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Volume 508: debated on Monday 22 March 2010

Since 1997, the Home Office has brought forward legislation as necessary, to address the needs and challenges of the day. When legislation has included criminal offences, these have been proposed only after careful consideration and with the support of Parliament.

That is a cop-out of an answer. The Minister knows that there have been 4,200 new offences over 13 years of Labour Government. Looking back, at the end of that time, does he think we would have done far better to pass far fewer laws and to take far longer to make sure that we got them right? Would not the best legacy that he could leave be a penal code so that people could find all the laws in the same place?

I do not accept that there are too many laws. We have put in place a range of legislation that is designed to protect the public, cut crime and increase confidence. I can name three pieces of legislation that the hon. Gentleman has voted against—measures on DNA retention, the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, and measures on tackling disorderly drinking in the streets. I know that those things matter to people in Southwark and throughout the country, so I am sorry that he voted against them.

Bearing in mind the careful consideration that my right hon. Friend has just mentioned, will he tell the House how many of the new criminal offences that were created by the Labour Government never came into force before then being repealed by the Labour Government?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as ever, for his helpful question. He will know that there are occasions when the situation changes, people look at the legislation and Ministers take decisions accordingly. He will also know that, as a result of legislation that we have introduced, crime has fallen by 36 per cent., violent crime is down, burglaries are down and confidence in policing is up to a record 50 per cent.—all things that never happened before we considered that legislation.

May I suggest that when criminal offences are introduced, great care should be taken not to attach prison sentences to them unless absolutely necessary? We are creating an atmosphere in which prison becomes approved by Government, but we should not do that. We should be sentencing people to imprisonment only when absolutely necessary, and we need to be careful about the penalties that we attach to criminal offences.

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for those comments. He will know that the Ministry of Justice, where I spent two years before coming to this post, is concerned to ensure that we encourage community-based sentences where possible, and to ensure that they will, on some occasions, have a better chance of preventing reoffending than does a short-term prison sentence. We need to consider those issues in the round. Happily, the separation of the judiciary and the legislature is part of the UK’s constitution, so the judiciary will ultimately decide the appropriate sentences for offences.