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Long-term Custodial Sentences

Volume 521: debated on Tuesday 11 January 2011

The Criminal Justice Act 1991 defines a long-term prisoner as

“a person serving a sentence of imprisonment for a term of four years or more”.

There are still some prisoners serving sentences under the 1991 Act, but the term has not been in use since 2003.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. I am sure he is aware that another Department is relying on the definition he provides. A lot of my constituents will be concerned that some serious offences are not attracting the term of four years that he refers to. For example, a rape recently carried a sentence of three and a half years and an armed robbery in which the offender brandished a knife carried a sentence of under four years. If we want to be serious about crime, we have to be serious about sentencing.

Nobody draws an arbitrary line. However, I quite agree that serious offences do not always attract four years’ imprisonment. I suspect that my hon. Friend’s reference to another Department concerns the Deputy Prime Minister and a prisoner’s right to vote, which I believe is the subject of the next question. The four-year divide is used for some purposes in the Prison Service: people with more than four years are regarded as unsuitable for home detention curfew before release. The approach to prisoners’ voting rights is an attempt to find a rational threshold above which it makes sense to draw the line. No doubt we will return to that issue—perhaps in a few moments.

If the term is no longer in use and is arbitrary, why are the Government using it to allow robbers, sex offenders and others the vote?

We have taken legal advice on what is necessary. [Interruption.] No doubt the previous Government did so when they consulted and suggested a four-year margin themselves. [Interruption.] They did. They consulted twice on prisoners’ voting rights but were unable to come to any conclusion. No doubt they were desperately panting for the election date in the hope of getting over the line and leaving it to us. They contemplated the four-year figure and we have to draw a line rationally to comply with the legal obligations that the previous Government neither doubted nor cast doubt on.