released after one night. I agree with the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor, who recently said that those arrangements have the appearance of a charade with everyone engaged in a calculation of how much less than the pronounced sentence will actually be served". I therefore propose that the sentence served should bear a much closer relationship to the sentence passed by the court.

Prisoners who behave well and co-operate should be able to earn up to 20 per cent. off their sentence. Everyone else will have to serve their sentences in full. That will create an incentive for prisoners to behave well while in prison. Governors will retain the power to take away time earned as a sanction for disciplinary offences—the Opposition's Front-Bench spokesman in another place, in the debate on 23 May, was quite wrong to suggest that governors would be, as she put it, stripped of that power.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

The Home Secretary has selectively called in aid the views of the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor. Has the Home Secretary also considered the broader view taken by the Lord Chief Justice of his White Paper, when he said that grave consequences would follow if the main proposals were put into effect? The Home Secretary mentioned one sentence from the Lord Chief Justice, but does he accept the broad attack on the totality of his proposals?

Mr. Howard

I do not think that it is a secret that, on the other proposals in the White Paper, the former Lord Chief Justice and I have different views. Similarly, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is seriously suggesting that I was attempting to conceal that from the House or the world. It may be of interest to note that in this instance the former Lord Chief Justice and I are happily in agreement.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Is it not arrogant to introduce the name of the former Lord Chief Justice in such a way when the Home Secretary knows that many of us have come to the Chamber to listen to what he has to say? It is our first opportunity to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman respond to the final speech of the former Lord Chief Justice in another place, during which he more or less said that he had no confidence in a Home Secretary who should introduce such measures based on such "flimsy and dubious research".

Mr. Howard

I am coming to the rest of my proposals, if the hon. Gentleman will contain himself. I will deal with them in detail. The hon. Gentleman has misquoted the former Lord Chief Justice, but there is no secret that the former Lord Chief Justice—[Interruption.] He criticised the proposals but he did not—

Mr. Sheerman

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Home Secretary says that I have misquoted the former Lord Chief Justice. He said in column 1025 of the Official Report of another place on 23 May that never in the history of our criminal law"—

Madam Speaker

Order. It is not a point of order if the hon. Gentleman merely repeats what he said earlier. He should contain himself and make a speech later.

Mr. Howard

I shall come to my other proposals and to the evidence for them. I hope that today we shall have rather less equivocal language from those who occupy the Opposition Front Bench than we have had so far.

First, I shall deal with honesty in sentencing. The White Paper makes it clear that the courts will be expected when passing sentence to take account of the abolition of parole and changes in early-release arrangements. That could be achieved either by a practice direction, if the Lord Chief Justice decided that it would be appropriate to issue such a direction, or by specific statutory provision. The Government therefore do not intend or expect the proposal to result in a general increase in sentences actually served. Its purpose, as I have made clear from the outset, is to introduce greater honesty and clarity into the sentencing process and to restore credibility to the sentence passed by the court.

Mr. Alex Cathie

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Howard

I have already given way once to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I have no doubt that he will be able to make his speech in due course.

The second key element of my proposals is that anyone convicted for the second time of a serious sexual or violent offence should receive an automatic life sentence unless there are genuinely exceptional circumstances. The offences covered by this proposal would include, among others, rape, attempted rape, attempted murder, manslaughter and the most serious woundings. The purpose of the proposal is to ensure that no one who comes into the category will be released until an assessment has been made of whether he or she still poses a risk to the public.

Life imprisonment is, of course, already the maximum penalty for serious violent and sexual offences such as rape and attempted murder. In 1994, however, 217 offenders were convicted of a serious violent or sexual offence having previously been convicted of at least one similar offence, and only 10 of them were sentenced to life imprisonment. Again in 1994, about 40 violent or sexual crimes were committed by offenders who had already been convicted of two such offences. The Government's proposals mean that in future such offenders would be released if, and only if, there had been an assessment that it was safe for them to be released. Those who are released will remain on licence and subject to recall for the rest of their lives.

The third element of our proposals is that the courts should be required to impose a minimum prison sentence on offenders who are convicted of domestic burglary or dealing in hard drugs who have two previous convictions for similar offences. It is proposed in the White Paper that there should be a minimum sentence on third conviction of three years in the case of domestic burglary and seven years in relation to drug trafficking offences. The courts will have discretion to set aside the mandatory penalty in genuinely exceptional circumstances and to impose a higher sentence than the mandatory minimum in appropriate cases.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

Does the Home Secretary agree that, in dealing with burglaries, attention should be directed on those who habitually receive stolen goods and thereby encourage others to burgle?

Mr. Howard

I do indeed agree with the hon. Gentleman. The fact that a particular offence does not come within the very precisely targeted category that has been selected for mandatory minimum sentences does not, of course, mean that the courts should pass a life sentence in those cases. The hon. Gentleman has correctly identified a category that will no doubt receive the attention of the courts where appropriate.

Persistent burglars and drug dealers are a menace to society, and they should know that if they continue to offend they will go to prison for a long time. In too many cases, non-custodial sentences or very short prison sentences are imposed on burglars who have numerous previous convictions. It just cannot be right that burglars before the court for their seventh or subsequent conviction are getting average sentences of 19 months—serving perhaps 10 months. That is only a few months longer than the 15 or 16 months—serving perhaps eight months—of first offenders who are sent to prison. Stiff minimum sentences will provide a real deterrent to persistent offenders and ensure that those who continue to offend receive the punishment that they so richly deserve.

I do not accept that these proposals encroach improperly on judicial independence. It has always been Parliament's responsibility to set the statutory framework for sentencing, and for judges to exercise their discretion within that framework.

It has been argued that mandatory sentences will not work because it is the certainty of conviction that deters offenders, not the severity of sentence. But improving detection rates and imposing stiffer sentences are not alternatives, they are complementary. The most effective deterrent is to have both. The police are taking action to improve detection rates in a number of ways, for example, by targeting known and persistent offenders. The Government's proposals will back that up. Bringing persistent burglars back before the courts time and time again is useless if the sentence imposed is one that they can regard as a minor occupational hazard in their chosen career.

Ros Burnett of Oxford university, in a study entitled "The Dynamics of Recidivism", found on the basis of interviews with prisoners that Avoidance of imprisonment was the most frequently mentioned reason for not wanting to re-offend". Under our proposals, persistent offenders will know that they will get a stiff sentence if they persist in offending.

The public rightly expect protection from serious, dangerous and persistent offenders. The proposals that I have outlined are carefully targeted at crimes of particular concern to the public—serious sex and violent offences, domestic burglary, and dealing in hard drugs. The Government believe that urgent action is required to provide a real deterrent to such offenders; to punish severely those who continue to offend regardless; and above all to protect the public from their activities. The White Paper "Protecting the Public", and our new proposals for sex offenders and for making better preventive use of criminal records, are further steps towards protecting the public in that way.

I now deal with the position taken by the Opposition parties. I am surprised that the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who is deputy leader of the Labour party, is not present for the debate, as his ambitions to become shadow Home Secretary are famous, and this would have been the perfect opportunity for him to size up the Home Affairs portfolio and to learn from the many mistakes of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw).

The hon Gentleman's approach to policy making consists of a four-stage process typical of the manic depressive. The first is the manic phase. He hears about someone else's idea. "That's a good one," he says, skipping excitedly around his room. During the second stage there is a frenzy of activity. He does not need anything more than Snopake, a photocopier and a fax machine—the usual tools of trade of the bottom-of-the-market plagiarist. The third stage consists of panic as the plan unravels. Another Straw fiasco is complete. That leads to the final stage—deep depression.

Let us take the teenage curfew saga as a classic example. President Clinton makes a speech on teenage curfews. The hon. Gentleman gets to work within hours. This is a golden opportunity. He can see the headlines now: "Straw to crack down on kids". "Tony will be pleased,' he says to himself. "My job in the shadow Cabinet is safe after all."

The trouble is that the hon. Gentleman's colleague, the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), had already condemned the idea as "utter and complete nonsense", and the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said the following day: I'm not sure that a curfew would be a workable solution. They were not alone. The chief constable of Gloucestershire, speaking as the representative of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: I think there are some huge practical difficulties. In the face of that barrage, the hon. Gentleman back-tracked rapidly.

Mr. Donald Anderson

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Given your traditional role of protector of the House, would it be appropriate for you to remind the Home Secretary that he is not at a Conservative party conference now?

Madam Speaker

That is not really a point of order for me. I am sure that the Home Secretary is well aware of where he is at the present time.

Mr. Howard

I understand the discomfort of members of the Labour party. I know that they do not want to hear all this. Let me remind them, however, of what the hon. Member for Blackburn told the Sunday Times. He said: The age groups affected could be people up to age 16. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman stands by that quote; perhaps he will enlighten us now. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come on."] I understand why the hon. Gentleman does not wish to enlighten us. The next day, the line was completely different. "We are not thinking about the under-16s," the hon. Gentleman said. He told The Guardian: We are thinking about the under 10s possibly being off the streets by 9.00 pm". What had started as a war on teenage crime ended as an attempt to protect the under-10s from themselves, all in 24 hours flat.

The hon. Gentleman tried one last desperate throw. We want to hear more about this: we want to hear the answer. A nationwide search was undertaken to identify a police force that might he willing to undertake a pilot scheme, and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) was recruited to the cause. The Guardian reported that the West Midlands police were willing to start a pilot scheme; that was in The Guardian, so it must be true. A meeting was to be held between the police and the hon. Member for Yardley, after which the details would be announced. The meeting took place on 12 June, but for some unaccountable reason nothing has been heard from the hon. Gentleman or the hon. Lady since. Could that be because no plans for a curfew were agreed after all, or because there was little or no support for the hon. Gentleman's ideas? I think we should be told, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will deal with that point when he replies.

Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn)

As the Home Secretary is quoting from newspapers, may I ask whether he saw a piece in The Independent last week which said that the measure that he is describing was really an attempt to regain the initiative as a result of Labour's efforts? Is the Home Secretary, in fact, trying desperately to paper over the cracks in the Conservative party?

Mr. Howard

I will leave the hon. Gentleman to take what comfort he may from The Independent.

Mr. Straw

Perhaps the Home Secretary would also like to take some comfort, from someone whom he has already quoted—the president of the Police Superintendents Association, Mr. Brian Mackenzie. The Home Secretary may have missed it, but Mr. Mackenzie said of our proposals: Police superintendents have been complaining bitterly over the last few years about juveniles running wild and causing problems. The proposals from Jack Straw are one of a range of measures well worth considering. I am delighted that responsible authorities are looking at it.

Mr. Howard

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was unable to answer either of the specific and direct questions that I had put to him a few moments before. I doubt very much that, when the president of the Police Superintendents Association referred to "juveniles", he was referring to the under-10s. He may have been misled by the report in the Sunday Times. He probably did not appreciate that, within 24 hours, the hon. Gentleman would back-track and change his proposals for dealing with the under-16s to a proposal to protect the under-10s from themselves.

There has been a great deal of debate about my proposals on sentencing since I first outlined them last October. Strong views have been expressed both for and against those proposals. The Labour party's reaction has been instructive.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

The Home Secretary referred to an article in The Guardian about an initiative taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) and asked what had become of it. He might be interested to know that I was with my hon. Friend when she met West Midlands police. We met a group of local residents in her constituency. West Midlands police said that our proposals for under10-year-olds were perfectly plausible and that it would work with the local authority to introduce them in a particular part of her constituency. That is what became of the proposal. Perhaps the Home Secretary will tell us whether he thinks it is a good thing for children under 10 to be out on the street late at night.

Mr. Howard

Of course I do not. If the police find youngsters on the street in need of protection, they already have powers to take the youngsters to a safe place. The hon. Gentleman did not tell us is whether the pilot scheme that he and the hon. Member for Yardley asked West Midlands police to carry out in Yardley is to take place.

Mr. Howarth


Mr. Howard

Instead of making sedentary comments, will the hon. Gentleman state from the Dispatch Box that a pilot proposal will take place, because that is not the information that I have received from West Midlands police.

Mr. Howarth

I repeat that we held discussions with West Midlands police.

Mr. Howard

Is a scheme going to take place?

Mr. Howarth

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me to answer his question, so perhaps he will be courteous enough to allow me to do so. Discussions have subsequently been held with Birmingham city council. The police and the council are now working on a proposal for a specific part of the Yardley constituency to see whether a pilot curfew for under-10s could be made to work. I understand—I have no reason to believe otherwise—that there is every reason to believe that the pilot project will go ahead.

Unless the Home Secretary has some evidence to the contrary, perhaps he will explain why the local residents, police officers and members of the local authority we met did not feel that the powers available to the police and local authority were sufficient to stop young children under 10 being out on the streets to no useful purpose late at night. If he cannot explain that, we must assume that he supports under-10s being on the street late at night.

Mr. Howard

I have just explained what powers already exist. The hon. Gentleman has manifestly failed to repeat from the Dispatch Box the words that he was using from a sedentary position a few moments ago. He and the hon. Member for Yardley told The Guardian that a pilot scheme would take place. We have heard nothing since. My information from West Midlands police is that no pilot scheme will take place; the House will draw its own conclusions from the hon. Gentleman's intervention from the Dispatch Box.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

I am sure that the Home Secretary will forgive me if I take him back to the subject of the debate. Has he had an opportunity to study what the senior judges, including Lord Justice Taylor, have said about the dangers inherent in life sentences being imposed in the manner proposed by the White Paper—the dangers to the victim himself or, more probably, herself?

Mr. Howard

Of course I have studied that, but I do not accept the views that have been expressed, because the arguments advanced in another place are arguments against any life sentence. If the hon. Gentleman accepts those views, perhaps he will tell the House whether he is against any life sentence. If that line of argument is accepted, there is an incentive for the offender to take more serious action and even to kill.

The truth is that, when someone commits a rape, he is most unlikely to be in the state of mind that will lead him to make a cold and calculating decision about what his next act should be. If he is in that state of mind and makes such a cold and calculating decision, he will know perfectly well that, if caught and convicted, when the judge fixes the tariff part of the life sentence, it is likely to be a different tariff for rape than for murder. That will be something to be taken into account in planning his behaviour. If he behaves in that cold and calculating way, which is extremely unlikely, he will know that there continues to be a deterrent against further serious criminal conduct.

When I announced my proposals, colleagues of the hon. Member for Blackburn rushed to condemn them one after another. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) called them "daft". The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth called them a "farce". Labour's Front-Bench spokesman in the other place called my proposals "deplorable" and hoped that the next Session was sufficiently curtailed to make it impossible for my proposals to become law. Last month, Lord Williams of Mostyn, another Labour Front-Bench spokesman in the other place, called minimum sentences "a perversion of justice". Those statements could not be clearer.

As Labour is root and branch opposed to my proposals, why does the hon. Member for Blackburn find it so hard to echo that aggressive rhetoric in the House? Why does he confine himself to such weasel words? I will tell the House why the hon. Gentleman has thus far been so muted—because he is under orders from the Leader of the Opposition to avoid any headline saying "Labour opposes tough action on crime". I serve notice on the hon. Gentleman that his tactics are transparent and will fail.

At least the Liberal Democrats are honest. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) said that I should be ashamed of my proposals. Let me answer him directly. I shall never be ashamed of proposing greater protection for the public from dangerous criminals. I shall never be ashamed of proposing tough deterrent sentences for career burglars and hard-drug dealers. I shall never be ashamed of bringing greater honesty to the sentencing process. The police overwhelmingly support those proposals, and so do the public. I warn the hon. and learned Gentleman that his parliamentary candidates will regret his remarks, even if he does not.

The Labour party opposes statutory minimum sentences for burglars and drug dealers, mandatory life sentences for dangerous violent criminals and the ending of automatic early release from prison. Labour will not support our proposals in the Division tonight and will do its best to stop them becoming law. We will make sure that the public understand that a Labour Government would not introduce those proposals. Only this Government can be trusted to do so. Only this Government genuinely believe that tough action is needed to protect the public. Only this Government will take that action. The White Paper provides for that, and I commend it to the House.

4.32 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

I beg to move, to leave out from House to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: `notes that given the doubling of crime since 1979, the record of Her Majesty's Government on crime is the worst of any British administration since the war and the worst record of 16 western countries surveyed by the Home Office; further notes that the proposals contained in the White Paper "Protecting the Public" (Cm 3190) represent a complete reversal of the sentencing policies of Her Majesty's Government as contained in the Criminal Justice Act 1991; and believes that the comprehensive proposals of Her Majesty's Opposition to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime will be far more effective in tackling crime and disorder in England and Wales, and in ensuring tough and appropriate sentences for serious or persistent criminals within a proper framework of justice.'. The Home Secretary spoke for 42 minutes. The House has listened to one of the most puerile and pathetic speeches ever from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, which demeaned his high office. Of those 42 minutes, the Home Secretary devoted fewer than 10 to the ostensible subject of the debate. He devoted the rest of his speech to a White Paper published today, so that he could avoid publicity about proposals that are so embarrassing to him, and to making insults of the kind we are so used to hearing from the Home Secretary.

This is Crime Week but, under this Government, every week is crime week for the British people. So far this week, the British public have been the victims of 150,000 criminal offences—50,000 a day, according to Home Office estimates in the British crime survey.

There was a time when crime happened to someone else. In 1971, The Times commented how, after six years of Labour Governments, crime had simply dropped off the political agenda. Today, however—when the Conservative party has been in power for 20 of the past 25 years—crime, the fear of crime and the experience of crime has affected almost everyone in the land.

Crime has fractured communities. It has forced people to change the way in which they live, and it has forced up the cost of living. Insurance premiums for cars and homes have rocketed far above the rate of inflation since 1979.

The Government's record on crime is the worst of any British Administration since the war, and the worst of any western Government. Crime under the Tories has risen twice as fast as it did under Labour. Between 1987 and 1993, crime in England and Wales rose further and faster than in any of 16 western countries surveyed by the Home Office.

People are not troubled only by specific recorded crime—they are troubled by disorder, loutish behaviour, graffiti, criminal damage and anti-social behaviour by neighbours. In 1994–95, incidents of disorder recorded by the police rose 12 per cent. in a single year.

Recorded crime has doubled in the past 17 years, yet, for all the bluster we heard from the Secretary of State, the system for catching, punishing and deterring criminals in that 17 years has gone into reverse. The number of people convicted or cautioned was lower in 1995 than it was in 1979.

Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)

In view of the hon. Gentleman's loud concern about the crime rate, does he still think that he was right to vote against allowing the Attorney-General the power to appeal against soft sentences?

Mr. Straw

Opposition Members will take no lectures from the Conservative party, which has presided over record increases of crime. Nor will we take any lectures on voting records, as the hon. Gentleman voted to prevent many victims of crime from receiving decent compensation and, in 1988, the Secretary of State voted against a ban proposed by the Opposition to prevent youngsters under 16 from purchasing knives.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

The Home Secretary ducked that issue in his speech. Not only did he vote in 1988 against restrictions on the sale of knives to those under 16, but the previous Home Secretary and the Minister under him also objected to an Opposition proposal that would have restricted the sale of arms and imitation firearms by post.

We note that, at Dunblane—I hope that the Home Secretary is listening—the guns were obtained by post. We were pointing out that possibility—following Hungerford—in that proposal. The real question for the Home Secretary is, why did the Government oppose those measures then, and why did they specifically vote against restricting knives for 16-year-olds?

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend is of course right. In the debates during the passage of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, in which my hon. Friend took such an important part, there were many occasions on which Ministers either opposed what we were doing or complimented us on the improvements that we had made to it.

For some of the most serious criminal offences, the way in which the gap has widened between crimes committed and offenders convicted since 1979 has been alarming. In 1980, almost four in 10 recorded rapes resulted in conviction. By 1994, the proportion had dropped to just one in 10. In 1980, 9 per cent. of domestic burglaries resulted in conviction. By 1994, the proportion was down to 3 per cent.

In the space of five years, between 1989 and 1994, the number of violent crimes rose by a quarter, while the number of convictions fell by a third. Even when someone finally gets to court, the sentence they receive may depend as much on the chance of where they are tried as on the severity of the offence. The proportion of indictable offences tried in magistrates courts that lead to a prison sentence varies by a factor of 10. In the Staffordshire, Moorlands court, one in six defendants end up inside; but in the Maidenhead court the proportion is one in 66.

The lack of consistency between courts is matched by a lack of progression in sentencing. The fact—according to parliamentary answers given to me by the Secretary of State—that someone imprisoned for domestic burglary is given the same term of 15 months on the first, second or third conviction is bizarre. Even odder is the fact that, according to the Government's own figures, the prison term for a third conviction for drug dealing, at 30 months, is two months shorter than that for a first offence.

As the public's concern about crime has risen, and public confidence in the Government's ability to do anything about it has fallen, so the Government's response has been a blizzard of legislation on criminal justice. There have been 33 separate measures for England and Wales since 1979—more Bills on criminal justice in the past 17 years than in the previous 50.

It would be one thing if each of those Bills had been carefully prepared and they were consistent one with another. Instead, some have signalled sudden lurches in policy that, far from advancing the fight against crime, have made it more difficult. As the outgoing Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor, commented in his King's college lecture in March: the proper balance between continuity and change is in dire danger … the criminal law should not be subject to arbitrary change by the powers that be, or to the vagaries of fashion". Overall, not least as a result of that torrent of legislation, the criminal justice processes in this country are now in chronic crisis, with rising costs, increasing delay and plummeting public satisfaction.

This year, the Secretary of State told readers of The Sun that the current sentencing system and criminal justice process is a farce and makes a mockery of the courts. The figures that I have produced today show that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was right about that, if about little else.

The question is: who has been responsible for that "farce" and that "mockery"? Was it the Lord Chief Justice and his judicial colleagues who devised the system? Was it the Labour party, or the Liberal Democrats? Or was it someone else? Even today, a Conservative candidate writing in The Times says that the people to blame for the mess are "officialdom", as though each one of the Secretary of State's predecessors as Home Secretary, such as the present Chancellor of the Exchequer or the distinguished former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), had been mere putty in the hands of his civil servants.

It is not the officials who are to blame, nor the judges, but this Government, this Prime Minister and this Secretary of State. The current sentencing system is less than five years old. It was laid down by the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which was pushed through the House by Conservative Ministers. The very people who now claim that the system is a mockery and a farce were the architects of that system in the first place.

How dare the Secretary of State blame others for the farce and the mockery of the current sentencing system, when it is he and his ministerial colleagues who are principally to blame? It is they who are the guilty men and women, and it is they who should admit that the White Paper represents a rejection of almost everything that the Conservative party has done on sentencing in the past 17 years.

The Secretary of State now calls for honesty in sentencing. What an admission that is about the past 17 years of sentencing policy under the Conservatives.

Mr. Donald Anderson

Would it be fair to characterise the Home Secretary as the Pol Pot of British politics, always pretending to return to "year zero" at successive party conferences, although to find out the truth we have only to go back as far as the White Paper of 1990 and the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which is now being totally erased? We are not in year zero; the buck stops with the Home Secretary.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend asks whether it would be fair to characterise the Home Secretary in that way. It may not be fair, but it would certainly be true.

Mr. Peter Butler (Milton Keynes, North-East)

If the hon. Gentleman is right to claim that the present proposals reverse the Criminal Justice Act 1991, and he opposed that, why does he also oppose the reversal of it?

Mr. Straw

Well—[Laughter.] The hon. Gentleman is, I know, a difficult man, and I did not quite follow the logic of his question. What he should worry about more when he talks to his constituents is the fact that he too voted to cut compensation for victims, and also the fact that recorded crime in his constituency since 1979—not since year zero—has increased by 141 per cent., one of the largest increases anywhere in the country.

Mr. Sweeney

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman. I need to turn to the other important White Paper, which the Secretary of State published today.

As I said, it is quite remarkable that, given the slackness of the parliamentary timetable and all the days and weeks that the Secretary of State could have chosen in which to publicise, to great effect for himself, the White Paper "On the Record" about the Government's proposals for access to criminal records, he chooses to do it today and hijack his speech about another White Paper, "Protecting the Public", on which he managed to spend only 10 minutes.

When the House, at the Opposition's instigation, debated the private security industry, there was widespread demand from Members on both sides for arrangements for access to criminal records to be reformed. It is clearly necessary for employers to be aware of the criminal records of those they seek to employ in positions of trust, and crucial that the greatest possible protection is available in respect of children. In the area of child sexual abuse, there is a conflict between the needs of children and the civil liberties of suspected abusers. In our judgment, where there is a serious risk to children, their needs must always prevail.

For those working outside such sensitive areas, we must ensure that any system balances the needs of employers, and through them the public, with the rehabilitation of offenders. As the Government said in their Green Paper on criminal records in 1993: common sense suggests that an ex-offender with suitable work is less likely to reoffend than one who is unemployed". We shall examine the White Paper very carefully to ensure that it achieves the proper balance.

As I said in an intervention on the Secretary of State, the White Paper is seriously deficient in its proposals for dealing with the private security industry. In its 1995 report, the Select Committee on Home Affairs was clear that the vetting of potential employees was not enough to protect the public from totally unregulated private patrols or other private security companies which prey on the fears of vulnerable people. The Government must accept the arguments of the police, the overwhelming majority of companies in the private security industry—they are desperate for proper regulation because of the way in which their reputations are besmirched by the crooks—the Home Affairs Committee and the Labour party, and legislate to regulate the industry.

I have here a copy of the Carlisle News and Star, which I understand circulates in the constituency of the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean).

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)

I never buy it.

Mr. Straw

The Minister would do better if he did buy it, because he might learn something.

An article in that paper is headed "'Gangster' is Security Man—City crook a security guard on homes site". The article talks about Aaron Giacopazzi, one of the city's best known criminals, who has been taken on by Lowther Construction to guard a building site. The deputy managing director of the company says in the article: '"It isn't our normal policy to use convicted criminals. The Government's proposals provide huge loopholes for people such as Mr. Aaron Giacopazzi. The security firm might be perfectly legitimate. If that were so, his record would be vetted and he would not be employed by it. But there is nothing to stop that man, who is a great entrepreneur and building a £1.5 million development with who knows whose money, setting up his own security firm. He would certainly not vet himself.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

Does my hon. Friend realise that Mr. Giacopazzi has since been arrested on a drugs charge but that the company, being very generous, now employs his father? [Laughter.] And his godfather!

Mr. Straw

That makes our point very strongly.

Mr. Howard

What is the point?

Mr. Straw

The point is very simple. Members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which is chaired by the Home Secretary's very close friend, the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), unanimously recommended that the private security industry—employers as well as employees—should be properly regulated by statute. Ministers, because of their obsession with deregulation, have persistently refused to do so.

The other White Paper that we are debating today, "Protecting the Public", contains three principal proposals: for so-called "honesty in sentencing"; for indeterminate sentences for repeat rapists and perpetrators of serious violence; and for automatic determinate sentences for persistent burglars and drug dealers. I shall deal with each of those in turn.

As I have already made clear, we support the principle of honesty in sentencing. The public have a right to know what is being done on their behalf. On the question how the proposal should be put into practice, I have already suggested that courts should give details of the minimum and maximum period that could be served under the term they hand down, and the earliest release date. In that way, what is now called a four-year sentence would, in future, be described more correctly as a two to four-year sentence. Transparency would be introduced, without having to turn the rest of the system upside down.

The Home Secretary proposes a more complicated change to arrive at the same result, while asserting that he does not expect his proposals to result in a general increase in the period of time that offenders serve in prison". We can examine the details of the alternative proposals in Standing Committee if and when a crime Bill comes before the House during the rest of this Parliament.

It already appears—I should be glad if the Minister would deal with this in his reply—that the Secretary of State's preferred arrangement might have one perverse effect, which is that some prisoners may be subject to supervision after their release for much less time than under the present regime.

We also support in principle the proposal for indeterminate sentences for repeat rapists and others convicted of serious sexual offences. Of all crimes, apart from homicide, serious sexual offences can do the greatest long-term harm to the victim, both psychological as well as physical. Those who offend often have a high propensity to reoffend, and, as I pointed out in a detailed paper on sentencing that I published in March, an official committee—the Butler committee—looked at the issue of serious sexual offenders 21 years ago and concluded that there should be available a system of indeterminate reviewable sentences for such repeat sexual offenders.

The Secretary of State proposes that all repeat rapists and serious sexual offenders should receive an indeterminate life sentence. Since "life" is not intended by the White Paper generally to mean life in those cases, there might be advantage in having a separate sentencing regime for those people, unless the court, for particular reasons, gave out a life sentence. That matter can be examined in Committee in due course.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Butler committee was saying that there should be mandatory reviewable life sentences? Does he not think it sufficient to give judges the power to sentence to life imprisonment and the encouragement of knowing that those sentences would be effective?

Mr. Straw

We have to disagree about this. The Butler committee recommended that there should be a system of indeterminate, reviewable sentences—

Mr. Carlile

Not mandatory.

Mr. Straw

No, I will come to that. The committee said that they should be available for first offences as well as for second or subsequent ones. As I recall—I have read the report—the committee said that there should be a presumption in favour of an automatic indeterminate sentence where there was a second conviction.

What we are proposing and what the Government are proposing for serious sex offenders amount to the same thing: that, because of the danger of reoffending, which must be patently apparent when someone has already offended twice, a decision to release the individual should be made only when it is safe to do so.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Forsyth)

I have been listening to what the hon. Gentleman has been saying, which, as I understand it, is that he accepts the principle of honesty in sentencing and the principle that there should be indeterminate sentences for repeat offenders involved in serious sex offences. If that principle is right for England, why is the Labour party opposing it in Scotland?

Mr. Straw

Of all the people to ask that question it is the Secretary of State for Scotland. I have with me the Scottish Office White Paper dealing with crime and punishment. I have read this—it was only a cursory glance, and I am open to correction—but I cannot find any reference to automatic minimum sentences for drug dealers and repeat burglars. Have I missed something? Perhaps the Secretary of State could tell me.

Mr. Forsyth

The question that I put to the hon. Gentleman was about the Labour party's policy—[Interruption.] I will happily deal with the hon. Gentleman's point in exchange for him answering my question. I asked about the Labour party's policy. If its policy is that the principle of honesty in sentencing is right and that the principle of indeterminate sentences for repeat offenders is right, why should that principle be different north of the border?

This is a fundamental issue, and I cannot for the life of me see why it should be different north and south of the border. As far as the Government are concerned, on both these matters, these principles apply throughout the United Kingdom.

Mr. Straw

I was right in the conclusions that I drew from a cursory reading of the White Paper. The huge inconsistency is not between our hon. Friends who represent Scotland and those of us who represent England and Wales; the inconsistency is between these two Secretaries of State. As far as I can see, the Secretary of State is making no proposals for automatic minimum sentences for drug dealers and for burglars.

Mr. Forsyth

I was listening to the hon. Gentleman's speech, and I was agreeing with him about the matter of principle. If he is saying that the Labour party accepts the principle of honesty in sentencing and the principle of mandatory sentences for repeat sex offenders, he is in the same position as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I. We agree on these matters. It is the Labour party that has split north and south of the border. Why are the principles on these matters different north and south of the border?

Mr. Straw

This is pretty desperate. I have offered the right hon. Gentleman two chances.

I have had the benefit of reading the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) in Scotland on Monday. He said: Labour is committed to tough sentencing for those who commit serious crimes. We are committed, to progression in sentences and to a licence system for sex offenders."—[Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 17 June 1996; c. 36.] The Secretary of State may not have noticed, but there are two different legal systems—that in Scotland and that in England and Wales.

Mr. Forsyth

The principle.

Mr. Straw

If there is a principle, I have just read it out. The Secretary of State has signally failed to explain why there is a difference of principle—as there obviously is—between him and his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary when it comes to automatic minimum sentences for repeat burglars and drug dealers.

The proposals for indeterminate sentences for serious sexual offenders are acceptable to us, not only because they directly address the paramount need to protect the public but because the term actually served will be determined by reference to the nature of the offence and of the offender. The judge will still be required to set a tariff proportionate to the seriousness of the offence. Thereafter, the offender will not be released unless and until the parole board is satisfied that it is safe to release them.

So justice, above all for the victim but also for the offender, is built into this system. These considerations mean that this proposal is wholly different in character and effect from the third of the Home Secretary's proposals, for automatic determinate minimum sentences of three years in the case of domestic burglars on their third conviction, and seven years for drug dealers on their third conviction.

In my response to the Home Secretary's statement on 3 April, I said: We do not argue with the Secretary of State's purpose … for victims and offenders alike—that people who persistently burgle or deal in hard drugs should receive … tough, deterrent … sentences."—[Official Report, 3 April 1996; Vol. 275, c. 393.] The issue is not whether such persistent hardened burglars or drug dealers should receive such tough deterrent sentences, but how that should be achieved.

The problem with the Secretary of State's proposals is that, the more they are exposed to scrutiny, the more it becomes clear that they will not work as he intends. It is a mark of how ill thought through was his original proposal that he has already made one fundamental change from what he told the Conservative party conference in October 1995. Then, at least what he said had the merit of clarity, however crude and impractical the policy might have turned out.

Then, in right hon. and learned Gentleman's desperation to upstage the Secretary of State for Defence in his appeal to the Tory right, the Home Secretary was emphatic. He told the party faithful: I've got a simple answer to burglars and dealers in hard drugs who offend again and again and again. If you don't want the time, don't do the crime. But where are we now? A mere two months later, the Home Secretary had to admit that such a wholly automatic slot-machine system of justice would produce manifest injustice.

So, by December, he had to concede, in an interview in The Law Society's Gazette, that the answer to these drug dealers and burglars would not be as simple as that which he had presented to the Tory party conference, and there would be an escape clause. The clarion call about time and crime had by then become, "If you don't want the time, don't do the crime—save where the courts exercise a discretion to waive the minimum sentences in exceptional cases."

Here we see the central element of the Home Secretary's proposals unravelling, because of the belated acknowledgement that they cannot apply in all cases. What is more, the escape clause to the simple answer that he told the Tory party conference he had has changed again twice. The White Paper shifted from the words that the right hon. and learned Gentleman used in the Law Society's Gazette interview, and now speaks of "genuinely exceptional cases"—as if the adverb "genuinely" adds any clarity to what he means.

Only last month, the Home Secretary's very close and noble Friend Lord Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, treating these proposals in the White Paper like a piece of stinking fish, said that the precise terms on which the exception will be framed would be a matter for Parliament to determine.

So where is the simple answer now; indeed, where is the complicated answer? The Secretary of State and his colleagues cannot even make up their minds about that. We await the Bill with interest. Who knows what its terms by then will be?

One of the Secretary of State's most trusted colleagues in the House of Commons is the hon. and learned Member for Burton, Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. I am very sorry that he cannot be present today—perhaps this debate was arranged explicitly with that in mind—but, like other members of the Select Committee, he is in the United States examining American penal policy.

When the issue of minimum sentences was debated at length in the House in February 1991, the hon. and learned Gentleman made this wise observation: I do not like minimum sentences. They reduce the discretion of the courts, and all who practice in or know anything about the courts realise that human life spans an enormous width and that there are many degrees of blameworthiness … Speeches calling for minimum sentences have always been resisted over the years. The Government have resisted the idea of going down this slippery slope, because if one case is allowed as an exception it becomes difficult to refuse other cases"—[Official Report, 20 February 1991; Vol. 186, c. 311–2.] What a slippery slope it will be! This proposal from the Secretary of State will undoubtedly result in more guilty professional burglars and drug dealers walking free from court. In the United States, the jurisdictions with automatic determinate sentences are jammed up with not-guilty fights—two and a half times as many of them as where the courts have a discretion. More not guilty pleas mean more acquittals.

The Government's White Paper of 1990 said that such a system of minimum determinate sentences would … result in more acquittals by juries with more guilty men and women going free unjustly as a result"— a point repeated by the former Secretary of State for Education, the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), when he was a Minister of State at the Home Office.

Today, the Home Secretary quoted some research by an academic at Oxford. It is unusual to hear him quoting research by any academic, let alone one from his own constituency, but we shall leave that aside. He said that the research showed that the avoidance of prison was the greatest deterrent that any system could establish.

We do not need research from Oxford to tell us that. Those of us who have had dealings with criminals know only too well that, on the whole, they do not like being in prison. One of our major complaints about the chaos in to which the Conservatives have plunged the criminal justice system is that not enough serious criminals are being put in prison—

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)

Come off it.

Mr. Straw

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that, since 1979—year zero for the British public—the number of recorded crimes has doubled, while the number of people convicted and cautioned for those crimes has dropped by 6 per cent., and the number convicted of any crime has dropped by 33 per cent.? No wonder people are up the wall about this Government's record and complacency.

Mr. Howard

If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about the difficulty of securing convictions, why did he vote against our proposals to allow the courts to draw an inference from silence—proposals deliberately designed to increase the number of convictions of the guilty, which are having precisely that effect?

Mr. Straw

We shall take no lectures from the Secretary of State. He voted for the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which he now says makes a mockery of the sentencing system. If he reads the record, he will find that we suggested alternative, constructive proposals based on recommendations made by the royal commission on criminal justice which he and his predecessors established.

The simple fact is that nothing we have heard from the Secretary of State today or at any time since he made his proposals last October has challenged the wisdom of the conclusion reached by the Government in 1990—that automatic minimum determinate sentences would result in more guilty people walking free.

Then there is the issue of timing. What is clear from the White Paper is that the Secretary of State has been deserted by the Chancellor, himself a former Home Secretary, and by most of his other colleagues on this issue. Automatic minimum sentences for repeat burglars will add hugely to the prison population, which is already rising fast. Far from gaining the extra cash needed for this prison expansion, the Secretary of State got rolled over in the last public spending round; and the prison budget is to take a cut in each of the next three years.

Reading the small print of the White Paper, one finds that this much-heralded policy of gaoling repeat burglars will not come into force at all until October 1999. The relevant convictions will not start until after commencement of this part of the Act. So, on the most optimistic assumptions, a prolific burglar may not be affected by the proposal at least until the year 2000.

By now, that notorious clarion call about time and crime, with its "simple answer", should read: "If you don't want the time, don't do the crime—save where the court exercises its discretion to waive the minimum sentence in genuinely exceptional cases, and in any case not until the start of the next millennium." That is hardly what the public would call honest or straightforward.

The public cannot wait another four years for an effective sentencing system that ensures proper consistency and progression. We need a criminal justice system that is swift, efficient and consistent, and that ensures proper progression for all repeat offenders—not just drug dealers and domestic burglars.

The way to achieve that is, as Labour has proposed, by imposing a clear duty on the Court of Appeal to lay down clear guidance for all the main categories of offence, and to consult widely on draft proposals before they are made operational. Such a proposal would work; it would be just; it could be brought into operation swiftly—next year, not next century. It would properly protect the public.

It is significant that it is exactly this latter proposal which the Secretary of State for Scotland—I am not surprised that he has fled—is advancing in his White Paper for Scotland, in place of the proposals for automatic minimum sentences for repeat burglars and drug dealers.

It is the first duty of any Government to ensure that their citizens can leave their lives in freedom, free from fear and insecurity. In that first duty this Government have failed.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

No, I am coming to the end of my speech.

Britain today is a society disrupted and disfigured by crime and disorder, led by a Government who, on their own admission, have reduced the criminal justice system to a farce and a mockery. Under this Government, there is more crime, and more criminals are getting away with it. The British public need a criminal justice system that works, acting to prevent crime and its causes, dealing effectively with juvenile offenders, getting tough on criminal and anti-social neighbours, ensuring the proper protection of the public, giving effective backing to the police and real dignity to victims, and dealing effectively with persistent criminals.

Those are the answers to the epidemic of crime and disorder over which the Government have presided. The Secretary of State and his friends have had 17 years to get it right. They have failed. They have lost the trust of the British people. Where the Tories have failed in that first duty of Government, Labour will succeed.

Several hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. I remind hon. Members that the 10-minute rule is now in operation.

5.9 pm

Sir Peter Lloyd (Fareham)

The Labour party's amendment is one of brazen vacuity. The words tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime appear in the second half of the amendment—they are well-known words and they trip familiarly off the tongue. They would make the kind of slogan for which advertising men receive prizes from other advertising men at seaside resorts every so often. However, the words remain devoid of any real meaning—even though the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has ostensibly addressed himself to them for the past 35 minutes. They may not have a clear meaning, but they have a clear purpose: to ingratiate the Labour party with readers of the Daily Mail and The Guardian at one and the same time—the Labour party hopes that the readers of each paper will notice only the half meant for them.

The Government have gone the other way. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has the admirable virtues of clarity and courage but—as he just said; it is no secret—he has, alas, upset the judiciary to the extent that one noble Lord remarked that relations between judges and the Executive were now at their lowest ebb since James I.

The way that people on both sides of the argument have reacted to the other side of the argument has allowed the impression to get about that the row is little more than a top people's demarcation dispute. It is far more important than that. I believe that dissension between judges and the Home Secretary damages both sides, and the respect in which the criminal justice system is held. It should have been avoided. The critics of the White Paper's sentencing proposals—I leave out the rest of the White Paper—have a powerful case. I agree with a number of the points that were made by the hon. Member for Blackburn.

I shall deal first with honesty in sentencing. There is a real problem for the public when they hear that a criminal who has been sentenced to three years is released after serving only 18 months. The judge and the professionals know that three years means 18 months in prison, plus any added days for misbehaviour, and 18 months at risk in the community—time that he will serve in prison if he commits another offence before the three years expires, in addition to the sentence for the new offence. The solution to this is simple—it does not need legislation. The judge should spell out in full what he and everyone else in the criminal justice world knows he is doing when he sentences, so that everyone else can know too.

By a strange irony, the change proposed by the Home Secretary will lead to different charges of sleight of hand. The Home Secretary wants the courts to take into account the change to serving full sentence so that there will be no general rise in the prison population. If the judges oblige, the prisoner who would have had three years will not serve three years as the public expects—he will still serve only 18 months, as the judge always knew he would. Moreover, because there will be less time after release when he will be at risk of serving the balance of the longer nominal sentence if he offends again, there will be less protection for the public.

Similarly, the loss of parole for more serious cases is not adequately replaced by earned remission. Earned remission has the merit of encouraging good co-operative behaviour in prison, which makes running a prison easier, but that is not quite the same thing as providing an incentive to prisoners to demonstrate that they will not be a danger again on their release and to make realistic preparations for that release. If the sentences remain the same, as the Home Secretary wishes, and parole disappears, the public will again be less well protected.

Secondly, where minimum sentences are concerned, I fear that the White Paper proposals are too sweeping. They will certainly lead to injustice. There are plenty of third-time burglars who should do more than three years and there are plenty of drug traffickers for whom seven years is too short—but there will be quite a few cases where such sentences will be visibly unjust and counter-productive.

For example, young drug addicts who sell small quantities of drugs to other addicts will get the same sentence as professional drug pushers. They will not come under the disclaimer in the White Paper because they have to be genuinely "exceptional" cases. They will not be genuinely "exceptional", and they will not be "unforeseeable". The same applies to opportunistic inadequates stealing from the homes of other people getting similar sentences as career housebreakers, as the Home Secretary just called them.

That will occur if the judiciary does not lengthen all sentences to maintain differentials. Perhaps, when my right hon. Friend the Minister of State winds up the debate, he will tell us about the Government's expectations in this regard. I fear that those minimum sentences will not do very much for deterrence, but that they will succeed in driving up the prison population.

Gaols will be filled with too many young drug addicts who ought not to be there and with the inadequate and immature for whom prison does not do much good, and does much harm if the education, training and diversionary programmes are not there. With a rising prison population and a reducing budget, such programmes will not be readily available. Perhaps the Minister will also refer to that in his winding-up speech.

Surely the right way to deal with sentences that are too short is to extend the prosecution's powers to appeal against them. The judiciary can do quite a lot more to achieve consistency, to demonstrate appropriate severity when needed and, most particularly, to explain to the public the principles on which it works in what is a complex and demanding task.

Thirdly, I am in complete sympathy with what the Home Secretary is seeking to do with mandatory life sentences for serious violent and sexual crimes. It cannot be right to release a violent offender back into the community when he is highly likely to attack again. In one sense, I would prefer to go further than the Home Secretary and find a means of detaining a violent first-time offender after the expiry of his determinate sentence if he shows signs of repeating it.

However, I do not feel that a mandatory life sentence is the right approach. It should be the unique and special penalty for the most serious of all crimes: murder. It is not right or wise to dilute it with a range of other very nasty but lesser crimes. The White Paper says that the judge will be responsible for the tariff and will presumably set one similar to, or perhaps below, the sentence that he would have given anyway. The public would quickly see that such a life sentence means even less than usual—so much for honesty in sentencing.

I would much prefer to see a new indeterminate sentence for violent or sex crimes that do not justify life but where the judge believes that there is a serious risk of violent reoffending. Previous violent offences would provide the strongest presumption for that. In the past, the judiciary may have underestimated public concern about violent reoffending. I hope that it will carefully consider the new sentencing powers that it needs to deal with violent reoffending more effectively.

Indeed, I hope that, in the next few months, while legislation is being prepared, there will be some serious rethinking all round—not least in the Home Office. If that happens, the White Paper will have had a positive effect on the safety of the public, and that, both the Home Secretary and the shadow spokesman have said, should be the overriding concern of penal policy.

5.18 pm
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

The Secretary of State for the Home Department has embarked on a futile task. He has lost all credibility on law and order—no one believes a word. The whole criminal system is collapsing. Hon. Members do not need to take my word for it—they need only visit a housing estate anywhere in the United Kingdom, talk to the people and listen to their expressions of anger. The people on the front line know precisely what is going on.

The whole legal system—legal aid, the arrangements for criminal investigations and the Crown Prosecution Service—is in deep trouble. Our constituency case loads reflect the reality. A case in my constituency encapsulates the problems with the system. It reveals inadequacies in both police investigations and CPS prosecution decisions and it has implications for sentencing. I shall draw it to the attention of the House today.

The case concerns a woman, Elaine Steele, who lives in my constituency. She was charged with murder—the charge was subsequently amended to manslaughter—over the death of her 23-month-old baby. She was accused of shaking the child violently and causing her death. On the basis of a highly questionable police investigation and a number of medical reports, the CPS decided to prosecute. The case collapsed within hours of arriving in court.

Many medical reports were produced in the Elaine Steele case, all of which I have read. On the basis of those reports, it is hard to see how anyone in his right mind would wish to prosecute Elaine Steele. One professional involved described her as "very competent" at feeding her child, who had been born prematurely, and another said that she was "brilliant" with her child. A third professional said that she provided for her daughter and endeavoured to give her daughter the more intensive care and attention that a premature baby would require. Mrs Steele appears to have coped with the various difficulties of being a single mother. Many statements supported her and her ability to look after her child.

The House must ask how such a woman ended up in the criminal system on a manslaughter charge. Why was the state prepared to use precious resources pursuing an innocent woman through the courts? The answer is that all reasonable lines of inquiry were never pursued. In October 1992, after she and her boyfriend had been interviewed about the circumstances surrounding the death of her child, Elaine Steele was not told that the police were treating her as the prime suspect. During two hours of questioning, she was not afforded the protection offered by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. She was later charged with murder.

Following her remand on bail, information began to surface about the activities of her boy friend. He was interviewed subsequently by the police, and soon afterwards the charge against Elaine Steele was reduced to manslaughter. Repeated questions have been asked about what occurred during the interview with her former boyfriend and during the wider investigation. Cases such as this undermine the credibility of the entire legal system.

The police officers concerned are well respected. Nevertheless, they have been the subject of serious allegations as to the procedures that they adopted. There are allegations that an attempt was made to cover up a lack of police professionalism. It has been alleged that the police sought to change their evidence and that they failed to pursue all reasonable lines of inquiry.

Thankfully, a diligent Workington solicitor was not satisfied with the police investigation. He rejected the "shaking" theory as an explanation of the child's death. He sought the advice of pathologists throughout the country and, in the end, he was able to challenge the established medical interpretation of events. A professional who dealt with the case stated: I do not think that anyone with a modicum of knowledge would ever believe that the Prosecution were not acting deliberately in a manner which was not investigative, which did not seek justice, which did not seek the truth, and merely sought a conviction. The Prosecution even applied to amend the Indictment at the beginning of the case in a forlorn attempt to enhance their opportunities for convictions. The case fell at the first hurdle, (on the evidence of her boyfriend) … and by 1.30 in the afternoon she was acquitted. The problem is that a poorly conducted investigation combined with an irresponsible decision to prosecute has had unfortunate repercussions for Elaine Steele. An able young reporter on the local evening newspaper submitted an accurate report of the prosecution's opening case. However, the case collapsed after the paper's lunchtime deadline. Sadly, the damage caused by that report of the prosecution's case affects Elaine Steele to this day.

The local evening newspaper—which is an excellent publication—is deeply concerned about what happened. It reported the collapse of the case and the subsequent clearing of the mother on the following day. The tragedy is that, when Elaine has been out in Workington, she has been verbally abused. That is deeply distressing both for her and for her hard-working and respectable family, who have also been ostracised by the community.

I asked another lawyer, who was unconnected with the case, to review the papers. I shall quote—with the names removed—what he said about the investigation. He stated: There are a number of aspects of the case which cause me concern. The Police sought to entrap a distraught mother by avoiding the requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. The Police subsequently tried to brush that particular episode under the carpet by blaming a typist"—

Mr. Sweeney

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance as to whether the hon. Gentleman's speech bears any relation to the matter that we are supposed to be discussing—sentencing.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I am sure that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) will explain how his speech relates to the debate, which is fairly broad.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I know that the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) has not been in the House for very long, but I remind him that this is the highest court in the land. Debates such as this provide the opportunity to raise issues in Parliament. I hope that I have not lost time through that intervention.

The lawyer continued: The Police subsequently tried to brush that particular episode under the carpet by blaming a typist for making a typing error and supplying two further statements of the two Detective Constables involved. The Police agreed to that typist being interviewed, on behalf of Elaine's solicitor, although a Detective Chief Inspector sat through the interview. It was he however who refused a further interview with the typist when it became apparent that she had more to say. It is against all normal custom in criminal investigations for an officer who is involved in the case to be present at such an interview let alone make the decision that there should not be a further interview. Many strong words have been uttered during this affair, but one must read the evidence—particularly the statements—to realise why people have such strong opinions about the case. The truth is that Mrs. Elaine Steele had nothing at all to do with the death of her child: she is totally innocent. The court found her innocent and her friends know that she is innocent. The person who should have been interviewed in depth about what happened was never properly interviewed. Elaine Steele is the victim of a failing system.

I feel very strongly that an injustice has been done. Elaine Steele may not have been sentenced by the court, but she has certainly been sentenced by some in the community. It was not sufficient to find her innocent in a court of law. She is the victim of a poorly conducted police investigation and of a stupid decision to prosecute by the Crown Prosecution Service. As a result, and due to some difficult publicity, she feels rejected in her own community.

I ask the people of Workington—particularly those who live in the local community—to look into their hearts and to realise that the injustice must end. I ask them to support Elaine Steele with warmth and with friendship. It cannot be right for an innocent person to be regarded as guilty and to be victimised after all that she has suffered.

5.28 pm
Mr. Peter Butler (Milton Keynes, North-East)

There is some agreement on both sides of the House that there are flaws in the Criminal Justice Act 1991. I, together with many of my colleagues, came to the House determined to reverse those injustices. Apart from the unjust and unworkable unit fines system, which quickly brought the criminal justice system into disrepute, the Act contained two other major flaws. The first was the argument in section 1 that people could be sentenced for up to two offences and no more, no matter how many they had committed; and the second was the requirement that previous convictions and failure to respond to previous sentences must be ignored, so that every offender was treated as a first-time offender for sentencing purposes. Both provisions were palpably absurd.

Although the present Parliament has repealed those sections properly and promptly, it sometimes seems as though too many sentencers wish to apply the principles that were embodied in the Act. How else can one explain the statistic that, in the Crown court in 1993–94, those convicted on a first offence of burglary of a dwelling received an average sentence of 16 months' imprisonment, while those who were convicted of their seventh or subsequent offence of burglary of a dwelling received only three months more on average?

Some 28 per cent. of those convicted in a Crown court of a seventh or subsequent burglary of a dwelling received a sentence which did not involve imprisonment. For magistrates courts, the figure was 61 per cent. So someone being tried in a magistrates court for a seventh, 10th or 30th burglary of a dwelling house was 60 per cent. likely not to go to prison and nearly 30 per cent. likely not to go to prison if tried in a Crown court. That is absurd, set against the background of a maximum sentence of 14 years for that offence.

The criminal justice system is there not to serve the voluntary offender but to protect the involuntary victim. I share the objective of the sections of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 that I mentioned, to the extent that the intention of those sections was to reduce the prison population, but I want to reduce the prison population by having fewer people commit crimes, not by leaving in the community those individuals who want to rob, burgle, attack, steal from and terrorise that community.

I shall give one example of the effect of prior legislation. A constituent suffered an unprovoked attack by a man armed with a knife. The attacker was sent to prison. In the interim period before he was convicted, he had played every trick in the book—many hon. Members are well aware of them—to delay the day of reckoning and to serve his time on remand. The result was that, on the first weekend after his conviction and sentence, my constituent saw her attacker walking up the street in which she lived. She fled inside, locked the door and rang the police to say that he had escaped. It turned out that he had not escaped but was on weekend leave. That is what I mean by terror, and my constituent felt terror in that instance.

One of the excellent proposals tucked away inside the document that we should be debating this afternoon is a change that means that the judge will have to specify the date on which a sentence starts to run and may disregard for that purpose the time spent on remand that is due to the defendant's manipulation of the system. That reform is long overdue and welcome. It will help to reduce the terror that those people can bring to law-abiding members of the community.

We must try to avoid the trap of mentioning, for example, a second serious violent or sexual offence or a third or subsequent burglary of a dwelling only to forget about such offences thereafter and discuss only policy and criminological theories. We must remember that that is the standard structure of a speech in mitigation, the objective of which is to minimise awareness of the offence, let alone its effect on the victim. It does not bode well for us if we fall into that trap. We owe a duty to our constituents to protect them, and our starting point must be to remember the effect on them of such serious crimes. Our duty is prevent them from becoming victims, not to accept that they might become victims and then to deal with offenders.

The public believe, rightly, that more could be done to prevent crime and that what has been done has not prevented dangerous criminals from being released back on to the streets, even in circumstances in which criminologists, probation officers and prison officers are convinced that those criminals will offend again; they will seek new victims whose lives could and should have been spared such tragic interference.

I agree with the Home Secretary and the White Paper that automatic early release enrages victims. The current system does not provide any method to ensure that criminals known still to be a threat can be detained. I therefore welcome the proposal that earned remission, and earned remission only, can reduce the sentence. Good behaviour will no longer be assumed but will have to be demonstrated.

Conservative Members want to reduce the number of offenders and that view must be shared by all right hon. and hon. Members. That will mean fewer people to punish, but the measure of success is not the number of criminals: it is reductions in the number of victims. That is usually translated to mean a reduction in the number of offences, but that is the only point on which a criminal justice system can claim success or be accused of failure. To reduce the number of victims, it is necessary to deter offenders from choosing to offend. That is to state the obvious, but the obvious is always worth stating in the House, as elsewhere.

I am pleased to see that prevention of crime and effective policing are the largest sections in the document. In some ways, even in most ways perhaps, they are the most important sections. Let us be clear that the main purpose of sentencing is the prevention of further crime. The person most likely to offend is the one who has demonstrated his willingness so to do in the past. He must be persuaded to make a different choice in future, but—this is one of the premises of the proposals—if he will not allow himself to be so persuaded, society is justified in securing its safety by removing his liberty and his opportunity to offend again.

Too often, sentences do not seem to serve the public adequately. It is the public whom sentences should serve, not the criminal justice system or those employed by it. In my judgment, mandatory minimum sentences have been proven to work, and I pray in aid the mandatory minimum disqualification period in offences of driving under the influence of excess alcohol. That has been an effective deterrent to the dangerous practice of driving after drinking too much, although it is, of course, subject to an exceptional circumstances exemption. The fact remains that people do not drink and drive, because they know that, if caught, they will lose their driving licence. The change from the possible loss of one's licence to a mandatory loss by law was marked by a significant reduction in such offences, which has continued. Therefore, the mandatory minimum sentence is not just theory; it has been proven to work in practice.

Opponents claim that the proposals constitute an attempt by the executive to usurp the power of the judiciary, to take power away from judges and to give it to politicians. That is at best a false, simplistic argument and it is also wrong. To expose that, I shall make two brief points. First, we should ask from where the judges' power comes. Apart from some vestigial common law powers, their power comes from the people by way of Acts passed in the House. They have no other powers. Why would it be interference to prescribe a minimum sentence when it is not interference to prescribe a maximum sentence? I would be happier to hear judges complain about being restricted by a 14-year maximum sentence for repeat burglars who enter people's houses than to hear them complain about a proposed three-year minimum sentence. If it is interference to propose a minimum, it must also logically be interference to propose a maximum.

Secondly, let us follow the judges' argument to its logical conclusion. If it would be wrong to fetter a judge's discretion through mandatory minimum sentences, the same argument must apply to anything that fetters that discretion. That is the path that leads to the sentences for all offences being described as "such sentence as the judge considers appropriate in all the circumstances of the case", or words to that effect. That is the inevitable conclusion of that approach. I do not think that that is a reasonable proposition and we should not be persuaded to accept the first step towards it.

I do not accept the argument, which is always brought out of retirement and dusted down on such occasions, that the issue is not the sentence but the probability of arrest and conviction. That is sophistry. A 100 per cent. certainty of being fined 1p would deter nobody, nor would a 1 per cent. chance of imprisonment for life deter many. There must be a balance and, arguably, the lower the likelihood of conviction, the harsher the prospective sentence needs to be to deter. We are beginning to see a rise in the likelihood of conviction and we must couple that with proper minimum sentences.

The Government's proposals are a means to ensure that the most dangerous criminals are not let back out on to the streets and that criminal behaviour is deterred through balanced, well-defined punishments that carry great certainty. That will further restore the confidence of a public fed up with crime and the morale of police officers tired of often working in vain.

Madam Deputy Speaker


5.37 pm
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

The speech by the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) should be required reading in the Home Office. It was an excellent critique of the Government's proposals. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's experience in the Home Office and what he has said today will be considered fully by the Government before they introduce any legislative proposals.

The White Paper "On the Record", published this afternoon, deals with access to criminal records. Broadly speaking, I and my party would support proposals that would ensure that employers and voluntary agencies, in appropriate circumstances, can have access to criminal records if they are relevant to the employment in question. However, in appendix B of the White Paper there is a new piece of theory which rings alarm bells and, I suspect, will be the subject of much criticism. It would reduce acquittals to the status of unproved convictions and would enable information to be given to employers, even about an acquittal, on the basis of the opinion of police officers.

I say to the Minister, partly on the basis of my 26 years of experience at the Bar, that police officers' opinions are often extremely reliable, but they are sometimes extremely unreliable. It would be an outrage to introduce a power to disclose an acquittal as information relevant to someone's employment unless a counter-balance were introduced to enable the subject to challenge the disclosure of that information. Without that counter-balance, we would be proceeding down a slippery slope where rumour came to have the force of law. That would not be acceptable.

I make two preliminary points on the main substance of the debate, one as a question and the other as a statistic. First, the question: how do the Home Secretary and the Minister of State account for the fact that, in 1991, contrary to the advice of the judges, they supported proposals that were designed to secure that fewer and fewer people went to prison, when today they support proposals that are designed to secure that more and more people go to prison? The House is entitled to logical explanation, if one be available, which I doubt, of that change of mind.

As an adjunct to my question, I ask the Minister to tell the House honestly and for the first time that the Government are now asking judges to pass shorter sentences. Is that not right? If there is not to be a significant increase in the prison population, as I think the right hon. Member for Fareham was implying, it is inevitable that judges will have to pass shorter sentences.

If they do, by doing the will of the Government they will be passing shorter sentences for burglary, robbery and offences of actual bodily harm.

Mr. Butler

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Carlile

It is a short debate and I shall not give way. There is not much time.

Is it not a fact that the Government intend judges to pass shorter sentences? Is that the way in which they intend to send out the message that they will deal with crime?

The fact to which I wish to draw to the attention of Ministers—it is intended to deal with the canard that the Government can claim credit for the reduction in reported crime—is that most crime is committed by young men aged between 13 and 25. That is statistically proven. In the past 20 years, there has been a 13.6 per cent. reduction in the proportion of young men under 25 in the population. It would therefore be expected in the ordinary way that there would be a reduction in reported crime for that very reason alone. Let us lay the ghost of any credit that the Government can claim for a reduction in reported crime. The answer lies in a demographic fact.

Following my intervention, the Home Secretary offered to write to me on the reduction in reported crime. I look forward to receiving his letter. I shall be interested to examine the Home Office research that he claims to form the basis of what he is saying. I do not believe that such research exists. Having mentioned Home Office research, I express my sympathy for the high-quality research department within the Home Office. It used to be used as the locus classicus for legislative change in criminal justice. It is now the last place the Home Secretary looks for changes in criminal justice policy, despite the fact that the department continues to produce research of the highest quality.

The Home Secretary claims that prison works. It works as a cupboard in which we put people for a period so that they cannot commit crime. For the most part that is true, and self-evidently so. But surely prison really works only if, as a result of imprisonment, those who have been incarcerated do not repeat crime after release.

Young men commit small burglaries to buy drugs. Perhaps they buy drugs for less than £100. They share them out among their friends, and thus they are suppliers. They then commit another small burglary to obtain drugs. Again, they share them out among their friends. Next time, it is then three and out. As the right hon. Member for Fareham said, that will cause manifest injustice. What on earth is the interest—[Interruption.] I wish that the parliamentary private secretary, or whatever the hon. Gentleman is, would stop grunting behind the Minister of State.

If there is to be manifest injustice, what on earth is the Government's interest in introducing minimum sentences? Judges can, and do, pass severe sentences for serious crime. If the Government think that judges are not passing sufficiently severe sentences for serious crimes, it is open to the Attorney-General to appeal to the Court of Appeal against those sentences. I would be the first to concede that, because the prosecution's right of appeal has been exercised carefully and responsibly, it has worked reasonably well since its introduction.

It is proposed that there should be mandatory life sentences for offences other than homicide. I face with terror, as do many others, including Lord Taylor of Gosforth, the former Lord Chief Justice, the consequences of mandatory life sentences for rape. What will happen? I ask Ministers to listen, which they failed to do in 1991. Their failure to listen caused them to have to unwrap the 1991 legislation and change it.

I beg Ministers to listen for once to people who hear evidence in the criminal courts and who sentence people—in other words, the judges. Ministers should listen for once to those of us who in practice have to deal with cases in the criminal courts, whether as prosecutors, defenders or police officers. Many police officers who carry out the real inquiries do not support the Government. The same can be said of probation officers and, especially, the families of victims of crime.

I shall tell the Minister of State what will happen if mandatory life sentences are introduced for rape. People will be murdered because offenders will know that, if they are caught, they will be sentenced to life imprisonment for rape in any event. The Minister of State shakes his head. He does so against a weight of authority, which includes the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Donaldson, and Lord Justice Rose, whose practice was not in esoteric areas of the law. Lord Justice Rose, as he now is, came from Manchester to the High Court and the Court of Appeal. He has applied a wealth of practical experience. The Minister shakes his head against almost every criminologist in the country and, I believe, against the views of the researchers within his Department.

Mr. Maclean


Mr. Carlile

I shall give way briefly.

Mr. Maclean

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I merely wish to say that I have the weight of evidence from the Home Office research department on my side when I shake my head in response to the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument.

Mr. Carlile

The right hon. Gentleman may claim that there is some evidence on his side. I should like to see it. I do not understand how the right hon. Gentleman can claim to have evidence on his side that overwhelms Lord Taylor, Lord Justice Rose, David Faulkner and all the other authoritative figures who have ranged themselves against the Government's proposals. If the right hon. Gentleman goes to Oxford university, which the Government hold so dear, and listens to the criminologists there, including David Faulkner, Sir Stephen Tumim and Roger Hood—there is a bevy of them—they will tell him that what the Government are saying about minimum sentences, and especially mandatory life sentences, is utter and absolute nonsense.

Prison works? It works as a way of paying builders for building prisons. That is the only way in which it works. Are the Government, who reduced the prison budget by 13 per cent., making prison work? They removed every probation officer from our prisons. Is that making prison work? They are cutting prison education, which enables young men and women who are illiterate when they enter prison to leave literate and able to obtain jobs. Is that the Government making prison work?

In taking the actions to which I have referred, the Government, at the same time, are proposing to spend between £600 million and £1 billion on creating new lock-ups so that we can have a far larger prison population than ever before. The Minister should take account of the experience of the United States, where they imprison far more people than we do. He will find that prison does not work there. The prison population of the United States, which, proportionally, is far in excess of ours, has not decreased. Violent crime in the United States has continued to increase. The Government seem to rely on an American experience that is a failure.

I shall say a few words about boot camps. The Minister cites evidence from the Home Office, but I suggest that he look at the Home Office research on what happened during the unhappy period of the short sharp shock. Two things happened: one group of prisoners were bullied; the other group took it like the easy medicine it was for fit young men, who came out more fit to commit more crime of the sort that they had committed before they went in.

The truth is that the Government have not begun to tackle the reasons why young people commit crime. I saw a sentence in a Home Office press release about the possible introduction of drug courts. That is the sort of idea that the Government should consider seriously and to which they should devote their attention—breaking the spiral of drug misuse that turns young people in this country to crime.

The Government should pay more attention to the prevention of crime by ensuring that hard messages are delivered to schools and colleges by police officers and others who understand and can explain the consequences of offending, but we see little about that. It is time the Government concentrated on the reasons why people commit crime, and did not simply devote themselves to the rhetoric of retribution. I fear that the Government are doing a grave disservice to this country by misrepresenting the criminal justice issues in the rhetoric of retribution.

A democratic representative in the United States, Mr. Bobby Scott, was quoted in The Economist last week as saying: When you call for more incarceration, you do not have to explain yourself; when you argue for effective alternatives, you do. The Government have simply decided that they can profit electorally from that simple message. The Government cannot explain themselves; but those of us who believe in sensible, constructive sentencing that will reduce the incidence of criminal behaviour believe that we can—and we shall not fear to criticise the Government's simplistic approach before the electorate at the appropriate time.

5.51 pm
Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)

I welcome the Government's proposal to abolish automatic early release from prison. Hon. Members who have experience of representing defendants in criminal proceedings will be aware that everyone involved in the court system—particularly old lags who have done time before—make an immediate mental calculation when the sentence is handed down of what it really means after allowing for the appropriate discount. Some people would argue that we already have realism in sentencing, because even the general public know enough about the law to know that an automatic discount applies.

I believe that the present system brings the law into disrepute. The public are entitled to know that the sentence when passed is the sentence that will be served, subject to a small discount that will have to be earned through good behaviour. It is in the interests of the smooth running of prisons and of rehabilitation that inmates should have an incentive to maintain good behaviour throughout their sentence to maximise the discount earned.

There has been speculation about whether honesty in sentencing would lead to a big increase in the prison population. Judges will, of course, be able to reduce the sentence to achieve the intended net objective. If judges choose not to reduce the nominal sentence passed, on the face of it the prison population will increase, but there would be an increased deterrent effect if effective sentences were seen to be longer. That would, I hope, reduce the number of defendants coming before the courts.

I warmly welcome the proposal to introduce automatic life sentences for people over 18 convicted for a second time of a serious sexual or violent offence. Such a measure would ensure that it is possible to prevent such offenders, who remain a danger to the public, from being released. The need for such a measure is demonstrated by statistics that show that 10 per cent. of offenders released after serving a sentence for serious sexual or violent offences go on to commit similar terrible offences again.

I also welcome the proposal that persistent dealers in hard drugs should receive an automatic minimum prison sentence of seven years. My right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) was worried that this might involve people who were not serious offenders receiving a mandatory seven-year sentence. My answer to that is that they should think of that before they commit the offence. The imposition of such a significant minimum sentence would ensure that offenders received their just desserts, particularly the most serious offenders, who, morally, should receive the death penalty or, failing that, a life sentence for the terrible despair, pain and loss of life that they produce in exchange for personal gain.

The proposed automatic minimum prison sentences for persistent domestic burglars are also welcome. It is outrageous that a professional burglar convicted of seven or more burglaries spends little more time inside than they would for a first conviction. Any professional criminal weighs up two things in deciding whether to commit a particular offence: first, the risk of getting caught; secondly, the severity, or otherwise, of the likely sentence.

So far as certainty of detection is concerned, the Government have rightly increased resources for the police. In my constituency, some two dozen extra police officers have been appointed in the past few months—and very necessary they are, too. The police are targeting known and persistent burglars and are increasing detection rates. The success of Operation Bumblebee, launched by the Metropolitan police in 1991, has been emulated by other forces. As every person with any common sense knows, it is no good catching criminals unless they are convicted and given an appropriately severe sentence. A minimum sentence of three years for persistent burglars will help to persuade them that crime does not pay and that they would be better off earning an honest living.

There are, of course, do-gooders on the Opposition Benches who question the value of prison sentences. In the past three and a half years, the prison population has risen by 25 per cent. and crime has fallen by 8.5 per cent. In my opinion, that is no coincidence. In 1995, 468,000 fewer crimes were recorded in England and Wales than in 1994—the largest ever continuous fall in the number of annually recorded crimes. When criminals are behind bars, they cannot commit crimes against the general public. About two thirds of all crimes are committed by one fifth of offenders, so it is common sense that the number of crimes falls when persistent offenders are out of circulation. Home Office research suggests that between three and 13 offences could be prevented when each domestic burglar is imprisoned for a year rather than given a community sentence.

Mandatory sentences are nothing new. They already exist, as my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler) pointed out, for drink-driving. Who can doubt that it is the certainty of losing their licence if caught and convicted that has deterred many people from drinking and driving?

Prison sentences do not only prevent offences; they deter offenders. The police and the public clearly believe that. As the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Mr. Jim Sharples, said on BBC Radio 4's "Today" programme on 14 October 1995: people who commit serious offences should expect long custodial sentences. Minimum sentences do have a role in our view in playing a part in deterrence". Recent research has also shown that prison has a deterrent effect. For example, Burnett's 1992 study, which was based on interviews with prisoners, found that, for the whole sample, avoidance of imprisonment was the most frequently mentioned reason for not wanting to reoffend.

Those who argue against prison sentences say that they make bad people worse. The facts do not bear that out. The latest reconviction rates, published in February 1996, show that 51 per cent. of prisoners reoffended within two years of release, compared with 55 per cent. of those who were given community service orders. Given that offenders sent to prison are higher up the tariff than offenders given community service, prison is even more successful than those bald figures suggest.

It has been suggested in some quarters that it is somehow wrong to risk upsetting judges by creating minimum sentences. There is nothing wrong with Parliament legislating to impose maximum, minimum or mandatory sentences. Indeed, Parliament would be failing in its duty if it did not continue to address the issue of excessively lenient sentences.

5.59 pm
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Ministers should find it enlightening and humbling to read the record of a debate that took place in the other place on 23 May. Indeed, that debate is important to all of us, including the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney). In that unprecedented debate, the Lord Chief Justice issued a comprehensive critique of the Government's proposal. What was unprecedented was the fact that a direct criticism of the Home Secretary was made by the most senior lawyers in the country and by former Home Office Ministers. Indeed, a former Home Office Minister, the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), spoke today. That should give the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan and others at least cause for reflection and consideration. They should take account of the words of those who have had to make decisions about individuals and policy in connection with a very complex issue.

In the other place, there was also a comprehensive mauling of the way in which the Home Secretary had used statistics in the White Paper, making them less and less credible. Phrases such as "flimsy and dubious evidence", "partial and tainted", "shallow and untested" and "highly misleading" were used by figures such as Lord Donaldson and the Lord Chief Justice. That should give the Home Secretary and other Home Office Ministers cause to reflect.

Rather in the style of Mark Antony, those who spoke in that debate said that they were not aiming directly at the Home Secretary's bona fides, because the Home Secretary was an honourable man. The message was clear, however: everyone considered the White Paper on sentencing to be a highly partisan exercise, unrelated to the needs of criminal justice. The Home Secretary has, uniquely, managed to array against him and his policies the senior judges in the country and the great majority of practitioners.

The Home Secretary may say that that does not matter: that the editorial writers of the tabloids are on his side, and that he is confident that public opinion—or, perhaps, the electorate—is also on his side. It is true that the public are anxious about the doubling of crime over the past few years and the decline in law and order, but it is wrong for politicians, particularly Home Secretaries, to pander to that opinion, pretending that they have the answers and implying that judges cannot be trusted to impose the appropriate sentences.

Although the immediate response of many individuals—the person in the street—is "Yes, sentences should be more severe," that was not reflected in the only major test involving people who had followed cases through and observed them at first hand. I refer to the research of Professor Zander, carried out for the Runciman commission. Of nearly 10,000 jurors—average citizens—only 15 per cent. thought that sentences in cases that they had heard should have been more severe and were surprised that they had not been.

Why is such a wide array of criminal justice practitioners so profoundly hostile to the Home Secretary, his proposals and his practice? Partly because they see the White Paper as just another partisan initiative from this most political of Home Secretaries. He is all too ready, for example, to rely on examples from the United States, as if that country were a paragon of success in criminal justice. We know that, per head of population, the United States imprisons far more people than any other developed country.

The practitioners see the proposals as part of an election manifesto, or as a man trap for the Opposition, rather than a serious attempt to deal with real problems. They know that—as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) pointed out—the proposals cannot come into effect until the year 2000, although the Home Secretary could deal with the problem immediately if he wanted to, either by revamping the means of referral to the Court of Appeal's criminal division or by way of a sentencing council. They cannot see how the prison population will not escalate—and explode—as a result of the Home Secretary's proposals, unless judges are in effect told to pronounce shorter sentences, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) said in his excellent speech.

The practitioners consider the proposals unnecessary, because judges now have the power—in rape cases, for example—to impose life sentences. Moreover, there can be a referral by the Attorney-General in respect of lenient sentences. Above all, those with experience of the criminal justice system see the proposals as unjust, as an affront to basic constitutional principles and as removing judges' discretion to do justice in individual cases.

The right hon. Member for Fareham gave a good example in respect of young people in drug cases. Burglaries are another instance. A young man may go into the private area of a public house and take an ashtray as a first offence; he may put his arm through a window—which is technically a burglary—as a second offence; and he may do something relatively minor as a third offence. In effect, the judge has no discretion in cases of that kind.

We need consistency and openness in sentencing. I would agree with the introduction of sentencing bands, so that a judge could make it clear what a sentence meant in practice—although, as has been pointed out, most criminals can estimate what a sentence will mean in their case. However, we should pay attention to the anxieties expressed by the public. The key role of the criminal justice system is to protect the public—that should always be the starting point—but the policy makers should then act, not in a partisan spirit, and not as if they were delivering yet another speech to their party conference, but after cool appraisal and on the basis of respectable research that is accepted in the profession as a whole.

Senior judges, including the Lord Chief Justice and Lord Donaldson, cast clear aspersions on the validity of the research on which the White Paper was founded. Policy makers should also listen carefully, and with respect, to practitioners who know the problem of applying complex considerations to the infinite variety of individual cases.

6.7 pm

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk)

The voice of what might be described as the producer lobby in the criminal justice system has been well aired this evening, not only by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) but by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). I believe that we have allowed policy to be influenced excessively by that producer lobby, in the sphere of criminal justice as in so many others. It is the belief that the views of judges, lawyers and others who derive their living from administering or working in the criminal justice system should always hold sway over the general public's views that put the country in the terrible state that it was in in 1979.

This is the first occasion on which I have spoken in a criminal justice debate. I do so because it is impossible to ignore the profound concern in my constituency about the level of crime—a concern that exists despite the welcome fall that has taken place over the past couple of years. As we know, it is not just the level of crime but the fear of crime that blights the quality of life, and many more years of falling crime rates will be needed before that fear is removed.

Having represented a largely rural seat for 13 years, I am conscious that the fear of crime has increased substantially in the countryside. There is a strong and widely held perception that police resources, especially manpower, are targeted on towns, and that crime prevention measures such as closed-circuit television are most effective in urban areas. The facts may tell a slightly different story, but perceptions are important, and they take a long time to change.

On behalf of all my constituents I give the warmest possible welcome to the proposals—especially the sentencing proposals—in the White Paper, "Protecting the Public". In particular, my constituent, Martin Crawshay, and his colleagues on South Suffolk law and order committee, with whom I have worked closely for several years, are glad that some of the concerns that were voiced at our meeting last year with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State have been listened to.

Let me express my appreciation of the much-improved Home Office funding of Suffolk police for 1996–97. I observed their excellent and effective work at first hand on night patrol a few weeks ago with officers from Sudbury, under the command of Inspector Mark Cordell.

Well-resourced police, backed up by co-operative and law-abiding members of the public, are only part of a successful strategy to combat crime. We also needs courts whose powers and procedures facilitate rather than impede justice. Once convictions have been obtained, we need sentences that deter criminals and protect the public.

It is his approach to sentencing policy for which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary deserves particular congratulation. Almost single-handedly, he has reversed the drift of post-war penal policy. For far too long, sentencing policy has appeared to be driven by the interests of criminals, by the capacity of the prison system or by cherished experiments of prison and penal reformers—by anything except the interests of the law-abiding citizen.

The title of the White Paper—"Protecting the Public"—is a welcome departure from past thinking. It acknowledges that one of the most basic duties of the Government is the protection of their citizens. I should like to tell my right hon. and learned Friend that, since some of his proposals on sentencing have come under attack by senior judges and other representatives of the producer lobby, I have not met a constituent of any age, occupation or background who agrees with the judges' criticisms or disagrees with my right hon. and learned Friend's approach. For the first time for several generations, it appears that common sense rather than wishful and woolly idealism is to be the basis of our policy.

Rising crime figures—happily, at least partially reversed but still far too high—suggest that previous sentencing policy provided neither a deterrent to criminals nor protection for the public. It was, and is, high time for an alternative approach that may or may not be successful. I listened carefully to the reservations of my right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd). We do not know whether the new approach will succeed, but, my goodness, it is at least worth a try, given the proven and complete failure of the system in the last half century.

Where convictions of persistent or violent offenders are followed by longer sentences, at least the criminals cannot reoffend while they are in prison. A few more citizens may sleep a little more safely in their beds. Indeed, the only criticism that I have heard of the White Paper's proposals that has any resonance is that they were not introduced sooner. It is a matter of surprise and regret that it has taken 17 years of a Conservative Government to introduce this element of common sense into sentencing policy.

I have a few constituents, however, who, despite all their experience, are influenced by opinion polls, and for that reason they are interested in the Labour party's approach to the subject. They will have listened in vain today, as on many other occasions when the subject has been debated, for any expression of regret by the Labour party for its opposition in the House to all the measures taken over many years designed to help the police to track offenders and to maintain order. They will have listened in vain for any expression of regret from the Labour party for its opposition to measures that improved court procedures so that guilty people could be brought to book. They will have listened in vain for any expression of regret by the Labour party for its resistance to measures designed to introduce stiffer sentences.

Fortunately, there is still time for the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), to say, "We in the Labour party were wrong year after year to oppose all these measures. We now apologise to people whose homes have been burgled or who have suffered physical violence at the hands of criminals who might have been behind bars if our delaying tactics in the House had not prevented the swifter passage of Conservative legislation on to the statute book."

There is still time for the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth to say that the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), whose approach to sentencing when shadow Home Secretary was indistinguishable in every respect from old Labour, was as wrong on that issue as he was on privatisation, industrial relations reform, tax, public spending and the nuclear deterrent throughout his political career.

Now, at the eleventh hour, in a shameless and unprincipled opportunist attempt to win office, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield claims to believe the opposite of what he argued for over many years—the opposite of what most Labour Members and most members of the shadow Cabinet secretly, or not so secretly, argue for.

There is still time for the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth to tell my constituents—who will be very interested to hear him; if he remains silent, they will draw their own conclusion—that all the past policies of the Labour party were wholly wrong, and to apologise for them. If he fails to do so, the House will know that nothing has changed and that Labour party policy remains to shed crocodile tears over the plight of the victims of crime while resolutely refusing to support measures likely to make life tougher for the criminal.

6.15 pm
Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

I welcome the proposals of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, and I know that many of my constituents and many people throughout our great county of Yorkshire will join me in that welcome.

We now have the toughest Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers that we have had for many years. That is widely welcomed, certainly outside the House, if not in the Chamber this evening. Many people in the United Kingdom want to see the White Paper's tougher measures put into operation as quickly as possible.

The Government have a duty to protect their citizens and to ensure that they can go about their normal lawful business and not be locked up in their homes when criminals are on the loose. Criminals should be locked up in prison, away from decent, law-abiding people.

We have heard much about young people on our streets—even young people under 10. What about parents? No one has mentioned the responsibility of parents to look after their young people, particularly those under 10, who should not be on the streets in the evening.

The punishment should always fit the crime, and persistent serious violent criminals should get stiff sentences. Early release should not be automatic; it should be earned, and I am pleased to see that that is now proposed. Prisons work—of course they work, because they keep people locked up, and when they are locked up, they are not committing more crime.

We have heard much about what Parliament and the Home Secretary should or should not do in making laws. Parliament makes laws, the judiciary implement them, and from time to time there will be discussion between the two. Offenders sentenced to under four years in prison are released once they have served half their sentence, and that cannot be right. Such early release enrages victims and their families, as many hon. Members will understand.

In 1994, 217 offenders were convicted of a second serious sexual or violent crime such as rape or attempted murder. All could have been given a life sentence, but only 10 were. Unless they get a life sentence, they must be released once they have served two thirds of their sentence, even if it is well known that they are still a danger to the public.

Under the Government's proposals, anyone aged 18 or over who is convicted of a serious sexual or violent offence for the second time will automatically get a life sentence. I have listened to what many of the professionals in the House have said about that, but I believe that it is right. Such second offenders would be released only when they no longer posed a danger to the public.

In such cases, the trial judge will determine the minimum sentence to be served by way of retribution and deterrence. The parole board can then decide whether it is safe to release the offender. Individuals who continue to pose a danger to the public would remain in prison—indefinitely, if necessary. All cases need careful assessment. Many criminals are released early, only to reoffend quickly.

The former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor, said recently: I believe public confidence in the system is ended when convicted criminals are seen to walk free from prison after serving rather less than half their sentences, however good their behaviour may have been in the interim. He was right.

Many of my constituents will welcome the proposal that the average sentence for a third conviction of dealing in hard drugs such as heroin or Ecstasy should be more than four years. Many of us believe that even that punishment is not sufficiently severe, but we welcome tougher sentencing of individuals who not only take drugs but deal in them, and affect the lives of many young people. In the past 12 months, we have seen the deaths of several young people who would be alive today were it not for the availability of drugs on our streets.

The proposal for stiffer sentences for persistent burglars will also be welcomed. While a burglary may only take the form of an entry on a court list, that cannot reflect its effect on the victim—who may be an elderly person living alone.

In 1993–94, the average Crown court sentence passed on a first-time domestic burglar was 16.2 months, but for offenders with seven or more convictions, it was only 19.4 months—which is nonsense. Almost 30 per cent. of those offenders were not imprisoned, but returned to the community to continue their nefarious activities. I am pleased that it is proposed that any person aged 18 or over convicted of domestic burglary and with two or more previous convictions for similar offences will automatically receive a minimum three-year sentence.

Many professionals have said that the Home Secretary's proposals are unrealistic and will not work, but many people outside the House want tougher sentencing and longer terms of imprisonment, to prevent reoffending. The public welcome the decrease in crime, but they also want to go about their business and not have to lock themselves into their homes early in the evening because of the number of criminals who are released from prison to stalk our streets.

6.23 pm
Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport)

I have a deep sense of anger and frustration at the problems experienced by many of my constituents every day of their lives. I will try to control myself and not use unparliamentary language—although I doubt that anything I might say could match the comments made to me every day of the week.

The Home Secretary did not address disorder—neighbour nuisance, harassment, abuse, anti-social behaviour in the street, vandalism and graffiti. I was looking forward to seeing whether "Protecting the Public" would address those problems. Paragraph 3.41 states: It is vital that the law should be adequate to enable the police to maintain public order. Excellent—but the paragraph goes on to cite travellers who invade rural communities and illegal open air raves". Neither applies to my urban constituency.

Paragraph 3.42 states: The Government believes it is intolerable that trespassers should be allowed to ruin people's enjoyment of their own property or their legitimate business activity. Although that is correct, do not the Government consider it intolerable that people should be allowed to ruin their neighbours' lives and to make life a misery for the public on the streets? If the Government think that, why are they not addressing those problems? At present, the only redress is an injunction in the civil courts, but the cost is a deterrent. It is time the Government gave those problems more serious attention than does the White Paper.

I was not surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) mentioned a 12 per cent. rise in public disorder complaints. I receive letters and telephone calls every week from constituents in various states of depression, anxiety and frustration.

The Home Office has commented that public disorder leads to high levels of avoidance behaviour. People are afraid to go out at night. Pensioners remain in their homes, terrified. Women will not contemplate going out at night because they fear that the streets are unsafe. The term "avoidance behaviour" is a pretty way of describing the absolute terror felt by the people who adopt it. Initiatives such as Homewatch and Streetwatch are attempting to address public disorder, but they will not be successful unless such disorder and its causes are properly addressed.

After a surgery, I often have to write to the chief superintendent about matters raised by my constituents. That correspondence has increased over the past year. The Stockport police have always been responsive and helpful within the limits of their resources and existing law.

I will cite a typical, not abnormal case that came to my attention last Saturday. One of my constituents suffers from angina, spondylitis and epilepsy—and his wife suffers from cirrhosis and is taking anti-depressants. The couple's 12-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son are terrified of going out on the streets. That family live on a council estate, but they have no chance of being transferred, because the level of harassment that they are suffering—windows being smashed and targeted burglaries—is normal for that estate. That couple would have to suffer more to be placed on the transfer list.

The council does its best. The only power at its disposal is eviction, but that relies on evidence. People are unwilling to give evidence, because they will end up suffering more harassment without protection. It is not enough for the council to rely on civil remedies. The law should make it easier for the police to intervene and control the environment.

In another part of my constituency, a public meeting was held after several months of anti-social behaviour by youths on the street. It was attended by 150 residents and police representatives. The residents vociferously expressed their problems. Such public meetings are held all year round. As soon as one public meeting and a problem is sorted out in one part of the constituency, the problem moves to another part, and we then have to have another public meeting to sort it out. The police are very helpful with short-term strategies, but we cannot go on like this. We have to have a proper strategic view to deal with this type of disorder.

A strategic view seems to be missing. I am not surprised that such a view is missing, as the Government are not paying any serious attention to it. They have not even mentioned it in their document, "Protecting the Public".

Another document that perhaps illustrates the problem is the Greater Manchester policing plan. Under a heading of "Public Reassurance", they state that the national objective is to provide high visibility policing so as to reassure the public. That reassurance is exactly what the public are asking for, which is a reflection of the public's concern that no longer is there law and order on the streets.

Greater Manchester police state that their target is: To achieve a 50 per cent. satisfaction level with levels of foot and mobile patrols. A 50 per cent. satisfaction level would be an enormous rise in satisfaction, because currently there is no public satisfaction with police visibility. I do not blame the police for that, because they have to put their resources where the Home Office asks them to.

The Greater Manchester police have recognised the their difficulties with the public over disorder and have set a local objective, which is to co-operate with young people, schools, parents and residents to promote community harmony. That is an excellent objective, but I doubt whether the Home Office will give it any recognition or the necessary resources to accomplish it. There must be a great deal of resourcing if community policing is to be performed effectively. It takes up a lot of police time.

Mr. Howard

Is the hon. Lady aware that we have increased spending on the police by 100 per cent. in real terms since 1979? Is she aware that the country is rapidly getting fed up of Labour Back Benchers giving speeches in every debate in the House and outside, in which they complain about resources and ask for more money, while the shadow Chancellor and the shadow Chief Secretary go round the country saying, "You don't need to worry about your taxes because Labour will not spend any more money on anything"?

Ms Coffey

I am sorry that I annoyed the Home Secretary, but the truth is very painful. Whatever figure he gives about increasing police resources, ultimately the public are extremely fed up and very angry about the levels of disorder they have to put up with. The Home Secretary really should stop worrying about what Labour Back Benchers are telling him, and start worrying about and taking some note of what the public are trying to tell him.

The causes of disorder are very complex, and there are no simple solutions. We must have a short-term and a long-term strategy. We must ask what is the cause of disorder, particularly among young people. We must examine problems in the provision of leisure facilities and youth facilities, and listen to young people.

Perhaps there are other preventative measures that the Home Secretary could take. As he is probably aware, I am the co-chair of the British parliamentary lighting group. We have long been requesting the Home Office's acceptance that improved street lighting decreases crime levels and the fear of crime. That does not seem to have been accepted by the Home Secretary, although he accepts the effectiveness of closed-circuit television cameras in shopping centres—which are effective, but they are not appropriate for residential areas.

The Home Secretary must ensure that the police have the time to support crime prevention, such as the homewatch and streetwatch schemes. Many people are very willing to enter into partnerships and do what they can to make their neighbourhoods safe, but they need support. Police time is not available, because they have to deal with the enormous amount of crime.

Madam Speaker

Order. I regret having to call the hon. Lady to order.

6.33 pm
Sir Jim Spicer (West Dorset)

Madam Speaker, I gave you an undertaking that I shall be five minutes, and five minutes I will be—because I know that you will not allow me any longer.

I was delighted to hear the view of the Liberal party expressed so clearly by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). I noted two points that he made: prison does not work; and we are looking for retribution. Yes, we are; and prison does work. Those are two points.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has been under some attack. He has very broad shoulders. I should like to tell him: by all means listen to the public, and also listen to the police.

I should just like to read a letter sent to The Times last week by my chief constable, the chief constable of Dorset. He said: Dear Sir, The Lord Chief Justice's condemnation of minimum sentencing (Times May 23rd) was a revealing insight into the workings of a very senior judicial mind. Having recognised the Home Secretary's determined attempt to respond to wide public concern for which the Lord Chief Justice acknowledged there is considerable support, he then goes on to state his preference for the allegedly unanimous, but opposite, views of those who 'work in the system' rather curiously omitting any reference to the police. We do have a little experience in these matters, but to ignore or dismiss the feelings and perceptions of the ordinary person in the street is much more serious. His comment that 'certainty in sentencing can only be achieved by sacrificing justice' is I believe altogether too sweeping. The new proposals are not aimed at first time offenders, crimes of passion or foolishness but to persistent offenders who are not being deterred by the criminal justice system at present. Anyone who has had 'cheek by jowl' contact with persistent criminals over the years knows that the one sentence they hate more than any other is prison. Despite their displays of bravado when questioned on the subject most would sell their grannies to avoid it. However the courts regularly save them that inconvenience by allowing them to 'beat the system' even when convicted. In my view unlimited judicial discretion in sentencing burglars in particular, is robbing the criminal justice system of its deterrent value and undermining the delivery of justice in the eyes of ordinary law abiding citizens. The Lord Chief Justice in defence of his sentencing discretion suggests that 'the value of the theft, the lapse of time between arrests, how many offences have been committed, whether it was drunken opportunism and the effect on the victim should all be considered'. This is precisely where the delivery of 'Justice' is going wrong, it is focusing too much on the circumstances of the offender and not enough on the victim. Who is to judge the 'value' of a theft? How many times is it suggested than 'drunken opportunism' be regarded as tolerable? Should the persistent offender benefit from some mitigation in sentence because he didn't manage to steal very much or because he has evaded arrest for months or years, or because the hapless victim has often bravely carried on their life without outward sign of injury? This just does not make sense, any more than the referral to the cliche 'that what really deters criminals is the certainty of arrest and detection'. Detection and arrest alone for the regulars are no more than a temporary irritation, without the certainty of a deterrent sentence and that means prison. If the American experience is that they are all pleading 'not guilty' then discount the sentence to encourage a 'guilty' plea but ensure that they still go to prison! Finally I am astonished at the way that his Lordship has misdirected himself in relation to the relevance of the burglary detection rate, which he quotes as 3 in 20, and then seeks to use as evidence to invalidate a 'minimum sentencing' policy because so few offences come to court. This is a complete misunderstanding of the crime figures. It is now well established that a small percentage of persistent criminals commit a disproportionately large amount of crime. So reference to the number of offences that come to court completely misses the point. Modern police investigation techniques target known and active criminals and they are being caught and prosecuted over and over again, but for only a fraction of the offences they commit. Unlimited judicial discretion which is over-focused on the offender is not providing deterrent sentences. The system really must stop patronising criminals with misplaced sympathy and talk of rehabilitation when they chose to commit crime for greed, excitement and peer group status. Treat them as adults with minds of their own and make them, not the victims, understand the fear and consequences of crime. Yours faithfully, Chief Constable. That, Home Secretary, is the message from the people of this country. Ignore the waffling that we always get from the Opposition, which I have had to listen to for 24 years.

6.38 pm
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

In that case, it is obvious that the hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir J. Spicer) has not listened to or understood a great deal while he has been sitting here.

This has been an extraordinary debate. Not only did the Home Secretary try, by publishing another White Paper, to distract attention from the White Paper that he had chosen to debate, but he was joined on the Government Front Bench by the Secretary of State for Scotland, whose published proposals on sentencing are quite different from those of the Home Secretary. What a way of running what was supposed to be a crime week, intended to regain the initiative from the Labour party.

Crime Week has been a disaster for the Home Secretary. That was bound to happen, not only because he seems to get everything wrong, but because the difference between the two parties is that the Labour party is serious about tackling crime. The country knows that, and will see it when we are in government.

We have heard the White Paper torn apart by the former Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), who said that the Home Secretary's proposals would be visibly unjust and counter-productive, would not do much for deterrence, and needed sensible rethinking.

From the criticisms both inside and outside the House, it is clear that, although the Home Secretary has now woken up to the problem on which the Labour party has focused for a considerable number of years, his White Paper is less robust than the proposals that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), the shadow Home Secretary, has already published, and does not stand up to the same scrutiny.

Indeed, the Home Secretary was so concerned not to give credit to my hon. Friend that he put himself into the absurd position of defending the presence of eight and nine-year-olds on the street well into the night. He tried to wriggle out of it by saying that the police already have the power to act, but he is wrong, except in very specific and limited circumstances. Anybody who has come across the problems in practice knows that that is not the case.

One police superintendent said that he supported proposals aimed at keeping vulnerable youngsters off the streets at night and away from potential criminal activity". He agreed, as many youth workers have, about encouraging and enabling parents to take proper responsibility for the care and control of their children, and continued: We are happy to discuss the curfew proposal, but some form of legislation would be required before we had any power to impose such a blanket measure and extensive consultation with the community would also be needed". That is precisely what my hon. Friend proposed, which is in general a sensible way of tackling a real problem.

During the debate the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) gave loyal but misguided support to the Home Secretary. But the hon. Gentleman does not take crime in the community as seriously as did his predecessor, and we look forward to the return of John P. Smith at the general election.

I share with the hon. Gentleman the police division of the Vale of Glamorgan, and I am pleased that we now have extra police on the streets. However, it was the Secretary of State for Wales who for several years denied the South Wales police the cash they needed, so it is foolish for a Conservative Member to draw attention to the Government's failure in that regard. It is also foolish for Conservative Members to talk about the Government's record on police numbers, as the Home Secretary did when he intervened desperately on my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey), despite the short time available to her, because he did not seem to have confidence in his Minister of State.

In the run-up to the 1992 general election the Government promised an extra 1,000 police officers, but what has happened since March 1992? By 30 September 1995 the number of police officers had decreased by 860. What a record. The Home Secretary has nothing to be proud of in connection with police numbers and with his support of the police.

The hon. Members for Vale of Glamorgan and for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler) were both signatories to the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee which demanded statutory regulation of the private security industry. I am surprised that neither of them has been consistent enough to demand its implementation in the debate.

Today's White Paper would allow employers access to criminal records. That is sensible, especially with violent offenders and sex offenders who might wheedle their way into working with children. But the police and the private security industry, as well as the Labour party, have demanded statutory regulation to protect the public against rogue crooked employers too.

By bringing in only half the prescription, the Home Secretary will allow crooked employers, about which we have already given evidence, access to the records of those whom they seek to employ. The Mafia would be delighted with such an arrangement. We keep being told that the Home Secretary is still considering the Select Committee's report, but when the Home Office gave evidence to the Select Committee, its representatives said that it was not really interested, and did not support the idea of statutory regulation. Is it not true that the Home Secretary is unwilling to provide, or is prevented by his Cabinet colleagues from providing, the statutory regulation needed to protect the public?

Anyone who has followed the events or the long-drawn-out investigations in north Wales knows, even if the full report does not reach the public domain, that paedophiles plotted and planned the systematic abuse of children. To allow people in positions of influence as employers in the public or private sector to know details about sex offenders, without themselves being investigated, is surely a recipe for disaster.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) feared that listing acquittals would allow rumour to have the force of a conviction. That is a difficult area, but the level of conviction for child sex offences is very low, and the fact that so few offences come to light is a scandal. We need to do more to protect children against the predators. Yet in recent weeks the Conservatives blocked a Bill to establish a register of paedophiles.

Given the overwhelming evidence that paedophiles are the most devious and cunning people in the world, as well as the most despicable, and given the evidence from "The Cook Report" that most child sex offenders expect to reoffend on release, and use their time in prison reflecting on past abuse and planning future abuse, it is an absolute scandal that only last week the Home Secretary led Conservative Members into the Lobby to defeat amendments to the law which would have helped to protect children by preventing witness statements and photographic evidence from circulating in prison as a stimulus to future offences.

Belatedly, the Conservative party has woken up to the disastrous level of crime, to its impact on ordinary people, and to the fact that Conservatives are no longer believed by the public. The hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) condemned the Government for taking 17 years to get round to tackling crime. He was right, but he then went on to make a total fool of himself by trying to blame the Labour party for the failures of the past 17 years.

We shall take no lessons from that hon. Gentleman, who by his own admission has not taken an interest in law and order debates for many years. We shall take no lessons from a Conservative party that has yet to apologise for the introduction of the poll tax. As somebody who has been a magistrate since 1972, and has worked successfully for many years on projects to reduce crime in my constituency and in the rest of my area, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I did not discover crime and the need for clarity of punishment when I entered the House—and nor did many of my hon. Friends.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman and his constituents this: the leader of the Labour party was right to promise to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Under a Government led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn as Home Secretary, that will become a national strategy rather than a mere promise by the Labour party, and it will be welcomed by the police and the public alike.

The Conservative party is condemned by its own record. The level of crime is twice as high as when the Conservatives came into office; only one offence in 50 leads to punishment by a court; only one in 750 leads to a punishment involving a custodial sentence. We need the practical and comprehensive policies of the Labour party to nip young offending in the bud, to tackle violence, to deal with nuisance neighbours, and to introduce consistency of sentencing in a way that will work, instead of doing as the Government do when they have to amend their own legislation every other year—and indeed, sometimes almost in the course of a single year.

The Home Secretary said earlier that it was the first duty of Government to maintain law and order, and to allow citizens to walk the streets in safety and to sleep securely in their beds at night. Yes, but the Conservative Government have failed to provide that safety and security. Since they came into office they have presided over not only a doubling in the level of recorded crime, but an increase of 151 per cent. in crimes of violence and an increase of 448 per cent. in robbery. They have no right to claim virtue in relation to law and order.

The Government have failed, yet they continually seek to pin the blame on the Labour party, which, although it seems to have escaped the Home Secretary's notice, has not been in office for the past 17 years. They seem to find refuge in a mantra of inaccuracies provided by Tory central office. But, if one reads the record that we published this week, one will see that on occasion after occasion, it is Labour that has come forward with constructive proposals, Labour that has supported the Government when they are right and criticised them when they are wrong, and Labour that will be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime when in office.

6.49 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)

I am glad that the debate was ended by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) in the same farcical mode as his hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) began it. Labour Members have made some extraordinary comments today. They are not quite sure which way to turn, whether to keep up with the rhetoric of being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime or to condemn some of our proposals and support some colleagues in the other place. They just do not know what way to squirm. We shall find out in 10 minutes what Labour will do about our proposals.

At one point, the hon. Member for Blackburn implied that he was worried that the longer prison sentences that we propose would not be brought in soon enough. Does anyone seriously believe that the Labour party, which does not believe in the private finance initiative or building prisons more rapidly, will build prisons faster than the Conservative Government would to enable that policy to be implemented more speedily? It is so farcical.

Mr. Michael

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maclean

No, I will not.

Mr. Michael


Mr. Maclean

Sit down.

I turn to criminal injuries compensation. I am not going to lecture the Opposition, I merely want to inform my hon. Friends, in case they were worried or were taken in for a moment by the hon. Member for Blackburn, who said that the criminal injuries compensation measures on which we voted a few months ago could have led to cuts in such compensation. Here are the figures for the past five years: in 1990–91, £109 million was paid out, in 1991–92 the figure was £143 million, in 1992–93 it was £152 million, in 1993–94 it was £165 million, and in 1994–95 it was £175 million.

Mr. Michael


Mr. Maclean

No, I will not give way. Now, the year of cuts—

Mr. Michael

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister ignores the fact that there were £700 million-worth of cuts in the Criminal Injuries Compensation Bill.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order. He is being very mischievous.

Mr. Maclean

As I said, Labour Members are squirming tonight and will go for any sort of abuse.

I say to my hon. Friends, what about the year of cuts? In 1994–95 we paid out £175 million, but last year, the Government paid out £183 million to the victims of crime: the highest and most generous compensation scheme of any country in the world except the United States.

I listened carefully to the thoughtful speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd). He said that he was worried that some drug addicts and burglars might be imprisoned after their third offence and there might be some unfairness on occasions. Such people will have two chances beforehand. They will not receive a minimum sentence for the first conviction.

Some people might share the view that it would be a little unfortunate if those who are simply passing on a cannabis cigarette or whatever were sent to prison, but we are not dealing with cannabis. Drug dealers who will be liable to a minimum sentence are those who are dealing in class A drugs. If someone is convicted for a third time for selling crack or cocaine, I have no sympathy for such a person being sent to prison. Have we not heard of so many tragic occasions in the past few years of people dying through drugs—not because they got them from professional dealers but because they bought a tablet from a so-called friend? On resources, I refer my right hon. Friend to chapter 13 of the White Paper, which sets out the details.

I agree entirely with the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler), who pointed out the tremendous success in deterring driving and drink-driving offences. The threat of imprisonment through the totting-up procedure has worked wonders. He gave excellent support for the Government's proposals, and I totally support what he said.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) knows that I cannot comment on the details of the constituency case that he mentioned, but I sincerely hope that his constituent will find some comfort from his public support of her today. If a Member of Parliament can publicly support her, I hope that others in his constituency will have the courage to do likewise.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) promoted what my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) described as the producer view. I must remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Criminal Justice Act 1991 was not designed to stop people going to prison but to ensure that prison and proper tough community sentences were given equal consideration and that each was used when and where appropriate. He was worried about shorter sentences. Let me tell him, we already have shorter sentences, but they are dishonest. They are not what is pronounced in court. The prisoner does not serve that. We are merely trying to bring in some honesty.

There is a myth that rapists will find no option but—

Mr. Straw


Mr. Maclean

I want to conclude this point. The hon. Gentleman had 35 minutes and failed to make his points. He is not going to steal my remaining seven or eight minutes.

Mr. Straw


Mr. Maclean

I will not give way.

A myth has grown that rapists may as well kill the victims. It is still a myth even if great men repeat it. As soon as the Lord Chief Justice made that point, I checked with experts in the Home Office research department and asked them to trawl the literature on the subject. From the literature that we have studied, there is no suggestion whatever that that is the likely course rapists will take in future because it would require a perfectly calm, logical rapist, who in the moment of rape took a legally correct decision to kill the victim. We have looked at the available research—much is American—but can find no research whatever to suggest that rapists are more likely to kill their victim.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) made a good point that community sentences have higher reoffending rates than prison. That point needs to be made very clearly. One of the myths that has grown over the years is that prisons are universities of crime. The real universities of crime are the street corners, where the practicals can be carried out immediately.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk congratulated the police on their excellent funding settlement in Suffolk and elsewhere.

The Opposition today could quote only some of their Lordships in the other place who come to their rescue as their allies. I find it extraordinarily rich that, in a debate on law and order, the Opposition can rely only on support from some of their Lordships in another place, which the Opposition propose to abolish if they are ever elected to form a Government. Our proposals are supported by people the length and breadth of the country, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset made clear. It is the first time that I have heard a chief constable's speech in this House and I would like to hear more of them.

It is quite clear that today's debate has highlighted the divide between the Conservative party and the Labour party. We have set out clear, considered and concrete proposals, which will help to protect the public from persistent and dangerous criminals and have the wholehearted support of the police. Over there on the Opposition Benches sit members of the Labour party—a party totally opposed to our proposals, but too frightened to openly and honestly admit it. The hon. Member for Blackburn has ducked and dived and dodged and weaved today in a pathetic attempt to avoid alienating either his Back Benchers or the public—hence the extraordinary Opposition amendment on which we shall be voting in a few minutes. Opposition Front-Bench Members will be reassuring their hon. Friends that they are voting against the Tory proposals. At the same time, the spin doctors are reassuring the press that the Labour party really does support the Home Secretary's proposals.

The Labour party has tried to debate anything other than the proposals set out in the White Paper. Their so-called strategy for crime is not worthy of the name. I reckon that Labour Members must pray that smoking is never banned because, if it is, it would deprive them of the fag packets on which they need to work out their future policies.

The Labour party talks about crime prevention and about a six-year old report which proposed giving local authorities a statutory duty to undertake crime prevention. While Labour talks, we have been empowering local partnerships up and down the country to install closed circuit television and to promote neighbourhood watch. Labour talks about promoting and supporting the police. We heard the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth say that he was worried about the number of police officers since the last election. We now have 2,000 more constables than we had before the last election. When we came to office in—

It being Seven o'clock, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the motion, pursuant to Order [7 June].

The House divided: Ayes 237, Noes 278.

Division No. 153] [7.00 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene Corbyn, Jeremy
Ainger, Nick Cox, Tom
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Cummings, John
Allen, Graham Cunliffe, Lawrence
Alton, David Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Dafis, Cynog
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Dalyell, Tarn
Armstrong, Hilary Darling, Alistair
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Ashton, Joe Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth)
Barnes, Harry Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Barron, Kevin Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I)
Battle, John Denham, John
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Dewar, Donald
Bennett, Andrew F Dixon, Don
Benton, Joe Donohoe, Brian H
Bermingham, Gerald Dowd, Jim
Berry, Roger Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Blunkett, David Eastham, Ken
Boateng, Paul Etherington, Bill
Bradley, Keith Evans, John (St Helens N)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Fatchett, Derek
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Faulds, Andrew
Brown, N (N'c'tie upon Tyne E) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Burden, Richard Fisher, Mark
Byers, Stephen Flynn, Paul
Caborn, Richard Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Callaghan, Jim Foster, Don (Bath)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Foulkes, George
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Fraser, John
Campbell-Savours, D N Fyfe, Maria
Canavan, Dennis Galbraith, Sam
Cann, Jamie Galloway, George
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery) Gapes, Mike
Chidgey, David Garrett, John
Chisholm, Malcolm Gerrard, Neil
Church, Judith Godman, Dr Norman A
Clapham, Michael Godsiff, Roger
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Golding, Mrs Llin
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Gordon, Mildred
Clelland, David Graham, Thomas
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Coffey, Ann Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cohen, Harry Grocott, Bruce
Connarty, Michael Hain, Peter
Corbett, Robin Hanson, David
Hardy, Peter Mowlam, Marjorie
Harman, Ms Harriet Mudie, George
Harvey, Nick Mullin, Chris
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Murphy, Paul
Henderson, Doug O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)
Heppell, John O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hill, Keith (Streatham) O'Hara, Edward
Hinchliffe, David Olner, Bill
Hoey, Kate Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Hood, Jimmy Parry, Robert
Hoon, Geoffrey Pearson, Ian
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Pendry, Tom
Howarth, George (Knowsley North) Pickthall, Colin
Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd) Pike, Peter L
Hoyle, Doug Pope, Greg
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Powell, Sir Ray (Ogmore)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Illsley, Eric Purchase, Ken
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Quin, Ms Joyce
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Raynsford, Nick
Jamieson, David Reid, Dr John
Janner, Greville Rendel, David
Jenkins, Brian (SE Staff) Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Johnston, Sir Russell Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys MÔn) Roche, Mrs Barbara
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Rooker, Jeff
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Rooney, Terry
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Jowell, Tessa Rowlands, Ted
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Sheerman, Barry
Keen, Alan Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n) Short, Clare
Khabra, Piara S Simpson, Alan
Kilfoyle, Peter Skinner, Dennis
Kirkwood, Archy Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Lewis, Terry Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Liddell, Mrs Helen Soley, Clive
Litherland, Robert Spearing, Nigel
Livingstone, Ken Spellar, John
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Llwyd, Elfyn Steinberg, Gerry
Loyden, Eddie Stevenson, George
McAllion, John Stott, Roger
McAvoy, Thomas Strang, Dr. Gavin
McCartney, Ian Straw, Jack
Macdonald, Calum Sutcliffe, Gerry
McKelvey, William Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mackinlay, Andrew Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
McLeish, Henry Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Maclennan, Robert Tipping, Paddy
MacShane, Denis Touhig, Don
Madden, Max Trickett, Jon
Maddock, Diana Turner, Dennis
Mahon, Alice Vaz, Keith
Mandelson, Peter Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Marek, Dr John Wallace, James
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Walley, Joan
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Martin, Michael J (Springburn) Wicks, Malcolm
Maxton, John Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Meacher, Michael Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Meale, Alan Wilson, Brian
Michael, Alun Winnick, David
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Wise, Audrey
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Worthington, Tony
Milburm, Alan Wray, Jimmy
Miller, Andrew Wright, Dr Tony
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Morgan, Rhodri
Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe) Tellers for the Ayes:
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Mr. Eric Martlew and
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Mr. Eric Clarke.
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Alexander, Richard Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Amess, David Evennett, David
Arbuthnot, James Faber, David
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Fabricant, Michael
Atkins, Rt Hon Robert Fenner, Dame Peggy
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Fishburn, Dudley
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Forman, Nigel
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)
Baldry, Tony Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Forth, Eric
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Bates, Michael Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Batiste, Spencer Fox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Beggs, Roy Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Bellingham, Henry Fry, Sir Peter
Bendall, Vivian Gale, Roger
Beresford, Sir Paul Gallie, Phil
Biffen, Rt Hon John Gardiner, Sir George
Body, Sir Richard Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Booth, Hartley Garnier, Edward
Boswell, Tim Gill, Christopher
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Gillan, Cheryl
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Bowden, Sir Andrew Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Bowis, John Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Gorst, Sir John
Brandreth, Gyles Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs)
Brazier, Julian Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bright, Sir Graham Grylls, Sir Michael
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Hague, Rt Hon William
Browning, Mrs Angela Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Bruce, Ian (South Dorset) Hampson, Dr Keith
Burt, Alistair Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy
Butcher, John Hannam, Sir John
Butler, Peter Hargreaves, Andrew
Butterfill, John Haselhurst, Sir Alan
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Hawkins, Nick
Carrington, Matthew Hawksley, Warren
Carttiss, Michael Hayes, Jerry
Cash, William Heald, Oliver
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Chapman, Sir Sydney Hendry, Charles
Churchill, Mr Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Clappison, James Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hill, Sir James (Southampton Test)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Horam, John
Congdon, David Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Conway, Derek Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Cormack, Sir Patrick Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Couchman, James Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Cran, James Hunter, Andrew
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Jack, Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Day, Stephen Jenkin, Bernard
Deva, Nirj Joseph Jessel, Toby
Devlin, Tim Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dover, Den Kirkhope, Timothy
Duncan, Alan Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Duncan Smith, Iain Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)
Dunn, Bob Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Durant, Sir Anthony Knox, Sir David
Dykes, Hugh Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Eggar, Rt Hon Tim Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Shaw, David (Dover)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Leigh, Edward Shepherd, Sir Colin (Hereford)
Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lester, Sir James (Broxtowe) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Smyth, The Reverend Martin
Lord, Michael Soames, Nicholas
Luff, Peter Speed, Sir Keith
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Spencer, Sir Derek
MacKay, Andrew Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Maclean, Rt Hon David Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
McLoughlin, Patrick Spink, Dr Robert
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Spring, Richard
Madel, Sir David Sproat, Iain
Maitland, Lady Olga Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Malone, Gerald Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Marland, Paul Steen, Anthony
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Stephen, Michael
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Stewart, Allan
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Streeter, Gary
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Sumberg, David
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Sweeney, Walter
Merchant, Piers Sykes, John
Mills, Iain Tapsell, Sir Peter
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Moate, Sir Roger Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon Sir James Temple-Morris, Peter
Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector Thomason, Roy
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Needham, Rt Hon Richard Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Nelson, Anthony Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Neubert, Sir Michael Townend, John (Bridlington)
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Nicholls, Patrick Tredinnick, David
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Trend, Michael
Oppenheim, Phillip Twinn, Dr Ian
Ottaway, Richard Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Page, Richard Viggers, Peter
Paice, James Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Patnick, Sir Irvine Walden, George
Patten, Rt Hon John Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Waller, Gary
Pawsey, James Ward, John
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Pickles, Eric Waterson, Nigel
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Watts, John
Porter, David (Waveney) Wells, Bowen
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Whitney, Ray
Powell, William (Corby) Whittingdale, John
Rathbone, Tim Widdecombe, Ann
Redwood, Rt Hon John Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Wilkinson, John
Richards, Rod Willetts, David
Riddick, Graham Wilshire, David
Robathan, Andrew Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Wolfson, Mark
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Wood, Timothy
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Yeo, Tim
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Sackville, Tom Tellers for the Noes:
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy Mr. Simon Burns and Mr. Sebastian Coe.
Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas

Amendment accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.


That this House supports the proposals set out in the White Paper `Protecting the Public' to introduce automatic life sentences for serious violent and sex offenders; mandatory minimum prison sentences for persistent house burglars and drug dealers; and to introduce greater honesty into the sentencing process.