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Violent Crime

Volume 933: debated on Thursday 16 June 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has received any representations from representatives of banking employees on sentencing policy for crimes of violence.

I have received seven such representations from individuals and groups identifying themselves as bank employees or their representatives.

Is it not clear that bank staffs are becoming increasingly angered by what they see as the inadequate sentences passed on those who are found guilty of bank robbery? I recognise that the Home Secretary cannot intervene in sentencing policy, but has he any comfort to give to people whose jobs force them to run a risk of violence with comparatively little protection?

The hon. Member is fair in what he says. What we do in the Home Office and in Parliament is to put down the sentences that may be applied. It is a matter for the judiciary to take account of public opinion and also to take account of individual cases, which we cannot do in this House. Certainly violence means that bank employees are at risk but sentencing is not a matter for me.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction arising from the case in which an ex-Etonian, ex-guardsman got probation, while a constituent of mine who was supposedly driving a car got seven years for armed robbery? Is he aware that many people believe that if a person went to Eton or Harrow he will get away with a crime, whereas if he went to a council school in Liverpool he will get seven years? That is not good enough.

If the second case is as bad as my hon. Friend says, perhaps it should be taken to appeal. I should not draw conclusions in the overall way that my hon. Friend has done. This is a matter in which individual cases should be taken into account, and this is what the judiciary does.

Relating to the case mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), will the Home Secretary have discussions with the Lord Chancellor? That particular case has raised a great deal of bitterness, because the Common Serjeant who conducted the case did not even compliment the Post Office engineer who tried to restrict the thief. This is the second time that that old Etonian has raided a bank, smashed up bank employees and stolen money, and he has not done a single term in gaol. There is a widespread feeling that if he had been a lad from a council school he would have got five or six years' imprisonment.

There have been a number of comments about this case. All I can say is that the Lord Chancellor will have taken them into account.

Perhaps the judiciary were taking account of the fact that anyone who has been to Eton has already served the equivalent of five years in prison. [Laughter.]