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Sentencing Policy

Volume 519: debated on Tuesday 23 November 2010

5. What recent progress he has made on reviewing his Department’s policy on unduly lenient sentences. (25564)

The powers of the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General to refer certain Crown court sentences to the Court of Appeal on the grounds of undue leniency are working well.

I am particularly concerned with the sentencing of people convicted of paedophilia and believe that the policy review should be based on evidence. What assurance can the Minister provide that data that the Ministry of Justice collects will separate crimes of paedophilia from all sexual offences as currently recorded? Without that data it will be difficult to review the appropriateness or otherwise of current sentencing policy.

I can well understand my hon. Friend’s concern. All offences of sufficient seriousness to be tried only in the Crown court can be referred through the unduly lenient sentences process to the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General; and 17 of the 31 offences that are triable either way and listed in statutory instrument 2006/1116 refer to offences against children, which reflects how seriously the House takes the matter.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. You will be aware that on three occasions over the past two weeks the Secretary of State for Justice and the Deputy Prime Minister’s deputy—the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper)—have come to the Chamber and essentially repeated from the Dispatch Box announcements already made in the media.

I want to ask the Minister about reports in this Sunday’s papers on the Department’s sentencing plans. The current Prime Minister in March, the Conservative party manifesto in April and the Secretary of State in June all said words to the effect: “We will introduce a system where the courts will specify minimum and maximum sentences for certain offenders. These prisoners will only be able to leave jail after their minimum sentence is served by having earned their release, not simply by right.” Will the sentencing review ditch that policy or keep it?

I am afraid the shadow Secretary of State will have to wait until we produce the policy. It is entirely appropriate that it be presented to the House first.

It is outrageous that we have to buy The Times and read The Daily Telegraph to see what the Government are planning. That is not new politics, that is not the way to do things, and the Secretary of State, who has been an MP for 40 years and served in three Cabinets, should know better.

The Minister ducked the previous question, but he and, indeed, the Secretary of State know that knife-crime cases cause real and lasting misery to the victims, to bereaved families and to communities. Before the general election and in their manifesto, the Conservatives were quite clear, because they said that

“anyone convicted of a knife crime can expect to face a prison sentence.”

We know what the press say their Government will do, but what will the Minister do in the sentencing review to be published next week?

This may be slightly tedious, but I must say again that the shadow Secretary of State will have to wait until the proposals are presented in a comprehensive fashion to the House. Of course, knife crime is an extremely serious offence, as we have acknowledged, but, as far as the precise proposals are concerned, the right hon. Gentleman, like everyone else, will have to wait until they are presented in a coherent fashion to the House first, as is appropriate.