HC Deb 19 November 2001 vol 375 cc8-9
5. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

What discussions he has had with magistrates regarding downgrading of penalties for minor offences. [13343]

The Minister for Criminal Justice, Sentencing and Law Reform (Mr. Keith Bradley)

The Home Secretary regularly meets and corresponds with members of the magistracy to discuss a wide variety of issues, including sentencing.

Tim Loughton

That is very informative, but does the Minister endorse the new guidelines that are being given out by the Judicial Studies Board to youth courts to downgrade as many low seriousness offences as possible to a penalty of only conditional discharge, together with Lord Woolf's advice to consider halving the sentences that magistrates give to less serious criminals? What message does the Minister think that sends out to the 130,000 people arrested last year for offences of criminal damage, graffiti, shop lifting, car vandalism and making obscene phone calls—let alone to their victims?

Mr. Bradley

The hon. Gentleman does not quote precisely from the guidelines. We have to ensure that the sentencing framework, which is currently under review, suggested in the Halliday report ensures that the offences introduced meet the crime, that custodial sentences are used for those crimes that warrant them and that we have tough and effective community sentences for crimes that warrant such measures. We have to ensure that the right people are put in prison and the right people serve in the community to ensure reparation and rehabilitation and to stop reoffending. We also have to ensure that the guidelines are applied consistently across the courts, so that the public can understand and have confidence in them. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman takes a great interest in such issues, so I shall read with great interest his submission to the Halliday consultation.

Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one young person in my constituency has been arrested 76 times in a matter of months? Do not the courts very often let down such young people by not treating seriously those offences, which are repeated time and again? Is he aware—I am sure that he is—that that causes real frustration to the public and to the police involved in serious cases such as that? Will he convey that message to magistrates when he next meets them?

Mr. Bradley

My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point. As John Halliday made clear in the report, we have to ensure that action is taken to try to stop persistent offenders reoffending. We need a sentencing framework that ensures not only that that can be the case, but that those people who are determined to flout the law in the way that my hon. Friend describes receive the punishment that they clearly deserve.