HC Deb 17 July 1997 vol 298 cc523-4
31. Mr. Chope

To ask the Attorney-General how many unduly lenient sentences he has referred to the Court of Appeal since 1 May. [7310]

The Attorney-General

Since 1 May this year, the Solicitor-General and I have considered 27 sentences. I have applied to the Court of Appeal for leave to refer 11 of those sentences.

Mr. Chope

I thank the Attorney-General for that reply. Is he aware how angry people are at the Government's failure to make up their mind whether to implement mandatory minimum sentences, which are on the statute book just awaiting a Government decision? Is he aware that many persistent burglars on their seventh conviction are not even being sent to prison? Will he ensure that where there is such leniency the cases are referred by him to the Court of Appeal, pending a decision by the Home Secretary as to whether to implement the legislation?

The Attorney-General

Only a very small proportion of cases have been referred to me or to my predecessor compared with the huge number tried. The other matters that the hon. Gentleman raises are for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Beith

Does the Attorney-General realise that if he were successful in securing longer sentences for the number of people that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) would like, and still more if he went for mandatory sentences, there would be nowhere to put the prisoners? Does he regret that the Home Secretary engaged in the general hue and cry for mandatory sentences before the general election and now has to face the consequences of no financial provision having been made for the extra prison places required?

The Attorney-General

The concern of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, which I am sure is shared by the right hon. Gentleman, is with the rising rate of crime, which has continued year after year, and the Conservative party's failure to deal with it. That was the basis of his remarks and of his continuing concern. We want to ensure that more of those who are guilty are convicted by the courts.

Mr. Hogg

May I put it to the Attorney-General that his answer is worrying because the numbers being referred to him and to the Court of Appeal are very small? Those of us who have represented constituencies for a long time, or who have appeared in courts, know that sentences are frequently unduly lenient. It would be more reassuring if he could tell the House that he would endeavour to do a bigger trawl and consider a greater number of cases so as to get a better benchmark for the Court of Appeal.

The Attorney-General

I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I and the Solicitor-General consider personally each and every case, as under my predecessor. Cases are referred to me by Members of Parliament, the Crown Prosecution Service, or the general public. The pattern seems fairly consistent. In 1997, 32 cases were referred to my predecessor. In the previous year, in England and Wales, there were 68, and in the year before that, there were 77. The cases that in accordance with statute we have to refer are not those that the right hon. and learned Gentleman or I might feel to be lenient but those that are unduly lenient—that is, where a sentence occurs well outside the usual pattern of sentencing. The statute was passed by his party, and we have to operate it.